Transcript 09 - The 2009 NAC Award Winners: Up Close and Personal!

Hi I'm Eric Friesen. Welcome to my program on the three Canadian composers who were named the 2009 National Arts Centre Award Winners. They are Anna Sokolovic, Peter Paul Koprowski and John Estacio. Meet them here; up close and personal!

[Audio recording: Frenergy by Estacio]

You're listening to the brilliant orchestral piece called Frenergy by John Estacio, with the NAC Orchestra led by Alain Trudel. John Estacio is one of Canada's leading contemporary composers. And John, along with Anna Sokolovic and Peter Paul Koprowski have all been named the NAC Award winners in the fall of 2009, which means that each of them has begun a five-year residency with Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Center Orchestra. Estacio, Sokolovic and Koprowski will each contribute at least three new works to be played by the orchestra and they will do a lot more besides.

In this program, you will meet these three award-winners, you will hear some of their music played by the NAC Orchestra, you will hear them comment on the music, and you'll hear about their plans for developing new works in collaboration with Pinchas and the band. So we are looking not only to the immediate past and to the present but also to the future of Canadian music. It is going to be made here, as these three composers tell us their stories, talk about their music and talk about their dreams for new work inspired by writing for this superb orchestra.

[Audio recording: Frenergy by Estacio]

Frenergy, by John Estacio, from a performance in Southam Hall, the National Arts Center, in 2007, Alain Trudel guest conducting the orchestra. It is a great way to start a concert, as that work has so often been performed throughout North America, and it is a great way to start this program. It is music that is bristling with energy, pulsing with energy and a delight in the sounds that a modern orchestra can make.

I've talked in previous programs about the NAC's Composer Awards program. It was a program begun in 2002, with the NAC's New Music Plan. The first set of awards went to Alexina Louie, Gary Kulesha and Denys Bouliane, all of whom I've profiled before. Now the second round of composer awards are underway, and the three new award winners are Anna Sokolovic of Montreal, John Estacio of Edmonton and Peter Paul Koprowski of the Ottawa area.

Daphne Burt is the Manager of Artistic Planning for the National Arts Center Orchestra. She is in charge of this program, and I asked her to say first of all what the purpose of this program is...

Daphne Burt: “...Well if you ask Peter Paul, he will say first of all, it needs to be a little certificate that you can frame and put on the wall. I actually promised him that. When the award was established in 2001, it was announced with great fanfare, three composers, in mid-career to be given a sizeable junk of money to found artistic endeavors for the National Arts Center, for the orchestra, for ensembles, for solo and to just help them realize their potential, artistically. So we replicated that in the second round and this year they will get certificates I've promised.” (laughs)

Eric Friesen: “How much money do they get?”

Daphne Burt: “Each composer gets $ 75 000 and that in a sort of a loose framework that will have each composers represents three works: a major orchestral work, a work for ensemble (meaning 12 to 15 players with a conductor) and a work for chamber ensemble. Now with some of them, I think that it is going to end up manifesting just like that with two, with one of our composers we might take two of those works and combine them into something a little bit more ambitious.”

Eric Friesen: “Like what?”

Daphne Burt: “Like perhaps a chamber opera.”

Eric Friesen: “That would be John Estacio, wouldn't it be?”

Daphne Burt: “No, actually it wouldn't be. (…) My philosophy personally behind this, when I made the final phone call to the three who were awarded, after discussion with the artistic leader here at NAC, and various folks around the country, is that with this award, the Arts Center should be able to challenge each composer to stretch. And they each have a sizeable body of work already. And that is the philosophy, these are mid-career composers, with a body they have created already we are not going for the emerging composers in any case. And we take this and use it to stretch themselves artistically in a way they might not have an opportunity to do before. And with John, I said John you have had an opera for many few years here.”

Eric Friesen: “Including right now.”

Daphne Burt: “Including right now with the premiere in Vancouver in the fall. Take this and think about how to use it to create in the case of an orchestral work, to work for the orchestra not reflecting of voice, it doesn't include singers.”

Eric Friesen

Daphne Burt. So, these composers get to stretch themselves artistically and write at least three new works. But I asked Daphne what else they have to do, in addition to writing music?

Daphne Burt: “With each one, we are going to tailor their residency work to suit the composer's talent and need. Some are very comfortable teaching, class of students, private students, maybe we would rather have seminars, but there will be some education element to it. The composer program that is part of the summer institute will figure in their lives, whether they are leading the section, or guest lecture depending on their strength and interests, and time. And so that is one element, composers in the summer. And when the orchestra tours, we will tour Canadian new work. So touring will be part of their future with us.”

Eric Friesen: “They have to go along?”

Daphne Burt: “They have to go along on the tour and we are hoping that other kinds of master classes, pre-concert talks engaging with the audience and as many interesting ways we can come up with. This format in particular too, reaching out the new medias through the Website in that discussion with composers on line.”

Eric Friesen

So, this is not just a commissioning program. The NAC Award is much more in depth, it is a program that creates a strong set of relationships between each of the composers and the orchestra. You might say it's almost like a part-time job for the five years. For the NAC, they get new works written expressly for their orchestra, and for the composers, they get to write for a great orchestra and to become part of the community of music making that is the NAC Orchestra.

Daphne mentioned that composers chosen for this program are in mid-career and already have a significant body of work. I wondered what other criteria were in play in making the final choices:

Daphne Burt: “Composers who are each different from one another stylistically. The audience that are going to be having this music program on their concerts series, and we want to be able to promote it, we want them to be able to hear different Canadian voices in composition. So Peter Paul Koprowski, Ana Sokolovic and Estacio are very different from one to the other and they represent different approaches to composition, different backgrounds, and they are willing to engage though. This is a similarity; they are each willing to engage with the audience about the creative process, about their work, about life…”

Eric Friesen

Daphne Burt, who is Manager of Artistic Planning for NAC Orchestra. It is interesting that composers, like performers these days, have to be able to connect with an audience and they have to want to connect with an audience in order to succeed.

Okay - let's meet the first of the new trio of award winners: Peter Paul Koprowski.

[Audio recording: Sinfonia Concertante, third movement by Koprowski]

Music by Peter Paul Koprowski, his musical signature being lyrical, long unfolding lines, arcs of sound, and a strong note of elegy, of remembrance of the past. That was the opening of the third movement, the aria, from the Sinfonia Concertante by Koprowski. The NAC Orchestra led by Franz Paul Decker, in a performance from 1993.

Koprowski's music was profoundly influenced by his being born and raised in Poland just after the Second World War. Poland was and is an intensely musical country, but during the war, it had also been through the terrible trauma of first German occupation and then Russians. And then after the war, it was a communist satellite of the Soviet Union. Peter Paul was very much a child of this time.

Peter Paul Koprowski: “I am realizing only now that the impact of music, what people at times describes as drama, as depth. Some people actually recognize the humour of the absurd in it. I always associate myself, because you couldn't look at these times in any other way. I mean you didn't get involved, it affected you. You know, when someone that got pushed out a window from the third floor. Yes I don't like thinking about it. But I mean to this day I get emotional. It was awful; it definitely set the tone to my music. Perhaps a defense on one hand, on the other hand injected that dose of absurdity in the Sinfonia Concertante. I remember Pinchas picked up on it, this is interesting. There is this moment where I actually have a march-like intensity; it is almost I guess a reflection of seeing the films with Nazis marching. And at the same time you have other things happening: clarinet doing (singing) like commenting on it, I mean they are totally absurd. The bassoon is going (singing) the music itself, if you really look into the text, actually maybe you can come up with some kind of “ism” because people like to classify in term of “ism”, but this is absurd music...”

Eric Friesen

So, absurdism, another part of Peter Paul Koprowski's signature, similar in some ways to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, the absurd but also the profoundly elegiac and deep lamenting qualities that Shostakovitch and Koprowksi share.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Peter Paul was born and raised in Poland in 1947. He was already composing in his early teens. By the age of 16, he had produced one of his first masterpieces: In Memoriam Karl Szymanowski. But in 1969, at the age of 22, he left Poland and moved to England for a couple of years. It is during that time that he went to Paris also to study occasionally with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger. Then, in 1971, he came to Canada, encouraged by a Polish friend, who told Peter Paul all about the beauty of Canada and its freedom from the tragic war history and communist domination of post war Poland. Koprowski came to Canada and studied with, who else, but John Weinzweig, at the University of Toronto.

