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

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

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

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

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

Is there a particular recording you’re proud of?

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

Your reaction to the thriving a cappella scene?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Maisky’s supercharged style of playing grabs you by the collar. He can be strong, passionate and powerful – but he can also make love to you with a pianissimo…like Rostropovich, Maisky’s playing is all about the heart and the soul.” 

Julian Lloyd Webber, The Guardian, January 2012.

Classical_1.jpgFacts you may not know about Mischa Maisky. Born in Latvia, educated in the Soviet Union, he now considers himself a citizen of the world. (He lives in Belgium, his four children were each born in different countries; his cello is Italian, its strings German, its bow French) He found it odd that people once referred to him as a “Russian cellist,” since in the Soviet Union he wasn’t considered to be Russian at all. “I was a Jew, which was made clear in my Soviet passport: ‘Nationality: Jewish.’ Very few people in the West realize that this is how Jews were treated in the Soviet Union.”

He is the only cellist to have studied with both Gregor Piatigorsky and Mstislav Rostropovich. Two months before Pablo Casals died, Maisky, then 25, played the Bach Suite No.2 in D Minor for him in August of 1973, in an Israeli hotel suite in front of Casals, his wife Martita, Isaac Stern, Leonard Rose, Eugene Istomin and Alexander Schneider.  Maisky has recorded the Bach solo cello suites three times, most recently for Deutsche Grammophon in 1999.

In an International Cello Society interview with Tim Janof in 2007, Maisky expanded on that historic meeting with Casals:

“Perhaps the most frightening thing was to play Bach for him. [In addition to the second suite, Maisky played the Sonata No.3 in G Minor BWV1029 with his brother on piano.] Frankly, I was a bit depressed by his reaction. ‘Young man, I personally don’t think that what you do has anything to do with Bach. However, you are so convinced by what you do, that it actually sounds very convincing.’ Isaac Stern calmed  me down afterwards during lunch, saying that he thought I had received the highest compliment a young cellist could receive from Casals. I now prefer to take what he said as a compliment. I certainly didn’t play Bach like him, as if anybody could, and I was never one to imitate anybody, so I’m not surprised by his reaction. Lately, however, I’ve come to realize just how much I have been influenced by his recording of the Bach Suites, which I have listened to repeatedly since I was a teenager.”

Later in the conversation with Janof, Maisky talked about his view of Bach as a romantic:

“Some people think my Bach is too romantic, which I take as a compliment. I believe that Bach was one of the greatest romantics of all times. One shouldn’t forget that in addition to his wonderful music, he had 20 children. Otto Klemperer was once told that it was discovered one shouldn’t play Bach with vibrato, to which he replied, ‘Huh? Twenty children and no vibrato?’

“I realize this may seem odd, but I don’t consider Bach’s music to be baroque. I believe calling Bach a ‘baroque composer’ is an insult to his genius because he was much, much larger than this. People such as Bach cannot be categorized so easily and those who try to do so are diminishing him and his accomplishments, not to mention that such a label doesn’t begin to capture his essence. In addition to being one of the great intellects of all time, he was a passionate human being who I’m sure loved great food and drink. I agree with Pablo Casals when he said that there is no emotion known to human beings that is not in Bach’s music. It’s all in there and we just have to dig deep enough to find and express it.”

Maisky falls clearly into the romantic camp as his Horowitz reference shows:

“Vladimir Horowitz once said that ‘all music is romantic,’ and I couldn’t agree more. Playing romantically means playing with feeling and emotion, and of course people in the 18th century felt things just as deeply as we do today. I don’t mean to imply that one should play Bach like Shostakovich, I’m just saying that Bach was so far ahead of his time that he’s probably spinning in his grave as he watches us trying to go back 300 years. To regress in our approach is to go against his own mentality and his own progressiveness. He was such an innovative and experimental person by nature that he would be appalled if he were to see how we argue amongst ourselves about how to play his music ‘correctly.’”

Later Maisky defends his idea of Bach:

“His music is full of invention and experimentation. Just look at the last cello suite, which he wrote for a five-string instrument, or look at the variety in the Well-Tempered Clavier. I have no doubt that if somebody were to give him a modern bow, he would be thrilled to explore its possibilities. I strongly disagree with those who insist that Bach must be played a certain way. There is plenty of room for different approaches and it’s the variety of ideas about all sorts of things, not just in music, that makes life so interesting.”

Before Maisky performed at Roy Thomson Hall with the Moscow Soloists and Yuri Bashmet on May 3, 2012, he appeared on Classical 96.3 FM, where he likened Bach’s Cello Suites to a great diamond which can shine differently depending on which way you look at it; he called the study of the suites a neverending process.

Maisky makes no secret of the fact that he listens to other cellists. At the time of the Janof interview he had more than 45 recordings of the Bach Suites, all of which he listened to, some of them several times. Listening to recordings in general is something he likes to do; listening to his own recordings gives him a sense of where he’s gone developmentally. And he likes to hear live music when he can. “I believe very strongly that one can find something valuable in any performance, even if I don’t agree with the interpretation or if mistakes are made.”

After studying with Rostropovich for four years (from 18 to 22), Maisky spent 18 months in a labour camp, “shovelling cement, building Communism, obviously unsuccessfully,” as he says sarcastically in an interview from the Verbier Festival in 2012. Then, to avoid military service, he had a friendly Jewish psychiatrist place him in a mental hospital for two months, after which he followed his sister to Israel and “repatriation.” Maisky attributes the curtailment of his concertizing and other musical activities, as well as the trumped-up charge that landed him in the labour camp, to his older sister’s move to Israel in 1969, a move the Soviet authorities were convinced (rightly as it turned out) Maisky would also make.

When Maisky asked Rostropovich for advice (before he left the Soviet Union) as to what future musical path to follow, Rostropovich told him that there are two major cello schools, one Russian and one French, and since he had already tried Russian, he should try French.  “I prodded him for a more specific recommendation and he said, ‘This is really difficult. Maréchal is dead. Fournier doesn’t teach. Navarra teaches much too much. Tortelier is a genius but a bit too crazy for you. Gendron, hmmm, it’s not that good anymore. You know what? The best French I can recommend is Piatigorsky.’ This was funny because Piatigorsky was a Jew from Russia living in California. His only French connection was his wife, who was the daughter of Baron de Rothschild. ‘Piatigorsky is the only one I could wholeheartedly recommend. He’s a great cellist, a great musician, a great personality, and so on.’”

Maisky’s career revived in Israel where he played seven concerts with the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, Andrew Davis and Daniel Barenboim. “Mehta was very friendly with Piatigorsky and he recommended that I go to him as well. He said, ‘You have the time and he’s not young and he’s not healthy. You never know how long he will be around, so go. You will never regret it.’ And so I went to Piatigorsky [in 1974, for four months] and I’ve never regretted it, though I must confess that my career could have gone in a completely different direction had I listened to Isaac Stern’s advice, who told me to go to New York instead of Los Angeles.

“I went to Piatigorsky’s USC masterclass twice a week and I played for him at his house almost every day, each time playing a different piece. I must have played at least a hundred different works for him in four months. After our private lessons we would play chess, since we were both passionate about the game. Then we went for long walks and talked about all sorts of things, and not just music. It has been over 30 years since Piatigorsky died, and I still feel his presence in the sense that I am still digesting his ideas and feeding on the positive energy he directed my way.”

Mischa Maisky will perform Bach’s Solo Cello Suites Nos.1, 4 and 5 at 4pm and Bach’s Solo Cello Suites 2, 3 and 6 at 8pm, May 7 in Koerner Hall.

Classical_2.jpgThe TSO: The TSO’s season shows no sign of letting up, even as it enters its penultimate month. May 4 and 5 violinist Leila Josefowicz continues her championing of contemporary music in Scheherazade.2, John Adams’ riff on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Peter Oundjian also leads the orchestra in Brahms’ seminal Symphony No.4. May 13 and 15 Julian Rachlin is the soloist in Mozart’s irresistible Violin Concerto No.5 K219 “Turkish,” written when the composer was 19. But the evening’s major attraction will be Shostakovich’s Symphony No.13 “Babi Yar,” the composer’s setting of five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, including the searing indictment of anti-Semitism, Babi Yar. Conductor Andrey Boreyko is joined by bass soloist Petr Migunov and the basses of the Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers. TSO Conductor Laureate, Andrew Davis, returns to the podium May 25 to conduct Richard Strauss’ vivid musical travelogue, An Alpine Symphony. May 26 and 28 the program expands to include Janácek’s Taras Bulba, Elgar’s Sospiri and Ives’ “Decoration Day,” the first installment of the Decades Project 1910-1919.  June 1 and 2 Basque conductor Juanjo Mena takes up the baton as the Decades Project 1910-1919 continues with Granados’ famous Intermezzo from Goyescas, Nielsen’s imposing Violin Concerto (featuring Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto) and Ravel’s impassioned Daphnis et Chloé.

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May 5: When Honens laureate Pavel Kolesnikov appeared in Toronto last year as part of the Piano Extravaganza, he revealed that he had Chopin specialist Maria João Pires as a mentor. Now he returns to conclude the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto season with a pleasingly packed program that includes two sonatas by C.P.E. Bach, Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 Op.109 and a Chopin selection of Nocturnes, Mazurkas and Scherzo No.4.

May 6: The always interesting group of 27 downsizes for their final concert of 2015/16: Jocelyn Morlock’s duet for violin and viola, Blue Sun; Nielsen’s ingratiating Wind Quintet; and Schubert’s String Trio D.471.

