It’s hard to believe that April Fool’s Day was less than a month ago. This is after, all a month during which not only do we at The WholeNote have to do our usual aggregating of the live local concert scene and commenting on it, but we also have to pull together our annual Choral Canary Pages — an astonishing  (to me, anyway) snapshot of the range and diversity of our readership’s involvement in playing the world’s oldest, most basic and most sophisticated instrument — the human voice. So right now April 1 feels as though it is many hours more than a simple month’s worth of work in the past.

As I am sure it must feel for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Some of you may remember that Michael Gilbert of Musical Toronto — the blog that, far more adequately than any of the city’s daily media, reports on the daily passage of the musical events we chronicle monthly here — got April Fool’s Day off to a flying start with the announcement that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra had acquired major new sponsorship and was, accordingly, being renamed The President’s Choice Symphony Orchestra.

Given the role that naming rights play in corporate sponsorship of Culture and MUSH (museums, universities, schools and hospitals)  the announcement was just credible enough for the joke to have real traction on April 1, only to turn really sour a week later when the actual TSO president’s choices put him front and centre in the harsh glare of public scrutiny over the TSO’s decision to “uninvite” pianist Valentina Lisitsa, scheduled to appear with the TSO that week to perform the Rachmaninov second piano concerto.

True to our calling as makers of lists here at The WholeNote, we dutifully documented, in the April 14 issue of HalfTones, our regular midmonth e-letter, the range of public reaction to the Lisitsa affair. And we also threw in an opinion of our own, which (for the benefit of those of you who don’t yet read HalfTones regularly) was this:
when the leader of an organization makes a difficult decision, as in this case the TSO’s president did, the reasons stated for that decision become part of that leader’s legacy, even more than the decision itself. Some agreed with his decision; some did not. But explaining that Lisitsa had been uninvited because her widely tweeted political opinions “might be deeply offensive to some” has put the TSO (which though private bears our city’s proud name) on a very slippery ethical slope.

(On the other hand, for those of you rubbing your hands at the possibilities the precedent sets, I invite you to sign the online petition calling for the works of all composers of the Third Viennese School to be permanently uninvited from TSO programming, because atonalism is clearly deeply offensive to some.)

Silver lining: the uninviting of Valentina Lisitsa had a profoundly moving corollary, in that a scaled-down version of the concert in question went ahead, without a soloist, without an intermission, and with only one work on the program — Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, under the baton of a former TSO music director, Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

As a piece of programming to suit the occasion, the Mahler  could not have been better chosen. The orchestra was clearly burning to DO THEIR REAL WORK, the audience was ready to listen,  and Saraste, conducting without a score, gave us all the opportunity, for 90 minutes, to traverse the entire emotional landscape of the turbulent week. Mahler Five starts bleak as can be and ends determined to be happy. Granted, cheerfulness in a major key is seldom as convincing as emotional storm and stress in a minor mode. But as the work came to a close there was consensus in the house, from players and audience alike — dammit after a week like this we have EARNED our D Major!

If only for a moment, the music itself was the only story, front and centre, which is as it should be. “THIS is what it’s really about” I heard someone say as we all stood to applaud (and I don’t think it was me talking to myself).

Koerner by name: The 21C Festival (now in its second year at the Royal Conservatory) is to a large extent the brainchild of the same individual who sponsored the performance hall that is the jewel in the crown of the RCM. This little  festival is a building project every bit as complex and important as the building it sits in and will take as much time and attention to bring to fruition. Wende Bartley’s In With The New on page 14 suggests that so far things are on the right track.

The world’s oldest instrument II: If like me you have always thought of barbershop singing or a cappella in general, as somehow inferior to “real” choral singing, then do yourself a favour and read the first half of Ben Stein’s column (page 22). And then carry on and read the rest of it! Soccer, by virtue of its lack of dependency on pads and gear and other equipment, has earned the title “the beautiful game.” Perhaps unaccompanied singing stands poised to do the same.

 We Are All Music’s Children: Somewhere along the line, in the next couple of issues (if it hasn’t happened already) the number of people interviewed  for MJ Buell’s column/contest in this magazine will pass the 100 mark; each of them has answered the same simple set of questions. No two sets of answers have been the same.  And the reservoir of people to interview will never run dry as long as music lives. Regular readers of the column, stay tuned! Come September 25 Music’s Children will be helping us celebrate The WholeNote’s 20th anniversary, and you could be at the front of the line to join the celebration.

