Paul Kawabe is one of this season’s Composer Fellows in the under 25 years old category. His new work titled Seven Thousand Paper Cranes has its world premiere with the HPO on November 11 at Sibelius & Dvořák. Read the following blog and Q&A to learn about Paul and his new piece.

About Paul Kawabe

Paul Kawabe is a composer based in Toronto. He completed his undergraduate and Master’s degree in composition at the University of Toronto and has participated in composition programs with the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance, the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra, and Orford Music Academy. Stylistically, his music hinges on dramatic narrative development and evocative soundscapes. Inspiration for his pieces is found in art, architecture, or a story. The emotional impact of these mediums will occasionally become a North Star while writing, where the goal is to bring about a similar experience through sound. His piece Pitch Black Alchemy was recently programmed by The Bedford Trio at their concert in April 2023. 

Q&A with Paul Kawabe


HPO: How was your experience writing about such a personal topic regarding your family’s experience in WWII?

PAUL KAWABE: I found that I had to slow down the writing process a lot. I didn’t want this piece to be a narrative about what my family went through during the war, as those experiences aren’t mine to recount. That sort of structure felt inauthentic to me. I drew primarily on my relationships with family members and how I’ve seen the internment camps’ impact across their lives. The writing process ended up being a practice in empathy to figure out what I wanted to communicate with this piece.

HPO: What are some interesting musical elements of your composition that we can listen for? What aspects of your piece do you love most?

PAUL: There’s a pattern of chords that cut off abruptly that appears throughout the piece. It’s pretty obvious the first time it happens and the remainder of them gradually lessen in harshness and severity but it’s still something that echoes. One of my favourite parts of the piece is the woodwind textures that emerge in the latter half. They’re very energetic and fast. I hope the wind section forgives me.


HPO: Is this your first time composing for full orchestra?

PAUL: No, but it will be my first time hearing an orchestral composition of mine performed by a professional orchestra. I’m very excited about that! My first time writing for orchestra was for the Niagara Youth Orchestra. Being a first attempt, many things in that piece went wrong but I learned a lot from that experience. I’ve written a few orchestral/large ensemble pieces since then that have benefited a lot from those early lessons.

HPO: Your bio describes that your music “hinges on dramatic narrative development and evocative soundscapes. Inspiration for his pieces is found in art, architecture, or a story.” Can you elaborate on this explanation and where this source of inspiration stems from?

PAUL: When it comes to narrative development, I’m generally thinking about the through line of emotions/feelings that I’m hoping to invoke through music. I like it when a piece of music has some sort of evolution from beginning to end. To me, that can mean imagining different locations that the piece exists in and soundscapes that map onto those specific locations or atmospheres.

For inspiration from non-music mediums, I’ll notice a feature of something I like and imagine how that translate into sound. These features could be an interesting pattern of shadows on a building, or an impactful narrative device in a story.


HPO: How has your experience been working with the HPO? What aspects of your fellowship have you particularly enjoyed so far?

PAUL: Working with the HPO has been great! My favourite thing about this program is sitting in on rehearsals and going to concerts featuring my peers’ pieces. It is wonderful to see an orchestra take so much care in working with contemporary composers. The HPO always strives to ensure that composer fellow pieces are performed as close as possible to the composer’s intent.

HPO: Has anything about your composer fellowship surprised you?

PAUL: I was quite surprised at how different the writing experience is when the performance is already planned. So many of my pieces up to now have been either personal projects or a requirement for a class/degree. In both cases, there is always the thought that whatever I’m writing will likely never be heard by an audience. The guarantee that this piece will be heard adds a dimension of purpose and responsibility I wasn’t expecting.


HPO: Who are some orchestral composers that most inspired you and your taste and style in this genre?

PAUL: Two of my favourite pieces of orchestral music are the Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók and William Schuman’s Symphony No. 3. Both pieces are incredible examples of just how many different sounds you can get out of an orchestra. I’m also a big fan of the harmonic language used in both of them. To me, it strikes a sweet spot of being adventurous while also being incredibly intuitive to listen to. You never feel lost in either of them.

HPO: How about a non-orchestral artist that inspires you?

PAUL: I do my best to be open to inspiration from everywhere. Recently I’ve been listening to Bill Evans’ recordings with Scott LaFaro (also playing through some transcriptions on piano), LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, Steve Reich’s Radio Rewrite, Steely Dan’s Aja, The Staves’ The Way is Read, and The Avalanches’ Since I Left You. It’s a bunch of different genres but I think all of those artists are incredible at pacing their ideas. The intent behind each song/piece/track is crystal clear.

Hear the world premiere of Paul’s new work

Don’t miss the world premiere of Seven Thousand Paper Cranes by Paul Kawabe on November 11!

Sibelius & Dvořák
Saturday, Novemer 11 at 7:30pm
FirstOntario Concert Hall

Jacob Joyce, Conductor
Kerson Leong, Violin

  • Paul Kawabe, Seven Thousand Paper Cranes
  • Sibelius, Violin Concerto
  • Dvorák, Symphony No. 7