2105-JazzStories.jpgOn an excruciatingly cold January afternoon Gene DiNovi welcomes me into his home and provides warm smiles and a pair of slippers. He leads me up the stairs, through the kitchen, proudly showing me family photos and art pieces he has collected through the years. We finally reach “the museum,” a spacious room busily adorned with framed photos and autographed posters, shelves full of sheet music and a grand piano.

Now 87-years young, DiNovi has been in show business for seven decades and has hundreds of stories to share: We talk about his new gig at The Old Mill on the first Tuesday of every month; on his triumphant career as pianist, arranger, songwriter and musical director; on working with Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne and Carmen McRae; sitting in with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker; recording with Lester Young and Benny Goodman; his native Brooklyn; a stint in Los Angeles; moving to Toronto.

But how did he get into this music in the first place? He takes a moment, stares ahead, and smiles as he remembers his first musical inspiration: “I heard a record of ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise’ which is a Canadian tune actually, by Ernest Seitz and Gene Lockhart. It was Mel Powell and His Orchestra – Melvin Epstein from the Bronx, who became Mel Powell. My brother Victor used to take me to the Paramount Theatre on a Saturday, or the Strand, or the Loew’s State Theatre. But I heard Mel there. Mel recorded that song a number of times with Benny. On this particular side he plays a solo which had three or four horns on it: Billy Butterfield on trumpet, George Berg on tenor, Lou McGarity on trombone and of course Benny on clarinet, Kansas Fields on drums, who I played with later. So I heard this piano solo, and it is, to me, the greatest piano solo I ever heard in my life. Mel Powell was very different from me – incredibly gifted guy. At 16-years-old he had it all together. He could play like Teddy, he could play like Tatum, he could play like everybody. Once I heard that record, that was it … and I’m still trying to do it,” he laughs. “I still get chills when I hear it!”

As for diving into the music:

“I started late, at 12 years old – the reason I got the start was, my brother would decorate houses in Brooklyn, and this guy, Frank Izzo, who was a very eclectic guy said, I don’t have enough money to pay you, can you wait? And my brother said, give my kid brother piano lessons. To this day I can’t really say if it was a good deal or not,” he chuckles.

Living in Brooklyn meant being a subway ride away from the seminal musicians of the day. “I used to hang out on 52nd Street, where you could stand in the doorway and listen to Art Tatum. You go to the next one, you listen to Billie Holiday. You go to the next one, you could listen to Red Norvo. There were six, seven, eight clubs. You could hear all of this on a summer night.”

At the age of 15 – 15 and a half, to be precise – he found himself on stage with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, a life-changing moment.

“This was at the Spotlight, in 1945. There was still a curfew in New York City because of the war. They would start playing at four in the afternoon. I would get a ginger ale and just sit there. By that time I was on the street so much the owners and the musicians knew who I was. Dizzy had heard me at one of the other clubs … eventually he was like an older brother to me.”

By his late teens, DiNovi became a fixture on the modern jazz scene, but before long he needed a change.

“You got to remember, this was the beginning of the bebop period, which was a terrible period from the narcotics point of view,” DiNovi recounts. “And I never understood it – why the hell do you want to do that? For me, the music was enough … . Working at Birdland a couple of years later on, I turned around and realized that everyone on the bandstand was a junkie but me. And I said, wow – I have got to get away from this – where can I go to play the music I love without being around this – so I ended up with Peggy Lee, the first singer I played for. Can you believe it? Never a note out of tune. Never a note out of time. She was one of the great natural musicians.”

DiNovi spent many years as a treasured accompanist and musical director to some of the greatest vocalists of the day: Tony Bennett, Carmen McRae, Mel Tormé, and most notably Lena Horne, with whom he worked from 1955 to 1963, and occasionally after that.

Composing and arranging: Studying with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco launched DiNovi on another arc in his career – composing and arranging. “He trained me, he trained André Previn, Nelson Riddle, Mancini, John Williams, Marty Paich, a generation of film composers. A lovable man, an Italian Jew who had to get out of there fast when Mussolini hooked up with the other guy. He ended up in Beverly Hills where he taught all these people. Can you imagine? You walk in and Villa-Lobos is in there or Segovia is there going over the fingering, you know? (laughs) It was heavyweight stuff!”

Living in Los Angeles, DiNovi started to gain respect as an arranger and musical director and worked on six specials for Gene Kelly. But the times they were a-changin’: “Things really dried up because this was a period where you could replace 65 guys with two synthesizers.”

DiNovi pauses to ask me if I want to hear one of his tunes that Carmen McRae recorded, and how can I decline? It’s titled “Boy, Do I Have a Surprise for You” (lyrics by Spence Maxwell) from the 1968 album, Portrait of Carmen on Rhino Atlantic. To the ears of this McRae fan, she never sounded better than on this majestic recording, which DiNovi also arranged and conducted.

After a memorable engagement with McRae at the Colonial Tavern for a week in 1971, DiNovi tells me, he soon found himself back in Toronto accompanying two other MacRaes – Meredith MacRae for two weeks, followed by two weeks with her mother, Sheila MacRae.

“So I lived at the Royal York Hotel for six weeks for the lowest rate in the 20th century! It was a couple of hundred bucks for the six weeks (laughs). ... So I said hey, I like it here in Toronto! It looks like New York in 1945. In L.A. you had to drive 50 miles just to have a cup of coffee with somebody. I liked the New York feel of Toronto.”

These days DiNovi still maintains an admirable performance schedule, appearing with clarinetist James Campbell, guitarist Andrew Scott and bassist Dave Young, to name a few. And at the end of our interview he melts my heart as he gracefully tickles the 88:

“There are three tunes always on my piano: Strayhorn’s ‘Lush Life,’ Harold Arlen’s ‘Last Night When We Were Young’ and ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ by David Raksin – those three, you’re gonna go in the swamp if you don’t play them every week.”

To experience the magic of Gene DiNovi’s playing up close and personal, and to hear some of his famous stories, do not miss the opportunity on the first Tuesday of every month at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar from 7:30 to 10:30pm.

Stylianou JPEC-Bound: Some 70 years after DiNovi sat in with Gillespie and Parker, it isn’t uncommon for Toronto-based jazz artists to leave the nest and head towards the Big Apple. Vocalist Melissa Stylianou, formerly a fixture at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar, where she started out as a waitress and ended up a headliner, is a fine example. About the decision to relocate, she says:

“I did the Jazz and Improvised Music program at the Banff Centre in 2003, and many of the faculty and other musicians I met happened to be from New York. I came down to visit and to take some lessons and later received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to relocate here temporarily and study. I fell in love with the place and the people and decided to stay. I feel a real kinship with the large but still tight-knit group of musicians I play with and listen to here and find myself inspired to explore different musical directions as a result.” 

Stylianou performs regularly in New York City, especially at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, where she has held down a monthly residency for the past six years. Of all the venues in New York City, this casual, cozy and unpretentious spot is perhaps the most Rex-like.

“Toronto will always be my home, but New York is the source of much of my creative inspiration. Living in New York is an intense proposition. I’ve found I need to be really present all day long here: to navigate this crazy city and get where I need to go; ... to be aware of my surroundings in the interest of my personal safety, and to grab opportunities for connection with the people in my life. And being the parent of a toddler in the city adds some interesting elements  - what little time I have to work on my craft and the business of music is often squeezed into tiny cracks in my life.”

The silken-voiced Stylianou will be performing a concert titled “Everything I Love” at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Saturday February 13, launching an exciting new series presented by JPEC (Jazz Performance and Education Centre).

“I’m really excited to be coming up to play this concert. Jamie Reynolds (my husband and musical collaborator) and I have been exploring the voice/piano setting since our first musical meeting in 2003, and we both love the intimacy and space this format provides. We’ll be playing repertoire which stretches from Fats Waller and Irving Berlin to Bjork and Annie Lennox, along with some of our original songs. We’ll be joined by my friend (and former member of the Melissa Stylianou Sextet back in the day!), John MacLeod on cornet and flugelhorn.”

The TCA JPEC series continues February 27 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts with “Justin Gray’s Synthesis” fusing Indian music and jazz, featuring Justin Gray on bass, Derek Gray on percussion, Ravi Naimpally on tabla and special guest Ted Quinlan on guitar. On March 5: “Jazz n’ Pizazz” with Jane Fair on saxophone, Rosemary Galloway on bass, Nancy Walker on piano, Lina Allemano on trumpet and Nick Fraser on drums. Tickets are $30 and $20 for students. Visit jazzcentre.ca for details.

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

Author: Ori Dagan
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2105-ArtOfSong.jpgOn March 3, a concert, with the title “Tangopéra” will be given jointly by Marie-Josée Lord and the quartet Quartango at Partridge Hall in the brand new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines. Going by the tracks on the their 2014 Tangopera CD, the concert will feature music ranging from Puccini and Bizet to Gershwin and Weill, alongside pioneers of tango such as Ángel Villoldo, Carlos Gardel and, of course, Astor Piazzolla. Half the tracks on the CD feature the tango and milonga-based, hard-driving instrumental rhythms of Quartango. Lord, backed by the quartet, sings in the others, putting a remarkable spin on repertoire much of which the audience will have heard many times, but, safe to say, not like this!

