Choral-Score.jpgThe term avant-garde has come to mean art on the edge – work that is provocative and disturbing. Many people are not aware that avant-garde was originally the military term for soldiers whose task was to scout terrain ahead of an advancing army. To be a member of the avant-garde, therefore, was to be at a higher risk of first contact and combat than other members of the force, and like many that are first over the top in any combat situation, members of the avant-garde were not expected to have a high survival rate.

Frequently, the artistic avant-garde faces a kind of annihilation as well; not death, thankfully, but the loss of their cutting-edge relevance. Their innovations are subsumed into the mainstream, their work ceases to provoke and the public moves on to new outrages and diversions.

Choral-Fallis.jpgIn artistic terms, what happens to a member of the avant-garde who has survived their encounter with a hostile or receptive public and lived to tell the tale? Do they become venerated elder statesmen, losing their indie cred as they join the establishment, or do they stay on the cutting edge? Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer has enjoyed both rebel status and critical success, amassing a performance history that many composers must envy. His work has never been mainstream, but it has extended beyond the small contemporary music audience to which many composers find their work consigned.

Schafer has been credited with inventing the term “soundscape.” It may be hard for young musicians and their audiences, accustomed to opera productions in vodka bars and symphonies on bicycles, to appreciate how revolutionary it was for Schafer to mount his productions in forests, lakes and other spaces beyond the concert hall. But while there can be a gimmicky quality to some non-traditional staging, Schafer’s work was always rooted in a simple but profound belief that (to paraphrase conductor David Fallis) music changes depending on how and where it is heard. Schafer’s staging needs, his graphic scores and sound innovations were a passionate attempt to get both performers and audiences to listen with fresh ears.

Schafer has been scathing in the past about certain concert music traditions that he finds stultifying. I read one memorable essay in which he compared the classical piano itself to a prostitute. Whether you agree with this or not – I’m not sure that much is achieved by denigrating keyboard instruments or sex workers, either on their own or juxtaposed – it certainly made for provocative reading.

But Schafer’s ire was partly a reaction to what he regarded as the ossified concert culture which unfortunately remains with us still. Schafer’s approach to actual musicians, and the concert audience itself, has been anything but stern and insulting. On the contrary, it has often been playfully generous, notably in his works for children. Unlike some avant-garde artists, Schafer’s lack of contempt for the audience, and his clear desire to connect using musical language that is accessible as well as challenging, has been in part responsible for the positive response to his work.

And so, despite avant-garde aspects in Schafer’s music, I have always thought of him as the last Romantic, a Canadian Mahler of the North. While his tonal language uses extended harmonies and non-traditional soundscapes, his music is rooted in the techniques of earlier eras, including his ability to write a good old-fashioned catchy melody, the most deceptively simple and undervalued of a composer’s skills. Schafer’s fascination with nature, and his frequent depiction of metaphysical battles between good and evil, connect his work to traditions that seem at odds with this era’s self-referential irony and arch diffidence. I would urge both those of advanced and conservative tastes to give Schafer a listen, if they have not done so before.

Choral-Cover.jpgThis month brings the opportunity to do just that, by attending a performance of one of Schafer’s most ambitious works. In June, Toronto’s Luminato Festival will mount a new production of Schafer’s Apocalypsis. This is the first time that the work will be heard in its entirety since its 1980 premiere in London, Ontario.

Apocalypsis is a two-part work. The first half is based on the Book of Revelation, the Christian text that has contributed so many images to literature and popular culture – the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Seven Seals, the Whore of Babylon, the Beast and the False Prophet, all of whom are defeated by the forces of good. The second part, Credo, is an extended chorus that has been performed several times as a concert work. The text is a translation of writings by Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century Jesuit priest who was also a philosopher and astronomer. Bruno’s ideas of spirituality, and the place of the world in the universe, were so disturbing to Catholic authorities that he was imprisoned and put to death in 1600.

Part of the difficulty in restaging Apocalypsis has been that the forces that Schafer specifies for performance are enormous, requiring a muster that evokes the original military meaning of avant-garde. Toronto conductor David Fallis, who has performed Schafer’s work in the past, will be leading the advance. Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio and MAU, his ensemble, will be the central group involved in the staging. Canadian star performers Brent Carver, Tanya Tagaq, Denise Fujiwara and Nina Arsenault have solo roles. New Zealand opera singer Kawiti Waetford will join them, and performance art legend Laurie Anderson will have a video cameo as well.

Then there are Apocalypsis’ ensemble requirements. The list of performers constitutes a music festival in its own right. Groups from all over Ontario are participating – see the list of choirs at the end of the column, which does not even include the many instrumentalists involved. There will be close to 1,000 performers – dancers, soloists, choristers, conductors, brass, strings (including 12 string quartets!), winds and percussion – in the Sony Centre in three performances on June 26, 27 and 28, making Apocalypsis a Mahlerian endeavour indeed.

That the performance of such a large work has been made possible is a tribute both to the producers of Luminato and the commitment of Canadian ensembles to indigenous modern composition. Conductor Fallis speaks with enthusiasm about the conductors and choirs that he had never worked with, and whose drive and excellence he has come to admire. Considering that the last complete performance of Apocalypsis  took place 35 years ago, for many this one may well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience – but hopefully not. It is exciting to witness many Ontario groups joining together to make arts events take place, so let’s hope this will be a model for future collaborations, especially with Canadian works.

For tickets and further information, see 

Choirs Involved with Apocalypsis:

Bell’Arte Singers
Cantabile Chamber Singers
Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir
City Choir
Concord Vocal Ensemble
Da Capo Chamber Choir
The Element Choir
Exultate Chamber Singers
Grand Philharmonic Choir
Guelph Chamber Choir
Hamilton Children’s Choir
Tallis Choir of Toronto
That Choir
Toronto Chamber Choir
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
Oakham House Choir
Ontario Youth Choir Alumni
Orpheus Choir of Toronto
Ottawa Bach Choir
Pax Christi Chorale
Regent Park School of Music
Seraphim Men’s Chorus
St. James Cathedral Choir
Singing Out!
Univox Choir Toronto

Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and lutenist. He can be contacted at Visit his website at

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Toronto Summer Music Festival celebrates its tenth edition by paying homage to the Pan Am Games being held in Toronto from July 10 to 26. Festival artistic director Douglas McNabney has focused his fifth season at TSM on an exploration of the culture of the Americas in the 20th century. How the musical heritage of waves of European immigrants merged with that of indigenous peoples and Americans of African descent is an ongoing narrative that never gets old. To that end, McNabney has curated several programs that will keep any serious concertgoer’s mind off the noise of the hemispheric contests simultaneously raging in the realms of physical culture throughout our fair city.

Soprano Measha Brueggergosman headlines TSM’s July 16 opener, “Americans in Paris,” spotlighting the music of Gershwin and Copland, whose careers were elevated by their European experiences. “The Hollywood Connection” and “American Romantic” are other concerts that promise beautiful music from Barber and Dvořák to Korngold, Beach and Antheil. Arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was typical of the classical music lover of the New World, commissioning works by Prokofiev, Poulenc, Britten and Bloch. McNabney cleverly includes a concert July 24 of the fruits of her largesse performed by a collection of topnotch chamber musicians led by TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow. The final thematic evening "American Avant-Garde,” features the Afiara String Quartet, Pedja Muzijevic, piano, and Harumi Rhodes, violin, performing Cage, Ives, Feldman and Zorn. This kind of stimulating programming is part of what makes summer festivals and TSM, in particular, so compelling.

Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter performs Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with the YOA Orchestra of the Americas, conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto, in a concert that also includes Mexican composer Carlos Chávez’s infectious Symphony No.2 “Sinfonia India” and Dvořák’s ever-fresh Symphony No.9 in E Minor Op.95 “From the New World.” Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez brings his considerable jazz skills to an all-star Koerner Hall evening July 22.

Garrick Ohlsson, the first American to win the International Chopin competition (in 1970), and coincidentally, a musical inspiration for the young McNabney, brings his sizable pianism and imposing six-foot, four-inch frame to a noteworthy program (in Koerner Hall on July 23) of Scriabin – Désir, Op.57 No.1, Sonata No.10, Op.70, Fragilité, Op.51, No.1 and Sonata No.5 in F-sharp Major, Op.53 – and Beethoven (Sonatas Opp.109 and 110).

Classical-Borromeo.jpgEven more impressive is the Borromeo String Quartet’s complete traversal of Bartók’s six string quartets which will take place August 6 at 7:30pm in the intimate confines of Walter Hall. As David Patrick Stearns wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2012: “Compared to the Emerson Quartet’s famous Bartók marathons at Carnegie Hall in the 1990s (one of which I attended), Borromeo’s at Field Concert Hall had musicians, music and audience contained in a smaller room that, over the three-hour-plus concert, became laudably claustrophobic: the performances never coasted or let you coast. While the 1990s version of the Emerson Quartet used vibrato so unceasingly as to form a safety curtain between your ears and the music’s intensity, the Borromeo Quartet is much more judicious about such matters, giving performances with more nuanced contrasts of light and shade, as well as more open windows that your ear can’t help but enter. The music’s mystery, violence and sorrow become absolutely inescapable. Spanning the period from 1908 when the composer was 27 to the eve of World War II in 1939, Bartók’s quartets ask to be performed in a single concert not just because they represent one of the highest peaks in 20th-century music, but because there’s an easily traceable progression.”

TSM also acts as a mentoring academy to 28 young musicians on the threshold of a professional career. Chosen by a jury headed by McNabney, 14 fellows in the Chamber Music Institute program for piano and strings (July 13 to August 8) and 14 in the Art of Song program for singers and pianists (July 12 to 25) will study under violinists Martin Beaver, Jonathan Crow, Mark Fewer, Ernst Kovacic, Harumi Rhodes and Axel Strauss; violists Paul Coletti, Steven Dann and Eric Nowlin; cellists Henrik Brendstrup, Denise Djokic and Mark Kosower; soprano Soile Isokoski; and pianists Martin Katz, Pedja Muzijevic, John Novacek, Steven Philcox and Huw Watkins. The “Mentors & Fellows” concerts at Walter Hall feature artist mentors and festival guest artists sharing the stage with TSM Chamber Music Institute fellows at 4pm and 7:30pm on July 18, 25, August 1 and 8. These are unparallelled opportunities for the aspiring professionals to gain invaluable experience making chamber music in front of the public while performing with seasoned musicians of the highest calibre. Which makes them fascinating to attend as well.

In a free TSM preview concert at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre May 28, violist McNabney and violinist Axel Strauss anchored a hushed, lyrical performance of Dvořák’s tuneful Piano Quintet No.2 in A Major, Op.81. Pianist fellow Todd Yaniw was a sensitive keyboardist; cellist fellow Sarah Gans and violinist fellow Aysel Taghi-Zada blended in nicely. The noontime recital proved McNabney’s point (in his introductory remarks) that (young) musicians learn how to project their feelings about music by playing in public. In Dvořák they had a most willing partner. The first and second movements were filled with so much melody that if you were on a walk in the woods, dropping notes like breadcrumbs, you would have no trouble finding your way back home.

