Fresh new wave of composers and performers lights up stages across Vancouver

It seemed only a few years ago that new music was performed mostly in academic settings to tiny audiences so schooled in modern aesthetics that they could no longer carry on a conversation with regular folk. And of course, regular folk were disdained to enter anyway, hence the tiny audiences. Music seemed as obtuse as it could possibly be.

photo courtesy of musica intima

It seemed only a few years ago that new music (that is, contemporary classical music) was performed mostly in academic settings to tiny audiences so schooled in modern aesthetics that they could no longer carry on a conversation with regular folk. And of course, regular folk were disdained to enter anyway, hence the tiny audiences. Music seemed as obtuse as it could possibly be. Now, there’s been a fresh new wave of composers and performers where new music doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet is rich and interesting, where performers are accessible yet top notch, and most of all where the music is intimate.

Welcome

Take for example last Friday’s gallery concert at The Apartment (in Chinatown). Local flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor performed from his new CD Sins and Fantasies, a programme both soul searching and theatrical. He’d invited seven composers to write seven deadly sins, which he then performed on seven flutes (okay, I lost count—it was at least three).

Mark is a performer who isn’t afraid to be theatrical, yet he never lets his theatricality get the upper hand on his musicianship­. Each piece served as penetrating exploration into those deleterious human foibles that would have served as the basis for an evening of introspection and soul searching were it not for the martinis on hand, which produced a lot of lively conversation instead.

 Sins & Fantasies

photo courtesy of Mark Takeshi McGregor

Environment

Last week, musica intima, in collaboration with the Turning Point Ensemble and Nu:BC Collective, presented a varied concert of new works at the Chan Centre. The title work, Thirst, by Julia Wolfe drank from the same well as Edward Burtynsky’s environmental photography at the Vancouver Art Gallery (which I still can’t get out of my head). 

Drawing on primal text from the Old Testament (Book of Isaiah 41: 17‑18), Wolfe used water as a metaphor for a spiritual quest. But, vanquishing the problem of minimalism that plagued other works that evening, she chose to avoid the usual water clichés and instead conjured up deep undulations of sound moving along at a geological pace. In other words, time stood still.

Her music also reminded naïve Canadians such as myself who take water for granted that most the world is acquainted only too well with thirst. The gravity of heavy slow water motives was a wise device and also set us up for the splashy ending and euphoric Hebraic text, “I will pour water on the thirsty land”.

musica intima and the Turning Point Ensemble

photo courtesy of musica intima

Intimacy

Even out in sleepy Dunbar at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, fine new works by gifted local composers are having premieres by some of the city’s best performers. One such composer, Lou Warde, was in the audience to hear Will George, baritone, and Michael Strutt, guitar perform a series of pieces that included the deeply moving Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (from Dylan Thomas) and dedicated to both his recently deceased father and his father’s Middle Eastern roots. The acoustics of the church are splendid and once again, the music was unpretentious, welcoming, and excellent.

Upcoming

And if this makes you feel a little pride about this city and its performers, there's more exploring to be done:

  • For those of discretionary employment, the Vancouver Symphony is holding free, FREE, new music readings. The Jean Coulthard Readings are this Wednesday, April 9 at 10 am at the Orpheum. Did I mention that admission is FREE? Also if you missed it a few months back, this could be your chance to hear Stefan Hintersteininger’s irreverent Bunny’s Day Off (how perfect with Easter around the corner).
  • Standing Wave is performing a show called “1000 TIMES THIS” Sunday, April 13 at 8pm at Pyatt Hall featuring world premieres by Canadian composers Michael Oesterle and Joel Balzun.
  • Vancouver New Music performs “Sequitur” Saturday, April 12, 8 PM at the Orpheum Annex, featuring works by Jennifer Butler, The tide rises, the tide falls, - Dorothy Chang, Nocturne, in nine fragments, and Owen Underhill, The Curio Box, among others.

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