Archives for posts with tag: classical music

I love the idea of music that is tied to specific places. It’s a stimulating challenge for a composer: to try and write music that somehow evokes or captures a place.

That’s one of the things I wanted to do when I was approached by Neworld Theatre to write the music for C.E. Gatchalian‘s new podplay, Authentic, which was released today and is available from the Neworld Theatre website.

(What’s a podplay? It’s a play you experience while walking a particular route, in a specific place, through your earphones. There’s a great explanation here.)

Authentic is a love story between two men from very different cities, a Vancouverite and a New Yorker. The script is gorgeous, highly evocative, and the performances (by actors Marco Soriano and Bob Frazer) are very compelling. It was a privilege to work with this material.

I strove to create a musical flow that had two contrasting motifs within it: two motifs that would reflect the differences between the two cities, but that could also meld into each other. The Adagietto from Gustav Mahler‘s 5th Symphony plays a part in the story, so I wanted to incorporate snippets from that lovely, famous melody into the music for this play, as well; and, finally, because it is a play that unfolds along two of downtown Vancouver’s busiest streets, Seymour and Richards, I wanted city sounds to make up a part of the music too.

Authentic is best enjoyed while walking the route for which it is written, but of course, you don’t have to be in downtown Vancouver to give it a listen.

The good folks over at The Banff Centre have been publishing a gorgeous multimedia journal for the past couple of years called BoulderPavement.  The latest issue is based around the idea of Body & Dance and features fabulous original artwork and compelling literary non-fiction, among other things.

I’ve been lucky enough to contribute regularly to BoulderPavement and I’m thrilled to be a part of this issue as well.  For this original audio composition I decided I wanted to get at the question of the origins of rhythm, and the close relationship between music and our bodies that we sometimes take for granted.

Thinking about this, I remembered a great story told by Ustad Zakir Hussain when my colleagues and I interviewed him for a project called The Nerve. That became the basis for this mini-doc, a kind of “scored story” with original music and sound design.

Read more – and visit Boulder Pavement

2010 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Romantic-era composer Robert Schumann. Schumann was perhaps the archetypal moody artist, alternating between blazing bouts of creativity and periods of antisocial depression. It’s a common cliché that has, all too often, been sustained by sad life stories punctuated by tragic endings. Schumann died a broken man in an insane asylum.

More recently, we’ve seen gifted musicians like Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith take their own lives after struggling with depression.

There are many, many others who fit the cliché (Tchaikovsky, Billie Holiday, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis…the list goes on and on). Why are there so many artists and musicians that struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness?

Anthony Storr was a British psychiatrist who wrote about music and mental illness in his book Music and the Mind. He suggested that there might be a link between mental illness and creativity – he wrote: “The ability to think creatively, to make new links between concepts, is more often found in families which include a member who is diagnosable as mentally ill.”

I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’d be surprised if Schumann, Cobain and Smith weren’t at their happiest when they were writing and playing music. We’ve all experienced a moment in our lives when music has helped us get through a rough patch; when listening to or singing a particular song has just seemed to simultaneously hurt so good and help mitigate the pain.

Is it also possible that, for Schumann, Cobain and Smith, music was almost like self-medication, a treatment for their mental ailments?

I put together a short musical essay about music and mental illness that first aired on CBC Radio 2’s In Concert on Sunday October 24th, 2010. For info on all the music I used in the piece, please look here and scroll down to the list of musical works.

This Saturday, on CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, I’ll be presenting a Canadian Opera Company production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, starring soprano Rinat Shaham.

Photo by Michael Cooper, COC

Carmen is an opera that’s impossible not to love (in my opinion). It’s not for nothing it’s one of the most popular operas of all time. And Carmen herself is a big part of that. She’s a powerful woman, irresistible, independent, bewitching, someone who meets every challenge head-on. Someone who loves the spotlight.

On the show, I’ll be taking a look at the Carmen archetype by paying tribute to singers who embody Carmen’s spirit: singers like Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Loretta Lynn, and, especially to be remembered this year, the late Lhasa de Sela.

Lhasa passed away on Jan 1, 2010 in Montreal, much too young, after a battle with breast cancer. I was in Montreal that week and it felt like the city itself sensed the magnitude of the loss: it snowed for 40 hours straight – true, not an uncommon occurrence in Montreal in winter – but there was a palpable hush, as if Montreal’s musical soul was taking a moment to acknowledge the tragic loss of one of its most talented daughters.

Hope you can join me, Saturday, November 20th, starting at 1pm  (1:30 NT, 2 AT) on CBC Radio 2 across Canada or online from wherever you are at cbc.ca/radio2.

I always like it when something opens up my ears in ways I hadn’t considered.

That’s exactly what happened this week when I listened to a new piece by Gordon Monahan called A Piano Listening to Itself.

Monahan’s been creating compositions for years that force us to think about how we listen – he’s swung speakers around and he’s strung super-long piano wires in unexpected places, for example. I first encountered his work when I was producing the doc series, The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music.  He had a lot of interesting things to say about how we interact with the sounds around us and about the influence of the composer John Cage.

This time around, Monahan has strung six piano wires from the roof of the Royal Castle Bell Tower in Warsaw, Poland, and attached motors to them to make them vibrate with an acoustic signal of piano music by Chopin. You can sort of see the setup in the photo he sent me.

The impression you get is of listening to the ghost of Chopin.

Now, that’s the impression I got just listening to a recording. I’m imagining that’s what it must have been like to walk through that square in Warsaw and come upon that piano by chance – to feel as though you’d stumbled on Chopin’s ghost.

I didn’t get to go to Warsaw, but I did have a chance to speak with Monahan for this Sunday’s edition of In Concert, a weekly classical music program on CBC Radio 2 that I guest-host every once in a while.

The thing that struck me most about his new piece is that it’s the amplification of an electronic signal by acoustic means (piano strings playing back an  mp3 file via the motors attached to them).  If you think about it, that’s exactly the reverse of how we usually experience music these days – well, at least, music that isn’t electronic itself in the first place.

My ears also got opened this week listening to the miraculous playing of Austrian pianist Till Fellner, who plays Beethoven piano concerti exactly the way I like to hear them. He is a master of precision, and listening to him is like drinking some kind of mind-clarifying elixir. On Sunday’s program, he plays Beethoven’s 1st along with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano. Just absolutely glorious.