Saturday evening’s Cinq à Sept concert in the 21C Festival at the Royal Conservatory was intriguing. The first half of the programme was a new song cycle, After the Fires, with words by Liza Balkan and music by Lembit Beecher. It set seven pieces about the 2020 fires on the central California coast and their aftermath based on interviews with local residents. It’s a really interesting piece scored for piano, clarinet, soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone. It’s very “text first”. Although the accompaniment is often intricate it never overpowers the words and there’s a real harmony between words and music. The mood varies but, given it’s about really awful events, it’s more elegiac and lyrical and even funny than angry or sad. It got a fine, nuanced performance from Henry From (piano), Zachary Gassenheimer (clarinet), Xin Wang (soprano), Andrea Ludwig (mezzo-soprano) and Korin Thomas-Smith (baritone). Continue reading
The opening concert of the 21C festival featured an all Osvaldo Golijov programme presented by Against the Grain Theatre. It was preceded by a very informative conversation between Joel Ivany and the composer. My main takeaway from that is that Golijov writes for people not instruments. If the people he has in mind for a piece play a certain combination of instruments that’s what he will write for and if circumstances demand it he will readily make changes. We saw that last night when cantor Alex Stein was unable to perform in K’vakaret (for cantor and string quartet) and Juan Gabriel Olivares stepped in on clarinet instead.
John Adams’ 2005 opera Doctor Atomic, about the development of the first atomic weapon, comes over very effectively on CD. I think this is because, in essence, it’s more oratorio than opera. There’s very little action in the stage version. So little in fact that Peter Sellars staged the original production rather the way he stages oratorios with lots of stylized movement by the chorus and the introduction of dancers. There are definite advantages to having the music without the distraction of the visuals.
Not a relation of JS, CPE or PDQ but the venue for today’s lunchtime presentation of two JS Bach cantatas by mezzo Lauren Eberwein and organist Hyejin Kwon with violinists Liz Johnston and Rezan Onen-Lapointe, violist Keith Hamm, cellist Paul Widner, bassist Robert Speer and oboeist Mark Rogers. The two pieces were Ich habe genug, BWV 82 and Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust BWV 170; both works about the approach of death and the soul’s yearning for rest and salvation.
Remembrance is a new CD, on the Harmonia Mundi label, from the Choir of Clare College and their director Graham Ross to be released October 21st in time for poppy season. The main event is a performance of Duruflé’s Requiem given here in the composer’s organ reduction. It’s recorded in Lincoln Cathedral with its great Father Willis organ. It’s a very polished performance with a fair bit of drama. There’s some lovely singing and cello playing from mezzo Jennifer Johnston and cellist Guy Johnston in the Pie Jesu and bass Neal Davies also makes a couple of trenchant contributions. It’s not one of the most performed requiems but definitely worth a listen. Continue reading
A concert of contemporary works for accordion? Why not! Well it was more of a concert of contemporary works for fixed reed instruments with, ironically, Trinity St. Paul’s most impressive fixed reed instrument forming an unused but imposing backdrop to the proceedings. Things started off conventionally enough with Soundstreams’ Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney on stage with three players of different instruments describing their histories and properties and then mild Hell broke loose as a curiously clad Joseph Macerollo burst into the auditorium, ejected Lawrence and friends and launched into R. Murray Schafer’s performance piece La Testa d’Adriane; the tale of a head mystically preserved between life and death. At this point the purpose of the rather bizarre contraption on stage was unclear but soon enough the cloth was pulled back to reveal Carla Huhtanen, or her head at least. More accordion and speech from Macerollo and a bizarre collection of grunts, squeaks, shrieks and gurning from Carla followed. Madness or genius? It’s Schafer. The question is unanswerable.
I’ve always been a fan of those BBC Radio 4 programs where people have to do silly things so I was naturally drawn to LooseTEA’s fundraiser “Whose opera is it anyway?” in which a select band of singers (Greg Finney, Whitney Mather, Michael York, Charlotte Church, Fabian Arcineagas and Kijong Wi) got to do silly things bid on by the audience. Some of the silly things even involved members of the audience. Asa Iranmehr was on the keyboards and comedian Andrew Johnston, despite almost total ignorance of anything operatic, MC’d.
It was great fun and much funnier than the average bel canto “comedy”. Highlights included Sit, Stand Lie where Michael, Greg and Fabian had to perform La mia Dorabella with one of them in each position at any one time, Moving People where Greg and Whitney were “manipulated” by Aria Umezawa, Michael Mori, Katja “polkadots” Juliannova and Rachel Krehm while singing the Papageno/a duet. The best/weirdest singing was probably a couple of “in the style of”s. I was really impressed by Whitney’s Deh vieni non tardar in the style of Miranda Sings. It takes real talent to sing that badly! Greg’s Catalogue Aria in the style of (a very lugubrious) Vladimir Putin was a hoot too. My sunglasses came in handy in “Props”.
The snacks were decidedly better than they often are at these events too. Really good pizza! So, a good time was had by all. More people should come to these things. Have a few drinks, meet fun people, see just how multi-talented some of our singers are and have fun. Why not?
Sorry about the photo quality. Taken by me on my phone.
Lunchtime 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.
It’s 1990 and Dame Joan Sutherland is retiring. Australian Opera decide to stage Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots as a farewell gala. In some ways it’s an odd choice as the Sutherland character, Marguerite de Valois, only appears in two of the five acts of an opera that’s rather long despite cuts. Still, as a vehicle for an ageing coloratura it’s not a bad choice. The production is by Lotfi Mansouri so there is nothing to get in the way of the plot and, by the same token, nothing much to think about. It’s also, equally characteristically, quite dark in places. Everything then rests on the performances. Continue reading