TengLi-HP-Banner.jpgA brave little girl is wakened on a sweaty night in Nanjing by her father around 10pm. They ride double on his bike to the train station, about an hour through the city. They get on a midnight train and she sleeps a little – maybe on a luggage pile, or on some newspapers on the floor under a seat. They arrive in Shanghai at 6am and have a little breakfast. She has an 8am violin lesson. Then they travel all the way home again. And they do this every weekend.

Young Teng Li devoted much of her childhood to the violin. She was not yet a teenager when an important instructor at the Beijing Central Conservatory, who also taught viola, complained about the calibre of viola students in general and demanded that she switch because he wanted “the best.” It was a bigger instrument, the articulation more difficult,  the sound projection different. Li accepted the challenge and so began her visceral bond with an instrument that sings with an almost human voice.

At 16, speaking very little English, she auditioned for, and earned a place at, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Her new teacher, the renowned Michael Tree, offered this new challenge: he said he had no worries about her playing, but that she must also become the best human being she could. She was embarking on a journey during which competition and being “’the best” can push aside the physical and mental health of young artists, and the isolation of rigorous practice and study can turn out emotional and social misfits. Tree’s admonition hit the right note, and resonated – what she understood was that if you are not a good person it will show in your music.

Li was still a student when she was invited by Peter Oundjian to audition for the first viola chair of the TSO. She returned to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under Oundjian’s direction and found herself hooked on the symphony. At the start of the 2004/05 season she became the TSO’s youngest player at the age of 21 and the orchestra’s first chair viola, a position she retains today.

She rose to this new challenge with the same combination of grit and grace that saw her through the earlier ones: the sheer volume of repertoire; the numbers of rehearsals and engagements; earning the trust of the other players whom she is quick to credit for helping her learn on the job. The outcome has, according to all accounts, been mutually rewarding. Alongside her vigorous TSO schedule, including appearances as featured soloist she’s been establishing herself as a violist internationally, with regular engagements as soloist. She is busy as a chamber musician and collaborator, appearing in major international festivals and competitions. She is one-third of Trio Arkel, along with violinist Marie Bérard and cellist Winona Zelenka. She teaches at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music and the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal.

Last summer she released her debut recording, 1939, with collaborators Meng-Chieh Liu (piano), and Benjamin Bowman (violin). The CD is an extraordinary collection of chamber works by Jongen, Ullmann, Hindemith, Hua and Klein. In the liner notes Li says “I wanted to showcase the works of different composers at that point in history to express how human beings from all walks of life can be affected during such horrific times.” (See Pamela Margles’ review in The WholeNote’s DISCoveries, September 2015.) 

Please see Interview, We Are All Music’s Children.

Author: mj buell
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2105 BurashkoThe Art of Time Ensemble has been a fixture on Toronto’s cultural landscape for many years, committed to redefining the experience of music performance and exploring the juxtaposition of high art and popular culture. I’ve long been fascinated by founder and artistic director Andrew Burashko’s programming acumen and his ability to attract a coterie of top-notch musicians to perform with him. Two days before Art of Time’s Sgt. Pepper Canadian Tour began with a concert at the Sony Centre, January 21, I spoke to Burashko on the phone about the origins of Art of Time and Burashko’s own musical training. Perhaps fittingly for a conversation about the Art of Time, our chat proceeded chronologically.

Burashko had a typical classical music training for a serious young piano student. At nine and a half, he began studying with Marina Geringas “the best teacher in the city for young, gifted kids – she produced a lot of professional pianists” – in 1975, about two years after he and his family arrived in Canada from Russia via Israel.