May 7: Wunderkind Leonid Nediak (b. 2003) is the soloist in Rachmaninov’s romantic masterpiece, his Piano Concerto No.2 Op.18 with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra, conducted by Kristian Alexander. Alexander told me last month that “Leonid is a great communicator, able to unlock the emotional content of the piece and unfold the storyline of the composition. He also has a reach and versatile palette of colours, natural sense of phrasing and flawless energy flow.” Interestingly, Nediak’s teacher, Michael Berkovsky, is the collaborative pianist May 16, when Music Mondays present the Flautas del Fuego flute duo. May 22 Berkovsky then joins violinist Conrad Chow at the George Weston in Piazzolla’s intoxicating Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. And Music Mondays continues May 23 with Schubert’s marvellous “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major D667.

May 8: Best title of the month,Sweetwater Music Festival presents Few & Fewer, featuring artistic director Mark Fewer on violin and Guy Few on trumpet, along with pianist Stephanie Mara in a crowd-pleasing Mother’s Day program: Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, Puccini’s Morire, Saint-Saëns’ Sonata in D Minor, Op. 75, Three Preludes by Gershwin and ’Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk.

May 12: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents Boston-based Irina Muresanu in a solo violin recital, “Four Strings Around the World,” featuring music by Prokofiev, Enescu, Paganini, Kreisler, O’Connor, Piazzolla and more. May 20, the K-WCMS brings the Xia Quartet (Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Uchida, TSO violinist Shane Kim, TSO assistant principal viola, Theresa Rudolph, and TSO principal cello, Joseph Johnson) to their music room in program of Schubert, Bartók, Debussy and John McPherson.

May 15: The Windermere Quartet’s latest recital includes Schubert’s greatest quartet, Quartet in D Minor D. 810 “Death and the Maiden.”

May 16: Xia Quartet members cellist Joseph Johnson, violinist Shane Kim and violist Theresa Rudolph put on their TSO hats when they join concertmaster Jonathan Crow and pianist Angela Park for an Associates of the TSO concert that includes music by Dohnányi, Schumann and Prokofiev.

May 18: Toronto Summer Music artistic director Douglas McNabney previews TSM’s upcoming “London Calling: Music in Great Britain” program with a COC free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre.

May 21 Shannon Mercer, soprano, Andrew Burashko, piano. Yehonatan Berick, violin, and Rachel Mercer, cello, perform Shostakovich’s Trio No.2 and Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok Op.127 in Hamilton’s 5 at the First Chamber Music series’ final concert of the season.

May 26: James Ehnes brings his 40th Birthday Tour to London under the auspices of Jeffery Concerts. Four days later, May 26, he and his collaborative pianist, Andrew Armstrong,  continue the tour for Bravo Niagara!

May 29 and 30: The Canzona Chamber Players present two pillars of the chamber music repertoire, Beethoven’s Septet in E-Flat Major Op.20 and Schubert’s Octet in F Major D803.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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Opera_1.jpgOpera this May is about making things new and making new things. Not only will Tapestry Opera stage the world premiere of a Scottish/Canadian collaboration but two other companies will provide new librettos to well-known works.

First up is Against the Grain Theatre’s production of A Little Too Cozy. The production, workshopped at the Banff Centre last year, reimagines Mozart’s 1790 opera Così fan tutte as a television game show. This will complete AtG’s series of “transladaptations” of the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas after Figaro’s Wedding in 2013, with the audience conceived of as wedding guests, and #UncleJohn, staged in 2014 as the wedding reception for Zerlina and Masetto. Like the previous two, AtG artistic director Joel Ivany has provided Mozart’s opera with a new English-language libretto.

Ivany is not the first to write a new libretto for Così fan tutte. The work was unpopular when it first premiered and had only ten performances in Mozart’s lifetime. In 1791, Friedrich Schröder called Da Ponte’s libretto “a miserable thing, that debases all women.” In 1875, critic Eduard Hanslick made the famous statement that “the boundless triviality of the libretto everywhere deals a death blow to Mozart’s lovely music.” Because of this attitude, which many people still hold, there were several unsuccessful attempts to rewrite the libretto. Only after the Glyndebourne Opera revival in 1934 did the work with Da Ponte’s libretto become standard repertoire.

In Ivany’s adaptation, the audience becomes the studio audience for a live taping of the final episode of a reality show called “A Little Too Cozy.” The show asks its contestants, “Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met?” The opera will be presented in a real TV studio, CBC Toronto’s Studio 42 at 25 John Street. Before the show begins, the final four contestants have already found their match, but as the final test of the show, the women have to meet an additional set of people before they’re finally allowed to be with their fiancés. After that, the women must then decide if they still love their fiancés – whom they have never met in person – since from the start the men and women have been separated by the so-called Wall of Love. As Ivany says, “These four contestants go on the show because they’re tired of this superficial way that relationships are presented now, and they’re looking for something more authentic, more real, more rooted in our being. But then over the course of the show, they get messed around and played with.”

The two female contestants are Felicity (i.e. Fiordiligi) sung by soprano Shantelle Przybylo and Dora (i.e. Dorabella) sung by mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb. The two male contestants are Fernando (i.e. Ferrando) sung by tenor Aaron Sheppard and Elmo (i.e. Guglielmo) sung by baritone Clarence Frazer. Baritone Cairan Ryan plays the host of the show, Donald L. Fonzo (i.e. Don Alfonso), and soprano Caitlin Wood is his lovely assistant Despina. As with AtG’s previous productions conductor Topher Mokrzewski has also arranged the music The opera runs from May 12 to 21.

Opera_2.jpgToronto Masque Theatre: A second opera in May also has a libretto that has impeded its regular performance. This is The Fairy Queen from 1692 by Henry Purcell. As many people will know from recordings, the work contains some of the loveliest theatre music Purcell ever wrote. The problem is that this music what was called a “semi-opera” of the same name, adapted by an anonymous author from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Purcell’s music is concentrated in five masques, related only thematically to the play, each following one of the play’s five acts. The adaptation of the play is generally deemed to be dreadful and to perform it with Purcell’s music would take up to six hours.

Ever since the score was rediscovered in the early 20th century, the question has been how to redeem Purcell’s music from its original context. Various solutions have been adopted: having actors play selected scenes from Shakespeare’s original comedy before the five masques; or having a narrator recount the action of the play, rather than subjecting the audience to it.

Toronto Masque Theatre has come up with a far more ingenious solution – to do away not merely with the play but with the spoken word entirely. Director/choreographer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière has reconceived the work in such a way that it consists solely of Purcell’s music but will still tell a story. Lacoursière’s starting point is the first lines of the first air: “Come, come, come, let us leave the Town / And in some lonely place, / Where Crowds and Noise were never known / Resolve to spend our days.” Rather than an arcadian scene, Lacoursière imagines nine singers and two dancers as vaguely contemporary people waiting at a train station. The scenario follows the individuals as they seek love, happiness and meaning in life. To tell the new story Lacoursière has had to reorder the musical numbers.

In a telephone interview, TMT artistic director, Larry Beckwith, was reluctant to reveal too many details about the new story so that they will come as a surprise. He did say, though, that the figure of the Drunken Poet sung by Alexander Dobson, would feature prominently. Besides Dobson, the cast includes sopranos Juliet Beckwith, Vania Chan, Charlotte Knight and Janelle Lapalme; alto Simon Honeyman; tenors Cory Knight and Jonathan MacArthur; baritone Graham Robinson and dancers Stéphanie Brochard and Lacoursière herself. Beckwith conducts a seven-member baroque ensemble from the violin. Performances take place at the Arts and Letters Club May 27 to 29.

Tapestry’s Winner: In addition to presenting old operas in new ways, May also brings the world premiere of an opera co-commissioned by Toronto’s Tapestry Opera and Scottish Opera. This is Rocking Horse Winner by Irish-Scottish composer Gareth Williams, with a libretto by Canadian Anna Chatterton.

When asked how this collaboration came about, Chatterton wrote: “Gareth and I met in the 2009 Tapestry Lib Lab (a ten-day “speed dating” program for composers and writers to collaborate together by writing a five-minute opera in 48 hours). We really enjoyed working together and recognized a similar aesthetic and appreciated each other’s artistic style. Gareth also has a great sense of dramatic form, which is fantastic for collaborating on new ideas. We wanted to write something longer together and Gareth suggested adapting D.H. Lawrence’s haunting short story, Rocking Horse Winner.”

Lawrence’s short story was first published in 1926 and was made into a classic British film in 1949. The story focuses on a young boy, Paul, who lives in a family that feels it is dogged by bad luck. The family, however, also lives beyond its means and Paul’s Uncle Oscar and the gardener Bassett seek to increase the family income by betting on horses. Paul is literally haunted by mysterious voices in the house that tell him “There must be more money.” To solve the problem he rides his rocking horse until the name of the winning horse magically comes to him.

Chatterton says that she and Williams changed certain details of the story: “We set the story in the present and made the pivotal character Paul – originally a young boy in Lawrence’s short story – into a young man who is on the autistic spectrum.” Bassett is changed from a gardener to Paul’s health-care worker. Nevertheless, Lawrence’s original themes are still there and still relevant. As Chatterton says, “The story is very much about entitlement and greed, and also about a mother who can’t feel love for her son and all the complexities that come with that disconnect. We feel these themes still speak to today’s society.”

The cast features soprano Carla Huhtanen as Ava, Paul’s mother; tenor Keith Klassen as Paul’s Uncle Oscar; baritone Peter McGillivray as Bassett; and in his professional debut with Tapestry Opera, tenor Asitha Tennekoon as Paul. Tapestry’s artistic director Michael Hidetoshi Mori will direct and Jordan de Souza will conduct. Performances take place May 27 to June 4.

