Sometimes by may the new music season is starting to sputter a bit. But not this year. Thanks in part to an astonishing number of events at the two “Galleries” there’s no shortage of sonic solace for adventurous ears. But even without Gallery 345 and the Music Gallery, there is much on offer. The season it seems is going out like a lion.

24_forty_years_of_foley_24Once again, music theatre columnist Robert Wallace, has scooped me on a story with serious new music credentials, Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie’s From the House of Mirth which runs, with various start times, May 9 to 13. (Wallace’s treatment of the show starts on page 15.) Of particular interest for this column are the Rodney Sharman/Alex Poch-Goldin score and libretto. My awareness of composer Rodney Sharman’s work in the genre goes back to the opera Elsewhereless, with Atom Egoyan in 1999. Librettist Poch-Goldin comes to mind, most immediately, for his work with composer Omar Daniel in The Shadow, probably the most striking full-length work of Tapestry New Opera’s 2009 season. Both Elsewhereless and The Shadow, in fact, are the product of partnerships that were struck in Tapestry’s unique composer/librettist laboratory — the “LibLab” as it is called — and came into being through numerous iterations over an extended period of time.

It’s not surprising, therefore, to see another Tapestry alumna, composer Abigail Richardson, drafted for a recent “wordy” Toronto Symphony Orchestra commission. “The Hockey Sweater,” based on the iconic Roch Carrier short story, will premiere Saturday May 12 at the child-friendly hour of 1:30pm, with Carrier himself delivering the text. Richardson’s compositional ability to stick-handle music and text is well earned. With librettist Marjorie Chan, she won a 2009 Dora Award for outstanding new musical/opera for Sanctuary Song, inspired by the true story of an elderly elephant’s journey to freedom. While the show officially “premiered” at the 2008 Luminato festival it too went through successive Tapestry-fostered stages of development after Chan and Richardson first met at “LibLab” in 2003.

CONTINUUM: Returning, for a moment, though, to Coleman Lemieux: Laurence Lemieux’s name caught my eye a second time while working on this month’s column, in the context of yet another interesting, musically significant show coming to the 918 Bathurst Centre, which is rapidly coming into its own as an alternative venue for ambitiously scaled productions. In the fall, 918 Bathurst hosted bcurrent’s production of Nicole Brooks’ Obeah Opera, profiled in the November WholeNote. Now, from May 27 to May 29, it will be home to Continuum Contemporary Music’sContes pour enfants pas sages: 8 cautionary entertainments.” (Caution: The middle two of the four performances are daytime school shows.) “Contes” is billed as “wisdom and bewilderness from the animal kingdom: a multi-layered, multi-media setting of all eight fables of French poet Jacques Prévert by Canadian composer Christopher Butterfield.” Not surprisingly the British Columbia-born Butterfield has other operatic and multi-media fare under his composing belt. During 15 years as a performance artist in Toronto, he played in a rock band (Klo) and worked as a freelance composer and conductor.

It is not surprising to see Lemieux involved in the project, either. For one thing she and Butterfield have collaborated extensively before. For another, the show’s combination of zany edginess and potentially cumbersome large forces (Choir 21, Continuum Ensemble, tenor, soprano, light show) make it a perfect challenge for Lemieux’s deftness at mise-en-scene. David Fallis, no mean musical traffic cop either, will conduct.

While on the subject of Continuum, I should also point out that at time of writing there are still two of the four “New Music 101” Monday evening events to go (May 7 and May 14) and Continuum is “at bat” during the May 7 event, along with Contact Contemporary Music. Jointly presented by the Toronto New Music Alliance and the Toronto Reference Library, and hosted by writer/critic Robert Everett-Green, the two music presenters bringing works to each lecture/demonstration as often as not bring slices of works in progress. So no guarantees, but attendees at the May 7 event might just get a sneak preview of Continuum’s ambitious new work.

Contact Contemporary Music also has a show this month, May 12 at the Music Gallery, titled “Short Stories,” and billed as “an exploration of the symbiotic relationship between sound and vision, from narrative to abstract storytelling.” Expect some insight into that one, too.

And speaking of the Music Gallery, check our listings (or their website), for Saturday May 5, Monday May 7 and Tuesday May 15, all at 8pm, for three events, two of them with out-of-town partners, reflective of the Gallery’s mission and mandate.

