Kevin James, Pascale Margely, Jan Järvlepp, Angela Casagrande


Pierrot Solaire (1994) was composed for the Denis Schingh Ensemble, which premiered it in 1994 at Toronto’s Music Gallery. The unusual combination of flute, violin, bass, percussion, and piano caused me to rethink ways of composing chamber music. I decided to take the early 20th century angst of Arnold Schoenberg’s avant-garde Pierrot Lunaire and do the opposite in terms of feeling, style, orchestration, and theoretical basis. A minor-key polka unexpectedly appears in the middle which bears some resemblance to the Finnish Säkkijärven Polkka. In addition to this folk music style, humour and pop music influence are also allowed, with no reverence for German traditions. Indeed, the piece is subtitled “an antidote for anxiety- filled old German music.” I hope it works for you!


The Saxophone Quartet (1996) started life as a bassoon quartet composed for Toronto’s Caliban Quartet with a Canada Council commission. When I learned that Saxart was looking for new repertoire, I reworked my bassoon piece for saxophones. The first movement is heavily influenced by jazz and rock wind writing with the baritone sax frequently taking on the role of the bass guitar. The piece’s form, however, is a product of my classical training and unrelated to the strophic structure of almost all pop songs. The second movement is slow, lyrical, expressive, and introspective. It shows the least pop or folk influence of the three movements and an element of romanticism seems to have crept in. The third movement juxtaposes rapid tunes set over bagpipe-like drones with sprightly moving passages containing no long notes at all. The fast-slow-fast format of the three movements comes to an energetic finish in the triple time rhythmic style which is inherent in jigs. The performers on this recording gave its first performance in Ottawa at an Espace Musique concert in 1998.


Trio No. 2 (1997) started when I heard the piccolo play in its lower register during an Ottawa Symphony Orchestra rehearsal. I decided to combine that unique sound with rapidly bowed string harmonics. I imagined what a huge crystal organ in the sky would sound like. This idea developed into the first movement of the trio which features three “flights of fancy” or flamboyant piccolo solos. I have never heard a piece of music like this anywhere. The second movement features the entirely different texture of plucked cello, simple piccolo accompaniments and lyrical waltz-like melodies for viola. The third movement takes an aggressive rock music attitude towards the instruments. There is no subtlety, but rather rhythmic excitement within a highly structured form. The performers on this recording gave the piece’s first performance at Rideau Park United Church in Ottawa in 1997.


Tarantella (1996) is a European-American hybrid that incorporates the influence of contemporary pop music styles into the tarantella, a baroque dance. In our postmodern society, this approach is an intuitive artistic method rather than the product of disregard for previously existing styles. The guitar and violin play as equal partners, often in parallel intervals. Each player fires out 600 notes per minute, thus bombarding the listener with a total of 1,200 notes per minute, which almost fuse into a steady stream. The piece remains cohesive because of its straightforward harmonies. The performers on his recording premiered the piece at an Espace Musique concert in 1997.


Robot Dance (1994) was composed for Diaphony, an unusual duo consisting of Sara Seck, flute, and Tracy Mortimore, string bass. They first performed it in Guelph, Ontario, in 1994. The skill of the players, coupled with their enthusiasm for new music, permitted me to write demanding and exciting flute solos as well as an energetic bass line that never lets up. I got the idea for the title after hearing the computerized playback of the score from my notation program. The strangely synchronized parallel intervals in the widely separated bass and treble ranges seemed decidedly non-human. However, in live performance, the players give a special intensity to the rhythms that machines cannot synthesize.


Overture (1999) was composed as a Laidlaw Foundation commission requested by the Ayorama Wind Quintet. However, when I sat down to start it, I realized that I didn’t have a clue as to what I would compose since I had never written anything resembling an overture. So I listened to what others had done in this genre and was most impressed by Beethoven and his dramatic approach. So my overture starts with stark, dramatic loud chords and mysterious melodic phrases and gradually works itself into a busier state. However, it is unlikely that anyone will mistake my work for the Viennese late classicism of Mr. van Beethoven. The piece was first performed by the Ayorama Wind Quintet in an Espace Musique concert in Ottawa in 1999. — Jan Järvlepp






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