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John Plant: Biography

John Plant
1945 -
Region: Atlantic

John Plant

JOHN PLANT was born in Yonkers, New York. Always torn between literature and music, he studied both at Middlebury, and began a Ph.D program as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in comparative literature at Harvard. The Vietnam war brought him to Canada in 1968, where he continued studying composition at McGill. He acknowledges a deep debt to all three of his composition teachers: George Todd at Middlebury, Bruce Mather and Charles Palmer at McGill.

His compositional career took flight with a series of ‘dance operas’ (including What Happened, The Collector of Cold Weather, Faustus) for choreographers Peter Boneham and Jean-Pierre Perrault of Le Groupe de la Place Royale, premiered at the National Arts Center in Ottawa, and subsequently performed on tour throughout Canada, England and France.

Until 2010, his music was primarily vocal, including settings of Lorca, Sappho, E.E. Cummings, Göran Sonnevi, Catullus, Ungaretti, Trakl, Lawrence Raab, Gaspara Stampa, and many others, for combinations ranging from piano trio to full orchestra. He has composed two operas: The Shadowy Waters, (Montreal 2005), and I will fly like a bird (Scotia Festival 2011, Opera Nova Scotia 2015). Two settings of Elizabeth Bishop's poems for soprano Suzie LeBlanc, Sandpiper and Sunday, 4 A.M. appear on her Centrediscs CD 'I am in need of music' (CMCCD 19413), voted 'Best Classical CD' at the 2014 East Coast Music Awards. Two critically acclaimed CDs, featuring mezzo-soprano Jocelyne Fleury, are devoted to his vocal music: Canciones del alma (with Quatuor Claudel, SNE-625) and Vocal Works in Eight Languages (with Ensemble Prima, conducted by Mélanie Léonard, MSR-1327).

After many years of writing almost exclusively for the voice, a series of instrumental works ensued, beginning with Capriccio for marimba and flute (Shattering the Silence Festival, Wolfville 2013); A deep clear breath of life, for saxophone and piano, first performed by Jennifer Bill and Yoshiko Kline, Boston, 2013, published by RC Editions, and subsequently widely performed in New York, Toronto, Halifax, San Diego and Wolfville; Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned for the fortieth anniversary of the Montreal Chamber Orchestra (Montreal 2014), a String quartet and Piano quintet, both composed for Blue Engine String Quartet (Halifax 2015-16).

Other major recent works include Sonetto di Gaspara Stampa, commissioned by the Talisker Players (Toronto 2012). His setting of Marina Tsvetaeva's Insomnia for voice, saxophone and piano, co-commissioned by Jennifer Bill and Michael Couper, was premiered at Carnegie Hall in October 2015.

His concerto for alto saxophone and large wind ensemble, entitled Faustus: A SaxOpera, was commissioned by World-Wide Concurrent Premieres Commissioning Fund, with ten participating saxophonists/ensembles. The first performance, with Jennifer Bill as soloist and the Boston University Wind Ensemble conducted by David Martins, took place in Boston on October 6, 2016, with subsequent performances in Wolfville, San Diego, Mansfield (Pa.), and future performances scheduled in Calgary, Connecticut, Boston, and Taiwan. After presenting the Canadian premiere of the full version, with the Acadia University Wind Ensemble under Dr. Mark Hopkins, saxophonist Tristan de Borba commissioned a chamber version of this work (sax, harp, piano) for the North American Saxophone Alliance conference. (Sackville 2017). Taiwan saxophonist William Chien will present this version at the World Saxophone Congress in 2018. Plant has recently completed a work for clarinet and piano ('Earthsea' Sonata), commissioned by clarinettist Dominic Desautels (November 2017, Halifax). His current project is a work for percussion and piano for the duo of Marie-Josée Simard and Louise Bessette.

He has received grants from Canada Council, Arts Nova Scotia, the Ontario Arts Council, and Metropolitan Life. He taught composition and music history at Concordia University from 1993-2008; he retired in 2008 to devote himself fully to composition. He and his wife now live by the ocean in West Jeddore, Nova Scotia.


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