Published: March 31, 2003

Major New Work For Highland Pipes Debuts in Toronto

Toronto – March 23, 2003 – Highland pipes were integrated with the classical music world with the debut of John Beckwith’s commissioned work, “A New Pibroch,” at the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s (CBC) prestigious Glenn Gould Studio theatre here tonight.

With Michael Grey of Dundas, Ontario, performing the part written for Highland pipes, Beckwith’s specially commissioned piece melded violins, violas, cello, bass and percussion in a 15-minute exploration of the pipes’ potential to work in a formal, orchestral context. Rather than simply having other instruments play to pipes and pipe music, the instruments and music of “A New Pibroch” struck a balance, with the sound and texture of the Highland pipe integrated with more familiar classical instruments.

An estimated 400 people, comprising mainly classical music enthusiasts and very few from the piping and drumming world, filled the theatre, with the performance being recorded for future broadcast on CBC Radio Two.

“The commission presented several challenges,” Beckwith commented. “The bagpipe scale does not relate to the tempered tuning of Western classical music: there are no semitones, and the thirds are not quite major and not quite minor. I find them especially beautiful. The strings therefore have the difficult task of adjusting; the score contains only the pitch classes of the basic scale, for all players. The piece attempts to sustain interest in a concert room context, by accommodating these factors in various ways.”

Inspired to some extent by “Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon,” “A New Pibroch” used the dark complexion of the classic MacCrimmon tune, while juxtaposing it with occasional glimpses of identifiable tunes from the repertory of the pipe.

With all musicians dressed in suits and ties, the bagpipe and piper were on a tonal and visual par with their counterparts. The pipes were placed behind the conductor and seven other instruments, providing balance of volume and visibility.

“A New Pibroch” was commissioned by New Music Concerts, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to furthering Canadian classical composition.

John Beckwith has been awarded the Order of Canada, and is Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Toronto. He holds honourary doctorates from five Canadian universities, was recipient of the Canadian Music Council’s annual medal in 1972 and “Composer of the Year” citation in 1984, as well as the Toronto Arts award for music in 1995 and the Diplome d’honneur of the Canadian Conference of the Arts in 1996.

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