How might you describe your relationship with the piano? Is this the first left-handed work you have written for the instrument?
The Opera Game is the first left-handed work I’ve written, but what’s strange is that I’ve never written for TWO-hand piano as a solo (well, not for 20 years). Only accompaniment to other voices, choirs, instruments. I have a major SIX-hand piano piece. Yes.
The piano was the first instrument I learned, and the one I’ve played most, and I’m teaching beginners now. So perhaps some day I’ll suddenly write a bunch of etudes for young pianists.
What were you hoping to convey with this music and was it successful?
I went out on a limb with this one, by making text an integral part of the piece. The performer talks about the construction of the piece, and the reason it exists, all the while playing it. I’m a theatre person as well, and this was a theatrical impulse. It’s the kind of piece you have to be in the room for, to see facial expressions and his left hand struggling to keep up. It’s meant to be awkward and look/sound like a performer overcoming hurdles, but it could also be charming in the right hand and mouth. Adam Scime is a charmer, thankfully.
I’m also interested in music that is derived from non-musical things: chess in this case. Converting chess games to music is awkward, arbitrary. Can it capture the drama and depth of this game? Not in the music as notated: it has to come from the performer. I might expand this piece in future, to include video of the chess game, quotes from Bellini’s “Norma” (the opera that this chess game was played during) and maybe right and left hands as opponents.
How, if at all, did writing for one hand only inform your compositional process (at the keyboard) and overall aesthetic?
With a different piece I would have looked at how to use the left hand smoothly across the entire keyboard, to create an illusion of space and depth that belies the single hand. But with THIS piece I wanted it to sound like the performer is being imposed upon, more and more. Part of the fun (?) will be watching his left hand jump around to specific but arbitrary keys.
TEN SUPERSONIC QUESTIONS:
1. Where are you from originally?
The Beaches area of Toronto. Same house I live in now, actually.
2. What are you writing at the moment?
A guitar/electronics piece for Daniel Ramjattan, sound design and musical arrangements for three summer theatre productions, and the libretto for an opera-ish piece with Toronto Consort.
3. Name three other composers you’d share a drink with.
Ann Southam, Benjamin Britten and Anna Magdalena Bach.
4. Favourite performing artist alive and active today?
Film/TV: Bryan Cranston or Sandra Oh
Music: Andrew Bird? Bela Fleck?
This is tough.
5. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Firefighter, Magician, Biologist, Composer (in that order!)
6. What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?
Jay Schwartz: “Music for Voices and Orchestra”
7. Name your favourite key, chord, tonality, cluster or extra musical noise.
The song of the Swainson’s thrush.
8. What book are you reading at the moment?
Just finished “Night” by Elie Wiesel. Wow.
Back into the middle of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.
9. Favourite breakfast food?
Harvest Crunch. All day. By the handful.
10. (Summer) dream vacation?
Haida Gwaii by kayak.
Extra question: Name your favourite Toronto haunt.
My canoe, floating just off of the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant.