U of C showcases new music masterpieces

Electro-acoustics, chamber music and international flavours. What more could a modern music festival offer? According to Dr. Dave Eagle, the festival director of the University of Calgary’s Happening 2009: New Music Festival, the program has all that and even more. Happening 2009 is a music festival devoted entirely to contemporary music, the earliest compositions dating to the 1950s, and offers a series of four concerts to showcase this style.

“It’s a festival that’s meant to connect the music scene in Calgary with what’s happening internationally in new music and arts,” Eagle says. “When new music is played, sometimes I don’t think it is in a really good context for it. You hear a new piece with the orchestra and then you have a 50-minute Beethoven symphony. So in a festival like this, you’re actually seeing music like this in its contexts.”

This festival offers unique advantages to the community. It is the perfect setting for showcasing contemporary music from chamber ensembles to cutting-edge performance techniques like encircling an audience with the band. Each show features a Calgarian artist, three of which are graduate students of the U of C music program, but it also has some international big names for optimal variety. Robert Aitken, a renowned flutist and composer, is participating in every concert as a member of the performers or as a composer. His appearances at the festival also include master classes and workshops for young aspiring music students. The community gets an amazing concert and the students get to meet a musician who pursued his dreams and made it, a somewhat rare occurrence these days. It also allows an opportunity for aspiring composers at the U of C to show their talents.

“There’s orchestral composition on Wednesday by grad students at U of C,” Eagle explains. “They wrote three new pieces for the orchestra and the Calgary Philharmonic [orchestra] the following week. For the audience, we really try to highlight innovation. That means new artistic practices, new compositions of course, new ways of playing the instrument, new sounds.”

This concert will be the debut of the Rubbing Stone ensemble– named after the rubbing stone on Nose Hill where buffalo would come to rub their fur off– as well as a piece by Elliot Carter who at the age of 100 is still writing music. The concerts also have some very interesting compositions such as “Fluctuari,” a piece for flute and computer and “Temazcal” by the famous Javier Alvarez, which is a percussion solo for maracas and electro-acoustic sounds.

Though there is so much to see, Eagle notes one highlight he won’t miss is Henri Brant’s “Ghosts and Gargoyles.”

“This composer wrote spacial music,” he explains. “This time you will sit down and the musicians will be around the audience. It’s a really amazing experience when you’re immersed in that kind of a performance.”