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Volume 9 Issue 3 - November 2003

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COVER STORY Jennifer Waring & Continuum by David Perlman The date is November 1719'J9; the place is Walter Hall on the U of T campus; the occasion a composers' forum midway through the week-long Massey Festival of New Music. Composers Paul Dolden, Scott Irvine, Jeffrey Ryan, John Weinzweig, and Pascal Dusapin are on stage, about two thirds of the way into an hour-long panel discussion, moderated by fellow composer Paul Steenhuisen. The discussion has covered some usual ground: where the individual composers get their ideas; their compositional tecinriques and interests; the extent to which composers cater to their audiences. Suddenly the discussion takes a turn, the tone becomes a bit querulous. The panelists are deep into a discussion of whether European audiences care about Canadian new music, and, conversely, whether Canadian composers' should care what European audiences think. "The BBC ill London has no interest in the art of ex-colonials ... we should have no interest in the music of Europe" .... "Our biggest problem is that we' re trying to impress Europeans .... " "Are you just going to stay home forever?" "I'll go to Europe, I like the pastries ... , but I'm not going to attend those boring· festivals anymore." "To accept feeling insecure is just ridiculous. .. . I go into the comers with my elbows up." The moderator attempts to restore order. "You know," he says, "my feeling is, I don't even care if we pursue this question any further, I Clarinetist Peter Stoll rehearsing ektenes III [1995-1] for clarinet, tape _ · and live electronics by alcides Lanza. Left to right in the backgound are Paul Hodge, audio engineer at the Music .Gallery, Scott Wilson, composer and Continuum's technical coordinator, and Jennifer Waring. (Nov. 2002) PHOTO: MICHAEL MITCHELL 6 WWW, THEWtjOLENOTE.COM think it's a waste of tiine." An audience member who has so far been silent intervenes. "No!" calls out Jennifer Waring, founder and artistic director of Continuum Contemporary Music Ensemble. "We want to!" And for a little while the discussion continues. *** Flash forward four years. The Massey Hall new music festival is a thing of the past, but Europe is still very much on Jennifer Waring's mind. I caught her in the throes of preparing for Continuum's first international tour - two and a half weeks; Amsterdam and Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, then London and Huddersfield in the UK, back to Holland to Den Bosch, and finally on to Ghent, in Belgium. "Setting up a tour is much like putting on concerts - at least that's what I told myself at the outset, to allay my fears" she said. "You make a list, do everything on it and solve problems as they come up." But the list is longer, the problems bigger, the stakes higher. "It's a different context, a different opportunity for our composers and for us - concerts in places like the ljsbreker in Amsterdam and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and radio exposure from the BBC and VPRO." "What stands out so far is the ready interest of European presenters, and their willingness to go with us based on our work rather than our reputation, which is insignificant internationally. Conversely, the experience of getting support from the Canadian government for the tour has been horrendous. I won't go into the details because our specific situation is not the issue. The real problem is the general indifference to and lack of understanding of the value of eX1J9rting our cultural product - participating internationally. There needs to be real change in this area." I show her the little anecdote from Massey Hall 1999 that I'm planning to use as an intro. She reflects on it. "The situation vis a vis Canadian music has changed (I.think that panelist's comments were out of date even at that time). A Canadian ,group touring Europe today doesn't go for validation of its ensemble, or Canadian repertoire, or the fragile Canadian ego. In fact, quite a few of the composers we are touring - . Michael Oesterle, Allison Cameron Scott Wilson - have international ' reputations already. We are recognized sources of interesting work in an international 'musical culture. The time has passed, when we needed to defiantly proclaim our independence through disdain." Defiant proclamation of a different sort attended Continuum's birth in the musical hotbed of mid-eighties University of Toronto. As the story . goes, composition students could count on one official concert a year to showcase their work. But in 1985 it was cancelled. A number of composition majors, along with the performance majors most supportive of new work, decided the concert would go a,head anyway, and Continuum was born. "Sasha Rapoport, Omar Daniel, Ron Smith, Clark Ross, Michael Bloss, George Thurgood, Colin Eatock, Martin Vandeven, James Rolfe, Tim Knight, Wendy Prezament" are names that come readily to Jennifer's mind. "I was a flutist, one of the performance majors," she says, "not a composer. I arrived at university having discovered Stravinsky at ten, ahd having grown up (in Gatineau) surrounded by people with strong artistic interestS in modernism if not music. I was interested in both. The two grew together." The name Continuum, she recalls "was Colin Eatock's idea, named for a work by Gyorgy Ligeti, an expression of the desire for the contin­ . uation of composition." The group has evolved from thos~ early collective beginnings, with a structure now similar to other established new music ensembles in town - New Music Concerts, for example, or Esprit, or Arraymusic-an ar- tistic director, a core ensemble (flute, oboe, violin, cello, piano, percussion), other artists added as needed, and a mandate to commission and· · perform new works by emerging and established composers, mainly Canadian. "There are always things that make groups distinct from one another" she says. "There is the history and culture of the group, for one. As a collectively run organization turned hierarchical, we have retained the idea of consultation (consulting with and picking the brains of many far-flung colleagues). But because of early frustration with the slow pace of consensual decision making, there's now a certain dictatorial quality to the operation - but only in the best sense, I hope." The interests and predilections of the artistic director are obviously also significant. "The fact that I am not a composer is probably reflected in programming. I am not tied strongly to a personal aesthetic so my programming may be more broad-ranging." Composer Scott D. Wilson, whose work 13 Angels will tour, is blunter. "Jennifer, to my mind, is probably the most scrupulous person I've ever dealt with in the new music world" he says, "and it may be that not being a composer helps her to be that way." A lot of stuff in that world happens for political reasons, based on patterns of 'I'll scratch your back, and .. .'. Of course it's not always so venal, probably not even usually so, but it does tend towards it." . He points to Jennifer's success in creating wide-ranging connections in diverse places around Canada and internationally, "not as opportunities to leverage benefits but to create sites to be mined: for more information, the next connection in the network, the next composer, the next fresh exciting piece. Certainly she has her friends, and even favourites but you feel that those composers ' and works get her attention because · of her real love for the music." ' Continuum's bienniai Call for Scores is also fundamental to the group's culture. "Every two years we get upwards of'200 scores from Canadians and international composers" Jennifer says. "Sifting through it all takes time but we have found some very important work and have developed close professional relations with composers as a result." James Rolfe was Continuum's Artistic Director at the time of the first Call For Scores in 1992 .. "We NOVEMBER 1 - DECEMBER 7 2003

