Concert Program Notes

LINDA BOUCHARD

Born in Val d'Or (Abitibi), May 21, 1957; now living in San Francisco

Linda Bouchard holds a special relationship with the National Arts Centre Orchestra as its first composer-in-residence, a position she held for three years between September, 1992 and August, 1995. During this period she composed several works for the Orchestra, of which Exquisite Fires was the first, premiered at the opening concert of the 1992-1993 season on September 22, 1993 with Trevor Pinnock conducting. Subsequent works were Vertige, Songs for an Acrobat and Eternity. Predating all of these, the Orchestra had also performed Ressac in 1992 (All these works are available on a Marquis CD, released in 1998.) As part of her residency, Bouchard also undertook various projects to stimulate interest in, foster understanding of and encourage public involvement with new music. In 1998, Bouchard was named "Composer of the Year" by the Conseil Quebecois de la Musique at its Opus Gala. With more than seventy compositions in her catalogue, a sheaf of prizes and awards to her name (including four PROCAN awards and the 2006 Fromm Commission Award from Harvard University) and numerous commissions from prestigious musical organizations, Linda Bouchard stands at the pinnacle of Canada's musical world. Recent compositions of note include an opera called The House of Words (2003), 4LN (2008) for viola and percussion and Joint Venture (2008) for large chamber ensemble.

The composer has these words to say about her approach to musical creativity:
"My work is often inspired by nature's geometry, structure and textures. As if writing music could begin by staring with a magnifying glass at nature's elements: water-gas-rock formations-chemical reactions, creating from these images a series of abstract landscapes. I seek to express emotional experiences in their most raw form, without a literal or narrative setting. Like a collage of different perceptions that eventually forms a whole picture, I attempt to create a world from ‘real time' experience: reconstructing an imagined emotional event that unfolds in a compressed time frame.

"Frequently my pieces start abruptly as if the music has been going on for a while; there is no introduction, no development, just the most condensed version of the untransformed material. There is a dramatic quality to this approach. Whether the works themselves, or the shifts from section to section in a single piece are spare or complex, I am looking to evoke something that is, in its own right, complete. Music is color, texture and rhythm and the live instrumentalists create the alchemy."

Bouchard describes Exquisite Fires as "a suite of contrasting movements - short but whole, each one distinct and extreme in its character. My goal was to play with orchestral colors in the most dramatic way. . . . In nine sections, with pauses after II, IV, V and VII, these movements are related in pairs (I-VIII, II-IX, III-VII, IV-VI), with V being a combination of all the movements." At the time of composition, Bouchard was deep into reading medieval love myths, which served as her source of inspiration – an "inspiration that allowed for excesses. These stories were filled with magical, passionate images: ‘Knights worthy, brave and fierce,' ‘love potions,' ‘the naked sword' lying between the lovers, figures such as Majnun and Layla (Madman and Night) who through separation became ‘mader than a thousand Majnuns.' These stories created the spirit of Exquisite Fires." In his album notes for the recording, Jean-Jacques Nattiez wrote that what he heard in these nine miniatures is "light and a touch of madness, but also the dark of night. Sparks, after all, are short-lived, they flicker and flare up obsessively, then the fire catches. These pieces embrace all the contrasts and contradictions of our loves, of joy and sorrow."

OSKAR MORAWETZ

Born in Svetlá nad Sázavou, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic), January 17, 1917; died in Toronto, June 13, 2007

On June 13, 2007, Canada lost one of its most esteemed and most performed composers, Oskar Morawetz, who succumbed to Parkinson's Disease a few months after his ninetieth birthday. Both adjectives are well-deserved. Morawetz' many honors and awards included the Segal Fund for Jewish Culture in Canada for his From the Diary of Anne Frank, a Juno for his Harp Concerto, the Order of Ontario, the Order of Canada, and on three occasions the Canada Council Senior Arts Fellowship. In 1994 SOCAN presented Morawetz with the Jan V. Matajcek Concert Music Award, which honors a composer with "an unsurpassed number of performances of a vast variety of works executed by world-renowned conductors and performers." These include such luminaries as Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Jon Vickers, Glenn Gould, Anton Kuerti, Ben Heppner, Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma. His music has been performed by over 120 orchestras on five continents. In 1979, on the occasion of Martin Luther King's 50th birthday, Morawetz' Memorial to Martin Luther King was broadcast by radio stations in 24 countries and by 250 stations in the U.S. alone.

