Calgary Opera's premiere of The Inventor, an opera by Vancouver Symphony Orchestra music director Bramwell Tovey and librettist John Murrell, gets its broadcast premiere this afternoon on CBC Radio 2's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.
There's every reason to believe it should make for fine listening. The excellent cast includes veteran Judith Forst, fast-rising Erin Wall and James Westman.
But, for one of those something-for-everyone picks, I think tonight's treat is going to be a free, open-air performance by the Art of Time Ensemble in David Pecaut Square, part of Luminato's great series of daily under-the-stars presentations. Even the weather promises to be summary today.
The concert starts at 8 p.m. For a bit more information, click here.
Here is Steven Page and the Art of Time Ensemble reinterpreting Radiohead song "Paranoid Android" at Harbourfront's Enwave Theatre last year:
Organizers have worked hard over the past couple of years to change rules and balance juries for the quadrennial event so that no one can argue with the results (something competition watchers tend to do compulsively anyway).
They are also promising live web streaming of all competition rounds, which are being held on seven different halls in St. Petersburg and Moscow (including a first look inside the Moscow Conservatory's newly renovated concert spaces). The producer for the webcasts is Molly McBride, who did a brilliant job in getting the 2009 Cliburn competition online.
It promises to be a great window on one of the world's biggest and most prestigious competitions in piano, violin, cello and voice. Instrumental competitors are aged 16 to 30, vocal competitors are 18 to 32.
Piano and cello rounds began today at 1 p.m. local time in Moscow. Vocal and violin begin tomorrow in St. Petersburg.
There are two Canadians competing this time: Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio alumna, soprano Yannick Muriel Noah, and remarkable 18-year-old Montrealer, cellist Stéphane Tetrault, a student of Yuli Turovsky's and the youngest member selected for the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
As is so often the case on the first day of a webcast from a new setup, there are teething problems. My first check of today's piano webcast wasn't promising: the stream repeatedly stalled, and I couldn't figure out how to switch away from the piano competitors to check in to the cello rounds.
The foreground is a sharp satire of Facebook. The background is from the score of Nico Muhly's dark tale of online tragedy, Two Boys, which gets its premiere at the London Coliseum, thanks to English National Opera, on June 24.
You can't get much more current and relevant than this new work.
Here is ENO's description of the opera:
A teenage boy is stabbed. An older boy is caught on CCTV leaving the scene. An open-and-shut case, it would seem. But, as Detective Inspector Anne Strawson investigates the older boy's story, she uncovers a bizarre nexus of chatroom meetings, mysterious internet identities, supposed spy rings and disturbing cybersex, leading to a stunning conclusion.
Loosely inspired by actual events that occured in an English industrial city, Nico Muhly's new opera is a cautionary tale of the dark side of the internet.
With a libretto by Craig Lucas, screenwriter of Prelude to a Kiss and Reckless and video design by Fifty Nine Productions, whose work has been a key feature of such recent ENO triumphs as Doctor Atomic and Satyagraha, this new co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York, is directed by Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher, making his UK opera debut.
A decade ago, the strip of Ossington Ave. between Queen and Dundas Sts. was a tired and dirty oldwasteland of tire shops, building-supply outlets, a car wash, the best Vietnamese pho shop in town and one, good traditional Portuguese bakery.
Now it's a showcase of the ultra hip, from delicious espresso to designer lighting stores and galleries to dimly-lit lounges with no name on the door. And the bakery is still there, too, a living link to the Bad Old Days.
Joining the fun is the Lower Ossington Theatre -- a nicely renovated building with a larger stage upstairs and what turns out to be an ideal cabaret space on the ground floor, revealed by pulling open an anonymous, green, streetside door.
Cabaret enthusiast and impresario Rober Missen, whose main aim these days is to give Toronto a taste of the intimate charms of live, loungey entertainment, has commandeered the Green Door every Friday and Saturday in June, and has rounded up some of our finest performers to strut the diminutive stage in the middle of the room.
Coming up tonight are charismatic CBC Radio 2 host Andrew Craig, at 8 p.m., followed by Gabi Epstein at 10:30 p.m. Admission is a reasonable $20.
Dow drove down from Stratford with accompanist (and Stratford musician) Marilyn Dallman following an afternoon performance of Jesus Christ, Superstar!
I'm not exactly impartial, because Dow is an old friend, but watching him fully inhabit the character and mood of every song was such a treat.
I found myself thinking, several times, how someone as skilled as Dow in manipulating the little ticks and gestures of expression could give lessons to classical singers, who are often afraid to -- or have been discouraged from -- showing the rawer human emotions in performance.
It is the emotional content that creates the stongest bond between performer and audience -- and it can be conveyed without the hardworking singer having to leave some of their blood on the stage floor.
I see and hear a lot of singers, but I can count on the fingers of one hand those who can repeatedly pierce my heart in the course of a single show or recital.
Bruce Dow is one of those people. And I'm thrilled that Missen is giving us -- and them -- the means to make experiences like last night possible.
