Beat Columns (Live Music)
For further back than I can remember, Kensington Market has been a hub for multiculturalism, activism, tourism and other assorted -isms. The unique culture of Kensington is one which is, perhaps more than that of any other neighbourhood in Toronto, bursting with a collective love of art that is eclectic and loudly expressed. Buskers flock to Augusta Avenue. Drum circles echo through the Market from Bellevue Square. Paintings, murals, works by highly skilled graffiti artists, cover much of the landscape, including the walls outside of Poetry Jazz Café – one of the nine venues which will be showcasing almost non-stop jazz for the duration of the first-ever Kensington Market Jazz Festival (henceforth referred to as KMJF 2016).
KMJF 2016, originally the brainchild of Toronto-bred vocalist Molly Johnson, will reflect the values of the community in which it takes place; rather than featuring large, ethically dubious, multinational corporations – which have been emphatically rejected by the Kensington community in the past – as sponsors, the KMJF 2016 website lists as its friends small, local businesses, well-known individuals in the music scene, arts studios, as well as multiple charities and non-profits which will benefit from the festival.
Among these is the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund (AASF), which has, since its establishment in honour of Alleyne’s 70th birthday in 2003, given financial assistance to particularly talented music students who have been primarily, but not exclusively, black. In this way, the AASF honours the late Alleyne (who himself grew up in the neighbourhood), not only musically, but politically, as he was outspoken on the subject of black representation in jazz. After all, despite the sea of white faces you might see in any given university jazz program, jazz has historically been a music of black creative innovation and black political resistance.
KMJF 2016, though it only lasts three days in only nine venues, will feature over 100 artists. (Three with particularly close ties to The Market are featured in their own words alongside this short article.)
Unfortunately, it is both physically impossible and financially impractical to attend over 100 concerts in three days (the best you can probably do is nine, or maybe 12 - and yes, you may take that as a challenge), but if you have enjoyed my recommendations before, I may be able to gently help push you in some of the right directions (not that there are really any wrong ones).
Two pianists. Neither of the pianists described below is one whose music I’ve experienced in person; they’re players I’ve checked out only through their live and recorded material available online. I will be discovering them alongside all of you on that third weekend of September.
Andrew Craig, the pianist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, radio broadcaster and alum of the York University music program, is one act which has me particularly psyched. In videos posted on his YouTube channel like I Love You Pip, Auntie Inez and Improvisation with Audience, Craig’s idiosyncratic, exploratory style, as well as his acute awareness of how to read people and how the audience fits into the whole performance paradigm, are made apparent. It’s these two qualities which I believe you’ll find most endearing and exciting about Craig as a performer. His chops, though undeniably impressive, are an afterthought (as it should be). Craig can be heard at the clothing store, Tom’s Place, at 4pm on Saturday, September 17 (no cover), or later in the same day at Trinity Common ($10).
Nigerian-born, Toronto-bred pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo, playing at Tom’s Place the day after Craig, arranges tunes very much in the Glasper-esque school of jazz infused with neo-soul and hip-hop elements. But his style also seems to reveal what I think is a strong background in classical music, developed not out of obligation but out of deep love. When you go to see Egbo-Egbo, don’t expect the music to swing necessarily, but also don’t expect it not to. If you must expect something, expect textural exploration, chords that you wouldn’t expect to belong together belonging together, and to be in a bit of a trance.
Egbo-Egbo is someone I wanted to include here, partially because I find his music intriguing, but also because of The Egbo Arts Foundation (EAF), a charity which is similar in spirit to the AASF. The EAF makes music lessons available to kids who might not otherwise be able to afford them; in other words, making music more accessible to underprivileged and at-risk youth, with the understanding in mind that access to programs in the arts in general, and music in particular, helps to improve children’s lives and is often absent from the impoverished neighbourhoods where they are most sorely needed. Needless to say, this is an admirable pursuit, and one which deserves our attention.
Of course, these are just two out of the 100-plus KMJF 2016 shows happening in Kensington Market between September 16 and 19. The full schedule for the festival is available at kensingtonjazz.com I look forward to exploring the Market at KMJF 2016 with all of you this September.
What Molly Wants, Molly Gets
Half an hour with award-winning jazz vocalist,singer-songwriter, artist and philanthropist Molly Johnson in the ad hoc KMJF office above Kind Spirit Cannabis Clinic on Augusta Avenue is enough to convince me. She’s going after this new project with the same gusto and determination as she poured into her Kumbaya Foundation and Festival in 1992, raising awareness and funds for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the kinds of causes since then that led in part to her becoming an Officer of the Order Of Canada in 2008.
The idea of this has been going on for about ten years, in my head. I’ve been thinking about it.
I was born at Bathurst and Dundas, and I’ve lived here three times. We have reached out to artists who have really put time and love and care into their own careers. They don’t just come with their hand up, they come knowing they are going to help us build this. People who have a responsibility to their own craft. You show up with your CDs, you show up at the end of the day to pick things up.
Same with the venues. For the most part, we’re in existing venues with soundmen and sound systems. I’m not reinventing the wheel. That’s why it works. Because everybody’s already here.
There will be shows throughout the day (Friday to Sunday), with only a handful of shows after 11pm. Right from the early stages I worked with the BIA, police and firefighters.
If it lasts it will be because it’s something the community does, not something that gets done to it. In the long run it’s as much about collecting stories, the history of this neighbourhood – heritage – as about the music itself. Right from the start we’ll be collecting stories as we go. Just watch people with old roots (and new money) rediscovering this place over the course of the three days.
This is not something that starts by raising corporate or arts money for an idea, then doing whatever is possible based on a budget. It starts with doing it right. I paid for the office myself, just to make it go. It’s been a lot of fun. In fact, we will have three merch tables outside. Artists will bring in CDs; the festival isn’t taking in any money on CD sales. Artists get the door. T-shirt sales will go to charity – this year, the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund. The festival will be affiliated with an annex of the Boys and Girls Club. Yamaha, who are supplying the piano for Tom’s Place, will be donating instruments to the Boys and Girls Club.
My own experience with Jazz festivals hasn’t always been positive. I wanted to do something more considerate of local performers.
I love that it overlaps with TIFF and has been noticed by them. We will be mentioned in their magazine.
I want to show there’s already an appetite for this. I want every show sold out. I want you to not be able to get in. That’s my goal – sorry.
Richard Underhill - Shuffle demon
Kensington is the perfect spot. It’s wonderful to have a concentration of great music and events in an area that is pedestrian friendly and has a real geographic focus for a festival. The Market has always been a hotbed of musical creativity and some of our most interesting artists from Bill Grove to Jane Siberry to Perry White have lived here. Why is it happening now? A few reasons, I think. First, Molly Johnson’s desire to host an event that highlights local jazz talent and her connection to the Market make it a perfect fit. Second, the Market has evolved to a point where there are enough venues to make hosting a festival here an exciting prospect. Of course, how the increase in venues may contribute to unsustainable gentrification is the tightrope wire that the Market walks every day. But Kensington has always been a creative heart of the city and this festival should only enhance that notion. Having it concentrated on one weekend is a good idea. Have the Market come alive with music for a September weekend … a perfect festival concept.
I’m really happy that the Shuffle Demons are participating from the get-go. We have a long history with the Market. We hooked up with Ida Carnevali for a costumed spring parade in 1985, Perry White lived for many years in the Market and of course, bits of the market and market characters are part of the 1985 “Spadina Bus” YouTube video. I was lucky enough to become a resident with my wife Suzie 17 years ago and have found great inspiration from my fellow marketeers and from events like PSK (Pedestrian Sundays Kensington) and the Festival of Lights. In short, Kensington is a real community and as such a genuine magnet for culture and creativity.
Founding member of Toronto’s outrageous Sun Ra-influenced Shuffle Demons and a Market resident for 17 years, Richard Underhill’s in-from-the-outside soloing, warm alto sound and great writing skills make him one of Canada’s most distinctive jazz performers. His acclaimed latest album, Kensington Suite, was nominated for a 2008 Juno Award, as his second album, Moment in Time, was in 2007. He has performed and recorded with a Who’s Who of musicians, Canadian and beyond, but still finds time to lead the Kensington Horns Community Band, the improvising electronic groove ensemble Astrogroove, and, since 2003, to be musical director for the winter solstice Kensington Festival of Lights.
Sophia Perlman - Market born
Growing up in the market often felt like living in the middle of a sort of permanent festival, with different music tumbling out of every doorway and a parade of every imaginable person going past your window. And it was especially exciting when someone in the community decided it was time to throw a party on purpose. People who couldn’t agree on anything else seemed to be able to come together if it meant a parade, or music in the park or rolling out their awnings on a Sunday so the celebration could go on come freak rainstorm or unseasonable sun.
They were community events in the truest sense, and it was that community spirit that let us build traditions that were our own, without the input of big corporate sponsors. It’s part of what built a vital, resourceful, resilient creative community here, and I love that KMJF is a festival in that tradition. I’m struck, looking at the lineup, by how many of the musicians have deep connections to the neighbourhood – as past and present residents or as artists who found a creative home here at various stages of their careers.
As a child, the market used to largely shut down at sunset, when the stores mostly closed and the shoppers all went home. Now there is no shortage of places to go and things to do and see after dark. I love the way the ticket model and concert schedule seem designed to encourage people to walk through the neighbourhood. Even if they come looking for some particular music that they want, they might go home with something new and exciting that they had never heard of. Or something old and wonderful that is completely new to them. That, to me, seems very much in the spirit of this wonderful, crazy, resilient community.
