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Margaret Lam and Anastasia Tchernikova share their insiders’ perspectives on three emerging groups of Toronto composers and musicians, all offering concerts in the coming days:
The Sneak Peek orchestra, the Toy Piano Composers and Musica Reflecta are three different groups driven by a shared vision: creating a platform for emerging musicians, conductors and composers to develop their curriculum vitae and musical street cred as they transition from the nurturing walls of academia to the competitive world of professional music.
The Sneak Peek Orchestra and Toy Piano Composers were founded at around the same time in 2007 and 2008. Both are led by composition students from the University of Toronto. They even collaborated on a fun concert entitled “Toy Piano vs. Orchestra” in 2010.
Musica Reflecta is a group that is just starting out, with a similar emphasis in showcasing emerging Canadian performers and composers.
Sneak Peek Orchestra was created to premiere and perform large-scale orchestral works. It’s a genre close to the heart of co-founder and resident composer Kevin Lau, who this season was named the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s affiliate composer.
Victor Cheng, a close friend of Lau’s and musician of many talents, became co-founder and resident conductor to form a professional-level orchestra made up of some of the best emerging talents in the city.
They strive to present orchestral concerts that are fun and accessible, while introducing new orchestral compositions to a general audience.
Similarly, the Toy Piano Composers, founded by Monica Pearce and Chris Thornborrow, share a vision of presenting new music in ways that engage new audiences. No two concerts are the same but all share a healthy dose of humour. Their down-to-earth approach reaches out to audiences without compromising the craft of writing art music.
Musica Reflecta held its inaugural chamber-style concert last month. The series is programmed to make connections between musical works of the past and today, via chamber works by Toronto-based composers. The series is co-produced by Larissa Koniuk and conducted by Anastasia Tchernikova, an all-woman artistic team that was also behind this past summer’s Bicycle Opera Project.
All three groups share an intrepid spirit, a willingness to take risks, and the desire to turn the challenges confronting a new generation of musicians into opportunities.
These are labours of love filled with hurdles such as learning how to produce concerts and find new audiences. It takes a dedicated team as well as supporters from other professions who lend their expertise in marketing, fundraising, and administration to make it all happen.
Having seen Sneak Peek Orchestra grow as their founding general manager, it seems nothing short of a miracle when we step back to realize that we have been at it for five years. It is equally encouraging to see the Toy Piano Composers pushing forward along with us and Musica Reflecta embarking on a similar journey.
These grassroots efforts started with an idea, but their continuation depends on the support they receive from the community, as well as from each other.
I am particularly excited as I write because all three groups will be performing this the weekend in different parts of the city:
- Friday: Sneak Peek Orchestra in the modern St Gabriel’s Passionist Church in North York, at 7:30 p.m. Details here.
- Saturday: Toy Piano Composers in Yorkville’s historic Heliconian Hall, 8 p.m. Details here.
- Sunday: Musica Reflecta at St Barnabas Anglican Church on the Danforth, 7:30 p.m. Details here.
Some personal thoughts from Musica Reflecta’s founding artistic director and conductor on the group’s inaugural season:
Young musicians of tomorrow, a warm welcome to the plethora of musical opportunities that is Toronto’s classical music scene. With artist diplomas in hand, overflowing repertoire lists, audition dresses and headshots in the bag, you are ready to welcome the applause and add another 500 watts to the bright musical future of Toronto!
… But not quite so.
If you are like me and you are just out of your undergrad, you may be a little lost as to your sense of career direction. Fresh out of the bubble of an educational institution, it’s easy to question your motives and become unsure of what to do. The imposing chains of academia have been broken, and you are faced with an alien luxury: freedom to begin your professional life.
As a pianist, it wasn’t until over a year after graduation that I decided to take matters into my own hands and pursue a
musical urge I wasn’t able to satisfy during my time at U of T: my ambition to conduct. Inspiration and encouragement came during drinks with university friends who were also looking for a source to unleash their pent-up creative juices.
More importantly, we all knew we wanted to collaborate together in a fun way, to form a collective where we could play and laugh, but also present some seriously good music.
And with that, Musica Reflecta was born – the city’s latest young chamber orchestra collective. Though a timid idea at first, the response from young musicians’ circles, particularly U of T and Glenn Gould School students and graduates, was overwhelmingly positive.
The first concert programme featured a newly commissioned dance suite, Patchwork Suite, with individual movements composed by colleagues (Kevin Lau and Chris Thornborrow, among others). The Suite served as a Canadian contemporary reflection (pun intended) of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, the other half of Musica Reflecta’s inaugural program. The collective is lucky to include a team of talented composers who arranged the Tombeau especially for our ensemble of string quartet and woodwind quintet, one player per part.
The mirroring element of old and new in the concert series is a real thrill to program. I challenged my colleagues to reflect the ideas of the Greats in modern, Canadian language, and they certainly rose up to it. All of the new compositions were remarkable — there truly is no shortage of talented composers in this city.
Many of our musicians have stepped up to assist with the administrative and promotional aspects of putting the series on its feet. We now realize that a business sense and branding are indispensable to emerging artists in a world where an image and numbers are vital. So Musica Reflecta has doubled as a learning platform for the arts business.
The series is proud to present its second concert, Song and Orchestra, featuring Gustav Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder and Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach, reflected by Canadian song cycles: James Rolfe’s Six Songs, as well as a brand-new composition of DMA candidate Anna Hostman’s, Thin Straight Lines.
I am looking forward to a season of colourful classical and Canadian contemporary repertoire, as well as more faces in our quickly-growing ensemble and audience.