In Syncopated Tıme

One of the oddities of 17 years of seeing The WholeNote safely to bed is a chronic state of never knowing quite what month it is. This may seem odd to the reader, given that the backbone of what we do month in and month out is to break the world of music down into its constituent daily instances. If anyone should know what day it is, you’d think it would be someone who spends half their working life compiling calendars of events.

But therein lies the problem: on June 20, for example, the focus of my work was sifting through concert listings covering the period July 1 to September 7, not just in our usual “GTA” and “Beyond GTA” contexts but over the whole vast canvas of Ontario and beyond, following the music as it runs with the summer sun into every imaginable corner of the region, indoor and out, urban and rural. And every so often I would find myself so taken with the idea of some concert in, say, Stratford in mid-August that I would in my mind’s eye be a month or so further into the future than I am.

No time of the year is this time warp more disconcerting than in the preparation of this summer double issue. Imagine the slight chill, dear reader, on finding myself reading on June 20, the longest day of the year, the very last listing in our GTA section, for a concert in the Summer Music in the Garden series at the foot of Spadina Avenue, stating that the concert will be shorter than normal “due to the early sunset.”

Discombobulating as all this is, I can tell you that its obverse is far worse — namely the number of times in a typical year that I find myself realizing that I have only just missed some great concert, the night before, because I thought it was long gone, having encountered it first a whole month previously, sifting through the listings, waiting to put The WholeNote to bed. “Should have read the blasted magazine,” I grumble to myself, but often I don’t because the one I am “reading” is the one that you, dear reader, will read not this time round but the next.

As I write this, my excuse for July’s concerts vanishing without a trace from my personal concert going calendar is somewhat different. It is June 26 as I write, somewhere high over the Atlantic, about to arc south of Lisbon and then Algiers, to the horn of Africa, and then on again, on one of those “maybe too late” journeys that each of us takes once or twice in a lifetime.

And so it is that instead of saying at this point, as I usually would, that I hope we cross paths during this summer, I say, instead, I hope to see you sometime on its other side, a season of earlier sunsets than this one promises to be.

And a nod to The WholeNote team for getting this magazine safely to bed in my absence, as your reading this proves they have done.  

David Perlman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Passing the Torch

6One or two of you will remember that in last month’s For Openers I raked the Glenn Gould Foundation over the coals for cutting the Award’s classical balls off. So you may be surprised (and maybe disappointed) to hear that, only a couple of weeks later, I attended the May 14 Massey Hall gala concert at which Leonard Cohen received the ninth Glenn Gould Foundation Award, stood for every standing ovation, and wiped away more than a couple of tears.

You might be less surprised, if no less disappointed, if you had known that in my only slightly more demented university days, I was the individual who could, on a given day, rise up from the audience at a mass meeting in the Great Hall, blast the organizers for irrelevance, and lead a walkout, headed for the cafeteria. And, only a couple of weeks later, storm into the cafeteria, bellow at the chip-and-gravy-eating masses to get up off their apathetic arses, and lead a sheepish throng back to the Great Hall for a meeting.

You might be even more forgiving if I explain that I bought my first guitar in 1968 specifically to learn Suzanne, in the hopes of persuading Moira LePage to let me touch her perfect body with anything. And this was half way round the world, long before I even knew, let alone cared, that Leonard Cohen was a Canadian.

It was a wonderful evening, full of nuance and grace, a funny funny story from Cohen himself about the first of his two meetings with Gould himself (as a reporter), and another fine account, from Adrienne Clarkson, herself, about how she tried unsuccessfully to get a literary travel grant from the Canada Council, back in its infancy, for this hot young Montreal poet she “held a torch for” to come do a reading for the young ladies of St. Hilda’s (University of Toronto). Cohen himself did get a Canada Council Grant in those early years, it was explained – a princely $26, the first money anyone ever gave him just to “be a writer.” (In return, he donated his $50,000 prize back to the Canada Council.)

