By STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — The Montreal/New Music Festival highlights the best of contemporary music with its sixth edition beginning today.
This year’s theme, “Voice and Percussion,” is showcased in more than 50 musical events through Sunday, March 3. The biennial event began in 2003 under the auspices of Walter Boudreau, the current artistic director of the Societe de Musique Contemporaine du Quebec, or SMCQ.
“The first 20 years of the SMCQ was establishing a savoir faire — a repertoire, a forum — to invite musicians from around the world to perform in Quebec and showcase our own talent,” Boudreau said. “And Montreal slowly put itself on the international map as a place for contemporary music.”
But a bigger showcase was necessary.
“It was like having a warehouse full of musical artifacts,” Boudreau said. “But the warehouse was piling up.”
Europe hosted quite successful, larger-scale events in the contemporary-music world, Boudreau said.
“We were right by Interstate 87, but we had no ramp. You just drove by. So we built the ramp — in the form of a festival.”
In 2003, the Montreal/New Music Festival was born, and international and local musicians — and highly satisfied audiences — have been attending ever since. The goal of the fest is to bridge the contemporary-music scene between Europe and North America.
“And we aim to show a variety of what that is,” Boudreau said.
There’s a little, unique something for everyone.
The program includes an original concert staging of the Leonard Bernstein classic “West Side Story” presented by Percussions Claviers de Lyon. The version replaces dancers with a “percussion ballet” and also includes a cast of four singers and urban-style animated projections. It’s presented Saturday, Feb. 23, at Salle Pierre-Mercure of Centre Pierre-Peladeau, 300 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E. Tickets cost $30 for adults, $20 for those over 50, and $15 for students.
The New Music Festival also presents a timely rendition of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Conducted by Alex Pauk, the work is performed by Toronto’s Esprit Orchestra, the only Canadian full orchestra dedicated to new music. It is presented Sunday, Feb. 24, also at Salle Pierre-Mercure. Tickets cost $30 for adults, $20 for those over 50, and $15 for students.
“The Ice Child” tells the other-worldly tale of a child victim of an Incan sacrifice found frozen in ice for 500 years. The story is told by mezzo-soprano Ghislaine Deschambault and baritone actor Jean Maheux, who perform short poems in five languages with their voices manipulated electrically and set to a video backdrop projected onto a water screen. “The Ice Child” is performed Thursday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 2, at the Gesu, 1200 Bleury St. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $20 for those over 50, and $17 for students.
The fest’s voice and percussion theme takes a literal musical turn with a performance by the Fuji Family Percussion Ensemble. The world-renowned percussionists use 36 voices from the Toronto Children’s Choir and create exotic sounds using Japanese sanukite volcanic stones. They perform Friday, March 1, at Salle Pierre-Mercure. Tickets cost $30 for adults, $20 for those over 50, and $15 for students.
The program “Halo” aims to dispel any notion of the serious side to contemporary-orchestral music. Dubbed an “over-the-top” ensemble, the trio Toca Luca performs with a resident pianist, tenor, soprano and conductor and playfully incorporates movies, poetry, electronics — and even video games — into their set, according to a press release. “Halo” is presented Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur, 100 Sherbrooke St. E.
The festival also features children’s programming, a music salon and an After Hours series, as well as conferences and talks.
Most tickets are available through Admission Ticket Network at (514) 790-1245. For complete programming information, visit www.festivalmnm.ca.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.