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10 pieces by living Canadian composers that you will love

Editorial Staff

By Matthew Parsons

I love Beethoven as much as anybody. But, he doesn't reply to my tweets.

There's something about listening to music that's written by somebody whom you could theoretically bump into on the street — music that belongs to the same time and place as you do. To wit, check out the gallery above for 10 pieces of music that are periodically vibrant, contemplative, eccentric, fun and beautiful: all of them written by composers who are alive and living in Canada.

This is by no means an authoritative list. It is not "the 10 living Canadian composers that you should know." Because, there are way more than 10. This is just an idiosyncratic mélange of 10 pieces that are pretty awesome. It's a decent start.

Alas, not all of these works have found their way online in their untruncated form. But, here's a playlist of the ones that have.

1. Jocelyn Morlock: Oiseaux bleus et sauvages

Jocelyn Morlock has been known to describe herself as an "admirer of weird birds." This odd fascination pays dividends on this energetic orchestral piece — a cut from her debut recording, Cobalt.

This snippet will almost certainly leave you wanting more, in which case you can buy Cobalt on iTunes.

2. Christos Hatzis: Old Photographs

Christos Hatzis may be Canada's most eclectic composer. His music regularly incorporates recorded sounds, Inuit throat singing, visual components and electronics. His music is a euphonious mélange that's impossible to tune out, in the best possible way.

This movement from Hatzis's massive multimedia productionConstantinople is his most performed piece. There's an astonishing moment partway through: it transforms from a wistful lullaby to a savage tango without jarring in the slightest. 

3. Tim Brady: Frame 4 — Still

Tim Brady is not only a respected and busy composer, he's also one of Canada's most distinctive guitarists and the leader of the Montreal contemporary music ensemble Bradyworks.

His orchestral and chamber music is worth checking out, but this elegiac duet for electric guitar and viola from his multimedia composition 24 Frames features Brady's own guitar playing — definitely a plus.

4. Nicole Lizée: Bookburners

This piece has one of the most staggering openings you'll ever hear: turntablist P-Love transforms a dusty old Slim Whitman record into a glorious, delicate call-and-response; a solo cello harmonizes below. It's simple, ingenious and absolutely gorgeous.

Lizée claims that there are backwards messages on this recording, like the Beatles used to do. However, she categorically refused to tell CBC Music what they are.

5. Howard Bashaw: TMHRO (Three Movements for the Hard Rubber Orchestra)

Howard Bashaw is a composer's composer. The pianist Marc Couroux has written about his tendency to remain "hidden in his basement, working out diagrams of fanatical precision, with a line of disciples behind him who swear by his name and speak it in hushed tones."

Granted, a lot of Bashaw's music isn't especially immediate. But this piece, commissioned by Vancouver's Hard Rubber Orchestra, has more groove than anything else on this list. The third movement, is appropriately titled "Barrel Ride." All Charles Mingus fans should hear this. 

To hear the whole thing, pick up this CD

6. Vivian Fung: Violin Concerto

Everybody loves a bit of good old-fashioned virtuosity. And the solo part of this concerto by Edmonton-born Vivian Fung offers plenty of that, with a colourful orchestration supporting it. Here it is performed marvellously by violinist Kristin Lee. 

This piece won the Juno for classical composition of the year in 2013.

7. Jeffrey Ryan: Equilateral

Classical music should be fun. Vancouver-based composer Jeffrey Ryan seems to understand that intuitively. This triple concerto for piano, cello and violin features a silky, lyrical middle movement sandwiched in between two of the most energetic pieces of music on this list. 

Here are excerpts from all three movements. You'll want to hear the rest of this, and you can download it on iTunes

8. Alexina Louie: Put on Your Running Shoes

This sprightly piano solo was commissioned by the Honens International Piano Competition for one of its winners. Which makes sense, because by the sound of it, you pretty much have to be a pianist of international calibre to play it.

Louie is one of the most popular composers in Canada, with commissions from orchestras, festivals and competitions across the country. You'll hear why. 

9. R. Murray Schafer: The Crown of Ariadne

Schafer probably has the largest international profile of any Canadian composer, but it's not necessarily because of his music. Schafer has written voluminously on the impact of humans on the sounds of nature. In the course of that research, he coined the term "soundscape."

Schafer currently resides in a red brick farmhouse outside of Peterborough, Ont., with no computer and no television. He has composed music to be performed on beaches, in forests, and in boats. There's a lot of it for which recordings can't do justice. But, this piece that Schafer wrote for harp virtuoso Judy Loman is hypnotic and captivating, even through headphones.

10. Marjan Mozetich: Affairs of the Heart

Canada's resident neo-romantic Marjan Mozetich composes the sort of obsessively tuneful music that some assume hasn't been written for about a century. It has made him one of this country's most esteemed musicians.

This violin concerto is schmaltz; make no mistake. It is heart-on-sleeve weepy music. And it is completely unapologetic for this. As it should be — there's nothing wrong with schmaltz when it's this good.

Listen to CBC Musics Canadian Composers stream