Kronos and Tagaq resized C Lisa Sakulensky“It’s not so much a place I go to as a place I come to. It’s a freedom, a lack of control, an exploration, and I’m reacting to whatever happens upon the path.”

Tanya Tagaq (quoted in WN May 2016)

Five years ago at the 21C Music Festival, the Kronos Quartet introduced their Fifty for the Future project, performing four of these works including the world premiere of Snow Angel-Sivunittinni (meaning “the future children”) created by the exhilarating and ferocious Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Spread over five years, the project commissioned 50 new works by 25 women and 25 men for string quartet, all designed to introduce future string quartets to the diversity of contemporary musical ideas. In The WholeNote article I wrote for the May 2016 issue, David Harrington, first violinist of the quartet, described Tagaq’s voice as sounding “like she has a string quartet in her throat.”

Read more: Music for Change: Kronos and Tagaq return to 21C

Soundstreams’ presentation of Love Songs. Photo credit: Claire Harvie.Thanks to Soundstreams and their commitment to programming Canadian music, there will be a chance to hear two works by the celebrated composer Claude Vivier on November 19, 2021, during the broadcast of a livestream concert event.

Vivier’s musical influence in Toronto stretches back to the late 1970s when his works were regularly performed by Arraymusic, and has been ongoing ever since, even though his tragic death in 1983 put an end to the creation of new works by this celebrated composer. The upcoming concert was recorded in Koerner Hall and features two works by Vivier: Love Songs (1977) and Hymnen an die Nacht (1975), as well as the world premiere of Oceano Nox by Christopher Mayo, composed as a tribute to Vivier. 

Read more: “Pure sound and the light of eternity”: Claude Vivier reprised and recollected

Hildegard Westerkamp Banff 1992. Photo by Peter GrantAlthough there is a lot of focus these days on the pandemic, we are all at some level aware that lurking in the background is a much bigger issue for which there is no vaccine – the climate crisis with the threat of rising seas, worsening storms, runaway fires and more. These issues are increasingly becoming the focus for many artists of all disciplines, myself included. How do we continue working as creative people with all the impending disasters just around the corner? What relevance does the next orchestral composition or sound improvisation have in light of the issues we’re collectively facing? 

CLAUDE SCHRYER. Photo by SABRINA MATTHEWSI recently approached one of my composer colleagues, Claude Schryer, whom I originally met when we were both graduate students in composition at McGill University in the 1980s, for his thoughts on all this. Schryer has been involved for years in issues related to the relationship between sound, listening, musical composition and the environment, an area that has become known as “acoustic ecology”. This particular field of ecological awareness, encompassing both artistic practice and academic scholarship, was originally born on Canadian soil out of the work of composer R. Murray Schafer and his colleagues in the World Soundscape Project (WSP) during the 1970s. 

Later, in 1993, a conference was held at the Banff Centre for the Arts called The Tuning of the World, the title of Schafer’s influential book published originally in 1977. Schryer was instrumental in behind-the-scenes organization of the conference, but, as he points out to me, it was a group effort that brought about a watershed moment: the birth of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) and its Canadian spin-off called the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology or CASE.

Read more: Valorizing Nature: Sound Ecology and the Climate Emergency

Corie Rose Soumah. Photo by Nell PfeifferAs we continually lurch our way (back) towards some form of concert life in the midst of this seemingly neverending pandemic saga, how composers and musicians find solutions remains an ongoing story of adaptation, ingenuity and perseverance.

Take the 21C Music Festival for example, originally scheduled to happen from January 15 to 29. In my last column, written for the December-January issue, I spoke with composer Cecilia Livingstone about her Garden of Vanished Pleasures, slated to be programmed at the festival. As conditions grew more dire during December, with Toronto facing a lockdown, the festival was scaled down in response, with plans shifting to a series of livestream-only concerts in place of the previously planned livestream with a limited live audience. Then, on January 14, when a state of emergency was declared in Ontario, even livestream-only concerts from Koerner Hall were precluded – a blow for them and for other music organizations in the city planning to present their livestreamed events there as well. 

So now what? Another event planned for 21C I had been curious about was a concert titled FLIPBOOK: Music and Images, featuring the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble, which is now a free online concert scheduled for February 18. Curious to know how the plan for the event has had to change, I spoke with the ensemble’s conductor, composer Brian Current, and discovered a whole other layer of postponements and reinventions. 

Read more: What Happens When Your Art Skips a Beat?

CECILIA LIVINGSTON. Photo by Daniel Alexander DeninoI’m always curious to see what the Royal Conservatory of Music’s 21C Festival will be offering each season; this year being unlike every other performance season, I was even more curious as to what we could expect from this annual offering of new sounds and the latest in contemporary music creation. I was pleased to see that the festival will be moving ahead despite the complexities of producing concerts for limited and virtual audiences. Running from January 15 to 29, this year’s offerings will be a scaled-down version of previous years, but still filled with premieres and outstanding performers, both local and from further afield. 

We will hear concerts by two Toronto-based pianists: Eve Egoyan will perform pieces written for her imagined piano that combines original piano sounds with an extended software-based piano; and Royal Conservatory alumna Morgan-Paige Melbourne will perform two of her own compositions along with pieces by several other composers, including one by Brian Current, the director of The Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble. The GGS New Music Ensemble will also have a concert of their own with several works combined with projected images. The well-loved Kronos Quartet will make a return visit with three different events to choose from. Their multimedia performance piece, A Thousand Thoughts, blends live music by Kronos, narration, as well as archival footage and filmed interviews. Kronos’ Fifty for the Future initiative, designed to create a repertoire of contemporary works for young string quartets they introduced to 21C audiences in 2016, will be the focus of a concert featuring four quartets from the Glenn Gould School after a two-day mentorship with Kronos. 

Read more: Cecilia Livingston’s Vocal Pleasures
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