John Oliver | The Canadian Encyclopedia


John Oliver

(Edward) John (Clavering) Oliver. Composer, guitarist, conductor, b Vancouver 21 Sep 1959; B MUS (British Columbia) 1982, M MUS (McGill) 1984, DMA (McGill) 1992.

Oliver, John

(Edward) John (Clavering) Oliver. Composer, guitarist, conductor, b Vancouver 21 Sep 1959; B MUS (British Columbia) 1982, M MUS (McGill) 1984, DMA (McGill) 1992. John Oliver studied composition with John Adams at the San Francisco Conservatory (1977-9), with Stephen Chatman at the University of British Columbia, and with John Rea and Bruce Mather at McGill University, where he completed his DMA in 1992. He also studied in Brussels with Philippe Boesmans 1988-9. His guitar teachers included Robert C. Jordan (1972-7) and George Sakellariou (1977-9). He attended the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music in 1984, and studied psychoacoustics at the Centre Pompidou library in Paris in 1988-9.

In 1983 Oliver was a founding member of Montreal's Group of the Electronic Music Studio (GEMS); he remained its co-director until 1987. Oliver won first prize and the Canada Council's grand prize in the 1988 CBC National Radio Competition for Young Composers for El Reposo del Fuego and won the 1989 PROCAN Young Composers' Competition in two categories with Anamnèse amnésique for orchestra and Aller-Retour for chamber ensemble. Oliver has stated that he wants his music "to make sense without falling back on traditional models" (The Music Scene, 369, Sep-Oct 1989). During his term as a composer-in-residence with the Canadian Opera Company (COC, 1989-91), his opera and doctoral composition Guacamayo's Old Song and Dance was premiered in Toronto 26 Feb 1991 (the performance was broadcast on CBC radio 19 Oct 1991). The libretto, based on Guatemalan legends, is by the composer's mother, the Vancouver playwright Melissa Cameron (Thelma Oliver). The work is scored for five voices - winds, guitar, percussion, live electronics, and sounds recorded in the Guatemalan countryside - and it reflects the politics and especially the culture of the Guatemalan people. Other commissions from this period include New Bloom (1988, Robert Aitken); Fields Before Us (1990, Lori Freedman); Before the Freeze (1984, Claude Schryer); Aller-Retour (1988, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec)); and Halloween (1980, Allison Voth).

Additional Commissions; Performances

Following his success at the COC in 1991, John Oliver was appointed composer-in-residence at both the Vancouver Opera (1992-6) and Music in the Morning (1993-5), the latter resulting in works for the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and Russell Braun. Oliver has since received many commissions for works such as Touch! (1993), premiered at the Budapest Spring Festival; Summer (F)ayre (1995) at the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival; Retour (1998) at the Vancouver International New Music Festival; Up Wind (2004) by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Face in the Abstract (2007) by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra; and the opera Alternate Visions (2007) by Chants Libres in Montreal. Oliver's 2006 Guitar Concerto (La Abuela) was commissioned by Alexander Dunn and was performed by the Victoria Symphony Orchestra under Tania Miller 1 Jun 2006.

John Oliver has continued to be an active performer, playing his own music and collaborating with the MORE Ensemble, the Standing Wave Ensemble, the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble, Jeremy Berkman, and the Hyperion String Quartet. Oliver has also guest conducted at the Vancouver New Music Festival and for the B.C. Chinese Music Ensemble.

John Oliver's music has been performed in Canada, the United States and Mexico, and in Austria, England, Germany, Poland, and elsewhere in Europe. Oliver is a member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Works

Alternate Visions. Seven voices, 2 saxophones, electric guitar, bass, keyboard synthesizer, computer, diffuseur. 2007. Ms

Guacamayo's Old Song and Dance. Five voices, 2 flutes, bass clarinet, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, guitar synthesizer, 2 keyboard synthesizers, 2 percussionists. 1991

Faces (three-movement symphony: Face in the Concrete, Face in the Sky, Face in the Abstract). Orchestra. 2007. Ms

Up Wind. Orchestra. 2004. Ms

Raven Steals the Light. Orchestra. 1999. Ms

Forging Utopia. Orchestra. 1997. Ms

Anamnèse amnésique. Orchestra. 1989. Ms

Devolution. Orchestra. 1984. Ms

Orchestra with soloist
Guitar Concerto (La Abuela). Classical guitar and string sextet or string orchestra. 2001. Ms

Chase the Money. Alto sax, string orchestra. 2000. Ms

Unseen Rain. Mezzo-soprano and orchestra. 1995. Ms

Touch! Cello and orchestra. 1993. Ms

Chamber Music
African Apparition. Classical guitars duo. 2007. Ms

Eagle Flies to Mountain. Clarinet, sheng (or accordion), zheng (or harp), percussion, gaohu (or violin), erhu (or violin), pipa (or classical guitar)

