When it comes to academic achievement, good things often come in quiet packages. Consider the case of graduating School of Music student Spencer Davis, who has been named the recipient of the 2015 Victoria Medal—awarded annually to the student with the highest GPA in the Faculty of Fine Arts—thanks to his impressive graduating average of 8.94. Yet as one of his instructors notes after four years of working together, “I had no idea what kind of a player he would be because he is so unassuming.”
“This is a great honour, and one for which he obviously had to work tremendously hard,” notes Acting Dean Lynne Van Luven. “I congratulate Spencer on this wonderful cap to his Bachelor of Music career.” Davis graduates on June 11, along with the rest of the Fine Arts class of 2015.
2015 Victoria Medal winner Spencer Davis
Vancouver-born but Calgary raised, Davis returned to the coast to attend UVic. “I auditioned for, and was accepted at, a few other schools but I chose to attend UVic because of the distinct friendliness I experienced from the students and faculty during my audition. I’ve had a great experience at UVic, and I’m glad that I chose to come here.”
When it comes to achieving such a remarkable GPA, Davis puts it down to the fact that he worked “tremendously hard.” “I prioritized school above everything else in my life, and I focused all of my energy on it.” Not that he feels this puts him above his peers. “I have friends who did the same, and I feel strongly that they are just as deserving of this award as I am.”
“Spencer [is] as a musician and performer of the highest caliber,” notes School of Music director Susan Lewis. “He gave major solo performances and collaborative recitals, culminating in a graduating recital featuring music by Debussy, Beethoven, and Chopin.”
You can listen to his graduation recital here, which features Davis performing Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque,” Beethoven’s “Bagatelles, Op 126,” Chopin’s “Mazurkas, Op 24 Nos 3 & 4” and “Sonata No 3 in B Minor,” as well as some of his other performances.
But the soft-spoken Davis downplays his academic accomplishments (“To be honest, receiving this award feels like my greatest achievement here,” he says), calling his solo graduation recital “an incredibly daunting challenge—and one of the most character-building experiences of my life.”
Describing him as “a quiet-spoken young man who would always come to his lessons with very particular ideas about interpretation,” supervising professor Bruce Vogt calls Davis “a special talent . . . I never had to push him or remind him that things were behind. He basically was taking almost the equivalent of two degrees, and yet he kept the highest standards in everything. He is indeed a special student—thoughtful, compassionate and extremely intelligent.”
Beyond performance, the other of those “two degrees” came about as a result of Davis taking professor Andrew Schloss’ “Music, Science & Computers” course. “It introduced me to new ways of thinking about music and sound, and stoked my interest in music technology,” Davis recalls. “It also got me interested in studying math and science, at which I had excelled in high school, but for which I had never felt any passion.”
Following Schloss’ class, Davis swiftly registered in two introductory computer science courses. “At this point, I knew I wanted to pursue my new interest academically, but also felt driven to finish my music degree, so I supplemented my music courses with courses from the software engineering program, applied for it, and was accepted,” he says. “I’ve long had an interest in electronic music, and am well-acquainted with modern digital audio tools. It’s my hope that I’ll be able to draw on my background as a musician and performer to create new kinds of tools for digital audio that are less restrictive and more intuitive.”
With his departure from the School of Music, Davis singles out piano professor Bruce Vogt. “I should take this opportunity to thank Bruce Vogt, with whom I have worked closely for the past four years, and for whom I have a great deal of respect. I’ve learned a lot from him, and he has had a really positive influence on me personally and artistically.”
As for the future, Davis says he hopes to find an occupation that “capitalizes as fully as possible on my unique set of aptitudes, and on what will be, at the close of my time at UVic, my unusual and diverse educational background.”
Curious who else has won the Victoria Medal? Read about such diverse winners as Art History & Visual Studies architectural student Genevieve Neelin, Department of Writing poet Kyeren Regehr, and Art History honours student Regan Shrumm.
Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff
Being the first to gain access to an archive is the kind of research opportunity most academics dream of—and it’s how Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff will be spending his summer.
Antliff was recently announced as the inaugural Research Fellow in Residence at the Clyfford Still Museum Research Center in Denver, Colorado. Named for the famed American painter—whom Antliff describes as “a leading artist in the abstract expressionist movement”—the position at the CSM represents a rare opportunity.
