It has now been one year since I wrote my first In With The New column for WholeNote, and in looking back over the past 12 months, I’ve made a short list of what I’ve observed as the leading edge of the new in our local music scene: the continual blurring of lines between musical genres (or the rise of “genreless music”); improvisation anchoring itself as a respected artistic voice and creative process; the role of community building and the creation of composer collectives; the movement out of the concert hall into new listening spaces and environments.

During this reflection process, a memory image came to mind from one of the first new music concerts I ever attended. It was back in the early 70s in Walter Hall at U of T’s Faculty of Music. The concert stage was full of percussion instruments, the lights were dim and candles lined the stage front. A bearded man dressed in white (John Wyre) along with some of his students moved as if in a dance amongst the assembled gongs, bowls, drums and no doubt all sorts of instruments from around the world. The mesmerizing cornucopia of sounds they invoked opened up a new world of possibilities in my imagination. I heard sounds that previously had existed only at the edges of my awareness. I was hooked. Determined to experience more, I immediately signed myself up to attend New Music Concerts, thereby exposing myself to the wild and adventurous sound experiments taking place both here in Canada and internationally.

bbb - in with the new 1New Music Concerts: And now 40 years later, New Music Concerts continues to bring these cutting-edge sonic visions honed by composers and performers to its audience members. The program they are presenting on March 2 represents the creative interests of many composers active in the 1970s. It will feature the multi-talented percussionist, improviser and composer Jean-Pierre Drouet playing works by some of these international composers that NMC introduced to Toronto audiences in its early days: the likes of Kagel, Rzewski, Aperghis and Globokar.

Threads common among these composers include the intersection between music and theatre, the use of improvisation and extended techniques, and (the thread I’ll focus on in this month’s column) the practice of creating music that reflects upon socio-political issues.

On the program, two solos from Kagel’s Exotica will be performed. It’s one of his first pieces to focus on musical and political history, and tiptoes that elusive edge that exists between the West and the world beyond. Scored for an array of non-European instruments, Exotica reflects on the issue of what makes the music exotic. Is it because the sounds have been shaped by the pen of a Western composer, or rather is it because with the sounds of these instruments, it’s not possible to produce music with typical Western features? It’s a provocative topic to reflect upon all these years later, especially given the high interest amongst composers steeped in western musical traditions in using  an ever-expanding range of instruments and sound sources. Even my own initiatory experience of new music is implicated in this matter.

Continuing, Globokar’s work Toucher, based on scenes from Bertolt Brecht’s play Life of Galileo raises issues of being silenced by structures of power (the church, government, and tyrannical ideologies). Rzewski, renowned for works that exhibit a deep political conscience, is represented with To The Earth, which stands in solidarity with the growing consciousness of the environmental movement. Drawn to the combination of music and text, Aperghis’ Le corps à corps narrates the thrills of a car racing event from multiple perspectives using both sound and spoken word. It portrays the composer’s practice of transporting everyday events to a poetic, often absurd and satirical world. Rounding out the program is Il libro celibe by Giorgio Battistelli, a composer fascinated by alchemy, psychology and the ideas of Marcel Duchamp.

bbb - in with the new 2New Creations Festival: What is compelling about the approach of the composers presented by New Music Concerts is their dialogue with cultural and historical references. It’s fascinating to note that this practice is also evident in many of the works being programmed at this year’s New Creations Festival, the Toronto Symphony’s annual celebration of contemporary orchestral works running March 1 to 7.  Each of the three pieces by featured composer John Adams engages in a conversation with either political/social history or the history of music. Renowned for his post-minimalist style, Adams’ music is full of contrasts and tends to be more directional and climactic than what we usually associate with minimalist music.  His Doctor Atomic Symphony (March 1) is based on orchestral music from his opera Doctor Atomic. With a libretto created by Peter Sellars from a variety of sources (interviews, scientific manuals and poetry), the story centres around the final hours leading up to the first atomic bomb explosion at the Alamagordo test site in New Mexico in June, 1945. The music conveys the epic struggle and moral dilemma surrounding the impact of the force about to be unleashed into the world, which in hindsight, ushered in the atomic age.

Adams’ two other works—Slonimsky’s Earbox (March 5) and Absolute Jest (March 7)—are dialogues with some of the great names of musical history. Nicolas Slonimsky was a witty Russian author whose output included several books on music, including the Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Adams makes use of this compendium of modes in his Earbox piece, which arose out of his admiration for another Russian creator—Igor Stravinsky—and the use of modal scales in Stravinsky’s The Song of the Nightingale. And finally, Absolute Jest is an adaptation of the light and energetic style found in Beethoven’s late quartet scherzos composed as a concerto for string quartet and orchestra. Expect to hear a warped sense of time and harmony in this fast-paced dance.

