What role does the piano (and piano music) play in your creative life as both composer and performer?
The piano has played an extremely important role in my life as a musician. I studied the piano from the ages of 5-18. While my studies on the piano undoubtedly played a very important role in honing my skills, I was also fortunate enough to study with a teacher (David Story) who exposed to me all sorts of wild and wacky music. I think it’s important to have such figures in a young musician’s life leading, to all sorts of interesting influences. I think it is important for young musicians to know every corner of the music world, no matter how strange or unfamiliar; it is this wide exposure that makes for an interesting artist with unique musical sensibilities.
When it comes to my compositional process, a piano in the room is unavoidable. I simply need to hear chord spacing and harmonic juxtaposition aloud. How a given chord or sound is able to bloom and live in a room – speaking in terms of decay, brightness, darkness or any other coloristic consideration – is of great importance to me. A large amount of time is given to this process at my piano. Stravinsky would let his hands simply guide him through a compositional idea at the piano. I think there is a healthy advantage to this creative activity as a composer. Even if I am writing for large orchestra, I still lean toward the tendency of playing out everything on the piano. I then imagine the resulting sonority for whatever larger instrumentation I’m working with.
I also must speak of the canonic piano repertoire as a personal artistic influence. The piano repertoire occupies a very large portion of my heart and will always be a source of inspiration. Above all else, I must acknowledge the late piano music of Scriabin. Without this music, I am a lesser musician. When I was exposed to Scriabin’s music as a young student, it was a total artistic and creative awakening. The staggering amount of shimmering colour and brilliant display of ecstasy in this music still leaves me breathless and humbled. If one is afflicted with the notion that the piano is too homogeneous a sound world, then they should allow themselves to be taken away with Scriabin’s music.
What pianistic effects or concepts were you after in your solo work, Celestial Scenes?
The night sky has always perplexed me. I’ve written many pieces about stars that use mostly scientific knowledge as a springboard for material. For my piece, Celestial Scenes, I simply wanted to tap into a very natural and innocent approach toward mapping my love for the night sky onto various moments for the piano. There may be some simple extended techniques, or familiar pianistic neighbourhoods but at a distance, this piece encapsulates my love for a starry sky. I think this information is all a listener would need in order to find their way to an enjoyable listening experience of my Celestial Scenes.
Are there any plans to write more piano music in the future?
The project I’m currently working on involves piano. It is a duo for the wonderful pianist Stephanie Chua and long-time collaborator, friend, and brilliant violinist Véronique Mathieu. I will write a piece for these players that will be recorded alongside other Canadian works and released on CD in the near future. I will also be writing a large work for ECM+ from Montreal – a piece using some very interesting piano techniques – that will be premiered this fall. In terms of solo piano works, there is nothing planned, however; I have always wanted to write a large-scale piano work, and I’m sure this project will happen soon.
TEN RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Where are you from originally?
3. Sibelius: In response to Mahler’s comment that, “A symphony should be like the world, it should contain everything,” Sibelius offered, “A pure, cold glass of water.” I wonder what it would be like to have a cold glass of water with Sibelius at his woodland house in Finland, in the dead of winter.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?
Anna Hostman‘s Yet The Rain Falls More Darkly. This piece was premiered at the beginning of April by Array Music. You can find it online easily through Array’s video archive. Go listen. Really, go listen.
What would currently be playing if we were to turn on your iPod?
I’m really into the new Bibio record at the moment.
What book are you reading at the moment?
Diary, by Chuck Palahniuk
Favourite breakfast food?
Name your favourite Toronto haunt.
The Saint James Cemetery.