Toronto Jazz Top Ten

I was considering giving up on a career in jazz music, but on a summer night in 2005 at the Montreal Jazz Festival, when I sat in at the Hyatt Hotel and sang “Sweet Georgia Brown” in three varied tempos as a nod to Anita O’Day, I changed my mind. That night I realized how important jam sessions are as an opportunity for musicians to create music in the true spirit of jazz: without rehearsal, to an appreciative audience of jazz enthusiasts. Just got word that Novotel has sponsored the Ottawa Jazz Festival jam session and I am really hoping that in these parts and beyond, we get the official jam sessions back too! 

1909 InTheClubs

TOP TEN TORONTO JAZZ FESTIVAL TIPS:

1) Award-winning, world-renowned artist for her innovative brilliance on saxophone and flute, and jazz ambassador for her work around the world, Jane Bunnett has changed the lives of many Cuban musicians by exposing their talents to North American audiences. On her latest project, “Maqueque,” Bunnett has assembled an exciting sextet featuring the finest young female musicians in Cuba. Joining her are drummer Yissy Garcia, percussionist Dayme, Yusa on tres guitar and fretless bass, pianist Danae and Magdelys on batas and congas. Like a trusted chef in a five-star restaurant, it is inevitable that Bunnett and these young ladies will cook up a storm on opening night, June 19 at 8pm at Lula Lounge.

2) A coveted Toronto treasure, she plays all over the city and has many adoring fans, from her days in the JUNO-winning rock act Leslie Spit Treeo to her reincarnation as a singer of blues, jazz and western swing. Laura Hubert’s honesty, which delves deeply into both comedy and tragedy, is that of an actor who became a singer by accident. With a unique voice that is a bit of a surprise coming out of such a petite lady, she is capable of growling, crooning, swinging hard and moaning low. Discover Laura Hubert at the festival either on opening night, June 19 at Grossman’s at 10pm, or on June 28, 3:30pm at the Rex.

3) Here’s hoping American vocalist Dianne Reeves has a sold-out show at the festival Main Stage on Tuesday, June 24 at 8pm, and here’s hoping you’ll catch her opening act, the Brandi Disterheft Quartet. A force to be reckoned with as a bassist, composer, bandleader and recording artist, the Vancouver-born musician has released three excellent albums: her JUNO-winning Debut, slightly poppier, even catchier Second Side and the very satisfying Gratitude from last year. It’s always exciting to see where Disterheft is going next, both in the short term sense of each solo and the long term sense of her next record. She currently lives in New York City where she maintains a busy schedule as sideman when not touring. Cheers to Brandi!

4) On Sunday June 22 at 7pm, “Girls Night Out” jazz jam session host Lisa Particelli will present a group of GNOJAZZ all-stars and continue to raise money for her annual Humber College Scholarship. The award is given to a vocal jazz student who demonstrates exceptional ability and requires financial assistance with this crazy dream of singing jazz. Every Wednesday from 8pm to midnight singers of all levels are welcome to perform at this vocalist-friendly jazz jam, which can also be thought of as a jazz open mic, a truly rare and very prized opportunity not only for vocalists of all levels but really for anyone who would like to try singing with three incredible jazz musicians in a safe environment. In addition to the fundraiser, there’s a jazz festival jam session on June 25, as well as every Wednesday year-round.

5) Lovers of the clarinet, trumpet, or saxophone, go no further than KAMA on King, where Ken Peplowski, Harry Allen, Warren Vache and Houston Person, respectively, will be guesting with the Canadian Jazz Quartet on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday June 23, 24, 25 and 26 from 5 to 8pm. These days there are not many venues in this town where one can really go out and listen to this brand of instrumental, classic jazz. A rare opportunity to hear cream-of-the-crop New York players here in Hogtown, each of these concerts would be a great treat for any aspiring horn player! Tickets are $40 and are available at Ticketmaster – and a discount of 15 percent if you attend all four concerts.

6) For piano lovers, mellifluous Cuban-American Manuel Valera heads a trio at the Rex on June 20 and 21, and energetic B3 specialist Joey DeFrancesco plays the Horseshoe Tavern with his trio on July 25. Jazz Bistro features several solo piano shows of note, including Bill Mays on June 22, Gerald Clayton on June 23 and two shows per night by the Oliver Jones Trio on June 27 and June 28. Singer-pianists are a rare breed of awesome; the Bistro is expecting to sell out when London, England’s Ian Shaw performs on June 25, and the whole family can enjoy free lunchtime performances in Nathan Phillips Square led by two Canadian singer-pianists who are also exquisite songwriters: the Elizabeth Shepherd Quartet on June 23 and Laila Biali Trio on June 25; Shepherd also performs two intimate evening concerts at Musideum, 7 and 9pm on June 21.

7) String along! For guitar lovers, there are some excellent resident musicians such as the Fraser Melvin Band at Gate 403 on June 20, the Eric St. Laurent Trio at Painted Lady on June 26 and Mark Sepic at Relish on June 28; and several big tickets, including John Scofield on the Main Stage on June 26 and futurist Bill Frisell performing “Guitar in the Space Age” at the Jane Mallett Theatre on June 28. 

1909 InTheClubs28) Toronto native Beverly Taft is one of this city’s busiest jazz vocalists – she is performing four gigs at the festival: at Musideum with pianist Robi Botos on June 24 and in various ensembles at the Dominion on Queen; back to back on June 22 from 1 to 4pm with George Westerholm and the York Jazz Ensemble and 5 to 8pm with Sam Murata on violin, Tony Quarrington on guitar and special guest from Japan, pianist Yumi Nakata; and again at the Dominion on June 28 from 4 to 7pm singing bossa nova with Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Jordan O’Connor on bass and Chris Gale on tenor sax. Taft’s is a light instrument that is easy to listen to and her passion for performing this music is always evident. 

9) An exciting talent for her singing, songwriting and performance style, Maylee Todd defines genre in a sense, and though she is far from being a “jazz singer” the Toronto Jazz Festival has wisely booked her to perform at Shops on Don Mills. Comparisons to Björk and Kate Bush are likely, but here is an authentic voice of an exciting individual, not to be missed! I’m sad to miss this one myself (I’m playing at Paupers at precisely the same time!) but I will be visiting mayleetodd.com for future dates and following her on Twitter at @mayleetodd to find out where she will be next!

10) Now here’s a concept: live jazz performances at music stores! Leading up to the Jazz Festival, the 333 Yonge Street location of HMV will present three live performances at 6pm called “The HMV Underground”: the Mike Downes Trio, led by JUNO-winning bassist extraordinaire (June 16); Myriad3 (Chris Donnelly on piano, Dan Fortin on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums, June 17); and the arresting voice of Eliana Cuevas (June 18). This is a wonderful opportunity to hear these artists up close and get an autographed copy of their recordings. What better way to get people back into the music stores?

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Sound, Music and Nature's Song

1909 NewMusicAs we head into the summer season, spending time outside in the natural world is the one thing most of us eagerly look forward to after enduring the long winter months. And even though we are now witnessing the incredible enduring force of nature bursting with new growth all around us, we also know deep in our guts that life as we know it on the planet is in trouble. Already many places are experiencing the effects of climate change, super storms, rising sea levels, drought, and on and on. It has been argued by many that one of the reasons that we are in this situation is that collectively as an industrialized culture, we have lost our sense of deep respect for being in relationship and communion with nature. Our technological and unlimited growth ideologies have led to widespread misuse of the earth and its resources. So, one of the questions that I ask in response to these difficult issues is how can musical practice and sound itself cultivate a restored relationship and connection with the earth, with the land, with the natural world.

June: Since the early 1970s, Canadians have been pioneers in the field of acoustic ecology and soundscape studies, beginning with the groundbreaking work of composer R. Murray Schafer and his colleagues at the World Soundscape Project. So it is no surprise that Schafer is one of the keynote speakers in the upcoming “Sound in the Land – Music and the Environment” festival at the University of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel College. Running from June 5 to 8, the festival/conference is the brainchild of composer Carol Ann Weaver, who is part of the music faculty at Conrad Grebel.

