This year I had the opportunity to participate in the Array Young Composers’ Workshop. The workshop takes place every year in Toronto allowing emerging composers to work towards a new piece with the Array Ensemble for a period of one month. Other highlights include individual mentoring and weekly seminars where the composers get to share their thoughts and present on their music.
Getting to hear about other people’s work is often the most valuable part of music festivals, but the Array Workshop really brings that experience to a different level: composers are encouraged to attend each others sessions with the ensemble, thus the process by which the works evolve is palpable. The other participants on this year’s workshop were Janet Sit, Sophie Dupuis and Sandro Manzon–it was such a pleasure getting to know them.
Each composer was granted 10 hours to work with the Array Ensemble during the course of May. The Ensemble is one big pool of performers and this year it was decided that a we would have an unusual trio to work with: piano (Stephen Clarke), cello (Lydia Munchinsky) and double bass (Adam Scime–who I met previously this year at the CCMW workshop). For the first session, we were told to bring anything but a throughly composed score–the idea was to start to build something from the start. That being said, it was natural that the first and second weeks gravitated around base issues like sound material and notation; gradually, though, things moved into rehearsal of excerpts, controlled improvisation and fine adjustments. I intend to write in detail about The Flower Sermon in a separate post, but I should say this work marked a change of direction in terms of the notation system I normally employ. Being in a situation other than the standard two-rehearsal scenario allowed me to experiment in a new direction for there was time to incorporate feedback and for the performers to get used to something they might not find immediately readable.
This year the workshop had two mentors: composers Linda Caitlin Smith and Henry Kucharzyk. Linda worked extensively with the four of us during the workshop facilitating discussions, mediating rehearsals and individually meeting everyone to talk about whatever issues we had in mind; Henry did the same, but mostly during a week where Linda was absent, attending a premiere in Malta. The mentoring was quite helpful as both of these composers have been around this workshop long enough for them to know where there was room for things to be pushed and where compromises were a wise choice.
Percussion Workshop / Gamelan Improv
During the third week we had a treat: Rick Sacks, current artistic director of the Array Music and percussionist, invited us to an afternoon of experimenting with percussion instruments. Rick is one of those guys that know everything about what he does and has seen it all–not only that, he has the kindness and energy to share all these things if time allows. Well, time we had. I left with drawings of little fascinating instruments that didn’t even have a proper name. Last but not least, each one of us sat down by one of the javanese gamelan instruments for an improv session, also led by Rich who is a member of the Evergreen Club, a gamelan ensemble dedicated to commission new music for the instrument (!).
The workshop proved to be a true laboratory. We experimented extensively with sounds–either by playing the instruments in the least conventional way ever or expanding them by adding preparations or percussion. Naturally a big part of all this research did not make it into the final works–rather, they are now part of the internal palette every composer has to cultivate. For me, the workshop was particularly important as it allowed me to take a few notational risks, which I will discuss in a future post.
Lastly, I would like to really express my public appreciation for all the work that is put every year into this workshop. This is something that has been done for over 25 years and I can’t begin to image the impact it had on the life of so many composers; I can’t also think back of my home land and how much it needs something similar. So here is the my most sincere thank you to these amazing people that believe in new music and invest their time and effort into making it happen.
The Young Composers’ Workshop is made possible through the generous support of:
Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne
Canada Council for the Arts
Ontario Arts Council
Toronto Arts Council