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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2008_-_Early_-_Bach.jpgAlthough an all-Bach program is a tempting, and ambitious project for an artist, there are two perils. One is difficulty, the other, monotony. Bach seldom found himself in a mood to write anything easy, and it’s hard to give his music the flair it often deserves in performance. It also doesn’t help that a modern concert audience demands variety, and one composer alone, even Bach, is hard pressed to carry an entire evening’s worth of music.

Unless of course that Bach program is an Alison McKay multmedia project. This month, Tafelmusik presents McKay’s newest production, “J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation,” a celebration of the genius of Bach. Like McKay’s previous productions, “The Galileo Project” and “House of Dreams,” her latest combines text, music, projected images and video, with the help of Jeanne Lamon, back to lead the orchestra, and Marshall Pynkoski, providing stage direction.

The Circle of Creation promises to be more than just a tribute to Bach. McKay wants the audience to explore not just the composer’s world, but also the world of the artisans who lived in Bach’s day — the lives of a typical 18th-century papermaker, violin carver, string spinner and performer are all examined in this concert. And if anyone thought difficulty was going to be an issue (even for Tafelmusik) consider this: Tafelmusik will perform the entire concert from memory. This will be quite a stunt, as the orchestra will be expected to pull off the first two movements of the Brandenburg Concerto No.3, highlights from the First and Third Orchestral Suites, and instrumental excerpts from a slew of cantatas. If that weren’t enough, the evening will also include a pile of the master’s chamber music, including parts of the Goldberg Variations, sonatas for two and three violins, and the Allemande of the First Partita for solo violin. It’s not exactly the sort of repertoire one jumps to include in the same concert, let alone try to do all from memory. J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation will be performed May 6 to 10 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and May 12 at George Weston Recital Hall.

While Tafelmusik promises to throw every possible form of staging, multimedia presentation, and musical direction at one of the great composers of classical music, there’s another concert gong on later this month that promises to be much more down-to-earth, but no less of an impressive affair. Bud Roach, a great lover of Italian music of the 17th century, will be presenting the music of Giovanni Felice Sances and Alessandro Grandi, two Italian composers who lived late enough in the Renaissance to consider Monteverdi as part of the musical establishment, rather than a radical. Sances was well known in his own time as a composer of opera in Venice. He later moved to Vienna where he eventually became Kapellmeister under Ferdinand III. Unfortunately for Sances’ legacy, his operas were all lost, so we have no chance of performing any of his larger-scale works. Grandi was more than a contemporary of Monteverdi – he was also a colleague, and worked under the great composer at St. Mark’s Church in Venice, where the two wrote most of their best-known works. Roach will perform a selection of Sances’ and Grandi’s works as well as accompany himself on baroque guitar, on May 31 at 2:30pm as part of the Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series of concerts. This all happens at St. David’s Anglican Church. Roach is a gifted musician who is blessed with an exceptional voice – this concert will be an excellent chance to uncover some hidden gems from Italy in the 17th century.

Speaking of Italian music, there’s another concert this month that takes its inspiration from the vocal music of Renaissance Italy – albeit with a twist. Although we definitely associate the madrigal with Italy, the genre caught on in other countries, with a few changes made in transit. Every composer in Italy felt he had to compose a madrigal to be taken seriously; even Palestrina, the composer of the Pope Marcellus Mass, got in on the craze, publishing a collection of his own madrigals (although he later claimed the work as the youthful indiscretion of a young man who should have written more masses and motets). Once the madrigal had become standard fare for Italian music lovers, and composers like Monteverdi and Gesualdo had stretched the boundaries of the genre, it eventually died out in Italy. 

Not so in England. There, audiences were too busy enduring decades of religious strife, violence, and a country in political turmoil to occupy themselves much with the arts, and so discovered the form much later. Still, by the beginning of the 17th century the English had re-dedicated themselves to capital C Classical learning and culture. The result was an eccentric, derivative look at what the Renaissance could have been – a token nod to Greek and Roman culture and learning; none of the Homeric myths, mind you. No stories of gods meddling in the lives of mortals. Rather, an overall aesthetic that sought entertainment in easygoing comedy and diversion rather than in the epic tragedy found in, say, a typical Italian opera. Presumably everyone in the country had seen enough drama and tragedy after Henry VIII’s reign.

