Orient Point (2016) for string orchestra. Orient Point is at the easternmost tip of Long Island in New York. It is a small village of farmland and protected marshes that ends at the sea, with lots of small bays and inlets and coves. There are beaches on several sides of the point; one looks across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut, while on the other side, there is just horizon with the faintest strip of land beyond which is the Atlantic. The view is mostly sea and sky, and these, along with the light, are constantly changing.
Sinfonia (2016) for Baroque string orchestra. I love the music of the Baroque era, its transparency of sound, its gorgeous colours. Sinfonia continues my exploration of harmony, a garden of chords with the occasional melodies winding through it like vines through a thicket. I am indebted to Early Music Vancouver and the musicians for giving the work its premiere performance.
Ricercar (2015) I love the sound of the Baroque cello, so I was very excited to write a piece for Elinor Frey, (commissioned by Daniel Cooper). I think of this piece as a melody in search of its harmony. The first part of the work explores a dance-like line; later the melody is lost into a place of utter spareness and stillness – almost like coming to terms with one’s innermost qualities – and later again there is the appearance of a melodic chain of rich chords. My thanks go to Elinor Frey for suggesting the title (the word “Ricercar” means “to search out”), and for her beautiful interpretation of my music.
Gold Leaf (2010/revised 2015) In this work, I was exploring a variety of sound colours one can find in the rich combination of instruments of the chamber orchestra. The work seemed to me like a painting, where some parts of it are thickly layered with colour, other parts are thin and almost transparent. The percussion adds a shimmer here and there, like applying a bit of gold leaf to the surface. I was also thinking of this as a metaphor for harmonic colour – adding in pitches to harmonies and changing the lightness or darkness of the harmonic palette. I finished the work at the end of August, when the first leaves started to turn gold. The piece was commissioned by the Glenn Gould School’s New Music Ensemble, directed by Brian Current, through the generosity of the Ontario Arts Council. My thanks go to Owen Underhill and the Turning Point Ensemble for this performance.
Piano Quintet (2014) In this piano quintet, the piano and the strings seem to inhabit different musical worlds. The strings start off in a mesh or haze of independent lines, while the piano offers quiet, solid chords, like sparse figures appearing in a fog. Just when the piano gradually pulls the strings into its chordal world, it abandons chords for a sparse single note line, as though finding a new language; the piano and strings never quite meet exactly, but coexist independently. The work is continuation of my deep interest in exploring harmony.
Adagietto (2014) I have always loved listening to orchestral music, in particular the slow movements of the classical and Baroque eras. I find that slow movements allow for more complex harmony to be heard, and for all of the subtle details to come through. I think of Adagietto as a love letter to the orchestra, exploring subtle shifts of colour. I am attracted to still life paintings, where the shadings and light create an atmosphere of reflection or contemplation. In this work I wanted to ‘paint’ with thick layers of colours as well as transparently thin textures. For me, the piece is like a small sea of harmony, with occasional melodic lines arising from it. The work was supported by an Individual Artist Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. I am very grateful to Tania Miller and the Victoria Symphony for giving the work its world premiere.
Cantilena (2014) I was very happy to have been invited to compose a new work for David Schotzko and Pemi Paull. I always like to think about new combinations of instruments. For me, viola and vibraphone are a natural fit, as their range is so compatible, yet they have so many characteristics that set them apart. My approach to this interesting pairing was to think of their parts as co-existing melodic lines (a cantilena is a smooth and flowing melodic line). I am grateful to them both for their interpretation of my music.
Ballad for viola (2014) was originally written for cello and piano. A few years ago, the noted violist John Graham approached me about making a version for viola and piano, and this version is largely his transcription – it is created out of parts of the cello version which is a much longer work. Another Ballad is a re-transcription of the viola version back to cello (it is an abridged version of the original).
