365 Years In One Operatic Month

April has become the month in the year with the single highest concentration of opera presentations. The past few years Torontonians have been so spoiled that they have had examples from every period of opera available in April alone. And this April is no exception. What makes this April unusual is the unusual number of baroque operas and brand new works on offer.  Here, by year of first public performance, are this April’s offerings.

oa-persee1649: Giasone by Francesco Cavalli on April 4, 5 and 6. The Toronto Consort continues its successful series of concert productions of early operatic masterpieces with Giasone, which holds the record as the most popular opera of the 17th century. Of the 41 operas Cavalli (1602-76) wrote, 27 still survive. Written for the Carnival season in Venice, they are characterized by their irreverent take on classical subjects. Thus, this version of the story of Jason and Medea has a happy ending and is more concerned with Giasone’s lover Isifile’s attempts to woo him away from his wife Medea than it is with Medea’s vengeance on her husband. Laura Pudwell sings the title role with Vicki St. Pierre as Delfa, Kevin Skelton as Aegeus, Bud Roach as Demo and Consort members Michelle DeBoer as Medea, Katherine Hill as Isifile and John Pepper as Besso. Artistic Director David Fallis conducts a period orchestra including strings, recorders, theorbo, baroque harp, organ, harpsichord and viola da gamba.      

1682: Persée by Jean-Baptiste Lully from April 26 to May 3. Opera Atelier remounts Lully’s masterpiece for the second time. It was first seen in 2000, then again in 2004. Chris Enns, in his first haute-contre role sings Persée, Mireille Asselin is his beloved Andromède, Peggy Kriha Dye is Mérope, Olivier Laquerre sings both Céphée and Méduse, Carla Huhtanen is Cassiope and Vasil Garvanliev is Phinée. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Marshall Pynkoski directs. From May 23 to 25 the production travels to Versailles where it has not been staged since it inaugurated the Royal Opera House on May 16, 1770, during the wedding celebrations of the future King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette.

1726: Alessandro by George Frideric Handel. On April 9, 10, 12 and 13, Isabel Bayrakdarian gives a recital with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra called “The Rival Queens” where she explores the rivalry between the two superstars of the age, Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni. Bayrakdarian will sing arias associated with the two sopranos from Handel’s Alessandro as well as arias from Giovanni Bononcini’s Astianatte (1727) and Johann Adolf Hasse’s Cajo Fabrizio (1732).

1745:  Hercules by George Frideric Handel from April 5 to 30. The COC’s first staging of Handel’s oratorio is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago directed by Peter Sellars. When Hercules first appeared, Handel was accused of writing an opera disguised as an oratorio, so it is not a great leap for the work to be presented as an opera. Sellars updates the mythological tale of Hercules and others returning home from war to the present. Eric Owens sings the title role, Alice Coote is Hercules’ jealous wife Dejanira, David Daniels is Hercules’ servant Lichas, Lucy Crowe is Hercules’ captive Iole and Richard Croft is Hercules’ son Hyllus. Baroque music expert Harry Bickett conducts.

onopera graphics1837: Roberto Devereux by Gaetano Donizetti from April 25 to May 21. In 2010 the COC gave us Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda in a production from Dallas Opera. This year it gives us another helping of what some call Donizetti’s “Three Queens” trilogy with the story of Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex (1565-1601), an ambitious favourite of Elizabeth’s who led a coup d’état against her. Giuseppe Filianoti sings the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky makes her role debut as Elisabetta, Russell Braun is the Duke of Nottingham and Allyson McHardy is the Duchess of Nottingham. Corrado Rovaris conducts and Stephen Lawless, as with Maria Stuarda, is again the stage director.

1853: Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi on April 26. Opera by Request presents Verdi’s classic about love and fate in concert with Paul Williamson as Manrico, Olga Tylman as Leonora, Wayne Line as the Count di Luna, Julia Clarke as Azucena and Domenico Sanfilippo as Ferrando. William Shookhoff conducts from the piano.

1855: Ba-ta-clan by Jacques Offenbach on May 1 to 3. Opera 5 presents a double bill of French rarities at Alliance Française, 24 Spadina Rd. The first is Ba-ta-clan, the one-act operetta set in China, that was Offenbach’s first major success. In this fanciful tale, two Chinese conspirators against the Chinese Emperor realize they are both French. Aria Umezawa and Jasmine Chen direct and Maika’i Nash conducts.  

1875: Carmen by Georges Bizet on April 17 and 19. Now in its ninth season, Opera Belcanto of York (rhcentre.ca) will present a fully staged production of Bizet’s opera at the Richmond Hill Centre about a seductive gypsy and the hapless soldier who falls in love with her. Nariné Ananikyan, soloist for the National Opera of Armenia, is Carmen, Gayané Mangassarian is Micaëla while Stanislas Vitort and James Ciantar alternate in the role of Don José.

1876: Siegfried by Richard Wagner on April 5. Opera by Request takes on the heroic task of presenting Wagner’s mythological opera in concert with Lenard Whiting as Siegfried, Oliver Dawson as Mime, Andrew Tees as Wotan, Margarete von Vaight as Brünnhilde and John Holland as Alberich. The tireless William Shookhoff conducts from the piano.

1893:Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck from April 25 to 27. Metro Youth Opera was founded by Kate Applin in 2010 to give Toronto’s young opera singers the chance to perform complete roles. The company’s fourth production is Humperdinck’s beloved fairy-tale opera first conducted by Richard Strauss. Kate Applin and Lyndsay Promane sing Gretel and her brother Hänsel, Kelsey Vicary and Peter Bass are their Mother and Father and Stephanie Trichew is the Witch. Director Alison Wong has relocated the setting to a dangerous urban world. Blair Salter is the music director. The opera is sung in German with English surtitles.

1898: L’Île du rêve by Reynaldo Hahn from May 1 to 3. This three-act opera is the second half of the double bill by Opera 5 above. This, the first opera of Hahn (1874-1947), a Venezuelan-born French composer best known for his songs, is subtitled an “idylle polynésienne” and is based on Pierre Loti’s account of his romantic liaison with a native woman in Tahiti in 1880.    

1921: Der Vetter aus Dingsda by Eduard Künneke on May 1 to 4. The final offering of the season from Toronto Operetta Theatre is the Canadian premiere of an operetta by the Berlin composer Eduard Künneke (1885-1953), who studied with Max Bruch and wrote four operas, 12 operettas and two musicals. The TOT is translating the title as The Cousin from Nowhere, but when the Ohio Light Opera presented it, it chose the title The Cousin from Batavia. Just as we say “whatshisname” when we can’t think of the name of a person, Germans say “Dingsda” when they can’t think of the name of a place. The action takes place in Holland where Julia has been waiting for the return of her beloved from his travel to Batavia, as the Dutch colony in Indonesia was known. A stranger appears who introduces himself as the nephew of Julia’s guardians, but Julia can’t tell whether he is or is not her beloved Roderich. The operetta is packed with one memorable tune after another, the most famous being the stranger’s song “Ich bin nur ein armer Wandergesell.” While some over here may not have heard of it, the operetta is so popular in Europe that there have been five new productions of it in Germany and Switzerland since 2012. In fact, when the Ohio Light Opera presented it in 2000, the demand for tickets was so strong the show was brought back in 2002. The TOT production features Lucia Cesaroni, Elizabeth Beeler, Christopher Mayell, Stefan Fehr and Keenan Viau. Jurgen Petrenko makes his TOT conducting debut and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.

1932: Pedro Malazarte by Camargo Guarneri on April 2 by University of Toronto Opera Division. Pedro Malazarte is the first presentation in a new initiative at the Opera Division called “Opera Rara.” The aim is to bring to light unfamiliar or unjustly neglected works from the past. In this case conducting student Rafael Luz from Brazil wanted to stage this one-act comic opera from his native country in what will be its North American premiere. Guarneri (1907-1993), whose parents burdened him with the first name “Mozart,” wrote two operas, the other being the one-act tragedy Um Homem Só (1960). His comic opera concerns the Brazilian folk hero Malazarte, who is hoping to have an affair with the fair Baiana. When her husband Alamão unexpectedly returns home, Malazarte manages a clever turnabout. Rafael Luz conducts and Amanda Smith directs at the Lula Lounge. Admission is free.     

2014: Etiquette by Monica Pearce / Regina by Elisha Denburg / Heather by Christopher Thornborrow on April 5. Essential Opera presents a triple bill of brand new operas. Etiquette, composed to a libretto by John Terauds, former music critic for the Toronto Star, looks at life through the eyes of Dorothy Parker, Emily Post and Nancy Astor. Regina, composed to a libretto by Maya Rabinovitch, tells the story of Regina Jonas, who in 1935 Berlin became the first woman to be ordained a rabbi. Heather, composed to a libretto by Julie Tepperman, explores the phenomenon of online bullying between girls and young women. This varied program is conducted by David Passmore with musical director Cheryl Duvall at the piano and a cast that includes Erin Bardua, Maureen Batt, Julia Morgan, Keith O’Brien and Jesse Clark. Visit the website to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign to support these premieres.  

