Photo: Michael Slobodian (left), Leif Norman (right)
Montreal-based composer, James O’Callaghan, completed his BFA in Music (Honours) at SCA in 2010. He received his Masters of Music at McGill University this year.
His work Isomorphia for orchestra and electronics has just been nominated for a JUNO Award for Classical Composition of the Year. Last year, he was the Emerging Composer-in-Residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and was a featured artist in Winnipeg's Cluster New Music + Integrated Arts festival. In 2011, he was selected for the inaugural Canadian League of Composers / Canadian Music Centre Composer Mentoring Project. He is a founding member and co-director of the Montréal Contemporary Music Lab.
His music intersects acoustic and electroacoustic media, employing field recordings, amplified found objects, computer-assisted transcription of environmental sounds, and unique performance conditions. He has completed forty works spanning dance, theatre, film, concert music and audio-visual installations.
We asked James about his nomination, current projects, and his time at SCA.
What has the response been like since you received your JUNO nomination?
The response has been a little staggering. I have to confess I was not expecting the nomination, so it's been a bit overwhelming. But, of course, I'm incredibly flattered - it was the largest compositional project I've yet undertaken with lots of bends along the way, so the nomination (and the response that has followed) has been very validating. Lots of doors seem to be opening; it will take some getting used to meeting so many people who already know who I am. It's a bit bizarre that one event can have so much impact, but I'm very grateful - I must not let it go to my head!
Isomorphia was commissioned, premiered and recorded with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. How was that experience working with young musicians and a full orchestra?
Working with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and their conductor Alain Trudel was really fantastic. It's an incredible luxury to have a new orchestral piece (with electronics!) premiered, toured, and recorded professionally in a great studio. The NYOC musicians are incredibly talented and open-minded - it was as good as working with a professional orchestra, but with an additional level of enthusiasm and commitment, I think. It was my first large commission, my first commercially-released recording, among a number of other great firsts - so I'm really lucky that the piece has done so well and that I had such wonderful collaborators.
How did your experience at SCA prepare you for your professional career?
SCA is an incredibly unique and innovative program that ought to serve as a model for programs of its kind. I had absolutely no musical training before I began my studies, and I think I only could have succeeded through their progressive and open-minded approach (not to mention my excellent and very encouraging teachers!). Because the music department is very much outside of the traditional 'conservatory model' I think it encourages unique and independent thinking and self-motivated work; many of its students are forging very individual paths and defining their own professional practice. We are not able to be complacent and simply accept an infrastructure handed down to us: I don't think any successful artist really can, so I think because we encountered this idea perhaps sooner than one might in a traditional setting, we have an advantage in building our own careers.
What advice do you give other young composers on getting started in their professional careers?
Don't be afraid to take risks, and never believe the voice in your head telling you that you don't have a chance. All of my greatest successes and achievements so far have started with me doubting with all my heart whether it was even worth my time because it was outside of my level of experience. Growth seems to happen most dramatically when one dives into unknown waters.
What's next for you?
In the beginning of March I'll be in Winnipeg, where I'm a featured artist in the Cluster New Music + Integrated Arts Festival. I'll be presenting some new electroacoustic works at the festival, including a piece for 'instruments-as-speakers' where a toy piano and acoustic guitar act as amplifiers for electronic sounds, a related installation, and an amplified book quartet (four percussionists performing with books as their instruments).
Good luck James for the week long celebrations and award ceremonies March 24 - 30 in Winnigpeg!
MORE ABOUT THE JUNOS