Nocturnes and Chorales (2014) is a work for solo piano for Eve Egoyan. It is a series of nine short movements. As I was writing, these movements seemed to be either nocturne-like, or chorale-like in nature. At the heart of the music is the voice of the piano, its resonance and character, the way inner voices work in a chorale for instance, or the way melody and arpeggiation can create a landscape. Chopin and Satie were in the back of my mind, as well as Michael Finnissy, whose piano music Eve has championed. I would like to thank Artspring (Saltspring Island) for hosting my residency with Eve and funding the commission. I am deeply grateful to Eve for her input during the residency as well as her artistry and sensitivity, as always, in playing my music.
Brocade (2013) for harpsichord and piano. In combining these two keyboard instruments, I felt I was interlacing two distinctly different colors into a single fabric; the two separate and very beautiful sound worlds wrap around each other, woven but never completely blended. Brocade, a thick, interwoven silk fabric, came to mind as I was working, as it seemed to reflect both the weightiness of the instruments and the delicacy of their colours. I am indebted to Katelyn Clark and Luciane Cardassi for their beautiful interpretation, and to the Canada Council for the Arts for supporting the commission.
Sleeping Lady (2013) harpsichord solo. When Vivienne Spiteri asked me to compose a new work for her concert at the Teatru Manoel (in Valletta, Malta), she mentioned the prehistoric temples of Malta, said to be older than the pyramids of Egypt, as a possible source of thought or inspiration. Upon research I discovered the special sculpture of a reclining woman that is said to be thousands of years old, called Sleeping Lady, an image that gave rise to the title. For me, the harpsichord itself is like this sculpture, something that is old and a little bit forgotten in most contemporary music. Vivienne has dedicated much of her career to the interpretation and creation of new work for this old instrument. I am grateful to her for requesting this piece, and for the premiere performance.
Rose with Thorns (2012) was commissioned by Les Amusements de la Chambre through the Canada Council for the Arts and the Toronto Music Garden. The title is open to numerous interpretations. The piece contrasts the soft, silky line of the violin with the thorny nature of the harpsichord, (its strings are after all plucked by quills). But for me the title refers to my sense of harmony, the idea of juxtaposing pleasing sounds with the occasional more dissonant or biting tones. I often consider dissonance in music (the right wrong notes) as the thorns on the rose of harmony. I want to thank Emily Redhead and Katelyn Clarke for commissioning this work, and for their beautiful performances.
Sextet (2011) The string sextet is a very special instrumental form; with two violins, two violas and two cellos, a composer has a wonderful variety of instrumental groupings to explore. I think of this work as a series of still life scenes: a violin solo accompanied by the other five players; three pairs of duets; two trios – each with a different tone or mood. As I was writing, I found that the first violin seemed often to pull away from the others, like a stray wandering from the herd, or a loose thread pulling out of the fabric. This theme of a desire for independence alongside a desire for togetherness runs throughout the work. I want to thank Mayumi Seiler for asking me to compose this work; Sextet is dedicated to Mayumi and Via Salzburg.
Far from Shore (2010) for piano trio.I composed this piece especially for this concert at the request of Trio Fibonacci. In this work, the violin and cello are often closely partnered, supported gently by the piano. Lately, I am fascinated with melodic lines that float; the piece has a languid and drifting quality, exploring small and subtle changes, like staring at the calm sea as the light dims towards evening. I am grateful to the SOCAN Foundation for funding my residency with Trio Fibonacci, and I want to express my deepest thanks to the musicians for their performance.
Sarabande (2010) As part of Continuum’s dance suite project, I was invited to compose a piece based on the ‘sarabande’. I have always loved the Baroque dance suite form, and my love of slow music drew me in particular to the sarabandes. In university, I played harpsichord, and worked on many such suites by Louis and Francois Couperin, Lully and Rameau among others. I also took a course in Baroque dance, which gave me an understanding of the rhythmic life of the suites. While there is no specific reference to Baroque style in my piece, I explored the feeling of a sarabande, its particular lilt in 3/4 time (with departures into 3/8 and 4/4); in the end, the work became its own kind of slow dance.
