The End

homefront WWI

This year marks the centenary of the end of the Great War. This concert presents songs, solo piano music, and poetry from composers and poets of this time, as well as first-hand accounts of the war in the form of letters and other writings from people representing all of the major powers that were trapped in this conflict. All of the songs use the poetry of A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, a set of 63 poems, a copy of which was said to be carried in many a soldier’s breast pocket.

Sat, November 3rd @ 4 p.m.
W 83 Ministry Center
150 W 83rd Street
Tickets: suggested $20
(all proceeds go to International Justice Mission)


Sung Chung, baritone • Suna Chung, piano

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Winterreise

winter-landscape-2571788_1920

They have cost me more effort than any of my other songs.

–Schubert on Winterreise

This statement gains greater poignancy when source and context are considered. Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) composed over 600 songs, and often (purportedly) with great alacrity. The 24 poems that make up Schubert’s Winterreise were published in three separate iterations by Wilhelm Müller (1794 – 1827): first as a set of twelve poems in 1822 (ending with Einsamkeit), then twenty-two in 1823, and finally in its ultimate form (with Die Post and Täuschung) in 1824. It seems that Schubert came across the poems in their first version  – initially setting the twelve poems to music – before completing the entire cycle of twenty-four poems in the year before his death, 1827. 

These poems have been criticised for their absence of a defined plot; Müller’s loose scheme further destabilised by the lack of a trackable sense of time and space. The poems mix past and present, and the entire journey is shrouded in the monochromatic, unrelenting white of winter. Our protagonist is journeying when we meet him and he journeys still when we part ways, effectively nullifying the movement of journeying itself. Instead, this voyage is an inner one, winding further and further into a claustrophobic world which our wayfarer cannot affect.

Schubert’s masterful renderings of these poems respect the simple and direct quality that lie at the heart of the folk poetry Müller so honoured. There is little self-referencing across the songs themselves and the tonal blueprint of the cycle is one that is better understood from a distance, rather than linked by a song-by-song pathway. There is no  perceivable audience present in either the protagonist’s melodic musings, or in the mirrored piano preludes and postludes that bookend them. Nevertheless, this quest contains a force that grows from the quiet of its inevitability, its commonness sharpened by its keenness.

Though the act of reading biography into art can be misleading, this Reise famously contains glints that reflect Schubert’s own. Suffering from the venereal disease (and remedies) that would end his short life, Schubert also looked out on the edges of his own mortality. His ‘effort’ weighed down by the double-edged horizon where both life and suffering cease. “…I may well sing every day now, for each night, on retiring to bed, I hope I may not wake again, and each morning but recalls yesterday’s grief”  (Youens, Retracing a Winter’s Journey, p. 25).

Friday, February 2nd @ 8 p.m.
150 W. 83rd Street (W83 Ministry Center)
Tickets at door (cash only, please): suggested $20
All proceeds go to International Justice Mission


Sung Chung, baritone
Suna Chung, piano

 

all proceeds go to International Justice Mission

You Only Turn 500 Once

When Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) nailed his now infamous 95 Theses on the doors of the castle cathedral in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517, he took aim at practises accepted, taught, and regulated by the church. Upending the institution’s trickle-down doctrine of rituals and behaviour, Luther instead advocated a religion based on grace and a personal faith. This was not a policy debate, this was a contest for minds and hearts, and one of the chief arenas for this battle was within the service itself. Luther would find no better champion in this struggle than Johann Sebastian Bach.


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), held various church jobs in his lifetime, including his last and longest post at St. Thomas’ in Leipzig from 1723 – 1750. As a result, there are over 200 extant cantatas (used in weekly church services) and two complete passion settings (used for the Good Friday service).

In this concert we will consider the inner workings of the St. Matthew and St. John Passions through the performance of various arias and chorales. Bach’s overarching architecture and ingenious development of musical material are signature marks here, as they are in his compositions for non-liturgical purposes. These aspects assert the unequivocal intellectual force that was Bach’s. But, it is in the ordering of movements, the moments of detailed symbolism embedded into melodic lines, the pathos and emotional breadth that are steeped into the bones of these works, that the profound, personal faith of Bach is revealed.

Bach’s renderings of the passion of the Christ are multi-layered – musically, dramatically, and theologically. The gospel narratives (often sung in the voice of the tenor narrator, though sometimes in another solo voice, or in the chorus) act as the framework onto which are woven poetic texts and Lutheran chorales, which serve as meditations, exhortations, and reactions to the scenes of the passion. Bach’s transcendent settings of these already-familiar passages pull the congregant in, inviting them to partake more deeply, widening the mind and lifting the heart.