Born and raised in the heart of the Market, Sophia Perlman has become a fixture of the Ontario jazz and blues scene. Musicality, old-soul voice and skill as an improviser have made her a first-call featured singer with some of the top ensembles and musicians in the country. In addition to performing and touring with her own quartet and as part of the duo PerlHaze, with fellow vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Terra Hazelton, she is found performing regularly with numerous artists and ensembles, including Adrean Farrugia, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, the Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra, the Toronto Rhythm Initiative, the Vipers, and Chuck Jackson’s Big Bad Blues Band.
My musical life in Toronto this summer was bound up in Toronto Summer Music’s “London Calling” season, 25 days of activities spurred by the idea of musical life in London throughout the centuries. That clever conceit enabled the program to broaden its content beyond English works to encompass music heard in London, particularly in the popular 19th-century concert-giving associations. TSM’s 11th edition, the sixth and final under its personable artistic director Douglas McNabney, was its most extensive to date, unfurling a huge amount of repertoire between July 14 and August 7. I was able to take in ten concerts, three masterclasses and a rehearsal, making for many memorable moments, much of which I have already written about on thewholenote.com. Here are some highlights:
McNabney’s farewell season got off to an impressive start with a concert of English music for strings conducted by Joseph Swensen. He introduced the evening and noted that Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, which we were about to hear, was the first piece he wanted to program in the festival. The remarkable performance which followed - by American tenor Nicholas Phan, TSO principal horn Neil Deland and the TSM Festival Strings - was breathtaking in its execution. Deland’s horn playing was unforgettable for its purity of tone, a wondrous support for the mercurial tenor and the assorted poetic anthology, the text taken from some of Britten’s favourite verse by the likes of Tennyson, Blake and Keats; the powerful Blow, Bugle Blow, the foreboding horn of The Sick Rose, the anguished and awestruck Lyke Wake Dirge and the seductive voice of To Sleep. What a rare treat!
In a refreshing concert July 19, pianist Pedja Muzijevic’s presented “Haydn Dialogues,” a 75-minute performance of four Haydn sonatas separated by pieces by Oliver Knussen, John Cage and Jonathan Berger. Passionate about mixing old and new music, Muzijevic is also a genial talker, combining a delicious wit and the occasional catty comment with a streamlined historical sensibility that made it easy to relate to Haydn and his relationship with his patrons, the Esterházy family, and to the timely invitation by the British impresario, Salomon, to live and work in London. (“Talk about London Calling,” Muzijevic added in a clever aside.)
The Coronation of King George II took place in October of 1727; Handel was commissioned to write four anthems for the ceremony. On July 26 in Walter Hall, Daniel Taylor led his Theatre of Early Music in a delightful hour-long re-imagining of the event that literally and figuratively was the grand centrepiece of TSM’s season. In addition to using music of the day, Taylor had the wisdom to include three anachronistic elements: Hubert Parry’s I Was Glad and Jerusalem, as well as John Tavener’s Hymn to the Mother of God, which broadened the evening and extended the ceremonial maelstrom into the 20th century. The effervescent Taylor and his company had the musical smarts to carry it off.
A week of exceptional musicality (which also included TSO concertmaster and TSM artistic director designate, Jonathan Crow, headlining an enjoyable evening of mostly British chamber music, July 28) concluded July 29, with an outstanding recital by the talented Dover Quartet. It was TSM’s nod to the Beethoven Quartet Society of 1845, the first public cycle of the composer’s complete string quartets, a series of London concerts each of which included an early, middle and late quartet. So, in that spirit, the capacity Walter Hall audience was treated to Op.18 No.4, Op.59 No.3 and Op.132.
The Dovers’ playing of the early quartet was empathetic, subtle, impeccably phrased, marked by forward motion, drive and energy. They played up the inherent contrasts in the middle quartet’s first movement, the innocence and aspiration, warmth and solidity of the third and the controlled freneticism of the finale. But the heart of the evening was the third movement of Op.132, a work of naked supplication and beauty transformed into optimistic assertiveness. The feeling of divine well-being has rarely been better expressed. Musically mature, vibrant and uncannily unified in purpose and execution, the youthful players brought passion and grace to the first two movements, took a decisive approach to the fourth and emphasized the rhapsodic character of the finale.
TSM’s celebration of chamber music became a showcase for artists like TSO principal oboe Sarah Jeffrey, who showed off her rich tonal palette in Arthur Bliss’ Oboe Quintet Op.44, beaming like a beacon and blending in well with her string collaborators, always with grace. And pianist David Jalbert, who put his string collaborators on his back in Vaughan Williams’ Piano Quintet in C Minor, supporting and coming to the fore as needed in this vigorous, dramatic, sweetly melodic work. Two days later, Jalbert again proved a most conducive collaborator in Salomon’s arrangement of Haydn’s Symphony No.102 in B-Flat Major for keyboard, flute, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. After a rehearsal in which he felt the piano to be overpowering and excessively percussive, Jalbert had a fortepiano brought in for the concert. It made for a terrific sense of ensemble and Jalbert’s passion was contagious. The evening ended with a spirited whirl through Beethoven’s Septet in E-Flat Major Op.20 with Crow in charge, in yet another outlet for his artistry, while Nadina Mackie Jackson’s soulful bassoon provided invaluable support.
Jeffrey, Jalbert and Crow were among the more than 20 mentors to the 29 emerging artists who were members of TSM’s Academy. It’s one of the key components of the festival, one which undoubtedly has a lasting effect on all involved. Unable to attend any of the “reGeneration” concerts in which one mentor sat in with academy members for eight chamber music concerts, nor the art of song or chamber concerts by the academy members themselves, I nevertheless did get a sense of the coaching side of the festival in the masterclasses and rehearsal I witnessed.
Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke had several revealing ways into the music she was hearing in her masterclass: “You can’t sing Duparc until you’ve lived life and been heart-broken”; and “Art song is not painting a picture, it’s stepping into it.” In an open rehearsal, Dover Quartet first violinist Joel Link spent close to two hours working on the first movement of Sibelius’ Piano Quintet in G Minor, note by note with scrupulous attention to dynamic markings. A naturally inquisitive collaborator, he solicited ideas from his fellows and when he agreed with a suggestion, he would invariably enthuse: “Totally.”
Jonathan Crow’s masterclass was intense, generous and informative. Early on, he had so many musical ideas to impart, he spoke quickly so as to get them all out without losing time to have them executed. But he was also sensitive to the young musicians, relating stories of his own student days. When he was about their age, he found himself playing Haydn’s Quartet Op.76 No.3 (“Emperor”) with one of his heroes, Andrew Dawes, then first violinist of the original Orford String Quartet. Dawes used to record much of what he played for learning purposes. Crow had felt the performance had gone well and looked forward to hearing the playback, which turned out to be at an excessively slow speed so that every note was exaggerated.
“Jonathan,” Dawes said. “You only did four wiggles of vibrato while I did seven and a half.” Everyone in Walter Hall laughed and Crow pointed out that Dawes was noted for the clarity of his playing.
Jason Starr’s Mahler DVDs. Crow returns to his main gig on September 21 when he and the TSO under Peter Oundjian, with guest soprano Renée Fleming, open their new season with Ravel’s lush song cycle Shéhérazade, Italian arias by Puccini and Leoncavallo and songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. Two days later, Henning Kraggerud is the violin soloist in Sibelius’ majestic Violin Concerto, one of the cornerstones of the repertoire. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2, which drips Romanticism, completes the program. Then, on September 28 and 29, Oundjian conducts what promises to be one of the must-see concerts of the year, Mahler’s Symphony No.3; Jamie Barton, fresh from her well-received TSM recital at Koerner Hall, is the mezzo soloist alongside Women of the Amadeus Choir, Women of the Elmer Iseler Singers and Toronto Children’s Chorus.
Coincidentally, I was recently given a package of Mahler DVDs produced and directed by Jason Starr, a prolific maker of dozens of video and films from classical music and modern dance performances to documentary profiles of artists and cultural issues. He began his Mahler odyssey in 2003 with a splendid deconstruction of what Mahler himself called “a musical poem that travels through all the stages of evolution.” What the Universe Tells Me: Unravelling the Mysteries of Mahler’s Third Symphony, Starr’s impressive 60-minute film, intercuts a performance by the Manhattan School of Music conducted by Glen Cortese, with analysis by baritone Thomas Hampson, scholarly talking heads like Henry-Louis de La Grange, Donald Mitchell, Peter Franklin and Morten Solvik and timely shots of the natural landscape, all in the service of furthering our understanding of Mahler’s vision. “Imagine a work so large that it mirrors the entire world,” he said.
How Schopenhauer and Nietzsche figure into Mahler’s mindset, the beginning of the cosmos, the oboe as the guide to the beauty of nature in the second movement (its notes illustrated by flowers in a high Alpine valley), are just a few examples of the myriad of details Starr and his methodical examination of this massive masterpiece reveal. Watching it (and its extras) will enhance my enjoyment of the TSO’s upcoming concert.
