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Robert Aitken, artistic director


Monday February 15, 2016 at Betty Oliphant Theatre
NMC Ensemble | Robert Aitken direction
Introduction 7:15 | Concert 8:00
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street [MAP]
Reservations: 416.961.9594
$35 regular | $25 seniors / arts workers | $10 students


Pierre Boulez (France 1925) - Incises (1994/2001)
Boulez - Sur Incises (1996/2006)
Howard Bashaw (Canada 1957) - Postmodern Counterpoint - Antiphonals and Canons with Gabrieli Remembered (2015) (World premiere, NMC commission)

Boulez and Bashaw
Simon Docking, solo piano; New Music Concerts Ensemble; Robert Aitken
Monday February 15, 2016 Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St. 8PM

This concert made possible by the generous support of The Michael and Sonja Koerner Charitable Foundation

New Music Concerts, Robert Aitken
founding artistic director, continues its 45th season with a concert dedicated to the memory of Pierre Boulez who died at the age of 90 on January 5 at his home in Baden-Baden. Pierre Boulez was one of the most influential musicians of our time and in terms of contemporary music perhaps the most important personality of the last 100 years. His music was featured on the New Music Concerts series a number of times, beginning with the North American premiere of Messagesquisse back in 1979 with cello soloist Peter Schenkman under Robert Aitken’s direction. Marc Widner performed the Piano Sonata No.1 in 1986 and in April 1991 Boulez’s close associate Jean-Pierre Drouet conducted the NMC ensemble in Mémoriale with Robert Aitken as flute soloist. The following month NMC presented Boulez conducting the Ensemble InterContemporain in a concert at Roy Thomson Hall which included the iconic Le Marteau sans Maître. On that visit Boulez also directed a workshop on Mémoriale with our musicians at the Royal Conservatory. In 2002 when Boulez was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize NMC had the privilege of preparing the award presentation concert of seven seminal works which he conducted, including Messagesquisse, with the Glenn Gould “Protégé” prize winner Jean-Guihen Queyras as soloist. The occasion was an experience of a lifetime for our musicians, especially soloists Patricia Green, Fujiko Imajishi and Christina Petrowska Quilico.

The February 15th concert features a work that occupied Boulez for most of a decade. It began in 1994 as
Incises (English: interpolations), a solo test piece for the Umberto Micheli Piano Competition. Lasting less than 10 minutes, Incises was his first work for solo piano since the Third Sonata was completed in 1963. In 1996 Boulez began Sur Incises, dedicating it to Paul Sacher for his 90th birthday. Based on the material of Incises, it is an extended two-movement work lasting 40 minutes for three pianos, three harps and three percussionists who use a variety of tuned percussion instruments. Here the sounds of the piano in Incises are broken into component parts played by the harps and percussion, and they are deployed across space by spreading the three groups (each consisting of piano, harp and percussion) apart in the performance area. David Robertson conducted the Ensemble InterContemporain in the world premiere of Sur Incises in Edinburgh's Usher Hall on 30 August 1998. In 2001 Boulez revised the solo piano work and in 2006 made final corrections to Sur Incises. Simon Docking will play the original version of Incises and Robert Aitken will conduct Stephen Clarke, Wesley Shen, Gregory Oh, Erica Goodman, Sanya Eng, Angela Schwarzkopf, Rick Sacks, Ryan Scott and David Schotzko in the final version of the ensemble work.

The second half of the concert is devoted to a new piece by Canadian composer Howard Bashaw. A graduate of the University of British Columbia (DMA, 1989), he joined the Department of Music at the University of Alberta in 1993. Working almost exclusively in the acoustic medium, Bashaw’s repertoire ranges from solo instruments to full orchestra. His musical language is perhaps best described as being broadly contemporary, and his scores exist in various conventional, aleatoric, graphic and hybrid formats.

A number of these aspects are present in
Postmodern Counterpoint Antiphonals and Canons with Gabrieli Remembered, for two brass quartets, woodwind quartet, string quartet and two percussion. Stylistically, Bashaw describes the work as a rather unlikely collection of colourfully contrasting movements in which 1) imitative counterpoint is prevalent; 2) the 5-choir division of the ensemble features antiphonal brass and reflects changing contrapuntal textures; and 3) the Rick Sacks percussion conveyor belt is strikingly unconventional and memorable.

