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.
So what do the first couple of weeks of 2020 hold. First up Toronto Operetta Theatre their traditional Mew Year run. his year it’s Johann Strauss’ The Gypsy Baron and there are five shows between December 28th and January 5th. The cast includes Michael Barrett, Meghan Lindsey and Beste Kalender. It plays at the St. Lawrence Centre.
If you can even contemplate the thought of another late night drinking Against the Grain’s Opera Pub is on at 9pm on January 2nd at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The following night tenor Zach Rioux has a free recital of mostly Italian rep in Mazzoleni Hall at 7.30pm (ETA CANCELLED).
Here’s what’s coming up over the holidays and into January.
Toronto Operetta Theatre’s seasonal production this year is Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. It runs December 28th through January 2nd at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The cast includes Lara Ciekiewicz as Rosalinde, Adam Fisher as Eisenstein and Caitlin Wood as Adele. Derek Bate conducts the TOT orchestra and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.
The 21C Music Festival runs from January 16th to 20th. This time it will celebrate the American minimalist composer Terry Riley, with his music being performed in three of the concerts, including one that he will headline, titled Terry Riley: Live at 85! Full details at rcmusic.ca.
There have been quite a few announcements in the last couple of weeks or so. Here’s what’s coming up.
Essential Opera is back after a hiatus. They are doing a single performance of Gianni Schicchi at 3pm on April 22nd at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (the one up near the Arctic Circle). Kevin Mallon conducts the Toronto Orchestra with a really good line up of soloists.
21C is back from May 23rd to 27th with a varied lineup. Perhaps the most interesting concert from a vocal point of view is vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis with violinist and singer Maarja Nuut and electronic music composer Hendrik Kaljujärv in works by Arvo Pärt, David Lang, and Helena Tulve. The concert is presented in partnership with Estonian Music Week and it’s on the 26th at 8pm.
The closing concert of this year’s 21C, presented by Soundstreams at Koerner Hall, featured music by Chris Paul Harman and Unsuk Chin. In the first half we heard two related pieces by Harman based on songs by Ray Noble. The first, Love Locked Out started with a tape recorded interview and a scratchy recording of Al Bowlly before morphing into a complex piece with allusions to the original song. It’s not in any sense a set of variations. Harman’s sound world is complex. It’s very modern and varied. There were warring pianos and tubular bells in passages that were almost violent but which morphed into more playful sections. Parts of the string writing and the transitions reminded me of Shostakovich; though Harman tends to genuinely playful rather than sardonic. But the comparison should not be taken too far because there’s also a tendency to build tension and logic through repetition rather than symphonic development in a vaguely John Adamsish sort of way and there are passages that are meditative à la Messiaen. The piece closed with a slowed down tape of the song. So complex and intriguing stuff very well played by 21C Chamber Orchestra conducted by Guillaume Bourgogne.
Last night’s Canadian Art Song Project, part of the Conservatory’s 21C festival, was sold out. Yep, a sold out concert of contemporary Canadian art song not featuring an A-list singer. Clearly Mercury is in retrograde or something. Anyway, the first half of the concert featured baritone Iain MacNeil with one of my favourite collaborative pianists Mélisande Sinsoulier. They gave us Lloyd Burritt’s The Moth Poem to texts by Robin Blaser. This is a basically tonal work with a piano part that I found more interesting than the vocal writing (common enough in contemporary art song). There was some nice delicate singing from Ian and complete mastery of the intricate piano part by Mélisande. Andrew Staniland’s setting of Wallace Stevens’ Peter Quince at the Clavier followed. This is a more ambitious work with quite a complex soundscape and a piano part that requires a range of technique as much of it is written to sound “mechanical” as a nod to the title of the poem. Oddly, despite the title, the text is a rich but highly allusive rendering of the story of Susanna and the Elders and a reminder of how much a really interesting text can enhance a song. I’d like to hear this again.
Here’s a summary of the upcoming Toronto events I’ve been made aware of recently. Both the TSO and the RCM have announced their contemporary music festivals. 21C at the conservatory runs from May 24th to 28th. The opening concert features Johannes Debus with the COC Orchestra, Andrew Haji and Emily D’Angelo and the Elmer Iseler Singers. The program includes two pieces by Brian Current: his The Seven Heavenly Halls in its Ontario premiere and Nàaka (Northern Lights) its world premiere. The two works are part of a six movement work, entitled River of Light, which traces creation myths from six different cultures. This concert also includes works by Unsuk Chin, Samy Moussa and Matthew Aucoin. Then on the following night the Canadian Art Song Project has a concert of works by Canadian composers Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier (Ontario premiere), Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem (Ontario premiere), and Ana Sokolović’s Dawn Always Begins in the Bones, CASP’s new commission to celebrate Canada 150. The singers, drawn from the COC Ensemble Studio will be Danika Lorèn (soprano), Emily D’Angelo (mezzo-soprano), Aaron Sheppard (tenor), Bruno Roy (baritone), Iain MacNeil (baritone), with Mélisande Sinsoulier and Liz Upchurch on piano. The Festival closes on May 28th with a Soundstreams concert; The Music of Unsuk Chin. The program includes her Cantatrix Sopranica, a playful exploration of the act of singing for two sopranos, countertenor, and ensemble featuring Carla Huhtanen, and “The Caterpillar,” an excerpt from her opera, Alice in Wonderland. Also included are two works by Chris Paul Harman; It’s All Forgotten Now (world premiere) and Love Locked Out. In between there’s lots more interesting looking instrumental stuff too. More details here. Continue reading