Fable Manners

6_editors_openerJust about everyone I know has, somewhere tucked away inside their brain, some version of the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. You know the one: the grasshopper spends the warm months singing away, while the ants (and even sometimes the uncles) work like the dickens, planting, reaping, harvesting. Come the winter the shivering grasshopper, dying of hunger, asks for food and instead gets the moral of the story rammed down its throat.

Growing up, I had a talent for standing stories on their head, like the one in the bible about the bratty kid with the slingshot picking on the big lumpy guy with the thyroid problem. But I don’t think it ever occurred to me to question that the angels were on the side of the ants, and the grasshopper got what he (or more often she, especially in the paintings) deserved.

So, it’s a fable that’s always been particularly tough on me, especially at this time of year. Here at The WholeNote, you see, we’ve just put out a combined July/August issue instead of the habitual one a month. We took a whole two weeks off — a veritable binge of idleness … tainted almost from day one with the certainty that, as for the grasshopper, there would be a deadly reckoning somewhere up ahead.

It’s always tough to enjoy the gentle slipping of summer into fall when one has a chronic case of G.A.S. (grasshopper apprehension syndrome). But it’s ten times worse at a historic moment like this when, as happens from time to time, it’s the ants that are in government at almost every political level. There they go in their ugly black limo carapaces, quivering in anticipation at the thought of all the tongue lashings they will get to deliver once the legislature or house or hall reconvenes in the fall; looking forward to taking down a peg or two the indigent and the artists — all those who don’t know what “real” work is.

It’s time I think to stand this story on its head too. In my new ending the ant waggles its antennae at the grasshopper and makes its speech about “Idleness bringing want,” and how “To work today is to eat tomorrow.” And the grasshopper says to the ant, in the vernacular, “F**k off and die, dude. Here I spend the whole goddamn summer playing my mandola so you have music to work to, and now you tell me to go get a job!?”

So all hail the pickers and players and singers, slip-sliding your way from summer to fall, rejuiced and rejuvenated and ready to roll! Rest assured, there’s an extra seat at the just society’s table for anyone who can sing for their supper as sweetly as you-all do. And may all your seats be full of bums.

It’s a Whole New Summer - From Pitching Pecaut Square in June to Manning a Booth at Yonge-Dundas September 3

It’s hard to believe that at the moment of writing this (June 28), with this July/August combined issue not yet on the street, another edition of Luminato has already roared through town and the TD Toronto Jazz festival is nearly half over. David Pecaut (formerly Metro Square) has had its new musical tires well and truly kicked. Looks like the new square in town might have some staying power as a musical place.

Equally hard to believe, when our next issue hits the street August 31 (after a very well earned break, I might add), we’ll still be three days away from one last urban musical party of the summer — the annual ten hour New Music Marathon at Yonge-Dundas Square. The event is the brainchild of CONTACT Contemporary Music’s Jerry Pergolesi, and you’ll find us (The WholeNote) among the groups there, first issue of the regular season already in hand to give away. It is impossible to imagine that we will be as tired and grumpy then as we are right now, at the end of a gruelling year. So drop by for a chat, and stay for a while to let your ears be surprised by something new.

Speaking of venues, it’s fascinating to watch how thoroughly and rapidly Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory’s Telus Centre has woven itself into the fabric of the city’s musical life. Partly it has to do with the Hall’s own concert series, with Mervon Mehta wielding his curatorial baton with extraordinary deftness. And partly it has to do with the range and quality of the existing musical organizations that have recognized the Hall’s potential and stepped forward to rent it, providing the Hall with a consistently high calibre of musical occupancy. TD Jazz and Luminato are the two most recent cases in point. But the venue now features significantly in the plans of literally dozens of other ensembles eager to carry what they do to a new level. Some test the waters with one-off galas. Some plan one larger scale concert for Koerner in their season. Some take the plunge and risk all, as Esprit Orchestra did last season, and will do again this year.

One that has been interesting to watch is Toronto Summer Music which was incubated (as so many other initiatives have been over the years) in the U of T’s Faculty of Music, just a stone’s throw down Philosopher’s Walk from Koerner. Last year, by my count, TSM had three concerts at Koerner, this year, eight.

Now if the powers that be at the RC would just find a way to let The WholeNote back into the Telus Centre.  It’s something to do with free publications not fitting their brand. Then students at the RC aspiring to the heights of musical glory displayed on the Koerner’s stage could also be reminded, daily, of the thousands of opportunities this town affords to work incrementally towards their dreams.

