James Tenney tribute concerts to be held this weeked at the Music Gallery

A tribute weekend of concerts for avant-garde composer, performer and York Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus James Tenney will start tomorrow and run until Sunday, Nov. 25 at the Music Gallery in Toronto. There will also be an open house on Sunday afternoon.

Arraymusic, the Music Gallery and NUMUS will present "A Weekend Celebrating James Tenney, One of the 20th Century’s Greatest Pioneers in New Music", as part of the Music Gallery’s Classic Avant series.

It will include performances by two York professors in the Faculty of Fine Arts – Marc Couroux and Casey Sokol.

The tribute is a celebration of Tenney’s work as a world-renowned composer, theorist and teacher. In addition to creating innovative compositions, Tenney was a music professor at York for 24 years. After retiring from York in 2000, he accepted the prestigious Roy E. Disney Family Chair in Music at the School of Music, California Institute of the Arts. He died last summer at the age of 72.

Right: James Tenney

"Arraymusic: Celebrating James Tenney" kicks off the retrospective tomorrow night, Nov. 23, with a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm followed by the Arraymusic Ensemble performing Spectrum 1 at 8pm. Spectrum 1 was composed by Tenney for the ensemble in 1995. Next, Bob Stevenson, Array’s artistic director and clarinetist, will perform Tenney’s 1959 "Monody" for solo clarinet, followed by the ground-breaking 1984 work "Bridge", a composition for two pianos and eight hands. In "Bridge", the two pianos are tuned to a just intonation set, producing a 22 pitch octave. Couroux, who teaches in York’s Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program, will be one of the four performers in "Bridge".

Tenney composed many new works for the Arraymusic ensemble, a group of eight performers that value risk-taking and innovative programming, over the years in what the group calls "a fruitful and friendly longstanding artistic relationship". Tickets are $20 for regular, $15 for gallery members and $10 for seniors, arts workers, students and the underemployed.

Saturday’s concert "NUMUS – In Memoriam: James Tenney", will include five of Tenney’s pieces – "Koan", "Three Rags", "Three Pieces for Drum Quartet", "To Weave" and "Ergodos III". Pianist Casey Sokol, of York’s Department of Music, will perform two of the pieces. Pianist Eve Egoyan, violinist Malcolm Goldstein and the Toronto Percussion Quartet, will also perform. NUMUS is a Kitchener-Waterloo group that performs new and exploratory music.

The concert starts at 8pm. Tickets are $20 for regular, $15 for gallery members and $12 for students.

A James Tenney memorial open house will wrap up the tribute on Sunday from 2:30pm to 5:30pm, co-presented with Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. Composers and performers will share, show or talk about some of Tenney’s works and what it was like to work with him. The Evergreen Club gamelan ensemble will play "Road to Ubud", the 1986 piece it commissioned from Tenney, followed by discussion of the score. Evergreen Club is an ensemble of eight Canadian musicians who use an assortment of bronze and wooden instruments from Indonesia. There will also be demonstrations of Tenney’s use of tunnings. Admission is free.

Left: James Tenney, known for his composition "Bridge" for two pianos and eight hands

The tribute came about after the artistic directors of Arraymusic, NUMUS and the Music Gallery realized they were all planning concerts to honour Tenney and decided to collaborate their efforts instead. The retrospective will cover pieces from the 1950s to some of Tenney’s last compositions. It is a way to present a complete spectrum of Tenney’s work to Toronto audiences.

Tenney’s influence as a teacher and a composer reached many. Some of those he taught included John Luther Adams, Larry Polansky and Peter Garland.

Tenney was considered a pioneer in the field of electronic and computer music and wrote electronic and instrumental works for a variety of media, many of them using alternative tuning systems. He performed with John Cage and with the ensembles of Harry Patch, Steve Reich and Philip Glass and in the early 1960s worked at the Bell Telephone Laboratories developing programs for computer sound-generation and composition.

Born in 1934 in Silver City, New Mexico, he grew up in Arizona and Colorado, where he received his early training as a pianist and composer. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1958, and the University of Illinois, where he received a master’s degree in 1961.

Tenney penned numerous articles on musical acoustics, computer music and musical form and perception as well as two books: META + HODOS: A Phenomenology of 20th-Century Musical Materials and an Approach to the Study of Form (1961; Frog Peak, 1988) and A History of ‘Consonance’ and ‘Dissonance’ (Excelsior, 1988).

The Music Gallery is at 197 John Street, Toronto. For more information call 416-204-1080 or visit the Music Gallery Web site.