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Alexina Louie was born in Vancouver and received an ARCT in Piano Performance at the age of 17, studying with Jean Lyons at the Jean Lyons School of Music in Vancouver. She received a Bachelor of Music in Music History from the University of British Columbia in 1970 and a Master of Arts in Composition from the University of California, San Diego in 1974. She taught piano, theory and electronic composition in the Greater Los Angeles Area until 1980. Since then she has lived in Toronto.
Louie has composed for various instrumental and vocal combinations in virtually every major genre. One of her earliest compositions, completed in 1972, is an electronic piece for 4-channel tape entitled Molly. Her object in this composition, based on the last segment of James Joyce's novel Ulysses was to make an electronic composition sound "human". Her piano compositions include Scenes from a Jade Terrace, Distant Memories (dedicated to Jean Lyons) and I Leap Through the Sky With Stars for solo piano, Dragon Bells for prepared piano and pre-recorded prepared piano, and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (which was commissioned by the CBC).
Her chamber music includes The Distant Shore for piano trio, Edges for string quartet, Music from Night's Edge for piano quintet, Riffs for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, and Gallery Fanfares, Arias and Interludes (commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1993). Orchestral scores include The Ringing Earth (composed for the opening of Expo 86 in Vancouver), The Eternal Earth (commissioned by the Toronto Symphony), Music for a Thousand Autumns (commissioned by the Ensemble SMCQ) and Music for Heaven and Earth (commissioned by the Esprit Orchestra). Her concerto "Winter Music", for viola and chamber orchestra, was nominated for a Juno award in 1988.
Louie and her husband Alex Pauk, conductor of the Esprit Orchestra, have collaborated on several film scores, including Don McKellar's Last Night, which received a Genie nomination for Best Original Score in 1998, and The Five Senses, a film by Jeremy Podeswa that was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival the following year. Along with playwright David Henry Hwang she composed a full-length opera, The Scarlet Princess. An erotic ghost story based on a 17th-century Japanese Kabuki play, it was premiered by the Canadian Opera Company in 2002. Her 8-minute comic mini-opera Toothpaste, based on a libretto by Dan Redican, has been broadcast in over a dozen countries.
Along with Redican she completed Burnt Toast, consisting of eight comic mini-operas for television, in 2005. Each mini-opera depicts a different stage of romantic love: Attraction, Connection, Commitment, Marriage, Consummation, Perseverance, Disintegration and Starting Over. Louie used a variety of different styles in this work and even borrows from other composers. Most notably, she utilizes the music for the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute and music from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
Louie's compositions have garnered numerous awards over the years. In 1986 the Canadian Music Council named her Composer of the Year. In 1988 she received the Juno Award, Best Classical Composition, for her orchestral composition, Songs of Paradise. Songs of Paradise were re-recorded by the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Geoffrey Moull in 2004 and released on the CD Variations on a Memory. It became the best-selling disc of the Canadian Music Centre in 2005. In 1990, 1992, and 2003, she received the SOCAN Concert Music Award for the most performed Classical composer of the year. In 1996 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary. In 1999 she became the first woman to win the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music for Nightfall, a work for 14 strings written for I Musici de Montreal.
Louie first attained national and international recognition in 1982 with her O Magnum Mysterium: In Memoriam Glenn Gould. Louie also composed the opening music for Expo 86 in Vancouver, The Ringing Earth.
Some of her other compositions include Three Fanfares from the Ringing Earth, which opened the new National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and Scenes from a Jade Terrace, which opened the new Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. Her Infinite Sky With Birds, a National Arts Centre commission, debuted on February 22, 2006.
In 1986, Louie was named Composer of the Year, and in both 1988 and 1998, she won Juno Awards. In 1990, 1992, and 2003, she won the SOCAN music award. In 1996, Louie received an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary. In 2001 she received the Order of Ontario, the province's highest honour.
- Parker, Jon Kimura. "East and West in the Music of Alexina Louie." SoundNotes. SN3:14-25.
- Steenhuisen, Paul. "Interview with Alexina Louie". In Sonic Mosaics: Conversations with Composers. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-88864-474-9.