Home Artists Ensembles

Saint Mary Percussion Theatre 2016 – Champions

Congratulations to the Saint Mary Percussion
Theatre 2016 New York State Percussion Circuit
PSA-SS Champions!!!


David Fawcett Interviews Gemma New, Music Director of Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra

Gemma New is the Music Director for the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra
CBC photo

DSF: You played violin and piano from an early age.

Yes, I was five when I started the violin and seven when I started piano.

DSF: Have you picked up any other instruments along the way?

Yes, I started bassoon when I was twelve. I played for a year but it just became too much because I was also singing in choirs and I loved playing in orchestras. I was playing in a lot of them.

DSF: So you did sing in choirs as a child?

Yes, very much. I went through one school from the age of four until seventeen and it had a very strong music program with choirs and orchestras, even handbells. I played them for a while, too.

It was a special choir. It was an Anglican school so we did a lot of services and choral music on the church side as well as high school competitions where schools get together and sing a range of music. Music camps. I went to a lot of those. I was just immersed in music.

DSF: Are you still interested in choral singing?

I definitely am interested in orchestras and choirs collaborating to do requiems and other works like that.

DSF: What advantages does having been a violinist give you as an orchestral conductor?

I would say, first off, that every conductor brings great qualities from their own background no matter what instrument they’ve learnt. For a string player it is very easy to understand half the orchestra. The string section is the largest section and you understand how they bow, the articulations, and how to communicate the style of playing you are looking for in a rehearsal. You can do that very quickly and naturally, having grown up with that language.

Also, technically, there is the idea that the concert master evolved into the conductor over many centuries. The bow changed into the baton, and being an extension of the arm the movement of conducting can be quite similar to the movement of the bow so, physically, it is an easy transition.

DSF: There was a time when a lot of conductors were monster pianists who could score read at sight. It’s how they got to the music. How well do you play the piano?

Absolutely, repetiteurs especially, conductors coming out of the opera. That was a tradition. A part of learning my scores is playing them on the piano. I’m not fast. I do it slowly and it gives me a strong sense of the harmonic language. I think there are limitations with the piano. It’s mostly one timbre and learning a score is about learning the harmony, the pitch, but also associating those pitches with different colours. That’s something you do without the piano.

DSF: You’ve been seriously involved in New Music for some time. How did that happen?

At Peabody there’s a strong composition program and composition studio and I worked with a lot of composers there, as a young conductor. I formed a New Music ensemble (the Lunar Ensemble in Baltimore) which is still going. We’re in our sixth season. All of us are Peabody alumni. I started because I was learning Pierrot Lunaire which inspired a lot of composers to write for that combination of instruments. A composer brought in some repertoire to go with Pierrot Lunaire. We performed it eight times and thought we’d branch it out because there was so much good New Music.

DSF: Has it effected your approach to orchestral conducting, having been so involved in doing New Music? Like repertoire choices?

Yes. I spent a lot of time researching New Music. It is very important to be thoughtful about repertoire which is new and new to the audience. We want to build a trust with our audience. We want them to come and know that, even if they don’t know the music, they’re going to have their minds opened. They are going to be stretched and inspired and also delighted.

From a technical point of view, with New Music you have to be very clear and it has helped my technique because now I have better language, physically, of asking musical ideas of the players instead of talking about it. And New Music having mixed metre and extra (extended) techniques that we have practiced, I can use that experience with orchestras even when playing more traditional repertoire.

DSF: Do you have your eye on any pieces you would like to do?

We have three Canadian works next season that I’m very excited about. Sharing the Canadian voice with the Canadian people is great. There’s some fantastic music out there. It’s important because it’s music of our time and of this country. It’s a great thing we are doing. I want to perform that music.

DSF: How comfortable are you with pops repertoire?

I’ve done a lot of pops repertoire as the Associate Conductor in New Jersey. We do a lot of broadway, film of course. It is a different style of orchestral playing.

DSF: Some Music Directors farm out the pops concerts to guest conductors.

Being the Music Director you are responsible for all of the music that the orchestra does so I would want to be involved. Also, Family Concerts. I think they are incredibly important. I love performing for young people, sharing the joy of music with them.

DSF: What is your interest in Music Education? Do you anticipate initiatives from the HPO to reach out to school audiences, children, adolescents?

We just had a Family Concert which I would count as music education. We put the wonders of science and the wonders of music together. There are school students who come and watch rehearsals. Tomorrow we have McMaster students coming in. I really want any students, conducting students, or musicians who want to come and learn from watching the rehearsals to be very, very welcome because that’s what I did and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. I know there’s a youth orchestra here and would hope that the HPO and the HPYO would be able to work together and the young people would benefit from the professional musicians.