Three other works in the festival also engage in a conversation with musical history. Canadian Vincent Ho’s City Suite (March 7) is inspired by author Eric Siblin’s book The Cello Suites which outlines the history of J.S. Bach’s works for solo cello. In Finnish composer and pianist Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No.2 (March 1), originally written for the virtuosic capabilities of festival guest performer Yefim Bronfman, we witness his tussle with the complexity of pianistic history. Former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen took on a similar challenge during the composing of his Violin Concerto (March  5). His solution was to create a deeply personal narrative summing up everything he had learned and experienced in his life as a musician.

More-than-Human Communication: And when it comes to the exchange of ideas, what could be more cutting edge (or to be more historically accurate, steeped in ancient traditions), than inter-species communication? Back in the spring of 2013, the Music Gallery offered audiences an opportunity to listen to two recordings of humpback whale song in combination with electronics that had been released on their Music Gallery Editions label back in the 1970s. As a continuation of that initiative, the Gallery will be presenting an event on February 22 that combines both lecture and music. Bioacoustics researcher Katherine Payne will team up with recording artist Daniela Gesundheit and a group of Toronto-based singers and instrumentalists to create a unique sonic exchange with Payne’s recordings of humpback whales and African elephants.

Improvisation: As mentioned in the opening paragraph, one of the major trends I’ve noticed over the past year is the presence of improvisation as a force to contend with. Improvisation relies on cultivating a listening presence, which is at the heart of all true communication and dialogue. From February 21 to 23 at the Tranzac, the Somewhere There Creative Music Festival offers a full schedule of concerts and lectures by performers and thinkers that reflect the vitality and diversity of what’s happening on the improv scene in the Toronto area. The two festival lectures reflect on the history of experimental music in Canada and the roots of Toronto musical improvisation. Two other improvisation-focused events this month include “The Array Sessions,” a concert of Toronto-based improvisers on February 6 at the Arraymusic studio and the Music Gallery’s Jazz Avant event February 8 featuring the saxophone and electronic improvisations of L.A. based musician Anenon.

Additional Concerts:

Feb. 6: A Soldier’s Tale - a dance theatre work with music by John Gzowski, COC.

Feb. 8: New works created for the Toy Piano Composers ensemble by Doelle, Dupuis, Murphy-King, Versluis, Taylor, Heliconian Hall.

Feb. 13: ∆TENT New Music Ensemble presents works inspired by remembrances of childhood by composers Tsurumoto and Southam, CMC.

Feb. 18: “Women in the Power House” – works by leading female composers, COC.

Feb. 19: Reverb Brass presents works by Ruo, Ridenour, Golijov, Carter, Maimets, Hillborg, Agnas, Lutoslawski, Gallery 345.

Feb. 21: Thin Edge New Music Collective presents new works by Anna Pidgorna (for two violins and antique wooden door) and Anna Höstman, along with performances of compositions by Ana Sokolović and Brian Harman, Gallery 345.

Mar. 2: Orpheus Choir presents the premiere of a new composition by Charles Cozens entitled Tres Bailes Latinos, influenced by the composer’s relationship with Cuban musicians, Grace Church-on-the-Hill.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

1904 in with the newAs the waves of the new and the experimental in sound continue to unfold in the life of Toronto’s music scene, it’s worth taking a look back at the institutions that brought us to this point. Certainly one of the most influential in the creation of this legacy has been the Music Gallery, which first opened its doors on St. Patrick Street in 1976. I know I’m not alone in having fond memories of all that went on within those walls. It was an experimental hub, an incubator and laboratory for the most cutting-edge musical developments. It also had an educational focus, serving the community by providing an accessible recording studio, launching Musicworks magazine, and starting its own recording label: Music Gallery Editions. And all that history over the years has been recorded. Just thinking of all the gems housed in their archives would be enough to make any aficionado salivate.

Monica Pearce: The latest news at the gallery is that they have just hired a new executive director — Monica Pearce. Monica comes with a background as a composer in the contemporary classical tradition, a concert presenter (Toy Piano Composers Collective) and an administrator (The Canadian League of Composers). She joins the Gallery’s current artistic director David Dacks; their combined distinctive musical backgrounds promise to provide inspiring leadership for the next generation of innovation. When I spoke to Monica about the Music Gallery’s current vision, she affirmed their ongoing commitment to building community and collaboration among artists of diverse genres and artforms. She sees the Music Gallery playing an important role in fostering this dialogue and sees that the time is ripe for camaraderie and mutual support amongst the eclectic range of new music presenters and artists in the city. She pointed to the creation of the New Music Passport as one sign of this collaboration. For a small fee, passport-holders are offered one discounted ticket to one concert by each of the 11 participating organizations. (This would make a great holiday gift by the way. See for details.) The New Music 101 series of talks at the Toronto Reference Library is another example of this growing solidarity.

