What have our Music Director Candidates been up to lately?

Our six music director candidates are keeping busy with conducting, composing and vacationing this summer…

Gemma New conducting publicity photoGemma New

It’s summer concerts galore for Gemma New, who will also spend time in New Zealand with family before spending almost a month at the Hollywood Bowl, assisting programs for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. To date, Gemma has conducted with the Atlanta Symphony and jazz, swing and classic concerts at the New Jersey Symphony. “There’s an amazing number of rock/pop/swing/jazz/broadway stars who come from this state – even Rachmaninov had a house here,” says Gemma.

Stilian KirovStilian Kirov

“This summer,” says Stilian, “I will have the most important engagement in my life: becoming a father.” Stilian and his wife are expecting their son to be born sometime near July 20.

“He is our very first child so this is why my main summer activity for this year will be learning how to be a dad.” Of course, some of the first pieces his son will hear, he adds, will be Beethoven’s Second Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto as Stilian prepares for his November HPO concert.

Alastair WillisAlastair Willis

Alastair is keeping it on the light side this summer. Along with preparing for the upcoming season in Illinois with his orchestra and guest conducting, he is enjoying spending time with family and training for a couple of triathlons.


Theodore KucharTheodore Kuchar

“Upon completion of the subscription seasons in North America,” says Theodore, “I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa culminating in a cycle of the complete Rachmaninov piano concertos with the distinguished Italian pianist Antionio Popmpa-Baldi and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.” After returning to California, where he lives, he closed the Slovak Symphony subscription season. He reserves July for finishing and performing as violinist at chamber music festivals, and will participate in the Nevada Chamber Music Festival and the Bruman Chamber Music Festival at UCLA in Los Angeles.

Then, in August, he returns to South Africa for three weeks of concerts with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic including the 100th Anniversary Gala Concert with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Shlomo Mintz.

Gregory VajdaGregory Vajda

Gregory is full speed ahead with composing the third and final act of his new opera Georgia Bottoms, based on the book of the same title by author Mark Childress. “This is going to a real ‘home grown project’ in February 2015,” says Gregory, “to celebrate the 60th season of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.” He’ll also split time between family, composing and fundraising events for the upcoming season in Huntsville, although in August, rehearsals begin for the season’s opening production at Erkel Theater in Budapest (part of the Hungarian State Opera). Living in Huntsville also gave him a chance to spend a week-long vacation in Alaska. “I always wanted to do this while living on the West Coast. Now that I live in Huntsville, I actually got to do it  – it was wonderful.”

Alain TrudelAlain Trudel

After three successive summer tours (two in Canada and on in India) conducting the Juno-nominated National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Alain spent the first two weeks of July conducting the National Art Centre Orchestra, where he is principal and family conductor. He then led the Orchestre Metropolitain (Montreal) in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and was the featured soloist in a program with the Brass Orchestre Symphonique de Laval. Part of August will be spent playing concerts and recording with the All-Star Brass in Banff and also guest conducting at the Peninsula Music Festival in the US.


Owen Pallett: Reinterpreting the Orchestral Genre

OWEN PALLETTCongratulations to Owen Pallett for making the shortlist for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize! Pallett seems to be all over the headlines these days. Who knew a young University of Toronto graduate from Mississauga could experience such heights of international orchestral fame?

With one Polaris Prize under his belt from the 2006 album He Poos Clouds, Pallett has chosen an unconventional career for a modern classical composer and dived head first into vast regions unknown to the pop and video game music worlds. In turn, he’s brought new waves of modern orchestration to the centre of the public stage.

Pallett devoted a large portion of his career to writing music inspired by video games. Under the pseudonym “Final Fantasy,” Pallett wrote the song “An Arrow in the Side of Final Fantasy” which integrates the familiar tune from “Super Mario 2: 6 Golden Coins.” He also composed a tribute album entitled Heartland to the famous video game series Final Fantasy. You can hear HPO’s trumpet lead Mike Fedyshyn and David Pell principal trombone this album.

Pallett rehearsing his "Violin Concerto" for the TSO's New Creation Festival

Pallett rehearsing his “Violin Concerto” for the TSO’s New Creations Festival

Pallett’s chamber/pop album He Poos Clouds won the 2006 Polaris Music Prize and references the eight schools of magic in the fantasy and role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. He kindly donated winnings to bands he deemed deserving of a monetary leg up in the music business. HPO principal second violinist Bethany Bergman was also in the orchestra ensemble for Pallett’s album.

