Ottawa Symphony Orchestra’s 3D StringTheory Experience

Ever wondered what a 3D printed instrument might sound like? On November 4th, the Ottawa Symphony, conducted by Alain Trudel, will present the 3D StringTheory Experience – a concert featuring 3D printed string instruments in the world premiere of Singularity by Harry Stafylakis. The event will take place in Ottawa City Hall. To date, no 3D printed ensemble has ever been featured with orchestra.

In the spirit of the 3D StringTheory project, which marries technology and tradition, artistry and craftsmanship, the musical programme will be presented in a non-traditional format.

The first part of the event will feature chamber ensembles spread throughout the main corridor of City Hall, where the audience will walk from location to location to hear each ensemble play selections of Bach’s Art of the Fugue. This experience of traditional music in an innovative format will be open to all for free or on a “pay-what-you-can” basis.

The second half of the concert will take place in Jean Pigott Hall where there is a ticketed seating area and free/PWYC standing room. The music in this half of the event spans the range of traditional to contemporary beginning with the first piece, J. F. Rebel’s “Les Élémens”, written in 1737. On the other end of the spectrum is the world premiere of Singularity, by Canadian composer Harry Stafylakis which is as new as music can get having been finished only months ago! Singularity, commissioned by the Ottawa Symphony, features an all-woman ensemble on 3D printed instruments accompanied by orchestra.

The instruments played by the soloists were created through a closely-knit collaboration, facilitated by the Ottawa Symphony, and involved Ottawa-based violin maker Charline Dequincey, Creadditive designer Laurent Lacombe, and 3D printing partners at the Industrial Technology Centre in Winnipeg. Invited guests from this team will speak with Trudel between pieces, offering the audience a unique insight into the creation of the instruments and the music written for them.

The octet of soloists includes women who regularly play with the Ottawa Symphony, each with their own story. One of these soloists is Regina, Saskatchewan born, Ottawa based violinist Jessie Ramsay. Jessie first became a part of the OSO as a student mentee when she auditioned in her undergrad to join the violin section of the OSO-uO mentorship program, and she has maintained her position since 2014. Jessie recently completed a Masters in Violin Performance at the University of Ottawa (2018), studying under Yehonatan Berick and Ashley Vandiver. As a founding member of the H.S. String Quartet, Jessie also had the incredible opportunity to perform for members of the Berlin Philharmonic.

According to Jessie, playing music was “a family affair. My parents are both pianists, and all my siblings growing up had to choose an instrument, so music was always a part of the fabric of my life. My Grandma was a huge advocate of me pursuing music, and always reminded me of its importance to me and to the world. Through her support, I have realized how much music can affect me, and how much it can help bring people together, and above all, how happy it could make her.””

In addition to her classical playing, Jessie has also done sessional work for rock and indie music groups at local recording studios and performs with various ensembles around Ottawa. As a musician who enjoys a challenge, Jessie was a perfect fit for the 3D StringTheory project.

If you are interested in attending Ottawa Symphony’s 3D StringTheory Experience, you can purchase tickets on the OSO’s website: www.ottawasymphony.com. Those who cannot make it in person can experience the event from home through the livestream of the performance via the OSO website beginning at 12:15pm on November 4th.

This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

 

POSTPONED: Spring Rhapsody

Due to unavoidable circumstances, next week’s Spring Rhapsody is postponed.

From the organisers:

“Due to unexpected circumstances we have postponed our “Spring Rhapsody” concert originally scheduled for Saturday, April 28th. We look forward to announcing a new date soon and thank you for your patience and ongoing support !”

The Stars of Cendrillon at SOPAC

Ottawa’s own SOPAC is currently running Massenet’s Cendrillon and their website features bios of the amazing stars of the show and the creative genius behind the opera. You can read all about them here!

You can buy tickets for the performances on the evenings of Thursday 15th, Saturday 17th and matinée Sunday 17th February from Eventbrite and you can read more about the production on the SOPAC site here.

Don’t miss out on this beautiful production!

PS Classical Ottawa will be at the 4pm show on Sunday at Glebe St. James (a Massenet matinée if you like) – come and say hi!

