Festival Blog

Modern Musical Surprises

What a wealth and variety is contained within the music composed since 1920!  In my university days (now long past), this was referred to generically as “modern music.”

That term is becoming increasingly inadequate as the field grows ever larger, both in lapse of time and in variety of styles.

On August 3, the Festival of the Sound is presenting an intriguing pair of concerts provocatively entitled “Time Travel.”  One is devoted to music of the 21st century, the other to music of the 18th and 19th centuries.  More surprisingly, they are presented in reverse time order.

That first concert may deter some people with its list of unknown composers and unusual titles.  But modern music is not what it was 20 years ago.  Many composers today are returning to the more conventional elements of music, and finding their own ways of combining more traditional melody, harmony and rhythm together.

One of the composers on the programme is Kelly Marie Murphy, and I have a clear recollection of my first encounter with her music.  That was years ago in the good old days of Festival Hall, in the small gym of the high school.  I’m nearly certain that Postcards from Home, the work by her which is being presented this year, is one that I have heard before and liked.

I really feel that this programme will be an interesting and intriguing encounter with some contemporary music which may well be much more listenable than many people believe.

The second concert of the Time Travel pair should present no difficulties, since it features the powerful D minor string quartet of Schubert.  It’s subtitled Death and the Maiden only because the second movement uses the melody of that song as the source of a set of variations.

On August 10 there’s another interesting pair of concerts, featuring music of World War One and World War Two.

The World War One concert starts with Ravel’s suite Le Tombeau de Couperin.  Designed as a homage to that French composer of an earlier day, the four movements are each dedicated to the memory of a friend Ravel lost in the war.  The music, however, is as sunny as you please, and an endless delight to the ear.

The World War Two concert centres around Richard Strauss’ late masterpiece, Metamorphosen.  Strauss sketched the winding melody of this sad threnody in 1943, the day after a bombing raid reduced his beloved Munich Court Opera to smoking ruins.  Filled with equal parts of heartbreak and the composer’s signature lyrical melodic style, this moving work for strings will be a highlight of the Festival’s final week.

The Festival runs this summer from July 21 to August 13.  Tickets for all events are available at the Festival Station Gallery at 1 Avenue Road, at the Stockey Centre, and online at festivalofthesound.ca.

By Ken Stephen

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