By Adriana Ciccone
With the Ottawa New Music Creators launching their new season in December, Adriana Ciccone caught up with artistic director Raphael Weinworth-Browne about what new music and instruments we can expect to hear.
Adriana: The Ottawa New Music Creators started in 2008. What was the reason behind founding it?
Raphael: Well I was not involved in the founding of the organization. I sort of inherited the job of being artistic director much more recently in 2014. So essentially the organization comes from a group of people who are composers, creators of what we call new music—that being contemporary, western classical music—and the idea was to create a platform for Ottawa-based composers to have their works played and have exchange between local composers.
I think over the years the purpose of the organization has begun to change a little bit because the contingent of people who are composers of that style of music in Ottawa is very small. It was becoming a little bit too much of a little clique.When they started putting on concerts a few years later it was really just a small group of people that were attending. They weren’t really even, I think, focused on having good attendance, it was just about the composers.
Over the past couple of years it’s changed a lot. Curtis Perry, who is the executive director, decided that the organization was about to fold and he wanted to keep it going. He did it more for the good of the community so that we could have more great shows and disseminate lots of new music that we like.
The organization is becoming a bit more known because its focus is moving more towards presenting concerts and trying to bring really great music to Ottawa.
Last year was my first season directing and we had a lot of really successful concerts, pretty much packed. We had my groups The Visit and Musk Ox. Plus Esmerine . . . they are a really great band from Montreal. They won a couple of Junos, they are all instrumentalists, a lot of Turkish influence too. We had a show with this experimental solo sax and a performance with a cello and a kamancha, it’s a Persian instrument, so it’s kind of like a world music improvised show. We had a concert with a hurdy gurdy and viola da gamba, also all improvised, we had a great turnout for that and CBC covered it.
Adriana: Cool, so it’s about getting out of that niche and make it more accessible to the general community?
Raphael: I mean that’s what I think needs to be done . . . with contemporary music there’s this stigma around it that it’s very pretentious, or that’s it’s not very listenable and certainly that is the case a lot of the time. A lot of contemporary composers write stuff where they’re not really trying to connect with an audience, they are not trying to reach people necessarily. It’s more about their own interest and sometimes they want to do it so that it looks good on paper and I understand because when people go to school for this kind of thing for a long time they can easily lose sight of the greater purpose.
Music is about connecting people and about transmitting emotions, transmitting ideas and imagery and experience and sharing experience, and this kind of universality. So I don’t just want to have the die hard niche people coming to the shows, I want everyone to be there.
Adriana: So how is the group run?
Raphael: It works more or less like any small concert presenter or festival. It’s a pretty small group of people. Really the work is balanced between myself and Curtis. We have a board, a president and a few people on the board who are essentially in an advisory role.
Curtis wrote the grant application, got the city funding, which we get from the city of Ottawa every year. It’s a small amount, we are not dealing with a lot of money so we have to be very smart about how we use it. We have to pay guarantees to all the artists, we have to book venues which you know isn’t always free and we have to cover other costs as well. So it’s a tricky thing balancing a budget which is very small compared to even some of the smaller festivals that I’ve played but still have super interesting programming that will get people out and really be great.
Ultimately, as I said before, my priority here is to create more of a community around a style of music and around a way of listening and a way of engaging with music. Which is active and intimate.
Adriana: Why is this important to the community?
Raphael: The city basically needs all the bases covered. I think that’s important. In a city you need to have, and even just in your neighborhood, you need to have a grocery store, a place you can buy food where you can get all of your various nutrients, you need to have places where you can print out documents or places to meet, schools and hospitals—you need to have all of those resources and with the music scene it’s the same thing.You need to have your rock clubs or your classical concert hall, a church, intimate venue, art space, and so on. Stylistically you need to have a good representation of all these styles.
The raison d’etre is really to get people, especially people who don’t come to see shows a lot or don’t see these kinds of shows, out of the house and hear something they’ve never heard before and to inspire people.
Adriana: What else can the public expect from this new season?
Raphael: They are going to hear works they haven’t heard before and I think every show is going to be a sonic experience that’s probably pretty new for most of the audiences and maybe they will be surprised by how much they like certain things that they thought they wouldn’t be into or they didn’t have a full idea of what it was going to be like.
Adriana: Are there any particular acts that you’re especially excited for?
Raphael: I’m excited for all of them. I think the tabla and flute thing will be really cool. I’m also excited for the VC2 show because they are playing the Ottawa premiere of a piece I wrote very recently and I haven’t heard them play it in person yet. I sort of heard them play it on a Skype call but I didn’t even hear the whole thing. Of course selfishly I would like to hear my own work being played live. •