The gallery also involves the artistic community by engaging different curators for the various concert series. This is evident in their current Emergent series, which is curated by all the featured artists of last season’s Emergent concerts. The December 12 Emergent concert “Strange Strings” explores diverse string theories for new music mixed with DIY electronics and progressive rock while the January 17 event brings together Toronto-based sound artist Christopher Willes and the Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal.

And just as Monica begins her new position, the current curator of the Post-Classical series, pianist Gregory Oh, presents his last concert on December 20, a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Little Match Girl Passion by American composer David Lang. Performed by a vocal quartet accompanying themselves on percussion, the piece is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic Christmas story that illuminates the dichotomy between a young girl’s suffering and hope. It draws much of its musical inspiration from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The Washington Post’s Tim Page said of the piece that it is “unlike any music I know.”

As I mentioned above, part of the Music Gallery’s vision is to collaborate with other new music presenters. On December 8 they will co-present a concert with Contact Contemporary Music titled “The Most Relaxing of All Instruments” in which listeners will experience an otherworldly program of solo and chamber works featuring guitarist Rob MacDonald and guests Stephen Tam (flute) and David Schotzko (percussion). And of course, the Music Gallery is often the preferred concert venue for many of the city’s new music groups. On January 19, New Music Concerts will present “From Atlantic Shores” featuring the New Brunswick-based Motion Ensemble performing an eclectic mix of works by Maritime composers. The program includes a newly commissioned piece by Lucas Oickle, a recent graduate of Acadia University, along with two works connected to the historical Acadian area of Grand-Pre.

James Tenney: Another aspect of the Music Gallery’s legacy from its early days in the 70s was the close relationship that was fostered with the music department at York University. Visiting artists at the gallery would often visit York and student ensembles would often perform at the gallery. James Tenney was one such York professor, composer and music theorist who fostered this relationship. On December 6, Arraymusic will celebrate Tenney’s music with a concert of several of his works, including two pieces he write for the ensemble. In the words of former Arraymusic artistic director Robert Stevenson “Tenney shook up this city’s music community, making us more aware of such experimental American composers as Conlon Nancarrow and Alvin Lucier. Through his devoted commitment to the music of our time, Jim provided us with the courage and determination to give our lives over to the music we believe in.” This concert will be a chance to listen to Jim’s brilliant visionary music, including works for different tuning systems and intriguing composition processes.

1904 in with the new 2Gabriel Prokofiev: Over at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, this year’s edition of their New Music Festival gets underway on January 25 with a concert of symphonic works by two generations of Prokofievs: the famous one — Sergei — and his grandson Gabriel, who is this year’s invited visitor in composition. Gabriel Prokofiev’s distinctive sound is informed by his background as a producer of hip-hop, grime, and electro records as well as his training as a composer in the classical and electroacoustic traditions. His critically acclaimed Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, to be performed in the opening concert, is one example of how he mixes these two worlds.

The fact of his being the featured composer of the festival means that there will be multiple opportunities to hear the full range of the dynamic composer’s music. Two concerts of his chamber works will be performed on January 29 and 30, along with a concert of his choral music on February 2. Included in the programming will be a recently released work Cello Multitracks, originally conceived as a multitrack work to be recorded by one performer, but also playable live for cello nonet. This is yet another example of how he combines influences from both dance music and more traditional classical forms.

On January 31 during a noon-hour concert of electroacoustic music, listeners will be treated to more of his works in this genre alongside recent pieces by graduate students. Later that evening, the Karen Kieser Prize Concert will present the 2013-winning piece Walking by Chris Thornborrow, as well as works by G. Prokofiev and others. Esprit Orchestra is also getting into the spirit of the festival action, and their January 26 concert will feature a movement from G. Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto. This concert will also feature guest conductor Samy Moussa conducting the premiere of his own new work as well as a piece by German conductor Peter Ruzicka. Compositions by Canadian Zosha Di Castri and Berlin-based Unsuk Chin round out this concert titled “Strange Matter.”

Walter Buczynski: Returning to the U of Toronto’s New Music Festival, there will be an 80th birthday celebration afternoon concert in honour of professor Walter Buczynski on January 26 followed the next day by a guest piano recital by Roberto Turrin. A work by David Lang (composer of Little Match Girl Passion) will also be presented in an unusual concert pairing of bassoon and percussion music on January 29. Student composers will be presenting works on January 30 (miniature operas), February 2 (jazz) and February 4.