Something similar happened to Lord herself when she first encountered the Montreal-based group: “When I first heard Quartango’s version of the aria ‘Quando men vo,’ from Puccini’s La Bohème,” she says in the liner notes to the record, “I was startled, because I couldn’t quite place it, even though I’d sung the original version countless times.”

Lord is a distinguished soprano, who was born in Haiti, adopted at the age of six by two Canadians working in Haiti at the time, and grew up in Lévis, Quebec. She made her operatic debut in 2003 with the Opéra de Québec in the role of Liù in Puccini’s Turandot, and has performed several important roles with the Opéra de Montréal (Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème, the title role in his Suor Angelica and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci). At the time of a memorable Koerner Hall recital in Toronto in October 2012, she talked to Trish Crawford of the Toronto Star (October 25, 2012) about her childhood years in a nutrition centre in Haiti (“I was in bad shape. Most of the children were orphans. There we could have a meal and education.”); about how overhearing a conservatory singing lesson changed her musical direction after years of piano and violin study (“I heard a lyric class and was fascinated by the production, how to build opera and all the rehearsals”); and about her return to Haiti in 2011. (“I wanted to close the circle. I had questions about my background. … I am proud of my people.”)

As for Quartango itself, the quartet was formed an astonishing 30 years ago. The group consists of four musicians: René Gosselin, double bass, Stéphane Aubin, piano, Antoine Bareil, violin, and Jonathan Goldman, bandoneon (an instrument operated by a bellows, akin to the accordion).

In the aforementioned interview with The Star’s Crawford about her hopes for that October 28, 2012, Koerner recital, Lord talks about wanting to “invite the audience into my lyric world.” There’s no doubt that her collaboration with Quartango over the past five years has significantly expanded the boundaries of that “lyric world.” In the CD liner notes Lord talks about the group’s “love of risk-taking and the unexpected” and their ability to take “well-known melodies and blend them into … unique hybrids of tango, opera, popular song, jazz, classical and many other genres. Today, when I sing the original version of the ‘Habanera’ from Carmen,” says Lord, “I almost feel as if it’s missing something.”

Far from “missing something,” the audience at “Tangopéra” on March 3, hearing these unique treatments of familiar repertoire, will likely feel just the opposite – that something has been quite unexpectedly gained.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at Koerner Hall on February 21The Russian baritone first became known in the West in 1989, the year in which he won the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, beating out Bryn Terfel, who had to make do with the Lieder Prize. At the time there was a great deal of grumbling and there were many suggestions that the jurors had made a mistake, but in recent years the merits of Hvorostovsky have been increasingly recognized. In any case, a discussion of who makes the better singer seems pointless as they represent such different voice types. Terfel made a name for himself in baritone or bass-baritone roles in Mozart such as Figaro and (later) Don Giovanni; he sang Schubert and Welsh songs. More recently he has become famous for his renditions of the heavier Wagnerian roles (the Dutchman, Wotan, Hans Sachs). In contrast, Hvorostovsky is essentially a high lyrical baritone, especially known for his interpretations of Russian song, of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and of the baritone parts in many of Verdi’s operas (La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo, Un ballo in maschera)Since Terfel will be singing at Koerner Hall on April 24, audiences will have a good chance to compare the two singers. Last summer Hvorostovsky announced that he was suffering from brain cancer and would have to take the summer off to receive medical treatment. He added, however, that he would be back in the fall to sing the role of the Count di Luna in Verdi’s Il Trovatore at the Met, and that he would fulfill all subsequent engagements. So far he has been as good as his word. On February 21, he will perform songs by Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Strauss.

Tapestry Opera, as its name suggests, specializes in contemporary opera. Many will remember the production of M’dea Undone by John Harris and Marjorie Chan in April 2015. On February 5 and 6, their sixth annual “Songbook” event showcases 36 years of Tapestry’s original repertoire, in the hands of emerging singers and pianists in Tapestry’s New Opera 101 program. Rising Canadian mezzo, Wallis Giunta, and conductor/pianist, Jordan de Souza, will anchor “Songbook VI” at the Ernest Balmer Studio.

Benjamin Butterfield sings SchubertOn February 29, Butterfield and pianist, Stephen Philcox will perform Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin at Walter Hall. I have heard Butterfield in the past (with Tafelmusik and with the TSO) but never in this repertoire, so I am very much looking forward to the recital.

Lunchtime concerts at the Four Seasons Centre: Bass Robert Pomakov joins the Gryphon Trio in “Classics Reimagined” on Feb 2; Christopher Purves, baritone, and Liz Upchurch, piano, perform in “The Art of Song” on Feb 9; COC Ensemble Studio singers perform highlights from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro on Feb 10; Josef Wagner, bass-baritone with Rachel Andrist, piano, performs Schubert’s Winterreise on Feb 11; Doug MacNaughton, baritone and guitar, performs in “Light and Shadow” on Feb 16.

Chelsea Hotel. Photo by Mat SimpsonVocal Quick PicksTheatre Passe Muraille presents “Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen” from Feb 3 to 21; Faye Kellerstein and Noreen Horowitz’s “The Ladies of Broadway” offers selections from Oklahoma!The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music at the Miles Nadal JCC, Feb 4; Alan Cumming sings “Sappy Songs” (by Billy Joel, Stephen Sondheim, Rufus Wainwright, Miley Cyrus and others) at the Winter Garden Theatre, Feb 6; “One Sunday” recreates a Sunday “from the Canadian Afrikan community of the 1960s” through song, script and piano, performed by Tiki Mercury-Clarke at the Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Feb 7; mezzo Emily D’Angelo (who recently won first prize in the COC Centre Stage competition for a place in the COC Ensemble Studio) sings Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi, along with works by Korngold, Mahler and others Feb 12, with pianist Rashaan Allwood and the Junction Trio, at St. Anne’s Anglican Church. (D’Angelo and Allwood will then reprise the Messiaen at Heron Park Baptist Church on Feb 20.) Also on Feb 12, at Heliconian Hall, the Gallery Players of Niagara/Eybler Quartet concert includes a transcription of Schumann’s LiederkreisOp.39, sung by the baritone Brett Polegato; to be repeated in the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines, on Feb 14; rarely performed English art songs will be performed by Marina Yakhontova and Brian Stevens Feb 13 at Bloor Street United Church; on Feb 18 at the Canadian Music Centre, composer Michael Purves-Smith and the soprano Caroline Déry explore the connection between poetry and music in “Cabaret Lyrique: Contrasts in Love”; on the jazz front, Feb 19 Laila Biali is at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, while René Marie pays tribute to Eartha Kitt at Koerner Hall; and Elizabeth Shepherd is at the COC’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Feb 24

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@thewholenote.com.


2105-Opera.jpgOn January 16, Canadian Opera Company General Director Alexander Neef unveiled the COC’s 2016/17 season. Where the 2015/16 season featured the first mainstage world premiere of a Canadian opera since 1999, the 2016/17 season will feature the first professional revival since 1975 of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel (1967), perhaps the best-known Canadian opera ever written. Other good news includes the company premiere of an opera by Handel, star casting in classic roles, greater use of Canadian directors (and a first female Canadian conductor) and the renewal of Johannes Debus’ contract as the COC Music Director.

Bellini and Handel: The 2016/17 season will open with a new production of Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece Norma (1831), last seen here in 2006. The new COC production is co-produced with San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona and is directed by American Kevin Newbury. Two of the most in-demand sopranos today – American-born Sondra Radvanovsky and South African-born Elza van den Heever – alternate as the Druid high priestess Norma. American Russell Thomas returns to sing Pollione, Norma’s Roman lover. American mezzo-soprano, Isabel Leonard, returns to the COC in her role debut as Adalgisa, Pollione’s new lover. And Russian bass Dimitry Ivashchenko, last heard here as Hunding in Die Walküre, is Oroveso, Norma’s father. Bel canto specialist Stephen Lord, who conducted Norma here in 1998, will take the podium. Norma has eight performances from October 6 to November 5, 2016.

Running in repertory with Norma will be the company premiere of Handel’s Ariodante (1735), one of several operas by Handel based on Ludovico Ariosto’s Renaissance epic Orlando Furioso (1532). This will be the sixth opera by Handel the COC has staged and the third since 2012. After falling into obscurity in the 19th century, Ariodante was revived in the 1970s and is now regarded as one of Handel’s greatest operas. The COC production is co-produced with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam and Lyric Opera of Chicago, and is directed by Richard Jones, who directed The Queen of Spades here in 2002. British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, last seen here in 2014 as Dejanira in Handel’s Hercules, returns in the trousers role of Ariodante. Canadian soprano Jane Archibald makes her role debut as Ginevra, Ariodante’s wronged fiancée. Armenian mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan makes her Canadian debut as Polinesso, the jealous rival of Ariodante. Young Canadian coloratura soprano Ambur Braid is Ginevra’s friend and unwitting betrayer, Dalinda. Canadian tenor Owen McCausland is Ariodante’s vengeful brother, Lurcanio, and French bass François Lis makes his Canadian debut as Ginevra’s father, the King of Scotland. Johannes Debus will conduct his first Handel opera. Ariodante has seven performances from October 16 to November 4, 2016.

