Benjamin GrosvenorJennifer Taylor has a knack for programming. Music Toronto’s artistic producer and general manager admitted in a recent chat that while she has “a tiny reputation for piano recital debuts,  just say that I am lucky.” We met in her office in an older building high above the city’s downtown core. Glancing at the list of pianists who have made their local debuts under Taylor’s watch over the last 25 years, many of the names jump out: Pascal Rogé, Misha Dichter, Nikolai Lugansky, Markus Groh, Andreas Haefliger, Simon Trpčeski, Piotr Anderszewski, Steven Osborne, Arnaldo Cohen, Alexandre Tharaud, Till Fellner, Peter Jablonski and Benjamin Grosvenor, who returns to the stage of the Jane Mallett Theatre on October 13, a mere 19 months after his memorable debut there in 2014. Conceding that she doesn’t usually gamble on pianists as young as Grosvenor, she said: “He was the real thing.”

Grosvenor’s exceptional talent was widely revealed at 11 when he won the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. At 19, shortly after becoming the first British pianist since the legendary Clifford Curzon to be signed by Decca, he became the youngest soloist to perform at the First Night of the Proms. The venerable magazine Gramophone bestowed its “Young Artist of the Year” on him in 2012.

Author: Paul Ennis
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Lori FreedmanTo say it’s a month of music by Canadian composers may seem like a redundant statement for this In with the New column, as the majority of concerts I write about always feature music from our homegrown composers, improvisers and performers. However, this month is still a bit unusual, in that almost all the upcoming concerts consist of exclusively Canadian works. One composer, Linda Catlin Smith, is so lucky as to have three of her works performed all in the same weekend. Even she admits that’s a rare occurrence.

X Avant: A good example of this is the signature concert of the Music Gallery’s X Avant festival, which runs from October 15 to 18. On October 16, the MG is presenting “MG Encore” as part of the celebrations marking their 40th anniversary. In the October 2014 issue, WholeNote published an article written by Andrew Timar that spoke about some of the early history of the MG and the curatorial direction of the current artistic director David Dacks. The MG Encore concert takes a retrospective look at the gallery’s history by programming six compositions by people who have been part of that history. The entire festival, “X Avant X: MG40,” combines two concerts that provide a look back at the past and two concerts that look forward toward the sounds of the future. I spoke with Dacks about his vision for the festival.

The Encore concert was curated by Chelsea Shanoff with help from Dacks and a few members of the MG community. Using information sent to them by the Canada Council that listed all the grants they had ever received, they noted the number of pieces that had been commissioned by the MG. That list made them aware of what Dacks called “premiere culture” – the fact that so many commissioned pieces receive one performance but fail to have a second life. The Encore concert addresses that phenomenon in part and it influenced the final selection of repertoire (which was also based on a balance of musical style, era and gender).

The concert will present works by composers Ann Southam, Allison Cameron, Martin Arnold, Linda Catlin Smith, Erik Ross and Nic Gotham and will be performed by a custom-built ensemble made up of new generation players, thus giving these younger musicians an opportunity to acquaint themselves with music they may not have heard before. The concert is also a tribute to Nic Gotham with a performance of Miniatures, his final composition. These instrumental works were composed for an online installation related to Martha Baillie’s novel The Whale’s Ear, also known as The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. Postcards with excerpts of the novel were sent to friends who recorded themselves speaking the words on the card. The music was composed to accompany these extracts, and can be heard online on the In situ page at along with images of the postcards and novel extracts.

Going beyond the MG Encore concert, there are a few other retrospective events to bring your attention to, both at the MG40 festival and in the upcoming season. On the festival’s opening night – October 15 – there will be a concert featuring the current members of the CCMC, the original free music orchestra that established the MG in 1976, coupled with a performance by frequent MG visitor, clarinetist Lori Freedman, performing several new commissions, including one of her own works. Before the concert begins that evening, there will be an historic gathering of former MG artistic directors who will discuss their different approaches and the artistic direction they took while at the helm.

Forthcoming in this year’s season, Dacks is programming a retrospective of Musicworks magazine, which began as part of the MG. For that event, the OCADU Student Gallery will be turned into an installation of the Musicworks cassette archives. The season’s final concert, MG Finale, is being designed as a counterpart to the Encore event. It will be a remix concert using materials from the audio and visual archives of the MG to create an installation-like experience. Stay tuned for the date on that one.

The two other concerts of the festival present an array of music that represent current and future trends and reflect the programming interests of Dacks, who loves to create hybrid evenings of music from a variety of genres and traditions. On October 17, Tyondai Braxton, son of Anthony Braxton, will perform his complexly structured music for laptop followed by New Chance, a project by Toronto multidisciplinary artist Victoria Cheong. The evening concludes with the sounds of Pantayo, an all-women gong ensemble. The following night, October 18, the rhythms heat up with the Absolutely Free trio, electronic artists who rap and create, in Dacks’ opinion, the most interesting hip-hop music in Toronto, particularly in how they work with words.

Dacks concludes our conversation by saying that there is no better time for the Music Gallery to exist. “People are looking for complex statements of what’s going on in their lives in this city. In a beer-driven environment you just don’t get to think about these things, or present them that often.” The Music Gallery has served as a home for experimental thinking about music and sound for several generations, creating really strong memories for so many people. And with those memories come strong viewpoints of what the MG is and what it should be. “That’s OK – better that there is creative tension rather than all smooth sailing,” says Dacks. To that end, the public is invited to contribute their voices and opinions at a Town Hall gathering on the afternoon of October 17 as the MG opens it up for input as part of their strategic planning activities.

New Music Concerts. NMC opens their new season in a similar way as last year with a concert by a touring Canadian ensemble. This year it’s the Vancouver-based Turning Point Ensemble led by Owen Underhill. Beginning the tour in their hometown on October 7, the ensemble will make stops in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal, arriving in Toronto the evening of October 17. Celebrating their tenth season, Turning Point is a large chamber ensemble of top-notch performers with a commitment to presenting Canadian music and the commissioning of new repertoire.

And the programming for this tour is no exception. It includes the music of one of Canada’s most internationally respected composers, Alexina Louie, with a newly commissioned work, A Curious Passerby At Fu’s Funeral, which will be premiered throughout the tour in four of the five cities. What is unique about the Toronto concert is that the entire event is comprised of music by Canadian women composers. Knowing that TPE has commissioned many works by women, New Music Concerts requested a program comprised of a selection of these pieces. When I initially saw the program list, I couldn’t help but think of my September column in which I spoke about the rising presence of women in contemporary music programming. Here is yet another example of that trend. Alongside the work by Louie, the Toronto concert presents compositions by Ana Sokolović, Jocelyn Morlock, Dorothy Chang, and Linda Catlin Smith.

Louie’s new work is structured in three movements, which she says in her program note “create a dramatic composition full of highly charged emotions and extreme ranges of heightened activity.” Part of the inspiration for this piece comes from the sounds of the sho – a multi-reed Japanese mouth organ that requires the performer to inhale and exhale through the instrument, creating clouds of sound. The sho-like chord clusters are featured in the second movement, while Asian drumming inspires the third. Overall, Louie is creating an imagined scenario between both mysterious and explosive elements.

Linda Catlin Smith’s piece Gold Leaf was originally commissioned in 2010, with a revised version just recently completed for the Turning Point Ensemble. In the piece, Smith creates a rich tapestry of sound that reminds one of a painting – some parts are thickly layered with colour, while others are thin and almost transparent, with the percussion adding a shimmering quality, like a gold leaf applied to the surface. Another TPE-commissioned work in the program is Dorothy Chang’s Three Windows, inspired by the far-western coastline of Vancouver. While in town, Chang will be interviewed by composer Paul Steenhuisen for his podcast series of in-depth conversations with composers. This series also include conversations with Morlock, Catlin Smith and Louie and is available for free download or streaming on iTunes (

Eve Egoyan and Linda Catlin Smith. If you’ve been paying close attention to the composers listed above, you’ll note that the music of Linda Catlin Smith will be performed at the MG Encore concert on October 16, and at the NMC on October 17. In addition, the weekend offers another occasion when her music will be performed – at the recital and CD launch of Thought and Desire, a new release by pianist Eve Egoyan comprised of world premiere recordings by Catlin Smith. The event will be presented at the intimate Small World Music Centre housed in Artscape’s Youngplace and will run for three nights, from October 16 to 18 where Egoyan will also perform music by John Mark Sherlock and Nick Storring. Egoyan is renowned for her intensely focused performances that bring audiences into an intimate connection with music they may not be familiar with.  This makes for a potent partnership in the interpretation of Catlin Smith’s piano works which are born out of her own intuitive connection with the instrument. As for the multiple performances of her music within one weekend, Smith says: “It will give me a chance to hear how these works are in conversation with each other and in what way there might be some kind of common thread.”

