Staying Positive While Remaining Negative

Following the event formerly known as the “coolest thing we’ve done”, a.k.a. our. debut album recording, we dove into learning Kelly-Marie Murphy’s new double concerto Machines, Mannequins and Monsters! We will be premiering it with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on January 26th, 2022.

We have been deep in the woodshed the past few weeks, grinding out what is undoubtably one of the most intense pieces we have ever had the opportunity to learn.

Machines, Mannequins, and Monsters is a taut and driving showcase for piano/percussion duo and orchestra and is inspired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition of the same name:

“In the first decades of the 20th century artists in Europe and the Americas brought to life of legion of unsettling figures shaped by shared experiences of sweeping technological change… Machines promised a bright, efficient future, but they also enabled a devastating warfare that mutilated soldiers’ bodies, which were then remade with prosthetics… increasingly lifelike mannequins filled shop windows [and now digitally on screens everywhere], uncanny doubles of the consumers passing by… on the silver screen, vampires, golems, hunchbacks, and other anthropomorphic monsters reflected a pervasive racism and aversion to difference”. (MoMA)

100 years later and humanity is still grappling with the same issues.

It is a peculiar feeling spending hours a day rehearsing a piece, which due to increased restrictions in response to the new COVID-19 variant, may be indefinitely postponed. Over the past eighteen months our duo has been able to weather the COVID storm through a combination of lucky timing, constant applications, and virtual pivots. For the moment we are still going forward with the double concerto, though the potential for a cancellation is forcing us to reexamine what drives us to create art.

Throughout the Murphy Double Concerto there are many special moments: big, open spaces punctuated by franticly accelerating and fractured scales in the first movement; blooms of resonance, echoes, and wisps of memory permeate the second movement; and, in the third, a relentless gallop towards oblivion.

The last few weeks have been very productive and, dare I say, enjoyable as we continue to hone this incredible new piece. No matter when the premiere takes place, it is always a pleasure to spend time with such brilliant music.

SHHH!! Ensemble wishes you a safe holiday season and try to stay positive while remaining (COVID) negative! 😉

Recording at Domaine Forget

SHHH!! just got back from an incredible week at Le Domaine Forget in the Charlevoix region of Quebec! We were recording our debut album, titled Meanwhile in the beautiful acoustic of the Domaine Forget Salle de Concert.

We spent November 20th and 21st setting up (LOTS of gear!), rehearsing, and getting comfortable in the space. The next three days were a joyous whirlwind working with tonmeister extraordinaire Carl Talbot recording some of our most beloved repertoire.

While recording, everything had to be considered: the setup (each piece had a unique percussion array, and therefore different mic and instrument placement), the physicality of music (more intense pieces were recorded either at the very beginning or very end of the day), even piano tunings had to be factored in as some pieces were so bombastic and impassioned that a tuning was required before we could proceed!

Here is a sample of our schedule from Day 2:

8h00: piano tuning

9h30: arrive at the hall and warm up while Carl and his assistant Philippe tweak mic placements and settings.

10h30: begin recording Micheline Roi’s Grieving the Doubts of Angels. We start with the very transparent opening when the piano would be at it absolute best… things gradually get more aggressive and crunchy sounding so we save that for the end.

12h55: the very understanding piano technician Michel is called 5 mins before his scheduled tuning to please-please-please come 20-30mins later so we could get a final take or two of the last energetic and wild last section.

13h25: piano tuning / lunch break. Perhaps of interest, perhaps not… meals at Domaine Forget generally consisted of cheeses, breads, preserves, and pâtés from the Charlevoix region… or tourtières from Léon & Lily boulangerie… too good! Don’t worry, we had lots of fruits and vegetables as well! 😉

15h00: meet back in the booth to go over the mornings takes and double check if anything needed to be redone. We were all good, so it was time to move on to Jocelyn Morlock’s Spirit Gradient. There was a slightly different setup for this piece so things needed to be rejigged.

