I’m not sure that I had ever heard anything by Heinrich Schütz before this afternoon but I’m glad that I have now. His St. John Passion formed the first half of the closing concert of the Toronto Bach Festival at St. Barnabas on the Danforth this afternoon. Written in 1666, towards the end of his life ,it’s steeped in the Lutheran tradition. There’s no orchestra. The main burden of the Gospel is taken by the Evangelist as narrator in a style not very far from the Anglican traditional style of singing metrical psalms. The emphasis is on the text; indeed on The Word. Members of the chorus contribute in similar style as Jesus, Pilate and so on. The narrative is interspersed with polyphonic choruses with sparse organ accompaniment perhaps hinting at an even older tradition where the meaning of the words mattered less.
Hausmusik is Tafelmusik’s less formal concert series. It’s not exactly a concert; more an “event”. Last night director Alaina Viau mixed music (woodwind trio, harpsichord, soprano (Ellen McAteer) and electronics from SlowPitchSound) with film projections by Darren Bryant and dance by Libydo to create quite a varied series of effects but all, musically, (just about) within the range one would expect from Tafelmusik.
Here’s a round up of news and announcements from my mail box.
April 8th, at Roy Thomson Hall at 8pm, Show One productions have a show with the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, soprano Hibla Gerzmava and cellist Daniella Akta in a varied program including Mozart’s Divertimento No.1 in D major, K. 136, Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor Op. 110 and arias from Norma, I Masnadieri, and Adriana Lecouvreur.
Having been tipped off that yesterday’s RBA noon concert was to be a vocal recital rather than, as previously billed, a chamber concert I made the trip through the snow to catch it. Three of the Royal Conservatory’s Rebanks fellows were singing with Helen Becqué at the piano and assorted staff and alumni added for the final number. Attendance was a bit sparse perhaps unsurprisingly given the weather and the evident confusion. That was a shame because it was an interesting, varied and well presented concert combining well known works with some much less well known fare.
Against the Grain Theatre’s latest production, Ayre, continues their run of innovative, site specific shows. This time it was a presentation of four works by Argentinian Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov at the Ismaili Centre; part of the Aga Khan complex on Wynford Drive. The “appetisers” were three short works presented in three of the public spaces of the Centre. Yiddishbbuk, for string quartet (Jennifer Murphy, Barry Shiffman, Laila Zakzook, Drew Comstock), was inspired by apocryphal psalms and is a fractured piece employing a lot of extended techniques to create a three movement work “in the mode of Babylonic Lamentations”. Lua Descolorida, with Adanya Dunn as soprano soloist, sets a 19th century text in Gallego. It’s a folksy, Arab inflected piece over a kind of string “ground” with pizzicato cello. Short but rather beautiful. For Tenebrae the quartet was joined by clarinetist Brad Cherwin and soprano Ellen McAteer. It’s a beautiful piece with a melismatic vocal line culminating with multiple repeats of the single word “Jerusalem”.
Opera Atelier’s production of (mostly) Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas opened last night at the Elgin. I say “(mostly) Purcell” because director Marshall Pynkoski had decided to add a Prologue. As he explained in his introductory remarks nobody reads Virgil’s Aeneid anymore so it was necessary to play out the back story in a prologue. I find this pretty patronising. It’s not a particularly convoluted story and I would have thought that the gist of the story is well enough known to most opera goers and, you know, some of us have read the Aeneid. Besides, even without detailed knowledge of the back story there’s nothing remotely hard to understand. FWIW the dumbing down carried over into the surtitles with, for example, “Anchises” rendered as “his father”. Anyway we got a prologue spoken by Irene Poole while the orchestra played other Purcell airs followed by a bit of extraneous ballet and poor Chris Enns (Aeneas) and Wallis Giunta (Dido) running around making the stock baroque “woe is me” gesture. I guess it made the piece (plus Marshall’s speech) long enough to justify an intermission, which was taken after what is usually Act 2 Scene 1, but the prologue was neither necessary nor welcome and I think the ensuing intermission was an unnecessary break in the flow of the action.
The Academy Program is an important part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. It allows selected young artists; singers, collaborative pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians, to work with experienced professionals in an intensive series of coachings, masterclasses etc culminating in a concert series. This year the mentors for the vocal/collaborative piano component were pianist Craig Rutenberg, who has worked everywhere and with everybody, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; a last minute replacement for an indisposed Anne Schwannewilms. I didn’t make it to any of the masterclasses, though word on the street is that they were exceptional, but I did make it to yesterday’s lunchtime concert in Walter Hall.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a one off performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at The Winter Gardens, the upstairs part of the Elgin Theatre that I had never before been in. The production originated in a Banff Centre/Against the Grain/COC joint project directed by Paul Curran but was recreated here in semi-staged form by Anna Theodosakis. It was on the “quite close to staged” end of the spectrum so, although the band was on stage behind the action and there was no scenery or curtain it came off as much more than a concert in costume.
Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside, presented by Tapestry Opera opened last night at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. Expectations were high I think. This was Scottish Opera’s North American debut and the Glasgow premier of the piece had received enthusiastic reviews in the British press. How would it cope with being translated from the relative sophistication of the 1200 seat Theatre Royal Glasgow to the rather spartan 250 seat Harbourfront Theatre? How would an updating of a short story with Scottish roots by a Scottish composer and librettist translate culturally? The short answer is very well indeed. It’s a fine piece and it was very well presented; musically and dramatically.
Last night the UoT’s early Music program presented Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in the chapel at Trinity College. It was a bit of a strange experience. The work was semi-staged with dancers doubling Dido and Aeneas and a few extra as “chorus dancers”. With a twelve person chorus and all the soloists plus the small band this made for a lot of people in the space. Trinity College Chapel is long, narrow and high with traditional pew seating and a minimally raised platform for the altar. All of which meant that only the first few rows and , maybe, people on the aisle had much of a view of anything.