Phantasms (1986-87)

A single movement work, Phantasms for Solo Piano was the first purely traditional musical composition that Ted Dawson wrote following his experimental years in Montreal. It was a work that came after a silence of three years, and in many ways reflects Dawson's continuing search for a personal musical language in this new milieu.

Phantasms was written for pianist Yuri Meyrowitz, who premiered and recorded the work at the Maison Tressler in Quebec, then toured with it in Europe, giving performances at Canada House, London, Centre Canadien Culturel in Paris, and in Bourglinster, Luxembourg. Phantasms was also played at the Brahmsaal of the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria.

Phantasms (excerpt)

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Portraits in a Landscape (1988)

During the mid-1980's Dawson developed a friendship with Newfoundland-based visual artist Anne Meredith Barry, and they discussed the possibility of realizing a joint collaboration. Barry proposed working with the context of her new art installation piece "Travelling Vests" based on her trips to remote wilderness areas of Canada. Dawson, who at the time was teaching as assistant professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, suggested a purely electroacoustic score that could be realized in the electronic studio at Queen's.

The resulting 20 minute work (looped for repetition as a sound installation) parallels Barry's theme of travel and wilderness spaces as an imaginary transcontinental journey from the east coast to west, where both past and present natural and human soundscapes coexist.

Portraits in a Landspace opened at the Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John's Newfoundland. It was also presented at the Geraldine Davis Gallery in Toronto.

Portraits in a Landscape (excerpt)

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Traces in Glass (1986-92)

This work was the first piece in which Dawson made the transition to his new musical style. Written over a 6 year period, it has special personal significance for the composer as a memorial to his father, William George Dawson, who passed away in Victoria in 1981.

The original sketches for Traces in Glass began prior to work on Phantasms for Piano, and in fact the first version of this work bore more resemblance to Dawson's experimental creations. In its original form, flute solos and closeup images were to be recorded on video, and monitors set up as an installation in the natural west coast forest of Saxe Point Park in Victoria - his father's favorite place. In the final version of the piece, a flute solo becomes the starting point in a work for chamber orchestra featuring the transparent orchestration of bowed vibraphone, solo piano, percussion and strings. There are also two quotations from the English composer Henry Purcell that are integrated into the work.

Traces in Glass received its first performance at the Grosseskonsertsaal in Vienna, Austria, immediately followed by a second performance with the Estonian State Orchestra in Tallinn, Estonia in 1991. In 1995, the piece received its Canadian debut at the Winnipeg New Music Festival, where it won the distinguished SOCAN Prize for orchestral composition.

Traces in Glass (excerpt)

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Symphony 1 (1993-96)

For many years, Ted Dawson looked for the opportunity to write a full-scale orchestral work and explore the genre of the symphony. Composition began as a doctoral dissertation for his Ph. D. at SUNY Buffalo, but beyond this immediate practical application, Symphony 1 continues the composer's exploration of full orchestral resources and expands on the development of his musical vocabulary, especially in light of his interest in Northern European composers such as Sibelius, Sallinen, Rautavaara, and Tubin.

The Symphony is built on 3 subjects that form an overall two movement structure. The first movement introduces these materials and is primarily a series of variations on the first idea. The second movement strongly contrasts the first, and presents direct linear transformations of the other materials, split into two distinct sections with a close that brings the work full circle.

Symphony 1 received its world premiere in Taipei, Taiwan with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra under Canadian conductor Victor Feldbrill as part of the True North Festival 1998.

Symphony 1 (2nd Mvt)

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Topographical Sonata (1992/96)

During the early 1990's, Ted Dawson returned to academia to do doctoral studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo - a campus long associated with the music of Cage and Morton Feldman. SUNY's Electronic Studio featured the latest digital computerized technologies, and this provided Dawson with his first opportunity to work in a non-analog setting.

Also in Buffalo, Dawson met fellow international student and pianist Bjorn Rasmussen, and Rasmussen suggested the possibility of performing a new work for solo piano and electronics. It was agreed that the commission fee for the piece would consist of a supply of fresh Danish cheese - Castello Blue and White.

