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Volume 7 Issue 9 - June 2002

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Composer to composer

Composer to composer PART ONE OF AN INTERVIEW WITH John Weinzweig by Paul _Steenhuisen NEw Mus1c/ CoMPOSER TO COMPOSER Born "in Toronto in 1913, John Weinzweig has often been called the Dean of Canadian composers. The most recent event in his rich career is the release of a 3-CD set on the CMC's Centrediscs label, as part of the Canadian Composers Portraits series, which also includes disks of music by Jacques Hetu, Jean Coulthard, Harry Freedmiln, and Murray Adaski.n. Listening to the excellent CBC-produced documentary that is CD 1 of the set, and the subsequent 2 CD's of music, one has a new appreciation of his work, career, dedication to teaching, and strongly-held beliefs on the status of composers in society. Divided into 2 parts, our interview covers many of the important musical and political issues that have occupied him throughout the 8 decades of his career. While 1 usually take for granted the opportunities 1 have to discuss music and ideas with my friends and colleagues, in this case I couldn't help but recognize and respect that I was with a composer who was in part responsible for the fertile creative landscape we currently . . . inhabit. sic. I told them a story of-my expe- STEENHUISEN: What is the sig- rience: .1970 was the zoom anniver-· nificance of this recording? sary of Beethoven, and a number of WEINZWEIG Th . . _ Canadian composers and perform- • e portrait se . B 1 b . C nes · came - a bo ut w h en I wrote a b out ers . were m onn, ce e .ratmg ana- deli sedth bl fth I k d1an culture. We were sent over an scus e pro em o e ac ks rfi ed f C d . . CBC d. there to have some wor pe orm 0 ana 1an music on ra 10. b th h · Beeth Hall To put it in perspective, think .about Y e syrnp ony m oven e. There was a press conference when the fact that each year CBC celebrates we arrived and I was spokesperson the anniversary of, a European com- for the composers. I was asked how poser - not for one broadcast, not come we were bringing Canadian for one week, but for twelve months. music to Germany and I said that The year, let's say, of Tchaikovsky' the reason is because in my country ·. causes CBC to encourage perform- they're celebrating the anniversary of ers to include a piece of Tchaikovsky Beethoven. They. were quite asin their program if they want to get a tounded, because there they have no broadcast. Conversely, when a Ca- problem eelebrating their composers. nadian composer passed away' he I implied that we had a problem in ' or she received aI\ obituary of a half- Canada. I told this story at the meethour program and that was all. ing with CBC, and I think they un- After waging guerilla activity on derstood my point. Not only Eurothe CBC for about eight months, 1 pean composers have a ·stofy to tell, had a meeting with the area head and but Canadian composers also. vice-president of CBC Radio Mu- They latched onto the idea of a i ~::;'\ David T~mblyn 14 Fifth Street Toro"to Jsla"d o.,tario ea.,ada M532B9 Tul1 416-203-0789 6xq..,.isite Bows tla.,dmade ;., the Fre.,ch Traditio" 20 documentary, and began work on it right away, which helpea· to tum the whole thing around. Another important event was that Elisabeth Bihl, the Executive Director of the Canadian Music Centre, was also present at the.meeting. I felt that the CBC had been ignoring the Canadian Music Centre, and the CBC would not give enough airplay to recordings of Canadian music on the Centrediscs label. '.This brought the CMC and the CBC into collaboration on the portrait series CD's. · STEENHUISEN: What do you think was the reason for the relative absence of music on radio? WEINZWEIG: The CBC felt they were doing their· J?it for' Canadian composers because they spent ,000 a year on commissions. I wasn't satisfied, because those works were dumped on the Sunday night program Two New Hours. I felt their attitude was that Canadian music was unfit for daytime broadcast. They wouldn't admit that, but it was obvious that Canadian music had no presence in daytime. The only presence of importance was on Two New Hours, which runs on Sundays from 10 p.m. until midnight. They thought that they were doing their part to encourage Canadian composers, but I told them that they don't have to encourage a composer. A composer is going to be a composer. It's incorrect to think you're doing something for Canadian music because you're giving a premiere. The premiere is useful for the composer, but not for the listener. The second performance is useful for the listener. And the third performance, and so on. You will not have a Canadian culture unless you create the conditions for a repertoire, and you only get that with multiple broadcasts and performances - familiarity and knowledge. Imagine what would happen to Beethoven if he was a Canadian composer and you commissioned him to write the 5th Symphony, gave the premiere and that was it - he would be forgotten. That's what is done with our composers. STEENHUISEN: Do you think this approach some'1ow reflects ·a. more general societal attitude? WEINZWEIG: Canadian music had a fairly strong presence in radio from the forties into the late seventies. The downturn stemmed from a 1983 CBC committee report that claimed CBC radio was not showing enough -respect for popular music - that was the beginning of a putdown of our classical compose ers. By exploiting the weaknes.s of the Canadian content regulations, many Canadian pieces were eliminated in favour of European music and Canadian performers. As a result, Mozart became the standard of radio sound. It was very obvious. Almost every program that you heard first had a piece by Mozart, to pacify the listeners. Canadian music, by Canadian composers, had ceased to be a threat, and· we became strangers. STEJ

