‘Breathe’ Revisited

About three years ago, I wrote here about a new piece called Breathe, written by Canadian composer James Rolfe for the new music presenter Soundstreams, and performed for them in 2011 by the Norwegian Trio Medieval and the Toronto Consort. The period of preparation and performance for that concert was a very bright few days, evocative, inspiring, and challenging. You can read the previous post and hear a concert version of the piece here: http://wp.me/s2XU04-breathe

In the world of new music, the premiere of a new work often turns out to be the only performance the piece receives, or one of only a very few. This is particularly true if the piece is written for an unusual grouping of performers: works for string quartets, for example, stand a much better chance for repeat performance than pieces for a non-standard instrumentation. Breathe, scored for three female voices, recorders, vielle/violin, lute, chamber organ and percussion, is certainly in that latter category. It was a beautiful piece, but its orchestration was pretty specific to its commissioner’s plans and didn’t fit any standard instrumentation. So last year, it was excellent to hear that James had received support from the Canada Council for the Arts to make a recording of Breathe and two other works. Great news! A rare chance to revisit the music, and an opportunity to make it accessible to a lot more people!

And last weekend, after a few very focused days of rehearsal, a crew of us headed down to Toronto’s Revolution Recording studios to commit Breathe to digital format. Also on the recording slate was Europa, a chamber cantata for soprano, baritone, Baroque flute, two violins, bass viol, theorbo and chamber organ, and originally written for Toronto Masque Theatre. With each piece being pretty complex and demanding, and about twenty minutes long, and with only three hours of recording time allotted to each, it was an intense day – but judging by the looks on the faces below, I think you can tell we had some fun! Energy very well spent.

Thanks to James for the music, to David F., David J. and Dennis for their efficiency and great ears, to Revolution for the beautiful space and friendly assistants, and to my fellow musicians for their talent, focus and teamwork. It was a real pleasure.

The CD is projected for release in the spring of 2017 on the Centrediscs label.


The Europa crew, Revolution Recording, September 17/16. From left to right: James Rolfe, Aisslinn Nosky, Patricia Ahern, Felix Deak, Alexander Dobson, Suzie LeBlanc, David Jaeger, Paul Jenkins, David Fallis, Lucas Harris, Alison Melville and Dennis Patterson. Thanks to Dennis for the photo!


My regrets for such a long silence! Many posts have been started over the past weeks, only to be waylaid and left on the desktop…

Last night I was on the website for the Toronto-based new music organization Soundstreams, looking for info on their upcoming season, and I chanced upon a concert recording made back in March of 2011. It was a recording of ‘Breathe,’ a piece composed by James Rolfe and scored for three female voices with medieval instrumental ensemble, which in this case meant organ, recorder, nyckelharpa, lute and percussion. The words included texts from Hildegard of Bingen.

For the premiere, Soundstreams arranged for a collaboration between Norway’s Trio Medieval and the instrumentalists of the Toronto Consort, so lucky me – I was a part of it. Last night, listening, I was vividly reminded of how beautiful the piece was, and of the real fun it had been to rehearse and play it. Yes, there were some moments when we all thought we might come undone – but what a total pleasure it really was. Even if you think you don’t like ‘new’ music, give this a listen:


We rehearsed and performed in St. Anne’s Anglican, one of Toronto’s most historic churches. Built anew in 1907, the architect Wm. Ford Howland styled it after Byzantine models, and it has a beautiful central dome which dazzles with painted stars. Members of Canada’s artist collective the Group of Seven – MacDonald, Carmichael and Varley – were among the artists who decorated the new church in 1923 with spectacular paintings and sculpture. Worth a visit if you haven’t seen it!

I took some shots to remember the experience. Here are three.

Part of the ceiling, St. Anne's Anglican

Part of the ceiling, St. Anne’s Anglican

Around the organ - not the one we used! -

Around the organ – not the one we used! –

Pre-show setup.

Pre-show setup.