COMPOSERS IN PLAY: The piano turned imaginary percussion instrument with Taylor Brook

Taylor BrookCOMPOSERS IN PLAY offers an up-to-date snapshot, particularly in conjunction with a premiere or new artistic collaboration.  Ahead of the upcoming performance June 5, 2019 in Toronto – The Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project –  Taylor Brook  discusses his new piece for composer/performer Adam Scime: Shaekout.  Taylor sat down with us to offer some thoughts about the piano and a compelling new compositional approach he dubs: Piano as Imaginary Percussion Instrument.)  🎹  Ten Supersonic questions follow.

What are your current thoughts about solo piano music?

It’s hard to eke out something original and stand against the great repertoire for me. There’s the additional issue where my music is quite microtonal, so I cannot rely on the harmonic tools that I’ve developed. For the left-hand piece, my approach was to treat the piano as a kind of imaginary percussion instrument.

I wrote a solo piano piece back in 2009, (it’s alright.)  At the time, I found it very challenging to write for the piano; today, I think I find it even more challenging to do so.  I will often enhance my writing for the piano in an ensemble context with re-tuned piano samples, mixed to give the illusion that the instrument is microtonally tuned.  I have also written some digital piano pieces (re-tuned).

My dream is to write for a piano that I myself can retune.  Microtonality has been such a constant throughout my work: my whole harmonic language is based on it.  I almost feel like I am a beginner again when I write for the piano.  This is the reason I took the particular approach I did in the new piece Shakeout (ie. without any kind of baggage!)


What pianistic effects or concepts were you after in your new left-handed piano piece, Shakeout?

As mentioned before, I tried to think about the piano as an imaginary percussion instrument.  To this end, I severely limited what could be played in terms of pitches and harmonies, instead focusing on rhythmic ideas.

Another thought I’ve had in context of this project: after looking at the list of composers involved in the project, it occurred to me what a beautiful group of works would be created from the cohort.  I thought I’d like to offer something that will contrast and generate interest within the group.

So I wrote a rather “ugly” piece.

It’s not repulsive, just brutal. Of course, it could be a fun little piece in isolation, however not knowing what the other composers wrote, (just knowing their music in a general sense), I thought it might be interesting to produce music that stand outs as well as fitting well within the group.


What might you identity as your favourite or most compelling piano technique, extended or otherwise?

Anything can be compelling in context.


Tell us more about your approach dubbed, “piano as an imaginary percussion.”

This is something that I do often in my work: not necessarily conceiving of a new imaginary instrument, I prefer to frame things in terms of an invented tradition; an alternative reality.
I have written pieces that are vaguely modelled after folk songs but from a folk song “tradition” that does not really exist.  Likewise, with Shakeout, I was proposing: what if the piano was an imaginary percussion instrument, with its own performance history and its own set of idiomatic techniques?   With this as the rubric, I limited myself in a rather extreme way.
Ecstatic Music, a piece I wrote for violin and percussion adapts this approach.  For the violin part, I imagined that the instrument was from some other tradition where the lowest three strings were basically percussive strings.  The only melodies should be played on the high E-string.



1. ​What instrument do you most dislike the sound of?

None really – Marimba can be tough, but I can’t say I really dislike it.


​2. ​What music are you writing at the moment?

Solo for bassoon and electronics for Dana Jessen. Electronic music. And a piece for TAK ensemble (soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, and percussion) with electronics.


3. ​Name three other composers you’d share a drink with.

Adam Scime!


4. Favourite performing artist alive and active today?

Not sure – I need to get out more!


​5. ​What did you want to be when you grew up?

Too late.


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

Mouthpiece by Erin Gee.


​7. ​Name your favourite key, chord, tonality, cluster or extra musical noise.

11/8 with 6/5 (ie. the 11th overtone mixed with the just minor 3rd).


8. ​ What book are you reading at the moment?

Music in the 17th and 18th Centuries by Richard Taruskin (brushing up for my teaching).


​9. ​ Favourite breakfast food?

A Croissant.


​10. ​(Summer) dream vacation?

Smithers, B.C.


Extra question: ​Name your favourite Montreal haunt.