DSF: Without being specific, what should we expect from the orchestra in the next season?

We’re just finalized all the pieces and I’m very pleased with how it’s going to turn out. We’ve got a comprehensive selection of music. Not only is there something for everyone, but everyone who come to our concerts is going to go on a journey through the history of classical music. Each program is unified by a style or a theme. They’ll come for this evening of a particular culture or idea or country or time period and be immersed in it from the minute they come in the door. They will also hear, out in the foyer, music which is linked with the program. There are pre-concert talks of which I am always part when I am here.

David S. Fawcett is a regular contributor to Hamilton Musician. You can read his other articles by searching under his name here on this blog.

You can also visit David’s website Composer’s Notebook:

Totally Mozart at the HPO – Review by David Fawcett

By David Fawcett

[Originally published on Fawcett’s Composer’s Notebook website]

Recently, I had a phone call from the Hamilton Philharmonic enquiring why I had subscribed to fewer concerts this season than last. I explained that the season was very heavy on pops concerts, and I prefer to attend concerts of real orchestral fare. The caller seemed satisfied. Perhaps this was not the first time she had heard this explanation.

Ivars Tourins
Photo: Dax Melmer/The Windsor Star

Having said that, I am pleased not to have the job of programming orchestral concerts in this market. There’s a segment of the audience, young concert goers and, perhaps, occasional ones, and regular but conservative ones who would be happy to hear the same standard 19th C. works over and over again, and will shell out for pops concerts, of whatever ilk.

Stephen Sitarski
Photo: stephensitarski.com

There are otherwise more discriminating concert goers (you may substitute a more disparaging descriptor) like me who really don’t want to hear the 1812 Overture or Beethoven’s Fifth again, concerts of operatic bleeding-chunks or orchestrally accompanied pop songs.

Programming for such diverse potential audiences must be a nightmare but, sometimes, all’s well that ends well.

Chau Luk
Photo: hpo.org

We went, last night (Sat. Nov. 29), to hear the Hamilton Philharmonic play an all-Mozart concert under the baton of Ivars Taurins.

The framing works were familiar ones; the Overture to Abduction from the Seraglio and the Symphony #40 in G Minor. It was the middle one which brought me to the concert, the Sinfonia Concertante in Eb for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. It’s a work which I had never encountered before in concert or recording.

Whatever misgivings I had before hearing two very familiar pieces, no part of this concert was disappointing.

The Abduction Overture is one of the Mozart’s shorter opera overtures. It is largely composed of melodic material that actually occurs later in the singspiel, like a Broadway overture. It features tympani and three percussionists who contribute the Turkish flavour that was so in-vogue at the end of the 18th C.

The orchestra gave it an exciting performance of the work and it was an ideal opener.

The Sinfonia Concertante is, at about 30 minutes, as long as the symphony which comprised the entire second half of the concert. It featured as soloists HPO Concertmaster Stephen Sitarski and Principal Violist Chau Luk. The orchestra was reduced to 18 strings and a pair each of horns and oboes very like the orchestras of most of the Haydn symphonies.

It is a delightful piece and one can actually hear the difference in style of a work which was intended for a Paris orchestra and audience rather than Viennese ones. Taurins described it as a duet between soprano and alto voices but much of the imitative interplay between the soloists was at the octave so it was, to my ear, more like the soprano and tenor duets from the operas, between Constanze and Belmonte for example.

The soloists played beautifully and there was a nice sense of interplay between them. The violin projects better than the viola in this context, a consequence of register and acoustics rather than the actually volume the instruments produce, so the viola was sometimes harder to pick out of the texture than the violin. The soloists play elaborated versions of materials which is introduced in orchestral tuttis and I was impressed to see the basses playing sixteenth note passages in unison with the cellos at the same pace as the soloists.

Sitarski and Luk returned to their places in orchesta for the second half Symphony. Taurins’ tempos are brisk. I don’t recall hearing the third movement Minuet played as quickly, with a contrasting slower tempo in the trio. He brings almost exaggerated dynamic contrasts and obviously strives to highlight important lines in the inner voices.

This conductor dances around and gestures rather more than we usually see at the HPO whether for his benefit, that of the players or of the audience I can’t say, but he was certainly effective. He attempted to conduct the symphony with only a little break between the movements and, even though he gestured to the audience, some insisted on applauding after each movement, even the slow one. He also, alas, likes to talk.

