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True North: Strong Breathtaking and Free Livestream

by Carey Rutherford

Hal Eagletail and his family have been performing as the Tsuu t’ina Singers all over North America. Image courtesy of Unique Perspectives.

“True North Canada 150th Celebration World Premiere” is a title evocative enough to slow most interested Canadian listeners for at least a moment or two, and the additionally interesting bit is “The CPO offers a fully immersive, digital concert experience for audiences around the world.”

They’ve been busy, in the Jack Singer Hall of the Arts Commons downtown: while they were replacing the 30 year old seats in the hall with orthopedically and acoustically superior upgrades, and experimenting with “Tweet Seats” for the mobile-device enamoured concertgoer, the Jack Singer Hall was also being rewired to optimize it for the online world of the CPO in its first live-streamed broadcasts.

Now, if you want the technical details of this facelift, you can give the Arts Commons a call and do some research, but most importantly: How did Calgary’s Musical Finest turn out on the globe’s cyber-stage?

Breathtaking; brilliant; awesome!

Normally, there won’t be reviews of music performances on these pages, as MUSICAlive! prefers to promote music by talking to the people presenting, performing, or composing it, exposing the perspectives of those who choose the musical life. But this is a Big Deal! Now, for select CPO performances, anyone in the world can discover what has been filling the Jack Singer Hall to overflowing over the last decade!

The Calgary Philharmonic commissioned an ensemble project called “True North: Symphonic Ballet” to celebrate our 150th, which incorporates the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, several different composers, ballet dancers, Tsuu T’ina First Nation Singers (and drummer), and a remarkable progression through the musical senses.

And, in the larger picture of the online concert, the CPO also performed a beautifully sensuous Debussy prelude, “Afternoon of a Faun”, local composer Bell’s emotionally-poetic memoir of Jerry Potts, “Bearchild”, and the rambunctious celebration of the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. It was a wondrous sweep from serene beauty to a solo viola’s troubled recollections to the ecstatic defense against Napoleon’s onslaught.

And all of this drama and luxuriance was going on in our living room, the cat happily snoozing in our lap as we lounged in wonder at the brilliant quality of the Livestream webcast. Clearly, whatever the production team had been doing to ready the Hall for it’s online premiere had worked. Because, having sat in the Calgary Philharmonic’s various homes over the last 35 years, we can attest that the sound WAS immersive.While hearing the soundstage of the orchestra spread across the space between your speakers, the sound of the audience was balanced perfectly to keep the “liveliness” of the occasion present. It sounded like one was sitting in the Jack Singer Hall, hearing the percussion over on the left, some strings centre-left, some centre-right.

The strangled cry of Bell’s viola phrases, played marvelously by Rivka

Choreographers and dancers associated with the H/W (Hattori/Williamson) School of Ballet gave movement to the musical palette. Image courtesy of Unique Perspectives.

Golani, were some of our favourite moments, suspending the air between notes, keeping the audience trapped in its web of storyline. And the 1812, with its sweeping themes, galloping instrumental attacks, and the grand, cannon-littered finale with the Carthy organ trumpeting its sovereignty just built a wall of sound that was practically 3-dimensional. And, with all that going on, you can still hear the single triangle being chimed through the scampering hordes! Here’s some real-time commentary from the Saturday night listening:

Concert introductions

8:17 “Wow. Michael Hope (the CPO’s omnipresent bassoonist and MC) gets to premiere the Calgary Philharmonic’s introduction to the cyber-universe (which actually happened a month ago with Brahms and Mahler) . . . and he does his usual great job . . . We have to say, though, that a job is being done even better by the crew that’s producing this show because the sound is OUTSTANDING! . . The introductions onstage were clear, and the music is gorgeous: we are so pumped!”

Debussy: L’Apres-midi d’un Faun

8:25 “As we are sitting on the couch, stretched out with Oscar (the cat) enjoying the orchestral proceedings, we can’t comment on the accuracy of the soundstage, but the depth of the sound is QUITE admirable: the ambience of the hall is present, as is the audience, which we always find an inherent part of the live experience . . . and now, Alan Bell begins.”

Bell: Bearchild

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture (The CPO parties, and the Carthy joins in)

Intermission

Eagletail/Wijeratne/McKinley/Charke/Chang/Ho/Eagletail: True North: Symphonic Ballet

9:29 “The depth of image is excellent (we’ve moved to sit centred in the listening space). Thank heavens they started with the Tsuu T’ina Singers.”

9:35 “Well, the brass is on the right, and the percussion seems to be on the left, and the strings seem to be centre and right also, and the bass seems to be on the left.

9:45 “I think someone just blew a whistle and everyone walked offstage (keep in mind your author is blind, so we’re listening, not watching).”

9:55 “I think this piece is Part III, Charke’s Industrial? And it certainly is emulating the building-up of complex, unnatural units; to some purpose.”

10:04 “This might be Part V, which is Ho’s Earthbeat. It’s got some awesome drumming in it, which makes sense.”

10:08 “This is definitely one of the cooler movements: the rhythm carries it, but the use of the strings, and the gong, woodwinds . . . it’s very evocative. the whole orchestra’s just going, floating.”

10:10 “Wow! The sound is just incredible! The Arts commons Rocks the House!”

10:13 (Transition from‘Earthbeat’ to Eagletail’s ‘Postlude: Unity Song’) “Holy. S***.”

(Much enthusiastic ovation)