2006-Classical-Vienna_Piano_Trio.jpgThe Vienna Piano Trio’s previous Toronto appearances – with the Women’s Musical Club in November 2005 and three visits to Toronto Summer Music from 2010 to 2012 – were greeted with widespread acclaim. So it’s no surprise that they are highly anticipating their Mooredale Concerts recital March 8. That’s what the gregarious Stefan Mendl, the trio’s pianist and last remaining of its founding members, told me recently by phone from Vienna, the city where he has lived since his birth.

I asked him about the particular sensibility that typifies a chamber musician. “From scratch you must have the urge to find a special sound that is the group sound,” he answered. “You should not be so restrained that nobody can hear you but neither are you so predominant that you drown out the others. It must be your goal from the beginning that you find this sound; if you have a good ear and if you have the will to do this, then you are off to a good start.

“Then, of course there is experience, knowing when you can really play out and when you have to combine with the strings; when you have to give them more bass or less bass. You have to put aside your own ambitions and have the will to find a sound that blends.”

In his own case, right from his first experience on stage, chamber music felt better. “I discovered early on in my soloist days [born in 1966, he founded the trio in 1988] that I enjoyed playing concertos much more than recitals. I think that sometimes you get more ideas or better ideas when you have the chance to interact with others. At least for me that’s the case and I feel very, very comfortable with friends and with colleagues on stage. I don’t feel that comfortable when I’m on my own.

“And of course there is the wonderful music that is written for piano trio, piano quartet and piano quintet [he regularly performs with the Hagen Quartet]. Sometimes, all of our greatest composers put a lot of their inner feelings and emotions into their chamber music. I find it all very fascinating, still,” he said, with a laugh that underlined the hold the music still has on him.

The key thing to a trio’s success he believes is to have three people of equal musical and technical skill who have similar musical goals. “You need a rich palette of ideas and colour. Everybody needs their own opinion amidst the common goal.”

I wanted to know how he relates to the music the trio will be performing on the upcoming Sunday afternoon in Toronto. “Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations is really a fantastic piece of music,” he replied with palpable verve. “The very late opus number [Op.121a] is a bit misleading. No one hearing the very heavy introduction would expect it to turn into this funny theme, but there are hints, hidden in a minor key in a delicate, funny way. One slow variation before the finale is very deep and serious. Like all of Beethoven, the deepest and most serious is right next to the fun, almost grotesque or rude side. He was never shy, even in his greatest works to put little bits of his feelings right next to the really funny things. These variations are a really good way to experience that; in a very short amount of time he does all these turns and twists.”

This was a good opportunity to bring up the relationship between recording and live performance since the trio released the Kakadu variations along with Beethoven’s Trios Op.70, on their latest MDG Gold CD last year. “Recording something always affects your live playing because you get so close to it. You listen more to detail than you would otherwise ... sometimes you get things brought out that you probably wouldn’t have discovered before and then your performance is altered. Of course, your performance always changes over time,” he said.

Mendelssohn’s Trio No.1 Op.49 in D Minor, the concluding piece on the March 8 program, is the more famous of the composer’s two trios, but for Mendl, they are both on the same genius level. The trio plays them frequently and loves both of them. Mendl particularly enjoys the “gorgeous and brilliant and skillful piano writing which hardly any great composer has accomplished to that extent.

“It works so well for the medium of the piano trio because Mendelssohn had all these great melodies – mainly he wrote in the strings – and the texture for that is this incredibly bubbling piano part which makes a fantastic contrast. He does this in a very, very idiomatic way so that his piano trios will always be at the top of the list of the greatest trios both for performers and the audience. And a beautiful lyrical slow movement, a quicksilvery light scherzo – the type of scherzo so different from what anybody else wrote in those days ... The scherzo is perfect; there can’t be a more perfect scherzo imaginable.”

Mendl reminded me that Schumann had written a famous review raving about that D-Minor trio, calling it the role model of a piano trio. Very interesting in light of the preceding work on the Toronto recital, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 88. Despite its late opus number, it was written earlier than the composer’s piano trios but published later and less often performed. Schumann called them fantasy pieces because they didn’t conform to the trio form. The first and third pieces, the slow ones, are especially close to the pianist’s heart and “contain some of Schumann’s best piano trio writing ... they are in no way second rate.”

I was curious about the formidable list of mentors on the Vienna Piano Trio’s website, almost all of whom the trio met during a memorable two-week chamber music workshop in New York in 1993. “We’d never been to New York before so it was a double experience, really mind-blowing I would say, without exaggeration.” They got several lessons from Isaac Stern, the Guarneri Quartet (Arnold Steinhardt and Michael Tree), from Henry Meyer of the LaSalle Quartet and from the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. Mendl still remembers the kindness of Jaime Laredo who brought them back to New York for a concert series.

Most important was the enormous impact the intense workshop had on the group’s musical goals. It brought a “kind of down-to-earth quality” to what had been the “very polished style of trio playing we had experienced with [earlier mentors] the Trio di Trieste.”

Finally, I wondered, did living in Vienna inspire him, since the City of Dreams had been a place where many composers lived and died.  “And died especially,” he laughed. “I personally live very, very close to where all these Beethoven memorial places are ... and although I don’t want to do this too consciously, sometimes I’m touched when I wander around in this area and I feel that Beethoven wrote so much music there and lived there for a great while.”

2006-Classical-Emanuel_Ax.jpgSeen and Heard:The RBC Piano Extravaganza – or “Ax-travaganza” as Mervon Mehta dubbed it – took the city by storm over an 11-day period attracting approximately 14,000 to events at RTH alone. In addition, 27 amateurs performed on the hall’s newly acquired New York Steinway during the Community Piano Showcase; including the Young People’s Concert programs, 20 pianists performed on the RTH stage during the festival; and 200 people played the five Steinways in the festival’s inaugural event, Pianos in the City, February 4 between 11am and 2pm.

My immersion in the Extravaganza began on its second day, Thursday February 5, with festival curator Emanuel Ax’s introduction of two young pianists at a COC free noontime concert. Siberian-born Pavel Kolesnikov, the 2012 Honens Competition winner now studying with Maria JoãoPires in Brussels, learned three Liszt transcriptions of Wagner operas, including the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser, especially for the event. Impressive. American pianist Orion Weiss, who left his native Cleveland for Juilliard, specifically to study with Ax for his integrity and revelatory playing, brought a singing touch to a pair of Granados Goyescas. Several hours later they played a dynamically well-matched Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances for two pianos that preceded a TSO concert that included the orchestral version of the same piece.

Ax began that program with an agreeable, self-effacing rendition of a Schubert impromptu followed by Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 14 K449. Round tones of limpid liquidity gave the impression that the pianist was opening a musical jewel box.

The four-hour and twenty-minute Pianopalooza Sunday afternoon included 16 disparate performers selected by the RCM in a musical cavalcade that came close to filling Koerner Hall and concluded with a show-stopping, two-piano-eight-hands version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with recorded cannon shots. The event featured two bona fide highlights: Robi Botos’ jazz set was an uninterrupted 20-minute piece of spontaneous joy; Ax’s melodic, technically assured performance of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 was piano playing at its best.

Three days later, Ax joined Jan Lisiecki for Mozart’s heavenly Concerto for Two Pianos K316a/365 and Saint-Saëns’ delightfully entertaining The Carnival of the Animals.

The next day in a pre-concert performance, Ax displayed his chamber music skill set in an immensely satisfying reading of Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op. 44. The string parts were taken by the first chair TSO players, concertmaster Jonathan Crow, principal second violinist Paul Mayer, prinicipal violist Teng Li and principal cellist Joseph Johnson. The players faced the choir loft, which overflowed into the adjacent sections of the hall. No one who heard them will forget the strings’ strength, the way Ax was able to emerge from the background to point out the melody and the assured playing of this propitious gathering.

Later that evening Ax demonstrated a deft curatorial touch in an adventurous program pairing a two-piano piece with its orchestral equivalent. Ax and Stewart Goodyear, more or less balanced in selected pieces of Carl Maria von Weber, returned for an exciting performance of Ravel’s La Valse. In between Anagnoson & Kinton proved to be very well-matched in an apparently seamless gambol through Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn. As in the previous week’s Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, the orchestral colour was more varied than the keyboards’ but the unique opportunity to hear the difference was welcome.

Ax spoke of his love of the word “metamorphosis” when he introduced that program. The next morning he became its agent at a master class for Glenn Gould School students. He was his usual combination of self-effacing and endearing as his analysis and advice transformed a student’s performance of Chopin’s Barcarolle, a piece he called “ecstatic” and which he linked forward to Wagner and back to Bach. He continued his delicate balance of dispensing compliments, ever careful that his suggestions would not be construed as outright criticism.

He recalled an encounter he had as a young man with Pablo Casals when the cellist was 96 and spending his last summer at Marlboro. “[When] the music goes up, [play] loud; music goes down, soft,” Casals instructed. “We all thought he was out to lunch,” Ax said. “But the older I get, the more I see how right he was.”

Quick Picks:

Mar 6 Siberian-born violinist Vadim Repin, the interview subject of my last month’s column, makes his eagerly awaited Toronto recital debut at Koerner Hall in a diverse program of Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.

Mar 8 at Koerner Hall KahaneSwensonBey, who re-formed in 2012 after a 25-year hiatus, perform piano trios by Mozart, Schumann, Ravel and Schoenfield. In an unfortunate scheduling conflict their afternoon concert occurs at the same time as the Vienna Piano Trio’s Mooredale recital in Walter Hall just minutes away.

On the evening of Mar 8 violinist Moshe Hammer and pianist Angela Park perform works by Brahms, Franck and Sarasate at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Mar 11, 12 and 14 Gianandrea Noseda conducts the TSO in a program featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which is all you need to know to make plans to attend. The program also includes Adrianne Pieczonka performing Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Richard Strauss’ divine Four Last Songs, which further certifies it as a must-see. Rising star Krzysztof Urbanski and the TSO are joined Mar 27 and 28 by the captivating Sol Gabetta in Dvořák’s masterpiece, his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, a work they have played together many times. Then Urbanski leads the orchestra in Stravinsky’s rhythmic revelry, The Rite of Spring. Another must-see.

 TSO associate principal clarinetist Yao Guang Zhai is joined by pianist Jeanie Chung for Luigi Bassi’s Concert Fantasy on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto in a free COC concert also featuring Gershwin, Brahms and three solo pieces by Stravinsky at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre Mar 12.

