April is a month in which happenings loom precariously over deadlines like tipsy washing machines over suckling pigs.

First up is a humble affair I’m extremely proud to be lugging parts to. The Classical Revolution is a monthly occurrence in Vancouver in which fabulous musicians gather their fabulous selves together to sightread through fabulous music for the coughing masses. I’m bringing a string quartet I’ve been working on for some months that I’ve been calling, “Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake”. I’m ignobly proud of it and can’t wait to hear it – even just a reading of a smattering of measures.

Also approaching on the horizon is a performance of my second residency piece with The Laudate Singers. The piece is a gorgeous and lush setting of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

 

Before we start talking about this month’s mayhem, it’s probably long past due to acknowledge the stellar performance of the Vancouver Peace Choir of my in paradisum last year. It was paired with the Brahms Requiem which is (To say the least) a tremendous honor. If you don’t believe me, subsist upon the recorded evidence:

This month features a welcome smattering of my music performed by The Laudate Singers of North Vancouver and East Vancouver’s own OperaFeHk.

From Laudate’s choral loft we have my own arrangement of “The Alphabet”:

 

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About to become shop-soiled.

 

My version of the Alphabet amplifies the childlike whimsy of the original by throwing the traditional melody under a bus and giving the remaining text a wildly syncopated treatment. It’s being performed at Laudate’s Reflections concert. It’ll be an unsusual evening as most of the music is written by composers who haven’t quite gotten around to dying yet, supremely challenging (At least for me); and pretty wild while also being wildly pretty. In addition to my piece (We nicknamed it the Alpha-better in rehearsal); there’s Pärt’s Magnificat; a crackling hymn by recently deceased John Tavener; and pieces by Sled, Peterson, Price, Cox, Diaconu & Saba, Fulton, Chatman, Willan, and a bag of pogo sticks under a partridge in a pear tree.

 

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March 7th, 8pm – St. Andrew’s United Church

 

And in what one could only say is something completely different, OperaFeHk is performing a set of chamber pieces in their Birthday Cabaret Spectacular. From what I’ve been told, the show is a birthday celebration for one of their central characters, The House With Hippopotamus Legs. On the program is my Tragic Nature Of Being Ugly as well as some pieces I’ve written for their past shows. Like, for instance, this little gem:


It should begin at 9:59. Unfortunately, YouTube is punchy and it may need a hand.

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March 21st, 8pm – Thousand Rivers Studio – 54 East 4th

Away we go!

Last year – I consented to blogging about each night of the VSO’s now-annual New Music Festival and I didn’t much regret making the commitment. They actually made it quite easy on me as each night had some sort of a spark that ignited a desire to prove to everyone that I wasn’t dozing off in my seat glistening with a glaze of classical music and off-brand snacks.

This year the powers-that-be have programmed a piece by one of the most performed living composers: Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe.

If you need a reason to attend other than myself saying you should; I offer this humble, yet stalwart, rendition of the last movement of the work:

 

Nothing special, just Thomas Ades conducting Lutoslawski’s cello concerto.

I’m in absolute awe of this piece. We’re talking about me holding back from gushing of a biblical variety. If you were to give me a blog and say to me, “Say something interesting about Beethoven and Lutoslaski and try not to resort to desperate internet ploys for attention – like kittens”, then I would say the following:

“Lutoslawski and Beethoven seem to have stitched a similar britch in that they’ve gone to a place in long form music making where you take a very simple element – almost simple to the point of being a clown – and spinning a whole piece from it.”

With Beethoven, you have one of the most popular hooks in existence: “Duh duh duh duuuuuuhhh!!!!”, in the fifth symphony; with Lutoslaski’s Cello Concerto the composer takes an enormous step forward by taking an enormous and ill-advised leap backwards: he takes out the first three notes of Beethoven’s memorable motto. He eliminates them. They are excessive baggage. In the words of an oft-forgotten character in a famous film: “His majesty says that there are too many notes”.

 

And if you don’t believe me, listen to the first ten seconds followed by the last ten seconds and tell me the parallels are a fluke. I DARE YOU.

This evening, I embarked on a culinary experiment where I combine two of my favorite food vices: macaroni and cheese and pizza. I prefer not to self medicate with carbohydrates so I took steps to make sure I wouldn’t be experiencing my first open heart surgery at 35.

The first step was, instead of a flour crust, to make a crust out of polenta.