2014: Europa and the White Bull by James Rolfe on April 25 and 26. Toronto Masque Theatre explores the myth of Zeus’ rape of the maiden Europa in a program called “The Myth of Europa: Desire, Transformation and Possession.” First it presents the cantata L’Europe by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737). Second is a new work Europa and the White Bull by composer James Rolfe to a libretto by Steven Heighton that looks at the darker themes of the story. The evening features soprano Suzie LeBlanc, actor Martin Julien, dancer Stéphanie Brochard with Larry Beckwith conducting the TMT Ensemble from the violin. Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière is the choreographer and stage director.

2014: L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime on April 11 only. FAWN Opera presents the world premiere of Scime’s electro-acoustic chamber opera in a workshop production. Ian Koiter’s libretto, based on text “The Shepherd of Hermas” from the second century concerns one man’s struggle to live righteously. The soloists are baritone Giovanni Spanu and sopranos Larissa Koniuk and Adanya Dunn. Patrick Murray conducts the Thin Edge New Music Collective and Amanda Smith directs.

2014: Tap: Ex Revolutions by Tapestry New Opera on April 4 and 5. “Tap:Ex” (short for Tapestry Explorations) is a new project by Tapestry to explore the relationship between physical and musical expression. The performance will involve singers Neema Bickersteth, Andrea Ludwig, Adrian Kramer and Andrew Love, choreographer Marie-Josée Chartier and director Michael Mori using music from Bach, Rachmaninov, Meredith Monk, Andrew Staniland and Ivan Barbotin. 

As usual, there is more than enough on offer in the 365 years encompassed by these listings to create your own opera festival.

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


Fearless Haas Quartet Debut

classicalandbeyond pavelhaasquartet-credit-marcoborggreveThe Pavel Haas Quartet, the acclaimed Czech string quartet, makes its highly anticipated Toronto debut April 10 in Walter Hall. The music world began to take notice of the group’s youthful vigour three years into the quartet’s life when it won the Paolo Borciani competition in Italy in the spring of 2005. A Supraphon record contract soon led to their first two CDs containing material close to their hearts, Janáček’s two string quartets and Pavel Haas’ three. Their penultimate recording, a disc of Dvořák’s String Quartets No. 12 in F major “American” and No. 13 in G major, was greeted with widespread critical acclaim culminating in Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award in the fall of 2011.

I’m looking forward to their performance of Brahms Quartet No. 2 in A minor with its lovely opening movement’s dusky poignancy. Like The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 in C Major celebrates the work of Henry Purcell, whom Britten rightly called “the last important figure of English music.” I’m also eagerly anticipating the Pavel Haas Quartet’s venture into such a singular British realm, in particular the last movement theme and variations chacony that ends with a huge celebration. They’re certainly familiar with the U.K., having performed in Wigmore Hall and beyond and been artists in residence for three years in Glasgow Royal Concert Halls.

First violinist Veronika Jarůšková formed the group with fellow students of Milan Škampa, the legendary violist of the celebrated Smetana Quartet. An interview on Tokafi.com in 2007 soon after their first recording, revealed that Škampa was their biggest artistic influence: “He taught us about quartet dialogue and about life as a quartet.” Their idea of what constitutes a good live performance continues to be their byword: “Most important is to hand over our feeling through music to the audience.”

In an email exchange I asked founding PHQ violist Pavel Nikl how the quartet chose its name:

“It was a coincidence,” he said. “At the time when we were trying to find a suitable name, a good friend of ours showed us a recording of the second string quartet composed by Pavel Haas and we liked it very much. So we asked his daughter, who still lives in Brno to get her consent to name our group after her father. She agreed. And all of us are happy that such great music [of Pavel Haas] will not fall into oblivion despite the fact he died very young [at 45] in a concentration camp and a lot of his music disappeared with him.”

In a 2010 interview with Graham Strahle in the Adelaide Review, PHQ cellist Peter Jarusek (Jarůšková’s husband) said that their namesake is a beacon for what the quartet seeks to achieve on an artistic level. “It is the unwavering genuineness of the man and what he did that means a lot to us. We are a young group, but that doesn’t mean that we consciously set out to be more attractive, stylistically innovative or anything like that. We just try to communicate the best we can to our audience, that is with intimacy and no artifice.

Haas’ music is all highly personal, original music from a man who believed very deeply in what he was doing. Throughout his music he uses many Jewish melodies, and you can feel it is Jewish. At the same time, he was fearlessly innovative. His Second String Quartet, for instance, which he called ‘From the Monkey Mountains,’ actually includes percussion in the last movement, and it’s an absolute riot. It really is like big band music for string quartet.”

In response to a question about the way the group chooses its material Nikl replied: “We try to choose pieces from every period of classical music to achieve a rich repertoire. We are lucky that no one is forcing us to play what we ourselves do not want to play. So we simply choose what we would like to play. The repertoire for string quartet is so rich that we are not able to play so much beautiful music during a lifetime. “

The quartet’s most recent recording was released last September. Featuring Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden” and the Cello Quintet with Danjulo Ishizaka, the CD has generated a major outpouring of praise. Here’s an example from British blogger Peter Smith: “The Times reviewer wrote ‘If CDs had grooves I would already have worn out these marvellous recordings  … the perfect fusion of virtuosity and profundity.’ Indeed. These performances are of a quite unworldly quality, deeply felt yet utterly thought-through, the most passionate you have heard but with moments of haunting delicacy, with an overarching architectural vision always holding it all together.”

The Gramophone reviewer wrote about their “fearless risk-taking, their fervency” and “insanely memorable phrasing,” calling the PHQ “absolutely mesmerizing” and “raw, visceral, and with an emotional immediacy that is almost unbearable.”

Their upcoming concert presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto is comprised of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 1, in addition to the Britten and Brahms, all from the same C major tonal family. When I pointed this out to Nikl, he said it was coincidence, something he had not realized until now. These pieces have only been part of the quartet’s repertoire for a short time, about a year for the Brahms and Britten but less for the third. “The Shostakovich quartet is almost a new piece for us,” he said.

Replying to a question about live performance versus studio work, Nikl piqued my curiosity once more about their April 1o debut. “Our approach is always the same. We try to play hard and do not distinguish whether we are playing on the concert stage or whether we are recording. But there is a fundamental difference. Unlike recording, on the stage we have just one shot for all ...”

Recent Events

Stephen Hough’s masterclass at RCM’s Mazzoleni Hall March 3 overflowed with insights from that most discerning of pianists:

•“Have the courage to do nothing sometimes.”

•“Late Chopin – he became more interested in counterpoint – needs clarity; the right hand has to be able to whisper and still the accompaniment must be softer.”

•“Descending chromatics in Western music from the Renaissance on is all about suffering.”

•“Let’s find a real pianissimo so that it’s floating from the elbow; a real pianissimo in the concert hall makes an audience listen [as Hough’s blissful unveiling of Schoenberg’s Six Little Pieces in his March 2 Koerner Hall recital illustrated].

•“We have evidence (Horowitz’s Rach 3) where you don’t have to play all the notes; sometimes you need to thin things out – this was Horowitz’s great trick. Rubinstein admitted he left out notes in Iberia by Albéniz to get the ‘lift.’”

•“Some kind of musical clarity is more important than playing all the notes.”

Gustavo Dudamel’s visit to Roy Thomson Hall March 19 ignited his orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and electrified the near-capacity crowd. His stellar status stems from his musical approach which energizes his players and invigorates the notes they play. The Toronto concert juxtaposed John Corigliano Jr.’s Symphony No. 1, an alternately tuneful and violent reflection of the composer’s reaction to the AIDS epidemic, with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, with its own brand of fateful splendour.

Dudamel turned Corigliano’s massive outpouring of pain and beauty (written at the end of the 1980s and inspired directly by the death of three of his friends) into a showcase for his superb orchestral instrument. The conductor laid bare the work’s many textures, from an offstage piano quoting Albéniz to double tympani at opposite ends of the stage, from a heavenly solo cello to the stark shrill of three piccolos at triple fortissimo.

But it was the Tchaikovsky that confirmed Dudamel’s reputation and justified an immediate standing ovation. He revealed the visceral power of the music, making the familiar fresh -- with great clarity throughout and restraint when appropriate, from the snark of the brass to the anguish of the strings, with perfectly phrased moments and bars snapped off as if by a bullwhip, even unearthing a note you’ve never really heard before.

And then, at the end, with an elegance that acknowledged his love and respect for the orchestra, he disappeared into their midst to soak up the applause.

Concert-copia

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra bids farewell to a stellar month April 30 and May 1 with Sir Andrew Davis conducting Mahler’s essential Symphony 9 in D. April 17 and 19 finds the fascinating pianist Hélène Grimaud as soloist in Brahms’ Concerto No. 1 under the baton of Andrey Boeyko, music director of the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra. On April 11 and 12 Mozart’s vivacious Piano Concerto No. 17 comes under the scrutiny of the highly respected Richard Goode while Peter Oundjian also leads the orchestra in Richard Strauss’ gloriously hubristic Ein Heldenleben.

The Kindred Spirits Orchestra celebrates Good Friday April 18 with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Andre LaPlante performing Beethoven’s Concerto No.5 “Emperor” and Schumann’s Symphony No.1 “Spring.” Kristian Alexander conducts.

April 6 the Royal Conservatory concludes another season of Sunday afternoon piano recitals with a power-packed program by Khatia Buniatishvili. Liszt’s Piano Sonata and Chopin’s Second Sonata bookend Ravel’s iconic La valse. Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka conclude the breathtaking proceedings.