“No scholars apart from those at the CSM have had access to his archive or library before this—I’m getting first crack at it,” says Antliff, who will be spending two months on site. “The archives are still being catalogued. I have no idea what I’m going to find there; I’ve just been told it’s substantial.”
Considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Still developed a new and powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II. But after his death in 1980, Still’s estate was sealed off from public and scholarly view.
His will stipulated his estate be given in its entirety to an American city willing to establish a permanent museum dedicated solely to his work, ensuring its survival for exhibition and study—which Denver committed to in 2004. The CSM opened in 2011 and represents 95 percent of his output—more than 3,000 works created between 1920 and 1980.
“Professor Antliff’s appointment as the first Senior Research Fellow at the CSM promises to shed fresh and exciting new light on Clyfford Still’s art and thought,” says Dr. David Anfam, Director of the CSM Research Center. “In particular, Professor
Still’s work in the CSM
Antliff’s deep knowledge of anarchism and the arts should yield though-provoking insights into Still’s lifelong belief in libertarianism and its aesthetic consequences.”
Antliff will be focusing on Still’s “groundbreaking contribution” to abstract expressionism. “I’ve been exploring debates concerning aesthetics and romanticism during WWII in Britain and the United States, and tracking art’s configuration as a means of resistance to the forces of state power, mass conformity and dehumanizing military violence,” he says.
Much like contemporaries Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman (whom Antliff describes as “the three anarchist abstract
expressionists”), Still’s work commands a steep price: his painting “1949-A-No.1” went for $61.7 million at the New York Sotheby’s in 2011—one of four of his paintings that were sold and collectively raised $114.1 million for the endowment of the CSM.
In addition to his research, Antliff will also be working on an article for publication while at the CSM. “It’s part of a larger book project on the abstract expressionists,” he says. “I‘m revisiting the entire movement in relation to the anarchist concerns I’m examining.” He will also present a public lecture on July 23.
“It’s a big adventure, because I don’t know what’s in the archive,” Antliff concludes. “There’s no record of the contents—we’ll see what I discover.”
It sounds like a Zen koan: What kind of music would a mushroom make? The answer isn’t to be found in meditation, however, but at this week’s Music for Mycologists concert.
The Experimental Music Unit
American composer John Cage—an avid mycologist—often quipped that music and mushrooms have nothing to do with one another . . . except for the fact that they appear next to each other in the dictionary. The Experimental Music Unit (EMU) puts the veracity of this statement to the test with Music for Mycologists, a collection of musical works by local composers Paul Walde and Tina Pearson, Czech composer Vaclav Halek—described as “the world’s most prolific composer of mushroom songs”—and the EMU trio. Music for Mycologists explores relationships between music making and mushroom hunting, exposing the sometimes fragile process of discovering sounds of rare and raw beauty that exist just beyond perception.
The Music for Mycologists CD release concert begins at 8pm Saturday, June 6, at Open Space. Tickets are $11-$16 advance or $15-$20 at the door. There will also be “mushroom-themed” refreshments (we’ll leave that to your imagination), signed CDs available for purchase and informal discussions with the artists.
EMU is the core ensemble of LaSaM Music, which has been producing adventurous music events since 2008, and three of the four members hail from UVic: Visual Arts chair Paul Walde (bass guitar), School of Music audio specialist & recording engineer Kirk McNally (live electronic processing), Computer Science professor George Tzanetakis (bass clarinet), plus composer Tina Pearson (flute, voice). Known for its themed projects informed by aural tradition and improvisation, LaSaM explores the relationships between the natural world, sound and music, acoustic ecology and the provocative ideas of music practitioners from many times and places.
Music for Mycologists features Walde’s piece “Interdeterminancy (for John Cage)”, the musical realization of a set of eight large mushroom spore printed panels designed as a graphic notation, which appeared as part of the Legacy Gallery’s 2013 Visual Arts faculty exhibit Paradox. Also on the bill is Pearson’s “Hunt (3) Chanterelles”, a set of sonic textures that reflect the sensations, sounds, colours, smells and attention states inspired by her mother’s memories of lifelong mushroom hunting. Balancing the program are “Mycelium Running,” a sonic enactment of the life cycle of a single mushroom from mycelium through spore, three short Halek compositions from his collection of short melodies transcribed from sounds he heard directly from mushroom species near his home, as well as live electronic processing by audio artist McNally.