The same coterie of Mahlerians turn up in Starr’s most recent films completed in 2015: Everywhere and Forever: Mahler’s Song of the Earth and For the Love of Mahler: The Inspired Life of Henry-Louis de La Grange. Again Starr’s thoroughness, cinematic touches and attention to the biographical, cultural and philosophical context are invaluable for our understanding of the Song of the Earth. Since he first heard Bruno Walter conduct Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in 1945, “the symphonies of Mahler have become a world for me which I’ve never tired of exploring,” says Mahler biographer de La Grange. From the medina of Marrakech to a convent in Corsica, Toblach in South Tyrol and the Mahler Mediatheque in Paris, Starr follows de La Grange (now 91) over several years, bringing to light his passion for life and music. “Every time I hear a work of Mahler, I think I hear something I’ve never heard before,” he said. Anecdotes by Mahler’s granddaughter Marina, Boulez (“Transformation of Henry-Louis’ personality by Mahler gives him authority on Mahler.”), Chailly, Eschenbach and Hampson add to the pleasure of this essential document.
Sept 12: Trailblazing cellist Matt Haimovitz brings his new Overtures to Bach to the intimate space of The Sound Post for a recital featuring commissioned works by Philip Glass, Du Yun, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, Mohammed Fairouz and Luna Pearl Woolf, each of which precedes a different first movement Prelude from each of Bach’s six cello suites.
Sept 14: Haimovitz brings the same program to the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society (KWCMS). Among other performers in the Music Room of the indefatigable Narvesons this month are French cellist Alain Pierlot and pianist Jason Cutmore on Sept 25 in works by French composers (including sonatas by Debussy and Saint-Saëns). Sept 28: French pianist Alain Jacquon makes his KWCMS debut in a program of Sibelius, Ravel and Nazareth. Oct 2: Jethro Marks, principal violist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, offers Schubert, Mendelssohn and a Beethoven violin sonata (transcribed for viola), with pianist Mauro Bertoli, currently artist-in-residence at Carlton University.
Sept 17: Stewart Goodyear takes a trip down the QEW to open the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s new season with Brahms’ first major symphonic work, the formidable Concerto No.1 in D Minor Op.15. Conductor Gemma New completes the evening with Brahms’ friend and patron, Schumann, and his visionary Symphony No.4.
Sept 17: Owen Sound’s Sweetwater Music Festival “Virtuosity” concert features clarinetist James Campbell, violist Steven Dann, percussionist Aiyun Huang, violinist (and artistic director) Mark Fewer and the Gryphon Trio in a varied program that spotlights a new commissioned work by David Braid. Sept 18: The same performers wrap up the weekend festivities with “A Classy Finish” which includes Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes Op.34 and Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major (“Ghost”) Op.70 No.1.
Sept 18: For any WholeNote readers who may be in P.E.I. on the third weekend of the month, don’t miss Ensemble Made In Canada’s performance of piano quartets by Mahler, Bridge, Daniel and Brahms (No.1 in G Minor Op.25), part of the Indian River Festival.
Sept 25: Bassoon marvel Nadina Mackie Jackson is joined by string players Bijan Sepanji, Steve Koh, Rory McLeod, Bryan Lu and Joe Phillips for her “Bassoon Out Loud” season opener; works include Vivaldi’s Concerti Nos.14 & 27, Lussier’s Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie Op.2 and works for solo strings.
Sept 30: TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow shows his versatility as he joins with fellow TSO members, principal violist Teng Li, associate principal cellist Winona Zelenka and COC Orchestra concertmaster Marie Bérard (who comprise the Trio Arkel) to play Ligeti’s early String Quartet No.1 “Métamorphoses nocturnes.” Mozart’s masterful Divertimento in E-Flat Major K563 completes the program.
Sept 30, Oct 1: Conductor Edwin Outwater leads the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in two bulwarks of Romantic music: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3 (with Natasha Paremski, whose temperament and technique have been compared to Argerich) and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4.
Cecilia String Quartet at Mooredale
U of T Faculty of Music quartet-in-residence, the celebrated Cecilia String Quartet, opens Mooredale’s 2016/17 season September 25 with works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Emilie LeBel. Second violinist Sarah Nematallah and cellist Rachel Desoer graciously and eloquently answered a few questions about the repertoire they will be playing in their concert at Walter Hall. I hope you enjoy their insights and that the the answers will enhance your experience of hearing them play.
Sarah Nematallah: I love the elusive nature of this work. There are so many moments where Haydn begins to lead you down one path and then immediately steers you in another direction - we feel momentary comfort that is quickly shaken, sweetness that suddenly turns sour, aggression that bursts into joy. I feel that this quality makes for an edge-of-your-seat experience!
WN: How does recording a work, for example the Mendelssohn Op.44 No.1, affect your subsequent performance of it?
SN: The amount and type of detail one must consider in preparing the piece and working in the recording sessions is immense. It’s intense work, but rewarding in its own way. After you’ve been through that experience, performing the piece feels very freeing - it allows you to live through the work along with the audience again, as opposed to solidifying something concrete. The experience of performing the work has a new dynamism to it that is really exhilarating.
WN: Does recording a piece focus your attention on it more than playing it in concert? Have your ideas of the piece changed or evolved since it was recorded?
SN: Recording a work requires a real commitment to one particular interpretation of a piece, and so performers must feel confident that this interpretation is something that they feel will have merit for decades to come. However, after the recording process is done, one is free to return to explore and experiment again. Sometimes it is hard to let go of the interpretation you recorded, but over time you realize that music is a fleeting artistic form that is constantly changing, and embracing that idea can give rise to interpretations you may not have thought possible in the past.
WN: How did you come to program Taxonomy of Paper Wings by Emilie LeBel?
Rachel Desoer: This piece by Emilie is part of our large project this season of Celebrating Canadian Women Composers. Over the past two years we have commissioned four outstanding women composers to write string quartets for us and this season it is all culminating. We will be presenting all four pieces at the 21C Festival in May and looking towards recording all the works. We chose Taxonomy of Paper Wings for this concert for two reasons. First, it’s a great opportunity to present Emilie’s work in her hometown. Second, her work has a calmness and a subtlety we thought would contrast greatly and provide an oasis in the middle of this busy program!
Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.
Based on the schedules that have already been announced, the 2016/17 opera season in Toronto will feature an intriguing mix of old favourites, revivals of major rarities and world premieres.
The Canadian Opera Company opens the season with a new production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma (1831), an opera not heard at the COC since 2006. Alternating in the title role of the Druid priestess will be Sondra Radvanovsky and Elza van den Heever. Pollione, her fickle Roman lover, is Russell Thomas, while Pollione’s new love, Adalgisa will be Isabel Leonard. Dimitry Ivashchenko will sing Norma’s father Oroveso. Stephen Lord conducts the eight performances running from October 6 to November 5.
Alternating with Norma, the COC continues its exploration of Handel with the company premiere of the composer’s 1734 opera Ariodante based on an episode from Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso (1532). Alice Coote sings the trouser role of Ariodante, Jane Archibald is his beloved Ginevra and Varduhi Abrahamyan sings the second trouser role of the jealous Polinesso. Johannes Debus conducts his first ever Handel opera for seven performances running from October 16 to November 4.
The winter season sees the revival of two COC productions, Mozart’s The Magic Flute running for 12 performances from January 19 to February 24 and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung running for seven performances from February 2 to 25. Andrew Haji and Owen McCausland share the role of Tamino, while Elena Tsallagova and Kirsten MacKinnon sing the role of Pamina. Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis alternate in the role of the bird catcher, Papageno. The Queen of the Night is Ambur Braid. Sarastro is sung by Goran Jurić in his Canadian debut and by Matt Boehler. Ashlie Corcoran directs the revival of the 2005 production and Bernard Labadie makes his COC debut at the podium.
The COC’s production of Götterdämmerung, last seen in 2006, stars the acclaimed Christine Goerke, who continues Brünnhilde’s journey that she began in Die Walküre in 2015 and continued in Siegfried in 2016. Her Siegfried this time will be Andreas Schager. Martin Gantner is Gunther, Siegfried’s rival, Ileana Montalbetti is Gunther’s sister Gutrune, Ain Anger is Gunther’s dangerous half-brother, Hagen, and Robert Pomakov is the dwarf Alberich. Johannes Debus conducts his first-ever Götterdämmerung and Tim Albery returns to direct.
The highlight of the Toronto opera calendar occurs in the COC’s spring season. From April 20 to May 13, the COC presents a new production of Louis Riel by Harry Somers, written for Canada’s centennial in 1967, remounted in 1975 and now revived for Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017 in a co-production with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Generally regarded as Canada’s greatest opera, Louis Riel runs for seven performances from April 20 to May 13 in Toronto and from June 15 to 17 at the NAC.
In the all-Canadian cast, Russell Braun sings the title role of the controversial Métis leader; James Westman is Sir John A. MacDonald; Simone Osborne is Riel’s wife Marguerite; Allyson McHardy is Riel’s mother Julie; Michael Colvin is Thomas Scott, an Orangeman executed on orders by Riel; and John Relyea is Bishop Taché, who is duped into helping betray Riel. Peter Hinton directs and Johannes Debus conducts this momentous production.
Alternating with Louis Riel is the Puccini warhorse Tosca, in the now-familiar production directed by Paul Curran last seen here in 2012. The 12 performances run from April 30 to May 20 and will use a double cast. Adrianne Pieczonka and Keri Alkema will sing the title role, Marcelo Puente and Kamen Chanev sing Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi and Markus Marquardt and Craig Colclough sing the villainous Scarpia. Canadian maestra Keri-Lynn Wilson, making her COC debut, conducts.
