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Volume 21 Issue 8 - May 2016

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Festival
  • Arts
  • Symphony
  • Quartet
  • Choir
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Bach
INSIDE: The Canaries Are Here! 116 choirs to choose from, so take the plunge! The Nylons hit the road after one last SING! Fling. Jazz writer Steve Wallace wonders "Watts Goode" rather than "what's new?" Paul Ennis has the musical picks of the HotDocs crop. David Jaeger's CBC Radio continues golden for a little while yet. Douglas McNabney is Music's Child. Leipzig meets Damascus in Alison Mackay's fertile imagination. And "C" is for KRONOS in Wende Bartley's koverage of the third annual 21C Festival. All this and as usual much much more. Enjoy.

Kronos’ Creative

Kronos’ Creative Currency The Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival WENDALYN BARTLEY The 21C Music Festival, now in the third edition of its guaranteed five-year run, was originally conceived as an opportunity to celebrate creativity, collaboration and commissioning, all critical elements in the coinage of new music in the 21st century. This year’s edition of the festival will do just that. Over five days and seven concerts featuring 28+ premieres, its audiences’ ears will be abuzz with sounds that capture fresh creative ideas and directions. Among the seven, three projects stood out in particular for me, all of them offering world premieres and, viewed together, revealing the overall scope and intent of the festival – almost as though they were a single 3-part invention titled Throat Singing – Darkness – Koto & Sho. Tanya Tagaq and the Kronos Quartet performing Nunavut, their first collaboration, The Kronos Quartet: (left to right) David Harrington, violin, John Sherba, violin, Sunny Yang, viola, Hank Dutt, cello THROAT SINGING: Imagine having the capacity to sound like a string quartet, all through using your throat and voice. That’s exactly how David Harrington, Kronos Quartet’s first violinist, described the exhilarating and ferocious throat singing of Tanya Tagaq. Although Tagaq was raised on the lands of the Inuit people in the Arctic village of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, the traditional sounds of throat singing were unknown to her while growing up. In fact the first time she heard it was while studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, on tapes sent to her by her mother. Fascinated by the sound, she taught herself the technique by singing in the shower. It was another recording (a January/February 2003 fRoots Magazine compilation CD) that led to a meeting between Tagaq and the legendary Kronos Quartet. While travelling home on a plane some 13 years ago, Harrington was listening to that CD. Track 1 was Youssou N’Dour. Track 18 of 18 was something called “Ilgok” by Tanya Tagaq. Harrington was transfixed. “It was an incredible vocal performance,” he told me in a recent interview. “Although I had known about Inuit throat singing for 30 years, I had not heard anything like it. It sounded as if it were two to three people singing at the same time. After listening to it about 30 times in a row, I knew I had to be in touch with her and figure out a way to do music together.” They eventually met in Spain when Tagaq, who was living there at the time, came to a Kronos soundcheck and performed for them. “Knocked out” by what they heard, the quartet resolved to make music with Tagaq. It was up to Harrington to figure out how this was going to happen. The night before their first rehearsal together in Whitehorse, Yukon, he still didn’t know how it was going to work, but finally at 5am he had an idea. Using his granddaughter’s crayons he made five coloured squares – one for each performer – with the idea that each player would musically interpret their own colour. Later they added more coloured squares and found a way to connect the sounds that each person came up with. This first collaboration, Nunavut, will be one of a full program of works performed by Kronos in the opening concert of the 21C festival on May 25. Kronos is renowned for charting a wildly different musical path for the string quartet as a chamber ensemble, and for their work in mentoring emerging artists. This vision continues at the heart of Fifty for the Future, their latest project, designed to create a repertoire of training works for young string quartets to introduce them to contemporary music. Starting in this current concert season, Kronos will be commissioning 50 new works by 25 women and 25 men over five years. Four of the works from Year One will be performed on the May 25th concert, including the world premiere of a new commission from Tagaq. Reflecting on the Nunavut project, along with other pieces Kronos and Tagaq have created together, Harrington says: “Tanya is an amazing composer, even though she doesn’t necessarily think of herself as a composer, she just does music.” Harrington so values his experience of having worked with Tagaq that he invited her to be one of the first ten composers to participate in the Fifty for the Future project, because their collaboration over the years has been one aspect of his own musical life and that of Kronos that he wants to be sure other musicians, especially young musicians, are able to experience. Why a vocal performer as a model for string quartet players, I asked? “Because it sounds to me like she has a string quartet in her throat,” Harrington replied. “And because Tanya is very connected to nature and the way she thinks of music is a natural part of her life, it’s effortless, even though she works very hard.” For anyone who has had the experience of hearing Tanya Tagaq perform, this statement will ring true. Something exudes off the stage that seems rare yet also distantly familiar, like a calling back to our primal roots. I asked her about the nature of this place it seems she goes to when performing. “It’s not so much a place I go to as a place I come to,” she responded. “It’s a freedom, a lack of control, an exploration, and I’m reacting to whatever happens upon the path.” She spoke about the limits we put upon ourselves as humans, and exclaimed “Things need to happen to raise us to live in the moment!” This place she comes to “requires being in the present, for when you are in the 8 | May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

