Brian Cherney: Highlights in Canadian Music

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(Blog post by Chris Maskell)

It speaks volumes that Prof. Brian Cherney’s Canadian Music Concert series grew out of a desire to share our nation’s great works with his students. While teaching his course on Canadian Music at Schulich, he came up with an idea to make the compositions in the curriculum more accessible to the class — and this has since become a well-loved yearly tradition. 

Now in their fourth iteration, these annual concerts offer Montreal audiences a chance to enjoy fantastic Canadian works in a variety of styles, all selected by Cherney himself. As he aptly said a recent email exchange, live performances can be more much more stimulating than recordings, so concerts like these could help raise awareness about our nation’s great composers. 

He also described an additional motivation that he has while selecting the music. “There is a lot of important repertoire by Canadian composers who were born before the Second World War which is being forgotten. These concerts provide an opportunity both for the performers, students and musical public to hear this repertoire.”

Looking at this year’s program specifically, Cherney went on to explain that the upcoming concert will feature a broad range of material played by ensembles ranging from soprano and piano to mixed choir.

“One of the pieces is by John Beckwith, who is turning 90 in early March — the performance of his piece (Fractions for 16th-tones piano and string quartet) is in honour of this important anniversary. Harry Somers’ String Quartet No. 2 was chosen because it’s a fine work and deserves to be heard, and the same goes for Bruce Mather’s choir piece La lune mince. The work of John Hawkins, Waves, is being performed because it is a fine work and has probably not been performed more than once or twice since its premiere in 1971. Hawkins was one of the most gifted composers of his generation. Since his death in 2007, his music has not been performed much (if at all) and deserves to be. 

Since Mather, Somers, and Beckwith all studied composition in Paris near the beginning of their careers, I also programmed a work by Darius Milhaud. Both Somers and Mather studied with him. As well, in Paris in the 1970s, Bruce Mather met the Russian-born microtonal pioneer Ivan Wyschnegradski who profoundly influenced the direction of his music. Therefore, there’s an early work by Wyschnegradski on the program.”

The concert will be presented as part of the 2017 Society for American Musicians Conference, which is hosted by McGill University this year. The Conference runs from March 22 – 26. 

This year’s Canadian Music Concert will be held on March 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Tanna Schulich Hall. Tickets can be purchased here.