Gold Leaf (2010) In this work, I was exploring a variety of sound colours one can find in the rich combination of instruments of the chamber orchestra. The work seemed to me like a painting, where some parts of it are thickly layered with colour , other parts are thin and almost transparent. The percussion adds a shimmer here and there, like applying a bit of gold leaf to the surface. I was also thinking of this as a metaphor for harmonic colour – adding in pitches to harmonies and changing the lightness or darkness of the harmonic palette. I finished the work at the end of August, when the first leaves started to turn gold. The piece was commissioned by the Glenn Gould School’s New Music Ensemble, directed by Brian Current, through the generosity of the Ontario Arts Council.
Stare at the River (2010) This work has melody at its core, but layered melody, so the instruments move in their own stream, or sometimes in pairs. It was composed specifically for Arraymusic.
Cut Flowers (2009) For some time I had been drawn to the idea of a lone voice in a small sea of orchestral instruments. In 2008 I came across an old edition of the 44 sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning called “Sonnets from the Portuguese”. For this piece, I extracted one sentence from each of the sonnets, creating a text of 44 lines. Taken together, these ‘cut flowers’ created a new poem – subtle, fragmentary, elusive – that became a kind of inner monologue. I think of this work as an interior monodrama exploring various shadings of thought and feeling; it is both a declaration of love to the beloved, and a dawning sense of commitment to the act of writing. This work was created with support from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Wanderer (2009) I called this work “Wanderer” because of its unhurried and meandering nature, its melodies that move circuitously, like fog or smoke drifting through a landscape. I feel there’s an aspect of wandering to the act of composing: the exploration of new material is like ambling through strange terrain, in and out of cul-de-sacs, discovering possible paths. For me, wandering is like a mode of thought, a musing state; wandering is similar to wondering. This work was commissioned by the California Ear Unit through the Canada Council for the Arts, and is dedicated to them, with my thanks.
Magnolia (2008) In 2006, I composed a set of pieces for violin and percussion (Dirt Road), one of which is a melody for solo violin. I created a new version of this solo melody especially for Alison Melville; it was completed in May, when my magnolia was in bloom.
String Quartet #5 (Waterlily) (2008) The piece has a floating quality, like something just drifting along a gently undulating surface. A line pulls itself loose, like a strand of hair escaping it’s tied ribbon. There are various colorations of unisons, catching the light in different ways. It is a small thing, a moment of quietness. There is a rocking motion to it, a swaying or back and forth motion, like leaves in a small breeze. One is lifted and carried in the waves. Floating without aim, without purpose. Drift, sway, rock, waver, vacillate…
In the high branches (2008) When Blair Mackay, the Artistic Director of the Evergreen Club Gamelan, asked me to compose a new work for gamelan and string quartet, I was first pleased, but soon intrigued, and then almost worried about how to combine these two unlike groups of instruments. It’s an ‘oil and water’ situation that was very challenging to think about. In the end, I tried to place the two groups alongside each other, allowing for a kind of transparency between them – to hear through from one group to the other – like two trees whose trunks are separate, but whose uppermost branches become interlaced. The piece was commissioned by the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan through the generosity of the Ontario Arts Council, and is dedicated to the musicians of the Evergreen club and the SuperNova Quartet.
Thought and Desire (2007) is a piano piece with a vocal part for the pianist. The text is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 45. I wrote this work as a wedding anniversary gift for Austin and Beverly Clarkson. It is a quiet, intimate love song, reflecting on a long partnership between two people, and between these two sides of ourselves: thought and desire.
Morning Glory (2007) was composed in the summer. As an amateur gardener, I intersperse my composing time with small excursions into the back garden for daily weeding and watering. Often I’ve thought about melody as a winding vine – the twists and wrappings around a beat, the curves and contours of tunes. In this work, I was exploring the different soundworlds this particular ensemble can offer, while also exploring the various ways I could partner instruments in melodic relationships. I was particularly happy that the morning glories we planted entwined themselves with the ivy that covers the southern wall bordering my garden.
Gondola (2007) is my fourth string quartet. In this work I was drawn to the not-quite-unison melody – the slightly unraveled line – and to quietly rocking chords. The title loosely refers to its slight undulation or floating qualities – a subtle motion or disturbance of the surface, like trailing the hand in water. This piece was commissioned by the Del Sol String Quartet, through the Canada Council for the Arts, and is recorded on Another Timbre by the Bozzini Quartet.