Mar 14 is crystal ball gazing time when students from the Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists give a free concert in Mazzoleni Hall. On Mar 31 another Mazzoleni Hall free concert (ticket required) features solo and chamber works performed by Rebanks Fellows from the Glenn Gould School. Apr 2 three of the Rebanks Fellows perform Brahms’ gorgeous Trio for horn, violin and piano in a free noontime COC concert.

Mar 15 Trio Arkel with guests, cellist Amanda Forsyth and violinist Aaron Schwebel, perform Schubert’s sublime String Quintet in C in the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Mar 16 group of 27 presents Payadora Tango Ensemble and g27 violinist Rebekah Wolkstein in a recital at Heliconian Hall.

Don’t miss your chance Mar 19 to hear the Elias String Quartet, the “excellent” (New York Times), “exuberant” (The Guardian) young British ensemble making their local debut presented by Music Toronto, in works by Haydn, Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Mar 22 Alliance Française presents Stravinsky’s tuneful fable The Soldier’s Tale featuring Jacques Israelievich, violin, with Uri Mayer conducting.

Mar 27 Violinist Lisa Batiashvili, Till Fellner’s trio partner (along with Alfred Brendel’s son Adrian) is joined by pianist Paul Lewis in his first Toronto appearance since his remarkable debut opening the Women’s Musical Club’s 115th season in the fall of 2012. Their program includes Schubert’s “Grand Duo” and “Rondeau brilliant,” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.10, Op.96, Telemann’s Fantasia No.4 for Solo Violin and Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chorale Prelude “Nun komm’ der Heiden Helland” for solo piano.

Mar 27 and 28 the incomparable Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents concerts 13, 14, 15 and 16 in the Attacca Quartet’s ongoing series performing all 68 of Haydn’s quartets. Each concert features quartets drawn from the early, middle and later period of the composer’s life.

YouTube star Valentina Lisitsa’s piano playing has struck quite a few chords based on upwards of 80 million views. Before her Royal Albert Hall recital in front of an audience of 8000 in June 2012 her fans had the chance to vote online for their preferred program – a form of audience participation that has become one of Lisitsa’s trademarks. Will the contents of her BravoNiagara! solo concert Apr 4 be similarly chosen?

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

2006-New-Ryan_Scott.jpgAs we sit here in late February waiting for spring to show its face, you could say that we’re waiting for a change to happen, a change that we know from past experience will eventually occur, although there are not many signs of it currently visible. Spring’s emergence is of a particular kind – from one known state to another, by a process of predictable transformation. But sometimes things that emerge come from an unknown place of obscurity into an unpredictable prominence.

In the world of contemporary music (as elsewhere in the arts) the idea of emergence is often bandied about – as in the phrase “emerging composer” or “emerging artist.” As such it is often used to help define funding structures and award guidelines. The distinction being drawn seems to be between those who are emerging and those who have been around for a while – the established ones. Often in our minds, the word becomes synonymous or interchangeable with being young and just starting to make one’s way in life.

Not necessarily so, according to two presenters/curators I spoke to recently: Ryan Scott, current artistic director of Continuum Music, and Christopher Willes, curator of the Music Gallery’s March concert in the Emergents Series.

Continuum: In the life of Continuum Music, this season is special; they are celebrating 30 years of existence, having formed in 1985. At the beginning, Continuum was a collective of composers and performers with associations to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. As emerging musicians they were frustrated with the lack of opportunity to hear and present the new works they were composing or interested in performing. So, as an act of rebellion, they formed Continuum Music. The list of those initially involved in the first few years is an impressive one; many of them are still making waves in the new music world.

One of those early rebels was flutist Jennifer Waring, who went on to become Continuum’s artistic director for the next 29 years. Under her guidance, Continuum has become a major presenter and performing ensemble of new music, commissioning over 100 new works, engaging in touring and recording opportunities and developing interdisciplinary and educational projects. One of her signature contributions was establishing a strong connection with composers and performers in the Netherlands, resulting in a festival of Dutch and Canadian music, film, literature and visual arts in 2008/09 and an ongoing relationship with many Dutch composers. Another early member was Barbara Hannigan, who appeared on the cover of last month’s WholeNote. It’s clear that Hannigan’s continual commitment to being an ambassador for new and original repertoire was seeded in those early heady days of her involvement with Continuum.

Percussionist Ryan Scott has also had a long association with the organization – initially as a performer, and now taking over as artistic director. This year’s anniversary concert, “30 More!,” on March 8 is a program entirely curated by Scott and showcases the spirit that lies at the heart of Continuum’s mandate. Combining the works of UK-based seasoned composers Richard Ayres and Joe Cutler, the very young and unknown Turkish composer Mithatcan Öcal and two Torontonians,  Anna Höstman and Jason Doell, Scott has created a program that amplifies Continuum’s rebellious roots.

When asked about what is important for him in selecting works for programming, Scott told me that “as artistic director, I search out composers who are experimentalists by nature, who are committed to pushing boundaries and are searching for something different with each new piece rather than relying on a seasoned bag of tricks. You can find these types of composers at any level – emerging or established.”

 Interestingly, Doell and Höstman are both recent recipients of Toronto’s Emerging Composer Award (2013 and 2014 respectively). Scott points out that although they are both considered emerging, they are actually people who are not so young in life but entered into composition after engaging with other interests and commitments. That process results in a different kind of emergent creative voice, one already informed by life experience. Fittingly, the Toronto award is not defined by age, but open to anyone who takes up composing at whatever stage of life.

Doell was commissioned to write a new work for this concert after Scott heard him perform on his percussion installation during last year’s Emergents Series at the Music Gallery; the selection of Höstman’s piece was inspired by the brilliant performance given last season by ensemble pianist Laurent Philippe in Continuum’s presentation of Höstman’s Singing the Earth.

As for the other works on the March 8 program, Scott defines Richard Ayres’ music as zany, off the wall and creating unusual combinations of sounds. Joe Cutler’s music is intriguing for its continual surprises, taking the listener onto an unanticipated path. And as a twist on the “emerging” theme, the music of the 22-year-old Öcal has a maturity and hyper–complexity to it that Scott finds shockingly brilliant.

Another aspect of Continuum’s 30-year legacy is the commitment to educating the younger generation. Following closely on the heels of their anniversary celebration is a concert on March 31 that features the compositions of students from across the GTA. This project is a collaboration between Continuum, Toronto District School Board music education advocate Doug Friesen and composer Christopher Thornborrow. The student scores are initially created in a software designed for intuitive and creative decision-making. Thornborrow then takes these pieces and arranges them for the instrumentation of the Continuum ensemble. These professionals then become the principals in a larger ensemble made up of student performers which performs all the selected pieces at a public concert. This program has received strong support at multiple levels, and is pioneering a new way of introducing the creative process of music-making to the younger generation.

2006-New-Johnathan_Adjemian.jpgEmergents at the Gallery: One of the major opportunities for the emerging creative voice has been the Emergents Series at the Music Gallery. Each concert in the series is curated by someone whose own work was presented during the previous Music Gallery season. The March 19 concert has been programmed by Christopher Willes whose own work explores ideas of the spatialization of sound. His choice of artists – Geoff Mullen and Jonathan Adjemian – indicates that he too has a distinctive take on what constitutes an emerging artistic voice. Both Mullen and Adjemian are individuals who’ve actually been practising artists for some time now, but have recently changed direction and begun exploring new materials and approaches to working with sound. For Willes, this qualifies them as emergents.

Mullen’s work expands the idea of site-specific work while simultaneously challenging and re-evaluating the idea of composing to include new ways of hearing and listening. A week prior to the concert, Mullen will begin work in the Music Gallery space, setting it up somewhat like an audio installation and using old recordings from the Music Gallery label as sound sources. It will be an experimental process, placing sounds in the space and observing what happens to both. The installation however will not be static; Mullen himself will be animating the space through his own improvisations and interaction with the recordings. When the audience arrives, Mullen will be continuing his week-long process, with audience members witnessing what is occurring at that moment in time. Willes describes Mullen’s way of working as “site-responsive,” achieved in part by turning the microphone in on itself. The acoustics of the space itself play a significant role in what one hears, and by using the recorded sounds of the gallery’s history, the early spaces of the Music Gallery (St. Patrick Street and Queen/Dovercourt) are brought into the present. Everyone will be listening to the final results.

Adjemian’s interest with sonic materials focuses on text, language and perception in combination with live electronics. Coming from a theatre and philosophy background, he will use actors and dancers as speaking voices in his new piece created for this concert. The result will be a constant wash of text that will collide and rebound with the creation of sound waves and difference tones coming from the electronic instruments as well as being generated through software. His interest in difference tones, which are like phantom or ghost sounds that occur when two tones are sounded simultaneously, was inspired by U.S. composer Maryanne Amacher who loved to create novel acoustic events that could even make you lose your balance. We’ll have to wait until March 18 to experience the outcome of Adjemian’s sound experiments.

To wrap up this discussion of what constitutes an emerging artist, I’d like to give the last words to futurist author and visionary Barbara Marx Hubbard who spins the idea somewhat differently. Not only does the term refer to new turns on the life cycle or the taking up of a different direction, she states that “we are all emerging into what we are becoming.”

New Music Concerts: An inspiring co-presentation on March 14 between New Music Concerts and Organix, a local presenter of organ music, will bring together German percussionist Olaf Tzschoppe, who plays with the legendary Les Percussions de Strasbourg, and Hungarian organist Zsigmond Szathmáry. The concert comprises an evening of music composed by six different European composers including a piece by each of the two performers. It’s rare to hear the organ within a new music context, and in this concert, the organ from the Church of the Holy Trinity will be on display. The concert will repeat on March 15 at St. Cuthbert’s Anglican in Oakville.

Next up after that in the NMC season will be an April 4 concert exploring the Ukrainian-Canadian connection with works by three Ukrainian composers and two Canadians – Esprit’s Alex Pauk and Gary Kulesha. The Ukrainian composers include Karmella Tsepkolenko, a prolific composer and festival organizer in her native country, and a newly commissioned work from Anna Pidgorna, a Ukrainian-born, Canadian-raised composer and media artist. Featured soloist on the program is soprano Ilana Zarankin who will premiere a new oratorio by Tsepkolenko.

