Virtuoso Violins Piano Prodigies

beat - classicalAnne-Sophie Mutter was only 22 years old when she started her first foundation in aid of young string players; it was limited to the area of Germany at the foot of the Black Forest where she was born. As a teenager if had become clear to her – she told me in a recent telephone conversation – that “we string players sooner or later run through the same circle of problems mainly to do with finding the right teacher but also with finding an instrument which can be a musical partner for life, and hopefully financially obtainable as well. So my first foundation was sort of a tryout, how I could help younger colleagues.”

Now in its 16th or 17th year, the Circle of Friends of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation provides instruments for the foundation’s chosen scholars as one attempt to help. Another is commissioning new works. The Toronto program of Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Mutter Virtuosi in Roy Thomson Hall on November 21 opens with a commission by the Circle of Friends for double bass -- Ringtones by the American Sebastian Currier.

“Obviously throughout history the double bass has been one of the important pillars of the orchestra but there have been very few solo performers,” she said. “Roman Patkoló was one of my first scholars and I was totally blown away by his talent, by his artistry and great passion,” she continued. So even though her original plan had not included the double bass that much, it became “really a main focus of my foundation” with four pieces commissioned for Patkoló starting with “a beautiful double concerto” written and recorded by André Previn, “a very pizzazz-y solo piece by Penderecki,” as well as “a very intellectual spherical piece” by Wolfgang Rihm.

Ringtones is a very serious piece but also leaves room for fun,” she continued, explaining that it’s a way to build a case for the virtuosity of the bass. Showing off her sense of humour, she dead-panned: “Ringtones are for the very first time in a concert welcome!”

As to what it’s like to perform with her students and former students -- who comprise the Mutter Virtuosi with whom she’s sharing the RTH stage – she recounts how when she was 13, Karajan treated her as an adult, addressing her with the German equivalent of “vous,” not “tu,” which would be normal in speaking to a 13-year-old. She points this out to indicate that experience and age are irrelevant to the “all-embracing strength of musical language.”

“No matter how young we are,” she went on. “At the end of the day it’s really your personal viewpoint, and of course, a certain skillfulness, that we only have to share.

“Of course I’m looking with great love and devotion into the lives of the ones I’ve been a small part of for 10 or 15 years and it’s beautiful to see how all of them have found their place in music... it is really the Olympic ideal to make the best out of what you have that is the driving force behind the [foundation’s] selection process.”

Mendelssohn’s great Octet is on the program in Toronto, so I asked Ms. Mutter why she admires the composer so much. Her answer was especially revealing. She began by saying that it was only eight or ten years ago she re-started learning the Violin Concerto:

“My wonderful teacher Aida Stucki never seemed to be quite taken by what I did with the piece and I never felt quite free with what my vision was. So it wasn’t one of the pieces I felt comfortable with and when it was up to me to decide what repertoire I would delve into I thought, ‘Well if no one likes my Mendelssohn playing, I’ll just stop playing it.’

“Then many years ago, I think around Kurt Masur’s 75th or 80th birthday [80th in fact, in 2007] he said ‘I want a gift from you: Restudy the Mendelssohn and let’s do it together.’ Of course, when Kurt Masur wishes something I’ll go to the end of the world for him, so the least I could do was restudy the piece and come to different conclusions. And he gave me wonderful insights.

“I came to admire Mendelssohn as the humanist he was and actually today he’s for me a perfect example of what I expect a musician to be, also [what I expect] of the younger generation: someone who is socially engaged and open-minded and goes with open eyes through life.”

She explained that Mendelssohn built the first music school in Germany for “students of all cultural and financial backgrounds,” and of course, “he resurrected Johann Sebastian Bach.” She summed up her feelings: “Somehow I seem to admire an artist in general even more if he also turns out to be a useful member of human society, apart from being very skillful at what he’s doing.

“Obviously the Octet stands for all these qualities. There’s such a beautiful quote from Mendelssohn who used to say, particularly about the Octet, that when he is writing or making chamber music he hopes that it is ‘like a conversation between very well-educated and interesting friends.’

beat - classical 2“And this is pretty much how I feel when I am playing with my young colleagues. We all bring our own viewpoints to it and there’s a lot of freshness and passion in the air, which is the main ingredient really of rediscovering what we think we know.”

I had read that Ms. Mutter had recently begun using a baroque bow to perform Bach, so I asked her if she would be using one in the Toronto performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, only to discover that new regulations involving animal materials made it difficult to bring even copies to North America. She told me that she will continue to play Bach with it wherever she is able mainly “because the original phrasing in the Bach scores is only to be obtained by bows which are much lighter in the frog [the bottom part of the bow that is nearest to the hand] which was the case in Baroque times.”

While they don’t use baroque bows in their playing of the Vivaldi, it’s nevertheless much less dense and more transparent playing today than what she thought was proper in the 1980s. In Toronto she and her Virtuosi would be keeping that “transparent and very airy sound in mind, for sure.”

I was quite curious about what led Ms. Mutter to take up the violin as a child since I knew that she didn’t come from a family of musicians. She spoke of growing up “kind of a tomboy” with two older brothers in a house with a lot of classical music and literature. Her father was a journalist who later became a newspaper editor. As engagement presents her parents gave each other recordings by Furtwängler and by Menuhin. “That shows how much that was part of their life and how much that became part of our life at home.”

“We listened to a lot of classical music as well as jazz,” she continued. “And that is probably the reason for my deep-rooted love of jazz because I felt so comfortable and basically soaked it up like mother’s milk.

“So for my fifth birthday – it must have been the constant presence of that violin sound which made me want to try it for myself. And I’m still trying it,” she added, almost seriously.

I asked her about the violinists who made an impression on her in her youth and the depth of her answer was quite telling: “The great, unforgettable David Oistrakh definitely left the deepest impression: his presence on stage, the warmth of his personality. I remember there were students sitting literally at his feet ... Yes, I was six years old and he played the three Brahms sonatas.

“A few years later I was fortunate enough to hear Nathan Milstein who became another of my [favourites]; I obviously also played with Menuhin at a later stage of his life; I heard Isaac Stern in person; I was rather close to Henryk Szeryng. I was really very fortunate to hear all of these icons of violin playing at a still fabulous age and in great shape.”

As to what makes a great violinist great, Ms. Mutter responded that “we’re all trying to be a well-rounded musican.” She finds the idea of being a specialist rather boring, caught up with technical details and perfecting them without really having the scope to see the bigger picture. She thinks it’s wonderful that the violin is “an instrument which is best in company with someone else, with another musical partner.” At the same as she extols the virtues of “just being a useful part of the whole” she says, “Of course you have to find – as violinist, pianist or conductor – you have to find an angle where music is newly or freshly or whatever ... it has to bring a spark to something.”

She spoke of shattering the illusion of the listener who might think he knows what you’re playing already and may feel slightly tired of it. “Of course that illusion has to be taken away the moment that the particular artist goes on stage,” she explained. ”Then it really has to be totally fascinating.” When I enthusiastically agree, she responds, “Hopefully.”

Her extensive discography which began when she was just 15 – Deutsche Grammophon celebrated her 35-year recording career with a 40-CD box set last year and her 25-year collaborative partnership with pianist Lambert Orkis was marked with The Silver Album, a 2-CD compilation this year – prompted a question about what, if anything in the violin repertoire she looks forward to recording.

“Sadly, sadly, of course life is too short,” she responded. She is fascinated, she went on to say, with the great encores that Jascha Heifetz used to play, “a repertoire that is sadly, frowned upon in German-speaking countries.” Listening to two CDs over the course of an evening recently, she remarked how struck she was by the “nobility of this great violinist,” and that for the next few months she would be exploring this repertoire. Beyond that? “The repertoire is endless – you can go in this direction or that, ...Walton, ... Barber, more contemporary music ... the Beethoven string quartets.”

“Yes, Paul, it’s kind of [a mock scream over the phone, as if saying it’s all too much to contemplate]” I counter that it’s something to look forward to; “One after the other,” she replies.

There is so much to do. Even as she takes the Mutter Virtuosi on their first North American tour, their New York appearance is just one part of Carnegie Hall’s Anne-Sophie Mutter Perspectives in which all facets of her musicianship will be on display, from her recent appearance in the Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle at the beginning of October, to the Annual Isaac Stern Memorial Concert November 11 (with Orkis on piano for Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata, and a performance of Currier’s Ringtones with Patkoló), to a concert next spring with Yefim Bronfman and Lynn Harrell (including Beethoven’s “Archduke” trio). Playing Sibelius, Berg and Moret with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphony completes the six-concert series.

WholeNote readers will be interested in the fact that the Mutter Virtuosi Carnegie Hall concert on November 18 will be live-streamed and available on for view for 90 days thereafter. Like the concert in Toronto three days later,  the program includes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but instead of Mendelssohn and Currier the Carnegie program features Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043 and André Previn’s.

What does she think about the live streaming, I ask. “It’s not downloadable but you can look at it and get horrified from another angle,” she jests, before adding more seriously: “I feel very honoured [because very few concerts are being streamed].”

So anyone going to the November 21 Roy Thomson Hall concert (or contemplating it) will be able to get a sneak preview in the few days before, or more likely cement a memory of parts of the Toronto concert any time through mid-February.

beat - classical 3Jan Lisiecki: Like Mutter, Calgary-born pianist Jan Lisiecki began music lessons at five and started recording for Deutsche Grammophon as a teenager (he was 17). He will bring his musical sensibilities to Beethoven’s third, fourth and fifth piano concertos in a series of concerts with the TSO November 12 to 22. I was fortunate several summers ago to hear Alfred Brendel play all five of the concertos with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood and I can’t overstress what a pleasure such concentrated exposure can be. Guest conducting the TSO will be Thomas Dausgaard who has paired each concerto with a symphony by his Danish countryman, Carl Nielsen. Nielsen, a contemporary of Sibelius, is known for his energetic post-romanticism, and he was quite explicit about the life force music represented to him. Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable” is particularly expressive in this vein, having been composed during the first half of the First World War. It’s paired with Beethoven’s most lyrical piano concerto, the Fourth, November 12 and 13.

beat - classical 4Itzhak Perlman: Like Mutter, Izhak Perlman is a towering figure on the world violin stage and occupied as well with music education. His upcoming RTH recital December 1 with pianist Rohan De Silva crosses three centuries with music by Vivaldi, Schumann, Beethoven and Ravel. At his concert here two years ago with collaborator De Silva, he introduced the entire post-intermission part of the program from the stage, with the joyful aplomb of a Borscht Belt kibitzer. Any opportunity to hear what he cals his “fiddle playing” should not be missed.