CHORAL TO THE FORE: One of these years someone better qualified than I will do a thesis on the subject of the role choirs and choral music play in keeping a culture of contemporary classical and post-classical composing alive. So in honour of The WholeNote’s tenth annual choral Canary Pages, here’s a head-spinningly dense list (the “Begats” we call them round here) illustrative of this choral/new symbiosis: May 5 at 7:30pm, Toronto Children’s Chorus’ “Mystery and Mastery” includes works by Daley, Halley and Patriquin; May 5 at 8pm, Da Capo Chamber Choir presents “Celebrating Home,” including works by Schafer, Chatman and other Canadian composers; May 5 at 2pm, King Edward Choir presents “Feathers on the Page” the world premiere of a commission by playwright/composer Leslie Arden; May 7 at 7:30pm, the Elmer Iseler Singers’ “Get Music! Educational Outreach Concert” is largely built on Canadian works; May 12 at 8pm, Bell’Arte Singers present “Communal: Ways of Being” including a newly commisioned work by Sirett; also May 12 at 8pm, Oriana Women’s Choir’s “Earth, Air & Water” includes works by Telfer, Smallman, Daley and Watson Henderson and premiered works by Barron and Sawarna; May 13 at 4pm, the Canadian Men’s Chorus’ “Out of the Depths: An Exploration of Sacred Music” offers Murray’s Book of Lamentations (a world premiere); May 16 at 7:30pm: Toronto Choral Society presents “Civic Spirits,” song and story inspired by Toronto’s ghost tales including a Finley premiere and other new works; June 2 at 7:30pm, Mississauga Children’s Choir’s “City Scapes” comprises music exploring sounds and sights of modern cities including a new work by M. Coghlan; June 2 at 8pm, Jubilate Singers “A World in Canada” is built on music by Canadian composers with various cultural influences, including Glick, Raminsh, Robinovitch and others.

All that being said, I’ve not mentioned perhaps the nerviest new music choral offering of the lot, namely a performance in Waterloo, Saturday May 5 at 8pm, of Christine Duncan’s Element Choir. The ensemble sometimes consists of 75 singers or more, augmented by percussion, bass, trumpet and organ. For those who think that “choral” and “improvisational” go together about as well as a fish and a bicycle, this is a performance not to be missed. “With these extraordinary sonic resources in these capable hands, the Element Choir promises to be a spectacular experience, a joyful celebration of the human voice in creative music” says NUMUS’ own blurb about the event. And they’re probably right.

GALLERY 345: last, I want to return to a topic I started the “regular” season with: kudos to Gallery 345 at 345 Sorauren. Between Friday May 4 and Sunday June 3, I count no fewer than ten events (May 4, 9, 11, 13, 22, 24, 25 and 26, and June 1 and 3), that are likely to be of interest to readers of this column.

Again, check our listings for details, or scroll the Gallery 345 website. It’s very functional. You will find yourself viewing in microcosm the astonishing range of performances and events that keep the new music scene ticking along. I will single out only one, because it exemplifies the aspect of community that places like Gallery 345 serve to foster: Sunday June 3, at 8pm, in celebration of composer Daniel Foley’s 60th birthday, Gallery 345 presents “40 Years of Foley” featuring chamber works by Daniel Foley composed over the past four decades, in celebration of his 60th birthday, and performed by the likes of Robert Aitken and Dianne Aitken, flutes; Scott Good, trombone; Joseph Petric, accordion; Trio Poulet (violin, cello, piano); Tiina Kiik, accordion; Richard Herriott, piano; and others. The event is free.

David Perlman can be reached at

Composer ann southam, who died November 25, 2010, continues to live through her music, appearing on concert programs with an insistent frequency far beyond the initial spate of “tribute concerts” one might have expected. What is becoming clearer with the passage of time is that the music, as much as the memory, is of enduring value. That being said, two gifted pianists in the community, Christina Petrowska Quilico and Eve Egoyan, are doing much to keep the Southam legacy alive, both through their recordings and through live performance.

for_uno_in_with_the_new_tdt_-_company_members_in_rivers_rehearsal._photo_by_guntar_kravisThis month, for example, on April 1, with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra in Markham, the indefatigable Petrowska Quilico performs three Southam works as part of Kindred Spirits’ one-night “New Music festival” concert. And then, April 25–28, she provides the entire accompaniment to a new ballet, Rivers, choreographed to Southam’s music by Toronto Dance Theatre’s Christopher House. Egoyan, meanwhile, brings Southam’s Simple Lines of Enquiry to a benefit concert for MusicWorks magazine, April 19 at Gallery 345. Both are events worth saying more about.

