Ave atque vale 2017. And thank goodness the year is ending.
While it may have included some celebratory moments –the Sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation and my father’s 100th birthday—I felt a grim shadow hanging over everything.
Can there be any doubt that Donald Trump is Man of the Year? Nevermind a “person of the year”, his gender is front and centre. If they gave a “pussy-grabber of the year” award he’d win, hands down (excuse the pun). While Harvey Weinstein et al have been outed and confronted, one can’t help noticing that the role-model-in-chief is still at it, still baiting and trolling and commanding the largest arsenal in the world.
So as Beethoven might have said: oh friends, not in that tone…
Let’s be celebratory. Eat drink and be merry, because soon the holidays are over and maybe just maybe that scary shadow will start a war to ensure that he can’t be removed from office. Ha, I first typed it as “removed from orifice” which might be just as accurate.
My purpose in this annual space is multiple:
- I need to observe passages, to welcome those arriving and to thank those who are leaving. While they may not be completely gone yet, I can’t help noticing that multiple artists are coming to the close of their tenure, and at times seem to be making programming choices that are somewhat valedictory in nature: which is one motivation for the headline “ave atque vale” (or “hail & farewell”).
- And I want to properly honour those who moved me the most this year. If anyone seems to be missing, I plead “busy” as I have lots on my plate and so had to miss more than a few things.
Hail and farewell to these three stars:
1) Matthew Jocelyn of Canadian Stage.
I think it’s fair to say that no one in Toronto has had more of a hand in so many of my most exciting / inspiring evenings than he. The programming at Canadian Stage has been wonderfully eclectic, international, and daring. This past year I can point to
- Lepage’s 887,
- The Return, from Australian troupe Circa led by Yaron Lifschitz,
- Triptyque from Québec’s 7 doigts de la main just to name three oddball multi-disciplinary works.
In his last few months we can look forward to:
- Declarations (theatre & movement) from Jordan Tannahill in January
- He who falls (celui qui tombe) on the boundary between physical theatre & circus, from Yoann Bourgeois March 1-4
- Voices3: in this body, music & dance, Fides Krucker (and others), March 14-18,
- Voices3: Tanya Tagaq + Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory March 22-24
- The Overcoat: a musical tailoring Morris Panych & James Rolfe, March 27 – April 14 (opera? We shall see)
- The return of Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit April 19-22
This is not a complete list.
2) Peter Oundjian of the Toronto Symphony has a few months left at the helm.
It’s been announced that Sir Andrew Davis will act as Interim Artistic Director for two seasons following the conclusion of Peter Oundjian’s 14-year tenure as Music Director at the end of the 2017/18. There’s the matter of the exciting programming so far this season and still to come, plus the concerts led by Oundjian himself. Concerts of note so far this season? I missed a ton this fall, only catching the Tribute to Maureen Forrester. Notable concerts to come include the concert performance of Bernstein’s Candide I’ve mentioned coming April 26 & 28, And Oundjian himself? He’s back in January to conduct Mozart, and will be at the heart of the New Creations Festival March 3–10, 2018, a series of favourites from past festivals. Other highlights I’m eager to hear include a visit from Leon Fleischer in May and a month-long celebration, concerts in June to conclude his tenure including a Mahler’s 9th June 20-23 and Beethoven’s 9th June 28–30, 2018.
3) David Fallis of Toronto Consort steps down as Artistic Director after the 2017-18 season, although I believe he’ll continue with Opera Atelier.
I want to mention two wonderful concerts: Kanatha/Canada: First Encounters and Cavalli’s Elena. Considering the comparative size, budgets and international scope of Canadian Stage or the TSO, on the one hand, and the Toronto Consort on the other, it’s remarkable that Fallis’ work can be spoken of in the same breath. I only wish I had more time to see more. Still to come this season? Illuminations March 2 & 3, 2018; Quicksilver presents Fantasticus April 13 & 14, 2018, and Monteverdi’s Orfeo in May 25-26-27.
4) And then there’s the arrival of Elisa Citterio at Tafelmusik this season, the beginning of a new era for that ensemble.
I’m looking forward to hearing so many concerts with her and Tafelmusik, especially an upcoming concert where she’ll be playing Beethoven’s violin concerto. I wish we could have more romantic music played by this wonderful ensemble.
Great performances of the year? In addition to the ones I singled out already, there are a few more.
- The Canadian Opera Company’s most impressive moment was again early in the calendar year, another Wagner opera. Götterdämmerung featured some amazing work from Christine Goerke, Ain Anger, Robert Pomakov, and the trio of Danika Loren, Lauren Eberwein and Lindsay Ammann as the Rhine-Maidens. Most impressive of all was Johannes Debus in the pit leading the COC orchestra, in some of their finest playing to date.
- Strongest impression without singing? Billy Merasty onstage in Louis Riel, an opera that I think could be re-named “Peter Hinton’s Louis Riel”¸ in recognition of the director’s work redeeming a troubling opera. When I remember the way the opera opened in the original –a single voice telling us of Riel sitting in his stolen chair using his stolen knives—it seemed to underline the criminality with which Riel’s name was besmirched, right down to his execution. Hinton re-balanced the work, giving that same song to Jani Lauzon, revising the harshness of that song, in a soft aura of compassion and love. I wonder if it can be presented again without his gloss: without the additional layers that mitigate the offenses and mis-steps of the original score & libretto? While I give full marks to Alexander Neef for bringing in Hinton & turning him loose to re-invent Riel, I want to especially remember Merasty, Lauzon and Hinton.
