There were two extraordinary musical events this weekend that provided equal parts intellectual stimulation and emotional depth.
New Music Concerts presented “Celebrating Beckwith” on Friday night at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The concert – curated by the guest of honour – featured two world premieres: Calling (2016), a quintet for brass and double bass, and Quintet (2015), for a mixed group of instruments (flute, bassoon, trumpet, viola, double bass). These works commenced and concluded the program and were given excellent performances by the NMC ensemble. The rest of the concert consisted of three first-rate older works that are seldom heard: Igor Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954), John Weinzweig’s String Quartet No. 3 (1962) and Beckwith’s Avowals (1985). Tenor Benjamin Butterfield and keyboardist William Aide gave a sensational performance of Avowals, a work that I would describe as “classic Beckwith” for its originality, cleverness, theatricality and poignancy. In fact, each work on the program shone as a result of the commitment of each performer. I have, of course, long admired my father for his skills as a composer, writer, teacher and pianist. Friday evening was a strong reminder of his genius as a programmer. His program notes were extensive and illuminating and his presence in the room (occasionally bounding onto the stage to thank the performers) was powerful and charming. The whole event was unforgettable.
Grace Church on-the-Hill was filled to capacity on Sunday afternoon for Stephanie Martin’s final performance, after twenty years, at the helm of the Pax Christi Chorale. For her “swansong”, she chose The Apostles, by Edward Elgar, first performed in 1903, but never performed in Canada, until these shows this weekend. Stephanie has focused on the works of Elgar with Pax Christi, giving memorable performances of The Dream of Gerontius and The Kingdom in past seasons. The Apostles is a remarkable work of huge scope, featuring six vocal soloists, various combinations of choral ensembles and intricate orchestral writing. From the opening passages, it was clear that Martin was in complete control and had deep knowledge of the piece. She was blessed with six of the finest singers in Canada as her soloists – Meredith Hall, Krisztina Szabo, Lawrence Wiliford, Brett Polegato, Daniel Lichti and Michael Uloth – each of whom were in great voice and distinguished themselves with powerful, communicative performances. It was a brilliantly paced performance and the final, ecstatic section had me wishing that time would stand still. Looking around the church, at all the members of the orchestra and choir and those sensational soloists, I marveled at the beautiful community that Stephanie Martin has created and sustained over those 20 years.
It was announced from the pulpit at St Thomas’s Church Huron Street yesterday morning that the brilliant Canadian church musician Matthew Larkin will be the new Organist and Director of Music there, starting August 1. I was privileged to be asked to chair the search committee, last spring, and we had a fascinating journey of auditions and interviews, leading us to unanimously recommend the hiring of Larkin. He has a remarkable track record as a devoted, charismatic and prodigiously talented conductor, organist, pianist and composer, with a particular skill at inspiring and leading young people. We are delighted that he will continue his ministry at St. Thomas’s and we look forward to continuing the strong musical tradition in that special place.
- Larry Beckwith