Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony were in town last night for a one night stand at Roy Thomson Hall. My reason for going was primarily to see Marion Newman sing Ancestral Voices; a work composed for her by Tovey. It’s the composer’s contribution to the sesqui and it deals with the Dominion of Canada’s troubled relationship with the original peoples of this land. The four movements trace an arc from an imagined pre colonial “Arkady” cleverly using a Keats text that deals with a clearly not Canadian imagined state of nature through to Charles Mair’s The Last Bison; a very early warning of what happens when Man and Nature get out of balance. Then comes the most chilling part; an excerpt from a letter in the government archives about residential schools”…separate, isolate, educate; dominate, assimilate; Sow the seeds and forcibly, effectively; Kill the Indian in the child.” It concludes with fragments of letters from Harper and Trudeau cut with parts of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.
So it looks like January is finally over and that means we can look ahead to next month. Things are definitely winding down. There’s the last Opera Pub of the season on the 3rd at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The Vancouver Symphony is appearing with Bramwell Tovey at Roy Thomson Hall on the 26th with the highlight being Marion Newman singing Ancestral Voices; a piece Tovey wrote for her. Also that evening the Canadian Children’s Opera opens a two performance run of Alice Ping Yee Ho’s new piece The Monkiest King. That’s at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
Victor Davies’ The Ecstasy of Rita Joe opened last night in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin at the Jane Mallett Theatre. It’s based on the play by George Ryga that caused a stir when it opened in Vancouver in 1967. The play was described as indirect and allusive with no clear narrative thread by the critics back then and was praised perhaps more for tackling the subject than for its intrinsic merits which were far from universally appreciated. Interestingly, as is so often the case in Canada, although rarely performed it has attained “classic” status. One word Victor Davies uses to describe the play is “expressionistic” but curiously rather than taking that as a jumping off point for the music (as Strauss and Berg did) he decides it’s an inappropriate idiom for “the lyric approach needed for the melody to unfold”. Why one needs “melody to unfold” in a disturbing tale of a young native woman’s descent into a hell of sexual abuse, alcohol, drugs, prison and, ultimately, her murder and why that melody should be couched in 1940s jazz/swing terms wasn’t obvious to me.
Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured mezzo Marion Newman with pianist Adam Sherkin and violinist Kathleen Kajioka in a programme of contemporary Canadian works (all the composers were in the room!) mostly connected in some way with Canada’s First Nations and Inuit peoples. First up was Ian Cusson’s setting of E. Pauline Johnson‘s A Cry from an Indian Wife. It’s a long, highly emotional but not, I think, especially well crafted, text about an Indian woman sending her husband off to war (the language reflects the usage of its day) and the words are not easy to set or sing. Cusson’s setting is appropriately intense with a blistering piano part and a tough vocal line. It’s deeply affecting but hardly comfortable especially when sung in a manner that clearly (and rightly) privileged text and emotion over beauty of sound.
Well the holidays are over and the music scene is coming back to life from its seasonal diet of musical plum pudding. There’s not a lot on this week but there is the first vocal concert of the year in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman will be joined by Kathleen Kajioka (violin) and Adam Sherkin (piano)in a programme of Canadian works exploring First Nations themes. It includes Dustin Peters’ song cycle, Echo|Sap’a, which explores the journey of The Echo (or Sap’a in Kwakwala), a para-natural entity that mimics the sounds and movements she encounters throughout the woods and waters, as well as Kinanu, a lullaby composed by Newman for her baby sister. Noon, of course, and free.
Later on Thursday, at 9pm to be precise, there’s AtG’s first Opera Pub Night of the year featuring beer, singers and a Craig’s list piano. It’s at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club on the Esplanade and I strongly recommend arriving early.
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.
The AGO has a new initiative; AGO Friday Nights. For the price of admission to the gallery one also gets to hear a one hour concert of music programmed by Tapestry’s Michael Mori to reflect something going on at the the gallery. Right now the big exhibition is JMW Turner: Painting Set Free. It’s a decent sized exhibition of works mainly drawn from the later stages of Turner’s career and it’s well worth seeing. The music; half piano, half works for mezzo and piano reflects aspects of the exhibition.