Mozart and Wagner: The winter season pairs two familiar COC productions – Mozart’s The Magic Flute, last seen in 2011, and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung last seen in 2006. The Magic Flute will be staged by young Canadian director Ashlie Corcoran based on the original direction by Diane Paulus. Québécois early music specialist Bernard Labadie, music director of Les Violons du Roy, will make his COC debut as the conductor. Canadian tenors Andrew Haji and Owen McCausland alternate in the role of Tamino, Russian Elena Tsallagova and Canadian Kirsten MacKinnon alternate in the role of Tamino’s beloved Pamina, and Canadian baritones Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis alternate as the bird-catcher Papageno. American Kathryn Lewek and Canadian Ambur Braid share the coloratura soprano role of the Queen of the Night, while Croatian bass Goran Jurić, in his Canadian debut, and American bass Matt Boehler share the role of Sarastro. The Magic Flute runs for 12 performances from January 19 to February 24, 2017.

In repertory with Mozart’s lighthearted opera is Wagner’s doom-laden Götterdämmerung, the fourth opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, that concludes the action begun in Das Rheingold and carried on through Die Walküre and Siegfried. The charismatic American soprano Christine Goerke, who stunned audiences here with her effortless Brünnhilde in Die Walküre in 2015, returns to complete the valkyrie’s fateful journey in Götterdämmerung. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager makes his COC debut as Brünnhilde’s beloved Siegfried. German baritone Martin Gantner is Siegfried’s rival Gunther. Estonian Ain Anger makes his Canadian debut as Gunther’s evil half-brother, Hagen. Ileana Montalbetti is their sister Gutrune and Canadian bass Robert Pomakov is the dwarf Alberich. The original director, Tim Albery, takes the helm and Johannes Debus conducts his first Götterdämmerung. The opera runs for seven performances from February 2 to 25, 2017.

Somers’ Riel and Puccini’s Tosca: The spring season opens with what will surely be the opera event of the year – the revival of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel in a new production directed by Canadian Peter Hinton and conducted by Johannes Debus. Somers wrote the opera for Canada’s centennial in 1967 and now the COC is reviving it as a co-production with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa for Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017.

The opera, with a libretto in English, French, Latin and Cree by Mavor Moore and Jacques Languirand, focuses on the Manitoba Métis schoolteacher Louis Riel (1844–85), who led the Red River Rebellion of 1869–70 and the North-West Rebellion of 1884–85. It is a story that serves as a nexus for tensions in Canada among the English, French and First Nations. Led by Riel, the Francophone Métis prevented the newly appointed Anglophone, William McDougall, from entering the huge territory acquired by the newly formed Canadian government. Riel set up his own provisional government and negotiated directly with the Canadian government to establish Manitoba as a province. With the arrival of Canadian troops, Riel was formally exiled from Canada but returned to lead the unsuccessful North-West Rebellion of the Métis in what would become Saskatchewan, where he was tried for high treason and executed.

Singing the title role is COC favourite Russell Braun. The all-Canadian principals include baritone James Westman as Sir John A. Macdonald; soprano Simone Osborne as Marguerite, Riel’s wife; mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy as Julie, Riel’s mother and confidante; tenor Michael Colvin as Thomas Scott, the Orangeman executed on orders from Riel; and bass John Relyea as Bishop Taché, the cleric who helped the government betray Riel. The COC gave Louis Riel its world premiere in Toronto in 1967 and later performed it in Montreal. The COC revived it in 1975 and took it to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where the Washington Star described it as “one of the most imaginative and powerful scores to have been written in this century.” The opera runs for seven performances from April 20 to May 13, 2017.

Moving from the unfamiliar to the familiar, the COC closes the 16/17 season with Puccini’s ever-popular Tosca (1900), last seen in 2012. This will be the second revival of the production designed by Kevin Knight and directed by Paul Curran. In 2012, Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka sang the title role. This time because of its extended run, she will share it with American soprano Keri Alkema. Returning to the COC is renowned Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas making his role debut as Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi, a role he shares with Italian tenor Andrea Carè. German bass-baritone Markus Marquardt makes his Canadian debut as the tyrannical Scarpia. The production runs for 12 performances from April 30 to May 20. Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson will make her COC debut at the podium.

Also good news at the season announcement was that the contract of popular COC music director Johannes Debus has been extended through the 2020/21 season. The revival of Somers’ Louis Riel seems to mark a new commitment to Canadian opera after this season’s staging of Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe. The staying power of operas from the past can only be marked through revivals and the COC is the only company in Canada big enough to revive a large-scale opera like Louis Riel.

Also, the COC showed a new interest in fostering Canadian directing talent with the selection of Ashlie Corcoran and Peter Hinton. The late COC General Director Richard Bradshaw did much in this area by pairing a wide range of Canadian film and stage directors with operas. This led to such successes as Robert Lepage’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung in 1992, Atom Egoyan’s Salome in 1996, François Girard’s Oedipus Rex with A Symphony of Psalms in 1997, not to mention a heart-wrenching Dialogues of the Carmelites by Diana Leblanc 1997, a riveting Tosca by David William and an eerie The Turn of the Screw by Christopher Newton in 2002.

The only negative note is that the number of performances will shrink to 53 in 2016/17 from 55 in 2015/16, thus continuing their gradual decrease from a high of 70 in 2009/10 season.

Turning to the current season: Turning to the present, two COC productions will be playing in February. From February 2 to 14 is François Girard’s acclaimed production of Wagner’s Siegfried. German tenor Stefan Vinke sings the title role while the amazing soprano Christine Goerke returns as Brünnhilde in this, the third opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. They are joined by Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as the dwarf, Mime, Alan Held as Wotan and Phillip Ens as the dragon, Fafner. Johannes Debus conducts.

Running in repertory with Siegfried is Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro from February 4 to 27 in a production from the Salzburg Festival directed by Claus Guth. Josef Wagner stars in the title role with Jane Archibald as Susanna, Erin Wall as the Countess, Russell Braun as the Count and Emily Fons as Cherubino. Johannes Debus conducts. The COC Ensemble Studio takes over the principal roles on February 22. 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.

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2105-Classical.jpgTwo brilliant young European violinists make their local debuts in February. In winning the 2001 Queen Elizabeth Competition, Latvian violinist Baiba Skride joined such luminaries as Oistrakh, Kogan, Laredo and Repin in the fiddling firmament. The Guardian recently called Skride “a passionate heart-on-sleeve player.” Now 34, she will appear with the TSO in Brahms’ richly sonorous Violin ConcertoFebruary 17 and 18.

According to BBC Music Magazine, the 29-year-old Norwegian, Vilde Frang, “has the knack of breathing life into every note.” Frang will give a recital at Koerner Hall, March 2, with Michail Lifits on piano. Her program begins with Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major for Violin and Piano D934, another masterpiece from the last year of the composer’s life, and moves through Lutoslawski’s Partita, commissioned by Pinchas Zukerman in 1985, before concluding with Fauré’s ever-popular Violin Sonata No.1. Frang began her musical education at four, played Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons, when she was barely 13, and was thrust into the limelight when she was named Credit Suisse Young Artist of the Year in 2012. A recording contract and worldwide touring were the result.

It’s illuminating to hear both violinists talking about inspiration and interpretation in interviews readily available in cyberspace. Skride told Tobias Fischer (on Tokafi.com April 20, 2006) that interpretation “means giving my opinion to the audience, while at the same time respecting what the composer might have wanted. It’s a combination of my personal beliefs and the composer’s probable intent.” Her interpretive process, she continued, is “almost always emotional. Of course, there are certain things you have to know about and naturally you do get your facts straight while preparing. But 99 percent is intuition, absolutely.” Her approach to performing live is “simply giving everything you have in that very moment.”

In a YouTube video biography made shortly after her Credit Suisse honour, while soaring on her violin in rehearsal for Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 with Jakub Hrůša and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Frang spoke of the importance she places on trusting her instincts,  how it’s crucial to take in things and let yourself be inspired. “Inspiration is really the most important thing,” she said. “I use my instrument as a tool [to transform inspiration]. Whether you hear Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a wonderful horn solo or the sound of the sea, it’s something you can actually work with.”

Later that year, on August 1, 2012, Frang spoke with Laurie Niles of violinist.com about what brought her to the violin. “My father is a double bass player, and my sister is also a double bass player – my mother isn’t a musician, actually. But I watched my sister play in youth orchestras, when I was small, and obviously I thought I was the next one in line, in the double basses family! To me it was a natural thing, but then my father made this argument: our family had a Volkswagen, which was a very tiny car. He said, ‘Can you imagine, when we go on holiday, with three double basses? There is no chance the whole family will get space in the car!’

“So he made me a smaller instrument. It was made of cardboard – there were no strings on it. So I could put my Little Twin Star stickers on it, and Hello Kitty stickers – but the fact that it didn’t make any sound – I found this to be very frustrating! I had to ‘play’ on it for almost a year until I finally got a violin which was alive, which made sound.

“I remember the moment I got the violin that was real, that was really living and alive – I’ve never practised so inspired in all my life, as I did the first couple of days with that violin! I was in seventh heaven, I was so happy.”