I had lunch with Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic yesterday. She is in town to check up on progress with the June 24 premiere of her latest opera for Queen of Puddings Music Theatre.
The new opera, based on what happens on each of the seven days leading up to a wedding, is rooted in Serbian folk culture and music -- something I found out was not part of Sokolovic's internationalist upbringing in Belgrade.
The musical avant-garde was where the student composer's heart and head lay -- until she came to Canada to do her Masters in composition. She recalled how her teacher, José Evangelista, sat her down and asked her what she would like to compose.
She had been brought up in a prescriptive environment. "I always had to learn this and this, and had to write in this style," she explained. "No one had ever asked me what I wanted to write."
Over time, she discovered her voice, which included references to the folk traditions of her birth country.
This probably sounds hopelessly trite, but, for me, the biggest validation in this conversation was the value of distance.
There is a grand, old tradition of letting high school and university graduates take off to parts unknown for a few months or a year, to have them see the world. The act of experiencing other people and places is enriching enough, but, if I remember my own post-adolescent peregrinations well enough, the real, enduring value was being introduced to myself and who I was (and am) in the process.
Getting far away from home should be part of everyone's coming of age -- if they can afford to do it.
This has nothing to do with my conversation with Sokolovic, but I couldn't help thinking tangentially of Gustav Mahler's first Lieder cycle, Songs of a Wayfarer.
Here is Measha Brueggergosman singing the fourth, final song, "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz", performing at the "Risor in New York" festival presented by Carnegie Hall last December:
The two blue eyes
of my darling
they sent me into the
I had to take my leave of this most-beloved place!
There's no obvious Australian connection historically, but St. James King Street, which calls itself the oldest remaining church in Sydney, is hosting a four-concert festival in honour of Tomás Luis de Victoria, the most famous composer from Renaissance Spain, and one of the great masters of polyphony. August marks the 400th anniversary of Victoria's death.
The Aussies even have a countdown clock on the website.
My not-so-recent Grove dictionary says that the known works by Victoria include about 20 settings of the Mass, a Funeral Mass, 18 Magnificats, a well-known series of anthems and motets for Holy Week published in 1585.
The image is from a section of the Gloria from Victoria's Missa Gaudeamus, published in 1576, just before the 28-year-old returned to Spain from a long stint in Rome, to go work as the chaplain to Philip II's sister, the Dowager Empress Maria.
One of the qualities that makes Victoria's music special is the skill with which he matches textual meaning and musical expression. He is also a master of creative dissonance.
As a substantial sample, here is the choir of St. James King Street with a gorgeous interpretations of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Victoria's Mass for the Ascension of Christ (which would traditionally be performed on the Feast of the Ascension, which happened this past Thursday, this year) from an album they've recorded, titled No Ordinary Sunday.
The choir's music director is British-born Warren Trevelyan-Jones (there's an interesting interview about the church, the history of sacred choral music and the difficulty in finding good "consort" singers in a culture dominated by opera with Trevelyan-Jones from a half-hour May 1 radio broadcast available on the ABC website).
If I had not gone to the opening of the BlackCreek Festival at the open-air Rexall Centre last night, I'd be dying to know how it all went.
All will be revealed in Monday's Star (hopefully), but I can't help sharing some thoughts now.
Let's get the concert itself out of the way first. Some events are guaranteed to succeed, musically, and pairing veteran tenor Plácido Domingo (who has been singing well literally as long as I can remember) with American-Canadian powerhouse soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is as safe a recipe for vocal satisfaction as one could think of. And they didn't disappoint.
As for the Rexall Centre -- a not-so-old tennis stadium out in the middle of nowhere (for a downtowner) conscripted into summer-music-festival duty -- this was no guaranteed grand slam.
We arrived with jangled nerves after navigating the near-gridlock surrounding the few entrances to York University. It took as long to navigate the three final blocks as it did to drive from downtown to Downsview. Urban planners of the 1960s, I curse you (they sit in a panteon in my little anti-shrine of voodoo hell that includes the creators of popcorn ceiling stucco and silicone caulking).
It was also unnerving to watch the veneer of human decency peel away as people inched their cars into each others' at the York U grounds ("It's like a big game of chicken," my companion said at the time) and then scattered pell-mell over formerly lush lawns to try a park-and-run while the going was good.
Also stacking the court against the venue was the weather. It didn't rain, but it was bone-chillingly cold. The concert started 30 minutes late (because of the traffic problems) and the official part of the programme finished at 11. That's a long time to sit under a northwesterly breeze without a parka.
That said, the magnetic force of the music and the surprising intimacy of the Rexall Centre won the night. The organizers' spokesperson said there were about 8,000 present. All had a clear view of the spacious stage and/or one of three large screens suspended above it. The canopied stage was nicely lit with coloured stage lights.
Given the right weather and a relaxed arrival (my companion suggested a blanket, some Thermoses and a picnic dinner on the campus lawns a couple of hours early), this could feel like a classic under-the-stars summer gathering place.
