Pop­ping the top off the New Mu­sic Fes­ti­val

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Bart­ley Kives

THE Win­nipeg Sym­phony Orches­tra’s on­a­gain, off-again ef­fort to build bridges be­tween ex­per­i­men­tal pop mu­sic and se­ri­ous com­po­si­tion is back on at the 2013 New Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

Since the 1992 launch of this an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion of works by liv­ing or 20th-cen­tury com­posers, a strong pop­ulist streak has run through the week-long event. Rush seat­ing for some con­certs, bleach­ers on the stage and com­posers who di­rectly en­gage the au­di­ence may not sound like rad­i­cal in­no­va­tions, but they helped cre­ate a more in­for­mal and ac­ces­si­ble at­mos­phere at the New Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

The fes­ti­val has also made some at­tempts at ap­prox­i­mat­ing ac­tual pop mu­sic. In 1998, Joe Jack­son per­formed Heaven & Hell, his con­cept al­bum about the seven deadly sins, while in 2012, the fes­ti­val pre­sented Credo, by Kjar­tan Sveins­son of Ice­landic sound-art out­fit Sigur Rós.

But there has never been a con­sis­tent com­mit­ment to­ward bridg­ing the worlds of pop com­po­si­tion and so-called se­ri­ous mu­sic. So af­ter the WSO per­formed a Canada Day gig with Win­nipeg rock band the Lip­to­ni­ans, mu­si­cian Matt Schel­len­berg ap­proached the arts in­sti­tu­tion with a plan to broaden its scope with­out wa­ter­ing down its mis­sion.

The re­sult is Pop Nuit, a two-con­cert se­ries fea­tur­ing mu­si­cians who hail from a non-clas­si­cal back­ground. On Wed­nes­day, Ar­cade Fire vi­o­lin­ist Sarah Neufeld will pre­view works from a forth­com­ing solo al­bum, while Schel­len­berg’s cur­rent band, Royal Ca­noe, will per­form por­tions of Beck’s Song Reader on Feb. 2.

“There’s so much amaz­ing pop mu­sic that’s push­ing at the bound­aries of con­ven­tional com­po­si­tion that maybe they don’t even know about,” says Schel­len­berg, ex­plain­ing his mo­ti­va­tion for pitch­ing the WSO.

He orig­i­nally pro­posed an am­bi­tious plan that in­volved more than two con­certs. But once the bud­get was hashed out, he landed Neufeld for the first show and chose his own band for the clos­ing night.

“As a cu­ra­tor, it’s prob­a­bly a di­rect con­flict of in­ter­est,” he jokes, as­sur­ing Royal Ca­noe fits the def­i­ni­tion of an ex­per­i­men­tal pop band.

“When you do add pop to a fes­ti­val, you have to do it with a lot of care. You have the Ot­tawa blues fes­ti­val with very lit­tle blues, or jazz fes­ti­vals WSO’s New Mu­sic Fes­ti­val Wed­nes­day, 9 p.m., West End Cul­tural Cen­tre Tick­ets $28.50 at Tick­etmaster (in­cludes NMF Pop Nuit fi­nale on Feb. 2 at Pan­tages Play­house lobby) with very lit­tle with what used to be con­sid­ered jazz. That’s why we were very care­ful about do­ing this.”

There’s no ques­tion about the com­po­si­tional ba­sis for Neufeld’s solo vi­o­lin work, which will be re­leased later this year in the form of an as-yetun­ti­tled al­bum. The Ar­cade Fire mem­ber, who also plays and records with Mon­treal’s Belle Orchestre and the Luyas, says she’s pleased with the way rock au­di­ences ac­cepted the spare ma­te­rial dur­ing live per­for­mances in Berlin, where she recorded her solo al­bum.

“My melodic sen­si­bil­i­ties are rooted in pop mu­sic. But the for­mat they’re coming to life (in) is more (rooted in the) neo­clas­si­cal world,” she says, speak­ing from Mon­treal.

As re­cently as a decade ago, solo vi­o­lin mu­sic in Canada meant ei­ther Celtic fid­dle tunes or clas­si­cal mu­sic. Mu­si­cians like Owen Pal­lett of Fi­nal Fan­tasy and Ar­cade Fire came along and ended the ghet­toiza­tion of the vi­o­lin.

“I get a lot of really sweet com­ments from young string play­ers who say it’s really in­spir­ing to see the vi­o­lin come to life in a dif­fer­ent way, in a rock con­text,” she says.

Neufeld is also work­ing on Ar­cade Fire’s fourth stu­dio al­bum, which should be com­pleted in 2013. She di­vides her time be­tween Mon­treal and New York City, where she co-owns a Mok­sha Yoga stu­dio. Her Pop Nuit per­for­mance is slated for the West End Cul­tural Cen­tre on Wed­nes­day, with Win­nipeg’s Jesse Krause open­ing.

Royal Ca­noe’s Feb. 2 show will close out the New Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, with Mon­treal’s Tas­man Richard­son, who uses com­put­ers to trig­ger film-au­dio clips. Royal Ca­noe will per­form 10 to 12 songs from Song Reader, the Beck al­bum re­leased only in the form of sheet mu­sic.


Vi­o­lin­ist Sarah Neufeld plays with Ar­cade Fire, the Luyas and Belle Orchestre.

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