Jazz_Stories_1.pngPat Taylor, co-founder, with the late Jim Galloway, of Toronto Downtown Jazz, producers of the the TD Toronto Jazz Festival has stepped down this year, after 30 years on the job. Stepping in as CEO is Howard Kerbel, who has for nine years  been a member of the eight-person TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) leadership team, with a special focus on branding and marketing strategy. Taylor remains as a member of the programming team and an advisor to Kerbel.

“This transition will allow me more time to focus on strategic initiatives and allow Howard to develop one of the country’s favourite brands,” states Taylor in the official release announcing Kerbel’s appointment. “After 30 years at the helm, I have confidence that Howard has the passion to build upon this foundation and take it to the next level.”

What that “next level” will be is anyone’s guess. (After all, when TD Toronto Jazz started out 30 years ago, who would have thought it would end up with such places as the Second Cup at King and John, or the posh department store Holt Renfrew for that matter being listed as “official festival venues”? And how does a pop star headliner Sarah McLachlan at the Sony Centre or film star Kiefer Sutherland playing country at the Horseshoe fit into a jazz festival lineup? Taylor is refreshingly blunt. “Balancing the books,” he says. “Thirty years ago we were the only game in town. Now there are 21 jazz festivals in the GTA. Every concert hall has a jazz series. That’s what we wanted to see happen. In our mind, jazz is doing well in town. I’m not making a living as a musician but I’m sure it’s better than 30 years ago…”

As a musician trying to make a living now, particularly since the Internet took over the world, I’m not so sure about the “better” bit. As in many industries, the value of music has so drastically changed that as of the time of this writing, each play on Spotify equates to small fractions of a penny, and even the penny has been discontinued as physical currency due to its worthlessness.

Speaking of balance, the free outdoor shows of any music festival are crucial to the creation of new musical connections, for audiences and musicians alike. As unexpected as venues like Holt Renfrew and Second Cup are, it sure would be nice to see live music in these places all of the time, if only for the element of surprise that is so essential to jazz music. It’s fun to watch passerby reaction, especially when it’s with a smile and a head bop.

Jazz_Stories_2.pngAnd if you’d like to get to know a budding musician, on Saturday June 25 between 2 and 4pm the Regent Park School of Music will help animate Nathan Phillips Square with musical demonstrations and interactive opportunities. Following the performances, the audience is invited to try out the instruments, or as it has become known, an “instrument petting zoo.” Perhaps best of all, Dave Clark and his Woodshed Orchestra will lead you on “a raucous, romping march” through Nathan Phillips Square. Not to be missed!

Nathan Phillips Square is once again the hub of TD Toronto Jazz, balancing paid and free performances throughout the festival. The lunchtime concerts at 12:30pm will introduce ears to a diverse offering, including the Toronto Mass Choir, Brian Barlow Big Band’s salute to Ellington at Newport with special guests Guido Basso, Dione Taylor and the Backsliderz and Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band, directed by Martin Loomer. And an additional outdoor stage at Nathan Phillips Square will include jazz and blues performances during the afternoon and early evening, from the sizzling soul of Tanika Charles (Sunday June 26 at 2:30pm) to the disco-flavoured spun vocal sugar that is The Spandettes (Monday June 27 at 6:30pm) to charismatic blues brother Raoul and The Big Time (Saturday July 2 at 6:30pm), and…to a visiting artist worth highlighting: Welsh singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Gwyneth Herbert (Thursday June 30 at 6:30pm) who will be making her Toronto debut.

I met Herbert unexpectedly, sharing a cab in Bremen, Germany, en route to the Canadian Blast concert at jazzahead, just weeks before writing this article and was blown away, both by her story and how she told it.  (You’ll get some sense of this unique individual in the sidebar to this piece!)

In this crazy age of streaming music for fractions of pennies, my hope is that when Gwyneth Herbert performs her free June 30 concert (right before a Molly Johnson-Jane Bunnett double bill!), that all will sell out of CDs and merchandise. To support this music, all you have to do is show up! Look for ticket contests on the festival’s social media outlets.

Sometimes these ticketed shows can be priceless. Jazz piano fans should not miss Oliver Jones (June 28 at Jane Mallett Theatre), now 81 years old and still swinging his behind off. Beyond this, one concert that I would guarantee a good time or your money back will take place at the Opera House on Wednesday, June 29. Romanian super band Fanfare Ciocarlia opens for local band of heroes Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Do YouTube searches of both brilliant bands!  Instant fanhood is guaranteed.

Finally, an exciting development at the Toronto Jazz Festival this year is the returning commitment to a nightly late night jam session at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar, hosted by local saxophone great Chris Gale nightly at 1am. Seen frequently around town as a sideman who sensitively adds just the thing to any musical situation, Gale has been hosting the weekly Tuesday night jam beautifully and inclusively. Please come out and support the jam session!

Jazz_Stories_3.pngBotos and Barlow at PEC Jazz fest: Speaking of jazz jams that are worth the drive to Picton, reading up on various festivals that will take place in July and August, I stumbled upon the programming of the 16th Annual Prince Edward County Jazz Festival, which features a jazz jam hosted by the Robi Botos Trio, no less. I contacted PEC creative director, drummer/bandleader Brian Barlow to discuss PEC Jazz, starting with the success of these jam sessions.

“The After Hours Jam Sessions have been very popular” he told me. “One of the things that make our festival unique is that we encourage musicians to spend time in the county by providing them with multiple gigs over a number of days. It’s not unusual for a musician to have six or seven gigs in the five or six days they spend with us. This not only works out well for them financially, it also give them the opportunity to relax and get to know the county. Since they’re staying overnight, and there’s not a great deal to do in Picton after 10pm, they tend to come out to the jam sessions. Robi has done these often but not every year. Many of the mainstage Regent Theatre artists have come to the jam sessions, including Ellis Marsalis, Vincent Herring, Louis Hayes, Guido Basso, Ranee Lee and Chet Doxas.”

Prince Edward County is a magnet for people in the arts and they are all very supportive of each other, so the local audience tends to be quite hip and informed where jazz is concerned, Barlow tells me. “There are many fine jazz musicians living in the county and surrounding area. Guido Basso has lived here for over 35 years, and Belleville is home to the Commodores’ Orchestra, a big band that holds the record for being the longest continuously performing big band in the world, having been formed in 1928.” And the festival builds its audience from very early spring (as early as February in some years) with our Jazz Dinners and then in  April “our TD Jazz Education Program that finishes up with a concert at the Regent Theatre. So the festival itself has an almost six-month presence in the county.” 

 A unique feature of this festival is that Prince Edward County is an island, forming  a natural boundary to work within. “We usually have about 40 events at venues from the soft-seat Regent Theatre, to wineries, restaurants, pubs, community centres, churches (and church steps), a farmers’ market and a cemetery. We also have a Jazz Van that drives around the county putting on concerts.

The band is all acoustic with nothing to set up so they simply arrive, jump out and play a 45 minute set. Then they jump back in the van and drive to the next location. It’s very popular and some people spend the day following them from place to place. This festival is all about Prince Edward County and all it has to offer, from art galleries, to beaches, to wineries.

It’s also all about cultivating the future of the music. “Our programs for young musicians have been a main focus for us for many years now and will probably be the most important legacy of the festival” Barlow says. It begins with their TD Jazz Education Program in the spring, with four high school jazz ensembles chosen out of the many who ask to come each year. “This year we hosted 90 students. We tend to look for schools from the smaller communities where funding for music programs is not as readily available, but we do have schools from the GTA from time to time. We also like to have schools come two years in a row when possible. We find that the second year the students know what to expect and get in the groove a lot quicker.” And then there’s the “Rising Young Star” that is a feature of every August’s festival. “We receive applications from all across Canada and the chosen candidate receives a cash award plus the opportunity to perform each evening at the Regent Theatre with our mainstage artists. The RYS is also featured at our evening Jam Sessions and performs a concert of their own on the Friday of the festival week.” Many of these musicians have gone on to be professional players and several have come back to the festival as main-stage artists (Marika Galea, Ian Wright and Eli Bennett).

And then there’s their Young Jazz Series, providing paid concert performances for students in the post-secondary school system (UofT, Humber, York). Among several other excellent young artists, vocalist/pianist Hannah Barstow will appear, as well as versatile singer Kalya Ramu who can be heard around Toronto regularly singing not only jazz standards but also blues and rock with Angora, and winning folk in the duo Mermaid and the Bear.

From jazz as big brand to keeping the real thing alive, here’s hoping you, dear WholeNote reader, will come around the jazz clubs this patio season, get out and about, and spread the word. Without an audience, live music cannot live. And live music can’t be Spotified!

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

Gwyneth Herbert's Toronto Honeymoon

Jazz_Stories_Sidebar.pngHow did you end up on a label so quickly? When I was supposedly studying English Literature at university, I actually spent the majority of my time singing jazz with fellow student Will Rutter, a guitarist and kindred spirit with whom I’d roam the cobblestones of the North of England – along with Edinburgh, Paris and Amsterdam in our holidays – busking and hustling for gigs in pavement cafes. When we graduated we moved down to London together, a couple of wet-eared country kids with no concerts, no money and no contacts, and picked an area of the city a day…armed with an A-Z map, Will’s guitar and a fistful of demos recorded in a bedroom, we went into every pub, wine bar, cafe and restaurant and asked if they’d give us a gig.

You kind of got used to asking the tattooed, muscle-necked landlord if he’d mind turning down the racing while you played Fly Me to the Moon to the corner clientele who’d just tried to sell you a VCR on the way in, and invariably if the bar-owner didn’t offer us a gig they’d give us a drink on the house. At the end of one of these long, street-peddling days, I’d sipped enough Dutch courage to go into the legendary Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. The visionary manager there at the time, Peter Wallis, was famed for championing new talent – he gave Norah Jones and Diana Krall their first breaks in the UK. Fired up by my day’s refreshment, I asked to speak to the manager, and when asked if I had an appointment, I ordered a large brandy (which I’d never drunk before, but it seemed like it sounded sophisticated) and said, “Just tell him it’s Gwyneth Herbert.” When Peter arrived, I came clean and said that of course he had no reason to know who I was, but that I loved music more than anything and that I wasn’t looking for a gig, but any advice would be so gratefully received, and with shaky fingers thrust our little demo into his hand.

He gently but firmly explained that he received over 300 such demos a week, but, admitting that no one had quite approached him like that before, said he’d try to give it a listen. Within two weeks, Will and I were signed to his indie label Dean Street records, had the amazing vocalist Ian Shaw as a mentor and producer, and were recording our debut album First Songs and touring with Jamie Cullum and Amy Winehouse soon after. Jamie Cullum sang a duet on that record, it started getting some airplay and - riding high on their recent success with Jamie – it wasn’t long before Universal came sniffing and snaffled me up.

But you left the label to pursue life as an indie artist. Why? Having a major deal gave me lots of great things. The ability to work with exceptional musicians, a press profile, a new haircut…I’m so pleased that I had that opportunity as for so many artists it – even in the current climate – remains the holy grail. But it just didn’t work for me. I got signed so young and I soon found that it was my own stories that I wanted to tell, that didn’t fit in with the label’s marketing strategies and formulas. Much of the discussions had nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with finance – naturally, because a big label’s purpose is to make money. I’m also really grateful because it gave me something to kick against – I got signed so young before I had a clear idea of what I wanted to say and make, and it made me find answers through the questioning.

As an artist who frequently records your own compositions, what degree you fit within the term “jazz.” I grew up listening to jazz and blues. I’d sit and learn all of Billie Holiday’s phrasing and mimic Big Maybelle’s tone and try to feel Anita O’Day’s timing deep in my bones. As a tiny teen in an ever-so-English village in a totally different era, I’d hear and hold the heartbreak and the joy and feel it as if it was all my own. I still love those old songs – they speak of huge human experience in simple poetic language and they’re true and vast. And I love diving back into them now, from time to time, to see what they help me discover.

