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.
Ian Cusson, soon to be composer in residence at the COC, is one of Canada’s most interesting composing talents. Yesterday we got to see both sides of his heritage; Métis and French-Canadian, displayed in a lunchtime concert in the RBA. The first piece up was Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dupont. I had heard some of these in a version for piano and voice before but this was the first time I had heard the whole piece in an arrangement for voice and piano quintet. Marion Newman was again the singer with the composer on piano and Amy Spurr, Sarah Wiebe, Emily Hiemstra and Alice Kim on strings. I really like this piece. I find Dumont’s spiky, bitterly ironic poems very thought provoking and moving (though clearly not designed to be sung). Cusson’s accompaniment is fascinating. My overall impression is that he doesn’t write notes that don’t need to be there. If the instrumental playing is sometimes dense, at others it’s sparse to non-existent. He’s especially restrained with the piano. There’s a lovely passage at the beginning of “Helen Betty Osborne” where the low strings create an atmosphere before the violins and then the voice come in. The vocal line is singable, just, which is in itself skilful given how difficult to set the words are. The performances were terrific by all concerned. Look at the words for yourself. At the end of this post I’ve reproduced the words of the first poem; “Letter to Sir John A. MacDonald”.
Voice of a Nation is a Métis inspired collection of works that has been touring Ontario as part of the Canada 150 thing. Last night the Toronto leg of the tour happened at Grace Toronto Church. There are three pieces in the program. Different Perspectives is a setting by Ian Cusson of a text synthesized from the sometimes surprising reactions of a group of young people asked “what Canada meant to them”. It was designed to be sung by community choirs on the tour and last night was given by three (uncredited) female singers accompanied by the thirteen player Toronto Concert Orchestra under Kerry Stratton.
Here’s the blurb for a new piece being presented in Toronto this Thursday…
In 1885 Louis Riel proclaimed, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” And so we bring you Voice of a Nation, an interdisciplinary concert featuring dance, orchestra, and theatre. Presented by Ontario’s première touring ensemble, the Toronto Concert Orchestra led by Kerry Stratton, in recognition of Canada’s 150th year, concert highlights include a new orchestral song-cycle based on the Métis poet Marilyn Dumont’s A Really Good Brown Girl, composed by Métis composer Ian Cusson, directed by Michael Mori, and sung by Métis Mezzo-Soprano Rebecca Cuddy; a reimagining of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire de Soldat by First Nations choreographer Aria Evans featuring the shapeshifting Trickster; and Perspectives, a new text by the Scarborough youth collective Couronne du Canada also composed by Cusson.
It’s at Grace Toronto Church on Jarvis at 7.30pm. Ticket details here here.