TheWholeNote 06 05 Feb2001 OCR RFS Page 1Sometimes a detail from one of the stories or columns in the magazine leaps off the page, grabs my heart, and makes my job of penning this Opener much easier. This time it was a a tiny detail – the caption to a joyous photograph at the top of Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond column. Dang Thai Son and Yike (Tony) Yang at the end of the 2015 Chopin Competition it reads.

What grabbed me wasn’t the name of 16-year-old Toronto high school student Yike (Tony) Yang who came seemingly out of nowhere to take fifth place in the world’s most prestigious Chopin competition in Warsaw. It was the joy on the face of the man hugging him – Dang Thai Son, described in the column as “one of Yang’s teachers.”

Dang Thai Son, you see, was on the cover of The WholeNote in February 2000, in the context of what he called “my real Toronto debut” at Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. That February 2000 Toronto recital was 20 years after he had “burst seemingly out of nowhere, onto the world stage in 1980, when he was awarded the First Prize Gold Medal at the tenth Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.”

Lots of the details of that story are still clear in my mind, but I hunted out the issue and re-read it. (You can follow his 30-year journey from Saigon to Hanoi, then Moscow, Tokyo and Montreal yourself, by the way. If you go to you will discover a complete digitized flip-through archive of every magazine in our 20-year history, handily shelved.)

But one crucial detail in the story I had completely forgotten, from the time Dang Thai Son was still a youth in Hanoi: “In 1974 a visiting Russian pianist Isaac Katz heard the 16-year old play, and made it his business to get him to Moscow – to the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory.”

There is such a huge arc of time captured in that photograph: from Isaac Katz in 1974 making the musicianship he saw in 16-year old Dang Thai Son “his business”; to Dang the teacher’s joy at Yike (Tony) Yang’s 2015 triumph.

It’s nice to think that without the “sheer plod” of documenting, month in and month out, the simple heartbeat of our musical neighbourhoods, such sweet coincidences, with their capacity to make our hearts soar and sing, might well simply be lost in the mists of time.

Do we repeat ourselves? Very well, then, we repeat ourselves. The way we work around here, our individual columnists usually function pretty autonomously within their beats. They seldom have access, in deciding what to cover, to information about what other writers have also decided to cover. Editorially we attempt to avoid complete train-wrecks (i.e. such as when writers’ individual trains of thought go barrelling down exactly the same track from opposite directions).

But more often than not, our reasoning is that if two writers covering different beats find themselves interested in the same story, that’s something of value for our readers to know, because it suggests that the musical item in question has escaped the pigeonhole one might normally consign it to.

Andrew Timar in his World View column this month, for example, talks about something he calls “hybridity” – which I understand to be a rigorous and ethical alternative to cultural appropriation.

David Dacks, artistic director of the Music Gallery  explains the distinction succinctly in Timar’s column: “If one is attempting to join culture A to culture B in a coherent musical statement, one must be really attuned to power relationships, comparative structures/forms/tuning/language, your own personal experience and other points of connection or difference between musical ingredients one is working with.”

Is something of the same force at work when beat writers, normally overlapping very little in their interests, find themselves drawn from different directions, like moths, to the same musical candle?

Watch for the tendency as you read. Chances are, something special’s going on! Examples? Watch how David Virelles’ Gnosis shows up in Timar’s column and in Wende Bartley’s In with the New. And how Timar’s reference to Jane Bunnett in the context of discussing Bunnett’s role in Virelles’ musical lif resonates with Ori Dagan’s story “Jane’s Day, Jane’s Way,” which charts some of the reasons that Bunnett is this year’s worthy winner of the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Congratulations, Jane.

Masterpiece means what? As a Facebook RRRR (relatively recent regular reader) it still intrigues me to see which posted topics push people’s buttons enough to get them to comment.

One such recent thread came from a musician/teacher I have a particular interest in, wondering out loud how to explain to her students what a “masterpiece” is.

It elicited a large volume of responses, most of which took the form of naming particular works which, in the opinion of the commenter, were worthy of the designation. 

In my way of thinking that is analogous to responding to the question “what is a forest?” by rhyming off the names, or even individual locations of a whole bunch of trees.

My own response was along the lines that a masterpiece is a work where if you don’t get it, the problem is more likely to be with you than with it.