ended up with three winners-Paul Steenhuisen, Melissa Hui, and Hugh Peaker-a diverse group which illustrates the artistic pluralism that distinguishes Continuum's programming. Afterwards we received a number of unsolicited rejoinders from unhappy contestants. My favourite came from Edmonton, to the effect that once again the West had been screwedthis in spite of the fact that all three winners were from British Columbia. It shows $It being an Artistic Director is hardly a popularity contest-it's more like being a lightning rod." "It takes a huge amount of work to program effective, balanced, and affordable concerts," he says, "especially with a mandate for diversity such as Continuum's. Jennifer is very patient in her pursuit, following leads which may (or may not) bear fruit several seasons hence. Her work may be invisible, but the results are evident - scime of the best and freshest new music to be heard in Toronto, and musicians who make it sound so good." "She's a real idea person, " Scott Wilson says, committed to a genuine . intellectual curiosity about what she's doing, why she's doing it, and its place in the broader world. "It's nice to find someone still excited by the field after many years of hard work. : .. There' re a lot of jaded people out there, people who have devoted their lives to music, but can't find a single thing to like in a whole concert or even a whole festival." Continuum's ensemble for the tour is Anne Thompson (f1ute), Peter Stoll (clarinet), Benjamin Bowman (violin), Paul Widmer (cello), Laurent Philippe (piano), Graham Marshall (percussion) and Rosemary Thomson (conductor). "It's hard for people to appreciate the sacrifice that musicians make by participating in a tour like this" Jennifer says. "You have to realize that Canacta is largely what you'd call a "gigging culture" for musicians. They go gig to gig, contract to contract. Whether it be teaching, stage shows, the orchestra pit for opera and ballet, playing with Esprit or New Music Concerts or Array, - the list goes on and on - each of these people is forgoing a significant part of their revenue stream by being away." "So I hope people will take November 6 in the spirit of an invitation to come and see us off. Setting up the tohr has been a huge undertaking and it would be gratifying if people came out to wish us well. This is partly because I feel that we go not only for ourselves but on behalf of the Canadian community." Working on behalf of the community is something gaining ground among new musi\,: organiz.ations in town. Continuum has participated actively in recent efforts to build a strong local new music coalition. "Is the increased interaction a result of the coalition, or is it the other way round?" I asked. "It's chicken and egg. There were a few events and efforts that helped to break down barriers and promote There's evident excitement in the way Jennifer speaks about Continuurn's upcoming November 6 "Pre- Tour" concert at the Music: Gallery. · interaetion. The local new music It's an opj:Jortunity to prepare for the culture was one of mutual suspicion tour, and a great excuse "for repeat and non-

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