Leon Fleisher: For many years this city has been fortunate to have Leon Fleisher in its midst. As the occupant of the inaugural Ihnatowycz Chair in Piano at the Royal Conservatory, his presence has been felt in teaching, conducting, performing, examining and giving masterclasses. On November 25 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, he will appear on stage in a Q & A after the screening of the fully packed 17-minute film, Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story, which documents his battle to overcome focal dystonia, a movement disorder that affected the use of the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand. Watching him rise from the depths of despair at the peak of his concert career to remake his life as a musician is thrilling to behold. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet him in person.

beat - classical 5Three days later on November 28, Fleisher conducts the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in a program that includes Mozart’s Symphony No.39 and Brahms’ Symphony No.3. On the mornings and afternoons of November 29 and 30 he will give masterclasses in Mazzoleni Hall. He will share a musical legacy traceable back to Beethoven directly through his teacher Artur Schnabel and Schnabel’s teacher Theodor Leschetizky who studied with Carl Czerny who studied with Beethoven. Anton Kuerti can claim a similiar connection through another pupil of Leschetizky, Mieczysław Horszowski, who taught Kuerti.

The evening at the Bloor also includes the feature-length, documentary Horowitz: The Last Romantic, a true curiosity by the noted filmmakers Albert and David Maysles (best know for Salesman, Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter). The impish pianist and his shrewd wife Wanda (Toscanini’s daughter) are filmed in their apartment where Horowitz is recording an album at the age of 81. The up-close camerawork devoted to his fingers is just one of the attractions of this fascinating film.

Bavouzet and the LPO: Coincidentally, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who recently played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at RTH October 17 with an energetic London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, suffered from functional dystonia that affected his right hand from 1989 to 1993. In the Prokofiev Bavouzet moved confidently from wistful calm to devilish passagework, from idiosyncratic note picking to mysterious pianissimos as he revealed the composer’s Russian soulfulness. In the evening’s other major work, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.8, the LPO displayed great clarity and airiness including wonderful sound clashes, vibrant searing melodies in the strings, terrific brass work and yeoman flute playing that set up the intermittently febrile march of the second movement  and the sardonic third before the gratifying, sombre conclusion.

And So Much More: MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship-winner Jeremy Denk leads a parade of world-class pianists into November’s concert halls. He’s followed by the inimitable Richard Goode, the dynamic aestheticism of Simon Trpčeski, the elegance of Angela Hewitt (in a program that ranges far and wide from Bach and Scarlatti through Beethoven’s Op.110 to Albéniz and Liszt), to Mooredale Concerts’ “Piano Dialogue” between David Jalbert & Wonny Song and the adventuresome Christina Petrowska Quilico whose name is often found in the pages of TheWholeNote’s CD section.

And then there’s the Dover Quartet, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Cecilia String Quartet, the Windermere String Quartet, the Zuckerman Chamber Players, the Canadian Brass, Leonidas Kavakos & Yuja Wang, Dmitri Levkovich ... It goes on and on. Like Tchaikovsky, Danny Kaye’s famous tongue-twister of a patter song, name after name, concert after concert. What riches there are to be found in this issue’s listings.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote. He can be reached at

Music in Focus at the AKM

beat - world1In my last column I briefly introduced the new museum in town, one which is positioning itself to be a significant world music venue and curator: the Aga Khan Museum. Having opened its doors only in the third week of September, its inaugural music festival featured the renowned Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, a group which has collaborated since 2000 with the Aga Khan Music Initiative in concerts elsewhere.

Music is one of the prime “focus areas” of the Aga Khan Development Network, the larger entity behind the museum: the proof is that five groups are being presented in November and four in December. But is the museum really positioned to “become both major cultural destination and player in very short order” as touted by James Adams of The Globe and Mail, or “a vital new addition to Toronto’s cultural landscape” as augured by David Dacks of the Music Gallery?

As I promised, I set out to take a closer look at the AKM and its music programming. I arranged an interview and tour with Amirali Alibhai, the AKM’s head of performing arts and chief architect of its curatorial vision.

I made my trek to the stretch of Don Mills where the museum is sited, north of Eglinton Ave. and between Don Mills Rd. and the D.V.P., on a cool, rainy October weekday afternoon. To a downtowner it may seem “up there” on a mental map, but on an actual map of Toronto, it is not far from the geographic centre of the city. Located on Wynford Dr., the museum is across the street from the notable modernist mid-century Raymond Moriyama-designed Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre where I’ve enjoyed many memorable cultural events, and only a few blocks north and east of the Ontario Science Centre.

Coming face to face for the first time with the imposing white stone-clad AKM building, the new museum on the block’s standards of architectural excellence are self-evident. The 10,000 square-metre building, the design of prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, skillfully melds postmodern and Islamic design elements and aesthetics. The monolithic building itself is set in a formal garden within expansive grounds where multiple black infinity pools form a traditional char bagh, a Persian-style four-part garden. The pools evocatively reflected and reframed the rainy Don Mills sky as I walked up to the museum’s dramatic front entrance.

Amir Alibhai led me directly to the 336-seat auditorium, the primary venue for music performances. With teak floors and stage, graced with a high, multifaceted white dome, it’s one of the architectural focal points of the AKM. “It’s an ideal site to present an intimate and powerful experience for audiences,” he says, where they can look forward to “varied and innovative cultural programs throughout the year, including music, dance, theatre, book readings and films.” I haven’t had a chance to hear music there yet but the empty space feels intimate and quiet, an acoustic sound-friendly space, underscored by the lack of air ducts in the hall, with ventilation coming from under the seats.

To ward off the early fall chill we sat down for the interview with invigorating cups of dark hot chocolate strengthened with a shot of espresso. The museum’s small café is right next to a square glassed-in courtyard through which sunlight (and reputedly moonlight) filters through Arabic-inflected mashrabiya patterns etched in the glass. Alibhai has already vetted the courtyard as an alternative performance venue, though with five very hard surfaces it’s undoubtedly a reverberant one. He related that a recent performance of Sufi whirling and its accompanying music “worked very well in the glass-walled courtyard, granting both an effective personal ritual space for the performers, as well as allowing the audience to see the performance thorough the glass walls, if they so wished.”

Prior to moving to Toronto to take his AKM position Alibhai was a 40-year Vancouver resident with an extensive career in arts administration – and significant for readers of The WholeNote, a lifetime background in music. He has worked as an exhibited artist, a curator, educator and facilitator of visual and community-based arts for over 20 years. “I was part of the team that initially developed and ran the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre” he said, referring to the innovative arts-centric Yaletown, Vancouver organization whose mission is to “celebrate diversity ... of people, values, ideas and activities.” He has also developed a national perspective, having served on national arts boards such as the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Conference of the Arts. He has clearly had plenty of opportunity during his career to consider the place of the performing arts in public-access spaces. “It may not be obvious to the core identity of the museum that it may also serve as a venue for a series of live concerts and dance performances. But I’m at the table at every curatorial meeting working to closely integrate my programming with planned exhibits,” he says.

The AKM is the first institution in North America “dedicated to the arts of Islamic civilizations.” It’s a goal clearly reflected in the exhibit halls. Visitors can see it in rare and exquisite editions of the Koran, in the sensuous paintings, illustrations, calligraphy, early scientific instruments, sumptuous silk clothing and carpets, as well as 21st-century artworks confronting and reinterpreting the traditions displayed in galleries closer to the entrance.

 Its stated Toronto mission as an oasis of diversity and dialogue is, “to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Islamic civilizations have made to world heritage ... through education, research, and collaboration.”

I ask where live music fits in. “In terms of [our] music programming the vision is to bring the highest calibre of traditional and contemporary performing artists from the broad diaspora of Muslim cultures to audiences. Music is particularly well suited as a creative medium that inherently engages artists and audiences in cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. “

beat - world2Concerts at the Aga Khan Museum: In an earlier interview AKM educational consultant Patricia Bentley talked about how Islam has always responded to local traditions.” Alibhai’s programming choices to date put that vision into action. In November the five acts over eight concerts demonstrate an even-handed admixture of Canadian, international and local talent, some embedded in the global Islamic community, but also some only peripherally engaged with it.

The series launches November 1 with the show “Memory and Presence of Rumi: Mystic Music of Iran.” Presented by an international group consisting of a quartet of Persian musicians and a dancer, it is co-led by the prominent kamancheh (bowed spiked lute) player and composer Saeed Farajpouri and the Vancouver tar (plucked long-necked lute) master Amir Koushkani. Siavash Kaveh on the frame drum daf, Araz Nayeb Pashayee on the goblet drum tombak and Farzad AJ dancing the whirling Sama round out the ensemble. The concert’s theme is the poetry of Rumi, the great 13th century Sufi mystic. His works and ethos still resonate today across centuries and cultures.

November 8, the focus shifts to a local quartet of singers, but one with an international gaze – Nazar-i Turkwaz (My Turquoise Gaze) – a relatively new collective comprising Brenna MacCrimmon, Maryem Tollar, Sophia Grigoriadis and Jayne Brown. For over 30 years they have individually been collecting and performing traditional repertoire from various regions on or inland from the Mediterranean, in groups such as Maza Meze, Mraya, Doula and Altin Yildiz Orkestra, counting several JUNO nominations along the way. In a Facebook chat with MacCrimmon, in Turkey at the time, she confirmed that “the repertoire is a potpourri of Balkan, Greek, Turkish, [Middle Eastern] and beyond ... with lots of harmony [in our singing].” I don’t want to wait for the album, but plan to enjoy the sweet harmonies live.

The established local group Autorickshaw mount the AKM auditorium stage on November 15. This award-winning genre-bending group is no stranger to these pages. I gave the group’s terrific new album The Humours of Autorickshaw a resoundingly enthusiastic review on July 8, 2014 in The WholeNote. The lineup this night consists of vocalist Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell (bass/keyboards), Ben Riley (drums), John Gzowski (guitar) and Ed Hanley (tabla). This is the last chance for Toronto audiences to catch Autorickshaw before their trio configuration heads off to India and Nepal on an unprecedented two-month subcontinent-wide tour of ten cities.