It was, altogether, a very satisfying concert.

For my Hamilton readers, we have a very good professional orchestra and, as I keep hearing, much better than one would expect for a market this size. The Hamilton Place Great Hall is an excellent concert space. As noted above, many of their concert offerings are approachable to those who aren’t usually orchestral concert goers. Tickets start at $10.00. Please support our orchestra.


Michael Morabito Jazz Quartet at Brantford Jazzfest 2015

Photo: Glen Brown
The weather was fine on the last weekend of summer at Brantford’s International Jazz Festival. Shown here is the Michael Morabito Jazz Quartet. The group is all students from Mohawk College’s Applie Music Program. They performed a mix of original arrangements of jazz standards, including an up-tempo latin version of Misty.

Brilliance: Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto at the HPO – November 29, 2014 Review

By David Fawcett

Midway through the ethereal slow movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto Saturday night, a single silver star drifted down from high above the stage and settled amongst the second violins. It was like a celestial comment on the playing of the soloist, Blake Pouliot. He’d have had the audience in the palms of his hands, if they hadn’t been full of violin.

I hadn’t expect much of this concert built around this overly familiar concerto, a very short Canadian piece and a symphony I’d last heard performed by a student orchestra.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Blake Pouliot
Photo: HPO

Pouliot really put on a show and I joined the other members of the audience who spontaneously rose to their feet as he completed the virtuosic arpeggios that bring the concerto’s finale to a close. I’d hoped for an encore but, on this occasion, didn’t get one.

Pouliot is but 20 years old, as young or younger than the McMaster footballers whom we watched play in the Vanier Cup. He is tall, with a forelock that falls over his face, like a latter day Paganini. He is completing his training in Los Angeles but began playing concertos with orchestras at the age of 11. A violinist to watch.

While the Mendelssohn was surely the highlight of the evening, the rest of the program was nearly as exciting.

Conductor Stilian Kirov, who is auditioning for the Hamilton Philharmonic’s Music Director’s position, is a native of Bulgaria but has been the Assistant Conductor of the Seattle Symphony for the last three years. He first led the orchestra in a spirited performance of Canadian Composer Glen Buhr’s short overture Jyotir (Brilliance). It’s already 25 years since Buhr wrote it and deserves to be better known. It was played, as its title indicates, at breakneck speed, and displays the dexterity of the woodwinds, most notably the piccolo which is exposed at the top of the orchestra. Percussionist Jean-Norman Iadeluca, playing tuned toms and a kick bass, was featured in the penultimate section.

After the break they played Beethoven’s Second Symphony. In spite of its number (he wrote nine symphonies) it is not an early work. Beethoven was 33 and in mid-career when he composed it. While not as familiar or often played as the later ones, it sounds a lot like them, especially the Eroica (#3) and the best known Fifth. This is why so many in the audience, familiar with its style, could so easily appreciate it and the beautiful, sometimes spectacular, playing of our wonderful professional orchestra.

Read David Fawcett’s interview with conductor candidate Stilian Kirov here.

A Conversation With HPO Conductor Candidate Stilian Kirov

By David S. Fawcett

Stilian Kirov is the third aspiring Hamilton Philharmonic Conductor with whom I have spoken. I was curious to learn how a young musician from Bulgaria came to conduct the Seattle Symphony. It’s an interesting story.

He was already an accomplished pianist as a youngster and won a national competition in Bulgaria. One of the adjudicators was so impressed that he offered to teach him in Paris. Kirov was attending the music high school in Sofia but began going to Paris every couple of months, eventually taking the lessons remotely in Bulgaria. He graduated from the Parisian and Bulgarian schools at the same time when, at 18, he began studying conducting at the conservatory in Sofia. As a result of a conducting master class in Paris, and on the recommendation of his French piano teacher, he was accepted at the École Normale de Musique where he studied conducting and composition. He said, “It’s important for me to be able to see a little from the other angle of being a composer.”

Many people advised him to try to go to the United States, he said, “a great place for a young conductor.” He was accepted at Juilliard in Manhattan where he studied conducting with James DePriest for 2 years. He then lived and worked in New York City for a year as a freelance musician, giving piano lessons and playing organ in churches. At that point he landed his first job as assistant, later associate, conductor of the Memphis Symphony. “Memphis was very exciting,” he said. “It was a completely new world for me. It was lovely, this different part of America. People were great and I had a wonderful time with the orchestra.”