The amplified sound was clear and echo- and reverberation-free. (There was only one instance of poor-quality sound, when the full chorus was belting out the Triumphal Chorus from Verdi's Aida.)
I noted that the quality of the silence at the Rexall Centre, tucked away as it is on a sprawling university campus, is excellent. It was disturbed, several times during the first half of the evening, however, by planes taking off or landing from nearby Pearson Airport.
But, in the end, even that didn't matter.
Once organizers sort out how to direct traffic efficiently in and around the venue, and once the weather decides to be more summery, BlackCreek Festival should turn out to be the GTA's place to go for big-scale musical entertainment in the summertime.
Think everything's glamorous for a globetrotting opera star?
The "backstage" passageway, a clutter of equipment, wires, stray musicians and security personnel, was hardly the place to glitter and by gay.
Taped to a concrete wall in the sub-stand tunnel was the evening's set list (conveniently colour-coded by singer, solo and duet):
CBC Radio 2 has been piling on the offerings in its Concerts on Demand site.
The biggest of the recent treats is Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir's recent performance of the Mass in B Minor by J.S. Bach. The performance was one of the finest and most moving I have ever heard. (And I still marvel at the celestial justice that this was the final concert Canadian music instsitution Ken Winters got to review before he died.)
Find a quiet moment sometime soon, and give it a listen here.
Another treat among the archive on concerts is a programme devoted to the chamber music of Healey Willan (1880-1968) given by the Chamber Players of Canada at Dominion-Chalmers United Church in Ottawa, in April.
The whole recital is a study in small-is-beautiful. The style of writing is very similar to his choral compositions and organ preludes, relying a carefully crafted thematic development and counterpoint. There are no big surprises -- other than my suprise that we don't hear these pieces more often, mixed in with the European chamber music canon.
There's a sweet Melody for Cello and Piano that has such a long melodic line that it left me mentally gasping for breath. The most substantial piece of the concert is a three-movement Piano Trio in B Minor. The drama of the key really comes to life in the Finale. I think the trio understates its performance a bit, but, otherwise, it's a satisfying listen.
Vancouver Opera's premiere of John Estacio and John Murrell's latest creation, Lilian Alling, is now available for streaming on CBC Radio 2's Concerts on Demand.
"Lillian Allin, who is she?" asks young Jimmy (tenor Roger Honeywell) of his mother Irene (Judith Forst, in vintage form). We find out that this "mystery woman" disappeared "up north" 50 years ago. Jimmy insists on knowing the whole story, and so the tale begins, with Irene as our narrator.
The listening experience for this grand-scale opera is excellent.
Composer Estacio has used a clear, tonal harmonic pallette and has given his melodic fragments just enough shape to make the music instantly ear-friendly. The score has a similar feel to mid-20th century fare from someone like Gian Carlo Menotti, and Estacio is an excellent orchestrator, knowing exactly how to produce a desired effect without overloading the sound.
The Canadian cast, including Frédérique Vézina in the title role, is excellent. Conductor Jacques Lacombe, heading the house orchestra and chorus, delivers a crisp, engaging reading of the music.
Here is what the CBC has provided in terms of background information:
In 1927, young Lillian Alling arrives in New York City from Russia in desperate search of a man called Jozéf. Penniless, she walks across North America and into the wilds of northwestern BC, following Jozéf's elusive path. During her brave trek, she is embraced by a Norwegian farming community in North Dakota, incarcerated in Oakalla Prison Farm near Vancouver, and loved by Scotty, a lineman along BC's "telegraph trail".
Seeking freedom in the future but bound to a dark past, Lillian's fierce determination and alluring mystery drive her into danger and forever change the lives of everyone she meets. A cathartic scene on the banks of Skeena River reveals a shocking truth and brings Lillian face to face with destiny. Her story will take you deep into the emotional heart of love and courage.
Based on a true story and legend. The cast includes Frédérique Vézina as the intrepid and determined Lillian; Judith Forst as Irene, the woman who knows about Lillian's past; Roger Honeywell as Irene's son, Jimmy, and Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, as Scotty MacDonald, the man who comes to understand the heroine.
In 1927, young Lillian Alling arrives in New York City from Russia in desperate search of a man called Jozéf. Penniless, she walks across North America and into the wilds of northwestern BC, following Jozéf's elusive path. During her brave trek, she is embraced by a Norwegian farming community in North Dakota, incarcerated in Oakalla Prison Farm near Vancouver, and loved by Scotty, a lineman along BC's "telegraph trail". Seeking freedom in the future but bound to a dark past, Lillian's fierce determination and alluring mystery drive her into danger and forever change the lives of everyone she meets. A cathartic scene on the banks of Skeena River reveals a shocking truth and brings Lillian face to face with destiny. Her story will take you deep into the emotional heart of love and courage. Based on a true story and legend. The cast includes Frédérique Vézina as the intrepid and determined Lillian; Judith Forst as Irene, the woman who knows about Lillian's past; Roger Honeywell as Irene's son, Jimmy, and Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, as Scotty MacDonald, the man who comes to understand the heroine.
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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