Thirteen Strings “Galant! With Elegance and Poise!” Concert

Thirteen Strings “Galant! With Elegance and Poise!” Concert

One Night, Two Tickets, Three Masters = An Exceptional Valentine’s Gift

The Music of Haydn, Mozart and C.P.E. Bach for your Loved One

Wolf-Ferrari’s Romantic Serenade for Strings Completes the Evening

Do buy the chocolates and flowers but if you’d like to try something different this Valentine’s Day, present your loved one with a gift of tickets to Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra’s Galant! With elegance and poise! concert on Friday, February 23, 2018 at 7:30 pm at Dominion-Chalmers United Church (355 Cooper Street, Ottawa).

Hear the music of Haydn, Mozart and C.P.E. Bach as well as Wolf-Ferrari’s Romantic Serenade for Strings with guest conductor Bernhard Gueller (Symphony Nova Scotia) and guest pianist Ilya Poletaev gracing the stage for this concert dedicated to some of the richest string sounds in classical repertoire performed by two world-acclaimed artists.

Music that’s easy on the ears, the heart and the wallet – a night out that includes courtesy intermission refreshments generously donated by Chartwell Lord Lansdowne at Bank.

The evening will tug at the heartstrings… An exceptional concert not to be missed. Tickets are $40 Adult, $35 Senior, $10 Student w/ID, and $75 for Reserved Seating, and can be picked up at Leading Note, Books on Beechwood, Compact Music and at www.thirteenstrings.ca.

Capital Chamber Choir collaborates with Ēriks Ešenvalds

CCC is honoured to be working closely with celebrated composer from Latvia, Ēriks Ešenvalds on February 28, 7:00pm!

We have performed many of his works and look forward to this opportunity!

You can register for the event here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/a-choral-encounter-with-eriks-esenvalds-in-ottawa-tickets-41474636755?aff=OrpheusOttawaWebsite

Classical music has a problem and that problem is sexual assault

This week, in the light of the revelations about assaults perpetuated by Harvey Weinstein and the denials and cover-ups that ensued from these, I read an article by Dan Kempson. In Opera’s sexual assault secret Kempson, who is a gay, married man, catalogued the instances and manner of physical assault and inappropriate communication executed by men in positions of power when he was a New York-based opera singer. These men exposed him to a litany of these incidents during his career. The response that he often gave was that he was married which, as he says, “is both true and wholly irrelevant to the inappropriate and horrible nature of these men’s behavior. And it was always summarily ignored.”

He goes on to list the ways he observed and heard that other male performers were so abused, and then points out that such abusive behaviour is even more prevalent for females in the opera world. I googled Kempson and found that he is a well built, muscular man. I only mention his appearance because it underscores that men in positions of power will pick on anyone they perceive to be in a weaker position, even those physically stronger than them. In fact, unlike many instances of defining of a specific rape culture, Kempson’s story highlights that rape cultures are not just about slight young women being slipped something in their drinks and assaulted; the abuse he suffered was enacted upon a physically strong male, and in a very overt manner, often in public, by other men.

(I mention rape cultures [plural] to emphasize the fact that the single rape culture often picked up and examined by society – the one wherein young, slightly built women are targeted by predatory males – is only one of many such dynamics. Others include intimate partner sexual assault, sexual assault against queer people in classical music, etc.)

Kempson is not the first person to shed light on sexual assault in opera. Last year Susanne Mentzer wrote about the same scenarios playing out again and again for her and other women in opera. In Classic(al) Sexual Harassment she spoke about the same cycle of working with conductors and directors, reaching a high caliber collaboration, then having to fend off a sexual advance, which led to less work from that conductor/director. While sexual assault happens with all sexualities and with people who, physically, we are too keen to assume can “defend themselves,” the pattern – and the reason the pattern can continue – is the same. As Mentzer says, “In the arts it is really near impossible to prove when sexual harassment occurs unless it is flat out sexual assault. It should not come to that. Some men in power are above any accountability. Many are tremendously talented. Few can even match their level, so people look the other way when they act inappropriately.”

Misogyny is pervasive in classical music. As an editorial in the Guardian last year notes, “London has five permanent symphony orchestras, all full of female players. Yet of the 20 conducting posts at these orchestras, just one is held by a woman.” It is estimated of the top 150 conductors in the world, only 5 are women. At the Metropolitan Opera in New York only two female composers have had their operas performed, and one of those was over a century ago.