During a conversation I had with Weaver about her vision and motivation for creating a series of Sound in the Land festivals (2004, 2009, 2014), she spoke passionately of her love for the stillness and beauty of the wilderness. From these experiences she has cultivated a creative practice focused on listening to the soundscapes of nature and composing music in response to what she hears. It is this quest to recreate the magical moments in nature that inspired her to pull together this uniquely focused multi-disciplinary event in order to delve more deeply into the relationship between music and the natural world. The festival will combine concerts, workshops, keynote speakers and academic paper presentations to create a cross-pollination of ideas, sounds and people and the music of many musical cultures so that the “bruised and broken planet can yet be sung back into new birth.” Appropriately, Schafer’s keynote address is titled “Hearing the Earth as Song.”

Although the conference occurs early in the month after many WholeNote readers may have received their summer issue, the festival provides an important context for these larger questions of how musical practice can participate in the restoration of the planet.

The festival concerts range from soundscape music to European-based chamber, orchestral and choral, alongside African-themed, Korean, Balinese, Argentinian and First Nations music. For early risers, there will be a dawn soundwalk on June 7 and on June 8, a dawn concert at Columbia Lake that will include some of Schafer’s music specifically written to interact with the natural environment. It will also include works by composers Emily Doolittle and Jennifer Butler, both of whom have been profoundly influenced by their longtime involvement in Schafer’s wilderness collaborations. These words by Schafer sum it up: “Sing to the lake, and the lake will sing back!”

The African Kalahari Desert is also featured prominently in the festival and is the focus of the main evening event on June 7, which combines African traditional songs, African-influenced composed music and the second keynote address, “Hearing Songs from the Earth – Kalahari Soundscapes and Visuals,” by Gus Mills. Mills has spent many years researching African large carnivores and will use recordings and visuals to demonstrate the interaction between the behaviour of these species within an acoustic ecological framework. Earlier in the day, the concerts include a series of compositions created from soundscape recordings as well as the Grebel Gamelan performing traditional music from Bali.

The “Sonic Convergences Concert”on June 6 will feature four orchestral pieces, each highlighting natural themes. Included is Weaver’s piece Kalahari Calls, influenced by her experiences in Africa.  The evening will conclude with Earth Songs by Korean artist Cecilia Kim, a five-part multimedia piece combining music theatre, visuals and Korean traditional music. Texts for two of the songs are from the poetry book Where Calling Birds Gather by Canadian poet John Weier.

One final observation I’d like to make about this festival is to draw attention to the Mennonite legacy of the host college Conrad Grebel and its commitment to promoting nonviolence and justice. It is Weaver’s vision to expand that perspective to include peace and balance for the earth that makes this festival such a landmark event.

Open Ears: It seems that Waterloo is the place to be this June with the return of the Open Ears festival. Now in its 16th year, it runs from June 5 to 15 offering ten days of performances, discussions and installations presented in a range of different venuesand programmed around the overall theme of “Open Stories.” This year, the festival will be running concurrently with an exhibition of contemporary visual art organized by the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA) which runs through to June 29. Some of the Open Ears highlights include Griffin Poetry prize-winner and sound-artist Christian Bök (June 7); a concert combining viola da gamba and the hurdy gurdy (June 9); the Penderecki String Quartet with music inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (June 10); the Nexus percussion ensemble appearing with Sepideh Raissadat, the first female vocalist to publicly perform in Iran after the 1979 revolution (June 13); a performance of Steve Reich’s epic work Drumming (June 14); and an opera marathon, featuring five new Canadian operas (June 15). There’s so much more in this festival; I urge you to check out the Open Ears website.

July: Moving into July and continuing with our theme of music in the environment, we arrive at Stratford Summer Music and onto Tom Percussion Island. From July 15 to July 20, the island will be filled with nine percussion-based instrumental exhibits on display for audiences to engage with, including a tongue drum made from a hollowed-out apple tree trunk, fire drums made from cut and tuned fire extinguishers, a piano dulcimer made from a 110-year old piano flipped on its side and a Dream Gong Maze for you to get lost in. At various times during the week, members of the percussion quartet TorQ will be on the island to perform their own “pop-up concerts” or join with the public in exploring the sounds of these instruments in the outside environment.

The TorQ quartet is in residence this year at SSM; in addition to their presence on Percussion Island they will be offering three concerts as well as running their annual Percussion Seminar designed for university percussion students. Seminar participants will offer outdoor “BargeMusic” performances and will join TorQ and guest faculty member Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic on stage for the three concerts. Zivkovic, who now resides in Germany, is world-renowned as an expressive marimba and percussion artist and as a masterful composer. His works will be showcased on the July 25 concert, including his piece Tak-nara that features more than 75 instruments on stage. On July 20, TorQ will join with the Larkin Singers to perform works written for choir and percussion by Eric Whitacre, Riho Maimets and Colin Eatock. Their final concert on July 27 will include the Canadian premiere of the 99-percussionist version of environmental composer John Luther AdamsInuksuit.

Other new music events at Stratford Summer Music include a panel discussion on percussion music at the annualHarry Somers Forum and a return visit bythe Bicycle Opera Project, who will have pedalled from Waterloo after their performance in the Open Ears opera marathon earlier in June. The bicycle performers provide a car-free alternative to touring along with two collections of short operas and excerpts, including pieces recently talked about in this column: L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime and Airline Icarus by Brian Current and Anton Piatigorsky.

August: As mentioned earlier, the process of listening is of utmost importance in fostering this deeper relationship with nature. And one of most accomplished proponents of the importance of listening is American composer Pauline Oliveros, who has evolved a unique approach to not only music and performance, but also one that has influenced literature, art, meditation, technology and healing. She calls this process “Deep Listening,” and describes it as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear, no matter what one is doing.” This requires a heightened consciousness of the world of sound and the sound of the world, encompassing the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination and dreams.

In one of my first personal encounters with her many years ago, she took a small group of us out into a forest to engage in this more expanded experience of listening. Not only did we listen to the soundscape, but she introduced a simple vocal composition (Sonic Meditations) during which we sang and intentionally directed our sounds to the trees around us. “They need to hear our sounds,” she said simply. This experience not only opened up a world of possibilities for my own work with sound, but this paradigm establishes a template for how we can communicate nonverbally with all living beings. It creates a model for a co-existent and reciprocal relationship, using sound and its vibrations as a vehicle for connection. In a recent correspondence I had with her, I asked specifically about her process of attunement with the environment. She stated that “the connection with all things happens through listening. When I perform it is my intent to listen inclusively to all that I can possibly hear. Inclusive listening seems to be magnetic. I have had many experiences with birds and insects gathering around me in outdoor concerts.”

Her work also challenges traditional artistic values by subtly moving the focus away from the artistic work as a separate entity and inviting each of us to open up how we are perceiving all layers of any given soundmaking or artistic experience. Her goal is to “balance out, and come to a different understanding of what can be done.” These ideas are central to cultivating our relationship with nature and expanding how we imagine sound as a significant ingredient of this connection.

In August, Toronto audiences will have an opportunity to experience her Deep Listening work. She will be delivering a keynote lecture at the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium on August 15 and will be giving a solo performance on August 16. She will also be doing an artist talk as part of the Sound Travels Intensive that begins on August 19. All these events are organized by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) and more details can be found on their website.

QUICK PICKS

Toronto Music Garden concerts: Kahnekaronnion (The Waters): Original songs by the Akwesasne Women Singers and compositions by Barbara Croall, July 3.

Bach to the Future: Cello music by Bach, Piatti, Britten, and the world premiere of a work by Michael Oesterle, August 28.

Soundscapades: An exploration of the diverse sounds, landscapes and people of the city of Toronto with TorQ Percussion, September 7.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Welcome to the 20th Century

1909 Classical 1When I first opened up the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s brochure several weeks ago, I was struck by the strength of the initial three concerts running from July 22 to 24: the return of the Emerson String Quartet; the debut of the young pianist Beatrice Rana; and the musical marriage of the Orion String Quartet with Peter Serkin. The festival’s theme – The Modern Age – caught my eye next. “What an enticing idea,” I thought.

As TSO musical director Peter Oundjian observed in his recent Conversations@The WholeNote with David Perlman, it’s a fascinating topic to contemplate. “The eruption of 20th-century musical language – romanticism, polytonal modernists, folk-influenced – opens up a completely new world to so many different styles. I think it’s a very interesting period.”

Three chamber music concerts explore this notion. The first, “Romanticism to Modernity” on July 25, positions Berg and Schoenberg as Romantics about to discard tonal roots, comparing them to Frank Bridge and Richard Strauss. The second, August 1, includes polytonal non-modernists Prokofiev and Shostakovich with folk-influenced Vaughan Williams. The third, August 7, takes another folk-based composer, Dohnányi, and juxtaposes his Sextet for Clarinet, Horn and Piano Quartet with Schoenberg’s arrangement of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer and Schoenberg’s and Berg’s arrangements of three waltzes by Johann Strauss. Stirring the pot, indeed.

