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Robert Aitken, artistic director

MICHAEL KOERNER'S CHOICE

Sunday December 2, 2018 @ 8 Introduction @ 7:15
New Music Concerts Ensemble, Robert Aitken direction
Ben Heppner special guest
John Hess piano Max Christie clarinet David Hetherington cello
Accordes string quartet
Jonathan Krehm and Evonne Tan, tai chi players
Betty Oliphant Theatre at 404 Jarvis Street [MAP]
Tickets $35 regular | $25 seniors and arts workers | $10 students
For Reservations Call 416.961.9594

edge
L/R: Carter, Stravinsky, Ives, Schafer, Milhaud


Programme:

Elliott Carter (USA 1908-2012) Rigmarole (2011)
Igor Stravinsky (Russia/USA 1882-1971) Octet (1922-23, rev.1952)
Charles Ives (USA 1874-1954) Selected Songs
R. Murray Schafer (Canada b.1933) String Quartet No.6,
“Parting Wild Horse’s Mane” with Tai Chi players (1993)
Darius Milhaud (France 1892-1974) La Création du monde (1923)

in 1978
Michael Koerner joined the New Music Concerts Board of Directors, serving until 2016 when he retired with emeritus status. Michael has supported our activities in all possible directions and has aided us, perhaps more than any other, in reaching our 48th season. In 2018 Michael turned 90 and to mark this milestone we asked him to curate a concert of some of his favourite works. His choice of composers includes four giants in the history of music: Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, R. Murray Schafer and Darius Milhaud. Stravinsky’s famed Octet for Winds (1922-23, revised 1952), is a woodwind divertissement that equally exercises the listener's mind and the eight virtuoso performers. Stravinsky said "The Octet began with a dream, in which I saw myself in a small room surrounded by a small group of instrumentalists playing some attractive music . . . I awoke from this little concert in a state of great delight and anticipation and the next morning began to compose." Dedicated to Sonja Koerner, Schafer’s String Quartet No.6 was written in 1993 on commission from Michael, the Canada Council and the CBC for the Scotia Festival of Music. With its title “Parting Wild Horse’s Mane” and the involvement of a T’ai Chi dancer, this work reflects the diversity so integral to the arts today. Milhaud’s La Création du monde, is a magnificent and flamboyant polytonal work which is surely one of the most beloved pieces from the first half of the 20th century. The concert also features a selection of songs by legendary American eccentric Charles Ives, sung by very special guest, tenor Ben Heppner. The festivities begin with our annual tribute to the late, great Elliott Carter in the Canadian premiere of one of his very last works, Rigmarole for bass clarinet and cello, written at the age of 103. The evening promises to be a real delight!

PROGRAMME NOTES

Elliott Carter (USA 1908-2012) Rigmarole (2011)
for cello and bass clarinet

Elliott Carter was born in New York City on 11 December 1908 and died there in 2012. Carter began to be seriously interested in music in high school and was encouraged at that time by Charles Ives. With the explorations of tempo relationships and texture that characterize his music, Carter is recognized as one of the prime innovators of 20th-century music. The challenges of works such as the Variations for Orchestra, Symphony of Three Orchestras, and the concertos and string quartets are richly rewarding. In 1960, Carter was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize for his visionary contributions to the string quartet tradition. Stravinsky considered the orchestral works that soon followed, Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano and two chamber orchestras (1961) and Piano Concerto (1967), to be “masterpieces”. Elliott Carter was the recipient of the highest honours a composer can receive: the Gold Medal for Music awarded by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Medal of Arts, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and honorary degrees from many universities. Hailed by Aaron Copland as “one of America’s most distinguished creative artists in any field,” Carter received two Pulitzer Prizes and commissions from many prestigious organizations.