From all of us to all of you, our wishes for a restorative and musically adventurous summer, wherever you may find yourselves.

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Short Hikes and the Long Haul

ONE OF THE THINGS I like best of all about the editor’s perch here is the enjoyment I get from the random moments, the odd little coincidences that life in the information stream keeps washing up. Last month, for example, it was choral columnist Ben Stein and world music writer Andrew Timar both popping the word “multivalent” into their columns. That’s two unrelated multivalents in twelve pages compared to zero in the previous 10,294. “Wassup with that?” one finds oneself muttering darkly.

It was almost as freaky as that moment, almost nine and a half years ago (Saturday March 2 2002 – 8pm to be precise) when two presenters, three blocks apart, put on entire concerts dedicated to the music of John Blow. John who? you ask. My point precisely. Multivalent Blow. Wassup with that indeed! I mean, it wasn’t as if 2002 was a significant anniversary date for JB – the 294th anniversary of his death, the 353rd of his christening? Not exactly grabby numbers.

And now, this month, it is happening again. Earlier today I was browsing the final page proofs, as we got ready to go to press (beaming in pride at our having finally reached the milestone of having colour pages throughout the magazine). And then I noticed an oddity in the way that two of the writers in the issue referred to Yonge-Dundas Square.

The oddity was in the fact that usually when our writers refer to a place it is because they intend to talk about something that is about to happen in the place in question. But not this time. This time both of them make mention of Yonge-Dundas specifically because it is NOT the place where the event they are talking about is going to happen.

First to do so is Allan Pulker in Classical & Beyond (page 10–12), talking about Holy Trinity Church. Holy Trinity is where Music Mondays, the quintessential grass roots urban summer music series, this year celebrates its twentieth anniversary.

“Sheltered from Yonge and Dundas by the Eaton Centre,” Pulker says of Holy Trinity, “it stands like an oasis of memories of things past.”

And then, at the other end of the spectrum, Janice Price (page 58) in talking about heavyweight contender Luminato’s new “hub” venue, David Pecaut Square, says this: “Compared to the bustle of Yonge-Dundas Square, this [David Pecaut Square] is a space of respite, where you can hear conversations and discussions …”

Spaces of respite … Oasis of memory. Yonge-Dundas? Not.

Say what you like about Yonge-Dundas (and everyone has something to say about it) you know an urban space has come of age when writers start comparing other spaces to it, confident that their readers will understand the comparison.

I like to think it’s a sign of the city’s maturation that such contrasting urban amenities (and events) can so happily co-exist, each just the proverbial short hike from the next.

Two of Toronto’s festival heavyweights, Luminato and TD Toronto Jazz have both made the short hike to David Pecaut Square this year as the place to pitch their festival tents, literally and metaphorically. It’s a flying start.

But it will be interesting to see how many years it takes before two people coincidentally saying “NOT David Pecaut Square” signals that the venue has, like Yonge-Dundas, entered the major leagues of urban lore.

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

Of This and That

EACH MONTH this season I have made a habit of dipping back in our archives to look at the the magazine we published in the equivalent month of our very first year. It’s interesting to see what changes and what doesn’t.

This month, for example I looked back at Volume 1, no.8 –
May 1996. It was a whopping 16 pages, boasting 177 concert listings – “more than ever before.” Skimming those listings now, it’s the names of performers that I notice, more than the repertoire. Some names leap out now precisely because they didn’t before. They were just starting out then. Now, sixteen short years later, they are part of our pantheon of stars, far more often heard elsewhere than in the home town. Some catch the eye for the opposite reason – “gee I wonder what ever happened to A or B.” Some I notice because what they are doing now is such a departure from what they were doing back then. And yet others because here they are, sixteen years later, recognizably still on the same shining path.

Take the following listing, for example: Tuesday May 14 1996, the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented a program called BASStiality – four double bassists, Tim Dawson, John Gowen, David Longenecker and Edward Tait, with Michelle Meyer soprano as their guest, in a program of music by Khatchaturian, Debussy, Mayers, Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix. One could weave a whole web from that one point of departure! One name, at least, is part of the fabric of this May’s issue – namely Tim Dawson, interviewed by Simone Desilets for Early Music this month because of his extraordinary work, musical and humanitarian, with The Bach Consort – work, I might add, that goes back to 1992. It’s a very interesting story.

