British art song in the late 20th century

msvcd92025The first half of the 20th century was a sort of golden age for British art song unparalleled since the days of Purcell and Blow.  There are works by, inter alia, Finzi, Britten Vaughan Williams and Butterworth that are still staples of the repertoire.  After the second world war though it starts to tail off and I’m hard pressed to think of songs/song cycles from the last two or three decades of the century that have become at all popular.  In fact, it seems to me, the most popular art song like works from this period are stage works which are based on a cycle of songs like Maxwell Davies’ Miss. Donnithorne’s Maggot. I was interested then to come across a 1999 CD of (actual) songs for voice and piano written since 1970.  The CD is Peripheral Visions by soprano Alison Grant and pianist Katherine Durran.  

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Talking Kopernicus

I sat down yesterday with Danielle MacMillan who will sing Agni in Against the Grain’s upcoming production of Claude Vivier’s Kopernikus.  Kopernikus is subtitled A Ritual Opera for the Dead and concerns the experience of transitioning from life to death as experienced by Agni.  I had many questions:

  • What was the music like?  After all Vivier is not your “typical” composer.
  • What’s the nature of the production?
  • What does it feel like to play a dead person?

And a few more things that bubbled up as we talked.  So here’s a summary.


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Repose and Dream

I was at a really rather nicely programmed recital at Rosedale Presbyterian yesterday afternoon.  Rachel Andrist, who played piano throughout, had lined up a really interesting selection of singers.  Some were known to me, some were new.  Some were fresh out of college and some had quite a bit of experience.  The programme was in two halves.  In the first half each of the six singers got to do two or three songs while in part two there were some opera numbers and some seasonal stuff arranged for various combinations of voices.

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Three Portraits

Three Portraits (music: Kieren MacMillan, words: Dana Giola) got his premiere performance yesterday in the RBA. The performers were the Haven Trio (Lindsay Kesselman, soprano; Kimberly Cole Luevano, clarinet; Midori Koga, piano).  I have to be honest this just isn’t my kind of piece.  The texts are quite interesting but most of the the setting is in that sort of Neo-Broadway flirts with Minimalism space that so much of the vocal music I get sent from the US lies in.  To be fair, the third song; The Country Wife got  a rather more sophisticated treatment but still very much in the same sound universe.  The performance was very decent though and it was a clever move to use the staircase in the RBA to match the words of the first song.

Haven Trio by Chris Hutcheson

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Singing Stars of Tomorrow

Last night ten singers who had taken part in an intensive class/coaching with Sondra Radvanovsky showed us what they could do.  The program was organised and presented by the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists at the Alliance Française.  It says quite a lot about the current state of supply and demand in the opera world that nine of the ten singers were female and seven were sopranos.  We were given one aria per singer and a lot, inevitably I suppose, of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini with one aria apiece for Verdi and Puccini.


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Soundstreams subscription offer

Soundstreams, Toronto’s contemporary music specialists, have pointed out that one can use their “Pick 3” subscription package to get a discount on all three of their vocal offerings in 2015/16.  The three shows are:

  • A concert with Adrianne Pieczonka and Kristina Szabó in a varied, indeed fascinatingly eclectic, programme on September 29th 2015.
  • Boesmans’ opera Julie which runs November 17th to 29th 2015.
  • A choral concert with Scottish composer James MacMillan including his Seven Last Words from the Cross.  This one is on March 8th 2016.

Subscription packages start at $135 and are available at

How it Storms

How it Storms; music by Allen Cole, libretto by Maristella Roca, is a chamber opera for four soloists and gamelan ensemble.  It was premiered last night at the Array Space and is co-production of Array Music and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan.  It’s a really interesting piece.  The libretto is allusive (at times even elusive) rather than being a straight forward linear narrative.  There’s a soon to be wedded couple, her sister and a very strange beggar.  There’s a hunting scene and a curse but what’s really going on is never entirely clear.  The libretto is beautiful to listen to with repetitive elements and non-English elements.  It’s clearly as much the work of a poet as a playwright(1).  Using gamelan to accompany this makes so much sense.  The instruments mirror, amplify and transcend the rhythmical, shimmering nature of the words.  The solo vocal parts too give the singers an opportunity to sing beautifully as well as tell the story.

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A few more happenings in June

EG-300x201June is still a bit quiet but I have had word of a few more performances around the city.  On the 13th Lindsay Promane, Daevyd Pepper and pianist Natasha Fransblow; all seen recently at either Metro Youth Opera or various UoT events, have a recital at Islington United Church.  Featured composers include Ravel, Tosti and Saint-Saens.  It’s at 7.30pm and it’s Pay What You Can.

On the 17th and 18th at 8pm Array Music are presenting How it Storms.  It’s an opera for gamelan ensemble by Allen Cole.  The singers will be Salzburg and Zürich bound Claire de Sévigné, Danielle MacMillan (where’s she been this year?), Chris Mayell and Keith O’Brien. This one is at The Array Space, 155 Walnut Ave and admission is $15.00.

Then on the 21st there’s a concert performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at St Simon-The-Apostle Anglican Church.  It’s at 7pm and it’s Pay What You Can.

Finally, you can catch the broadcast of the Royal Opera’s recent production of Weill’s Mahagonny at the Bloor Hot Docs on the 28th at noon.

Soundstreams announces 2015/16 season

Adrianne-eventToronto contemporary music outfit Soundstreams have announced their 2015/16 season. Highlights from an operaramblings perdpective include a chance to hear Adrianne Pieczonka sing music ranging from George Crumb to The Beatles.  That one’s at Koerner Hall on September 29th and will also feature Kristina Szabó.  In November there’s the previously announced run of Boesman’s Julie at the Bluma Appel.  I’m eagerly awaiting casting information on that.  There’s also a concert dedicated to James MacMillan, including his Seven Last Words from the Cross.  That one is at Trinity St. Paul’s on March 8th next year.  There’s a 80th birthday bash for Steve Reich at Massey Hall on April 14th next year and for real masochists there’s a concert featuring multiple types of squeezebox music at Trinity St.Paul’s on February 10th.  Full details and ticket information can be found here.