Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
b. May 7, 1840 / Votkinsk, Russia
d. November 6, 1893 / Saint Petersburg, Russia
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is undoubtably the best-known and most-loved Russian composer. Born in the Ural mountains, his family moved to the capital city of St. Petersburg when he was just eight years old. While he loved music, his Plan B was to study law and prepare for a career as a civil servant. Fortunately, his musical interests prevailed. Still, he was 25 before the first public performance of one of his works took place.
Despite many popular successes and accolades, Tchaikovsky's life was punctuated by personal crises and periods of depression. He was separated from his mother to attend boarding school, and when he was 14, her early death from cholera delivered another blow. His homosexuality, which he kept private, has traditionally also been considered a source of his struggles. His ill-informed marriage to a young music student lasted just weeks. The one enduring relationship of his adult life was a 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck, who was his patron even though they never actually met each other.
Waltz (from Serenade for Strings)
Two of Tchaikovsky's best-known works were composed pretty much side by side. In a letter to his patron, von Meck, he wrote, "My muse has been so kind that in a short time I have got through two long works: a big festival overture for the Exhibition, and a serenade for string orchestra in four movements. I am busy orchestrating them both." The first piece is, of course, the bombastic 1812 Overture, while the Serenade is its emotional opposite: elegant, refined, tasteful and poetic. Tchaikovsky's second-movement Valse is reminiscent of the best of his ballet music. Indeed, at the premiere performance it had to be immediately encored, and it is frequently excerpted to this day.
(b. May 24, 1958- / Biggar, Saskatchewan)
Rodney Sharman teaches composition at the VSO School of Music. He has been Composer-in-Residence of Early Music Vancouver’s “New Music for Old Instruments”, the Victoria Symphony, National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and Composer-Host of the Calgary Philharmonic’s New Music Festival, "Hear and Now". In addition to concert music, Sharman writes music for cabaret, opera and dance. He sings, conducts, plays recorders and flutes. He works regularly with choreographer James Kudelka, for whom he has written scores for Oregon Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet and Citadel & Compagnie (Toronto). His chamber opera, Elsewhereless, with text and direction by Atom Egoyan, was staged in Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa, and performed in concert excerpts in Amsterdam, New York City, Montreal, Victoria, and Rome. Sharman was awarded First Prize in the 1984 CBC Competition for Young Composers, the 1990 Kranichsteiner Prize in Music (Darmstadt, Germany), the 2013 Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding sound design/composition (Toronto), and is the recipient of the 2017 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.
Rodney Sharman’s Pronoun Symphony uses as it launching point the melody of the second movement of Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony (No. 94 in G Major). As he explains in his introduction, he was inspired by the many non-binary students that he has taught, and he has created a musical meme that is as ear catching as it is clever.
Pronoun experts will advise
Not to trust an outward guise,
Ask what pronoun best applies
You can’t be decidin’.
Binary is so passé
Gender variations and gradations
Shades of grey
May need a singular of “They”,
As the spectrum widens….
b. November 14, 1900 / Brooklyn, NY, USA)
d. December 2, 1990 / North Tarrytown, NY, USA)
Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. Copland was referred to by his peers and critics as "the Dean of American Composers". The open, slowly changing harmonies in much of his music are typical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. He is best known for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as "populist" and which the composer labeled his "vernacular" style. Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres, including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores.
Quiet City (for Trumpet, English horn and strings)
In 1939, Copland wrote incidental music for the play Quiet City by Irwin Shaw. He later worked some of it into a ten-minute composition designed to be performed independently of the play. The piece premiered on January 28, 1941, by conductor Daniel Saidenberg and his Saidenberg Little Symphony in New York City. According to Copland, the piece was "an attempt to mirror the troubled main character of Irwin Shaw's play", who had abandoned his Jewishness and his poetic aspirations in order to pursue material success by Anglicizing his name, marrying a rich socialite, and becoming the president of a department store. The man, however, was continually recalled to his conscience by the haunting sound of his brother's trumpet playing.” Continuing the assessment in his own autobiography, Copland observed that "Quiet City seems to have become a musical entity, superseding the original reasons for its composition," owing much of its success to its escape from the details of its dramatic context.