Niles asked Frang, who began with the Suzuki method, how she  connected with Anne-Sophie Mutter (See my November 2014 column in The WholeNote for more on Mutter and her foundation): “I first played for Anne-Sophie Mutter when I was 11-years-old,” she said. “After that, she asked me to keep her updated, and she followed my development. I kept sending her recordings and tapes of my playing, and letters about how I was doing. It was obviously a very inspirational thing for me, because I knew that she was always there watching, somewhere. When I was 15, she invited me to Munich to audition for her again, and then I was taken into her foundation, her Freundeskreis Stiftung, or Circle of Friends Foundation, and I was also given this Vuillaume instrument.

“Ms. Mutter has also been a great, great mentor to me over all these years. I did a tour with her in 2008, and we played in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington. I played the Bach Double with her. Of course, I learned a lot from this experience, not only playing for her, but playing with her. I think the most important was that she encouraged me to always trust my own instincts and follow my own voice. That is her top priority, and that’s the message she wanted to give, which I think is a wonderful thing.

“But more than any other musician I know, she is extremely focused on exploring the musical score, in order to get as close as possible to the composer. Many people might consider her to be very free, but actually she has the most authentic and strictest approach that I know of. I think that is why she allows herself to have that amount of freedom. The more you know the piece and the better you know the score, the more freedom you actually have yourself.”

Hamelin past and future. Marc-André Hamelin’s Music Toronto recital on January 5 had a blissful component running through it from Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude to the Schubert Sonata in B-flat D960 and the well-chosen encore, Messiaen’s Prelude “The Dove.” For me, this emotional line reached its apex with the sublime second movement of the Schubert which had a profundity that reminded me of the last three Beethoven sonatas. There was a serenity to Hamelin’s playing that was more pronounced than when he played at Koerner Hall the previous March. At times he seemed to slow the music just enough that you could feel it palpably.

During the conversation I had with him in November (see my article in the December 2015-January 2016 issue of The WholeNote), Hamelin described his  relationship with Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1, which he will perform with the TSO on February 25 and 27. “I learned it very early,” he told me. “I remember the first time I played it was with Skrowaczewski and the Montreal Symphony. I believe it was somewhere like 1990 or ’91. It’s certainly not the deepest piece ever written but it shows consummate craftsmanship. And it’s also very entertaining for audiences. And in some ways quite touching.” Louis Langrée, famous for his stewardship of the Mostly Mozart Festival, his career blossoming as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, will conduct.

Quick Picks

2105-Classical2.jpgFeb 4 The last time I heard the Annex Quartet, they showed their sensitive musicianship supporting Jan Lisiecki in the chamber versions of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 4. Their solid Music Toronto recital includes string quartets by Janáček, R. Murray Schafer and Mendelssohn. Feb 18 The irrepressible St. Lawrence String Quartet makes its annual visit to Music Toronto with works by Haydn, Samuel Adams and Schumann. Mar 1 The distinguished British pianist Steven Osborne performs two Schubert Impromptus D935 (fresh from his sparkling new Schubert CD) and a selection of Debussy and Rachmaninoff, in his Music Toronto return.

Feb 5 Conductor Eric Paetkau’s contagious energy and musicianship guide the eclectic group of 27 in Finzi’s bucolic A Severn Rhapsody and a trio of French works including Dubois’ Cavatine for Horn featuring the TSO’s Gabe Radford. The dynamic Nadina Mackie Jackson is the bassoon soloist in the world premiere of Paul Frehner’s Apollo X.

Feb 11 An ingenious piece of animation, The Triplets of Belleville is filled with cultural references that fly by with terrific panache, Sylvain Chomet’s 2003 film has rightly become a classic. Composer Benoît Charest leads Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville and special guest Nellie McKay in the live performance of his infectious, original score for the film (rooted in 1930s vaudeville/jazz) accompanying this special screening at Roy Thomson Hall.

Feb 12 Cellist Rachel Mercer follows up her well-received CD of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites with an exciting concert of music for solo cello at Gallery 345, beginning with one of those Bach suites. Mercer then moves from Cassadó’s early 20th century suite to contemporary pieces by Andrew Downing and the world premiere of Darren Sigesmund’s Solo Suite.

Feb 13 Celebrate the Year of the Monkey with the TSO as the great violinist Maxim Vengerov is the soloist in the Butterfly Lovers Concerto. Long Yu, artistic director of the China Philharmonic Orchestra and music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, conducts. Feb 22 The Associates of the TSO present works by Françaix, Janáček and Brahms for various combinations of flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and two clarinets. Mar 2 Seven soloists from the TSO’s ranks (including the ubiquitous Teng Li) showcase their talents when the TSO presents music by Paganini, Vivaldi and Haydn (his elegant and tuneful Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Major for the unusual combination of soloists, violin, cello, oboe and bassoon).

Feb 17 The hip, Brooklyn-based orchestral collective, The Knights, make their Koerner Hall debut, joined by violinist Gil Shaham, whose warm playing should illuminate Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2, in all its angularity and dark beauty. Feb 26 Koerner Hall gives us the rare gift of hearing violinist Christian Tetzlaff, his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt performing piano trios by Schumann, Dvořák and Brahms. Richard Haskell praised them in these pages last September for their “conducive music-making in the three Brahms piano trios.” Andras Schiff’s monumental Feb 28 recital in Koerner Hall is sold out. Those lucky enough to have tickets (myself included) can look forward to a program memorable for its inclusion of the final piano sonatas by Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. Mar 4 Much-in-demand (especially since she received the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2008) Canadian violinist, Karen Gomyo, teams up with well-regarded cellist, Christian Poltéra, and talented young Finnish pianist, Juho Pohjonen, to perform trios and sonatas by Haydn, Janáček and Dvořák. All four of these events are presented by the Royal Conservatory.

Feb 19 The charming Trio Arkel (TSO members violist Teng Li and cellist Winona Zelenka, COC concertmaster Marie Bérard) move into their new venue, Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, with a program including Gubaidulina’s exhilarating String Trio, Kodály’s Serenade for Two Violins and Viola and Beethoven’s glorious Quintet for Strings, Op.29 “The Storm.” Joining them for this and a repeat concert in London, Feb 29, presented by the UWO Don Wright Faculty of Music, will be violinist Scott St. John and violist Sharon Wei.

Feb 20 Also in London, Jeffery Concerts presents the award-winning cellist Yegor Dyachkov and longtime chamber music partner, pianist Jean Saulnier, in works by Brahms, Schumann and Janáček.

Feb 23 Charles Richard-Hamelin, who finished second in last year’s prestigious Chopin competition in Warsaw, will give a COC free noon-hour concert of a selection of Chopin’s last piano works at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Based on his thrilling performance of Chopin’s Sonata No.3 at Mazzoleni Hall on January 15, I urge you not to miss it.

Mar 3 The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s talent-laden season continues with the widely acclaimed Daedalus String Quartet performing Sibelius’ String Quartet in D Minor “Voces Intimae” Op.56. Montreal native, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, joins them in James MacMillan’s powerful lament, Tuireadh, and Brahms’ sublime Clarinet Quintet in B Minor Op.115

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.


2105-New.jpgDespite chilly temperatures outside, the accumulation of new music events occurring in both Toronto and the main cities of southern Ontario, in February and early March, can be likened to a pot of water coming to a vigorously rolling boil. Bookending the dates covered by this issue are two major new music festivals – the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival (January 30 to February 7) and the Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival, opening March 5 and concluding on March 16. Since these festivals straddle the listings period, let’s begin with them, for those readers ready to jump in early in February and for those who are planning well ahead for March.

U of T New Music Festival: As was previously mentioned in the December-January issue of The WholeNote, the highlight of this year’s U of T New Music Festival is the opportuniuties it presents to experience the music of Canadian composer Allan Gordon Bell from Calgary, as well as one concert featuring music of his former students. A key aspect of Bell’s compositional approach is the way he maps his listening experiences of the Canadian soundscape to the acoustic world of instruments, whether that be orchestra, string quartet, opera or jazz ensembles.

It also has a fine crop of workshops, master classes and guest lectures, so I suggest perusing the listings and the festival website for the full scope of what is to be experienced. (The Land’s End Ensemble will also be performing a concert of works by Allan Bell and Omar Daniel on February 5 at Western University in London.)

New Creations: Jumping ahead into March, it’s not too early to take a peek into the upcoming New Creations Festival. This year’s featured guest is Australian composer, violist and conductor, Brett Dean, who is currently artist-in-residence with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Dean spent a good part of his career in Europe playing viola for 14 years in the Berlin Philharmonic, eventually turning to composition as he approached the age of 40. One of his signature works – his Viola Concerto – will be performed by the composer at the opening concert on March 5. Festivalgoers will hear two additional orchestral works composed by Dean, along with a piece by fellow Australian Anthony Pateras. Local DJ legend Skratch Bastid, who appeared last May at the 21C festival, will be performing, along with the Afiara String Quartet in a commissioned work by Kevin Lau; Bastid has also been commissioned to create a Festival Remix for the final concert on March 12. The festival will also offer a world premiere collaboration between composer Paul Frehner and filmmaker Peter Mettler, a composition by Australian James Ledger that pays tribute to Anton Webern and John Lennon, and a piece by Jonny Greenwood of the iconic English rock group, Radiohead. A more in-depth look at some of these artists and concerts will appear in the March issue.

