COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Of Keyboards and of Hitchcock with Nicole Lizée

OF GLITCHES AND MACHINES: Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 at 8:00 PM | Doors at 7:00 PM

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Premiered in in July of 2010 by Canadian pianist Megumi Masaki, Nicole Lizée’s Hitchcock Etudes have continued to impress audiences and performers alike in their short, nine-year lifespan.  Drawing on an unusual combination of materials, this compelling set of solo etudes are to be given their most recent interpretation by Stephanie Chua on April 3rd at Toronto’s Lula Lounge.

Scored for piano, soundtrack and video, the Etudes were conceived by Lizée in the following context:

The premise for Hitchcock Études is centered around my ongoing preoccupation with the fallibility of media.  Technology has the potential to fail and can fail in spectacular ways, creating fascinating sounds and visuals. How to capture and replicate those beautiful mistakes?

Excerpt from “Stutter Etude” by Nicole Lizée:

The following is excerpted from an interview given by Lizée with pianist Lisa Korne:

Liga Korne: The individual études organically flow from one to another, did you approach the source material with a new underlying narrative in mind?

Nicole LizéeIn writing the études I capture and convey the wide spectrum of emotions that I experience when watching Hitchcock’s films; further to that, on repeat, zooming in, audio scrubbing back and forth to unveil hidden nuances, etc. The études are my interpretation of both the moments within the films and the techniques of the director – with the ultimate goal of creating a completely new composition. It’s the Foley sounds and the dialogue that I work with, more often than the soundtrack itself. These moments are idiosyncratic – they only happen in one place and sometimes only for a split second. I look to capture the potential musical elements that exist outside the soundtrack – i.e. Norman Bates’ stutter, etc. I want these sounds and moments to extend and develop into a journey of twists and turns – kind of like a fever dream where elements from your experiences of the day become more vivid and unpredictable. And this is just the beginning. The characters on screen now need to interact with the live performer. This is achieved in part by using a meticulous click track so that the performer can infiltrate the screen and become part of the scene. The screen performers and live performers now form a completely new ensemble.

LK: To what extent can Hitchcock Études be perceived as program music? 

NL: It could actually be described as a deconstruction of program music – or program music turning in on itself. By definition program music is meant to evoke images or a narrative. In this work the actual images – and their corresponding sonic material – are part of the orchestration; the building blocks of a new work.

Hitchcock Études is part of an ongoing collection I’ve created called The Criterion Collection, where each work is a tribute to a director who has had a major impact on my aesthetic. So far, études based on the work of Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarantino and Lynch comprise this series. Each has a completely different vibe as they reflect the diverse visions, personalities, and techniques of each director. While writing each piece I delved deeply into the minutiae of their work. Both the manipulation of the soundtrack and live musical material I write conveys the personalities of the film characters (as I see them) and their impact on my state of mind. So the works reflect the aesthetics of the directors, but also reflect the rumination that I’ve experienced – and the interpretation and emotional denouement that has resulted.

LK: Throughout the score it is clear that the relationships between the individual elements of film, glitch and piano part vary throughout the score, but did you create this piece with the notion of their equivalence from the outset aiming at a complete synthesis of the components?

The film and music in my works are written simultaneously and are completely interrelated. The soundtrack and foley effects are manipulated in tandem with the corresponding visuals and notated in the score to allow it to meld completely with the live performer. I create ‘synthesizers’ using short musical and visual excerpts. I dig for pitch where one might not expect pitch to exist. The visuals are ‘notated’ in much the same way as the sonic material – using time and rhythm measurements (rhythm and metre), pitch transposition, stacking pitches to create chords and harmony, tempo changes, layering to create texture, etc. As I mention in the programme notes, notation or transcription is an integral component of the work or process. It is the coaxing of material from existing material by altering its physical state; illuminating hidden melodies, gestures, and rhythms. And the live performer does not play on top of this or through this but is intertwined within this.

