One Hundred And Counting

I went last week (March 17 and 19)  to two musical events which neatly (and entirely coincidentally) balanced events 100 years apart around a central pivotal point of reference.

The first was a panel discussion/chamber concert  involving players from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra organized by the Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership at Glenn Gould Studio. Bruce Surtees briefly describes the event on page 14 of the current issue of the magazine.

The second was the appearance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday March 19, which is described in some detail by Paul Ennis in his Classical & Beyond column which commences on page 17. 

In the case of the Glenn Gould Studio Chumir-sponsored event, the 100-year interval was that between the start of the so-called “War to End All Wars” in 1914 and today. 1914 and 2014 stand like two grim pillars on either side of the event that was the main reason for the Chumir event taking place, namely the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s efforts, since 1998, to begin coming to terms with an inglorious chapter in its storied 156 year history, between 1938 and 1945. That a majority of Austrians  (57 percent) today accept that Austria was at least as complicit in the Anschluss as a victim of it is a welcome development. That in the same poll only 24 percent agree with mosques being built in Austria is a grim reminder that memory and selective amnesia are partners in a very grim dance.

We will have lots more to say about that event in the coming weeks, as Surtees explains.

In the case of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s Roy Thomson Hall appearance, the 100-year interval is a much more benign one, simply between the dates of composition of the two symphonies that made up the two halves of the program: John Corigliano’s Symphony No.1 composed in 1988, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5, composed exactly 100 years earlier. And in this case the link between the two is not a moment of monumental infamy, but an entirely happy one, namely the triumphant return to Toronto of Gustavo Dudamel, last here in October 2009 with Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, as it was then known, on the occasion of Jose Antonio Abreu being awarded the Glenn Gould Prize.

About this event I have a little more to say right now, because of the little affirmations that the concert sent ringing to the rafters of my mind as resoundingly as the LA Phil under Dudamel sent the music singing through the not always forgiving whole of RTH.

For me the event was not just about the music;  rather it was not just about the sounds of the music but also about music’s power to bring things into being.

How many people in RTH that evening knew, for example, that in the near-capacity crowd were a couple of hundred students of Sistema Toronto, which traces its origins to Abreu’s visit in 2009. Sistema Toronto, as some of you may recall was chosen by Glenn Gould prize laureate Leonard Cohen for the City of Toronto Protégé prize, two years after Abreu’s award. Now here they were, full of hope and music, bringing their own passion for music to a gala  banquet before the concert, affirming the fact that Abreu’s vision, powered by the state in his native Venezuela, could take root and flower in the soil of Ontario, where culture tends to be privatized and parcelled out as grimly territorially as the shores of most lakes in cottage country.

And I wonder how many people at RTH felt the same little bump of pleasure as I did, reading in the program that the Los Angeles Philharmonic is now the driving force behind something called YOLA (Youth Orchestras of Los Angeles), bringing music’s motive power to over 600 youth in underserved L.A. neighbourhoods. Yet another sign of Sistema’s spread, one can say, having taken root since Dudamel arrived.

Change for the better all sounds so simple when it’s spelled out that way. There’s another example in the issue – the “Hamilton Plan” that Chuck Daellenbach described to me in our interview (page 14), that brought music to the schools of Hamilton and its surrounds in the late 60s and early 70s with what sounds in the telling like astonishing ease.

 It’s tempting to think of the nascent power for usefulness of The WholeNote’s “Orange Pages” initiative as Allan Pulker describes it on page 61 as spreading with the same ease. Just think how easily it would all come to pass if “I told two friends, and they told two friends and they told two friends,” the way it did in the shampoo commercials back in the same wonderful 70s that Daellenbach talks about in our interview.

Enjoy this issue in all its diversity, dear readers. Music might not have had the power to dispel this winter’s polar vortex, but it continues to offer the hope of spring.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


COC’s Johannes Debus and Alexander Neef

neef and debus

Their birthdays are a month apart. They have just turned 40. They are both German, but they never knew each other in their home country. They also just happen to be the leading lights behind the Canadian Opera Company.

