GUEST BLOG: Composer Jeffrey Ryan

22 May

Canadian Composer Jeffrey Ryan (and wonderful old friend of Catalysis Project’s Veronika Krausas) has just ventured back from a music festival in Australia …  but more on Australia soon … here are Jeff’s impressions…


World New Music Days  (Australia) International Society for Contemporary Music

by Jeffrey Ryan

Like most people, I expect, I have a list of places I’d visit if and when I have free time and vacation money. Being a freelance composer, that list rarely gets shorter. Australia has been on that list for a long time, but it’s moved higher up since I relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia in 2002. Before that, I lived in Toronto and the thought of travelling all that way and making however many transfers at however many airports was too much of a hurdle to overcome. From Vancouver, it seemed just a wee bit more realistic.

My chance to go to Australia came earlier this month when I went to Sydney for the World New Music Days festival. This is an annual event sponsored by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM). Each year it happens in a different country, and though it sounds appallingly some-sort-of-centric, this was the first festival to take place not just in Australia but in the entire southern hemisphere. It was also the first time that I’d had a piece programmed (in this case a quintet called Burn). Thanks to 75,000 Aeroplan points, I was there.

One has to be careful at new music festivals. Listening to piece after piece that one has never heard before requires sustained focused attention. There is always the threat of brain fry. So whenever I’m at a new music festival, I pace myself. I had two busy days of rehearsals and concerts, so I also gave myself two days that could largely be devoted to sight-seeing.

A couple of things particularly struck me. One was that everywhere I looked I saw an exhilarating juxtaposition of old and new: huge Victorian buildings retrofitted as high-end shopping malls, historic tiny rowhouses in perfect condition still in use as homes or turned into little galleries just steps off a busy modern street, a stunning glass-and-concrete ferry terminal across from stone cottages (now boutiques). Clearly Sydney is a city that never got bombed during the war.

The other striking thing, more directly related to the festival, was the involvement of ABC Radio, the national broadcaster. Here in Canada, we have a CBC  (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) where there are fewer and fewer classical concert recordings, and fewer shows to broadcast them on anyway, while here was a national broadcaster that had a dedicated classical station. Wow. The first thing I did when I got to Sydney was go straight to the ABC studios, where “The Music Show” was giving a half-hour focus on the festival, including live performances by Ensemble Offspring of two excerpts (one of them from my piece), and interviews with Matthew Hindson, artistic director for the festival, the ensemble’s percussionist Claire Edwardes, and me. (This followed another segment on that show that highlighted the Melbourne Symphony’s new music festival, happening at the same time.) Many of the festival’s concerts were broadcast live-to-air, some were recorded for later broadcast, and afterwards it was all made available for webstreaming on a special site within the ABC site. The presence and participation of ABC at this festival was amazing. But it made me miss the CBC I used to love.

I love looking at architecture but my two-dimensional photos never adequately capture my experience of three dimensions. Recordings, too, don’t capture the three dimensional experience of being in a concert hall, but for the next best thing, go to http://www.abc.net.au/classic/iscm2010/ and enjoy the World New Music Days concerts. There’s some fantastic music from around the world, and a lot of great stuff from Australian composers especially. Burn is second on the programme called “The World in Sydney”. You can watch some video interviews as well. It’s nice to know there are some places in the world where people just get it right. Thanks, ABC!

composer Jeff Ryan

more information about Jeffrey Ryan can be found at:  http://www.jeffreyryan.com

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