Patati Patata


Facebook Event: Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project, here

ADVANCE TICKETS at: Canadian Music Centre

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: From six hands to one with Alex Eddington

Alex Eddington
COMPOSERS IN PLAY offers an up-to-date snapshot, particularly in conjunction with a premiere or new artistic collaboration.  Ahead of the upcoming performance June 5, 2019 in Toronto – The Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project –  Alex Eddington discusses his new piece for composer/performer Adam Scime: The Opera Game.  Alex wrote to us with his thoughts about the piano genre and its less common iterations: scores for six-hands and left-hand.)  🎹 Ten Supersonic questions follow.

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.



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.


Facebook Event: Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project, here

ADVANCE TICKETS at: Canadian Music Centre

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Of Keyboards and the Blues with Mason Bates

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

Scored for piano with off-stage boombox, White Lies for Lomax is a “short but dense homage” that concludes with a field recording of an Alan Lomax song.  This piece was written for the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and performed by each of the finalists. It has since been orchestrated by Bates; you may find that version HERE.


It is still a surprise to discover how few classical musicians are familiar with Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist who ventured into the American South (and elsewhere) to record the soul of a land. Those scratchy recordings captured everyone from Muddy Waters to a whole slew of anonymous blues musicians. White Lies for Lomax dreams up wisps of distant blues fragments – more fiction than fact, since they are hardly honest recreations of the blues – and lets them slowly accumulate to an assertive climax.

Excerpt from “White Lies for Lomax” by Mason Bates:

The following is excerpted from an interview given by Lizée with critic Jeremy Reynolds:

Mason Bates, 41, has been named the most-performed composer of his generation as well as the 2018 Composer of the Year by Musical America. The San Francisco-based composer’s music is best known for its approachability and integration of electronica and orchestral music. His alter ego, DJ Masonic, regularly sells out clubs with what he calls post-classical rave music.

Mr. Bates’ newest orchestral premiere, “Resurrexit,” was performed in the Fall of 2018 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He has been named composer of the year with the orchestra twice, in the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 seasons. critic Jeremy Reynolds spoke with Mason Bates ahead fo the premiere performance:


Jeremy Reynolds: Is the title “Resurrexit” a spiritual nod?

MB: Yes, it was Manfred’s idea to commission a spiritual concert opener. His Catholicism is such a significant part of his life and music. I grew up in a church school, but this sort of spirituality isn’t something that’s figured into my music much since high school.

This turned out to be a challenging piece to write…. It’s a 10-minute concert opener, and those tend to be exciting, pieces like [John Adams’] “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” or my piece, “Mothership.” Combining this excitement with a spiritual energy was tricky. I think the challenge was to write music that evokes things from the story while remaining self-sustainable.

JR: What’s the piece like?

MB: I was drawn to the mysticism of the resurrection story, and I wondered if it was possible to tell the story in a hyper-compressed way. I wanted to incorporate some of the theatrical elements for Manfred. This piece is in a three-part structure. The first sounds like mourning, almost a miniature requiem. The middle section that I think of as the reanimation — flickers of light start to dart all around the orchestra. And the third is the resurrection itself.


JR: Any unusual tonalities?

MB: Yes, actually. I’ve been wanting to explore the scales and the exotic modes of the Middle East. I didn’t want to be too literal on that level, but I wanted to give a distinct flavor. There’s a supernatural element to the resurrection story, and in order to conjure that darkness, I wanted to go into those more mournful Middle Eastern tonalities.

The story is dark; to really experience the lightness fully you have to experience the dark. When you think of pieces that evoke the resurrection, they tend to be traditional in terms of harmonies and tonalities. I wanted [“Ressurexit”] to sound more dusty and mysterious.


JR: How about odd instruments? Any electronics?

MB: No electronics for this piece, but I’m using an instrument called a semantron, a sort of plank instrument used to summon monks to prayer at the start of a procession. When I first heard this I decided I had to find a way to use it. It’s part of the fabric of the piece. Bringing different sounds like this into the concert hall is a goal of mine. After all, how can you create a new piece of art? Whether it be moving or uplifting, you want to bring something fresh into the concert hall.


JR: What else is on your horizon?

MB: In December, I have another orchestral premiere, this one at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra. That piece is called “Art of War.”