General director Alexander Neef was appointed in 2008, and music director Johannes Debus the following year. Together they represent the wunderkind generation who are the new movers and shakers in the arts.

We three met in Neef’s office for a wide-ranging conversation about the COC in particular, the arts in general, and, of course, living in Toronto. Debus came across as an idealist, Neef as a realist.

Read more: COC’s Johannes Debus and Alexander Neef

365 Years In One Operatic Month

April has become the month in the year with the single highest concentration of opera presentations. The past few years Torontonians have been so spoiled that they have had examples from every period of opera available in April alone. And this April is no exception. What makes this April unusual is the unusual number of baroque operas and brand new works on offer.  Here, by year of first public performance, are this April’s offerings.

oa-persee1649: Giasone by Francesco Cavalli on April 4, 5 and 6. The Toronto Consort continues its successful series of concert productions of early operatic masterpieces with Giasone, which holds the record as the most popular opera of the 17th century. Of the 41 operas Cavalli (1602-76) wrote, 27 still survive. Written for the Carnival season in Venice, they are characterized by their irreverent take on classical subjects. Thus, this version of the story of Jason and Medea has a happy ending and is more concerned with Giasone’s lover Isifile’s attempts to woo him away from his wife Medea than it is with Medea’s vengeance on her husband. Laura Pudwell sings the title role with Vicki St. Pierre as Delfa, Kevin Skelton as Aegeus, Bud Roach as Demo and Consort members Michelle DeBoer as Medea, Katherine Hill as Isifile and John Pepper as Besso. Artistic Director David Fallis conducts a period orchestra including strings, recorders, theorbo, baroque harp, organ, harpsichord and viola da gamba.      

1682: Persée by Jean-Baptiste Lully from April 26 to May 3. Opera Atelier remounts Lully’s masterpiece for the second time. It was first seen in 2000, then again in 2004. Chris Enns, in his first haute-contre role sings Persée, Mireille Asselin is his beloved Andromède, Peggy Kriha Dye is Mérope, Olivier Laquerre sings both Céphée and Méduse, Carla Huhtanen is Cassiope and Vasil Garvanliev is Phinée. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Marshall Pynkoski directs. From May 23 to 25 the production travels to Versailles where it has not been staged since it inaugurated the Royal Opera House on May 16, 1770, during the wedding celebrations of the future King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette.

1726: Alessandro by George Frideric Handel. On April 9, 10, 12 and 13, Isabel Bayrakdarian gives a recital with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra called “The Rival Queens” where she explores the rivalry between the two superstars of the age, Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni. Bayrakdarian will sing arias associated with the two sopranos from Handel’s Alessandro as well as arias from Giovanni Bononcini’s Astianatte (1727) and Johann Adolf Hasse’s Cajo Fabrizio (1732).

1745:  Hercules by George Frideric Handel from April 5 to 30. The COC’s first staging of Handel’s oratorio is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago directed by Peter Sellars. When Hercules first appeared, Handel was accused of writing an opera disguised as an oratorio, so it is not a great leap for the work to be presented as an opera. Sellars updates the mythological tale of Hercules and others returning home from war to the present. Eric Owens sings the title role, Alice Coote is Hercules’ jealous wife Dejanira, David Daniels is Hercules’ servant Lichas, Lucy Crowe is Hercules’ captive Iole and Richard Croft is Hercules’ son Hyllus. Baroque music expert Harry Bickett conducts.

onopera graphics1837: Roberto Devereux by Gaetano Donizetti from April 25 to May 21. In 2010 the COC gave us Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda in a production from Dallas Opera. This year it gives us another helping of what some call Donizetti’s “Three Queens” trilogy with the story of Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex (1565-1601), an ambitious favourite of Elizabeth’s who led a coup d’état against her. Giuseppe Filianoti sings the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky makes her role debut as Elisabetta, Russell Braun is the Duke of Nottingham and Allyson McHardy is the Duchess of Nottingham. Corrado Rovaris conducts and Stephen Lawless, as with Maria Stuarda, is again the stage director.

