Having just last month celebrated his 90th birthday, Boyd McDonald finds making music every bit as energizing as he ever did. That will be on display at a tribute concert for the prolific composer/pianist set for November 4 at the Registry Theatre.
The celebration concert will feature the Penderecki String Quartet, trumpeter Guy Few and accordionist Joseph Petric, and will include a world premiere of a new composition by McDonald. In addition, Kitchener native Nick Storring has composed a brand-new sextet that will receive its world premiere performed by McDonald on fortepiano, the Penderecki String Quartet, and Petric on accordion.
Given his long tenure as a composer and music professor – now emeritus – at Wilfrid Laurier University, McDonald has studied with, worked with and influenced a long list of musicians. That some of them wanted to pay tribute comes as no surprise.
McDonald, born in Saskatchewan in 1932, studied piano with Lyell Gustin and composition with Murray Adaskin. A Canada Council grant enabled him to study for three years in France with Nadia Boulanger. He also studied at summer schools with Darius Milhaud, John Cage and Stefan Wolpe.
McDonald made his New York debut in 1963, winning the Leschetizky Town Hall Debut Prize. In 1967 he joined Garth Beckett to form the Beckett and McDonald Piano Duo which toured for many years in Canada, USA, England and Europe.
His compositions have been performed by The Scholars of London, The Wellington Winds, The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, The Waterloo Players, The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Youth Orchestra, The Renaissance Singers and Symphony Hamilton.
“I feel honoured to be chosen to be featured in this program,” said McDonald of the upcoming concert, noting he’ll be playing the fortepiano in some cases, but will be sitting back to enjoy the performances for the most part.
“I’m going to be listening to most of the program, just involved in a couple of the pieces. I feel it’s a privilege to be able to do this at my age, and I’m old enough to be aware of that, and lucky enough to work with so many wonderful people. It all comes together … in the concert. It’s exciting.”
Also taking in the performances will be Storring, whose own new composition will be performed for the first time.
“I’m not performing at all, which is nice. I get to sort of sit back and listen, which is kind of fun, because performing your own work is different – you’re focused on playing, focused on the execution. It’s nice to be able to just sit with it and enjoy it after working on it and figuring everything else over quite a long time,” he said.
It was Petric who brought the idea of a composition, which draws on the sound of Boyd’s fortepiano and the accordion.
“I said to Joseph ‘oh, you know that’s such a beautiful instrumental combination. I would love to work with you at some point.’ He got really excited about this idea,” said Storring of the new piece’s origins.
“I thought, ‘I would love to maybe expand instrumentation,’ and immediately my thought was the Penderecki quartet because they’re someone I’ve never worked with before in a professional capacity after I graduated. I did some stuff at Laurier with them, but I’ve never worked with them before, per se.”
What emerged was a composition designed with the six players in mind.
“There’s just this combination of an accordion, the predecessor to the piano, and strings. It’s just to me a very inspiring scenario because you have these instruments that are not really all that familiar to people – or they’re not familiar in this context. With the fortepiano, you’re usually playing really old music, and the accordion you’re playing, you know, polka,” he explained with a laugh.
The Boyd McDonald celebration concert hits the stage at the Registry Theatre at 8 p.m. on November 4. Tickets are $30 ($10 for students), available by calling 519-578-1570 or online at www.registrytheatre.com.