Welcome to the SHHH!! Blog!
Here, you will find a running tally of ideas, images, recordings, and reflections on our duo’s numerous creative projects.
Scroll down and take a peak!
Edana & Zac
February 14, 2020
“Truly virtuosic and intense playing from both Higham and Pulak” (Confluence Concerts)
Apropos of Valentine’s Day, SHHH!! Ensemble has been feeling the love on our Spirits tour so far! 🥰
We just completed the first leg, wrapping up a weeklong residency and recital at the Canadian Music Centre (Toronto), and performances at Conrad Grebel University College (Waterloo), Lakehead University’s LUMINA Series (Thunder Bay), and at Cambrian College (Sudbury).
We are looking forward to phase two, which begins in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba on February 28!
Check out some gratuitous gear shots (predictably courtesy of Zac), and other pics snapped by Edana and our wonderful presenters as well:
January 24, 2020
Programme notes for Spirits:
December 30, 2019
Next on our Spirits profile is Andy Akiho’s Karakurenai. It’s ironic that this piece, meant to evoke a meditative state, created one of the biggest rehearsal headaches we have ever encountered!!
Karakurenai juxtaposes a complex ostinato pattern (in 31/16) against a changing melodic fragment that switches between 1, 3, 5, and 20 quarter-note groupings, creating a zen-like ebb and flow. The players perform in unison for the duration of the work.
Karakurenai is part of a series of pieces collectively titled the Synesthesia Suite. Karakurenai is Japanese for crimson, which is the colour composer Andy Akiho associates with F#, a pitch prominently featured in the work.
While preparing and researching this piece we listened to several interpretations (Karakurenai is openly scored for any instrument or combination of instruments), so there are many versions readily available. Several of these renditions seem to draw out the quirky nature of the piece, indeed, our first instinct was to do the same.
Over the last few months, as our concept and programme have continued to take shape, we have settled on an interpretation that explores a wide range of percussive sounds and textures.
In our rehearsals we have been focussing on groove, and creating a consistent and cohesive blend. On the marimba, Zac has been experimenting with an array of traditional latex mallets. The warm but articulate “tick” created by these mallets sits nicely in the resonance of the piano played in the same range as Edana.
Originally conceived as a personal daily exercise or meditation, we have tried to resist the urge to fill the sparse unison ostinato with preparations that distract from the harmonic and rhythmic interplay.
We are looking forward to sharing this flexible piece of musical-yoga with you soon. We cannot believe we are only one month away from the start of the Spirits tour!
December 18, 2019
SHHH!! Ensemble is spending the holidays cozied up with our scores! With our non-duo commitments “wrapped up” for 2019, we are excited to have a few weeks of dedicated rehearsal time as the only thing in our calendar.
We’ve already received a few early x-mas presents (in the form of new scores, and new projects), which we are excited to share with you soon!
On the docket this week, Micheline Roi’s Greiving the Doubts of Angels. This wonderfully expressive, at times subtle, but mostly bombastic work is one of the few pieces on the Spirits programme that we did not commission ourselves. Written for Beverley Johnston and premiered in 2002, Grieving the Doubts of Angels is an exploration of the creative process. Roi writes, “Crisis of faith. Materials and process. The creation of this piece marked the end of some fully explored materials. Grieving. New ideas appeared and the cycle of exploration began again. Doubts. The piece is an aural searching, a sorting, sifting through new compositional material. Angels.”
You can hear Beverley Johnston and Pamela Reimer’s interpretation on Beverley’s 2013 Woman Runs With Wolves album. We can’t wait to perform it in the New Year!
Best wishes for the holiday season from the SHHH!! studio! 😊 🎹 🥁 🎄 ❄️
November 30, 2019
Here is a little photo survey of the multitudinous mallet mutations of Meanwhile!
A lot has already been said about Meanwhile in our blog, so check out earlier posts for more detailed info.
One of the most interesting aspects of Meanwhile is Beckwith’s highly specific mallet/stick/brush indications in the marimba part. Experimenting with mallet choice gives the piece an extremely varied palette of sounds.
The following action shots curtesy of Ming Wu:
November 21, 2019
SHHH!! is under construction! We are hard at work preparing our new all-contemporary programme “Spirits”. Read more about it below:
Spirits is our most ambitious project to date, featuring a newly commissioned work by Canadian composer John Gordon Armstrong as well as a host of other pieces by composers such as John Beckwith, Micheline Roi, Kevin Hanlon, and Andy Akiho.
The programme is diversely inspired with Spirits referring/reflecting on the nature of creativity, the beyond, scotch, and more.
We are grateful for the support of the Canadian Music Centre (Toronto) who have generously welcomed us as artists in residence in their space from January 27-31, giving us the freedom to polish this challenging and exciting programme before taking it on tour. We will also perform a culminating recital at the CMC on January 31, more information on that here.
