HughsRoom bannerHugh's RoomIt’s a time of year when a distinct trend emerges insofar as traditional concert venues are concerned. A bunch of the year-round busy ones tend to go dormant. And places one might never have thought of as concert venues become the sky-lit backdrop for all kinds of music that more usually remain indoors.

A parallel syndrome manifests itself on the club scene – the mainstay, bastion venues (the “real listening rooms,” as we like to call them), concede defeat to the beach, the cottage and the patio. “You can’t fight patio syndrome. We’ll be back in the fall when you’re ready to get serious again.”

On the other side of the coin, dozens if not hundreds of other clubs, bars and restaurants, all over the map, get drawn into the ever-growing summer scene and buy into the music venue idea, for a brief and glorious explosion of musical activity. After which the potted plant gets put back on the piano, where it belongs, and the extra table or two gets put back in place where the temporary stage inconveniently was.

Festivals have a lot to do with this explosion of activity, of course: within Toronto, TD Jazz, Kensington Jazz Festival and the granddaddy of them all, the Beaches Jazz Festival, turn whole districts into summer postcard illusions of Basin Street. Music festivals all over (Westben, Montreal Baroque, TD Niagara Jazz and Music at Port Milford jump to mind) forge intricate partnerships with networks of eateries and imbiberies (to coin a phrase) that more usually primarily cater to other-than-musical appetites. It’s a win-win. Festivals get to add new audiences, and sometimes a broader range of music, to their usual fare. Eateries get to add music to the menu.

All of this is of course a huge generalization. Certain mainstay venues, like some of the regulars in these listings, are largely immune to seasonal vicissitude. But it’s useful background information to the interesting announcement that Toronto venue Hugh’s Room Live has decided this year to ramp up its programming rather than go quiet through the dog days of the summer. The Hugh’s Room battle to keep its doors open got a lot of press some 18 months back; relaunched cooperatively under the name Hugh’s Room Live, it has now successfully negotiated a full comeback year (including a complete makeover of its previously ponderous and predictable dinner menu in favour of an agile, sharing-friendly, tapas-style approach).

Derek Andrews (who among many other things in his curatorial career programmed memorable public stage lineups at David Pecaut Square for Luminato) is the programming lead for Hugh’s Room Live. For this particular venture, billed Summer Nights Festival, he has to date lined up close to 50 shows between June 15, when it kicks off with a Stevie Wonder Tribute show, and August 23 (We Banjo 3 from Ireland) when it officially ends.

In between, Andrews’ (and Hugh’s Room’s) creative eclecticism will be on full display: check out the recurring “Solo Piano Double” series (which brings together unlikely pairings like Robi Botos and Suba Sankaran, for example) to see what I mean. Look at a Hugh’s/Andrews’ lineup and no matter what your musical tastes are, you will likely not know half the names on the list. Chances are once you’ve heard them, you won’t forget them either.

Talking about when Summer Nights officially ends is a bit like talking about when summer itself “officially” ends, because the whole point of the venture is to emphasis that places like Hugh’s are neither fair-weather friends nor just a shelter from the storm. They are part of the necessary musical fabric. Live. Local. Musically intentional.

As for the fair-weather venue phenomenon mentioned at the outset of this story – there’s maybe a bright side there too. How would it be if each year even a few more of the venues that come on board for music during summer festival times decided to stay the course for the rest of the year? And, as important, what would the neighbours think?

Food for thought.

Hugh’s Room Live’s Summer Nights Festival runs from June 15 to August 25, 2018.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Across Toronto, throughout Ontario and into the rest of Canada, wherever you travel, this summer promises music to suit the most discerning listener. What follows is meant to augment our Green Pages supplement, concentrating on the Toronto Summer Music Festival in particular and highlighting other noteworthy events beyond the GTA.

Toronto Summer Music

This year’s edition of the Toronto Summer Music Festival (TSM), July 12 to August 4, commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by focusing on works written during, or inspired by, wartime. It’s an intriguing premise that makes for some thought-provoking programming. As artistic director and TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow put it: “Some of the most beautiful, emotional and challenging music has been written during times of war and conflict as artists struggled to find meaning and give expression to the horrors gripping the world.”

Borodin QuartetBut the programming is not limited to such works; they become central to or merely part of a greater whole. For example, the Borodin Quartet’s two concerts that begin the festival do include Shostakovich’s intense String Quartet No.8 Op.110 (1960) dedicated “to the memory of the victims of fascism and war,” but overall spotlight Russian-themed compositions. So the Shostakovich is followed by Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No.1 Op.11, which contains the famous Andante Cantabile melody. The next evening, July 13 in Walter Hall, Russian pianist Lukas Geniušas joins the Borodins for Shostakovich’s justly popular Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57 written in 1940 as WWII was just beginning. Geniušas opens the program with Rachmaninoff’s 13 Preludes (1910) then moves to Prokofiev’s Sonata No.7 Op.83 (1942). When I interviewed Geniušas two years ago he called the Prokofiev one of the central pieces of 20th-century piano music: flawless in form and matchless in its violent brutality inspired by the outrage of WWII.

The overall arc of this year’s TSM ranges widely over the musical spectrum, encompassing a myriad of chamber music offerings, big band vocals, early music, gospel music, the pianism of Angela Cheng, lyric tenor Christoph Prégardien and a multi-disciplinary musical journey into the life of Francis Pegahmagabow, the renowned Ojibwe WWI sniper and decorated officer of the Canadian military. And of course, a series of concerts by art song and chamber music academy fellows is back, spotlighting a core element of TSM’s mandate in which musicians on the cusp of professional careers are mentored by, and perform with, seasoned artists.

There are many instances where the war theme yields a bounty of masterpieces. Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (1918), in which a naive soldier sells his soul (and his violin) to the devil, is an indelible concoction filled with memorable tunes and asymmetrical rhythms. Performed in its full version with narrator and dancer, the July 19 Koerner Hall performance presents a rare opportunity to experience one of Stravinsky’s masterworks. And what does it tell us about the human spirit that Copland’s sunny Appalachian Spring, with its unfailing optimism, was written in the last year of WWII? TSM will present this enduringly popular work, in its original version for 13 chamber musicians, on the same program.

Messiaen wrote most of the Quartet for the End of Time after being captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of 1940. The premiere took place in an unheated space in Barrack 27, where the German officers of the camp sat shivering in the front row. “This is the music of one who expects paradise not only in a single awesome hereafter but also in the happenstance epiphanies of daily life,” Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker. “In the end, Messiaen’s apocalypse has little to do with history and catastrophe; instead, it records the rebirth of an ordinary soul in the grip of extraordinary emotion. Which is why the Quartet is as overpowering now as it was on that frigid night in 1941.” Take advantage of the opportunity to hear this spellbinding work when Jonathan Crow (violin), Julie Albers (cello), Miles Jaques (clarinet) and Natasha Paremski (piano) perform it in Koerner Hall at 10:30pm on July 19.

