New Music Concerts was founded in 1971 by the internationally acclaimed Canadian musicians, flutist and composer Robert Aitken and composer Norma Beecroft, to promote interest in the art of music and contemporary music in particular. This mandate has resulted in the presentation of over 300 Toronto concerts of the music of our time by Canadian and international composers. A consequence of this juxtaposition of worldwide composers and their Canadian colleagues has been a legacy of global rapport and good will. Impressed by the calibre of performance and dedication to the musical ideals by our local musicians, these composers (and on occasion, artists) return home with a deeper appreciation and respect for Canadian composers and performers. Added to this are numerous tours of Canada, the United States and Europe. Extending this fundamental aspect of our mandate, NMC has offered lectures, films, mixed media presentations, forums, reading weekends and music theatre. Now celebrating its 38th season, NMC has produced or performed on nine recordings, including a 2009 disc of the music of Elliott Carter on the NAXOS label.

New Music Concerts has nurtured performers and audiences over the years for contemporary music activities in Toronto. This has been accomplished by the excellence of performance and the diversity of programming which has built an appreciative audience for contemporary music in the city. We are continually involved in presenting the finest and most interesting of the world's composers and ensembles to reflect and contrast the international scene with the Canadian one. At the same time NMC has reflected the cultural diversity of our own country, with concerts highlighting the musical cultures of such countries as Poland, Italy, Japan, China and recently Iceland, Slovenia, and Lithuania. We have also been active in taking Canada to the world, through our broadcasts, recordings and, in earlier years, through tours in Canada (Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and Kingston), the USA (Boston, Washington and New York) and Europe (with sixteen concerts in Oslo, Bergen, Stockholm, Reykjavik, London, Paris, Saarbrucken, Bourges, Nantes and Brussels). Critics have been generous in their praise since the very beginning and continue to support our efforts. Robert Harris, writing in the Globe and Mail, observed that “The composers of today, I am sure, give daily thanks to pioneers like Bob Aitken and the New Music Concerts Ensemble, who consistently deliver their works with the highest degree of professionalism. Someday, perhaps, this music will win the wider audience it so richly deserves.”

ROBERT AITKEN  artistic director

Robert Aitken,  Flutist, composer, conductor, born Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada 28 August 1939. B. Mus. (Toronto) 1961, M. Mus. (Composition) (Toronto) 1964. After flute studies with Nicolas Fiore in Toronto (1955-59) he became principal flute of the Vancouver S. O. (the youngest principal in that orchestra’s history) while studying composition with Barbara Pentland at U.B.C. From 1960-64 he served as second flute of the C.B.C. Symphony Orchestra while studying electronic music with Myron Shaeffer and composition with John Weinzweig at U. of Toronto. He considers Marcel Moyse, with whom he studied intermittently for 9 years in Vermont and in Europe, as his most significant flute teacher. However, he also studied with Jean Pierre Rampal (Paris, Nice), Severino Gazzeloni (Rome), André Jaunet (Zurich) and Hubert Barwähser (Amsterdam) during his 1964-65 European sojourn on a Canada Council grant.

In 1964 Aitken, with pianist Marion Ross (his wife) and soprano Mary Morrison, formed the Lyric Arts Trio. He served 1965-70 as co-principal flute of the Toronto S. O. but gave up this position to devote himself to solo performance and to appearances with the trio and with harpsichordist Greta Kraus. He won prizes at the “Concours international de flûte de Paris” (1971) and the “Concours international de flûte pour la musique contemporaine” (1972) in Royan (France).

In 1970 Aitken founded and directed until 1972 the “Music Today” series at the Shaw Festival (Ontario) and in 1971 co-founded with Norma Beecroft “New Music Concerts” serving thereafter as artistic director. In 1977 he was one of 12 instrumentalists invited by Pierre Boulez to present a solo recital at IRCAM (Paris) playing solo pieces of Takemitsu, Morthensen, Fukushima, Globokar, Sigurbjörnsson, Y. Matsudaira, Holliger and himself. Aitken taught 1960-75 at U. Of Toronto, 1972-82 at the Shawnigan Summer School of the Arts (British Columbia) and in 1981 founded “Music at Shawnigan”, a 3-week festival devoted to advanced chamber music study. From 1985-89 he was director of the Advanced Studies in Music program at the Banff School of Fine Arts (Alberta). He has given master classes in many countries including Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the U.S.A. From 1988-2004 he was professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany. He has also been very active as a conductor with New Music Concerts (Toronto), with orchestras in Canada and Japan and in 1987 conducted the first performance of Schafer’s “Patria I” for the Canadian Opera Company.

Critical comment on his playing seems to centre on his incredible variety of dynamics and timbres and on his exquisite sense of phrasing. Among his many awards are the Order of Canada, The Canada Music Citation, the Wm. Harold Moon Award, the Canadian Music Medal, The Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award and “Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (France).

Some 50 works have been written for him by noted composers including Henry Brant, George Crumb, Elliott Carter, Toru Takemitsu, Roger Reynolds, Arne Nordheim, Manuel Enriquez, R. Murray Schafer, Gilles Tremblay, Bruce Mather, John Beckwith and John Weinzweig. He has more than 40 recordings to his credit.

In spite of his relatively small output, Aitken is one of Canada’s outstanding composers. Like several other Canadian composers who traveled in East Asia (Gilles Tremblay, Claude Vivier and José Evangelista), he has been profoundly influenced by the contact with non-Western musical cultures. On listening to his Berceuse, one is struck by the absolute fresh use of diatonic materials, devoid of clichés, by the poetic and convincing integration of special flute effects and by the clarity of formal and rhythmic structure.

— Authors: Linda Litwack and Betty Nygaard King, Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, the Historica Foundation of Canada © 2008; and Bruce Mather