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Headshots of NextGen Composers

Amplifying New Voices

The TSO NextGen Composer Program Culminates with World Premières
June 7, 2023

Molten lava boiling, flowing, and eventually hardening. A journey of discovery through lines, layers, and what connects them. The curious combination of pain and pleasure felt when eating spicy food.

These simple descriptions hardly do justice to the three wonderful, brand-new orchestral creations by the TSO’s NextGen Composers—Fjóla Evans, Matthew-John Knights, and Luis Ramirez—that audiences will experience during the final Masterworks program of our 2022/23 season and our Centennial as a whole. The sold-out concerts, conducted by Music Director Gustavo Gimeno and running from June 16 to 18, also includes Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 1, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 performed by sensational pianist and TSO Spotlight Artist Yuja Wang.

The TSO's NextGen Composer program was established in 2020 to support the development of early career composers ready to expand their skills in orchestral composition. Three promising Canadian composers are selected each year and given opportunity to write five-minute orchestral works for the TSO. Throughout the process, the NextGens are mentored by TSO Composer Advisor Gary Kulesha and RBC Affiliate Composer Alison Yun-Fei Jiang with workshops in score preparation by TSO Principal Librarian Chris Reiche Boucher.

And how do this season’s resulting pieces fit into this particular concert? Gustavo explains:

“A defining element of the program is the placement of new works by our NextGen Composers adjacent to Shostakovich’s First Symphony,” he says. “One of the reasons I love the NextGen program is because it allows us to investigate the area between very fresh and fully established in each creator’s artistry, which is where their distinct personality begins to present itself. Similarly, what you hear in Shostakovich’s First is an artist who is young, creative, searching.” 

About Our 2022/23 NextGen Composers & Their Pieces

Fjóla Evans: Hraunflæði

Fjóla Evans is a Canadian/Icelandic composer and cellist. Her work explores the visceral physicality of sound while drawing inspiration from patterns of natural phenomena. Commissions and performances have come from ensembles including the GRAMMY®-winning Eighth Blackbird, the Aizuri Quartet, and the Residentie Orkest of the Netherlands. She is currently a doctoral candidate in composition at Columbia University where her research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Visit Fjóla’s website.

Of her piece, the composer writes:

Hraunflæði (Icelandic for ‘lava flow’) is inspired by the 2021 volcanic eruption of Fagradalsfjall in Iceland. I had the opportunity to see [a] valley filled with hardening lava in June 2022, nine months after the eruption ended. The field of lava was awe-inspiring to behold. All these months later the now-hardened lava was still steaming hot, and gave off a very pungent sulphuric odour. I had never seen such ‘fresh’ rock before, and it made me feel as if I was getting a forbidden glimpse into the insides of the earth.

“In the first half of Hraunflæði, I attempt to evoke the impression of molten lava roiling beneath the surface and then emanating forth in an unstoppable yet slow-moving torrent. In the second half of the piece, the drier textures of the orchestra explore the sounds of lava solidifying. Towards the end of the piece, I imagine the hissing and sputtering of drops of rain falling on the still warm lava.”

Matthew-John Knights: Lines, Layers, Ligaments

Matthew-John (MJ) Knights’ interest in music started at a young age. However, it wasn’t until the end of their bachelor’s degree in piano performance that MJ realized their need to pursue composition seriously and began taking lessons with Kelly-Marie Murphy. MJ is currently working on their doctoral dissertation at the University of British Columbia under Dorothy Chang. They have had works performed across Canada and in the US, and some of their compositions have won awards, including one from the SOCAN Foundation. Visit MJ’s website. 

Of their piece, the composer writes:

Lines: I love the concepts of lines in music (although none of mine are particularly straight), and I explored as many lines as I could within the orchestra. Follow these lines and see where they take you. 

Layers: In writing an orchestral piece, composers often think about background, middle ground, and foreground elements, but I wanted to take this a step further and see how many layers I could explore. The lines are varied, and rarely doubled. Gestures are doubled, but the details are fuzzy. Combine the layers and see what happens. 

Ligaments: In this piece, something needs to connect all the lines and layers, and here, the orchestra’s members all work together like ligaments do, to make a living, breathing thing come to life. Connect the lines, combine the layers, and see where they take you.” 

Luis Ramirez: Picante

Luis Ramirez is a Mexican-Canadian composer with a penchant for rhythmically colourful textures and visually arresting soundscapes that often incorporate elements of Mexican folklore and a cinematic approach to musical storytelling. He is currently pursuing a doctorate with Randolph Peters at York University. Luis’s works have been performed by some of the top orchestras in North America. An eclectic musician, he has toured as a classical pianist, conducted the Brandon Community Orchestra, and performed at bars with his tango quintet. Visit Luis’s website.

Of his piece, the composer writes:

Picante follows the masochistic experience of eating spicy food as it takes us on an imaginative journey inside the human body. The entire piece is built around a fiery gesture that builds over time into an explosive climax, before being close-up in a calm state of flavourful enjoyment. This burning sensation is quintessential in Mexican culture. 

“The music captures the fascinating process that occurs when eating spicy food: Our hearts quicken; we sweat, sniffle, cry, and cough; we shiver; we groan; we scream; and we suffer. Nevertheless, the most crucial reaction is that the brain releases endorphins and dopamine to lessen and alleviate the pain. The result is an intriguing exploration of the fine line between pain and pleasure. After all, what is life, if not the search for pleasure amidst the pain? 

Please note that these bios and program notes have been edited for length. Read the full notes and bios here.

Meet Our 2023/24 NextGen Composers

In our 101st year, we look forward to welcoming the following creators to the NextGen Composer program—three women whose impressive talents are already garnering considerable recognition:

  • Katerina Gimon, whose “Earth” from her choral piece Elements will also be performed as part of our Mahler Symphony No. 3 program
  • Julia Mermelstein, whose Celebration Prelude in moments, into bloom was premièred by the TSO in May 2022
  • Christina Volpini, whose Celebration Prelude deep field was premièred by the TSO in Oct 2022

NextGen Composers supported by the RBC Foundation.