Music Toronto brings back Kikuei Ikeda, former violinist of the beloved Tokyo String Quartet, to join the Parker Quartet as a violist April 10 in a performance of Dvořák’s Quintet in E-flat Op.97 while April 28 finds the Associates of Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Mozart’s String Quintet No.3 in C, K515 and Brahms’ String Quintet No.2 in G Op.111.

In their program May 4, the Windermere String Quartetnote that “the 13th quartets of Haydn and Beethoven [the lyrical Op. 130] bookend the era of the classical quartet: from the making of the mould to the breaking of it.”

The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society offers an alternative interpretation of Britten’s String Quartet No.2 when they present the Enso Quartet April 11, one day after the Pavel Haas Quartet plays it in Toronto. On April 15 pianist Philip Chiu includes his own arrangement of the Suite for Oboe and Piano by Pavel Haas in his free noontime concert “Music in the Time of War” at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre.

Two Grammy Award Winners: April 4 Jeffery Concerts presents James Ehnes accompanied by Andrew Armstrong performing LeClair’s Sonata No. 3 in D major, op. 9, Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor, op. 108, a new work by Alexina Louie and Richard Strauss’ Sonata in E-flat major, op. 18 while the iconic Canadian Brass concludes the Mooredale Concerts current season April 27.

  Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

“Youthful” Assumptions

choralscene paxAnyone involved in arts work knows the importance of involving youth in art’s survival. So how does one generation pass on its interests and traditions to the next? A method often employed by well-meaning over 30s is to solicit ideas and suggestions from the young. The assumption is that such ideas must be indicative of future trends that the cautious elderly would do well to heed.

The problem with this method as Canadian author Robertson Davies once observed is that rather than being open-minded, children and teens can be notably conservative, insisting on strict protocols of behaviour, discourse, gender roles and physical appearance.

When very young we grasp for certainty out of a lack of knowledge or experience, and move towards innovation and experimentation as our understanding and confidence grow. New art is created within the uncomfortable nexus between embracing and rejecting what has been learned.

True, suppressed conservative attitudes in both art and politics often re-emerge as people get older (with notable, or brave, or nutty exceptions), but neither conservatism and liberalism, artistic or otherwise, is really tied to age. True open-mindedness is a rare quality and is often limited to specific areas. There’s no guarantee that a liberal attitude to politics, religion, even food (not to mention more transgressive entertainments), will be accompanied by a liberal attitude towards music or other art forms.

The problem for the choir director, or any teacher of music, is to strike a balance between imparting past traditions and striking into new territory. The question of when to lead, and when to be led by, youthful suggestions can be perplexing. The most cutting-edge art often dates the most quickly, and a choir director can be forgiven for wondering if having the bass section beatbox to a Lorde hit is really the right choice.

There are a number of children’s and youth ensembles performing this month; their performances are referenced a little further on in the column.  Judge for yourself if their work represents the wave of the future, a familiar continuation of the past, or the usual elusive mix of both.

First though, a note on some less than usual fare.

Rarities

On April 5 the Larkin Singers perform “Modern Mystics,” including works by Tavener, Dove, Briggs and others.

On May 3 the Orpheus Choir of Toronto teams up with Chorus Niagara for a performance of Dvořák’s Requiem in St. Catharines; the concert is repeated the next day at Koerner Hall.

On Apr 26 7:30 Pax Christi Chorale performs “Passion and Peace: Radiant Music, Ancient Wisdom” in Kitchener, with three compositions not heard often enough live: Fauré’s Messe Basse; Langlais’ Missa Salve Regina and Randall Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom. Conductor Stephanie Martin, also a notable composer, premieres her Now The Queen of Seasons. Concert repeated April 27 in Toronto.

Youth and Young Artist Ensembles

On April 1 the York University Jazz Festival has performances from several of the music program’s Jazz Choirs. Admission is free.

On April 6 young adult and children’s choirs combine, as the University of Toronto Women’s Chorus performs “In High Voice,” with guests Young Voices Toronto. This ensemble is the Children’s Choir-in-Residence at Uof T’s Faculty of Music – another chance to see them takes plays on May 1, when they combine with the Hamilton Children’s Choir to present a free noon-hour concert at Roy Thomson Hall.

On the “imparting past traditions” side of the coin, the Arcady choir joins forces with the Cambridge Kiwanis Boys’ Choir and Cambridge Girls’ Choir to perform Handel’s Messiah on April 13 in Cambridge. The concert is in support of the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.

In a similar vein, The University of Waterloo Department of Music’s University Choir performs Orff’s Carmina Burana on April 5 in Waterloo. The Waterloo U. Chamber Choir presents a concert entitled “Earth Teach Me,” on April 4 in Kitchener.

One area in which youth ensembles will likely always out-perform adult ensembles is in show choirs, which combine singing with physically challenging activities that involve bending and twisting, which is what most of us joined choirs to avoid. The Show Choir Canada Nationals, a competition for show choirs, takes place on April 12. High school glee clubs and choirs compete for scholarships and prizes. Visit showchoircanada.com for more information.

Children’s Choirs

choralscene torontochildren schorusThe Toronto Children’s Chorus (TCC) takes a systematic approach to choral training, with several junior ensembles as well as the main group.

On April 5 no fewer than ten Ontario children’s choirs get together to perform “Flights of Fancy – No Parachute,” conducted by Canadian choral specialist Stephen Hatfield. The TCC’s junior ensembles are taking part in this concert, and on April 12 the TTC’s Chorale Choir performs “Fanciful Fantasmagorical Flights,” a concert that will contain choreography as well as singing.

On May 3 all the Toronto Children’s Chorus groups join together to perform “Flights of Fancy,” with works by tuneful Canadian composers Donald Patriquin and Ruth Watson Henderson, among others.

On April 12 Islington United Church’s Youth Choir and Junior Choir present a joint concert entitled “A Place in the Choir: Youthful Voices.” Free for children and youth.

On May 4 the ASLAN Boys Choir of Toronto kicks out against the city’s inland status in a concert with nautical themes entitled “Pirates, Landlubbers and the High Seas.” Repertoire includes traditional shanties and songs about life on the ocean.

 Anniversaries

Two choirs celebrate 25-year anniversaries in May. In Toronto, the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir performs works by Monteverdi, Canadian composer Stephen Hatfield, Paul Halley’s catchy Freedom Trilogy and Wade Hemsworth’s iconic Canadian song, Log Driver’s Waltz. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to the Huban Cradle of Hope Children’s Home orphanage in Kenya. May 3.

Also May 3, Markham’s Village Voices performs “Silver Stars: 25th Anniversary Concert.” Alumni and past accompanists will join the choir for music by Handel, Mozart, opera and music theatre choruses.

Good Friday Concerts

All of the following concerts take place on Good Friday, April 18:

Cantabile Chorale of York Region “Good Friday Charity Benefit Concert.” Admission with freewill offering; proceeds to selected social service agencies in York Region.

The Choir of Lawrence Park Community Church performs popular English composer John Rutter’s Requiem.

Bach and Good Friday go together like hip-hop and beatbox. Bach’s St. John Passion can be heard in Kitchener with the Grand Philharmonic Choir, and in Toronto performed by the Metropolitan Festival Choir and Orchestra. Both concerts feature outstanding vocal soloists.

Bach’s Mass In B minor also gets a reading April 12, by the combined forces of the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto and the Elmer Iseler Singers. All three Bach concerts feature outstanding vocal soloists.

That’s it for this month. If any choir director is still pondering the advisability of incorporating Lorde and beatboxing into their choral bag of tricks, I say: “Go for it.” Bach and beatbox are a good deal more similar than you might think, and any technique that gets choral singers thinking about rhythm can only be a good thing!

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

 

Amateur Choirs, Professional Soloists

artofsong kasia-konstantykasiaOne of the main problems for even the most talented young singer is how to get his or her career started. There are many places where a solid training is given: the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory or the music faculties or departments at our Universities, such as Toronto and McGill, York and Western Ontario. Then there are opportunities for further training through the mentorship program at Toronto Summer Music or the Opera Division at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, the Ensemble Studio of the Canadian Opera Company or the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal.

In a number of cases such participation has led to important professional engagements. This season, for instance, we were able to hear several recent graduates of the Ensemble Studio in major roles at the COC: Ileana Montalbetti sang Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Simone Osborne performed Musetta in La bohème and Oscar in Un ballo in maschera. In the recent Tafelmusik performances of Handel’s Saul, the part of Saul’s daughter Michal was sung by Sherezade Panthaki, an alumna of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. And there are always competitions: the North York Concert Orchestra (NYCO) recently announced the winners of the 2013/14 Mozart Competition: Leigh-Ann Allen and Natalya Matyusheva, soprano, Lauren Phillips, mezzo, and Keith Kam, baritone. They will sing with NYCO on May 31.