1853: Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi on April 26. Opera by Request presents Verdi’s classic about love and fate in concert with Paul Williamson as Manrico, Olga Tylman as Leonora, Wayne Line as the Count di Luna, Julia Clarke as Azucena and Domenico Sanfilippo as Ferrando. William Shookhoff conducts from the piano.

1855: Ba-ta-clan by Jacques Offenbach on May 1 to 3. Opera 5 presents a double bill of French rarities at Alliance Française, 24 Spadina Rd. The first is Ba-ta-clan, the one-act operetta set in China, that was Offenbach’s first major success. In this fanciful tale, two Chinese conspirators against the Chinese Emperor realize they are both French. Aria Umezawa and Jasmine Chen direct and Maika’i Nash conducts.  

1875: Carmen by Georges Bizet on April 17 and 19. Now in its ninth season, Opera Belcanto of York (rhcentre.ca) will present a fully staged production of Bizet’s opera at the Richmond Hill Centre about a seductive gypsy and the hapless soldier who falls in love with her. Nariné Ananikyan, soloist for the National Opera of Armenia, is Carmen, Gayané Mangassarian is Micaëla while Stanislas Vitort and James Ciantar alternate in the role of Don José.

1876: Siegfried by Richard Wagner on April 5. Opera by Request takes on the heroic task of presenting Wagner’s mythological opera in concert with Lenard Whiting as Siegfried, Oliver Dawson as Mime, Andrew Tees as Wotan, Margarete von Vaight as Brünnhilde and John Holland as Alberich. The tireless William Shookhoff conducts from the piano.

1893:Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck from April 25 to 27. Metro Youth Opera was founded by Kate Applin in 2010 to give Toronto’s young opera singers the chance to perform complete roles. The company’s fourth production is Humperdinck’s beloved fairy-tale opera first conducted by Richard Strauss. Kate Applin and Lyndsay Promane sing Gretel and her brother Hänsel, Kelsey Vicary and Peter Bass are their Mother and Father and Stephanie Trichew is the Witch. Director Alison Wong has relocated the setting to a dangerous urban world. Blair Salter is the music director. The opera is sung in German with English surtitles.

1898: L’Île du rêve by Reynaldo Hahn from May 1 to 3. This three-act opera is the second half of the double bill by Opera 5 above. This, the first opera of Hahn (1874-1947), a Venezuelan-born French composer best known for his songs, is subtitled an “idylle polynésienne” and is based on Pierre Loti’s account of his romantic liaison with a native woman in Tahiti in 1880.    

1921: Der Vetter aus Dingsda by Eduard Künneke on May 1 to 4. The final offering of the season from Toronto Operetta Theatre is the Canadian premiere of an operetta by the Berlin composer Eduard Künneke (1885-1953), who studied with Max Bruch and wrote four operas, 12 operettas and two musicals. The TOT is translating the title as The Cousin from Nowhere, but when the Ohio Light Opera presented it, it chose the title The Cousin from Batavia. Just as we say “whatshisname” when we can’t think of the name of a person, Germans say “Dingsda” when they can’t think of the name of a place. The action takes place in Holland where Julia has been waiting for the return of her beloved from his travel to Batavia, as the Dutch colony in Indonesia was known. A stranger appears who introduces himself as the nephew of Julia’s guardians, but Julia can’t tell whether he is or is not her beloved Roderich. The operetta is packed with one memorable tune after another, the most famous being the stranger’s song “Ich bin nur ein armer Wandergesell.” While some over here may not have heard of it, the operetta is so popular in Europe that there have been five new productions of it in Germany and Switzerland since 2012. In fact, when the Ohio Light Opera presented it in 2000, the demand for tickets was so strong the show was brought back in 2002. The TOT production features Lucia Cesaroni, Elizabeth Beeler, Christopher Mayell, Stefan Fehr and Keenan Viau. Jurgen Petrenko makes his TOT conducting debut and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.

1932: Pedro Malazarte by Camargo Guarneri on April 2 by University of Toronto Opera Division. Pedro Malazarte is the first presentation in a new initiative at the Opera Division called “Opera Rara.” The aim is to bring to light unfamiliar or unjustly neglected works from the past. In this case conducting student Rafael Luz from Brazil wanted to stage this one-act comic opera from his native country in what will be its North American premiere. Guarneri (1907-1993), whose parents burdened him with the first name “Mozart,” wrote two operas, the other being the one-act tragedy Um Homem Só (1960). His comic opera concerns the Brazilian folk hero Malazarte, who is hoping to have an affair with the fair Baiana. When her husband Alamão unexpectedly returns home, Malazarte manages a clever turnabout. Rafael Luz conducts and Amanda Smith directs at the Lula Lounge. Admission is free.     

2014: Etiquette by Monica Pearce / Regina by Elisha Denburg / Heather by Christopher Thornborrow on April 5. Essential Opera presents a triple bill of brand new operas. Etiquette, composed to a libretto by John Terauds, former music critic for the Toronto Star, looks at life through the eyes of Dorothy Parker, Emily Post and Nancy Astor. Regina, composed to a libretto by Maya Rabinovitch, tells the story of Regina Jonas, who in 1935 Berlin became the first woman to be ordained a rabbi. Heather, composed to a libretto by Julie Tepperman, explores the phenomenon of online bullying between girls and young women. This varied program is conducted by David Passmore with musical director Cheryl Duvall at the piano and a cast that includes Erin Bardua, Maureen Batt, Julia Morgan, Keith O’Brien and Jesse Clark. Visit the website to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign to support these premieres.  

2014: Europa and the White Bull by James Rolfe on April 25 and 26. Toronto Masque Theatre explores the myth of Zeus’ rape of the maiden Europa in a program called “The Myth of Europa: Desire, Transformation and Possession.” First it presents the cantata L’Europe by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737). Second is a new work Europa and the White Bull by composer James Rolfe to a libretto by Steven Heighton that looks at the darker themes of the story. The evening features soprano Suzie LeBlanc, actor Martin Julien, dancer Stéphanie Brochard with Larry Beckwith conducting the TMT Ensemble from the violin. Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière is the choreographer and stage director.

2014: L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime on April 11 only. FAWN Opera presents the world premiere of Scime’s electro-acoustic chamber opera in a workshop production. Ian Koiter’s libretto, based on text “The Shepherd of Hermas” from the second century concerns one man’s struggle to live righteously. The soloists are baritone Giovanni Spanu and sopranos Larissa Koniuk and Adanya Dunn. Patrick Murray conducts the Thin Edge New Music Collective and Amanda Smith directs.

2014: Tap: Ex Revolutions by Tapestry New Opera on April 4 and 5. “Tap:Ex” (short for Tapestry Explorations) is a new project by Tapestry to explore the relationship between physical and musical expression. The performance will involve singers Neema Bickersteth, Andrea Ludwig, Adrian Kramer and Andrew Love, choreographer Marie-Josée Chartier and director Michael Mori using music from Bach, Rachmaninov, Meredith Monk, Andrew Staniland and Ivan Barbotin. 

As usual, there is more than enough on offer in the 365 years encompassed by these listings to create your own opera festival.