In brief: The theme “(Re)Generations of the New” shows up in yet another configuration over these next two months with nine different concerts that mix classical and contemporary music together:

December 3, works by Colin Eatock and Jean Papineau-Couture appear in a unique Canadian Day Revisited event at the Lula Lounge. Syrinx Concerts Toronto celebrates Canadian composers Harry Somers at their December 8 concert and Kelly Marie Murphy at their January 12 event, both at the Heliconian Hall. The Amici Chamber Ensemble includes a work by Tōru Takemitsu in their December 1 concert while the Annex Singers perform a piece by Arvo Pärt on December 14. And the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society mixes in pieces by John Zorn (January 10) and Marjan Mozetich (January 12) while the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony plays Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes on January 18.

To close out, we cannot forget the invaluable contribution the Canadian Music Centre has made in facilitating the growth of new music. Events such as their piano series keep Canadian music alive. Check out the January 13 event when Chris Donnelly will perform his Metamorphosis: Ten Improvisations for Solo Piano and their “Nonclassical Night” with Gabriel Prokofiev January 28.

Quick picks

Canadian Opera Company, lobby concerts: “Power Chords” features a new work by Scott Good on December 3; A Soldier’s Tale by John Gzowski is February 6.

Soundstreams: Canadian Choral Celebration on February 2 pairs Gorecki’s Miserere with the world premiere of R. Murray Schafer’s Hear the Sounds go Round. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. Her own concert, “A Winter Solstice Celebration CD launch,” December 21, features selections from her recently released Sound Dreaming: Oracle Songs from Ancient Ritual Spaces. She can be reached at

Going through the listings, I noticed that this month Continuum Contemporary Music offers an interdisciplinary work, Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx/Singing the Earth, and Esprit Orchestra features an entire concert of hybrid music. Noticing how these two events reflected the theme of blurred boundaries between musical genres and artforms I’ve been exploring in this column, I then noted no fewer than eight similar instances of fusion in the new music on offer this month.

in with the new - fusion times ten1. Esprit: Their “O Gamelan” concert on November 17 marks another collaboration between this country’s only orchestra dedicated to new music and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, a Toronto-based ensemble who perform on a series of bronze and wooden instruments from Indonesia, otherwise known as a gamelan. And they too are dedicated to the commissioning of new works from composers alongside performing both traditional and contemporary Indonesian repertoire.

Looking back historically at the rise of the gamelan’s influence within western-based concert music, one can easily see what an enormous effect this music has had. It was Montreal-born composer Colin McPhee’s orchestral work Tabuh-Tabuhan from 1936 that really got the ball rolling. It combined both Balinese and traditional Western elements, but at its core is a small gamelan-like ensemble comprised of western-based percussion instruments. The shimmering timbres and interlocking rhythmic patterns of the gamelan sound also captured the imaginations of pioneers John Cage (prepared piano) and Steve Reich (minimalism). The first western composer to build his own gamelan-inspired instruments and compose for them was Lou Harrison. And that brings us full circle to the Evergreen Club. It was when ECCG founder Jon Siddall met Harrison while a student at Mills College that a vision was spawned to form a gamelan in Canada. Through Harrison’s Indonesian connections, the Evergreen Club eventually was able to acquire their instruments in the early 80s.

By bringing both an orchestra and a gamelan together, the Esprit concert is a perfect reflection of this history and appropriately, is presenting a work that Harrison wrote in tribute to Carlos Chávez, the man who conducted the premiere of McPhee’s groundbreaking work. Alongside this historical piece will be a premiere of O Gamelan, a newly commissioned work by José Evangelista, who followed in McPhee’s footsteps by studying in Bali, and is also responsible for bringing a gamelan to U de Montréal’s Faculty of Music. We will also hear two works originally written by composers Chan Ka Nin and André Ristic for a 2005 concert inspired by the birdsong themes of Olivier Messiaen, as well as a 1983 work by Esprit conductor Alex Pauk.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Pauk himself also studied gamelan music and his work Echo Spirit Isle is a reworking for orchestra of a piece he originally wrote for Gamelan Pacificia based in Seattle. The program rounds out with an orchestral arrangement of Claude Vivier’s Pulau Dewata, composed in 1977 as a tribute to the Balinese people.

2. Continuum Contemporary Music: On December 4 and 5, CCM will present a new work by composer Anna Höstman, Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx/Singing the Earth, an interdisciplinary piece that arose from the composer’s love of history and storytelling. Rooted in her deep personal connection with the land and communities of Bella Coola, a gem of natural beauty along the central coast of British Columbia, her creative process began with extensive research to discover the deeper layers of the area. And perhaps even more importantly, what guided her in this labyrinthian journey to uncover the stories of people from different cultural origins living side by side was her connection to the land itself. The forest is “never far away in my imagination,” she told me. In fact it is this relationship with the forest’s expansiveness and quiet that helps her find her way with music making. It is like the slipping on of a different jacket, a sensation she keeps close to herself while composing. And just as the nonhuman world of nature permeates Höstman’s creative process, it is also a “North Star,” a navigational guide, for all the peoples of the area — a mixture of the indigenous Nuxalk Nation and the descendents of Norwegian settlers.

