Music Rules Composer Gary Kulesha’s World
By Olena Wawryshyn
This fall, the
National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) premiered composer Gary Kulesha’s latest
work, "The Boughs of Music" on October 6 and 7 in
his work performed by the country’s leading orchestras is nothing new for
Kulesha, who is often referred to as one of
music has been performed and recorded by many musicians and ensembles around
the world. His work “Angels” for Marimba and Tape has become a standard
repertoire for percussionists. It receives over 100 performances per year. His
"Celebration Overture" is one of the most performed orchestral pieces
51-year-old composer says he immediately took to music when, at the age of
seven, his parents bought a piano. Before he turned 10, Kulesha, who grew
up in a Ukrainian-speaking household in
“By the time I was 13, I knew there was nothing else that I was going to do with my life…I’ve never had a job that wasn’t musical,” says Kulesha.
Many musicians have difficulty finding full employment in their field, but Kulesha, who trained in
But composing is central in Kulesha’s professional life. “There’s no substitute for the time spent with a pencil in your hand, with a piece of paper,” he says.
talent in this capacity has led to many affiliations with ensembles in
“I’m sort of the burr under the saddle of the TSO,” says Kulesha. “My job there is to continue to remind them that they have a responsibility to Canadian music and to contemporary music; it’s much easier to sell tickets to another performance of Beethoven, then it is to a concert of all new-Canadian music.”
TSO regularly commissions works from Kulesha as does the National Arts Centre
“I had wanted to write a piece for Karen Donnelly, who is their [NACO’s] trumpet player, for some time,” says Kulesha. “Her trumpet playing is beautiful. I came back and said ‘what about a little piece just featuring trumpet in combination with flutes and strings, and a much smaller ensemble – not a full orchestra’ – and they [NACO] agreed to that, and Karen agreed to play it,” says Kulesha, explaining how "The Boughs of Music" came about.
Inspiration for his compositions comes from many sources. “I have a great interest in philosophy, art, all the other arts forms, the pop music world, the popular cultural world,” says Kulesha.
To be a good composer, says Kulesha, “you have to be an interested, engaged human being with your eyes open, and then you have to focus that into being a good musician, and then out of that should flow whatever it is that you have to contribute to music.”
"The Boughs of Music" was inspired by a work of fiction. The title was based on a line – ‘I parted the boughs of music, and saw the house that we had made’ – spoken by a character in Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves.“It’s spoken when they [the characters] are in their 50s, getting on through middle age...I’m just entering my 50s now, so there’s a rightness to it for me. There’s a certain autumnal quality to it as well – [as it deals with] what it is that you have made with your life.”
When asked to describe his new piece, Kulesha says that it is atmospheric and lyrical “but there are no traditional tunes in it.”
will be travelling with the NACO when they perform "The Boughs of
his current reluctance to venture away from his
that time, in
says that it was “eye-opening” to see how
“They were very well looked after under the Soviet system,” he says. “There was obviously a very high price to be paid for that, but from the standpoint of music, it’s not very high on the list of any government’s priority right now and it was a very protective environment back in the ‘bad’ old days,” he adds.
The NACO will be performing "The Boughs of Music" in: Toronto on Oct. 21 at Roy Thomson Hall; in Saskatoon on Nov. 9 at the Centennial Auditorium; in Regina on Nov. 10 at the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts; in Medicine Hat on Nov. 12 at the Esplanade Arts and Culture Centre; in Grande Prairie on Nov. 13 at the Grande Prairie Regional College; in Calgary on Nov. 16 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.