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

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Early_1.jpgFunny how new initiatives that should be big news have a way of sneaking up on you. Case in point, apparently there’s a Bach festival (three concerts) happening in town next month and nobody told me! Titled “Four Centuries of Bach. First Annual Toronto Bach Festival” it appears to be the brainchild of  John Abberger, who besides being a principal oboist for Tafelmusik and the American Bach Soloists, recorded an album of Bach organ concertos for Analekta in 2006 as well as an album of Bach’s Orchestral Suites 2 and 4 in 2011. His principal accomplice appears to be Phillip Fournier, organist at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, on King St. W. Fournier will doubtless dazzle the audience May 28, in the middle concert of the three, performing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d BWV 565 and other works on the Oratory’s historically inspired Gober and Kney instrument.

The other two concerts, bookending this one, May 27 and May 29 take place at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, 361 Danforth Ave and are, I suspect, Abberger’s “babies.” The first is a concert that includes two of Bach’s Weimar cantatas (Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben), with a vocal lineup featuring Ellen McAteer, soprano, Daniel Taylor, alto, and Lawrence Wiliford! Info for the Sunday closing concert is somewhat vaguer – sonatas and trios by J.S. Bach, played by “Musicians of Four Centuries of Bach.” But if the calibre of the players in the first two concerts is anything to go by, we’re in for a three-part treat!

Given that the scope of the project is fairly ambitious, the people responsible really should devote more time to publicity. To wit, their website lists only concert titles, venues and dates, and a chance to order tickets. And that’s pretty much it. You may see some concert programs if they update the website by the time you read this, but it doesn’t look like they will. So being somewhat diligent about these things, and wishing always to provide a service to my readership, I did a little sleuthing and managed to uncover a few details, with which I can make some conclusions about this little-known upstart of a music festival.

Which leads me directly to my second reason for exhorting you to catch this Bach festival while you can, which is that the organizers seem to be burying their light so deep beneath a bushel - lack of publicity, last-minute organization - that “Four Centuries of Bach” might end up being how long it takes Abberger et al to get through Bach’s catalogue of compositions for at least (wait for it) four centuries.

Grumbles aside, Abberger has enough experience with Bach’s cantatas and other works to be able to craft a better-than-average performance. And Fournier is a gifted musician: I’ve enjoyed listening to him play a Bach sonata or two on at least one occasion.

Calling anything a “First Annual” festival is equal parts hubris and hopefulness. May the latter prevail!

Toronto Masque Theatre: If you’re looking for a good show to see this month, you need not make any decisions based on trust, either of the abilities of the musicians on stage or of the conjecture of any music critics, look no further than Toronto Masque Theatre’s performance of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, which will be given at the company’s new digs at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, May 27 to 29 at 8pm. TMT was conceived with the idea of doing English 17th-entury repertoire, for which Purcell fits the bill perfectly, and the work will be staged and danced to by the redoubtable Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, who has chosen to spice things up by setting the story contemporaneously. This is the kind of show that TMT was created to do, with singers, dancers and musicians who will do it very well. If you feel like something operatic, this concert is a sure win.

Monteverdi: If you’re not in the mood for English opera, consider attending a performance of one the masterworks of one of the greatest composers of the 17th century, performed by the ensemble in the city that’s most qualified to do it. I’m speaking of course about Toronto Consort’s final concert of the season, a complete performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata Vergine, which they’ll be doing at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, May 6 to 8. I can’t tell you the number of times that other groups’ recordings and performances of this particular work have left me disappointed in the past, particularly with the oft-repeated decision to perform the Vespers a cappella, and I’m happy to say that the Consort will not be duplicating this particular faux pas. They’ll be bolstered by a Montreal-based consort of sackbuts, La Rose des Vents, and that implies that some continuo will also be on hand – entirely necessary for a major work that was performed in a positively palatial church in one of the richest cities of the Renaissance. English tenor Charles Daniels will also lead the group, so you can bet the Consort is going to end this season on a high note.

Tafel’s Two-City Tale: Of course, all these picks lead up to the Toronto early music scene’s safest bet this month. Tafelmusik will be performing another program designed by Alison Mackay, this one based around the coffee-house scene of the early 18th century. “Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee-House” brings Canada’s number-one baroque orchestra together with oud player Demetri Petsalakis, percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand and singer Maryem Tollar in a concert of Arabic music along with the music – if the Leipzig connection is any indication – of J.S. Bach. It seems like there’s something in this concert for everyone. Not interested in hearing just another Tafelmusik Bach concert? The Arabic angle adds an interesting perspective. Not particularly keen on world music? Tafelmusik does a good enough job of Bach. You can catch this cultural cross-pollination at Koerner Hall, May 19 to 22, and George Weston Recital Hall, May 24.

Early_2.jpgWindermere Fan: And finally, there’s a lesser-known group in town that deserves to be gambled on. The Windermere String Quartet is a string ensemble that features some interesting repertoire and is capable of a very spirited performance indeed. Their next show, on Sunday, May 15, will feature a couple of standards of the string quartet repertoire, namely a Haydn quartet and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. But the WSQ has also found a hitherto-unknown composer, the early 19th-century Spaniard, Juan Chrisóstomo Arriaga, who died at the tender age of 20. The WSQ has a following already, puts on a fun show, and is willing to explore the entire length and breadth of the quartet repertoire. They’re worth a shot.

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

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To quote the chorus of a 1980s song, Up Where We Belong,“Love lifts us up where we belong/Where the eagles cry on a mountain high.” Substitute the word “Spring” for “Love” and I’m singing along at this season with its onset of new green growth, and with its promise of renewal. All it takes is the first stretch of warm weather to melt even this crusty scribe’s professorial attitude. So seasonally activated, my mind wanders easily far beyond my concrete condo to the wilds of the mountain high, to the sound of the soaring eagle’s cry – the song’s haunting metaphor for human love surmounting obstacles.

Though those lyrics seem to evoke a geo-spiritual alpine terrain far removed from our urban landscape, yet the two-metre wingspans and the morning cries of the majestic bald eagle are making a regional Ontario comeback. Along the vast stretches of the northern shores of the Great Lakes, hundreds of confirmed breeding pairs have been reported in the past decade. It’s a heartening sign that efforts to rehabilitate our near-urban local environment appear to be bearing fruit. Mind you, I don’t feel compelled to personally witness those high-flying raptors in action; even the thought of their living presence nearby is enough to make this confirmed urban Torontonian’s heart soar.

World_1.jpgAbida Parveen, “My audience is my God”: This season is full of human music too. May 15 the voice of Abida Parveen, unequivocally described by The Guardian as “the greatest female Sufi singer in history” – an opinion shared by many others by the way – will echo in the cavernous aerie of Roy Thomson Hall, her voice expressing the various colours of our species’ yearning for union with the divine.

The Pakistani singer is an acclaimed Sufiana kalaam (Sufi music) exponent. Her primary mode of expression is through two poetic song genres, ghazal and kafi (a solo genre accompanied by drums and harmonium that uses a repertoire of songs by Sufi poets in Urdu, Sindhi, Saraiki, Punjabi and Persian). Taught by her father, Ustad Ghulam Haider, and by Ustad Salaamat Ali Khan, she has amassed legions of fans in her four-decade international career. The Icelandic diva Björk, a shrewd judge of both extreme vocalism and passion,  counts herself among them.

Co-presented by the Aga Khan Museum and Roy Thomson Hall, this concert is undoubtedly a special one. RTH’s director of programming and marketing, Chris Lorway, has dubbed it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Toronto.” In his comments prepared for this column, Lorway emphasized its inter-institutional dimensions. “The chance to present an international icon like Abida Parveen is a thrill for us, and we could not have done it without the partnership with Amir and his team at the Aga Khan.”

Lorway also underscored the importance of reaching out to the diverse enthic, national and faith-based communities in the city. “As we strive to make our venues more reflective of the city of Toronto, these collaborative initiatives are the only way forward. They allow us to combine our collective audiences of music lovers and the culturally curious in a way that has long-term benefits for both organizations.”

For his part Amirali Alibhai, head of performing arts at the Aga Khan Museum, noted that Abida Parveen “has taken the kafi form of musically rendering the poetry of great mystics to new heights, which is quite significant for a practice that is traditionally dominated by men. Performing in several languages, Parveen’s interpretations cross barriers of understanding through her passionate and possessed vocal expression.” Making a bold comparative leap across cultural boundaries, Alibhai aptly observes that “she is to Sufi music what Aretha Franklin is to soul.”

In addition he makes a well-observed case for the important role concert venues can play, “to bring such presentations out of less-than-ideal stadium and make-do venues into respectful spaces, bespoken for art and possessing exceptional acoustics, as is fitting for esteemed artists such as Abida Parveen.”

A respectful space is what Parveen’s spiritually motivated performance deserves. “My culture – our culture – is rich in spirituality and love,” she told The Guardian reporter Nosheen Iqbal in 2013. “Sufism is not a switch, the music isn’t a show – it’s all of life, it is religion. If I want to be recognized for anything, if we should be recognized for anything, it’s the journey of the voice. And that voice is God’s.” Parveen has been known to enter an altered consciousness while deep in performance. As The Guardian article observed, “she regularly sends her audiences in Pakistan and India into swaying raptures, swooning and fainting being quite standard reactions.”

And her fans admire and adore her as much as they do her fellow compatriot singers, the late Mehdi Hassan (1927-2012) and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997). She freely returns that love. “Poor people, rich people – we are all God’s servants…I’m lucky. My audience is my God.”

