75he Music Gallery, which is celebrating its 35thanniversary this year, has an official mandate ofpromoting innovation and experimentation inmusic, and for encouraging "cross-pollinationbetween genres, disciplines and audience." Yet,that barely describes a typical season. When it first started,in the 1970s, the Gallery was devoted mostly toimprovisational music. Artists like Michael Snow, whoseglobally acclaimed music and film work has been exhibitedin Paris's Centre Pompidou and the Museum of Modern Artin New York City, and John Oswald, a Governor General'sAward winner who is known for his saying, "If creativity is afield, copyright is the fence," frequented the place. Over thelast decade, artistic director Jonathan Bunce has openedthe Gallery to a diversity of music that spans differentphilosophies, cultures, genres and eras. "We're unique inthe way that we're not trying to present any specific genreof music," Oh explains. "We're trying to present a certainspirit of music - a spirit of exploration, of creativity and ofwhat's been explored or sourced by our generation."Oh is a classically trained pianist and conductor. He firstplayed at the Music Gallery in 2001, and since then, it'sbecome a performance home for him. "The projects I wasworking on at the time were a bit too, I don't know, esoteric?Weird. Strange. Not the types of projects that are supportedby more traditional venues." Last year, drawing inspirationfrom a wildly popular video game called Halo, Ohcommissioned the Halo Ballet. "I've always been fascinatedBy Jacqueline Nunesby video games - mostly by their ability to engage," Ohsays. "You can sit there for 12 hours and play the game andnever even bat an eyelash." In Halo, players are engaged ina virtual interstellar war and shoot other players - the gameis played through the Internet - with high-tech weapons.For his ballet, Oh commissioned Canadian composer AaronGervais to write the score and worked with a choreographerto train the "Halorinas," four ballet dancers who, rather thanshoot each other, danced together through improvisation.Each "Halorina" was a player in the game, which wasprojected onto a big screen. "They danced a very intricateand complicated dance in time to the music," Oh recalls."The dance was created live on stage - they werecontrolling their characters in the game by dancing together,in sync with the music. It was like a new media ballet."The Music Gallery also presents the work of visiting artists,often mashing them up with other artists to create a mind-bending experience. The final concert of the last season wasthe performance of a classical work called "Trance,"composed by the Gallery's composer-in-residence, MichaelGordon. Gordon is a member of Bang On A Can, a musiccollective from New York City. "It's an extraordinarily difficultTBut if you sit down inside the St. Georgethe Martyr Church, on John St., at thesouthern end of Grange Park, and builtmore than 130 years before the CNTower, you'll hear things that you won'thear anywhere else. "I don't think you'regoing to find a bigger range of soundanywhere else than you'll find at the MusicGallery," confirms Gregory Oh, theGallery's post-classical curator. "Peoplewill come to the Music Gallery withoutreally knowing what they're going to hear,but they're pretty certain they'll findsomething really interesting."We're trying to present a certain spiritof music - a spirit of exploration, ofcreativity and of what's been exploredor sourced by our generation.Disguises performing at the Music Gallery's X Avant New Music Festival. 2011.
76Group of Seven when he explains the Gallery's programming: TheGroup of Seven once asked, "Would you read a book that tells youonly what you already know? If not, then why would you want tosee pictures that show you what you can already see for yourself?'"The Music Gallery extends that idea not just to experimentalworks, but also to classical music. In February, the Gallery willpresent a concert of three classical composers a lot of peoplehave never heard of, and most have never heard performedbefore: Pierre Boulez, Morton Feldman and Galina Ustvolskaya."They're masterful composers, composers who have earned theirplace in history, and it's unquestioned that their music will liveon," Oh says. "But this music is almost living on virtually,because no one's playing it." Oh points out that classical musicappears to most people to have a cut-off around 1945, with thedeath of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók - which he calls a"disturbing trend.""I'm not against the performance of Beethoven," Oh says. "I thinkit's really important that we play Beethoven. But there's a dangerthere. If we chain ourselves to one period of history - say 1700to the late 1800s, Bach to Brahms - music becomes amuseum." Instead of performing music as a sort of historicalartifact, the Music Gallery pushes artists and audiences torediscover, reinterpret and reimagine. "The Music Gallery is hereto support people who are searching for something," Oh says. Andthere's little doubt that whether it's the artist, the curator or theaudience that is searching, they'll find something new and rousingat the Music Gallery. "Without a place like the Music Gallery,"states Oh, "a lot of music would never get played live in Toronto."piece for 22 players - very intricate rhythm, very slowdeveloping," Oh says. "What happens in classical music is lotsof things happen in a certain recognized period of time. WithMichael Gordon's piece, not a lot happens over a long time, butyou get a really interesting sense of narrative." The MusicGallery paired the classical work with a performance by theNihilist Spasm Band, a noise band that pioneered the genre inthe 1960s and has inspired countless progressive punk bands."They're not reading music. They're creating incredible soundsfrom anything: blenders, smashing and breaking things,feedback loops," Oh explains.Despite Oh's classical training, he also once told a music critic,"Frankly, I believe a lot of Mozart's piano music is crap." His pointwas not that Mozart wasn't the genius that everyone thinks he is- "I love Mozart," Oh says now - but that we don't listen to hismusic with a critical ear because we blindly accept all music hecomposed as genius. "My point with Mozart," Oh says, "is insteadof going to hear music just because of a name, like buying clothesjust because they're by Tommy Hilfiger, it's a lot more work tothink about why you like something, or don't like something. It'sa challenge to explore new things and find new genius." Thatphilosophy is pervasive at the Music Gallery. Oh paraphrases theTop: The Nihilist Spasm band performs.Bottom: Gregory Oh's Halo Ballet.To learn more about the Music Gallery &its current season, visit musicgallery.org