Program Notes, by the Composer

To me, the night represents the place where fantasy, storytelling and mystery intersect. As such, it has repeatedly been a source of inspiration for my music over the years.

Mirage explores the dream state, Night Star represents a starry night, and the pieces of Night Music are inspired by night scenes. Musical Angels was inspired by several Italian Renaissance paintings with angels playing string instruments. Many of these paintings had dark backgrounds evoking the night. As for the other pieces on this album, I tried to invoke the spirit of the night.

I am thankful for all the superb musicians who gave such expressive performances and brought my music to life. I hope you will enjoy these nighttime journeys. (December 2022)


  1. Danzón Overture Remix, for String Quartet and Percussion (6:06) – Odin Quartet, Alejandro Céspedes, Percussion
  2. Mirage, for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano (9:24) – Canadian Sinfonietta Chamber Players: Kaye Royer, Clarinet; Joyce Lai, Violin; Andras Weber, Cello; Talisa Blackman, Piano; with Guest Máté Szücs, Viola
  3. String Quartet No. 1: Mistico (4:14) – Odin Quartet
  4. String Quartet No. 1: Rondo Energico (7:19) – Odin Quartet
  5. Fantasia, for Piano Trio (10:22) – Aaron Schwebel, Violin, Leana Rutt, Cello, Alexander Panizza, Piano
  6. Night Music, for Piano: Echoes of Film Noir (6:13) – Alexander Panizza, Piano
  7. Night Music, for Piano: A Nostalgic Waltz (3:03) – Alexander Panizza, Piano
  8. Night Music, for Piano: Nocturne (4:38) – Alexander Panizza, Piano
  9. Night Music, for Piano: Bartok Meets the Blues (3:03) – Alexander Panizza, Piano
  10. Night Star, for Clarinet and Chamber Ensemble (8:27) – Canadian Sinfonietta Chamber Players: Tak-Ng Lai, Conductor; Kaye Royer, Clarinet; Erica Goodman, Harp; Lorne Grossman, Glockenspiel; Joyce Lai and Jin Lee Youn, Violins; Ian Clarke, Viola; Andras Weber, Cello; Tim FitzGerald, Bass
  11. Musical Angels, Variations on a Theme by Josquin des Prez, for String Quartet (8:54) – Odin Quartet

World Premiere Recordings (Tracks 1-2, 5-11)

Tracks 3 & 4 plus the original version of track 1, previously released on Journey Through Night – Akashic Classics, AE21009.

Odin Quartet – Alex Toskov and Tanya Charles Iveniuk, Violins; Veronica Lee (1, 3 & 4) and Matt Antal (11), Violas; and Samuel Bisson, Cello.

 Danzon Overture Remix, for String Quartet and Percussion (2022)

Having grown up in Los Angeles, I was exposed to and developed a love for Latin American music. Danzón Overture juxtaposes two contrasting musical styles and cultures, the French Overture and the Cuban Danzón. The French Overture was developed by Jean-Baptiste Lully in the 1650’s to introduce lavish theatrical productions for King Louis XIV of France. The Danzón is the official dance of Cuba, originated from European dances being combined with African rhythm and dance, and features engaging syncopated rhythms.

The Danzón Overture begins in a typical French Overture manner with a slow majestic section followed by a faster one in a fugal style. However, this faster section is in the unexpected style of a Danzón. In the middle of this dance section, the style shifts to include Afro-Cuban jazz rhythms. The more traditional Danzón music returns, again using a fugato, and builds in intensity before ending. My goal for Danzón Overture was to create a piece that is a little unexpected, includes some humour, and allows for some toe tapping.

This work was originally composed as the first movement for Dances with Percussion (Dedicated to Jean Norman Iadeluca), for Timpani, Drum Set and Orchestra (2018), then arranged for the Odin Quartet in 2019, and recorded by them in 2020. In 2022, I worked with percussionist Alejandro Céspedes to create a new version featuring traditional Cuban percussion instruments, such as the clave, guiro, timbales and congas.

