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News flash: CN Tower to make Toronto Symphony Orchestra début on Saturday night

By John Terauds on March 6, 2013

(Vikram K. Mulligan photo)
(Vikram K. Mulligan photo)

The big surprise in my final conversation with composer Tod Machover leading up to the premiere of  A Toronto Symphony at the New Creations festival on Saturday night was discovering that the CN Tower will be a part of the performance.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra will make the Roy Thomson Hall premiere available as a live stream on the Internet so that people within viewing range of the CN Tower can see a special light show coordinated with the music being made on stage.

The finished piece is clocking in at nearly 30 minutes, which means that there will be thousands of people unaware of the concert gawping at the city’s tallest landmark wondering what the heck is going on.

“We were given all the controls, even the one to make it brighter,” said Machover, with more than a hint of glee.

The current order of Saturday’s programme has the Toronto Symphony premiere last on the list, meaning that the public light show should get underway around 9:15.

This will add a welcome, extroverted, look-everybody! dimension to the premiere of A Toronto Symphony, which is already a pretty significant event from a musical point of view.

This crowdsourced piece of art music was pieced together by Machover using every means at his disposal, from workshops with Toronto community arts groups to contributions from Toronto Symphont Orchestra musicians and digital manipulations by people adding their contributions via the Web.

The music contains recorded sounds of the city and clever electronics alongside a traditional orchestral score.

“It’s been a more involved project than I expected, and it’s probably been more difficult,” said Machover, who is very much a glass-half-full sort of person. “Given the process, it feels like something I feel happy to have worked on. So many of the details are different from anything I’ve worked on before.”

The countless hours of thinking, composing, coordinating and communicating — including working with his team of digital experimenters at home base inside MIT’s Media Lab in Boston — have left a deep impresison on the composer.

“The process made me think freely and in different ways,” he said. “I think it all represents the start of something for me, which is great.”

Machover doesn’t feel ready to pass his own judgment on the piece. “The absolute honest truth is that I probably won’t really really know what I think until not even the premiere but living with it for a little bit,” he admitted.

For him and everyone else involved in the project, the proof that this broadly collaborative process worked is in how A Toronto Symphony changed from initial concept to final score.

From the early stages, Machover had been working with a visual model that showed the shape of the music from beginning to end:


Although there were distinct sections in the piece, it was a bit amorphous. The final result, although containing many of the same elements, is far more textured:


In the images, at least, it looks like Machover and his fellow travellers along this Toronto musical road have come up with a nice amount of contrast and narrrative tension.

Saturday night’s concert will include visuals inside Roy Thomson Hall, as well, that will provide a bit of running background commentary on how the work came together — “without being didactic about it,” Machover added.

“When you’re doing something about a city, part of what you need to think about is what’s the right tone, whatever the trajectory is,” the composer said.

Following along at Roy Thomson Hall or online with eyes cast toward the CN Tower will be the only way to see and hear if Machover and company did find the right tone.

What does North America’s fourth largest city sound like?


UPDATE: The Toronto Symphony sent out a press release early on March 7 containing this information: “Tune in to TSO.CA for a live webcast where you will hear a live audio feed of the concert as well as see visuals, which will include graphics, video, and photos illustrating both the piece and the process of its creation, alongside a live video feed of the CN Tower’s light show. The complete concert is performed live at Roy Thomson Hall on March 9, 2013 beginning 8pm, and the webcast and CN Tower lighting will be live with the A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City première at approximately 9pm.

Details for the two remaining New Creations festival concerts — on Thursday and Saturday nights — are available here.

John Terauds

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