“Doing this is so hard, the musicians and composers have to come from a love and understanding of new art music.”

Tickets to Continuum Contemporary Music at BeMused Network!
$10 student / $20 artist & senior / $30 general
(Oct 19, 2014, 8:00pm) Souvenir(Oct 20, 2014, 8:00pm) Souvenir
Performances at Betty Oliphant Theatre.


As Continuum Contemporary Music celebrate their 30th years of championing new works by contemporary composers, their first concert of the season at the Betty Oliphant Theatre on Oct 19 & 20 presents a film project 20 years in the making.

Initiated by founding artistic director Jennifer Waring and her friend and filmmaker Gary Popovich, “Souvenir is a tale of the history of the universe and humanity’s place in it. The film features six commissioned works by different composers as the soundtrack. This is an unusual performance for Continuum, as it features a large-scale projection against which the Continuum ensemble and guests artists will perform on stage.

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Ryan Scott, Artistic Director of Continuum Music

The performing ensemble in “Souvenir” features artistic director Ryan Scott and percussionist Michelle Colton on an impressive spread of instruments, Anne Thompson on flute, Diane Leung on viola, Joe Phillips on double bass, and a powerhouse vocal duo of soprano Shannon Mercer and mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, with Gregory Oh conducting.

Ryan Scott, an in-demand percussionist and teacher in Toronto’s contemporary music scene, has been a performing member of Continuum since 1996, and took on the artistic director role in 2014.

Scott describes Continuum as a group of “rebel composers and performers from the University of Toronto” who felt strongly about the lack of opportunities for the exploration and performance of new works outside of institutional settings.

They formed the ensemble in 1985 under the artistic leadership of Jennifer Waring, performing works that have been written in the last 3-4 years, with a focus on performing premieres. The philosophy hasn’t changed very much, and it has attracted a core group of performers who are passionate about exploring musical boundaries in collaboration with composers who are writing with the same ethos.

“What Continuum do really well is providing a small ensemble with a high level of flexibility, and enabling composers to create.” Says Scott. “We look for composers who are really daring. They are not just settled in one sort of voice and repeating that voice.”

The kinds of music that interest Scott are those that are experimental and risky. It’s music that is almost impossible to feel neutral towards, but with the promise of a great reward for the active and engaged listeners.

The members of Continuum are an integral part of bringing the music to life. With such cutting edge works, there are no performance or notation conventions to fall back on, and rehearsal is often when a piece comes together for the first time.

“You couldn’t just get any people together and deliver the music because they are good players,” explains Scott. “The Continuum artists understand where the composers are coming from. When you get that music in front of you, it’s something you have to figure out how to make it work.”

The unique role of the performers is an aspect of experiencing new works that audiences often take for granted. They are a critical component of making the music come alive, and it is a level of artistic investment that is not usually demanded from performers of more established repertoire.

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Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano

It takes a community of dedicated performers and risk-taking composers to premiere new works, and it is a model that is emulated by younger contemporary music collectives in Toronto, with pioneering groups such as the Toy Piano Composers (founded in 2007), Spectrum Music (2010), and Thin Edge New Music (2011), to name just a few.

All of these groups are a positive sign for Scott as to the health of the new music community, as he knows first-hand how difficult it is to present and produce contemporary music concerts, never mind full seasons.

“CBC is no longer the place to hear new music, but everyone has access to the internet, and we can all make concerts and promote them,” he says. “It’s interesting to see TorQ Percussion Quartet (founded in 2004) forming seasons, not just concerts, which is really great.”

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Shannon Mercer, soprano

“What’s important is the amount of activity we are seeing, which is really positive, because we can only do so much with our budget,” Scott continues. “Doing this is so hard, the musicians and composers have to come from a love and understanding of new art music.”

Five of the six movements of music accompanying the film – composed by Linda Bouchard, Randall Smith, Michael Oesterle, Alice Ho and Jocelyn Morlock – were premiered in 2003. The final movement, written by Hiroki Tsurumoto, will be premiered at the Oct 19 & 20 performances.

As Continuum carries onward 30 years strong, Souvenir promises to be the quintessential experience of contemporary art music. Between the film projections, six distinctly different pieces by an all-Canadian roster of composers, and a project that has been in a period of long development, I hope it paves the way to another 30 years of artistic experiences that few others do so well.

Tickets start at $10 for students, $20 for artists & seniors, and $30 general on BeMused Network.