Then he was hired by the Seattle Symphony where he is in the third and final year of his tenure. He lives there with his Russian wife, a vocal coach, and their four month old daughter.

DSF: What sort of musical experience did you have as a child?

SK: From my perspective, I was lucky. I’m coming from a family where music is well appreciated. We live with music, we sing it, we listen to classical music a lot and we go to concerts.

DSF: Did you sing in choirs as a child?

SK: I did actually, but it was a long time ago. Music education is present in the regular school system; however it’s a very specialized education if you want to become a musician. You have to go to a special school, you have to audition and be accepted with an instrument. I was lucky because my parents let me do what I really wanted and make music and in this way I made my own choices.

DSF: Do you play any instruments besides piano?

SK: Yes, I play oboe. I won’t say I play violin, but I took violin lessons when I was living in Paris.

DSF: What is your job in Seattle?

SK: I’m the full-time Associate Conductor with the Seattle Symphony. It’s a position which includes many exciting possibilities. I conduct many community, educational and subscription concerts. The position really [engages me] in a very complex and wonderful way. It gives the opportunity for the associate conductor to explore, and be part of, different events that the orchestra presents. The three years I’ve been there have been really exciting. It’s a wonderful place with wonderful memories.

DSF: In playing the piano as well as you do are you able to score read?

SK: I can score read, but it depends on the score, especially 21st C. pieces. You get these huge scores and you see them for the first time, it is hard to sight read. I don’t think the goal should be to play the piece perfectly from the score. I think score reading allows you to touch the piece, to discover the different harmonies, to connect with the music physically and also to explore the score in depth with the piano. I also like to sing each line of the score in my head. With the piano there is the technical element. In order to play it, you are transcribing, in fact reducing the score. When you’re exploring it in your head, you haven’t the limit you have when you’re covering it with your ten fingers. I believe in playing scores. I think it’s a great way to embrace the piece in a much more intimate way.

DSF: What’s your approach to learning New Music, like the Glenn Buhr piece, Jyotir (Brilliance) you are conducting on Saturday?

SK: I take a couple of steps. First of all, I like to go through the whole piece, just turn the pages, see the form, see the instrumentation, see the tempi, just cover it in a short time so I can see the structure. It’s almost like when you start [examining] a blueprint. First you look at the whole picture and then, progressively, you begin to fill in the details. For me it’s pretty much the same. Once you’ve done this, you go to a smaller section and get into the details. Depending on the piece, you try to see the phrasing. [Jyotir] is actually pretty straightforward. You hear the main themes and [while] it’s not a clear classical structure, it has a recap and has a huge drum part near the end. If it’s really complex, sometimes you have to start by reading the instructions. We’re doing the Ives 4th Symphony in Seattle which requires multiple conductors and the instructions are 20 or 30 pages long. You have to read it because it explains the tempo relationships, indications, [and so forth]. All these things that are necessary to hold the piece together. It’s impossible to understand it if you don’t read it because it’s so complex.

DSF: How would you grow the audience for orchestral music in the community?

SK: Firstly, every community is different and every place is unique. I believe that first you have to get to know the community. Get an idea of the community’s face, what they like, what inspires them. I think as music director you have to have this knowledge. From there on you can expand it, you can project, progressively program pieces that will open people’s minds. Programming is the main key to audience engagement and to expanding the audience. The second most important thing is the presentation of the piece; I believe in presenting pieces in an environment in which people can feel comfortable. I’m not talking about sacrificing artistic integrity. I believe that New music, Canadian music, Western Classical music can exist within a program that people can explore without having to sit in the concert hall for a very long time. I hope that this is the stuff of opening their mind to the place where classical music can be very cool. [And when] you come to the concert hall you can dive into the world of music, you can experience this universe that is really unique and find yourself in the music.


Editor’s note

Ontario Arts Review of the concert by D. Gaison can be found here.
David Fawcett’s Review of the concert can be found  here.

Conversation With Vox Metropolis

by David S. Fawcett

Always an avid concert goer, I have attended many more presentations since I retired from my day job. The scarcity of patrons at many concerts is disturbing. The demographics of the audience at some others is alarming. I attended a sold out recital recently at which almost all of the audience was substantially older than me. Many of those people aren’t going to be attending any concerts in just a few years.

So, what to do? In a story in The Spec Jeff Mahoney details how the Incite Foundation is giving away all the seats in the second balcony of The Great Hall at Hamilton Place for Hamilton Philharmonic concerts. This will allow people who wouldn’t otherwise to hear our wonderful professional orchestra and grow the HPO’s audience.

