Angela Hewitt’s Keyboard Workout

That was quite a workout tonight, watching Angela Hewitt leading the orchestra while playing four different concerti on one concert programme with the Toronto Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall. She had a very busy evening, playing note-perfect as far as I could tell.

The two halves of the concert were similar, each one consisting of a Bach keyboard concerto & a Mozart piano concerto.

  • JS Bach: Keyboard Concerto #3 BWV 1054
  • WA Mozart: Piano Concerto # 9 K 271
    (intermission)
  • JS Bach: Keyboard Concerto # 7 BWV 1058
  • WA Mozart: Piano Concerto #20 K 466

While the orchestral forces were relatively small tonight, we were watching the A team, the top performers. For the Bach concerti the orchestra was a mere 28 players, including the principals in most of the sections, augmented for the Mozart by four additional wind players in the Jeunnehomme Concerto K271, and a few more for the D minor concert 466.

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Leader & pianist Angela Hewitt

Hearing this sort of program had the remarkable effect of making the Mozart sound edgy and new.

Roy Thomson Hall was packed for the occasion, and I think it’s fair to say that Hewitt did not disappoint. The audience reception got stronger with each piece.

The program repeats Sunday November 19th at 3 pm at the George Weston Recital Hall.

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Blade Runner 2049 and the first film

I have a good memory.

The first Blade Runner (1982 ) was not a big success, at least not at first.  I remember the review in the Toronto Star by Ron Base. He didn’t like it.  At one point (perhaps speaking of the Oscars?) he even spoke of “boring old Blade Runner”.  Heresy in my view!  It caught on later, via video, and with subsequent versions.  But at the time, I recall being furious that it lost out in the art direction category, where brilliant foresight & anticipation of the future  ought to be rewarded by rights.

Nope. Gandhi won for art direction. E.T. won for best visual effects.  I can understand that second one at least.

I was just fine with the voice-over version, where Harrison Ford’s character seemed to be a sci-fi version of Philip Marlowe from a Chandler novel.  But in 1982 people weren’t ready to deify Harrison Ford, indeed he was still viewed mostly as a pretty boy whereas his performance in the new film might get some attention from the Academy as best supporting actor.  He’s okay, as I’m not sure he really deserves it this time, whereas I would have been really happy to see him recognized for his work in 42 as Branch Rickey.   Oh well.

The decision to make a sequel –Blade Runner 2049–is a curious one, coming so long after the original. The first film was more of a cult hit rather than a commercial success.  And considering the huge cost of this new film, I wanted to make sure to see it before it vanishes from the cinema, a film that needs to be seen on the big screen.

There’s a great deal of violence in the new film, but come to think of it, that’s also true of the old film.  There was a great deal of what felt like gratuitous and even pornographic violence, particularly the way two of the women in the old film died.   Unfortunately the spectacular outbursts of aggression in the new film are every bit as bad as in the first one.

The first film was not short (roughly two hours), but this one feels really long (closer to three hours!). I can’t deny that there were times I was hoping it would end. That length seriously compromises the number of showings per night, making it harder to make money.  There was one moment when I considered walking out, for one of the most pointless homicides I have ever seen onscreen.  It made no sense except as part of the bloody spectacle. But we stayed, and I was glad I did.

The futurism of the first film was one of the first things to grab me, a sense of authenticity in its window on a possible future world.  At times the new film seems intent on replicating things we saw in the first film such as the streetscape, the food vendors and the pleasure units.  Maybe I need to see the film again, but I didn’t have the same sense of accuracy in their ability to predict a future world.  They were perhaps feeling a bit constrained, so intent on pleasing anal fans (like me??? gulp) that of course they had to give us a look at a much older Edward James Olmos’ character, and –as expected– he has his trademark origami.

Some of Vangelis’ music from the first film is replicated, perhaps as a leit-motiv we can recognize. The theme that I’m thinking of first appears early in the first film when we get a look at a big towering building that could be an icon for the bravest and most positive view of our future: a future that seems to have vanished.

The theme seems to be a proud motto proclaiming their faith in science & technology.  In the new film—conceived in a time when the future is a much scarier place than it was in 1982—the theme becomes much more wistful, like a fragment of a remembered dream upon waking.  But we do hear it.

 

That first film did give us glimpses of something more dystopian, but with every passing year, as our world gets more and more like those dark and creepy images, its prophecy seems more and more astute.  The second film has its moments but still stops far short of the obvious trajectories one can see on the news every day, whether in the realms of ecology & nature, in policing and weaponry, or in surveillance and authoritarianism.  Sadly, the realities of the past year seem to be outstripping this film, as a template for horror.

