EarlyThere’s an anecdote from a book I read once that’s been bothering me for a while. In the memoir Kitchen Confidential the American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain describes the following altercation he had with one of his Italian chefs at a restaurant he owned:

“Gianni had taken one look at my chef de cuisine, shaken his head and warned, ‘Watch out for dees guy. He’ll stobb you inna back,’ making a stabbing gesture as he said it.

“What? What’s his problem? He’s Sicilian?’ I asked jokingly, knowing Gianni’s preference for all things Northern.

‘Worse,’ said Gianni. ‘He’s from Naples.’”

Bourdain never explained what the problem with being Neapolitan was at any point in the rest of the book (maybe he never got around to asking Gianni), and frankly, I’ve never tried to ask anyone whether they were from Naples, Italy, or anywhere else. Was Bourdain’s chef a racist? Are Neapolitans intrinsically untrustworthy? And (most importantly) why would they be intrinsically untrustworthy to other Italians?

Maybe the chef’s mistrust had to do with the fact that Naples had a history that pitted it against the rest of the Italian kingdoms for most of the last millennium: the Kingdom of Naples, comprising the city of Naples and roughly the southern half of the Italian boot, was ruled by the (French) King of Anjou from mid-13th to mid-14th century, the (Spanish) Aragonese from then to the early 16th century, the Spanish and Habsburg Empires for the next 200 years, and became a Napoleonic possession from then until 1815. That wasn’t a lot of time for Southern Italy to develop an independent, let alone pan-Italian identity, so maybe other Italians (or at least that particular Italian) are referencing the fact that, politically, Naples was in fact a French, Spanish, or Austrian province more than it was ever an Italian one.

As a cultural centre, though, Naples in its prime was a fascinating place. Ethnically Italian with a Spanish influence, its position smack in the middle of the Meditarranean made it a natural port of call between the rest of the European continent and the Middle East. Naples is also largely responsible for giving us a major institution of both culture and of classical music – the modern conservatory. The Spanish regime in Naples was one of the first governments to found conservatories, which it did in Naples – initially church-run institutions to shelter and educate orphans, they later became the music schools we know today. In 17th-century Naples, with the new form of opera quickly becoming popular and a sudden high demand for trained singers and musicians throughout Italy, conservatories found themselves part of a feeder system for professional musicians and singers, as they were both amply funded and made music education a significant part of a child’s education.

Vesuvius: This month, The Toronto Consort pays tribute to the music and culture of this Renaissance cosmopolis in their opening concert of the season, “The Soul of Naples.” The Consort will be performing this month at Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity-St-Paul’s Centre at 8pm on November 13 and 14. I’ve been looking forward to this concert for some time. The Consort is teaming up with the Vesuvius Ensemble, which is the only folk group I’ve ever encountered that specializes specifially in Renaissance Neapolitan folk music. The group has the good fortune to be led by a top-rate tenor, Francesco Pellegrino, who will be directing both Vesuvius and the Consort this time around. And if you’re a guitar fan, this is definitely the concert for you – this show features a menagerie of plucked-string instruments, including baroque guitar, theorbo and lute, as well as the far more obscure chitarra battente and colascione. The Consort has a few concerts for 2015/16 that look very interesting, and this is one of them. The group has a unique talent for taking an audience back to a particular time and place in history. I can’t wait for opening night.

The Canadian Opera Company is a Toronto institution that dabbles in early music only occasionally, but it will be well worth checking out their upcoming program this month if you’re a fan of either Monteverdi or new music. Pyramus and Thisbe is a new opera by Canadian composer Barbara Monk Feldman and will be headlining the evening, but the two opening acts are overlooked gems of the Baroque repertoire and rank as some of the Venetian composer’s most accomplished miniatures. Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Lamento d’Arianna are both exciting and powerful (though brief) works that take the listener back and forth from vivid depictions of warfare to intense sadness, often in the space of just a few bars. They’re great examples of the revolution in music that happened at the beginning of the 17th century when Monteverdi declared that poetry and text was more important than any musical idea could be. And more importantly, they’re fun to listen to. Check them out on November 5 and 7 at the Four Seasons.