The concert will be preceded by an Illuminating Introduction hosted by Robert Aitken during which Simon Docking will perform excepts from
Incises and Howard Bashaw will discuss his work. There will be a post- concert reception in the theatre lobby.

Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) – Incises
(1994) for solo piano
Pierre Boulez – Sur Incises (1996-98/2006) 3 pianos; 3 harps; 3 percussion
Howard Bashaw (b.1957) – Postmodern Counterpoint Antiphonals and Canons with Gabrieli Remembered

Simon Docking, solo piano; New Music Concerts Ensemble; Robert Aitken
Monday February 15, 2016 at Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St.
Concert at 8PM, Illuminating Introduction at 7:15 Tickets $35 (regular); $25 (artists and seniors); $10 (students)
Box office opens at 6:45; Advance sales call (416) 961-9594

Pierre Boulez on Incises and sur Incises

I composed the piano piece Incises for the Umberto Micheli Piano Competition which is greatly supported by Maurizio Pollini. First I had in mind to transform this piece into a longer one for Pollini and a group of instrumentalists, a kind of piano concerto although without reference to the traditional form. And then when I began to really deal with the material – then I thought: no, that’s not really the way to do it. I would like a piano, a piano with a first shadow and a second shadow. With the piano in the middle, giving his material to both sides. Symmetrical, although this symmetry was more complex than I’m indicating now. At the beginning, however, it wasn’t complex at all. Now at the beginning I wanted to have a sonority to enrich the piano’s sonority, really also to treble the sonority of the piano or repeat the sonority of the piano. So I added the harps, three harps. And then I started on the marimba, because the marimba begins to introduce the quick thematic material. Finally I said to myself that if I have a marimba, I also need a vibraphone for the high register. And then the second vibraphone came at the last minute, because I could not find another instrument in the percussion section capable of matching the vibraphone and the marimba. So I had the vibraphone there, and then I went on to add steel drums, timpani, chimes ... and that’s how the percussion is set up: one player on instruments which are totally chromatic, and one on instruments which are, let's say, specialized. Consequently my starting point was three pianos, three harps, three percussionists; also three times three which is nine. And I composed this piece for the 90th birthday of Paul Sacher although this, you have to believe me, is pure coincidence. I did not choose nine instruments on purpose.

[The piece is based on a] series of six pitches that was given to me for an homage to Paul Sacher for his 70th birthday.


For this I wrote Messagesquisse, which was very short, because it was meant to be played in a concert for which a great many composers had written very short works. So it was a short occasional piece. And it was while working on this piece that I finally discovered all of this chord’s possibilities. I noticed progressively, while I was working on it, that there were possibilities I’d never used before. I mean by this that the point was not to make reference to Paul Sacher each time – certainly not, although sur Incises is dedicated to him. But I did not really write sur Incises just to dedicate it to him – I wrote it because the material was there, and because I asked myself what I would do with this material.

[The solo piano piece]
Incises begins with a very free and flexible introduction followed by a very, very quick part (which is at times abruptly interrupted). But the character of this terrific movement is kept throughout. In sur Incises I have expanded, stretched this introduction a lot in terms of its duration. And I have added various forms of multiplication to this very brilliant cadenza, from simple to sixfold and multiple reflections resulting in a cadenza which is no longer wild as in Incises, but calm and breathing regularly, due to these diverse figures appearing in simple to complex modifications. So I have composed a cadenza for everybody, which is to be played without interruption at a very rapid speed and which is very difficult to perform. And then there is another part with a transition. In this part the principles of the cadenza are mixed with the introduction, this very free introduction actually in a rather complete way so that it is very difficult to judge which elements are taken from which area. This situation changes with a recollection of the initial cadenza focusing on the three pianos in order to demonstrate on which kind of periodicity the complete action is based. The first page [of sur Incises] provides half of the piece, as a matter of fact, because the material is very simple. You have resonant material and quick material. And the process is to mix both of them or not to mix them: at the beginning they are not mixed, and throughout the second half of the piece they are. And then the object is always finding a way to have the dialogue between quick and resonant, that being the material – it plays its novelty each time, and you recognize it, more or less.

