Form in the post-modern post-classical age

By Dr. T. Patrick Carrabre

The explosion of historical resources that surround us in our time, from detailed scholarly studies to recordings informed by historical performance practice, makes it almost impossible for a contemporary composer to escape some form of linkage to the past. That connection has also traditionally been integral to how we learn our craft – by modelling.

But just as the repertoire of great compositions casts a spectral shadow over our own work, often demanding recognition in a referential gesture or recognizable rhythmic pattern, our audience has developed a corresponding amnesia. Very few of them have worked their way through the Beethoven String Quartets, let alone Bartok’s. And you can forget about them knowing R. Murray Schafer’s Quartets. Most Canadian musicians can’t even claim to know more than one or two of those great pieces, even well enough to discuss them in general terms. We are in a time when our audience no longer shares a common repertoire. We have entered a period that is becoming known as the "post-classical" age.

The post-modern period in music arrived sometime around Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (1968-1969), with its layered quotations of music by Debussy, Schoenberg and Mahler and textual references to Samuel Beckett, Claude Levi-Strauss and the deconstructed syllables from the name Martin Luther King. I’m sure it pushed beyond the base knowledge of many audience members, but at that time the core audience for the symphony orchestra shared a much closer connection both in their culture and education. Sinfonia is one of those masterpieces in the canon, standing somewhere around James Joyce’s Ulysses as a challenge to the highly educated and artistically brave.

Much of the emotional weight in post-modern art comes from the impact that has accrued to historically known pieces that are then quoted in a new context. With today’s less homogenous audience, the creator can no longer assume that the majority of listeners will have a frame of reference for their juxtaposition of new and old, at least not on first hearing.

As a composer, I believe firmly in writing for my audience. After years of working with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and their New Music Festival, I believe I have a pretty firm grasp on where this audience is coming from and what their frame of reference will accept in a piece of new music. Their level of education is above average, but their experience tends to be generalist rather than specialist, so they are open-minded, curious, and knowledgeable across a wide range of subjects and styles. They have no difficulty comprehending the basic classical forms and structures that are common to so much western art, but beyond that I feel compelled to limit my expectations concerning historical models.

From the Dark Reaches was written in 2002, at a time when my habitual approach to composition was disintegrating. I am a consumer of popular culture, and my experiences had accumulated to the point where they were leading my creative intuition in new directions. For many years I had been composing within a context that assumed a traditional linguistic approach to musical structure – a basic narrative approach, utilizing many aspects derived from the precepts of Schenkerian analysis and linguistic theory. But the impact of a linear dialectic approach has become less effective in our time. Temporal displacement is very common in modern film. A perfect example is Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, where the dramatic conclusion is presented to the audience long before the film is done. However, instead of giving away the surprise, Tarantino heightens our desire to find out how that conclusion could possibly have come to pass. We’re hooked as the bizarre details unfold before our eyes.

So I decided to explore a formal approach in From The Dark Reaches that would try to "pull off" a similar interweaving of musical "plot lines" in the non-referential world of instrumental music. This is most obvious in the last two movements. The harmonic resolution of the third is cut off by a series of descending chords, which move directly into the final movement. It begins with a repeated note figure that supports a simple melody. But after just a minute, the music from the third movement reappears. The descending chords once again act as a segue – this time to a return of the music from the opening movement – with the repeated ostinato notes linking the listener back to the piece’s final resolution.

This piece was a first step for me. Since that time I have worked with musicians from other traditional or classical cultures (especially in Inuit Games, Creation Stories and Children’s Stories) and I have spent thousands of hours interacting with music from popular culture, as the host of CBC Radio 2’s The Signal with Pat Carrabre. As the post–classical phenomenon has developed (see the writings of Kyle Gann and Joseph Horowitz), I feel closer and closer to that aesthetic. It recognizes the value of high art, naive art and popular culture as well as the existence of multiple classical traditions. It is also predicated on the assumption that concepts and sounds will be shared across these formerly separate and often isolated aesthetic streams.