Höstman’s piece is structured as a series of 11 modules, each one an artistic response to the beauty and isolation of the area, the changes and losses of its people. During the performance, the audience will be immersed within an installation environment, thus creating a spatial counterpoint between people, objects, video projections and displayed texts. These texts originate from a variety of sources and are in four different languages — Nuxalk, English, Norwegian and Japanese. One source is fragments from anthropological field notes published in the 1940s, while another is a list of words in both English and Nuxalk denoting the area’s flora and fauna. The work is scored for Continuum’s ensemble along with mezzo-soprano, bass, saxophone and accordian. Prior to the 8pm performance will be a 7pm screening of a film.

3. NAISA: Another take on similar themes will occur during New Adventures in Sound Art’s annual SOUNDplay series which presents new fusions between the boundaries of sound art and new media. Fitting into their 2013 programming theme of Sonic Geography, this year’s installations and performances will address concepts of home, space, land, migration, love and the human condition. The main performances are on November 7, 9, 16 and 23 in Toronto and on November 8 in Hamilton. An audio installation, “Whispering Rain,” runs from November 9 to 30 in the NAISA space.

4. 416 TCIF: As always, the improvisation scene is hopping with crossover possibilities. This month is the 12th edition of the 416 Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival with “the best music you’ve never heard.” For four nights from November 6 to 9, at the TRANZAC, the programming includes hand-signal-directed orchestra, laptop mash-ups by the McMaster University-based Cybernetic Orchestra, ambient dreamscapes and free jazz virtuosity with both local and visiting guest artists.

5. and 6. Soundstreams and KWS: Extemporizing even further on the subject of fusion, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is programming an evening of rock-inspired music for orchestra on November 7 and 8 in Kitchener and November 9 at Koerner Hall, including Nicole Lizée’s Triple Concerto for Power Trio: Fantasia on Themes by Rush, a virtuosic blast for guitar, bass and drum. And on November 13, you’ll have an opportunity to experience “Reimagining Flamenco” with Soundstreams’ presentation of contemporary perspectives on flamenco works. Blending fire and passion, this concert will offer reinventions for guitar, piano and flamenco singer of the old master Manuel de Falla and Paco de Lucia, among others. Alongside these pieces will be the premiere of a new work by Canadian composer André Ristic, whose music also appears in Esprit Orchestra’s gamelan concert.

7. and 8. Piano virtuosi: On November 24, “Music She Wrote: A Tribute to Canadian Woman Composers” will be another opportunity to hear new orchestral music. This time it’s the Koffler Chamber Orchestra with conductor Jacques Israelievitch featuring pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, one of Canada’s leading interpreters of contemporary music. She will perform two piano concertos written by two Canadian women composers — Heather Schmidt and Violet Archer. The orchestra, comprised of professional, community and music students, will also perform orchestral works by Ann Southam and Larysa Kuzmenko. Ms. Petrowska Quilico has had a connection with all four composers, having previously given the premiere performances and released CD recordings of the Schmidt and Archer works, as well as a CD release of Southam’s music. Both recordings resulted in JUNO nominations for the three composers. On the same evening (November 24) Eve Egoyan, another virtuosic pianist and interpreter of contemporary music who also enjoyed a close artistic relationship with Ann Southam, will perform works by James Tenney, Piers Hellawell, Linda C. Smith and Michael Finnissy as part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society series. This program will repeat in Toronto on November 26 presented by Music Toronto.

9. Arraymusic has a busy month with two concerts on November 9 and 10 of “Small Wonders,” their popular minatures series. Numerous composers have written these short moments in time for the ensemble over the years, and this concert will feature several ensemble pieces from the past along with eight new premieres. The Array ensemble will also perform short works by Webern, Feldman and Carter alongside two longer compositions by Jo Kondo and Canadian Ruth Guechtal. I also want to mention an important Array concert on December 6, “The Signal Itself,” a celebration of the music of James Tenney. Tenney was a visionary and a beloved composer of this city who taught at York University for over two decades. More to come on this in the December issue, but I just wanted people to know well in advance.

10. Additional new music events:

Thin Edge New Music Collective: November 21.

Canadian Music Centre: November 9 – Rosedale Winds; November 13 – junctQin Keyboard Collective.

Canadian Opera Company: November 13 – Piano Virtuoso Series.

