Music students frantically attempt to keep up with theory, harmony, sight-singing, keyboard harmony, exams, papers, presentations, practising, performing, singing in the university chorus, ensemble work etc. Because of the stress of this continual development of skills, an unspoken understanding develops among colleagues.
Esprit Orchestra founder and conductor Alex Pauk and composer, educator John Rea have known each other for, dare I say, several decades now, ever since they were students at the University of Toronto.
John eventually made his way to Princeton, to satisfy his academic curiosity – Alex to Vancouver, to develop his career in composition and conducting. During his decade in Vancouver, Alex founded his third new music group, Days, Months and Years to Come. Because of their ongoing camaraderie and musical respect for one another, John was one of the first composers Alex commissioned for that new ensemble. The piece? Jeux de Scène. That was 1976!
Fast-forward several years…
Alex had moved back to Toronto and John had become a professor of composition at McGill University. At that time, Alex introduced me to the remarkable John Rea. We had such warm, zany, intellectually stimulating times together (and we continue to do so). Not only did we learn about the wide intellectual pursuits that John was constantly considering, but we also learned a lot about Italian cooking – and he learned a lot about Chinese cooking. Many wonderful Italian and Chinese meals have been eaten since those earlier times. Ah, the joy of sharing great cuisines!
Over the years, the friendship between Alex and John saw them through many experiences, including countless meetings of the Canadian League of Composers (Alex was for many years the President, and John was a member of the Executive Committee). There were so many contentious issues that impacted the lives of composers that the CLC meetings went on for hours at a time. I remember one day they arrived from a meeting in a stupor. Wordlessly, they simultaneously lay down on the floor on their backs, staring at the ceiling! (They may have groaned). It was quite a sight.
Over thirty years ago, Alex felt the need to start a special orchestra devoted to the music of our time – a contemporary music orchestra – an orchestra of committed players able to handle the technical musical challenges of brand new scores. They had to put their total energy, vigor and expression into bringing difficult new scores to life by giving them excellent performances.
As the Viennese composer, Arnold Schoenberg once said, “My music is not modern, it is merely badly played.” Esprit’s mission was to ensure that such terms would not apply to its artistry. This takes a lot of energy, as well as a lot of rehearsal.
Before setting out to build this dream orchestra, Alex approached John to act as a sounding board. The two of them tossed ideas back and forth and John, in his usual fashion, posed questions that encouraged Alex and helped clarify a way to proceed.
Those discussions took place prior to 1982. The rest, as they say, is history. Canada’s only full-sized orchestra dedicated solely to performing the music of our time was created 33 years ago. It remains one of the very few in the world.
Who was the first composer commissioned by Esprit? John Rea, Vanishing Points. The two friends collaborate again on Sunday, November 15.
Come witness the fruits of their friendship.
Esprit Orchestra: Play
Sunday, November 15, Koerner Hall 8:00 PM
7:15 Pre-concert chat – composers John Rea & Andrew Norman with Alexina Louie
Tevot (Thomas Adès), Play (Andrew Norman), Zefiro torna (John Rea)
Join us for Esprit’s biggest orchestra to date (including quintuple winds, 8 French Horns, 8 percussionists and TWO TUBAS)! It is going to be amazing!