Indie/rock band Arcade Fire have also turned their eyes toward Pallett’s talent as he provides the band’s string arrangements. He’s even played violin with the Grammy winning group. In addition, his work with Arcade Fire on “The Moon Song” for the film Her garnered an Oscar nomination at the 2013 Academy Awards.

Arctic Monkeys’ front-man Alex Turner and The Rascals’ Miles Kane had Pallett create the orchestration and conduct the London Metropolitan Orchestra for their supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets. He also contributed remixes for bands Stars, Grizzly Bears and Death from Above 1979.

Pallett still composes for large orchestras, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra and London Barbican commissioned his Violin Concerto as part of TSO’s week long 2013 New Creations Festival. He also provided a dynamic arrangement of Basia Bulat’s music that that highlighted the best of our very own orchestra. Bulat was also shortlisted for the Polaris Prize this year.

Side-note: check out Owen Pallett’s arrangement of Basia Bulat’s music here:

Pallett isn’t the only one doing exciting duos with indie groups! We’ve had unique collaborations with C.R. Avery and Hachey the MouthPEACE over the years and are thrilled to continue to perform with independent local artists like Thought Beneath Film at Supercrawl in September.

Take a look back at our performance with C.R. Avery at Supercrawl in 2012:

Here’s a look at Owen Pallett’s performance of “He Poos Clouds” with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra:

owen pallett video

Canadian Folk Favourites: Top Seven Picks


Map of Canada from 1898

Much of Canada’s history can be found outside the history books. In fact, you could probably learn most of our nation’s past from Stan Rogers, Gordon Lightfoot and Tragically Hip songs. Traditional Canadian folk music tells the stories, trials, tribulations and pleasures settlers experienced while traveling across the country hundreds of years ago. There are dozens of songs devoted to each province, but here’s a modest list of a few beloved Canadian folk tunes that continue to resonate among families and friends.

The Log Driver’s Waltz
Wade Hemsworth’s The Log Driver’s Waltz has been a long time Canadian favourite throughout generations. The song illustrates the practice of log driving where men on logs ran and “birled” from one log to another in an effort to guide their timber to a saw mill downstream. Hemsworth’s inspiration for the song was drawn from the similar movements he observed between log driving and dancing. In 1979, the National Film Board of Canada produced Canadian Vignettes: a series of five minute videos to be included between children’s programs. The Log Driver’s Waltz still remains the most popular vignette where it’s sometimes played on CBC and other Canadian networks between shows.

Barrett’s Privateers
We celebrate Stan Rogers’ sea shanty Barrett’s Privateers which is often sung in East Cost university pubs and around campfires. An unofficial anthem of the Royal Canadian Navy, this song covers a somewhat accurate history of privateering in Canada (although privateering wasn’t nearly as violent as depicted) with the mention of Halifax, Nova Scotia as a popular destination for privateers. Rogers’ sets his song in the height of the American Revolution in 1778. He tells the tale of a 23-year old privateer who boards Encid Barrett’s vessel called the Antelope destined for Jamaica. Rogers often references Sherbrooke, Quebec as the young man’s far away home. The tale ends tragically as the sailor loses both his legs when his ship is attacked, leaving him “a broken man on a Halifax peer.”

V’la L’bon Vent
V’la L’bon Vent, which translates as “Go Good Wind” is a 300-year old French-Canadian song with one hundred verses. It was sung by French voyageurs and woodsmen who traveled by canoe across the provinces. This folk song helped travelers to both maintain a consistent paddling rhythm and keep their spirits up since they would spend up to 18 hours journeying over water.

Farewell to Nova Scotia
Another song which celebrates the East Coast is the traditional tune Farewell to Nova Scotia. This song has been sung by Nova Scotia natives since the beginning of the First World War. Although the author remains unknown, it is suspected that the British war poem “The Soldier’s Adieu”, which first appeared in a Glasgow newspaper in 1808, was the inspiration behind the song as many lines from the poem are used in the lyrics.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald 
In more recent history, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was a number one hit back in 1975 that commemorated the sinking of the bulk carrier on Lake Superior during a fierce gale in the same year. Lightfoot struggled to put together words for the song as he wanted to be sure the lyrics accurately depicted the wreckage, but a friend told him to just tell a story. As mentioned in the song, the Mariners’ Church of Detroit rings their bells 29 times every year to honor each life that was lost in the wreck.

