Yesterday the lemur and I ventured out to Roy Thomson Hall for Tafelmusik’s Singalong Messiah. I did this with some trepidation. There were reasons for this. First, I’m not a great sight reader; I sorta, kinda get by but I’m much more comfortable in the middle of a group of better singers that I can key off. But there’s the rub, I’m a tenor. I did this gig before in 2003 and there were like a million sopranos and seven tenors. See first point. It ain’t happening.(*). Finally, I had been fighting a cold/cough all week and feared that my voice would be better suited to Aristophanes than Handel. Fools tread boldly etc.
There’s much to like in this year’s unfussy TSO Messiah. It’s not bloated. For most of the piece conductor Johannes Debus deploys around thirty strings, chamber organ, harpsichord, oboes and bassoon. Trumpets and timpani are added for the grand moments later in the piece. He even manages to get quite a delicate sound out of the largish (100+) Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The delicacy is a recurrent thread. That and a really bouncy sense of rhythm. One could dance to Debus’ Handel.
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.
The second of three projected iterations of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound opened last night at The Great Hall. Version one was staged but in piano score. Last night’s version was sung off music stands but with a chamber ensemble and major changes to the music. It’s going to be interesting to see how the production version, due this time next year shapes up.
Andrew Haji, Miriam Khalil, Topher Mokrzewski, Justin Welsh, David Trudgen
Against the Grain Theatre have announced an ambitious 2018/19 season. There are two main stage shows. The first is Bound, which had a first workshop outing in December 2017. It’s still a work-in-progress but there have been significant developments. Kevin Lau has been commissioned to inject his contemporary themes, music and ideas into the original music by Handel. Instead of piano there will be a chamber orchestra led by AtG Music Director Topher Mokrzewski with digital sound artist Acote. The cast will include soprano Miriam Khalil, countertenor David Trudgen, tenor Andrew Haji, and baritone Justin Welsh. This workshop will be presented in Longboat Hall at The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West) on November 19th, 20th and 21st, 2018. For me, the acid test will be whether the dramaturgy and the text has been tightened up.
Handel’s Alexander’s Feast is an oratorio to a text by Newburgh Hamilton based closely on an earlier Dryden St. Cecilia’s Day ode. The basic plot is that Alexander is feasting in captured Persepolis with his mistress Thaïs. Inflamed by the music of Timotheus he decides to burn down the city in revenge for his fallen soldiers. Cecilia descends from Heaven and substitutes music for the king’s barbarous intentions. There are solo and choral numbers and a couple of duets and there are two concerti; one for triple harp representing Timotheus’ lyre playing and an organ concerto for St. Cecilia. It’s all quite tuneful and interesting if not as inspired as some of the better known oratorios.
So this Thursday (Feb 22nd) at 8pm Tafelmusik are presenting Handel’s Alexander’s Feast at Koerner Hall. Chances to see Handel oratorios, other than Messiah, don’t come around that often and this one has a very decent line up of soloists; Amanda Forsythe, Alexander Dobson and Thomas Hobbs. And we have a special giveaway offer. Tafelmusik have provided a pair of tickets for readers of this blog. Comment below or email me (j DOT gilks AT rogers DOT com) with contact details and I’ll put your name in the hat. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow evening. The winner will be able to pick the tickets up at the box office before the show. If you can’t make Thursday there are also performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday but no freebies for those!