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.
Confluence Concerts have announced a five concert and two special event virtual 2020/21 season with their usual eclectic and enticing mix of repertoire.
September 23rd 2020 – Something to Live for; A Billy Strayhorn Celebration
A detailed look at the story of the great 20th century classical and jazz pianist and composer. Best known for his long-time collaboration with Duke Ellington, Strayhorn composed Take the A Train, Lush Life, Something to Live For, Chelsea Bridge, and A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.
Curated and arranged by Andrew Downing
Featuring Larry Beckwith, Alexa Belgrave, Leighton Harrell, Aline Honzy, Drew Jurecka, Marion Newman, Patricia O’Callaghan, Alex Samaras, Suba Sankaran and more.
The first of three concerts from the Elora Festival was webcast last night. It opened with a nicely produced video of the Elora singers performing Jonathan Dove’s In Beauty May I Walk which was followed by Lawrence Wiliford and Lucas Harris performing sings for lute and tenor. The lute was a weird and wonderful thing combining the usual strings with a longer theorbo like section totalling 12 courses and 23 strings. The music was all from the 17th century (as best I can tell) ranging from well known names like Purcell and Blow to others like John Beck who are likely only familiar to specialists in this rep. Anyway, it was beautifully done and makes one wish that this material would be performed more often.
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.