“Grimaud doesn’t sound like most pianists. She is a rubato artist, a reinventor of phrasings, a taker of chances.”
D.T. Max, The New Yorker, 2011

2007-Classical-Duo.jpgThe remarkable French-born pianist Hélène Grimaud last visited Toronto a year ago when she performed Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 with the TSO and showed off her great dynamic range. Her intimate pianism exposed the intrinsic beauty of the slow movement and she entered fully into the passion of the third movement with its rhapsodic cadenza, spurring the audience into an immediate standing ovation. The year before she held the Koerner Hall audience in her sway with a performance of her Resonances CD that moved from Mozart to Berg to Liszt to Bartók, all united by the historical fact of the composers being children of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Her upcoming Koerner Hall appearance April 19 is typical of her adventurous spirit and imaginative programming. All the pieces are united by the theme of water: Berio’s Wasserklavier III; Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II; Fauré’s Barcarolle No.5 in F-sharp Minor, Op.66; Ravel’s Jeux d’eau; Albéniz’s Almería from Iberia Suite Book 2; Liszt’s Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este from Années de pèlerinage: Troisième année, Janáček’s In the Mists I; Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie from Préludes, Book I; concluding with Brahms’ Piano Sonata No.2 in F-sharp Minor, Op.2.

She told William Grimes of The New York Times: “Water is the element most necessary to life, the most precious resource for our planet, the most endangered and the one that poses the greatest risk on its potential for conflict.” Explaining her process in a video for the artnet News website, she described how she spent two years “boiling down” her conception of pieces having to do with water, to reduce it to “something very pure and abstract in its expression.” There were several Liszt works that fit her original idea but the one she finally selected was the “most abstract of all his water pieces.”

“An art form has to live in the moment,” she said. “It has to sound as if it is being written while you hear it.” On the San Francisco Classical Voice website she explained to Lara Downes earlier this year that the water program is “more fragile and vulnerable repertoire, and as an audience member you have to be willing to make that journey.”

When she performed the same pieces last December in New York over ten nights, she did so in an inch of water, mixing performance art metaphors. Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times described the riveting 20-minute process of filling the 55,000 square foot Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory with that inch of water for “Tears Become ... Streams Become ... ” He called the collaboration between Grimaud and the artist Douglas Gordon a “compelling, boldly original work, a dramatic combination of art installation, light show and piano recital.”

Brian Levine, the executive director of the Glenn Gould Foundation, sees in Grimaud a resemblance to Gould: “She has this willingness to take a piece of music apart and free herself from the general body of practice that has grown up around it.”

Ten days after her Toronto concert she performs with the Stamford Symphony Orchestra to bring awareness to her other passion: environmental education centred around wolves – she founded the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York in 1996.

2007-Classical-Kissin.jpgEvgeny Kissin: Evgeny Kissin’s mother was a piano teacher, his father an engineer. When Kissin was born (in Moscow in 1971), his sister, who was more than ten years older, was learning the piano. In Christopher Nupen’s DVD Evgeny Kissin: The Gift of Music, Kissin tells a tale one would be inclined to dismiss as apocryphal were it not for everything that has happened to him since. He had been a quiet baby, even standing on his cot in silence as his sister practised. When he was 11 months old, he opened his mouth and sang the Bach fugue she had just been playing (the Prelude and Fugue in A-Major from the 2nd book of the Well-Tempered Clavier). By the time he could reach the keyboard he was two and on his way to superstardom.

He elaborated in an interview with Frederic Gaussin for piano mag on iplaythepiano.com. “Before I began my studies at the School, I had been listening to music non-stop, practically from the day I was born. I became familiar very early on with all different kinds of music and pieces, until one day I became physically able to touch the keyboard and play this repertoire, these melodies, by ear ... From the very beginning, my taste was vast, very eclectic.”

In that interview he speaks of Chopin as the composer that he plays the most, “whose music is closest to my heart.” He continues: “From a pianistic point of view, Chopin was a revolutionary, the only one (with the exception of young Scriabin, who drew much from Chopin) who demands such flexibility from the hand at the piano.” Gaussin raises the topic of Debussy – not in Kissin’s repertoire – as someone who was not “any less sensitive or technically innovative than Chopin in his personal idiom.” Kissin responds that the same is true of Shostakovich, Schoenberg and Prokofiev, adding Messiaen, “whose works I do not yet play. His music is profound, very spiritual. He’s a perfect counter-example ... I see him in a way as the last survivor of an extinct species. I will certainly play Messiaen in the future.”

May 1 marks Kissin’s first solo recital at RTH in 15 years; his most recent appearance with the TSO was in May of 2012. It’s a virtuoso program beginning with Beethoven’s Sonata No.21 in C major, Op.53 “Waldstein” with its glorious third movement, followed by Prokofiev’s quietly charming, utterly logical Sonata No. 4 in C minor, Op.29. Then three nocturnes and six mazurkas by Chopin lead into Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 S.244/15 “Rákóczi March,a quixotic foot stomper.

Kissin’s popularity is immense, his intellectual and musical gifts even more so. He once said that the main purpose of music is “that it elevates us into the world of the sublime.” The evening should be memorable.

Sara Constant:The WholeNote’s social media editor, flutist Sara Constant, headlines a concert titled “Xi” at Array Space April 24 featuring an intriguing line-up of mid to late 20th-century music. Stockhausen’s Xi (1987) for solo flute utilizes microtonal glissandi throughout. Denisov’s Sonata for Flute and Piano (1960) has been described as a collage of styles. Chiel Meijering, the composer of I Hate Mozart (1979) for flute, alto saxophone, harp and violin, says that he considers eroticism, sensuality and even obscenity prerequisites for a high-quality performance of his music. In each of Lutosławski’s Three Fragments (1953) the flute takes the melodic lead and the harp supplies a consistent, animated backdrop. Tsuneya Tanabe’s Recollections of the Inland Sea (1995) for flute and marimba was inspired by the scenic impression the composer had as an adult of a beautiful inland sea, Setonaikai, in the middle of Japan.  The music, he says is his effort to “express my interior vision of the sea, spreading out before me….”

Seen and Heard:The elegant Vadim Repin shone in his Russian repertoire – Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky – in Koerner Hall March 6; The Vienna Piano Trio displayed an exemplary sense of ensemble and an unusually close seating arrangement in their well-received recital March 8 highlighted by Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations and two Mendelssohn Andantes (from his Trio Nos.1 and 2; the latter played as an encore); Till Fellner brought exceptional musicianship to Mozart’s Piano Sonata K282 on March 10. Kudos to Music Toronto’s Jennifer Taylor for bringing us Fellner as well as the London-based Elias Quartet March 19. French sisters Sara and Marie Bittloch on violin and cello set the tone for the quartet’s intimate sound and its impeccable sense of ensemble. Equally attentive were second violinist Scotsman Donald Grant and Swedish violist Martin Saving. Together the foursome brought heavenly pianissimos and wonderful silences that allowed Mozart’s music to breathe in his “Dissonance” Quartet K465 and unrelenting anger and passion to Mendelssohn’s last string quartet without losing the ruminative lyricism of its slow movement.

Quick Picks:

April 8 and 9 former TSO music director Jukka-Pekka Saraste returns to conduct Mahler’s glorious Symphony No.5 and accompany pianist Valentina Lisitsa in Rachmaninoff’s romantic masterpiece, his Concerto No.2. Conductor Peter Oundjian, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, violinist Sergey Khachatryan and pianist Serouj Kradjian join with the TSO April 22 for a concert celebrating Armenian music. It includes a double dose of Aram Khachaturian as well as the world premiere of Mychael Danna’s Ararat, a suite Danna constructed from his soundtrack to Atom Egoyan’s film of the same name. May 6 finds Oundjian supporting the up-and-coming twentysomething German violinist Augustin Hadelich in Mendelssohn’s justly celebrated Violin Concerto, a work which will appear on his next CD later this spring.

April 8 the co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, cellist David Finckel (ex-Emerson Quartet) and pianist Wu Han, are joined by the versatile violinist Daniel Hope and violist Paul Neubauer in a compelling program of piano quartets by Mahler [Movement in A Minor], Schumann [E-Flat Major Op.47] and Brahms [No.1 in G Minor Op.25] at Koerner Hall. Also at Koerner Hall, April 24, take advantage of a rare chance to hear international superstar Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct his hometown ensemble, Orchestre Métropolitain in a program of English music: Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.4; Elgar’s indelible Enigma Variations and his ever-popular Cello Concerto with 20-year-old cellist Stéphane Tétreault as soloist.

April 10 the Mercer-Oh Trio play Haydn, Jean Lesage and Smetana under the auspices of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Pianist Eric Himy shows off his technical prowess in a program of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Chopin, Albéniz and de Falla April 25. Still in Waterloo, TSO violinist Arkady Yanivker leads the Toronto Serenade String Quartet in music from Latin America April 28 while on May 2 it’s Sofya Gulyak of London’s Royal College of Music who tests the mettle of the Music Room’s piano in music by Liszt, Coulthard and Mussorgsky. She repeats the program in Toronto May 3 under Syrinx’s banner at the Heliconian Hall.

2007-Classical-Mercer.jpgApril 12 Syrinx presents the Seiler Trio (violinist Mayumi Seiler, cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Angela Park) playing Beethoven’s beloved Archduke Trio, Mendelssohn’s Trio No.2 and Kevin Lau’s Trio.

April 13 finds the Associates of the Toronto Symphony saluting the double bass with music of Rossini, Boccherini and Dvořák. Double bassist Tim Dawson teams up with violinists Etsuko Kimura and Angelique Toews. violist Christopher Redfield and cellist Marie Gelinas at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

April 16 Music Toronto presents the Lafayette Quartet, an all-female ensemble who have remained together since their founding in 1986, a distinct rarity. Since then they have spent their time entertaining audiences and teaching some of Canada’s finest young string players from their base at the University of Victoria. Their program includes a middle Haydn quartet (No.28, Op.29, No.6), a late Beethoven (No. 15, Op.132) and Jean Coulthard’s String Quartet No.2, “Threnody.The latter two pieces will be part of their Chamber Music Hamilton concert April 19.

2007-Classical-Petkau.jpgApril 17, group of 27: TSO principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey brings her warm sound to Mozart’s tuneful Oboe Concerto K314; Symphonies by C.P.E. Bach (the wild and beautiful Wq.179) and Haydn (No. 19), along with Jocelyn Morlock’s addictive Disquiet complete an intriguing group of 27 program. The group’s founder and music director, the dynamic Eric Paetkau, whom I interviewed in the December/January issue of The WholeNote, has just been named music director of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. The night before the concert, April 16, The WholeNote will be hosting an open rehearsal of the group at the Centre for Social Innovation, 730 Bathurst St., ground floor. Doors open at 7:30pm. Experience g27’s lively playing in a casual, intimate atmosphere.