Pick of the Crop: February offers a broad scope for aficionados of new music no matter what your stylistic preferences may be.

These early weeks of 2016 have seen the passing of several iconic creative people from various artistic fields, among them French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, whose artistic ideas changed the course of 20th century music. Boulez’s legacy will be celebrated in a New Music Concerts program on February 15.

At the other end of the new music spectrum, the Art of Time Ensemble offer a concert on February 19 and 20 that focuses on the music of Frank Zappa, a musician whose work ranged from rock to orchestral to musique concrète.

Somewhere in between, stylistically, Soundstreams has chosen to highlight music for instruments of the squeezebox family for their February 10 concert. This includes the accordion, the Argentinian bandoneón and the Korean saenghwang, each performed by virtuosic performers, such as Toronto’s own Joe Macerollo and Héctor del Curto from Argentina, playing compositions by several Canadian composers. R. Murray Schafer’s work, La Testa d’Adriana for soprano and accordion, for one example, features the spectacle of only the head of Adriana sitting on a table as she sings in interaction with the accordionist.

Going Home Star: The Royal Winnipeg Ballet along with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is making a visit to the Sony Centre on February 5 and 6 to perform a new work entitled Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, ballet, written by Joseph Boyden based on stories that emerged during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tour of indigenous communities. 

Contradictory as it may seem to use the European art forms of ballet and orchestra to tell these stories, the creative team has worked to bring aspects of indigenous culture into the overall mix in order to push the boundaries of the form. With a score composed by Christos Hatzis, the music includes the powerhouse vocals of Tanya Tagaq as well as the Northern Cree Singers. Tagaq’s experimentalist approach to traditional Inuit throat singing combines the influences of electronica and industrial music to create an unforgettable experience. (Looking ahead to May, Tagaq will be one of the featured artists of the upcoming 21C festival – but more on that in a couple of issues’ time.)

RoundupThe Music Gallery presents their second Emergents concert of the season on February 5 with saxophone improvisations by Linsey Wellman and a song cycle by composer Lisa Conway, based on myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The literary theme continues the next evening on February 6 with Spectrum Music’s concert featuring works by members of their composer collective based on modern literary gems, including one work by Brad Cheesman inspired by the novel Infinite Jest, written by the acclaimed American author David Foster Wallace. On February 12, the Thin Edge New Music Collective performs a series of premieres by both Canadian and international composers at the Array Space. And on March 6, they will be performing in a pop-up afternoon concert there. Now in their fifth year, Thin Edge is currently in the midst of their ensemble-in-residence stint at Arraymusic, which will continue into next season as well.

The Array Space is flourishing as a home for improvisers, with several opportunities in February for fans of this scene to check it out, including Audiopollination on February 13, coexisDance on February 20, and various Toronto improvisers appearing on February 16, 19 and 28. In this vein, I want to also mention two Improv Soirées at York University on February 11 and March 3.

Mixed repertoire: A sure sign of the flourishing new music scene is the increasing appearance of new music within concerts of more standard classical repertoire and there are several examples of this in February. The group of 27 chamber orchestra performs the world premiere of Paul Frehner’s bassoon concerto, Apollo X on February 5. The Junction Trio will perform new works by Ron Korb on February 21 and by Stephanie Martin on March 6. Music Toronto performs a work by Schafer on February 4 and music by Oskar Morawetz can be heard performed by Adam Sherkin on March 3.

And then there is the Off Centre Music Salon, an organization with a tradition of providing opportunities for different musical traditions to dialogue and engage. Their concert on February 25 at the Music Gallery, inspired by the friendship between Vladimir Horowitz and Art Tatum, will pit jazz and classical pianists against each other, as well as singers from the improv, indie-folk and classical traditions.

To close things off, there is new music happening in concerts in various southern Ontario cities throughout the period, many of which also combine the new with the traditional. On February 6, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra performs A Thousand Natural Shocks by Kelly-Marie Murphy. This concert also marks the debut of the HPO’s conductor and music director, Gemma New. The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston presents Scottish composer James MacMillan’s piece Seven Last Words of Christ as well as Schafer’s The Fall into Light on March 4The electroacoustic music of Adam Tindale will be featured at the Kingston Community Strings concert on February 19. The Peterborough Symphony Orchestra will perform the violin concerto Erika’s Violin written by Elizabeth Raum and performed by her daughter Erika on February 6.

In the Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph area there are several concerts. As part of their Mix Series, NUMUS presents emerging pianist Jason White on February 21 performing Rzewski’s De Profundis as well as a world premiere by Colin LabadieTwo members of the junctQín Keyboard Collective will perform works by Canadian composers Emily Doolittle and Martin Lachance on February 24 as part of the K-W Chamber Music Series.

And finally, if you are a fan of the theremin, an early electronic music instrument, two early-month concerts on February 3 at the University of Waterloo and on February 4 at Guelph University will give you an opportunity to hear this music as performed by Eric Ross with video art by Mary Ross. 

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


2105-Early.jpgDare one ask if there will come a time in music history when the historically informed performance practice advocated by the early music movement becomes no longer necessary? Devotees of capital-C classical music may well wonder why the early music revival is so preoccupied with bringing back minor composers from the 17th and 18th centuries, but stops, officially, with the death of Bach in 1750.

It’s a worthwhile question to ask: there were, after all, treatises on musical practice, like those beloved by the early music movement, written well into the 19th century; and the instruments of a Romantic-era orchestra were no more significantly different from those of their predecessors as they are from an an orchestra of today.

Fans of Tafelmusik, for example, might once in a while dare to whisper, given the group’s near-canonic range of orchestral literature, that the group should take on more conventionally classical repertoire for a symphony orchestra. And indeed, they sometimes do. This month, as an example, Tafelmusik is giving the concertgoing public the opportunity to hear an early music take on the Classical and Romantic eras. Hopefully they will both bend the ears of a few traditionalists with a rare foray into 19th century repertoire that features works by Brahms, Beethoven and Rheinberger, and will offer a fresh take on the works in question for hard core classicists more accustomed to hearing the same repertoire kicked to death by over-large orchestras in unforgivingly large halls. If there’s an early music group in Toronto that’s qualified to take on Romantic repertoire, Tafelmusik is it – the group cut its teeth on Haydn and Mozart in the early ’90s, making it the most forward-leaning ensemble on the Toronto early music scene.

Tafelmusik’s concert, on February 4 through 7 at Koerner Hall, features German conductor Bruno Weil, who has been leading the group through the Beethoven piano concertos and symphonies since 1996, and is now back to complete the cycle with a performance of the Ninth Symphony. While it’s easy to dismiss Beethoven’s Ninth as the warhorse of orchestral concert programs (who can’t hum the Ode to Joy?), it’s not often that one gets to hear it done by a period ensemble on classical instruments. From a performance practice perspective, The Ninth is also the gateway to the 19th century, and the choral works chosen to accompany it in this program complement Beethoven’s final symphony perfectly. Brahms’s chromatic, fugal Warum ist das Licht gegeben and Rheinberger’s beautifully imitative Abendlied are both delightful to listen to and entirely appropriate for an early music group – Brahms’ well-known penchant for trying to compose in the style of Bach is quite evident here, and the Rheinberger sounds like a Palestrina motet updated for a 19th-century audience.

Weil is also a fine conductor with the unique ability to straddle both early music and modern territory deftly. Having him back to conduct the Ninth in order to complete the Beethoven cycle celebrates a particularly successful artistic collaboration between the conductor and the orchestra. Who knows? Maybe we will see Weil next year conducting Tafelmusik in a Schubert or Brahms symphony.

If you miss this particular orchestral extravaganza, you might still want to catch Tafelmusik’s other concert later this month. Like the earlier concert, it features the group doing orchestral repertoire that stretches hard-line early music definitions; this time Mozart, not Beethoven, is the evening’s dedicatee. The Romanian violinist Mira Glodeanu will return to lead the group in a concert of Mozart’s greatest hits – including Eine kleine NachtmusikSymphony No. 40 and his Sinfonia Concertante. It should be a worthwhile evening for similar reasons to the Beethoven concert – like Weil, Glodeanu is a gifted musician with an ear for Classical repertoire, and it will be interesting to see what kind of performance she can pull out of the ensemble. And once more, it’s a chance to hear an early music take on some orchestral standards by a group that will do a first-class job. Maybe that’s why Tafelmusik keeps getting mistaken for the TSO. You can catch Tafelmusik doing Mozart at their more usual venue, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, February 25 to 28.

The Way of the Consort: It’s been 16 years since the Toronto Consort released their medieval album The Way of the Pilgrim, and if you’ve never heard the disc before, you’ll get a chance to hear it in concert February 12 and 13. The Consort is re-releasing the album this month on the Toronto-based independent label Marquis records, and celebrating the occasion with a concert/CD-release-party at Trinity-St. Paul’s on February 12 and 13 at 8 pm. The Way of the Pilgrim features songs from the 12th and 13th centuries, from Spain, France and Germany, sung by crusaders, travellers, and yes, pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Way of the Pilgrim became something of a seminal album after its release in 2000, and it ranks as one of the best recordings of medieval music by a Canadian group, so it’s good to see that the Consort is giving the disc some publicity as well as a live performance.

