Kevin Lau’s appointment last year as the RBC Affiliate Composer of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was no accident. Lau has single-mindedly strived for a career as a composer of large ensemble works since beginning his doctoral music studies at University of Toronto a decade ago. The TSO announcement came the day before his graduation and commencement from the University of Toronto.
But there’s lots of young composers pursuing music PhDs. It was Lau’s other work as co-founder (with conductor Victor Cheng) of the amateur Sneak Peek Orchestra and a stint as Composer in Residence with the Mississauga Symphony that really sealed the TSO deal. And there were other compositions and commissions as well, for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Ensemble Paramirabo, Orchestra Toronto, Kindred Spirits Orchestra, South Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic and Hannaford Street Silver Band, among others. Lau had clearly demonstrated his passion, drive and talent.
As Affiliate Composer for the TSO, Lau is expected to compose a new work each year for two years; his first piece, Treeship, was conducted by Peter Oundjian at Roy Thomson Hall in July 2013, and his second effort will be performed as part of the orchestra’s New Creations Festival in March 2014.
“I love composing so much that I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
In addition to composing for the orchestra, Lau’s other TSO responsibilities include education outreach, programming, and Canadian content advocacy.
Lau says he started writing “the moment I got the news of the appointment. Treeship is only a 10-minute piece, but it took me longer to write than anything I had done before it. And it took the whole time I was allotted.”
Hearing the work performed at Roy Thomson Hall was a thrill for Lau but the process, from first reading through rehearsals to opening night, was nerve-wracking.
“You have to prepare yourself for it and they don’t make it easy on us,” says the composer. “The musicians are amazing and they’ve seen and played so much great repertoire. So you want to make sure you write something that’s worthy of their performance. They’re not only older and more experienced, but there’s a lot of them. The TSO is about 80 pieces with a big string section, bigger than I’ve ever worked with before.”
Lau knew his first work for the TSO would not be his last, but he still wanted to give it everything he had in terms of musical ideas.
“The first piece was about exploring what I could do with the symphony,” he says. “My new piece is a bit darker and I’m being more careful with what I want to express.
“I feel very privileged,” he says. “This position has given me amazing opportunities. I love composing so much that I don’t know where I’d be without it.”