John Plant, composer

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I was born in Yonkers, New York in 1945.  Always torn between literature and music, I studied both at Middlebury College in Vermont, and began a Ph.D. program as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in comparative literature at Harvard.  The Vietnam war brought me to Canada in 1968, wheree I continued studying composition at McGill. I owe an incalculable debt to all three of my composition teachers: George Todd at Middlebury, Bruce Mather and Charles Palmer at McGill. 

My compositional career took flight with a series of works for choreographers Peter Boneham and Jean-Pierre Perrault of Le Groupe de la Place Royale, culminating in the dance-operas What Happened, The Collector of Cold Weather; and Faustus: An Opera for Dancers.  These works were premiered at the National Arts Center in Ottawa, and subsequently performed on tour throughout Canada, England and France.

My vocal work includes settings of Lorca, Sappho, E.E. Cummings, Göran Sonnevi, Catullus, Ungaretti,  Trakl, Lawrence Raab, Gaspara Stampa, and many others, for combinations ranging from piano trio to full orchestra.  My Yeats opera, The Shadowy Waters, was performed in Montreal in 2005. Recent works include a song cycle entitled Babel is a Blessing, eight songs in eight languages; and two settings of Elizabeth Bishop's poems for soprano Suzie LeBlanc: Sandpiper and Sunday, 4 A.M.  These works appear on her Centrediscs CD 'I am in need of music' (CMCCD 19413), voted 'Best Classical CD' at the 2014 East Coast Music Awards.  My  opera I will fly like a bird, about the Robert Dziekanski tragedy, to a libretto by Halifax poet/novelist J.A. Wainwright, was performed at Scotia Festival in Halifax in 2012, and staged by Opera Nova Scotia in 2015.  A setting of Gaspara Stampa's sonnet 'Rimandatemi il cor, empio tiranno' was premiered by Anita Krause and the Talisker Players in Toronto in  2012.  I hav e composed two opera: The Shadowy Waters (Montreal 2005), and I will fly like a bird (Scotia Festival 2011, Opera Nova Scotia 2015.) Two settings of Elizabeth Bishop's poems for soprano Suzie LeBlanc, Sandpiper and Sunday 4 A.M. appear on her Centrediscs CD, 'I am in need of music'  Two critically acclaimed CDs, featuring mezzo-soprano Jocelyne Fleury, are devoted to my vocal music: Canciones del alma (with Quatuor Claudel, SNE-625), and Vocal Works in Eight Languages (with Ensemble Prima, conducted by Mélanie Léonard, MSR-1327.)

Until 2010, my music was overwhelmingly vocal, reflecting my fascination with literature, languages and the human voice. Much of it was directly inspired by the radiant voice of my life partner, Jocelyne Fleury; though she has recently retired from singing, she is deeply entwined in every note I write; her imprint on the DNA of my music is as strong as my own.  She has encouraged the shift of focus to instrumental music; though I have always rejoiced in the constraints and challenges inherent in setting poems to music, I have found it quite liberating to plunge into the world of 'absolute' music.

A Capriccio for flute and marimba, for Derek Charke and Mark Adam, was premiered at the Shattering the Silence Festival in Wolfville on February 3, 2012, and has since appeared on CD.  My fantasia for saxophone and piano, A deep clear breath of life, commissioned by Peter Kovner in memory of his beloved sister Kay, was performed at Boston University on February 15, 2013, with Jennifer Bill, saxophone, and Yoshiko Kline, piano.  The work has since been performed in San Diego, Tanglewood, New York, Halifax and elsewhere.   My Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned for the fortieth anniversary of the Montreal Chamber Orchestra, received its first performance under conductor Wanda Kaluzny,  at Salle Bourgie on April 15, 2014. Blue Engine String Quartet recently commissioned and premiered my Piano Quintet and String Quartet in Halifax. 

A return to vocal writing came with a most welcome commission from Michael Couper and Jennifer Bill: Insomnia, a setting of poems by Marina Tsvetaeva in my own translation, for soprano, alto sax and piano, premiered at Carnegie Hall on October 31, 2015, magnificently performed by Yungee Rhie, soprano; Michael Couper, saxophone, and ChoEun Lee, piano. 

My concerto for alto saxophone and large wind ensemble, entitled Faustus: A SaxOpera, was commissioned by World-Wide Concurrent Premieres Commissioning Fund, with ten participating saxophonists/ensembles. The first performance, with Jennifer Bill as soloist and the Boston University Wind Ensemble conducted by David Martins, took place in Boston on October 6, 2016, with subsequent performances in Wolfville, San Diego, Mansfield (Pa.), and future performances scheduled in Calgary, Connecticut, Boston, and Taiwan.   After presenting the Canadian premiere of the full version, with the Acadia University Wind Ensemble under Dr. Mark Hopkins, saxophonist Tristan de Borba commissioned a chamber version of this work (sax, harp, piano) for the North American Saxophone Alliance conference. (Sackville 2017).  Taiwan saxophonist William Chien will present this version at the World Saxophone Congress in 2018.  

A commission from Coastal Voices, the men's choir I accompany, led to the creation of my first choral work, Voices Answering Back: the Vampires, to a poem by Lawrence Raab, premiered last May.  My most recently completed work is a sonata for clarinet and piano ('Earthsea' Sonata), commissioned by clarinettist Dominic Desautels (November 2017, Halifax).  My current project is a work for percussion and piano for the duo of Marie-Josée Simard and Louise Bessette.  

Other performers of my music include:   l'Ensemble du Jeu Présent (Paolo Bellomia, conductor),  Ensemble Phoenix; Quatuor Molinari; clarinettists  Mark Simons and Micah Heilbrunn, flutists Liselyn Adams and Caroline Séguin;  percussionists Ziya Tabassian and Robert Leroux; harpists Ellen Gibling, Olga Gross, and Caroline Lizotte; singers  Andrea Ludwig, Benjamin Butterfield, Krisztina Szabo, Alexander Dobson, Clayton Kennedy,  Marcia Swanston, Patricia O'Callaghan, Franco Tenelli, Neil Aronoff, Margo McKinnon, and Sarah Hawkey, pianists Robert Kortgaard, Hannah Gruber, Simon Docking....

I taught composition and music history at Concordia University from 1993-2008; I have also taught music at St. George's School (1976-2006), The Priory School and Vanier College. I retired in 2008 to devote myself to composition. I now live by the ocean in West Jeddore, Nova Scotia.