Velvet (2007) I composed this work at the request of Canadian piano duo Elaine Lau and Joseph Ferretti. The title refers to aspects of touch: the touch of the fingers on the keyboard, as well as aural touch – the sense of texture that sound gives us, the qualities of tone and colour that make up the sonorous world of two pianos. Velvet is dedicated to Elaine Lau and Joseph Ferretti.
Dirt Road (2006) is an hour-long work in 15 movements for violin and percussion. The work can be performed in its entirety or in any number of movements, in any order. I chose to compose for these instruments as I had not heard of this combination before, and thought it would be a good challenge, which it proved to be. I imagined the two instruments as two travelers, moving along a simple landscape, with all of its slight or grand changes. The work was created with the assistance of a Toronto Arts Council composer’s grant.
Burnt Umber (2006) for orchestra, commissioned by the Windsor Symphony. I have often been influenced, in my work, by the visual arts, particularly in the field of painting. In this piece I was interested in working with the idea of ‘indirect painting’ – a technique in oil painting where the picture surface is built up gradually: you paint a layer, wait for it to dry, add a layer (covering some of the previous layer, but allowing some of it to show through), wait for it to dry, and then add a final layer, obscuring some things, highlighting others, each upper layer changing but not altogether concealing the lower ones. My ‘translation’ of this idea to the process of composing music was to create a work in three parts. The first section is like the underpainting – initial ideas are presented, but not fully worked or orchestrated. The second section is a variation of the first – some material is altered, some new things added, some things are strengthened, others obscured. In the final section, I vary things again, adding what I thought of as highlights – the glockenspiel, for example – like adding bits of white to the final layer of paint. Burnt Umber is the name of a shade of oil paint.
Ballad (2005) for cello and piano. The traditional meaning of the word “ballad’ implies a tale or narrative, and while there is no story as such being told here, I found myself thinking of the two performers as co-travelers in a terrain – or like two equal dance partners – and the music as sometimes like a song they “sing” together, sometimes a landscape they cross, sometimes a mood, sometimes a monologue, and sometimes a fine line they trace. In the end, it is really a ballad about the two instruments, and the way I hear them together. This work was composed for Eve Egoyan (piano) and Andrew Smith (cello) who gave the work its premiere, and recorded it for World Edition.
Wilderness (2005) for orchestra. In Wilderness, I loved exploring the colourful world that the orchestra offers, from the delicate thread of a violin solo to the dense weave of all of the instruments together. The title refers to my sense of the orchestra as a rich, beautiful and, (for me) still somewhat unknown landscape that I wanted to explore; this work is my walk into that wilderness. I composed Wilderness in 2005 supported by a Chalmers Arts Award Fellowship.
Blue Sky (2005) is a work for the five percussionists known as Nexus. In consultation with Bob Becker I discovered the songbells, a distinctive and beautiful cousin of the glockenspiel – similar to it, but lower in pitch. I decided to surround the songbells with a choir of variegated pitched metals. I am fascinated by the complexities and subtleties in cymbals, in pitched metals, in gongs. I decided to work within a restricted palette of these instruments, to work with gradations of pitch and colour, to get lost in a cloud of cymbals and a thicket of triangles. Blue Sky was commissioned by Nexus through the generosity of the Ontario Arts Council, and is dedicated to them.
Forest (2004) for nine violins. For some time, I have had the desire to write for multiple violins. This idea came to me one day during a conversation I had with violinist Mark Fewer – at that time we were musing about a project for violin and choir. While we were talking I found myself thinking about a choir of violins. Conversations, (and life), being what they are, the violin and choir piece didn’t come about at that time. But that aural image of nine violins stayed with me. The piece is dedicated to Toronto painter Nancy Kembry.
