Saturday, May 12, 2012

Update, part two

Here follows an update to what I started yesterday. Perhaps this sort of diary doesn't make for such an interesting read (I find it a little boring myself), so I'll try to finish quickly.

After the concert at the AGO, I participated in the school's next New Music Ensemble concert. This one took place at school in Mazzoleni Hall, one of the two concert halls on the property aside from Koerner. In addition to reprising the Saariaho work from the COC Amphitheatre concert I premiered a piece by composer So Jeong Ahn called COOL!. It was scored for voice, flute, horn, viola, bass, percussion, and electronics and was a setting of Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "We Real Cool."

Here's a photo of her from Encyclopedia Britannica.

If you go to this website you can hear her talk about and then read the poem. It's pretty delightful.

We worked with Ms. Ahn individually over the course of the semester. The first meeting consisted of a lot of improvisation on my part, experimenting with sounds and textures that were often tangentially related to the text, and each time we met we continued to work to get the material exactly as she wanted it. While I've performed works with electronic components before, especially Anna Lindemann's compositions, I'd never done anything that was as dependent on the live interaction of the performer and the electronics system. In this situation, all of us had a small microphone attached to some part of our instrument (mine was by my mouth, as you might expect). The microphone picked up my sound and fed it to an interface, which was attached to my computer and to an amplifier. Then, when I depressed a pedal, it passed through a filter controlled by program called Live-Elektronik Patch (I think it's a German program) and then out of the amplifier. At different points in our scores we had indications to depress (and release) the pedals and to press a space bar changing the filter that would modify the sound. The one downside to performing with electronics, at least in our setup in a broad semi-circle across the stage, was that it was hard to hear what the ensemble sounded like as a whole because of the position of the amplifiers. However, I think that the piece had a good reception! The experience was quite interesting and it was a delight to work with Ms. Ahn, who is very creative and kind.

At the beginning of finals week the school set up mock auditions for those of us in the Artist Diploma program. For our half-hour auditions we prepared five arias and brought in the typical audition package of headshot, CV, and so forth. After we sang the panel, composed of people representing different facets of the musical scene, gave us verbal feedback about the audition. Though I never find auditions to be the highlight of my musical experience, it was so helpful to have the chance to go into this sort of situation with the same sort of nerves and worries that one might in any other audition and then to have immediate input about both successes and shortcomings. I'm so glad that we had this opportunity.

The following days were filled with final "exams" (actually concerts) and preparations for my recital, plus staving off whatever chest cold was getting me down with some oil of oregano. That stuff works, let me tell you! My recital was the following Sunday. I learned a lot from preparing this program, particularly about the amount of time and effort it takes to organize a large ensemble, which I needed for the Handel motet Silete Venti that I performed as the second half of the concert. Now that it is over, I wish I could do it again! It is always hard to put so much work into something and only have one chance to do it--but I guess that's what the future is for. I'm already cooking up ideas for the next one...

And now I'm getting ready for the summer. I leave on Tuesday to go down to New York and I'll be returning to Toronto in early June for the Tafelmusik summer program.

But, I leave you with this photo as a parting memento:
Paulie (who is by now freed from his cone) and I posing as the Virgin of Guadeloupe and the infant Christ. I hope that I shall flesh out (heh) this into a series over the summer! Stay tuned...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sigh... it has been so long that I updated my blog that not only have I forgotten much of what has occurred--and that which I remember would certainly take up more than just one blog post--but the entire blog interface has changed and now everything looks different and confusing. Such are the ways of the world.

 What has happened? Well, Calisto went up, for one! Many things changed from my initial description of the project, but the end product was just as beautiful as I would have hoped. Well, almost--they never were able to make the "fountain" spew "water" (a.k.a. dry ice fog) long enough to last through my aria about it. But one can always quibble! In all seriousness, though, getting to work on this opera was a fascinating experience. I thought about this opera and the various characters so much, but as an individual mind with freedom to apply my own prejudices to everything. When you bring an opera to life with a company, everyone enters with their own discrete opinions. Perhaps it's a bit as if everyone begins as a sphere, but as time goes on and you begin to understand your fellow cast members the edges of your beliefs begin to blur, melding with others, expanding and contracting, until it all fits together like a puzzle. I do love performing, and dressing up in my costume, and sitting in hair and makeup, and waiting backstage, but I also love the work of being in your rehearsal skirt for six hours on a Saturday and of imagining everything and trying and probing and poking and stripping away until everything makes sense.

And eventually it looks like this:

Photo Credit Nicola Betts

I was really lucky that many of my family members came to see the opera: my father, grandmother, mother, aunt, uncle, and cousin! What I didn't fully anticipate was how exhausted and busy I would be. It didn't help that I had an audition (for Tafelmusik's summer program) the morning after the final Calisto performance, or that we were still in school, or that I had a million other things I was supposed to be doing. I wish that I had more time to spend with my family and with the friends that came to see the opera. It's really neat to be able to perform for people you know, to remember that they are in the audience, and a real luxury given that I am so far away from home. This was the first time my mom had ever seen me in a staged production.

The week after the opera we had more visitors: Ryan's family and the composer John Harbison. Ryan gave a recital at the COC's Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre that Thursday, performing Mr. Harbison's two piano sonatas. The night before, he came over for dinner and I made two different kinds of curry which went with one of Ryan's beers. I didn't get the chance to spend much time with Ryan's family, though, because I was busy with a master class that Friday and a different concert on Saturday night. The next week both of us returned to the COC for another concert, this one with the GGS New Music Ensemble. Ryan was playing the orchestral piano part in this beautiful Saariaho violin concerto and I was singing a piece of hers for voice and harp called "Il Pleut." Initially written for voice and piano and utilizing the entire span of the piano's range in the single line of a slowly descending chromatic scale, it's not exactly the most luscious concoction you could imagine. Preparing the work with the harpist, Emily, was an exercise in patience. It took time to let the piece, which is sparse like the cold and wet day it describes, develop its own meaning. I think, though, in the end it was beautiful and different.

I can't really recall what happened after that. Ryan and I performed at Schubert's "Viola" at the Art Gallery of Ontario during an afternoon of performances by GGS students. Neither of us had visited the museum before, which we found to be quite beautiful and large. The AGO and the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) both feature older buildings updated by modern architects. I've written about how I feel the ROM's renovation was less successful, but the parts of the AGO that I've seen were quite beautiful. We were situated in the central court, which is mostly the old building but is intersected by a winding wooden staircase. Stained a warm orange-golden color, walking up the staircase almost feels like being in a slot canyon.

I think I'll leave it at that and sign off for now. On Tuesday I go down to New York for a performance at the beginning of June, so hopefully I'll have the chance to write more soon.

Oh! Now I remember: another New Music Ensemble concert, mock auditions, final "exams," and, of course, my recital. And that doesn't even cover all the baking I've done. Well, another day.