Toronto Symphony Orchestra lifts war into art with Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation

John Terauds, Toronto Star

Art loves conflict and resolution, while the real world muddles along in the sludgy mass between the two. But art, carefully applied and administered as it was by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night, can lift that sludgy mass up and turn it into something almost as beautiful as neat resolution.

The conflict in question is the neverending tragedy of war. The attempt at resolution is the orchestra’s Remembrance Day program at Roy Thomson Hall, dominated by the Toronto premiere of Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation.

Any hour-long Canadian composition getting a mainstage performance is a big deal. This particular re-imagining of a traditional Mass for the Dead (Requiem Mass) is a potent mix of the actual with the traditional, and of sacred and secular, created by composer Jeffrey Ryan and poet Dr. Suzanne Steele.

Steele travelled to the Afghanistan War in 2008 as one of Canada’s official war artists. She gathered her impressions — of fighting, of hope, of fear, of disgust, of death, and of the people at home hoping for the best and too often having to confront the worst — and turned them into concise, imagistic poetry. Ryan took the traditional text of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass and interwove it with Steele’s words using all of the resources available to a symphonic work, including adult and children’s voices.

Read the full review here.