A Bunch of Key Concerts

If you’re looking for something to do on a weekend in November, you might be obliged to make a few tough decisions. As I write this, there are all of ten early music concerts going on in Toronto this month, no two even remotely similar to one another. It’s obviously a sign we live in a fun city with lots to do on any given weekend, but the possibility always exists that one can miss out on something fantastic, or at least something you won’t get a chance to hear ever again. I don’t have enough space to adequately discuss absolutely every early music concert going on this month (you’ll have to check the listings for that), but here are a few highlights and must-sees.

Solo harpsichord: It’s been a while since Toronto audiences have had a chance to hear a solo harpsichord concert, but audiences will get a chance to hear the instrument shine this month. Admittedly, Toronto hasn’t been graced with a superabundance of solo harpsichord concerts since Colin Tilney retired, but up-and-coming Toronto musician Philippe Fournier will entertain the public with a mixed program that will include François Couperin, J. S. Bach and John Bull. Fournier makes his home at Holy Family Church and plays with the Musicians in Ordinary from time to time. It will be well worth it to see what he’s been up to as a solo artist. Check out this concert November 8 at the Yoga Village at 8pm.

beat - early 1Schola, TEM: If you’re more in the mood for a choral concert, you might prefer hearing instead the Schola Cantorum and the Theatre of Early Music concerts the same weekend. They’re technically student concerts given by performers studying at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s fledgling early music program, but the program is directed by Daniel Taylor, who is probably the closest thing to a household name on the Canadian early music scene, and who brings in top-tier professional musicians for these concerts.

The Schola Cantorum will be singing some fairly standard renaissance fare (Palestrina, Tallis, Taverner) and it’s very likely that these will be fine concerts of serene sounds. Also, they’re at the beautiful Trinity College chapel on November 8 and 9 at 7:30pm. If you haven’t visited the Trinity College chapel yet, it’s one of the finest acoustic spaces in Toronto for choral music, so it would be worth it just to go and hear what a choral concert is supposed to sound like.

Paris in the Fall: If neither of these concerts are enticing enough to get you out of the house that weekend, keep in mind The Toronto Consort will be performing their own concert of renaissance music on November 7 and 8 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The Consort is calling this one “Paris Confidential,” and it’s a social and musical exploration of the city of Paris in the 16th century, when the city was leaving behind its reputation as a muddy medieval military camp and quickly becoming a European cosmopolis. The great Alison MacKay, a gifted and insightful curator of musical and cultural history, is presenting a musical program of the city of Paris as seen through the eyes of one George Buchanan, a 16th-century scholar who left behind a legacy of rich descriptions of the city in which he lived. His letters, written to describe to his non-Parisian friends what life in the city was like, are the centrepiece of MacKay’s multimedia program, which includes anecdotes by other authors, contemporary paintings, drawings, maps and illuminations. Oh right, and there’s music, too. The Toronto Consort will be playing a program of renaissance French music, a rarity in this city. The composers on the program are hardly obscure, though, and include Clement Jannequin, Claude LeJeune, Claude de Sermisy and Jehan Chardavoine.

Honestly, if there’s one early music concert you have to see this month, this is probably it. Alison MacKay has developed a reputation for putting together thoughtful, engaging, and informative concerts for Tafelmusik and the Consort. If you’re familiar with renaissance music and names like Palestrina, Josquin, and Byrd already mean something to you, this concert will give you a bigger picture of what renaissance music is all about. Sixteenth-century French music is still composed in the same style as Palestrina and the like, but French composers of the period took the same rules of composition in some very creative directions. If renaissance music isn’t your thing, Paris Confidential will still be worth going to out of sheer curiosity – the concert promises to be an interesting in-depth look at what it was like to live in a major city and cultural hub of activity in the 16th century. Think of it as tourism for time travellers.

(Personal) Rezonance: For a fun instrumental concert later in the month, you might want to check out a chamber concert being given by my own group, Rezonance, a chamber ensemble whose core members include myself on harpsichord and violinist Rezan Onen-Lapointe. We’ll be joined this month by the fabulous Montreal-based flute player Joanna Marsden for a concert of 18th-century Italian and German music on November 30 at Artscape Youngplace at 3pm. Telemann, Handel and Vivaldi are on the bill, but we’ll also feature some lesser-known Italians like Benedetto Marcello and Evaristo Dall’Abaco. Artscape Youngplace is an intimate and acoustically flawless performance space, and for a small-scale chamber concert, I know for a fact Rezonance is hard to beat for sheer flamboyance (meaning everyone in the group really, really likes to show off).

