Conversations The WholeNote - Gathering Steam

With repatriation of our “studio” facilities and means of production to our own office at the Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst, our Conversations <at> The WholeNote video series looks set to gather steam heading into the 2014/15 season.

Conversations-EdisonDuring September, publisher David Perlman continued his series of conversations with Toronto’s musical players with a wide-ranging interview with Noel Edison, conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Elora Festival Singers, and artistic director of the Elora Festival. Fresh from the Mendelssohn’s second rehearsal of a very busy new season, Edison spoke of the choir’s new blood and the rigorous audition process involved in adding it, of the juggling act to keep his organizations in sync and the ingenuity needed to stoke the flames of budgets approaching one million dollars a year.

It was also fascinating to hear him speak of the connection his mother had to the Mendelssohn in the 1950s. (She was in the soprano section.) Because of his parents’ friendship with the MacMillans (“Lady Mac and Sir Ernest”), they used to host the post-Messiah parties at their house in Rosedale, all-night affairs since in those days Messiah would start at eight and end five hours later. “Oh you know, those tempos in the 1950s,” Edison recounted. “I mean, ‘Comfort ye in every valley’ took close to 15 minutes!”

And detailing the audition process: “I don’t hear them sing until they get through a really tough rhythmic audition first and once that’s done, if they pass that with flying colours, then I’ll listen to the voice. But the rhythm has to be first and foremost. And it’s proved to be very successful.”

Edison spoke effusively about the sound of the choir: “It’s a very different sound now. It’s a far warmer tone – to me. It’s the tone I love. I love that warmth, I love that rich sort of Mahlerian, chocolatey sound. That’s the sound I very much express with.”

For an unforgettable anecdote involving a party at Edison’s own Elora home and countertenor Daniel Taylor’s singing of Lois Marshall’s signature folk song “Ae Fond Kiss,” watch the full interview with Edison on The WholeNote’s YouTube channel. (You can access the channel directly from our website by clicking on “Our Videos” under the News tab.)

The interview with Edison is only one of dozens you will find there.  The most recent before the Edison finds publisher Perlman in conversation with David Fallis, artistic director of the Toronto Consort.

Conversations-FallisFallis’ enthusiasm is contagious as he outlines a brief history of the Consort and his own involvement with the group – he joined in 1979; the Consort began in 1972. After a few words on the nature of consort music – “what’s on the page is very much just the beginning of the beginning” – he moves on to Renaissance singing. He points out that a vocal treatise (on how to sing) was basically a compendium of ornaments, “which is to say you can’t be a singer if you can’t ornament.” He discloses how each Toronto Consort concert season is constructed, using the current year as an example, including The Play of Daniel, “the pinnacle of medieval music theatre,” and likely the high point of what promises to be an engaging season.

He twinkles especially as he speaks of “Paris Confidential” the opening concert of the new season November 7 and 8. It was designed by Alison McKay (his wife) “who is a wizard at designing programs with imagery and spoken word and music and weaving them in fascinating ways.” It plunges right into Renaissance Paris roughly in the 16th century, which he points out, was a very critical time in the development of both the city and early modern France itself. Paris then was an intellectual centre and a hub for the new technology of publishing with very important printers. He compared the fact that lute music was written in tablature to apps today. Then as now, figuring out how to make the best use of new technology was key.

The three years of Conversations <at> TheWholeNote are becoming an interesting archive of insights into a whole range of people, caught at a particular moment in time. While the interviews may rapidly lose the topicality of the specific moment that was the reason for the visit, it’s especially diverting to revisit them when the subjects are back in town. Wallis Giunta, for example, has been the subject of two conversations in the past two and a half years. From October 23 to November 1 she’s singing the role of Bradamante in Opera Atelier’s production of Handel’s Alcina. And it’s instructive to see Jan Lisiecki’s poise in his conversation a few days before he turned 17, given that in November he will be back playing Beethoven’s Piano Concertos 3, 4, and 5 with the TSO.

Conversations-OundjianAnd as for Peter Oundjian, the TSO’s peripatetic music director, Conversations <at> TheWholeNote caught up to him just two months before the orchestra’s recent European tour, the outcome of which, you can read about in William Littler’s article “Waving the Musical Flag,” elsewhere in this issue.

Among others captured in these conversations, and active in this month’s concert scene: Amici Ensemble’s Serouj Kradjian, soon after joining the group; new music champion, pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico; and Stephen Ralls (interviewed here with Aldeburgh Connection partner Bruce Ubukata before their final season gala concert).

Like the magazine itself, the series is a work in progress, always putting substance before style. Like the magazine, it is also a priceless archive-in-the-making.

