Sound Symposium’s Eclectic Festival Programming Returns This Week

One of the world's most unique music festivals kicks off in St. John's this month.

For the last 33 years, the St. John’s International Sound Symposium has offered some of the most diverse and creative musical programming anywhere, and the 2016 edition looks to be no different.

Sound Symposium Executive Director Kathy Clark-Wherry said the festival began as a way to help creators in various fields engage with sound. “Sound Symposium was first an invitation to listen, explore, create, and collaborate with artists working in a variety of media. It was an invitation to creative people from across Canada and beyond who wished to share their work, ideas, and explore their disciplines through sound.”

Craig Squires, a performer and co-artistic director, has been involved since the very first festival. “The Sound Symposium has been on the go since 1983,” he said. “It was the brainchild of Don Wherry and a handful of other people … they would pull off concerts at the art gallery and places like that. I don’t know what got in their heads about trying to pull off a festival, but they did.”

Clark-Wherry said there was such a positive response from local and visiting artists that another Symposium was held the following year, but it proved to be too much. The Symposium has continued in the even-numbered years ever since.

And there’s been plenty of different types of music through the Symposium’s history – Squires said there’s been world music, contemporary classical, improv, dance, multimedia, film, and more. “Its’ aim has always been to be very eclectic,” he said.

According to Clark-Wherry, it’s been the festival’s innovative programming that has garnered it an international reputation. “Not bad for an event that is brought forth each time pretty much on a kitchen table, by a crew of artists and Symposium supporters who mostly have day jobs as well.”

A large part of this year’s programming was developed with a focus on improvisation, and what it means to improvise.

“How do we listen – to others? When do we hold back and give space to others, and when do we decide it’s time to chime in? What is involved in improvising?” said Clark-Wherry.  The festival often highlights Newfoundland artists and traditions while looking for “the newest ideas and inventions and artists who are exploring their possibilities.”

This year’s festival will see world premieres of works from Newfoundland composers Jason Noble, Andrew Noseworthy, Bill Brennan, and A.E. Bridger, as well as a new work for 20 electric guitars, and improvisations by Patrick Boyle and Casey Sokol. A special concert will also celebrate minimalist classical pioneer Steve Reich’s 80th birthday, featuring percussionist Russell Hartenberger and pianist Andrea Lodge.

In addition to the Symposium’s core concert programming, the lunch hour Harbour Symphonies will make their return, making new music with the sounds of ship horns. There are also numerous other performances and workshops, and Night Music improv and avant-garde events happening throughout the Symposium at The Ship Pub.

The 2016 Sound Symposium runs July 8-16. Tickets, a full schedule, artist bios, and more are all available at soundsymposium.com.

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