World_2.jpgLulaworld: From June 1 to 11 is the annual Lulaworld festival, presented by and at the Lula Music and Arts Centre. Now in its 11th year, Lulaworld is a showcase for Toronto’s world, jazz, blues and Latin musicians, providing them a welcoming stage to present their latest work to local audiences, and encouraging collaboration, this year with more than a dozen celebrated international guests. The goal of the festival is to highlight “the incredible breadth and calibre of the Toronto world and Latin music scenes.”

In addition, the festival will also include a day of free outdoor programming as part of Dundas West Fest on June 11, plus family workshops and a Brazilian parade that anyone can participate in. As in years past there’s just too much going on during the festival to weigh in on every concert, so I’ll just have to be satisfied with providing a little colour swatch of the entire 11-day tapestry.

Kicking things off June 1 is “Lulaworld: Opening Night Party,” a night chock-a-block with Latin, jazz, pop, blues and world music, co-presented with the Toronto Blues Society. Added bonus: arrive before 8pm and you’re joining the party for free. Headliners include Cuban-born, Toronto bassist, Yoser Rodriguez, whose debut album, Pollen, employs the talents of some of Toronto’s finest Latin jazz players. Rodriguez has been touted as “the next generation of genre-defying Cuban singer-songwriters.” Taking the stage next is Hamilton-based Laura Cole, her soulful and bluesy voice reflected in her debut album, Dirty Cheat. The album was crafted by Grammy-winning producers Steve Bigas (Taj Mahal), and longtime multiple top-tier album producer Daniel Lanois.

Rounding out the night is the guitarist, singer-songwriter Cécile Doo-Kingué. While her parents were from Cameroon, she was born and raised in NYC. Now based in Montreal, she blends blues, soul and jazz with her African roots with a sure hand, having shared the stage with the Blind Boys of Alabama and opened for Angélique Kidjo and Youssou N’Dour.

June 3 the Gabriel Palatchi Trio and Charangón del Norte take over the Lula Music and Arts Centre. Led by Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist Wilver Pedrozo, his 13-piece ensemble Charangón del Norte fuses Eastern Cuban changüí with other Caribbean music-dance genres including merengue, calypso, soca and Latin jazz. The group boasts a distinctive triple trombone section reflecting bandleader Pedrozo’s upbringing in Southeastern Cuba where influences from Colombia, Mexico and Jamaica are part of the region’s everyday musical fabric.

Evergreen: Whenever it comes to writing about concerts by the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, Canada’s pioneer ensemble exploring common grounds between world and avant-garde musics, I mention, in the interests of full disclosure, my career-long involvement with the ensemble. There. Just did it again.

That being said, May 19 ECCG celebrates its latest CD, Higgs Ocean: New Music for Gamelan and String Quartet, in performance at the Music Gallery. The concert highlights its artistic director and soloist, Blair Mackay, plus its guest the Accordes String Quartet. Ten years in the making, ECCG’s CD is surely among the first albums dedicated to the striking combination of ECCG’s tuned percussion-rich gamelan degung indigenous to West Java Indonesia, and the string quartet indigenous to central Europe. The album contains Canadian composer Michael Oesterle’s powerful Higgs Ocean (2008) for that instrumentation. Innovative works by Mark Duggan, Ana Sokolović, Peter Klanac and Linda Catlin Smith round out this all-Canadian album by the Toronto ensemble. Audiences will hear samples of that repertoire.

In addition, the ECCG has commissioned a new work for this exciting transcultural sound combination: Canadian composer Linda Bouchard’s as yet untitled piece will receive its world premiere at the concert. A work for gamelan soloist and electronics by another Canadian composer Ronald Bruce Smith is also on the premiere docket.

World Fiddle Day: May 21 is the fourth annual World Fiddle Day Toronto, the second held at Toronto’s Fort York National Historic Site, at the Blue Barracks. Last year’s event hosted 96 players in the Around-the-World Jam – WFD’s signature concert featuring music from at least 25 cultures – accompanied by a top-level house band led by violinist, ethnomusicologist and WFD artistic director Anne Lederman.

Aiming to present a global musical perspective, last year’s “Fiddles at the Fort” featured both workshops and a concert with South Indian violinist Subhadra Vijaykumar and The Metis Fiddler Quartet, among others. The young violin students of Sistema Parkdale and Rosedale Heights School of the Arts participated in the workshops. This year’s roster includes fiddlers Rosalyn Dennett (Appalachia), Dan MacDonald (Cape Breton), Mark Marczyk (Ukraine) and Yosvani Castañeda (Latin America), each representing their own cultural practice as it has evolved in Toronto today. Dozens of fiddlers of all stripes have been practising tunes from around the world for the Around-the-World Jam, some for as long as three months. I expect moments of the jam will take some listeners soaring well beyond the confines of Fort York’s Blue Barracks.

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

 


New_1.jpgIf you are a fan of minimalist music and are craving more after the recent performances of Steve Reich’s music in Toronto, you’ll want to experience Surface Image, performed by Vancouver-born pianist Vicky Chow and composed by American Tristan Perich. The hour-long piece characterized by a constant pulse of repetitive rhythmic patterns for piano and electronics will be performed at the Music Gallery on May 14 and at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener on May 28. Chow commissioned the work in 2013 and already there is a recording on the New Amsterdam label along with a growing list of live performances. As she said in a recent phone interview, “It just happens to be a piece people are interested in, and I end up performing it a lot.”

The piece begins for solo piano, with patterns based on one harmony and simple rhythms. As the first section unfolds, the electronics slowly enter, and before you know it you’re immersed in a huge sea of piano and electronics. Throughout the piece, the relationship between the live piano part and the electronics changes, as human and machine dance with the other. Accompanying, supporting, leading, following and departing from one another, each of the sections highlights different ways the piano and electronic sounds interact with one another. Each section is like a different planet with a completely different mood, becoming almost like its own island in the larger ocean of sound.

The electronics component consists of 40 speakers, each individually connected to an electronic circuit board. Each of these boards has its own program which generates lo-fi 1-bit electronic sounds through its attached speaker. Once the entire system is turned on, it runs on its own. Chow likened the process to an electronic greeting card, where once you open it, the piece turns on and just goes. Unlike Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians for example, where the number of repetitions of patterns can be varied, Surface Image is precisely notated from beginning to end. The main variations that occur happen due to the type of acoustic space the work is performed in and the way the sound is reflected. Usually the 40 speakers are set up flanking the piano, but if the space is narrow, a different arrangement will be needed, with the speakers closer together. Chow told me, “Every time I play the piece, I hear different parts of the electronics. Depending on the space, the sound bounces in different ways and there have been times when I’ve wondered if I was in the right place in the score, since I hadn’t heard that part before.”

Chow is the pianist for the well-known Bang on a Can All-Stars ensemble based in New York City. She initially met Perich through a Bang on a Can summer festival, and was drawn to his work because of his ability to combine 1-bit sound technology with writing for the acoustic piano. It is this mix of piano and electronics that lies at the heart of her musical passions. And although Surface Image can be defined as being part of the minimalist aesthetic, she doesn’t consider herself a minimalist pianist. She’s more interested in finding ways that push at the boundaries of the piano repertoire and canon, rather than just a specific genre of music.

Besides her work performing with the All-Stars ensemble, Chow has a flourishing solo career and is increasingly finding herself working with Canadian composers such as Eliot Britton from Winnipeg and Adam Basanta from Montreal. In this context, she is able to pursue her interest in piano and electronics. For example, in a work by Basanta created for piano and hand-held mini transducers, devices that needs a resonant body in order to make sound, Chow performs the work by manipulating the transducers on different areas of the piano strings and frame. Her forthcoming album on the New Amsterdam label will feature six works for both prepared piano and piano with different forms of electronics, including tape, prerecorded piano sounds and live processing. One upcoming venture will be a collaboration with Montreal-based drummer Ben Reimer. Together they have commissioned works from Canadians Vincent Ho and electronics wizard Nicole Lizée to be premiered at next years PuSh Festival in Vancouver.

New_2.jpgOpen Ears Festival: From May 26 to June 4 the Waterloo region will once again be taken over by the sounds of the Open Ears Festival. At the heart of this festival is the act of listening to a diverse range of musics – including new classical, electroacoustic, musique actuelle and sound installations. As mentioned, Surface Image will be performed on May 28, and the composer and media artist Tristan Perlich will be in attendance on May 29. He will be presenting an artist talk at 1pm covering the range of his work, including his Machine Drawings which will be on display, and his explorations into 1-bit music and other sound-based technologies.

Continuing on with the theme of electronics, the concert June 2 will focus on works for the theremin, the world’s first motion sensor music instrument patented in the United States in 1928 after being originally developed by Léon Theremin when he lived in Russia and was working on a government research program. The concert at Open Ears will begin with author Sean Michaels reading from his historical novel, Us Conductors, to set the scene for the theremin’s beginnings. Next, an influential work for the theremin and chamber ensemble, composed in 1944 by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů will be heard, followed by a new work for Karlax – a new-motion sensor instrument designed and performed by D. Andrew Stewart. The highlight of the evening will be the opportunity to hear Carolina Eyck, the world’s foremost theremin virtuoso. She will perform several works, including the ones previously listed, as well as a new work by Omar Daniel involving Nicola Tesla’s high voltage coil invented in 1891. And because Open Ears is all about listening, the appearance of three Listening Choir events makes complete sense. From May 27 to 29, the Listening Choir project by Christopher Willes and Adam Kinner will invite participants on group walks through urban spaces to experience collective and individual ways of listening. The walks will also include the recording of different places, objects, language and ideas within the soundscape using homemade recording devices. Thus the act of listening becomes an act of performance. For a complete overview of the full range of the festivals program, definitely check out their website: openears.ca

Sounds of Finland, Japan and the Indonesian Gamelan: This month offers opportunities to tune into the sounds coming out of these three distinctive cultural traditions. First of all, the music of Finnish composer Tomi Räisänen will be performed on May 19 at a concert presented by the junctQin keyboard collective. Finnish-Canadian pianist Heidi Saario will join the junctQin collective in the performance of two world premieres by Räisänen: Falls, for piano six hands, and Superdodecaphonium for solo piano, as well as others of his works.

