Review: Singing the Earth

I think I’d be able to write quite a bit about Singing the Earth, last night’s new work by Toronto-based composer Anna Höstman, if I had the chance, however I only have about 600 words or less to talk about it  so that will have to do.

Singing the Earth’s purpose was to “offer fragments and glimpses into this very special place.” That place was the Bella Coola Valley in the Central Coast area of British Columbia, where Höstman spent her childhood. The work, which was written for Continuum music and mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, and conducted by Gregory Oh, was split into eleven parts and combined with video recordings of the natural features of the valley, as well as interspersed interviews with its residents.

Höstman, who has an extensive resume already, displayed her skill in creating music that was delicate, yet had something of a backbone to it. In particular, Höstman’s piano writing was (and is) very impressive. Lonesome Lake, the ninth movement (which was for solo piano), was reason enough to attend. The fifth movement halling, which was an arrangement of an old Norwegian Slått (a folk music piece for fiddle), was also a favourite of mine. A mix of melancholy and something else, the arrangement was smooth and very lovely.

The work wasn’t without its odd or unsatisfactory moments. Höstman mentions in her program notes that a song she had worked on, only made it to the final product of the final movement in the form of a three minute ‘introduction’, wherein only the instrumental accompaniment was heard. I also wasn’t as keen on the film and video installation that was being projected behind the musicians during the work. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of things like this. Not that it wasn’t nice to see images and video of the valley and its contents, but I’ve usually been more distracted from the music by the images in these sorts of works, and in that way, I think it takes away from the music and the work that the composer put in.

The tenth movement, Glossary was also an odd piece. Accompanied by the ensemble, the mezzo sang not a poem or a story, but instead, a list of all the flora and fauna found in Bella Coola. This text came from Thomas Mcilwraith’s appendix to The Bella Coola Indians, an anthropological study from the 1920s. The notes mention that the effect of industry has been devastating to the valley over the years, and no doubt it has, but without having read those notes, I don’t think I would have fully grasped why someone was listing off everything in the valley in song.

Above and beyond what I liked or didn’t like, Höstman clearly displayed her skill as a composer. Technically speaking, I found no problems with the work. The text was set beautifully, especially in the last movement, and the music took on an appropriately atmospheric tone for the material at hand. Marion Newman’s singing was something to be admired, as was the skill of the musicians and conductor. This didn’t seem anything like a simple piece which most people could pull off; The music pulsed and moved along in complex lines, being tossed from instrument to instrument or in other places had a subdued, delicate feel to them. Talented hands were certainly needed for this work.

There is one last performance of the work tonight, same time, same place (the Wynchwood Barns up near St. Clair West), and I’d suggest taking a look. With so much on display, you’re sure to find something you like.

– Paolo Griffin

Advertisements

Preview: Week of December 2nd

Good news everyone! There are four (technically five) events happening this week!

Let’s get down to it:

Tuesday December 3rd:

12:00 PM: The Canadian Opera Company’s regular chamber music series presents a concert of Canadian and American music, put on by musicians from the Glenn Gould School and surrounding areas. Music by John Rea and Martin Bresnick, as well as a world premiere by  Scott Good are on the program. This should be fun, as each piece calls for sizable ensembles.

7:00 PM: The CMC hosts the Score Reading Club. This club combines the music of Canadian composers, mini-lectures on their music and lives, and, you guessed it, a bit of score reading. This is always a very enjoyable event to attend, so get out to it if you can.

8:00 PM: Lula Lounge hosts ‘Canada Day Revisited’. This is a repeat of the Canada Day concert put on earlier this year (can you guess the date?). Poulenc, Brahms, and Schubert are on the program as well as Canadians Colin Eatock and Jean Papineau-Couture.

Wednesday December 4th:

7:00 PM: Continuum music works with last year’s Toronto Emerging Composer award winner Anna Höstman, dramaturge Dylan Robinson, and mezzo-soprano Marion Newman to create a program exploring the lives and times of the Norwegian settlers who arrived in Canada circa the 19th century. This show is presented on Wednesday and Thursday, and I advise you not to miss it.

Thursday December 5th:

7:00 PM: Same as above. ‘Singing the Earth’, presented by Continuum and Anna Höstman.

– Paolo Griffin

Please take the time to read this: https://newmusictoronto.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/funding-a-concert-northern-connections-and-the-music-of-finland-canada-2/. It would be lovely to see emerging composers inside and outside of Canada combine  their works for a great concert.