New Music Concert’s partnership with Elliott Carter has been a long and productive one, beginning in 1977 with a performance of his Double Concerto among other works and followed by a series of portrait concerts with the composer in attendance in 1983, 1990, 1998, 2006. Only inclement weather in New York City in 2010 prevented his attending our 102nd birthday tribute. Since his demise we have honoured his memory by programming a late work of his every season in December. Carter’s program note for this latest installment is concise:

Rigmarole was composed for the cellist Fred Sherry and the bass clarinetist Virgil Blackwell for my 103rd birthday concert on December 8, 2011 in New York City. — Elliott Carter


Igor Stravinsky (Russia/USA 1882-1971) Octet (1922-23, rev.1952)
1. Sinfonia 2. Tema con variationi 3. Finale

Igor Stravinsky was born June 17, 1882 in Oranienbaum, Russia and died April 6, 1971 in New York City. Son of an operatic bass, he decided to be a composer at age 20 and studied privately with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1902–08). His Fireworks (1908) was heard by the impresario Sergey Diaghilev, who commissioned Stravinsky to write the Firebird ballet (1910); its dazzling success made him Russia’s leading young composer. The great ballet score Petrushka (1911) followed. His next ballet, The Rite of Spring (1913), with its shifting and audacious rhythms and its unresolved dissonances, was a landmark in music history; its Paris premiere caused an actual riot in the theatre, and Stravinsky’s international notoriety was assured. In the early 1920s he adopted a radically different style of restrained Neoclassicism. From 1954 he employed the compositional technique of serialism. His later works include Agon (1957) — the last of his many ballets choreographed by George Balanchine — and Requiem Canticles (1966).

Stravinsky started composing the Octet for Wind Instruments in Biarritz, France, in late 1922 and finished the work in Paris on May 20, 1923. The three movements of the Octet, cast in the very traditional forms of a sonata, theme and variations and a rondo finale, displays a shift in his previously folkloristic approach towards a consciously neoclassical aesthetic, presaged in his Pulcinella ballet of 1919/20 and culminating in his 1951 opera The Rake’s Progress. Stravinsky discussed the genesis of the Octet in conversation with Robert Craft in the following excerpt from their 1968 “conversation book” Dialogues and a Diary:

The Octuor began with a dream in which I saw myself in a small room surrounded by a small group of instrumentalists playing some very attractive music. I did not recognize the music, though I strained to hear it, and I could not recall any feature of it the next day, but I do remember my curiosity—in the dream—to know how many the musicians were. I remember too that after I had counted them to the number eight, I looked again and saw that they were playing bassoons, trombones, trumpets, a flute and a clarinet. I awoke from this little concert in a state of great delight and anticipation and the next morning began to compose the Octuor, which I had had no thought of the day before, though for some time I had wanted to write an ensemble piece—not incidental music like Histoire du Soldat, but an instrumental sonata.

Stravinsky also discussed the aesthetic implications of his unique instrumentation of the work in a 1924 article for the journal The Arts:

Wind instruments seem to me to be more apt to render a certain rigidity of the form I had in mind than other instruments—the string instruments, for example, which are less cold and more vague. The suppleness of the string instruments can lend itself to more subtle nuances and can serve better the individual sensibility of the executant in works built on an ‘emotive’ basis. My Octet is not an ‘emotive’ work but a musical composition based on objective elements which are sufficient in themselves. [...] The reasons why I composed this kind of music for an octet of winds are the following: First, because this ensemble forms a complete sonorous scale and consequently furnishes me with a sufficiently rich register; second, because the difference of the volume of these instruments renders more evident the musical architecture. And this is the most important question in all my recent compositions. I have excluded from this work all sorts of nuances, which I have replaced by the play of these volumes.[...] This sort of music has no other aim than to be sufficient in itself. In general, I consider that music is only able to solve musical problems; and nothing else, neither the literary nor the picturesque, can be in music of any real interest. The play of the musical elements is the thing.