Opera Atelier’s season features two revivals of late 17th-century operas – Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689) and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Medea, (Médee, 1693). Dido and Aeneas, running from October 20 to 29, will feature Wallis Giunta as Dido, Christopher Enns as Aeneas, Meghan Lindsay as Dido’s confidante Belinda and Laura Pudwell as the Sorceress. Medea, running from April 22 to 29,will see Peggy Kriha Dye as Medea, Colin Ainsworth as Jason, Mireille Asselin as Jason’s wife Créuse and Stephen Hegedus as Créon. Both productions will be directed as usual by Marshall Pynkoski with David Fallis conducting the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.
Tapestry Opera has an especially exciting season. The season begins with the Toronto premiere of Naomi’s Road (2005), composer Ramona Luengen and librettist and director Ann Hodges, based on the novel by Joy Kogawa. Set in Vancouver during World War II, the opera follows nine-year-old Japanese-Canadian Naomi and her brother who are sent to internment camps in the B.C. interior and Alberta. The opera runs from November 16 to 20, 2016, at St. David’s Anglican Church, the home of St. Andrew’s, the last Japanese-Canadian Anglican parish in Toronto.
Running from May 24 to 30, Tapestry presents The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G., its largest-scale production since Iron Road in 2001. Oksana G. by composer Aaron Gervais and playwright Colleen Murphy is the story of a young Ukrainian girl lured into the world of sex trafficking by a Georgian recruiter who unexpectedly falls in love with her. When Oksana escapes to a refugee shelter, she finds herself entangled in a complex triangle between the recruiter and the Canadian priest who runs the shelter. With its fierce, contemporary heroine, Oksana G. sets out to challenge the operatic convention of the tragic victim. The premiere is led by acclaimed director Tom Diamond and conductor Jordan de Souza.
Toronto Operetta Theatre also has two fully staged revivals on offer. Running from December 27, 2016, to January 8, 2017, is Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (1879) with Colin Ainsworth as Frederick, Curtis Sullivan as the Pirate King, Elizabeth Beeler as Ruth and Vania Chan as Mabel. COC resident conductor Derek Bate wields the baton. Running from April 26 to 30 is The Chocolate Soldier (1908) by Oscar Straus, based on Arms and the Man (1894) by George Bernard Shaw. The popular operetta features Jennifer Taverner, Anna Caroline Macdonald, Stefan Fehr and Michael Nyby. Peter Tiefenbach conducts. Guillermo Silva-Marin directs both productions.
Toronto Masque Theatre has a fascinating lineup. Its first production running from November 17 to 19 is Handel’s cantata Apollo e Dafne (Apollo and Daphne,1710) starring Jaqueline Woodley and Geoffrey Sirett and staged by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière. This is paired with Richard Strauss’ unusual melodrama for piano and spoken word, Enoch Arden (1897) based on the 1864 poem by Tennyson. TMT’s second production is a world premiere, The Man Who Married Himself, composed by Juliet Palmer to a libretto by Anna Chatterton based on a Karnataka folk tale. The singers include Scott Belluz, Subiksha Rangarajan and Alex Samaras and the dance will combine Eastern and Western traditions just as will the makeup of the orchestra. Hari Krishnan will direct and choreograph the piece and Larry Beckwith conducts both productions.
VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert again helps to fill in the void in repertoire left by the larger companies. This season will begin with the second Bellini of the season in the form of I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830), Bellini’s version of Romeo and Juliet, on November 20, with Caitlin Wood, Anita Krause and Tonatiuh Abrego. On February 5 is Franz Joseph Haydn’s delightful L’Isola disabitata (1779) accompanied by the Aradia Ensemble with Kevin Mallon conducting. And on March 26 is Modest Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina (1886). Although not all of Toronto’s opera companies have announced their offerings, the season already presents an embarras de choix.
Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Something unique and original is happening this September in the world of music and art – the in/future Festival at Ontario Place running from September 15 to 25. The festival is the vision of Art Spin, a project founded in 2009 to create experiences in alternative venues that create a dialogue between the Toronto art community and the public. With in/future, they are transforming one of the most beloved places in Ontario into a series of site-specific projects by visual, sound and media artists, as well as programming several world music concerts and film/video screenings.
Ontario Place opened in 1971 fuelled by optimistic and utopian notions of the future strongly reflected in the design of the buildings as well as in the content of the exhibits. In the words of the original Ontario Place theme song, it was a “once-in-a-lifetime, never-before place.” One thing that is sure to occur for many during the festival is the triggering of memories of what the future once looked like. And that is the point really. The art installations will offer opportunities to look back at a particularly 1970s vision of things. In the words of New Adventures in Sound Art’s artistic director Darren Copeland, “We who are now in that future are looking at the past’s view of us.” Copeland was approached by Rui Pimenta, one of Art Spin’s directors, to curate sound installations in one of the old exhibit silos. There are close to ten of these structures, that once housed exhibits on the natural elements, that will be turned into performance and installation sites for the festival.
Central to NAISA’s aesthetic vision is the spatialization of sound, so the opportunity to put sound into a round, acoustically reverberant space was a perfect match. During our interview, Copeland stressed the importance of describing the works that NAISA is curating for their installation as “site-responsive” rather than “site-specific.” For the NAISA installation (running from September 19-25), Copeland provided a production framework with his spatialization software and eight-speaker setup for three composer/performers (Anne Bourne, Lisa Conway and myself) to create pieces that are personal responses to not only the acoustics of the silo, but the entire entity and vision of what Ontario Place was.
When I asked Copeland to describe the process for him as curator and producer, he stated that “each piece had different ways of using the space, with different configurations and processes, none of which I knew before we started recording in the silo.” And although the composers could bring materials with them for the recording, it was “a process of discovery for them as well, once present in the environment. A combination of the artist’s ideas, the ideas I brought, and the architecture of the space conspired in the moment to provide the direction and substance of what was made. That wouldn’t have happened if we had been in a neutral space – the third ingredient would be missing. It would have been a planned project that happens in spite of the location,” he said.
Anne Bourne chose to record and layer multiple tracks of cello and voice improvisations in the silo space. During the process though, a curious thing happened – memories of her experiences performing on the circular revolving stage at Ontario Place’s popular Forum venue surfaced. As Bourne described it to me, the significance of the round stage meant that everyone had an equal and inclusive experience of connection with the performers, and every voice was equidistant from the centre. This is in contrast to the more hierarchical nature of the proscenium stage. It was being in the round architecture of the silo that triggered her performance memories and led her into taking on the role of transmitter of those inclusive values while improvising. It’s not hard to see here the connection between the architecture and the futuristic visions of the early 1970s.
Lisa Conway was also influenced by the structure of the silos, but took her piece in a very different direction. She chose to work with recordings of the materials generally associated with silos – sand, grain and salt sounds – and played with the concept of these sound textures within large resonant spaces as the focus for her piece. For my own work, I created a prerecorded electroacoustic soundtrack made up of Ontario Place soundscapes, a variety of pre-composed vocal drones, and processed excerpts from the original Ontario Place theme song. In the silo, I improvised a vocal track while listening to the prerecorded track, playing with the words of the theme song and the acoustics of the silo. The final format for the entire installation will present all three pieces mixed and spatialized amongst the eight-speaker array and played sequentially in the reverberant silo environment.
I also spoke to two other artists working with sound in their installations for in/future.
Simone Jones, a multidisciplinary artist who works with film, video and electronics, is working on two pieces for the festival. The first is collaboration with visual artist Laura Millard that will be installed in the former Ice Silo and is a dialogue between sound and lightbox images. The images are created from aerial drone shots of circular and intersecting snowmobile patterns on a frozen lake, and the two artists have chosen to keep the original icebergs from the silo exhibit as part of their installation to emphasize the wintery environment. For the sound, Jones improvised on Philip Glass’ Etude No.1 and edited her piano recordings to highlight the repetitive pattern. The soundfiles will also be treated spatially with panning movements between two stereo speakers.
Jones’ second work will be located at the observation decks at the southwest tip of Ontario Place. Video footage of a body in water, as well as images of water itself will be projected onto a large scrim placed between the two decks and high enough that it will appear to float. The soundscape will include recordings of water as well as an introduction created and performed by 14-year old cellist Will Smyth. For Jones, what is exciting about this project is the opportunity to create work with a deliberate connection to place. “I like to be nostalgic about Ontario Place and the idea of recapturing some of that optimism that was so evident in the visual motif of the silos and the dome of the Cinesphere. The creation of public space is one of the most important things that we can do as a society.”
The theme of urban space also surfaced during my conversation with sound artist and producer Michael Trommer. Trommer’s piece will be located just to the east of the observation deck along a stretch of beach, also facing the open water. Using field recordings made during the night at various lakes up north and at Georgian Bay, Trommer’s intention is to transpose a very different time and place onto an urban beach through his amplified soundscape. This will create an ambiguous environment in which people will be hearing sounds that belong and yet don’t quite belong. Ideally, the ambiguity will be further emphasized by hiding the speakers from view and also using a subwoofer speaker to accentuate the low frequencies. Because the recordings were made at night when sound can travel far more easily, he ended up capturing soundscapes that were five to ten kilometres away: loon calls, Wasaga Beach clubs, and people speaking at a cottage for example. Trommer is drawn to liminal locations such as waterfronts that transition from urban to natural and where you have a shift in materials, going from dense concrete to open space. Having grown up in Montreal, and in close proximity to La Ronde, the site of Expo 67 (a similarly utopian vision), “there is something that resonates for me about these places which are replicating natural shapes like the dome rather than the rectangular and stacked slab-like shapes of our urban environment.”