On a conceptual level, the Topographical Sonata is a Canadian national portrait of iconic wilderness sites, reflecting earlier work realized with artist Anne Meredith Barry. Musically, the piece consists of four movements based on a specific places known to the composer.

The first movement, "China Beach", is memories of west coast rain forest on the western Pacific shore of Vancouver Island. Dawson visited the site several times in his early twenties, and the difficult access through rain forest and swamp shaped his vision of the piece. Movement 2 is entitled "Drumheller", reflecting a trip the composer took through the eroded badlands of Southern Alberta - famous for their dinosaur remains. The third movement, "Manitouwaba", is set on a lake in the Canadian Shield country of cantral Ontario where the composer has his summer cottage. It is a landscape of Precambrian granite rock forms and tall white pines.

For the finale of the Sonata, Dawson wanted to express an east coast location that would balance the other movements of the piece and provide a sense of completion . Again his work with Anne Barry in Newfoundland provided the key for an opportunity to make a new trip, generously sponsored by Memorial University in Cornerbrook, to drive the west coast of Newfoundland, Bay of Islands, the Great Northern Peninsula, and the southern coast of Labrador in search of a site. Near L'anse aux Meadows Viking settlement at the tip of the peninsula, Dawson found Cape Norman - a desolate rocky outcrop of weathered sedimentary rock facing due north into the cold restless seas of the Strait of Belle Isle, with icebergs and the distant shores of Labrador beyond.

China Beach was premiered at the June in Buffalo festival in 1994. In 1996, the second and third movements were added and received their international premiere with Bjorn Rasmussen in Odense, Denmark. The work was also broadcast on Danish Radio. In 1998, Mr. Rasmussen participated in True North Festival in Taiwan, and performed the Sonata as part of an electroacoustic program at the National Chiang Kai-Shek Recital Hall in Taipei.

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Dragon Songs (1994-2003) for Bass Baritone Voice and Full Orchestra

This cycle of five orchestral songs is based on 7th century Chinese poetry from the late Tan'g dynasty. The texts feature two poets, Li Ho and Li Shang-Yin, whose sense of the passing of time, ghostly ephemora, and transcendental visions inspired Dawson to create the sequence of poems featured in the work.

The second and fourth movements, "Exorcism" and "The Northern Cold" were originally written in 1995 through a commission by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra that was part of the SOCAN Prize won by Dawson the previous year at the Winnipeg New Music Festival. The remaining movements were added in 1996-98 for a premiere of the complete work in 1998 at True North Festival in Taipei, Taiwan with Bass-Baritone Joel Katz, conductor Victor Feldbrill, and the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. Movements 1 and 3 received further revisions to their orchestrations in 2003 for an unrealized performance in Tallinn, Estonia.

Dragon Songs(Exorcism)

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Piano Concerto "Wisteria" (2002)

The idea of writing this Concerto was proposed to Ted Dawson by Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska-Quilico, during her True North Festival performances in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in 1998. In 2002, the work was successfully commissioned through the Laidlaw Foundation in Toronto, and Ted Dawson began to draft a work that was traditional in form, but rather autobiographical in content.

As an overall concept, the three movements of the Concerto represent a journey from conflict into light. The first movement is about opposites, with rather edgy and complex orchestral materials sharply contrasting the solo piano's role as a bringer of harmony and tranquility. In the second movement, the mood becomes darker still, with solemn brass and percussion music contrasting the lyrical piano. The concluding section of this movement leads to a rather timeless world of fantasy, where the piano and orchestra merge into a unity. Bringing matters back down to earth and into more mainstream Concerto territory, the finale is a jaunting catchy set of "parody variations" on "Wisteria" - a Chinese pop tune from the 1930's.

"Wisteria" received its premiere performance in Thunder Bay, Ontario with Ms. Petrowska-Quilico, conductor Geoffrey Moull and the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra in 2003. In 2006, the Christopher Summer Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania invited the composer to attend the European premiere of the Concerto to a capacity audience at the St. Catherine's Church.

