Music on Main’s Modulus Festival finds its voice

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      There are many good reasons to check out Music on Main’s annual Modulus Festival, but one in particular stands out: by attending any of singer and violinist Caroline Shaw’s several performances, you’ll be just two degrees of separation from Kanye West. In an unprecedented display of good taste, the hip-hop producer recently had Shaw open his set at a Democratic Party fundraiser, and then went on to feature her voice on a remixed version of “Say You Will”, from his 2008 release 808s & Heartbreak.

      This, understandably, has given Music on Main’s composer in residence considerably more exposure than winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music. And Shaw’s not the only major draw that MoM’s artistic director David Pay has booked for the six-day event. In addition to presenting an assortment of iconic works—including Alvin Curran’s Inner Cities, Terry Riley’s In C, and Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel—Modulus will feature cellist Ariel Barnes, duetting with Shaw on Limestone & Felt, and flutist Mark McGregor, presenting the North American premiere of Montreal-based Nicole Lizée’s Tarantino Etudes.

      Lizée is another name you’ll be hearing more from soon, even if West doesn’t add her to his roster of collaborators.

      “Do you want a scoop?” says Pay, in a telephone interview from Music on Main’s downtown office. “Nicole Lizée will become Music on Main’s composer in residence in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons. Many people in the city already adore her music, so we’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve set the course for her to be coming to Vancouver more often.”

      The Modulus Festival’s real star, however, is Pay’s curatorial vision, which is both innovative and expansive. This year’s offerings include collaborations with musica intima, Dances for a Small Stage producers MovEnt, and the DOXA Documentary Film Festival, suggesting that while Pay begins by looking at music he personally admires, he’s more than happy to accept outside input.

      “There’s a practical side and a poetic side to putting it all together,” he says. “Yes, there’s a lot of ‘What do I love?’ But there’s also a lot of ‘What makes sense, in terms of how we want to share music?’ ”

      For this year’s festival, Pay began by thinking about how to best showcase his outgoing composer in residence. “Caroline Shaw’s temperament is one of not just exceptional ability, but also magical kindness,” he explains. “So what’s the right kind of stuff to be doing when you have an artist like that as one of your real focal points?

      “There’s also the analogy of when you go to the market and find a couple of things where you go, ‘Oh my God, that is so beautiful. That’s what I want to cook with this weekend,’ ” he continues. “And you plan a couple of meals thinking about those beautiful ingredients that you found. That can work for curatorial practice as well. I don’t know that any curator has a single way of curating every time, but with this one, I had pieces in mind, and I wanted to flesh out an experience for the artists and for the audience through music and collaboration.”

      Building that experience isn’t as easy as booking the performers, discussing repertoire, and assembling a program. Pay says that he’s also concerned with how his work will affect the artistic growth of the community—and in terms of Modulus 2015, he’s got one other major consideration to take into account.

      “In 2017 we’re hosting the International Society for Contemporary Music’s World New Music Days,” he reveals. “That November, there’ll be about 25 concerts in about eight days, and 20 of those concerts will be presented by other artists—by Turning Point Ensemble, by the Vancouver Symphony, by musica intima. So there’s this purely strategic side of wanting to seek out collaborations now, so that we don’t go from zero to 25 in one year and fuck it up!”

      Pay modestly admits to having produced his share of “abject failures”, but there’s little chance of this year’s Modulus Festival being one of them. “It finally has a voice,” he says. “With this Modulus Festival, you can look at it and go, ‘Oh, I get who that guy is as a programmer—and what he’s wanting to share.’ ”

      The 2015 Modulus Festival takes place at the Roundhouse Community Centre, Heritage Hall, Gene Café, and the Post at 750 from Sunday to next Friday (November 15 to 20). For a full schedule, visit the Music On Main website.