April 25 Karin Kei Nagano, the teenage daughter of conductor Kent Nagano and pianist Mari Kodama (read the glowing review of her recording of all 32 Beethoven sonatas elsewhere in this issue), joins her mother for what should be a memorable afternoon of piano music; part of the BravoNiagara! Festival of the Arts.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Author: Paul Ennis
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2007-New-Farah.jpgPart of what makes writing this In with the New column so stimulating for me is getting a front row seat on what exactly is defined as new moment by moment in the midst of our information-saturated and cross-pollinated culture. It’s an absorbing challenge. If you’ve been following this column for a while, you’ll recall an earlier discussion here, about the Music Gallery’s XAvant series, that focussed on how to define the current impetus to combine influences and genres within music. The XAvant series, each fall, has presented music that highlights wildly diverse ways in which various musicians and artists have created their own version of this trend, and how various descriptive words and labels, such as urban abstract music or transculturalism arise to define this music. (As part of the XAvant series in the fall of 2013, a talk was even given on the movement towards going beyond traditional categories and identifying music as genreless.) It is through festivals such as XAvant that we are given the opportunity to encounter all at once numbers of artists with unique takes on this phenomenon – get to taste from the whole menu of what’s cooking in this area.

This month we get to see what happens when you combine musicians who are exploring these edges in their own individual work, and mix in an insatiably curious creator who works in another art form. In Toronto-based choreographer and dancer Peggy Baker’s latest work, locus plot, which runs from April 24 to May 3, we get a glimpse of what is possible when this happens. Through my conversations with the two musical creators of this piece, composer John Farah and vocalographer Fides Krucker, it became evident that this collaboration is creating something beyond what we normally think of as interdisciplinary or even music for dance. Something expanding beyond what even interdisciplinary might imply.

As a composer and pianist, Farah has been working with Baker for the last few years. As she became more familiar with the breadth of his compositional style, she began planning ahead to create a piece that would make “full use of him, and allow him to pull out all the stops,” as Farah describes it. What makes Farah’s work unique is the way in which he combines quite disparate styles and sound sources to create his own signature sound palette. A true creator of genreless music, you could say. To give you a more detailed overview of his style, I refer you to a review of his most recent album Between Carthage and Rome published in The WholeNote’s February issue. It turns out that these qualities of Farah’s music were exactly what Baker wanted from him – to use all parts of his toolbox in wrestling with how to co-exist musically with both Baker’s dance and the vocal soundscore created by Krucker.

Farah’s main musical pillars for the piece include what he calls sound sculpture (or electroacoustics) created through a circuitry of electronic software-based effects and processors alongside synthesizer sounds; also quasi-tonal and modal minimalist piano music; highly rhythmical beat-oriented electronics; prepared piano John Cage style; and elements of improvisation. Part of the challenge for Farah was to create a large-scale work where all these quite different components come together to create an artistic whole that makes sense for the listener.

The result is not a series of movements that stop and start, but rather a continually evolving piece that Farah himself performs throughout. For example, at one point in the piece there is music for electronic drums that has a definite rhythmical beat, which then changes into an atmospheric electronic sound with no specific pitch that floats for four minutes before developing into a solo piano part that is mic’d and processed using different effects in the computer.

Work on the piece began with a math lesson by mathematician and playwright John Mighton, hence the word locus in the title. Locus is a math term referring to a set of points plotted in space to create different shapes such as a parabola or circle. During the performance a series of Mighton’s original drawings, diagrams and notes is projected onto the back screen, which helps the audience make the connection. Before any of the music was composed, Farah thought that the math focus would mean his music would be primarily complex rhythms, but that hasn’t necessarily happened. In fact, Baker has encouraged him to follow his impulses upon seeing what the dancers are doing, which at times has meant that the music he intuitively wants to compose creates a contrasting accompaniment to the dancer’s movements.

One example of this occurs in the first 12 minutes of the piece. As the composer describes it, “the dancers are doing what appears to be a strange type of square dance where they look at each other, then switch places, look at each other again, and switch places again. What you see is the constant creation of geometrical forms. Each time the way in which they switch places is different, so you’re watching the same thing happening with endless permutations. I began with music that I thought I should compose – something rhythmical to match the movements of the dancers, but it turned out that’s not what Peggy wanted. I ended up with something that just floats and sits there, using drones and minimalist piano patterns with reverb and delays. It’s something I never would have done normally if it wasn’t for the type of freedom that this piece allows me. It’s a freedom within certain constraints.”

2007-New-Baker_and_Burashko.jpgIt may seem that Farah’s full toolbox of musical possibilities interacting with Baker’s choreography would make for a complete work. But that was not all that Baker had in mind for the piece. Something had stirred in her creative mind as a result of working with music designer and vocalist Krucker on Baker’s piece land / body / breath. In this work, the soundscape of folk songs that Krucker and singing partner Ciara Adams were performing was expanded to include various sounds of bird songs and calls performed by the dancers. This made such an impression on Baker that when Krucker showed up for her initial meetings to work as dramaturge on locus plot, Baker asked: “What sounds do you want the dancers to make?” Thus a surprised and delighted Krucker became the vocalographer of the piece, a term Baker created to describe her role.

Krucker’s approach to the voice has been rigorously and expertly cultivated over many years, incorporating both the traditional bel canto style along with the body/breath extended sound approach of the Roy Hart tradition. In February’s WholeNote, I wrote about Barbara Hannigan, another singer who combines these two traditions. Paying attention to how a sound is made in the body has become Krucker’s primary way of working, both as a vocal performer of contemporary music and as a teacher and mentor of voice practice. So it’s completely natural that she would approach working on locus plot from this perspective of embodied sound.

Upon seeing what the dancers were doing with their bodies, she imagined what she would do vocally if she were capable of doing that particular movement. She then translated her sounds into ones the dancers would feel comfortable making within their skill set. A series of tightly scripted improvisations were then set up, connecting specific movements with qualities or textures of sound and experimenting with how one sound interacts with another. Some sounds are quite quiet, and others very loud and extended, encompassing a range of sounds that we often equate with the emotional states of “sad, mad and glad.” In the end, the dancers are making sound more than 50 per cent of the time resulting in an extensive nonverbal voice score. This way of working has also sparked Baker’s creativity. “Because she is so used to looking at movement, there’s something obvious about it for her,” says Krucker. “But as soon as the dancers are having to breathe in a certain way to make the sounds, all of a sudden it engages her in a very different way.”

One interesting feature Krucker noted in our conversation was that because the point of departure for the piece is based on math formulas, it creates an ambiguity as to who the dancers are in relation to each other. “We never need to know if those two men are lovers, or brothers for example, even though specific feelings in the body can still arise.” The piece is not just about love or other common human experiences that are the usual focus of staged works, although all sorts of human stories could be made out of what we see and hear.

The challenges of a three-way collaboration with two musical creators are met because of Baker’s respect for everyone’s contribution and creativity. To balance the two soundworlds of musical score and the more vulnerable vocal sounds of the dancers requires an attentive adjustment of timing, tone and volume. The result of this alchemy of ingredients is, in Krucker’s words, “something that feels holistic, and also very new. It’s a complete melding of art forms, beyond being interdisciplinary, in a very practical, three-dimensional flesh and bones way, and this weaving is completely held in the dancers’ bodies.”

One might wonder too, how much of the math legacy was left after being filtered through the creative artistic process. But after watching a rehearsal, Mighton was beaming and reflected that it was a deeply satisfying meditation during which he was able to feel and hear the math in it all. I suggest that witnessing this weaving and melding of elements and forms be high on your priority list for the end of the month.

Music Gallery Events: Continuing on with the Music Gallery’s tradition of presenting hybrid style artists, they team up with Contact Contemporary Music to perform Professor Bad Trip on April 18. This work, in three sections, is written for 11 instruments and electronics and combines techno, psychedelic rock and spectral techniques. It’s described as the Doors meet Pierre Boulez, with the Doors definitely winning out. Written by the late Italian composer Fausto Romitelli, this piece has created a cult following with its appealing mix of hypnotic ritual-like repetitions while riding the wave between order and chaos. His work is seen as having a major influence on a whole generation of younger composers. The evening also includes The Michael Eckert Large Earth Ensemble, who combine elements from various world cultures with classic rock guitar and synth sounds. For rock and roll fans who like an experimental edge to their music, this entire evening is not to be missed. Other Music Gallery events in April include British improvised music masters Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston on April 24; and the Blythwood Winds present their “Hogtown Roundup” concert featuring three world premieres by Toronto composers Barnes, Rowson and Lau on April 13.

John Tavener: One of Britain’s most distinguished liturgically inspired composers Sir John Tavener will be honoured by Soundstreams in a concert on April 16 to commemorate his passing in 2013. Tavener’s Song for Athene, performed at the funeral of Princess Diana, exemplifies the skill of this composer who knew how to create contemporary works that were accessible to many. Tavener wrote over 30 works for British soprano Patricia Rozario, who will be performing four of them in the Toronto concert along with Choir 21 and the Toronto Children’s Chorus. Christos Hatzis (Canada), Jonathan Harvey (Britain), and Vanraj Bhatia (India), all of whom create music that expresses a spiritual dimension, will also be represented in the program. Tavener’s The Lamb is part of a Mooredale Concerts event on April 12 that features the Dublin Guitar Quartet and also includes compositions by Philip Glass, György Ligeti and Leo Brouwer.

Infiltration! This month also offers several opportunities for concertgoers of classical and baroque music to hear premieres of new Canadian works. Here’s a listing of these events:

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra premieres Ararat by Mychael Danna, which is a newly created suite of music from the soundtrack originally written for Atom Egoyan’s film by the same name. April 22.

Tafelmusik premieres a newly commissioned work entitled “Snow White” by Michael Oesterle in their concert entitled Baroque Misbehaving. The concerts run from April 23 to 28.

Sinfonia Toronto performs Alice Ho’s “Mira for Violin and Orchestra” on May 2.

Syrinx Concerts Toronto presents Sofya Gubyak performing Jean Coulthard’s Piano Sonata No.2 on May 3.

Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presents a world premiere by Christopher Mayo, a WMCT commission, performed by the piano quartet Ensemble Made In Canada May 7.

In With The New (Briefly):And finally, a listing of other concerts of new music happening in Toronto and beyond:

New Music Concerts: The Ukrainian-Canadian Connection, with dompositions by Silvestrov, Pauk, Pidgorna, Kulesha, Tsepkolenko, April 4. (see my March WholeNote column for more details).

Canadian Music Centre: Amarok Ensemble performs works by Morlock and Murphy, April 14.

Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Penderecki String Quartet in a concert of Serbian and Croation Chamber Works, with works by Katarina Čurčin, Michael Pepa, Norbert Palej, and Sanja Drakulić, April 15.

