A great show at the AGO

A great show at the AGO

Jenna Simeonov

Last night I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario for their AGO Friday Nights series; this month, Friday Nights include a little music with your art. Complementing the AGO’s current exhibition of works by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), Painting Set Free, is a series of concerts curated by Tapestry Opera’s artistic director, Michael Mori, entitled Music Set Free. Mori selected a constantly interested programme of music, to be presented by pianist and composer Adam Sherkin and mezzo-soprano Marion Newman.

Mori writes in his programme notes, “J.M.W. Turner’s commitment to experimentation and innovation - effectively setting painting free - was echoed by composers of his time and beyond, reaching into the 21st century.” There were Beethoven and Schubert experimenting with the role of the piano, and works like John Adams’ China Gates and Liszt’s La lugubre gondola mirrored Turner’s own extensive travels.

The concert was bookended by works by Adam Sherkin himself, beginning with his piano solo, Draco “The Fire Maker”. The piece lived up to its name, and Sherkin’s playing was fiercely satisfying; he seemed to attack the piano rather than play it, but kept a round, ballsy sound that I loved. Actually, the whole first half of the concert was simply Sherkin at the piano, and he moved from piece to piece seamlessly, with little more than a breath or two between each. He finished his solo set with Orage “Storm” (1848) from the première année (Suisse) of Liszt’s three piano suites, Années de pèlerinage. Sherkin kept an enormous sound coming from the piano, and I noticed that he had drawn onlookers form all corners of the gallery, appearing in the archways and entrances of Walker Court. Mori echoed what we were all thinking after Sherkin was done: “That really was a storm!”

Marion Newman joined Sherkin for the second half, and I thought she was a great fit for this concert experience. She wove in and out of the audience during the “Habanera” from Carmen, earning some smiles and getting the listeners instantly engaged. The unexpected highlight for me was her beautiful “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas, a scene that Turner himself loved and that inspired his final four paintings. Contributor Greg Finney came with me to the concert, and he was especially excited that when Newman sang that tragic “Remember me,” it didn’t come out like “Rahmahmbah mah.”

I liked too their final songs, both world premieres by Adam Sherkin. Shade and Darkness and Light and Colour (both from 2015) are set to texts by J.M.W. Turner, poems he had written to be displayed beside his paintings at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1843. Adam writes, “Referring to Goethe’s theory of a colour-circle dividing into plus and minus colours, the plus colours (reds, yellows and greens) were thought to suggest jubilance and warmth. The minus colours (blues, turquoise and purples) were thought to create ‘restless, susceptible and anxious impressions.’”

Music Set Free was one of the most comfy, enjoyable concert experiences I’ve been to in a while. There’s a bar, couch seating, and a relaxed environment where people feel free to listen in their own ways. Sherkin and Newman perform twice more this month, at 7:30pm on November 20th and 27th. Head over early to see the exhibition, and cap off your night with an hour of great music. Find out more about AGO Friday Nights right here.

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