Composer Emilie Cecilia LeBel’s Debut Album ‘field studies’ Out May 12

field studies is the full-length debut of acclaimed Canadian composer Emilie Cecilia LeBel, who has spent the past decade and half immersed in various streams of contemporary music including chamber and orchestral pieces with and without electronic processing, as well as intermedia productions. Her forthcoming album is a quietly gripping affair that illustrates the interplay between pensive—almost austere—lyricism and percolating texture in her work. LeBel’s music always maintains a strong harmonic thread allowing it to connect with traditional shapes and structures, even as it slips toward arcane blends of pure sonic colour. However, this connection runs in the opposite direction as well. Her patience with form, careful orchestration and insight into instruments’ capabilities means that said traditional shapes can also just as easily dissolve into sheer abstraction.

The musicians that animate her works on this recording are all highly adept at navigating this liminal world that LeBel’s compositions vividly map out. Edmonton ensemble, UltraViolet (named in honour of composer Violet Archer) performs on tracks two and three and their vast collective experience as contemporary music interpreters reinforces both the subtle detail and occasional wild contrasts encompassed by LeBel’s music. Consisting of seasoned, versatile players—pianist Roger Admiral, percussionist Mark Segger, flutist Chenoa Anderson, and saxophonist Allison Balcetis, (the latter two of which comprise the ensemble for track 4)—LeBel also applies electronic processing and sympathetic resonances produced by transducer speakers, gently augmenting UltraViolet’s natural sound. Multi-hyphenate artist Jane Berry joins UltraViolet as a vocalist on drift bringing the composer’s refined and elegant writing for voice to life.

The outer pieces, both of them solo works, are played by the two artistic directors of another accomplished Canadian ensemble, Thin Edge New Music Collective. Now in their tenth season, the group has commissioned a considerable body of work and collaborated with a number of other notable living composers. Pianist Cheryl Duvall opens the disc with evaporation, blue, a work that she commissioned from LeBel. The fragile intimacy of this spacious piece is enhanced by the brittle tones of a harmonica upon which Duvall accompanies herself. Meanwhile, Ilana Waniuk closes the program with the whispered microtonal violin of further migration (migration no. 1), a poignant showcase for her inimitable touch with delicate soundworlds.

LeBel’s varied artistic practice has been recognized through several significant awards and appointments, including Affiliate Composer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (2018-2022), Composer-in-Residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (2015), TD SoundMakers Composer-In-Residence with Soundstreams Canada (2015-16), Land’s End Ensemble Composer Competition (2016), Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award (2015), Canadian Music Centre Toronto Emerging Composer Award (2012), and the Canadian Federation of University Women Elizabeth Massey Award (2012). Revered English conductor Sir Andrew Davis once praised her for “writing music that reflects her intelligence and audaciousness.”

Emilie’s compositions have been performed and recorded across North and South America, Europe and the UK by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Mark Takeshi McGregor, Continuum Ensemble, Women on the Verge, Duo Nyans, Voices of the Pearl, Cecilia String Quartet, Plumes Ensemble, Quatuor Bozzini, Arditti Quartet, Land’s End Ensemble, Cheryl Duvall, Luciane Cardassi, Thin Edge New Music Collective, Onyx Trio, and junctQín keyboard collective, among others. Since 2018 LeBel has been based in the Canadian Prairies on Treaty 6 Territory. LeBel holds a DMA from the University of Toronto, and she currently teaches currently teaches at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.