But now I live the miraculous life of a discoverer, a story hunter – finding and animating hidden stories, finding new ways to give them breath. There are melodies and rhythms everywhere, and the flavour of my work’s always informed by the music and language of the particular world it inhabits...There are seagull cries and pub chatter, there’s the rattle of a ship mast and the hum of an escalator. There are shanties and funerals and newspaper headlines. I do work with amazing jazz musicians in my band, and one of the wondrous things about playing with people with that sensibility is the improvisatory language they bring – there’s a push and a pull and then we navigate the journey together. It’s fresh and it’s a different kind of magic, every time.

And the British music scene in London and beyond?  After 13 years in London, I’ve run away to the sea – I live on the beautiful south coast in Hastings. There’s a real buzz about this little town, people making things everywhere, skiffle and poetry and metal in the pubs, parades through the streets. I love coming back to London – my favourite club is the 606 in Chelsea which feels like an extension of my living room, an underground secret dive bar vibe with the most amazing international musicians both on the stage and hanging at the bar and some delicious nachos. Performing for me is like coming home, but I spend most of my time these days working on wonky art/music/film/theatre commissions in collaboration with sculptors and directors and clowns and communities all over the country and beyond…Today I was exploring the process of contraception through the medium of dance for a music theatre piece I’m writing with playwright Diane Samuels called The Rhythm Method. I have so many hats that are interchangeable on a daily, sometimes hourly basis – it’s exhausting and challenging but somehow each hat feeds the others and I’m constantly learning - as a performer, as a writer, and as a general human being stumbling through the world.

You’ve been to Montreal before but this is your Toronto debut, yes?  This is indeed my Toronto debut, and I am so excited to be exploring so much more of Canada for the first time. I’m joined by the incredible percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Dave Price, and also my very newly wedded husband Ned Cartwright on piano – I have a feeling this is going to be a musical honeymoon to remember!

Author: Ori Dagan
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A quick glance at the Union Jack-based brochure of Toronto Summer Music’s 11th season, “London Calling: Music in Great Britain,” might lead you to expect a bounty of English music, but the more you delve into TSM’s 25 concerts it’s apparent that what the festival is offering is a cornucopia of music that would have been heard in London over the course of three centuries. As artistic director Douglas McNabney told The WholeNote publisher David Perlman in a recent podcast (video at TheWholeNote.com), “We’re celebrating musical life in London…[which] has always been the centre – a Mecca for musicians.” No wonder, since the city was the centre of the immense British Empire.

And this year’s festival, more so than ever, is also a celebration of chamber music; 14 programs fall into that category. But TSM, with its mentors and fellows program, is more than a showcase for top-notch instrumentalists and ensembles like the Parker or Dover Quartets. It offers full scholarships to musicians on the brink of a musical career the opportunity to be mentored by established professionals, and equally important, to participate in concerts with them (the so-called “Chamber Music reGENERATION” series of eight Saturday afternoon recitals and the two Art of Song reGENERATION Friday afternoon concerts).

Classical_2.pngMcNabney has very cleverly taken a handful of 19th-century London concert series and used the conceit to create diverse and satisfying chamber music programs. The Beethoven Quartet Society of 1845, for example, marked the first instance of a complete Beethoven string quartet performance cycle. The acclaimed young American ensemble, the Dover Quartet, who will be launching their own traversal of the Beethoven cycle this fall, will follow the lead of those 19th-century Londoners by including an early, a middle and a late quartet in their program. On July 29 in Walter Hall, they will play Op.18 No.6Op.59 No.3 and Op. 132, making for an unusually rich and sure-to-be illuminating musical evening. Another American quartet, the Parker, whose Naxos recording of the complete Ligeti quartets won them a Grammy, pay tribute to the Musical Union of 1865, a famous concert series of its day, with a program of late Haydn, early Beethoven and late Schubert quartets, July 15.

Of course, there will be English music, beginning with the opening concert July 14, featuring two 20th-century masterpieces, Britten’s sublime Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and Elgar’s exhilarating Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and orchestra. A second, centred on TSM’s artistic-director-designate, TSO concertmaster and New Orford String Quartet violinist, Jonathan Crow, includes Elgar’s mournfully beautiful Violin Sonata, Bax’s Piano Quartet and Bridge’s Piano Quintet. A third, a homage to the People’s Concert Society (another 19th-century London concert series), showcases TSO principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey, one of TSM’s mentors, in a lively program comprised of Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings, Op.2, Bliss’ Oboe Quartet and Vaughan Williams’ Piano Quintet, August 3.

Classical_1.pngTwo compelling pianists, Pedja Muzijevic and Jeremy Denk, will each give what are certain to be fascinating recitals. Muzijevic is back as a mentor this year after a fulfilling session in 2015. As well as being a pianist of impeccable flair, he proved to be an engaging man with a mic in last year’s American Avant-Garde concert, introducing the music and reading from John Cage’s 32 Questions. Both qualities will no doubt be evident in July 19’s Haydn Dialogues, the Walter Hall event in which Muzijevic will discuss Haydn’s London experience (where he wrote two of the three sonatas on the program) and relate Haydn’s work to Cage’s seminal In a Landscape, Knussen’s Sonya’s Lullaby and Berger’s Intermezzo.

Winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, Denk brings his keen intellect to everything he does. A gifted writer in addition to being a supreme musician, his New Yorker account of his years as a music student, "Every Good Boy Does Fine," is revealing, moving and a must-read.

The program for his July 21 recital has just been announced; it promises to be imaginative, insightful and engaging, one I won’t miss.

Festival of the Sound

Festival of the Sound’s 37th summer offers an abundance of musical treats to snack on. Each week features several chamber music combinations; the Gryphon Trio, playing Dvořák’s popular Dumky Trio and Schubert’s delightful Trio No.1 D898, shares the stage with the New Zealand String Quartet at 7:30 on July 19 and Moshe Hammer and Peter Longworth at 3:30 the same day; Hammer appears in “Our Favourite Sonatas I” the next day while Longworth accompanies cellist Rolf Gjelsten in a late Beethoven sonata in “Our Favourite Sonatas II” later that day.

Stewart Goodyear brings his penchant for Beethoven to the “Pathétique,” “Moonlight,” “Tempest,” and “Appassionata” sonatas in “My Favourite Beethoven” on July 22. On July 21, he puts on his chamber music hat teaming up with the Penderecki String Quartet and New Zealand String Quartet for Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op.44 and Brahms’ Piano Quintet Op.34.

Classical_3.pngRecent Chopin International Competition second-prize-winner, the gifted Charles Richard-Hamelin, highlights week two, July 28, with two concerts that show off his sensitivity as soloist and collaborator. After playing a Chopin nocturne, ballade and polonaise before intermission, he returns as pianist with the Hochelaga Trio to perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor Op.50. Earlier that day, Trio Hochelaga plays Ravel’s gem, Piano Trio in A Minor, in a program that also features the festival’s artistic director, clarinetist James Campbell, oboist James Mason, violinist Martin Beaver, violist Graham Oppenheimer and bassist Joel Quarrington in Prokofiev’s radical nugget, Quintet Op.39. My favourite jazz pianist, Robi Botos, is joined by drummer Terry Clarke and legendary bassist, Dave Young, for “My Favourite Jazz” on July 29.

Week three is dominated by the piano, culminating August 6 in a “Piano Spectacular” celebrating ten years of the ensemble Orford Six Pianos, and concluding with Janina Fialkowska, Bergmann Duo, Anagnoson & Kinton and Glen Montgomery joining the Orford six in Bizet/Wilbert’s Carmen Fantasy for 12 pianists. Duo pianists Anagnoson & Kinton, celebrating 40 years of concertizing together, perform Bartók’s incisive Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion as well as other works, August 2. The notes continue flowing with Fialkowska’s “My Favourite Chopin” on August 5. The festival concludes with Fialkowska joining the National Academy Orchestra for Beethoven’s rhapsodic Piano Concerto No.4 and Anagnoson & Kinton playing Mozart’s Concerto No.10 for Two Pianos. Earlier in the week, August 3, the Lafayette String Quartet, the only all-female quartet still comprised of its original members, celebrates 30 years of togetherness by performing Ravel and Dvořák.

Stratford Summer Music

The piano is consistently a major focus of Stratford Summer Music, and 2016 is no exception. Simone Dinnerstein, who famously self-produced her refreshing take on Bach’s Goldberg Variations and then saw it become immensely popular, will perform the piece July 23 at 11am. The prior afternoon she will give a Bach master class to three promising young pianists in what could turn out to be an unforgettable experience for student and audience alike. Each student is well-known in the piano competition world: Anastasia Rizikov, now 16, is a veteran of the concert stage; Toronto-based, Russian-born Vladimir Soloviev is the most-decorated student in the history of the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario; Charissa Vandikas, 18, is a top student at the Glenn Gould School. Dinnerstein begins her visit to Stratford, July 21, with a program devoted to a selection of Glass’ Metamorphoses and Etudes paired with Schubert Impromptus Op.90 and his immortal Sonata in B-Flat D960.

Two other young veterans of international piano competitions, Tony Yike Yang and Luca Buratto, make their Stratford debuts. Yang, at 16 the youngest prizewinner in the history of the Chopin International Piano Competition, will bring his immense technique and precocious interpretative sensibility to a demanding program of Mozart, Chopin, the formidable Liszt Sonata in B Minor and Prokofiev’s dramatic Sonata No.7, August 3. Two weeks later, Buratto, the most recent Honens Prize-winner, brings his “fiery imagination and finesse” to works by Schumann and Beethoven.

Now 21, the redoubtable Jan Lisiecki continues on his path to the upper reaches of the pianistic universe. His recital on August 26 includes works by Bach, Rachmaninov and Chopin. The following afternoon, he will play Schubert’s final Four Impromptus, Schumann’s Klavierstücke Op.32 and Chopin’s Nocturnes Op. 48 and Scherzo No.1 in B Minor Op. 20. These will be Lisiecki’s only local recital appearances this season. Don’t miss this chance.

Festival de Lanaudière

The 39th season of the Festival de Lanaudière is a tribute to its founder, Father Fernand Lindsay who was especially fond of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky, so the festival has taken special care to invite music lovers to discover the many works of those composers to be featured this summer. About an hour’s drive northeast of Montreal, the festival is well-suited for a holiday excursion. Since many of the festival’s artists don’t normally make the trip to Toronto, it’s all the more reason to travel to Joliette, Quebec.

JUNO Award-winner, pianist  Alain Lefèvre opens the festival with Tchaikovsky’s uber-romantic Piano Concerto No.1 on July 9. The Jupiter String Quartet, quartet-in-residence at the University of Illinois and a tightly knit family unit (the cellist is married to the second violinist who is the sister of the violist), are undertaking a cycle of the complete Beethoven string quartets at the festival, beginning this summer with concerts July 11 (Nos.6, 11, 15), 12 (Nos.4, 5, 13) and 14 (3, 16, 8). Angèle Dubeau leads her all-female string ensemble, La Pietà, in “The Mark of Minimalism,” a July 10 concert comprised of music by Glass, Einaudi, Mozetich, Nyman, Goulet and Pärt.

The eminent English violinist, Anthony Marwood, is the soloist in Beethoven’s ageless Violin Concerto Op.61, with Les Violons du Roy conducted by Bernard Labadie, July 15. “Child Prodigy” Tony Yike Yang gets a chance to perfect the program he will be playing in Stratford, August 3, when he performs it in Lanaudière on July 19. Silver medal winner in the 2015 Tchaikovsky International Competition, American George Li’s recital includes sonatas by Haydn and Chopin (No.2), Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme by Corelli and two crowdpleasers by Liszt. Armenian-born pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, the winner of the 2008 Montreal International Musical Competition, performs an unusual program on July 26 – Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, Liszt’s Totentanz and three of his transcriptions of songs by Schubert and Mozart. The innovative ensemble, collectif9, plays Golijov, Brahms, Piazzolla and others on July 29.

