COC’s New Opera: Hadrian, Coming in 2018/2019.

The official announcement is tomorrow, but today, there was a generous amount of news spilling forth about the Canadian Opera Company’s first new opera commission in years. Canadian-American singer, songwriter, and composer Rufus Wainwright, along with Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor, have been commissioned to a new opera for the COC’s 2018/2019 season titled ‘Hadrian’.

I’m going to hold any judgement until I’ve heard more about the venture, however it will be interesting to see if Wainwright (who is known more for his pop and songwriting than his composing) and MacIvor can breathe some life into the new opera scene in Toronto. Yes, we have Tapestry Opera, a group that does brilliant work involving emerging and established Canadian composers. We also had, until August 31st of this year, the Queen of Pudding Music Theatre. However main stage opera in Canada seems to be a rarity. The COC’s last production was James Rolfe’s Swoon (2006).

So, as I said, I’m withholding judgement until I hear more about the project, but in the meantime, let’s sit and watch what happens.

– Paolo Griffin

Preview: Weekend of November 29th

As the holiday season nears, the number of concerts happening every week or weekend decreases slightly. However fear not. For there is always at least one concert going on in Toronto somewhere. I should also mention, I will be using this less populated review period to type up some opinion pieces, as well as guest opinion pieces by fellow composers and musicians. I also encouraged you to have a look at this link:

I was a composer-in-residence at an Artistic Centre in Finland in September, and I met some wonderfully talented composers and musicians. I was impressed by the quality of the new music in Finland, and the way in which the arts are viewed, and so I want to bring some of that music here. My concert will be a program of half Canadian, half Finnish works, on March 14th at Array Space. Again, check out the link above for more details.

Now, on to the concerts for this weekend.

Friday November 29th:

8:00 PM: The Goethe-Institute, the Music Gallery and Yatra Arts co-presents music of a different kind. East German electronics, Frank Bretschneider and his ‘Subharchord’ instrument, and a world premiere by Michael Trommer make up this interesting night of music and sound.

Saturday November 30th:

8:00 PM: The Hart House Symphonic Band presents a program of music by composers Percy Grainger, Samuel Hazo, and Eric Whitacre, along with some popular music, and holiday fare.

8:00 PM: Composer and accordionist Michael Century offers an interesting mix of new and old pieces for accordion and piano, along with some electronics. Jazz and folk influences will be present, and a good time should be had. Presented by the Music Gallery.

– Paolo Griffin

Preview: Week of November 25th

There are three events happening this week. All are worthwhile viewings.

Tuseday November 26th:

7:30 PM: The Toronto Arts & Letter’s Club will be holding a memorial concert for American-born, Canadian composer Larry Lake, who passed away earlier this year. Larry founded Canadian Electronics Ensemble, and worked with the CBC for almost 30 years.

8:00 PM: Music Toronto and Eve Egoyan put on a concert at the Jane Mallet Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The program contains music by Americans James Tenney, Piers Hellawell, and Linda C. Smith (who is based out of Toronto), as well as a work by English composer Michael Finnissy.

Thursday November 28th:

7:00 PM: The Canadian Music Centre’s yearly project ‘New Music for Young Musicians’  comes to a head with this concert; Featuring works by Canadian composers chosen to write educational new works for young musicians. Also sharing the stage for this concert is Toronto-based composer/pianist Heather Schmidt and cellist Shauna Rolston who will be launching their new Centrediscs CD ‘Icicles of Fire’. Works by Schmidt, Nick Storring, Patrick Horn, Darlene Chepil Reid, and Monica Pierce will be played.

– Paolo Griffin

Preview: Weekend of November 22nd

This weekend there are two events happening in the city.

Saturday November 23rd:

8:00 PM: InterAccess presents new works by three experimental musicians. Canadians Nick Storring, Matt Rogalsky, and Crys Cole, will be on hand to present new sounds, instrument tunings, and other sounds and how they create their works.