Read more: Amateur Choirs, Professional Soloists

Comings and Goings

It’s good to get out of the city once in a while. The Toronto early music scene is now big enough that rather than simply staying home and welcoming guest artists from elsewhere, our own artists are starting to migrate and perform on the outskirts of the GTA and occasionally further out – really as far as one could reasonably expect to drive in the course of one day. I really hope this is a positive development for both the musicians and the cities they visit. If you live in say, Stratford or Hamilton, you can get a little more variety in entertainment and nightlife, and if you’re a Toronto-based artist, you can tour not too far from home and get a chance to make some more money with a program you would otherwise only get to perform in town.

earlymusic borys-medickyVesuvius: If you live in St. Catharines, you might want to catch an outstanding Toronto group playing early this month. The Vesuvius Ensemble, founded by singer and guitarist Francesco Pellegrino, is devoted to playing traditional music from Italy, and they are performing at St. Barnabas Anglican Church at 2pm April 6 in a program of renaissance and baroque music. Painting a vivid picture of 17th-century Naples, the Vesuvius Ensemble will show the life of an exotic city and its surrounding countryside heavily influenced by Arabic and Spanish culture but with its own distinct culture that set it apart from the rest of Italy and Europe. This group also plays on a wide variety of traditional Italian instruments and guitars as well as more conventional baroque instruments, so you’ll definitely enjoy this program if you’re an Italianophile or just a gearhead.

Medicky: Another Toronto artist who has expanded outside the GTA is harpsichordist Borys Medicky. A co-founder of the Toronto Continuo Collective, Medicky has found something of a home away from home in Kitchener-Waterloo, where he leads the Nota Bene Baroque Players. April 12 Nota Bene will be putting on a fundraising concert at First United Church in Waterloo, performing Handel’s Messiah (which, I note as a musicological aside, is traditionally a concert celebrating Easter, not Christmas). Nota Bene is going all-out with this concert, which features soloists Daniel Taylor and Michael Schade, with John Thiessen on trumpet and Jan Overduin as a guest harpsichordist. And if that isn’t enough to draw a crowd, it’s also a sing-along and should be a blast. (There is a regular performance April 13.)

Lully: Closer to home, a must-see event is Opera Atelier’s run of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Persée, which they’ll be performing at the Elgin Theatre on April 26, 27, 29, and 30 as well as May 2 and 3. Opera Atelier has the singular honour of being the early music group responsible for reviving the classic Lully opera, which had its last performance in Versailles in the 1770s and had never been heard since until the group dug up the work in the 1990s. While it isn’t the first time Opera Atelier has done Persée, they will be taking the show back to Versailles after this run in Toronto, so this is a great chance to experience the work of a local group that is among the top ranks of performing artists worldwide.

Toronto Consort: Italian opera in the 17th century wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the operas playing at Versailles (it’s hard to match the budget available to the king of France) but Cavalli’s opera Giasone is still a great piece of music that opera fans should find to be an essential part of the opera canon. Based on the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, it was the most popular opera of the century. This month, the Toronto Consort is putting on its own production of Giasone. Laura Pudwell will join the Toronto Consort to sing the role of Jason (no castrati being available any more) and the Consort will supply the backup band of strings, continuo and winds. It all happens on April 4, 5, and 6 at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre.

Suzie Leblanc: Anyone in Toronto still looking to get their fix of opera this month should consider checking out the Toronto Masque Theatre – they’ll be presenting an opera of sorts at the Trinity-St Paul’s Centre on April 25 and 26. The opera in question is Michel Pignolet de Montéclair’s L’Europe, a cantata for soprano based on the myth of Europa. There’s only one vocal part, along with a backup band, in this cantata, so you could think of it as opera on the cheap, or alternately as really souped-up vocal chamber music. Suzie Leblanc will be singing with TMT and the concert will be further fortified by the choreography of Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, the dancing of Stéphanie Brochard and the acting talents of Martin Julien, so it will be a fine multimedia experience that will delight aficionados of French Baroque music. Also on the program is a newly-commissioned contemporary work: Toronto-based composer James Rolfe’s Europa and the White Bull, so if you don’t want to hear something old, stick around and listen for something new.

earlymusic sine-nomine-ensembleSine Nomine: If you’re completely against the idea of new music, indulge your inner arch-conservative and consider checking out the Sine Nomine Ensemble in a program devoted to the music of Guillaume de Machaut. Machaut was the leading composer of 14th-century France and an early writer of polyphonic masses and motets. If you have any interest in medieval music at all or are looking for a good place to start, Machaut is an excellent introduction to the Middle Ages. Sine Nomine will perform at St. Thomas Anglican Church  at 8pm on April 25.

Scaramella: a chamber group with a reputation for bringing together informative and well-thought-out programs, this month Scaramella will play a concert devoted to the invention of the cello in Italy in the latter half of the 17th century and the gradual musical Darwinism that ensued as it sought to take the place in the musical world previously held by the viola da gamba. The cello ultimately won that contest, but it was a hard-won fight that lasted nearly a hundred years. Cellist Elinor Frey and gambaist Joëlle Morton will square off in an epic battle of bowed bass instruments, assisted by Daniel Zuluaga on chitarrone and guitar. Who will win? Find out at 8pm April 12 at Innis Town Hall.

Musical rivalry: it’s a great way to sell tickets, and it’s especially fun to watch in opera. Tafelmusik will commemorate one of the most famous rivalries in opera history, the battle between Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni. Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian will join the orchestra at Koerner Hall on April 9, 10, 12, and 13 for a program featuring arias written for the two divas by Handel, Hasse, and Bononcini; it also includes concertos by Handel, Vivaldi, and Telemann, and a sinfonia by Zelenka. I should stress that Ms. Bayrakdarian is singing all the arias composed for the two divas herself, so it is the historical rivaly that will be on display in what should be a comparatively civilized affair.

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

inwiththenew gavin-bryars-credit nick-whiteAs I sit down to write this month’s WholeNote column, the date (March 20) tells me that it’s the first day of spring. Even though I see snow falling outside my window, I know that a completely different sensation is waiting in the wings: a mingling of the smells, sounds and colours of emerging spring. And with the arrival of April comes a plethora of in-with-the-new performances that promise to take the listener into a multiple-sensory experience.  

Back in 1827, the German philospher K.F.E.Trahndorff coined the term “Gesamtkunstwerk” to express the idea of a synthesis of the arts. About 20 years later, the (in)famous composer Richard Wagner used this term to describe his vision of the unification of all forms of art into one expression. This ideal became the foundational principle of his operatic style.  A companion to this idea is the phenomenon of synesthesia, a word created from the combination of two ancient Greek words meaning “together” and “sensation.” The word describes the experience that some people have when the stimulation of one sense creates an involuntarily response in one of the other senses.  An example would be someone who automatically sees colours while listening to music, or vice versa. So while the sensory world of spring begins to awaken around us, inside the concert hall the listener will have several opportunities to experience a variety of approaches to the combining of art forms, with or without an accompanying dramatic component. 

Art of Time Ensemble: The WholeNote’s cover story last month talked about the symbiotic relationship between dance and music in the work of Peggy Baker and how crucial her collaboration with pianist Andrew Burashko was for how she works with live music. This collaboration was equally formative for Burashko, who states that Peggy gave him “a whole new universe” in exposing him to a range of theatrical elements. And that without this infusion of new approaches, his ensemble, Art of Time, could not have happened. In fact his ensemble’s reputation has been built on the daring and innovative interaction with outstanding artists in many different artistic disciplines, including dancers, writers, actors and non-classical musicians. Their production running from April 9 to 12 is titled “I Send You This Cadmium Red: Meditations On Colour And Sound.” This exploration of the senses will combine music, theatre and visual projections to create a kaleidoscopic effect, which can best be described as a film, a painting, an essay, a play and a concert —all at once. In fact the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts, and promises to be mesmerizing. 

The music of composer Gavin Bryars will provide the score for the evening. Two of his works will be performed by the ensemble: After the Requiem and the title piece I Send You this Cadmium Red.  The latter work by Bryars is based on a correspondence between the visual artist John Christie and Booker award-winning writer John Berger, who wrote The Ways of Seeing. To begin their collaboration Christie sent Berger a square of colour along with a letter that ended with the sentence “I send you this cadmium red.” John Berger’s reply was a musing on the cadmium red as well as many other colours, and the ensuing correspondence began a series of meditations on the essence of individual colours, while also delving into poetry, art history and memory. The correspondence eventually became both a book and a radio broadcast for which Bryars wrote music to underscore the colour themes in the texts.  Performing the text taken from these letters in the Toronto production will be actors John Fitzgerald Jay and Julian Richings.  To get a sense of the stunning explosion of colour and sound of this piece, I highly recommend viewing a short video from a 2011 performance of the work co-produced by Art of Time and Canadian Stage.

Toronto Masque Theatre: Even before the term Gesamtkunstwerk was coined, the art of masque existed. Tracing its origins back to the 16th and 17th centuries, this European form of interdisciplinary entertainment involved music, dance, song, acting, stage design and costumes. The Toronto Masque Theatre is dedicated to reviving this art form both through the performance of early works and the commissioning of new works.  On April 25 and 26 they will present two pieces exploring the Greek myth of Europa, after whom the continent of Europe was named.  Alongside a baroque-era work by Pignolet de Montéclair will be the premiere of Toronto composer James Rolfe’s  Europa and the White Bull.  With a libretto written by poet/novelist Steven Heighton, this 21st century masque will expose the darker sides of the myth: power, sexuality and ethics.  There are many versions of the original, but at the heart of the story is an encounter between Europa (sometimes equated with the goddesses Astarte and Demeter) and a bull, an animal sacred to the Cretan Minoans.  (As a side note, I recommend a unique take on this story set in Ontario:  the novel entitled Europa in the Wilderness written by Christopher Malcolm and published by Augusta House Press. )

Contemporary Opera: Then there is contemporary opera, a world that continues to imbue the traditional form with new elements. Last month, I introduced the FAWN opera company and their new workshop opera productions.  On April 11, they are premiering a new chamber opera by award-winning composer Adam Scime, L’Homme et le Ciel.  Based on sources from the second century, the libretto by Ian Koiter recounts one man’s struggle to live righteously. Scime introduces electronics into the score as both an enhancement of the orchestral colours and to further the narrative. On May 3, FAWN presents an event in their Synesthesia series: a showcase of eight short films by emerging Canadian filmmakers with live soundtracks by Toronto composers. 