R. Murray Schafer (Canada b.1933) String Quartet No.6,
“Parting Wild Horse’s Mane” with Tai Chi Chuan players (1993)

R. Murray Schafer has achieved an international reputation as a composer, an educator, environmentalist, scholar and visual artist. Born in Sarnia, Ontario, in 1933, he was raised in Toronto. Schafer entered the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto in 1952 to study with John Weinzweig. His casual contact with Marshall McLuhan on campus in that period could arguably be singled out as the most lasting influence on his development. He went to Vienna in 1956. After two years he went to England, studying informally with composer Peter Racine Fricker. While in Britain Schafer supported himself by writing (resulting in a book, British Composers in Interview) and by the preparation of a performing edition of Ezra Pound’s opera Le Testament (1920-1) broadcast by the BBC in 1961. Returning to Canada in 1961, he directed the Ten Centuries concerts, and began teaching, first (1963-65) as artist-in-residence at Memorial University, and then (1965-75) at Simon Fraser University. At SFU, with grants from UNESCO and the Donner Canadian Foundation, he set up the World Soundscape Project for the study of the relationships between people and their acoustic environment. Schafer moved in 1975 to a farm near Maynooth, Ontario, but has remained affiliated with the project. He purchased a farmhouse near Peterborough in 1987.

Schafer’s early works reveal debts to Weinzweig, the neoclassicism of Stravinsky and ‘Les Six’. The Minnelieder, with its Mahlerian atmosphere, was in Schafer’s opinion his first important achievement. In the early 1960s Schafer drew on serialism, also drawing on the language, literature, and philosophy of ancient cultures, leading to an exploration of the mythology and symbolism of modern life. That resulted in a succession of studies on the urban themes of alienation and psychoneurosis.

Schafer’s involvement in music education led to his booklets, The Composer in the Classroom, Ear Cleaning, The New Soundscape, When Words Sing, and Rhinoceros in the Classroom. As the ‘father of acoustic ecology’ Schafer has been concerned about the damaging effects of noise on people, especially dwellers of the ‘sonic sewers’ of the city. Of the various publications Schafer released after his work with the World Soundscape Project, the most important is The Tuning of the World (1977) where he summarizes his soundscape research, philosophies, and theories. Schafer’s search for a ‘hi-fidelity’ soundscape led to his move to an Ontario farmhouse, which then inspired a series of ‘natural-environment’ works. The first was Music for Wilderness Lake, for twelve trombones. His soundscape interest is also reflected in the works employing spatial distribution of the performers, the most ambitious being Apocalypsis, which calls for 500 performers.

While Schafer’s focus in the 1970s was his soundscape work, in the 1980s it was Patria, a 12-part cycle of musical/theatrical works begun in 1966. Schafer’s rural environment allowed him to work with communities in Maynooth and Peterborough, remarkable models for how artists could integrate into the societies of which they find themselves members. Schafer founded the Maynooth Community Choir, with whom he wrote and produced the music theatre piece Jonah. He chose his rural home near the Peterborough area to work on artistic projects with this community.

Besides his works as a composer, dramatist, music educator, music journalist, and in the new field of soundscape studies, Schafer has made significant contributions to the humanities as musicologist/literary scholar, creative writer, and visual artist. His E. T. A. Hoffmann and Music is the first book-length study on the subject and his Ezra Pound and Music is a major achievement of musical and literary scholarship. His diversity belies generalizations of style; his work could be described as a synthesis of 20th-century avant-garde techniques with the 19th-century romantic spirit. He received the Canadian Music Council’s first Composer of the Year award in 1977 and the first Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music in 1977. In 1980 he was awarded the Prix International Arthur-Honegger; in 1985 he received the Banff CA National Award in the Arts, and in 1987 he became the first recipient of the $50,000 triennial Glenn Gould Award. In 2005 Schafer was awarded the Walter Carsen Prize by the Canada Council for the Arts, followed by the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2009. In 2013, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada “for his contributions as an internationally renowned composer of contemporary music, and for his groundbreaking work in acoustic ecology”.
— Encyclopedia of Music in Canada [edited]

String Quartet No. 6 (Parting Wild Horse’s Mane), 1993
programme note by R. Murray Schafer

The quartet was originally inspired by watching my wife, Jean, do T’ai Chi exercises while we were vacationing in Costa Rica. T’ai Chi ch’uan is a set of physical exercises that employs flowing and rhythmic movements with carefully prescribed stances and positions suggesting modes of attack and defense. In origin it dates back to medieval China, and although it is a martial art its real inspiration derives from Taoist philosophy where T’ai Chi (the “Great Ultimate”) consists in effecting a balance between the yang (active) and the yin (passive) principles of life.