Director Denis Villeneuve certainly does a good job keeping things moving, in a very long movie. All of the characters seem genuine, and a couple are totally detestable; I will let you discover that for yourself.

I expect that there will be at least one more film after this one, considering that the story seems like the first chapter of a much longer epic.  But then again I’ve also heard that they aren’t making nearly the $$ they hoped to make (on a colossal investment after all), which might signal the end of the franchise, at least for the time being.

There are some wonderfully poignant moments. I won’t spoil it except to suggest that if you’ve seen the first film, you will be reminded of a great deal this time around.  It’s not unlike Episode 7 of Star Wars, that mostly gives us a story we’ve seen before, with only a few twists.  This time, too, we’re seeing characters from long ago, only older; this time it’s Rick Deckard rather than Han Solo, but we’re again watching Ford’s weathered face reacting to what’s happening around him.  Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright offer great performances.

I found the sound levels in the theatre a bit too high, such that whenever anything sudden happened, one would jump.  I look forward to seeing it in some video medium, when I don’t have to endure such a ridiculously loud soundtrack.

Those who like such things, will probably love the film and should try to see it before it leaves the big screen (my rationale in going tonight).

And those who don’t know the older film, or who don’t enjoy this sort of film (like the person sitting beside me often with her eyes closed)? Steer clear.

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Haus Musik: lavender love letter

I am always inclined to appreciate artists who choose the ambitious path.

Tonight’s Haus Musik in The Great Hall directed by Jennifer Nichols aimed to make some challenging connections. This multi-disciplinary work (live music, a DJ, video, painting, poetry in two languages and dance) spoke to me.

Throughout I was asking myself those words: does this speak to you?  We watched and heard four members of Tafelmusik playing in different groupings, namely Felix Deak (viola da gamba), Charlotte Nediger (harpsichord), Geneviève Gilardeau (violin) and Patricia Ahern (violin). They played works by Couperin, Rameau, Constantin, Leclair and Marais.

Sometimes DJ Andycapp’s creations would answer the acoustic sounds of the four instruments of bygone days with a more contemporary sound.

And Jack Rennie came strolling into the space accoutred as one of us, which is to say, in modern dress and carrying a drink.

And then it was a bit as though the music was infecting him at first, as he seemed to fight the impulse to dance as though it were an illness or a kind of madness. And I felt that the music spoke to him.  There was an answering voice, speaking in French as though paraphrasing the latent poetry of the moment.

On the big video screen we saw images of lavender, to complement the bunches hanging throughout the Great Hall, as Jennifer Nichols walked and danced in that virtual space while the live music was performed in our acoustical space below the screen, a suggestive series of images employing older buildings, as if to echo that older music.

Version 2

And so this abstract dynamic was enacted, of two people seeming to be moved and even transformed by the music. We watched both Rennie’s figure –dancing in spite of himself, reading and painting—and Nichols’ video image dressed both in modern clothes and something as if to match the baroque era of the music. Where Rennie seemed to begin in the present and get drawn into the past, Nichols first appearance was in the old guise, but later incarnated in modern dress among a rougher urban landscape.

I was reminded of something I saw a lifetime ago. Brian Macdonald took Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and turned it into a series of dances, the pianist a woman, the chief dancer, a man responding to the poetry of that overpowering work.  I was especially ready for this after last night’s Triptyque, a largely abstract work whose dance was mostly dance qua dance, rather than dance as drama or story-telling.  Perhaps Nichols’ history with Opera Atelier makes her ready for a dance connected to a story, where the impulse to dance seems motivated by a scenario.  I invoke Macdonald’s work because in both instances we watch a kind of romance that is set in motion by the music-making. The proposition that is music, the demand that we open our hearts and imaginations to the beauty of the music, is ultimately a proposition that is seductive, at least at the platonic level, of one voice –the music– seeking someone to listen, someone to follow and perhaps dance, in response.

At the most fundamental level music calls for some kind of response, and our modern rigid silence doesn’t really match the way the music speaks to a normal person. Normal? I refer you to the children crying, who were being shushed (a morning after addendum after realizing that this is vague; there were a couple of small children crying during the show… why they were there in a dark club at night? a mystery) . It’s “normal” for parents to repress their kids, alas, and tell them to be silent.  OR we can look at how Rennie twitched to the music. My toes tap, but I’m among silent reverent watchers, as though in a church. I wish for something more pagan I guess, where we all join in the Dionysian revels.