What do you think? I can be disgreed with, or enlightened, at

Hosts of The WholeNotes 20th Anniversary Party, Sept 25, 2015, David Perlman and Mary Lou FallisAt the party after The WholeNote’s 20th anniversary concert at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Friday September 25, a former Governor-General of Canada (who shall remain nameless) said to me some kind words to the effect that we were to be commended for the service we had rendered to the artistic community over the past two decades and to individuals like her who in large part get their information about what is out there musically from this publication.

My reply, if I remember correctly after two hours onstage with the inimitable Mary Lou Fallis (thank you, Mary Lou!), was that the most amazing thing is not the fact that we told the story, but the fact that the story existed to be told.

All we have done is to document one aspect of the astoundingly vibrant cultural life of the remarkable cultural fertile crescent along the Canadian shoreline of Lake Ontario. Take a quick look at the Blue Pages in the centre of this magazine and the listings in any issue of the magazine, and you will see what I mean.

Bottom line: There would be no WholeNote if there had not been an extraordinary music scene in these parts to document.

October 19: That is why we are weighing in on the topic of the federal election now under way. Because we believe the artistic life of this city and region is under threat in some very significant ways. And people who care about that should think carefully when they cast their vote.

I am not going to tell you who I think you should vote for. But I am going to tell you what I think you should vote against.

One: Vote against candidates and parties who use the word “middle class” as if they know what it means. And then go on to talk about “what middle class Canadians want” as if that were the only important thing in the election.

In a story in this issue, pianist Eve Egoyan, at some point, talks about life as “an independent artist who makes a living in bits and pieces.” Ask yourself: how many “middle class” people would describe the way they make a living in those terms? And then ask yourself how many cultural workers you know who fit that description?

Finally, ask yourself which parties’ policies are geared to the needs of the other people in our society who also “make a living in bits and pieces” but don’t have the cachet that gets artists (even starving ones) invited to dine at the tables of those who make their living in much more orderly and predictable ways.

Look to support parties with policies that support and empower the working poor, for the majority of the artists that make our society rich in ways beyond money fall into that category for a significant part of their lives, even while they bring us all joy.

Two: Vote against candidates and parties who pit cities against suburbs; and who don’t seem to understand that the only way to keep our cities truly, fully culturally alive in the ways that made this magazine possible is to enable the next generation of artists to be able to afford to live in the places where they learn and ply their trade.

Ask yourself: what will have changed irreversibly for the worse when our audiences can afford to live in a city, but the majority of the artists on its stages cannot?

Three: Vote against candidates and parties whose policies suggest they think throwing money at studying problems is actually part of the solution.

Or who base their campaigns on promises to make great new things from scratch without explaining how they will build on what is already there.

Or who say that solutions for those in the arts, whose lives are built of bits and pieces, are different than for everyone else in the same boat.

And then vote.

Twenty-year archive: Earlier in this rant I mentioned that what The WholeNote has done is to document the musical life of this thin strip of land for the past twenty years.

As part of this 20th anniversary celebration, we are pleased to announce we have digitized our first 20 years. They are available for your nostalgic pleasure at

For me, this is the moment I never tire of in this process: sitting with the issue almost complete, gobsmacked as always by the sheer diversity of musical life teeming under the lens of the month’s microscope.

September’s writers often spend a fair bit of time looking back at the summer past, as much as looking ahead at the month to come. In part, as I have noted in other Septembers, this is because the Toronto International Film Festival strides like a colossus across the middle of the month, so there are fewer live concerts in September than any other in the year. No major musical presenter in town hoping for undivided media attention goes head to head with TIFF. (For devotees of this magazine hungering for their customary musical fix, all is not lost, though. Once again managing editor Paul Ennis, in TIFF Tips, has seized the opportunity to combine his twin passions for film and music and has combed the TIFF catalogue for films with one or another musical slant. As always it’s a rich and eclectic mix and worth a look.

There are those rare and serendipitous coincidences (too neat to be planned) where a film of significance comes to TIFF right at the same time as a concert by the subject of the film in question. It sort of happened three Septembers ago when the Brentano String Quartet came to town, for a concert at Music Toronto, at the same time as the film A Late Quartet for which they had done the actual  playing. This year’s example is way more interesting - the Silk Road Ensemble is coming to Massey Hall two days after the world premiere of The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble at TIFF. If the movie delves into the social aspects of the Silkroad Project touched on in Andrew Timar’s cover story, taking in both events will be a real treat for lovers of music and film alike.