The T’ai Chi ch’uan set I used as my model contains a total of 108 moves. Each move is accompanied by a motif or cluster of motifs drawn from the previous five quartets. In fact, there is scarcely an extraneous note in the work that does not come directly from one of the previous scores — the only real exception being the motif for the move entitled “Ward Off Monkey,” which will appear in the seventh quartet. Though these fragments of material have been connected differently, much will sound familiar to those who know the other works. Several methods for binding the quartets together have already been employed, and this is merely one of the more meticulous.

I have always been interested in taking models from other realms of experience and applying them to music. In this case we have a kinaesthetic model with its own structure of repetitions and variations guiding the shape of the music. The work could be performed with or without the T’ai Chi movements, that is, as an accompaniment to them or as an abstract parallel in sound alone.

The Sixth Quartet was commissioned by Michael Koerner for his wife, Sonja. The Koerners were to become generous patrons of my music over the following years, commissioning Shadowman and Four-Forty as well as assisting in the production of The Princess of the Stars and The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix.
— R. Murray Schafer


Charles Ives (USA 1874-1954) Selected Songs

Memories A: Very Pleasant; B: Rather Sad The Circus Band
In Flanders Fields
He is there!
Tom Sails Away
At the River

Born in Danbury, Connecticut on 20 October 1874, Charles Ives pursued what is perhaps one of the most extraordinary and paradoxical careers in American music history. Businessman by day and composer by night, Ives’s vast output has gradually brought him recognition as the most original and significant American composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, Ives sought a highly personalized musical expression through the most innovative and radical technical means possible. A fascination with bi-tonal forms, polyrhythms, and quotation was nurtured by his father who Ives would later acknowledge as the primary creative influence on his musical style. Studies at Yale with Horatio Parker guided an expert control over large- scale forms.

Ironically, much of Ives’s work would not be heard until his virtual retirement from music and business in 1930 due to severe health problems. The conductor Nicolas Slonimsky, music critic Henry Bellamann, pianist John Kirkpatrick (who performed the Concord Sonata at its triumphant premiere in New York in 1939), and the composer Lou Harrison (who conducted the premiere of the Symphony No. 3) played a key role in introducing Ives’s music to a wider audience. Henry Cowell was perhaps the most significant figure in fostering public and critical attention for Ives’s music, publishing several of the composer’s works in his New Music Quarterly.

In 1947, Ives was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony No. 3, according him a much deserved modicum of international renown. Soon after, his works were taken up and championed by such leading conductors as Leonard Bernstein and, at his death in 1954, he had witnessed a rise from obscurity to a position of unsurpassed eminence among the world’s leading performers and musical institutions.

Ives – Selected Songs

In 1922 Ives self-published a volume of art songs for voice and piano with the title of 114 Songs. He made 500 copies, and when they ran out, he printed 1000 more, distributing them to friends and musicians. The publication included an essay in the form of a postface, in which Ives explained his motivation for his uncharacteristic promotion of his own works:

Various authors have various reasons for bringing out a book, and this reason may or may not be the reason they give to the world; I know not, and care not. It is not for me to judge the world unless I am elected. It is a matter which lies between the composer and his own conscience, and I know of no place where it is less likely to be crowded . . . . Some have written a book for money; I have not. Some for fame; I have not. Some for love; I have not. Some for kindlings; I have not. I have not written a book for any of these reasons or for all of them together. In fact, gentle borrower, I have not written a book at all—I have merely cleaned house. All that is left is out on the clothes line; but it’s good for a man’s vanity to have the neighbours see him—on the clothes line.

