Want something new in concert? Innovations en concert wants you!

Interview by Frédéric Cardin
Genres and styles : Avant-Garde / musique contemporaine

Additional Information

Since 1994 (almost 30 years now!) Montreal’s Innovations en concert has provided a wide range of opportunities for music-lovers to discover some of the best new music available. It has given Montrealers and people from elsewhere visiting a particularly wide range of modern sounds to appreciate, ranging from the most experimental to some staples of Minimalist culture such as Gavin Bryars’ Titanic Sinking or Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet

The organization was founded by guitarist and composer Tim Brady, who directed for 10 years, followed by Michel Frigon as director from 2004 to 2010. Cassandra Miller and Isak Goldschneider directed their first season in 2011, with Isak Goldschneider taking over the position of Artistic and General Director in 2014. Since 1994, more than 300 concerts have been presented in 27 artistic seasons.

This is a remarkable institution, maybe not as well-known in the general public as SMCQ, for example, but deserving to be put in the spotlight, especially Isak Goldschneider, whom I have met to talk about next season, a bit about himself and other things.

Here it is.

Pan M 360 : There are some well-known figures in Montreal representing contemporary music, like Walter Boudreau or Lorraine Vaillancourt. The name Isak Goldschneider should be there also, for what you are doing with Innovations en concert is really important and constructive. Tell us about yourself and what brought you to be that organisation’s director?

Isak Goldschneider : 

I’m originally from the United States, but I lived in Amsterdam for about 16 years. That is where I met my partner trumpeter Amy Horvey, she’s Canadian. Then we moved back to Canada, and settled in Montreal, in 2007. At the time I was working on a completely underground level, doing experimental concerts, commercial gigs, busking in the metro, all these kinds of things. I also worked for a music program for a synagogue, Shaar Hashomayim. They have a wonderful program. We later did the background vocals for Leonard Cohen’s, last album.

Then, you know, I started working with composer Cassandra Miller. We co-directed Innovations for a year, taking over Michel Frigon, but then she moved to the UK, where she became very successful as a composer. I took over her job as Director of Innovations en concert. It was a wonderful opportunity, because I got to be in Montreal at a point where things were changing in a very exciting way. Lots of new voices in contemporary music, a lot of representation of artists who hadn’t really had access to the stage until this period around, you know, 2008 2010. 

I had the opportunity to do magnificent things with organisations like Suoni per il popolo, SMCQ, and so on. And we explored new possibilities in contemporary art music by stimulating collaborations between American experimental hip hop artist cum poet cum writer cum etc. Saul Williams, and Montreal’s Kaie Kellough, with saxophonist Jason Sharp. That was amazing and very innovative. That is just one example. There are so many opportunities. I think Montreal is just an absolutely amazing city on an artistic front. Already, when I first came to Montreal in 2007, there were New York Times articles about how Montreal was this secret mecca for music. And it’s remained just as interesting! We did a lot of exciting stuff but I’m thinking next season, it’s going to be even more exciting.

Pan M 360 : Ok, let’s talk about next season!

Isak Goldschneider : Right ! It’s gonna be a wild ride. For Opening concert, I’ll be playing Morton Feldman’s mammoth piano work Triadic Memories. It’s a 90-minute piano work, and Feldman called it “the biggest butterfly in captivity”. It combines deep contemplation and rhythmic grace, and it’s a listening experience on an epic scale. That will be at Centre de musique canadienne au Québec on Crescent street, on September 12. They’ve got a really beautiful little concert space that’s getting launched at the same time.

Not to be missed : Triadic Memories, by Morton Feldman, for piano, played by Isak Goldschneider on September 12 2023.

Then, we will have Peruvian-Canadian and Montreal composer Mirko Sablich’s newest work Uno, a dialogue between mathematics and music, on November 7. Then on March 13, 2024: we will have an exciting new collaboration between Afghan-Canadian writer/actor Shaista Latif from Ontario and Montreal’s Egyptian-Canadian well-known composer Osama (Sam) Shalabi that will explore the history of Afghanistan’s cinema and culture in a very original way. It will be followed by an out-of-this-world Montreal premiere of Vincent Ho’s Juno Award-nominated Supervillain Etudes, by pianists Vicky Chow and Megumi Masaki. The concept is amazing : take six famous villains from comic book culture, make a psychological profile of each of them, and compose music that would describe these profiles! So, we’ll have on a metaphorical musical ‘’couch’’ The Riddler, 2-Face, Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy and the Joker. The concert will also be mediated by Quebec science journalist Michel Rochon. It will be a complete artistic/scientific/sociologic experience! That will be on April 27.