So while your typical English madrigal of the day may have had enough sighing in it to make a sizeable breeze,  it nevertheless kept a tight rein on the emotional range of its earlier Renaissance counterpart – no broken hearts, no ruined lives and absolutely no tragic deaths allowed. There’s a reason they called it “Merrie England.”

The Cantemus Singers will pay tribute to the jolly, frivolous fun of the English Renaissance in their program “Nymphs & Shepherds,” the group’s salute to the madrigal rage that swept the kingdom for the last decade of Elizabeth I’s reign and after. Highlights will include a few true masterpieces of English vocal music, such as Thomas Morley’s Hard by a crystal fountain (from his The Triumphs of Oriana), John Ward’s Come, sable night, and Thomas Bateson’s Merrily my love and I. As well as some jolly English songs, the group will perform a few more sobering compositions, including Byrd’s exceptional Mass for Five Voices and John Sheppard’s glorious motet Libera Nos. The concert will be presented at the Church of the Holy Trinity May 30 and 31.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for something French (or Turkish), consider checking out Toronto Masque Theatre’s Les Indes Mécaniques, a choreographed adaptation of Rameau’s great opera Les Indes Galantes. The show also includes The Anahtar Project, traditional Turkish music from the days of the Ottoman Empire. It promises to be an eclectic musical evening featuring one of the great 18thcentury French operas. This concert takes place at the Fleck Dance Theatre at the Harbourfront Centre May 14 and 15.

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

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2007-Early-Nosky.jpgI miss German composers. They are an unavoidable part of the musical topography for anyone playing music from Mozart to Schoenberg, but in early music, there are only a few chances to play anything German or Austrian. There’s Bach, of course, and the odd piece by Telemann, which I suppose is enough for most non-Germanophiles. Handel’s Messiah rolls around every December, too and a baroque violinist will occasionally program a Biber violin sonata, but that’s about it. There isn’t, alas, exactly a major movement in the city devoted to reviving Heinrich Schutz, nor is anyone particularly interested in programming anything by C.P.E. Bach anymore. Hasse? I never hear him in Toronto. Graun? Forget about it. So I’m particularly indebted to Opera Atelier for increasing diversity and enlivening the musical conversation in the city by adding a bit of Christoph Willibald Gluck to their regular repertoire. More specifically, I’d like to throw my support behind their decision to put on his best-known opera, Orfeo ed Eurydice, this month.

Never heard of Gluck? Don’t worry. Gluck is very much a conventional Classical (with a capital C) composer, so if you know Mozart, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Gluck wrote Orfeo when Mozart was just a child, and given that the opera got its first performance in Vienna, it’s very likely that it was a direct influence on the young composer. It’s reasonable to say that Gluck comes across as an old-fashioned version of Mozart, with perhaps more of a French influence (accompanied recits, dance movements, a lot for the chorus to do) but his Orfeo is much more hummable, than, let’s say, Monteverdi’s. Combine this music with Opera Atelier’s diverse and estimable talents, e.g. Marshall Pynkowski’s direction, and accompaniment furnished by Tafelmusik under David Fallis, and this show is a sure-fire hit. Opera Atelier performs Orfeo ed Eurydice at the Elgin theatre April 9 to 18.

Tafel in the Underworld: The story of Orpheus, the famed musician descending into hell to charm the denizens of the underworld and rescue his princess, has captivated musicians for centuries. As epic stories featuring heroic musicians go, though, the myth of Orpheus still pales, at least in contemporary relevance, to the ongoing saga of Who Will Lead Tafelmusik. Finding yourself under scrutiny as a potential artistic director for one of Canada’s top orchestras is not unlike having to face down Cerberus, a comparison which, I would venture, is not lost on potential candidates.

This month’s installment of the Tafelmusik audition process (a season with invited conductors/concertmasters) brings us violinist Aisslinn Nosky, who will be leading Tafelmusik in a program of music by Purcell, Charpentier and Telemann. Nosky’s got quite a few things going for her, as an up-and-coming musician with a following in Toronto (her chamber band I Furiosi has just about the youngest audience I’ve seen at a classical music concert) as well as having a long history with the group as both a student and full-time member. Is Aisslinn Nosky the next Jeanne Lamon? Does she have what it takes to beat the odds and win Canada’s most coveted music job? Well, we won’t know that until next year. You can, however check it out and decide for yourself from April 23 to 26 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre as well as April 28 at George Weston Recital Hall.

