Runs October 2-3 @ Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre
By Kate Edwards
Thursday night, a lucky group of Torontonians attended opening night of the Art of Time Ensemble’s tenth anniversary season. The ensemble is committed to blending classical music with other genres and art forms, and by bringing together artists from different disciplines — including music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts — the ensemble is known for its innovative collaborations and boundary-breaking performances. Thursday’s offering, Words & Music, explored literature inspired by music, and music inspired by literature. It seemed like a simple and straightforward concept, but I really didn’t know what to expect as I took my seat. After all, the program included work by Proust and Jerry Lee Lewis — how was that going to work?
The first half of the show began with Michael Ondaatje reading a poem by August Kleinzhler, written following the death of Johnny Mercer, accompanied by a performance of the Mercer classic, “I thought about you.” This was followed by a reading of excerpts from Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past, which alternated with movements from a sonata by César Franck. This pairing was the most direct example of text inspired by music, with the Proust passages describing music and its influence on the author. Juxtaposed to this was an energetic reading from the play Fire by Paul Ledoux and David S. Young, accompanied by Little Richard songs on piano. The scene, which related a pious mother from the American South’s dismay at having lost her daughter to rock and roll, had the audience enthralled as the sinful music became a character, which complemented the performances of actors Rick Roberts and Ted Dykstra.
The highlight of the night came for me at the beginning of the second act, when Michael Ondaatje read from his latest novel, Divisidero, accompanied by a small ensemble playing music by Robert Carli inspired by the book. I had never considered the possibility of listening to a book’s soundtrack, but now I know what it would be like. Beautiful sounds perfectly complemented Ondaatje’s text; it’s difficult to describe the impact. And that Ondaatje was reading made it that much more special.
Afterwards, Toronto musician Justin Rutledge read a passage from Guy Vanderhaege’s short story collection, Man Descending, which inspired his latest album of the same name. Rutledge performed a song from the album, plus a new piece written in collaboration with Ondaatje, again inspired by Divisidero. The evening ended with an intense reading of “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, accompanied with music by Jonathan Goldsmith. The raw and harsh quality of Ginsberg’s words was matched by the music, and the combination was incredible.
Somehow these combinations all worked. The audience was engaged in the text and music, and I didn’t look at my watch once.
Catch highlights from Words & Music on Monday, November 24 on The Signal with Laurie Brown on CBC Radio Two 94.1 FM.