Back to opera: the Essential Opera company will be premiering three new one-act operas by three composers from the Toy Piano Composers collective on April 5. Monica Pearce’s Etiquette combines music and speech to present various opinions about the role of etiquette in society.  Elisha Denburg’s Regina is based on the story of the world’s first female rabbi – Regina Jonas. Chris Thornborrow’s Heather explores the issues of cyberbullying.  Just a week later, on April 12, these co-directors/composers of the Toy Piano Composers group will be presenting a concert entitled “Tension/Resolution: New Music for Harp and Ensemble” featuring soloist Angela Schwarzkopf and the TPC Ensemble. All works on the program are composed by TPC composers, who represent an eclectic range of interests and aesthetics – from chamber music to improvisation to sound installations and noise art.

Soundstreams: The groundbreaking Australian Art Orchestra has evolved their own way of blending and reinventing by breaking down barriers between disciplines, forms and cultures.   On April 15, Soundstreams will present the Canadian premiere of their jazz-infused piece Passion After St. Matthew, a reinvention of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Five of the ensemble’s composers were asked to write new pieces inspired by five movements from Bach’s masterpiece and these are linked together by chorale passages.  However, the piece is a constantly evolving structure, and the Toronto performance will put together six members of the AAO with a 12-person ensemble of acclaimed Canadian musicians to create a unique new hybrid of the piece. The program will also feature a new work by Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizée, Hymns to Pareidolia, which will combine instrumental textures and turntable-based sounds in Lizée’s exploration of Bach’s themes.

inwiththenew rick-sacksMusic Gallery: Lizée pops up again this month in the Continuum/Music Gallery co-production “By Other Means” on May 4.  In a concert that explores non-traditional techniques and new musical devices, Lizée will combine her turntable techniques with the sounds of Atari video games. She will be joined in this evening of sonic experimentation by international composers Salvatore Sciarrino, Hugo Morales Murguía, Erik Griswold, and Canadian Thierry TidrowExtended techniques are highlighted also at the Music Gallery’s April 12 concert featuring Toronto-born musicians Noam Bierstone and Bryan Holt performing an evening of avant-garde Scandinavian works for cello and percussion, including two by Finland’s Kaija Saariaho.   This season the Music Gallery has been spreading beyond the walls of their home at St. George the Martyr church and producing events in other Toronto venues.  On April 16, they venture into the heart of Kensington Market and its fringe-arts haven Double Double Land to bring Brooklyn-based vocalist Julianna Barwick to Toronto for an experience of spiritual ambience from a one-woman choir. She will be joined on the bill by another Brooklynite, Vasillus, as well as Castle If and Toronto’s Christian Duncan with her astonishing five-octave voice.

Additional concerts to bring in the spring:  April 22 pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico celebrates the CD release of Glass Houses Volume 2 featuring compositions by Ann Southam. Diana McIntosh presents works arranged for piano, toy piano, mouth percussion, voice, live electronics and tape on April 16.  The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents the Canadian premiere of Vivian Fung’s work Aqua on April 11.

Works by contemporary composers are increasingly being programmed by more traditional concert presenters and ensembles.  Here’s a quick look at what’s available this month. Works by Arvo Pärt can be heard in concerts by INNERchamber Concerts in Stratford, April 6 and by Masterworks of Oakville Chorus & Orchestra on April 12 and 13.  The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents works by Michael Coghlan on April 6 and Claude Vivier on April 23. The New York Chamber Music Festival presents a world premiere by Michael Oesterle along with other Canadian premieres by various composers at the Heliconian Hall April 18.

And speaking of world premieres, at noon on April 24 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, percussionist Rick Sacks presents a recital on MalletKat/keyboard, titled Polar Bears and Lullabies, that includes the premiere of a new work by Sacks titled “Necessary Outcome: A Meditation on Richard Dawkins” along with other works.

The end of the academic year in April provides an opportunity to hear what’s cooking among the students of the various music programs.  On April 10, Brian Current conducts the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble in Behind the Sound of Music, another world premiere by the prolific Nicole Lizée.  April 25, the Royal Conservatory Orchestra performs Murray Schafer’s Adieu Robert Schumann.  Up at York University, a concert of new compositions from the students of Matt Brubeck (April 1) is followed by a concert on April 2 by York’s New Music ensemble.

Quick Picks:

Canadian Music Centre:  April 13 “Microexpressions: The 21st Century Virtuoso”; April 24 “Lunch Time Concert.” Beckwith, Beauvais and Uyeda; April 25 “Mid-Atlantic: A Voyage in Song.” Works by Branscombe, Coulthard, Morawetz and others.

Musideum:  Association of Improvising Musicians (AIM): April 3, 10, 17

Larkin Singers: “Modern Mystics.” Works by Tavener and others, April 5 

Syrinx Concerts Toronto:Walter Buczynski Birthday Celebration,” April 13

Symphony on the Bay. “Celebration of film composer Mychael Danna,” May 4 

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

Smartphone Serendipity Not The Only Way

worldview grebel gamelan feb. 2  2014 in theservice of therockway mennonitechurch  rockwaynews issue 22 2014-kitchener on-final fotoA recent article, “The five types of music discovery” by Stuart Dredge (The Guardian March 19, 2014), examines current ways some people “find new bands and songs.” He wonders what future search methods may be employed and his answer appears to centre on the smartphone holding the key to such searches. Dredge argues that the popular music industry is anxious to discern consumers’ tastes and choices in order to deliver what it feels listeners want, characterizing it as “music discovery.” It’s a process driven by commercial interests increasingly tied to mobile apps. Dredge proposes five platforms for music discovery. They are “friends, the crowd, curators, algorithms and serendipity,” all of which he links to smartphone and tablet platforms. Some of these domains use social networks as a “music discovery funnel.”

Dredge’s extended discussion of the role of digital music discovery in the commercial environment may puzzle, disturb, fascinate or elicit a combination of those responses from readers of this column. I have my own reservations. First of all there are clearly many more kinds of music and many more ways to discover them than he cares to deal with. Yet it got me thinking. Are there/will there ever be apps with the potential to create new audiences for world music, opening ears to a transnationally coloured musical palette?

Can commodified music discovery serve as a possible metaphor, or even a model, for the expansion of awareness of musics seen from a global perspective? How can various world musics grow their participants and audiences in our multicultural and multiethnic society? In addition to apps, which currently focus on the search and acquisition of popular commercial music genres, I can think of many other platforms through which this process occurs. They include: recordings on vinyl, tape, CD and other digital media; broadcasts of various types; the online blogosphere and social media; the live concert hall, pub, club, community centre; Meetups, hands-on playing workshops and community groups meeting in consulates and embassies.

Those interested can seek, discover and experience music from outside one’s culture of birth by all these means and I’ve touched on activities at many of them over my years at The WholeNote. Even faith-based congregations present an opportunity for such discovery: see the end of this column for an example.

Yet another platform for world music discovery is the performance courses offered at Canadian schools, conservatories, colleges and universities. Once a rarity and to a degree a novelty in the 1970s and 1980s, they are slowly becoming embedded in an increasing number of music schools alongside the received canon of classical Western music offerings.

Gamelan: I’m going to examine this process through a case study of the introduction of the instruments and repertoire of the gamelan begun in Canada in the 1980s. Emblematic of interactive communal music making, at its core gamelan is orchestral music indigenous to several regions of Indonesia. It’s played on multiple types of tuned and untuned percussion instruments but also often features wind and string instruments, as well as solo and group vocals. The source of this music is about as geographically removed as possible from Toronto, but it’s a subject close to my heart. For over three decades its study, performance and teaching have been my musical staples. During that time I’ve witnessed the incremental growth of the gamelan scene which in 1982 had no resident Canadian performers. Then only a handful of LPs and the very occasional Indonesian touring group booked in our larger halls gave any hint of the musical treasures awaiting our discovery.

In the U.S. gamelan music touched down earlier. Theatrical gamelan performances were staged daily by a visiting group at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, of which audio recordings still exist captured on early cylinder technology. The inauguration of the formal study and performance of gamelan music by Americans however dates from the mid-1950s when Mantle Hood began teaching Javanese gamelan privately in his California home. One of the founders of ethnomusicology, Hood first offered the course “Music and Dance of Java” at UCLA in the 1964-65 academic year; the Javanese musician Hardja Susilo taught the dance component. From that single course today dozens of academic gamelan programs flourish in North American colleges in addition to up to 200 active community groups.

In Canada several of gamelan music’s trailblazers were composers. They introduced it to both concert halls and universities. In 1983 the Toronto-based composer Jon Siddall formed the independent professional group Evergreen Club Gamelan playing on a Sundanese gamelan degung named Si Pawit. Three years later composition professor José Evangelista founded the Atelier de gamelan de l’Université de Montréal, its students playing in Balinese angklung and gong kebyar ensembles. Around the same time Vancouver composer Martin Bartlett brought a complete Central Javanese gamelan to Simon Fraser University and used it to conduct the “Music of Two Worlds Summer Music Intensives.” Participants not only learned the techniques of Indonesian gamelan and dance, but also that of interactive computer music, culturally disparate elements which Bartlett provocatively had students combine in composition and performance.