“She gave me an incredible physical foundation,” he says. “I was being groomed to be a concert pianist.” ... His break came when he attracted the attention of Walter Homburger and Andrew Davis. “I was 17; I made my debut with the Toronto Symphony. I performed with them well into my career. I think I did ten seasons with them. Ten different concerti. I was supposed to go to Manhattan School of Music to study with Nina Svetlanova. Because my whole life I was made to practise, I guess I rebelled as I was finishing high school. And I quit music [pause]. So I spent a year at U of T doing sciences and then towards the end of that year, Roman Borys, who was the cellist of the Gryphon Trio, talked me into going to Banff – I hadn’t touched the piano in a year – as a duo. Which I did, to the chamber music program. It was my first time in Banff and there I met a lot of people who are friends to this day. As well as one of my most important mentors, Marek Jablonski.”

While in Banff, he realized that his “heart was in music, but I wanted to do it in my terms.” That meant going to Vancouver to study with Lee Kum-Sing for two years. (One of the people Burashko had met in Banff was Jamie Parker and Parker and his brother Jackie had studied with Lee.) Then Jablonski came to Toronto in 1987 and Burashko followed him to what is now the Glenn Gould School. “Those were the four most formative years of my life,” he said, “because I had at least one lesson a  week with Marek and I played every month with Leon Fleisher.”

I reacted positively to Burashko’s comment about his link to Fleisher (I am a great admirer of Fleisher’s work); Burashko responded in kind: “You know, most of my ideas about pianism and interpretation come from Fleisher …. He is incredible. Truly.”

After those four years with Jablonski, Burashko studied with Bella Davidovich in New York for two more. “And things began to happen for me.” He worked with new music groups, chamber music groups like Amici, even toured with the Gryphon Trio before Jamie Parker joined. And taught. Which he considers a crucial part of his life until recently.

Classical music ... I always believed, as I still do, that it was incredibly compelling and exciting and has the potential to speak to anyone if they’re exposed to it just at the right time at the right place in the right way.

Turning points: A key part of the Burashko narrative involves modern dancer Peggy Baker, who returned to Canada from New York in 1991.  “Working with her I gained access to a whole other world. The world of the theatre, really. Where things are, for lack of a better word, a helluva lot more theatrical than in a concert hall. Lighting is important. Staging. All those things. And creating a dramatic environment. And also, after all those years I got to know a lot of incredible people like Karen Kain, James Kudelka, Margie Gillis.”

Then comes a surprisingly candid admission: “I guess that, along with the fact that it was a real grind and struggle in the classical music world, I never got to the point where I could dictate my terms. So if ever an orchestra called that I hadn’t worked with before and asked me ‘Do you know, whatever, Rach 2?’ I would say yes. Between travelling and working I was at the piano all the time cramming, some years learning three or four new concerti a year. And it’s no fun playing stuff for the first time, all the time. It’s a huge pressure. Blah-blah-blah-blah. So all those things kind of converged. And the main thing was that I was disheartened by the fact that all the classical audiences were so old and nobody was really doing anything about turning people on to classical music. I always believed, as I still do, that it was incredibly compelling and exciting and has the potential to speak to anyone if they’re exposed to it just at the right time at the right place in the right way. And so that’s how Art of Time began.

“The general idea – I’m oversimplifying – was to create programs which would also include the involvement of either actors or dancers. Because of Peggy I had access to the dance world. I had many friends, still do, who are actors. So actors, dancers, pop musicians, jazz musicians – with the idea that they would hopefully attract their audience and once they were in the theatre then they would be disarmed by the familiar and open to the unfamiliar. And that’s how it began and it’s evolved from there.”

Disarmed by the familiar and open to the unfamiliar. Juxtaposition as the catalyst for gaining and growing an audience. And doing it on his terms.

The impetus for his first concert production came from an agent he shared with Scott St. John. St. John was running a series at the time called “Millennium” but he “got sick of doing it.” The agent asked if Burashko would be interested in starting something in its stead. He’d been dreaming of doing something like that for years, even tried to organize similar projects but unable to follow through because of lack of time or know-how. “Even in the first few years of Art of Time, I was so busy with my own career it was completely haphazard. I invested my own money in it. I would write grants. I would just basically have enough money to rent the Glenn Gould Studio three nights a year and present three different chamber music programs. And by then I had really long-standing musical partnerships with Steven Dann and Joel Quarrington and Amanda Forsyth, Pinchas Zukerman. It’s such a small world. I knew all these people, they were my friends, colleagues. And they were excited about doing something new and different. And musicians are always excited or drawn to working with other good musicians.”