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Once it was set, I added caramelized onions and the macaroni.

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Next, came some steamed broccoli I had thoughfully prepared ahead of time.

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I then added a slathering of cheddar cheese and roast garlic. The dash of Panko  was to give an extra bit of crunch.

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In retrospect, I would probably go instead with some kind of Béchamel sauce instead of tomato. Also, I could have done without the Panko and gone instead with some Parmesan cheese. It’d be a more harmonious set of flavors instead of a stampeding melee.

On the subject of harmonious creations, the Vancouver Peace Choir is performing my in paradisum setting next month. It’s a very ambitious piece that manages to incorporate a lot of what I love about the art of being able to write music down and definitely sets the bar for what I expect from myself artistically quite a bit higher. Note the proximity of my name to one of the heaviest of heavyweights in the canon on their poster:

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From what I can tell, I’ve definitely written a finite number of works and of those finite works this piece has some of my absolute most favorite musical moments of gnarly grinding chords giving way to sonic caramel.

The ending also holds a special significance for me: The main motif of the whole piece ends up capitulating to the last of its endurance and becomes resigned into to a fated chant on the word, aeternam (Eternity). Whenever I send this score to people I tell them to play the last page first as it never fails to cause a pitter-patter of the heart.

Two performances!

Saturday, November 22, 2014, 7:30pm
Vancouver Community College Auditorium, 1155 E Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5T 4V5
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/898234
Cost: $20 adults, $15 students / seniors, FREE 18 & under
https://www.facebook.com/events/1543887875824217/

 

…and…
Sunday, November 23, 2014, 3:00pm
Highlands United Church
3255 Edgemont Blvd, North Vancouver
British Columbia, V7R 2P1

 

 

 

 

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Once again, OperaFeHk delivers comedic and musical gold!

 

OperaFeHk‘s Absolute Most Fun Show To Go To is a chamber opera written by myself that was performed this past June. The tall tale of the show is that the collective’s chief protagonist, a house with hippopotamus legs, has been cast singing the lead role in my new opera. During the overture, the conductor makes a series of unholy changes to the score: the flute is replaced with a whistle, the viola is replaced with a banjo, and the oboe is replaced by a whoopie cushion. Incensed that his changes don’t create spontaneous brilliance, the conductor storms off stage. When he returns, his baton is poking out of his chest and he collapses in a heap of ego. At this point, the opera becomes a murder mystery and the two leads set out to unravel the mystery of who killed the conductor.

Here’s a brief summary:

The most obvious suspects are the instruments who were recast during the overture. The viola is interrogated, but she was too manically depressed to motivate herself to lash out; the flute was… too high; and the oboe confirms her status as a diva who wouldn’t stoop to such barbarism.

After unsuccessful, yet hilarious interrogations, the conductor miraculously comes back to life and accuses ME of committing the crime! I’m hauled off in chains at the show’s conclusion.

More to come! Watch this space.

Well – that’s a fun surprise. And quite an honor!

The Laudate Singers of North Vancouver have tapped me to be their composer in residence for their upcoming season. It’s quite a privilege to be in the company of Lars Kaario and his group of ridiculously skilled singers. On the docket are two commissions for the new year. Already, an excited gearworks has been set in motion. I’ll be doing my best to impress!

More details to come – likely through my twitter account:

https://twitter.com/SivakChris

 

For the first time ever, and I hope it won’t be the last, I was able to saunter down Commercial Drive to my favorite restaurant/pub, order my favorite beer, and enjoy one of my favorite of Purcell’s theater works in an informal setting. It was a treat to see Dido and Aeneas performed on the Cafe Deux Soleil stage that I normally associate with slam poetry and open mic nights.

Besides being in English, Dido And Aeneas clocks in at a brisk hour and a half which makes it an ideal candidate for a new opera company’ first outing. The singers are all familiar faces in the music scene out here and it was a real treat to hear them sing this fabulous score. If you’ve read this blog before you know I gush about the composer in this space again and again.

Opera After Hours, which I believe is the brain child of Chris Bagan and Debi Wong, has adapted the libretto to present a socially aware message about bullying and it’s consequences. It’s a cool idea and it was effective in a way that I’m not sure was necessarily planned. The message of an anti-bullying campaign has something to do with dealing with bystander apathy or being sucked into the mob mentality against more empathetic judgment. I noticed that audience easily slipped into the role of becoming part of the mob as the cast delivered barbs directed at Dido, relayed both through song and texts from the cast, and it was an odd juxtaposition for me to be simultaneously aware that she was going to kill herself at the piece’s conclusion and tittering politely to my stout.

