Brian Current program notes and info in Rich Text Format

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Brian Current – program notes and info in Rich Text Format

Works are listed in the order displayed on the MUSIC page of the website.

1. Whirling Dervish – notes to come in 2011

2. Symphonies in Slanted Time (2005)

Duration: about 14 minutes

Instrumentation: 2222 4221 2perc timp piano harp Strings

Previous performances: Indianapolis Symphony, the Esprit Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Program notes: Slanted time is how I describe my recent music that is always speeding up or always slowing down. Rather than write music for a steady metronome, I wondered if it were possible to make the change in tempo the normal state of the music. The indications accel (speed up!) and rall (slow down!) are therefore written over almost every line of the piece.

The piece is also about using rejuvenation to create constantly changing textures. I’ve found that when the speed of the music is always changing, the material must continuously renew itself to avoid becoming too fast or too slow. While accelerating for example, one gesture will speed up into a blur and disappear - over the horizon perhaps, like a vanishing point in painting – and another will form at one half or one quarter speed, keeping the whole in a state a balance that never quite speeds up into infinity. While slowing down, the opposite occurs: gestures continuously form at quicker speeds, keeping the whole from coming to a complete stop until the end of the phrase. You might think of Symphonies in Slanted Time, then, as a type of theme and variations where the variations are different ways that textures renew themselves through ever-changing tempos.

Symphonies in Slanted Time would not be possible without the generous support of the Barlow Endowment, who commissioned the work through the 2003 Barlow prize for orchestral musicMany thanks also go to the Bogliasco Foundation as well as to the MacDowell Colony.

Press Quotes about Symphonies in Slanted Time:

Music may never have sounded quite so intoxicating.”

  • Michael Clive, The Villager (New York)

A full orchestra winding itself up and racing through the curves, with a mad shifting profusion of detail in the scoring, was a miraculous apparition.”

-Robert Everett-Green, the Globe and Mail (Toronto)

New Music Ensemble Slants Time, Textures: Brian Current toyed with speeds and textures, using the orchestra in much the same way that a precomputer electronic musician might use a tape deck. Different sections played at different tempos. Occasionally, almost from nowhere, a brief passage of straightforward symphonic chords would emerge and then dissolve into the changeable fabric.

  • Allan Kozinn, The New York Times

3. Kazabazua:

Duration: about 10 minutes

Instrumentation: orchestra 2222 2221 2perc, pn, hp, Strings

Program notes: Kazabazua (pronounced Kaja-BAjua) was commissioned by Alex Pauk and the Esprit Orchestra with funds from the Canada Council for the Arts. It is dedicated to Esprit on the occasion of their 20th anniversary.

Much of the music was written at a retreat in the Gatineau hills (a wilderness area North of Ottawa), near the town of Kazabazua, Quebec. The name had a remarkable meaning: on the town’s site, the river vanishes underground for a spell and then re-emerges further along. Kazabazua is an Algonquin word that means “disappearing waters”, or “hidden waters”. This had psychological connotations that I thought were appropriate to the piece, as well as captured a sense of its flow and restlessness, its play with levels of brightness and its various depictions of gravity.

Press quotes about Kazabazua:

"Imagine a hundred trains gathering steam and leaving their respective stations simultaneously, or just after one another, and you’ll have something of a notion of the sound of Current’s work.

The repeated and accelerating musical figure is at the heart of Current’s musical thought these days and it is a musical device that he has learned to use to great effect."

- Robert Harris, Globe and Mail, March 2003

A powerhouse of textural variety and innovative composing.”

- Christien Ledroit, Circuit Magazine, 2003

4. For the Time Being

Duration: about 12 minutes

Instrumentation: 1121/1110/perc(1), timp ,piano Strings.

Previous performances: the Esprit Orchestra, the Nouvel Ensmble Moderne, the Canadian Chamber

Players, the CBC Radio Orchestra, the Warsaw National Philharmonic, the Daegu Contemporary

Ensemble (Korea), the Chimera Ensemble, the Vancouver Symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Victoria Symphony, the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Kensington Symphonietta, Orchestra London.

Program notes: For the Time Being was composed for the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne during the fall of

1999. At the time I was interested in creating a piece that was very textural and goal-oriented, music that was always going somewhere. There are three sections of roughly equal lengths. The first slows down, the second speeds up and the third remains steady. At the end of each of these, there is a climactic area where a wash of ensemble-wide gestures lurch and drift in and out of major chords. The major triads are not there so much as functional harmony (although this inevitably occurs) but rather as familiar or comforting sonorities, causing the ear to relax slightly as if finding an old friend amidst a sea of changing textures and clusters. For the Time Being seemed an appropriate title as it speaks of time and being and the present moment.