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

Waving the Musical Flag

Waving The Musical Flag-TafelmusikThe year was 1951, the month November and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was about to venture beyond the borders of Canada (indeed, of Ontario) for the first time. Destination? Detroit.

Only this was the period when the junior senator from Wisconsin was looking for suspected communists beneath every bed and the orchestra happened to include players being denied entrance to “the land of the free and the home of the brave” through the pinkish hue of their political complexion.

Torontonians felt a sense of outrage. Our orchestra should go intact or not at all, some voices argued. The conductor, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Canada’s first and only musical knight, felt differently. He wanted the engagement. So he dumped the so-called Symphony Seven and the orchestra wound up making its American debut without them.

Read more: Waving the Musical Flag

Ready, Set... Houselights Down - Part Two: THE CURATORS

Ready Set-Lang Ning LiuAs with any business, there’s more to music making than meets the eye. In our last issue, we featured conversations with some of the local live music scene’s industry professionals – spanning the roles of acoustician, librarian, set designer and even surtitles operator – who help keep the music happening and the machine running smoothly. Also among those unspoken heroes of this city’s musical life are the concert curators – those who do all of the artistic directing and season organizing, and whose job descriptions require a very special type of behind-the-scenes musical genius.

Here follow conversations with three such directors and organizers, each facing their own particular musical milestones. Tricia Baldwin, after 14 years as managing director of Tafelmusik, has just accepted a new position as director of the new Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s University, where a whole new series of challenges and accomplishments are in store. Lang-Ning Liu, artistic director of the Toronto International Piano Competition, is in the midst of planning and preparations for the 2014 competition this month. Finally, bassist, producer and composer George Koller is getting the ball rolling with a brand new concert series: International Divas, three all-acoustic concerts that will feature a grand total of 18 renowned female vocalists.

As each of these three curators are carried to new places – or to the next stage of a familiar planning process – they are sure to meet with unique trials and triumphs on the road ahead. Though they won’t necessarily be performing under the spotlights themselves in the coming months, they will certainly play a big part in the process of making live local music happen – an accomplishment that concertgoers, co-workers and star performers alike are sure to appreciate.

Read more: Ready, Set... Houselights Down - Part Two: THE CURATORS

David Dacks and the Music Gallery

Feat-Dacks1What constitutes the musical mainstream, and what’s upstream of that? Who determines what fits into musical categories, into genre streams that guide musicians in their careers, presenters in their programming choices and listeners in their concertgoing? Which music is a legitimate representation of a lineage worth investigating, and what is a marginal, outsider expression?

The Music Gallery (I’m tagging it MG in this story) founded in 1976 by Peter Anson and Al Mattes of the free-improvising group CCMC – originally an acronym for Canadian Creative Music Collective – is a constantly morphing downtown music institution that has valiantly grappled for decades with these and other thorny questions to do with music presentation. During that time it has variously been a venue for rent, a producer and co-presenter, a cultural hub, a rehearsal space and concert home for numerous musicians and ensembles of multiple genre affiliations, an exhibition space for visual art, the home of a record label, and Musicworks magazine’s original incubator.

Had it been situated in Soho, NYC it might have been long ago widely recognized as a key downtown music institution. In Toronto, though terra incognita to most residents, it nevertheless remains a vital venue for edgy performers and adventurous music seekers alike.

Read more: David Dacks and the Music Gallery



Welcome to The WholeNote’s third annual guide to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) spotlighting films in which music plays an intriguing role. Selections range from music-centred documentaries and musicals to movies featuring characters involved in making music to soundtracks that are integral to the quality of the films they help drive. With 285 feature films in this year’s festival, there was some alchemy involved in choosing the 22 titles on the following list – the soundtrack category is particularly difficult to predict in advance.

tiff tips - seymourYou meet the most interesting people at New York City dinner parties. That’s where Ethan Hawke first met Seymour Bernstein, the 85-year-old subject of his documentary Seymour: An Introduction. Bernstein began playing the piano as a child in Newark, New Jersey and by the age of 15 was already a teacher. He had a brief concert career after studies with such giants as Alexander Brailowsky, Clifford Curzon and Nadia Boulanger before settling into his role of helping others develop.

It was Hawke’s explanation of Bernstein’s teaching mantra in response to Hubert Vigilia’s question on two years ago (just as the film was taking shape) that piqued my curiosity and made Seymour a must-see on my TIFF to-do list: “What is harmony? What is dissonance? Why should we practice? Why should we work hard, and what difference does it make when you play the right note or don’t play the right note? He’s a very deep guy. I was touched by him, and I thought he had a lot to teach me about acting, and then I slowly realized that the way he’s talking about the piano relates to every profession.”

Read more: TIFF TIPS

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