Confluence Concerts' Wound Turned To Light

May 27 clock 05:19 AM


Heliconian Hall
Toronto, ON

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Event Details

Composer James Rolfe’s beautiful settings of the work of a wide variety of poets, created during the pandemic.

With singers Alex Samaras, Patricia O’Callaghan, Anika Venkitash, Larry Beckwith and Andrew Adridge and pianist Lara Dodds-Eden. 

Hosted by poet George Elliott Clarke. 

Pre-show chat at 6:45 pm. 

Featured Program

What awaits me? (What happens when a poet and a composer walk into a bar?)

Two multi-award-winning artists – poet George Elliott Clarke and composer James Rolfe – join forces to set 16 poems by diverse writers to music in the midst of a pandemic. “When I read Namesake, chills went down my spine,” says James. “That’s a good sign you're in the presence of something phenomenal and transcendent.”

What is special about this concert?

16 poems by poets as diverse as Bänoo Zan and Leonard Cohen are set to music and performed in public for the very first time, courtesy of the  composer James Rolfe and the poet George Elliott Clarke. “Writing poetry means you're in a silo,” says George. “You've got the words in your head, your heart, in your lungs. But when that poem gets sung, you become the centre of a community.”

How it all came to pass

The Covid lockdown that began in the fall of 2020 was devastating to the people who work in the arts. Theatres closed, concerts were canceled, book launches were shelved, and independent artists found themselves struggling financially as sources of income dried up.

“It was hard to move forward creatively,” says Toronto composer James Rolfe. “It was an artistic conundrum. We didn’t know when it would end.”

While the pandemic was progressing, Toronto poet George Elliott Clarke wanted to set to music a poem by his partner Giovanna Riccio, as a Christmas gift to her.

George had collaborated before with James Rolfe, as co-creators of the opera Beatrice Chancy in 1998. They hadn’t been in touch since. “I thought, let me reach out to James after all this time," says George. “He agreed to the project.” 

George Elliott Clarke and James Rolfe are both highly-acclaimed multi-award-winners in their respective fields. George is the recipient of a Governor-General’s award for poetry, and was Poet Laureate of Toronto and of the Canadian parliament. He is a professor of English literature at the University of Toronto.

And James is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and Choral Canada’s Outstanding Choral Work Award, along with countless other honours and awards for his compositions. 

Together, George and James selected one of Giovanna’s poems to be set to music. “I particularly nudged James towards her poem called Namesake,” says George. “When I read that poem, chills went down my spine,” says James. “Which is a good sign that you're in the presence of something really phenomenal and transcendent.”

Namesake tells the story of a young Italian woman, an immigrant to Canada, whose first name has been anglicized to “Joan.” When she returns to Italy, she is moved to hear her birth name―Giovanna―spoken everywhere. She reclaims it as part of reclaiming her Italian identity.

George’s partner, Giovanna, was surprised and delighted―there were tears. “When I saw how happy everybody was with that particular gift, I said to James, "Okay, now you gotta do another one and another one.”

"I was on sabbatical that year, so I was being well paid and I had a lot of free time," continues George. “But my artist friends―painters, musicians, composers, weavers, calligraphers―were scrambling for income. I realized I had a great opportunity to be of some assistance to them.”

George decided to seek out poetry that would then be set to music, and to commission the music himself. By the spring of 2022, James Rolfe had composed the music for sixteen works by various poets. 

Confluence Artistic Director Larry Beckwith is delighted with the result. “In some cases, the songs are extremely moving; others are very funny, heart-warming―even light.”

These poem-songs will soon be available to the public on the new CD, “Wound Turned to Light”; the launch and première performance will be on October 13 and 14, hosted by Confluence Concerts.

Many of the poets will attend the CD launch in person, to talk about their approach to their work and to read their own poems prior to their performance.

“The songs flow from the poems,” says Rolfe.  “These are poets that a lot of us don’t know. It was a joy to collaborate with them.”

One of the poets, Andrea Thompson, had chosen the phrase Wound Turned to Light as the title for her contribution. It had been first used as a title by the French artist Georges Braque, and it became the title of the collaborative project.“The idea is that suffering can bring beauty,” says James. “The wound is an opening, like a door, or a gash that opens into the light. We don’t evolve if we don’t face our wounds and then move beyond them.”

“Braque is already a super talented painter. How dare he come up with poetic phrases too?” says George Elliott Clarke with a twinkle. “It's a great phrase, and it's a great title for a poem.”  

About the CD

The poets whose work is included on the CD are A.F. Moritz, Andrea Thompson, Louise B. Halfe, Leonard Cohen, Choucri Paul Zemokhol, George Elliott Clarke, Boyd Warren Chubbs, Amatoritsero Ede, Luciano Iacobelli, Giovanna Riccio, Ayesha Chatterjee, Bänoo Zan, Richard Sanger, Astrid Brunner and Anna Yin.

The singers on the CD are Alex Samaras, Jeremy Dutcher and Andrew Aldridge; at the concert, Alex, Andrew, plus Patricia O’Callaghan, Larry Beckwith, and Anika Venkatesh.