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Fearless Haas Quartet Debut

classicalandbeyond pavelhaasquartet-credit-marcoborggreveThe Pavel Haas Quartet, the acclaimed Czech string quartet, makes its highly anticipated Toronto debut April 10 in Walter Hall. The music world began to take notice of the group’s youthful vigour three years into the quartet’s life when it won the Paolo Borciani competition in Italy in the spring of 2005. A Supraphon record contract soon led to their first two CDs containing material close to their hearts, Janáček’s two string quartets and Pavel Haas’ three. Their penultimate recording, a disc of Dvořák’s String Quartets No. 12 in F major “American” and No. 13 in G major, was greeted with widespread critical acclaim culminating in Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award in the fall of 2011.

I’m looking forward to their performance of Brahms Quartet No. 2 in A minor with its lovely opening movement’s dusky poignancy. Like The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 in C Major celebrates the work of Henry Purcell, whom Britten rightly called “the last important figure of English music.” I’m also eagerly anticipating the Pavel Haas Quartet’s venture into such a singular British realm, in particular the last movement theme and variations chacony that ends with a huge celebration. They’re certainly familiar with the U.K., having performed in Wigmore Hall and beyond and been artists in residence for three years in Glasgow Royal Concert Halls.

First violinist Veronika Jarůšková formed the group with fellow students of Milan Škampa, the legendary violist of the celebrated Smetana Quartet. An interview on Tokafi.com in 2007 soon after their first recording, revealed that Škampa was their biggest artistic influence: “He taught us about quartet dialogue and about life as a quartet.” Their idea of what constitutes a good live performance continues to be their byword: “Most important is to hand over our feeling through music to the audience.”

In an email exchange I asked founding PHQ violist Pavel Nikl how the quartet chose its name:

“It was a coincidence,” he said. “At the time when we were trying to find a suitable name, a good friend of ours showed us a recording of the second string quartet composed by Pavel Haas and we liked it very much. So we asked his daughter, who still lives in Brno to get her consent to name our group after her father. She agreed. And all of us are happy that such great music [of Pavel Haas] will not fall into oblivion despite the fact he died very young [at 45] in a concentration camp and a lot of his music disappeared with him.”

In a 2010 interview with Graham Strahle in the Adelaide Review, PHQ cellist Peter Jarusek (Jarůšková’s husband) said that their namesake is a beacon for what the quartet seeks to achieve on an artistic level. “It is the unwavering genuineness of the man and what he did that means a lot to us. We are a young group, but that doesn’t mean that we consciously set out to be more attractive, stylistically innovative or anything like that. We just try to communicate the best we can to our audience, that is with intimacy and no artifice.

Haas’ music is all highly personal, original music from a man who believed very deeply in what he was doing. Throughout his music he uses many Jewish melodies, and you can feel it is Jewish. At the same time, he was fearlessly innovative. His Second String Quartet, for instance, which he called ‘From the Monkey Mountains,’ actually includes percussion in the last movement, and it’s an absolute riot. It really is like big band music for string quartet.”

In response to a question about the way the group chooses its material Nikl replied: “We try to choose pieces from every period of classical music to achieve a rich repertoire. We are lucky that no one is forcing us to play what we ourselves do not want to play. So we simply choose what we would like to play. The repertoire for string quartet is so rich that we are not able to play so much beautiful music during a lifetime. “

The quartet’s most recent recording was released last September. Featuring Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden” and the Cello Quintet with Danjulo Ishizaka, the CD has generated a major outpouring of praise. Here’s an example from British blogger Peter Smith: “The Times reviewer wrote ‘If CDs had grooves I would already have worn out these marvellous recordings  … the perfect fusion of virtuosity and profundity.’ Indeed. These performances are of a quite unworldly quality, deeply felt yet utterly thought-through, the most passionate you have heard but with moments of haunting delicacy, with an overarching architectural vision always holding it all together.”

The Gramophone reviewer wrote about their “fearless risk-taking, their fervency” and “insanely memorable phrasing,” calling the PHQ “absolutely mesmerizing” and “raw, visceral, and with an emotional immediacy that is almost unbearable.”

