A wealth of material has accumulated over the holiday season as you will see from the bumper crop of reviews that follow. My own desk is stacked high with worthy offerings vying for attention. Here’s a selection of the cream that has risen to the top.
2009 was an ambitious year for the National Youth Orchestra under the direction of Alain Trudel, undertaking both Mahler’s Sixth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps. And a busy year for Trudel himself as founding director of the National Broadcast Orchestra of Canada (incorporated in January 2009 “to carry on the spirit of the disbanded CBC Radio Orchestra”), Music director and conductor of l’Orchestre Symphonique de Laval and conductor of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, a position he’s held since 2004. This year’s adventure with the NYOC is documented in an attractive package that includes 2 CDs with the above mentioned works along with Dreams of Flying by the orchestra’s administrative assistant Rob Teehan and Renaissance choral works by Orlando di Lasso and Thomas Greaves – yes, it seems the young musicians must sing as well as play. These are supplemented by a DVD featuring exhilarating performances of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Samy Moussa’s Cyclus and selections from Le Sacre du printemps. If the performances on this package are any indication, the future of orchestral music in Canada is in very good hands. Visit www.nyoc.org to view the podcast or purchase the discs.
The Talisker Players (www.taliskerplayers.ca) have just released their first CD, Where Words & Music Meet. The disc features an eclectic program of vocal gems ranging from Beethoven’s setting of Scottish Folk Songs through Poulenc’s charming Bestiary and Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Four Poems by Rabindranath Tagore to contemporary settings by Toronto composers Stephanie Moore, Andrew Ager and Alexander Rapoport. A particular coup is the world premiere recording of Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Tenebrae with soprano Teri Dunn. Golijov will be a strong presence in Toronto this month as Composer-in-Residence at the TSO’s New Creations Festival February 25 – March 3 at Roy Thomson Hall. Teri Dunn is also featured in Moore’s moving setting of In Flanders Fields with baritone Alexander Dobson. Dobson is joined by Vicki St. Pierre in selections from Ager’s raucous interpretation of Rex Deverell’s texts in Ellis Portal and Doug MacNaughton is featured in Rapoport’s deft setting of Carl Sandberg poems in Chicago Portraits. Norine Burgess and Geoffrey Butler share the honours in the playful Beethoven, with Krisztina Szabó centre stage in Poulenc’s miniatures. All in all a very successful debut recording for this Toronto ensemble which specializes in vocal chamber music under the artistic direction of violist Mary McGeer. The attractive packaging includes a very thorough booklet complete with libretti, artist biographies and a message from John Fraser, Master of Massey College where the Talisker Players are Ensemble-In-Residence. Concert note: Talisker’s season continues at Trinity Saint Paul’s Centre with “To the Sea in Ships” February 9 & 10 featuring Vicki St. Pierre, Keith Klassen and Alexander Dobson in music by Ireland, Sculthorpe and Hoiby.
Unlike the Talisker package, Tumbling Into Light - the latest offering from local Jewish roots band the Flying Bulgars - does not come with much in the way of liner notes. Even to find out what instruments the band members play you have to visit the website www.theflyingbulgars.com. Of course fans of the band, which is now in its third decade of performing in Toronto with five previous recordings to its credit, know that current membership includes founder David Buchbinder on trumpet and flugelhorn, co-leader Dave Wall vocals, Peter Lutek various reed instruments, Victor Bateman bass, Max Senitt drums and Tania Gill piano. They are joined on this exuberant release by drummer Frank Botos, percussionist Rick Shadrach Lazar, multi-instrumentalist Tim Postgate and producer Dave Newfeld. Originally called the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, the ensemble has expanded its mandate over the decades to specialize in “original music that is rooted in the soul of the Jews… chart[ing] a course between the calm waters of tradition and exciting, uncertain seas of innovation.” This CD is a strong testament to that. Concert note: Those of you who picked up this February issue as it hit the street may have time to catch what is being billed as a multi-media, multi-disciplinary performance of “Tumbling Into Light” featuring the Flying Bulgars with Andrea Mann (dance), Bruce MacDonald (film) and Lorenzo Savoini (design) in two performances at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts on January 31.
Another release which requires you to visit a website (www.in-c-remixed.com) for full information features performances by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble. In C Remixed is a two disc tribute to Terry Riley and features 18 different takes on the seminal minimalist work “In C” by artists “representing a true cross-section of musical genres… classical, pop, electronica, jazz, trip-hop, dance, techno, industrial, disco, ambient, and more” according to director Bill Ryan. It’s hard to imagine that it has been 45 years since Riley composed this masterwork in which any number of musicians using any combination of instruments work their way through 53 short phrases ingeniously designed to overlay effectively, each at their own pace, until all have arrived at the end in their own good time. This is a piece which is guaranteed to be different in each performance, yet always recognizable and always new. I must confess that I don’t think all of the artists involved in this project added significantly to the concept, but it is intriguing that musicians from such a broad spectrum have been influenced by this work and have wanted to make it their own. Among the notables are Jack Dangers, Masonic (Mason Bates), DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, Michael Lowenstein, Glenn Kotche and David Lang. The performance they are remixing was recorded at River City Studios, Grand Rapids, Michigan last year and is included as the final track on the second disc of this set.
At a recent New Music Concerts event local contemporary music aficionado and patron of the arts Roger D. Moore said he was surprised that some of the pieces using sound files actually seemed to pre-date the common use of computers in music. We agreed that in the case of the 1993 composition in question that originally it would have been designated for “voice and tape” but currently the pre-recorded sounds are on digital files cued on the computer. But computer music does have a longer history than we might suspect, with composers working in the Bell Laboratories affiliated with Princeton University as early as the 1950s. One composer who has been involved with computer generated sounds for many decades is John Melby, an American who taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until retiring Emeritus in 1997. Last January Melby’s 2008 Concerto for Violin, Piano and Computer was performed by Duo Diorama – Minghuan Xu, violin, and Winston Choi, piano – at the Music Gallery. A new Albany Records release (TROY1124) includes this work along with Choi’s performance of the 2006 Concerto No.2 for Piano and Computer and a much earlier Concerto for Computer and Orchestra from 1987 performed by the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Joel Eric Suben. It is intriguing to hear not only the changes in computer sounds over the two decades separating the works, but also the continuity. Also interesting is the role shift from computer as soloist in the earlier work, to computer as orchestra in the recent concertos. This is not to say that Melby is simply mimicking orchestral instruments, far from it. The distinctive timbres of the invented sounds in the accompaniment leave us in no doubt that these are works for the future, not simple reflections of the past.
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