Crow and pianist Philip Chiu base their tribute to the great violinist, humanist and teacher Yehudi Menuhin (in Walter Hall on July 30) on concerts Menuhin performed at liberated concentration camps and military bases during WWII. The program, anchored by Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 in A Major, Op.47 “Kreutzer,” includes works by Corelli, Ravel and Kreisler. More joyous music, in this case represented by Schubert’s ineffable “Trout” Quintet, seemingly apart from TSM’s war theme, is the feature of another Walter Hall recital, July 20. Taking advantage of the presence of art song mentors, tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Steven Philcox, the evening also includes Schubert’s song, Die Forelle, which is the basis for the theme-and-variations fourth movement of the quintet. Filling out the program are works by Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff (his unforgettable Vocalise) and Paul Ben-Haim (who fled the Nazi regime for Palestine).

Another unmissable highlight of TSM’s musical abundance includes the pairing of two recent American classics in a July 24 concert at Lula Lounge by the New Orford String Quartet: Steve Reich’s haunting Different Trains, which contrasts the composer’s nostalgic feelings for the trans-American railway trips he made as a child in the early 1940s with the horrific train rides that Jews were forced to make at the same time in Europe, and George Crumb’s searing response to the Vietnam War, Black Angels (1970), written for electric string quartet. The following day, July 25 at the Church of the Redeemer, Jonathan Crow’s soloist role in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is paired with Biber’s Battaglia (1673), a realistic instrumental depiction of war.

Beethoven’s Sonata No.31 in A-flat Major, Op.110 and Chopin’s Ballade No.1 in G Minor Op.23 are major pillars of the piano canon. Angela Cheng performs them July 31 at Walter Hall before being joined by her husband Alvin Chow for three contrasting French works for piano four-hands by Debussy, Milhaud and Ravel. Ravel put all his disillusionment with the horror of WWI into La Valse, which takes an elegant waltz and ultimately twists it into madness and mayhem. Brilliant.

The New Orford String Quartet and pianist Pedja Muzijevic’s program (July 27) mixes Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, written in the early days of WWI, and Beethoven’s “Serioso” String Quartet, which may have been influenced by Napoleon’s occupation of Vienna the year before it was written, with Elgar’s expansive Piano Quintet, completed just as WWI was ending.

Chiu, along with violinists Aaron Schwebel and Barry Schiffman, are among the musicians taking part in two more chamber music concerts, one (August 1) bearing the weighty title “War in the 20th Century” and the other (August 3) focusing on a cornerstone of string players’ repertoire, Brahms’ Sextet No.1 in B-flat Major, Op.18.

Apart from the mainstage events, there are reGENERATION concerts, in which TSM academy fellows and mentors perform together; and members of the academy also participate in lunchtime concerts. There are pay-what-you-can hour-long late afternoon performances by TSM artists and daytime chats that provide insight into the world of classical music. However much you decide to take in of TSM’s ambitious programming, you will be well-rewarded.

Stratford Summer Music

Founder and artistic producer John Miller’s 18 years at the helm of Stratford Summer Music come to an end this year (July 16 to August 26) with a festival filled with something for everyone, from Bach brunches to the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Tanya Tagaq interpreting the classic silent film Nanook of the North. My personal must-see list has Marc-André Hamelin and Jan Lisiecki at the top. Miller has been trying to book Hamelin since day one; he’s finally got him in a typical Hamelinesque program that mixes the well-known -- Schumann and Chopin -- with the lesser-known: Weissenberg and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Be assured that Canada’s greatest pianist will charm and astound. Lisiecki, who has been on a stellar trajectory over most of his young career, makes his ninth appearance in Stratford (and Miller warns it may be his last for a while, since he’s in so much demand).

Montreal Chamber Music Festival

Getting an early start on summer, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival has several attractive concerts in mid-June. The Rolston String Quartet continues their Banff Competition grand tour pairing Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.7 (his shortest at 13 minutes) with Steve Reich’s powerful Different Trains (June 12). Later that night, the Rolstons and Andre Laplante perform Schumann’s iconic Piano Quintet Op.44. Amit Peled plays Bach and Bloch on Pablo Casals’ 1733 Matteo Gofriller cello (June 15). Four pianists (Alon Goldstein, David Jalbert, Steven Massicotte and Wonny Song) in various combinations play Mozart, Wilberg (his Fantasy on Themes from Bizet’s Carmen), Stravinsky’s Petroushka and more (June 15). The New York Philharmonic String Quartet (the principals of the famous orchestra) make their Canadian debut with a program of Haydn, Shostakovich and Borodin (June 16).

Festival of the Sound

The 39th edition of the Festival of the Sound is varied and extensive: from the world premiere of Sounding Thunder, Timothy Corlis and Armand Garnet Ruffo’s work honouring the renowned Ojibwe WWI sniper, Francis Pegahmagabow, to a series pairing Bach with Mozart, Debussy, Dvořák, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms; from concerts featuring the emerging pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, to The Mosaïque Project, for which Ensemble Made in Canada commissioned 14 award-winning Canadian composers to each write a four-minute movement for piano quartet inspired by a particular province, territory or region, thus creating a unique musical quilt representing the diversity of Canada. The breadth and depth of this beloved festival on the shore of Georgian Bay continues to astonish.

Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival

Under the artistic direction of father-and-son pianists Alexander and Daniel Tselyakov, Manitoba’s first chamber music festival is a long weekend of well-chosen repertoire set in Riding Mountain National Park (July 26 to 29). This year’s highlights include Alexander Tselyakov performing Mozart’s “Elvira Madigan” Piano Concerto No.21 K467 arranged for piano and string quartet; an evening of masterworks by Bruch, Poulenc and Dohnányi with Alexander and strings; Mozart’s Piano Quartet No.2 K493 with Daniel Tselyakov; and a midday seriously fun concert complete with coffee and pastries. A unique festival.

Ottawa Chamberfest

Ottawa Chamberfest celebrates its 25th season July 26 to August 9 with a star-studded roster. Highlights include Marc-André Hamelin (July 27) extending his exploration of the piano music of Samuel Feinberg (and Chopin) as well as teaming up with the exceptional Danel Quatuor for Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet Op.57. Israel’s Ariel Quartet and Banff winners, the Rolston String Quartet, combine for Mendelssohn’s great Octet (July 30); Quatuor Danel (July 29) and the Rolstons (July 31) each give additional concerts. OSM concertmaster   Andrew Wan and rising-star pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin play Beethoven sonatas (August 5); the Gryphon Trio celebrates their own 25th anniversary with an evening of greatest hits and favourite stories (August 5); the masterful Pražák Quartet delves into their Czech heritage (August 7); and Angela Hewitt brightens her visit to her hometown with programs featuring Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book One (August 4) and Goldberg Variations (August 6).

Blythwood Winds - Terry Lim PhotographySummer Music in the Garden

An oasis of calm downtown by the lake, Harbourfront’s Music Garden is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets. And it’s free! Now is the time to spread the word. Here are some highlights. The Venuti String Quartet (violinists Rebekah Wolkstein and Drew Jurecka, violist Shannon Knights and cellist Lydia Munchinsky) performs Ravel’s breathtaking String Quartet June 28; The New Zealand String Quartet illuminates Beethoven’s String Quartet No.7, Op.59 No.1 as well as Stravinsky’s little-heard Concertino for String Quartet July 19; Blythwood Winds, a classic wind quintet, present a program spanning the last century, including Elliott Carter’s Wind Quintet, Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s nature-inspired Emerge and music from the score to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, July 20. Famous for their marimba-duo version of Ann Southam’s Glass Houses, Taktus (Greg Harrison and Jonny Smith) brings it all back home to Toronto on July 22. Playing violin, mandolin and the nine-string hardanger fiddle, Rebekah Wolkstein and Drew Jurecka perform music by Brahms, Bartók, Mozart and Grieg, along with folk music of Norway, August 16. 

