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Robert Aitken and Norma Beecroft, founding artistic directors

About New Music Concerts

Now completing its 48th season, New Music Concerts is a vital and central part of Toronto’s new music scene and has been providing a leadership role in the community throughout its history. Founded by internationally acclaimed Canadian musicians Robert Aitken and Norma Beecroft, New Music Concerts presented its first concert in January 1972 with guest composer/conductor Luciano Berio. Since that time New Music Concerts has commissioned hundreds of new works, and has brought countless historically important compositions to thousands of listeners through meticulous performances by Toronto’s top musicians, most often with the participation of the composers (including Boulez, LutosÅ‚awski, Holliger and Takemitsu to name a few). New Music Concerts is known throughout the world as the pre-eminent new music organization of our country. Composers from around the world know that if their work is performed in Canada by New Music Concerts, then the performance will not only be outstanding, but probably definitive.

New Music Concerts’ long history of diverse presentation activity with particular emphasis on Canadian creations and the active participation of challenging compositional voices from around the globe makes it unique. Thanks to the relationships that Artistic Director Robert Aitken has cultivated throughout his career, New Music Concerts is able to entice world-renowned composers to Toronto who might not otherwise come here, thereby adding an international level of excellence to our city’s arts scene. Our strong support of Canadian composers through commissions and performances and by combining them with international artists has kept us at the top of our field. A short list of some of our most notable Canadian composers commissioned includes John Beckwith, Norma Beecroft, Barbara Croall, Harry Freedman, Hope Lee, Alexina Louie, Bruce Mather, Michael Oesterle, Alex Pauk, Barbara Pentland, R. Murray Schafer, Harry Somers, Ann Southam, Paul Steenhuisen, Gilles Tremblay, Claude Vivier and John Weinzweig, plus Omar Daniel’s Zwei Lieder nach Rilke and Chris Paul Harman’s Amerika both of which went on to win the Jules Léger Prize.

As English Canada's senior contemporary music society, New Music Concerts’ role has evolved over the years. Current programs reflect the ongoing concern to balance all aspects of our mandate to profile established and emerging Canadian and international composers. Encouraging creativity, innovative programming and interesting ways of presenting contemporary music are all vital parts of our policy. An extensive commissioning program and support for inter-media ventures, sound sculptures and performance art with a strong musical component continues to be of great interest to our organization. Artists, programs and projects are selected and developed on the basis of our mandate to provide interesting, thought-provoking programming for our audiences. Since its inception New Music Concerts has presented more than 400 concerts, commissioned more than 200 Canadian and international works and performed some 800 Canadian and world premieres.

In July 2016 New Music Concerts was invited to provide the ensemble in residence for the Beijing International Composition Workshop taking place over a ten day period at the Beijing Conservatory. Eight of our core musicians traveled with Robert Aitken to perform three concerts (one of Canadian repertoire including Toronto composers Brian Current and Omar Daniel), plus workshops and masterclasses with the participants.


New Music Concerts, now known simply as NMC, is a leader in curating, performing and promoting innovative and uncompromisingly cutting-edge music by Canadian and international composers. NMC is internationally renowned and unique in Toronto as the foremost champion of contemporary works for large chamber ensemble. After 50 years under the ingenious artistic direction of flutist, composer, and conductor, Robert Aitken, we are embarking on a transition to our new, innovative artistic director, composer, and conductor, Brian Current. 

Moving forward, NMC commits to continuing the artistic rigour and excellence in the programming and performance of the best contemporary chamber music from Canada and around the globe. NMC's aim is to increasingly reflect in its programming Canada's ever-growing diversity of musicians, listeners, composers, and guest artists.  NMC’s mandate is to create a dialogue between the voices of multiple musical traditions, both Amero-Euro-centric traditions and others less well represented, thus honing our audience’s listening skills and evolving our musical vocabulary through the careful juxtaposition of varying modes of composition. We want to celebrate the work of the most creative artists across all gender identities working in new music and related art forms today. And we plan to experiment with new modes of presentation, a creative selection of venues, and, whenever possible, to collaborate with exciting partner communities who have not yet had a chance to be actively drawn into this conversation.

Robert Aitken founding 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 70 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.

Among his many awards are the Order of Canada (1994), The Canada Music Citation (CLC 1969), the Wm. Harold Moon Award (PRO Canada 1982), the Canadian Music Medal (Canadian Music Council 1982), The Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award (1996) and “Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (France, 1997). In 2003 he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Flute Association (USA).

Robert Aitken was the 2009 recipient of Canada’s largest arts award, the prestigious Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts. On that occasion the jury stated: “A masterly force in the world of contemporary Canadian music, Robert Aitken has demonstrated over half a century a tireless commitment to its development, performance and promotion in every corner of the globe. As a flutist, composer, interpreter and teacher, he is a distinguished innovator and continues to exert a strong influence on upcoming generations.”