Skipping to November 27 and 28, Toronto audiences get another chance to hear one of today’s stars of world music, DakhaBrakha. They are presented with the support of Small World Music. Founded on solid taproots of Ukrainian village songs (and dress), these Kyiv-based performers add musical instruments and vocabularies of other cultures. Moreover they present their songs with the use of popular music microphone techniques, powerfully sung melodies and a theatrical performance art sensibility. It all makes for a striking show, the energy and attitude of which resonates with even those for whom their lyrics are a mystery.

Another performer with a growing international reputation is the Pakistani Sanam Marvi, emerging as an outstanding singer of ghazal, Pakistani folk songs and Sufi music. She gives two concerts on November 29 and 30. Marvi, a student of her father, Fakir Ghulam Rasool, devoted years of study to Sufi poetry and today is recognized as one of the leading singers in that tradition to emerge from the Sindh. Whether singing in Urdu, Sindhi or Saraiki, her aim is to “reach across generations and cultures” with her songs.

December 5 and 6 the Aga Khan Museum presents its first multimedia performance, the world premiere of “Siavash: Stories from the Shah-Nameh.” Written and directed by composer and award-winning sound designer Shahrokh Yadegari, this “page-to-stage” work explores the trials of Prince Siavash as depicted in the Persian epic Shah-Nameh (Book of Kings) through storytelling, music and projected images. Numerous manuscripts of this popular poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010, and illustrated over centuries, are on permanent rotational display at the museum. The cast of Siavash features Gordafarid as the naqal (narrator), Siamak Shajarian (vocalist) and Keyavash Nourai (violin, cello, kamancheh). This world premiere music theatre work neatly aims to bring centuries-old manuscripts alive on stage.

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

Two Sopranos: Adi Braun and Aprile Millo

beat - artsongAdi Braun was born into a distinguished musical family. Her father was the great baritone Victor Braun, who died in 2001 (and who almost certainly crossed paths with this column’s second subject, Aprile Millo, at the Met, in the years following Millo’s debut there in 1985). Not many of Victor Braun’s recordings are at present available but I would recommend the Solti recording of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, in which he sings Wolfram and is easily the finest singer in the cast. Adi Braun’s mother is Eraine Schwing-Braun, a mezzo-soprano who in recent years has taught at the Royal Conservatory and has also acted as German language coach for the Canadian Opera Company. The elder of Adi Braun’s brothers is the now-famous baritone Russell Braun, who is currently appearing as Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff and whom we shall be able to see as Don Giovanni in the spring (both for the COC). The younger of her brothers, Torsten, is the lead singer in the alt-rock band Defective by Design.

Braun’s training was classical and she appeared in productions by the COC and by Opera Atelier. Some years ago, however, she decided to concentrate on singing jazz since she felt that she was able to bring out the essence of the music in ways she could not do in opera or in the art song. This change of field also marked a change from Adreana Braun, the opera singer, to Adi Braun, the jazz vocalist. She performs jazz regularly and now has four CDs to her credit. Her concert on December 6 at the Royal Conservatory of Music is best described as “cabarazz,” a blend of jazz and cabaret. It features the songs of Kurt Weill with pianist Dave Restivo, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Daniel Barnes. Braun gave an earlier version of this recital last season at one of the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium recitals at the Four Seasons Centre. I was at that show and I very much look forward to hearing her again on December 6, a performance which will include some additional songs as well as readings from the correspondence between Weill and his wife, the singer Lotte Lenya.

Braun also maintains a busy teaching schedule through her studio as well as through the RCM. She was formerly a conductor and accompanist with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company and still coaches there. She has succeeded her mother as the German language coach for the COC. This month she is also giving a three-lecture series on the history of cabaret at the RCM November 12, 19 and 26, 6:30 to 8pm.

beat - artsong2Aprile Millo.There is a rare opportunity to hear the soprano Aprile Millo on November 15 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The collaborative pianist will be Linda Ippolito; guest artists are Mary-Lou Vetere, soprano, Giacomo Folinazzo, tenor, Gustavo Ahauli, baritone and Merynda Adams, harp. The recital will include works by Donaudy, Strauss, Wolf, Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti, Boito and Puccini.

Millo began singing professionally in the late 1970s but her big break came in 1982, when she replaced the indisposed Mirella Freni in the role of Elvira in Verdi’s Ernani. Since then she has become especially famous as an interpreter of Verdi, in I Lombardi alla prima crociata, La battaglia di Legnano, Luisa Miller, Il trovatore, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino, Don Carlo, Aida, Simone Boccanegra and Otello. Recordings of many of these operas in which she sings the soprano part are still available on CD as is a recital of Verdi arias (EMI). She has also performed in operas by other composers, notably Puccini’s Tosca, Boito’s Mefistofele, Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, Rossini’s Guillaume Tell as well as the rarely performed verismo opera Zazà by Leoncavallo (you can hear an excerpt of her performance in this work on YouTube).

Critics have often seen Millo as one of the few singers still active who can be placed in a tradition which goes back to Maria Callas and Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi and Magda Olivero. On the other hand, Millo does not see herself as the embodiment of a lost art and she has recently written about her admiration for Anna Netrebko’s singing in Verdi’s Macbeth. Millo is now 56, an age at which many singers think of retirement, but she will have none of that. On her blog she points out that the great Kirsten Flagstad did not find her true voice until she was 39. She herself feels that as a singer she is in the prime of her life and is only now emerging as a true spinto. “Fine wine gets better with time. It was and is supposed to be that way with voice too.”

Millo is also strongly interested in the future of opera. The recital on November 15 will be preceded by a concert in which Millo will present young Canadian singers from the Vetere Studio November 13, also at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. This studio is directed by Mary-Lou Vetere, a soprano and a musicologist with a special interest in Italian opera of the late 19th century, who also plays piano and accordion professionally.

beat - artsong3Other Events: The mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers will give two masterclasses (opera on November 3; art song on November 4) as well as a concert with student singers November 5. All in Walter Hall, the events are open to the public and are free of charge.

On November 7 Opera By Request presents the soprano Tsu-Ching Yu will sing works by Clara Schumann, Chaminade, Eric Whitacre, Tchaikovsky and others

The Art of Time Ensemble presents songs and the poems which inspired them (Petrarch/Liszt, T. S. Eliot/Lloyd Webber, Whitman/Crumb, Cohen and others). The reader is Margaret Atwood and the singers are Thom Allison, Gregory Hoskins and Carla Huhtanen at Harbourfront, November 7 and 8.

On November 8 Kira Braun, soprano, will sing works by Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Ravel at Calvin Presbyterian Church. Also on November 8 the baritones Serhiy Danko and Alex Tyssiak will sing with the Vesnivka Choir and the Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir at Runnymede United Church.

Recitals at Rosedale begins its new season with “A Walk on the Dark Side: Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales.” The works are by Mahler, Debussy, Szymanowski, Weill, Gershwin and others. The singers are Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, and Geoff Sirett, baritone at Rosedale Presbyterian Church, November 9.

Kirsten Fielding, soprano, Scott Belluz, countertenor, Rob Kinar, tenor, and David Roth, baritone, will be the soloists in Bach’s cantata Nur jedem das Seine at St. James Cathedral, November 12; PWYC. Also on November 12, Responsories from the Office of the Dead by Victoria, Lassus and Palestrina, along with Gregorian Chant will be sung, with soloists Richard Whittall, countertenor, Paul Ziade and Jamie Tuttle, tenor, and Sean Nix, bass, at Holy Family Church; free.

Leslie Bickle, soprano, will give a free noontime recital at St. Andrew’s Church on November 14.

The next Tafelmusik concert will present music from the English Baroque. The director is the violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk and the singer will be the American soprano Joélle Harvey, who will perform arias from Handel’s Rinaldo at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, November 19 to 23.

Allison Arends, soprano, Christy Derksen, mezzo, Lenard Whiting, tenor, and Jesse Clark, bass, will be the soloists in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at St. Matthew Catholic Church, Oakville, November 22 and 23. There will be another performance of this work on November 28 at Runnymede United Church with soloists Monica Whicher, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, Lawrence Wiliford and Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Russell Braun, baritone

On November 25 Soundstreams presents Vespro della Beata Vergine by Monteverdi and Les Vêpres de la Vierge by Tremblay. The soprano soloist is Shannon Mercer.

The second instalment of the three-part series “International Divas” will take place at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on November 27. The singers are Eliana Cuevas, Fern Lindzon, Nathalie, Samidha Joglekar, Chloe Charles and Kathryn Rose.

On November 29 there are a number of concerts to choose from. The Eastman School of Music Bach Chamber Orchestra and Soloists present two cantatas by J. S. Bach, Alles nur nach Gottes Willen and Schwingt freudig euch empor. The soloists are Paulina Swierczek, soprano, Katie Weber, alto, Steven Humes, tenor, and Joel David Balzun, bass at Grace Church on-the-Hill. A performance of C. P. E. Bach’s oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste will have as soloists Emily Ding, soprano, Michelle Simmons, mezzo, Alex Wiebe, tenor, and Geoffrey Keating, baritone, at Bloor Street United Church. The soprano Lesley Bouza will perform Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Canteloube and others at Metropolitan United Church. The soloists with the Oakham House Choir in Haydn’s Nelson Mass are Zorana Sadiq, soprano, Adriana Albu, mezzo, Riccardo Iannello, tenor, and Michael York, bass, at Calvin Presbyterian Church.

On December 3 Bach’s cantata Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! will be sung by Erin Bardua, soprano, Christina Stelmacovich, mezzo, Charles Davidson, tenor, and Graham Robinson, baritone at St. James Cathedral, PWYC.

Pax Christi Chorale performs work by Bach and Martin, in which the soloists are Michele Bogdanowicz, mezzo, Sean Clark, tenor, and Doug MacNaughton, baritone at Grace Church on-the Hill, December 6 and 7.

And beyond the GTA: Melanie Conly, soprano, and Bud Roach, tenor, sing Noël Coward, in Grace United Church, Barrie November 9. What may be the first Ontario performance this year of Handel’s Messiah takes place on December 6. The soloists are Jennifer Taverner, soprano, Kimberly Barber, mezzo, Cory Knight, tenor, and Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone  at the Centre in the Square, Kitchener.

And looking ahead: TorontoSummer Music has announced that the mentors in the 2015 Art of Song program will be the soprano Soile Isokoski and the collaborative pianist Martin Katz. Steven Philcox will coordinate and will also act as coach (as he did in 2014).

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

Of Requiems and Vespers

beat - choral 1This year is the centenary of the First World War, which began in June 1914. We commemorate the 1918 armistice date of November 11, commonly known as Remembrance Day, with a mixture of hope and horror, knowing now that what was called “the war to end all wars” was merely the beginning of the bloodiest hundred years in recorded history.

