It wasn’t so long ago that the contemporary thing in music is the thing which didn’t make enough of a difference to accept or reject. New music was something weird and strange – a musical anomaly merely tolerated by most of the world’s leading soloists, orchestras and arts presenters. But I think people have realized now that all music is contemporary, if it’s alive. If it were not alive, then what would be the point?
And while some still recoil at the thought of attending a new music festival, most of us know better. After all, they aren’t the same trysts filled with angst-ridden hucksters appointed by a congregation who genuflect, stroking their cerebral beards like a handful of Rosary beads.
Instead we have festivals like The Royal Conservatory of Music’s 21C Music Festival that embrace all forms of music, from thorny pieces sounding like a high school marching band tumbling down a flight of stairs, to an array of popular music collaborations which dare I say, sound fairly pleasant.
This month, RCM’s five-day stirling 21C Music Festival turns two years-old, and after its successful inaugural run last year, things seem to be on sure footing.
The festival opens May 20 with Off the Score – a thumping collaboration between ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland, and Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker. They will join Met Opera violinist Yoon Kwon, bassist Marion Martinez and Electronic Valve Instrumentalist Judd Miller in a collaboration that concludes with the world premiere of Copeland’s Coincidence or Convergence?
On May 21, the on-trend Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho will present three Canadian premieres: Sept papillons for solo cello performed by Anssi Karttunen, Frises for solo violin and electronics performed by Jennifer Koh and Kaija Saariaho, and Ballade and Prelude performed by pianist Benjamin Hochman.
The date also includes the ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory) performing You are where you are by Omar Daniel, with text by Man Booker Prize-winning author Yann Martell. The night concludes with the North American premiere of Saariaho’s enchanting Light and Matter, for piano trio.
Bicycle Opera Project, (who seem to be just about everywhere these days) will do an outdoor performance of a mobile operetta by Toronto-based composer Chris Thornborrow, then later return to Mazzoleni Hall to ride in the premiere of Dreaming Duet from Dean Burry’s The Bells of Baddeck – as well as mini-operas by James Rolfe, Cecilia Livingston, Ivan Barbotin, and Tobin Stokes.
On May 22, RCM will unveil a new 70-minute multimedia work called Illusions, with Gryphon Trio, Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, and baritone Vincent Ranallo. The music is comprised by pieces written by Montreal bon vivants Nicole Lizée, Gabriel Dharmoo, and Simon Martin, and interspersed with Charles Ives’s Piano Trio. It includes visuals by Kara Blake and Corinne Merrell with projections by frequent Robert Lepage collaborator Jacques Collin.
That same day, Jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti will perform a new work, Street Scene at the Centre of the Multiverse, alongside the Gryphon Trio, and clarinettist Don Byron.
Saariaho returns May 23 for Grammaire des rêves with Carla Huhtanen and Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman. Also on the bill are two world premieres by the Ottawa-based cellist and composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne.
Also on May 23 is Spin Cycle: featuring the Afiara Quartet and DJ, Skratch Bastid who will be merging forces to perform 12 remix-inspired premieres by composers including Dinuk Wijeratne, Laura Silberberg, Rob Teehan, and Kevin Lau.
The festival closes May 24 with the Soundstreams-produced Encuentros. This will be a tango and jazz fuelled affair, led by guitar virtuosos Grisha Goryachev and Fabio Zanon, Argentine bandoneon player Héctor del Curto, Colombian singer María Mulata, and pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian. The afternoon will culminate with world premieres by composers Andrew Staniland and Mark Duggan.
These are just a few highlights to consider, but readers should visit http://performance.rcmusic.ca/21c for the complete line-up, and information on advance tickets and combined concert packages.