On May 24, two days before their Japan: NEXT concert at the 21C festival, Continuum Contemporary Music will be presenting another event at Gallery 345 to celebrate the Japanese concept of Ma. In music this concept translates into the idea that what you don’t play is as important as what you do play. It’s the space or tension between sounds, and to take it further into the nonmusical domain, the space between two people or two objects. Lining the walls of Gallery 345 will be an exhibition of 30 prints courtesy of the Japan Foundation, some of which deal with Ma in graphic design. Beginning with a film on how Ma is expressed in woodblock art, the concert will then showcase the Okeanos ensemble, a UK-based group of westerners who will perform both traditional works for the koto and sho and contemporary works, all focused on the communication of Ma.

Finally on May 19, the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, will perform a concert of works from their recent CD, Higgs Ocean. Evergreen Club is an ensemble committed to the performance and commissioning of contemporary music for the gamelan, an ensemble of bronze and wooden instruments from Indonesian culture. In this concert they will team up with the Bozzini string quartet to perform five works by Canadian composers especially written for this collaboration of strings and gamelan sounds.

Additional New Music Performances

May 1: Royal Conservatory. Kaija Saariaho: Changing Light for soprano and violin.

May 4 and 5: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. John Adams: Scheherazade.2 – Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra.

May 4 to 8; 11 to 15: Coleman Lemieux et Compagnie. Against Nature/À Rebours. Music by James Rolfe.

May 5: Royal Conservatory. Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble; works by Boulez, A. Norman and Sokolović.

May 13: Canadian Music Centre. “Fantastic! Barbara Pritchard in Recital”; works by Beckwith, Pentland, McIntyre, Hatch, Pearce and Parker.

May 25 to 29: Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival; seven concerts with 28+ premieres.

May 26: Music Gallery. Emergents IV: Kiri Koto Ensemble and Boomwhackers.

May 26: Canadian Music Centre; premiere of a new work by Chris Paul Harman, Julia Den Boer, piano.

May 28: Array Music Young Composers’ Workshop Concert 2016.

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


Bandstand_1.jpgAfter a seemingly endless wait, spring has finally arrived, and with it a virtual explosion of band activity. Not only are there more spring concerts than usual to announce, but there are some anniversaries and even one unusual debut. Another most welcome sign is the number of messages from readers telling us about their bands’ activities.

Anniversaries: The first of the anniversaries that came to our attention was that of the Uxbridge Community Concert Band which is celebrating its 25th season. The UCCB is unique in that it is a summertime only band. Originally established to provide a band where students could remain proficient during the summer vacation period, now, 25 years later, band membership encompasses a spectrum from high school students to retirees in their 80s. They have two concerts scheduled for August. New members are always welcome and are urged to contact the band at uccb@powergate.ca or visit their website at uccb2016.webs.com.

At the end of each concert season UCCB band members are asked to vote on a selection from that season which they would like to have included in the repertoire for the following season. The music to Pirates of the Caribbean was the popular choice for this year. With that as a starting point, music director Steffan Brunette has come up with an imaginative theme for the 2016 season. The band will be “Sailing the High C’s.” As of this writing Brunette is still accepting suggestions from band members. Suggestions submitted so far include selections from the Sea and Sinbad’s Ship from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Handel’s Water Music Suite, Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore and others.

Messages: The first of our messages was from Brenda Leuschen Farkas. When she lived in Toronto, she played in the New Horizons (Intermediate) Band, Toronto, under the direction of Rob Mee. When she and her husband moved to their new home on a lake near Port Loring, Ontario, the hunt for a place to play was a priority. Soon she found the No Strings Attached Community Band in Sudbury. While it’s an hour’s drive to get to the rehearsals, she says that it’s worth it. Recently, the band was awarded a high silver at the Northern Ontario Music Festival and received an invitation to compete at the Nationals in Ottawa. Directed by its founder, Sandra McMillan, the band will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a concert titled “15 Years of Music.” The concert will be held on Sunday, May 29 at 2pm at Cambrian College Auditorium, Sudbury. For more information see
nostringsattachedband.org

Another welcome letter recently received was from Theresa MacDonald, manager of the Weston Silver Band. As a member of Weston Silver Band, and frequent assistant with Hannaford Youth, she is a fountain of knowledge on the Brass Band movement in North America. In her message she pointed out “a bit of an oversight” in last month’s column regarding participation in NABBA competitions over the years.

Here is what she had to say: “Canadian bands have not [recently]participated in NABBA until we [Weston Silver Band] returned to the Championships in 2014 after an 18-year hiatus. We have just returned from the North American Brass Band Championships (April 2, 2016) with a second place finish in First Section (1.5 points off the winning band). We are and remain the only Canadian Brass Band at the Championships…We are currently ranked as one of the top ten brass bands in North America.”

New Horizons on Film: A few days ago we had the pleasure of attending a “pre-screening” of a new documentary film about the Toronto New Horizons Band. Directed by Sarah Keenlyside with executive producer Howard Fraiberg of Proximity Films, The Beat Goes On portrays the establishment and development of the Toronto New Horizons Band. The premiere on TVO is scheduled for June 8 at 9pm. After that date it will be possible to stream it from the TVO website.

While on the subject of Toronto New Horizons, their end-of-season concert is scheduled for May 27 at 7:30. As in past years this will be at St. Michael’s College Arts Centre, 1515 Bathurst Street, north of St. Clair Ave. It seems like only yesterday when I first heard of the prospect for such a group. Now it’s the end of their sixth year.

Dan Kapp: Last month I mentioned that Dan Kapp had resigned from his position in the Long and McQuade band department to devote more time to New Horizons activities. They have started to increase already. He will be running a beginner adult full-day band camp this summer from July 18 to 22, at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre as part of their Summer Institute for Creative Adults (SICA) program. It will be for adults who want to start playing again. In other words, participants will have to have some background in reading music. The New Horizons Band of Toronto Summer Band (Dan’s regular guys and gals) will be featured guests in an evening concert on July 21 at the Al Green Theatre (within the MNjcc) as part of the camp.

If all of that wasn’t enough to keep a retiree busy, Dan was recently invited to conduct at a two-day international music festival in Panama City. He was selected to conduct a 78-member Honour Band of students from grades 7 to 9 as one part of the festival. It’s an annual event sponsored by the International School of Panama. There will be international schools from five other Central American countries as well as schools from Panama represented at the festival. This festival is the only time many of the students get to perform in a large ensemble.

Silverthorn: Back to those messages about upcoming events. Word from Heather Engli is that the Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will be ending their season with a concert, May 28, appropriately titled “Sounds of Spring.” To whet the appetite of potential attendees they have scheduled a combination of some outstanding wind band repertoire along with some easy listening, fun stuff: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite, Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy and Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide along with such lighter fare as selections from Ain’t Misbehavin’, Big Band Salute and A Leroy Anderson Portrait. It is a program with wide appeal. It all takes place at the Wilmar Heights Event Centre.

And a deep debut: June 5, Flute Street will present their spring concert featuring the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D and a Sinfonia for Nine Piccolos. The highlight for me will be the debut that I alluded to earlier. A few months ago we had introduced to a Toronto audience for the first time a sub contrabass flute belonging to a guest performer from Australia. That instrument so fascinated Flute Street member Jeff Densham that he was determined to have one for himself. Yes, he purchased such an instrument, and it will have its Canadian debut at this concert in a duet for contrabass and sub contrabass flutes.

More Events by date

May 7 the York University Community Band Festival returns with a variety of attractions for band members. It all starts at 12:45 with registration in York U’s Accolade East Building. There is a massed band session in the early afternoon followed by workshops on Brazilian drumming, brass performance, woodwind tips and a jazz ensemble. This is followed by a reception with keynote speaker, Canadian composer Donald Coakley. The evening features a massed band concert where Coakley will conduct a number of his compositions.

May 8 at 2pm, the Markham Concert Band will present “Sneak Peek: Murder at the Markham Theatre,” a fun-filled afternoon, as band member Heather Wardell spins a tale of dastardly deeds unfolding before your eyes at the Markham Theatre. Great music melds with intrigue in the search for the Markham Theatre murderer. Between each piece of music more information will be provided about motive and opportunity for the suspects and at the end of the show the murderer will be revealed.

May 15 at 2pm, the Caledon Concert Band will present “Heroes from Fantasy and History,” including Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pirates of the Caribbean.

May 15 at 3:30pm, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir (led by artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot) offers “Sounds of Spring” at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels. This concert will feature McIntyre Ranch and other works by composer and conductor laureate Howard Cable and Immer Kleiner by Adolf Schreiner. The one work that I am looking forward to is Gustav Holst’s First Suite in E Flat as arranged by Matt Johnston. In the past I have been amazed at how well this group interprets such large works for full concert band with only the resources of the family of clarinets.

