ISCM World New Mu­sic Days hosts con­certs, sound­walks, and more as the globe’s com­posers con­verge on Van­cou­ver

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

It’s all new, and al­most a hun­dred years old. When the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Con­tem­po­rary Mu­sic con­venes World New Mu­sic Days 2017 in Van­cou­ver, it will present 35 con­certs, sound­walks, and sem­i­nars, along with sev­eral hun­dred com­po­si­tions, al­most all of them pre­vi­ously un­heard in these parts. But the so­ci­ety it­self dates back to a time when gi­ants walked the earth— gi­ants with names like Arnold Schoen­berg, An­ton We­bern, Al­ban Berg, and Leoš Janáček, who con­vened the ISCM in Salzburg, Aus­tria, circa 1922.

Some­what sur­pris­ingly, given who was in­volved, it wasn’t all about the mu­sic.

“These leg­endary fig­ures in Euro­pean art mu­sic, back in the 1920s, saw this as an op­por­tu­nity to work to­wards peace,” ex­plains Mu­sic on Main artis­tic direc­tor David Pay—who, along with the Cana­dian League of Com­posers’ Jim His­cott and Elek­tra Women’s Choir artis­tic direc­tor Morna Ed­mund­son, is re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing the world’s largest new-mu­sic fes­ti­val to Van­cou­ver. “So of course it was aes­thetic; it was mu­sic; it was about shar­ing what’s go­ing on be­tween coun­tries. But in ev­ery coun­try, what­ever our over­rid­ing de­sires are around sports or cul­ture or mu­sic or food, we think that’s the best. We like that other peo­ple do what they do, but we think ours is the best. And one of the ideas of ISCM is that we can ac­tu­ally all hear what each other is do­ing. And this is one of the found­ing prin­ci­ples—that some­how, through lis­ten­ing to each other, we’re all go­ing to get along bet­ter.”

It’s not that there haven’t been bat­tles be­tween se­ri­al­ists and min­i­mal­ists, atonal­ists and neo­clas- sicists, or spec­tral­ists and cham­pi­ons of aleatory mu­sic: lively de­bate has been one of the ISCM’S hall­marks since the be­gin­ning. But there’s a grow­ing con­sen­sus in con­tem­po­rary com­po­si­tion that all forms have value, from mu­sic for pre­pared pi­ano, found ob­jects, and sew­ing ma­chines to more con­ven­tional sym­phonic and cham­ber styles.

Pay ar­gues that this makes Canada— and Van­cou­ver, in par­tic­u­lar—the per­fect place for the world’s com­posers to hold court. “In Canada, we try to be trans­par­ent about aes­thetic di­ver­sity and ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity,” he con­tends. “Do I think there is a dis­tinctly Cana­dian sound? No. I think there are di­verse sounds. But I think per­haps there is a dis­tinctly Cana­dian method or feel­ing around how we can cre­ate mu­sic. “Im­pro­vis­ers in Van­cou­ver will go to scored con­certs; peo­ple who play and write more mod­ernist mu­sic will be show­ing up for some­thing that is more melodic… Th is em­brac­ing of peo­ple who are mak­ing the mu­sic, I think, is what defi nes us— this em­brac­ing and sup­port of ev­ery­body want­ing to fi nd their own voice.”

MU­SIC ON MAIN’S pro­gram­ming, un­der Pay’s di­rec­tion, has been em­blem­atic of this ap­proach. It’s not un­com­mon to find, on a sin­gle pro­gram, a work by Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach snug­gling up to some-

thing newly com­posed for the oc­ca­sion, or an elec­tric gui­tar shar­ing a stage with a harp­si­chord. And while one of the func­tions of World New Mu­sic Days is to show­case works from the ISCM’S 50-plus mem­ber na­tions, Pay and his as­so­ci­ates have taken pains to cel­e­brate sev­eral dif­fer­ent streams of par­tic­u­larly Cana­dian cre­ativ­ity. Fea­tured will be three sym­phony or­ches­tras, from Van­cou­ver, Vic­to­ria, and Ot­tawa’s Na­tional Arts Cen­tre. (See page 14 for a fea­ture on the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre Orches­tra’s Life Re­flected con­cert pro­gram.) The province of Que­bec’s im­pres­sive and com­par­a­tively well-funded arts scene will be rep­re­sented by, among oth­ers, Mon­treal’s im­mac­u­late En­sem­ble Con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal and Qu­atuor Bozzini, a string quar­tet with a par­tic­u­larly am­bi­tious com­mis­sion­ing pro­gram that has re­sulted in work for com­posers from coast to coast. Closer to home, there will be con­certs by Van­cou­ver cham­ber en­sem­bles Stand­ing Wave, Turn­ing Point, and Drift wood Per­cus­sion; by the NOW Orches­tra

En­sem­ble, the flag­ship group of an im­pro­vis­ing mu­si­cians’ col­lec­tive that cel­e­brates its 40th an­niver­sary this year; and by Red Cham­ber, a se­ri­ously un­der­rec­og­nized quar­tet spe­cial­iz­ing in new mu­sic for Chi­nese in­stru­ments.

GET­TING THE WORD OUT about Van­cou­ver’s flour­ish­ing con­tem­po­rary-mu­sic scene is one of Pay’s aims. So is learn­ing about all the other amaz­ing mu­sic out there; he cites ris­ing star Ste­fan Prins, a Bel­gian com­poser, as an artist he was in­tro­duced to by sit­ting on an ISCM jury. And he looks for­ward to learn­ing what the next few days will give him in terms of re­newed en­ergy and ex­panded pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“There will be a num­ber of lega­cies,” Pay says. “At Mu­sic on Main, we’ve worked for the last four years to leave us in a trans­formed po­si­tion, where

we can have more in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships and do more in­ter­na­tional co­p­re­sen­ta­tions—and where we can have enough staff to do the 30-odd con­certs we do each year.

“The more im­por­tant le­gacy for the Cana­dian League of Com­posers and the mu­si­cians is es­tab­lish­ing these in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships for peo­ple who are from Van­cou­ver who don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the chance to show­case around the world…and then also an­other le­gacy is that there are more col­lab­o­ra­tions. This fes­ti­val could never hap­pen with­out our con­cert part­ners: the Van­cou­ver Sym­phony, the Pow­ell Street Fes­ti­val, the NOW So­ci­ety… All these peo­ple are part­ner­ing with us, and that level of col­lab­o­ra­tion, with that many dif­fer­ent Van­cou­ver mu­si­cians and en­sem­bles in one fes­ti­val, I don’t think has ever hap­pened be­fore.”

ISCM World New Mu­sic Days 2017 is at var­i­ous venues from Thurs­day to Wed­nes­day (Novem­ber 2 to 8).

Mu­sic on Main’s David Pay is one of the key peo­ple bring­ing the world’s largest new-mu­sic fes­ti­val to Van­cou­ver. Be­low left, lo­cal stand­outs Red Cham­ber.

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