ISCM World New Music Days in Vancouver

I realize we’re well into 2018 now, so posting about something that happened in November of the previous year may seem a bit odd — except that “something” was the ISCM World New Music Days, that took place November 2 – 8, 2017 in Vancouver. The festival was covered in thorough detail by wordsmiths more clever than me (including a great review in MusicWorks magazine by Alex Varty), but I wanted to share three personal highlights:

I. Performing Invention à deux voix? by Maria Christina Krithara with François Houle, clarinet

This performance came with its fair share of drama: Krithara’s piece was originally supposed to be performed on another concert, but was cancelled because one of the performers fell ill — all the more unfortunate as Maria Christina Krithara had flown in all the way from Athens to hear her piece! At the eleventh hour, François Houle and I were asked to play the duo — which we learned over the course of a single, evening-long rehearsal. The performance was absolutely one of those flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experiences, resulting in moments of synergy that surprised perhaps even François and myself.

II. Solo flute performance: A Walk in the Countryside by Gonçalo Gato

This solo flute piece by the Portuguese/British composer Gonçalo Gato was such an intriguing study in contradictions and thwarted expectations. For starters, the work’s title, A Walk in the Countryside, implies bucolic melodies and whimsy — nothing could be further from the truth. Gato presents us with an arsenal of seemingly disparate gestures that gradually form a sense of cohesion as the piece progresses, resulting in a sort of “action landscape”. Commissioned by Ensemble Recherche, Gato developed the piece with Recherche’s flutist Martin Fahlenbock — resulting in a piece that is as idiomatic as it is virtuosic.

III. Curating and performing for Powell Street Festival’s ISCM concert

Japanese Sho artist Ko Ishikawa at the soundcheck of Powell Street Festival’s ISCM concert.

Back when I was still AD of Powell Street Festival Society, ISCM2017 artistic director Dave Pay and I spoke about giving Powell Street Festival a presence in World New Music Days. It was an idea that I found really attractive: PSFS’s mandate of connecting communities and supporting diversity was, I felt, very sympathetic to the ideals Dave envisioned for the WNMD festival. Dave also introduced me to the music of the Japanese composer Yasunoshin Morita, specifically his ReincarnatiOn Ring II for sho and half-broken iPods — a luminously beautiful piece performed by the Japanese sho virtuoso Ko Ishikawa. We decided to build our programme around this piece, with myself, pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, and percussionist Brian Nesselroad joining Ishikawa on the performers roster. And while the concert was not without its hiccups, I’m intensely proud of what we presented: the Canadian premiere of Morita’s piece, alongside works by Justin Christensen (Canada), Etsuko Hori (Japan), Murat Çolak (Turkey), and Laura Manolache (Romania). My performance of Hori’s solo piccolo piece, Tamazusa (singled out as a “perfectly crafted” highlight of the festival by Alex Varty) can be heard below:

The concert was a fitting swan song for my role as an artistic director and programmer for Powell Street Festival Society, and the World New Music Days festival as a whole was an unbelievable way to connect with composers, musicians, and new music concert programmers from around the world. Kudos to the incredible ISCM Vancouver team for turning out this monolithic event, and in particular Morna Edmundson, Jim Hiscott, and Dave Pay.

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