jonathan girard

Beyond the Gates: Performances in North America and Asia, a conducting residency, and choral music galore

Corey Hamm and Nicole Ge Li of the Piano and Erhu Project

Corey Hamm and Nicole Ge Li of the Piano and Erhu Project

Dr. Corey Hamm, Professor of Piano, won UBC’s Dorothy Somerset Award for excellence in performance. The award recognizes faculty who have made outstanding contributions to art, music, creative writing, theatre or film. With PEP (Piano and Erhu Project), Dr. Hamm and Nicole Ge Li premiered the full orchestra version of Dr. Dorothy Chang’s double concerto Gateways in Seattle with conductor Julia Tai and Philharmonia Northwest. He also embarked on several tours: a solo piano tour of Asia (Hong Kong, Chonburi, Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing) with masterclasses and lectures, and a debut Atlantic tour with PEP. He performed Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 in Minneapolis with conductor Yuri Ivan, gave three solo recitals with masterclasses in Alberta, and was the pianist for an educational outreach composition program with Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble.

In March, Dr. Graeme Langager and the University Singers performed with famed soprano Sarah Brightman at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver.

Dr. Jonathan Girard conducting the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra

Dr. Jonathan Girard conducting the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra

Dr. Jonathan Girard, Director of Orchestral Activities, led the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra in a concert in Kodak Hall in Rochester, New York in February.  The program included Poulenc’s Orchestral Suite from Les Animaux Modeles, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major (featuring Fantee Jones, piano), and Franck’s Symphony in D Minor. The concert was the culmination of Dr. Girard’s residency as a visiting professor of conducting at Eastman, where he taught the graduate orchestral conducting students of Neil Varon.

Dr. Girard and Dr. Robert Taylor, Professor of Conducting and Ensembles, presented a special session at the College Band Directors National Association Conference. The session, titled “Maestro Media: Harnessing technology in the evolution of the 21st Century ensemble program,” highlighted the cutting-edge technology they are using with conducting courses and large ensembles at UBC.

In March and April, many different works by Dr. Stephen Chatman, Professor of Composition, were performed across North America. Highlights include the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus performance of Time Pieces in New York, Tapestry Choir and York Chamber Ensemble’s performance of Peace in Newmarket, Ontario, and a special performance of Proud Music of the Storm by the Chorale, an oratorio choir of 150 singers from Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

Improvising the music of glaciers

Director of Orchestras Dr. Jonathan Girard and artist Deborah Carruthers discuss slippages, an exciting new collaboration that tackles climate change from an unusual angle

Jonathan Girard and Deborah Carruthers.

Jonathan Girard and Deborah Carruthers.

How do you create the music of a glacier?

Artist Deborah Carruthers was grappling with this question when she met Dr. Jonathan Girard, the School of Music’s Director of Orchestras, at a talk last year at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Carruthers was just emerging from months of intensive research into glaciers, on everything from their topography and ecology to their significance in different cultures and the threat they face from climate change.

In her talk she outlined an idea for a ‘graphic’ score — a sequence of images inspired by these enigmatic and threatened landscapes — that musicians could then interpret and perform.

The project seemed a little crazy, even to her. “I am not a musician, so the score was going to have no actual musical notation,” Carruthers says. “But when I explained all of this to Jonathan, he said—”

“I said, Tell me more!” Girard interjects, laughing. A crazy idea, maybe, but he was struck by Carruthers’s sense of urgency. “So we started talking, and we quickly realized that together we could do something that no one had done before: create an orchestral work about climate change that would be totally improvised from abstract visual art.”


WATCH: The slippages trailer video. Watch the full concert online

At the time, Carruthers was the Wall Institute’s inaugural artist-in-residence; together she and Girard decided that the Institute was an ideal place to incubate the collaboration. Girard quickly applied for, and received, a Wall Scholar Research Award, which “provides support for UBC faculty to spend one year in residence at the Peter Wall Institute, in a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment.”

Working with a palette of yellows, blues and greys similar to the hues she observed during her fieldwork in the Columbia Icefields, Carruthers painted the scores on special paper perforated at random with small holes. The idea was that, when stacked, they would mimic the layers of a glacier.