Escarpment Blues
Celebrating our own Hamilton treasures, Burlington’s Sarah Harmer sung of her worries in her song Escarpment Blues. In fact, this work sparked a concert tour called “I Love the Escarpment” in promotion of P.E.R.L. (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) and was title of the Juno winning documentary in 2007. The song speaks of quarry development along the Niagara Escarpment and our vital connect to its animals and ecosystems.

Iranian-Canadian Composers of Toronto featured as guest artists for A Canadian Mosaic

ICOT photo2

ICOT’S five founding composers Maziar Heidari, Saman Shahi, Afarin Mansouri Tehrani, Keyan Emami & Pouya Hamidi.

A myriad of cultures collide in A Canadian Mosaic on May 15. Guest artists, The Iranian-Canadian Composers of Toronto (ICOT), will present a unique selection of Persian piano music that has brought the group to critical acclaim.

Persian piano music is a unique genre, as Saman Shahi, a composer in the ICOT collective, tells us, and one of its unique features is the use of quarter tones on a piano. When the piano was originally brought to Persia in the 1800s, Persian musicians tried to achieve this characteristic folk sound through the re-tuning of western pianos to suit the Persian mode. In the last hundred years, composers have refrained from this practice because of the difficultly in tuning pianos back to their original state.

So how does ICOT achieve that uniquely Persian sound? Saman explains that Iranian composers “are writing in more Western ways for the instrument. We’re inspired by the classical music we heard growing up and classical music of the last 200 years. There’s a combination of conscious and subconscious levels of clear Iranian tendencies within the melody and the way the music unfolds. The music sounds Iranian but not in an imposing way.”

ICOT was formed by five Iranian-Canadian composers living in Toronto. Their Persian Piano Night concert series in 2011 was the group’s first exposure to the public. As a tour of four Canadian cities, it gave them an opportunity to showcase compositions written by members of their collective as well as music by well-known Iranian composers. They’ve been featured on BBC Farsi’s Maks program and presented the concert New Poetry, New Music which includes compositions from all five composers that are inspired by contemporary Persian poems.

One of the pieces ICOT will perform on May 15 is Journey Inward, which is a contemporary piece that incorporates the use of three pianists playing on the same piano. “there’s lots of music written for four hands in Western classical music, but not for six hands,” says Shahi. “It provides more resources for doing interesting things.”

Having multiple players at the piano creates a bold sound and allows for all aspects of the piano to be used, including its interior strings. A Canadian Mosaic, presented on May 15 at Christ’s Church Cathedral, will also feature the works of Israeli-Greek-, Serbian- and Spanish-Canadian composers.

Here’s a glimpse of Journey Inward which will be performed by ICOT on May 15:

Vivian Fung and Composing a Cross-Cultural Identity

Vivian Fung

Modern Classical Composer Vivian Fung

As a second generation Canadian, JUNO award winning composer Vivian Fung says that composing has helped her realize that she doesn’t need to identify with just one culture. Her music displays a powerful compositional voice while merging Western forms with non-western influences, including Chinese, Balinese and Javanese styles. While studying music at Juilliard, Fung was exposed to Western musical concepts and composers, but it was only after a meeting with a composer from China that Fung began to explore her cross-cultural heritage and immerse herself in Chinese history.

“This composer invited me to his home, and after going through a few pleasantries, he spent the next three hours providing me with all the should-haves and cold-haves of my skewed musical education. The school I chose was wrong for an Asian composer, he said. What is absolutely necessary for an Asian composer, especially a Chinese composer, is knowledge of your own heritage in addition to the Western heritage. I had to start over, he declared…Did I know anything about Chinese history? No. Confucian doctrine? Umm, no. The list grew longer as the evening went by. I left his house with my head spinning and my tail between my legs.”

While daunted by thousands of years to cover, she immersed herself in the material and in 2012 travelled to Southwest China for an ethno-musicological research trip. It was there that she identified with the isolation and apartness of minority nationalities in the Yunnan province and began to study their musical cultures, which became the foundation for her piece Yunnan Folk Songs. She has also developed a knowledge of Southeast Asian cultures through her travels and developed a penchant for the music of Vietnam, where both her parents spent their childhoods in a Chinese neighbourhood of Saigon.