Such statistics point to a cultural space where sexual assault is not exactly going to be deterred. Directors of opera houses, orchestras, fundraising initiatives and cultural administration are still predominantly male. They are not all rapists; but where they are, they are not going to be hampered by the dynamics of this kind of gender imbalance in leadership. On the contrary, many of the structures of organizations and communities help these predators.

Two years ago, I was a witness in, and gave a statement to police about, the case of a vicious and premeditated sexual assault. The perpetrator was a person who was known to a lot of my friends and acquaintances in the classical music community in Ottawa. I let people I know in many of my networks know who this individual is and what had happened. The response from some was immediate and impressive – the complete belief in the account of the survivor’s story and the elimination of this individual from their networks. But from some in the classical music community it was sadly predictable – men and women were keen to point out that they had known this man for a long time and that he couldn’t possibly be a rapist.

Everything in the testaments of the women assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, and in the accounts of Dan Kempson and Susanne Mentzer, reminds us of the dynamic – powerful men abuse those they know are not powerful enough to be believed. The perpetrators are well known individuals about whom people – often networks of women – warn the newcomers to the community. Usually claims of assault are ignored. Often the perpetrators can continue for decades in their actions and are never stopped.

Of course, these dynamics – power, denial, conspiracy – are microcosms of how sexual assault metastasizes in society in general. As my friend Andrea Stokes stated in a Facebook post about the all-permeating presence of sexual assault in the world, “It’s not Hollywood, it’s not OTHERTOWN, it’s fucking everywhere.”

All the dynamics of these environments that encourage and protect sexual assailants exist in the world of classical music. Young people with massive employment precarity (and a huge desire to succeed) are exposed to people who have the chance to make or break careers. Most people in those powerful positions are there to help make music, encourage careers, and give their energy and talent to producing beautiful. But some are there to exploit and act in a predatory role or to promote their own work through misogyny.

I don’t have to wrack my brain for examples of these kinds of people from my own friendship networks. One of America’s leading conductors who told the partner of my friend who was a soprano at the Paris Opera at the time not to fuck her too much that night as she had rehearsal in the morning; France’s most eminent composer told the same soprano to suck another composer’s cock, when he was present; directors who have told women I know they are too fat or busty for a role; the ballet instructor at one of the world’s leading opera houses who assaulted a friend in a classroom. The instructors who have touched more than one singer’s breasts to “illustrate a breathing technique”. I am sure the majority of my female friends haven’t mentioned even 1% of the things men have said or done to them.

Classical music is also an arena where, by nature of its fierce discipline and years of training, the teacher-student relationship can be exceedingly close. One of the peripatetic instrument teachers who taught mainly at my high school was, years after I graduated, convicted of serial sexual assaults over more than one decade. In 2015, Philip Pickett was found guilty of two rapes and two other sexual assaults at the Guildhall School of Music. A report of the case in The Independent tells a familiar tale. The parents of one girl wrote to the “principal John Hosier complaining that their daughter had been attacked. When he finally responded the parents were told to take the 17-year-old elsewhere for lessons.” In Ottawa, Jose Hernandez, a well-known classical voice teacher, was charged in 2016 with assaulting at least three women who were his students.

I began with accounts from two opera singers, and I know experiences of thousands more singers of all genders would echo these. I would also argue that opera occupies a unique, ambivalent and often contradictory space in the classical music world when it comes to discussions of sexual assault. This is because as an art form it both promotes misogynistic content, and has, historically, examined sexual assault when other cultural mediums have ignored it; it has both promoted female singers to heights of artistic prominence that other schools of classical music have not, and controlled those women in terms of body image, dress, sexuality, and behaviour in general; it has been a world where professional criticism has both signal-boosted the misogyny in the medium, and decried it. I have a lot more to say in [my post about the duality of operatic history and sexual assault].

Does all of this mean there is a crisis of sexual assault in classical music? Not definitely, but from the accounts of survivors and victims, there is a probability there are a lot of assaults in the classical music realm, assaults which go ignored or unreported. Ask yourself if the fact people weren’t listening to reports of sexual assault in Harvey Weinstein’s office until last week means there wasn’t a long history of such assaults in Hollywood?