At the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, Dr. Annette Sanger, an ethnomusicologist specialist in the music of Bali, has directed her Balinese gamelan semar pegulingan performance course for over two decades. Spreading the music to new audiences in the 1980s I found myself among the first in Canada to lead occasional gamelan music workshops. They were held in Toronto on the Evergreen Club Gamelan’s set of degung instruments. In the 1990s and 2000s my teaching increased exponentially, introducing Torontonians to the Javanese gamelan at York University, the Royal Conservatory of Music and to many thousands of students at the Toronto District School Board, among several other institutions. This year the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan is celebrating its 30th season and most of the other gamelan ensembles and courses mentioned are still active, with other universities located on both east and west coasts introducing their own courses in the last decade.

The Grebel Gamelan: The discovery of gamelan music by playing it is still taking place in Ontario. I was pleased to read recently that Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo established a Balinese gamelan and a course in the 2013 fall term. Dr. Maisie Sum, the newly appointed faculty member in Global Music and the university’s first ethnomusicologist, teaches the course titled “World Music Ensemble: Gamelan Music of Bali” casually known as the Grebel Gamelan. Moreover Sum’s incoming mandate includes the expansion of “the study and performance of ‘world music’ in the music program.” Music students can expect to be introduced “to unfamiliar sounds, to [discover] global music by actively participating as listeners and music makers, and to encourage them to ask questions and make connections with their own beliefs, values, and practices.” Will such wide-ranging – idealistic even – goals articulated in this mission statement attract students, regional community engagement and listener participation?

Seeking background on the story of the arrival of Waterloo’s first gamelan I spoke to Sum at her office on a cold and rainy March 19 afternoon. It turns out she is a product of the Canadian gamelan scene: “I’m a member of a Balinese gamelan in Montreal and received my PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of British Columbia.” In Vancouver she studied (Balinese gamelan) gong kebyar with Michael Tenzer followed by years of music field work in Bali. “Conrad Grebel’s gamelan semaradana, a kind of seven-tone Balinese instrumental ensemble, is currently rented from its New York owners,” she noted, “but the university is exploring the purchase of its own set for the long term.” There’s also the ever-pressing matter of where to permanently house a full gamelan which takes up considerable real estate, an issue that’s been problematic for many institutions. Sum seems confident, however, that solutions will be found given the very positive, enthusiastic reception of the Grebel Gamelan course and its performances by faculty, students and audiences: “Enrolment for the ensemble doubled in the winter term, so we currently have two groups.”

What does having the first resident gamelan at Grebel/UW mean for music discovery in the Kitchener-Waterloo region? “It is important to us in many ways, some of which include broadening our students’ musical and cultural awareness, and expressing our core values such as community building, creativity, and global engagement,” Sum replied. While the new ensemble is not yet playing all the various types of instruments of the gamelan semaradana the Conrad Grebel Gamelan Ensemble video clip from its November 27, 2013 noon-hour concert exudes confidence. Enthusiastic smiles abound and a standing ovation greets the musicians. The clip is on YouTube awaiting your discovery. The group demonstrates a performance level belieing less than three months’ prep time between introducing the students to the instruments to the gig itself. This speaks volumes about their dedication but also about the embedded quality and power of the community musical tradition they passionately convey. It also speaks highly of the teaching skills of Sum and her expert Balinese guest musician, I Dewa Made Suparta.

Sum provided one more demonstration of music discovery, one which extends to transcultural community interaction. On February 2 this year her Grebel Gamelan was invited to take part in a church service at the Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener. The members of the congregation heard Grebel music theorist Carol Ann Weaver deliver a cross-cultural sermon titled, “Gamelan as Gospel: Creating Communities of Peace,” exploring parallels between communal musicking embedded in the performance of Balinese gamelan and Mennonite notions of community.

You can catch the Grebel Gamelan’s youthful energy at their concert on April 1 at 1:30pm in the Great Hall of the Student Life Centre at UW and the next day at noon at the Conrad Grebel chapel.

A few other concert picks:

April 1 at the Musideum, a fascinating blend of voices brings “Songs of Gaia meets the FreePlay Duo” to downtown Toronto’s living room concert hall. Vocalist Saina Singer and bassist George Koller meet the FreePlay Duo (Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell) in improvisations borrowing from many global music traditions. While the other illustrious musicians are no strangers to this column, Saina is. She’s from the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in the immense Siberian region of Russia. Saina began singing in a local pop idiom but then shifted focus to learn songs of Siberian indigenous peoples directly from them, thereby deepening her understanding of her ancestral culture. These musicians have not performed together before, so this concert promises to be full of fresh Northern musical spontaneity.

April 2 again at the Musideum two Toronto groups, The Horables and the Friends of Markos perform “From Freygish to Phrygian, A night of Klezmer and Greek music.” The Friends of Markos brings a rambunctious and unpretentious energy to tunes rendered in the Greek rebetiko style, while The Horables play the self-described “celebratory dance music of Eastern European Jews, as well as Gypsy dance tunes and some Django-style jazz.” Sounds like a fun evening though the dance floor will be tight.

Also on April 2 – and bringing us back to our theme this month of world music discoveries in an educational setting – the University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents their semi-annual “World Music Ensembles Concert” at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. This edition features the African Drumming and Dancing Ensemble directed by Kwasi Dunyo, Mark Duggan’s Latin-American Percussion Ensemble and the Steel Pan Ensemble directed by Joe Cullen.

worldview autorickshaw s-suba-sankaranApril 29 Small World Music presents the CD release of Autorickshaw’s edgier-than-usual fourth album The Humours of Autorickshaw at Lula Lounge. Mastermind producer Andrew Craig has woven an exciting studio musical tapestry with a solid (and often cheeky) South and North Indian seam deftly employing the considerable and diverse talents of Autorickshaw-ers vocalist Suba Sankaran and tabla wallah Ed Hanley. Thickening the rich arrangements is the glitter of Canadian instrumentalist talent including bassist Rich Brown, guitarists Justin Abedin, Kevin Breit and Adrian Eccleston, violinist Jaron Freeman-Fox, accordionist Gordon Sheard, master drummer Trichy Sankaran, drummer Larnell Lewis, dilruba player George Koller, percussionist Patrick Graham. Will they all be performing at Lula?

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

For The Benefit Of The Band

jazznotes friedlander jazz coverLast month Yale University Press released a book by the American photographer and artist Lee Friedlander. Friedlander, born in 1934, has spent years photographing the American social landscape, producing a vast amount of visual information. More than 20 books of his work have been published and this latest is called Playing for the Benefit of the Band. The title is from a 1958 interview with Warren “Baby” Dodds, one of the great drummers in jazz, now largely forgotten, conducted by the New Orleans historian, William Russell. An edited version this interview acts as an introduction to the book. In it Dodds says: “And that’s the way I play. I play for the benefit of the band.” (There’s a lesson there for more than a few drummers today.)

The subtitle of this book is New Orleans Music Culture and it is a collection of black and white photographs taken in New Orleans between 1957 and 1973. Many of the pictures are informal shots taken in the homes of the musicians,  mostly players who did not join the exodus but remained part of the local scene, names such as Blind Freddie Small, “Show Boy” Thomas, Wooden Joe Nicholas, Ann “Mama Cookie” Cook; the exceptions being photos of Louis Armstrong, Edmond Hall, Wellman Braud, Roosevelt Sykes and George Lewis. There is also a charming outdoor crowd scene in the midst of which Duke Ellington is kissing Mahalia Jackson.

From the late 1800s there was music regularly in the Vieux Quartier … parades, street musicians, jazz bands on the backs of trucks and wagons. The tradition has survived and New Orleans, of course, is unique among cities in North America. Certainly in Toronto there is music of a kind, usually percussion every day at Dundas Square, but it can’t compare to the street music heard in the Crescent City. There used to be a healthy number of concerts in Toronto, co-sponsored by the city and the Toronto Musicians’ Association Trust Fund, but the fund ran short of money and our world-class city could not come up with the relatively small amount of support which in the past had given us concerts in parks and other city locations. So access to free concerts, be it jazz or a string quartet remains something to be desired.

There is another way of bringing jazz to a wide audience that has been lost and that is exposure in the mass media. The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star used to have regular articles on jazz by respected writers like Geoff Chapman and authors Mark Miller and Jack Batten. Now? Apart from the occasional obit it is easier to find a needle in a haystack than a jazz article in one of our dailies.

It’s a situation which underscores the need for and importance of publications like The WholeNote which every month provides a wealth of of information – articles on, and listings of, what is going on in the local world of jazz and classical music. Yes, there is the internet with lots of blogs, some of them excellent, and promotional info, but the fact remains that jazz is poorer than the proverbial church mouse when it comes to recognition by the mass media.

Some years ago when jazz in Toronto was on a high I heard us described as the New Orleans of the North. I’m afraid that we have gone West.

Closing food for thought: The music critic Henry Pleasants wrote: “Jazz may be thought of as a current that bubbled forth from a spring in the slums of New Orleans to become the mainstream of the 20th century.”