Morawetz was born in a small community 175 kilometers southeast of Prague. He initially studied for a career in forestry, then switched to music, which he studied in Prague, then Vienna, then Paris. Hounded out of Europe by the Nazis, Morawetz fled first to Italy, then to the Canary Islands, then to the Dominican Republic. Arriving in Canada in 1940, he continued his studies at the Toronto (Royal) Conservatory and at the University of Toronto. Although he received a Doctorate in 1953, Morawetz considered himself self-taught as a composer.

Morawetz' public acceptance can be traced in part to his overriding concern for the listenability" of his music without compromising artistic integrity. Serialism, avant-garde techniques and the use of mathematical formulas were foreign to his musical esthetic. If he was accused of being reactionary, conservative, or a neo-Romantic, his reply was, "I do not feel that a work is to be judged because it may be twenty years before or after its time. The real masterpieces are those which left me so overwhelmed that I had no desire to speak to anybody for the rest of the evening." Morawetz was deeply moved by human suffering and tragic events. His best known works are the aforementioned From the Diary of Anne Frank (1970) and Memorial to Martin Luther King (1968).

Overture to a Fairy Tale was written in 1956 and first performed on February 8 of the following year by the Halifax Symphony with Thomas Mayer conducting. Over the next two decades it became one of the most frequently performed Canadian orchestral compositions. Morawetz claims that he "did not have any particular fairy tale in mind but rather wanted to picture all their typical characteristics. In the exposition, themes of elfin lightness alternate with others full of mystery. In the development section, their roles change, some of the mysterious themes now appearing quite gay while the former light themes become almost dramatic. All this transformation is achieved by the composer with a great deal of imaginative orchestral color and texture. Like all fairy tales, this composition also has a happy ending."

GARY KULESHA

Born in Toronto, August 22, 1954; now living in Toronto

Gary Kulesha enjoys a multi-faceted career as pianist, organist, conductor, choir director, teacher, CBC producer, broadcaster, musical journalist and composer. His works have been performed across North America as well as in Europe and Australia, including by such prestigious artists and ensembles as Maureen Forrester, James Campbell, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony. Kulesha served as Composer-in-Residence with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra from 1988-91 and as Composer-in-Residence with the Canadian Opera Company from 1993-1995. He is currently Composer-Advisor to the Toronto Symphony and teaches at the University of Toronto.

In March, 2002, Kulesha was named one of three recipients of the National Arts Centre Composers Awards ($75,000 each; Alexina Louie and Denys Bouliane were the others), which initiated a close and extended relationship with this orchestra. Works composed for the NAC Orchestra under this program include the Second Violin Concerto (2003), The Boughs of Music (2005) and the Third Symphony (2007). Recent compositions premiered in 2008 include the Sonatina for Organ by Thomas Annand in Ottawa; Fugue and Postlude by pianist Andrew Burashko in Toronto; the Concerto for Trumpet, Horn and Trombone with Brass Band in Toronto; and The Greatness of the New-Found Night by the Toronto Wind Orchestra. In 2009, Kulesha provided the required work for the Montreal International Musical Competition (voice), entitled Darkness Comes.

Kulesha's conducting activities are extensive, and he has premiered hundreds of works. He has guest conducted frequently with several major orchestras throughout Canada, and has recorded for radio and CD. Although well-known as a specialist in twentieth-century music, his repertoire ranges from little-known Baroque music through the music of our time.

The composer writes of The Boughs of Music:

"The title is taken from a line from The Waves (1931) by Virginia Woolf. For me, this is the most beautiful novel in the English language. It is a set of interior monologues from six characters, following them through their lives from birth to death. The complete line is given to Rhoda, and comes as the characters are entering their post-middle-age years: ‘I parted the boughs of music and saw the house we have made …' There is an autumnal strength in this, a suggestion of both the sadness of time passing and the satisfaction of having lived a productive life, which speaks to me very clearly as I enter my 50s. It is serendipitous that the line specifically refers to music.

"The work is scored for a solo trumpet with string orchestra and two concertante flutes, which act as the mediator between the trumpet and the string orchestra. The composition is in three parts: a slow and meditative opening, followed by a fast and rhythmic dance-like section, and closing with a return to the opening material. The trumpet is used in a slightly unusual way, as the solo part is lyrical throughout. There are no fanfares or brassy exhortations; the trumpet sings all the way through."

VIOLET ARCHER

Born in Montreal, April 24, 1913; died in Ottawa, February 21, 2000

A tremendous amount of music has been written as a result of inspiration from Shakespeare's plays, especially from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here, despite its generic title, is one of them, an instrumental evocation of three of the fairies' choruses in this magical drama of mistaken identities and lovers' quarrels.

