Music and the Movies: Frank

michael-fassbender-as-fra-014

Blink and you might miss this little gem about the creative process that is in the cinematic roman à clef family alongside Almost Famous. Inspired by journalist/author Jon Ronson’s experience as a keyboardist with the Frank Sidebottom band at 20 in 1987, Frank follows a present day naive cubicle-dwelling office worker with pop music dreams as he immerses himself in the strange world of a band with the unpronounceable name “Soronprfbs.”

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Toronto Summer Music: A Chamber Music Masterclass

serkin1 printIn his introduction to the third concert of the Toronto Summer Music Festival last night, artistic director Douglas McNabney noted that the program the audience was about to hear had nothing in it related to the festival’s theme “The Modern Age,” but that he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to program the two signature piano quintets of the 19th century. It became clear once pianist Peter Serkin and the Orion String Quartet began to play Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op.34, however,  that the rearview mirror of history was at work, setting a context for what would come in the century that followed.

 

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Toronto Summer Music: Beatrice Rana’s Toronto Debut

1909 Classical 2Italian-born pianist Beatrice Rana, winner of the Silver Medal and Audience Award at last year’s Van Cliburn competition, brought a nearly full Walter Hall to its feet last night with a heartfelt, technically gripping performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No 6 in A Major, Op.82. The 20-year-old took the Toronto Summer Music Festival clearly into the modern age with the Russian composer’s chromatic melody-maker that was soul food for the age of anxiety in which it was written.

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Toronto Summer Music Festival: The Emerson Quartet Dazzles

paul watkins 6 c nina largeThe latest edition of the Toronto Summer Music Festival (TSM) got off to a rousing start before a near-capacity Koerner Hall Tuesday evening with a scintillating performance by the Emerson Quartet appearing here for the first time since the arrival of cellist Paul Watkins in May of last year. With him, the venerable Emerson, now in its 37th year, has an added degree of warmth to go along with their impeccable sense of ensemble and steel-trap technique, all of which came together brilliantly in the splendid finale of Schubert’s String Quartet in D Minor, D810, “Death and the Maiden,” the final piece of an ambitious program.

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From “Classical” to the Clubs: Lemon Bucket Orkestra at Lee’s Palace, June 26 2014

photo 1-3Lately, it seems as though everywhere I go, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra is there. The 15-piece band performed two shows for this year’s Luminato Festival, one as part of the Slaight Music Series at the Festival Hub and the other at the post-show event for the TSO’s annual late-night concert, and just this Thursday kicked off their first-ever Canadian tour with a concert at Lee’s Palace. And with their tour including stops in Toronto, Sudbury, Guelph, Montreal and Ottawa, we’re sure to be seeing them pop up at least a few more times before the summer is out.

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Classical Persian Music Concert: Shiraz Ensemble at the Music Gallery, June 20, 2014

shiraz  3500x1967 Tar virtuoso Araz Salek is certainly no stranger to hybrid musicking. Over the past handful of years he has also collaborated locally with musicians with South- and South-East Asian as well as experimental music pedigrees. Most recently he flexed his transcultural composer muscles on May 15, 2014 at the Music Gallery’s “Emergents” series concert, with a new work for the avant-garde Thin Edge New Music Collective.

Salek, an Iranian-born Torontonian, is however thoroughly trained in Persian classical music, and that’s where his true heart and passion lies. His instrument of choice is the tar, the six-string Persian long-necked waisted lute. With a double-bowl shape carved from mulberry wood and a thin membrane of stretched lamb-skin covering the top of the resonators, it is among the most prominent musical instruments in Iran and the Caucasus.

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First Impressions: TD Toronto Jazz Festival

nathan phillips squareIf the first few days of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival are any indication of how the next week will be, we're in for a mixed bag of fun, funk, nostalgia and masterful musicianship.

I started my fest experience with an early show on Friday evening at The Rex. The Jive Bombers supply the good times and great playing. I appreciate it when skilled musicians—like Gord Sheard on piano and John Johnson on sax—make it look easy and fun

The opening ceremonies of World Pride Toronto combined with the jazz fest opening on Friday night in Nathan Phillips Square. Deborah Cox brought the fabulous, in a sparkly gown on a stage set over the reflecting pool, then headliner Melissa Etheridge rocked out with her hits and took a "melfie"—a Melissa selfie—with the massive crowd there to see her.

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Inuk Diva Tanya Tagaq in Concert: Nanook of the North, Luminato, June 10, 2014

tanya tagaq   band perf. nanook of the north  luminato  toronto  2014Inuk diva Tanya Tagaq’s music has recently figured prominently in Toronto media outlets. Senior reviewer Robert Everett-Green’s insightful May 30, 2014 Globe and Mail article was titled “Primal scream: Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq is like no one you've ever heard, anywhere."

Ben Rayner, The Star’s pop music critic, went even further in his rave review of Tagaq’s just-launched album Animism, advocating that it “may be the finest, fiercest, most original Canadian album of 2014” (June 7, 2014). Other journalists added their own superlatives to the reception chorus. While this may appear to be a rare instance of Canadian hyperbole, I happen to agree.

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TAFELMUSIK IN LEIPZIG

LEIPZIG--Leipzig likes to think of itself as the city of music and with Johann Sebastian Bach having been one of its citizens for the last decades of his life, the annual June Bach Festival (Bachfest) becomes a natural high point of celebration.

This year it also became a high point of celebration for Tafelmusik, when the Toronto period-instrument orchestra was honoured by an invitation to be ensemble-in-residence, performing in the June 13 opening concert in St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) as well as two more in the other principal church of Bach´s day, the St. Nicholas (Nikolaikirche).

Since 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Bach´s second eldest son, Tafelmusik, like many other performers in the ten-day, 100-plus event program, has embraced music by Carl Phillip Emanuel, including, in the opening concert, a Magnificat new to the players and so full of harmonic variety and melodic invention that it easily stood comparison with his father´s great D Major Magnificat, daringly programmed in the same concert.

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Canadian Music for Gamelan Turns 30: Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan Explores the Music of its First Decade

eccg - june 15  2014  3500x1908 Where to start with Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan? Perhaps it’d be best to mention that I was there at the group’s genesis, invited by its composer/founder Jon Siddall. Over three decades later I’m still a proud member of its roster of musicians with 30 concerts seasons, international tours, over 200 new works and ten albums under its collective belt. While my bias here is clear, my tenure with ECCG as musician, composer, arranger and past artistic director also ought to qualify me to speak about its past and present projects with passion.

The ECCG has the distinction of being Canada’s first group playing music on an Indonesian gamelan (orchestra). Recently it has been digging into its first decade of commissions of foundational Canadian and American music for gamelan, some not heard this century.

ECCG artistic director Blair Mackay makes a case for these early works. “There are a handful of works from the 1983-1993 era that formed the basis of the ECCG sound as well as our overall approach to playing the actual instruments.” The eight-member group presents these foundational compositions in two intimate June concerts at the Arraymusic Studio, 155 Walnut Ave., Toronto. The first was staged on June 15 and the second will happen on June 22 at 8pm.

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