Onyx explores Debussy, Takemitsu, and Gubaidulina

It’s pretty safe to say that the Onyx Trio would not exist if it wasn’t for the revolutionary Sonate pour flûte, alto et harpe by Claude Debussy. It was the French master who came up with this incredibly original combination of instruments as part of a cycle of works that, tragically, was never completed. In 1915 Debussy set out to write a series of six sonatas for various combinations of instruments. By this point in his life Debussy was in a dark place: he was bitter, he was dying of cancer, and he was incredibly depressed by the onset of war. Of the six sonatas, Debussy completed only three before his death in 1918: the Sonata for cello and piano (1915); the Sonata for flute, viola, and harp (1916); and the Sonata for violin and piano (1917). What is arguably more interesting are the three final works that were never written: a sonata for oboe, horn, and harpsichord; a sonata for clarinet, trumpet, bassoon, and piano; and a final sonata that combined the instrumentation of the previous five sonatas. We can only guess what these last three works would have sounded like (can you imagine Debussy writing for harpsichord?).

We’re lucky that Debussy’s trio for flute, viola, and harp inspired many composers of the 20th and 21st centuries to write for these unlikely (yet remarkably successful) bedfellows — and Onyx will be exploring some of these works in the coming weeks. On January 21st, 2015, we presented a concert of three incredibly diverse works at Kwantlen Polytechnic University: Garden of Joy and Sorrow by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina; And Then I Knew T’was Wind by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu; and finally Debussy’s masterpiece, his Sonate pour flûte, alto et harpe. This programme will be presented twice more at the University of British Columbia and at Capilano University in North Vancouver. If you live near either of these areas, we invite you to hear this programme of incredibly beautiful and original works.

Gardens of Joy and Sorrow
Onyx Trio: Mark McGregor, flute; Marcus Takizawa, viola; Joy Yeh, harp
First performance:
Wednesday, 11 February at noon
UBC School of Music
6361 Memorial Road
Vancouver, BC
Second performance:
Friday, 20 February at 11:45am
Capilano University
Blue Shore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts
2055 Purcell Way
North Vancouver

Onyx Trio at Open Space

Onyx Trio performing at Open Space, Victoria, BC. Photo: Yisi Li

Onyx Trio performing at Open Space, Victoria, BC. Photo: Yisi Li

When the three of us decided to form the Onyx Trio, we wanted the commissioning and performing of new works to be a central part of our mandate — but, as a relatively new and untested group, we figured it might take a while before we could start boldly approaching composers to write for us. So it was an extra special surprise when we were asked to perform a concert of predominantly brand new works at Open Space, Victoria’s premiere venue for contemporary art and performance. Our concert, presented last week by Open Space and the Blue Moss Ensemble, featured new works by Blue Moss founders Anna Höstman, Emilie LeBel, and Mitch Renaud, along with a special commission by Vancouver/Sunshine Coast composer Giorgio Magnanensi and a short (but deadly!) work by Giorgio’s former mentor, the Italian composer Franco Donatoni.

Post concert composer Q&A with Emilie LeBel, Mitch Renaud, and Anna Höstman, moderated by Christopher Reiche. Photo by Yisi Li.

Post concert composer Q&A with Emilie LeBel, Mitch Renaud, and Anna Höstman, moderated by Christopher Reiche. Photo by Yisi Li.

It was a thrill to immerse ourselves in such incredibly diverse and original works, and I think it’s safe to say we emerged from the experience sounding tighter than ever — just in time for our college shows in January and February, which will feature works by Gubaidulina, Takemitsu, and Debussy. But more on that later; in the meantime, here are live recordings of our premiere performances of Anna Höstman’s ethereal lehtiä and Giorgio Magnanensi’s visceral Introduzione and Tableaux (complete with a dizzying backdrop of electronics).