WWI was the century’s grimmest – and last – example of the confluence of 19th-century battle tactics with 20th-century industrial weaponry. The carnage that resulted came about in part because soldiers and their leaders alike clung to a notion of bravery under fire that lost its meaning in the metal rain and poison air that the new weapons created.

In wartime, music brings solace for the devastated, becomes a marshalling tool for further conflict, and on occasion, strengthens those voices raised in protest and in question against the imperatives of war. Phil Ochs wrote at the height of the USA’s conflict in Vietnam, “It’s always the old to lead us to the war/It’s always the young to fall.”

Several concerts commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of all who served, and lived and died, and endured during that time. For others not mentioned here, please consult the listings.

On November 8 and 9 the DaCapo Chamber Choir performs three elegiac works in a concert titled “There Will be Rest.” The repertoire includes Barber’s Agnus Dei (the choral setting of his famous Adagio for Strings) Elgar’s Lux Aeterna, and Canadian Eleanor Daley’s Requiem setting.

On November 9 That Choir also performs Eleanor Daley’s Requiem, as well as works by Whitacre, Mealor, Clausen, Górecki and Runestad.

On November 11 the Orpheus Choir performs “The End of Innocence: Readings, music and images in commemoration of the centenary of the Great War.” Conductor Robert Cooper states, “WWI was a turning point for Canada, transitioning from a British colony to nationhood. We want our audience to feel that emotional experience with a greater appreciation of Canada’s impact in the First World War, through the medium that we so value – choral music.” The concert includes texts from the Canadian archives, read by actors, to recreate the voices of soldiers and nurses serving on the front lines, and their family and friends reaching out to them from home.

Vespers: The phrase “Setting the Mass” is something of a classical composer’s shorthand for the much longer “daring to claim your place amongst the pantheon of the greats by setting the same texts they did.” The Latin Mass text is considered by many the greatest test of a composer’s sensitivity to text and command of musical form.

A close second to the Mass text is the Vespers, the set of prayers intoned during evening services, most often within Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran churches. These prayers draw together disparate elements of Christian worship, combining the Magnificat from the Gospel of Luke with Latin translations of psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures.

These Hebrew texts normally have appended to them a Gloria Patri – glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost – which can make an English translation of the complete prayer jarring from a Jewish point of view. And yes, this paragraph is what is known as a kvetch.

But I digress. The Vespers texts have elicited beautiful settings by composers over the centuries – Mozart wrote two settings that I prefer to all his masses. But the setting that has emerged as a masterwork comparable to the canon of mass settings of the common practice era is Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610.

Because there is little information about the 1610 Vespers, as it is commonly known, we have no idea how, or even if, the work was ever performed. Its offbeat structure and orchestration has led to speculation that the piece was a kind of compositional resume, used to show ecclesiastical patrons what kind of work Monteverdi was capable of executing. In any case, it is a stunning group of compositions, and a chance to hear it live is not to be missed.

On November 25 Soundstreams will pair Monteverdi’s vespers setting with one by Canadian composer Gilles Tremblay. Tremblay is a modernist of the old school, if one can make such a formulation. He studied under Messiaen in Paris, and attended the famous Darmstadt school, meeting with and influenced by Boulez, Stockhausen and Xenakis. Tremblay’s work extends and maintains an important stream of 20th-century compositional endeavour.

Based in Quebec, Tremblay maintained his European connections, and in 1986 his Les Vèpres de la Vierge was commissioned to celebrate the 850th anniversary of France’s Notre-Dame de Sylvanès Abbey. For further concert details see

beat - choral 2Christmas: Christmas concerts are starting in November this year, most likely in an attempt not to have to fight for audience share in the crowded December field. Pecksniffian types might deplore this, but these are the same people who object to seeing Halloween costumes hawked during the summer. Come on – when is there a wrong time to try on costumes and stock up on chocolate? Same thing with Christmas carols and egg nog. I say, go for it. Christmas has gone right back to its ancient winter solstice roots, becoming a rollicking bacchanalia of food, drink, and reckless spending. May as well start in November, ’cause once January hits we’ve got a good three months of frigid misery to look forward to. Hell, I’m lobbying for Christmas partying to begin at the end of September – who’s with me? Anyhow, here are some November concerts to get you in the mood, and some December events that will take place too early to list in next month’s column.

On November 28 and 29 Oakville’s Tempus Choral Society performs “Songs for a Winter’s Eve,” an eclectic program including selections from Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, early baroque composer Caccini’s setting of the Ave Maria text and folk legend Gordon Lightfoot’s tender Song for a Winter’s Night.

For those interested in further Canadian content – and yes, that should be every single one of us, at any time of the year – the Exultate Chamber Singers perform “A Canadian Noël” on December 5. The concert sounds fun and folksy – works by Canadian composers, Christmas stories from singers in the ensemble and an audience carol sing-along.

On November 29 and 30 Orangeville’s Achill Choral Society performs “The Glory of Christmas.” This concert provides a rare opportunity to hear the work of opera composer Giacomo Puccini in another setting. Puccini’s setting of the Mass text, commonly known as the Messa di Gloria, was written early in his career. It was unpublished during his lifetime but has since been revived and has been recorded and performed many times.

The Jubilate Deo (glory to God) text, originally the Hebrew Psalm 100, is another poem that has inspired composers from many eras and locales. On November 29 the Jubilate Singers use their own name as inspiration for “World Jubilate,” performing settings of this psalm and other seasonal songs.

On November 30 the Healey Willan Singers perform “A Garland of Carols.” The afternoon will feature Britten’s popular A Ceremony of Carols, a work that demonstrates perfectly Britten’s Mozartian ability to wed formal coherence to a series of great tunes.

J.S. Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium, or Christmas Oratorio, is another masterwork that was likely never performed in one sitting (cf. the 1610 Vespers discussion above) during the composer’s lifetime. Bach composed six cantatas to be performed at different church services during the Christmas season, retrofitting new lyrics to pre-existing music that he had composed for other cantatas. With many composers, this would be a recipe for chaos, but not for Bach, who could create order in a bowl of rice krispies. The Weihnachtsoratorium is a beautifully conceived work, gentle and celebratory by turns, with an unparalleled unity of text, melody and form. On November 22 and 23 the Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra perform parts 1 to 3 of the Christmas Oratorio.

Also, on November 28 the Bach Consort will perform the work in its entirety, in their concert titled “Giving Bach to the Community.” Players from the Toronto Symphony and Canadian Opera Company orchestras will join Mississauga Festival Chamber Choir; proceeds from the event will be shared among various downtown charities.

Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and lutenist. He can be contacted at Visit his website at

A Bunch of Key Concerts

If you’re looking for something to do on a weekend in November, you might be obliged to make a few tough decisions. As I write this, there are all of ten early music concerts going on in Toronto this month, no two even remotely similar to one another. It’s obviously a sign we live in a fun city with lots to do on any given weekend, but the possibility always exists that one can miss out on something fantastic, or at least something you won’t get a chance to hear ever again. I don’t have enough space to adequately discuss absolutely every early music concert going on this month (you’ll have to check the listings for that), but here are a few highlights and must-sees.

Solo harpsichord: It’s been a while since Toronto audiences have had a chance to hear a solo harpsichord concert, but audiences will get a chance to hear the instrument shine this month. Admittedly, Toronto hasn’t been graced with a superabundance of solo harpsichord concerts since Colin Tilney retired, but up-and-coming Toronto musician Philippe Fournier will entertain the public with a mixed program that will include François Couperin, J. S. Bach and John Bull. Fournier makes his home at Holy Family Church and plays with the Musicians in Ordinary from time to time. It will be well worth it to see what he’s been up to as a solo artist. Check out this concert November 8 at the Yoga Village at 8pm.

beat - early 1Schola, TEM: If you’re more in the mood for a choral concert, you might prefer hearing instead the Schola Cantorum and the Theatre of Early Music concerts the same weekend. They’re technically student concerts given by performers studying at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s fledgling early music program, but the program is directed by Daniel Taylor, who is probably the closest thing to a household name on the Canadian early music scene, and who brings in top-tier professional musicians for these concerts.

The Schola Cantorum will be singing some fairly standard renaissance fare (Palestrina, Tallis, Taverner) and it’s very likely that these will be fine concerts of serene sounds. Also, they’re at the beautiful Trinity College chapel on November 8 and 9 at 7:30pm. If you haven’t visited the Trinity College chapel yet, it’s one of the finest acoustic spaces in Toronto for choral music, so it would be worth it just to go and hear what a choral concert is supposed to sound like.

Paris in the Fall: If neither of these concerts are enticing enough to get you out of the house that weekend, keep in mind The Toronto Consort will be performing their own concert of renaissance music on November 7 and 8 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The Consort is calling this one “Paris Confidential,” and it’s a social and musical exploration of the city of Paris in the 16th century, when the city was leaving behind its reputation as a muddy medieval military camp and quickly becoming a European cosmopolis. The great Alison MacKay, a gifted and insightful curator of musical and cultural history, is presenting a musical program of the city of Paris as seen through the eyes of one George Buchanan, a 16th-century scholar who left behind a legacy of rich descriptions of the city in which he lived. His letters, written to describe to his non-Parisian friends what life in the city was like, are the centrepiece of MacKay’s multimedia program, which includes anecdotes by other authors, contemporary paintings, drawings, maps and illuminations. Oh right, and there’s music, too. The Toronto Consort will be playing a program of renaissance French music, a rarity in this city. The composers on the program are hardly obscure, though, and include Clement Jannequin, Claude LeJeune, Claude de Sermisy and Jehan Chardavoine.

Honestly, if there’s one early music concert you have to see this month, this is probably it. Alison MacKay has developed a reputation for putting together thoughtful, engaging, and informative concerts for Tafelmusik and the Consort. If you’re familiar with renaissance music and names like Palestrina, Josquin, and Byrd already mean something to you, this concert will give you a bigger picture of what renaissance music is all about. Sixteenth-century French music is still composed in the same style as Palestrina and the like, but French composers of the period took the same rules of composition in some very creative directions. If renaissance music isn’t your thing, Paris Confidential will still be worth going to out of sheer curiosity – the concert promises to be an interesting in-depth look at what it was like to live in a major city and cultural hub of activity in the 16th century. Think of it as tourism for time travellers.