Harpsichord-Beside-the Grange: I confess that I don’t know that much about Spanish baroque music; the only two 18th-century Spanish composers I can name off the top of my head are Domenico Scarlatti and Fernando Sor. Fortunately, Spanish harpsichordist Luisa Morales can dispel my ignorance, and will do so mid-month in a program co-presented by Baroque Music Beside the Grange devoted to Spanish baroque composers on November 15 at 8pm. This is an even smaller-scale concert than Rezonance’s, consisting of just Morales, flutist Alison Melville and dancer Cristobal Salvador. It promises to be an entertaining introduction to Spanish music and culture and will include the aforementioned Scarlatti and Sor as well as Juan Ledesma, Rodriguez de Ledesma and Blas de Laserna.

beat - early 2Beznosiuk: And finally, the Toronto group that can’t avoid being mentioned in any given month is of course Tafelmusik, performing November 19 to 23 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tafel will be presenting a program mainly devoted to music of the English Baroque – namely Purcell, Locke and Handel. It’s familiar ground for the band and it’s safe to say they will do a good job of it, but the real draw for this show is guest violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk. Beznosiuk is a veteran violin soloist and a bit of a whiz at English music – you can find his Naxos recording of the complete Avison violin concertos on YouTube – and it’s always a treat when a great international soloist comes to town to thrill us. Plus, it will be interesting to hear what Tafelmusik sounds like under his direction as this year of “find the leader” continues. Well worth checking out.

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


Viva Italia!

Does anyone still remember when Italian music meant either Verdi opera or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? It turns out Italians have been making music for quite a few years before Vivaldi (and after Verdi), and much of it is still well worth listening to three or four centuries later. It’s not often that we get to hear much Italian art music in concert, but in a rare coincidence, Torontonians have the unique opportunity to take in the complete history of music of the Italian baroque this month, as artists based in the GTA will be playing the complete span of Italian music in the 17th and 18th centuries from Monteverdi all the way to Vivaldi.

Monti at Tafelmusik: Who better to play Italian music than actual Italians? Tafelmusik will do just that, devoting an entire concert to Italian music of the 18th century while being led by the Italian violinist Davide Monti. Two concertos of Antonio Vivaldi headline a program that includes many of Vivaldi’s lesser-known contemporaries such as Benedetto Marcello, Tomaso Albinoni, Baldassare Galuppi and Evaristo Felice  Dall’Abaco. Albinoni is occasionally played today, while Marcello has been revived by early-music specialists as well as having been admired in his own time by J.S. Bach. You may well enjoy these other, capable lesser-knowns who lived in Vivaldi’s shadow, but at the very least you’ll come away with a new appreciation for what a great composer Vivaldi was. Catch this concert October 9 to 12 at Jeanne Lamon Hall in Trinity St-Paul’s Centre and on October 14 at George Weston Recital Hall. (Oh, and it’s very likely that Monti is a contender for the position of artistic director of Tafelmusik, so I’m willing to bet he’ll try to burn the house down at every performance. Just thought you should know.)

Roach takes on Sances: Later this month, Bud Roach, himself a great lover of Italian music of the 17th century, will be presenting the music of Giovanni Felice Sances, an Italian tenor and composer from the generation after Monteverdi. Sances was well known in his own time as a composer of opera in Venice; later he moved to Vienna and 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. Roach will perform a selection of Sances’ surviving material, a collection of solo songs and duets, on Saturday, October 18 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hamilton. He’ll also accompany himself on guitar and sing along with baritone David Roth in several duet performances. The pair will also bring out some other hidden gems from the Italian 17th century, including songs by Alessandro Grandi and Carlo Milanuzzi. This should be a fantastic concert for anyone who enjoys renaissance music or Monteverdi. If you can’t make it, keep in mind Roach’s Sances CD will be released later in the month. There’s also a Toronto concert in the works, but no word yet on when that’s going to happen.

