2105-Early.jpgDare one ask if there will come a time in music history when the historically informed performance practice advocated by the early music movement becomes no longer necessary? Devotees of capital-C classical music may well wonder why the early music revival is so preoccupied with bringing back minor composers from the 17th and 18th centuries, but stops, officially, with the death of Bach in 1750.

It’s a worthwhile question to ask: there were, after all, treatises on musical practice, like those beloved by the early music movement, written well into the 19th century; and the instruments of a Romantic-era orchestra were no more significantly different from those of their predecessors as they are from an an orchestra of today.

Fans of Tafelmusik, for example, might once in a while dare to whisper, given the group’s near-canonic range of orchestral literature, that the group should take on more conventionally classical repertoire for a symphony orchestra. And indeed, they sometimes do. This month, as an example, Tafelmusik is giving the concertgoing public the opportunity to hear an early music take on the Classical and Romantic eras. Hopefully they will both bend the ears of a few traditionalists with a rare foray into 19th century repertoire that features works by Brahms, Beethoven and Rheinberger, and will offer a fresh take on the works in question for hard core classicists more accustomed to hearing the same repertoire kicked to death by over-large orchestras in unforgivingly large halls. If there’s an early music group in Toronto that’s qualified to take on Romantic repertoire, Tafelmusik is it – the group cut its teeth on Haydn and Mozart in the early ’90s, making it the most forward-leaning ensemble on the Toronto early music scene.

Tafelmusik’s concert, on February 4 through 7 at Koerner Hall, features German conductor Bruno Weil, who has been leading the group through the Beethoven piano concertos and symphonies since 1996, and is now back to complete the cycle with a performance of the Ninth Symphony. While it’s easy to dismiss Beethoven’s Ninth as the warhorse of orchestral concert programs (who can’t hum the Ode to Joy?), it’s not often that one gets to hear it done by a period ensemble on classical instruments. From a performance practice perspective, The Ninth is also the gateway to the 19th century, and the choral works chosen to accompany it in this program complement Beethoven’s final symphony perfectly. Brahms’s chromatic, fugal Warum ist das Licht gegeben and Rheinberger’s beautifully imitative Abendlied are both delightful to listen to and entirely appropriate for an early music group – Brahms’ well-known penchant for trying to compose in the style of Bach is quite evident here, and the Rheinberger sounds like a Palestrina motet updated for a 19th-century audience.

Weil is also a fine conductor with the unique ability to straddle both early music and modern territory deftly. Having him back to conduct the Ninth in order to complete the Beethoven cycle celebrates a particularly successful artistic collaboration between the conductor and the orchestra. Who knows? Maybe we will see Weil next year conducting Tafelmusik in a Schubert or Brahms symphony.

If you miss this particular orchestral extravaganza, you might still want to catch Tafelmusik’s other concert later this month. Like the earlier concert, it features the group doing orchestral repertoire that stretches hard-line early music definitions; this time Mozart, not Beethoven, is the evening’s dedicatee. The Romanian violinist Mira Glodeanu will return to lead the group in a concert of Mozart’s greatest hits – including Eine kleine NachtmusikSymphony No. 40 and his Sinfonia Concertante. It should be a worthwhile evening for similar reasons to the Beethoven concert – like Weil, Glodeanu is a gifted musician with an ear for Classical repertoire, and it will be interesting to see what kind of performance she can pull out of the ensemble. And once more, it’s a chance to hear an early music take on some orchestral standards by a group that will do a first-class job. Maybe that’s why Tafelmusik keeps getting mistaken for the TSO. You can catch Tafelmusik doing Mozart at their more usual venue, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, February 25 to 28.

The Way of the Consort: It’s been 16 years since the Toronto Consort released their medieval album The Way of the Pilgrim, and if you’ve never heard the disc before, you’ll get a chance to hear it in concert February 12 and 13. The Consort is re-releasing the album this month on the Toronto-based independent label Marquis records, and celebrating the occasion with a concert/CD-release-party at Trinity-St. Paul’s on February 12 and 13 at 8 pm. The Way of the Pilgrim features songs from the 12th and 13th centuries, from Spain, France and Germany, sung by crusaders, travellers, and yes, pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Way of the Pilgrim became something of a seminal album after its release in 2000, and it ranks as one of the best recordings of medieval music by a Canadian group, so it’s good to see that the Consort is giving the disc some publicity as well as a live performance.

