Singing our songs

marionnewmanThe 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 CussonThese 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.

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The Royal Conservatory 2015/16 season

PD32029780_Terfel__1514579cThe Royal Conservatory has now announced the 2015/16 season.  The full details plus how to subscribe, buy tickets etc is here.  It’s the usual rich mix of music in a wide range of genres.  Here are the things I will be looking out for:

April 24th 2016 in Koerner Hall at 3pm there’s a recital by Bryn Terfel with Natalia Katyukova.  This is definitely the big name vocal gig of the season.

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Thank you for flying Current Air

aiWhen I saw Brian Current’s Airline Icarus this summer in a staged version by Tim Albery I thoroughly enjoyed it but had this nagging feeling I wasn’t completely getting it.  First time through with the CD I had the same reaction.  It was only when I printed out Anton Piatiogorsky’s libretto and listened with that in front of me that I began to feel I was finally understanding this somewhat enigmatic work.  I realized it’s a structural thing.  The first two parts of the piece are essentially realistic.  It’s a black comedy involving a sort of anti-love triangle between a businessman (Geoff Sirett), a flight attendant (Krisztina Szabó) and a businesswoman (Carla Huhtanen) played out along with the terror of an academic (Graham Thomson) flying, ironically, to Cleveland to deliver a paper on the Fall of Icarus.  It’s inventive and funny but then something happens.  It’s very ambiguous but Current’s notes tell us that it’s inspired by the 12 -15 minutes between KAL007 being hit in the wing by a Soviet missile over Sakhalin in 1983 and its eventual destruction.  The mood changes with a nervy ensemble piece about hubris and technology followed by an ecstatic aria from the pilot (Alexander Dobson) before a deceptive return to “normality” and fade out.  It’s quite disturbing in its lack of resolution.

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Best of 2014

Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year.  It was a pretty good year overall.  On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs.  The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC.  It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant.  Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts.  Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl.  Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production.  I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.

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Apparitions

JTwGGSNMEConductor Brian Current and the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble presented three pieces, one of them a world premiere, today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  The performances were prefaced by a really rather informative and informal chat by Brian on “how to listen to contemporary music”.  It was engaging and totally non-patronising.

And so to the music.  The first piece was Marco Stroppo’s 1989 piece élet… fogytigian, dialogo immaginario fra un poeta e un filosofo; a piece evoking an imaginary dialogue between a Hungarian poet and an Italian philosopher who never actually met, or so the composer told us.  The first movement was bright and aggressive, very much in the European manner of the 70s and 80s with the second even more explosive before, in the third movement, settling into an exploration of string colour.  The composer explained this as being like three walls of a house, painted different colours, slowly rotating.  It’s the kind of piece one needs to hear more than once.

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Opera on wheels

curtainYesterday saw the 21st and final performance for this season for the Bicycle Opera Project; the conclusion of a five week, fourteen city trip around Ontario.  Fittingly for an eco-opera venture it took place at the Evergreen Brickworks in a bare brick and sheet metal industrial setting.The programme consisted of seven pieces; short works or excerpts from longer ones, all by contemporary Canadian composers and scored or rescored by them for the unusual ensemble of keyboards, flute and clarinet that accompanied the singers.

First up was an excerpt from Brian Current’s Airline Icarus. They played the scene where the passengers and stewardess are expressing their hopes and, more vehemently, fears.  It’s an uncomfortably funny scene and it was played here in a more broadly comedic manner than in Tim Albery’s original staging.  That proved very effective as a stand alone especially with most of the audience up so close.  Fine performances from all four singers with Chris Enns as an extremely angsty academic, Stephanie Tritchew flirtatiously displaying her considerable charms and some neat eye rolling from Larissa Koniuk and all anchored by Geoffrey Sirett reprising the role of the Businessman.  I was reminded too what a fine score this is, even in the reduced arrangement used here. Continue reading

Cleveland or bust

In concept/development/workshop since 2001, Brian Current and Anton Piatigorsky’s chamber opera, Airline Icarus, got its first complete, staged performance last night in a production directed by Tim Albery in the Ada Slaight Hall at the Daniels Spectrum.  It’s an ambitious work taking us on a journey into the minds of the passengers and crew on a flight to Cleveland.  It explores fear and desire and our need, as a society, to reach for ever greater heights regardless of cost.  Hence the title.  It only runs 60 minutes or so but it covers a lot of ground.  More in fact than I could fully grasp without a copy of the libretto or surtitles.  It’s also, refreshingly, not afraid to be funny in places.

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Opera in June

icarus-concert-imageThere are a few operatic events coming up in June although, as usual things are slowing down a bit.

On June 1st at 7pm, Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has a recital at Koerner Hall singing works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Medtner and Liszt. Ivari Ilja will accompany on piano.

Brian Current’s new opera Airline Icarus will open at 8pm on June 3rd at Ada Slaight Hall in the Daniels Spectrum complex.  The piece stars Krisztina Szabó and Alexander Dobson, among others.  Tim Albery directs.  The show runs until June 8th. Tickets are $20-$75 and are available here.

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Faster Still Anaïs Nin

rcm_21c_webpage-icon_final2-2This concert at Koerner Hall was the second in this summer’s Twenty-First Century Music Festival.  It advertised works by Christos Hatzis, Brian Current, R. Murray Schafer and Louis Andriessen.  In fact we kicked off with a short bonus selected from Youtube entries to make up 21 premieres for the C21.  Unfortunately I didn’t catch composer or title and it lasted less than two minutes.  Continue reading

Heading towards May

0337b61a1abb24ac_Paschera_M3F4155medres.previewHere are a couple more upcoming events that readers may be interested in.  The Royal Conservatory has a festival of contemporary music from April 21st to May 25th.  There are eight concerts in a variety of genres.  The most interesting to me is on May 22nd when there is a concert to celebrate R. Murray Schafer’s 80th birthday.  The concert will feature four pieces; Quintet for Piano and Strings Shafer himself, played by the ARC Ensemble; a world premiere of The Questioning by Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, written for and played by the Afiara String Quartet, Faster Still, a work by the by Canadian composer Brian Current played by the ARC Ensemble; and the Canadian premiere of Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s Anaïs Nin, a semi-staged work for chamber ensemble, video, and mezzo-soprano, based on the diary entries of Anaïs Nin. Singing the role of Anaïs Nin will be a favourite of mine, Wallis Giunta most recently seen in the COC’s Così fan tutte.  More details and tickets available here.

On May 1st at 1pm 96.3 FM are broadcasting Sondra Radvanovsky in recital live from the Zoomerplex.  You can catch it on the radio or at www.classical963fm.com. There’s also a draw for free tickets for the recital and the reception before.  I believe to enter you need to email name, phone number and email address to classical963fm1031@gmail.com.