TorQAdditional October Concerts. Two notable events presented by the Canadian Opera Company this month include the world premiere of Barbara Monk Feldman’s opera Pyramus and Thisbe running October 20 to November 7, which I have written about in depth elsewhere in this issue. And as part of the COC’s Piano Virtuoso Series on October 8, a performance by John Kameel Farah of his compositions mixing a wide variety of styles and influences – early music, electronic dance, world and contemporary classical.

The TorQ Percussion Quartet presents world premieres on October 28 by Michael Oesterle and Andrew Staniland, and arrangements of works by composers Oesterle, Tim Brady and John Psathas (New Zealand). Early on in the month, on October 8 and 9, you can catch a workshop performance of Selfie, an opera composed by Chris Thornborrow presented by Tapestry Opera. Another early month event happens in Kitchener in celebration of the 30th anniversary of NUMUS on October 2 – the performance of Ghost Tango, a new chamber opera by Tim Brady with libretto by Douglas Burnet Smith. Also in the Kitchener-Waterloo area on October 17 at the Perimeter Institute, an homage to Italian minimalist painter Giorgio Morandi will take place combining improvised music with drawing gestures. The bass clarinet and percussion will recreate the voice of the Euphonopen, an instrument created for the live performance of drawing.


Two not-to-be-missed concerts in early October, already covered in the September In with the New column:

October 4: Esprit Orchestra. Compositions by Zosha Di Castri, Jörg Widmann, Omar Daniel and Thomas Adès.

October 7 and 8: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “Barbara Hannigan Sings & Conducts” includes works by groundbreaking 20th century composers Luigi Nono and György Ligeti.

And also take note of:

October 8: Canadian Music Centre. Piano works by Canadian composers performed by Moritz Ernst.

October 10: 5 at the First’s chamber music concert includes a work by John Weinzweig (Beyond GTA).

October 15: Canadian Music Centre. Allison Angelo and Simon Docking perform and launch the CD Loves Its Light.

October 24 and 25: Aga Khan Museum. Performance of the multi-disciplinary OYAN! Project (Awakening), a work inspired by the music of internationally acclaimed Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh.

October 28: Canadian Music Centre. Ensemble Made in Canada, a rising piano quartet, performs works by John Burge.

October 30 and 31: Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s concert includes Steps to Ecstasy by Marjan Mozetich. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

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This year’s summer weather has drifted gracefully on right to the end of September. While some 2,500 years ago the Greek physicist-philosopher Parmenides argued that “nature abhors a vacuum,” it also surely needs a rest. Or is September slowly becoming another August in our corner of the concert world?

Whether or not it’s because the seasons themselves are shifting and smearing established concert-going cycles, the warm September we have just experienced was oddly reminiscent of the rest of the summer music break. Several series of concerts with a world music component, and a hint of summer to them, are commencing in late September or even October. These include the Small World Music Festival, Music Gallery’s X Avant Festival, and concerts at Massey Hall, the Aga Khan Museum and the always well-attended noon-hour shows at the COC’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. And Kingston, Ontario’s new jewel of a venue, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, launches the premiere concert of its Global Salon Series this month. Welcome aboard!

Ukrainian BanduristUkrainian Bandurist Chorus: Before I touch on a few of those concerts however, and departing from my usual chronological presentation, I would like to explore the fascinating story of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus. On October 24 it is presenting “Celebrating the Bandura: Past, Present and Future” at Massey Hall with Ruslana, its Ukrainian guest star. The UBC is an American-Canadian group with a history spanning two continents, but it also has a strong local membership.

Ukrainian Canadians are a significant presence in this country. They are the ninth-largest ethnic group, representing the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population after that of Ukraine and Russia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent state in 1991. Canada swiftly recognized it, the first country to do so. Strong bilateral ties, as many readers will know,  have characterized the relationship ever since. Fewer, however, may realize that the first of these cultural links was forged generations ago.

The Detroit-based Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus’ website states that the “first professional bandurist chorus was formed in Kyiv in 1918 during the height of the country’s brief period of independence.” It was during the subsequent 1920s, a transformative period of Ukrainian national awakening, that language, culture, and specifically the UBC, “developed into a professional touring troupe,” among the most prominent of its kind.

By the next decade, however, the UBC narrative quickly turns very dark. Under Soviet leader “Joseph Stalin’s rule, artists and intellectuals were arrested, exiled or executed in an attempt to eradicate every remnant of Ukrainian culture,” states the website. “Many conductors, chorus members and blind bandurist-minstrels were accused of enticing the populace to nationalism and were executed ... their songs banned throughout the Soviet Union.”

But perhaps I’ve gotten ahead of myself here. What is a bandura, and how does its Ukrainian history tie into the group that will perform in October at Massey Hall? Ray (Roman) Beley and Orest Sklierenko, both veteran Toronto members of the UBC, helped me understand a few key notions. We spoke via a conference call on September 14.

The bandura, a kind of large-bellied lute with features of a zither, is a “multi-string plucked instrument, the voice and soul of Ukraine,” noted Beley. From all I’ve heard and read, the bandura is much more than a mere musical instrument; it symbolically embodies Ukrainian national identity, its songs reflecting the turbulent history of the Ukrainian people.

Pre-20th-century folk banduras usually had fewer than two dozen strings in diatonic tunings. Typically handmade by the musicians, no two banduras were exactly the same. The oral tradition bandurist (a.k.a. kobzar) was a troubadour who sang a wide-ranging repertoire of para-liturgical chants (kanty), psalms, social dances and epics (dumy) accompanying himself on the bandura. On the other hand the more recent Kyiv or Kharkiv style bandura, played in ensembles today, is a grander affair. It possesses 65 or more strings, some with levers enabling the bandurist to change keys during the performance. (There’s a strong GTA connection here too. I was intrigued to learn that among the leading contemporary bandura designers and makers is the Oshawa native Bill Vetzal.)

Beley picks up the story. “After years of exploitation and persecution under Soviet and Nazi regimes, in 1949 some 17 members of the all-male Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus immigrated to the United States.” Many established a home base in Detroit and Cleveland, where they continued to perform the UBC repertoire of four-part songs – tenor I, tenor II, baritone, bass – accompanied by banduras in several ranges.

“In North America, the UBC carried the torch for songs with lyrics that were banned under Soviet rule,” continued Sklierenko. “We carried on Ukrainian historical and religious traditions free of the censorship that made it impossible in the homeland at the time.” An active member of UBC since 1990 when he was just 13, Sklierenko pointed out that Canadians of Ukrainian descent have played key and very early roles in the group, “perhaps ever since the Chorus’ first Toronto performance on October 22, 1949.”

The UBC “has performed in Massey Hall several times since the 1950s,” added Sklierenko, so the upcoming 97th anniversary concert on October 24 is somewhat of a homecoming – with a special twist. Joining the Chorus on stage will be Ruslana, the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest and World Music Awards winner, an artist who can boast the best selling Ukrainian album ever, the 2003 Dyki Tantsi (Wild Dances). This remarkable singer, songwriter, producer, musical conductor and dancer also served as a deputy in the Ukrainian parliament and is an internationally recognized social activist. In 2013 and 2014 she played a prominent role in the pro-EU Euromaidan movement. Beley, a current bass bandura player with UBC, told me that Ruslana “will perform her pop hits at Massey Hall before joining forces with us in Ukrainian songs in our repertoire.”