No literary figure has inspired more music from more composers than William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night's Dream alone contains at least twenty different passages that have been set to song. There are complete operas by Benjamin Britten, Carl Orff, Franz von Suppé and a dozen others, not to mention the incomparable incidental music of Mendelssohn. Shakespeare's world of fairy enchantment has struck just the right poetic nerve in so many composers, among them Violet Archer. As part of the quadricentennial celebrations of the bard in 1964, Archer was commissioned by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to write Prelude-Incantation, whose inspiration came from three of the fairies' songs in A Midsummer Night's Dream. This orchestra conducted by its music director at the time, Pierre Hétu, gave the world premiere on November 28 of "Shakespeare year."

The twelve-minute work is in two distinct parts linked by a transition. Both parts are derived from the same melodic and harmonic material but are completely different in character. The Prelude is fast, loud, energetic, unsettled and employs the full orchestra most of the time. Transitional material features first the clarinet, then the bass clarinet, then the flute, eventually arriving at the Incantation, which is slow, quiet, and stately, with something of the character of a ritualistic procession.

The fairies poems in the play that inspired Prelude-Incantation are "Over hill, over dale" (II/1), "Now the hungry lion roars (V/1) and "You spotted snakes with double tongues (II/2), which is a lullaby. Archer's score is purely instrumental but the curious listener may be directed to Mendelssohn's incidental music, in which these poems are set to song.

ROBERT TURNER

Born in Montreal, June 6, 1920; now living in Winnipeg

In A Group of Seven, Robert Turner has created musical backdrops to seven poems, which are recited by an unseen speaker. A solo viola, used in four of the settings, provides additional commentary, much in the manner of a second, though wordless, speaker. Turner's sophisticated use of the orchestra provides a further measure of commentary to both the poems and to the painting that was created in conjunction with this composition.

A Group of Seven refers not to Canada's famous landscape painters (Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, etc.) but to seven poems by twentieth-century English-Canadians. The poems are not sung but are rather spoken as the music unfolds around and beneath it. Subtitled "Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets," the score is written for solo viola, "reciter" and orchestra. Rivka Golani, Senator Royce Frith and the National Arts Centre Orchestra conducted by Derrick Inouye gave the first performance on October 28, 1992. Turner instructs the reciter to be invisible to the audience and that the voice be amplified.

Rivka Golani, the violist for whom A Group of Seven was composed, is also an accomplished painter. The original plan was for her to paint seven illustrations of the chosen poems, which would be exhibited in conjunction with the performance. However, she was not pleased with the seven paintings that resulted, so to replace them, she later created a single huge work 28' by 8'. For practical reasons it had to be divided into seven panels for transportation purposes, though Golani did not envision any particular segment corresponding to a specific poem. This work was suspended over the stage at the premiere performance.

The three elements of solo viola, voice and orchestra are configured in a neatly symmetrical arrangement as follows:

  • Prelude and Postlude – viola and orchestra (no voice)
  • Poems I & VII – orchestra and voice (no viola)
  • Poems II & VI – viola and voice (no orchestra)
  • Poems III & V – viola, voice and orchestra
  • Poem IV – voice and orchestra (no viola)

In these strongly contrasted settings, the solo viola offers wordless but trenchant, highly expressive commentary to the spoken word, acting much like a second narrator. The orchestra provides a colorful panoply, with solo lines intertwining with the poems and the full resources used on occasion for startling effect, as in the fierce climax of the fifth poem on the subject of death, murder and annihilation. Both the fourth and seventh settings develop material first heard in the Prelude, the fourth to sassy, swaggering music in the "hot jazz" idiom for the only poem of the seven in rhymed phrases, the seventh to breezy, outdoorsy sounds that perfectly capture the poem's imagery of a flowing river.

Credits and Copyright

  • Text Asset: Canadians in the TIMELINE
    Copyright: Robert Markow
  • Text Asset: Linda Bouchard, Exquisite Fires
    Copyright: Robert Markow
  • Text Asset: Oskar Morawetz, Overture to a Fairy Tale
    Copyright: Robert Markow
  • Text Asset: Gary Kulesha, The Boughs of Music
    Copyright: Robert Markow
  • Text Asset: Violet Archer, Prelude-Incantation
    Copyright: Robert Markow
  • Text Asset: Robert Turner, A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets
    Copyright: Robert Markow
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