To the Horizon (2004) for tenor, violin, piano and 2 percussion. Kore offered me the opportunity of writing a new piece for voice, featuring Michiel Schrey. I was reading Poe’s work The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket, and was struck by it’s continual sense of a descent into an ever more mysterious place. (What an incredibly strange story it is.) For this composition, I extracted excerpts from a few pages near the story’s end. This piece is not a retelling of the story so much as it is a rumination on the sense of the narrative (and narrator) being adrift in unknown waters. The piece is dedicated to Cynthia Beer, brilliant teacher, dear friend.
Garland (2004) Tafelmusik commissioned me to create a new piece based on Bach’s Musical Offering. The challenge for me was to compose music that embraces the technique of composing with canons – using the well-known theme – while at the same time creating music with my own voice. I did use the famous theme by Frederick the Great (it appears in various forms, including backwards) but interlaced it with themes of my own. This garland of themes, canons and melodies is my offering to Tafelmusik.
Brush line (2004) I’ve always been drawn to texts or writings that are fragmented, incomplete, or unfinished in some way. For some years I’ve been (informally) studying the paintings of J.M.W. Turner. I’m drawn to his seascapes and landscapes, especially to his so-called unfinished paintings – those layered backgrounds with their subtle shadings of ambiguous skies and seas. In my research I found writings by Turner that appeared in his sketchbooks: thoughts to himself about what he was seeing, many of them in the form of questions. I use a selection of these as the text for this work. Brush line was commissioned by Continuum through the Canada Council for the Arts and The Laidlaw Foundation.
Vine (2003) large ensemble, was commissioned by Ergo through the graces of the Canada Council. During the course of working on this piece, I was thinking of melody as a vine, which can wind itself around whatever is near. In this case, the instruments wind melody around chords, or sometimes around each other; a kind of winding and unwinding. I found this ensemble a most beautiful and intriguing one to write for. Vine is dedicated to Barbara Croall and the Ergo Ensemble.
Low Tide (2002) for accordion solo, was composed at the request of Joseph Petric, supported by the Toronto Arts Council’s Grants to Composers Program. I was drawn to the sense of the instrument’s ebb and flow, to it’s breath and breadth. I think of this piece as a continuously varying melody – sometimes chordal, sometimes single notes – a line of shells and seaweed left by the tide.
Ribbon (2001) piano trio, starts with a prismatic approach to melody – the instruments share the playing of a series of kaleidoscopic, shifting chords. Later, melody becomes more apparent for a moment, a quiet shining ribbon. Commissioned by the Association of Women Composers, Ribbon was premiered by the Duke Trio, and is dedicated to them, with my thanks.
The Underfolding (2001) In writing this piece for piano, I wanted to find a way to thicken the texture of my compositional world. Because the piano can sustain, there is an inherent possibility for the layering of sound, like the undertones in painting where many colours can be superimposed, generating an overall hue, or atmosphere. I became interested in working with pitch in a layered way, to create a more ambiguous or diffuse sense of harmony. Through the use of chords and clusters, I worked with what I think of as colourations or shadings of pitch, of harmonic material. There are shadings of rhythm too, through gradations of grace notes and varying rhythmic configurations which create an overlap – a folding of one thing over another; an aural impasto. This was my way of approaching a kind of subtle complexity, which comes not from an attempt at virtuosity, but from a desire to deepen my experience of composition, to wander into the shaded areas. Throughout there is a sense of hidden or implied melody, clothed in the surrounding pitches and shadings, though there is one line, one low melody, which is unadorned. The piece is dedicated to Stephen Clarke, who commissioned it through the Canada Council for the Arts.
Les fleurs anciennes (2000) string orchestra, was written for a concert celebrating the millennium produced by Vancouver New Music, where 10 composers were each assigned a century on which to base a new composition. I was asked to compose a work based on the 14th century. The music I was most interested in from that time was the ars subtilior school in France. The term ‘subtilitas’, as used by those composers, was said to have referred to the elaborate rhythmic subtleties in their music. I was drawn to the music’s flowing continuity, swimming textures and ornamental complexity, like interweaving vines. My approach to composing “Les fleurs anciennes” was to try to get close to the world of those composers, by using some of their methods – displacement of melodic lines, variations of phrases, a sense of counterpoint or independence of each instrument. While my music does not sound like the music of the 14th century, I hope it bears traces of the tangled garden which is subtilitas. The piece was commissioned by Vancouver New Music and is dedicated to the memory of Canadian painter Anna-Marie Cobbold.
