PROGRAMME NOTES

SYMPHONIC DANCE (2021)

 

Among other things, the pandemic brought with it an unexpectedly substantial amount of free time, some of which I used to compose this Symphonic Dance, and despite the bleak circumstances surrounding its creation, I attempted to fill the work with as much joy, celebration and excitement as I could.

The creation of this work could not have been possible without the information contained within Adam Carse’s book The History of Orchestrion. It was only after reading this book that I came to appreciate the procedure of introducing orchestral groups gradually, rather than all at once. It has been all too tempting for me to write a piece where the orchestra performs full blast, at full force right out of the starting gate. However, with Carse’s help I was able to maintain separation between instrumental groups and withhold the full power of the ensemble until the moments I really needed it.

The first two thirds of the piece form a gradual crescendo to a climactic revelation of a vivacious and charismatic dance theme which moves in and out of syncopation. Prior to this, the orchestra engages in the presentation of fast paced episodes and outbursts featuring secondary themes which highlight different instrumental characters in the orchestra. The piece culminates with a heroic declaration from the lowest instrumental sections (rehearsal V) leading immediately into the coda.

HELIACAL RISING (2020)

I was taken completely by surprise when I’d learned that I was selected to participate in the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Composer Fellowship Program in November 2019, and my excitement was so great that I immediately began composing only hours after receiving the news.

I knew in the early stages of the composition that I wanted the piece to be nimble, forward driven and compact. In many ways this was counterintuitive for a large ensemble. I didn’t know however, that in order to write such a piece I would end up engrossed in Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, particularly Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. By drawing on Bach’s heavy textures and early orchestration techniques I was able to weave my musical material into a tightly knit, oscillating fabric while still leaving room for many lyrical passages that highlight specific individual players.

The title of the work refers the process in which a star appears in the night sky immediately before the sun rises and is, therefor, not seen as a result of being bathed in sunlight. Over the course of the year, as the earth rotates to a different position around the sun, the star gradually reappears in the night sky as it moves farther and farther away from the sun. This event is called a “Heliacal Rising”. The star was always there, however we couldn’t see it as the sun’s light obstructed our view.

Due to the contrapuntal texture of the piece, and the fact that during the first performance the audience will be seated in a circle around the ensemble, the title supports the notation that listeners will often be hearing thematic material which is obstructed by a contrasting instrumental section which they have chosen to sit near to. As thematic material is passed around the ensemble, listeners on all sides of the hall will be treated to reoccurring moments of emergent textural effects not unlike a heliacal rising.

 

 

THE CAVE OF THE UNBORN (2018)

The enneatonic scale is a nine note mode of limited transposition whose restricted pitch material prevents the establishment of functional harmonic progressions. The mode does however feature an abundance of triadic material that can be partitioned into salient sonorities leaving the impression of a rational and consistent musical language. Through the implementation of traditional voice leading, the scale provides a colourful palette that seamlessly intertwines triadic material with much heavier and contrasting chromatic sonorities familiar to atonal idioms.

I anticipate that composers will experience an increasing need to reconcile opposing languages throughout our century. Modes such as the enneatonic scale lie between a defined language and allow us to inflect or highlight other smaller modes situated within the pitch material. Cave of the Unborn seeks to demonstrate the harmonic stability and practicality of this heavily dissonant mode by expressing its potential to sustain a melodic vocal part characteristic of diatonic writing.

 

 

VULTURE (2018)

 

For the last several years I’ve been drawn to short narrative poetry written at the turn of the century. Robinson Jeffers likely wrote Vulture to as a comment on our relationship to the natural world. Rather than remaining a conscious individuals, Jeffers welcomed the idea of men spiritually and physically dissolving back into the expanse of nature and ultimately the universe. The music I wrote however implies a darker interpretation where the narrator is simply contemplating death, possibly as a relief from the suffering of life.

I intentionally composed this work as a response to my favourite Canadian art song: Gary Kulesha’s Blue Heron by the Old Mill Bridge. They may even be too similar to programme together. The piece falls into a personal complimentary twelve tone style I am writing with more and more, not because I enjoy it, but because it seems to be effective for the audience.