In a world of failing government support for even major arts organizations younger players have to make their own opportunities. The movement to cross-over and include music from different genres started a long time ago. Groups like Quartetto Gelato seem to have made a very successful career of it. It’s a tempting path for musicians who must create their own gigs.

Then there’s been a spate of on-line responses to Baldur Brönniman’s ten point reaction to a Jonny Greenwood interview about audience deportment at classical music concerts. It seems they believe younger concert-goers are being frightened off, not by the music, but by, among other things, not being certain of how to behave. Most of Brönniman’s suggestions didn’t impress me much as you can read here.

It was with all of this in mind that I sat down to talk to the members of Vox Metropolis, a Hamilton-based trio about their three concert series which begins on Fri. Nov. 14 at 8 P.M. at the Church St. John the Evangelist at 320 Charlton Ave. (at Locke). In the first, they will play original music accompanying three silent films, two oldies, Sherlock Jr. and A Trip to the Moon, and 2010’s The Sandpit.

Kirk Starkey, David Jones, Sara Traficante

I heard them play in the spring and they’re an accomplished and versatile group. Pianist/violinist David Jones is a fine classical pianist but also plays jazz and has composed film scores. Cellist/guitarist Kirk Starkey is, in addition to being an adept musician and composer, a sound engineer who has produced recordings including a prize winning CD. Flautist/saxophonist Sara Traficante won the City of Hamilton Award for an Emerging Artist in Music in 2012.

In recent years quite a few musicians, like the Cinematic Orchestra, have been writing new music for old films. I asked Vox Metropolis where the idea for this concert came from. David Jones pointed out that they have each done similar things before but the “interesting thing about this program is that the three films are very different,” each from the other.

I wondered how they managed to compose the music collaboratively. Starkey said that it was something of a work in progress but in this case the music is primarily from David Jones’ hand. Jones conceded that they were still developing their method and told me that the biggest challenges had been technical ones. “The films that I’ve played for before were accompanied in a general way (i.e. not synchronized tightly to the action). It wasn’t “to picture” which is what we are trying to do here.” he said. “There so much action going on, pratfalls and the stuff he (i.e. Buster Keaton) does and we wanted to have the music connect to all that. The technical aspect of pulling that all together, to make that click track work, was a huge challenge.”

They’ll each wear headphones and have a separate audio feed from the one the audience hears.

I pointed out that movie music has been characterized as “the music no one listens to”. I asked if they considered that in putting together the music for this performance. “I don’t see it that way.” Jones said, “I think if people don’t notice the music going by I’m probably doing my job.” Starkey said that it reminded him of string arranging for pop music. “When you’re coming out of the texture too much it’s an issue when it seems to take away from the song. I’m always trying to find that middle ground of doing something compositionally interesting while at the same time serving the song. It’s like walking a line.”

There’s clearly some crossover in the projects they are planning. I knew where they were crossing over from and wondered where they were crossing over to. Each had something interesting to say.

From David Jones: “The great thing about his group is that we’re willing to do anything. In a way are allowing the fates to take the course for us. What we want to avoid is being the group that has big lightning bolts on our costumes. We don’t want to be the rebel classical music group.”

Kirk Starkey: “We all do crossover type projects. There’s a proliferation of this sort of activity even with metal bands. We’re looking for a way of developing our voices in new avenues. We’re all big fans of popular song. Working as a fully functional back-up band, as doublers working with pop artists and doing legitimate crossover projects where we’re not working from charts, where every player functions like a member of a rock band, co-creating the music.”

Sara Traficante: “The other part of it is that we still want to be able to play those Mendelssohn programs. In the three concert series we are presenting in Hamilton we’re trying to explore three avenues. The first is the movie concert, the next is more classical, we’re playing Debussy, Franck but we’ll also have some twists in the program to bring the audience in in a fresh kind of way. The third is a collaborative concert with a pop vocal duo from Hamilton who are on the cusp of big things.”

What has been said to keep some people away from classical concerts is what Jones described as “the intimidation factor”. The trio mentioned that having performers speak directly to the audience can help. Personally, I usually wish that they’d just sit down and play. If there’s something interesting to be said about the performance or the pieces it’s likely in the program anyway. Jones has a different view: “I’m torn about the concert program and its function. I have issues with the idea of coming to a concert and reading about the group before you hear them play. Prejudging them and the music you’re going to hear. You’re putting it through a lens that may or may not be accurate.”