16h30: begin recording Spirit Gradient. We got some great initial takes, but because of our position to get the best sound, hearing eachother was a little problematic (the tuned metal discs called crotales that I, Zac, play ring A LOT, and had to be placed far away from the piano mics… we play in rhythmic unison for much of the piece! So, not easy!). Carl outfitted Edana with some headphones that allowed her to hear me much better. After that it was smooth sailing and we got into a really good flow.

19h30: head back to the booth and check out our progress. After much close listening and debating we agreed that we were all good. A really awesome Day 2.

20h30: Day 2 complete. Back to our apartment to decompress. Edana and I got in the habit of sampling a different beer from Charlevoix each night. Always excellent.

Day 3 proceeded in much the same way, so all in all, things went swimmingly! We really enjoyed the process, working with Carl was a pleasure, and the grounds and the hall at Domaine Forget were beautiful and inspiring.

Over the three days we recorded John Beckwith’s Meanwhile, John Gordon Armstrong’s The Angels’ Share, Noora Nakhaei’s Echoes of the Past, Micheline Roi’s Grieving the Doubts of Angels, Jocelyn Morlock’s Spirit Gradient, Monica Pearce’s leather, and Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine.

Following the last day of recording we spent a further two days exploring the region… walks on the beach, some hiking at Parc National des Grands-Jardin, delicious dinners and wine at Le Sainti (a ten minute walk from Domaine), and checking out all of the amazing local producers of beer, cheese, honey, meat, preserves, mushrooms, and more.

Our album will be released in Spring 2022 on the Analekta label! A HUGE thank you to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for supporting this project.

We can’t wait to share this incredible Canadian music with you!

Lunenburg Residency

This past week SHHH!! had the opportunity to rehearse intensively at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance (LAMP) in historic Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (home of the famed Bluenose schooner, the vessel featured on the Canadian Dime).

We spent seven days working in the gorgeous 19th century building pictured above, with inspiring views of the town and harbour from every window. Thanks so much to Artistic Director Burt Wathen and the LAMP staff for welcoming us into their space, it was an incredible experience. This beautiful time would not have been possible without the generous support of LAMP’s Gifted Young Artist Bursary Program, which we were honoured to receive.

During our residency at LAMP we spent the days fine tuning our debut album repertoire. We will be recording from November 22-24 on the Analekta label at Domaine Forget in Charlevoix, Quebec.

Some pictures of our Lunenburg Academy studio space:

The weather was spectacular, blue skies almost everyday! Here are a few shots from out the window and around town:

Typically we divide our time between multiple SHHH!! projects, teaching, and other freelance work, so dedicated and super-focussed rehearsal periods such as this past week are essential to our success. We put in some long days: rehearsing and practicing all-day-every-day and sticking to a program that will, fingers crossed, set us up for a successful debut recording! We are feeling great!

Our time in Lunenburg wasn’t without some leisure, meal times were spent attempting to ingest a year’s worth of seafood… as they say: Fill Yer Boots. Coffee breaks at No. 9 Coffee Bar (excellent), an obligatory Ironworks Distillery visit, and we took in a stunning sunset at Hirtles Beach, pictured below. Definitely a trip to remember!

Fall Update

Many projects going on this fall! Here is quick overview of what’s up over the next few months:

  • October 17, Spirits recital at Pontiac Enchanté in Luskville, QC! Get your tickets here.
  • October 27, Ottawa New Music Creators (ONMC) season opening concert ft. loop pedal violists Kathryn Patricia and Radia. Get your tickets for that event here.
  • October 29, Spirits recital at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB.
  • November 1-9, Residency at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance (LAMP) in Nova Scotia.
  • November 15, Video recording session ft. ONMC members and SHHH!! in the world premiere of a new work commissioned by ONMC/SHHH!! (more on this coming soon!!).
  • November 22-24, Debut album recording session at Domaine Forget in Charlevoix, QC with producer Carl Talbot for the Analekta label. HUGE thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts for funding this project! 🙂
  • December 3, ONMC Concert 2 ft. Lara Deutsch (flute) and Adam Cicchillitti (guitar).
  • Continued learning of the approximately 3,000,000 notes involved in Kelly-Marie Murphy’s new double concerto Machines, Mannequins, and Monsters! World premiere on January 26, 2022 with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Never a dull moment!