Also in the Listings

May 27: Etobicoke Community Concert Band. “Summer Prelude: Memories of the ‘Summer of Love’ at Woodstock,” featuring big band and Latin music. Works by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and others.

May 28:The North York Concert Band presents “Dancing and Romancing,” a composite of swing tunes, Latin music, show tunes and other music at the Al Green Theatre.

May 29: Mississauga Pops Concert Band presents “First in Films” with selections from The Lion King, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, The Phantom of the Opera and other works; Joseph Resendes, conductor.

May 29: North Toronto Community Band presents “Spring Rhythms,” with Keli Schmidt, mallets percussion, Cindy Sloane, vocals, Danny Wilks, conductor.

Sunday June 5 at 3pm, the Newmarket Citizens’ Band will present their “Spring Fling Concert” with special guests the Upper Canada Chordsmen Chorus, at Trinity United Church, 461 Park Ave, Newmarket.

June 7: Resa’s Pieces Concert Band’s “17th Gala Concert,” will range from Gustav Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets to Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Local trumpeter and composer Vern Kennedy’s Chandler Point Suite will add a local flavour. The band will be joined for part of the program by Resa’s Pieces Singers and Resa’s Pieces String Ensemble; Resa Kochberg, conductor.

Howard Cable

Word is spreading through the music world of the passing of Howard Cable. Canadian music has lost a great composer and conductor. Much has been written in the media already, and next month The WholeNote will include a feature story about him.

For myself, in addition to playing much of his music over the years, more recently, I had begun talking with him about a special project. For some time I have wanted to write something about the process of music composition by looking into a specific work, following the processes and persons involved from the original concept to first performance of the piece. A couple of years ago I broached the idea to Howard after a concert of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir (with whom he had also developed a special relationship in recent years).

In my mind I envisioned some town band commissioning him to compose a concert overture to commemorate an anniversary of the band. We would then discuss the many steps involved as the ideas went from the composer’s brain to printed page and on to a public performance. We had agreed on a tentative format and, always ready to look ahead, Howard suggested that we get down to it this spring. Alas, it will not happen in quite that way now.

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

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Art_1.jpgThe Toronto Consort performs Monteverdi’s Vespers: there is a strong case to be made that Monteverdi’s Vespers and Bach’s B-Minor Mass constitute the finest baroque choral and liturgical works. They are, of course, very different, but one thing they have in common is that we know next to nothing about their early performance history.

Bach’s work dates from the end of his life and it seems unlikely that he himself ever heard it in its entirety. Monteverdi’s Vespers was published in 1610, at a time when he was still employed at the ducal court in Mantua. Dismissed two years later, in 1613 he received an appointment as conductor at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, so there have been attempts to link the Vespers either with Mantua or with Venice. One musicologist has even proposed that there was an earlier version of the Vespers, written for Mantua and dedicated not to the Virgin Mary, but to St. Barbara. This remains unproven, as are attempts to link the work with St. Mark’s in Venice, although John Eliot Gardiner recorded a visually spectacular performance there.

This is not the first time the Toronto Consort has performed the work; for these performances, May 6 to 8, the tenor Charles Daniels will direct, while there is also a guest performance by another tenor, Kevin Skelton. Instrumental accompaniment will be provided by the Montreal cornetto and sackbut ensemble, La Rose des Vents. With its intricate interweaving of sections for choir and soloists (six, eight and ten-voice choir, solo tenor, tenor duet, tenor plus two three-voice choirs, etc) it is a work of remarkable interest for lovers of vocal music.

Louis de Nil and César Aguilar: I first became aware of Louis de Nil when he performed the leading male role in The Nutcracker for the Pia Bouman Dance Studio. I also heard him play the oboe. After that he went to study at McGill and he has just completed an M.A. program at the University of Western Ontario. Accomplishments as a dancer and an oboist notwithstanding, he is now primarily a tenor. His recitals over the last two years include a performance of Schubert’s Winterreise, no less, in April 2015. May 1 he will sing in a joint recital with the countertenor, César Aguilar, who grew up in Mexico, came to Canada in 2006, largely to improve his English, and later became a music student at the University of Lethbridge. The program for their Gallery 345 recital includes arias from Handel’s Tamerlano, Canticle II (Abraham and Isaac) by Britten and songs by Vuillemin, Rachmaninoff and Schubert. The pianist is Helen Becqué.

The Talisker Players present “Cross’d by the Stars,” May 3 and 4, in which readings from letters, diaries and memoirs are coupled with performances of works by Purcell (When I Am Laid in Earth), Gluck (Che farò senz’ Euridice), Mahler (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen), Burry (The Highwayman) and Bernstein (West Side Story). The singers are Krisztina Szabó, mezzo, and Aaron Durand, baritone.

Lunchtime recitals at the Four Seasons Centre: There are several vocal recitals in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium this month. On May 3, the mezzo, Anita Rachvelishvili, will sing Rachmaninoff, Falla, Ravel, Fauré and Taktakishvili. On May 10, Aviva Fortunata will sing Strauss’ Four Last Songs and the bass-baritone, Ian MacNeil, will perform the Songs of Travel by Vaughan Williams. On May 17, Karine Boucher, soprano, sings Shéhérazade by Ravel and Andrew Haji, tenor, performs Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

Toronto Bach Festival: Oboist John Abberger is the artistic director of First Annual Toronto Bach Festival which will present its inaugural concert May 27. The focus will be on Bach’s Weimar cantatas and the program will include the cantatas Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen BWV 12 and Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben BWV 147a. The soloists are Ellen McAteer, soprano, Daniel Taylor, alto, and Lawrence Wiliford, tenor.

Toronto Masque Theatre presents Purcell’s Fairy Queen: Henry Purcell wrote only one opera, Dido and Aeneas, but several so-called semi-operas combining spoken texts with songs. One could indulge in regret that none of these became fully operatic works but it seems better to accept them as they are. One of them, The Fairy Queen, is based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Shakespeare’s text replaced by that of an anonymous versifier. Toronto Masque Theatre gives us a new production of the work, May 27 to 29, in which the singers are Juliet Beckwith, Vania Chan, Charlotte Knight and Janelle Lapalme, sopranos, Simon Honeyman, alto, Cory Knight and Jonathan MacArthur, tenors, and Alexander Dobson and Graham Robinson, baritones.

Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey: soprano Kathleen Battle returns to Toronto after a long absence for a concert of Negro spirituals backed up by the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. The concert, at Roy Thomson Hall, May 29, will also include readings of major Abolitionist writers like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Mamele: The Mother’s Eyes: Show One presents Tamara Gverdtsiteli, with the soloists of the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella and symphony orchestra, performing Yiddish, Georgian, Russian, French and Italian songs at Roy Thomson Hall, June 3.

Aradia performs Handel and Peter Maxwell Davies: The centre of the repertoire of period orchestras tends to be the baroque era but ensembles have begun to juxtapose earlier works with contemporary material. Such is the case with the Aradia Baroque Ensemble, which in its next concert, June 4, will give us arias by Handel but also Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1969 monodrama Songs for a Mad King. Stacie Dunlop, soprano, and Vincent Ranallo, baritone, will sing.

QUICK PICKS

May 7: Charlene Pauls, soprano, Christina Stelmacovich, mezzo, Chris Fischer, tenor, and Daniel Hambly, bass will be the soloists in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, with the Univox Choir.

May 10: Jennifer Taverner, soprano, Lyndsay Promane, mezzo, and Daevyd Pepper, tenor, are the soloists in a concert of English and Italian art songs at Islington United Church.

May 13: Emma Hannan, soprano, Emily D’Angelo, mezzo, Cian Horrobin, tenor, and Nicholas Borg, bass are the soloists in Mozart’s Requiem, with the North Toronto Choral Ensemble and the North Toronto Symphony Orchestra at North Toronto Collegiate Institute.

May 13: Hawksley Workman will present songs by Bruce Cockburn, with the Art of Time Ensemble.

May 13 and 15: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts on May 13 and 15 will include Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 “Babi Yar” with the Russian bass Petr Migunov as soloist.

May 15: A performance of Mozart’s Requiem at the Westben Arts Festival will feature soloists Virginia Hatfield, soprano, Kimberly Dafoe, mezzo, Tom Sharpe, tenor, and Joel Allison, baritone.

May 19: Janet Obermeyer, soprano, will perform a free noontime concert at Metropolitan United Church.

May 20: Jenni Cook, soprano, will perform a free noontime recital at St. Andrew’s Church.

And beyond the GTA: The soprano Shannon Mercer will sing Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok by Shostakovich at the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton, May 21.

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


Choral_1.jpgI sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC) as a tenor and have for the last three seasons. It’s my primary musical outlet. What is surprising to some people is that we have to audition every year. Every year we have to audition to get back into the choir. When I mention this to non-TMC choristers, they shudder. It is uncommon and stressful to do this year after year. Most people audition once for their choirs.

The result, though, is a rather rigorous process that allows an artistic director of an ensemble to choose and build the sound they are looking for. I’m happy to say that I’ve been part of that “sound” for the last few years and I hope to for many more. So yes, I am auditioning this year yet again, and this time I’ve chosen an Aaron Copland ditty. A sweet little folk song, 90 seconds long. Perfect for an audition.

Auditions can be a scary process unique to the arts. Most other professions will interview once for a job and that’s it – they’re set. Performing artists must repeatedly subject themselves to scrutiny and criticism. Ultimately, I believe this leads us to be stronger artists, but auditions can also be demoralizing and disempowering. However, none of us choristers feel the pressure of auditions the way a dancer or actor does – their very livelihood depends on successful auditions. So my once-a-year audition for the Mendelssohn Choir is just fine with me. I encourage you all to go out and audition for an ensemble – great things could lie ahead for you!