Their upcoming concert presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto is comprised of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 1, in addition to the Britten and Brahms, all from the same C major tonal family. When I pointed this out to Nikl, he said it was coincidence, something he had not realized until now. These pieces have only been part of the quartet’s repertoire for a short time, about a year for the Brahms and Britten but less for the third. “The Shostakovich quartet is almost a new piece for us,” he said.

Replying to a question about live performance versus studio work, Nikl piqued my curiosity once more about their April 1o debut. “Our approach is always the same. We try to play hard and do not distinguish whether we are playing on the concert stage or whether we are recording. But there is a fundamental difference. Unlike recording, on the stage we have just one shot for all ...”

Recent Events

Stephen Hough’s masterclass at RCM’s Mazzoleni Hall March 3 overflowed with insights from that most discerning of pianists:

•“Have the courage to do nothing sometimes.”

•“Late Chopin – he became more interested in counterpoint – needs clarity; the right hand has to be able to whisper and still the accompaniment must be softer.”

•“Descending chromatics in Western music from the Renaissance on is all about suffering.”

•“Let’s find a real pianissimo so that it’s floating from the elbow; a real pianissimo in the concert hall makes an audience listen [as Hough’s blissful unveiling of Schoenberg’s Six Little Pieces in his March 2 Koerner Hall recital illustrated].

•“We have evidence (Horowitz’s Rach 3) where you don’t have to play all the notes; sometimes you need to thin things out – this was Horowitz’s great trick. Rubinstein admitted he left out notes in Iberia by Albéniz to get the ‘lift.’”

•“Some kind of musical clarity is more important than playing all the notes.”

Gustavo Dudamel’s visit to Roy Thomson Hall March 19 ignited his orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and electrified the near-capacity crowd. His stellar status stems from his musical approach which energizes his players and invigorates the notes they play. The Toronto concert juxtaposed John Corigliano Jr.’s Symphony No. 1, an alternately tuneful and violent reflection of the composer’s reaction to the AIDS epidemic, with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, with its own brand of fateful splendour.

Dudamel turned Corigliano’s massive outpouring of pain and beauty (written at the end of the 1980s and inspired directly by the death of three of his friends) into a showcase for his superb orchestral instrument. The conductor laid bare the work’s many textures, from an offstage piano quoting Albéniz to double tympani at opposite ends of the stage, from a heavenly solo cello to the stark shrill of three piccolos at triple fortissimo.

But it was the Tchaikovsky that confirmed Dudamel’s reputation and justified an immediate standing ovation. He revealed the visceral power of the music, making the familiar fresh -- with great clarity throughout and restraint when appropriate, from the snark of the brass to the anguish of the strings, with perfectly phrased moments and bars snapped off as if by a bullwhip, even unearthing a note you’ve never really heard before.

And then, at the end, with an elegance that acknowledged his love and respect for the orchestra, he disappeared into their midst to soak up the applause.

Concert-copia

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra bids farewell to a stellar month April 30 and May 1 with Sir Andrew Davis conducting Mahler’s essential Symphony 9 in D. April 17 and 19 finds the fascinating pianist Hélène Grimaud as soloist in Brahms’ Concerto No. 1 under the baton of Andrey Boeyko, music director of the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra. On April 11 and 12 Mozart’s vivacious Piano Concerto No. 17 comes under the scrutiny of the highly respected Richard Goode while Peter Oundjian also leads the orchestra in Richard Strauss’ gloriously hubristic Ein Heldenleben.

The Kindred Spirits Orchestra celebrates Good Friday April 18 with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Andre LaPlante performing Beethoven’s Concerto No.5 “Emperor” and Schumann’s Symphony No.1 “Spring.” Kristian Alexander conducts.

April 6 the Royal Conservatory concludes another season of Sunday afternoon piano recitals with a power-packed program by Khatia Buniatishvili. Liszt’s Piano Sonata and Chopin’s Second Sonata bookend Ravel’s iconic La valse. Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka conclude the breathtaking proceedings.