Listen Up! If you are not in the habit of reading the record reviews at the back of the magazine (because what’s the point of reading words about music when you can’t hear the music the words are about), then you won’t have seen the bright yellow arrow sign below. Just saying!

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Feat_-_Cooper_Gay_-_2.jpg Ann Cooper Gay was born, raised and educated in Texas. There are two photographs that she digs out on cue to prove to disbelieving Canadians that she is truly a Texas girl. The first is a shot of her adolescent self in her backyard proudly carrying a rifle. The second confirms that she was a majorette in college, baton included. How this Texan became a prime mover and shaker in the Toronto music scene is an incredible journey.

Cooper Gay, 71, recently announced that she is stepping down as executive artistic director of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. In her life she has been a pianist, organist, flutist, opera singer, elementary school teacher, college instructor, instrumental conductor and choir director, not to mention social activist, master of languages and a talented tennis player. No one who knows her believes that Cooper Gay will actually settle into a life of quiet retirement. Somewhere she will find a place to make music.

Ancestors on Cooper Gay’s maternal side arrived in Texas by covered wagon before it was even a state. Her paternal ancestors guarded cattle trains headed for the military, which included supplying the command of George Armstrong Custer.

Feat_-_Davis_-_Davis_and_Lortie.jpg"I rather suspect you are going to be running into a bit of a ‘Sir Andrew Davis, this is your life’ ambush when you hit town this time” I say into the phone. The response is an amiable guffaw. It’s 8:05am Sunday morning, Melbourne time, for him; just after 6pm Saturday night here in Toronto for me. Davis is “waking up slowly” he says, after a performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the third of three towering programs over a four-week period.

Davis is Chief Conductor at Melbourne, Conductor Laureate of the BBC Orchestra, and, for the past 15 years Music Director and Chief Conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago (an appointment recently extended through the 2020/21 season).

He is, of course, also Conductor Laureate of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a position he assumed after being the TSO’s Music Director from 1975 till 1988. So, add the 27 years he’s been returning every year as Conductor Laureate to the 13 he spent as Music Director, and the stage is set for the “Forty Years on the TSO Podium” possible ambush I alluded to when he returns to town mid-May for a two-week, three-program stint commencing with the Verdi Requiem May 21, 22 and 23.

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2008_-_Feat_-_Glass_-_Wu_Man.jpgThe April 14 announcement of Philip Glass from the Koerner Hall stage as the 2015 winner of the $100,000 Glenn Gould Prize was perhaps more imbued with history for one of the jurors, pipa player Wu Man, than anyone else on the stage. Granted, she was just one of a distinguished international jury of ten (including jury chair Bob Ezrin). They convened in Toronto for a 48-hour period, charged with the near-impossible task in that short time of whittling down to one winner a briefing book of 80 nominees.

Where Wu Man stood out on the jury is that in her previous brush with the Glenn Gould Foundation, she was a winner herself – not of the Glenn Gould Prize, but as 1999 Gould laureate Yo-Yo Ma’s choice for the accompanying City of Toronto protégé prize, whom the laureate himself (yes so far the laureates have all been men) chooses.

Being chosen as Ma’s 1999 protégé was immensely significant for Wu Man. “When I received the protégé prize in 1999 I can say it changed my musical life,” she told me backstage at Koerner, after the announcement, “because in 1999 I was just landed in North America from China and the prize actually inspired me to think of larger musicianship and encouraged me to explore new ways to communicate with people through music. So this year I am back but since 1999 I have been working differently in music. It’s a great honour to be back and sitting in the jury side by side with all those highly respected individuals.”

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In the end, listening and creating with sound is totally intertwined with the ear – that part of human anatomy that is always active. It’s not so easy to close our ears when we don’t want to hear something, unless we use earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. In contrast, it’s relatively straightforward to shut out visual images – we just close our eyes. But just because we’re always hearing something, doesn’t necessarily mean we are actually listening. What happens when we are truly listening is complex, and the stakes can get really high when we’re exposed to sounds that are unusual, unfamiliar or even shocking.

2008_-_New_-_Skratch_and_Afiara.jpg21C: Starting from Skratch. This is exactly one of the driving forces behind the upcoming 21C Music Festival – to create opportunities for the presentation of courageous music, music that stretches the ear beyond what it’s used to. Now in its second year and presented by the Royal Conservatory of Music with its partners, the festival runs from May 20 to 24 and offers 60 works with 34 world, Canadian or Ontario premieres. One of the distinguishing features of this festival will be the bringing together of artists and creators from different genres and backgrounds to generate a lively onstage dialogue of new sounds and ideas.