 

Sunday, Oct 29th @ 2 p.m.
Grace Church Toronto
383 Jarvis Street
Tickets: $15 at door (cash only please)

Katherine Whyte, soprano
Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano
Colin Ainsworth, tenor
Doug MacNaughton, baritone
 Sung Chung, baritone
  Suna Chung, piano

 

Heine, the Poet

Hamburg 1800s
Hamburg (1800s) ©Patrick Guenette

A portrait of Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856) is a difficult one to trace as it incorporates so many opposites. Still, three structural lines in this image would have to be that this most German of German writers spent the last twenty five years of his life in Paris, that this powerhouse intellect was housed in a frail and failing body, and that Heine was a Jewish man in a very Gentile world.

These fed into his perspective as outsider and shaped his lyric poems, which Theodor Adorno describes as “ready mediators between art and an everyday life bereft of meaning”. Instead of solving discrepancies, Heine manoeuvred them to cast light and shadow onto the objects observed. Forever the skeptic and never truly aligned with any movement, Heine was hero to some, enemy to others.

Nonetheless, Heine’s intense brand of Romanticism – a romanticism that dared to look dubiously at its own devices – was a beacon to composers. This recital presents a collection of Heine poems in settings by myriad composers, from Schumann and Schubert, to Liszt, Wagner, and Boulanger. For such a complicated figure as Heine, a refracted picture seems apposite.

Fri, Oct 6 @  7:30 p.m.
 150 W. 83rd Street (W83 Ministry Center)
Tickets @ door (cash only): suggested $20
(all proceeds go to International Justice Mission)

Nigel Smith, baritone
Suna Chung, piano

The Gospel According to Bach

Albrecht Dürer, kleine Passion (ca. 1510)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), who held many church posts in his lifetime (most notably St. Thomas’ in Leipzig, from 1723 – 1750), is said to have written music to each of the four gospel “Passions”; that portion of the New Testament which recounts the suffering and death of Christ. These would have served as the music for Good Friday services, surrounding the sermon in two parts, with interspersed congregational singing, prayers, and readings from the Bible rounding out the hours-long service. Of these, only the musical settings for the St. Matthew and St. John Passions survive in full.

These massive works are multi-layered, musically, dramatically, and theologically. The backbone of the text is the rendering of the gospel narratives, often in the voice of the tenor narrator, sometimes in another solo voice, or in the chorus. Interwoven between the gospel text are poetic texts and Lutheran chorales which serve as meditations, exhortations, and reactions to the scenes of the Passion which would have been incredibly familiar to the congregational listeners.

In this concert we will consider the inner workings of these two great structures through the performance of various arias and chorales. Bach’s overarching architecture and ingenious development of musical material are signature marks here, as they are in his other compositions for non-liturgical purposes. These aspects assert the force of mind that was Bach’s. But, it is in the ordering of movements, the moments of detailed symbolism embedded into melodic lines, the pathos and emotional breadth that are steeped into the bones of these works, that the heart of Bach is revealed, revealed in a profound profession of faith.

Fri, June 2nd @  8 p.m.
 150 W. 83rd Street (W83 Ministry Center)
Tickets: suggested $20 
(all proceeds go to International Justice Mission)

Katherine Whyte, soprano
Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano • Sam Chung, tenor
Magnus Billström and Sung Chung, baritone
Roland Gjernes, cello • Suna Chung, piano

sonneto

sonnet-heart

The sonnet, a 14-line phenomenon of rhyme and drama. Developed in Italy in the 13th century, the sonnet’s lines are most often measured out in iambic pentameter, with a hallmark volta (or turn) to its final section in which lies argument, answer, or perspective to its preceding lines. This shift is underpinned by a change in its rhyme scheme.

Rhyme templates are associated with two of the greatest progenitors of the sonnet (both featured in this concert), Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374) and William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616):

  • Petrarchan: ABBA ABBA (volta) CDECDE or ABBA ABBA (volta) CDCDCD
  • Shakespearean: ABAB CDCD EFEF (volta) GG

These reflect an interesting discrepancy between English, a language that does not lend itself to rhyming; and Italian which (with its pure, liquid vowels) generously offers many pairings.

To  these famous Fathers of the Sonnet, we add the voice of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564), that master of the High Renaissance. Painter, sculptor, architect, poet, Michelangelo’s sonnets burn with the passion, beauty, and intensity that radiate from his visual art.

“Sonnet” is derived from the Italian sonetto, which means “a little sound or song.” It seems only fitting then that these lines should be presented as melody.

Sat, March 4th @ 7:30 p.m.
Ann Goodman Recital Hall
Kaufman Music Center
129 W. 67th Street


Colin Ainsworth, tenor
Suna Chung, piano
Kelly Strandemo & Zander Kirby, readers

 Tickets: $20 Cash only, at door