The Oratory: Sometimes less is more. If a folk/medieval supergroup and a pair of Monteverdi mini-operas with a full continuo band aren’t enough to get you to a concert this month, there are a couple of choral concerts that promise to be very enjoyable indeed. The Oratory at Holy Family Church (1372 King Street West) is presenting two concerts based around the Renaissance choral repertoire. The first, featuring a five-voice men’s chorus singing just one to a part, is a requiem mass for the feast of All Souls. The oratory has some fairly pious music lined up for the occasion – they’ll be performing works by that great papal hero of Renaissance polyphony, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, as well as the Spanish composer Cristobal de Morales on November 2 at 8pm. If you miss the occasion (or don’t want to sit through a whole mass) consider going instead to their November 18 concert at 7:30, which will feature Roland de Lassus’ Requiem for 5 Voices and his Music from the Office of the Dead as well as music by Tomas Luis de Victoria and J.S. Bach. Hardly cheerful music, to be sure, but a chance to hear Renaissance sacred music done with all soloists as opposed to a massive chorus is a rare and enjoyable experience.

Rossi in Ordinary: The 16th-century Italian composer Salamone Rossi has the unique legacy, for musicians and scholars, of having written sacred music for the synagogue which survives and is still performed today. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more extant examples of Jewish sacred music that modern audiences can listen to – Catholics  being the main recipients of a half millennium of high-level patronage to the exclusion of nearly everyone else – but this month, the Musicians in Ordinary are performing Rossi’s sacred music as well as some of his sonatas for two violins. Violinists Chris Verrette and Patricia Ahearn will join the ensemble on November 27 at 8 pm at Father Madden Hall in the Carr building at the University of Toronto to explore the work of a fine composer in the Renaissance mould who has been regrettably overlooked by history. 

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

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Every so often, one classical musician or another will mention, by way of discussing career options, that younger emerging musicians should consider moving to Korea, China or Japan if they want a shot at a playing career. Having never even seen the Hellespont, let alone ventured east of it, I really have no idea what to make of this. I have very little if any knowledge of the classical music scene over there, and still less of an idea what their early music scene looks like. Still, the armchair career counsellors have a point. Asia does appear to be a fast-growing market for classical music. Asian retailers will stock and sell a vast inventory of classical music, including some of the most obscure recordings that would go completely unnoticed here. And, moreover, their demand for live music appears equally insatiable – Tokyo, for example, has six (six!) symphony orchestras.

It’s a little disappointing, then, that this passion for Western music doesn’t seem to extend to the early music movement. While there’s much to give Canadian and American musicians cause for optimism as far as an emerging market is concerned, East Asia does seem to be a good half century behind the times, as far as historically inspired performance is concerned.

Bach Collegium JapanBach Collegium: The shining exception to this, of course is the Bach Collegium Japan. Founded by harpsichordist Masaaki Suzuki in 1990, seemingly with the single purpose of recording Bach’s entire catalogue, the Collegium is an awe-inspiring group that boasts a roster of some of the finest baroque players, both in Japan and on the international scene. The Collegium is one of just a handful of ensembles in the world that has recorded the complete cantatas of J.S. Bach and it has distinguished itself as the most renowned Japanese classical ensemble in the world.

Besides committing Bach’s entire symphonic repertoire to disc, their 99-disc output includes a recording of the Monteverdi Vespers, a Mozart Requiem, a Messiah, a recording of Bach’s contemporary Buxtehude and (why not?) an album of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony arranged by Richard Wagner. They are prolific, they are experienced and they are without a doubt some of the most exceptional musicians in any category worldwide. But don’t take my word for it – you can decide for yourself when the group comes to Koerner Hall on October 28 at 8pm for (what else?) an all-Bach program. They’ll be playing some standard repertoire like Brandenburg 5 and the trio sonata from the Musical Offering, but the concert will also include some lesser-known hits of the Bach catalogue like the Concerto for Oboe d’amore BWV1055R and the soprano cantata Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut BWV199. I have no doubt that this will be a fantastic performance by an internationally renowned ensemble and a rare chance to hear some of the finest musicians in the world live in concert.

Ensemble Les Songes is another out-of-town group visiting Toronto this month that’s well worth hearing, although their concert will likely be a quieter affair than the arrival of a visiting Japanese orchestra. The Montreal-based quintet features soprano Samantha Louis-Jean, harpsichordist Mélisande McNabney, and recorder wunderkind Vincent Lauzer, but all five are talented musicians who can be counted on to deliver a spirited and intelligent performance. They’ll be playing a free concert of love songs by Corelli, Scarlatti and Handel at the Four Seasons Centre on October 6 at noon.