Scaramella pardessus: The social conventions around what is considered appropriate behaviour often seem confusing to outsiders or succeeding generations. In the ultra-conservative conformity of 18th-century France, it was apparently considered unladylike behaviour for a woman to hold a violin on her shoulder, or worse, under her chin. The elegant solution the French came up with was the pardessus de viole, a miniature version of the viola da gamba that could play music in the same register as the violin while being held daintily in the lap. On March 5 at 8pm in the Victoria College Chapel Scaramella pays tribute to this eccentric instrument with a concert of French music composed just for the pardessus de viole. Montreal-based gambist Mélisande Corriveau joins New York harpsichordist Eric Milnes and Toronto’s own Jöelle Morton for a concert of French 18th-century music. An excellent chance to hear a rare instrument played by a virtuoso, so be sure to check it out.

Pisendel: Sometimes you can judge someone by the company he keeps. We might not appreciate the music of Johann Georg Pisendel very much today, but the Dresden composer and orchestra leader was a colleague and friend to a galaxy of talent in 18th century Germany and Italy, including Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Zelenka, JG Graun … you get the idea. Although Pisendel was more of a bandleader and violinist than a composer – he left us with just a handful of violin concertos, orchestral works and sonatas – he had the good fortune to be a musician in a city where culture counted for a lot. His employer, Augustus the Strong, may well rank as the most extravagant man in history, and spent lavishly on cultural events ranging from court balls, Venetian-inspired masquerades, and animal-tossing contests (?) in order to entertain a wide succession of mistresses, to a court orchestra, directed by Pisendel and paid for by Augustus, which was one of the finest, and largest, in Europe. On February 28 at 2 pm at Gallery 345, my group, Rezonance, presents a concert of some of the finest music of the late Baroque, all dedicated to a man who was one of the greatest conductors of his day. If I may be permitted to blow my own (modern) horn for a moment, Rezonance is an energetic ensemble that features up-and-coming talent in the city playing insightful and interesting concert programs. If you’re interested in an informal, fun concert of chamber music, this concert promises to be both informative and entertaining. 

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

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“Ballet cuts right to the heart of what’s most beautiful, physically in humanity and what’s most beautiful in story. We are taking a very European form and introducing it to a First Nations experience.” – Joseph Boyden

2105-Choral.jpgA remarkable moment in history arrived on December 15, 2015, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada presented its final report on the dark history of Indian Residential Schools. Beginning in 2008 the TRC has gathered testimony from 6,000 survivors of, and witnesses to, a 120-year legacy of institutional racism, neglect and destruction. The report makes 94 specific calls to action to help create a better future and to acknowledge and repair the damages of the past and present. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, which is being presented in Toronto at the Sony Centre for three performances on February 5 and 6, can be seen as a swift response to this call for action.

With the support of the TRC of Canada, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet commissioned a story by author Joseph Boyden to be set to music by composer Christos Hatzis and choreographed by Mark Godden for the RWB’s 75th anniversary. In this story, Boyden, the Giller Award-winning author of Through Black Spruce, brings together Annie, “a young, urban First Nations woman adrift in a contemporary life of youthful excess,” and Gordon, “a homeless First Nations man who escaped the Residential School system … [who] possesses the magic and power of the trickster.” Accompanying the RWB is the the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Vocal music is provided by the incredible Tanya Tagaq, Steve Wood and the Northern Cree Singers, with Tagaq’s voice as an ancestral presence, powering Annie’s story and her reconnection to history. The power of voices joined in song is also there in the show, with the Pow Wow of the Northern Cree Singers bringing the final scene of the first act to its culmination, with wild drumming creating the sound of a train. The music is truly invigorating.

The show’s composer, two-time JUNO Award recipient Christos Hatzis, is no stranger to working with Aboriginal peoples, having spent considerable time producing music inspired by the Inuit, including the award-winning radio documentary Footprints in the Snow. During the year he spent working on the music for Going Home Star, he developed anxiety and was briefly hospitalized as he came to terms with the difficult stories that inform the work. It is no light undertaking. As Boyden says “[It’s] a way to allow Canadians to begin to understand something of such huge pain [and] … to absorb not just the pain and the anger but the beauty as well.”

It’s a thought mirrored in the TRC report itself: “Residential schools were a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples …. Across the globe, the arts have provided a creative pathway to breaking silences, transforming conflicts, and mending the damaged relationships of violence, oppression, and exclusion.”

I will be in the audience for Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, and I hope you will be too.

2105-Choral2.jpgKlang der EwigkeitI am a big fan of cross-disciplinary music collaborations, so I’m very excited to see the Orpheus Choir/Chorus Niagara presentation of the Canadian premiere of German filmmaker Bastian Clevé’s 2005 film, Klang der Ewigkeit (Sound of Eternity), a multimedia presentation of the Bach Mass in B Minor. Consisting of 27 short episodes inspired by the 27 movements of the mass, Clevé’s scenescapes were filmed across the globe from Germany to Morocco, India to the United States. Originally created for Helmuth Rilling at the Bach Oregon Festival, the setting was controversial since the B Minor Mass is beloved by many and thought to be perfect in its existing form. But crossing the lines between music and visual art is not new. Another current example, The Decades Project, unites the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Art Gallery of Ontario in an exploration of the ways in which visual art has inspired music and music has inspired visual art. Earlier this year the presentation of Claude Debussy’s La Mer accompanied an impressionist painting by Armand Guillaumin at the AGO.

The Orpheus Choir, along with Chorus Niagara, performs Klang der Ewigkeit with the Talisker Players on March 5 at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines and on March 6 at Metropolitan United Church in Toronto.

In the (not very) bleak midwinterThere is so much happening in choral music the first weekend of February, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose:

Tafelmusik’s epic journey to record every Beethoven symphony comes to a head with the most thrilling of them all – Beethoven’s Symphony No.9. As Beethoven’s last symphonic work, and largely, his most popular, Tafelmusik’s Choir and Orchestra will fill Koerner Hall with unforgettable music in four performances beginning February 4.

On February 6, the Toronto Mass Choir, under director Karen Burke, will be presenting a concert in collaboration with the Toronto Jazz Orchestra at Bloor Street United Church at 7:30pm. (And if you miss Mass Choir then, you can catch them later in the month when, along with York University, they  will be hosting “Power Up,” a gospel music workshop. With workshops ranging from Introduction to Steelpan to Choir 101 to instrument coaching to dance, this three-day intensive event runs February 19 to 21, finishing with a concert at Islington Evangel Centre. With live instruments and well over 100 singers, the Toronto Mass Choir will definitely raise the roof.)

Also on February 6, the Mississauga Festival Choir presents its annual “Festival of Friends.” Ten years on, this concert has raised $25,000 for local charities, this year’s beneficiary being Alzheimer Society Peel. Six choirs will be featured including the very well-known Cawthra Park Secondary School Boys in B & Chamber Choir, the Mississauga Festival Chamber Choir, the Mississauga Festival Youth Choir, the Mississauga Choral Society Chorus and the Queensmen Male Chorus. Singing en masse and separately, highlights include Timothy Corlis’ Gloria (Missa Pax), Eric Whitacre’s Water Night and Stephen Hatfield’s Jabula Jesu.

February 7 is even more jam-packed. At 7pm the Victoria College Choir and the Toronto School of Theology Choir present a free performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria in the Victoria College Chapel. Earlier in the day, at 2:30, VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert presents Salieri’s Falstaff at the Jane Mallett Theatrewith the VOICEBOX Opera in Concert Chorus ably supporting a fine cast of soloists. Half an hour later, at 3pm, at Grace Church-on-the-Hill, the U of T Faculty of Music’s New Music Festival presents a “Choral Contemporary Showcase Concert” featuring the U of T Men’s Chorus and Women’s Chamber Choir with Hilary Apfelstadt, Elaine Choi and Tracy Wong conducting. And at 4pm, the Toronto Children’s Chorus is presenting a free outreach concert at St. Paul’s Basilica on Power St., featuring their Chorale Choir and Youth Choir; Elise Bradley and Matthew Otto conduct.

Also of note: Speaking of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, the TCC Chamber Choir will be going on tour in Boston and New York City in early March, performing with Coro Allegro and the Boston City Singers in Cambridge, singing in the Choirs of America Nationals and performing at Stern Auditorium in Carnegie Hall. Before they go, they’ll be warming up in a concert titled “Poles Apart,” February 27 at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.

The following day, February 28 at 4pm, and right across the road at Christ Church Deer Park, the Toronto Classical Singers and the Talisker Players Orchestra present “Fauré’s Requiem and Duruflé’s Requiem, along with other music these popular pieces have inspired.

Later that same day at 7.30pm, the Schola Cantorum Choir and the Theatre of Early Music Orchestra present choruses from a variety of popular masterworks including Bach’s St. Matthew PassionSt. John Passion and Handel’s Messiah and Israel in Egypt in the Trinity College Chapel at the University of Toronto.

This being a leap year, there’s an extra day in February, and what better way to celebrate it than with the massive 200-voice Bach Children’s Chorus, as part of Roy Thomson Hall’s free noon-hour concerts. These concerts feature the grand organ and are a lovely break from a day’s work.

