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.