The Comments and Press reviews
If there are contradictions in his cultural attitudes, it's because Schafer is like the American poet Walt Whitman: He is large and contains multitudes. Indeed, Canada's foremost composer/philosopher has been compared to numerous great men. Schafer biographer Stephen Adams has suggested Berlioz, Schumann, Hoffmann, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Rilke, among others. But one comparison stands out: Richard Wagner.
The similarities are most apparent in Schafer's music-theatre works. Like Wagner, with his grand and mystical Ring Cycle, performed over four evenings, Schafer has a cycle of his own. His Patria is a 12-part phantasmagoria that in many respects dwarfs the Master of Bayreuth's tetralogy -- although, unlike the Ring, the works comprising Schafer's Patria aren't intended to be performed consecutively. Drawing loosely on native North American culture, as well as ancient Greece, Egypt, Asia and contemporary Western society, Schafer has spent four decades composing and producing his massive oeuvre. It's still a work in progress: One of the 12, Asterion (Patria 6), isn't finished, and several of the pieces await their fully staged premieres.
At times in the Patria works, Schafer virtually erases the distinction between performers and audience. In Patria Epilogue: And the Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, participants spend eight days in Ontario's Haliburton Forest, performing various rituals, including the construction and burning of a wolf effigy. Schafer asks all who attend the event, held every summer for the past 13 years, to promise they will return every year -- in perpetuity. Some people do.
Tonight's performance of The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix (repeated tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday) promises to be an archly Schaferian experience. The text is original, but inspired by China's Tang Dynasty. "Together, the palace and the Cinnabar Phoenix symbolize harmony -- yin and yang," Schafer explained. "But warring states fought for the palace, and suddenly the palace and the phoenix disappeared -- replaced with a lake of dragons." For this performance, a large pond serves as the Lake of Dragons and the required "cast of a hundred thousand" is represented by puppets. There are live performers as well, including the Blue Man (sung by bass Joel Katz), who helps restore the palace and the phoenix to Earth. An ensemble combining Chinese and Western instruments will be led by Alex Pauk, conductor of Toronto's Esprit Orchestra.
Unconventional and inconvenient, Schafer's Patria series has a small but intensely devoted following. Some enthusiasts have come from Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Crete and even Brazil, not just to see the composer's extravaganzas, but also to help mount them. Toronto director Thom Sokoloski, who has staged numerous Patria works -- including The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos at Toronto's Union Station and Ra at the Ontario Science Centre -- is well acquainted with Schafer's fans.
"When I was doing a Schafer piece in Belgium," he recalled in a recent interview, "all these people arrived out of nowhere. Their commitment was unparalleled -- they would work 24 hours a day if you asked them to. At one point I had to blow the whistle and say, 'Okay, everybody go home now.' " (He also points out that lecturing abroad is a useful way for Schafer to recruit his international following.)..."in Bad boy with big dreams - He is both celebrated and controversial. Tonight, one segment of R. Murray Schafer's 12-part oeuvre, Patria, debuts at a nature retreat north of Toronto By COLIN EATOCK, Special to The Globe and Mail, Thursday, September 13, 2001 – Print Edition, Page R7
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