Alcina at Atelier: If an extravagant Italian opera is more your style, then you’ll be pleased to make it out to Opera Atelier’s debut performance of Handel’s Alcina, later this month at the Elgin Theatre October 23 to November 1. Handel was already a mature composer when he penned Alcina in 1735 for his inaugural year at the Covent Garden Theatre in London, but sadly, it wasn’t particularly successful, and has only recently been revived by the early music movement. Whatever 18th-century Londoners may have thought of  Alcina, it’s still perfectly fine by the standards of opera seria (i.e. the arias are all catchy). The music is great, and it’s hard to go wrong with Handel when Tafelmusik is your pit orchestra. Of course the plot is ludicrous. But as long as you don’t bother paying attention to the storyline of what’s actually happening on stage, Alcina done by Opera Atelier will be the perfect night at the opera.

Monteverdi in Ordinary? You can’t think of Italian opera without thinking of Monteverdi, of course. Arguably the greatest composer of the 17th century, Monteverdi’s operas are smash hits even to this day. Besides his dramatic works, his spectacular Vespro della Beata Virgine, written for orchestra and choir, is undoubtedly a masterpiece, and his madrigals are incredibly innovative, intelligent compositions that are widely performed and enjoyed. This month, the Musicians in Ordinary present still another facet of Monteverdi’s diverse body of work – namely his sacred chamber music written for the archbishops and cardinals of Venice. Monteverdi was kept busy writing music for three concerts a week, so the Musicians in Ordinary had a vast body of work from which to choose their program. The MIO will be joined once again by Chris Verrette on violin for the Master’s Selva Morale e Spirituale, motets by Monteverdi’s assistant Grandi, and some canzonas and sonatas for strings by Biagio Marini. This concert promises to be an in-depth look at sacred music by Monteverdi and his circle in Venice in the early 17th century. Catch it at Father Madden Auditorium in Carr Hall at St. Michael’s College on October 24.

BBB-Early1Mallon’s Rameau: Of course, not all concerts this month will be dedicated to Italian music. Inveterate nonconformist Kevin Mallon will be dedicating a concert to Jean-Philippe Rameau along with his band Aradia, and given that the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death just passed last month, one hopes for more concerts by Toronto musicians in honour of the great French harpsichordist, opera composer and father of modern music theory coming up this year. For this performance, Aradia will feature two of Rameau’s wonderful Pièces de clavecin en concert, lovingly arranged for string ensemble, and the young Canadian soprano Hélène Brunet will also sing two of the composer’s best-known cantatas, Orphée and Le Berger Fidèle, with the band. Two compositions by Rameau’s contemporary Jean-Marie Leclair, Overture Op.13 No.3 and the Deuxième Recréation de Musique, will round out the concert. All of this takes place at the Music Gallery on October 26. Definitely a must-see if you enjoy French music.

Cardinal Consort: If you’re at all interested in English music or viol consort, consider checking out the Cardinal Consort of Viols. Their next concert will feature consort music from the English renaissance, including music by Byrd, Gibbons, Holborne and Tomkins. The Conrad Grebel Chamber Choir will join the Consort for some choral works, and you can catch them at the Church of the Redeemer on October 5 or at Conrad Grebel University Chapel in Waterloo on October 1.

BBB-Early2I Furiosi: Finally, the always-entertaining I Furiosi ensemble will be performing at the Calvin Presbyterian Church on October 24 in a mixed program of music on the theme of work, including compositions by J.S. Bach and Christophe Graupner. I Furiosi has a devoted following, and you can count on them putting on a virtuosic, fun show with a few pop tunes thrown in.

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

Off To Early Starts

 

bbb - early musicWhile summer is not over, it’s time to start thinking more about getting back to the office and less about fishing on the lake. I’m happy to say that anyone returning to or remaining in town for the month of September will be amply rewarded musically.  Judging from the sheer number of performances between now and October, I think it’s safe to say that Toronto musicians are excited to get back to work and begin a new concert season.

One Toronto-based group eager to make an early start this year is Harmonie, a string-based baroque group that includes harpsichordist Janet Scott, violinists Sheila Smyth and Valerie Sylvester and viol player Philip Serna. Their first concert this season features a very unusual program, comprised solely of Dutch music from the 17th and 18th centuries; it’s extremely unlikely that anyone who attends will have heard any of this music before.

