Recognize the name Liam Ritz? The Hamilton-born composer was our inaugural Composer Fellow back in our 2018-19 season. Now, his work Scherzo has its world premiere at the top of our 23-24 season!

We are ecstatic to reunite with him and showcase his talent here in his hometown. Keep reading for the backstory on this premiering work, Liam’s current life in the orchestral world and a time capsule from his days as our Composer Fellow.

Click here to learn more about our concert on September 23: Gemma Conducts Schumann & Mendelssohn!

Liam’s notes on his premiering work, Scherzo:

“In celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday, I was commissioned by Canadian-conductor Justin Pambianchi to write a new work to be presented during a cycle of Beethoven’s five piano concertos.

I was first contacted by Pambianchi about this commission in the Fall of 2018, just before I began my Fellowship with the HPO. I began actually writing the piece the following Fall in 2019. The original plan was that Pambianchi and pianist Chee-Hang See would present Beethoven’s five piano concertos in a week-long series of concerts, each paired with a newly commissioned work by a Canadian composer.

I decided to centre my piece around one of my favourite elements of Beethoven’s work – scherzos from his symphonies. In writing my own Scherzo, my approach to not only highlight the traditional structural elements of this form (A-B-A) and allude to some famously Beethovenian musical features. There are references to his musical language scattered throughout the piece. These include distant horn calls, abrupt interjections, repetitious use of melodic fragments, and distinct rhythmic motifs that could easily be found within Beethoven’s own work. 

Traditionally, a scherzo (from the Italian word, meaning “joke” or “jest”) is characterized as being light, playful and usually quite fast. However, in my interpretation of this musical form, the “joke” of my scherzo is that it begins incredibly slow and lugubrious. As the piece progresses, the momentum gradually builds, and the distinct Beethovenian elements become increasingly prominent, eventually bursting to the forefront of the musical landscape. 

My piece was to be paired with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19, however, due to ongoing COVID-19 guidelines, they were unable to present these concerts in the Summer of 2020. Unfortunately, due to challenges of planning around these ongoing guidelines, it was then postponed several more times. This has led to the premiere happening now with the HPO, almost five years exactly from when this project began!”

About Liam Ritz:

As a composer, Ritz has collaborated with ensembles including the HPO, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and National Youth Orchestra of Canada. He has also collaborated with acclaimed performers Gemma New, Cameron Crozman, Etsuko Kimura, Joseph Johnson, and more.

He has won six SOCAN Foundation Young Composers Awards and a Prix Artistique from the Jeunesses Musicales Canada: Concours Do Mi Si La Do Ré. His work has been supported the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, the RBC Emerging Artists Project, and the SOCAN Foundation. Ritz also received a 2020 City of Hamilton Arts Award and selected for the 2022/23 Winnipeg New Music Festival: Composers Institute.

Aside from composing, Liam is now in his eighth season of working with the Toronto Symphony in the orchestra library. His work has taken on wide range of responsibilities in music preparation. These include printing, binding, copying string bowings, marking errata, editorial/proofreading, making cuts, transposing parts, and more. Starting during the pandemic, Liam began directing livestreaming projects. He also does editorial work for new commissioning projects and creates arrangements for various concerts (including the yearly PRIDE salon).

HPO Time Capsule: Liam Ritz 2019 Q&A

It is incredible to witness the evolution of Liam’s career since he joined us as our very first Composer Fellow. Take a trip back in time with us to remember some of Liam’s experiences in our 2018-19 season! Click here to read the full interview from May 23, 2019.

Lessons on a career in composition

HPO: What about working in the orchestral world will you take away from Abigail Richardson-Schulte and Gemma New?

LIAM: With Abigail, the most eye-opening thing was seeing what the potential full scale of a composer’s role can be within the community and an organization. On top of her work writing music, she is constantly presenting talks, hosting performances and lectures, and working with students. You name it, she’s doing it.

I was able to gain insight into crucial professional development topics like the grant application process for project funding and career path options for a professional composer. This side of a composer’s life is rarely taught or even mentioned when you’re studying composition in school. Meanwhile, it can easily make up the majority of a composer’s workload. It is vital for maintaining a healthy career in the arts.

I also had the rare opportunity to shadow Gemma and get an in-depth view of the orchestral rehearsal process. I learned about how she studies and prepares music for performance. As a composer, this insight into the intricate workings of an orchestra is hugely revelatory. It allowed me to more fully understand the work involved in being a performer. Learning about Gemma’s process allowed me to reevaluate my own work and creative process. It taught me to consider what aspects of a piece a conductor may be focusing on looking at my music. 

Highlights of being an HPO Composer Fellow

HPO: In your role as Composer Fellow, you’ve joined Abigail Richardson-Schulte at HPO concerts and events in the community. You’ve been a composer mentor at Saltfleet Secondary School through our Adopt-a-School program. You led an activity at our Family Concert, performed in our Community Recital and spoke at our Talk & Teas. What has been your favourite HPO event in the community thus far, and why?

LIAM RITZ: It’s a whirlwind when I look back at the long list of HPO events I’ve participated in! I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways, but I’ve especially appreciated working with the students at Saltfleet Secondary School.

While at high school in Hamilton, I was fortunate to participate in a similar program the HPO was running. Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte mentored myself and three peers. It’s been fun to see the students going through their first compositional experience. It reminds me how exciting and new everything was for me at that stage. Seeing that sense of discovery and eagerness to explore has made it a fulfilling and nostalgic project for me. I’ve really enjoyed getting to work with these talented young composers.

Help us kick off the season! Join us on September 23, 2023 for the world premiere of Scherzo by Liam Ritz!

Published September 11, 2023