Starkey added, “I think talking to the audience is more about engaging them on a human, personal level rather that just imparting information, a laundry list of the group’s accomplishments.”

Sara finished the thought, “Speaking to people is connecting with the audience and making it comfortable for them, rather than it being a ‘teaching moment’.”

I finally asked why people should choose to come out and hear Vox Metropolis play.

Sara responded: “Our projects are quite varied, and what we want is to do everything to a very high level. With the three of us working in a collaborative way, creating the projects, the programs, this is a hugely gratifying endeavour. We’re not just signing up for another gig. And we have some tricks up our sleeves for the interactive classics.”

I don’t know what those tricks are and they weren’t saying but that alone should make it worthwhile coming out to hear these adaptable and accomplished performers accompany Buster Keaton’s pratfalls.

HPO Conductor Candidate Interview: Gregory Vajda from Budapest

Gregory Vajda, HPO Conductor Candidate
Photo: Oregon Symphony

By David S. Fawcett

I had a very interesting talk with Gregory Vajda, the second aspiring Hamilton Philharmonic conductor with whom I have spoken. A native of Budapest, his mother, Veronika Kincses, is a prominent operatic soprano and his father, Josef, a professional bassoonist. Gregory is presently the conductor of the Huntsville (Alabama) Symphony Orchestra and of the Symphony Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio. This year he will guest conduct several regional American orchestras and is recording a little known comic opera by Dohnányi. He is also a composer and his opera Georgia Bottoms will be premièred in Huntsville in February.

DSF: This is a very interesting program. Was the Shostakovich Cello Concerto your choice?
GV: No. That was a given. Then we created the rest of the program, one for strings (Barber’s Adagio), one for brass and percussion (Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man), then the Enigma (Variations by Elgar) is the major piece in the program and it’s a show off piece for everybody. I’m glad to do the Shostakovich. I’ve done it before, but not too many times and it’s very powerful. The first movement and the end of the finale is like a blown up chamber music piece. It’s a good piece for ensemble playing and I like the sarcastic humour of Shostakovich.  I like that… you can hear what he was accused of by the Soviets, of being a constructionist. They wanted music that was more friendly to the audience… [this concerto] it’s like a good espresso with no sugar or cream. He gets right to the core.

DSF: Your bio begins at the Lizst Academy. What was your early musical experience? Did you mother take you with her when she traveled to perform?
GB: No, not so much. My first international trip was when she sang in Montréal in 1983. I went to the opera a lot. So if my father was busy playing in the Hungarica Symphony and my Grandmother was busy then I’d be sitting and listening to rehearsals of La Bohème but not in a forceful way. My parents never pushed me to become a musician. In Hungary you have to decide very early what you want to do, by age 14 you go into a Middle School with extra music or a normal Middle School and they wanted me to go to normal and I said no, I want to do music so they let me. The down side of [the Hungarian system] is that you either become a professional musician or you don’t do anything in music. It’s focused on training really good professional musicians and not so much like the band system in the United States. Everybody plays in a band, right? And it doesn’t matter what your level is, you can still enjoy playing in a band.

DSF: Do you specialize in Hungarian repertoire?
GV: No. I try to not to. Of course, it’s requested from time to time and I never say no especially to Bartók and Dohnányi who is neglected. It’s great music, not as original as Bartók or Kodály. Even Kodály became popular when Arthur Fiedler started playing the Peacock Variations, then everybody played it and orchestras dropped it from the rep so I’m doing that piece as often as I can. Dohnányi has a [piece called] Symphonic Minutes. That I do because when orchestras play it, they love it. It’s great music.

DSF: How do the skill sets for conducting and composing intersect?
GV: Conducting helps composition a lot because you learn a lot of practical things, what not to write mostly. And that will give you the solution of what to write. And understanding how orchestral musicians read and you want a certain outcome at the end, you want it to sound a certain way, you have to write it a certain way. It’s like a book of codes, how to write, certain dynamics and how to orchestrate. If you play an instrument you have a sense of how much you can stretch it and even if you don’t but you play together with people who do play that instrument you get a sense of what you can do, how much you can push it. You want to make it interesting for the players. In chamber music it comes more naturally because you only have a few instruments so everybody has to play a lot. When you’re in an orchestra nobody wants to play long notes for half an hour because it doesn’t give your brain enough to do. Learning things like that from a conductor’s perspective changes what you do as a composer. It’s the same the other way. When I’m reading somebody’s new score or a piece nobody knows new or old I look at it with the eyes of a composer. You look at certain things, this is probably what the composer wanted to do and then you immediately have an approach to it which is what everyone wants to do.