The path from back then to here and now is not, I should add, an uninterrupted steady march toward the bigger and the better. An example: in May 1996 there was already a fine mid-sized room in town (1,200 seats) with impeccable acoustics that presented, in that one month alone, recitals by such visiting luminaries as the Beaux Arts Trio, Gustav Leonhart, Thomas Hampson, Marilyn Horne (twice), Anner Bylsma, Garrick Ohlsson, the Catherine Wilson Trio, and the Juilliard String Quartet! It’s been an uphill struggle to return the George Weston Hall to even a semblance of those glory days. A series of similar calibre has at last emerged. But for that to happen, an entirely new venue, Koerner Hall, had to come into being, and an individual with a singular curatorial vision had to be given the resources to program it.

One aspect of the Toronto musical scene that has changed, beyond all recognition, is summer in the city. When we were starting out, classical music fans would flee the city entirely – like the sensible people in Britten’s Death in Venice or else switch musical allegiances to jazz or world music for those three months of the year. (The extraordinary necklace of summer festivals around Southern Ontario bears witness to this annual migration.)

The Silver Creek Music Foundation which gave the kick start to Toronto Summer Music played a key role in the change, as did Luminato. (And a half dozen or so other players, large and little.) But those are stories for next month. Meanwhile there’s a month of the “regular” season to go (more concerts than ever!) chock-a-block with opportunity to familiarize yourself with today’s players, so that their names will leap off the page sometime down the road when you dip back into this issue of the magazine in some future archive.

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

Not Always Alive

AS FAR AS I CAN RECALL this is the first WholeNote cover (of 157) that does not directly reference an event in our live performance listings (although you will find it referenced in our admirable and burgeoning ETCeteras on page 56). Mulroney: The Opera may well be operatic, but it is not an opera in the traditional sense. It’s not even a filmed opera in the way that Live from the Met in HD is these days. The people we see singing in it are not actually singing, for one thing. And, unless some notable operatic man about town finds a way of rebuilding it, as some form of opera in concert, say, in a tennis stadium, it’s won’t likely see the operatic light of day.

Indeed some who go and see it will come away saying “Calling it an opera doesn’t make it an opera any more than calling an airline Jazz really makes it fly.” But some will say “Yes indeed!” It doesn’t have to be live to be alive.

A different example: in the little village I find myself in, right now, seven time zones and 8000 miles away from Toronto, there are about forty or fifty families that are permanent residents (among the 240 to 300 holiday homes). And every month (133 times so far) they get together, of a twilight, in one or another of their homes, to listen to about an hour of recorded music – anything the hosts want to play, along with, if they like, a few interpolated words as to why.

Different people have been the glue that has held this little club together at different times. After all, people come and go. From gathering 100 to 132 it was my mom, and especially my dad’s, turn: convening, planning, collecting the programs on slowly yellowing paper in carefully updated binders. And every January they hosted one of the gatherings, always right around their birthdays.

It was around November last that dad started to put all his failing energy into this January’s meeting of the Nature’s Valley Music Club. With the help of my sister who searched the CDs and copied tracks and typed, they got it together. The event had to be held at someone else’s home. And he couldn’t be there. But the Club all got to hear the chosen music, and through my sister’s lips, why it had been chosen.

First came a little set (Barber’s Agnus Dei; Palestrina’s Kyrie; Mozart’s Ave Verum corpus, Faure’s In Paradisum and Schubert’s Heilig ist der Herr), sung by the Choir of New College, Oxford. Then came a boisterous “I Vow to Thee My Country” by the National Symphony Orchestra. And then selections by Salamone Rossi, performed by the King’s Singers and Sarband, because “they give an example of how psalms can be a source of spirituality, a political instrument, a link between tradition and modernity, and above all a bridge connecting human beings.”

His two favourite Schubert Impromptus (C minor and G Flat major), followed that, and then two more short pieces in Hebrew by Salamone Rossi, as voiced by Boston Camerata and Joel Cohen. “I will sing unto my God, my rock and my redeemer, songs of rejoicing and of praise, of joy and gladness … in the heart of the community.” And “Let me open my lips and give utterance to song. Yea I will sing to the Living God.”

And last, from Music for a May Morning, sung by the Choir of Magdalen Choir, Oxford, “When Evening’s Twilight” by John Hatton, because it was a “madrigal of pastoral love – how the beauty of nature reminds you of someone you love.”

From January 21 to March 9 this “little tape,” as out of habit he’d have called the CD, played over and over at his bedside, in his home. Now as I write it is playing for me. And I offer it, if only in words to you.

Sometimes music doesn’t have to be live to be alive.

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