In streaming news Soundstreams has added a lovely concert of Ian Cusson’s Five Songs on Poems of Marilyn Dumont and Raven Chacon’s Ella Llora. The performers are mezzo Rebecca Cuddy and pianist Gregory Oh. I really urge people, Canadian or otherwise, to take a look at this. The news, as it pertains to Indigenous people in Canada, has been really grim in recent weeks and I don’t know anything quite like Dumont’s verse for conveying certain aspects of the Indigenous experience. She combines, sadness, anger and disarming humour in a way that touches me deeply and Ian’s settings intensify that. I’ve written about these songs before but never at such a moment.
Another unusual and interesting show from Larry Beckwith’s Confluence Concerts last night at the Aki Studio. The first half of the programme was a reading of Madeleine Thien’s short story Bullet Train. It’s sort of a double coming of age story that also looks at what we hang onto and what we don’t as we move through life. It was beautifully read by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster with cunningly chosen piano interludes played by Gregory Oh.
After the interval it was Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Yoko Ono inspired piece; Witch on Thin Ice. At it’s centre was virtuoso percussionist Beverly Johnstone who displayed great skill on a range of untuned and tuned percussion while executing parts of Melissa Bettio’s choreography and producing all but indescribable vocals! She was supported by soprano Vania Chan and dancer Jessica Mak with a rap number by Gregory Oh. Playing over all of this were really rather striking videos and electronics designed by Alice. It was a bit overwhelming really. Maybe like being in the middle of an immersive video game and a very complex percussion piece at the same time. Anyway, great fun and totally unexpected!
There’s another chance to catch this programme tonight at 8pm at the Aki Studio.
Humans seem to have a deep need to classify things. Why else would one try to summarise the totality of human failings into a sevenfold taxonomy but Pope Gregory’s list of “Deadly Sins” seems to have the enduring ability to inspire artistic endeavour. Weill’s ballet chanté and Anthony Powell’s description of a louche evening at Stourwater (The Kindly Ones) being but two of the most memorable.
What do you get when you take nine multi-talented musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds and give them a Purcell toy box to play in? You get the latest concert in the Confluence series; ‘Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined. It’s an amazingly fun evening that completely blows the cobwebs off the often stuffy Toronto baroque music scene. I can’t do a number by number account because I completely lost track. I was having way too much fun.
This year’s featured composer in UoT’s New Music Festival is Toshio Hosokawa. Last night saw performances of two of his one act operas in Walter Hall in productions by filmmaker Paramita Nath, with the composer in the hall. The first was a monodrama setting of Poe’s The Raven featuring Kristina Szabó and a student ensemble conducted by Gregory Oh. It’s an interesting piece. Hosokawa’s sound world combines the European avant-garde with Japanese elements so it’s unlike anything I’ve heard from a North American composer. It’s dramatic and atmospheric and works really well with fevered nature of Poe’s text. He also writes well for the voice with a variety of demands from whispering, through speech to full on singing. All of this coped with admirably by Szabó who, as ever, seemed perfectly at home with whatever the composer threw at her.
Century Song is a 50 minute show combining music, movement and video projections as it takes us on an aesthetic journey through the last hundred years. At the heart of the show is soprano Neema Bickersteth who does the singing and dancing. The singing consists of vocalises by Rachmaninoff, Messiaen, Cage, Aperghis and finally, a piece composed for the show by Reza Jacobs. The songs are accompanied Gregory Oh on piano and Ben Grossman on percussion and computer. The musical interludes are structured improvisations originally devised by Reza Jacobs, Gregory Oh and Debashis Sinha. The dance elements are choreographed by Kate Alton and use a very wide kinetic vocabulary. Bickersteth’s constantly changing costumes further illustrate the time travel element of the narrative.
Tapestry Briefs is the product of the Composer-Librettist Workshop run annually by Tapestry. Four composers and four librettists come up with sixteen ideas for a new opera and work up a scene from each. Last night twelve scenes from the most recent workshop were presented in a fully staged format with piano accompaniment in Ernest Balmer Studio and adjacent Distillery spaces. The quartet of singers for the evening was made up of some of Toronto’s top singer/actors; Carla Huhtanen, Krisztina Szabó, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray. Piano accompaniment was from Gregory Oh and Jennifer Tung.