FirstFigSongbook

To Heliconian Hall last night for a short concert of songs by Danika Lorèn.  It was thoroughly enjoyable.  The songs were split up into sets of one or two and sung/accompanied by UoT grad students.  The standard of performance was pretty decent but it was very noticeable that when Danika and Stéphane Mayer inserted themselves into the proceedings everything got turned up a couple of notches.  As Danika said to me “not a student anymore” while hinting at a significant numerological event.

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The gang minus the composer

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Looking ahead to February

dlorenFebruary always seems to be a busy month and the first half is shaping up that way.  Things kick off on the 1st with the Sellars staging of di Lassus’ Lagrime di San Pietro at Koerner.  On the 3rd Danika Lorèn is curating a concert at Heliconian for UoT Music.  It’s called A Few Figs from Thistles, it’s at 7.30pm and it’s free.  We are promised new songs by Danika based on poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Tekahionwake (E. Pauline Johnson) and Lorna Crozier.

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Carmen #YesAllWomen

Loose Tea Music Theatre’s Carmen #YesAllWomen has been in the works for three years.  It went “live” this week with a production at Heliconian Hall.  It’s an intriguing show.  Dramatically and musically it’s recognisably based on Bizet’s Carmen but only just.  In Alaina Viau and Monica Pearce’s version the principal male character is one John Anderson, an Afghanistan vet with PTSD, his rival for Carmen is a rapper, Maximillian aka Hot God, and Michaela is Anderson’s estranged wife.

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Singing our songs

marionnewmanThe 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 CussonThese 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.

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Singing Only Softly

Last night was the last performance at Heliconian Hall of Loose Tea Music Theatre’s double bill of Anne Frank operas.  The first half of the show centred on Grigori Frid’s monodrama for soprano and chamber ensemble (given here in piano score) The Diary of Anne Frank.   It’s a work in 21 scenes of which 15 were performed last night.  For a Soviet work of the 1970s it’s surprisingly modern in style with some interesting music for the piano.  The vocal part though is pretty unsympathetic and although Gillian Grossman managed it pretty well a lot of it lies too high for comfort or even comprehension.

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A Mexican and French afternoon

We went to a recital of French and Mexican vocal music at Heliconian Hall yeaterday.  It was given by soprano Renée Bouthot and pianist Ana Cervantes.  Far the most interesting part sof the programme were the Mexican pieces.  Federico Ibarra’s 1988 setting of Tres Canciones by Lorca was really fine.  The three pieces were quite varied.  Canción has a complex piano part, an interesting vocal line and quite playful interaction between the two.  By no means always to be found in modern art song.  Canción de Cuna has a less interesting, kind of scoopy vocal line but a really virtuoso piano part while the final Canción de la muerte pequeña blends a wildly percussive piano part with dance rhythms in the vocal line.  All three texts are really interesting too.

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Innocent revels

purcellWhat do you get when you take nine multi-talented musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds and give them a Purcell toy box to play in?  You get the latest concert in the Confluence series; ‘Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined.  It’s an amazingly fun evening that completely blows the cobwebs off the often stuffy Toronto baroque music scene.  I can’t do a number by number account because I completely lost track.  I was having way too much fun.

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Your Daughter Fanny

220px-Frances_CluettYour Daughter Fanny is a 45 minute long chamber opera with music by Alice Ho and libretto by Lisa Moore based on letters written by WW1 Newfoundland VAD nurse Frances Cluett (which can also be found in book form).  It was performed yesterday at Heliconian Hall by soprano Caroline Schiller with Duo Concertante, Nancy Dahn (violin) and Timothy Steeves (piano).

I really liked the music.  It was the first time I’ve heard a piece by Alice Ho that didn’t include traditional Chinese elements and it was stylistically interesting; rich textured, sometimes astringent, sometimes very lyrical with a very decent, singable vocal line.

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Shuffle: Philcox and Szabó

Last night’s early evening free “shuffle” concert at Heliconian Hall featured Krisztina Szabó and Stephen Philcox.  They started out with Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras; a lively collection of Spanish songs featuring scenes from Cuban life.  The songs, very much French influenced, varied in mood from quite sombre to wild and were presented with skill and wit.  The main event though was the reprise of two works that Philcox and Szabó premiered in March at Walter Hall; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan and Four Short Songs by John Beckwith.  I reviewed that March performance here and really don’t see any reason to revise my opinion about the works or the performances except to note that last night, of course, Krisztina sang all the Beckwith songs.

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Intersections

The third concert in the Heliconian Hall series from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang was titled Intersections and was designed to explore “the sphinx like mind of Robert Schumann” through his own music and music inspired by him.  First up was Kurtàg’s Hommage à Robert Schumann featuring Alice and Brad and guest violist Laila Zakzook.  This is a complex and difficult piece.  Some sections consist of short fragments of “conversation” between the instruments.  At other times there is a more obvious line and it varies in mood from extremely violent to almost lyrical.  It’s an interesting exploration of Schumann’s various musical personalities through a completely different sound world.

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