YOUR NAME HERE New Music Festival

BeyondI attended four performances of the 2014 New Music Festival, the most in any year since my hips and feet began to fail me in 2010. I enjoyed some of the music getting the most satisfaction from the Thursday performances at the Crescent United Church featuring Eyvind Kang, viola, Jessika Kenney, vocalist, Valgeir Sigurðsson, electronics and Sarah Kirsch, soprano. Kang, for those looking for a Winnipeg connection, is the son of Kristjanna Gunnars who was a writer here before she became a visual artist somewhere else. Jessika is his wife, and the connection and opportunity for rehearsal made there’s a polished performance.

Kirsch was into  the repertoire and my favourite soloist of the Festival. I contacted her and hope she may participate in the PortAh!ge Poetry Festival (Poetry as New Music) that I’ll tell you about later. The Arvo Part  Litany was a highlight on opening night, if a shadow of the work featured the year he was the International Guest Composer for the Festival.

It’s clear the loss of the title sponsor, most recently that of Imris now moved south of the border is taking its toll on the Festival. This is a shame, and undoubtedly hard work is going to find a new sponsor that can provide over $100,000 for a new suit of clothes the Festival badly needs.

The only thing creakier than the Hilliard Ensemble, who, after 40 years, have chosen to quit before they’re behind; was the Frank Zappa, Boulez connection. Much ado about nothing and Zappa’s Varese homage sounded more dated than Hot Rats, which I gave a spin when I got home.

Branca’s work didn’t go anywhere and I may have liked it better than the other two pieces that did, but liked his attempts to rethink as in 3 against 4, the harmonic series, the natural  series of numbers but balked a little at “interpenentrating harmonies”  featured in his major 40 minute work of the Festival. His ideas may be ahead of his music.

I was also a bit surprised about the reprise of romanticism, or was it the Protestant work ethic, as co-curator Matthew Patton in a Q & A laid claim to the importance of struggle, to give meaning to the art being created.  The context was of audiences walking out, and the difficulty of making ends meet while breaking new ground.  Wrestling the muse though may have been his meaning more in line with Flaubert’s view  “To be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Patton is a bona fide outsider in the Manitoba New Music community, but the results of serving as Alexander’s muse (“though, not really, he quickly qualified in case anyone misunderstood) were mixed at best. Patton’s connections bringing Branca, Colin Stetson, Jim Jarmusch, and the performance of Tesla in New York certainly earned his keep, but none of this is very new for a New Music Festival. I did like the use of shorts from the Winnipeg Film Group (where I used to work) and hope to borrow that idea for the PortAh!ge Festival as well. Oh, this is probably a good time to admit that my job as Publishing & Arts Consultant at the Department of Everything Else includes being the groundling that ensures all the Manitoba Major Arts Festivals get their support from the Province.  It’s true that I’m a Lucky Man and am able to draw a great deal of inspiration from the Festival performances I see and hear every year.

Clearly the WSO needs to find another composer in residence, younger and with the chops to keep up with what’s really happening in New Music around the world. And let’s hope she’s a woman, as this NMF was more of a composer’s sausage fest than usual.  This is not a place the WSO can economize, as the New Music Festival, and the orchestra’s reputation for being able to play it is at the core of the WSO’s future, born out by the repertoire they are playing in Carnegie Hall.  We can all hope that someone with a commitment to the orchestra and the New Music Festival comes forward, soon.

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