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal led by Kent Nagano begin the festival’s final weekend August 5 accompanying Charles Richard-Hamelin in Brahms’ fiery Piano Concerto No.1 and unlocking the many strains of Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish.” August 6, the orchestra performs two of the most famous unfinished works in the musical canon, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 “Unfinished” and Mozart’s Requiem, an ideal pairing for an outdoor concert. The 39th season concludes with local hero Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain in a program that pays homage to the conductor’s Philadelphia Orchestra post. All four pieces were commissioned by that orchestra: Bach/Stokowski’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV582; Rachmaninoff’s magical Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43 and Symphonic Dances Op. 45; and Nico Muhly’s Mixed Messages. There are no mixed messages in the Festival de Lanaudière, simply a love of music that exists to be shared in the warmth of a summer day or evening.

Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival

Under the direction of pianist Alexander Tselyakov, the 11th annual Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival makes for a lovely Manitoba weekend July 21 to 24. The concerts are filled with quality (Tselyakov playing Ravel’s devilish Gaspard de la Nuit and participating in Dvořák’s great Piano Quintet in A No.2 Op.81 in the opener) and diversity (Tselyakov collaborating with Kerry DuWors and Joyce Lai,  violins and Simon Fryer, cello, in sonatas by Handel, Saint-Saëns and Prokofiev and Three Madrigals by Martinů). An appealing Saturday morning concert July 23 precedes the finale July 24 in which Schubert, Dvořák and Schumann are the featured composers.

Music and Beyond

There’s an unmistakable European flavour to this year’s Music and Beyond festival (which runs from July 4 to 17 in Ottawa) with the dynamic Utrecht String Quartet performing Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Piazzolla on July 7 and the joyous Vienna Piano Trio in for three concerts July 7, 8 and 9. It’s worth a drive to the nation’s capital to hear these remarkably adept musicians perform all three of Brahms’ piano trios as well as works by Shostakovich, Haydn, Ravel and Cerha.

QUICK PICKS

TSO: June 4, 5. Emanuel Ax-protege Orion Weiss performs Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue. Andrew Grams conducts. June 9, 10, 11: James Ehnes performs Elgar’s beloved Violin Concerto; Peter Oundjian offers orchestral support and leads the TSO in Stravinsky’s revolutionary The Rite of SpringJune 11: The TSO Chamber Soloists led by Jonathan Crow give a pre-concert performance of Stravinsky’s bedevilling suite from L’Histoire du soldat. A full version of the piece takes place at the Hearn Generating Station as part of Luminato, June 18.

A significant serving of Beethoven is on order June 15 and 16 with Oundjian leading the orchestra in the composer’s Eroica Symphony and accompanying the thoughtful Yefim Bronfman in Piano Concerto No.3. June 18 Oundjian takes his forces to the Hearn for Beethoven’s rousing Symphony No.5 and Gershwin’s danceable An American in Paris.

June 21: Nine Sparrows presents a free concert with flutist (and WholeNote chairman of the board) Allan Pulker.

June 30: Summer Music in the Garden presents the Cecilia String Quartet playing Mozart’s String Quartet K.590 and Kati Agócs’ Tantric Variations.

July 16: Alexander Tselyakov and friends warm up for Clear Lake with a concert presented by Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

Aug 15: Music Mondays presents “Surrealism at Midday” with pianist Anastasia Rizikov performing works by Liszt, Ravel and Scriabin.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

 

Author: Paul Ennis
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New_1.pngAs I sit to write this column, I’m still feeling the after-effects of the May 25 concert with the Kronos Quartet and guest performer Tanya Tagaq at the Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival – an event that was featured in last month’s WholeNote. It was a truly sublime moment in time, making it difficult to find words that encapsulate the experience of being transported into a kaleidoscope of global musical styles and then beyond into uncharted territory – and all within the scope of the two violins, viola and cello, plus voice. The anticipated commission from Tagaq for the quartet was, as first violinist David Harrington said during his introduction, “unlike anything you’ve ever heard for the string quartet.” With a string quartet score created from transcriptions of recorded improvised vocalizations made by Tagaq in a studio a few months ago, and Tagaq adding a live vocal layer, it was as if the earth itself was opening up to reveal new layers and aspects of what’s possible. It began with creaking string tones and subterranean vocal tones which started out so low in range that I couldn’t help be reminded of another vocal pioneer, Roy Hart, whose principle of the eight-octave voice was at the heart of his company’s research throughout the 1960s and 70s. It was this push into stretching vocal boundaries that opened up possibilities for composers to write for the extended voice. The performance of Nunuvut, the second work performed by Tagaq and the quartetin the concert, was more improvisational in nature, with a series of intense, intimate and sensual duets that Tagaq engaged in with each individual performer before turning to the capacity audience to deliver a sonic portrait of our collective presence. It was a spectacular beginning to the upcoming summer season.

Launching into the summer season usually means it’s festival time, which often translates into opportunities to experience music that pushes at the far outer edges. Certainly with the Luminato Festival this year, this will be the case, and not just with its music programming since this year’s primary venue, the Hearn Generating Station, will be making its own artistic statement. Situated on the waterfront, it’s the site of a de-commissioned power station that will be turned into a temporary cultural venue for the next ten years of Luminato. With a series of interlocking areas designed for performances and exhibitions, along with restaurant and club spaces, the building will take on the air of an architectural installation. Another in-house feature of this environment will be a state-of-the-art surround sound system and projection space with multiple screens. Which, as it turns out, is the perfect venue for the fully immersive music and visual concert piece created by composer Rose Bolton and filmmaker Marc de Guerre being performed on June 22.

The piece, Song of Extinction, is just as its title suggests – a work that raises the critical issue of species extinction through the combination of melody, word and image. And although songform is at the heart of Bolton’s compositional language for this piece, the musical scale of the project is extensive, combining youth and adult choirs, an instrumental chamber ensemble, percussion, two keyboard players, and electronics. The work was originally initiated by Music in the Barns under the direction of Carol Gimbel whose specialty is in creating multimedia and site-specific installation concerts.

Despite the focus on the difficult and critical theme of what is happening to the mass disappearance of species on our planet, the work is not activist in nature. As de Guerre explained in a recent conversation both he and Bolton had with me about the piece, “I believe in the power and beauty of images. In the same way that music gets under your skin and moves you, and you don’t really know why or what it means or what it’s doing to you, the images are functioning in very much the same way.” He continued to reflect on this topic by saying “I find it odd given what’s happening on the planet that there hasn’t been a body of work with this theme from a more art perspective rather than it just being about political activism.”

And that’s why using song is so important for both of these creators. They think of the piece as “a heartbreak song in the same way that songs are about heartbreak. This is about our heartbreak because of what we do to the earth, to the planet.” Their ultimate priority is to make a work that is emotionally powerful, to lead people into an experience of “feeling what we are doing to the earth.” In fact, de Guerre says, “If I don’t feel anything when I experience a work of art, then I don’t consider it to be successful.” Thus the nature of the piece is a poetic, impressionistic and non-literal approach to the theme, with the film images conceived around the music.

Bolton’s approach to song was to create melodies that people would love to sing and love to hear – melodies that would “stick in people’s heads after the performance.” For inspiration, she first turned to the songs of Robert Burns and his way of writing that asks universal questions. The next step was to ask the Order of Canada-appointed poet Don McKay to become involved. She asked him if he could write in a similar way, creating texts that addressed her questions related to the theme of extinction. The Newfoundland-based McKay is a poet whose strong personal connection to the land infuses his work, creating poetry that both Bolton and de Guerre described as “grounding.” His way of using precise language to create images that are sweeping and allegorical in nature was a perfect fit, and with these texts, Bolton was able to take their essence and turn them into lyrics for the songs. The texts will also be published as a book of poems that will be available at the concert.

The songs will be performed by both the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, with the adults representing the current generation and the children the generation of the future. Both choirs will be engaged in conversations between the present and the future. The keyboard players will also perform on the harpsichord as well as electronic keyboards, with the composer performing the electronics on her laptop as well as triggering the spatial movement of the sound amongst the multiple speaker sound system. The electronics are more ambient in nature, like a wash, and will include live processing of the instrumental sounds with simple delay effects. The overall arc of the piece begins with an air of innocence in the first half, with almost a feeling of reverence towards nature and nonhuman species. Then at a pivotal point, things take a turn for a more solemn and desperate view towards our world and the reality of extinction. Song of Extinction promises to be a powerful and evocative meditation on those realities that are often difficult to cope with. No doubt however, we as audience members respond, we will be left with more stirring questions than solid answers.

One of the other boundary-pushing musical events of Luminato is the return of Unsound Toronto, a two-night sonic playground on June 10 and 11 combining ambient, drone, noise and other forms of experimental soundmaking. As well, a giant listening party is being planned on June 16 for all those who want to experience the recording of last year’s Apocalypsis performance composed by R. Murray Schafer and performed by a cast of 1000 or more.

Parallel to these events at the festival is the concert celebrating 40 years at the Music Gallery on June 11. Combining new music, video, performance and site-specific installation works, the evening promises to be a sonic portrayal of past, present and future. Starting the evening off will be a performative walking tour of St. George the Martyr’s courtyard highlighting oral histories, followed by performances with Mridangam master drummer Trichy Sankaran, Tenderness (aka Chrissy Reichert) alongside dancer Allison Peacock, and turntable artist SlowPitchSound (Cheldon Paterson) who will mine the Gallery’s sound archives to create new visions out of past performances. And while on the topic of summertime wild and untamed sound events, I must mention the Electric Eclectics festival that takes place from July 29 to 31 in the countryside near Meaford. Directed by Gordon Monahan and Chris Worden, the festival combines experimental music, sound art, DJ artists and sound installations in a relaxed camping environment. Check out their website for the extensive lineup, which includes two noteworthy duos: Not the Wind, Not the Flag, and the duo of Jennifer Castle and Mary Margaret O’Hara.

New_2.pngThe Rest of the Summer: Here are my listings of what else to look out for during the hazy and hot months ahead.

JUNE

One highlight early in the month is Spectrum Music’s Tower of Babel concert on June 4 with new compositions evoking various interpretations of this iconic story which appears in Christian, Islamic and Jewish religious texts. The pieces will explore the question of whether this ancient story can shed any light on contemporary divisons amongst nations and religious groups. Globally acclaimed oud player, Amos Hoffman, will be one of the performers. For improvised music lovers, there is DroneDoctor, a drone music meditation concert on June 5; the CCMC performing at Gallery 345 on June 11; and Audio Pollination on June 25.

Sounds of the Next Generation (SONG) will be performing Spirit Garden: Spring Planting by R. Murray Schafer, an outdoor music drama, running June 11 and 12 on a farm in Cold Springs, near Cobourg. The piece involves planting a garden, and will be followed up by a harvesting concert on September 25. On June 25 the Canadian Music Centre presents new works by Chris Paul Harman including his Five Japanese Children’s Songs and the world premiere of his Five Pieces for Clarinet and Piano. Other new and traditional works inspired by Japan will also be included.

JULY

On July 17, Soundstreams Salon presents the premiere of Emilie Lebel’s collaboration with Jumblies Theatre and community participants. Over at the Stratford Summer Music Festival, TorQ Percussion will perform Strange and Sacred Noise by John Luther Adams, on July 26. The work is a visual and aural exploration of the sonic geography of Alaska, answering the composers question “What would it sound like if the wilderness could sing, and I could hear it singing?”

One of the largest summer festivals to include an extensive amount of new concert music is the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. I’ve compiled a summarized overview, but I also recommend checking the listings for more details. On July 22, there is a concert of seven Canadian works for oboe and piano. Two events for new music lovers take place on July 26: a performance of Reciprocity, a multidisciplinary work by UK composer Patrick Cohen is followed later in the evening by a series of boundary-crossing works performed by Jesse Stewart, David Mott and Ernst Reijseger. On July 29 the Cecilia String Quartet performs works by four Canadian women composers, while on July 31 Morton Feldman’s masterwork, Clarinet and String Quartet, will be played by James Campbell and the Quatuor Bozzini.