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

With the arrival of warmer weather, it’s time to dive into the world of summer music festivals. One that caught my attention this year is Festival of the Sound, located in the heart of vacation country, the town of Parry Sound. This year’s festival, which runs from July 20 to August 11, is offering two unique contemporary music events, both of which focus on themes related to cultural identity, history and place. I’ll be concluding the column with a summary of a few new music events happening this summer within the city of Toronto.

Ensemble Made in Canada (from left) Elissa Lee, Angela Park, Sharon Wei and Rachel Mercer - Photo by Bo HuangThe piano quartet Ensemble Made in Canada will be premiering their unique and ambitious Mosaïque Project at Festival of the Sound on July 26. The ensemble got their start in 2006 at the Banff Centre for the Arts, when Angela Park (piano) and Sharon Wei (viola) were inspired to begin a chamber music ensemble that would enable the two of them to play together – thus a piano quartet was formed rather than the usual choice for chamber ensembles, the string quartet. Additional members of the current quartet include Elissa Lee (violin) and Rachel Mercer (cello), and it was Lee who I had a conversation with about Mosaïque.

A few years ago, the quartet began brainstorming about future projects, and had the vision of travelling across the country by train. Not able to physically manage it – since until recently taking a cello on VIA Rail was not allowed – they came up with the idea of commissioning a piece of music that would do it for them.

The original idea was to commission 13 composers (one for each province and territory), but later this increased to 14 composers, who were then selected based on the quartet’s attraction to their individual compositional styles rather than on where they lived. After the composers were on board, the quartet then came up with a strategy to allocate a specific province/territory to each composer to serve as the initial starting point for their compositions. As things turned out, even though each composer was given free reign to find their own inspiration related to the assigned province/territory, a majority of them chose the theme of water as their point of departure. In our conversation, Lee remarked how nature is “so close to our hearts as Canadians,” so it’s no surprise that this would emerge as a common thread amongst the creators. Each of the pieces is four minutes in length, and in the premiere performance in Parry Sound, all 14 of these miniatures will be woven together. An extensive tour is planned across the country after the premiere, with dates and locations scheduled into the fall of 2019 and a changing set list of Mosaïque selections for each show. Audiences in Toronto will be able to hear the complete set of 14 works on November 15, as part of Music Toronto’s concert season and their full touring schedule is available on their website.

One of the distinctive features of this project is a visually based component that will engage the audience. During the concert, audience members will have the opportunity to doodle or draw while listening. Lee explained that many audience members only want to experience familiar music and are more skeptical of contemporary pieces. Based on Lee’s own practice of doodling while talking on the phone, she had the inspiration that if people were doing something more unconscious like doodling, “they could abstract the music and be less apt to judge it. By engaging in a drawing experience, people are able to tap into their own creativity and draw something based on what they’re hearing to inspire them. It opens up a different approach to how you digest the music and is much more friendly. People may find themselves hearing something in the music they would otherwise miss,” Lee said. The other goal of the visual element is to concretely capture how the music is inspiring the audiences. “Canada is inspiring the composers, the composers are inspiring the ensemble, and since the concert is travelling throughout the country, the music is inspiring a nation-wide audience. We can capture what is being created and put it on our website, creating a visual mosaic as another layer to how we celebrate and represent our country.” Through the Mosaïque Project, Canada’s diversity and richness are celebrated not only through the music, but also through the eyes and ears of its people.

Francis Pegahmagabow (1945)Sounding Thunder

The second contemporary music event at the Festival of the Sound is the world premiere of Sounding Thunder: The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow, composed by Timothy Corlis and written by Ojibwe poet Armand Garnet Ruffo. Corlis explained that the work is not an opera, but rather a story that includes a narrator, a chamber ensemble of instrumentalists, three Ojibwe singers and an actor who plays Pegahmagabow. Performing this role is Brian McInnes, the great grandson of Pegahmagabow and writer of an extensive biography of his great grandfather. Other direct descendants have acted as advisors for the project. Pegahmagabow was born in 1889 on the Parry Island Indian Reserve (now the Wasauksing First Nation), an Ojibwe community near Parry Sound, Ontario. He was considered the most effective sniper of World War I and was decorated with various military medals. The writer Armand Ruffo took great pains to reference real events in the script, Corlis told me, using either things commonly talked about in the family or documentation from books.

Timothy CorlisThe instrumentation of the music was designed to be a copy of what is used in L’Histoire du Soldat, Igor Stravinsky’s piece about World War I. Corlis’ vision is that for future performances, excerpts of Stravinsky’s work will be performed on the same program, thus presenting different viewpoints of this cataclysmic world event. Sounding Thunder is divided into three acts, with the first focusing on Pegahmagabow’s childhood and formational spiritual experiences, including an encounter with the spirit of his clan – the Caribou. In the music, Corlis has created a Caribou motive using interlocking patterns invoking the sounds of a large herd. One of the singers will portray the spirit of the Caribou throughout the work, which opens with Pegahmagabow acknowledging the four directions while vocables are sung. At another point, the instruments foreshadow the war with rippling gunshot sounds on the drum. Act Two takes us to the battlefield in Europe and musically, the score has many references to European music and its harmonic traditions. Corlis said that the music even sounds a bit like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, yet there is another unmistakable component – the presence of the drum, which is played with great force underneath the European-based music. This was one way Corlis brought together references to both cultures, as the drum is a significant element in Ojibwe culture and customarily resides in the home of its owner.

Armand Garnet Ruffo in his office at Queens University CREDIT Julia McKayAct Three focuses on Pegahmagabow’s life after returning to his home after the war. Despite his many accomplishments on the battlefield and his ability to gain loyalty and trust in his role as an army sergeant, when back on the reserve, he had to once again face the systemic racism towards First Nations people. Much of the third act portrays his struggles with the Indian agent, fighting for the rights to receive his military pension and for all Indigenous people to have access to legal advice. Writer Armand Ruffo is a strong activist for Indigenous rights, and this is very evident in the script. The work ends with Pegahmagabow’s death, with the instrumentalists surrounding him onstage while playing gentle light trill motives to represent the ascension of his spirit, with the finale being the performance of a traditional Ojibwe song.

City Summertime Listening

Somewhere There: On June 10, at Array Space, Somewhere There will present the first screening of Sound Seed: Tribute to Pauline Oliveros, a performance by Vancouver-based integrated media artist Victoria Gibson. The piece draws on Gibson’s 2009 encounter with composer Pauline Oliveros and members of the Deep Listening Band, who invited her to document their 20th anniversary that took place in the underground cistern in Fort Worden, Washington with its spectacular 45-second reverberation. This was the site of the groundbreaking 1989 recording Deep Listening, which launched both the term and concepts of Deep Listening, Oliveros’ signature work which invites us to engage with and contribute to the sonic environment from a place of inner focus and awareness. The concert includes a launch of the DVD along with two sets of music. Vocalist/composer Laura Swankey opens the evening, with the closing set featuring Gibson performing with Heather Saumer (trombone) and Bob Vespaziani (electronic percussion), a version of Gibson’s variable-member project, Play the Moment Collective.

