Jack Campbell doesn’t want to name his favourite composer.
“I love everyone from Bach to John Coltrane,” the 17-year-old Anmore musician said.
Campbell prides himself in being well-versed in all classical music eras but, when pressed, he admits he leans to modernists such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Alban Berg and John Cage as his idols.
A home-schooled learner who graduates in June, Campbell often studies their styles and history, hoping one day to get his big break and mirror their accomplishments.
But Campbell is new to the game, having only taken up composition two and a half years ago after realizing he could hear finished orchestral works in his head. In six months, he had his first piece for string quartet written.
His early pieces were “all right,” Campbell told The Tri-City News, but it wasn’t until he started weekly lessons a year ago with Rodney Sharman that the tide turned.
The composer-in-residence of Early Music Vancouver’s New Music for Old Instruments, Sharman met Campbell while adjudicating a young composers’ competition. Since then, Sharman has guided Campbell with his “sound canvasses,” exploring minimalism and emotional expression as well as experimenting with tension and release.
This month, Campbell’s first symphony, Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, IV, Op. 5, was performed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for the 15th edition of the Jean Coulthard Readings, a juried showcase for emerging composers.
Having his work played by the VSO in the Orpheum Theatre was “a boyhood dream come true,” Campbell gushed.
And Friday (tomorrow), his piece 176 — for vibraphone, piano and cello — was due to be performed at Pyatt Hall at the Sonic Boom Festival 2020, an annual presentation by Vancouver ProMusica, but that event was postponed last Friday due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Still, he has another chance coming up: May 10, his piece 65898 — for flute, bassoon and harp — is also slated for a Pyatt Hall recital.
There’s more on the horizon.
This summer, Campbell will take on the title of composer-in-residence with the Canadian Music Centre on Davie Street in Vancouver, where, for 18 days, in the Murray Adaskin Salon, Campbell will be able to make use of the venue’s top-notch instruments, high-tech multimedia and sound system to work on new pieces.
Campbell won the gig after the centre put out a call for composers to apply. “I’m extremely honoured,” he said.
Luckily, Campbell knows his way around string instruments.
At two, he told his mom he wanted to play the violin. She waited five years to sign her son up for lessons with Laura Chenail and Reg Quiring and, for the past year, he has been under the guidance of VSO assistant concertmaster David Lakiorvich at the VSO School of Music.
In his early teens, Campbell picked up another instrument: the guitar.
“It didn’t take more than a year before I was fully immersed in it as well,” he said, noting he is currently under the instruction of Juno award-nominated jazz artist Bill Coon with the VSO School of Music.
To hone his improvisational skills, Campbell played dinner shows with L.J. Montenay at Port Moody’s Gallery Bistro, which burned to the ground last summer, and learned about collaborating with professional musicians.
“Jack Campbell is a remarkable, unassuming young man I’ve gotten to know over the past two to three years,” Gallery Bistro co-owner Helen Daniels told The Tri-City News by email. “After the fire, he expressed to us in very moving and eloquent terms how much the bistro meant to him, well beyond what you would expect of someone just 17.”
Still, the guitar has “not quite been as prevalent a pursuit as the violin,” Campbell said, noting he has also been taking piano lessons with Coquitlam’s Rosemary O’Connor, the spouse of his former violin teacher Reg Quiring.
Recently, Campbell auditioned before UBC and UVic’s schools of music to gain admission for a bachelor of fine arts degree; his goal is to obtain a PhD in music and, possibly, add conducting to his resume.