Mysteries plus

The Halloween concert by the UoT Contemporary Music Ensemble in Walter Hall was fun.  Unfortunately I was only able to catch the first half which featured Sofia Gubaidulina’s In Erwartung for saxophone quartet and percussion.  This was a cool piece making interesting use of the space.  It was followed by Robert Paterson’s Closet Full of Demons which is scored for small ensemble plus alarm clocks and jack-in-a-box.  Sometimes I feel I should listen to music like this more often (and sometimes I don’t!).  The main reason for being there though was to see Maeve Palmer and the Ensemble do Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Clearly tons of work had gone into this and it was much crisper than when I saw it in Barbara Hannigan’s master class a few weeks ago.  Maeve really got into character as Gepopo.  It was all there.  The notes of course but also the keen sense of timing and the ability to convey the paranoia of the character.  The Ensemble was well into it too.  The bassoon and trombones were ugly.  The shouting was convincing.

I wish I had photographs because everyone was in costume not just Maeve.  The firs conductor (lorenzo Guggenheim) appeared as a back to front neon lit Wolfman and the second; Wallace Halladay, as a reversed skeleton.  The Ensemble included Superwoman among others and Maeve was a sort of leather mini-skirted SS officer.  Much fun!

If anyone does have photos I could use please drop me a line.

Hannigan at UoT 2019 edition

There was a two part session with Barbara Hannigan at UoT yesterday.  The first part consisted of an open rehearsal/masterclass for the Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Wallace Halladay with Maeve Palmer as soloist of Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre.  The piece is a mash up of three areas for the character Gepopo from the opera Le Grand Macabre.  The basic premise is that Gepopo, the head of the secret police, is trying to warn her boss that the Earth is about to be hit by a comet.  Unfortunately Gepopo has spent so long in the underworld of spooks and spies that she’s utterly paranoid and can only speak in broken fragments and secret codes.  It’s weird and surreal and often funny in a disturbing way.  It’s a piece very much associated with Hannigan who has sung it many times and worked on it with the composer. 

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Secret cypher! Loch Ness Monster!

Stravinsky LSO is a video release on the LSO’s own label of a 2015 concert at the Barbican featuring music by Berg, Webern, Ligeti and Stravinsky conducted by Simon Rattle.  It opens with Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra Op.6.  Rattle produces a transparent, clearly articulated and structurally coherent account of this short work.

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When the going gets weird

the-muppets-statler-and-waldorfA couple of years ago I produced a series of “best of” lists for video recordings, which I’ve updated from time to time.  One can find them on the Index of DVD reviews page.  So, for fun, I thought I’d put together a “weirdest” list.  Mostly this captures operas that are intrinsically weird but I’ve included the odd recording where the director has gone a bit nuts in an attempt to get something out of non too promising material.  So, in alphabetical order by composer, here is the “weird list”.   Continue reading

Barbara Hannigan – Concert Documentary

The Hannigan obsession continues.  This time I’ve been looking at a DVD, Barbara Hannigan – Concert Documentary.  It’s in two parts.  There’s a recording of Hannigan as soloist and conductor with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the 2014 Lucerne Festival and there’s a documentary, I’m a creative animal, looking at her life and work.

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The Hannigan show

Last night at Roy Thomson Hall Barbara Hannigan made her North American conducting debut with the TSO.  And, of course, she sang too.  She kicked off with Luigi Nono’s Djamila Boupacha for solo voice.  It’s a short but haunting piece inspired by a woman activist from the Algerian War.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a solo, unaccompanied, voice in that hall and the effect is eerie.  It’s also a hell of a sing and to navigate it with utter precision is quite some feat.  As the last note died away (precisely on pitch) the violins came in with the opening Haydn’s Symphony no. 49 “La Passione”.  It starts off with an Adagio that’s curiously similar in mood to the Nono piece and Hannigan was conducting without score or baton.  In fact it was more like an interpretive dance than conventional conducting.  She has amazing arms and hands; the arms and hands of a ballerina in fact and as she summoned the strings to a sort of shimmering sound I couldn’t help but reminded of Swan Lake.  Corny perhaps but very real and quite disturbing.  And the orchestra, quite a small subset of the TSO, responded.  This was four movements of really lovely, chamber music like playing.

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Brueghelland

ETA 6th December 2019:

Rewatching Le Grand Macabre after four years has rather changed my opinion.  It still seems weird and sometimes hard to watch but I think I see a certain logic in it now that completely escaped me before.  So the End of the World is approaching and all the Powers that Be can do is squabble, exchange scatological insults and get very, very drunk while the one sane (if rather weird) character (Gepopo) can’t find a language to communicate the enormity of what’s happening to them.  Sound vaguely familiar?  (Coincidentally, I’m writing this on the day that Andrew Scheer said that the Federal Government should give more heroin to the addicts in Alberta because otherwise they’ll get in a snit).  Of course, in Ligeti’s version Death gets so drunk that he screws up terminating the space-time continuum but we probably won’t be so lucky.  So yes the fart jokes and the raccoon on bins orchestra is still there but it now seems to me in service of something rather more profound than I previously gave it credit for.  Also, Hannigan is not just brilliant vocally.  It’s also, even by her standards, an amazing physical performance. (Original review under the cut).

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