PREVIEW | The 10th Annual 21C Festival Celebrates Newly Minted Music With Two Months Of Performances

By Anya Wassenberg on November 15, 2022

L-R (clockwise): Cellist Alisa Weilerstein (Photo courtesy of the RCM); Métis/French-Canadian composer Ian Cusson (Photo: John Arano); the Kronos Quartet with Tanya Tagaq (Photo courtesy of the RCM)
L-R (clockwise): Cellist Alisa Weilerstein (Photo courtesy of the RCM); Métis/French-Canadian composer Ian Cusson (Photo: John Arano); the Kronos Quartet with Tanya Tagaq (Photo courtesy of the RCM)

The 10th iteration of the 21C Music Festival is set to launch on December 6, with 10 concerts, a film with live performance, and 18 premieres. The work of seven Canadian composers will be highlighted, along with an international roster of new music luminaries, including a residency by Kronos Quartet, and a special appearance by Tanya Tagaq.

The festival concludes on January 29, 2023. Among the new works will be six world premieres, nine Canadian premieres, and one Toronto premiere.

Mervon Mehta, Executive Director of Performing Arts at The Royal Conservatory, commented in a media release. “It is overwhelming to imagine that this is our 10th 21C Music Festival. Of course, two of those festivals were affected by the pandemic, so it almost feels as if we are starting anew. Michael and Sonja Koerner have been the inspiration, the constant cheerleaders, and the financial angels of the festival since its inception. With their steadfast support, over 40 works have been commissioned by The Royal Conservatory for Toronto audiences and over 90 works have had their world premieres. The works have run the gamut from contemporary classical to jazz to hip hop with one common goal, to present newly minted, fully composed music of the 21st century by its most vibrant artists regardless of genre. We invite audiences once again to come in from the cold of winter into our warm performance spaces to stretch their musical ears.”

The Festival

Here’s a look at the line-up for the festival.

A Thousand Thoughts, a live documentary with the Kronos Quartet (December 6)

Written and directed by Sam Green and Joe Bini, the film screening includes a live performance by Kronos, with narration and archival and filmed interviews with figures like Philip Glass and Tanya Tagaq, Wu Man, Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

Fifty Forward (December 8)

Kronos’s Fifty for the Future initiative is a free library of 50 contemporary works designed to guide string quartets in developing 21st century repertoire. For this concert, Kronos performs with students from The Royal Conservatory. After a two-day mentorship with Kronos, the RCM’s Dior Quartet, Taylor Academy Quartet, and Glenn Gould School Quartet will perform works by Soo Yeon Lyuh, Yotam Haber, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Peni Candra Rini, Missy Mazzoli, inti figgis-vizueta, Jlin, and Paul Wiancko. For the finale, Kronos will join all three quartets to perform Philip Glass’s Quartet Satz.

Music for Change (December 9)

Kronos Quartet and special guest Tanya Tagaq perform her Colonizer (Remix) along with a new work composed and performed by special guest Aruna Narayan (sarangi), and other pieces spotlighting civil rights and social change, such as Zachary J. Watkins’s Peace Be Till, and Abe Meeropol’s Strange Fruit, inspired by Billie Holiday.

“Everything we do as citizens, as human beings, is a statement about how we want the world to be,” says David Harrington, Kronos’ artistic director, founder, and violinist. “Increasingly, I feel my role as musician is to point in constructive musical and cultural directions as we attempt to help repair the torn fabric of our society.”

Jean-Michel Blais (January 20)

Montreal pianist and two-time Polaris Prize nominee Jean-Michel Blais presents music from aubades, an album that spotlights his transition from performer to composer. The album’s title refers to the aubade, a Medieval song form intended as a lover’s serenade at dawn. Blais used over 500 recorded piano improvisations to develop into 11 compositions that will be performed by a 12-person ensemble.

Cinq à Sept (January 21)

The annual 21C Cinq à Sept concert features the premiere of After the Fires, a song cycle by composer Lembit Beecher and Liza Balkan (librettist for Gould’s Wall) with soprano Xin Wang, mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig, and baritone Korin Thomas-Smith. Métis composer Eliot Britton’s Septentrion for flute and electronics will be performed by flutist Susan Hoeppner, who also plays Christos Hatzis’s Arctic Dreams for flute, vibraphone, and electronics, and the world premiere of Alice Ho’s Ice Woman with percussionist Beverley Johnston.

Fred Hersch & Andrew McAnsh (January 21)

The renowned jazz pianist, educator, and HIV/AIDS and his trio are joined by Dior Quartet, the RCM’s Quartet-in-Residence, in a performance of work from his new album, Breath by Breath. Cambridge, Ontario native and recent graduate of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, trumpeter Andrew McAnsh, will perform the world premiere of his Music of The Great Lakes (The Great Lakes Suite: A Songbook for the Canadian Indigenous).

New Canadian Works (January 22)

New works by Canadian composers are in the spotlight, including Métis/French-Canadian composer Ian Cusson’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, Sonata for Oboe and Piano – The Haywain, and The Cure of Madness, played by Duo Concertante, Charles Hamann and Frédéric Lacroix, and Trio Arkel, respectively. Second on the bill is an RCM commission by Stewart Goodyear for piano and jazz musicians Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Joy Lapps-Lewis (steel pan), Roberto Occhipinti (bass), and Larnell Lewis (drums).

Esprit Orchestra (January 25)

Music Director Alex Pauk will conduct the Esprit Orchestra in a premier of James O’Callaghan’s Overbound, written for virtuoso cello soloist Cameron Crozman, orchestra, and surround sound electronics. Japanese taiko drumming group Nagata Shachu will also perform Japanese composer Maki Ishii’s Mono-Prism, blending Asian and Western musical traditions.

Fragments: Chapters One & Two (January 28)

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein creates an intimate performance space for expansive ideas in Fragments, a piece for solo cello. It weaves all 36 movements of Bach’s solo cello suites into 27 brand new works commissioned for the purpose. The end result will be six hour-long Chapters that incorporate responsive lighting and scene design. The Chapters will be released over several seasons; this concert will introduce the first.

21C Afterhours: Hymns to Night (January 28)

Brian Current conducts the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble for an immersive late night celebration that includes Bekah Simms’s Foreverdark and R. Murray Schafer’s iconic Hymn to Night in a candlelit atmosphere.

Unruly Sun (January 29)

Composed by Matthew Ricketts, with libretto by Mark Campbell, and starring tenor Karim Sulayman. Unruly Sun is inspired by Modern Nature, the memoir by filmmaker and queer activist Derek Jarman. Lebanese-American tenor Karim Sulayman is a native of Chicago with an international presence, and the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. Canadian composer Ricketts is a 2020 Gaudeamus Finalist and a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow, created the music as a co-commission with the 21C Music Festival, L’Orchestre classique de Montréal, and Brott Opera (Hamilton).

Tickets for the 21C festival are now on sale here.

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