Esprit Orchestra

The Esprit Orchestra. Toronto orchestra dedicated to the performance and commissioning of contemporary music, established in 1983 by Alex Pauk (it was known as Esprit Contemporain until 1986).

Esprit Orchestra

The Esprit Orchestra. Toronto orchestra dedicated to the performance and commissioning of contemporary music, established in 1983 by Alex Pauk (it was known as Esprit Contemporain until 1986). As of 2004, Esprit was the only full-sized orchestra in Canada devoted to new music, and Pauk continued to be the music director and conductor of the 45-member group. At its first concert given with the assistance of the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) in Kingston, Ont, 19 Aug 1983 (repeated in Toronto on 27 Aug), Esprit performed works by Serge Garant and Alexina Louie (Pauk's wife) and premiered two commissioned works: Alchemies by John Burke and Vanishing Points by John Rea, establishing a pattern that has characterized the orchestra's subsequent programs. It performed at the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) World Music Days in Toronto, 26 Sep 1984, when it premiered Brian Cherney'sInto the Distant Stillness ..., and Pauk's Mirage. In December 1985, Esprit gave concerts in Montreal and Quebec City. When the orchestra gave its first three-concert series in early 1986, it began to include new music of international as well as Canadian composers on its programs. The orchestra is made up of a permanent core of musicians plus freelancers; its concertmaster is Fujiko Imajishi.

Its annual series (from three to five concerts per season), held for the most part at the St. Lawrence Centre, have included guest artists such as Robert Aitken, flute; Marie Bérard, violin; Marc Couroux, piano; the Elmer Iseler Singers; Erica Goodman, harp; Rivka Golani, viola; Desmond Hoebig, cello; Gwen Hoebig, violin; Scott Irvine, tuba; Jacques Israelievitch, violin; Eleanor James, mezzo; Valerie Kuinka, viola; Rosemarie Landry, soprano; André Laplante, piano; Stuart Laughton, trumpet; Christien Ledroit, electric guitar; Joseph Macerollo, accordion; Richard Margison, tenor; Nexus; Marie-Danielle Parent; Jamie Parker, piano; Jon Kimura Parker, piano; Gary Relyea, baritone; Jean Stilwell, mezzo; Elizabeth Turnbull, mezzo; David B. Waterhouse, bagpipes; and Laura Wilcox, viola. Together with Société des Concerts symphoniques de Montréal SMCQ, Esprit presented, 14 Feb 1988, a concert of commissioned works at the Arts Festival of the Calgary Olympics, which included Pauk's Split Seconds, Rea's Time and Again, and Allan Bell'sConcerto for Two Orchestras. This program was repeated in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. Subsequent tours took Esprit to Calgary, Vancouver, Banff, and Edmonton in 1998; and in 1999 to Paris and the International Gaudeamus Music Week in Amsterdam. This debut European tour showcased works by Louie and Rea, as well as Scott Godin, Chris Paul Harman, Colin McPhee, Ana Sokolovic, and Claude Vivier.

Esprit has commissioned and premiered works by Istvan Anhalt (SparkskrapS 19 Mar 1988), John Beckwith (Peregrine 3 Mar 1990), Ka Nin Chan (Ecstasy 8 Mar 1987), Tomas Dusatko (Traces of Becoming 1 Feb 1987), José Evangelista (Elephant in the Dark 24 Feb 1986), Gerhard Ginader (Tonfigur No. 6 4 Mar 1989), Denis Gougeon (Enfant de la terre et ciel étoilé 16 Apr 1989), Gary Hayes (Freewheeling/Free Choice/Freedom 3 Mar 1990), Rudolf Komorous (Sinfony 20 Nov 1988), Peter Paul Koprowski ((Rachel - Games and Daydreams of a Child 7 Dec 1986), Michel Longtin (Lettre de Roxana à Décébal Hormuz 4 Dec 1987), Andrew MacDonald (In the Garden of Gaea 25 Mar 1991), Bruce Mather (Scherzo 4 Dec 1987), R. Murray Schafer (Scorpius 25 Mar 1991), Norman Symonds (From the Eye of the Wind 1 Jan 1988), and Owen Underhill (Labyrinth of Ears 24 Nov 1990). John Weinzweig was honoured on his 75th birthday by Esprit at its March 1988 concert.

By 2004 the works of well over 50 Canadian composers had been performed by the Esprit Orchestra - several programmed more than once - including Sergio Barroso, Bob Becker, Roger Bergs, Rose Bolton, Denys Bouliane, Tim Brady, Michael Colgrass, Barbara Croall, Brian Current, Omar Daniel, Paul Dolden, Harry Freedman, Paul Frehner, Jacques Hétu, Larry Lake, Eric Morin, Yannick Plamondon, André Ristic, James Rolfe, Jeffrey Ryan, Jon Siddall, Harry Somers, Paul Steenhuisen, James Tenney, Gilles Tremblay, and Barry Truax, in addition to those named earlier. The orchestra also has given the Canadian premieres of music by international composers John Adams, William Bolcom, David Del Tredici, Ron Ford, Mauricio Kagel, Morton Lauridon, György Ligeti, Steve Reich, Wolfgang Rihm, Frederick Rzewski, Iannis Xenakis, and Bernd Alois Zimmermann.

Recordings, Workshops, Awards

Esprit has appeared in four films produced by Rhombus Media, and provided soundtracks for the feature films Last Night and The Five Senses, which were recognized at the Cannes Film Festival. Most of its concerts have been broadcast on CBC's Two New Hours, and it has made several recordings for CBC Records and Centrediscs.

Always an important aspect of its activities, Esprit's educational program Toward a Living Art includes in-school concerts, demonstrations, and workshops for composers, performers, and student participants. Esprit was the first orchestra to receive the prestigious Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award, in 1995. The Lieutenant Governor's Award for the Arts has been bestowed on the orchestra three times, testifying to the role that the Esprit Orchestra has played in sustaining and furthering orchestral composition in Canada.


Further Reading

  • Snider, Roxanne. 'Esprit to the core,' Music, vol 13, no. 4, Sep-Oct 1990

    Deroy, Derek. "Alex Pauk: Canada's pioneer of new music," Music, vol 18, Sept 1995

    Perlman, David. "Alex Pauk's Esprit," Wholenote, 1 Nov 2000