(Personal) Rezonance: For a fun instrumental concert later in the month, you might want to check out a chamber concert being given by my own group, Rezonance, a chamber ensemble whose core members include myself on harpsichord and violinist Rezan Onen-Lapointe. We’ll be joined this month by the fabulous Montreal-based flute player Joanna Marsden for a concert of 18th-century Italian and German music on November 30 at Artscape Youngplace at 3pm. Telemann, Handel and Vivaldi are on the bill, but we’ll also feature some lesser-known Italians like Benedetto Marcello and Evaristo Dall’Abaco. Artscape Youngplace is an intimate and acoustically flawless performance space, and for a small-scale chamber concert, I know for a fact Rezonance is hard to beat for sheer flamboyance (meaning everyone in the group really, really likes to show off).

Harpsichord-Beside-the Grange: I confess that I don’t know that much about Spanish baroque music; the only two 18th-century Spanish composers I can name off the top of my head are Domenico Scarlatti and Fernando Sor. Fortunately, Spanish harpsichordist Luisa Morales can dispel my ignorance, and will do so mid-month in a program co-presented by Baroque Music Beside the Grange devoted to Spanish baroque composers on November 15 at 8pm. This is an even smaller-scale concert than Rezonance’s, consisting of just Morales, flutist Alison Melville and dancer Cristobal Salvador. It promises to be an entertaining introduction to Spanish music and culture and will include the aforementioned Scarlatti and Sor as well as Juan Ledesma, Rodriguez de Ledesma and Blas de Laserna.

beat - early 2Beznosiuk: And finally, the Toronto group that can’t avoid being mentioned in any given month is of course Tafelmusik, performing November 19 to 23 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tafel will be presenting a program mainly devoted to music of the English Baroque – namely Purcell, Locke and Handel. It’s familiar ground for the band and it’s safe to say they will do a good job of it, but the real draw for this show is guest violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk. Beznosiuk is a veteran violin soloist and a bit of a whiz at English music – you can find his Naxos recording of the complete Avison violin concertos on YouTube – and it’s always a treat when a great international soloist comes to town to thrill us. Plus, it will be interesting to hear what Tafelmusik sounds like under his direction as this year of “find the leader” continues. Well worth checking out.

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

Raising the Next Generation

beat - new 1The famous quote “It takes a village to raise a child” speaks to the role of shared responsibility in nurturing the next generation. We can equally apply that same axiom to the task of creating opportunities for musical imaginations to flourish and evolve. Beyond the usual educational institutions that provide the initial stages of the fertile ground, different presenters of new concert music have been stepping up to the plate for years now to take on this responsibility. So dedicated are they, that this mandate has become one of their defining attributes. Such is the case with ECM+ (Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal), and the dedicated and passionate commitment of its director Véronique Lacroix.

The ensemble was founded in 1987 by Lacroix specifically to offer young composers a playing field in which to develop their musical imaginations. Her vision was to create the kind of environment composers need so they can pursue their musical research and exploration with live musicians. “Nothing can compare to live experimentation,” she said in our conversation. “It is the only way to actually test what the composers hear in their heads and adjust their final scores according to the results of this experimentation with the musicians.” Lacroix is passionate in her commitment to composers, who are always ahead of their time and often revolutionary, she says. “Observing the complex ways they integrate the global context into their scores is a constant source of inspiration.” Lacroix’s vision led to the development of the ensemble’s distinct and unique Génération program, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.

So what is so special about the Génération program that takes younger composers through a training process spanning an 18-month period of time? It begins every two years, with a rigorous selection process to choose four Canadian composers that meet artistic, demographic and gender criteria. I was impressed to see that one of these criteria was that one of the four composers was to be a woman. I had to wonder how many other presenting organizations of new music take a similar approach to their programming, given the numerous occasions we’ve all experienced where the program is all male?

Lacroix has “always been fascinated by the rich secrets of the scores I receive regularly and always wondered what is happening in a composer’s head. How can anyone imagine musical avenues as unexpected and complex as what they have written?” It is for this reason that the Génération experience began and offers so much more than a few rehearsals with the composer present. Rather, it’s an entire mentoring structure.

The composer begins their work by compiling a notebook of ideas and sketches that they bring to a series of four workshops with the ensemble. The workshops are open for anyone to attend and each audience member is given a copy of the composer’s notebook so they too can enter into a deeper engagement with the emerging creative process. At the beginning of each workshop, the audience experiences each composer giving a brief talk about their work, and a mini concert of works from each composer’s previous repertoire. Lacroix learns “as much from the composer experimentation as the composers learn from the musicians playing their score. After each workshop or Génération concert, many people tell me how instructive and even surprising the experience was for them.”

In the second year of the program, the composer and ensemble gather for a five-day residency at the Banff Centre where the pieces are rehearsed and given the final touches. The pieces are now ready for concert presentation – but not just in one location. An extended tour exposes these germinating ideas to a larger audience in a country-wide tour. This year, there will be concerts in nine Canadian cities, with the Ontario-based concerts happening in Toronto, London and Ottawa. The mentoring and audience-education activities don’t stop at the workshop stage either. At the concert, each of the composers is interviewed onstage about their piece, which is supported with musical examples from the new work. As well, in each of the tour cities, ECM+ offers reading sessions of composition student pieces, and since 2010, audiences have had a voice in selecting their favourite work through the Generation Audience Choice Award.

Throughout its 20-year history, the program has supported over 50 composers, providing many with the foundations for a successful and prize-winning career. This year’s composers include Marie-Pierre Brasset (Quebec), Alec Hall (Ontario/New York), Evelin Ramon (Cuba/ (Quebec), and Anthony Tan (Alberta/Berlin). To hear the results of these fortunate composers and their 18-month process, make sure you attend the Génération concert in Toronto on November 16 presented by New Music Concerts in their season opener. Not surprisingly, NMC, who also have a strong mandate to support Canadian composers, have been the Toronto host for every Génération tour since 2000. There is also a YouTube video that has been created which offers interviews and musical examples of each of this year’s participating composers. (Search Génération2014 on YouTube) 

beat - new 2Esprit Orchestra is another organization that nurtures the creative minds of composers. A great example of this is evident in their November 23 concert and the programming of a new commissioned work from Adam Scime. When I asked Adam how Esprit has supported him and his career, he emphasized “the importance of working within a collaborative environment with musicians who are not only exceptional in their general performance capability, but also experienced with contemporary idioms.” Thus, the composer “need not relinquish any virtuosic expressive impulses, and can create exactly what leaps from mind to page.” Esprit offers a young composer competition, and it was Scime winning this award a few years ago that led to the commissioned piece that will be performed in the upcoming November concert. This new piece is titled Rise and is inspired by how waves propagate across the ocean. Scime has split the orchestra into a stereophonic seating arrangement in order to facilitate his wave-like orchestration and colouristic effects. The other works on the program include pieces by Joji Yuasa (Japan), Douglas Schmidt (Canada) and Henri Dutilleux (France).

[Also on the topic of supporting developing work, Tapestry Opera is renowned as well for its mentoring of composers and librettists. More details of their upcoming series entitled “Booster Shots” can be read in Christopher Hoile’s column in this issue. Ed.].

Whirlwind tour: November is a busy month for new music listeners, so to begin the whirlwind tour of all that’s available, we hop over to the Kitchener-Waterloo area where the K-W Chamber Music Society is collaborating with NUMUS and the Perimeter Institute to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Their concert on November 28 titled “Igorhythms” features both the Penderecki and Lafayette string quartets along with the Perimeter Chamber Players performing works of captivating rhythms by Stravinsky, Canadian composer John Estacio and Waterloo’s master of groove Jascha Narveson. Earlier in the month on November 9, K-WCMS offers a concert of music by Canadian women composers including pieces by Alice Ho, Carol Weaver, and Larysa Kuzmenko. NUMUS is also presenting their Emerging Artist series on November 8 featuring composer/performer Nick Storring on electronics.

Thin Edge: Back in Toronto, The Thin Edge New Music Collective’s  program titled “Cuatro Esquinas” (Four Corners) combines compositions from both Argentina and Canada with guest Argentinian pianist Laura Ventemiglia and will be presented on November 6 at Gallery 345.

TCIF: On November 7, we have a co-production between the Music Gallery and the Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival in a large multi-media work pulled together by Burroughs scholar, composer and saxophonist Glen Hall entitled “Rub Out The Word: A William S. Burroughs Centennial Event.” The work combines an 11-piece orchestra, an actor, electroacoustic music and projected images along with special guests, the venerable CCMC improvising ensemble.

Four more: On November 14, Arraymusic will present several works by Irish composer Gerald Barry, including a new piece being premiered by Arraymusic pianist Stephen Clarke. Then on November 21, the fast-rising southwestern Ontario ensemble Reverb Brass presents their program of cutting-edge works entitled “Passages” at Gallery 345. On November 25 Soundstreams celebrates universal spirituality with two large choral works – both ancient and modern renditions of the traditional sunset prayer service Vespers – by Monteverdi and Canadian Gilles Tremblay. And on November 29, the Toy Piano Composers presents pieces by composers who responded to their 2014 call for works.

Individual composers often end up presenting their own works. November 18 you can hear the music of Odawa composer Barbara Croall, whose music combines influences from her indigenous heritage and her classically oriented training. “Bob@60” on November 23 celebrates over 40 years of contemporary music creation by Toronto-based composer and clarinetist Bob Stevenson. This concert will feature two ensembles which Stevenson has put together to perform some of his latest pieces, which combine his classical, improvisational and jazz influences. And finally, the Toronto premiere of composer-performer Tim Brady’s piece titled Journal: String Quartet No.2 will be presented as part of the Mooredale Concerts on November 2 featuring the New Orford String Quartet.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at

Rare Old And Brand New

On November 1, after the COC’s new production of Verdi’s Falstaff and Opera Atelier’s new production of Handel’s Alcina both finish their runs, Toronto’s smaller opera companies take centre stage to explore rarities and brand new works.

beat - opera 1La Gran Vía: Operas from the seldom-heard Spanish repertoire bookend the month. On November 2, Toronto Operetta Theatre presents the Canadian premiere of La Gran Vía (1886) by Federico Chueca (1846-1908) and Joaquín Valverde (1846-1910). La Gran Vía will be the latest zarzuela, or Spanish version of operetta, that the TOT will have introduced to Canadian audiences. Unlike the previous zarzuelas, however, La Gran Vía is not realistic and romantic but surrealistic and satiric. The subject concerns the plan to build La Gran Vía in Madrid – a wide, modern boulevard like those Haussmann built in Paris between 1853 and 1870. Like Haussmann’s boulevards, La Gran Vía would entail the destruction of many old streets and neighbourhoods.

