Transculturalism: All Music is from Planet Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Concerts and a Final Footnote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Everybody Loves Chopin

BBB-Classical1When Rafal Blechacz (pronounced BLEH-hatch) won the Chopin competition in Warsaw nine years ago, becoming the first Polish-born competitor to do so in 30 years, the jury saw fit to give no award for second place. Such was the dominance of Blechacz’s performance. The venerable contest, celebrating the Pole with arguably the highest worldwide name recognition, began in 1927 when Lev Oborin (best remembered today as a chamber music partner of David Oistrakh) came out on top. Held every five years since 1955 (when Vladimir Ashkenazy finished second and Fou Ts’ong finished third), the list of winners reads like a who’s who of pianists of the last half century: Maurizio Pollini (1960); Martha Argerich (1965); Garrick Ohlsson (1970, with Mitsuko Uchida second); Krystian Zimerman (1975); Yundi Li (2000, with Ingrid Fliter second).

Twice in recent history (1990 and 1995), the competition declined to award a first prize, saying no one played well enough. Blechacz, by contrast, won every possible prize in 2005: first prizes for Polonaises, Concertos, Mazurkas and Sonatas in addition to the overall First Prize.

Blechacz, whose highly anticipated Koerner Hall debut October 19 is part of the Canadian Chopin Society’s Canadian Chopin Festival, is the seventh and most recent recipient of the Gilmore Artist Award. This $300,000 award recognizes extraordinary piano artistry with some of the most generous financial support given in the musical arts and is conferred every four years to an international pianist of any age and nationality following a rigorous and confidential selection process.

Sometimes referred to as music’s answer to the MacArthur Foundation “genius grants,” the Gilmore is bestowed through a non-competitive process. Pianists are nominated by a large and diverse group of international music professionals. An anonymous, six-member artistic advisory committee appraises the nominees over a period of time and assesses their musicianship and performing abilities through numerous performances under varying conditions. Throughout the four-year process, candidates for the award are unaware they are under consideration.

Blechacz, who is 28, joins such previous winners as Leif Ove Andsnes, Piotr Anderszewski, Ingrid Fliter and Kirill Gerstein.

According to a New York Times story from January 8, 2014, Blechacz is writing a book about musical interpretation. He told Michael Cooper about a performance of Chopin’s Mazurkas that he gave in Hamburg that has stayed in his mind.

“After the last chord, it was extremely silent in the hall. The audience did not applaud. And I felt that there was something unique – it was the greatest reward for me from the audience, because I knew that they were completely in my musical world.

Sometimes, it happens.”

For his Toronto recital, Blechacz has included 3 Mazurkas, Op.56 as well as 3 Waltzes, Op.64, a polonaise and a nocturne by Chopin plus Bach’s Italian Concerto and Beethoven’s “Pathétique.”

“I’ve always enjoyed imagining the timbre of various other instruments when I play certain passages in Classical sonatas,” the pianist has written. “While working on Haydn, Beethoven or Mozart, I’ve often attempted mentally to ‘orchestrate’ the work, or part of it, whenever I had doubts as to articulation, pedalling or timbre. After performing this ‘instrumentation in the mind,’ those doubts about interpretation would disappear ... it would be wrong to suppose that Classical composers felt a different kind of joy, sadness, hope or despair than the Romantics. The fundamental nature of emotion is always the same; only its expression changes. When playing works from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic or even Impressionist repertoire, I often feel that these composers always convey the same substance, feelings and emotions, even though the style and approach of each is unique.”

The Canadian Chopin Festival begins its celebration of the beloved composer October 17, with a Mississauga concert featuring former winners Leonard Gilbert, Anastasia Rizikov and Li Wang, and concludes with the winners of this year’s competition performing in Koerner Hall October 26. In addition to three days each of senior and junior competitors vying for honours, the festival will feature a masterclass with pianist and pedagogue James Anagnoson, the dean of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, a lecture by Dr. Alan Walker, a workshop and demonstration of Polish dances as well as an event October 24 that promises a modicum of intrigue. “Chopin and Friends: 19th Century Salon Recital” features the competition’s jury, pianists Krzysztof Jablonski, William Aide, Bernadene Blaha, Kent McWilliams and Lisa Yui.

Everybody loves Chopin, including Ira Sachs, director of the lovely new film Love Is Strange. “We wanted to use Chopin not unlike how Simon & Garfunkel are used in The Graduate, to create a whole world for the movie while at the same time maintaining the integrity and beauty of the original.” For more see my Music and the Movies blog on

BBB-Classical2Janina Fialkowska’s entrée onto the world’s stage was launched in 1974 by Arthur Rubinstein after her prize-winning performance at his inaugural Master Piano Competition in Israel. She plays Chopin with a clarity and rigour that is formidable. Music Toronto hosts her October 28 and the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society does likewise October 30 in an identical program that includes three mazurkas and a ballade by Chopin among works by Grieg, Schubert and Ravel.

In her story in People magazine almost 40 years ago, Barbara Rowes told it like it was: “In January 1975 Fialkowska was summoned by Rubinstein to a series of auditions at Manhattan’s Drake Hotel. ‘I was the dessert after his elegant lunches,’ she smiles. He would puff on a cigar and request ‘sonatas and études I hadn’t touched in years.’ Janina would then rush home and practice through the night for the next day’s recital. Mornings, her stomach knotted and her palms turned clammy. The pace was exhausting, and the exacting master showed no mercy as he tested her range, touch and determination. After six days her prowess and endurance were proved, and Rubinstein became her mentor. Lest anyone leer, Janina insists that Rubinstein, an avowed womanizer, never made non-musical overtures to her. But he helped swing a record deal with RCA’s high-toned Red Seal classical series and then helped set up her first series of concerts through his management. ‘For me, he said after one of her performances, ‘Janina was a revelation. I have never heard any pianist play the great Liszt sonata with the power, temperament, understanding, beauty of tone and, above all, the emotion and complete technical command she has shown.’”

Víkingur Ólafsson, Iceland’s award-winning rising star pianist and host of the Icelandic TV series Útúrdúr (roughly translated as OutofTune), makes his Toronto debut October 27 at Remenyi House of Music and October 28 at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre, performing Nordic music while also paying tribute to one of his greatest inspirations, Glenn Gould, in a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

“I got the idea to do a TV series on music as early as in 2008, when I played the opening phrases from Beethoven’s Sonata Op.101 in an Icelandic TV interview, demonstrating how their impact can change drastically, depending on how one shapes them – you know, direction of line, balance between the voices, dynamics, pedal etc … The reaction I got took me by surprise, quite a few people told me that they really had no idea there was so much involved in playing a seemingly simple phrase, that they had a really vague idea about the elements which we interpreters spend our lives on refining.

“I kept this idea at the back of my mind for a few years (studying among other things the great stuff that Bernstein and Glenn Gould did on TV), and then started working seriously on the project in late 2011.”

Also appearing in a COC noontime concert (October 15) is award-winning 15-year-old Canadian pianist Anastasia Rizikov who, as mentioned earlier, helps launch the Canadian Chopin festival October 17. In this COC concert she showcases her virtuosity and passion in a demanding program of Russian repertoire: Tchaikovsky’s Romance in F Minor, a selection of Rachmaninoff preludes, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Balakirev’s knuckle-busting Islamey.