I had heard the Emerson, one of my favourite quartets, in Koerner Hall’s opening season, as well as in earlier appearances presented by Music Toronto. The inclusion of Beethoven’s Op. 95 “Serioso” quartet in their program brought back a summer music festival experience two decades ago at Tanglewood, when the Emerson performed the prodigious feat of playing all five of Beethoven’s middle-period quartets in one day. After 36 years, the group’s personnel changed in 2013 with new cellist Paul Watkins. Word is he brings a warmth and sense of humour that may have been previously subsumed by the quartet’s superb technique and infallible drive. Britten’s second string quartet inspired by Purcell (which was recently part of the Pavel Haas Quartet’s soulful WMCT concert) and Schubert’s essential “Death and the Maiden” quartet, complete what looks to be a memorable beginning to music in the city this summer.

I have been looking forward to hearing 20-year-old Beatrice Rana, who won the Audience Award at last year’s Van Cliburn Competition (where the judges placed her second), ever since reading Alex Baran’s glowing review of her Harmonia Mundi CD in the February 2014 issue of this magazine.

Peter Serkin brings a sterling record as a chamber musician to his collaboration with the Orion String Quartet, the quartet-in-residence at Lincoln Center. A program containing quintets by Brahms and Dvořák is a tantalizing prospect.

If having concertmaster Jonathan Crow and other TSO members participating in TSM weren’t enough, the entire orchestra will close out the festival August 12 in their first ever concert in Koerner Hall with a preview of their upcoming European tour which includes Claude Vivier’s Orion. “I have the impression that I’m sitting still on an airplane,” Vivier wrote, describing the piece. “I remain in the same place and yet I go from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur.” The TSO is off to Vienna, Amsterdam, Wiesbaden, Helsinki and Reykjavik.

1909 Classical 2Le Festival de Lanaudière bills itself as the largest festival of classical music in Canada. Located in Joliette, about an hour northwest of Montreal, it includes many artists who rarely travel to Toronto, as well as others who do. Pianists Alain Lefèvre (whose recital July 8 features all 24 Chopin preludes and Ravel’s La Valse) and Dejan Lazić (in a program July 14 ranging from C.P.E. Bach and Scarlatti to Britten and Bartók) fall into the former category while Kristian Bezuidenhout, who recently appeared here with Tafelmusik performing a Mozart piano concerto, gives two recitals (July 15 and 17) devoted to eight Mozart sonatas on a fortepiano built in the late 18th century around the time of the composer’s death.

Beatrice Rana plays the same recital in Lanaudière as in Toronto, two days later. Toronto native Stewart Goodyear offers a varied program July 22 of Berg’s Sonata No.1, Bach’s French Suite No.5 and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

The marvellous Jennifer Koh, whose memorable appearance as the violin-playing Einstein in the 2012 Luminato production of Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach was the heart of the opera, performs two Bach sonatas, Berio Sequenza VIII and John Zorn’s Passagen on July 28.

No less enticing is the July 20 Orford Six Pianos concert which includes Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition, Ravel’s Pavane pour une enfant défunte and Mère l’oye as well as two suites by Khatchaturian. Paavo Järvi and Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen clearly love Brahms. August 2 finds them performing his second symphony along with Lars Vogt in his first piano concerto, while Brahms’ first symphony and violin concerto (with Christian Tetzlaff) can be heard the following evening.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Orchestre Métropolitain in a mostly Wagner program August 6 while Debussy and Ravel help Kent Nagano make a big impression with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra August 8. Erin Wall, Susan Platts, Nagano and the MSO  bring the festival to a close with Mahler’s Symphony No.2  August 9. No Canadian summer festival can match these eight days of significant orchestral firepower. 

The Festival of the Sound’s 35th season offers a star-studded cast of performers in 75 concerts, lectures, cruises, dinners and galas over a three-week period from July 21 to August 10. The first week features the Tiberius, New Zealand and Afiara String Quartets, the Gryphon Trio and Richard and Lauren Margison. Pianist Leopoldo Erice, the Magellan Ensemble, violinists Mark Fewer and Drew Jurecka and the Brodsky and Penderecki String Quartets highlight week two. Ensemble Made in Canada, the Cecilia and Lafayette String Quartets and three notable pianists should make the final week exciting. Alexander Tselyakov, Janina Fialkowski and Jan Lisiecki will each give a recital and a masterclass. Lisiecki will also be in conversation with the inimitable Keith Horner.

Clear Lake: The week before his appearance in Parry Sound, Tselyakov curates the Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival just south of Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba with four packed concerts July 31 to August 3. The week before on July 25, he joins Rachel Mercer, cello, Marie Bérard, violin, Wallace Halladay, alto saxophone, and Leslie Allt, flute, in a wide-ranging program that includes Dvořák’s “Dumky” trio at the KWCMS Music Room, where it’s always a festival regardless of the season.

The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival celebrates their 20th anniversary July 24 to August 7 with several concerts of interest: the Brentano String Quartet (best-known recently as the soundtrack providers for the film A Late Quartet) July 24; James Campbell and the Cecilia String Quartet in contrasting programs July 28 and 29; brothers Jon Kimura and James Parker, Hinrich Alpers and Pedja Muzijevic in a Debussy-Ravel-Stravinsky eight-hand piano extravaganza July 28; Jon Kimura Parker and the Miró String Quartet July 31; the Lafayette String Quartet August 1; Janina Fialkowska in a program almost identical to her Festival of the Sound recital August 1; the Dover String Quartet, winners of the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition, August 3; the Brodsky Quartet August 4, again with Beethoven’s Op.95; and the irrepressible Gryphon Trio August 6.

Stratford Summer Music’s highlight, from my perspective, is the August 1 concert combining the considerable talents of violinist Hilary Hahn with pianist Jan Lisiecki and the Annex Quartet in a program comprised of Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.1 and Chausson’s charming Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear one of the most unusually scored chamber works of the 19th century.

Stratford’s Grand Piano Series showcases three performers ranging from the 14-year-old Daniel Clarke Bouchard (fresh from an appearance on the Ellen TV show) August 6 to 25-year-old Pavel Kolesnikov (Honens International first prize laureate 2012) August 13 and Bicycle Opera Project’s own Wesley Shen August 20 (in a program that includes Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano and Southam’s Glass Houses).

The Indian River Festival, set within sight of beautiful Malpeque Bay in the world-class acoustical setting of St. Mary’s Church on Prince Edward Island, may be the most idyllic and varied festival of any in Canada. A small sampling of their summer-long 13th season finds cellist Denise Djokic and pianist David Jalbert in a recital July 13, the peripatetic Jan Lisiecki appearing July 27, the traditional folk trio Bon Débarras performing August 8 and Patricia O’Callaghan singing Cohen, Piaf and more accompanied by Andrew Downing, bass, and festival director Robert Kortgaard, piano, August 17.

Forest Festival: Yet it’s hard to picture a more quintessential Canadian experience than listening to the Canadian Brass August 12, the acoustic duo of Greg Keelor & Jim Cuddy August 13 and Measha Brueggergosman August 14 at the Bone Lake Amphitheatre in Haliburton. As the Forest Festival puts it: “Imagine sitting in the middle of a forest away from the lights of the city, in an amphitheatre overlooking a lake listening to live music as the sun sets.”

1909 Classical 3Quick Picks

Yuja Wang joins the TSO and conductor Peter Oundjian June 11 and 12 in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 and Shostakovich’s triumphant Symphony No.5.  June 14 the Shostakovich is part of Luminato.

June 15 the TSO brings Luminato to a rousing close with a free outdoor concert in David Pecaut Square with music by Weinzweig, Copland, Bernstein, Piazzolla and Ginastera, among others.

The outstanding Austrian pianist Till Fellner returns to the KWCMS Music Room in Waterloo for a program of Mozart, Bach, Haydn and Schumann August 5.

