Michael J. Baker

Baker studied harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and conducting with Roman Toi although he was mainly self-taught in composition.


Michael J. Baker

 Michael (James) Baker. Composer, conductor born at Edmonton, 11 Aug 1949; died at Toronto, 16 Sep 2000.

Background

Baker studied harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and conducting with Roman Toi although he was mainly self-taught in composition. He began his musical career playing trumpet with the Edmonton Symphony and the Tommy Banks Band, then moved to Toronto in 1971 where he worked as a dance accompanist. His interdisciplinary interest led to study in New York with composer/cellist Gwendolyn Watson. Baker employed the Minimalist style pioneered in the 1960s by Americans Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, enriched by his own creative voice. Other Canadian composers who have embraced this style include Ann Southam and Marjan Mozetich.

Composition and Conducting

Baker was particularly known for his dance compositions which have been performed extensively in Europe, Asia, and South America as well as the USA and Canada. Nationally, they have appeared in the repertoires of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, the National Ballet of Canada, Dancemakers, Toronto Dance Theatre, and set by choreographers James Kudekla, Peggy Baker, Marie-Josée Chartier, and Christopher House, among others. Many of his works are available through the Canadian Music Centre's CentreStream project.

Baker composed for theatre, film and multimedia. His Big Pictures with painter Dan Solomon and choreographer Bill James is in the Archives of Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland. His In Paradisum is in the films Dance for Modern Times, Sur les Scènes de l'Orient and the television series The Dancemakers. Baker also composed works for the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, Barbara Pritchard, Les Coucous Bénévoles and other groups.

As a conductor, Baker was active in the contemporary milieu. He regularly conducted Arraymusic and became its Artistic Director in 1993, a position he later held with Numus in Waterloo. From 1986 to 1999, he participated in many of Array's Young Composer's Workshops, and was the Workshop Director in 1998. He conducted the Hemispheres Ensemble and led a Choreographic Seminar at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in 1985.

An active member of the Canadian League of Composers, an affiliate of the Canadian Music Centre, and a member of SOCAN, Baker received support from the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council. Dancemakers, the Toronto troupe which established its home in the Distillery district in 2003, named a rehearsal studio in honour of Michael J Baker. In September 2010, Red Brick, a dance and music event named after the second movement of Big Pictures and celebrating Baker's life, took place at Toronto's Harbourfront.

Selected Compositions

Skyling flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, viola and cello, 1980

In Paradisum 1982 (Skyling and Columbus)

Unfinished Business ( 3 synthesizers, 2 percussion, bass clarinet, electric bass) 1984

Second Thoughts (string quartet) 1988

The Waldo for virtuoso marimba, 1994


Further Reading

  • Kucharzyk, Henry. "Michael J. Baker: A Recollection," Canadian League of Composers Bulletin, Spring 2001

    Sacks, Rick. "Michael J. Baker and The Waldo," Musicworks #83, Summer 2002

    Sherlock, John Mark. "Notes of Grace: Michael J Baker," Musicworks #83, Summer 2002

External Links