Personally, the opportunities to return to Ontario Place this summer, as well as speaking to the other artists I’ve written about for this column, have reaffirmed for me the importance of creating pieces in response to place. Connecting with memories and revisiting a space that holds collective values worth reconsidering makes the in/future project a crucial event for all to experience. It will no doubt generate an ongoing conversation about this iconic urban oasis. Ontario Place is scheduled to reopen in 2017 with a new mandate.
The Opening Concert Season. Although most of our new music presenters wait until October to get their seasons rolling, there are some events coming up in September that are important to look at. In keeping with the theme of sound in resonant environments, the Music Gallery will present a concert on September 17 of three artists united by their fascination with drones and reverberant spaces. Bassist and composer Ricardo Dias Gomes will perform his intimate yet aggressive drones, surrounded by a visual design of his own making. Montreal saxophonist Ida Toninato’s performance will feature her love of big sounds in big spaces, while emerging multidisciplinary artist Kat Estacio will play with notions of nostalgia and decolonization in her performance.
On September 30, New Music Concerts presents “Beijing Memories,” a concert of highlights from their China tour. This past July, eight musicians from NMC were invited to be the ensemble-in-residence at the Beijing International Composition Workshop. The evening will feature highlights from the three concerts performed as part of that residency in Beijing, with compositions by Brian Current, Omar Daniel, Wen Deqing, Lei Liang and competition winner Zhao Yi from China.
The Thin Edge New Music Collective is busy this month with three different events. First, on September 2, they will be performing in Contact Contemporary Music’s annual INTERsection event on Labour Day weekend at the Music Gallery along with guest guitarist Elliott Sharp. INTERsection continues on September 3 all day at Yonge-Dundas Square with an impressive lineup of performers. Then on September 15 and 16, Thin Edge is hosting the Feldman Festival at Array Space, performing works by composers Morton Feldman, Linda Catlin Smith and Barbara Monk Feldman. And finally on September 29, their fundraising event will present works by Nick Storring, Scott Rubin, Xenakis, Cage and others.
Sept 2: National Ballet of Canada/Art Gallery of Ontario present “The Dreamers Ever Leave You,” with live music composed by Lubomyr Melnyk.
Sept 18: Niagara Symphony Orchestra’s concert premieres Toward Light, a new commissioned work by Canadian composer Roydon Tse.
Sept 21: University of Waterloo Department of Music presents Earth Piece by Canadian composer Carol Weaver.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. email@example.com.
September is always a lean month. Many musical organizations do not start their seasons until October. There are, however, a number of early events.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra begins its season with a concert at Roy Thomson Hall featuring Renée Fleming on September 21, her first visit since an October 2015 RTH recital, accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore. The program features Ravel’s Shéhérazade as well as works by Puccini and Leoncavallo and selections from The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Mahler’s Third Symphony, which the TSO will perform September 28 and 29, was not a favourite of Otto Klemperer, an early admirer and interpreter of Mahler’s music. In fact, he refused to conduct it. Times have changed and I think that there is now fairly general agreement that the Third is one of Mahler’s finest works. Peter Oundjian conducts and the mezzo solo will be sung by Jamie Barton, the young American singer who gave such an impressive recital for Toronto Summer Music last July. The choral parts will be taken by the women of the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers and by the Toronto Children’s Chorus.
The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto's directors have over the years demonstrated a superb sense for finding the finest artists. It looks as if they have again found an exciting performer for their opening concert on October 6. The tenor Issachah Savage will be familiar to some Toronto audiences as he was the cover for the role of Siegmund in Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Canadian Opera Company last spring and performed the role on February 7. He also won the 2014 Seattle International Wagner Competition and has sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His Toronto recital at Walter Hall on October 6 will include Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, songs by Strauss and Quilter as well as a selection of spirituals.
The Toronto Masque Theatre’s 2016/17 season will start off with a salon concert on September 19 at The Atrium, 21 Shaftesbury Avenue. The program consists of poetry and songs inspired by trees. The singers are members of the Elizabeth McDonald Voice Studio.
TMT’s first regular concert will be on November 17 and consists of a particularly interesting coupling: Handel’s cantata Apollo and Daphne for soprano and baritone and Richard Strauss’ Enoch Arden, a monodrama for speaker and piano. More on this intriguing pairing as the season unfolds.
And looking back: When it comes to finding the very best performers available, the track record of Toronto Summer Music is unsurpassed. But the festival has always done more than find performers. Their program has always included an academy in which young professional and pre-professional performers are mentored by senior musicians. In 2016 a new branch of the academy, the TSM Community Academy, was inaugurated. It was a program aimed at amateurs. I seriously thought of applying to the program but in the end was too intimidated to do so.
I did go last summer, however, and realized that, while the program was extremely demanding, there was no need to feel intimidated. The Community Academy consisted of three parts: instrumentalists were coached by professionals, mainly front desk players of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or the Canadian Opera Company; pianists studied with David Jalbert; singers with Matthias Maute and Peter McGillivray. The work we singers focused on was Bach’s B Minor Mass. This was not the first time that I have attempted to sing the work but on other occasions we only had a day or an afternoon. These occasions always left me with the feeling that someday, in another life, I would get things right. I would not wish to claim that our performance last summer was everything it should be but we certainly got a lot closer than had been possible on earlier occasions. While we rehearsed all the choral parts, we performed only five movements. I think the decision to restrict us was entirely sensible. We were much helped by having four professional section leads. Separate from the rehearsals for the mass were the vocal lessons and the vocal masterclass conducted by Peter McGillivray. Kathryn Tremills was the very able pianist throughout.
2016 marked the final year of Douglas McNabney’s leadership of TSM. He will be missed. I am, however, looking forward with confidence to the new leadership which will be provided by his successor, Jonathan Crow.
GTA Quick Picks
Aug 26 to Sept 3: Soulpepper presents “Taking the A Train Uptown Manhattan – Harlem”: the music, words and ideas that have made Harlem great.
Sept 9: “The Four Lads and the Four Aces: the Greatest Love Songs of the 20th Century” at the Palais Royale.
Sept 9 and 21: A tribute to the folk songs of the 60s with Sue and Dwight Peters and Michelle Rumball at the Free Times Café.
Sept 13: Nine Sparrows presents a free lunchtime recital by Linda Condy, mezzo, and Ellen Meyer, piano, at Westminster Park Baptist Church. Donations welcome.
Sept 16: Kristine Dandavino, mezzo, and Michael Robert-Broder, baritone, will give a joint recital of music by Wagner, Schumann, Brahms, Weill and Sharman at the Women’s Art Association of Toronto.
Sept 22: A free lunchtime recital at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music will feature the soprano Eizabeth McDonald in works by Beethoven, Spohr and Schumann, at Walter Hall.
Sept 25: Vania Chan is the soprano soloist in Bach’s Coffee Cantata in the Rezonance Ensemble’s concert at 2pm at CSI Annex that also includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.5.
Sept 27: The first of this season’s free vocal recitals at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre features artists of the 2016/17 COC Ensemble Studio.
And Beyond the GTA
Sept 12: A celebration of the Beatles hosted by Lucy Peacock is a fundraiser for PAL Stratford, an organization that offers support and affordable housing to retired artists in need; Avon Theatre, Stratford.
Sept 16: The soprano Meredith Hall will sing Hasse and Handel with the Ensemble Caprice at the SweetWater Music Festival, Leith Church.
Sept 17: Hall will also sing at another SweetWater Music Festival concert which includes Schubert’s The Shepherd on the Rock (with the clarinetist James Campbell), as well as a new work for soprano and community singers by David Braid.
Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exciting things are ahead over the next few months: a 20th anniversary celebration of Noel Edison at the helm of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with Mendelssohn’s Elijah; composer Ola Gjeilo (whom I wrote about at some length in last April’s issue) is being featured as part of the third edition of Choral Encounters – “Luminous Festival”; The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring is being done by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at the beginning of December; and this is just a taste of the big events coming up this fall for our choirs (and of the intensity of the rehearsal and preparation about to get under way).
If you’re like me and want to hold on to summer a bit longer, our summer festival greats, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Shaw Festival, continue to offer some tantalizing musical theatre munchies: A Chorus Line and A Little Night Music at Stratford and Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland at Shaw. Closer to home, the Lower Ossington Theatre productions of Mamma Mia! or West Side Story may entice. Mirvish Entertainment’s Matilda continues to be the hottest ticket out there right now. Dates and locations vary. Check our listings.
If you’re looking for choral concerts, most won’t be forthcoming until October or later, as ensembles return from summer and spend September adjusting and rehearsing. An exception: MOSAIC Canadian Vocal Ensemble presents a concert featuring Karl Jenkin’s Te Deum, and his well-known work The Armed Man: Mass for Peace. September 24 at 7:30pm in St George’s Cathedral, Kingston.
Check into your subscription series for choral music and other artistic endeavours across the region. Subscriptions are important stabilizers in our artistic communities. From Buddies in Bad Times Theatre to the Orpheus Choir to the Aga Khan Museum, subscribers are a key component for the financial viability of our arts organizations. Subscriptions also ensure that you have access to some of the world’s best art across the region including access to the best seats, sightlines and acoustics. Make sure your subscriptions for the upcoming year are set!
