Beat Columns (Live Music)
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
It is said that making your mark in a prestigious international competition changes your life and for Charles Richard-Hamelin that is exactly what happened when he was 25. “There is something magical about this legendary hall [Warsaw Philharmonic Hall] that somehow made it possible for me to be myself on stage, and be able to say what I wanted to say, at least most of the time,” he wrote on the Scene and Heard International website.
Richard-Hamelin won the silver medal at the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015 as well as the Krystian Zimerman Prize for best performance of a sonata and his career took off. “This silver medal was of course incredibly unexpected and has single-handedly changed my whole life,” he said. “I’ve never performed professionally outside of Canada before the Chopin and now I have confirmed engagements in Canada, the USA, Poland, France, Spain, Mexico, Japan and South Korea.”
By May 2016 when he spoke to Yves Leclerc (Journal de Québec) he had already given 40 concerts that calendar year with 40 more to come. One of those concerts is his upcoming Sinfonia Toronto performance, December 9, of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major K488 conducted by Nurhan Arman. The pattern continues in 2017 when he joins Christian Reif and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony January 13 and 14 for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D Minor K466. The following evening he gives a recital for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society that mirrors most of the repertoire Analekta captured on the CD of his May 2016 Quebec City concert – two Beethoven Rondos, Enescu’s Suite No.2 and Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise No.6. There his playing sparkled, his confidence was clearly evident, his musicianship mature and engaging.
“I love this new life, even if it is a bit tiring,” he said to Leclerc. “I am not in a position, however, where I can afford to refuse offers that arrive on my table. This is what will enable me to secure a future abroad. I have contracts for the next two years and we will see if it will continue and open doors.”
A mere five months before his Chopin Competition success, he was awarded the prestigious Career Development Award by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. That venerable institution will reap the benefits of their prescience when Richard-Hamelin returns May 4, 2017, for his first Toronto solo recital since winning the Chopin Competition prizes.
Isabelle Faust and the Mozart @ 261 Festival.
When German violinist Isabelle Faust was 11, she played in a string quartet. “That was in Stuttgart, where I grew up,” she told Jeff Kaliss (San Francisco Classical Voice, May 28, 2012). “That was my father’s brilliant idea. It was even more unusual than now that young kids would get together and try to do chamber music. My brother Boris also played in this, the viola part. And the parents had a very important role to play, driving everybody from one rehearsal to the other. We played for five years, every weekend rehearsals and lessons and competitions, national and international, and we started, slowly, to play little concerts. At age 15, we stopped with that. I wanted to make an impression with my solo playing, [to learn] where I actually stood internationally. So I went to participate in this Leopold Mozart Competition in Augsburg, and I was so lucky, I won it right away. So that opened a new chapter in my musical life.”
Winning led to her playing Dvořák under Yehudi Menuhin, an experience she found to be special since “if you play the standard repertoire, you can see that the conductor knows every little corner, and whether technical difficulties require a bit of attentive conducting.”
Known for her pristine sound and incisive approach, Faust will be the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 in Koerner Hall January 18 and 20, part of the TSO’s Mozart @ 261 Festival. All five of the composer’s concertos for violin were completed during the year he turned 19 (1775) but none is so universally loved as the elegant, playful and joyous Third which is particularly tuneful and buoyant.
When Faust spoke with Aart van der Wal for the Dutch website Opus Klassiek in April 2011, she talked about keeping an open mind (and open ears) about different performances of familiar repertoire: “Music must be enjoyed without prejudice. I notice so often that people have made up their minds already before really listening to a piece. They know it all, they have heard it so many times, and they know exactly which recordings are fabulous and which are not. It happens often that one is so deeply engaged with one specific recording or interpretation that each and everything else is compared to and diminished by it. I was at a concert where a Beethoven symphony was performed. One of the critics recognized me and, already before the performance, started to explain to me which specific very old recording he thought was the one and only version of this symphony…I advised him not to go to any concert anymore because he would never be happy with any living conductor, or any live performance for that matter…”
Mozart @ 261 begins January 11 and 12 under Peter Oundjian, with wunderkind Leonid Nediak (b.2003) playing Mozart’s final piano concerto on a program that also includes Mozart’s moving Symphony No.40 K550. The festival continues January 13 and 14 when Emanuel Ax brings his pianistic geniality to the spirited Concerto No.16 K451 and the effervescent Concerto No.22 K482. Mozart’s vigorous Symphony No.33 K319 opens the program with the TSO led by Michael Francis. Bernard Labadie leads the orchestra in the grand Symphony No.38 K504 “Prague” which concludes the January 18 and 20 concerts.
The Heath Quartet. The Heath Quartet – making their Canadian debut in concerts in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto in January – is a young British ensemble whose star has recently risen considerably since their recording of Tippett’s string quartets won Gramophone magazine’s 2016 Chamber Music Award. It was their debut recording. A slew of adjectives like “vibrant, adventurous, irresistible energy” has followed in their wake over the last few years. First violinist Oliver Heath, violist Gary Pomeroy and cellist Chris Murray originally met at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. Five years after getting together, they moved to London in 2009 where they met Cerys Jones, freshly returned from graduate studies at Juilliard. She became their second violinist, and their career path ascended. Now, November 2016, she has announced that she is stepping down from the quartet to devote more time to her family.
“We had eight wonderful years with Cerys,” Ollie Heath told me via email. “But that chapter has now closed and we are looking forward to the next stage in the future of the quartet.” I asked what qualities he was looking for in a new violinist. “To be a great second violinist you need many different qualities,” he said. “To be a first-rate violinist and musician, of course, and to have the ability to be the glue of the ensemble, but most importantly you need a strong fire in your belly! Our first teacher said a good second violinist is always on the brink of revolution.”
I asked how he would characterize the ensemble’s approach to quartet playing. “We try to be as truthful to the composer’s intentions as possible,” he said. “To discover the way of speaking each composer’s language in a way that communicates most dynamically the emotional core of the work. Also we are very communicative with one another when we perform – there is a lot of energy that flows between the members of the quartet. We are also open to things being different from performance to performance – we never try to create a definitive way to interpret a work.”
The programs in Toronto for Mooredale Concerts January 22 and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society January 20 are somewhat similar, with Bartók’s First and Dvořák’s 13th in each, but opening with Bach Organ Preludes in Toronto and Beethoven’s Op.18 No.3 in Waterloo.
I asked how he constructs a program. “Nearly always we begin a concert with a piece from earlier in the repertoire,” Heath said. “The simpler, cleaner textures and conversational aspects of these pieces is a good way of bringing everyone ‘into the room,’ and introducing the possibilities of what a string quartet can do. The second work is often more complex – more demanding on both listener and player. We then fill the second half with a more generously sized work – from one of the Romantic, nationalist composers or one of the big Beethoven quartets.”
Ergo Bartók’s masterful String Quartet No.1 Op.7 which is formally modelled on Beethoven’s unsurpassable String Quartet No.14 Op.131 (the movements of each are played without a break, for example). And Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 Op.106, with its joyous opening, poetic slow movement, idiomatic third, and ebullient conclusion, one of the composer’s most expressive chamber works, emblematic of his return home in 1895 after his American sojourn.
Till Fellner. Viennese-born Till Fellner has spoken elsewhere of his pleasure working with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony on their ECM recording of Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos, mentioning the orchestra’s ability to play softly and transparently. In our conversation for The WholeNote’s March 2015 issue, I asked about his own transparent approach with its focus on the music’s singing lines. He confirmed that transparency (clarity) and a singing way of playing the piano are essential goals of his. He told me that when he played for his teacher Alfred Brendel in 1990, it was the first movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata that started the teaching process. Brendel told him that the beginning of a Beethoven sonata was crucial, that everything is there. Brendel also said that your playing should be so clear that a musical person would be able to write down the score just by listening.
Fellner’s subtle approach and the apparent ease with which he and the OSM carry it off augurs well for their appearance performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 Op.58 at Roy Thomson Hall December 8. In a brief interview (available on YouTube) with Jim Cunningham of Classical 89.3 in Pittsburgh, Fellner talked about the character of that same concerto which he was about to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony in late November 2013:
“It’s a very poetic piece, a lyrical piece – even pastoral – so it’s very different from the other Beethoven concertos. The second movement is an Andante con moto so it shouldn’t be played too slowly. It’s a traumatic scene between the orchestra and the piano, a very tragic movement. The music kind of dies away at the end of this movement. There are lyrical elements in the third movement but there is also this joy and enthusiasm. It’s like seeing a person you haven’t seen for a very long time.”
December 13, Fellner turns his musical artistry to Brahms (Four Ballades Op.10) and Schumann (Humoreske in B-flat Major Op.20 and Fantasie in C Major Op.17) in a recital presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.
Music Toronto. The invigorating sounds of the St. Lawrence Quartet will again fill the Jane Mallett Theatre, January 26. The exuberant Geoff Nuttall leads the quartet in their continuing examination of the treasure trove that is the music of Haydn, this time with his Quartets Op.20 Nos.1 and 5. The two Haydn quartets bookend works by Rachmaninoff and Jonathan Berger. On his website, Berger describes Swallow, commissioned by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in celebration of their 25th year: “My daughter taught me that swallows communicate in a rich sonic repertoire that humans categorize as chirps, whines, and gurgles. These sounds – lowered in pitch and stretched in time – inspire the musical materials of my sixth quartet. In addition to chirps, whines, and gurgles, the work pays homage to blues musician Mance Lipscomb, as well as Haydn, (in the scherzo of the third movement), and Schubert (in the elegiac fourth movement).”
Young American pianist Sean Chen, who finished an impressive third in the most recent Cliburn Competition makes his Toronto debut January 10 with an ambitious program primarily devoted to his piano transcriptions of larger works. He sets the stage with one of Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata and L’escalier du diable (Étude No.XIII) before beginning a series of his own transcriptions: Mozart’s Offertorium from his Requiem and Madamina (Catalogue Aria) from Don Giovanni and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2 mvt.3. Beethoven-Liszt’s Symphony No.2 mvts.3 and 4 completes what promises to be a wild ride.
