Confluence Concerts opened their season yesterday at 918 Bathurst with a concert featuring a new work by Ian Cusson and André Alexis. We’ll come to that because before it there was about 45 minutes of music doing what Confluence does; the relatively unexpected. There were arrangements for various combinations of voices and instruments of songs by the likes of Kate Bush, Coldplay and Neil Young. There was an instrumental version of Bruce Cockburn’s Pacing the Cage (Larry Beckwith – violin, Andrew Downing – bass) and a Mozart violin sonata (Beckwith and Cusson) plus an intriguing percussion solo by Bevis Ng and more. It featured the usual suspects; Larry Beckwith, Andrew Downing, Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell and Patricia O’Callaghan plus Messrs Cusson and Ng and it was fun.
And so to the main event. The Drawing Room imagines a conversation that Lear’s three daughters have immediately before the play opens. It’s scored for piano (the composer), violin (Larry Beckwith) and bass (Andrew Downing). The vocal parts are carefully tailored to the different singing styles of the three performers; Marion Newman as Goneril, Patricia O’Callaghan as Cordelia and Suba Sankaran as Regan (with a brief appearance by Dylan Bell as a messenger). It was presented concert style with some limited movement by the singers. Directorial support here and in the characterisations from Marjorie Chan.
It’s a clever and compelling piece. André Alexis’ libretto is tight and sparse but creates three quite distinct personae for the women. It finds time in its twenty minutes or so to fit in two duets and a trio as well as dialogue. The singers inhabit the different personalities beautifully from the conciliatory Regan to the more combative (in different ways) Goneril and Cordelia. Ian Cusson’s music supports the text beautifully and has a transcendent quality all its own. It’s mostly lyrical but there are moments of high tension as well. The trio, which comes just before the end, is particularly lovely. I was left wondering how one crammed so much drama and so much musical interest into such a short space of time. There are three act operas with less drama and musical interest. I really want to hear this again!
So once again one of Toronto’s most interesting concert series is on the money.
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