Thursday lunchtime in Walter Hall saw the winner of the 2023 Norcop Song Prize, Jamal Al-Titi give his prizewinner recital accompanied by Koldolsky Prize winner Indra Egan. It was an interesting selection of material for baritone in English, French, Italian and Russian. Starting off with Butterworth’s Loveliest of Trees and Vaughan Williams’ Silent Noon was bold. The standard for these songs is particularly high and I don’t think they are Al-Titi’s sweet spot. We would see laster in the recital a leaning towards a very operatic approach that didn’t work so well here.
Thursday’s concert in the Music in the Afternoon series at Walter Hall was curated by Canadian-Icelandic composer Fjóla Evans and had a distinctly Icelandic flavour (fortunately not fermented shark flavour).
The Gryphon Trio pulled out of Wednesday night’s Toronto Summer Music concert for, one supposes, the usual reason. This forced a reorganisation of the concert. Elliot Britton’s new piece was cut and instead we got an extended set from the Nordic Voices as the first part of the concert. Actually the first piece was for a very extended Nordic Voices. Andrew Balfour’s Omaa Bindig supplemented the vocal sextet with Marion Newman and Jamie Parker (piano) plus a number of string players and voices lined up down the sides of Walter Hall. It’s one of those soundscape works that envelops you in a variety of sounds and techniques. I wish I could find the text but I can’t (surtitles used last night as they have been all through TSM… yay!)
Last night’s Toronto Summer Music offering in Walter Hall was American themed in the broadest sense. The New Orford Quartet kicked things off with three pieces for string quartet. The first was Piazzolla’s Tango Ballet in Bragato’s arrangement for string quartet. It’s kind of tango/jazz fusion and great fun. Jessie Montgomery’s Strum is a sort of homage to the southern American tradition of a different kind of string instrument. Lots of complex pizzicato and other effects. Carmen Braden’s Raven Conspiracy is a three movement work for spoken voice and quartet dealing with both the mythical and biological raven. It’s playful and extremely virtuosic. I was struck by the fact that the New Orfords are not just a very fine ensemble but a very flexible one. Nothing seems to faze them!
Baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist Wolfram Rieger gave us Die schöne Müllerin with a twist at Walter Hall last night. The twist was a companion/introductory piece by David Lang called flower, forget me based on one of the Müller poems that Schubert didn’t set with fragments of other flower related Schubert song texts. If death is a major theme in the main cycle it’s an obsession in the new piece! It’s also very low for a baritone with some really difficult phrasing. One had to admire Appl’s skill in navigating its lugubrious depths but there was an almost tangible sense of relief in the audience when the duo launched into the sunnier and more familiar territory of “Das Wandern”.
The Halloween concert by the UoT Contemporary Music Ensemble in Walter Hall was fun. Unfortunately I was only able to catch the first half which featured Sofia Gubaidulina’s In Erwartung for saxophone quartet and percussion. This was a cool piece making interesting use of the space. It was followed by Robert Paterson’s Closet Full of Demons which is scored for small ensemble plus alarm clocks and jack-in-a-box. Sometimes I feel I should listen to music like this more often (and sometimes I don’t!). The main reason for being there though was to see Maeve Palmer and the Ensemble do Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. I wasn’t disappointed. Clearly tons of work had gone into this and it was much crisper than when I saw it in Barbara Hannigan’s master class a few weeks ago. Maeve really got into character as Gepopo. It was all there. The notes of course but also the keen sense of timing and the ability to convey the paranoia of the character. The Ensemble was well into it too. The bassoon and trombones were ugly. The shouting was convincing.
I wish I had photographs because everyone was in costume not just Maeve. The firs conductor (lorenzo Guggenheim) appeared as a back to front neon lit Wolfman and the second; Wallace Halladay, as a reversed skeleton. The Ensemble included Superwoman among others and Maeve was a sort of leather mini-skirted SS officer. Much fun!
If anyone does have photos I could use please drop me a line.
September starts the slow ramp up to the new season. The first thing in my calendar is Mysterious Barricades on September 14th from 1pm to 2pm in Walter Hall. This is a series of coast to coast, dawn to dusk concerts in aid of Suicide Awareness. Russell Braun, Monica Whicher and Nathalie Paulin are all involved. It’s free but ticketed. Check the link for details.
Collectìf’s latest show for the Toronto Summer Music Festival at Walter Hall last night was called Beyond Perception: What Haunts Us Now. It presented three new multimedia works each curated and directed by one of the trio of singers. The first piece, by Whitney O’Hearne featured arrangements of French works; both folk and classical that deal with the idea of La Dame Blanche; by turns sorceress or virgin bride. Turning the idea of male defined female transgression upside down to celebrate women’s agency, O’Hearn combined arrangements of the chosen music for combinations of three voices and piano with soft focus atmospheric video rather reminiscent of Collectìf’s Winterreise show at Heliconian Hall. The singing was beautiful and the concept intriguing. Top notch accompaniment by Trevor Chartrand.
The second set of reGENERATION concerts of the Topronto Summer Music Festival took place yesterday at Walter Hall. The song portion, unusually, consisted of 100% English language rep, mirroring the Griffey/Jones recital earlier in the wee. The first concert kicked off with tenor Eric Laine and pianist Scott Downing with five songs from Finzi’s setting of Thomas Hardy; A Young Man’s Exhortation. It was good. Laine has a nice sense of style and very good diction. The high notes are there though sometimes, especially at the end of a line, they don’t sound 100% secure. There was some quite delicate accompaniment from Downing too.
Anthony Dean Griffey and Warren Jones’ TSMF recital at Walter Hall last night was an all English language affair with offerings from both sides of the pond. IT kicked off with Frank Bridge’s Three Songs for voice, viola and piano with the viola part played on the cello by David Heiss. These might better be billed as for “Viola, piano and voice” as the viola part is much, much more interesting than the vocal line. Really it felt more like a piece of chamber music that happened to include a vocalist. Heiss played beautifully as did Jones and Griffey did what was to be done with the vocal line.