Peter Paul Koprowski: “John… hum… did something very useful I guess to me. Because I had such an overwhelming amount of, I had a baggage of modernism with me. I had a number of options I guess and John put a hold on this. John, it seems to me in a very quiet way, has shaped what I already had. And perhaps applied discipline to what I had. From Poland, I also brought lot of the Renaissance and together with the modernism and let's say the Romanticism. It was the Renaissance that shaped my music. There is a lot of evidence of Renaissance in modern works. I mean one of the most modern, and I mean more avant-garde work of that time is my String Quarter and that is up again. Even in the Memoriam there is a lot of it again. So I brought that with me, I brought the modernism but I get John Weinzweig applied the thought and the discipline of Webern onto that. And I would say that without it, my music wouldn't be as structured as it became.”

Eric Friesen

So, although Peter Paul Koprowski would ultimately become a very different composer from what John Weinzweig might have liked, Peter Paul abandoned much of the modernist approach, but as he said, Weinzweig helped him to produce an order, a discipline on all those influences and strands of interest in Peter Paul's music. And beyond that time at U of T, Canada, says Koprowski, gave him the freedom and the space to put all these various strands of his together: the modernism, the influence of Renaissance music, the Polish tradition in the music of Szymanowski and others in the 20tth century, the war, communism; it all came together here in the peacefulness and wide-open spaces and the relatively doctrinaire-free environment of Canada.

One of Peter Paul's most popular pieces is called Epitaph for Strings, written in 1980, in memory of his teacher at the Krakow Academy of Music, Boleslaw Woytowicz.

Peter Paul Koprowski: “… There's an interesting history of this piece because while it was written for a youth orchestra, although it has been performed by other major orchestras simply probably because it requires half an hour rehearsal time, and that is why I may not be very objective about this…”

Eric Friesen: “Come on; give yourself some grant for that piece people like!” (laughs)

Peter Paul Koprowski: “Well it is one of the most often performed works, but if people only knew how I wrote it. Actually, I wrote it virtually on my knee, and on airplanes and on trains. I was touring Europe and I had a deadline, and I had to have a piece. So at the end of the tour, I delivered the score. And I never thought the piece would be as successful as it has been. But maybe you are right. There is obviously something in it. Right at the very opening of the piece there is something that stops people. I've been asked what is it, what is this sonority that is so rich, that is so overwhelming. What sonority is it? Well… I was even asked if it was a 12-tone sonority. Well actually it isn't, it is just a minor third. But it is scored in such a way that the range of overtones, what comes with it, what you do not actually see in the score. You actually hear and create perhaps the ambiance, it sets the atmosphere actually.”

Eric Friesen

The atmosphere of an epitaph that is both elegiac and also intensely mournful, periods of sad reflection punctuated by outbursts of almost wailing... the quiet part taken by a string quartet, which is in strings of the orchestra, and then these outbursts played by all the strings.

[Audio recording: Epitaph for Strings, by Koprowski]

The opening of Epitaph for Strings by Peter Paul Koprowski, played by the National Arts Centre Orchestra led by Pinchas Zukerman, from a concert in 2000 at Southam Hall, Ottawa. You can hear the complete performance of this work and also of Peter Paul Koprowski's beautiful piece Ancestral Voices by going to NACmusicbox, online at NACmusicbox.ca. You'll find the performances there and some good notes to go with these two of Peter Paul Koprowski's finest pieces played by the NAC Orchestra.

Peter Paul has had a long and productive relationship with this orchestra, and also now with Pinchas Zukerman. He loves working with it and is looking forward to his residency here in Ottawa with Pinchas and the band. After hearing Pinchas and Co. play a Mozart concerto recently, Peter Paul is thinking that he might try to write a violin concerto for Pinchas as part of his time here. Now I would say that would be really exciting. Stay tuned.

You're listening to Eric Friesen Presents, a podcast celebrating the three Canadian composers who have been given the most recent set of NAC Awards, and who over the next five years will each create at least three works, three new ones, and spend time in Ottawa and on tour, teaching, coaching, connecting with audiences in addition to writing this new music expressly for orchestra.

Next, I'd like to profile Ana Sokolovic of Montreal.

[Audio recording: Concerto for Orchestra, by Sokolovic]

A broad, bold orchestral canvas, scurrying figures in the strings and winds, a composer who really knows the orchestra, above all attractive music, that's the opening of the Concerto for Orchestra by Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic from 2006; the NAC Orchestra led by guest conductor Thomas Sondergard.

Like Peter Paul Koprowski, Ana Sokolovic is another immigrant to Canada, a composer who grew up, who was nurtured in a different musical tradition and then brought her immense talent and all that experience to this country and has made Canada her home. Ana Sokolovic was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, she was born in 1968. She tells me she had a very happy childhood: parents who encouraged an interest in the arts even though they themselves weren't particularly musical; she grew up in a good education system, with a particular emphasis on music education that was open to everybody, like in so many eastern bloc countries. Lots of opportunity to attend artistic events, she was a student of classical ballet, and there was always a lot of time left over in the school day for other activities. She got the composing bug early, and I asked her where that came from?

Ana Sokolovic: “Yes, as a part of my activities. What I did with my friends? We played in our little street and we made little theater pieces, and I composed the music for theater pieces, but I was at the same time actor, I was at the same time director, I was not the only one. My friends did the same thing. But I was musician, so I read music so it was just by need. So all start very spontaneously, it was very clear for that I wanted to create. At one moment in my life, maybe this is the next question, but at one moment around 16, I had to decide what I would do: theater or music. And I don't know why I chose to go to study music, but I never left theater somewhere in my personality. But I studied music and I always had this contact with theater, with the stage. And that is why I like music, because this is contact direct with people are on the stage, and this contact with the public. So this is what interests me. So the performance can be danced, or played or said but this is what I like. I prefer stage than any other arts in a sense of modern technology arts. I like films very, I like to watch it, but this is not my passion.”

Eric Friesen

So, a passion for the arts in which there are live performers and a live audience. And in the rich cultural milieu of Belgrade, she flourished. She tells us how, when taking piano lessons, her composing instinct was already coming out.

Ana Sokolovic: “I practiced everything but not what I should practice. For instance I had some studies, you know Czerny, Moschewitz or these studies, which were not very interesting or were not interesting for me. So they were written in major, I'd play them in minor. They were written in major and I would play it in some old modes. So what I did, I recomposed the pieces. I was not interested to play what was written. And my teacher, each time she came to have a lesson with me, and she heard me practicing and she said me: “Ana, you are not really practicing, you are composing.” So I think it was also she just realized that maybe the pianist should practice piano.”

Eric Friesen: “You are a bit of a rebel, aren't you?”

Ana Sokolovic: “Absolutely.”

Eric Friesen: “And in a way, that is where the germ of your composing comes from?”

Ana Sokolovic: “I think yes. I like music, and I like music just performing it, as it supposed to be, was… not that much interesting for me (…) if you want, I can tell you exactly the moment when I decided to be a composer: when I heard contemporary music. And two pieces were very important for me. It was Pierrot Lunaire and Sacre du Printemps, Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. I was around 13, maybe, when I heard it, 14…”

Eric Friesen: “So Schoenberg and Stravinsky?”

Ana Sokolovic: “Absolutely. And all other contemporary pieces we were obliged to play as a program of our education, and I was the only one who liked to play these contemporary Yugoslav pieces which were imposed to us.”

Eric Friesen: “Why would you like them?”

Ana Sokolovic: “Because they were different. The harmony was different, and this was what absolute seduce me. And it was the same thing with Pierrot Lunaire. I was like: “Wow, is it possible to sing like this, this is amazing!” So, I think germ was there.”

Eric Friesen

The germ was there, for composing and for the new, the modern. But in 1992, when she was 23, Ana Sokolovic came to Canada, to Montreal. She says she was restless in Belgrade, wanting more, wanting not to stay in one place. But it was a special friend who was the spark for her to come here.

