It was March 2017 and I was interviewing composer Brian Current over lunch. He mentioned having seen Geoff Sirett bouldering on the wall of the Royal Conservatory atrium and how he had an idea for a site specific opera based on the life of Glenn Gould. Eventually this became Gould’s Wall with a libretto by Liza Balkan. Announced and rescheduled more than once due to COVID it premiered last night under the auspices of Tapestry Opera and the conservatory’s 21C series.
It’s not much of a secret that I’m a bit fanatical about new opera. This year Tapestry has two really exciting looking premieres in Toronto. Later in the year there’s Brian Current’s Gould’s Wall which, as an ex climber, I just have to see but first, in fact coming up next month, is RUR: A Torrent of Light by Nicholas Billon and Nicole Lizée. It’s about robots and it’s a collaboration with OCAD U who are developing some way cool technology for the show. There’s now loads of really good preview material about the show on Tapestry’s Youtube channel. So I have two suggestions to make:
The COC’s latest on-line offering is now available on-line. It’s called Voices of Mountains and the video is just shy of an hour long. Only about half of that is music though. The rest is introductions, artist statements and a 10 minute piece about the Land Acknowledgement installation created for the lobby of the Four Season Centre by Rebecca Cuddy and Julie McIsaac. It looks very interesting but, of course, one can’t visit it.
The schedule for the Royal Conservatory’s 2022 21C festival has been announced. As usual it’s heavy on premieres and this year showcases the Kronos Quartet. The three things that are likely of most interest to OR readers are:
The premiere of Gould’s Wall by Brian Current co-presented with Tapestry Opera. It’s a re-imagining of the life of Glenn Gould and features singers climbing along the wall of The Royal Conservatory’s atrium. It opens on January 12th and runs until the 16th.
Marc Neikrug’s A Song by Mahler gets a single performance on January 15th at 8pm in Koerner Hall. It tells the story of a singer and her husband coming to terms with Alzheimer’s.
A recital by Gerald Finley and Julius Drake at 3pm on January 23rd in Koerner Hall. This features the premiere of a new song cycle by Marc-Anthony Turnage plus lots of other goodies.
I think last night’s virtual conference with Michael Mori and Jaime Martino of Tapestry marks the first real announcement of intention for the 2021/22 season by any Canadian company and it offers insight into what may and may not be possible in the next year to eighteen months. Tapestry adapted quickly and creatively to COVID conditions and so I think their read on the future is important. So here’s my take on what was said.
They are planning for live performances with an audience from January 2022. That sounds about right to me. In their case they are looking at two site specific works. Gould’s Wall by Brian Current; libretto by Lisa Balkan, is to be performed at the Royal Conservatory. I thought this was a great idea when I first heard about it from Brian four years ago and I’m really looking forward to it. The other piece, to be performed at OCAD, is Nicole Lizée’s Rossum’s Universal Robots with libretto by Nicolas Billon. I think this originated in the LibLab in November of 2014. There are a number of other new works in the pipeline for future seasons.
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.
The 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.
When 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.
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.
Conductor 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.