ONMC Season Launch

We are thrilled to announce our first season as the Artistic Directors of the Ottawa New Music Creators (ONMC)! 🚀😀

We have an incredible lineup planned featuring local artists, innovative performer-composers, and interdisciplinary collaboration. See below for details:

First, a few thank-yous and shout-outs:

  • To the City of Ottawa, thank you for your ongoing support. This may be our first season, but it is ONMC’s 10th (🍀🤞), and we could not have got this far without you!
  • To ONMC’s membership and wonderful audience of auditory explorers. Thank you for trusting us to curate a creative, inclusive, and groundbreaking season.
  • To ONMC’s board for the support and encouragement, suggestions, planning sessions, and marathon meetings. 🍻
  • To our season artists, we cannot wait to hear you play. It is going to be incredible. ✨
  • Finally, to Curtis Perry, ONMC’s tireless Executive Director, without whom ONMC could not exist. Your creative and organizational talents are much appreciated by the ONMC community. Also, your posters look AMAZING! 🤩👌
And now, on to the lineup:

Concert No.1 – In the Loop, October 27th

ft. Kathryn Patricia & Radia

Concert No.2 – Vistas, December 3rd

ft. Lara Deutsch & Adam Cicchillitti

Concert No.3 – Simple Lines of Enquiry, February 27th

ft. Edward Enman

Concert No.4 – Art Crush – Ensembl’Arts, April 7th

ft. Marc Djokic, Avery Zhao-Djokic, & Ariana Pirela Sánchez

Ticket Link for Concert No. 1:

Meanwhile, it’s HAPPENING!

On Tuesday last week we received the wonderful news from the Canada Council for the Arts that we were awarded an Explore and Create – Concept to Realization grant! That, combined with our earlier Ontario Arts Council Music Production Grant will allow us to proceed with recording our debut album, Meanwhile, on the Analekta label. We couldn’t be happier!

We will be recording at the beautiful George Weston Recital in Toronto with tonmeister extraordinaire Carl Talbot this fall, with a release date in early 2022.

Meanwhile‘s all-Canadian lineup surveys some of our most memorable collaborations and creative endeavours from the past few years and will include:

  • Kelly-Marie Murphy’s riveting and virtuosic Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine;
  • Noora Nakhaei’s Echoes of the Past, based on the remarkable and moving co-autobiography Sister Language by Martha and Christine Baillie;
  • John Beckwith’s Meanwhile, a haunting, reflective, and at times violent theme and variations, and the first piece written for our duo as well as the namesake of the album;
  • Micheline Roi’s powerful and expressive Grieving the Doubts of Angels, one of the few previously existing Canadian works for piano/percussion duo;
  • John Gordon Armstrong’s The Angels’ Share is a loving look at tasting notes from various single malt Scotches;
  • Jocelyn Morlock’s quirky and groovy Spirit Gradient explores the inner sound world of the horizon determining device through the eyes of a child.

We cannot wait to share this music with you! 😉🥳🎶

Barn Life & Banff Wrap Up

Over the last two and half weeks we had the privilege of setting up shop at the Venturing Hills Concert Studio in Luskville, QC (home of the Pontiac Enchanté Concert Series) as a part of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Evolution: Classical career development residency. Our stay at the “barn” was made possible with the generous support of the National Arts Centre and Pontiac Enchanté. Thank you for the opportunity!

