Alexina Louie

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 1949

  • Composer

The extremely personal style of Alexina Louie, in which East meets West, is marked by a broad spectrum of influences. Composed as part of her residency with the Canadian Opera Company on a libretto by playwright David Henry Hwang (author of M. Butterfly), Louie’s monumental opera, The Scarlet Princess, tells an erotic tale adapted from the 17th-century Kabuki play of the same title.

Born in 1949 in Vancouver. One of Canada’s most highly regarded and most often performed composers, Alexina Louie began piano studies, and at seventeen became an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Piano Performance. Louie continued her piano studies at the University of British Columbia where she also attended the composition classes of Cortland Hultberg, graduating in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in music history. She went on to post-graduate work at the University of California at San Diego with Robert Erickson and Pauline Oliveros, completing an M.A. in composition in 1974. For the rest of the decade, Louie taught piano, theory and electronic composition at the City Colleges of Pasadena and Los Angeles. She has lived in Toronto since 1980, where she works as a freelance composer for concert, dance, television and film.

Alexina Louie is the daughter of second-generation Canadians of Chinese descent. Her uniquely personal style blends both East and West, and draws on a wide variety of influences--from her Chinese heritage to her theoretical, historical and performance studies. Her music has been widely commissioned and performed by Canada’s leading orchestras, new music ensembles, chamber groups and soloists. Notable performances include the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of The Ringing Earth for the gala opening of Expo 86; the Montréal Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the same work in the United Nations General Assembly on United Nations Day (1989); the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s tours of Europe (1986) and the Pacific Rim (1990); and pianist Jon Kimura Parker’s performance of Scenes From a Jade Terrace, on the programme at the gala opening of the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo (1991).

In 1993, the BBC Symphony performed Louie’s O Magnum Mysterium: In Memoriam Glenn Gould, a work that was taken up the following year by the St. Louis Symphony under the direction of Leonard Slatkin and later choreographed by Dominique Dumais as One Hundred Words for Snow. 1993 also marked the world premiere of Gallery Fanfares, Arias and Interludes, a one-hour work commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario for the opening ceremonies of its new gallery spaces. The following year Louie was awarded the prestigious M. Joan Chalmers National Music Award for the vocal sections of this work, independently titled Obsessions (Their Own Words).

Alexina Louie has been the recipient of many awards and honours. In 1986, the International Year of Canadian Music, the Canadian Music Council named her Composer of the Year. In 1988 she received the Juno Award, Best Classical Composition, for Songs of Paradise. In 1990 she received the first SOCAN Concert Music Award as the most performed composer of the year, a distinction that was reconferred in 1992. Following the Chalmers Award in 1994 she received a Canada Council “A” Grant in 1995, and in 1996 she was appointed Composer in Residence with the Canadian Opera Company. In 1997 Louie received an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary, and the CBC released a disc that included Steven Dann’s performance of Winter Music, a chamber concerto for viola and eleven performers commissioned by the Vancouver New Music Society that was nominated for a Juno award for Best Classical Composition in 1998.

Another banner year for Louie was 1999, during which she garnered the Jules-Léger Prize for New Chamber Music for Nightfall (a work for 14 strings written for I Musici de Montréal), and witnessed the realease by the CBC of a compact disc comprised entirely of some of her larger works performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Mario Bernardi (with baritone Russell Braun and violinist Martin Beaver) and the National Ballet of Canada premiered One Hundred Words for Snow during the conference “Inspired by Gould”. The CBC recording was honoured with two Juno nominations in 2000 with Best Classical Composition awarded to the title track, Shattered Night, Shivering Stars. In October 2001 Music For A Thousand Autumns was performed in the presence of Canada’s Governor General at a concert in Dresden, Germany, conducted by Robert Aitken. That same year, Louie received the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest and most prestigious honour.

Alexina Louie has served as composer in residence on a number of occasions including the 1993 Scotia Festival, the 1994 Vancouver Chamber Music Festival, the 1996 Boris Brott Summer Music Festival and the 1999 Banff Arts Festival. Louie’s recent work includes co-writing, with husband Alex Pauk, the orchestral score for the soundtrack of Don McKellar’s feature film Last Night (winner of the Prix de Jeunesse, Cannes Film Festival, 1998). Last Night received a Genie nomination for Best Original Score and the music has been released on the Sony Classical label. Louie and Pauk also co-wrote the score for Jeremy Podeswa’s feature film The Five Senses that garnered praise both at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, where it was premiered, and the Toronto International Film Festival, and for the critically acclaimed Rhombus Media production Ravel’s Brain. The project that has dominated Louie’s creative energies for the past five years however is the full-length opera The Scarlet Princess she has been writing with Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) in her capacity as composer-in-residence with the Canadian Opera Company. This mammoth undertaking, an erotic ghost story based on a seventeenth-century Japanese Kabuki play, received its concert premiere with the COC in April 2002.

In addition to her busy life as a composer, Alexina Louie is one of the most active advocates of contemporary music in Canada. Among her many affiliations she has served on the boards of CAPAC, SOCAN and the SOCAN Foundation, the Governor General’s Awards for the Performing Arts, Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Arts Awards and Esprit Orchestra, Canada’s only orchestra devoted entirely to the performance of contemporary music. Alexina Louie is a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. Centrediscs recordings featuring the music of Alexina Louie include Impact (CMCCD 2786) and Love Songs for a Small Planet (CMCCD 4893).

[McGill]