Dr. John Burge was born in Dryden, Ontario in 1961. While still in public school in Calgary, he received his Associate Diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Toronto in Piano Performance. He also holds degrees in Composition and Theory from the University of Toronto (B.Mus. and M.Mus.) and the University of British Columbia (D.M.A.). Since 1987 he has been teaching at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario where he currently holds the position of Full Professor and has served as Director of Queen’s Music. In recognition of his very successful career as a composer, John Burge was awarded a Queen’s University Excellence in Research and Scholarship Prize in 2013, and in 2014 was inducted as a Fellow into the Royal Society of Canada for his leadership in the arts and composition.
John Burge has written a large body of vocal, chamber, and orchestral compositions. He is particularly well known for his choral music, which has been performed by such choirs as The Elmer Iseler Singers, The BBC Singers, The Amabile Youth Choir, The Toronto Children’s Chorus and The St. Louis Symphony Children’s Choir. Many of these choral works have been published by Boosey and Hawkes Music Publishers. His composition, Angels’ Voices, for choir and orchestra, received the 2006 Outstanding New Choral Composition Award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors and was performed in New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 2005. Burge also has a strong affinity in writing for string instruments, having composed over a dozen works for string orchestra. Flanders Fields Reflections is probably his most performed and broadcast work for strings. Commissioned by Sinfonia Toronto, this group’s recording of the work on the Marquis Classics label received the 2009 Juno Award for the Best Canadian Classical Composition. Most recently, in 2012, Burge was commissioned to compose the test piece for the string round of the Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition (String Theory, in versions for violin and piano, viola and piano and cello and piano).
In selecting texts to set to music, John Burge has repeatedly turned to Canadian poets such as Bliss Carmen, Stephen Heighton, Dennis Lee, Dorothy Livesay and Eugene McNamara. Deserving special mention however, is the long relationship he developed with Margaret Avison. Burge was the first composer to set her words to music in his 1987 composition, Sunblue (First Prize Winner of Choral Category of the 1988 PROCAN Young Composers’ Competition). Subsequent Avison inspired works include: That We May Not Lose Loss (solo soprano, choir and orchestra), One Sail (cello and string orchestra), Everything Waits For The Lilacs (solo piano), No Time (solo piano) and Winter Sun (choir and percussion ensemble).
Over the years John Burge has had a long and productive relationship with the Kingston Symphony and their Music Director, Glen Fast. Since 1991 they have commissioned and premiered many of his orchestral compositions, including aClarinet Concerto, Trumpet Concerto two works for piano and orchestra (Piano Concerto No. 1 and Prelude Variations) and two Symphonies. Since 1993, Burge has also written five chamber orchestra works for The Thirteen Strings of Ottawa. With titles like, Snowdrift, Rocky Mountain Overture,Upper Canada Fiddle Suite, and The Canadian Shield, it is obvious that a number of his works for large ensemble draw their influence from a distinctively Canadian perspective. Orchestras and audiences seem taken with these works as they have received numerous performances across Canada and even as far away as Brazil and Russia.
John Burge greatly enjoys working with young musicians and in addition to his teaching duties at Queen’s University, he is in demand as an adjudicator at music festivals across Canada. From 2001-2003, he was the Composer-in-Residence for the National Youth Orchestra of Canada during which time they premiered his work, Sonic Architecture. A passionate advocate for Canadian music he was a member of the executive council of the Canadian League of Composers from 1993-2007, serving as President from 1998-2006. He is currently a board member for the SOCAN Foundation and chairs the board of directors for the Music at Port Milford Summer Music School and Festival in Prince Edward County.
For more information about John Burge’s compositions, see www.johnburge.ca.
See a complete performance on YouTube of John Burge’s Twenty-Four Preludes (solo piano) as performed by Mathew Walton at the University of Alberta:
John Burge: Twenty-Four Preludes – Mathew Walton, piano