One of the more fascinating collaborations of 21C is happening on May 23 between Afiara (the Royal Conservatory’s resident string quartet), four composers and DJ artist Skratch Bastid. Afiara violinist Timothy Kantor told me that at the heart of this combination is a meeting along the borders, a place that Bartók believed provided the most fertile ground for innovation. This particular meeting ground seeks to create a remix of what makes Toronto sound unique, given its unique cultural mix.

What is a Toronto sound? is the question under investigation. All four composers, each coming from their own distinctive backgrounds, were originally commissioned to write new works for string quartet that were influenced by popular styles. But what makes this project stand out is that things don’t stop there.

Each of the four pieces was then recorded and handed over to the renowned Maritimes-born, Toronto-based Bastid, who has created a worldwide following based on his versatility in different dance music styles and his capacity to always stretch himself in new directions. He remixed the string quartet recordings using all sorts of sounds, songs and genres as part of his response, including recording snippets of string sounds he needed from the Afiara members. To keep the musical conversation going, his remixes were then given back to the composers, who then created a new piece for string quintet in response. This step gave the composers an opportunity to listen to”the Bastid’s” sonic imaginings and then take specific ideas even further to create a live performance piece for the quartet and Bastid. All three stages of the process will be presented at the concert, so the audience can listen in to how the whole project developed. All twelve pieces will also be available on the upcoming CD Spin Cycle scheduled for release in mid-May.

21C: Saariaho. One of Europe’s leading composers, Finland’s Kaija Saariaho will be the featured artist this year, with five Canadian premieres of her works in two different concerts. Saariaho will also be involved as a mentor in Soundstreams’ week-long Emerging Composers Workshop with the final pieces performed as part of the festival. Saariaho’s music is distinctive for its ability to take the listener deep into the terrain of the subconscious through the use of sound colours or timbres. In an email correspondence I had with her recently, she talked about how different sounds, and the sounds of nature, as well as the acoustics of specific places, have always been important to her, beginning when she was a child. Her brilliance lies in how she has translated environmental sound, as well as aspects of human behaviour such as dreaming, into musical form. Because her sound palette encompasses both instrumental and electronically based sounds, she has devised ways of creating seamless connections and transformations between these two worlds.  Her approach is to use the results of a computer-based analysis of how specific sounds are constructed to create harmonic and timbral structures for her music.

You can hear how this alchemical mix of scientific analysis and creative imagination comes alive on the Koerner Hall stage on May 21 at 8pm. This concert includes three solo instrumental pieces as well as the North American premiere of her piano trio Light and Matter. Saariaho drew inspiration for it while watching the continuous transformation of the colours and light visible on the leaves and tree trunks in a nearby park outside her window. Her vocal work Grammaire des rêves (to be performed May 23 at 5pm) translates research on how our moving body affects our dreams into musical sounds and form. It will also be interesting to hear the results of her mentoring the four composers chosen to participate in Soundstreams’s Emerging Composers Workshop in the After Hours concert on May 22. Saariaho sees her role as encouraging composers “to search for their personal compositional voice, without trying to calculate what could be the most successful path to take.”

21C: At a Glance.Other collaborations that promise stimulating results include the opening 21C concert on May 20 which features a RCM-commissioned work from drum legend Stewart Copeland of The Police – a duet between himself and Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker. This work presents another approach to the remixing idea, with Copeland and pianist Kimura Parker combining their own pieces with renditions of the likes of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bach and Ravel. And yes, this theme of the mixing up of elements continues on May 22with the 70-minute multimedia work Illusions, which combines new compositions from three different composers (Nicole Lizée, Gabriel Dharmoo and Simon Martin), Ives’ Piano Trio and visuals (projections designed by Jacques Collin, a longtime associate of Robert Lepage).The festival concludes May 24 with a concert of music influenced by Latin American musical styles and rhythms presented in partnership with Soundstreams. Acclaimed guitar virtuosos Grisha Goryachev and Fabio Zanon, Argentine bandoneon player Héctor del Curto, Colombian singer María Mulata and pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian will be setting the tone on stage, along with two world premieres by Canadian composers Andrew Staniland and Mark Duggan.

Because the list of new premieres and featured performers is extensive, I recommend checking out the complete schedule for the festival.

