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Curiosity, Genius, and the Search For Petula Clark

    2*2*2*2  4*3*3*1 Timpani (4 drums), 2 Perc, Strings [Percussion Requirements: Temple Bowl (no specific pitch; low) Xylophone, Glockenspiel Crotales (beater and bow),Medium Suspended Cymbal (mallets and wire brushes) Large Bass Drum,Snare Drum Low Suspended

    Duration: ca.10 minutes
    Composed: 2017

    Programme Note: This piece was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with the support of the Government of Canada and the Glenn Gould Foundation. It is a single movement work for orchestra written to celebrate Glenn Gould’s 85th birthday and the 70th anniversary of his debut performance with the TSO.

    Glenn Gould was a prodigiously talented pianist who had already made his mark on the concert stage by the age of 30. He retired from the stage in 1964 and turned his energies towards recording, broadcasting, and communication. He had a staggering intellect and was interested in everything. He read many newspapers each day, and at least 4 hard cover books each week. One wonders when he found the time to practice?

    For this piece, I wanted to explore the difference between the public perception of Glenn Gould (quirky, odd, ingenious, obsessive), and how Glenn perceived himself (a regular guy with many interests; possibly wearing a cheap suit). He did a fascinating series of radio documentaries, the first of which was called The Search for Petula Clark. Essentially, Glenn was intrigued by chasing radio relay stations on a drive up to Northern Ontario. At certain intervals, he could hear Petula Clark’s current hit, “Who Am I?” By the end of the drive, Glenn was quite an expert on the piece, and the distance between relay stations. Another thing you need to know about Glenn was that he loved games, especially guessing games. You can imagine him driving so as not to miss any of the relayed broadcasts of Petula Clark on his way up north! He speaks about this pop song with the same focus, attention, and intellect as he would use on Bach. It is both funny and charming. I tried to weave these elements through the piece — energy, curiosity, reflection, and satisfaction.

    I am very grateful for the support of the Glenn Gould Foundation, and to Lorne Tulk – Gould’s longtime friend and recording engineer. It was a wonderful experience getting to know more about what made Glenn Gould an extraordinary person.

    Premiere: First performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor, Toronto, September 2017.


    Kelly-Marie Murphy, composer