I first became aware of the TDT Rivers project last fall during a 20-minute video interview I did with Petrowska Quilico for The WholeNote’s ongoing video interview series,

I have to admit, the scope of the undertaking didn’t fully register at the time. House has worked for a year with Petrowska Quilico and then TDT’s ten dancers to create what he calls “a fluid and unpredictable counterpoint to the music, reflecting the rushing cascades, luxuriant eddies and attentive stillnesses in the score … alternating between large-scale, kinetic strokes and intricately-crafted movement conversations. I hope to build a work” he says, “in which both music and dance retain autonomy yet their marriage feels surprisingly, deliciously inevitable.”

“I think that is a brilliant quote” says Petrowska Quilico. “Christopher and I have met many times during the year and began with a first rehearsal in September. It was a revelation for the dancers to perform with live music. They had previously been using my Centrediscs CD of the complete Rivers. I felt an unbelievable electricity while playing. Although I couldn’t really watch the dancers I felt the vibrations of their movements or their stillness. This is real chamber music, intimate, structured yet spontaneous in a mutual give and take. The dancers take their cue from my music and tempo and I adjust the music and tempo to their movements.”

Southam’s music, she says, is what makes it all possible. “I believe that this is her masterpiece, written in her prime and showing her mastery of fast and slow music. I love performing these pieces more than any other of her works. I never tire of the changing patterns and the spontaneous and improvisatory mood of the music.”

House and Petrowska Quilico collaborated on the choice of music structuring it so there is an ebb and flow. Rivers will play as an hour long piece “with swirling fast sections and reflective intimate and introspective segments” Petrowska Quilico says. “I can’t wait to perform with the dancers.”

As mentioned, Rivers will play at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront, April 25–28.See the listings for details.

By comparison, Eve Egoyan’s evening of Ann Southam this month will be a very intimate affair, with all eyes on the piano, and in a venue entirely befitting the piece. Of Egoyan’s earlier performance of Simple Lines of Enquiry in November 2009, reviewer Stanley Fefferman wrote, for, “being in the concert hall while Eve Egoyan plays the 12 movements of Ann Southam’s Simple Lines of Enquiry for solo piano is like being in an art gallery where 12 abstract canvases hang on white walls. Just as the experience of visual art occurs in a silent gallery, so these sound paintings generate an atmosphere of silence. This results in a kind of melting of the affections, as if Ms. Egoyan’s concentrated discipline develops a musical posture that enables a sense of fluidity to flow towards relaxation and the possibility of bliss.”

Fitting, then, that this performance should actually be in a gallery, with paintings on the walls. Gallery 345 continues to develop as a musical venue, attracting an eclectic range of performers with its intimacy and (literal as well as metaphoric) lack of veneer. Great, too, that the event is a benefit for MusicWorks magazine, a true original and one of the best little magazines around.

Speaking of intimate events, I’ll be holding my breath that the Toronto Public Library labour dispute resolves itself speedily (and satisfactorily), because the Toronto Reference Library is getting set to host the second annual New Music 101 — four consecutive Monday evenings, in the Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium, commencing April 23. The series, devised and curated cooperatively by the Toronto New Music Alliance, was hosted last year by music journalist John Terauds, formerly a Torstar standout, and now, among other things, the host of one of the better (and busier) musical blogs around — “The only reason I’m not back this year is that I’d committed myself to teaching on Monday evenings before they asked me to return for this year’s series” Terauds explained. “I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s series. It ended up providing a cross section of new music genres and performance styles while also providing people with an intimate setting in which to interact with the artists.” (This year’s host will be another Toronto journalistic standout, Robert Everett-Green.)

Format this year will be the same as last year: the events run for one hour, with two new music presenters sharing the time. A short work, or work in progress, is introduced and performed, with time for discussion afterwards. April 23, for example, New Music Concerts will reprise a commissioned work for two accordions, performed by Joe Macerollo and Ina Henning, from their opening concert of the season. And the Array Ensemble will serve up selections still being rehearsed, for an upcoming concert (in partnership with Toy Piano Composers), April 28 at the Music Gallery.