Path of Uneven Stones (2000) large ensemble, was commissioned by the Societe de Musique Contemporaine de Quebec (SMCQ) through the Canada Council for the Arts. Central to the work is the piano, which is soloistic, yet non-heroic – a kind of anti-concerto. Throughout the work there are moments where I was trying to create a thicker texture than often found in my work, though at other moments the work thins to almost nothing. The work explores melodic line, (sometimes several lines in layers), which have a slightly uneven rhythmic nature, a path where the stones are unevenly spaced perhaps, though there are places where evenness is paramount.
Dust (2000) solo hackbrett. Richard Moore asked me to write a piece for the Hackbrett, an instrument totally unfamiliar to me. He brought it to the church to demonstrate it in all its particularities, including what it would sound like in the acoustic environment of the church. I was struck by its delicacy of sound, its quiet persistence, a fine dust.
Moi Qui Tremblais (1999) violin, piano, percussion. This work was created initially as part of a dance collaboration between Dancemakers and Arraymusic in Toronto. There is a subtle inner melody undulating it’s way through the repeated piano chords, themselves not entirely regular but also slightly changing. I hear this work as melodic – almost a song; a boat makes its way through a rocking sea, the words of a poem along the white page.
Knotted Silk (1999) mixed small ensemble, was composed for Arraymusic for their collaboration with Dancemakers called “Chemin de Ronde’. The melody is shared by all of the instruments creating a line of continuously changing colour. The instruments also combine in irregularly spaced chords (or knots). Knotted Silk is recorded on the cd “Memory Forms”.
Folkestone (1999) string quartet. A number of years ago, in a secondhand bookstore, I found a book of watercolour paintings by the English painter J.M.W. Turner, called The Ideas of Folkestone Sketchbook 1845. This book contains 24 watercolour paintings, all variants of the view of the cliffs, sea and sky at Folkestone. Turner returned again and again to this same spot, reconsidering and rediscovering the landscape. My string quartet Folkestone is inspired by this process, though the piece is not an attempt to musically re-create his book. Instead, I have created my own sketchbook, viewing again and again the landscape of the string quartet, observing and discovering its terrain. The piece is in 24 sections, or panels, with space between them, like the turning of a page in a book. This string quartet, my third, was premiered by the Penderecki Quartet, and was composed with the assistance of a Canada Council Long Term Grant.
Among the Tarnished Stars (1998) was composed for a short-lived but marvelous ensemble in Toronto called The Burdocks, commissioned through the Ontario Arts Council. The work traverses a variety of terrains, usually through the variation, or re-translation, or reconsideration of simple things – harmonies, melodies, intervals. I was especially interested in seeing what I could do with the various sound colours of these instruments, sometimes looking for blend, sometimes for independent pure lines. I am fascinated with small changes, subtle gradations and shadings. I like how these things contribute to something we might almost call ‘mood’.
Bloom for string orchestra (1998) While composing this work, I became aware of a recurrent image in my mind: the thin line of a branch with, here and there, a flower in bloom, like the thin line of a melody blossoming into chords. In some ways this became a working metaphor, all the more potent for me as I was writing the work as we descended into winter (the piece was finished just before the winter solstice). Bloom is dedicated to Marc Destrubé and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, and was performed as a “Solstice” movement for the Four Seasons of Vivaldi, placed between Spring and Summer of that work.
A Light Snow (1998) for gamelan. At an exhibit of the work of Jasper Johns at the Museum of Modern Art in NY, there was a series of paintings titled “Usuyuki”, which were of very delicate lines in a range of subdued hues. The notes on the wall said that Johns had thought the word referred to a type of female character in Japanese theatre, but later learned that the word means ‘a light snow’. This work is dedicated to the members of the Evergreen Club Gamelan.