Today’s creative individual must leave behind certain traditional assumptions about the experiences of their audience. We can no longer base our communication on historical formal models and a shared language. However, we can assume a broader exposure to a diverse set of sounds and a more highly developed ability to figure things out. Those are experiences and skills that are common to our time. They make for an eager audience, who are much less inhibited by rigid expectations and a narrow concept of "art." The task of the creator is as it has always been – to challenge their audience to go even farther.

Biography of...

T. Patrick Carrabre

(b.1958) worked closely with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for over a decade. In 2007 he completed six years as Composer-in-Residence, after five years in the role of "Associate Composer." He is currently finishing a two-year term as the weekend host of The Signal on CBC Radio 2.

Carrabre’s best known compositions include Inuit Games, for throat singers (katajjak) and orchestra, which was a recommended work at the International Rostrum of Composers (2003), Sonata No. 1, The Penitent, for violin and piano, and From the Dark Reaches, which were nominated for JUNO awards (in the category of Best Classical Composition), and The Dragon’s Tail, which has been performed by orchestras in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Tirana (Albania). Commissioners have included pianists Janina Fialkowska and Alexander Tselyakov, The Winnipeg Singers, the Gryphon Trio, the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society, choreographer Ruth Cansfield and cellist Shauna Rolston, as well as the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra.

In 2005, Carrabre’s collaborative work Creation Stories was premiered to great acclaim at the Centara Corporation New Music Festival. Uniting music and musicians from many cultures and styles, it weaves together alternate accounts of how our world came into being, celebrating both our common memories and our differences.

Carrabre’s early compositional studies were with Dr. Robert Turner at the University of Manitoba and with Jules Leger Prize winning composer Peter Paul Koprowski at the University of Western Ontario. He later went on to work closely with Pulitzer Prize winner George Perle, completing a Ph.D. at the City University of New York. Carrabre teaches at Brandon University, where he has served terms as Dean of Music and Vice-President (Academic and Research).

Biography Of...

Kerry DuWors, Assistant Professor of Music

Violinist Kerry DuWors has earned accolades for her "poise and maturity" and "spellbinding expression." Currently on faculty at Brandon University as Assistant Professor of Violin and Chamber Music, Ms. DuWors maintains a demanding concert career as soloist and chamber musician.

She began music studies in Saskatoon, SK, then at the University of Victoria (B.Mus.) with the Lafayette String Quartet, and the University of Toronto (M.Mus.) as a student of Lorand Fenyves, receiving the prestigious Eaton Graduate Scholarship, the Yo-Yo Ma Fellowship for Strings, a Canada Council for the Arts Grant for Emerging Professional Musicians, and the inaugural Felix Galimir Award for Chamber Music Excellence. Winner of the 26th Eckhardt-Gramatte Competition, Ms. DuWors made a debut Canada-wide recital tour with pianist Lydia Wong in 2003. She is currently first violinist of the Toronto-based Rocca String Quartet. Hailed as a "dynamic performer", she has recently collaborated with James Ehnes, Angela Cheng, Denise Djokic, Martin Frost, Yehonatan Berick, Jonathon Crow, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Andrew Dawes, Paul Marleyn, and Scott St. John.

Recent engagments include performances at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, Agassiz Chamber Music Festival, Vancouver Recital Society Summer Combustion, Maureen Forrester Young Canadian Artist Series (Stratford Summer Music Festival), Gustin House Concert Series, CBC’s Galleria, Music Around Us and In Performance broadcasts, chamber music and solo performances with James Ehnes, the world première of David R. Scott’s Concerto for Violin and Cello, Groundswell Concerts; concerts with the Rocca String Quartet in the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, Brandon University’s Pro Series, the University of Western Ontario’s Fridays-at-Noon Series, and the Maureen Forrester Young Canadian Artist Series at the Stratford Summer Music Festival, and triple quartet collaborations with the Penderecki and Lafayette Quartets at the Perimeter Institute (Waterloo) and SoundAxis Festival (Toronto).