SHHH!! Ensemble will be presenting Spirits at a variety of Canadian institutions including Lakehead University, Laurentian/Cambrian, Conrad Grebel, and the Universities of Manitoba, Ottawa, Alberta, and Calgary. We are also looking forward to facilitating workshops and masterclasses at several of the institutions.
In the coming weeks we will be profiling each of the works on Spirits, starting with The Angels Share, by John Gordon Armstrong.
John Gordon Armstrong’s The Angels Share is inspired by tasting notes from a variety of different single malt scotches. With evocative movement titles such as “Like a Fist to the Jaw”, “Smells Like Vanilla Ice Cream”, “A Spicy Little Dram”, “Tastes Like Bandaids”, and “Like Butter”, this new work is just asking to be served neat… please enjoy responsibly.
In addition to learning the numerous musical notes in this epic 15 minute tour-de-force, we have also been enjoying some well deserved extracurricular research sessions (i.e. scotch tasting). Preparation is key!
November 14, 2019
Our live recording of the world premiere of Kevin Hanlon’s SHHHuffle is now available on SoundCloud! Check it out:
November 8, 2019
Last night SHHH!! Ensemble debuted our new avant-accessible initiative “SHHHuffle” at the Shenkman Arts Centre’s Richcraft Theatre.
A big thank you to Arts Network Ottawa for your generous support of this project through the ARTicipate Endowment Fund. Without it, workshopping and presenting this initiative would not have been possible.
SHHHuffle is a mashup programme that bridges the gap between traditional classical music and 21st century composition, presented in an accessible, fun, and engaging format.
The inaugural SHHHuffle programme featured music by Francis Poulenc, Roxanne Nesbitt, Christine Donkin, Kevin Hanlon, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and John Beckwith.
As SHHH!! Ensemble’s repertoire continues to grow, SHHHuffle will evolve in step with these developments and serve as a flexible way for our duo to engage with diverse audiences.
Throughout each season, we plan to continue (as we are this year) with a three-programme-approach:
- traditional (this year’s “Foreign Inspirations”)
The debut of this initiative was made even more special by featuring the world premiere of a new work by Kevin Hanlon, also titled SHHHuffle.
The event was captured by photographer Ming Wu:
October 25, 2019
This week we wrapped up our final outreach concerts of the Fall! The last six weeks have been a truly wonderful experience!
Through school shows and Concerts in Care performances, we had the opportunity to share our music and our message with around 3000 individuals in the National Capital Region and Greater Toronto Area— most of whom had never heard contemporary music before! Because of that fact, we recognize what a privilege and responsibility it is to represent the art form.
One of most wonderful things we had confirmed during these performances was that, when presented properly through thoughtful description and engaging performance, no level of complexity or abstraction in the music is “over the line”. It is encouraging to us that as we continue to test the balance (and hone our presentation) between accessible and avant-garde, we can tip the scales a little more in favour of the experimental and unusual!
Here are some highlights from our Autumn outreach activities:
September 16, 2019
Our Fall touring programme, Foreign Inspirations, is an avant-accessible exploration of romantic and contemporary repertoire.
Through performances of Foreign Inspirations SHHH!! Ensemble endeavours to bring new music to new audiences while simultaneously performing masterworks from the classical canon, albeit with a refreshing twist.
First, our own adaptation of French composer Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. The Foreign Inspiration for this work is a little more practical than the other pieces— Poulenc was commissioned to write a new piece for an American flutist by the Coolidge Foundation… so it was foreign money that inspired the creation of one of the composer’s most beloved works! The French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal remarked in his autobiography that upon receiving word of the commission Poulenc telephoned Rampal and relayed the good news: “you know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano? Well, I’m going to. And the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it!”
In complete contrast, the next piece on our Foreign Inspirations programme is John Beckwith’s Meanwhile for Marimba and Piano. Commissioned by SHHH!! Ensemble in 2017, Mr. Beckwith’s inspiration for writing this work was found in his passion for Scottish Country Dancing (even as a nonagenarian!!). Specifically, the act of performing a “meanwhile” during a dance, which can be described as “when one or two couples in a set of eight dancers follow one pattern of steps, another couple performs a meanwhile— that is, quite a different pattern”. The effect of this kind of spontaneous counterpoint reminded John of “the aleatory found in Lutoslawski and others, or the works by Ives in which he recalled the effect of two bands converging on the town hall for the July 4th parade, each playing a different march”. While Beckwith’s Meanwhile may not be music for dancing, it is certainly one of the most interesting and enjoyable works we have had the privilege to perform.
For some of our Foreign Inspirations tour (including schools shows and Concerts in Care performances) we are featuring Christine Donkin’s nostalgic Album of Old Photographs. When writing the six movement work, Christine was inspired by character pieces by Robert Schumann (i.e. Kinderszenen) and others. Sitting firmly in the “neo-romantic” genre, Album of Old Photographs is a unique and charming addition to the piano/marimba repertoire.
