On Saturday evening the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers gave a very beautiful, carefully constructed and thought provoking concert. To start with it was at the Church of the Holy Trinity which, as most Torontonians will know, is a sort of social hub servicing the spiritual and material needs of Toronto’s homeless as best they can. All the more ironic as it sits in the shadow of that iconic temple of consumer capitalism the Eaton Centre.
field studies is a CD of chamber music by Canadian composer Emilie Cecilie Lebel. There are five tracks on the record; each around twelve minutes long, scored for various small forces and recorded in different locations.
The pieces are all different but they have one thing in common. They make a few notes go a long way! evaporation blue, which opens the album is typical. It’s scored for piano and harmonica; both played by Cheryl Duvall, and it’s very sparse with the notes typically given long time values. It’s quite evocative in a slightly tense kind of way. It’s also recorded with a lot of resonance which has to be deliberate since it was recorded at Revolution Recording in Toronto.
Thursday lunchtime in Walter Hall saw the winner of the 2023 Norcop Song Prize, Jamal Al-Titi give his prizewinner recital accompanied by Koldolsky Prize winner Indra Egan. It was an interesting selection of material for baritone in English, French, Italian and Russian. Starting off with Butterworth’s Loveliest of Trees and Vaughan Williams’ Silent Noon was bold. The standard for these songs is particularly high and I don’t think they are Al-Titi’s sweet spot. We would see laster in the recital a leaning towards a very operatic approach that didn’t work so well here.
To the intimate (i.e. tiny) Array Space last night for a concert by the Happenstancers who, in this iteration, consisted of Brad Cherwin – clarinet, Madlen Breckbill – viola and Micah Behr – piano. and, in the first number, viola.
Part 1 of the programme was called Dream Images and was intended to evoke the discontinuous and illogical. It began with Du Yun’s dreams-bend for taped speech, two violas and clarinet as a sort of intro to the main event. This consisted of Schumann’s Fairy Tale Narrations and Kurtág’s Hommage à R. Schumann; these being two of the very few works for clarinet, viola and piano. Added to these was a new work; Abstractions by Nahre Sol. The pieces were played with the movements in the right order but with the composers mixed up so, for example, the first four movements went Kurtág, Sol, Schumann, Kurtág and so on. I like this approach. The styles contrast. The Kurtág is spikey and dissonant, the Schumann structured and Romantic and the Sol playful, tonal (mostly) and rhythmically varied. Listening to them interspersed somehow focusses attention on their particular qualities and has a kind of focus that the conventional way of doing things doesn’t.
The GGS’ production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight opened at Koerner Hall last night. This is going to be a somewhat unusual review and my thoughts about the piece itself should be taken in the context of what I’m about to write. The basic plot of Flight is, for me, quite literally the stuff of nightmares and by the third act I was having vivid and very disturbing flashbacks. This undoubtedly skewed my opinion!
On Saturday 18th the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir have a concert at 7.30pm at Church of the Holy Trinity featuring David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion and a new work by Shireen Abu-Khader; Diaries of the Forgotten.
Theatre Smith-Gilmour are presenting Metamorphoses 2023 at Crow’s Theatre. It’s a contemporary take on Ovid that combines mime, illusion, spoken word, silence and Bharatanatyam dance. Previews are on the 21st through 23rd with the run proper from the 24th to April 9th.
Against the Grain’s reworking Of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle with Gerald Finley in the title role plays at the Fleck Dance Theatre on March 29th and 31st at 7.30pm with a matinee on April 1st. The new English language libretto is by Daisy Evans who also directs, Stephen Higgins conducts.
Confluence Concerts’ show last night at Heliconian Hall was titled A Woman’s Voice. It was, after a fashion, a CD release concert in two halves. The first half featured music by Alice Ping Yee Ho from the album A Woman’s Voice and featuring the same performers; Vania Chan, Katy Clark, Alex Hetherington, Maeve Palmer and Jialiang Zhu. I’ve already reviewed the album and I don’t think last night changed my opinion much so I’ll not do a detailed rundown. What I can say is that last night it was mostly opera excerpts; Lesson of Da Ji, Chinatown, The Imp of the Perverse, and a live concert gave an opportunity for a bit of staging which was definitely an enhancement, especially in The Imp of the Perverse scene. “Café Chit Chat” and “Black” also benefitted from visual interaction between the singers. I like the CD a lot. Getting a chance to see some of the music live was great. Continue reading →
UoT Opera Division’s production of Arthur Benjamin’s A Tale of Two Cities, currently playing at the MacMillan Theatre, is really rather good. Its partly the work itself which surely deserves to be better known. It’s a 1950 work to a libretto by Cedric Cliffe. It was written for the Festival of Britain and was considered a success at the time. It is in many ways typical of mid 20th century English opera (though Benjamin was a peripatetic Australian rather than a Brit). It’s colourful and uses a large orchestra with lots of brass and percussion and combines lyricism with some fairly heavy dissonance. It also includes a few good arias, notably one for Lucie Manette, the romantic female interest.
Dr. Manette (Burak Yaman), Lucie Manette (Emily Rocha)
Most of the line up for this year’s Toronto Summer Music, which is themed Metamorphosis, was unveiled last night at the Lula Lounge. Basically it’s back to the full on festival with some exciting headline acts, some rising stars and the usual ReGen and Shuffle concerts, mentor programmes and community programming. Plus a few surprises. The festival runs July 6th to 29th in a variety of venues mostly around the Bloor Street Culture Corridor. Continue reading →
sweet light crude is a 2010 album by the ensemble Newspeak. It contains six pieces by different composers in a style that has been called “punk classical”. To me, the six pieces are varied enough that I’d be reluctant to put a two word label on the “style” but it’s certainly reflective of a certain kind of New York music making that combines contemporary classical influences with a whole lot of other stuff.
Here are brief, and possibly useful (or not), descriptions of each piece.
Oscar Bettison’s B&E (with aggravated assault) is a high energy number that sounds like a sort of squeaky minimalist jazz with a drum kit in the background.
Stefan Weisman’s I Would Prefer Not To, by contrast uses an eyhereal high vocal line over lyrical instrumentals with a rhythm section in the background.
David T. Little’s sweet light crude is another vocal piece that starts with more ethereal vocals ove a folky violin tune and drone before become something more like synth pop.
Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This plays off a sort of scooping violin rtiff against a minimalist piano line.
Pat Muchmore’s Brennschluß goes full on apocalyptic with heavy metal influences. It’s quite chaotic and requires a range of vocal styles including speech.
Finally, Caleb Burhans Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville is very low key. There’s a slow melody line plus drones before vocals kick in with a kind of post industrial dust bowl feel.
All in all it’s 42 minutes of really varied and intriguing music of a kind I only seem to come across from the New York indie classical scene. It’s well recorded and currently available for download in MP# and CD quality FLAC formats.
For the record Newspeak is Caleb Burhans – violin, Mellissa Hughes – voice, James Johnston – piano, synth, organ, Taylor Levine – guitar, David T. Little – director, drums, Eileen Mack – co-director, clarinets, Brian Snow – cello and Yuri Yamashita – percussion.