“This [approach] is, in my opinion, the best way to break down many of the inhibitions people have about sampling new music,” Terauds says. Best of all, because the Library itself does the outreach to its members, the series reaches a genuinely new audience.

So, as I say, I’m holding my breath that the current ugliness of city hall politics doesn’t cut off at the knees a truly hopeful initiative.

for_uno_in_with_the_new_groupshottpcGetting back to the aforementioned Array/Toy Piano Composer concert at the Music Gallery April 28, Toy Piano Composers may sound like a flippant name, but the collective’s intentions, while infused with light-heartedness, are certainly not flip. Formed by Monica Pearce and Chris Thornborrow in July 2008, TPC is now a a ten-composer group, has presented 12 concerts and 85 new works, and has collaborated with TorQ Percussion Quartet, junctQín keyboard collective, and the Sneak Peek Orchestra to name a few. Co-Founder Thornborrow had this to say about the upcoming Music Gallery event. “We are honoured to be collaborating with the Array Chamber Ensemble. They have been dedicated to the performance of new music for 40 years and it’s very exciting for us to be writing for an ensemble that has been so inspirational with their daring concerts and composers’ workshops. I think the audience is in for quite a memorable evening.”

David Perlman can be reached at

Peter Eötvös

If you are a follower of new music but didn’t know the name of Hungarian composer/conductor/educator Peter Eötvös till now, don’t be too hard on yourself. According to Robert Aitken, “There are many like him, with huge careers in Europe, and correspondingly busy, but they have no reputation on this side, until someone invites them here, and sometimes not even after that.” New Music Concerts artistic director Aitken extended such an invitation to Eötvös more than three years ago to come and do a concert, of Eötvös’ own devising, for NMC. “I’d have liked him to come in 2011,” Aitken says, “but when I reached him I was told there were already plans under way for him to come in 2012, and there was a very slim chance he would have time for both.”

Those “plans under way” were for Eötvös to play a leading curatorial role in this year’s TSO New Creations Festival, a series of three concerts, March 1, 3 and 7 at Roy Thomson Hall.

With the same blend of pragmatism and cooperation that manifested itself between Soundstreams and the Canadian Opera Company during composer Kaaija Saariaho’s visit last month, Aitken hitched the NMC wagon to the TSO calendar. The upshot is that three days after the March 7 final concert of New Creations, Eötvös will also do a concert with NMC, on March 10, at the Glenn Gould Studio.

Aitken’s connections with Eötvös come from Aitken’s many years teaching in Freiburg, Germany, with Eötvös based in Karlsruhe, “one town away.” Aitken is looking forward immensely to the whole visit, not just the NMC leg of it. “He [Eötvös] is well respected as a composer in Europe, and it is deserved. He just doesn’t make mistakes. Clever like a fox, is what I would call him, a French expressionist but with an absolutely distinctive Hungarian accent! And his conducting is as good.”

18-19-New-Music_peter_oundjian_formal_08It’s interesting to compare the role of Eötvös as “curator” as it applies to the NMC and TSO legs of the visit. The NMC concert is very tightly knit, as befits its smaller scale, and it’s possible to see how each of the choices on the programme comes directly from Eötvös himself. But in the case of New Creations, with the best will in the world, there are many more factors at play. There are works that have been commissioned from local composers to fit in with a theme. There are the happy accidents arising from meetings on the road. The significant presence of clarinettist/composer Jörg Widmann in the series, for example is as likely to have materialized from Widmann’s playing a Mozart concerto under Oundjian’s baton somewhere in Europe, as from a connection between Eötvös and Widmann. But of such happy accidents is true creative ferment born. Every year Oundjian’s and the TSO’s genuine commitment to the New Creations Fedtival as a significant part of their cultural mandate becomes more clearly defined. And the event itself becomes more focused and exhilarating. With the steeply reduced ticket price at RTH, there’s no reason the Hall shouldn’t be rocking for three days with symphonic sound that invigorates the players’ and the audience’s ears.

