The Trinidadian Steelpan is one of my favourite instruments, and I try to compose with it in the orchestra as often as I can. Recently, I was given the opportunity to do an actual 50-person steelpan orchestra arrangement of a song by New York’s “St Lucia”. Writing the steelpan parts and recording the results was an incredible learning experience, and convinced me that I want to do a lot more with this gorgeous instrument!
So, while talking with friends about the concert that I’ve been working on with Dynasty Electric, and how I’ve come to think of it as a way to bring orchestral music into contact with a younger audience, someone brought up the subject of ballet, and what an effort to bring classical ballet to a younger and larger audience might look like, we struck upon the idea of combining classical ballet and wuxia. The wuxia genre finds its most well-known expression in film, represented by the venerable category of the “martial arts film” or more specifically in Chinese culture, the “kung fu film.” Spanning generations, from the original Hong Kong low-budget Shaw Bros. films of the 60’s and 70’s, which have been lovingly referenced more recently by such directors as Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy), through the Ang Lee – directed serious arthouse film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” at the beginning of the 21st century, Wuxia films represent a substantial percentage of the output of China’s film industry, to this day. Kung Fu films have long been a guilty pleasure of mine, so the idea of writing a ballet with such a story line resonated with me greatly. The result, after a few months of work, is “A Faraway Place”.
My admiration and fascination with the Inuit culture of Canada’s far north began in 1988, when I spent several months in Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik) on a sort of “finding myself” personal quest that led me as far north as you can go on the planet. The Inuit people are utterly incredible to me … finding themselves in the most inhospitable wilderness on Earth, they nonetheless built a beautiful, thoughtful and peaceful culture that revolves around harmony with the natural world, and the importance of family and community. It has left a lasting impression on me, long after I returned to the south and the world of the qallunaat (white people). This piece is an attempt on my part to musically tell some of the stories and legends that were told to me, and embody my love and deep respect for the Inuit culture.
I attend performances of both the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and Orchestra Toronto (an excellent community orchestra which performs in the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York – well worth the drive!) regularly, and have noticed that lately, the number of younger people attending concerts has been sparse. Is this a trend that we should be worried about? I tend to think so, because it seems to me that in the long term, only keeping orchestral music “in touch” with the younger generation, will keep it viable. One of the most interesting projects I’ve been involved with musically is a collaboration with the wonderful band Dynasty Electric, out of New York City. Their sound is eclectic: electronic dance beats meets psychedelic retro-pop and then some. I first met the duo Jenny Electrik and Seth Misterka (through Indaba Music, a great social networking site for musicians. I did a full-orchestra version of the title track to their album Euphoria that included, among other things, a live performance of a “drum & bass” drum riff, performed by 5 orchestral percussionists, and the inclusion of the Trinidadian Steel Pan as an integral instrument in the orchestra. In the end, they liked it enough to actually include it on the album (Euphoria, available on iTunes – track 12 )
As part of Philip Glass’ 75th birthday year in 2012, I composed a Rhapsody based on a 3-chord progression from Philip Glass’ score for “Koyaaniqatsi”. It was done for a group of new composers influenced by his work. The approximately 8-minute piece is scored for full orchestra and solo piano.
Nocturne is a neo-classical tone poem for full orchestra. It is scored for: strings (violin, viola, cello, contrabass), harp, tubular bells, percussion (chinese gong, snares, tin toms, whip, crash & glass cymbals), 4 timpani, celesta (or glockenspiel, if played with wrapped mallets), woodwinds (bassoons, cor anglais, oboes, clarinets, piccolo, flutes) and brass (tuba, bass trombone, trombones, french horns, trumpets) and takes approximately 8 – 9 minutes to perform.
Nocturne is structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes that take place from sunset to sunrise in the deep forest. There are 6 sections (the times in parentheses are approximate start times from the MP3 performance below):