MATT POON


MEET THE 2016 SEMIFINALISTS: MATT POON

As we count down the days leading up to this year’s Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition, our semi-finalists checked in to share their experiences and preparation with pianist Everett Hopfner, a two-time E-Gré participant.

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Today’s interview features Matt Poon, a freelance composer, teacher and collaborative pianist based in Toronto. Matt holds degrees from the University of Toronto and the Manhattan School of Music.

EH: What’s your personal connection to contemporary repertoire?

Matt Poon: I was first exposed to contemporary music in high school. One of my composition teachers got me to listen to some Ligeti Études, which really fascinated me. I’d never heard anything like it! I only started to feel comfortable performing new music when I was in New York and seeing a lot of other people doing it. I played a lot with the contemporary music ensemble at the Manhattan School of Music, and worked with some living composers in New York. One of my teachers really inspired me, Anthony de Mare. I never thought I would play repertoire like Crumb, or Cage, until I got to New York and started taking lessons with him and watching him perform. Knowing that he really believed in what he did inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and explore.

EH: Can you tell me about your background in composition?

MP: As a kid, I would improvise on the piano and notate what I improvised. That was the very first step. When I was in high school, and exposed to new music and all these new ideas, I thought, “why not give it a try?” In high school, I did a project with the Esprit Orchestra and I heard some of my music played. I went on to keep composing, and actually my undergraduate degree is in composition. I’ve had my orchestral piece performed by the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra. I’ve written a string quartet for the American String Quartet. Basically, I have ideas in my mind, and I want to experiment and say something!

EH: Would you say that your experience in composition has influenced how you approach performing?

MP: Oh, definitely. When I pick up a piece, I think a lot about what the composer’s intention is. I try to analyze the music to understand it more in-depth. When you understand what’s going on, then you know what you have to bring out, and how to deliver the composer’s message and sonic ideas. I think constantly about the relationship between composers and performers: some composers give more flexibility for interpretation from the performer, and some are really limiting. I think about details and how much leeway the composer gives. How is the music perceived from the audience’s point of view? Is the structure supposed to be perceived? These kinds of questions.

EH: Why have you decided to enter the Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition this year?

MP: (Laughing) I’m 29! This is it! Either I do it now, or never! Honestly, there isn’t any other competition like this in Canada. I enjoy the flexibility of this competition, where I can truly show myself as a composer and as an interpreter. I can select all of my own repertoire. While preparing for the competition, I learned a lot about Canadian repertoire just from going through the CMC library, really researching what people were doing out there. i was particularly searching for Canadian works that require extended techniques and graphic scores. I’m very fortunate to have found pieces that I really connect with. I don’t play music that I don’t believe in, so when I connect to a piece of music, I give it my all and try my best to really deliver the message and the essence of the piece.

EH: Are there certain pieces in your program that you’re especially excited to perform during the competition?

MP: I found a piece by a composer-pianist whom I admire a lot – Andre Ristic’s “Prelude and Fugue.” I remember hearing Gregory Oh performing it, and it blew my mind. Cluster chords, clusters in glissandos, and everything! I also found a piece by Brian Cherney, “Dans le crépuscule du souvenir…”, which requires some plucking, strumming, muting strings, and other extended techniques. I just felt like they were cleverly done and the artistic integrity is kept within the structure of the piece. If I make it to the final round, I’ll perform one of my own pieces, called “Shimmering Blue Glass,” which was inspired by the Integral House in Toronto.

EH: What are your personal goals for the competition weekend in Brandon?

MP: I am very honoured to have been chosen as a semi-finalist, it was a pleasant surprise. I am excited to be heard! I’m excited to play music that I truly love and look forward to meeting other fellow competitors who are really dedicated to celebrating and promoting music of our time, especially by Canadian composers.

EH: Thanks very much for taking the time for this conversation, Matt! I’ll look forward to meeting you in a few weeks as we welcome our semi-finalists to Brandon.

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The 39th Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition will be held May 6-8 in the Lorne Watson Recital Hall, Brandon University.

For advance tickets or more information, feel free to contact us: 

204-728-8212 or eckhardt@brandonu.ca