(There are 116 choirs, some auditioned, some not, for you to choose from in this issue’s WholeNote Canary Pages, so no excuses!)

(May)Days of Performances

Sing! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival runs from May 7 to 15 with events throughout the city. A few to highlight: The Ruach Singers present their unique contemporary a cappella take on the traditional Shabbat morning service on May 7 at 9:45am, Beth Sholom Synagogue, Toronto. Festival headliners, Naturally 7, blend their stunning voices into a mind-blowing instrumental collage in their always-fun take on a cappella music on May 13 at 7:30pm at Jane Mallett Theatre, St Lawrence Centre for the Arts. And after 39 years, Toronto-based group The Nylons are heading towards retirement (although it will take them a year to get there!)with a Farewell Toronto Concert May 14 at 8pm also at Jane Mallett Theatre.

Oakville Children’s Choir presents “Raise Your Voice!” featuring the mass power of 200 kids from all six program choirs that make up the organization. Repertoire includes an arrangement of Phillip Phillips’ Home, Indodana a traditional Xhosa arranged by Michael Barrett and Ralf Schmitt, and The Little Road by Moira Smiley. The OCC Senior Choir will be working with Smiley as guests of the Pacific International Choral Festival in Oregon in July. Catch them on Saturday, May 7, at 3pm at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts.

Toronto Children’s Chorus presents “Music of the Spheres” featuring mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó. Features include Franz Schubert’s Ständchen and John Greer’s Beginning of the World. Saturday May 7 at 3pm, Toronto Centre for the Arts.

WomEnchant Chorus and Drummers and guests, the Rainbow Chorus, offer a presentation titled “Sing and Drum for Peace, Justice, and Our Planet,” featuring works by Jeff Hale, Eric Whitacre, and much more. Saturday May 7 at 7pm, Trinity United Church, Grimsby.

Mississauga Festival Chamber Choir presents “Choralia Canadiana” this month. At their Spring Serenade concert last month of Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass, artistic director David Ambrose encouraged audiences to check out this rambunctious show. Featuring Mary Lou Fallis, of Primadonna fame, and piano sidekick Peter Tieffenbach, the show will be a hilarious musical history of choral singing from cavemen to the modern day. The more ordinary works featured will include Canadian Imant Raminsh’s In the Night We Shall Go In, Stan Roger’s arrangement of Fogarty’s Cove, and Scott MacMillan’s Celtic Mass for the Sea. Saturday May 7, at 8pm, Hammerson Hall, Living Arts Centre, Mississauga.

Tri-City area jewel – the Grand Philharmonic Chamber Choir presents “The Spirit Sings,” with excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Christos Hatzis’ De Angelis, and John Tavener’s Syvati. Saturday May 7, at 7:30pm, St Matthew’s Lutheran Church.

Elmer Iseler Singers present “Musical Friends,” including Jason Jestadt, the winner of the 2015 Ruth Watson Henderson Choral Composition Competition. The Bach Chamber Youth Choir will join the Singers. Sunday May 8 at 4pm, Eglinton St George’s United Church.

Upper Canada Choristers present “Our Home and Native Lands” featuring an interesting mix of diverse music. Highlights include Stephen Hatfield’s Cantando flores, Laurie Evan Fraser’s Who Can Sail, and songs from Japan, Korea, France, and Ecuador. The Choristers will be joined by the Junior Choir of Montrose Public School and Cantemos. Friday May 13 at 8pm, Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto.

The Music Department of North Toronto Collegiate Institute presents Mozart’s Requiem featuring the North Toronto Choral Ensemble and the North Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Two performances: May 13, 7:30pm and May 14, 6pm at North Toronto C.I.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Shostakovich’s Symphony 13 “Babi Yar.” Last month, WholeNote publisher David Perlman featured a conversation with York University music professor emeritus, Sterling Beckwith, on the work. A monumental piece of art that emerged from the Soviet Union, Babi Yar is a political statement that responds to the Nazi massacre of over 100,000 people in World War II. The Russian text is difficult and hard to sing and the task falls to the basses of the Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers, augmented by many others, recruited by Iseler/Amadeus conductor Lydia Adams. Holding the baton is Andrey Boreyko, a Russian conductor trained at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Saint Petersburg and formerly music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for six years. The TSO presents this “Civic Oratorio” on May 13 at 7:30pm and May 15 at 3pm.

Tallis Choir of Toronto: Shakespeare’s myriad works have long inspired great music, much of it choral. In “Our Good Wills: The World of Shakespeare & Byrd,” the robust and talented Tallis Choir of Toronto under Peter Mahon will present several of these inspirations from works such as All’s Well That Ends Well, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Tempest. Several pieces by Shakespeare’s contemporary, William Byrd, will be featured as well, including his popular Te Deum. Saturday May 14, at 7:30pm, St. Patrick’s Church, Toronto.

The Yellowknife Youth Choir visits Toronto and joins the Bach Children’s Chorus and the Bach Chamber Youth Choir in “Songs of the Wanderer: A Spring Celebration.” Both Bach Choirs visited Yellowknife and Western Canada in late March 2016, so this is a reciprocal visit. They combine again to feature works by Mendelssohn and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Saturday May 14, 7:30pm, Toronto Centre for the Arts.

ChoralWorks Chamber Choir presents “A ChoralWorks Tapestry,” featuring Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem and music from Les Misérables, May 14, Trinity United Church, Collingwood.

City Choir, a super-accessible and welcoming ensemble, performs “Freedom is a Voice.” The family-oriented set list features arrangements of popular songs such as MLK by U2, Blackbird by Sarah McLaughlin and Freedom is a Voice by Bobby McFerrin. Tuesday May 31, 7:30pm, St Peter’s Anglican Church.

And speaking of super-accessible, the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto have a fun, new, world premiere of  The Sword in the Schoolyard, a children’s opera by Dean Burry, with music and libretto by Burry, music direction by VIVA! artistic director, Carol Woodward Ratzlaff, and direction by David Ambrose; June 3 and 4 at 7pm, June 5 at 2:30pm, Daniels Spectrum.

The Amadeus Choir performs “Serenade to Music,” featuring Ralph Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music, Schubert’s To Music, Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia and more; June 5 at 7pm, Eglinton St Georges United Church.

21C: the Royal Conservatory’s new works festival has a host of very interesting pieces to check out. The festival runs from May 25 to May 29 with all performances at the RC’s Telus Centre for Performance and Learning. A couple of highlights:

In my columns I frequently mention Tanya Tagaq and her unique, powerful interpretation of throat singing. She will be performing with one of the most prolific new music ensembles in North America – The Kronos Quartet. They open the festival with a host of premieres including Sivunittinni (The future children) by Tagaq herself, May 25  at 8pm, Koerner Hall.

“21C After Hours: Blackout,” brainchild of composer John Oswald, will take place entirely in complete darkness. Presales for it were so successful a second performance was added to meet demand. As we go to press, there are still tickets available for the 8pm show (the 10:30pm is officially sold out). There will be four world premieres featuring the Element Choir under artistic director Christine Duncan. A master of improvisation and a pioneer of choral improvisation, Duncan is also known for her frequent and fruitful collaborations with fellow 21C performer Tanya Tagaq. The Element Choir will be joined by the Radiant Brass Ensemble and we’ve also been promised special surprise guests; May 27 at 8pm and 10:30pm, Conservatory Theatre.

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


Mainly_Mostly_1.jpgIt’s just my luck, isn’t it? It’s just my luck that two weeks after I plug Organic’s weekly engagement at Joe Mama’s in The WholeNote, that that gig shuts down permanently. I don’t know yet what will happen on future Sundays at Joe Mama’s. But hopefully they stick with the theme of high-level musicianship and unmistakable chemistry.

The final Organic session on April 17 was fuller than I’ve seen it in a long time, and I think there’s a lot of irony in that. I think it very loudly says a lot about our responsibility as lovers of live music. But if it wasn’t loud enough, I’ll say it louder: if we, lovers of live music, don’t go out and support the bands we claim to love, then who will? Casual listeners with fat wallets? Fat chance! Jazz concerts are tragically sparsely attended and the only remedy for that is for us to attend.

And I say “us” very deliberately here; I am not innocent in this. I do not attend every show I can, not even all the ones about which I loudly rave. And I don’t always have a good excuse. I know all the good excuses though. I know that life gets in the way, and sometimes it seems like bus fare two ways plus cover charge plus one drink is breaking the bank. I get it. I’m not trying to sit on a high horse, to lecture you, the reader, or to make it sound like not attending concerts is some egregious sin, or to imply that we are personally responsible for every gig that stops (no gig lasts forever, obviously). All I’m trying to say is that if we want to support live music, we should stop taking it for granted and go support live music. We all should. Let’s make it a new season’s resolution.

With that in mind, Justin Bacchus’ weekly engagement is still happening at The Rex for the foreseeable future, and for each Saturday in May the explosive and virtuosic R&B outfit will be joined by the marvellous Stu Harrison. I’ve only heard Stu Harrison three times – once when he sat in for one song at a Sophia Perlman gig, and twice when he subbed in the house band at Lisa Particelli’s Girls’ Night Out. He does not gig or record much, which is baffling to me – though he probably is awfully busy with his work for Merriam Music. When I heard he’d be at The Rex weekly in May, I made my plans immediately. Let’s hope I don’t break them, and let’s hope the whole city gets out to this gig – or some other gig, any gig! – at least once a week this month.

