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RCM launches promising new 21C Music Festival

By Michael Vincent on March 28, 2014

Michael Koerner at the 21C Music Festival Launch Party. Toronto, March 27, 2014,
Michael Koerner at the 21C Music Festival Launch Party. Toronto, March 27, 2014,

Mark your calendars! The Royal Conservatory of Music has just announced details for a very exciting and ambitious week-long new music festival that launches May 21, 2014.

Mervon Mehta, Executive Director of Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatory, explained that they have always strived to maintain a close relationship with contemporary music, and this festival shows that continued pledge to developing the next great masterworks. “We want to show Toronto that contemporary music doesn’t always need to be an intimidating ‘academic’ experience, but can also be amazingly fun and dare I say, cool.”

There are some very big names on the bill, such as Chilly Gonzales, Louis Andriessen, Jennifer Higdon, Eve Egoyan, Mark-Anthony Turnage, and Uri Caine. Other works include John Cage, Michael Colgrass, Morton Feldman, Marc-André Hamelin, and R. Murray Schafer – current Composer-in-Residence at The Glenn Gould School since 2010.

R. Murray Schafer
R. Murray Schafer

In an interview last summer, Schafer affirmed his appreciation for the RCM by stating, “the RCM have always been incredibly supportive of my music, and Toronto is very lucky to have them.”

The festival organizers were careful to distinguish themselves from other new music festivals in the city. Mehta added, “We don’t want to step on the toes of the TSO’s New Creations Festival. Their focus is on orchestra music, and so we thought a focus on new chamber music could be our ideal niche.”

Thus far they have secured funding for the new annual festival for three years, and depending on its success, they will consider whether it is something they can continue. Mehta adds, “new music can sometimes be a difficult proposition for a concert festival because tickets are usually much lower, and after taking into account all the visiting artist and commissioning fees, they are very expensive to put on.”

During the opening reception on Thursday night, guests were treated to some musical excerpts by Toronto-based tabla and electronic performer Gurpreet Chana and a sneak-peek of the first movement of Christos Hatzis’ new String Quartet No. 3 (The Questioning) performed by the Conservatory’s quartet-in-residence, Afiara String Quartet.

from L-R it’s Adrian Fung (cello), Christos Hatzis, Valerie Li (violin), and Timothy Kantor (violin)
from L-R it’s Adrian Fung (cello), Christos Hatzis, Valerie Li (violin), and Timothy Kantor (violin)

After hearing the first movement for the first time, Christos Hatzis stated that it was “like watching a baby come to life. No matter how many older children you have, this sensation never ceases to be a mystery that connects us to the very core of our existence.”

Before last nights event, Hatzis had only heard the MIDI rendering of the piece from the software that he used to compose it. He added, “The Afiara is an amazing young string quartet who took an interest in my music, and I in theirs, long before they were well-known as they are now. I wrote a piece that could be not only a vehicle for their great virtuosity, but also a gift, a capsule of distilled musical experience from an older musician to four younger ones, knowing that it would thrive in their young hands and hearts and it would travel with them quite a distance. Yesterday it was a small glimpse of what that journey will feel and sound like.”

The RCM will also present a good selection of performances of Canadian works by Zosha Di Castri, Christopher Mayo, Gurpreet Chana, Christos Hatzis (mentioned above), Trichy Sankaran, Alexina Louie, Brian Current, Eve Egoyan and David Rokeby, Andrew Staniland, and R. Murray Schafer.

One particular standout in the festival will be Grammy Award winning pianist, producer and popular music artist Chilly Gonzales, who will début his RCM-commissioned Suite from “The Shadow.” As a collaborator with Feist, Drake, and Daft Punk, Gonzales is not an obvious choice for a festival like this. But the self-professed provocateur and RCM alum is no stranger to contemporary work. He has a number of classically inspired solo piano albums to his credit, and frequently shares his love of classical music with his over 36,000 twitter followers.

Chilly Gonzales, photo by Alexandre Isard
Chilly Gonzales, photo by Alexandre Isard

Gonzales describes: “For years I’ve entertained the idea of writing some dramatic music around this fairy tale for adults by Hans Christian Andersen. Somehow, I haven’t managed to compose the full Wagnerian blockbuster this deserves to be. But in the meantime, here is a suite for chamber ensemble depicting a man at odds with his own shadow. It contains my first self-conscious waltz, a few glaring ‘leitmotifs’ and some sentimentality that I just couldn’t resist adding.”

The festival will close on May 25th with the Esprit Orchestra, under the baton of Alex Pauk, presenting two world premieres (Zosha Di Castri and Christopher Mayo) and the North American premiere of Louis Andriessen’s Thomas a Kempis inspired Mysteriën (see video below).

This looks to be a very exciting addition to Toronto’s new music community, and I hope everyone can come out to support this ambitious new festival.

More details here.







Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent
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