LK: Bernard Herrmann wrote that music can serve as ‘the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience’. To what extent does the piano part have this ability and function of moulding all elements into one complete experience?

NL: The piano part – and pianist – is the catalyst for all elements. The pianist is the living human engaging with the icons on screen and in the soundtrack. Some of the characters on screen are no longer living, or possibly have been forgotten (arguably considered no longer relevant in the eyes of Hollywood). But none of these are expected to appear in a concert hall as part of classical, chamber or concert music piece. The piano part and pianist is the ‘recontextualizer’. The piano solidifies this musical context. The film and soundtrack are orchestrated in the same way I write for ensemble, but it’s the third member (pianist) that confirms its place in the musical (and, furthermore, notated, concert music) world.

For further reading, see the full interview (posted in November of 2017), here:

Insights into Hitchcock Études


Friday, November 23rd, 2018 at 7:30 PM

BROCKTON NANOSTAGE, 710 Brock Avenue, Toronto

Piano by nightChristina Haldane, soprano | Adam Sherkin, piano



ECHO CYCLE (2017) for solo soprano | poems by Seán Haldane

Music by David Jaeger

If you are Echo, I am a wall
To which your voice can call
And be returned but slightly changed,
Not quite itself but rearranged
In newer harmonies. What you will hear
Is not what you might fear.
The Blackbird in the Rain
The blackbird in the rain at dusk:
I don’t know how the drops settle on his wings.
I am lost.
I wish I knew the meaning of things.
I wish I knew whether or not to trust
Myself in my (I think they are) delusions
Of what or who you are –
Or are they illusions?
My own voice from afar
Says to the blackbird as he sings
‘I am you are I’.
The rain falls darkening the dying sky.
The Berserk Blackbird
Rickety-rackety goes the berserk blackbird,
Riff on riff, perched on the cliff
Of a locust tree, I’m caught
In the torrent and debris of his song,
His notes like jostling boats
As they pour along.
I’d be breathless
If I were he, I almost expect him
To topple head-first to the ground,
Killed by his own sound.
*      *      *

SOUTHERN FRAMES (2008) for toy piano | by Adam Sherkin

  1. Octans I (the Octant)
  2. Eridanus (The River)
  3. Ophiuchus (The Serpent-Bearer)
  4. Ara (The Altar)
  5. Ophiuchus ECHO
  6. Octans II
  7. Chamealeon (The Chameleon)
  8. Musca (The Fly)

PROGRAMME NOTE: Constellations in the night sky have inspired humans to gaze up and dream of countless stories, myths and meanings for millennia. Our relationship to the night sky’s patterns of stars and celestial bodies has changed both in a general sense as humans evolve in history and in a more personal sense as a star gazer’s own record of their time on Earth is traced.

Constellations in the Southern hemisphere are partly visible at times of the year to those observers in the Northern hemisphere, and partly not. Therein lies a certain exoticism and curiosity for an unknown night sky where gazing can be completely transformed if the observer were to find themselves on the opposite side of the globe. Southern clusters of stars also relate more closely to those cultures that first looked upon them, offering a glimpse into ancient eyes and minds: an exercise that has offered lineage and tradition (and present-day astronomy).

*      *      *

THE LIVING SPECTACLE | Three Songs for soprano and piano | Poetry by Charles Baudelaire (1863 – 1867) | translation from the French by Roy Campbell


First song: “The Death of Lovers”

We shall have beds round which light scents are wafted,                                                       Divans which are as deep and wide as tombs;
Strange flowers that under brighter skies were grafted
Will scent are shelves with rare exotic blooms.
When, burning to the last their mortal ardour,
Our torch-like hearts their bannered flames unroll,
Their double light will kindle all the harder
Within the deep, twinned mirror of our soul.

One evening made of mystic rose and blue,                                                                                    I will exchange a lightning-flash with you,
Like a long sob that bids a last adieu.

Later, the Angel, opening the door
Faithful and happy, will at last renew
Dulled mirrors, and the flames that leap no more.