Sara Constant concert, with works by Denisov, Lutosławski:, Meijering, Stockhausen, and Tanabe, April 24.

Music Gallery at Arraymusic: Tim Berne’s Snakeoil plus Barnyard Drama, April 29.

Royal Conservatory:Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble performing works by Canadian composers Alexina Louie and Andre Ristic, and others. April 30.

JunctQin Keyboard Collective performs works for piano solo, piano six hands, toy piano, melodica and electronics, including a premiere by Jason Doell, winner of the 2014 Emerging Composer Award, May 3. 

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

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2007-World-ZariTrio.jpgLet’s call it a personal rite of spring. Along with those first warm sunny days, I also look forward to engaging with the larger world in concerts at several of our region’s universities and concert halls.

This season, my first focus falls on Toronto’s award-winning vocal and instrumental trio Zari, which performs April 25 at the little jewel of downtown venues, Musideum. Composed of Shalva Makharashvili, Andrea Kuzmich and Reid Robins, Zari (meaning “bell” in Georgian) draws on the rich regional repertoire of the polyphonic songs of the Republic of Georgia. Standing at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, their ancient country is called Sakartvelo by Georgians.

Declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001, Georgian vocal polyphony, with its close harmonies and untempered scales, is characterized by three-part singing in a variety of regional styles. The songs range from the haunting melismatic melodies of the Eastern provinces, to the wild, explosive counterpoint of the West. They also include more recent romantic urban ballads.

Like many other groups I’ve highlighted in this column who have musical affiliations to another part of the world, Zari was made in Toronto. I spoke with the singer, ethnomusicologist and group co-founder Andrea Kuzmich to get the skinny on Zari.

“It was formed in 2003. We met each other a few years earlier at the downtown Toronto living room singing sessions of Darbazi” (Canada’s first Georgian choir). Kuzmich quickly identified a key feature of the group, its dedication to studying the older strata of Georgian music in its birthplace. “We want to deepen our understanding of and feeling for this musical treasure. When Zari performs, we embrace the profundity of Georgian culture: its roots embedded in ancient times, its strength and courage to survive and its inspiring hospitality.” To that end the trio plans to return to Georgia this October for another round of studies and concerts.

And like numerous Canadian groups that reference other geo-cultural milieus, Zari is perhaps better known there than here. Kuzmich notes that during past Georgian tours, “we have performed at the Chveneburebi festival, Festival of Megrelian song, First International Festival of Gurian Song and other festivals that have taken us around the country.” They have also been featured at the “best performance halls of [the capital] Tbilisi, such as the Opera House, and the Philharmonia Concert Hall.”

In addition to formal concert venues, Kuzmich points out the hard-to-overstate significance of the supra. It’s the traditional, often epic, Georgian feast which serves as an important locus for Georgian social culture – and singing. “You know ... there’s a saying that the best performances happen at the supras after the concerts. We can’t really predict how many supras we’ll attend or which ones will be most educational.” And the supra is such an integral part of Georgian culture that it’s not easy to separate the supra from what happens each day. “There will be [formal] toasting every day, if not multiple times in the day, perhaps even around a table while we’re learning a song. In that case the line between supra and lesson gets blurred.”

She gives an example of how such productive blurring can evolve. “[One day] we were all set to have a lesson, but instead had an impromptu midday supra at a small local house-restaurant in Makvaneti, the village of our Gurian [region of Georgia] teachers …. At the supra they sang many songs, interlaced with stories about music-making from when they were little boys, during Soviet times, and today. We sang with them too, sometimes trading off at inner cadence points. We probably sat there for over three hours. All three of us [in Zari] felt inspired and very connected to the tradition [after that experience], and we learned so much in that one sitting.”

I asked about Zari’s Musideum set list. “We’ll be performing songs from several regions of the country,” said Kuzmich. She mentioned a few songs on their long list. One of the Gurian songs is Chven Mshvidoba (Peace to Us). “We are in the process of learning a fourth or fifth variant, though in performance we tend to just let the improvisation happen.” Maglonia, a lyrical song from Samegrelo, features accompaniment by the panduri, a prominent Georgian three-string lute. “There are a few versions we are listening to, but the one we mostly base our version on is by Polikarpe Khubulava, the Georgian master singer who passed away on January 1, 2015,” she added. “We will also do songs from [the regions of] Imereti and Achara, which are similar, though Imereti has more parallel thirds in the top voice, plus one of those dense Svaneti chordal songs. It’s a place which is snowbound for eight months of the year and the songs, like the people, are rugged.”

Zari feels the need to regularly re-connect with those wellsprings of the oral musical tradition they’ve been born into – or as in the case of Kuzmich, chosen – in order to fuel their inspiration and artistry. Their Musideum concert is part of a series of fundraisers to help get them back to Georgia to study with elder master singers, some well past retirement age. In addition to such venerable living connections to the past, the trio also plans to re-connect with researchers at the Conservatoire, including colleagues at the Ethnomusicology Department and the Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony. “Giorgi Donadze, the leader of Basiani [a prominent choir], is also the director of the State Folk Centre, so we’ll be connecting with that institute,” adds Kuzmich. “And we always try to meet up with Anzor Erkomaishvili, who endows us with new publications on Georgian music.”

It’s always exciting to hear such a depth of passion and engagement from an artist. I plan to catch Zari’s Musideum show to hear the latest in the evolution of Georgian music, Toronto style.

World music in the university: April 1 the University of Toronto Faculty of Music holds its annual spring concert of World Music Ensembles at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. This season it’s the African Drumming and Dancing, Latin American Percussion and Steel Pan student groups’ turn to shine. Kwasi Dunyo, the Ewe master drummer from Ghana who has for two decades been teaching in universities and schools in Canada and the U.S.A. from his Toronto home base, leads the first ensemble. The Latin American percussion group is led by the accomplished Mark Duggan, an orchestral percussionist, composer and jazz musician. Even 32 years ago his highly honed skills were in demand: he was chosen to play with Canada’s first gamelan, the Evergreen Club. Michelle Colton, an emerging multi-percussionist and educator, directs the Steel Pan ensemble.

The next day, on April 2 at noon, the world music focus shifts to the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, where the Conrad Grebel Gamelan Ensemble performs, directed by Maisie Sum. Introduced into the university as a course only two years ago by Sum, the gamelan semara dana, a kind of Balinese tuned percussion-rich instrumental ensemble, is the first of its kind in Southwestern Ontario. In an interview with The WholeNote a year ago professor Sum reported an enthusiastic reception for the music among the students. “Enrollment for the ensemble doubled in the winter term, so we currently have two groups.”

After the excitement of the noon-hour Waterloo Balinese set, there’s still plenty of time to get down to St. Catharines’ Brock University the same day for an evening concert. Jaffa Road performs at the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre, Centre for the Arts. The JUNO short-listed Toronto world music group offers an amalgam of sacred and secular Jewish song, jazz, Indian and Arabic music, with touches of electronica and dub.

2007-World-GilbertoGil.jpgBrazil’s musical ambassador: April 7 the Royal Conservatory of Music presents “Gilberto Gil: Gilberto’s Samba” at Koerner Hall. Hailed as “Brazil’s musical ambassador,” for more than 40 years the singer, composer, guitar player – and former Minister of Culture – has enjoyed an extraordinary career. Gil is perhaps best known as an eloquent exponent of bossa nova, but he is also a pioneer of the tropicalia and Brasileira genres. The New York Times summed up his monumental yet affable stage presence: delicate bossa novas, strummed rockers and intricate sambas … Mr. Gil didn’t trumpet his virtuosity. It was offered genially, like his melodies and his un-didactic thoughts on love, poetic license and mortality.”

Taiko meets tabla: April 11 two established groups on the Toronto world music scene join for an evening of transcultural percussion-centric musical dialogues. The Japanese taiko group Nagata Shachu directed by Kiyoshi Nagata meets the JUNO-nominated Toronto Tabla Ensemble directed by Ritesh Das on the stage of the Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre. Having attended concerts by both groups from their early days, it’s evident that collaborations are important to each. Nagata shares that “I feel that the primal and thunderous sounds of the taiko are a perfect complement to the subtle and intricate rhythms of the tabla. Ritesh and I feel a certain connection, both musically and in terms of how we were trained in our respective traditions.” The personal history the two directors share is an important link between their groups. “I am thrilled to be once again working with Kiyoshi Nagata,” reflects Das. “[He was] one of the first artists I collaborated with after coming to Toronto in 1987. When we rehearsed for the first time in 20 years, I felt a new sense of maturity from both ends, which led to an immediate understanding between us. Together we can create a very rich and elegant Indo-Japanese collaboration.” This respectful fusion not only marks an advanced musical maturity, but is a positive thermometer of the future health of Toronto’s world music scene.

At the Aga Khan Museum: A week later the new Aga Khan Museum and the well-established Raag-Mala Music Society of Toronto join forces for the first time in two concerts at the Aga Khan Museum Auditorium. Titled “Miyan-Ki-Daane: Raags of Tansen,” the programs, presented in the Hindustani dhrupad and khayal music genres, celebrate the music of Miyan Tansen, a bright star among the composers and singers of Emperor Akbar’s 16th-century North Indian court. His beautiful compositions have been passed on through many generations of oral tradition through the guru-shishya parampara, the particular manner of transmission from teacher to disciple in traditional Indian culture.

The first program April 18 features singer Samrat Pandit and bansuri (bamboo flute) player Rupak Kulkarni. The singer received the prestigious Sangeeta Shiromani Award from the State of Maharashtra just last year, while Kulkarni is widely recognized as a leading bansuri player. On April 19 Uday Bhawalkar, among the foremost exponents of dhrupad singing today, and the respected sitarist Partha Bose, present an unusual 11am late morning concert. Audiences will thus have a rare opportunity to hear raags appropriate to that time of day, a practice still maintained in Hindustani classical music. It’s definitely worth making alternate work arrangements for this concert.

April 24, also at the Aga Khan Museum, sounds of the Sahara, the Magreb and West Africa are blended with contemporary pop and funk by the powerhouse Noura Mint Seymali. This compelling singer, a star in Mauritania, was born into a prominent Moorish griot family. She is also a master of the ardine (nine-stringed harp) and a composer.

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

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2007-Early-Nosky.jpgI miss German composers. They are an unavoidable part of the musical topography for anyone playing music from Mozart to Schoenberg, but in early music, there are only a few chances to play anything German or Austrian. There’s Bach, of course, and the odd piece by Telemann, which I suppose is enough for most non-Germanophiles. Handel’s Messiah rolls around every December, too and a baroque violinist will occasionally program a Biber violin sonata, but that’s about it. There isn’t, alas, exactly a major movement in the city devoted to reviving Heinrich Schutz, nor is anyone particularly interested in programming anything by C.P.E. Bach anymore. Hasse? I never hear him in Toronto. Graun? Forget about it. So I’m particularly indebted to Opera Atelier for increasing diversity and enlivening the musical conversation in the city by adding a bit of Christoph Willibald Gluck to their regular repertoire. More specifically, I’d like to throw my support behind their decision to put on his best-known opera, Orfeo ed Eurydice, this month.