Classical-Lewis.jpgStratford Summer Music: The Liverpool-born pianist Paul Lewis discovered classical music by listening to records in his local library as a child. Curiously, the first pianist he heard was Alfred Brendel, whose affinity for Schubert and Beethoven was echoed in Lewis’ own critically acclaimed recordings many years later. His WMCT Toronto debut playing Schubert’s last three sonatas in the fall of 2012 still lingers vividly in my mind; his recent Koerner Hall recital with the violinist Lisa Batiashvili was memorable for its Schubert and Beethoven. So it makes for a kind of cyclic balance that Lewis’ Stratford recital July 29 will consist of Beethoven’s last three sonatas, Opp.109. 110 and 111. His Harmonia Mundi recording of these pianistic touchstones was named Gramophone Record of the Year in 2008. This is one of the destination concerts of the summer; the fact that it follows Garrick Ohlsson’s TSM recital, which also includes Opp.109 and 110, by a mere six days adds another layer to its attraction – the opportunity to compare artistic interpretations.

Another reason to make the trek to Stratford is the chance to hear budding superstar Jan Lisiecki play all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos with a string quartet! Having heard his trio of concerts with the TSO last November when he performed Nos. 3, 4 and 5 under the baton of Thomas Dausgaard, I can’t wait for the added intimacy the Annex Quartet and the Revival House venue will provide August 27, 28 and 29.

Another innovative piece of programming finds three Tafelmusik violinists each performing a Bach unaccompanied sonata and partita in a “Musical Brunch” on two separate weekends. The series begins July 25 and 26 with Julia Wedman playing Partita No.2. Aisslinn Nosky follows with Sonata No.1 August 1 and 2; Christina Zacharias performs the Sonata No.2 August 8 and 9; Nosky returns with Partita No.3 August 15 and 16; Zacharias follows with Partita No.1 August 22 and 23; Wedman completes the cycle August 29 and 30 with Sonata No.3.

Classical-Tselyakov.jpgFestival of the Sound: The 36th summer of this long-running vibrant festival has much to recommend between July 18 and August 9 beginning with “Flute, Harp and Strings” on July 21 when Suzanne Shulman, Caroline Léonardelli, Gil Sharon, Ron Ephrat and Yegor Dyachkov perform Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Villa-Lobos among others. An overview of Brahms promises much over three concerts July 22, while July 23 features a wealth of chamber music from Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert to Bruch, Saint-Saëns and Poulenc culminating in a 7:30pm concert of Beethoven’s Piano Quartet with André Laplante and Schubert’s seminal Quintet in C. Violinist Moshe Hammer performs two recitals on July 30; in the later one his Beethoven Violin Sonata “Spring” is followed by the Penderecki String Quartet playing the composer’s great String Quartet Op.131. On August 4, the Afiara String Quartet gives us Beethoven’s final quartet Op.135. The next day violinists Martin Beaver and Mark Fewer lead a cast of supporters in Beethoven’s irresistible Septet. August 7 Beaver and Fewer are joined by festival artistic director, clarinetist James Campbell, the Afiara String Quartet and others for intimate concerto performances of Haydn’s Violin Concerto in D and Mozart’s sublime Clarinet Concerto. Earlier in the day, you can hear Stewart Goodyear’s take on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations Op.120. Two days later, Goodyear is joined by Boris Brott and the National Academy Orchestra for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Op.73 “Emperor.” A festival of many sounds.

Music and Beyond: Running from July 4 to 17, this Ottawa classical music and multi-disciplinary festival highlights the delightful Vienna Piano Trio (whom I profiled in my March column earlier this year) in three concerts July 8, 9 and 10. Then on July 11, the trio’s pianist, the voluble and charming Stefan Mendl, joins soprano Donna Brown for an afternoon of “Song and Conversation” with music by Schubert and Brahms.

Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival: The tenth anniversary of this August long-weekend festival (July 30 to August 3) under the artistic direction of pianist Alexander Tselyakov features seven musically rich concerts, two of which are jazz-oriented. The five classical recitals are well-programmed and varied, with Tselyakov himself, and his talented pianist son Daniel, collaborating with violinist Marc Djokic, hornist Ken McDonald, cellist Simon Fryer and others in music ranging from Beethoven to Piazzolla, Mendelssohn and Schumann to Franck, Sarasate and Corigliano, all of which only enhance the natural beauty of Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, where the festival takes place.

Classical-Danish_String_Quartet.jpgOttawa Chamberfest: There is a feast for the ears here from July 23 to August 6. Belgian violinist Augustin Dumay’s July 24 recital of Brahms, Debussy, Ravel and Beethoven is a chance to hear this patrician musician before his Koerner Hall concert next year. The strong Haydn component begins July 28 with “Haydnfest I,” the first of two programs by the kinetic St. Lawrence String Quartet. The Calidore String Quartet also play two Haydn recitals, as do the Cecilia and Eybler String Quartets, making a total of eight “Haydnfests.” The Calidore quartet joins up-and-coming Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov July 28 in a performance of Schnittke’s Piano Quintet following a selection of Scarlatti sonatas and Beethoven’s Op.109. Stalwart Canadian pianist André Laplante’s solo recital July 31 includes Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Liszt. In “Metamorfosi” soprano Suzie LeBlanc joins the Constantinople Ensemble August 1 in works by 17th-century Italian composers Monteverdi, Kapsberger, Landi and Strozzi. The celebrated Danish String Quartet performs two evening programs August 5. Beethoven’s Op.18, No.1, Schnittke’s String Quartet No.3 and Nielsen’s String Quartet No.1 comprise the earlier concert; the later one is devoted to Wood Works, their CD of traditional Nordic folk music. Four days later, the Danes play the Beethoven and Nielsen as part of their TSM recital, a must-see for those who cannot be in Ottawa. In the meantime, there are worthwhile musical moments every day in this packed festival.

Quick Picks

Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Festival: This annual Toronto event provides an invaluable introduction to our world-class baroque orchestra. Even better, admission is free, on a first-come basis. Check the Summer Festivals listings for details on programs and venues for the June 5, 10, 14 and 17 concerts.

Summer Music in the Garden: July 5 Elinor Frey, cello; July 19 Shauna Rolston, cello, and the Cecilia String Quartet play Schubert’s glorious Quintet in C; July 30 Ton Beau String Quartet; August 13 Blythwood Winds play Barber and Rossini.

Music Mondays at the Church of the Holy Trinity: June 8 Angela Park, piano; June 29 Raphael Weinroth-Browne, cello; July 6 Cecilia Lee, piano; July 20 Mary Kenedi, piano; July 27 Chris James, flute, Lara Dodds-Eden, piano.

Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society: June 24 Pianist Su Jeon and violinist Andrea Tyniec have included Schubert’s vital Violin Sonata D574 and his Fantasy in C along with Arvo Pärt’s mesmerizing and iconic Spiegel im Spiegel in their intelligently designed program; July 26 pianist Alexander Tselyakov’s program includes Brahms’ Horn Trio and Beethoven’s Horn Sonata in what is in effect a preview of his own Clear Lake Festival recital five days later, only with different musical partners.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra: June 10 and 12 the TSO led by Peter Oundjian performs Mahler’s essential Symphony No.2 “Resurrection.” June 26 the TSO performs Holst’s indispensible The Planets in a Luminato “Late Night” concert. June 28 the TSO’s free Luminato concert, “A Symphonic Zoo,” runs the gamut from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Stravinsky’s Firebird to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the Bulldog from Elgar’s Enigma Variations and the Mule from Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. 

June 17 and 18 HanVoice presents a benefit concert with Scott St. John and friends, including cellist Roman Borys and pianist Angela Park, performing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3, Mendelssohn’s Octet and Dvořák’s Piano Quintet.

June 20 and 21 The Night Dances” presented by Luminato, finds Charlotte Rampling reading Sylvia Plath and Sonia Wieder-Atherton playing selections from Britten’s Suites Nos. 2 and 3 for solo cello. Anthony Tommasini wrote of its American premiere in The New York Times on April 24, 2015: “During some stretches of ‘The Night Dances,’ music and poetry overlapped. For me, the greatness of Britten’s music came through with special force when Ms. Wieder-Atherton played alone and Ms. Rampling just listened, with an acuity as gripping as her recitations.”

June 23 Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation presents flutist Allan Pulker in a free lunchtime concert.

July 29 St. Stephen’s in-the-Fields Anglican Church presents the Ton Beau String Quartet in a free midday concert. 

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

Music in the summer: the very notion evokes a field of pleasant images. I’m thinking of concerts in a green and flower-filled public park or a more intimate garden setting, touring groups appearing on festival stages throughout our province, as well as Harbourfront Centre’s lakeside venues teeming with casual, lightly clad crowds out for a good time. People generally appear more relaxed and good-humoured in the summer than in other seasons; smiles seem more common. The other seasons are meant for music encounters indoors. The few months of kind summer weather we are allotted make it an ideal time to cross paths – and share outdoor musical discoveries – with families from around the world.

World-Gonsalves.jpgLuminato: The first major Toronto summer series featuring global music is the Luminato Festival, this year running from June 19 to June 28. In order to get a sense of the direction of the programming of interest to you, dear reader, I spoke with veteran music curator Derek Andrews over the phone. He pointed out that there will be changes this year to the venues, compared to recent Luminatos held at David Pecaut Square. “The big stage is gone at The Hub – which has a landscaped backyard garden theme this year. We now will have The Festival Shed, an indoor venue of around 200, plus an expansive outdoor venue with a much larger audience capacity called The Garden Stage (which the TSO will use on June 28). It will also host the 35 acts in my program.”

With numerous individual shows and several themed concert series spread over the ten days, Luminato has much to offer listeners out to explore world music. Many have “Americas” themes, pre-echoing the Pan Am games about to take over Toronto in July. To my regret, I can’t pretend to cover more than some part of the vast scope of this subsection of the festival. June 20, during the first weekend fete at Luminato, begins with the launch of “The North-South Project,” billed as “a collective work of storytelling authored by 12 celebrated writers working the breadth of the Americas, from the Canadian Arctic to Argentina.” It’s co-curated by Andrews and literary and ideas curator Noah Richler. The readings by the authors are accompanied by several singers articulating lyrics of dissent. Singer-songwriters Amai Kuda n’ Y Josephine, Drew Gonsalves and Quique Escamilla will also bring their own unique pan-American music to the festival stage.

Among the lineup is Ani Cordero, a founding member and drummer of the Mexican rock band Pistolera and other groups. Recordar, her latest solo album, is a tribute to the voices of dissent via reinterpretations of Latin American protest songs. Another participating artist, La Yegros, has been a powerful presence on the Buenos Aires underground music scene for years. Her signature voice and commanding stage presence is imbued with South American flair, but she also brings with it a globally aware mindset, drawing equally on deep regional folk traditions and cutting edge beats.