Purple Lotus Bud. Zheng and string quartet. 2004. Ms

11. Nine electric guitars, two electric basses. 2000. Ms

Retour. Flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, cello, bass, piano, and percussion. 1998. Ms

Summer (F)ayre. Four violins, two violas, two celli. 1995. Ms

Traces. String quartet. 1993. Ms

Fields Before Us. Bass clarinet, soprano sax, congas. 1990. Ms

Aller-Retour. Flute, English horn, bass clarinet, trumpet, French horn, trombone, violin, cello, bass, two percussionists. 1988. Ms

New Bloom. Flute, violin, viola. 1988. Ms

Guacamayo's 11,000th Polemic (No. 1). Two amplified guitars. 1985. Ms

Unmasking. Cello and piano. 1985. Ms

Cityscape. Clarinet and guitar. 1978. Ms

Chamber music with electroacoustic live performer
On Freedom. Violin, guitar, 4-channel, 5.1 surround or stereo audio. 2008

Dreaming of a Far-Away Place. One or more non-western instruments and fretless classical MIDI guitar synthesizer. 2006. Ms

Points of Entry. Flute and/or other melodic instrument(s), disklavier (or MIDI piano + GM synthesizer), computer. 2004. Ms

Dust. Clarinet and digital audio (4-channel or stereo). 2003. Ms

Sounding Eternal. Trombone, string quartet, MIDI guitar/electronics/voice. 2001. Ms

en amitié. Soprano sax and digital audio with optional electric guitar, electric bass, and drum kit. 1994. Ms

Radioed. Flute, clarinet, violin, percussion, synthesier, microphones. 1993. Ms

Before the Freeze. Clarinet and CD or clarinet, trumpet, alto sax, and CD. 1984. Ms

Electroacoustic music
Copper Singing. MIDI guitar, computers and electronics in surround audio. 2005

Marimba Destruido. Eight channels of surround audio. 2005

Nylong Symphony, Parts 1 - 4. MIDI classical guitar, Glissentar, GR-33 synthesizer, computer. 2005

Nylong Symphony, Parts 5 and 6. MIDI guitars, computer and electronics (1 performer). 2005

Over the Edge. 12 channels of surround audio. 2005

Give Us Peace. CD or other digital audio medium. 2002

Scintilla. MIDI guitar and electronics. 1998

Off the Edge. Digital audio. 1992

Marimba Dismembered. Digital audio. 1990

345. Tape. 1983

Solo Instrument
Tossing and Turning. Violin. 2008. Ms

Prelude and Fantasie #1 and 2. 1/16-of-tone piano. 2005. Ms

Sea Spray #1 - 5. Classical guitar. 2005. Mel Bay Publications

Pavanas. Classical guitar. 2004. Ms

Not the End. Piano. 1992. Ms

Through Night. Piano. 1988. Ms

Hallowe'en. Prepared piano. 1980. Ms

Fanfare for the Future. SATB choir, organ. 2000. Ms

Joyous Noise. SATB Choir. 2000. Ms

Creations. Antiphonal 16-voice SATB choir. 1988. Ms

Raven's Cry. One or more voices, piano and CD. 1999. Ms

In the Flesh. Baritone voice and piano. 1994. Ms

Hot Summer Nights. Four versions: 1 - soprano and oboe, 2 - mezzo-soprano and oboe, 3 - tenor and English horn, 4 - bass and bass clarinet. 1993. Ms

Hymn to the Sun. Soprano voice, trumpet or clarinet, piano, percussion, keyboard synthesizer. 1991. Ms

Rainsongforest. Soprano, oboe, guitar, piano, synthesizer, audio. 1986. Ms


Outside the Wall. Mei Han, Zheng, Borealis String Quartet, 2005. Za Discs N-12

Double Entendre. François Houle - clarinet and soprano sax, 2005. earsay es-05001

Structural Damage: Live at the Lux. Andrew Czink - keyboards, John Oliver - guitar and electronics, 2001. earsay es-00001

Judith Forst & the CBC Radio Orchestra. Judith Forst - mezzo-soprano, Mario Bernardi - conductor, CBC Vancouver Orchestra, 2000. CBC SM-5191

Harangue 2. Various artists, 1998. earsay es-98005

Harangue 1. Various artists, 1998. earsay es-98001

John Oliver. John Oliver - guitar and computer, 1998. earsay es-98004

Group of the Electronic Music Studio (GEMS): Before the Freeze. GEMS, 1991. McGill University Records 750038-2

Electroclips. 1990. Empreintes DIGITALes IMED-9004-CD

New Music for Digital Keyboard. Sergio Barroso, keyboard, 1989. SNE-556-CD

Further Reading