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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The Living Spectacle

spectacle-300x286The Canadian Art Song Project branched out last night with a ticketed concert at The Extension Room.  The opening number was the latest CASP commission; The Living Spectacle by Erik Ross to words by Baudelaire translated by Roy Campbell.  Like a lot of modern song the three movements were all quite piano forward and hard on the singer.  The second text, The Evil Monk, certainly brought out the darker and more dramatic side of Ambur Braid’s voice while the third, The Death of Artists, was cruelly high even for someone with Ambur’s coloratura chops.  She coped very well and Steven Philcox’ rendering of the piano part was suitably virtuosic.

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Apparitions

JTwGGSNMEConductor Brian Current and the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble presented three pieces, one of them a world premiere, today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  The performances were prefaced by a really rather informative and informal chat by Brian on “how to listen to contemporary music”.  It was engaging and totally non-patronising.

And so to the music.  The first piece was Marco Stroppo’s 1989 piece élet… fogytigian, dialogo immaginario fra un poeta e un filosofo; a piece evoking an imaginary dialogue between a Hungarian poet and an Italian philosopher who never actually met, or so the composer told us.  The first movement was bright and aggressive, very much in the European manner of the 70s and 80s with the second even more explosive before, in the third movement, settling into an exploration of string colour.  The composer explained this as being like three walls of a house, painted different colours, slowly rotating.  It’s the kind of piece one needs to hear more than once.

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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

Farewell Queen of Puddings

Lorca-horizontalChris Paul Harman’s La selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) had its premier at the Four Seasons Centre at lunchtime today.  It’s a setting of some very beautiful texts from Lorca’s Suites scored for mezzo, harp, piano/celeste, flute, clarinet, cello, percussion and tape.  The tape consists of sections of the texts read by Martha de Francisco.  Sometimes the text comes from the tape, sometimes it’s sung by mezzo, sometimes it’s spoken by the mezzo and at other times they overlap.  The accompaniment is mostly very spare but occasionally becomes surprisingly dense with lots of work for tuned percussion.  There are also some unconventional roles for the instruments, especially the flute, and there is a whistled passage for the singer near the end.  All in all it’s very 21st century; decidedly modern but quite approachable.  And did I say the texts are gorgeous?  Continue reading

Yet more shows

The Toronto opera/recital calendar just keeps on giving.  Late April and May are always a bit crazy with the usual three operas on at the COC but there’s a stack more stuff going on.  The latest additions to my calendar are a new Queen of Puddings Music Theatre commission La Selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) by Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman.  This vocal chamber work setting texts by Lorca will be performed by Krisztina Szabó and an ensemble of 6 instruments as part of the free lunchtime concert series at the Four Seasons Centre at noon on April 30th.  Sadly this will be the last work from Queen of Puddings who are winding up this summer.  Next is Ruth, a new opera by Jeffrey Ryan, which will be workshopped by Tapestry at the Distillery on May 4th. Finally there is a Talisker Players show called On the Wing featuring Erin Bardua and Vicki St. Pierre in a birdsong themed programme.  It’s playing on May 7th and 8th at the Trinity St. Paul’s Centre.

Canadian Art Song Project recital

Photo by Danilo Ursini http://www.ursiniphotography.com

The Canadian Art Song project is an initiative of Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox to encourage the composition, performance and recording of Canadian Art Song (surprise!). Part of the program is an annual commission for a Canadian composer and poet for such a work. This year’s commission formed part of today’s recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

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