Enjoy the music you hear and try to hear some of it live.

 

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

paris ayr"Beware the Ides of March,” quoth the soothsayer. We all know what happened to Caesar when he ignored that warning. I didn’t really ignore that cautionary pronouncement, but was a bit cavalier when I ventured out on one of our less than springlike days just prior to the Ides of March and ended up in a thrilling battle to control a fishtailing car. Fortunately for all, the driver of a rapidly approaching vehicle chose to hit the ditch rather than hit my car. What has all of that to do with this month’s column? I began last month’s column with the plea “When will it end?” One month later, and officially into spring, it hasn’t ended. Winter is still here, but the music scene is warming up.

Clarinet Choir?: When I mentioned to my editor that I had the pleasure of attending a concert by the U of T Clarinet Ensemble and the Wychwood Clarinet Choir at “Clarinet Day,” he asked about the practice of using the term choir when referring to ensembles of like instruments. I embarked on a quest to determine how and when the practice evolved. Wikipedia was no help. The Oxford Companion to Music didn’t shed any light either. Nancy Nourse, whose Flute Street group uses both choir and ensemble as terms, told me that the first use of that terminology, to her knowledge, was the clarinet choir at the University of Illinois. If you have any knowledge of how this term came to be so used, please tell us; my editor would really like to know.

Plumbing Factory: As some readers may be aware, Dr. Henry Meredith’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band is one of my favourites. This is not just because it is a very good all brass band, but because “Dr. Hank,” as he is known to his friends, always comes up with very stimulating programs. Some months ago, in this column, I talked about themed programs and the pitfalls of establishing a theme and then having to select some “less than desirable” music in order to adhere to the theme. Dr. Hank’s response? “My process is to pick great music first and put it into a logical sequence for presentation. Then, the unifying concept solidifies in my imagination, suggesting additional pieces which can then fill out the program. I don’t usually start with a ‘theme’ in mind, but often major works or a mood or a general idea formulates a theme.”

For example, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is the centrepiece of their upcoming April 9 concert, so “A Little Night Music” seemed a logical choice for a “theme.” Other pieces by major composers serendipitously seemed to fit right in. These include Bach’s Arioso (as a serenade melody), Mendelssohn’s Nocturne, Karl King’s A Night in June, and Meredith’s own cornet solo, Stars in a Velvety Sky.

I certainly wish that I could attend that concert, but a prior commitment and the prospect of six hours of driving to and from London dissuaded me. The first thing that I did on reading the program was to rush to my CD collection and play a recording of Karl King’s A Night in June by The Great American Main Street Band.     

Medical misfortunes: In two completely disparate recent conversations I learned of two talented brass musicians who have been forced to stop playing for medical reasons. One was a case where an essential medication for a serious eye condition had a side effect of preventing the player’s producing a tone on the instrument. The obvious choice was to continue the treatment and cease playing. The other was a very different situation. The musician told me that his lips could no longer produce a tone due to a neurological condition known as focal dystonia. Dystonia refers to involuntary muscle contractions, and focal refers to the fact that the problem is localized in one part of the body. In this person’s case he is no longer able to control his lip muscles to produce a tone. In our conversation he mentioned several well-known musicians who developed this condition. One of the most notable cases is that of renowned concert pianist Leon Fleisher. In recent years Fleisher did regain some use of his right hand through botox injections, but he acknowledges that it is limited. There is no such treatment for brass players. I can’t imagine how someone could cope with the news that they could no longer continue their musical career. In this person’s case, he is now considering the clarinet as his instrument.

On the April horizon: First on my calendar is a return of the Band of HMCS York on April 9 at 8pm to the Naval Club of Toronto. This is the fourth year in a row where the multi-talented members of the HMCS York band will showcase their various small ensembles. I can’t promise novelties like last year’s  duet for alto trombone and harpsichord or another didgeridoo solo. However, I can guarantee a stimulating evening of music. The location is 1910 Gerrard St. E. and the price is right. Admission is free and light refreshments will be served.

On the weekend of April 11 to 13 The Hannaford Street Silver Band will present their annual “Festival of Brass.” At time of writing I had no details of this event, but a visit to their website should help.

The Clarington Concert Band will present their Spring Concert on April 26, 7pm at Trinity Pentecostal Church in Bowmanville. Also, on Sunday, May 4 at 2pm the Markham Concert Band and the Pickering Community Concert Band will join forces to present “The Final Frontier,” a musical interpretation of space featuring guest performer bagpiper Ian MacLellan. They don’t say whether or not they consider the bagpipes as the last frontier of music. It all takes place at the Flato Markham Theatre.

Blythwood Winds is a group I hadn’t heard of. It is a traditional wind quintet which had its roots about four years ago with students at the Glenn Gould School, although only two of the original members remain. Sunday, April 13 at 7pm they will be at the Array Space, 155 Walnut Avenue offering a broad selection from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture arranged by their horn player Curtis Vander Hayden to a new work Extensions by local composer, Elisha Denburg. Personally, I hope to be there to hear one of my favourites: Darius Milhaud’s La cheminée du roi René. For advance reservations phone 416-999-6097.

Last year the group of New Horizons bands in Toronto spread their wings and formed a number of small ensembles. The finale of that initiative was an afternoon of short presentations by several of these ensembles. Another such afternoon of “Chamber Sweets” will be held in the Assembly Hall at Lakeshore Road and Kipling Avenue on Sunday, April 27 at 2:00 pm, with about 15 groups playing from the jazz and classics repertoire.

Finally, down the road we have two large scale events to announce now with details to follow: the annual York University Community Band Festival will take place Saturday May 3 from 1:00 to 9:00 pm; and from May 30 to June 1 the Canadian Band Association, Ontario Chapter (CBAO) will host the Ontario EAST Community Band Weekend in Ottawa.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: Cadenza: Something that happens when you forget what the composer wrote. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

  Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Lingering Legacies

intheclubs gary-bensonThe jazz community mourns the loss of guitarist Gary Benson, who last month peacefully succumbed to Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, a rare and incurable degenerative neurological disorder. In his accomplished 75 years, Benson was deeply respected as a musician, composer and educator, as well as for his amiable personality and sense of humour. Over 300 mourners attended the funeral, including many members of Toronto’s jazz community. In recent years Benson performed regularly with the Canadian Jazz Quartet, a group he formed in the late 1980s.

Speaking at Benson’s memorial service on March 19, his cherished friend and musical associate for over a half-century, Don Vickery, said:

“Gary started the original Canadian Jazz Quartet in 1987 with Gerry Hoelke on bass, Gordie Fleming on accordion and me on drums. The great Bob Price later became our bass player, and Frank Wright joined the group to establish our current sound over 20 years ago. Duncan Hopkins has been our bass player since B.P. passed away in 2002. In 2006, we found a home at Quotes, where we were the resident band for nearly seven years, backing up international jazz players during the Toronto Jazz Festival every year – and every week, featuring all the best musicians in Toronto.”

“That’s where the CJQ really came to prominence, and during that time, recorded two more successful CDs and were featured in two global live-to-air broadcasts on JAZZ.FM91. Gary loved the gig and everyone loved Gary. When Quotes was sold, we moved to KAMA where we are to this day. And we were lucky enough to have Gary with us there until the last few months. We miss him as our friend, as our leader and as a wonderful talent. We will never forget him and I know we are all better people, and better musicians, for having him in our lives.”

The Canadian Jazz Quartet continues to perform every Thursday from 5 to 8pm at KAMA on King St. W., featuring guest guitarists and as always, a featured weekly guest horn player. Consult our In the Clubs jazz listings for further details.

Walk With Jordan: On the evening of Thursday, April 24, I hope there will be a full house at the intimate Musideum (401 Richmond Street West) for what promises to be a night of heartfelt music for a worthy cause. Starting at 7pm, vocalist Vivia Kay and her band Blacksparrow will present “Send Love South: A Fundraiser for the Walk with Jordan Scholarship Foundation,” in memory of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old Jacksonville, Florida teen who was fatally shot for listening to loud music.

For those unfamiliar with the tragedy, during the American Thanksgiving weekend of 2012, Jordan Davis was in an SUV with three of his friends, listening to hip-hop while parked outside of a convenience store. Forty-seven-year-old Michael Dunn, parked adjacently, asked them to turn down that “thug music” and when they refused, he fired indiscriminately and shot at the SUV, killing Davis. The Florida jury convicted Dunn of three counts of second-degree attempted murder but the jury was deadlocked on the murder charge.

intheclubs vivia-kay-alternateVivia Kay had never met Jordan Davis, but being a Florida native herself, followed his trial closely.

“Growing up around the societal and systemic racism that breeds these kinds of violent crimes, I followed both the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis trials with a great deal of interest. Particularly after the Jordan Davis trial, I felt enraged and horrified — Jordan Davis was murdered because he was listening to music,” says Kay.

“Growing up in the small-town South, driving around and listening to music was what I did, what we all did on a weekend night. I read that Jordan Davis’ last words were “turn it up.” That’s exactly what I would have done as a teenager. I wouldn’t have been targeted by a racist like Davis’ killer, because I’m not black. But I wouldn’t have turned down my music, either. That’s why Jordan Davis’ murder resonated with me on such a personal level. And it’s why I’m doing the Send Love South benefit.”