The concert he produced in 1998, “a very eclectic program of Russian music – from Glinka to Schnittke,” is one he’s presented frequently since. “It was Stravinsky, Glinka, this big sprawling, cheesy, beautiful kind of bel canto mini-concerto for piano and string quintet, the Schnittke quintet and Prokofiev Overture on Hebrew Themes. And I opened with a Brodsky poem. I’m also a very big fan of Joseph Brodsky. Which was about exile, essentially. And I think that first time I had Ted Dykstra read it. Basically it was music, with a little bit of a twist.”

That “First Season” (1999/2000) consisted of just three one-nighters. “Then for the next few years, I just kept going. There was no infrastructure. I would get on the  phone, I would invite people. There was nothing, other than to pay the players and to rent the hall. And that’s how it continued until about 2005. Slowly it was growing, mainly through the arts community. I was becoming more and more daring with the programs and I was just aware that it would never grow if I kept doing it on the sidelines, growing by the seat of my pants, it would never go anywhere.

“In 2005 we moved to Harbourfront and started doing four shows of two-nighters. It was basically, I don’t want to say whim, I went on some sort of belief that wasn’t backed by anything in the physical world. That first year our budget was about $60,000. Today it’s over a million dollars.”

I point out to him that Art of Time is such an evocative name, since the concept of time is so central to what is arguably the core of music. He immediately agrees and expands the thought: “The most noticeable and important fingerprint, for lack of a better word, the most important quality, of a musician or the first thing I notice about a musician, is their sense of time.” But the name also works on another level, he quickly says. And again Leon Fleisher’s name re-enters the conversation.

“Fleisher used to talk about compositions as these elaborate structures or cathedrals built out of time. They were time structures. So on those two levels, really, that’s how I came up with Art of Time.”

2105-Burashko2.jpg2015/2016: Our conversation moves into the three shows that will complete the 2015/2016 season, ZappaErwin Schulhoff and Hawksley Workman. “What drew you to Frank Zappa?” I ask. “Wow!” he responds, explaining that Zappa has made a deep impression on him since his teens. Later, in the new music world, he was exposed to him a number of times. (“Zappa’s the only one I could think of who straddled more than one world completely.”) In fact, he says, it was a Zappa concert by Frank Boudreau and the Quebec Contemporary Music Society at the Music Gallery, way back in 1988, that planted the seed for Art of Time’s own Zappa program, February 19 and 20. “Their Zappa show was so much fun. It blew me away.”

That concert never left him; and knowing that the charts for that music existed defined the repertoire for February’s show. Most of the arrangements for the upcoming concert are from the late 1980s and are very dense and busy. Burashko wanted to dilute the “assault-on-the-senses” effect a little bit by adding numbers like Bobby Brown Goes Down and Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow. And Stephen Clarke and Gregory Oh, the two keyboardists in the show (Burashko is conducting), wanted to do Zappa’s four-hands piece, Ruth Is Sleeping (so astonishingly contemporary, it sounds like it could have been written today).

“I’m trying to turn people on to all this music,” Burashko said, explaining his decision not replicate the Boudreau program. “We have such a diverse audience and we’ve developed all this trust just based on previous experience, not necessarily knowing what to expect, so I wanted to add a few of Zappa’s lighter fare tunes.”

Burashko says that his programming has become increasingly more daring over the years. His “War of the Worlds” program began with a tribute to Bernard Herrmann, who collaborated with Orson Welles on radio, and ended as a theatre piece with a few musicians when Burashko realized that there was very little music (and none by Herrmann) in the original radio broadcast. “I Send You This Cadmium Red” blended Gavin Bryars’ music with John Berger’s words and images. “Magic and Loss: A Tribute to Lou Reed” was, in his words,  amazing. “It was seminal in a way, because the essence of Lou Reed is rock ‘n’ roll and simplicity and attitude. To dress it up in fancy clothes would be to just miss the point and destroy the music. I can’t think of anything farther from classical music.”