With Their Shadows Long (1997) violin and piano, was composed in 1997 at the request of the Sabat/Clarke duo. I think of this work as a melody which is often ornamented by the presence of other notes or chords. I conceived of the two instruments as equal but different elements of the same line, two entities traveling the same path, occasionally casting shadows. There are points in the piece where the shadows get very long – the music thins out to the brink of nothing, like painting with the thinnest layer of paint.
Bloom (1996) solo piano. Bloom was composed at the request of Piotr Grella-Mozejko in Edmonton. It is dedicated to Udo Kasemets, in honour of his major set of piano pieces called 80 Flowers. The word ‘bloom’ also refers to the way I hear the resonance of the piano chords.
Memory Forms (1995) for orchestra. Premiered by K-W Symphony, Lorraine Vaillancourt, conductor. The creation of this work was begun at the Valentine Studio of Banff’s Leighton Colony and finished in Toronto. It is a succession of orchestral images – chords, fragments of melody, odd scales, occasional solo lines – which appear, recede and reappear in continuously changing forms.
The Surroundings (1995) solo piano. The surroundings of the title refers to the world around me in my studio at Banff – the natural surroundings – and the fact that each separate event in the work is the same note surrounded by a different chord. I think of the work as a list of possibilities. The Surroundings was written in the Valentine Studio of the Leighton Colony, Banff Centre, for pianist Barbara Pritchard.
A Nocturne (1995) for solo piano. This work was commissioned by Eve Egoyan through the Canada Council. As I was writing this piece, the material seemed more and more to be disappearing; day disappears into night…The work is dedicated to Eve.
Poire (1994) solo piano is based on Erik Satie’s Trois morceaux en forme de poire, specifically from En Plus, Prima Part.The work was written for pianist John Tilbury, for Evenings of New Music 95, Bratislava.
Saxophone Quartet (Going Downstairs) (1994) The subtitle stands for an image of the descent required to immerse myself in work. The scales in the piece are ladders climbing outward. This work is dedicated to 40 Fingers.
Through the Low Hills (1994) for cello and piano. Written for my brother, the cellist Andrew Smith. The title is from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Crossing
Topology (1993) for recorder, accordion, tuba, vibraphone and piano.Commissioned by the Toronto Ensemble Arcana through the Ontario Arts Council.
The Disposition of the Forms in Space (1992) was originally composed for baroque flute, baroque viola and vibraphone, and was commissioned by Strange Companions (Elissa Poole and Rick Sacks) through the Canada Council.
The View From Here (1992) has at its essence the idea of observing small changes over a period of time, as well as the sense of rearranging a few small objects in a limited space. It is a kind of musical still life. The piece was commissioned by Cynthia Beer.
Morandi (1991) is named after the 20th century Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. While I was writing this work, I was thinking about his numerous still life paintings, which reveal a preoccupation with the same objects, in muted colours, painted over and over again. Morandi was commissioned through the Ontario Arts Council by Kitchener-Waterloo’s New Art Quartet.
As you pass a reflective surface (1991). I composed this brief quartet for the Accordes string quartet in Toronto; the work has also been performed by the Modern Quartet, and has been recorded by the Penderecki Quartet.. In this work, I think of the string sound as a changeable surface, reflecting an elusive image. The title comes from a letter I received from someone far away.
Music for John Cage (1991) was written for the final edition of Impulse Magazine, which featured one-word works by artists in a variety of media. The work uses only the notes C,A,G,E (and C#,A#, G#, E#).
Diagonal Forms (1991). Continuous variation on the idea of ascension and descension. Dedicated to ARRAYMUSIC.I composed Diagonal Forms in 1991 for Arraymusic, during my time as Artistic Director of the group. This piece was my process of coming to terms with the ensemble, of understanding what is still a very unusual combination of instruments. I wanted to find a way to integrate the various instruments into a unified sound world, while also honouring the distinctive qualities of each instrument. I wanted to explore melody in a new way for myself, and to try things like overlapping and layering. The idea of the ‘diagonal’ was an overall working metaphor for the continual presence of ascending and descending lines. As in most of my work, I was also seeking a certain quality of mood, an illusion of surface and depth, of shadings of darkness and light.