Suzanne remained, blessedly, unsung, and the only snippet of Hallelujah came in a little video clip sung and played by the children of Sistema Toronto, the organization Cohen chose to receive the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize that goes with the Award. (Oscar Peterson chose Benny Green for his protégé when Peterson won the third GGF award in 1993, and Benny Green has a concert during this year’s Toronto Jazz Festival, June 28 at the Church of the Holy Trinity. But that’s another story.)

Sistema Toronto is an offshoot of El Sistema. Founded in 1975 by Venezuelan economist and musician José Antonio Abreu, El Sistema is a publically financed, voluntary sector music education program in that country, responsible for bringing music lessons to almost half a million children, many of them otherwise at risk. It has also spawned scores of community orchestras, and produced astonishing musical talents, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s current conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Abreu, you may remember, was the previous GGF Award winner, two years ago.

That was one of the teary moments in the evening for me, when two of the children from Parkdale Junior School, where Sistema Toronto is now quietly, and astoundingly, taking root, stepped onto the stage to accept the prize. I’m not sure what was more moving: watching an old man, still full of fire and grace bend to pass the torch, the gift of making music, across one generation to the next; or watching a movement that offers so much musical hope successfully transplanted from statist roots to a tiny patch of individual Toronto soil.

Either way, the torch was passed. Long may it burn.

David Perlman, publisher@thewholenote.com

Correction

The Choirs Ontario Leslie Bell Prize for Choral Conducting, announced on page 55 of last month’s magazine, incorrectly stated the eligibility  requirements for candidates and their nominees.

A corrected notice can be found under COMPETITIONS on page 44 of the current issue.

Vox Humana

“‘I shall take you to hear better music than that,’ the captain said; ‘we are just in time to hear the organ of St. Bavon. The church is open today.’ ‘What, the great Haarlem organ?’ asked Ben; ‘that will be a treat indeed. I have often read of it, with its tremendous pipes, and its Vox Humana that sounds like a giant singing.’”

— Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates, Mary Mapes Dodge

“The Vox Humana (Latin for ‘human voice’; also ‘voix humaine’ in French and ‘voce umana’ in Italian)” is a short-resonator reed stop on the pipe organ, so named because of its supposed resemblance to the human voice.”

— Wikipedia

This issue contains the tenth edition of The WholeNote’s annual choral Canary Pages, and also heralds Toronto’s seventh annual Organix festival. In a way the two things seem miles apart. Singing is the most natural form of music making, accessible to all, with no technological intervention. The pipe organ, at the other extreme, is so much of a man-made thing that individual pipe organs each have their own Opus number. And yet, perhaps, in the notion of the Vox Humana they are not so different after all.

The Vox Humana of the St. Bavon’s organ in Haarlem scared the living daylights out of the boys in The Silver Skates. “The storm [of the organ] broke forth again with redoubled fury. The boys looked at each other, but did not speak. It was growing serious. What was that? Who screamed that terrible, musical scream? Was it some monster shut up behind that carved brass frame? — some despairing monster begging for freedom? … At last an answer came — soft, tender, loving, like a mother’s song.”

Organist Dame Gillian Weir also has profound memories of St. Bavon’s. Weir, some of you will remember, gave the opening concert of the fourth Organix festival, May 1, 2009, on Casavant Organ Opus 3095, just arrived in its new home at Holy Trinity Church (from its original home at Deer Park United Church). She greeted the organ like an old friend (which it was) and the music they made together that night instilled a respect for the “King of Instruments” in even my profoundly anti-monarchist brain.

St. Bavon’s, Weir explained the following day, was the moment she knew what she wanted to do with her musical life: “I wanted to be a pianist, I loved the piano. But … when I was taken to Haarlem, in Holland … I spent three hours or so playing, till they said ‘You’ve got to go, the tourists are complaining,’ and I staggered off the organ saying ‘What happened? This is fantastic, this is music, this is wonderful.’ I became an organist on the spot.”

Weir is not part of the 11-concert Organix line-up this year. But for those of you who primarily have memories of organs badly played in situations where attendance was compulsory rather than elective, Organix might change your mind.