AUGUST

Continuing with the Ottawa Chamberfest, their special New Music Miniseries comprised of three concerts spread throughout the day on August 1. The first includes works by Canadians Palmer, Di Castri and Murphy, followed by a second concert of seven works by Canadian composers for violin and piano. The miniseries ends up with a more international concert, with two works by Pierre Boulez among others. The final new music work of the festival is a performance of Christos Hatzis’ landmark multidisciplinary spectacle, Constantinople, on August 2.

Mr. Shi and His Lover, a contemporary Chinese language music theatre work composed by Torontonian Njo Kong Kie will be presented as part of this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival, running from August 5 to 8 and 11 to 13. The Classical Unbound Festival which occurs in Prince Edward County has a Living Canadian Composer Stream of concerts, with pieces by Morlock Buczynski and Mozetich spread throughout their concerts on August 19, 24 and 26. And finally, Summer Music in the Garden’s September 1 concert will feature works by Ann Southam.

Have an enjoyable and relaxing music-filled summer and keep your eyes posted for details of Contact Contemporary Music’s annual extravaganza on Labour Day weekend at Dundas Square.

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


World_View_1.pngSummer in the city for me also means music in the city. No longer constrained by indoor concert halls and clubs, audiences can now enjoy an expanded range of venues and even performance genres, taking a cue from the rising temperatures shirtsleeve and sandals weather (at last!). That means outdoor venues like those at North York’s Cultura Festival, Harbourfront Centre’s weekend festivals and Toronto Music Garden, plus those at Roy Thomson Hall’s Live on the Patio are animated with relaxed crowds. These and many other outdoor Toronto spaces resound for the summer with globally conscious music.

And that’s just a partial urban list. It doesn’t begin to touch on the wealth of outside summer folk festivals across Ontario or the curated concerts at city parks. Moreover, music presentations in the summertime include a huge range of genres, presenting an ideal opportunity to sample music you have been meaning to try, or never even knew existed – the latter’s always a treat for sonic explorer types like me. This is a sneak peek at just a few.

Luminato at the Hearn: Every year for the last decade, Toronto’s warm weather music season seems to begin with Luminato. The festival that set out to animate the city with music in June is ten years old this year. It also happens to be artistic director Jörn Weisbrodt’s swansong year, a golden period in the tenure of any CEO. As it is for the present President south of the border, it’s a tempting opportunity for Weisbrodt to affix his personal visionary seal on the organization he is about to pass on to other hands.  And this year’s festival is indeed a radical revisioning.

As opposed to the multiple outdoor venues of past years, music at Luminato will resonate from six sites all located within the caverns of the decommissioned Hearn Generating Station, as well as in one outside site, the Biergarten. Weisbrodt has chosen to program almost all Luminato events at the Hearn, dubbed by one wag “Toronto’s concrete cathedral.” It’s an immense edifice of interconnected industrial buildings most notable today for its imposing mid-century industrial brick and concrete presence on Toronto’s waterfront.

At one time the largest enclosed space in the country, the Hearn is three times larger than the Tate Modern art gallery in London. How big is that? The festival promo puts it into perspective: the “Statue of Liberty fits in it upright (or on its side).”

With 17 days of programming under one roof, “creating an exceptionally rich and uniquely integrated global cultural experience” becomes a more achievable lofty aim than past efforts to try to animate the whole downtown core. That being said, finding a world music through-line in their programming this year has proven to be a more difficult task than in some past years. One site however where it does appear is at the Bavarian-style Biergarten, where senior music curator Derek Andrews has programmed a lively mix of daily evening performances at the New Canadian Music Stage. Sponsored by Slaight Music, some of the themes Andrews explores this year in his roster of 14 acts include music from Francophone, Persian, Aboriginal and “roots” artists.

Andrews, in a late May phone interview, drew my attention to a Biergarten performance by the exciting Toronto female vocal quartet Nazar-i Turkwaz (My Turquoise Gaze), Saturday, June 11. The quartet is  comprised of Brenna MacCrimmon, Maryem Tollar, Sophia Grigoriadis and Jayne Brown, four remarkable musicians who have, over their careers, immeasurably enhanced Toronto’s world music scene, as well as individually performing on numerous video and film soundtracks and theatrical productions. For over three decades they have collected and performed traditional repertoire from the Middle East and Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. In Nazar-i Turkwaz, they collectively explore this repertoire, creating their own arrangements, cultivating in their vocal alchemy a very satisfying sonic union.

Sunday June 26, at the other end of this year’s Luminato Festival, Biergarten-goers will find the Toronto-based band Zuze. As far as I could find out, it is comprised of Iranian and Azerbaijani musicians. Relatively new on the Toronto scene, Zuze presents a self-described signature mix of “popular & folk melodies of Iran and Azerbaijan set to Afrobeat rhythms.”

The most unusual and perhaps the most inclusive event at this year’s Luminato is scheduled for June 22. “Iftar at the Hearn” is billed as a “free, inclusive event welcoming newcomers from Syria.” Iftar is the meal served to break the daily fast during the month of Ramadan. A social event involving family and friends, iftar provides an opportunity to share food as an act of kindness and generosity with members of the community. Toronto has recently welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees and Luminato brings together performers from across the city, as well as food and refreshments, to welcome and celebrate the presence of the newest arrivals to our famously multicultural city.

The free event opens with a greeting by the Ojibwe elder Duke Redbird, a journalist, activist, businessman, actor and administrator, followed by music by the Nai Children’s Choir, a Toronto community group singing in Arabic, English and French. JUNO nominee Cris Derksen then performs on cello in an artistically edgy set with her trio which includes Aboriginal hoop dancer Nimkii Osawamick and drummer Jesse Baird. Derksen aims to blur genre expectations with her “electro-aboriginally influenced” cello compositions.

Capping the Iftar at the Hearn evening, just prior to the communal meal with traditional Syrian and Middle Eastern food, is a performance by Toronto dancer-choreographer Sashar Zarif. His set features collaboration with two leading young Azerbaijani musicians, the kamancha virtuoso Elnur Mikayilov and award-winning mugham singer Mirelem Mirelemov. Zarif is a multi-disciplinary performing artist, educator and researcher whose “artistic practice…is steeped in the artistry and history of traditional, ritualistic, and contemporary dance and music of the Near East and Central Asia.” He has toured widely “promoting cultural dialogue through intensive fieldwork, residencies, performances and creative collaborations.” Integrating dance, music and poetry the trio take themes from Sufi poetry in an enactment of sama (sufi ritual of dance music and poetry) for iftar, thereby celebrating the peaceful spirit of Ramadan and setting the mood for the communal supper to come. It sounds lovely.

Harbourfront Centre: Perhaps the granddaddy of all current Toronto summer music festivals happens down at Harbourfront Centre. For more than 40 years it has striven to present a cross-section of the “mosaic of cultures from within our country and around the world.” I was among its early-adopter audiences and a frequent visitor, along with my children when they were young, enjoying its eclectic, though typically high quality music programming. Along the way I learned a great deal about diverse musics. It served me well in my various future careers – including this one!

One of Harbourfront’s charms is the intimacy of most of its venues. It’s where I saw and met many international musicians over the years, some of whom, like the Malian singer and guitarist Ali Ibrahim Farka Touré, subsequently went on to grand international careers. I saw him perform a laid-back but nevertheless memorably musical concert at the 150 to 250 seat Lakeside Terrace within sight of the sunlight glinting off the lake.

This summer’s family-oriented themed weekend festivals in July include too many to discuss in detail here. I will however give my picks. Starting with “Ritmo y Color: The Streets of Mexico,” July 15 to 17; we move to the Caribbean in “Island Soul” July 29 to August 1. The following month “Habari Africa” co-produced by Batuki Music Society, highlighting the “cultural diversity of global Africa,” will take over the Centre’s venues August 12 to14. The next weekend “TAIWANfest: A Cultural Tango with Hong Kong” is in the house August 26 to 28.

September 3 to 5 Harbourfront’s festival season comes to a close with the “Ashkenaz Festival,” produced by the Ashkenaz Foundation in partnership with Harbourfront Centre. It is North America’s largest celebration of Jewish music, art and culture and its musical breadth and depth warrants a story of its own, perhaps in the next issue of The WholeNote.

Summer Music in the Garden: Another summertime music success story has been the annual Summer Music in the Garden concert series. It is produced by Harbourfront Centre in partnership with City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, with the support of corporate and individual supporters. Located in a pleasant garden setting along the lakeshore, it’s free, though donations are welcome. The 17th edition of Summer Music in the Garden runs most Thursdays at 7pm and Sundays at 4pm, weather permitting, from June 30 to September 18 in the Toronto Music Garden.

With Tamara Bernstein returning to her artistic director duties, the 18-concert program this year looks as eclectic and exciting as usual. I won’t pretend to be all-inclusive; but here are my picks from the Garden’s crop.

July 21: Persian percussion specialist Naghmeh Farahmand and young setar soloist Pejman Zahedian present “Becoming One with Universal Love: Ancient Persian Music for a New Age.”

July 24: Toronto-based Subhadra Vijaykumar, violin, Vasudevan Govindarajan, mrdangam, and Ramana Indrakumar, ghatam, present “From the Banyan to the Willow Tree,” featuring the melodies and rhythms of Carnatic classical music of South India.

July 28: Tamara Ilana and Ventanas have been making waves in the city’s world music scene for a number of years. The six-member group presents a “trans-Mediterranean” program of North African, Balkan, Turkish and Spanish music.

August 7: Multiple JUNO-winning banjoist extraordinaire Jayme Stone, and his friends (Kristin Andreassen, voice; Sumaia Jackson, fiddle; and Joe Phillips, bass) return to the Summer Music in the Garden with “Deep River of Song.” They will perform from their impressive album Tabula Rasa, featuring songs collected by American song collector Alan Lomax.

August 11: Sadie Buck and the He hi ye Girls present traditional and contemporary Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) music in their concert, “The Sweet Sound of Our Nature.” It’s rare to hear these songs cherished by the people who made their homes here before most of us, performed in public in the city. This is one opportunity I’ll be sure not to miss.

August 18: Nagata Shachu, Toronto’s leading taiko ensemble, returns to the lakeside garden with roaring rhythms and soaring melodies performed on Japanese instruments made of wood, metal and skin.

August 21: The Bachands, consisting of Qristina Bachand, violin/voice, and Quinn Bachand, guitar/banjo, perform “All in the (Celtic) Family.” Expect Celtic roots music by the award-winning brother-sister duo.

QUICK PICKS

Lulaworld 2016, presented by Lula Music and Arts Centre, continues its festival into the second week of June with concerts every evening until June 10. Check the listings for details.

Aga Khan Museum: June 12 World Music Series: “Dusk to Dawn” features the renowned dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj in a program of kathak dance and Hindustani music. August 4 the Fanna-Fi-Allah Sufi Qawwali Party perform Sufi devotional music. August 11 The World Music Series presents the Mehmet Polat Trio in a program of Ottoman, Anatolian, Balkan and West African musical traditions played on the ngoni, oud and ney.

Cultura Festival, North York: Mel Lastman Square is home July 8, 15, 22 and 29 to an un-ticketed outdoor community-centric family-oriented arts festival. Each Friday night in July different musicians, buskers, art activities, international street food and films are featured. As of press time the programming hadn’t yet been released, so check the festival website or print media closer to the festival dates.

Roy Thomson Hall: Live on the Patio: The concerts, which take place throughout the months of June, July and August, transform the Roy Thomson Hall patio into an outdoor downtown music venue. Groups such as Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Hampaté and Sahel Blues, Salsa y Fusion, Samba e Forró with Flavia Nascimento and World Fusion with the Villalobos Brothers and Alberto de la Rosa help enliven the large space a level down from King Street. Again, the listings hold the keys to the dates.