That being said, the propensity of our September writers to look back at the summer because of slim concert pickings is even more pronounced than usual this year because it has been, to say the least, an unusual summer. “The Summer to End All Summers” we called it on our June cover – a bit too apocalyptic, it should be said, for more than one reader. “Let’s hope not!” one WholeNoter muttered, darkly. (The reference – a bit too oblique in retrospect – was to the eagerly anticipated Luminato mounting of R. Murray Schafer’s magnum opus, Apocalypsis, at the Sony Centre.)

Readers will notice that Apocalypsis features in the  summer musings of more than one WholeNote writer; In with the New columnist, Wende Bartley, joined up with the Element Choir to experience the event from the inside out; Brian Chang, who steps into Ben Stein’s choral shoes this issue, was in the balcony with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in which he sings (tenor, I suspect from his first column!); and David Jaeger refers to the work’s genesis in his musings on the golden years of CBC Radio (The Future of Canadian Music, Back Then, page 57), this time on the topic of commissioning. 

Speaking of Jaeger’s piece I got a bit of a chuckle (that’s 20th century talk for LOL) in his description of another commission mentioned in the piece – a song cycle titled Private Collection by John Weinzweig. “[It was] written for the young, emerging soprano, Mary Lou Fallis. I remember John telling me, that she was ‘pretty hot stuff’ as a performer, besides being an excellent singer.”

As for Mary Lou Fallis, she is a welcome guest in this issue, writing in Just the Spot (page 54) about her long association with Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, where she, along with yours truly, will, on September 25, host what promises to be a splendid concert/celebration of this magazine’s 20 years of existence. For details (and to arrange your free ticket to the event) see the magazine’s back cover!

But back to the topic of Luminato and Apocalypsis, one last time. Beyond the writers already mentioned in this opener, I counted at least ten other WholeNote staff and contributors, myself included, who went to see and hear Apocalypsis. And for every two who saw it, there were at least three different opinions as to its artistic merit and significance: it was an overblown insult to the perfection of Schafer’s vision; it was a tribute to director Lemi Ponifasio’s genius that he could massage Schafer’s bombast into something genuinely theatrical; it was an artistic triumph; it was an artistic failure; it was more than the sum of its parts; it never really came together….

As for me, to borrow a phrase from Bob Ben’s column Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz, page 45, “when petty concerns of quality and integrity eclipse art’s purpose (whatever it is), that, to me, is tragic.” Granted, Bob is talking about jazz jams, but there’s an idea worth delving into here. Apocalypsis for me had a purpose that was as much social as artistic. It brought together, under one tent, a thousand performers and twice as many witnesses, to experience something that as a totality existed only in the moment of enactment. Each of the performers, musicians, singers and soloists alike played their part. None had a chance to see  the whole picture, only to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Whoever is charged with taking Luminato into the future should reflect on this: as a festival, as a fixture, its future depends on being more like this one show – a giant tent under which our city’s artists are invited to play. Bringing in the headliners, the stadium shows, the big names is part of that mix, for sure. But the real spectacle is the musical and artistic city we already are and can continue to be if top-down “bring in experts to fix it” cultural policies are set aside in favour of humane social policies that enable our artists, along with the other working poor, to afford to live and play here.

We’ll be watching, and keeping score. 

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The Toronto Mayor’s Arts Lunch took place on May 28 at the Arcadian Court with almost 400 people in attendance. It’s not arranged by the Mayor. This annual event is put on by the Toronto Arts Foundation, the 20-year-old sister organization of the 41-year-old Toronto Arts Council. The event celebrates the annual Toronto Arts Foundation Awards which are announced and handed out there. Most of the nominees attend and the range of nominees is always a lovely portrait of the ever-changing face of the arts in this town – the old who persevere, the young who are handed (or grab) the torch to carry it forward, and the rest of us somewhere in between, debating whether we should have dessert, or should have said no to that second glass of wine.

Perhaps it’s called the Mayor’s Arts Lunch because the organizers hope that mayors will be more likely to attend if it’s named for them. Although for the previous four years, one could be forgiven for thinking it was because the mayor, conspicuous by his absence, was the event’s main roast.

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It’s hard to believe that April Fool’s Day was less than a month ago. This is after, all a month during which not only do we at The WholeNote have to do our usual aggregating of the live local concert scene and commenting on it, but we also have to pull together our annual Choral Canary Pages — an astonishing  (to me, anyway) snapshot of the range and diversity of our readership’s involvement in playing the world’s oldest, most basic and most sophisticated instrument — the human voice. So right now April 1 feels as though it is many hours more than a simple month’s worth of work in the past.