BBB-Classical3Bavouzet with the London Phil: French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet joins Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra October 17 in Roy Thomson Hall for Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3. Bavouzet’s Chandos recording of all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos with the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda was recently named the Gramophone award-winner in the concerto category. Toronto audiences are fortunate to be able to hear the most popular of these concertos. Rob Cowan wrote in the magazine that Bavouzet’s “superb cycle of the concertos promotes a combination of lyricism and chutzpah that lies at the very heart of these endlessly fascinating works” and that Bavouzet’s “way with the Third is chipper and cool.”

The Moscow-born Jurowski will undoubtedly connect with the emotional core of the major work on the program, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.8, which was composed at the height of WWII in 1943 and confronts the catastrophic violence and suffering Russians were being forced to witness daily in chilling, tragic and mysterious ways.

TSO: Shostakovich’s formidable Violin Concerto No.1 alternates profound melancholy with searing sarcasm; it highlights the TSO program October 22 and 23 conducted by Stéphane Denève. Scottish-born and Sistema Scotland-raised Nicola Benedetti will tackle this complex work that David Oistrakh premiered in 1955 – written in 1948, the composer wisely deemed it too dangerous to play in public until after Stalin’s death. Oistrakh reportedly begged Shostakovich to give the opening of the finale to the orchestra so that “at least I can wipe the sweat off my brow” after the daunting solo cadenza that concludes the third movement.

Earlier in the month, October 8, 9 and 11, another violinist, Tokyo-born and Montreal-raised Karen Gomyo, will play Sibelius’ shimmering, sensuous Violin Concerto and string quartets. Guest conductor Jakub Hrůša will lead the TSO in Dvořák’s tuneful audience favourite, Symphony No.9 “From the New World.”

A Sextet of Quartets: Music Toronto is bringing two world-class string quartets to the St. Lawrence Centre this month. The St. Petersburg String Quartet was formed in 1985 by graduates of the Leningrad Conservatory under the guidance of Vladimir Ovcharek, the first violinist of the Taneyev String Quartet.  As glasnost settled in and the Cold War thawed, their fame grew and their name changed from Leningrad to St. Petersburg just as the city’s did. Their complete Shostakovich string quartet recordings were greeted glowingly – Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.8 Op.110 from 1960 is included in their October 9 Toronto program. That program concludes with Tchaikovsky’s exquisite String Quartet in D Major Op.11, the composer’s first chamber work, a masterpiece by the 30-year-old Russian, noteworthy as the first work of Russian chamber music. Its second movement contains one of classical music’s greatest hits and, according to Tchaikovsky’s own diary, it moved Tolstoy to tears.

The Belcea (pronounced BEL-chah) are musicians of diverse cultural backgrounds, a characteristic that may account in part for their dynamic and free interpretative style. Founded at the Royal College of Music in London in 1994, the Belcea Quartet is based in Great Britain. However, Romanian violinist Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski, the two founding members, bring a very different artistic provenenance to the ensemble while drawing from the best traditions of string quartet playing received from the quartet’s mentors: the members of the Alban Berg and Amadeus Quartets. Their October 23 Toronto recital includes Beethoven’s Third Quartet as well as the First by Brahms and Schubert.

On October 9, the U of T Faculty of Music’s ensemble-in-residence, the Cecilia Quartet, is joined by the Gryphon Trio for an exploration of humour, play and games through the lens of chamber music in a free noontime concert at Walter Hall.

The Attacca Quartet continues its historic traversal of all of Haydn’s 68 string quartets October 24 to 26 under the auspices of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

The legendary Talich Quartet, recognized since 1964 as one of Europe’s finest, is evolving as a more youthful ensemble under the leadership of Jan Talich, Jr., who took over the first violin post from his father. Chamber Music Hamilton presents them October 26 in a characteristic program that includes Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 animated by its Czech dance rhythms and Smetana’s moving String Quartet No.1 “From My Life.”

Finally, Mooredale Concerts presents the New Orford String Quartet November 2 in a program that includes Ravel’s ravishing String Quartet in F Major. Violinists Jonathan Crow and AndrewWan are concertmasters of the Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, Brian Manker is principal cellist in Montreal and Eric Nowlin is assistant principal viola of the TSO. They will be joined by TSO principal violist Teng Li for Mozart’s String Quintet No.4 in G Minor K516. The program will be repeated at The Isabel in Kingston November 4.

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

Music at the Aga Khan Museum

Even before the construction dust had settled in its galleries, the shiny new granite-clad Aga Khan Museum had, in quick order, been touted in many media reports and by our Prime Minister as a key addition to Toronto’s multi/inter/trans-cultural topography. Yes, it has elegant Fumihiko Maki-designed architecture and a world-class collection dedicated to the arts of Muslim civilizations, but it also promises to be a significant music programmer and destination for citizens and tourists alike.

The museum has only been open since September 18 but live music has already animated the impressive spaces within its walls. The AKM’s programming focusses on  Islamic diversity, encompassing and celebrating a vast range of cultural geographies energizing the GTA. In its opening flourish of concerts the museum’s programming also shows itself to be admirably ecumenical, auguring well for the myriad ways cultures interact musically here. 

October 3 at Koerner Hall the AKM marks one of its first co-presentations with The Royal Conservatory of Music – also part of the Small World Music Festival – an evening featuring Indian-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia (her cover story was featured in the September 2014 issue of The WholeNote) and Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali. The latter is a ten-member Pakistani group, a leading representative of the art of qawwali, Sufi devotional songs accompanied by tabla and harmonium. While the two groups are playing two separate sets in the concert, they will collaborate on one song. This column will undoubtedly revisit the AKM museum’s programs in the future.

BBB-World2The Small World Music Festival: Last issue I focused tightly on one late September concert within the Small World Music Festival, which runs until October 5. The series sets out, in its words, to “capture the world in a ten-day festival.” Here are a few others I’d like to highlight.

October 1 the spotlight falls on the music of North and South India; usually presented individually, they are here combined on the Flato Markham Theatre stage. Zakir Hussain, among the world’s preeminent tabla virtuosi, represents the Northern tradition. He joins veena maestra Jyanthi Kumaresh and violin maestro Kumaresh Rajagopalan, both representing the Southern, or Carnatic, music lineage. Rajagopalan is among India’s leading Carnatic violinists (a standard-issue fiddle but played in an inverted position, sitting on the floor), while Kumaresh performs on the veena, a plucked string instrument with ancient Indian roots. The two traditions have multiple points of divergence in music theory, as well as performance. Therefore it’s always exciting to witness top musicians from each camp issuing musical challenges, because the two parties must inevitably negotiate common ground in terms of pitch, drone tones, tempi and musical repertoire. They must also agree on phrases ending on sum (sam), the downbeat and point of resolution in both rhythm and melody.

October 5 “Cover Me Globally” occupies the intimate Small World Music Centre. The musicians on this particular evening are Drew Gonsalves, the singer-songwriter of Kobo Town; Aviva Chernick, the lead singer of Jaffa Road; Donne Roberts, a member of the African Guitar Summit; and Lisa Patterson, singer-songwriter with ROAM. Each of these Canadian artists embodies musical influences which extend in four different global directions. “Cover Me Globally” sets out to explore what happens when songs cross genre, culture and language. We’ll find out what happens when the “Canadian cultural diaspora … connects through its songwriters.”