*      *      *

NORTHERN FRAMES (2013) for solo {grand} piano by Adam Sherkin

  1. Ursa Minor I (The Little Bear)
  2. Cassiopeia (Queen of Aethiopia)
  3. Cepheus (King of Aethiopia)
  4. Camelopardalis (The Giraffe)
  5. Lynx (The Luminescent-Eyed)
  6. Ursa Major (The Great Bear) *
  7. Ursa Minor II
  8. Draco (The Dragon)

*world premiere

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: The unavoidable, brilliant and humbling piano with Adam Scime

COMPOSERS IN PLAY offers a snapshot of the composers Piano Moderna works with. Our upcoming TONIGHT! April 22nd – IN SEARCH OF FURY – showcases six exciting young cutting-edge artists and their music; below is the final installment. Adam Scime discusses his music on tonight’s programme: Celestial Scenes for solo piano.Adam wrote to us about his music, artistic ideas and the colleagues he admires .  | Ten rapid fire questions follow.


Composer Adam Scime

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.



Where are you from originally?

Hamilton, Ontario.

What music are you writing at the moment?
A piece for violin and piano.

Name three composers you’d share a drink with.
1. Brahms: Apparently Brahms went to the same pub everyday. It was called the Red Hedgehog. I’d love to spend an afternoon with him at this pub! I think I just want to see what the pub was like, actually. I think if I tried to talk to him about music, he’d probably just grumble and tell me to go study more counterpoint or something.
2. Joni Mitchell: A smoky bar, half-moon booth, strange nautical decor, Tom Waits at the piano, multiple old-fashioned’s and stories from the 70s all night long.

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?

A scientist.

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?

Eggs Benny!

Dream vacation?

Following the ATP (Professional tennis tour) around the world for one year.

Name your favourite Toronto haunt.

The Saint James Cemetery.

Visit: adamscime.comE-mail Adam at:

Facebook Event: IN SEARCH OF FURY, here | Advance tickets at: BeMused Network

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Through isolation, warmth with Anna Höstman

COMPOSERS IN PLAY offers a snapshot of the composers Piano Moderna works with. Our upcoming Show on April 22nd – IN SEARCH OF FURY – showcases six exciting young cutting-edge artists and their music; below is the fifth installment. Anna Höstman discusses her piece on Friday’s programme: Lonesome Lake for solo piano. Anna wrote to us about her inspiration behind such music and the unique Canadian landscapes it sprang from.  | Ten rapid fire questions follow.


Composer Anna Hostman

What were you hoping to convey with your work, Lonesome Lake?

This piece uses resonant string overtones to evoke the expanse and isolation of Lonesome Lake, which is nestled in the coastal mountains of British Columbia. There are fast flurries of improvisatory playing that set these tones ringing. The piece ends by opening into warmth and gentleness.


What was the inspiration behind this music?

The piece is inspired by the story of conservationist Ralph Edwards, a war-time radio operator and later amateur pilot, who went on to save Canadian trumpeter swans from extinction in the decades following the 1920s. He homesteaded in a remote region by a lake, giving it the name Lonesome Lake, and kept the flocks of swans watered and fed through long, harsh and bitter winters.

Listen below to Lonesome Lake, performed by pianist Cheryl Duvall:


Where are you from originally?

The Bella Coola Valley, which is 150 kilometers inland from the central coastline of B.C.


What are you writing at the moment?

Currently I’m working on a piece for Mira Benjamin (solo violin) called Water Walking, which is based on the Anishinaabe water walks. 


In addition to Lonesome Lake, what other solo piano pieces have you written?

“Harbour”, “darkness…pines…long wall” and “Allemain,” (which does not signify a courtly baroque dance as one might think, but rather an enormous pudding out of which acrobats leap).


Name three composers you’d share a drink with.

I don’t think there are any that I wouldn’t share a drink with!


What did you want to be when you grew up?

A marine biologist.


What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?

