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Robert Aitken, artistic director


Sunday April 28, 2019 @ 8 Introduction @ 7:15
Louise Bessette solo piano
Patricia Green mezzo soprano
New Music Concerts Ensemble
Robert Aitken and Brian Current direction
Betty Oliphant Theatre at 404 Jarvis Street [MAP]
Tickets $35 regular | $25 seniors and arts workers | $10 students
For Reservations Call 416.961.9594

Robert Aitken with Gilles Tremblay, April 27, 2013; Pierre Boulez with Robert Aitken, Nov. 22, 2002.

Remembering two cherished friends of New Music Concerts, icons of 20th century composition.


Gilles Tremblay (Canada 1932-2017) Envoi (1983)
for solo piano and ensemble

Pierre Boulez (France 1925-2016) Le Marteau sans maître (1953/55)
poems by René Char, for voice and six instruments

Born in Montbrison in the Loire department of France, the son of an engineer,
Pierre Boulez studied harmony and analysis at the Conservatoire de Paris with Olivier Messiaen, and privately with Andrée Vaurabourg and René Leibowitz during the turbulent years of 1943-46. It was through Leibowitz that Boulez was first made aware of Arnold Schoenberg’s serial method of composition and discovered a keen interest in the music of Anton Webern. He began his performing career in the late 1940s as music director of the Renaud-Barrault theatre company in Paris, which provided him the opportunity to tour internationally and absorb transformative cultural influences in North and South America.

As a young composer in the 1950s he quickly became a leading figure in avant-garde music, playing an important role in the development of integral serialism and controlled chance music through his conversations with John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1954, with the financial backing of Barrault and Renaud, he established a series of contemporary music concerts in Paris which became known as the Domaine musical. In 1959 Boulez left Paris for Baden-Baden at the invitation of the South-West German Radio orchestra. He moved into, and eventually bought, a large hillside villa there, which was his main residence for the rest of his life. In 1970 Boulez was asked by President Pompidou to return to France and set up an institute specializing in musical research and creation that was to become the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique (IRCAM), first opened in 1977, from which he founded and directed the Ensemble Intercontemporain, a virtuoso ensemble devoted to the performance of twentieth-century music. From this time onwards he pioneered the electronic transformation of instrumental music in real time. The first piece he completed at IRCAM was Répons (1980–1984).

In parallel with his activities as a composer Boulez became one of the most prominent conductors of his generation. In a career lasting more than sixty years he held the positions of chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain and principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. He made frequent guest appearances with many of the world's other great orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra. He was particularly known for his performances of the music of the first half of the twentieth century and the Second Viennese School as well as that of his contemporaries, such as Ligeti, Berio and Carter.

Pierre Boulez (France 1925-2016) Le Marteau sans maître (1953/55)

I. avant “l’Artisanat furieux”
II. Commentaire I de “Bourreaux de solitude”
III. “l’Artisanat furieux”
IV. Commentaire II de “Bourreaux de solitude”
V. “Bel édifice et les pressentiments” version première
VI. “Bourreaux de solitude”
VII. après “l’Artisanat furieux”
VIII. Commentaire III de “Bourreaux de solitude”
IX. “Bel édifice et les pressentiments” double

Le Marteau sans maître (“The Hammer Without a Master”) was first performed in 1955 at the Donaueschingen Festival under the direction of Hans Rosbaud, to whom the work is dedicated. The original 1954 version consisted of six movements, which was expanded to nine in a subsequent revision. The unique scoring of this seminal work, informed by non- Western music Boulez had been studying at the time, explores a gradient of transformative sonorities that passes through the breathing of the voice and flute, the monodic profiles of the flute and viola, the plucked sounds of viola and guitar, the struck resonances of the guitar and the xylo-rimba and the pitched to un-pitched progression of the vibraphone and percussion instruments. The nine sections are all scored differently; four include the voice while the remainder are purely instrumental. The five instrumental pieces are organized in a prelude and postlude to the first vocal piece and three commentaries on the third vocal piece. Boulez chose three poems written in 1934 by the surrealist poet René Char (1907- 1988) for his libretto. Texts by Char also feature in two previous works by Boulez, Le Visage nuptial (1946-47) and the first of the three versions of Le Soleil des eaux (1948). Though the composition of the work uses numerous serial techniques Boulez often displays a considerable degree of freedom in his choice of pitch materials while maintaining his earlier procedure (pioneered in Messiaen’s 1949 piano work Mode de valeurs et d'intensités) in which not only pitch but other musical parameters – duration, dynamics, timbre and attack – are rigorously organized.