Contact Contemporary Music: A unique concert on June 14 co-presented by ContaQt and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, “Many Faces: We Are All Marilyns,” will explore the themes of vulnerability, strength and defiance, topics that are particularly relevant in light of recent issues of violence within Toronto’s queer community. Music by Eve Beglarian, Amnon Wolman and John Oswald will be performed, along with choreography by Laurence Lemieux. Fast forwarding to the Labour Day weekend, Contact’s annual multi-day festival INTERSECTION takes place from August 31 to September 4, and is a co-presentation with Burn Down the Capital. This year’s event offers an extensive lineup of musicians, with their opening concert featuring NYC-based experimental metal guitarist and composer Mick Barr, the Thin Edge New Music Collective, and heavy metal band Droid. The day-long event on September 2 will take place as usual at Yonge- Dundas Square, with music performed in the midst of an intense urban scene. By contrast, the final concert will take place at Allan Gardens, with another opportunity to hear Laura Swankey, amongst others.

Luminato: An exciting new work which combines sound, image and an unspoken narrative, Solo for Duet: works for augmented piano and images, will be performed by pianist Eve Egoyan on June 19 and 20. I refer you to my April column, which features a more detailed description of this work, along with a look at Egoyan’s performances of long-duration works. On June 24, Icelandic composer and musician Ólafur Arnalds premieres his new work All Strings Attached, featuring a wired ensemble of string quartet and percussion, with Ólafur performing on an array of pianos and synthesizers. A highlight of this work will be Ólafur’s use of intricate algorithm software, which he designed to control two self-playing pianos acting as one.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

I once mused in this column that “summer in the city for me also means music in the city.” It’s not an especially deep statement, but it does suggest that experiencing sound in warm outdoor weather is different from listening indoors. Summer liberates music in Canada in a way other seasons cannot.

The advent of short sleeves, shorts-and-sandal weather means music lovers need no longer be confined to indoor spaces. We can enjoy music at a wide range of outdoor venues this summer. To name only a few: Harbourfront Centre, North York’s Cultura Festival, Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival (commonly still called Caribana), Small World Festival, and Ashkenaz Festival. We can also experience global music at TD Sunfest 2018 in the parkland heart of London, and at Stratford Summer Music in the Ontario town Shakespeare made famous.

Many of these concert series feature music which reflects the diversity we see and hear around us every day.

Summertime concerts often cover a huge cultural range, sometimes with several genres on a single bill. It’s an ideal opportunity to sample music you’ve been meaning to try – or never knew existed. The latter’s a special treat for inveterate sonic explorers.

In this 2018 summer column I’ll explore that en plein air experience as presented by three Toronto music festivals rich in global sounds.

Harbourfront Centre: Summer Music in the Garden, June 28 to September 16

We begin our summer global music journey at Harbourfront Centre, which I once called “the granddaddy of current Toronto summer music festivals.” It has followed its multicultural mandate for more than four decades, presenting what it calls a cross-section of the “mosaic of cultures from within our country and around the world.”

I’ve mentioned here before that I was a Harbourfront Centre early-adopter. I hadn’t yet shared, however, that as well as being an enthusiastic audience member, I also performed there with various groups from the 1970s on. Bringing my children along when they were young to Harbourfront Centre’s eclectic high-quality (and mostly free) music programming proved to be a summertime essential for our growing family. Along the way I learned a great deal about diverse musics there. Perhaps our kids did too.

Harbourfront’s concert series Summer Music in the Garden returns for its 19th year by the shores of Lake Ontario. Located in the Yo-Yo Ma co-designed Music Garden, the free concerts are scheduled on most Thursdays at 7pm and Sundays at 4pm. Audiences are encouraged to sit on the lawn and to bring a blanket or lawn chair since bench seating is quite limited. Hats, umbrellas and sunscreen are wise options.

Summer Music in the Garden’s logo is “Our garden is your concert hall.” It’s an apt description of the relaxed backyard-in-the-city environment you can expect, though you’d have to be in the upper one percent to personally own such a waterfront property.

This year’s 18 concerts have been carefully curated by longtime Summer Music in the Garden artistic director Tamara Bernstein. They include outstanding local and touring artists performing in a wide range of music genres. Here are just three picks from the Music Garden’s abundant 2018 crop.

July 1. Kontiwennenhá:wi and Barbara Croall: “Songs for the Women.”

It’s very fitting that Bernstein booked Kontiwennenhá:wi and Barbara Croall for Canada Day. Kontiwennenhá:wi (Carriers of the Words) have performed at the Toronto Music Garden as The Akwesasne Women Singers in the past. They return performing both received songs that are an integral part of Haudenosaunee life, as well as original repertoire.

Barbara CroallOdawa First Nations composer and musician Barbara Croall was (from 1998 to 2000) resident composer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Her Summer Music in the Garden set features a performance of her Lullaby (2008) for pipigwan (traditional Anishinaabe cedar flute) and voice. The work is dedicated to the many Indigenous mothers whose children died at residential schools.

July 5. Kongero: “Scandinavian Songlines.”

Formed in 2005, the popular Swedish a cappella group Kongero consists of four women folk music singers, Lotta Andersson, Emma Björling, Anna Larsson and Anna Wikénius. They have performed at major folk music, a cappella and chamber music festivals in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their repertoire consists of a mix of traditional and original songs characterized by tight harmonies, lively rhythms and vocal clarity. They playfully call their genre, “Swedish Folk’appella.”

Summer and beer go together for many Canadians, but how many a cappella groups can boast a beer named after them? This quartet can. Kongero is a bottled Saison/Farmhouse Ale-style brewed by Jackdaw Brewery in Sweden. Audiences can expect to hear excerpts from Kongero’s four full-length albums, though sadly I saw no mention of samples of their eponymous ale.

August 9. Bageshree Vaze, Vineet Vyas and Rajib Karmakar: Satyam (Truth).

The Indo-Canadian dancer and musician Bageshree Vaze and tabla soloist Vineet Vyas both studied their respective art forms with the best in India. They have been part of the Ontario performing arts scene for over two decades. Currently based in LA, Rajib Karmakar is an award-winning electric sitar musician, educator and digital artist with ample international touring credentials.

Last year these three artists were commissioned by Opera Nova Scotia to create Satyam (Truth). Their opera is based on the love story of Savitri and Satyavan, first found in the Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India.

Small World Festival at Harbourfront Centre, August 17 to 19.

Harbourfront Centre is the venue for several other festivals this summer. For three days in August, this year’s Small World Festival takes over Harbourfront’s facilities for the first time. Placing its 17th annual festival at the height of the summer season in one of the city’s premier summer cultural and tourist destinations is a bold and perhaps even risky move for Small World Music. On the other hand, the fit feels organic. The weekend celebration of “diversity through music” suits the mandates of both organizations well.

In a recent telephone interview with Alan Davis, SWM’s executive director, he told me that this year’s Small World Festival is inspired by the 30th anniversary of WOMAD. Founded by Peter Gabriel in the UK 36 years ago, World of Music Art and Dance was first produced in Canada at Harbourfront Centre in 1988. (I recall that WOMAD particularly well. I performed a concert there with Evergreen Club Gamelan on the outdoor Tindall stage, a stone’s throw from busy Queens Quay.)

Davis noted that the “inspiration [WOMAD] provided created a direct line to the formation of Small World ten years later. Three decades on, this festival explores its legacy and how it resonates in multicultural 21st-century Toronto.”

