Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured mezzo Marion Newman with pianist Adam Sherkin and violinist Kathleen Kajioka in a programme of contemporary Canadian works (all the composers were in the room!) mostly connected in some way with Canada’s First Nations and Inuit peoples.  First up was Ian Cusson’s setting of E. Pauline Johnson‘s A Cry from an Indian Wife.  It’s a long, highly emotional but not, I think, especially well crafted, text about an Indian woman sending her husband off to war (the language reflects the usage of its day) and the words are not easy to set or sing.  Cusson’s setting is appropriately intense with a blistering piano part and a tough vocal line.  It’s deeply affecting but hardly comfortable especially when sung in a manner that clearly (and rightly) privileged text and emotion over beauty of sound.


This was followed by Sherkin’s Two Songs after Turner, composed for the Turner exhibition at the AGO and first performed there.  Less emotional themes perhaps but no less expressive and very evocative of Turner’s pictures.  This was followed by a scene from a work in progress, again by Ian Cusson; Helen Betty Osborne, It was the recalling of a nightmare and had the same tough, edgy character as the earlier Cusson piece and was just as exprressively sung and played.

Next up were four Sherkin piano pieces from his suite Postludes from Adlivun based on legends about the Inuit underworld.  This is the sort of music that takes conventional piano technique to the limit.  It’s loud, tough, sinewy and very evocative.  Also most expressive and athletic playing from Sherkin who I think was playing from memory.

Things lightened up a bit after that with Kathleen Kajioka joining Marion and Adam for Newman’s Kinanu, a rather beautiful and appropriately gentle lullabye and the tongue in cheek Appropriation Aria; a “commentary” on Ten Little Indians and Newman’s riposte to the inappropriate teatment of native culture in children’s music.

Last up was Sap’a; a piece by Dustin Peters setting texts in Kwak’wala; a near extinct language of the Pacific Coast which Marion pointed out would be her native tongue if her father had not lost it at residential school.  It’s a lovely piece, very evocative of the grey sky and grey water of that weird and haunting coast.

So, a really well curated recital that needs to be heard again.  The themes matter and the range of music was a fascinating tribute to the vibrancy of the Canadian contemporary music scene which is not afraid to grapple with difficult issues or to use musical styles and forms which challenge audiences without becoming overly academic or theoretical.


Photo credits:  Lara Hintelmann

3 thoughts on “Reconciliation

  1. Hi… Are you aware of the passing of Stuart Hamilton…one of Canada’s greatest and beloved opera coaches, lecturer, broadcaster, producer and icons of opera? Would be wonderful if OR would acknowledge this significant passing. Sincerely RC IN MEMORIAMROBERT STUART HAMILTON, C.M., Hon. LL.D., A.R.C.T.September 28, 1929 – Jan 1, 2017More than six decades of wondrous achievement in the Canadian cultural arena have come to a close. Robert Stuart Hamilton succumbed to prostatic cancer at St. Michael’s Hospital on Jan 1, 2017 at the age of 87.  Legendary as a vocal coach, broadcaster, accomplished pianist, raconteur, artistic director and producer, there are few music lovers in Canada who do not know his name. As pianist – and comedian! – he toured with the hugely successful Beyond the Fringe revue across the United States and Canada and collaborated with renowned Canadian artists such as Lois Marshall and Maureen Forrester as a keyboard recital partner. In 1974, he founded Opera in Concert and was its Artistic Director until 1994 when he was influential in selecting his successor, Guillermo Silva-Marin. In 1982, CBC producer Robert Cooper invited Hamilton to become Quiz Master of the CBC’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, a post he held until his retirement in 2007. He also appeared regularly as a panelist, and occasional guest Quiz Master, on the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts from New York City at Lincoln Centre. His accumulated knowledge of repertoire, voices and style made him an ‘in demand’ lecturer and an adjudicator for competitions such as the Oralia Dominquez Competition in Mexico, the George London Foundation Awards, the Sullivan Foundation, the CBC Young Performers’ Competition and Bathroom Divas.He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1984, won the Toronto Arts Award in 1989, received the Governor General’s Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Confederation in 1992, the first Ruby Award from Opera Canada in 2000 and the Beckmesser Award from the Los Angeles Opera in 2004. He received an honorary doctorate from Dalhousie University in 2008 and most recently was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.His book – Opening Windows: Confessions of a Canadian Vocal Coach published by Dundurn Press in 2012 – is an engaging account of his life in music spiced by witty observations on the luminaries he met during the course of his life. Stuart was born in Regina, Saskatchewan on September 28, 1929 to Florence Hamilton (née Stuart) and James Shire Hamilton.  He was the second youngest of five children and is survived by his sisters Dorothy Marshall and Patricia Hamilton, nieces Vanessa and Barbara and nephews Ben, Douglas and David.   A Memorial celebrating the life of Stuart Hamilton will be announced by the family at a future date.  Dr. Robert Cooper, CM Artistic Director Chorus Niagara Orpheus Choir of Toronto Opera in Concert Chorus Ontario Male Chorus

    6 Valleymede Road Toronto, ON M6S 1G9 1 416 762 8969

    From: operaramblings To: Sent: Friday, January 6, 2017 3:14 PM Subject: [New post] Reconciliation #yiv3896135507 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3896135507 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3896135507 a.yiv3896135507primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3896135507 a.yiv3896135507primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3896135507 a.yiv3896135507primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3896135507 a.yiv3896135507primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3896135507 | operaramblings posted: “Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured mezzo Marion Newman with pianist Adam Sherkin and violinist Kathleen Kajioka in a programme of contemporary Canadian works (all the composers were in the room!) mostly connected in some way with Canada’s First ” | |

    • I did know about Stuart’s illness and death. I really wasn’t sure how to cover it. I have nothing special to add to all the things that have been said by the many, many people who knew him much better than I. I didn’t want to merely duplicate the press releases which we have all, I expect, seen. Still, it is the passing of a Canadian opera legend and I’ll give some thought to what I might say.

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