On June 21 the solstice, National Aboriginal Day and Father’s Day all fall on the same day. (As a dad, I’m hoping for a lavish BBQ dinner hosted by my sons as per family tradition.) Why not celebrate them all at The Hub with performances by four aboriginal women? Leela Gilday, a member of the Dene nation, transports the listener through her northern stories sung in a gutsy voice and open stage presence. Martha Redbone’s music blends Native American elements with her deep roots in Appalachian folk and Piedmont blues, plus soul and funk.  On the same day, the “New Canadian Music Series” features two emerging aboriginal musicians, cellist Cris Derksen and singer-songwriter Binaeshee-Quae. Derksen’s music braids the “traditional and contemporary in multiple dimensions,” weaving her classical music training and features embedded in her aboriginal ancestry “with new school electronics, creating genre-defying music.” Her 2010 debut album The Cusp was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award and won the 2011 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Instrumental Album of the Year. Binaeshee-Quae, from Pic River First Nation, describes her musical style as “jazzy-alterna-folk mix.” She delivers her songs in a full-throated, sometimes quirky yet articulate mezzo.

Music curator Andrews has waggishly dubbed Luminato’s June 22 tribute to Mexico, “Distrito Federal Chilango Power Ska Punk meets Chiapas Mexico Message Music.” It is a mouthful, but it also serves as an accurate genre-inclusive tag. Headliners include the Toronto-based troubadour Quique Escamilla, the 2015 Juno Award-winning multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter and producer. Active on the Canadian music scene since 2007, his powerful voice and passionate performances fuse Mexican genres such as ranchera and huapango with rock, reggae, ska, pop, jazz, cumbia, bolero and other Latin American forms. His incisive song lyrics are often keenly socially and politically engaged.

Los de Abajo from Mexico City is another politically committed group (they’re supporters of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation). Over a 23-year career, it has constructed a distinctive fusion of regional Mexican musics. A champion early on was David Byrne, in 1999 signing Los de Abajo to his Luaka Bop label. The group has gone from strength to strength, touring extensively and including yet more influences in its diverse palette: ska, reggae, hip-hop and even echoes of Balkan music.

Skipping to June 25, “Caribbean Calypso” is billed as a musical “exploration of coastal Caribbean Garifuna culture and Trinidadian Roots Reggae Calypso.” Taking centre stage will be the Canadian group Kobo Town. Named after the Port-of-Spain neighbourhood where calypso was born it was founded by Trinidadian-Canadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves. The group mixes Caribbean calypso and reggae using acoustic instrumentation along with innovative production, social commentary and an indie rock attitude. Independence, its debut album, won the International Folk Alliance Award. Another headliner is Aurelio Martinez. He is not only a star Honduran musician, but also a passionate politician and cultural ambassador for the coastal Garifuna people as well. Known by his first name alone, Aurelio possesses a gritty expressive voice with which he performs a compelling musical blend of received Afro-Caribbean cumbia fused with Latin rhythms.

The Luminato Festival celebrates in style June 27 with a “Brazilian Block Party,” billed as a “fun family event featuring day-long animation by strolling artists, craft-making workshops and irresistible food!” Luminato programmers aim to capture the Brazilian tradition of festive gatherings at this all-day public party with food, drink, music and dance, all elements embracing “a beloved part of the Brazilian cultural landscape.”

The Festival Hub’s Block Party is curated by Toronto’s own Uma Nota Culture, programming a “carnival of active cultural jamming.” That includes an invitation to connect with fellow Torontonians by dancing to live music – to irresistible forró music from the Northeast of Brazil, the martial arts-inspired capoeira and the ever-popular samba.

Among the notable acts taking the stage is the Quebec City-based Flávia Nascimento and her Smallest Big Band. Hailing from Recife, Pernambuco, Mundo Livre S/A is a genre-defining manguebeat band formed in 1984. Mundo Livre’s founding notion was to connect the culture of the mangues (mangroves) of Recife with a network of global pop genres. It has released three albums, the last of which was included in many best-of-the-year lists. Aline Morales has built a solid reputation in Canada as a percussionist and bandleader. Her Juno-nominated Flores, Tambores e Amores also showcased her interpretative, vocal and composer chops. With her project Forró Nite, Morales taps deeply into her forró music roots.

Among the newest Brazilian drum troupes in town, Tdot Batu is a diverse, youthful group performing samba reggae, but spun with their own edge. (Samba reggae became a hit in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in the 1980s when the group Afro-Blocos mashed Bahian rhythms like ijexa and samba with Caribbean musical influences.) It sounds like quite the lively party.

World-Brebach.jpgSunfest ’15, London, Ontario: Now to a festival decidedly outside of Toronto and sporting a pedigree older than most: TD Sunfest ’15. From July 9 to 12, downtown London’s Victoria Park is transformed into a culturally diverse playground where over three dozen world music and jazz groups entertain audiences on five stages scattered throughout the park. “Canada’s Premier Celebration of World Cultures” is its byline and all events are free.

Headliners this year include the venerable Afro-Cuban All Stars, and the new generation Scottish folk five-piece Breabach. It has been described as “the new face of Scottish Traditional music.” Paulo Flores, the distinguished Angolan singer-songwriter and author who performs in the semba genre, also takes the Sunfest stage. His lyrics often touch on the politics and hardships of Angolan life, and since 2007 he has served as a UN Goodwill Ambassador in Angola.

When my kids were young we repeatedly visited Sunfest, feasting on its small-town Ontario feel and diverse ethnic good vibes – but also on the scrumptious international street food and crafts for sale by dozens of vendors. That too is experiencing musicking in the summer for me.

Summer Music in the Garden: What more pleasant a reminder of the evanescent – and thus even more keenly savoured – summer in Southern Ontario than music in a garden? As it has for 16 years, Harbourfront Centre is this year again producing a delightful season-long series titled Summer Music in the Garden, skillfully curated by Tamara Bernstein. It’s held in the pleasantly verdant surrounds of the Yo-Yo Ma co-designed public Music Garden at 235 Queens Quay West. Cooled by the nearby waters of Lake Ontario, it’s all free. Make sure you get there in plenty of time however, to snag a seat on one of few benches. Also arrive early if you wish to claim a private pied à terre on the sloping lawn in front of the open air grassy stage area under the magnificent mature weeping willow. (I think you can guess I have performed and visited there many times over the years).

My picks? I can’t make up my mind from among the multiple tempting summer offerings. I invite you to check The WholeNote listings to discover your own old – or perhaps new – favourite. Relaxed, high-quality music in a garden: how can you lose?

A Celebration: June 14 Darbazi, the choir which was formed in a Toronto living room (yes, I was there), marks its 20th anniversary with a concert at St. Andrew by-the-Lake Anglican Church on Ward’s Island, Toronto. Darbazi is Canada’s first choir dedicated to the music of the various regions of the Republic of Georgia. Under the direction of Shalva Makharashvili and founding guest conductor Alan Gasser, the group hosts local groups Trio Zari and Hereti as guests to mark this significant occasion. I invite you to join me to celebrate in Georgian style with song, food and toasts to many more years of music and warm summer weather in which to enjoy it.

In keeping with my custom, I wish you a gloriously musical summer and invite you back to revisit me in these pages in September. 

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

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New-Element.jpgThere’s a big show coming to town in June – and it’s all about the apocalypse. The piece I’m referring to – Apocalypsis by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer – is an epic work divided into two parts, the first being a dramatic retelling of John’s vision from the biblical Book of Revelation and the second a serene multi-choir Credo that leads the listener from chaos into order. The performance of this monumental work, which runs from June 26 to 28, has been taken on by the Luminato Festival and involves an interdisciplinary cast of 1,000. Originally performed in 1980 in London, Ontario, this version will be vastly different in its staging and artistic vision with all sorts of gender-bending happening with the main characters. What I will focus on in my column is the role of the Element Choir and its director Christine Duncan in this production.

I sat down with Christine to talk about Apocalypsis as well as other performances she and the choir will be involved in this summer. Christine defines the Element Choir as “an improvising choir that uses a sonic vocabulary based on a system of hand cues to create instant compositions.” In Apocalypsis the choir will perform the role of The Choir of the Lost which in the 1980 version was performed by drama students. “The choir was a perfect fit for this text-based role, as they are already very comfortable in moving freely in the world of sound texture and non-sung elements,” Duncan said. Their role functions like a Greek chorus, commenting, responding and reacting to the main drama. And even though choir members can utter the text however they like, the structure of both the timing and dynamics of their utterances is very specific, with word comprehensibility being key. This departs from the usual Element Choir practice which is usually “anything is possible.” Before the performance begins however, some members of the choir will be improvising and babbling bits of biblical texts in multiple languages in both the lobby and the hall.

The story of how the Element Choir came into being is fascinating and a testament to the creative and innovative spirit of both Duncan and her partner, drummer and recording producer Jean Martin. Back in 2006, Duncan and Martin were creating an album on the Montreal label Ambiances Magnétiques. For the release concert, Martin came up with the idea of putting together a group of singers to expand and support the voices of the CD’s vocal performers – Duncan and DB Boyko. It was a brilliant move, as this more choral element added possibilities for textural changes and polytonality, giving a counterpoint to the voices and percussion. Inspired by this experience, Duncan pursued her own research on how to develop an articulate vocabulary for an improvising choir. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, she studied the “conduction” methods used in the London Improvisers Orchestra as developed by Butch Morris, as well as picking up ideas from John Zorn’s Cobra, Anthony Braxton, Phil Minton’s Feral Choir and Sarah Weaver’s Soundpainting system. She consulted with various composers to get a better sense of which musical elements this language would need; and she studied different world music-based singing techniques. This wealth of material was workshopped with a volunteer choir in the original Somewhere There space and her own unique language and approach was born. It’s a language that is shared among the choir members, with new ideas for hand cues often coming from the singers. She also credits Jean Martin, who is constantly envisioning new ideas and directions for what is possible, with playing the strongest advisory role. However, Duncan adds, years before any of this began, it was Western Front’s DB Boyko (in Vancouver) who first introduced her to the idea of conducting a vocal improvising ensemble at one of the WF’s community block parties.

The Element Choir’s reputation and performing schedule continues to grow, and this summer’s schedule is no exception, particularly as part of the cultural activities surrounding the Pan Am Games. After the Apocalypsis performance, the choir is right back at it with their involvement in the Singing River project, an interdisciplinary site-specific piece directed by composer Juliet Palmer and her Urbanvessel company. Running on July 4 and 5, the piece is a Pan Am Path event that is all about restoring our relationship with the Wonscotonach (Don) River. Both the Element Choir and Christine Duncan are part of the core performers’ team, along with the TorQ Percussion Quartet. The choir has played a role in developing improv-based material for the piece through a series of community-based workshops with members of Native Earth’s emerging artists program Animikiig, street artist Roadsworth (who will be creating a stencil installation inspired by the improvisations on the Lower Don cycling path) and the Regent Park School of Music Youth Choirs. The project also includes audio installations by Palmer and sound artist Chris Willes and a vast array of interdisciplinary performers, workshops, talks and guided walks. Check out Urbanvessel’s website for all the details.

The second Pan Am-related performance by the Element Choir is with the explosive Tanya Tagaq on August 8 as part of Panamania and the free staged events at Nathan Philips Square. Creating her own unique style based on the traditional Inuk throat singing she grew up with in Nunavut, Tagaq recently won the Polaris Music Prize for her Animism album, stunning audiences with her performance on the awards night. And the Element Choir was right there backing her up, along with Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, who produced her album. For Duncan, folding the Element Choir into this sea of sound created by Tagaq and her two-man band was not too much of a stretch, as she has performed with Tagaq and knows the arc of her shows with Zubot and Martin. However, in this type of situation, the choir sounds need to be unified and simple, functioning more like a textural device for dramatic impact. Incidentally, Tagaq will be playing the role of the Old Woman in Schafer’s Apocalypsis.