present, it doesn’t matter what else is happening, what’s going to happen or what has happened. That’s what I like about improvisation – it’s all new and it’s all happening.” She also loves collaborating, describing the process as like adding different rooms to a store. In her collaboration with regular band members, percussionist Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, she said it’s like “going to see really good friends to have a conversation. We have our own language that we speak, and when there’s a gap in time of not being together, I can feel this anticipation and urge to speak again.” She described singing with the improvisational Element Choir directed by Christine Duncan, who are increasingly accompanying her on stage and will be included on her next recording due for release later this year, as “like having a wind from behind, or someone pushing really really hard in a super positive way.” Tagaq’s Fifty for the Future collaboration with Kronos is titled Snow Angel-Sivunittinni (meaning “the future children”). Tagaq met with the quartet in a recording studio in San Francisco where she recorded two improvisations –a single track first, then a second improvisation laid down on top of that one. Longtime Kronos collaborator, trombonist/composer Jacob Garchik then transcribed Tagaq’s studio vocal tracks for the quartet, spreading the two layers out amongst the four players, after which Harrington then had a further idea – wouldn’t it be wonderful if she came up with four vocalized introductions to the piece, each about one minute long and each interpreting a different member of Kronos. One of these four “Snow Angels,” as the introductions are called, is spontaneously selected each night the work is performed. (Harrington is hoping that his will be the one chosen for the Toronto premiere.) Final element of the work: Tagaq will add an additional live improvised layer to the piece during the performance! Garchik has collaborated on more than two dozen Kronos projects to date; his work will also be in evidence in two other pieces that Kronos will perform on the May 25 program – by composers Geeshie Wiley and Laurie Anderson. And speaking of the May 25 program, Harrington was, as he described it, “smiling from ear to ear. There are works by seven female composers and each one of them is so different from the other, it will be like this incredible meeting of unforgettable people.” The program includes three other commissions from Year One of the Fifty for the Future project, as well as two earlier works by composers who are scheduled to be part of Year Two of the project: Canadian Nicole Lizée’s piece from 2012, The Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop, which pays homage to the pioneers of electronic music in Britain, and the aforementioned piece by Laurie Anderson, Flow, arranged in 2010 from a track on her Homeland album. The key feature of the Fifty for the Future project will be the easy availability of all the commissioned works. Scores, parts and recordings by Kronos of each of the pieces will be accessible for download from the Kronos website, with the first five pieces being available now. Tagaq’s piece will be ready in about six months and will include an interview, a video and the original studio recordings as auxiliary material. After the entire project is completed, it will be an incredible mosaic of music by composers from around the world destined to introduce future string quartets to the diversity of contemporary musical ideas. DARKNESS: Imagine yourself entering a completely dark concert hall in a line, conga style, with your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you, like a small train of people, ushered by someone using an overhead highway system complete with roads and intersections. Following “driving directions” received from the head usher who is outside the hall with a map, your usher is feeling their way along this overhead tracking system to deliver you to your specific seat. And it’s complete darkness, with absolutely no light being emitted from exit signs, computers, soundboards or windows. This is how “Blackout”, a late-night 21C concert, May 27, created by Toronto-based composer and saxophonist John Oswald, will begin. Once the audience is seated, what will unfold will be a onehour concert of music by Oswald, including a 21C new commission, intermingled with quotes and perhaps intact works from Oswald’s previous repertoire. The late-night concert will be more like a variety show, he told me in our recent phone conversation. Not surprisingly, great chamber music downtown great chamber music downtown www.music toronto.com 416-366-7723 1-800-708-6754 order online at www.stlc.com Canadian Heritage Patrimoine canadien thewholenote.com May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016 | 9

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