In previous columns I’ve written about several other Toronto ensembles with proud Ukrainian roots. The activist community-minded women’s Kosa Kolektiv, and the self-proclaimed “Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-super-band” Lemon Bucket Orkestra, presently winding up its international tour, come readily to mind. Sklierenko knows them well. “Playing a core role in community building and also on an official international level, the UBC represents the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada and in the U.S.A. In addition we are eager to reach out to both bandurist and non-bandurist groups like Kosa and Lemon Bucket. I see great potential for synergy here.”

I asked why the bandurist choruses are all male. Were they consciously modelling themselves on the practices of the earlier, exclusively male, kobzar troubadours? “Interest among Ukrainian women in taking part in the bandurist tradition has been steadily building,” noted Sklierenko. “In fact there’s an all-women’s North American bandurist chorus being formed right now.”

As co-chair of the UBC’s 2018 centennial anniversary celebrations, Sklierenko laid out the group’s ambitious three-part plan to reconnect with the homeland and to ensure the continuation of the bandurist legacy. These include “a Ukrainian tour, a fund to fuel R&D and to pass on the craft of bandura building, and an educational component including workshops.” The latter category also includes support for UBC’s summer camps in Pennsylvania, since 1979 the central site for passing on bandurist traditions and recruiting new talent. Partly reflecting the success of the camps, today the majority of UBC members are second and third generation Americans and Canadians, all of them volunteering their time to further the mission of the ensemble.

The evidence of the UBC’s plans, and of the passion and commitment to pursue them, all points to the bandurist performance legacy, sparked nearly a century ago in Ukraine, surviving well-rooted in the diaspora. The legacy also appears well-positioned to be passed on to future generations of performers in both North Americans as well as in its threatened land of origin.

Small World Music Festival: The 14th annual iteration of Small World’s signature fall Music Festival runs until October 4 this year. Its ambition is no less than to “capture the world in a ten-day festival.” This year it brings international and Canadian performers representing music from Mali, Korea, Cuba, Ethiopia, Palestine, Spain and Estonia to Toronto stages.

October 1 at Revival Bar, Vieux Farka Touré and his band makes a return Toronto visit presented in association with Batuki Music Society. Touré is best known for his virtuoso guitar style blending African guitar techniques with Western blues and rock, and an easygoing onstage charm. There’s a family touring connection to this town. I well recall seeing his Malian father Ali Farka Touré lay down seamless guitar grooves and plangent vocals accompanied by a lone gourd drummer one summer in a small open room at the Harbourfront Centre.

October 2 the emerging Estonian singer and violinist Maarja Nuut appears at the Small World Music Centre. She repurposes old Estonian village songs, dance tunes and stories, often to live looped fiddle accompaniment and solo improv melodies. Nuut’s music cumulatively builds with a minimalist texture, one which can support emotional intensity, yet never losing sight of what the composer calls a peaceful, yet “lively relaxed state which … makes you want to prolong being in the moment and concentrate.”

Krar CollectiveOctober 4 the Krar Collective will rock Lula Lounge, the trio armed with a krar (six-stringed bowl-shaped Ethiopian lyre), kebero (drums) and impressive vocals. Judging from their videos, they’re purveyors of sold grooves, expressive melismatic melodies and a huge sound. Bandleader Temesgen Zeleke uses an octave pedal as well as wah-wah on his electric krar but also plays an acoustic five-string model that is quieter and plucked rather than strummed, to support his eloquent vocals. The Krar Collective is a musically compelling, neo-traditional band taking traditional instruments, songs and genres, combining them into a new mode of delivery for their audiences. NB: for full enjoyment, come ready to dance.

End of an era, and passing it on: On October 1, the York University Department of Music presents “Faculty Concert Series: Rhythms of India” featuring Trichy Sankaran with the Autorickshaw trio at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall. After 44 years of service at York, where he has taught generations of students, me included, Professor Sankaran has recently retired – from teaching at York, not from performing or teaching elsewhere. This concert is his parting gift to the institution he served so long. He will share the stage with the next generation, including his daughter, vocalist Suba Sankaran, co-leader of the JUNO-nominated Indo-jazz-funk fusion ensemble Autorickshaw and her bandmates, bass guitarist Dylan Bell and tabla player Ed Hanley, Sankaran students all. The musicians will perform solo and ensemble works by the master percussionist and composer. I invite all whose life has been touched by this outstanding musician – and there have been many from around the world – to attend this once-in-a-lifetime celebration. 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

Clarington Concert BandNow that fall is here, information is starting to come in about the seasonal offerings of several community bands, some of them quite enticing and unusual, such as the concert offered by Clarington Concert Band on October 2 at 7:30.

The concert in question is Clarington’s annual evening of classical music, this year featuring works by Felix Mendelssohn.
It isn’t often that concert bands have string instrumentalists appearing as guests, but the Clarington Band does so quite regularly. For the third time the sanctuary of the Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church in Bowmanville, noted for its well-designed seating and exceptional acoustics, will be the scene of this year’s concert. Featured will be American violinist Andrew Sords and Canadian collaborative pianist Cheryl Duvall. This duo will, on this occasion, be joined by the exciting young American virtuoso cellist Sawyer Thomson. Another unusual note: it isn’t often that bands or orchestras give feature billing to an instrument. However, they are doing so this year, noting that Mr. Thomson will be performing on a rare Italian cello crafted by Giovanni Grancino in 1690. For more information, visit the band’s website at

Fanfarones: Every once in a while we get invitations to concerts and are unable to attend. That was the case recently when we learned of a concert (September 18 at the 918 Bathurst Centre)by a group we had not heard of before. Fanfarones is a double wind quintet who advertize their programs as “quirky, elegant music.” With a double wind quintet it is possible to have such combinations as oboe and English horn, piccolo and flute or clarinet and bass clarinet playing at the same time to broaden the range of colours. Having not heard the term fanfarones before, it was time to learn its meaning. According to the Oxford Italian dictionary the word “fanfarones” is a term from Tuscany meaning braggarts or loud mouths. One would assume that they are proud and willing to show it. The major work on their program was Rocky Mountain Suite by Toronto composer and arranger Peter Coulman.

Cobourg: Last year and the year before, we had the pleasure of joining up with the Cobourg Concert Band on their annual visit to Plattsburgh, New York, and their participation in the ceremonies commemorating the final battle of the War of 1812. Last year’s Bandstand column (October 2014) lamented that it had “rained on our parade.” This year we stayed home, and we have just been informed  that the weather was absolutely perfect. Is there a hidden message in that news?

North Durham: Although we rarely here from them, we have just heard from The North Durham Concert Band. They have started another season with rehearsals in Port Perry and have the welcome mat out for new members. They rehearse 7pm to 9pm every Wednesday, September to May. For information go to

CBA: In recent years the Canadian Band Association’s  Ontario Chapter has sponsored the CBA Community Band Weekend. The next such weekend will take place October 16 to 18. The host band this year will be the Mississauga Pops Concert Band. For information go to or

Markham Concert Band: As part of the Markham Theatre’s 30th Anniversary Gala on Sunday, October 18, the Markham Concert Band will perform not one but two concerts at 2pm and 7 pm. For information go to Included in the program will be Haydn Wood’s Mannin Veen, a rarely heard classic of the concert band repertoire. Wood was an accomplished violinist and a prolific composer of a wide range of musical styles including some 180 songs. One of these was Roses of Picardy which he wrote for his wife, soprano Dorothy Court. Wood was born in a small English town and at age 3 his family moved to the Isle of Man. The tone poem Mannin Veen (Manx for Dear Isle of Man) is based on four Manx folk melodies. It is one of only two of his works which were written specifically for wind band. 

The early part of the twentieth century saw the evolution of the concert band into such groups as those of John Philip Sousa, Edwin Franko Goldman and Guiseppe Creatore which toured the world. With the advent of radio and television such major professional bands largely disappeared. Fortunately there are in many countries true “world class” military concert bands. The bands of the Royal Marines, the US Marines, the Garde Républicaine, the Belgian Guides, the Carabinieri da Roma and many others are in that category. Unfortunately few composers of note have turned their talents towards the writing of serious works for such instrumentation.