If you see me relaxing at one of these concerts, please say hello. And may you have a pleasant music-filled summer.

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


It used to be that come June Ontarians had to leave the province to seek opera performances elsewhere. That’s not the case this summer which is surprisingly filled with opera, especially with new ones.

Opera_1.pngThe season begins with a brand new opera festival – the Toronto Festival of Children’s Opera – running May 29 to June 12. The festival includes lectures and symposia and performances of four operas. There is the Adventures of the Magic Tree Fort created by the After School Opera Program; the world premiere of Dean Burry’s latest work, The Sword in the Schoolyard by VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto; a version of Hansel and Gretel by Shoestring Opera and a remount of Dean Burry’s successful 2004 opera, The Hobbit, presented by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company June 9 to 12 with Giles Tomkins as both Gandalf and Smaug.

The same month Opera 5 concludes its 2015/16 season with an immersive performance of Die Fledermaus (1874) by Johann Strauss, Jr. The operetta is set in the midst of a party going on at 918 Bathurst Street with card playing and alcohol available. Michael Barrett sings Eisenstein, Rachel Krehm is Rosalinde, Julie Ludwig is Adele and Keith Lam is Falke. Patrick Hansen conducts an 11-member ensemble and a 13-member chorus and Aria Umezawa is the stage director. The party featuring dancers and surprise cabaret acts is set for June 8 to 11.

Also in June are three performances by Opera by Request, the company where the singers choose the repertory. First up on June 10 is the rarity La Wally (1892) by Alfredo Catalani. The opera is best known for the aria “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana,” made popular as the stolen recording in the 1981 movie Diva. Sarah Hood sings Wally (a nickname for Walburga), Paul Williamson sings Hagenbach whom Wally loves and Michael Robert-Broder sings Gellner who also loves Wally. One reason the opera is seldom produced is that it ends in an avalanche, but that will be no problem for Opera by Request since the work is presented in concert.

Also on OBR’s schedule is Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951), an opera not seen in Toronto since 1985. Will Ford sings the role of the aptly named Tom Rakewell, Sharon Tikiryan sings Tom’s betrothed, Anne Trulove, and Michael York sings Nick Shadow, the Devil in disguise who leads Tom astray. The single performance takes place June 17.

OBR’s final offering on June 25 is Verdi’s Aida (1871). Carrie Gray will sing the title role, Paul Williamson will sing Aida’s beloved Radames and Ramona Carmelly will sing the jealous Amneris. For all three operas in concert, the tireless William Shookhoff will provide the piano accompaniment.

June 26 will see the first production of the mysterious Confidential Opera Project. In a unique arrangement, COP co-creators Marion Abbott and Gregory Finney choose and cast an opera and distribute the scores to the cast with the proviso that they keep the opera a secret. With no rehearsals, the cast and music director meet for the first time on the night of the performance and start the opera. The audience shows up without knowing what opera they’re going to see. The challenge for the performers is to create an ensemble on their feet in front of an audience. In his COP blog, Finney revealed this much: “Our first show, like all the ones we have planned after, is a beloved part of the Opera canon and let me tell you this: each and every one will leave you thrilled, awed and amazed!”

Farther afield the Westben Arts Festival in Campbellford is presenting the world premiere of The Pencil Salesman with both music and libretto by Brian Finley. The fully staged opera concerns Boris Ball, the patriarch of a family of inventors. While he lives in his glory days when he invented the Personal Touch Typewriter, it takes a pencil salesman to bring him into the present to get to know his own granddaughter. Among the eight-member cast, John Fanning plays Boris, Donna Bennett his wife Rose and Alexander Dobson the Pencil Salesman. Daniel Warren conducts a chamber orchestra; stage direction is by Michael Mori, artistic director of Tapestry Opera. The opera runs June 25, 26 and July 1, 2 and 3. There are also a series of workshops and vocal intensives connected with the opera.

Moving on to July, opera returns to Toronto Summer Music in the form of The Rape of Lucretia (1946) by Benjamin Britten on July 22. This, the first of Britten’s chamber operas, is based on a French play by André Obey, which gave the librettist Ronald Duncan the idea of having the story narrated by a Male and a Female Chorus who interpret the action from a Christian point of view. Set in Rome circa 500 BC the opera focuses on Lucretia, wife of Junius Brutus, who, after being raped by Tarquinius, chooses suicide rather than a life of dishonour.

The production, co-produced by Against the Grain Theatre and the Canadian Opera Company at the Winter Garden Theatre, features Emma Char as Lucretia, Iain MacNeil as Tarquinius, Owen McCausland as the Male Chorus and Chelsea Rus as the Female Chorus. Topher Mokrzewski conducts a 13-member ensemble and Anna Theodosakis directs.

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The end of July and beginning of August is the time of the productions of the Summer Opera Lyric Theatre, founded and directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin and this year celebrating its 30th anniversary. SOLT presents fully staged operas with piano accompaniment at the intimate Robert Gill Theatre at the University of Toronto. On July 30 and August 2, 4 and 7, it presents The Tales of Hoffmann (1881) by Jacques Offenbach. On July 30 and August 3 and 5, it presents Handel’s Giulio Cesare (1724).

On July 29 and 31 and on August 6, as part of its anniversary celebrations, SOLT presents its first-ever world premiere, A Tale of Two Cities with music by Victor Davies to a libretto by Eugene Benson. Based on Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel of the same name, the opera concerns Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, who become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette and drawn against their will to Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror.

Davies and Benson informed me that they began the piece as a musical before they became occupied with the operetta Earnest, The Importance of Being that Toronto Operetta Theatre premiered in 2008. They returned to the work and reshaped it as a grand opera with a large-scale scenes at a ball and in the courtroom. As Davies says, “The stuff of opera was always there, with the vocal requirements, high lyricism and large dramatic gesture.” Though the SOLT production will use only piano accompaniment, Davies says that an audience will easily be able to imagine the orchestral sound he intends. Michael Rose is the music director and Guillermo Silva-Marin the stage director.

In August the SummerWorks festival will include the opera Mr. Shi and His Lover by Njo Kong Kie, his fourth opera to appear at the festival. The most recent was the well-received Señorita Mundo in 2009. Mr. Shi and His Lover, commissioned by the Macau Experimental Theatre in 2013, is based on the same real-life story that inspired the play M. Butterfly (1988) about a Chinese opera performer and his French Diplomat lover who believed him to be a woman. Jordan Cheng from Macau and Po Jen Chen from Taiwan sing the two roles. The composer conducts an ensemble of piano, marimba and Chinese percussion and Johnny Tam from Macau will direct. The work running from August 5 to 13 is sung in Mandarin with English surtitles.

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

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Early.pngWith the arrival of summer weather – and the attendant cottage weekends – it’s a safe bet that it’ll be a few months at least before next season starts up again for most major early music ensembles around town. Most of their concert seasons wound down the year by the end of May, but there are a few concerts to catch around Toronto, most of them free. But if you can make it out of town, or you’re willing to take a chance on some music festivals, you can actually hear quite a wide variety of good music this summer.

Montreal Baroque: It’s completely impossible to talk about early music festivals over the summertime without mentioning Montreal Baroque, which completely dominates the musical landscape every year. Its four-day, long-weekend-in-Quebec extravaganza is packed with nearly 30 concerts, lectures, free public events, and just out-and-out weird ideas, and features top-tier Canadian talent salted with a few international artists who fetch top dollar anywhere in the world.

And the festival isn’t just about spectacle alone – this year’s is actually delivering a sizeable chunk of the Bach catalogue, including some rarely performed works. A casual glance at their program shows there’s about a half dozen must-see concerts packed into one weekend. The festival will feature Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin, played by rising star Lina Tur Bonet. Then, in the weird ideas category, there’s a concert devoted to The Art of Fugue featuring Les Voix Humaines and the electric guitar collective, Instruments of Happiness, which as a concert idea is likely the perfect way to get people interested in what’s probably the most academic composition of the classical canon. But if you need further motivation to pack your bags for Montreal, here are two other concerts make the road trip worth it: the near-legendary Italian gambist Paolo Pandolfo will be joining the festival for a concert of Bach cello suites (which he’s decided, somewhat mercurially, to transcribe and play on viola da gamba); and harpsichordist Eric Milnes will direct the Montreal Baroque Festival band, which includes the festival's best soloists, for an all-star concert of Bach cantatas.

And there’s plenty more good music to see: a concert of instrumental music composed by Purcell and his contemporaries; soprano Jacinthe Thibault singing late 18th-century French cantatas; and a fantastical concert dedicated to the music of Jean-Féry Rebel, to name a few. If the idea of taking a weekend off to hear non-stop Baroque concerts appeals to you, consider giving this festival a look. It takes place on and around the McGill University campus in downtown Montreal from June 23 to 26.

Tafelmusik Summer Baroque: To some, getting outside the city for a weekend of concerts might be a bit ambitious. Fortunately, Toronto’s top baroque band has a little festival of its own. The Tafelmusik Summer Baroque Festival features a series of free concerts running from June 6 to 18, and while the group isn’t forthcoming on details, they’re solid enough to take a chance on, particularly when they’re free. A couple stand out: Tafelmusik soloists will be playing a mixed program of chamber music on June 11 at 12:30 in somewhat baroque-unfriendly Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson building; if you prefer a full, woody orchestral sound, consider checking out their concert for choir and orchestra at Grace Church on-the-Hill on June 18 at 7:30.

Cappella Intima: One lesser-known group that’s been putting on some great concerts for a while now is also worth a listen this month. Tenor Bud Roach’s ensemble Cappella Intima has been getting quite a reputation for its exciting, well-researched concerts of late-Renaissance Italian vocal music, and their next show promises to be more of what the group does very well. “The Paradise of Travellers” will be an evening devoted to the Venetian stop on the grand tour, featuring canzonettas, arias, and sacred motets written by the composers (Monteverdi, Croce, Banchieri, and, somewhat later, Rolla) with accounts of the city of Venice by tourists from the early 17th-century (spoiler: not all of them thought the city lived up to its reputation). You can catch this show at Trinity St.-Paul’s Centre on June 22 at 8pm.

Have cello, will travel: I’ve always liked the idea of casual classical concerts; so, if you’re not in the mood for a formal evening at the concert hall, consider giving this show a try. Steuart Pincombe is an American baroque cellist who has recently come back to North America after doing a degree at the Royal Conservatory at The Hague. Not content to tough it out on a more conventional, and in all probability, slower, path to a musical career, he has taken the artistic lifestyle to new extremes. He has bought a used trailer, in which he now lives, and is putting on a series of concerts all over North America in whatever venue will put him up.

His current solo project, “Bach and Beer” is a pay-what-you-can concert of three of the Bach cello suites, which he’ll be performing at the Rainhard Brewery in the Junction on June 16 at 7 pm. Each suite is paired with a brew from Rainhard’s own selection. As a concert idea, Pincombe’s approach is fun. But as a beer aficionado, don’t get me started! (Did you know people have been brewing beer using recipes that are hundreds of years old and changing them gradually over time? Sort of the same way music has evolved? Surely I’m not the the first person to suspect the craft beer movement as being a thinly applied intellectual veneer meant to rebrand alcoholism as a fun hobby...oh dear, there I go.)

Anyway, as I said, you can’t deny it sounds like a fun idea. I am all in favour of getting classical music out of the concert hall and into as many different venues as possible. Bach, in particular, is rarely if ever performed on the bar scene; letting the audience relax with some food and drink while listening is a great idea for winning over a new audience.

