By Jeremy Eichler.
If you’re an established composer, and a major Canadian symphony comes calling to offer you a commission, in most cases the answer would be simple: yes.
Things then might typically follow along a standard path: You write the piece, the orchestra rehearses it and then performs the premiere. Your contact with the listeners might be limited to your program note, or maybe a pre-concert talk. You bow to the polite applause and try to feel grateful that the orchestra thought of you.
Tod Machover, the Boston-based composer and technologist, recently took a different approach when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra contacted him. He had big issues on his mind — about technology, the arts, and the future of collaboration. He wanted to write a symphony not for the city of Toronto but with the city of Toronto, a piece of music that would ultimately be about Toronto in a way that was granular, participatory, and reflective of an urban landscape in all of its component parts. He pitched an idea that would involve collecting recorded urban sounds and actual musical ideas from Torontonians of all stripes, to be forged by him into a hopefully coherent whole. The orchestra said: yes.