“Glaciers form slowly over thousands of years, layer by layer, from bottom to top. There are all these miniature ecologies that make each one unique, holes within the ice and on the surface. So as a glacier changes and holes form between the layers, the past is always revealing itself,” she says.

This notion of the past influencing the present would become one of the guiding principles behind the work.

But how do you go about translating abstract images into music? With their subtle colours and mixture of slashing lines and dribbly curls — not to mention the holes in the paper — the scores presented an unusual challenge.

Girard and Carruthers struck upon an ingenious solution. First, they created a sort of geography of the orchestra by mapping the seating arrangement onto the images themselves: “We created a transparent overlay of the seating chart and went page by page, figuring out which instruments would take responsibility for which parts of the images,” Girard explains.

But how do you go about translating abstract images into music?

“The fascinating thing was how, through this lens, the images suddenly made musical sense. The musicians looked at the depth and the saturation of the colours and began translating those into musical intensity, texture, and so on. They used the different types of brushstrokes as interpretive cues, too.”

Second, Girard and Carruthers mapped out the relationship between the pages, or layers, of the score — approximating what Carruthers calls the “language of glaciers.”

“We think of history as being chronological,” she says. “With glaciers the present is on the surface so you’re working from the present to the past. So what you’re revealing through the graphic scores is in a sense, their language: the way they ebb and flow and how, as they melt, thanks to climate change, these ancient histories are unlocked.”

In practical terms, this means that “as you go deeper into the score, you see the holes, where parts of the score two pages down become part of the page you’re on right now. So parts of the score begin to be played several pages before they are fully realized,” Girard says.

The UBC Symphony Orchestra debuted the piece, titled slippages, at the Chan Centre on October 5th, 2018. The months and weeks of planning and ‘structured’ improvisation produced a luminous, yearning experimental work that celebrates the beauty of the natural world while mourning its disappearance.

Following the premiere, Girard and Carruthers want to bring slippages to as many different audiences as possible.

“We think this project is really timely. The fact that slippages combines so many different disciplines, from science to visual art to music — speaks, we hope, to the urgent need to bring the best that humanity has to offer to bear on the problem of climate change. We’re not going to solve anything unless we work together,” Girard says.

Look out for information about upcoming performances on the School of Music website.


Banner graphic: Deborah Carruthers

Beyond the Gates

The latest news from School of Music faculty

Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestras Jonathan Girard has been named a Peter Wall Institute Wall Scholar for 2018–19. As one of nine scholars “tasked with finding new approaches to critically important questions,” Dr. Girard will work with 2017 Peter Wall Institute Visiting Artist Deborah Carruthers on a graphical score for orchestra, and has plans to commission new orchestral works that explore sonic expressions of climate change.

Prof. Nancy Hermiston (right) at Canada Music Week

Prof. Nancy Hermiston (right) at Canada Music Week

In November, the Canadian Music Centre honoured Professor Nancy Hermiston with a Barbara Pentland Award of Excellence for the UBC Opera’s many commissions, performances, and support of Canadian music.


Composer and Sessional Instructor Jocelyn Morlock (MMus’96, DMA’02) won the 2018 Juno Award for Classical Composition of the Year for her orchestral work, My Name Is Amanda Todd. The 10-minute composition honours the memory of the Port Coquitlam teenager who died tragically in 2015. Watch Jocelyn and Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, talk about the piece, and her daughter's legacy.

WATCH: Jocelyn Morlock's Juno Award speech

Sessional instructor and harpsichordist Alexander Weimann was nominated alongside Arion Orchestre Baroque for the Juno Award for Classical Album of the Year (Large Ensemble). Their album, Rebelles Baroques, is hailed for the "clarity and freshness of [its] interpretations" and attention to detail. Weimann is the Principal Artist and Director of the School of Music's Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Program.


Sessional lecturer and saxophonist Julia Nolan joined the West Coast Symphony Orchestra for its 2018 Balkan Tour, which includes stops in Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro.  The tour will feature music by composers from Canada, the United States, Kosovo and Macedonia, including a reprise of Saxophone Concerto by composer and alumnus Stefan Hintersteininger (BMus’04, MLis’09).