2006-New-Andrew_Staniland.jpgEsprit: The March 29th concert by Esprit Orchestra’s, with guest soloist Stephen Sitarski on violin, will be the last of their season. The prgram creates an intriguing dialogue between music and science-inspired ideas. For example, the world premiere of Andrew Staniland’s Vast Machine creates a sonic version of the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator, the largest single machine in the world, located in a tunnel beneath the Franco-Swiss border. Scott Good’s world premiere of Resonance Unfolding 2 digs into the realm of spectral composition, an aesthetic that focuses more on timbre than melody, and how sound evolves over time. This idea of continuous transformation is also the focus of Color by French composerMarc-André Dalbavie. The program is rounded out by a piece by Chinese composer Xiaogang Ye.

Quick Picks:
Canadian Music Centre Presentations:
Mar 13: Portrait of a Pioneer: The Vocal Music of Jean Coulthard.
Mar 14: JUNO Awards Classical Nominees’ Showcase. (in Hamilton)
Mar 27: “Baroque Meets Modern in The True North!” Works by Gougeon, Dawson, Arcuri, Manzon and others.
Others:
Mar 1 & 10: Audiopollination
Mar 4 & 7: New Creations Festival, Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Mar 6: TorQ: Music by Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen and Jamie Drake.
Mar 7-8: DaCapo Chamber Choir: Concert includes the 2014 NewWorks winning composition.
Mar 21: “Hands, Fists, Arms” – a program featuring solo piano works by Cowell, Lachenmann, Ristic, Saunders, and Ustvolskaya – performed by Stephanie Chua at 8pm at the Music Gallery [Not in the Listings]. For more information visit musicgallery.org..
Mar 27: Philip Thomas premieres piano works by Skempton, Wolff and Finnissy.
Mar 27: Maureen Batt. Crossing Borders: A Celebration of New Music from New Mexico to Nova Scotia.
Mar 29: Toronto Improvisers’ Orchestra

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

2006-World-Tova_Kardonne.jpgDuring the relentless winter choke-holding the eastern half of our continent we occasionally see signs of weather more benign. Not that I’m complaining about our crisp white-scaped great outdoors, mind, but I’m not complaining either about music’s special power to open the world’s window wide to another, less icy landscape.

A case in point is The Lanka Suite. In it the multi-talented emerging Toronto-born composer, vocalist and violist Tova Kardonne evokes Sri Lanka’s lush natural and human landscapes, expressing her outsider musical explorations in her distinctive jazz and chamber music-inflected music. The Ashkenaz Foundation and Koffler Centre for the Arts co-present the work performed by a choir, an instrumental ensemble, as well as a vocal and an instrumental soloist, in concert at The Music Gallery on March 14.

I called Kardonne on a frosty February afternoon to chat about her ambitious Lanka Suite, and how she got there. Even before pursuing a career in music, she told me, her passion for mathematics – in which she has a degree – initially took centre stage. “I developed a taste for aspects of beauty and emotion in mathematics, for its elegance as well as its ugliness. These are parallel to characteristics I also felt in music.” But she also pursued viola and piano studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as singing alto in a series of choirs. “Singing (and playing) the alto voice is a great place to be for a composer: right in the middle of the music!” It’s a practice she actively maintains with Andrea Kuzmich’s Broulala, Christine Duncan’s The Element Choir and with the GREX vocal ensemble directed by Alex Samaras. (The latter choir has a core role in the performance of The Lanka Suite on March 14. )

In addition to music, Kardonne explained that dance has been another key to her artistic expression. “I originally studied dance with Jeannette Zingg of Opera Atelier. Later, in ’99 I was introduced to the freedom and discipline of contact improvisation, attending downtown Toronto’s weekly Contact Dance Jams. Improvised movement reinforced my evolving understanding of creation and intention. Though I didn’t quite realize at the time, it would prove important in shaping my compositional process down the road.” In 2014 she remounted an evening titled “60×60 Dance,” continuing her ongoing engagement with the dance world. It featured 60 different combinations of Canadian choreographers and composers, a complex project she co-curated and produced.

Having completed a degree at Humber College concentrating on vocal jazz, composition and arranging in 2008, jazz certainly figures in Kardonne’s musical language. She has involved a number of Toronto’s jazz elite in The Thing Is, her current eight-member band. It has included Jim Vivian, Dave Restivo, Ted Quinlan, Peter Lutek, Rich Brown, Rob Clutton and several others since its inception. Currently she favours musicians with mixed resumés who are able to excel in what she calls “non-idiomatic improvisational contexts.” That’s why she notes “my band is called The Thing Is, because it reflects an open-ended process of becoming,” an ensemble musical work. She creates an evolutionary, boundary-crossing and collegial atmosphere in the ensemble: “As my music evolved, it has attracted different kinds of musicians. At least two of them have been around [the scene] for long enough that I don’t really know where they ‘come from’.”

Kardonne points out one more significant element informing The Lanka Suite: for the lack of a better term, its “world music” features. It goes back to the Klezmer bands she played in, starting in her teens, as well as her grandparents’ Eastern European Jewish roots. “My mixed family heritage directed me along the path of seeking connections through the differences.” Citing her studies of Cuban santería batá drumming, North and South Indian drumming patterns, and her participation in the Brazilian Samba Elégua group, she conludes that  “deep down, I’m driven by rhythm.” In The Lanka Suite this fascination is reflected in unusual time signatures and phrases, drawing from both South Asian and Eastern European folk idioms, though couched in the instrumentation of a jazz combo with its affiliated rich harmonic field.

I asked Kardonne for The Lanka Suite’s back story. The four-part composition was “inspired by a trip with my partner [the experimental electric guitarist] Nilan Perera to Sri Lanka in 2012. He wished to reconnect with family for the first time since the end of the conflict in 2009 and to talk to some of the generation of artists who had grown up in the midst of conflict, not as he had, in the diaspora.” While Kardonne was a complete stranger to the country, she recounts that “those things which were most new and strange nonetheless had parallels in my experience.” Her first-hand observations elicited contrasting emotions of joy as well as confusion. She also encountered a society in transition, rebuilding the fabric of families and institutions after a devastating 30-year civil war. One music seed was sown when Kardonne heard a girl sing to entertain fellow bus commuters on the A9 highway to Jaffna, the northernmost city on the South Asian island nation. She notated the girl’s song and it surfaced in the work’s first movement titled “A9 to Jaffna.”

On returning home, her life-altering experience compelled her to rethink her “own understanding of life back in Canada through the lens of what I learned from Sri Lanka.” The profound themes she explores in her lyrics for The Lanka Suite include Sri Lankans’ essential connection to the land and the importance of self-definition through politics, even though this trust seems inevitably doomed to be betrayed by the political class. The ravages borne by the abundant natural world and the shifting role of women are also examined.

When she first presented The Lanka Suiteat The Rex Hotel last year in its stripped down eight-musician version, the favourable audience reception centred on perceptions of cultural familiarity, despite the score’s vibrant mash-up of musical idioms. Various listeners “picked up on what in the music seemed familiar to them” reported the composer, “but I certainly felt vindicated when people told me ‘I hear you and that’s my music too.’” Infusing additional jazz sparkle to The Lanka Suite’s full airing at the Music Gallery,the multi-JUNO Award winningflute and soprano saxophonevirtuosa Jane Bunnett joins Kardonne, her seven-piece band The Thing Is, and the GREX choir.

Opening the evening is Khôra, the experimental music project of Toronto’s Matthew Ramolo. He performs his music on acoustic and electronic instruments, as well as field recordings and analogue/digital processing, summoning “the spirit of Eastern modes, contemporary classical, avant and sacred minimalism, experimental rock and various forms of electronic music.”

Other Picks:

2006-World-Radik_Tyulyush.jpgMarch 6 and 7, Tuvan singer Radik Tyulyush and Inuk diva Tanya Tagaq, two masters of throat singing, split the bill at the Aga Khan Museum, presented with the support of Small World Music. Though drawing on musically distinct cultures over 6,000 kilometres apart, it’s a rare pleasure for Toronto audiences to witness these outstanding performers on a single stage. The abundantly talented Tyulyush, a member of perhaps Tuva’s most successful music group Huun Huur Tu, is not only a leading performer of the several types of indigenous throat and “regular” singing, but is a master of several Tuvan instruments including the igil, doshpuluur, shoor and khomu. He’s a Tuvan rock star to boot. His set opens the concert.

Tagaq follows. I covered her Polaris Prize performance and reviewed her brilliant album Animism which sealed the win last fall in The WholeNote. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s among the most musically, emotionally and politically compelling avant-garde vocalists working today. I’m not sure if I have ever deemed a performance a must-see in this column, but her live vocal confrontation, accompanied by her band, of a screening of the silent film Nanook of the North (1922) is such a show.

March 12 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Japan’s Kodo Drummers return to Toronto, after a four-year absence, with their “Kodo One Earth Tour: Mystery.” I’ve seen them before and this taiko (Japanese drum) group which has been setting the bar high for decades keeps improving, making theatrically engaging, powerful music. For those who have never seen them live, they also incorporate various flutes and other Japanese instruments in their precision shows. “Mystery” is the second Kodo program directed by the famous kabuki actor Tamasaburō Bandō, designated a National Living Treasure in Japan. He became Kodo’s artistic director in 2012, and during his tenure has aimed to deepen Kodo’s theatricality and to give more prominence to women performers. Of special interest, the pre-show discussion at 7pm features members of Toronto’s Nagata Shachu Japanese Taiko and Music Ensemble examining the history of taiko in Japan, the various drums used in performance, the costumes worn, how the music is taught and learned, as well as the development of the modern taiko movement led by groups such as Kodo.

March 26, the Mississauga- based singer and songwriter Vandana Vishwas presents a selection of her sugam sangeet songs at the Musideum. Songs in the ghazal, bhajan, geet, thumri, folk, Indo-jazz and light classical genres, often reflected on Indian film soundtracks, are collectively known as sugam sangeet. Vishwas, who performed for ten years as an All India Radio artist until she left India, is accompanied by George Koller, one of Toronto’s favourite bass and dilruba players, tabla maestro Ed Hanley and Vishwas Thoke on acoustic guitar.

