Today saw a dawn to dusk livestream of concerts from St. John’s to Victoria; presented as Mysterious Barricades, aimed at raising awareness about suicide, suicide prevention and mental health generally. I doubt there’s anybody whose life has not been touched by this issue, certainly not mine. Anyway I made it out to Walter Hall for Toronto’s sixty minute contribution organized by Monica Whicher. It was heartening to see so many artists of the highest calibre making their talents available for the cause. So, not a review but heartfelt thanks to John Gregg, Russell Braun, Carolyn Maule, Nathalie Paulin, Norine Burgess, Judy Loman, Marie Bédard, Steven Philcox, Turkwaz, Andrea Levinson and the Mysterious Barricades Toronto Chorale and, of course, Monica for organizing. One day perhaps…
Last night’s early evening free “shuffle” concert at Heliconian Hall featured Krisztina Szabó and Stephen Philcox. They started out with Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras; a lively collection of Spanish songs featuring scenes from Cuban life. The songs, very much French influenced, varied in mood from quite sombre to wild and were presented with skill and wit. The main event though was the reprise of two works that Philcox and Szabó premiered in March at Walter Hall; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan and Four Short Songs by John Beckwith. I reviewed that March performance here and really don’t see any reason to revise my opinion about the works or the performances except to note that last night, of course, Krisztina sang all the Beckwith songs.
Last night, at Walter Hall, the Canadian Art Song Project presented their latest commission; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan. The overall standard of the CASP commissions since Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox launched the endeavour has been very high. The Ryan piece maintains that.
Not much sign of spring as we move into the second half of the month but there are some things musical to enjoy while we await the return of the sun. On March 18th at 2pm in Mazzoleni Hall there is You’re Welcome Rossini with the glamorous duo of Allyson McHardy and, the not seen often enough in Toronto, Lucia Cesaroni. This one is officially sold out but there may be rushes. Ten bucks says they do the Cat duet.
Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming. There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital. Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well. They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless. Three of the four sopranos on show tried. None of them succeeded completely(*). So it goes. And so to the details.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists. The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists. Eight singers and four pianists were on show. The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers. The pianists were all new to me.
Tapestry Songbook is the culmination of New Opera 101; a week long masterclass where young singers get to work with established performers on repertoire from Tapestry’s extensive collection of recent Canadian work. This year the “masters” were Krisztina Szabó, Keith Klassen and Steven Philcox. The week culminates with a series of concerts of :scenes”; some performed by the “masters” and some by the students. As there were fourteen pieces performed and a cast of thousands I’m just going to report on my personal favourites with due apologies to anyone who got left out.
Klassen, Szabó and Philcox kicked things off with the rather disturbing Merk’s Dream; a collaboration from the 2011 LibLab by Nick Carpenter and Elisabeth Mehl Greene. It’s a creepy vignette of a dying man trying to get through, and largely failing, to his developmentally challenged daughter, brilliantly portrayed by Szabó. This was followed by In This World George is Heartbroken; a 2012 LibLab piece by Hannah Moscovitch and Lembit Beecher about various, largely imagined, aspects of a dull middle class marriage. By turns hilarious and violent it featured a really interesting prepared piano accompaniment and featured three of the stars of the evening; Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor, Janaka Welihinda and, new to me, the very impressive Markéta Ornova on piano.