For Duncan, the Element Choir project is all about creating and maintaining relationships, building community and fostering a safe and supportive environment. It offers a playing field for experimenting with a diverse range of sounds and morphing textures, while offering opportunities for choir members to improvise their own solos. She has increasingly found an open door of support for her aesthetic sensibilities and approach to the voice as an instrument in educational environments such as the jazz program at U of T. And at the heart of it all, she is continuing to cultivate improvisational strategies that are more refined, intentional and artful.

New-Krucker.jpgMore Singing Stories: This summer is turning out to be the season of new dramatic works for the voice in various configurations. Back in the April edition of The WholeNote, I wrote about singer Fides Krucker’s role in creating vocal improvisations for the dancers in Peggy Baker’s locus plot production. This summer, Krucker is presenting and performing in DIVE, a work of sonic theatre set within a cabaret-styled environment, running from July 30 to August 9 and created in collaboration with composer Nik Beeson. DIVE is based on a play by Richard Sanger, which is in turn derived from Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s short story The Professor and the Siren. I spoke to Beeson and Krucker about their collaboration which combines electroacoustic tracks with vocal improvisations. Krucker plays the role of the Mermaid, a character who is “perfectly divine and wild,” an elemental force who shifts into a series of different characters and scenes as she interacts with the two male actors. Her shapeshifting qualities allow for a variety of musical styles to be used throughout, including composed music inspired by Greek Rebetiko protest music, and the Mussolini-era fascist anthem known as the Giovinezza used in the startling aggressive opening. An intimate setting amongst tables enables Krucker to travel around the audience, at times singing gently into their ears while her character’s nonhuman nature embodies such elemental forces as a storm and the animal spirits of whale and wolf. Beeson’s electroacoustic score ranges from recorded instrumental sounds and synthesizer textures to the use of a collection of Harry Partch-inspired cloud bowls made from glass jugs. DIVE is a story that juxtaposes the terrifying forces of fascism with those of the wild, raw and at times equally overwhelming elements of nature, set within a human story of intimacy, regret and the desire for ecstatic union.

Speaking of storms and political power, How it Storms, an erotic opera composed by Allen Cole, will be performed on June 17 and 18 featuring the sounds of the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan along with four operatic singers. The piece is inspired by a story from the Hindu epic The Mahabharata but set within Canada, with a female protagonist motivated by her desire to be free from patriarchal domination.

On June 13, the Music Gallery presents Fossegrimen,” a multi-stage event with three main sets that offer various takes on folklore, fairy tales and legend. Included are an opera composed by Chris Thornborrow based on the Grimm fairy tale The Moon, music by members of the fusion band Ensemble Polaris and the premiere of Elliot Cole’s Babinagar, a 20-minute work based on an Afghan folktale.

The final dramatically inspired new work which caught my eye in this summer’s season is Wendake/Huronia, composed by John Beckwith to mark the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s arrival in the southern Georgian Bay area. The concert on July 30 will feature the Toronto Consort, the Brookside Festival Chamber Choir and First Nations singers and drummers.

The Summer Festivals: After a long meandering walk through the voice-based performances of new works for this summer, it’s time to take a quick look at what’s happening at the various summer festivals. I promise you, this will be chronological, just to help with your planning.

Open Ears Festival (Kitchener): June 20 and 21

On June 20, Myaudia, a series of guerilla-styled sound interventions created by Peter Hatch, will take place in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, followed by the Open Ears Regatta with multiple musicians ringed around the civic square for listeners to drift between. On June 21, an offering of music/dance works with scores by Antoine Bédard, Justin Rutledge and Rodney Sharman, and improvisations by Lori Freedman.

Music Mondays (Toronto): June through August

A number of new works will be presented in this downtown Toronto series of lunchtime concerts. Here’s a summary lineup: a piano work by John Burge (June 8); composer and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne performing his own compositions (June 29); Jean Coulthard’s Image Astrale (July 6); works by Marjan Mozetich and Jack Behrens performed by Mary Kenedi (July 20); flute and piano works by Marchettini, Beaser and Schafer (July 27) and finally, a specially commissioned work for Music Mondays – Benedicite by Peter-Anthony Togni (August 24).

Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival: July/August

Interspersed amongst the festival concerts are the following premieres and new works: a performance by Dutch cellist, composer and improviser Ernst Reijseger (July 24); a remount of the mixed-media piece Illusions from the recent 21C Festival that intermingles new music by Canadian composers with Charles Ives’ enigmatic Piano Trio (July 26); a performance of James Rolfe’s contemporary masque Aeneas and Dido (July 27); the premiere of Andrew Staniland’s The Ocean is Full of its Own Collapse (July 29); and the performance of Czech composer Sylvie Bodorová’s Three Sonnets (August 2).

The festival also offers their regular six-concert New Music Now series on August 3 and 4. Composers represented in these concerts include Canadians Michael Oesterle, Paul Steenhuisen, Marc Sabat, Nicole Lizée, and Claude Vivier, along with internationally-based Nicolaou, Zorn, Rzewski and Birtwistle, among others.

Summer Music in the Garden (Toronto): July/August

Down at Harbourfront’s Music Garden, the outdoor performances include composer Barbara Croall (Odawa) performing a new commissioned work for pipigwan, a type of cedar flute (July 2); newly commissioned works by Canadian composers Scott Godin and Isaiah Ceccarelli performed by Elinor Frey on her five-string cello (July 5); Toronto’s Ton Beau String Quartet performing Bill Rowson’s String Quartet No.1 (July 30); and the Blythwood Winds performing new works by Lau and Estacio (August 13).

Stratford Summer Music: August 7 to 9

R. Murray Schafer’s music is often featured at this festival and this year, audiences can enjoy three outdoor morning concerts from August 7 to 9 featuring works from his choral nature-themed repertoire works. On the evening of August 7, a number of professional choirs will join together to sing some of his more spiritually-based music within a specially choreographed setting at St. James Anglican Church.


Improvised Music at Array Space:

June 9 and 27: Audiopollination

June 14: Somewhere There/Arraymusic: In Concert

June 19: Evoid Collective

June 28: Toronto Improvisers Orchestra

Canadian Music Centre:

June 4: Opus: Testing Workshop and Concert. Compositions created using sounds from the NASA Audio Archive.

June 11: Jacques Israelievitch/Christina Petrowska Quilico CD Launch, with works by Rolfe and Kulesha.

June 13: A Journey Inwards: Iranian-Canadian Composers of Toronto.

June 24: Elaine Keillor CD Launch. Works by Cardy, Morawetz, Weinzweig, Louie and E. Miller.

July 6: Gryphon Trio CD Release. Works by Current, Oesterle, Staniland and Wright.

July 24: Regent Park SongBook Premiere. Works by Gervais, Hamidi, LeBel and Daniel.

Additional Picks:

June 4, 6 and 7: Toronto Symphony Orchestra – John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

June 13 and 14: Toronto Symphony Orchestra – Gary Kulesha’s Torque.

June 17: Opera by Request – Tremblay’s A Chair in Love.

June 20: Rough Idea – Michael Snow and Ken Vandermark.

July 9: Music and Beyond Festival (Ottawa) – Voces8 concert including works by David Blackwell and John Tavener. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

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Opera-ChairInLove.jpgThanks to the burgeoning interest in opera rarities and especially in new opera, opera performances in the summer months in Ontario are no longer the exception but the rule. Ontario does not as yet have a summer opera festival like the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York, but so much operatic activity is occurring that Ontario residents need not feel deprived. 

June got off to an unusual start with the innovative Against the Grain Theatre’s presentation of two fully-staged song cycles on June 2 to 5 under the title “Death & Desire.” The two are Franz Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin (1824) sung by Stephen Hegedus and Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi (1945) sung by Krisztina Szabó, most recently seen as The Woman in the COC production of Schoenberg’s Erwartung. AtG’s double bill, performed at the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery, is directed by the company’s artistic director Joel Ivany, designed by Michael Gianfrancesco and lit by Jason Hand. Christopher Mokrzewski is the piano accompanist.

In an email, Ivany wrote: “During my time at the University of Toronto while obtaining my diploma in Opera Directing, I was able to act as production manager for the Aldeburgh Connection. Seeing such beautiful concerts put on by Bruce Ubukata and Stephen Ralls exposed me to a wealth of vocal music outside of opera. Many of these works received some ‘light’ staging during performance and I was always intrigued and challenged myself eventually to explore them further by using the tools that I was skilled in.”

By staging the Schubert and Messiaen cycles, Ivany is thus extending the implicit idea of song cycles as parlour operas. The 20 songs of Schubert’s cycle follow a clear narrative. A journeyman miller falls in love with the miller’s daughter, but when he sees that she favours another, he despairs and drowns himself. Messiaen’s 12-song cycle in French and Quechua is more abstract, although the title refers to a genre of Peruvian musical narrative that often ends in the death of young lovers. As Ivany says: “In discussion with Topher [Mokrzewski], we both decided that these two song cycles would complement each other quite well and indeed presented two very unique characters. Our core of the project is the Schubert, which naturally is more narrative driven and then we’ve interspersed it with the Messiaen to give voice to the female character, die schöne müllerin … What this has caused is more of a dialogue between these two characters and a jarring, but equally fitting auditory experience – something new.”

Opera-Obeah.jpgLuminato: In past years the Luminato Festival has included opera. This year it nominally does not, although it should be noted that R. Murray Schafer’s massive oratorio-cum-pageant Apocalypsis running from June 26 to 28 lists among its creative team the famed Samoan stage director Lemi Ponifasio. The piece already demands such a degree of theatricality that it may be difficult to distinguish from opera.

The text for Part One is based on the Biblical Psalm 148, the Book of Revelation and on contemporary poetry. The text for Part Two is an adaptation of one of the Dialogues (1584-85) of Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was burned for his heresies which included his belief that there were other suns surrounded by other planets that could support life. Part One of the work requires six choruses, four instrumental groups, five singers and three sound poets, plus dancers and mime artists. Part Two uses 12 choirs placed in a circle around the audience. Among the 1,000 performers will be performance artist Laurie Anderson (on video), actor Brent Carver and throat singer Tanya Tagaq.

Semi-Staged Chair: On a much more intimate scale, Opera by Request presents a semi-staged performance of the absurdist opera A Chair in Love (2005) by Welsh-Canadian composer John Metcalf to an English libretto by Quebecois playwright Larry Tremblay. The story concerns an avant-garde filmmaker who falls in love with a chair, thereby making his dog jealous. The performance will take place on July 17 at Arraymusic with Michael Robert-Broder as the filmmaker, Abigail Freeman as the Chair, Gregory Finney as the Dog and Kim Sartor as the Doctor. William Shookhoff is the pianist and music director.

