Steven Gellman | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Steven Gellman

Steven (David) Gellman. Composer, pianist, teacher, b Toronto 16 Sep 1947; premiere prix analysis (Paris Conservatory) 1975, premiere prix composition (Paris Conservatory) 1976.

Gellman, Steven

Steven (David) Gellman. Composer, pianist, teacher, b Toronto 16 Sep 1947; premiere prix analysis (Paris Conservatory) 1975, premiere prix composition (Paris Conservatory) 1976. Gellman began writing music at nine and two years later began comprehensive studies, including theory, composition, and piano, with Samuel Dolin at the Royal Conservatory of Music. He performed his own piano concerto with the CBC Symphony Orchestra for the opening ceremonies of the University of Toronto's Edward Johnson Building in 1964. That same year he received a BMI Award to Student Composers. He studied 1965-8 with Berio, Persichetti, and Sessions at The Juilliard School; summers 1965 and 1966 with Milhaud at the Aspen Music Festival School, Col, where he won first prize in composition in 1966; electronic music with Dolin in 1967; and, with bursaries from the Canada Council, 1973-6 with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory.

Gellman's Commissioned Compositions
Gellman's many commissioned works include Mythos II, written for the Stratford Music Festival; Symphony in Two Movements, Symphony II, and Chori for the CBC; Odyssey and The Bride's Reception for the Hamilton Philharmonic, the former for performance with the rock group Tranquility Base; Deux Tapisseries for the Besançon (France) International Festival in honour of Messiaen's 70th birthday; Wind Music for Canadian Brass; Waves and Ripples and Dialogue II for flute and piano for the 1979 Canadian Music Competitions; Trikaya for McGill University's 1982 Contemporary Music Festival; Fantasia on a Theme of Robert Schumann for Angela Hewitt; Awakening and Universe Symphony, both for the Toronto Symphony, the former performed on the orchestra's 1983 European tour, the latter premiered with the Canadian Electronic Ensemble 8 Jan 1986 as the first event of the International Year of Canadian Music; Keyboard Triptych for Jon Kimura Parker; Love's Garden, for soprano and orchestra on poetry by Rilke and Kebir, by the Thunder Bay Symphony in 1987; the septet Chiaroscuro, premiered by the Pierrot Ensemble and since played across Canada and in the US; Concertino for the 1989 (Ottawa) National Guitar Competition; and Canticles of St Francis, written in 1989, for the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Cantata Singers of Ottawa in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Red Cross. Among Gellman's more recent works are Burnt Offerings for string ensemble, premiered by Thirteen Strings in 1990; Music Eterna for string quartet in 1994; Album for Piano, published by Frederick Harris, and the subsequent orchestration for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in 1992; Sonata for Cello and Piano, premiered by Desmond Hoebig and Andrew Tunis in 1994; Jaya overture for the National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1995; Fanfare for the New Millennium in 1999; Piano Quartet, premiered by Musica Camerata in 2003 and reprised in the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival in 2004; and a Viola Concerto, completed in 2004. The Toronto Symphony also premiered Chori under Pierre Hétu in June 1975, and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra has featured several of Gellman's works: Awakening, Andante for String Orchestra, and Universe Symphony, which it reprised in January 2005 with redesigned and updated electroacoustics.

Style, Techniques and Influences

Though Gellman's music explores many genres, it has maintained a clear overall voice. If his Fantasy for piano shows diverse influences, his Mythos II fulfilled the promise of earlier works with a unifying concern for colour and texture and won him his first international recognition (the work was selected by the 1970 International Rostrum of Composers in Paris as the best work submitted by a composer under 25). In Odyssey, Gellman teams a rock group and a symphony orchestra in a concerto-like work that attempts a synthesis of material and performance style. (Gellman composed and performed rock music in the late 1960s.) In this early work Gellman already showed a fluent command of orchestral colour. He is also noted for being particularly effective in describing mood, especially in his orchestral works such as Symphony in Two Movements. Gellman travelled in northern India for several months in 1971. His Symphony II, which uses optional Tibetan conical shawms, and Chori, a mystical work, are Tibetan-influenced in their conception, instrumentation, and musical material. Whereas European critics described Awakening as 'neo-impressionist,' Gellman qualifies his own evolution as moving away from the rigid practices of the avant-garde towards a music that is both more personally and spiritually expressive. In the composer's own words, he has evolved a music that aspires both to personal honesty and to clear communication with the listener. His Universe Symphony, perhaps his most successful work both in terms of his outlook and public reception, features five movements and a diatonic main theme, integrates full orchestra with live electronic sounds - amplified with speakers placed around the audience - and uses ambient lighting.

