Tan Dun’s Water Passion After St. Matthew, given last night by Soundstreams at Trinity St. Paul’s is very Tan Dun. The work is in nine movements and scored for chorus, soprano and bass-baritone soloists, violin, cello, electronics and lots of percussion. And bowls of water and rocks. The texts broadly follow the Passion story finishing with a final Resurrection movement in which water is the symbol of rebirth, recycling and spiritual completeness. There are also ritual elements. Bowls of water laid out in a cruciform pattern are lit from beneath. The musicians change position and the players, especially the percussionists, perform hieratic gestures with the water bowls and their contents. It also involves a complex and dramatic lighting plot.
I think I may have been missing out a bit with the Toronto Consort. I’ve been to the odd show that’s been identifiable as music theatre such as their excellent Play of Daniel but until I sat down with David Fallis and Laura Pudwell a few weeks ago I didn’t really have a clear sense of what they are about. Last night’s concert, Renaissance Splendours, at Trinity St. Paul’s, gave me a pretty good idea of what I’ve been missing and how it fits into my musical universe.
The decision by Toronto Masque Theatre to pair Purcell’s miniature opera, Dido and Aeneas, with James Rolfe and André Alexis’ piece on the lovers’ inner thoughts, Aeneas and Dido, paid off last night. It produced an evening of just the right length with two contrasting but complementary pieces working really well together.
A concert of contemporary works for accordion? Why not! Well it was more of a concert of contemporary works for fixed reed instruments with, ironically, Trinity St. Paul’s most impressive fixed reed instrument forming an unused but imposing backdrop to the proceedings. Things started off conventionally enough with Soundstreams’ Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney on stage with three players of different instruments describing their histories and properties and then mild Hell broke loose as a curiously clad Joseph Macerollo burst into the auditorium, ejected Lawrence and friends and launched into R. Murray Schafer’s performance piece La Testa d’Adriane; the tale of a head mystically preserved between life and death. At this point the purpose of the rather bizarre contraption on stage was unclear but soon enough the cloth was pulled back to reveal Carla Huhtanen, or her head at least. More accordion and speech from Macerollo and a bizarre collection of grunts, squeaks, shrieks and gurning from Carla followed. Madness or genius? It’s Schafer. The question is unanswerable.
The Play of Daniel (Danielis ludus) is a 12th or 13th century Latin liturgical play from Beauvais in nothern France. It appears in the liturgy for January 1st, The Feast of the Circumcision, and appears to have been an attempt to channel the traditional post Christmas disorder into more acceptable channels. It was probably performed by the sub deacons of the Cathedral; young men in minor orders. Alex and David Fallis have run with this setting and tried to create a piece that would evoke the same sort of reactions from a 21st century audience as the original did for those who saw it in Beauvais. That’s a huge ask but, to my mind, they succeeded admirably.
Last night’s Soundstreams concert at Trinity St. Paul’s was devoted to works by John Tavener and people who were close to him. The principal performers were soprano Patricia Rozario, Choir 21 and the Toronto Children’s Chorus joined, as needed by Christopher Dawes on piano and organ and Erica Goodman on harp. Conducting duties were split between Elise Bradley and David Fallis. There was plenty of explanatory material from artistic director Lawrence Cherney plus some from Ms. Rozario as well as taped comments from Tavener to set up the pieces.
The Talisker Players latest offering is a concert titled On a Darkling Plain. It’s an ambitious program of 20th and 21st century music interspersed, in the Talisker manner, with selected texts read (very expressively) by Stewart Arnott.
It kicks off with Samuel Barber’s 1931 setting of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. It’s a dark and evocative piece for a 21 year old and was sensitively performed by baritone Joel Allison supported by violinists Michelle Ordorico and Andrew Chung, Talisker music director Mary McGeer on viola and Laura Jones on cello. Allison is very young and hasn’t been seen much in Toronto but he seems to have the hallmarks of a lieder singer. He’s expressive and attentive to the text, has an attractive voice but can summon up a surprising amount of volume when he needs it. I was impressed.