Dame Ethel Smyth
b. April 22, 1858 / Sidcup, England
d. May 8, 1944 / Woking, England
Ethel Mary Smyth, DBE was an English composer and a member of the women's suffrage movement. Her compositions include songs, works for piano, chamber music, orchestral works, choral works, and operas. Smyth tended to be marginalised as a ‘woman composer’, as though her work could not be accepted as mainstream. Yet when she produced more delicate compositions, they were criticized for not measuring up to the standard of her male competitors. Nevertheless, she was granted a damehood, the first female composer to be so honoured.
Smyth was enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory, where she studied composition with Carl Reinecke, and where she met Dvořák, Grieg and Tchaikovsky. She left after a year, however, when she became disillusioned with the low standard of teaching. She continued her music studies privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg, who introduced her to Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Upon her return to England, she formed a supportive friendship with Arthur Sullivan in the last years of his life, who respected her and encouraged her work. Smyth's extensive body of work includes the Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra and the Mass in D. Her opera The Wreckers is considered by some critics to be the "most important English opera composed during the period between Purcell and Britten." Another of her operas, Der Wald, mounted in 1903, was for more than a century the only opera by a woman composer ever produced at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
String Quintet in E Major, Mvt V. Finale - Allegro molto
Smyth's Quintet (written for 2 violins, viola, and 2 cellos) was published as her Opus 1, although it is hardly her first work. It dates from 1884, part of a series of important piano and chamber works that stemmed from her studies with Herzogenberg, a close friend of Brahms. It has been described has having the same "simple beauty of the ‘American’ works of Dvořák, while predating those works by a decade, and while still retaining something unique to Smyth." The fugue that opens the fifth movement quickly sheds any pretence of academic study as it evolves into a brisk and bouncy dance.
b. February 16, 1938 / New York City, NY, USA
The American John Corigliano continues to add to one of the richest, most unusual, and most widely celebrated bodies of work any composer has created over the last forty years. Corigliano's numerous scores—including three symphonies and eight concerti among over one hundred chamber, vocal, choral, and orchestral works—have been performed and recorded by many of the most prominent orchestras, soloists, and chamber musicians in the world. Recent scores include Conjurer (2008), for percussion and string orchestra, commissioned for and introduced by Dame Evelyn Glennie; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: The Red Violin (2005), developed from the themes of the score to the François Girard’s film of the same name, which won Corigliano the Oscar in 1999; Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2000) for orchestra and amplified soprano, the recording which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition in 2008; Symphony No. 3: Circus Maximus (2004), scored simultaneously for wind orchestra and a multitude of wind ensembles; and Symphony No. 2 (2001: Pulitzer Prize in Music.) Other important scores include String Quartet (1995: Grammy Award, Best Contemporary Composition); Symphony No. 1 (1991: Grawemeyer and Grammy Awards); the opera The Ghosts of Versailles (Metropolitan Opera commission, 1991, International Classical Music Award 1992); and the Clarinet Concerto (1977.) One of the few living composers to have a string quartet named for him, Corigliano serves on the composition faculty at the Juilliard School of Music and holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, City University of New York, which has established a scholarship in his name; for the past fourteen years he and his partner, the composer-librettist Mark Adamo, have divided their time between Manhattan and Kent Cliffs, New York.
Voyage for Strings
Corigliano has provided the following note: “Voyage for string orchestra” (1976) is an instrumental version of a 1971 a cappella choral work that was a setting of Richard Wilbur's translation of Baudelaire's famous L'Invitation au voyage. Wilbur's poignant setting pictures a world of obsessive imagination — a drugged version of heaven full of sensual imagery. The music echoes the quality of the repeated refrain found in this lush translation: "There, there is nothing else but grace and measure, richness, quietness and pleasure."
b. January 31, 1797 / Himmelpfortgrund, Vienna, Austria
d. November 19, 1828 / Vienna, Austria
Franz Schubert was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works (mainly lieder, or art songs), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music, and a large body of piano and chamber music. His major works include the song "Erlkönig", "The Trout" Piano Quintet, the Symphonies No. 8 and 9 (the "Unfinished" and the "Great," respectively). Amongst his many other works are a String Quintet (D. 956), three last piano sonatas, and the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise.
Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel)
An Sylvia (Who is Sylvia? - from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona)
Erlkönig (The Elf-King)
Among Schubert's treatments of the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, his settings of "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (D. 118) and "Erlkönig" (D. 328) are particularly striking for their dramatic content, forward-looking uses of harmony, and their use of eloquent pictorial keyboard figurations, such as the depiction of the spinning wheel and treadle in the piano in "Gretchen" and the furious and ceaseless gallop in "Erlkönig". Also presented here is "An Sylvia" from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona. It is a musical tribute to Sylvia, the spirited daughter of the Duke of Milan, who is in love with Valentine.
Kai Cheng Thom
b. March 12, 1991 / Vancouver, BC
Kai Cheng Thom is an award-winning writer, performer, and community worker based in Toronto. She has written and practiced extensively in the areas of queer and trans community development, mental health, and trauma-informed adult education, and hold two master’s degrees from McGill University. Her book-length works include the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, the poetry collection a place called No Homeland, and the children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea. Her most recent work is an essay collection titled I HOPE WE CHOOSE LOVE, on the intersection of transformative justice, social justice ethics, and community activism. Kai Cheng is the winner of the 2017 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Writers and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her current interests include somatic approaches to community healing and cultural work, somatic sex education, and the creation of transformative justice frameworks of thought and praxis.
diaspora babies, we
are born of pregnant pauses/spilled
from unwanted wombs/squalling invisible-ink poems/written in the margins
of a map of a place
called No Homeland
old gong gong honoured uncle is the man i won’t become/
BBQ pork-scented sorrow and red
bean paste buns he sold on street corners in Chinatown/handing out sweetbread and stories
for seventy-five cents each/red meat and red hands stained
by the winter wind’s violence/as the Goddess of Mercy watched/pitying
from her curb-side altar
diaspora bodies, we
wrap lips around pregnant pauses/spill
salt fluids from unwanted bodies/squalling invisible-ink poetry/written in the margins
of a map of a place
called No Homeland
my boy makes me breakfast the morning after/he’s the air i breathe/love-
flavoured oxygen/i taste him everywhere/sun-dried orange peel candy/like the kind
my father used to bring on car trips/the colour of his skin/brown
salty-sweet/we gorge ourselves on love
not thinking about tomorrow/there’s never enough
time/to make you full/never enough flesh
to fill your skin/we open our mouths for stories/for sun-tinted histories
and swallow each other whole/here in this place
with no room for mercy
diaspora secrets, we
enclose in pregnant pauses/write on the walls
of unwanted wombs/invisible-ink poems in the margins
of bodies/living out a map of a place
called No Homeland
red’s the color of my mother’s scars/as though the Goddess of Mercy
went finger-painting across my mother’s face/a mask
made of Things We Don’t Talk About
there some stories that are never told/but known
nonetheless we bake them into bread/fill buns with secrets
like sweet lotus paste/ “what can’t be cured must be endured”/
don’t talk about our feelings”/“we wash them down
with pork”/ “do as you are told, child”/ “eat what’s in your bowl”
swallow it/bitter or sweet
some violence, we
keep inside our bodies/scar tissue/“what love?
the kind they show in guei lo films?
chinese women don’t speak
of love”/ “we know
that people will laugh at us”
some bodies can’t be touched/some poems
cannot be written/just felt
diaspora haunted, we
hunt for pregnant pauses/give birth
from unwanted yellow wombs/bodies
like invisible-ink poems/ghost children drawing maps in the margins/
of a place called No Homeland
b. December 31, 1962 / Brooklyn NY, USA
Jennifer Higdon is an American composer of contemporary classical music. She has received many awards, including the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto and three Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Percussion Concerto in 2010, Viola Concerto in 2018, and Harp Concerto in 2020. Elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019, she has been a professor of composition at the Curtis Institute of Music since 1994.
String (Movement 2 from Concerto for Orchestra)
Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra is a work in five movements, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra with contributions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Philadelphia Music Project, and Peter Benoliel. It was premiered at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia June 12, 2002, with conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch leading the Philadelphia Orchestra. According to Higdon, the second movement was “inspired by the string sound of The Philadelphia Orchestra. This movement is like a scherzo in character, written in a jaunty rhythm and tempo that celebrates the joyous sound of strings. The movement begins with everyone playing pizzicato and then slowly integrates an arco sound, first through soloists, and then with all of the players. It continues to romp through to the end, where a snap pizzicato closes out the movement.”