“I’m glad the idea that as a performer you can be a part of things that are happening and new and coming out was instilled in me.” ~ Ilana Waniuk

General ($18) / Student, Senior, Artist ($13) at BeMused Network

The beginning of Thin Edge New Music Collective was the simple desire of co-artistic directors Cheryl Duvall and Ilana Waniuk to play contemporary chamber music as a duo, a passion that was sparked during their time as students at Wilfrid Laurier University and then rekindled when they reconnected, years after graduation.

Before they knew it, Cheryl and Ilana had an ensemble of like-minded performers who played violin, percussion, piano and oboe: a strange combination for which there was no repertoire, but one that opened up wonderful new possibilities for composers.

TENMC was born following the receipt of a commissioning grant in 2011 towards the group’s first “Premieres” concert. Three years later, this unusual ensemble is celebrating the conclusion of their third season with a “Premieres III” concert on June 13 at Array Space (155 Walnut Avenue), featuring a program of original performer-composer collaborations that inspired the collective in the first place.

“There was a very vibrant community of composers and performers when we were at Laurier. I’m glad the idea that as a performer you can be a part of things that are happening and new and coming out was instilled in me,” says Waniuk.

In the world of contemporary music—and this could be works written in the last few decades—a piece is often heard by the audience for the first time, regardless of whether it’s a premiere or not. Behind the scenes, however, there is always a magic that happens during those first rehearsals in the weeks and months leading up to the premiere.

“During rehearsals, it’s the first time we hear how everything comes together. It’s like we are constructing a musical building together, after learning our own parts. We have no idea how it sounds like until we try to put it together,” Waniuk says of the experience.

There is always a sense of the unexpected for both composers and performers during this process. Notation rarely conveys exactly what the composer wants, and this collaboration is an integral part of the composer’s creative process.

“It’s really nice to work with composers who know exactly what they want. There are question marks on how you interpret it and what you bring to it, but it’s been really great to have [composer] Adam Scime there at every single rehearsal,” said Duvall.

“He’ll sit there quietly as we put it together and then he’ll say something about how we’ve been doing it, working with us in each section to get exactly what he wants.”

In addition to artistic risks, there are also practical risks inherent with presenting contemporary music. Unusual ensemble means that there are always unexpected logistical challenges. Percussion instruments add incredible musical dimensions, but make coordinating rehearsals a bit of a challenge, and also add to the cost of putting on a concert.

Thin Edge’s commitment to a high level of musicianship, along with their willingness to take artistic risks, has made them an ideal collaborator for composers: Scime invited Thin Edge to be the performing ensemble for his electro-acoustic opera L’Homme et le Ciel, and Monica Pearce of the Toy Piano Composers wanted to write something specifically for them.

As a collective, the members of TENMC actively seek out fresh sounds by programming composers and performers from across Canada. For “Premieres III”, saxophonist Chelsea Shanoff suggested a piece by Hiroki Tsurumoto that needed the right ensemble to premiere, and violinist Suhashini Arulandaman suggested the works of Paul Kerekes, whom she got to know during their time in school together.

The program will be performed by some of the best chamber musicians in Toronto with Duvall on piano, Waniuk and Arulanandam on violin, Bryan Holt on cello, Sarah Yunji Moon on flute, Elizabeth Eccleston on oboe, soprano Stacie Dunlop, and an impressive trio of percussionists with Olaf Szester, Nathan Petitpas and Michelle Hwu.

Other composers on the program include Christopher Reiche, whom Waniuk and Duvall met during their undergrad, and Sophie Pope, the recipient of Thin Edge’s own commissioning fund, with a piece for oboe, piano, percussion and violin, the instrumentation of the founding ensemble.

As part of the evening, the Canadian League of Composers is sponsoring a reception where composers, performers, and audiences can mingle. General manager of CLC Elisha Denburg with fellow composer Brian Harman will offer the audience some insight and context of each piece throughout the program.

Duvall and Waniuk are both consummate performers who thrive on being on the edge of the unknown, and they have built an ensemble that is busy touring and collaborating across the country. They have firmly placed Thin Edge as a distinct member of the vibrant contemporary music community in Toronto, while actively seeking out new sounds from other musical hubs across Canada and beyond.

For a snapshot of the creative energy devoted to contemporary music in Canada, don’t miss their show at Array Space on June 13th, and experience for yourself some of the best performers presenting contemporary music on the edge.