Music: Break, blow, burn and make me new

Gerald Finley sings the showstopper from John Adams’ opera Doctor Atomic. It’s the night before the Trinity explosion and Robert Oppenheimer has a lot on his mind; John Donne gives him words for his torment. I’ve posted a different video of this same aria before; sue me. It’s not perfect, but I found it deeply evocative when I heard Finley sing it at the San Francisco Opera in 2005 (for this profile).

Toronto’s Esprit Orchestra will perform this piece on Friday at the new Koerner Hall; if I had my act together I’d go. Under Alex Pauk’s artistic direction, Esprit plays only music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Friday’s show is a humdinger. It has distinct mushroom-cloud overtones, with the above Adams aria and Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody (To the Victims of Hiroshima), with the composer himself in attendance. R. Murray Schafer’s tuneful, dignified trumpet concerto, The Falcon’s Trumpet, will provide a respite from the evening’s darker material. I’ve had occasion to lament that Canadian compositions, once performed, too often vanish in libraries, never to be heard again. Pauk and Esprit are helping to remedy that by playing a Schafer piece at every concert this year. This is a crackerjack orchestra, thinking hard about what’s worth preserving and celebrating from the past half-century’s musical discovery. They’re playing in the most beautiful new concert hall in Canada. And tickets are $43. I’m kicking myself that I’ll miss it. Toronto readers with an ear for adventure should go in my place.