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New Music Concerts Robert Aitken, artistic director

Cellos Galore

Sunday September 23, 2012
Introduction 7:15 | Concert 8:00
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street [MAP]
New Music Concerts Ensemble
Robert Aitken, direction

Worry (2001) for violin and 8 cellos - James Rolfe (Canada 1961)
Timothy Ying, violin; NMC Ensemble, Robert Aitken direction

Cedres en voiles (1989) for solo cello - Gilles Tremblay (Canada 1932)
David Hetherington, cello

Double Trio (2011) - Elliott Carter (USA 1908)
NMC Ensemble

Pommard (2009) for 4 cellos - Bruce Mather (Canada 1939)
NMC Ensemble

Mystic with a Credit Card (1980) for solo trombome - Michael Colgrass (Canada/USA 1932)
Scott Good, trombone

Winter Songs (2012) for tenor and 8 cellos - James Rolfe
World premiere - NMC Ontario Arts Council commission
Lawrence Wiliford, tenor; NMC Ensemble, Robert Aitken direction

NEW: SOUNDLAB PODCAST by Paul Steenhuisen interview with James Rolfe
Sponsored by New Music Concerts

James Rolfe
Toronto composer James Rolfe (b. Ottawa, 1961) has been commissioned and performed by ensembles, orchestras, choirs, and opera companies in Canada, the USA, Europe, and New Zealand. He has been funded through The Canada Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, The Toronto Arts Council, The Laidlaw Foundation and CBC Radio. Awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the K. M. Hunter Music Award, the Louis Applebaum Composers Award, the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music and SOCAN’s Jan V. Matejcek Concert Music Award. Mr. Rolfe’s first opera, Beatrice Chancy, received an extraordinary reception from audiences and critics for Toronto, Dartmouth, and Edmonton productions by The Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Company. In 2009, the same company produced Inês, which was nominated for a Dora Award. His masques Orpheus and Eurydice and Aeneas and Dido were premiered by The Toronto Masque Theatre in 2004 and 2007. Elijah’s Kite, an opera for children, was premiered in New York in April 2006 by Tapestry New Opera Works with the Manhattan School of Music, and given its Canadian premiere before the Governor-General at Rideau Hall in October 2006. Swoon was premiered in December 2006 by the Canadian Opera Company, which has since commissioned a new opera. Mr. Rolfe’s current projects include a music theatre work with writer André Alexis for Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, a dance theatre work for Coleman Lemieux Compagnie with choreographer James Kudelka, and pieces for Aventa Ensemble, Canadian Art Song Project, TorQ Percussion Quartet and Soundstreams Canada.

James Rolfe, Worry
The reaction to the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US brought back memories of growing up during the Cold War. I remembered the omnipresent atmosphere of fear and anxiety, faced with a faceless enemy who could strike at any second. I remembered my father, constantly aggravated by my mother’s constant worrying: “Worry, worry, worry, all you ever do is worry!” Perhaps he was just as anxious, but unwilling to voice it. I remember the music of the time: high modernists like Xenakis, furiously uprooting all traces of the past, and those who embraced the past, like The Beach Boys, wistfully and longingly. And I remembered growing up in Ottawa, which like most cities at the time was obsessed with obliterating its past — in this case, following the dictates of urban planner Jacques Gréber, a disciple of Le Corbusier, as was Xenakis. As an anxious mind flits restlessly from one thought to the next, making its own unexpected connections, all these thoughts and musics circulate through Worry, which was written from one moment to the next, without thought as to its future. In hindsight it seems a kind of nostalgic homage to the modernism I grew up with, innocent of its bitter origins. Worry was commissioned by Continuum (Jennifer Waring, Artistic Director) and Numus (Jeremy Bell, Artistic Director) for Mark Fewer, violin, with the assistance of The Laidlaw Foundation.