For further reading, see the full interview (posted in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 2018), here:

An interview with composer Mason Bates

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

Thumbnail for Lula Lounge site listing. 04.03.19.jpg

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

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

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Awakenings in the Timbral Zone with Zane Merritt

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 third installment. Special guest composer/guitarist Zane Merritt joins us from Buffalo, New York. We sat down with Zane ahead of the show to talk about his work music for piano & electronics, DIY Thunder Frisbee, and another piece for guitar & electronics that he’ll be performing on Friday night. | Ten rapid fire questions follow.


Zane Merritt Photo
Composer Zane Merritt

What are your thoughts about music for the piano?

I’ve written a sizeable chunk of music for the piano, most of which are student pieces that I don’t want anyone to hear ever again. I’ve always found harmony to be a central interest as I compose and the piano is very effective at conveying harmony because of its monotimbrality.



In your work for piano that premieres Friday, have you experimented with new ideas or is this piece more of a convergence of previous practices?

DIY Thunder Frisbee is definitely related to many of the devices I use in the dissertation piece (for guitar & electronics). It’s really more of a piano ensemble piece, although the other three piano parts – comprised of electronics – are not humanly possible to execute because of speed and micro-tuning. The piece is really based around the idea of using polyrhythm in a large-scale formal context. For example, the initial gesture heard on the acoustic piano is then doubled at faster rhythmic rates with each successive entrance of the imaginary pianos (ie. electronics). (This same device is employed somewhat more loosely in the dissertation piece for guitar, The 1st Orrery is constructed from the honey-soaked hands of the God-Bot.)

I like the piano’s ability to be a very attack-oriented instrument.  Additionally, (through the use of the pedal), it can function as a connected, wave-like instrument. As a guitarist, this duality attracts me and in my opinion, the piano has more of a capability to be a lyrical instrument than the guitar.

A nature that both the guitar and piano share – an instantaneity of attack – really has informed how poly-rhythmically obsessed I am as a composer. In order for such types of structures to exist, you need a precision of attack.


Is your recent dissertation piece a kind of culmination of your relationship to the guitar or is it the beginning of a new path; another genesis in your writing?

In a way, it is a culmination of much of what I’ve done on the instrument. There’s always a bit of a disconnect with me between classical and electric guitar. (I’m going to be playing with pick for this one so it almost feels more like an electric guitar piece).  The composite piece – with all 17 guitars in action – features certain timbral effects that have proven a kind of awakening for me.  I tapped into new timbral zones; things I had never heard before! in the end, this type of piece and formation has been more of a beginning – a departure point – in my writing.

The solo part, (which is actually kind of strange), is almost more austere than what I’m used to writing. In the early stages of conceiving the piece, I thought to have it be a rather showy concerto. But the further the ensemble part coalesced, the more the solo guitar part became what it did: solo lines shadowing the ensemble part with a kind of sheen of distortion. It mirrors – and even comments to some extent – but really is a counterpoint exercise.  Realizing these contrapuntal lines on the guitar came to be quite a challenge for my performance technique.

Ideally, this work would be for guitar soloist with 16 other electric guitars. Acknowledging the ergonomic issues that such a set-up would create, I’m perfectly happy with the other guitars being projected via the electronics.  Essentially, this is an ensemble piece.


Where are you from originally?

Debuque, Iowa (Tri-State area of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin).


What are you writing at the moment?

I’m between larger projects so guitar practice is my major activity right now. Next month, I’ll be recording some works by Berio and Wuorinen as well as a few other guitar pieces. Also, I am currently writing a guitar quartet that I’ll eventually record.


Name three composers you’d share a drink with.

  1. I’d love to have a pro wrestling conversation over a drink with Brian Ferneyhough (I hear he’s a great fan of it!)  I missed the opportunity last year when he was at the June in Buffalo Festival.
  2. Conlon Nancarrow: he’s had a big influence on my music and lived such an infamous life, going to Mexico for most of it and doing his own thing. It takes a certain type of personality – with a lot of Chutzpah! – to purchase a piano puncher and work in seclusion for so long.
  3. Anton Reicha: a somewhat pretentious choice!  He is someone who isn’t exactly considered a major historical force in music, although you see his name pop up every once in a while and was a friend of Beethoven. He wrote a set of fugues in the first decade of the 19th century; I find them incredible. One of these 36 fugues is in 5/8 meter, includes a fugal answer at the tritone and an odd-bar opening subject. He also wrote a theoretical article advocating micro-tonal notation for operatic vocal inflection in the early 19th century! He’s always been an interesting figure for me, out of place in his own time.


