sirenes cover smallSirènes is an album of pieces by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović.  The first pice, which gives the album its title, is written for six unaccompanied female voices.  It’s performed here by the vocal ensemble of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre conducted by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The six ladies in question are Danika Lorèn, Shannon Mercer, Magali Simard-Galdès, Caitlin Wood, Andrea Ludwig, and Krisztina Szabó.  It’s an interesting piece and very Sokolović.  The text is bent and twisted into sound fragments which are “sung” using an array of extended vocal techniques.  The overall effect is of a shimmering, fluttery and quite absorbing sound world.

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CASP at 21C

Last night’s Canadian Art Song Project, part of the Conservatory’s 21C festival, was sold out.  Yep, a sold out concert of contemporary Canadian art song not featuring an A-list singer.  Clearly Mercury is in retrograde or something.  Anyway, the first half of the concert featured baritone Iain MacNeil with one of my favourite collaborative pianists Mélisande Sinsoulier.  They gave us Lloyd Burritt’s The Moth Poem to texts by Robin Blaser.  This is a basically tonal work with a piano part that I found more interesting than the vocal writing (common enough in contemporary art song).  There was some nice delicate singing from Ian and complete mastery of the intricate piano part by Mélisande.  Andrew Staniland’s setting of Wallace Stevens’ Peter Quince at the Clavier followed.  This is a more ambitious work with quite a complex soundscape and a piano part that requires a range of technique as much of it is written to sound “mechanical” as a nod to the title of the poem.  Oddly, despite the title, the text is a rich but highly allusive rendering of the story of Susanna and the Elders and a reminder of how much a really interesting text can enhance a song.  I’d like to hear this again.

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dawn always begins in the bones

The Canadian Art Song Projects sesqui commission premiered today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  It’s a piece by Ana Sokolović for soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone and pianist and today, as was always intended, it got its first outing from members of the COC Ensemble Studio.  It was billed as a “song cycle” and, while it’s certainly a setting of poems to music, that description really doesn’t do it justice.  Sokolović’s music always seems to have dramatic potential and here that was realised extremely effectively by Anna Theodosakis to create a piece of performance art with many dimensions.

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The rest of May

Ana_Sokolovic_2May continues to be a busy month.  There are a couple of interesting concerts at noon in the RBA next week.  On Wednesday 17th there is the unveiling of the annual Canadian Art Song project commission.  This year it’s extremely ambitious.  It’s a cycle of sixteen songs by Ana Sokolović setting texts drawn from right across Canada.  It’s called dawn always begins in the bones and will be performed by Danika Lorèn, Emily D’Angelo, Bruno Roy and Aaron Sheppard with Liz Upchurch at the piano.  (You can also hear this work in the Temerty Theatre at the Conservatory at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th along with Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier and Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem).  On Thursday 18th tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon bid farewell to the COC Ensemble Studio with a performance of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin.  It should be a real treat.

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Canadian Opera Company announces rather more than just the 2015/16 season

Last night was the “event” at which the COC brass and guests, with a bit of help from Brent Bambury, announced the upcoming season to a packed house of subscribers and friends.  What struck me was how much news was packed in.  It was far more than the usual schedule presentation with announcements of several major new projects.  But first the season.   Continue reading

New song commission from CASP

News just in that the Canadian Art Song Project (CASP) has commissioned Montreal-based composer Ana Sokolović to write a new song cycle. The new work is being composed for piano and a quartet of singers from the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio. The world premiere will form part of the COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre and will form part of the company’s celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary in 2017 (along, it is said, with a revival of Harry Somer’s Louis Riel).

The new song cycle from Sokolović adds to previous works commissioned by CASP include Sewing the Earthworm (2011) by Brian Harman (review), Cloud Light (2012) by Norbert Palej, Extreme Positions and Birefingence (2013) by Brian Current (review), and Moths (2013) by James Rolfe. Other commissions that have been announced and are currently in development include new works by Peter Tiefenbach (2014) and Marjan Mozetich (2014).