Ahearn at TEMC: There are a number of members of the Tafelmusik crew who are busy this month with a few smaller (and potentially less stressful) chamber music concerts. Tafelmusik violinist Patricia Ahearn will perform a solo concert under the Toronto Early Music Centre banner in a program at St. David’s Anglican Church that features a few of the Germanic stalwarts of the early music repertoire I mentioned earlier – Bach, Biber and Telemann. And what a solo program! It’s a concert of monstrous pieces – namely an unaccompanied Telemann fantasia, the Bach unaccompanied violin sonata in G minor, and the Biber passacaglia. None of these pieces is particularly easy by itself on a program, so all three together on the same bill is quite an ambitious array of difficult music. Watching Ahearn pull this off will be a thrilling experience – she’ll be performing on Sunday April 19, at 2:30pm.

Early at Eastminster: Tafelmusik’s artistic director Jeanne Lamon and principal cellist Christina Mahler are also highlighting a chamber concert at Eastminster United Church in a concert of Haydn and Boccherini on April 18 at 8pm. They’ll be joined by a couple of notable younger musicians – namely Edwin Huizinga and Kerri McGonigle, so this should be an enjoyable performance that brings together a couple of established artists with two of Toronto’s most talented up-and-comers.

Torture at Calvin: Aisslinn Nosky will also be performing earlier in the month with her regular band, I Furiosi at the group’s most regular venue, Calvin Presbyterian Church (26 Deslisle Ave., St. Clair subway). They’re calling it Instruments of Torture, which sounds either particularly unpromising or promising, depending on your bent. One thing it won’t be, though, is painful to the ear; I Furiosi is known for putting together amusing musical miscellanies that never take things too seriously. Given the title, it’s likely to include a few selections to appease your organological fetish, and the group will throw in a pop tease here and there. I Furiosi will be presenting Instruments of Torture along with lutenist Lucas Harris on Friday April 10 at 8pm.

17th-Century Avant Garde: There’s one more chamber concert featuring Tafelmusik violinists going on this month - the group Musicians in Ordinary, probably the hardest-working instrumental group in Toronto, will be presenting a concert featuring Chris Verrette and Patricia Ahearn along with their core duo of soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards. This particular concert, entitled In Stile Moderno, features the music of Renaissance Italy’s avant-gardists. Claudio Monteverdi broke more than a few conventions of traditional style and perceptions of good taste when he began publishing madrigals and instrumental music as a court composer in Mantua. The musical establishment of the day was outraged, but Monteverdi’s musical revolution eventually made him the most famous composer of his day. It’s also interesting to note that he didn’t do it alone - the master had a few followers in his circle who either tried to imitate his style or were just sick of the last two hundred years of tedious Renaissance polyphony. Salamone Rossi was one such disciple, and he didn’t do too badly either: although he never enjoyed Monteverdi’s level of fame, he’s still the most famous (and the most talented) Jewish  classical composer before Mendelssohn.

The Musicians will be dedicating a concert to the music of the aforementioned two audacious Italians along with some of their Mantuan “modern style” contemporaries. You can check them out at Heliconian Hall on May 2 at 8pm. 

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

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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 earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

 

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A pattern I’m beginning to see in early music concerts in Toronto is something you might describe as musical tourism – rather than a mixed program or a concert built around a particular composer or work, groups experiment with a time and place in history and give the audience a soundtrack to that particular moment. I’m thinking specifically now of Toronto Consort’s “Paris Confidential,” which I saw late last year and quite enjoyed – it was a fascinating look at Renaissance Paris, complete with music from the City of Lights circa 1550. This month, I’d like to look at other Toronto groups who are both geeking out on history and putting together some fabulous concerts in the process.

2005_-_Beat_-_Early_-_The_Tallis_Choir.pngTake for example, Leopold: you have to have at least some background in history to have heard of Leopold I, a very unlikely figure, one might think, to inspire a concert program. Nevertheless, European civilization owes quite a bit to Leopold I of Austria, who ruled over the Holy Roman and Austro-Hungarian Empires for the latter half of the 17th century. Leopold came to power as the King of Bohemia in 1655, after Europe had already been wracked by decades of brutality in the Thirty Years War, which had been waged across the length and breadth of the European continent and had ended when Leopold was just a child. You might think, after three decades of constant warfare, as well as the attendant expense and famine, that a rookie 15-year-old king would welcome a break from fighting and usher in a new era of peace, but the kid wasn’t having any of it. The first thing he did was team up with Poland to wage war against the Swedes for five years. Leopold won that war, having in the meantime become king of Austria, Croatia, and Hungary, as well as Holy Roman Emperor of Germany. This bought Eastern Europe nearly two decades of peace – until Leopold went on to battle Louis XIV of France and the Ottoman Turks multiple times from the 1670s until his death in 1705. In so doing, he established himself as the major belligerent of one of the most violent centuries in human history.