Royal Conservatory/Toronto Harp Society: November 10 – Works by Buhr, Schafer and others.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir: November 20 – Britten at 100. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at

Back in my June column, I was suggesting that with the upcoming warm weather of summer and the ending of the concert season, this more casual atmosphere was the perfect scenario for concerts that offered a blurring of boundary lines between musical genres and art forms. Now just two months into the fall season, I’m already seeing that something else of an overall direction is unfolding in the world of “the new,” and it’s not because of warm weather. In September, the Guelph Jazz Festival went beyond the jazz borders to include improvisation from a variety of musical traditions, including composed/notated music. Now, in October, there is an entire festival produced by Toronto’s Music Gallery that is all about this blurring of genres. The theme of this year’s X Avant New Music Festival — This Is Our Music — is a reference to Ornette Coleman’s 1960 album of the same name. Running from October 11 to 20, the festival celebrates all streams of experimentation, and the innovations that Coleman introduced certainly would fit right in. Organizers have identified their mix of experimental genres and traditions as “urban abstract music.” And adding to this boiling hothouse of innovation, they are presenting two works that in the past had been the cause of both a riot and a mini-scandal.

in with the newLet’s begin with Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a ballet score that premiered on May 29, 1913, in Paris. These days it’s become a well-loved work, but 100 years ago, its asymmetric rhythms and clashing dissonances caused such an uproar that the police were called in to calm the audience. But the rioting continued and got so intense that Stravinsky himself left before the performance was over. Wow ... passionate audiences who know what they do and don’t like! A century later in the city of Toronto, this work has already received one performance I can remember (by Esprit Orchestra in January) and will be featured in the Mariinsky Orchestra’s Roy Thomson Hall all-Stravinsky program on October 6.

But things will definitely take a different turn on October 11 at the X Avant Festival when the Montreal-based group Quartetski reinterprets this classic using unusual orchestration and free improvisation to bring out what they feel is implicit in the original. And that’s just what this exceptional group is dedicated to: a revisionist approach to classic works of the “great” composers achieved by mixing various traditions and techniques to discover new possibilities, ultimately creating a new type of chamber music. I suspect there won’t be a riot this time around, but rather enthusiastic ears welcoming the daring move into the somewhat sacrosanct territory of the musical masters.

Quartetski is a perfect example of what I’m sensing is becoming more and more standard — music that defies being pigeonholed into neat and tidy categories. And interestingly, the Canada Council for the Arts is getting in on the discussion. On October 13 there will be an interview and Q&A with one of their music officers (Jeff Morton) to discuss the new priorities and criteria for funding this music that is increasingly happening along the edges of traditional boundaries, a direction they describe as “genrelessness.”

But back to the second scandal-associated work that has been programmed. On October 12, Morton Feldman’s six-hour long String Quartet No.2 will be performed by New York’s incredible FLUX Quartet. So what’s the scandal? The piece was originally commissioned by New Music Concerts in 1983 and was broadcast live on CBC, performed by the then-unknown Kronos Quartet. But as the hours went by, CBC had to make a decision whether to cut it off to make way for the news broadcast. They decided to stick it out and no riots ensued. The piece ended just before the 1am blackout. The physical and mental rigours of performing such a long work demand extreme dedication by the performers.

FLUX, who take their name from the 1960s’ Fluxus movement, perform the work about once a year, making it into a bit of a speciality. No doubt they are so dedicated because of what they receive from performing it. Feldman’s music offers a truly intimate encounter with the substance of sound, unfolding subtly, calling out for your attention. It’s been said that you don’t really listen to the music, but rather you live through it, breathe with it. In other words, it is truly an immersive bodily experience. To create a sensitive listening environment, the Music Gallery will be transformed into two chill out rooms, with accompanying food vendors and installations in the nearby OCADU student gallery. Added to that, CIUT-FM will be broadcasting the entire performance as a nod to the original premiere. You can create your own unique listening environment if you live within radio signal range. It will be a “slow-motion rave.” Feldman himself called it “a fucking masterpiece.”

Other festival highlights include a rare appearance by the legendary minimalist Charlemagne Palestine on October 13, renowned for his high voltage piano-cluster music, and music by composers Rose Bolton (October 13) and Scott Good (October 20). Improv duo Not the Wind Not the Flag will partner with bassist William Parker on October 17; and the festival’s ensemble-in-residence — Ensemble SuperMusique from Montréal — will perform their revolutionary Musique Actuelle on October 18. The following night, A Tribe Called Red lets loose their version of urban abstract. Mixing Pow Wow sounds with pan-global influences, their beats have roared onto the scene and opened up new territories in the conversation around cultural exchange. Partnering with this concert is the ImagineNative Film Festival, which will be screening images from all aspects of First Nations life. Closing the festival on October 20 will be Hamilton-born tabla player Gurpreet Chana, whose influences stretch from DJ culture to classical South Asian. He will be transforming his tablas into a digital interface controlling an array of hardware and software to extend the sound of this much-loved instrument into unknown waters.


