Kulesha's professional experience has been varied and wide ranging and has included activities as pianist, church organist and choir director, teacher, producer for CBC radio, and freelance work in broadcasting and music journalism. He developed his conducting skills in the early 1970s when he was involved with a number of community orchestras and concert bands. He was principal conductor at the Festival Theatre for the Stratford Festival (1983-5), and conducted the festival's chamber music workshops (1981-5). He was co-principal conductor of the Composer's Orchestra for the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshops (CCMW). Kulesha has been an active conductor, recording for both radio and CD, and serving as artistic director of the Composers' Orchestra 1987-2004; he has also guest conducted with several orchestras in Canada including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Hannaford Street Silver Band, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, where he was composer-in-residence 1988-91.
His overture The Gates of Time was premiered by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kulesha 5 Oct 1991 as part of a gala concert celebrating Raffi Armenian's 20th anniversary as music director, and was also played during the Toronto Symphony's American tour in 1999. Kulesha has had a spate of composer-in-residence appointments, notably with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra 1988-91; the Canadian Opera Company 1993-5, culminating with his first opera, Red Emma, premiered 28 Nov 1995; and as composer-advisor to the Toronto Symphony in 1995, a fruitful position resulting in works such as his Symphony for two conductors and orchestra in Feb 1998, and The True Colour of the Sky in Feb 2000. Oliver Knussen premiered his Second Symphony 30 Mar 2005. In March 2002 he was given a National Arts Centre Composer's Award. The National Arts Centre Orchestra, under Pinchas Zukerman, performed Syllables of Unknown Meaning in Sept 2002 and premiered The Boughs of Music in Oct 2005 with Karen Donnelly, solo trumpet. His second opera, The Last Duel, was premiered at the University of Toronto 2 Nov 2000. Written in collaboration with librettist Michael Albano, the opera deals with the events leading to the banning of pistol duelling in Canada.
Kulesha's music demonstrates a high regard and respect for music of the past, which he acknowledges with occasional quotations and an almost classical approach to form. The music is often linked to an overall tonal scheme where theme and motive provide a unifying force and delineate musical structure. His concern with the way that memory can affect human experience contributes to a rich and varied emotional expression. Influences are many, ranging from 11th-century liturgical chant to contemporary popular musics, and especially the works of Bartók, Sibelius, and Lutoslawski, all of which represent sources of inspiration that enhance Kulesha's own achievements. His skill as an orchestrator can be heard in his four Chamber Concertos. Other important works include Mysterium Coniunctionis, his Third Piano Sonata, Angels for marimba and tape, and the dynamic Sonata for Cello and Piano. Shaman Songs was a featured work at the 1990 Festival of the Sound, and Wild Swans was premiered at the 1991 Elora Festival.
Kulesha was chosen PRO Canada composer of the year in 1986. He was nominated for a Juno award in 1990 for his Third Chamber Concerto and in 2000 for The Book of Mirrors. In 2002 he was appointed theory and composition department coordinator at the University of Toronto, where he had also been made director of the contemporary music ensemble in 2000. Kulesha is a member of the Canadian League of Composers (and became a member of its Council in 1986) and was named an ambassador of the Canadian Music Centre in 2009.
Burlesque. 1974. Tuba, piano. Sonante 1984
Sonata for Horn, Tuba, and Piano, 1975
Three Complacencies. 1976. B clarinet, tuba. Sonante 1978
Prelude and Fugue. 1976. Tpt, piano. Sonante 1978
Concerto for Tuba. 1979. Tuba, concert band. Ms
Mysterium Coniunctionis. 1980. Cl, bass clarinet, piano. Ms
First Chamber Concerto. 1981. Ww quintet, mar, piano. Ms
Second Chamber Concerto. 1982. Tpt, piano, chamber ensemble. Ms
Angels. 1983. Marimba, tape. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-2786 (B. Johnston)
Third Chamber Concerto. 1983. 2 oboe, 2 clarinet, bass clarinet concertante, 2 bassoon, 2 horn. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-CD-3488 (Canadian Chamber Ensemble)
Second Essay for Orchestra. 1984. Ms
Celebration Overture: For Orchestra. 1985, rev 1986. Ms
Jazz Music. 1985. Brass quintet, mar, piano. Ms
Nocturne for Chamber Orchestra. 1985. Ms
Lifesongs. 1985. Alto, string orch. Ms
Sonata for Cello and Piano. 1986-7. Ms
Night Music (Shakespeare, Shelley, Byron). 1987. V, piano. Ms
Dreams for Orchestra. 1988. Ms
The Drift of Stars (Kulesha). 1988. Children's chorus, orch. Ms
Fourth Chamber Concerto. 1988. Ww quintet, brass quintet, string quintet, percussion. Ms
Concerto for Marimba, Bass Clarinet and Small Orchestra. 1989. Ms
Shaman Songs (Kulesha). 1990. Chor, clarinet, string quartet. Ms
Wild Swans (Yeats). 1991. Chor, violoncello, mar, piano. Ms
The Gates of Time. 1991. Orch. Ms
Concerto for Recorder and Small Orchestra. 1991. Recorder solo (sopranino-treble-sopranino), 2 oboes, bassoon, marimba, harpsichord, strings
"...and dark time flowed by her like a river...". 1993. Violin, viola or cello and piano
Red Emma. 1995. Opera, libretto by Carol Bolt
Symphony. 1997. 2 conductors and orchestra
The Last Duel. 2000. Opera, libretto by Michael Albano
Syllables of Unknown Meaning. 2000. Orchestra
Second Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra. 2002
Variations on a theme by Benjamin Britten. 2003. 2 violins, viola, cello, and piano
Other works for various instr ensemble; voice; piano; band; incidental music for theatre and film. Also 2 transcriptions for brass of works by Debussy: The Hills of Anacapri, Minstrels (H. Leonard 1983)
Author F. Tim Knight, Evan Ware
Tammearu, Peeter. 'Kulesha feels versatility necessary for young composer,' Music Scene, 318, Mar/Apr 1981
Eatock, Colin. 'Gary Kulesha,' Music Scene, 352, Nov/Dec 1986
Markow, Robert. 'Resounding residencies,' Music, vol 14, Feb-Mar 1991
Links to Other Sites
The official website for Canadian composer Gary Kulesha. Features a bio, list of works, program notes, and more.
ArtsAlive: Gary Kulesha
Read the text of an interview and a biography of renowned Canadian composer Gary Kulesha. From the "ArtsAlive" website.
An extensive collection of audio clips from recordings featuring the National Arts Centre Orchestra performing works by noteworthy Canadian and international composers. Click on a composer's name on the right side menu to access specific works. See also composer biographies and the interactive timeline of historical milestones in classical music. From artsalive.ca and the Virtual Museum of Canada.