Evolution: Classical asked us to develop a new curation that pushed us musically and artistically, as well as to explore new concepts and ways of connecting, expressing, and creating. With the time and space afforded to us by our stay at Venturing Hills, we were able to develop a new, more theatrical and unified approach to our curation. This new approach was also inspired by the incredible faculty and other Evolution: Classical participant entities who we have got to know (remotely) since May.

While at the barn, we had the chance to work IN PERSON with choreographer Marie-Josée Chartier. With her expertise we were able to hone our movement, transitions, and staging (and Aperghis… whew!!). What a great experience.

The result of all this work?

EXTRAterrestrial

EXTRAterrestrial, our new curation, premiered on August 11th as a part of the Banff Centre’s EvoFest Evolution Concert Series. The program includes music by Andy Akiho, Kevin Hanlon, J.S. Bach, Jocelyn Morlock, Mari Alice Conrad, Monica Pearce, and a theatrical percussion work by George Aperghis. It was thrilling to be able experiment and push ourselves with this program. Thank you to the Banff Centre E:C mentors (and participants) for their support, encouragement, and feedback!

Our performance was part of an epic triple header with other Evolution: Classical participant entities Indigo Trio (Jessie Ramsay, Alyssa Ramsay, and John Sellick) and Kalliope (Ellen Torrie and Kerry Bursey). It has been SO inspiring to see all of these diverse curations come together. You can still watch the show and all of the EvoFest concerts here. At the time of writing this blog post there are still two more shows that can be watched LIVE, tonight and tomorrow.

A few stills from August 11th:

Besides being a gorgeous concert venue, Venturing Hills is also a functioning equestrian farm that is nestled in the Eardley Escarpment. With it’s back to the Gatineau Park and facing out towards the Ottawa River, there was no shortage of beautiful views, greenery, and hikes and walks.

Some pictures from our rehearsal breaks over the course of the residency:

Normally, we would have wanted to cap off this blog post with a bunch of great pics of us with all of the faculty and other participants that made this residency such a rich, inspiring, and unforgettable experience, but since the bulk of our interactions were via Zoom (and it still managed to be AMAZING) we will end with screen shot from Jamie Parker!

Thank you to ALL! 🙂🙂

Some of our Summer

With all of the ups and downs that the last year has brought, thankfully this summer is shaping up to be one of our busiest and most creative! 🙂☀️🎶

That being said, we did allow ourselves a little break last week in beautiful Prince Edward County:

Since our last post:

  • Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity Evolution: Classical has continued with incredible weekly mentor sessions and EvoFest concerts. Always so inspiring. EvoFest concerts are available for free on the Banff Centre YouTube channel, here.
  • Episode 3 of NightCAPS w/ SHHH!! Ensemble aired ft. world premiere performances of Monica Pearce’s leather and Patricia Morehead’s Moon on Shimmering Water. You can still watch the performance, here.
  • On June 20th we had the pleasure of recording Monica Pearce’s leather at Revolution Recording in Toronto for her upcoming Textile Fantasies album.
  • SHHH!! percussionist Zac Pulak received a City of Ottawa Creation and Production Fund for Professional Artists Grant to complete a new solo percussion work he has been developing since the start of the pandemic (to be premiered this Fall).

Coming up:

  • Chamberfest released their season lineup! We will be performing three concerts (available online or in person)! Click here for complete details.
    1. New Music Now ft. Jocelyn Morlock’s Spirit Gradient and Monica Pearce’s leather
    2. Bring the Kids! concert ft. some really fun and engaging participatory pieces
    3. Record Centre SHHHuffle recital ft. classical arrangements plus new music by Jocelyn Morlock, Mari Alice Conrad, Noora Nakhaei, and Andy Akiho.
  • We are honoured to be partnering with the National Arts Centre as artists in residence for the 2nd instalment of the Banff Centre Evolution: Classical program. Thanks to the NAC’s support, we will spend two glorious weeks putting the finishing touches on our new repertoire at the Venturing Hills Concert Studio in Luskville, QC. The new program will be live-streamed from Venturing Hills via the Banff Centre’s EvoFest series.
  • PLANNING, PLANNING, PLANNING for the Ottawa New Music Creators’ season launch (early September). It’s going to be RAD. 🤙

More to Come SOON! 🤫😉

Zoomin’

Over the last seven days, and approximately 50 hours logged on Zoom so far, as a part of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity Evolution: Classical and East Chamber Music Emerging Composer Festival, SHHH!! Ensemble is definitely Zoomin’, Boomin’, and Movin’!