DSF: What’s your musical idiom? What’s the style of your opera?
GV: With every piece there is a program in my head. Opera’s pretty simple if you have a good libretto, you have situations which you have to put into music. But even with an orchestral piece, I’m writing a concerto for three percussion and orchestra, there’s always an idea of what I want to do and then I try to find the right music that goes with it and I don’t worry about the style because I’m the style. I’m writing it, it’s going to be like me from the beginning to the end. On the other hand, you play with styles and quotes and stuff like that because in a comic opera like this one comedy or humour comes from references.

DSF: Would you include new music in every program?
GV: I’m not sure in every program because, to me, a program is like a project, sometimes new music fits and sometimes it doesn’t. Music is music is music. New music, if it’s done well, the audience will react to it, in whichever way. I’m not a big fan of putting new music in a ghetto, meaning it’s only at a new music festival that you hear it. Where’s the point of reference?

DSF: Canadian orchestras do commission Canadian composers. I’m sure it’s the same everywhere.
GV: I think it’s important. Symphonic works and oratorios can only be performed by live symphony musicians and choral singers and you have to do it because nobody else will do it. If nobody performed Brahms symphonies back in the day we wouldn’t have them and you’ve got to keep doing it or else it’s going to go away. It’s a live performing line, a performing arts museum. I learned it from someone who learned it from Kodály who learned it from someone who learned it from Brahms and he learned it from someone who learned it from Beethoven. It’s a straight line.

DSF: Have you any thoughts on growing the audience for concert music among younger people?
GV: I’m not too fixated on that problem and I’ll tell you why. Twenty-five years ago you were young and you liked classical music back then. You have to grow into some art forms. You have to be exposed to them when you’re a kid, that’s very important, so [there must be] music in schools, giving live music to kids, up to the point where they start partying.  But it they got a taste of it early on, by the time they have two kids and you have some time because the kids are older… you’ll look around and say, what can we do on a Saturday evening and you remember symphony wasn’t too bad when I was a kid. Young people, before the age of eighteen they need to get a lot of this and a lot of different things. And then they will return. We’re only talking about ten, fifteen years in their lifetime [which] is a long time. In the lifetime of the symphony orchestra it’s not such a long time.

Hamilton Children’s Choir the only Canadian choir at 10th World Symposium on Choral Music in Seoul, South Korea

The Hamilton Children’s Choir at the 10th World Symposium on
Choral Music in Soeul, South Korea.
The HCC was in very fine company at the symposium, as seen by this list:
  • Hong Kong Children’s Choir (China), conducted by Kathy Fokk
  • Voz en Punto (Mexico), conducted by José Galván
  • Moran Choir (Israel), conducted by Naomi Faran
  • University of Southern California Thornton Chamber Singers (USA), conducted by Jo-Michael Scheibe
  • Choeur Africain des Jeunes (Africa), conducted by Ambroise Kua Nzambi Toko, Sylvain Kwami Gameti
  • Oslo Chamber Choir (Norway), conducted by Håkon Nystedt
  • Roomful of Teeth (USA), conducted by Brad Wells
  • Inner Mongolian Youth Choir (China), conducted by Yalungerile
  • Hamilton Children’s Choir (Canada), conducted by Zimfira Poloz
  • Choir of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), conducted by Grzegorz Pecka
  • Musica Quantica Voces de Cámara (Argentina), conducted by Camilo Santostefano
  • Harmonia Ensemble (Japan)
  • Incheon City Chorale (Korea), conducted by Hak-Won Yoon
  • Asia Pacific Youth Choir, conducted by Chifuru Matsubara and Jennifer Tham
More to follow on this story. For a blog of photos from the trip, click here.

Honoured with special performance at Canadian Embassy in Korea

The Hamilton Children’s Choir will stand on the world stage at the 10th World Symposium on Choral Music in Seoul, South Korea as one of the 15 showcase choirs to receive a special invitation to perform at the opening ceremonies.

Forty-four Hamilton youth ages 12-18 of the Hamilton Children’s Choir (HCC) embark on an international tour to South Korea, August 6 – 13. The Hamilton Children’s Choir is the only Canadian choir at the symposium.

As part of this honour, the HCC will perform a special song for the Embassy of Canada in Korea August 7) followed by a tour of the embassy in Schofield Hall.

Organized once every three years through the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), this symposium brings together the world’s most prestigious choral conductors and choirs. The theme this year is Youth & Healing, focusing on how music making offers a welcoming environment for youth to explore their creativity. Canadian composer Sarah Quartel’s original music, Snow Angel will make its first international debut through the HCC’s performance.

The HCC will perform its tour repertoire at a farewell concert in August 1.

Visit http://bit.ly/hccsouthkorea for more information.

This is the eighth tour where the HCC has been invited to perform as a showcase choir.

In 2012, the HCC performed at the first Xinghai International Choir Championships in Guangzhou, China. With 28 choirs in contention, the HCC took home the grand prize in the children’s choir category. In total, there were 147 participating choirs representing 46 different countries, resulting to 7,000 singers. For almost 40 years, the HCC has provided ways to participate and experience the joys and benefits of singing in a choir – believing that “If you can speak, you can sing.” Boosting about 170 choristers ages 5 to 18, the HCC offers youth vocal training and music instruction to foster creative expression and appreciation of music.

Local Clarinetist and Pianist Spearhead Chamber Music Revival in the Greater Hamilton Area


Written for small groups of instruments, chamber music is often referred to as the “music of friends” due to its intimate nature. Shiori Kobayashi, an accomplished Dundas-based clarinetist, recently launched an innovative chamber music concert series, featuring a variety of Hamilton area guest performers, to bring the warmth of chamber music to audiences in the Greater Hamilton Area (GHA).

“I wanted to support area musicians while introducing little-known pieces that highlight unusual combinations of instruments. I aim to encourage local audiences to listen to music they may never have heard before,” she says.


 Shiori Kobayashi

“There are hundreds of pieces that have not had enough time on the concert stage. My goal is to offer these beautiful blends of sound to Hamilton audiences, to empower local musicians to perform this unique music, and to ensure that the tradition of chamber music performance remains alive and well. At this time, there are no other small ensembles in the Hamilton-Burlington area focusing on this.”

As an active soloist and chamber musician, Shiori has performed with various community orchestras and ensembles, including the The Sinfonia (Redeemer University College orchestra), the Dundas Concert Band, and Symphony on the Bay. She also has coached and conducted clarinet and woodwind clinics at Hillfield Strathallan College, Hill Park Secondary School, and Redeemer University College, among others. Shiori currently performs with the Grenadilla Winds trio, Symphony on the Bay, the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and Masterworks of Oakville. She teaches woodwind instruments and piano privately and at various music academies in the GHA.

Moving to Canada from Japan as a child, Shiori experienced a language barrier and culture shock. “At the time, aside from my family and Japanese friends, music was the only thing that helped me overcome my frustrations,” she said. “Music gave me confidence and strength.

“More than half of my days were spent listening to many different styles of music. Although I may not have understood the meaning of the songs, I tried to listen to the harmonies, the dynamics, and phrasing of the melody line, which can be understood no matter what language you speak. I strongly believe that music is a universal language.

“Music comforted me, especially in difficult times,” Shiori says. “It made a huge impact on who I am today. I hope to touch people’s lives through performance, the same way music helped me.”

Ian Green

Shiori invited Ian Green, a talented pianist from Hamilton’s east end, to help bring her chamber music brainchild to life. Ian has been using his skills to advance music education for some 15 years now. In addition to teaching music theory and piano musicianship to students of all ages in his home studio, Ian co-founded a start-up technology company that creates music education resources for mobile devices.

Ian wears many hats in the music industry, such as: Music Director and Organist at Ryerson United Church in Ancaster; co-owner of the music entertainment company Southern Ontario Music; piano adjudicator at a variety of Ontario music festivals; and recording secretary for the Hamilton-Halton Branch of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association. He performs regularly and enjoys playing music that challenges his audience as well as himself.

“I select music both to entertain and to educate,” he explains.

“There is a need on a grassroots level to keep classical music alive in the community. That’s why I was so excited by the idea of organizing and playing chamber music with musicians from in and around Hamilton.

“In March, Shiori and I performed with guest musicians Homer Seywerd on oboe and flute and Seiichi Ariga on flute. In May, we will be joined by Zoltan Kalman on clarinet and Abigail Freeman, an operatic coloratura soprano, in a concert featuring compositions by Antonín Dvořák, Feliz Mendelssohn, Francis Poulenc, and Vincenzo Bellini. It promises to be an inspiring evening, which we hope will pique people’s curiosity about chamber music.”

‘Master Chamber Works With Clarinet’ will take place at 7pm on May 24, at Hamilton Mennonite Church, 143 Lower Horning Road. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and can be bought at the door, or in advance by calling 905-628-4980.