Adjunct professor Elizabeth Volpé Bligh retired from her position as Principal Harp with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in January 2018, after 36 years. Her former student Lani Krantz (BMus’00) became Acting Principal Harp in her place, until auditions can be held for the role. Bligh will also continue to perform with the VSO occasionally.

Beyond the Gates

The latest news from School of Music faculty

Dr. Robert Taylor

Dr. Robert Taylor

"Northern Star,” a new composition by Dr. Dorothy Chang, débuted at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in October. Dr. Chang composed the piece as part of a large-scale work for orchestra and dancers, in collaboration with four other composers, Vince Ho, Dinuk Wijeratne, Maxime McKinley, and Derek Charke, along with choreographer Yukichi Hattori. The performance is available online, along with a documentary that includes interviews with the composers.

In November, Vern Griffiths performed as soloist and host in his kids’ show Wall to Wall Percussion with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In the coming months, he will perform the same show with the Edmonton Symphony and Calgary Philharmonic.

Prof. Nancy Hermiston received the Honorary Alumni Award for 2017 from Alumni UBC, recognizing her as “a devoted and enthusiastic educator. She has nurtured the development of many promising young singers, and her willingness to share her love of classical music with the wider community has enriched the cultural life of Vancouver.”

Dr. Robert Taylor recently completed a one-week residency at the Singapore American School, where he worked with band students in grades 6–12, provided professional development sessions for music faculty, and guest conducted a program of 13 works with five different ensembles. 

Standing Wave won the 2017 Western Canadian Music Award for Classical Artist/Ensemble of the Year at BreakOut West for their album New Wave. The ensemble includes UBC Music faculty members Vern Griffiths and Christie Reside, as well as alumni Allen Stiles (BMus ’84, MMus ’86) and A.K. Coope (BMus ’90). The recording includes contributions from composer Michael Oesterle (BMus ’92) and producer Will Howie (BMus ’04).

Turning Point Ensemble

Turning Point Ensemble

As part of World New Music Days, Turning Point Ensemble and Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal (ECM+) performed “Evta,” a new violin concerto by Canadian composer Ana Sokolović, along with works by Bauck, Torio, and Pieniek. The performance featured School of Music Faculty Jeremy Berkman (trombone), Ingrid Chiang (bassoon), and Brenda Fedoruk (flute), as well as alumnus Nick Anderson (horn), and alumni/current students Julia Chien (percussion, BMus ’14) and Sarah Kwok (viola). Watch the performance online

In September, Prof. Terence Dawson was the soloist for a Wednesday Noon Hour performance of Poulenc's "Aubade", with a chamber orchestra comprised of faculty and students, and conducted by Dr. Jonathan Girard. The concert, which also featured Popper's "Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano" (Prof. Eric Wilson, plus DMA students Laine Longton and Oskar Falta) was dedicated to the memory of Prof. Emeritus John Sawyer, and was a celebration of 50 years of concerts in the Music Building. Professor Dawson also sat on the piano jury for the 2017 Federation of Canadian Music Festivals National Competition in Ottawa this summer, where he gave a masterclass. Finally, he was a faculty member at the VSO Summer Institute in Whistler for the third consecutive year.

As a soloist, Dr. Corey Hamm performed Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 with the Vancouver Island Symphony, and had engagements with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Nu:BC Collective, Vancouver Chamber Music Society, and Turning Point Ensemble. With PEP (Piano and Erhu Project, with Nicole Li) he presented four World Premieres and three Canadian Premieres at ISCM World New Music Days, and performed at the Shanghai Conservatory. He was a judge for the inaugural Vancouver International Music Competition and Boesendorfer Piano Competition. 

The Chan Centre at 20

Conductors James Fankhauser (left) and Jesse Read (centre) meet with Chan Centre architect Bing Thom backstage at the inaugural concert.  Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

Conductors James Fankhauser (left) and Jesse Read (centre) meet with Chan Centre architect Bing Thom backstage at the inaugural concert. Photo: Daryl Kahn Cline

Celebrating one of Canada’s premier launching pads for talented young musicians

On April 8th, 2017, the UBC School of Music celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts with a special performance of Mozart’s Requiem and Dr. Stephen Chatman’s A Song of Joys, featuring UBC Choirs and Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be broadcast live on CBC Music at 8 p.m. PT / 11 p.m. EST as well.