Esprit Orchestra

At the other end of the month, March 29, Alex Pauk’s Esprit Orchestra continues its drive to bring symphonic music to a hall large enough to handle an orchestra with serious new music chops. “Turned On By Texture” is their fourth and final Koerner Hall concert this season, featuring, among other works, Jamie Parker in Harry Somers’ Third Piano Concerto, and Xenakis’ Jonquaies. (If it wasn’t too late to organize, I’d suggest that Esprit offer half price rush tickets to anyone who shows up with ticket stubs from any two of the three New Creations concerts that kicked off the month!)

By the way, for a really interesting insight into what keeps Pauk motivated, check out Jack Buell’s Q&A with Pauk in “We Are All Music’s Children” this month (page 68). What’s in the magazine is just part of a much longer piece on the web.

The Classical Continuum

Returning to Eötvös’ concert with NMC March 10, it was interesting to me that he chose to programme Stravinsky as part of the mix. There’s a striking number of concerts this month where to a significant extent presenters seem to be emphasizing the classical/post-classical continuum, rather than the great divide. March 11, for example, the Stuttgart Chamber Choir and Soundstreams Choir 21 are bringing a programme to the Carlu that includes Ligeti, Mahler, Bach, Penderecki and a Frehner world premiere. And on March 22, in a Music Toronto Discovery Series concert, Véronique Mathieu, violin, and Stephanie Chua, piano, present a programme of works that includes, among others, works by Sokolović, Clara Schumann and Heather Schmidt. And another example: Kindred Spirits Orchestra’s Markham New Music Festival on April 1 offers Stravinsky, Current, Bartók, Honegger, Richard Strauss and Southam.

Straight Up

And, all too briefly for those who prefer their new music straight up, check out:

• March 9: Music Gallery. Emerging Artist Series: Emergents II: Ina Henning, accordion and Marc-Olivier Lamontagne, guitar.

• March 12: Arraymusic. Array Session #11: An Improv Concert.

• March 16: Toronto New Music Projects. Stefan und Steffen: The Music of Wolpe and Schleiermacher.

• April 3: Canadian Opera Company. Chamber Music Series: Primitive Forces.

And finally a reminder: details on all these, and a whole lot more new music, can be found in our magazine listings, or, even more readily by searching “New” in the listings on our website.

Cage Watch: 180 days & counting

18-19_New_Music_JohnCageLast issue I pointed out that although the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth will not be until September 5, 2012, among presenters of music, large and little, the celebratory clock has already started to tick. So, from now, and for the next 180 days (February 29 to September 5), let The WholeNote Cage Watch begin.

(Bemused readers should take a moment to read Pam Margles review, on page 69, of the reissue of Cage’s seminal book Silence for a visceral sense of what the fuss will be about.)

March 2 at Koerner Hall, Soundstreams/Royal Conservatory present “So Percussion: Cage@100,” works by Cage and a new work by turntablist Nicole Lizée.

March 22 at Gallery 345, Daniel Gaspard, piano, and Ellen Furey, dancer, present “John Cage, Sonatas in Movement.”

October 25 to 28 a conference,“The Future of Cage: Credo,” will be presented at the Graduate Centre for Drama, U of T. Details to follow.

The lack of space for a full-out “In With The New” column this month is more than somewhat offset by the fact that several of our other columnists in the issue have stolen my thunder anyway!

20Robert Wallace, page 8, talks about Obeah Opera, Nicole Brooks’ new work, as well as about Queen of Puddings’ Beckett Feck-it, at Canadian Stage. Chris Hoile, pages 18 and 19, talks about two works I would otherwise have drawn attention to: the COC production of Kaija Saariaho’s opera, L’Amour de loin, playing at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts; and Toronto Operetta Theatre’s first professional rollout of the John Beckwith/James Reaney opus Taptoo!

And there’s more. Pamela Margles, in the concert notes to her review of Kaija Saariaho: Visions, Narratives, Dialogues (“BookShelf,”) draws attention to four other concerts that will feature Saariaho’s music during the composer’s visit. (Three of these, by the way, are under Soundstreams’s auspices — and I will return to a discussion of Soundstreams.) Even our CD reviewers get into the act. Andrew Timar’s review of a Finnish Radio Symphony recording of Saariaho’s music, page 62, references L’Amour de loin. And a Leslie Mitchell-Clarke review, on the same page, of two + two, a new release by TorQ Percussion Quartet, is followed by a note pointing out TorQ’s appearance in the final concert of the U of T New Music Festival (February 5).