Ana Sokolovic: “I had a very good friend; she is a young filmmaker, she lives now in Montreal, but she was born in Ontario. Her name is Nancy Barrick. And she was born in Canada but she spent all of her summers in former Yugoslavia. We were very good friends, we spent three months each summer on the seaside. And she talked to me about Canada and I was so impressed by. And also, she brought to us all these new fashion things, which was a little late, arrived late by maybe a year after to ex-Yugoslavia. Fashion things all about music, lot about music and of course about this huge country. So it always stayed in my head. Actually when I wanted to go somewhere, I asked her can I come, because at the time she was studying in Montreal. I asked her what she thought about it if I come and she was very happy about it. And also I'm a huge Francophile. All my life, I liked French so much.”

Eric Friesen: “Did you study French; did you learn French as a child?”

Ana Sokolovic: “I studied just as a second language at school, not more than this. But I liked language, the sonority of the language. And I liked the culture also. All French culture it was very close to me. I went to Paris and I felt as in home. So I was really Francophile, so the fact to coming to Montreal and to Canada was important for me, and the Canada was always for me, and this the truth, I saw it later, was always between Europe and United States. And in Canada I really feel well. I really feel completely calm. This is really the place I can realize all what I plan.”

Eric Friesen

So she came to Canada, to Quebec, to Montreal, studied at the University of Montreal with Jose Evangelista, and settled in as a Canadian composer. Early on, she met the Quebec composer Jean Lesage, they became best friends and eventually got married. And everything came together: her Serbian culture with its deep tradition and love of dance, which she still holds dearly to, her love of languages and her passion for the new in music.

Ana Sokolovic's one major work, which has been performed here at the NAC, is her Concerto for Orchestra, which you heard just a bit of it of a few minutes ago. It was commissioned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano in 2006. I asked her why she wanted to write a concerto for orchestra.

Ana Sokolovic: “I wanted to explore the orchestra as one soloist. I wanted to work this beautiful soloist, which is orchestra. And the idea was to put all as muddling clay. This is actually an orchestra, this is muddling clay. All the instruments, it works together. You can have solos here and there of course, but it is one. That is why a concerto for orchestra. That was what my idea was. In the third movement, in all movement you can hear what I told you about. About this contradiction, about lyricism, and much more dance music you can hear in this piece actually; because all pieces are made by dualism. I did it after having a talk with Kent Nagano. He programmed in the same concert, when the piece was created and which he brings to his first actually Canadian tour, in 2007, and the program was with Beethoven and Rossini, two composers very different.”

Eric Friesen: “Very different, talk about a duality…”

Ana Sokolovic: “Exactly. Very different composers but from the same period of history, and also all piece has elements from both pieces which were played from Guillaume Tell Ouverture and also from Beethoven's 7th Symphony.”

Eric Friesen

Not direct quotes from those works, as Ana goes on to say, but certain atmospheres as she called it.

[Audio recording: Concerto for Orchestra, by Sokolovic]

The opening two minutes of the third movement of Ana Sokolovic's Concerto for Orchestra. The NAC Orchestra led by Thomas Sondergard. You could hear the duality of Ana's musical signature in that excerpt: the dramatic, the dense, the bold, versus the lyrical, the more tender.

As I said, it's the only work of Ana's that the NAC has programmed so far. But there will be more to come, now that she's been named one of the NAC's Award winning composers. This orchestra will inspire three works for the next five years, and Ana is hoping that one of them might be an interdisciplinary piece, music that she writes also involving dance or theatre. I asked her what winning this award has meant to her:

Ana Sokolovic: “I think this award arrives in a really good moment for me. I feel really great. I just turned a little bit more than 40; I have two kids who are not babies anymore, 8 and 11, so I feel in the best shape. I really feel very well. This commission means a lot of work for me, but I feel lot of energy to do it. So I was so honored and I know how much the possibilities are, at this moment it will be possible. It arrives in my life; I think it is the great moment for me. I don't think it would be that good maybe five years ago.”

Eric Friesen: “You wouldn't have been ready for it.”

Ana Sokolovic: “I don't think so. I think it is really the right moment. I just can't wait to work on these projects”

[Audio recording: Concerto for Orchestra, by Sokolovic]

Eric Friesen

The music and voice of Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic, NAC Award Winner. It will be a thrill to watch what she writes for the NAC Orchestra. Throughout this part of the program we've been listening to her Concerto for Orchestra, from a 2008 performance with the NAC Orchestra led by Thomas Sondergard. You can hear the whole of this brilliant piece by going to the NACmusicbox, go to NACmusicbox.ca. For Ana's Concerto for Orchestra and so much more.

I'm Eric Friesen, and I am presenting the three 2009 NAC Award winning Canadian composers. We've heard from two. Now to the third, whom I teased you with a bit of music off the top of the program. John Estacio.

[Audio recording: Frenergy by Estacio]

I never get tired of listening to this short, brilliant concert opener by John Estacio. Frenergy he calls it; he wrote it in 1998 for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and since then it's been played by orchestras all over the world. It is little like John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. It's one of Estacio's signature pieces, and we heard it in a performance from 2007 with the NAC Orchestra led by Alain Trudel.

John Estacio, I had known him for quite a while, is like a little Portuguese cherub or pixie. He is a small man, but bursting with energy and joy and fun. That's why Frenergy represents him so well. He was born 1966 in Newmarket, Ontario, is the son of Portuguese immigrants, who were farmers in the Holland Marsh. I asked him if there was music in his home growing up.

John Estacio: “Oh yes...there certainly was, my parents were from a very small island in the Azores, but music was alive there and they brought that with them when they came to Canada. And they brought their records of course, when I finally get to use a phonograph, I would play often and frequently. And you know, we watched TV, and my mom and dad loved Lawrence Welk. So every Sunday was Lawrence Welk, and I came to enjoy that as well. These are my first run in with music, and it was even Lawrence Welk or lot of Portuguese records folk music, lot of Fado music that my parents enjoyed listening to as well.”

Eric Friesen: “Did you have an instrument in the house?”

John Estacio: “No, we didn't for the longest time. I mean there simply wasn't enough money to make ends need by an instrument. But a door to door salesman came to our home in 1977 probably, I was in grade five, and he was selling music lessons, door to door. This was unheard of. We never had that, and my parents at the time could already tell that I was interested in music. I was asking for an instrument. I wanted an organ as the one on Lawrence Welk. You know the big one that you drive, that you uses mirror it is so huge. I wanted something like that, but of course there was no money for that. Instead, we settle down an accordion. So I took accordion lessons, in the town of Bradford, which is not to far from where we were living, in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. I did that for a while, my parents actually after six weeks of lessons and borrowing the school's instruments we had to buy an instrument. Somehow they put the money together, it was a very baggy here in the farm in 1977, there was a lot of rain and not a very good year, but somehow they manage to put 500 or 600 dollars together and they bought me an instrument. So that was the first instrument in the house.”

Eric Friesen

What a wonderful story that is of parents supporting their child even in the toughest of times. Eventually John Estacio would get to play an organ, in church in Bradford. Not quite as big as the one on Lawrence Welk, but an organ nonetheless. A teacher in school recognized his interest in music and talent and began teaching him the organ and by the time he was 1in grade eight, maybe 4 or 15, he was playing complete services in his local church.

When in this time, I asked him, did he start composing?

John Estacio: “Well, I guess there's two different dates for that. There is the date where I finally learned how to write music on paper, and before that there was just singing and making up my own songs in my head, and coming up with my own words, and I can't remember at what time I wasn't doing that. And I think that was what initially led me to want to play music. And my parents realized this as well. And after a while, I was just coming up with my own tunes and getting my accordion I would just try things up by ear. But it was frustrating for me because I was always getting the melody, I couldn't figure out the chords as a youngster. That was kind of difficult. Once I start taking organ lessons with my grade one teacher, mister McNeil, I started to learn a little bit about theory. So I think about the time, I must be 12 or 13 when I could finally figure out how to notate my ideas on paper. ”

Eric Friesen: “Didn't you write little film scores, were doing some mock films with your friends in high school?”