Never heard of Gluck? Don’t worry. Gluck is very much a conventional Classical (with a capital C) composer, so if you know Mozart, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Gluck wrote Orfeo when Mozart was just a child, and given that the opera got its first performance in Vienna, it’s very likely that it was a direct influence on the young composer. It’s reasonable to say that Gluck comes across as an old-fashioned version of Mozart, with perhaps more of a French influence (accompanied recits, dance movements, a lot for the chorus to do) but his Orfeo is much more hummable, than, let’s say, Monteverdi’s. Combine this music with Opera Atelier’s diverse and estimable talents, e.g. Marshall Pynkowski’s direction, and accompaniment furnished by Tafelmusik under David Fallis, and this show is a sure-fire hit. Opera Atelier performs Orfeo ed Eurydice at the Elgin theatre April 9 to 18.

Tafel in the Underworld: The story of Orpheus, the famed musician descending into hell to charm the denizens of the underworld and rescue his princess, has captivated musicians for centuries. As epic stories featuring heroic musicians go, though, the myth of Orpheus still pales, at least in contemporary relevance, to the ongoing saga of Who Will Lead Tafelmusik. Finding yourself under scrutiny as a potential artistic director for one of Canada’s top orchestras is not unlike having to face down Cerberus, a comparison which, I would venture, is not lost on potential candidates.

This month’s installment of the Tafelmusik audition process (a season with invited conductors/concertmasters) brings us violinist Aisslinn Nosky, who will be leading Tafelmusik in a program of music by Purcell, Charpentier and Telemann. Nosky’s got quite a few things going for her, as an up-and-coming musician with a following in Toronto (her chamber band I Furiosi has just about the youngest audience I’ve seen at a classical music concert) as well as having a long history with the group as both a student and full-time member. Is Aisslinn Nosky the next Jeanne Lamon? Does she have what it takes to beat the odds and win Canada’s most coveted music job? Well, we won’t know that until next year. You can, however check it out and decide for yourself from April 23 to 26 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre as well as April 28 at George Weston Recital Hall.

Ahearn at TEMC: There are a number of members of the Tafelmusik crew who are busy this month with a few smaller (and potentially less stressful) chamber music concerts. Tafelmusik violinist Patricia Ahearn will perform a solo concert under the Toronto Early Music Centre banner in a program at St. David’s Anglican Church that features a few of the Germanic stalwarts of the early music repertoire I mentioned earlier – Bach, Biber and Telemann. And what a solo program! It’s a concert of monstrous pieces – namely an unaccompanied Telemann fantasia, the Bach unaccompanied violin sonata in G minor, and the Biber passacaglia. None of these pieces is particularly easy by itself on a program, so all three together on the same bill is quite an ambitious array of difficult music. Watching Ahearn pull this off will be a thrilling experience – she’ll be performing on Sunday April 19, at 2:30pm.

Early at Eastminster: Tafelmusik’s artistic director Jeanne Lamon and principal cellist Christina Mahler are also highlighting a chamber concert at Eastminster United Church in a concert of Haydn and Boccherini on April 18 at 8pm. They’ll be joined by a couple of notable younger musicians – namely Edwin Huizinga and Kerri McGonigle, so this should be an enjoyable performance that brings together a couple of established artists with two of Toronto’s most talented up-and-comers.

Torture at Calvin: Aisslinn Nosky will also be performing earlier in the month with her regular band, I Furiosi at the group’s most regular venue, Calvin Presbyterian Church (26 Deslisle Ave., St. Clair subway). They’re calling it Instruments of Torture, which sounds either particularly unpromising or promising, depending on your bent. One thing it won’t be, though, is painful to the ear; I Furiosi is known for putting together amusing musical miscellanies that never take things too seriously. Given the title, it’s likely to include a few selections to appease your organological fetish, and the group will throw in a pop tease here and there. I Furiosi will be presenting Instruments of Torture along with lutenist Lucas Harris on Friday April 10 at 8pm.

17th-Century Avant Garde: There’s one more chamber concert featuring Tafelmusik violinists going on this month - the group Musicians in Ordinary, probably the hardest-working instrumental group in Toronto, will be presenting a concert featuring Chris Verrette and Patricia Ahearn along with their core duo of soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards. This particular concert, entitled In Stile Moderno, features the music of Renaissance Italy’s avant-gardists. Claudio Monteverdi broke more than a few conventions of traditional style and perceptions of good taste when he began publishing madrigals and instrumental music as a court composer in Mantua. The musical establishment of the day was outraged, but Monteverdi’s musical revolution eventually made him the most famous composer of his day. It’s also interesting to note that he didn’t do it alone - the master had a few followers in his circle who either tried to imitate his style or were just sick of the last two hundred years of tedious Renaissance polyphony. Salamone Rossi was one such disciple, and he didn’t do too badly either: although he never enjoyed Monteverdi’s level of fame, he’s still the most famous (and the most talented) Jewish  classical composer before Mendelssohn.

The Musicians will be dedicating a concert to the music of the aforementioned two audacious Italians along with some of their Mantuan “modern style” contemporaries. You can check them out at Heliconian Hall on May 2 at 8pm. 

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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I wonder if we’ll ever overcome our tendency to judge people by their musical taste? When I see social media memes that make lofty pronouncements about the Power of Music (common elements: sunset; a violin bow; Mozart; a rose on a grand piano), I know what I’m in for when I get to the comments section: predictable complaints about today’s lousy songs; the ignorant new generation; hip hop; Taylor Swift; heavy metal, etc.

I have no problem with honest snobbery, I just wish snobs would be consistent. If your musical preferences are elevated ones, you can’t stop there – Benjamin Britten and cheeseburgers don’t mix. Your tastes in literature, dance, film, visual art, clothes, food and architecture need to be on the same haute plateau. If you’ve achieved that, congratulations, your superb acumen is beautifully integrated into every aspect of your life. Unfortunately, you’re probably insufferable. More likely, you don’t actually exist.

Here’s the key – snobbery works best in opposition. It’s not enough to like something – what are you, eight? To be a true aesthete you have to hate something as well. Our love of Sondheim’s tart rhymes is made keener by our dismissal of Lloyd Webber’s sugary melodic hooks. Our veneration of Bach requires a good sneer at the burghers who preferred Telemann for the prestigious post at the Leipzig Thomaskirche. We hone our love of Hank Williams by sharpening our disdain for Clint Black. Louis Armstrong vs. Wynton Marsalis? I Can’t Even, as the status updates say.

Lovers of choral music yield to no one in their readiness to indulge in a good love it/hate it status fest. But there are elements of choral culture that mitigate this unfortunate tendency and may make us a little more tolerant than say, indie-rock fans or free improv obsessives.

For one thing, there is a strong amateur aspect to choral music, in both the modern and ancient sense. We usually love what makes us feel good, and the modernist asceticism that produced so much defiantly listener-unfriendly music in the last century made less headway in choral circles than, say, orchestral ones. For another, the kind of singing that takes place in liturgical settings, or even plain old group singalongs, has had its influence on choral composers. And finally, children’s choirs are a main entry point of apprenticeship both for musicians and choral music audiences, and composers who write for them know that their music must be visceral, energetic, and above all, fun.

Unfortunately, choral audiences also have a tendency to stick with what they know, and our preference for familiarity and adherence to the cult of the masterwork means that a good deal of interesting music goes unheard. We’re willing to listen to minutiae and fragments from our musical gods – our love of Mozart’s final musical sketchbook, the Requiem in D Minor, proves that. But coming up this month is an exciting revival of a work by a composer who is familiar to us for only a few pages of his entire musical oeuvre.

2007-Choral-Martin.jpgParry’s Judith: Anyone who has attended a Last Night of the Proms concert knows Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s Jerusalem, and anyone who’s sung in a church choir knows his “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.” Parry’s name alone situates him firmly in the 19th century, a time when British imperialism dominated politics and culture. But isn’t that the kind of facile dismissal I deplored above? If music of 18th-century Austria still speaks to us, what about British music from closer to our time, and from a culture that many of us still understand and share?

Parry (1848–1918) had a distinguished career as composer, essayist and teacher. Among other achievements, he wrote some of the first articles in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, a resource that remains central to music research today. Unlike composers such as Vaughan Williams and Holst, whose music seems to have been able to bridge the gap between the Victorian/Edwardian eras and our own, Parry’s has been ignored or dismissed since his death, surfacing most often in the types of settings mentioned above.

On May 3 at Koerner Hall, Toronto conductor/composer Stephanie Martin and her ensemble, the Pax Christi Chorale, are undertaking the North American premiere of a neglected oratorio by Parry, Judith. First performed to great success in 1888, it tells the biblical story of the heroic Jewish heroine who saves her people by her daring assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes.

Martin’s interest in the piece turned into something of a quest when she discovered that the orchestral parts for Judith were not available from the original publisher. Assembling a research team and enlisting the help of British Parry scholar Jeremy Dibble, Martin created a performing edition of the score on her own. You can read her thoughts about Judith and its recovery process on her blog, at this address: stephaniemartinmusic.com/judith-at-koerner-hall/. Martin and the Pax Christi Chorale have worked incredibly hard on this historic project – which will also include the first full recording of the work – and I truly hope that they get a strong audience turnout for the performance.

2007-Choral-Rozario.jpgTavener Explored: Another British composer is celebrated in Toronto this month – John Tavener, who died in 2013, almost a century after Parry. On April 16 Soundstreams presents “Song for Athene,” a concert devoted to Tavener’s works, that will also feature music of Jonathan Harvey and Canada’s own Christos Hatzis. David Fallis will lead Choir 21, and Elise Bradley will conduct the Toronto Children’s Chorus. The concert is notable both for the special participation of British soprano Patricia Rozario, a musician who is especially associated with Tavener, and for whom he wrote over 30 works, and for the North American premiere of Tavener’s setting of the Missa Brevis text. For more information see

Like the Judith concert, I think this exploration of Tavener is an event not to be missed this month. Parry, once celebrated, may be re-emerging from the shadows. Tavener, recently deceased, is greatly popular in choral circles. What will be his fate in the century to come?

Once again, I’m uneasily aware of having neglected many excellent concerts while focusing on just two. Please have a look in the listings and stay informed about what’s taking place this month. In May I will take an in-depth look at the art of a cappella singing. 

Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and lutenist. He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote. Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.

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In previous years April has been the month in the year with the single highest concentration of opera presentations. This year that is not the case. The change may be because Easter falls between April 3 and April 5 pushing some presentations into March and delaying others. Or it may simply be that opera companies have tried to spread their offerings out more evenly over March through May. Even so, the Canadian Opera Company, Opera Atelier and Toronto Operetta Theatre all have productions this month, with TOT offering a rare revival and Opera Atelier a 19th-century revision of an 18th-century masterpiece.

2007-Opera-Barber.jpgCOC’s Barber: The first opera to arrive will be the COC’s new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville playing 13 performances from April 17 through May 22. This is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, Opéra National de Bordeaux and Opera Australia directed by the group known as by its Catalan name of Els Comediants. If the name of the group sounds vaguely familiar it is because the group was responsible for the staging of Rossini’s La Cenerentola in 2012, a production most people remember for its inclusion of stylized mice as onlookers. This will be the 11th time the COC has presented Barber, the last time in 2008 directed by Michael Patrick Albano. The production by Els Comediants debuted in Houston in October 2011, later to be seen in Bordeaux in September 2012.

The opera is based on the first of three plays by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-99) featuring the barber Figaro as a central character. An eternal confusion for operagoers is that the most famous setting of Beaumarchais’ second Figaro play, Le Mariage de Figaro (1784), was set first by Mozart in 1786, while the most famous version of the first play in the series, Le Barbier de Séville (1775) was set second by Rossini in 1816. (The third Figaro play, La Mère coupable (1797) did not become an opera until Darius Milhaud set it in 1966 and John Corigliano used it as subplot in his The Ghosts of Versailles in 1991.)

Based in Barcelona, Els Comediants, made up of director Joan Font, set and costume designer Joan Guillén and lighting designer Albert Faura, have created a Cubist-inspired set, painted in Day-Glo colours, that plays with scale and proportion. Xevi Dorca, who worked with Els Comediants on La Cenerentola, also choreographs Barber. On the podium will be Scotsman Rory Macdonald, last seen here as the conductor of Carmen in 2010

Singing the title role is Canadian Joshua Hopkins, chosen by Opera News as one of 25 artists poised to become a major force in the next decade. For most performances, American tenor Alek Shrader is the young Count Almaviva, with Romanian tenor Bogdan Mihai taking over on May 9, 19 and 21. Almaviva’s beloved Rosina is sung in most performances by Italian soprano Serena Malfi with American Cecelia Hall taking over on May 7, 9, 19, 21 and 22. Bartolo, Rosina’s jealous guardian is sung by Renato Girolami for most performances with Russian bass Nikolay Didenko taking over on May 9, 19 and 21. Don Basilio, Rosina’s music teacher in league with Bartolo, is sung for most performances by Canadian Robert Gleadow with Turkish bass Burak Bilgili taking over May 9, 19 and 21.

May 15 will be the date of the Ensemble Studio performance of the opera with tickets priced at only $25 and $55.

2007-Opera-Attelier.jpgAtelier’s Orfeo: The second major production of the month is Opera Atelier’s second ever foray into 19th-century opera after its highly successful production of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (1821) in 2012. This is the version by Hector Berlioz (1803-69) of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo et Euridice (1762). Gluck himself wrote two versions of Orfeo. The original of 1762 was written to an Italian libretto and was the first of Gluck’s operas that proposed to simplify the opera seria, then in vogue, by stripping away the complexities of music and plot that had gradually accrued to it. Gluck’s goals were a return to clarity of music and of storytelling. Twelve years later, in 1774, Gluck revised the opera to a French libretto, now called Orphée et Eurydice, to suit the tastes of the French public. This involved changing the role of Orphée from a castrato in the Italian version to a high male tenor, or haute-contre, in the French version. It also necessitated expanding the ballet sequences.

Because of Opera Atelier, Toronto audiences have had the privilege of seeing both versions: the Italian version in 1997 and the French version in 2007. Now OA will put Torontonians in a very special class by giving us the Berlioz version of 1859. When the Paris Opera considered reviving Orphée et Eurydice in 1859 it was noted that the role of Orphée was too high for an haute-contre. What had happened, as period instrument enthusiasts will know, is that concert pitch had gradually risen over the previous 75 years.The reason for this “pitch inflation” was the rise of independent orchestral music (as opposed to accompanying orchestral music) where instrumentalists felt that a higher pitch gave works a more brilliant sound. 

When Giacomo Meyerbeer suggested that French contralto Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), a composer in her own right, should sing Orphée, Berlioz agreed to revise the score with Viardot’s voice in mind. He was France’s greatest expert in Gluck, whose works he had championed since 1825. In 1856 he wrote: “There are two supreme gods in the art of music: Beethoven and Gluck.” In his revision Berlioz used the key scheme of the Italian version but most of the music of the French version, returning to the Italian version only when he thought it superior in terms of music or drama. This new version proved to be a major success and became the principal version played in opera houses until the advent of the early music revival of the 1970s.

Although Berlioz’s Orphée is based on 18th-century music, his 1859 revision marks the furthest into the 19th century that Tafelmusik or Opera Atelier have travelled. The production will star Canadian mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel as Orphée and feature OA favourite Peggy Kriha Dye as Eurydice and Meghan Lindsay as Amour. David Fallis will conduct and Marshall Pynkoski direct. The opera plays April 9, 11, 12, 14, 17 and 18.

TOT’s Earnest: The third major production of the month is the revival by Toronto Operetta Theatre of Earnest, the Importance of Being by Victor Davies to a libretto by Eugene Benson. The operetta was a TOT commission and first performed in February 2008. Now TOT gives the work that rarity among new Canadian operas – a second production. Davies is perhaps most famous for his popular Mennonite Piano Concerto (1975) and his oratorio Revelation (1996). His best known opera is Transit of Venus (2007) based on the play by Maureen Hunter.  He is currently writing an opera The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, based on the play by George Ryga of the same name.

Benson, among his prodigious scholarly and creative work, has written, among others, the librettos to Héloise and Abélard (1973) by Charles Wilson, commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company to mark its 25th anniversary, and to The Summoning of Everyman (1973) revived by Toronto’s Opera in Concert in 2004. 2012 saw the premiere of The Auction: A Folk Opera, for which he wrote the libretto set to music by John Burge. Benson, who believes, as does operetta expert Richard Traubner, that the differences between various types of music theatre are overstated, sees no difficulty in writing an “operetta” for the 21st century. As he says, “After all, Shakespeare’s plays have inspired successful works in all genres. Why not Wilde’s?”

The work’s premiere received very positive notices. Writing in the Globe and Mail, Ken Winters called the piece “..first rate… It left its audience … both startled and delighted. ... It is good entertainment of considerable charm … quite a lively, exhilarating affair.” You can listen to excerpts of the operetta in the opera section of Davies’ own website victordavies.com.  

Renowned mezzo Jean Stilwell heads the cast as the indomitable Lady Bracknell. Michelle Garlough will sing her daughter Gwendolen, Cameron McPhail will be Jack Worthing, Thomas Macleay will be Algernon Moncreif and Charlotte Knight will be Cecily. Other cast members include Gregory Finney as Reverend Chasuble, Roz McArthur as Miss Prism and Sean Curran as Lane. Davies has written a new scene especially for Stilwell in a score filled with lively tangos, marches, waltzes and ballads. Larry Beckwith conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs. Earnest, The Importance of Being runs April 29 and May 1, 2 and 3.

Small company diversity: Productions from smaller companies lend diversity to the month. On April 16 and 18 Opera Belcanto of York performs Puccini’s La Bohème at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Stanislas Vitort is Rodolfo and Gayané Mangassarian is Mimi. David Varjabed conducts the OBC Orchestra and Chorus and Edward Franko directs.

On April 18, Opera by Request presents Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (1957) in concert at the College St. United Church. Caroline Dery sings Blanche de la Force, Maude Paradis the Prioress and Lindsay McIntyre Sister Constance. William Shookhoff is the music director and pianist.

From April 24 to 26, Metro Youth Opera presents Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict (1862) at Daniels Spectrum. Simone McIntosh and Asitha Tennekoon play the warring couple while Lindsay McIntyre and Janaka Welihinda sing their friends Héro and Claudio. Natasha Fransblow is the music director and Alison Wong the stage director.

This April may not be quite as superabundant in opera as Aprils past, but even with these six varied operas on offer Torontonians are spoiled for choice.

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

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2007-Art-Stoijn.jpgI am an admirer of the Dutch mezzo Christianne Stotijn but I only know her singing from recordings. I look forward to her Toronto debut, organized by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, on April 16 at Walter Hall, in which she will be accompanied by the fine pianist Julius Drake. She will sing Shostakovich’s settings of six poems by Tsvetayeva, four Shakespeare songs by Korngold, and songs by Tchaikovsky and Strauss.

The name Stotijn is well known in the Dutch musical world. The story begins with Johannes Louis Stotijn (1852-1915), who began adult life as a baker but who also played the harmonica as a hobby. Three of his four children became professional musicians. The most distinguished was Jacob, usually known as Jaap. He was the first oboist of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague from 1919 to 1956. We can still hear his playing in a recording of Mozart’s oboe quartet (K370) on the Globe label. In the 1930s he played with the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra that consisted largely of Jewish musicians who had fled Nazi Germany. The orchestra’s concerts were conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who was a great admirer of Stotijn’s playing. Stotijn was also a pioneer of period performance: he joined the Collegium Musicum Antiqua, which was founded in 1952. He died in 1970.

Another fine oboist was Jaap’s son Haakon. He became the first oboist of the Concertgebouw in 1940. In the early 1950s he was banned from the radio by two of the Dutch radio organizations because of his alleged Communist sympathies. In 1954 he, along with three other members of the Concertgebouw, was not allowed entry to the United States. He died at 49 in 1964.

And there are other musical Stotijns: a violist, a bassoonist and a double bass player. The son and pupil of that bass player, Christianne’s younger brother Rick, is also a bassist. Christianne herself began her musical career as a violinist. After she became a singer, she studied with Jard van Nes and Janet Baker. I can hear some of Baker’s qualities in her singing, although her sound is always individual. I am thrilled that half of her recital will consist of Russian music. My only regret is that she will not sing any Mahler, of whose music she is such a fine interpreter.

Other Events:

2007-Art-Asselin.jpgBradshaw Amphitheatre: There are several free vocal events at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre: a preview of Errol Gay’s Alice in Operaland will be given by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company April 1; Andrew Haji, tenor, will sing Schumann’s Dichterliebe, and Gordon Bintner, bass-baritone, will perform Schubert’s Schwanengesang April 4. Parts of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville will be sung by members of the COC Ensemble Studio April 28.

Walter Hall: On April 2 there will be a recital by the winners of the Jim and Charlotte Norcop Prize in Song and Gwendolyn Williams Koldofsky Prize in Accompanying in Walter Hall.

