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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Bring The New

Charles Cassino
Published Thursday June 11, 05:54 pm
The Strata Festival offers a wonderfully unique experience


June 12-14

Various locations

While Saskatoon is enjoying a renaissance when it comes to music festivals popping up left and right, it sometimes means that you’re left picking favourites. We’d argue that it’s humanly possible to attend everything, but there’s also a case to be made for prioritizing.

So here’s why you should put the Strata Festival on your summer music festival checklist: It’s not your traditional music festival, nor is it your usual show-going experience.

Started by organizers Paul and Sarah Suchan and Darren Miller in 2012, the Strata Festival combines the avant-garde-isms of classical/chamber composition and splices it with a nice splash of weirdo aesthetics and under-underground stuff that you likely won’t hear anywhere else.

Heck, one year they even had a robot piano perform, and it was all sorts of magic.

Planet S recently caught up for a Q and A session with event coordinator Darren Miller for a quick rundown on what to expect from another great Saskatoon fest.


A music festival! Oh boy! Wait... aren't there a bunch of those already? What are you bringing to the proverbial prairie fest table?

It’s a funny thing. One would assume that a ton of existing festivals would make it harder for a new one to get going, but we’ve actually found the opposite to be true. I think that we’re able to coexist because of the slight differences in what we all focus on. The big difference between us and other classically tinged groups is that almost everything we program is written by a living composer; generally one who lives on the prairies, and is ideally pretty young.

Outside of the classical scene, our focus on electronic music might also overlap a bit with some of the acts that you could catch somewhere like MoSo. But our own little electronic niche involves more traditional instruments or compositional approaches. For example, last year we were basically running a live chamber orchestra through eight separate effect rigs for Gordon Fitzell’s piece “Evanescence”, which was completely written out in full score.


Okay, fine, but how does this festival contribute to the local music scene?

I remember back when I realized that composing was something I wanted to do — back in a pre-YouTube era — and it was so hard to hear anything written after the 20th century, which is crazy. That’s like being interested in pop music, but only being able to listen to Al Jolson.

There was the Saskatoon Composers’ Performance Society of course, and whenever they would put on a concert, I’d rush out to catch it. But I saw very few people my own age out at those shows, let alone writing pieces themselves. So I see our two biggest jobs as presenting music that people can’t necessarily hear elsewhere, and trying to build a scene for any young people interested in composing music to make their own. It’s a lot like opening an all-ages venue or collective for putting on, say, punk shows: You’re just carving out a little space where something you want to see more of can continue to exist in a climate that might not embrace it without a little encouragement.

That, and we’re finally able to actually start commissioning a few works specifically for these concerts. This year especially, I’m really proud that we were able to secure a decent chunk of change to pay local composer Janet Gieck to write us a new piece.


What can I expect from the live shows? It seems like there’s a bit of variation between some of the performers.

On Friday you’ve got an up-and-coming saxophone quartet (the Proteus saxophone quartet — made up of Canadian students who met during their studies in Paris), on Saturday you’ve got an analogue / digital live electronic trio (The Krells, from Victoria, BC), and on Sunday it’s our core ensemble with a real focus on traditional instruments like strings and piano — the Strata Ensemble, made up of real pros from the university, symphony, and community. So yeah, variety really is a big goal of ours.


Anyone you’re particularly excited to see? What act should I drag my friends to?

For an organizer, that’s like picking a favourite child! (I can only assume, as someone who just has a dog that they treat like a child.) If you like the more avant-garde type stuff, the fully electronic Krells show at Paved is a pretty safe bet, plus there will be beer. If you are into the more traditional fare, I’d steer you more towards Sunday night. And if you aren’t really sure, Friday might be a good way of dipping your toes in. But how can I choose, you monster!

For more information on the Strata festival, go to

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