Other Picks

BBB-World1NEXUS in the World: October 27 the venerable percussion ensemble NEXUS takes the Walter Hall, University of Toronto stage in a program that also features the Persian vocalist Sepideh Raissadat. NEXUS has from its beginnings incorporated elements of global musics in its diverse concerts and this show is no exception. Founding group member Russell Hartenberger’s percussion ensemble composition, The Invisible Proverb (2002), for example, exhibits substantial African references. Persian composer and setar player Reza Ghassemi’s Persian Songs, arranged by Hartenberger, is sung by Music Faculty doctoral candidate Raissadat, the first female soloist to perform publically in Iran since the 1979 revolution. It is another example of the cultural dialogue encouraged throughout the group’s career. In this case it’s between Persian and North American musical cultures. Twentieth-century modernist and postmodernist classics also have a central place in the core NEXUS repertoire. In this concert they also re-visit Steve Reich’s 1973 luminous minimalist opus Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices & Organ, itself profoundly influenced by the composer’s study of West African ensemble music.

Fado in the City: November 5, presented by The Royal Conservatory in association with Small World Music, singer Ana Moura headlines at Koerner Hall. At the breaking wave of the fado music renaissance, re-interpreting this soul music of Portugal for a new generation of international audiences, Moura typically sings her heartbreaking songs accompanied by a trio of a Portuguese guitar plus two classical guitars. “Even among the new breed of fado singers, which has dared to deviate from a rigid tradition, Ms. Moura is a distinctly worldly superstar,” wrote The New York Times. I couldn’t have said it better.

Polaris Music Prize Trailer: As seasoned concertgoers well know, not many formal music performances last much longer than the usual 90 minutes. That odd hybrid, the music award show, made even more tedious for general music buffs due to long pauses between performances for set changes, TV, and other media breaks, is an exception. Ever the eager reporter for The WholeNote, however, I managed to convince our stern publisher that I should obtain media accreditation for the Polaris Music Prize gala. It was the first time our august magazine was represented at the Polaris.

My story? I was following up on my review of the avant-garde Inuk vocalist Tanya Tagaq’s June 10, 2014 concert at Luminato published on The WholeNote blog. She has performed, toured and recorded with Björk, the Kronos Quartet and the Winnipeg Symphony, but it was her astounding CD Animism that had been short-listed for the Polaris best Canadian album of the year, a surprise to some in the mainstream music industry. Suited up and media pass in hand, I was set to take it all in at The Carlu on the night of September 22. Little did I know how sleep-deprived I was going to be the next day.

Many of you undoubtedly know how the endgame of this grand Cinderella music story unfolded, since it was splashed over the national media the next day. On the other hand much of its musical colour and significance for Canadian music hasn’t filtered through to the media – yet. Fortunately for you, and especially for those who have never heard of the Polaris, your hard-working reporter has the play-by-play, the inside scoop. For a backstage pass to Tanya Tagaq’s jaw-dropping ten-minute performance with her musicians backed up by Element, the Toronto improvising choir of 40 conducted by Christine Duncan, along with her political and provocative comments, I will be covering the story in detail on our blog at

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


Jazz Is My Life (Unless It Kills Me)

BBB-JazzNotesA survey in the 60s claimed that the average lifespan of jazz musicians was 44 and certainly there are facts to support this. Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke only made it to 28; Clifford Brown died at the age of 25 in a car accident; Guitarist Charlie Christian died of tuberculosis at age 25; John Coltrane had liver cancer and died at age 40. Albert Ayler drowned at age 34; Guitarist Lenny Breau died a violent death at age 43. Another violent death was that of Lee Morgan, shot by his common-law wife at age 33. Jaki Byard, a pianist, saxophonist and teacher who recorded with some of jazz’s most important figures, was shot dead February 11 in his house in Queens. (Mind you, he was 76 by then!)

On a slightly less morbid note Sidney Bechet, born in New Orleans in 1897 moved permanently to France in 1950 and had an international hit with “Petite Fleur” at the age of 53, becoming something of a national hero in his adopted country.

Some years ago I was playing at La Huchette in Paris and on the way back to my hotel one night what did I hear coming from a late-night bar? Bechet’s version of “Petite Fleur,” more than 20 years after his death in Paris (from lung cancer on May 14, 1959 on his 62nd birthday). Sigh.

Continuing the litany: Leon “Chu” Berry, hardly even remembered today, was a big, fat-toned tenor player, killed in a car accident at 33. And some of you might remember guitarist Emily Remler from her appearances here. She died of a heart attack at 32. Jimmy Blanton, pioneering bass player died of tuberculosis at 23, Frank Teschemacher whose reed playing influenced many of his successors was killed in a car crash. He was only 25. And these are only a few of the many fine musicians who left us too soon.

The flip side? If the lifestyle doesn’t kill you, the joy of the music will keep you going to a ripe old age!

One more for the road: In the days of prohibition in the U.S. there was plenty of “bathtub gin around but good alcohol was hard to find.” I remember Wild Bill Davison telling me that they always liked playing Detroit because there was a late-night bar where you could get good whisky which was hauled from Canada on a skiff under the surface of the Detroit River. Sometimes the delivery was a bit late, but it was worth the wait! And quite often the labels were washed off, not that it mattered too much, because the booze was good.

But don’t get the idea that prohibition didn’t ever exist in Canada. It was present in various stages, from 19th-century local municipal bans to provincial bans in the early 20th century, and national prohibition from 1918 to 1920. Alcohol was illegal in Prince Edward Island until 1948. Parts of west Toronto did not permit liquor sales until 2000. But by and large the enforcement of prohibition laws is a little bit like King Canute trying to turn back the tide, and, in its various forms, it has spawned drinking songs throughout the centuries: “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me,” “ One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” “What’s The Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again),” “The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert (Sunday Morning Coming Down),” and “Gimme That Wine,” to name only a few.

Meanwhile, getting back to the business of longevity, the mean life span for a survey of 33 male symphony conductors was 75.6 years.

Moral? Spend a lot of time waving your arms about.

I wish you all happy listening – and try to make some of it live.

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

Shining Light on Lauridsen

BBB-ChoralThis month I will write in depth about two exciting projects taking place in the coming weeks. First, I will expand on September’s column, which included a brief mention of Morten Lauridsen’s visit to Toronto, which will take place on Saturday October 25.

Lauridsen is a choral giant, one of the few extant. While England’s John Rutter may still enjoy a comparable degree of international popularity, I’d argue that Lauridsen music, often as accessible as a mainstream film score (Lauridsen founded USC Thornton School of Music’s program in film scoring), has a meditative, introspective quality that is rarely found in Rutter’s cheerful compositions.

Lauridsen can employ spiky-sounding modern tonal idioms, but more often approaches composition from the angle of choral liturgical music, which tends to value audience connection over formal innovation (the closest Canadian equivalent is probably the late Srul Irving Glick, whose Jewish liturgical music has a similar aesthetic).

Not surprisingly, Lauridsen’s music is very popular with church, school and community choirs. His most famous pieces combine spacious melodic intervals of fifths and fourths that give a distant echo of Sacred Harp part songs, with dense chordal writing containing the gentlest of dissonances.

Read more: Shining Light on Lauridsen

Viva Italia!

Does anyone still remember when Italian music meant either Verdi opera or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? It turns out Italians have been making music for quite a few years before Vivaldi (and after Verdi), and much of it is still well worth listening to three or four centuries later. It’s not often that we get to hear much Italian art music in concert, but in a rare coincidence, Torontonians have the unique opportunity to take in the complete history of music of the Italian baroque this month, as artists based in the GTA will be playing the complete span of Italian music in the 17th and 18th centuries from Monteverdi all the way to Vivaldi.