In EMU’s Music for Mycologists soundworld, intentional microscopic attention is paid to typically peripheral instrument and body sounds, such as the nuances of breath, pre-tone whispers and whistles, the tap of instrument keys, the sound of a bow slowly crunching, and the charged pause of acute listening. You can listen to an excerpt below.
Whether performing in the Royal BC Museum’s natural history exhibit or exploring the sonic life of spores, the Experimental Music Unit always lives up to its name.
EMU and LaSaM are known for their original themed projects inspired by relationships between the natural world, sound and music, and the provocative ideas of music practitioners who work outside the margins; and the act of listening itself. Previous major projects include Dark Listening (2014), Music for Natural History (2012), In a Large Open Space (2011), “And Beethoven Heard Nothing” (2010), and Removing the Demon (2009) among others.
The Lafayette String Quartet
From the launch of a new CD to a rare performance of one of the most beautiful works ever written for eight string players, Quartet Fest West will electrify audiences and students alike. An intensive chamber music workshop welcoming select national and international students, Quartet Fest West runs June 8-19 at the School of Music.
Now in its third year of revival, Quartet Fest West originally ran from 1993 to 1998 and has continued to be popular with performers and audiences. Hosted by the Lafayette String Quartet—UVic’s beloved artists-in-residence since 1991—this year’s acclaimed guest artists include violist Henk Guittart, pianist Alexander Tselyakov and the Penderecki String Quartet, who were part of the original Quartet Fest West in 1993.
Quartet Fest West offers an unparalleled string quartet experience, including a series of concerts, masterclasses and workshops, all of which are open to the public in UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets for all concerts are $12 students / $25 regular or a three-concert pass is available at $25 students / $65 regular, but masterclasses and the Henk Guittart’s evening lecture are by donation.
Motion and Distance, the new album by the LSQ
“It’s a very high-pressure job … [but] you get to interpret the music, you don’t have to go along with a section,” LSQ violist Joanna Hood says about the challenges of the string quartet experience in this Times Colonist article. “You get to shape the music more. And the music that’s written for string quartet is such great repertoire.”
Quartet Fest West opens with a June 10 concert celebrating the launch of the Lafayette String Quartet’s latest CD, Motion and Distance.
Originally commissioned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival in 2014, “In a World of Motion and Distance” was written for Alexander Tselyakov and the Lafayette String Quartet. The piece takes its title from a poem by Philippe Jaccottet, “Les Distances,” which reminds us that even though the birds in the sky are at a great distance, the stars are even further. Yet the poem also offers a solution: no matter what the distance between tree to bird, to sky, to stars, we can move through it all because we live in a world of motion and distance.
Pianist Alexander Tselyakov
Divided into three contrasting movements (fast, slow, fast), the initial catalyst for the piece was in drawing parallels between the creative process and the annealing of glass and metal. Elements are refined, purified, and strengthened through slow, intense heat followed by cooling; in the composition of music, the parallel processes would be doubt, revision, and persistence. At the beginning of any project, the concepts and ideas are at a great distance from the concert hall. One has to struggle, grasp, and push in order to commence and then to continue moving forward through that distance between inspiration and the finished piece.
At the June 10 concert, the LSQ will be performing selections from the album, as well as a new piano quintet by Kelly Marie-Murphy with pianist Alexander Tselyakov and guest violist Yariv Aloni. Also on the program is the beautiful “Hummell Piano Quintet”, Shostakovich’s jazz-infused “13th Quartet” and a viola quintet by Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Joseph Haydn.
The June 13 concert features the Penderecki String Quartet, Wilfrid Laurier University’s remarkable quartet-in-residence, performing Beethoven “Op. 18, No 3”, “Penderecki No. 3” and Smetena’s beautiful “Quartet No. 1, From My Life.”
On June 14, renowned violist Henk Guittart speaks about his quartet’s long relationship with the great chamber musician Eugene Lehner.
Penderecki String Quartet
The performance on June 16 features these two great Canadian string quartets—the Lafayette and Penderecki—uniting to perform one of the most beautiful works for eight string performers ever written, the rarely-performed “Enescu Octet”. Also on the program the magnificent “Cello Quintet in C” by Franz Schubert.
Finally, QFW comes to a conclusion with the June 19 Participants Concert, featuring the participating student quartets of Quartet Fest West 2015. The students will be performing select movements from Brahms’ Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111, Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44 and Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110. Admission to this concert is by donation.
Please join us for this annual celebration of strings!