Lyrical Summer: In late July and early August, Summer Opera Lyric Theatre has regularly been a favourite refuge for operagoers in Toronto. This year, two of the three offerings are rarities from the German Romantic period. On July 31 and August 2, 5 and 8, SOLT presents a major rarity in the form of Der Vampyr (1821) by Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861), a composer who was a major influence on Wagner, who conducted the work in 1833. After the rise of Wagner’s operas, Marschner’s fell into obscurity. Now Der Vampyr is recognized as the link between Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (1821) and Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer (1843).

Additionally, the present-day preoccupation with vampires in popular culture has helped to focus more interest on Marschner’s opera, which is based on a story by Lord Byron’s doctor, John Polidori (1795-1821). Polidori wrote his tale “The Vampyre” in 1814, when he along with Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley all decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. Mary Shelley “won” since the work she wrote was her novel Frankenstein, first published in 1818. Polidori’s story, however, is famous in a different way as the first published modern vampire story, anticipating by decades Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Maria Hwa Yeong Jung will be the pianist and music director.

As a contrast, on August 1, 5, 7 and 9, SOLT presents the comic German Romantic opera Martha (1847) by Friedrich von Flotow (1812-83). The work was such an international hit in its first 100 years that its two most famous arias are best known in versions not in the original German. The instantly recognizable tenor aria “Ach! so fromm” is best known in Italian translation as “M’apparì” and the main soprano aria, the folksong-inspired “Letzte Rose,” is best known as “The Last Rose of Summer.” Natasha Fransblow will be the pianist and music director.

The third opera, presented August 1, 4, 6 and 8, is Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), an opera that famously stages a comic and a tragic plot simultaneously. Narmina Afandiyeva will be the pianist and music director.

Panamania, the cultural sidebar to the Pan American Games in Toronto in July and August, will include a new production of Nicole Brooks’ opera, Obeah Opera (2012), running August 4 to 8. The opera, presented by Nightwood Theatre and Culchahworks Arts Collective, is sung entirely a cappella by an all-female cast and focusses on the young Caribbean slave Tituba, the first to be accused of witchcraft in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (1953) about the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Tituba has merely been practising her native healing craft, known as obeah, that the Puritans in their hysteria interpreted as witchcraft. Andrew Craig conducts and Kim Weild directs.

Stratford to Haliburton: In Stratford, Stratford Summer Music will present a dinner-opera production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute on August 14 to 16 at the Revival House (formerly The Church Restaurant). Peter Tiefenbach is the music director and Brent Krysa is the adaptor and stage director, with sets and costumes in the style of Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

In Haliburton the Highlands Opera Studio, whose artistic director is tenor Richard Margison, will present two operas. One is a fully-staged production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro on August 30 and September 1, 2 and 3. The other will be the Ontario premiere of the Canadian opera The Vinedressers (2001) by B.C. composer Tobin Stokes on August 19 and 21. The story, based on a First Nations myth, takes place on the first winery on Pelee Island. Margison is the stage director and Andrea Grant the pianist. Stokes’ best-known opera is perhaps Pauline (2014), written to a libretto by Margaret Atwood about the life of B.C. First Nations poet and performer Pauline Johnson (1861-1913).

Opera-Bicycle.jpgBicycle Opera: This summer marks the fourth anniversary of the innovative Bicycle Opera Project, which aims to bring contemporary Canadian opera to communities across Ontario that might otherwise not have the opportunity to hear it. According to its website: “The project focuses on operatic repertoire that deals with contemporary issues relevant to all audiences.” The singers and musicians travel from place to place by bicycle along with two trailers full of props, costumes and instruments. In so doing they aim to demythologize old ideas of what opera is, where opera can take place and what opera singers are like.

Their Ontario itinerary for this summer from August 14 to September 6 has not yet been announced but last year BOP made stops in Kingston, Prince Edward County, Belleville, Hamilton, Bayfield, London, Brantford, Waterloo and Guelph.

BOP’s 2015 repertoire features short operas and opera excerpts. These include The Auction – Prologue by John Burge; What time is it now? by Anna Höstman; The Blind Woman by James Rolfe; The Yellow Wallpaper by Cecilia Livingston; “Dreaming Duet” from The Bells of Baddeck by Dean Burry and Submission, also by Burry; Our Lady of Esquimalt Road by Leila Lustig; and, back by popular demand, Bianchi: A Bicycle Opera by Tobin Stokes which has become something of a BOP classic.

The company includes Liza Balkan, stage director; Wesley Shen, music director; Geoffrey Sirett, baritone; Chris Enns, tenor; Stephanie Tritchew, mezzo; Larissa Koniuk, artistic director and soprano; and Sonja Rainey, projection artist.

Have an enjoyable summer! 

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

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Early-Leblanc.jpgThe just-concluding concert season has been an exceptional year for Toronto musicians in the early music scene. I’ve heard a lot of music that was very easy to like, whether it was emerging artists on the scene putting together some innovative programs of interesting musical material and giving us the opportunity to hear some fascinating music, or concerts from more established artists that stood out as exceptional. In the former category, I’m thinking specifically of countertenor and baroque guitar player Bud Roach’s concerts of Giovanni Felice Sances and a couple of stellar concerts from the Cantemus singers – which let Toronto concertgoers know that there is a thriving music scene here with many talented young artists who deserve to be heard.

In the latter category, there were two fantastic multimedia events: “Paris Confidential,” the Toronto Consort’s program of life in Renaissance Paris; and Tafelmusik’s wonderful “J.S. Bach, The Circle of Creation,” both of which proved that established artists are still pushing their own limits, innovating and willing to try something new. That wasn’t everything, of course. Opera Atelier gave us some very fine productions of Gluck and Rameau, Tafelmusik provided us all something to talk about (or at least write about) with their ongoing search for a new artistic director, and I’m sure that there’s at least one stellar performance that I’ve either forgotten or didn’t get a chance to see.

I’m happy to have witnessed some fantastic concerts this season, but of course, all good things must come to an end. As this year winds down, you can be content with the remnants of the artistic seasons of a few Toronto-based groups as the summer months set in or you might want to look further afield than the GTA.

If you’re searching for a getaway that includes something more than a cottage and a lake, there are a few summer festivals that have exceptional entertainment value as well as being a welcome escape from the city. Musique Royale is a little-known festival that takes place in multiple cities in Nova Scotia that will give you a chance to hear some great Canadian artists. While not strictly an early music festival per se, there are some great renaissance and baroque musicians there, including the recorder and lute duo La Tour Baroque, the fabulous baroque flutist Chris Norman, soprano Suzie LeBlanc, the vocal group Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (who will also be appearing at the Ottawa Chamberfest July 25) and baroque fiddler David Greenberg. Best of all (and somewhat confusingly), these artists will be playing in multiple cities in June, July, August and September, so if you’re at all interested in going to Nova Scotia this summer, check out the website ( to see if there’s a concert in town, or at least nearby.

Montreal Baroque: If your vacation plans are more along the lines of a quick weekend getaway than a lengthy road trip, or if you just prefer the big city to a trip to the countryside, consider travelling to Montreal over the St. Jean-Baptiste weekend (June 25 to 28) to hear the number one early music festival in North America, Montreal Baroque. Viola da gambist Suzie Napper has been running this festival for over a decade, and it is a singular achievement that she can build an entire long weekend on concerts, lectures and unusual events centred exclusively around historically-inspired performance.

This year’s festival returns to the McGill campus in downtown Montreal and features the Dutch baroque violinist Sigiswald Kuijken, himself something of a legend in the early music world, leading the Montreal Baroque Ensemble as well as performing the Bach violin suites on the violincello da spalla. (Do yourself a favour and Google image search that one. It’s extremely unlikely you will hear this instrument performed in Canada again in the next decade.) If an eccentric pet project from a classical music superstar isn’t enough for you, Montreal Baroque also features a few local groups, albeit ones from a crowded, hyper-talented music scene. Ensemble Caprice will be performing their signature “gypsy baroque,” Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal will put on a concert of Palestrina and Benevoli and Canadian countertenor Michael Taylor will join the viola da gamba duo Les Voix Humaines and lutenist Nigel North for an all-Tobias Hume concert. This will be a very busy weekend and well worth the trip to Montreal.

Of course, there are still a few shows you can catch if you’re in the city this summer. For one, my group Rezonance will be putting on “I Giorni di Cane Pazzi,” a concert featuring wild and extravagant music from 17th-century Italy. The group will be joined by guest artists Michelle Odorico on violin and Eleanor Verrette on viola to play some of the more bizarre chamber pieces in the early music repertoire. The program features Carlos Farina’s Capriccio Stravagante, which lets the listener hear all manner of the beasts one might encounter on a walk through 17th-century Mantua depicted in music, as well as Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Capriccio sopra Il Cucho, a play on the cuckoo’s song that beats its own idea pretty much to death. You can catch this performance on July 28 at Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St., Suite 202, at 7:30pm. I guarantee you will find no better concert in the dog days of summer.

Aradia Ensemble: Of course, there are still other options before prime vacation time. The Aradia Ensemble winds down its concert season on June 27, with a performance at the acoustically excellent Music Gallery of Purcell’s and Locke’s very fine music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Tempest, as it was revised in the composers’ time, began its life as an attempt to introduce opera to the English theatregoing public. Compared to some other English stinkers of the same period, it actually did quite well and was revived numerous times in the 18th century. Early musical adaptations of Shakespeare such as this one are seldom revisited, but the Purcell/Locke score is one of music history’s more unique collaborations, and Aradia should do it justice.

I Furiosi: Of course, if you just can’t wait to hear a concert, consider checking out the always-entertaining rock-star quartet of early musicians, I Furiosi. In “All About Me,” the quartet will be joined June 6 by tenor Rufus Müller and organist James Johnstone presenting songs all about narcissism by Handel, Giuseppe Tartini and Juan Bermudo. I Furiosi are a passionate group who don’t take themselves too seriously, so if you’re looking for a fun concert this one would certainly fit that description. 

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

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Art-Mattila.jpgFor the last ten years, summer in Toronto has for many lovers of vocal music revolved around the Toronto Summer Music Festival. This year, the year of the Pan Am Games, the focus is on the music of both North and South America. The festival kicks off on July 16 with a concert featuring the music of Gershwin and Copland, in which Measha Brueggergosman will be the soprano soloist. The great Finnish soprano Karita Mattila will give a recital on August 7. Both concerts are in Koerner Hall. Among this year’s Art of Song fellows (eight singers and four pianists) are soprano Danika Lorèn, baritone Samuel Chan, bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen and collaborative pianists Maria Hwa Yeong Jung, Jérémie Pelletier and Andrea Van Pelt. Their mentors are Soile Isokoski, Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. The 2015 Art of Song fellows will perform on July 24 in two afternoon concerts at Walter Hall.

Elora: the Elora Festival opens with a performance of Handel’s oratorio Solomon on July 10; tenor Mark Masri will sing on July 15; there is a performance of Bach’s B minor Mass on July 17; and Jackie Richardson will perform with her trio and the Elora Festival Singers on July 25. These concerts are all at the Gambrel Barn. St. John’s Church will be the venue for the July 19 concert by the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, conducted by Christopher Jackson and also for two performances of “Dark Days, Bright Victory,” a program of the words and music of World War II on July 18. The vocal octet, Voces8, will sing at Knox Presbyterian Church on July 16.

