John Oliver

Audio Samples & Notes: John Oliver

1. Eagle Flies to Mountain
(2006) (17′)
Zheng, Erhu, Gaohu, Clarinet, Accordion, Chinese Percussion, Pipa, Daruan

Composer’s Notes:
The title may imply a traditional story-telling music, but I thought of this title as a symbol of the basic idea of the piece, which is to explore the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) and their implementation in concepts of the zodiac, specifically the personalities of cusp signs. Cusp signs take on the characteristics or personality traits of two adjacent signs of the zodiac. The four elements are attributed to various signs. Cusp signs combine two elements. Here I have named the combination of Earth/Air as “mountain,” and Water/Fire as “eagle.” Each of these combinations contains opposites and represents well the concept of yin and yang. Earth is apathetic, sluggish, grounded, practical and conservative in approach. Air is irritable, changeable, intellectual and abstract, inventive and clever. Water is sad, brooding, flowing, wavering, intuitive and emotional. Fire is active, enthusiastic creative and courageous. The mountain is where earth and sky meet. Eagle flies high near the sun, then dives to catch fish in the water. Eagle can also fly to the mountain. This story is eternal, without an end. Yet we have stories about how it all began. And this is how my music begins.

John Oliver came to international attention during 1988/89 when he won six prizes for five compositions ranging from chamber to orchestral to electroacoustic music. Among these the “City of Varese Prize” at the 1988 Luigi Russolo Competition (Italy), and the Canada Council’s Grand Prize at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s 8th National Competition for Young Composers for his live electroacoustic work El Reposo del Fuego. Based on these successes, the Canadian Opera Company commissioned Oliver’s first opera, Guacamayo’s Old Song and Dance which they produced in Toronto and at the Banff Centre in 1991, the first full-length opera of their Composer-in-Residence Program.

Oliver has also been Composer-in-Residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Chamber Music Festival, and Music in the Morning, receiving commissions from them, as well as from the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, CBC Radio, CBC Radio Orchestra, Vancouver New Music, La Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, Ensemble Pierrot, and the St. Lawrence Quartet, among others. Oliver’s music has been heard at major international festivals, as well as in concert and on radio.
Oliver’s recent music combines new inventions with familiar and ancient musical materials and techniques from around the world, with a view to creating a perceptually-based, visceral listening experience. Master classes with I. Xenakis and Roger Reynolds, along with personal studies in perception, psychoacoustics, and social theory have contributed to his path. Oliver studied with composers with John Adams, Stephen Chatman, John Rea, Bruce Mather, and Philippe Boesmans. He holds a doctorate in composition from McGill University. From 2003 to the present Oliver has embarked on an exploration of intercultural music, and has written several works for combinations of Chinese and western instruments.