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.
From September 11th to 25th Crow’s Theatre has a show; The Shape of Home: Songs in Search of Al Purdy. This is a sort of staged song cycle exploring the words and ideas of “Canada’s unofficial poet laureate”.
There are a few season announcements piling up in the in box….
First up is the always interesting Confluence Concerts series. It’s an eight show line-up:
September 24th at 3pm and 8pm at 918 Bathurst the awesome trio of Marion Newman, Patricia O’Callaghan and Suba Sankaran have a recital including a new piece by Ian Cusson and André lexis called The Drawing Room and featuring a possibly recognisable trio of sisters.
October 12th at .7:30pm at St. Thomas’ Church, 383 Huron Street, Cellist Elinor Frey brings a group of virtuoso musicians from Montreal and Europe for music by Luigi Boccherini and contemporaries.
November 23rd and 24th at 7:30pm at Heliconian Hall, Suba Sankaran curates an 80th birthday concert for master drummer Trichy Sankaran featuring the man himself and many of his students.
December 5th at 7:30pm at The Atrium at Shaftsbury Place, the walter Unger salon will feature A Confluence Christmas.
Sometime in February next year at a time and place yet to be determined Marion Newman will present Tłabat’si (Copper Box) featuring Indigenous classical musicians from across Turtle island in a series of concerts, panels and other events.
April 7th and 8th at 7:30pm at Heliconian Hall, Andrew Downing will present Songs of Syria; a program of the music of Syria, featuring members of the Canadian Arabic Orchestra.
May 26th and 27th at 7:30pm at Heliconian Hall will see the season finale, All the Diamonds, featuring words and music inspired by the night sky.
There’s a new video up on the Confluence Concerts Youtube channel. It’s a lecture recital by counter-tenor Ryan McDonald about Klaus Nomi. It’s an interesting and scholarly attempt to situate Nomi in the context of both his own time and place (1970s/80s New York City) and in the context of contemporary queerness in the classical music world. There’s also some singing. Ryan, accompanied by Ivan Jovanovic, performs some of the material associated with Nomi including a couple of “diva arias” and songs by Dowland, Schumann and Purcell.
Confluence Concerts returned to live performance last night at Heliconian Hall. The concert, curated by Patricia O’Callaghan, was titled A Simple Twist of Fate and featured an eclectic mix of music either on the topic of Fate or that was entwined with the fates of the performers.
John Beckwith turned 95 a little while ago and there’s some good celebratory material up on Youtube. Confluence Concerts are rereleasing their three concerts from last year. The first one is here. Plus, Canadian Art Song project have a really lovely film of Krisztinaa Szabó and Steven Philcox performing The Four Short Songs to texts by Kandinsky. The location filming is the work of Jenn Nicholls and Patrick Hagerty and it’s gorgeous. The performance is rather good too.
I spent three hours earlier today listening to three panel discussions about the issues involved in presenting Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The overall event was titled Grappling with Madama Butterfly Today: Representation, Reclamation, Re-imagination. They were three very different panels as we shall see. But first some context. The event was co-presented by Confluence Concerts, Amplified Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, and the Humanities Initiative at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. One of the “triggers” for the event was the planned revival of Madama Butterfly at the COC (now to be done as an “on-line” event of some description) though one might have listened to the discussions without actually realising that.
The first panel consisted of COC boss Perryn Leach with soprano Teiya Kasahara, soprano Jaclyn Grossman and Boston Lyric’s Jessica Johnson Brock. I expected it to tackle the problematic nature of Madama Butterfly head on, as indeed the other two panels did, but it didn’t. It got sidetracked into essentially blind alleys about whether the work should be performed at all and whether one should always cast Asians in Asian roles and such. I got the strong feeling that no-one involved wanted to touch the issue of why, in 2022, the COC had planned to present a thoroughly unreflective, indeed deeply racist and sexist, production of the work. And that in the context of a season of three problematic operas presented in equally unambitious productions. Indeed, so unambitious that Leech’s deputy has described Mozart’s The Magic Flute as a “whimsical comedy”. Brigid Brophy must be gyrating in her crypt. Why was the discussion so anodyne? I think it comes down to power dynamics. Perryn Leech advanced views that I think can be summed up as “as long as we present enough new work (preferably short stuff on small stages) and do a few token events like this one it’s OK to give the bougie donors their fix. Even if that fix is racist and misogynist. Nobody challenged this. After all, if you are a young woman trying to make her way in the deadly world of opera why would you call out the most powerful person in Canadian opera?
Here’s a quick list of new (relatively) and upcoming web content (the obvious Youtube channel unless otherwise specified):
Massey College have a “Music Salon” up. It features Ian Cusson and Rebecca Cuddy with Métis musicologistRena Roussin discussing the role of Indigenous art music in the Canadian music scene with a particular focus on the Métis. In between the talking head sequences there’s the performance of Ian’s Five Songs to Poems by Marilyn Dumont that was webbed by Soundstreams a little while back. If you are the one reader of this blog who has not yielded to my encouragement to explore these songs please get on with it!
Barbara Hannigan has a music video of Weill’s Youkali with theLudwig orchestra. (Alpha Classics channel). Cool footage of Finisterre which might not exactly evoke Youkali but it’s pretty much my land of dreams.
The third and final concert in Confluence Concerts and the Toronto Bach Festival’s presentation of the Bach cello suites is now on line. It features Andrew Downing playing the Suite No.2 in D minor BWV1008 on double bass and Ryan Davis playing the Suite No.5 in C minor BWV1011 on viola. Both pieces were recorded in front of a live audience at Heliconian Hall.
The second of three concerts of the Bach cello suites prresented by Confluence Concerts and the Toronto Bach Festival is now up on Confluence’s Youtube channel. There’s an hour or so of really nice cello playing with Kieran Campbell playing the Suite no.4 and Eleanor Fry performing the Suite no.6. The most interesting segments though are hearing the musicians talk about their rather unusual instruments. Kieran was playing an early 18th century instrument that is quite a bit larger than a modern cello and has no spike at the foot. It’s strung with gut of course though two of the strings are metal wrapped. Eleanor’s instrument is a modern reproduction of a baroque five stringed cello. I had no idea such a thing existed! As with all the Confluence streams, technical quality is impeccable. Definitely worth a look.