Monti at Tafelmusik: Who better to play Italian music than actual Italians? Tafelmusik will do just that, devoting an entire concert to Italian music of the 18th century while being led by the Italian violinist Davide Monti. Two concertos of Antonio Vivaldi headline a program that includes many of Vivaldi’s lesser-known contemporaries such as Benedetto Marcello, Tomaso Albinoni, Baldassare Galuppi and Evaristo Felice  Dall’Abaco. Albinoni is occasionally played today, while Marcello has been revived by early-music specialists as well as having been admired in his own time by J.S. Bach. You may well enjoy these other, capable lesser-knowns who lived in Vivaldi’s shadow, but at the very least you’ll come away with a new appreciation for what a great composer Vivaldi was. Catch this concert October 9 to 12 at Jeanne Lamon Hall in Trinity St-Paul’s Centre and on October 14 at George Weston Recital Hall. (Oh, and it’s very likely that Monti is a contender for the position of artistic director of Tafelmusik, so I’m willing to bet he’ll try to burn the house down at every performance. Just thought you should know.)

Roach takes on Sances: Later this month, Bud Roach, himself a great lover of Italian music of the 17th century, will be presenting the music of Giovanni Felice Sances, an Italian tenor and composer from the generation after Monteverdi. Sances was well known in his own time as a composer of opera in Venice; later he moved to Vienna and eventually became Kapellmeister under Ferdinand III. Unfortunately for Sances’ legacy, his operas were all lost, so we have no chance of performing any of his larger-scale works. Roach will perform a selection of Sances’ surviving material, a collection of solo songs and duets, on Saturday, October 18 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hamilton. He’ll also accompany himself on guitar and sing along with baritone David Roth in several duet performances. The pair will also bring out some other hidden gems from the Italian 17th century, including songs by Alessandro Grandi and Carlo Milanuzzi. This should be a fantastic concert for anyone who enjoys renaissance music or Monteverdi. If you can’t make it, keep in mind Roach’s Sances CD will be released later in the month. There’s also a Toronto concert in the works, but no word yet on when that’s going to happen.

Alcina at Atelier: If an extravagant Italian opera is more your style, then you’ll be pleased to make it out to Opera Atelier’s debut performance of Handel’s Alcina, later this month at the Elgin Theatre October 23 to November 1. Handel was already a mature composer when he penned Alcina in 1735 for his inaugural year at the Covent Garden Theatre in London, but sadly, it wasn’t particularly successful, and has only recently been revived by the early music movement. Whatever 18th-century Londoners may have thought of  Alcina, it’s still perfectly fine by the standards of opera seria (i.e. the arias are all catchy). The music is great, and it’s hard to go wrong with Handel when Tafelmusik is your pit orchestra. Of course the plot is ludicrous. But as long as you don’t bother paying attention to the storyline of what’s actually happening on stage, Alcina done by Opera Atelier will be the perfect night at the opera.

Monteverdi in Ordinary? You can’t think of Italian opera without thinking of Monteverdi, of course. Arguably the greatest composer of the 17th century, Monteverdi’s operas are smash hits even to this day. Besides his dramatic works, his spectacular Vespro della Beata Virgine, written for orchestra and choir, is undoubtedly a masterpiece, and his madrigals are incredibly innovative, intelligent compositions that are widely performed and enjoyed. This month, the Musicians in Ordinary present still another facet of Monteverdi’s diverse body of work – namely his sacred chamber music written for the archbishops and cardinals of Venice. Monteverdi was kept busy writing music for three concerts a week, so the Musicians in Ordinary had a vast body of work from which to choose their program. The MIO will be joined once again by Chris Verrette on violin for the Master’s Selva Morale e Spirituale, motets by Monteverdi’s assistant Grandi, and some canzonas and sonatas for strings by Biagio Marini. This concert promises to be an in-depth look at sacred music by Monteverdi and his circle in Venice in the early 17th century. Catch it at Father Madden Auditorium in Carr Hall at St. Michael’s College on October 24.

BBB-Early1Mallon’s Rameau: Of course, not all concerts this month will be dedicated to Italian music. Inveterate nonconformist Kevin Mallon will be dedicating a concert to Jean-Philippe Rameau along with his band Aradia, and given that the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death just passed last month, one hopes for more concerts by Toronto musicians in honour of the great French harpsichordist, opera composer and father of modern music theory coming up this year. For this performance, Aradia will feature two of Rameau’s wonderful Pièces de clavecin en concert, lovingly arranged for string ensemble, and the young Canadian soprano Hélène Brunet will also sing two of the composer’s best-known cantatas, Orphée and Le Berger Fidèle, with the band. Two compositions by Rameau’s contemporary Jean-Marie Leclair, Overture Op.13 No.3 and the Deuxième Recréation de Musique, will round out the concert. All of this takes place at the Music Gallery on October 26. Definitely a must-see if you enjoy French music.

Cardinal Consort: If you’re at all interested in English music or viol consort, consider checking out the Cardinal Consort of Viols. Their next concert will feature consort music from the English renaissance, including music by Byrd, Gibbons, Holborne and Tomkins. The Conrad Grebel Chamber Choir will join the Consort for some choral works, and you can catch them at the Church of the Redeemer on October 5 or at Conrad Grebel University Chapel in Waterloo on October 1.

BBB-Early2I Furiosi: Finally, the always-entertaining I Furiosi ensemble will be performing at the Calvin Presbyterian Church on October 24 in a mixed program of music on the theme of work, including compositions by J.S. Bach and Christophe Graupner. I Furiosi has a devoted following, and you can count on them putting on a virtuosic, fun show with a few pop tunes thrown in.

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

Unfamiliarity Breeds Content

BBB-Opera1This month the Canadian Opera Company embarks on a season of greatest hits with operas (and even three productions of operas) that it has presented before. Over-familiarity, however, is not a danger, with many renowned singers making their COC debuts.

The COC opens the season with a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff directed by Canadian Robert Carsen, already acclaimed at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in 2012 and at the Metropolitan Opera in 2013 (which broadcast it live in December that year). Canadian baritone Gerald Finley returns to the COC for the first time in 20 years to sing the title role. The all-Canadian cast includes Simone Osborne as Nannetta, Frédéric Antoun as her lover Fenton, Russell Braun as Ford, Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly and Lauren Segal as Meg Page. Johannes Debus conducts. Falstaff has seven performances from October 3 to November 1.

Running in repertory with Falstaff will be Puccini’s ever-popular Madama Butterfly in the timeless production created by Brian Macdonald and Susan Benson for the COC in 1990. The production plays from October 10 to 31. The 12-performance run conducted by Patrick Lange will necessitate the use of two casts of principals. Sopranos Patricia Racette and Kelly Kaduce, both making their COC debuts, will alternate in the role of Cio-Cio San. Tenors Stefano Secco and Andrea Carè, also both making their COC debuts, will alternate as Pinkerton. As Sharpless, Dwayne Croft, making his COC debut, will alternate with Canadian Gregory Dahl, while Elizabeth DeShong returns to sing Suzuki in all performances. The singers’ scheduled appearances are listed on the COC’s Butterfly page.

Czech Gem by Request: For operagoers seeking more unusual fare, one of Toronto’s smaller companies, Opera by Request, has come up with a real gem – the Canadian premiere of Antonín Dvořák’s Jakobín in the composer’s final version of 1898. Czech opera used to be a staple at the COC under Richard Bradshaw, but the company has not staged a Czech opera since Dvořák’s Rusalka in the 2008/09 season. That production was the fulfillment of a vow that Bradshaw had made to COC co-founder Nicholas Goldschmidt to stage the beloved work, but, sadly, both had passed away by the time the production premiered.