Early Music Fair: The other great event next month is of course the annual Early Music Fair, organized by the Toronto Early Music Centre. The annual fair is a day that allows visitors to sample the early music scene in Toronto and the GTA, and which features presentations by instrument makers and specialists, scores for sale and an introduction to the world of historic keyboards, string and wind instruments. It’s usually held at Montgomery’s Inn in Etobicoke, but this year the organizers have opted for a more downtown venue at Fort York on October 17, running from 11am to 4pm. You’ll have a chance to hear several musical ensembles over the course of the day, but one group that you might want to make a point of catching is Capella Intima, an a cappella vocal ensemble that will be singing English madrigals and partsongs in the Blue Barracks at 1pm and 1:30pm. The group is made up of just four singers who are doing an accessible repertoire and a short program, so if you’re at all curious about early choral music, check them out, catch some of the presentations and enjoy a day at historic Fort York.

I get a kick from Champlain: October 2015 also marks an important milestone in the history of Ontario, as it is the 400th anniversary of the first recorded visit to Ontario by European explorers. Samuel de Champlain, having already made a name for himself as the founder of New France, not only became the first European to visit Ontario 400 years ago, but also took the time to visit and map the Great Lakes, befriend the Wendat (Huron) tribes, and pass through what is now Peterborough and Lake Simcoe in September and October 1615. The fact that he went on to attempt an invasion of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tribes and failed miserably in the process is perhaps less celebrated by Ontario or Quebec historians. But I digress.

In an unabashedly Eurocentric version of history, Ontario turns 400 this month, and the Aradia ensemble will be performing a concert of French music at the Alliance Française to commemorate it. Aradia is one of the best Toronto-based ensembles for French repertoire, so it’s sure to be a very fine performance. The composers they’ve selected aren’t likely to have ever been heard by Champlain himself (most of them were either infants or had yet to be born when the great explorer died) but historical accuracy must sometimes be sacrificed for the sake of good music, and Jean-Baptiste Lully and Marc-Antoine Charpentier most definitely qualify. You can catch Aradia, along with soprano Katherine Hill and narrator Patrice Dutil on November 1 at 7pm.

Lassus’ oddest work: History often inspires great music, but the Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus can lay claim to the singular honour of having the weirdest historical theme for a composition, ever. His 13-movement Prophetiae Sibyllarum, with its notoriously chromatic prologue, purports to be based on predictions made by oracles from ancient Greece to the Roman empire that prophesied the birth of Jesus. On October 30 at 8pm in St. Basil’s Church, the Musicians in Ordinary will perform Lassus’ oddest work as part of their concert series as the artists in residence at Saint Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. It’s a concert I’m looking forward to, and it promises to be very interesting from both a musical and a historical perspective, although Lassus’ claim to oracular divinity begs at least a few questions. Why would a group of Bronze Age polytheists predict the son of a single god? Why would a Roman emperor care about the beliefs of a tiny religious minority in a faraway provincial backwater? Why were Renaissance humanists so preoccupied with rehabilitating the religious beliefs of antiquity? Fortunately, if you show up for the pre-concert talk at 7:30, you’ll get the answer to all of these questions, and hopefully the lecturer will lay them safely to rest.

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

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

I don’t know how many people I can speak for when I say that I’m not too eager for summer to be over so soon, but it does seem as though many Toronto ensembles aren’t quite ready to start their new seasons just yet either. Happily there are a few performances in September that are well worth going to see.

Early_1_-_Rodolfo_Richter.jpgRodolfo Richter: One group that’s definitely ready for the new season is Tafelmusik, which has its first concert the week after Labour Day. The superstar orchestra will, in fact, be very busy, very soon – they have two concert runs between now and October as they continue their search for a new artistic director. The first concert will feature the Brazilian-English violinist Rodolfo Richter, who, as the associate leader of the Academy of Ancient Music and a Handel/Bach specialist, may be exactly what Tafelmusik is looking for.

Early_2_-_Mirelle_Lebel.jpgRichter is an experienced player who has worked his way to the top of the European musical scene. Initially a modern violin player and composer – he studied composition with Pierre Boulez – he decided to make the switch to baroque violin in his mid-20s, studying with Monica Huggett. He also comes with an impressive discography as a leader, chamber player and soloist, having made the first recording of the complete violin sonatas of Erlebach and a solo album of 18th-century Italian composers Giuseppe Tartini and Francesco Veracini in addition to his recordings with the AAM.

