In conversation with Thierry Tidrow

Graham Sommer Competition finalist Thierry Tidrow discusses a variety of new compositional projects (including writing the first-ever piece for accordion/viola da gamba duo), his perspective on being a finalist in the competition, and more.

Ever since he joined Ottawa’s St. Matthew's Choir as a boy soprano, German-based composer Thierry Tidrow knew he wanted to be a musician. After rehearsing and performing with this choir (as well as five others) throughout his childhood, he ended up exploring composition later as a teenager – and started down the path that led him to become a finalist in this year’s inaugural Graham Sommer Competition for Young Composers.

While looking back on his formative years in music, Thierry explained that he faced a crossroads when it was time to apply for post-secondary studies. Not knowing that one could follow a career as a contemporary composer, he went to the Schulich School of Music of McGill University to study Early Music as a countertenor. After two years of not feeling completely satisfied musically, he switched into composition and hasn’t looked back since. Seeking musical experiences outside North America, he went on to complete his Masters in Composition at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and received an Advanced Studies Diploma at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg.

Though Thierry has taken a step away from early music since his time at Schulich, he notes that studying that era changed his outlook on music. “Many composers come from a traditional classical upbringing, where there is a sort of fetishizing of the 19th century aesthetic. Although I do love this century (and you might see a little bit of that in my piece, mainly because the piano for me is the ultimate symbol of that century), I feel that many classical musicians don’t realize how their mannerisms are impregnated by a mythological 19th-century performance practice.”

As a composer involved in a variety of different projects, Thierry’s most recent work has been especially unique – the first piece ever written for an accordion and viola da gamba duo. “I love these [kinds of] weird challenges because they push me in strange directions,” he explained. Along with exploring unique instrumentations such as this, he revealed that he often finds unexpected sources of inspiration while composing. “My most unexpected inspiration came while writing a saxophone quartet for an ensemble that was focusing on the Ukrainian crisis as a theme for their concert. I ended up collecting texts from different media sources and asked the players, as they were all from different cultural backgrounds, to speak their texts in a news anchor sort of way into their instruments in their native languages. I then used the instrumentsas a means to amplify, but also to censor and distort the sound and text. I saw this as a type of symbolism for media censorship in the post-truth information age.”

Excerpt form a Thierry Tidrow score

As another project later in the year, Thierry will be writing an opera for kindergarteners for Deutsche Oper am Rhein. Part of the opera house’s initiative to bring musical theatre to young children, this work will be played around 50 different kindergartens across the region. As this is the fourth opera that Thierry has written, he revealed that opera and vocal music is “intrinsic” to his artistic personality – although he doesn’t perform often as a singer, his training in the past led to his development into a vocal-based composer. [Watch an excerpt from Thierry’s “existential office tragicomedy, My Corporate Identity, which was performed at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.]

Thierry is enthusiastic to be a finalist in the Graham Sommer Competition, explaining that the hardest part of a composer’s career is the time between being a student and a “seasoned” composer.“Competitions like these are invaluable to the flourishing of a young composer’s career,” he added, “because they facilitate composers meeting new people and presenting their music in different ways.” Luckily for all of the Graham Sommer Competition finalists, the scheduled events offer plenty of opportunities for networking, artistic growth, and for their works to reach new audiences.

Until then, follow Thierry’s other activities on his website.

Headshot of Thierry Tidrow
Image by Anika Neese.

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