Finally, we’re going to close the season on May 28 2023 with the premiere of a brand new work by Nicole Lizée, with Amy (Horvey) as soloist. Nicole and Amy are both from Saskatchewan, originally, one from anglo community, the other from francophone minority there. Saskbient is the title, and it promises to plunge the listeners in a kind of ambient Ode to Saskatchewan, a sonic experience of what it means to these artists.

My dream has always been to facilitate a new kind of music that really transcends these high art and low art categories, and I hope I reach that goal with those projects.

Creation of a concert work by Nicole Lizée in 2022 : 

Pan M 360 : This sounds very exciting! You mentioned earlier how Montreal is a good place for arts, and contemporary avant-garde music in particular, whether from the classical, improv-jazz or chamber rock perspective. Can you elaborate why?

Isak Goldschneider : Montreal has first been a divided city, between French en English, and then immigration, lots of it, has made it one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the continent, maybe in the world. For some that could be a source of problems, or social issues. But, especially now in 2023, Montreal has succeeded in making it an extraordinary positive and stimulating aspect of its personality. I don’t know if there’s another city in North America where you’ll find it’s also possible to live as an artist and build practice. And the amazing diversity of practices here (ancient music, pop, rock, avant-garde, improv, world) have led to situations where it’s not really clear what’s high art and what’s low art. This is one of the most creative areas of contemporary art right now in the world, that mix of high and low, ancient and experimental. And Montreal is ‘’genetically’’ just right for this! 

I don’t know if there’s other cities in North America that have this kind of diversity of approach, you know, groups that are blurring the lines between contemporary music and so called World Music, for example (that is what Sam Shalabi does). And then, of course, there’s the entire theater and dance scene, circus, all kinds of things. It’s amazing considering Montreal is not as big as, say, LA, Chicago or New York.

Pan M 360 : Is that what you want to base the personality of Innovations en concert on? I mean compared to other important organisations ike the SMCQ (Société de musique contemporaine du Québec) or the NEM (Nouvel Ensemble Moderne) ?

Isak Goldschneider : I don’t want to do that kind of comparison. I mean, we do our stuff and they do theirs. Sometimes we cross paths, and this is good also! I cannot overestimate, for example, the importance of what the NEM does. Contemporary music isn’t always about what’s new. There’s been a century of the kind of discourse of the classical avant garde, and it’s very important that some ensembles address historical models of ‘’experimental’’ and ‘’innovative’’ endeavours. When you look at the riches of what was produced in European art music from the 1960s 1970s, works like Berio’s Sinfonia, works that are not played by North American orchestras, when you think about that, you know we absolutely need guys like the NEM. What we do at Innovations en concert is different but, I think, complementary. And that complementarity is good, and essential.

Pan M 360 : Are you optimistic about the future of avant-garde music in general?

Isak Goldschneider : I’m very optimistic about the creativity that’s here in Montreal and the potential for it to incubate. I hope that the powers that be in our environment will create conditions that foster and sustain this kind of bubbling creativity, because it’s really those basic things that make it possible. For example, the fact that Montreal has been a more affordable place for artists to live has been really, really important and I think we shouldn’t understate the importance of material conditions in creating fantastic art. I’m hoping that kind of support will continue to be there and maintain Montreal on the map as an important hub for culture worldwide.

Pan M 360 : Thank you so much Isak, for being a part of this bubbling of creativity in our city. We hope the message will be heard, because there are certainly issues right now about affordability. Have a wonderful 2023-2024 season, it sounds exciting. I will be there, and our readers as well, I hope! Especially if they fancy creativity, originality and purpose in arts.

Isak Goldschneider : Thank you for this opportunity, it means a lot. 

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