The Elmer Iseler Singers and their conductor Lydia Adams returned to live performance at Eglinton St. George’s United Church yesterday with a programme that included the World Premiere of Timothy Corlis’ Om Saha Nāvavatu. The first half of the programme though consisted of four shorter works. First up was Three Motets to Our Lady by Healey Willan. The piece sets three texts; two invoking the Virgin Mary and one from The Song of Songs. They are conventional but effective polyphonic settings and were very skilfully performed. I’m not a huge Willan fan (heresy I know) but I really enjoyed these.
Last night’s concert at Koerner Hall was a celebration of the life and work of Armenian composer and song collector Komitas on the occasion of his 150th birthday. Unsurprisingly Koerner was packed with members of Toronto’s Armenian community. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable at events like this; unable to really appreciate what the music means in its home culture, but last night what I felt was joy and inclusion. It was an extremely well curated concert of rather beautiful music extremely well performed.
There are a few interesting items in the initial announcement of the RCM’s 2019/20 season:
The Amici Chamber Ensemble with Russell Braun and the Elmer Iseler Singers offer a celebration of the 150th birthday of Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet. That’s on October 25th 2019.
Karina Gauvin and the Paciifica Baroque Orchestra have a programme called Russian White Nights: Opera arias from 18th century St. Petersburg. That’s on November 1st 2019.
Phillipe Sly and Le Chimera Project are presenting a staged version of Schubert’s Winterreise with chamber ensemble. That’s on January 17th 2020.
Perhaps the biggest deal of all is Peter Sellars directing the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a staged performance of Orlando di Lasso’s final work, Lagrime di San Pietro; 27 madrigals sung a cappella in seven parts by 21 singers. That’s on February 1st and 2nd 2020.
And after all the fancy stuff there is a classic Liederabend with Matthias Goerne and Jan Lisiecki in an all Beethoven programme on April 24th 2020.
I went to Roy Thomson Hall last night to hear an all Vaughan Williams program conducted by Peter Oundjian. It’s not really my thing but there was a fine quartet of soloists lined up for the Serenade to Music.
Things got going with the Fantasia on “Greensleeves” which was perfectly OK if a bit hackneyed. There was a decent account of the Concerto for Oboe and Strings with Sarah Jeffrey as the soloist. Then there was the Serenade. For some reason the soloists were lined up with the choir (the Elmer Iseler singers) behind the orchestra. The result was sonic mush and textual porridge. I caught exactly one word of the text; “stratagems” for what it’s worth. The rest was not recognisable as English, let alone understandable. And, of course, it was too dark to read the supplied text. This despite soloists; Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan, who are consistently excellent with text. This is becoming very annoying. As often as not when I go to see the TSO do vocal works the soloists are either inaudible or incomprehensible. I know the hall is difficult but the performance of the Ryan Requiem last week showed that it is possible to showcase singers. I think it’s really unfair to audiences and singers alike. Anyway, I was so fed up that I left at the interval.
I really wanted to like David Warrack’s new piece Abraham that premiered last night at the Metropolitan United Church. It’s described as an oratorio and tells the story of the patriarch Abraham and uses that as a jumping off point for arguing for the breaking down of barriers between Jews, Christians and Muslims based on their shared heritage(*). Given recent events in Canada and elsewhere that’s obviously a worthy goal and the whole thing was in aid of the Metropolitan United Church Syrian Refugee Fund; reason enough, in itself, to go.