In the 1940s and ‘50s, Canadian composers recognized a need for the creation, promotion and organization of Canadian music. From that, the Canadian League of Composers, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Music Centre were formed. These organizations were successful in creating a strong Canadian music scene which we experience today through programs like the What Next Festival of New Music. We asked HPO Concertmaster and new music enthusiast, Stephen Sitarski what he thinks of Canada’s contemporary music landscape.

Hamiltonians deserve to have the opportunity to experience live performances of music that directly pertains to our current world.

What draws you to new music?
Simple—this is the music of our time. Composers are communicating their thoughts about the world and life around us. New techniques and sounds are developed. There are always surprises—good ones and sometimes not so good.

What are some of your favorite works of new music?
This is a very difficult question. I perform so much of it and so much of it sounds different and fresh. I try to appreciate each piece and endeavour to discover the musical gesture or concept behind it. Some composers are attempting to experiment with new techniques and sounds, others are striving for an atmospheric effect and still others are deliberately trying to emotionally provoke the listener. All approaches are absolutely fascinating.

Why do you feel new music is important to the future of classical music?
I prefer having classical music shown in an “art gallery” setting rather than a “museum.” This is a living, breathing art form that continues to reveal humanity in different ways—sometimes brutally visceral and sometimes quite abstract. It causes us to think, reflect and exercise a critical ear. There are so many incredibly creative and inspiring living composers that are worth hearing.

In your opinion, why do you believe the What Next Festival is important to Hamilton?
Personally, I enjoy being confronted by new things—they keep life interesting!

There is a stereotype that new music is not easily accessible to the general public. What do you tell people who are new to contemporary music to help them understand the experience and unique sounds?
Many motion pictures and television programs contain extremely sophisticated “new” music that people listen to without even thinking about the alleged accessibility issue. Because the music is designed to enhance the visual element of the film, it is accepted usually without complaints. Think of all of the science fiction themes—Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien—to name only a few. They contain music that would be considered harsh and dissonant to many without the visual context.

Now, if one can listen to the music alone and let one’s imagination free, one can create one’s own narrative. Thoughts, images, feelings and story lines are all possible, valid and unique from person to person. Even if one really hates a particular piece of music and the way it sounds, it has made one FEEL something. Feelings are what keep us ALIVE. Also, don’t be afraid of your lack of formal musical education—music can be appreciated at any level. Some of the most astute comments that I’ve heard about new music have come from people with absolutely no formal training.

Looking for more on contemporary music? Join us at the fifth annual What Next Festival of New Music as we bring contemporary Canadian composers and artists to Hamilton.

Stephen Sitarski was named Concertmaster of the HPO in 2012, a position he also holds with the Esprit Orchestra. He regularly performs as a soloist and premieres many new Canadian works. He was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, a nomination submitted by the National Youth Orchestra where he is a faculty member. Stephen is also on the faculty of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo and Toronto’s Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music. He has taught at the Banff Centre for the Arts, was an instructor at the University of Manitoba and has maintained an active private studio.