As I understand it the genesis of this recent CD from Philadelphia choir The Crossing and their conductor Donald Nally was members emailing each other clips of recordings from live concerts to keep their morale up during lockdown. I guess in that respect it’s got something in common with this show. No surprise then that the album is quite eclectic. There’s around seventy minutes of music with twelve tracks in all.
Saturday night’s show in the West End Micro Music Festival continued the theme of combining chamber music with other influences. This time it was rock; specifically NYC 80’s rock. It was really varied, stimulating and, at times, bordering on sensory overload. Brad Cherwin riffed with pre-recorded clarinet and electronics on a version of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint to open the show. Then came what might have been my favourite bit. It was a version of Julia Wolfe’s East Broadway for electronics and toy piano. Watching the usually soft spoken, even demure, Nahre Sol go completely manic and beat the crap out of a toy piano was a blast.
There was more Julia Wolfe (Blue Dress for drums and cello?) and a David Lang arrangement of Lou Reed’s Heroin with Cormac Culkeen on vocals and a fairly large ensemble and more vocals with a version of Laurie Anderson’s Let X=X and It Tango. The final number was a killer version of David Lang’s Killer with Hee-Soo Yoon playing mad distorted violin while kicking a bass drum.
So, again, WEMMF hit the spot with an intriguing and (over) stimulating blend of rock, classical technique, minimalism and, frankly, sheer lunacy of a kind surely not heard before at Redeemer Lutheran! Great fun much enhanced by Billy Wong’s evocative lighting and Dave Grenon’s sound work.
The final concert is next Friday, also at Redeemer Lutheran, QUARTET PLUS PAPER V2 will feature, inter alia, a new multimedia work for pianist, clarinetist/visual artist, video projection and electronics composed and performed by Nahre Sol and Brad Cherwin.
Baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist Wolfram Rieger gave us Die schöne Müllerin with a twist at Walter Hall last night. The twist was a companion/introductory piece by David Lang called flower, forget me based on one of the Müller poems that Schubert didn’t set with fragments of other flower related Schubert song texts. If death is a major theme in the main cycle it’s an obsession in the new piece! It’s also very low for a baritone with some really difficult phrasing. One had to admire Appl’s skill in navigating its lugubrious depths but there was an almost tangible sense of relief in the audience when the duo launched into the sunnier and more familiar territory of “Das Wandern”.
David Lang’s love fail is a choral work inspired by the story of Tristan and Isolde. It was originally written for Anonymous 4 but later revised for the slightly larger forces of the Lorelei Ensemble (3 sopranos, 3 mezzos, 2 altos) who have now recorded it. It’s basically an a cappella piece though there are places where the singers play percussion instruments. The texts are a mixture of elements that the composer has taken (and translated where necessary) from various classic versions of the tale; Gottfried von Strassburg, Marie de France, Sir Thomas Malory and even Richard Wagner among others, and interspersed them with poems on themes of love and loss by Lydia Davis. The “classical” texts are somewhat repetitive and reflect the classic values of the story. Davis’ poetry is wordier and less obviously poetic and deals with relationships in more more modern, more personal, less mythic terms. It’s an interesting contrast that the composer exploits to find two rather different colour palettes within the constraints of eight female voices singing essentially tonal music. It works. The risk of tedium is avoided and the work hangs together for its full length.
I’m never quite sure what I really think about an operetta like Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns. I quite like the music, even if it can be a bit cheesey but I’m put off by the casual cultural appropriation (though it’s not nearly as bad as Puccini!). I’m not sure what the best directorial approach is either. Does one play it for froth? Does one try and mine some deeper meaning? Interestingly Andreas Homoki’s approach for his Zürich production filmed in 2017 is to play it straight and let whatever is there appear or not. It works rather well. It;s a typically lavish Zürich production with lots of colour and movement and he creates some spectacular visual effects. But he also allows for a sinister element to appear in the Chinese scenes. It may be over-interpreting but I think one can see shades of proto-Fascism here. It’s reinforced by the score that really has some rather sinister elements that I hadn’t noticed before. I think there’s even a nod to Siegfried’s Funeral March. All in all, quite interesting without being wildly unconventional.
Soundstreams have announced an intriguing line up for the 2017/18 season. There are five main stage shows plus three in the Ear Candy series. For vocal music fans there’s a lot to like starting with a multi-media presentation of Claude Vivier’s Musik für das Ende. Stage director Chris Abraham and music director John Hess combine with Choir 21 to create a “ritual” about exile, immigration and “otherness”. Performances will be at Crow’s Theatre with a run from October 27th to November 4th 2017.
There’s one last chance to catch David Lang’s The Whisper Opera at The Theatre Centre on Queen West this afternoon at 2pm. My review will appear in due course in Opera Canada (I hope!). Meanwhile here’s a picture from the New York run that hopefully conveys a thousand words (about three times as many as my review!)
I guess Lohengrin is one of those operas that’s so loaded up with symbols it just begs directors to deconstruct it. Well that’s what Hans Neuenfels’ Bayreuth production, recorded in 2011, does and then some. There is so much going on in this production that I think it would take many viewings to really get inside it. The bit most critics have fastened on is the costuming of the chorus as rats or, on occasion, half rat, half human. It’s visually interesting and since there are also ‘handlers’ in Hazmat suits it’s clear that some sort of experiment is being alluded to. Add in bonus rat videos at key points and there’s a lot to think about. One thing this does do is solve the Teutonic war song problem. A chorus of rather timid looking rats singing with martial ardour is a good deal less Nurembergesque than a similar chorus in armour or military uniforms. Rats aside the story is really told in a quite straightforward and linear way while providing all sorts of moments that one might want to interrogate further,