Sunday, at Grace Church on the Hill, Soundstreams presented Celebrating R. Murray Schafer. It felt like a cross between a concert and a memorial service. There were no prayers but there were eulogies and Eleanor James drew the parallel between Schafer’s sources of inspiration and Pentecost; that feast of the Church having been chosen deliberately for the event.
There was lots of music of course. The afternoon was bookended by two of Schafer’s ceremonial wilderness pieces for voice and trumpet. Meghan Lindsay and Michael Fedyshyn welcomed us with the Aubade for Two Voices and bid us farewell with Departure. Both were made the more haunting from the performers being out of sight. Choir 21 with conductor David Fallis sang two sets. First came the three hymns from The Fall into Light which appropriately set texts drawn from the Manichaean tradition. There was some wonderfully precise singing here. The second set was perhaps more light hearted with Epitaph for Moonlight which was written for amateur performance and the playful Fire which, besides singing, involves banging rocks together.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s 2014 cycle of the Da Ponte operas continues with Don Giovanni. The recording has much in common with his Le nozze di Figaro, even down to the same essay in the booklet, and I’m not going to repeat what I wrote in that review. If you haven’t read it, I recommend a look before reading the rest of this.
Back in 2014 Nikolaus Harnoncourt launched a project to present all three Mozart/da Ponte operas, concert style, on the stage of the Theater an der Wien in a single month. They are now being released on DVD/Blu-ray. The first is Le nozze di Figaro and it comes with a 52 minute documentary by Felix Breisach; Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Between Obsession and Perfection – part 1.
I’ve been taking another look at the Glyndebourne production of Berg’s Lulu that I first reviewed in April 2011. I think a reappraisal is in order. It’s a 1996 production directed by Graham Vick with Andrew Davis conducting and Christine Schäfer in the title role. When it first appeared it got rave reviews with Gramophone awards and the like.
The St. Lawrence String Quartet opened this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival with a really interesting programme. They kicked off with the Haydn String Quartet No. 25 in C Major. This very much belied the idea that Haydn is a skilful but not especially inventive composer. It’s full of invention; especially rhythmic and really suited the intensely physical style of the St. Lawrences; especially the hyperkinetic first violin, Geoff Nuttall, who also contributed a rather extraordinary pair of socks to the evening’s festivities. Watching, too, is a different experience from listening and here pointed up the extent to which chamber music like this is a conversation between the players rather than a regimented or choreographed thing.
Next week is rather back end loaded. There’s not much on early in the week but then things hot up. On Thursday Against the Grain host the monthly opera pub night at The Amsterdam Bicycle Club at 9pm. This time we are promised Topher and present and past members of the Ensemble Studio. That evening is also the opening of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company show Brundibár which I previewed last week and which runs until March 5th. Also on Thursday there’s the opening of R. Murray Schafer’s Odditorium, presented by Soundstreams at the Crow’s Theatre. That one runs until the 5th. Finally, on Saturday the amazing Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq is appearing with the TSO at Roy Thomson Hall in a concert that features two world premiers and a Canadian premier.
A concert of contemporary works for accordion? Why not! Well it was more of a concert of contemporary works for fixed reed instruments with, ironically, Trinity St. Paul’s most impressive fixed reed instrument forming an unused but imposing backdrop to the proceedings. Things started off conventionally enough with Soundstreams’ Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney on stage with three players of different instruments describing their histories and properties and then mild Hell broke loose as a curiously clad Joseph Macerollo burst into the auditorium, ejected Lawrence and friends and launched into R. Murray Schafer’s performance piece La Testa d’Adriane; the tale of a head mystically preserved between life and death. At this point the purpose of the rather bizarre contraption on stage was unclear but soon enough the cloth was pulled back to reveal Carla Huhtanen, or her head at least. More accordion and speech from Macerollo and a bizarre collection of grunts, squeaks, shrieks and gurning from Carla followed. Madness or genius? It’s Schafer. The question is unanswerable.
It’s that time of year when the musical calendar kind of grinds almost to a halt in Toronto. Looking ahead to June there’s not a whole lot on offer, at least in the opera/choral/artsong departments. The big event is Against the Grain’s Death and Desire show, of which I saw the first half previewed in the RBA. It’s on at the Neubacher Shor Gallery (Queen and Dufferin) on June 2nd to 5th at 8pm. Tickets are going fast so if you plan to go, head here soon. There’s a Mahler 2nd (Resurrection) Symphony at the TSO on June 10th (8pm) and 12th(7.30pm). Erin Wall, Susan Platts and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will join the orchestra with Peter Oudjian conducting. Then it’s Luminato. The big deal for opera fans here is R. Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis. David Fallis will direct what sounds like a Cecil B. DeMille scale extravaganza. It’s at the Sony Centre on June 26th and 27th (8pm) and the 28th (2pm). At your own risk…
This concert at Koerner Hall was the second in this summer’s Twenty-First Century Music Festival. It advertised works by Christos Hatzis, Brian Current, R. Murray Schafer and Louis Andriessen. In fact we kicked off with a short bonus selected from Youtube entries to make up 21 premieres for the C21. Unfortunately I didn’t catch composer or title and it lasted less than two minutes. Continue reading →
Peter Sellars’ 1996 Glyndebourne production of Handel’s Theodora just gets better with every viewing. I utterly retract my original view that the music isn’t Handel at his finest. It’s very good indeed and the production and performances on this disk are fantastic. Despite not being the best recording ever (though the recent Blu-ray release is an improvement) it remains a “must see” for any fan of Baroque opera or challenging music theatre.
What makes it so compelling? I think it’s two factors. The first is the production. The contemporary American setting works with very little violence to the libretto or music and yet speaks directly to very contemporary concerns. It’s particularly effective that current reality is inverted with respect to mainstream Christianity. Added to this are some extraordinarily intense performances led by the late Lorraine Hunt as Irene, the leader of the Christians. “As with rosy steps the morn” and “Lord to thee, each night and day” bring me out in goosebumps every time. The chemistry between David Daniels and Richard Croft is also palpable and Dawn Upshaw could hardly be bettered in the title role. Even Christine Schäfer in the only competing recording doesn’t come close.
One of the notes I made while watching this the other night reads “anybody not moved by this is an emotional cripple”. It’s a fair summary.