Christmas 2020 has been the most wonderful opportunity to access music. It’s as if multiple choral groups and musicians decided to share their talent and creativity with the world in a common desire to rise above COVID-19 and give a gift of hope. The result has been memorable in the best possible way.
The most sublime of the music emerging this season has been Messiah/Complex from Against the Grain Theatre. Billed as “A daring reimagining of Handel’s classic featuring voices from across Canada,” it is a breath-taking rendition of the classic music in Arabic, Dene, English, French, Inuktitut, and Southern Tutchone.
Produced in cooperation with the Toronto Symphony and the Banff Centre for the Arts, the production was co-directed by Joel Ivany of Against the Grain and Reneltta Arluk, Director of Indigenous Arts at the Banff Centre. The twelve soloists and four choirs come from every province and territory. They sing in their own languages and with visuals of the entire country… amidst northern snows, by ocean waters, in the woods, on the prairies, in the heart of our largest urban cities, at work or school, beside campfires. The language has been updated and the photography is contemporary. All of the artists contributed from apart, on video. But they worked together to give Canadians and the world a seasonal gift that would lift spirits and provide hope in this difficult time. The production is a musical and visual tour de force which shows the talent, creativity, and diversity of Canadian people and the breathtaking beauty of our country.
It is a profoundly moving experience. In the few weeks since it launched, there have been 55,000 views. Viewers are wild with praise: “so beautiful and so terribly long overdue,” from New York, another writes, I am “sobbing thru the beauty of this Messiah… and saluting CANADA for leading and showing the rest of us what true Diversity and shared Joy and Beauty and Hope look and sound like and unite us across all different races, religions, cultures into what makes us most extraordinarily HUMAN.” From Nashville: “absolutely extraordinary! Leave it to Canada to bring us a performance of such unusual brilliance at the tail end of such a miserable year.” “Life-enhancing,” “transformative… I will never hear Messiah the same way again,” “not enough superlatives.” “Possibly the most uplifting thing I have seen during this whole wretched COVID time.” “Astonishingly good musically and challenging, eye opening and… beautiful.” “Like no other Messiah I’ve ever heard or seen. Stunning visuals, beautiful voices, and whole new meaning for some of the words.” You get the idea. Whatever your normal response to the usual Messiah, this is a truly memorable experience which you should not miss.
This production went public on December 13th. Streaming has now been extended to January 31st. The history of how the production came about and profiles of the soloists are readily available on YouTube. Accessing the production itself seemed slightly more difficult. The performance is free of charge and can be streamed as often as you wish. To access the performance, you register on the ticket portal of Against the Grain’s website. Select a ticket beginning ASAP; only one ticket is necessary. Once done, you can access the ticket in your account. When you open your account window, you will see the name of the production, Messiah/Complex, in red. Click that and another window will open, with the words “view livestream.” That opens the YouTube stream of the live performance. It took me a while to figure it out, but it is well worth it.
I now see that Margaret Atwood posted a Tweet with a direct link to the video on You Tube. If she can do that, I can too.
Enjoy and Happy New Year.
What an extraordinary Easter it was this year.
Apart physically, as never before, we seemed together more than ever. On Saturday, our family enjoyed a get-together by Zoom: some at home two hours north of Ottawa, others in the eastern GTA, Bill and I in Vancouver. Sunday morning, Bathurst United Church which for decades has met in the chapel at Bloor Street and Walmer Avenue in Toronto, conducted their Easter service by Zoom. Thirty-one members (a good number for this very small congregation) participated, including many old-timers like me who haven’t attended in person for years.
My brother and sister-in-law, who are Roman Catholic, attended four masses over the Easter weekend, all virtual. They could choose mass from their home church or from a dozen other Catholic churches around the city, or cathedrals around the world. My sister and her friend welcomed Easter Sunday morning by tolling the bell at the Gothic yellow wood St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City, Yukon (built in 1902).
Most sublime was to see and hear global musical icon Andrea Bocelli singing Music for Hope live on Easter Sunday in the empty Duomo di Milano. He sang at the invitation of the Cathedral and the City of Milan, accompanied only by the magnificent Cathedral organist.
His repertoire? Five of the most-beloved pieces of music in the Christian tradition: César Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Charles-François Gounod’s Ave Maria, Sancta Maria (from Cavalleria Rusticana) by Pietro Mascagni, Domine Deus by Gioachino Antonio Rossini, and John Newton’s Amazing Grace. I wept.
Streamed live on Sunday, April 12, 2020, his concert is now trending #1 on the YouTube charts, heard by over 33 million listeners in less than 48 hours. You can still hear it on YouTube. A grand thank you to Andrea Bocelli and the Italians for this incredible gift to the world. A magnificent assertion of hope and renewal in a troubled world.
You may be interested to know that the Andrea Bocelli Foundation (ABF) has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for respirators, medical beds and other necessary medical equipment for several hard-hit northern Italian hospitals. As of today’s date, they have raised €237,638, with more coming in since the concert.