October is full of season openers for many of our local new music presenters. In Waterloo, NUMUS is offering two events in October quite different from each other. On October 4, the exceptional Gryphon Trio and guest clarinetist James Campbell will perform the epic Quartet for the End of Time, a 50-minute work by Olivier Messiaen, written while the composer was imprisoned during WWII. This will be partnered with Alexina Louie’s Echoes of Time which was inspired by Messiaen’s piece, along with music by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. All three pieces are on the Trio’s latest CD release For the End of Time. And on October 25, NUMUS contributes to the genrelessness orientation with a cabaret featuring the 13-piece Slaughterhouse Orchestra performing ten songs in a wide range of styles. Each song explores various novels written by the American writer Kurt Vonnegut.

Esprit Orchestra launches their “new era” on October 24 with Claude Vivier’s shimmering Zipangu, R. Murray Schafer’s tongue-in-cheek No Longer than Ten (10) Minutes, and two orchestral works by Montreal-born Samy Moussa, who now enjoys a career as both composer and conductor in Europe. The program rounds out with Russian composer Alfred Schnittke’s Viola Concerto.

New Music Concerts’ season begins on October 6 with a concert that received extensive coverage in September’s WholeNote. On November 1, they will present an electric evening of interactive works, highlighting two by David Eagle and others by Canadians Jimmie Leblanc, Anthony Tan and Anna Pidgorna, and German composer Hans Tutschku. Interactive compositions are like a great sonic playground where the acoustic sounds of the live instruments are transformed in real time with the aid of the technology.

October also heralds the beginning of a new chamber ensemble with the delectable name of Dim Sum, a group dedicated to presenting new compositions for Chinese instruments. Their debut concert, “Xpressions,” on October 27 features several world premieres by local composers. Another recently founded ensemble, the Thin Edge New Music Collective, will be performing works by John Zorn, Allison Cameron and others on October 25, while the Toy Piano Composers celebrate the beginning of their fifth season on October 12 at Gallery 345.

The Canadian Music Centre continues its concerts of contemporary piano works on October 3 and 13, as well as hosting “A Touch of Light” with piano music and visuals during Toronto’s Nuit Blanche on October 5. And to finish off, this month sees a number of concerts celebrating Benjamin Britten’s 100thanniversary. The Canadian Opera Company will be presenting two noon-hour concerts of his vocal music on October 9 and 23. His Violin Concerto will receive a performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on October 10, while his War Requiem will be performed by several Kitchener-Waterloo area choirs in a concert presented by the Grand Philharmonic Choir on October 19.

The experimental pot is stirring and I encourage you to get out and support the blossoming of the new sounds of urban abstraction, wherever they may show up. Also, check out the WholeNote’s online blog for up-to-the-minute reports for some of these events. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at

When September rolls around, there can be a feeling of anticipation in the air. It’s often a time of new opportunities, change and a chance to expand your horizons. And in this column, which is dedicated to the “new” in musical practice, there’s no better place to begin than with the Guelph Jazz Festival, running from September 4 to 8. Over the last 20 years, the festival has blossomed into a “vital social-purpose enterprise” with an artistic mandate rooted in the vision that musical improvisation provides a model for creating social change and building successful communities. This vision is also the driving force behind the innovative research project “Improvisation, Community and Social Practice” headed by Ajay Heble, artistic director of the festival.

in with the newRecently, this project just got a huge boost. It was the recipient of a substantial grant to launch the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation at the University of Guelph. And to celebrate, the Guelph Jazz Festival will present an opening concert on September 3, featuring a special one-time improvising percussion quartet of four stellar musicians combining jazz, new music, free improv and world music traditions. This “World Percussion Summit” is yet another demonstration of what makes the festival so special and magical — expanding the meaning of jazz to include creative improvisation from across the musical spectrum. In this column I will be highlighting those concerts which fuse creative improvisation and composition.

A perfect example is a solo performance on September 5 by Matt Brubeck, a composer and performer trained in classical music and raised on jazz, who currently brings his focus on the improvising cello into dialogue with a variety of other musical traditions. Matt will also join Australian composer and saxophonist Sandy Evans in her “Indian Project” concert on September 4 contributing to the musical conversation between jazz and Indian music. On September 6, two of the performers from the opening night event — virtuoso percussionists Hamid Drake (USA) and Jesse Stewart (Ontario) — will reconvene to provide a free-ranging mixture from their eclectic backgrounds. Stewart is a well-loved favourite of the Guełph festival, and for this year’s 20th anniversary, he has composed a lengthy work for the Penderecki String Quartet to be performed on September 8 in duet with himself at the drum set.

Ensemble SuperMusique from Quebec will present its group composition entitled “Pour ne pas désespérer seul” (Not to Despair Alone) on September 7. This diverse group began initially in 1998 with founders Joanne Hétu, Danielle Palardy Roger and Diane Labrosse, and has evolved into an extensive community of musicians combining large group composition, improvisation and “musique actuelle” with multi-media theatre, dance, and songs. Their artistic practice of group improvisation is definitely in step with the broader social vision of the festival, as they see themselves standing in solidarity with communities arising from the anti-globalization movement and the use of social media.