You know that old saying “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, is there a sound”? Another way of saying that might be “if music is played and no one dances: is there music”?

There is a natural romance in our encounters with the past. We are simultaneously of the present with our electronic devices, our modern clothes and sensibilities, and yet, of the time we encounter. Rennie’s impulse to dance is the music speaking to him, and mostly we stifle ourselves, except for our polite applause at the end.  I love that Nichols put all that on the stage for us, both the torture of it and the seductive beauty all at once.
I’m grateful for the experience and the romantic thoughts it provoked.

It spoke to me.

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Tremendous Triptyque

We’re in the twilight of Matthew Jocelyn’s time at Canadian Stage, a near- decade of unprecedented multi-disciplinarity.  We’ve had dance, we’ve had opera, and yes, theatre that combines disciplines.  We’ve had several offerings from Crystal Pite, from Robert Lepage, and now another brilliant mix tonight. As Jocelyn approaches the end of his tenure he’s going out with a bang.

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Canadian Stage Artistic & General Director Matthew Jocelyn

Triptyque is a three part performance—really three different works – created in the interface between dance and circus.

I can’t recommend it highly enough. See it if at all possible.   

The 7 Fingers (7 doigts de la main) circus troupe from Québec collaborated with three different choreographers, giving us three different works that sit in that ambiguous place that’s neither dance nor circus.

One of the things I love best is to be mystified, to be lost in something that I can’t figure out.  Whether I’m listening to a Beethoven symphony or a science fiction filmscore, the conventions usually serve to comfortably tell us where we’re going. The coded moments in works of recognizable genres let us relax a bit, pointing us towards predictable outcomes. But what if you don’t know where you are? Then you’re really in a magical place.

Here’s the published description of the three works on the program:

1. Anne et Samuel – Marie Chouinard (The Garden of Earthly Delights) Following in the footsteps of Chouinard’s signature work bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS, this duet between a dancer and hand balancer examines the relationship between gravity and moving bodies with awe-inspiring effect.

2. Variations 9.81 – Victor Quijada (Quebec) A quintet of virtuoso hand balancers search for absolute control of gravity, testing the relationship between stillness and movement.

3. Nocturnes – Marcos Morau (Spain) Subtly mixing circus and dance, the mesmerizing Nocturnes lures us into the space between wake and dreams where eight artists try to break free of their physical constraint.

Quijada’s quintet is perhaps the most gentle of the three, a piece that had me thinking of the word “virtuoso” throughout. We watched different groupings, always poised when on their hands but –irony- sometimes unsure on their feet. What we might think of as upside down is the place of calm repose for much of this piece.  In the dance continuum between drama / story telling on the one hand, and dance as pure dance on the other, Quijada has us very firmly at the latter end of the spectrum.  It’s beautiful movement for the sake of beautiful movement. Charming as this one was, for me it made the least impact, while the other two were overwhelmingly powerful.

Chouinard’s opener takes us into a realm I’d call disability drag, as we watch two phenomenally gifted artists moving in ways that seem to be or are actually compromised.  At the opening Samuel enters using crutches, while Anne is suspended on and in ropes, resembling a kind of bondage.  She is released by him almost inadvertently, as she comes down to the ground, only to join him on her own crutches.  Speaking as someone confronting my own growing decrepitude, there’s a universal struggle underlying this piece, as they fight gravity, at times climbing onto one another –again making me think of BDSM power struggles—and briefly achieving freedom from their crutches, before sinking back down. This is a piece of great tenderness, wonderfully beautiful at times.

Morau’s Nocturnes take us to the most natural place to explore the night, namely bed.  While this epic work includes the entire troupe, we begin with one person alone in their bed, that site of maximum vulnerability.  In time we are looking up at wonderfully original assemblies of rope above the bed, ridden by multiple aerialists.  Can you relate to my devout wish: that circus discover something meaningful and even representational, beyond just beautiful balletic moves in the air?  In this piece we’re truly experiencing drama, something profound and symbolic.

Morau achieves this, anchoring his aerial explorations around the bed.  All the movements seem profoundly psychological in this context.  We even get moments of delicious surrealism, which I won’t spoil for you.   And eventually the bed itself flies.

If you are a dance or circus practitioner, or at least a fan, please find a way to see one of the remaining performances of Triptyque (running until Nov 19, with two performances Saturday) at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

You will be inspired as never before.

 

 

 

 

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Putnam County: nerds rule

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (PCSB) is not just a musical but also an irresistible evocation of youth, concealed erections and performance anxiety.  A spelling contest is the microcosm, and in this world the nerds rule: not unlike music theatre itself come to think of it.