In Search of Repertoire: Although great bands existed in the early part of the twentieth century, few composers considered writing music for such instrumentation. When bands wanted to perform concert overtures, suites and such larger works they had to turn to transcriptions of orchestral music. This frequently resulted in the need to compromise because of the problems arising for wind instruments having to play music intended for string instruments. In the early 1920s, lamenting the dearth of such music for bands, the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall commissioned composer Gustav Holst to compose some music to fill the void. The Holst Suites in E-Flat and F were the result of that collaboration. Add to that a few works such as the Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite and you have almost exhausted the repertoire.

In a recent personal search I decided to try to find some information on an excellent work that I knew of in this category but had not heard in years. I first heard composer Carl Friedemann’s Slavonic Rhapsody years ago on a double-sided 78 rpm recording. On this old record was a stunning performance of this work by the Massed Bands of the Aldershot and Eastern Commands of the British Army. All I could find was a performance on YouTube. If you hear of a work and would like to assess its suitability for your band, it’s now possible to get a good idea with a little Internet search. But be warned! The results will range anywhere from excellent to painful.

Royal Marine Bands: Earlier, I mentioned Royal Marine Bands as being top-notch. I have heard that a band of the Royal Marines will be coming to Toronto late this fall. Having served in the Navy aboard a British ship which just happened to be an admiral’s flagship, I regularly was treated to music of the Marine Band which we had on board. Some time later, back in Canada, I had the pleasure of operating the sound system for the Band of the Royal Marines Plymouth Division at the CNE Bandshell for two performances a day for two weeks. It’s safe to say that I happen to have a special affinity for Royal Marine bands and their music. So far there are no details, but I believe that this band may be performing in Roy Thomson Hall.

Setting the Bar Too High? Over the years I have often played with groups which have held their rehearsals in the music rooms of schools. In such cases it is not uncommon to read the notice boards to see what is being passed on to the future musicians of our country. These frequently have the rating systems by which the students are ranked. I have been accustomed to seeing bronze, silver and gold. In recent years some have added the category of platinum to indicate a level superior to gold. This summer I saw the latest extended ranking system. That school had band achievement awards: bronze, silver, gold, platinum, titanium and unobtainium.

What’s In a Name? In recent times it is increasingly common to hear of wind groups being called a variety of terms including “choir.” How did this come about? Having consulted The Oxford Companion to Music, the Oxford Dictionary and Webster’s Dictionary, I could not find any reference to any instrumental music. They all refer only to human voices. Wikipedia does refer to choirs of instruments, but only as a subset of a larger group. As an example they refer to “the woodwind choir of an orchestra.” If any readers have information on this trend please let us know. In a recent conversation with Michele Jacot, conductor of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir, she had no answer. In fact she expressed the possibility of a name change because she was getting questions as to the kind of ensemble she directs.

Bandstand_-_WholeNote_Cake.pngMusical jokes. A few days ago on September 25 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre this magazine held an amazing concert/reception to celebrate 20 completed years of The WholeNote. During the evening’s program Sophia Perlman talked about how the song she had written and was about to sing was a musical joke (as in making a sly reference to a previously composed piece of music). It put me in mind of that other kind of musical joke, namely the groaner, for which, as regular readers of this column can attest, I have a fondness. So here’s one:

A boy is about to start music lessons at school. His mother goes with him to meet with the music teacher. She insists that the boy must start his music training on the tuba. When the teacher asks why she is so insistent about the tuba, she says: “ I know he can be led astray and I don’t want him to get into any treble.”

Keep them coming: Whether it be musical jokes, daffynitions, or just interesting news about your band’s upcoming events and activities, keep them coming! We are always interested to hear from you. 

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

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Christopher AldenOne of the most anticipated events of the opera season is the world premiere of Pyramus and Thisbe (2010) by Canadian Barbara Monk Feldman, staged by the Canadian Opera Company. It is the the first Canadian opera that the COC has produced on its main stage since The Golden Ass by Randolph Peters in 1999. This will also be the first Canadian opera ever staged in the auditorium of the Four Seasons Centre. In addition, this will be only the second opera by a female composer that the COC has ever staged, the first being L’Amour de loin (2000) by Kaija Saariaho in 2012, and the first ever by a female Canadian composer.

Pyramus and Thisbe is presented with two vocal works by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), the Lamento d’Arianna (1608) and Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624). The first is the sole aria remaining from a lost opera by Monteverdi, while the second, though sometimes called an opera, is really a narrative sequence of madrigals. Both are company premieres. Krisztina Szabó sings Arianna, Clorinda and Thisbe; Phillip Addis sings Tancredi and Pyramus; and Owen McCausland sings Testo, the Narrator in Il combattimento.

American Christopher Alden, who directed La Clemenza di Tito for the COC in 2013, Die Fledermaus in 2012 and Rigoletto in 2011, is the stage director for Pyramus and Thisbe. I spoke with him in mid-September about the project.

About two years ago COC General Director Alexander Neef approached Alden about directing the works. Impressed by Monk Feldman’s score and the challenges it poses, Alden accepted: “It’s always exciting to be offered a brand new piece since 90 percent or more of my profession is dealing with pieces from the past where the composers are long gone and there have already been so many productions and interpretations of the piece you’re doing. So it’s a breath of fresh air to be offered the chance to be involved in the creation of a work yourself.”

About Monk Feldman’s work itself, Alden comments, “It’s an amazing piece, very unique and unusual and intensely abstract and non-literal. It’s the opposite of a new opera based on a film or something like that. Barbara has created a piece in a very strong modernist vein which is an exciting thing to come up against because it forces one to reach into different areas to find a way to bring this piece to life. It’s quite an exciting challenge.”

The idea of presenting the two Monteverdi pieces in conjunction with Pyramus and Thisbe was there from the start because, as Alden notes, “The idea was to pair Barbara’s piece which is on a mythological subject with other pieces that come from that same world. And each is about these different couples – Pyramus and Thisbe, Tancredi and Clorinda and Ariadne and (even though he doesn’t sing in this piece) Theseus. Three couples, all of whom have rather problematical relationships, are connected in illustrating Shakespeare’s statement that ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’ After this, the idea came to us of tying the three pieces together even more by casting the same two singers as each of the couples.”

The works will be presented beginning with Arianna, followed by Il Combattimento and concluding with Pyramus and Thisbe. Faced with staging three pieces without an interval, Alden says he “started to come to terms with how to make a theatrical event out of these three pieces, on the one hand, letting each piece play itself out telling its own story, but also at the same time finding an overall shape to the evening, so that one piece leads into the next.”

There is no visual shift in moving from the works from the 17th century to the 21st. Instead, Alden says, “This production isn’t so much about any particular time period, but places all three pieces within a rather abstract, rather open-ended theatrical setting. It’s very simple, very stripped-down and very focused on the two soloists plus the third soloist Owen McCausland, the Narrator of Il Combattimento. Even though he sings only in the second work, we’re finding a way to give him [McCausland] some strong personal involvement in the whole theatrical event so that he is actually on stage for all three pieces.”

Alden notes that “the issues involved in each of these three pieces bleed in and out of each other – issues about relationships between men and women – with Il Combattimento (which is to me the ultimate piece about the battle of the sexes) in which there is a literal fight to the death between a man and a woman in the dead of night and the male doesn’t realize until the end that the guy he has been fighting is his beloved disguised as a male warrior. This raises so many interesting issues about male-female relationships that have such an aggressive aspect as if they were two mortal enemies, like two different species.”

“But,” he continues, “the flip side of the coin is their attraction to each other, their desire for each other. These issues about relationships float through the other two pieces, including Barbara’s. In Pyramus and Thisbe you have two people from families who are enemies and build a wall to separate them. Yet the two young people find a way to communicate through a chink in the wall – an amazing image about separation and two people finding a relationship despite all of the forces that get in the way of that desire that we all have, to connect with another person in a deep relationship.”

