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Volume 26 Issue 4 - December 2020 / January 2021

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Composer
  • Jazz
  • Symphony
  • Recording
  • Toronto
  • Orchestra
  • Musical
  • January
  • December
In this issue: Beautiful Exceptions, Sing-Alone Messiahs, Livingston’s Vocal Pleasures, Chamber Beethoven, Online Opera (Plexiglass & All), Playlist for the Winter of our Discontent, The Oud & the Fuzz, Who is Alex Trebek? All this and more available in flipthrough HERE, and in print Friday December 4.


JAMIE BEEDEN. English composer Donna McKevitt (L) and opera and theatre director, Tim Albery. experience has been a rare opportunity to see up close how one of the top companies rehearses and puts together their programs. She was originally drawn to writing for voice through her activities as a choral singer, giving her the opportunity to meet many singers who eventually began asking her for pieces. As her career developed, writing for voice “really seemed to speak to me creatively,” she said, largely because of the role of text in the process. This was the “compositional and creative puzzle that my mind truly sparks over. I love those places where words and music come together to make meaning and emotions complicated.” Her love of working with singers expanded into a deeper understanding of what it means to be a performer, how theatre works, and how drama is communicated through music. Many of her pieces feature libretti by Duncan McFarland whom she met when they were both fellows at American Opera Projects, an opera training program in Brooklyn. She was drawn to the richness of his poetry and the wealth of his imagery. “He also has a really deep understanding of how music and texts go together, even though he’s not a musician himself. It’s lovely to work with somebody who trusts the compositional side of the process and can make changes in response to questions.” I listened to some of her recorded works before our conversation and was struck by Listen to the Chorus, a video installation that she was involved in. The piece was conceived by spoken-word poet Nasim Asgari and performed by four members of the art collective Madeleine Co. The video features four separated images with closeup shots of the mouths of four female performers of different racial backgrounds, their voices whispering, speaking and singing in overlapping layers. Livingston explained that the group had come to her looking for a polyphonic choral interpretation of the original text to be sung alongside the spoken word performance of Asgari. The piece is raw, provocative and direct, mincing no words about women’s experiences of violence and suppression, beginning with the phrase “I was born resisting” and, at a later point, “We are not silent, more often just silenced.” This project was the first time Livingston had been involved in creating something with such a sharp socio-political edge to it. And even though it took her out of her comfort zone at the time (2013), she had great respect for the response the piece received, which inspired her to ask questions of herself: “What stories does my work tell, and who are these characters? There is definitely now a thread of thinking about women’s experience and how that’s shared musically that runs through a lot of what I do.” One example of that is a recently completed commission from Women on the Verge, a trio of female musicians who focus on performing works that tell historical and fictional stories about women’s experience. Collaborating with Toronto Poet Laureate Anne Michaels, this new piece, Breath Alone, is a song cycle about the type of women that classical art song rarely allows to speak. The space that is given in this piece to the lives of artist/sculptor Eva Hesse, poet Nelly Sachs and painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, highlights the fact EAMONN MCCABE that they were either overlooked or ignored in their own time. “This was a chance to look at real women and try to give voice to what the complexity of their experience might have been.” Livingston is looking forward to the time when it will be possible to share this work with an audience. This experience was, she said, “a crucible of realizing that these types of stories are really important to me.” Currently, she is finishing up a new 90-minute opera, Terror & Erebus, for six singers and percussion quartet, an unusual combination for opera, commissioned by Opera 5 and TorQ Percussion Quartet. She knew the members of TorQ during their university days together, and loved the sense of theatre in the way they played. “That was the genesis for making an opera with them,” she said. “Instead of being put in the corner or a dark orchestra pit, they will be a part of the stage experience and take on the role of being characters with their physical presence being a big part of the visual spectacle.” The story is about the Franklin expedition to find the Northwest passage, and the opera’s title comes from the names of the two ships of that doomed expedition. While composing, she imagined what the experiences of the crew might have been like, and she has approached this chilling narrative far more as an immersive dreamscape and hallucination than as a pirate-like adventure story. Scored for two sopranos, mezzo, tenor, baritone and bass baritone, this full range of sound gives lots of room for play and offers the audience the variety so necessary to sustain a long vocal work. Using the mallet percussion instruments, she is able Women on the Verge to create a strong harmonic core. Livingston is currently putting the finishing touches to the score, awaiting the time when a performance will be possible. (We can all look forward to the flood of new creations being made during this time of isolation.time awaiting us when we are out of the dark waters of this time of isolation. Coming full circle to the theme of unusual and original productions coming from Soundstreams, they will also be premiering a new version of their already original retake of Handel’s Messiah they call Electric Messiah, livestreaming on December 17. This version will be a full-length music video, with a mix of different outdoor filming locations, studio recordings and cinematic interpretations. The musical styles will range from jazz to soul/hip-hop and more, with a tradition-bending ensemble: soprano, treble, tenor, bass, turntables, guitar, harpsichord, electric keyboards and dancer. A new work by Ian Cusson, O Death, O Grave, will also be part of this holiday spectacle. I end this last column of 2020 with a wish to all readers that you have a safe and celebratory holiday time, however you chose to observe it. Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. 16 | December 2020 - January 2021

CONVERSATIONS Azrieli Commission winner, composer Keiko Devaux reflects on the debut of Arras CAMILLE KIKU BELAIR Keiko Devaux CAROLINE DESILETS The gala concert for the Azrieli Foundation biennial Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) took place on Thursday, October 22, 2020 at 8pm, live-streamed on Facebook and The concert featured the works of this year’s winners: Keiko Devaux (Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music), Yotam Haber (Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music) and Yitzhak Yedid (Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music). According to their website, the Azrieli Foundation was established by David Azrieli in 1989 as a philanthropic effort based in both Canada and Israel. In 2014 they introduced their first two prizes for new Jewish concert music. In 2019, the AMP announced the creation of a new price – the Azrieli Commision for Canadian Music, intended to encourage the creation of new Canadian concert music – and invited all Canadian composers to apply. Awarded every two years, 2020 marked the first opportunity for composers to win the prize: a world premiere by the Montreal-based Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, a commercial recording to be released on the Analekta label, another national or international premiere after the gala concert and ,000 in cash. The award’s full value is quoted at 0,000. I had the opportunity to speak with the inaugural winner Keiko Devaux at the end of October 2020, and reflect on the debut of Arras, the piece she composed for the commission. Originally from British Columbia, Devaux is a Montreal-based composer currently pursuing a doctorate in music composition and creation at Université de Montréal. Her work directly integrates extra-musical sources through transcription and translation, with a focus on what she calls “emergence and the memory of sound.” Her varied musical background is reflected in the diverse layers and influences of her concert works, which often contain stunning juxtapositions that blend melodic lines with gestures drawn from electroacoustic music. In Arras, a concert piece written for a 14-instrument ensemble, Devaux masterfully blends together vastly different textures, creating 20/21 Extraordinary Music Extraordinary Times Love Songs co-presented with Tapestry Opera – Nov.28.20 feat. Wallace Halladay, saxophone and Xin Wang, soprano All Broadcasts FREE to Watch 416 961 9594 NMC 50th Anniversary Commissioning Series – Dec.06.20 feat. new works by: Kotoka Suzuki, Eliot Britton, and James O’Callaghan December 2020 - January 2021 | 17

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