clarinets and symphony -. who the hell is going to write a piece for two clarinets and symphony? Obviously this was going to be an obstacle. I thought about it for a while and I wrote Dutoit and said "Thank you for the commission but in lieu of the fact that the Montreal Symphony has virtually ignored my repertoire during my lifetime, I see no reason why I should spend 8 or 9 .months writing a work for one single performance". But I wished him well. It wasri't personal. STEENHUISEN: Don't you think that by aicepting the commission and tailoring it to your interests that you 're making a step towards counteracting the ignorance of your music? WEINZWEIG: No. My name came up from a committee that was adVising the Montreal Symphony. The selection wasn't made by Dutoit, it was made for him. Don't forget that I was not a young composer anymore. I had no reason to grab this commission. I didn't need them. It couldn't further my career-I either had a career ordidn't. Itreirundsmeofsomeyears ago when the Victoria Symphony had a grant to put on some concerts of contemporary music. They weren't doing very \fell at bringing in the audience. The next thing I see is a photo of a pair of singing dogs in the newspaper, hired for a contemporary music coocert presented by the Victoria Symphony. Two singing dogs, auditioned and hired from New York to put on their concert of contemporary music! I was very angry about this. I wrote a letter to the Canada Council and suggested "Next time you get a request for funds from the Victoria Symphony I suggest you send them a box of dog food". That message was transmitted to the Victoria Symphony. As a result, I have not been performed by the· Victoria Symphony. lf you speak your mind, then there's the risk that you're going to be left out in the cold, and I could accept that. I would speak my mind, and I would lose a performance here or there, but so what? That wasn't going to change my life. I could still write music and hope and dream that someday somebody will play it. If you're·a composer you hope and dream anyway. That's a big part of writing music. Part II of t~ interview will appear in the July/August issue of WholeNote lJy Jim Galloway .ft '\I· IS .J\zz June is Jazz Bustin' Out All Over! Los Hombres Ca/ientes FE'SllVAL SFM)N rets into full swing A Midsi.unmer Night's second half of this month with JVC Dream Come True and Toronto Downtown Jazz events Every year in France at the summer .and their slew ofheadlirers. NC, with solstice, amateur and professional mua somewhat lower profile this year, has sicians take to streets, parks and pub­ Medeski, Martin and Wood as their lie squares for Fete de l1l Musique, a big money act, along with appearaoces free, public celebration of music in all by Jackie McLean with Cedar Walton, its forms, traditional, classical, jazz, KennyGarretandTheHerbaliser. The techno, salsa and world. Launched in action is pretty well concentrated at 1982, the Fete began to be "exported" Harbourfront Centre, Top O' The in 1985 (the European Year ofM\l­ Senator and The Rex. sic). It is now celebrated in over one Toronto Downtown Jazz has a Jin}. hunlred countries worldwide. up that in:ludes Maynard Ferguson, In France it is a great popular dem­ The Dave Brubeck Quartet, The Coont onstration, a symbolic manifestation of Basie Orchestra, Dave Holland, Pat the solid link between the arts and poli­ Martino and Arturo Sandoval. There tics. The Freix:h people, as a matter of is an increased level of free program- cpurse, expect the state to provide and ming this year. The last two days of fund culture, in the same way as they the event will use an additional stage at · expect the state to provide and fund City Hall instead of moving to Uiti.ver- adequate health care. sity Avemre as in the past two years. HeretootherewillbeasttungFreoch These concerts will still be free, and preseoce.h.ln!21. AtHarboorfrontCen- , the headlirers will be John Scofield and tre, as part of the NC festival the Erik Los Hombres Calientes. Both were Truffilz Ladyland Quartet will give an billed but disappointed last year. The evening concert; earlier in the day difference - Scofield is free this year, (5pm) drummer Fraix:ois Huchard and which will be a treat for the army of his Quintet will be at Nathan Phillips fans he has won in this town. Aro Square as part of Toronto Downtown Los Hombres will definitely not be Jazz. lnthespiritofFetedelaMusique, raiml off as they were last June. No, both events are free. Ihavenotbecvmeanaccurateweather The Freix:h presence does not end forecaster (livestheresuchacrearure?). there, however. Throughout the fol­ The marquee used for mainstage con- lowing week Freix:h musicians Alain certs during the first eight days will Brunet, Llorca, ooJazz and the Baptiste become a fallback venue. Come rain Trotigoon Trio will hoist the tricolour. or shine, the bmls will play, albeit to. I shall hoist a Pernod! smaller crowds if UIXler canvas. IN THE CUJBS THE STAKES get raised a bit FESTIVALHYffilSLWAlLYcemredamnxl during festival fever. SeanrusB~ and the big names coming into town, but Ira Sullivan will be at Top O' The one of the potential strengths of a fes- Senator, RobMcCoIUJell TentetatThe tival is the opportunityit gives to lesser- Rex and Marian McPartland, Dick known artists to be heard by a larger HymanandD.D. Jackson confirm The audience. I suspect that a large IllJlllber Montreal Bistro as the best piano room of the thousands of people who lllm in town. For complete festival inforout at festival time never see the in- mation check out the websites where side of a jazz club and a considerable you will find full listings. For NC go numberdon'tevenhearlivejazzfrom to and one festival until the next. It is some- for Toronto Downtown Jazz visit thing I have never quite uOOerstood, but I do krowthatl seeagoodlymnber Remember too that the month does of faces at festival time and at oo other. mt begin June 14. There are two weeks So check out the amazing array of of gOOd ~ic leading up to the festivenues in our Jazz Listh¥ on page val marathon. Maybe you should get 37, and get into the habit! into training by catching some of it. Hear the colour of • June 1 ,.. Ju y 7 2002

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