An Opening Fare Well

My mighty mother, of whom I shall say a little more at the end of this farewell, had a story she loved to tell about how as a fledgling activist in the 1940s she proved her credentials to the assembled members of the South African Communist Party cell of which her then boyfriend was a member, by announcing her passion for the music of Shostakovich; then later, when she tired of the aforementioned boyfriend (and his politics), she greatly simplified her exit from the relationship by confiding to the scandalized cohort her abiding love for the symphonies of Tchaikovsky.

The WholeNote’s annual Blue Pages are always a nice reminder of how diverse the musical tastes of our community are and how much opportunity there is in a relatively peacable land to indulge one’s own musical tastes without having to deny anyone else theirs. It is a relief when matters of taste don’t have to be a matter of life and death. Enjoy the read, and may you find something delightfully unexpected (or unexpectedly delightful) in the course of it.

What’s in a Name? The recent opening of the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre has given a dozen other organizations the same opportunity as the Regent Park School of Music to take big steps forward. The organization Artscape, long an advocate for artists in the community, should take a bow for somehow harnessing the energies of developers and City departments to a common purpose. And beyond that, it’s no small talent to turn common purpose into a viable business plan. This is where commodities such as “naming rights” come into the picture, no less here than for the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, or the O’Keefe/Hummingbird/Sony Centre. That being said, the announcement, right as we were getting ready to go to press, that the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre was henceforth to be known as the “Daniels Spectrum” came as a bit of a jolt. It is hard to watch community history and the idea of art and culture casually obliterated like that. But even if Daniels, the major developer of the new Regent Park, had to plaster their name on this building along with all the others, why Spectrum? To any good hockey loving Torontonian “I’m off to the Spectrum” sounds like you’re going to watch a road game in Philadelphia. Even calling it the Daniels Arts and Cultural Centre would have been better, eh? “I’m off to the ACC” means something in this town.

Minor cavil aside, the building is going to be a real asset, for the performance spaces it includes and for the arts and community organizations it will house well. Thanks to the staff of Regent Park School of Music for helping us capture the story and thanks to RSM students Dillon, Megan, Ryan and William Chan; Siddartha Kundu; Boris, Sima and Yakov Tarnopolski; and Alex, Lilly and Sally Twin, for helping make the story a reality by appearing in our cover photo.

I said I would return to the subject of my mighty mother at the end of this, and here we are. Ina Perlman’s life’s work, two continents away, during the darkest days of South African apartheid, was with the hungry and the homeless and the dispossessed, first in the tens, then hundreds, then thousands and more. She’d have been furious at being mentioned publically like this. But she’d have liked the company she is keeping in this particular issue of the magazine. Because she understood the idea of small beginnings, things like The WholeNote Blue Pages, like the Regent Park School of Music.

Music cannot feed the body. But it can make a person hopeful enough to want to eat.

Saturday October 20, 2pm: Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre. Space is the Place. Community celebration of music and dance. Featuring Hymn to Universe, a dance work by B. Coleman. Sun Ra Arkestra; students from Regent Park School of Music; Bill Coleman, choreographer. 585 Dundas St. E. 416-703-5479. Free; community gathering to follow. Be there.


A Reluctant Ode to the Power of Ten

The other day I found myself scratching my head a bit at a press release from an organization I confess I had never heard of— the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony Orchestra — on the occasion of, drumroll please, their 18th anniversary, their “Chai” anniversary.

“A Chai anniversary has its roots in the Hebrew word for ‘life,’ which is Chai, with its Hebrew letters adding up to the number 18. For this reason, the number 18 is a spiritual number in Judaism and represents a time to reflect, remember and celebrate,”the release explained.

My legions of faithful regular readers will doubtless both remember that I do not respond enthusiastically to anniversaries that are multiples of five and ten. Seven, I have more than once proclaimed in this spot, is of far more intrinsic interest than ten. Many a publicist in town can attest to the fact that the 10th or 20th or 40th anniversary big story idea they have floated my way has found itself dashed on the rocks of editorial indifference. “Forty? Wow! That’s only two years away from 42. Now that’s a really important one!”

So imagine my delight at receiving the above-mentioned LAJSO release about their BIG 18th anniversary! It adds another arrow to my bow, another argument the next time someone comes along and says it’s time to worship at the shrine of ten!

Come to think of it, 18 is what The WholeNote will turn this year.“A time to reflect, remember and celebrate,” indeed. Thank you LAJSO!

And wait, there’s more! Since 81 is simply the mirror image of 18, it stands to reason that the organizers of all this September’s various Glenn Gould 80th anniversary celebrations should cool their jets, and wait one more year before starting the hollering and hooting. Same goes for Murray Schafer (80). Sorry Murray.

There’s a problem though, isn’t there? Even an extra year won’t be enough time to convince the public at large that it is important for their spiritual health to re-learn their nine times tables. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Multiplying by ten is as easy as one, two, three. So if you were expecting me to say “bah, humbug” yet again to the power of ten, I am sorry. I surrender. Henceforth the number ten rules: from our cover story coverage of the two-day Glenn Gould Variations summit at Convocation Hall; to Andrew Timar’s highly personal take on the 100th anniversary of the birth of another musical titan, John Cage; to David Olds’ reflections on the 25th anniversary of Naxos Canada. I mean, everyone knows 25 is a sort of ten!

And don’t expect it to stop with this issue either. As the season unfolds, expect to see us tip the hat to some particularly notable 40ths: Esprit Orchestra, Soundstreams and Toronto Consort, to name but three.

It’s a slippery slope, I grant you. I can already hear the aforementioned publicists sharpening their digital pencils on behalf of clients who have reached 10 or 20, or 25, or 30 this year.

Even worse, in the distance I hear a rumble of discontent from some of the notable 40s to whose anniversaries only last year we turned a blind eye. Every flip flop has its consequences. So to them I say, cheer up! You’re only a year away from 42. As I said to Bob Aitken on page 28, now that’s a really important one!

As for The WholeNote, 18 feels like a really fine milestone to be reaching. Mind you, it will probably take us another two years to organize the party, anyway!

And in the meanwhile, l’chaim! To life. 

David Perlman, publisher@thewholenote.com

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.


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