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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

PRIMER | Five Esprit Orchestra Concerts We're Looking Forward To This Year

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on October 9, 2018

Esprit Orchestra
Esprit Orchestra’s 2018-19 season features varied works that will surely challenge, comfort, and intrigue searching ears. (Photo: Malcolm Cook)

On 24 October 2018, Alex Pauk and the Esprit Orchestra return to Koerner Hall with their fascinating 2018-19 season. Dedicating itself to contemporary orchestral music, the new season, consisting of five distinctive programs with a strong female composer representation (9 of 20 featured are women) once again features varied works that will surely challenge, comfort, and intrigue the audience.

— — 1 — —

The oldest, and perhaps the most traditional work for the first concert For Orbiting Spheres, is Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question. A conversation between three factions: solo trumpet, string ensemble and woodwind quartet, it was written in 1908; but after its brief premiere in 1946, the work sunk into complete neglect.  Considering that Bernstein was quite taken with the work, even borrowing its title to name his popular 1973 Norton Lectures at Harvard University, it’s quite bizarre to see that it simply wasn’t picked up again till 1984.

Ives’ relic, paired with Dutch composer Tristan Keuris’s Sinfonia, is balanced by two new Canadian premieres by Unsuk Chin and Missy Mazzoli. The opening piece, Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) by Missy Mazzoli, will feature the unusual (and entertaining) inclusion of harmonicas and melodicas.  Mazzoli’s own omnivorous development took her to writing operas, contributing to the soundtrack of the popular Amazon television series, Mozart in the Jungle, and to leading an electro-acoustic band, Victoire, all of which brings much intrigue for the Sinfonia:

“My music is usually composed of strange, dense harmonies and propulsive rhythms, often layered in unexpected ways. I’m interested in unusual instruments like harmonicas, junk percussion, and gently out-of-tune guitars and I draw on inspirations as diverse as Baroque music, noise and modern electronica.” — Missy Mazzoli

— — 2 — —

The second concert on 28 November, North/White promises a complete immersion in the Idea of North. Two Toronto connections, Alexina Louie and R. Murray Schafer, along with another kindred Northern soul, Anna Thorvaldsdottir of Iceland, whose orchestral work Dreaming will receive its Canadian premiere, contrasts the life of North.  While Anna contemplates the stillness of the North with its shifting landscape, Alexina’s Take the Dog Sled, looks at the alternative side of arctic life – the busy, bustling energy that competes with, and complements the harsh, demanding environment. The work will feature two amazing Inuit throat singers, Evie Mark from Ivujiyik, and Akinisie Sivuarapik from Puvirnituq.

However, the theatrical spectacle of the program goes to R. Murray Schafer. His love for Canadian nature is omnipresent in his life and works, often incorporating the world he loves so much into his compositions: wolf howls, open waters and war canoes. Forever looking for his quiet and peace, Schafer asks for a snowmobile (perhaps the most common loud-engine of our winter in the wilderness) in this heavily graphic score to depict the erosion of the sacred Canadian North.  Keep an eye out for the very talented Ryan Scott to hop onto that snowmobile!

— — 3 — —

Constellations, the third concert on 20 January 2019, features the saxophone as a solo instrument. Born of the industrial age, the saxophone was invented in 1840, and was patented in 1846 by Adolphe Sax of Belgium.  Initially made to bridge the gap between the woodwinds and brass, it quickly grew in popularity to the point that it’s now almost impossible to find a genre of music that does not involve saxophone — it would be difficult to find an adult who could claim never to have heard Kenny G.

Casual Classical music listeners may have to think hard to recall the famous saxophone solo in Ravel’s Bolero, or perhaps from the “The Old Castle” in Mussorgsky-Ravel’s  Pictures at an Exhibition.  However, in the Contemporary music scene, the family of saxophones is considered indispensable, and there are many works being written for the instrument, including John Adams’ ever-popular City Noir, which will be performed in Toronto in November.  Hosokawa’s concerto, perhaps not as easily approached as the Adams, is a tour-de-force that should be attended live — the recording is quite difficult to find, and Alex Pauk, music director and conductor of Esprit Orchestra, is convinced that the energy of its live performance will provide a visceral impact.