The current Beatles project, Sgt. Pepper, also crosses no genres. Admitting he’s a Beatles nut, Burashko says that the important thing is to approach the project with great reverence, while retaining the spirit and feel of the original, which is pop music and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s nothing classical about this show other than the involvement of classical musicians (along with the pop musicians) and the classical composers who wrote the arrangements. Sgt. Pepper is far and away Art of Time’s most popular show. It’s been mounted three separate times. And Burashko completed a “great, gruelling” 13-concert, 18-day tour of the show through the Eastern United States in November. A tour of the American midwest is set for September 2016. “That music just connects on such a deep level with people.”

Next, I ask about the Schulhoff show, coming up April 1 and 2. I’m a fan of Schulhoff’s diverse sonic palette, I say. Again Burashko agrees. Schulhoff, he says, was very eclectic; the upcoming concert is a repeat of one Art of Time put on in 2005, with the addition of Martha Burns performing the aptly named Sonata Erotica for female voice solo. Violinist Stephen Sitarski, cellist Thomas Wiebe, flutist Susan Hoeppner and Burashko on the piano all return from the original cast ten years ago, joined by such local superstars as violist Teng Li, alto saxophonist Wallace Halladay and others in Schulhoff’s Hot Sonate for Alto Sax & PianoConcertino for Viola, Flute & Double BassFive Jazz Etudes for Piano and String Sextet.

Burashko wanted to bring it back because “it’s such amazing music” (there’s that word again!). The first time he played any Schulhoff was on a [Robert Aitken-led] New Music Concerts program in 1993, the year Burashko’s daughter was born. “So thanks, Bob,” he says. Besides, Art of Time’s audience has grown exponentially. “In 2005, our audience was one-twentieth of what it is now.” So for many it will be an entirely new show.

Finally in this season, Hawksley Workman will sing Bruce Cockburn’s music in the latest instalment of the Art of Time Songbook, May 13 and 14. This is the first time a songbook has been devoted to the work of a single composer and is the culmination of much back and forth between Burashko and Workman. “I love Hawksley Workman,” Burashko told me, before offering an explanation as to why it took so long for the singer to agree. “He called me; he had seen and heard enough stuff that we did that he really wanted to do something with us.” The general idea for Songbook is to invite a non-classical singer to choose 12 songs they’ve always wanted to do; then Burashko delegates the songs to a group of disparate composers/arrangers to create arrangements for an ensemble that is half pop, and half classical. It’s always a collaboration but he gives the singer licence to be as creative as possible. “It’s about finding that fine line about being as creative as possible without ruining the original intent of the song.” It was Workman’s choice to do Cockburn, and only Cockburn. Burashko will get the charts for the music two months before the show and the concert will be preceded by four full days of intensive rehearsal.

One of Art of Time’s strengths is its impressive roster of musicians. I comment on the alchemy that must have have gone into selecting Christine Duncan and Wallace Halladay for Zappa, and Halladay and Teng Li for Schulhoff, all of whom are making their debut with the ensemble. “The thing that I pride myself on most is the group of musicians, of artists, that I get to work with,” Burashko answered. “Having that incredible luxury of only working with people that I want to. Over the years, that collective has grown to such an extent that I’m proud to say that most musicians would love to work with Art of Time because it also means working with musicians whom they love.

“With Christine – I had heard her a number of times over the years – when I heard these Zappa charts – they’re incredibly complex – and when I heard them in the 80s they were done with two classical singers. It was still a great show and I loved it, but it really ruined something for me. So Christine was a no-brainer because there aren’t that many non-classical singers who are literate enough to learn this music, who are good readers.”

All three remaining shows this season exemplify Burashko’s curatorial prowess: the programs themselves; the chemistry that unites great music and excellent musicians; Art of Time’s transformative theatrical magic.