- The Sesquicentennial year began for me with a series of powerful challenges to the legitimacy of our celebration, namely
1-Kent Monkman’s mind-boggling powerful show at UC,
2-Toronto Consort’s Kanatha/Canada: First Encounters and
3-Tafelmusik’s Visions & Voyages: Canada 1663 – 1763.
I was lucky to be able to see the latter two in the same day, a day that shook me. Frankly I wish there had been more this year to challenge my preconceptions.
- I’ll never forget Ambur Braid in the opening performance of Magic Flute tripping over her own dress, and being such a canny theatre animal, creating something so new & daring that I think I was the only one –other than those in the show—who knew it wasn’t intentional. She seemed to be crawling on her knees to attack Tamino. Hair-raising. Brilliant. Sexy. She was the best thing in that show.
- Zubin Mehta leading the Israel Philharmonic? Heaven. Their Heldenleben was an extraordinary tour de force, faster than anyone ever does it, and every internal voice clearly articulated.
- James Ehnes’s solo concert in the summer was unforgettable, impeccable.
- The Toy Piano composers CD launch concert was magic. The first piece by Elisha Denburg incorporated a Fisher-Price toy that made the two year old in the front row squeal with rapture. I’ll never forget that moment.
- The Bach St Mark Passion? There are reconstituted versions, and we got to hear one this year with a wonderful cast.
- Bicycle Opera’s Sweat, a work of great integrity, both in its music, its drama and above all its politics for August.
- Bravest work of the year? Perhaps the heroic job undertaken by Natalya Gennadi as Oksana G in Tapestry’s premiere production of the new opera in May. This would be tough enough with lots of preparation time, rather than as it was: undertaken with relatively short notice.
- Opera Atelier’s Medée in April gave us a far edgier take on the work than previously. I love that they always dig deeper every time they revive an opera.
- Opera 5 gave us an interesting two works by Dame Ethel Smythe, a program entitled Suffragette in June.
- I need to thank Against the Grain for putting me in touch with TIFF, whose festival of films by Straub & Huillet in the late winter represented several of the highlights of the year, including their own live performances alongside some films.
Finally, as far as the future, I want to pick up a conversational thread that I pretended to ignore on Facebook recently. Topher Mokrzewski posted the following on Facebook Dec 21st.
The reason pop music resonates with people is because it resonates with their personhood and experience.If classical music is to succeed at all in the 21st century, it’ll be because we’ve a) made the case that people can identify with the works of these composers of the past and b) that we identify, as performers, as strongly as possible with the sentiments in these works as we might if it WAS pop music. That applies doubly to new works. Every performance is NEW. If classical works aren’t felt at that deepest level of universal personhood- notwithstanding the great musical arguments for why they are important- classical music will not fundamentally be important enough to talk about. Music is, at its heart, the communication of the universal humanity which we all share and must be engaged at that crucial level, where all the senses we have at our disposal allow us to love it at our most common level.The two threads can be connected.
Two relatively famous artists posted disagreements, I won’t take this up with them.
I’m inclined not just to agree with Topher, but to want to see where this might lead, creatively and otherwise. Just this week my wife & I saw Bernstein’s Candide, the second time I’ve seen it in December (earlier by TIFT in Barrie). I will now admit something that I studiously omitted from either review. While I admire much in both of these productions, I am very conflicted about this work. As the output from a committee it doesn’t argue for the value of collaboration. I suppose it’s better than the Yellow River Concerto, and yes I want to see what the TSO does with it in April. What impresses me with Bernstein is how much of his music is singable and/or hummable. Since posting it to Facebook a few weeks ago I can’t stop running that overture through my head complete with the composer’s quirky dance-moves.
I submit that many of the greatest works up to the year 1900 were full of hummable music. Remember that moment in Amadeus when the confessor thinks that Salieri wrote Eine Kleine Nachtmusik?
My point in quoting this, is to suggest that something as popular as this, or Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is a wholly different sort of thing from what we’ve seen so often in the 20th century, where art –meaning music, theatre, painting and all of the arts—seemed to lose interest in popular taste. It’s a sad commentary that some operas written in the 20th century are spoken of as “box office poison”. Meanwhile, composers such as Puccini or Rachmaninoff or Richard Strauss who were not only hummable but managed to be commercially successful did so sometimes at the expense of critical approval, as though their success proved that they had sold out. Joseph Kerman for instance opened a can of critical whoop-ass on Puccini over Tosca, a critique I find profoundly stupid. (and I’m happy to step outside with anyone who wants to go toe-to-toe on this one). So the challenge I offer to Topher or anyone else willing to take it up, is this. Given the occasional attempts to reconcile popular and classical –for instance Tapestry’s Tap Ex Metallurgy in 2015, or the three years of Electric Messiah from Soundstreams, who’s next? To be honest, I hope to undertake something of my own this year, but won’t talk about it until I’m certain that it’s going to happen.
Finally? In the interest of salvaging something light & comic from something heavy and ridiculously long, I’d like to repeat my favourite headline of the year from April.
Welcome 2018. Please be kind.