Parry Sound: At the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Patricia O’Callaghan will sing in “From Weimar to Vaudeville” on August 4. On August 8 Leslie Fagan, soprano, Mark DuBois and Keith Klassen, tenors, and Bruce Kelly, bass, perform in “Love, Laughter, and Passion.” This concert will also introduce three young singers: Julia Obermeyer, Emma Mansell and Elisabeth DuBois. Adi Braun sings songs from the repertoires of Rosemary Clooney, Judy Garland and Peggy Lee on July 31. Leslie Fagan sings Pergolesi arias on July 28 and performs in “Songs and Dances of the Americas” on July 29. These concerts are all at the Charles W. Stuckley Centre.

Huntsville and Leith: The Huntsville Festival of the Arts presents Buffy Sainte-Marie on July 29 and Molly Johnson on August 1, both at the Algonquin Theatre.

At the Leith Summer Festival you can hear three singers: Rebecca Caine in “A Soprano in Hollywood” on July 18, Julie Nesrallah in “Voyages à Paris” on August 8 and Isabel Bayrakdarian in a program of Spanish music ranging from classical works to zarzuelas and tangos on August 22. All concerts are in the historic Leith Church.

Art-Taylor.jpgThe Music and Beyond Festival in Ottawa offers several vocal concerts. Dominique Labelle, soprano, and Daniel Taylor, countertenor, will sing in “Love and Betrayal” on July 5; there will be a coffee concert featuring the Theatre of Early Music with Rebecca Genge and Agnes Zsigovics, soprano, and Daniel Taylor, countertenor and conductor, the morning of July 6. Both concerts are in Christ Church Cathedral. Two other concerts will be given in Southminster United Church: a recital by the mezzo Wallis Giunta on July 9 and one by the soprano Donna Brown featuring the music of Schubert and Brahms on July 11. The soprano Yannick-Muriel Noah sings a selection of first and last works by various composers including Richard Strauss (the Four Last Songs), Bizet, Puccini, Brahms and Verdi, on July 16 in the Dominion-Chalmers United Church.

Stratford Summer Music presents Rebecca Caine on July 25 at Revival House; Daniel Taylor and the Theatre of Early Music in a re-enactment of the Coronation of George II on August 6 at St. James Church; R. Murray Schafer’s Music for an Avon Morning on August 7 and 8 on Tom Patterson Island; a concert of Schafer’s Sacred Music on August 7 at St. James Church; and Michael Schade, tenor, in a program of opera arias on August 9 at St. Andrew’s Church. The 2015 Vocal Academy will be in session during the week beginning August 10; their work will culminate in a final concert on August 15 at St. Andrew’s Church. Mozart’s Magic Flute will be performed on August 15 and 16 at Revival House.

Westben: At the Westben Arts Festival in Campbellford, the soprano Marie-Josée Lord will sing spirituals, opera arias by Puccini and Gershwin as well as music by Bernstein and Cole Porter on July 18.

Other Events:

June 5 Ann Monoyios, soprano, and Peter Harvey, baritone, will be the soloists in a free concert by Tafelmusik, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

June 7 the Off Centre Music Salon will celebrate its 20th Anniversary with a concert which will feature a whole array of singers ranging (alphabetically) from Isabel Bayrakdarian to Ilana Zarankin at Glenn Gould Studio.

June 8 the soprano Sara Swietlicki will sing songs by Stenhammar, Rangström and Sibelius as well as arias by Mozart and Puccini at Heliconian Hall.

June 20 medieval songs connected with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela will be performed by Linda Falvy and Mary Enid Haines, sopranos, and Catherine McCormack, alto, at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

June 22 Maria Soulis will sing classical and folk music from Turkey, Greece and Spain at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

June 27 at the Aradia Ensemble Baroque Ensemble concert, mezzo Marion Newman will sing in the new composition Thunderbird by Dustin Peters, based on a legend popular among the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest and sung in Kwakwala. The concert at the Music Gallery will also include pieces by Purcell and Locke.

July 16 Summer Music in the Garden at the Harbourfront Centre presents Michael Taylor, countertenor, in a concert of music by Handel and others.

August 3 Monique McDonald and Irina Rindzuner, sopranos, and Ricardo Rosa, baritone, all soloists from the CUI International Music Festival, will sing in a program featuring works by Schumann, Wagner and Gershwin at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Looking back: I don’t normally go to two concerts on the same day but I could not resist the double attraction of the Off Centre concert and the recital by Meredith Hall and Brahm Goldhamer on April 26. The main item on the Off Centre program was Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, which was brilliantly performed. It dates from 1912 but, a century later, it remains a difficult and I don’t think altogether successful work. The program was rounded off with arias and ensembles by Mozart. I was particularly impressed with the baritone Jesse Clark and the soprano Maeve Palmer.

Hall’s superb recital that evening included Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos as well as parts of the Pyramus and Thisbe cantatas by Hasse and Rauzzini. Here too Mozart rounded off the recital. A particular delight was to hear Jean Edwards join Hall in the letter duet from The Marriage of Figaro. Edwards is now 88, but her voice is as pure and as fresh as it was when she was the soprano soloist in the Toronto Consort.

And looking ahead: Soundstreams will begin its 2015/16 season with performances by soprano Adrienne Pieczonka and mezzo Krisztina Szabó of music by George Crumb, Kurt Weill (in Luciano Berio’s arrangements) as well as Lennon and McCartney on September 29. 

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

Jazz-Galloway.jpgLocals are fiercely proud of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, and who could blame them? Now in its 36th year, FIJM is ranked as the largest festival in the world by the Guinness World Records, presenting 1,000 concerts over 10 days in 15 concert halls and 10 outdoor stages. Roughly two-thirds of the concerts are free, and a major part of the downtown core is closed to traffic for the entire run of the festival, resulting in random intoxications and increased revenue. Uniquely, even the souvenirs are memorable. T-shirts, candles, umbrellas, magnets and toys are all adorned with the festival’s jazz cat logo. And then there’s the music!

Attracting so many jazz greats over the years that it would seem pointless to list them, FIJM also presents annual awards – honours usually bestowed upon artists that are on the bill. The awards are named after the genre’s most iconic figures, from Miles Davis to Ella Fitzgerald, Antônio Carlos Jobim to Oscar Peterson, the latter of which this year is being given posthumously to Jim Galloway. To quote the FIJM website: “One of the world’s premiere soprano saxophonists, Jim Galloway built his reputation with a joyous, lyrical style and his love of swing, along with a gift for dissolving the boundaries between traditional and modern jazz. He was co-founder of the du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival (today the TD Toronto Jazz Festival). Thanks to his many collaborations with the greatest names in jazz and his globetrotting travel, Jim was a fantastic artistic director of the Festival from 1987 until his retirement in 2009.” (They didn’t mention that he was a treasured contributor for The WholeNote for 17 years, but we’ll forgive them).

Toronto Jazz: The richly deserved honour for Galloway will come at the same time as a special salute to Peterson himself at the Toronto Jazz Festival, which kicks off with “Oscar Peterson’s 90th Birthday Celebration” at Jane Mallett Theatre, Thursday June 18 at 8pm. Narrated by Peterson’s daughter Celine, the concert will feature two original members of the pianist’s illustrious quartet: Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius and Bronx-born drummer Alvin Queen, joined by one of the world’s premier bassists, Christian McBride, and Toronto’s pride, Hungarian-Canadian pianist Robi Botos. VIP ticket holders will be treated to a post-concert reception with the opportunity to meet these fantastic musicians.

Josh Grossman: Following Jim Galloway’s retirement as the Toronto Jazz Festival’s artistic director in 2009, Josh Grossman had some big shoes to fill. Curious about the curating process, I asked him what it’s like on the other side of the inbox, especially as the festival becomes more inclusive genre-wise:

“We always start with quality: we’re seeking to put the best local, national and international musicians on our stages,” says Grossman. “From there we aim to present a wide variety of jazz, music which has been influenced by jazz and music which has influenced – or is influencing – the development of jazz. Although it’s impossible to satisfy the tastes of every jazz fan, our goal is to have, as much as is possible, something for everyone. We also work towards a great mix of free and ticketed shows; this year our audiences can experience outstanding local and out-of-town talent on a variety of free stages. Challenges abound. While we bring extensive wish lists to the programming table each year, artist availability and fee requests can sometimes whittle down the lists quickly. That said, when we land an artist we’ve been trying to book for years – or a newer artist who has us particularly excited – it’s difficult to contain our euphoria.”

Jazz-TD.jpgThe festival’s hub is at Nathan Phillips Square, which features free programming just about every day of the festival. Additional free stages are at locations across town: the Distillery District and Shops at Don Mills. The rest of the venues consist mostly of clubs, restaurants and hotels that feature live music, often all year round but sometimes only temporarily. New this year are the Shangri-La Hotel at University and Adelaide, Burdock at Bloor and Pauline and the Baka Gallery Café at Bloor and Beresford. Supporting these venues during the festival will increase the likelihood of continued live music, so please do your best, dear reader! The same goes for all the shows really – this is a difficult time for live music venues and the music industry in general. As the famous Duke Ellington blues goes, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” and you better believe it.

Not to be missed at the Toronto Jazz Festival this year: Renee Rosnes at Jazz Bistro June 18 to 20; Ahmed Mitchel Group at Poetry Jazz Café June 21; Al Jarreau at Nathan Phillips Square June 22; Kurt Elling at Koerner Hall June 23; Suzie Vinnick at the Distillery June 24; Eli Bennett Quartet at the Rex June 25; Charles Lloyd at Jane Mallett on June 26; Jackie Richardson and Micah Barnes at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar on June 27; Brian Barlow’s Big Band featuring Heather Bambrick performing Duke Ellington’s sacred music at Christ Church Deer Park on June 28; and Jamie Cullum at Koerner Hall on June 29.

One very new and welcome addition to Toronto’s festival is the addition of an official jam session, which has been missing for a few years now. Exclaims Grossman:

“Hooray! One of the most regular pieces of feedback I’ve been given over the past six years is “we need a jam session”! We’re excited to be running a jam six out of ten nights this year at the Jazz Bistro. Jam sessions are always a great opportunity to meet and greet some of the artists performing at the festival and, for local musicians, a chance to share the stage with out-of-town guests. Primarily under the direction of Chris Gale and Morgan Childs, this year’s official festival jam is going to be a lively, welcoming affair. I hope to be attending as much as possible, so do come and say hello.

Full festival listings are available at

Beaches’ Bill King: On more than one occasion I have told someone that I’m performing at the Toronto Jazz festival and they asked if it was in the Beaches! The popular Beaches International Jazz Festival embarks on its 27th season this summer. Aside from being a festival popular amongst Toronto residents, it is one that players love to play, and not merely because they get paid. All the shows are free, so it’s easy to get people to come out and more often than not they buy CDs after an enjoyable performance. I asked artistic director Bill King what the curating process is like and what artists should know if they wish to be considered.

