Against the Grain Theatre’s latest production, Ayre, continues their run of innovative, site specific shows. This time it was a presentation of four works by Argentinian Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov at the Ismaili Centre; part of the Aga Khan complex on Wynford Drive. The “appetisers” were three short works presented in three of the public spaces of the Centre. Yiddishbbuk, for string quartet (Jennifer Murphy, Barry Shiffman, Laila Zakzook, Drew Comstock), was inspired by apocryphal psalms and is a fractured piece employing a lot of extended techniques to create a three movement work “in the mode of Babylonic Lamentations”. Lua Descolorida, with Adanya Dunn as soprano soloist, sets a 19th century text in Gallego. It’s a folksy, Arab inflected piece over a kind of string “ground” with pizzicato cello. Short but rather beautiful. For Tenebrae the quartet was joined by clarinetist Brad Cherwin and soprano Ellen McAteer. It’s a beautiful piece with a melismatic vocal line culminating with multiple repeats of the single word “Jerusalem”.
And so to the main event with the previously peripatetic audience seated in the Centre’s main performance space. Ayre sets a variety of Christian, Arab and Sephardic Jewish texts for soprano, chamber ensemble and electronics and involves myriad musical influences including klezmer and Latin dance music along with more typical art music sounds. The composer introduced the piece drawing parallels between the troubles in the world that inspired him when he wrote it in 2004 with more recent events. There’s a piece about how the rich would wall off Heaven for themselves if they could. You get the idea.
The performance, by Miriam Khalil and band with Jeremy Flower on electronics was extraordinary. It was that rare thing that raises the hairs on the back of one’s neck. Sometimes the music was extremely beautiful with a lovely vocal line intterweaving with klezmer inflected clarinet but sometimes it was startlingly ugly in a hugely dramatic way. The third “movement”; Tancas serradas a muru (Walls are encircling the land) sets a Sardinian poem in which the peasants threaten to overthrow the over greedy land owners. Here Miriam prowled the stage like a dangerous beast making the most extraordinary sounds, well beyond the normal compass of an operatic soprano. brilliant stuff. I also really liked Kun li-guitari wataran ayyuha al-maa’ (Be a string, water, to my guitar) a setting of a text by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish where Miriam sang accompanied by electronic echoes of herself from speakers around the auditorium. But really, these were just two highlights in a brilliant and intense fifty minutes of great music. Ayre was enhanced by an imaginative lighting plot by Jason Hand and rather beautiful projected surtitles (sadly not available for the “appetisers”) which helped bring the whole to life.
This really is a show to see if you possibly can. There are further performances tonight and Saturday at 8pm at the Ismaili Centre.
Photo credits: Darryl Block.