With an extensive musical CV behind him, Richter will likely do a fine job with Tafelmusik as he leads them in a performance of music by Vivaldi, Handel and Bach at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Jeanne Lamon Hall, September 16 to 20. The group will also be joined by mezzo soprano Mireille Lebel for some Handel arias and the wonderful bassoonist Dominic Teresi for a Vivaldi concerto.

Cecilia Bernardini: Tafelmusik will also be bringing back violinist Cecilia Bernardini, who dazzled Toronto audiences when she debuted with the group in March last year. Bernardini was hired as a replacement for the virtuoso violinist Stefano Montinari, but she exceeded expectations with her performance of one of Jean-Marie Leclair’s notoriously difficult violin concertos which she had added to the regular program. Bernardini is a gifted soloist and performer, and has the potential to bring a great deal of youthful energy to the group – she’s barely 30 years old. Besides touring as a soloist, she already has her own ensemble (the string trio Serafino) and is in the trial period for leadership of both the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Camerata Salzburg. She has fewer recordings to her name than Richter – just a couple of  La Serenissima recordings as a section player- but is nevertheless an up-and-coming player on the international music scene.

Besides being an exceptional player, Bernardini chooses exciting and interesting concert repertoire that doesn’t get performed very often. Her concert series with Tafelmusik, taking place October 1 to 4, and 6, is no exception. She and the group will be playing a Geminiani follia, as well as Jan Dismas Zelenka’s wind-rich (but nevertheless very queasy sounding) Hypochondria. Vivaldi and Telemann, respectively, will round out the program with two pieces the group is playing for the first time – Il Proteo, o il mondo al rovescio, and the misleadingly titled La Bizarre (with the exception of the last movement, it doesn’t sound that strange).

Anne Boleyn: If you’re more in the mood for something a bit less maniacal, the Musicians in Ordinary have a chamber concert September 25 featuring music sung and enjoyed by one of the most famous women in English history.

Anne Boleyn was just a girl when she was sent from England to the Netherlands and France in order to be trained to be a lady-in-waiting for the English court. Part of her education was in music, and she was familiar with, and very likely performed, the works of some of the most influential composers of the time. In particular, Boleyn had the work of Josquin des Prez (1450-1521), widely considered to be the greatest composer of the early Renaissance, in her collection, and his compositions will be featured in the Musicians’ concert. Soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards will be joined by a group of four singers for an 8pm concert of vocal music and dances for solo lute at Father Madden Hall in the Carr Building at St. Michael’s College.

 If you’re also interested in some of the history behind how Anne Boleyn found herself studying music in the Netherlands, consider showing up early for an edifying pre-concert lecture by Deanne Williams, author and associate professor of English at York University. And if you’re really a history geek (or binge-watched The Tudors way too much), you might want to check out the history colloquium organized that day by the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies at the University of Toronto, based around the discovery of this manuscript and what it tells us about music in Europe in Boleyn’s time. You can find information on the colloquium at their website, crrs.ca.

TEMPO: If you’re not content to simply listen to baroque music and would like to actually try playing it, you should learn about TEMPO. The Toronto Early Music Players Organization is a group devoted to making early music accessible to amateur musicians who want to learn to play early music repertoire, and they have brought in lutenist Lucas Harris to coach their first workshop of the 2015/16 season. Harris is an excellent choice to coach amateurs – aside from being a professional lute player of the first rank, he’s also a coach for the Toronto Continuo Collective and an experienced choral conductor besides. No word on what they’ll be playing yet, so be prepared to sight-read, I suppose. If you’re at all interested in playing with the group, the workshop is at the Armour Heights Community Recreation Centre on Sunday, September 13 from 1:30 to 4pm. To participate, go to their website (tempotoronto.net), fill in the application form and show up with an instrument and a music stand. And have fun.

Going public: Finally, I should mention one new feature of this season that I haven’t seen before. Some of the top players in Tafelmusik will be giving lectures in their various areas of expertise over the next few months. It’s a natural outgrowth of period performance – most early music specialists have traditionally studied musicology alongside their studies in performance practice. As a result, there are many early musicians who have a wealth of knowledge to share about music history. This month, the Toronto Public Library will feature Christopher Verrette lecturing on the origins of the symphony in the 17th and 18th centuries at the North York Central Library on September 23 at 7pm. Verrette is an intelligent player with a wide knowledge of instrumental playing and a lifetime of experience playing early symphonic repertoire, so it should be quite interesting to to hear what he has to say on the subject. 

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

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

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.

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

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.

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Back to top