Tafelmusik: What inspires you when you start writing a new composition?
Andrew Balfour: When starting a new composition, I'm inspired by what my subject is, and what ensemble I'm writing for. I've been such a huge fan of Tafelmusik for so long, this commission has been a dream, so being able to write for such an ensemble is such a huge honour.
TM: Tell us about one of your most memorable compositions — what is it and why?
AB: My most memorable composition is probably Take the Indian, which I wrote for the Winnipeg Symphony's New Music Festival in 2015. It's for performance artist, chamber choir, dancer, and cello. The text is based on testimony from the Truth and Reconciliation when it was in Winnipeg in 2010. It was such a moving and emotional testimony that I was moved to want to try and write a piece based on the experience.
In the work, I portray on stage an Indigenous person being taken away from my culture, language, family, and sacred drum while the choir sings the text of some of the powerful and tragic testimony. I will be performing the work November 7 in Toronto at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre with the church choir there directed by Brad Ratzlaff.
TM: If you were introducing someone to baroque music for the first time, what would you get them to listen to?
AB: I absolutely adore baroque music, have since I was probably a baby, everything from Monteverdi to Bach. But it's Bach who is my musical god: his music takes me to another place and always will. If there was no other music in the universe, I would still be happy to listen to just his glorious music.
Andrew Balfour introduces Pyotr's Dream
This new commission was exciting for me because of my background in early music as a choral singer and my great love for Russian classical romanticism. I wrote it to complement the already-designed program, and while I first thought it might be linked to a specific Indigenous theme, it became apparent that I needed to instead fall back on my Western learning of the early classicalmusic canon to create something intriguing.
Tchaikovsky himself believed in the “poetic charm” of the church, revelling in the music and liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Pyotr’s Dream is based on Tchaikovsky’s Hymn of the Cherubim, a choral composition he composed in 1878, taken from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. It is considered one of the most celebrated of the Eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church and suggests a certain romantic ritualistic protocol which is familiar to me as the son of an Anglican priest.
This work expands beyond the particular beauty of choral music in church and embraces an appreciation of music as a spiritual truth. The period strings lend themselves to a singing tone, echoing the voice of the choral tradition, and help create a heightened sense of spirituality that is a universal beyond any church, religion, or ritual.
Andrew Balfour, composer
Of Cree descent, Winnipeg composer Andrew Balfour is an innovative composer, conductor, singer, and sound designer with a large body of choral, instrumental, and electro-acoustic works, including Take the Indian (a vocal reflection on missing children); Empire Étrange: The Death of Louis Riel; Migiis: A Whiteshell Soundscape; Bawajigaywin; Gregorio’s Nightmare; Wa Wa Tey Wak (Northern Lights); Fantasia on a Poem by Rumi; Missa Brevis; and Medieval Inuit. His opera Mishabooz’s Realm was recently premiered in Montreal and Haliburton. He has been commissioned by the Winnipeg, Regina, and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Ensemble Caprice, Winnipeg Singers, and Kingston Chamber Choir. Andrew is the Artistic Director of Winnipeg’s Camerata Nova, known for their intergenre and interdisciplinary collaborations. He is passionate about music education and outreach, particularly in schools located in low-income areas of Winnipeg and in northern communities.
Watch and listen to Take the Indian performed with Camerata Nova.
Watch and Listen to the TSO perform Andrew Balfour's Kiwetin-acahcos (North Star) as part of TSO Canada Mosaic: A Canada 150 Signature Project