On April 20 and 22, 2023 as part of Four New Works, the Array Ensemble premieres ex harmonia, in memoriam to my former teacher, the late James Tenney. There have been a few big firsts for me as a re-emerged composer in the past three years, and this is perhaps the one closest to my heart.
35 years ago, I sat in Jim Tenney’s composition class for the first time and dreamt of composing music for a contemporary classical ensemble – the Linda Catlin Smith-era Arraymusic in particular. Despite that fortunate and promising beginning, I ended up focusing on self-performed, non-notated music outside of the concert scene in my early years and eventually put my arts career on hiatus. Three decades would go by before I had the first concert of my music (by Array) and my first commission (Gryphon Trio). Life has taken me the long way round, and I’m so overwhelmed with joy as this great circle closes.
Still being a bit new to this kind of collaboration with other musicians, this was the hardest piece I’ve had to write so far. I sincerely hope it doesn’t sound that way, though! I had both the memory of Jim and my 20-year-old self quietly with me at times, and what felt like eons of struggle and loss emerging as grief in the process. I went through many revisions as the pandemic wore on and the premiere was delayed.
Old binary conflicts sowed some tension once more: am I an experimental or sentimental composer? Forward looking or traditional? In my skin as a Black creator, or not? I thought of Jim seeking to overcome dichotomy in his compositional explorations, and that one was of several ways he was an inspiration. Those familiar with his work may also hear echoes of it in ex harmonia. Hence the title: “out of harmony,” a tribute to his Harmonia pieces among others. It’s a strange composition for me in some ways, but I’m most eager to share it as part of integrating my experience of personal change, growth, and movement.
I also wrote my first grant application in decades and am grateful to Toronto Arts Council for coming through. On top of that, I feel the support of my family and extended community this week. Not least, my good friend and editor Ash Mistry, the magic man, was of critical help with his always excellent work.
As I’ve been getting to know the community of classical musicians working in Toronto and North America more broadly, some of whom I knew before as a fan, I’m so floored to have players of such high calibre offering their time and incredible talent to realize my work. It’s really cool and also humbling.
I’m honoured also by the composer company on the program: Seung-Won Oh, Rose Bolton and Cheldon Paterson (aka SlowPitchSound). And my thanks continue to go out to David Schotzko, Sandra Bell, Mark Wilson and the rest of the Array team and Board of Directors for making me feel so welcome as the inaugural Composer in Residence.
Both live audience and livestream pay-what-you-want tickets are available, depending on the night.