Concert Program Notes

GLENN BUHR

Born in Winnipeg, December 18, 1954; now living in Waterloo and Winnipeg

Akasha (Sky), like its companion piece Jyotir, derives from the composer's fascination with the culture of India. Akasha (Sky) (the Sanskrit word for space or sky) is a four-minute work that indeed lives up to its name, with a slowly evolving melody in the brass offset by flourishes from the woodwinds and an overall sense of spaciousness.

Akasha (Sky) was composed on commission from the CBC to open a gala concert of past winners of the CBC Performers Competition. (Buhr himself was a winner in the CBC Young Composers Competition.) The premiere was given in May of 1989 by the Toronto Symphony with Mario Bernardi conducting. The composer has provided this explanation of his work, Akasha (Sky), which is the Sanskrit word for ‘space' or ‘sky':

"The work is gentle and simple. A cascading pattern in the woodwinds is offset by a slowly evolving melody in the brass. The woodwind and brass texture, supported by a hovering music in the strings, swells to a climax and then a gentle return of the opening music ends this brief overture."

In keeping with its title (Akasha (Sky) is the Sanskrit for brilliance), the brief, four-minute work features bright sonorities and shimmering sounds, particularly from flute, piccolo, glockenspiel and trumpet. There is a glimmering, glistening sheen to the texture. Overall the work conjures up a vision that approaches and recedes.

Akasha (Sky) resulted from Buhr's reawakened interest in Indian music, which had first sparked his curiosity during his early university years in the 1970s. "Though I didn't understand the aesthetic of the music at the time," he said in an interview accompanying the CD recording of Akasha (Sky)), "I was quite keen on the sound. Later, when I was working on The Cycle of Spring in 1988, I became fascinated by this music again through my new interest in ancient Sanskrit theater. The whole principle behind this tradition is the importance of the emotional state of the audience during the performance, and that's something that I've become conscious of in my own work. In some performances of The Cycle of Spring, for example, Akasha (Sky) and Jyotir are included as instrumental movements for dance in order to enhance the emotional experience for the listener."

GLENN BUHR

Born in Winnipeg, December 18, 1954; now living Waterloo and Winnipeg

Jyotir, like its companion piece Akasha (Sky), derives from the composer's fascination with the culture of India. Jyotir (the Sanskrit word for brilliance) is a five-minute work of joyous exuberance, virtuoso writing for the woodwinds and an improvised drum solo near the end. The melodic material unfolds over a sixteen-beat pulse in the manner of Indian music.

Jyotir was written for the Canadian Chamber Ensemble in 1989 and premiered by that group with Raffi Armenian conducting. The composer describes the five-minute work as "a brief study in virtuosic orchestral writing. It is unrelentingly fast, with several virtuoso sections for the woodwinds and an improvised drum solo toward the end. As the title suggests (jyotir is the Sanskrit word for brilliance), the work is strongly influenced by the music of India. It is built on a single seven-note scale with no modulation and there is a recurring pattern of sixteen beats over which the melodic material unfolds." A two-note motif alternates with woodwind flourishes and pounding drums. Percussion plays a prominent role, driving the asymmetrical, relentless rhythmic pulsation.

Jyotir resulted from Buhr's reawakened interest in Indian music, which had first sparked his curiosity during his early university years in the 1970s. "Though I didn't understand the aesthetic of the music at the time," he said in an interview accompanying the CD recording of Jyotir), "I was quite keen on the sound. Later, when I was working on The Cycle of Spring in 1988, I became fascinated by this music again through my new interest in ancient Sanskrit theater. The whole principle behind this tradition is the importance of the emotional state of the audience during the performance, and that's something that I've become conscious of in my own work. In some performances of The Cycle of Spring, for example, Akasha (Sky) and Jyotir are included as instrumental movements for dance in order to enhance the emotional experience for the listener."

JOSÉ EVANGELISTA

Born in Valencia, Spain, August 5, 1943; now living in Montreal.

Into this composition for strings alone, the composer has incorporated no fewer than fifteen folk tunes from his native Spain. As the emphasis is on the melodic element, there is little in the way of development or modulation.

