The Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF) invariably includes movies in which music is the major force and this year’s 22nd edition (May 1 to 11) is no exception. From a thorough examination of Sophie Tucker, “the last of the red hot mamas,” to more conventional bios of Marvin Hamlisch and Lionel Bart, from a brief but focused look at Barbra Streisand’s roots in Brooklyn to a fascinating examination of the legendary jazz writer and tireless First Amendment advocate, Nat Hentoff, and a restored copy of the 1938 Yiddish-language film, Mamele, the TJFF has again unearthed evidence of the unmistakable ties between Jews and music.
Born in Sussex, England, Dobson grew up in Toronto where he attended Royal St. George’s College. He began singing with the Toronto Children’s Chorus at the age of nine. His solo début was at twelve, as treble soloist in the Canadian premiere of Lloyd Webber’s Requiem under conductor Elmer Iseler. Dobson also sang with World Youth Choir, Ontario Youth Choir, and Mendelssohn Youth Choir, and attended camp of some sort every summer until university, when camp was replaced with planting trees in the summer to support his studies. Dobson studied choral conducting at the University of Western Ontario, and graduated from The University of Toronto Opera Division. Dobson’s career to date embraces a wide range of choral and concert repertoire, and opera on Canadian and international stages.
A more detailed biography is included at the end of this interview.
Jörn Weisbrodt, 41, is the third part of the German trifecta that is moving and shaking the arts in Toronto. In 2011, he was appointed the artistic director of the Luminato Festival, and thus joins the Canadian Opera Company’s general director, Alexander Neef, and music director, Johannes Debus, as a member of the wunderkind generation of Young Turk Germans making a splash on the worldwide culture scene. (The Neef/Debus Q&A was in last month’s WholeNote.)
When the Weisbrodt/Luminato announcement was made, every news story mentioned the fact that his life partner was Canadian/American superstar, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. (The couple’s 2012 New York celebrity wedding had huge coverage in the international press.) One does not, however, become head honcho of one of North America’s leading festivals of arts and culture by being “husband of.”
What follows is an in-depth conversation with Weisbrodt that gives a perspective on his life history and the life skills that brought him to Luminato.
Tell me about your background. I was born in Hamburg, and I’d describe my life as a typical middle class tapestry. My dad was head of logistics at Unilever and my mother was a housewife. My brother is an engineer with Lufthansa. Instead of going into the army for mandatory conscription after high school, I opted for social service instead. I worked for 15 months in an operating theatre dressing the doctors and nurses, positioning the patients and getting all the equipment together, making sure everything was sterile. I’ve been a great defender of compulsory social service for young people ever since.
Early on in the development of this magazine we decided on a genre-based approach to our regular beat columns to guide our readers through the vast range of “musics,” as columnist Andrew Timar likes to call them, regularly encompassed in these pages.
In many ways it makes sense to do so – if you are on a forest walk and mycology or ornithology are your particular thing, you’re going to gravitate towards the guide with a mushroom or bird pin on their lapel. Similarly columns with names that include “New” or “Opera” or Early” or “Jazz” in them offer readers who already know what they like the comfort of a regular “go to” guide.
But it is an organizational device that even now allows interesting content to fall through the cracks, and probably needs a bit of a rethink as the sharply delineated features of the musical and social landscape continue to erode and change.
For one thing, increasingly, we find that musicians, no matter how specialized their training, are choosing not to be pinned down in terms of their practices – seeking partnerships and collaborations all over the musical landscape.
Something new is coming to town in May – a festival of music unlike any other. Aptly named 21C, this 21st century music festival produced by the Royal Conservatory spotlights new creation across the musical spectrum. The brainchild of Mervon Mehta, executive director of performing arts at the RC, the festival offers eight concerts over five nights, with 20 premieres, and runs from May 21 to 25. I sat down with festival composer-consultant Brian Current to get a first-hand overview of what awaits the listener and why this festival is so unique. Put simply, he describes it as a festival of “beauty and courage.” The combination of concerts offers an opportunity for the people of Toronto to come and listen to who we are musically, and to hear our city proudly reflected back. It’s a celebration of what’s alive and vibrant in our collective lives at this time.
Many of the performers and composers involved in the festival are people whom Mehta has brought in to perform inside the acoustical wonders of Koerner Hall, which opened its doors in 2009. Mehta approached many of these artists to either write something new for the festival or to come as guest performers. His vision is to reach out to many different musical communities and in so doing, offer each audience the opportunity to hear something familiar and something unexpected. Thanks to its main benefactor, Michael Koerner, the festival is scheduled for a five-year run and over that time will be an extraordinary opportunity to build trust with the listeners of Toronto. The concerts will also be live-streamed online so it also offers an opportunity to generate an international audience.