The artists are donating their time and Musideum owner Donald Quan has generously waived much of his usual fee for the space, so beyond the small rental fee every penny of show proceeds will be donated to the Walk with Jordan Scholarship Fund, a scholarship set up by Jordan Davis’ parents in his memory. The Scholarship Fund aims to support students from the Florida/Georgia border region in pursuing a college or university education, which as someone who struggled to pay for university also resonates deeply with Vivia Kay, who recently earned a PhD in ethnomusicology at York University. With a performance background in classical singing as well as jazz vocals, her dissertation examines Southern Gospel music and the culture that surrounds it. On April 24, Kay’s band Blacksparrow will feature Mark Kieswetter on Musideum’s Bechstein piano and bassist Jordan O’Connor.

“The music that we are presenting is a selection of gospel, jazz and rock songs along with two originals I’ve written for the occasion. Mark and I have been rehearsing and working together on the arrangements, and I am really excited about them. The music will be centred around laments regarding injustice and evil in the world as well as hopes for justice and better times. I think it will be an emotional and cathartic evening, but it isn’t going to be an entirely mournful one. I believe that love and hope are radical acts in today’s world, and that is the ultimate message of the show.”

For those unable to attend, there is an opportunity to contribute to the cause by visiting the foundation’s website: walkwithjordan.org.

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

Symphonic Adventurers Dudamel & Outwater

1906 classical dudeGustavo Dudamel is widely considered the most exciting and gifted young conductor working today. His meteoric rise – he was appointed music director of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in 1999 at the age of 18 and he’s now already in his fifth year as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- has been well documented. Winning the inaugural Bamberger Symphoniker Gustav Mahler competition at 23 was the first international signpost; being named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people five years later bumped up his media quotient. Two years later readers of Gramophone voted him Artist of the Year; two years after that Music America named him 2013 Musician of the Year.

Toronto audiences will welcome him and the LA Philharmonic March 19 when he returns for the first time since 2009. Then, he conducted the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in support of his mentor José Antonio Abreu, at the time Abreu was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize for his monumental music education work in Venezuela. Having celebrated its 39th anniversary on February 12 – and yes, Dudamel was in Caracas that day, leading a youth orchestra from his hometown of Barquisimeto – El Sistema is thriving with more than 500,000 students.

Dudamel spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the experience of conducting the orchestra in which he grew up playing violin, the orchestra he had conducted at age 12.

“’All these young people,’ Dudamel enthused. ‘I felt like I was still one of them. [In Sistema] . . . We teach tolerance and respect. Whatever you think, you have to work together to play in an orchestra. Whatever your differences are, you have to solve problems to make harmony. The best example there is of what a community can be is the orchestra. . . Elsewhere in the world, music is a philanthropic enterprise. In Venezuela it is a right.”’

He’s fully committed to music as an engine for social change.

Abreu’s Glenn Gould Prize sparked David Visentin to launch Sistema Toronto in September 2011 with Abreu’s’s blessing. (You can read about it in The WholeNote’s March 2013 issue.) About 150-175 students of Sistema Toronto will not only be attending the LA Philharmonic concert but performing in the Roy Thomson Hall lobby for gala attendees in advance of the show. The Corporation of Roy Thomson and Massey Hall is bringing them to the concert free of charge as part of its Share The Music program.

Toronto is the fifth stop on a seven-city nine-concert L.A. Philharmonic North American tour, six concerts of which are comprised of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 (1989) and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. It’s a heavily romantic program, the two works composed about a century apart. Corigliano has written that his symphony “was generated by feelings of loss, anger and frustration” after the loss of many of his friends and colleagues to the AIDS epidemic affected him deeply. He decided to relate the first three movements of the symphony to three lifelong musician friends and recall still others in the third movement  “in a quilt-like interweaving of motivic melodies.” He pointed out that Berlioz, Mahler and Shostakovich were also inspired by important events in their lives.

The current tour follows the LA Philharmonic’s recent Tchaikovsky Fest in which the orchestra split the six Tchaikovsky symphonies with Dudamel’s other ensemble, the Simón Bolívar Orchestra (it lost its “Youth” tag in 2011 as its members aged), so we should expect the players to have an even greater familiarity with this symphonic staple with its famous recurring Fate motif and iconic slow movement. (One can’t help wondering what Tchaikovsky’s fate would have been had he been born 100 years later.) Dudamel’s ability to reveal the soul of a piece of music will be put to the test. But watching the conductor rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet without a score (!) on YouTube inspires great confidence and anticipation of a passionate and uninhibited performance.

1906 classical edwinEdwin Outwater and the KWSO: California-born Edwin Outwater, the music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony since 2007, has also been celebrated for his work in music education and community outreach. In 2004 his education programs at the San Francisco Symphony were given the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming. At the San Francisco Symphony, he conducted Family Concerts as well as Adventures in Music performances, heard by more than 25,000 students from San Francisco schools each year; and Concerts for Kids, which reached students throughout Northern California. In Florida, Outwater designed the Florida Philharmonic Family Series and its Music for Youth program, attended annually by more than 40,000 fifth-grade students in South Florida.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, he redesigned the orchestra’s education series and initiated myriad community connections. He’s known for his Intersections program. Blogging about it last November he called it “a place for artists who didn’t fit into a particular musical category — people like violinist/fiddler Gilles Apap, composer/DJ Mason Bates, Western/Indian musician Suba Sankaran and others.”

He continued: “But it quickly became a home for people who wanted to try something with orchestra: saxophonists, scientists, chefs, yogis, videographers, you name it.  It became a place where an orchestra can do anything, and by my estimation, one of the coolest, riskiest endeavors attempted by any orchestra in North America.

“From the beginning, people took notice.  A lot of our shows were played at Koerner Hall in Toronto, thanks to the good faith and adventurous spirit of Mervon Mehta.  I’ll never forget when our music/neuroscience show with Daniel Levitin, Beethoven and Your Brain, sold out there a week in advance... It confirmed my belief that orchestras don’t exist in a vacuum, but in the world of thought, emotion, and ideas.”

His innovative approach to programming is evident in the way he constructs and rationalizes a more traditional concert such as the one featuring Jon Kimura Parker on March 21 and 22. He’s subtitled the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor  “Brahms the Progressive” and Verklärte Nacht “Schoenberg the Romantic,” seemingly turning conventional wisdom upside down – until it sinks in that Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night” is one of the most romantic pieces in the repertoire.

Two Recent Concerts: Benjamin Grosvenor’s Music Toronto recital was a revelation, more than justifying the acclaim that preceded his debut last month. The first half of his program consisted of Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann pieces written within 12 years of each other ending in 1839. The 21-year-old Englishman played with a sensitivity and finely calibrated tonal palette coupled with a technical prowess that was always at the service of his exceptional musicianship. Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, Op. 90 No. 3 (D899) evoked memories of Dinu Lipatti with its warm sound. After intermission came three superbly spacious miniatures by Mompou, two Medtner “Tales,” the second of which, “March of the Knights” was a favourite of Horowitz, himself a favourite of Grosvenor. Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales shimmered but was not insubstantial while Liszt’s  Valse de l’opéra Faust de Gounod showed off the pianist’s chops without sacrificing any part of the music’s well-entrenched musical lines.

Kent Nagano’s coherent, exciting performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall not long ago has me looking forward to his forthcoming appearance with Tafelmusik next January when he will be conducting Beethoven’s insdispensable Symphony No. 5 and underrated Mass in C Major.

Two Parts of Triple Forte: When he hosted This Is My Music on CBC Radio 2, Ottawa-based pianist David Jalbert spoke about how he had been intimidated by Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations until hearing Murray Perahia’s version showed him that there are other ways to play the piece. On March 11 the Music Toronto audience will get a chance to hear how Jalbert’s interpretation of Bach’s seminal masterpiece has evolved since his CD of it was released to wide acclaim (including Christina Petrowska Quilico’s review in the May 2012 WholeNote) two years ago.

Coincidentally, on March 20 the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto is presenting  the impressive cellist Yegor Dyachkov, Jalbert’s partner in the Triple Forte trio (violinist Jasper Wood is the third member), in a tantalizing program with pianist Jean Saulnier that includes the world premiere (and WMCT commission) of Atonement by Christos Hatzis.

Beethoven’s middle cello sonata as well as Britten and Shostakovich’s contributions to the repertoire complete the afternoon’s recital.

And More: The redoubtable Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society has six concerts on tap this month and two in the first week of April. Of particular interest: James Campbell performs Brahms’ second sonata for clarinet and piano (with Leopoldo Erice) on March 8 then joins the Penderecki String Quartet for the composer’s sublime Clarinet Quintet. Trio Voce includes Marina Hoover, founding cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, violinist Jasmine Lin and pianist Patricia Tao. Their March 21 evening features trios by Haydn, Dvorák and Brahms.

On March 16, Mooredale Concerts presents Guillermo González performing his own edited version of Albéniz’s Iberia Suite. Judging by his 1998 Naxos recording, González clearly transmits the Spanish character of this keyboard masterpiece in an engaging rough-hewn manner compared to the more elegant style of his fellow Spaniard Alicia de Larrocha. (For sheer virtuosity, Marc-André Hamelin’s luminous, impressionistic version is unmatched, however.)

Angela Hewitt continues her recent foray into Beethoven’s universe (see this month’s DISCoveries) with her TSO appearance  March 20 and 22 playing the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor.” Guest conductor Hannu Lintu also leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ thrilling Symphony No 5.

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.


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