What did you want to be when you grew up?

In elementary school, a baseball player. At age 12, once the guitar became a big part of my life, I knew I wanted to be a musician in one way or another.


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

katachi by American composer Eric Wubbles.


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

808s and Heartbreak by Kanye West and the New Chemical Brothers album, Born in the Echoes.


What book are you reading at the moment?

The most recent book I read was The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero. These days, I’ve gotten very interested in the current American election and have been reading a lot of political theory behind some of the candidates.


Favourite breakfast food?

Cereal. As of late, it’s been Raisin Bran Crunch but pretty much *dried grains resting in milk* are quite appetizing to me.


Dream vacation?

Japan. Specifically, what I’d love to do is rent a car and drive north, through the main island of Japan, ending up in Tokyo.  It has beautiful countryside with exotic terrain (at least compared to what I’m used to, growing up in the Midwestern United States).  I speak a little bit of the language and grew up as a video game anime geek. I love Japanese culture so this would be the dream: a Japanese road trip!


Name your favourite local haunt?

Cafe 59 in Allentown, Buffalo.


Visit Zane’s page at: Bandcamp

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

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Taking up a keyboard challenge with Emilie LeBel

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 second installment.  Emilie LeBel  discusses her music for piano & electronics: breaker, the second of a cycle of six pieces for piano, text, electronics & video entitled On faith, work, leisure & sleep (2011-2012) written for, and premiered by, pianist Luciane Cardassi.  The themes, titles, and text used are from a collection of poems by Canadian Poet Sue Sinclair. We sat down with Emilie ahead of Friday night’s show to talk about her work (and a little leisure as well!) | Ten rapid fire questions follow.


Is there a good deal of piano music in your catalogue, to-date?index

I wrote a solo piano piece back in 2008: a mixture of graphic notation and standard notation.  It’s a sort of a choose-your-own-adventure piece; the pianist gets to choose which order the sections go in, on the fly!

Early on when I was in my undergraduate studies, I wrote solo piano music that I’d probably be embarrassed to have performed now. But I think when you’re first becoming a composer, writing for piano is a tangible thing to do because you can get your work performed easily; hear how things sound readily. The colour of the piano is a fairly familiar one to most.

Otherwise, the large six-piece cycle On faith, work, leisure & sleep has been my most significant undertaking to-date. This piece is representative of my mature style and compositional craft. Since its completion, I’ve taken some time away from the piano but have starting thinking about it again, as I prepare to write a large-scale solo work with a projected duration of 25 – 30 minutes. I’ll probably start working on it this summer and into the fall. My work has taken a more micro-tonal turn of late and I’d like this new piece to reflect that. I’m in the midst of a research project that deals with micro-tonality for solo instruments and part of the research is figuring out how to convincingly write such music for the solo piano. Short musical studies being written at the moment will feed into this larger piece.

I’m not particularly interested in using electronics here, I’ve done a lot of that in the past.  I really want to deal with just piano as piano and enjoy such challenges, ie. writing micro-tonal music for an acoustic piano. Problems like this often lead to new solutions, ideas and work-arounds.


What have you tried to achieve with your piano & electronics piece, breaker?

I began with a book of poetry by Sue Sinclair, selecting six poems to correspond to the six musical pieces in the cycle. Both the music and the companion poem for breaker share the same title.  The music is built from the structure of the poem: musically, it tries to convey some of the themes in Sinclair’s book. I have been happy with many of the pieces in the cycle and both breaker and longing (for piano only) seem the most successful to me now. I feel that both really achieved the result that I was after.



Where are you from originally?



What are you writing at the moment?

I just finished a solo violin piece and am now working on a string quartet.


Name three composers you’d share a drink with.

Ruth Crawford Seeger, Igor Stravinsky (he was a scotch fan like myself!) and Kajia Saariaho.


What did you want to be when you grew up?

A trumpet player.


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

John Luther Adams’ The Wind in High Places as performed by the JACK Quartet.


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

Various Wire Tapper CD’s; Daft Punk.


What book are you reading at the moment?

Nino Ricci’s Sleep.


Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero


Favourite breakfast food?

Hard-cooked eggs.


Dream vacation?