Piano Concerto
(2nd Mvt Excerpt)

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Ice Dreams (2004)

The idea for Ice Dreams began with a mid-winter trip to a friend's cottage near Bancroft, Ontario, directly south of the Algonquin Park wilderness reserve. On the edge of a large frozen lake, Dawson found natural ice sculptures scattered on the surface of the frozen water, forming fantastic shapes and refracted sunlight into myriad colours. Holding one of these iceforms in his hand, Dawson imagined a "prism" chord with multiple sound colours. The intimate charm of these colours, individually distinctive yet blending into one another seemed perfectly suited for wind quintet.

The final form of the work, like its source of inspiration, is in a single gesture broken down into 13 sections. The traditional wind quintet ensemble is extended with the additional colours of alto flute and Eb clarinet.

Commissioned by the Danish group Blaeserkompaniet through the Laidlaw Foundation, Ice Dreams was first performed during the summer of 2004 at the Fredricksvaerk Music Festival and broadcast on Danish Radio.

Ice Dreams(1st section)

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Three Estonian Songs on Poems of Andres Ehin (2005-06 revised 2011-12)

Beginning in the late 1980's and motivated by his interest in Nordic cultures,  Dawson began making trips to Finland and Estonia. At the time, Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union. Thanks to personal contacts from master Canadian-Estonian composer Kaljo Raid, Dawson made good friends in Tallinn and returned to the Baltics many times over the years to realize multiple projects.

In early 2003, Dawson was travelling in central Estonia to attend a musical performance, and there by chance met the locally celebrated poet Andres Ehin. The surreal quality of Ehin's poetic imagery, reflecting some of the difficulties of life in Soviet-occupied Estonia, communicates multiple ambivalent messages. This, combined with parody, suggested a curious combination of tangible and imaginary realities that inspired Dawson to create these songs.

At the suggestion of Sirje Normet, to whom the work is dedicated, Dawson set 3 poems for soprano voice and organ,  retaining the original Estonian language to preserve the unique speech rhythms of the texts.   This piece received its premiere performance in the Elizabeth Church at the Fourth Annual Pärnu Organ Festival in 2006, with soprano Veera Talesh and organist Piret Aidulo.

In December 2011, Ted Dawson received the news that Andres Ehin had suddenly passed away.  An "In Memoriam" concert was organized, and the composer was asked to attend so that a second performance of his songs could be presented as part of the program.  This performance took place on March 27, 2012 at the Kaarli Church in Tallinn - the capital city of Estonia.  Over 500 people, including the poet's wife and many prominent cultural figures, attended the solemn tribute. There was a broadcast on national radio, including an interview with Ted Dawson.  For this performance, the composer made many revisions to the original score, both in the soprano and organ parts.  The work was recorded live at the Kaarli Church, featuring soprano Kristiina Under and organist Piret Aidulo.

At White Night

Sequel to Things

Small Minnows


A Mondrian Triptych (2011-12)

"A Mondrian Triptych" is a work for Solo Piano, based on three stylistically transitional paintings of Mondrian - the early "Chrysanthemums", the famous "Winkel Mill in Sunlight", and "Red Tree".  Each of these three pieces explores the natural world with an evolving investigation of style. From the composer's perspective, "Chrysanthemums" is expressive, but with an almost fanatically precise realism in the rendering of the flower blossom.  "The Winkel Mill in Sunlight" features a very unnatural colour world that seems to combine Fauvism with Expressionism to create a very vibrant memorable image.  "Red Tree" looks forward to the purely abstract paintings of the artist, with its early use of a primary colour scheme and the beginnings of a grid-like network of tree branches, but it also has expressionistic qualities.

Ted Dawson saw a creative opportunity in these contrasts in terms of the evolution of musical language as a subject for a composition. The piano piece "Chrysanthemums" is seen almost as two realities in conflict, although within a rather expressive lyrical style.  "The Winkel Mill in Sunlight" combines impressionistic elements and symmetrical chord constructions with an almost demonic expressionism.  "Red Tree" returns the idea of tonal conflict and the expressionistic sound image of a tree as a field of psychological energy.

In April 2012, "Chrysanthemums" received its world premiere at the Palais Palffy in Vienna, Austria in a performance featuring Toronto-based pianist Yuri Meyrowitz with the composer in attendance.  The remaining movements of this work, "The Winkel Mill in Sunlight" and "The Red Tree", were completed at the end of 2012.

Vienna Premiere