=====

Recent events in Toronto showed some in the higher ranks of musical production are not even shy about recording their opinions on how women should look and dress – facets totally unrelated to their abilities as musical artists. Indeed, the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestras folded on the basis of not simply those attitudes but the hubris that its management exhibited. (This was limited not to just misogynistic comments; they also referred to the orchestra as “wallpaper” in comparison to the vocal soloists.) That their positions did not protect them does not really reflect some kind of axiomatic justice that works within in our creative communities but instead simply these managers’ hubristic ignorance in a world where social media wields some power to mobilize. In other words, if you say stupid shit and are arrogant enough to put it in an email then yes, it might bite you in the ass. But in reality, that is rare, and the dynamic that perpetuates assault and exploitation persists. Something, after all, led the Sheraton Cadwell management to believe they could enshrine their misogynistic commentary in electronic mail and get away with it.

Perhaps musical communities exist where misogyny, sexual predation and assault are non-existent. But if they do, that doesn’t mean that cannot change. If companies dwell on the physical appearance of their singers, normalize the non-consensual touching of performers by directors, and allow sexist commentary to go unchecked, then they can quickly become places where assault becomes prevalent.

Everybody in classical music needs to look at how they treat the other people in their communities. I know I have done problematic things since joining the community – I am a super flirtatious individual and have not particularly curbed my behaviour in that regard with the women I meet as part of my roles in the classical music scene; and I have dated community members who are, for example, a lot younger than myself. Not to take away from the agency of women to choose who they flirt with and date, but that kind of behaviour can totally be part of the problem when older men – even those not in the hiring/firing position –  partake, even if it is done with respect and no ill intent.

More than that, I have commented on the appearance of women I am singing with when they haven’t asked for my opinion, I have hugged my colleagues and touched them on stage without asking if it is okay, and I have said sexualized things to people in the community in passing with no idea how it might affect them. These kinds of behaviours are all things men must examine when they are actors in their classical music groups. I know I am examining these disturbing aspects of my own actions with the aim of stopping myself from doing them again. And just because I have done them doesn’t mean to say I cannot call out other men when they say and do things that are as bad or worse. Because if only men who have NEVER made sexual comments or lavished unwanted attention stand up to these actions, there will literally be no men doing so.

Mentioning this is not about being recognized as some kind of paladin who is seeking absolution; it is the absolute baseline minimum any man can do to start the process of stopping assault and harassment by themselves and others. I hope other men in classical music can talk about the things they have done wrong. Almost all of us owe women, and our communities, this.

The most important thing we can do is to look out for each other and listen to each other, and when we hear of things going on we must speak out. That responsibility increases exponentially the higher up the pecking order you are or the less you have to lose. If someone uses inappropriate language to someone in your company then tell them to stop. If someone tells you someone is acting inappropriately towards them, challenge them and if that doesn’t stop them, go above that person’s head. Believe survivors of assault.

As Kempson says, there are many reasons touted for such cultures where assault persists – the objectification of young singers, the highlighting of appearance over talent, the fact opera involves more physical romantic contact than other art forms. And, as he concludes, “That’s all bullshit. It happens for the same reason it happens in Hollywood…: because those in power are often perpetrators — and those who aren’t perpetrators allow it to happen.”

Artistic Profile: Ryan Hofman

Ryan Hofman is a baritone who is rapidly becoming more and more in demand in the  opera and choral scene in Ottawa and further afield. Freshly returned from two years out west and in preparation for the Brian Law Opera Competition, Classical Ottawa asked him about what else he has coming up, as well as about his musical experience.

CO: Before we hear about your career so far, you have the Brian Law Opera Competition coming up on 14th October. Can you tell something about how you became a finalist, and what the competition means to you?

Ryan: Actually, come to think of it, I was in Teplice, Czech Republic in my hotel room when I received the email about becoming a finalist.

I think this competition is great for the Ottawa community and singers who have some sort of connection with the Nation’s Capital. As a young emerging artist, I am so grateful for an opportunity such as this one.

