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“Cutting Edge Culture” - Strata Festival of New Music Artistic Director Paul Suchan talks 2024 edition

Updated: Jun 8

by Scott Roos

photos/posters courtesy of Strata Festival of New Music

Paul Suchan/Rory Lynch playing with SJO photo by Deanna Roos

Next Thursday, June 13th through Saturday, June 15th, the Strata Festival of New Music will once again be taking place in Saskatoon. This year, as in previous years, various venues around the city will play host to the festival which for this edition include: Remai Modern’s scenic, cozy Riverview room, Quance Theatre at the University of Saskatchewan and the lavish, ornate, Knox United Church. The festival, which has been in operation since 2012, will continue its tradition of spotlighting Saskatchewan based composers and musicians with the overarching idea to present innovative, boundary pushing music. 

“The idea (when we first started up the festival) was to try and create a place for composers, basically, and a place that maybe didn't exist otherwise,” Strata Festival co-founder and current artistic director Paul Suchan tells NSMZ, “ a place where composers could maybe experiment a little bit sometimes, maybe try out a different style, maybe it's a type of concert that just wouldn't be offered at a different festival.”

“We try to be pretty eclectic with the styles of music (we program for Strata Festival),” Suchan explains.

The idea, in part, is that if these opportunities are afforded, that sometimes connections can be made from giving the composers those chances to work with something they normally wouldn't. Hopefully, it extends things in new directions. The Strata Festival has presented a wide array of performances since its inception. Opera, film scores, dance… you name it, and doors have opened for composers as a result that maybe weren't even there before. 

“Since 2012, we've had some connections made where the composer has been able to get more work from the original project, which is exactly what we want,” Suchan continues.

This year is no exception. Critically acclaimed Saskatchewan born composer Rodney Sharman will be having several of his more chamber orientated works performed at Remai Modern on Thursday, June 13th at 7:30 pm for a concert entitled “Famous Last Words”. He’ll also be leading a masterclass style workshop for young composers on Friday, June 14th at 4:00 pm at Quance Theatre. Being able to hear Sharman’s works performed will be a rare treat to be sure.

“He's been the composer in residence for many symphonies across Canada, very well known and respected,” Suchan says of Sharman, “He studied with Murray Adaskin, who taught Music Composition at the University of Saskatchewan for quite a while…. Plus he's a great composer and he's a really nice guy, so there's no reason not to bring him to show (off) his music.”

Suchan (L) and Lynch (R) playing a show as part of the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra in 2023. Both these gentlemen will be part of the "High Score" concert. Suchan will play piano as part of a jazz ensemble for Lynch's video game composition.

On Friday, June 14th, at 7:30 pm the Quance Theatre will play host to “High Score: A Multiplayer Jazz Experience”. This show will feature collaboration between local video game creators and composers. Audience members will be treated to live performances of original compositions by a chamber jazz ensemble synchronized with gameplay projected on a large screen. 

We're not talking about (games in the style of) mega releases. (Don’t expect) Legend of Zelda. But (the games in this concert) are pretty good. And the scores that are written really suit the games,” Suchan says, “ I would argue that a lot of people have, it could be nostalgia and it could just be that like with certain restrictions, people are more creative. But I think people have a real fondness for some of these games where the graphical restrictions are more in place if you understand what I mean?”

In terms of the selection of the composers who would be part of this fascinating idea, there was a jury process where candidates had to submit their ideas for what they wanted to do musically with the games. In the end, local percussionist Brett Graham, Saskatoon guitar player Rory Lynch (who recently moved to Toronto), and University of Regina music composition student Mackenzie Jay were chosen to be a part of the concert.

“They had to basically argue what they were going to do with their video game. Like how incidental was the musical and could be, right? In other words, would it be tied to the different levels? Would it be tied to certain actions? Is it very synchronized or is it more in the background?” explains Suchan of the composer selection process. 

The final concert of the Strata Festival of New Music, entitled “Rumble in the Knox”, will happen on Saturday, June 15th at 7:30 pm at Knox United Church. The idea behind this event is to bring together the lowest acoustic instruments in Saskatchewan so that audience members can “experience unique compositions crafted by Saskatchewan composers for an extraordinary ensemble”. There will be a bass trombone, pipe organ, contrabassoon, double bass, tuba, bass saxophone, and a contrabass clarinet to engage in what will no doubt be some fun musical shenanigans. 

Collectively, The Strata Festival of New Music 2024 edition promises to be a fun few days of really fascinating and unique music; definitely not something you’d see every day. Suchan has been involved in the programming of many Strata events over the years and is very excited for next week. He thinks you should be too.

“I'm someone who believes that real culture is two things. It's anything, any sort of art form, that's multi-layered, interesting and local. So in other words, I think festivals like this are directly impacting the culture of cities and they only exist, of course, if people go to them. And so if you are interested in Saskatchewan culture, that would be one reason that you should or might be interested in going to a festival like this,” Suchan says.

“The second would be that, like I said at the beginning of the interview, there are certain concerts here that you will not find anywhere else. You cannot listen to the music that will happen at the Strata Festival at all because, in most cases, it has never existed before. It’s music written specifically for our festival. And usually the configurations that people are writing for have never existed before. So we're creating culture. And if you want to see some cutting edge culture, you should come to the Strata Festival.”

For more information on how to procure tickets for this event click HERE.

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