Most concert venues are dark this week, allowing audiences to recuperate from holiday festivities before embarking on 2017 programmes. The Canadian Opera Company, however, wasted no time in getting its Free Concert Series up and running. The series held in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre is the COC’s gift to Toronto. Several times each week from September through June, one can find superb artists performing in forty-five minute programmes. There are classical music concerts for voice, chamber music ensembles and piano virtuosos. There are also dance, jazz and world music performances. All take place in the wide open lobby of the opera house with the audience looking out at the streetcars and taxi cabs passing by. There is a wonderful acoustic and an even better casual ambiance as the audience sits on the steps or looks over from the balcony above.
Today, the concert was a hybrid of world music and jazz. Composer pianist Noam Lemish is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. He spent a year in Bhutan. (I had to look up Bhutan on GoogleMaps to learn that it is situated between Nepal and Bangladesh to the east of the Himalayas.) While there seven years ago, Lemish was asked to write a composition for the thirtieth birthday of the King of Bhutan. His resulting work, The People’s King: A Musical Tribute to Bhutan was recorded using piano and traditional Bhutanese instruments and presented to the king. That was seven years ago in 2010. When Lemish returned to Toronto, he arranged the work for jazz quartet. It was this version that was performed today.
Together with Sundar Viswanathan on soprano and alto saxophone, Justin Gray on bass, and Anthony Michelli on drums, the four movement work combined elements of western music, jazz, and Bhutanese traditional folk melodies. Its first movement opened with a recording of monks chanting. Their complex rhythms were eventually joined by the lyrical piano playing of Lemish. As the chanting faded out the other instruments joined in with jazz elements taking over and increasing the intensity of the music. The pace picked up in the second movement followed by a gentle opening to a ballad-like third movement. The final movement began with Michelli creating eastern sounds and rhythms on the drum set using his fingers and different mallets on various parts of his drum set. His improvisation took the audience to a mystical place. In fact, each member of the group had opportunities to shine in the work. Viswanathan was at his best in the final movement displaying both lyrical beauty and improvising wizardry. Gray provided a solid bass which had its own virtuosic demands. Lemish kept the quartet in tight control. He never let the improvisatory elements become overly indulgent. One could always find elements of the music’s themes within the jazz idiom.
Throughout the year, there will be many artists on the cusp of great musical careers performing in the COC’s Free Concert Series. Singers and orchestral performers from the COC and TSO will be heard as well as musicians from the Glenn Gould School, UofT and McGill University. Tomorrow at 5:30pm, Turboprop will perform Jetstreamin’ Jazz and on Thursday of this week at 12pm, there will be a Vocal Series concert with mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, violinist Kathleen Kajioka, and pianist Adam Sherkin.
COC opens 2017 Free Concert Series featuring Noam Lemish Quartet
Noam Lemish, Justin Gray, Sunday Viswanathan, and Anthony Michelli
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON January 3rd 2017
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