Monk Feldman’s work, nevertheless, is quite abstract as Alden points out. Although the story comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book IV, the libretto of the opera is made up of very diverse material including William Faulkner’s “The Long Summer” from The Hamlet (1940), St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul (c.1578) and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonette an Orpheus (1923). In the preface to the score, Monk Feldman writes, “There is little or no drama: this opera is about the subtlety of the unconscious which substitutes for the wall in Ovid’s original, uniting as it separates the two lovers.”

Asked how he deals with such information, Alden replies, “There’s a lot more information than that. She’s been feeding me over the last year or so that we’ve been planning the opera. Barbara has very strong ideas about it and it’s been interesting for me, for once, not necessarily to be the sole auteur of an opera production which I’m directing (which I’m sort of used to by now), but also to have the writer right there with very strong feelings about it. It’s been a very exciting collaboration with Barbara.”

“It’s a fascinating challenge to bring to life this piece which is very abstract and written not as a conventional piece of theatre. It’s not about conventional theatrical tension, but rather it’s about creating a very sustained contemplative atmosphere, in a way very different from the Western theatrical tradition. The more ritualized tradition of Asian theatre has been an inspiration to me in thinking about her piece, to play it out in a somewhat more ritualized and detached way. That’s the challenge not just to me as a director but to the performers.”

“In the context of the whole evening, quite a bit of drama and conflict will already have been acted out in the Monteverdi pieces, so, in a way, in Barbara’s piece the male and female begin to move beyond that. Barbara’s piece is very much about transcending one’s ego issues and starting to move beyond them in a quasi-Buddhistic way and let go of all the patterns and cycles that we all get trapped in in our lives and to start to free ourselves up to find a different kind of relationship with existence and our worldly lives and ultimately our perceptions about mortality.” Mortality is symbolized in the opera by the lioness, which Pyramus mistakenly believes has killed Thisbe.

Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe, preceded by the two Monteverdi pieces, plays from October 20 to November 7. The running time is only one hour, ten minutes without intermission. Johannes Debus will conduct. 

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

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Art_Song_-_Renee_Flemming.pngReviewers and publicists have long searched for the right adjective to describe Renée Fleming’s voice: “sublime,” “creamy,” “sumptuous,” “luxurious,” “ravishing.” None of these seem adequate to give a real sense of the beauty of her singing. She is a lyric soprano with a full voice.

In 1981, when she was still a student at the Eastman School of Music, she sang the role of Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a light soprano role. She soon moved to the fuller lyric soprano roles in Mozart’s operas: the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro (Aspen Music Festival, 1983), Konstanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio (Salzburg Landestheater, 1986), Pamina in The Magic Flute (Virginia Opera, 1988), Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte (Geneva, 1992) and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni (Paris, 1996).

While Mozart constitutes a centre for her operatic performances, there is now a second centre in the operas of Richard Strauss. She has sung the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier (Houston, 1995), the title role in Arabella (Houston, 1998), the Countess in Capriccio (Paris, 2004) and the title roles in Daphne (University of Michigan, 2005) and Ariadne auf Naxos (Baden-Baden, 2012). She is a noted performer of a number of other parts. They include the soprano roles in three Verdi operas: Violetta in La Traviata, Amelia in Simone Boccanegra and Desdemona in Otello. She has also sung Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, the soprano parts in three of Massenet’s operas (Manon, Thaïs, Hérodiade), the title role in Dvorak’s Rusalka and both Mimì and Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème. It may seem surprising that her repertoire also includes two operas by Handel (Alcina and Rodelinda), both of which she has also recorded. In both she has demonstrated that early music is not the preserve of early music specialists.

Fleming is now in her mid-50s, an age at which many singers start thinking about retirement. I don’t think Fleming is. One of the reasons must be that, although her repertoire is extensive, she has always been careful not to tackle roles for which she did not feel ready or which she did not consider right for her voice. Thus she has sung Eva in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger (Bayreuth, 1996) but not Isolde or Brünnhilde, several Verdi roles but not Aida or either of the Leonores, a great deal of Strauss but not Electra or Salome or either of the soprano parts in Die Frau ohne Schatten.

Her work in the concert hall and in recitals has been equally extensive. One thinks first of all of the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss but she has also performed and recorded the soprano part in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony as well as songs by Schubert, Wolf, Berlioz, Duparc, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Berg and many others. Fleming will sing at Roy Thomson Hall on October 30. The program will include three songs by Rachmaninoff as well as three of the Songs from the Auvergne by Canteloube.

Concerts at Koerner Hall: The Royal Conservatory Orchestra will perform a concert that includes Mahler’s Fourth Symphony on October 2. Mireille Asselin will be the soprano soloist. (The concert will be repeated on October 3 at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston.) The singer-songwriters Joan Armatrading and Liam Titcomb will perform on October 3. The all-Bach concert by Masaaki Susuki’s Bach Collegium Japan on October 28 will include the cantata Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut. Anne Carrère is the singer in a program about Edith Piaf on October 30.

Move to Mazzoleni: The Recitals at Rosedale series has been moved to Mazzoleni Hall and now has a new name: Mazzoleni Masters Songmasters. Its first concert, November 1, “Songs of Remembrance,” will feature the soprano Monica Whicher and the pianist Rachel Andrist.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra: On October 7 and 8 Barbara Hannigan will sing and conduct. The vocal works are Nono’s Djamila Boupacha and three arias by Mozart. On October 21 and 24 Erin Wall, soprano, and Russell Braun, baritone, are the soloists in Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony.

COC Ensemble Competition: The Canadian Opera Company announces its annual competition for positions in the COC’s Ensemble Studio at the Four Seasons Centre, November 3. The free lunch-time concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium resume on October 6, when the Ensemble Les Songes will perform music about love by Handel, Corelli and Scarlatti. It will be followed by “The Art of the Prima Donna,” October 15, in which arias by Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and others will be sung by students from the University of Toronto Opera Division, and by a recital by the baritone Quinn Kelsey on October 27, in which he will sing Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring and other works.

The Talisker Players: Many years ago I sang with the Toronto Classical Singers. One of the pleasures of singing with that choir was that one ended up performing with a real orchestra, something quite unusual in those days. The orchestra was called the Talisker Players. They made themselves available to any choral group that wanted to perform with an orchestra. Now the focus of the Talisker Players has shifted and they are largely concerned with the relationship between words and music. Their concerts on October 27 and 28 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre will include works by Raum, Seiber, Forsyth, Uyeda and Jordahl as well as readings from James Thurber. The singers are James McLennan, tenor, and Doug MacNaughton, baritone.

The Canadian Art Project this year launches a three-concert recital series, with concerts in November, February and May, But before that, their opening concert October 15, co-presented with the Canadian Music Centre sees soprano Allison Angelo and the pianist Simon Docking launching the CD, Moon Loves Its Light, at the CMC. Next, on November 7 at the Extension Room, 30 Eastern Ave., there will be a recital with the sopranos Ambur Braid and Carla Huhtanen. The concert will include works by Eric Ross, Brian Harman, Richard Strauss and Libby Larsen.

Other Events: The mezzo Maria Soulis will sing the Bach cantata Ein Ungefärbt Gemüte as well as settings of poems by Frederico García Lorca at the Heliconian Club on October 16. The Capella Intima will (twice) perform a short recital of English madrigals and part songs October 17 at Fort York National Historic Site. The singers are Sheila Dietrich, soprano, Jennifer Enns Modolo, alto, Bud Roach, tenor, and David Roth, baritone. The Toronto Masque Theatre will open its new season with a salon, “Ben Jonson and the Masque,” in which the singers will be Katherine Hill, soprano, and Larry Beckwith, tenor on October 20 at the Atrium, 21 Shaftesbury Ave.

