Where to hear new music in Calgary

Bach Beethoven Brahms — all of them were good but rather weak in the saxophone department. And if you want to hear music for saxophone quartet aluminum tubes latex membranes and sirens it might be time to seek out some contemporary classical music.


A good bet would be Quasar a Montreal-based saxophone quartet specializing in music incorporating electronics theatricality and invented instruments.

Quasar will play the Rozsa Centre on November 12 as part of New Works Calgary’s 2013-14 season which marks the series’ 30th anniversary of presenting a range of new music ensembles both local and touring.

Composer Laurie Radford New Works’ artistic director says Calgary has developed into a popular destination for internationally recognized new music ensembles as well as having a thriving scene of its own. Last season New Works Calgary featured Eighth Blackbird a Grammy-winning sextet that performs entirely from memory as well as 20 Quarter-Inch Jacks a piece for 20 electric guitars by Canadian composer Tim Brady.

The organization’s 30th season won’t feature any retrospectives — music from its first season back in 1983 might no longer qualify as new — but it will start off with one of Calgary’s most established new music groups Ensemble Resonance on October 20 at the Rozsa Centre. Their season will finish with a New Music Marathon on May 3 including mini-concerts throughout the day an evening concert at Festival Hall in Inglewood a sound walk and new music buskers spilling out into the streets.


Another new music fixture in Calgary Land’s End Chamber Ensemble has been performing since 1998. The upcoming season of four concerts highlights iconic modern works — Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Sextet” and Benjamin Britten’s “Cabaret Songs” — grouped with newer pieces that draw on their inspiration.

The ensemble’s first concert on November 30 focuses on an iconic genre — the title is “Piano Trio… more or less” — and explores some of its diverse uses with works by Michael Oesterle Salvatore Sciarrino Alfred Schnittke and a world première by Canadian composer Jordan Nobles. Praised for his “breathtakingly beautiful sounds” Nobles adds percussion to the traditional piano trio: think of it as the Mona Lisa complete with a handlebar moustache.


Also in November the Epcor Centre’s Soundasaurus Multimedia Arts Festival spotlights weird and wonderful new sounds in combination with visuals and other media. This year marks the festival’s fifth anniversary and a new partnership with the Sounds Like… Audio Arts Festival from Saskatoon. Headliners include sound artists Loscil from Vancouver Ceephax Acid Crew from the U.K. and Holly Herndon from the U.S.

You can get a flavour of what’s to come and create some sound art of your own from September 11 to 29 in the Epcor Centre’s Arts Learning Centre. That will be the temporary home of 12 Tones an interactive sound installation by Gary James Joynes who promises “an immersive environment exploring the relationship between sound waves and their visual counterpart.”


Like Land’s End the Rubbing Stone Ensemble gets its name from a geological landmark a glacial erratic perched on Nose Hill for the last 10000 years. The ensemble is planning a spring 2014 concert celebrating the release of its debut recording on the Centredisc label titled The Lethbridge Sessions . Founder and co-artistic director Jeremy Brown describes it as “a mix of local and ex-pat Calgary composers” with works written specifically for the ensemble and its diverse collection of performers.

Rubbing Stone plans to take part in another local first this coming winter when the Canadian New Music Network brings its National Forum here January 24 to 26. The three-day event at the University of Calgary will feature performances by Land’s End Chamber Ensemble a rare performance of modernist composer Gyorgy Kurtag’s “Kafka Fragments” presented by New Works Calgary and lots of composers artists improvisers and new music aficionados in their element.


Composer and performer Chris Dadge has been described as “a promoter of unusual musical activity.” He is also the founder of Bug Incision a recording label and concert series that presents local and touring artists. The series runs in mostly monthly instalments as well as one-offs and “semi-secret tunnel concerts” throughout the year; the best way to keep track and catch a show is through their website and social media.

For new music lovers spontaneity and surprise are part of the fun — many of this season’s sounds haven’t been written yet or may only be realized once in a live performance.

New Works’ Radford is impressed by a new generation of composers and artists who are “like sponges not so entrenched in their own enclaves” and more likely to connect with other fields arts and disciplines.

The best advice may be to keep your ears and eyes open and watch out for flying latex membranes.