John Plant, composer

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Plant’s score—premiered in Halifax in 2012—is most impressive. Scored with skill and economy for six musicians, the Canadian-American composer writes in a direct and attractive idiom. There are lyrical passages for Robert and Zophia—with an occasional hint of Polish folksong in the clarinet—set off by spare, edgy music representing Robert’s confusion, and jarring, strident chords for his fatal encounter with the police.... Music director Alexandra Enyart and the musicians were excellent advocates for Plant’s compelling score. Enyart led the six-player “orchestra” (clarinet, piano and string quartet) in a taut, flowing performance that brought out the lyricism as well as dramatic bite of Plant’s music.

                     -Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review, September 2019, review of Thompson Street Opera's production of 

                                         I will fly like a bird.

Canadian composer John Plant, with librettist J.A. Wainwright, has created a tone poem of intense feelings of anticipatory joy and poignant sadness around the horror that we see on our television and computer screens every day: Immigrants and the welcoming of refugees gone terribly awry. Skillfully lead by conductor Alexandra Enyart, the orchestra of four strings, piano, and clarinet created not only the textual moments, but the swirls of deep feeling that would carry the stories arc to the next moment where the poetry caught up with the journeys.

                      - Aaron Hunt, Chicago Theatre Review, September 2019, review of Thompson Street Opera's production of 

                                         I will fly like a bird.

Halifax’s 2012 Scotia Festival of Music production of I Will Fly Like A Bird, a tribute to Robert Dziekanski composed by John Plant to words by J.A. Wainwright, has haunted me for almost a decade. Dziekanski was the 40-year-old Polish man who died in 2007 after being tasered by the RCMP at Vancouver Airport while his mother awaited him on the other side of customs. Musicians separated singers Clayton Kennedy and Marcia Swanston on stage by mere feet, much as Dziekanski and his mother were on that black day. The sometimes jarring music soared and swelled between them, moving us through five distinct scenes from Gliwice in Poland to Kamloops, BC. This was a brilliant, bold portrayal of a contemporary tragedy.

                        - Opera Canada: Best Opera of the Decade: Opera Canada's Definitive List


This exquisite opera deserves repeated outings.

                     -Daphna Levitt, Opera Canada, Fall 2015, review of I will fly like a bird.

Andrea Ludwig began with John Plant's Invocation to Aphrodite... With the piano quintet of Talisker Players, Andrea sang with a clear, metallic, mezzo sound, and she hung some beautiful high notes on Plant's eerie and feminine sound palette...This was a lovely setting in the original classical Greek. 

                      Jenna Douglas and and Greg Finney,, fall 2015

The next two songs on the album, each by John Plant, are the stand-out works of the group. Sunday, 4 am, for which LeBlanc performs with the Blue Engine String Quartet, opens with a short passage for the quartet in harmonics followed by an extended vocal solo written without text. This vocal solo sets the mood for the remainder of the work, which unfolds brilliantly through a constantly-changing development of musical material. Plant’s approach to the string quartet and voice as an ensemble is delicate and sensitive, and the performers expressed that sensitivity well. Plant’s second song, Sandpiper, begins with more energy than anything before it...

                           - Justin Rito, I Care If You Listen, October/November 2013,  review of 'I am in need of music' Centrediscs CMCCD 191413


 .. This reveals a major talent that deserves to crop up in international recitals... 2001’s La notte bella is a fascinating setting of Giuseppe Ungaretti, scored for piano, violin, and cello. The sparse text...  is set to soaring melodic lines before the strings turn this soulful piece into something more shivery and frenzied. Plant gives himself a bigger canvas for Romance sonámbulo, a 20-minute semi-cantata, set to one of Lorca’s Gypsy ballads. With the mournful, funeral brass writing, sparing use of Sprechgesang, and fretful tension conveyed in the strings, Lorca’s bleak, unsettling tale of a smuggler returning to find his lover dead is masterfully told. ...Loud atonal clusters open the chilling 'In the world of zero'... (Plant) is that rarest of modern composers, someone who writes sympathetically for the voice. His word setting is similarly impeccable ...This must not just stay in the Canadian music scene.

