For those familiar with Larry Beckwith’s work, it will come as no surprise that the new Confluence concert series is a delightful medley of juxtaposing ideas. Under his artistic direction, the new series explores all sorts of ideas culturally and historically. It reflects a new energy while deeply rooted in the kind of performing arts experience Beckwith is known to bring to an audience.
The idea for Confluence goes back four years, when Beckwith made the decision to bring Toronto Masque Theatre to a close. “I wanted to get out of the opera world, which can be exhausting and all encompassing, but I also felt responsibility not to walk away from everything that we have built.”
Beckwith is not just referring to the loyal audience that he has built over the years, but also the strong artistic relationships he has cultivated with numerous composers and performing artists in Canada and abroad. The successes of their previous collaborations were founded on mutual trust and respect, and in the Confluence Series, the artists get a say right at the concept stage of the concerts.
This model emerged in conversation with long-time collaborators and friends, and it was a bit of an experiment. The success of last year’s inaugural season solidified the company’s confidence to pursue this new direction. “It’s about putting the artist first, and giving them opportunities to do what they want to do, rather than being told what to do.”
Taken individually, each artist-led concert is anchored by compelling ideas, with the details of the program emerging as time goes. This creates a great sense of anticipation and a promise for audiences to expect the unexpected. What remains consistent from the Toronto Masque Theatre days is Beckwith’s ability to curate artistic experiences that speaks to the audiences, and reflects the times that we live in.
There are familiar juxtapositions that Beckwith is known for, such as third concert that pairs the works of Canadian folksinger Willie P. Bennett, against the art songs of Hugo Wolf. The program will explore the darker side of life, while raising the issue of mental health.
Contemporary Canadian literature and new music will be prominently featured in the fourth concert. Slated for the program is a reading of Madeleine Thien’s “Bullet Train” by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Gregory Oh, and a premiere of “Witch On Thin Ice” by Alice Ho commissioned by percussionist Beverley Johnston. Inspired by the life of Yoko Ono, the new work features choreography, percussion, virtuosity, rap, and projections.
There is also a notable presence of women in the series, both as artistic associates and as featured subjects. This was brought about in part by an instinct to explore the familiar western music traditions through a different lens, but also the result of the new model of collaboration.
2019 is the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann’s birth, and the series kick off with a program that celebrates her life as a talented pianist and composer of her time, not merely an accompanying figure in the lives of better-known peers.
The second concert in the series will explore the question, “What is classical Indigenous music?” It’s a question that is quite personal to Marion Newman, a Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations mezzo-soprano, who has become a spokesperson of first nations art music. In the final concert, Suba Sankaran, vocalist of indo-fusion band Autorickshaw among others, promises to curate a program of words and music around the enduring image of the mandala.
Throughout the series, there is no shortage of Canadian talents: Tom Allen, Christopher Bagan, Alison Beckwith, Patricia O’Callaghan, Angela Park, Ellie Sievers, Andrew Downing, Giles Tomkins and Kate Tremills are among those that audiences can look forward to seeing.
As the company grows, so will the possibilities for artistic collaborations and audience engagement. That is one of the advantages of being small and nimble, while having the benefit of experience. We can look forward to touring concerts, podcasts, and other initiatives in the coming seasons to bring Confluence to a broader audience.
Confluence is a series that is open and curious about the world, drawing us in with its desire to bring our attention to what is common across different times, geographies and cultures. It takes calculated artistic risks that promise a satisfying reward for those who go along with the journey.
The 2019-2020 Confluence Concert Series kicks of September 28, 2019. Get your single tickets or a full subscription at www.bemusednetwork.com.