Press quotes:

"Scored for a stripped-down orchestra, the young Canadian’s wild and witty work stretches and curves

ideas through time in a series of portamento gestures. One noted the clarity of Current’s ideas, as well ashis playfully radical edge."

-Nicholas Reyland, Tempo (Cambridge UK)

"Current's work is smart, well-crafted and virtuosic, balancing what's expected with what surprises in a

way that flatters a listener's intelligence. Furthermore, his driving changes set up a momentum as

inevitable, as comprehensible, but also as irresistible as did, in another age, a circle of fifths progression,

while belonging very much to today's vocabulary."

- Elissa Poole, Words and Music Magazine

5. This Isn’t Silence –

Duration: about 11 minutes.

Instrumentation: For large orchestra: 3(picc)33basscl3/4331/perc(2),timp, piano, Strings.

Previous performances: the Indianapolis Symphony, the Oakland Symphony, the Winnipeg Symphony.

Program notes: This Isn't Silence was written in 1998 with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts. The title comes from a direction in the score where, at the climax of the work, the only player with an empty bar is one of the percussionists, who needs to change instruments. In his one blank measure I found that I had written, "this isn't silence.”

Press quotes:

"The orchestra flourished in Canadian composer Brian Current's This Isn't Silence, a mad, restless piece that poured a thousand individual gestures into a turbine that surged and braked according to the

commands of an inscrutable engineer. Current, who is still in his twenties, knows how to exploit the power of a single tyrannizing element, whether it be a persistent chord or a single note that suddenly dominates the scene in every available octave. His muscular writing entertained while it shook the house with portents of powers too large for any stage."

- Robert Everett-Green, Globe and Mail

"The Canadian composer has given the world a large, handsomely scored piece full of ideas, colors and textures, and Morgan and the orchestra played it with obvious enthusiasm. If every new work performed in the Bay Area this season sounded this appealing, music lovers would be fortunate indeed."

- Georgia Rowe, Contra Costa Times

“In this composer, one senses real gifts. Current's world not only had a sound of its own, but a mind.”

- James Manishen, Winnipeg Free Press

6. Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra (2008)

Duration: about 15 minutes

Instrumentation: Solo Accordion and Orchestra

2222 2221 2perc hp pn Strings

Premiere: Symphony Nova Scotia with Joseph Petric (accordion), commissioned through the Koussevitzky Foundation

Program notes

The concerto was commissioned by Joseph Petric and Symphony Nova Scotia with financial assistance from the Koussevitzky Foundation. It was composed during the Summer and Fall of 2008 in Toronto and Kyoto, Japan where I was visiting for several months as a resident composer. Along with an introduction, the concerto is in three movements (fast, slow, fast) that are played without break. In the third movement the accordion plays a duet with a conga drum. Throughout the piece, we often hear two states of being – one very active and one very calm – played at the same time. Waves of sound are built in the orchestra by rising layered figures that are sometimes meant overwhelm the sound of the accordion before fading away.

Press Quotes:

Current’s music is amazing. His control over orchestral colour and detail and his utterly convincing sense of design and proportion rein in the chaotic energy of 21st century art music’s eclectic vocabulary. In all this the accordion could be perfectly heard, which is a miracle both of the writing and Geuller’s extraordinarily skilful balance of forces.”

Stephen Pedersen – Halifax Chronicle Herald

7. Concertino

Duration: about 7 minutes

Instrumentation: Solo flute, string orchestra, 3 flutes at the back of the hall

Program notes: Concertino (2004) is adapted from a 2002 Canada Council commission for recorder player Mathew Jones. Shapes in the piece are created in part through dramatic change in speed: tempos accelerate then immediately slow down in a series of irregular waves. As a concerto, the music relies heavily on the back-and-forth between soloist and ensemble. I thought it might be interesting if this were compressed down to the eighth-note level (call-response-call-response) and made to move forward as a single mechanism. I also imagined blanketing the hall with the sound of flutes positioned at the back of the room. At times they act as distant relatives to the solo line but more often they fill out the sound with tumbling gestures their own. String players change one at a time from arco to pizz and back, creating a gradual change in the texture overall.

Press quotes about Concertino:

The concert opened with a clean little Concertino by Brian Current, composed this year and fresh as paint. It featured the arresting idea of setting the brilliant solo flute (Robert Aitken) against three other flutes spread across the back of the hall. Current exploited this four-dimensional flute sonority in a sparse, crisp context of strings. The score has unity, fine proportion and right brevity for its material. Current himself conducted, with assurance and no undue fuss. “

-Ken Winters, The Globe and Mail, May 2004

8. Airline Icarus, a music drama in one act (2005)

Duration: about 50 minutes

Instrumentation: fl, cl, 2 perc. Pno, 5 solo voices (Sop, Mez, Ten, Bar. Bass-Bar), 2 vlns, vla, vlc, electronics

Libretto by Anton Piatigorsky, Music by Brian Current

Airline Icarus is a music drama about the intersecting thoughts of passengers aboard a commercial airplane. It explores themes of hubris mixed with technology, the forced intimacy of strangers, and flying too close to the sun. The instrumentation is eight singers, flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, string orchestra and electronic soundfiles. It has been performed in excerpts by Soundstreams in Toronto in and the New York City Opera in 2007. The Toronto performance was broadcast nationally by CBC Radio. The piece in its entirety will be released on commercial CD in 2011, conducted by Brian Current.

Airline Icarus,” by the composer Brian Current and the librettist Anton Piatigorsky, is a chamber opera about thoughts, fears and attractions among a group of passengers aboard an airplane that, as in the myth of Icarus, flies too close to the sun. Turbulence during the flight is linked to emotional turbulence within the characters through punchy, swirling and gratingly astringent music.

In extended passages Mr. Current uses the voices almost like instruments, producing set pieces that seem less like operatic ensembles and more like strange hybrid orchestral compositions with vocal components. “

  • New York Times, May 15, 2007

9. Inventory (2006)

Duration: 11 minutes

Instrumentation: Amplified soprano voice, fl, ob, cl, bsn, perc, vln, vln2, vla, vlc, db

Inventory was composed in 2006 for Patricia O’Callaghan and the Soundstreams ensemble, conducted by Brian Current. It was later presented at the New York City Opera Festival, 2010 where it was performed by Lisa Vroman with the NYCO orchestra conducted by Carolyn Kwan.

The most unconventional piece was “Inventory,” with music by Brian Current and a libretto by Anton Piatigorsky, a 10-minute monologue for a young woman at a shoe store whose mind wanders as she does an inventory of shoes with wonderful names, like Mai Tai Nutmeg platform wedges. Here the mostly slow-moving, prolonged vocal lines were set against a frenetic instrumental background.”

  • ANTHONY TOMMASINI, New York Times, May 7 2010


Hear them clicking ‘round above me?

Fetching shoes for snooty ladies.

Someone, happily, blissfully,

Has to check the inventory.

Luminani cap-toe heels: 6, 7, 8, 9

Slides in both tan and black suede: 5, 6, 7, 8

Silver sling- backs with slip-resistant soles: 7, 8, 9, 10

In this basement sanctuary

Boxes warm me like a blanket.

Songs I know on the stereo

And a tranquil hour alone.

Alligator Shanghai moc-toes: 8,9,10,11

Mary Janes in chocolate brown: 6,7,8,9

Cambrelle D’orsays with Baby Louis heels: 6,7,8,10

Jelly shoes with embossed leather: 7,8,9,10

Mai Tai nut meg platform wedges: 5,6,9,11

Boho chic sequin clogs: 8,10,11,12

Fluevog skip rope knee-high boots: 7,8,9,12

Sassy peep-toe pumps with jewel ornament: 6,8,9,12

My pencil checking down the list

A meditative reverie

Only broken once to covet

The Antique Greenwich kitten mules.

Maybe I’ll try those satin heels

Their tapered toes are so for me

How they raise my calf, ‘how sexy’

That’s what he’ll whisper in my ear

‘I’m sure that I’ve met you before

You bought blood oranges in Pucelli’s

And your smile is Botticelli’

But the shoes are inventory.

Golden sandals with pump heels: 7, 8, 9, 10

Ballerina flats for kids: 1, 2, 3, 4

Espadrille grosgrain ribbon ankle-wraps: 7, 9, 11, 12

In this basement mortuary

Boxes shroud me like a tomb

Songs I know on the stereo

For yet another hour alone.

- Anton Piatigorsky, 2006

10. This Isn’t Silence, Part II: A Young Person’s Guide to New Music for Symphony Orchestra (2008)

Duration: variable lengths up to 45 minutes

For narrator and orchestra (2222 2221, 3 perc, hp, pn, strings)

This Isn’t Silence, Part II: a Young Person's Guide is a work for narrator and orchestra where the speaker explains aspects of 20th and 21st century music while the orchestra demonstrates in real time. It was commissioned by Alex Pauk and the Esprit Orchestra in 2006. Topics include form, rhythm, pitch, harmony, texture, color, melody, performance contexts and electronic music. The piece is a musical experience as well as an educational one. All the orchestral material is original and the narration is presented in a way that is theatrical and engaging. In the tradition of the Young People's Concerts and A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the work is intended to address an educational gap between audience expectations and compositional trends of the 20th and 21st century. At educational concerts, we often explain to audiences of young people various aspects of the music they are about to hear or have just heard. The Young Person’s Guide to ‘new music’ is designed for just this type of event, with the explanation occurring as the material unfolds.

11. YOU ARE (1997)

Duration: 4 minutes

Instrumentation: String Quartet, Lighting and the participation of children from the audience

Winner of the 1997 R. Murray Schafer International Music and Play competition, Poznan, Poland

Designed to encourage creative music ideas in your listeners, the piece is intended for a young audience with no musical training, and no rehearsal prior to the performance.

12. Inventions on Et in Terra Pax (2007)

Duration: 6 minutes

Instrumentation: SSAATTBB

Commissioned by the St. Lawrence Choir, Montreal

13. Psalm 150 (1995)

Duration: 6 minutes

Instrumentation: 100 children’s voices, piano

Commissioned by the combined choirs of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal

14. Rounds (2009)

Duration: 9 minutes

Instrumentation: String Quartet

Rounds, for String Quartet

Rounds for String Quartet was co-commissioned by Stan Witkin and Music Toronto together with CBC Radio to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. It was composed during the Winter of 2009 in Toronto from initial sketches made in Kyoto, Japan the previous Spring.

The piece is in a single movement, lasting about nine minutes, that winds its way through several episodes. Although other material is present, the title refers to the frequent use of individual melodies that overlap with themselves. Sometimes these are played by single instruments, but just as often the lines descend through the quartet as a whole. I also hope the title recalls the childlike magic of singing simple songs like Frère Jacques, which when sung in a round often seem to produce more than the sum of their parts.

Current's Rounds lay between the two sextets and held its own rather well. As a score, it has a firm grasp of the quartet idiom and a wide dynamic range, from passages of ethereal delicacy to bow-shredding climaxes”

  • Globe and Mail, April 4, 2009

15. Piano Piece no. 3 “Leaps of Faith” (2009)

Duration: 8 minutes

Instrumentation: Solo Piano

Piano Piece No.3 “Leaps of Faith” was commissioned for the Sixth International Honens Piano Competition as the required piece for the quarter-finals round in October of 2009. It was composed in Toronto in March and April of 2009 from sketches made in Kyoto Japan the previous summer, where I was living in an apartment with a large white baby-grand piano. The piece is in a single movement that lasts about seven to eight minutes and alternates between moments of quiet, resonating patterns and violent, angular gestures. The leaps of the title refer to right-hand leaps up the keyboard, specifically in a passage where pitches far up the piano are chosen “in the moment” by throwing the hands up the keyboard and back. Near the very end, there is a cadenza where the player composes or improvises a rising passage based on the style of earlier gestures.

16. Piano Piece no. 2 “Banjo/Continuum” (2007)

Duration: 2 minutes

Instrumentation: Solo Piano or Solo Player Piano

17. Piano Piece No.1 (2007)

Duration: 9 minutes

Instrumentation: Solo Piano

Subtitled “like water and like sunlight” the piece was commissioned by Prairie Debut with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts. The work is dedicated to Winston Choi, who premiered the piece on a Canadian tour. An earlier version had a subtitle in Latin meaning “let the sun shine down upon all of God’s creatures”, a phrase I kept returning to throughout improvising sessions at the piano, which mainly during grey winter days. I was also interested in finding music that was very active yet also very calm.

18. Duet for Cellos (2007)

Duration: 12 minutes

Instrumentation: 2 Cellos

Duet for Cellos continues a series of works featuring goal-oriented gestures. They are symmetrical between the two players and often arrive at octaves. The piece also uses a technique from Omar Daniel (please see his Chamber Concerto No.1) where the players trill to artificial harmonics.

19. Faster Still (2004)

Duration: 15 minutes

Instrumentation: Violin Solo, Piano Solo, String Quartet

Performed by Duo Concertante and Blue Engine String Quartet, Brian Current conducting

and Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles, Xtet with Donald Crockett conducting

Faster Still was commissioned by CBC Radio for Duo Concertante and the Blue Engine String Quartet. It is made up of six continuous sections with each section featuring a different combination of the soloists and the quartet.