James Rolfe, Winter
The Ottawa poet Archibald Lampman (1861-1899) wrote passionate poems about winter. His words are tailored to his late Victorian readers, yet they transcend their time with their beautifully effortless rhythm, phrasing, and imagery. They conjure up the winters of my Ottawa childhood: the cold crisp clear air, the quiet distances and solitudes. I wrote these songs during summer 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand, far away from Canada, which was having perhaps its warmest-ever winter. These poems became an incantation, connecting me to a magical season, distant in time and place—a homage to a season which seems to be destined for extinction. Winter was commissioned by New Music Concerts (Robert Aitken, Artistic Director) with the assistance of The Ontario Arts Council. Many thanks to Bob for asking, and to tenor Lawrence Wiliford for collaborating on the vocal writing. [J.R.]

Gilles Tremblay
Composer, conductor and teacher, Gilles Tremblay was born in Arvida (Québec). From 1949 to 1954 he studied piano at the Montréal Conservatory with Germaine Malépart and earned a Premier Prix in piano in 1953. At the same time, he studied composition privately with Claude Champagne. Tremblay later attended Olivier Messiaen’s celebrated analysis classes in Paris and was awarded a Premier Prix in 1957. During the same period, he also studied piano and compositional techniques with Yvonne Loriod. The following year he received a medal in ondes Martenot at the Paris Conservatory and a counterpoint diploma from the École Normale Supérieure de musique de Paris. Tremblay met a large number of other composers while studying in Europe. At Darmstadt he met Stockhausen and by 1959 he had taken up an internship with the French radio and television orchestra in Paris, under the direction of Pierre Schaeffer, and in the company of Amy, Boucourechliev, Ferrari, Mâche and Xenakis. In 1960 a grant enabled Tremblay to enroll in summer courses at Darmstadt, where he worked with Pierre Boulez and Henri Pousseur. During the 1960s, Tremblay was appointed professor of analysis and composition at the Montréal Conservatory. With the help of a Canada Council grant, in 1972 Tremblay traveled to the far East. He sat on juries for numerous international competitions and witnessed the performance of his works on every continent.

Gilles Tremblay | Cèdres en voiles is a threnody, a lament, as it is still in use in many countries, especially in the Middle East and in Greece. If “cedars” evokes Lebanon, the French word “voiles” is associated with two meanings: mourning (veils, sorrow) and hope (sail, wind, energy). The quarter-tones easily playable on the cello are widely used through a long ascent with double-strings. It forms the main act, towards almost unbearable limits, with hoarse timbres and gratings. Two other levels interrupt this progression: a laconic rhythm like an implacable march and opening of natural harmonic sounds, soft and sidereal, becoming more and more important. After a trance-like sequence on one sound (open D) the summit of the threnody is followed by a last opening of harmonic sounds: an echo of the Gregorian Resurrection Alleluia. Thus the word “voiles” (here sails) takes its hopeful meaning, the one of transmitting to the mast the strength of the wind. This work has been written at the request of my son Emmanuel, to whom it is dedicated. [G.T.]

Elliott Carter
Twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, first composer to receive the United States National Medal of Arts, one of the few foreign composers ever awarded Germany’s Ernst Von Siemens Music Prize, and in 1988 made “Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the Government of France, Elliott Carter is internationally recognized as one of the leading American voices of the classical music tradition. He recently received the Prince Pierre Foundation Music Award and is one of only a handful of living composers elected to the Classical Music Hall of Fame. Carter was recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Committee for the first time in 1960 for his groundbreaking String Quartet No. 2. Igor Stravinsky hailed Carter’s Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano, and two chamber orchestras (1961) and Piano Concerto (1967), as “masterpieces.” Of his creative output exceeding 130 works, Carter composed more than 40 pieces in the past decade alone. This astonishing late-career creative burst has resulted in a number of brief solo and chamber works, as well as major essays such as Asko Concerto (2000) for Holland’s ASKO Ensemble. Some chamber works include What Are Years (2009), Nine by Five (2009), and Two Thoughts About the Piano (2005-06), now widely toured by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Carter continues to show his mastery in larger forms as well, with major contributions such as the opera What Next? (1998), Boston Concerto (2002), Three Illusions for Orchestra (2004), called by the Boston Globe “surprising, inevitable, and vividly orchestrated,” Flute Concerto (2008) and a piano concerto, Interventions (2008), which premiered on Carter’s 100th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall with James Levine, Daniel Barenboim and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (December 11, 2008).
— Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

Elliott Carter, Double Trio (Commissioned by the Arte Musica Foundation) | Brass instruments, especially the trumpet and trombone, recently interested me for use in chamber music because of their ability to play softly and use different kinds of mutes. Combining them with solo strings fascinated me so I wrote the Double Trio. This work was composed for the opening of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ Bourgie Concert Hall in September 2011. The Double Trio is dedicated to Pierre Bourgie [E.C.]

