Linda Buckley is an Irish composer whose music combines, among other things, traditional Irish vocals, classical instruments, of more or less conventional form, and electronics to create an entirely unique sound world. This new album starts off with the most substantial and, to my mind, most interesting, piece; Ó Íochtar Mara (From Ocean’s Floor). The four movements combine Iarla Ó Lionáird singing in the traditional sean nós style with string quartet (Crash Ensemble) and Buckley herself on electronics. Each movement sets a poem in Irish with an accompaniment that is quite sparse and never overwhelms the vocalist. It’s mostly electronic drones with the strings kicking in in similar vein. It’s very beautiful and quite haunting. The vocals are sung with a great sense of the proper style and it’s an object lesson in how to combine folk vocals with classical instruments without making it sound like Victorian parlour music.
I’ve listened to a lot of music for voice and piano and a lot of music by Shostakovich but it was only on listening to this new album by Margarita Gritskova and Maria Prinz that I realised that I had hardly heard any of Shostakovich’s art songs; except for a few with orchestra. So I was glad to discover the interesting collection on this CD. There are twenty songs taken from twelve different works. (most of DS’ song cycles seem to require multiple voice types. I guess labour was cheap in the USSR). The pieces are drawn from right across Shostakovich’s career from Op.4 to Op.145. The evolution of style is as clear as in his chamber or orchestral music.
Perhaps not unexpectedly the Metropolitan Opera has announced the cancellation of the balance of their 2020/21 season. They took the opportunity to announce the 2021/22 season at the same time. It’s quite interesting. There’s the first opera by an African-American composer; Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Looks like an all African American cast for that and the co-director and choreography is also African-American. There’s also Brett Dean’s Hamlet in the Glyndebourne production and with most of the Glyndebourne cast but not Barbara Hannigan. Brenda Rae sings Ophelia. I’m curious to see how the “surround sound” elements of Dean’s music work in such a big house. There’s also Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice that premiered in Los ngeles in February and was thus probably the last new major opera before the storm hit. So three new(ish) operas in one season. I don’t think I’ve seen that from the Met before.
Suppose, rather than a plummy BBC voiced narrator, that Benjamin Britten had chosen an animated dog in space to narrate The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and that, rather than use variations on a theme by Purcell he’d used extracts from contemporary Canadian composers he might just have come up something like the Kingston Symphony and Gazelle Automations’ Harmon in Space. Or maybe not. But in any case this new series for kids mixes animation with real musicians to create a guide to the instruments of the orchestra. The first episode (of a planned twelve) deals with the flute. And what rhymes with “flute”? Well “cute” of course. And it is. Very. You can find it on the KSO’s Youtube channel (subscribe for future episodes) or via this direct link.
Last night the first concert in Confluence’s virtual season went live. It features the music of Billy Strayhorn curated by Andrew Downing. Now jazz is not usually my thing but I found this concert interesting in many ways. Strayhorn was unusual. He was a poor African American who aspired to be a classical composer and pianist. Realising the virtual impossibility of that in post WW2 America he took to jazz and dance band music and formed a very productive relationship with Duke Ellington. He was also gay and that, rather courageously for the time, comes out in his music. You can find out much more about Strayhorn in the most erudite chat between Andrew Downing and Professor Walter Vandeleur that precedes the music.
Earlier this month I was reviewing a new CD recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes for Opera Canada (you should be able to read it in the issue that’s currently at the printers). It’s a rather good performance from the Bergen Philharmonic with Stuart Skelton in the title role. In digging into previous recordings while writing that review I came across a 1995 recording with Philip Langridge in the title role. I was familiar with his ENO performance which was brilliant and is captured on DVD but there are serious issues with that recording so I was delighted to be able to have another listen.
The panel discussion follow up to the presentation I described in an earlier post took place yesterday afternoon. It was an interesting panel; a dramaturg, a lighting designer, a couple of directors, a singer, the head of a small regional opera company etc. They were all interesting, thoughtful and well, nice, people but what was clearly missing was anyone who had ever held a position of influence in a major North American opera company or even anyone of contrarian views so the discussion did feel a bit tame.
The COC has announced a virtual (almost) fall season. It’s mainly community outreach with an emphasis on young people which is entirely consistent with conversations I’ve had with the COC (and indeed other companies).
- In November there will be a three day festival of concerts from the Richard Bradshaw amphitheatre backed up by interviews etc.
Yesterday saw the first part of Opera America’s webinar Managing the Inherited Repertoire. It consisted of a half hour talk by Bernard Foccroulle, formerly boss at La Monnaie and the Aix Festival and will be followed up by a panel discussion tomorrow at 3pm. I think you can still view the talk on Opera America’s Youtube channel.
Der Messias is the German version of Handel’s Messiah as arranged by Mozart. The translation dates from 1775 and is by Klopstock and Ebeling drawing heavily on the Lutheran Bible. My German isn’t good enough to say how “archaic” it sounds to a modern German speaker but it certainly seems to be quite singable. In any event it was presented in Salzburg during this year’s Mozartwoche in a staged version by Robert Wilson. The arrangement adds a substantial wind section and changes the voice parts in places. For example Doch wer mag entraten (But who may abide) is given to the bass rather than one of the high voices.