The Main attraction

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      A new concert series brings Steve Reich to Vancouver’s artsiest neighbourhood.

      If there was any doubt that Vancouver is becoming a real nexus of musical creativity, its latest concert series should take care of that. Music on Main opens with One Night Stand: Steve Reich, a gala celebration of the American composer’s life and work at the Heritage Hall on Tuesday (October 3). The lavish four-part mini festival is both a tribute to the pioneering minimalist on the occasion of his 70th birthday and a sign that organizer David Pay has serious ambitions for his latest project.

      Music on Main, which will continue with three more Heritage Hall concerts in the spring of 2007, is pitched somewhere between the exploratory if occasionally recondite programming of Vancouver New Music and the consistent if conservative fare served up by Pay’s former employer, the Vancouver Recital Society. Pay isn’t out to shock listeners with savage new sounds; nor is he intent on producing safe renditions of the classics. Instead, he’s striving for excellence—and for the kind of shows that will get people talking.

      “I’m always thinking about programming, and about how music interacts with audiences,” he explains, interviewed by phone from his Vancouver home. “So I’m not creating a series that’s about marketing: I’m creating a series that’s about music, and how people can interact with that music.”

      What he wants to do, he says, is to tap into a new audience that he’s seen emerge in Vancouver over the past few years. It’s not so much a musical crowd as it is one that’s interested in all the arts, he notes.

      “My work previously had me very closely affiliated with Vancouver’s classical-music audience, but I’m discovering more and more the contemporary-arts audience. And this audience is quite catholic in its tastes. It’s not so much interested in a specific art form; it’s more about interesting work.”

      In other words, he’s hoping to attract the kind of people who go to modern-dance shows, hang out at Pacific Cinémathí¨que film screenings, and flock to artist-run-gallery openings but who might not have been to a chamber-music concert in years. And, despite his disavowals, the first Music on Main event seems perfectly targeted to that market.

      Steve Reich is simultaneously a cultural icon and an innovator. His music has lost none of its provocative allure over time; in fact, his later works are arguably more complex and challenging than his 1960s experiments in phased sound and tape looping. (Experiments that, by the way, are often cited as influential by electronic musicians and DJs; Reich has the kind of cachet in that world that his near-contemporary Lou Reed has in rock.) His Holocaust-themed Different Trains, in particular, stands as one of the masterpieces of late-20th-century composition, both for its powerful rhythms and its poignant subtext.

      Naturally, the piece will make an appearance at Tuesday’s event, performed by the Ontario-based Penderecki String Quartet. “Steve Reich writes that he feels that Different Trains is the piece he was born to write; that if he hadn’t written Different Trains, nobody would have,” Pay explains. “So that had to be on the program, and I’m so fortunate that the Pendereckis were able to come out to play that, because it’s a piece they’ve played a lot, and they’re such a great string quartet.”

      Also on the program are early works such as Come Out and Drumming: Part One, along with the Canadian premiere of Cello Counterpoint, as performed by eight cellists under the leadership of Standing Wave founder Peggy Lee.

      In fact, Lee’s presence is another clue as to what Pay hopes to do with Music on Main. The eclectic cellist jumps easily between new music, chamber music, folk, pop, and improvisation, and there’s a lot of that versatility in Pay’s programming, too—as evinced by the act he’s booked for One Night Stand’s last segment. You wouldn’t normally find saxophonist Coat Cooke’s trio on a chamber-music bill, but Pay is convinced that the local improvisers are just as important, culturally and aesthetically, as any of his conservatory-trained performers.

      “Probably the most internationally significant sector of our new-music community here is the creative-music community,” he argues. “It’s a community that I’ve only started to get to know over the past couple of years, but when the Coat Cooke Trio had its regular Monday-night gig at the Cellar I was there every week, because they’re beautiful musicians and they play extraordinarily well.

      “As well,” he continues, “I wanted to see how Vancouver could legitimately reflect back on Steve Reich’s music. So that’s what the idea of having this trio improvise on some of his themes is all about.”

      Bringing creative music—or jazz, for want of a better term—onto the chamber-music stage is not an entirely new concept, but it’s one that deserves more prominence. Bringing chamber music into the jazz scene, on the other hand, is rarely discussed. And here, too, Pay is eager to begin a dialogue.

      “The other thing that’s on—and you’ll get the scoop on this one—is that I’ve just entered into an agreement with the Cellar jazz club for the month of November,” he confides. “We’re calling it A Month of Tuesdays, and it’s a classical-music festival that will happen at the Cellar on Tuesday nights. So far, I only have one confirmed artist for the four Tuesdays, but that’s the Borealis String Quartet, and one of the pieces they’re going to play on their evening is [Dmitri] Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 4.

      “It’s a big Shostakovich year, as we all know by now,” he adds, referring to the 100th anniversary of the late composer’s birth. “And thank god we’ve gotten over [Wolfgang Amadeus] Mozart!”

      Thank god, too, for promoters like Pay, whose adventurous spirit mirrors that of the music he admires.