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Portager nominated for Juno

By Svjetlana Mlinarevic, The Graphic

Gordon Fitzell, a composer based in Winnipeg but born and raised in Portage la Prairie, has been nominated for the Juno Award for Classical Composition of the Year for the album Magister Ludi. (Submitted Photo)

Gordon Fitzell, a composer based in Winnipeg but born and raised in Portage la Prairie, has been nominated for the Juno Award for Classical Composition of the Year for the album Magister Ludi. (Submitted Photo)

A Portage la Prairie composer has been nominated for this year's Juno Awards.

Gordon Fitzell, a composer based in Winnipeg, has been nominated for Classical Composition of the Year for the album Magister Ludi.

“This was unexpected,” said Fitzell. “I was actually not even aware that that particular day was Juno announcement day until I started receiving emails from friends and colleges congratulating me.”

Fitzell was nominated by his record company, Centrediscs and said the number of people, some of whom he hasn’t heard from in almost 30 years, who have contacted him since his nomination was announced, surprised him.

Coming from a musical family meant Fitzell began his music education at an early age. He grew up playing the guitar and through his teen years and much of his 20s he fashioned himself as a rock musician before “stumbling” into classical music.

“I began to migrate more toward experimental rock and roll and that branched into experimental contemporary classical music,” he said. “When I say experimental, that’s not unique to me. There are a lot of composers today who are adventurous in terms of pitch collections, rhythmic structures, form of music and don’t necessarily follow the models that have proceeded them.”

Fitzell’s musical education began at Brandon University where he received a Bachelor of Music followed by a Master of Music from the University of Alberta and a dual doctorate in Music Theory and Composition from the University of British Columbia. He has studied at the Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Music, the Yale Summer School, June in Buffalo, the Arraymusic Young Composers Workshop, and the Banff Centre.

Since 2009, he has been an artistic co-director of Groundswell, Winnipeg's new music series. Fitzell currently works as the assistant professor of music theory and composition at the University of Manitoba's Desautels Faculty of Music, where he leads the XIE (eXperimental Improv Ensemble).

He has received acknowledgements and awards for his compositions from various organizations, including CBC Radio, the SOCAN Foundation, Vancouver New Music, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in the United States.

In 2006, Fitzell's compositions (Violence and Evanescence) were included in Eighth Blackbird's album Strange Imaginary Animals, a compilation of chamber and avant-garde compositions. The album went on to won two Grammy Awards in 2008. Fitzell also co-produced Strange Imaginary Animals and received a plaque from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences when the album was nominated.

As composers look for more innovate ways to express their work, Fitzell said it was a natural progression for them to use computers. He said Magister Ludi could be classified as either classical or experimental “depending on one’s perspective.”

“Generally, speaking it would be specified as classical music. There are five tracks on the album and four of them are purely acoustic chamber music with no electronics and another one involves live interactive electronics,” he said.

As for Fitzell’s songwriting process, he said his methods vary from piece to piece and that he tries to make every composition unique. For Magister Ludi, which was commissioned by the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM) for eight flutes and a cello, Fitzell was inspired by the novel, The Glass Bead Game, by German author Hermann Hesse (Magister Ludi is Latin for “master of the game”). Fitzell described the novel is “a journey through the philosophical life (of the main character) and that the glass bead game is never really fully explained, but it represents a synthesis of various arts and sciences to which (the main character) becomes a master of … the book refers to there being a fundamental element in the universe that seemingly have no beginning and no end … this is a quality that I try to bring to the piece … a sense of timelessness and envelopment for the listener.”

As classical audiences become more open to experimental forms of classical music and the use of computers to create harmonies and textures in compositions, the technology that connects man and machine becomes seamless and instantaneous.

“One of the exciting elements of incorporating computers into live performance is that the latency (between the sounds from the computer and the musician) is so low now between the live player and the computer that it’s seemingly instantaneous,” he said.

Fitzell noted that electronic music has been around for decades but only within the last 10 to 20 years have composers been able to combine classical and electronic music at “a high level for a low cost.”

Up next for the Juno nominated composer is a solo saxophone piece he has been commissioned to write for Montreal player Tommy Davis.

The Junos will air live from Hamilton on March 15.

Twitter: @PDGSvjetlana

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