The composer summarizes his stylistic orientation as follows: "He has explored ways of making music exclusively based on melody. Hence, he has developed a heterophonic writing, both for instruments and orchestra, where the melodic line generates echoes of itself, creating an illusion of polyphony. His music draws its roots from a large vision of tradition: to his Spanish origins he has added the influence of the Indonesian gamelan, the Western avant-garde, and modal musics."

Air d'Espagne for string orchestra resulted from a commission by the CBC (Winnipeg) for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. The first performance was conducted by Owen Underhill in February of 1992. This and Spanish Garland have become the composer's most frequently performed works. Air d'Espagne has been heard not only all over Canada but in foreign countries from France to Australia. It appeared on a recording by I Musici de Montréal that won a coveted Juno Award. The composer describes the music as follows:

"This piece consists of fifteen folk melodies from Spain, including the well-known Cantiga No. 61 (Alfonso el Sabio). They include work songs, lullabies, entertainment songs and religious songs. They come from a variety of regions and most of them are probably fairly old. The melodies are presented as such, or at most repeated, without formal developments or modulations. My purpose has been to emphasize the melodic character of this material. There is a systematic use of ornamentation and heterophony which nearly gives the impression of real polyphony, but with no counterpoint or chords."

STEVEN GELLMAN

Born in Toronto, September 16, 1947; now living in Ottawa

Into this powerful, viscerally exciting, nine-minute work, Steven Gellman incorporates the spiritual implication of Jaya, the ancient Sanskrit word for victory. Over pounding, relentless rhythmic patterns - two ancient Hindu victory rhythms (talas) – Gellman superimposes glittering woodwinds and stentorian pronouncements from the brass.

Jaya Overture was commissioned by the National Arts Centre and received its world premiere on March 27, 1996 performed by the NACO under the baton of Hans Graf. The composer writes:

Jaya is the ancient Sanskrit word meaning "victory." It also gave rise to our word "joy". This work was inspired by a trip to Tibet and Nepal in the summer of 1995. Witnessing a great spiritual culture (Tibet) under the yoke of an oppressive foreign regime precipitated strong feelings in me, and a powerful wish that all beings become free from oppression, both outer and inner (fears, neuroses, hatred, blindness). The victory implied in the title is a spiritual one.

Jaya is also a rhythm. Among the ancient Hindu talas are two victory rhythms — Jaya and Vijaya. Both of these appear during the course of this work. The piece is driven by a strong march rhythm which provides an ostinato over which the music unfolds much like a Passacaglia.

I must observe here that the march rhythm has generally been avoided in contemporary music for its militaristic connotations; however, in hearing this insistent rhythm in my mind and questioning it, I became aware that it represents determination, perseverance — the wrathful force needed to break through and overthrow oppression.

The work is monothematic and cast in a simple ABA form. The outer sections unfold the "march to victory" and the central section reconsiders the same thematic material in a more reflective

Following its premiere in Ottawa, Richard Todd of the Ottawa Citizen wrote: "Steven Gellman's Jaya Overture is a concise and relatively simple work of immediate appeal. [It] may stand a chance of entering the repertoire of many Canadian orchestras."

SRUL IRVING GLICK

Born in Toronto, September 8, 1934; died in Toronto, April 17, 2002

Glick's deep immersion in Jewish music and culture is responsible for the inspiration of many of his compositions, this one included.

Irving Glick's music reflects his strong ties to the Jewish faith. His father was a Cantor in Toronto, and a number of Glick's compositions are written for cantor with choir and/or instruments. He held positions as composer-in-residence of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto, where he was choir director beginning in 1969; as program director for Musica Beth Tikvah; and as director of Jewish Music Toronto.

Glick composed his Suite hébraïque No. 1 in 1961 while he was living in Paris. "After being away from Toronto for two years, I started to get nostalgic feelings for my home and the family," he wrote, "so I decided to write a work for my parents. My family background was always involved in music. My father was a cantor and when I was a child I sang in his choirs, and it was a common occurrence to sing en famille during the Sabbath or for holiday occasions. The taste for Jewish music was the actual source for the inspiration of not only this work but many of this kind which were to follow." (Glick went on to write five more works with the title Suite hébraïque.)