 March 29 the Small World Music Society in association with Batuki Music Society presents the Toronto debut of Tal National, Niger’s most popular group, at the Drake Underground. Drawing on regional West African music genres like highlife, soukous, Afrobeat and desert blues, Tal National has evolved a joyous dance-centric music driven by drums, guitars and deep grooves. While at home they are known to play till daybreak, bets are off that will happen at the Drake. One sure thing however: the relentless cyclical energy of their music will propel dancers far longer than even they thought possible.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

2006-Jazz_Stories_1-Kobi_Haas_and_Bass.jpgOn Wednesday March 18 starting at 6:30pm at The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar it will be difficult to find a seat. At the Spotlight on Israeli Culture event the bill will feature three headlining acts, each exciting for different reasons. The biggest name of the three is Anat Cohen, a seven-time Jazz Journalist Association Clarinetist of the Year and internationally acclaimed saxophonist, known for her virtuosity on various instruments, the richness of her tone and an utterly enchanting stage presence. It will be Cohen’s first appearance in Toronto as leader.

Then there is the precocious Guy Mintus Trio, of which two musicians are America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship winners. Twenty-two-year-old Mintus is the recipient of ASCAP’s Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer award and a full scholarship student at the Manhattan School of Music. Following appearances at the Kennedy Center, the Apollo Theater and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the trio makes its Canadian debut.

The third headliner is Kobi Hass, whose quartet will be opening the show, and who is a wonderful recent addition to our city’s musical landscape. Since moving to Toronto in 2010, the Tel-Aviv-born bassist and composer has mostly worked as a sideman, bringing many positive vibes to live music here with his emotionally charged musical versatility. The original songs to be performed at The Rex have been described as “soulful compositions” in the press release, to which Hass adds:

“The people I will play with are local musicians with whom I perform from time to time – Barry Livingston, pianist, who writes beautiful and soulful tunes, Ernie Tollar, saxophones and flutes, who is in charge of the more experimental writing, and Paul Fitterer, who turns keeping time into a very imaginative and surprising process. Each of us brings in his own tunes, we ‘try them out,’ and I feel that we’ve developed our own sound and atmosphere.

“I find it hard to characterize the music, but I like what was written in the press release. Indeed the music is based on ‘soulful compositions’ that each of us contributed to the quartet. The forms are relatively open, yet the compositions are very classically written. There is a certain harmonic colour that we all like and it helps the quartet developing its own sound. The improvisations do not stay in the traditional jazz idiom, and we try things as we go. Playing the acoustic bass in this format is a very challenging process for me, being an e-bass pop-rock player for many years.”

Hass got his break on the Israeli music scene soon after he picked up the instrument:

“After my military service I moved to Tel Aviv to study choir conducting in Tel Aviv University. Somehow I got a hold of an electric bass and started playing with a neighbour of mine, a jazz piano player. It was just for fun. However, not long after I started playing the bass I received a phone call asking me to play a few gigs with Ofra Haza, a very well-known Israeli singer. One thing led to another, people started hearing about me, and in no time I played in the biggest shows of those days – Yossi Banai, Gali Atari, theatre shows and more. I was a lucky guy!”

If the name Hass rings a bell, a few years back you may recall that at the age of 15, cellist Daniel Hass (son of Kobi) won the Marta Hidy prize among other prestigious awards; turns out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“It was a family decision to move to Canada and we are very happy here. It seems to me a lot is happening here musically, and I am happy to have met some people that I enjoy making music with. The city seems to be very vibrant and there is a lot of music happening. I played in a Toto Tribute Band and got to know some of the rock scene, and I played some jazz music, experiencing what the jazz scene is like.”

2006-Jazz_Stories_1-Robi_Botos.jpgRobi Botos: There’s another very exciting event happening this month, which I personally believe will be a historic night of music. On Thursday, March 26 at 9pm incomparable pianist Robi Botos will release his new recording, Movin’ Forward, at Jazz Bistro with musicians that one simply must hear to believe, and for which words can do little justice. Says Botos:

“Drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts is one of my heroes. I also play drums and I admire him greatly, so it’s extra special for me to have him on this record. Both him and bassist Robert Hurst played with Wynton and Branford Marsalis whose music I grew up on, and seriously Robert Hurst has everything you would ever want from a bass player. I used to listen to this band with Kenny Kirkland on piano, who’s one of my early main inspirations to play piano.”

Produced by the artist in collaboration with Scott Morin, the album marks the first time Robi Botos records with American musicians, with the addition of saxophonist Seamus Blake, born in London England, raised in Vancouver Canada and currently based in New York City.

“Seamus Blake is one of the most complete musicians out there in my opinion. He is perfect for my writing, which has many different influences.”

Consisting of ten original tunes and two standards, the album Movin’ Forward will be available for sale in stores and online on March 24. I must say that one of the perks of the writer’s job is hearing music before it is released, and quite honestly it is the most exciting jazz recording I have heard in a very long time.

“Some of the music you’ll hear on this album is more recent, fresh, and some of them I wrote a long time ago,” says Botos. The two standards I chose are Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and Close to You which is more of a pop tune rearranged in a groovy, funky way. I specifically chose the tunes for the group of musicians. I focused on what would feel good.”

Just how is this album different from his first effort, Place to Place?

“This album represents a lot of my musical sides. From Hungarian Romani (Gypsy) music to straight ahead jazz to funk. It’s also my first recording with American musicians as a leader. I really consider this as my debut album. Also, it is a childhood dream to collaborate with these amazing musicians. I’m very excited to share it and I hope people will like it!”

The event at Jazz Bistro is expected to sell out; reserve your seats as soon as you possibly can at 416-363-5299. Good luck!

2006-Jazz_Stories-Christine_Gaidies.jpgMonarch Fundraiser: On Sunday March 22 from 2 to 6pm a beautiful singer-songwriter, Christine Gaidies, will be raising funds for her new CD at the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street, sharing the stage with a lineup of friends rallying to her cause. I was going to say it’s a list too long to print. But what the heck: Sandi Marie, Diane Baker Mason, Nicole Coward, Andrew M. Smith, Dan McLean Jr, Michelle Lecce, Orit Shimoni, Chris Hess, Erin Ford, Maia Waern, Debbie Fleming, Linda Maruta, Henry Cifersons, Kevin Kennedy, Valerey Lavergne, Eunji Kim, Michelle Denis MacDougall, Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, Alan McKinlay, Niki Andre, Lesley Roylance, Harpin Norm Lucien and others to be announced!) Show some love to Christine Gaidies who could use your support at a particularly challenging time – her cancer has returned and any funding beyond completion of the CD will go towards her treatments – book your reservations through the Monarch for March 22 from 2 to 6pm and check out the GoFundMe campaign for other ways you can help.

Speaking of me! Finally, I hardly ever do this but I thought I’d let you, dear readers, know about two of my own gigs this month, especially since they are both the beginning of monthly residencies, the last weekend of every month.

Friday March 27 from 6 to 8pm I will be performing a Pay-What-You-Can dinner show with two of my favourite musicians at the 120 Diner located at 120 Church Street. The menu is very good and reasonably priced, the owners are kind to the musicians, and the acoustics are excellent – as a wise poet once wrote, “Who could ask for anything more?”

Saturday March 28 from 9:30 pm to 12:30 am I will be back at the intimate Poetry Jazz Café, a hidden gem neatly nestled in the heart of Kensington Market at 224 Augusta Avenue. Like a few other venues in town, this one does not take reservations, except for parties of ten and over, so arrive on time to get good seats. Each month I’m joined by the electric Patrick Hewan on keys, with rhythm section featuring two special guests announced mid-month on my website at oridagan.com.

Thank you for your support, genuinely. In an age when there is an abundance of entertainment available at the touch of a button, I think I speak for all jazz musicians and music venues when I say, “We hope to see you in the clubs!”

Check out Bob Ben’s Mostly Clubs, Mainly Jazz on page 49 for all the details.

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


W
e don’t often connect the city of Venice with world domination, given that today it’s associated in the popular imagination with being a well-known (and increasingly soggy) tourist destination and not much else. Journeying back in time through its music, we learn that Venice the political entity was one of the major players in Europe for nearly 700 years, from the early Middle Ages to the 18th century. The Most Serene Republic of Venice comprised not only the city itself, but the rest of Northeastern Italy, the islands of Crete and Cyprus, ports north of Athens and an archipelago of various Greek islands as well as ports in Albania and Croatia. Just as Rome was an empire based on one city, so too was Venice – but the latter remained  the envy of the other European powers long after the Romans had quit. Venice came to be one of the richest cities in the world over time, the envy of The Ottomans and the Papal States. For a power no one bothered to teach us about in school, the Venetians didn’t do too badly at the game of empire.

The rich history of the Venetians, fuelled as it was by a voracious appetite for wealth and power, was, unsurprisingly, also something of a golden age for culture, and Venice’s rulers and patricians funded a galaxy of talented musicians, composers, artists and architects throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Titian, Giovanni Canaletto, Francesco Guardi and the entire Bassano family remain influential artists from the period of Venice’s glory, artists who still hold significance in the art world today. Similarly, Venetian musicians were some of the greatest composers in Renaissance Europe: Diruta and Zarlino, Claudio Merulo, Cipriano de Rore, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, and the father of opera himself, Claudio Monteverdi are all Italian composers who spent most of their lives in the city of Venice.

For concert programmers, especially of early Baroque and vocal music, the city of Venice is a veritable gold mine gold mine, and the Cantemus Singers, a local choral group dedicated to Renaissance and Baroque music, have tapped this Venetian vein for their upcoming concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity on March 21 and 22, In a concert titled, appropriately enough, “The Glories of Venice” the 14-voice a cappella group will be delving into a fascinating chapter in the city’s musical history by performing selections from the madrigals and motets of Adrian Willaert, de Rore, the two Gabrielis and Monteverdi. They’ll also be featuring Giovanni Gabrieli’s glorious Easter motet for double choir Angelus Domini Descendit and Monteverdi’s remarkable Missa da cappella, a tour de force of sacred music writing from the early Baroque. They’ll be joined by new members Amy Dodington and Rachel Krehm as well as lutenist Ben Stein. As choir concerts go, this program seems remarkably focused in both its scope and style, so if you’re at all interested in Renaissance vocal music or Italian music, or just enjoy choral music in a lovely intimate venue, this is definitely the concert for you.