Small World’s annual signature concert series is known for its “eclectic mix of top artists from around the globe and around the corner, representing the state of the-art in global sound,” continued Davis. “Taking place on multiple stages, the mostly free program will attract a wide range of demographics, ranging from audiences that identify culturally with the music onstage, to mainstream music fans, families and tourists seeking a global cultural experience.”

Davis makes a case for providing “a predominately free program in one of Toronto’s premier summer locales helping to reduce the barriers in celebrating multiculturalism and enriching the cultural tapestry of our city.” He projects the weekend will “draw over 25,000 participants from markets beyond the GTA, including Southern Ontario, Montreal and American border-states.”

What will audiences see and hear? Davis aims “to continue to feature the high-quality presentations that the festival is renowned for. This includes international and Canadian artists from a diverse range of cultures, including but not limited to Korean, South Asian, Iranian, Latin American, Portuguese and Afro-Caribbean.”

Given that the Small World Festival will be held in the middle of August, Davis was reluctant to nail down programming months prior to the festival. When pressed, however, he revealed to The WholeNote readers the acts booked at press time.

The wide-ranging mix includes Daraa Tribes (Morocco), which present a fusion of the ancestral tribal music at the heart of the Moroccan Sahara; DJ Lag (South Africa), a pioneer of the explosive dark techno movement out of Durban; and one of Italy’s hottest bands, Kalàscima, purveyors of a unique brand of “psychedelic trance tarantella.” Also confirmed is the East LA band Las Cafeteras, which fuses spoken word and traditional Son Jarocho, Afro-Mexican and zapateado dancing into a joyous celebration of Chicano culture.

Vieux Farka TouréThe Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré may be the best-known Small World Festival headliner to Toronto audiences. Carrying on the musical legacy of his Grammy-winning father Ali Farka Touré, Vieux’s latest album Samba (2017) was praised in the Monolith Cocktail Blog: “This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channelled through a six-string electric guitar.”

Canadian groups include Toronto’s Surefire Sweat, a diverse and multi-generational roster of musicians who feature the danceable original music of drummer Larry Graves which draws on “an amalgam of New Orleans brass band, funk, jazz, blues and Afrobeat.” The Montreal-Moroccan outfit De Ville will also take the stage. More Canadian and international acts will be announced during the summer, so keep an eye out.

Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront Centre, August 28 to September 3.

The 12th biennial Ashkenaz Festival happens over the final week of the summer, wrapping on Labour Day Monday. Following the template established in previous editions, this year kicks off with an assortment of events at venues across the GTA before Ashkenaz segues to Harbourfront Centre over the Labour Day weekend.

The 2018 festival features over 90 performances, with more than 250 individual artists coming from across Canada and at least a dozen countries. Following the lead of previous iterations, the festival showcases diversity and cross-culturalism within the Jewish music world. This year the festival also features the enhanced participation of women performers, “spotlighting the role of women as prominent performers, innovators and key custodians of various Jewish musical traditions from around the globe.”

Given the vast scope of the festival I can only provide a few picks.

On August 28, Yiddish Glory (Russia/Canada) is the festival opener at Koerner Hall. The show is built on songs and poetry from the Holocaust era, rediscovered in a Ukrainian archive a decade ago. The songs and texts are presented in a concert format featuring jazz chanteuse Sophie Milman, Psoy Korolenko and Trio Loyko.

Other acts have been confirmed, though their festival appearance dates have not yet been released. Here’s but a taste.

Frank London, Grammy-winning group Klezmatics’ co-founder and one of the godfathers of the new Yiddish culture scene, is this year’s Theodore Bikel artist-in-residence. Fronted by trumpeter London, the band Sharabi has been dubbed “a Yiddish-Punjabi bhangra-funk-klezmer party band.” (Would I kid you?)

Salomé: Woman of Valor (Canada/USA) was created by London and Adeena Karasick. This new work is a multidisciplinary spoken word opera incorporating the interplay of poetry, music and dance. It seeks to refute Oscar Wilde’s “misogynist and anti-Semitic interpretation and re-casts [Salomé] as a powerful revolutionary matriarch, translating the renowned myth to one of female empowerment, socio-politic, erotic and aesthetic transgression.”

Gili Yalo, making his North American debut, is one of the most intriguing new artists in Israel’s world music scene. Yalo mashes his Ethiopian roots with soul, reggae, funk, psychedelia and jazz, forging an energetic new sound.

Neta Elkayam, a leading researcher and performer of Moroccan Jewish music, presents songs with Andalusian, Berber and Middle Eastern influences. Her latest project is a multimedia concert tribute to the great Moroccan-Jewish singer Zohra Al Fassia, featuring 11 musicians..

Choro Das Tres (Brazil) is a virtuoso instrumental ensemble comprised of three sisters and their father who perform choro, Brazil’s first popular music. The group pays tribute in this concert to Brazilian-Jewish mandolin master Jacob do Bandolim, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

No matter which festival or open-air concert you choose, I wish you a pleasant global musical summer! 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

The 32nd TD Toronto Jazz Festival will run June 22 to July 1, with 23 ticketed shows in various venues and approximately 150 free concerts. For the second straight year, the festival will be centred around Bloor-Yorkville, with seven core venues: outdoor stages on Cumberland St. and Hazelton Ave., The Pilot Tavern, Heliconian Hall, the Church of the Redeemer, the Isabel Bader Theatre and the Village of Yorkville Park. This year’s festival also has some new initiatives, including four ticketed concerts at Trinity-St. Paul’s; an opening night celebration co-produced with the Royal Ontario Museum called “Jazz Club,in which the ROM will be transformed into a giant nightclub featuring jazz, swing and dancing throughout the evening; and a partnership with CBC Music and the JUNOs rotating between two Yorkville stages and highlighting Canadian musicians who were either nominated for, or won, JUNO awards this past year. The showcase will feature eight bands on June 30, including David Braid/Mike Murley, the Okavango African Orchestra, Hilario Durán, Shirantha Beddage, Autorickshaw, Beny Esguerra and New Tradition, and more.

With the festival fast approaching, I sat down for a conversation with Josh Grossman, now in his ninth year as artistic director, about this year’s festival and its continuing evolution.

Josh Grossman - Photo by Marie ByersWN: Walk us through the move away from Nathan Phillips Square into Yorkville, which began last year. What has this change brought to the festival?

JG: There were programming-flexibility and other issues involved in having the big tent in Nathan Phillips Square as the festival’s central venue. These involved noise by-law requirements which limited us to three shows a day – one at noon, one in the late afternoon and one in the evening – and we wanted to be able to present more. Also, the tent held 1,200 people and the pressure of filling it for ten straight days proved to be a challenge. The sound was often less than ideal and so was the atmosphere – we lacked the budget to decorate the square to give it more of a festival feel as it had during the Pan-Am Games. The move to Bloor-Yorkville allows us to present smaller shows, but more of them, and in a variety of indoor and outdoor venues that provide more flexibility and variety. Also, with its pre-existing history, Yorkville provides a village-within-a-city feel that makes a jazz festival feel like more of a festival, which is hugely important. It has a built-in community and neighbourhood vibe and offers many other advantages. It’s in the centre of the city, easily accessible by public transit and, with seven venues, it offers a flexibility of programming. It’s also close to some of the hard-ticketed venues such as the Danforth Music Hall, Koerner Hall, the ROM and Trinity-St. Paul’s, so there’s a sense of concentration. We want people to be able to catch a variety of shows each day by simply walking or taking a short subway ride. Because Yorkville is relatively small, many of the venues, even the outdoor ones, offer an intimacy which suits the music being presented. Heliconian Hall for example, where we’ll be presenting ten free concerts, holds just 100 people, has wonderful sound, a good grand piano and a great stage. The Church of the Redeemer is similar and both these venues have a history within the city, which it’s nice to take advantage of.