“It’s a really unknown area of music that’s different, exciting and quirky,” explains Sylvester when I ask her what inspired the group to program an entire concert of Dutch music. “The Dutch composers of the 17th century wrote unusual and beautiful music, and you won’t hear music like this anywhere else.” Why Dutch baroque music has been deemed unworthy of performance in the past is also something of a mystery – the country had a virtual monopoly on composers in the renaissance, and as the vast number of paintings from the period indicates, the 17th century was the Netherlands’ golden age. Seventeenth-century Holland saw levels of wealth and culture unmatched in the country’s history. International trade flourished, and the Dutch had money to spend on culture, be it in the form of tulip gardens, art collections or public architecture. So why not music? Sylvester speculates it had to do with Dutch politics and religion in the period. “Holland in the 17th century was newly Calvinist, so there was less church music than in previous centuries,” she explains. “It was also a republic, so there was no king to play for and no court to play at.”

A republic of rich Calvinist merchants meant no grand patrons in either church or palace shelling out for spectacular, expensive orchestras and operas – Holland doesn’t have a St. Mark’s or a Versailles to this day – but that also meant that chamber music, played by small groups of professionals or amateurs, could flourish. For Sylvester, it’s what makes Dutch music so interesting. Composers could experiment, writing quirky music to fit their fancy without worrying about displeasing a despotic boss. And Dutch chamber music from the period, Sylvester argues, is written out of a simple love of musical creativity. Composers like Hacquard and Schenck might not be household names today, but their music, more so than their contemporaries, was written in a spirit of intelligence and fun. Check out this concert September 27 at 8pm at St. David’s Anglican Church. The same program will performed September 28 at 8pm at the KWCMS music room, Waterloo.

bbb - early music2Off to the fair: If you’re looking to discover more musical groups in Toronto, or if you’re curious about early music in general, make a point of going to this year’s Toronto Early Music Fair. It’s actually been around for 30 years! An afternoon devoted to the early music scene in Toronto, it’s a great opportunity for anyone curious to get very familiar with early music very fast. This year, the Toronto Early Music Centre (TEMC) will present several mini-concerts by Toronto-based artists, including Bud Roach and Harmonie. It offers Torontonians the opportunity to hear a wide variety of historic instruments played by some of the finest musicians in the city. Recordings, early music books and publications are also on sale. The Toronto Early Music Fair takes place at the historic Montgomery’s Inn on Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28. Given the number of concerts and presentations you can see over the course of a day, Fair tickets are a bargain at $10.

Extraordinary Ordinary: Another hard-working Toronto ensemble that’s starting up their season this month is the Musicians in Ordinary, the ensemble-in-residence of St. Michael’s College led by soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards. Their first concert this season is a program based around the covert Catholicism in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Elizabethan England was a dangerous time to practise Catholicism openly, and this concert explores the music performed and sponsored by clandestine Catholics in a climate of religious persecution. The musicians will be playing pieces typical of late-Renaissance England, especially songs for solo voice and lute, and lute instrumental solos based on sung works. Violinist Chris Verrette will also be on hand to lead a consort of violins, and the Musicians will play works by Byrd (Catholic, employed), Dowland (Catholic, unemployed) and Wilbye (not Catholic, employed by Catholics). This concert takes place on Friday, September 26 at Father Madden Hall in the Carr building at the University of Toronto, 100 St. Joseph Street. The concert starts at 8pm, but come at 7:30 for the pre-concert talk, for insights into a time when doing so might have had you burned at the stake!

Eybler Quartet: For those more inclined towards slightly more conventional repertoire, unconventionally played, consider checking out the Eybler Quartet. They’re a Toronto-based string quartet comprised of Tafelmusik players (Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky on violin, Patrick Jordan on viola, and Margaret Gay on cello) who will be getting together at Heliconian Hall to perform Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.18, No.2. It’s a solid choice for a string quartet concert on period instruments, but Eybler will also be throwing a couple of unusual pieces on the program. Cellist Guy Fishman will be joining the quartet for two double cello quintets by Boccherini and Dittersdorf. If you love Beethoven string quartets, you won’t want to miss this – Eybler is an ensemble of top-level string players that performs exceptionally well. Catch this concert on October 2 at 7:30pm.

