10th Annual 21C Festival Celebrates Newly Created Music With Two Months Of Performances

From left to right (clockwise): cellist Alisa Weilerstein (photo courtesy of the RCN); Métis/French Canadian composer Ian Cusson (Photo: John Arano); the Kronos Quartet with Tanya Tagaq (Photo courtesy of the MRC)

The 10th edition of 21C Music Festival is set to kick off on December 6, featuring 10 concerts, a film with live performance, and 18 previews. The work of seven Canadian composers will be showcased, along with an international roster of new music luminaries, including a residency by the Kronos Quartet and a special appearance by Tanya Tagaq.

The festival will end on January 29, 2023. Among the new works will be six world premieres, nine Canadian premieres and one Toronto premiere.

Mervon Mehta, executive director of performing arts at the Royal Conservatory, commented in a press release. “It’s overwhelming to imagine that this is our 10th 21C Music Festival. Of course, two of those festivals have been impacted by the pandemic, so it almost feels like we’re starting from scratch. Michael and Sonja Koerner have been the festival’s inspiration, constant cheerleaders and financial angels since its inception. Thanks to their unwavering support, more than 40 works have been commissioned by the Royal Conservatory for Toronto audiences and more than 90 works have had world premieres. The works run the gamut from contemporary classical to jazz to hip hop with a common goal, to showcase the newly created and fully composed music of the 21st century by its most dynamic artists, regardless of genre. We once again invite audiences to come from the cold of winter to our warm performance spaces to stretch their musical ears.

The festival

Here is an overview of the festival program.

A Thousand Thoughts, a live documentary with the Kronos Quartet (December 6)

Written and directed by Sam Green and Joe Bini, the screening of the film includes a live performance by Kronos, with narration and archival and filmed interviews with the likes of Philip Glass and Tanya Tagaq, Wu Man, Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

Fifty striker (December 8)

Kronos’ Fifty for the Future initiative is a free library of 50 contemporary works designed to guide string quartets in developing 21st century repertoire. For this concert, Kronos performs with students from the Royal Conservatory. After a two-day mentorship with Kronos, RCM’s Dior Quartet, Taylor Academy Quartet and Glenn Gould School Quartet will perform works by Soo Yeon Lyuh, Yotam Haber, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Peni Candra Rini, Missy Mazzoli, inti figgis-vizueta , Jlin , and Paul Wiancko. For the finale, Kronos will join the three quartets to perform Philip Glass’s Satz Quartet.

Music for Change (December 9)

The Kronos Quartet and special guest Tanya Tagaq perform it Colonizer (Remix) as well as a new work composed and performed by special guest Aruna Narayan (sarangi), and other pieces highlighting civil rights and social change, such as Zachary J. Watkins Peace be tilland that of Abe Meeropol strange fruitinspired by Billie Holiday.

“Everything we do as citizens, as human beings, is a statement about how we want the world to be, says David Harrington, Artistic Director, Founder and Violinist of Kronos. “More and more, I feel my role as a musician is to point in constructive musical and cultural directions as we attempt to help mend the torn fabric of our society.”

Jean-Michel Blais (January 20)

Jean-Michel Blais, Montreal pianist and twice Polaris Prize nominee, presents music by aubades, an album that highlights his transition from performer to composer. The title of the album refers to aubade, a form of medieval song conceived as a lovers’ serenade at dawn. Blais used over 500 recorded piano improvisations to develop 11 compositions that will be performed by a 12-person ensemble.

Five to Seven (January 21)

The annual 21C Cinq à Sept concert features the premiere of After the firesa cycle of melodies by composer Lembit Beecher and Liza Balkan (librettist for Gould’s Wall) with soprano Xin Wang, mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig and baritone Korin Thomas-Smith. Métis composer Eliot Britton Septentrion for flute and electronics will be performed by flautist Susan Hoeppner, who also performs Christos Hatzis arctic dreams for flute, vibraphone and electronics, and the world premiere of Alice Ho’s ice woman with percussionist Beverley Johnston.

Fred Hersch and Andrew McAnsh (January 21)

The famous jazz pianist, pedagogue and HIV/AIDS and his trio are joined by Dior Quartet, the RCM’s quartet in residence, in an interpretation of works from his new album, breath by breath. Trumpeter Andrew McAnsh, originally from Cambridge, Ontario and recent graduate of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, will present the world premiere of his Music of the Great Lakes (The Great Lakes Suite: A Songbook for Canada’s Native Peoples).

New Canadian Works (January 22)

New works by Canadian composers are featured, including that of Métis/French-Canadian composer Ian Cusson The Garden of Earthly Delights, Sonata for oboe and piano – The Haywainand The cure for madness, interpreted respectively by the Duo Concertante, Charles Hamann and Frédéric Lacroix, and the Trio Arkel. The second on the bill is an RCM commission from Stewart Goodyear for jazz pianists and musicians Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Joy Lapps-Lewis (steel), Roberto Occhipinti (bass) and Larnell Lewis (drums).

Spirit Orchestra (January 25)

Music Director Alex Pauk will conduct the Esprit Orchestra in a premiere by James O’Callaghan Overbound, written for virtuoso cellist Cameron Crozman, orchestra and surround sound electronics. Japanese taiko drumming group Nagata Shachu will also perform Japanese composer Maki Ishii Mono-prismmixing Asian and Western musical traditions.

Fragments: Chapters One and Two (January 28)

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein creates an intimate performance space for expansive ideas in fragments, piece for solo cello. It weaves the 36 movements of Bach’s solo cello suites into 27 new works commissioned for this purpose. The end result will be six hour-long chapters that incorporate reactive lighting and stage design. Chapters will be released over multiple seasons; this concert will introduce the first.

21C Afterhours: Hymns to the Night (January 28)

Brian Current leads the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble for an immersive late-night celebration that includes Bekah Simms forever dark and R. Murray Schafer’s iconic Hymn to the night in a candlelit atmosphere.

Unruly Sun (January 29)

Composed by Matthew Ricketts, with libretto by Mark Campbell and featuring tenor Karim Sulayman. unruly sun is inspired by modern nature, the memoir of queer filmmaker and activist Derek Jarman. Lebanese-American tenor Karim Sulayman hails from Chicago with an international presence and the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. Canadian composer Ricketts is a 2020 Gaudeamus finalist and 2019 Guggenheim Fellow. He created the music in co-commission with the 21C Music Festival, L’Orchestre Classique de Montréal and Brott Opera (Hamilton).

Tickets for the 21C festival are now on sale here.

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