And beyond the GTA: October 25 the Spiritus Ensemble will perform Bach’s Cantata, Ich Ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, and Purcell’s Hear my Prayer, O Lord. The singers are Stephanie Kramer, soprano, Jennifer Enns Modolo, mezzo, and Steve Surian, tenor at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, Kitchener; free. Adi Braun sings at the Visual and Performing Arts Newmarket Theatre on November 1

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

Choral_-_Dett.pngTeddy Abrams is the 28-year-old conductor of the Louisville Orchestra. His youth is not for a lack of experience and talent. At the end of the summer he was featured by PBS as the youngest artistic director of a major American orchestra. He spoke of many philosophical questions that are affecting live instrumental music. One in particular has stuck with me, and that’s his belief that artistic organizations need to continue to create a positive direction for our society. He challenges himself and his musicians to think about the ways in which they can bring together, collaborate with and energize the communities they touch. And he sees important elements of civic, social and political life in music.

These big questions are inevitably lost in the competitive musical life of Toronto and the surrounding areas. I have yet to meet a musical organization that exists solely for the creation of a better society, in so many words; but, on the other hand, if so many of us did not have positive experiences with live music, why would we contribute so much of ourselves towards it?

In the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (of which I am a member), each chorister spends over 150 hours in more than 50 rehearsals each season, apart from personal practice time. Add my other ensembles to the mix, the Scarborough Concert Band and Incontra Vocal Ensemble, and easily eight hours of my week are spent in rehearsals or doing music. When I conducted the UTSC Alumni and Community Choir the commitment was drastically higher with preparation, technique, and score study. Live music is not an insignificant commitment to bring to fruition. But the result is unlike any other. The collaborative nature of music requires the blending of myriad forces into a cohesive engine that can lead in many directions. And yes, they can present ideas, stories and thoughts on deeply political and social issues. A few upcoming performances truly showcase this ability.

Hail October! With October hailing the true start to the musical performance season, there are many performances ahead. Bravo Niagara’s North Star Festival is early in the month from October 2 to 4. This inaugural festival is endorsed by the UNESCO Slave Route Project. At St. Mark’s Anglican in Niagara-on-the-Lake on October 3 at 7:30pm the Nathaniel Dett Chorale presents “Freedom has a Voice.” The Chorale will be featuring Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Wheldon Johnson, a song written in 1899. A contemporary of Canadian Nathaniel Dett, Johnson would make his name as a writer, composer and dignitary in his position as executive secretary of the U.S. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for a decade. During the civil rights era, Lift Every Voice and Sing would become an anthem of the people throughout the movement.

Niagara, an important terminus on the Underground Railroad, is the perfect place for Bravo Niagara to honour the important goal of many looking for freedom. Such spirituals as Wade in the Water and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot have histories connected to the Underground Railroad. These songs are now staples of modern choral tradition but were once relegated to minstrel shows, their powerful history perverted in racist processes of minstrelsy and blackface.

Dett and Johnson were two of many musicians who revived these spirituals and re-elevated them from their degradation. With Polaris, the North Star, leading people onwards to Niagara, the region was a haven unlike any other. And the culture and peoples who braved this perilous journey have left an indelible and beautiful history for us to commemorate. I hope this is the first of many years for this festival.

Wilfred Laurier University’s “Sing Fires of Justice 10th Anniversary Concert,” honouring missing and murdered indigenous women, takes place at St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Kitchener, October 4 at 7pm. Choirs from WLU, the University of Waterloo, the Mino Ode Kwewak N’Gamowak (Good Hearted Women Singers) and many other guests are featured: music continues to be a salient and powerful tool in exploring communal trauma, sharing stories and celebrating. Admission is by freewill donation with funds going towards the Mino Ode Kwewak N’Gamowak.

Buffy Sainte-MarieBuffy Sainte-Marie: The pathways that lead to the creation of music, the sharing of music, and the performance of music are many. These deeply social, economic and political issues are heightened through music. Dett’s and Johnson’s history, stories and sense of justice were strongly linked to their musical expression. And for indigenous women in Canada, one only has to look at the artistic practices of the last two years of Polaris Prize winners – Tanya Tagaq and Buffy Sainte-Marie – to recognize a similar, albeit stylistically very different, linking of music and social justice.

Check it out: One sure treat this fall is the October 30 presentation of The Phantom of the Opera by the Orpheus Choir. A unique, one-night-only accompaniment to the 1925 silent film, the blend of cinema and music should inspire more work like this. Movie soundtracks have long incorporated choral music. With the recent involvement of the Tallis Choir with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in the Sony Centre’s “Gladiator Live,” I can only hope for more opportunities that blend film and music in the city. It’s also worth noting that these film concerts, of which the TSO is doing a few this year (Psycho and Back to the Future), are often the only time under-30s are not greatly outnumbered in instrumental music audiences.

A gospel powerhouse hosted by York University, “G.I.V.E., the Gospel Inter-Varsity Explosion,” will feature more than 150 voices drawn from the York University Gospel Choir, University of Toronto Gospel Choir, McMaster University Gospel Choir and Humber Gospel Choir. G.I.V.E. will perform October 24 at 7pm at the Islington Evangel Centre under conductors Karen Burke and Corey Butler, with special guests the Toronto Mass Choir and Gospel Joy, a choir from Warsaw, Poland.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will be singing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Ralph Vaughan William’s A Sea Symphony. Soprano Erin Wall was a pleasure to sing with during last year’s Mahler’s Second Symphony with the TSO. She returns to share her talent on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall. A bold and bombastic work, A Sea Symphony’s  premiere in 1910 was at a time of perhaps unrivalled patriotic and imperialist fervour. The work is a perfect example of a deeply political  and nationalist (dare one say jingoistic)message brought stunningly to life through music. Come and watch us at RTH on October 21 and 24 at 8pm.

Kaffeemusik: A unique performance will be hosted by the Toronto Chamber Choir in its afternoon Kaffeemusik series. Classical 96.3FM’s Kathleen Kajioka will narrate the life of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), considered to be the first European allowed into the Forbidden City of China’s emperors. The China Court Trio will provide accompaniment with period music from Italy, Portugal and China at the Church of the Redeemer, November 1 at 3pm.

Remembrance: Commemorations for Remembrance Day begin over the next few weeks. Exultate Chamber Singers perform “Stories of Remembrance” at St Thomas’s Anglican Church on October 23 at 8pm. Included are smaller works by Eleanor Daley – In Remembrance and For the Fallen – but the feature is American composer Donald McCullough’s Holocaust Cantata. Written in 13 movements for choir, cello, piano and narrators, this piece is in English, translated from real-life accounts of letters found in the American Holocaust Memorial Museum archive. 

Brian Chang is a tenor in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and a policy analyst during the day. Follow him on Twitter @bfchang

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Every so often, one classical musician or another will mention, by way of discussing career options, that younger emerging musicians should consider moving to Korea, China or Japan if they want a shot at a playing career. Having never even seen the Hellespont, let alone ventured east of it, I really have no idea what to make of this. I have very little if any knowledge of the classical music scene over there, and still less of an idea what their early music scene looks like. Still, the armchair career counsellors have a point. Asia does appear to be a fast-growing market for classical music. Asian retailers will stock and sell a vast inventory of classical music, including some of the most obscure recordings that would go completely unnoticed here. And, moreover, their demand for live music appears equally insatiable – Tokyo, for example, has six (six!) symphony orchestras.

It’s a little disappointing, then, that this passion for Western music doesn’t seem to extend to the early music movement. While there’s much to give Canadian and American musicians cause for optimism as far as an emerging market is concerned, East Asia does seem to be a good half century behind the times, as far as historically inspired performance is concerned.

Bach Collegium JapanBach Collegium: The shining exception to this, of course is the Bach Collegium Japan. Founded by harpsichordist Masaaki Suzuki in 1990, seemingly with the single purpose of recording Bach’s entire catalogue, the Collegium is an awe-inspiring group that boasts a roster of some of the finest baroque players, both in Japan and on the international scene. The Collegium is one of just a handful of ensembles in the world that has recorded the complete cantatas of J.S. Bach and it has distinguished itself as the most renowned Japanese classical ensemble in the world.