The zarzuela begins, in fact, with a collection of these threatened streets and plazas, personified and gathered to complain about the new boulevard. Two allegorical characters enter, El Paseante (the stroller) and the Caballero de Gracia (the graceful gentleman) to explain how the boulevard is unlikely to be built for a long time due to lack of funding and municipal infighting. (How right they are since the real Gran Vía was not begun until 1904 and completed in 1929!) Further allegorical figures include Prosperidad, Pacífico, Injurias, Petroleum and Gas. After many satirical swipes at contemporary scandals in Madrid (continually updated in performance), the piece concludes with the unveiling of the completed boulevard and a salute to the Madrid of the future. The zarzuela was a huge success in Madrid and eventually went on to further success in Paris, Vienna and Prague. Indeed, the work’s satire of city planning and the destruction of old neighbourhoods is something that any large city, including Toronto, should be able to appreciate. The show features Margie Bernal, Fabian Arciniegas, Pablo Benitez and Diego Catala with José Hernández as pianist and music director.

Voicebox: On November 30 Voicebox: Opera in Concert presents La Vida Breve (1913) by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). La Vida Breve was Falla’s first opera, his previous works for the stage all having been zarzuelas. The libretto written in Andalusian dialect concerns the gypsy Salud who is in love with the wealthy man Paco. He has led her on, not telling her he is already engaged to be married to a woman of his own class. Salud’s uncle and grandmother know Paco’s secret and try to dissuade Salud from interrupting Paco’s wedding. But all is in vain and tragedy results. French composer Claude Debussy directly influenced Falla in transforming the work first written as a number opera into one with a more continuous orchestral flow.

Performers include Isabel Bayrakdarian, Ernesto Ramírez and Guillermo Silva-Marin. José Herández is the pianist and music director and Robert Cooper is the director of the Voicebox Chorus.

beat - opera 2Tapestry Opera: In between these two Spanish-centred evenings, Tapestry Opera launches its 35th season by providing a glimpse into the future of opera with TapestryBriefs: Booster Shots running November 13 to 16. The Booster Shots consist of ten new short operas performed in and around the Distillery Historic District. Each night begins in the Ernest Balmer Studio, Tapestry’s studio and bar, with subsequent scenes taking place in other Distillery spaces – from freight elevators and brick-lined halls, to intimate corners and public galleries.

The ten operas will be performed by various combinations of only four singers. Newcomer, soprano Catherine Affleck, a recent graduate of Yale University School of Music, joins familiar Tapestry performers baritone Alex Dobson, tenor Keith Klassen and mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabó.

The Booster Shots have been created by an illustrious group of playwrights and composers. The group includes: Governor General Award-winning playwrights Nicolas Billon and Morris Panych; Siminovitch Prize-nominated writer Hannah Moscovitch; Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning playwright Donna-Michelle St. Bernard; Governor General Award-nominated playwright David Yee; composer Ivan Barbotin; Dean Burry, who has composed works for the Canadian Opera Company and the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus; Jules Léger Prize-winning composers James Rolfe and Nicole Lizée; Benton Roark, co-recipient of the Tournon Branley Prize for collaborative work in architecture and music; and SOCAN award-winner and co-artistic director of the Toy Piano Composers, Christopher Thornborrow.

The ten operas are:

 1984: The Folded Paper  by Christopher Thornborrow to a libretto by Nicolas Billon that stages an episode from George Orwell’s famous novel.

Bessie by Christopher Thornborrow and Morris Panych about a jazz singer who struggles with her boyfriend just before she is to go on stage.

Blind Woman by James Rolfe and David Yee about a dancer who has lost her vision.

Brooks Bush Gang by Benton Roark and Hannah Moscovitch, which focusses on a real woman-run 1860s gang responsible for ahigh-profile murder in Toronto.

Damnation by Ivan Barbotin and Morris Panych about a man condemned to hell who tries to devise a way to get out.

Fetishistby Ivan Barbotin and David Yee concerning an Asian woman who undergoes surgery to look more Caucasian.

Memes by Dean Burry and Nicolas Billon about a hipster couple on a first date who find they have almost nothing in common.

Oublietteby Ivan Barbotin and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard dealing with a young woman who has escaped imprisonment in a suburban basement and tries to regain a lost sense of self.

The Overcoatby James Rolfe and Morris Panych that stages a scene between two tailors from Nikolai Gogol’s short story of the same name.

R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Nicole Lizée and Nicolas Billon, an adaptation of a scene from Karel Čapek’s 1921 play that gave us the word “robot.”

The ten Booster Shots are directed by Tapestry artistic director Michael Hidetoshi Mori and designed by Yulia Shtern. Piano accompaniment will be provided by Christopher Foley and Jennifer Tung.

beat - opera 3Postcard and Pinafore: In addition to Tapestry’s 21st-century works, both of Toronto’s opera schools are producing fully-staged operas this month. On November 21 and 22 the Glenn Gould School of Music presents Postcard from Morocco, an opera from 1971 by American composer Dominick Argento. The libretto concerns seven characters waiting at a train station who are glad to sing about what they do but who do not wish to discuss the contents of their luggage. Though the passengers seem to be under the control of a mysterious puppetmaster, one of them struggles to break free. The work is an existentialist parable about how people define themselves; to reflect this Argento draws on an eclectic range of musical styles, ranging from cabaret to Wagner to operetta, to suit each character. Peter Tiefenbach conducts and Brent Krysa directs.

The following week the Opera Division of University of Toronto Faculty of Music stages the Gilbert and Sullivan chestnut H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) from November 27 to 30. It’s hard to believe but the last time the Opera Division staged a G&S operetta was Patience in 1990. Sandra Horst, Chorus Master for the COC, will conduct and Michael Patrick Albano will direct.

It should also be noted that Opera by Request performs three operas in concert this November – Mozart’s Don Giovanni on November 19, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on November 21 and Handel’s Giulio Cesare on November 29. William Shookhoff is the pianist and music director for all three.

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

The Sound Of Music

beat - jazz notesNo, this really isn’t about my favourite things. It’s about the relationship between music and war and it’s triggered by the fact that Remembrance Day falls on the 11th of this month and that got me thinking about songs that in all probability would not have been written had there not been the background of violence. So much for music being the food of love – it can also be the food of sorrow, anger, regret and the whole range of human emotions.

Patriotic songs have been around for centuries. One of the first Canadian examples dates from the war of 1812: ”Come all you brave Canadians I’d have you lend an ear / Unto a simple ditty / That will your spirits cheer.” Fast forward to the First World War, “the war to end all wars,” which gave us “Keep the Home Fires Burning” (1914), “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” “The Hearse Song,” “Over There” (later featured in the film This Is the Army) and “Roses of Picardy.”

“Bless ’Em All” (also known as “The Long and the Short and the Tall” and “F*** ’Em All”) is a war song credited as having been written by Fred Godfrey in 1917 but not really popular until WWII.

“Lili Marleen” became one of the most popular songs of the Second World War among both German and British troops, the most notable version sung being by Marlene Dietrich.

Irving Berlin wrote “This is the Army, Mr. Jones” (1942) for the revue This is the Army that was remade as a 1943 American wartime musical comedy film of the same name. It mocks the attitudes of middle class soldiers forced to undergo the rigours of life in the barracks.

“Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major,” (1939) is a British soldier’s song, mocking their officers.

Popular concert songs in Britain during the war included “Run Rabbit Run,” sung by Flanagan and Allen (1939) and “There’ll Always Be An England” (1939–40,) sung by Vera Lynn who also had a huge hit with “We’ll Meet Again.”

And the point of all this? It’s worth noting that the solemn music that gets trotted out at times of significant remembrance like this is generally written after the fact. What lifted the spirits of those who were then and there was music more like this.

From chalumeau to licorice stick: The chalumeau was the forerunner of the present day clarinet and the clarinet has maintained its strong presence in classical music throughout the centuries. In jazz however it has had its ups and downs.

In the review section I covered a CD by clarinetist John MacMurchy. Well, a few decades ago clarinet was king with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and less famous names. But right up there were instrumentalists such as Barney Bigard, known for his long association with Duke Ellington, Edmond Hall, for my taste the most exciting clarinet sound of them all, Jimmie Noone with one of the most liquid sounds of anybody on the instrument and Irving Fazola, born Henry Prestopnik. He got the nickname Fazola from his childhood skill at Solfege (“Fa-Sol-La”). And of course the somewhat eccentric – in sound as well as his approach to the music – Pee Wee Russell, whom you either love or hate. All I can say is that if Pee Wee’s music escapes you then you are truly missing out.

Less well known is that he was also an abstract painter. The story goes that one day his wife Mary came home with a bunch of painting supplies and told Pee Wee to try them out. The cover of one of his LPs features a painting by him. I used to have it but somebody borrowed it and I never saw it again!

I didn’t meet him until late in his life. I was playing on a jazz gig at the King Edward Hotel and we finished at 1am, but on weekends at George’s where Pee Wee was fighting a really inappropriate back-up trio, the music went until 2am. So off I went and as I reached the club he was ending a set with a lovely old song called “I’d Climb The Highest Mountain.” When he came off I told him how much I enjoyed that song and he told me it was one of Bix’s favourites. Anyway when he went on for the next set he played it again and I was innocent and vain enough to think it was perhaps for me.

Speaking of eccentrics there was a New Orleans clarinet player called Joseph “Cornbread” Thomas who took his false teeth out before playing!

Groups of clarinets playing together, or clarinet choirs, are not uncommon, although some cynics refer to them as sounding like a fire in a pet shop!

Back to Pee Wee – he had a long sort of sad face – a bit like a mournful bloodhound, but without the bark. We spent an afternoon together in his hotel room but he did not seem like a happy man. The death of his wife really affected him and I believe that a large part of him died with her. I remember he sat there in his underwear drinking straight gin – a sad figure, especially when I think of the pleasure his music gave to so many people. There will never be another like him.

Happy listening and try to make some of it live.

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at

The CBA in Newmarket

As I sit down to write this, summer has past, Halloween is almost here and I have already heard bands rehearsing Christmas music. So what has been happening in recent weeks? For me the major event was the Community Band Weekend.