Born in Arviva, Québec in 1932,
Gilles Tremblay’s musical studies began in earnest as a piano student of Germaine Malépart at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal from 1949-54, where he earned a premier prix in 1953. He also studied composition privately with Claude Champagne and had a decisive meeting with Edgard Varèse in New York at this time. He continued his studies in Paris (1954-61), where his teachers included Olivier Messiaen (analysis), Yvonne Loriod (piano), and Maurice Martenot (inventor of the ondes Martenot). He also attended Stockhausen’s summer courses at Darmstadt, where he became interested in electro-acoustic techniques and befriended Pierre Boulez and Henri Pousseur among others.

Tremblay returned to Québec in 1961. He taught musical analysis at the Centre d’arts Orford and at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec, at Quebec City. Beginning in 1962 until his retirement in 1997 he taught composition at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, engendering a profound influence on an entire generation of composers. Among his pupils are Serge Arcuri, Raynald Arseneault, Yves Daoust, François Dompierre, Michel Gonneville, Marc Hyland, Ramon Lazkano, Robin Minard, Éric Morin, Silvio Palmieri, Micheline Coulombe Saint- Marcoux, André Villeneuve, Claude Vivier and Wolf Edwards. He also served as chairman (1982-88) and artistic director (1986-88) of Montréal’s Société de musique contemporaine du Québec.

Tremblay’s music has been performed by many distinguished ensembles, including 2e2m, Domaine musical, the Evergreen Club Gamelan Orchestra, the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, le Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, l'Orchestre National de France, the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, the SMCQ Ensemble, Vancouver New Music Society and, on 27 occasions, New Music Concerts. He died on August 4, 2017, at Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Gilles Tremblay (Canada 1932-2017) Envoi (1983)

The piano is the core of Envoi. It is the piano that throws off the ideas and launches the music right from its opening solo. The rest of the work is the consequence of this initial gesture, hence the title (Envoi = send off).

The piano acts as, of course, a "piano-orchestra", which both calls out and responds to the orchestral instruments: xylophones, crotales, gongs, trombones (in the medium and low registers), a voluble clarinet ... the points of contact being similarities in timbre and attack which are multiple and occur at varying degrees. The piano imitates orchestral tenuto sounds by less obvious means. Such is the case with the slow horn melody, in which the low sonorities of the piano converge by different harmonic relationships toward the principal melodic axis (F#). Emission, reception, identity (mimetic) and otherness (contrast) are the axes of concerted interplay. The relationships are those of fusion or dialogue rather than marked rivalry between antagonists - an aesthetic to be rejected.

Paradoxically, for this could seem surprising given the language being used, I would refer to the spirit of the Mozart concerti because of the multiplicity of ideas (some sections have up to eight themes), which are completely integrated within the form. Balance is created through the completeness of these exchanges. This one-movement concerto is organized using three strongly differentiated, yet related materials:

1. Groups of instruments, split into all registers using transpositions on the 3rd and 7th harmonics, are treated as a large rhythmic circle (which I call "tala", an analogous word in Indian music);

2. A fluid network, with permuted formants, can be used to create waves, giving birth to a melodic sign (neuma). This "low-high-low" (the torculus) becomes more and more important;

3. Accumulation of intervals that evolve in a spiral (found in the two toccatas). Subsidiary material is grafted onto this or diverges from it in capricious meanderings. Throughout this, sympathetic harmonic resonances create a non-tempered universe - a bridge between sound and silence, open to the elsewhere, an essential part of the concerto form. Finally, a long progression of appearances by the clarinet goes across the work. Appearances, projections, openings and cross currents are the leading forces which create the form.
— Gilles Tremblay