Jakobín is the seventh of Dvořák’s 12 operas. Rusalka is the one opera by Dvořák to join the repertoire outside of the Czech Republic, but according to John Holland, an expert in Czech opera and co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Czech Music, many Czechs regard Jakobín not only as Dvořák’s greatest opera but also as the most Czech of all his operas. The reason for this is that the opera is set in a Czech village and is permeated with the influence of Czech folksong and dance. In that way Jakobín follows in the tradition of Bedřich Smetana’s ever-popular The Bartered Bride (1866), the first Czech opera to enter the international repertoire.

BBB-Opera2The story of Jakobín, however, is quite different from that of Smetana’s opera. The piece is set in a small Bohemian village in 1794. The date is significant because the action shows how the events of the French Revolution, then ongoing, have repercussions in faraway Bohemia. We meet the elderly Count Vilém of Harasov, who is about to hand over his power and property to his wicked nephew, Adolf. The nephew has convinced the count that his son, Bohuš, who has been living in Paris and is sympathetic to progressive social policies, is in actuality a Jacobin, the name given to supporters of the French Revolution. The fact that Bohuš has a French wife (Julie) makes him even more suspect. The result is that when Bohuš returns home, the count disinherits him. How the falsehoods about Bohuš and Julie are discovered and how the count is reconciled with them form the main thrust of the action.

In the subplot, the count’s self-important burgrave (or châtelain) Filip pays unwanted attentions to Terinka, the daughter of the village choirmaster Benda. Terinka is in love with the gamekeeper Jiří, who helps her fend off the nasty Filip. In a review of a revival of Jakobín at the Buxton Festival this summer, critic Mark Pullinger noted, “Part of the opera’s charm involves a semi-autobiographical portrait; there are parallels between Jiří, the young gamekeeper, and Dvořák himself. Benda, the kindly schoolmaster, could easily have been modelled on Antonín Liehmann, who taught Dvořák the rudiments of music and also – perhaps not without coincidence – had a daughter named Terinka, with whom Dvořák sang in the choir.” Critic George Hall, commenting on the same production, noted that the strengths of the story lie in “its emphasis on a community holding on to its values at a time of wider social upheaval, and a second commentary on music’s ability to bind people together.”

The fact that music binds people together is evident not just in the opera but in how the Czech community has come together in supporting this production of Jakobín. Opera by Request is a small company where the singers choose the repertoire for performances in concert with piano accompaniment. Three of the singers in Jakobín had previously performed in OBR’s production of Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa last year. They wanted to do another Czech opera, perhaps another Janáček work. John Holland suggested that they do something more unusual since, as it so happens, 2014 is designated as “The Year of Czech Music.” His choice was Jakobín, an opera never before staged in Canada and staged only once before in North America. Holland points out that Jakobín contains a wonderfully patriotic duet in Act 2, very appropriate to the émigré Czech community, about how Czech music has sustained them as they have wandered in foreign lands.

From the beginning Holland’s desire was to have the performance be bigger than the presenter’s usual opera in concert. The Czech Consulate, Czech Ministry of Culture and members of the Czech community lent their support to the project. Holland received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to expand the accompaniment from a piano to a chamber orchestra, thus giving William Shookhoff, OBR’s indefatigable accompanist, the chance to conduct. The singers will be off-book and interact under the stage direction of Holland. The production is billed as “semi-staged” since there will be no set or costumes, but there will be both an adult and a children’s chorus as the score requires. And, while the opera will be sung in Czech, there will be English surtitles.

The cast includes baritone Andrew Tees as the Count, baritone Michael Robert-Broder as Bohuš, soprano Michele Cusson as Julie, bass-baritone Domenico Sanfilippo as Adolf, baritone John Holland as Filip, tenor Lenard Whiting as Benda, soprano Danielle Dudycha as Terinka and tenor Ryan Harper as Jiří. The single performance will take place October 24 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. One can phone 647-969-3498 for more information or visit the website of the Canadian Institute for Czech Music at

Other rarities: While Jakobín, as a Canadian premiere, may be the principal rarity of October, there are performances of other rarities on hand to enliven the month. Opera by Request is also presenting a concert performance of Hamlet (1868) by Ambroise Thomas in Toronto on October 10 at the College St. United Church after performances in Montreal and Point-Claire, Quebec, earlier in the month. Simon Chaussee is the Prince of Denmark, Gerda Findeisen is Ophelia, Ioanna Touliatu is Gertrude, Norman Brown is Claudius, Danny LeClerc is Laërtes, Gianmarco Segato is Horatio and Simon Chalifoux is Polonius. William Shookhoff serves as pianist and music director.

Last, but certainly not least, Opera Atelier presents its first full-scale opera by Handel in the form of his Alcina from 1735. The opera runs from October 23 to November 1 and as usual is directed by Marshall Pynkoski and choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunnesse-Zingg, with David Fallis conducting the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. The story from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso (1532) concerns the Circe-like sorceress Alcina who lives in a magical world composed of the souls of her past lovers. The question is whether the Christian knight Ruggiero can resist her enchantments to set these souls free.

The cast is made up of singers familiar from previous OA productions. Meghan Lindsay, who sang Agathe in OA’s Der Freischütz, returns to sing the title role. Allyson McHardy sings the trousers role of Ruggiero and Wallis Giunta is Ruggiero’s beloved Bradamante. They are joined by Mireille Asselin, Krešimir Špicer and Olivier Laquerre.

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

Whither the Contralto?

BBB-ArtSong1Soon after the death of the distinguished Welsh contralto Helen Watts, in October 2009, a letter appeared in The Gramophone which argued that Watts’ death signalled the end of the contralto voice since all lower-voiced singers were now mezzos. I think there is some truth in that statement but only some.

First of all, there are a number of singers now who see themselves as contraltos and are generally regarded as such: Anna Larsson, Sara Mingardo, Ewa Podleś, Sonia Prina, Nathalie Stutzmann, Hilary Summers. Second, there is considerable overlap between the mezzo and contralto voice. (I am not now thinking of high mezzos such as Cecilia Bartoli and Magdalena Koźená, who could equally well be described as second sopranos, but have in mind a dark voice like that of the very fine English mezzo Sarah Connolly.) Anna Larsson made her international debut in the lower solo part in Mahler’s Second Symphony, a part which in the past has been sung by Stutzmann and by Maureen Forrester. Yet many mezzos have sung and recorded it: Connolly, Bernarda Fink, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Christa Ludwig, Jard van Nes, Christianne Stotijn and, of course, Janet Baker. On the other hand, Larsson has recorded the role of Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal, a part nobody would think of as a role for contraltos.

And then voices may change: I first heard Baker, on records and on the radio, in the early 1960s and it seemed to me then that she represented the natural successor to Kathleen Ferrier. Such a statement must seem absurd now but I am not sure that it was absurd 50 years ago. Baker extended the higher range of her voice over the years and in the end even sang soprano parts (although they were generally transposed down). If a singer extends her range at the top, she is bound to lose part of her bottom range.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux: These reflections lead to a reminder that one of the great contraltos of our time, Marie-Nicole Lemieux , will be in Toronto soon. She is singing Mistress Quickly in Verdi’s Falstaff, in a series of performances with the Canadian Opera Company, beginning on October 3. Lemieux received her training in Chicoutimi and Montreal. She first came to international notice when she received First Prize as well as the Special Prize for Lieder at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels in 2000. She made her operatic debut in Toronto in April 2002, when she sang Cornelia in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. She is especially distinguished for her work in baroque opera (Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi), for which her strong but agile voice is eminently suitable, but she also sings later opera. Lemieux has sung the role of Mistress Quickly (a mezzo part!) many times: at Covent Garden, at La Scala, in Paris and in Montreal. She is also a fine singer of German lieder and French chansons as shown by her recordings of Brahms, of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und-Leben and, in L’heure exquise, a recording of songs by Hahn, Chausson, Debussy and Enescu.

