Coming Events: Canada Turns 150, Makes Joyful Noise

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By Colin Eatock

DATE BOOK — If American society can be described as a “melting pot,” Canada is often likened to a “mosaic.” The different choice of words carries a subtle distinction in meaning: In a melting pot, the result is blending together and assimilation; in a mosaic, distinctiveness is preserved, even as each constituent part contributes to a greater whole. In the UK, the Guardian newspaper recently dubbed Canada “the world’s first postnational country.”

Canada Mosaic is a commissioning project led by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

No doubt, it was with a nod to Canada’s cherished self-image that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra created Canada Mosaic, a celebration of the country’s composers during Canada’s 150th year, in 2017. (It was in 1867 that four British colonies joined together to create the Dominion of Canada.) And although Canada Mosaic is the TSO’s baby – made possible by $7.5 million in grants from the Canadian government – the orchestra has spread the largesse from coast to coast, supporting commissioning projects for most of Canada’s orchestras.

Here are some of the many events folded into the Canada Mosaic project.

Pan-Canada: Short pieces called “Sesquies” to ring out all over

The Toronto Symphony, led by music director Peter Oundjian, has co-commissioned about 40 two-minute “Sesquies” from prominent Canadian composers. These short works will be performed by orchestras and ensembles from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and even up into the Arctic. Conspicuously absent from the list of the TSO’s Sesquie partners are the orchestras of Montreal and Quebec City – but orchestras in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa, Halifax, St. John’s and other places are on board. Click here for a map to all the partnering orchestras, their commissions, and performance dates.

The Sesquies will all also be played by the Toronto Symphony. As a result, there’s scarcely a program the TSO will play in the year 2017 that doesn’t include some Canadian music. Click here for the Toronto Symphony’s Canada Mosaic performance calendar.

Toronto: 20th-century sampler explores Canada’s musical legacy

Jan. 21, Roy Thomson Hall: Full details

Trudel’s ‘Birth’ includes a version of “O Canada.”

The TSO kicks off Canada Mosaic with a remarkable program called Canadian Legacy. While it’s not uncommon for the orchestra to play one or two pieces by a Canadian composer on a concert, a program devoted entirely to Canadians is unusual. And even more notable is the fact that (almost) all the Canadian composers the TSO has chosen to play are dead. The orchestra has selected works from the 20th century, written by both English- and French-speaking Canadians: Godfrey Ridout, Pierre Mercure, Rodolphe Mathieu, Jean Coulthard, and John Weinzweig. The “the listener-friendly” repertoire – including Ridout’s homespun Fall Fair and Mercure’s suave Kaleidoscope – is a reminder that there was a populist streak in some mid-20th-century Canadian composers.

The one living composer on the program is Alain Trudel, with a short new work entitled Birth, co-commissioned with the Ottawa Symphony, which performs the piece on its own program April 3. The fanfare-overture begins with solo trumpet echoed by Indian drumming, and it includes a rendition of the national anthem. Trudel is also principal guest conductor in Ottawa.

Toronto: Chinese-Canadian composer Vincent Ho plans pipa concerto

February 4, Roy Thomson Hall: Full details

Wu Man will perform a new work by Vincent Ho. (Kuan Di)

The TSO welcomes the Chinese Year of the Rooster with Rejuvenation: A Taoist Journey, by the Chinese-Canadian composer Vincent Ho. Scored for pipa (to be played by pipa virtuoso Wu Man), narrator, and orchestra, the new work is ambitiously intended as a musical expression of the essence of Taoism. “Thus,” writes the Calgary-based Ho, “playing and listening to such music is an act of contemplation and a process of self-purification that would eventually lead to spiritual enlightenment.” Long Yu, artistic director of the China Philharmonic Orchestra and music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, conducts.

Toronto: Throat-singer Tanya Tagaq brings Inuit-inspired premiere

March 4, Roy Thomson Hall: Full details

Throat-singer Tanya Tagaq introduces ‘Qiksaaktuq.’

A new work called Qiksaaktuq is the co-creation of composer-vocalist Christine Duncan and throat-singer Tanya Tagaq. Duncan is an eclectic Toronto-based artist, with roots in jazz, gospel, and contemporary classical music. (For this performance, she is intriguingly billed as “improvisation leader.”) Tagaq, from Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic, is known for her guttural, otherworldly vocalizations in the Inuit (Eskimo) tradition.

Other Canadian works on this program are by Jordan Pal and Andrew Staniland, two young composers who cut their orchestral teeth in the TSO’s affiliate composer program. (And somehow a foreigner found his way onto the bill: Trauermarsch for Piano and Orchestra by German composer Jörg Widmann will be played by the TSO with pianist Yefim Bronfman.)

Toronto: Mychael Danna turns Life of Pi film score into concert suite

Sept. 19, Roy Thomson Hall: Full details

Mychael Danna’s ‘Life of Pi’ is now an orchestral suite.

Canadian film composer Mychael Danna wrote the music for the Life of Pi, released in 2012. Created as an accompaniment to director Ang Lee’s surreal portrayal of a man crossing the Pacific Ocean in a small boat with a tiger, Danna’s exotic, colourful score won a both a Golden Globe and an Oscar. Danna’s re-worked suite from the film, for orchestra with Indian instruments and vocals, will be premiered on the TSO’s 2017-18 season-opening concert. Soloists will be the singer Bombay Jayashri and the percussionist V. Selvaganesh, two celebrated musicians featured on the movie’s original soundtrack. They perform in the Carnatic (South Indian) style.

Toronto: Glenn Gould celebration inspires new orchestral sounds

Roy Thomson Hall,  September 22-23: Full details

Kelly-Marie Murphy, Gould-inspired. (Alan Dean)

Glenn Gould is the inspiration for a new orchestral work by Kelly-Marie Murphy of Ottawa, a composer known for her bold, virtuosic flair. (Sample her work here.) Also on the program are two works associated with Gould: the Siegfried Idyll, which Gould conducted with a chamber orchestra in Toronto (the performance later found its way onto a Columbia recording); and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, which Gould played with the New York Philharmonic, famously locking horns with Leonard Bernstein over tempi.

Colin Eatock is a Toronto-based composer and critic. He is the author of Mendelssohn and Victorian England and Remembering Glenn Gould. He has written for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Houston Chronicle, and many other publications. He also teaches at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music.

Date posted: January 11, 2017

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