Concert Program Notes

MELISSA HUI

Born in Hong Kong, April 22, 1966; now living in Montreal

Can color be depicted in sound? That's what Melissa Hui attempts to do in Inner Voices. She presents "color fields" of instrumental timbres which sit side by side, rub and interact in various ways – the analogous procedure in abstract painting where planes of color interact on a flat surface. The "inner voices" of the title refer to "intertwining lines within the color fields," as Hui explains. "The variation of rhythm and/or instrumental color of these lines add richness to the texture and makes the color vibrate with subtle nuances of the same hue."

Inner Voices was co-commissioned by the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and the National Arts Centre. The Saskatoon Symphony gave the first performance on September 23, 1995 with Denis Simon conducting. The composer has these words to say about her ten-minute work:

"In composing Inner Voices, I set out to juxtapose ‘fields' of color in a way very similar to that of some abstract paintings or photographs. The subject of the work is therefore not about a figurative or narrative idea but is rather about the interactions and proportions of the ‘color fields' themselves. Just as I have chosen to elevate one aspect of music – color – to predominate as the work's focus, I have also chosen to present these colors upon a flat, aural background, and where the flat canvas does not depict an illusory three-dimensional world.

"In Inner Voices, there is no hierarchy represented by melody and accompaniment. Each ‘color field' has its own unique instrumental color (quite often that of one family or kind of instrument) and musical material. This is juxtaposed or presented simultaneously with other color fields. Even when two fields are presented simultaneously, each field's internal rhythm and phrase structure remain independent of the other, with neither being subservient. Thus, they exist as parallel ideas, sometimes in harmony.

"As to the title of the work, Inner Voices suggests two things to me. The first highlights what I think is a third aspect of the work: the often intertwining lines within the color fields. The variation of rhythm and/or instrumental color of these lines add richness to the texture and makes the color vibrate with subtle nuances of the same hue. The second and more immediate allusion of Inner Voices relates to the spirit of the work, more readily identifiable in the ebb-and-flow of the color fields as they sound to me – drifting in and out of consciousness, sometimes conflicting, sometimes confirming."

SERGE GARANT

Born in Quebec City, September 22, 1929; died in Sherbrooke, Quebec, November 1, 1986

Plages was Garant's last composition, commissioned by the Orchestre des Jeunes du Quebec and first performed by that orchestra on November 26, 1981 with the composer conducting. It requires a classical-sized orchestra of about 45 musicians: pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, plus percussion, harp and strings.

The composer wrote that the fifteen-minute work "is conceived as a suite of plages, or bands of time and bands of color, somewhat as in the ‘hard edge' paintings that consist of a succession of bands of different colors. My Plages are bands of musical time and or orchestral colors. In a way, it is a series of events in which I explore the same material in different ways, by inversions. The basic sound material consists of a series of five notes. But the piece is definitely not serial. It is more lyrical than what I have written up to now. Let us say that it sings more. But I certainly have not attempted to become romantic! I simply felt it that way."*

The five plages run continuously, without pauses between, but are identifiably different in orchestration and manipulation of the five-note matrix. The composer describes these plages in the published score as follows:

  1. "in the lower register of the orchestra, the original group of five notes, note by note, by successive entries interrupted by pauses;
  2. in the high register, an inversion played by the strings followed by a transition played by brass and woodwinds;
  3. by the woodwinds, in short rhythmic permutations of the matrix;
  4. by the strings, in a more melodic version of the previous section, in retrograde;
  5. by the full orchestra, in a very slow tempo."

There is also a coda, in which "elements from sections 1 and 3 are restated while each string player chooses freely from a large variety of transpositions of the original group and in turn, basses and cellos, violas and violins, disappear into silence."

" … c'est une série de plages de temps, de plages de couleur, un peu comme dans les tableauxhard edge' qui sont composés de bandes successives de différents tons. Mes Plages sont des plages de temps musical et de couleurs orchestrales. C'est, si on veut, une suite d'événements où j'explore un même materiau de différentes façons par renversements. Ce matériau, c'est un bloc de cinq notes. Mais la pièce n'est absolument pas sérielle. C'est un peu plus lyrique que ce que j'ai écrit jusqu'à présent. Disons que cela chante advantage. Mais je n'ai certainement pas voulu être romantique! Je l'ai senti comme ça, tout simplement."

ALEXANDER BROTT

Born in Montréal, March 14, 1915; died in Montréal, April 1, 2005

In this imaginative little work, the composer "attempts to duplicate design in musical terms" from drawings his young son Denis brought home from school one day. The listener is free to create in his or her own mind forms and designs - in reverse order - what Denis's picture might have looked like.

This eleven-minute work for string orchestra in three short movements dates from 1963. In the composer's words, "it attempts to duplicate design in musical terms." In his autobiography My Lives in Music, published just weeks before his death in 2005, Brott relates what inspired the work:

"At age nine, my son Denis came home from school with a drawing which I liked very much. I congratulated him, ‘Denis, this is very good! how did you do that?'