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

Daniel Lichti’s Jubilee Year

1909 Art SongSchubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise has long been a favourite of mine, initially through recordings and then through a fine performance by the late John Shirley-Quirk in Oxford, sometime in the late 1960s. But there have been two other performances which have been especially memorable: one was by the young Jonas Kaufmann in Edinburgh, the other by Daniel Lichti at St. Thomas Church in Toronto, a much darker reading, as one would expect from a bass-baritone. (Lichti has also recorded the work, with the pianist Leslie De’Ath, on Analekta.) I was therefore delighted to read that Lichti is performing the work, on the occasion of his 40th anniversary as a singer, in Waterloo on July 16 at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society Music Room, and in Toronto on July 20 at Heliconian Hall. The pianist is Ephraim Laor.

Sondra Radvanovsky, who recently dazzled us all in the role of Queen Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, will sing the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Shalom Bard, on June 5 and 7. The TSO is also presenting a Gershwin concert, with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, in which the soloists are Marquita Lister and Lisa Daltirus, soprano, Gwendolyn Brown, alto, Jermaine Smith, tenor, and Alfred Walker, baritone, on June 20 and 21; all at Roy Thomson Hall.

GTA: By June the frequency of concerts starts diminishing but there is a compensation in the arrival of several summer festivals. Of special interest is Toronto Summer Music. This year its focus is on the early 20th century and it will feature modernists like Schoenberg and Bartók as well as late-Romantic composers like Richard Strauss and Vaughan Williams. A number of the concerts offered are vocal recitals: on August 6, baritone Christopher Maltman and pianist Graham Johnson will present a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Great War; the program, “The Soldier – from Severn to Somme,” will include some of the Housman settings by George Butterworth and others, as well as songs by Mahler, Mussorgsky, Ives and Poulenc. The August 7 concert includes the Schoenberg arrangement of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, to be sung by baritone Peter McGillivray. On July 31, Sondra Radvanovsky will perform songs by Verdi, Rachmaninoff, Copland and Duparc. The coaching of young performances has always been central to the programs of Toronto Summer Music. This year eight singers and four pianists have been selected; their mentors are Graham Johnson and the baritone François Le Roux. They will perform on August 8 at noon and 4pm. These concerts are all in Walter Hall, except for the Radvanovsky recital which is in Koerner Hall.

It is common now for singers to end their recitals with crossover items: jazz, musicals, even pop. The results are rarely satisfactory as one has the sense of a classical singer letting her (or his) hair down. But I expect something rather special from Measha Brueggergosman’s recital for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival on June 26. I had the good fortune of hearing Measha Gosman (as she then was) when she was still an undergraduate and what I remember especially were her performances of spirituals. I fully realize that jazz and spirituals are not the same thing but I think she will bring the same intensity to the jazz as she did to the spirituals many years ago. Another singer to hear at the Toronto Jazz Festival is the Spanish vocalist Maria Concepción Balboa Buika, better known by her stage name, Buika. That concert is on June 25; both concerts are at Koerner Hall.

Beyond the GTA: July 5 and 6, with a preview on July 4, the Westben Arts Festival Theatre in Campbellford will present the Toronto Masque Theatre production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneaswith Lauren Segal, mezzo, as Dido and Alexander Dobson, baritone, as Aeneas; directed by Larry Beckwith. On July 10 Donna Bennett, soprano, and Brian Finley, piano, will perform works by Mozart, Robert and Clara Schumann, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. From July 23 to 26 there will be four concert performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera with Mark DuBois and Donna Bennett singing the main parts. On July 27, sopranos Virginia Hatfield and Joni Henson and mezzo Megan Latham will perform the trio from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier as well as music from The Tales of Hoffmann, Madama Butterfly and Carmen.

If you cannot get to Campbellford for Dido and Aeneas, you will have another chance to see it in Parry Sound at the Festival of the Sound on July 30. Lauren Segal is again singing Dido and Peter McGillivray is taking over the role of Aeneas. There will also be songs and instrumental music by Purcell. Also at the Festival of the Sound: Robert Pomakov, bass, will sing Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death on July 22; Richard and Lauren Margison will give a joint recital on July 27; Leslie Fagan, soprano, and Peter McGillivray, baritone, will sing a program of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms on August 1; on August 5 Tom Allen, Lori Gemmell, Kevin Fox, Patricia O’Callaghan and Bryce Kulak will perform in the “Judgement of Paris” – a neat pun, since the performance will be about the rivalry between two Parisian composers, Debussy and Ravel; the Festival will end on August 10 with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in which the soloists are Leslie Fagan, soprano, Marion Newman, mezzo, Michael Colvin, tenor, and Russell Braun, baritone. These performances are all at the Charles W. Stockey Centre. Also at the Festival of the Sound: the Toronto Consort presents “Shakespeare’s Songbook” at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, July 25.

Stratford Summer Music presents several concerts of music associated with Shakespeare, given by the Folger Shakespearean Consort (a recorder group) and the Consort Arcadia Viols. On July 23 “Courting Elizabeth: Music and Patronage in Shakespeare’s England” will present music by Dowland, lyra viol pieces by Tobias Hume as well as consort songs and lute ayres of Shakespeare’s time. The singer is the tenor James Taylor. On July 24 songs with texts by Shakespeare – or quoted by him – will be performed along with an operatic version of The Tempest as well as broadside ballads and country dances. The singer is the countertenor Drew Minter; the lutenist is Mark Rimple. Both concerts are in St. Andrew’s Church. In addition you can hear a discussion of  “An Examination of Shakespeare in Song” on July 24 at 2pm at the University of Waterloo, Stratford Campus with music by Thomas Morley, Robert Johnson and John Wilson. Minter and Rimple will again perform.

The Elora Festival includes the “Da Vinci Codex” with the Toronto Consort on July 15 and “Canada, Fall In! The Great War Remembered in Words, Images and Song” on July 19, both in St. John’s Church; the “Judgement of Paris,” July 18, Richard and Lauren Margison, July 19, “Songs from the Stage and Silver Screen,” July 23, and The Tenors, July 25; all at the Gambrel Barn.

And one other event: “Summer Nights: Languor and Longing” is the title of a recital to be given by soprano Melanie Conly and pianist Kathryn Tremills. The program includes Samuel Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and Les nuits d’été by Berlioz as well as music by Purcell, Weill and Gershwin at the Heliconian Hall, June 19.

Hans de Groot is a concert-goer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Leitmotifs, Topical & Tropical

1909 World 1It’s still May as I write this, yet in that disconcerting way Mother Nature has in Southern Ontario, hot sticky weather’s already suddenly, shockingly arrived. “Why settle for mere spring when you can have summer?” she seems to be asking rhetorically. It almost feels like an ironic taunt coming after that miserably long winter we just endured. But as surely as the arrival of the humidex, BBQs, picnics, heatwaves and dog days – summer’s here to tarry awhile.

One of the first signs of the official arrival of our outdoor music season is the Luminato Festival. Now in its eighth year, it runs Friday, June 6 through Sunday, June 15. Luminato bills itself as “Toronto‘s international multi-arts festival” which for ten days each June transforms Toronto’s “theatres, parks and public spaces with hundreds of events celebrating theatre, dance, music, literature, food, visual arts, magic, film.” Festival artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt and his team’s ambitious aim is to reflect “Toronto as a crossroads of ideas, cultures and traditions.”

In order to navigate through the dozens of concerts scheduled and to get a firm handle on the urban geography of the downtown David Pecaut Square, I spoke with veteran world music programmer Derek Andrews, Luminato’s music curator. “There are two stages at what we call the Festival Hub, the large Pecaut Stage, and new this year: the smaller Slaight Stage.” In addition, the featured site installation this year will lend a suitably tropical feel to Pecaut Square. Luminato has commissioned Cuba‘s Los Carpinteros to design an ingenious surfside-themed environment titled Cardboard Beach stocked with loungers, umbrellas and lifeguard stations.

“One of our themes this year is a celebration of the performing arts of the Americas with a focus on the Caribbean and Latin America, in anticipation of Toronto’s 2015 Pan American Games,” added Andrews. “Audiences will be able to experience a tropical Toronto, with samples of samba, cumbia, reggae and other funky party music. We have also taken the Festival Hub up a notch with three ticketed attractions, The Roots, TV On The Radio and Ziggy Marley.” I’ll train my spotlight on a few of the world music concerts by both local and international musicians. For more, please see our listings and the well-appointed Luminato website.