And speaking of distinctive human voices, May 14 will be the occasion of a pointedly non-classical gala concert at Massey Hall to celebrate the award of the ninth Glenn Gould Foundation Prize to Leonard Cohen. DISCoveries editor, David Olds, on page 60, catches up with some previous eminent winners. And, in the continuation of this little ramble, I find myself wondering what if Glenn himself …?

70_gould_looking_downFITTING THE “LEN” IN GLENN:
A SEMI-IMAGINARY ETHER-MAIL EXCHANGE between Brian Levine, executive director of the Glenn Gould Foundation, and Glenn Gould during which Levine breaks the news to Gould that there’s to be no classical component to the May 14 GGF Award Gala at Massey Hall.

GLENN: What the blazes do you mean you don’t want me at the gala? The powers that be are giving me a special 80th birthday pass just to be there. And I’ve been practising.

BRIAN: Hi Glenn, thanks for your kind note, and don’t worry, I appreciate your concerns. So let me answer as best I can. … First, as you can imagine, we’re thrilled that Leonard Cohen is the Ninth Laureate of The Glenn Gould Prize. I think that in many significant ways, he and you occupy very special and distinctive places in the Canadian cultural mythos. But our first consideration in mounting a gala is to pay tribute to our laureate in a way that is reflective of that artist’s special “voice” and contributions. We aren’t wedded to a single idiom, a particular mode of expression because philosophically, to take such a position would be to place an artificial constraint on art itself — the antithesis of the unbridled creativity that is at the core of what it means to make and communicate art.

GLENN: So?

BRIAN: So, in the case of Leonard Cohen, we have an artist whose work has its own “native voice” — his own performance — but which has spread out into the world in a wide range of styles carried by the poetic thread at the heart of all his work, in which artists of many backgrounds hear their own loves and longings, and infuse the music with their own styles.

GLENN: So?

BRIAN: So our goal was not to graft an artificial “classical” framework onto Cohen’s music but to build a gala performance which allowed some of this range of expressive idioms to find voice. The program is rich and varied.

GLENN: So?

BRIAN: So it would have seemed artificial to put a “classical” stamp on the program — and I’m sure that attempts to do so might have been a source of discomfort for Mr. Cohen himself.

GLENN: Ah, so. I would make Lennie uncomfortable, is that it?

BRIAN: In a larger sense, an artist like Leonard Cohen defies categorization. When it comes to the art of the song, I don’t find a ready distinction between the finest songs by major 19th century composers and 20th and 21st century composers, whether they identify as “classical” or “popular,” “simple” or “complex.” I have no doubt that in the 22nd century, Leonard Cohen’s music, whatever style it is performed in, will be regarded with the same love and appreciation that we accord to the major composers of lieder of the 19th century.

GLENN: Is that a “no,” Brian?

BRIAN: Our decision was to let Leonard Cohen’s songs speak to our audience in styles that seem most appropriate to him — just as our tribute to another great master, Oscar Peterson in 1993, was presented in his idiom, jazz. I hope this is somewhat helpful.

GLENN: Wait, how about if I promise to also use just three chords and hum the rest?

BRIAN: I’m happy to answer more questions if you would like to cover some additional points.

70_leonard_cohen_photo_by_rama

GLENN: Brian? … as regards that “three chord only” dig, I have to confess this is a bit more of a challenge than I thought. Does that “minor fall” count as an entirely separate chord? … Brian? Brian?

BRIAN: (to Len) You can come out now, he’s gone.

LEN: Hallelujah.

David Perlman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Opera of the Spheres

Preamble

This longer-than-usual Opener will begin with a coincidence of dates, and then eventually make its way, in a great wobbly orbit, back to where it began.

pg6_transit_of_venus_photo_by_fred_calvert_courtesy_of_vt-2004The coincidence (1): June 8 2004 was the last occasion on which, from an earthbound perspective, the planet Venus was observed traversing the face of the star we call our sun. It is a phenomenon known to astronomers as the “transit of Venus,” and it takes place twice in quickish succession (eight years apart) after which it doesn’t happen again for either another 105.5 years, or else another 121.5 years. So the previous two were in December 1874 and December 1882 respectively; and the two following the 2004/2012 pair, will be in December 2117 and December 2125 respectively.