The percussion and also the harps are at times completely integrated and sometimes only play a minor role, it depends. There is one section where the pianos play an elaborate ostinato passage, thus a very strict compositional structural form while the percussionists play very free figures at the same time. But you find also moments when this role play is divided up, such as that one piano and one percussionist play the free structures whereas the other pianos and percussionists have to follow the strict ostinato movement etc. Another attractive aspect is that at times you encounter very quick changes followed by sections of constant continuous instrumental combinations. As to the harps, [their] entries depend a lot on the different kinds of speed at which this instrument can be handled. I was very surprised by the powerful sound three harps can produce. At the beginning [they are] simply a kind of echo of the piano, [gradually] participating in the sonority and at the very end they are every bit as important as the piano, because the chords they have are very strong in the middle, and then you hear that middle register more strongly than even the extreme power of the piano. By the way, I have emphasized the different sound character of the instruments by positioning them in a characteristic way. Thus, you can see what you hear. I am really very happy with the sound combinations in this piece and also with the way the rather exotic instruments are integrated. I don't use steel drums for the sake of their exotic and folkloric colour but because of the fact that they exceed the usual bounds of the individual families of instruments. I like the sound of steel drums because of their innate possibilities: first in terms of the sound itself, but also because when you do a crescendo, or a very strong sforzato, you have a resonance which is very interesting in and of itself, because the sound is so modified that it ends up being practically another sound. The question is what does that mean? Because this sound belongs to all families and to none at the same time.

Howard Bashaw: Postmodern Counterpoint Antiphonals and Canons with Gabrieli Remembered


Stylistically, a rather unlikely collection of colorfully contrasting movements is gathered under the title Postmodern Counterpoint. “Postmodern”? Sure. After all, diverging arguments could be made for an inclusive aesthetic position that is, at once, forward-looking, backward-looking, and at various, nebulous points in between. And should such debate ever occur (along with its varying opinions), all could agree nonetheless that the work has at least three referential characteristics: 1) imitative counterpoint is prevalent; 2) the 5-choir division of the ensemble features antiphonal brass and reflects changing contrapuntal textures; and 3) the Rick Sacks percussion conveyor belt is strikingly unconventional and memorable.

Antiphonal dialogues arise from contrapuntal textures; counterpoint arises from the compositional technique of canon; and the paradox of unifying contrast arises from canon manifesting in various and unusual forms over all 9 movements. Movement 2 (
mirrors warp and echoes clash) includes displaced, reverberating echo canons. Movement 3 (Paired and Re-Paired) is the realization of a complex table canon (the peculiar, cryptic notation of a brief, single-voice theme that, when read forwards, backwards, upside-down and in different clefs, simultaneously generates transposition, retrograde, and inversion - and here even multiple speeds are added). Movement 4 (Two Double Homages) contains a complex, 4-voice temporal canon (proportional, simultaneous speeds), and an interwoven, ascending-descending double-spiral canon. Movement 5 (Fraction and Refraction) is a puzzle canon, but here taking the unusual, even bizarre, twist of also being an aleatoric canon (a short double-theme presented at all 12 transposition levels and at 3 speeds – but here notated in graphic format as a full-color, stained glass window). Movement 6 (Feat and Defeat) includes a linked, revolving canon (indeed, what else could accompany a conveyor belt?). Movement 7 (Hark and Hearken) contains a paired, 4-voice traditional canon. Both movements 8 and 9 (I dunno and Modern Dance Conspiracy) include what I refer to as textural canons (bearing certain similarities to aspects of minimalism). Leaving only the blazing Badass Toccata for Conductor; while this first movement also contains canonic writing, its focus is clearly distinct from the other movements, and its title, well, just plain says it all.

Now, admittedly, this apparent preoccupation with canon and counterpoint could easily give the impression that the music is much more concerned with rationale strategies and controlling architectures than it is with immediate expressiveness and colorful atmospheres. Wrong. In fact, one could summarize effectively without even bothering to mention all that counterpoint: the music can be heard as having one foot in the classical and contemporary worlds, and the other - with its funky grooves and hard-driving orchestration – in that of the modern big-band.

Turning to the broader historical perspective, is it possible to compose for separate choirs and antiphonal brass without acknowledging, or at least remembering, the late Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli? In this regard,
Postmodern Counterpoint is homage to this composer - and to that remarkable, pivotal period he helped transform.

Postmodern Counterpoint was commissioned through the Canada Council for the Arts by New Music Concerts, Toronto.