Milestones

This month’s issue contains at its centre our 15th annual “Blue Pages” directory of presenters - a compilation of around 150 players in Southern Ontario’s musical life. As it says in the Blue Pages intro, we make no claim to completeness.

For one thing, there’s no such thing as completeness in the area of live musical endeavour; like music itself, new voices and venues arise out of, and return, to silence. For another thing, there is no perfectly definable boundary to the range of genres we include in these pages, partly because we have limited space (in print, anyway) and partly because you our readers have limits to the time you want to spend wading through events you are not interested in, searching for the ones you might be. Again this is more of an problem in print than in digital media. Speaking of which, there are some VERY significant milestones just ahead for The WholeNote on the digital front - as next issue’s opener will reveal.

Beyond the question of logistical constraints to the range of what we cover, there is also the very interesting question as to whether the method of dividing up the musical universe into discrete musical genres, each with a separate “beat columnist,” will stand up to the demands of what promises to be an era of increasingly fluid musical practice. (Witness Andrew Timar’s story on David Dacks and the Music Gallery on page 16 and Wende Bartley’s thoughts on transculturalism immediately following it.)

Anniversaries: devotedreaders of this column both know that I have a love-hate relationship with the topic of anniversaries. (If you are reading this on our website you can simply click here to read my October 2008 reflections on the subject.) It’s a particularly thorny topic in October, when we are trying to come up with a cover image which reflects, on behalf of ALL our Blue Pages members, the range and spirit of the music we cover – a task to which we bring the same high seriousness that the Canadian Olympic Association does when choosing the country’s flagbearer for the opening ceremonies of each Olympic Games.

Anniversaries aren’t always the deciding factor, though. Otherwise this year would have been no contest, with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, celebrating an astonishing 120 years of continuous existence (see the write-up of my chat with the TMC’s Noel Edison in “Conversations <at> TheWholeNote” on page 14).

Ten years ago Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin of Off Centre Music Salon graced our October cover. This was partly because they had started out the same year we did, and with the same lack of any official endorsement or precedent. And partly because of their unique formula: virtuosic two- and four-hand piano playing along with chamber music and art song contributions by guest artists, all in the spirit of a 19th century salon, with ideas being tossed around with the same verve as the music.  Happily they are still at it; this October 26 is the 20th installment of their annual Schubertiad, kicking off yet another four-salon season at the Glenn Gould Studio.

Turning from the topic of the cover of the magazine to the cover of the Blue Pages, how does a photo of the city’s second largest concert hall speak to the range of music we cover? Well, there is the music that RTH/Massey presents, spanning a range of genres and cultures. Then there’s the fact that the photo covers two performance spaces – the hall inside, and the great outdoors. Then there’s the hall’s anchor tenant, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra whose individual members  are the animators and architects of dozens of other small musical ensembles in the city. And finally, there are the one-time entrepreneurial “upstarts” such as Attila Glatz and Show One Productions, for whom conquerin,g “the Hall” for the first time was a significant milestone on their road to credibility in our ever evolving, endlessly fascinating musical scene.

 (Besides which, its a gorgeous photo.)

Milestones-TorQ

If you had found yourself at Stratford Summer Music this past July anytime between July 15 and July 20, you might well have spotted a sign or two pointing the way to something called “Tom Percussion Island.” Had you followed the signs, you’d have found yourself meandering among what The WholeNote’s new music columnist Wende Bartley described in our summer issue as “nine percussion-based instrumental exhibits on display for audiences to engage with, including a tongue drum made from a hollowed-out apple tree trunk, fire drums made from cut and tuned fire extinguishers, a piano dulcimer made from a 110-year-old piano flipped on its side and a Dream Gong Maze for you to get lost in.”

If you were lucky, you’d also have run into the percussion quartet TorQ there, “performing their own ‘pop-up concerts’ or joining with the public in exploring the sounds of these instruments in the outside environment.”

“This past summer’s Stratford residency was great” TorQ’s Jamie Drake told me. “The educational side of things has always been a huge part of what we do – up to 70 elementary and secondary school shows a year (mostly through Prologue to the Performing Arts). This was a chance to take it a step further, to show a broader public how accessible it all can be – the joy of making music with other people … It’s always been part of what we do. I think the very first public performance we gave was a school show in Smiths Falls which is where Rich [Burrows] is from.”

From left to right, as they appear in this issue’s cover photo, taken at the side door of the The Cameron House in downtown Toronto in 2009, TorQ consists of Daniel Morphy, Richard Burrows, Adam Campbell and Jamie Drake, and they are heading into the fall at a hectic pace.

“It feels like our momentum has really picked up in the last year or so,” Drake says. “Most immediately, we’re incredibly excited to be making our debut with the TSO - we’re playing a number of educational shows for school groups in November, and then we’re presenting a concert titled “Shake, Rattle and Roll” in April as part of their Young People’s Concert series. We’ve just started touring in the U.S. and 2014-2015 will see us perform in Illinois, Alaska, Utah and Idaho, among other places. We’re also going to be touring Dinuk [Wijeratne]’s concerto, Invisible Cities, at universities across Canada. And on top of all of that, we’re continuing with our Toronto concert series. So lots of exciting things on the horizon!”

Milestones-TorQ2A quick search of The WholeNote October listings confirms the momentum he talks about: participation in an October 4 Nuit Blanche all-nighter at the Canadian Music Centre, titled Global Motives; an October 16 U of T Faculty of Music free noon concert in Walter Hall; back to back appearances October 24 and 25 in the Grand Philharmonic Choir’s performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in Kitchener.

And finally, in this cycle anyway, the icing on the cake – a November 1 8pm concert titled TorQ Turns 10, back at Walter Hall. The concert is billed as “a milestone celebration of TorQ’s first decade together, featuring favourites from their repertoire; works by Cage, Hatzis, Wijeratne, Morphy and others.”

“Percussion can fit into so many different situations,” says Drake. “Perhaps because of our diverse interests, we’ve always actively sought out different musical settings to satisfy different aspects of performance. Because of that broad approach, we often end up with seemingly dissimilar gigs close to one another; we might be playing a classical concert with an orchestra one week, a bunch of school shows the next, then a show in a bar the next week. We seem to thrive on that sort of variety.”

A closer look at the program for their November 1 “Milestone” concert tells a story: “Often the way that we choose a program is by pure and simple democracy and a lot of back and forth,” says Drake. “Pretty much every concert we’ve ever played has always had some amount of input from each member.” The main criterion is that all four of them have to enjoy playing every piece that they perform. “We each have slightly different tastes in music, but it’s important that we don’t play pieces that one person really doesn’t like – if someone isn’t into a piece, it’s much harder for the group to have a convincing performance.”

You can hear their individual voices, and a sense of their journey as an ensemble, as they describe, in no particular order, the repertoire for the November 1 concert.

Third Rule of Thumb by Barbara White ... was on the very first concert that TorQ ever played (in Walter Hall),” says Richard Burrows. “We played it on that concert because it was one of the pieces on the suggested repertoire list for the Luxembourg competition, which was the original motivation for putting the group together. It was probably the first piece that TorQ ever learned.”

John Cage’s Third Construction is, in Drake’s words “a seminal work – one of the first great [non-pitched] percussion quartets ever written. It’s become part of the canon ... as fresh today as it did when it was written in 1941. It’s musically brilliant and incredibly fun to play. Pieces like this motivate us to do what we do.”

Nocturno is part of a longer work Modulations 1, by Christos Hatzis. “He is one of Canada’s greatest contemporary composers,” says Adam Campbell. “ It was composed in conjunction with our involvement in his graduate level course Composing for Percussion at U of T. It was our second collaboration with Christos; the first resulted in the quartet version of In the Fire of Conflict, which is on our album two+two.”

 Dance of Joy and Whimsy by Elisha Denburg, was also the result of TorQ’s first involvement with Hatzis’ Composing for Percussion class. “It was one of our favourites from the class,” Dan Morphy says. “We liked it so much we recorded it on our first album. Elisha has since become a good friend, and has written us other great pieces, including as part of the Toy Piano Composers collective.”

“Ersilia is a percussion quartet-only movement from our first concerto commission, Invisible Cities, by the incredibly talented Dinuk Wijeratne” says Cunningham. “We premiered it in March with the University of Saskatchewan and will be playing it all across Canada in the next couple of years with other members of the commissioning consortium. We’ll also be showcasing it in July in San Jose at the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Conference; we’re hoping to start to perform the piece with American ensembles as well.”

Thrown from a Loop is one of numerous pieces that members of TorQ have written for the group. “We all feel that contributing to the repertoire is really important,” says Morphy. “It increases the Canadian content, and it also allows us to play music that no one else plays (at least at first). Loop also showcases our diverse influences – not only the classical and university training side of things, but how various modern genres (including pop music) have influenced us.”

Awakening Fire was TorQ’s very first commission. “Jason Stanford has always been a great supporter of the group,” Drake says. “The piece is beautiful. It was also the first piece we ever played that involved electronics.”

No TorQ concert would be complete without improvisation. Burrows explains: “As former students of the members of NEXUS, we’ve always been influenced by their amazing improvisations; the opportunity to spontaneously combine our musical interests and ideas has always held immense appeal to us, and it’s been an important part of our music-making since the formation of the group.” They are releasing their  third album, Without A Map, at the November 1 concert. “This is our first all-improv album, and creating and recording the music for it was a real joy for each of us.”

Their respect for NEXUS is not a one-way street either; their album two+two was described by former NEXUS member Robin Engelman as a “landmark recording […demonstrating] an artistry that puts TorQ squarely on par with the best percussion ensembles in the world.”

Life in TorQ requires dexterity and versatility. But that being said, while they “all do almost everything, and like to mix it up” they do have their preferences. “I enjoy vibraphone over marimba,” says Drake. “Dan [Morphy] is our biggest marimba talent; he has amazing chops, so if there’s a killer marimba part it’s his …”

“How about sonata for kitchen sink and kazoo?” I interrupt, jokingly. He does not hesitate. “I do a mean kitchen sink,” he says. “And Adam is king of the kazoo.”

It’s been five years since that Cameron House photo shoot in front of John Marriot’s iconic mural (alas no more). It’s also the closest they’ve come, so far, to playing the Cameron as a group. But with their collective appetite for everything musical, I wouldn’t count on it staying that way!

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com


Editor's Opener - September 2014

There’s a little “PRICELESS!” tag we wear proudly at the top right-hand corner of our cover. It used to say FREE. And that’s still true, in its literal sense, for more than 99 percent of the 30,000 copies we distribute each issue from London to Kingston, Ontario.

But in a year like this, as we tiptoe towards our 20th anniversary and start to delve into the treasure trove of musical facts and memories captured in our pages, “Priceless” begins to take on a greater resonance. Look for example at the little features on pages 63 and 67 in this issue, which capture some of the flavour of “How I Met My Teacher” and “Music’s Children” – two features that over the years have helped to show the human and personal face of our region’s extraordinary musical life.

We’ll be digging down regularly over the coming months (with more than a few contests and challenges and prizes along the way). Hope you’ll be along for the ride.

Nearly two decades of chatting like this every month or so with a readership as faithful as ours has its dangers. For one thing it leads to the assumption that every reader of the magazine will “get it” when I fly off on one of my little tangents. But with a lot of guests in town this month (hello TIFFers!) and getting into practice for next July’s Pan Am games, I’m going to try to tone things down a bit, here in the magazine’s ceremonial front office.

(For my more usual ranty style, I’m afraid you’ll have to turn all the way to “Dis-Concerting Stuff” on page 60, where I offer up some suggestions for them as thinks they have a monopoly on what constitutes “proper behaviour” in others at a concert, while remaining sand-blind to their own shortcomings.)

I can’t remember any issue (in the 19 years, two months, 14 days and 23 hours we’ve been doing this) that better reflects the variety and richness of musical life in this neck of the woods. From film to new opera to world music, live and recorded, to insights into what has to happen behind the musical scenes to make it all tick, this issue’s features are an extraordinary testament to the variety and resiliency of art in general and live music in particular, in a town and region that have their ups and downs in terms of wider political support for and understanding of the role that art and culture play in the health of individuals and the communities they inhabit.

(That being said, I made a little promise to myself not to get caught up in the cut and thrust of our fall municipal elections until after Labour Day, so you’ll have to wait until the next issue for any more about that here. Not that there isn’t a fair bit to say, but, as I mentioned, there’s company in town.)

Switching gears again, it’s our regular columnists as much as our feature writers who make the magazine the fine read it’s come to be over time. So hats off, ladies and gents, for hauling in your fishing tackle and hightailing it back to town. A special nod (by way of a placeholder) to horn player and Jazz Notes columnist of long standing, Jim Galloway, whose regular column is conspicuous by its absence this month as Jim battles a bit of a health setback. To say Jim’s missing a column is unusual is an understatement. This is, after all, the man who filed 2,400 typewritten words of an interview with Oscar Peterson by fax machine (miracle of modern technology at the time) from the purser’s office of a cruise ship, rather than miss a deadline. Good news is I can truthfully tell you he’s “on assignment” writing about the musical implications of an impending anniversary five times longer, and with much grimmer resonances, than our own. 

As our Mr. Galloway’s customary signoff in his column would put it: have a good month, and make at least some of your music listening live!  

publisher@thewholenote.com

THIS is the summer

Every late spring Frog said to anyone who would listen “THIS is the summer I will do it. THIS is the year I will make pilgrimage to the musical shrines in the holy city that lies on the other side of the mountain. My work is done; my time is my own; my soul hungers for something other than this city’s unrelenting roar.” Every year Frog said these things to anyone who would listen; but for one reason or another (every year a slightly different reason) the words remained empty, the desire remained unfulfilled, the journey across the mountain to the shrine of music remained a wish for which our Frog had not the will.

This year no one would listen; they had heard it all before. So, for that very reason, this year Frog, early one morning and without saying anything to anyone, found the little road that led to the little path that led towards and up and over the mountain, on the other side of which, Frog had read, untold musical wonders awaited.

If truth be told, the ascent was not particularly arduous. The path, as I have already said, had many twists and turns, and the steepness of a path is almost invariably inversely proportional to the number of its twists and turns. But Frog found it heavy going, nevertheless. Mainly this was because Frog was built low to the ground, so every hopeful rise ahead brought with it the illusion that the top of the mountain was close at hand, only to have the hope thwarted by each next gentle rise, each next illusion. But Frog pressed on. “THIS is the summer I will do it. This is the summer I will do it … ” Frog kept repeating, though there was no-one there to hear.

The moment arrived. No rise lay ahead. This was it. The top of the mountain. “I will stand tall on my hind legs and contemplate all the wonders of what lies ahead in the musical shrines of the holy city beyond,” Frog said, though there was no-one there to hear. And Frog did, stretching out tall and straight as anatomy allowed.

Here’s the thing: because of the curious (to some) placement of Frog’s eyes, the city Frog saw in standing tall this way was the one that lay behind, not the one that lay ahead. “Astonishing” Frog said. “Here I have followed the twists and turns of this path half the day in hope, only to find that what lies on the other side of the mountain is exactly the same as what I left behind. I might just as well head back home”

So Frog turned around and, a second time, stretched up as tall as anatomy allowed just to get a bit of an overview of the twists and turns of the journey home. And in that instant, Frog was transfixed with wonder; for the home town Frog had left that morning was utterly transformed — a place of wonder with music shimmering from all its shrines.

“I can scarcely believe my eyes” Frog said. And hopped happily home.

Follow the Frog!

As you wend your way through all the musical twists and turns of the summer, we hope that this edition of The WholeNote is a useful companion, whether you venture further afield or find musical pleasures in your own back yard.  During the 19 years we have been publishing, the extent of summer music has grown so much that no guide to it can claim to be anything more than anecdotal. Trying to sort through which listings belong where is even more than the usual monumental task for us. There are summer presenters in traditional year-round venues, year-round presenters in all kinds of seasonal and unexpected places. There are unfamiliar performers coming to town, and musicians well known to our readership venturing out “On the Road,” as our annual summer feature describes it. You could start there. Or you could start with the 45 presenters listed in our Green  Pages. However you approach it, be as patient as you can with us, as you follow the twists and turns of our logic in choosing which listings section (our regular four and special summer fifth) to place particular events in. When in doubt “Follow the Frog!” as the notes throughout the listings section advise. 

HalfTones is The WholeNote’s e-letter, designed to pick up the slack mid-month during the regular season. It takes on an even greater utility during these summer months. With our next print magazine not till the beginning of September, there will be dozens and dozens of additional listings and updates rolling in. (Along with notifications of all kinds of contests, prizes and special offers to sweeten the deal. So if you haven’t already, put yourself on the HalfTones list. Instructions on how to do so are at the foot of page 84.)

All that being said, I’ve got to go. THIS is the summer, you know, I promised myself I would make my way to Ottawa and Midland and Westben and Port Milford and Parry Sound and Stratford and Chautauqua and …

publisher@thewholenote.com

Through The Cracks

ForOpeners-TheKinseySicksEarly on in the development of this magazine we decided on a genre-based approach to our regular beat columns to guide our readers through the vast range of “musics,” as columnist Andrew Timar likes to call them, regularly encompassed in these pages.

In many ways it makes sense to do so – if you are on a forest walk and mycology or ornithology are your particular thing, you’re going to gravitate towards the guide with a mushroom or bird pin on their lapel. Similarly columns with names that include “New” or “Opera” or Early” or “Jazz” in them offer readers who already know what they like the comfort of a regular “go to” guide.

But it is an organizational device that even now allows interesting content to fall through the cracks, and probably needs a bit of a rethink as the sharply delineated features of the musical and social landscape continue to erode and change.

For one thing, increasingly, we find that musicians, no matter how specialized their training,  are choosing not to be pinned down in terms of their practices – seeking partnerships and collaborations all over the musical landscape.

Read more: Through The Cracks

One Hundred And Counting

I went last week (March 17 and 19)  to two musical events which neatly (and entirely coincidentally) balanced events 100 years apart around a central pivotal point of reference.

The first was a panel discussion/chamber concert  involving players from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra organized by the Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership at Glenn Gould Studio. Bruce Surtees briefly describes the event on page 14 of the current issue of the magazine.

The second was the appearance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday March 19, which is described in some detail by Paul Ennis in his Classical & Beyond column which commences on page 17. 

In the case of the Glenn Gould Studio Chumir-sponsored event, the 100-year interval was that between the start of the so-called “War to End All Wars” in 1914 and today. 1914 and 2014 stand like two grim pillars on either side of the event that was the main reason for the Chumir event taking place, namely the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s efforts, since 1998, to begin coming to terms with an inglorious chapter in its storied 156 year history, between 1938 and 1945. That a majority of Austrians  (57 percent) today accept that Austria was at least as complicit in the Anschluss as a victim of it is a welcome development. That in the same poll only 24 percent agree with mosques being built in Austria is a grim reminder that memory and selective amnesia are partners in a very grim dance.

We will have lots more to say about that event in the coming weeks, as Surtees explains.

In the case of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s Roy Thomson Hall appearance, the 100-year interval is a much more benign one, simply between the dates of composition of the two symphonies that made up the two halves of the program: John Corigliano’s Symphony No.1 composed in 1988, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5, composed exactly 100 years earlier. And in this case the link between the two is not a moment of monumental infamy, but an entirely happy one, namely the triumphant return to Toronto of Gustavo Dudamel, last here in October 2009 with Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, as it was then known, on the occasion of Jose Antonio Abreu being awarded the Glenn Gould Prize.

About this event I have a little more to say right now, because of the little affirmations that the concert sent ringing to the rafters of my mind as resoundingly as the LA Phil under Dudamel sent the music singing through the not always forgiving whole of RTH.

For me the event was not just about the music;  rather it was not just about the sounds of the music but also about music’s power to bring things into being.

How many people in RTH that evening knew, for example, that in the near-capacity crowd were a couple of hundred students of Sistema Toronto, which traces its origins to Abreu’s visit in 2009. Sistema Toronto, as some of you may recall was chosen by Glenn Gould prize laureate Leonard Cohen for the City of Toronto Protégé prize, two years after Abreu’s award. Now here they were, full of hope and music, bringing their own passion for music to a gala  banquet before the concert, affirming the fact that Abreu’s vision, powered by the state in his native Venezuela, could take root and flower in the soil of Ontario, where culture tends to be privatized and parcelled out as grimly territorially as the shores of most lakes in cottage country.

And I wonder how many people at RTH felt the same little bump of pleasure as I did, reading in the program that the Los Angeles Philharmonic is now the driving force behind something called YOLA (Youth Orchestras of Los Angeles), bringing music’s motive power to over 600 youth in underserved L.A. neighbourhoods. Yet another sign of Sistema’s spread, one can say, having taken root since Dudamel arrived.

Change for the better all sounds so simple when it’s spelled out that way. There’s another example in the issue – the “Hamilton Plan” that Chuck Daellenbach described to me in our interview (page 14), that brought music to the schools of Hamilton and its surrounds in the late 60s and early 70s with what sounds in the telling like astonishing ease.

 It’s tempting to think of the nascent power for usefulness of The WholeNote’s “Orange Pages” initiative as Allan Pulker describes it on page 61 as spreading with the same ease. Just think how easily it would all come to pass if “I told two friends, and they told two friends and they told two friends,” the way it did in the shampoo commercials back in the same wonderful 70s that Daellenbach talks about in our interview.

Enjoy this issue in all its diversity, dear readers. Music might not have had the power to dispel this winter’s polar vortex, but it continues to offer the hope of spring.

publisher@thewholenote.com


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