John Estacio: “Yes, I did that as well. I loved film, I always have loved film, I still do. In our summer holidays, I had some friends who also were farm boys, and who also love film, my parents bought a super 8 camera in 1975 and we would make little films during the summer. Of course I would write the music, I would create the music. We played the film on little projector and I play along, I recorded the music on a cassette player and then we show the film together. There is always two different sources, the film projector would be running on its own, and the cassette player was on a different source, so it was always very difficult to length things up. To make sure everything was in sync. But, yes I have a taste for writing music for film. I have always enjoyed that. And a few years ago, I had the chance to write the music for a real professional production of motion picture'”

Eric Friesen

I love these stories of composers' beginnings, playing the organ in church, writing music for amateur films. From this to where John Estacio is now: one of Canada's most successful composers! But studying was important too: after high school, John went first to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, he studied there with Glen Buhr, a composer whose music I celebrated in the eighth program of this series, and also with Peter Hatch. And after Wilfrid Laurier, John went to UBC where he studied with Stephen Chatman. All of his teachers, he says, encouraged him to become the composer that he wanted to be, to develop his own voice, not to imitate his teacher or conform to their style of composition.

John's big break in his development as a composer came when he was appointed composer-in-residence with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. That was in 1992 and he's lived in Alberta ever since, either in Edmonton or Calgary, working with those two cities orchestras or with Calgary Opera, and also resident at the Banff Centre. I asked John what Alberta has meant to John in the development of his music.

John Estacio: “I think what drove me to Edmonton and Alberta was first of all as you said a composer-in-residence position in 1992 with the Edmonton Symphony. And that's really where my professional career started, essentially. And I made a lot of contacts there, it was a very formative time in my life, in my career and of course I met a lot of musician through the Edmonton Symphony, a lot of conductors, a lot of people who work behind the scenes, who we don't often see when we're at the symphony concerts, but yet play a very important role in making sure concerts happen. These are all very important people; it meant so much to me. I think there is a lot to learn, they were concerts to go to music that I had never heard before, or course being around a real live orchestra both in Edmonton and in Calgary you get to see a lot of different things. You get to see rehearsals. You find out how musicians approach their music. You get interact with these people, you go out for a beer, you talk about the concert, you get to have one on one conversations with musicians and you really are down there and exchange with them and you sort of see a piece of music but from the timpanist point of view or from the clarinetist point of view. You internalize that.”

Eric Friesen: “What about even beyond the people in the orchestras and the wonderful opportunities you had, I'm thinking about the land, the culture, maybe the smell of crude oil, I don't know!” (laughs)

John Estacio: “I try to avoid the smell of crude oil.”

Eric Friesen: “I'm sure, but is there something about the land, or the sky in Western Canada that is really a profound influence on your work?”

John Estacio: “Oh, absolutely. You are entirely correct. The first time I've seen an aurora borealis was here in Edmonton after an Edmonton Symphony concert one night, and I had never seen in southern Ontario, nor it dose happen out there as well. But my first time I was out here, and going out to the mountains as well, where there is no light pollution. There is so much to see up there. And often times when I found myself at the Banff Center, I go to the top floor at night, and just looked up at the expends, and look at this endless sea of lights, which is so beautiful And I've been inspired the above. What is above our heads? And there is something about the how and the mystery and the timelessness of a night sky that seems to inspire me time and time again. Certainly, just from a geographical point of view when I wrote my opera Filumena in 2001-2002 certainly being in the mountains and having the chance to travel around and to blend more in the closeness past and of course the Banff area that was incredibly inspirational for me in its own. It helped inspiring my work when it came time to write the opera. The story of Filumena takes place in a close past and there is no substitute for actually being there while you are writing the piece.”

Eric Friesen

John Estacio. His opera first opera, Filumena, with a libretto by John Murrell, is one of just a few full-length operas to be written and staged in Canada in the last 30 years. It's based on the true story of 22- year old Florence (Filumena) Losandro, who was hanged in 1923 for the murder of a police constable in Alberta, along with her lover, a booze smuggler during prohibition. She is one of a very few woman who ever been hanged in this country. It's a story worthy of grand opera, and both Estacio and Murrell rose to the challenge magnificently. I remember the performance of Filumena here at the NAC: it's filled with inspired music.

[Audio recording: Filumena, by Estacio]

The orchestral interlude linking the end of Act One and the beginning of Act two of the opera Filumena, by John Estacio.

Since Filumena, John Estacio has written another opera, Frobisher, and as I speak this, is working on a third opera for Vancouver Opera called Lillian Ailing.

I've already teased you with two excerpts from John's short, brilliant orchestral piece: Frenergy. It's a signature piece of his and I asked how he came to write it.

John Estacio: “I was working on a triple concerto in 1997, and the concerto was getting quite long and I was running out of time, and although I had a lively conclusion plan for this concerto, I found that actually was writing it, that I didn't really necessarily need it. So I finished the concerto, and I had this idea for a finale that was essentially orphan. A few months later of that season 1997-1998 I had to write another short work for the Edmonton Symphony, so I whipped this up...”

Eric Friesen: “You just put it up of a drawer?”

John Estacio: “Well, it was sort of waiting, it wasn't completely formed. But the flow and the musical ideas were there. It was a matter of writing an orchestra in, I think I had about a week and a half to do it, the deadlines are very scary. But it is a good thing it is a short five-minute piece. There was enough time to finish it, and have it ready for the first rehearsal.”

[Audio recording: Frenergy, by Estacio]

The frantic and thrilling energy of John Estacio's Frenergy, with Alain Trudel leading the NAC Orchestra in 2007. It's become a really popular opener with orchestras throughout Canada and the US. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra played it recently on one of their subscription concerts, as have many others.

And now comes the NAC Award for John Estacio: a challenge to write three new works over five years and to live with this orchestra in other ways. I asked John what the award meant to him:

John Estacio: “Well, it meant a lot actually, because after I'm done with this opera, Lilian Ailing for the Vancouver Opera that I'm writing this year, there was some things happening after that, that I knew about, but there wasn't anything really substantial, and nothing really big that was actually confirmed, ideas and proposals flowing around. Until the NAC phoned me and said: “Would you like to write three works for the orchestra as part of this award?” I said absolutely. But I think that the next thing that they said that really impressed me was it was Daphne Burt for the NAC, and she said: “I went through your catalogue, and I looked at it online at the Canadian Music Center, and you have a lot of ten-minute overtures. And we'd like to give you the chance to write something else, not a ten-minute overture.” So they did the research on what I done before, and are giving me the opportunity to explore maybe something I haven't had the chance to do. It was the right time, I'm turning 44 in a couple of weeks, and I had one of these moments when I was up at night and I couldn't sleep, you know I've been doing this for almost 21 years now, and I have probably another 21 years to go. This is literally my midlife career. And to have an opportunity to try something new, to look in a different direction for these pieces for the NAC is something that I'm ready for.”

Eric Friesen

And so with John Estacio, it will be exciting to see what comes of his collaboration with the NAC Orchestra in the years to come. And what it means to him in his development as a composer. Stay tuned.

I want to thanks again to my colleagues in the NAC's New Media Department: Alida Cupilari, Martin Jones and Maurizio Ortolani. And to the Manager of Artistic Planning for the NAC Orchestra, Daphne Burt. Thanks to David Houston for mixing the program. CBC Radio Two has been a partner with us throughout this project, a special thanks to Jill Laforty of CBC Ottawa for making all these archival performances of the NAC available for this project and for the NAC Music Box. Thanks also to Loretta Hounsell, of CBC Toronto.

And do check out the NAC Music Box at NACmusicbox.ca. What a treasure proof of richness it is. First of all, all three of the NAC Award Winners have performances there; along with so many other Canadian composers and many of the classical composers and performers you love. And there are good program notes and information to go with them. And I want to make a special mention now that there 65 newly added Canadian works to the music box. There is a new interactive timeline. Check that out. It is really exciting to see, and it is a great idea and project at the NAC's: nacmusicbox.ca. And whenever you can, give yourself the chance to hear some new Canadian music. As composer John Corigliano once told me: “Without new shoots the tree dies.” We need the new to add to the old and familiar.

I'm Eric Friesen. Thanks for listening.

