The 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.
May 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.
If you are planning to go to Soundstreams Unsuk Chin concert on May 28th, which should be very interesting, there’s a special ticket price offer. Discount code OPERA20 will get you 20% off on-line ticket purchases which you can find here. The centerpiece of the concert is Cantatrix Sopranica, a humorous exploration of opera styles across history, sung by Carla Huhtanen, Eve-Lyn de la Haye, and Scott Belluz. Chin’s music is rather unusual so this could be quite an afternoon.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland premiered at the BayerischeStaatsoper in 2007 in a production by Achim Freyer. It’s a curious work. It cleaves fairly closely to Carroll but the beginning and ending are altered to make it clear this is all a dream. In between those two short scenes we get all the familiar stuff; Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, Tea Party, Croquet Lawn, Trial etc. It’s all staged on a steeply raked stage with a sort of set of “advent calendar” openings. Lines of light are used to suggest scale changes and the characters (almost) all wear mesh masks and have puppet selves too. It’s a look that won costume designer Nina Weitzner an award. Everybody seems to be wearing an aerial wire and there’s a fair bit of flying about. It looks, on the face of it, visually inventive and psychologically convincing.
Soundstreams have just announced their 2016/17 season. There’s quite a lot there for those with an experimental taste in vocal music as well as a bunch of instrumental stuff. Probably the biggest deal is a staging of “musical curiosities” from R. Murray Schafer’s Patria cycle. Odditorium will feature selections from The Greatest Show, Ra, and others, immersing audiences in a circus-like atmosphere, complete with host carnival barker. This one is directed by Chris Abramson and runs March 2nd to 5th, 2017 at Crow’s Theatre, a new 215 seat venue on Carlaw. Time for my annual fix of Shafer nuttiness!