Music Toronto brings back Kikuei Ikeda, former violinist of the beloved Tokyo String Quartet, to join the Parker Quartet as a violist April 10 in a performance of Dvořák’s Quintet in E-flat Op.97 while April 28 finds the Associates of Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Mozart’s String Quintet No.3 in C, K515 and Brahms’ String Quintet No.2 in G Op.111.

In their program May 4, the Windermere String Quartetnote that “the 13th quartets of Haydn and Beethoven [the lyrical Op. 130] bookend the era of the classical quartet: from the making of the mould to the breaking of it.”

The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society offers an alternative interpretation of Britten’s String Quartet No.2 when they present the Enso Quartet April 11, one day after the Pavel Haas Quartet plays it in Toronto. On April 15 pianist Philip Chiu includes his own arrangement of the Suite for Oboe and Piano by Pavel Haas in his free noontime concert “Music in the Time of War” at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre.

Two Grammy Award Winners: April 4 Jeffery Concerts presents James Ehnes accompanied by Andrew Armstrong performing LeClair’s Sonata No. 3 in D major, op. 9, Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor, op. 108, a new work by Alexina Louie and Richard Strauss’ Sonata in E-flat major, op. 18 while the iconic Canadian Brass concludes the Mooredale Concerts current season April 27.

  Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

“Youthful” Assumptions

choralscene paxAnyone involved in arts work knows the importance of involving youth in art’s survival. So how does one generation pass on its interests and traditions to the next? A method often employed by well-meaning over 30s is to solicit ideas and suggestions from the young. The assumption is that such ideas must be indicative of future trends that the cautious elderly would do well to heed.

The problem with this method as Canadian author Robertson Davies once observed is that rather than being open-minded, children and teens can be notably conservative, insisting on strict protocols of behaviour, discourse, gender roles and physical appearance.

When very young we grasp for certainty out of a lack of knowledge or experience, and move towards innovation and experimentation as our understanding and confidence grow. New art is created within the uncomfortable nexus between embracing and rejecting what has been learned.

True, suppressed conservative attitudes in both art and politics often re-emerge as people get older (with notable, or brave, or nutty exceptions), but neither conservatism and liberalism, artistic or otherwise, is really tied to age. True open-mindedness is a rare quality and is often limited to specific areas. There’s no guarantee that a liberal attitude to politics, religion, even food (not to mention more transgressive entertainments), will be accompanied by a liberal attitude towards music or other art forms.

The problem for the choir director, or any teacher of music, is to strike a balance between imparting past traditions and striking into new territory. The question of when to lead, and when to be led by, youthful suggestions can be perplexing. The most cutting-edge art often dates the most quickly, and a choir director can be forgiven for wondering if having the bass section beatbox to a Lorde hit is really the right choice.

There are a number of children’s and youth ensembles performing this month; their performances are referenced a little further on in the column.  Judge for yourself if their work represents the wave of the future, a familiar continuation of the past, or the usual elusive mix of both.

First though, a note on some less than usual fare.

Rarities

On April 5 the Larkin Singers perform “Modern Mystics,” including works by Tavener, Dove, Briggs and others.

On May 3 the Orpheus Choir of Toronto teams up with Chorus Niagara for a performance of Dvořák’s Requiem in St. Catharines; the concert is repeated the next day at Koerner Hall.

On Apr 26 7:30 Pax Christi Chorale performs “Passion and Peace: Radiant Music, Ancient Wisdom” in Kitchener, with three compositions not heard often enough live: Fauré’s Messe Basse; Langlais’ Missa Salve Regina and Randall Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom. Conductor Stephanie Martin, also a notable composer, premieres her Now The Queen of Seasons. Concert repeated April 27 in Toronto.

Youth and Young Artist Ensembles

On April 1 the York University Jazz Festival has performances from several of the music program’s Jazz Choirs. Admission is free.