The coincidence (2): June 5 2012 will be the second of the two “transits” in our lifetimes. So for those of us who missed the June 8 2004 transit, you could accurately say the upcoming June 5 transit has become a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. That being said, June 5 2012 will also in all likelihood be the start of rehearsals for the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson opera, Einstein on the Beach, which will kick off Toronto’s sixth annual 10-day Luminato Festival at the Sony Centre three days later (June 8). Einstein on the Beach, while largely composed, Glass says, in New Brunswick, has never been performed in Canada. This too, according to the publicists, will be a “once in a lifetime event.”

Now On With the Story

March 19, 2012, around 10:30pm, Venus was not tickling Apollo’s fiery chin. She was hanging out with some other shining celestial orb, low in the north-western sky, over Pearson airport. The two points of light were so close together that I had to rub my eyes to be sure I wasn’t drunk. Even once I was sure I wasn’t seeing double, I had to stop and wait, to see if the two points of light would resolve into an oncoming or receding airplane, travelling along my line of sight and therefore seeming for a moment to hang, still, in the night sky. But no, there they stayed, side by each, almost touching.

“Look,” I said to my eldest son. “It’s Venus and Jupiter. So close they are almost touching.” (I said it with all the authority fathers muster when there’s no-one around to contradict.) Aforementioned son, however, whipped out his smart phone. “I have a GPS-based app for that,” he said. A few deft wiggles of the app-posable thumbs that I do not possess, and he held the ever-so-clever phone up to the sky. As if by magic, a star map gleamed from its screen, more densely populated with stars than the light-dimmed city night sky behind it, and with the name of each bright star superimposed on the screen. Fascinated, I watched as he turned slowly to the north west to bring “Jupiter and Venus,” as I had proclaimed them to be, into alignment with the cosmos he held in his hands. The authority of fatherhood hung by a thread. “Jupiter and Venus” the smart phone said. Whew.

I pushed my luck. “Lucky the phone uses Roman rather than Scandinavian mythology” I said, “or Fricka would get jealous, and bloody Wagner would go on and on about it.”

“I’m not even going to ask,” he said.

The name John Percy deserves to ring as many bells for readers of this magazine as the name Gustav Holst should for (ear-)budding astrophysicists with iPods. Devotees of Tafelmusik, I daresay, will be more likely than most to already know the name of this University of Toronto Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics. It was John Percy, after all, who mentored Tafelmusik’s The Galileo Project, and subsequently nominated it as Canada’s entry in the International Year of Astronomy’s 2009 Prize for Excellence in Astronomy Education and Public Outreach. Following this, in April 2009, as we diligently reported back then, the International Astronomical Union named a newly observed asteroid after Tafelmusik.

I would have been reminded of John Percy yesterday if he hadn’t already been in my mind. Because yesterday Tafelmusik Media announced the release of The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres TMK1001DVDCD (1DVD & 1 CD music soundtrack). “Conceived, programmed and scripted by Tafelmusik bassist Alison Mackay,” the release proclaims, “[this] … fully-integrated concert program combines projected high-definition images from the Hubble telescope and Canadian astronomers with music by such composers as Bach, Monteverdi, Rameau, and Handel — performed completely from memory, exploring the fusion of arts, science and culture in the 17th and 18th centuries.”

So as I say, I would have been reminded of John Percy, if I hadn’t had a letter from him, just the other week, about the U of T’s upcoming April 28 symposium on, wait for it, the “forthcoming June 5 transit of Venus at which we shall have Victor Davies give a short presentation about his opera The Transit of Venus. I’m really excited by this linkage of astronomy and music/theatre.”

