This afternoon I saw Gerry Finley and Julius Drake in recital at Koerner Hall. In other words, two supreme exponents of the art of lieder at the top of their game in a hall with near perfect acoustics. They performed Beethoven and Schubert settings of Goethe texts, some Tchaikovsky and some Rachmaninoff, which gave Julius ample opportunity to show off. They finished up with settings of folky things by Copland, Barber, Respighi and Britten. The last was The Crocodile; a very silly and funny piece I hadn’t heard before. The encore was by Healey Willans and Gerry gave a very nice plug for the Canadian Art Song Project. Insert standard list of adjectival phrases describing top notch singing and accompaniment. My humble scribing is not worthy.
Last night the RCM celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with a suitably themed concert at Koerner Hall. The first half consisted of a performance of all the Anniversaries. These are short piano pieces; only a minute or two long, that Bernstein composed late at night. Each is dedicated to a friend or family member and many were reused later in longer works. There are somewhere between 20 and 30 of them and last night they were played in sets of three, four or five with introductions before each set by the composer’s eldest daughter Jamie complete with photos etc. The playing by Sebastian Knauer was idiomatic, virtuosic and sensitive. The introductions were informative, engaging and mercifully short. The music covered a vast range of moods and styles though all of it very Bernstein; that is to say tonal and obviously American. I was particularly struck by the brooding piece he wrote for his younger daughter some years after the death of her mother and by the earlier piece, dedicated to his wife Felicia Montealegre, that had Copland all over it and was none the worse for that. It was actually a rather brilliant way to showcase the man in a 45 minute or so concert segment.
Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation. Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations. Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall. He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).
Handel’s Alexander’s Feast is an oratorio to a text by Newburgh Hamilton based closely on an earlier Dryden St. Cecilia’s Day ode. The basic plot is that Alexander is feasting in captured Persepolis with his mistress Thaïs. Inflamed by the music of Timotheus he decides to burn down the city in revenge for his fallen soldiers. Cecilia descends from Heaven and substitutes music for the king’s barbarous intentions. There are solo and choral numbers and a couple of duets and there are two concerti; one for triple harp representing Timotheus’ lyre playing and an organ concerto for St. Cecilia. It’s all quite tuneful and interesting if not as inspired as some of the better known oratorios.
So this Thursday (Feb 22nd) at 8pm Tafelmusik are presenting Handel’s Alexander’s Feast at Koerner Hall. Chances to see Handel oratorios, other than Messiah, don’t come around that often and this one has a very decent line up of soloists; Amanda Forsythe, Alexander Dobson and Thomas Hobbs. And we have a special giveaway offer. Tafelmusik have provided a pair of tickets for readers of this blog. Comment below or email me (j DOT gilks AT rogers DOT com) with contact details and I’ll put your name in the hat. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow evening. The winner will be able to pick the tickets up at the box office before the show. If you can’t make Thursday there are also performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday but no freebies for those!
I went to see Esprit Orchestra’s show Plug in at Koerner Hall last night. I don’t often go to purely orchestral concerts but Jenn Nichols was dancing and I have this feeling that I ought to listen to more contemporary music.
The first piece; Symphonie minute by José Evangelista, is a highly compressed “symphony” in four movements. Each movement only lasts a couple of minutes and it uses a large orchestra. It’s intriguing that in such a short time each movement has a clearly defined character. It’s quite dissonant but very easy to listen to and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
I guess it’s starting to quieten down a bit. Next week there are a couple of things of interest. On Monday the Faculty Artists at UoT have a concert in Walter Hall with Uri Mayer conducting. It’s an all Mahler program with the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and the Fourth Symphony. The vocal soloists are Monica Whicher and Darryl Edwards. Later in the week the UoT Opera has its main fall production. This time it’s Don Giovanni conducted by Uri Mayer and directed by Marilyn Gronsdale. That’s in the MacMillan Theatre at 7.30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a matinée on Sunday. There will, as usual be two casts; one on Thurs/Sat and the other Fri/Sun. On Friday there’s another Whose Opera is is Anyway? from LooseTEA Theatre; Toronto’s opera improv. That’s at 7.30pm at the Comedy Bar. They are moving from there (good!) to Bad Dog Theatre for their December show on the 20th which should also be hosting a monthly show in 2018.