CO: And what do you know about your competition? I know, for instance, you have worked with your friend Jeanine Williams (who we have featured previously on CO)

RyanWhat I know is that all of the competition is incredible. I actually know 4 of 5 the other finalists and went to uOttawa with Carolyn (Beaudoin) and Joel Allison, who are both doing remarkably well right now.

I have also had the chance to hear Jeanine and Danielle as well. The fact that 40 something singers applied and that I am in the finals with so many phenomenal singers, it will be such an honour to share the stage with them.

CO: Okay, well best of luck on 14th October! (Full details below if you want to go along and hear Ryan!)

Looking back now, can you tell us a little bit about your musical journey?

Ryan: I began my studies at uOttawa in 2008 after meeting Ingemar Korjus and Sandra Graham through Ontario Youth Choir. During my last two years of high school actually, my family and I would drive up to Ottawa every few months to Ottawa for lessons. Upon finishing my studies in 2014, I continued working with Christiane Riel but decided I needed to get out of Ottawa and see what was out there. It was lessons with a mentor of mine and dear friend, James Westman in March 2015, that helped motivate myself in going out west to work with J. Patrick Raftery.

It was here that I really was able to hone and polish my craft with acting classes and coachings with Nancy Hermiston, David Boothroyd and Richard Epp. It is because of my time at the University of British Columbia and the faculty that I feel so much more well-rounded.

CO: What did you find different about studying and performing on the west coast, as opposed to Ottawa or elsewhere?

Ryan: I found the opera program at UBC to be very intense, as it was run similiar to that of a German opera studio. As a result we were constantly busy with performing either at the school or within the community, especially with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. We also had three operas each season, two with professional orchestra with each February opera taking place at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts with the UBC Symphony Orchestra.

The weather in Vancouver was absolutely beautiful (except for the 5 months of rain!!!!); this certainly made it easier to live and study out there. Definitely not as hot or cold as Ottawa weather!

CO: How do you find the Ottawa opera scene? What’s the future?

Ryan: With the demise of Opera Lyra, it has unfortunately taken a bit of a hit but there are companies such Pellegrini Opera and SOPAC that I believe are taking steps to making Opera much more prevalent in the Capital.

The only way for opera to survive in the Capital is for people to come out and support it, which is why the Brian Law Competition is also such a great avenue for listeners, new and old, alike.

CO: How far do you think you can go in Ottawa, and do you see yourself moving away in the future in order to pursue further ambitions?

Ryan: Right now, I am enjoying my time back in Ottawa. This year has been a transitional one for me but I may end up staying here, who knows.

I am fortunate enough to working over the next few months (including an upcoming Faure Requiem with the Cantata Singers of Ottawa and Jeanine Williams on November 4th at 8pm at St. Joe’s and Nov. 11th with Southminister United and Isabelle Lacroix, plus a few other engagements)

Depending on how YAP auditions pan out, I could be here for a year, two years, or less. Ah, the life of a musician.

 

——

You can hear Ryan at the Brian Law Opera Competition on 14th October. Full details can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

Preview: Hewitt plays Whittall’s new composition – Wow!

This morning we were lucky enough to attend the rehearsal of tonight’s Lintu and Hewitt concert at the NAC.

The program features Sibelius’ The Océanides as well as his second symphony, but perhaps most exciting is the world premiere of Matthew Whittall’s Nameless Seas, a  composition commissioned jointly by the NAC and PianoEspoo. Conducted by Special guest Hannu Lintu, Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, this new work is breathtaking, evocative, and both subtle and full voiced in turn. The audience this morning, graced by Matthew Whittall’s presence, were amazed by both its grace and power, at the hands of the NAC orchestra and, of course, perhaps the world’s finest concert pianist. Get a ticket for tonight if you can!

https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/15880

Artistic Profile: Rebecca Gray

You do not have to spend much time in the Ottawa classical musical arena to know that the city produces and attracts a wealth of talented young artists and composers. A few years ago I was lucky enough to appear on stage with Rebecca Gray, an Ottawa local, who is both a very accomplished composer and performer of operatic and classical voice repertoire. In Ottawa for the Summer, Rebecca spoke to Classical Ottawa about her story and her musical trajectory and philosophy.

