December 7, 2018
Against The Grain Theatre, Toronto's visionary chamber opera company, is known for electric performances that act as "a bracing wake-up call to the spirit" (The Globe and Mail). That daring candor is now being channeled via its new in-house recording label, which launches today with a live recording of Osvaldo Golijov's "ecstatically beautiful...radical and disorienting" song cycle Ayre (The New Yorker).
Ayre blends traditional and electronic instruments with elements of Byzantine chant, Sephardic lullabies, Sardinian protest songs, and Arabic, Hebrew, and Christian texts. Praised by Gramophone as "an intoxicating, endlessly haunting mixture of styles and musical cultures," the technically exacting song cycle has become a signature piece for AtG Founding Member Miriam Khalil.
According to Against the Grain Founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany, the preservation of such transformative works was a major motivator in the establishment of the theatre's in-house label. "At AtG, we have made it our mandate to create fresh and daring experiences for our audiences – and with this new facet of our work, we're now able to capture and share moments of our acclaimed limited production runs."
"Against the Grain is thrilled to be able to share the immediacy and emotion of this live performance, recorded at the breathtaking Ismaili Center in Toronto, with a broader audience," he said. "Ayre is an extraordinary and unforgettable adventure."
Praise for Miriam Khalil’s performance:
“The fluidity on display in Khalil’s smallest ornaments is also apparent on the largest scale in her approach to the entire work. 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…”
–National Sawdust Log
“Khalil's 2016 performances in Toronto - which make up Ayre Live - offer an energy and understanding that make hers a new definitive interpretation of the work.”
“Titled after the Old Spanish word for “song,” 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.”
–The Globe and Mail
“Miriam Khalil’s performance on this album shows her to be more than a singer: she is an elemental force. There are no missteps here as each song is performed with dramatic depth, a nuanced understanding of the range of emotions and tones required by poetry and music.”
“Khalil, who speaks fluent Arabic and even grew up singing some of the songs Golijov chose, performs this cycle with a personal understanding that makes this recording a mature iteration of the work. As an opera singer, Khalil spends her voice generously in Golijov’s stretchy, hovering soprano lines. And unlike an opera singer, she sets few limits on how she uses her instrument. She begins the cycle with a sound that’s close to a Western classical voice, one that could translate into a recital of songs by Debussy or Schubert; but over Golijov’s expansive arc, she moves her voice into the technically risky sound worlds of chest voice and nasal production. As the styles intertwine, it’s astonishingly organic to hear her womanly, spinning vibrato hover over an electronic beat that is totally danceable.”
–The Globe and Mail
Praise for Against the Grain Records:
“The album is a bold way for Against the Grain to inaugurate its status as a record label. Ayre is not opera, and it's perhaps not even representative of what AtG has become most widely known for - namely, its 21st-century-spun "transladaptations" of traditional operas by Mozart and Puccini. Yet for the launching of Against the Grain Records, to lead with Ayre is to lead with a strong message of putting art and diversity first – without compromising on quality.”
“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
“Toronto-based chamber opera company Against the Grain Theater has launched a new record label. I can’t think of better start to such a venture than this recording of Osvaldo Golijov’s song cycle, “Ayre.” The work captures some of the company’s central ideals: beauty, relevance, and innovation.”