Mirage, for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano (2019)

My intent in this composition is to explore the shifting and illusionary world of the dream state. Mirage begins with a slow meditative introduction representing the act of falling asleep. A solo viola cadenza follows, initiating a sequence of musical episodes, each emphasizing different emotions and parts of a dream. As the ensemble enters, the music takes on a melancholy air with occasional mysterious interludes. In the next section, the music accelerates and takes on a restless and more intense character employing a bluesy jazz-infused theme. The music moves into a more flowing and serene section before leading into an even faster and more agitated section representing the dream taking a more troubled direction. Leading to an unsettling climax, the music abruptly stops, leaving silence. The original meditative music returns as the world of dreams fades away and the dreamer is left wondering if their experience was real or imagined.

Mirage was originally composed for orchestra in 2007 and has been arranged for string orchestra (2007), chamber orchestra (2008), and then revised for quintet (2019).

String Quartet No. 1 (1994)

My String Quartet No. 1 has two movements, representing contrasting approaches to dealing with life’s challenges. The first movement, Mistico, symbolizes the value of approaching questions of modern living through contemplation. Urbanization, a loss of touch with the natural world, and the stress of modern life can be addressed through a return to the inner-self and a withdrawal from the fast-paced throng. From this vantage point, solutions can be found through contemplation and analysis. The music starts slowly and calmly, evolving smoothly and with the purpose of evoking a reflective thought process.

The second movement, Rondo Energico, shifts the intellectual grounding to swift action and direct engagement. Issues are to be confronted head-on, by actively working to tackle and resolve issues, challenges, and conflicts. The music is fast-paced, full of energy, and is constantly changing, to represent a multi-tiered approach to confronting issues.

 Fantasia, for Piano Trio (2007)

Fantasia was originally the second movement of my Sinfonia Concertante, for Piano Trio and Orchestra (2006). The starting point for composing this work was to acknowledge the anniversary of the births of two great composers, Mozart and Shostakovitch. I tried to play with the differences between the elegant and refined music of the 18th century Mozart and the more emotional and intense music of the 20th century Shostakovitch. As I developed my composition, I decided not to quote or imitate the music of Mozart and Shostakovitch, but to emphasize the idea of contrast. I used differences in musical elements, emotions, and styles to explore this idea. Ultimately, the music has a feeling of fantasy and mystery, with an air of ambiguity.    

The Fantasia starts with the pianist plucking and strumming inside the piano creating a mysterious and atmospheric mood. The music continues with the pianist playing back at the keyboard, joined by the violin and cello. The following neoromantic section features the cello and violin in an expressive melodic passage while the piano plays a more ornamental and supporting role. The music progresses to a playful scherzo section based on an Icelandic rhythm. When I started working on this music in 2006, I heard a lecture by the Icelandic composer, Tryggvi Baldvinsson and discovered that Icelandic folk melody commonly uses the complex rhythmic pattern of 4 + 3 + 4 + 2. I was intrigued and went home and composed the melody which ended up in the Fantasia. The movement ends with an atmospheric and dramatic cadenza for the three soloists ending with the cello imitating a seagull call.

In composing Fantasia, my good friend Chris Meyer, a composer and pianist, helped with writing the solo piano part. In 2007, I arranged the Fantasia for piano trio.

Night Music, for Piano (2021)

Night Music was created during the Covid-19 pandemic. Feeling nostalgic, I was drawn to night themes and music from the past. The composition is in the form of a piano sonata, but each of the four movements also functions as an independent character piece. Night Music was written for and dedicated to the wonderful Argentinian/Canadian pianist Alexander Panizza. Due to Toronto’s restrictions concerning live concerts, it was conceived to be premiered on the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra’s YouTube channel.

