Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund (b. 1972) is considered one of the most important European composers of his generation. His compositions, which include operas, orchestral, chamber, and solo works, reflect his interest in large-scale forms and an in-depth view of music, with which he expresses fundamental questions and existential experiences. Musical drama combined with powerful expression and lively communication, as well as an openness to various musical traditions are hallmarks of his works.
Fagerlund gives the following description of his Octet, entitled Autumn Equinox (2016):
The additional name of my Octet, “Autumn Equinox”, comes from the relation the piece has to my new opera, Autumn Sonata. I worked on the opera over two and a half years and during that time I also started working on the Octet. Some of the moods and musical materials from the opera are therefore distantly present in the Octet—kind of as a reflection.
When [violinist] Liza Ferschtman asked me to compose an Octet, the thought of tackling the traditional “Schubert Octet” instrumentation [clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello, and bass] felt almost overwhelming but I have been enormously inspired by Liza´s and her colleagues wonderful musicianship and that gave me the impulse for composing this intensive and sometimes almost explosive chamber ensemble piece."
The Octet consists of three movements. In the beginning of the first movement all the basic musical material for the whole piece is presented. As in many of my latest works (both orchestral and chamber musical) the musical materials are very rhythmically charged and energetic. Overlapping and colliding they constantly create new multilayered situations that emerge and unfold in the music.
The second movement presents a very static sound world where harmonic and melodic structures from the first movement are slowed down and expanded. The movement ends with a quote from musical material from the opera. In the third movement all the rhythmic and energetic musical material return with force. I feel, though, that working with the opera has given me a new insight into the use of melody and long expressive musical arcs and this is something which I think is present in this composition in general as well.
Program notes compiled by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
One of Canada’s internationally renowned and most frequently performed composers of the 20th century, Claude Vivier (1948–1983) completed 50 works during his brief but brilliant career. (His life was tragically cut short when he was murdered in Paris at age 34.) He composed Piece for Violin and Clarinet in 1975, as one of a commission of seven pieces for the prestigious Tremplin International Music Competition in Canada for young performers. As musicologist Bob Gilmore has noted, it is the final, “intriguing afterthought” to the set, and “as befits a set of competition pieces, each work is a far-going exploration of its featured instrument, providing an opportunity to show off the performer’s technique to best advantage.”
This relatively early work shows Vivier’s mastery of—and creativity with—the unique timbres of each instrument of the duo, individually and in combination. The general arc of the piece follows the violin and clarinet, moving together and in dialogue, from the lower registers of their instruments to ethereal heights by the end. There’s an improvisatory quality in the way they muse on and explore various motivic ideas—a single note, at first, then progressing to expansive scale patterns, as in the climatic centre of the piece. Soft, mysterious melodic passages are sometimes suddenly interrupted by—or erupt into—outbursts, and then, just as quickly, dissipate into the ether. Overall, the mood is somewhat haunting, reflective, and otherworldly, seeming to, as Gilmore has described Vivier’s music, “inhabit a twilight realm between reality and the imagination.”
Program note by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
The music of Canadian composer Keiko Devaux (b. 1982) embraces a love of electroacoustic sounds and methodology by manipulating and distorting acoustic sound with digital tools, and then transcribing or re-translating these back into musical notation and the acoustic realm. In 2020, she was announced as one of the NAC’s new Carrefour Composers, a program in partnership with the Canada Council. Her first commission as Carrefour Composer is for brass septet. Bioluminescence (2021) has members of the NACO brass use multiphonics, a technique of producing two or more pitches simultaneously, to sonically evoke the glow of fireflies. She provides the following commentary about the piece:
“I have always been drawn to the elusive and dynamic quality of bioluminescence. An adaptation of marine and terrestrial organisms that serves varied functions, it expresses itself in countless complex beautiful ways, and has evolved numerous times. Earlier in history human encounters with various forms of luminescent emitting organisms were hypothesized to be perhaps even of the spirit world. The bioluminescence at the surface of the water took on multiple hypotheses as well: the reflection of stars, fire from undersea volcanoes, lights from phantom fishing boats. In Japanese folklore it was sometimes referred to as Onibi, a type of atmospheric ghost light that carries the spirits from humans and animals: the 'burning sea' as voyagers often referred to it.
Fireflies, a commonly studied form of terrestrial bioluminescence, also carry symbolism of the spirit world and the elusive light. The unpredictable flashing rhythms further feed into the sensation that they are not really there. As the majority of these bioluminescent creatures emit light only in quiet, dark areas, or in the deep dark waters of the open ocean, it is a phenomenon to seek out, to remain quiet, and patiently wait for. It is a special event, with unpredictable qualities, and a fragile complexity.
This work Bioluminescence takes inspiration from this marvel of an experience to explore the world of brass multiphonics. Multiphonics, particularly those in the brass family, carry these same qualities of complexity, fragility, and patience. The organization both rhythmically and spatially in this work aims to evoke, in a very abstract manner, the slow glowing and pulsating organisms in the deep sea. However other mannerisms, such as the group synchronization habits and rhythmic adaptation by proximity, evoke certain characteristics of certain firefly species. Bioluminescence is a homage to these pulsating and glowing gestures in nature, and in music.”
Program notes compiled by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley