Pierre Mercure was its guiding spirit and animating force. An extended visit to the Centre de recherches audio-visuelles of the RTF, Paris, frequent contacts with Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, Michel P. Philippot, and Iannis Xenakis, and the impact of the spirit which then enlivened New York's music and dance scene encouraged Mercure to organize a festival based on three principles: the music heard was to be of the present, to link itself closely with the visual arts, and to represent faithfully experimental trends throughout the world.
John Cage was asked to write a work, and the result, his Atlas Eclipticalis, was premiered 3 Aug 1961 under Cage's direction. Serge Garant's Anerca also had its premiere, with the soprano Claire Grenon-Masella as soloist under the direction of Mauricio Kagel. In the program, the names of Anhalt and Mercure were found alongside those of such foreign composers as Babbitt, Behram, Kotonski, Ligeti, Maxfield, Nono, Penderecki, Schaeffer, Stockhausen, Varèse, and Wolff, in addition to those present as speakers (Brown, Feldman, Nikolais), conductors (Cage, Kagel), or performers (Ichiyanagi, Yoko Ono). The pianist David Tudor also was a participant.
Disoriented at having to modify drastically their concept of musical sound, neither the audience nor the press welcomed the festival warmly. Nevertheless the event brought to Canada some new sounds, little-known composers, and challenging interpretive artists. Although it had no immediate sequel, it nevertheless created a favourable climate for the foundation of the SMCQ five years later.
In La Presse (8 Aug 1961) Claude Gingras wrote: 'In all this ''music'' heard in five concerts there is surely both some value and some deliberate mystification. It is too early to separate the two. It is too easy to laugh and it would be ridiculous to want to make a firm judgment. Only time will be the judge. Perhaps it will be necessary to find new definitions for the words ''art,'' ''music,'' ''dance,'' ''beauty,'' ''balance,'' ''taste'''.
Author Lyse Richer
Richer-Lortie, Lyse. 'La Semaine internationale de musique actuelle,' Compositeurs au Quebec: Pierre Mercure, CMCentre (Montreal 1976)