A Luminous Choral Experience
As mentioned, Ola Gjeilo comes to Toronto as part of Choral Encounters 2016 – “Luminous Festival.” Gjeilo is sponsored by Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, in collaboration with the University of Toronto Faculty of Music and the Orpheus Choir of Toronto. His work is increasingly becoming part of standard choral repertoire; the GTA region routinely features many of his dozens of compositions.
The majority of the festival is private masterclasses and sessions with Gjeilo and other choral teachers from the region. But the festival culminates with “Luminous Night” a gala concert on October 15 at 7:30pm in Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto. This grand celebration of his work will include a full presentation of Sunrise Mass with the Talisker Players and also includes Ubi Caritas, Northern Lights, Eternal Sky, and (one of my top choral songs) Serenity. Voices will be provided by the massing of Exultate Chamber Singers, Orpheus Choir, Resonance, the University of Toronto MacMillan Singers and Women’s Chamber Choir and Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Choir. See more at luminousnightfestival.com.
I have written on the Sunrise Mass before, a remarkable collection of Latin text set to lush beautiful melodies. Using the cycle of a day, from morning to evening to mirror that of life, Gjeilo’s work is an evocative invitation to contemplation and intimacy. It is indeed his art and skill as a composer that the music is both grand and thick in sound, yet intimate and personal in execution. He writes in the notes to his piece Contrition: “I feel that my music should be bigger than me, bigger than my everyday concerns as a human being – concerns that may seem incredibly important in the moment but, in the grand scheme of things, really don’t amount to much when compared to the great mystery of life and the universe.”
Gjeilo is especially good at combining quicker, energized vocal lines (or string lines) with slower, poignant melodies. These undulating lines, such as those in Tundra, Contrition or Movement 2 of Sunrise Mass, give an insistence and texture to his music. In setting up listener’s ears to hear these lines, he is most successful in reaching the thick, large chords that texturize his music later on. Appropriately, the word “lush” is most often used to describe his work.
A perceptive listener will notice that incremental semi-tone movement both up and down amongst his lines will create a sparkling essence to the music. Invariably, the sparkle resolves towards the end of the piece, leaving a consonant sound. Most often, it is that Gjeilo introduces the start of a chord with its dominant note before providing the full chord one or two bars later. It’s an accessible, pleasing way that music hits the ear.
Craving Nostalgia: As a child in the early 90s, I grew up listening to the Motown records my father played frequently. Doo-Wop and golden age pop have influenced my musical tastes since then. Remarkably, many of these groups that began in the 50s and 60s continue to perform. ARB Productions, a Toronto based company, specializes in nostalgia performers.
ARB presents the Four Lads and the Four Aces at the Palais Royale on September 26 at noon and 7pm for a full meal and dinner. The Four Lads are homegrown talent having gone to St. Michael’s Choir School and most found fame with their hit Moments to Remember and No, Not Much. The Four Aces hail from the U.S.A. and have had their share of hits including Love is a Many-Splendored Thing and Stranger in Paradise.
This should prove to be a lovely lunch or dinner at an unparalleled historic location. Lunch, martini, a dance or two right on the waterfront – it sounds lovely!
Choir Open Houses
With all this great fun ahead for the start of the musical season, you should join a choir! Many choirs host open houses to see how rehearsals go, check out the conductors and experience the overall vibe of a choir. Most choirs will be happy to welcome spectators for the first few rehearsals. Consider going and more importantly, joining! A few I know about are:
Hart House Singers, September 12 and 19, 7:45pm Hart House Great Hall, University of Toronto.
Orpheus Choir, September 13, 7pm, Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
Etobicoke Centennial Choir, September 13, 7:30pm, Humber Valley United Church.
Westeros: Finally, later this year, on March 4, 2017 for one night only, Westeros will descend on the Air Canada Centre. Game of Thrones Live is coming with composer Ramin Djawadi at the podium. I’m mentioning this early as this event already has incredible buzz and will completely sell out, so you will thank me later! Featuring a full orchestra and a full, mixed-voices choir set to a multimedia show including pyrotechnics, this isn’t an event to miss. Tickets available on Ticketmaster.
Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to email@example.com
But for a few instances of momentary curiosity of a few brave, or possibly foolhardy, musicians, modern concert audiences might have never heard the sound of historical instruments at all. A great case in point is the pianist Malcolm Bilson’s discovery of historical keyboards back in 1969.
When Bilson decided to give a concert on “Mozart’s piano” the result was very nearly a disaster. “I have to admit now that I really couldn’t handle the thing at all,” Bilson said in a lecture. “I must be the least gifted person for the job: my hands are too big, and I don’t have the necessary technique such an instrument required. In trying to operate this light, precise mechanism, I really felt like an elephant in a china closet. But I kept at it all week and practised hard and after several days began to notice that I was actually playing what was on the page. Suddenly I found that I really didn’t need much pedal and that the articulative pauses actually made the music more expressive.” Concert audiences and audiophiles should certainly be grateful that Bilson persevered – he was one of the first 20th-century fortepianists, and without him it’s doubtful we’d even hear a fortepiano today.
We’re also kind of fortunate Bilson opted to try using a fortepiano in the first place – the instrument itself is something of an oddity. Even to its inventor, it couldn’t have been considered to have much potential – it was initially a research and development project for the wealthy Florentine Medici family by the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori way back in 1700.
Cristofori fit the stereotype of the eccentric inventor quite well indeed. As if inventing a new keyboard instrument wasn’t ambitious enough by itself, Cristofori also tried making harpsichords out of ebony as well as building his own upright harpsichords from designs by other inventors. It’s not known what Cristofori’s patrons thought of the instrument, but it was likely positive, as he continued to develop his invention over the next 20 years and the technology and building of pianos spread across Europe. By the 1730s, J.S.Bach had a chance to play one and recommended the builder make changes (which out of respect for the composer’s expertise, he duly did, much to Bach’s satisfaction). Still, the harpsichord was generally regarded as the superior, or at least, the more affordable, of the two keyboard instruments until the century’s end.
In the classical era, Haydn composed for the harpsichord for most of his early career, and wouldn’t buy a fortepiano until he was in his 50s, but Mozart, being 20 years younger, would come to favour the fortepiano exclusively. Just 50 years after Haydn’s death, pianos were becoming louder, more uniform in sound and more durable – and with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, mass-produced in factories and available to a middle-class market.
Andrea Botticelli: The fortepiano revival owes much to that first adventurous concert Malcolm Bilson gave in 1969, and there’s been a steady increase in fortepiano players since, but there hasn’t been a professional fortepianist who’s called Toronto home until now. Andrea Botticelli is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s doctoral music program in piano performance who has decided to specialize in fortepiano and Classical repertoire. Like Bilson, Botticelli found playing a different instrument to have an almost immediate effect on her interpretation. “Playing a fortepiano was such an eye-opening experience,” Botticelli says. “All the performance issues that are such a struggle on the modern piano – texture, clarity, balance between the hands – become so much easier on the fortepiano.” According to Botticelli, all the exacting details that composers like Mozart and Schubert took such care in writing, all those little slurs, phrase markings and articulations that pianists struggle with, were actually written for the old 18th- and 19th-century instruments, and a modern Steinway can’t really negotiate the difficult terrain as easily.
“So much of what I was trying to add in terms of expression is really inherent on this instrument,” she says. “Once I really started playing the fortepiano, I wondered how I could have gone through a whole undergraduate degree without ever having heard one.” Botticelli will be making her solo debut later this month at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts on September 24 at 6:15 pm, playing fantasies by Mozart, Haydn and Hummel, as well as a Mozart piano sonata.
It’s really about time there was a resident fortepianist in the GTA, and the fact that Botticelli is willing to base herself in Toronto is yet another sign that the local arts scene has grown to world-class size. There’s been a steady creep of historically inspired practice around the world since the 1970s from medieval/renaissance repertoire through the Baroque period and well into the 19th century, and professional fortepianists have been starting to pop up in major cities around the world in recent years. It’s as if an extinct species has been found again in the wild and is starting to propagate. Like audiences in London, Amsterdam and Vienna, Torontonians will now be able to hear period performances of classical and romantic keyboard music on this compelling period instrument.
Christophe Coin: There are few musicians worldwide as accomplished as Christophe Coin. A gambist, cellist and protégé of Jordi Savall since the mid-70s, Coin has gone on to record over 50 albums ranging from Gibbons’ consort music to Schumann’s cello concerto. Coin also directs the Ensemble Baroque de Limoges and is the cellist for Quatuor Mosaïques, so he’s quite adept in conventional baroque and classical repertoire. It will be exciting to see him as both musical director and soloist for Tafelmusik in their upcoming concerts October 5 to 9 at Trinity-Saint Paul’s Centre. It’s clear from this program that Coin is no slouch as a soloist – he’ll be playing both a Boccherini and a Haydn concerto – and he’ll also be leading the orchestra in symphonies by C.P.E. Bach and Dittersdorf – repertoire that both Tafelmusik and Coin excel at. If you’re at all interested in classical music, this is a concert well worth attending.
Rezonance: Finally, if you’d like to hear a chamber music concert this month, or just want to get out of the concert hall for a change, consider making it out to hear my group Rezonance Baroque play the music of J.S. Bach at the CSI coffee pub at 720 Bathurst St. (home base of The WholeNote), on September 25 at 2 pm.
