The opening concert of the 21C festival featured an all Osvaldo Golijov programme presented by Against the Grain Theatre. It was preceded by a very informative conversation between Joel Ivany and the composer. My main takeaway from that is that Golijov writes for people not instruments. If the people he has in mind for a piece play a certain combination of instruments that’s what he will write for and if circumstances demand it he will readily make changes. We saw that last night when cantor Alex Stein was unable to perform in K’vakaret (for cantor and string quartet) and Juan Gabriel Olivares stepped in on clarinet instead.
The performance itself started out with three pieces unknown to me. Mariel was written after the accidental death of the wife of a friend and it explores that brief interval between awareness of loss and grief. It’s a very beautiful meditation for cello and marimba played last night by Jonathan Lo and Beverley Johnston. Tenebrae, a setting for string quartet and soprano of text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, counterposes the violence of the world with the serenity of the Cosmos; inspired by events in the Middle east and a visit to the NY Planetarium with his five year old son. It’s music that is at once harsh and ethereal drawing on a variety of traditions and sung beautifully by Miriam Khalil. K’vakaret is another meditation on the theme of a shepherd sorting his flock into those destined for life and the others and all the resonances that has in Judaeo-Christian tradition.
After the break we got the main event, Miriam Khalil and ensemble performing the extra ordinary Ayre. I think I said almost everything I have to say about this piece when I reviewed the performance by Miriam at the Aga Khan Museum a few years ago followed by a review of the CD release that followed. Experiencing it from fairly far back in 1200 seat Koerner Hall was a less intense and visceral experience than seeing it from just a few metres away but still extremely satisfying.
The whole concert is currently available as a webstream on the RCM website. The good stuff starts around the 12 minute mark.
Final thought. Joel Ivany and I had a brief chat about Golijov’s Ainadamar, his opera about the life and death of Lorca. The lemur and I listened to it this morning. It really is a wonderful piece that has the potential to satisfy all but the stuffiest end of the opera audience while serving as a sort of entry level drug! It combines conventional classical techniques with electronics and flamenco in a really exciting way. We were just listening to a CD but the staging potential is obvious. It would be a very ambitious project for AtG but who nows? Who would have predicted ten years ago that they would be playing at Koerner rather than the bar of the Tranzac!
Photos are caps from the webstream