Dec 4: The highly skilled artistry of Toronto’s own Stewart Goodyear is on display at Koerner Hall in a typically ambitious program that includes Bach’s Fifth Partita, Beethoven’s final piano sonata, two Chopin favourites, selections from his own concert-length piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (’Tis the season) and the world premiere of Acabris! Acabras! Acabram! commissioned in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. Jan 28: Goodyear returns home to perform Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Piano Concerto No.1 with Peter Oundjian and the TSO after their mini-tour to Montreal and Ottawa.
Dec 11: Simone Dinnerstein links Schubert’s Impromptus and Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. If you’re wondering what these two composers share besides a common birthday (January 31), pianist Hans Pålsson shed light on their musical kinship on the Swedish TV series I döda mästares sällskap (In the company of dead masters). One example: they both have an economical way of composing; they use simple harmonics, few tones and a limited amount of musical material.
Dec 11: Syrinx Concerts showcases clarinetist Shalom Bard in trios by Brahms and Beethoven. Feb 5: Syrinx presents two pianists: Walter Buczyinski performing his own Sonatas Nos.13 and 14; and Richard Herriot playing works by Chopin, Albéniz, Ravel and Turina. The octogenarian Buczyinski, a Canadian icon, is an accomplished pianist whose devotion to the classical repertoire has informed his compositions.
Dec 13: The Cameron House, once home to Handsome Ned and countless other musicians, atypically plays host to “A Winter’s Night” with works by Bach, Schumann and Mozart performed by the Duo Mechant (Joseph Nadurata, viola; Linda Shumas, piano) and James Petry, clarinet.
Dec 13: Ukrainian-Canadian Dmitri Levkovich’s Heliconian Hall recital includes such staples of the piano repertoire as Chopin’s Sonata No.2 and12 Études.
Dec 19: The amazing talents of Nadina Mackie Jackson are on display in her traditional “Vivaldi Christmas Concert,” six festive and rarely heard bassoon concerti performed by Toronto’s top professional bassoonists, including Michael Sweeney, Catherine Chen and Jackson, with chamber strings and harpsichord. Jan 22: Jackson’s Bassoon out Loud series continues with a recital by Chen, the TSO’s new associate principal, accompanied by pianist Rachael Kerr, performing works by Jeanjean, Elgar and Boudreau, as well as a two-bassoon concerti with Jackson herself.
Jan 13: If you’re in London, don’t miss the vibrant, musically mature playing of the Dover Quartet in works by Mozart, Britten and Shostakovich (in which they are joined by pianist Arthur Rowe).
Jan 14: Pocket Concerts’ latest presentation of quality chamber music in an intimate setting features violinist Csaba Koczó and pianist Emily Rho performing two musical pillars, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 Op. 47 “Kreutzer” and Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D Minor Op. 108.
Jan 15: The Royal Conservatory presents Canadian violinist Dennis Kim, who was recently appointed concertmaster with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Diana Doherty, currently principal oboe with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, in works by Bach and Mozart, among others, in Mazzoleni Hall. Jan 21: Stefan Jackiw (violin), Jay Campbell (cello) and Conrad Tao (piano) – the JCT Trio – perform an early and a late trio by Mozart as well as music by Ives and Dvořák in this unusual program in Koerner Hall. Feb 4: Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica return to Koerner Hall, thanks to the RCM, in a program with an Eastern European tilt: works by Pärt, Weinberg, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Silvestrov.
Jan 18: The COC free noontime Piano Virtuoso Series continues with the talented, young (20-year-old) Chinese pianist, Jingquan Xie, performing Bach’s magnificent Partita No.6 and Chopin’s Sonata No.2 with its famous funeral march.
Jan 27: Armenian-born Kariné Poghosyan returns to Sinfonia Toronto to play Schumann’s impulsive and passionate Piano Concerto in A Minor.
Jan 28: 5 at the First Chamber Music Series presents pianist Angela Park, violinist Yehonatan Berick and cellist Rachel Mercer – the AYR Piano Trio – in a Saturday afternoon Hamilton recital. The program by the three high-powered musicians includes works by Ysaÿe, Haydn and Sigesmund but the icing on the cake is Schubert’s luminous Trio Op.100 in E-flat Major. Jan 29: the “Star Canadian Trio” travels to the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s Music Room for a reprise.
Feb 7: Nineteen-year-old violinist Kerson Leong – First Prize-winner in the Junior Category of the 2010 Menuhin Competition – and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu perform works by Ravel, Poulenc, Fauré, Debussy and Dompierre in this free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Leong can also be heard Jan 11 and 12 with the TSO, launching Mozart @ 261 with the Rondo for Violin K373.
Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
As in jazz, in writing this column it’s sometimes delightful how one small thing can lead into another. Mid-November, publisher David Perlman and I found ourselves in attendance at the Ken Page Memorial Trust gala at the Old Mill (see last month’s column), where each guest received a jazz recording tucked under the napkin on their table. Mine was courtesy of Humber College from their “New Standards” series. All recordings on the Humber Records label feature performances by Humber students and faculty; making the recordings is not only a priceless experience for all involved, but also a neat way to archive the talent that goes through the program.
Speaking of talent, and how one thing leads to another, one of the musicians featured on track two of said New Standards collection was someone I was planning to write about in this month’s column. Ladies and gentlemen, there are three chances this month for you to see and hear rising star clarinetist-saxophonist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, who recently graduated from Humber College’s prestigious jazz program.
As it happens, I got a chance to ask him a few questions, this month, including of course, why in the world he would choose the clarinet as his main instrument.
JG: My mother had a lifelong dream that her son would be a clarinet player, and at age eight (after about a year and a half of playing recorder) I finally received my first clarinet to try out. Although the clarinet was almost twice my size and I had to play it while sitting down, with the bell propped up on my feet, I felt immediately compelled to continue pursuing music and, in particular, the clarinet.
While in my early studies, I was influenced first by many traditional clarinetists/classics, such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Pee Wee Russell, Woody Herman, and, of course, Buddy DeFranco. About two years after I began playing clarinet (at age ten), I would attend a life-changing workshop in Toronto with the one and only Buddy DeFranco, with whom I would jam on Moonglow - which I remember was one of the few tunes I really knew at the time. In this one masterclass, Buddy DeFranco gave me so much of the encouragement and support I needed in order to continue seriously pursuing a career in performance with a focus on clarinet/woodwinds. Studying privately with Vladimir Belov and Peter Stoll, I eventually began to pick up the other woodwinds (alto first, followed by tenor saxophone) and now am equally at home switching between the various doubles. In the midst of my studies, I would be influenced greatly by Eddie Daniels and Canadian clarinetist, James Danderfer. Both these clarinetists are highly inspirational, as they push the sonic boundaries of contemporary jazz clarinet while also being exceptional saxophonists/composers and arrangers. They would have a huge influence in shaping my perception of what it means to be a jazz clarinetist in the 21st century.
OD: You’ve included two vocal pieces in your album, performed by Denzal Sinclaire. Tell me a bit about this experience and working with singers in general and what that means to you.
JG: The album features two vocal pieces sung by Denzal Sinclaire. He is an incredible musician and, in my opinion, is easily one of the greatest male jazz vocalists in Canada, not to mention an incredibly warm and kind-hearted, supportive human being. I had the pleasure of performing with him around a year ago at a few Soulpepper Cabaret concerts and instantly thought his voice would be the perfect fit for a couple of my original songs. It was a real thrill to have him join us in the studio, and I am so thankful for the opportunity and experience. I have always had an interest in lyrics and songs, and it is an absolute delight to be in Toronto where there is such a vast wealth of singers and songwriters. I have been honoured to have shared the stage with so many great Toronto singers, such as Jackie Richardson, Divine Brown, Sophie Milman, Julie Michels, Don Francks, Laura Hubert, Denzal Sinclaire, Denielle Bassels, Andrew Penner, Big Rude Jake and many more. It is such a delight to be surrounded by so many strong and compelling voices, and they have all helped in their own way to shape my playing, expression, and exploration into song/lyric writing.
OD: Tell me a bit about your experience studying at Humber College. What were your favourite aspects of this post-secondary program, and what are the most important lessons you learned there?
JG: While at Humber, I received music lessons and attended classes/ensembles under the tutelage of some of the top musicians in the city and country, such as Pat LaBarbera, Neil Swainson, Geoff Young, Mark Promane, Kirk MacDonald, Drew Jurecka and so many more. The environment of the school welcomes musical exploration and creativity while honing the theoretical, rudimentary and technical skills of jazz and contemporary idioms of music. It was an honour to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable teachers, as well as a prosperity of talented up-and-coming musicians, so many of whom will become the voice of the next generation of professional musicians in Toronto’s music industry. The strong sense of community within Humber provides an incredible support for creative development/collaboration and experimentation. This environment (and the amazing musicians within it) was truly a great setting for me to explore my personal musical ambitions and further pursue my interest in composition and original music.
Jacob Gorzhaltsan’s Fly Softly CD release is December 1, at Jazz Bistro at 9pm; he’s also at the Emmett Ray on December 19 at 7pm and at the Burdock Music Hall on December 30 at 8:30pm.
“Humber College taught me the importance of memorizing a plethora of jazz standards; I also learned how to rhythm read at brisk tempos. Lenny Boyd taught me Miles Davis solos. Don Thompson allowed me to believe that it is possible to change and revolutionize jazz, as he is one of the great innovators of the double bass. If he could be potently lyrical and play those peaking, clear lines that made your stomach sink, then I also could somehow contribute to the art form via exploration and hard work.”
Disterheft is currently on tour celebrating her latest Justin Time release, Blue Canvas, featuring 80-years-young piano legend Harold Mabern with dazzling drummer Joe Farnsworth. Always one to choose her collaborators carefully, Disterheft reflects upon the experience of working with these two particular musicians:
“Harold’s piano playing reflects that potent, romantic nostalgia one can only achieve from a lineage of years of living and hearing the music. His focus while entering that “dream world” when performing reminds me of when I had the opportunity to play with Hank Jones. It seems nothing can get in the way of their music, and it’s their special place. Harold is also a gracious human being who innately supports people. Joe and I have been a rhythm section team as sidemen for numerous records under the bandleader and alto hard-bop player Vincent Herring (Smoke Sessions Records) with other world-class players such as Cyrus Chestnut and Jeremy Pelt. Playing with time with Joe is to effortlessly soar across the sky while holding onto an oversized helium balloon gliding over a raging river. His finesse and power is something I experienced when I was in my early 20s when Laila Biali and I opened for Pharoah Sanders at the Toronto Jazz Festival. Joe was playing drums, and you never forget hearing him live for the first time.”
The very same can be said of Disterheft’s own approach to music. In her hands the acoustic bass drips gloriously with a well-oiled liquid groove, and what makes her exciting to watch is that she always goes for it, with each solo resulting in surprising smiles, nods or hollers, depending on the audience.
In his review of Blue Canvas in the September WholeNote, Raul da Gama wrote that “listening to her is like putting your finger into a naked power-socket,” later adding that she “handles her bass violin with as much visceral audacity as the great Charles Mingus once did…A particular highlight of the recording is Disterheft’s vocals which play off her bass, but in an altogether different palette of thrilling, luminous colours.”
If you get this memo in time, catch Brandi Disterheft on December 3 at Jazz Bistro where she will be celebrating Blue Canvas with Mabern and Farnsworth on the bandstand – do not miss this gifted composer whose interpretations of standards are always fresh. Cheers to Brandi, Jacob, everyone at Humber College and most of all to you, live music lovers, who keep us all going!
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.
- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
Recent world events, and particularly what’s happening to our southern neighbours in the US, have had a great impact on most of us. I’ve been reflecting on the question that always seems to resurface throughout the ages during times of chaos and disturbance: how can music (and other creative arts) affect and support social change, transformation and even revolution? I agree with the notion that pursuing the creative act itself is one form of resistance. Yet I wonder what these times are asking of us regarding the creative process itself.
On November 23, I attended the Rainbow Nation concert presented by Soundstreams. It was a tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela and included a beautiful array of artistic styles and performers from South Africa, Canada and the US. During one of the short theatre skits that functioned as interludes between musical numbers, a conversation between a father and daughter brought home a profound truth. The father was distraught that his daughter was involved in student protests, particularly since his generation had struggled so much for the right to education. Her ringing reply was “Just listen.” The importance of listening is a message I’ve seen written over and over again in the numerous articles that have flooded my social media pages since the US election.
In my September column, I wrote about New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA)’s programming of three sound installations as part of the in/future Festival at Ontario Place, noting how the practice of creating site-responsive works requires attention to the multi-layered elements of any given environment.
A few weeks ago, I travelled to a place called Warbler’s Roost to participate in a listening and soundscape weekend. A small group of sound artists gathered at this artist retreat and performance space, located about one hour north of Huntsville, to engage in the process of listening, recording and creating. Organized by the Toronto Soundhackers Meetup group in tandem with Darren Copeland, artistic director of NAISA, we began early on Saturday morning with a soundwalk – a collective act of walking in silence and listening to the environment. We then spent time both individually and in small groups making recordings of both the soundscape and of our sonic interactions with the environment. Back in the Warbler’s Roost studio, we listened to the recordings and then, again collectively, created a short composition from them that was performed later that evening as part of a NAISA concert. Within one day, we went from the simple act of being present with the sounds around us to a form of witnessing through recording and interacting to the act of creation and sharing. In a sense, this is the heartbeat that drives the musical creative act: cultivating presence and witnessing through creativity. These simple actions point to a way forward in generating listening behaviours that can inform and model how to live in a complex and diverse world.
I often find myself writing in this column about the culture and practice of listening. For example, in the October column, I spoke about the listening legacies of both R. Murray Schafer and Pauline Oliveros, along with the next-generation approach of Oliveros’ collaborator Doug Van Nort.
Dealing with these larger questions of social impact is an ongoing process of paying attention to what is emerging from the grist of what is being offered by those committed practitioners involved in the day to day music-making world. So with these thoughts as a background, let’s turn now to what is happening locally in the upcoming months of December and January.
Early in the new year, at Gallery 345 on January 8, Arraymusic Ensemble member Stephen Clarke will present a concert of solo piano works by four composers, each of whom has a very distinctive voice: Giacinto Scelsi (Italy) Udo Kasemets (Canada), Horatiu Rădulescu (Romania/France) and Gerald Barry (Ireland). I talked with Clarke about the repertoire and his interest in the music of these composers, two of whom he has had personal friendships with.
It is the more mystical approach that both Schelsi and Rădulescu share that intrigues Clarke, as both these composers incorporate different influences from Eastern philosophies and religions. In fact it was Rădulescu’s interest in Hindu and Byzantine music and the way it works with natural resonances that sent him in the direction of pursuing what is known as spectral composition, a style that focuses on working with the overtone or harmonic series. Clarke will be performing Rădulescu’s 1968 piano sonata, Cradle to Abysses, a tightly structured atonal work with a mystical atmosphere, which was written just before the composer made his shift to spectral-based music. It is often thought that spectral composition began in the mid 1970s with French composers such as Grisey and Murail. However, Rădulescu’s forays into working with overtones, which can take one into a deeper relationship with the natural acoustic world, predate the French school.
To highlight the contrast between spectral and non-spectral approaches, Clarke chose to include Udo Kasemets’ Feigenbaum Cascades (1995) in the program. Hence the title of the concert: “Cascades and Abysses.” The Kasemets piece, a spectral work written originally for Clarke, works with the harmonic series in a “beautifully pure mathematical way that speaks for itself.” In sharp contrast to this simplicity, Clarke will perform two works by Gerald Barry, a composer known for his more hyperactive and ironic approach as demonstrated in his ability to use banal material and infuse it with a highly charged energy. In Humiliated and Insulted, Barry’s piece written for Clarke in 2013, the audience will hear a work that sounds like a congregation singing a hymn, yet something has gone terribly wrong. Everyone is singing together, but not from the same spot in the score and, to make it more pronounced, no one even seems to notice.
Other opportunities to hear Clarke perform include a concert in early March where he will present a complete program of Rădulescu’s music on the Bosendorfer piano at St. Andrew’s Church. This piano comes equipped with extended lower notes, which are called for by the composer in these works. This concert will give fans of spectral composition ample opportunity to hear Rădulescu’s masterful approach. Clarke will also be performing on February 5 in a concert of works by Italy’s Salvatore Sciarrino, this year’s visiting composer at the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival. This final concert of the festival is a collaboration with New Music Concerts during which four of Sciarrino’s works spanning 1981 to 2015 will be heard.
U of T New Music Festival
Sciarrino, one of Europe’s leading composers, writes music that seeks to portray the fragility of life, often creating pieces that are on the edge of audibility and pushing the instruments to their extreme limits. In his biography, he describes his style as “leading to a different way of listening, a global emotional realization, of reality as well as of one’s self.” Sciarrino’s music can also be heard during the festival at a concert featuring music for piano on January 30, which will also include works by Nono, Fedele and Berio.
The festival highlight will be the performance on February 1 of Sciarrino’s opera The Killing Flower (Luci mie traditrici) produced by Wallace Halladay and Toronto New Music Projects. The libretto is based upon the play Il tradimento per l’onore, which was first performed in Rome in 1664. A story of intrigue, love, betrayal and murder, the opera has become Sciarrino’s most often performed work out of his 14 music-theatre pieces composed to date. He recognizes the influence cinema plays in the creation of works for the stage and approaches his own creative process with this in mind. He openly declares that what he really wants through his composing is “to change the world.” Additional festival events include the performance of the Karen Kieser Prize-winning work by Sophie Dupuis, Perceptions de La Fontaine, a noontime lecture by Sciarrino on February 2, and a concert of music by contemporary Italian composers on February 4.
Turning now to innovative performers using electroacoustic technologies, two women making waves in this field will be visiting Toronto over the next two months. First, American composer and sound artist Andrea Parkins, along with her ensemble, will be performing at the Music Gallery on December 20, using interactive electronics to create relationships and contrasts between the real and the ephemeral. She will collaborate in this performance with local artists Lina Allemano, Germaine Liu and Jason Doell. On January 7, theremin virtuoso Carolina Eyck from Germany will perform the world premiere of her latest composition as part of a New Music Concerts program. She will also be in town to celebrate the release of hew new CD, Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet. Other composers whose works will be presented at the NMC event include Canadians D. Andrew Stewart and Omar Daniel, Bohuslav Martinů from Czechoslovakia and Maurice Ravel.
Two events that Soundstreams will be offering will be the return of the popular “Electric Messiah,” December 5 to 7, featuring wild and wacky renditions of Handel’s classic with singers Christine Duncan, Carla Huhtanen, Gabriel Dharmoo and Jeremy Dutcher, with electronic backup from Cheldon “Slowpitch” Paterson on turntables, Jeff McLeod on organ and John Gzowski on guitar. Moving ahead to February, Soundstreams is celebrating 100 years of Estonia’s independence by bringing the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir to town on February 2, performing world premieres by Canadian composers Omar Daniel and Toronto-born Riho Esko Maimets (who is of Estonian heritage), along with compositions by Arvo Pärt.
Dec 12: Centrediscs CD Launch: Canadian Flute Masterpieces.
Dec 15: “Class Axe” – a concert of new works for classical guitar by M. Côté, J. Denenberg, M. Horrigan, A. Jang, T. Kardonne and S. Marwood.
Canadian Opera Company
Jan 5: “Vocal Series” – First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman presents a concert on the theme of reconciliation, featuring works by Canadian composers.
Feb 1: “Dance Series” – Peggy Baker Dance Projects; music by Debashis Sinha.
Dec 12: Toronto Masque Theatre – No Tongue Will Tally by Harry Somers and Claude Bissell.
Jan 10: Music Toronto – Sean Chen plays two works by Ligeti, as well as his own piano transcriptions.
Jan 21: Music Gallery – “The New Flesh.”
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Andrew Timar
- Category: World Music
There’s a new music presenter on the block which also chooses to keep details of its concerts on the down-low. It’s the Toronto iteration of the Sofar Sounds international franchise, begun in 2009 in London, UK, a sort of a Meetup for music concerts. It initially came to my attention because the series has significant world music content, and it’s the primary reason I’m visiting it in this column.
Meet Jonathan Campbell of Sofar Sounds Toronto (SST). He began to organize covert alternate space concerts in the city’s core last year. “SST has regular concerts twice a month. Our secret, intimate shows in alternative locales showcasing the talent and diversity of the city aspire to bring the magic back to live music. We advertise online a [concert] date and the neighbourhood in which it will take place. Yes, we keep the artists secret but [I feel] they will definitely be up the alley of many WholeNote readers.” SST intends to stay: “We’re booked well into 2017.”
I asked about SST’s mission. Campbell explained, “It’s the local branch of the global Sofar Sounds movement, now in nearly 300 cities worldwide. We produce our concerts in alternative locales – offices, studios, galleries, living rooms, backyards and more – celebrating the wealth, diversity, breadth and depth of the artists working and living in or passing through our city.”
By choosing hyperlocal venues with individual curators - they sign up on the SST website for the experience of “hosting a gig”– rather than more typical mainstream halls or commercial pubs, Campbell identifies an important feature of his endeavour: the honouring of cozy “spaces, neighbourhoods and places.” Rather than being a secondary element, a lifestyle soundtrack, he argues that in such intimate, personalized settings, music can be savoured for its own sake. He explicitly referred in our interview to placemaking, a multi-faceted approach used by urban planners and human geographers to the planning, design and management of public spaces with the intention of creating spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and wellbeing.
Placemaking is a philosophy and a process with political resonance due to its close relationship to the notion of place identity. Place identity is not purely a theoretical issue, however. It informs a worldwide movement to protect places of significant local heritage in the face of the powerful forces of cultural globalization. Interestingly, it has direct parallels themes in musical themes I occasionally explored in this column: local and regional vs. transnational identities as reflected in music performance, production, mediation, and in audience and critical reception. SST is exploring aspects of this in Toronto. It’s about the room and how the audience feels in it, as much as about the music being performed.
I asked Campbell about SST’s core audience and its incorporation of various global musics. He referred to programming goals including a commitment to ethnically diverse music and raising SST’s profile among world music audiences.
“I think these two issues are deeply related. Geographically, we’ve been downtown directed, but that reflects the nature of our core demographic. The typical person that has signed up [to attend our concerts] is a hip young urbanite in their 20s or 30s, a person whose experience of live music [has been mainly relegated] to the bars, clubs and other venues of the indie, rock, punk and folk scenes. On one hand we love the idea of having performers of every colour, shape, size, musical style, form, discipline. But, because the bulk of our audience feels at home in the indie, rock, punk and folk genres, it’s been a harder sell to book artists outside of those scenes. On the up side, I think that the more people hear about or experience what our rooms feel like, the more that’s going to change, leading to greater variety in the music genres on offer.”
Campbell’s programming, in line with most Sofar Sounds events around the world, as reflected in their numerous YouTube videos (more on that later), primarily appears to reflect mainstream vernacular music. Great Lake Swimmers, Royal Wood and The O’Pears have presented polished sets. On the other hand, SST has also sought to stretch preconceived hipster notions of the live music experience by expanding what’s on offer. For example, Pocket Concerts presented an authoritatively played program of J.S. Bach string trios. Last December, indigenous cellist/composer Cris Derksen, a 2016 Instrumental Album JUNO nominee, singlehandedly built from layers of powwow-ready sounds with her cello, Western classical music chops and new school electronics.
To ramp up audience anticipation, SST has fun holding back the names of the musical acts it presents, yet it does something few other presenters do: it sends follow-up messages to individual ticket holders. Titled “Thanks for Coming! You were watching...” the email messages offer a thumbnail of each artist on the roster. Campbell notes that “we also track alumni artists’ future gigs and link to them on our Facebook page for the benefit of our followers.”
I’m not at liberty to disclose the identity of future performers – remember the lure of the “secret” concert, the cultivated air of mystery and the element of exploration in SST’s mandate? I can, however, speak about a few of the world music performers who have animated its low-keyed venues. On a hot July 2015 evening in the backyard of a private Toronto home, the Rajasthani Barmer Boys raised their voices in praise to perform songs steeped in the Manganiyar Sufi music tradition. Earlier this year Burkina Faso griot Amadou Kienou animated the dreary March weather in a downtown walkup with songs accompanied by kora and jembe. Sections of all these sets can be viewed on the SST YouTube channel.
A few weeks ago the Dilan Ensemble directed by kamancheh specialist Shahriyar Jamshidi played a program of Kurdish music. On another show, the ten-piece Toronto band Zuze, mashing up Iranian folk melodies with Afrobeat rhythms, shared the snug Small World Music Centre space (eschewing its modest stage for floor space under the spacious windows) with IVA, aka Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merritt. The Inuk singer-songwriter was accompanied by the Southern Ontario indie-folk band Ptarmigan in a set combining Inuktitut song and poetry.
In another concert, the accomplished Toronto-based Arabic and Jewish musician-singers Maryem Tollar and Aviva Chernick joined Iranian percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand in a new music project dubbed Walking East Trio. In addition, sharing the bill with two other acts, singer-songwriter Dieufaite Charles sang, accompanying himself on guitar, music reflecting a mix of Haitian roots and African rhythms. That concert, held in a private home in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood (yes, marked “secret!” in the invitation), was also part of Toronto’s Third Annual Festival of House Culture, yet more evidence of several layers of placemaking in action.
Campbell confirms that “of the three or four acts at every show, at least one will be a surprise to many in our audience – and that’s our intention. I can’t emphasize enough how awesome it’s been to watch audiences react to something clearly completely out of their wheelhouse. Whether it’s Bach played by a chamber trio, a griot singing traditional Burkina Faso songs accompanied by a kora, a rapper backed by live musicians, experimental electronic post-rock, or a solo singer-songwriter, audiences recognize that these are amazing musicians. Before SST, they might see a listing in a magazine or walked by a venue with a sign, but would never imagine going to their concerts. But the in-person experience is a powerful one. It says ‘this is for anyone who wants to hear it.’ It’s been so rewarding for us to be able to introduce artists who don’t generally have access to audiences outside of their own ethnicities. We [imagine that we] live in a city that houses every ethnicity, culture, or tradition on earth, yet we [nevertheless] tend to live in our own local worlds. What’s been amazing to behold is that by creating an air of mystery around audiences not knowing who they’re going to see, we’re able to demonstrate how silly it is that we’re not [culturally] more intermingled. Because great music is great music. Period.”
That’s why, he says, a well-known artist like Lena (aka Anastasia Tchernikova) of Musica Reflecta can entrance a room full of people with a program of solo minimalist piano pieces by Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt as much as a well-known folk group like Great Lake Swimmers, who followed that performance. “There is so much going on in this city, and, to use the old adage, there’s so much that people don’t even know they don’t know about. We want to help change that.”
While Campbell makes a strong case for an era of post-genre concert experiences, what’s in it for the individual musician or group? SST promises an attentive audience, an unusual, unexpected, fun, intimate venue with social media follow-ups on Facebook and Instagram. Each act gets a very modest honorarium. More valuable perhaps, SST provides a high-quality edited video of an item in their performance, uploaded directly to the international Sofar Sounds YouTube channel.
For newly formed groups, it’s an opportunity to connect with an enthusiastic young adult audience in an attentive listening “quiet room” environment. For bands used to gigging in noisy bars where the focus is not necessarily on the music they’re making, the latter is a precious quality. For more established musicians, SST facilitates a connection with a young adult audience demographic, to listeners who may not be familiar with their careers, repertoire or even the genre of music they play.
While mum’s the word on the identity of the global musicians appearing in SST’s December and January concerts, I can divulge two of the locations it has already announced. One is the hip Boxcar Social at Harbourfront Centre overlooking Lake Ontario and the other is “a secret location” in Evergreen Brick Works nestled in the neo-bucolic post-industrial setting of the Don River Valley.
After speaking with SST producer Campbell, I am confident that SST’s programming will continue towards its goal of genre diversity. Gongs, ukuleles and dulcimers will undoubtedly share future SST rooms with guitars, drum kits and keyboards.
Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Written by Christopher Hoile
- Category: On Opera
The past two years have seen Toronto opera companies unveil exciting new works or new interpretations of older works in December and January. This season, both large and smaller companies are saving these kinds of productions for spring 2017. In April 2017, the Canadian Opera Company presents a new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel (1967). In the same month, Opera Atelier revives Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Médée (1693), which it will then take to Versailles. Tapestry Opera will present its grandest new opera since Iron Road (2001) in the form of Aaron Gervais’s Oksana G. in May. And Toronto Masque Theatre will present the world premiere of The Man Who Married Himself by composer Juliet Palmer. The reason for all this activity in 2017 is that companies are pulling out all the stops in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial that year.
For this December and January, however, most companies are sticking to the tried and true, and, given the general sense of unease in the world, perhaps that is not a bad thing. For professional, fully staged productions, Toronto Operetta Theatre is first off the mark with Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (1879), the work by the duo most often staged by professional opera companies and the only one to be staged regularly in non-English-speaking countries. Since 2014, there have been productions of Pirates in Münster, Luxembourg, Caen and Saarbrücken.
This year’s Pirates will give audiences a chance to hear two performers who are better known for their work with Opera Atelier, sing in a genre far removed from Baroque opera. Tenor Colin Ainsworth, who will sing Jason for Opera Atelier in next year’s Médée, sings the role of Frederic, the young lad mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate. Bass-baritone Curtis Sullivan, who has sung La Haine in Armide and Samiel in Der Freischütz, will take on the role of Major-General Stanley. TOT favourite Elizabeth Beeler will sing Ruth, the “piratical maid of all work,” and Vania Chan will sing the Donizetti-like role of Mabel. Austin Larusson and Anthony Rodrigues will share the role of Sergeant of Police, and Nicholas Borg and Janaka Welihinda will share the role of the Pirate King. Derek Bate, resident conductor for the COC, will conduct and TOT artistic director Guillermo Silva-Marin will direct. The operetta runs December 27, 30, 31, 2016, and January 6, 7 and 8, 2017.
The winter season at the Canadian Opera Company begins January 19 with Mozart’s The Magic Flute. This will be the first revival of the COC’s own production, designed by Myung Hee Cho and directed by Diane Paulus, that had its premiere in January 2011. For the revival, Ashlie Corcoran will recreate Paulus’ direction.
Tenors Andrew Haji and Owen McCausland will alternate in the role of Tamino. Sopranos Elena Tsallagova and Kirsten MacKinnon will share the role of Tamino’s beloved Pamina. Baritones Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis will alternate as Tamino’s bird-selling sidekick Papageno. And bass-baritones Goran Juric and Matt Boehler will share the role of the magician Sarastro, accused of having kidnapped Pamina. Coloratura soprano Ambur Braid, recently seen as Dalinda in Handel’s Ariodante at the COC, will sing the demanding role of Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, at all 12 performances. Tenor Michael Colvin is Pamina’s guard Monostatos. The conductor will be Bernard Labadie, best known as the founding conductor of the Montreal-based period instrument ensemble Les Violons du Roy. The opera runs from January 19 to February 24.
Street Scene by Request
If one is looking for more unusual fare, Kurt Weill’s American opera Street Scene (1947) is coming back to town for the first time since Voicebox/Opera In Concert mounted it Feb 1, 2015, at the Jane Mallett Theatre. This time, Opera by Request is taking the ambitious project on. With lyrics by the poet Langston Hughes and a book by the playwright Elmer Rice, based on his own play, the action takes place outside a multi-ethnic tenement on the East Side of Manhattan over two hot days in 1946. The opera has two plots involving the Maurrant family. One plot line follows young Rose Maurrant and her romance with a neighbour Sam Kaplan, though she is being harassed both by her boss and by another neighbour. The other follows Rose’s parents, Anna and Frank, and Anna’s affair with the milkman Steve Sankey. Subsidiary stories deal with a woman about to have a baby and the eviction of a couple who can’t pay the rent.
One impediment to the opera being produced is that it has 19 named singing roles, ten named speaking roles and other roles for children and dancers. The cast is headed by soprano Shannon Mills as Rose, soprano Kellie Masalas as Anna, baritone Austin Larusson as Frank and Avery Krisman as Sam.
Music director and pianist for the opera, William Shookhoff, provided me with some background to the production. “Street Scene came about as a project envisioned by Shannon Mills, who works with a number of the COC children, and Brandon White, whose specialty is collaborative theatre and design. It was their feeling that this piece was as relevant now as ever (perhaps more so since November 8) and that, to do it justice, it needed to be presented in a more descriptive format than the usual concert arrangement. The church will be transformed by use of backdrops, suggesting tenement apartment windows, and various minimal set pieces. Dress will indicate hot summer and there will be no music stands, with far more interaction than concert format allows.” Street Scene runs December 2 and 3 at the College Street United Church.
Opera by Request has two other concert performances slated for January. On January 14, it presents Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (1891) with Kate Carver as the pianist; and on January 27, Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787) with William Shookhoff as the pianist.
St. Anne’s G&S Treat
For Gilbert and Sullivan fans there is a real treat coming up in January. The amateur company St. Anne’s Music and Drama Society (MADS) will present a fully staged production, with an 18-piece orchestra, of The Grand Duke (1896), the final comic opera written together by the famous duo. In its day, it was the partnership’s only financial failure, unlike the equally rare Utopia, Limited (1893) that preceded it. Like G&S’s first collaboration Thespis (1871), it concerns a theatrical troupe that takes on political power. The Central European setting allows Sullivan the chance to imitate Viennese music extensively for the first time. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company did revive Utopia, Limited once for the company’s centenary in 1974, but it never revived The Grand Duke, even though it recorded both. This neglect only helped reinforce the view elsewhere that these two were undeserving of revival.
Productions by other companies such as MADS, however, have found that with cuts mostly to Gilbert’s unusually extensive dialogue, The Grand Duke is eminently enjoyable. MADS, first launched in 1963 by pianist Clifford Poole, wife Margaret Parsons, and Roy Schatz, has placed The Grand Duke in its regular cycle of G&S operas, meaning it is performed every 11 or 12 years. It was previously staged in 1996 and 2007.
Roy Schatz’s daughter Laura, the stage director, informed me of the challenges and rewards of the piece: “I very much like The Grand Duke and think it deserves to be performed more often. One of the challenges for any group who wishes to perform it is the number of leads necessary – 14 to be precise. It should not have come up in our rotation for another couple of years, but our group recently had an influx of very talented singers and I wanted to be able to feature them as well as our regular wonderful leads. We have a cast of over 50 and they are enjoying the challenge of learning one of the G&S operas that is seldom performed.” The Grand Duke will be staged at the Parish Hall of St. Anne’s Anglican Church from January 27 to February 5 for four evening and four matinee performances.
Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Hans de Groot
- Category: Art of Song
Many years ago, in the mid-90s, I sang in the Toronto Classical Singers. When an orchestra was needed, the choir as often as not engaged a newly formed group, the Talisker Players Chamber Music Orchestra, to accompany us. Talisker was set up under the leadership of the violist Mary McGeer and violinist Valerie Sylvester to provide amateur choirs with needed instrumental accompaniment. Within ten years, the Players were accompanying between 20 and 30 choirs a year and they maintain an active schedule to this day, with McGeer still active in the ensemble. Important as the orchestra is on the choral scene, within five years of its founding, the Talisker Players Chamber Ensemble had also come into being, and it is for the latter that the group is now best known, particularly for their ongoing series of chamber concerts (four or five a year) at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, which almost always offer carefully curated thematic explorations of the relationship between poetry/spoken word and a widely eclectic and challenging range of music.
Their concert on January 29 is their second for this season and is a bit of a departure from the norm, in that the words and music are not separate. Titled “’S Wonderful,” it presents the music of George and Ira Gershwin, who gave us some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century. The soloists are Erin Bardua, soprano, and Aaron Durand, baritone.
The Talisker Players’ two remaining concerts this season are “Land of the Silver Birch” and “A Mixture of Madness.” Both are more reflective of the Players’ trademark style.
“Land of the Silver Birch” on March 28 and 29 is an exploration of folk song reflective of British and French settlement in Canada over time, with music ranging from Ludwig von Beethoven’s Scottish Folk Songs to Four Canadian Folk Songs for flute, viola, cello and piano, a new work by Alexander Rapoport. Whitney O’Hearn, soprano, and John Allison, baritone, will be the soloists, and John Fraser is the reader.
“A Mixture of Madness” on May 16 and 17 is trademark Talisker. Featuring rising soprano Ilana Zarankin, and Bruce Kelly, baritone, as soloists, and with Andrew Moodie as actor/reader, it promises to be an erudite and yet entertaining romp from Aristotle to Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, by way of Purcell, Vaughan Williams and (a new commission) Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Madness of Queen Charlotte (for flute, violin cello and piano).
Looking back (and looking forward): The Canadian Opera Company has announced the winners in its annual vocal competition. Top prize went to the mezzo Simone McIntosh, while Samuel Chan and Gregory Schellenberg (both baritones) received the second and third prizes respectively. The audience prize went to the soprano Myriam Leblanc (and that marks the first occasion, as far as I can recall, that the first prize awarded by the jury and the audience prize did not coincide). Winning a prize does not automatically guarantee entrance to the COC Ensemble Studio but most prizewinners are offered a place there and I look forward to hearing them in opera or in concert.
Anyone who has ever sung in a Canadian church choir will be familiar with Healey Willan’s anthems, but the November 18 concert presented by the Canadian Art Song Project presented us with a much less familiar part of his compositions. Willan composed over 100 art songs, most of them now out of print. They were beautifully sung by Martha Guth, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, and Peter Barrett, baritone. A particular pleasure was to hear Guth sing O Littlest Hands, a song composed in 1920 for Willan’s baby daughter Mary. Mary, now Mary Mason and in her mid-90s, was in the audience and the concert provided the first occasion for her to hear the song. The Canadian Art Song Project intends to make a new volume of Willan’s art songs available. Will there eventually also be a CD? I certainly hope so. I recommend the Project’s next concert: on May 17 you will be able to hear Dawn Always Begins in the Bones, a newly commissioned work by Ana Sokolović.
Canadian Opera Company Free Vocal Concerts:
Dec 1: Chelsea Rus, soprano, the winner of the Schulich School of Music’s Wirth Vocal Prize, performs.
Jan 5: Marion Newman, mezzo, sings in Echo/Sap’a by Dustin Peters among other works.
Jan 24: Goran Jurić, bass, sings works by Tchaikovsky and Sviridov.
Jan 26: Jacqueline Woodley, soprano, sings Baroque music with members of the COC Orchestra Academy.
Jan 31: Philip Addis, baritone, and Emily Hamper, piano, perform works by Ross, Ravel and others.
Feb 2: The soprano Elizabeth Polese sings Debussy and Stravinsky.
U of T Faculty of Music Free Concerts:
Jan 19: Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and William Aide, piano, perform works by Duparc, Schumann and Liszt.
Jan 25: Singers from the faculty of music will perform as part of the Singer and the Songs Series.
Dec 1: Music Toronto presents a recital by Suzie LeBlanc, soprano, and Robert Kortgaard, piano, with recently commissioned settings of poems by Elizabeth Bishop. The program, at the St. Lawrence Centre, will also include works by Schumann and Villa Lobos.
Dec 2: Toronto Early Music Centre presents Emily Klassen, soprano, and Meagan Zantingh, mezzo, in “Stella di Natale: A Journey from Advent to Christmas,” in a concert featuring a cantata by Scarlatti and other works, at St. David’s Anglican Church.
Dec 3: Kelsey Taylor, soprano, and Eugenia Dermentzis, mezzo, will be the soloists in an Oakham House Choir Society concert. The main works to be performed are Vivaldi’s Gloria and Mendelssohn’s Christmas cantata From Heaven on High, at Calvin Presbyterian Church.
Dec 10: Soulpepper presents “What the World Needs Now (Songs of Love and Hate),” a musical journey through the Mad Men era. The singers are Wendy Lands and Jim Gillard, at theYoung Centre for the Performing Arts.
Dec 11: OriginL Concert Series presents Brenda Enns and Susan Suchard, sopranos, and Hubert Razack, countertenor, in “Celebrate Life!” at Lawrence Park Community Church.
Dec 11: The Aga Khan Museum presents Maryem Tollar in “Arabica Coffee House Concert” featuring traditional songs from Syria’s Arabic classical and popular repertoire.
Dec 12: Andrea Ludwig, alto, and Bud Roach, tenor, will sing in “O Tannenbaum: The Tree of Life,” presented by the Toronto Masque Theatre at The Atrium at 21 Shaftsbury Avenue.
Dec 13 to Dec. 23: Coal Mine Theatre presents Louise Pitre singing in A Coal Mine Christmas which includes Dylan Thomas’ story A Child’s Christmas in Wales read by Kenneth Welsh.
Dec 31: Attila Glatz Concert Productions and Roy Thomson Hall present “Bravissimo! Opera’s Greatest Hits.” The soloists are Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi, soprano, Diletta Rizzo Marin, mezzo, Leonardo Caimi, tenor, and Lucio Gallo, baritone (Roy Thomson Hall).
Dec 31: Free Times Cafe presents Sue and Dwight, Michelle Rumball and Tony Laviola in a concert celebrating the folk songs of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Woody Guthrie.
Jan 19 to 22: The baritone Peter Harvey will perform with Tafelmusik, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, in a concert of German Baroque music that will include the lament Wie bist du denn, o Gott? by Johann Christoph Bach and the cantata Ich habe genug by J. S. Bach. Jan 21: Harvey will give a free masterclass beginning at 1pm in the same location.
Jan 20: John Greer will give a free vocal masterclass at York University’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall.
Jan 20: Lorna McDonald, soprano, will sing songs from New France at the Alliance Française, as well as selections from the opera The Bells of Baddeck (libretto by Macdonald, music by Dean Burry). Jan 29: Alliance Française presents Judith Cohen leading a concert of medieval songs of courtly love, with Michael Franklin, Andrea Gerhardt and others.
Feb 1 and 2: Karina Gauvin, soprano, and Russell Braun, baritone, are the soloists with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Fauré’s Requiem by and Detlev Glnert’s orchestration of Brahms’ Four Serious Songs by Brahms.
Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@the wholenote.com.
- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
Holiday music is inseparable from the joy of the season. Every choir has a performance in the next few weeks and while you check out your favourites and traditional hits, try something new and different. There are a host of options in my column this month. Financially, these concerts can help solidify revenue for arts organizations. Just like Indigo sells more in the holiday season than the rest of the year combined, choirs rely on the revenue from holiday concerts to be in the black. The National Ballet of Canada does this with an entire month of productions of The Nutcracker. Arts organizations are desperately in need of solid sales so that new and innovative programming continues to fill the rest of our months. So here we go. Onward into a season of staples!
Oh Lord, Messiah:
Ask a chorister about Handel’s Messiah and you will get a lot of opinions, mostly favourable. Some scathing. Some complicated. This time of year, almost every choir will perform Messiah in its entirety or at least the iconic Hallelujah movement.
Along the way, something is often forgotten – Messiah is not easy. It’s long and technical. It is nuanced and requires diligence and a strong artistic interpretation. It requires musical instinct for appropriate accents and separation, stresses and vowel placement on fugal runs. Sure, an average singer can jump in and go for it and muddy their way through the music but the result is just that – mud. I’ve heard so many versions of choirs belting out Hallelujah at the top of their lungs without regard for blend or nuance. I admit that this is a thrill and a delight to sing, but let’s not get carried away.
Any chorister who tells you they can do the runs of For unto Us a Child Is Born flawlessly every single time is probably not a very good listener. His Yoke Is Easy is another challenging number. Try saying the vowel “ee”. Now try saying it 12 times in four seconds. Then add various rhythms and try to get 20 people in a section to sing it all the same way. Another continuous sore spot is the tuning in the exposed Graves of Since by Man Came Death. Exposed chorales like this are tuning death for unprepared and undisciplined choirs. It is challenging! But also, incredibly fun.
Handel’s writing is also quite forgiving of mistakes. Since by Man Came Death, if heading towards tuning death, is suddenly whipped back into shape with a very loud Allegro from the orchestra. There are very few parts in which the various voicings of the choir are not supported by instrumentation.
I have sung over 20 performances of Messiah over the last few years, a rare chance to get to know a piece of music so intensely that I’ve developed my own personal approach to performing it. For me, the songs mark out a roadmap for the evening. After the doors close, latecomers are permitted to enter again usually after And the Glory of the Lord, which is about eight minutes into the whole performance. So I don’t usually relax until the bass soloist begins For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth. It isn’t the first time we hear the bass, but when he begins so quietly and begins a build over the 16ths, the effect is exquisite. The second half is my favourite. Getting to the Hallelujah isn’t even the highlight for me. My favourite aria The Trumpets Shall Sound usually hails the end of the final chorus. (Sometimes, Worthy Is the Lamb follows; however, it depends on the edits of the conductor.)
For me, there is no greater movement than Worthy Is the Lamb followed by the epic Amen. The grand D-major chord is a powerful opener to the end of the masterwork. On the very last page, the sopranos hit a high A followed by the tenors a few bars later. This is always the flashing exit gate to the song. For choirs, this is a moment of collective inhalation and exhalation that brings the grand work to an authoritative close. Pure joy when done right!
Oh Lord, Recorded Messiahs:
Toronto has played home to two iconic recordings of Messiah and may well add a third to the mix. Tafelmusik under Ivars Taurins released a recording of the work on period instruments in 2012. For many, this is a gold standard for Messiah interpretations. In 1987 (the year I was born), Sir Andrew Davis recorded a modern interpretation of the work including the forces of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. This recording has long been a staple of Messiah listeners across the world. Little did I know that I would then be part of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for a new recording to be released for the 2016 holidays. (See David Olds’ review in this month’s Editor’s Corner.) This new version (in which Worthy Is the lamb, by the way, is the final chorus) is the grandest interpretation of the work ever. These are all very different interpretations of the work and show the diversity of sound with the same music. (Tafelmusik doesn’t have a lost sheep braying though).
Oh Lord, Big Messiahs:
This year is unusual for the two biggest Messiahs. Normally Tafelmusik and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra productions overlap. This year, they barely do, with Tafelmusik all but done before the TSO starts. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir perform a period interpretation on period instruments under the baton of perennial favourite Ivars Taurins at Koerner Hall December 14 to 17. The ever-popular “Sing-Along Messiah” celebrates its 30th anniversary December 18 at Massey Hall.
The biggest game in town is always the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Roy Thomson Hall, December 18 to 21 and 23. Notably, the conductor changes every year. This year it’s Nicholas McGegan, conductor of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale who leads.
Oh Lord, More Messiahs:
Elmer Iseler Singers and the Amadeus Choir: December 2, 8pm at Metropolitan United Church.
Soundstreams presents “Electric Messiah,” a stripped-down four-voice, guitar and electronics concept. Vocal improv goddess Christine Duncan is one of the featured soloists: December 5 to 7, 8pm at the Drake Underground.
London Pro Musica and the #WePlayOn (former musicians of Orchestra London) re-create the Dublin Messiah: December 7, 7:30pm at First St. Andrew’s United Church, London.
Chorus Niagara is joined by the Talisker Players: December 10, 7:30pm at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.
Oh yeah, there’s other music this season!
The Upper Canada Choristers and Cantemos present a different take on holiday music with “Noche de Paz: an Old World and New World Christmas.” The feature is Argentianian composer Ariel Ramirez’s Navidad Nuetra representing a distinctly Latin American sound and rhythm. Cantemos, an 11-voice Latin ensemble made up of members of the Choristers, will perform a few smaller carols from Colombia and Peru: December 2, 8pm at Grace Church on-the-Hill.
The Tallis Choir of Toronto presents “Monteverdi: Vespers of Christmas Eve.” Artistic director Peter Mahon promises a period interpretation and performance that will evoke a Renaissance Christmas Eve in St. Mark’s, Venice: December 3, 7:30pm at St. Patrick’s Church, Toronto.
Singing OUT! presents “Not Another Fa La La.” There’s always choreography! Saturday December 3, 7:30pm at Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
The Oakville Children’s Choir presents three different sets of concerts. The first is “Stories, Songs, and Snow” featuring Lineage by Andrea Ramsey and Ngoma by Moira Stanley. Both composers workshopped with the choir on their visit to the Pacific International Choral Festival earlier this year: December 3, 7pm at St. John’s United Church, Oakville. The second, “Community Carol Concerts,” also at St. John’s United Church, takes place December 10 at 1:30pm and 4pm. The choir then joins the Oakville Symphony Orchestra to perform carols and the fun Suite from John Williams Christmas in the 14th annual “Family Christmas Concert”: December 11, 1:30pm and 4pm at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts.
The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents “Festival of Carols” with the Salvation Army Canadian Staff Band. (I’ll be in the tenors!): December 7, 7:30pm at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
Exultate Chamber Singers present “A Time for Celebration: A Canadian Christmas.” University of Toronto professor Hilary Apfelstadt’s Exultate Chamber Singers are always a delight. Featuring Ring Wild Bells by Stephanie Martin, O Magnum Mysterium by Timothy Corlis and a premiere of a new arrangement of Silent Night by Exultate singer/composer J. Scott Brubacher: December 9, 8pm at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church.
Univox presents “Serenity, Hope, Light” celebrating all the various holidays of the season. The feature is Bach’s Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden (Praise the Lord, all ye nations): December 9, 8pm at Christ Church Deer Park.
Pax Christi Chorale presents Ode on the Nativity by C.H.H. Parry with the Aslan Boys Choir and other guests: December 10, 7:30pm and December 11, 3pm at Grace Church on-the-Hill, as well as their eighth annual Children’s Messiah, at 4pm December 17 at Church of St. Mary Magdalene.
Echo Women’s Choir celebrates its 25th anniversary with “Ain’t Life Sweet.” Special guest Annabelle Chvostek joins the choir with a special arrangement of her song Black Hole. The choir will feature songs and arrangements by Vermont artist Brendan Taafe and Penny Lang among others: December 11, 7:30pm at Church of the Holy Trinity.
The super accessible and diverse City Choir presents “This Shining Night, a Bright-Hearted Concert.”: December 13, 7:30pm at St. Peter’s Church.
Incontra Vocal Ensemble (which I also sing in) performs “O Nata Lux:” December 14, 7:30pm at Regis College, University of Toronto.
That Choir: “Carols.” Most fun a choir can have, legally. ’Nuff said: December 18, 8pm at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Toronto.
The huge conglomeration of the Toronto Children’s Chorus ensembles (nine of them!) come together for their annual Roy Thomson Hall concert – “A Child’s Christmas.” Special guest, Stratford Festival veteran Geraint Wyn Davies will narrate the evening. A variety of instrumentalists including TSO musicians will join in the fun: December 17, 2pm at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.
The JUNO award-winning Toronto Mass Choir presents “A Gospel Christmas,” featuring special guests and a truly uplifting concert experience: December 17, 7pm at Bayview Chapel, Tyndale University College.
Oh Lord, a New Year!
Our double listing for December 2016 and January 2017 would be remiss without some highlights early in 2017.
Every year the Toronto Mendelsohn Choir hosts five or six emerging conductors in a weeklong intensive. This culminates with a free concert featuring the choir and the Elora Festival Singers: January 28, 3pm at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is joined by the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers in a performance of Fauré’s Requiem: February 1 and 2, 8pm at Roy Thomson Hall.
Soundstreams presents the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir featuring Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and more. February 2, 8pm at St. Paul’s Basilica.
Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang. Send info/media/tips to email@example.com
- Written by David Podgorski
- Category: Early Period
It’s a bit of a shame that, with all the marketing behind Christmas, no one ever remembers – let alone observes – Advent anymore. The pre-Christmas season has a rich repertoire of music behind it that often gets ignored in favour of Messiahs, Nutcrackers and Christmas carols, but a few Toronto-based artists are mining this hard-to-market season for interesting music that will keep audiences entertained throughout the month of December.
Musicians in Ordinary have been mentioned in this column before as a group that’s known for doing interesting programs of a seasonal nature throughout the year, and I’m pleased to say they’ll be doing just that this month. On December 9 at 7:30pm, the group will bring a concert of Monteverdi, Gibbons and Byrd to St. Basil’s Church. They’ll also be joined by the Pneuma Ensemble, a new group specializing in medieval music, for some Advent tunes from 13th-century Portugal. Besides being seasonally appropriate (especially if, like many people out there, you’re already sick of hearing Christmas music by the time December rolls around), it’s a concert that won’t be done by any other groups in town any time soon. There’s scarcely any chance to hear any pre-Renaissance music in Toronto, and medieval music is hardly heard anywhere, so I’ll be very interested to hear what the Pneuma Ensemble can bring to the music scene. If you’re looking for a chamber concert in early December, the Musicians in Ordinary and Pneuma sounds like an excellent choice.
The Oratory: If you’re not particularly into medieval or chamber music, there’s another Advent-themed concert worth checking out before Christmas. The Oratory at Holy Family has a regular series of concerts of vocal and chamber music, but this December, the venue has decided to feature a soloist who is one of the music scene’s best-kept secrets. Toronto-based organist Phillip Fournier brings a distinctly Lutheran flavour to Holy Family Church on December 7 at 8pm with a solo concert that includes Buxtehude, Bach and Scheidt. Fournier is a great organist and improviser who plays Bach particularly well, and hearing him play solo is positively delightful.
For some actual Christmas music over the Christmas season, consider a few groups that are willing to explore somewhat less-played music for the holidays:
The Toronto Consort will be putting on an interesting program devoted entirely to Christmas music from the Middle Ages that will feature the work of two notable women from the period. The posthumous legacy of the German abbess, writer, composer and mystic Hildegard of Bingen has already been revived with a slew of CD recordings from the mid-90s onward. Judging from the fact that most of the albums had titles like Canticles of Ecstasy, Heavenly Revelations, and Vision, the artists and record labels were trading on the mystic aspect of Hildegard’s life as much as the music she wrote. One wonders what the undoubtedly erudite and pious 12th-century nun would make of the new age marketing of her records, but no matter. The music remains extraordinary. Less well-known than Hildegard is a later mystic and nun, Anna of Cologne, who, as a 16th-century compiler of hymns and songs from a non-cloistered community, collected songs in both Latin and Middle German by other composers, who, with some very rare exceptions, remain completely unknown to us. The result is a uniquely spiritual take on the Christmas holidays, and where other musical groups emphasize the festive side of the holidays, Hildegard’s and Anna’s music shows us a more somber side of the darkest days of the year. Check out the Consort at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, December 9 through 11.
Cantemus: Still, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate, and if you’d rather listen to a choral ensemble for a dose of holiday cheer, consider going to a concert by the Cantemus Singers in December. Their concert, “In Dulci Jubilo,” will be a lively and joyful celebration of the music of Praetorius, Hassler, Schütz and Bach. Cantemus is an a cappella group devoted to Renaissance madrigals and chansons, and they will do a fine job with repertoire that’s upbeat and festive. Catch them in two performances, at the Church of the Holy Trinity on December 3 at 7:30pm, and at St. Aidan’s Anglican Church on December 4 at 3pm.
Haydn Operatic Gem in Concert: Among the Classical composers, it’s generally agreed that Mozart is the father of modern opera and Haydn the founder of the instrumental music we enjoy today. But besides composing on an exhausting schedule that included symphonies, chamber music and solo performances specifically tailored to the tastes of one Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, one of the most powerful aristocrats in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Haydn was also responsible for managing an opera troupe for the amusement of his employer. In addition to two concerts a week of instrumental music, Haydn was contractually obliged to put on a different opera every week at the Esterházy palace. And although there was no way Haydn could have composed 52 operas a year, he did manage to write about 15 (that we know of) while employed by the prince, although unfortunately, none of them are performed more than occasionally. But on February 5 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts at 2:30pm, Opera in Concert and the Aradia Ensemble will be presenting one of these forgotten gems by the founding father of the Classical canon.
L’Isola disabitata was an opera written by Haydn in 1779 based on a libretto by Metastasio and is an excellent example of the mature style of a prolific composer whose works were just starting to circulate around Europe. Although we don’t associate Haydn with opera today, he was more than capable of writing great vocal music, and Aradia and Opera in Concert will give this work the level of excitement and interpretive insight it needs. Get to this concert if you possibly can.
Beauséjour in Belleville: Outside the city, Belleville audiences can look forward to hearing a gifted solo musician in the new year. The talented Quebecois harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour has an encyclopedic catalogue of albums behind him and will be coming to play in St. Thomas’s Church in Belleville for a pay-what-you-can concert. No word yet on the program, but Beauséjour is a veteran of solo Baroque keyboard music and a technically flawless musician. If you’re in the Belleville area, you should definitely try to make it to his show on January 15 at 4:30pm.
Taylor’s TEM: Closer to the city, countertenor Daniel Taylor has made a name for himself as a soloist and opera singer, but lately his choir and chamber music performances have been gaining both notice and acclaim. Led by Taylor, the Choir of the Theatre of Early Music is made up mainly of younger Montreal-based singers. January 21 at 8pm, St. Jude’s Celebration of the Arts presents the group in a concert of contemporary and Renaissance a cappella vocal works by some great English choral composers, including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and John Tavener. Taylor is a gifted singer with a glorious voice who has a fine ear for young talent, and the TEM choir is an exceptional group of voices.
David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Jack MacQuarrie
- Category: Bandstand
With Canada’s sesquicentennial year only one month away, municipalities and organizations all over the country are searching their archives for records of significant events over the past 150 years which could stimulate community interest in this year of reflection and celebration. Unfortunately, in the band world, there are few bands whose history goes back even half that 150-year time span. One band which does have some good material in their archives is the Newmarket Citizens’ Band. In a recent exploration of the band’s archives, they found a photograph of the band taken in the year 1883. With the sesquicentennial year approaching, what better time to show off this picture, to show the citizens of the community that their band has been there to provide music for town events for all but five years of Confederation.
At an evening meeting of council, several members of the band, wearing their red blazers, arrived for the presentation. In the announcement of their deputation to council, the band pointed out that “Since 1872, the Newmarket Citizens’ Band has been an integral part of the cultural and social landscape of the town of Newmarket.” To commemorate the opening of the newly restored Old Town Hall they presented a large framed photograph of the town band taken in August 1883 just a few weeks after the original opening of the Old Town Hall on July 1, 1883.
The photo of the band was taken during the Firemen’s Excursion to Niagara Falls on the Civic Holiday, August 8, 1883. An article about the event, including this photo, was published in the Newmarket Era of the day. Approximately 250 residents travelled by train and then steamship to Niagara Falls and the band went along to provide entertainment. It is a prime example of the band’s long involvement in the social and cultural life of the town. The write-up of the trip mentioned that the band, reinforced by two gentlemen from Sharon and Bolton, “enlivened the trip by music on the fore deck; good music is never so pleasing as on the water.”
A formal public unveiling of the photo was scheduled to take place at the band’s “Simple Gifts” Concert at the Old Town Hall on Botsford Street, Friday, December 2, 2016. (On a personal note, some 35 years ago, I played there for a few years in monthly concerts of The Newmarket Jazz Appreciation Society, and our small Dixieland group was known as “The Botsford Street Ramblers.”)
Since it is rare to find this much information about a band’s activities almost 150 years ago, it is worth including here some of the historical information about the band recently presented to the Newmarket mayor and council. “The band formed in 1872 with roots going back to as early as 1843. Walter W. Roe, son of the town’s postmaster and fur trader, William Roe, circulated a petition among the local business community to raise funds. The 12 band members contributed $5 each and along with 69 other contributors raised the sum $319 to purchase instruments.”
To quote the petition: “Whereas we, the undersigned, think it a disgrace to the inhabitants of Newmarket that they should have, on all festive occasions, to send to the small villages of Aurora and Sharon for a band, we have determined, with the consent and assistance of our fellow-townsmen, to form one of our own.”
The timing of the recent presentation could not have been better from a number of perspectives. For one, the band delegation met with the mayor and council within a few days of the reopening of the beautifully restored Old Town Hall, which is now destined to be a prime performance venue. For another, it has only been a few weeks since the band was informed that they would now have an excellent permanent rehearsal home complete with storage in a large town recreation centre. Wandering from place to place for rehearsals has been the norm since their former rehearsal space was destroyed by arsonists many years ago. Last but not least, it just also happened a few days after the band paraded, as it has for years, in the town’s annual Santa Claus parade.
New Horizons. By now it should not be a surprise, but I just received a note about yet another New Horizons group that we had not previously heard from. Lynda Shewchuk, music director of Lakeshore New Horizons Bands in Bowmanville, tells us that the band is now in its sixth year. She says that the thriving group is “not very large” with only 60 members! They have a senior band, intermediate band and a beginners class. They also have a small jazz band. She states that “our members are very active and enthusiastic, with many playing in two or even three bands. Quite a few of our members play two different instruments, one in each concert band.”
Recent Events: In early November the Milton Concert Band lost one of its long time members, Rev. Christopher Snow. On November 6 “A Memorial Concert for Chris Snow” was presented to proclaim “A life celebrated through music.”
On November 20 the Wychwood Clarinet Choir concert continued to amaze with their unique arrangements of works for orchestra and concert band. This time it was the Holst Second Suite in F for concert band. In the early 1920s the leaders of Britain’s Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall lamented the lack of larger serious works for concert band. Until then, if bands wanted to play longer multi-movement works they had to rely on transcriptions of orchestral works. They commissioned Gustav Holst to write two suites for concert band. Since then these suites have been part of the concert band repertoire. This transcription maintained all of the highlights and nuances contained in the original. Local composer Fen Watkin also contributed a fine version of Villanesca, Spanish Dance No.4 by Granados. In a conversation after the concert, Watkin mentioned that, for sesquicentennial year 2017, he might like to write some arrangements of Canadian works. I did not mention it then, but I would like to suggest Calixa Lavallée’s La rose nuptiale.
Initiatives. Every once in a while, we hear of initiatives taken by bands to either help with their finances or otherwise enhance their relationship with their communities. In November, the Aurora Band held its annual holiday market where shoppers could find one-of-a-kind gifts from 38 unique local vendors. For their Canada 150 festivities, the band has commissioned a composition from professor Bill Thomas of York University. The band will give the premiere performance of this number at its concert on Canada Day, 2017.
On the fundraising front, the Strings Attached Orchestra has become a registered charity to provide some financial incentive for donors so that they may continue to bring music into the community.
Dec 5: Resa’s Pieces will present “A Tribute to the Beatles and Beach Boys,” 7:30pm at York Mills Collegiate.
Dec 6: Silverthorn Symphonic Winds present the next concert in their series, 59 Minute Soiree. These mini-concerts feature a variety of lighter music, perfect for unwinding after a day at work. At 7:30, Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall.
Dec 9: The Aurora Community Band will present holiday entertainment like no other – its “Heroes and Monsters: A Holiday Concert” – at 7:30, Trinity Anglican Church, 79 Victoria St., Aurora.
Dec 10: For their annual holiday concert, “The Bells of Christmas,” the Milton Concert Band will not only include the traditional musical favourites but will feature, as guests, Eden Bells A-Peel, a long-established handbell choir from Eden United Church in Mississauga. In Victorian times, it was very fashionable to go carol singing with small handbells to play the tune of the carol. Sometimes there would be no singing, just the music of the handbells. Handbell ringing is still popular today and if you have never heard a handbell choir, then this is a concert well worth a visit: 8pm Milton Centre for the Arts, 1010 Main St. East, Milton.
Dec 11: The Clarington Concert Band presents their “Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” featuring singers Father Paul, Kelly Robertson and Lisa Heitzner, 2pm at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 127 Liberty St. South, Bowmanville.
Dec 11: The Strings Attached Orchestra presents their third annual “Friends and Family Holiday Concert,” 2pm at Congregation Ban’s Torah, 465 Patrician Ave., Toronto.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Written by Bob Ben
- Category: Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz
I am not built for the cold. Not only am I unable to handle sub-zero temperatures – I’m also incapable of acclimating to all temperature shifts. Every winter I have this problem, and every winter I don’t know how to solve it: I walk around outside wearing layer upon layer of clothing. I’m talking multiples of everything: I’ve got sweatpants on under my jeans, regular socks on under my thermal socks, and under my sweater is at least one other sweater. And I’m still cold, so I go inside. All of a sudden, I’m frantically stripping off at least three layers of clothing, but by now I’m boiling hot and sweating bullets. It’s my least favourite thing about winter.
My favourite thing about winter, on the other hand, is the irreverent stuff non-Christians do to poke fun at themselves for being the outsiders during the holiday season. One such example is Sam Broverman’s annual engagement, “A Jewish Boy’s Christmas,” happening at Jazz Bistro, in which he pokes gentle fun at the culture and the experience of being Jewish in a Christian-dominated North America. I’ve always known Broverman for his ability to write amusing alternate lyrics to tunes, which seem to work perfectly with the pacing of the tune. The comedic effect is always impeccable. In “A Jewish Boy’s Christmas,” Broverman sings such charming lines as, to the tune of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, “Both my thumbs are numb from spinning dreidels / Kiss my gelt goodbye / I’ll be eating frozen latkes till July.” Broverman’s voice is unassuming and conversational. But the palpable relaxation in his sound speaks to his immense skill; singing is hard, and making it look easy is harder still.
You can hear Broverman and his guests (among them, members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, with whom he has served as a chorister, and Whitney Ross-Barris, about whom I have written) at Jazz Bistro on the evening of December 11.
Monk Is Here To Stay
With a vast repertoire from which to draw, a revolving-door-style lineup and a fervent desire to explore, there’s very little risk of Toronto mainstay Monk’s Music going stale. As the name suggests, Monk’s Music is a project dedicated to exploring the music of Thelonious Monk. One of the project’s two co-founders, Dan Gauche, moved to the West Coast. The remaining co-founder, Michael Davidson, is a vibraphonist of remarkable dexterity and wit, whose fascination with Monk’s body of work has led to this weekly ongoing tribute to the jazz piano colossus. Davidson uses elements and trademark gestures of the Monkian style – playing with four mallets, in the tradition of Gary Burton, must help, I imagine, with the idiomatically pianistic phrases and textures he plays with – and he also channels the playful, curious spirit, the sense of humour and whimsy, for which Monk was known.
Monk’s Music, a project that has been happening for about seven years now, plays every Sunday evening, alternating between the Tranzac at 5pm on the first and third Sunday of each month, and the Emmet Ray at 6pm on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. There are no cover charges, and no excuses!
It’s getting really cold out there, friends. Bundle up, but don’t bundle up too much.
Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
Pianist, singer, composer and arranger Laila Biali was born in Vancouver and has been celebrated worldwide, from the North Sea Jazz Festival to Tokyo’s Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. She’s toured with Grammy award-winners Chris Botti, Paula Cole and Suzanne Vega, and has toured and recorded with Sting.
These days, seeing and hearing her is a profound experience, especially when she works in trio setting with such musicians as bassist George Koller, drummer Larnell Lewis, or her husband, drummer Ben Wittman. This is masterful, world-class music—accessible, soulful, intelligent and deeply moving.
Currently on the Laila Biali website there are dates posted in Australia, Switzerland, Poland, Germany—and Canada. After living in Brooklyn for a few years, Biali has recently moved back to Toronto, and is making her Koerner Hall debut on December 1. In addition to the musicians named above, she will be joined by trumpet ace William Sperandei, sharing the bill with Italian vocalist Pilar.
I wrote to Biali to ask her about her process, and about the music that inspires her to keep doing what she does.
Who are your three greatest musical inspirations and why?
Greatest three musical inspirations (though there are many and it’s hard to pick my top three!):
- Keith Jarrett. As a classically-trained pianist who moved into jazz later in life, I was inspired by Keith's ability to bridge the two worlds in a way that was familiar and compelling. When in college, I was so struck by the profundity and depth of his solo piano recordings, they would bring me to tears. His music touches a very deep place that transcends words.
- Björk. I'm not sure I've encountered a single artist as unblocked and free in their creative expression as Björk appears to be. She moves boldly and fluently through genres, various artistic media, science and technology, all the while creating art that is, in my opinion, a sumptuous feast for the senses.
- Joni Mitchell. No one tells a story like Joni does. Poetry and power, wisdom and whimsy, beauty and brashness all co-exist happily on her albums. She's a veritable force, a bright star within our great lineage of Canadian singer-songwriters.
You seem to be pushing yourself consistently to play, sing, write and arrange better and better...where does your musical motivation come from?
As a human being and as a musician, my primary desire and goal is to connect with others. Playing, singing, writing and arranging thus become instruments of communication and a means of connection within the world. I'm also driven by a thirst for the divine, and music provides a way of reaching beyond ourselves, to something greater.
When it comes to cover tunes, how do you select these?
I used to pick cover songs myself. [That] began when the CBC commissioned me to put together the project From Sea to Sky, which featured material from the Great Canadian Songbook (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, etc.). But now, I crowdsource covers through an initiative we call the “request-o-matic”. In short, I invite listeners to submit songs they'd like me to arrange personally and unveil at upcoming shows. A couple such songs have become fixtures of our live performances and are actually featured on the new album. You'll hear two or three of these at Koerner Hall on December 1!
For tickets to Biali’s December 1 show at Koerner Hall, head to http://performance.rcmusic.ca/tickets/seats/12403.
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at www.oridagan.com.