Echoes of Film Noir is inspired by the dramatic, gripping, and multi-layered music commonly found in this genre. Original Film Noir was commonly set in dark locations and shot in black and white. In creating music for my imagined nighttime crime drama, I used a traditional sonata allegro form for the structure. The movement starts with a first theme representing a hardboiled detective, followed by a second theme representing a “femme fatale”. The rest of the movement allows for the music (and the story) to develop, build to a climax, and conclude. I invite listeners to create their own stories.

A Nostalgic Waltz is inspired by music of the early 1900’s, especially Maurice Ravel’s Valse nobles et sentimentales. I imagined the music being played in a Parisian cabaret at night, during The Belle Époque. The movement starts with nostalgic, calm, and elegant music, builds to a faster and more agitated middle section, and then returns to the calm music of the beginning.

The nocturne is a form that is inspired by the night. My Nocturne represents a person climbing into bed, hoping to quickly fall asleep, but instead thinking of the day’s activities. After a struggle to doze off, sleep finally comes. The music is partially inspired by Frederic Chopin’s Nocturnes. In addition, there are three short sections using a whole-tone impressionistic scale, giving a questioning feel to the music, and providing a nod to Claude Debussy’s atmospheric Nocturnes.

Bartók Meets the Blues aims to mix musical styles derived from Central-Eastern European folk music and Afro-American music. First, I used musical elements from Béla Bartók’s Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (and other pieces from his Mikrokosmos) and mixed them with major and minor Blues scales. I imagined this piece being debuted in a late-night jazz club, by a pianist who was unsure if this venue was the best place for this composition. The music begins in a playful manner and becomes more intense and virtuosic as it goes along. My goal was to create a slightly quirky and humorous showpiece for the piano.

 Night Star (2021)

My in-laws live in a beautiful small town, Cayuga, in rural Ontario. Night Star represents a night of stargazing in the countryside. The opening somber music represents an overcast sky. When the solo clarinet enters, the sky starts to clear, and the magic starts. When the ensemble returns, the sky has cleared, and the stars are sparkling. The opening somber music and clouds return. The final section, of two clarinet cadenzas contrasted by ensemble entrances, represent stars trying to peak through the clouds.

 Night Star was originally composed as the second movement of Echoes, a Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (2010). In 2021, the Canadian Sinfonietta asked if I had a work for solo clarinet and a chamber ensemble to be included on an album of Canadian music. They wanted to feature their principal clarinetist (my wife), Kaye Royer. I decided to rewrite my second movement, for an ensemble of clarinet, harp, glockenspiel, string quartet and bass. I made several changes to the composition, which added a minute of music. I also included a harp part, which was written to be played by the distinguished Canadian harpist, Erica Goodman.

 Musical Angels, Variations on a Theme by Josquin des Prez, for String Quartet (2022)

In 2018, my wife and I travelled to Italy, staying in Florence, Siena, and Milan. We visited several museums, where I was particularly taken by viewing musical angels in paintings, mostly from the Renaissance period. In 2022, I had the opportunity to compose Musical Angels, inspired by the Italian artwork I saw in 2018. I decided to find a Renaissance theme and compose a set of variations, thereby creating a connection between the past and present. 

For the theme, I chose the beginning of the Kyrie from Josquin des Prez’s Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae. Josquin dedicated the mass to the Duke of Ferrara. The musical source material for the mass, the cantus firmus, is derived from the Duke’s name, in a technique first developed by Josquin for this work.

For Musical Angels, I used Josquin’s cantus firmus in each of the six variations of my composition. I used other musical elements from the Kyrie and incorporated various compositional techniques that Josquin used in his mass. 

For the introduction and before the last variation, I included a short excerpt from the beginning of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrinas Stabat Mater, another beautiful Renaissance masterpiece. I also drew inspiration from the music of Ottorino Respighi, the 20th Century Italian composer who was influenced by early Italian music.