New Music Concerts: Ilana Zarankin, soprano, is the soloist in a program of contemporary Ukrainian music April 4 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre.

Two at the Royal Conservatory: Max Raabe and the Palast Orchestra will recreate the cabaret music and the popular songs of the Weimar years April 11 and 12 at Koerner Hall. Mireille Asselin, soprano, will sing with the Amici Ensemble in a concert that will include Schubert’s The Shepherd on the Rock as well as the Akhmatova Songs by Tavener April 12 at Mazzoleni Concert Hall.

Schubert: There will be another performance of The Shepherd on the Rock, part of an all Schubert concert April 17 at Heliconian Hall, in which the singer will be the soprano Barbara Fris. Another all-Schubert concert will be given at the Canadian Music Centre April 28 and will include Schwanengesang. The singers are Ryan Downey, tenor, and Bradley Christensen, baritone.

Two at Met at Noon: Cathy Daniel, mezzo, sings at noon in a free concert in Metropolitan United Church April 16. Also at noon at Metropolitan and also free: Olga Tylman, mezzo, and Michael Fitzgerald, baritone April 23.

Rozario: The soprano Patricia Rozario will be the soloist in a concert of music by John Tavener, presented by Soundstreams April 16 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Rozario was central figure in Tavener’s career; he wrote more than 30 works for her. The concert will also include works by Christos Hatzis, Jonathan Harvey and Vanraj Bhatia.

Bayrakdarian: The soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian will sing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in a concert of Armenian music April 22 at Roy Thomson Hall.

Oakham House: Wendy Dobson, soprano, and Michael Robert-Broder, baritone, will be the soloists in a concert April 25 at Calvin Presbyterian Church given by the Oakham House Choir of Ryerson University. The main works will be Handel’s Coronation Anthem My Heart is Inditing, the first movement of Elgar’s Coronation Ode and the Polovetsian Dances from Borodin’s Prince Igor.

The soprano Meredith Hall and the pianist Brahm Goldhamer will perform works by Mozart, Haydn and Rauzzini, April 26 at 8pm in Heliconian Hall. The program will include Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos.

Also: The soprano Tessa Laengert will sing Handel, Dvorak and Puccini in a cocnert with the Oakville Chamber Orchestra May 2 and 3 at St. John’s United Church, Oakville. Andrew Haji, tenor, will be the soloist in a celebration of songs from opera, operetta and musical theatre with the VOCA Chorus of Toronto May 2 at Eastminster United Church. The Vesnivka Choir and the Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir will present a concert of folk songs celebrating rebirth, romance and love May 3 atHumberValleyUnited Church in Etobicoke. The solo singers are Natalya Matyusheva, soprano, and Justin Stolz, tenor.

The last concert in this year’s series for Recitals at Rosedale will be held on May 3 at Rosedale Presbyterian Church. The theme will be journeys, travels and returning home; the music will be by Schumann, Ravel and others. The singers are Lucia Cesaroni, soprano, Emily D’Angelo, mezzo, and Anthony Cleverton, baritone. And the famed singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie will perform at Koerner Hall May 7.

Beyond the GTA: the soloists in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion are Rufus Müller (tenor, as the Evangelist), Tyler Duncan (baritone, as Christus), Agnes Zsigovics (soprano), Laura Pudwell (mezzo), Isaiah Bell (tenor) and Justin Welsh (bass). The conductor is Mark Vuorinen April 3 attheCentre in the Square, Kitchener.

Looking back: in February I wrote that I was looking forward to the recital in which Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber were to perform Schubert’s Winterreise. I was not disappointed. Koerner Hall was full; the audience listened with rapt attention and saved their enthusiasm for the end. Who says that the song recital is dead?

On a couple of occasions I have written about the emerging tenor Charles Sy. I did not realize until I got to the Macmillan Theatre that he was singing in the Opera Division of the University of Toronto’s production of Postcard from Morocco by Dominick Argento. I was very impressed with his singing, particularly with the evenness of tone and the solidity of his lower register.

And looking ahead: Against the Grain Theatre has announced that Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Krisztina Szabó, mezzo, will sing Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin and Messiaen’s Harawi in May. The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto has announced its 2015-16 season. It includes a recital by the fabulous American mezzo Isabel Leonard (we heard her in the COC production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito a few years ago). That will be on November 19. Stay tuned! clip_image001.png

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

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According to my calendar, spring has arrived, but the weatherman seems to disagree. However, I did see and hear two musical signals to indicate that spring should be along soon. My first was the song of a bright red cardinal high in the tree out front here. My other was Toronto’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade. I must admit that I did not observe this parade from curbside. Rather, I watched and heard it from a 12th-floor balcony a short block away. Even so, one group stood out. It was not a fife and drum band and the members were not dressed in green. It was a front row of drums followed by a large band in bright red uniforms.

From my vantage point it looked for all the world like a typical U.S. college band. The only band that I knew of in this part of the country that I thought it might be was the Burlington Teen Tour Band. After a bit of research, I learned that it was the Philippine Heritage Band from Vaughan just northwest of Toronto. From their website (phband.com) I learned that they have a program not often seen. Primarily a youth band, it has, over the years, developed an adult concert band. From my experience, when members of a youth band grow to adulthood they usually move on to another adult group with little or no connection to the youth group. I hope to learn more of this in the months to come.


2007-JazzStories-Nabbss.jpgIn my September 2014 column I reported on the very first North American Brass Band Summer School (NABBSS). Based on well-established and successful models in the United Kingdom, last year’s summer school was to be a trial. If successful, consideration would be given to make it an annual event. Having attended that inaugural school, and having returned home after ten days of invigorating and challenging music making, I personally declared NABBSS 2014 a success. We have just learned that the organizers are of the same opinion. So, based on the success of the 2014 course, NABBSS will be running again this summer with additional tutorial staff, a new rehearsal base and an increased Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo cast. NABBSS 2015 will once again be led by Robert Childs, principal conductor and musical director of the famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band. This summer Childs will also be joined by no fewer than eight top notch instructors from Britain, Canada and the United States. I suspect that by now registrations will be filling rapidly. Anyone interested should contact Craig Roberts, administrative director, the North American Brass Band Summer School (nabbss.com).

While on the subject of all brass bands, there is more good news. Having just returned home from their very first rehearsal, I’m pleased to report on the beginnings of a new brass band in the Newmarket area. As yet nameless, the band will rehearse Wednesdays from 7 to 9pm. For those who may have, at times, considered trying their skills in that genre, here’s the chance. For information contact pnhussey@rogers.com.

Again on the brass band front, we have just learned that the Weston Silver Band would be returning in mid-March to compete at the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) Championship in Fort Wayne Indiana. Now in its 33rd year the NABBA championship is the oldest brass band contest of its kind in North America. We haven’t heard yet how Weston Band did.

On the concert front

On Saturday April 18 at 7pm the Clarington Concert Band will present “A Salute to the British Isles” at the Harmony Creek Community Centre, 15 Harmony Road North, Oshawa. In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland the band will feature a medley titled Songs That Won The War. For part of the program they will be joined by the Pipes and Drums of the Oshawa Legion performing such favourites as Highland Cathedral and Scotland the Brave. The poster for this concert mentions that their special guest will be “Conductor Emeritus” Bobby Herriot. I don’t know whether or not Herriot ever conducted the Clarington Band, but I do know that he will be displaying one or more of his many talents as conductor, composer, arranger and trumpet player. I’m sure though that we will be treated to his inimitable brand of humour during this evening of musical tributes to England, Scotland and Ireland.

On Sunday April 26 at 2pm the Pickering Community Concert Band presents their spring concert “Music from Around the World” at Forest Brook Community Church, 60 Kearney Dr., Ajax. They will be joined by the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Choir from Ajax. The program will include such Caribbean, Asian, European and Latin American favourites as La Paloma, Jamaican Sail-Away, Lord of the Rings, Hot Hot Hot, Downton Abbey and Ride on the Cherry Blossom Express. Also featured on the progam will be Fanfare and Celebration by local composer and saxophonist Kristie Hunter.

On Friday May 1 at 7:30pm the Oxford Winds Community Concert Band nds Community Concert Band will present “Celebrating Heroes” at Knox Presbyterian Church, 59 Riddell Street, Woodstock. For more information go to oxfordwinds.ca.

CBA Community Band Weekend

The CBA’s Community Band Weekend this spring will be hosted by Cornwall’s Seaway Winds Band from May 22 to 24. Rehearsals and the concert will be held at the St. Lawrence College Aultsville Theatre in Cornwall. For details go to to cba-ontario.ca/cbaonew/community-band-weekend/.

New Horizons

On Saturday April 11 at 2pm the Toronto New Horizons group will present their “Chamber Suites” (which now appears to be an annual event) at 789 Dovercourt Road. In past years this has been where members of the various NH bands performed in small ensembles to an audience seated at tables. Previously, this was called “Chamber Sweets” because the audience had the pleasure of eating a wide variety of tempting delicacies while listening to the many small groups. With the name changed from sweets to suites, does that mean that the goodies have been discontinued? For a very nominal admission we can attend, enjoy the many musical offerings and perhaps enjoy Sweets. It’s always worth a visit and it is only a few steps from a subway station.

Fred Duligal

It is with deep sorrow that we report the recent passing of saxophonist Fred Duligal. While he often performed with the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Kama on King and many other local jazz groups, he was also known in the many “Rehearsal Big Bands” around Toronto. Over the years I often chatted with Fred when he appeared at one of my rehearsals. He will be missed.

Joan Watson

On page 64 you will find a remembrance of French horn player Joan Watson. Although I don’t recall ever playing in any formal musical group with her, I have fond memories of the many chats we had prior to and during the International Women’s Brass Conference at Humber College five years ago. In fact, I can say that I did play in a musical group with her at least once. We and many others played in an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records as having the World’s Largest Brass Band that Sunday afternoon in June 2010.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is pesante: An effect distinctly non-upper-class.

We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

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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2007-JazzStories-Bee1.jpgJAZZ.FM91 producer, host and Jazz Safari bwana, these days Jaymz Bee is one of the Toronto jazz scene’s most fervent supporters. His popular Jazz Safaris involve guiding groups of the not-for-profit radio station’s donors through five venues across town with the help of a magic bus. I asked Bee why he believes the clubs continue to struggle and his response illustrates what sets him apart: an infectious funness, a loyalty to the live music scene and above all a positive attitude:

“Actually my feeling is that we are on a bit of an upswing right now. The Jazz Bistro took about a year to get up to speed but now it’s truly a hot spot. The Rex and Gate 403 book so many bands a week it’s crazy, and places like Hugh’s Room and Lula Lounge are booking more jazz than they used to. I’m a big fan of the wee clubs in town as well – La Revolucion, Habits Gastropub, The Emmet Ray and Blackbird are places I like to talk up lately, but there are so many on Dundas, Ossington...I think Torontonians need to go out more and hit more live venues! It’s too cold out, it’s too hot out – doesn’t cut it with me.”

