Toronto houses some of the best classical musicians and ensembles in the country, but despite all our local talent, the tendency remains to overlook what is happening in our own backyard. With classical music rapidly changing in Canada and beyond, the Canadian arts scene is looking toward innovators in the field to lead changes in our concert halls, schools and venues. Frequently these innovators are charismatic performers, business people or arts entrepreneurs, but as classical music searches for new ideas, most of the creation of new content will fall to sound artists and composers.
Composers have a tendency to hide from view — most of their work is done behind the scenes — but can be found either hunkering down in distant seats at the concert hall or hiding behind large, unwieldy music scores of their own music. Because of this behind-the-scene nature, it is often difficult to determine or even visualise what many composers do. Approach a composer after a concert to express your enthusiasm for their piece, and they will probably react with a mixture of embarrassment and self-consciousness. The fact is, competing endlessly with Beethoven in a concert hall can be ego-destroying.
The pre-modern stereotype of the composer as an odd figure humming and sketching down musical ideas in a notebook are now gone, with today’s composers spending most of their time on laptops endlessly editing music or frantically sending emails to musicians and producers for feedback.
But the creative process is not as uniform as you might think. Composition in the 21st-century is extremely eclectic, with composers writing concert music, electroacoustic music, film and television scores, video game soundtracks, and some even abandoning written notation for the recording studio or the improvisation scene. With this series, I wanted to push some of Toronto’s best composers to the centre stage and pry into their creative practice. To bring out the variance and eclecticism of their practice, I asked all composers the same three questions:
#1. How do you write your music? (Do you use technology like Finale/Sibelius, programs like Open Music, Max/MSP, Spear, etc.? Do you sketch ideas first? Do you revise heavily? Do you work quickly and spontaneously, or slowly and methodically?
#2. When do you write your music? (When inspiration hits? In the wee hours of the night? 9-5 like a desk job? 6 hours a day, 10 minutes a day?)
And the final, rather tricky question:
#3. In this age of plurality, composers are now pulling inspiration from many different places (pop music, world music, mathematics, visual art), not just the classical canon anymore. How valuable is the classical canon to you as a contemporary composer? (Both the music forming the classical canon itself and the concept of a canon)
This series of short interviews starts Friday, June 15.
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