The Pan American tropical leitmotif is front and centre on June 6. It’s a triple bill opening with Interactivo, the star Cuban music collective layering jazz, funk, soul and rap atop bed tracks of Afro-Cuban rhythms, melodies and harmonies. Singer-songwriter Emeline Michel “the Queen of Haitian Creole song” highlights the island nation’s rara and compass musical genres. JUNO-Award-winning proponent of nouveau flamenco Jesse Cook shares the late evening stage with the Toronto-based Amanda Martinez, with whom he shares an affinity of influences including flamenco, Mexican and South African music.

June 10 four First Nations’ acts grace The Hub in the exciting program “Northern Lights and Music.” Nick Sherman opens the night at 6pm on the Slaight Stage. His songs, deeply rooted in his Northwestern Ontario experiences, are characterised by an “uneasy, yet always fluid transition between unabashed joy and sorrow.” The JUNO-Award-winning five-piece Toronto band Digging Roots follows, co-led by musical partners Raven Kanatakta and ShoShona Kish. Their genre-blending music has been dubbed “Indie roots,” “global blues” and “Aboriginal alternative.” Best I think to hear them live as they access and layer even more vernacular musical styles including hip-hop and reggae with a very good chance of bluesy undertones.

Buffy Sainte-Marie then takes the Pecaut Stage. Certainly among Canada’s most compelling female singer-songwriters, Sainte-Marie’s impressive career spans some two dozen albums. And her Cree heritage is never far from her voice. Wielding her impressive melodic gifts, incisive lyrics and grippingly expressive vocals, she’s perhaps best known for assaying the glories and tribulations of indigenous people across the Americas. While unflinchingly “speaking truth to power” Sainte-Marie is however never afraid to rock out.

Capping the evening the brilliantly innovative Inuk vocalist Tanya Tagaq and her band perform live music to American filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty’s classic silent film Nanook of the North (1922). While widely considered a groundbreaking documentary film it has in recent decades been contested, viewed as being contaminated by directed dramatic scenes in the “salvage ethnography” genre. Tagaq is celebrated for her concerts with Björk and the Kronos Quartet. On this project she digs into her own Nunavut childhood and subsequent musical creations, along with music by Canadian composer Derek Charke, to challenge and reclaim aspects of Flaherty’s feature film, animating the film’s directed silent set pieces with emotive soundscapes.

Toronto Music Garden: I’ve spent many pleasant summer evenings over the years listening and even on occasion playing at Harbourfront Centre’s cool and colourful Toronto Music Garden. The garden was co-designed in 1999 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and landscape architect Julie Moir Messervy to reflect Bach’s Suite No.1 for Cello. No doubt about it, though the imaginatively curated (by Tamara Bernstein) free summer-long concert series held there is on an intimate scale, it’s nevertheless a music festival. It is certainly one of Toronto’s perennial musical treasures. This garden by the lake resounds with culturally diverse concerts most Thursdays and Sundays in the summer. Here’s a sampling.

The season opener on July 3 is titled “Kahnekaronnion” (The Waters). Singing in English and Mohawk, the Akwesasne Women Singers share their songs honouring Hodenausaunee women’s experiences, wisdom and humour. The group is joined by Odawa composer and flutist Barbara Croall performing her compositions on traditional cedar flute.

July 6 marks the Toronto debut of the Vancouver based trio Lalun in “Dreams from Andalusia and the Silk Road.” Featuring the eclectic musicality of Liron Man (hang drum, flamenco guitar), Lan Tung (erhu and vocals) and Jonathan Bernard (percussion), Lalun merges their musical voices in an exploration of Spanish, Chinese and other cultural landscapes.

Vocalist Bageshree Vaze and Vineet Vyas (tabla) return to the Music Garden on July 24. In “Music from the Gardens of India” they present Hindustani classical songs with garden themes, including depictions of the iconic love story of Krishna and Radha in the garden of Vrindavan.

August 14 Jayme Stone’s group takes the space under the imposing overarching willow tree. His “Lomax Project” celebrates the work of famed folklorist Alan Lomax (1915-2002) by reviving, recycling and re-imagining the traditional music he recorded and analyzed. Jayme Stone (banjo, voice) is joined by Eli West (voice, guitar, bouzouki), Margaret Glaspy (voice, guitar), Brittany Haas (fiddle, voice) and Greg Garrison (bass).

Hanabi: Musical Fireworks in the Garden” on August 21 presents garden regulars Nagata Shachu, Toronto’s leading taiko ensemble, in a program inspired by the Japanese word for fireworks. Hanabi combines the kanji characters for “flower” and “fire.” Judging from the sonic power of their drums Nagata Shachu will probably only require a minimal PA.

August 24 the Sarv Ensemble takes the audience on “Seyr-o Safar: A Musical Journey Across Iran.” Joined by virtuoso percussionist Pedram Khavarzamini, the group performs a wide range of folk and classical Persian music in their own arrangements.

Closing the season on September 4 the U.S.-based Veretski Pass Trio, among the world’s most celebrated klezmer ensembles, presents “Jewish Music from the Carpathian Bow.” Their rare repertoire centres on pre-World War II Jewish music from Carpathian Ruthenia, Bessarabia, Ukraine and Romania as well as from the former Ottoman Empire. It’s arranged for accordion, violin, cimbalom, double bass plus other regional traditional instruments, and performed in their compelling virtuoso-raw village style.

1909 World 2TD Sunfest 2014: London, Ontario’s TD Sunfest 2014 celebrates its 20th anniversary as “Canada’s premier free-admission festival of the global arts” from July 3 to July 6. I used to frequent the festival when it was a more modest affair, charmed by its small-town feel. Today TD Sunfest turns downtown London’s Victoria Park into a culturally diverse party where over “35 outstanding world music and jazz groups representing almost every region of the planet entertain on five stages.”

This summer’s headliners include Cuban dance band stars Los Van Van, the “ferocious folk foursome from Manchester, UK” 4Square, and Comas (Ireland/Belgium/USA), a band which bills itself as “a unique blend of traditional Irish music.” Also featured is the Swedish "folk 'appella" quartet Kongero. These four women coax traditional Swedish music out of its rural past, performing it with precision, emotion and humour. Paul White of Soundonsound cheekily quipped that they’reliving proof that Autotune didn’t need to be invented.”

With more than 275 exhibitors and food vendors at TD Sunfest you come for the music and sun, but tarry for the international food, clothes, crafts and camaraderie you find there.

Afrofest 2014: Music Africa presents Afrofest 2014 at Woodbine Park on July 5 and 6, starting at 1pm on both days.

At time of writing the Afrofest programming had not been finalized, but African and Canadian musicians will perform alongside a Children’s Village and African-centric food, artifact and clothing vendors. Visit the Music Africa website for more detailed program information.

May all you wonderful readers have a fun and safe summer filled with comforting as well as challenging sounds from around the world. See you all in the fall.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Early Getaways

1909 EarlyThe Canadian summer is without a doubt one of the worst seasons anywhere in the world. Leaving aside the fact that it’s far too short, and was preceded this year by one of the longest, coldest winters in living memory, it’s still kind of hard to find things to do. I appreciate that Canadians (at least the ones in the Canadian cities where I’ve lived) take it a bit easier over the summer months and let things like having a social life or spending more time with family take precedence over work, but the same rule also applies to most arts organizations in the GTA. They all wound down their seasons in May, and while I know there are some exceptions to this rule, and I respect someone’s right to take vacations and take a couple months to prepare their next season, I’d like to suggest that a musical ensemble or theatre group could get a lot more subscribers if they let their artistic season stretch until June or start up again in August.

Finding things to do over the summer may be a little less obvious than in other months, but if you’re looking to catch some exceptional concerts to see, I have two words for you. Get out. Seriously. The very best concerts this summer are happening outside the city, and if you can escape Toronto for even a few days, you’ll be rewarded by some fabulous summer festivals and a chance to absorb some culture, as well as hear some great and unique music. Check out the lineup for the Montreal Baroque Festival, taking place in downtown Montreal for the weekend of June 19 to 22. Since its inaugural year in 2003, Montreal Baroque has featured some of the finest musicians in the world performing great works of music in interesting, challenging concert programs. The festival used to have pride of place as the first festival of the summer (it starts every St. Jean Baptiste weekend) taking place in Montreal’s most notorious tourist trap, the historic Old Port. It has since moved over to McGill’s main campus on Sherbrooke St., but I expect it will be no less crowded this year. Montreal has a thriving early music scene, and Montrealers come to this festival in droves. If you can make it up to Montreal for the weekend, this festival is a must-see. Check out Tom Beghin’s performance of Beethoven’s monstrous Hammerklavier sonata on fortepiano (in the MMR Studio on Friday June 20 at 5pm and Sunday at 11am) and let me know when you can hear that in concert again. Catch David Monti and Gili Loftus playing Beethoven’s “Spring” and “Kreutzer” sonatas (in Pollack Hall Sunday June 22 at 2pm): rare enough as a concert program, but almost never heard on period instruments in North America. If you’re not into Beethoven, consider two medieval concerts: Ensemble Alkenia performing the music of the 14th-century composer Johannes Ciconia (McGill main campus on Saturday June 21 at 11am) and Ensemble Eya’s concert of troubadour song (McGill main campus on Saturday June 21 at 9am). Add to that the always-solid Les Voix Humaines concert of music for three, four, five and six viols (Redpath Hall on Saturday June 21 at 4pm) and you can easily spend the whole weekend in the concert hall. This is an exceptional festival with some top-tier artists playing music that you rarely get a chance to hear in concert. I strongly advise anyone reading this column to consider clearing their calendar and vacationing in Montreal for that weekend.