PHANTASMAGORIA (2017)

 

Phantasmagoria represents the loosening of several technical bindings which I had previously used to restrain my work. Having become obsessed with the unification of rhythmical motives, I unintentionally suffocated my artistic instincts, almost to the point of no return. Setting D. H. Lawrence’s Phantasmagoria to music thus became a therapeutic way to feature technical oriented passages and literal, programmatic passages side by side. As such, musicians should work hard to maintain the dream like quality represented by the text, while simultaneously being aware significant technical maneuvers which define individual sections. The piece begins with a whole tone scale and, significant programmatic events usually correlate with the addition of a new pitch which had not been previously been heard until that point. It is not until the Eb in measure 142 that all twelve tones have been utilized. The pitches appear gradually in this order: Ab C Bb D Gb E A B C# G F Eb. If circumstances are dire, mutes may be used at the discretion of the conductor to balance the ensemble. Amplifying the voice should be a last resort. 

THE VALLEY OF THE DRY BONES (2016)

The Valley of Dry Bones is a personal reflection on the mass suicide during the siege of Masada (73-74 CE) which took place within the fortress of Herod the Great. After a group of 1000 Jewish rebels survived an astounding three year siege against the Romans, the group as a whole agreed to willing engage in a mass suicide as one last spiteful action against their opponent. The tragedy provided closure to the first Jewish - Roman War. “No more Masada” is a phrase used to this day by the Israelis to justify both defensive action and aggression in the 21st century. Excavators have found only two texts from the old testament left over from the siege and ironically, one was “The Valley of the Dry Bones” in which God presents Elijah with a vision of an army of dead Jewish Soldiers being raised back to life from the dead to reconquer what they lost in Israel. As usual, history is stranger than fiction.

PIANO TRIO NO.1 (2016)

After graduating with honours and the highest average in the University of Toronto's Composition programme, I was hit with a hard dose of reality when, struggling to find employment and In desperate need of money, I took a job at the Canadian National Exhibition driving disorderly sugar infused visitors around in a trolly. I had gone from promising young composer to ostracized carnival vendor in less than three months time. 

To remedy this tragedy and maintain my sanity, I would seek out the least busy place in the fair (usually the designated smoking area) and work on this piano trio during my off time. I used to get easily distracted by exterior noise and sound while composing, however, by forcing myself to focus and compose this trio in the middle of a carnival, I became much more adept to blocking out unwanted disturbances. As such, I became an expert in ignoring the world. This trio is a result of this. 

NONET FOR STRINGS (2015)

Nonet for stings is a chamber piece meant to parody my own personal development as a composer. As my traditional and inherit views of harmony begin to unwind, it becomes more and more difficult to create cohesion and direction within the inner structure of my music. The piece itself expresses this by quickly exhausting all key possibilities between C and F#, and then collapsing into itself once the ensemble realizes that there is nowhere left to go. The brief struggle that persists after this realization foreshadows the seemingly incomprehensible language I may find myself should I continue in writing in this direction. The entire piece is derived from the first eight note motive.

 

 

THE RED QUINTET (2014)

The Red Quintet is a one movement episode for Wind Quintet. The music was written with the intentions of exemplifying an organic compositional process while still highlighting stark contrasts present within both the thematic material, and the instruments themselves. The work strives to create a united interlocking ensemble rather than highlighting particular instruments. 

An ideal way to interpret The Red Quintet is as an extended argument between the performers. The piece is written with ample opportunity for the performers to display wide range of emotional content. The opening Adagio section should be well paced, and patiently performed until the Bassoon excites the ensemble (m. 34). The following Moderato section should convey greater security until the static chords form, discouraging the listener. When the Allegro section begins, initiated by the Bassoon, the argumentative, frustrated, and articulate sounding qualities of wind instruments are featured until the climax of the piece (m. 197). Following the climax of the piece, the ensemble struggles to regain its strength in the Andante section until finally the unpredictable chords (m.266) mark the end of the performers cooperation. Near the end of the piece, one last build up occurs within the entire ensemble but is immediately interrupted, not allowing the ensemble to continue.