Marjan Mozetich closes the Queen’s chapter of his career

Professor and composer looks back on 27 years teaching

Marjan Mozetich
Credit: 
Supplied by Queen's Communications

On Jan. 21, The Isabel held a concert honouring Marjan Mozetich life’s work. 

Over his 45-year career in music, the Canadian composer has won several awards and written some of the most popular, bestselling Canadian contemporary classical pieces.

But even before this notable recognition, Mozetich saw an early difference between himself and the other pianists in his studies at the University of Toronto. 

“I aspired to be a concert pianist … but I can be nervous about things and it requires a certain amount of extrovertedness,” Mozetich said. 

Instead of attempting to change this, he devoted himself to music composition. 

Mozetich received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts from 1973-75 and used the money to study in Rome with Luciano Berio — a famous modernist composer and later a teacher at Juilliard. Despite this unique opportunity, Mozetich revealed Berio didn’t influence his music as much as he’d expected. 

“He didn’t do a lot of teaching … He wanted you to copy his music,” Mozetich said. Not all was bad with the Juilliard professor. Berio did suggest he study over the summer in Sienna — an experience that helped the aspiring composer to explore styles of music other than modernism. 

“It was there that I came into contact with other composers starting to really not do the modern type of thing,” he said. This style was a return to the classical symphonies and grander pieces that had gone out of fashion. 

When Mozetich returned from Europe, he went on to co-found and act as artistic director of Arraymusic from 1977-79. The classical ensemble made contemporary music that prioritized audience enjoyment over theoretical standards.  

“By self-education, going to concerts and talking to other artists, it made me realize this high art was too abstract and removed,” he said. 

The composer’s friends and colleagues tended to be the sole audiences at these high art concerts.

Mozetich said his art is a sort of populist, classical mix. His intention was to bring the classical music that had been left behind by modernist composers like Berio into style again. 

“I wanted to relate my music to others but also, at the same time, myself,” he said.

In 1980, Mozetich found his artistic voice. He began writing works which tended to reflect the sound of older, grander classical pieces.

He used the ideas that came with minimalism, regular rhythm, more tonal and tuneful sounds to become more confident in the works he wrote. 

In 1990, Mozetich moved out of Toronto after recognizing the noise of the city’s downtown too often kept him awake at night. 

The following year, he started his decades-long career as an adjunct lecturer at Queen’s. 

Mozetich reflected on his decision, recognizing his long career in teaching brought about his most successful years as a composer; famous pieces like “Affairs of the Heart” and “Postcards from the Sky” following  his move to Kingston.  

These works still carry some of the scope of classical music but provided a softer, more accessible presentation. 

“I believe in carrying on that torch, that branch of music that’s not in the mainstream like it used to be,” he said. 

Mozetich described a time in our country where broadcasters would show performances by classical ensembles like symphony orchestras. “[Many CBC affiliates] all had orchestras and now it’s just all gone,” he said. 

The composer added that despite this truth, it’s no reason to lose hope. 

“You can still write things that are fresh and new-sounding, applying some of the traditional aspects of classical music,” he said. 

Although his time at Queen’s is coming to an end, Mozetich reassured he’ll continue keeping busy with composing. Currently, he’s working on a cello concerto for soloist Amanda Forsyth and the National Arts Centre orchestra in Ottawa. 

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