Summer Music in the Garden: Speaking of the cello suites, the Music Garden at the foot of Spadina, landscaped to follow the structure of the Bach suites, is a good reason to take a trip down to Harbourfront and find an oasis in the middle of downtown. Among the twice-weekly concerts that will take place there till well into September, this summer some younger Montreal-based musicians will be giving a spirited performance of some composers who don’t get much attention at all. Soprano Andréanne Brisson Paquin joins Pallade Musica chamber ensemble – harpsichordist Mélisande McNabney, violinist Tanya LaPerrière, lutenist Esteban La Rotta, and JUNO-nominated cellist Elinor Frey – to perform two female baroque composers (Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre and Rosa Giacinta Badalla) together with the English composer, John Eccle, and the Polish composer, Adam Jarzębski, in a free concert on July 14 at 7pm. This is definitely a group that can take risks with their concert programming, and you can be sure they will play everything on the program with dedication and verve.

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

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Art_of_Song.pngBy the beginning of June most regular concert series have ended and will not resume until September, their place taken by a number of summer festivals. First and foremost, there is Toronto Summer Music (TSM). This year’s theme is London Calling: Music in Great Britain and the programs include not only music composed in Britain but also recreations of musical events that have taken place in Britain in the past. There is one vocal recital: the mezzo Jamie Barton, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, will give a recital on July 25. The program will include songs by Turina, Chausson, Schubert and Dvořák and will conclude with three spirituals. The pianist is Bradley Moore.

Also of interest is the opening concert on July 14 which features Nicholas Phan, tenor, and Neil Deland, French horn, who will perform Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. On August 4, TSM is presenting a homage to The Last Night of the Proms. The vocal soloist is the mezzo Allyson McHardy (all three concerts are in Koerner Hall). An important part of TSM has always been to present and to help develop newly emerging talent. The fruits of this can be sampled in “Art of Song reGENERATION,” two separate concerts on July 22 in Walter Hall. The coaches are the soprano Anne Schwanewilms and the collaborative pianist Malcolm Martineau. Since 2010 the administrator of Toronto Summer Music has been Douglas McNabney. TSM has now announced that 2016 will be McNabney’s last season. He is a violist as well as an administrator and, while he never stopped playing the viola, the move may mean that he will have more playing time. That is good news, for him and for his audiences. He will be succeeded by Jonathan Crow, well-known to Toronto audiences as the concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the co-leader of the New Orford String Quartet.

Luminato, now in its tenth year, will present a performance of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat, directed by Jonathan Crow, in which Derek Boyes will be the narrator at the Side Room of the Hearn Generating Station, June 18; there will be another performance of the Stravinsky at the AGO Walker Court, June 12 at 2pm. Rufus does Judy is a recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall, performed by Rufus Wainwright at the Hearn Generating Station, June 23 and 24.

Tafelmusik presents several free concerts as part of their Baroque Summer Festival. Among these is one featuring the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Jeanne Lamon and Ivars Taurins, with soloits Ann Monoyios, soprano, and Peter Harvey, baritone, on June 6 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Other Festivals

The Kincardine Summer Music Festival presents a concert which aims at bringing together the sounds of Broadway, the improvisations of jazz and the sensibility of pop. The performers are Heather Bambrick, Diane Leah and Julie Michels at Knox Presbyterian Church, June 17.

Among the offerings at this year’s Westben Arts Festival is a concert of Schubert’s music, both songs and instrumental chamber music. The singers are the sopranos Donna Bennett and Kathryn Shuman at Westben Concert Barn, Campbellford, July 17.

The Leith Summer Music Festival presents a concert of songs taken from The American Songbook with special emphasis on the work of Leonard Cohen. The singer is the soprano Patricia O’Callaghan, accompanied by Robert Kortgaard, piano, and Andrew Downing, bass, at Leith Church, August 27. O’Callaghan performs “Hallelujah,” songs of Leonard Cohen and others at Stratford Summer Music, July 23 at Revival House.

The Elora Festival will be presenting four concerts of interest, all in St. John’s Church, Elora. Tenor Russell Braun teams up with his wife and accompanist, Carolyn Maule, and the Elora Festival Singers for an afternoon concert of works by Vaughan Williams and others, July 9. Soprano Marie-Josée Lord joins the Elora Festival Singers in a performance of selections from her JUNO Award-winning CD, Amazing Grace, as well as music by Gounod, Gershwin and others, July 14. Acclaimed early music specialist, soprano Suzie LeBlanc, joins with harpsichordist Alexander Weimann, July 16, in a celebration of Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death. Star countertenor, Daniel Taylor, Elora Festival Singers soprano, Rebecca Genge, and pianist, Steven Philcox perform “Songs of Love,” July 23.

Elsewhere, Leslie Fagan, soprano, and Peter Longworth, piano. perform Schumann’s Frauenliebe und leben, Op. 42 as part of the Festival of the Sound, July 21. And I am looking forward to the return of Capella Intima, who will present a concert of canzonettas, arias and motets from 17th century Northern Italy. The music will be complemented by contemporary travellers’ accounts. The performers are Bud Roach, tenor and director, Sheila Dietrich, soprano, Jennifer Enns Modolo, alto, and David Roth, baritone, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, June 22; donation requested. The program will be repeated at St. John the Evangelist in Hamilton on June 26.

QUICK PICKS

June 1: Bach’s cantata, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes BWV76 will be performed by soloists from St. James Cathedral and the organist Ian Sadler.

June 2: Christina Stelmacovich, mezzo, will sing a free concert at Metropolitan United Church.

June 3: Show One Productions presents Tamara Gverdtsiteli singing Yiddish songs, with the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella at Roy Thomson Hall.

June 4: Ermanno Mauro, tenor, will sing popular opera arias along with emerging singers coached by him at Columbus Centre.

June 4: The Aradia Baroque Ensemble presents arias by Handel to be followed by Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King at The Music Gallery.

June 4: The Etobicoke Centennial Choir presents opera arias and choruses by Mozart, Verdi and Offenbach.  The soloists are Andrea Naccarato, soprano, Erin Ronniger, alto, Lance Kaizer, tenor, and Lawrence Shirkie, baritone, at Humber Valley United Church.

June 5: Maeve Palmer, soprano, sings Five Poems by Tyler Versluis at Gallery 345.

June 6: Melanie Conly, soprano, and Kathryn Tremills, piano, perform Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate as well as songs by Case, Holby, Gershwin, Gounod, Porter and Purcell at the Church of the Redeemer.

June 7: The Toronto Concert Orchestra presents highlights from Rigoletto, La traviata, La bohème and other operas. The singers are Sara Papini, soprano, Eugenia Dermentzis, mezzo, Romulo Delgado and Riccardo Iannello, tenor, and Bradley Christensen, baritone at Casa Loma.

June 8 and 9: Michael Donovan, baritone, will sing his own new songs at Gallery 345.

June 12: Schubert’s Mass in G will be sung in a free concert with soloists Jennifer Krabbe, soprano, and Dennis Zimmer, bass at Humbercrest United Church.

June 16: Charlotte Knight, soprano, is the singer in “It Shoulda Been Me: A Cabaret,” a program of songs by Sondheim, Billy Joel, Joe Iconis and others at Gallery 345. The show is also being performed in St. Catharines, June 10 and Guelph, June 18.

June 17: Rachel Fenlon sings and plays the piano in a Schubert concert at Gallery 345.

June 24: Inga Filippova, soprano, Stanislav Vitort, tenor, and Andrey Andreychik, baritone, sing opera  at Lawrence Park Community Church.

And beyond the GTA, June 1: Maryem Tollar, Brenna MacCrimmon, Jayne Brown and Sophia Grigoriadis, who comprise the group Turkwaz, perform “Sounds of the Eastern Mediterranean” at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society Music Room.

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


As we voyage into the beauty of summer and the winding down of the regular 2015/2016 choral season, it has been my pleasure to write this column over the last year. One fascinating theme for me, as an active singer and performer, and as a regular attendee of concerts in the region, has been how often choral music finds itself at the crossroads of the secular and the sacred. From a Eurocentric perspective this comes as no surprise: much of what we revere as choral singers is deeply rooted in biblical and church liturgy - Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, countless requiems, oratorios based on stories and teachings from scripture. Less evident, from that perspective, is the extent to which choral music is inseparable from global spirituality. We are lucky to be in Toronto, a truly global village where we can  interact with, learn from, and be humbled by the myriad diversity of the human voice, human spirituality and music.

One great case in point is the Aga Khan Museum which has hosted a variety of fabulous musicians from across the world. Qawwali is a devotional, passionate music inspired by Sufi tradition and the California-based Fanna-Fi-Allah Sufi Qawwali Party will perform it at the museum, August 4. This youthful group will bring us sounds and words that have been part of South Asian culture for over 700 years, showing us the harmony of the sacred and secular at play. I hope their programming goes from strength to strength, and that more institutions like this emerge as our city’s cultural landscape continues to change.

Reflecting on the past season, the year has been an extraordinary choral soundscape: 1000 performers in Luminato’s staging of Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis; several opportunities to experience contemporary throat singing with Tanya Tagaq; fans coming together to sing choral tributes to David Bowie and Prince; a diverse series of Ismaili and other South Asian works by the Aga Khan Museum; an unusual Messiah under Sir Andrew Davis with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the TSO; and the voices of so many children, in the region’s children’s choirs and guests from around the world. Choral City isn’t just humming, it is belting a message of hope across the region!

Choral_Scene.png

Gospel Music – Community in Action: Karen Burke, a York University professor specializing in music education and gospel music, is also the director of the Toronto Mass Choir. She’s incredibly in demand as a clinician and teacher. She talks about the music, but it is clear that people are the key to her approach and to her appeal as an educator and expert. The community that is built, the stories, the personalities, and the love of them all coming together – this is the core of gospel music. An opportunity to talk to Burke immersed me in all the things I like about choral music – love, sharing music in ensemble and being part of something much greater than ourselves.

One of the key abilities of a great conductor is to be able to build an ensemble of people, not just singers. As a professor, Burke takes a unique approach. “Our first class is about making memories. How do you intentionally learn the names of your children so they feel like people and not just voices?” She tells a story that shows how deeply she cares about the singers she works with, and how she is changed by those experiences. In this way, grief becomes joy, and fear can become wonder – for everyone involved – and it all comes out in the music.

I reveal to her my own ignorance of the place of gospel music in Canadian history, and it prompts our conversation. Burke situates gospel music in its Toronto context citing the work of colleagues who have  studied the growth and experience of gospel music, in the region and in how it has shaped the very fabric of choral history. “It is part and parcel of our history here; our choral history, our musical culture,” she says. “And then it’s only a few steps away from remembering how much gospel music is part of our mainstream and what it has done in terms of making our ears more familiar to the different harmonies we hear. And especially how it is has influenced popular music. That is why, working with young people, it is so readily accessible and why they love it. So many [mainstream] harmonies and performances are taken directly from gospel music. So it’s an easier sell to people we want to reach as we try to keep choral music alive.”

She’s absolutely right. So much popular music has been directly influenced by gospel music. It is a musical vernacular that everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t know what it is. Examples include: Lisa Fischer and the backing vocals in Gimme Shelter with the Rolling Stones; NSync’s bridge in This I Promise You; Beyoncé’s chorus in Halo; the end of Lady Gaga’s Born this Way; the Book of Mormon’s Hasa Diga Eebowai; and pretty much anything ever done by Motown. We know the sounds, the harmonies, the bridges into a full-step key change, the call and response, the dominant harmonies – gospel has been part of music for a very long time. This is indeed our music. Is it any wonder that Burke can get youth engaged in choral music and singing at the top of their lungs? This is accessible music and it is also youthful music with a deep local history.

She also talks about how the rote nature of most gospel music requires musicians to use their skills in a different way instead of relying too heavily on sheet music: “What’s on paper is only three quarters of what you need…there’s this phenomenal thing called listening. It’s an incredible tool.” She finds herself constantly surprised by the hesitancy of choristers who don’t think they can sing without music, and then “their eyes come up out of the folders, out of the music, and the sound is just there.” It’s transformative not only for choristers but their directors as well.