What has response from the Yorkville community been like?

Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and the Bloor-Yorkville BIA have been very supportive, which has allowed us to increase the Yorkville footprint of the festival this year. It’s helped that CEO Howard Kerber, who formerly ran TIFF in the community for several years, has been involved. There are still noise by-law issues – no more than 85 decibels and nothing past 11pm – but most shows will wind up by ten. And the local businesses certainly appreciate the influx of 5,000 people into the neighbourhood.

Apart from affordability, availability and avoiding repetition from year to year, what drives your selection of acts for the festival?

We focus on the audience in Toronto, being aware of who’s popular in the city, and of the increasing cross-cultural aspect of the community with an eye toward promoting this. With the ticketed big-name shows we look for variety; we want the acts to be exciting and vibrant as well as financially viable. It’s certainly not a matter of me as artistic director just indulging my own tastes; there have been many times I’ve wanted to bring in an artist I love but have been shot down by the board. It’s surprising, but there are a number of artists with huge international jazz reps who simply don’t sell well in Toronto. The free concerts are easier because there’s no box office pressure and the possibilities are almost endless.

There’s a perception that the festival has grown smaller in the last couple of years – is this true?

Not entirely. There have been slightly fewer big-name, hard-ticketed events the past couple of years, but the total number of presentations has held steady at 170 to 180. Part of the perception that we’re smaller is we no longer involve, under the festival umbrella, many clubs which present jazz part time. This is largely because they didn’t allow us input into their booking of artists. The exceptions this year are the Home Smith Bar, The Rex (which does its own booking but we wanted to maintain a partnership with because it presents so much jazz year-round) and The Pilot Tavern, an obvious choice given its location and long history.

I’ve often thought that with jazz festivals, smaller can be better.

Yes, we’re finding that can be true – that musical quality and variety matter more than size.

You’re likely sick of this question – as am I – but what do you say to the inevitable criticism that there are acts in the festival that aren’t really jazz?

So when we bring in someone like Willie Nelson, or Alison Krause this year … I’m not going to argue that they’re jazz artists, but they serve a certain purpose in attracting large audiences, which helps the bottom line, which in turn helps us afford other artists. But whether they’re jazz or not, nobody can argue that they’re not great musical artists. And there’s a hope that their fans, who may not have been exposed to jazz before, may catch some other shows and say “Hey, I like this, why haven’t I heard this before?” Also, it’s not really fair, because those critics often seize on one or two artists out of the 170 being presented, most of which in some form are legitimately jazz. The music has evolved and cross-pollinated so much that it now comprises many elements of world music, R&B, soul, blues, funk and so on, so who can say anymore in absolute terms what jazz is, or isn’t? Particularly in the summer, jazz becomes a bigger, more inclusive tent. Besides, some of these more popular artists can surprise you – for example, a few years ago the Steve Martin booking was roundly criticized, but in my opinion his performance offered more improvisational content than a lot of the so-called “straight jazz” ones did that year.

How long does putting together each festival take?

With all the logistical challenges and coordination of booking, organizing and planning, it’s pretty much a year-long process. The team generally allows itself some time off to bask in the afterglow of the current festival, then it’s on to organizing the next one.

What would you like to say about this year’s festival?

I’m pretty excited about it, the expanded presence in Yorkville and some of the new venues, artists and initiatives being offered, such as blues legend Bettye Lavette heading up a Blues Revue for the first time in the festival and the first-ever Toronto appearance by The Bad Plus featuring their new pianist, Orrin Evans; the Industry Exchange, a new series being held in the Stealth Lounge of The Pilot, aimed at promoting emerging local talent from diverse musical backgrounds. The Yorkville venues have given us the flexibility to present a lot of Canadian talent, both established and lesser-known. I feel we’re offering a program with a lot of range, featuring some legends such as Herbie Hancock as well as some newer artists, in some of the city’s most attractive venues.

Bettye LavetteAll told, you’ve done seven or eight of these, so what do you consider a successful jazz festival to be – how does that look?

Well, attendance and the bottom line are important of course and it helps if the weather cooperates. But mostly, it’s the vibe of the festival, the feeling of its interaction with the city itself, positive feedback from audiences, seeing familiar faces and some new ones at the shows. Having artists express an interest in returning is always nice and often happens because this is such a vibrant city with so much musical talent. And it’s a good sign when I see a lot of local musicians in the audience.

Full disclosure! Aside from playing two Yorkville concerts with Reg Schwager’s Songbook and the Barry Elmes Quintet, I plan on being one of the local musicians in the audience Josh Grossman spoke about. I like the eclecticism and look of this year’s lineup, some of the new initiatives and the overall scope and size of the festival. Above all, I feel its setting allows for some musical intimacy and the potential to be what a jazz festival should be at the end of the day – festive. I wish everybody an enjoyable time at this year’s festival and a happy summer of listening.

To see more detail about this year’s lineup and schedule, visit torontojazz.com

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera,” which can be accessed at Wallace-bass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

In the dog days of Toronto’s musical summer, while the halls are lying dormant and musicians gigging on the Ontario festival circuit, two weeks of intense art song training will take place at the Toronto Summer Music Festival (TSM). Out of 90 applicants this year, eight singers and four pianists chosen by video auditions will work on all aspects of art song with international mentors, Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake, and the head of Collaborative Piano at U of T and Canadian Art Song Project co-artistic director Steven Philcox. Tuition fees are covered by scholarships, which in turn are underwritten by TSM donors. Each week of work will be crowned with a group recital, in a program that will emerge organically from the training repertoire tackled.

Christoph Pregardien - Marco BorggreveThere will also be the opportunity for the Art of Song Institute singers and pianists to join forces with the fellows of the Chamber Music Institute, the other arm of the Toronto Summer Music Academy. A lucky precedent was set last year, explains Steven Philcox when I phone him on an early morning in May; song students enjoyed working with string players and TSM artistic director Jonathan Crow so much that a repeat was in order. This year, two pieces that call for inter-Institute collaboration will be in the final concert: a Menotti number and Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle for soprano, piano and string quartet.

Each of the international mentors is here for one week, though their time will overlap enough to allow for a Prégardien-Drake recital on July 17. Their young mentees will be required to prepare eight songs for each week of the program, 16 songs total. “There will be daily sessions with Christoph, Julius and myself, and a lot of focused diction and language study,” says Philcox. “Michael Albano, resident stage director at the U of T Opera, will give a full session on recitation of poetry, away from the music – getting back to the words – and this is both for singers and pianists. They’re all required to prepare a piece of poetry from memory.”

Steven PhilcoxWhat songs exactly the singers end up working on during those two weeks of close collaboration with Drake, Prégardien and Philcox depends in part on their own interests. The repertoire is discussed early on in the selection process. “We audition everybody through the Young Artist Program tracker, and singers can upload their videos and submit their repertoire online. That way we can audition internationally.” The TSM artistic panel then looks at the applications and makes the selection.