2008_-_New_-_Dafydd_Hughes.jpgSubtle Technologies Festival. Returning to this article’s opening theme of the human ear, it’s inspiring to see how the scientific world is expanding its reaches into sound. Now in its 18th season, this year’s Subtle Technologies six-day festival, “3rd Ear: Expanded Notions of Sound in Science and Art,” runs May 25 to 31. Combining speaker and panel sessions with performances in sound, music, film and other multidisciplinary works, the festival is exploring the mind- and body-altering properties of sound, including a look at how we can work with sound as a resource for better living and social progress. Toronto’s Continuum Music is a major partner in this endeavour, and will be hosting an evening of team collaborations on May 28 between leading Canadian composers, scientists and contemporary artists. An example of the nature of these collaborations is the piece titled Ice, an immersive mixed-media and sound installation created by media artist Fareena Chanda, composer Jimmie LeBlanc and scientist Stephen Morris. To experience the full sensory process of water slowly transforming into ice, audience members are invited to completely commit their mind and body to the installation space. Other musical performance events include an algorithm-based improvisation piece by Ian Jarvis, and a collaboration of computer music and live video projections with Dafydd Hughes and Rob Cruickshank on May 29. Other highlights include the participation of composer/performers Kathy Kennedy and Nicole Lizée. Again, I encourage you to check out the full listings for the complete lineup.

Other New Music concert and opera events:  May offers new listening ground for innovations in instrumental music and opera.

Tapestry Opera presents a new twist on the traditional Medea myth with a world premiere collaboration between librettist Marjorie Chan and Scottish composer John Harris. Presented at the revamped industrial space Evergreen Brick Works, M’dea Undone runs from May 26 to 29 and offers a gripping investigation into power, influence and identity for the 21st century.

Over at the Music Gallery, the Emergents series continues on May 8 with a concert curated by Ilana Waniuk from the Thin Edge New Music Collective. She offers us an evening that combines a new work by Icelandic cellist-composer Fjóla Evans and a performance by Architek Percussion. Evans’ piece combines Icelandic folk songs, found sound, extended cell, and rímur, a unique way of intoning poetry. Architek Percussion specializes in the performance of experimental, minimalist, multidisciplinary and electroacoustic chamber music.

The veteran New Music Concerts series winds up its concert season on May 17 with a concert curated by Montrealer Michel Gonneville who brings together the music of Henri Pousseur, with whom Gonneville studied in the 1970s, and other influential Belgian composers. One aspect of Pousseur’s legacy was the vision he had for composition – that it will need to go beyond the production of finished objects and move towards a process that is more collective in nature.

Improvisation and Beyond: Certainly the rise of improvisation embodies the spirit of collective creation, and Toronto is becoming increasingly known as a hub for such activities. In May alone, several events demonstrate this trend, many of which are happening at the Arraymusic space and are ongoing monthly events: Arraymusic Improv Sessions on May 5 and June 2, Somewhere There on May 10, Audio Pollination on May 12, coexisDance on May 16, eVoid on May 22, and Toronto Improvisers Orchestra on May 31. Other concert events at the Arraymusic space include a multimedia performance work by Linda Bouchard on May 8, a Martin Arnold Curated Concert on May 18, and the Toy Piano Composers performing with TorQ Percussion Quartet on May 23 and 24. The Arraymusic ensemble presents their own events this month as well: the “Cathy Lewis Sings” concert on May 4, the Arraymusic Ensemble in their fundraising concert on May 6 and the annual Young Composers’ Workshop Concert on May 30 featuring premieres of electronic works with original projections by OCAD students.

Over at the Canadian Music Centre, there are two piano-focused events this month: JunctQin Keyboard Collective with premieres from Canada and around the world on May 3; works by Fung, McIntyre and Murphy on May 13. More Canadian piano works are part of Adam Sherkin’s concert at the Jane Mallet Theatre on May 9, with works by Gougeon, Murphy, Coulthard, Eckhardt-Grammaté and Sherkin. And a special evening of improvisation making use of Gallery 345’s beautiful grand pianos happens on May 7 with Marilyn Lerner, Casey Sokol and others.

New in Choral: To close out this very busy month, I note several contemporary works included in a variety of choral concerts:

May 4: Elmer Iseler Singers: Canadian and international composers.

May 9: Bell’Arte Singers: Hatfield, Somers, Sirett and others.

May 9: Orpheus Choir of Toronto: Enns and Gjeilo.

May 24: Oriana Women’s Choir: Luengen, Chan Ka Nin, Freedman, Healey.

May 29: Exultate Chamber Singers: Henderson, Enns, Somers, Freedman, Healey.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

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