I Guarantee That This Is The Best Performance Of Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles

You really can’t help but love how the world’s most amazing wind quintet, Carion incorporates movement and choreography into this performance of the master Ligeti’s famous Six Bagatelles.

Watching it, you realize that it’s not just a novelty but a brilliant guide through the form and structure of the piece. The ensemble uses movement and drama, not JUST as a tinge of something fun, but as a way of highlighting what’s happening in the piece. It’s stunning!


Happy Birthday Arvo Pärt


What could be a better way to celebrate the esteemed Estonian’s birthday than a listen to one of his most mystical works?

My Heart’s In The Highlands is a piece for alto voice and organ. What strikes me most, besides the impossible voice in the recording below, is the impossible scale of the vocal line. It’s almost like there are two timescales in play. The voice almost moves in slow motion when compared to the accompaniment figures and if you let yourself get caught by it I worry that you might be irreparably wounded.

It’s also an excellent study in the composer’s tintinnabuli style that catapulted him to fame (Fur Alina for solo piano is said to be his first work in the style). Essentially – with tintinnabulation – the music can almost always be simplified to two voices. Paul Hillier, arguably the world’s leading authority on the composer’s works, proposed referring to them as the T-voice and the M-voice. The T-voice always moves in stepwise motion and the m-voice in arpeggiated figures.

In My Heart’s In The Highlands, the composer has given the vocal soloist the M-voice while the organ plays an ornamented version of the T-voice.

Give it a listen!


11 Reasons I’m Still The Composer In Residence With The Laudate Singers (Number 7 Will BLOW YOUR MIND!)

hockeyfaceLike some kind of shambling monolith in a hockey helmet with fewer teeth than a peach, I approach the fall with excitement and just as much media-savy (Though I’m learning! Look at me blog!). Excited, because I will be staying onboard with the Laudate Singers as their composer in residence for a second year. That’s right –  if you thought that all the sage advice in the world couldn’t dissuade their board of directors from packing me into a crate and dropping me into English Bay (Air holes please) you would be dead wrong. The first year produced some fantastic music that I’m immensely proud of but the second will see me pushing the ensemble a bit to see what kind of mayhem we can create. Diabolical plans are detailed below.

starIn September, the Laudate Singers present my setting of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star at the Gordon Smith Gallery in North Vancouver. Those of you in the know might have been at last year’s premiere and acknowledged the gleeful smile on my face as a pretty good indication of a success. Myself, and my colleagues Kristopher Fulton and Bruce Sled whom have both written extensively for Laudate, will be giving short talks on our music and our creative process. Disappointingly, I have been assured that none of the composers will be shot out of a cannon.

moonBreaking way in March is a setting of the MacKay poem, “A Childish Fear” that – in the musical setting – we’re calling, “Where The Moon Goes”. It will be performed by the generous pairing of choir and the duo, Couloir; Ariel Barnes, cello and Heidi Kreutzen, harp.

angelchorusAlso commissioned by the Laudate Singers is a setting of the Yeats poem, The Everlasting Voices which is slated to be performed in May in a setting for triple choir a cappella: twenty-is-it-only-four voices singing in three octets of crunching supersonics. I can’t wait!

Hope to see you there somewhere!


What To Do When A String Quartet Won’t Get Out Of Your Living Room

There’s not much you CAN do unless you have food and music for them to devour.

IMG_20150813_194300793Much debate was had over what to name our improvised little ensemble. I myself am siding with, The Vandelay Industries Quartet but I was quickly vetoed.


Most of our time together was spent with my new string quartet, Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake and making light of my silly expression markings (Sloppily pictured above) but it was a great experience for me! Nothing like being in attendance at a cold reading to help you tighten up your dots!




…and if your passenger seats lack seatbelts then find a portal through which to jettison your loved ones because this news is going to hit your windshield like bathtub full of suckling pigs.

No longer JUST a spigot leaking brash verbage – http://www.chrissivak.com has more audio to introduce to your favourite listening orifices!

Share and enjoy!

I’ve updated my website and added a smattering of content. It’s a task that’s been a long time coming; evidenced by myself experiencing the emotion known as shame during linking.

Also, why are you surfing the web while driving?


What’s in a title? Also, what’s in my new string quartet “Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake”?


Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake. Cake not pictured.

Over a YEAR ago I started working on this piece – only to be sidetracked by school and my Composer-in-Residence position with Laudate – and I finally managed to finish it! The other reason it took so long may be because it’s fairly up-tempo. In the case of composition, more ink on the page just means more work. But I digress…

The first thing you’re likely to notice about something that hasn’t been heard before is the title. Yes, this piece has a quirky title but it’s more than just a quirk for a smirk. I used to hate hate hate having to write a title on a piece. I longingly wished for the privilege of churning out “SYMPHONIES” and “SONATAS” and “SOFAS”. But if I were to take that philosophy to its logical extreme then why would I put a title on anything at all? I admit that the time savings would be generous but in a world where people insist on going to concerts titles are a powerful thing. Especially in classical music.

A title is, quite literally, the first thing a listener will encounter on their way to your music. While it can say a lot about the character and structure of the music it can also put the listener into the best possible emotional state for your music. Resist the urge to poo-poo that sentence if you can. The way in which we frame our music is a big deal and as proof I would cite an incident wherein Joshua Bell – arguably the grandest violinist in the world at the moment – played in a New York subway station for an audience of commuters that ignored him completely. It’s almost as if we could say we as a species can’t see the art when we lack the frame. A title is, in the best possible sense, a flare of the frame that can accentuate your work and help an audience connect with it.