Alex Samaras was introduced to me in the summer of 2012 by a friend who hails from the States and was acquainted with Samaras through their mutual association with a music camp in upstate New York. Samaras, too, was previously written about in The WholeNote, by Ori Dagan, and by myself this past autumn, when I plugged his gig with Bobby Hsu’s A Sondheim Jazz Project, which you can read about in the September issue. Samaras has a voice of clarity, precision, finesse, power and control. He clearly knows a lot about his instrument. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that he’s also an educator, who teaches voice at the University of Toronto. You can sample A Sondheim Jazz Project’s album, City of Strangers, on YouTube, and you can buy it on iTunes. I have only sampled it (I prefer to buy albums from artists in person), but I can already confidently recommend it.

I was only introduced to John Alcorn’s voice recently: this winter. I had asked Mark Eisenman about recordings he had played on aside from his coffee-themed albums recorded with Chase Sanborne (which are also wonderful), and he told me about Flying Without Wings, an album which was reviewed in The WholeNote by Lesley Mitchell-Clarke earlier this year – so I won’t go on about it for too long. The singer and trumpeter on the album are, respectively, Alcorn and Warren Vache. Eisenman had, and I say this affectionately, pestered me about these two musicians before. Each time they’ve had gigs in Toronto in recent years, Eisenman had told me to go, and I had failed to every time. After hearing the album, I will not make that mistake again.

One of my favourite moments on the album comes on the first track, Just One of Those Things, on the final chorus, when Vache and Eisenman are sort of trading response lines in the cracks between Alcorn’s phrases, and Alcorn opens one phrase with a second – literally, one second – of what sounds like the beginning of a scat solo, before diving back into the words. It sounds so spontaneous and unhinged. There is such palpable excitement on the part of all the players, particularly the three responsible for the quasi-counterpoint of the moment.

This seems like a small thing, but something else I really respect about the album is the fact that songs with verses are done with the verse. Songs with beautiful verses which supply the rest of the song with extra clarity, or just emphasis – such as Autumn in New York, A Sleepin’ Bee, and But Not For Me, the latter of which is on Flying Without Wings – are too often performed with the verses omitted. Such recordings are valid and often great, of course, but the kind of fidelity to the song as it was originally conceived, shown by Alcorn, commands a lot of respect, especially when executed, as it is here, with such passion and faculty.

I was thrilled to come across Alcorn and Samaras listed together for the evening of May 22 at Jazz Bistro. They will be accompanied by Mike Downes on bass and Dave Restivo on the Bistro’s Red Pops Steinway piano. This will be the third time the illustrious quartet has appeared together in Toronto, but it will be a first for me. It’ll be a lot of firsts for me, actually. It’ll be the first time I see this particular quartet. It’ll be the first time I see John Alcorn live. If they’re selling CDs, it’ll be the first time I buy an album featuring Alex Samaras.

I’m going to, as I always do when I go to shows at Jazz Bistro, call for reservations the day of the concert, and I’m hoping they’ll tell me the place is almost full and my choice of seating is limited. Can this city collectively make that happen? I’m tired of empty jazz clubs. Let’s make ours unbearably crowded.

Happy spring, Toronto. See you in one club, or another. Or both. Or more.

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

Author: Bob Ben
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BBB-Early1.jpgCount Hieronymus Joseph Franz de Paula Graf Colloredo von Wallsee und Melz, by the grace of God both spiritual and temporal ruler of the city of Salzburg, had ambitious plans for his new city. Although an unpopular choice with other church officials, as his election on the 13th ballot would indicate, Colloredo had no intention of currying favour with the common people either. His intentions were loftier. He wanted reform.

Reform, in any age, means not worrying over the popularity of your policies, and a certain optimism that you’ll be appreciated for them later. For the archbishop, a well-educated eighteenth-century modernizer and would-be statesman, this also meant embracing the ideals of the new Enlightenment. The religious superstition that still clung to Catholicism after a millenium was to be officially suppressed. No more pilgrimages, and worshipping relics was frowned upon. There were to be no more religious processions through the streets, no kitschy decorations hung in churches and no lengthy orchestral musical interludes during the Mass. Colloredo’s new modern church was to shed medieval superstition for the new ideals of reason and science – and if this meant he could save himself a bit of work, and a bit of money, along the way, then so much the better.

For the 16-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Colloredo’s reform, especially the part that involved budget cuts, was an unmitigated disaster. As the prince-archbishop’s new concertmaster, less music in church (call it cuts to arts funding) meant fewer commissions, and therefore less money, for composers like him. Furthermore, as what we might today refer to as an emerging artist, there was less opportunity for the young Mozart to distinguish himself by writing large-scale works that could get him a better appointment in the future. So faced with fewer opportunities Mozart did what artists typically do – he left to find work elsewhere. In this case, Mozart left for Milan to write an opera.

The result of Mozart’s journey to Milan was Lucio Silla, an opera seria based on the story of Julius Caesar’s predecessor (and Rome’s first dictator) Lucius Sulla. As a career move, the idea of putting on an opera in Milan circa 1772 seemed like a bit of a sure thing. This was the third opera the teenage wunderkind would be writing for the Milanese stage and he would be working with a capable librettist, the Teatro Ducale’s new appointment, Giovanni di Gamerra. Mozart also had a few months to devote to the project, more than enough time for a hyper-prolific composer who had already written some 25 symphonies, seven operas, and four piano concertos. Success, it would seem, was guaranteed.

Sadly, Lucio Silla didn’t go over quite as Mozart planned, and it wasn’t his fault, either. The lead tenor fell ill and his replacement couldn’t handle the part, so many of the best arias in the opera had to be rewritten or cut out entirely. The other singers were late arriving in the city and had to begin rehearsing behind schedule. Not only did they bomb in the premiere, but the opera was considerably longer in performance than during rehearsal – imagine, if you will, a poorly sung opera that seems to never end, and you’ll probably have some idea of how the premiere went. Lucio Silla would be the last opera written by Mozart for an Italian audience, and after a catastrophic run the chastened young composer crawled back to Salzburg and the archbishop, a failure at 16.

I think it’s safe to say that Opera Atelier’s Canadian premiere of Lucio Silla will raise the admittedly low bar set by its initial premiere. But they will likely do a lot better than that! Atelier’s artistic directors, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg played a significant role in the show’s triumphant return to Milan at La Scala last year, under the baton of Marc Minkowski, and an even more extensive role in the triumphant production of the opera in Salzburg two years prior to that (including the participation of the Atelier Ballet in the Salzburg run). Now they get to bring the opera, in their very own production, to Toronto audiences from April 7 to 16 at the Elgin Theatre, including the stars of of the Salzburg and La Scala runs (Kresimir Spicer and Inga Kalna). Unlike Mozart’s Milanese collaborators, Opera Atelier never fails to put on a great show, and this is a Canadian premiere that is long overdue! If you see one concert this month, make it this one.

The Orlando Consort, with over 25 recordings to their name, doesn’t come to town very often (although as a soloist their tenor, Charles Daniels, is well known to Tafelmusik audiences, and a welcome guest), but any chance to hear them live is certainly welcome. The medieval-themed a cappella vocal group is known for their imaginative concert programming as well as some exceptional singing. Their latest project is certainly as imaginative as choral concerts get; they’ve devised a program of music known to have been extant in France during the lifetime of Joan of Arc and used it to score a compilation soundtrack to the 1928 silent film classic La passion de Jeanne d’Arc, by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

As either a work of scholarship or of film scoring, this would have been a formidable workload. The fact that the Consort has accomplished both demonstrates incredible artistic vision and dedication, and I have no doubt the veteran singers will be able to pull it off splendidly. You can catch this at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, April 3 at 3pm.

BBB-Early2.jpgZelenka at Tafelmusik: One composer who’s been getting some well-deserved attention in recent years is the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. Since his rediscovery by fellow Czech composer Bedřich Smetana in the mid-19th century and the publication of a catalogue running to nearly 200 works, early music audiences have had more and more chances to hear him over the last few decades. Indeed, Tafelmusik audiences should already be familiar with the composer – the group performed his concert overture, Hippocondrie, earlier this concert season, and an excerpt from one of his sonatas made it on to their fantastic Galileo Project.

A double bassist, kapellmeister and avid contrapuntalist, Zelenka had the good fortune to work in the epic Dresden court of Augustus the Strong, where he wrote sacred works for choir and orchestra. Zelenka was also well-connected. Besides working with the great violinist, Johann Georg Pisendel, he was also a personal friend of Bach and was much admired by both composers. This month, Tafelmusik honors both Bach and Zelenka as composers of sacred music with a concert of Zelenka’s Missa Omnium Sanctorum and Bach’s cantata Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten at their home base at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, April 28 through 30 and May 1.

Bland by name only! A good trumpet player is hard to find, and an excellent one harder still. It’s again still rarer to find a great player of the baroque trumpet, since the instrument is considerably harder to play than its modern counterpart (smaller embouchure, no valves) and this may explain why Justin Bland is so darn busy and why he plays with, well, basically everyone. The Copenhagen-based musician will be visiting Toronto to play with Scaramella in a concert dedicated to music for baroque trumpet, and featuring the music of Bach, Melani, Merula and Purcell at Victoria College Chapel on April 16. The up-and-coming virtuoso will be playing with Scaramella artistic director Joëlle Morton on violone, the talented young soprano Dawn Bailey and local hotshot violinists Michelle Odorico and Rezan Onen-Lapointe, which means that this concert will feature a considerable amount of talent as well as youthful exuberance. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should  also say that the concert also features this columnist on harpsichord, whose talent and/or exuberance you will have to judge for yourselves.)

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

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