[Audio recording: Frenergy, by Estacio]

The 2009 NAC Award Winners: Up Close and Personal!

Hi I'm Eric Friesen. Welcome to my program on the three Canadian composers who were named the 2009 National Arts Centre Award Winners. They are Anna Sokolovic, Peter Paul Koprowski and John Estacio. Meet them here; up close and personal!

[Audio recording: Frenergy by Estacio]

You're listening to the brilliant orchestral piece called Frenergy by John Estacio, with the NAC Orchestra led by Alain Trudel. John Estacio is one of Canada's leading contemporary composers. And John, along with Anna Sokolovic and Peter Paul Koprowski have all been named the NAC Award winners in the fall of 2009, which means that each of them has begun a five-year residency with Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Center Orchestra. Estacio, Sokolovic and Koprowski will each contribute at least three new works to be played by the orchestra and they will do a lot more besides.

In this program, you will meet these three award-winners, you will hear some of their music played by the NAC Orchestra, you will hear them comment on the music, and you'll hear about their plans for developing new works in collaboration with Pinchas and the band. So we are looking not only to the immediate past and to the present but also to the future of Canadian music. It is going to be made here, as these three composers tell us their stories, talk about their music and talk about their dreams for new work inspired by writing for this superb orchestra.

[Audio recording: Frenergy by Estacio]

Frenergy, by John Estacio, from a performance in Southam Hall, the National Arts Center, in 2007, Alain Trudel guest conducting the orchestra. It is a great way to start a concert, as that work has so often been performed throughout North America, and it is a great way to start this program. It is music that is bristling with energy, pulsing with energy and a delight in the sounds that a modern orchestra can make.

I've talked in previous programs about the NAC's Composer Awards program. It was a program begun in 2002, with the NAC's New Music Plan. The first set of awards went to Alexina Louie, Gary Kulesha and Denys Bouliane, all of whom I've profiled before. Now the second round of composer awards are underway, and the three new award winners are Anna Sokolovic of Montreal, John Estacio of Edmonton and Peter Paul Koprowski of the Ottawa area.

Daphne Burt is the Manager of Artistic Planning for the National Arts Center Orchestra. She is in charge of this program, and I asked her to say first of all what the purpose of this program is...

Daphne Burt: “...Well if you ask Peter Paul, he will say first of all, it needs to be a little certificate that you can frame and put on the wall. I actually promised him that. When the award was established in 2001, it was announced with great fanfare, three composers, in mid-career to be given a sizeable junk of money to found artistic endeavors for the National Arts Center, for the orchestra, for ensembles, for solo and to just help them realize their potential, artistically. So we replicated that in the second round and this year they will get certificates I've promised.” (laughs)

Eric Friesen: “How much money do they get?”

Daphne Burt: “Each composer gets $ 75 000 and that in a sort of a loose framework that will have each composers represents three works: a major orchestral work, a work for ensemble (meaning 12 to 15 players with a conductor) and a work for chamber ensemble. Now with some of them, I think that it is going to end up manifesting just like that with two, with one of our composers we might take two of those works and combine them into something a little bit more ambitious.”

Eric Friesen: “Like what?”

Daphne Burt: “Like perhaps a chamber opera.”

Eric Friesen: “That would be John Estacio, wouldn't it be?”

Daphne Burt: “No, actually it wouldn't be. (…) My philosophy personally behind this, when I made the final phone call to the three who were awarded, after discussion with the artistic leader here at NAC, and various folks around the country, is that with this award, the Arts Center should be able to challenge each composer to stretch. And they each have a sizeable body of work already. And that is the philosophy, these are mid-career composers, with a body they have created already we are not going for the emerging composers in any case. And we take this and use it to stretch themselves artistically in a way they might not have an opportunity to do before. And with John, I said John you have had an opera for many few years here.”

Eric Friesen: “Including right now.”

Daphne Burt: “Including right now with the premiere in Vancouver in the fall. Take this and think about how to use it to create in the case of an orchestral work, to work for the orchestra not reflecting of voice, it doesn't include singers.”

Eric Friesen

Daphne Burt. So, these composers get to stretch themselves artistically and write at least three new works. But I asked Daphne what else they have to do, in addition to writing music?

Daphne Burt: “With each one, we are going to tailor their residency work to suit the composer's talent and need. Some are very comfortable teaching, class of students, private students, maybe we would rather have seminars, but there will be some education element to it. The composer program that is part of the summer institute will figure in their lives, whether they are leading the section, or guest lecture depending on their strength and interests, and time. And so that is one element, composers in the summer. And when the orchestra tours, we will tour Canadian new work. So touring will be part of their future with us.”

Eric Friesen: “They have to go along?”

Daphne Burt: “They have to go along on the tour and we are hoping that other kinds of master classes, pre-concert talks engaging with the audience and as many interesting ways we can come up with. This format in particular too, reaching out the new medias through the Website in that discussion with composers on line.”

Eric Friesen

So, this is not just a commissioning program. The NAC Award is much more in depth, it is a program that creates a strong set of relationships between each of the composers and the orchestra. You might say it's almost like a part-time job for the five years. For the NAC, they get new works written expressly for their orchestra, and for the composers, they get to write for a great orchestra and to become part of the community of music making that is the NAC Orchestra.

Daphne mentioned that composers chosen for this program are in mid-career and already have a significant body of work. I wondered what other criteria were in play in making the final choices:

Daphne Burt: “Composers who are each different from one another stylistically. The audience that are going to be having this music program on their concerts series, and we want to be able to promote it, we want them to be able to hear different Canadian voices in composition. So Peter Paul Koprowski, Ana Sokolovic and Estacio are very different from one to the other and they represent different approaches to composition, different backgrounds, and they are willing to engage though. This is a similarity; they are each willing to engage with the audience about the creative process, about their work, about life…”

Eric Friesen

Daphne Burt, who is Manager of Artistic Planning for NAC Orchestra. It is interesting that composers, like performers these days, have to be able to connect with an audience and they have to want to connect with an audience in order to succeed.

Okay - let's meet the first of the new trio of award winners: Peter Paul Koprowski.

[Audio recording: Sinfonia Concertante, third movement by Koprowski]

Music by Peter Paul Koprowski, his musical signature being lyrical, long unfolding lines, arcs of sound, and a strong note of elegy, of remembrance of the past. That was the opening of the third movement, the aria, from the Sinfonia Concertante by Koprowski. The NAC Orchestra led by Franz Paul Decker, in a performance from 1993.

Koprowski's music was profoundly influenced by his being born and raised in Poland just after the Second World War. Poland was and is an intensely musical country, but during the war, it had also been through the terrible trauma of first German occupation and then Russians. And then after the war, it was a communist satellite of the Soviet Union. Peter Paul was very much a child of this time.

Peter Paul Koprowski: “I am realizing only now that the impact of music, what people at times describes as drama, as depth. Some people actually recognize the humour of the absurd in it. I always associate myself, because you couldn't look at these times in any other way. I mean you didn't get involved, it affected you. You know, when someone that got pushed out a window from the third floor. Yes I don't like thinking about it. But I mean to this day I get emotional. It was awful; it definitely set the tone to my music. Perhaps a defense on one hand, on the other hand injected that dose of absurdity in the Sinfonia Concertante. I remember Pinchas picked up on it, this is interesting. There is this moment where I actually have a march-like intensity; it is almost I guess a reflection of seeing the films with Nazis marching. And at the same time you have other things happening: clarinet doing (singing) like commenting on it, I mean they are totally absurd. The bassoon is going (singing) the music itself, if you really look into the text, actually maybe you can come up with some kind of “ism” because people like to classify in term of “ism”, but this is absurd music...”

Eric Friesen

So, absurdism, another part of Peter Paul Koprowski's signature, similar in some ways to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, the absurd but also the profoundly elegiac and deep lamenting qualities that Shostakovitch and Koprowksi share.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Peter Paul was born and raised in Poland in 1947. He was already composing in his early teens. By the age of 16, he had produced one of his first masterpieces: In Memoriam Karl Szymanowski. But in 1969, at the age of 22, he left Poland and moved to England for a couple of years. It is during that time that he went to Paris also to study occasionally with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger. Then, in 1971, he came to Canada, encouraged by a Polish friend, who told Peter Paul all about the beauty of Canada and its freedom from the tragic war history and communist domination of post war Poland. Koprowski came to Canada and studied with, who else, but John Weinzweig, at the University of Toronto.