2006-Early_Music_1-Cantemus.jpgCapella Intima’s Dido: If you’re in the mood for a vocal concert that takes you further from Italy and closer to (say) England, Capella Intima has just the concert you’ve been looking for. They’re touring a version of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas based on its first ever public concert performance in 1780, almost a century after the work was first debuted at a girls’ school in 1688. Warming to the occasion, Intima has come up with “An Evening of Antient Music” – namely, what musicians and concertgoers of previous centuries, exhibiting both more than a little historical chauvinism and a fanaticism for new music, called a performance of any piece that was more than a half-century old. Capella Intima is touring their Dido around Southern Ontario, including performances in Hamilton and St. Catharines, and will be taking the show to Toronto for a special evening of music making. They will be joined by Sheila Dietrich, soprano; Jenny Enns Modolo, alto; Bud Roach, tenor; and David Roth, baritone, for the Purcell as well as some rounds, a few catches (like a round, but with dirtier lyrics), and airs. You can catch this at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, on March 6 at 7:30 pm.

Out of the Ordinary: If you’re a fan of English poetry as well as English song, check out the Musicians in Ordinary’s concert devoted to the poetry of John Donne. Donne’s intricate poems include some of the most sensual and the most spiritual in English literature. To assist in evoking the poet’s craft, the Musicians in Ordinary have invited Seth Lerer, a scholar of Renaissance literature from theUniversity of California at San Diego, to read some of his work as part of the concert.

2006-Early_Music-Lerer_and_Donne.jpgDonne’s contemporary, the Renaissance composer Thomas Campion, was also a Donne fan and expressed his appreciation by setting a few of Donne’s poems to music. Soprano Hallie Fishel will be singing these with some accompaniment from John Edwards on lute at Heliconian Hall on March 7 at 8pm. This concert will be a musical tribute to a seminal figure in English literature. But be prepared! While much of Donne’s writing is full of light and grace, his  Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, which is on the program, is bleakness personified.

According to St. John: Tafelmusik is helping to escort us through Lent this month with an appropriately pious concert. Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion’s reputation as the composer’s magnum opus seems completely unshakeable save for his underappreciated Passion According to St. John, and it’s the latter that the orchestra will be bringing to Trinity-St Paul’s Centre on March 19 to 22. From the opening chorus, “Herr, unser Herrscher” to the closing chorale “Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein,” the St. John Passion is some of the finest vocal music of the 18th century. Ivars Taurins will conduct the Tafelmusik orchestra and chorus; soloists Julia Doyle, Daniel Taylor, Charles Daniels and Peter Harvey will be on hand to deliver some spectacular arias. Whether or not you’ve ever heard a performance of the St. John Passion or any other of Bach’s vocal music, this concert is definitely a must-see.

Finally, the hardworking Musicians in Ordinary will be performing a second time this month – this time as part of their series as the ensemble-in-residence at St. Michael’s College. They will be playing St. Basil’s Church on March 16 at 7:30 pm, as part of a free tribute to that most famous of saints (and alleged inventor of whiskey) St. Patrick. The concert repertoire itself isn’t particularly Irish, but instead features some large-scale works by some 17th-century Italians: Monteverdi, Fontana, Marini and the like. With the Saint Michael’s Schola Cantorum choir joining the group along with harpsichordist Boris Medicky and violinists Christopher Verrette and Patricia Ahearn, this looks to be a concert well worth checking out – as well as being a chance to hear some of the top players in the city free of charge.

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

2006-Choral-Exultate_Chamber_Singers.jpgGoing back to graduate school this year has made me terrified of making declarative statements about music, choirs or pretty much everything else. What I had previously assumed to be safe, boring statements of fact have turned, each and every one,  into points of heated argument.

For instance, previously I would have in all innocence said things like “next week I am going to hear Mozart’s Mass in C Major.” Now, no sooner are the words out of my mouth than I feel compelled to explain   (before someone points it out) that I am actually attending a concert, not a church mass like the one at which Mozart’s music would have first been heard; and that I realize that the C Major chords being sounded will not bear any resemblance to the timbre and tuning of those imagined by Mozart; and that I am aware that the sweeping assumptions about the nature of Time implied by my use of the words “next” and “week” are presumptuous and not provable.

I’m not kidding! Individual words are the subject not just of discussions and articles, but of entire books. Heavily contested terms to both ponder and avoid: “music,” “metre,” “sound,” “sonata,” “Haydn,” “Beyoncé,” etc.

Masses: I mention all this because of the nature of March and April choral concerts, many of which feature musical settings of the Mass, and other sacred texts, to coincide with the Christian holiday of Good Friday and the six-week season of Lent. The last time I was at a traditional church mass was almost 20 years ago at a friend’s wedding. But I have sung in and attended performances of many masses of all types and styles since that time, and that is probably not an uncommon experience, especially for people involved in choral music.

When we hear a concert version of a mass, what is our relationship to the music? Is it a religious experience, an aesthetic one or some kind of combination of the two? How – and why – did Mozart and Haydn become part of a pantheon of classical music demigods, rather than the down-to-earth musical civil servants of the European courts they actually were? (Short answer: it’s kind of Beethoven’s fault, but let’s not get into that now.)

Speaking of Mozart, Haydn and masses, on March 15 Hart House Singers perform Haydn’s Paukenmesse (Mass in Time of War), a crowd-pleaser since its premiere in 1796. And on March 20 and 28 the excellent Exultate Chamber Singers perform “O Be Joyful,” a concert that includes one of my favourite Mozart pieces, his Vesperae Solennes de Confessore K339 (Solemn Vespers), as well as settings of Psalm 100 by Palestrina, di Lasso, Schütz and Mendelssohn. On March 7 Orpheus Choir performs “The Soul’s Journey,” featuring English composer John Rutter’s appealing Requiem setting. The concert also includes a rare opportunity to hear James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross. MacMillan is a Scottish composer who has been recorded and performed extensively in the U.K., and it’s great that the OC is making his work available to be heard live. On March 28 Orillia’s Cellar Singers perform “Light Perpetual,” a concert that features Canadian Eleanor Daley’s setting of the Requiem mass as well as Fauré’s celebrated version.

Passions: Passion settings, which describe the events of the Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, also take place this time of year. These are usually settings of the Christian Gospel texts. As with Mass settings, Passions have moved to a concert experience from their original church role.

On March 10 and 11 Toronto Mendelssohn Choir performs Arvo Pärt’s Passio, a setting that at least one critic found too reflective for the savagery and drama of the Passion story. I disagree. Pärt’s version is haunting, and a large group like the TMC can convey the work’s scope and grandeur. Audiences from all over the world have responded enthusiastically to Pärt’s modern take on classical tonal structures. For those who would like to explore his work further, on March 7 and 8 Kitchener’s DaCapo Chamber Choir perform his setting of the Magnificat text in a concert titled “O Earth, Return.”

Bach’s St. John Passionis the textbook example of this genre, and Tafelmusik’s interpretation of this work, performed every few years under the direction of Ivars Taurins, has become something of an institution in the city. Performances this year take place between March 19 to 22. As well as the virtuoso choir and orchestra, the performances offer a chance to hear the acclaimed English tenor Charles Daniels in the role of the Evangelist.

On April  3 The Georgetown Bach Chorale will be performing the same work in their home town. This month there is also an opportunity to hear another noted Bach tenor, Rufus Müller, in Kitchener-Waterloo, in the Grand Philharmonic Chamber Singers’ performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This companion piece to the St. John is performed more rarely, in part because of its larger scope and instrumentation needs, but many consider it Bach’s greatest choral work.

Personal: I try not to use this column to mention any concert in which I’m taking part, but I have to make an exception for the Metropolitan Festival Choir’s “The Grace of Mourning: Music for Good Friday” on April 3. Along with the crowd-pleasing Fauré Requiem and German Romantic composer Josef Rheinberger’s Stabat Mater, the MFC is performing a rare work that merits the interest of choral aficionados, Hugo Distler’s haunting Totentanz (Dance of Death). Distler was a German composer of great courage and principle, who actually committed suicide rather than be drafted into the German army during WWII. His musical language borrows from the Lutheran motet tradition that extends from Bach back to composers like Schütz, Schein and Eccard. Borrowing rhythmic and modal elements from this 16th- and 17th-century repertoire, Distler’s music offsets the harsh austerity of the text with great empathy and compassion.

Quickly: Two younger choirs deserve your attention and support in upcoming concerts. On March 15 That Choir performs “That Choir: Unplugged,” with choral versions of music by Pentatonix, Mumford & Sons and Imogen Heap, among others. And on March 28 the Univox Choir performs “Kühl/Caliente,” a concert in support of Doctors without Borders.

The Vienna Boys Choir is a venerable choral institution well-established for crowd-pleasing concerts and enjoyable repertoire. They are performing in Midland on March 24, Guelph and Brampton March 25,  Burlington March 26, Kingston March 27 and St. Catharines March 28.

And finally, a special note: this month the Elora Festival Singers will be travelling to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall. They will be performing a sneak preview of their program on March 8 in Elora.

Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and lutenist. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.

2006-On_Opera_1-Leslie_Ann_Bradley.jpgOn March 29, Voicebox: Opera in Concert will give Torontonians a chance to hear Louise (1900), the most famous opera by Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956). A staple of opera houses around the world for about 50 years, it is an example of the French version of verismo that we encounter more often in Jules Massenet’s Manon (1884) and Werther (1892). The opera, with a libretto by the composer, is a portrait of working-class life in Paris with its focus on the title character, a seamstress in love with her neighbour Julien, a young artist. Charpentier portrays Louise’s life with her family as stifling and her father’s possessiveness as bordering on pathological. When Louise’s parents oppose her marriage to Julien, she runs away with him, and Charpentier also makes clear that Julien may offer Louise love but no material comforts. When Louise’s father becomes unwell, her mother blackmails her into returning home. Once he regains his health, her father’s old opposition to Julien revives and Louise flees again, never to return.

The opera was revolutionary for its time in portraying with equal pessimism the grimness of family life and the naiveté of Bohemian life. The opera’s most famous aria, “Depuis le jour,” is now best known through recitals rather than performances. Two issues have blocked the opera’s continued success. First, it is similar to Puccini’s La Bohème (1895), even though Louise is a healthy Mimi and has parents. Second, the opera features 35 named roles versus only 10 in La Bohème. The opera has had important revivals in London (1981) and in Paris (2008) but the work is still seldom seen. In fact, the only other scheduled performance of Louise this year is in July at the Buxton Festival in England, where it will also be performed in concert, albeit with orchestra instead of piano.

