It’s the fifth year that Soundstreams has put on Electric Messiah which I guess means it’s pretty much becoming a holiday tradition. This iteration may just be the best yet. This version seemed quite stripped down compared to some years and all the better for it. It’s centred around rearranged (and shortened) excerpts from the Handel work supplemented with some personal touches for the cast. This time the “band” was Wesley Shen on harpsichord, Joel Visentin on keyboards and electric organ, Joel Schwartz on assorted acoustic and electric guitars and Adam Scime directing from the (laptop) keyboard which controlled lots of effective electronics. SlowPitchSound was there on turntables with Lybido dancing.
Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah is back for a fourth outing, again under the musical direction of Adam Scime. The formula is basically the same as previous years.
Take excerpts from Handel’s Messiah
Add some new music
Arrange for small chamber ensemble, electronics and turntables (Sarah Svendsen, analog and electric harpsichord; Joel Schwartz, electric guitar; Jeff McLeod, electric organl; SlowPitchSound, turntablist)
Take a quartet of singers from different vocal traditions (Jonathan MacArthur, Katherine Hill, Aviva Chernick and Alex Samaras)
Throw in a dancer (Lybido)
Have some of the text sung in a language relevant to the singer (Gaelic, Hebrew, Swedish this time)
Stage it at Drake Underground
This year in addition there was some interpolated music not directly derived from Messiah; to whit, a gospel piece for Samaras called “Personal Jesus” and a harpsichord solo.
Soundstreams Electric Messiah 3 opened last night at the Drake Underground. Some things have changed from last year. There’s no chorus, the soloists are new, the instrumentation has changed. There’s now a harpsichord (Christopher Bagan) and an electric organ (Jeff McLeod) for instance. Some things are the same. There’s still extensive use of electric guitar (John Gzowski). Dancer Lybido and DJ SlowPitchSound are still there, as is Adam Scime as music director and electro-acoustical wizard. There’s still a mobile phone schtick. It feels both familiar and quite different.
The four new soloists each bring something of themselves to the piece. A kilted Jonathan MacArthur (getting ready for Yaksmas perhaps?) sings partly, and very beautifully, in Scots Gaelic. Adanya Dunn brings a fresh sound and Bulgarian. Elizabeth Shepherd brings jazz, French and a really effective “lounge jazz” He was despised accompanying herself on organ. Justin Welsh adds some Afro-Canadian touches. Most of the numbers are shared between the singers; moving and singing from different parts of the small space. This is exemplified by the opening Comfort ye, begun by Jonathan in Gaelic with singer and language and location constantly shifting. With no chorus, there’s much more space (and it’s easier to see). The visual and aural textures seem cleaner. The unconventional combination of instruments and electronics works really well. There’s enough Handel there but also much else to think about and enjoy.
Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah, now billed as “annual”, opened last night at a packed Drake Underground. It’s substantially reworked from last year’s show though structurally it’s similar in that the same arias are sung by the same singers in the same order with similar linking sections. The differences though are notable. The space is configured differently with more conventional seating which makes it feel more like a concert than a happening, though there’s still lots of movement and action happening in different parts of the space. The electro-acoustic orchestra is gone; replaced by keyboards. John Gzowski and his electric guitar are up on stage rather than tucked away in an alcove. The linking choral sections have been remixed and the influence of Adam Scime on that is clear. It’s still a very interesting show and well worth seeing but I enjoyed it rather less than last year.