Songs in Time of War

musicgardenThe season finale for the Music Garden this summer was a performance of Alec Roth’s Songs in Times of War.  These are settings of poems by Du Fu translated by Vikram Seth.  Du Fu was a Chinese court poet who lived through times (8th century CE) when millions died or were displaced by rebellion and civil war.  Although more allusive than direct (most of the time), the poems are grim but have an elusive beauty which is reflected in Roth’s setting.  Originally scored for tenor, guitar, harp and violin we got to hear a new version (by the composer) with violin replaced by erhu; a two stringed bowed instrument.  Tnere’s no doubt in my mind that the erhu adds a really effective cross-cultural timbre that the violin version can’t quite match.

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Berio Folk Songs

KLP171003-_D850281Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured members of the Esprit Orchestra and Krisztina Szabó.  Two instrumental pieces kicked things off.  There was an Andrew Staniland composition for snare drum and electronics; Orion Constellation Theory, played by Ryan Scott.  This was quite witty and inventive.  Very Staniland in fact.  Then came a three movement work for solo harp; Alexina Louie’s From the Eastern Gate played by Sanya Eng.  For two movements it was light and bright using mainly the upper end of the harp’s range.  It was engagingly tuneful too though not in any kind of conventionally tonal way.  The third movement was darker, louder and more dramatic, brooding even, and using a far wider range of the instrument’s capabilities.  All up, an interesting piece.

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War and Peace

sasha-djihanianLunchtime today at the RBA saw members of the COC orchestra get together with soprano Sasha Djihanian for a concert of works by Handel and Albinoni.  I realised that I really don’t listen to enough baroque chamber works.  The first work on the program was Handel’s Trio Sonata No.2 in D Minor.  It’s compact, playful and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  I stupidly didn’t make a note of who played on what piece so I’ll just credit the ensemble at the end of the post.  The other chamber work on the program was Albinoni’s Sonata à cinque in C major.  This was fun too with lots of fugue elements and dance rhythms and some serious toe tapping by violist Keith Hamm.

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Ash Roses release concert

mireille The Ash Roses CD that I referred to a few days ago was officially launched at the Canadian Music Centre last night.  Lawrence Wiliford, Mireille Asselin, Sanya Eng and Liz Upchurch performed all the music on the album in the presence of the composer and his wife, assorted Toronto music glitterati and even more assorted others, like me.  It’s a very intimate setting and well suited for small scale art song recitals; especially when the complimentary wine and beer (Black Oak Chocolate Cherry Stout – recommended) is rather good.

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Ash Roses

ashrosesThere’s some pretty exciting news from the Canadian Art Song Project (CASP).  It’s their first commercial CD release featuring Ash Roses; songs for Soprano and Tenor by Derek Holman. The artists are soprano Mireille Asselin, tenor Lawrence Wiliford, pianist Liz Upchurch and harpist Sanya Eng. This is the first recording entirely dedicated to the songs of Canadian composer Derek Holman; one of the very few who have made art songs an important component of their output.

There is a CD release party on March 7th at the Canadian Music Centre (20 St. Joseph St., Toronto) and the program for the evening will include The Four Seasons, Ash Roses, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal and Three Songs for High Voice and Harp.  Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 on the door, $20 students. More details can be found about the CD and the release party at

Farewell Queen of Puddings

Lorca-horizontalChris Paul Harman’s La selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) had its premier at the Four Seasons Centre at lunchtime today.  It’s a setting of some very beautiful texts from Lorca’s Suites scored for mezzo, harp, piano/celeste, flute, clarinet, cello, percussion and tape.  The tape consists of sections of the texts read by Martha de Francisco.  Sometimes the text comes from the tape, sometimes it’s sung by mezzo, sometimes it’s spoken by the mezzo and at other times they overlap.  The accompaniment is mostly very spare but occasionally becomes surprisingly dense with lots of work for tuned percussion.  There are also some unconventional roles for the instruments, especially the flute, and there is a whistled passage for the singer near the end.  All in all it’s very 21st century; decidedly modern but quite approachable.  And did I say the texts are gorgeous?  Continue reading