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ClassicsOnline Home » Chamber Music - ROWSON, W. / LAU, Kevin / COBLENTZ, H. / RICHARDSON-SCHULTE, A. / NERENBERG, M. (Sounds of Our Time) (Mercer-Park Duo)
This exciting programme consists of world-première recordings of new works by young Canadian composers. William Rowson’s Sonata is an expressive look at traditional forms, while Kevin Lau’s Starsail is a musical metaphor for a journey into the great unknown. Hunter Coblentz’s Ex Animo embraces the richness of tone offered by two cellos, Abigail Richardson-Schulte reshapes classical modes of musical interaction through all kinds of Crossings, and with a quote from The Seven Last Words, Mark Nerenberg’s “I Thirst” follows a journey through suffering, loss, perseverance and hope.
This recording was made in close collaboration with all these composers. Rachel Mercer plays here on the 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius Cello from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank.
Sounds of Our Time: Music for Cello and Piano
Rowson • Lau • Coblentz • Richardson-Schulte • Nerenberg
William Rowson (b. 1977): Sonata for Cello and Piano (2012)
Born in Canada in 1977, William Rowson holds a Doctor of Music degree in composition from the University of Toronto and is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music. His composition teachers include Ned Rorem, George Tsontakis, Peter Paul Koprowski and Gary Kulesha. William Rowsons’ works have been performed by orchestras and ensembles across Canada and the United States. His chamber music has been programmed by the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, the Niagara on the Lake International Chamber Music Festival, the Brott Music Festival and has been broadcast on the CBC. Orchestras that have recently programmed his works include the National Academy Orchestra of Canada, the McGill Chamber Orchestra and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. In addition to composing, William Rowson is an active conductor. He is a regular guest with Toronto’s Talisker Players and is the principal conductor of the Mooredale Youth Orchestra as well as the Hart House Orchestra at the University of Toronto.
Rowson’s Sonata for Cello and Piano was commissioned by Rachel Mercer. It was recorded by the Mercer-Park Duo in June 2012 and received its first public performance by the same artists a year later at the University of Toronto. The sonata is cast in three movements and follows the formal patterns of a traditional sonata. The first movement is made up of two contrasting themes that are developed together. The Andante tranquillo opens with an unassuming melody played against sparse chords in the piano, leading to an undulating and expressive middle section. The final movement consists of two statements of a sequence of themes. Each statement ends in a questioning gesture that each time returns us to the opening theme.
Kevin Lau (b. 1982): Starsail (2008)
Described as a “self-assured voice” (Barczablog) with a “masterful control over his idiom” (Classical Music Sentinel), Kevin Lau is quickly establishing himself as one of Canada’s most versatile emerging composers. His music has been commissioned and performed by over twenty ensembles including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Toronto Philharmonia, Via Salzburg, and the Hannaford Street Silver Band. He was the recipient of the 2010 Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music, and his music is featured on violinist Conrad Chow’s début CD, Premières (2012 Cambria Music.) In 2007 Kevin Lau co-founded the Sneak Peek Orchestra with conductor Victor Cheng, which gave the première of his Cello Concerto in 2012 (with soloist Rachel Mercer.) Kevin Lau received his doctorate in music composition from the University of Toronto under the supervision of Christos Hatzis. A composer of over a dozen scores for film and television,he also served as composer-in-residence for the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra (2010–12) and was one of two emerging resident composers at the Banff Centre (summer of 2012). He was recently appointed Affiliate Composer of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (2012–14).
A few years ago I encountered a image from a source in popular culture that resonated strongly with me. In this depiction, a ship sails the open sea on a clear, cloudless night; glimpsed from above, it appears that the vessel is gliding on a sea of stars. As a composer, I have always been interested in pursuing mythology and narrative through musical means. This image suggested to me a metaphor for the lone individual’s journey into the great unknown, both beautiful and terrifying in its infinitude and mystery. In Starsail, the cellist embarks on such a journey, venturing heroically beyond the comforts of ‘home’ (represented at the outset by a lyrical theme steeped in the Romantic tradition) into the wilderness of human experience. The music’s shifting stylistic idioms and adventurous structures are attempts to ‘surf’ the boundary between order and chaos, to navigate beyond the confines of what we know and understand (both essential to growth and inherently dangerous) while anchoring ourselves to the traditions that define us. As the piece veers into stranger and stranger worlds, the principal theme resurfaces during crucial moments like a refrain, reminding us constantly of home—where we are, and who we are. Starsail was originally commissioned by Sarah Steeves and was given its première at McGill University in March, 2008.
