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PREVIEW | Esprit Orchestra’s 2023/24 Season Links The Past With The Present Of New Music

By Anya Wassenberg on August 28, 2023

Esprit Orchestra (Photo courtesy of Esprit)
Esprit Orchestra (Photo courtesy of Esprit)

Esprit Orchestra, Toronto’s new music specialists, has announced the details of the ensemble’s 41st concert season. Five concerts will take place between October 2023 and April 2024 at Koerner Hall.

Founding Music Director and Conductor Alex Pauk, C.M. has curated a season of Canadian and North American premieres, programming that incorporates a nod to iconic composers along with a new co-commissioned work.

Here’s a look at the details.

October 15: X Marks The Spot

This imaginative programme takes a sonic trip through the universe, beginning with the ocean depths.

  • Anna Meredith‘s Nautilus was inspired by a walk along a Scottish beach. As an electronic piece, it was often used in film and TV soundtracks in chaotic scenes. Esprit presents the Canadian premiere of a new orchestral arrangement.
  • R. Murray Schafter’s Dream Rainbow Dream Thunder was one of the first pieces recorded by Esprit Orchestra.
  • György Ligeti’s Atmosphères was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey in scenes depicting the darkness of space.
  • Two works by Iannis Xenakis will be performed, Pour les Baleines (For the Whales), a protest of the treatment of whales for string orchestra, and Jonchaies (the place where rushes grow), composed for 109 musicians.
Maestro Alex Pauk (Photo: Bo Huang)
Maestro Alex Pauk (Photo: Bo Huang)

November 30: Circle Maps

The centrepiece of the programme is the Canadian Premiere of Circle Map in the memory of the late composer Kaija Saariaho. The work for large orchestra and electronics is based on a setting of a text by the Persian poet Rumi.

  • Slovenian composer Vito Žuraj’s In Api-danza macabra (Macabre Bee Dance of Death) riffs on the energy of the iconic Flight of the Bumblebee, but with a modern edge that recognizes looming bee extinction.
  • Žibuoklė Martinaitytė’s Millefleur creates a sonic garden of musical flowers.
  • Concerto for Harp and Orchestra was composed for harpist Erica Goodman by Esprit Music Director Alex Pauk to showcase Goodman’s virtuosity.
  • Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Postludium will be performed by pianist Kevin Ahfat in his debut appearance with Esprit.

January 24: 三/ THREE

The North American premiere of a new work by Unsuk Chin, co-commissioned by Esprit Orchestra along with Bayerische Staatsorchester (DE), Orchestre de Paris (FR), Sao Paulo State Symphony (BR), and Tongyeong Festival (KR), is a highlight of the programme.

  • Unsuk Chin’s Operascope is a new work for orchestra that draws on the history of opera from Verdi to Berg. Esprit has performed and premiered many of Chin’s work over its history.
  • Vancouver-based Rita Ueda was the winner of the 2022 Azrieli Music Prize Commission for New Canadian Music. Her piece Birds Calling…From the Canada in You, for shō, sheng/suona and orchestra surrounds the audience in Canadian bird calls, Chinese and Japanese solo instruments. Naomi Sato plays the Shō, and Zhongxi Wu will play Sheng/Suona.
  • Misato Mochizuki’s Nigredo is informed by Jungian psychology, and inspired by Robert Schumann — both his greatness and mental decline.
Season Soloists: L-R (top row): Zhongxi Wu (Photo courtesy of the artist); Naomi Shato (Photo courtesy of the artist); Aaron Schwebel (Photo: Karen Reeves); Bottom row: Erica Goodman (Photo courtesy of the artist); Kevin Ahfat (Photo courtesy of the artist); Krisztina Szabo (Photo courtesy of the artist); Mark Frewer (Photo: Bo Huang)
Season Soloists: L-R (top row): Zhongxi Wu (Photo courtesy of the artist); Naomi Shato (Photo courtesy of the artist); Aaron Schwebel (Photo: Karen Reeves); Bottom row: Erica Goodman (Photo courtesy of the artist); Kevin Ahfat (Photo courtesy of the artist); Krisztina Szabo (Photo courtesy of the artist); Mark Frewer (Photo: Bo Huang)

March 28: VIOLINISSIMO II

This concert is a reprise of the popular programme from last season celebrating the violin concerto.

  • Violinist Aaron Schwebel performs Max Richter’s Recomposed Four Seasons in its entirety.
  • Violinist Mark Fewer performs the virtuosic Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by György Ligeti, featuring unconventional tuning, ocarinas, slide whistles and recorders.
  • Toronto-based Wesley Shen performs György Ligeti’s Continuum, a piece the composer wrote for solo harpsichord in 1968.

April 25: Sonic Universe

The season finale focuses on two major works from iconic composers, each based in turn on the music of earlier composers.

  • Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo reprises the role of Clara Schumann in R. Murray Schafer’s monodrama, Adieu Robert Schumann. The composer’s final days are evoked through snippets from Clara’s diaries and fragments of his works, including Dein Angesicht so lieb und schön, written at the time of his earliest hallucinations.
  • American composer John Adams’ Harmonielehre is named after Arnold Schoenberg’s book on musical harmony. Adam’s postmodern take draws from late romanticism and impressionism in creating a new sound.

Tickets for the 2023/24 season are go on sale September 5 [HERE].

*Note: This article has been amended to add the date when tickets go on sale. 

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