And on into March, right at the beginning of the month, the Kaleid Choral Festival takes place in Kitchener. Under the leadership of Jennifer Moir, this two-day festival for young voices culminates in a performance on March 3 in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Kitchener. Artist-in-residence of the festival, Rajaton, will be performing as well. This small Finnish a cappella group produces music unlike any other heard in Canada. 

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com

Author: Brian Chang
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2105-Bandstand.jpgFor most of us the arrival of January heralds the beginning of a new year or the departure from an old year. For some it marks the beginning of a new decade in their lives. A few days ago I had the pleasure of attending the birthday party for one such person. It was trumpeter Johnny Cowell’s 90th birthday party. Johnny and Joan, his wife of 60-plus years, were the very special guests.

Johnny has been a prominent part of the Toronto music scene for 70 years. His trumpet playing in Toronto started at age 15 when he travelled from his home town of Tillsonburg, Ontario, and began playing in the Toronto Symphony Band. However, there was a war on, and as soon as he was old enough, he enlisted in the navy. Within weeks of his enlistment, Johnny was the trumpet soloist in the band of HMCS Naden, the principal Canadian Navy base in Esquimault, B.C.

As we chatted at his birthday party, I started to wonder if our paths might have crossed on more than one occasion over the years. After all, our birthdays are less than a month apart and we both started playing in bands at an early age. Actually Johnny started when, at age five, he was given a used trumpet by his uncle. I didn’t start until I was 13. I lived in a larger community than Tillsonburg and, in addition to adult bands, we had a boys’ band. His first band experience was with the Tillsonburg Citizens’ Band.

A few months ago I mentioned in this column how small-town summer-band tattoos were a significant part of a band member’s life. I had played in many such tattoos in Southwestern Ontario. As we chatted, it turned out Johnny had not only played in many of the same tattoos, he had played trumpet solos in these events. As for music festivals, such as those in Waterloo or the Stratford Music Festival with Professor Thiele, the answer was the same. We had both been at them.

As teenagers playing in community bands at the same tattoos and festivals, we never met. Even though we both joined the navy at the same age and at about the same time, our paths never crossed there. It was only years later that, in a musical situation reminiscent of our teenage years, we met, playing once again in a marching band. It may seem hard to believe today, but in the early 1960s the Toronto Argonauts had their own professional marching band which performed fancy routines on the field at all home games. Some may have thought that this was below one’s dignity or not in keeping with professional musical standards. However, why not get well paid to go to see the hometown team play football? So that is where we met.

While Johnny is best known for his trumpet virtuosity, he has won considerable acclaim as a writer and arranger. In fact, on more than one occasion he turned down attractive offers which might have brought him fame by writing for stage productions or getting involved in the Nashville scene. However, the trumpet, his all-abiding first musical love, second only to that for his wife Joan and their family, always won out. Offers which would inevitably have separated him from his trumpet were declined.

Even though he elected to stay home and play trumpet, Johnny certainly did not turn his back on writing. I couldn’t hope to count how many of his tunes could be heard on the radio in the 60s. His 1956 ballad Walk Hand in Hand could be heard on every radio station in those days. His writing wasn’t limited to that genre. He has been equally at home writing for trumpet and brass ensembles. Playing a few selections from the Johnny Cowell CDs in my collection, I am amazed at the broad gamut of his trumpet works. At one end of the spectrum there is his dazzling Roller Coaster, and on the other end, his Concerto in E Minor for Trumpet and Symphony Orchestra. While he is officially retired, he still practises on his trumpet regularly and is expecting to be a guest soon with the Hannaford Junior Band playing his composition Roller Coaster with members of that group.

As I sat down for a brief chat with Johnny and 94-year-old Eddie Graf, who is still playing and writing arrangements, I was humbled to say the least.

A weekend of special programs: The weekend of February 27 and 28 stands out as a special one for aficionados of the music of wind ensembles. First, on Saturday we have the Silverthorn Symphonic Winds continuing their 2015/2016 season with a program called “Musician’s Choice,” where those planning the program have consulted band members to determine what music they would like to perform. They have chosen a broad spectrum from Howard Cable’s The Banks of Newfoundland to Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. Within that spectrum they take their audience all the way from Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry to Norman Dello Joio’s Satiric Dances and Steven Reineke’s The Witch and the Saint. This latter number is a tone poem depicting the lives of twin sisters Helena and Sibylla, born in Germany in 1588 at a time when twin children were considered a very evil omen. As the story unfolds, instruments in the band which seldom get solos have an opportunity to employ their special sounds to tell the story of the twins during their lives. If that isn’t enough, the band might just be able to squeeze in some excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. It all takes place Saturday, February 27, at 7:30pm at Wilmar Heights Event Centre.

The following evening the Wychwood Clarinet Choir will present their “Midwinter Sweets.” Exploiting the unique sounds of a clarinet ensemble to the full, they will feature Red Rosey Bush by composer and conductor laureate Howard Cable. The composing and arranging talents of choir member Roy Greaves come to the fore in his composition Trois Chansons Québécoises and his arrangement of Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite. That’s Sunday, February 28, at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.

Elsewhere in the band world

 February 4 and March 3. The Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents their monthly noon-hour concert of “Classics and Jazz,” with John Edward Liddle conducting at Wilmar Heights Centre.

February 5 at 7:30, as part of the U of T Faculty of Music New Music Festival, you can hear Rosauro’s Concerto for Marimba performed by Danielle Sum.

February 7 at 3pm at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo (and repeated on February 21 at 3pm at Grandview Baptist Church in Kitchener) the Wellington Wind Symphony offers “Remembering” with works by Brahms, Erwazen, Woolfenden and Alford. Also on the program will be Morawetz’s In Memoriam for Martin Luther King, Jr.

February 21 at 3pm The Hannaford Street Silver Band will present “German Brass” with Fergus McWilliam, French horn, and James Gourlay, conductor.

February 23 at 7:30 The Metropolitan Silver Band will present “Jubilee Order of Good Cheer,” a blend of classics, marches, sacred, popular and contemporary works at Jubilee United Church.

For details on all these consult The WholeNote concert listings.

Calling all brassFor a number of years, the Canadian Band Association, Ontario has held Community Band Weekends sponsored by a number of community bands in various communities across the province. This year there is a new twist. For the first time, CBA-Ontario will host a Community Brass Band Weekend from Friday evening February 19 to Sunday, February 21. Hosted by the Oshawa Civic Band, the event should not only offer a meeting ground for dedicated brass band devotees but introduce brass players from concert bands to the style and repertoire of the All Brass culture. All musical events will take place at Trulls Road Free Methodist Church, 2301 Trulls Road S., Courtice. Details on registration were spotty at time of writing: consult cba-ontario.ca/cbw-registration for updates.

We have another new all-brass band to report on. The York Region Brass began rehearsals in Newmarket a few months ago and are inviting brass players to join them. They rehearse on Wednesday evenings and would particularly welcome cornet, trombone and tuba players. If you play a brass instrument and are interested in exploring that genre contact Peter Hussey by email at pnhussey@rogers.com.

Another special musical event: Although it has nothing whatsoever to do with band music, I can’t end without reporting on a recent outstanding musical event in Toronto. The Amadeus Choir, the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Bernard Labadie, performed a special “semi-staged” version of Mozart’s Requiem K626. The combined choirs, soloists and conductor, all performing the entire work from memory, gave this monumental work new meaning. Through movements and gestures, conceived by stage director Joel Ivany, choir members and soloists conveyed the concept of loss and redemption that is the heart of the requiem mass. To set the mood for the choral work, as a prelude, the TSO Chamber Soloists performed the Largetto movement from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K581

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.

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2105-World.jpgIt’s February. It’s still dark before you arise, and cold, with nary a sign of green outside. February is also Black History Month and all over Toronto politicians, schools and cultural organizations are marking it in various ways.

On its events page, the Music Gallery’s David Dacks writes that from its earliest days the MG “has welcomed adventurous Afro-diasporic sounds [such] as free jazz, the science fact/fiction of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and the advanced musical theories of George Lewis. This commitment has intensified over the past several years with events with saxophone titan Matana Roberts, jazz elder Henry Grimes, mbira innovator Evelyn Mukwedeya, and ‘world music 2.0’ theorist DJ/rupture.”

For Black History Month 2016, the MG presents a two-part event which pushes these explorations further.

Val-Inc: body and spirit: the first of these starts at 5pm Saturday, February 20, with a free panel discussion called “The New Black: Challenging Musical Tropes” with Val-Inc and Witch Prophet, two “Black artists who create stereotype-challenging music” on the panel, along with  moderator Alanna Stuart (Bonjay, CBC), Garvia Bailey (JazzFM) and Amanda Parris (CBC). They plan to delve into ways in which awareness can be raised around “under-represented facets of Afro-diasporic cultural expression, specifically within Black Canadian culture.”

Putting these concerns to the musical test that same evening at 8pm, will be a concert titled “Val-Inc + Witch Prophet.” Val-Inc is Val Jeanty, once a member of Norah Jones’ band. Her music was described by the New York Times as blending “traditional-sounding music from Haiti with synthesized sounds and instruments to develop a genre she calls ‘Afro-Electronica.’” Her audiovisual installations have been showcased at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art and in European galleries.