Besides committing Bach’s entire symphonic repertoire to disc, their 99-disc output includes a recording of the Monteverdi Vespers, a Mozart Requiem, a Messiah, a recording of Bach’s contemporary Buxtehude and (why not?) an album of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony arranged by Richard Wagner. They are prolific, they are experienced and they are without a doubt some of the most exceptional musicians in any category worldwide. But don’t take my word for it – you can decide for yourself when the group comes to Koerner Hall on October 28 at 8pm for (what else?) an all-Bach program. They’ll be playing some standard repertoire like Brandenburg 5 and the trio sonata from the Musical Offering, but the concert will also include some lesser-known hits of the Bach catalogue like the Concerto for Oboe d’amore BWV1055R and the soprano cantata Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut BWV199. I have no doubt that this will be a fantastic performance by an internationally renowned ensemble and a rare chance to hear some of the finest musicians in the world live in concert.

Ensemble Les Songes is another out-of-town group visiting Toronto this month that’s well worth hearing, although their concert will likely be a quieter affair than the arrival of a visiting Japanese orchestra. The Montreal-based quintet features soprano Samantha Louis-Jean, harpsichordist Mélisande McNabney, and recorder wunderkind Vincent Lauzer, but all five are talented musicians who can be counted on to deliver a spirited and intelligent performance. They’ll be playing a free concert of love songs by Corelli, Scarlatti and Handel at the Four Seasons Centre on October 6 at noon.

Early Music Fair: The other great event next month is of course the annual Early Music Fair, organized by the Toronto Early Music Centre. The annual fair is a day that allows visitors to sample the early music scene in Toronto and the GTA, and which features presentations by instrument makers and specialists, scores for sale and an introduction to the world of historic keyboards, string and wind instruments. It’s usually held at Montgomery’s Inn in Etobicoke, but this year the organizers have opted for a more downtown venue at Fort York on October 17, running from 11am to 4pm. You’ll have a chance to hear several musical ensembles over the course of the day, but one group that you might want to make a point of catching is Capella Intima, an a cappella vocal ensemble that will be singing English madrigals and partsongs in the Blue Barracks at 1pm and 1:30pm. The group is made up of just four singers who are doing an accessible repertoire and a short program, so if you’re at all curious about early choral music, check them out, catch some of the presentations and enjoy a day at historic Fort York.

I get a kick from Champlain: October 2015 also marks an important milestone in the history of Ontario, as it is the 400th anniversary of the first recorded visit to Ontario by European explorers. Samuel de Champlain, having already made a name for himself as the founder of New France, not only became the first European to visit Ontario 400 years ago, but also took the time to visit and map the Great Lakes, befriend the Wendat (Huron) tribes, and pass through what is now Peterborough and Lake Simcoe in September and October 1615. The fact that he went on to attempt an invasion of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tribes and failed miserably in the process is perhaps less celebrated by Ontario or Quebec historians. But I digress.

In an unabashedly Eurocentric version of history, Ontario turns 400 this month, and the Aradia ensemble will be performing a concert of French music at the Alliance Française to commemorate it. Aradia is one of the best Toronto-based ensembles for French repertoire, so it’s sure to be a very fine performance. The composers they’ve selected aren’t likely to have ever been heard by Champlain himself (most of them were either infants or had yet to be born when the great explorer died) but historical accuracy must sometimes be sacrificed for the sake of good music, and Jean-Baptiste Lully and Marc-Antoine Charpentier most definitely qualify. You can catch Aradia, along with soprano Katherine Hill and narrator Patrice Dutil on November 1 at 7pm.

Lassus’ oddest work: History often inspires great music, but the Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus can lay claim to the singular honour of having the weirdest historical theme for a composition, ever. His 13-movement Prophetiae Sibyllarum, with its notoriously chromatic prologue, purports to be based on predictions made by oracles from ancient Greece to the Roman empire that prophesied the birth of Jesus. On October 30 at 8pm in St. Basil’s Church, the Musicians in Ordinary will perform Lassus’ oddest work as part of their concert series as the artists in residence at Saint Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. It’s a concert I’m looking forward to, and it promises to be very interesting from both a musical and a historical perspective, although Lassus’ claim to oracular divinity begs at least a few questions. Why would a group of Bronze Age polytheists predict the son of a single god? Why would a Roman emperor care about the beliefs of a tiny religious minority in a faraway provincial backwater? Why were Renaissance humanists so preoccupied with rehabilitating the religious beliefs of antiquity? Fortunately, if you show up for the pre-concert talk at 7:30, you’ll get the answer to all of these questions, and hopefully the lecturer will lay them safely to rest.

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

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Ray JesselWhodunit? Ray Jessel done it. He lived a life that was full. Much more than this, he did it his way, right up until the night he passed away in his sleep at 85, just a few months ago.

Born in Cardiff two weeks before the stock market crash of 1929, the acclaimed Jewish-Welsh-Canadian-American was five times recognized by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs. Jessel’s songs were recorded by Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante, Michael Feinstein and John Pizzarelli, to name a few. He will forever be considered a master composer, lyricist, musician and cabaret performer. If that weren’t enough, in his final year on the planet, at 84, he became a YouTube sensation, when he performed What She’s Got (The Penis Song) on the NBC reality television program America’s Got Talent.

“The comedy was always there, and so were the one-liners,” recalls his beloved sister Vivienne Muhling, with whom he was extremely close. “When he was in college in Cardiff, he wrote a story in his college magazine which was a whodunit, and he started by saying “Who done it? The butler done it!” (laughs).

Before showing me a 1965 Broadway playbill of Baker Street, which brought Jessel to New York City to collaborate with Marian Grudeff, Muhling reminisces about her brother’s humble beginnings as an aspiring classical composer.

“Grudeff persuaded him to write for a revue called Spring Thaw in Toronto – that was the beginning of it. Then, when Alex Cohen came here to put on the very first musical that opened the O’Keefe Centre, which was Camelot with Richard Burton, he was told about the two of them. Then, when he needed someone to write Baker Street, he called Ray, and that’s how he got to New York from Toronto.

“But let me go back a little. He wrote his first song at two-and-a-half years old, and he wrote it because we were close, and I went off to school because I was five … When we got older there was a competition in the weekend papers, a songwriting competition, and we wrote a song together called ‘Stargazing’ which I still have a copy of, and we lost out to a pair of old spinsters who had written ‘Cruising Down the River on Sunday Afternoon’– so he was already writing popular music, even though he thought of himself as a classical composer then.

“In Toronto, he did a lot of writing for people – he wrote whole programs for them for them to go on stage – Pamela Hyatt is one of those singers.”

Indeed, at Lisa Particelli’s “GNO Jazz Jam,” on a June night in 2011, actress and singer Hyatt was showcased. Out of her five selections, three were by Jessel, including a definitive version of Life Sucks and Then You Die, what she calls “Jessel’s ode to Shirley Temple.” That night, Hyatt’s brilliance matched that of Jessel’s on The Things You Do and I’m All Right Now, a classic collaboration between Jessel and his wife Cynthia Thompson. The two met in 1980 and collaborated on songs since then.

Hyatt had the amazing experience of working with Jessel in 1958 for CBC’s musical revue Off Limits directed by Norman Jewison, co-starring with Jack Creley, Dave Broadfoot, Sammy Sales, Sheila Billings and Jimmy Hannan.

“Ray wrote deliciously silly material,” says Hyatt, “and it was always fun to perform his songs. That show broke all house records for the Mountain Playhouse in Montreal, ran the entire summer. Looking back, I am hugely privileged to have worked with Ray in his youth, and been given the opportunity to perform his and Cynthia’s songs in my dotage.” Asked if she has a favourite Jessel tune, Hyatt says: “I adore his and Cynthia’s tender ballad I’m All Right Now because the images are so precise and they don’t demand any self-pitying nonsense. He was a brilliant wordsmith with a great love of his fellow humans, our foibles, our fears, our utter lunatic behavior. His songs really covered so much of the human condition. They were never formulaic.”

Jessel’s career highlights on Broadway would include being chosen by Richard Rodgers to write additional lyrics for I Remember Mama in 1979, and his songs being recorded by Louis Armstrong, John Pizzarelli and Michael Feinstein (who nicknamed Ray Jessel “the millennium Noel Coward”).