Of Toronto’s major presenters of new music (Array, Contact!, Continuum, Esprit, Gallery 345, Music Gallery, New Music Concerts, Queen of Puddings, Soundstreams and Tapestry New Opera), Soundstreams is the one to which we have, so far this season, devoted the least ink in this column. This month is as good as any to redress that, because the company has an extraordinary diversity of material on offer. In addition to the three Saariaho contributions referred to earlier, Soundstreams also presents two full-fledged Koerner Hall productions. The first of these, The Sealed Angel, billed as a music drama, is the work of Rodion Shchedrin, a Russian composer born in 1932. In typical Soundstreams fashion, this concert is an intensely collaborative project, involving the Amadeus Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers and ProArteDanza dance company. And then, book-ending the current listings period, Soundstreams is, as far as I can tell, the first of the aforementioned major presenters out of the blocks with a concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of composer John Cage’s birth. Titled “So Percussion: Cage @100” the concert will feature works by Cage and turntablist Nicole Lizée.

With the 100th anniversary of Cage’s birth not till September, pianist Kate Boyd is also fast off the mark, with back to back performances Thursday, February 16: first a noon hour lecture/recital on Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes at University of Waterloo; then a concert the same evening of the complete Sonatas and Interludes, for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Not to be outdone, the Music Gallery, a week earlier, on February 10, presents a programme titled “Post-Classical Series: The Cold War Songbook – Pilgrims and Progress” which also features Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (1948) performed by Vicky Chow, piano. The “Cold War Songbook” then continues February 11 with a programme of piano works by Ustvolskaya, Carter and Feldman, featuring the pianistic post-classical virtuosity of Stephen Clarke and Simon Docking.

The next day, February 12, at the Music Gallery, it’s Continuum Contemporary Music back in action with a a programme featuring music by Ligeti, Oesterle, Current, Klanac and Richard Marsella, who also guests on the barrel organ. And it’s busy busy as usual all month at upstart Gallery 345, with concerts worth noting on February 19 (pianist Adam Sherkin), 20 (soprano Xin Wang), 25 (mezzo Marta Herman), and 28 (Les Amis Concerts); and on March 7 (Norman Adams, cello; Lee Pui Ming, piano; Erin Donovan, percussion).

It’s a bit ironic to be giving the city’s largest ensembles the shortest shrift in this column, but that’s sometimes the way things fall out. First, Esprit Orchestra continues the season’s torrid pace with their third, full-scale Koerner Hall concert, on February 26. Titled “Gripped By Passion,” it features works by Vivier, Scelsi, Rea and Schnittke, the vocal magic of mezzo, Krisztina Szabó and dazzling TSO violist Teng Li.

And March 1, 3 and 7, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents its eighth annual New Creations Festival of which we will have much more to say in the coming issue.

10_vinko_globokar_-_kolo_1992Like many in the global village, I have become a fan of the Metropolitan Opera’s LIVE from the Met in movie houses, combining as it does all the lazy pleasures of movie going (a director telling you where to look, a soundtrack telling you what to feel) with an almost voyeuristic immediacy. I am behind the scenes of one of the world’s great opera houses, or face to face with the four feet tall tonsils of the world’s greatest bass-baritone, as the case may be. Add to this usual movie stuff the additional thrill, usually reserved for NASCAR or other such blood sports, of knowing that the whole thing might crash and burn right before my eyes, but almost never does, and I am hooked. Why? Because it’s LIVE!

Except that it isn’t. It’s “live from,” but not live at. At, in this case, is the Queensway Cineplex Odeon, TimBits, mint tea and all. Even the Met’s celebrity greeters acknowledge as much. One of them always comes on screen during one or the other intermission, backstage, to remind us, the TimBits audience, that watching this way isn’t the real thing, and that to fully experience the magic of opera we should pop down to New York, or [tiny pause] go out and support our local opera company. My most recent foray to the Odeon was for an enormously satisfying production of Phillip Glass’s Satyagraha, during which bass baritone Eric Owens (Alberich in the Met’s current Ring Cycle) appeared during the intermission to do the mandatory “live opera is real magic” speech. Even in his sonorous tones it came off stilted and, dare we say it, just a titch insincere.