                -Barnaby Rayfield, Fanfare, January/February2011, review of CD 'Vocal Works in Eight Languages by John Plant'

The composer has the task of shaping a coherent musical structure to that narrative.It seems that only the really great vocal composers bring it off: Brahms, Mahler, Wagner, Strauss, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Vaughan Williams, Debussy, Fauré, Britten, Barber, and so on. Plant succeeds in every item here.    First, Plant's literary taste is not only impeccable, but shows a fellow who reads widely and deeply. Babel is a blessing uses texts in Alexandrian Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and English. ...If I had to compare him to another composer, I'd say Barber, especially the Barber of the extended vocal works: Dover Beach, Knoxville, and Andromache's Farewell. There's that same integrity of vocal line and an essentially Romantic outlook without eschewing the grit of dissonance and the ambiguous key center. Three poems get settings ranging from ten to nearly twenty minutes. It takes real control to keep something that long together. My favorite setting was probably of Lorca's Romance sonámbulo. Plant takes advantage of textual repetitions to suggest ballad structure within something essentially organic form. The point is, however, that it does have form.

Most of the performers, including the composer himself at the piano, do really well. The songs sweep along….. Jocelyne Fleury's voice reminded me of the incomparable Jennie Tourel …

        -Steve Schwartz,

With a regard for language that is purely metaphysical and a skill in handling words musically which is uniquely his own, John Plant has selected music he has written in memoriam. It is an inspiring sampling of music... The music shares a predilection for crystalline textures and harmonies that space out briefly before trailing wistfully away. Yet each eventually attaches itself to the poetry and takes on an asymmetrical emotional life and a faint cultural accent, perhaps mythical. At the end, "In the world of zero," Plant's sad resignation finally gives way to rage punctuated with violent drum beats and elusive woodwind accents..'

             -Laurence Vittes, Gramophone, July 2010, review of CD 'Vocal Works in Eight  Languages.'

(Romance sonámbulo) John Plant nous propose une musique colorée et mordante...        -           

                 -Claude Gingras, La Presse, 18  June 2006

(Shadowy Waters)   M. Plant sait écrire, cela est sûr. Il fait bien sonner ses percussions, harmonise efficacement ses cinq voix.  

                   -Claude Gingras, La Presse, 1 March 2005

 “Extraordinary...Plant’s setting of this poem (Canciones del alma) succeeds in transcending limits of musical style to give articulation to experiences which are almost beyond the realm of language, verbal or musical...John Plant, a composer who has a significant message for our time. 9/10                                                

            -Wolfgang Bottenberg, Montreal Mirror, 20 January 2000

Canciones del Alma” est un essai en musique minitieusement conçu.. austère et exigeant, d’une rare authenticité.”            

            -P.M. Bellemare, La Scena Musicale, December 1999

"The Collector of Cold Weather   illustre une bonne douzaine de poèmes de Lawrence Raab .. sur une texture musicale de John Plant, qui depuis What Happened  est devenu plus debussyste que jamais. Gentiment tiraillé entre le voyeurisme, l'humour, l'hu-mort, la mort, l'oeuvre fait rire, fait écouter. Que demander de plus d'un spectacle? ...Et sur du Debussy légèrement schoenbergisé, mille et une choses se passent ... C'est un spectacle. Un vrai. D'aujourd'hui."

            -Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer, Le Droit, 10 0ctober 1980

(What Happened) "Partition interessante que cette structure musical qui trace à un second niveau le jeu de la langue de Ms. Stein. Cet étudiant de George Todd,de Charles Palmer et de Bruce Mather a de la technique, une approche fraiche, sait être versatile, sait mettre en valeur les danseurs ...  autant que le texte .... Les interludes enregistrés au piano emploient des themes reliés les uns aux autres et qui se retrouvent tous dans celui qui precède le dernier acte. John Plant a de l'admiration pour George Crumb et Luciano Berio: le sourire musical qui passe dans la partition et la technique vocale le révèlent ... l'oeuvre n'arrête pas de plaire.  

            -Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer, Le Droit, 6 October 1978

(Une danse maigre pour trois voleurs)  ".. a fascinating musical score by John Plant..  an astringent and oddly refreshing work..."            

            -Myron Galloway, Montreal Star, 9 Jan.1975

(Marche sur glace)  "La partition de piano de John Plant est translucide comme une voile."     


               -René Picard, Le Devoir, 18 January 1975

Une danse maigre pour trois voleurs ) ...une magnifique musique pour deux voix de femmes de John Plant ...             

                -René Picard, Le Devoir, 9 January 1975