Adam Scime is a young composer and performer living in Toronto, whose work has received many awards including The SOCAN Young Composer’s Competition, and The Karen Keiser Prize in Canadian Music, The Esprit Young Composer Competition, and the Electro-Acoustic Composer’s Competition hosted by American pianist Keith Kirchoff. His music has been performed by ensembles such as Nouvelle Ensemble Moderne, The Esprit Orchestra, The Gryphon Trio, New Music Concerts, Soundstreams and l’Orchestre de la Francophonie. In addition to his activities as a composer, Adam also works frequently as a freelance double bassist specializing in new music. Adam is currently studying with Gary Kulesha at the University of Toronto where he has been awarded a full fellowship to study as a Doctoral student in composition.
This year, Scime’s opera L’Homme et le Ciel has made quite a splash. Presented in April in Toronto by FAWN Opera (and reviewed here), and last month as part of the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener, the opera is getting another life in the hands & voices of The Bicycle Opera Project (July 4th – August 10th) .
On the occasion of BOP taking an excerpt of L’Homme et le Ciel on tour, I ask Adam Scime ten questions: five about himself and five more about L’Homme et le Ciel.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
I am more like my Mother. She is the art appreciator in my family. It is my Mom who introduced me to art of all kinds as a young child. To this day, we still attend concerts regularly.
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a composer of “new” music?
Making art in any discipline can be extremely beneficial, but also quite risky. To me, there is no greater joy than having the means to create music, hearing this music performed, and have it experienced by a community who is willing to listen. This is all you can ask for as an artist. Although the process of creating art can be endlessly rewarding, there are times when the artist may doubt his or her abilities. Because art is, at its core, a subjective medium, there will inevitably be those who experience distaste with what you create. The artist therefore must posses the courage to not only create their art and release it into the world, they must also be willing to accept the harshest of criticism from their community while maintaining continuous faith in their creative abilities. This is the ultimate risk in art.
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Although I could create an endless list of influences from countless genres, there is always one artist who comes to the fore when asked this question. For years I have been inspired by the performance ability of singer songwriter Jeff Buckley. While he was less than prolific as a songwriter, one of his strongest abilities was to completely enamour an audience from the first note. This is a musical quality that I admire very much, and try to emulate in my own music, whether it is through the music I write, or the music I perform.
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I would like to posses the ability of a world-class tennis professional. I’ve always admired tennis as a beautiful sport to watch. Also, the solitary existence of a tennis player has many traits common to a composer. I certainly don’t have the tennis chops of a pro, however, like any skill, one can become quite proficient with enough hard work and dedication. So, you never know.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I like to read. Preferably in a park on a sunny day.
Five more concerning L’Homme et le Ciel in its Bicycle Opera version
1-What are the challenges you face with opera?
The collaborative aspect of the medium is completely attractive to me. Composing can often be a rather solitary affair. When dealing with opera, the composer has the chance to collaborate with other musicians, librettists, designers, and producers, etc. This list goes on, and if the right people are involved, there is the potential to create something quite special. This wide spread collaborative environment is wonderful, and truly inspiring.
The challenge with opera is to create a convincing reaction of the text through the music. The theatre of the libretto, and metaphorical meaning behind the text must be carefully represented in the music. For example, if there is a dark and stormy scene, it is not good enough to simply create “thunder” sounds in the orchestra. One has to ask how the storm is affecting the characters, and express it though the music, and the setting for the voice. Furthermore, the setting of the voice for each character must be carefully thought out and unique. Too often composers overlook this crucial musical element in opera, and the music falls flat as a result. It would be absurd to insist that each character in a staged play or movie speak exactly the same way. Opera is theatre, and these considerations must not be overlooked by a composer.
2-what do you love about the story & subject of this opera?
I was attracted to this story for its rather humanistic theme, and the mysterious ways in which the theme is presented. The main character, Hermas, is forced to re-evaluate his existence after certain revelations are brought forth to him by a Messenger in a vision. Although there is a mystical element to the libretto, I believe the audience can easily relate to the general surface message of the text. There are many times throughout all our lives when we engage in a retrospective, wonder how things could have gone better, and if those revelations will have any influence on how we live from that moment onward.
3-Do you have a favourite moment in the opera?
My favourite moment in the opera occurs from midway through the third scene, to the end of the same scene. The two female characters have what seems to be an endless duet. The duet intertwines harmonically with crunchy dissonances and sinewy counterpoint like two strands in a taut rope. The duet comes to a climax and the dissonance lifts slightly as the accompanying harmony becomes a little less unsettling. However, there still seems to be something unnerving in the vocal lines as the scene ends. It’s one of those moments that, as an artist, you know will be successful immediately after writing it. It’s a place I wish I could go to more often.
There are so many young artists, composers, and performers who seem to be quite engaged in opera. This is extremely encouraging especially considering the unfortunate cultural baggage that surrounds the genre. In Toronto there are numerous new companies who want to perform edgy new Canadian opera. This is important for many reasons. Most importantly, it proves that opera does not have to be a grand spectacle appreciated only by the cultural elite. For example, The Bicycle Opera Project, who will be taking a section from my opera L’Homme et le Ciel on tour this summer, sees it as their mandate to bring new Canadian opera into small communities via bicycle. This contradicts every stereotype surrounding opera that I can think of. The Bicycle Opera team proves to these small communities that not only is opera an accessible art form, but that there is high value in our Canadian performers and composers.
5- Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
While studying composition at The University of Western Ontario, I had the fortune of being mentored by award winning Canadian composer Paul Frehner. Paul opened my eyes to many things, and proved to be an indispensible influence on my development as an artist. To this day we still remain friends, we send each other new pieces, and catch a concert here and there.
The Bicycle Opera Project could be rolling into your town sometime soon! check their schedule to see where and when they’ll be presenting their works (including part of Adam Scime’s L’Homme et le Ciel), between now and August 10th.