Both the Festival and its Academy are loosely programmed around a theme each year, and this time it’s Reflections of Wartime. “At least some of the songs that the singers bring will be required to fit the festival theme. I ask the singers for 16 to 20 songs and out of those I am able to assemble the rep,” says Philcox. The final list of songs will also depend on who the mentors are and what their area of specialization is. “Christoph Prégardien’s wish was to focus on German lieder and we’ll have quite a bit of Schubert and Schumann – and a lot of students really wanted to work on Schubert with him.” There are two tenors, two sopranos and four mezzos, and in the self-generated repertoire there wasn’t much overlap. “Even within the same voice type,” he adds. “One mezzo happens to be closer to alto and she’s looking at some of the Mahler Kindertotenlieder and Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis.”

Here is the class of 2018: pianists Frances Armstrong, Leona Cheung, Pierre-André Doucet and Jinhee Park, sopranos Maeve Palmer and Karen Schriesheim, tenors Joey Jang and Asitha Tennekoon, and mezzos Lyndsay Promane, Danielle Vaillancourt, Renee Fajardo and Florence Bourget. A couple of the local names will be familiar to Torontonians – Promane and Palmer certainly, as well as tenor Asitha Tennekoon, who has just wrapped up in the first run of the newly composed The Overcoat at Canadian Stage here and in Vancouver.

The young tenor moved to Toronto only four years ago, but since then we’ve seen him in roles in just about all the core companies of the indie scene: Tapestry, Against the Grain Theatre, MY Opera, Opera Five and Bicycle Opera Project. I caught up with him over Skype while he was travelling through BC to ask him about his interest in the art of song and the kind of detailed work that the TSM Academy offers.

“My first TSM Academy was two years ago, actually,” he says. “This year when I found out who the mentors are going to be, I decided to apply again. I’ve listened to Prégardien for a long time, and know his work. Whenever I have to work on Bach cantatas and passions, I look for his versions. As a tenor, I think I might end up doing a lot of rep that he’s done.”

Tennekoon’s rep this year will be British songs and a lot of Schubert lieder. “I’ve done Schumann, I’ve done Wolf, but somehow never taken the time to study Schubert.” And since working on Schubert’s larger song cycles would be somewhat impractical in the context of a two-week summer school, he ended up choosing a few songs from Schwanengesang. “I love those pieces; they speak to me,” he says.

“Lieder in general. There’s something about the way those songs delve into human psyche that really engages me. How the poet and the character in the song put something across, deal with something in a matter of just a couple of minutes – and often so powerfully. That really makes me want to work on it and figure out why and how this happens.”

Part of it, he says, is that there are no operatic visuals, no plot development and no colleagues onstage to help build the character and help you make your case. “There’s an immediate spotlight – you dive straight in. I love that challenge. You can’t move around, there’s nowhere to go.”

One particular song from Schwanengesang in particular drew him in: Der Doppelgänger. “When I first heard it, it surprised me that it was Schubert. The way the harmonies worked, it all felt like Mahler – that sense of pathos and death to it.”

Asitha TennekoonAfter the Academy and in addition to Schubert, Tennekoon will continue to explore Britten’s vocal opus. “I love the way [Britten] writes for the voice,” he says. “I’ve already done a bunch of Britten songs and would like to continue singing Britten as much as possible.” Schumann too, and the French rep eventually. Contemporary music almost goes without saying. “Doing new music is the most enjoyable thing about my time in Toronto so far. Working with Tapestry, you kind of get thrown into it and I absolutely love it. Taking part in something out there that’s never been heard before, getting to talk to the composer and librettist and ask them questions and suggest your own ideas – it’s one of the most exciting parts of this business.”

But first , back to Bach. Tennekoon returns to Stratford Summer Music for the Coffee Cantata later in the summer, and there are a few solos in the Matthew and John Passions in the near future. And in the spring of 2019, a house debut at the Opéra de Montréal in what’s been billed as a jazz opera with boxing, Champion.

The joint reGENERATION recitals by the Art Song and Chamber Music fellows take place on July 14 and 21, 1pm and 4pm on each day in Walter Hall, Toronto; tickets are available at TSM’s website.

June Pick

Tapestry Opera is partnering with Pride Toronto for a three-day festival of naughtiness titled “Tap This” on June 7, 8 and 9. Soprano Teiya Kasahara will subvert operatic tropes about female characters in her haute butch style. Joel Klein (as his drag alter Maria Toilette), Kristina Lemieux (as Vadge) and Gutter Opera Collective will present “Cocktales”: salacious and tender first-person retellings of early sexual experiences. There’s more: the complete program and tickets can be found on Tapestry’s website. 

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

Opera performances in Southern Ontario in the summer are becoming more numerous every year. This year, a few young companies are taking opera to some municipalities that once had opera companies and to others that never had them. This is all to the good in broadening the audience for opera as well as broadening notions of what opera is, as the offerings mix standards and rarities with brand-new works.

June

Nota Bene: June 2018 begins with a rarity. The Nota Bene Baroque Players of Waterloo team up with Capella Intima of Toronto and the Gallery Players of Niagara to present Folly in Love (Gli equivoci nel sembiante) from 1679, the first opera written by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725). The first performance takes place in Kitchener on June 1, the second in Hamilton on June 2 and the third in St. Catharines on June 3.

The opera concerns two nymphs, Lisetta and Clori, who are both in love with the same shepherd Eurillo. When a new shepherd Armindo arrives, the nymphs change their affections to him. After much confusion, the four sort themselves into two happy couples. Sheila Dietrich and Jennifer Enns sing the two nymphs, Bud Roach is Eurillo and David Roth is Armindo. Roach also conducts the six-member ensemble of period instruments. The opera is presented in concert in Italian with English surtitles.

Vera Causa: Also outside Toronto, the young opera company Vera Causa Opera is presenting an unusual double bill of new Canadian operas by women composers. The first is an opera in Croatian and English, Padajuća Zvijezda (The Fallen Star) by Julijana Hajdinjak, and the second is The Covenant by Dylann Miller. The first opera is inspired by a short story by the composer’s sister Danijela about two lovers in a celestial kingdom where love has been outlawed and is punished by banishment to Earth. It features Allison Walmsley as Luna, Melina Garcia Zambrano as Aurelia, Gabriel Sanchez Ortega as Solaris, Katerina Utochkina as Astra and Philip Klaassen as Stello. Rachel Kalap is the stage director and Dylan Langan conducts a five-member ensemble plus chorus. 

The second opera concerns witches, lesbians and priests and is about “empowering women to embrace their true selves from the perspective of a teenage girl in a small town.” In it Allison Walmsley sings Cate, Chad Quigley is Father Andrew, Kimberley Rose-Pefhany is Keira, Autumn Wascher is Delaney, Stephanie O’Leary is Lilith and Sam Rowlandson-O’Hara is Cate’s Mother. Rebecca Gray is the stage director and Isaac Page conducts a small instrumental ensemble and chorus. The operas will be performed on June 22 in Waterloo and on June 23 in Cambridge. As both the Nota Bene and the Vera Causa opera productions show, opera companies whose goal is to serve their local communities are springing up outside of Toronto.

