CPO’s Under the Influence Festival set to provoke all sorts of outrageous and riotous reactions – in the best way

More than 100 years ago, in 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring took its first performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The twittering dissonance in the music, combined with the jerky movements of the dancers, is rumoured to have caused a riot from the audience.

“As human beings, we react to music with our feelings,” says Rune Bergmann, the artistic director of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Love, joy, sorrow, health and wellness, religion and spirituality, and drugs and alcohol have the power to spark all kinds of feelings and emotions within us -— and art is one of the strongest influences.

The Calgary Philharmonic is exploring these influences through some genre-defying orchestral music in their Under the Influence Festival. This boundary-pushing festival explores the powerful influences and inspirations behind artists such as Tchaikovsky, Frank Zappa, Tanya Tagaq, and John Corigliano, who have taken music in new directions. Though Bergmann is confident the performances will not cause any riots, he hopes “audiences will love our music and performance, and react to that.”

“This festival will take listeners on musical journeys full of extra-sensory experiences that will range from the transcendental to the psychedelic,” says Canadian composer Vincent Ho, the CPO’s “new music” advisor.

The festival begins on Thursday, April 25 with Provocative: Percussion + Tchaikovsky, which features a contrast of musical styles — some music you will know, and some you won’t. On the programme is the emotional and poignant Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), Tchaikovsky’s final work premiered before his death, and Frank Zappa’s Revised Music for Low Budget Symphony Orchestra, a work he laboured over for more than five years.

The programme will also include Hikoi, a percussion concerto by Gareth Farr, a composer and drag queen from New Zealand. Josh Jones, principal percussion of the CPO, will perform the concerto on 42 instruments, including flower pots, plates, car brake drums, and a variety of other percussion instruments.

The performance of this concerto is significant to Jones, as it will take place three months after a surgery that helped him win a year-long fight against cancer. Despite his diagnosis, Jones “decided to act on faith that I would recover just enough to play it,” and through a challenging process, recovered from surgery and learned a concerto at the same time. “Maybe I’m just that crazy.” Jones says, “Needless to say, my emotions will be intense, and I plan on putting my entire soul into every strike that night.”

Later than the usual start time of a CPO concert, on Saturday, April 27 the festival continues with Late Night: Sensory Overload, a unique, unusual, and immersive experience. The lobby of the Jack Singer Concert Hall will be transformed into a cocktail lounge with a live audio-video performance. Following the party will be a performance by Polaris Music Prize-winning throat singer Tanya Tagaq performing Qiksaaktuq with orchestra, a piece that was dedicated to the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and it will give you chills.

Then, on Thursday, May 2, the CPO and the National Music Centre are teaming up to present the internationally acclaimed John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man at Studio Bell. Corigliano will present his Grammy-winning work set to the poems of Bob Dylan, along with his dynamic work Stomp. Josh Jones will also join Calgary’s Land’s End ensemble for a bumpin’ performance of Vincent Ho’s Kickin’ It 2.0 for drumkit and piano trio.

Under the Influence concludes on May 3 and 4 with the epic, unmatchable sound of a full, enormous orchestra with Rune Bergmann conducting Controversial Classics: The Rite of Spring + The Red Violin. The programme includes the Violin Concerto from The Red Violin, and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which, despite its reception at the premiere, is now one of the most well-known and well-loved pieces of orchestral repertoire.

Change is hard, and as Rune Bergmann puts it, “how we react depends on what we are used to.” Bergman believes “a piece like The Rite of Spring was something shocking and surprising at its premiere,” but it’s not so easy to shock audiences today.

The CPO is keeping the energy and musical climate fresh with modern and new repertoire that thinks outside the box and uses the orchestra in new and very exciting ways.

Allow yourself to be outraged in the best of ways at the CPO’s Under the Influence Festival, and be influenced by the innovative sounds and sights from within the concert hall.

(Photo courtesy Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.)

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s Under the Influence Festival runs Thursday, April 25 to Sunday, May 4 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall and Studio Bell. For more information about the festival and to buy tickets, visit

Simon MacLeod never wears hats. But, he is active in the Calgary arts community, as a sound and movement performance artist, and arts manager for a number of local nonprofit arts groups.