As one of the Turning Point Ensemble’s two artistic directors, the former artistic director of Vancouver New Music, and the onetime head of SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Owen Underhill knows a thing or two about curating successful concert programs, in festival form or otherwise.
So when he says that the 2016 edition of the Modulus Festival is “a strong festival from beginning to end”, Music on Main’s artistic director, David Pay, should be proud.
It’s true, though, that Underhill might be just a little bit biased. Not only does Turning Point open Modulus with a pair of concerts, but other events in the festival’s five-day run focus on artists with whom the composer and conductor feels a strong affinity.
Asked to pick his favourites, Underhill quickly singles out Montreal’s Bozzini Quartet, who’ll join Rachel Iwaasa in playing Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet at the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre on Saturday (November 5), and the Music on Main All-Star Band, who’ll close the festival with Steve Reich’s hypnotic Music for 18 Musicians at the Roundhouse on Wednesday (November 9).
“First of all, the Bozzini Quartet is just a superb quartet,” he says. “We’ve worked together on my music, and every year they come to Vancouver and we do a Bozzini Lab for young composers.
“And Morton Feldman is still very much underplayed. The Piano and String Quartet is one of his very last pieces. It’s an hour-and-20-minute-long work, and it’s not to be missed.”
Underhill’s connection to Music for 18 Musicians is just as strong: when he was working on his master’s degree at Long Island’s Stony Brook University, he managed to sit in on the final rehearsal before Reich’s masterwork was premiered.
“We met a number of the musicians in a pub after,” he recalls, “and I can remember the violinist talking about how you had to be relaxed and alert at the same time—that if you got too alert, you would get tired, because the music is very continuous.
“But if you got too relaxed you would make mistakes, because the music is very precise and difficult to play. He gave a perfect explanation of how you need to play that music—and it’s a great piece!”