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Composer Keiko Devaux on the The Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music

Keiko Devaux's piece "Arras" won the award in 2020, and has since seen multiple performances and prizes


The Violin Channel had the privilege to catch up with Canadian composer Keiko Devaux, since winning the Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music in 2020.

The 2022 Azrieli Music Prizes Gala Concert will take place on October 20, 2022, at 7:30 pm ET — and will feature the world premieres by the 2022 Azrieli Music Prizes Laureates.


In 2020, you won the Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music. What stage in your career were you in when you won this? How have things changed for you since then?

When I won the Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music, my career was beginning to take off and I was receiving recognition and working on my doctorate at the University of Montréal. Since then I have completed my doctoral degree and won the Prix Opus and the JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year for this same commission. It has been very fruitful and my career continues to grow which I am very grateful for.


What has this piece meant for your career?

I think aside from having such wonderful financial support to be able to really develop, craft, and work on a piece with such a high caliber ensemble, this prize awarded a top-quality recording of a large ensemble piece, which is just a very difficult-to-attain goal, mostly financially, for most emerging, and even established composers. This opens up doors for different areas of recognition in one's career like the JUNOS.


Do you think about your compositional work differently as a result of having written "Arras"?

"Arras" allowed me to really step back a couple of times and hear the piece and work with multiple very talented ensembles and conductors. This allowed me to really: 1. craft a complex piece that synthesized a lot of my ongoing ideas and bring them to a different level and 2. hear a piece evolve and take on different nuances and layers as it was performed multiple times in a short period.


Did winning this prize open doors for Arras to be performed outside of the competition?

Yes, it did. Outside of the four different performances it received as part of the prize activity, it was subsequently played again by the New Music Concerts Ensemble and conducted by Brian Current. It was then re-programmed and performed by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne again in Montréal in a co-presentation with le Vivier, and then just recently this past summer it was programmed by Jonathan Crow of the Toronto New Music Festival and performed at Koerner Hall. I know it has at least a couple of other performances coming up in the next year or so, and perhaps even an orchestral arrangement ;)

Stay tuned!


Can you describe your most recent inspirations? Have they changed in the past two years?

My most recent inspirations fall within the same world of memory and experience always as the overarching commonality. However, more recent works in the past two years have looked at more specific inspirations such as certain organisms — such as desert plants that dry out to the point of near death and then are resurrected, or the changing behavior of underwater creatures due to noise pollution.


What is your advice for young composers trying to build their careers in today’s landscape?

Be yourself. Be bold. Be loving. Be vulnerable. Always remain curious.


How important are commissioning awards to a composer at the start of their careers?

They are very important. I would argue that commissioning awards are important to composers at all points of their careers. It is such a hustle to make a living as a composer. It is truly rewarding and a gift to be able to do it, but it is absolutely necessary that composers and voices are heard, supported, and boosted like this.

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