Photo credit Alain Lefort

In the news

The good news this week is that Canadian Opera Company have extended the contract of Music Director Johannes Debus through 2017. This follows the announcement of a contract extension for General Director Alexander Neef. So, not only does COC get to keep a very good conductor who is well liked by the orchestra but it keeps the Neef/Debus team together for at least another five years. Neef and Debus seem to work together extremely well so this bodes well for a continuation of the combination of varied repertoire, interesting productions and starry casts that we have seen recently at the Four Seasons Centre.  Continue reading

Adieu to Jacqueline

At lunchtime today, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Jacqueline Woodley gave her final recital as a member of the COC Studio Ensemble. In the two years she has been in the programme Jacqueline has given me maybe more pleasure than any other Ensemble Studio singer (stop sniggering at the back). What’s become clear in that time is that she’s an exceptional talent when it comes to interpreting difficult modern and contemporary music. Realistically I doubt we’ll see her sing Verdi at La Scala but few people who do that could do what Jacquie does with works by composers like Golijov, Saariaho and Sokolovic.  Perhaps no surprise then that she chose a recital programme that was 100% art song. Continue reading

Svadba-Wedding revisited

Back in June I attended and wrote up the world premiere of Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba-Wedding. Today it was given again in a concert performance by the original cast in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. I’m not going to repeat what I said in the earlier review but focus on my reactions to seeing it again. First off, it works very well as a concert piece losing less than a more obviously narrative work might. Second, I was struck by the interesting way the piece weaves two very different musical strands together; the high tempo, almost percussive, onomatopoeic elements as referred to before but also a more lyrical element where a long, slow, folk derived line is introduced and then a second and maybe a third or even a fourth melody are woven in to create a rather dense harmonic texture. This second element is particularly apparent in the final number “Farewell”. The contrast is very effective. Finally, Jacqueline Woodley sounded even more like a young Dawn Upshaw. Her ability to sing powerfully with next to no vibrato is very compelling in this sort of music. [Image by John Lauener is from the staged production at Berkeley Street and was lifted from today’s performance flyer]


Last night was the world premiere of Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba-Wedding performed by Queen of Puddings Music Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre. The 400 or so seat theatre was packed and I had the splendid company of lemurcatta and sabotabby.

Svadba is an interesting work. I guess one can call it an opera. It lasts about an hour and is sung a cappella in Serbian by six singers. The seven scenes take place the night before Milica’s wedding as her best friends prepare her. There isn’t really a linear narrative but the scenes do unfold with a certain coherence. Similarly, although all the characters are named, only the bride to be Milica has any definable identity. The other five sing mostly ensemble and to someone who hasn’t seen the score seem essentially interchangeable.

The music draws on Serbian folk motifs but also has a lot of play with pure sound elements. That much it had in common with the other Sokolovic piece I’ve seen which was a short opera about mobile telephones. It’s not the sort of music one comes away humming but it is quite accessible and very interesting

The production, by Dairine Ni Mheadhra and John Hess, was quite spare but effective. Fabric drapes at the back of the stage are lit for various effects, a flexible piece of mirror serves multiple roles , most notably as Milica’s bath, and long strios of translucent material unroll to represent water. On occasion some Klieg lights make an onstage appearance and there is a ladder that serves as a sort of throne for Milica in the final scene. It’s all quite unfussy and interesting.

The highlight of the show though is the performers themselves. We got to see and hear six of Toronto’s best young singers and they were excellent. Jacqueline Woodley sang Milica and was wonderful. She seems to improve every time I hear her sing. The “friends” consisted of sopranos Laura Albino (last seen as Mimi at the Tranzac), Carla Huhtanen and Shannon Mercer with mezzos Andrea Ludwig and Krisztina Szabo. The nature of the piece makes it impossible to single out individual performances. What we got was crisp, rapid fire ensemble work covering some pretty challenging material nicely held together by Dairine Ni Mheadhra who conducted.

All in all, it’s a really good piece beautifully performed. It runs until July 2 and there five more performances.