Special Projects

1. Music Inside/Out – Nuit Blanche at the Royal Conservatory, October 3, 2009

Brian Current, artistic director


James Tenney’s In a Large Open Space, was performed by 120 musicians, 60 singers, 16 Ebows, electronics, disklavier and lighting. Participants included the Glenn Gould School, the Penthelia Singers, Univox Chorale and the GamUT ensemble.  Electronic sound design by Andrew Staniland.  Musical direction was sent by mass text messaging. Estimated audience: 15 000.


Over two hundred musicians and singers rotated in throughout the night to specific positions in the upper balconies, walkways and lobbies of the new Atrium and Koerner Hall of The Royal Conservatory in Toronto.  


The audience wandered ‘inside’ the sound - we typically experience music from ‘outside’ the sound - and experienced the same moment of music from a multitude of different perspectives. Spectators wandered in through the atrium doors and followed the sound up to Koerner Hall, where the installation was made up entirely of human voices.  16 Ebows were placed on the pianos along a hallway of practice studios and resonated within the installation. A lone disklavier played the Tenney pitches in a darkened room. Electronic sounds, following Tenney’s score in real time and made from samples of Conservatory students of all ages, accompanied the musicians. A complimentary lighting system was designed to showcase both the new building and the players.

Program Notes


At The Royal Conservatory, single musical notes are played countless times each day by musicians of all ages and levels. Imagine if we were to take just one of these pitches and expand it upwards and outwards to fill each corner of the Conservatory’s new building. Then we could wander inside the sound at our leisure. James Tenney’s In a Large Open Space (1994, Berlin) invites us to explore a single musical moment in just this way. He invites us ‘inside’ the sound – usually we experience music from ‘outside’ the sound – to contemplate it from a multitude of different perspectives.

Whether played by an instrument or sung by a human voice, all musical notes are made up of an infinite number of subliminal harmonics. In combination these create what we call musical colour. In Tenney’s installation, each harmonic (or overtone) is played by a single instrument or voice. Musicians, singers and laptops computers choose pitches individually from a single page of instructions depending on what they hear around them. Together, they create a continuously-changing overtone spectrum of a single musical moment, stretched out over an entire building and a 12-hour time span.


The installation is also intended as an invitation to discover the newbuilding itself. Designed as a meeting of the old and of the new, the music may be experienced as an extension of the architecture, and vice versa. In fact, the idea of wandering ‘within the music’ could be a fitting metaphor for wandering inside the new Royal Conservatory building, a space designed to embody musical education.

The performers and electronic samples are made up of musicians from all levels and ages of the Conservatory’s programs and community. For a single night, all resonate as one.

2. This Isn’t Silence, Part II: A Young Person’s Guide to New Music for Symphony Orchestra.

For narrator and orchestra (2222 2221, 3 perc, hp, pn, strings),   versions for 30 minutes or 45 minutes

A Young Person’s Guide to New Music is a work for narrator and orchestra where the speaker explains aspects of 20th and 21st century music while the orchestra demonstrates in real time. It was commissioned by Alex Pauk and the Esprit Orchestra in 2006.  Topics include form, rhythm, pitch, harmony, texture, color, melody, performance contexts and electronic music. The piece is a musical experience as well as an educational one. All the orchestral material is original and the narration is presented in a way that is theatrical and engaging. In the tradition of the Young People's Concerts and A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the work is intended to address an educational gap between audience expectations and compositional trends of the 20th and 21st century. At educational concerts, we often explain to audiences of young people various aspects of the music they are about to hear or have just heard. The Young Person’s Guide to ‘new music’ is designed for just this type of event, with the explanation occurring as the material unfolds.

Soundfiles in Chapter 8, "Colour" are designed by David Ogborn.

Chapters include:

Introduction (3:07)

Before we begin (2:23)

Chapter 1 Form (1:29)

Chapter 2 Transitions (1:42)

Chapter 3 Gesture (1:24)

Chapter 4 Rhythm (3:08)

Interlude - why a pitch is a rhythm (3:03)

Chapter 5 Harmony (3:38)

Chapter 6 Melody (1:41)

Chapter 7 Texture (3:51)

Chapter 8 Colour (3:17)

Conclusion (2:04)

Listen to Chapter 4, Rhythm (excerpt):

Listen to Chapter 5, Harmony: