Beat Columns (Live Music)
What are the odds that there would be three separate performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s final completed oratorio, Elijah, all taking place this coming November 5? It’s not as though there’s some particularly significant Mendelssohnian anniversary in the offing: he was born in 1809 and died in 1847, at age 38, 14 months after Elijah premiered, in English, at the Birmingham Town Hall, as part of the Birmingham Festival. But by one of those odd twists of planning and timing (and without any discussion among themselves), Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Pax Christi Chorale and Chorus Niagara have all scheduled the work, same day and time, as a major part of their respective 2016/17 seasons.
Chorus Niagara’s conductor Robert Cooper shrugs off the coincidence, at first: “if it’s not Mendelssohn’s Elijah, it’s Carmina Burana, one or the other – the two works seem always to collide, with several choirs doing them at the same time but it’s purely coincidence.”
Stephanie Martin and Noel Edison, on the other hand, are both entering significant anniversary seasons (20th) with their choirs – Edison with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Martin with the Pax Christi Chorale – and acknowledge that in some way that might have influenced their decisions to mount this particular work at this time. For Martin this will be her last season at the Pax Christi helm, and it’s an opportunity to revisit a work with which she has a history, with the choir, singing it before conducting it. Edison’s Toronto Mendelssohn Choir performed the work for the first time in 1933, and has remounted it regularly; “I know Elmer [Iseler] did it several times, and Sir Ernest [MacMillan],” Edison says. This will be the third time Edison himself has done it with the choir, most recently in 2009. “It’s the great choral period piece,” he says.
Interestingly, for Robert Cooper the choice to take on the work this year has very little to do with how long he has been with Chorus Niagara (one of four choral or vocal ensembles he conducts). But it has everything to do with the availability of a particular singer to sing the role of Elijah. He explains:
“Last year Chorus Niagara celebrated its first year performing in the new FirstOntario Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines, so I had other kinds of mandates regarding what we needed to perform in the first year. But I’m not going to be with Chorus Niagara forever; I’ve done the work four times already with them, and really want to do it again, it’s a magnificent score.” The very first time he did it, he explains, his Elijah was none other than Russell Braun. “Russell was a student and singing in my Opera in Concert Chorus – he was at the Glenn Gould School, and this year I thought I really want to get him back. So it’s coincidence again – the timing worked for Russell and I wanted to do it and I thought now’s the chance – now’s the time to get us back together again, because he cut his teeth for his first Elijah with me, and it’s one of his signature pieces now – he sings it all over the world. So I get him to come down to St Catharines to our new arts centre and do Elijah yet again with us.”
Singer of stature: Right from the first performance in Birmingham in 1846, the success of the oratorio has revolved around the choice and calibre of the soloists, particularly the bass-baritone that sings the title role. Mendelssohn’s Elijah at that first performance was an Austrian bass-baritone Josef Staudigl, who had become something of a fixture at Covent Garden over the preceding few years, and brought significant operatic presence to the role.
“You have to have a singer of real stature for the role,” says Cooper, “someone who has a real sense of personality, who can take charge. It’s a very operatic piece. You want someone who can stand up there and bring all of the operatic fervour that they can and I personally only use Canadian artists…there are certainly a few other gentlemen who can do it but for me Russell is the signature Elijah. So I wanted to grab him while I could.”
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s Edison concurs when it comes to the type of performer needed for the role. “Our Elijah is not known in Canada at all; his name is David Pittsinger, making his role debut. When I was searching I wouldn’t say he was my first choice but I’m glad now that he is. He comes from a musical theatre and opera background and he has done some significant oratorio; he’s very well-known in the States. I definitely wanted someone with that theatrical background for this role. It’s quite an imposing role, and it’s a monumental sing, both emotionally and physically. You need somebody that has a very flexible voice and somebody that has got some good theatrical thinking about their musical phrasing because it’s a real pull-and-push piece. And it’s [a role that’s] got to connect in and out of choruses and with other singers. [Elijah] is the constant, the main voice of the oratorio. And it’s his first Elijah!”
Pax Christi’s Elijah will be Canadian Geoff Sirett. “It’s his first Elijah as well, believe it or not,” Stephanie Martin says. “I just heard him recently sing Prince Igor with Bob Cooper’s Opera in Concert (we’re all connected, here, right?)….” But in the case of Sirett, Pax Christi is actually getting all four soloists as an intriguing package deal.
Playing up the drama: Martin explains: “We have decided to play up the dramatic elements by collaborating with a wonderful young group, the Bicycle Opera Project, who basically perform new opera – a lot of new Canadian opera – so its a stretch for them to sing a big Romantic piece and it’s a stretch for us to do a bit of dramatization. It will not be operatic in the sense that there will be sets flying in and out and anything like that but I think that essentially what Mendelssohn wanted in his libretto was an exchange between characters, a meaningful dialogue, not just singing to the book or parking and barking. It was to be a real dramatic exchange between the four soloists. So BO is going to animate it in that way and we have a lighting designer. We are just trying to break down some of the conventions of oratorio that are maybe strange to a younger audience. Bicycle Opera will do this because they will really bring it off the page. So it’s a little bit of a different approach.”
The four soloists in the Pax Christi production are Bicycle Opera’s four core singers: “Geoff Sirett is our Elijah, Christopher Enns is our tenor; Larissa Koniuk (BO’s artistic director) is the soprano, and Marjorie Maltais is the mezzo. So we’ve hired the entire company…they are used to working together; they can spin ideas and when someone does something they can react because they know and trust each other very well on stage.”
The collaboration will extend to a few kinetic elements for the choir as well. “The choir’s going to try to break a few oratorio conventions. They won’t be wearing black, they’ll be dressed a little differently so the lights will reflect off them nicer, and a group of them will be doing a bit of action – not over the top but just to bring it a little bit closer to our audience, to break down that fourth wall a bit.”
Attempts to overlay operatic elements on orchestral or stand-and-sing repertoire can fail spectacularly unless the work in question suggests the need for them. There is little chance of that happening here. From the earliest days of the oratorio’s gestation, Mendelssohn appears to have been inspired precisely by the story’s most intensely dramatic elements. According to a lovely detailed preface to the New Novello Choral Edition Mendelssohn Elijah, as early as 1836 Mendelssohn was grumbling in a letter to a friend, Karl Klingemann (who was busy arranging a performance of Mendelssohn’s St. Paul in Liverpool), that he wished Klingemann “would give all the care and thought you now bestow on ‘St. Paul’ to an ‘Elijah’ or a “St. Peter,’ or even an ‘Og of Bashan’.”
And as momentum on the work built over the ensuing decade, one finds Mendelssohn’s librettist, the Rev. Julius Schubring admonishing Mendelssohn that “the thing is becoming too objective – an interesting, even a thrilling, picture…we must diligently set to work to keep down the dramatic and raise the sacred element.” To which Mendelssohn responds: “I figure to myself Elijah as a thorough prophet, such as we might again require in our own day…in opposition to the whole world and yet borne on angels’ wings…I would fain see the dramatic element more prominent, as well as more exuberant and defined – appeal and rejoinder, question and answer, sudden interruptions etc., etc.”
Edison concurs. “The principles of oratorio, chorus, soloists, orchestra, recits, arias, are all there, but for me it’s not an oratorio, it’s an opera – it is Mendelssohn’s opera. It’s through-composed, it never stops except at intermission. It chugs right along, it tells the biblical story, it’s got hellfire and brimstone, it’s all Old Testament, Book of Kings, the Psalms, the resurrection of a dead youth, the ascension of Elijah in a fiery chariot, all the components of an opera. There are love duets, like the one between the Mother and the bass, the heavenly choir and the earthly chorus…In its scope, within its oratorio confines, it’s quite operatic.”
Cooper is even more emphatic: “I’ve always had a passion for things operatic. When I was at the CBC, as you may or may not know, I created the show called Saturday Afternoon at the Opera which I produced for 30-plus years, and I’ve been with Opera in Concert for over 30 years and I’ve always loved working in the theatrical world. But when you look at that score, it’s very clear, that feeling of being through-composed. It may have 41 [separate] numbers but it’s not 41 numbers, it’s little dramatic choral scenas and they go lambasting the one into the other and that makes it hard to conduct. You really have to be on your toes and know what’s coming next to get all the transitions and the tempos. And interestingly for an oratorio of this period, you have scenes where you have the soloist with these dramatic little recitatives and arias interspersed with little choral moments of four or five measures, so it’s quite clear that Mendelssohn meant this to have the thrust and parry of an opera…it’s meant to go attacca…bang, bang, bang.”
Assembling the forces: “Bang, bang, bang” certainly describes how the first Birmingham performance must have gone, based on the forces assembled for it: an orchestra of 125 and a choir of 271 (79 sopranos, 60 male altos, 60 tenors and 72 basses).
“Pax Christi has 100 singers,” Stephanie Martin says, “but we’d never accommodate an orchestra that big (mostly because it would cost a great deal). But you see a lot of those Victorian oratorios where you do see an optional group doubling and playing to get a really huge sound. Ours will be a little bit scaled back from that, but really with modern instruments the balance is better with a smaller orchestra. In 1846, those people would probably still have been playing on gut strings, trombones with smaller bores. That makes a huge difference because Elijah is often accompanied by a chorus of trombones – modern trombone just blows the singer away. The 1846 orchestra would have been just a little bit lighter, so you could accommodate a few more players. And a lot of those back bench players would only have played at a few very climactic points when everyone is playing and it’s very exciting and the big Birmingham Town Hall organ would have been screaming away and it would have been quite grand. On our tour this summer, Pax Christi visited Birmingham because it was such a hotbed for oratorio composition and it was great to be there and see where Mendelssohn premiered Elijah, where [Hubert Parry’s] Judith was premiered, where [Elgar’s] Dream of Gerontius and Apostles were premiered…it was an amazing centre for innovation at the time.”
Edison expands: “Back in 1846 everything was much grander then, even the work itself speaks to that Victorian sentiment of grandiosity. Messiah performances were often hundreds, even thousands of people, a city endeavour where everyone was involved. So that was the thinking and the makeup of the performances back in that generation. Stephanie referred already to the development of the modern instrument; but there’s also the development of the modern singer. They are much stronger, more focussed, more educated…and I think generally more equipped as artists in a singing ensemble. Mendelssohn’s Elijah or any of those big Victorian works – they do require a certain force in order to come off the page, I mean you can’t scale it down like you’re doing a Bach motet but you don’t need quite the grand numbers that they once did. I think our orchestra for this performance is about 50 and the choir is 120, 130. But I work hard to make sure that they are thin and refined and disciplined not lazy overly cholesterol-ridden, vocally. Otherwise this Victorian writing can turn into sentimental garbage really quickly and become very saccharine. Because it’s one bloody nice tune after another. I remember Bramwell Tovey once said to me ‘I don’t know why you like this piece, Noel. It’s like God is in every bar.’”
For Cooper’s Chorus Niagara the scalability of the piece offers some extra challenges and opportunities this time round. “Well it’s a challenge for us in the Niagara region because you know for 27 years we’ve been singing in churches and we’ve always been thrilled to have our place packed, but now we’re in an 800-seat performing arts centre which requires more singers on the stage and a much larger orchestra to really give the room the velocity and the volume of the sound that you want. So we have a chorus of 100-plus at Chorus Niagara but I am also bringing in a group from Redeemer College, which is a very important Bible college down in the Niagara region with a very good music program, so they are bringing more singers to join us as well…”
Nov 5 7:30: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Elijah. Mendelssohn. Noel Edison, conductor. Lesley Bouza, soprano; Christina Stelmacovich, mezzo; Michael Schade, tenor; David Pittsinger, bass-baritone; Festival Orchestra. Koerner Hall.
Nov 5 7:30: Chorus Niagara. Elijah. Mendelssohn. Robert Cooper, conductor. Russell Braun, baritone; Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano; Anita Krause, mezzo; Adam Luther, tenor; Niagara Symphony Orchestra; Redeemer College Alumni Choir. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.
Nov 5 7:30 and Nov 6 3:00: Pax Christi Chorale. Elijah. Mendelssohn. Stephanie Martin, conductor. Guest: The Bicycle Opera Project (Geoff Sirett, baritone; Christopher Enns, tenor; Larissa Koniuk, soprano; Marjorie Maltais, mezzo.) Grace Church on-the-Hill.
David Perlman can be reached at email@example.com.
The venerable Juilliard String Quartet opens Music Toronto’s 45th season October 13 with a typically strong program - Bartók’s String Quartet No.1 and Beethoven’s String Quartets Op.95 “Serioso” and Op.59 No.1 “Rasumovsky.” And a first. In its 71st year, the quartet has hired a woman; cellist Astrid Schween has replaced Joel Krosnick, the quartet’s cellist since 1972, who was the last link to its original members. With characteristic elegance, the Juilliard introduced Schween by including her as the second cello in Schubert’s String Quintet in C, playing alongside Krosnick last year (violist Roger Tapping had done a similar thing in 2013, performing with outgoing violist Samuel Rhodes). A member of the Lark Quartet for two decades, Schween studied with Jacqueline du Pré for seven years during school holidays and summer breaks. She spoke about their relationship in a recent interview in Strings shortly after being hired by the Juilliard.
“Jacqueline was one of my idols, and I had every recording she made. Her playing captivated my imagination, and I spent countless hours listening to these recordings and trying to work out what lay behind her extraordinary tone colour, long singing lines and sheer power. When I was actually with her, we would spend quite a bit of time listening to these recordings, analyzing her interpretations and discussing the secrets behind those wonderful colours. There was also time for plenty of stories and anecdotes. She had a wonderful sense of humour.”
Janina Fialkowska opens Music Toronto’s piano section with an all-Chopin recital October 25. Winner of the first Arthur Rubinstein International Master Piano Competition in 1974, Fialkowska went on to be mentored by Rubinstein who helped her establish an international career. Born to a Canadian mother and a Polish father, her natural affinity for Chopin has long been apparent. In a Music Toronto masterclass at Mazzoleni Hall, October 29, 2014, she had much to say about her relationship to her countryman.
“Chopin didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve,” she told one of the RCM students. “Sing! as if you were a great singer,” she continued. “In Chopin, never shorten a dotted note; if anything elongate it.”
“Don’t eat all the chocolates in the box at once,” she said to a student whose performance had no shape and too much rubato, making it self-indulgent; she went on to help him shape the piece by emphasizing its long lines and making it sound spontaneous and simple.
She mentioned that Rubinstein was very intellectual; his goal was to make everything sound simple and natural. She revealed that he would put down the soft pedal when he played Chopin so he could play louder and she noted Rubinstein’s great sense of rhythm, especially in the Mazurkas (three of which she will be performing in the Jane Mallett Theatre). Fialkowska mentioned that Liszt said that Chopin rubato was like a tree in the forest with the trunk barely moving and the leaves fluttering in the breeze. There will be ample opportunity to see these precepts in action in her varied program that includes a Nocturne, an Impromptu, a Ballade, the Polonaise Fantasie, two Waltzes, two Scherzos and the Op.50 Mazurkas. (Fialkowska performs the same recital for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on October 23 and gives a masterclass at Mazzoleni Hall the morning of October 26).
Esther Yoo. BBC New Generation Artist, Korean-American Esther Yoo was 16 when she became the youngest prizewinner of the Sibelius Violin Competition in 2010. Two years later she won a prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition. Vladimir Ashkenazy, who conducted her Deutsche Grammophon recording debut of the Sibelius and Glazunov violin concertos, said she was “without any affectations” in a YouTube video preview of that recent CD. On October 8 and 9 she joins the TSO under the baton of Karina Canellakis (the 2016 Georg Solti Conducting Award winner) whose exuberant conducting has been celebrated over the last two years when she was assistant conductor to the Dallas Symphony. She leads the TSO in Mozart’s thrilling Marriage of Figaro Overture and Beethoven’s underrated Symphony No.4. Yoo is the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular uber-Romantic Violin Concerto. Yoo grew up in a musical household, took up the piano at four and was “really inspired by music from a young age,” she said in a BBC Radio 3 YouTube post. “The most important thing is that you love and are passionate about what you choose to do,” she said. “I think being exposed to a lot of different activities, be it in culture or in studies or in sports, it all comes together to inspire you and to help you grow as a person and all of that reflects in your playing and in your music, so to be exposed to many different opportunities and experiences is really important.”
Yuja Wang. Yuja Wang, the 29-year-old, Beijing-born pianistic marvel, turns her sharp mind and impeccable technique to Bartók’s haunting and complex Piano Concerto No.3 when she makes her fourth appearance (and seventh overall in Toronto) with the TSO since 2011. Krzysztof Urbański returns to the TSO as guest conductor to lead the orchestra in Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.1 and Dvořák’s evergreen Symphony No.9 “From the New World.” Wang is known for her unerring accuracy, prodigious memory, consummate musicianship, slinky dresses and four-inch heels. According to Janet Malcolm in the September 5, 2016, issue of The New Yorker, she may be undergoing a kind of midlife crisis, one which has led her to new repertoire away from the Romantic Russians that brought her early fame. When Malcolm asked Wang’s close friend Gary Graffman, the 87-year-old former head of the Curtis Institute where Wang studied, how Wang compared with the other prodigies at Curtis, he said, “She was remarkable among remarkable students. She didn’t play like a prodigy. She played like a finished artist.”
In an interview with Michael Enright for CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition broadcast on June 14, 2013, she spoke about being “very surrounded by music in her childhood.” Her father was a percussionist, her mother a dancer. The first thing she remembered hearing was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake; she began piano at six. She talked about virtuosity being a tool for the music: “I never think of technique. I failed if the audience pays attention to how fast I can play or how powerful I can play because in the end I’m trying to portray the music’s character, the mood, the atmosphere and also the logic of how the composer is structuring the piece. All of that is a completely different level of how to listen to music rather than how fast can one play.”
Enright commented on her small hands, wondering if they could stretch an octave. Wang told him they can stretch a tenth on the keyboard and that her thin fingers (which can fit between the black keys) gave her great accuracy, though occasionally in big Russian pieces, she would need more arm weight to compensate.
Early in 2014, Yang sat down at the piano in conversation with Living the Classical Life (available on YouTube). As she answered questions she casually and effortlessly played excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations and Concerto No.3, as well as Prokofiev’s Concerto No.3 and Art Tatum’s arrangement of Tea for Two. She said that once she’s learned a piece she no longer practises it: “Just keep it as it is, just not touch it, see what kind of magic I can do with it on stage.” Then she played parts of Chopin’s Waltz Op. 64 No.2, the first piece she performed in public; the Gluck-Sgambeti Melodie dell’ Orfeo from Orfeo ed Euridice Act 2; and Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade. “It’s the emotion of the music of those pieces that catches me so much; I feel like I own those pieces…Life and music and what I do has to be intermixed, has to be together. Otherwise I just feel like I’m not alive, like I’m wasting my time. Even though I love sauna, tanning, shopping, movies.” (She laughs.)
Denis Matsuev. Winner of the 1998 International Tchaikovsky Competition at age 23, virtuosic Russian pianist Denis Matsuev makes his third Koerner Hall appearance under the Show One banner on October 15. This recital nicely underlines Show One’s string of Tchaikovsky prize winners which began earlier this year with a unique joint concert by Lucas Debargue and fellow 2015 Tchaikovsky runner-up, Lukas Geniušas, April 30, and which continues with the 2015 Gold Medallist, Dmitry Masleev, the newest Russian virtuoso, at Koerner January 28, 2017.
It’s no wonder that Matsuev is back so soon; his recital on January 30, 2016, was ecstatically received. The enthusiastic, large Russian audience component made for a totally different experience than the usual Koerner gathering. Matsuev was presented with an enormous bouquet of flowers just before intermission, four bouquets after the concert, which included the pianist signing an autograph, two more bouquets after the first encore (Liadov’s charming The Musical Snuff Box) and one more autograph after the second of four encores. The fourth, in the style of Kapustin or Earl Wild, was Matsuev’s scintillating version of Ellington’s Take the A Train.
The January recital began with Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood,) suitably small-scale and wonderfully understated where appropriate, followed by Schumann’s Kreisleriana, with an emphasis on lyricism (lovingly played). After intermission, a selection of Rachmaninoff’s Études Tableaux Op.39 preceded Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No.2. The whole evening seemed to have been a warm-up for the latter’s profusion of melody and technique set off by a simple lyrical phrase. Matsuev fell into the sonata’s beginning almost before he sat down, like casually plunging into the deep end of the pool. It was bravura playing at its finest.
There will be more Schumann (Symphonic Études) in the October 15 recital, as well as Beethoven’s euphoric Op.110, Liszt’s wildly popular Mephisto Waltz No.1, Tchaikovsky’s Meditation Op. 72 No.5 and Prokofiev’s dramatic Sonata No.7. It’s a major program by a major artist.
The Isabel. Russian pianist Georgy Tchaidze, 2009 Honens International Piano Competition First Prize Laureate, heads a packed month of appealing concerts at Kingston’s acoustically satisfying new hall. His October 16 recital includes works by Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Prokofiev. The Isabel’s Violin Festival, which begins October 13 with a concert by Quebec’s nine-piece string ensemble, collectif9, takes hold October 17 with the superb James Ehnes (and Andrew Armstrong) performing Handel and Beethoven sonatas and a new work by Bramwell Tovey. The Zukerman Trio visits on October 28 to play Brahms, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn while the splendid Midori (and pianist Leva Jokubaviciute) conclude the month’s activities on October 31 with an attractive program of works by Mozart, Brahms, Schubert and Ravel.
Gallery 345. The upcoming lineup at this west-end venue features several intriguing concerts beginning October 14 with the unusual combination of tuba, viola da gamba/harmonica and prepared piano that is Hübsch/Martel/Zoubek. Italian prize-winning pianist Marco Grieco’s October 18 recital features works by Bach-Busoni, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. On October 28 Katherine Dowling gives us “A Portrait from the Piano,” an imposing selection of the works of Henri Dutilleux. Twin sisters born in Iran, Hourshid and Mehrshid Afrakhteh, perform an evening of piano four hands under the name of TwinMuse, on November 3. Their tempting program includes works by Debussy, Stravinsky, Matthew Davidson and Lecuona, as well as solo pieces by Nicole Lizée.
Oct 2: The Windermere String Quartet puts their period instruments to the service of Haydn’s final word on the subject of the string quartet, the two-movement Op.103, before attacking Beethoven’s immortal Op.131.
Oct 16: Baritone Russell Braun, TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow and a cohort of topnotch musicians (including the marvellous TSO principal hornist, Neil Deland) join Amici for an inventive program exploring vocal and chamber works by Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss, Jr. Franz Hasenöhrl’s clever deconstruction of Till Eulenspiegel is certain to be a highlight.
Oct 18: Lang Lang brings his grand showmanship to Koerner Hall for the RCM Season Gala - already sold out - featuring music by Debussy, Liszt, Albéniz, Granados and de Falla.
Oct 21: Schubert’s enduring Octet highlights the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble’s visit to Koerner Hall.
Oct 21: Sheng Cai, who won the TSO National Piano Competition in 2003 as a teenager, is the soloist in the chamber version of Rachmaninoff’s Romantic masterpiece, his Piano Concerto No.2. Nurhan Arman conducts Sinfonia Toronto, which also performs Tchaikovsky’s graceful Serenade for Strings.
Oct 22: Attila Glatz presents the acclaimed German orchestra KlangVerwaltung with Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuern Chorus celebrating its 20th anniversary with its second North American tour. Conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg along with soloists Susanne Bernhard, soprano, Anke Vondung, mezzo-soprano, Daniel Johannsen, tenor, and Tareq Nazmi, bass, perform two canonical masterpieces at Roy Thomson Hall: Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s Magnificat. Founded by musicians who had collaborated with zu Guttenberg throughout his career, the Munich-based orchestra is composed of renowned players from the Berlin Philharmonic, Stuttgart State Opera, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, and Cologne Radio Orchestra, as well as soloists and chamber music players. The basis of their interpretative approach is a collaboration of historically informed performance practice combined with the unexpected and emotional.
Oct 26, 27: The TSO celebrates the 1920s in the first Decades Project of the new season with a rousing program that includes Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Kodály’s delightful Suite from Háry János and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.4. Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin, winner of the 2010 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, is the soloist; Kristjan Järvi, a member of the very musical family, guest conducts. Nov 2, 3, 5: Continuing the 1920s Decades Project, Jon Kimura Parker is the soloist in Prokofiev’s best-known piano concerto, the Third; conductor James Gaffigan leads the TSO in Milhaud’s jazzy La création du monde and Shostakovich’s precocious Symphony No. 1. The TSO Chamber Players perform Neilson’s Woodwind Quintet prior to the November 2 concert.
Oct 29: The Kindred Spirits Orchestra and conductor Kristian Alexander welcome the new season with Michael Berkovsky in Tchaikovsky’s beloved Piano Concerto No.1.
Nov 1: As part of their weeklong residency at the University of Toronto, the New Orford String Quartet performs Les veuves by Uriel Vanchestein-inspired by Richard Desjardins’ song by the same name, Debussy’s hypnotic String Quartet in G Minor Op.10 and Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.127, the first of his Late Quartets, in Walter Hall.
Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.
“Kenny Barron has been one of my favourite pianists for 25 years,” says Mervon Mehta of the Royal Conservatory, recalling that it was pianist Danilo Perez who turned him on to the piano genius. “Danilo said to me that when he first arrived from Panama to New York he used to go and sit and watch the left hand of Kenny – how his fingers and his mind work, how he would play individual chords, melodies and percussion on the piano. So I listened more and more and realized that Kenny has a facility at the keyboard that very few have. He can play any style of piano from the past 50 years and he continues to sound relevant. On his new record he doesn’t sound like a 70-year-old guy playing like he did in the 60s – he’s playing for today.”
As part of the Art of the Trio series presented by the Royal Conservatory and curated by Mehta, Barron’s October 29 date at Koerner Hall is a double bill with gifted keyboardist Robi Botos. Born to a musical Roma family in Nyíregyháza, Hungary, in 1978, Botos is the winner of several international honours including the 2004 Montreux Jazz Piano Competition, the 2012 Festival international de jazz de Montréal TD Grand Jazz Award and the 2016 JUNO for Best Jazz Album of the Year for Movin’ Forward. Among other influences, Botos certainly echoes the school of Oscar Peterson, not only recalling OP’s dazzling technique but also his showmanship, treating each solo as an opportunity to knock it out of the park.
The Robi Botos Trio varies slightly from night to night. On October 29, he will be joined by two of the brightest lights in Canadian jazz: Mike Downes on bass and Larnell Lewis on drums. Says Botos: “The three of us have been playing together for a long time on and off in a lot of different musical situations. Working with Mike and Larnell is very easy. They’re both amazing listeners and willing to serve the music. This way it’s easy to keep things fresh and in the moment. We also recently recorded some of my original compositions. I’m really not into a lot of rehearsing because the best moments are always the unrehearsed ones. We do enough to make sure the compositions sound good and leave lots of room for improvising. That’s how jazz should be played I believe.”
Says Mehta: “I knew the only possible choice to co-bill with Kenny Barron would be Robi because they have a mutual admiration. I saw them interact at the Oscar Peterson 90th birthday celebration concert last year. I asked Robi then and he almost said no because Kenny Barron is such a huge hero for him, but thankfully he did say yes.”
With a gentleness of spirit that comes in handy for his brand of musical sensitivity, Barron is one of the jazz world’s living legends, winning just about every award possible – except perhaps a Grammy, for which he has been nominated nine times. While in his teens, he started out with Dizzy Gillespie in 1962 and worked with Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, Buddy Rich and Yusef Lateef before recording his first LP as leader in 1974. Since then Barron has released over 40 albums, an astonishing discography if you think about the ratio between years and releases. I asked him what some of his favourite jazz trio recordings are, and why:
“Ahmad Jamal, live at the Pershing Lounge. [At the Pershing: But Not for Me]. It sounds so tight and the way he uses space. He uses the other members of the band to finish his phrases sometimes. You think he’s going to play it and he doesn’t. It’s a unique approach and it always sounds very together. Then there is Tommy Flanagan. There are so many. One of them is an album called Overseas with Wilbur Little and Elvin Jones. It is the epitome of taste but for me, everything Tommy does is like that. That’s what I call the real smooth jazz.”
With regards to the trio that Toronto audiences will hear at Koerner on October 29, Barron reflects on his sidemen:
“I met (bassist) Kiyoshi Kitagawa when he first moved to New York from Osaka, Japan. He played around town with a lot of fine musicians like Winard Parker and Jon Faddis. He has been a part of my bands for almost 20 years now. I’ve known Johnathan Blake since he was seven or eight years old – his father is the wonderful violinist John Blake and we used to play together, so I watched Johnathan grow up. His first instrument was violin and he later switched to drums. He studied at William Paterson University in New Jersey right outside of NYC so I was able to hear him frequently.
“The three of us started working solidly as a trio about ten years ago, touring around the world and the US. It seemed time to make a recording of our time together so we went into the studio and came out with 20 songs in two days! That’s how Book of Intuition came about…Working as this trio doesn’t require hours of thought or rehearsal. I usually say here’s a song and let’s see what we can do with it and they do. I don’t tell them what to do – they respond and we go with it. They bring in music and make suggestions too. They push me.”
The “Art of the Trio” concert on October 29 is sold out but the series continues – November 19: Stefano Bollani Trio & Roberto Occhipinti Trio; December 10: Joey DeFrancesco Trio & Jensen/Restivo/Vivian Trio; April 1: Jason Moran and the Bandwagon & Alexander Brown Trio; May 13: Christian McBride Trio & James Gelfand Trio.
Fay’s Home (Smith): That being said, the notion of the jazz trio being an art is explored very frequently at the intimate Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill, thanks to the booking of Fay Olson and the loyalty of the owners to live jazz programming. I last wrote about Olson in October 2009 and since then she has not missed a week of booking local jazz talent at the Old Mill and elsewhere. Says Olson:
“Then-owner of the Old Mill Inn, Michael Kalmar, first gave me the mandate to enhance jazz programming at the Home Smith Bar toward his vision of it becoming a ‘first class jazz room’ at the beginning of 2009. The first thing I did was add Thursday nights to the schedule and book trombonist Russ Little with a trio for a ‘Jazz Thursdays’ residency that ran that whole year. I’d actually been on the books at the Old Mill Inn as a marketing PR consultant for a couple of years before that, helping promote shows Michael had scheduled into the Dining Room.”
A much-prized occasion each year in the Home Smith Bar is New Year’s Eve, which once again this year will be hosted by June Garber and her trio.
“She’s uber-talented, but I think the ideal NYE experience should be so much more than a great performance, and June delivers in spades. She has the kind of warmth and personality that make everyone in the room feel as though they’re attending a blowout house party. One of the staff said when June hosted last year that she treats everyone as though they’re her personal dinner guests.”
If you check out the Jazz Listings section you will see how difficult it would be for Olson to recommend just three shows to WholeNote readers…nevertheless, I asked her to try her best, to which she replied:
“When I’m booking the Home Smith Bar, my mission is to present a monthly lineup that ensures no matter which first Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday someone chooses to be there, they’ll be assured of enjoying jazz performance of the highest calibre, whether delivered by the best established artists or some of the most talented emerging artists on the Toronto jazz scene.
“Soooo, my three recommendations are by no means intended to place anyone higher on the October roster than anyone else booked, but here you go:
“On Thursday, October 13, the great drummer (and head of the Drum Department at Humber College) Mark Kelso presents his stellar Trio (pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Mike Downes) but with a twist people don’t usually expect from Mark. His outstanding singing talents will also be on display. I first heard Mark sing a jazz arrangement of The Rainbow Connection with Brigham Phillips’ band a few years ago and was knocked out. I kept pushing him to make singing a bigger part of his act for the Home Smith Bar, so he finally did, and he’s great!!
“On Friday, October 14, the superb singer and musical theatre actress/singer Alana Bridgewater (she’s wonderful on June Garber’s new album, and a veteran of the Charlottetown Festival) makes her debut starring appearance at the Home Smith Bar. Alana has sung there before as the guest of an instrumental trio, but never leading her own ensemble (Scott Christian on piano, Henry Heillig on bass).
“Saturday, October 29 is a rare departure from mainstream jazz - a special blues edition of the ‘Year ’Round Jazz Festival’ when outstanding blues guitarist/singer Brian Blain relaunches his New Folk Blues recording lampooning life in the music industry (in collaboration with saxophonist Alison Young, Michelle Josef on drums, bassist George Koller and an ‘element of blues-tinged electronica’ by Joel Blain.”
One important thing to note, which distinguishes the Home Smith Bar from other rooms, is that there are no reservations taken. Seats are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis, which appears to be working quite well! Glasses raised to audiences who respect, listen to and support trios everywhere.
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.
As the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Bellini’s Norma continues its run, two Baroque operas will receive full-scale productions in Toronto in October. The first to open will be the COC’s first-ever presentation of Ariodante, an opera from 1735 by George Frideric Handel, running from October 16 to November 4. The second will be a new production from Opera Atelier of Henry Purcell’s masterpiece from 1689, Dido and Aeneas, running from October 20 to 29. The productions provide a contrast in approach to operas from the same period and country of origin.
Dido: Opera Atelier presents Dido and Aeneas, after a hiatus of ten years, in a new production. Writing in the Opera Atelier blog, Marshall Pynkoski said: “Of all of Opera Atelier’s repertoire, Dido remains perhaps the closest to our hearts. In 1986 Opera Atelier was officially launched with Canada’s first staged production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, which took place at the Royal Ontario Museum. Since that inaugural production, Dido has become one of Opera Atelier’s most important calling cards internationally.” Dido has in fact toured internationally more than any other Canadian opera production.
“Why stage a new production and what constitutes a new production for a period performance company?” I put these questions to Opera Atelier co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski.
Pynkoski explains: “Opera Atelier has been moving more into the storytelling itself. We had a wonderful beginning focusing on period style, but we had to ask what does this mean as a means of communication rather than a means of gorgeous display. I want people to listen and take in what these operas have to say. And so we’ve been stripping back the look of the company. If you look at our early productions and how incredibly elaborate they were with the wigs, the makeup, the sets, and what they’ve become now, I like to think we’re getting closer and closer to the core of what this work is.
“I still love period productions, I like exploring within that idiom, but the idiom isn’t dictating to us now. It’s become much more a means of expression. So with the new Dido, the set designs and the costumes have been simplified tremendously with far less applied detail. Instead of wigs, all the women are wearing their hair down for the first time. Instead of the tight control over design we’re allowing a more human element to enter everything. To increase the drama we’re allowing everyone a little bit more freedom in how they’re moving through the aesthetic gesturally and rhetorically.
“We still want to work within a framework that allows this very stylized art form, but the stylization isn’t going to dictate to us. Instead it becomes a point of departure and a means of creating something new.” Pynkoski says his point of reference has always been George Balanchine who could not have created something new for American Ballet Theatre without having been steeped in the strictures of Russian classical ballet. “Balanchine asked how much he could take away from the art form and still have it remain classical ballet.”
As for the common practice of updating productions to the present or recent past, Pynkoski says, “If we do that we lose all sense of history and what we can learn from history. If we insist on seeing everything as a mirror of ourselves, we see ourselves as a little moment in history that is divorced from everything that has come before. The past informs us. We’re part of the past. Rather than being provocative, an updated setting puts us into the realm of the familiar and the familiar gives us comfort and acts as a buffer. In my experience it is the past that can jolt more than the present. Familiarity can make us miss an enormous amount that is there.”
In the all-Canadian cast of the new production, rising mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta makes her role debut as Dido and tenor Christopher Enns makes his role debut as Aeneas. OA mainstay Meghan Lindsay will sing Belinda, Dido’s sister and confidante, beloved mezzo Laura Pudwell returns to sing the Sorceress and tenor Cory Knight sings the Sailor. In a nod to the work’s first performance at Josias Priest’s girls’ school in 1689, the Toronto Children’s Chorus will be the Chorus. As usual, Pynkoski will direct and David Fallis will conduct the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.
Ariodante: Taking a non-period approach to performance is the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Handel’s Ariodante, a co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Dutch National Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, already seen in Aix and Amsterdam.
Ariodante derives its plot from Cantos 5 and 6 of Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso (1532). Ariosto’s 46-canto work is set during Charlemagne’s reign as Holy Roman Emperor (800-814AD) during a fictitious war on Europe waged by the Saracen “King of Africa.” The action involving Ariodante takes place in Scotland, where Ginevra, daughter of the King, is happily betrothed to Ariodante. When Ginevra rejects the lewd advances of Polinesso, the Duke of Albany, he tricks Ariodante and her father into believing she has been unfaithful. As a result Ariodante attempts suicide and Ginevra is condemned to death. Fortunately, Ariodante’s brother Lurcanio challenges Polinesso to a duel, which Lurcanio wins, and forces Polinesso to confess his treachery.
For Andrea Marcon, who conducted the premiere of Richard Jones’ production at Aix, Ariodante is the “perfect” Handel opera in its structure, in the strength of its melodies and arias, and in the consistency of its melancholic tone. Many critics have noted that Ariodante is written on a much more intimate scale than some of Handel’s other operas. It is perhaps because of this and because of the work’s sombre tone that British director Jones has almost totally changed the opera’s setting, doing away with all the trappings of heroism and chivalric romance and relocating the action to a small Scottish fishing village in the 1970s where Ginevra’s father is not a king but merely a powerful man. The emphasis is thereby shifted to a more contemporary aspect of the plot – the intolerance of a small religious community that shuns a woman simply because she has been accused of immorality.
Since Handel had available the services of dancer Marie Sallé and her company for this opera and for Alcina (1735), these are the only two operas by Handel that contain so much dance music, especially in interludes at the end of each act. A company like Opera Atelier with a resident corps de ballet would have no problem with the inclusion of dance as it showed in its 2014 production of Alcina. Yet, according to reports from Aix and Amsterdam, while Jones does include Scottish dancing, he intriguingly substitutes table-top puppet shows for the end-of-act dance interludes to foreshadow developments in the plot.
British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, last seen at the COC in 2014 as Dejanira in Hercules, will sing the role of Ariodante, originally written for a castrato. Canadian soprano Jane Archibald will sing the much abused Ginevra. Armenian mezzo Varduhi Abrahamyan sings the trouser role of the villainous Polinesso, no longer a duke but reconceived by Jones as a Protestant minister. Canadian soprano Ambur Braid is Dalinda, Ginevra’s servant who is secretly in love with Polinesso. And Canadian tenor Owen McCausland is Ariodante’s brother Lurcanio. With Ariodante, COC music director Johannes Debus conducts his first Handel opera.
Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mooredale Concerts was founded in 1988 by the cellist Kristine Bogyo. After Bogyo’s death the organization was led by her husband, the well-known pianist Anton Kuerti. The present artistic director is Adrian Fung, like Bogyo a cellist. From the beginning the organization had two aims, one of which is educational. Mooredale Concerts presents us with three string orchestras. But they also give us a series of concerts, generally in pairs. The first installment is a scaled down children’s concert called Music and Truffles in the early afternoon; later in the afternoon the full-length concert is performed. Most of their concerts consist of instrumental chamber music.
This season’s second Mooredale offering, at 3:15pm on November 6, foregoes Music and Truffles and offers up something different in the way of repertoire. Taking as its subject the words and music of one of the most important, and one of the most appealing, songwriters of the 20th century – Noel Coward – the program will include such favourites as I’ll See You Again, I’ll Follow My Secret Heart, Some Day I’ll Find You, If Love Were All and Why Do the Wrong People Travel? The guiding spirit behind the concert is the pianist, composer and arranger John Greer. The singers are Monica Whicher, soprano, Norine Burgess, mezzo, Benjamin Butterfield, tenor, and Alexander Dobson, baritone. (Those who like the songs may also be interested in seeing a performance of Coward’s play Cavalcade by students of George Brown College at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts; November 9 to 19.)
Beckett at CanStage: In recent years there have been a number of Samuel Beckett’s late minimalist plays presented including three at the Berkeley Street Theatre last season directed by the gifted Jennifer Tarver. Beginning October 11, Canadian Stage presents All But Gone, a new work juxtaposing Beckett’s short plays with the operatic voices of Shannon Mercer, soprano, and Krisztina Szabó, mezzo. At the Berkeley Street Theatre, it runs until November 6. Jennifer Tarver is again the director; musical direction by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra.
Core Contemporary: In recent years there have perhaps been more opportunities to hear contemporary music in the classical mainstream than used to be the case, with such works being programmed more vigorously by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the U of T Faculty of Music and others. But there have also been, for decades, organizations entirely devoted to core presentation of contemporary music, including vocal works (New Music Concerts, Soundstreams and the Esprit Orchestra, to name a notable few).
The first concert of the Esprit Orchestra this season at Koerner Hall, October 23, is a tribute to the eminent Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. It includes Schafer’s Adieu Robert Schumann for mezzo, orchestra and electronic instruments, which was commissioned by John Roberts and the CBC for the contralto Maureen Forrester in 1976 (it was revised in 1980). The work uses passages from the diaries of Clara Schumann as she witnesses her husband’s descent into madness. The work also includes allusions to some of Robert Schumann’s compositions. The singer is Krisztina Szabó, who is having an especially busy month.
COC Ensemble Gala: The annual Ensemble Studio Competition is always an important event for the Canadian Opera Company, both in terms of an early opportunity to glimpse potential operatic stars of the future, and as an important fundraiser for the Ensemble itself. In recent years that competition has brought forward such outstanding young singers as the bass-baritone Gordon Bintner, the soprano Karine Boucher and, most recently, the mezzo Emily D’Angelo. Hosted by Ben Heppner, the 2016 competition will be held on November 3 at the Four Seasons Centre.
Mazzoleni Songmasters consists of a series of three recitals jointly curated by Rachel Andrist and Monica Whicher. Its first concert this season – “Welcome and Adieu” – will be on October 23. The sopranos Nathalie Paulin and Monica Whicher will sing English and French duets.
Oct 1: The baritone Adam Harris sings six songs from Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad with the U of T Symphony at the MacMillan Theatre.
Oct 1: Marc B. Young is the singer in a concert which will combine songs by Rachmaninoff with the poems he set; at the Chapel, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.
Oct 4 and 5: The Ensemble Rajaton presents the music of ABBA, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall.
Oct 6: The tenor Benjamin Stein, former choral columnist in The WholeNote, sings and plays the lute and the theorbo in a free noon-hour concert at Metropolitan United Church.
Oct 6: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s opening concert of the season at Walter Hall presents tenor Issachah Savage singing music by Beethoven, Schumann, Strauss and Quilter as well as spirituals.
Oct 14: Allison Arends is the soprano soloist in a concert that includes English and Canadian folk songs arranged by Britten and Vaughan Williams as well as the song cycle Cuatro madrigales amatorios by Rodrigo; at the Heliconian Club.
Oct 14 and 15: Mirvish Productions presents Kacee Clanton in An Evening with Janis Joplin at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
Oct 16: The Amici Chamber Ensemble performs the work of Johann and Richard Strauss at Mazzoleni Concert Hall with Russell Braun.
Oct 19: There will be a singalong tribute to the songs of the 1960s at Free Times Café, featuring If I Had a Hammer, Walk Right In, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Tom Dooley and others. The singers are Sue and Dwight Peters and Michelle Rumball.
Oct 20: U of T Faculty of Music presents a selection from Schumann’s Myrthen performed by Nathalie Paulin, soprano, and Krisztina Szabó, mezzo at Walter Hall; free.
Oct 21: York University department of Music presents a vocal masterclass with the tenor Lawrence Wiliford. Young singers from the studios of Catherine Robbin, Stephanie Bogle, Norma Burrowes, Michael Donovan and Karen Rymal will perform at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building; free.
Oct 23: The mezzo Maria Soulis will be the soloist in Elgar’s Sea Pictures with Orchestra Toronto at George Weston Recital Hall. The program will also include Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony.
Oct 25: Another free midday recital by students at York University will be given at Tribute Communities Hall.
Oct 25: The Talisker Players give us readings and performances of poems and songs in “Songs of Enchantment: Tales of Wonder, Spells and Transformation.” The concert includes work by Schafer, Purcell, Arnold, Morlock and Louie. The singers are Miriam Khalil, soprano, and Lauren Segal, mezzo; at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.
Oct 30: Songs from Georgia will be performed by Diana and Madona Iremashvili and Bachi Makharashvili at the Heliconian Club.
Oct 31: “Manhattan: Midtown – 42nd Street and Broadway,” the second installment of Soulpepper’s exploration of 20th-century American music, opens on October 31 and runs to November 5. At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
Nov 1, 2, 3: Music by Queen and David Bowie will be performed by the Acting Up Stage Company at Koerner Hall.
Nov 3: The U of T Faculty of Music presents a free lunchtime concert of music inspired by Hamlet and Macbeth. The singers are Monica Whicher, soprano, and Laura Tucker, mezzo.
Nov 5: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The title part will be sung by the bass-baritone David Pittsinger and other parts will be performed by Leslie Bouza, soprano, Christina Stelmacovich, mezzo, and Michael Schade, tenor, at Koerner Hall.
Nov. 5 and 6: The Bicycle Opera Project are the guests in Pax Christi Chorale’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Grace Church on-the-Hill.
And beyond the GTA:
Nov 5: Another performance of Elijah, this one featuring Chorus Niagara, takes place in St. Catharines at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Russell Braun (as Elijah), Leslie Ann Bradley, Anita Krause and Adam Luther join Chorus Niagara.
Nov 5: Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass will be performed by the Stratford Concert Choir in St. James Anglican Church, Stratford. The soloists are Catherine Sadler, soprano, Anna Tamm Relyea, alto, Mathias Memmel, tenor, and Gary Relyea, bass.
Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Before George Frideric Handel was hired by King George III, England was in some aspects a cultural backwater, at least as far as music was concerned. The main problem was a lack of patrons. The English court couldn’t spend as lavishly on entertainment on the same scale as, say, Versailles under Louis XIV or Vienna under Leopold I, and the Church of England didn’t exactly have much of a budget either. England was, unfortunately, a musically dull country, but encouraging culture was considered both a worthwhile political goal and a civic duty by liberally minded politicians around the turn of the 18th century.
For similar reasons, there was a push in England to both foster a native opera scene and build a national opera house in London – an ambitious project in an age when opera was still less than a century old, and far from the accepted musical institution that it is today. And opera has always been a hard sell for people not already inclined towards music or unwilling to accept the idea of a sung drama. While Italy and countries with an Italian influence on their culture embraced the opera readily, the English in particular didn’t warm to it. Italian opera had been performed in England in 1674; an early 18th-century writer, Colley Cibber, was still protesting that opera was “not a plant of our native growth, nor what our plainer appetites are fond of, and is of so delicate a nature that without excessive charge it cannot live long among us.”
But that didn’t stop the most ardent English opera devotees from trying to popularize opera. They successfully had an opera house – the Queen’s Theatre – built in London in 1705, by enlisting several like-minded (and wealthy) patrons and pre-selling subscriptions. And they commissioned an opera with an English libretto. There was just one problem. After rehearsals had started, the backers realized that the opera (Semele, by John Eccles) wasn’t very good. Changing their plans on the fly, they decided instead to make the debut performance at the new opera house the even more forgettable Gli amori di Ergasto, by Jakob Greber.
The result was a disaster. For one thing, it was sung in Italian, which few audience members could understand, by Venetian singers who, at least one audience member complained, were “the worst that e’re came from thence.” As a national cultural project, it was also a failure. The national ambitions of English opera also came under fire from critics, as some felt that it was a bad idea to debut a new national opera house with an Italian turkey rather than “a good new English opera.” And of course, with so much political capital riding on the success of the venture, political opponents as well as critics had been busy sharpening their knives. They were merciless, decrying the opera house and its lacklustre start as an example of hubris, and its patrons as “Creators, Givers of Being, and God Almighties.” The fact that the opera was in Italian was a particular problem for the audiences of the day, and an easy target for satirists, who predicted that future historians would be misled into thinking that average 18th-century Londoners understood Italian fluently.
With so much jingoistic sentiment lurking in the background, a distinctly anti-opera attitude, a backwater musical community, a dearth of native musical talent, and a composer of any worth seemingly nowhere to be found, English music – and English opera – needed a hero.
Surprisingly, they may have already had one in their midst, in the form of Henry Purcell and his epic opera Dido and Aeneas. Purcell’s opera had everything the English were looking for: an all-English text and a talented composer who was able to incorporate French and Italian musical style into a music that was distinctly his own as well as sounding very typically English. Unfortunately for the Purcell opera, its subject matter (a monarch who is led astray by Satan-worshipping witches) made Dido and Aeneas, with its implied indictment of the English monarchy, too politically charged and too inflammatory to be performed in a contemporary English opera house.
Given Eccles and Greber as the only alternatives, the tragedy of lack of compositional talent on hand to give the English the opera they needed was complete – Purcell having died the previous decade.
Comeback: With Dido having been overlooked by its contemporaries, and no other English-language opera able to fill its place, it’s nice to see that it has been making a comeback in recent years. Opera Atelier in particular has chosen it to kick off their 2016/17 season, and it seems that Purcell’s overlooked masterpiece will finally get the treatment it deserves. After some 300 years, the story of an ancestor of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, reads more like a foundational myth than an indictment of English royalty today. With a slew of dance numbers, airs and choruses, this is one of a very few operas that’s actually catchy. With a cast of established and rising young stars, top-tier staging and costumes, arguably the best theatre in Toronto, and one of the best opera orchestras in the world, Opera Atelier is the ideal company to be performing this opera. It’s playing this month at the Elgin Theatre from October 20 to 29. Go see it.
Music for Bloody Mary: If you’re not much of an opera fan, if you’re more inclined towards choral music, or if you just prefer Renaissance music to the Baroque, English music is once again on the menu with the Tallis Choir’s performance of Music for Bloody Mary, at St. Patrick’s Church on October 15 at 7:30pm. The Tallis Choir is being much kinder to Mary I than most historians – it’s hard to get too nostalgic over a monarch who ruled for just five years and whose main accomplishments were religious purges – but the concert is filled with some forgotten gems of the English Renaissance. Tallis’ glorious Videte Miraculum and Loquebantur Variis Linguis are the highlights here, and you can also get a rare chance to hear a John Taverner Mass and the almost never-heard composer John Sheppard. The Tallis Choir is a solid vocal group who has made Renaissance polyphony their specialty – this group is one of the best early music vocal groups in the city.
I Furiosi: Another chamber group in town that I haven’t written enough about is the great I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble. The ensemble was founded in 1999 by cellist/gambist Felix Deak, soprano Gabrielle McLaughlin and violinist Tim Haig. Deak and McLaughlin were joined soon after by violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, and that core ensemble remains intact almost two decades later. This is a group that stands out for their fun, engaging thematic concerts featuring a potpourri of Baroque instrumental and vocal music (with the occasional pop tease thrown in) featuring blistering performances and spirited interpretations from a top-tier ensemble to boot.
This month on October 21 at 8pm, I Furiosi will feature music by Fux, Rameau and Lully, in a concert titled “Both Alike in Dignity” at Calvin Presbyterian Church. The group will also be joined by the Toronto’s reigning baroque bassoon virtuoso, Dominic Teresi, who is the closest thing to technically flawless I’ve ever seen in a bassoon player. Consider checking out this group if you’re a fan of chamber music.
David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in the mid 1960s, two composers in their mid-30s took part in a summer workshop being offered by the University of Toronto. The course was in electronic music and at the time, the studio at U of T was one of the leading centres in the field. Those two composers were Pauline Oliveros and R. Murray Schafer. During Oliveros’ most recent trip to Toronto in the summer of 2014, she noted that fact during a talk she gave at TIES – the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium. At the time when I heard her tell us this anecdote, I couldn’t help be struck by the fact that these two people sharing the same creative environment in the bowels of an electronic studio in Toronto would go on to radically alter the way we understand the process of listening.
One can only wonder what aspects of that workshop influenced their ideas around perception of sound and listening. For me personally, I know that spending endless hours in a studio has made all the difference in my own listening behaviours and approach to composing. And now, during the month of October, separate events are taking place in the city which highlight the work and legacy of these two musical pioneers. Oliveros is one of the featured artists in the Music Gallery’s X Avant XI Festival running from October 13 to October 16, and Schafer will be honoured at Esprit Orchestra’s concert on October 23.
This theme for this year’s X Avant Festival is reverberation – including both how the use of reverb in sound marks distinctive styles, and how specific ideas move through the world and leave their legacy. One of the distinct elements of Oliveros’ legacy is what she calls Deep Listening. During the same talk she gave in 2014 at TIES, she also told the story of how that term came to be. Curiously, it started off as a pun. In 1988, Oliveros and her ensemble made a recording in a deep cistern well in Washington State that has a reverb time of 45 seconds. After the recording, she made a joke to her colleagues about the experience as one of “deep listening.” Up to this point in her career, she had been developing a practice she called Sonic Meditations, a way of approaching composing and performing through listening, focused awareness and attention. After the cistern experience, the term Deep Listening was coined; she currently defines it as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing.” This encompasses exploring “the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature – exclusive and inclusive – of listening.” That the term arose in part out of an experience of reverberation is an interesting connection to the X Avant theme.
Oliveros will be returning to Toronto to perform at the X Avant Festival on October 14. To get an idea of how her Deep Listening legacy has reverberated out to a younger generation of musicians, I spoke with one of the other performers in her concert, Doug Van Nort. Van Nort first encountered Oliveros’ work when he began his MFA studies in electronic arts in 2001 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where she was teaching. During his second year, despite his main focus on learning music programming and thinking about electronic compositions, he was invited to become a teaching assistant for her Deep Listening course, and within no time found himself facilitating some of the DL exercises and receiving feedback from Pauline on how he was doing. This experience was to have a profound impact on his future career.
During his PhD studies at McGill University, Van Nort continued to have a connection with Oliveros and the rich worldwide community of deep listeners, eventually returning to RPI to engage in research around questions of telematic performance, systems thinking and composing for electronic spaces. Essentially, telematic performance involves performing with others who are in different locations while the idea of creating telepresence raises the question of whether we actually feel we are sharing the same space or not. During this research phase, he performed weekly over a five-year period with Oliveros and colleague Jonas Braasch.
Since an intersection between deep listening and technology is a signature aspect of Oliveros’ work, I asked Van Nort about how the relationship between these two elements expressed itself in his own work. His response was curious: “My first pass is always to say I’m not interested in technology, even though I have a degree in music technology.” He explained that this is his way of distancing himself from a fetishization of technology in order to bring attention and focus back to what is unique about technological mediation in performance. It comes down to the idea of creating systems for musical performance that has kept him close to Oliveros as both his mentor and collaborator all these years. How can sonic events, gestures and sounds spread and circulate within an integrated network or web and still be perceived as a musical performance with instrumental-like qualities? He mentioned that this approach was present even in Oliveros’ early works such as I of IV which was created in the U of T studio in 1966.
The outcome of Van Nort’s research and performance collaboration with Oliveros has been the creation of GREIS (pronounced “grace”) – the Granular-Feedback Expanded Instrument System, which even in its title is a nod to Oliveros’ own Expanded Instrument System (EIS) which she has developed over many years. During the X Avant XI Festival concert on October 14, Van Nort will be performing with GREIS in interaction with Oliveros on her digital accordian, Anne Bourne on cello, and Ione with spoken word. GREIS is a system that fundamentally puts things in motion and requires the performers to react to it. In the ensemble context, everyone is both generating their own gestures as well as reacting with what is coming back from GREIS – which can happen at any point in time. “What results is the creation of a tight organism that has to respond together and move in a given direction. It doesn’t work without Deep Listening.”
Van Nort’s input into the system will be sourced from his large library of field recordings that he will stretch and filter. A second layer will be his capturing and reshaping of the sounds coming from Bourne’s cello and Oliveros’ digital accordian and then fitting these gestures back into the musical flow at some point. In addition, there will be a spatialization component that GREIS will contribute by generating various types of movements over eight speakers – a wide and fast motion for example, or a tight and slow motion. And finally, Ione’s spoken words will sit on top of this entire sonic field in their pure acoustic form. Van Nort sums up the full experience with these words: “The core intent is to create something that is a breathing living organism that has to have at its essence an organic motion to it regardless of whether there is digital technology inserted in the path or not.” For the listener, it will be an enveloping and immersive improvisational environment within which one is invited to be mindful of both global and focal attention – taking in both the entirety of the sound field while also following the individual lines as much as possible. Alternating between both fields is a fundamental aspect of the Deep Listening experience. Toronto is fortunate to now have Van Nort as a professor of digital performance at York University where he runs the DisPerSion Lab and the Electro-acoustic Orchestra.
The music of R. Murray Schafer will be the focus of Esprit Orchestra’s concert on October 23, “Power On.” This tribute to Schafer will include three works spanning 1976 to 1990 and feature performers Robert Aitken, Ryan Scott and Krisztina Szabó. Schafer’s music compositions include an extensive repertoire of works for the concert hall, his 12-part cycle of musical/theatrical works he calls Patria, and a series of pieces composed for performance in outdoor environments. As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, Schafer has also had an enormous influence on how we listen. Early in his career, he became aware of the increasing amount of noise in our everyday environment, leading him to undertake research into this growing phenomenon that no one was paying attention to. This research led him to coin the term “soundscape” along with other terms to describe the ecology of the acoustic environment. Much of this research ended up in the recordings and booklet of The World Soundscape Project and his extensive book, The Tuning of the World, published in 1977. Part of Schafer’s legacy is bringing awareness to how we listen to the sounds of the environment and their impact on us both individually and collectively. This approach to listening has influenced his approach to composition, as well as the development of both educational resources and community-based experiences to bring awareness of the world of sound around us.
Soundstreams and New Music Concerts. The legend of the flute will be the focus of Soundstreams’ season opener events. Density 2036, a project begun by virtuoso flutist Claire Chase to create a new body of works for solo flute, will be on display October 4 in one of Soundstreams’ “Ear Candy” events. On October 12, their concert “Magic Flutes” will feature Chase along with four other virtuoso flute players performing a repertoire of works in a surround-sound environment, including a world premiere from Canada’s Anna Höstman.
The New Music Concerts event on October 30 will feature the return of the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal and the latest edition of Generation 2016, their biennial project designed to mentor, rehearse and tour works by four young Canadian composers. This year’s roster includes Taylor Brook (Alberta), Symon Henry (Quebec), Sabrina Schroeder (BC) and Adam Scime (Ontario).
Oct 15: Toronto Messiaen Ensemble performing George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, among other works.
Oct 19: Xin Wang of TO.U Collective performs Berio’s Sequenza III along with works by Webern, Georges Aperghis and others.
Oct 25 and 26: Talisker Players perform Schafer’s Beauty and the Beast, Morlock’s …et je danse and Louie’s Songs of Enchantment.
Oct 30: Toronto Chamber Choir premieres David Barber’s Remember Not.
Nov 6: The Royal Conservatory presents percussionist Steven Schick in works by Lei Liang, Mark Applebaum, John Cage and Iannis Xenakis. Free tickets available October 6.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. email@example.com.
I don’t usually mention my personal life much in these pages. On the other hand the eventful month since my last WholeNote column has been marked by one of life’s major milestones. I would feel remiss not to share a few of the highlights with you, faithful reader.
In August I enjoyed a joyous pre-wedding reception at Array Space here in Toronto with my bride-to-be, family and friends. On its heels was a bells-and-whistles wedding on Jericho Beach in Vancouver. It was raining for much of the week on the “wet coast,” yet the sun actually beamed and bestowed its blessings on us on the appointed day.
From Vancouver we immediately flew to Hungary for our honeymoon. Over 27 years since my last visit, it was a jam-packed whirlwind tour of the Western Transdanubian region of the country, graced all the way with unseasonably hot and sunny weather. Family, friends, food and wine, vistas and music featured prominently, along with the ever-present rich history of a mixed glorious and painful legacy of 1200 years which surrounded us at every turn. Back only a few days, my bride and I are still wiping jetlag cobwebs from our eyes.
One of my semi-musical tasks in Budapest was to connect with a prominent Hungarian player of the cimbalom – the Hungarian concert hammered dulcimer – on behalf of busy Toronto percussionist and cimbalom player Richard Moore, and that is where this month’s musical story starts.
I first met Moore at York University a few years ago where we were each pursuing our respective graduate degrees. He often spoke to me about his research on the history and repertoire of the cimbalom. His passion for it has clearly shaped his career choices as a gigging musician. Moore’s command of the instrument has made him that rara avis of doublers: a percussionist who also plays the cimbalom and hammered dulcimer. His highly honed skill set is so rare in Canada that he is often the first call cimbalomist in concert chamber, symphonic and film soundtrack work.
October 26 and 27, for example, Moore performs the cimbalom solo in Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János Suite (1926-27) with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Curious about his unusual choice of instrumental doubling, I spoke with Moore on an unusually hot mid-September Toronto afternoon.
We talked first about the origins of the cimbalom scored for in Kodály’s Suite. “The cimbalom has an important voice in Hungarian music of the last 135 years, often being characterized as the country’s ‘national instrument,’” Moore stated. “The piano-like chromatic cimbalom I play today was first developed in Budapest in 1874 by the piano maker József Schunda, probably based on hammered dulcimer predecessors commonly played amongst the Romani in Austria-Hungary.”
It was a large and elaborate instrument, equipped with a pedal damper mechanism and possessing a range of four to five chromatic octaves. “It was immediately put to use by Ferencz Liszt,” Moore says. “The cimbalom entered the western orchestral world via Liszt’s patriotic 1875 Ungarischer Sturmmarsch (Hungarian Assault March) and his Hungarian Rhapsody No.6 with generations of composers following.”
I then asked him about the hammered dulcimer, the roots of which, I’ve read, can be traced back, under many various names, thousands of years. “Yes, the roots of the hammered dulcimer extend back many centuries and span numerous regions of Asia and Europe,” Moore asserted. “A modal and diatonic, rather than a chromatic, instrument, it was also brought by European immigrants to North America, and had a presence in the vernacular music of 17th-, 18th- and 19th- century America and Canada.” It appears that many Hungarian Romani musicians adopted the Schunda cimbalom very early on, he told me. “For example there is contextual stylistic evidence in Liszt’s scores that Roma cimbalom playing influenced some of his Hungarian Rhapsodies,” a significant part of his oeuvre.”
So, how did Moore’s own interest in the cimbalom develop?
“It all started in 1998 when I was a music student in Munich where I heard a Roma cimbalom player on the street. I was immediately drawn to its sound and timbre. Thinking like a percussionist, I made a connection right away between the two beaters he was using and the two-mallet techniques on the percussion instruments I was used to playing. The two performance techniques appeared similar to me. I could see adapting my existing percussion techniques to the cimbalom.”
He soon learned, however, that it is unlike any keyboard percussion instrument in its unique layout of strings, which directly dictates its pitch series. “Instead of the left-to-right horizontal layout typical of keyboards, the notes on the cimbalom are arranged vertically in front of the player.”
Moore continued: “The second obstacle was finding a cimbalom teacher in Munich. I couldn’t find one, so I studied with an instructor of the Hackbrett-cimbalom, a German hybrid chromatic instrument.”
Early in our conversation Moore talked about Liszt’s use of the cimbalom in two of his orchestral works, valorizing its patriotic symbolism as much as its timbral identity. But what of its presence in 20th-century scores?
Moore jumped right in, “In late January 1915, Igor Stravinsky heard Aladár Rácz, the important Romani cimbalomist, playing at Maxim’s, a café in Geneva. The result of that meeting fired the composer’s instrumental imagination, compelling him to purchase one for his personal compositional use.” The experience proved so powerful that it inspired Stravinsky to score for the cimbalom in several major works: the ballet Renard (1915-1916), and in 1917, in the Ragtime for 11 Instruments, a draft instrumentation of Les Noces, and in an early instrumentation of his Four Russian Songs. “Then in 1928 Béla Bartók featured it in his mature Rhapsody No.1 for Violin and Orchestra, underscoring melodies derived from Hungarian folk songs which infuse the work.”
Returning to Kodály’s Háry János Suite in which Moore will be playing the prominent cimbalom part with the TSO this month, Moore notes that “the instrument is found throughout the opera, evoking a mythical Hungarian past.” Illustrating how his rare doubling career works in practice, Moore will play both parts in these concerts, rendering the percussion part in movements of the Suite without the cimbalom.
The Kodály work has, over the years, retained its popularity in the symphonic repertoire. Moore played it with the Winnipeg Symphony around six years ago and also performed it with the Toronto Philharmonia. “By the way, the Toronto jazz pianist Rudy Toth (1925-2009), the son of a cimbalom maker, also doubled on the concert cimbalom until his retirement in 1989, performing it in the Háry János Suite with the TSO and other orchestras.”
New Passion: Beginning in the 1950s, Hungarian modernist composers like György Kurtág embraced the instrument with a new passion. “Kurtág included it in over a dozen works,” Moore says. “His colleague Péter Eötvös has extended the cimbalom’s repertoire further with a concerto and chamber works, one of which I performed with New Music Concerts in Toronto a few years ago under the baton of the composer.”
Is the concert cimbalom only the preserve of Hungarian composers? “British composers like Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies also included it in their works starting in the 1960s,” says Moore. “French composer Pierre Boulez was a notable advocate. He told me he very much enjoyed writing for the instrument when I worked with him in 2006 on the Glenn Gould Award concert in Toronto.” In addition, Frank Zappa scored for the cimbalom in his Yellow Shark (1992-93) score and live concert DVD, possibly influenced by Boulez’s example.
I seem to recall hearing the cimbalom in TV and film soundtracks. “Yes!” enthused Moore. “The Gladiator film soundtrack uses it. I performed it at live screenings in Toronto and Montreal last year. Howard Shore, the multiple Oscar-winning Canadian film composer included it in each of his three Lord of the Rings film scores. The TSO will be performing live to the first of those films on December 1, 2, and 3, 2016. For those concerts I’ll be playing not only the concert cimbalom, but also hammered dulcimer and other percussion parts, since technically these hammered string instruments are considered part of the percussion section,” and thus may be considered doubling instruments of the percussionist.
The Canadian National Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale, its 2013 score composed by English composer Joby Talbot, features two different types of hammered dulcimers on stage. Moore performed the onstage parts and he adds that “its successful 2015 premiere run in Toronto was replicated in 2016 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and also at Lincoln Center, NYC, in which I also performed.”
Moore’s dedication to this string percussion instrument has led him to performance opportunities at the heart of European concert music, as well as in recent popular film soundtracks and ballet scores. I asked him how he sees his cimbalom-playing career evolving. “In the future I see myself working closely with film composers to develop its expressive potential and ability to evoke a particular, though hard to define, sonic atmosphere, often used by composers to depict the exotic ‘other’ landscape – whether Celtic Ireland, a Central or Eastern European folk milieu, or rural 19th-century North America.”
For me, what’s particularly intriguing about Moore’s advocacy of hammered dulcimers is how these instruments have emerged and have been adapted to various performance disciplines and genres. Another intriguing – and as yet little explored – facet is the connection between the cimbalom’s discovery in 1914 by the major modernist music composer Stravinsky and the living Romani tradition which had already long adopted the concert cimbalom by that time. This connection is a living one in Moore’s career. The instrument he is pictured with in the photograph accompanying this story and which he plays in the October TSO concerts was purchased from a Hungarian musician specializing in Romani cimbalom music.
Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Horizons. For the past several years this column, in the October issue, has reported on the progress of established New Horizons bands and the establishment of new beginners’ bands. This year the news is even better. As mentioned here some months ago, a documentary on the establishment and growth of New Horizons bands in Toronto was featured on TVO. At the time we all wondered how this might stimulate interest in prospective members; then came the annual Instrument Exploration Workshop.
I was unable to attend the event this year, but I hear it was a bigger success than ever. In the words of director Dan Kapp: “As for the past week, a whirlwind of happy ‘kids,’ it was busy, exciting and full of happy reunions as folks came back to band class.” It wasn’t just a reunion for past members though. New Horizons Toronto now has 90 new members. Of those, 80 are beginners in two classes. This year there were three couples who joined together, two siblings of existing members and a few friends of other members who joined.
Being a low brass player myself, I have often lamented the lesser interest in the lower instruments. For many starting out on a new instrument there seems to be a certain snobbery in that they consider that the instruments which usually get the melody are in some way superior. My standard response is to suggest that they look at all of the great cathedrals in Europe and show me one where the construction began with the steeple. None! None would exist if they did not have a firm solid foundation. In any band the tuba is that foundation. Without the tuba the structure would be flimsy and incomplete.
So I am happy to report that, finally, after seven years, there is to be a new tuba player in the Toronto New Horizons bands! A woman who attended the instrument exploration evening was concerned about her carpal tunnel syndrome. She asked for a suggestion and at the same time asked what the group needed. Kapp suggested the tuba. Once she gave it a try, she fell for it and immediately took the mouthpiece home to practice.
Beginning this year there are a few new membership policies. The most innovative is “One fee, play in as many bands as you wish.” Also, they now have had a few members at the advanced and intermediate level sign up for beginner classes on a second instrument. Another change is that, for the first time in their short history, they have had to cap classes for the remainder of the year for all woodwind, and high brass. They still have spots open for French horn, trombone, euphonium, and of course, tuba.
Finally, in previous years the band has produced a very special Remembrance Day program with a narrative based on letters from a soldier who was killed during World War II. They will be performing this concert, “A Time To Remember, “ in Lindsay this year. The show is being billed as “A moment to reflect on war and its costs through word, music and images.” More on the date and time when we have details.
Time for tubas. Having been involved with low brass instruments most of my life, my ears perked up recently when I heard the unfamiliar term “Tubatorium” on the radio while driving. (I have no recollection of the actual program I was listening to, but I was determined to find out about the Tubatorium. With the help of Mr. Google and other friends I began my exploration. Was this a dealer who sold tubas or a place to learn to play the instrument? No! This is a tunnel under some railway lines in Nashville Tennessee. A man named Joe Hunter, who plays electric bass in a couple of local Nashville groups, had routinely been frustrated while stuck in long traffic jams while driving through this tunnel at rush hours. One of the websites I visited shows Hunter, a young man with shoulder length blond hair, playing a sousaphone beside all of the cars inside the crowded tunnel. With his right hand playing the instrument and the left one holding a container for donations from motorists stuck in the traffic of the tunnel, Hunter plays selections from his repertoire. It’s not unusual to find buskers in unusual locations, but this was a new one. For many Nashville motorists the Thompson Lane Tunnel has been renamed the Tubatorium. If you’re interested in seeing this on the internet, the words “sousaphone in tunnel” yield several results.
Low brass. Quite by accident, while looking for Tubatorium information, I stumbled upon a fascinating website dedicated to low brass instruments. Hosted by Sean Chisham, this website, chisham.com, contains a wealth of information for any brass instrument player, not just for those interested in the tuba. Right off, after you look at the options on the opening TubeNet page, one of the first sections that you will see is a set of complete fingering charts for B-flat, E-flat, C and F tubas.
For many years when anyone spoke of symphony tuba players, the pre-eminent name was Arnold Jacobs of the Chicago Symphony. This website contains an immense amount of information from Jacobs who was considered the master of instruction for low brass instruments. Such topics as “Warming up,” “Play by sound not feel” and “Imitate others” are there complete with the sounds of Jacobs demonstrating. The most impressive component of this site is that of a complete 1973 masterclass conducted by Jacobs. Also on the site is extensive information on many famous musicians and their recordings
One final gem on the subject of tubas is the recent release in January of a new Concerto in B-flat Major by American composer Daniel Simpson. I have not had a chance to hear this work yet, but I have been told that the Finale: Tango movement is particularly impressive. Hopefully there will be more to report in a future issue.
CBA-Ontario Community Band Weekend. It’s that time of year again when the Canadian Band Association, Ontario Chapter, will be holding another of their Community Band Weekends. This one will be hosted by the East York Concert Band from Saturday, October 22, at 8am until Sunday, October 23, at 5pm. With a Social Meet and Greet scheduled for Friday October 21 starting at 7:30, this event accords an excellent opportunity to experience a weekend of music making with like-minded individuals who share a passion for wind band music. It all takes place at the Royal Canadian Legion, Brigadier O. M. Martin Branch 345, 81 Peard Rd., Toronto. If you are a band member, this is a chance to meet with members of other bands and share ideas as well as rehearse and perform new music with guest conductors from across the province.
Aurora Community Band. In the last issue of this column I challenged band members to send us information on their bands and their activities. Fortunately one band member responded immediately to tell us about her band. Here’s what Connie Learn, one of the band’s directors, had to say: “The Aurora Community Band is now entering its sixth season of ‘creating beautiful concert band music with and for the citizens of Aurora.’ With musical director Gord Shephard at the helm, the band’s membership continues to increase and we’re looking forward with enthusiasm to this year’s activities. The band rehearses in Brevik Hall at the Aurora Cultural Centre, 22 Church St., Aurora, on Sunday evenings from 7pm to 9pm. We would like to invite you to attend one of the band’s rehearsals and experience the exuberance of this lively group of musicians. Brevik Hall is on the second floor of the Cultural Centre but there is an elevator for assistance, especially if you choose to bring your tuba!” For Canada 150 festivities, the band has commissioned a composition from professor Bill Thomas of York University. The band will have the premiere performance of this number at its concert on Canada Day 2017. We’ll have more on this band’s activities in coming issues.
The Originals Band. We recently had a request from Ian Miles, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Concert Band, Branch 344, for any information on the history of that band. Many years ago, when Legion Branch 344 was located on Elm Street in downtown Toronto there was an active band. After the branch’s move to their present location on Lakeshore Blvd., many of us lost contact with that band. In its early years the band was known as The Originals. In his message Ian states: “The RCLCB has rebuilt itself over the last year, and is doing quite well, but only two long-serving members (ten-plus years) are still with us, and what is missing is a historical perspective of the band.” I personally remember well attending a farewell party for the conductor, Scotty Wilson, who was leaving to move back to Scotland. If any readers have any information on the history of this band, please contact us.
Band happenings. As reported on previous occasions the Newmarket Citizens Band spent years hoping for a new home after theirs was destroyed by fire. Over those years they had hoped to find a new home upon completion of the restoration of the old town hall. However, the restoration process took much longer than expected and finally about a month ago the band moved into its new home elsewhere. The irony of the situation is that, barely a few weeks after moving into this new home, they were invited to play at the opening ceremonies of the now-restored town hall.
Oct 11: Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will present their “59 Minute Soiree” at Wilmar Heights Centre, Scarborough. Refreshments, conversation with the musicians and open rehearsal to follow.
Oct 16: Markham Concert Band will present “Road Trip!” In honour of their recent journey to Markham’s sister city Cary, North Carolina, they will present a tribute to great Canadian and American music: Broadway, jazz, marches and more. The concert will feature vocalists Solveig Barber and Bill Mighton.
Oct 18: The Barrie Concert Band will present “Veterans Salute,” a musical tribute to the veterans and service men and women in the Canadian Forces. The concert, at the Army Navy and Air Force Club, will include military-related themes and will feature the Base Borden Brass and Reed Band as guests.
Oct 23: Wellington Winds present “Moving Masterpieces for Winds”: Four Last Songs, Allerseelen, Der Rosenkavalier and other works by Richard Strauss; Amy E.W. Prince, soprano; Daniel Warren, conductor. At Knox Presbyterian Church, Waterloo. The concert will be repeated Oct 30 at Grandview Baptist Church, Kitchener.
Oct 28: The Etobicoke Community Concert Band will present “Aaarrr Matey,” music of sailors, pirates and adventurers at Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium.
Oct 29: The “Festival of Remembrance Concert” commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Ontario Regiment begins at 2pm.at The Embassy Church, 416 Taunton Road, Oshawa. Bands will include the Pipes and Drums of Branch 43 Royal Canadian Legion, the Oshawa Civic Band, and the Band of HMCS York.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
It could just be my memory showing its fallibility, but I could swear that the first time I ever heard Andrew Downing, the award-winning bassist and cellist, play live, he was leading an ensemble and had directed his drummer to play with butter knives.
Regardless of whether this butter knife memory is based in reality – something which Downing himself can confirm or deny upon reading this – it very easily could be, and might be expected of such an ensemble as his Otterville project (which you can hear on October 26 at Artword Artbar in Hamilton).
The sound and character of this quintet isn’t all that reminiscent, to my ear, of many other notable jazz bands. I hear faint similarities with The Modern Jazz Quartet. Of course, there’s the vibraphone, which they have in common, but more than that, it’s the distinct sense that this is chamber music – music in the same lineage as Western Classical chamber works, music to play at home with friends, music through which people can have a conversation.
The thing I really appreciate about Otterville, and Downing’s compositions for the group, is his refusal – whether the decision is conscious or not – to lean on stock patterns to accompany a set of chord changes and a melody he’s written … not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Each part, from the drums to the cello, is composed specially for that melody, it seems, and in fact, is a part of the melody. A melody which, in every case, is elegant, idiosyncratic, and – you may be surprised to hear – not particularly dissonant.
Sometimes two instruments will pair up, sometimes all five will wander off, but they always sound as a cohesive whole, and an irresistibly charming whole at that.
Lessons from teaching: This August, back when it was still warm outside, I spent a week in Prince Edward County, teaching kids at an arts camp in Picton how to make music with various percussion instruments, their voices, and of course, buckets. I learned a ton from the kids, but I think the number one lesson I learned was not to make assumptions about them or underestimate them.
That lesson came on the first day, when I asked a group of campers to shout out names of artists or genres of music that they liked. I expected answers in the vein of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, etc. And there were those, certainly. And those tastes are completely valid.
But there were also lots of answers I didn’t expect: “Fiddle music,” one camper said, “You know, like jigs and stuff.”
“I like Bob Marley,” another said.
“Lemon Bucket Orkestra,”another still. Wait, what?
I was just a little taken aback by the fact that the first person to mention Lemon Bucket Orkestra (LBO) – the self-described Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-superband – to me since I was invited to go see them three years ago, was not a fully grown person from Toronto, but a child from Picton. But then again, why should I be surprised?
I can’t see why LBO wouldn’t appeal to everyone; in addition to being a well-executed musical performance combining elements of various Eastern European musical traditions with a touch of punk rock (but not so much that it’s inaccessible to those who don’t like punk rock), LBO puts on a dazzling visual performance, including dancing, a certain degree of acting, and outfits which are both figuratively and literally colourful. Theirs is a performance which implicitly but aggressively invites audience participation.
LBO has often made their shows a surprise: they once performed a concert, apparently on a whim, when a flight was delayed; they have set up in the streets of Toronto and played without any heads-up for fans. They draw big crowds and sell out venues fast. It’s no mystery.
They’ll be performing every Wednesday in October, in true LBO fashion, somewhere in Toronto. The venues are not to be announced until the day before. Unfortunately for LBO, however, The Rex – and by extension, The WholeNote – has revealed where the penultimate of their Wednesdays in October series will be held. You can’t buy tickets ahead of time, though, so you may as well go early and line up.
I have been absent from most clubs these last couple of months. I do intend to rectify that. If you see me – the guy in the loud sweater, most likely – at a concert I’ve recommended, I encourage you to recommend another upcoming concert to me. I may like it, write about it here and learn about someone new while there. So on and so on. See you in the clubs.
Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further back than I can remember, Kensington Market has been a hub for multiculturalism, activism, tourism and other assorted -isms. The unique culture of Kensington is one which is, perhaps more than that of any other neighbourhood in Toronto, bursting with a collective love of art that is eclectic and loudly expressed. Buskers flock to Augusta Avenue. Drum circles echo through the Market from Bellevue Square. Paintings, murals, works by highly skilled graffiti artists, cover much of the landscape, including the walls outside of Poetry Jazz Café – one of the nine venues which will be showcasing almost non-stop jazz for the duration of the first-ever Kensington Market Jazz Festival (henceforth referred to as KMJF 2016).
KMJF 2016, originally the brainchild of Toronto-bred vocalist Molly Johnson, will reflect the values of the community in which it takes place; rather than featuring large, ethically dubious, multinational corporations – which have been emphatically rejected by the Kensington community in the past – as sponsors, the KMJF 2016 website lists as its friends small, local businesses, well-known individuals in the music scene, arts studios, as well as multiple charities and non-profits which will benefit from the festival.
Among these is the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund (AASF), which has, since its establishment in honour of Alleyne’s 70th birthday in 2003, given financial assistance to particularly talented music students who have been primarily, but not exclusively, black. In this way, the AASF honours the late Alleyne (who himself grew up in the neighbourhood), not only musically, but politically, as he was outspoken on the subject of black representation in jazz. After all, despite the sea of white faces you might see in any given university jazz program, jazz has historically been a music of black creative innovation and black political resistance.
KMJF 2016, though it only lasts three days in only nine venues, will feature over 100 artists. (Three with particularly close ties to The Market are featured in their own words alongside this short article.)
Unfortunately, it is both physically impossible and financially impractical to attend over 100 concerts in three days (the best you can probably do is nine, or maybe 12 - and yes, you may take that as a challenge), but if you have enjoyed my recommendations before, I may be able to gently help push you in some of the right directions (not that there are really any wrong ones).
Two pianists. Neither of the pianists described below is one whose music I’ve experienced in person; they’re players I’ve checked out only through their live and recorded material available online. I will be discovering them alongside all of you on that third weekend of September.
Andrew Craig, the pianist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, radio broadcaster and alum of the York University music program, is one act which has me particularly psyched. In videos posted on his YouTube channel like I Love You Pip, Auntie Inez and Improvisation with Audience, Craig’s idiosyncratic, exploratory style, as well as his acute awareness of how to read people and how the audience fits into the whole performance paradigm, are made apparent. It’s these two qualities which I believe you’ll find most endearing and exciting about Craig as a performer. His chops, though undeniably impressive, are an afterthought (as it should be). Craig can be heard at the clothing store, Tom’s Place, at 4pm on Saturday, September 17 (no cover), or later in the same day at Trinity Common ($10).
Nigerian-born, Toronto-bred pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo, playing at Tom’s Place the day after Craig, arranges tunes very much in the Glasper-esque school of jazz infused with neo-soul and hip-hop elements. But his style also seems to reveal what I think is a strong background in classical music, developed not out of obligation but out of deep love. When you go to see Egbo-Egbo, don’t expect the music to swing necessarily, but also don’t expect it not to. If you must expect something, expect textural exploration, chords that you wouldn’t expect to belong together belonging together, and to be in a bit of a trance.
Egbo-Egbo is someone I wanted to include here, partially because I find his music intriguing, but also because of The Egbo Arts Foundation (EAF), a charity which is similar in spirit to the AASF. The EAF makes music lessons available to kids who might not otherwise be able to afford them; in other words, making music more accessible to underprivileged and at-risk youth, with the understanding in mind that access to programs in the arts in general, and music in particular, helps to improve children’s lives and is often absent from the impoverished neighbourhoods where they are most sorely needed. Needless to say, this is an admirable pursuit, and one which deserves our attention.
Of course, these are just two out of the 100-plus KMJF 2016 shows happening in Kensington Market between September 16 and 19. The full schedule for the festival is available at kensingtonjazz.com I look forward to exploring the Market at KMJF 2016 with all of you this September.
What Molly Wants, Molly Gets
Half an hour with award-winning jazz vocalist,singer-songwriter, artist and philanthropist Molly Johnson in the ad hoc KMJF office above Kind Spirit Cannabis Clinic on Augusta Avenue is enough to convince me. She’s going after this new project with the same gusto and determination as she poured into her Kumbaya Foundation and Festival in 1992, raising awareness and funds for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the kinds of causes since then that led in part to her becoming an Officer of the Order Of Canada in 2008.
The idea of this has been going on for about ten years, in my head. I’ve been thinking about it.
I was born at Bathurst and Dundas, and I’ve lived here three times. We have reached out to artists who have really put time and love and care into their own careers. They don’t just come with their hand up, they come knowing they are going to help us build this. People who have a responsibility to their own craft. You show up with your CDs, you show up at the end of the day to pick things up.
Same with the venues. For the most part, we’re in existing venues with soundmen and sound systems. I’m not reinventing the wheel. That’s why it works. Because everybody’s already here.
There will be shows throughout the day (Friday to Sunday), with only a handful of shows after 11pm. Right from the early stages I worked with the BIA, police and firefighters.
If it lasts it will be because it’s something the community does, not something that gets done to it. In the long run it’s as much about collecting stories, the history of this neighbourhood – heritage – as about the music itself. Right from the start we’ll be collecting stories as we go. Just watch people with old roots (and new money) rediscovering this place over the course of the three days.
This is not something that starts by raising corporate or arts money for an idea, then doing whatever is possible based on a budget. It starts with doing it right. I paid for the office myself, just to make it go. It’s been a lot of fun. In fact, we will have three merch tables outside. Artists will bring in CDs; the festival isn’t taking in any money on CD sales. Artists get the door. T-shirt sales will go to charity – this year, the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund. The festival will be affiliated with an annex of the Boys and Girls Club. Yamaha, who are supplying the piano for Tom’s Place, will be donating instruments to the Boys and Girls Club.
My own experience with Jazz festivals hasn’t always been positive. I wanted to do something more considerate of local performers.
I love that it overlaps with TIFF and has been noticed by them. We will be mentioned in their magazine.
I want to show there’s already an appetite for this. I want every show sold out. I want you to not be able to get in. That’s my goal – sorry.
Richard Underhill - Shuffle demon
Kensington is the perfect spot. It’s wonderful to have a concentration of great music and events in an area that is pedestrian friendly and has a real geographic focus for a festival. The Market has always been a hotbed of musical creativity and some of our most interesting artists from Bill Grove to Jane Siberry to Perry White have lived here. Why is it happening now? A few reasons, I think. First, Molly Johnson’s desire to host an event that highlights local jazz talent and her connection to the Market make it a perfect fit. Second, the Market has evolved to a point where there are enough venues to make hosting a festival here an exciting prospect. Of course, how the increase in venues may contribute to unsustainable gentrification is the tightrope wire that the Market walks every day. But Kensington has always been a creative heart of the city and this festival should only enhance that notion. Having it concentrated on one weekend is a good idea. Have the Market come alive with music for a September weekend … a perfect festival concept.
I’m really happy that the Shuffle Demons are participating from the get-go. We have a long history with the Market. We hooked up with Ida Carnevali for a costumed spring parade in 1985, Perry White lived for many years in the Market and of course, bits of the market and market characters are part of the 1985 “Spadina Bus” YouTube video. I was lucky enough to become a resident with my wife Suzie 17 years ago and have found great inspiration from my fellow marketeers and from events like PSK (Pedestrian Sundays Kensington) and the Festival of Lights. In short, Kensington is a real community and as such a genuine magnet for culture and creativity.
Founding member of Toronto’s outrageous Sun Ra-influenced Shuffle Demons and a Market resident for 17 years, Richard Underhill’s in-from-the-outside soloing, warm alto sound and great writing skills make him one of Canada’s most distinctive jazz performers. His acclaimed latest album, Kensington Suite, was nominated for a 2008 Juno Award, as his second album, Moment in Time, was in 2007. He has performed and recorded with a Who’s Who of musicians, Canadian and beyond, but still finds time to lead the Kensington Horns Community Band, the improvising electronic groove ensemble Astrogroove, and, since 2003, to be musical director for the winter solstice Kensington Festival of Lights.
Sophia Perlman - Market born
Growing up in the market often felt like living in the middle of a sort of permanent festival, with different music tumbling out of every doorway and a parade of every imaginable person going past your window. And it was especially exciting when someone in the community decided it was time to throw a party on purpose. People who couldn’t agree on anything else seemed to be able to come together if it meant a parade, or music in the park or rolling out their awnings on a Sunday so the celebration could go on come freak rainstorm or unseasonable sun.
They were community events in the truest sense, and it was that community spirit that let us build traditions that were our own, without the input of big corporate sponsors. It’s part of what built a vital, resourceful, resilient creative community here, and I love that KMJF is a festival in that tradition. I’m struck, looking at the lineup, by how many of the musicians have deep connections to the neighbourhood – as past and present residents or as artists who found a creative home here at various stages of their careers.
As a child, the market used to largely shut down at sunset, when the stores mostly closed and the shoppers all went home. Now there is no shortage of places to go and things to do and see after dark. I love the way the ticket model and concert schedule seem designed to encourage people to walk through the neighbourhood. Even if they come looking for some particular music that they want, they might go home with something new and exciting that they had never heard of. Or something old and wonderful that is completely new to them. That, to me, seems very much in the spirit of this wonderful, crazy, resilient community.
Born and raised in the heart of the Market, Sophia Perlman has become a fixture of the Ontario jazz and blues scene. Musicality, old-soul voice and skill as an improviser have made her a first-call featured singer with some of the top ensembles and musicians in the country. In addition to performing and touring with her own quartet and as part of the duo PerlHaze, with fellow vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Terra Hazelton, she is found performing regularly with numerous artists and ensembles, including Adrean Farrugia, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, the Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra, the Toronto Rhythm Initiative, the Vipers, and Chuck Jackson’s Big Bad Blues Band.