The creation of original Canadian compositions, for use in its music programs, was at the core of the mandate of CBC Radio from its beginning. And while this content creation was intended for its CBC network broadcasts in Canada, it was also a way in which the CBC could share newly-created Canadian music with public broadcasters around the world.
In 1945, CBC’s International Service, The Voice of Canada, went on air via shortwave transmissions. Canadian music was included in the service, although the limitations the shortwave medium had for music transmission were well recognized. By 1947, though, the International Service began releasing Canadian music via a transcription service, on discs. These discs were made available to other public broadcasters, and those companies, the BBC in particular, returned the favour. A system of international program exchanges soon evolved. In a 1960 Dominion Day Voice of Canada broadcast, it was announced that over 500 Canadian compositions had been distributed in this way to broadcasters outside of the country. In 1970 the service was renamed Radio Canada International.
International program exchanges quickly became a regular means of acquiring low- or non-cost programming, with which public broadcasters could balance their offerings of domestic on-air content. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) was established in 1950 to facilitate this process, and the CBC immediately became an associate member. Associate members had access to EBU program exchanges, but were not involved in the operation of the organization itself. The European broadcasters who were full members created an EBU Concert Season, a full season of classical music concerts produced by the respective member broadcasters, and distributed this to all full and associate members.
In 1954, four European public networks, Radio France, Frankfurt Radio, Belgian Radio and Television and Swiss Radio, together with the International Music Council, initiated the International Rostrum of Composers (IRC). The IRC describes itself as “an international forum of representatives of broadcasting organizations who come together for the purpose of exchanging and broadcasting contemporary art music.” By 1970 the scheme had grown to include the public broadcasting systems of 33 countries, including CBC Radio and Radio-Canada. The IRC had become an international program exchange with a very specific focus and purpose.
In 1970, CBC Radio submitted a work by the 23-year-old Steven Gellman to the IRC. Gellman’s Mythos II for flute and string quartet had been commissioned by the Stratford Music Festival in 1968, and was recorded for broadcast by CBC Radio Music on the series Music of Today, with host Norma Beecroft. The international delegates to the 1970 IRC, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, were so impressed with Gellman’s composition that they voted the work the best composition by a composer under the age of 25. In fact, the IRC delegates felt obliged to create the “young composer” category, in order to vote for Gellman’s piece, as there was previously no such category. Gellman remembers it this way:
“It was 1970. I was travelling through Europe. When I arrived in Paris I was informed that I had won the award from the IRC. Unbeknownst to me, the CBC had submitted my piece Mythos II. This event positively helped to launch my career as a composer. When I got back to Canada I was warmly welcomed by John Roberts, the legendary head of CBC Radio Music. John, who was so instrumental in launching the careers of many of us composers at the time, commissioned me on the spot for an orchestral piece, Symphony in 2 Movements, and followed it up later with two more works, Symphony 2 and Chori, my first very large orchestral work. I am very grateful to John for giving me such great opportunities in my early career!”
Over the next three decades, the CBC would help Canada’s young and emerging composers make a significant mark at the IRC.
My own first visit to the IRC was in 1977, as the producer of Music of Today, but also as the person who was actively working on a proposal to CBC Radio Music for the creation of a new national network radio series devoted to contemporary music that would exceed the objectives of Music of Today. The CBC senior managers who had invited me to make the proposal for what would become Two New Hours the following year knew all too well that the new program would need plenty of fresh content. We would certainly produce Canadian repertoire with our modest production budget. But to keep the programming balanced, and to place Canadian composition in a worldwide context, we would also need international repertoire. The IRC was clearly the best source of high-quality productions of the latest contemporary works for the many participating countries. Fortunately, the exchange of these compositions was quid pro quo: we provided Canadian works and the other participating countries exchanged theirs for ours. All were available free of charge.
