A serendipitous night was had.
Soprano Suzie LeBlanc is currently touring with pianist Robert Kortgaard the ‘Tis the last rose of summer’ series, mostly in smaller towns in Ontario and Quebec. It’s a carefully programmed recital loosely based on the theme of the rose – and this includes a wide range of Lieder, as well as some Acadian folk, the Irish traditional giving the name to the series, a chanson, and two newly commissioned pieces for the Elizabeth Bishop Legacy Recording Project.
I attended the concert they gave last night in Waterloo, hosted by Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, which is an entirely privately run music presenter with a remarkable reputation. (Have a look at their season.) The venue itself is the presenter’s own home, with the biggest room in the house equipped as a concert hall. Tickets and CDs are bought in the kitchen. It really is a nifty idea and execution, and it beats me why more people of means in Toronto don’t do this kind of thing. (James Stewart’s Integral House concerts are for his friends only.)
LeBlanc started with Schubert, moved to Mozart, then to the eighteen-year-old Richard Strauss, and ended with Poulenc. Kortgaard played Schumann‘s ‘Arabeske’ and Poulenc’s ‘Homage à Edith Piaf’. LeBlanc is a great communicator, so each song was introduced with a little narrative, either poetic and melancholy, or funny, or personal. She did her research. They both commented on the shifting between C Major and C Minor among the songs they chose for the first section, the somewhat more ‘rosey’ part of the concert.
After the intermission, the tone was significantly changed with Fauré‘s ‘Les Roses d’Ispahan’, ‘Nuit d’étoiles’ by a contemporary composer Jeff Smallman, and back to Strauss with ‘Die Nacht’. Acadian ‘Evangéline’, Kosma/Prévert, the ‘Tis the last’ traditional and Mendelssohn‘s piano variation of the same bridged us to the final song, Ben Moore’s setting of Elizabeth Bishop‘s ‘I am in need of music’. Before that, however, LeBlanc talked about how Bishop’s poems changed her life and got her to move to Nova Scotia from Montreal, and the EB Legacy Recording Project, essentially a series of new commissions of art songs based on Bishop’s poems. Then she read a poem by Bishop — possibly the highlight of the evening: a great artist delving in her non-primary medium, an intimate setting, and a very erotic and very complicated to read poem. Which happens to be about another woman. (You can read ‘Vague Poem (Vaguely Love Poem)’ on page 16 of this file.)
After the concert, since the rumour had spread around the room that I was the crazy person who took a bus to get there, Robert offered to give me a ride back to town. Suzie LeBlanc was in the same car. (!!!! That is how concerts should end: the artists leave with you. Thank you, Waterloo.) It was the most pleasant ride in the history of slow Ontario rides in wee hours through thick fog and lanes of construction work. (Thank you, construction works.)
The recital itself was the sort of event we rarely see in Toronto any more. The Koerner Hall is closing down its recital series, the Aldeburgh Connections was 1) unaffordable ($50 for all tickets, non-negotiable, was not reasonable), 2) closing this year. The Glen Gould Studio Canadian Voices Series happens every once in a blue moon–Alyson McHardy’s recital is all the way in April. Gallery 345 and the odd small venue do recitals, but again infrequently. From the other direction comes Michael Holt and Marcel Aucoin’s The Piano Salon, a series taking place in private homes, but the energy of that series is petering out these days. More people should know about it and more musicians should embrace it, so more money will be earned from it–at the moment it is PWYC, with most people paying nothing at all. Till the twain meet, there shall be a visible gap.
People with decent houses in Toronto — the ball is in your court.