Each of the six short movements of this ten-minute work represents a different mood or description of Jewish life. The composer writes:

"The first is a cantorial chant. This movement, though not in style like my father's singing, has somewhat the mood. The second is a Chassidic dance. This movement contains in it somewhat of the joy of dancing as prayer. The third movement, entitled Hora, is an Israeli dance. I do not think, however, that anybody would ever dance the Hora to this movement, but the spirit of that dance is very much my intention. The fourth movement is a lullaby. This is the only movement for which I used a theme that was not original. The lullaby theme was sung to me by my parents when I was a baby. The fifth movement, called Dialogue, evokes a pastoral scene in which one motif dominates discussion and then the other motif, fed up with being dominated, explodes in anger. The last movement, Circle Dance, is a whirling dance related to the Hora. Dances of this type are usually done by people who are joined together arm to shoulder in a circle, and the dance movements are created specifically for each piece of music."

The first performance of the Suite in any form was in an arrangement the composer made for clarinet and piano in 1963 after returning to Canada. The Suite also exists in versions for clarinet quartet, string quartet, string orchestra and full orchestra.

KELLY-MARIE MURPHY

Born in Sardinia, Italy, September 4, 1964; now living in Ottawa

Many people wonder just how a composer sets about writing a piece of music – creating something out of nothing, so to speak. In From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat, Kelly-Marie Murphy attempts to describe this process in sound. "Since pulse is a fundamental element of music and life, it seemed plausible to illustrate the idea of energy and catalyst with the drum," write the composer.

From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat was commissioned by the CBC for the Winnipeg Symphony and was premiered at the DuMaurier Festival in January, 1996 with Bramwell Tovey conducting. Of this twelve-minute, one-movement work, the composer has written the following:

"During the early stages of work on the piece, I was reading a Zuni legend called ‘The Four Flutes.' This legend is about how the people wished for new music, but didn't know how to make their wishes become reality. They consulted the elders at the Cave of the Rainbow and were shown music and dancing that began with a drum-beat so loud it shook the cave. For me, this described the creative process I was entering into, and also the physics of bringing energy and substance to something which had been inert. It is not gentle or easy, and it requires a formidable catalyst to move from the desire to create to the act of creation; to make the abstract thought become a solid and tangible sound. Since pulse is a fundamental element of music and life, it seemed plausible to illustrate the idea of energy and catalyst with the drum.

"There are five points where soloists serve to focus the musical attention. Each achieves a different emotional effect. The first is an unaccompanied flute solo, which takes on the character of a soliloquy. The second is a subdued oboe solo, which is the delayed answer to the flute. The third is a solo for the drums, which builds the intensity and energy, and leads the orchestra to the presentation of the main theme. After the loudest moment in the piece, the cello emerges alone to play the fourth solo. This expands, one instrument at a time, to become a string quartet, then leads to the unison tutti presentation of the slow theme. The fifth solo is a return of the flute to end the piece."

Some of the loudest, fastest music ever written can be heard in this work. In a pre-concert talk preceding a performance by the National Youth Orchestra, Murphy announced that it was her first orchestral composition. This being so, it "had all the enthusiasm of being the first of its kind. It was really exciting for me to discover what sounds the orchestra can make." Murphy also related that before embarking on the work, conductor Bramwell Tovey had "stressed over and over, ‘Please do not overuse the percussion.' But me being who I am, I cam back a year later with a piece called From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat," which inevitably had lots and lots of percussion. "Fortunately, it did not damage my career." she quipped.

Credits and Copyright

  • Text asset: Glenn Buhr, Akasha (Sky)
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Glenn Buhr, Jyotir
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: José Evangelista, Air d'Espagne
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Steven Gellman, Jaya Overture
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Srul Irving Glick, Suite Herbraïque
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Kelly-Marie Murphy, From the Drum Comes a Thundering Beat
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
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