I needed that.
Ayre, the piece I saw/heard just now in its noon-hour incarnation at the Canadian Opera Company’s free concert series, will be presented tonight in a fuller version by Against the Grain Theatre , but I doubt they’ll surpass what I just saw, a welcome affirmation of so many of my beliefs.
Ayre is an ambitious song cycle by the Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov, who was present before the concert to say a few brief words. He spoke of his hopes with Ayre, a work that he described as a kind of pilgrimage, beginning in Spain and going to Jerusalem, an itinerary more of the mind & spirit than a literal journey, composed in several idioms. He saw the work as an attempt to grapple with the problems & conflicts of the Middle –East. I’m reminded –both in the words of the composer & his creation—of David Warrack’s Abraham, another work that would explore the roots of the conflicts that seem to be never-ending, while incorporating tuneful tonal music into a modern composition.
I would misrepresent them both if I dared paraphrase them with the phrase “why can’t we just get along”. But music with text has a way of taking us to a place of harmony & idealism, as though we were at the conclusion of Beethoven’s 9th or Mahler’s 8th, a place that wraps some people up in warm fuzzies. Yet in the spirit of the week –when some are despondent, while others are ecstatic—it needs to be noted that one person’s rapture leads to instinctive distrust in others. We don’t all get along, and it’s often because we can’t even agree whether to turn the radio to the classical, the rock or the country music channel.
I suspect Golijov knows the problem I’m addressing, the need for genuine dialogue, the concern that I believe is fundamental to his work and to our problems right now in the world. I don’t think it’s accidental that he’s captured the mood of the week, in a work that manages to be affirmative, ironic, and also to at least hint at counter-discursive rebuttal at the very same time. Or in other words, I think Golijov manages to simultaneously salve the wounds of those who want tuneful hymns to peace, as well as those demanding angry rock n roll uprising. It’s there in the choice of texts, in Golijov’s sonorities, and in Miriam Khalil’s astonishingly versatile performance. This cycle of eleven songs (including some instrumental-only portions) calls for the singer to sing in varied styles. But in Joel Ivany’s interpretation (he’s directing tonight’s show and surely we saw that in this afternoon’s reading) he and/or Golijov challenged her to inhabit the different sounds as though each were a different character, portrayals of great variety.
My mind is very much on how this work at this precise moment seems to be a near-perfect summation of everything that’s going on right now, allowing one to sit on both sides and admire the dialogue. For such a short work its admirable for its depth. No there’s no real Islamic presence in the work (which I’d perhaps foolishly hoped to encounter) so the balance I speak of is more between contending sides of arguments, and not the two sides we know to be in contention in the Middle East. But let’s not ask the impossible.
What Ayre achieves is pretty amazing. A small ensemble including electronics surround Khalil physically and aurally, her voice sometimes very gentle, sometimes angrily guttural, sometimes more typically operatic, and always tuneful.
I’m looking forward to seeing./ hearing it tonight at the Ismaili Centre at 49 Wynford Drive. For further information click.