In the case of, “Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake” I was going for something that captures a bit of the character of the music but also an emotional primer that gets a listener into the right state of mind. The humour element is a sort of an olive branch I outstretch from behind the manuscript paper that I’m starting to realize I’m good at wielding. I’m fairly self conscious about how classical music is perceived by the wider community and this is a way of defending classical music against this perceived elitism. Though if I’m being entirely honest I think some – or a lot – of that perception is accurate. And that’s a whole lot of blog post for another day.

Now to hunt a premiere…. I’m sure I can find one around here somewhere….


Choral Music Cycle Path

In the summer a young man’s fancy turns to bicycles, choral music, and attempts to suppress coughing fits that resemble violent convulsions. To honor this sacred ritual, I dashingly (Some might say handsomely) cycled the eighty-or-so blocks to Ryerson United Church for The Vancouver Peace Choir’s spring concert. Given that I rode this same route last weekend to hear Pro Coro – and that I’ve ridden it numerous times to hear the Vancouver Chamber Choir – I thought that as a service to Vancouver’s choral community, I would humbly submit this bike route for maximum enjoyment of our art form.






Our trip begins at the epicenter of Vancouver’s craft beer district and proceeds south along Commercial Drive. A speedy exit is necessary as the local saying, “Where are we going? And why are we going there when they serve better beer here?” will completely derail any exit.



Who likes door prizes? Remember, you’re a cyclist. Your love of door prizes is now only rivaled by your love of having real teeth. Turn down tenth if you love solid food!


Not yet inhibited by your legs turning into molasses, you’re probably wondering at this point why you didn’t just listen to the chap in your party who made the excellent point about staying where the beer was being served. A left turn off tenth on to Arbutus is a temporary distraction. Also, you are probably hungry.


Such trickery! A quick feint to the left putting you on King Edward and then a full on right hook on to Angus Drive is the powerhouse combination that turns this bike trip from an amateur hour frozen soup sculpture into a work of art that rivals the proper use of semi-colons.


Forty sweaty minutes later – Ryerson!

Pro Coro and Vox Humana Storm Vancouver

My big failure here will be not capturing the inner conflict of some of my friends from Vancouver’s choral community who were too busy singing at the Zelda: Symphony Of The Goddess concert to catch a set of mammoth singing by Alberta’s Pro Coro that very night. My slightly smaller failure will be not having the divinity to have made more sympathetic noise leading up to what turned out to be a happenstance contemporary a cappella festival closing with Victoria’s Vox Humana.

I’ve only known Brian Wismath’s Vox Humana ensemble from a sliver of it’s sterling silver reputation. They came into town with a thick program of contemporary a cappella works (Including an immaculate little gem penned by Vancouver’s Rodney Sharman). Myself and a bunch of choral-friendlies sat in a cocky lump in the second row and were pretty much bowled over from the moment their sopranos showed off an immaculate blend at the opening of Karl Siegfried’s Shaker Songs.

It’s never unwelcome to be shaken by visiting ensembles who owns their art so effortlessly and it’s doubly exciting when that shake has the potential to loosen the foundation of your own art a little. Contemporary classical music is fortunate to have such a close ally in choral music. Choirs seem to suffer from little of the hand-wringing or girdle-cinching that our instrumental brothers and sisters are afflicted with. We, of course, err as all humans are; and we stumble when we forget that total ownership of the art is much sexier than presenting a concert program that meets a logical goal. From my own mumbledy-mum years of attending concerts that featured trace strains of music of the living, I would guess that the rulebook for presenting contemporary classical music is only about two pages thin and reads as follows:

  • The concert shall consist of two or three “iconic” pieces and one “contemporary” one. The contemporary piece shall be presented after intermission so that the audience is day drunk dazed and are unlikely to remember that music occurred or storm out of the hall in a silver haired huff.
  • If no alcohol is being served at intermission, the contemporary piece of music will be at the start of the concert. Hopefully, audience members will be noisily entering as it is being played and people will just think that the orchestra is either warming up or secreting patio furniture.
  • We don’t play contemporary music.

Vocal ensembles seem to not care for such trifles and sometimes seem blissfully unaware they even exist. To demonstrate this carefree disregard for your grandmother’s sensibilities, Pro Coro at one point switched gears from the silly choreography of conductor Michael Zaugg’s own arrangement of All About The Bass to the Maori chanting in Mason Bates’s Observer In The Magellanic Cloud. It might look cock-eyed in a program but once you’re in the room with it you realize that in an age where people really do listen to everything there’s little reason to segregate music stylistically. Especially when it’s done so well. Pro Coro practically left us gasping at the sound they were able to conjure in the familiar setting of Ryerson and probably left an envious little lump in our throats as we only get to hear this fantastic ensemble once in a while.  

Belated, yet elated, Thank-Yooze!


I’m sitting at my living room table with the door open with some coffee on the stove and my primary concern is if I have Carolan’s in my cupboard to make this mid day moment extra memorable.

A lot of stuff happened since September, and while some of it isn’t topically relevant to this blog, it is sufficient to mention that it is essential to the continuing conquest of music making that is my life. As for the best of the rest: OperaFeHk, The Vancouver Peace Choir, and The Laudate Singers. I am forever indebted to them as their efforts are the bedrock upon which I get to lay my path onwards and (hopefully) upwards. Thank-yooze seem to me to be insufficient so I hope there is something for them in seeing my excited fists pump my own drum roll when something amazing happens.

What an awesome season of music…. can’t wait for the next one!