“A lot has changed in the make-up of this city and surrounding area these past 27 years since we first mounted BIJF,” says King. “We are a different place with broader music tastes, an ever-growing ethnic community and a young music populace crossing all boundaries. We have hundreds of young people, most from university music programs, playing in street and main stage bands. Many have backgrounds in jazz, classical and pop. They come from York, U of T, Humber and beyond and band together and play what they want to play. We provide a forum for them and don’t interfere. (There’s no rock unless by accident!) I’m alerted about these bands – I may find them on YouTube or they may ‘arrive’ via email, and I investigate. If I see the bands are serious, developed and committed – I will find them a performance spot.”

There will be three weekends this year, with one added to coincide with the Pan Am games. Says King:

“Woodbine Park is in Pan Am games territory. We wanted to make sure we could play a part in the proceedings by giving those crowding the Lakeshore a place to chill and enjoy food, music and the good life. All they have to do is cross the highway and join the festivities. We programmed that first weekend to be responsive to the type of music you would expect from countries in warm, tropical climates.”

Some of the hot artists to watch at Beaches this year include the Melbourne Ska Orchestra on July 11; Andria Simone on July 12; God Made Me Funky on July 17; Parc X Trio on July 18, to name a few. Full details are at

Jazz-Bria.jpgFinally, I’d like to give a nod to a few concerts worth catching if you can, starting with the sensational Bria Skonberg at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on June 21. Skonberg ( is a trumpeter and vocalist of the highest calibre. Originally from Chilliwack B.C., she is currently based in New York and taking a bite out of the big apple with her considerably impressive chops!

The iconic David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears fame recently released Combo, an album of standards which finds him in the superb company of Mark Kieswetter on piano, George Koller on bass, Ben Riley on drums, Ted Quinlan on guitar and Colleen Allen on saxes. The recording is a throwback to the singer’s roots on the Yonge Street Strip in the 1960s. Now in his 70s, Clayton-Thomas ( delivers ballads with smooth tenderness and can still wail the blues like nobody’s business. Don’t miss him at the Huntsville Festival of the Arts on July 30.

Touring the country from coast to coast will be JUNO darling Christine Jensen ( and her 19-piece jazz orchestra featuring Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. The music is as dark, bold, complex and energizing as black coffee of the highest order! Stops include a free lunchtime show at the Toronto Jazz Fest on June 25 and an evening concert at the Ottawa Jazz Fest on June 28.

When you do discover your new favourite artist, buy the CD and get it signed while you still can – they haven’t figured out how to autograph digital downloads just yet. Happy Summertime and here’s hoping yours is full of live music! 

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

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It’s here, it’s here, the Toronto Jazz Festival is here! On the Old Mill Inn website, where they list the jazz concerts happening at the Home Smith Bar, they refer to their lineup as a “year-round jazz festival.” I like that. But I would object that the term describes not just that venue, but the whole city. The festival never stops. There’s jazz happening every day and night of the year, and it’s not too hard to find the really top-shelf players. So in terms of local talent, the week of the TJF isn’t much different from the rest of the year: Toronto heavies just being heavy in Toronto.

What is different is that the Jazz Festival brings us some of the best international talent.

Mainly-Ari.jpgAri Hoenig: Born in Philly but based in New York, Ari Hoenig, the monstrous, melody-playing, time-bending drummer, will be coming back to Toronto for more. Last time Hoenig was here in town, he brought his own ensemble (but not his own cymbals – he used mine, which is perhaps a story for another time and place), playing his original music, which is consistently both rhythmically intricate, as you would expect from a drummer, and harmonically sophisticated, which you might not. Hoenig’s original music is something else, and it must be heard. But if there’s one recording that I think captures the group at their best, it’s a rendition of a song by another composer: their take on Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ from the album Lines of Oppression is pure gold. The recording begins with Hoenig demonstrating what he’s at least partially known for, which is his ability to play coherent, discernible, tonal melodies on the drums, capturing the notes of a given chord with the drums’ open tunings, and achieving in-between notes and bending pitches with his hands and elbows. He plays the melody, but the solos are done with all the instruments in their traditional roles. Over a dirty jazz shuffle that swings hard and pushes everything forward, his bandmates do Moanin’ justice, to say the least. Honourable mention goes to Tigran Hamasyan’s piano solo which is dripping with attitude on that track.

Hoenig will be coming to The Rex for two nights to play with Alex Goodman’s trio – Alex is a U of T alum who did his master’s degree in music at the Manhattan School and settled in the Big Apple. Rick Rosalo, the bassist in the trio, incidentally, is also a jazz musician of Canadian origin who was drawn to NYC like a moth to the flame. Sensing a pattern here?

Mainly-Snarky.jpgSnarky Puppy used to have a modest fan base in Toronto. A base of which I was a part. Around 2011 to 2013, I attended every single concert they played in Toronto. If they played two nights, more often than not, I went to both. I wasn’t alone in being such a dedicated fan – the band regularly sold out The Rex, leaving behind a handful of people who were naive enough to think they had a chance of getting in without coming early. I remember one snowy night in 2012; I was one of those naive kids. I waited 90 minutes outside in the freezing cold, but was eventually let in and caught a set and a half. It was worth it.

I say they used to have a modest fan base, because that base has since exploded and become anything but modest. It may have been simply word of mouth, but more likely it had something to do with that Grammy they won. Since then, The Rex has become way too small for the gigantic audience they would inevitably draw – they started playing bigger venues, like Lee’s Palace and Adelaide Hall. Sometimes, they’d do a surprise late night set at The Rex, which, despite the short notice, would still end up packed. Snarky Puppy’s studio recordings and videos show their music being represented by a gigantic ensemble, practically an orchestra, including a string section, too many keyboards, and just enough grandeur. But when they play live, at least in Toronto, they bring a condensed version of the ensemble which sounds not worse, not better, but different. There’s a certain rawness and aggression present in their live shows that is softened in their studio recordings. To say the least, it’s worth checking out, if only once.

For a survey of what this group is all about, listen to three songs: Skate U, Binky and Lingus. All appear on different albums and all can be found online. Snarky Puppy will be crowding the Toronto Star stage at Nathan Phillips Square for the festival on June 26. As someone who’s seen them live at least 12 times and never got tired of it, I can confidently say you’ll have fun.

Other out-of-towners gracing Toronto stages for the TJF include: Branford Marsalis, Dan Weiss Trio, Phil Dwyer Trio, Robert Glasper, Tower of Power, Kurt Elling and a supergroup featuring Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland. A lot of these groups (and others not mentioned!) are appearing on the main stages, which haven’t been listed in the Clubs section, so make sure to go to for all the details you need to plan your festival week, and pick up paper guides at any of the main stages.

Are you ready? Let’s do this thing. 

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

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It would appear that, after a few false starts, summer may have arrived. As we view the news of band activities for the next few months, there are all manner of concerts planned by bands throughout Southern Ontario, but they are almost without exception by individual bands.

This is in stark contrast to when I first started in boys’ bands. Our summer was filled with parades and many local multiple-band tattoos in surrounding communities. Outdoor band festivals are now few and far between in this part of the world. The most recent such event that I can recall in this part of the country was the Great Canadian Town Band Festival which was held for a number of years, ten years ago or more, in the small town of Orono. Throughout its existence, I was active in this festival. Its demise was not due to lack of interest on the part of participants or audiences. Rather, after a few years the organization and operation became too much for the small cadre of volunteers. Although there was consideration given to moving the festival to another larger community, this never materialized. Whether they are called band tattoos or band festivals, these kinds of outdoor events involving a number of community bands haven’t even been relegated to history books. They just seem to have passed into oblivion.

Not only were there tattoos in former days, but there was a wide variety of other outdoor band events, both amateur and professional. I can still remember the fascination of a circus band with a diverse array of performers parading down a city’s main street. In fact, for a time, one of my boyhood ambitions was to play in a circus band. It seems that the only large outdoor events with bands to be seen now are those overwhelming halftime shows of American football games with all of the extra non-musical hoopla.

NABBSS: You may recall that at this time last year our household was gearing up for a trip to Halifax and participation in the very first North American Brass Band Summer School (NABBSS). As part of this summer school we were also participants in the 35th Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. With many hundreds of professional-level participants from Canada, the United States and several European countries performing for ten days in a packed arena, this event is a far cry from the local amateur tattoos referred to earlier. Even these large-scale events are increasingly few and far between. I have not heard of single such event in Ontario for some years. While we are not able to participate in this year’s NABBSS, I am sure that it will be as rewarding as last year’s was. The school will run from June 26 to July 8. When I last checked, there were still openings. Inquiries should be addressed to

Further Reminiscences: For years a major attraction at the CNE was the featured guest band at the main bandshell. For a few summers I had the pleasure of operating the sound system on that main bandshell. In particular, I had the privilege of working for two weeks with Major F. Vivian Dunn, later Sir Vivian Dunn. Prior to every concert of the Band of the Royal Marines Plymouth Division, he would discuss all of the music to be performed and just which instruments were to be given proper microphone pickup.

By a somewhat strangely routed train of thought (but bear with me), this reminds me of a famous but rarely seen ceremony, called Beat the Retreat, the origins of which date back to the reign of James II of England (James VII of Scotland) in the late 1600s, a time when drums were a major means of communicating with troops. It was a time when wars were mostly carried out in daylight hours, and the beating of drums was the signal to retreat at the end of a day’s fighting. Over time, beating the retreat became a more elaborate ceremony, where the Captain of the Main Guard would have his drummers beat the signal which would then be repeated by drummers of each regiment. Many years later, of course, armies obtained more sophisticated means of communicating, but by then Beating the Retreat had been established as an important ceremonial event.

The Royal Marines in particular have retained the ceremony, along with saluting their ceremonial head who is bestowed with the title of Captain General. Most recently that has been His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. Every three years the Massed Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, with some 200 musicians on parade, perform their Beat the Retreat ceremony at London’s Horse Guards Parade in celebration of the birthday of their Captain General.

That is where Major Dunn comes in again! The year after he and his band performed at the CNE bandshell, he wrote The Captain General march to honour then Captain General, His Majesty King George VI. Three years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Saeculum Aureum, a 2CD set, performed by The Band of The Royal Regiment of Canada. The Captain General, a stirring march with amazing counter-melodies, was one of the finest selections on that recording.

Bandstand-Mario.jpgMario Canonico: The community band world has lost another of its most dedicated members. Mario Canonico, a longtime member of the Newmarket Citizens Band, passed away May 16. Born in the Aosta Valley in the northwestern part of Italy, Mario started his musical adventure on violin at the age of nine. He began playing saxophone in his early 20s and soon added the clarinet. From Italy the family moved to Ecuador for a few years before coming to Canada in 1967. Settling in Montreal, he worked as a barber during the week and spent his weekends as a jobbing musician playing a wide variety of events including weddings and bar mitzvahs. Moving to Newmarket in 2000, he soon had a regular spot in the clarinet section of the Newmarket band. Until about three months ago he was playing regularly in three other musical groups besides the Newmarket band, including a small ensemble called North of Dixie. In addition to music and family he had a passion for cycling, averaging 50km per day. His last bicycle ride was on a warm sunny day last October at age 82. Just a few weeks ago the members of North of Dixie went to his house to entertain him. Although gravely ill, Mario danced up a storm with his wife, Delfina, and with his daughter and granddaughter. This photograph was taken on that day by John De Fusco.

