It’s that time of year when one reflects on the good and the not so good. What one would like to see more of and not. What seemed significant about the year. As I look back over my writings for the last twelve months one clear theme stands out, Reconciliation. There was the COC’s very thoughtful and thought provoking remount of Somers’ Louis Riel in April and all the fascinating events that went on around that. There were attempts by the TSO to incorporate Indigenous themes; the Tanya Tagaq concert in March and Adizokan with Red Sky in October. Neither of these quite came off but the intent was good. Then there was a really fine recital of works by Indigenous composers by Marion Newman at the beginning of the year. Then, of course, the Clemence/Current piece Missing, about murdered and missing Indigenous women, which premiered in British Columbia and which I haven’t seen yet but really, really want to. 2017 was also the year when Land Acknowledgements went mainstream in the Toronto arts world. I guess there’s some tokenism here but there does seem to be far more engagement with Reconciliation in the arts world than in, say, the political mainstream which is unfortunate because opera isn’t going to produce clean drinking water. We have to start somewhere I guess.
After the madness of November, December is much quieter. Messiahs aside there are only a handful of events of note. On Saturday at 7.30pm at Runnymede United Church the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir have a concert of seasonal music which includes Kim André Arnesen’s Magnificat with Adanya Dunn as soloist. On Tuesday 5th the noon recital in the RBA features Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer. The program hasn’t been published yet but I’m told it includes the Berg Seven Early Songs and a number of songs by Frank Bridge. On Thursday evening at 9pm it’s Opera Pub Night at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The theme is Messiah Pariah. You have been warned. The operatic event of the month is Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound. This uses a mash-up of Handel’s music to explore issues related to the current worldwide refugee crisis. It plays December 14th, 15th and 16th at the COC’s Jackman Studio. As of now, it’s sold out except for the final 9pm performance on the 16th. Toronto Consort have a Spanish themed Christmas show Navidad, featuring motets by Victoria and Guerrero plus villancicos and dances from Latin America. This one is on December 8th and 9th at 8pm and 10th at 3.30pm. Trinity St. Paul’s of course. Also this weekend, more performances of Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts (see last post).
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.
Moving into winter what does the Toronto opera/concert calendar have to offer? This coming week there’s an interesting looking concert in the RBA at noon on Tuesday. The Haven Trio (soprano Lindsay Kesselman, clarinetist Kimberly Cole Luevano, and pianist Midori Koga) will perform the world premiere of Toronto-based composer Kieren MacMillan’s Three Portraits, a dramatic setting of poems by Dana Gioia, the current Poet Laureate of California.
Last night’s TSO program started off with a sort of Remembrance Day pot pourri; pipes, bugles, a bit of poetry, an excerpt of Vaughan Williams in between and finally a rather beautiful account of The Lark Ascending with Jonathan Crow playing the solo from high up in the Gallery. Once upon a time the TSO would do Remembrance Day by performing an appropriate work or works, Britten’s War Requiem for example. I think that might actually be a more effective way of remembering.
Coming up this next week. Tomorrow Toronto Operetta Theatre are performing Calixa Lavallée’s The Widow. He’s the dude who wrote the music for O Canada! so no idea what to expect. It’s at the Jane Mallett Theatre at 3pm. Monday at 7pm at the Zoomerplex is the IRCPA Singing Stars of Tomorrow concert. My interview with Brett Polegato about it is here. And this is the link for ticket purchase.
Last night’s TSO concert was billed as a Tribute to Maureen Forrester with Ben Heppner MCing. Inevitably the main even was Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde but first there was a sesquie and the premiere of a new piece; L’Aube, for mezzo and orchestra by Howard Shore (he of Lord of the Rings etc). This was a setting of five poems by Elizabeth Cotnoir. It was retro, lush, tonal and, in a sense, well crafted but with very little variation between the movements, all of which were very slow. Susan Platts rich mezzo added to the rather soporific effect. Call me an unreformed modernist if you like but I’m really not sure what a piece like this adds to the symphonic repertoire.