Rebecca assured me, when I asked about her musical journey, that “there was no epiphany of hearing Beethoven and deciding I wanted to be a composer.” Starting with violin at the age of 5 (with a mother she described as the “perfect Suzuki parent,”) she didn’t suddenly discover either inspiration or ability.

“It was much more gradual, and I would say I got more serious about violin when I was about 12. Then at Canterbury I took two years of the strings program which led me to pursue an undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa’. I started off in violin and then switched to voice.” After graduating in 2016, she enrolled in the Masters program in Opera at the University of Toronto. As part of the program at the University of Toronto she is studying composition under Norbert Palej.

In terms of learning experiences she describes her years performing with the Ottawa Youth Orchestra as “what taught me the most.” Other performance experiences in Ottawa include studio recitals as well as working with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, a role with Pellegrini Opera, and the chorus with Opera Lyra. In the final year of her undergraduate studies she won the Thirteen Strings/University of Ottawa composition prize. Last summer she premiered her composition Love, Dear Love for two voices, string quartet, large scale drawings and projection. In Toronto, her Ruminations on The Planets for violin, cello, flute, soprano sax, percussion and projection was performed at Nuit Rose (a queer arts festival).

“I am very grateful to Ottawa U because they have such an open policy to let people try different things. If they didn’t then I would never have started composing.”

Now Rebecca is working on both singing and composition, I wonder how (or if) she can combine her love of both historical and contemporary work.

“I am trying to figure out how to combine these things – that is the challenge at the moment. I have focused on contemporary but I feel I have a lot to say about both. So I am trying to look at both and not make any decisions. It’s hard where when everyone is streamlining to a specialization, especially in a very specialized program, like my opera masters. I don’t want to filter things out too soon.”

Which of course begs the question where does she see herself ending up at this stage?

“I had envisioned myself finding an answer this summer but I am not sure. I have vague dreams of doing a Masters in composition in Germany. I would really like to find an environment where I could also perform contemporary music every day, especially a place that teaches extended vocal techniques.

rebecca2“I have realized that I love chamber music – it is the environment, musically, I enjoy the most and it is where there is the most thrilling new music as far as I am concerned (in my opinion?). So hopefully soon I will be producing new works that other people would like to perform in a chamber setting.”

Despite her natural abilities (which include, as I learned with her when we were in chorus together in L’elisir d’amore, her perfect pitch) it is clear that Rebecca’s schooling at Ottawa U and Toronto are key to her career so far. What were the advantages of attending the University of Ottawa?

“I benefitted a lot from personal relationships with a lot of professors, not just my main teachers. For example, I took the composition course because I knew the teacher: I had a whim, and he encouraged me to register. It is important that schools encourage this exploration of other areas. We all have whims – I didn’t know if I would be any good – but we can’t always follow through. Because they gave me the chance, I could explore composition.

“Also really important in my experience was that they let me switch from violin to voice very easily.

“Violin was my major but due to some serious injuries I realized I couldn’t continue. Also, although I was very good, I wasn’t working with the best aspects of myself, whereas singing and composing allow me to work more constructively with my talents Specifically, composition makes me think more deeply, explore my own ideas, and consider performance space, while voice (and acting) allow me to explore my own and other people’s character.”

And how does she find the experience in the University of Toronto’s music program?

“The main advantage is the size of Master’s program. It is small and so I get a lot of dedicated time from my teachers. It is also well funded. We have a full time administrator and a group of full time professors who we see every day. They keep track of me and my interests and they support me.

“There are also limitations. Mainly, for me personally I would say that is over-scheduling – you have so many rehearsals and other aspects of practice that sometimes it is hard to take things in, and develop and pursue other interests. But constant masterclasses etc mean you get exposure to big names. We have a lot of master classes, for instance, and we are exposed to the Canadian Opera Company. There is even a contemporary opera company in the city I have worked with outside of school We don’t have as much opportunity in Ottawa any more. In Toronto, the opportunities for classical singers are wonderful and I have made lots of contacts there outside of school.”

We seem to be in an age where – finally but also often problematically – identity is being given so much prominence. From conversations in the past I know this is highly important to Rebecca so I asked her to talk about being a composer, versus being a female composer, versus being a queer female composer?

