A journey theme winds its way through the music of Matthew Ricketts, a young Canadian composer who has received two commissions to date from the OSM.
Hearing one’s music being played in space; that is the singular joy Matthew Ricketts experienced in the spring of 2017. A French astronaut played the first notes of his composition, Highest Light, on a tablet live from the international space station, before Jean-Willy Kunz’s world premiere performance at the Maison symphonique de Montréal.
The cosmic premiere speaks to Ricketts’ simple – and very human – ambition: to take listeners on a journey. “That’s the most important thing for me. All my music is about that.”
Matthew Ricketts initially wanted to become an architect. Now he finds musical inspiration in architecture, poetry, film and philosophy. “My music is the synthesis of all these influences,” he explains. “They help me cultivate a personal aesthetic and share a unique subjective insight of the world through my music.”
After graduating from McGill University in composition, Ricketts’ work stood out from other young Canadian composers – so much so that the OSM has already commissioned two of his compositions as part of their Zoom in on Creation initiative.
His first compositions were written for voice, solo instruments, or small ensembles. Even when he is not writing vocal music, the human voice plays an important role in Matthew Ricketts’ creations. “I like working with text. Even if there’s no actual text in the piece, I still think of each piece linguistically.”
He feels a close connection with composers who made vocal music shine: from Wagner and his operas to composers from the 14th to 17th centuries, such as Claudio Monteverdi and Josquin des Prez, widely considered the first master of vocal polyphony in the early Renaissance.
“Older art – it’s kind of a time machine to get you somewhere else,” he points out. “You use your historical imagination to imagine the original context. I always find that it’s enticing. Music has this kind of transportive element that can take you from one place to another.”
Blood Line, the railroad that united Canada
The notion of a journey is an important one in Blood Line. This new work comes after Ricketts’ first OSM commission, Highest Light. To mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, the OSM asked him to evoke a mode of transportation that played a foundational role in Canadian history and its identity: the train.
Blood Line unfolds over three movements. The first, called Strands, refers to strands of DNA. “Railroad tracks are reminiscent of a DNA double helix,” explains Ricketts. “You could say that the railroad transported the genetic code of Canadians from one ocean to the other.” The idea of strands – of vital connection – was the inspiration for the name of the composition.
With a faster tempo and changes in atmosphere, Sequence – the second movement – evokes the many landscapes that capture a traveller’s imagination during a cross-Canada journey. The final movement, Shores, ends at the Pacific coastline. “I was thinking about my hometown of Victoria,” he adds.