January 30, 2019
Ayre: Live, the debut release from Against the Grain Theatre’s new in-house recording label, has earned a 2019 Juno Awards nomination for Classical Album of the Year, Vocal or Choral. The album has been critically acclaimed for its performances by Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil, who dispatches Osvaldo Golijov’s eclectic song cycle – with elements of Byzantine chant, Sephardic lullabies, Sardinian protest songs, and Arabic, Hebrew, and Christian texts – with aplomb.
“One of my favourite albums of 2018… it is intimate yet powerful, piercing with emotion and mesmerizing in its tonal expression. The superb chamber ensemble of Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre has a wonderful synergy with the company’s co-founder, soprano Miriam Khalil, a true star of this recording. Her immense range of colours and fascinating vocal transformations made her performance on this album both spectacular and touching.”
“Khalil doesn't so much sing the Argentine-born composer's material as wholly inhabit it. Khalil's passionate engagement with the material is evident the moment her tremulous voice floats over a delicate foundation provided her by accordionist. The fluidity, grace, and seeming ease with which she executes the undulating melodies are stunning, and without wishing to downplay the magnitude of Golijov's accomplishment, it's her performance that most recommends the recording.”
“While Khalil’s delivery is unforced and achingly direct, it is far from artless or unpolished. The final movement, “Ariadna en su laberinto,” in particular is a tour de force of effortless virtuosity. Much of the movement is given over to wordless vocalise that traverses the entire compass of Khalil’s voice—she ascends from her lush, velvety lower register to a rhapsodic cantillation over an octave above without missing a beat, delivering the winding, highly ornamented phrases with a graceful fluidity that belies the iron control necessary to execute the extended passage. Ayre’s eclectic sources can feel blocky in their juxtapositions, like buildings from different eras of a city thrown up with no compromise or eye to overall aesthetic cohesion. In Khalil’s rendition, the impression is more of a lived-in landscape, one where tree and grass and hill and oasis have melded together into an intricate network, no one part fully extricable from any of the others. In this way, she makes Ayre feel like a piece for our time…”
“Best Recording of 2018: The clear standout was Miriam Khalil’s extraordinary performance of Golijov’s Ayre. It’s as spine-tingling on record as it was live.”
“Khalil’s performance shows her to be more than a singer: she is an elemental force. There are no missteps here… She sings with such tonal surety, such microscopic shading so as to mesmerize and move the listener, [then] rips through the text with ecstatic grunts, wails, menacing caterwauling. Khalil does great things as she leaps into operatic heights and sings long melismatic lines with solid technique and primal force.”
"Ayre is so relentless in its storytelling that it’s almost exhausting – another emotional wave we can surely ride alongside Khalil, who sings the challenging work with her whole body. Few singers have the stamina or the stylistic palette that Khalil employs throughout Ayre, and it’s even more impressive when one remembers this is a live recording. With Ayre Live, Against the Grain Theatre has christened its new record label with a piece that evades definition, a game in which artistic director Joel Ivany excels. The recording is a nod to the opera collective’s roots, with its spotlight on founding member Khalil, but more importantly, it’s something that will make it into my daily playlist. It’s too bold for background music, too tough to forget after even just one listen."
The Globe and Mail
“The gutsy, political, and hypnotising Ayre Live, performed by Canadian soprano and AtG founding member Miriam Khalil…offers an energy and understanding that make hers a new definitive interpretation of the work. The album is also a bold way for Against the Grain to inaugurate its status as a record label…to lead with Ayre is to lead with a strong message of putting art and diversity first - without compromising on quality.”