Winnipeg composer Victor Davies’ opera, The Transit of Venus, was based on a stage play with the same name by Canadian playwright Maureen Hunter (who wrote the libretto for the opera as well). The play was first produced in 1997, the opera ten years later). But the particular transit that is their subject matter was not the 2004 transit, but the 1761/1769 pair — an event in the life of nations as fitting a backdrop for grand opera as any that one could imagine.

It was, after all, the equivalent of the space race, nation pitted against nation, using all the technological resources at their disposal, throwing “the works” into the battle for bragging rights to the precious information about the cosmos, its size and mysteries, that could be gleaned from precisely measuring and triangulating the march of Venus across the face of the sun.

Of course, opera for its purposes requires not only the stars but the star-crossed. In the case of Davies’ and Hunter’s opus, this is “the unfortunate Guillaume Le Gentil, French astronomer,” who, according to Wikipedia, “spent eight years travelling in an attempt to observe either of the transits, [and whose] … unsuccessful journey led to him losing his wife and possessions and being declared dead.”

The symposium on the transit of Venus takes place Saturday April 28, 2012, in Alumni Hall 400 at St. Michael’s College, from 10am to 5pm. The symposium is free and no registration is required.

Other than, perhaps, excerpts from the CBC recording of Davies’ opera during the coffee break, I offer no guarantee of music during the event (although Davies, I hear, will give a short presentation).

But “opera” which is the focus of this issue, means “the works,” after all. In the case of science, I’d venture to say, that means openness to art, and for art, to science. There’s all kinds of stuff in this issue that reflects this.

So a toast to “the works”: to the sphere of opera, and to the opera of the spheres!

David Perlman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The MAPL Leaf Forever!

Pierre Juneau (October 17, 1922 – February 21, 2012)

MAPLI must have known at some point in time that the JUNOs, whose annual mini-frenzy is currently upon us, were named for Pierre Juneau, but how easily we forget. How strangely fitting too, that news of his passing should have come right in the week we were tallying up, as we do every year, how many of this year’s JUNO nominees in the classical and jazz categories we had already reviewed in The WholeNote’s Discoveries pages before the nominees were announced.

(See David Olds’ “CD Editor’s Corner” for the details. Suffice it to say, here, that it’s a record, year in and out, of which we are rather proud.)

But now, suddenly, there are achievements of far greater magnitude to talk about. It’s just a bit difficult to figure out how much to say. For those of you who remember what Juneau achieved as the first chairman of the CRTC in the late 60s and early 70s, by helping ink the regulations requiring all Canadian radio stations to air 30% Canadian content, even this is too much explanation.

For those who either do not know, or remember, it’s hard to know where to begin.

MAPL is probably as good a place as any to start. It’s a little logo you will find on the corner of every single CD nominated for a JUNO in this or any other year, and something that every radio disc jockey knows how to spot instantly, and read, when shuffling into piles the CDs that qualify as Canadian content, and the ones that don’t.

The M is for Music; the A for Artist; the P for Performance; and the L for Lyrics. Under Juneau’s CRTC watch, to qualify as Canadian content a recording had to be “Canadian” in at least two of the four categories.

It was clunky, it was abused, it left holes big enough to drive multinational trucks through. It drew as much abuse as any affirmative action programme does. And it worked. It created a climate where quantity was needed, and gradually, out of that, as it always does, quality emerged.

The interesting thing is that it worked, and works, not just for the rock and pop artists, the singer-songwriters. It works, too, for the Canadian performer of Mozart, recorded by a Canadian engineer.

MAPL leaf forever, is what I say. But the irony is that it’s often the performing elite, the ones who rose from the quantitative slime to shine to the point where they don’t need the protection, who are the weakest defenders of the regulations that gave them the chance to excel.

In that regard it’s rather like the musicians who have turned their backs on the battle to keep music alive in core school curricula, because they “never learned anything in school music programmes anyway.”

Hmm. I wonder what Pierre Juneau would have made of that?

David Perlman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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