More’s the pity, because it’s the absolute bottom-line truth. There is an innate, unmatchable theatricality in congregating live for music. It cannot be matched or emulated in other media, no matter how grand. And nowhere is this more evident than in the performance of new music.

Ironically, the first performance I want to draw to your attention, as an example of theatrical spectatorship, seems to negate that principle, because, to a significant extent, it takes place in the pitch dark. I heard about it from composer Brian Current, director of the New Music Ensemble of the Glenn Gould School. The work is Austrian spectral composer Georg Haas’ monumental In Vain, for 24 musicians and lighting (2000) Thursday December 8, 7:30pm and Friday December 9, 2:30pm, in the Conservatory Theatre of the Royal Conservatory.

“It’s a 70 minute piece, really a spectral wonder, a beautiful and substantial work, based almost entirely on musical colour,” Current says. “Sometimes they play in the pitch black, other times there are ghostly flashes of light.” They will be blocking the windows out on the Conservatory Theatre to get complete darkness. “The ensemble is all graduate students and they have been working hard on this difficult material, even memorizing the portions in the dark. We are also very fortunate that GF Haas is also coming in for these shows from Austria, just to work with us and to deliver a talk at 6pm before the Saturday performance.”

As it happens, the two In Vain performances fall slap bang right in the middle of what is undoubtedly December’s new music main event (the Vinko Globokar invasion, November 29 to December 11) so here’s hoping it won’t be overlooked. After all, somewhere in the tranformation of noises in the night to sounds in the dark, the truly theatrical nature of music has its beginnings.

By contrast, Queen of Puddings Music Theatre’s presentation of Galgenlieder à 3 (Gallows Songs) by Sofia Gubaidulina affirms its theatricality quite explicitly, billing itself as “a concert drama.” Queen of Puddings has always had an aesthetic of physical, singing theatre, going all the way back to their first production, “Mad for All Reasons” in 1996, which was built around Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King. Part of that aesthetic is curatorial, latching onto music that has an intrinsic theatricality rather than adding visual cheap tricks to jazz up the musically ordinary.

Gubaidulina’s Galgenlieder fits the bill. “It’s a 15-song cycle — sung in the original German — featuring the text of German poet Christian Morgenstern (1871–1914)” says Dáirine Ní Mheadra, QoP co-founder and director. “Gubaidulina’s stature in the world of contemporary music is enormous — she is one of the pre-eminent composers alive today. Her music is dramatic and intense.”

Born in Christopol in the Tatar Republic of the Soviet Union in 1931, Gubaidulina’s music was an escape from the terrifying socio-political atmosphere of Soviet Russia, Ní Mheadra says. “For this reason, she associated music with human transcendence and mystical spiritualism. Bringing these qualities plus a wicked sense of humour to her settings of Morgenstern is a knockout combination. And to have a star singer like Betty Allison singing this Galgenlieder is sumptuous. Betty’s sound has voluptuousness and an emotional depth to it that is profoundly moving.”

From Ladysmith, BC, by way of the Canadian Opera Company ensemble, Allison has been exercising her new music “chops,” coming to town hot off the title role in the Pacific Opera premiere of Mary’s Wedding (music Andrew P. MacDonald, libretto Stephen Massicotte.) In Galgenlieder she shares the stage with Ryan Scott, percussion, and Joseph Phillips, double bass, both accustomed to swimming outside of the mainstream as well as in.

Phillips, a former student of “tune ’em in fifths” bass virtuoso Joel Quarrington, has made frequent appearances with Art of Time Ensemble and is a member of Hotland Trio, a moody Balkan/Canadian trio (with violinist Aleksandar Gajic and accordionist Milos Popovic) that brings serious classical muscle to moody, driven, strongly rhythmic repertoire.

12_percussionists_kitchen_ryan_scottAnd Ryan Scott is one of the most versatile, accomplished (and busy) percussionists in this or any other town. Case in point, he will take the stage for Galgenlieder a week after a scorching performance of 20th century Japanese percussion titan Maki Ishii’s South-Fire-Summer for Esprit Orchestra at Koerner Hall November 30 — a work of extraordinary complexity requiring a percussion array the size of (and better stocked than) the average kitchen. And just one day later, December 9, it will be out of the proverbial frying pan into the improvational fire for Scott, as he anchors the second half of the first of the two Vingko Globokar concerts to which I referred briefly at the beginning of this column and to which I now return.