Louise is therefore a rarity and Voicebox is providing it with a starry cast. Soprano Leslie Ann Bradley sings the title role, mezzo Michèle Bodganowicz is the Mother and baritone Dion Mazerolle is the Father. At press time, the tenor playing Julien was still to be announced, so stay tuned!  Peter Tiefenbach is conductor and pianist and Guillermo Silva-Marin the artistic advisor. The work will be performed in French with English surtitles.  

2006-On_Opera_2-Joel_Ivany.jpgFully staged: For a fully staged student production with full orchestra, one need look no further than Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène (1864) at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School of Opera. Performances are on March 18 and 20 at Koerner Hall with Uri Mayer conducting. Of particular interest to those who have been following the alternative opera scene in Toronto will be the fact that Joel Ivany, artistic director of Against the Grain Theatre, will be directing. Ivany and Against theGrain have gained a following for their inventive stagings of opera in unconventional locations – La Bohème in a pub, for example, or Pelléas et Mélisande outdoors in a courtyard.

In La Belle Hélène, Offenbach’s satiric portrait of ancient Greece and Helen of Troy, we should expect more of Ivany’s inventiveness. Via email he told me that the production would take the operetta’s setting, time of composition and period of performance into account: “What we’re attempting to do is to bring our 21st-century sensibilities to this classical operetta (which was originally called an opera buffa) by mixing elements of today into the traditional context of the piece. What people will see is a show set in antiquity, written in the 19th century, with a 21st-century dialogue (written by Michael Albano) and staging.”

When asked what he hopes the student performers will learn from his direction, Ivany says: “I hope that these students will take away a greater sense of speaking text. Half of the operetta is spoken dialogue. For opera singers  this is great training, as often you don’t get the opportunity to act spoken text. I also hope that students will be able to take away a sense of developing a character and having that influence choice, intention and interaction. Through this project I also hope that the students will take away a sense of their body through movement; how the body interacts with singing on stage and how they aren’t separate but in fact, work together. They’re fortunate to work with choreographer and dancer Jennifer Nichols who is taking them through dance warm-ups and is choreographing set numbers for these singers to dance in.”

2006-On_Opera_3-Nicole_Lizee.jpgTapestry’s Tables Turned: For something completely different, Tapestry Opera is presenting Tap:Ex Tables Turned on March 20 and 21. Tap:Ex (Tapestry Explorations) is Tapestry Opera’s annual experimental production that looks to define the future of opera. This year’s installment, Tables Turned, is a boundary-breaking multimedia concert where opera meets a DJ and turntables. Soprano Carla Huhtanen, well known from her performances with Tapestry and with Opera Atelier, joins with pioneering composer Nicole Lizée in reconfigured iconic moments from film and opera.

Remixed clips from Alfred Hitchcock films, The Sound of Music and video recordings of Maria Callas will be projected alongside the performers, whose turntables and vocals compete and fuse in a live duet. According to Tapestry, “Tap:Ex, now in its second year, is committed to evolution through innovation, exploring modes where the traditional genre of opera can assume a living, current form.”

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

2006-Art_of_Song-Michelle_Bogdanowitcz.jpgOn March 8 the concert presented by Recitals at Rosedale at Rosedale Presbyterian Church will include a world premiere, the song cycle Ya Ya [Tagalog for caregiver], by Elizabeth Raum. The cycle was written in honour of Geraldine Vida-Soverano, the Filipino nanny who looked after the children of Raum’s daughters; first Jessica’s two children, then the four children (three of whom were triplets) of Raum’s younger daughter Erika, the noted violinist.

This is what Raum herself has written about the songs: “Ya Ya is a testament to the strong sense of duty that the nanny feels is her calling. She is more than a caregiver; she is a second mother who loves her charges as if they were her own. At the same time, she is not their mother and is in a foreign country and, although it has become her home, at times a sadness leaks into her consciousness. The words, ‘I come from another place...’ are optimistic at first, but the second time they appear in a minor key and, although the melody is the same, the sense has changed. As well, she is wistful when she utters, ‘I wish...’ But the cycle ends optimistically with the nanny content and proud of her profession.”

The songs will be sung by the mezzo Michèle Bogdanowicz, who will also perform a song cycle by Norbert Palej, written for her and due to be recorded by the Canadian Art Song Project. The soprano Gillian Keith will perform early songs by Debussy and the tenor Charles Sy will sing songs by Strauss, Schubert and Schumann. The program will conclude with duets by Viardot, Gounod and Rossini. Sy is much in demand. He recently won first prize in the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble competition and can also be heard, along with the soprano Carla Huhtanen and the mezzo Emilia Boteva, in the Off Centre Music Salon concert at the Glenn Gould Studio on March 1. Later in the month Bogdanowicz will also sing in the concert performance of Charpentier’s Louise at the St. Lawrence Centre March 29. Next season Recitals at Rosedale will be moving to Mazzoleni Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music. The dates are already set: November 1; March 6, 2016; May 1, 2016.  I wonder whether that will mean a change of name for the series. After all, the Conservatory is not in Rosedale.

Elliot Madore: The programs presented by Music Toronto tend to concentrate on chamber music or piano, but every year there is one recital by a singer. In the recent past we have heard Erin Wall and Phillip Addis. This year the singer is the baritone Elliot Madore. He will perform Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Mahler, Banalités by Poulenc as well as songs by Ives, at the St. Lawrence Centre on March 26 . Not that long ago Madore was known, if at all, as a hockey-loving kid from Etobicoke who once sang O Canada at a Leafs game. That changed when he won the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition. Most of his performances have taken place in Europe. He has just finished a series of performances of Harlekin in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos in Zurich and will soon return to Europe to sing Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, first for the Croatian National Opera, then for the Bayerische Staatsoper.

At the Bradshaw: There are three vocal concerts in March in the Canadian Opera Company free recital series in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium in the Four Seasons Centre: “Opera Interactive” by artists of the COC Ensemble Studio March 19; a performance of Janacek’s The Diary of One Who Disappearedsung by Owen McCausland, tenor, and Charlotte Burrage, mezzo, March 25; and a preview of Errol Gay’s opera Alice in Operaland, performed by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company on April 1.

Hannigan: The soprano Barbara Hannigan gave a recital in the Richard Bradshaw Audtiorium on February 24; she also sang, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in George Benjamin’s A Mind of Winter on February 28. There will be two more opportunities to hear her. On March 4 she will sing, with the TSO, let me tell you by Hans Abrahamsen, a work which sets the words of Ophelia as spoken in Shakespeare’s Hamlet; on March 7 she will sing (again with the TSO) in a concert performance of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin, along with Krisztina Szabó, mezzo, Iestyn Davies, countertenor, Isaiah Bell, tenor, and Christopher Purves, baritone (both in Roy Thomson Hall).

Other Events: Another TSO concert that is worth mentioning is that to be given on March 11 (repeated on March 12 and 14) when the distinguished soprano Adrianne Pieczonka sings the FourLastSongs by Strauss and the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The concert is conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and will also include my favourite Beethoven symphony, the Seventh in A.

Tapestry Opera presents the soprano Carla Huhtanen, who is especially known for her performances of contemporary music, and the Montreal composer, turntable artist and electronics specialist Nicole Lizée in a multimedia concert at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District March 20 and 21.

There is some speculation that the composer John Dowland was actually Irish and that his name is a variant on Dolan. That is the starting point for Dowland in Dublin, a concert at Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre March 27 and 28, in which tenor Michael Slattery and Ensemble La Nef will give us an Irish version of Dowland’s songs

Other Events: Capella Intima and the Gallery Players of Niagara present “An Evening of Antient Music” at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on March 6. The program includes music from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as well as a selection of rounds, catches and airs. The singers are Sheila Dietrich, soprano, Jenny Enns Modolo. alto, Bud Roach. tenor, and David Roth, baritone.

“Fairest Isle,” a concert at Rosedale United Church on March 8 of English music, includes works by Dowland, Purcell, Handel, Vaughan Williams and Britten. The singers are Deborah Overes, contralto, and Robert Missen, tenor

The Talisker Players present “On a Darkling Plain” at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, March 10 and 11 The program will include Dover Beach by Barber, the Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok by Shostakovich and the Akhmatova Poems by Tavener. The singers are Ilana Zarankin, soprano, and Joel Allison, baritone.

Tafelmusik presents Bach’s St. John’s Passion at Trinity-St. Paul’sCentre March 19 to 22. Soloists are Julia Doyle, soprano, DanielTaylor, countertenor, CharlesDaniels, tenor, andPeterHarvey, baritone.

Maureen Batt, soprano, performs in a recital of new music from New Mexico to Nova Scotia at Heliconian Hall March 27.

A free concert at the Canadian Music Centre at 2pm March 28 will include the Visions infernales d’après des poèmes de Max Jacob by Henri Sauguet, to be sung by the baritone Grant Allert.

Danie Friesen, soprano, will sing Schumann’s opus 39 Liederkreis and Fiançailles pour rire by Poulenc at the Gallery 345 March 29.

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

On more than one occasion in the past I have opened this column by grumbling about the weather. Unfortunately, Old Man Winter has interfered with plans once again. His relentless dumping of snow has kept me from attending a very special concert. I had planned to travel to Waterloo for the Wellington Winds concert February 22. However, mountains of snow and poor driving conditions forced us to cancel the 310-km round trip. The Wellington Winds were performing the Canadian premiere of Dutch composer Johan de Meij’s euphonium concerto with Canadian soloist Robert Miller. In part, this performance was in memory of former euphonium soloist Harvey Gleiser who played with the Winds for about 20 years. Gleiser met de Meij some years ago when de Meij first conducted the Wellington Winds.

De Meij studied trombone and conducting at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, since then earning international fame as a composer and arranger. His work includes original compositions, symphonic transcriptions and arrangements of film scores and musicals. His Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings,” based on Tolkien’s bestselling novels of the same name, was his first composition for wind orchestra. Some years ago he received the Dutch Wind Music Award for his role in the worldwide advancement of wind band music. Besides composing and arranging, de Meij is active as a performer, conductor, adjudicator and lecturer. As a trombone and euphonium player he has performed with many major orchestras and bands in many parts of the world. In 2010, he was appointed regular guest conductor of the Simón Bolívar Youth Wind Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela. In 2014, de Meij became principal guest conductor of both The New York Wind Symphony and The Kyushu Wind Orchestra in Fukuoka, Japan.