Nine Memos (1990), for bass clarinet, is a work in nine short movements, or could be heard as nine short pieces which belong together. Nine Memos is dedicated to Robert W. Stevenson, who commissioned the work through the Ontario Arts Council.
Gold Sandals (1989) was commissioned by the Sharon Festival through the Canada Council, and was premiered by Wendy Humphreys and Martha Collins, sopranos, Norine Burgess, Mezzo-soprano, and John Greeg, piano. The work features a poetry fragment by Sappho: Standing by my bed/in gold sandals/ Dawn/ that very moment/awoke me.
Zart was written in 1989 for pianist Anthony de Mare on the occasion of a concert in memory of Morton Feldman. The work explores articulation, gradations of touch. Zart is the German word for ‘tender’.
Versailles (1988) I was thinking about variation and the geometry of releationships: moving an object in a still life alters the whole picture; by turning a stone in your hand, other colours may be revealed. The shifting of the geometry when walking through the gardens of Versailles…Versailles was commissioned by Les Coucous Bénévoles with the assistance of the Canada Council.
Gravity (1988) The harpsichord is an instrument which has an innate quality of intimacy and precision. Having been a student of the harpsichord, I was particularly interested in writing for it. The title refers to the idea of the low notes creating an illusion of gravity, and also to the way pitches collect themselves, or gravitate, into harmonic worlds. It is written with an allusion to the unmeasured preludes of Louis Couperin, where time can be interpreted quite freely. The work was written especially for harpsichordist Colin Tilney.
Infinity (1987) is dedicated to the memory of Morton Feldman. The text is from fragments of the painter Girogio di Chirico’s writings. The work was commissioned by Canadian pianist Philip Tillotson.
Machinery (1987) was written at the request of composers Stephen Parkinson and Martin Arnold, for the Dream Ensemble, for a concert at Open Space, Victoria, BC.
Flowers of Emptiness (1986) “Being more beautiful than twinkling stars in space, a stream of water on the ground, blue of the broad sea and shining jewels, a flower may catch a human mind”. – Ikebana, Senei Ikenobo. As in Ikebana, the Japanese art of arranging flowers, Flowers of Emptiness seeks a balanced arrangement of the various shapes and phrases. The work was first performed in 1987 by the Armin Strings, written at the request of Vancouver New Music.
Little Venice was written in 1985. In it, I was exploring my own sense of harmonic expectation, suspension and ambiguity. Each moment is a new orchestration of a new harmonic figure. The title comes from the image I had then about Venice, which at that time I had never seen. Just as each bar of music presents a different harmonic picture, I imagined that around every corner in Venice one would find a surprising and beautiful vision. Years later, when I finally did make the trip, I discovered that this was true. The work was written for ARRAYMUSIC and is featured on their cd, Chroma. “I enter through the window and discover the building”.
La Celine (1984) was written for baroque flutist Elissa Poole. The piece is an inquiry into melody or line, where arpeggiation is used to unfold the harmonies. The piece moves like a line in search of its end.
Invisible Cities (1982) is named after the book of the same name by Italo Calvino. Like the book, but in a metaphorical way, this work looks at the same thing from several points of view; the work plays with the ambiguous border between melody and harmony. The work was written for percussionist Rick Sacks.
Grey Broken (1982) The text is extracted from the novel Passacaille by French author Robert Pinget, (in translation by Barbara Wright under the title Recurrent Melody). Grey Broken was written in 1982 for Cathy Lewis and Elissa Poole.
Silhouette (1981) for solo cornet, written for Dewi Minden. Transcribed for bassoon by Rudolf Komorous.
Clay (1980) This work was written while I was a student at the University of Victoria. The title is a reference to sculpture, to looking at things from more than one point of view and to a kind of elasticity that I felt the string quartet could embody.
Periphery (1979) The piano plays a line. The other instruments give their own colour to notes along the line. In the same way that the sun’s light is sometimes caught, for a moment, in a piece of glass or metal, so the line is reflected, note by note, in the color and tone of each instrument.