Claude Debussy at 150: We take his musical revolution for granted

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, one of Western music’s revolutionaries.

As with the varying styles of Impressionist paintings, the long view represents something defined, but the closer you get, the more his compositions start to fall apart into the individual components that our minds work imperceptibly to piece together into meaningful shapes.

The long view is so sleek and seductive that listeners long ago began taking Debussy’s art for granted.

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Two CD releases show off the art of composer Camille Saint-Saëns

Camille Saint-Saëns in his element — on a steamship.

Repeat something enough times with conviction, and people start to believe it, whether it has to do with politics, economics or art.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, who bridged the Romantic and Modern eras thanks to an 86-year lifespan, was treated as a relic of a bygone age by his obituarists and university lecturers.

It’s a status that does not square with a legacy of rich craft he left behind, and which deserves a fresh look and listen now that we can have some perspective on the aesthetic steamroller of Modernism. Continue reading

Simcoe Day a fine excuse to celebrate Toronto composer Godfrey Ridout

Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984) was a descendant of Thomas Ridout, the first Surveyor General of Upper Canada during the administration of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe.

So let’s take a moment to appreciate the work of someone who left a mark as a composer, conductor, and teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto.

He even reached the city’s wide classical music audience by writing witty programme notes for Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts during the early years of Sir Andrew Davis’s tenure as music director. Continue reading

Bach’s eternal challenge: There are two forests for every set of trees

Once in a while, stating the obvious can turn on a little lightbulb.

The Pacific Standard (formerly Miller-McCune) reported yesterday that a Dutch psychologist and a team of researchers have concluded that people who see the big picture (specifically in visual art and poetry) make better critics. Continue reading

Listening: Happy Canada Day in accessible music by three living Canadian composers

Here are three recent pieces by younger Canadian composers who have made interesting musical lives outside the academic sphere. Their music is accessible without being bland. Each piece makes reference to different traditions without sounding derivative.

There are many more composers and works where these came from — a veritable bumper crop of ripely waying notes vying for our ears across this improbable, 145-year-old patchwork of diverse and disparate communities separated by way too much geography. Continue reading

Two local talents are Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s new associate conductor and composer

Music director Peter Oundjian announced the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s new associate conductor and composer this morning. Besides choosing these two people for their particular talents, aptitudes and open attitudes, Oundjian underlined how these appointments will help boost the careers of two local artists. Continue reading

Tod Machover’s Toronto Symphony an unusual experiment in collaborative composition

A portion of composer Tod Machover’s visualization of the shape of A Toronto Symphony, to be premiered at next season’s New Creations festival.

In early March, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra announced that it had commissioned Boston-based composer, teacher and inventor Tod Machover to write A Toronto Symphony for its 2013 New Creations festival. The announcement came with an invitation to people of the city to begin thinking about what Toronto sounds like, and these sounds could become part of the new work.

Machover was back in town this week to speak at Ideacity, to meet with members of Toronto’s arts community and to report on progress to his patron, the TSO. What was an amorphous wish list three months ago is beginning to take on some shape and contour. Continue reading