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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Shouldn’t it follow that a mayor making pronouncements about how some city south by southwest of here has, gasp!, “a live music guidebook and a smartphone app…and they help people find live music easily in the city,” would look around to see what we do have before throwing more top-down money to “grow our creative sector as a key to economic growth.” Nothing wrong with the sentiment, John. Just look around carefully at the bailiwick for what’s already invented and make us all part of the solution. (I’ve underlined the previous sentence in the copy of the mag I’m mailing you and put a post-it note on the page. I know (and am glad) you are busy.

“Top down” inevitably means tapped out: “grass roots,” once a beautifully apt metaphor, has long been trampled down to the point of losing its meaning. Why bother when for an executive salary of half a million or so (plus another half million or so in contracting fees) you can lower a giant Christmas tree or festival onto a city square any time you like, and have it appear to be alive for the couple of weeks that people are paying attention. After that? Let the Games begin!

I loved Nuit Blanche long beforethat evening last fall, walking through the Market and up the stairs to the roof of the Kensington Parking Garage to watch the people coming from all directions, drawn by grass-roots magic, to watch that laser beam emanating from that roof top, strung like a tight-wire rainbow telegraph, high over Dundas Street,  across MY city, to the side of the CN Tower, watching it shimmer as it cut through the rain. 

Faithful followers, should make a note of the fact that this (March 19 2015) is the earliest that I have settled on a title for this Opener in the 19 years 6 months and 19 days that this publication has been in print.

And if you like the title, thank WholeNote stalwart, oboist Karen Ages, who interrupted a Perlmaniacal rant about the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Bach Festival (in which little town Bach’s music was a living part of their liturgy, decades before Mendelssohn pronounced Bach to be risen from the dead)... “Speaking of non sequiturs,” Karen said. “I’m going to get my hair cut on Monday instead, so as not to miss our Friday Directories meeting.”

Musicians with big ones, take note: the best way to protect a large instrument (in this case Ben Stein’s theorbo) while visiting The WholeNote office, is to leave it right out in the open, in the middle of the floor, so that even if the publisher doesn’t see it someone else will, just in time to stop said publisher from putting his foot into it. (The reason for Stein’s visit was to discuss an upcoming feature on A Cappella singing as a genre in the upcoming May issue.)

How Low Can You Get? Good question! Partial answers will be found at Flute Street’s “And the Giant Began to Dance” concert April 12 at Christ Church Deer Park, featuring something called a sub-contrabass flute. And at Associates of the TSO’s “Don’t Always Have Fun Without Me! The Double Bass is Here!” at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on April 12 – the very next day. Deep. Very deep.

We called it our Canary Pages because we were advised that certain people would sue our tushies off if we called it the Choral Yellow Pages. Now as we enter the home stretch on our 13th annual Canary pages (the deadline is April 6), the official explanation is that the metaphor derives from the practice of miners using canaries to detect methane gas. No canaries singing means DANGER! CALL THE MAYOR.

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I always have a funny moment  of pleasure when one of our columnists finds himself or herself having to preface a reference to a particular upcoming event with a disclaimer – calling readers’ attention to the fact that the columnist in question is actually performing in the event they’re about to tell you about. (See the final paragraphs of Ben Stein’s and Ori Dagan’s columns in this issue for examples of what I am talking about.)

It doesn’t happen often, but often enough. And the pleasure that I get from it, every time,  is the little reminder that so many of our writers are, in fact, active participants in the musical “Beats” they write about, rather than detached observers. 

I also get some satisfaction, in those situations, from the fact that we still make the effort to point these little conflicts of interest out to our readers when they happen. It gets harder and harder when all the protocols they teach in publishing courses about keeping  one’s editorial  operations as pure as the driven snow are being blown away by the winds of digital change. It’s especially hard for the little guys like us to stick to protocols for keeping editorial and advertising separate at a time when even the big guys who passed exams in the rules are floundering for consistency.

So what am I driving at? Well, just this: this is one of those times when I am busting to use this supposedly sacred bit of editorial real estate to tell you about a whole bunch of things I would not even know about if I were wearing only my editorial hat instead of the two or three that every member of this tiny organization must juggle just to keep this little publication going.

So, damn the torpedoes!  Here I go! (I can always go back to being an editorial virgin in the morning, can’t I?)

One: Azrieli

Were you in too much of a hurry to come visit me here to notice the advertisement from the Azrieli Foundation on page 4, announcing the Azrieli Music Project ? The competition announced in the ad should make the composers among you sit up and take notice, at any rate. It offers a  $50,000 prize for a 15 to 25 minute newly composed work of “orchestral Jewish music,” by a Canadian resident; to be performed in a gala concert by Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

The question that jumped up at me immediately was “So, what constitutes ‘Jewish music,’ in these times?”  To their credit, the AMP doesn’t duck the question. “The question What is Jewish Music? is at the heart of a constantly evolving cultural dialogue,” they say. “Taking into account the rich and diverse history of Jewish musical traditions, the AMP defines ‘Jewish Music’ as music that incorporates a Jewish thematic or Jewish musical influence. …  Defining Jewish music as both deeply rooted in history and tradition and forward-moving and dynamic, the AMP … challenges orchestral composers of all faiths, backgrounds and affiliations to engage creatively and critically with this question in submitting their work.”

Consider the following: in this month’s WholeNote listings there is a concert on March 12, jointly presented by the Ashkenaz Foundation and the Aga Khan Museum, titled “Spotlight on Israeli Culture” and featuring the Diwan Saz Interfaith Ensemble – a multicultural ensemble of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Bedouin musicians performing “ancient music from Central Asia, Turkey, Persia and the Holy Land.” And two days later, on March 14, the Music Gallery, Ashkenaz Foundation and Koffler Centre for the Arts combine to present a work called The Lanka Suite by Tova Kardonne which, according to columnist Andrew Timar, “goes back to the Klezmer bands Kardonne played in, starting in her teens, as well as to her grandparents’ Eastern European Jewish roots” and goes on from there to engage with the social realities of post-civil war Sri Lanka, taking in, along the way, Kardonne’s   “studies of Cuban santería batá drumming, North and South Indian drumming patterns, and her participation in the Brazilian Samba Elégua group.”

With these kinds of dialogue under way in our town, it will be fascinating to see who rises to the AMP challenge. We will follow the story as it develops.

Two: IRCPA
Still on the subject of ads in the issue, please take a look at the one on page 28 for IRCPA (International Resource Centre for Performing Artists) for their series of workshops, March 27 to 29 and then April 10 to 12. Ann Summers Dossena, driving force behind IRCPA, has been preaching in the arts wilderness for as long as I can remember about the unmet needs of artists on the edge of performing careers who have nowhere to turn for support, resources and expertise when they are in the process of making the transition from a sheltered academic environment to the realities of life as  working musicians. Now finally, it seems people who should have been listening long ago are starting to listen.

I’m proud to say The WholeNote is sponsoring the third of the March sessions (Sunday March 29) right here at the Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst Street. The first five of you who respond to publisher@thewholenote.com saying you read this can be my guests at the Sunday session!

Three: March for Music Therapy; MusiCounts
And still on the subject of ads, I have two more you should go and look at. First go check out the March for Music Therapy ad on page 77. It’s another example of how music can send out tendrils of re-engagement with community life and living.

And while you’re splashing around the back of the magazine, pop over to page 56 where you’ll find under “Opportunities” in our splendid revamped Classified advertising section the following all-too-easy-to miss announcement about the MusiCounts TD Community program - one of the most unequivocally useful bits of corporate sponsorship I can think of. “SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW BEING ACCEPTED” it says “for the 2015 MusiCounts TD Community Music Program, which provides access to musical instruments and equipment to thousands of children in under-served Canadian communities. The grants will be distributed in allotments of up to $25,000 totalling $220,000. Grant applications are now being accepted at www.musicounts.ca, with a submission deadline of Friday, May 8, 2015.”
And finally:
This issue heralds the beginning, in terms of coverage, of our long slow walz towards the summer, in the form of Part One of our coverage of Summer Music Education.  In Sara Constant’s story “All Roads Lead to Summmer” that introduces the directory (page 12) there is the comment that those seeking summer music education, no matter how different, are all looking for “options that  foster the ... spirit of learning and community.” 

Amen to that. All year round.

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February sits in the musical calendar like a trailhead parking lot in a fine provincial park. From it you can set out on any one of a number of paths, depending on whether you are interested in explorations of the short, medium or long-term kind.

The most immediate of the outlooks February offers is what’s going on within the month itself. But be warned. For the shortest month of the year, this issue’s listings pack quite a punch! This may be because, as Jack MacQuarrie speculates in Bandstand on page 27, “all the behind-the-scenes efforts of winter rehearsals ... spring into a variety of programs well before Mother Nature takes her own leap into spring.” Or it may be that we, the audience, hardwired for frivolity during the silly season, have shown ourselves over the years to be good and ready for something more sustaining once the days begin to lengthen. Or that resigned to a month of daily grind, only music (and lots of it) will do to keep the February blues away.

