The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's New Creations Festivals have traditionally been hit-and-miss affairs. Last year, composer Tod Machover's multimedia, crowd-sourced A Toronto Symphony produced a lot of buzz and fizz, but not much of musical substance.
This year, however, the Festival looks more promising. Veteran American composer John Adams is the Festival's guest artist, bringing three of his own works with him, along with interesting-looking performances by many other composers, including talented Canadians. Brian Current will have a world premiere on the program; so will TSO composer-in-residence Kevin Lau (both TSO commissions).
There will be Canadian premieres of works by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and Finnish composer Marcus Lindberg. There are big-name soloists – Yefim Bronfman and Leila Josefowicz – and collaborations with other local new music ensembles. All good.
But if there's a problem with the New Creations Festival, it's that it all seems so touristy – a visit to a new music theme park we all take for a couple of days, Dollywood with dissonances. Before it became neutered and "classical", all serious music had the flavour of the new and untried – it was vital, unsettling, unnerving.
That's the true, forgotten legacy of all classical music. Contemporary new music tries to recover that ancient power in the art. In a more perfect world, the new would be our constant musical companion, not just the exotic treat of a few days, and we would lose our fear of it. The New Creations Festival allows us to imagine, for a moment, what that world might feel like.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Kevin Lau as Vincent Lau.