“Personally I am always aware that people are aware of my gender in composition, which can make me uncomfortable. But at the same time it is so important we pay attention to who composers are, and things like gender ratio within parts of the musical world. So I’m tired of people being hyper-aware of that, but we should be noticing when there is only one woman in the room. At the same time I haven’t received any demeaning comments about my gender since I started composing in my masters program, which is amazing and certainly wouldn’t have been the case even 20 years ago.

“I was at a program this summer with 8 student composers. The level was very high and I was one of only two women. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head ‘There are only two women here – did they choose me because I am a woman?’

“I think I told you before about this experience I had in my undergrad composition class. There were 22 people, and only two were women. One day I mentioned this fact to my professor. It’s kind of a perfect example of what we are talking about that the professor hadn’t even noticed that there was such a gender imbalance. And this isn’t some kind of conspiracy. He is a great person and wasn’t trying to keep women out of his class. That is why it is such a hard a barrier to fight. There are so many factors and there is not one thing to fix or one person to blame.

“It depends a lot on the school and the region, but I also notice that a lot of it is a difficulty that stems from childhood. There is something about women being, in general, less likely to come out and show what they have been working on, even when it is excellent work. What do you do when those kind of systemic messages have been at play for decades? Each person has their own way to try to unlock that.

“Sometimes, it can be just a small thing. In the opera program at U of O we don’t didn’t have any set people so the singers moved sets and props around themselves. A director would often state, “We need a man/men to move chairs.” Even when the chair was plastic and weighs 4 ounces. That drives me nuts – but in the end, it is just because people arere used to a pattern, and haven’t realized it can be damaging.

“So many people are on automatic pilot when it comes to so many things in music, for example, who to program when it comes to composers, or who to put on stage. When you have a more diverse artistic staff who look at these kinds of things from different angles it begins to change. Otherwise you have artistic staff with the same blinders and you will only hear the same old composers again and again. I think artiscally it’s all about getting groups of people with different sets of blinders together, who are constantly pushing to unlock their blinders and get new perspectives I can speak to female and LGQBT representation, and other people have more expertise to speak to accessibility or race, for example.

“I sometimes feel disempowered and get frustrated in institutional settings, because it’s not always appropriate to share one’s misgivings or ideas. But I am working with a lot of great individuals on smaller scale projects, which I find less frustrating.”

One of the things that interests me most is who is inspiring someone pursuing twin avenues of composition and singing. Rebecca has been busy discovering the work of diverse composers to help her.

“I’ve been listening to Kate Soper. I am in love with her. The fact she is a singer as well as a composer is very exciting. She has an ability with texts and delivery which is super creative and compelling. Her work makes me feel more confident about finding a place for myself.

“I also really like George Krumb. His work is sparse and ethereal and I am very inspired by his notation

“Kaija Saariaho [only the second female composer to have an opera produced at the Met in New York in its history] is a goddess. I am inspired by her operatic work. It is so hard to find contemporary opera that works. Composers are caught between being lyric and expressive, and being innovative. Often everything ends up being either too melodramatic and 19th century-esque , Or it is “modern, ” but unoperatic and doesn’t tell a story. But Saariaho has so much colour and yet still tells a story. She straddles that line the best of anyone I have encountered. I also admire her choice of stories. They are very operatic, and she works with very talented librettists.”

“I haven’t heard a lot of modern operas that tell a contemporary story well. It seems like something grand opera really struggles to do. The range of stories for different voices just isn’t there yet. We need something for our poor sopranos to sing that isn’t just about love!”

This leads us back to the position of female roles in opera.

“I was in a production with Tapestry Opera – Oksana [by Aaron Gervais]. I was talking to the man in the lead role, someone playing a despicable, rapistmurderer and I asked him about the process of portraying a monster. He asked me “don’t you find it’s easier to be a villain then a victim” . I said I wouldn’t know because I never get to play a monster. Women don’t. Oksana is set in the world of human trafficking and it is a great contemporary story but every main woman in the opera is still a victim.