Bruce Mather
Bruce Mather was born in Toronto, but has made Montréal his home since 1966 and is considered one of Québec’s most important composers. He studied piano with Alberto Guerrero and composition with Oskar Morzwetz, Godfrey Ridout and John Weinzweig at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, completing his Bachelor’s degree in 1959. Post-graduate studies took him to France where he worked with Darius Milhaud (composition), whom he had met previously at the summer course in Aspen, and Olivier Messiaen (analysis). Mather completed a master’s degree at Standford University with Leland Smith and received his doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1967. Mather’s music has been performed regularly throughout Canada and is frequently heard in the United States and Europe. He has been commissioned by numerous major orchestras and contemporary music organizations at home and abroad, including the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio France, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, Toronto New Music Concerts, the Esprit Orchestra, the Rouen Chamber Orchestra, Trio Basso (Cologne) and the Collectif musical international de Champigny (2e2m). Mather was appointed to the Faculty of Music at McGill University in 1966, and remained there for over thirty years, teaching analysis, advanced harmony, and composition. He also directed the institution’s contemporary music ensemble.

Bruce Mather, Pommard | I attended a concert in Montreal of the cello quartet “Quatuor Ponticello” presented by the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal featuring four new works from young composers. I was very impressed by the playing of the quartet and expressed my enthusiasm to the director of the ECM, Véronique Lacroix. She replied “You should write a piece for them.” She introduced me to one of the players and I immediately proposed to write a piece. I composed my piece without commission in the summer of 2009 and they gave the first performance on May 14, 2012. I think of this work as my first “string quartet.” I have never written for the standard string quartet because, faced with the incredible repertoire of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries I feel that the world does not need a string quartet by Bruce Mather. The string quartet ensembles seem to agree with me as I have never been commissioned or even invited to compose a quartet. Pommard takes its name from one of the great red wines of Burgundy. Thus it adds to the already long list of my works inspired by wines. [B.M.]

Michael Colgrass
Michael Colgrass (b. 1932) began his musical career in Chicago where his first professional experiences were as a jazz drummer (1944-49). He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1954 with a degree in performance and composition and his studies included training with Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Festival and Lukas Foss at Tanglewood. He spent eleven years supporting his composing as a free-lance percussionist in New York City where his wide-ranging performance venues included the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater, Dizzy Gillespie, the Modern Jazz Quartet, the original West Side Story orchestra on Broadway, the Columbia Recording Orchestra’s Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky series and numerous ballet, opera and jazz ensembles. During this New York period he continued to study composition with Wallingford Riegger (1958) and Ben Weber (1958-60). He won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Déjà vu, which was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic. In addition, he received an Emmy Award in 1982 for a PBS documentary “Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass.” He has been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, A Rockefeller Grant, First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions and the 1988 Jules Leger Prize for Chamber Music. He lives in Toronto and makes his living internationally as a composer. His wife, Ulla, is a journalist and editor who writes about music and the arts.

Michael Colgrass | Mystic with a Credit Card is an excerpt from my brass quintet, Flashbacks, commissioned by the Canadian Brass in 1978 and premiered by them at Tully Hall in New York on 6 February 1979. In Flashbacks, I attempt to feature each of the quintet members in a way that fits the nature of their instrument. This excerpt for trombone features the instrument’s broad emotional scope, which spans from gently expressive to barbaric. Mystic with a Credit Card gives the soloist a chance to demonstrate this range of qualities in a theatrical context. As well as playing, the trombone player speaks to the audience in an almost confessional way about feeling lost in a fast-changing multi-cultural society. I express this idea musically by showing the close stylistic relationship between East Indian music and Western blues, where the two styles can at times sound so similar that the stylistic identity of each becomes blurred. This mosaic of styles represents the blend of the divergent cultures in the soloist, whose feelings are never quite quite resolved. [M.C.]