Allan Bell | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Allan Bell

Allan (Gordon) Bell. Composer, teacher, conductor, b Calgary 24 May 1953; BA (Alberta) 1974, M MUS (Alberta) 1980. He grew up in Edmonton, with no formal training in music, and did undergraduate work in philosophy 1970-4 at the University of Alberta.

Allan Bell

Allan (Gordon) Bell. Composer, teacher, conductor, b Calgary 24 May 1953; BA (Alberta) 1974, M MUS (Alberta) 1980. He grew up in Edmonton, with no formal training in music, and did undergraduate work in philosophy 1970-4 at the University of Alberta. He was a graduate student in music there 1974-80, studying composition with Violet Archer, Malcolm Forsyth, and Manus Sasonkin. In 1978 he studied with Jean Coulthard, Bruce Mather, and Oskar Morawetz at the Banff CA, and in 1982 he studied film music with Earle Hagen in Toronto. Bell was artistic director 1978-80 of the Calgary Contemporary Ensemble, and conducted numerous other groups in concerts and recordings. He was chairman 1979-80 of the Alberta Composers' Festival and composer-in-residence at the Alberta Provincial Music Workshop in 1980. He taught composition and theory at the University of Calgary in 1978-80 and again from 1985, remaining there as of 2003.

Bell received commissions from the CBC for Arche (1980), Five Rituals (1980), Innua (1987), Arche II (1989), Quintet for Strings (1990), and Arche III (1995); from the Calgary Philharmonic for Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra (1984); from the SMCQ for Gaia (1984) and Concerto for Two Orchestras (1988); from the Roseberry Orchestra (London) for Symphony No. 1 (1990); and from many others. He wrote music for young musicians, and composed scores for theatre and dance productions, film and television. Arche received the tenth anniversary string quartet prize at the Okanagan Music Festival for Composers in 1982. In 1989 Arche II was the imposed test piece for the third Banff International String Quartet Competition and was selected by the CBC to represent Canada in UNESCO's annual International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. Arche II was recorded by the Cassatt String Quartet at the 1989 Banff competition (RCI 657 cass). His Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra were performed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 1994, and various other works were performed elsewhere in Canada and overseas. His opera, Turtle Wakes (libretto by Rick McNair), which recounts the events of the Crow's Nest Pass landslide of 1903, was premiered in 2001 by Calgary Opera and Quest Theatre.

Bell's music is sophisticated - meticulously crafted, sensitive to dramatic structure - but always accessible. It explores many idioms: the percussion concerto is tonal and frankly popular; Arche and the Prelude and Passacaglia (1977) demonstrate a mastery of counterpoint, variation, and motivic development; works such as Morning Music (1980), Monashee (1982), and Drawing Down the Moon (1982) exploit traditional instruments to create colourful atmospheric effects. Several key influences can be identified: the sounds and geography of the Canadian North (Monashee, Innua); mythology and ritual (Gaia, Five Rituals); and primitivism (a fondness for percussion and propulsive rhythms). Many of Bell's best works are dualistic in conception, some with strongly polarized pairs of movements ('Animus' and 'Anima' in Arche, 'Fire' and 'Ice' in Arche II), others in multi-movement arch forms (Dynamus of 1980 and Five Rituals). The University of Calgary jazz ensemble, The Red Band, has recorded two of his pieces, Night Suite (1987, University of Calgary UC-8701) and Late as Usual (1988, UC-8801). Bell's compositions were also recorded by the Calgary Philharmonic and various artists. Bell wrote articles for Composers West and CBDAJournal.

Bell was active on juries (eg, the 2002 SOCAN Awards for Young Composers), and as composer-in-residence (eg, at the Cantai Festival in Taiwan in 2001). His choral compositions garnered awards in 1994 and 1999 from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors. Bell was executive producer on several recording projects for the University of Calgary. He received the university's Community Service Award in 2001 for his volunteer work with the Young Composers' Project. He was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre, of which he served 1984-8 as national president.


'New music in Alberta,' SoundNotes, spring 1992

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