This concert takes place at 9 Ossington Ave. in Toronto.

Sunday November 24th:

7:00 PM: A Tribute to Canadian Women Composers. This concert, which celebrates the work of female Canadian composers, takes place at the Music Gallery. The music world is still dealing with its fair share of sexism, however the work of these composers transcended those boundaries, and they left us with a wealth of great Canadian music. Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico joins the Koffler Chamber Orchestra and Jacques Israelovitch for this tribute concert, featuring concertos by Violet Archer and Heather Schmidt, as well as works by Larysa Kuzmenko and Ann Southam.

– Paolo Griffin

Review: Thin Edge’s Unusual Show

At the beginning of the concert last night, Cheryl Duvall, one of Thin Edge New Music Collective’s co-founders, and its pianist, said that the program was intended to showcase pieces of music that didn’t fit into other ‘themed’ concerts. That is, pieces that are too unique, or strange, or quirky, to have a place in a typical concert program.

The fact is, that last night’s concert did have a fairly odd program, however I still found it thoroughly enjoyable, and perhaps it was this uniqueness that added to its charm.

The first half of the concert shone the spotlight on bass clarinetist, composer, and improviser, Kathryn Ladano. Starting with a solo improvisation, she carried right on into a work for bass clarinet and electronics titled Open Strain (2007). Thanks to the work on the electronics, the piece had many great colours and textures, and was not at all tiring to listen to. A solo improvisation using looping equipment followed, displaying Kathryn’s skill as an improviser, followed by two more works. Avoiding the Answers (2013), and I Told You So (2012). Avoiding the Answers contained an electronic recording that was then accompanied by the live bass clarinet, and I Told You So was a fast, rhythmic, and fun ride through a number of riff-like sections, as well as a few great melodies.

I Told You So was my favourite piece of the first half, however something else that I found very endearing was that none of the pieces were so long as to outstay their welcome. As I’ve mentioned before, the length of a piece is a tricky thing. Too long, and audiences get bored. Too short, and audiences don’t have time to get a grip on the material. Here however, Ladano seemed to know just how long audiences would be willing to listen to a solo bass clarinet. It was refreshing to see things so well timed.

The second half  of the concert had two more works by Canadian composers: Toronto composer Gary Kulesha’s trio Mysterium Coniunctionis (1980), and Edmonton-based Colin Labadie’s Strata (2012) for solo saxophone.

I had had the pleasure of hearing Mysterium (scored for clarinet, bass clarinet, and piano) a few weeks earlier at the University of Toronto. The same things that struck me the first time struck me the second time: an impressively stringent use of material. The name of the game in music is repetition of material. Eventually though, most composers have to change material to avoid becoming boring, however these days, many composer stuff as many ideas into their music as possible, and the result can be a little dizzying. Kulesha’s piece contained a few ideas, that were worked, and then reworked, and changed so that nothing stayed the same. In addition to some nice sounds and textures, I found that I enjoyed this piece even more the second time.

The most energetic piece of the night was Strata by Colin Labadie. Strata contained two layers of sound. A constantly present pattern on the bottom and shots and riffs by the saxophone that interrupted this pattern. I was reminded of the solo string works by J.S. Bach, where Bach implies the underlying bass harmony by making the musician cross strings to play one or two notes on the lower strings  though he may be playing the melody high in the instruments register.

Ending the concert was American composer George Crumb’s Dream Sequence (Images II) (1976). Crumb is known for unconventionally beautiful music, and this piece wasn’t any different. The ensemble for this piece is joined by glass harmonic (wine glasses filled to different levels with water), and the resulting effect was both haunting and yes, very dream-like. The key, I think, in much of Crumb’s music, is to have competent performers who know how to deal with the material and also follow the often extremely complicated scores. Thankfully, Thin Edge has more than enough talent to pull something like this off, and it sounded wonderful.