“It’s also frustrating that we just don’t seem to be able to get over voice type: villains are baritones or basses, and if a villain is ever a woman it is almost always a mezzo. It is a lot to do with how we perceive authority – we don’t associate a high voice with authority or strength. As a composer I want to challenge the voices we associate with character types. Artistically it makes sense to try and mix things up – not only are these things sexist, they are less interesting. “ that’s a big point for me: problematic historic conventions aren’t just damaging, they are boring artistically!”

I can attest to Rebecca’s dedication to subverting the gender roles in opera. When we were in the chorus of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore there was a scene that called for all the women-folk to swoon over the hunk of the opera, Belcore. Rebecca suggested to our director that perhaps for once not every women in the crowd would go giddy for the baritone. The director agreed and instead of trying to win the gaze of Belcore, she washed glasses at the back of the scene with a singularly nonplussed look on her face. (Not to be outdone, I stepped up to play a gay male who was definitely into the dreamy Belcore, and not averse to getting into a catfight with the women to get his man).

If characterization is something she thinks can be addressed by composers, what about subject matter for pieces, operatic or otherwise?

“What is difficult at my stage of life is figuring out what is within my grasp in terms of ability and experience. I see a lot of people who are ambitious about their subject matter – composers, for example, who want to write about the apocalypse, or the refugee crisis. I don’t have those abilities yet. There are lots of things I would like to address, for example, the Trump Presidency, but my skills aren’t there yet.

“One of the main pressures with the modern music world is pressure to be ‘super contemporary’ and to address ‘modern’ issues. These are definitely things to be excited about but I wish we could build more excitement about well-executed collaboration and building creative performance spaces.”

What about the movement of classical opera repertoire into contemporary settings?

“I have thoughts about setting classic opera in modern settings I haven’t personally seen many that work for me. I got frustrated with a modernized production of a Handel opera – where a woman is kidnapped by pirates and rescued by a man. He then asks her to marry him despite her being engaged already. She is then torn between being unfaithful and ungrateful, which is an interesting dilemma for a woman in the 17th century who has to navigate being male property. But it makes me uncomfortable setting this narrative in modern times, because it normalizes woman as property and just doesn’t make any sense.

“I did like the Met’s Vegas setting of Rigoletto. It was a well thought out choice and they chose to bring out the horror of the space in Las Vegas. So it can definitely work – it is just rare.”

Indeed, last year Rebecca premiered Love, Dear Love at House of Common, a converted garage in Hintonburg, with art by her sister Rachel Gray dominating the walls, overlaid by real time video projection by Mathieu Hallé. It is this interplay of interesting place and additional stimulation within that space that gives Rebecca’s work an edge, and it is something she is continuing to explore.

“I’m working on collaborative piece for a contemporary program in composition in Montreal right now [for the summer of 2017]. I am using images – my partner Adrienne Scott is creating a timed slideshow of abstract images that determine the rhythmn of the piece.. We are inspiring each other with sounds and images – an image might make me think of a particular emotion that I try to harness musically. Our goal was to really work together, rather than just creating a set of images to go with music, or composing music to accompany some images. It’s what I am most excited about in contemporary music: using my music in collaboration with other arts forms. I am personally very excited about how? music can interact more meaningfully with other arts, rather than just checking the collaborative box.”

The project, like everything Rebecca works on, sounds to be helping push the boundaries rather than conserving the sometimes petrified art forms of voice and instrumentation. The politics of identity only serve to elevate her work above the performance and work who lack that edge and meaning. She is an exquisite performer, accomplished technician, and reflective constructor of music, and we cannot wait to see where her career takes her.

Discussion Panel: Inspiring the Next Generation

Sunday, June 25, 2017
1:00 PM
Geneva Hall, Knox Presbyterian Church

*Admission to this panel is included in the SOEC Festival Pass*

A panel discussion with educators and musicians working with children and youth. Please note the panel discussion will take place in English with English/French consecutive interpretation provided for the Q & A.

Panelists:

  • Allison Prowse (Conductor, Ottawa Children’s Choir)
  • Rachel Handley (Choral music teacher at Glebe Collegiate Institute)
  • Robert Fillion (Choral music teacher at École secondaire publique De La Salle)

Tickets: Admission to SOEC panel is complimentary. Or visit this page.