As I am sure it must feel for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Some of you may remember that Michael Vincent of Musical Toronto — the blog that, far more adequately than any of the city’s daily media, reports on the daily passage of the musical events we chronicle monthly here — got April Fool’s Day off to a flying start with the announcement that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra had acquired major new sponsorship and was, accordingly, being renamed The President’s Choice Symphony Orchestra.

Given the role that naming rights play in corporate sponsorship of Culture and MUSH (museums, universities, schools and hospitals)  the announcement was just credible enough for the joke to have real traction on April 1, only to turn really sour a week later when the actual TSO president’s choices put him front and centre in the harsh glare of public scrutiny over the TSO’s decision to “uninvite” pianist Valentina Lisitsa, scheduled to appear with the TSO that week to perform the Rachmaninov second piano concerto.

True to our calling as makers of lists here at The WholeNote, we dutifully documented, in the April 14 issue of HalfTones, our regular midmonth e-letter, the range of public reaction to the Lisitsa affair. And we also threw in an opinion of our own, which (for the benefit of those of you who don’t yet read HalfTones regularly) was this:
when the leader of an organization makes a difficult decision, as in this case the TSO’s president did, the reasons stated for that decision become part of that leader’s legacy, even more than the decision itself. Some agreed with his decision; some did not. But explaining that Lisitsa had been uninvited because her widely tweeted political opinions “might be deeply offensive to some” has put the TSO (which though private bears our city’s proud name) on a very slippery ethical slope.

(On the other hand, for those of you rubbing your hands at the possibilities the precedent sets, I invite you to sign the online petition calling for the works of all composers of the Second Viennese School to be permanently uninvited from TSO programming, because atonalism is clearly deeply offensive to some.)

Silver lining: the uninviting of Valentina Lisitsa had a profoundly moving corollary, in that a scaled-down version of the concert in question went ahead, without a soloist, without an intermission, and with only one work on the program — Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, under the baton of a former TSO music director, Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

As a piece of programming to suit the occasion, the Mahler  could not have been better chosen. The orchestra was clearly burning to DO THEIR REAL WORK, the audience was ready to listen,  and Saraste, conducting without a score, gave us all the opportunity, for 70 minutes, to traverse the entire emotional landscape of the turbulent week. Mahler Five starts bleak as can be and ends determined to be happy. Granted, cheerfulness in a major key is seldom as convincing as emotional storm and stress in a minor mode. But as the work came to a close there was consensus in the house, from players and audience alike — dammit after a week like this we have EARNED our D Major!

If only for a moment, the music itself was the only story, front and centre, which is as it should be. “THIS is what it’s really about” I heard someone say as we all stood to applaud (and I don’t think it was me talking to myself).

Koerner by name: The 21C Festival (now in its second year at the Royal Conservatory) is to a large extent the brainchild of the same individual who sponsored the performance hall that is the jewel in the crown of the RCM. This little  festival is a building project every bit as complex and important as the building it sits in and will take as much time and attention to bring to fruition. Wende Bartley’s In With The New on page 14 suggests that so far things are on the right track.

The world’s oldest instrument II: If like me you have always thought of barbershop singing or a cappella in general, as somehow inferior to “real” choral singing, then do yourself a favour and read the first half of Ben Stein’s column (page 22). And then carry on and read the rest of it! Soccer, by virtue of its lack of dependency on pads and gear and other equipment, has earned the title “the beautiful game.” Perhaps unaccompanied singing stands poised to do the same.

 We Are All Music’s Children: Somewhere along the line, in the next couple of issues (if it hasn’t happened already) the number of people interviewed  for MJ Buell’s column/contest in this magazine will pass the 100 mark; each of them has answered the same simple set of questions. No two sets of answers have been the same.  And the reservoir of people to interview will never run dry as long as music lives. Regular readers of the column, stay tuned! Come September 25 Music’s Children will be helping us celebrate The WholeNote’s 20th anniversary, and you could be at the front of the line to join the celebration.

Listen Up! If you are not in the habit of reading the record reviews at the back of the magazine (because what’s the point of reading words about music when you can’t hear the music the words are about), then you won’t have seen the bright yellow arrow sign below. Just saying!

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