Val-Inc’s own characterization of her music is more inclusive; she describes it as evoking “the musical esoteric realms of the creative subconscious by incorporating African Haitian musical traditions into the present and beyond, combining acoustics with electronics and the archaic with the postmodern.”

Just how does she do that? I called her in New York City to find out.

I asked first about the accuracy of a media depiction I had read of her music as “Big Apple Vodou.” “I grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,” she responded, “attending Catholic schools as well as practising Vodou within my family, learning to drum [in that context] when I was five years of age.”

So how does this joint spiritual and musical practice influence how she sees the relationship between sound, music and spirituality? “In Vodou there’s no separation between sound, sounds and prayers to the ancestors, as in the case of Guédé, in the spiritual realm,” she explains. [Fête Guédé, the Festival of the Dead, is celebrated on November 2, All Souls’ Day]. “It’s something that has to be experienced. I practise it to sustain life … not in order to produce a commercial music product.”

And her drumming practice since childhood and its echoes in her electronics? “There’s not a conscious connection between Vodou drum patterns and my electronics, but [rather a path I find] through improv. I trust the spirit to help me via the looper [digital looping station].”

In one track I listened to (“V-iPod #222” on Soundcloud) it’s hard to tell if the track features a machine or an acoustic tabla. “Whatever it is, it sounds convincing,” I say to her. “I played that on the Roland HandSonic HPD-20, a kind of drumpad, a digital hand percussion device. With practice (and understanding of hand drumming) you can transfer your personal energy into the machine. In the end such tools are just tools, carrying the spirit. Bypass skin colour, distance, language and what you’re left with is spirit,” she concludes.

“[The spiritual in music] … is speaking to the soul … feeding the soul … I’m not trying to connect the spirit to music – but rather it’s trying to do me – it’s doing the work! [Let’s not forget that] everyone around the world has a spirit.”

In our chat, Val-Inc’s all-embracing universalist vision came clearly into focus for me: spirit transcending perceived human distinctions such as skin colour, race, geographical origin, religious affiliation and other potentially divisive cultural factors. Makes sense to me.

Pura Fé highlights African-Native American music: Jim Merod, in his 1995 essay Jazz as a Cultural Archive, proposed that jazz is not only a reflection of North American culture but also serves as an archive of that culture. The work of singer, guitarist, songwriter, activist and teacher Pura Fé extends that notion to other vernacular music genres, presenting a rich fabric woven of many cultural strands and colours, so that it is near-impossible to unravel them all: namely the role of indigenous peoples in African-Native American contact, cohabitation, cultural sharing and performance practice.

It is something which occurred in multiple intimate and sometimes complicated and layered ways, arising from shared histories over several hundred years and reflected in various features of the music their descendants created and make today.

I spoke to Fé via Skype, one frigid January afternoon (she now makes Northern Saskatchewan her home), to discuss her upcoming Friday, February 26, concert at the Music Gallery. Long active in transcultural music making and touring in Europe, her album Follow Your Heart’s Desire won the 2006 l’Académie Charles-Cros Award for Best World Album.

During the course of our conversation Fé’s expansive knowledge and passion about indigenous influences on the blues, jazz, country, rock, gospel and other vernacular American musics was infectious. It’s an intensely personal subject for her. She traces the roots of her family and personal musical culture to indigenous North Carolina Tuscarora, Tutelo, as well as Corsican ancestors, the latter via Puerto Rico. (Her name given by her father means “Pure Faith” in Spanish.)

“On my mother’s side we’ve got eight generations of Tuscarora singers. While my mother was a gifted Wagnerian soprano it was difficult to make a career as a woman of colour in classical music in her generation. She also performed in several of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts and my grandmother sang gospel.” Growing up in New York City, sampling her parents’ Native music record collection and participation in Pow Wows gave her the sense of identity she sought as a teen. “I found myself the day I was able to reconnect with my indigenous roots.

“People generally aren’t very aware of it yet, but Native peoples have played a major role in the development of American music, whether it’s jazz, blues or rock ‘n’ roll,” observes . “This includes a typical blues rhythm, the shuffle, a rhythmic feel which is much like certain Native drumming.”

In Fé’s own intense bluesy and other times jazzy singing, she makes an eloquent case for the close and productive relationship between the African and indigenous people of the American South, a union that gave birth to a rich new culture blending religion, dance, food and music. “Many of their grandchildren became influential musicians,” she says, “like Charley Patton (Choctaw) and Scrapper Blackwell (Cherokee). We can continue the roll call with Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Don Cherry, Miles Davis, Jim Pepper and Don Pullen in jazz. Let’s add Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, Link Wray and Jesse Ed Davis for good measure.”

Early in her career singing with rock bands in NYC, her role models - in addition to her mother and grandmother - were the leading female singers of the previous generation: Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Aretha Franklin. Fé was “drawn by their spirit and style.”

All this is the rich hybrid motherlode extensively mined by Fé. Aiming to explore the bluesy voice of Native Americans as well as their self-determination, in 1987 she formed the singing trio Ulali with Soni Moreno and Jennifer Kreisberg, a project which continues as a quartet. Seven albums followed. Her latest, Sacred Seed (2015) for Nueva Onda Records, captures those multi-faceted influences, featuring her multi-tracked voice with a backup studio band consisting of guitar, banjo, piano, percussion and cello. The tracks resound with references to the Tuscarora Nation whose musical traditions she carries with indelible ardour.

At her February 26 Music Gallery concert, however, Fé will present her music more intimately with just her voice, accompanying herself “with guitar, drum and a loop station which gives me the choral background I crave.” Her repertoire will focus on her Sacred Seed set list: her own songs like “Idle No More,” plus jazz classics like Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” Roots blues legend Taj Mahal glowingly summed up Fé’s music: “With her voice soaring, foot stomping, this beautiful songbird transcends time and brings the message of our Ancestors who have sown this beautiful seed [through her] powerful music.” 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

 


2105-MainlyMostly.jpgCutting through the huge sound of the horns behind him, Martin Loomer plays the appropriate chords in the appropriate order on his electric guitar, laying down the time as authoritatively as any drummer. He wears a contagious grin and what looks to me like a bright orange jumpsuit. Which is super cool. If there’s anything I admire, it’s a loud outfit, and there are few outfits louder than a bright orange jumpsuit.

Martin Loomer’s Orange Devils have a monthly gig, on the second Monday of every month, at The Monarch Tavern. They play music by big bands of the 1930s and 40s, like those led by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and more, with skill and authenticity.

And who better to bring these charts to life than someone who makes his living as a music copyist?

I first became aware of Loomer through the Orange Devils’ vocalist Rita di Ghent about three years ago – almost to the day – at the end of January 2013. Since then, I’ve chased down the Orange Devils, and Loomer himself, attended several of their gigs and bombarded him with questions, as you do with those more experienced in your field.

I guess I must have asked the maximum number of questions he could answer at a gig or on Facebook, because he eventually invited me and a friend to come to his house to talk about composing and arranging. We convened in his living room, me, my friend, Loomer, his wife Karen, their cats, and a tray of muffins and tea, and we talked about a lot: family, education, cartoons and video games and, even at points, music.

Once we migrated from the living room, Loomer showed us his score collection, which might be the largest number of scores I’ve ever seen in one room, music libraries included. This was a long while ago, but one thing I remember clearly is marvelling at how messy Duke Ellington’s handwriting was.

The Orange Devils combine Loomer's encyclopedic knowledge of the repertoire with the expertise of those sharing the bandstand with him: people like John McLeod, William Carn, and Richard Whiteman  (including, up until recently, the late Dr. Kira Payne who passed away on January 2: Payne doubled flawlessly both on alto and tenor saxophones, and as a musician and an accomplished M.D.; she is missed by the community). Go hear this band with no skepticism. Just go. I have no doubt you will like it.

Turbo Street: Another fairly large band – as distinct from a big band – I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to is Turbo Street Funk. If you don’t know them by name, you might recognize them from their busking days on major street corners around the downtown core, including Queen and Spadina, Bay and Bloor and so on. The band plays a combination of original tunes and pop standards, modern and otherwise, tightly arranged and performed by recent graduates of the big three music schools in the city. Turbo Street Funk will be bringing their outdoor dance party indoors on February 9 at Fat City Blues.

This, friends, is the month when the city begins to thaw. Or, it will be if there is any justice in the world. Come out and celebrate. With any luck, I’ll see you in the clubs. 

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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Jazz Stories 1This holiday season, choose old-school LPs over iTunes gift certificates. The reason? #VinylRevival. It’s the old thing. It’s the new thing. And for the record: if you need cash, dig out those old LPs – they could be worth something. To get your money’s worth, check out a store called Good Music Toronto, recently relocated from its Queen Street location downstairs from Black Market Vintage Clothing to new premises at 1611 Dundas West, at Brock, just steps away from Lula Lounge. 

“I’ve been selling records in Toronto for ten years – eight as manager of Vortex Records and two as owner of Good Music [ilikegoodmusic.com],” says Lincoln Stewart, who prides himself on giving the fairest prices in town (half of what he sells the record for) for quality vinyl. “I have been a music lover my whole life and got into the business when the owner of Vortex asked me to work for him. Seven years prior I’d been the manager of his video store, Art & Trash.”

What about this business has changed in the past few years? I asked him.

Author: Ori Dagan
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