For some such or different reason, through some such or different process, this volume, this package of paper, uncollectable notes, marks of respect and expression, is now thrown, so to speak, at the music fraternity, who for this reason will feel free to dodge it on its way-perhaps to the waste basket. It is submitted as much or more in the chance that some points for the better education of the composer may be thrown back at him than that any of the points the music may contain may be valuable to the recipient
. — Charles Ives


Darius Milhaud (France 1892-1974) La Création du monde (1923)

Born in Marseille to a Jewish family from Aix-en-Provence, Milhaud began as a violinist, later turning to composition instead. Milhaud studied in Paris at the Paris Conservatory where he met his fellow group members Arthur Honegger and Germaine Tailleferre. He studied composition under Charles Widor and harmony and counterpoint with André Gedalge. He also studied privately with Vincent d’Indy. From 1917 to 1919, he served as secretary to Paul Claudel, the eminent poet and dramatist who was then the French ambassador to Brazil, and with whom Milhaud collaborated for many years, setting music for many of Claudel’s poems and plays. While in Brazil, they collaborated on a ballet, L’Homme et son désir. On his return to France, Milhaud composed works influenced by the Brazilian popular music he had heard, including compositions of Brazilian pianist and composer Ernesto Nazareth. Le bœuf sur le toit includes melodies by Nazareth and other popular Brazilian composers of the time, and evokes the sounds of Carnaval.

The invasion of France by Nazi Germany forced the Milhauds to leave France in 1940 and emigrate to the United States, where he found a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland, California. From 1947 to 1971, he taught alternate years at Mills and the Paris Conservatoire, until poor health, which caused him to use a wheelchair during his later years (beginning in the 1930s), compelled him to retire. He also taught on the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School. A genial and non-doctrinaire teacher, his students were numerous and included notable American musicians (Dave Brubeck, Burt Bacharach, Steve Reich and Phillip Glass) and Canadian composers (Jean Coulthard, Walter Buczynski, Harry Somers and Bruce Mather). He died in Geneva at the age of 81, and he was buried in the Saint-Pierre Cemetery in Aix-en-Provence.

In 1922, while performing in New York, Milhaud often enjoyed long evenings in Harlem nightspots, noting that in “some of their shows, the
singers were accompanied by a flute, a clarinet, two trumpets, a trombone, a complicated percussion section played by one man, a piano, and a string quintet.” In his memoirs Milhaud described his impressions at the time:

The new music was extremely subtle in its use of timbre: the saxophone breaking in, squeezing out the juice of dreams, or the trumpet, dramatic or languorous by turns, the clarinet, frequently played in its upper register, the lyrical use of the trombone, glancing with its slide over quarter-tones in crescendos of volume and pitch, thus intensifying the feeling; and the whole, so various yet not disparate, held together by the piano and subtly punctuated by the complex rhythms of the percussion, a kind of inner beat, the vital pulse of the rhythmic life of the music. The constant use of syncopation in the melody was of such contrapuntal freedom that it gave the impression of unregulated improvisation, whereas in actual fact it was elaborately rehearsed daily, down to the last detail. — Darius Milhaud, Ma Vie Heureuse

Upon his return to France in April of 1923, he immediately began collaborating with the artist Fernand Léger and the author Blaise Cendrars on a jazz-inspired ballet that Rolf de Maré had commissioned for his Ballets Suédois (Swedish Ballet) with a scenario based on African creation myths. The ballet would premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on October 25, 1923, the same venue that had hosted the epochal premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps with the legendary Ballets Russes ten years previously. La Création du monde opened to mixed reviews. Léger’s cubist costumes were impressive (including a trio of 25-foot tall African gods) but were difficult to dance in. The music however, consisting of six sections played continuously, has stood the test of time and remains among Milhaud’s most often performed works.