“Toshio Hosokawa is this year’s Roger D. Moore Visiting Composer for the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival, and I feel that this (saxophone) concerto is one of the strongest, most dynamic pieces by Hosokawa… and Wallace Halladay is a true virtuoso and full of energy when it comes to the bringing of exciting performances.”  — Alex Pauk

Programmed to be the finale of the Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival and the opening of the University of Toronto New Music Festival, this program consists of the two big guns, Hosokawa and Vivier, with two young emerging Canadian composers, Alison Yun-Fei Jiang, and Christopher Goddard.

— — 4 — —

For the fourth concert, Grand Slam!, along with the newly commissioned work from our own local, Christopher Thornborrow, Trompe l’œil, two virtuosic concertos take the centre stage.  Having studied with Sukhi Kang and György Ligeti, Unsuk is no stranger to ferociously difficult music; however, despite the monstrous demands it presents to the soloist and the orchestra, Unsuk’s cello concerto is one of the very few contemporary cello concertos that is being incorporated into general symphonic programming, along with Dutilleux’s Tout un monde Lointain, and Lutosławski’s cello concerto.

Since its premiere at the 2009 BBC Proms with Alban Gerhardt and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, it’s been featured in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Cologne, Berlin, Boston and São Paulo.  For this Canadian premiere, the principal cello of TSO, Joseph Johnson, who has been delighting Toronto audiences with world-class orchestra, chamber and solo performances, will be leading us into the belly of this hailed work.

For a completely different palette, Maki Ishii’s Afro-Concerto will feature Ryan Scott, recreating the world that is far yet real; traditional music of Senufo and Pygmy tribes, and exotic instruments such as the balafon, are utilized to builds the wonderful soundscape.  This will be the tenth solo concerto Ryan has presented with Esprit, and he will be presenting version B of the concerto for single soloist (the work also exists in alternate format for two soloists: marimba and percussion).  If the pursuit of musical technicality, dedication and exhilaration interests you, this concert could be one of the most interesting of the series.

— — 5 — —

The New Wave Reprise is a celebration of the younger generation; Esprit Orchestra’s commitment not only to perform, but to nurture the contemporary music scene from the roots has led them to present one special concert each year, featuring new commissions by upcoming composers.

This is a very valuable opportunity for younger composers, as it gives them a chance to work with a full-scale professional orchestra in full-scope, which is very difficult to arrange alone.  Whilst there may be similar events in town and in various institutions, these are usually ‘reading’ sessions; in a typical reading session, details such as scoring and parts-related logistics may be discussed (if the organization can provide a dedicated music librarian, which is a highly specialized job), and the piece will be ‘read’ by the ensemble.  After the initial reading, there will be further discussion and feedback between musicians, conductor and composer, and it is common to get an archival recording of the session. But reading sessions generally lack a formal presentation, the final point of a real premiere.

This year, six composers will have their real premieres at this concert: Eugene Astapov, Maria Atallah, Quinn Jacobs, Bekah Simms, Christina Volpini and Alison Yun-Fei Jiang; Bekah’s cello concerto will feature Toronto’s own Amahl Arulanandam as soloist.  If you have ever been curious about where and how contemporary music happens, this is your chance to see it close to the ground.  Come to experience the excitement and energy that these six young composers are bringing to our world.

Hye Won Cecilia Lee
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Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
Follow me
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
Follow me

Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
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PRIMER | Five Esprit Orchestra Concerts We're Looking Forward To This Year

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on October 9, 2018

Esprit Orchestra's 2018-19 season features varied works that will surely challenge, comfort, and intrigue searching ears.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

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