We are feeling SOOOO inspired. Daily talks with the incredible faculty and inspiring presentations from our fellow participant entities have our minds swimming in “virtually” limitless possibility… and ludicrous daily screen time reports! We have also managed to keep up a daily practice routine that has our new repertoire cooking! What a beautiful time. We are so grateful for this opportunity to grow as artists and humans!

Throughout the Evolution: Classical program (2 intense weeks in May, ongoing weekly sessions in June/July, and 2 intense weeks in August) we are working on a new SHHH!! Ensemble curation that will debut at the end of the program. Fortunately for us, our repertoire is full of energetic interactions, expressive gestures, and a sense of exploration that is the perfect remedy for a day otherwise spent behind the screen!

Inspiring mentor sessions with the likes of Rob Kapilow, The Gryphon Trio, Megumi Masaki, Aiyun Huang, Dinuk Wijeratne, Anders Astrand, Marie-Josée Chartier, and so many others have made it clear to us that in order to take this curation to the next level we need to push ourselves as a duo by bringing in elements of movement, staging, and memorization to our performance. We are ready for the challenge! The unbelievably supportive team at Evolution: Classical has set us up with numerous extra coaching sessions with experts in these particular fields and we are feeling so well taken care of.

We are looking forward to continuing to develop this innovative program and share it with you in August! Stay tuned for more updates!

In the meantime, SHHH!! tries on some other ideas…

A tale of two residencies

SHHH!! has a lot to look forward to over the next few weeks! Beginning on Monday, May 10th we have the distinct pleasure of being involved in not one, but two virtual residency programs!

In one we will be mentors, and the other we will be mentees! 🙃

We are excited to be joining Daniel Mehdizadeh’s East Chamber Music Emerging Composer Festival as the Ensemble-in-Residence. Between May 10th and 16th we will be working with six composers from around the world, helping them bring their new works for piano/percussion duo to life! We have already seen first drafts of the scores, and it looks like it will be a very interesting and exciting week! The six students have already started their mentorship with Dr. Mehdizadeh.

For more information about the program and participants visit East Chamber Music’s website here. The world premieres concert will be taking place on Monday, May 17th. Keep an eye out for the link on our social media channels.

From May 10th to 22nd (and again from August 2nd to 14th) we have the privilege of taking part in the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Evolution: Classical Career Development Program led by the Gryphon Trio. We were initially accepted into the program last year, unfortunately it was one of many things cancelled due to COVID. Though it is sad not to visit Banff again, we are stoked that the program has been able to pivot to an online format this year.

Over the first two week session we will be workshopping a new program with an international performance faculty and receive coaching sessions on all aspects of our artistic practice. We can’t wait!

Currently, our feet are firmly planted in our home studio in Ottawa, but with the Banff Centre program around the corner, our minds are frequently wandering back to the Rockies… It’s truly one of our favourite places, and where SHHH!! Ensemble first started!

Below, some pictures from our previous visits:

Clockwise from top left: view from the top of Sulphur Mountain, recording in Rolston Recital Hall, Bow River views, Edana’s practice buddy, a difficult decision, fat-bike exploration around Vermillion Lakes, the outskirts of the town at dusk, Mount Rundle view (5 mins from our studio), at the top of Sleeping Buffalo Mountain (overlooking the Banff Centre and the town of Banff)

Bottom picture: view from the back of Sulphur Mountain on an incredibly cold and clear day.