 

Stratford Summer Music: If you prefer a day trip to Stratford over a road trip to Montreal, Stratford Summer Music has several concert weekends. If you find yourself there on either July 23 or 24, consider a couple of concerts by the Folger Shakespearean Consort at 7pm that will provide you with the soundtrack to Renaissance England. Songs by the Bard of Avon’s contemporaries, namely John Dowland, Tobias Hume and Thomas Morley, were hits very likely enjoyed by Shakespeare himself. If Shakespeare was enough of an advocate for the arts that he couldn’t trust a man who didn’t enjoy music, it would be well worth the trouble to find what sort of music the playwright liked to listen to.

If you’re no fan of Renaissance music (or just don’t trust Shakespeare as an arbiter of musical taste) Stratford Summer Music is also bringing out Tafelmusik for some very fine chamber music on August 22 and 23. Highlights from these programs include the Bach “Wedding” and “Coffee” cantatas, a Vivaldi bassoon concerto, a Telemann sonata for winds and a Bach violin sonata. These both look to be solid concerts and between Tafelmusik and the Folger Shakespearean Consort, proof that going to Stratford doesn’t need to mean just going to see a play anymore.

Music in the Garden and more: Being stuck in Toronto all summer doesn’t mean you miss out on everything. If you’re unable to get out of the city, consider visiting the Toronto Music Garden, 479 Queen’s Quay W., a unique concert space by the waterfront that functions as its own mini-escape from the tumult of the city. This summer, the Toronto Music Garden is presenting a program of early music by some young up-and-coming musicians. On Sunday July 13 at 4pm, members of the New York-based period chamber ensemble Gretchen’s Muse will present Haydn’s String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op.33 No.2 (“The Joke”), and Beethoven’s Quartet in C Major, Op.59 No.3. Abigail Karr is the leader of this ensemble and she will be joined by Vita Wallace on violin, Kyle Miller on viola and guest cellist Beiliang Zhu. Zhu also holds the singular honour of being the first person ever to win the Leipzig Bach Competition on a period instrument, so it will be very interesting to hear her perform in a quartet. They will also be appearing the next day at Music Mondays’ free noon-hour concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The Music Garden will also be showcasing another fine young baroque cellist later this summer – Kate Bennett Haynes. Haynes is performing Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello in installments at the Music Garden; Thursday August 28 at 7pm will see her performing Bach’s Suite No. 4 in E-Flat Major in a mixed program that includes Britten and Oesterle. Haynes also happens to be an exceptional artist, and this concert promises to be an intimate and passionate experience.

Finally, a great local group that I’m proud to be playing with will kick off the summer with a concert in Parkdale. Rezonance’s next concert, “Birds, Beasts, and Rustic Revelry,” taking place at Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St. #202, on June 14 at 8pm, is a program that explores Baroque composers’ depictions of nature, and will feature all manner of musical foolishness from the 17th century, including music by Veracini, Schmelzer, Biber and Couperin. Rezonance is led by the young virtuoso violinist Rezan Onen-Lapointe and will be joined by lutenist Ben Stein and cellist Kerri McGonigle. A chance to hear some brilliant performances at this concert, and the music on the program defies anyone to take classical music too seriously.

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Open Ears, Open Minds

Over the course of the 2013/14 concert season I wrote several columns about the challenge that choirs face when programming new music: how to get audiences to risk the price of a ticket on repertoire that is not tried and true, safe and familiar.

One final observation to sum up this theme, before the summer break: most new music for choral ensembles that is not strictly popular falls into the category of “extended tonality.” What exactly is extended tonality?

Twentieth-century music can be viewed as a kind of pitched battle between composers whose work dispensed with the idea that music ought to have a key centre that could help orient the listener and composers who kept elements of traditional harmony and melody even when they were venturing into more experimental territory. The so-called “Second Viennese School” – Schoenberg, Berg, Webern – who began writing what is confusedly known as atonal music and later composers that built on their work, such as Babbitt, Boulez and Stockhausen, are examples of the former, Stravinsky, Britten and Shostakovich, of the latter.

There were many other categories, sub-genres and trends, but very broadly, these were the two opposing camps of musical endeavour that emerged out of the European classical tradition.

Extended tonality won.

1909 Choral

It won in the sense that younger composers generally did not pick up on the atonal experiment in music, and this musical strain now appears to be going the way of cool jazz and the songs of the German meistersingers – intellectually-driven styles that ran aground and seem to have little current appeal to revivalists. Late 20th-century composers did not want to leave behind rock, jazz and world music, influences that operate almost entirely in a tonal framework. Their insistence on integrating these influences in their music placed them firmly in the tradition of earlier composers who had  integrated various types of popular music into their sophisticated compositions.

What does this mean for listeners? Looking at this year’s new composition programming in retrospect, I can state that none of it was music that ought to have sent anyone but the most timid listeners screaming for the exit. So, are you willing to take a chance on something new, knowing that it is not likely to be that weird?

Speaking as someone who will order fish and chips for lunch, dinner or breakfast if possible, I hesitate to be overly judgemental about anyone’s musical menu choices. But it’s time to recognize that we’re living in an era in which composers are reaching out to listeners with alacrity as well as skill and insight. We’re well past the point at which we should be thinking of new music with hostility. So I hope you’ll give some of it a chance this summer, and in the new season as well. Below is a selection of concerts taking place from June to August.

The Ontario Youth Choir was founded in 1971 by the choral organization Choirs Ontario. TheOYC quickly became a vital instrument for generating enthusiasm for choral music among young singers, and for providing an important bridge between children’s choirs and adult ensembles. Each summer 40 talented young singers are auditioned and selected to take part in two weeks of rehearsals, masterclasses and voice lessons, culminating in a short three-city cross-Ontario tour and several concerts. The ensemble is conducted by a different Ontario director each summer. This year Guelph University’s Dr. Marta McCarthy leads the OYC in concerts in Toronto and Midland.

The Open Ears Festival is a great event to attend for those interested in new music – it’s one of my favourite new music festivals around, in part because it always conveys a sense of fun and irreverence in its programming. The Da Capo Chamber Choir will be taking part in the festival with concerts on June 7 and 8. For more information about the festival in general, see openears.ca.          

On June 8 and 14 the Kokoro Singers will be performing inGuelph and Dundas, respectively. Their concert “Celebration of Canadian Composers” features several composers – Mark Sirett, Donald Patriquin and Stephen Chatman among them – who are the most listener-friendly in the country. If you’re looking to ease your way into new music, this is a very good place to start.

On June 11 the Hamilton Children’s Choir performs “Together as One”; the concert is in support of the choir’s tour to Korea.

On June 20 the Adelphi Vocal Ensemble performs“Music for St. John’s Eve,” a concert of English choral music that includes Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor, as well as selections by Tallis and early-20th century composers Harwood and Naylor. The Vaughan Williams mass is an appealing and historically important work that is always worth hearing live.

Speaking of historically significant, this summer Ontarians have two chances to hear the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge. This ensemble dates as far back as the 14th century and has past associations with important composers and conductors. The choir will be performing at the Elora Festival on July 13 and at the Westben Arts Festival on July 19.

On June 7 and 8 the University of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel University College choirs will perform “Sound in the Land: Music and the Environment: Kalahari Journey,” a choral initiative that is part of a larger environmental project to understand the nature of the earth through the medium of sound. The event involves workshops, lectures and events as well as concerts. More information can be found at uwaterloo.ca/grebel/sound-land-2014/about. 