In recent years the Canadian Band Association (Ontario) has held these events in a number of communities in Ontario. This fall’s Community Band Weekend, billed as “A Musical Celebration of Community Bands,” was hosted by the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. After a meet-and-greet event at a local pub on Friday evening, it was all music Saturday and Sunday.

Throughout the day, Saturday, the massed band rehearsed under the direction of nine conductors from across the province. After a small practice session on Sunday morning the assembled musicians and conductors performed a varied concert to an appreciative audience in the excellent Newmarket Theatre. The program lists no fewer than 79 participants from 25 bands. There were even some from Potsdam, New York. As for local support, there were almost 40 members of the Newmarket Band participating. How often are you going to hear a concert band with four bassoons?

Repertoire ranged from works by Czech composer Julius Fučík (circa 1890) to contemporary Canadian composers including Bill Thomas and Howard Cable. Of special note was Soliloquy for Band Op. 40a conducted by the composer Louie Madrid Calleja. Calleja, who came to Canada from the Philippines, holds a master’s degree from York University. His works have been performed by such artists as singer Measha Brueggergosman and the Volga Band in Saratov, Russia.

 Normally, in a column such as this, the paper program would warrant little or no attention. The program for this event was a notable exception. The full-colour front cover, with the title “Under the Trading Tree” depicts the Newmarket Citizens’ Band assembled under a large elm tree in 1883. It is an artist’s rendition of an actual sculpture in the main entrance of the Newmarket town offices. The tree was referred to as the “trading tree.” It is believed that the original inhabitants of the area, the Huron Wapiti, used the location of the tree to conduct commerce with the European settlers.

beat - bandstand

Flute Street: Over the past few years there has been quite a spread in the range of musical activities and offerings of community instrumental groups. In September I had the pleasure of attending a concert by an all-flute ensemble called Flute Street. This 15-member group performed on just about all of the members of the flute family including one that I had never seen before. I had seen alto flutes and bass flutes before, but it was my first chance to see and hear Nancy Nourse perform on her contrabass flute. This instrument, which stands on the floor, was just slightly taller than the performer. I believe that it is the only such instrument in Toronto. The featured performer of the evening, from France, was Jean-Louis Beaumadier. Billed as “The Paganini of the Piccolo,” this man, with his pianist Jordi Torrent, dazzled the audience in their duets and in works with the Flute Street ensemble.

Clarington: In a totally different departure from concert band normality, October 25 saw the Clarington Concert Band present an evening of violin and flute music. The music of Beethoven and César Franck was performed by American violin virtuoso, Andrew Sords, and Canadian piano accompanist, Cheryl Duvall. Delaware native Sords is a concert violinist who has already appeared as soloist with more than 100 orchestras and has performed on noted recital series across the U.S. and internationally. Canadian-born Duvall was raised in Durham, is active as a soloist, as a collaborative pianist in the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society concert series and is the accompanist for the Oakville Children’s Choir. Also performing on the program were the Wildwind Flute Choir under the direction of local performer and educator, Lynda Shewchuk. In other words it was a musical evening that we normally would not expect from a community band.

Strike up the band! Last month I mentioned that a new community band was expected to begin rehearsals soon in Toronto’s west end. It has happened, and has surpassed all of the organizers’ optimistic expectations. The inaugural rehearsal of the new Toronto Concert Band was a resounding success. On September 9 nearly 50 adult musicians gathered in the music room at John G. Althouse Middle School to become founding members of this new ensemble. Musical directors Ken Hazlett and Les Dobbin were thrilled not only with the turnout at the first rehearsal, but also with the initial sounds emanating from this fledgling group. Over the years Hazlett and Dobbin have earned top reputations and long tenures leading the Etobicoke Youth Band. Many of those attracted to the new Toronto Concert Band are youth band alumni. In addition, an impressive range of community musicians of all ages have been attracted by the ensemble’s stated mission, “to create a positive and supportive environment in which to cultivate musicianship.” Their repertoire promises to be varied and of top-notch quality, as evidenced by the initial rehearsal material. While one might not be surprised to encounter a Beatles medley, some Simon and Garfunkel music or Scarborough Fair, throwing in the Vaughan Williams’ Folk Song Suite and Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque for the first rehearsal might be a bit of a challenge. Now a few weeks old, the Toronto Concert Band boasts a 60-member roster. New members are most welcome, especially bassoon and trombone players. For more information, visit

Ahead from Wychwood: The Wychwood Clarinet Choir begins its new season with a program entitled “Wind Song,” featuring special guest conductor Howard Cable. In addition to two original pieces by Cable, written for the choir, the program will include an arrangement of Elgar’s Nimrod, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro Overture, and Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette arranged by choir member Roy Greaves. This all happens, with artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot, Sunday, November 16 at 3:30pm, at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.

Silverthorn: Too late for the listings, on Saturday, November 22, at 7:30pm Silverthorn Symphonic Winds begin their season with “Autumn Rhapsody,” a program of wind ensemble repertoire celebrating the many colours of fall. Highlights include pieces by two legendary bandsman, Alfred Reed’s Alleluia! Laudamus Te and, again, from the pen of Toronto’s own acclaimed composer, arranger and director, Howard Cable, Scottish Rhapsody . For something completely different, the ensemble sings and plays Jay Chattaway’s energetic and exciting Mazama. The concert takes place at Yorkminster Citadel, 1 Lord Seaton Rd., Toronto.

Plumbing Factory: The first concert of the season by London’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band, Henry Meredith, conductor, is set for November 19 at 7:30pm in Byron United Church, London. Titled “Historic Russian Concert Favourites,” the program will include Glinka’s brilliant and boisterous Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, the hauntingly exquisite Vocalise by Rachmaninoff and the mysterious Marche Polovtsiennefrom Borodin’sPrince Igor. The centerpiece of the evening will be the powerful and enigmatic Finale from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. For Christmas holiday music they will include movements from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, including the popular Miniature Overture and Valse des Fleurs.

A special feature of the evening will be a cornet trio, featuring director Meredith and solo cornetists Ern Sullivan and Skip Phoenix. They will perform Walter Smith’s Three Kings. While you might think that this has to do with the well-known work dealing with kings from the Orient, not so. The “Kings” in this case refer to a specific make of cornet designed and manufactured by H. N. White in Cleveland, As the owner of two King trombones, I am well aware of the King instrument reputation. The composer intended that his famous “monarchs” of the cornet world would perform the piece on three King Model cornets.

Continuing in the winter festive mode, the band will play Meredith’s Holiday Schottische Medley & Quodlibet. Several years ago I attended a presentation at a Masonic lodge titled “Mozart was a Mason.” That evening highlighted many famous musicians who were members of the Masonic Order. This arrangement by Meredith features melodies associated with well-known Masons as well as many other popular airs often played at the same time. The final number on the program will be Meredith’s arrangement of Prokofiev’s three-horse open sleigh piece Troika, written as part of his film music for Lieutenant Kijé in 1933. Being a stalwart fan of Henry Meredith’s programming, you can be assured that I will try to make the trip to London for that concert.

Cable: In case you haven’t noticed, the name of one composer/conductor is repeated here in the programming of several bands. That person is Howard Cable. It’s time we all learned more about Howard and his enormous contributions to Canadian music. Look for that here soon.

A passing: The band scene in the Toronto area has lost another member with the passing at age 66 of percussionist Jay Alter in mid-October. Jay, a former mathematics teacher, leaves his wife, a son and a daughter.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: l’istesso tempo: An indication to play listlessly; e.g., as if you don’t care

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

Celebratory and Joyful

beat - jazz itcBorn in Mississauga some three dozen years ago, vocalist Alex Pangman has been breathing new life into old songs since her teens. As loyal WholeNote readers may recall, my cover story on Pangman a few years back detailed her battle with cystic fibrosis and her comeback to jazz following a double lung transplant. She has since continued to perform, record, tour and advocate for organ donation awareness.

Pangman was lucky to have her life saved through the courtesy of an organ donor not once, but twice. In December of 2013, just a few months after a second lung transplant, she celebrated her recovery with a trip to New Orleans.

“There’s a different feel to clubs there: celebratory and joyful. Musicians are treated as the main event, not an afterthought,” she recalls fondly. “Frenchman Street particularly has a very active scene of musicians playing in a traditional vein while audiences are dancing, clapping, eating and drinking. After feeling that vibe, and hearing those bands, especially the Cottonmouth Kings nailing their 1930s repertoire, I started to get ideas about where to make my next recording.” With her newly donated lungs she returned to NOLA just a few months later to record New – an album captured in a new city, with musicians that are new to the artist and even an engineer new to her ears. Fresh, but certainly no easy feat!

“I felt up to the challenge. I love the vibe of the recording; it’s like we pressed a record on a lovely first date! Breathing, singing, is a joy for me again.”

Joining Alex Pangman at her New CD Launch at Hugh’s Room on Monday November 3 will be her Alleycats: Peter Hill on piano, Chris Banks on bass, Glenn Anderson on drums, Brigham Phillips on trumpet and Ross Wooldridge on clarinet, as well as two guests from New Orleans who appear on the recording: Matt Rhody on violin and Tom Saunders on bass saxophone. Congratulations to Alex Pangman, and here’s to New!

beat - jazz itc 2Bob@60 at Gallery 345: New music, jazz, classical and klezmer, are a few of the genres Bob Stevenson has immersed himself in since the 1970s. He has performed with many ensembles including Arraymusic, New Music Concerts, Tapestry New Opera Works, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, and the Red Rhythm. To celebrate his 60th birthday, Stevenson will be appearing in concert at Gallery 345, with his quartet – Jonnie Bakan on alto sax, Mike Milligan on bass and Jeff Halischuk on drums – as well as Big Idea, an 11-piece ensemble featuring some of the city’s finest improvisers and classical players. A virtuosic and versatile musician, Bob Stevenson’s compositions combine jazz, free improvisation and through-composed music, drawing deeply from his decades of experience as a player, conductor, composer and educator. I asked him to name three of his favourite music venues in the world.

“I’ve been fortunate to perform some great music with inspiring artists in wonderful venues throughout the world,” says Stevenson. “The three conditions required for a quality venue are the acoustic, the vibe and the willingness and ability of the venue to support your work. More than any other concert hall, the Brahms-Saal at the Musikverein in Vienna meets these requirements. The hall functions as an extra player in your group; whatever you give, it gives back. The crew is fantastic, great choice of well-maintained pianos. I first played Massey Hall when I was 15. Again, you really feel the room and its history, plus you can speak from the stage, and everyone can hear you, even if you don’t have a mic. I got to play in an orchestra backing up Dizzy Gillespie there. I have a very nostalgic feeling for the first Music Gallery in Toronto on St. Patrick just north of Queen. You were welcome to try just about anything. It was a hole in the wall, but it was our hole. For a young artist just starting out, that’s very important.” 