On April 6 young adult and children’s choirs combine, as the University of Toronto Women’s Chorus performs “In High Voice,” with guests Young Voices Toronto. This ensemble is the Children’s Choir-in-Residence at Uof T’s Faculty of Music – another chance to see them takes plays on May 1, when they combine with the Hamilton Children’s Choir to present a free noon-hour concert at Roy Thomson Hall.

On the “imparting past traditions” side of the coin, the Arcady choir joins forces with the Cambridge Kiwanis Boys’ Choir and Cambridge Girls’ Choir to perform Handel’s Messiah on April 13 in Cambridge. The concert is in support of the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.

In a similar vein, The University of Waterloo Department of Music’s University Choir performs Orff’s Carmina Burana on April 5 in Waterloo. The Waterloo U. Chamber Choir presents a concert entitled “Earth Teach Me,” on April 4 in Kitchener.

One area in which youth ensembles will likely always out-perform adult ensembles is in show choirs, which combine singing with physically challenging activities that involve bending and twisting, which is what most of us joined choirs to avoid. The Show Choir Canada Nationals, a competition for show choirs, takes place on April 12. High school glee clubs and choirs compete for scholarships and prizes. Visit showchoircanada.com for more information.

Children’s Choirs

choralscene torontochildren schorusThe Toronto Children’s Chorus (TCC) takes a systematic approach to choral training, with several junior ensembles as well as the main group.

On April 5 no fewer than ten Ontario children’s choirs get together to perform “Flights of Fancy – No Parachute,” conducted by Canadian choral specialist Stephen Hatfield. The TCC’s junior ensembles are taking part in this concert, and on April 12 the TTC’s Chorale Choir performs “Fanciful Fantasmagorical Flights,” a concert that will contain choreography as well as singing.

On May 3 all the Toronto Children’s Chorus groups join together to perform “Flights of Fancy,” with works by tuneful Canadian composers Donald Patriquin and Ruth Watson Henderson, among others.

On April 12 Islington United Church’s Youth Choir and Junior Choir present a joint concert entitled “A Place in the Choir: Youthful Voices.” Free for children and youth.

On May 4 the ASLAN Boys Choir of Toronto kicks out against the city’s inland status in a concert with nautical themes entitled “Pirates, Landlubbers and the High Seas.” Repertoire includes traditional shanties and songs about life on the ocean.

 Anniversaries

Two choirs celebrate 25-year anniversaries in May. In Toronto, the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir performs works by Monteverdi, Canadian composer Stephen Hatfield, Paul Halley’s catchy Freedom Trilogy and Wade Hemsworth’s iconic Canadian song, Log Driver’s Waltz. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to the Huban Cradle of Hope Children’s Home orphanage in Kenya. May 3.

Also May 3, Markham’s Village Voices performs “Silver Stars: 25th Anniversary Concert.” Alumni and past accompanists will join the choir for music by Handel, Mozart, opera and music theatre choruses.

Good Friday Concerts

All of the following concerts take place on Good Friday, April 18:

Cantabile Chorale of York Region “Good Friday Charity Benefit Concert.” Admission with freewill offering; proceeds to selected social service agencies in York Region.

The Choir of Lawrence Park Community Church performs popular English composer John Rutter’s Requiem.

Bach and Good Friday go together like hip-hop and beatbox. Bach’s St. John Passion can be heard in Kitchener with the Grand Philharmonic Choir, and in Toronto performed by the Metropolitan Festival Choir and Orchestra. Both concerts feature outstanding vocal soloists.

Bach’s Mass In B minor also gets a reading April 12, by the combined forces of the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto and the Elmer Iseler Singers. All three Bach concerts feature outstanding vocal soloists.

That’s it for this month. If any choir director is still pondering the advisability of incorporating Lorde and beatboxing into their choral bag of tricks, I say: “Go for it.” Bach and beatbox are a good deal more similar than you might think, and any technique that gets choral singers thinking about rhythm can only be a good thing!

Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and lutenist. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Visit his website at
benjaminstein.ca
.

 


Back to top