At 72, Jessel made his cabaret performing debut at Hollywood’s Gardenia Room in April 2002, after which he played to a series of sell-out performances there, at L.A.’s famed Jazz Bakery and in New York at Danny’s Skylight Room and at Don’t Tell Mama. He made his debut at Toronto’s Top o’ the Senator in May of 2003, and ten years later, October 2013, he played at the same address, 251 Victoria, now Jazz Bistro. Both shows were booked by Sybil Walker, who reflects on the first time she presented him alongside the great Jackie Richardson:

“Meeting Ray and presenting him to Toronto audiences was a uniquely rewarding experience – I was prepared for him to be entertaining but he was jaw-dropping funny, singing impossibly clever lyrics that left every member of the audience in a state of hilarious disbelief. Top o’ the Senator audiences had been entertained by the wonderful lyricists Dave Frishberg and Mose Allison through the years but Ray’s was a talent that caught us all off guard.”

JAZZ.FM91 on-air personality, producer and Jazz Safari bwana, Jaymz Bee, has long been a fan:
“The first time I saw Ray Jessel was at Birdland in New York City. My dad and I laughed so hard we literally had tears in our eyes and he came over to our table to chat.

When I told him I knew his sister Viv he made a big fuss over us. Since then I had the privilege of interviewing him several times for JAZZ.FM91 and he was always down to earth and hilarious. The fact that he was so funny never prevented him and his wife from writing serious love songs. He is up there with Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg in my books – one of my favourite composers!”

Ray Jessel’s legacy will be celebrated at Jazz Bistro on Monday, October 26 from 7 to 11pm with a very special lineup of singers that will pay tribute to his life and music. Reservations are highly recommended (416-363-5299).

Lea DeLariaFinally, I do have another live music tip for you. If you’re not planning on going trick-or-treating, I recommend that you treat yourself October 31 to a night with Lea DeLaria at the Danforth Musical Hall.

Since being cast as Big Boo on the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black in 2013, the larger-than-life DeLaria has become an international star, but she has been hard at work for quite a while. In 1993 she made history as the first openly gay stand-up comic on the late-night talk-show circuit with an appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show. She has been based in New York for many years, appearing on countless stages and screens.

In addition to her stand-up and acting career, DeLaria is a well-known and highly entertaining jazz singer whose bebop chops are served with an in-your-face bravura. With a voice that is as big as her imagination, she has long been an audience favourite in New York clubs for her outrageously entertaining shows. DeLaria’s latest jazz recording, House of David, finds her reimagining a dozen David Bowie classics. On the Danforth Music Hall stage, DeLaria will be joined by longtime friend and frequent collaborator, stand-up comedian Maggie Cassella. Expect big laughs, good times and priceless timing.

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

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Mainly_Mostly_-_Rich_Brown.pngThis month, I am looking forward. After all, there is a lot to look forward to in the fall: the beginning of Christmas as defined by retailers everywhere; colourful leaves and colourful sweaters; the post-Halloween candy binge; and, I suppose, even Halloween itself.

My favourite thing about this fall is going to be the sounds, I’m sure. Not only the crunching of les feuilles mortes under busy Torontonian feet, but the music gracing the stages at busy Toronto concert venues.

Let me take you back to winter. On a snowy Saturday in January, 2011, I went to check out a double bill at The Rex. Ricochet, a group featuring Adrean Farrugia, Andrew Downing, Ravi Naimpally, Anthony Michelli, Kevin Turcotte, Kelly Jefferson and Sophia Perlman, was my reason for going, but I was told that at 12:30 there would be a special late-night set by a band I hadn’t yet heard of, and since I didn’t have to rise early the next morning and no extra cover was required for the late set, I stuck around.

The group played original music by bassist/composer Rich Brown and featured Luis Deniz on alto sax, Robi Botos on keyboards and Larnell Lewis on the drums. For the next few years – at least two, maybe more – I followed Rinse the Algorithm obsessively, attended every one of their monthly late night gigs at The Rex and most of their gigs elsewhere, purchased their album, Locutions, which I think is still available for download on iTunes, and even spent a lot of time transcribing what I heard – melodies, chord changes, solos, drum patterns – sometimes on the spot at the concert.

The aforementioned lineup was the core group for most of the time that I knew the band, but occasionally I saw them with subs: Farrugia subbed for Botos one time, I think I remember Jefferson stepping in for Deniz, and I’m certain that at least two monstrous drummers filled the drum chair (which, with Lewis in the group, is a huge chair): Otis Williams and Chino de Villa.

Locutions is an album undeniably worth listening to (my favourite track is As if Sleepwalking With Headphones On – a tune which they didn’t play live as often as some of the others), but it couldn’t hold a candle to their live concerts. They brought something intangible to the stage that seems to me impossible to translate in a studio. They had, or I suppose they still have, a tune called The Lakeside Stroll. To get a sense of what it was like hearing the same repertoire interpreted a different way each month, take a look on YouTube for that tune. You’ll find at least three, if not more, versions of it, which are all, despite being the same tune, spontaneous compositions in and of themselves.

Mainly_Mostly_-_Kevin_Turcotte.pngAt the time I stumbled across this band, I was not that new to live jazz, and certainly not new to live music. I had heard groups before that played music I found strikingly original, like RTA did, and groups that displayed tremendous technical facility on their instruments, like RTA did, and groups that made each tune sound radically different each time they played it, like RTA did, and groups that sent me out of the venue with a goofy smile on my face, like RTA very consistently did – so it’s difficult to pin down exactly why I thought they were so special. But given the huge following they had, I think I was and am in if not good company, lots of company – so I’m in no hurry to justify myself.

In the winter of 2012/13, Brown held two solo bass concerts at the now-defunct venue, 80 Gladstone, which I attended, of course. During some RTA concerts, he would open a song with a bass solo, and it seemed to me that, month to month, these weren’t just improvisations, but compositions he was developing over time. It was at these lovely, intimate concerts at 80 Gladstone that I first got a more complete sense of what Brown was going for. Not only is it very good, it’s available for sampling on YouTube: just search “Rich Brown:Nguyên,” and it should come up. Dive into related videos. Have fun.

I don’t like to say I have a favourite anything, but Brown has to be my favourite composer in the city, at least within this idiom. His compositions are deeply considered, and deeply moving as a result. They’re harmonically novel – at least to my ear – and often circular in nature, much like Blue in Green. They don’t always necessarily have a clear end or beginning. Brown doesn’t write compositions that can be described as happy or sad. It’s all much more nuanced than that. Words that better describe his compositions are meditative, unhinged, biting, nostalgic, conflicted and reverent.

This is all to say that Brown has a new project, Rich Brown & The Abeng. I don’t know much about it, except that given Brown’s track record and the absolutely stellar lineup, featuring Stan Fomin on keys and Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, it will be amazing.

The Abeng’s CD release party will be happening at Lula Lounge on October 21 at 8:30pm and the $15 cover charge will be worth way more than that.

I look forward to seeing you all there. 

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

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Wu_Man_1.jpgThe historic trade routes collectively referred to as the Silk Road, an interconnected web of maritime and overland pathways,  have, for centuries, served as sites for cultural, economic, educational, religious – and purely musical – exchanges. In that light, “silk roads” can be seen as a significant factor in the development of the ever-evolving hybridities that have shaped the face of the modern musical world.

In 1998 the Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma proposed “Silkroad” as the name of his new non-profit organisation. That project, inspired by his global curiosity and eagerness to forge connections across cultures, disciplines and generations, has grown several branches, the first of which was the successful music performing group, Silk Road Ensemble (SRE). It has played to sold-out houses at Roy Thomson Hall in 2003 and 2009 and will return to perform at Massey Hall on September 15. (Serendipitously, Toronto audiences will have another opportunity to see the SRE up close this September. Morgan Neville’s feature-length documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble graces TIFF’s red carpet, enjoying its world premiere.)

Wu Man’s view from the pipa. Chinese-born Grammy Award nominee Wu Man, widely hailed as the world’s premier pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso, has a unique perspective on the SRE’s career. An educator, composer and an ambassador of Chinese music, she has a prolific discography of 40 albums and counting. She was among the first musicians to get the call from Yo-Yo Ma to help in founding SRE.

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