Every time one performs gospel, she says, the energy, the feeling, the personality will be different (in contrast to much Eurocentric choral music where we seek to evoke the original intention of the composers as exactly as possible. Gospel music often demands of us to be different and new, every single time. “It’s about what you do for the music personally. When you’re given that permission to be personal, and the choir relates to it, it provides a whole different take on things. People can give more,” she says.

Choral_Scene_2.pngThe Toronto Mass Choir is a prolific performing and recording group. I highly encourage you to check them out; their full gamut of experience is available on Google Play. Karen Burke and the Toronto Mass Choir will present a concert as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival on Sunday June 26 at 12:30pm, Nathan Phillips Square.

Summer Festivals: As the regular musical season winds down, there are still many opportunities to catch fantastic music across the region. I hope to see you at some of the performances I have highlighted here, and please look at the listings of the other summer festivals in the region. There is choral music happening everywhere!

The Elora Festival: The Elora Festival continues to provide world-class musical performances in an adorable rural Ontario setting. There is a lot of choral programming over its 16 days. On Friday July 8 at 7:30pm the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joins the Elora Festival Singers and the Festival Orchestra in an opening night gala featuring a brand new commission, River of Life by Timothy Corlis, as well as Mozart’s Requiem. July 10 at 4pm is “The Glory of Bach” featuring Bach’s Mass in G Minor and more. The incredibly popular all-male chorus Chanticleer performs on Friday July 15 at 7:30pm. Don’t miss a chance to hear Haydn and Mozart on Friday July 17 at 4pm featuring the Elora Festival Singers and the Festival Orchestra in Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore and Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, a fantastic double bill. The Elora Festival Singers present “Choral Mystics II” including two new premieres by British composer Patrick Hawes. Hawes will be present as the singers record these premieres on Thursday July 21 at 7:30pm. In the year of Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, the festival presents “Coronation Anthems,” music by Handel on July 23 at 4pm. The festival closes on July 24 at 2pm with the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. See elorafestival.ca for all the listings and locations. Most performances are in a variety of intimate venues.

Toronto Summer Music presents the Theatre of Early Music with Daniel Taylor in a reconstruction of the music that accompanied King George II’s ascension to the throne in 1727. Music by Handel, Purcell, Gibbons and Tallis is featured, Tuesday July 26 at 7:30pm, Walter Hall.

The Brott Music Festival presents its 29th season, featuring a variety of fantastic music across the Hamilton area. The first choral performance is Beethoven’s Ninth on Thursday June 30 at 7:30pm at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Waterdown. Brott presents Classic Blend in“Songs of the Seasons in Ladies Barbershop Style,” a rare chance to hear a female barbershop ensemble, Saturday July 23 at 7:30pm, Zoetic Theatre. The season closes with Verdi’s Requiem on Thursday August 18, 7:30pm at the Mohawk College McIntyre Performing Arts Centre.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com


Bandstand_1.pngPeople’s given names saddle them with epithets that tend to remain with them throughout their lives. The name Jack, for example, endows or burdens me with more than my share. A few of the more obvious:  Jack be nimble, Jack Sprat could eat no fat, Jack was every inch a sailor, Jackass, and Jack of all trades, but master of none. The last of these, “Jack of all trades,” particularly rankles when I hear it applied to musicians willing (and able) to switch from their usual instrument to another to fill in for some other missing instrument in a band. (The disdainful critics are, generally, those who would not be able to do so.)

A more complimentary term than “Jack of all trades” might be “A man of many hats.” I can’t think of anyone in the music world more deserving of that title, sometimes quite literally, than Henry Meredith of Western University (Doctor Hank as he is affectionately known) who displays his amazing array of talents with the aid of his Plumbing Factory Brass Band (PFBB). I had the pleasure of attending their most recent concert in London where, demonstrating several of the many period instruments from his vast collection, he donned the style of hats that might have been worn by musicians of the period.

This concert was a perfect example of what I have often described, and encouraged, as “Music Education as Entertainment.” The title of the concert was “Meet the Plumbers,” but would have more accurately described the scope of the concert if the title had been expanded to include “and Meet Their Instruments.” After the opening number, performed by the entire band, the audience was introduced to all of the members of the family of modern brass instruments and many of their predecessors including parforce horns, valveless trumpets, saxhorns, and the ancient cornett. In many of these smaller ensemble numbers all the musicians wore hats of many eras from Doctor Hank’s colourful hat collection.

The concert’s grand finale began with the introduction of the vuvuzela which could be described as a type of primitive klaxon. Its modern offspring, the plastic vuvuzela, came into prominence (notoriety is perhaps a better word) a few years ago when thousands of them were sounded during football matches at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. In 1930 composer Henry Fillmore wrote The Klaxon March where he introduced the sound of early car horns into the work. At this concert, a few members of the audience were given vuvuzelas to produce the appropriate sound and then cued by Meredith whenever the music called for the klaxon. I can proudly report that this Jack of all trades added to my repertoire by displaying my musical skills on a bright green plastic vuvuzela.

Doctor Hank is truly “a man of many hats,” and he displayed his many talents as conductor, instrumentalist, curator and entertainer, simultaneously educating and entertaining his audience. After enjoying works of four centuries spanning the era from Samuel Scheidt in the early 17th century to Henry Mancini and Paul McCartney, we all had learned as we listened. We went home with memories of a great concert and some newly gained knowledge of some of the many aspects of music.

Bandstand_2.pngWychwood Clarinet Choir: The next major event on our musical calendar was the “Sounds of Spring” concert of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. This was a very special concert dedicated to the memory of Howard Cable, who had been their composer and conductor laureate in recent years until his passing in March. In addition to the performance of two of Cable’s works from the 1960s there was a special tribute section in the printed program with photographs with choir members in recent years. During the intermission Bobby Herriot, trumpeter, conductor, composer and long-time friend of Cable spoke about their friendship and working relationship over the years. Cable’s two daughters and one son were in attendance and, after the concert, spoke of a few initiatives under discussion to recognize their father in one of Toronto’s parks. (We were also treated to a fine arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile from the String Quartet Opus 11 by Cable’s friend, distinguished arranger and musical director Fen Watkin who was also in attendance.)

As for the repertoire, there were two standouts for me. The first of these was a novelty number, with a very catchy melody, named Immer Kleiner by 19th-century composer Adolf Schreiner and transcribed by George S. Howard. For those not proficient in German, the title means “Always Smaller” and that is exactly what happened to Michele Jacot’s clarinet. After a brief interlude, she stopped, removed the bell of her clarinet and then continued playing. After another melodic interlude, she stopped again and removed the lower joint which is the bottom half of the keys of the instrument.Then on with the next section of the music with only the upper joint keys, then without the barrel until she was left with only the mouthpiece. It was all very melodic, well performed and hilarious to witness.

The second standout was a transcription of Gustav Holst’s First Suite in E-Flat for band. Many years ago I read, in a scholarly publication, that this composition and Holst’s Second Suite in F had been written as commissions from the Royal Military School Music, Kneller Hall. It was reported that directors of the school lamented the fact that almost all serious concert works played by British military bands were transcriptions of orchestral music. In a recent check of possible sources, I have not been able to verify that. However, I was able to confirm that this suite was premiered at the Royal Military School Music in 1920. This acceptance that the military band was a serious form of ensemble prompted other composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gordon Jacob, to write serious band music.

A Special High School: It isn’t often that I report on high school band concerts, but I must make an exception this month. For a number of reasons the music department of Dr. Norman Bethune C. I. deserves special mention. Among many other selections in their “Spring Music Night” were a new composition and a fine transcription. In honour of the school’s founding principal, Robert Thomson, whose school nickname (presumably affectionately) is “Thor,” the school commissioned J. Scott Irvine to write a suitable composition. So it was that the school’s wind ensemble gave the world premiere performance of Irvine’s stirring Mjolnir, The Hammer of Thor. Another outstanding number by the Wind Ensemble was a transcription of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 “The Titan.” This arrangement by the school’s director of music, Paul Sylvester, was part of his master’s thesis.

A New Band: For my third concert in four days I was thrust into a different role. I was not in the audience this time but playing in the first formal concert of the fledgling York Region Brass. Yes, we did have to have a couple of ringers to fill in, but all went well. One of these ringers brought a very special surprise for me. Jonas Feldman reminded me that I had been his teacher many years ago. As is customary, teachers and students usually lose contact after the students move on. However, every once in a while our paths have crossed, and in this instance we were sitting beside each other for the band’s end-of-concert photograph. In the interim since we first met, Jonas just happened to have earned bachelor and master’s degrees in music. Another surprise: although I had been rehearsing with the group for several weeks, I had no idea that there was a composer in our midst. Then we played the new Lavender March by euphonium player Eugene Belianski. If you play a brass instrument and live within driving distance of Newmarket, the York Region Brass would love to hear from you. Their email is pnhussey@rogers.com.

Elsewhere: As mentioned last month, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band has just started another season. They would love to hear from potential members. If you would like to try a new band for the summer months, contact the band at uccb@powergate.ca or visit their website at uccb2016.webs.com.

By the time that this issue is published the Toronto New Horizons Bands will have wound up their sixth season with a concert by 195-plus members in six bands plus a jazz orchestra. Rather than take time off, NHB Director Dan Kapp has announced that he will be offering what he calls “a jump-start camp” for people returning to playing after not having played for a while. There will be experienced staff for daily workshops, band classes, interest sessions and ensembles. This will all take place at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre at Bloor and Spadina from July 18 to 22. Their website is mnjcc.org/camps. And a reminder: as mentioned in last month’s issue the documentary film about these New Horizons Toronto bands will be aired on TVO, June 8 at 9pm. After that it will be streamed on the TVO website.

Coming events

Getting June off to a flying start, on Sunday, June 5 we have no fewer than four concerts by community instrumental groups, two of which will be performing with choral groups:

At 3pm the Newmarket Citizens’ Band will be performing in their “Spring Fling Concert” with the Upper Canada Chordsmen Chorus at Trinity United Church, Newmarket.

At 7pm the Strings Attached Orchestra, with music director Ricardo Giorgi will present their “2016 Friends & Family Year End Concert” at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, York University. This will be another concert with an interesting adaptation. The Vivaldi Concerto for Two Trumpets will be performed but with two violins playing the solo trumpet parts. As mentioned earlier, this seems to be the season for original compositions and this concert will be featuring two. The first, with the whimsical title, Overture for a Puppet Show, is by Ric Giorgi himself. The other, Cassiopeia by 16-year-old Adam Adle, is the winner of the orchestra’s Young Composers Initiative 2016.

Also at 7pm the Northdale Concert Band will be joined by the choirs of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Grace Church on-the-Hill and Christ Church Deer Park for “Last Night of the Proms,” an evening full of British pageantry fit for royalty at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.

At 8pm Resa’s String Ensemble will hold their spring concert at Crescent School.

Finally, on Tuesday June 7 at 8pm, Resa’s Pieces Concert Band will perform their spring concert at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Jack (of all trades) MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.

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Mainly_Mostly.pngIt’s Toronto Jazz Festival time again! Time for a few great players from out of town to play with and among the vast pool of equally great Toronto players. It really is eye-opening to look at the listings for the Jazz Festival (torontojazz.com ) and realize just how many of the gigs listed are gigs that happen year round, and would continue happening, festival or no. When it comes to the jazz scene in this city, we truly have an embarrassment of riches. It’s just that around the end of June we get a little richer.

And I will talk about all of that in just a minute, but first, it’s anecdote time.

When I was in high school, I was a big progressive rock geek, which, I know, is utterly unsurprising because a lot of young jazz nerds started off that way. I don’t know why – maybe it was just the challenge – but I loved working out the time signatures of songs in which it wasn’t immediately obvious, or in which the number of beats changed from bar to bar. Of course, this is neither a ubiquitous nor an essential feature of progressive rock, nor is it one exclusive to the genre, but it attracted me nonetheless. And to be frank, while counting odd time signatures fascinated me in high school, I can think of few things more tedious now.

