Last night’s virtual salon by Confluence; Let’s Stay Together, featured an extremely, if unsurprisingly, eclectic selection of music and poetry and some serious techno-wizardry. Two numbers featuring Suba Shankaran and her technical whizz husband Dylan Bell exemplified the techy side. Come Together was an overdubbed. live looped, east meets west version of the Lennon and McCartney number in which the pair built up layers of sound incrementally. Meditation Round, which rounded out the evening, was a moving new work by Suba dealing with how we need to move forward, not back, as life, perhaps, returns to some sort of normality. There was an almost 16th century quality to the music and the performance in which pretty much everyone took part remotely. Brilliant mixing and post production here backing up an extremely affecting work.
June 24th sees the return, virtually, of Larry Beckwith’s Confluence Concerts. Let’s Stay Together: A Confluence Salon will air on the Confluence Youtube Channel at 7pm EST with a pre-show Q&A at 6.30pm. Larry Beckwith, Dylan Bell, Andrew Downing, Gordon Gerrard, Robert Kortgaard, Marion Newman, Patricia O’Callaghan, Suba Sankaran and Bijan Sepanji will perform music by Randy Newman, Ernest Chausson, Edith Piaf, Béla Bartok, Peter Maxwell Davies, Gustav Mahler, Leonard Cohen, Suba Sankaran, The Beatles, Charlie Chaplin and others. In addition, the renowned Canadian author André Alexis will read poems by Anna Akhmatova, Roo Borson and one of his own, Johnson Grass, from his 2019 novel Days by Moonlight. I’m excited. Since the series started Confluence has been one of the most interesting and fun gigs in town. Free!
Larry Beckwith of Confluence Concerts has been using the plague quarantine to listen to the Beethoven string quartets. He’s written up his thoughts on each piece and linked to his chosen recording on Youtube. Here’s what he had to say:
Beginning on Friday, March 20, 2020 and continuing for seventeen days in succession – as the city was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic – I turned to a project I intended to engage in at some point in 2020: listening to and reflecting upon the magnificent string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born 250 years ago. Those reflections can be found on the Confluence Concerts Blog at https://www.confluenceconcerts.ca/new-blog
It’s as thoughtful as anyone who knows Larry would expect and the blog post for each quartet includes links to the appropriate Youtube recording.
Another unusual and interesting show from Larry Beckwith’s Confluence Concerts last night at the Aki Studio. The first half of the programme was a reading of Madeleine Thien’s short story Bullet Train. It’s sort of a double coming of age story that also looks at what we hang onto and what we don’t as we move through life. It was beautifully read by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster with cunningly chosen piano interludes played by Gregory Oh.
After the interval it was Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Yoko Ono inspired piece; Witch on Thin Ice. At it’s centre was virtuoso percussionist Beverly Johnstone who displayed great skill on a range of untuned and tuned percussion while executing parts of Melissa Bettio’s choreography and producing all but indescribable vocals! She was supported by soprano Vania Chan and dancer Jessica Mak with a rap number by Gregory Oh. Playing over all of this were really rather striking videos and electronics designed by Alice. It was a bit overwhelming really. Maybe like being in the middle of an immersive video game and a very complex percussion piece at the same time. Anyway, great fun and totally unexpected!
There’s another chance to catch this programme tonight at 8pm at the Aki Studio.
Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
The latest concert in the Confluence series featured Marion Newman and friends addressing the question “What is Indigenous classical music?” through a carefully curated programme of works; all of which featured words by Indigenous women. We began with Marion singing Barbara Kroall’s Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost) with words in Odawa describing the earth going to sleep for the winter with flute accompaniment by Stephen Tam. It was followed by Rebecca Cuddy singing three of the Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dumont by Ian Cusson. These are really fine settings of interesting, pithy, angry texts that have a wicked humour to them. I particularly like Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald which I’ve written about before.
On the 14th at 1.30pm in Walter Hall Jane Archibald and Liz Upchurch are giving a recital under the auspices of the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto (so this isn’t a free concert). The 15th sees the opening of a run of a “play with music” from Theatre Gargantua called The Wager which will run at Theatre Passe Muraille from the 14th (preview) to the 30th. It promises to be a “bold and irreverent investigation into the strange things that people believe”. It’s written by Michael Spence and directed by Jacquie PA Thomas and the cast includes Teiya Kasahara.
September 28th is shaping up as a bit daft from a scheduling point of view. I’ll be at the opening of Turandot at the COC but there are at least two other options. Confluence have a celebration of Clara Schumann at St. Thomas’ Church on Huron Street at 8pm. It features pianists Angela Park and Christopher Bagan, soprano Patricia O’Callaghan, actor Alison Beckwith, and violinist Ellie Sievers. The same day at 4pm Toronto Operetta Theatre have their season opener; Viva la Zarzuela. It’s at the St. Lawrence Centre and features tenor Rómulo Delgado. I guess one could just about do that and one of the evening shows.
June is shaping up to busier than one might expect. But first here’s one last announcement for May. On the 22nd B-Exalted have a choral concert at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene at 8pm. Soloists are Dallas Chorley, soprano; Rebecca Gray, alto; Charles Davidson and David Walsh, tenors, and Janaka Welihinda, bass. More details here.
And so to June itself. There are two items of interest on June 1st. At Hart House Theatre at 2pm there’s a performance of Charlotte: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music before it leaves for a tour of Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Israel. I’m curious to see how it’s developed since we saw a version that was still rather WIP in June 2017. Later, at 8pm at St. Thomas Anglican Church there’s the latest in the Confluence Series. This one is titled At the River and features, among others, Larry Beckwith, Dylan Bell, Ian Cusson, James Meade, Marion Newman, Patricia O’Callaghan, Suba Sankaran, Jacqueline Teh and Giles Tomkins. This has become a “don’t miss” series.
What do you get when you take nine multi-talented musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds and give them a Purcell toy box to play in? You get the latest concert in the Confluence series; ‘Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined. It’s an amazingly fun evening that completely blows the cobwebs off the often stuffy Toronto baroque music scene. I can’t do a number by number account because I completely lost track. I was having way too much fun.