Scaramella pardessus: The social conventions around what is considered appropriate behaviour often seem confusing to outsiders or succeeding generations. In the ultra-conservative conformity of 18th-century France, it was apparently considered unladylike behaviour for a woman to hold a violin on her shoulder, or worse, under her chin. The elegant solution the French came up with was the pardessus de viole, a miniature version of the viola da gamba that could play music in the same register as the violin while being held daintily in the lap. On March 5 at 8pm in the Victoria College Chapel Scaramella pays tribute to this eccentric instrument with a concert of French music composed just for the pardessus de viole. Montreal-based gambist Mélisande Corriveau joins New York harpsichordist Eric Milnes and Toronto’s own Jöelle Morton for a concert of French 18th-century music. An excellent chance to hear a rare instrument played by a virtuoso, so be sure to check it out.

Pisendel: Sometimes you can judge someone by the company he keeps. We might not appreciate the music of Johann Georg Pisendel very much today, but the Dresden composer and orchestra leader was a colleague and friend to a galaxy of talent in 18th century Germany and Italy, including Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Zelenka, JG Graun … you get the idea. Although Pisendel was more of a bandleader and violinist than a composer – he left us with just a handful of violin concertos, orchestral works and sonatas – he had the good fortune to be a musician in a city where culture counted for a lot. His employer, Augustus the Strong, may well rank as the most extravagant man in history, and spent lavishly on cultural events ranging from court balls, Venetian-inspired masquerades, and animal-tossing contests (?) in order to entertain a wide succession of mistresses, to a court orchestra, directed by Pisendel and paid for by Augustus, which was one of the finest, and largest, in Europe. On February 28 at 2 pm at Gallery 345, my group, Rezonance, presents a concert of some of the finest music of the late Baroque, all dedicated to a man who was one of the greatest conductors of his day. If I may be permitted to blow my own (modern) horn for a moment, Rezonance is an energetic ensemble that features up-and-coming talent in the city playing insightful and interesting concert programs. If you’re interested in an informal, fun concert of chamber music, this concert promises to be both informative and entertaining. 

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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Early Music 1For most non-musicians, the end of December is a welcome opportunity to take a break from the pressures of work, usually present year-round, and spend time with family and friends. This is sadly not the case if you happen to be a performing musician. While most of us are winding down for the holidays, it seems like Toronto early music groups are working harder in the next couple of months. December and January are two busy months for early music groups in the city, and whether it’s Christmas repertoire or part of their regular programming, if you’re in the mood for a concert on any given week in the next couple of months, there will be an early music concert that will be well worth going out to hear.

It’s not often that I find myself in the position of trying to argue that Antonio Vivaldi is an underrated composer who needs to be given his due. But while Vivaldi still ranks as the great Italian orchestral composer of the 18th century, it’s rare to hear his opera music, and still rarer to hear his sacred vocal music performed in concert. I’m happy to say that the Aradia Ensemble will be doing their part to give us a new take on the Red Priest with their recording of his sacred vocal music, which they’ll be celebrating with a CD launch concert at 7:30pm on December 5 at St. Anne’s Anglican Church (270 Gladstone Ave). Soloists Hélène Brunet and Vicki St. Pierre will join the group to sing in an all-Vivaldi program that includes his cantatas Beatus VirCur Sagittas, Cur Tela, and Vos Aurae per Montes. Aradia has over 50 albums under its belt, many of them excellent, so it’s a bit of a shame that the group remains largely ignored by the Toronto concert-going public. This promises to be a solid concert of some rare music by a first-rate composer.