My cousin, also a music geek, offered me a challenge one day. He played me a 20-second sample of bassist (not to be confused with the jazz trumpeter of the same name) Avishai Cohen’s Ever-Evolving Etude from his 2008 album Gently Disturbed, although I didn’t know the title at the time, nor would I have remembered the name. I wasn’t into jazz back then, much less what I was hearing here. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was unconventional, complex, difficult to parse. The bass and piano threw forth a fury of notes that seemed, to my untrained ear, to have the rhythmic logic and constancy of a person trying to kill a particularly evasive mosquito.

It was chaotic, furious and wonderful.

What kept it grounded for me were the pitches, satisfyingly tonal, and the timbre, new to my ear at the time, of bass and piano playing in unison, to which I am now much more accustomed.

He asked what the time signature was. When I couldn’t figure it out, he said he’d be better off not knowing anyway; how can you enjoy it if you’re counting?

Flash forward six or seven years. I’m in the final year of my music degree and the great New York drummer John Riley is making an appearance at our school. During a large portion of his lecture, Riley deconstructs the very excerpt my cousin had showed me years earlier.

And so, I learned the answer.

I gained a lot from that lecture, but to this day I cannot count the pulse of the Ever-Evolving Etude and certainly couldn’t notate it. Not on my life. And it really is better like that.

As my ears grew (both figuratively and literally), I started to hear Cohen’s music differently. Although I always heard, and still hear, the progressive and fusion elements in it, I started to hear elements of Latin American music; when I hear a heavily syncopated vamp and complex, adventurous percussion, what else comes to mind but salsa? This is especially true on the album Unity, on which Antonio Sanchez, compared by some to an octopus for his remarkable limb independence, is responsible for the drumming.

You can explore Cohen’s music for yourself, in preparation for his Toronto appearance on June 30 at the St. Lawrence Centre.

There’s no shortage of out-of-towners I’m excited to see listed for the festival – among them Laila Biali, Phil Dwyer, Mark McLean’s Playground and Robert Glasper, the latter two of whom I’ve been lucky to see perform in person on more than one delightful occasion – but if I wrote about every single one, I would be here all night.

I also must reluctantly mention that Rich Brown’s rinsethealgorithm, about whom I’ve written in the past, will be playing a reunion show at The Rex on Canada Day after four years apart. I say “reluctantly” because I hate crowds; my rates of happiness are generally inversely proportional to my proximity to strangers’ bodies. Yet I will, and must, bear it for the music: rinsethealgorithm is back, and everyone who wants to know must know. Downbeat at 8pm.

Enjoy the festival, friends. Plan your routes carefully and buy your tickets early. May your ears be well-fed, and may your lines of vision be unobstructed.

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

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Nylon_Banner.jpgSing_1.jpgThe fact that festivals are becoming as ubiquitous in Toronto as ways of collecting, and spending, frequent flyer miles, shouldn’t deter one from paying attention when really good ones come along. Over the past few years, SING! – the Toronto Vocal Arts Festival – has stuck to the task of shining the spotlight on the diverse world of a cappella music – including great visitors and top talents who grace the scene year-round. This year the fest will illuminate some of the best, including an appearance by veterans of the scene, the Nylons, as part of their Farewell Tour.

Founded in 1978 by Paul Cooper, Mark Connors, Denis Simpson and Claude Morrison, the Nylons became one of the most prolific collectives in the a cappella world. After 37 years, the only surviving original Nylon is Morrison, now 63 and ready to embark on semi-retirement, but not before an extended farewell tour that includes a SING! concert May 14 at the Jane Mallett theatre.

“When we began I was the youngest, now I’m the oldest – the mileage is beginning to catch up with my body. I find that the less I do, the more I enjoy it, and sometimes the less I do, the better I do it. That said, it won’t be over until about a year from now. We are taking the show across Canada and into the United States, so it’s a bit of an extended farewell, kinda like “I can’t miss you if you don’t leave!” (chuckles) It’s been a good long run. I can’t even think of many groups who have been around for this long. It’s been a great life – more than a living, more than a lifestyle, it’s been a life.”

It has been said that a cappella found the Nylons and not the other way around; but Morrison, who was working as a professional dancer at the time, recalls it thus:

“I remember Mark [Connors] saying to me, we’re going to form this a cappella group, we want you to be in it, and we’re going to go all over the world and be really famous. So Mark seemed to have an idea that this was going to take off, and we just kind of stumbled head over heels into this and never looked back. For some reason, at the time four guys singing a cappella was considered to be outrageous. We played fashion shows, parties, benefits, and word of mouth took off very quickly. We became media darlings here in Toronto. Fast forward to a couple of years later, we self-financed our first album which was self-titled. That went Gold in about a month and Platinum in about two months, so there was a market out there.”

Is there a particular recording you’re proud of?

“Our version of This Boy by the Beatles has got this breathtaking key change, and I remember the night we recorded it, thinking, I’m going to remember this night forever because I was dealing with an unrequited love, and all my pain went into that key change. Of course, The Lion Sleeps Tonight has been really good to us. One arrangement I’m personally proud of is O Canada which they still play in the schools! I remember we did a show on Canada Day on Parliament Hill, and at the end of it everybody joins hands and sings O Canada and it was like Kumbaya. I remember thinking, where is the energy here? Who died? So I thought, let’s do a version where there’s a beat to it. People seemed to love it. We did it at Game 6 of the Blue Jays World Series in 92, down in Atlanta, which was very exciting. We did a show recently where someone yelled out, ‘Do O Canada!’ and I said, ‘Well that’s a cheap way of getting a standing ovation!’”

Your reaction to the thriving a cappella scene?

“I’d like to think that we contributed to it somehow. So many people from that world come up to us and say, we owe this to you, because we probably wouldn’t have done it unless we had seen that you were able to do it, and it gave us the boldness to go for it. So that’s really gratifying to know that you’ve made a difference in people’s lives, that you inspired them.”

FreePlay: One such talent is Dylan Bell, who went on to produce and arrange for The Nylons. As Claude Morrison puts it, this man is “a bundle of talent, wonderful to work with and all over the place! Performing with four or five different groups, he’s like a moving target that’s hard to hit.”

Bell first heard the Nylons at age ten, then went on to become a Bobby McFerrin devotee and didn’t stop there:

“I still remember the moment I got my copy of Take 6’s debut record. I ran into our music room and said to my friend Kevin Fox: ‘Stop everything, and listen to this.’” Shortly after that, Suba Sankaran and I met at York University, where we were both members – and later directors – of the student-run a cappella group Wibijazz’n’. That was in 1993, and we’ve been singing together ever since. Kevin now sings with the Swingles, and Suba and I have since made a cappella singing the cornerstone of our musical careers.”

Partners in crime, Bell and Sankaran perform together as the FreePlay Duo, and I’m willing to bet that even the most ardent a cappella fan would be wowed by this act. FreePlay’s voices are as impressive as their arrangements, where Bach, bebop, solkattu and hip-hop harmoniously transcend cliché. Very much a modern group, they even add a loopstation to the mix in order to create a multilayered sound in live performance. With the help of various granting organizations, Bell and Sankaran have taken their act on the road, with stops in North America, Europe, East Asia, India and Africa.

One memorable highlight: “In 2013, we embarked on our first trip to Africa, specifically Nairobi. Mary Tangelder, Suba’s former jazz choir member and voice student, wanted to create a program to explore using music as a tool for cross-cultural communication and healing. Living in a multicultural environment such as Canada, we take cross-cultural enrichment for granted: in Africa, exchanges between members of different tribes or linguistic groups can be tense or even dangerous. As part of our workshop, we taught a simple vocal counting exercise, and as part of the cross-cultural component, we had workshop participants teach each other the exercise across languages. What seemed a simple exercise for us was novel for them: the idea of teaching your language to another tribe was almost unheard of, and was an eye-opening experience for all of us. One workshop participant, hearing about our workshops, came in from eight hours away, near the border with Somalia. Being from a strict Muslim sect, he had never made music before in his life, and the experience for him, he told us, was life-changing.”

Sing_2.jpgHampton Avenue: Just how did Debbie Fleming go from versatile vocalist to sought-after arranger and founder of a cappella group Hampton Avenue?

“Well, to start, I had my Grade 8 piano in high school and took Grade 2 theory just so that I could have an extra subject in Grade 13. When I married my ex-husband (Gordon Fleming), he was one of Toronto’s major B3 R&B players, but couldn’t read a note. I became his copyist – so I became pretty adept at hand-writing music. Then Atari Notator came along, and I was so scared to get into computerized stuff, but damn it, it was so exciting! And suddenly, I thought, you know what? This would make the music far easier for singers to read. So because I had the computer, and I had the ideas in my head, I started to think about arranging more seriously.

“Actually I was motivated to put together another vocal group thanks to David Blamires. He had come home from a tour with Pat Metheny – he was touring with him at the time as a singer – and when they were in Holland of all places, he heard this fantastic vocal group, Take 6, and you couldn’t buy them here. He brought a tape back for me and I freaked when I heard them, I thought, that is the kind of harmony I want! And one of the first things I did was, I sat down and I tried to lift the six parts that they did of Quiet Place. I thought, maybe I could do this. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. Hearing the outside parts was easy, but hearing all their little crunchy things in the middle – it was a trial but it was a joy, because it kind of honed my ear.

“So I put together a bunch of singers who did studio work and could read really well, and one of them was Emilie-Claire Barlow, Judy Tate’s daughter. I remember Judy said, ‘Why don’t you bring Emilie in?’ and I said, are you kidding? And she said ‘Oh no she really reads well!’ and I thought, well okay, let’s try her. So she worked out like a dream, and we would sit around my dining room table, all these people, Elaine Overholt, Laurie Bower, and we would just love to do this.

“I discovered Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell through Phil Dwyer. I said to Phil, ‘You’re teaching up at York University and I’m always wanting to find people who can read and who like jazz harmony.’ He took me to see Suba and Dylan, they were only 19 years old, and they knew Tom Lillington because they were part of Wibijazz’n’ – they started that group. So they joined us.

“We had regular rehearsals, and our first concert was at the Music Gallery, before we had recorded, which was in 1996. It was kind of hard to get people out, as it is now. I had to do a lot of promotion and publicity. In 1997 we did our Christmas CD.

“By the time we were first written up in The WholeNote – 1999 I think it was – we had two concerts a year. It was happening, but it wasn’t something that hit the major population – jazz a cappella wasn’t really a huge thing. But for those who dug it, we were it. We did the crunchy harmonies – we’d hold a chord and it would be so great with sharp elevens and the whole damn thing and then there would be dead silence and you could hear everyone go ‘Ahhhh.’” (laughs)

The distilled version of the group, The Hampton Avenue Four, will be performing at the SING! fest. Also this month, Fleming is thrilled to be releasing a new recording, Back to Bacharach, featuring an all-star band led by all-star pianist Mark Kieswetter. But why Bacharach?

“I was at one of Laura Marks’ jams out on the east end. I got up and sang one of my all-time favourites, A House Is Not a Home, which I have been singing for years. It’s not jazz but it’s one of those songs that gets me right in my heart. Well, Maureen Kennedy was there, and she came up to me and said, ‘You know, that was really nice. I could never really sing Bacharach, because it’s really hard to do it well.’ So I thought, BINGO! I wanted to do another album, and I was looking for something that would set me apart from all the other great singers in town. There are so many who sing the American songbook like the phone book for God’s sake. But I have never fit into a slot. I’ve done everything from classical to rock ’n’ roll to country to R&B which is my heart and soul, and jazz. And this was like water off a duck’s back – yes, rangy, yes, melodic, but I could perform Bacharach with no problem. Since Dionne Warwick started off as my favourite singer, and later on Aretha Franklin, and both of them did covers of Bacharach, I thought Back to Bacharach. We recorded it at Studio Number 9 and the release is Thursday May 26 at Jazz Bistro.

For all the SING! listings visit singtoronto.com. May this festival, along with the Canary Pages, inspire YOU to sing, Toronto!

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

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