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Q&A | 24 Questions For James Rolfe

By Ludwig Van on October 16, 2017

(Photo courtesy James Rolfe)
(Photo courtesy James Rolfe)

A few times a month, Ludwig Van poses 60 questions to an artist who has made a mark on Toronto’s music scene. Each artist picks and chooses, with a minimum response of 20.

A staple composer in Toronto, James Rolfe has worked in many facets of creative life in our city, from choral, chamber and solo works, to feature length operas. Accolades include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the K. M. Hunter Music Award, the Louis Applebaum Composers Award, the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music.

Particularly gifted in dramatic works, Rolfe is best known for his opera Swoon for Canadian Opera Company. The success of his 1998 opera Beatrice Chancy with The Queen of Puddings has become an example for future grass-roots operas in the city.

You can hear Rolfe’s new CD, Breathe, launching Oct 21, 2017 at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre at 10 p.m. The CD includes works for voices and early instruments including performers Suzie LeBlanc, Monica Whicher, and Alexander Dobson, with conductors David Fallis and Larry Beckwith, and members of the Toronto Consort and the Toronto Masque Theatre.

What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?

The people. The musicians. My family.

What are three things that Toronto doesn’t have but should?

Mountains. Oceans. Really big rivers.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue in Toronto

Gallery 345

Your favourite smells?

Baking bread 

First thing that comes to your mind when you think about Toronto


The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair?

What hair?

What are the three things you’d like to change about Toronto?

Better bike infrastructure. Better public transit funding. More affordable housing.

Your first three record store purchases

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; Maynard Ferguson’s Chameleon; Gustav Holst’s The Planets 

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?

Somewhere I’ve never dreamed of going.

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?

The Cat in the Hat; Small Is Beautiful; Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?

Killarney Provincial Park, for canoe camping.

Where did you go to school?

Ottawa: Fairfield Elementary School; Henry Munro Middle School; Gloucester High School

The different career path that you could have gone on?

Driving trains

Your three favourite films?

Roman Holiday; Black Orpheus; Blue Velvet

Television show that you could tolerate re-runs of?

Monty Python

Under what circumstances would you join the army?

At gunpoint

What are you the most proud of?

Still surviving as a composer.

What is the best thing about your work?

I am my own boss.

What is the worst thing about your work?

My boss is a perfectionist.

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?


What is the one animal that scares you the most?

The current POTUS

The strangest road you’ve ever travelled?

The Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada.

Three pieces, songs, or arias that you could listen to on repeat for an hour?

Almost anything by Purcell, Dowland, or Schubert.

The first three things that you do every morning?

Stretch. Get outdoors for a run. Shower.


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Ludwig Van
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