Designed by renowned Vancouver architect Bing Thom, D.Litt. Honoris Causa (UBC), the Chan Centre is recognized as one of Canada’s premier musical venues thanks to its bold architecture and state-of-the-art acoustics. Over the past two decades it has also become an important launching pad for ambitious and talented student musicians.

“Without question, the Chan Centre experience is at the heart of our learning and artistic enterprise for everyone in the School. With this celebratory concert we want to thank the Chan family for their extraordinary vision and generosity, and to showcase the abundant talents of our students,” says Dr. Richard Kurth, Director of the UBC School of Music. 

For percussionist and M.Mus. student Julia Chien, performing at the Chan Centre is exciting — and a little terrifying. “It’s such a privilege. I’m always challenged beyond the limits of what I think I am capable of!” she says. Chien will perform the timpani solo in A Song of Joys.

Dozens of UBC Music students have parlayed their experiences at the Chan into exciting careers. Baritone Tyler Duncan (BMus ’98) credits the Chan with setting the stage (so to speak) for a life in music that has taken him around the world, with stints at the Metropolitan Opera, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Carnegie Hall.

“I remember singing in the choir [at the inaugural concert] and being in awe of the amazing acoustics. I walked across that stage to receive my Bachelor of Music degree and one of my first professional jobs as a singer with Early Music Vancouver was there… the Chan feels like home to me,” Duncan says.

M.Mus student Julia Chien is the timpani soloist for  A Song of Joys .  Photo courtesy of Julia Chien

M.Mus student Julia Chien is the timpani soloist for A Song of Joys. Photo courtesy of Julia Chien

Other notable alumni include Cynthia Yeh, principal percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, soprano Shirin Eskandani, who this year made her debut with the Met in Carmen, cellist Luke Kim of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and up-and-coming pianist Bogdan Dulu.

The Song of Joys concert features the next generation of incredible student musicians performing under the direction of School of Music conducting faculty Dr. Graeme Langager and Dr. Jonathan Girard.

The concert is dedicated to the memory of Bing Thom, who passed away suddenly in 2016. Thom’s vision and his attention to acoustic detail — he was an amateur musician, and an aspiring conductor before he decided to pursue architecture — are what made the Chan Centre the world-class facility it is today.

Visit http://music.ubc.ca/song-of-joys to read more about the anniversary concert and the history of the Chan Centre, including memories from School of Music faculty and alumni.

Playlist by Maestro Jonathan Girard

Maestro Jonathan Girard.

Maestro Jonathan Girard.

In this, the first edition of our new Mixtape columnUBC Symphony Orchestra director Jonathan Girard shares his favourite recordings of composers Gustav Holst and Kaija Saariaho — inspiration for the most recent UBCSO concert. Below, you can listen to the tracks via Spotify (if you have an account) or via YouTube (if you don't). The full playlist is also available here.


This March we performed an astronomy-themed concert featuring Holst's The Planets. The concert also featured the Canadian première of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's Asteroid 4179: Toutatis — orchestral pieces I love. 

My playlist includes two very different recordings of The Planets. The first is with Zubin Mehta conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. The sound of the orchestra is extremely powerful and the low pitched instruments really come alive in the recording: 

That recording also includes John Williams's Star Wars Suite. It's interesting to hear this work juxtaposed with The Planets as there are clearly musical ideas that helped inspire Williams' epic film score:

The second recording of Holst's The Planets is by the organist Peter Sykes. Peter Sykes teaches at Boston University and is a friend and colleague of mine. His arrangement of The Planets is a tour-de-force of virtuosity and highlights the continuing creativity of innovative arrangements of well-known works:

Kaija Saariaho’s work was written for the Berlin Philharmonic and first performed in 2006. The texture and colours are out of this world and provide a fantastic sonic experience for listeners:  

I hope you enjoy these amazing recordings. Watch out for more Mixtapes coming soon on the High Notes blog!