HPO Composer Fellowship // An Interview with Liam Ritz

December 4, 2018

Photo: Kristian Fourier

Earlier this fall the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra announced the composer who was selected for their newly established Composer Fellowship program. Liam Ritz, originally from Hamilton and currently living in Toronto, was selected for the 2018-19 fellowship. During the program Liam will receive mentorship from HPO artistic staff, he will participate in various outreach activities, and also writing a new piece to be featured at the HPO Intimate & Immersive concert In the Groove on May 23, 2019.

We at the CMC are delighted to partner with the HPO on the facilitation of the program, and we took some time on a Friday morning to learn more about Liam, his musical history, recent activities, and (as always) assorted trivia.

The interview ... as realized through a messenger app on Friday, November 30, 2018

fava.matthew [9:43 AM]
Hey Liam, Matthew here. Just checking in that I am mostly settled at my desk. Probably going to make some tea and then return. c[_]

Liam Ritz [9:58 AM] Hey Matthew, I was just doing the same! Good to go any time.
fava.matthew [9:59 AM]
How is your morning so far?

Liam Ritz [10:00 AM]
So far so good, though only just starting.
How is yours?
fava.matthew [10:01 AM]
Pretty good! School drop off with my daughter and then a manageable bike ride into work. My daughter and I had a lovely conversation about dreams!
But let's get to the discussion at hand!
Congrats again on the appointment to the HPO fellowship!

Liam Ritz [10:02 AM]
Thank you!
fava.matthew [10:02 AM]
I will have a few questions relating to the project, but I am quite interested in learning more about you and your work
To begin, you were travelling recently in Europe
Tell me about your trip
You mentioned there were some composerly duties involved

Liam Ritz [10:04 AM]
Yes, just got back a couple weeks ago. I was abroad for 10 days (first time to Europe) starting in Geneva, then a couple days in Naples, and the rest spent in Northern France near Vimy.
fava.matthew [10:04 AM]
Oh wonderful!

Liam Ritz [10:04 AM]
The composerly duties were that I had a piece being premiered in Naples, which was part of why I was travelling
fava.matthew [10:04 AM]
Was this also the first time you had a piece performed in Europe?
Liam Ritz [10:04 AM]
It was!
And with it being Naples, it was performed in a 600 year old Monastery, which added to the excitement!
A very overwhelming experience
fava.matthew [10:05 AM]
OH.... that must have been astonishing
And the trip to Vimy, you pointed out this coincided with the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. Is there a familial or other connection to that anniversary that motivated the trip for you?

Liam Ritz [10:10 AM]
Yes, my Great-Grandfather fought in the battle of Vimy Ridge so it is somewhere that holds special meaning to my family. I was travelling with my father (who has visited Vimy a couple times in the past) and we were lucky to attend the opening of the new Vimy Centennial Park garden at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, at which we have a tree that has been dedicated in memory of my Great-Grandfather (Pte. Harry Franklin Ritz, 78Bn.). A very special experience to be there with my father and witness such historic grounds.
fava.matthew [10:11 AM]
I am so glad to hear that you and your father were able to be there.
Can you tell me more about your upbringing as it relates to your interests in music? Was music something that you shared actively with your family? Were there other people who were forces for your musical curiosity growing up?

Liam Ritz [10:16 AM]
Music was something that was always present in my childhood. When my two siblings and I were young, we were each allowed to choose an instrument to begin studying, but without too much pressure from our parents which helped keep it something that was fun for us to do. I don't ever remember it becoming a "chore", which I'm very grateful for.
fava.matthew [10:16 AM]

Liam Ritz [10:17 AM]
My mother is also a musician, and she and I found a love for attending concerts together when I was an early teen, and still go to several each year together.
fava.matthew [10:17 AM]
That's wonderful to hear!
You and I have something in common, I think. My first major instrument was the violin but unlike you, practice did function for me like a chore for the better part of my early years
What changed that perception was composing/improvising (which started in high school)
Can you tell me about when you started composing, and how this changed your relationship to your playing music?

Liam Ritz [10:20 AM]
When I was young, I would occasionally make up songs on my violin, and my mum had encouraged me to write them down at the time. Nothing serious - just short melodies.
Fast-forward to middle school, and I discovered that our school computers had music notation software installed, and this rekindled my interest in writing.
fava.matthew [10:21 AM]

Liam Ritz [10:21 AM]
By the time I reached high school, it was settled. I wanted to be a "composer"
fava.matthew [10:22 AM]
Shout out to all the high school music classrooms with notation software and MIDI interfaces

Liam Ritz [10:22 AM]
I was lucky to have some VERY supportive music teachers as well, who gave me some great opportunities early on to hear my music performed/read
That definitely helped motivate me at that point
fava.matthew [10:24 AM]
I'd like to know more about your composing routines these days
Do you have a particular method when you approach a new piece? Particular routines in how you portion out the writing process?

Liam Ritz [10:27 AM]
I struggled for quite a while when I first started university with having difficulties writing and especially starting pieces. Since then, I've gotten advice from different artists about their practices and have landed on my own routines that work for me.
Mainly, I try to make it a daily event, like practicing an instrument. That seems to keep my brain locked onto it, and helps the flow of the process.
As for starting a new piece, if time permits, I usually have a somewhat lengthy planning time before any notes are actually on paper
This will include research of the instrumentation (other pieces, techniques, idiomatic repertoire, etc.) as well as structural/characteristic planning of what I want the piece to become
And then by the time I start writing, I generally have a pretty solid idea in my head of what the piece will be
fava.matthew [10:30 AM]
That's great to hear

Liam Ritz [10:30 AM]
(plans typically go wayward halfway through the writing process, but that's another story)
fava.matthew [10:30 AM]
Well, let's broaden this conversation slightly to include the various parameters of your burgeoning career as a composer.
Clearly there are many demands that ran parallel to your academic pursuits, and I wonder if this is also something that your mentors have advised you on: how to strike a balance between studies, and establishing a practice outside of the academy?