Pianist Eve Egoyan recently played a concert here in Toronto with new works by Nick Storring, John Sherlock and Linda Smith; it took my breath away. 


What book are you reading at the moment?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. (It’s set in India in the 1970s).


Favourite breakfast food?

Coffee. Cinnamon toast.


Dream vacation?

I’d like to walk the Camino de Santiago again some day but this time walk the northern route, which is more rugged than the frequent path from France to Spain. It take you along the northern sea coast, from Basque country, through Bilbao (where Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim is) and on to Santiago.


Favourite local Toronto haunt?

In the spring, I gravitate to High Park and the Humber River (Etienne Brule park).

Visit: annahostman.netE-mail Anna at:

Facebook Event: IN SEARCH OF FURY, here | Advance tickets at: BeMused Network

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Inter-Lock and Key with Chris Thornborrow

COMPOSERS IN PLAY offers a snapshot of the composers Piano Moderna works with. Our upcoming Show on April 22nd – IN SEARCH OF FURY – showcases six exciting young cutting-edge artists and their music; below is the fourth installment. Chris Thornborrow  discusses two of his pieces for piano being performed Friday night: Don’t Trip and Interlocking No.2. Chris wrote to us with his thoughts about the piano medium, both past and present. | Ten rapid fire questions follow.

Describe you relationship with the piano.

I spend a lot of time improvising on the piano, which is often the brainstorming that happens before I begin writing a piece. I also love tackling new repertoire and revisiting works I played in undergrad, although my chops aren’t nearly as good as they were back then!


One of your two pieces featured on Friday’s programme is for solo piano (Don’t Trip) and the other is for piano duet (Interlocking No. 2).  Do they have elements in common with each other?  What were you trying to achieve in both works?

Don’t Trip is a piece I wrote in 2004, and makes me feel old, while Interlocking No. 2 was written in 2009. To me, they are both explorations of rhythm, but in very different ways. Don’t Trip was actually intended as a simple compositional study where I imposed the rule that in certain sections, the time signature must change every bar. Interlocking is part of a series of pieces that explores interlocking rhythmic patterns. (See Soundcloud track below for a piece from this series: Interlocking No. 3 for one piano, six-hands).


Are there any plans to write more piano music in the future?

Absolutely! I was recently captivated by an exhibition of The Beaver Hall Group, a Montreal-based artists’ collective, contemporary of the Group of Seven. I would love to write a few pieces for piano inspired by some of these works .


Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Waterdown (Ontario) and went to school in Hamilton.


Name three composers you’d share a drink with.

John Adams, Olivier Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky, (who would be fun to engage in a good debate).


What did you want to be when you grew up?

At around age 12 I decided I was going to be a film composer. I’m grateful that my current compositional career is so much more diverse than that! Before 12, I think I said I wanted to be a mechanic…or an actor.


What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?

Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, just performed at Massey Hall by Soundstreams. Visceral. Mind-blowing. Kapow!


Name your favourite key, chord, tonality or cluster?

I love Ab major seven in third inversion, but it’s even better spiced up with hints of D major.


What would currently be playing if we were to turn on your iPod?

I’ve been rotating through a few albums for second listens: the music of Owen Pallett, Basia Bulat, Lucius and Joanna Newsom.


What book are you reading at the moment?

I’m ploughing  through a bunch of Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy who really needs to be famous. After that, I’m onto The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.


Favourite breakfast food?

Oatmeal with blueberries and toast is my go-to. Coffee = a must.


Dream vacation?

Recently, I went camping/mountain hiking for the first time in years (I’m embarrassed to say). Now my urge is to do anything that involves a back pack and exploration, preferably remote.


Name your favourite local Toronto haunt?

Whoa, that’s a tough one. I love the waterfront in the summer; Farmhouse Tavern for the food but The Duke of York or The Bedford Academy hold a lot of good memories for me of post concert banter!

Visit: christhornborrow.comE-mail Chris at:

Facebook Event: IN SEARCH OF FURY, here | Advance tickets at: BeMused Network