Canadian Opera Company: lunchtime vocal recitals at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre continue apace! On October 2 arias and ensembles from operas based on Shakespeare will be sung by students at the University of Toronto’s Opera Division; on October 7 Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Stephen Ralls, piano, will perform three song cycles by Derek Holman; Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, tenor, and Iain MacNeil, baritone, will sing Fauré and Mahler on October 9; singers and dancers from Opera Atelier will perform excerpts from Handel’s Alcina on October 14; artists of the COC production of Falstaff will perform art songs on October 23. All of these concerts are free.

A busy October 4: There are several concerts on October 4: Suba Sankaran is the singer in a presentation which will show how global traditions can be and have been integrated into Canadian new music (Canadian Music Centre). Voice and Collaborative Piano students from the University of Toronto will illustrate the interaction between poetical and musical language in the classical art song (Edward Johnson Building). Both are free as part of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. Allison Angelo, soprano, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone, will be the singers in a concert commemorating the Great War (St. Andrew’s Church). Emily D’Angelo will be the soprano soloist with the Greater Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra at Calvin Presbyterian Church.

International Divas is an ambitious three-concert series (world, folk, roots, jazz, classics) in natural acoustics. The first of these will take place on October 5 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and will feature the voices of Jackie Richardson, Laila Biali, Luanda Jones, Cindy Church, Saina Singer and Patricia Cano. The other instalments will follow on November 27 and December 21.

Two by Arends: On October 11 Allison Arends, soprano, will sing at Montgomery’s Inn. She will join Barbara Fris, soprano, and others, in a Heliconian Club program of music from Jane Austen’s family collection, at Heliconian Hall, October 17.

BBB-ArtSong2Last but not least: “Songs of Peace and Protest” will be presented by singers/songwriters James Gordon, Evalyn Parry, Len Wallace, Faith Nolan, Mick Lane and Tony Quarrington at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, October 18.

There will be three free midday concerts by vocal students at Tribute Communities Hall, Accolade East Building, York University October 21, 23 and 28.

Katherine Hill, Thomas Baeté and Joe Carew will be the vocal soloists in a program that includes songs by Rogers, Purcell and Brassens as well as 14th- and 15th-century Italian polyphony at St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, October 26.

Also on October 26, Allison Angelo, soprano, will sing with Giles Tomkins, baritone, in Off Centre Music Salon’s 20th annual Schubertiad at Glenn Gould Studio.

On October 28 and 29 the Talisker Players present “Songs of Travel,” music by Applebaum, de la Guerre, Vaughan Williams and Weigl, with readings from the journals of explorers. The singers are Virginia Hatfield, soprano, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo, Stuart Skelton, tenor, and John Relyea, bass-baritone, will be the soloists in the performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Amadeus Choir, at Roy Thomson Hall October 30 and November 1.

The tenor Michael Ciufo will sing at St. John’s United Church on November 1. You will also be able to hear Ciufo, along with the soprano Beatrice Carpino, in a concert given by the Ontario Christian Music Assembly Choirs at Roy Thomson Hall November 7.

Not to be missed, as part of the ongoing Ukrainian Art Song Project, music from Galicia will be sung by a top-flight group of singers (Monica Whicher, soprano, Krisztina Szabó, mezzo, Russell Braun, baritone, and Pavlo Hunka, bass-baritone) at Koerner Hall November 2.

The Art of Time Ensemble presents a program of poems and their musical settings: Petrarch/Liszt, Eliot/Lloyd Webber, Whitman/Crumb, Leonard Cohen. The reader is Margaret Atwood and the singers are Thom Allison, Gregory Hoskins and Carla Huhtanen at Harbourfront November 7 and 8.

And beyond the GTA: Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone, will sing in a free noon-time concert at the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, Wilfred Laurier University on October 9. The countertenor Daniel Cabena will sing in a free noon-time recital at the University of Guelph’s MacKinnon Room November 6.

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

For a Syncopated Good Time ...

BBB-JazzITC1If you happen to fancy the music of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, you would be wise to get to the Rex Hotel every Friday afternoon from 4 to 6pm for The Hogtown Syncopators. While this kind of promise is hardly customary, I guarantee you will be entertained.

First there are the vocals of Terra Hazelton. It’s not at all surprising that Jeff Healey chose this woman to front his Jazz Wizards for six years and that Jaymz Bee of Jazz.FM91 has said that she is one of a handful of singers who take you back to the 1930s. Oozing with personality, Hazelton can be found singing jazz, roots, country and original music, but her voice is ideal for the blues, reminiscent of timeless singers like Bessie and Billie. She has a way with a lyric and simply put, when she sings, it’s hard not to listen. Hazelton also plays the snare drum in the Hogtown Syncopators, and does so with a sense of swing sublime.

The rest of the rhythm section is guitarist Jay Danley, who also sings and contributes original material to the group, James Thomson on bass, and Richard Whiteman on piano. Each of them brings something different to the band, but what they have in common is  a passion for the music that is infectious.

And then there is violinist/clarinetist/saxophonist/vocalist Drew Jurecka. It is difficult not to be in awe of this versatile virtuoso, who was classically trained at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He has played the Hollywood Bowl with Diana Krall, Shirley Horn and Dianne Reeves; he spent five years on the road with Jeff Healey and now tours regularly as part of Jill Barber’s band. In addition to his busy recording and performance schedule, Jurecka is a faculty member at Humber College where he has helped to develop a unique jazz strings program that includes technique classes, ensembles and private lessons.

“I played violin from a very young age, studying the Suzuki method, and then playing classically through my undergrad,” Jurecka recalls. “I also played flute, then clarinet, then saxophone in my middle school and high school band. I studied the saxophone with two great private teachers: Andy Ballantyne and Alex Dean. Both of them introduced me to jazz music and taught me how to appreciate and approach playing it. Somehow it never occurred to me to play jazz on the violin until midway through my undergraduate degree at the Cleveland Institute, when someone introduced me to the music of Django Reinhardt (and his amazing violinist colleague Stéphane Grappelli). Playing jazz on the violin quickly became a passion, then a drive. I learned to apply the stuff I had been playing around with on the sax to the violin, and now here we are.”

While most of the time Jurecka performs on the violin, in the Hogtown Syncopators he stretches out on his other instruments and sings in a heart-melting Louis Armstrong-influenced manner. It’s not that he growls like Satchmo, but rather respects the melody while improvising ever so subtly in a hornlike way, all the while swinging you to good health.

As a sideman he has played, written or arranged on more than 150 records, including several JUNO-winning and Grammy-nominated albums, film and television soundtracks. What about his own recording?