After Bach settled in Leipzig as the resident music director of St. Thomas’s Church, he was left without a venue to perform any of his secular compositions or chamber works. Fortunately for the master, Gottfried Zimmermann, the owner of the local café in Leipzig, was already one of the hottest music venues in town. Rezonance will perform an all-Bach program that could have easily been heard at Zimmermann’s, including a cantata he composed for the café in honour of coffee. While it’s easy to imagine Bach as overwrought, overworked, and dependent on a caffeine fix to get through the day, this concert features exciting and whimsical repertoire that shows that the brilliant composer may have had a sense of humour after all.
David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my summer 2016 WholeNote column I mused on Luminato’s repurposing of the cavernous decommissioned Hearn Generating Station. Would it work as a venue for symphony orchestra, for community cultural engagement, visual art, for Shakespeare? In the end, the capacious, though out-of-the-way, venue turned out to be a gamble that paid off handsomely for Festival organisers as well as for concertgoers. It appears to be part of the continuing recognition in our collective urban zeitgietst of the importance of reclaiming, revitalizing and honouring Toronto’s industrial-commercial past.
In September it’s the turn of another large scale 20th-century man-made structure to be repurposed as an artistic venue. Originally opened on May 22, 1971, Ontario Place, the government of Ontario-owned amusement park, was imposed into Lake Ontario, sited on three artificially constructed and landscaped islands. The futuristic buildings and entertaining amenities along Toronto’s shoreline included the world’s first IMAX theatre, the geodesic-domed Cinesphere, and the province’s first waterpark.
Some of us old enough to have attended concerts there might fondly recall the spacious, leisurely rotating stage of the Forum. It’s where I took my young kids for free summer concerts, including the memorable time we saw jazz great Miles Davis and his band. We bonded over cool jazz with attitude that sunny afternoon. Then early in 2012 most of the public sections of the park were closed for redevelopment – its 2017 projected completion date aimed to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial.
in/future: After the venue has been shuttered for four years, Art Spin in partnership with Small World Music is re-animating Ontario Place’s scenic 14-acre West Island. They’ve cooked up an ambitious menu consisting of 11 days and nights of arts programming from September 15 to 25, dubbing the festival in/future. Wishing to dig deeper, I spoke to Small World’s executive director and in/future co-curator Alan Davis one hot sunny summer day.
“It’s the 15th anniversary of Small World’s fall festival,” Davis began, “and we’re delighted that Art Spin invited us to showcase part of our current season at in/future.” Art Spin – Layne Hinton and Rui Pimenta’s brainchild – has been active as a presenter for over seven years, re-activating decommissioned venues and public spaces to produce group exhibitions along with curated bicycle-led art tours.
“The festival will host site-specific projects by over 60 visual and sound artists,” Davis continued, “with close to 50 music acts on the Small World stage (presented by Exodus Travels).” Films and videos will also be presented in the Cinesphere, as well as dance performances, a lecture series, and kid-friendly programming and activities at various sites.
“We’re excited by this opportunity to connect with the larger community. Nostalgia for Ontario Place’s illustrious musical past is one part of the draw, but so is engaging with young audiences. For example, site DJ activations will encourage a party vibe.”
“We have also tried to squeeze the envelope with regard to genres, to mix things up, to embrace the entirety of the global musical spectrum. Cross-fertilization is one of the things we’re aiming for. Though it’s easy to say, it’s hard to do,” he added with a knowing smile.
I asked Davis to pick a few highlights. “We are leaning toward high-energy, festive acts suitable for an outdoor stage. An example would be BaBa ZuLa, Istanbul’s legendary psychedelic dub band, which takes the stage Friday September 16 with a wide variety of influences and a truckload of instruments. They are followed by Mariachi Flor, a feminist Mexican mariachi group based in New York” he explained.
Saturday September 24, at the other end of the festival, is a day so chock full that space here permits only a partial mention. Headlining is the Dhol Foundation, a leading bhangra band making its Canadian debut. It’s led by the U.K.- born master-dhol drummer and artistic director of the group, the “bhangra king” Johnny Kalsis. His London-based 12-piece band, which he first established about 17 years ago, places the musical focus tightly on the massive sound of closely miked multiple dhol drums, those icons of Punjabi bhangra music. Kalsis has since waded into transnational waters by fusing bhangra with a mixed bag of popular global genres including Afrobeat, reggae, hip-hop, EDM, and Bollywood with a Celtic fiddling twist. The resulting thumping beats are designed to lift audiences’ spirits, moving everyone to dance.
Also performing on September 24 is the Shanbehzadeh Ensemble. It was formed in 1990 by Saeid Shanbehzadeh, a virtuoso of the neyanbān (Persian Gulf bagpipe) and the ney-e jofti (Persian Gulf double reed pipe). He is well known as a forceful performer of the traditional song, music and dance of the southern Iranian province of Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf. It’s a region of Iran strongly influenced by African as well as Arabic culture, and its music and dance amply demonstrate those influences. Shanbehzadeh is no stranger to Toronto. In 1996 he taught a world music studio course at the University of Toronto and at the time I was impressed with his brilliant and charismatic solo performances, full of the feeling of his culture of origin. Now a resident of France, in recent videos he’s increasingly playing alto sax, and including an electric guitarist and a DJ in his sets, in addition to the regional acoustic instruments he made his reputation with. It looks like in/future audiences can expect a mix of trance-y traditional dance music of the Persian Gulf merged with contemporary beats from Shanbehzadeh.
Much of the rest of the ambitious festival music program likewise appears to echo Alan Davis’ dictum of high-energy, populist leaning, multiple genre-inclusive and at the same time genre-smearing music performances. While there is a place for nostalgia, this is perhaps the sort of non-nostalgic au courant musical cross-fertilization needed to re-activate the 45-year-old old Ontario Place and make it fun and relevant again – at least for 11 days this September.
Follow Your Heart:
Four years in the making and workshopped at the Fleck Theatre in 2014, Toronto’s Evolution Dance Theatre presents the premiere of Follow Your Heart, a “Broadway-style Middle Eastern multimedia extravaganza.” The multimedia and multidisciplinary production runs September 22 to 25 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Follow Your Heart was conceived, written and directed by EDT founder and artistic director Armineh Keshishian. Rooted in the rich traditions of Middle Eastern dance and culture, the production tells its story with sound design, lighting, actors, dancers and three sets of musicians, 45 performers in all.
The production has both pre-recorded sound design cues, as well as live music, the latter provided by three culturally distinct groups of three musicians each. The Middle Eastern section is led by Persian percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand, the African section by master drummer Amadou Kienou and the Indigenous Canadian section by singer Sue Croweagle. In the show’s finale, the three groups perform together, directed by Kienou accompanying dancers who likewise represent ethnic, cultural and gender mutual respect and harmony.
I spoke with Keshishian in between rehearsals about her show. “Follow Your Heart is a tale of love and struggle, with a special emphasis on the empowerment of women,” she told me. “Our story centres around Almaza, a modern Middle Eastern woman, who falls in love with Jivan, a traditional Middle Eastern man – in contemporary Toronto. It’s the journey of a woman who fights for love against all odds, a love story marked by both taboo and tradition.” She concluded, “the story in the end explores unity and mutual understanding between peoples, a relevant theme in these troubled times,” particularly in the Middle East.
Whether or not a “Broadway-style multimedia extravaganza” is your cup of tea, Follow Your Heart’s inclusive and optimistic vision of a world where people born three continents apart can share their indigenous music and dance – even if it’s only modelled for us briefly on stage – is cause for celebration.
Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
It’s time for the September column already. Normally, at this time of year, I would try to focus on coming events. However, if there are interesting events in the band world coming in September, nobody has told us about them! There are a few anniversaries to comment on, though, starting with my own!
With this issue I am starting my 11th season writing this Bandstand column. It seems like just a few weeks ago when I sat with David Perlman discussing that first column for September 2006. On looking over that first column one event stands out. It was the announcement that: “As part of the opening ceremonies for the new Rose Theatre Brampton, on Sunday September 10, 2006 at 8pm The City of Brampton Concert Band will present 'A Tribute to Howard Cable.' As Guest Conductor, Dr. Howard Cable OC will conduct a new work commissioned for the occasion.”
Nine years and 11 months later, the major event in our band world one month ago was a “Howard Cable Memorial Celebration.” Toronto’s St. James Cathedral was packed to hear tributes from family members and many who had worked with Cable over his long, illustrious career. Some came from as far away as Halifax to participate in the tribute. A 50-member Howard Cable Tribute Band, composed of professional and semi-professional musicians performed a number of Cable’s compositions for band. Many then gathered at the nearby Moss Park Armoury for a reception.
Newmarket’s Good News: It’s always a pleasure to report on good news, and that certainly came to the Newmarket Citizens Band recently. Eleven years ago their longtime home at the Lions Club was destroyed by fire. The work of arsonists destroyed the building. However, much of the band’s library, stored in steel filing cabinets, survived along with some instruments and archival material. After 11 years as nomads rehearsing in a number of school music rooms, various clubhouses and church facilities they now have a true home. In early August the band held its first rehearsal in their room in Newmarket’s Ray Twinney recreation complex. They now have an excellent large rehearsal space complete with private storage for music and instruments immediately adjacent. At the first rehearsal in their new home, band members surveyed a few items which survived the fire that are now looking for homes. A very smoky bass drum with the band’s still visible art work may very well have become a coffee table since time of writing this!