"He explained, ‘The teacher drew circles and triangles on the board and asked the class to do something with them. So I did.'

"The drawing really appealed to me because the question of form in music has always been of great importance to me. So I promised Denis, ‘The basis of your drawing is form. I'm going to use it as the motif of a piece. I'll use exactly your shapes, a circle, triangle and four squares, but I'm going to do them in musical terminology.' It struck me that Denis' drawing was the perfect opportunity for a composition using a neo-classical concept of basic structure. To create the composition, I used a sheet of graph paper, one square per note, and matched the notes to the different shapes in his drawing. Denis' picture still hangs on my dining room wall."

Brott conducted the premiere of Circle, Triangle, Four Squares with the McGill Chamber Orchestra in 1963 and subsequently took it on tours of Europe. The three movements are in turn lively, meditative and exuberant." Pungent dissonances and gritty textures reminiscent of Bartók in fuse the music, while driving, asymmetrical rhythms typical of Stravinsky provide the forward momentum.

PIERRE MERCURE

Born in Montreal, February 21, 1927; died near Avallon, France, January 29, 1966

You know how a kaleidoscope works: you peer into a tube filled with bits of colored glass or plastic and watch brilliant, continually changing symmetrical patterns of color emerge as you turn the tube. "Kaleidoscopic orchestration," or constantly changing configurations of instrumental color, is the musical equivalent Mercure achieves in Kaleidoscope, his highly accomplished first orchestral work.

The symphonic fantasy Kaleidoscope is one of Mercure's earliest works and his first for orchestra, written in 1947-48 and revised in 1949. It received its first performance by the CBC Orchestra in Montreal, conducted by Jean Beaudet, on March 28, 1948. Lasting about eleven minutes, Kaleidoscope is laid out in simple ternary (A-B-A) form and employs a modest-sized orchestra but with prominent use of the glittery, sparkling percussion instruments (glockenspiel, xylophone, cymbals). It demonstrates exceptional mastery of the orchestral palette, especially for a young composer's first attempt to write for full orchestra; not surprisingly, it has been one of the composer's most frequently played compositions ever since its premiere. Brilliant sonorities, a constantly changing play of orchestral colors, a playful mood, textural clarity, and snappy, asymmetrical rhythms bring to mind Stravinsky's neo-classic style to many listeners. A short, somber introduction gives little indication of the energetic, dancelike music that is to follow. The quiet central episode returns to the darker colors and somber mood of the opening, but this passes quickly. The "A" section returns in varied form, and the music ends quietly on a rather poignant note.

STEVEN GELLMAN

Born in Toronto, September 16, 1947; now living in Ottawa

In the first of these two highly contrasting scenes, the composer has portrayed his personal response to the feeling of twilight and its corresponding images of undulation, darkness, moonlight and water. The second is more dramatic and contains numerous abrupt changes and flashes of color. They are called "tapestries" because the music is "woven" with musical elements that run through the pieces.

Deux Tapisseries (Two Tapestries) was commissioned by the Government of France in honor of Olivier Messiaen's seventieth birthday in 1978. The first performance was given at the Besançon Festival in France on September 11 of that year by the Ars Nova Ensemble conducted by Marius Constant. The first performance in Canada was given on November 19, 1980 with Mario Bernardi conducting the National Arts Centre Orchestra. The composer writes:

Deux Tapisseries … was originally scored for five solo woodwinds, five solo brass, a harp, piano/celesta, two percussion players and a solo double bass. Throughout the time of its composition, the piece kept appearing to me as an orchestral work, which of necessity I had to contain within smaller dimensions. When Mario Bernardi expressed to me his interest in this work, I offered it to him in a version for orchestra. He readily accepted.

"In creating an orchestral arrangement of Deux Tapisseries, it was my main intent to preserve the character of the original while expanding the sound medium. The main addition in the orchestral setting is the string ensemble, which adds a fullness to the texture of the music by providing a richer background and broader foundation for the unfolding of the main events, which are entrusted very much to the instruments of the original version. The strings also add an ‘auric' glow to the harmonies and colors of the pieces. Thus, I approached the orchestral setting somewhat in the manner of a concerto grosso, featuring the original woodwind, brass and percussion soloists over a fuller backing, mainly of strings.

"These two pieces are called "tapestries" first, because they are composed with a technique of weaving – a weaving together of different musical threads, motifs, rhythms, harmonies, and secondly, just as visual tapestries portray scenes, these musical pieces depict interior visions. To quote the painter Henri van Bentum, they are ‘mindscapes rather than landscapes.'"

Credits and Copyright

  • Text asset: Canadians in the Timeline
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Melissa Hui, Inner Voices
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Serge Garant, Plages
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Alexander Brott, Circle, Triangle, Four Squares
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Pierre Mercure, Kaleidoscope
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
  • Text asset: Steven Gellman, Deux Tapisseries
    Copyright: 2010, Robert Markow
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