Liam Ritz [10:33 AM]
It has definitely been discussed, but I'll have to admit to being guilty of sometimes giving one side much more importance.
I've not always been one to enjoy the academic systems and routines, and I have always loved the creative process of writing.... so I may have ignored my academics from time to time for the sake of a piece.
It all worked, and I graduated.
But could have maybe found a better balance between the two at the time…
fava.matthew [10:34 AM]
There is something endearing about being driven by pure inspiration
It can certainly be a challenge to find that motivation in highly evolved bureaucracies

Liam Ritz [10:35 AM]
Yes, for sure.
I was also fortunate to have had some exciting projects through my undergraduate, which made it all the more tempting to set my focus on that work.
fava.matthew [10:36 AM]
Let's hear more about the HPO project at this point. To begin, I wonder if you are in that planning phase for the piece you will be writing as part of the fellowship?

Liam Ritz [10:38 AM]
Yes, definitely in the planning stage. Though still a very early portion of the planning. At this point, I know the instrumentation, and general character of the concert and am letting those parameters steep for a bit, and seeing what comes of that.
fava.matthew [10:39 AM]
I understand from my colleagues at the HPO that you will be participating in some outreach activities, INCLUDING mentorship of high school students who will be composing for concert band
This is interesting because we haven't gotten into the details of your being from Hamilton and the fact that you also had a connection to the HPO as a high school student
Can you connect those dots for us?

Liam Ritz [10:40 AM]
That is something that I am VERY excited about!
Yes, I am from Hamilton, and I also was very fortunate to have been involved in a similar education project when I was a high school music student.
So it feels somewhat full-circle to now be allowed to take part as a mentor in this situation.
fava.matthew [10:42 AM]
Have you been in a position before to mentor young artists? What do you hope to offer them, and what might you gain being in the role of mentor?

Liam Ritz [10:44 AM]
Yes and No. I haven't mentored quite in this sort of capacity. I used to teach music theory when I was in school, which brought up some mentorship experience. But I am really looking forward to taking on that role as a composer this time.
I can remember when I was in their position, just how "new" everything seemed about the compositional process. That's something that I'm excited to watch them experience, and hopefully help guide them through the best I can.
fava.matthew [10:46 AM]
I am excited to hear what comes of that process!
I am also interested to learn about your peer group, those artists who are building up their practice alongside you.
Can you tell me more about Michael Murphy?
He seems to pop up at a few points in your output
Including in a percussion-flute piece alongside my dear friend Sara Constant

Liam Ritz [10:51 AM]
Sure! So when I was in my first year as an undergraduate at UofT, I played in the pit band for a few musicals that were happening on campus. CUE: Michael Murphy and Sara Constant, who were also playing in that show. Through the course of casual chit-chat, they expressed interest in performing something that I wrote, and that was the beginning of the percussion-flute piece that I wrote for them.
That ended up being my first piece written during my undergraduate, and led to a number of other projects with Michael over the coming years.
fava.matthew [10:52 AM]
That first piece was Parallel Play?


Liam Ritz [10:52 AM]
Yes, which later got expanded into a multi-movement piece
fava.matthew [10:52 AM]

Liam Ritz [10:53 AM]
They both made a huge impression on me, as that was the first piece I'd written in my undergraduate, and the first time collaborating in that way. Really helped shape my approach to collaborations going forward to this day.
fava.matthew [10:54 AM]
Now, we are quickly approaching 11am, and I have a few rapid fire questions (if you are up for it)

Liam Ritz [10:55 AM]
Let's do it!
fava.matthew [10:55 AM]
What is the biggest beef you had with Toronto when you arrived here from Hamilton?

Liam Ritz [10:56 AM]
I was lost every time I exited the subway. No sense of direction.
fava.matthew [10:56 AM]
HAHA, have you overcome the orienteering dilemma?

Liam Ritz [10:57 AM]
Yes! Now I'm a pro, right down to knowing where to get on the subway, so that I get off at the appropriate end for an escalator!
fava.matthew [10:57 AM]
Survival skills

Liam Ritz [10:57 AM]
Next goal is figuring out the PATH system downtown. It's still a mystery...
fava.matthew [10:57 AM]
Next question!
I have spent very little time in Hamilton, so I need your advice
When I go there to see the premiere of your new piece, and I inevitably get hungry, where must I go to eat?

Liam Ritz [11:00 AM]
Oh man, that's a tough one...I grew up on the Mountain (what Hamiltonians call the top of the escarpment) so I'm less familiar with downtown eateries. I've heard great things about Burnt Tongue (a soup shop) and HAMBRGR is always great!
fava.matthew [11:00 AM]
And a final question
Can you share something from your recent internet wanderings? An article, video, song, etc that has been embedded in your thinking recently?

Liam Ritz [11:03 AM]
My one true love (other than music) is food, and I've been addicted to watching YouTube videos from the Bon Appetit test kitchen. Specifically ones where they create gourmet versions of everyday junk food. They are amazing! Highly recommend.

fava.matthew [11:03 AM]
So, as usual I have a dozen more questions that we can't get to today, but I am excited to follow along with you during the fellowship, and share the outcomes with the CMC community.
It has been super fun chatting this morning! Thanks for taking part in the interview!

Liam Ritz [11:05 AM]
Thank you! I had a great time!