Alongside waging constant warfare and his perceived obligation to defend Christendom from the Islamic hordes, the northern barbarians and France, Leopold was, surprisingly, a generous musical patron and composer himself. Many fine Baroque composers, including Antonio Bertali, H.I. Biber, J.J. Fux and Johann Schmelzer owe their careers to his patronage. This month, the Toronto Consort will pay tribute to this magnificent sponsor of European musical life. Lutenist and conductor Lucas Harris will join the ensemble for a program based on a manuscript of music from Leopold’s court in Vienna, including that composed for the emperor’s court and chapel. This all goes down at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre on February 6 and 7.

Guadalupe: Blood-soaked European battlefields are fairly common grist for history’s mill. But history can also be built on strange events in the most unlikely of places, as in our next concert, which was inspired by an apparition seen by a simple farmer in a tiny village in Mexico. When the Virgin Mary appeared to a farmer on a hill in Guadalupe (now incorporated as a suburb of Mexico City) and told him to build a church there, the Spanish authorities honoured the pious man’s request by building a monumental cathedral. Centuries later, it is surely an inspiring place. The cathedral at Guadalupe is now a number one tourist destination for Catholics worldwide and the Virgin of Guadalupe is a cultural and religious icon for Mexicans everywhere. The Tallis Choir is dedicating a program to the basilica at Guadalupe on February 28 at St. Patrick’s Church, featuring music from 17th-century Mexico and Spain. The Tallis Choir will be joined by Philip Fournier on organ and WholeNote columnist Ben Stein on lute in music by Tomas Luis de Victoria, Guerrero and Padilla. Since it’s a very rare chance to hear music from 17th-century Mexico, I highly recommend you take this opportunity to hear it.

2005_-_Beat_-_Early_-_Allison_Mackay.pngParis 1737: From the emperor’s palace in Vienna to the cathedral of Guadalupe, the next stop on the musical tour this month is Paris, which probably takes the prize for being the most clichéd tourist destination of all time. Still, when Georg Phillip Telemann took a trip there in 1737, he got a chance to perform with some of the greatest musicians of the day, including the French flutist Michel Blavet and the viola da gamba virtuoso Jean-Baptiste Forqueray. Telemann prepared for the occasion by writing a dozen quartets which the group (along with a lesser-known violinist and cellist) performed, and nearly 300 years later, the composer’s Paris Quartets are a classic of the early music chamber repertoire. This month, Scaramella will present a program devoted entirely to Telemann’s Paris Quartets at their usual haunt at the Victoria College Chapel on the U of T campus on March 7. Scaramella, or rather gambist Joëlle Morton, will be joined by American flutist Kim Pineda, as well as Toronto-based musicians Edwin Huizinga (on violin) and Sara-Anne Churchill (on harpsichord). While it may not have the variety of a mixed program, the Paris Quartets make for a great concert for anyone who appreciates late Baroque music. This concert will feature top-drawer music from a composer who in his day was considered by many to be better than Bach.

House of Dreams: Of course, if you’re into musical tourism, Tafelmusik has that beat covered with their concert and multimedia event “House of Dreams,”  the brainchild of Alison Mackay, who, not coincidentally, came up with “Paris Confidential,” mentioned above. Mackay’s presentation/concerts are a great way of giving people a chance to explore the cultural and social history of the music, and are as educational as they are entertaining for audiences (besides, it gives us something to look at during the concerts). For this project, Mackay mashed up the music of Handel, Marais, Bach, Sweelinck and Vivaldi with paintings from the same time and place as the composers. As if that weren’t enough, Mackay actually collaborated with the European museums in all these composers’ hometowns, so this concert, in addition to being a giant whistle-stop tour of London, Paris, Leipzig, Delft and Venice, will actually show you what it was once like to live in those cities. As a cultural experience and musical tour, it’s hard to beat. The extravaganza will take place February 11 to 15 at Trinity St-Paul’s Centre, before launching out on an Australian tour.  This program, which spans both the length of Europe and the Baroque era, is nothing if not ambitious, but don’t let that put you off. At least you won’t have to worry about jet lag.

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

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