For those band members, especially euphonium players, who are not familiar with de Meij’s work, there is no better time than now to acquaint yourself and your band with his music. I have played a few of his works; they are challenging but very satisfying.

2006-Bandstand_1-Resa_Kochberg.jpgResa’s Pieces: When talking about Resa’s Pieces the question is where to start. Since Resa’s Pieces Concert Band was the first unit of what has grown over the years into a number of ensembles, that’s as good a place as any. Resa Kochberg continues as music director of this ensemble which she started some 16 years ago. The band welcomes  new members on an ongoing basis, and has a current membership of 56.

Some years after the concert band was formed and doing well, Kochberg decided to branch out and start a group where beginning string players could find a place to develop their skills. Thus Resa’s Pieces Strings was born. Now this group is thriving under its new conductor, Ian Medley. As a full-time professional string specialist with degrees in both education and musical performance, Medley brings new strength and experience to the group.

Once the string group was on its way, Kochberg decided that she just couldn’t discriminate against singers. Ergo, Resa’s Pieces Singers was hatched. Under the baton of Robert Graham, pianist, accompanist, vocalist and repertoire coach, the choir has grown to over 65 members.

In case you might be wondering, yes, there is now going to be a Resa’s Pieces Symphony Orchestra. For their inaugural concert, wind players from the band will join the string orchestra to perform a few orchestral selections. As music director of Resa’s Pieces, Kochberg guides all ensembles in all music-related details and sticks by her foundational mantra of: “Just do your best and have fun”!

So what’s next for Resa’s Pieces? Might it be a banjo band or a ukelele ensemble? I doubt if it will be a pipe band, but I wouldn’t bet on it. All of Resa’s Pieces groups will be performing their concerts in June. Watch for their listings in your favourite music magazine.

2006-Bandstand_2-An_Ophicleide.jpgPlumbing Factory Brass Band: From time to time, in this column, I have referred to Henry Meredith and his Plumbing Factory Brass Band. How did this band come by this name? Well it turns out that Dr. Hank (as he’s affectionately known) is a collector of brass instruments. I stress the term collector and not the derogatory word hoarder. Over the years Dr. Hank has amassed somewhere around 6,500 instruments. “Plumbing Factory” is the term that was originally bestowed upon his home because of the ubiquitous brass instruments that live alongside Meredith, his wife, Victoria Meredith, associate dean at Western’s Faculty of Music, and their dog Nema. This amazing collection of brass instruments inspired Meredith to establish the Plumbing Factory Brass Band in September 1995.

With the collection growing, Meredith recently has focused more on quality than quantity. An example is his 1830s ophicleide, a conical brass instrument in the bass register with woodwind-like  keys. Probably his oldest and most valuable instrument is a valveless hunting horn in D that was made for King George I by John Harris in 1717. On July 17, 1717, Handel’s Water Music accompanied the king’s excursion on the Thames, and, as horns in both D and F are called for in the score, this instrument is likely one that was played during the premiere performance of Handel’s famous composition. The band’s next concert, bearing the clever title “Tsar Trek” (Meredith is good with titles!) takes place April 15 at Byron United Church. It’s the continuation of their November performance of the “Rousing Russian Repertoire Voyage,” a performance  I had also hoped to attend, but once again the weatherman had different ideas for me. For the April concert we can look forward to the music of Kabalevsky, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and more.

A real pressing goal, is the need to establish a museum for this amazing collection of instruments and related paraphernalia. Once the weather improves, and a trip to London becomes reasonable, I hope to visit with Dr. Hank and come back with enough information on this treasure for a future feature article in The WholeNote.

Toronto Concert Band: In last month’s issue I mentioned that I hoped to attend the inaugural concert of the Toronto Concert Band. Usually when I attend the first concert of a newly formed band, I am fully prepared to overlook the usual varied problems of a fledgling group which has not yet developed the cohesion of a group which has been together for a few years. There was no need for such at this concert. A well-polished performance by a tightly knit ensemble delighted a full house at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio. Congratulations. Here’s to many more concerts.

Long and McQuade: With the resounding success of their many New Horizons bands, Long and McQuade have recently announced the establishment of the new Ontario Pops Orchestra for those who would like to learn a string instrument and play in a group. This is yet another example of the growing trend for adult community musical ensembles at the novice level. Perhaps people have been reading about the benefits of musical participation in later life. An article on this subject from the Washington Post and another in a recent issue of the journal of the Retired Teachers of Ontario indicate that more and more studies are proving that such benefits are significant.

Recently, I learned of World Fiddle Day which will be coming up soon. There are preparatory practices now underway in Toronto leading up to the big day. Toronto participants will all be together playing at historic Old Fort York in a few weeks time. Now how about world trombone day or world euphonium day? Let’s campaign for that.

Uxbridge Community Concert Band: The Uxbridge Community Concert Band is a summertime-only band which was formed years ago to provide a group for students during the summer months. Initially the band was made up mainly of students, but over the years has evolved to include a wide range of members from high school and university students to all ages and occupations. This year, their 24th season, they will begin rehearsals on May 20 under the direction of conductor Steffan Brunette. For information email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Definition Department: This month’s lesser known musical term is pastorale: The beverage to drink in the country when listening to Beethoven with a member of the clergy. 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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

2005_-_Beat_-_New_-_George_Benjamin.pngEven though the temperatures are still fairly frosty this month, adventuring outside to take in some of the hot new creations and sonic explosions will be sure to warm you right up. It’s that time of year again when the Toronto Symphony offers up its annual festival of New Creations, which regularly features the works of a specific composer. This year, that composer is George Benjamin from Britain, who will also be conducting in the three festival concerts on February 28, March 3 and March 7. This year’s festival is also highlighting soprano Barbara Hannigan, widely acclaimed for her impeccable performance of contemporary music. For the full scope of Hannigan’s musicality and her contribution to the festival, check out the cover story.

Back in his teens, Benjamin was fortunate to have been one of Olivier Messiaen’s last pupils, and by the time he was 20, he was seen as one of the brightest stars in British contemporary music. His compositions are full of sensuous colours that breathe an air of newness, all the while containing the fluency of earlier musical languages. And despite the resulting fluidity, when asked how he begins creating a new piece, his answer is a surprising “with confusion. The clarity of sound and form I desire can take many months to attain.” Festivalgoers will have an opportunity to hear this for themselves in his two works: Duet for Piano and Orchestra (2008) and A Mind of Winter (1981) one of his earlier works. His compositions enjoy a popular following in Britain and in Europe, yet nothing prepared audiences for the emotionally raw intensity of his opera Written on Skin, which premiered in France at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012. Seen as a watershed work for not only Benjamin but also for British opera as a whole, this work combines cannibalism, suicide, sex and murder. In the festival we will hear the opera-in-concert version with some of the original cast, including Hannigan who performs the role of Agnès.

This year’s festivalgoers also have an opportunity to hear works by two composers not so well known in Toronto – Dai Fujikura from the U.K. and Hans Abrahamsen from Denmark. Fujikura, originally from Osaka, Japan and a former student of Benjamin’s in the UK, brings his passion for the Venezuelan El Sistema music education project into his composition Tocar y Luchar (2011).  Receiving its Canadian première at the festival, the title means “to play and to fight.” This practice is part of the El Sistema program that provides opportunities for children to perform and compose music as a way of helping them cope with difficult living situations. Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you, an orchestral song cycle composed in 2013, is a project initiated by soprano Barbara Hannigan and uses the text of a novel by the same name by Paul Griffiths. The orchestral music breathes an air of mystique with its glistening textures, while the voice soars into the upper limits of the soprano range.

The Toronto Symphony will also be performing the world premieres of two festival commissions by Canadian composers Chris Paul Harman and Vivian Fung. Harman’s piece Lieder und Arien (performed March 3), draws on music published in the appendix of Bach’s 371 harmonized chorales. The resulting composition is a series of musical episodes created by moulding and shaping the original sources into a new being that may or may not be recognizable. Vivian Fung’s work, Of Snow and Ice, to be performed on the February 28 “A Mind of Winter” concert, is a violin concerto written for the TSO’s concertmaster Jonathan Crow. Fung’s piece is one continuous movement in five sections and is inspired by recent nostalgic thoughts of her childhood growing up with the harsh but beautiful winters of Alberta.

Whispering and Raging: Given our increasingly moment-by-moment dependency on the internet, I’m sure most readers can relate to the notion that there are some things we’re comfortable revealing about ourselves online, and yet in person, we would never expose those same things. This contemporary reality is what forms the backbone of New York composer David Lang’s the whisper opera being presented by Soundstreams from February 26 to March 1. With a libretto assembled from search-engine responses to intimate key words and phrases, the performance is structured in such a way that only an audience of 52 people can experience it live. Lang’s intent is to highlight the contradiction between our collective outrage over government surveillance as exposed by people like Edward Snowden, and our acceptance of how advertisers have free access to our personal online activity. The work calls for intense listening skills on the part of the audience, as the singer and musicians are playing and speaking so softly that you can only fully perceive the sounds as each performer passes you by. What one person hears will be quite different from what another experiences sitting elsewhere in the room.

The opera is performed by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), a New York-based modular-like ensemble with up to 35 participating musicians. The ensemble not only performs works, but is also dedicated to presenting concerts that help promote a greater awareness and understanding of innovative musical practices. During their stay in Toronto, they will be performing a concert of pieces on February 28 selected to showcase the extensive range and depth of contemporary music written from the 1960s to the present day. The concert will include pieces by Pauline Oliveros, Michael Finnissy and Mark Applebaum.

In stark contrast to the quiet and intimate setting of the whisper opera, the Thin Edge New Music Collective from Toronto and Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal are joining forces on February 19 to present an evening full of sound and driving rhythms. It’s a rare opportunity to hear music from two of the giants of minimalism: Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet alongside Louis Andriessen’s politically charged Workers Union. Presented at the Music Gallery, the evening is titled “Raging Against the Machine” and is an expression of the challenges artists are currently facing in Canada. The evening will also include premieres of works by Brian Harman, Anna Höstman, and Patrick Giguère. And to make sure the message is heard across the country, the two ensembles will be presenting this concert in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria.

The intensity will continue on March 6 when the TorQ percussion ensemble takes its turn at the Music Gallery space. It seems that the energy created by pairing Reich and Andriessen is in the air in early 2015. In this concert it will be Reich’s Sextet as well as a sextet version of Andriessen’s Workers Union that will be performed by the four members of TorQ and pianists Greg Oh and Wesley Shen. A new work by TorQ’s own Jamie Drake will complete the program.