Why Gallery 345 for his birthday concert?

“Thanks to Ed Epstein, musicians from a wide variety of approaches and backgrounds have the opportunity to present their work in a supportive atmosphere. He’s performing a great service to the cultural community. He does it because he cares about music and the people who make it.”

You, reader, are invited to Bob’s 60th birthday party on Sunday November 23rd at 3pm at Gallery 345, and please tell him we sent you!

beat - jazz itc 3Candido Camero: Fresh off a successful tour with Maqueque (comprised of Cuban musicians mostly in their early 20s), Jane Bunnett will be feeling younger this month when she and pianist Hilario Duran share the stage with 93-year-old jazz legend Candido Camero for three exciting evenings at Jazz Bistro.

“Every conga player all over the world has the most incredible respect for what Candido has done and for who he has played with. Legends like he – at 93 – you never know, he might make it to 100 – just aren’t around anymore,” reflects Bunnett.

“I first met him at the last IAJE in Toronto. I interviewed him, so I really researched it and I was checking up on all this stuff, it was so amazing! He was on the Ed Sullivan show 50 times – he recorded with Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, you name it. The first time he played in Toronto was 1952 with Stan Kenton at Massey Hall, just down the street from where we will be playing. The exciting thing about him for me is that he was really the first Cuban musician, along with Chano Pozo, that really took the congas into jazz. He was also the first conga player to play two, and later three congas. Nobody had ever done that before – and he tuned them. A lot of people just bang them but he tunes them before every gig. At 93 of course he’s not as forceful as he was but he’s still extremely eloquent and tasteful. He knows the older style of this music, how not to overplay, where to accent. He never drank a drop of alcohol in his life so his brain is pretty amazing.”

Get intoxicated by the music of Jane Bunnett, Hilario Duran and Candido Camero on Thursday, Friday and Saturday November 6, 7 and 8 at Jazz Bistro.

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

Transculturalism: All Music is from Planet Earth

BBB-New`1As the writer of this column over the last year and a half, I’ve often brought to your attention how “music of the new” straddles all sorts of boundaries and traditional genres, moving beyond a Eurocentric concert music focus. The word “genreless” has popped up more than once. And now this month, the Music Gallery’s X Avant series is challenging us to consider the term “transculturalism” as a way to understand what’s happening with musicians from diverse backgrounds and influences who share a love and passion for playing on the edges of sound experimentation. In the previous story Andrew Timar explores how artistic director David Dacks defines transculturalism and how that sits within the evolution of the Music Gallery’s mandate. Here in this column, we’ll dig a little deeper into how this vision translates into the actual programming choices for this years’ X Avant festival, now in its ninth season.

X Avant IX:  The festival’s challenge to all of us as listeners and audience members is to look again at how and why we put music into various boxes – to question how we listen and make sense of the music before us. Beginning with the first concert on October 16, we are introduced to the music of zither and autoharp virtuoso Laraaji and his fusion of thenew age and world music categories. The description on the Music Gallery’s website for this concert speaks about the similarities between these two musical categories and also notes that new age music is on the rise while world music is on the decline. Two provocative statements, I thought. So what are the similarities between world and new age music? Laraaji’s music provides one perspective.

Laraaji first rose to international attention through his collaboration with Brian Eno, who released the strumming rhythms of Laraaji’s music on the 1980 album Day of Radiance, part three of Eno’s groundbreaking Ambient series. By introducing the sounds of hammered dulcimer and open-tuned zither we’re already moving into an acoustic soundworld distinct from the typical European concert experience and one often associated with folk or world music traditions. From this initial collaboration with Eno, Laraaji has gone on to become one of the major voices of the ambient/new age genre, but he’d rather use the term “architectonal music.” For him, it’s all about how music affects our consciousness, or the “architecture of the imagination” and how the power of sound and music acts as a “carrier wave of our intention.” These themes of a more spiritual focus are also present in the underpinnings of world music. (As for the decline of world music, I’ll get to that later.)

Laraaji will be performing solo and in collaboration with local musicians Brandon Valdivia and Colin Fisher (aka Not The Wind Not The Flag) and Scott Peterson. The entire evening, which also features Montreal kora player Diely Mori Tounkara, is co-produced with the Toronto-based Batuki Music Society, whose mandate is to promote African music and art and provide career assistance to local African-heritage artists.

BBB-New2The ambient/new age theme continues on October 17 with “Drums and Drones,” the name of a project between Brian Chase and Ursula Scherrer that was originally inspired by the light and sound installation Dream House created by minimalist icon La Monte Young and his colleague Marian Zazeela. Chase’s music explores the power of drones to affect and change brain wave states using the sound sources from drums and percussion and altering them through electronic processing and the use of the just intonation system. Scherrer’s images contribute to creating altered states of perception with abstract architectural forms created from light and shot footage. The drone state of mind is the ultimate goal of this union of sound and image. Also performing on the same evening will be Phrase Velocity, whose music combines tabla rhythms, synthesizers and pure waveforms.

It’s the events of October 18 that really bring home the theme of transculturism and the mixing up of musical styles. Beginning at 3pm, a roundtable discussion will address the question of how Canadian ethnocultural diversity affects contemporary musical composition. Then at 5pm, an interview with a key figure in the musical transculturism movement, DJ/Rupture, will uncover more about the global musical exchange between pop and classical music. These two dialogues will set the stage for the main evening concert event – the Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner, a 70-minute performance piece for two pianos, live electronics and voice focused on the music and life of Julius Eastman, a NYC-based gay African-American composer, pianist and vocalist.  Eastman’s minimalist-inspired music spanned the late 1960s into the 1980s and he was one of the first to integrate improvisation, classical quotations and pop music into his work. The performance is the brainchild of Jace Clayon (aka DJ/Rupture) who has taken on the telling of Eastman’s painful life story by reinvigorating two of Eastman’s largely forgotten compositions, and adding to the mix theatrical vignettes and material of his own. The evening concludes with a chance to dance out the cross-cultural vibrations with DJ Ushka at the Mojo Lounge.

BBB-New3Getting back to the assertion that world music is on the decline: it’s really more that the term itself is being rejected as culturally biased, highlighting as it does a distinction between the European tradition and the rest of the world. As Talking Heads founding member David Byrne argues in a New York Times article “I Hate World Music” back in 1999, all music is from planet Earth. This cause of distancing oneself from colonial notions of world music is one passionately embraced by Colombian-Canadian trickster and priestess Lido Pimienta, whose concert on October 19 will close out the X Avant festival. Pimienta promises to push the edges with her fiery orations on the issues of equality, gender roles, motherhood and cultural stereotypes: “Toronto is an international place, we are still segregated and not integrated. Patriarchy in Canada has it so we’re next to one another but not with one another,” she states. She will be joined by her musical- and visual-artist collaborators to create a hot-house evening of ritual-like performance art.

Sound and Image:
Many of the performances in the X Avant festival go beyond the blending of musical genres to also include projected images as an essential ingredient of the artistic message. Sometimes this way of working has a staggeringly long gestation period. Such is the case with Toronto experimental filmmaker Gary Popovich and his work Souvenir, which will be premiered on October 19 and 20 as the opener for Continuum Contemporary Music’s new season. Twenty years in the making, the film began with the commissioning of six Canadian composers to write music based on Gary’s ideas of the seasons of natural and human evolutionary history. Images were then selected, researched, shot, processed and finally edited all in response to a diligent and committed listening to the music by the filmmaker. This way of working with music is an acknowledgement of the power of sound when put alongside image – and a turning of the tables in the way films are usually created, with the music serving as accompaniment or support to the supremacy of the image.

Eager to hear more about this huge undertaking, I asked Popovich to walk me through the six seasons. Beginning with Winter to mark the coming into being of our universe, the film then takes the listener/viewer on a journey through the explosion of life in the Cambrian age (Spring) to the flourishing of agriculture and writing (Summer), the evolution of imperialism and conflict (Fall), a tribute to the cultural markers of the 20th century - both creative and destructive (Winter 2) – and concludes with allusions to present and future possibilities, including the birth of other universes (Spring 2). The music includes live performance by the Continuum ensemble, as well as electroacoustic composition. In all, the film is a souvenir of life on planet Earth, and what has been left behind.

NAISA: This month also welcomes the 13th annual SOUNDplay series produced by NAISA(New Adventures in Sound Art), a festival that highlights the interplay between sound, image and other new media artforms. On October 18, the theme of life cycles will be the focus of the night, offering video music screenings, interactive mobile performances and live electronic improvisation. On October 25, there will be a chance to experience how different artists respond visually to abstract sounds. Other events of the series occur on October 10 with special guest Dutch sound artist Jaap Blonk and on November 1 with a noise art performance by the live electronics duo Mugbait. On November 3, NAISA will participate in the New Music 101 series at the Toronto Reference Library, with a mobile performance walk exploring the acoustics of the library’s five-story open-concept design.

Additional Concerts and a Final Footnote:

For the early birds who see this on or before October 4, the following new music events will be part of Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche festivities: Canadian Music Centre– a showcase of artists who integrate global traditions with new music with Suba Sankaran, Parmela Attariwala, TorQ, Deb Sinha, Ernie Tollar. NAISA Space – Hive 2.0 – a sound sculpture by Hopkins Duffield.

Esprit Orchestra opens their new season withworks by composers Thomas Adès and Charles Ives with the performers positioned in different areas of Koerner Hall, alongside works by Canadians Paul Frehner and Chris Paul Harman. October 16.

Musideum concerts: experimental turntablism (Cheldon Paterson) on October 12; two improvisation events – October 16 (Two Ninety Two) and 21 (curated by James Bailey); works by Bill Gilliam November 6.

Toronto Masque Theatre presents Stravinsky’s classic work The Soldier’s Tale October 25 and 26.

TorQ Percussion Quartet celebrates their tenth anniversary with a concert featuring repertoire favourites on November 1.

Art of Time Ensemble includes music by George Crumb in their “The Poem/The Song” performances on November 7 and 8.

Final Footnote: As I complete the finishing touches to this column, it has just been announced that Tanya Tagaq has won the Polaris Music Prize. Transculturalism and sound experimentation is alive and raising mainstream eyebrows. So much more to say on this timely topic.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at


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