Of the Safaris, says Bee:

“There are few things I like more than hitting several jazz clubs in one night with a mini coach (and designated driver) to take a group of JAZZ.FM91 donors on the town. I do about 30 nights a year in Toronto (hitting four or five clubs) and spend about the same amount of time with donors in various jazz-friendly places like Havana, Panama City, New York, New Orleans, Chicago and other places.

There are not many challenges in Toronto. On any given night I have 12 to 20 venues to pick from and after eight years of Jazz Safaris I know the streets and we are almost never late; not even five minutes late! I’m so prompt, I’m almost Swiss! In other cities it can be trickier. I have to allow for extra time for traffic so we might hit a venue a bit too early, but that’s better than missing the music…My parents taught me to be fun and polite and to get wallflowers on the dance floor. I’m innately inclusive...nobody is too cool or square for me...so taking a large group of people (18 to 30 per safari) is sometimes challenging but always fun.”

I will return to Jaymz Bee later in this article, specifically to discuss his birthday celebrations mid-month. First though, I have some very exciting news: there’s a new jazz room in town, and I urge you to all support it, even if it means going to have a single drink there or better yet, enjoy some music while drinking and eating.

2007-JazzStories-Hazelton.jpgStori Aperitivo (95 King Street East) located at King and Church, is embarking on a regular Tuesday, Wednesdsay, Thursday series over dinner. The priceless musicians come to you with no cover charge attached – a rare opportunity for all to enjoy some of this city’s jazz talents! The lineup at Stori is stellar:

Tuesday nights with Terra Hazelton and Her Easy Answers starring the two-time Canadian Screen Award nominee and blues singer extraordinaire; sidemen to be confirmed but Hazelton’s band tends to include Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Shawn Nykwist on tenor, Sly Juhas on drums and Jordan O’Connor on bass. Wednesdays will be made wild by longtime Reservoir Lounge staple Bradley and the Bouncers featuring Bradley Harder on vocals, Terry Wilkins on bass, Jeff Halischuk on drums, Adam Beer-Colacino on guitar and Pat Carey on the tenor. On Thursdays Stori welcomes The Vipers which features superlative vocalist Sophia Perlman in swinging company alongside Howard Moore on trumpet and vocals, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Jeff Halischuk on drums and Mitch Lewis on guitar and the occasional stellar vocal. This band kills everything from Dinah Washington to Tom Waits, and I’m willing to bet that The Vipers’ take on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is one Paul Simon himself would treasure.

And More Good News: by the time this magazine goes to print, a second brand new venue is opening its doors: Fat City Blues at 890 College Street. I asked one of the owners, Stephen McKeon, what inspired the creation of this club:

“To fully answer this question I have to give you a bit of background on Cameron, Simon and myself, “ he said. “We have been great friends for a decade, and have all worked in hospitality as long as we have known each other. Cameron and Simon worked the bar together at The Drake Hotel for eight years, while I cut my teeth at the Reservoir Lounge, then went on to manage Wrongbar for the past five years. When we started talking about opening a bar together we knew we wanted a place that focused on classic cocktails, simple food, and of course, live music. When the space came available we saw a great opportunity to marry all of those things, and Fat City Blues was born.

OD: Where does the name come from?

SM: Fat City was the nickname for Metairie, a part of New Orleans that was considered the entertainment district in the 70s and 80s. 

OD: What kinds of music will you be booking?

SM: We really want to focus on supporting the local scene and will be booking everything from delta blues to dirty jazz, solo pianists to five-piece brass bands. If it swings and sings, it has a home at Fat City Blues. (Still fine-tuning a music policy as this magazine goes to print, he was able to tell me that Tyler Yarema plays every Thursday, and other acts will include Patrick Tevlin, Bradley & The Bouncers, and Robert Davis among others.)

OD: What kinds of audiences are you looking to attract to this venue?

SM: We had a gentleman sitting at the bar last night who was from South Carolina, and kept telling us how much the place reminded him of home. We’ve had musicians come in looking for a place to play and to support their peers. We’ve even had someone email us about doing a birthday party here for her husband because they were married in New Orleans. All those people found something here they could relate to, and we can relate to them. That’s our audience.

OD:Tell me a bit about the menu

SM: The menu includes oysters, po’boys, crab legs, beignets...and in the summer, crawfish berl on the patio!

There is a considerable buzz about town with regards to #FatCityBlues: the BlogTo article has, as of this writing, been retweeted 84 times since March 18. Here’s wishing the venue much success all year round.

2007-JazzStories-Bee2.jpgEach April Jaymz Bee celebrates his birthday in style and with beautiful music, and this year is no exception. However, for the first time, one of the concerts will take place not in a club but in a church. On Sunday April 12 at 4pm at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Jaymz Bee Birthday Vespers will be the golden voices of Genevieve “Gigi” Marentette, Carolyn Credico, June Garber and others, to the stellar accompaniment of guitarist Eric St-Laurent. I asked how he got the idea to present “the devil’s music” in the house of God :

“Basically I wanted to see Bee’s Angels singing in this cozy church. Father Al is a donor to JAZZ.FM91 and we’ve become friends over the years. I love jazz in unique settings and this place is magical! Last year I sang there with Don Francks and Tony Quarrington but this year I thought I’d play emcee and just enjoy some of the most beautiful and talented women in Toronto singing sweet songs.”

Bee’s B-Day weeks also includes a celebration at the Old Mill on April 9 with Alex Pangman and her Alleycats, and continues on Monday April 13 – his actual birthday – with a cabaret night at Lula Lounge.

In closing, dear reader, I hope that you consider supporting these new ventures on our club scene. As always with such endeavours, they need your support! Call ahead. Make dinner reservations. Plan a party. Drop by for a drink or two. Live music needs you to stay alive!

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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Mark Eisenman’s name doesn’t show up in the listings that much. In February, he popped up twice, both times as a sideman, and both times at the Home Smith Bar. Then in March, his name didn’t show up at all. This month, in the clubs listed here, he will be  playing a whopping four gigs! One at Chalker’s Pub with his trio, in its original lineup – together for the last 27 years – with John Sumner on the drums and Steve Wallace on bass. One at the Home Smith Bar, led by Arlene Smith. And two back-to-back gigs at The Rex leading a quintet with John McLeod on trumpet and flügelhorn and Pat LaBarbera. And of course, the common thread between all these gigs will be Sumner and Wallace, bringing to the bandstand the irreplaceable chemistry of three musicians who have been playing together for nearly three decades.

I first heard Eisenman play in a YouTube video – which is still up – of Bonnie Brett (a name to keep your eyes peeled for!) singing “Comes Love,” along with Eisenman on piano, Sumner on drums, and Mike Downes on bass. From the video, you can, or at least I can, hear Eisenman thinking like an arranger as he plays: he exploits the wide range of the instrument exploring the various combinations of available textures, while tastefully inserting responses to Bonnie’s phrases which to my ear sound as though they are a permanent part of the song, inextricably linked to the written melody. In fact, I think that last phrase describes most of what you’ll hear at these four concerts. You’d better not miss them, because as I’ve said, Eisenman’s name doesn’t show up in the listings very much, so you might not get another chance for a long while.

When it comes to jazz, I think in general that singers are under-appreciated by instrumentalists. Their craft is brushed off as though it’s easy (it’s not), trivial, and frivolous, and I’m not too sure why. I’ve heard a lot of explanations for this: some people think a failure of music education has led to an overabundance of oblivious young singers; some people think it’s about sexism (jazz singers are women, more often than not); some people just think jazz voice is not a serious artistic pursuit. I don’t know the answer – but it’s definitely not the last one. All that said, I always try to make a point of promoting this underrated art form. So, keep an eye out for singers in the clubs this month; Coleman Tinsley, Alex Samaras, Alex Pangman, Jordana Talsky and more, will be gracing stages around Toronto throughout April, and you’d be a fool to miss them.

Within the deep pool of fantastic jazz singers who play regular gigs in Toronto, a personal favourite of mine is the theatrical and exciting performer, Whitney Ross-Barris, who will be playing an early-evening gig at Gate 403 on April 24. She will be joined by pianist Mark Kieswetter, whose ability to accompany with spontaneity, whimsy and sensitivity makes him a friend to singers everywhere (watch out for him this month in bands led by Coleman Tinsley, Rebecca Enkin and John MacMurchy, as well as at Chalkers Pub’s weekly jam). The duo has been playing this gig at this venue for five years now, and they still have not settled into the trap that is playing things the same way every time. “I love playing the Gate with him because we tend to do on-the-fly arrangements of standards that go to crazy places,” Ross-Barris says. “What results is a number of performances that both of us kick ourselves for never having recorded.”

The jazz scene in this city is teeming with talent and creativity. I can’t wait to get back out there and take in more of it, and I hope to see many of you In the Clubs, my southern-Ontarian friends.

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

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2006-Classical-Vienna_Piano_Trio.jpgThe Vienna Piano Trio’s previous Toronto appearances – with the Women’s Musical Club in November 2005 and three visits to Toronto Summer Music from 2010 to 2012 – were greeted with widespread acclaim. So it’s no surprise that they are highly anticipating their Mooredale Concerts recital March 8. That’s what the gregarious Stefan Mendl, the trio’s pianist and last remaining of its founding members, told me recently by phone from Vienna, the city where he has lived since his birth.

I asked him about the particular sensibility that typifies a chamber musician. “From scratch you must have the urge to find a special sound that is the group sound,” he answered. “You should not be so restrained that nobody can hear you but neither are you so predominant that you drown out the others. It must be your goal from the beginning that you find this sound; if you have a good ear and if you have the will to do this, then you are off to a good start.

“Then, of course there is experience, knowing when you can really play out and when you have to combine with the strings; when you have to give them more bass or less bass. You have to put aside your own ambitions and have the will to find a sound that blends.”

In his own case, right from his first experience on stage, chamber music felt better. “I discovered early on in my soloist days [born in 1966, he founded the trio in 1988] that I enjoyed playing concertos much more than recitals. I think that sometimes you get more ideas or better ideas when you have the chance to interact with others. At least for me that’s the case and I feel very, very comfortable with friends and with colleagues on stage. I don’t feel that comfortable when I’m on my own.

“And of course there is the wonderful music that is written for piano trio, piano quartet and piano quintet [he regularly performs with the Hagen Quartet]. Sometimes, all of our greatest composers put a lot of their inner feelings and emotions into their chamber music. I find it all very fascinating, still,” he said, with a laugh that underlined the hold the music still has on him.

The key thing to a trio’s success he believes is to have three people of equal musical and technical skill who have similar musical goals. “You need a rich palette of ideas and colour. Everybody needs their own opinion amidst the common goal.”