SPELLINGBEE_scottgorman-6

The students surround the teacher at the Spelling Bee (photo: Scott Gorman): clockwise from left, Vanessa Campbell, John Wamsley, Erin Humphry, Amy Swift, Braelyn Guppy, Hugh Ritchie and Kevin Forster

Hart House Theatre opened their production Friday night, with tonight’s second performance concluding the first weekend of three.  In some respects PCSB is every bit as grueling as its subject, 100 minutes of fast patter, flashy dance-moves and tight cues for laughs without intermission, to put Rossini to shame.  My companion commented that it’s like a modern opera in some respects, a very fine-tuned machine to tell a charming little story, amuse you with its humour and please you with its tunefulness.

Considering that the run has just begun they’re already very tight on the HH stage.  While tonight’s show surely included lots of friends & family –packing the theatre –the laughs were huge and I don’t just mean my own.  There’s lots of glory to share between Director Cory Doran, Music Director Giustin MacLean and Choreographer Sabrina Hooper.  This is a high energy show, whether in those moments when one person is trying to spell a word, or when the company starts dancing to a song laying someone’s emotions bare.  As far as I could tell there were no dead moments, no false starts, nothing that didn’t run smoothly except for some facial hair that may have been deliberately contrived to set up a series of gags.  And if that was a real problem (I have my doubts), they effortlessly turned it into an asset.

Speaking of nerds, the cast offers a full range of quirky people, possibly reminding you of someone you know.

  • Logainne, the politically outspoken girl with gay parents
  • Chip, the eager boy with the bulge in his pants
  • Leaf, the boy with the inferiority complex
  • William, the boy whose spelling is infallible, but whose name is always mispronounced
  • Marcy, the girl so perfect that she dreams of failure
  • Olive, the girl whose parents don’t show up but who loves her dictionary
  • Rona, the teacher who is a former winner
  • The Vice-Principal who needs a restraining order
  • Mitch, the ex-con performing community service

The show gives everyone at least one great moment.

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Carson Betz with the Putnam County company (photo: Scott Gorman)

Carson Betz as Mitch, our ex-con, has a stunning voice used to great advantage.  John Wamsley as Chip gets lots of laughs, especially in a brief cameo that stops the show near the end (if I tell you more I’d spoil the joke).  Braelyn Guppy is equal to the challenges as Marcy, managing to be impressive yet still very likable.   Vanessa Campbell’s Olive and Kevin Forster’s Leaf both win us over with their tender vulnerability.  And then there’s Hugh Ritchie’s quirky rebel William, and Erin Humphrey’s intense Logainne.  Amy Swift & Art Carlson as the two teachers function as our hosts, to keep the contest and the show running smoothly, almost like stage management.

PCSB runs until November 25th at Hart House Theatre.

 

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Jennifer Nichols talks about Haus Musik Crossing / Traversée

I invited Jennifer Nichols to talk about Haus Musik.

If I understand the concept Haus Musik aims to do what every classical music company seeks: re-packaging and re-inventing their content in new ways in the quest for that elusive younger demographic, in search of new audiences.

I asked Jennifer to talk about Crossing / Traversée, their newest performance coming up this Thursday November 16th that she directs at The Great Hall.

Hausmusik is a wonderful recurring annual event developed by William Norris of Tafelmusik with the intention of presenting Baroque music in a non-tradition context and supported by other disciplinary elements.

Understandably, the audience for period music is quite niche, and this is such a shame, as it is exquisite and more people should be exposed to it, particularly a younger demographic. This is a not uncommon problem in the arts. For example, classical ballet, opera and classical music struggle to build and maintain audiences. It is even more difficult for something as niche as Baroque music. How do we change this and ensure its longevity and audience support through future generations?

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There are many arts organizations endeavouring to do this, and with Haus Musik, an audience is served period music in a manner that is perhaps more enticing.  Directors are offered a platform on which to experiment with their own unique way of presenting the music, and the result is different every time.

William approached me with this great opportunity, and the first steps for me were to begin with a concept and develop the supporting elements from there.

My concept was formed from a question I’ve asked myself for decades, which is ‘why does Baroque music resonate so deeply with me when I had no early exposure to it?’ Long before I started dancing with Opera Atelier (and hence was exposed to it extensively), I felt a deep connection with it, far deeper than the type of enjoyment I get from other styles of music.

The more I thought about it the more the idea intrigued me. Why do certain works of art, places, or people make us feel as if we know them intimately, perhaps from another time?

