Musicanada — “A presentation of Canadian contemporary music/Présence de la musique canadienne contemporaine” — was the first large-scale festival of Canadian classical music in Europe. It was held on 4–17 November 1977 under the aegis of the Department of External Affairs and the Canada Council. A total of 41 works by 32 composers were presented by Canadian ensembles in five concerts at Salle Gaveau in Paris and five concerts at St. John's Church, Smith Square in London. Additional performances were given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Nouvel Orchestre philharmonique of Paris.

Concert Programs

Under Serge Garant’s direction, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec Ensemble presented Brian Cherney's Chamber Concerto for viola and 10 performers, Garant's Rivages, Bruce Mather's Madrigal IV, Steven's Images and Gilles Tremblay's Solstices. The Québec Woodwind Quintet made its European debut in Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux’s Genesis, Jacques Hétu's Quintet, Opus 13, Jones' Quintet, Mather's Eine kleine Bläsermusik and Jean Papineau-Couture’s Fantaisie.

Elmer Iseler conducted the Festival Singers in works by István Anhalt (Cento), Clifford Ford (Mass), Mather (La Lune mince...), Jean Papineau-Couture (Viole d'amour), André Prévost (Soleils couchants), Harry Somers (Five Songs of the Newfoundland Outports) and Claude Vivier (Jesus erbarme dich). The Orford String Quartet performed Harry Freedman's Graphic II and Srul Irving Glick’s Suite Hebraïque No. 3, as well as quartets by Clermont Pépin, R. Murray Schafer and J. Kerr Wilson.

Canadian Brass played works by John Beckwith (Taking a Stand), Morley Calvert (Suite from the Monteregian Hills), Lawrence Crosley (The Days before Yesterday), Malcolm D. Forsyth (The Golyardes' Grounde), Sydney Hodkinson (…another man's poison), William McCauley (Miniature Overture), Ben McPeek (Ragtime for Brass), François Morel (Quintet), Eldon Rathburn (The Nomadic Five) and John Weinzweig (Pieces of Five).

There was also one concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at St. John's Church, and another by the Nouvel Orchestre philharmonique of Paris in the Grand Auditorium of the Maison Radio-France. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mario Bernardi, performed Robert Aitken’s Spiral, Norma Beecroft’s Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 2, Harry Freedman's Tapestry, Jacques Hétu’s Concerto, Opus 15 for piano and orchestra with Robert Silverman as soloist, and R. Murray Schafer’s Son of Heldenleben. The Nouvel Orchestre philharmonique was conducted by Pierre Hétu in Jacques Hétu's Symphony No. 3, Roger Matton’s Concerto for two pianos and orchestra with the duo-pianists Victor Bouchard and Renée Morisset, and André Prévost’s Fantasmes. It was also conducted by Gilles Tremblay in his own Jeux de solstices.

Critical Reception

Commended as “an extensive operation... original... and effective” by Le Nouvel Observateur (21–27 November 1977), Musicanada contributed significantly to making Canadian classical music better known in France and England. Audiences generally small in number but steadfastly attentive received the many works presented with interest, and were particularly appreciative of the high level of performance.

It would appear that contemporary Canadian music was perceived mainly as reflecting a creative and liberal artistic milieu, emphasizing individual composers' personalities more markedly than any style or manner of thought that might typify a national school. That, at least, was the reaction of critics such as Maurice Fleuret, who declared (in Le Nouvel Observateur), “Canada has no sophisticated musical heritage, but it is this very lack which offers its creative artists greater freedom.” Similarly, Gérard Condé wrote in Le Monde (19 November 1977), “Though in reality suggestive neither of the avant garde nor of its uninspired imitators, the music of these quartets [and] symphonies... affirmed the vitality of a contemporary music activity without always leaving the impression that Canada has a clearly defined school or language.” This opinion was shared by Joan Chissell, who wrote in the Times (10 November 1977), “Nationalism in music is out of date... no specifically Canadian characteristic emerged.”