SweetWater: Finally, if you’re looking for one more excuse to get to cottage country before winter hits, or if you happen to live in the Owen Sound area, try to get out and catch some of the SweetWater Music Festival. An all-star lineup of Canadian musicians, Mark Fewer (violin), Hank Knox (harpsichord) and Lucas Harris (theorbo), will team up with baroque violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch in a mixed program that will include Vivaldi, Bach, Biber and Schmelzer at Leith Historic Church (419134 Tom Thomson Ln.) on September 19 at 7:30pm. These are some of the best musicians in the country playing a program that will have something for everyone. If you’re in this part of Ontario, definitely consider going to this festival and this concert specifically.

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

 

Early Getaways

1909 EarlyThe Canadian summer is without a doubt one of the worst seasons anywhere in the world. Leaving aside the fact that it’s far too short, and was preceded this year by one of the longest, coldest winters in living memory, it’s still kind of hard to find things to do. I appreciate that Canadians (at least the ones in the Canadian cities where I’ve lived) take it a bit easier over the summer months and let things like having a social life or spending more time with family take precedence over work, but the same rule also applies to most arts organizations in the GTA. They all wound down their seasons in May, and while I know there are some exceptions to this rule, and I respect someone’s right to take vacations and take a couple months to prepare their next season, I’d like to suggest that a musical ensemble or theatre group could get a lot more subscribers if they let their artistic season stretch until June or start up again in August.

Finding things to do over the summer may be a little less obvious than in other months, but if you’re looking to catch some exceptional concerts to see, I have two words for you. Get out. Seriously. The very best concerts this summer are happening outside the city, and if you can escape Toronto for even a few days, you’ll be rewarded by some fabulous summer festivals and a chance to absorb some culture, as well as hear some great and unique music. Check out the lineup for the Montreal Baroque Festival, taking place in downtown Montreal for the weekend of June 19 to 22. Since its inaugural year in 2003, Montreal Baroque has featured some of the finest musicians in the world performing great works of music in interesting, challenging concert programs. The festival used to have pride of place as the first festival of the summer (it starts every St. Jean Baptiste weekend) taking place in Montreal’s most notorious tourist trap, the historic Old Port. It has since moved over to McGill’s main campus on Sherbrooke St., but I expect it will be no less crowded this year. Montreal has a thriving early music scene, and Montrealers come to this festival in droves. If you can make it up to Montreal for the weekend, this festival is a must-see. Check out Tom Beghin’s performance of Beethoven’s monstrous Hammerklavier sonata on fortepiano (in the MMR Studio on Friday June 20 at 5pm and Sunday at 11am) and let me know when you can hear that in concert again. Catch David Monti and Gili Loftus playing Beethoven’s “Spring” and “Kreutzer” sonatas (in Pollack Hall Sunday June 22 at 2pm): rare enough as a concert program, but almost never heard on period instruments in North America. If you’re not into Beethoven, consider two medieval concerts: Ensemble Alkenia performing the music of the 14th-century composer Johannes Ciconia (McGill main campus on Saturday June 21 at 11am) and Ensemble Eya’s concert of troubadour song (McGill main campus on Saturday June 21 at 9am). Add to that the always-solid Les Voix Humaines concert of music for three, four, five and six viols (Redpath Hall on Saturday June 21 at 4pm) and you can easily spend the whole weekend in the concert hall. This is an exceptional festival with some top-tier artists playing music that you rarely get a chance to hear in concert. I strongly advise anyone reading this column to consider clearing their calendar and vacationing in Montreal for that weekend.

 

Stratford Summer Music: If you prefer a day trip to Stratford over a road trip to Montreal, Stratford Summer Music has several concert weekends. If you find yourself there on either July 23 or 24, consider a couple of concerts by the Folger Shakespearean Consort at 7pm that will provide you with the soundtrack to Renaissance England. Songs by the Bard of Avon’s contemporaries, namely John Dowland, Tobias Hume and Thomas Morley, were hits very likely enjoyed by Shakespeare himself. If Shakespeare was enough of an advocate for the arts that he couldn’t trust a man who didn’t enjoy music, it would be well worth the trouble to find what sort of music the playwright liked to listen to.

