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ISCM2017: A Letter from Artslandia Ambassador Bramwell Tovey

It has been a long time coming, but they are finally here! The ISCM World New Music Days 2017 are about to take flight in Vancouver.

The International Society for Contemporary Music is a global network of organizations and individual members from some fifty countries. It was founded in 1922 as a contemporary offshoot of the famed Salzburg Festival, its primary purpose being the promotion and presentation of contemporary music—the music of our time.

A look at a few of the composers who have had works showcased over the years: luminaries as Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, and Igor Stravinsky. In 1931, English audiences heard works by Karol Szymanowski, Roger Sessions, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Eugene Goossens, and Constant Lambert. A performance that year even featured George Gershwin’s An American in Paris (oddly enough taking place in London at the Queen’s Hall!). Some other prominent composers from the US who have been featured at World New Music Days events include William Schuman, Henry Cowell, Virgil Thomson, John Cage, Elliot Carter, and Milton Babbitt, amongst others.

Canada has been an ISCM member since 1953 (when a certain conductor of British extraction was wearing his first nappies). The only previous time that Canada has welcomed ISCM delegates to our shores was in 1984, when Montréal and Toronto shared the hosting duties. That same aforementioned Brit was at that time the Principal Conductor of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in Birmingham. But the music of our time has always been important to me. Upon my arrival in this country, and over the ensuing years, it has been my pleasure to work with Glenn Buhr and Randolph Peters on the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival—an initiative that continues to this day—and to similarly build showcases for contemporary music in the programming  and educational streams of the VSO.

Contemporary works demonstrate that music is a living, breathing art.

It continues to grow and evolve and change and come under a myriad of influences, both cultural and technological. In a showcase such as ISCM2017, the world is able to walk right up to our doorstep with 135 different composers represented from every corner of the globe. The music of today is the cutting-edge of the music of tomorrow. In the future some of the works that you will have a chance to hear from Thursday, November 2 to Wednesday November 8 may be viewed as the musical pillars of our time.

My congratulations go to ISCM Canadian Section President Jim Hiscott, Artistic Director David Pay from Music on Main, Administrative Director Morna Edmundson, the Canadian League of Composers, and the entire ISCM World New Music Days 2017 team, for the days, months, and years of curation that have gone into the preparation of this musical feast. For the musically curious in Vancouver; it is a week of exploration that will embrace, excite and engage the imagination. To the delight of the international delegates, our city, province and country will display the diversity of cultures and wealth of artistic talent that Vancouver has to offer.

Prepare to open your ears to the world, and explore the offerings at ISCM World New Music Days 2017.


Bramwell Tovey is a Grammy and Juno award-winning conductor/composer and was appointed Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 2000. Under his leadership the VSO has toured to China, Korea, across Canada and the United States. He is Artistic Advisor of the VSO School of Music. His unprecedented 18-year tenure as VSO Music Director has included complete symphony cycles of Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms, the establishment of an annual festival dedicated to contemporary music, as well as the VSO Orchestral Institute at Whistler (VSOIW).