I also can’t help but be in love with presenting smaller theater pieces like this in a setting that isn’t a stuffy concert hall. Too bad tonight’s concert is sold out. Here’s hoping I can be around for their next show.

 

I just sat in OperaFeHk’s first rehearsal of my second chamber opera and I’m terribly excited by what I heard. Part of the nature of this particular show is that I can’t reveal any salient plot points without spoiling part of the fun. It’s probably safely sufficient to say that the House With Hippopotamus Legs will be making an appearance as the Prima Donna of the show.

If you haven’t heard her sing before, an explanation won’t do her justice. I would check out the following vid:

You got that? Except this time, she’s apparently taken some voice lessons and will be attempting something more akin to the following:

You got that?

No?

Well, then come to the show to see for yourself:

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I was a little disappointed that UBC hadn’t provided a budget for the Symphonic Winds to allow them to be costumed for their rendition of music from Starwars and Lord Of The Rings. You would think that an institution with a top-level opera program, with accompanying costume department, would kick a couple of bucks down to those of us in the pit for at least a bass clarinet with a bell in the shape of a Darth Vader helmet or perhaps some flutes with lightsabre footjoints. I’m being facetious of course. Even the Deathstar must have had an accounting department that had to tell the Emperor that his budget stopped somewhere.

The Lord Of The Rings Symphony is not what you think it is. At least, if you’re thinking of Orlando Bloom’s tender chin as accompanied by Howard Shore’s sweeping stringscapes it isn’t. For one, there are no strings (HA!). For two, see Mr Bloom’s agent and pass his derisive laughter along to your accountant. This five movement work comes to us from the desk of Johan de Meij and was penned a long time ago in what might seem like a galaxy far away (1987). The composer chose to make each movement a musical portrait of a prominent component of Tolkien’s trilogy. It’s probably not surprising that the strongest chunk of music was also the portrait of the most interesting and complex character from the books: Gollum (Smeagol).  Tolkien constructs Gollum as a perpetually cursed figure with an unrelenting desire for the titular ring at the cost of both his body and mind. In a move that would expunge even the most well worn saxophone joke from the lips of even the most dashingly witty concert reviewer, the composer chose the soprano sax to play an eerily alluring cadenza that spoke to the mournful state of Smeagol’s existence.

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The most welcomingly-wild and off-the-rails piece on the program was a work by Huck Hodge entitled, from the language of shadows. The music was inspired by F.W. Murnau’s 1926 silent film, Faust and aptly captures the spirit of doomed damnation. Writhing, almost eldritch, lines and punchy brass salvos dominated the work. Common practice harmony was not entirely non-existent as I did find myself latching on to a beautiful and mournful little chorale that crept into the score. Venturing into a soundscape bereft of familiar landmarks can be a harrowing listening experience. The composers I love who do it well will often include a touch of something that, perhaps is completely foreign when in context, but ends up being so sagely satisfying and familiar that one doesn’t object to it. In fact, the opposite is usually the case wherein the listener is pulled in deeper and they end up appreciating what they once might have scowled at. The band chose to perform the piece alongside excerpts from the film from which it was inspired and the end result was terrifyingly effective. Having the visual element was definitely a welcome help for us trying to find our way through such a complicated piece of music. And it didn’t hurt that the film itself was absolutely gorgeous:

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Also, much to our delight, they played Starwars. Not some haphazardly titled work about dueling constellations that has nothing to do with J.W.’s iconic score, but the real thing. Minus strings (DOUBLE-HA!). My ventricles collapse a little bit, mostly out of empathy, for woodwind players who are forced to play string lines. It doesn’t always work and often it can be tragically annoying to know that you’re playing a line that somebody obviously just copy and pasted from a cello part with no thought for your lung capacity, your instrument, or your sanity. However, this DID seem to work well. I’d be curious to hear a player’s thoughts about it.

Also, much to our delight, Rob Taylor dressed up like Obi-Wan and almost gave a downbeat with his lightsaber. However, based on his knowledge of familiar catchphrases from the trilogy, I have extreme doubts that he’s even seen them.

I went there. Oh snap.

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