I wanted to know how he relates to the music the trio will be performing on the upcoming Sunday afternoon in Toronto. “Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations is really a fantastic piece of music,” he replied with palpable verve. “The very late opus number [Op.121a] is a bit misleading. No one hearing the very heavy introduction would expect it to turn into this funny theme, but there are hints, hidden in a minor key in a delicate, funny way. One slow variation before the finale is very deep and serious. Like all of Beethoven, the deepest and most serious is right next to the fun, almost grotesque or rude side. He was never shy, even in his greatest works to put little bits of his feelings right next to the really funny things. These variations are a really good way to experience that; in a very short amount of time he does all these turns and twists.”

This was a good opportunity to bring up the relationship between recording and live performance since the trio released the Kakadu variations along with Beethoven’s Trios Op.70, on their latest MDG Gold CD last year. “Recording something always affects your live playing because you get so close to it. You listen more to detail than you would otherwise ... sometimes you get things brought out that you probably wouldn’t have discovered before and then your performance is altered. Of course, your performance always changes over time,” he said.

Mendelssohn’s Trio No.1 Op.49 in D Minor, the concluding piece on the March 8 program, is the more famous of the composer’s two trios, but for Mendl, they are both on the same genius level. The trio plays them frequently and loves both of them. Mendl particularly enjoys the “gorgeous and brilliant and skillful piano writing which hardly any great composer has accomplished to that extent.

“It works so well for the medium of the piano trio because Mendelssohn had all these great melodies – mainly he wrote in the strings – and the texture for that is this incredibly bubbling piano part which makes a fantastic contrast. He does this in a very, very idiomatic way so that his piano trios will always be at the top of the list of the greatest trios both for performers and the audience. And a beautiful lyrical slow movement, a quicksilvery light scherzo – the type of scherzo so different from what anybody else wrote in those days ... The scherzo is perfect; there can’t be a more perfect scherzo imaginable.”

Mendl reminded me that Schumann had written a famous review raving about that D-Minor trio, calling it the role model of a piano trio. Very interesting in light of the preceding work on the Toronto recital, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 88. Despite its late opus number, it was written earlier than the composer’s piano trios but published later and less often performed. Schumann called them fantasy pieces because they didn’t conform to the trio form. The first and third pieces, the slow ones, are especially close to the pianist’s heart and “contain some of Schumann’s best piano trio writing ... they are in no way second rate.”

I was curious about the formidable list of mentors on the Vienna Piano Trio’s website, almost all of whom the trio met during a memorable two-week chamber music workshop in New York in 1993. “We’d never been to New York before so it was a double experience, really mind-blowing I would say, without exaggeration.” They got several lessons from Isaac Stern, the Guarneri Quartet (Arnold Steinhardt and Michael Tree), from Henry Meyer of the LaSalle Quartet and from the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. Mendl still remembers the kindness of Jaime Laredo who brought them back to New York for a concert series.

Most important was the enormous impact the intense workshop had on the group’s musical goals. It brought a “kind of down-to-earth quality” to what had been the “very polished style of trio playing we had experienced with [earlier mentors] the Trio di Trieste.”

Finally, I wondered, did living in Vienna inspire him, since the City of Dreams had been a place where many composers lived and died.  “And died especially,” he laughed. “I personally live very, very close to where all these Beethoven memorial places are ... and although I don’t want to do this too consciously, sometimes I’m touched when I wander around in this area and I feel that Beethoven wrote so much music there and lived there for a great while.”

2006-Classical-Emanuel_Ax.jpgSeen and Heard:The RBC Piano Extravaganza – or “Ax-travaganza” as Mervon Mehta dubbed it – took the city by storm over an 11-day period attracting approximately 14,000 to events at RTH alone. In addition, 27 amateurs performed on the hall’s newly acquired New York Steinway during the Community Piano Showcase; including the Young People’s Concert programs, 20 pianists performed on the RTH stage during the festival; and 200 people played the five Steinways in the festival’s inaugural event, Pianos in the City, February 4 between 11am and 2pm.

My immersion in the Extravaganza began on its second day, Thursday February 5, with festival curator Emanuel Ax’s introduction of two young pianists at a COC free noontime concert. Siberian-born Pavel Kolesnikov, the 2012 Honens Competition winner now studying with Maria João Pires in Brussels, learned three Liszt transcriptions of Wagner operas, including the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser, especially for the event. Impressive. American pianist Orion Weiss, who left his native Cleveland for Juilliard, specifically to study with Ax for his integrity and revelatory playing, brought a singing touch to a pair of Granados Goyescas. Several hours later they played a dynamically well-matched Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances for two pianos that preceded a TSO concert that included the orchestral version of the same piece.

Ax began that program with an agreeable, self-effacing rendition of a Schubert impromptu followed by Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 14 K449. Round tones of limpid liquidity gave the impression that the pianist was opening a musical jewel box.

The four-hour and twenty-minute Pianopalooza Sunday afternoon included 16 disparate performers selected by the RCM in a musical cavalcade that came close to filling Koerner Hall and concluded with a show-stopping, two-piano-eight-hands version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with recorded cannon shots. The event featured two bona fide highlights: Robi Botos’ jazz set was an uninterrupted 20-minute piece of spontaneous joy; Ax’s melodic, technically assured performance of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 was piano playing at its best.

Three days later, Ax joined Jan Lisiecki for Mozart’s heavenly Concerto for Two Pianos K316a/365 and Saint-Saëns’ delightfully entertaining The Carnival of the Animals.

The next day in a pre-concert performance, Ax displayed his chamber music skill set in an immensely satisfying reading of Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op. 44. The string parts were taken by the first chair TSO players, concertmaster Jonathan Crow, principal second violinist Paul Mayer, prinicipal violist Teng Li and principal cellist Joseph Johnson. The players faced the choir loft, which overflowed into the adjacent sections of the hall. No one who heard them will forget the strings’ strength, the way Ax was able to emerge from the background to point out the melody and the assured playing of this propitious gathering.

Later that evening Ax demonstrated a deft curatorial touch in an adventurous program pairing a two-piano piece with its orchestral equivalent. Ax and Stewart Goodyear, more or less balanced in selected pieces of Carl Maria von Weber, returned for an exciting performance of Ravel’s La Valse. In between Anagnoson & Kinton proved to be very well-matched in an apparently seamless gambol through Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn. As in the previous week’s Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, the orchestral colour was more varied than the keyboards’ but the unique opportunity to hear the difference was welcome.

Ax spoke of his love of the word “metamorphosis” when he introduced that program. The next morning he became its agent at a master class for Glenn Gould School students. He was his usual combination of self-effacing and endearing as his analysis and advice transformed a student’s performance of Chopin’s Barcarolle, a piece he called “ecstatic” and which he linked forward to Wagner and back to Bach. He continued his delicate balance of dispensing compliments, ever careful that his suggestions would not be construed as outright criticism.

He recalled an encounter he had as a young man with Pablo Casals when the cellist was 96 and spending his last summer at Marlboro. “[When] the music goes up, [play] loud; music goes down, soft,” Casals instructed. “We all thought he was out to lunch,” Ax said. “But the older I get, the more I see how right he was.”

Quick Picks:

Mar 6 Siberian-born violinist Vadim Repin, the interview subject of my last month’s column, makes his eagerly awaited Toronto recital debut at Koerner Hall in a diverse program of Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.

Mar 8 at Koerner Hall KahaneSwensonBey, who re-formed in 2012 after a 25-year hiatus, perform piano trios by Mozart, Schumann, Ravel and Schoenfield. In an unfortunate scheduling conflict their afternoon concert occurs at the same time as the Vienna Piano Trio’s Mooredale recital in Walter Hall just minutes away.

On the evening of Mar 8 violinist Moshe Hammer and pianist Angela Park perform works by Brahms, Franck and Sarasate at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Mar 11, 12 and 14 Gianandrea Noseda conducts the TSO in a program featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which is all you need to know to make plans to attend. The program also includes Adrianne Pieczonka performing Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Richard Strauss’ divine Four Last Songs, which further certifies it as a must-see. Rising star Krzysztof Urbanski and the TSO are joined Mar 27 and 28 by the captivating Sol Gabetta in Dvořák’s masterpiece, his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, a work they have played together many times. Then Urbanski leads the orchestra in Stravinsky’s rhythmic revelry, The Rite of Spring. Another must-see.

 TSO associate principal clarinetist Yao Guang Zhai is joined by pianist Jeanie Chung for Luigi Bassi’s Concert Fantasy on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto in a free COC concert also featuring Gershwin, Brahms and three solo pieces by Stravinsky at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre Mar 12.

Mar 14 is crystal ball gazing time when students from the Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists give a free concert in Mazzoleni Hall. On Mar 31 another Mazzoleni Hall free concert (ticket required) features solo and chamber works performed by Rebanks Fellows from the Glenn Gould School. Apr 2 three of the Rebanks Fellows perform Brahms’ gorgeous Trio for horn, violin and piano in a free noontime COC concert.

Mar 15 Trio Arkel with guests, cellist Amanda Forsyth and violinist Aaron Schwebel, perform Schubert’s sublime String Quintet in C in the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Mar 16 group of 27 presents Payadora Tango Ensemble and g27 violinist Rebekah Wolkstein in a recital at Heliconian Hall.

Don’t miss your chance Mar 19 to hear the Elias String Quartet, the “excellent” (New York Times), “exuberant” (The Guardian) young British ensemble making their local debut presented by Music Toronto, in works by Haydn, Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Mar 22 Alliance Française presents Stravinsky’s tuneful fable The Soldier’s Tale featuring Jacques Israelievich, violin, with Uri Mayer conducting.

Mar 27 Violinist Lisa Batiashvili, Till Fellner’s trio partner (along with Alfred Brendel’s son Adrian) is joined by pianist Paul Lewis in his first Toronto appearance since his remarkable debut opening the Women’s Musical Club’s 115th season in the fall of 2012. Their program includes Schubert’s “Grand Duo” and “Rondeau brilliant,” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.10, Op.96, Telemann’s Fantasia No.4 for Solo Violin and Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chorale Prelude “Nun komm’ der Heiden Helland” for solo piano.

Mar 27 and 28 the incomparable Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents concerts 13, 14, 15 and 16 in the Attacca Quartet’s ongoing series performing all 68 of Haydn’s quartets. Each concert features quartets drawn from the early, middle and later period of the composer’s life.

YouTube star Valentina Lisitsa’s piano playing has struck quite a few chords based on upwards of 80 million views. Before her Royal Albert Hall recital in front of an audience of 8000 in June 2012 her fans had the chance to vote online for their preferred program – a form of audience participation that has become one of Lisitsa’s trademarks. Will the contents of her BravoNiagara! solo concert Apr 4 be similarly chosen?

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Author: Paul Ennis
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