I enjoy concerts that step away from trying to have a regular program and introduce new things. I had no idea that such a thing as a bass clarinet improviser existed, but last night changed that for me. That alone would have been worth the ticket.


– Paolo Griffin


Preview: Week of November 18th

There are three events happening this week, all concerning new Canadian music. There’s also one other concert that you should probably know about.

Wednesday November 20th:

7:30 PM: University of Toronto’s New Music Ensemble (GamUT) is presenting works by Canadian composers Chan Ka Nin, Christos Hatzis, and Tyler Versluis, along with works by Pärt, Crumb, and Sofia Gubaidulina.

8:00 PM: This is the concert you should know about. TorQ Percussion Quartet is presenting the complete set of Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano by John Cage, featuring Rick Sacks. This is a concert you should consider seeing, as it is rare to hear this much Cage in one place.

Thursday November 21st:

1:30 PM: Soprano Suzie Leblanc and instrumental ensemble Le Voix Humaines present a program of the four seasons, with works by old masters (including Vivaldi), and a new work by Canadian great John Beckwith. Takes place at Walter Hall, University of Toronto.

8: 00 PM: Thin Edge New Music Collective presents their second concert of the 2013/2014 season, this time, at Array Space. Works by Canadian composers Gary Kulesha and Colin Labadie, as well as Dutch composer Roderik de Man, and American George Crumb are on the program. This is sure to an entertaining (and perhaps dark) concert.

Review: Esprit Visits Bali

Sunday night’s Esprit concert had its ups and downs, but thankfully, there was more good than bad about it. The concert theme was a tribute to gamelan, a traditional music ensemble from the Indonesian islands. Esprit conductor Alex Pauk presented a work of his that had been re-tooled for orchestra Echo Spirit Isle (1983), as well as works by Canadian composers Chan Ka Nin, Andre Ristic, Claude Vivier, and Spanish composer Jose Evangelista.

Despite the impressive line up, I found more than a few of the works on the programme wanting. The highlight of the night, surprisingly, was presented by traditional Balinese dancer Putu Evie Suyadnyani, who performed a complex and entrancing dance accompanied by a recording of the music. Wearing a traditional dancers outfit, the dance consisted of hundreds of subtle movements that made up a larger picture. Think of a painter, whose individual brushstrokes may not look like much, but when you step back, you can see the whole picture as it’s intended.

Echo Spirit Isle suffered from the same problem as Chan Ka Nin’s Eveil aux oiseaux (2005) and Vivier’s Pulau Dewata (1977), which is that they dragged a bit in the middle. I actually liked Ka Nin’s piece most of all the pieces on this concert, but it still had some small issues. Pulau Dewata, originally intended for any combination of instruments that can fit the scoring, was arranged by composer Scott Good for this concert, and I must say, he did an impressive job. Using an orchestra to its full potential is a difficult thing for many composers, but Good managed to do that, with bright and interesting sounds, as well new textures and colours that kept everyone’s attention fixed on the stage.

The title piece of the night, Jose Evangelista’s O Gamelan (2013) was a pleasant piece that made some interesting (and ultimately positive) choices in its use of the orchestra, however I found that there wasn’t too much going on below the surface. I still enjoyed it, so there’s that I suppose.

American composer Lou Harrison’s Threnody for Carlos Chavez (1978), was a piece that I’d have to listen again in order to really come up with an opinion. I can say though, that the melodies that Harrison produced were quite lovely, and the often static background gamelan (provided by the Evergreen Contemporary Gamelan from Toronto) against the moving viola was a pleasure to listen to. It also wasn’t too long (a problem with many new works). So yes, I think I’d have to give it another listen before I cast my stone in one direction or the other.

Overall, I enjoyed the concert. The Esprit musicians played the programme with their usual expert touch, and Esprit certainly reminded us again why it is a leader in the world of Canadian new music.

Also, if you get the chance, do look up some Balinese dance on the internet. It really was spectacular.

– Paolo Griffin.