Musicians in Ordinary

While we generally think of Elizabethan England as a Golden Age for the Arts, we often forget the political culture of paranoia, suspicion, and suspension of personal rights and freedoms that plagued England at the beginning of the 17th Century. The average English citizen could expect to be detained indefinitely, tortured, and even executed if it was suspected that he was a member of a religion that was deemed by the English Crown to be hostile to English interests – namely, Catholicism. This was the theme of the Musicians in Ordinary's latest concert at Carr Hall at St. Michael's College, exploring the sacred music sponsored and composed by the undercover Catholics of England in a dangerous climate of religious persecution.

It didn't look like the Musicians in Ordinary had a particularly large body of work to choose from (given that the concert was dedicated to music that, by its very nature, was intended to remain as secret as possible) but despite lasting little over an hour, MiO managed to put together a comprehensive survey of composers from the English Renaissance, including Byrd, Robert Johnson, Tallis, and Nicholas Strogers, and lutenist John Edwards played several solo English lute pieces as well as accompanied soprano Hallie Fishel with the help of a very fine violin band led by violinist Chris Verrette.

It was an interesting theme for a concert both from a historical and musical perspective, and the pre-concert lecture, given by Reverend Lisa Wang describing the persecution endured by Catholics in Elizabethan England was a welcome addition to the evening, but St. Mike's needs to invest in a stage manager if only to remind the octagenarian members of the concert-going public that they are carrying cell phones that need to be turned off before the concert starts (yes, if you go to a classical concert in Toronto in 2014, someone's cell phone will still ruin part of it). The performers were further hindered by Carr Hall's air conditioning system, which was left on throughout the concert and was loud enough to render most of the music, especially the lute solos, inaudible (which would have been bad enough without letting a techinician come in mid-concert and trying to turn off said air conditioning with his walkie-talkie still on and receiving messages). This is simply not acceptable for a concert that advertises itself to the paying public. Still, frustration is a powerful motivator, and the Musicians did seem to improve with the disturbances, or at least try harder to win back the audience's attention. Here's hoping they outshine their venue next time.


Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Tour

tso at concertgebouwHow do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise. How do you get a reputation? Tour and record.

Although the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has done all three, it is 14 years since Toronto's finest last set foot (a couple hundred feet actually) on the European continent, which makes them near strangers on their current five-nation tour.

The five-nation tour is actually only a five-city tour. It began near Vienna (the outdoor Grafenegg Festival outside the Austrian capital), continued in Amsterdam and Wiesbaden, currently finds the players in Helsinki; it will conclude in Reykjavik.

Not exactly a Napoleonic campaign, you may argue, but then, the days of the three-week multi-stop grand tour are virtually over, according to a representative of Harrison Parrot, the English agency responsible for managing this and many other orchestral visitations.

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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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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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