The last selection on Foreign Inspirations is Italian-American composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Fantasia for Guitar and Piano, op. 145. The piece was written for legendary Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia and his former wife and pianist Paquita Madriguera. Castelnuovo-Tedesco made his career as a highly successful composer of film music in Hollywood. He also maintained ties to the concert music scene with Segovia, Heifetz, and Piatigorsky as some of his long time collaborators. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music is diversely inspired; taking cues from his Italian and Jewish heritage, his work as a film music composer, his reverence for the music of Bach, and his dismissal of many 20th century writing conventions, which ultimately give his music a timeless and fresh sound even today.
August 28, 2019
Later this fall SHHH!! will be presenting a recital at the Shenkman Arts Centre thanks to the generous support of an Ottawa Arts Network ARTicipate/ARTicipez Endowment Fund Grant. For more information about this fantastic initiative and the other participants check out the press release here.
The concert, titled Shuffle, takes place on November 7th at 7:00pm in the Richcraft Theatre. Can’t wait! Stay tuned for ticket information.
Shuffle takes its name and inspiration from a piece that Zac worked on with composer Dr. Kevin Hanlon during a February 2018 residency at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. In Shuffle the performer must improvise over, under, and around backing tracks (clips of various durations that are samples of the instrument, in this case marimba, being played in an unconventional manner) that are played at random (i.e. in “shuffle” mode). The challenge and the fun of this work is creating a cohesive piece while responding in real time to a myriad of unexpected and at times complex sounds.
Kevin has generously agreed to rework Shuffle for Zac for our duo to include piano and toy piano samples. We are excited to premiere his new work, SHHHuffle for you on November 7th.
In keeping with the shuffle theme; instead of traditional concert seating, we have decided to integrate the audience into the space. As a listener you will be invited to see, hear, and feel the music as the performer does: right beside, across from, behind, or in front of, the action. There will even be moments in the programme where the audience is asked to participate in the music-making.
At the beginning of November, we will be coming out of a long run of school outreach concerts and Health Arts Ontario “Concerts in Care” performances, for which we have a specially tailored accessible program. We will be in a repertoire transition phase as SHHH!! gears up for our contemporary recital we are touring in January, February, and March 2020.
So, for the shuffle programme at the Shenkman recital audiences will hear a unique blend of traditional pieces, full works and excerpts of contemporary Canadian repertoire, minimalist, and improvised music.
We are looking forward to presenting a concert at the Shenkman Arts Centre in this unique format, and look forward performing beside, across from, behind, and in front of you! See you there!
In the meantime, listen to the world premiere of Shuffle for Zac by Kevin Hanlon here.
July 13, 2019
This time last year SHHH!! Ensemble gave the world premiere of John Beckwith’s Meanwhile for Marimba and Piano at the Music and Beyond Festival in Ottawa, ON.
Reflecting on the process of Meanwhile’s creation, we feel incredibly lucky to have worked with a composer of Mr. Beckwith’s stature for our duo’s first commission, and for the collaborative experiences that occurred between us throughout his writing process.
Since forming SHHH!! Ensemble, it has been our mission not only to commission new music for the piano/percussion duo, but to also create a lasting repertoire of quality pieces that survive beyond the premiere.
As we continue to perform Meanwhile on recitals and outreach programmes throughout the 2019-2020 season (with Health Arts Ontario, concert series, and at institutions such as the Universities of Lakehead, Conrad Grebel, Manitoba, and Alberta), we look forward to discovering new layers of meaning, colour, expression, and depth in this fantastic addition to the piano/percussion repertoire.
For us, working on Meanwhile has really been a process of discovery. While the technical challenges individually are considerable, the real work lies in the ensemble. The score calls for “aleatoric” type sections, that in some ways provide freedom, but simultaneously demand a certain well rehearsed discipline. Each performance can be unique, but must be prepared as such. As a performer this makes Meanwhile a perennially interesting composition; as a listener, each iteration is a new look into a profoundly deep and inspiring work.
After intensive workshopping and recording of Meanwhile during our November/December 2018 residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, we took some time away from the work and are very much looking forward to returning to it this fall with a fresh perspective.
Thank you, John for the fantastic music!
June 1, 2019
Welcome to the SHHH!! Blog,
As SHHH!! Ensemble’s schedule continues to grow, we thought it would be nice to have a running tally of some of the bigger projects and ideas we are embarking on.
This summer SHHH!! will be performing at several Music and Beyond (Ottawa) events. We will also begin working on a new piece by John Armstrong titled The Angel’s Share. This piece will be featured on our upcoming Winter 2020 tour. More details to come soon.
Next fall, we are looking forward to performing at local concert series in Ottawa and Toronto as well as some TBD shows with Health Arts Ontario. Part of SHHH!! Ensemble’s mandate going forward is to work harder at introducing new audiences to new music. This summer we will be woodshedding a new programme that includes more traditional works by Bach, Poulenc, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco that we have transcribed, juxtaposed with new works by composers such as John Beckwith, Christine Donkin, Andy Akiho, and Andrew Staniland.