Version 2

When something resonates with us far beyond what is rational to us, is it indicative of something we are unaware of? The concept of time perhaps being ‘non-linear’ started to form, and from there a loose narrative took shape.

The result is a love story that reaches beyond the boundaries of time; in fact, time is fluid in their circumstance. Their story unfolds neither in one time or another, but in multiple.

It’s perhaps an esoteric concept, but I think it lends itself well to the music we are presenting and the intention behind it, which is that it is timeless and relevant regardless of context or date.

Version 2

The other parameter I was given to work with was the repertoire, which is entirely French Baroque, and so I ‘went to town’, so to speak, with everything French. I wanted the show to be immersive and engage all of the senses, and so the audience will be immersed in a world of film, visual art, dance, music, poetry, all bathed in a cloud of lavender. There will be LOTS of lavender. Everywhere. 😉

I’ve been incredibly blessed to have built a team of artists and collaborators who are truly excited about the concept and have come along on this ride in a fully committed way from day one. In addition to the Tafelmusik artists who are open minded and totally on board with what we are developing.

I have a brilliant DJ and electronic music artist named Andycapp, who has put together a gorgeous set of music to complement the Baroque. This musical transition from past to contemporary and vice versa is lovely, because they highlight and lend a nod to each other without being too distracting.

Visual artist and filmmaker Patrick Hagarty has lent a few of his works of art to support the narrative and these canvases will be featured. He and I have also developed and shot a film that is a stunning complement to the narrative and will be teased throughout the show. Without giving too much away, I think it helps transport the audience in and out of time periods in a very effective way.

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Dancer Jack Rennie has been a friend and colleague for a decade and it has been thrilling to work with him one on one to develop the character and choreography. I highly respect him as a dancer and actor, and his approach to the work. We have spent a great deal of time not only in movement creation but in discussion about motivation and intent and really fleshing out ‘who he is and what his purpose is in the show’. I appreciate how keen he is to develop concept and not simply present aesthetically pleasing elements.

There is also a poetic element woven throughout, in the form of a letter, which gave me an opportunity to flex my writing muscle. 😉

Hopefully it all comes together; there are so many moving parts!

A very important part of the whole process for me was to ensure that whatever unfolded was ultimately a ‘supportive’ context for the music, which is above all else, the focus of the show. Yes, there is a narrative, and yes, there are other artistic disciplines involved, but these should be platforms on which to push the music to the forefront and help the audience experience it in a new way. Which will hopefully make Baroque music more accessible.

At the end of the day, we want the audience to walk away feeling that they really want to experience more of it. Sometimes it’s all in the packaging.

*****

Haus Musik present Crossing / Traversée Thursday, 16 November 8:00 PM at The Great Hall 1087 Queen Street West.

 

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Sofia Coppola Retrospective at TIFF

Sofia Coppola: A Name of Her Own —

Retrospective revisits the works of the
American auteur following her recent
Cannes Best Director win

December 8 — December 17
TIFF Bell Lightbox

 

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The Virgin Suicides (1999)
The Beguiled (2017)
Marie Antoinette (2006)

The writer-director of ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Marie Antoinette’ has made the malaise of the privileged her special turf. Ennui is her milieu. And Coppola has a talent for revealing its existential and cultural dimensions.
— Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post

[Coppola] transports you to a place you’ve never been, makes you feel a sensation that’s familiar, yet leaves you different than you were two hours earlier.
— Christy Lemire, The Associated Press

With her recent Cannes Best Director win for The Beguiled — making her only the second woman ever to receive this accolade in the Festival’s 71-year history — Sofia Coppola has further cemented her reputation as an American master. Known for the dreamlike quality of her films, and narratives that focus on the ambitions and desires of her young female characters, Coppola has a fresh voice that offers a distinct female vision in a largely male-dominated industry. This latest prize a list of prestigious accolades that includes a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for her second feature Lost in Translation, and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Somewhere.

An alumna of the California Institute of the Arts, where she studied photography and fashion design, Coppola is also known for the prominence that costume and other design elements have in her films, not to mention that fact that her multiple collaborations with fashion houses — most notably Marc Jacobs —  have earned her a name in that field as well.

Running December  8 to 17Sofia Coppola: A Name of Her Own offers an opportunity to revisit the works of the American auteur, showcasing all six of her feature films. The programme also offers a rare opportunity to see two of Coppola’s earlier works in 35mmThe Virgin Suicides(1999) on December 8; and Marie Antoinette (2006) on December 10 and 15.

Click here for complete schedule or visit tiff.net.
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