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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | AGO Friday Nights: Music Returns to the Art Gallery of Ontario

By Joseph So on November 10, 2015

Photo: AGO
Tapestry Artistic Director Michael Mori (Photo: AGO)

For music and visual arts fans, one of the most interesting happenings in Toronto this fall is the initiative by the Art Gallery of Ontario to bring music back to within its confines, by way of AGO Friday Nights.

Starting the month of November, every Friday evening from 5 to 9 pm, visitors to the AGO will be able to enjoy music, talks, tours and art-making plus a wine bar and tapas menu available for purchase. There will be a new program each month designed around a major exhibit, providing visitors with a unique approach to the Gallery experience. This special event is included as part of the cost of General Admission and free if you are a member of the AGO.

The musical events take place at the Walker Court, the atrium in the heart of the Gallery where many musical and social events have taken place in the past. I recall opera/dance excerpts put on by Opera Atelier way back in the early 1980s when OA was a fledgling company. Those performances helped introduce the baroque company to the art-loving public and likely played a role in the building of the loyal OA audience base. Given the natural synergy of the two art forms, it is long overdue that music returns to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Pianist Adam Sherkin Photo: AGO
Pianist Adam Sherkin Photo: AGO

The inaugural presentation of AGO Fridays involves a partnership with Tapestry Opera, a contemporary opera company based in Toronto. This month, the music performances highlight the newly opened exhibit of J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free. The musical program – Music Set Free – takes place from 7:30 to 8:30 pm in Walker Court. Curated by Tapestry Artistic Director Michael Mori, it’s designed to capture the spirit of the music in Turner’s time, as well as works inspired by his influences, subjects and artistic practice.

I attended the inaugural concert last Friday, Nov. 6th and had a chat with Caitlin Coull, the Communications Manager of the AGO. She was gratified to see the huge turnout – there were around 1,000 visitors in the gallery on that particular Friday evening, no doubt attracted by the special programming.

The Walker Court was packed, with every available seat taken – and there weren’t too many to begin with. They could improve things by providing more seating, to save people from standing or sitting on the steps, creating traffic jams. The performer in the first half was pianist-composer Adam Sherkin, whose work I am familiar with, having attended a couple of his recitals at the Jane Mallett Theatre. Also heard him play a short recital on the occasion of the installation of the new Steingraeber und Sohne grand at the Canadian Music Centre. His AGO program combined old standards with the avant-garde – Beethoven and Liszt paired with Adams and Berio.

Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman Pianist Adam Sherkin Photo: AGO
Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman and Pianist Adam Sherkin Photo: AGO

I enjoyed “China Gates” (1978), an early Adams piece, quite reminiscent of Glass. Also striking was “Orage Storm” (1848) by Liszt, evocative of several of Turner’s paintings in the exhibit. All pieces Sherkin played with technical prowess and uncommon lyricism. If there’s a fly in the ointment, it was the acoustics of Walker Court, which can cause the piano to sound a touch muddy. Imagine how much more diffused the sound would have been if the venue weren’t full of people!

Curiously, the space proved friendly to voices. Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman was the featured soloist after intermission. The venue gave her beautiful mezzo added resonance; She sang a variety of pieces by Schubert, Bizet, Purcell, Elgar, as well as two short pieces composed by Sherkin for the occasion. I knew Newman’s voice from several years ago when she sang the heroine in the First Nations opera, “Giiwedin.” But I had not heard her in standard repertoire until now. The Habanera was nicely sung and acted. “Dido’s Lament” was a bit low for her, but enjoyable just the same; and it was great to hear a couple of selections from Elgar’s “Sea Pictures”, a rarely performed work. The two short works by Sherkin, “Shade and Darkness” (2015) and “Light and Colour” (2015) worked beautifully with the thematic material in several Turner pieces on display. Overall, a most successful new venture by the AGO.

The program will be repeated on subsequent Friday evenings (Nov. 13, 20 and 27). Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5T 1G4 (416) 979-6648

http://www.ago.net/fridaynights

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Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
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