Unsuk Chin at the RCM

95e6758bda5e6da733933c23a4a65bbfe6fffa86_220x220The closing concert of this year’s 21C, presented by Soundstreams at Koerner Hall, featured music by Chris Paul Harman and Unsuk Chin.  In the first half we heard two related pieces by Harman based on songs by Ray Noble.  The first, Love Locked Out started with a tape recorded interview and a scratchy recording of Al Bowlly before morphing into a complex piece with allusions to the original song.  It’s not in any sense a set of variations.  Harman’s sound world is complex.  It’s very modern and varied.  There were warring pianos and tubular bells in passages that were almost violent but which morphed into more playful sections.  Parts of the string writing and the transitions reminded me of Shostakovich; though Harman tends to genuinely playful rather than sardonic.  But the comparison should not be taken too far because there’s also a tendency to build tension and logic through repetition rather than symphonic development in a vaguely John Adamsish sort of way and there are passages that are meditative à la Messiaen.  The piece closed with a slowed down tape of the song. So complex and intriguing stuff very well played by 21C Chamber Orchestra conducted by Guillaume Bourgogne.

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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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Listings round up

21cHere’s a summary of the upcoming Toronto events I’ve been made aware of recently.  Both  the TSO and the RCM have announced their contemporary music festivals.  21C at the conservatory runs from May 24th to 28th.  The opening concert features Johannes Debus with the COC Orchestra, Andrew Haji and Emily D’Angelo and the Elmer Iseler Singers.  The program includes two pieces by Brian Current: his The Seven Heavenly Halls in its Ontario premiere and Nàaka (Northern Lights) its world premiere. The two works are part of a six movement work, entitled River of Light, which traces creation myths from six different cultures.  This concert also includes works by Unsuk Chin, Samy Moussa and Matthew Aucoin.  Then on the following night the Canadian Art Song Project has a concert of works by Canadian composers Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier (Ontario premiere), Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem (Ontario premiere), and Ana Sokolović’s Dawn Always Begins in the Bones, CASP’s new commission to celebrate Canada 150. The singers, drawn from the COC Ensemble Studio will be Danika Lorèn (soprano), Emily D’Angelo (mezzo-soprano), Aaron Sheppard (tenor), Bruno Roy (baritone), Iain MacNeil (baritone), with Mélisande Sinsoulier and Liz Upchurch on piano.  The Festival closes on May 28th with a Soundstreams concert; The Music of Unsuk Chin. The program includes her Cantatrix Sopranica, a playful exploration of the act of singing for two sopranos, countertenor, and ensemble featuring Carla Huhtanen, and “The Caterpillar,” an excerpt from her opera, Alice in Wonderland. Also included are two works by Chris Paul Harman; It’s All Forgotten Now (world premiere) and Love Locked Out.  In between there’s lots more interesting looking instrumental stuff too.  More details here. Continue reading

21C 2016

tanyaThe line up for this year’s 21C is out.  It’s a bit difficult for a genre based blog like this to know what to say about a genre busting event like 21C so I will point out the things that look even remotely relevant.  I think the vocal highlight is the concert at Koerner Hall on May 25 featuring the Kronos Quartet and the amazing Tanya Tagaq in a fascinating looking program.  There’s also the after hours concert at 10.30pm on May 27 which will feature new works by John Oswald for piano, instruments and choir in total darkness.  full details on the festival can be found here.

Faster Still Anaïs Nin

rcm_21c_webpage-icon_final2-2This 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