China and Canada: In the previous issue of WholeNote, I wrote about the upcoming new music festival presented by U of T’s Faculty of Music which pairs music by composers from China and Canada. As a reminder, this series of concerts and lectures runs throughout the first week of February, with the final program on February 8. But another opportunity to hear and compare music from these two distinct countries occurs on February 14. The New Music Concerts program titled “New Works from East and West” presents a unique evening of five world premieres, all commissioned by NMC from both Chinese and Canadian composers. Canadians Adam Scime, Laurie Radford, and Norbert Palej (who is also the main organizer of the U of T festival) have each written pieces for soprano Stacie Dunlop, a passionate performer and commissioner of contemporary music. Dunlop will be joined by members of the NMC Ensemble and in Scime’s piece, by violinist Véronique Mathieu. The Chinese composers Fuhong Shi and Yan Qiao Wang have written their pieces for virtuoso pipa player Lan Weiwei from Beijing. The pipa is a plucked string instrument on which Lan performs both traditional Chinese and contemporary orchestral and chamber music.

To wrap up this month, I want to add a quick heads up for two concerts just on the edge of the listings period for this issue. On February 7, Spectrum Music presents “Starry Night,” a concert dedicated to exploring the mysteries of the cosmos through music, projections and immersive staging. And on March 8, Continuum Contemporary Music continues to celebrate their 30th anniversary season with British radicals Richard Ayres and Joe Cutler, 22-year-old Turkish wunderkind Mithatcan Öcal and works by Anna Höstman and Jason Doell.

Additional Listings:

Canadian Music Centre: Feb 13 “Prelude to Brocade” and Feb 15 “Brocade.” Works by Ceccarelli (Montreal) and L.S. Smith performed by the rocKeys duo on piano and harpsichord.

Canadian Opera Company: Feb 24 Vocal Series includes a performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartet No.2 with soprano Barbara Hannigan.

Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra: Feb 21 “A Canadian Panorama for Winds” features compositions by Cable, Eddington and Royer, and premieres by Meyer and Rapoport.

DaCapo Chamber Choir, Kitchener: Mar 7 “O Earth, Return” features the 2014 New Works-winning composition, Mathew Emery’s Night on a Starry Hill and works by Jonathan Dove and Arvo Pärt.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">

“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” – Charlie Parker

Jim Galloway’s way with a phrase – be it on the bandstand or on the page – was inspiring beyond words. This column is dedicated to the memory of a great artist and a true jazz ambassador whose loss is felt around the world. I’ll have more to say about him later in the column.

2005_-_Beat_-_Jazz_-_We_are_one.pngFirst though, I want to speak of the power music has to unite us all, as manifested in a very special event that takes place on Wednesday February 11 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. That evening, the We Are One Jazz Project will present its sixth annual gala concert, featuring legendary jazz pianist and educator Barry Harris, multi-instrumentalist and Order of Canada member Don Thompson, a big band, a string section, an adult jazz chorus, and at the heart of it all, a children’s choir comprised of 275 members from eight north Etobicoke schools.

This incredibly ambitious undertaking is the result of many days and nights of hard work by countless individuals, most notably Howard Rees, the founder and president of We Are One Jazz Project, and 85-years-young bebop pianist and jazz education pioneer, Barry Harris. The seed of their fruitful collaboration dates back to 1978, when Rees moved to New York City to study with Harris for a period of six years.

“Upon returning to Toronto, it became very important to me to both spread the wisdom that Barry shares so freely with his students and to do my part in documenting his methodologies – which to that point had been an oral tradition,” says Rees. “Over the past 30 years this has resulted in the creation of Howard Rees’ Jazz Workshops, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year; the Barry Harris Workshop Videos, three instructional book/dvd sets featuring Barry and dubbed the ‘bebop bible’ by Tommy Flanagan; an online school featuring over 200 video lessons on Barry’s methodology; harmony articles for Keyboard Magazine; clinics at colleges in 10 or 12 countries, and the We Are One Jazz Voices, a choir that performs Barry’s original compositions and his arrangements of standards.”

In addition to bringing jazz to a wider audience and education to the general public about the jazz tradition, around 2008 Rees and Harris pondered the possibility of using jazz as a force for social change. The result was the founding of the We Are One Jazz Project as a Canadian charitable organization.

“Our purpose is to harness the beauty and power of jazz to inspire and empower young students who don’t have access to high-level music programs at their schools. We accomplish this goal through an intensive four-month program that brings together the students with master musicians in an enriched learning and performance environment. We work with several hundred students in grades 3 to 6 each year. Since 2008 we have brought the Project to 2,000 students in more than 50 schools in six priority neighbourhoods of Toronto. There are many wonderful stories, such as the student who stopped stuttering after being in the program. Another where a student sang a solo at a 300-member choir rehearsal after being mute (unbeknownst to us at the time) since the beginning of the school term. When we began in 2008, the city had identified 13 areas as ‘priority’ neighborhoods. As of this year that number has been revised to 31. So, as for future plans, we look forward to bringing this award-winning and life-changing program to many more students for years to come.”

The music performed at the concert is written and arranged by Barry Harris, and the program’s success relies greatly upon its teachers, including vocal coach Rita di Ghent who has the following to say:

“Being the jazz vocal coach for the WAOJP is endlessly fascinating and rewarding. I’ve always taught university students so for me, teaching jazz to youngsters has added this whole lovely dimension to my teaching career. Barry Harris’ tunes are stunningly beautiful and complex, but our grades 3 to 6 can sing anything you throw at them – not because they’re musically trained, but because they’re little sponges. They don’t know that jazz music is hard! The process of watching the singers unfold over the course of five months really is magical. We get to see children of all backgrounds and psychologies become hooked by the music and the spirit of working together. It changes their lives. And so it changes mine.“

A new addition to the staff this year is children’s choral conductor Sophia Perlman, responsible for rehearsing the choir and making sure that We Are One sings as one.

“Because I grew up with so much choral background in my own early musical life it has been really nice to see it reinforced,” says Perlman. “For me personally it’s interesting to see the way that choral training can reinforce jazz – I don’t think it’s a connection that necessarily gets made all of the time. For example, as an improviser, if you have to follow harmony, you’re going to have an easier time if you’ve had to be responsible for singing the inner parts of a harmony in a choir such as this one.”

Perlman also emphasizes the profundity of having Barry Harris work directly with the children.

“Kids in schools are not taught to necessarily connect composers with living people – generally if you ask kids who are some composers, they will name mostly dead composers. And so for these kids to learn these songs for weeks and weeks and then to sit there and learn the songs from the person who wrote them, and the fact that he will be playing the songs with them on the eleventh, it connects them to the music and the fact that music is made by people, and I think that’s really important.”

NOW BACK TO GALLOWAY ……………………………………………………

2005_-_Beat_-_Jazz_-_Martin_Loomer_and_the_Orange_Devils.pngIt’s fitting to focus on guitarist, arranger and bandleader Martin Loomer, whose 14-piece outfit, the Orange Devils, would likely not exist were it not for the encouragement of one wee yet powerful jazzman:

“I met Jim Galloway in the late 1970s,” remembers Loomer. “His cornetist with the Metro Stompers, Ken Dean, was the father of saxophonist Alex Dean, who was in the band I was in at the time, Shox Johnson and his Jive Bombers. Jim wanted to organize a band like the National Jazz Repertory Orchestra that Chuck Israels was leading in the U.S. Ted O’Reilly booked the proposed band for a CJRT Science Centre concert, forcing us both to get moving. I wrote arrangements by transcribing numbers from tapes Jim gave me, and he organized the personnel and logistics.

Jim introduced me to any number of great bands and artists whose recorded work I continue to mine for pieces the Orange Devils can recreate and perform live once again. He gave me the opportunity to transcribe any arrangement I thought suitable for the band, and to get it played as soon as it was ready. I also met and worked with many great musicians, not only from Toronto, but elsewhere, like Jay McShann, Fraser MacPherson and Clark Terry. Certainly his influence changed the direction of my musical career and most of my endeavors for the past 25 years.”

These days Martin Loomer and the Orange Devils make for happy ears and happy feet when they perform at private functions, from dance halls to weddings, as well as every second Monday of the month at the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street.

“The band loves playing at the Monarch Tavern,” says Loomer. “The management and staff are great supporters and super co-operative. They’ve been very patient and allowed us the chance to try and develop a following. And they have that great rarity, a grand piano, which they maintain quite well! The ambiance is perfect for what we do. It’s kind of like having a paid rehearsal with a bunch of friends dropping by to listen and party with us. Relaxed and fun. Because of our size and style, we haven’t been able to play many other venues. We’ve done several concerts, notably for the Duke Ellington Society, which are wonderful, but they don’t have the same relaxed atmosphere as being in a club, not to mention the availability of alcohol.”

In addition to reed players such as Merlin Williams, Tom Skublics and Andy Ballantyne, soloists include Scott Suttie on trombone, John MacLeod on trumpet and Richard Whiteman at the piano, to name a mere few. In addition to playing instrumental charts by the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, each gig features a handful of vocal tunes delivered charmingly by Rita di Ghent. Says di Ghent:

“Being the band vocalist in the Orange Devils is a dream gig. Who wouldn’t want to sing on stellar arrangements with A-list players that swing like crazy? And Marty is a dream bandleader. He knows my voice and chooses repertoire accordingly: a lot of bluesy material like Fine Brown Frame and Going to Chicago and complex ballads like Ellington and Strayhorn’s Daydream. He consults with me on every tune. He’s so kind and talented. I’m delighted that his tireless work has paid off and that the Orange Devils are quickly becoming the ‘it’ band with the swing dance crowd.”

Indeed, what has made the monthly Mondays especially marvellous of late is an increasingly loyal following of swing dancers. Says Loomer:

“I have to say, I’m always mindful of the fact that the music we play was originally conceived to be played for dancers. So we’re all very pleased when it can serve its original function and inspire swing dancers to get out on the floor and show their finest Lindy Hop moves. If the dancers are in the mood, then the band falls in the groove and we feed on each other’s energy.”

Monday February 9 will be the next gig for Martin Loomer and the Orange Devils. Ten dollars at the door is the best deal in town, and while enjoying these fantastic arrangements performed by stellar players and joyously interpreted on the dance floor, I challenge you not to smile!

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

 

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