by T. Patrick Carrabre ¦ February 8 2018
The Winnipeg New Music Festival (WNMF) has wrapped up for another year and I was very fortunate to be part of the Composers Institute. Samy Moussa, Karen Sunabacka and Harry Stafylakis were the main mentors for the week, but I was able to help out on a few panels, along with Octavio Vazquez and Neil Weisensel. This was year 27 for the WNMF and a lot has changed for the new music scene over those years. The not so subtle shifts were very evident in our discussions about the concert music business—whether we were talking about making a living (or not), orchestral programming and personal branding.
Twenty-seven years ago, clear lines were drawn between the various aesthetic camps. The “modernists” were more or less taught to “hate” the minimalists, the then so-called “world music” inspired composers were looked down upon by many (for not holding to the “more sophisticated” concepts of western art music) and the new romanticism movement was seen as “pandering” to traditional audiences, returning us to the cliché sounds of earlier times (sorry for the plethora of “air quotes”). I guess it made sense in the context of trying to define yourself as part of a movement that you could “believe in.”
But the WNMF somehow allowed for all of these musics to coexist. I have vivid memories of Gwen Hoebig and Mary Jo Carrabré (my wife for those who don’t know) performing the Lutosławski Partita to a thundering ovation in one of those early years. Here’s a couple of my favourite young performers (Amy Hillis and Katherine Dowling) taking on the same work:
Both Glenn Buhr and Randolph Peters did an outstanding job of programming a range of musical styles. But real personal change comes slowly (at least for me), so I still wasn’t ready to accept Gavin Bryars’s Jesus Blood when it was programmed. I’ve since come to deeply appreciate this work that challenges on a number of levels. The musical foundation is a loop of a man singing a religious song. He was “living rough” on the streets—and died before Bryars could play him the finished product. There are numerous versions of the piece, including one with Tom Waits singing along. I think it’s worth investing some time listening and contemplating the ever growing divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” in our society. The lushness of Gavin’s musical support material is both a comfort and an eloquent criticism.
So as a “work in progress” (to keep with my need for air quotes), I now seem to have trouble listening to both extremes of the new music spectrum. I don’t have the patience for most super extended drone music—although I don’t seem to have any problems with pieces like John Luther Adams’s Become Ocean—and I no longer find the ultra modernist style to be appealing—so I wasn’t disappointed to miss Ferneyhough’s Dum Transisset, even though I think the Jack Quartet is an outstanding group. But, I am thankful that the WNMF can still be home to all of these styles.
For the first twenty-some years, CBC Radio 2 recorded and broadcast most of the WNMF concerts. That is no longer the case and while I am deeply saddened (and more than a bit outraged) that contemporary classical music is no longer represented in any meaningful way on the airwaves of our national broadcaster, I continue to listen to CBC Radio 2. Despite their current fixation on music that I feel receives more than enough exposure on commercial radio, it is still the place to hear new Canadian singer songwriters and alternative pop music. It was one of the first places that I heard music by The Jerry Cans, who are based in Iqaluit. Their genre-defying style embraces folk, rock and country, is usually sung in Inuktitut and often includes throat singing. They received two JUNO nominations this week and I’ll close off this short blog-instalment with their song Ukiuq:
So while I may not be full of love all the time, I happily find myself in a musical world where hate is no longer an acceptable aesthetic position. Here’s to omnivorous listening!