Welcome to MusiMarch 2004!

In the heart of coldest winter, MusiMarch returns to Montreal. The 2004 incarnation of the festival presents a new series of important works from the contemporary repertoire, but it does more than this: it provides a framework for the appreciation of certain musical links and groupings, and even, one could say, outlines a musical “genealogy.” Because programming a succession of musical works over a four-concert series is not merely a benign exercise in scheduling. Instead, the particular juxtaposition of programmed works promises to allow each composition to illuminate the next in a way that one might not have predicted. Strong musical works give rise to a veritable wake of reflection, and open the way to new sounds and sensibilities. In this way, MusiMarch is a musical crossroads in which the works of nine composers will not only provide an appreciation for contemporary composition but also provide a forum in which to reflect on its future.

Rather than proclaiming a single theme, MusiMarch 2004 embraces related thematic strands that will cut across the concert programs, lectures, workshops, master classes and the round table that make up the festival.

Instead of a specific theme, MusiMarch 2004 explores “musical attitudes.” This phrase was coined by Gérard Grisey, the “father” – with Tristain Murail – of spectral music. This important direction in composition represents not simply a technique, but suggests a new mode of apprehending sound and music, a very particular way of perceiving the sonic reality. The festival will feature four of the six works from Grisey’s cycle Les espaces acoustiques (1974-1985.) In this cycle, “microscopic” elements of sound give birth to a “macroscopic” whole, and the large-scale formal organization of the work creates a fusion of timbre and harmony, the hallmark of spectral music. Beyond this, Grisey invites us to participate in a subtle play of musical time: as his works unfold, time seemingly stretches and contracts, steering the listener to a perceptual threshold. MusiMarch situates this “spectral attitude” with its sometimes simple, hedonistic reputation, in the context of its immediate precursors, such as Olivier Messiaen. While Giacinto Scelsi may be the spiritual father of the spectral school, it is Messiaen who led the way and opened the ears to a “spectral attitude”: we have only to consider his pivotal approaches to colour and timbre, and his fusion of these elements to envision musical form as function of sonority itself. On hearing excerpts of Preludes pour piano and L’Ascension, the significant oeuvre from his youth, one might observe that the “Messiaenic attitude” owes something to Debussy…

Along these lines, we have the pleasure of welcoming one of the heirs of spectral thought, French composer Philippe Hurel. Four of his important works will receive their Canadian premiere (Leçon de chose, Tombeau in memoriam Gérard Grisey, Figures libres and Kits) and Hurel will also address these works in a lecture. But this “heritage” is complex and can even be ambiguous: it implies principles of metamorphosis and modulation of textures, principles Hurel employs and develops brilliantly in his works. The question remains as to how one negotiates individuality and personal style, with the prospect of integrating other languages and influences to form one’s “personal attitude,” even in the path of the spectral school. It is a question to which Hurel has given a great deal of thought, not only over the course of his own career and works, but over the course of the tight relationship he maintains with composers of his generation. These are colleagues who have worked to define themselves in the midst of the “spectral wake.” Hurel presents a passionate lecture on the subject entitled “La musique spectrale… à terme!

Hurel’s meditation on this subject will provide us with a better appreciation for the composer Claude Vivier, two of whose works will be performed at MusiMarch: Trois airs pour un opéra imaginaire and Orion. Vivier’s compositional language is often said to owe much to the music of Grisey and Murail: the musical colour of Vivier’s generative monody principle recalls that of spectral music. His music also radiates with an extremely personal, almost obsessive lyricism. But few to this day have attended to the generative principles of his language. It is in this vein that Patrick Lévesque invites us to share in his research on Vivier. Lévesque will enlighten us as to the “Vivier attitude,” distinguishing it from the that of the spectralists and clarifying the fundamentals of this composer’s musical language, the essence of which is the principle of the dyad.

MusiMarch welcomes another major lecturer-composer to its ranks: Howard Bashaw of Edmonton. It is not a question to attempt a superficial comparison between the spectral tradition and Bashaw’s music. And yet, we can speak of the parallels between “attitudes”… Bashaw’s works set forth rich and complex temporal manipulation, superimposing immutable layers of musical time. Like Grisey, Bashaw is interested in “archetypal” musical elements. His music delves into the secret forces of musical time and directs us to contemplate the mysteries of musical “becoming.” MusiMarch presents five of Bashaw’s Preludes for Piano and the highly anticipated premiere of Double Entente.

Also on the MusiMarch program is iNTERtECTURE, by Stephen Rogers, a young composer whose work establishes a connection with music from the distant past, a connection that is both real and imagined. You will also hear the Montreal premiere of a work by your humble servant: Des caresses… is not only a work of nostalgic, pseudo-referential language, but it also highlights the formal processes of continuous metamorphosis bringing it closer to the “spectral attitude” than one might at first suspect. Further, we will have the pleasure of rediscovering John Rea’s Overtime, a composition that emphasises the pure manipulation of time, perhaps flowing out of the “cynical-hedonistic” musical attitude of Bashaw and later Grisey… Does this pleasure in time-orchestration originate from an attitude more Epicurean than Socratic? You’ll never guess!

And speaking of musical “attitudes”… what position should we adopt in the face of new technology, in particular in the realm of computer-assisted composition? Amongst numerous examples, sonograms and acoustic analyses allowed Grisey to conceive of a new language and aesthetic. What is the current relationship between composers and the array of composition software available today? This question will be addressed by Philippe Hurel, Howard Bashaw, Sean Ferguson, Serge Provost, John Rea, Denys Bouliane and Philippe Depalle during the round table of Monday March 1st.

On the subject of the “adjunct” festival programming –though not by any means superfluous –let us not forget that Grisey’s work Annubis-Nout constitutes a meeting point across an imagined Egyptian kingdom of death, between Grisey and Viver… Dedicated to Viver, this unusual work literally inverts the harmonic spectra in a unique and spiritual ritual. The festival also features Grisey’s orchestral arrangement Quatre Lieder de Hugo Wolf, a work that is both bucolic and wonderfully naïve in tone. This forms a “exutoire” counterpoint with the last work of this composer, the densely sombre Quatre chants pour franchir le seul. As for Tombeau in memoriam Grisey, the aim of the work is clear… though the tone and musical approach might surprise…

MusiMarch relies on the fruitful association between the Faculty of Music of McGill University and the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec. These two founding partners are joined regularly by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal as well as broadcasters La Chaine culturelle of Radio-Canada and CBC’s Radio Two. In addition, this year MusiMarch has the pleasure of welcoming the National Arts Centre Orchestra from Ottawa, and we graciously thank them for their participation.

We are convinced that these collaborations actively contribute to the development of contemporary music for an ever-growing and ever more discerning public.

Warmest gratitude goes out to all partners, soloists, conductors and performers, to all lecturers and artisans in this initiative. Looking forward to the pleasure of meeting with you at our concerts, workshops, master classes and conferences.

— Denys Bouliane