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.

Read more: Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Tour

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.

 

Read more: Toronto Summer Music: A Chamber Music Masterclass

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.

Read more: Toronto Summer Music: Beatrice Rana’s Toronto Debut

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.

Read more: Toronto Summer Music Festival: The Emerson Quartet Dazzles

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.

Read more: First Impressions: TD Toronto Jazz Festival

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.

Read more: TAFELMUSIK IN LEIPZIG

EARLY MUSIC: Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie

It's a rare pleasure to hear Jean-Philippe Rameau played in North America, even though most music played today owes the man a heavier debt than is typically acknowledged. Rameau was a contemporary of J. S. Bach who began his career as a harpsichord virtuoso, composing three books of solo keyboard music, and his compositions for solo harpsichord rank as some of the most difficult and the most rewarding music composed for the instrument. Mid-career, Rameau became a music theorist and, along with Bach, an advocate of equal temperament. Rameau is probably most remembered today for his discovery that tonal music is made up of chord changes rather than intervals between notes, a tenet of music that still remains with us and is a guiding principle of classical, jazz and rock.

It's somewhat curious then, that after considerable success in two separate fields of music, he turned to writing opera at the age of 50, and stranger still that he would continue to do so after his first opera courted controversy and a fairly frosty critical reception.

The reasons some of the French public hated Rameau's operas hardly matter now. His first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie was performed over 130 times during the composer's lifetime, proving once again that there is really no point in listening to critics. But it was certainly a pleasure to hear Voicebox's Opera in Concert series reviving Hippolyte for Toronto audiences Sunday afternoon at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, in a staged production with the help of Toronto's Aradia Ensemble. Despite the fact that it was Super Bowl Sunday, Voicebox managed to draw an audience of over a hundred listeners. Clearly there are a few people in Toronto who either appreciate Rameau's status as the father of modern music or are aware that opera is less tedious, and involves less standing around waiting for something to happen, than professional football.

French opera is hard to do well, and Rameau is not kind to players. Aradia and Voicebox did a fine job of interpreting a difficult composer. Besides having a great band backing them up, Voicebox had a stellar lineup of soloists and a truly phenomenal choir to do justice to an under-appreciated composer. When this company puts on a fully orchestrated production, beautiful music happens. One wish though: the soloists had more than enough volume to dominate the orchestra. Could the band have been bigger? Or at the very least, louder?


Back to top