“I’ve long been pressured by lots of friends and supporters to put out a solo disc.  I’ve never had a strong drive to record “my own” project. I love playing music, arranging, producing and doing all of the things that I’m fortunate enough to do, and I feel pretty artistically satisfied.However, I do have a couple of days booked at Canterbury Studios in October with Mark Kieswetter and Clark Johnston. I’m excited to finally record a record as a leader.” Cheers to this news! It will be very interesting to hear the choices Jurecka makes as a leader. For a sneak preview, see him along with Kieswetter on piano and Dave Young on bass at the Home Smith Bar on Saturday October 11 from 7:30 to 10:30pm.

The Unsinkable Terry Wilkins

BBB-JazzITC2Another musician who can easily be described as versatile is bassist Terry Wilkins. The veteran Toronto-based musician, composer, bandleader, arranger, producer and teacher is a native of Sydney, Australia. He has been working here for over 40 years, but has kept a trace of an accent.

“I moved to Toronto on March 14, 1971. I arrived with a band – we were called Flying Circus and we came to Toronto to wait out the negotiations for a record deal with Capitol U.S. We stayed here for a few months and played bars and high school dances. We decided we liked Toronto, so after returning to Australia for one more nine-week national tour, we returned to Toronto, got our Capitol deal and I am still here.”

Since the days of that country-rock band, he has worked with an impressively diverse group of artists including Lighthouse, Big Sugar, Rough Trade and David Wilcox, as well as backing up visiting artists such as Dr. John, Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson, Maria Muldaur and John Hammond.

These days Wilkins is very excited about his recently formed band, The Sinners Choir (there is no apostrophe, I checked) which is a funny name for a powerhouse trio. Halfway between roots and rock ‘n’ roll, this unique cross-generational formation of three sideman who sing in harmony, in addition to playing bass, guitar and drums, rocks in every sense of the word.

“Four years ago, I got the call from Brian Cober of The Nationals to go play a Sunday night at Grossmans. I had done many of these over the years since their dear bassist, Paul, passed away.

“In this case, Brian informed me that he would be in Israel but he was sending in a young guitarist-singer named Adam Beer-Colacino. I had not heard of him. He was about 20 years old. We talked about what we were going to start with. From the literal first note we played together we had an innate understanding of how to intersect. Last November we added Adam Warner on drums after having had many gigs over those years with various drummers. Adam’s writing and singing made him an invaluable addition. As a bonus, the very first time we ventured to sing a three-part, we made the sound we currently make. No strenuous rehearsal or detailed planning. It just worked.”

These days you can see and hear The Sinners Choir on most Tuesday nights at 10pm at The Cameron House, a venue which is very dear to Wilkins.

“I have played there right back in time and over the intervening 33 years I have nearly always had one connection or another that kept me playing there, whether it was seminal Queen Street band V featuring Mojah, Lorraine Segato and Billy Bryans and myself, through to the early days of Big Sugar and its early associations with Molly Johnson, and on to standing on the bar with Jake and the Blue Midnights –right up to now with my work there with The Sinners Choir. I love The Cameron and I am so delighted that Anne Marie’s son Cosmo and Mike McKeown had taken the spirit of The Cameron and pulled it into the 21st century keeping all the best and adding in their take. May it last another 100 years.”

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician and educator who can best be reached at oridagan.comand I am so delighted that Anne Marie’s son Cosmo and Mike McKeown had taken the spirit of The Cameron and pulled it into the 21st century keeping all the best and adding in their take. May it last another 100 years.

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

It Rained On Our Parade

BBB-Bandstand1Last summer, as you may recall, I wrote about travelling with the Concert Band of Cobourg to Plattsburgh New York to take in some of the celebrations around the annual joint Canada-U.S. celebration of the Battle of Plattsburgh, which ended the War of 1812. For many years The Concert Band of Cobourg has been the featured band in these celebrations: in their role as The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Association, this band has royal permission to wear the uniform of the Royal Marines on parade and in concert.

Many years ago I had the privilege of serving, on exchange duty for some months, aboard a large ship in the Royal Navy. Since our ship was the admiral’s flagship in a squadron of ships, we had a band of the Royal Marines as part of our crew. It was during that time that I developed a strong affinity for the appearance and musicality of Royal Marine bands and their ceremonies. So it is a special pleasure for me to see and hear this Cobourg band emulate those characteristics.

While attending the festivities last year, it was suggested that we must not miss this year’s events. Since that battle ended in 1814, the 2014 events were to be the most extensive ever, commemorating its two hundredth anniversary. We committed ourselves to attend and made our reservations early to ensure accommodation at the same hotel as the Cobourg band and their friends. In short we became groupies for the weekend.

As promised, this was a much bigger celebration with more events, a longer parade with more floats, more bands and more battle re-enactments. Unfortunately, there also were far more umbrellas. Whether or not there was rain during that battle 200 years ago, I can’t recall, but we certainly had our share. Most of the participants in their elaborate period costumes were soggy to say the least, despite the occasional surrender to modern technology, as in the case of a beautifully outfitted fife and drum band with their drums neatly protected in the latest plastic drum covers.

Fortunately there was sufficient time between the end of the parade and the concert for the Cobourg Band members to dry their uniforms and appear on stage looking resplendent as usual. As might be expected, this concert had a theme emphasizing the strong bond now existing between the descendants of that conflict 200 years ago.

Numerology: The Oxford English Dictionary defines numerology as the “study of supposed occult significance of numbers.” Looking at the numbers evoked by the Plattsburgh event, one might be excused for thinking there might have numerological mischief at work. The battle being commemorated ended in 1814. World War One started in 1914, and we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of its end in 2014. Then there are 9 and 11. It was on the morning of September 11, 1814 when opposing troops battled at Plattsburgh, with opposing ships in battle on Lake Champlain. Here we were, 200 years later, on September 11, gathered to celebrate two centuries of peace and harmonious relations. At the same time, we were reminded that on that date only 13 years ago the World Trade towers and other targets were struck with far more casualties than the Battle of Plattsburgh.

CBA Community Band Weekend: Another CBA Community Band Weekend is imminent. This year it will be held in Newmarket October 3, 4 and 5, and will be hosted by none other than the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. Why participate? As the CBA promotional material states: a) to perform in a massed band setting, learn new repertoire and work with inspiring conductors; b) to perform at the Newmarket Theatre in Newmarket, Ontario; c) to meet many wonderful musicians who share the same passion for band music as you do. NCB artistic director Joseph Resendes is well known as director of three community concert bands in the GTA. Conducting duties will be shared with no fewer than seven other conductors.

While many have already registered, if you still wish to attend, it’s not too late. Online registration is still possible at (follow the links). In the worst case, you could register at the door on Saturday, but there might not still be parts available for all of the music.

On the Friday evening at 7:30pm there will be a Meet and Greet reception at one of the town’s favourite meeting places: The Lion and Firkin at the corner of Leslie and Gorham in Newmarket. All day Saturday there will be rehearsals at the Newmarket Theatre, 505 Pickering Cres. On Saturday evening there will be an optional formal dinner for those who wish to attend at 8pm. The final concert will be at 2pm Sunday afternoon in the Newmarket Theatre.

New Horizons: Regular readers of this column know my thoughts about the importance of lifelong musical involvement. By the time you read this, there will have been another New Horizons Instrument Exploration Workshop on Bloor St. W. in downtown Toronto, with over 20 members signed up for the new beginners’ band. The first class for the new beginners’ group will take place on Wednesday, October 8 at Long and McQuade, 935 Bloor St. W. in Toronto. In addition to this new beginners’ group, the Bloor New Horizons organization will now have the previous five concert bands plus the jazz band. Total membership of these groups is now estimated to be close to 180.

