I was tickled when the Amici Chamber Ensemble asked me, as well as Globe and Mail freelancer Colin Eatock and Classical96 FM’s John van Driel last year to pick a favourite piece of chamber music that they might consider programming.
I was even more tickled when I found out that they have invited Ezra John “EJ” Pablo, pictured above, to write a new piece of music for a premiere alongside the critics’ picks at the Glenn Gould Studio on Friday night (Dec. 16).
EJ is a beautiful example of how teenagers’ perspectives can be broadened, when given the opportunity.
I had a brief chat with the Grade 12 product of the Claude Watson School for the Arts, who told me he had grown bored of playing the piano when the opportunity to try his hand at composition came along when he was in Grade 10.
“I had a friend graduate that year, and he was the school’s first composition major,” EJ says of his inspiration.
He went to talk to teacher Alan Park in the music department. “He aksed to see my work, and I had to tell him I had never written anything,” EJ recalls. “So we made a deal, and he told me to study composition over the summer, with a former student.”
EJ, who had all the basics of music theory and history as part of his piano education, says his first exercise was to write a chorale in the style of J.S. Bach.
“It was pretty challenging,” he admits. “It was totally different from harmony (lessons).”
Student and young teacher worked their way through periods and styles, from baroque to classical, romantic and modern. EJ’s favourite? “Contemporary, neo-Romantic,” he says.
Despite his piano background, EJ says he prefers writing for strings. “I love the tones, sonorities and timbre that come from a violin,” he asserts.
He says most of his friends play the violin, so he gets plenty of helpful pointers when it comes to writing music for that instrument.
Remarkably for a teen, this is EJ’s second professional premiere this season.
The Gryphon Trio, which has mentored composition students at the Claude Watson School for more than a decade, premiered a piano trio of EJ’s in November, as part of a Music Toronto recital.
“All I could say was ‘Wow,'” he says of the experience.
Hopefully, the premiere of “You and I,” a short, four-movement dialogue for violin and piano, will be just as exciting on Friday.
EJ admits that he still hasn’t decided whether to pursue a music or a science degree when he enters university next fall. “I love both a lot, and I still can’t decide,” he says, aware of looming school application deadlines.
What he does know, though, is that he’d like to stay in Toronto. “This is home, and I get a lot of support here,” he says.
Following EJ’s premiere, we three critics will introduce our preferred pieces.
Van Driel will speak on Beethoven’s Op. 11 Trio for piano, violin and clarinet, Eatock will speak on Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, I will introduce Elgar’s Piano Quintet.
For all the concert details, click here.
As a teaser, here is a particularly intense reading of the first movement of the Elgar Quintet, led by Joshua Bell: