CUMS prize winner Robert Hansler breaks out

Recent School of Music graduate Robert Hansler has been announced as the co-winner of the Canadian University Music Society’s annual Student Composer Competition for his piece “Broken Branch.” Hansler, who received his Master’s degree in composition in June, studied with the likes of Christopher Butterfield, Dániel Péter Biró and John Celona, and his works have been performed in Canada, the US, and Italy, with upcoming performances in Germany and North America. He shares this year’s prize with Brazilian composer and University of Alberta Master’s student André Mestre.

CUMS competition winner & recent graduate Robert Hansler

CUMS competition winner & recent graduate Robert Hansler

“It’s certainly an honour and very encouraging to be awarded this prize and I was also thrilled that my friend André Mestre was my co-winner,” says Hansler. “I really can’t say enough good things about UVic’s program and the faculty. All three faculty members—Dániel Biró, John Celona and Christopher Butterfield—are absolutely committed to teaching and raising a new generation of thoughtful and creative composers. At the time I wrote the flute piece, I was working with John Celona, and his guidance was really helpful throughout the process of writing the piece

Robert Hansler is far and away one of the best graduate students I have encountered in 35 years of teaching at this institution,” says Celona. “As my composition student, I found him extremely open to ideas regarding content, structure, form, narrative, orchestration, literature and more. He came in with a flute piece he wanted to develop. I helped him expand and create a larger work he pursued with wonderful discipline and ingenuity thus making our weekly lessons rewarding for both teacher and student. The flute work won acceptance to an Italian festival north of Milan that Robert attended last summer.”

Suzanne Snizek

Suzanne Snizek

Visiting assistant professor Suzanne Snizek performed Hansler’s “Broken Branches” at the recent CUMS conference during Congress 2013, as part of a concert of contemporary music. “It’s a challenging piece, but one which is really fun to play once you develop some familiarity with it,” Snizek says of Hansler’s winning composition. “It uses lots of multiphonics—multiple sounds created by using alternative fingerings. The performer reads fingering charts that are placed above the staves, and attempts to produce the pitches intended by the composer. The flute naturally wants to produce one pitch more than another, so the challenge is to balance them and make sure they are all audible.” Snizek notes that, although there is a lot for a performer to do during Hansler’s piece, “there are also frequent spaces of silence and many extremely quiet passages. This seems to help create an atmosphere of melancholy and loneliness.”

Hansler originally wrote “Broken Branches” for a friend who was looking for new repertoire. “I became especially fond of this piece as a result of the process of working on it with her, and I thought it would be good to submit it for this prize to see what another performer might do with it if it was selected. I enjoyed hearing Suzanne’s performance, and it was exciting to see the piece in a new light.”

Hansler’s recent work has been described as being “concerned with questions surrounding identity of material, instruments and performers”. But how does that translate into a musical composition? “To my ears, melody is very present in this piece. However, there are certain small-scale melodic tropes that have been around for a few centuries—the “sighing” two-note slurs that combine into a gradually descending line, melismas that mark cadences, and many others—that this piece removes from their expected contexts and functions. These tropes are transformed by this kind of relocation, and their identities are destabilized, manipulated and reformed,” he explains.

A passage from Hansler's "Broken Branches"

A passage from Hansler’s “Broken Branches”

“Similarly, the silences can also be conceptualized in this way. The lengths of the silences do not really follow any particular trajectory during the piece, but still their function totally changes. In the opening of the piece, silences are rhetorical devices that serve and respond to the sounds. Later, the sounds seem to controlled by the surrounding silences. This has implications for the performer as well—for example, is this material ‘expressive’? I think that a feeling of loneliness is totally appropriate for a performer who is asking herself these questions—the performer becomes very exposed and vulnerable as a result of the alienation that happens through the piece. Familiar or expected contexts are denied, and if the result is a sense of ‘lostness’, I think that’s completely appropriate.” (You can hear samples of some of Hansler’s compositions here.)

What’s his feeling about the School of Music as a centre of contemporary new music? “As far as new music in BC and the surrounding regions in the US and Canada, Victoria is really a place where it seems that a disproportionate amount of relevant and exciting music is happening,” he says. “I was thrilled to come here and discover that the scene for new music is much bigger than I had expected for a city this size—and I think that the faculty at UVic are a major reason for that . . . along with the presence of ensembles like Aventa and Tsilumos, and of course Open Space, the SALT Festival and [the monthly experimental music series] A Place to Listen.”

Hansler also has high praise for local new music audiences. “My experience in Victoria has been that audiences were much more open than what I was expecting, based on my experiences in other cities,” he says. “One thing that I’ve always believed is that performers are the real heroes when it comes to engaging with audiences—a good performance of a good piece can really go a long way in winning over audience members.” As for his own work, he says he simply doesn’t pretend to know what any audience wants to hear. “My responsibility is to write my own music as honestly as possible, and if audiences are interested in that, then that’s wonderful. I have often been surprised by the varied responses I’ve heard from listeners, and I think that is an interesting part of making music.”

As far as what’s next for this year’s CUMS winner, he’ll be attending the Sommerakademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany this August to work with Ensemble Surplus on a new piece and study with some of his favourite composers. Fellow School of Music graduate Alexei Paish will be premiering a solo snare drum piece of his in New York in November 2013, and in January Hansler will be in Montreal for a premiere of a piece he’s currently working on for Ensemble Paramirabo. “After that, there are three pianists who have asked me to write for them, so for the first time since 2009, I’ll be writing solo pieces for my instrument,” he chuckles. “While I work on these projects I will be studying composition privately and working as a church musician and private music teacher, and afterwards I hope to pursue a PhD.”

That’s if he can find the time, of course!

The Canadian University Music Society Student Composer Competition is open to any university student who is a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant or who is studying at a Canadian institution, does not yet hold a doctorate and does not hold a full-time teaching position. The competition takes place in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Canadian University Music Society. CUMS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the University of Victoria School of Music in the awarding of this prize.

SALT Festival returns

The annual SALT New Music Festival is back for its third year, and this time it has expanded its musical horizons.

The Tsilumos Ensemble: Kristofer Covlin (left), Joanna Hood, Ajtony Csaba and Dániel Péter Biró (Miles Lowry, photo)

The Tsilumos Ensemble: Kristofer Covlin (left), Joanna Hood, Ajtony Csaba and Dániel Péter Biró (Miles Lowry, photo)

The SALT Festival is hosted by the Tsilumos Ensemble, made up of UVic School of Music professors Dániel Péter Biró (guitar), Joanna Hood (viola) and Ajtony Csaba (piano, harpsichord and conductor), plus Kristofer Covlin (saxophones). And this year, SALT will not only include the expected lineup of local and international performers presenting concerts of groundbreaking new music to Victoria audiences, but will also feature a new series of lectures and masterclasses during its one-week run.

Quasar Saxophone Quartet

Quasar Saxophone Quartet

“Our festival lineup this year is extremely strong, including some of the world’s top performers of new music,” says co-organizer Kris Covlin. “Combined with a rich program of new works, lectures and score readings, audiences attending the festival will be able to interact with our composers and performers, allowing them to delve as deeply as they wish into the music.”

Taking their name from the words Tsil (based on the Hebrew “tsiltsul” or “ring”) and Lumos (Latin for “light”), the locally based Tsilumos exists to give new and little-known Canadian and international works an optimal performance, regardless of technical and intellectual demands or compositional style. Since its inception in 2011, the ensemble has brought high-quality, challenging new music to the larger community of British Columbia.

Running from May 25 to June 2 at both Open Space and UVic’s School of Music, the third annual SALT Festival will bring experts in the field of contemporary music to Victoria in the hopes of creating a new framework for the study, research and performance of contemporary and electronic music.

Ensemble DalNiente

Ensemble Dal Niente

This year’s guest artists include Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente (recent winners of the Darmstadt Summer Course Kranichstein Prize), the world-renowned members of Germany’s Experimentalstudio, Montreal’s Quasar Saxophone Quartet and Berlin tuba soloist Max Murray. Invited composers include Dániel Péter BiróWolf Edwards, Suzanne Farrin, Detlef HeusingerClaus-Steffen MahnkopfSteven Kazuo Takasugi and Gianluca Ulivelli. As part of SALT, the Tsilumos Ensemble will premiere three new compositions by Wolf Edwards, Steven Takasugi and Gianluca Ulivelli. (The commissioning of these new compositions was made possible through a grant from the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for Music.)

But in addition to the concerts, there will also be masterclasses, lectures, reading sessions and private lessons with composers and interpreters of contemporary music from around the world. Students will be given the chance to take part in lessons in composition and contemporary music interpretation, in addition to reading sessions with the Tsilumos Ensemble, Ensemble Dal Niente and the Quasar Saxophone Quartet, and workshops in electronic music with Experimentalstudio and the School of Music’s own recording engineer Kirk McNally, who also plays with the experimental electronic ensemble The Krells. (Scroll down for a complete SALT fest schedule.)

All lectures, colloquia, reading sessions and masterclasses are free of charge and open to the general public. Concert tickets will be sold at the door for $10 (students) or $15 (general public).  Events will take place at both Open Space (510 Fort Street) and UVic’s School of Music (MacLaurin Building, B-wing).

Complete schedule of events for the SALT New Music Festival and Symposium:

Saturday, May 25

• 2pm – General meeting of all participants  (Room B115 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 8pm – Concert of the Quasar Saxophone Quartet (Open Space, 510 Fort Street). Program: Philippe Leroux Du Souffle, Donal Stewart …su Innocent X , Dániel Péter Biró Udvarim Achadim, Paolo Longo Giants, Jimmie Leblanc Fil Rouge, L. Andriessen Facing Death

Sunday, May 26

• 10am-1pm – Reading session with the Quasar Saxophone Quartet (UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, MacLaurin Building)

• 2pm-5pm – Conducting workshop with Ajtony Csaba  (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin building)

Monday, May 27

• 10am-1pm – Conducting workshop with Ajtony Csaba (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin building)

• 2:30pm-4pm – Lecture by Wolf Edwards: “Discussion about Music and Anarchist Politics” (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 4:30pm-5:30pm – Reading session and performance practice workshop with the Tsilumos Ensemble (UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, MacLaurin Building)

Tuesday, May 28

• 10:30am-noon – Lecture by Gianluca Ulivelli: “My Connection to Paul Celan” (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 2pm-4pm – Max Murray and Liam Hockley, reading and workshop with Gianluca Ulivelli (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin building)

• 4:30pm-7pm – Conducting workshop with Ajtony Csaba (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin building)

• 7:30pm-9pm – Dinner at Felicita’s Pub (UVic Student Union Building)

• 9:30pm – Film screening: The Matchstick Man (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

Wednesday, May 29

• 10:30am-noon – Lecture by Dániel Péter Biró: “Toward the Unknown: Parametrical Composition with Gematria” (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 2:30pm-4pm – Lecture by Kirk McNally: “Improvisation with Live Electronics” (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 4:30pm-7pm – Conducting workshop with Ajtony Csaba (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin building)

• 8pm-11pm – Dinner and roundtable Discussion at the Black Hat Restaurant (1005 Langley Street).

 Thursday, May 30

• 10:30am-noon – Lecture by Prof. Dr. Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf (Musikhochschule Leipzig, Germany): “Dealing with ‘Content(s)’. Introduction into my music and the ‘Hommage à Brian Ferneyhough’” (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 2pm-4pm – Performer’s workshop with UVic Artist-in-Residence Joanna Hood (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin building)

• 4:30pm-6pm – Conducting Workshop with Ajtony Csaba (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin building)

• 6pm-8pm – Reception for all participants (Room B115 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 8pm-9:30pm – Lecture by Detlef Heusinger (Experimentalstudio, Freiburg, Germany): “The Flood (Sintflut) ” (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

Friday, May 31

• 10:30am-noon – Lecture by Steven Kazuo Takasugi (Harvard University): “Travelogue Through Two Decades of Sound Samples” ” (Room A169 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 3pm-4:30pm – Performance workshop with Liam Hockley and Suzanne Farrin (SUNY Purchase, New York) ” (Room B037 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 7:30pm-10pm – Reading session with Dal Niente (Chicago, USA) (Open Space, 510 Fort Street)

Saturday, June 1

• 10:30am-noon – Lecture by Jonathan Goldman (University of Victoria): “Inside Claude Vivier’s Composition Workshop” (Room B117 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 2pm-3:30pm – Lecture by Suzanne Farrin (SUNY Purchase, New York): “Inner Voices: My Sound World and Petrarch” (Room B117 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 4pm-6pm – Composition masterclass with Suzanne Farrin, Gianluca Ulivelli and Wolf Edwards (Room B117 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 8:00pm – Concert with Experimentalstudio and Dal Niente (Open Space, 510 Fort Street)

Sunday, June 2

• 10:30am-noon – Lecture by Thomas Hummel (Experimentalstudio, Freiburg, Germany): “The Experimentalstudio Inside Your Laptop” (Room B117 of UVic’s MacLaurin Building)

• 2pm-5pm – Composition masterclass with Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf and Detlef Heusinger (Room 051 of of UVic’s McPherson Library)

• 8pm – Concert with Tsilumos Ensemble and guests Max Murray and Liam Hockley (Open Space, 510 Fort Street)

A Taste of SALT

The Tsilumos Ensemble: Dániel Péter Biró (left) Kris Covlin, Ajtony Csaba and Joanna Hood

If your musical taste is feeling a little bland these days, spice things up with the second annual SALT Festival on March 2nd and 3rd. An innovative and edgy two-day sampling of contemporary new music that brings together Canadian and international artists at both UVic and Open Space, SALT is, in the words of festival co-creator Dániel Péter Biró, “A whole series of great possibilities—and it’s all new music.”

Ensemble Nikel

Day one of SALT will see the University of Victoria Orchestra, under the direction of Ajtony Csaba, join forces with Europe’s acclaimed Ensemble Nikel to present the world premiere of Lovely Monster Reloaded by Bernhard Gander, and the North American premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s Zohar Iver (Blind Radiance)—a concerto for Ensemble Nikel (saxophone, electric guitar, piano and percussion) and orchestra. This Friday night performance at the University Centre Farquhar Auditorium will also feature the music of Bach (Suite in B-minor BWV 1067) and Benjamin Britten. (The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra).

Chaya Czernowin

“This shows how SALT has already become an international event,” says Biró, associate professor in composition and music theory for the School of Music. “Chaya Czernowin is one of the most prominent composers in the world; she’s professor for composition at Harvard, and her pieces are played everywhere from the Salzburger Festspiele to New York’s Merkin Hall. She’ll be giving a public lecture and a master class for the students while she’s here. We’re lucky we can make this happen.”

Olaf Tzschoppe, of Les Percussions de Strassburg

Moving down to Open Space on Saturday, SALT day two will feature the Tsilumos Ensemble (with UVic’s own Joanna Hood, Csaba and Biró, as well as Kris Covlin), plus Ensemble Nikel, celebrated Victoria pianist Tzenka Dianova, and Germany’s Olaf Tzschoppe—a member of Les Percussions de Strassburg and one of the greatest percussionists in the world.  “He’ll be presenting a solo recital, including a piece for speaking percussionists,” Biró says of Tzschoppe. “I’ve heard him play it and it’s amazing—he speaks a French text and plays on a Moroccan drum simultaneously, and it has a lot of theatrical elements.”

Exciting and innovative, SALT promises two days of new music not to be missed. And no, the festival name isn’t an acronym, but a reference to the actual mineral. “Salt is necessary not only for taste but for survival,” chuckles Biró. “So think of that in the aesthetic realm: it’s a matter of taste, but we do need it for our own survival.”

When asked about the origins of the festival, Biró says it goes back to a conversation between him and Csaba, conductor of the UVic Orchestra. “We thought there needs to be more new music, and a more strategic effort to play technically challenging and innovative new music,” he says. “As a composer and performer of new music, I specialize in music that is innovative, has a diversity of musical language, explores new musical experiences and new technical problems or possibilities. That’s my area of research.”

And is the School of Music known for its new music content? “UVic has always had a very strong new music component and has been known throughout Canada for that—but what’s exciting now is that it’s also being expressed in the orchestra. For example, I don’t think there’s another student orchestra in North America that would be presenting a world premiere and North American premiere of two very important living composers in one  concert,” says Biró. “They are being taught these skills that normally specialized orchestras might have—and most of those are in European countries. And the students get excited about it because it has to do with their own time, and not only music from 150 years ago.“

Does that mean it needs a different skill set for the musicians? “Definitely. In Chaya Czernowin’s piece, for example, a major element is extended timbre and noise; sometimes she works with the orchestra almost like it’s a sonorous landscape—it’s no longer just a body that can play harmonically, but it can actually present new realities of sound production. But in order to do that, the students have to learn new techniques on their instruments.”

This means the audience itself has to stretch a bit, says Biró. “In the same way that one goes to a museum and sees a Gerhard Richter painting next to a Rembrand, one then not only sees a historical connection but also a disconnection, or what’s changed. It’s the comparison that helps the audience see what the actual musical artwork is.”

He also notes the importance of the opportunity for UVic students to work with the professional Nikel Ensemble in a “concerto-type situation”. “As an up-and-coming new music ensemble, they’re not much older than the students themselves but are already quite prominent—so they can actually be role models for the students.”

Biró also credits SALT’s sponsors for making it all happen: UVic and Open Space, but especially the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation in Switzerland. “All of this was made possible because we have actually been granted five commissions by the Siemens Foundation, one of the biggest contemporary music supporters in the world.” (Two of those commissions will be performed this year, with the other three at SALT 2013.)

Ultimately, Biró invites audiences to stretch their musical boundaries with a sampling of SALT. “Some of it may be unusual and perhaps even exotic for the listeners, but it will definitely engage them.”

SALT day one: 8 pm Friday, March 2 at UVic’s University Centre Farquhar Auditorium. Tickets $17.30 & $13.50 or 250-721-8480.

SALT day two: from 4 pm Saturday, March 3 at Open Space, 510 Fort Street.
Tickets $25 for a day pass (available at the door). 250-383-8833.