New Horizons Periodically, when their regular rehearsal space is unavailable, the Downtown Toronto New Horizons bands rehearse at the nearby Salvation Army Temple. As a token of appreciation, artistic director Dan Kapp will take the groups back for a special remembrance concert. Saturday, November 1 at 7:30 will be “A Night to Remember” at 789 Dovercourt Road in Toronto.

The Toronto Concert BandLast month I noted that the new Toronto Concert Band was scheduled to begin rehearsals for the fall. I am pleased to report that the band is now rehearsing regularly every Tuesday evening; they had over 20 members with all major sections covered. However, they are a bit short of trombones. If that is your instrument and you live in Toronto’s west end, they would love to hear from you. Check their website,

An instrument orphanage

In recent months I have been contacted by two different organizations that have band instruments, surplus to their requirements, and are looking for homes for them. These aren’t necessarily top of the line instruments, but are still in good playing condition. Their owners are either looking for a nominal sum or simply want to find homes where the instruments will be played and appreciated.

During a discussion with publisher David Perlman the idea arose for an “instrument orphanage” or some other way of linking those needing instruments with those who have instruments to offer. If you have any ideas for such an enterprise (or know of people already doing this facilitating work), please contact us.

More on music and aging from Baycrest

You may recollect that I have written in this column from time to time about participating in ground-breaking studies at The Baycrest Centre. For the most part, the experiments in which I have been involved have focussed on cognitive function and aging, in particular on differences in cognitive function between subjects active in music and those with little or no musical experience. These have all indicated significantly better cognitive function amongst older people who are musically active.

It was no surprise to me, therefore, to receive an update on one component of their research which indicates much broader benefits at all stages of life for musically active individuals.  The update came from Stefanie Hutka who is a Ph.D. Student in the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. In addition to her work in this field, Ms. Hutka is an accomplished violinist with an ARCT. Rather than paraphrase the text of her message it is worth repeating verbatim here:

“Everyone can benefit from music training. A wealth of empirical, neuroscientific evidence supports the positive influence of music training on numerous non-musical brain functions, such as language, reading, and attention. Such benefits are seen in children and continue across the lifespan into older adulthood. Despite this evidence, music education is still often seen as a supplemental and expensive subject in schools, and often is the target of budget cuts. Increasing awareness of the real-world benefits associated with learning music, as well as making music training more accessible, are critical steps towards supporting the inclusion of this important subject in curricula.

“Our NeuroEducation Across the Lifespan laboratory is directly targeting an increase in awareness and accessibility of music training. On the awareness side, we are heavily involved in public outreach such as the Brain Power conference, which presents accessible information about neuroscience findings on music to scientists, educators and parents. On the accessibility side, we have studies supporting the benefits of music, including via short-term training on software ... In one 2011 study, school-aged children used music training software called Smarter Kids, developed by our Lead Scientist, Dr. Sylvain Moreno. After only 20 days of training, improvements on measures of verbal intelligence were observed. We are currently extending this theme of accessibility, creating software using music to train the aging brain, with very positive preliminary data.”

As I said, it’s no surprise! We’ll keep you updated.

Definition department: This month’s lesser-known musical term is espressivo: Used to indicate permission to take a coffee break. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

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

Vicarious Guča

bbb - world viewIt’s a warm sunny weekend day in late August and here I am sequestered in my office. I’m imagining perverse things like concerts in chilly October, when I’d rather be gone fishing, metaphorically speaking that is. The lyrics of a famous 20th-century standard come to mind reminding me that it’s supposed to be the season when “the livin’ is easy.” Except it’s been a busy, busy working summer around here. But enough of my moaning. This morning I rose thinking of singing and world music festivals soon to come.

Ashkenaz: By the time you read this the always fabulous biennial Ashkenaz Festival, billed as “North America’s largest festival of global Jewish music and culture,” will be wrapping up at the Harbourfront Centre, along with almost all of the hot, long days. (We can but hope for a handful more.) This is Ashkenaz’s tenth celebration, with over 200 artists from more than 12 countries participating in dozens of events from August 29 to September 1. As usual tradition (i.e. “Havdallah”) rubs elbows with musical cross-cultural fusion (i.e. “Aaron Kula – Black Sabbath: Blues & Jews,” and “David Buchbinder’s Odessa/Havana”), along with the downright friendly-weird (i.e. “Deep-Fried Gypsy Cumbia”). You can’t say the festival doesn’t have a sense of humour.

Small World Music: The fall season starts properly with the Small World Music Festival, this year running from September 25 to October 5. The series sets out to “capture the world in a ten-day festival,” bringing the music of India, Germany, Trinidad, Serbia, Iran and Pakistan to Toronto venues.

Instead of my usual practice of chronologically going down the listings and issuing “picks” from on high, in this column I’m changing it up and sharing a more in-depth commentary on one of the concerts. I think it’s in keeping with “the livin’ is easy” attitude, don’t you?

September 26 Small World Music Festival in association with AE presents the Boban & Marko Markovic Orkestar at the Phoenix Concert Theatre. Superlatives from The New York Times and the Boston Herald precede the Orkestar’s appearance. Rather than repeating those, I propose a little vicarious field trip to Eastern Europe,  to an unlikely, remarkable festival that launched the rkestar’s success, taking this multigenerational Romani band from Serbian village weddings to large urban concert halls around the world. Consider this a page in your pocket guidebook.

What takes place in the central Serbian village of Guča is undeniably a global musical phenomenon. Since 1961 this tiny sleepy village is transformed each year into the raucous hub of the closely contested and widely popular annual Guča Trumpet Festival. It’s also the world’s largest trumpet competition – and for thousands, licence to show off, get rowdy and imbibe large quantities of their beverage of choice. A remarkable 300,000 to more than 500,000 people have swelled the village site each year, most to hear top Serbian and Balkan-style brass bands play in highly contested competitions. Some have claimed it’s the largest music event anywhere. During the festival, bands from Serbia and all over the world play on the competition stage and also wander, performing in the village’s streets night and day. This wild scene is illustrated in the 2013 U.S. feature documentary Brasslands.

The Boban Markovic Orkestar has long been among Guča’s leading contenders. It took the Best Orchestra award in 2000, as well as the coveted Best Trumpet prize for its maestro no fewer than five times. As for Boban, dubbed the “king of Balkan Brass music,” ever the gracious winner, he has retired from the competition and set his sights further afield. In the last decade he has aimed to reach international audiences through his contributions to movies, as well as by taking his funky and frenetic arrangements of dance-worthy brass music – sometimes described as “Balkan and/or Gypsy roots music” – on tour to global stages.

Following Serbian Romani tradition, in 2006 Boban Markovic formally handed over his orchestra to his son and successor, Marko, on his 18th birthday. Global Rhythm magazine opined, “With nods to klezmer, jazz, Latin and deep-fried funk injected into the mix, the … Orkestar knows where their music’s been but they’re hell-bent on slinging it straight into the future.” This multigenerational musical powerhouse has harnessed brass virtuosity, macho lyrics, lightning tempi, pop kit drumming, Romani vocals and the occasional rap, all delivered with infectious energy. The Orkestar then morphed it all into a populist style that has allowed it to segue from Serbian village celebrations to the floors of trendy Central European dance clubs.

You can join me on the evening of September 26 at the Phoenix. I’ll be the guy at the back soaking up the Orkestar’s vibrations, with a small glass of šljivovica if they stock it, toasting the end of summer.

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


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