From 2003-2006, Ms. DuWors played on the 1902 Enrico Rocca violin on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts and an anonymous donor. After recently being a winner in the 2006 Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank Competition, Ms. DuWors currently plays on the 1747 Palmason Januarius Gagliano violin. Many thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts for their on-going support and generosity.

Biography Of...

Megumi Masaki, Associate Professor of Music

Award-winning pianist Megumi Masaki has established herself as an international artist renowned for her warmth and rapport with audiences and her superb musicianship. Her multi-faceted career as acclaimed soloist, chamber musician, champion of Contemporary music and pedagogue has taken her across Canada, the USA, Europe and Asia. In 2006, she made her film debut with musical performances in the CBC Documentary Film "Appassionata: Eckhardt-Gramatte." Recently, she was selected as Artistic Director of the Eckhardt-Gramatte Competition. In 2005, she founded the International Virtuosi Concert Series in Frankfurt Germany. In 1999 Masaki co-founded the annual Waterford Summer Music Festival in Utah where she acts as artistic co-director, conductor, pianist and coach. She is the recipient of numerous scholarships, awards and grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada Government, Canada Council, Manitoba Arts Council, and British Council. Masaki was awarded the Willi-Daume Prize from the Deutsches Olympisches Institut and German National Olympic Committee for her project "Music and the Olympic Games". Masaki is presently Associate Professor of Piano at Brandon University, School of Music where she coaches solo and collaborative pianists and teaches undergraduate and graduate piano pedagogy

Biography Of...

Dr. Leanne Zacharias, Assistant Professor of Music

Cellist Leanne Zacharias’ approach to musical life has been compared to extreme sport. From collaborations with choreographers, writers, architects and visual artists to performances with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, as soloist with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and finalist in the Coleman Chamber Music Competition, she has emerged with a uniquely energetic, diverse and interdisciplinary artistic voice.

As a performer, she has been artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for Arts, apprentice with Montreal’s Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, and shared stages with the Miro Quartet, Edgar Meyer, the Weakerthans and the Mountain Goats. With longtime cohort, songwriter Christine Fellows, she has toured the continent from Whitehorse to Kalamazoo, and contributed original music for video, modern dance, and four albums on Six Shooter Records. Fearless of genre-bending, Ms. Zacharias also performs with Toronto’s Aradia Ensemble, the Hylozoists, is a company member of the American Repertory Ensemble, and was a founder of the Movable Feast performance collective.

An advocate of the new, Ms. Zacharias has premiered dozens of compositions, commissioned several handfuls, and worked with leading composers including Arvo Part, Krystof Penderecki, Joan Tower, John Adams and George Tsontakis. She also curates Music for Spaces, a site-specific experimental performance project, with installations presented at the Cohen New Works Festival, Orford’s Sound Art Workshop, Germany’s Intersymp 2008 and New York City’s AMP Music Series. Other recent collaborative projects include a gallery installation at Austin’s Creative Research Lab and a Big Range Dance Festival premiere. She has served as composition/performance chair of the Gamma-UT musicology conference, and is currently a chair of the 2009 IIAS Arts + Humanities Session in Baden-Baden, Germany.

Originally from Morden, Manitoba, she studied with Arek Tesarczyk and Paul Marleyn at the University of Manitoba before receiving a Masters Degree from Rice University as a student of Desmond Hoebig. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, where her research is supported by the Getty Foundation, a Roberts Endowed Presidential Scholarship, the Manitoba Arts Council and a prestigious Graduate Continuing Fellowship. She is Brandon University’s Lecturer in Cello and orchestral director for this academic year.

Ms. Zacharias plays a modern cello by Gregg Alf on generous loan from the Amati Foundation of New York.

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