If you’re no fan of Renaissance music (or just don’t trust Shakespeare as an arbiter of musical taste) Stratford Summer Music is also bringing out Tafelmusik for some very fine chamber music on August 22 and 23. Highlights from these programs include the Bach “Wedding” and “Coffee” cantatas, a Vivaldi bassoon concerto, a Telemann sonata for winds and a Bach violin sonata. These both look to be solid concerts and between Tafelmusik and the Folger Shakespearean Consort, proof that going to Stratford doesn’t need to mean just going to see a play anymore.

Music in the Garden and more: Being stuck in Toronto all summer doesn’t mean you miss out on everything. If you’re unable to get out of the city, consider visiting the Toronto Music Garden, 479 Queen’s Quay W., a unique concert space by the waterfront that functions as its own mini-escape from the tumult of the city. This summer, the Toronto Music Garden is presenting a program of early music by some young up-and-coming musicians. On Sunday July 13 at 4pm, members of the New York-based period chamber ensemble Gretchen’s Muse will present Haydn’s String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op.33 No.2 (“The Joke”), and Beethoven’s Quartet in C Major, Op.59 No.3. Abigail Karr is the leader of this ensemble and she will be joined by Vita Wallace on violin, Kyle Miller on viola and guest cellist Beiliang Zhu. Zhu also holds the singular honour of being the first person ever to win the Leipzig Bach Competition on a period instrument, so it will be very interesting to hear her perform in a quartet. They will also be appearing the next day at Music Mondays’ free noon-hour concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The Music Garden will also be showcasing another fine young baroque cellist later this summer – Kate Bennett Haynes. Haynes is performing Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello in installments at the Music Garden; Thursday August 28 at 7pm will see her performing Bach’s Suite No. 4 in E-Flat Major in a mixed program that includes Britten and Oesterle. Haynes also happens to be an exceptional artist, and this concert promises to be an intimate and passionate experience.

Finally, a great local group that I’m proud to be playing with will kick off the summer with a concert in Parkdale. Rezonance’s next concert, “Birds, Beasts, and Rustic Revelry,” taking place at Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St. #202, on June 14 at 8pm, is a program that explores Baroque composers’ depictions of nature, and will feature all manner of musical foolishness from the 17th century, including music by Veracini, Schmelzer, Biber and Couperin. Rezonance is led by the young virtuoso violinist Rezan Onen-Lapointe and will be joined by lutenist Ben Stein and cellist Kerri McGonigle. A chance to hear some brilliant performances at this concert, and the music on the program defies anyone to take classical music too seriously.

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

The Sound That Jeanne Built

Shortly after I finished university in Montreal, I got a job in the classical department of a record store. Occasionally customers would come in and ask me for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s recordings of Beethoven conducted by Bruno Weil and I would direct them to an album that Weil had made with Tafelmusik earlier that year.

1908-EarlyBruno Weil has never made an album with the Toronto Symphony, but to my customers at the record store, Tafelmusik and the TSO were one and the same, and I never saw the point in correcting them. Throughout its 35-year history, Tafelmusik has gone from a group of competent musicians representing early music in Canada to the biggest and best-selling early music group in the country, as well as an internationally renowned orchestra. If Montrealers think Tafelmusik is the TSO, I can’t blame them, and I’m sure Weil and everyone else who has ever appeared on a Tafelmusik album should consider the confusion a compliment.

Tafelmusik’s success is due in a large part to the leadership of Jeanne Lamon and the direction she charted for the group when she took it over in 1981. Tafelmusik’s guest artists are deeply impressed by the band’s near-military precision in following Lamon; in contrast to some early-music orchestras who function as oversize chamber groups, Lamon’s band is a disciplined unit with a clear sense of hierarchy. If you’re listening to Tafelmusik in concert or recorded, you’re listening to a sound Jeanne Lamon created.

This month marks the end of an era for early music in Canada, as Lamon will be performing her last concert series with Tafelmusik as concertmaster and artistic director. It’s still anyone’s guess as to which direction the orchestra will go after Lamon departs, but this is Toronto’s last chance to hear (officially, as I’m sure Lamon will return to play) the work of an artist who has left a profound influence on classical music in this country. The orchestra will be doing a mixed program of Lamon’s favourites, including Vivaldi, Handel, Rameau, and Bach, and members of Tafelmusik have composed a set of variations on Purcell dedicated to their boss, so I’m willing to bet the final concert will be an emotional evening. It all happens at Trinity St-Paul’s Centre on May 8 to 11 and 14 (with an additional concert at George Weston Recital Hall, May 13). I defy anyone looking forward to retiring this year to throw a better retirement party.