“It’s so intuitive” Burashko says. “Ultimately I never go near anything that is unfamiliar to me. Programming to me is about creating something balanced with a really interesting arc. And the world is my oyster.” 

The Art of Time Ensemble performs Zappa February 19 and 20 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Bloulez-HP-Banner.jpgBoulez in rehearsal, Glenn Gould Studio, 2002I was in my teens, growing up in a small Wisconsin town, when I first encountered the name Pierre Boulez. The late composer was mentioned by no less a person than Igor Stravinsky in his Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, published in the late 1950s. Stravinsky felt that Boulez was a promising emerging composer, and he was particularly impressed with Boulez’s 1954 composition, Le marteau sans maître. Having read this, I immediately visited my local record shop and ordered a copy of a recording of it with Boulez conducting, a Vox Turnabout LP (TV 34081S). It’s a record I still own, although it’s considerably worn out from the thousands of times I listened. This work made a strong impression on me then (I admit I tried to mimic the approach in my own juvenile compositions), and it still does today.

My first person-to-person meeting with Boulez was in 1975, when CBC Radio Music sent me to London to attend a BBC Radio symposium on the Broadcast Presentation of Contemporary Music. It seemed as though the BBC was planning a new initiative in this area, much like CBC, even if the resulting programs were still a few years away from launching. I was, at the time, producer of the program Music of Today on what was then called the CBC FM Network. Pierre Boulez was in his final year as music director of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and he was asked to give the keynote address at our symposium, which was attended by contemporary music producers from many national broadcasters around the world.

Boulez made many points about how he, having just served four years as the BBC’s chief conductor, saw the role of public broadcasters in developing contemporary music specifically, and classical music generally. But his main point was this: producers who design music broadcasts should always be didactic in making their programs. His point was simple and sensible – it boiled down to, “Know what you have to say and what point you have to prove, and then make your programs for the sake of proving that point.” He further argued that even if the focus of the broadcast were weak or ill-advised, a didactic approach would at least be more interesting and engaging than programs with no point at all.

For my own part, I was entirely in Boulez’s camp on this point. Having just completed ten programs on the life and music of Arnold Schoenberg with Glenn Gould the year before, I was already a convinced and committed didactic broadcaster. The opportunity to champion Schoenberg at the hands of Gould, perhaps his most compelling advocate, was a memorable and entirely convincing experience. Gould made no secret of his admiration of Schoenberg’s music and our ten programs on the topic were nothing if not didactic.

 Two years later we began planning CBC Radio’s signature network contemporary music program, Two New Hours, and once we launched in 1978, Boulez’s music was prominently featured among our regular broadcasts of international concerts. And we also broadcast our own productions of his work from Canadian concerts. In 1979, when New Music Concerts staged the North American premiere of Messagesquisse for solo cello and cello sextet, we were there to record and broadcast this superb new creation.

In fact, it’s likely that Robert Aitken’s New Music Concerts has been the Canadian organization most associated with Boulez’s music, having presented his work numerous times over the years. They were the ensemble of choice in 2002 when Boulez received the Glenn Gould Prize, performing a full program of his music in Glenn Gould Studio for the presentation of the award. Flutist Robert Aitken, pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, soprano Patricia Green and  cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras were featured as soloists with the NMC ensemble, the latter gentleman having been selected by Boulez to receive the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize. Boulez had initially declined the invitation to conduct the concert, but at the first rehearsal, realizing he was in the presence of such an outstanding ensemble, he spontaneously changed his mind and took the reins.

The late Larry Lake (1943–2013), host of Two New Hours from 1995 to 2007, interviewed Boulez during that Toronto visit in 2002. Boulez told Larry that while he had never met Glenn Gould, he respected him for his single-minded devotion to his own principles and for exploring new ways to apply electronic media for the dissemination of music. Boulez made the observation that Gould, like himself, “… had a point to prove.”