Teaching and Other Activities

Gellman began teaching at the University of Ottawa in 1976; his pupils have included Roddy Ellias, Colin Mack, and Denis Schingh. In 1979 he was the subject of a one-hour CBC radio documentary produced by Gary Hayes. Gellman has served on juries for the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council, and has adjudicated several composition competitions. The Canadian Music Council named him composer of the year in 1987. He is an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Compositions

Andante for String Orchestra.1963. Ms

Symphony in Two Movements. 1971. Orch. Ric 1972. CBC SM-295 (Hamilton Philharmonic Concert Virtuosi)

Symphony II. 1972. Orch.

Chori. 1974 (rev 1976). Orch. Ms

Deux Tapisseries 1978 (rev 1980). 15 instr. Ms

Awakening. 1982. Orch. Ms

Burnt Offerings. 1990. Str orch. Ms

Red Shoes. 1990. Chamber orchestra (Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec )

Jaya. 1995. Orchestra (National Arts Centre Orchestra)

Child Play. 1992. Chamber orchestra (Manitoba Chamber Orchestra)

Soloists with Orchestra

Concerto. 1962. Pf, orch. Ms

Andante-Agitato. 1966. Vn, orch. Ms

Odyssey. 1971. 2 elec guitar, elec piano, elec bass guitar, drums, orch. Ric 1973

Animus-Anima. 1976. 3 soprano, orch. Ms

The Bride's Reception 'A Symphonic Contemplation'. 1983 (Hamilton 1984). Eng horn, viola, orch. Ms

Universe Symphony. 1985 (Toronto 1986). 3 synthesizer, orch. Ms

Canticles (St Francis of Assisi). 1989 (Ott 1989). Chor, orch (piano or organ). Ms.

Love's Garden (Kabir, Rilke). 1987. Sop, orch. Ms

Piano Concerto. 1989. Ms

Viola Concerto. 2004. Viola and orchestra

Other works for soprano and orch; violin and orch


Mythos II. 1968. Fl, string quartet. Ms. RCI 301 (Aitken)

Wind Music. 1978. 2 tpts, horn, trombone, tuba. Ms. 1981. Music Gallery Editions MGE-34 (Composers Brass Group)

Dialogue II. 1979. Fl, piano. Ms

Chiaroscuro 'Light in Darkness'. 1988. Fl, clarinet, violin, viola, violoncello, percussion. piano. Ms

Concertino for Guitar and String Quartet. 1988. Ms

Trikaya. 1981. Vn, clarinet, piano, percussion. Ms

Musica Eterna. Str quartet. 1991. Ms

Sonata for Cello and Piano. 1994. Cello and piano (Desmond Hoebig, Andrew Tunis)

Piano Quartet. 2003. Violin, viola, cello, piano (Musica Camerata)

Also works for horn; fl and piano; violoncello; string quartet; and various other instrumental groupings.


Veils. 1974. Pf. Ms

Poème. 1977. Pf. RCI 496 (Hewitt)

The Warrior. 1978. Pf. RCI 496 (Hewitt)

Waves and Ripples. 1979. Pf. Ms

Fantasia on a Theme of Robert Schumann. 1983. Pf. Ms

Keyboard Triptych. 1986. Pf, synthesizer

Several other works for piano

Also vocal works including Psalm 121. 1977. RCI 569 (Dorenfeld soprano, Aitken fl, Aide piano)

Further Reading