Vinko Globokar, French avant-garde composer and trombonist, returns to Toronto at the invitation of New Music Concerts’ artistic director Robert Aitken, almost forty years (1972) after Aitken brought him here in the first place.

He’s been back in between, but this is a 12-day Vinko-fest, culminating Sunday December 11, at Betty Oliphant Theatre, 8pm, in an NMC presentation of works spanning four decades, ranging from Fluide (1967) for brass and (very extended) percussion through Eppure si Muove (2003) for solo trombone (Globokar) and an ensemble of 11 disparate instruments including cimbalom, accordion, saxophone, synthesizer and electric guitar, without conductor. In between are Discours VII (1987) for brass quintet, which “attacks problems posed by spatialisation of sound, mobility of sound sources and different degrees of communication between five people,” and Eisenberg (1990) for four groups of four: brass instruments ad libitum (such as Tibetan horn, Moroccan nafir, conch), melodic instruments, harmony instruments and musicians who work with noises (unspecified percussion).

Even this mere recitation of ideas and instrumentation gives a tiny taste of the infinite variety, and jest, of this pioneer of modern trombone technique. Quite simply this is an individual who never repeats himself compositionally or artistically, challenging audiences and players (be warned, they are not always entirely distinct!) anew with every new outing and every new work.

Events in his visit will already be under way by the time this issue hits the street: at the University of Toronto, where Globokar is the Michael and Sonja Koerner Distinguished Visitor in Composition — improvisation workshops, forums, lecture, and a Globokar Colloquium at the Robert Gill Theatre. The following week Globokar will work extensively with the musicians of the New Music Concerts Ensemble and give masterclasses and improvisation workshops through the auspices of the Music Gallery. Some of the results of all this activity will be on display at the Music Gallery, Friday December 9, in the first half of the concert, titled “Back to Back.” The second half of that concert is an extended music/theatre piece Terres brulées, ensuite co-presented by Toronto New Music Projects and Continuum, which bring me back to percussionist Ryan Scott.

Earlier, you may recall, I mentioned that, for Scott, going from Galgenlieder on December 8 to Globokar at the Music Gallery the next day would be like going from frying pan to fire. Here’s how he described it (in the Continuum Contemporary Music November newsletter).

“After intermission is the epic Terres brulées, ensuite (Burned Lands, Then). Prepare for global annihilation! This trio for saxophone, piano and percussion featuring Wallace Halladay, Stephen Clarke (piano) and myself, is of legendary proportions and is rather difficult to describe: 6 saxophones, a prepared (and lightly abused) piano, over 70 percussion instruments (e.g. #43 “plank”) spread around the stage in 7 stations, 115 performance instructions (e.g. #21 Saw the plank and hammer in a nail), … live electronics … What else? Hmmm … a motet … a foghorn … oh, and explosions with fire (well, we’re working on that).”

There’s a wonderful interview with Globokar by British composer John Palmer available on the website of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community. For the curious it’s a great place to start.

What I got from it was the sense of energetic decades of musical inquiry, endlessly parsing and reparsing the relationships between music and speech, and rendering into music the theatricality of relationship. Part of his secret, I suspect, is a thick skin, the ability not to judge his own work in terms of success or failure. As he puts it:

“What is sure is that a musical work is a document which will remain. It’s a document that testifies certain things that happened at a certain time in society. This is an historical truth which cannot be denied. In one hundred years people will say, ‘This music reflects certain events that happened in those years.’ … L’art pour l’art as such does not interest me, at all.”


“Beyond Sound,” the 2012 iteration of the annual New Music Festival at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, coordinated by composer Norbert Palej, features Swedish composer Anders Hillborg as the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition and runs from January 22 to February 5. It’s billed as an exploration of “the diverse scientific and artistic interests that form the musical landscape of the 21st century,” with a focus on Hillborg’s work. It’s an event warranting much more of a mention than this. Happily, it’s well covered in our concert listings, and in “The ETCeteras” (page 67), our regular compilation of musical workshops, forums, lectures, etc. It is also very well described on the Faculty’s own website under “Events.”

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