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Volume 24 Issue 5 - February 2019

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  • February
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In this issue: A prize that brings lustre to its laureates (and a laureate who brings lustre to the prize); Edwin Huizinga on the journey of Opera Atelier's "The Angel Speaks" from Versailles to the ROM; Danny Driver on playing piano in the moment; Remembering Neil Crory (a different kind of genius)' Year of the Boar, Indigeneity and Opera; all this and more in Volume 24 #5. Online in flip through, HERE and on the stands commencing Thursday Jan 31.


FEATURE The Angel Speaks: A Magically New Theatrical Intervention In Conversation with Edwin Huizinga JENNIFER PARR BRUCE ZINGER BRYSON WINCHESTER When I tell people about Opera Atelier’s ongoing The Angel Speaks project, I always begin with when I saw the very first performance of its first installment, in May 2017. I was sitting at the back of the Royal Chapel at the Palace of Versailles Edwin Huizinga watching fellow members of Opera Atelier’s Medea company and of Tafelmusik perform an attractive selection of Purcell and other English Baroque music, titled Harmonia Sacra, when suddenly there appeared high up on the balcony above, the dramatic figure of what appeared to be a Viking angel playing an exquisite melody on solo violin.This beautiful mystical thread of music then seemed to bring forth, and become tangibly present in, the figure of a dancer (Tyler Gledhill) – another face of the angel – on the ground level with the singers and audience, a figure in search of something or someone. That someone, it became clear, was the Virgin Mary in the person of soprano Mireille Asselin. The violin-playing angel then joined the other two on the ground level, and we in the audience were transfixed as the three embodied the story of the Annunciation in music and choreography in a way that was profoundly moving. This transformative concert experience was the result of a double commission by Opera Atelier, their first: an original piece of contemporary Canadian music for solo violin, Inception, by acclaimed violinist (and balcony Viking) Edwin Huizinga, combined with new contemporary choreography by longtime OA artist, and in-demand contemporary dancer, Tyler Gledhill. For me, what was truly extraordinary about this piece was the blending of the Baroque and the new, the music and the choreography, a seamless interweaving with Purcell’s dramatic cantata, The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, beautifully sung by Asselin. Fascinated by what OA co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski calls this “theatrical intervention” that was so much greater than the sum of its parts, I contacted composer Edwin Huizinga to learn more about his creative journey on this project and how it fits in with his already incredibly multi-faceted career. When I caught up with him, Huizinga was in California having just finished recording a new album with his Fire & Grace partner, guitarist William Coulter, and “phenomenal mandolin player” Ashley Broder. Like Fire & Grace’s previous albums the new one has a mix of Baroque and Irish music, but with the addition of Broder to the ensemble has also mixed in American folk music and bluegrass, while “still being very much focused on the cross pollination of the two different genres.” This cross-pollination of Baroque and folk music can be seen throughout Huizinga’s career although he “grew up in the middle of nowhere (Puslinch, Ontario) listening almost exclusively to classical music on CBC radio,” and from an early age was “fascinated with the fact that there was so much Baroque dance music out there that I loved.” The folk side of things didn’t come in until later. As a young professional violinist, as he became increasingly immersed in the “world of the Baroque violin, playing with groups like Tafelmusik and Apollo’s Fire,” he became even more eager to share this music with other colleagues. Also early in his professional career, he was beginning to develop his “other love – of the folk world” playing and writing songs with his Canadian indie band The Wooden 12 | February 2019

Sky. It was as the band toured to festivals across the country “playing folk music for audiences of thousands of amazingly excited young people” that he first thought “why can’t we mix these two genres together?” and started brainstorming about ways to do just that. A chance meeting with kindred spirit William Coulter, a classical guitarist fascinated with Celtic guitar and Irish music, led to a collaboration on the first Fire & Grace album where they experimented with combining classical, Baroque and (primarily Celtic) folk. They were thrilled with the result, as Huizinga says: “It was so incredibly fun to accomplish the combination of music genres and to really feel that they are more similar than not.” Performing the album’s tracks around the world they found that “people got it, also feeling the real connection between the two genres, the shared joie de vivre and the way your body feels when you are playing this music.” While Huizinga never went as far as step dancing while playing his violin as Natalie McMaster does (although he has met and greatly admires her) he often refers to this physicality of the music, both how it feels in the body when a musician plays it and how it seems meant to be danced. All of these things make him an ideal composer for OA to have chosen for The Angel Speaks, and to actually take part in the choreography of his music as an integral part of the storytelling. When I asked him if he had ever done anything like that before, he explained: “It was a completely different experience! I spent time really thinking of what it meant to be a composer and performer today with the knowledge that I have of all this Baroque repertoire that I love. Then when Tyler and I started working together and I sent him the music, we spent many weeks together discovering the relationship – playing with me being part of the voice of the Angel Gabriel and him being the Angel Gabriel, and with the fact that he and I were connected and exchanging energies onstage. That piece was an extraordinary inlet for me, into the world of visualizing what I was trying to write. By the time we were performing it, it felt very organic, as if we were moving and working together as a team throughout.” That first Versailles concert performance of Inception was so successful that OA was invited to return to Versailles and to expand the new commission, adding additional instruments, voices and dancers. This opened the door to expanding on the story and layers of the new project, taking as a jumping off-point The Annunciation, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, in an evocative translation by acclaimed American playwright and poet Grace Andreacchi, “One of the beautiful things as I started to write this piece” says Huizinga, “was the chance to collaborate with Tyler.” In the new piece, Annunciation, Jesse Blumberg, the baritone soloist, is another great friend and colleague, having made an album with Huizinga’s Baroque band ACRONYM and having just married one of Huizinga’s Mireille Asselin as the Virgin Mary with Tyler Gledhill as the Angel Gabriel in the Royal Chapel at Versailles (December 2018) with Edwin Huizinga (left) leading the music. best friends. “It’s an unbelievably great feeling,” Huizinga says, “to be able to call someone at the drop of a hat and ask questions about the range of their voice and their interests; for example, if they would be willing to go into a falsetto voice and be singing higher notes than the soprano. Also, as a composer I’ve decided that I want the artists that I am writing for to be comfortable. My whole concept behind performance is that, if you’re able to really enjoy what you are doing, BRUCE ZINGER FREE NOON HOUR CHOIR & ORGAN CONCERTS Enjoy an hour of beautiful music performed by outstanding Canadian choirs and organists, spotlighting Roy Thomson Hall’s magnificent Gabriel Kney pipe organ. BACH CHILDREN’S CHORUS Youthful Impressions THU FEB 21 ◆ 12 PM TORONTO MASS CHOIR The Glory of Gospel WED APR 17 ◆ 12 PM OAKVILLE CHOIR FOR CHILDREN & YOUTH Here’s to Song! THU JUN 6 ◆ 12 PM FREE ADMISSION FOR TICKETS VISIT ROYTHOMSONHALL.COM/CHOIRORGAN OR CALL 416-872-4255 Suitable for ages 6 and up. For groups of 15 or more, contact For more information call the box office at 416-872-4255. Made possible by the generous support of Edwards Charitable Foundation. February 2019 | 13

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