Last week when a friend, and occasional love interest, suggested we check out the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for one of our is this a date or is this not a date meet ups, I felt my stomach drop a little bit. To me the symphony has always seemed hopelessly adult. It was the cultural equivalent of knowing how to talk about wine or owning an expensive rug. The symphony was something for other people. People who had jobs with dental plans or would one day be able to afford a house. When I expressed my hesitation, the friend let me know about the program the TSO has running this season.
Owen Pallett, the indie rock musician behind the ethereal string music of Final Fantasy, has curated the New Creations Festival, bringing together the best in new music to team up with the Symphony to make new work. The festival also highlights new compositions by younger artists. That weekend the TSO was teaming up with indigenous throat singer Tanya Tagaq, who first caught my attention for her collaborations with hardcore punk band Fucked Up. Initially listening to Tagaq’s work – a style I was completely unfamiliar with – required a bit of time to get my head around, but the raw emotionality of her music eventually won me over. I was curious to see how that rawness transferred to a setting where people wear suits and dresses and tickets can cost more than a day’s wage.
One of the cool things that the New Creations Festival has set up is a number of ten-dollar tickets. The tickets allow people with out the same disposable income as your average symphony event a chance to check out the work, and that cheap price is crucial for people with trepidations about checking out a performance. While I entered Roy Thompson Hall that night with ta lot of prejudices, I was genuinely stoked that the company was making an effort to be inclusive of both new creators and new audiences. It’s a scheme that I wish a lot of other arts companies would copy.
Tagaq was the third act that night. For the duration of her performance she improvised overtop of the TSO in a combinations of sounds unlike anything else I had ever heard. The composition entitled Qiksaaktuq played with the highs and lows of the singers range. For her part Tagaq was able to fill the pace between the lightness and curiousity of the ocrestra with sounds that went from deeply guttural to impossibly high notes It was a beautiful evening and not at all what I was expecting, or had thought of when someone says the word symphony.
The New Creations Festival continues this week and next.
Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto. @presgang
Photo credit: Credit: Jag Gundu.
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