Coming Concerts:

June 4 at noon the Encore Symphonic Concert Band will present “In Concert: Classics and Jazz” at the Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

June 6 at 7:30 the Barrie Concert Band will present “Let’s Celebrate Barrie!” a multimedia concert celebrating Barrie’s history at Hi-Way Pentecostal Church, 50 Anne St. N., Barrie.

June 12: A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending the premiere concert of the Toronto Concert Band. To wind up their inaugural season they will be returning to the excellent performance venue of the Glenn Gould Studio on Friday, June 12, at 7:30pm. Since their very first rehearsal less than nine months ago, founding conductors Ken Hazlett and Les Dobbin have set a high standard. This season-ending concert will feature an eclectic mix, from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals to Warren Barker’s Selections from Les Miserables with many challenging numbers filling out the program. The band’s tag line “We Love to Play!” should be spelled out musically at this concert.

June 14 at 7pm the Strings Attached Orchestra will be presenting their year-end concert at the George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire Place (just southwest of Koerner Hall). Among other things, they will be performing the orchestral premiere of Montreal a short work by former OECD head and Pierre Trudeau-era cabinet minister Donald Johnston. Also on the program will be Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No.11 with soloists from within the group.

These are a few community ensemble events where we received some program details. There are too many more than can be mentioned here. Please see the listings section for the times and locations of these many other events.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: rubato: a cross between a rhubarb and a tomato. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions. 

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

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In the end, listening and creating with sound is totally intertwined with the ear – that part of human anatomy that is always active. It’s not so easy to close our ears when we don’t want to hear something, unless we use earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. In contrast, it’s relatively straightforward to shut out visual images – we just close our eyes. But just because we’re always hearing something, doesn’t necessarily mean we are actually listening. What happens when we are truly listening is complex, and the stakes can get really high when we’re exposed to sounds that are unusual, unfamiliar or even shocking.

2008_-_New_-_Skratch_and_Afiara.jpg21C: Starting from Skratch. This is exactly one of the driving forces behind the upcoming 21C Music Festival – to create opportunities for the presentation of courageous music, music that stretches the ear beyond what it’s used to. Now in its second year and presented by the Royal Conservatory of Music with its partners, the festival runs from May 20 to 24 and offers 60 works with 34 world, Canadian or Ontario premieres. One of the distinguishing features of this festival will be the bringing together of artists and creators from different genres and backgrounds to generate a lively onstage dialogue of new sounds and ideas.

One of the more fascinating collaborations of 21C is happening on May 23 between Afiara (the Royal Conservatory’s resident string quartet), four composers and DJ artist Skratch Bastid. Afiara violinist Timothy Kantor told me that at the heart of this combination is a meeting along the borders, a place that Bartók believed provided the most fertile ground for innovation. This particular meeting ground seeks to create a remix of what makes Toronto sound unique, given its unique cultural mix.

What is a Toronto sound? is the question under investigation. All four composers, each coming from their own distinctive backgrounds, were originally commissioned to write new works for string quartet that were influenced by popular styles. But what makes this project stand out is that things don’t stop there.

Each of the four pieces was then recorded and handed over to the renowned Maritimes-born, Toronto-based Bastid, who has created a worldwide following based on his versatility in different dance music styles and his capacity to always stretch himself in new directions. He remixed the string quartet recordings using all sorts of sounds, songs and genres as part of his response, including recording snippets of string sounds he needed from the Afiara members. To keep the musical conversation going, his remixes were then given back to the composers, who then created a new piece for string quintet in response. This step gave the composers an opportunity to listen to”the Bastid’s” sonic imaginings and then take specific ideas even further to create a live performance piece for the quartet and Bastid. All three stages of the process will be presented at the concert, so the audience can listen in to how the whole project developed. All twelve pieces will also be available on the upcoming CD Spin Cycle scheduled for release in mid-May.

21C: Saariaho. One of Europe’s leading composers, Finland’s Kaija Saariaho will be the featured artist this year, with five Canadian premieres of her works in two different concerts. Saariaho will also be involved as a mentor in Soundstreams’ week-long Emerging Composers Workshop with the final pieces performed as part of the festival. Saariaho’s music is distinctive for its ability to take the listener deep into the terrain of the subconscious through the use of sound colours or timbres. In an email correspondence I had with her recently, she talked about how different sounds, and the sounds of nature, as well as the acoustics of specific places, have always been important to her, beginning when she was a child. Her brilliance lies in how she has translated environmental sound, as well as aspects of human behaviour such as dreaming, into musical form. Because her sound palette encompasses both instrumental and electronically based sounds, she has devised ways of creating seamless connections and transformations between these two worlds.  Her approach is to use the results of a computer-based analysis of how specific sounds are constructed to create harmonic and timbral structures for her music.

You can hear how this alchemical mix of scientific analysis and creative imagination comes alive on the Koerner Hall stage on May 21 at 8pm. This concert includes three solo instrumental pieces as well as the North American premiere of her piano trio Light and Matter. Saariaho drew inspiration for it while watching the continuous transformation of the colours and light visible on the leaves and tree trunks in a nearby park outside her window. Her vocal work Grammaire des rêves (to be performed May 23 at 5pm) translates research on how our moving body affects our dreams into musical sounds and form. It will also be interesting to hear the results of her mentoring the four composers chosen to participate in Soundstreams’s Emerging Composers Workshop in the After Hours concert on May 22. Saariaho sees her role as encouraging composers “to search for their personal compositional voice, without trying to calculate what could be the most successful path to take.”

21C: At a Glance.Other collaborations that promise stimulating results include the opening 21C concert on May 20 which features a RCM-commissioned work from drum legend Stewart Copeland of The Police – a duet between himself and Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker. This work presents another approach to the remixing idea, with Copeland and pianist Kimura Parker combining their own pieces with renditions of the likes of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bach and Ravel. And yes, this theme of the mixing up of elements continues on May 22with the 70-minute multimedia work Illusions, which combines new compositions from three different composers (Nicole Lizée, Gabriel Dharmoo and Simon Martin), Ives’ Piano Trio and visuals (projections designed by Jacques Collin, a longtime associate of Robert Lepage).The festival concludes May 24 with a concert of music influenced by Latin American musical styles and rhythms presented in partnership with Soundstreams. Acclaimed guitar virtuosos Grisha Goryachev and Fabio Zanon, Argentine bandoneon player Héctor del Curto, Colombian singer María Mulata and pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian will be setting the tone on stage, along with two world premieres by Canadian composers Andrew Staniland and Mark Duggan.

Because the list of new premieres and featured performers is extensive, I recommend checking out the complete schedule for the festival.

2008_-_New_-_Dafydd_Hughes.jpgSubtle Technologies Festival. Returning to this article’s opening theme of the human ear, it’s inspiring to see how the scientific world is expanding its reaches into sound. Now in its 18th season, this year’s Subtle Technologies six-day festival, “3rd Ear: Expanded Notions of Sound in Science and Art,” runs May 25 to 31. Combining speaker and panel sessions with performances in sound, music, film and other multidisciplinary works, the festival is exploring the mind- and body-altering properties of sound, including a look at how we can work with sound as a resource for better living and social progress. Toronto’s Continuum Music is a major partner in this endeavour, and will be hosting an evening of team collaborations on May 28 between leading Canadian composers, scientists and contemporary artists. An example of the nature of these collaborations is the piece titled Ice, an immersive mixed-media and sound installation created by media artist Fareena Chanda, composer Jimmie LeBlanc and scientist Stephen Morris. To experience the full sensory process of water slowly transforming into ice, audience members are invited to completely commit their mind and body to the installation space. Other musical performance events include an algorithm-based improvisation piece by Ian Jarvis, and a collaboration of computer music and live video projections with Dafydd Hughes and Rob Cruickshank on May 29. Other highlights include the participation of composer/performers Kathy Kennedy and Nicole Lizée. Again, I encourage you to check out the full listings for the complete lineup.

Other New Music concert and opera events:  May offers new listening ground for innovations in instrumental music and opera.

Tapestry Opera presents a new twist on the traditional Medea myth with a world premiere collaboration between librettist Marjorie Chan and Scottish composer John Harris. Presented at the revamped industrial space Evergreen Brick Works, M’dea Undone runs from May 26 to 29 and offers a gripping investigation into power, influence and identity for the 21st century.

Over at the Music Gallery, the Emergents series continues on May 8 with a concert curated by Ilana Waniuk from the Thin Edge New Music Collective. She offers us an evening that combines a new work by Icelandic cellist-composer Fjóla Evans and a performance by Architek Percussion. Evans’ piece combines Icelandic folk songs, found sound, extended cell, and rímur, a unique way of intoning poetry. Architek Percussion specializes in the performance of experimental, minimalist, multidisciplinary and electroacoustic chamber music.

The veteran New Music Concerts series winds up its concert season on May 17 with a concert curated by Montrealer Michel Gonneville who brings together the music of Henri Pousseur, with whom Gonneville studied in the 1970s, and other influential Belgian composers. One aspect of Pousseur’s legacy was the vision he had for composition – that it will need to go beyond the production of finished objects and move towards a process that is more collective in nature.

Improvisation and Beyond: Certainly the rise of improvisation embodies the spirit of collective creation, and Toronto is becoming increasingly known as a hub for such activities. In May alone, several events demonstrate this trend, many of which are happening at the Arraymusic space and are ongoing monthly events: Arraymusic Improv Sessions on May 5 and June 2, Somewhere There on May 10, Audio Pollination on May 12, coexisDance on May 16, eVoid on May 22, and Toronto Improvisers Orchestra on May 31. Other concert events at the Arraymusic space include a multimedia performance work by Linda Bouchard on May 8, a Martin Arnold Curated Concert on May 18, and the Toy Piano Composers performing with TorQ Percussion Quartet on May 23 and 24. The Arraymusic ensemble presents their own events this month as well: the “Cathy Lewis Sings” concert on May 4, the Arraymusic Ensemble in their fundraising concert on May 6 and the annual Young Composers’ Workshop Concert on May 30 featuring premieres of electronic works with original projections by OCAD students.

Over at the Canadian Music Centre, there are two piano-focused events this month: JunctQin Keyboard Collective with premieres from Canada and around the world on May 3; works by Fung, McIntyre and Murphy on May 13. More Canadian piano works are part of Adam Sherkin’s concert at the Jane Mallet Theatre on May 9, with works by Gougeon, Murphy, Coulthard, Eckhardt-Grammaté and Sherkin. And a special evening of improvisation making use of Gallery 345’s beautiful grand pianos happens on May 7 with Marilyn Lerner, Casey Sokol and others.

New in Choral: To close out this very busy month, I note several contemporary works included in a variety of choral concerts:

May 4: Elmer Iseler Singers: Canadian and international composers.

May 9: Bell’Arte Singers: Hatfield, Somers, Sirett and others.

May 9: Orpheus Choir of Toronto: Enns and Gjeilo.

May 24: Oriana Women’s Choir: Luengen, Chan Ka Nin, Freedman, Healey.

May 29: Exultate Chamber Singers: Henderson, Enns, Somers, Freedman, Healey.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

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