In the various paintings that inspired my variations, I could see different emotions on the faces of the angels. In trying to connect my music to these paintings, I chose a different mood for each of the six variations representing solemn, mystical, majestic, graceful, playful, and joyful emotions. I chose to use a string quartet for my composition, since various types of string instruments were found in the paintings I viewed.

Finally, Musical Angels is a 21st century attempt to recreate the beauty and elegance of a selection of Renaissance paintings and music. Musical Angels was written for and is dedicated to the Odin Quartet.

The Making of Night Star

The creation of this album largely came about in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The project started when violist Máté Szücs came to Toronto to perform with the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra (SPO), the Canadian Sinfonietta (CS), and the Canadian Sinfonietta Chamber Players. Máté has had a career as an award-winning soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player, including serving as principal viola in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 2011 to 2018. Máté, along with four players from the Canadian Sinfonietta, performed and recorded Mirage, in a new quintet version I arranged for this occasion. This recording was supposed to be a track on a Canadian Sinfonietta album to be recorded in June 2020. In March 2020, the government of Ontario shut down many activities due to the outbreak of Covid-19. The June recording sessions were cancelled, putting the recording project into limbo.

When it became apparent that the pandemic would be a problem for live performances for the 2020-2021 concert season, the SPO decided to shift to online activities. We put out a call for proposals for musicians in our community to create videos for the SPO YouTube Channel and commercial audio recordings. The Odin Quartet and pianist Alexander Panizza were among the musicians who applied. The Odin Quartet, the SPO’s dynamic ensemble-in-residence, ended up recording their first solo commercial album, Journey Through Night (Akashic Classics) in the fall of 2020. This album features music by seven Canadian composers with videos of several of these compositions available on YouTube. My compositions, Danzón Overture and String Quartet No. 1 were included.

Also in 2020, Alexander Panizza began to record piano works by Maurice Ravel for the SPO. Alexander has toured worldwide as a soloist and has recorded Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas, Alberto Ginastera’s complete piano compositions, and more. When Alexander asked if I would compose a piano work for him, I was thrilled, and the result was Night Music, which Alexander recorded in his home in the spring of 2021. I realized I was well on my way to having enough content to have a full album of my chamber music.

My next piece to be recorded was Fantasia, for Piano Trio, on May 4, 2022. The violinist is Aaron Schwebel, a former student of mine and now a good friend. He is Concertmaster with the National Ballet of Canada Orchestra and Associate Concertmaster with the Canadian Opera Company (COC). Aaron’s colleague in the Rosebud Quartet, cellist Leana Rutt is also the associate principal cellist of the COC and principal cellist of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. I was fortunate to have Alexander Panizza play the challenging piano part.

The Canadian Sinfonietta (CS) scheduled a recording session in January 2022 but had to cancel due to the pandemic worsening. Finally, on June 30, 2022, the CS was able to record two pieces, Night Star and Romance No. 2 by Tak-Ng Lai. Tak is the conductor and founder of the CS, and has conducted in Europe, North America and Asia. His daughter, Joyce Lai, is the CS artistic director and concertmaster, as well as a distinguished soloist and chamber musician. The CS is set to finish recording their album in 2023, but in the meantime, they have kindly given permission for Mirage and Night Star to be released on this album.

The last piece to be recorded was Musical Angels, scheduled for June 2022, but a member of the Odin Quartet came down with Covid-19 the day before the recording session. The recording was postponed to July 25, 2022. Also recorded on this day was percussionist Alejandro Céspedes, who played for a new version of Danzón Overture. Alejandro has performed with the National Opera and Ballet Orchestra of Cuba and the Niagara, Kingston and Toronto Symphony Orchestras. He was the perfect choice to create an authentic Cuban sound for the clave, guiro, conga and timbales parts he recorded.

There have been challenges along the way due to the pandemic, but I am thankful for all the exceptional musicians and recording engineers who were able to persevere with their art throughout and contribute to this album.