Thirty years after they were the bricks in Phil Spector’s wall of sound, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and saxophonist Plas Johnson sat down to reminisce about their lives as L.A. session musicians for some of the most famous voices in the history of popular music. Those unforgettable guitar licks in Bonanza, Batman and Green Acres? That was Tedesco. The highly sought-after Kaye was the rare female in a man’s world. Her totally original bass line in The Beat Goes On is an example of why. “Nobody thought the music we cut in the 60s would last ten years,” she said.
Three compelling films have recently surfaced in Toronto., Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako’s clear-eyed, moving, humanistic look at the jihadist takeover of northern Mali is in an exclusive engagement at TIFF Bell Lightbox as of February 13. Sissako brings us wholly into the lives of his well-developed characters, ordinary people who want nothing more than to make music, play soccer and, for the women, to feel the breeze on their hands without being forced to wear gloves at all times. All of these simple acts have been declared to be violations of Sharia law by thuggish Arab invaders.
Being the music. This is how Canadian-born soprano and now conductor Barbara Hannigan describes her approach to performing. Two questions come to mind: How does one do this? And what are the ingredients needed to so completely embody the music as to become it? George Meredith’s words from his poem The Lark Ascending that inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams’ work of the same name suggest one answer: “The song seraphically free, Of taint of personality, So pure that it salutes the suns.” Hannigan herself gives a hint when she states: “I’m happy with my performance when I know I’ve made the connection between breath and sound, when the whole body is singing.”
Fourteen years ago the then Toronto-based Hannigan appeared on the cover of The WholeNote magazine. At the time she was performing the lead role in the operetta The Merry Widow and her European career was beginning to take off. Now living in Amsterdam, with bookings four to five years in advance, she is returning to Toronto as the featured performer at this years’ New Creations Festival presented by the Toronto Symphony. In three concerts scheduled between February 28 and March 7, Hannigan will be performing both Canadian and North American premieres of works by British composer George Benjamin and Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen.
An internationally renowned jazz musician, one of the few specializing on the soprano sax (along with alto, tenor, baritone and occasional clarinet), Jim lived a full life doing what he loved most.
Listening to post-war U.S. Armed Forces Radio Services, the young man discovered jazz music, and soon was playing clarinet and alto saxophone locally. As a student at the famous Glasgow School of the Arts (1954-1958) Jim added to his reputation as a leading Scottish jazzman.
Russian-born Vadim Repin may just be the best violinist you’ve never heard of. Unless you happened to catch his TSO appearance in 2007 playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 with guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, his only exposure here has been through recordings (most recently with Deutsche Grammophon) and YouTube clips. The clips span almost 30 years of an acclaimed career that took international flight after he won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 1989 when he was only 17.
In a recent telephone conversation the warm and gracious violinist described how he felt at that time: “The competition itself was really tough, very difficult psychologically and [physically]. It goes forever [one month]. For the next four years it put me in the spotlight of the music world but then there was a new winner, so forget about it. You have to do other things to get noticed and get the spotlight.”
This virtuoso, for whom technique is always a means to a musical end, never an end in itself, began violin lessons at five by “pure chance.” His mother, who had been encouraging her son to play with musical toys since he was three, took him to school intending to sign him up for accordion studies. Only violin places were available so he took up the violin. By age seven, chance took him under its wing again; his teacher advised studying with Zakhar Bron (who later taught Maxim Vengerov and Daniel Hope), a relationship which would continue for 13 years.
Over the past few months I have looked at several local venues presenting concerts listed in The WholeNote. These spaces range from the venerable Music Gallery, whose motto “Toronto’s centre for creative music” has taken it into its 38th season, to the Aga Khan Museum’s world music-rich concert series, now in its fourth month.
Their stories encompass their venue’s architecture and the public geographies they inhabit and serve. For example, the Music Gallery’s office and primary downtown venue, a block north of Queen Street West, is the modestly sized St. George the Martyr Anglican Church, its Gothic revival bell tower dating to 1844. The church site looks onto Grange Park and the 105-year old University Settlement social service centre. At the other end of the park sits the near 200-year-old former grand brick home called The Grange and its heir, the AGO. When viewed in the context of its historic urban geography, it strikes me that even though much of its music programming inhabits the experimental edge, the Music Gallery’s site echoes with distinctively old-Toronto tones.