Not Ordinary: Another Toronto group that deserves a little more attention is the Musicians in Ordinary. Over the last few years, the group has been positively thriving as the ensemble-in-residence at St. Michael’s College, of the University of Toronto. In an age of cuts to culture and with symphony orchestras being forced to close their doors for lack of funding, it’s heartening to see that U of T is giving the group a regular performance space as well as some resources for larger-scale concerts. There is absolutely no group on the Toronto early music scene that performs as wide a range of repertoire as frequently as this one. Their concert next month is a great example of what the group can do when it’s scaled up. St. Michael’s Schola Cantorum will be joining the Musicians in Ordinary for a concert of English music by Handel and Geminiani. Violinist Chris Verrette will also be performing with the group in what promises to be a very enjoyable musical evening, December 7 at 7:30, at St. Basil’s Church, St. Michael’s College. The holiday season also promises a chance to get out and see some concerts, and it’s nice to see that there’s more than just Messiahs to get us all in the mood.

Cantemus Singers start the Christmas season off early at 7:30pm on December 5 with a concert of Christmas music from the courts of 16th-century Spain and Austria at the Church of the Holy Trinity. If you happen to be in Kingston, or if you’d prefer a choral concert that’s a little more conventional in its repertoire, you might want to consider checking out the Melos Choir, who will be doing a program of Advent and Christmas songs and readings featuring music by some Renaissance heavyweights –Schütz, Byrd, Praetorius and Victoria. It’s at St. George’s Church in Kingston on December 5 at 7:30.

The Oratory at Holy Family Church often puts on timely music and a well-researched repertoire. This month’s concert at 8pm on December 9 at the Oratory is no exception. They’ll be doing Advent music by Charpentier and Bach, as well as some baroque composers that I had to look up. Giovanni Rigatti was a 17th-century Venetian composer, while Nicolaus Bruhns was a Danish-German composer, organist and violinist, who was a student of Dietrich Buxtehude. Both these composers wrote music for Advent, and both of them would probably be better known if more of their work had survived to the present day. Have they been justifiably ignored, or are they neglected masters? Check out the concert and find out.

Zak Ozmo: As far as original ideas for Christmas concerts go, you can’t get much more creative – or exotic – than the Toronto Consort’s Christmas concert this year. On December 11, 12 and 13 at Trinity St-Paul’s Centre the group will present a concert of Christmas music from the monastery of Santa Cruz. Guest director and lutenist Zak Ozmo will lead the group in a program of Portuguese- and Brazilian-influenced music unearthed from the monastery’s archives. I’m especially looking forward to hearing this concert, as it’s a unique program from a musical tradition we don’t often get to hear much of in Toronto (Be honest, when was the last time you got a chance to go to a concert of Portuguese baroque music?) and this find could very well be a treasure trove of scores to add to the early music canon.

I Furiosi: After the holidays, I’m happy to say that the music scene in the city won’t be quieting down at all. The always-boisterous I Furiosi ensemble will be presenting a mixed concert of Luzzaschi, Charpentier and Purcell at 8pm on January 9 at Calvin Presbyterian Church. The band will be joined by soprano Merry-Anne Stuart and organist Stephanie Martin for a concert of songs about unrequited love, rejection, and futility.

Tafel welcomes Glodeanu: Finally, at the end of January, more Vivaldi. Tafelmusik will be honouring Vivaldi’s music in an all-Italian concert led by Romanian violinist Mira Glodeanu. Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico (“harmonic fancy”) is a series of 12 concertos published by Vivaldi that endure as the composer’s best-known work and was hugely influential on music in the 18th century. (J. S. Bach liked the concertos so much he transcribed six of them.) On January 20 at 7pm and on the following weekend, Tafelmusik will perform the second, fourth, and eleventh concerts from the work, along with chamber music and a concerto grosso by Locatelli as well as music by Vivaldi’s contemporary Giovanni Guido, who was so enamoured of The Four Seasons that he based his Scherzi Armonici on them. This promises to be an exceptional sampling of 18th-century Italian music and with Glodeanu making her debut with the ensemble from the first violin, the concert offers for Tafelmusik regulars another teasing view of how the ensemble plays with someone other than Jeanne Lamon leading from first violin. 

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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