Peter Paul Koprowski: “John… hum… did something very useful I guess to me. Because I had such an overwhelming amount of, I had a baggage of modernism with me. I had a number of options I guess and John put a hold on this. John, it seems to me in a very quiet way, has shaped what I already had. And perhaps applied discipline to what I had. From Poland, I also brought lot of the Renaissance and together with the modernism and let's say the Romanticism. It was the Renaissance that shaped my music. There is a lot of evidence of Renaissance in modern works. I mean one of the most modern, and I mean more avant-garde work of that time is my String Quarter and that is up again. Even in the Memoriam there is a lot of it again. So I brought that with me, I brought the modernism but I get John Weinzweig applied the thought and the discipline of Webern onto that. And I would say that without it, my music wouldn't be as structured as it became.”

Eric Friesen

So, although Peter Paul Koprowski would ultimately become a very different composer from what John Weinzweig might have liked, Peter Paul abandoned much of the modernist approach, but as he said, Weinzweig helped him to produce an order, a discipline on all those influences and strands of interest in Peter Paul's music. And beyond that time at U of T, Canada, says Koprowski, gave him the freedom and the space to put all these various strands of his together: the modernism, the influence of Renaissance music, the Polish tradition in the music of Szymanowski and others in the 20tth century, the war, communism; it all came together here in the peacefulness and wide-open spaces and the relatively doctrinaire-free environment of Canada.

One of Peter Paul's most popular pieces is called Epitaph for Strings, written in 1980, in memory of his teacher at the Krakow Academy of Music, Boleslaw Woytowicz.

Peter Paul Koprowski: “… There's an interesting history of this piece because while it was written for a youth orchestra, although it has been performed by other major orchestras simply probably because it requires half an hour rehearsal time, and that is why I may not be very objective about this…”

Eric Friesen: “Come on; give yourself some grant for that piece people like!” (laughs)

Peter Paul Koprowski: “Well it is one of the most often performed works, but if people only knew how I wrote it. Actually, I wrote it virtually on my knee, and on airplanes and on trains. I was touring Europe and I had a deadline, and I had to have a piece. So at the end of the tour, I delivered the score. And I never thought the piece would be as successful as it has been. But maybe you are right. There is obviously something in it. Right at the very opening of the piece there is something that stops people. I've been asked what is it, what is this sonority that is so rich, that is so overwhelming. What sonority is it? Well… I was even asked if it was a 12-tone sonority. Well actually it isn't, it is just a minor third. But it is scored in such a way that the range of overtones, what comes with it, what you do not actually see in the score. You actually hear and create perhaps the ambiance, it sets the atmosphere actually.”

Eric Friesen

The atmosphere of an epitaph that is both elegiac and also intensely mournful, periods of sad reflection punctuated by outbursts of almost wailing... the quiet part taken by a string quartet, which is in strings of the orchestra, and then these outbursts played by all the strings.

[Audio recording: Epitaph for Strings, by Koprowski]

The opening of Epitaph for Strings by Peter Paul Koprowski, played by the National Arts Centre Orchestra led by Pinchas Zukerman, from a concert in 2000 at Southam Hall, Ottawa. You can hear the complete performance of this work and also of Peter Paul Koprowski's beautiful piece Ancestral Voices by going to NAC Music Box, online at nacmusicbox.ca. You'll find the performances there and some good notes to go with these two of Peter Paul Koprowski's finest pieces played by the NAC Orchestra.

Peter Paul has had a long and productive relationship with this orchestra, and also now with Pinchas Zukerman. He loves working with it and is looking forward to his residency here in Ottawa with Pinchas and the band. After hearing Pinchas and Co. play a Mozart concerto recently, Peter Paul is thinking that he might try to write a violin concerto for Pinchas as part of his time here. Now I would say that would be really exciting. Stay tuned.

You're listening to Eric Friesen Presents, a podcast celebrating the three Canadian composers who have been given the most recent set of NAC Awards, and who over the next five years will each create at least three works, three new ones, and spend time in Ottawa and on tour, teaching, coaching, connecting with audiences in addition to writing this new music expressly for orchestra.

Next, I'd like to profile Ana Sokolovic of Montreal.

[Audio recording: Concerto for Orchestra, by Sokolovic]

A broad, bold orchestral canvas, scurrying figures in the strings and winds, a composer who really knows the orchestra, above all attractive music, that's the opening of the Concerto for Orchestra by Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic from 2006; the NAC Orchestra led by guest conductor Thomas Sondergard.

Like Peter Paul Koprowski, Ana Sokolovic is another immigrant to Canada, a composer who grew up, who was nurtured in a different musical tradition and then brought her immense talent and all that experience to this country and has made Canada her home. Ana Sokolovic was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, she was born in 1968. She tells me she had a very happy childhood: parents who encouraged an interest in the arts even though they themselves weren't particularly musical; she grew up in a good education system, with a particular emphasis on music education that was open to everybody, like in so many eastern bloc countries. Lots of opportunity to attend artistic events, she was a student of classical ballet, and there was always a lot of time left over in the school day for other activities. She got the composing bug early, and I asked her where that came from?

Ana Sokolovic: “Yes, as a part of my activities. What I did with my friends? We played in our little street and we made little theater pieces, and I composed the music for theater pieces, but I was at the same time actor, I was at the same time director, I was not the only one. My friends did the same thing. But I was musician, so I read music so it was just by need. So all start very spontaneously, it was very clear for that I wanted to create. At one moment in my life, maybe this is the next question, but at one moment around 16, I had to decide what I would do: theater or music. And I don't know why I chose to go to study music, but I never left theater somewhere in my personality. But I studied music and I always had this contact with theater, with the stage. And that is why I like music, because this is contact direct with people are on the stage, and this contact with the public. So this is what interests me. So the performance can be danced, or played or said but this is what I like. I prefer stage than any other arts in a sense of modern technology arts. I like films very, I like to watch it, but this is not my passion.”

Eric Friesen

So, a passion for the arts in which there are live performers and a live audience. And in the rich cultural milieu of Belgrade, she flourished. She tells us how, when taking piano lessons, her composing instinct was already coming out.

Ana Sokolovic: “I practiced everything but not what I should practice. For instance I had some studies, you know Czerny, Moschewitz or these studies, which were not very interesting or were not interesting for me. So they were written in major, I'd play them in minor. They were written in major and I would play it in some old modes. So what I did, I recomposed the pieces. I was not interested to play what was written. And my teacher, each time she came to have a lesson with me, and she heard me practicing and she said me: “Ana, you are not really practicing, you are composing.” So I think it was also she just realized that maybe the pianist should practice piano.”

Eric Friesen: “You are a bit of a rebel, aren't you?”

Ana Sokolovic: “Absolutely.”

Eric Friesen: “And in a way, that is where the germ of your composing comes from?”

Ana Sokolovic: “I think yes. I like music, and I like music just performing it, as it supposed to be, was… not that much interesting for me (…) if you want, I can tell you exactly the moment when I decided to be a composer: when I heard contemporary music. And two pieces were very important for me. It was Pierrot Lunaire and Sacre du Printemps, Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. I was around 13, maybe, when I heard it, 14…”

Eric Friesen: “So Schoenberg and Stravinsky?”

Ana Sokolovic: “Absolutely. And all other contemporary pieces we were obliged to play as a program of our education, and I was the only one who liked to play these contemporary Yugoslav pieces which were imposed to us.”


Eric Friesen: “Why would you like them?”

Ana Sokolovic: “Because they were different. The harmony was different, and this was what absolute seduce me. And it was the same thing with Pierrot Lunaire. I was like: “Wow, is it possible to sing like this, this is amazing!” So, I think germ was there.”

Eric Friesen

The germ was there, for composing and for the new, the modern. But in 1992, when she was 23, Ana Sokolovic came to Canada, to Montreal. She says she was restless in Belgrade, wanting more, wanting not to stay in one place. But it was a special friend who was the spark for her to come here.

