When I first launched “Hopera: an evening of local craft beer and song,” people assumed that this was an attempt on my part to elevate beer and make it seem more upscale by pairing it with an art form as grand as opera. This was not the case at all.
As a beer specialist, I don’t feel that this satiating, complex, effervescent beverage needs any kind of elevation – just a little more understanding. People who still think beer is just an easy-drinking vehicle to loutishness need to expand their horizons. If anything, opera could stand to be taken down a notch or two. Having made a career switch from opera singer to beer educator, it never ceases to amaze me how many parallels can be drawn between these two seemingly incongruous fields. Like beer, opera has developed a reputation that isn’t doing it any favours; among the uninitiated, many think of this art form as opulent, humourless and snobbish.
“Hopera” playfully defies these misconceptions by attempting to highlight the sheer enjoyment that can be found in both opera and beer. It consists of a series of operatic excerpts – arias, duets and ensembles – performed live by professional opera singers with piano accompaniment. Each piece is enjoyed with a sample of beer chosen because its particular character – colour, aroma, flavour and mouthfeel – reflects the mood of the song. Insights are given on the music, beer sample and how the pairing was chosen, inviting a rethinking of both the excerpt and the beverage - all this in a casual pub setting.
Palace of Wind
New Amsterdam NWAM058 (newamrecords.com)
Battle Trance may be a quartet of tenor saxophonists, but banish from your inner ear the smooth reed sounds of The Four Brothers or more experimental foursomes like ROVA. Instead the Brooklyn-based ensemble, which plays at Arraymusic on September 5 (155 Walnut Ave, 416.532.3019), specializes in a more difficult type of interaction.
An interconnected three-part composition by leader Travis Laplante, Palace of Wind wasn’t notated, but taught orally to the other players: Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner. Laplante, whose improv experience includes the band Little Women, uses the harmonic conventions of jazz only as a bonding mechanism. Setting up the sequences, unaccented buzzing, tinges of folk melodies and contrasting expositions, singular, unison and with the other saxes’ organ-like chords cocooning the soloist, are put into play at various times. Similarly the narrative moves from gentle, barely audible whispers to crescendos of fortissimo timbres. Utilizing all parts of the woodwind(s), specific passages concentrate on the highest alto-like register of the horns or guttural, baritone-like lowing. But no tone predominates; and there’s always underlying textural bonding. Consistently deconstructing and rebuilding the themes, near pastoral sections are succeeded by ferocious blow-outs with split tones and irregular vibrations cascading every which way. Then just as often, intricate, overlapping unison playing arises.
Reaching a climax in the final minutes of the third and lengthiest section, the concentrated reed drone becomes so intense it’s almost visible. Just as quickly though this basso-range wallowing is succeeded by wispy reed airiness that guides the piece to its conclusion, with the horns and program still accurately and memorably harmonized.
This CD, and the upcoming performance, promise air currents you probably won’t want to miss hearing.
Although the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has done all three, it is 14 years since Toronto's finest last set foot (a couple hundred feet actually) on the European continent, which makes them near strangers on their current five-nation tour.
The five-nation tour is actually only a five-city tour. It began near Vienna (the outdoor Grafenegg Festival outside the Austrian capital), continued in Amsterdam and Wiesbaden, currently finds the players in Helsinki; it will conclude in Reykjavik.
Not exactly a Napoleonic campaign, you may argue, but then, the days of the three-week multi-stop grand tour are virtually over, according to a representative of Harrison Parrot, the English agency responsible for managing this and many other orchestral visitations.