Saturday night saw the inaugural concert of the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers; the professional core of the much larger Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, at Trinity St. Paul’s with Jean-Sébastien Vallée conducting. There were four pieces on the programme; one very substantial and three shorter works. Things kicked off with a pleasant but essentially conventional arrangement by Dierdre Robinson of Steal Away. This was followed by an Arabic piece by composer-in-residence Shireen Abu-Khader called I Forgive where the choir was joined by soloist Raneem Barakat. This dealt with the short life and death of Egyptian LGBTQ activist Sarah Hegazi and was rather beautiful with intriguing Arab influences especially in the solo part. Then came Elgar’s Lux Aeterna arranged for choir by John Cameron.
Last night various bits of the early music side of the UoT Faculty of Music, plus guests, put on a performance of Purcell’s King Arthur at Trinity St. Paul’s. I’m pretty familiar with the piece from both audio and video recordings (though this was my first time live) but it was clear last night that most people really don’t know the work and I suspect that the way the work was presented was not especially helpful for them.
The program contains detailed notes by director Erik Thor about his thoughts on presenting a “problem piece” without really explaining why King Arthur is a problem or why he made the choices he made. We are told it’s about conquest and erasure but not how and why it differs from what most people seem to expect when they see the title King Arthur. In short, it’s a highly fictionalised version of the very old Welsh stories about the resistance of the (Christian) Britons to the (Pagan) Saxons. Forget Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tennyson, TE White and Monty Python. Oddly, Merlin, perhaps the one character anyone would recognise, is cut here. The work itself is also a bit incoherent largely because Dryden (the librettist) tried to recast what was originally a court spectacular to the glory of Charles II as something that would work in the theatre and pass the censorship under William and Mary!
Rather short notice I’m afraid but McGill’s Schulich Singers and others have a Holocaust remembrance concert on Monday night (November 4th) at Trinity St. Paul’s at 7.30pm featuring Ittai Shapira’s The Ethics in the original choral version. The same programme will be presented in Ottawa on the 10th and Montreal on the 12th.
So, by a perhaps odd coincidence, various singers from Kathy Domoney’s stable are involved in productions of Rossini’s Le comte Ory at assorted Canadian houses in the near future; either as principals or understudies, so why not pull together some sort of performance of the work? That happened last night at Trinity St. Paul’s in a “narrated production” by François Racine. I had some ida what to expect as I had talked to François earlier in the week.
The idea of recreating an accademia musicale (private concert) at the home of Roman artist/patron Pier Leone Ghezzi in 1723 and putting on works that might have been played at such an event is an intriguing one. Add to that that we were promised caricatures; Ghezzi being a noted pioneer of the form. Marco Cera, who conceived the show, seemed to be onto a good thing.
What we actually got wasn’t exactly what I expected. There were the musicians, including noted baroque soprano Roberta Invernizzi, impersonating Ghezzi’s guests; from Vivaldi to Farinelli, with Cera himself as Ghezzi. But there was also Ghezzi’s servant, played as Harlequin, acted by Dino Gonçalves. The show was heavy on Harlequin’s cheeky chappy clowning which was, as the lemur put it, like “watching Jerry Lewis channelling Roger Rabbit”. Not really my thing.
How to present a mostly forgotten composer to a modern audience is an interesting conundrum. Reviving a four hour opera seria about Marcus Aurelius likely isn’t the answer and just sticking a few pieces in an otherwise mainstream program is unlikely to have much impact either. Better by far, I think, is the approach Ivars Taurins has taken in Tafelmusik’s current run of concerts of music by the Venetian Agostino Steffani (1654-1728) at Trinity St.Paul’s.
David Fallis’ last show after 28 years as Artistic Director of the Toronto Consort is, perhaps appropriately, the earliest opera in the repertoire; Monteverdi’s Orfeo. The first performance of three was last night at Trinity St. Paul’s. It’s a concert performance with surtitles and some interesting orchestration. The expected strings and woodwinds are supplemented here by the sackbuts and cornettos of Montreal based La Rose des Vents as well as triple harp and an assortment of keyboards including, I think, two different organs. Continue reading →
Last night’s Soundstreams concert at Trinity St. Paul’s riffed off the basic idea of Bach’s Musical Offering; getting musicians to create music on a theme with a high improvisory element. The line up was the Gryphon Trio (Roman Borys, cello; James Parker, piano; Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin), SlowPitchSound (aka Cheldon Paterson); turntables, Dafnis Prieto; drum kit, Scott Good; trombone, conductor and Roberto Occhipiniti; bass. Things started out with SlowPitchSound remixing prerecorded fragments of the Musical Offering with live interventions by the trio. It was interesting and fun though whether it revealed “secret messages” I really couldn’t tell. The turntables reappeared between items in the rest of the program in very short fragments that seemed too cursory to have much to say.
Tan Dun’s Water Passion After St. Matthew, given last night by Soundstreams at Trinity St. Paul’s is very Tan Dun. The work is in nine movements and scored for chorus, soprano and bass-baritone soloists, violin, cello, electronics and lots of percussion. And bowls of water and rocks. The texts broadly follow the Passion story finishing with a final Resurrection movement in which water is the symbol of rebirth, recycling and spiritual completeness. There are also ritual elements. Bowls of water laid out in a cruciform pattern are lit from beneath. The musicians change position and the players, especially the percussionists, perform hieratic gestures with the water bowls and their contents. It also involves a complex and dramatic lighting plot.
I think I may have been missing out a bit with the Toronto Consort. I’ve been to the odd show that’s been identifiable as music theatre such as their excellent Play of Daniel but until I sat down with David Fallis and Laura Pudwell a few weeks ago I didn’t really have a clear sense of what they are about. Last night’s concert, Renaissance Splendours, at Trinity St. Paul’s, gave me a pretty good idea of what I’ve been missing and how it fits into my musical universe.