Finally, check out the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound for performances of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers by the Elora Festival Singers on July 29 and of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the Elmer Isler Singers on August 10. The Elora Festival Singers will also be performing several exciting-sounding concerts at their own festival, notably David Fanshawe’s celebrated African Sanctus on July 12. 

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

Summer Harvest

1909 OnOperaWe think of opera season ending with the end of May, but this is by no means the case this year. Three important opera productions take place in June and operatic events occur throughout Ontario in July and August.

First up June 3 to 8 is the world premiere of Airline Icarus by Brian Current to a libretto by Anton Piatigorsky. Icarus is one of the figures in Greek mythology whose story is an example of humanity’s overweening pride. His father Daedalus fashioned waxen wings for himself and his son to escape the labyrinth Daedalus designed. While Daedalus took the moderate path halfway between the sun and the sea, Icarus attempted to fly as high as he could; the sun melted his wings and he plunged into the sea.

In referencing the story, Piatigorsky means to “impart a mythic dimension to the mundane experience of contemporary air travel.” The action is set on board a plane bound for Cleveland and explores the inner thoughts of the passengers and crew on their journey. The cast includes Dawn Bailey, Vania Chan, Sean Clark, Alexander Dobson, Larissa Koniuk, David Roth, Zorana Sadiq, Geoffrey Sirett, Krisztina Szabó, Jennifer Taverner and Graham Thomson. The composer conducts and Tim Albery, best known for his staging of the COC’s Götterdämmerung, directs. The opera runs from June 3 to 8 at Daniels Spectrum. See soundstreams.ca for more information.

From June 12 to 15 is the Toronto premiere of another new opera, Shelter by Juliet Palmer to a libretto by Julie Salverson. A coproduction between Tapestry Opera and Edmonton Opera, Shelter had been scheduled to open last year in Toronto after its world premiere in Edmonton in November 2012. Of the opera, a depiction of a nuclear family in the Atomic Age, Salverson says, “I’ve always been attracted to catastrophic events. Joseph Campbell says to ‘follow your bliss,’ and while most people go after love or fulfillment, I’m drawn to tragedy and the fault lines in the psyche of a culture – the secrets that fester in families, leak quietly into communities and eventually, sometimes, explode. Such is the story of Shelter.” Toronto audiences will remember New Zealand-born Palmer as the composer of the a cappella sewing-machine opera Stitch in 2008 and the women’s boxing opera Voice-Box in 2010. Palmer’s music for Shelter is described as combining the influences of Brahms, big band, funk and the post-apocalyptic sounds of 1990s Japanese punk. The cast includes Christine Duncan, Teiya Kasahara, Andrea Ludwig, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray. Leslie Dala conducts and Keith Turnbull directs.

June gives us not only new operas but older operas presented in new ways. That is what the inventive company Against the Grain Theatre intends with its production of Debussy’s 1902 masterpiece Pelléas et Mélisande. Continuing its mission of performing opera in unconventional places – La Bohème in a pub, The Marriage of Figaro at the AGO – AtG plans to stage Pelléas outdoors in the Max Tanenbaum Courtyard Gardens of the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre at 227 Front St. E. on June 19, 21, 23 and 25. 

Sung in French with English surtitles, Pelléas et Mélisande features an outstanding Canadian cast comprising baritone Étienne Dupuis making his role debut as Pelléas, soprano Miriam Khalil as Mélisande, baritone Gregory Dahl as Golaud, bass Alain Coulombe as Arkel, mezzo-soprano Megan Latham as Geneviève and soprano Andrea Núñez as Yniold. Guest music director Julien LeBlanc provides piano accompaniment, and the same creative team that created AtG’s much lauded 2012 production of The Turn of the Screw is reunited with direction by Joel Ivany, set design by Camellia Koo and lighting design by Jason Hand. 

On June 15, the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener is presenting an opera marathon. First on the bill is the one-person opera Love Songs by Ana Sokolović sung by Kristin Hoff. Next is a series of contemporary opera excerpts from the Bicycle Opera Project (see below). And last is a triple bill of new Canadian operas presented by Essential Opera. Premiered just in April this year, the three are Etiquette by Monica Pearce, Regina by Elisha Denburg and Heather by Chris Thornborrow. Also at Open Ears on June 11 and 12 is the multimedia chamber opera Mirror for soprano and visual artist from Inter Arts Matrix and on June 12 L’Homme et le cielfrom Fawn Opera. 

July: Those with a taste for old operas done in period style should head over to the Westben Arts Festival in Campbellford, a town about midway between Toronto and Ottawa on the Trent-Severn Waterway. There from July 4 to 6, Toronto Masque Theatre will perform Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with the Toronto Masque Theatre Chamber Orchestra and Chorus and members of the Westben Festival Chorus under the direction of Larry Beckwith.

1909 OnOpera2Late July and early August: Summer Opera Lyric Theatre has been a favourite refuge for operagoers in Toronto. This year all of SOLT’s performances fall in August. First to open is The Magic Flute playing on August 1, 3, 6 and 9 with Nicole Bellamy as pianist and music director. Next is Madame Butterfly playing on August 2, 5, 7 and 9 with Narmina Afadiyeva as pianist and music director. And last is a rare chance to see Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa (1958) playing on August 2, 6, 8 and 10 with Raisa Nakhmanovich as pianist and music director. The operas are performed by singers who have joined SOLT to hone their skills and develop their careers. This year’s stellar faculty includes Derek Bate, Kevin Mallon, Marshall Pynkoski, Wayne Gooding, Kathy Domoney, Henry Ingram, Stuart Hamilton, Catherine Robbin, Diane Loeb and Guillermo Silva-Marin.

Farther afield in Haliburton there are performances of the Highlands Opera Studio run by Richard Margison and Valerie Kuinka. On August 13 and 15 HOS presents a double bill of two comic rarities, Donizetti’s Rita (1841) and William Walton’s The Bear (1967). On August 22, 24, 26 and 28 it presents Puccini’s Tosca. One reason Rita is obscure is that the Opéra Comique for whom he wrote it rejected it and plans for performances in Naples fell through. Rita finally received its posthumous premiere in 1860, ironically at the Opéra Comique. It was only in 2009 that a new critical edition of the score was published.

This summer marks the third anniversary of the innovative Bicycle Opera Project that aims to bring contemporary Canadian opera to communities across Ontario that might otherwise not have the opportunity to hear it. According to its website, “The project focuses on operatic repertoire that deals with contemporary issues relevant to all audiences.” The singers and musicians travel from place to place by bicycle along with two trailers full of props, costumes and instruments. In so doing BOP aims to demythologize old ideas of what opera and what opera singers are like.

Their itinerary for this summer includes a stop on June 15 at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener; July 12 and 13 at the Westben Arts Festival; July 25 to 27 at Stratford Summer Music; August 7 and 8 at the Toronto Summer Music Festival; and stops in between in Kingston, Prince Edward County, Belleville, Hamilton, Bayfield, London, Brantford, Waterloo and Guelph.

BOP’s 2014 repertory features short operas A little rain must fall by Chris Thornborrow, Bianchi: A Five Minute Bicycle Opera by Tobin Stokes written especially for the company, (What rhymes with) Azimuth? by Ivan Barbotin and Rosa by James Rolfe as well as opera excerpts from The Brothers Grimm by Dean Burry, Airline Icarus by Brian Current (see above) and L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime. The company includes Liza Balkan, stage director; Wesley Shen, music director; Geoffrey Sirett, baritone; Chris Enns, tenor; Stephanie Tritchew, mezzo; and Larissa Koniuk, Artistic Director and soprano.

Have an enjoyable summer!

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

Band Forays, Past & Ahead

1909 BandStandAs most readers will have observed by now, summer has finally arrived. I’m torn between duty and the desire for pleasure. The editor tells me that my deadline was yesterday, but my brain tells me that the vista of a cloudless sky has more appeal than the computer screen in front of me. However, it is time to reflect on a few of the musical happenings of the past month. For many in the band world it has been spring concert season, time to display to their audiences the fruits of their musical labours over the past dreary months. This year, for me it has been more as an audience member than as a band member.