For that first visit as CBC Radio delegate to the IRC in May of 1977, I brought a work that I had commissioned the previous year through the Radio Music department’s commissioning program, the String Trio by the 35-year-old Brian Cherney. It remains one of the most remarkable works in Cherney’s canon, and it made a strong impression on the IRC delegates. However, 1977 was also the year that the delegates all returned home with a striking new Dutch submission, De Staat, by the 38-year-old Louis Andriessen, the work that was voted as the selected composition at that year’s IRC. This was the work that essentially proclaimed to the world that Louis Andriessen was to become the newest international star among living composers. It was history in the making, and with the national radio networks all sharing this work with their respective listeners, the news spread fast.
Two New Hours took to the airwaves as a regular weekly contemporary music series in January of 1978, on what was then called the CBC FM Network, and there was plenty of contemporary Canadian music. But there was also an appropriate amount of international repertoire, as well. Much of the international content that year came from the recordings I brought back with me from the IRC session in Paris. We made it a priority not to lose sight of where contemporary music was heading in as many parts of the world as possible.
I remained the CBC delegate to the IRC for 25 years, and in due course, Canadian submissions enjoyed great success. One of the most remarkable stories is that of Paul Steenhuisen, who recounts that his CBC commissioned composition, Wonder, for soprano, electronic sounds and orchestra, was “presented at the 1997 IRC, and was ranked third in the world amongst recommended works. It was subsequently broadcast in 23 countries. I lived for a year off the royalties. As a result of the IRC it was also performed by the ORF Austrian Radio Philharmonic, conducted by Arturo Tamayo, at the 1999 Musikprotokoll Festival in Graz, where I was a guest composer. They also commissioned a related piece, Bread, which was premiered by Klangforum Wien. Both pieces were also broadcast in a feature program they did about my music.”
Such was the potential impact of an appearance at the IRC, for a young composer.
Works by Canadians continued to win recognition at the IRC. Chris Paul Harman (1991), Brian Current (2002) and Abigail Richardson-Schulte (2004) were all selected as winners, much like Steven Gellman, years earlier, in the young composers’ category. Current’s work For the Time Being had a live performance at the Warsaw Autumn festival resulting from his selection, and Richardson-Schulte was offered a commission from Radio France after her trio ...dissolve... was selected.
Chris Paul Harman wrote that “in 1991 and 1994, I was fortunate to have had broadcasts of my works Iridescence and Concerto for Oboe and Strings in several European and Asian countries – my first international exposure – as a result of the CBC’s participation in the IRC. More pragmatically, at a time when I did not have a regular income, the royalties from these broadcasts largely defrayed the cost of living for several months.”
Naturally, these successful submissions made positive impressions with the IRC delegates, who began to see the CBC as a broadcaster committed to developing its country’s creative artists. In 2002, I was elected President of the Rostrum.
My colleague, Sandra Thacker, whose productions from the Winnipeg Symphony’s New Music Festival (NMF) had become a cornerstone of Two New Hours programming, became the CBC’s delegate. For her first session as delegate, Thacker presented one of her NMF productions, Inuit Games by T. Patrick Carrabré, a work that featured two katajjaq throat singers with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. The IRC delegates were impressed, and voted to recommend Inuit Games to the top-ten list of works. Carrabré wrote, “When Inuit Games became a recommended work at the IRC, it opened up a whole new world of listeners, both for my music and for katajjaq singing.”
I served six years as IRC President. We held the 2008 session, my final, in Dublin, as guests of RTÉ, the public broadcasting service of the Irish Republic. It was the only time the Rostrum was held outside of Continental Europe. Sandra Thacker presented a CBC-commissioned work by Nicole Lizée, This Will Not Be Televised, another production from the NMF. Lizée’s work was voted to the top-ten list of works presented that year. “Being named to the 2008 IRC Top 10 List was definitely a pivotal moment in my career,” she told me. “Programmers from Europe and the U.S. were soon contacting me personally and recommending my work to other programmers and artistic directors, leading to major commissions and collaborations. I consider this event to have been instrumental in pushing my career forward.”
The IRC will celebrate its 65th anniversary next May in Budapest.
CBC Radio no longer participates.
David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.