Ana Sokolovic: “I had a very good friend; she is a young filmmaker, she lives now in Montreal, but she was born in Ontario. Her name is Nancy Barrick. And she was born in Canada but she spent all of her summers in former Yugoslavia. We were very good friends, we spent three months each summer on the seaside. And she talked to me about Canada and I was so impressed by. And also, she brought to us all these new fashion things, which was a little late, arrived late by maybe a year after to ex-Yugoslavia. Fashion things all about music, lot about music and of course about this huge country. So it always stayed in my head. Actually when I wanted to go somewhere, I asked her can I come, because at the time she was studying in Montreal. I asked her what she thought about it if I come and she was very happy about it. And also I'm a huge Francophile. All my life, I liked French so much.”

Eric Friesen: “Did you study French; did you learn French as a child?”

Ana Sokolovic: “I studied just as a second language at school, not more than this. But I liked language, the sonority of the language. And I liked the culture also. All French culture it was very close to me. I went to Paris and I felt as in home. So I was really Francophile, so the fact to coming to Montreal and to Canada was important for me, and the Canada was always for me, and this the truth, I saw it later, was always between Europe and United States. And in Canada I really feel well. I really feel completely calm. This is really the place I can realize all what I plan.”

Eric Friesen

So she came to Canada, to Quebec, to Montreal, studied at the University of Montreal with Jose Evangelista, and settled in as a Canadian composer. Early on, she met the Quebec composer Jean Lesage, they became best friends and eventually got married. And everything came together: her Serbian culture with its deep tradition and love of dance, which she still holds dearly to, her love of languages and her passion for the new in music.

Ana Sokolovic's one major work, which has been performed here at the NAC, is her Concerto for Orchestra, which you heard just a bit of it of a few minutes ago. It was commissioned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano in 2006. I asked her why she wanted to write a concerto for orchestra.

Ana Sokolovic: “I wanted to explore the orchestra as one soloist. I wanted to work this beautiful soloist, which is orchestra. And the idea was to put all as muddling clay. This is actually an orchestra, this is muddling clay. All the instruments, it works together. You can have solos here and there of course, but it is one. That is why a concerto for orchestra. That was what my idea was. In the third movement, in all movement you can hear what I told you about. About this contradiction, about lyricism, and much more dance music you can hear in this piece actually; because all pieces are made by dualism. I did it after having a talk with Kent Nagano. He programmed in the same concert, when the piece was created and which he brings to his first actually Canadian tour, in 2007, and the program was with Beethoven and Rossini, two composers very different.”

Eric Friesen: “Very different, talk about a duality…”

Ana Sokolovic: “Exactly. Very different composers but from the same period of history, and also all piece has elements from both pieces which were played from Guillaume Tell Ouverture and also from Beethoven's 7th Symphony.”

Eric Friesen

Not direct quotes from those works, as Ana goes on to say, but certain atmospheres as she called it.

[Audio recording: Concerto for Orchestra, by Sokolovic]

The opening two minutes of the third movement of Ana Sokolovic's Concerto for Orchestra. The NAC Orchestra led by Thomas Sondergard. You could hear the duality of Ana's musical signature in that excerpt: the dramatic, the dense, the bold, versus the lyrical, the more tender.

As I said, it's the only work of Ana's that the NAC has programmed so far. But there will be more to come, now that she's been named one of the NAC's Award winning composers. This orchestra will inspire three works for the next five years, and Ana is hoping that one of them might be an interdisciplinary piece, music that she writes also involving dance or theatre. I asked her what winning this award has meant to her:

Ana Sokolovic: “I think this award arrives in a really good moment for me. I feel really great. I just turned a little bit more than 40; I have two kids who are not babies anymore, 8 and 11, so I feel in the best shape. I really feel very well. This commission means a lot of work for me, but I feel lot of energy to do it. So I was so honored and I know how much the possibilities are, at this moment it will be possible. It arrives in my life; I think it is the great moment for me. I don't think it would be that good maybe five years ago.”

Eric Friesen: “You wouldn't have been ready for it.”


Ana Sokolovic: “I don't think so. I think it is really the right moment. I just can't wait to work on these projects”

[Audio recording: Concerto for Orchestra, by Sokolovic]

Eric Friesen

The music and voice of Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic, NAC Award Winner. It will be a thrill to watch what she writes for the NAC Orchestra. Throughout this part of the program we've been listening to her Concerto for Orchestra, from a 2008 performance with the NAC Orchestra led by Thomas Sondergard. You can hear the whole of this brilliant piece by going to the NAC's Music Box, go to nacmusicbox.ca. For Ana's Concerto for Orchestra and so much more.

I'm Eric Friesen, and I am presenting the three 2009 NAC Award winning Canadian composers. We've heard from two. Now to the third, whom I teased you with a bit of music off the top of the program. John Estacio.

[Audio recording: Frenergy by Estacio]

I never get tired of listening to this short, brilliant concert opener by John Estacio. Frenergy he calls it; he wrote it in 1998 for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and since then it's been played by orchestras all over the world. It is little like John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. It's one of Estacio's signature pieces, and we heard it in a performance from 2007 with the NAC Orchestra led by Alain Trudel.

John Estacio, I had known him for quite a while, is like a little Portuguese cherub or pixie. He is a small man, but bursting with energy and joy and fun. That's why Frenergy represents him so well. He was born 1966 in Newmarket, Ontario, is the son of Portuguese immigrants, who were farmers in the Holland Marsh. I asked him if there was music in his home growing up.

John Estacio: “Oh yes...there certainly was, my parents were from a very small island in the Azores, but music was alive there and they brought that with them when they came to Canada. And they brought their records of course, when I finally get to use a phonograph, I would play often and frequently. And you know, we watched TV, and my mom and dad loved Lawrence Welk. So every Sunday was Lawrence Welk, and I came to enjoy that as well. These are my first run in with music, and it was even Lawrence Welk or lot of Portuguese records folk music, lot of Fado music that my parents enjoyed listening to as well.”

Eric Friesen: “Did you have an instrument in the house?”

John Estacio: “No, we didn't for the longest time. I mean there simply wasn't enough money to make ends need by an instrument. But a door to door salesman came to our home in 1977 probably, I was in grade five, and he was selling music lessons, door to door. This was unheard of. We never had that, and my parents at the time could already tell that I was interested in music. I was asking for an instrument. I wanted an organ as the one on Lawrence Welk. You know the big one that you drive, that you uses mirror it is so huge. I wanted something like that, but of course there was no money for that. Instead, we settle down an accordion. So I took accordion lessons, in the town of Bradford, which is not to far from where we were living, in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. I did that for a while, my parents actually after six weeks of lessons and borrowing the school's instruments we had to buy an instrument. Somehow they put the money together, it was a very baggy here in the farm in 1977, there was a lot of rain and not a very good year, but somehow they manage to put 500 or 600 dollars together and they bought me an instrument. So that was the first instrument in the house.”

Eric Friesen

What a wonderful story that is of parents supporting their child even in the toughest of times. Eventually John Estacio would get to play an organ, in church in Bradford. Not quite as big as the one on Lawrence Welk, but an organ nonetheless. A teacher in school recognized his interest in music and talent and began teaching him the organ and by the time he was 1in grade eight, maybe 4 or 15, he was playing complete services in his local church.

When in this time, I asked him, did he start composing?

John Estacio: “Well, I guess there's two different dates for that. There is the date where I finally learned how to write music on paper, and before that there was just singing and making up my own songs in my head, and coming up with my own words, and I can't remember at what time I wasn't doing that. And I think that was what initially led me to want to play music. And my parents realized this as well. And after a while, I was just coming up with my own tunes and getting my accordion I would just try things up by ear. But it was frustrating for me because I was always getting the melody, I couldn't figure out the chords as a youngster. That was kind of difficult. Once I start taking organ lessons with my grade one teacher, mister McNeil, I started to learn a little bit about theory. So I think about the time, I must be 12 or 13 when I could finally figure out how to notate my ideas on paper. ”

Eric Friesen: “Didn't you write little film scores, were doing some mock films with your friends in high school?”

