The Canadian Art Song Projects sesqui commission premiered today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s a piece by Ana Sokolović for soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone and pianist and today, as was always intended, it got its first outing from members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was billed as a “song cycle” and, while it’s certainly a setting of poems to music, that description really doesn’t do it justice. Sokolović’s music always seems to have dramatic potential and here that was realised extremely effectively by Anna Theodosakis to create a piece of performance art with many dimensions.
Each of the sixteen “movements” is distinct (the first is repeated at the end so fifteen poems by twelve different poets are set). Some are quite long, such as the setting of nick avis’ waking from a dream in which each stanza almost stands alone and, besides all four singers using a wide range of vocal styles, the pianist gets to play snare drum as well as use a variety of extended piano techniques. Other movements, such as the setting of Christian Bök’s AEIOU are very short. Here soprano and mezzo go, almost literally, nose to nose in a very funny sort of monkey dominance contest. There are pieces that demand a lot of acting as in Ariel Gordon’s How to See Deer where the baritone “stalks the woods” while making a variety of musical and not so musical sounds while others are more “stand and deliver” like the mezzo’s lieder like setting of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s A Winter Dawn. To this can be added wonky robot choreography, some very weird instruments and command of a variety of vocal styles from whistling, to whispering, to close harmony to explosive syllables. All of which add up to the varied, rich sound worlds that Sokolović conjures up for each piece. And for bonus points, much of it is very funny indeed; a rare thing in contemporary song cycles.
The performance team was Danika Lorén – soprano, Emily D’Angelo – mezzo, Aaron Sheppard – tenor, Bruno Roy – baritone and Liz Upchurch – piano with everybody doubling on an instrument at some point and Liz performing spoken text. They did a fantastic job as singers and actors and showed considerable versatility as well as high level classical skills. It was very impressive.
There’s a second chance to see dawn always begins in the bones at the Royal Conservatory on May 25th when it will be paired with the Ontario premieres of pieces by Andrew Staniland and Lloyd Burritt. Go, if you possibly can. This is a new piece of real quality. Details.
Photos when I get them.