I went to Roy Thomson Hall last night to hear an all Vaughan Williams program conducted by Peter Oundjian. It’s not really my thing but there was a fine quartet of soloists lined up for the Serenade to Music.
Things got going with the Fantasia on “Greensleeves” which was perfectly OK if a bit hackneyed. There was a decent account of the Concerto for Oboe and Strings with Sarah Jeffrey as the soloist. Then there was the Serenade. For some reason the soloists were lined up with the choir (the Elmer Iseler singers) behind the orchestra. The result was sonic mush and textual porridge. I caught exactly one word of the text; “stratagems” for what it’s worth. The rest was not recognisable as English, let alone understandable. And, of course, it was too dark to read the supplied text. This despite soloists; Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan, who are consistently excellent with text. This is becoming very annoying. As often as not when I go to see the TSO do vocal works the soloists are either inaudible or incomprehensible. I know the hall is difficult but the performance of the Ryan Requiem last week showed that it is possible to showcase singers. I think it’s really unfair to audiences and singers alike. Anyway, I was so fed up that I left at the interval.
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.
I went to see the TSO last night because there was a Boulez piece programmed that I wanted to hear. It was a rather odd evening. It kicked off with Morawetz’ Carnival Overture Op.2. This was I suppose the designated Canadiana. It’s a roughly five minute piece that sounds like the Brahms of the Academic Festival Overture crossed with Dvořák. Too much brass and cymbals for my taste. Then came about ten minutes of faffing about reorganising the stage for the Boulez followed by Peter Oundjian coming out and making one of those cringingly apologetic speeches for programming something “difficult”. I hate this. If an orchestra, opera house or chamber ensemble is going to program atonal, serialist or what you will music (and they should) by all means explain how it works in a program note but don’t patronise the audience and, above all, don’t apologise. If it needs an apology why are you programming it?
Yes it is and here’s what’s coming up. Sadly Natalie Dessay’s Koerner gig tonight has been cancelled. Get well soon and please come back! Tomorrow at 8pm the TSO has a concert with Carla Huhtanen featuring Morawetz’ Carnival Overture, Boulez’ Le soleil des eaux and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherezade. On Sunday Lyndsay Promane has a recital at 3pm at Islington United Church with works by Dowland, Faure, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Strauss. Admission is by donation
Next week there are a bunch of free concerts in the RBA at noon. On Tuesday it’s Alysson McHardy and Rachel Andrist with a program of Schumann and Zemlinsky. Wednesday sees Aaron Sheppard and Stéphane Mayer perform Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation. They will also be joined by Sam Pickett and Megan Quick. Finally, on Thursday Lauren Eberwein, who is sounding really good recently, and members of the COC Orchestra will perform two J.S. Bach cantatas; Ich habe genug and Vergnügte Ruh.
Season announcements, it seems, are like the King Street streetcar(1). You wait for ages then three come along at once. This time it’s Opera Atelier announcing the 2017/18 season. As ever there are two productions. A remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro runs October 26th to November 4th. The cast icludes Douglas Williams, making his Opera Atelier debut, in the title role, with Mireille Asselin (Susanna), Stephen Hegedus (Count Almaviva), Peggy Kriha Dye (Countess Almaviva), Mireille Lebel (Cherubino), Laura Pudwell (Marcellina), Gustav Andreassen (Bartolo), Christopher Enns (Basilio/Don Curzio), Olivier Laquerre (Antonio), and Grace Lee (Barbarina). This one will be sung in English.
Patrick Jang, Carla Huhtanen and Phillip Addis in “The Marriage of Figaro” (2010). Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah, now billed as “annual”, opened last night at a packed Drake Underground. It’s substantially reworked from last year’s show though structurally it’s similar in that the same arias are sung by the same singers in the same order with similar linking sections. The differences though are notable. The space is configured differently with more conventional seating which makes it feel more like a concert than a happening, though there’s still lots of movement and action happening in different parts of the space. The electro-acoustic orchestra is gone; replaced by keyboards. John Gzowski and his electric guitar are up on stage rather than tucked away in an alcove. The linking choral sections have been remixed and the influence of Adam Scime on that is clear. It’s still a very interesting show and well worth seeing but I enjoyed it rather less than last year.
Last night’s Soundstreams Koerner Hall presentation; Magic Flutes was an interesting experience. Aside from interesting (mostly) contemporary flute pieces it was very much an experiment in different ways of staging a concert. I’m all for breaking down the conventions of Mahlerian solemnity and I think experimentation is great. It’s in the nature of taking risks though that some things don’t quite work.