John Estacio: “Yes, I did that as well. I loved film, I always have loved film, I still do. In our summer holidays, I had some friends who also were farm boys, and who also love film, my parents bought a super 8 camera in 1975 and we would make little films during the summer. Of course I would write the music, I would create the music. We played the film on little projector and I play along, I recorded the music on a cassette player and then we show the film together. There is always two different sources, the film projector would be running on its own, and the cassette player was on a different source, so it was always very difficult to length things up. To make sure everything was in sync. But, yes I have a taste for writing music for film. I have always enjoyed that. And a few years ago, I had the chance to write the music for a real professional production of motion picture'”

Eric Friesen

I love these stories of composers' beginnings, playing the organ in church, writing music for amateur films. From this to where John Estacio is now: one of Canada's most successful composers! But studying was important too: after high school, John went first to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, he studied there with Glen Buhr, a composer whose music I celebrated in the eighth program of this series, and also with Peter Hatch. And after Wilfrid Laurier, John went to UBC where he studied with Stephen Chatman. All of his teachers, he says, encouraged him to become the composer that he wanted to be, to develop his own voice, not to imitate his teacher or conform to their style of composition.

John's big break in his development as a composer came when he was appointed composer-in-residence with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. That was in 1992 and he's lived in Alberta ever since, either in Edmonton or Calgary, working with those two cities orchestras or with Calgary Opera, and also resident at the Banff Centre. I asked John what Alberta has meant to John in the development of his music.

John Estacio: “I think what drove me to Edmonton and Alberta was first of all as you said a composer-in-residence position in 1992 with the Edmonton Symphony. And that's really where my professional career started, essentially. And I made a lot of contacts there, it was a very formative time in my life, in my career and of course I met a lot of musician through the Edmonton Symphony, a lot of conductors, a lot of people who work behind the scenes, who we don't often see when we're at the symphony concerts, but yet play a very important role in making sure concerts happen. These are all very important people; it meant so much to me. I think there is a lot to learn, they were concerts to go to music that I had never heard before, or course being around a real live orchestra both in Edmonton and in Calgary you get to see a lot of different things. You get to see rehearsals. You find out how musicians approach their music. You get interact with these people, you go out for a beer, you talk about the concert, you get to have one on one conversations with musicians and you really are down there and exchange with them and you sort of see a piece of music but from the timpanist point of view or from the clarinetist point of view. You internalize that.”


Eric Friesen: “What about even beyond the people in the orchestras and the wonderful opportunities you had, I'm thinking about the land, the culture, maybe the smell of crude oil, I don't know!” (laughs)

John Estacio: “I try to avoid the smell of crude oil.”


Eric Friesen: “I'm sure, but is there something about the land, or the sky in Western Canada that is really a profound influence on your work?”

John Estacio: “Oh, absolutely. You are entirely correct. The first time I've seen an aurora borealis was here in Edmonton after an Edmonton Symphony concert one night, and I had never seen in southern Ontario, nor it dose happen out there as well. But my first time I was out here, and going out to the mountains as well, where there is no light pollution. There is so much to see up there. And often times when I found myself at the Banff Center, I go to the top floor at night, and just looked up at the expends, and look at this endless sea of lights, which is so beautiful And I've been inspired the above. What is above our heads? And there is something about the how and the mystery and the timelessness of a night sky that seems to inspire me time and time again. Certainly, just from a geographical point of view when I wrote my opera Filumena in 2001-2002 certainly being in the mountains and having the chance to travel around and to blend more in the closeness past and of course the Banff area that was incredibly inspirational for me in its own. It helped inspiring my work when it came time to write the opera. The story of Filumena takes place in a close past and there is no substitute for actually being there while you are writing the piece.”

Eric Friesen

John Estacio. His opera first opera, Filumena, with a libretto by John Murrell, is one of just a few full-length operas to be written and staged in Canada in the last 30 years. It's based on the true story of 22- year old Florence (Filumena) Losandro, who was hanged in 1923 for the murder of a police constable in Alberta, along with her lover, a booze smuggler during prohibition. She is one of a very few woman who ever been hanged in this country. It's a story worthy of grand opera, and both Estacio and Murrell rose to the challenge magnificently. I remember the performance of Filumena here at the NAC: it's filled with inspired music.

[Audio recording: Filumena, by Estacio]

The orchestral interlude linking the end of Act One and the beginning of Act two of the opera Filumena, by John Estacio.

Since Filumena, John Estacio has written another opera, Frobisher, and as I speak this, is working on a third opera for Vancouver Opera called Lillian Ailing.

I've already teased you with two excerpts from John's short, brilliant orchestral piece: Frenergy. It's a signature piece of his and I asked how he came to write it.

John Estacio: “I was working on a triple concerto in 1997, and the concerto was getting quite long and I was running out of time, and although I had a lively conclusion plan for this concerto, I found that actually was writing it, that I didn't really necessarily need it. So I finished the concerto, and I had this idea for a finale that was essentially orphan. A few months later of that season 1997-1998 I had to write another short work for the Edmonton Symphony, so I whipped this up...”

Eric Friesen: “You just put it up of a drawer?”

John Estacio: “Well, it was sort of waiting, it wasn't completely formed. But the flow and the musical ideas were there. It was a matter of writing an orchestra in, I think I had about a week and a half to do it, the deadlines are very scary. But it is a good thing it is a short five-minute piece. There was enough time to finish it, and have it ready for the first rehearsal.”

[Audio recording: Frenergy, by Estacio]

The frantic and thrilling energy of John Estacio's Frenergy, with Alain Trudel leading the NAC Orchestra in 2007. It's become a really popular opener with orchestras throughout Canada and the US. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra played it recently on one of their subscription concerts, as have many others.

And now comes the NAC Award for John Estacio: a challenge to write three new works over five years and to live with this orchestra in other ways. I asked John what the award meant to him:

John Estacio: “Well, it meant a lot actually, because after I'm done with this opera, Lilian Ailing for the Vancouver Opera that I'm writing this year, there was some things happening after that, that I knew about, but there wasn't anything really substantial, and nothing really big that was actually confirmed, ideas and proposals flowing around. Until the NAC phoned me and said: “Would you like to write three works for the orchestra as part of this award?” I said absolutely. But I think that the next thing that they said that really impressed me was it was Daphne Burt for the NAC, and she said: “I went through your catalogue, and I looked at it online at the Canadian Music Center, and you have a lot of ten-minute overtures. And we'd like to give you the chance to write something else, not a ten-minute overture.” So they did the research on what I done before, and are giving me the opportunity to explore maybe something I haven't had the chance to do. It was the right time, I'm turning 44 in a couple of weeks, and I had one of these moments when I was up at night and I couldn't sleep, you know I've been doing this for almost 21 years now, and I have probably another 21 years to go. This is literally my midlife career. And to have an opportunity to try something new, to look in a different direction for these pieces for the NAC is something that I'm ready for.”

Eric Friesen

And so with John Estacio, it will be exciting to see what comes of his collaboration with the NAC Orchestra in the years to come. And what it means to him in his development as a composer. Stay tuned.

I want to thanks again to my colleagues in the NAC's New Media Department: Alida Cupilari, Martin Jones and Maurizio Ortolani. And to the Manager of Artistic Planning for the NAC Orchestra, Daphne Burt. Thanks to David Houston for mixing the program. CBC Radio Two has been a partner with us throughout this project, a special thanks to Jill Laforty of CBC Ottawa for making all these archival performances of the NAC available for this project and for the NAC Music Box. Thanks also to Loretta Hounsell, of CBC Toronto.

And do check out the NACmusicbox at NACmusicbox.ca. What a treasure proof of richness it is. First of all, all three of the NAC Award Winners have performances there; along with so many other Canadian composers and many of the classical composers and performers you love. And there are good program notes and information to go with them. And I want to make a special mention now that there 65 newly added Canadian works to the musicbox. There is a new interactive timeline. Check that out. It is really exciting to see, and it is a great idea and project at the NAC: The NACmusicbox.ca. And whenever you can, give yourself the chance to hear some new Canadian music. As composer John Corigliano once told me: “Without new shoots the tree dies.” We need the new to add to the old and familiar.

I'm Eric Friesen. Thanks for listening.

[Audio recording: Frenergy, by Estacio]