The work is part of a series of pieces that feature constantly changing tempos. Rather than write music for a steady metronome, I wondered if it were possible to make the change in tempo the normal state of the music. The indications accel (speed up) or rall (slow down) are written over nearly every line of music in these works.

Curiously, I’ve found that the more continuous the acceleration, the calmer things become. The more it wants to “go”, the more it “stays”. So, counter-intuitively, much of the speeding-up music is featured in slow, rather than fast, movements. It is for this reason I thought the title Faster Still was appropriate, as it speaks both of things wanting to get quicker and of stillness at the same time.

I particularly liked Current’s Faster Still, the final work, an exhilarating study in changing tempos, with a killer part for solo violin (Movses Pogossian). In our previous chat, Stucky had described the piece as “Elliott Carter writing arpeggios,” which stops short of dealing with the energy of the piece, the startling jolts in its changes of pace. (Alternating Current, perhaps?) The composer lives in Toronto; he is worth watching, even from afar.”

  • Alan Rich, LA Weekly

"He actually came closer to insanity than Lara but in the happiest of ways. The solo violin writing, spectacularly played by Movses Pogossian, is sort of Paganini on LSD. Fun is to be had if you have a strong stomach and really good players."

- Mark Swed, L.A Times

20. Star-Spangled Banner! (in Slanted Time) (2003)

Duration: 4 mins

Instrumentation: Violin, Cello and Piano

Previous performances: Gryphon Trio, Helikon Ensemble

The piece is a study in music that is endlessly speeding up. I wondered if it were possible to do this with a piece that is widely known, in this case the national anthem of the United States of America. The anthem itself is an adaptation of "to Anachreon in Heaven", a British popular song written by John Stanford Smith in 1775.

The Star-Spangled Banner! (in Slanted Time) was written during a residency at the Yaddo artist colony in Saratoga Springs, NY. It was commissioned as part of a series of miniatures for Toronto’s Gryphon Trio with funds for the Canada Council for the Arts, as part of the Composing for a Change program.

Piano Music for Two (1999)

Duration: 10 minutes

Instrumentation: 2 pianos, 4 hands

Previous performance: Brian Current and Hubert Ho, pianos, UC Berkeley Hertz Hall

Winnipeg New Music Festival, Havana (Cuba) New Music Festival

Quintet, Op.5 (1996) "Circus Songs"

Duration: 11 minutes

Instrumentation: Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano

Previous performances: New Millennium Ensemble, Continuum, Helikon Ensemble

Quintet, op.5 was written in 1996 in Berkeley, California with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts. Originally composed for a reading session with New York’s New Millennium Ensemble, its public premiere was at Massey Hall in Toronto as part of the 1997 Made in Canada Festival. Rosemary Thompson conducted the Continuum Ensemble.

At the time I was interested in forming single voices out of two instruments that move in comfortable pairs. This sense of union later develops into individual virtuoso passages where things start to get out of control. The idea was to play with a danger of “falling off”. Everything wants to continually move forward, sometimes with a wild abandon, sometimes in a dreamlike haze created by piano clusters and at other times plodding along slowly and precariously, as if on a tightrope.

Tannu Tuva, (1995)

Duration: 10 minutes

Instrumentation: Male Voice, Overtone Singing, Bassoon, Banjo and Piano

Tannu Tuva (1995) is a reaction to the magic of overtone singing, a Central Asian technique of simultaneously singing more than one pitch at a time. The piece attempts to show that this is available to us in the West and that anyone can perform it. In fact, I met Greg Silver, who overtone sings on this recording, while walking down St. Catherines Street in Montreal.

Nothing in the piece is digitally enhanced or altered and all players perform acoustic instruments live. The work is scored for male voice (singing the text in the Tuvan language), male overtone singer (singing both the drone and the high whistle-like melody at the same time), bassoon (here blown like a didgeridoo), banjo (bowing harmonics on all strings with a cello bow) and piano (scratching harmonics on the inside of the instrument).

For further discussion of this work, please see:

Hambraeus, Bengt. Aspects of Twentieth Century Performance Practice: Memories and Reflections. Uppsala: Royal Swedish Academy of Music, 1997. ML 457 H36 1997

Day #8036 (1994)

Duration: 20 Minutes

Instrumentation: Flute and Piano

Premiered by Gary Arbuthnot, flute and Sophia Rahman, piano at the Belfast Festival

Trio, Op.1 (1994)

Duration: 12 minutes

Instrumentation: Flute, Cello, Piano

Winner, 3rd Prize, Chamber Music, CBC National Radio Competition for Young Composers


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