Another interesting way to view this month is that it is the launchpad for the whole second half of the concert season – so if, fuelled by your own resolve, you set out this month to make some new musical acquaintance, it’s early enough in the new year that you will have other opportunities  to seek out that artist or presenter or composer or venue again, before the end of the regular season.

Beyond these two paths of inquiry, February is also the starting point for two other longer-term inquiries: first, it’s never too early, it seems, to  begin planning for summer; second, right now is when we start getting tantalizing glimpses of what the next full season (2015/16) will have to offer. In both cases, these early whispers will crescendo to a dull roar over the course of the spring, but even now they threaten to distract us from the task of living, mindfully, in the present musical moment.

Regarding thoughts of summer, as Sara Constant points out in her introduction to On The Road (page 53), planning for summer music education tends to fall into place the earliest, for educators and students alike. So we are starting On the Road a full month earlier this year, with a couple of early educator interviews to get the ball rolling.

Even more distracting than thoughts of summer in terms of staying in the musical moment, this is also the time when the town’s musical biggies make with their 2015/16 season announcements, an act akin to waving a Dufflet dessert menu in the face of diners still rewardingly ruminating over their mains.

The Canadian Opera Company was, as usual, the first out of the blocks with a mid-January launch. (Chris Hoile summarizes the essentials in On Opera on page 19.) Incidentally, this year’s COC launch set the bar very high for events of this kind; a 90-minute hosted event in the FSCPA main hall, with full orchestra and soloists onstage, providing musical emphasis for each reveal. (The audience was not your usual sprinkling of scribblers, corporate sponsors and board members either more like 800 to 1000 subscribers and  donors packed the lowers rings of the hall, many of whom were lining up close to an hour before the building opened.

The next big formal launch event, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on January 29, will have come and gone in the very moment that this issue hits the street. But thanks to Wende Bartley’s extraordinary cover story interview with Barbara Hannigan (page 8) a few magic beans have already been spilled! The TSO has confirmed that Hannigan will be back in the fall not just to sing but to conduct! (Details in Bartley’s story.)

All potentially very distracting, but I should tell you I’ve particularly enjoyed just browsing the listings this month for all the quirky and random juxtapositions they throw up on the beach of the mind! What were the odds, for example, that two ensembles with names as eerily similar as Scaramella and Swamperella would show up side by side at the very end of the very last day in this month’s listings? (See March 7, GTA). And only two subway stops apart. Think of it: an early evening in Telemann’s Paris (bass viol, baroque violin and flute, harpsichord) followed by a short stroll to rock the Mardi Gras night away to the strains of Cajun and Zydeco dance music, as deeply rooted in the history of swampy Louisiana (named for Louis XVI) as Telemann’s Paris Quartets were in the Paris of Louis XV.

And if it’s history that we are speaking of, not least among February’s shape-shifting attributes is that, since 1979 in Toronto, and 1995 in Canada as a whole, February has been officially designated Black History Month.

Official Canadian recognition of Black History Month came, coincidentally I suspect, in the same year as the founding of this magazine, and it’s fair to say it’s been a bit of a headscratcher for us ever since. The easiest rationale is to resort to “colour-blindness”: “We write about the people involved in the music we cover race doesn’t come into it.” Next would be to quote someone like Morgan Freeman (who after all has played Nelson Mandela in the movies and therefore must be right): “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history ... There’s no White History Month.”

But, truth be told we go through paroxysms here each year, not knowing whether it honours or dishonours the intent of Black History Month to call attention to it any more than the circumstances of any particular February dictate.

Colour bind vs colour blind? I went to a Toronto Rock lacrosse game at the Air Canada Centre a couple of nights ago. It had about the same racial mix among spectators as a typical night at the Canadian Opera Company. But these days it’s the Toronto Raptors’ fans, not the Rock or the Maple Leafs, who get to roar with conviction “We The North.” 

Sometimes the most proactive thing one can do about an issue is simply and accurately to reflect the way things actually are.

So that is what we do, and if you flip the pages of this issue, rather than hyperfocussing on the cover, I think you will see that things are moving along.

As should you, if you are going to partake of February’s riches, in all their glorious shades of grey.

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