Hunter Coblentz (b. 1988): Ex Animo for Two Cellos (2010)
Hunter Coblentz began his music education at the Royal Conservatory of Music as a cellist and also studied piano. In 2011 he completed studies in English and Science at the University of Toronto while studying composition with Jack Behrens, Roger Bergs and Alexander Rapoport. In 2010 he founded and conducted his own new music ensemble, Blast Strings. He has pursued his passion for composition internationally, having studied in Italy with Raphael Fusco and in France with the distinguished composers Michel Merlet and Philip Lasser. In 2013 he began postgraduate studies in composition at the Royal College of Music in London, England. Scheduled performances include a commission by the Oakville Symphony Orchestra. His works have been performed by ensembles including the John Laing Singers and the Central Michigan University New Music Ensemble and by soloists such as Rachel Mercer and members of the Penderecki String Quartet.
Ex Animo means ‘from the heart.’ Rachel Mercer’s mother was my first music teacher and Rachel and I both studied with the cellist Susan Gagnon. I wrote this work for Rachel as a sincere expression of thanks for her and her family’s influence on me as a young musician, and for their support of Canadian music and education. The cello duet is an instrumental combination rarely found in the string repertoire. Rather than composing for a single cello and violin, as one finds in the masterfully written duets by Ravel and Kodály, I wanted to embrace the warmth and richness of tone offered by two cellos. I utilized a contrapuntal style using the octatonic scale, which seemed to be a suitable harmonic language for the cello’s dark, melancholic timbre.
Abigail Richardson-Schulte (b. 1976): Crossings (2011)
Abigail Richardson-Schulte was born in Oxford, England. Ironically, she was diagnosed completely and incurably deaf at the age of five. Upon moving to Canada, her hearing was fully intact within months. After growing up in Calgary and studying composition there, she received a doctorate degree from the University of Toronto. Her music has been commissioned and performed by major orchestras, CBC, Radio France, presenters and music festivals including the Festival Présences of Paris. She won the first Karen Kieser Prize, the CMC Prairie Region award, and a Dora award for Best New Opera . Most significantly, she won a first at the prestigious UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, after which her music was broadcast in 35 countries. She frequently collaborates with her husband, violinist Michael Schulte, who has played and conducted much of her work for national broadcast. She was Affiliate Composer for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 2006–2009 and is currently Festival Coordinator of their New Creations Festival. Abigail Richardson-Schulte wrote The Hockey Sweater with text and narration by Roch Carrier, co-commissioned by the TSO/NACO/CPO. Shel started a position of Composer in Residence with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in 2012.
Crossings, a title given to the piece by an audience competition at the première, is a four-movement work for cello and piano. The form of this piece is traditional. I have often found myself teaching young composition students who can be intimidated by form in music. I encourage them to try using traditional classical forms but to shape them for their own purposes. Along the way, I realized I had never done this myself and it was time to try. The dilemma for using traditional forms with contemporary musical language is the lack of “key” relationship on which these older forms are based. For example in sonata form, the two main themes are usually developed in remote keys before coming back together in the home key. My solution was to develop the two themes independently but eventually unite them as one, essentially creating a new home for both of them. These forms also inherently contain repetition which can be dull without the tension of changing keys. My solution was either to “cross” the material from one part to another, reversing the roles of the instruments, or to infuse the repeated material with everything it had been in contact with along the way, almost as if the theme brings back a souvenir from another land. Crossings was written for Rachel Mercer and Angela Park with assistance from the Ontario Arts Council.
Mark Nerenberg (b. 1973): “I Thirst” (2008)
Originally from Edmonton, Mark Nerenberg completed both a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music in Composition at the University of Alberta and a Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Toronto. He studied piano with Richard Troeger, Helmut Brauss, and Haley Simons. His composition instructors included Christos Hatzis, Malcolm Forsyth, Laurie Radford, and Howard Bashaw. His compositions encompass a wide range of styles, genres, and techniques, including instrumental, orchestral, and choral music; electronic music focusing on an interaction between computers and performers; and collaborative multimedia works. Recent compositions include Awakening the Electronic Forest, (multimedia installation premiered at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2007), Lines (sound installation first performed at the 2008 Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival), Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra performed by the Toronto Philharmonia with Peter Stoll as soloist, Dialogue for string quartet performed by the Penderecki String Quartet at the Toronto Summer Music Festival (2010), and Ales (for soprano, recorder, viola, speaker, and live electronics), commissioned by the ‘Bird Project’.
The title, and inspiration, of “I Thirst” is a quotation from The Seven Last Words. The music follows a journey through suffering, loss, perseverance, and finally Hope. In setting this phrase to music, I have attempted to portray sonically the universal struggle of life. We all strive towards some goal or ideal and it is this struggle that often gives meaning to our existence.
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