New Music Concerts will once again honour Pierre Boulez, February 15, in their concert at Betty Oliphant Theatre at 8pm. They will present two of his compositions with an organic connection: the solo piano work, Incises (1994/2001) and its relative, the large ensemble piece, Sur Incises (1996/2006).

With Boulez’s passing, we remember him as a brilliant yet complex artist. His talents were so numerous and so exceptional, it’s difficult to single out any one as his defining trait. Those of us who were with him for the 2002 Glenn Gould Prize presentation saw him as a gracious, warm and generous man, but there are just as many reported episodes where he was the “Pierre-of-the-sharp-tongue.” In a public interview I held for the International Music Council in Vienna with Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik in 2006, Schwertsik recalled the early days at the Darmstadt Summer Courses in the 1950s and 1960s. He said that Boulez would, “...arrive late and leave early, leaving behind numerous cuts, bruises and other virtual injuries to the participants’ egos. It was then up to Bruno Maderna,” he continued, “to come after him and soothe and mend all that Boulez had inflicted.”

Boulez’s goal was to aim high to achieve goals of significance, and in so doing he left many behind. He was an artist who always had a point to prove, and he had no lack of confidence in his creative powers. Perhaps my most lasting memory of him is from an interview on CBC’s Arts National with the late Terry Campbell (1946–2004) in 1991, when Boulez was in Halifax for Scotia Festival. He remarked that “Once we come to recognize the brain as a muscle, the sooner we’ll realize that in its regular exercise over time, we can accomplish great things.”

Boulez was right, and he did achieve greatness, leaving us his rich legacy. 

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

MessiahKeeperFor Relief of the Prisoners in several Gaols, and for the Support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s-street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay, on Monday the 12th of April, will be performed at the Musick Hall on Fishamble-street, Mr. Handel’s new Grand Oratorio call’d the MESSIAH, in which the Gentlemen of the Choirs of both Cathedrals will assist, with some Concertos on the Organ, by Mr. Handel.”

Thus ran the advertisement (The Dublin Journal, 23-27 March 1742) for the first performances of what came to be the most beloved piece of music in England and, eventually, Canada. Rehearsals, each of them reviewed in the papers, attracted overflow crowds, and the opening performance was even pushed back a day to allow an extra public rehearsal. In order to seat as many listeners as possible, the event organizers requested that the ladies dispense with their hooped skirts and the gentlemen were enjoined to leave their swords at home.

From the first, audiences and critics were charmed:

“On Tuesday last (13 April) Mr. Handel’s Sacred Grand Oratorio, The Messiah, was performed at the New Musick-Hall in Fishamble Street, the best Judges allowed it to be the most finished piece of Musick. Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring, crowded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.”

SteveWallaceSteve Wallace with CDsMusic is an essential part of Christmas and with that time of year fast approaching, I thought I’d offer a look at some records that might enhance our enjoyment of the season. These are all personal favourites; most, but not all, are jazz-oriented. Hopefully there’s something here for all tastes, from the religious to the secular, for those who like their Christmas music straight and those who like it, well…not so straight. To organize things a bit, I’ve arranged the selections into four loose categories:


Three Suites – Duke Ellington. One of the three suites is Ellington’s adaption of a holiday staple, The Nutcracker, to his unique musical world. While he and Billy Strayhorn remain quite true to the original, the highly individual voices of such Ellington veterans as Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Ray Nance and Lawrence Brown cast Tchaikovsky’s score in an entirely new light, to say the least. The majestic swing of the Overture is especially thrilling; as far as I’m concerned the Christmas season hasn’t begun till I’ve heard it. As an added bonus the other suites are Grieg’s Peer Gynt and Suite Thursday by Ellington and Strayhorn, after John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday.

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi. A delightful essential for the inner kid in all of us. Linus and LucyChristmas Time Is Here and other favourites from the timeless cartoon are all here, but the strongest track is still the jazz treatment of O, Tannenbaum by Guaraldi and his trio-mates Monty Budwig and Colin Bailey.

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