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!