Other festival events of interest to readers of this column include the Colloquium (September 4 to 6), and Nuit Blanche with its dusk-to-dawn events beginning on the evening of September 7. This year’s colloquium provides a wonderful opportunity to dive deeper into the themes of musical improvisation, pedagogy, social justice and activism, through a series of lectures, keynote addresses and workshops by festival artists. Nuit Blanche events include performances by members of SuperMusique — Derome/Hétu and Freedman/Caloïa (12am); Vancouver’s Birds of Paradox exploring elements of jazz and western music with traditional Chinese and Indian music (2am); a Pauline Oliveros tuning meditation (3am); the Ondine Chorus combining improv with scored music (3am) and Grossman/Brubeck interpreting baroque music (4:30am).

And if your free spirit is longing for more, there will be an opportunity on September 28 at Toronto’s Music Gallery to hear from some of the elder statesmen and scene builders of free improv music: USA saxophonist Larry Ochs playing with drummer Don Robinson, followed by Toronto-based poet and “soundsinger” Paul Dutton performing with percussionist Joe Sorbara, known for creating orchestral textures from found objects.

Voice and Mythology

This summer, I had the opportunity to experience what is known as the “eight-octave voice” at the Roy Hart International Artistic Centre located in southern France. This vocal legacy of connecting voice with the inner workings of the psyche stretches back to the early 20th century and the work of Alfred Wolfsohn. In the 1960s this vocal research evolved into a theatre-based artistic practice by one of Wolfsohn’s pupils, Roy Hart. As part of my column during this upcoming season, I’ll be making some links between what inspired me during my time at the Roy Hart Centre and the musical events of our local community.

Since the voice is the most obvious link, I’ll begin with the upcoming Soundstreams concert on October 1 in which they will be presenting two epic choral and orchestral works by the masterful Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. One of these compositions is titled Adam’s Lament, thus plunging us headlong into the territory of one of the most potent myths of the Western world — the story of Adam and Eve. As part of my residency at the Roy Hart Centre, I attended the Myth & Theatre festival which was like being submerged into an alchemical pot stirring the voice together with choreographic movement, image, spoken word and philosophical ideas.

Stories shape us and the institutions of our culture beyond what we might imagine. Initially we create the stories, and then the stories turn around and create us. And certainly this story of Adam and Eve has been one that has determined so much of our collective history. Pärt’s composition begins with the expression of grief at being expelled from Paradise and then expands further into a meditation on the sorrows of all humankind. His music is often referred to as music that comes out of the silence, creating possibilities to hear a different voice. Perhaps this other voice could be a re-examination of this myth itself. Must we collectively continue to hold onto the idea of separation, or can we create a voice, a story that brings us closer to the dream of human connection and peaceful co-existence?

Other works in the program include Pärt’s L’abbé Agathon, which recounts the legend of a fourth-century hermit tested by an angel in disguise, and pieces by two other composers, Riho Maimets and James Rolfe. Choir 21, a local group that specializes in performing contemporary choir music, will be performing alongside a string orchestra conducted by Pärt’s Estonian colleague Tõnu Kaljuste.

And now to opera — the perfect alchemical pot for combining mythic themes with music. Tapestry Opera will be offering up the latest round of opera briefs created at this years Composer-Librettist Lab, an annual gathering that teams up four composers with four writers to create, literally overnight, a series of short opera excerpts. Running from September 19 to 22, this event gives you the opportunity to hear what stories and sounds have risen up in the midst of this hothouse of creativity.

Twentieth-Century Pioneers

It’s hard to imagine that 100 years ago, experiencing strong rhythms and percussion music in the concert hall was scandalous. The music of Igor Stravinsky helped to change all that. Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra from St. Petersburg are returning to Roy Thomson Hall on October 6 to perform the three groundbreaking ballet scores Stravinsky composed between 1910 and 1913: The Firebird, Pétrouchka and The Rite of Spring. Fortunately, that concert will be in the afternoon, giving enough time to attend the evening concert curated by Austin Clarkson for New Music Concerts. You can read and listen to more on this meeting of Wolpe, Webern, Feldman and Cage in both the printed and online editions of The WholeNote.

Additional Concerts

TorQ Percussion Quartet: “A Shift in Time.” September 13.

Thin Edge New Music Collective: “Shaken or Stirred,” fundraising concert and silent auction. September 14.

Canadian Music Centre: Contemporary Works for Piano. September 13 and October 3.

Music Gallery and Burn Down The Capital: Julianna Barwick,
with Christine Duncan and Castle If at Double Double Land. September 26. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. Contact her at

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