Most music lovers have probably heard the music from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat in either orchestral or chamber arrangement but it’s rare for the work to be given in its full staged form but that’s how it was presented (more or less) last night at Koerner Hall by the Toronto Summer Music Festival in association with LooseTEA Music Theatre. That form includes a narrator, an actor (originally three actors, nowadays usually just a single actor/narrator) and dancer. Plus, of course, the band; violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, cornet and trombone, piano.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened last night at Koerner Hall with a concert by the Escher Quartet who came in at quite short notice for the venerable Borodins who had to pull out due to illness. The theme of this year’s festival is “Reflections of Wartime” as perhaps befits the 100th anniversary of the Great War. That said, I’m not sure how last night’s programme fitted the theme. None of Schumann’s Quartet no.1, Shostakovich’s Quartet no. 9 nor Tchaikovsky’s Quartet no. 1 have any obvious war references.
The Royal Conservatory has announced its concert programme for 2018/19. It’s not massively exciting from a classical vocal point of view although there are a few goodies and the odd surprise in the package. The most exciting is saved for the very end of the season when Thomas Hampson and son-in-law Luca Pisaroni have a recital at Koerner. That’s on 30th April 2019. The most surprising is the season opening gala, also at Koerner, on 2nd October 2018 which features Kathleen Battle. I’ll be honest, I thought she retired years ago.
This afternoon I saw Gerry Finley and Julius Drake in recital at Koerner Hall. In other words, two supreme exponents of the art of lieder at the top of their game in a hall with near perfect acoustics. They performed Beethoven and Schubert settings of Goethe texts, some Tchaikovsky and some Rachmaninoff, which gave Julius ample opportunity to show off. They finished up with settings of folky things by Copland, Barber, Respighi and Britten. The last was The Crocodile; a very silly and funny piece I hadn’t heard before. The encore was by Healey Willans and Gerry gave a very nice plug for the Canadian Art Song Project. Insert standard list of adjectival phrases describing top notch singing and accompaniment. My humble scribing is not worthy.
Last night the RCM celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with a suitably themed concert at Koerner Hall. The first half consisted of a performance of all the Anniversaries. These are short piano pieces; only a minute or two long, that Bernstein composed late at night. Each is dedicated to a friend or family member and many were reused later in longer works. There are somewhere between 20 and 30 of them and last night they were played in sets of three, four or five with introductions before each set by the composer’s eldest daughter Jamie complete with photos etc. The playing by Sebastian Knauer was idiomatic, virtuosic and sensitive. The introductions were informative, engaging and mercifully short. The music covered a vast range of moods and styles though all of it very Bernstein; that is to say tonal and obviously American. I was particularly struck by the brooding piece he wrote for his younger daughter some years after the death of her mother and by the earlier piece, dedicated to his wife Felicia Montealegre, that had Copland all over it and was none the worse for that. It was actually a rather brilliant way to showcase the man in a 45 minute or so concert segment.
Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation. Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations. Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall. He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).
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.