The title of her piece in the What Next Festival, Birdsong, references the sounds and quick movements of birds. “The idea of overarching bird calls and melodies lends itself to an exotic atmosphere,” says Fung. Her work showcases the virtuosity of the piano and violin in intense rhythmic sections and an exploration of improvisational styles. Vivian Fung’s Birdsong is performed by HPO Concertmaster Stephen Sitarski on May 17 during the concert From the Eastern Gate: New Works Inspired by Chinese Heritage at Centenary United Church.

Vivian Fung describes how travelling to Bali inspired her work Dreamscapes:


In her own words: A Canadian in Paris

Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte

Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte

On Saturday, April 26, we’re pleased to present the world premiere of A Canadian in Paris by our very own composer-in-residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte.  You might recall Abigail’s works like Downstream, inspired by Cootes Paradise and performed at the 2013 What Next Festival of New Music, as well as City Synesthesia, which premiered last spring and was based on Hamilton as depicted by four local visual artists. 

A Canadian in Paris is particularly special because it is inspired by the work of visual artist William Blair Bruce and dedicated to the Art Gallery of Hamilton as it celebrates its Centennial this year.  Here’s what Abigail had to say about her piece…

About the commission…

Anonymous donors to the HPO have generously commissioned me to write a piece celebrating the AGH’s 100th anniversary. I decided to look at the founding work of the gallery: the artworks of Hamilton painter William Blair Bruce. I have chosen to set three subjects in his output, each to a movement of music: variations on the Baltic Seascape paintings, The Phantom Hunter (with narrator), and several Six Nations portraits.

Inspiration for the piece…

W.B. Bruce moved from Hamilton to Paris, France, in the 1880s. He is considered to be the first Canadian to live in a French artist colony. This was a rich cultural time in history, especially for the cross-pollination between music and art. Debussy was, by his own account, more influenced through the painters of his day than the composers. Creators and enthusiasts across the arts influenced each other in the cafés of Paris. Such moments in history always excited my imagination. In tribute to Bruce, my piece will be titled A Canadian in Paris. Even though W.B. Bruce lived in France, and later Sweden, the artworks I chose are connected to Canada. He wrote that his most painted subject, the view of the Baltic Sea from his home in Brucebo, Sweden, always brought to mind for him, the shores of Lake Ontario. His best known work, the chilling Phantom Hunter, is based on a poem by Canadian poet Charles Shanly. Of course Bruce did his Six Nations portraits upon meetings during a trip home. I feel like he took pieces of Canada to Europe and, over a century later, I am reintroducing them to Hamilton.

On introducing interpreting William Blair Bruce through contemporary music…

I want the audience to have an opportunity to get inside a piece of artwork through a different medium and, most of all, I want them to feel an emotional connection. Too often people think they cannot connect with contemporary music but that just isn’t true. Contemporary music isn’t what it was some years ago. Composers now look to have more of a direct and visceral connection with the listener. I intend to take the listener on a journey, led by the musicians of the orchestra. I want the listener to get inside these paintings just as I had done when letting them inspire this music.

On living and working in Hamilton…

I feel very lucky to live in beautiful Dundas and to be Composer-in-Residence with the HPO. Aside from writing music, I am able to introduce many people to contemporary music through my education programs and the HPO’s What Next Festival. I feel like an ambassador of new music in my own community. It’s fun to be recognized as the HPO composer in places like the Farmer’s Market. It’s good to hear people say, “I didn’t think I liked new music but I loved your piece about Hamilton!” or, “I heard those amazing student compositions!”, or often, “What are you writing this year?” That for me, is the ultimate reward.

On the relevance for our community…

The works of W.B. Bruce are the reason the Art Gallery of Hamilton even came into existence, and they are being brought back to the forefront in the upcoming Bruce exhibition with the AGH Centennial Celebration in 2014. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the cultural cross-pollination and spirit of late 19th century Paris in modern day Hamilton, a city with its own artistic spirit.

A Canadian in Paris, by Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte and conducted by Gemma New, will make its world premiere on April 26 at Hamilton Place.