The first of my visiting forays took me to Oshawa and a concert by the Clarington Concert Band and their guests, the County Town Singers. After an absence of a few years, this band is once again in the capable hands of Mr. Barrie Hodgins as director. The feature of the evening was a performance of a work composed and conducted by renowned Canadian composer Howard Cable. As an introduction to this work, Howard explained to the audience how he came to write it. During a visit to Alberta, he had been challenged by a rancher about many of his works with an “Eastern Canada” theme. Too much about Quebec, Newfoundland and other aspects of the East. Where were his compositions about the ranches and other features of the West? The result was McIntyre Ranch Country. For our pleasure it was conducted by the composer himself. As for other Canadian content, the band played an excellent arrangement by Eddie Graf of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, and the County Town Singers gave us Lydia Adams’ arrangement of We Rise Again.

 My next outing couldn’t have been more different. After a visit to a rehearsal of The East York Concert Band, I attended their Spring concert. What a contrast to any other band concert that I have ever attended. The concert was in the large, beautifully appointed hall of Saint Clement of Ohrid Macedonian Orthodox Cathedral in Toronto. When we arrived there were already a large number of people seated at tables at the rear of the hall enjoying food and drink prior to the concert. We sat near the front in a section without tables. Apparently, as part of the cooperation between the band and the cathedral, the ladies’ auxiliary of the cathedral do the catering for a broad spectrum of delicacies for the audience to enjoy with the music. In case you were wondering, there was a wide selection of drinks available with the food. Yes, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages were being served and consumed in a church on Sunday. It certainly did not detract in any way from the imaginative program, titled “Once Upon a Tune.”

The atmosphere of the evening reminded me very much of cabaret-style concerts offered many years ago by the York Regional Symphony under the direction of the late Clifford Poole. These, billed as “Wine and Cheese Concerts,” were performed in several small communities throughout the York Region. Admission for a couple included a bottle of wine. There were cheese and crackers on each table. At each large round table, two seats were to be left vacant. There were a number of intermissions where orchestra members would go into the audience and occupy these empty chairs. The inevitable “what instrument do you play” was frequently followed by such comments as “what does it look like.” After each intermission these audience members would locate the instruments in the orchestra, and be more aware of the role each played. It was a great way to get the audience and players involved.

New Horizons: During the past month I had the opportunity to learn more of New Horizons’ activities in this part of the country. First it was off to Peterborough to experience a day in their lives. What a day, even as an observer without playing a note, it was almost non-stop. In the morning there were two large distinct bands preparing for concerts in two parts of the building. After an hour lunch break it was back observing two different, more senior, groups in rehearsal. Every once in a while, someone would get up from a seat in the band and move to the other room, pick up a baton and conduct that other band. All of this was in preparation for their final concert on May 30.

My hat, which I rarely wear, must go off to Dan Kapp of the Toronto group for his energy and commitment. From that beginning single small group, he has guided the organization, taught and conducted to the present situation with 160 members in seven band classes. He is looking forward to the next group of prospective members with this year’s “Instrument Exploration Workshop” scheduled for the evening of Friday, September 12.

One of the most impressive aspects of both of these New Horizons groups that I visited was the open door inclusion of many who would never ordinarily have the opportunity to play music in a group. Canes, walkers and wheelchairs are a common sight. Two people in particular are worthy of special mention. Randal Pilson of the Toronto band and Devon Wilkins in Peterborough are totally blind. Of all of the instruments that he might have chosen, Randal plays the bass trombone, while Devon plays flute. In Devon’s case, her guide dog, Vestor, lies quietly by her side throughout the performance. Devon also serves on the board of the band. When you see that in a musical group, you know that there is complete inclusion and acceptance. 

Just down the road: Then there is the NABBSS. The North American Brass Band Summer School is a new venture jointly supported by the Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo Society and the Buffet Group. The summer school is based on well-established models in Britain. Participants will receive tuition from a team of Buffet soloists on the traditional British all-brass band style, and will explore some of the newest brass band repertoire in a series of workshops and rehearsals. Although participants will not be doing any marching, they will be dressed in uniform and perform on the tattoo stage together with the massed bands. For those not familiar with it, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo has been an annual event in Halifax for 35 years and is billed as the “World’s Largest Annual Indoor Show.”

The camp will be under the direction of noted conductor Dr. Robert Childs, supported by a group of clinicians on all of the instruments of a traditional brass band. Among the instructors will be euphonium soloist David Childs, son of Dr. Childs, who was the featured soloist with the Hannaford Street Silver band a couple of years ago. It all takes place in Halifax from June 28 to July 8. Our household is already signed up and plans are well developed to get ourselves and our instruments ready for what promises to be an interesting new approach to our music making.

Looking ahead: Toronto is to have a new community band. To be located in the west end of the city, the Toronto Concert Band will rehearse Tuesday evenings in John G. Althouse Middle School, starting in September. With its tag line, “We Love to Play,” the Toronto Concert Band’s stated mission is “to create a positive and supportive environment in which to cultivate musicianship.” In short, TCB promises an enriched musical experience for its members. Everyone is welcome to join, including amateur community players, post-secondary students and professionals who want to play in the community. The founding conductors are Ken Hazlett and Les Dobbin, both with long careers in music education. For more information visit their website:
torontoconcertband.com.

Steve Fuller: It is with sadness and a sense of loss that we announce the passing of Steve Fuller, another longtime member of the band community in Toronto. A retired high school biology teacher, Steve’s life was focused around music. After open heart surgery some years ago, he worked hard at recovery and began active playing again. Then, about a year ago, he was back in hospital for some weeks. Shortly after his release, I was speaking with him and he was back playing and talking about reactivating his beloved saxophone quartet. I hadn’t heard from him for a while and was going to call when I received the news of his passing.

Definition Department

 This month’s lesser known musical term is: col legno: An indication to cellists to hold on tight with their lower extremities. 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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

A Name to Know

1909 JazzNotesOnce a year WholeNote puts out an issue that covers more than one month and this edition is the lucky or unlucky one depending on your point of view. On this occasion I thought I would take the opportunity to write a few words about a musician with whom I recently spent time in Vienna, Austria.

At a time when the dream of most young guitar players was to become proficient at playing three chords enabling them to play the blues and so call themselves musicians, there were a few who set their sights a little higher. One of them was a young man in Huntington Beach, Southern California. His name? Howard Alden, destined to become one of the finest jazz guitarists of his or any other generation.

The beginnings are familiar – a piano at home on which by age five he was picking out tunes and an old banjo gathering dust – a four-string model which set him on his destined path.

Those of you who are not dyed-in-the-wool fans may not recognize his name, but if Woody Allen is one of your favourites, you would have certainly heard him on one of his soundtracks. An early influence was Roy Clark on Hee Haw and his playing certainly took a change in direction when he was exposed to the music of Goodman and Basie.

A phone call from Allen in the late 90s opened yet another door for Howard when the director asked him if he would be willing to coach the principal actor for his upcoming movie Sweet and Lowdown, whose role required him to play the guitar.

The actor was Sean Penn and what Howard assumed would take a few weeks turned into six months of intensive work during which time he and Sean developed a warm relationship.

If you would like to hear the real thing in person, Howard will be in town for one night, Thursday, October 30, at the Old Mill Toronto.

Have a happy summer and spend some of it listening to live jazz. 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

21C – Beauty and Courage

1908-InWithTheNew-WeiweiLanSomething new is coming to town in May – a festival of music unlike any other. Aptly named 21C, this 21st century music festival produced by the Royal Conservatory spotlights new creation across the musical spectrum. The brainchild of Mervon Mehta, executive director of performing arts at the RC, the festival offers eight concerts over five nights, with 20 premieres, and runs from May 21 to 25. I sat down with festival composer-consultant Brian Current to get a first-hand overview of what awaits the listener and why this festival is so unique. Put simply, he describes it as a festival of “beauty and courage.” The combination of concerts offers an opportunity for the people of Toronto to come and listen to who we are musically, and to hear our city proudly reflected back. It’s a celebration of what’s alive and vibrant in our collective lives at this time.

Many of the performers and composers involved in the festival are people whom Mehta has brought in to perform inside the acoustical wonders of Koerner Hall, which opened its doors in 2009. Mehta approached many of these artists to either write something new for the festival or to come as guest performers. His vision is to reach out to many different musical communities and in so doing, offer each audience the opportunity to hear something familiar and something unexpected. Thanks to its main benefactor, Michael Koerner, the festival is scheduled for a five-year run and over that time will be an extraordinary opportunity to build trust with the listeners of Toronto. The concerts will also be live-streamed online so it also offers an opportunity to generate an international audience.

Read more: 21C – Beauty and Courage

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