Two WU-linked anniversaries: On the anniversary front there are two quite different ones to report on. However, they both have at least some of their roots stemming from the Western University. The first of these groups is Brassroots, a ten-member brass ensemble from London, Ontario. They are celebrating their 30th anniversary with the release of a CD titled Passion for Brass which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue. All members, except one, are WU graduates and all except one are music educators.
The other anniversary is that of Steffan Brunette who is retiring after 25 years as conductor of the Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB). In the first summer after his graduation from high school, he wanted to continue with a band but couldn’t find one near home so he started this band. As a music student at WU he revived the band each summer. When he graduated and became a high school music teacher in the area, he kept the band running each summer.
When the band was first formed it served as a means for members to continue playing during the summer when school bands do not operate. Now, with many members returning year after year, members are no longer primarily students on their summer break. Now, members range from teenagers to a good many retirees.
Each year, after their final concert, band members vote on one selection from the season’s repertoire to be included in the next year’s programming. That, in turn, leads to the choice of the next season’s theme. The number chosen from last year was the music from the Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean. Hence, the theme for this season was to be music associated in one way or another with the sea. With a bit of a play on words the band then went “Sailing the High C’s” this summer. From Handel’s Water Music, Vaughan Williams’ Sea Songs, H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance to the Petty Harbour Bait Skiff, it was all about sailing musically. To bring the audiences into the present, the concerts featured a fine new work, By the River, composed by band member Kristie Hunter.
To celebrate their conductor’s 25 years of dedication, the band had a great BBQ and pool party after their concert in Palmer Park in Port Perry. Some band members even dressed as pirates with colourful artificial tattoos and even a parrot on the shoulder. Now that Brunette is retiring from the band at least for one season, members of the band are forming a “What do we do now?” committee.
New Horizons: Over the past six years there have been numerous mentions in this column of the growth of the New Horizons Band movement in our area. A few months ago we mentioned the airing on TVO of a documentary on the development and growth of the Toronto New Horizons Bands. Dan Kapp, director of the Toronto NH bands has just informed me that, as a direct result of that program, there are already 36 confirmed registrations for the next new band to start in September. There were also dozens of phone and email inquiries which will certainly lead to more new members joining. For anyone interested, the New Horizons Bands will have their annual “Instrument Exploration Workshop” at the Long & McQuade Bloor St. store Friday, September 9 at 7pm.
To the museum: On a number of occasions in the past I have also written about the great collection of vintage brass instruments amassed by Professor Henry Meredith at the Western University and the hope for the establishment of a proper museum to house and display this collection. On looking over my own collection of instruments which haven’t been played in years, I have decided that some of these deserve to be in that collection. As soon as we can arrange it, two trombones will be moving to their new home. The first is a Toronto-made Whaley Royce instrument dating back to the early 1900s. The other is my very first trombone. This Manhattan model by Selmer is the one which I played in a boys’ band all through university and six nights a week at a dance pavilion. There hasn’t been a sound from it in over 60 years. It deserves a decent retirement.
Community Bands: Periodically, in this column we ask that our community bands let us know what they are doing. In the past few months, since the last issue of The WholeNote, we have not heard a word from any band about their activities. Community bands should do more to promote themselves. Otherwise, how do we know what you are doing? Please keep us informed.
Anthem Butchery Cup: A few months ago we established the Anthem Butchery Cup (ABC) (a handsome Spode Thundermug)to award those people who choose to display their talents (or lack thereof) by modifying our national anthem to suit their particular level of musical talent. In the past it has always been a solo performer who has distorted the melody. A few weeks ago at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game a new benchmark was established. One member of a quartet of tenors, without telling the others, decided to substantially change the lyrics of Canada’s national anthem. Remigio Pereira stunned his three cohorts and his audience with his new words. The last we heard, the four Tenors had morphed into the three Tenors. Mr. Pereira succeeds Nellie Furtado as ABC title holder.
Roland Hill: We were sad to learn of the passing of Roland Hill just shy of his 74th birthday, on July 2, 2016. He had served for 32 years as music director of the Whitby Brass Band until 2012. He will be missed.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toronto musicians have been cutting their teeth at Free Times Cafe for 35 years. That’s how long owner Judy Perly, a local hero to Toronto musicians and audiences alike, has been booking: since the early 1980s, over 12,000 evenings of music, more than 400 poetry readings, 500 nights of comedy and improv, 100 original art shows and nearly 1000 concerts of klezmer and Yiddish music.
Located just seconds from Kensington Market at 320 College Street, Free Times is a casual, inviting, warm restaurant and music venue. The live music is presented in the cozy back room, seating approximately 50. According to Perly, the much buzzed-about “Bella, Did Ya Eat?” Sunday brunch literally keeps her business alive. “It’s not unusual that we will do in sales more at the brunch than in the back room the entire week. The brunch averages 100 to 200 people a week. The reason it works is because there is nothing else like it – in the world!” Indeed this might be the only place on earth that has weekly klezmer and Yiddish music accompanied by an all-you-can-eat buffet, serving 50 items from smoked salmon and potato latkes to gefilte fish and blintzes. Bella’s Bistro, the front room where the Brunch is served, is sentimentally decorated with a variety of art including a large portrait of Perly’s mother, painted by Judy herself.
“I wanted to do something for my mother after she passed away. And the more connected I got with my mother, the better things got. My mother would always get the right ingredients – she worked very hard all the time. People say I work hard, but I say she worked way harder. She had a husband and three children.”
Growing up, the Perly family’s record collection contained everything from the blues and reggae to folk icons like Ian and Sylvia, Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie, as well as classic jazz from Holiday to Sinatra.
“The other connection I have to jazz is that late in their lives, my parents started following Dixieland jazz. My mother even made up this crazy dance! (laughs). In fact Jim Galloway played for free at my parents’ 32nd anniversary because he loved them so much …”
I pause to tell Judy about Galloway’s work for The WholeNote and his support for the Toronto jazz community, and she reminisces about the great jazz musicians that walked through her doors, especially in the early days.
“I would say the music started on a regular basis in 1982. The very first time was a year earlier, at an art opening. I was going out with a man who was a part-time bass player [in the] Sam Miya Trio – Sam and Roy Miya who were Japanese Canadians – and I was going with Sam. He played bass and Roy played piano. Then Sam’s nephew was studying at York University and he asked me, ‘Can we play on Saturday night?’ We had a very small room in the back in those days. So he started on Saturdays, and we gave him some food, and then other people asked. So many great musicians.
“If you scrape the surface of the Toronto music scene you will find a lot of people who started out at Free Times. We didn’t even have a stage. It was a lot of folk singers at that time. Tex Konig, Mose Scarlet. Ian Tamblyn, who is coming back here in September, he’s from Ottawa. Sneezy Waters is another icon. David Rea who played guitar with Ian and Sylvia. And then I hired a gentleman by the name of Michael Katz who used to bring all these musicians from the great folk festivals. Soon we were packed every night. We were one of the only places as there weren’t a lot of clubs like ours. George Koller was here all the time. Micah Barnes, Fern Lindzon, Brian Katz, Rob Piltch. We had a poetry series with major poets …
“But I have to tell you, the economics of jazz are hard. This is a small room and jazz audiences don’t spend a lot of money. They sit on a drink, it’s not a party night, it’s a little bit more serious, right? So I never really sought it out, but of course I always welcomed it, and the first time we had music it was jazz.”
But it wasn’t always easy, to say the least:
“It was a real struggle. And the downside to all of this where the music was concerned was that for quite a few years – five years I would say – I didn’t even enjoy the music. I just wished that it would go away! I was mean, I was nasty, I never was here at night. After I started the brunch I realized I could do $2000 to $3000 in five hours and the whole night of live music was $300. From a business point of view sometimes it feels like banging your head against the wall. But I didn’t have a choice – I tried to kill it and it wouldn’t die! (laughs) Isn’t that interesting that it just wouldn’t die. And of course, it’s because of the music that I’ve been able to go on, because as you know music is a healer. It makes you feel so good about everything, and you have those moments. Like any relationship there are the ups and the downs … and I realized that I had to change my attitude. I had to go through a spiritual evolution in order to do this because things weren’t going to go my way, and I had to deal with it. I’m happy that I was able to get out of that.”
Speaking of healing music, one of the series that Perly is most excited about presenting these days happens on the third Wednesday of every month called “Where Have All the Folk Songs Gone” hosted by folk duo Sue and Dwight. Covering classics by Dylan, Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary and many more, this is a popular series in its fourth year that often sells out.
“People are practically in tears and they keep coming back! A lot of my brunch customers heard about it on the newsletter and once they come once, they are hooked!”
After all these years of hard work and determination, does she consider herself a success?
“I’ve lasted. I guess I’m sort of successful now, but I worked for nothing for years, and I cried for ten years straight! (laughs). Nobody helped me. They’d say, too bad, so sorry! I used to want to quit every day, then it was every week, then monthly and now it’s maybe once a year.
The thing is with me that I’m not coming at this with an agenda. That’s why the club has lasted. I’m a conduit – I allow other people to do things. My agenda is keeping my business going.”
Meet Judy Perly in person at the Ashkenaz Festival where she will be a featured guest, speaking on Saturday September 3 at 6pm on the Fressers Summit and a not-to-be-missed special demonstration of her potato latke-making on Monday September 5 at 2pm, including latkes!
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.
Pat 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.
And 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!
Botos 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
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!