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U of T's Lau heads to Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Renowned composer Kevin Lau is known for his extensive and varied opuses (photo by Bo Huang)

As graduation gifts go, this one is tough to beat.

The day before U of T’s Kevin Lau crossed the stage at Convocation Hall to receive his doctorate in music composition, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra named him its RBC Affiliate Composer.

"I was in the middle of a tutoring session when I got the call," Lau said. "I was preparing for rejection (as I tend to do when applying for any highly competitive appointment) so when I was told I'd gotten the position, I was speechless for a few seconds, after which I literally blurted, 'Really?! thus negating any eloquence I might have demonstrated during the interview process."

The sought-after, two-year residency means Lau will begin working with the renowned orchestra in September 2012.

“The affiliation with a professional symphony orchestra is quite significant,” said Professor Christos Hatzis, composer of the critically acclaimed multimedia work Constantinople, and Lau’s composition teacher and graduate advisor. “It is something composers of my generation did not have during our formative years.”

During his residency with the TSO, Lau will compose at least two works for the orchestra, the first of which will be premiered in June 2013 in concerts featuring the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang. He will also participate in educational work with young audiences in the TSO’s community outreach programs.

"My hope over the next two years is to enable others to discover that music, taken as a whole, is a fundamental (rather than secondary) aspect of the human experience, and that we are all richer for taking part in it." Lau said. "The value of music lies in its depth and complexity (that is why multiple listens are required for any great work), and in our ability to derive deep meaning from music at a level that is not precisely rational but intensely felt all the same."

Lau’s position is part of the TSO’s Emerging Artists Program which will also bring University of Toronto alumnus Shalom Bard to the TSO as Resident Conductor. Bard will conduct up to 20 concerts throughout the season and will also conduct the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra’s concerts, mentoring its musicians and directing rehearsals.

“I was delighted to hear of the appointments,” said Dean Don McLean of the Faculty of Music. “I am particularly pleased that Hong-Kong born, U of T trained Kevin Lau will be working with Maestro Oundjian, my longtime colleague UofT/TSO composer Gary Kulesha, and newly appointed, Israeli-born Resident Conductor Shalom Bard, a graduate of both U of T's Faculty of Music and the Schulich School of Music of McGill University—showing once again that it takes a global village to raise an artist.”

An active composer of contemporary music of great range, Lau is known for his extensive and varied opuses. 

While a student at U of T, Lau wrote the score to the theatre musical Box Office, which was staged seven times at the Tarragon Theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. In the years that followed, he also scored for a professional video game based on the movie, 300, and wrote music for a dozen films, including a feature documentary on the History Channel.

He has been commissioned to write concert music for such ensembles as the Hamilton Philharmonic, Mississauga Symphony, Cecilia Quartet, Via Salzburg Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre de la Francophonie, Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, Hannaford Street Silver Band, Esprit Orchestra and the Sneak Peek Orchestra, which he co-founded.

“Kevin has a great talent - an inquisitive mind that constantly tries to find connections between his art and the world at large,” said Hatzis. “He is a genuine human being, who is uncompromising in his pursuit of excellence but also very supportive of his colleagues and schoolmates.”

One of Lau’s latest projects was to compose the score for U of T’s $2-billion Boundless fundraising campaign, heard in this video. Among his other compositions are Fountain of Dreams, which won both the 2005 Mississauga Young Composers’ Competition and the 2008-2009 University of Toronto Composer’s Competition, and Starsail, which won the Faculty of Music’s Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music in 2010.

His Cello Concerto, Foundation, was commissioned and recently premiered by U of T alumna Rachel Mercer with the Sneak Peek Orchestra to great acclaims. His composition Joy, for solo violin and strings, will be featured in a soon to be released CD by Canadian violinist Conrad Chow.

Hatzis attributes Lau’s diverse creative output to the unique environment of the Faculty of Music’s composition program.

“The composition faculty is rather eclectic and covers a great deal of ground compositionally,” said Hatzis. “Our students are thrust into an environment of a wide range of ideas, debated and cross referenced.”

In 2010, Lau was appointed Composer In Residence for the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, and this summer, he will serve as one of two Emerging Composers In Residence at the Banff Centre Summer Arts Festival.

“The TSO appointment is the beginning of what I predict will be a meteoric career in composition,” said Hatzis. “I could not be happier and more proud for this former student, friend and colleague.”