Elixir: Given how often musicians improvise in jazz and rock music, it’s kind of disappointing that classical musicians don’t make anything up very much. Obviously, when the music is written down for you, improvisation becomes superfluous, but making up a great solo remains one of the best ways for musicians to show off. This wasn’t always the case in classical music. Composers and musicians in the Renaissance used to jam over ground bass lines in much the same way that rock musicians do today, and famous composers from Bach through to Liszt were raised in a tradition of improvisation that was a foundation for their fame as composers. In Bach’s case, his admirers pointed to the fact that he could improvise any counterpoint right up to a six-part fugue and Liszt’s claim to fame was the ability to instantly compose endless and technically brilliant piano variations on any theme selected at random by members of the audience at his concerts.

One Toronto musician who is trying to revive the practice is lutenist (and fellow WholeNote columnist) Benjamin Stein. Stein has made Renaissance “standard” tunes a special project of his for some time now, and he’s finally trying out his experiment on the concertgoing public this month. Stein will be joined by the Elixir Baroque Ensemble in a concert of improvised and composed music featuring tunes by Uccellini, Vivaldi, Byrd, Castaldi and Collard. Stein and Elixir will add to the mix by improvising their own solos in the style of each composer on every tune they play. This is a very ambitious project and it will be exciting to see what happens – it may even revive the lost art of improvisation among classical musicians if Stein’s project gains a following in the Toronto music scene (although that may be a few years away). You can catch Ben Stein and Elixir Baroque at Metropolitan United Church on May 10 at 7:30pm.

The Toronto Continuo Collective is back and their latest concert, “Psyche: The Immortal Soul,” is a musical exploration of the myth of Psyche and Cupid, told through the music of French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully and his English contemporary Matthew Locke. The myth of Psyche is a story of love, duty and betrayal, and was adapted by Molière from the Roman story by Apuleius. Lully in turn adapted Molière’s play into an opera, after which Locke adapted Lully’s opera into his own opera/ballet. The point being that by the time Locke’s version rolled out, audiences would be fortunate to recognize anything from the original myth. The TCC is avoiding any confusion by playing only excerpts from Lully and Locke, and they will be joined by Montreal sopranos Andréanne Brisson-Paquin and Ghislaine Deschambault, as well as local singers Luke Arnason (countertenor), Bud Roach (tenor) and David Roth (bass). They will be presenting it at York University on May 8 at the McLean Performance Studio in York’s Accolade Building at 7pm. It’s also a rare chance to hear any opera originally intended to be performed in English (English opera was basically a canonical no-man’s land from the beginning of the 18th century until Britten) so that reason alone should make this concert a must-see for opera buffs.

Toronto Masque Theatre And speaking of Restoration-era English operas, another Toronto group based on the English tradition of music in the 17th century, the Toronto Masque Theatre, is venturing outside the GTA to perform a classic English opera (thus depleting the entire repertoire of English opera in the space of two concerts). TMT will be performing Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as part of the Westben Arts Festival in Campbellford.Dido and Aeneas is based on the founding myth of Britain in Roman mythology, Virgil’s Aeneid. It’s a short but tragic tale that remains, even after 300 years, a classic opera, and I sincerely hope it’s a hit in Campbellford. The performances aren’t until July 5 and 6, but on May 23 at 7pm you can catch TMT artistic director Larry Beckwith in a discussion at Westben about the operatic classic, featuring excerpts from their upcoming production. Campbellford is just up Highway 30 off the 401, before Quinte – if you’re interested in a weekend outside of the city (or if you live in the Peterborough area and feel like a night out), be sure to check out the talk, and to mark July 5 and 6 on your calendar.

Finally, there’s one more Tafelmusik concert early next month that’s worth checking out. The orchestra and choir will be performing a special noon-hour program on June 1 that features members of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute faculty. It happens at 12:30 in Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson building on the U of T campus. No word on the program yet, but it’s a chance to hear Tafelmusik for free. Skip off work or take a long lunch and check it out.

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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