Commissioned by The Women's Musical Club of Toronto for Ensemble Made in Canada
for piano quartet
His music is process oriented, with a large, overarching trajectory that is planned out meticulously; each parameter (dynamics, pitch, harmonies, etc) is treated somewhat independently but all work towards the same long-range goal. The new work for piano quartet was inspired by a group of nine minimalist pencil sketches by the British artist Bob Law. Though not minimalist in musical idiom, “Twentieth Century Ikon” did thoroughly mine the expressive possibilities of a few recurring musical gestures that gave the work a coherent shape. The sound palette was very imaginative and sophisticated, ranging from sharp, stabbing vertical sonorities to whispered tremolo figures.
— Robin Elliott, Musical Toronto (May 8, 2015)
In a 2011 interview, Christopher Mayo said, “there’s a lot of intuition in my approach to composing, but it’s always instigated by some sort of interaction with a systematic conceit. It’s always a game – a way of coaxing yourself towards materials and structures that you couldn’t possibly imagine through conventional means.” The instigation for the work on today’s programme is British artist Bob Law’s “Twentieth Century Ikon” series. As the composer tells us, this “consists of nine pencil drawings all completed on August 8th 1967. The drawings each take a similar austere form—a large, roughly drawn rectangle subdivided by a “T” into 3 smaller rectangles. Over the course of these nine drawings, the proportion and orientation of these elements change, giving the impression of being snapshots of a gradually evolving process. By changing a variable as simple as where this “T” is placed within the larger rectangle, Law creates a sense of movement, progression and duration from the most minimal of materials. On the surface, my piano quartet, Twentieth Century Ikon seems aesthetically quite far removed from the resolute, hard-line minimalism of Law’s pencil drawings. However, the key similarities are there—a narrow gamut of materials manipulated in proportion and orientation to create an implied narrative, dramatic arc.
May 8, 2015 - Ensemble Made in Canada, Walter Hall, Toronto, ON, Canada