Scotland, with much Scottish fare and even more scotch! (I’ll be going there this Summer, as a matter of fact.)


Favourite local Toronto haunt?

Allen’s on the Danforth.


Visit:  |  E-mail Emilie at:

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

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: The frenzied and the meditative with Brian Harman

COMPOSERS IN PLAY offers a snapshot of the composers that Piano Moderna programs.  Our upcoming Show on April 22nd – IN SEARCH OF FURY – showcases six exciting young cutting-edge artists and their music; below is the first installment.  Brian Harman discusses his music for piano and his piece Stephanie Chua will perform: Still Life.  Ten rapid fire questions follow.

Composer Brian Harman

What are your current thoughts about solo piano music?

There are a lot of composers who are scared of solo piano music because of the enormous baggage it carries: the romantic tradition and the challenge to say something new.  This is a bit daunting for composers and I find there are many who actually avoid the medium!

In my case, I’ve played the piano my entire life. This can be both a good and a bad thing when writing for the instrument as sometimes it’s nice to come at it from a fresh perspective. Generally, I still find that I can say a lot  with the solo piano medium.  There are fascinating  sonorities that have been opened up in the 20th century and new possibilities inside (ie. prepared piano) the instrument.

Additionally, I don’t strive to present brand new sounds in my music.  There are sometimes references to previous things in my work; I don’t believe that everything has to be one hundred percent-fresh and maybe that’s why I continue to embrace the piano as a great instrument to write for.  I actually really like writing for it: I like the intimacy of it where one person expresses something to a room full of people.

I’ve been very much into chamber and solo music recently. You don’t need a huge space for performance and the rehearsal process is more satisfying for me. Rehearsing with an orchestra is great in terms of the sound you hear but you don’t actually get to know anyone on stage; you’re just talking with the conductor and the interaction ends there, whereas a collaboration with a solo pianist can go so much deeper and you offers greater exploration of the music. This is very exciting.


Have you written much piano music to-date?

Other than some early student pieces, Still Life is my only mature piece for the instrument.  (See video below). I’d love to write more in future but there simply hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to do so.

Still Life is unusual because it’s benefited from multiple interpreters and multiple performers (within a relatively short span of time!)  It was written in 2013 for Fiona Jane Wood of the ΔTENT Ensemble based in Toronto. She has played it at least three times since; Cheryl Duvall has toured extensively with the work, incorporating it as a centrepiece of her repertoire.  Stephanie Chua is the music’s third interpreter.


What have you tried to achieve with this piano piece?

I was really inspired by Nina Arsenault, the performance artist featured in the video. She had a project called “Forty Days and Forty Nights” where she put herself on display as part of the Summerworks Festival in a storefront on Queen Street.  She performed ritualistic actions which included exercises and extended meditation.  She was on display for fourteen nights, straight, from 9pm to 5am.  She trained herself to be able to fast and self-flagellate, it was very intense. She was trying to achieve a spiritual experience and put herself on display while attempting it.

The music itself (Still Life), while a short piece, tries to deliver some of those feelings. These are ritualistic and repetitive actions; very intense actions.  The piece kind of moves from a level of frenzy to something much more meditative by the end.  All of it is very repetitive and homogeneous, inspired by images of Nina in the storefront, trying to offer an overall feeling of her performance. Ideally, a longer piece of music might have given more in terms of the experience that she went through however, I believe the shorter work is successful, as-is. I was lucky to get to work with Nina (and with video artist, Danilo Ursini), as they’re much in demand.


What are you writing at the moment?

A duo for violin & piano.


Name three composers you’d share a drink with.

Claude Vivier, George Aperghis, Charles Ives…oh, and Clara Schumann!


What did you think your occupation would be when you grew up?

A pilot.


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

The micro-tonal two piano music of Charles Ives.


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

A piece by fellow composer Zosha di Castri.


What book are you reading at the moment?

Haurki Murakami’s  A Wild Sheep Chase.


Name your favourite key, chord, tonality or cluster?                                                                    

Any two different dominant seventh chords sounded together (ie. bi-tonal chord)


Favourite breakfast food?

A smoothie.


Dream vacation?

A visit to China.


Favourite local Toronto haunt?

The Hi-Lo Bar in Riverside.

Visit:  |  E-mail Brian at:

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

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