By Request: In Toronto, Opera by Request has two presentations in June. The first on June 2 is Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The second on June 9 is Donizetti’s daunting Anna Bolena. In the Mozart, Lawrence Cotton sings the title role, Evan Korbut is Leporello, Laura Schatz is Donna Elvira, Carrie Gray is Donna Anna and Risa de Rege is Zerlina. Kate Carver is the pianist and music director. In the Donizetti, Antonina Ermolenko sings the title role, John Holland is Enrico VIII, Monica Zerbe is Giovanna Seymour and Paul Williamson is Lord Percy. William Shookhoff is the pianist and music director.

Opera 5: On June 13, 15 and 17, Toronto’s Opera 5, which up to now has focused on presenting rarities such as its Dame Ethel Smyth double bill last year, makes its first foray into a full-length opera from the standard repertory, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Johnathon Kirby sings the title role, Kevin Myers is the Count Almaviva, Stephanie Tritchew is his beloved Rosina, Jeremy Ludwig is her jealous guardian Don Bartolo and Giles Tomkins is her music teacher Don Basilio.

Rachel KrehmAs Opera 5 general director Rachel Krehm says, “The show will be set in the spring of 1914 in Spain just before the Last Great Summer (in which Spain declared its neutrality in World War I, a decision that would later seriously divide the country). A big feature of the set will be golden gates which symbolize Rosina’s entrapment – the outside world just out of reach. The comedy will come at you from every angle: the colours onstage, the physicality – but always inspired by the comedic genius from the score.” The opera will be fully staged and directed by Jessica Derventzis, with Evan Mitchell conducting an 11-piece ensemble.

Two from Luminato: The Luminato Festival has two opera-related offerings. From June 16 to 19 it presents Tables Turned, a remount of one of Tapestry Opera’s experimental Tap:Ex series from 2015. Soprano Carla Huhtanen and percussionist Ben Reimer join forces with Montreal composer, turntable artist and electronics specialist Nicole Lizée for a performance blending live and pre-recorded music with projections from classic films. Luminato’s other opera-like work is the production-in-progress Hell’s Fury, The Hollywood Songbook. The story follows the life of composer Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), who escaped Nazi Germany for the US in only to be rejected for his adherence to Communism in 1948 and forced to return to Europe, finally settling in the new East Germany. The opera, conceived and directed by Tim Albery, constructs a song cycle of Eisler’s many lieder to tell the story. Baritone Russell Braun is the soloist and Serouj Kradjian is the pianist. The sole performance is on June 23, but Soundstreams has scheduled the work for a full production in June 2019.

Russell Braun - photo by Johannes IfkovitsLlandovery Castle: Finishing June in Toronto is an opera workshop of The Llandovery Castle by Stephanie Martin on June 26 and 27 in association with Bicycle Opera. The title refers to the name of a Canadian hospital ship that was torpedoed on June 27, 1918, by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. Fourteen Canadian nurses from all across Canada were among the casualties. Paul Ciufo’s libretto focuses on the lives of Minnie “Kate” Gallaher, Rena “Bird” McLean and Matron Margaret “Pearl” Fraser. The characters also include Sergeant Arthur “Art” Knight and Major Tom Lyon (two of the 24 men who survived the sinking) and German U-boat commander Helmut Patzig. The opera is directed by Tom Diamond and Kimberley-Ann Bartczak conducts a chamber orchestra. The June 27 performance will mark the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

July

S.O.L.T Going Strong: Straddling July and August is the Summer Opera Lyric Theatre in Toronto, founded in 1986. The training program culminates in staged concert performances of three operas. This year the operas are Jules Massenet’s Manon (1884) on July 27, 29, August 1 and 4; George Frideric Handel’s Semele (1743) on July 28, August 1, 3 and 4; and a version of Mozart’s Così fan tutte (1789), renamed Fior and Dora after the heroines Fiordiligi and Dorabella, on July 28, 31, August 2 and 5.

Brott: This year the Brott Music Festival will again present a fully staged opera as part of its schedule from June 21 to August 16. This summer’s opera will be Mozart’s The Magic Flute, presented for one night only in English on July 19 at the FirstOntario Concert Hall. Anne-Marie MacIntosh sings Pamina, Zachary Rioux is Tamino, Holly Flack is the Queen of the Night, Max van Wyck is Papageno and Simon Chalifoux is Sarastro. Patrick Hansen directs the steampunk-designed production and Boris Brott conducts the Brott Festival Orchestra. 

Julie NesrallahMusic Niagara: Meanwhile, Music Niagara has two mainstream operas on offer. On July 9 it presents Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Niagara-on-the-Lake, starring Alexander Dobson in the title role supported by young Canadian talent. On July 21 it is presenting a version of Bizet’s most popular opera styled as Carmen on Tap, starring CBC Radio host Julie Nesrallah in the title role with tenor Richard Troxell as Don José. The twist with this production is that the opera is abridged and is set in the cellar of Old Winery Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The production promises to give audiences a more intimate view of the classic work.

Coffee Time: Shifting to another successful music festival, Stratford Summer Music will be presenting a staged version of a secular J.S. Bach cantata not in a restaurant but in the Revel Caffe in downtown Stratford. The work is, of course, Bach’s so-called Coffee Cantata of 1733, in which a father tries to prevent his daughter from becoming addicted to her favourite pick-me-up. Simon Chalifoux, Elizabeth Polese and Asitha Tennekoon are the three singers and Peter Tiefenbach provides the staging and the keyboard accompaniment for the three performances on July 27, 28 and 29.

Then, in early August, SSM presents a brand new response to The Coffee Cantata in the form of The Cappuccino Cantata, by the suspiciously pseudonymous “J.S. Bawk.” Set in Stratford in 2018, Gordon, who manages a coffee bar, is smitten with his barista, Stephanie, but she has a crush on the “boy with the MacBook” who comes in every day. Katy Clark, Adam Harris and Zachary Rioux are the singers and again Peter Tiefenbach provides the staging and the keyboard accompaniment. Performances are on August 10, 11 and 12, also at the Revel Caffe.

Also in August

Highlands Opera: In Haliburton, the Highlands Opera Studio is presenting three operas. On August 16 and 17 it presents an unusual double bill of two 20th-century Canadian comic operas by Tibor Polgar (1907-93). Polgar was born in Budapest and was a pianist and conductor with the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1925 to 1950. He fled Hungary after the Russian invasion, first to Germany and then to Canada, where he became a citizen in 1969. He was an instructor at the University of Toronto Opera Division from 1966 to 1975.

First on the double bill is The Glove, Polgar’s most performed opera, commissioned by the CBC in 1973. The libretto is based on the 1797 ballad by Friedrich Schiller about a princess who asks a knight to enter an arena of lions to fetch her fallen glove. Andy Erasmus sings the Ringmaster, Grace Canfield the Princess and Matthew Dalen the Knight. Second on the bill is The Troublemaker from 1968, based on a tale from The Thousand and One Nights. Matthew Dalen sings Abu Hussein, Andy Erasmus is Sherkan, Maria Lacey is Tamatil, Emma Bergin is Nushmet and Joseph Trumbo is The Cadi. On August 24 through 27 the Highlands Opera Studio presents Puccini’s La Bohème with two casts, one on August 24 and 26 and the other on August 25 and 27.

Opera Muskoka: The second summer opera company in cottage country is Opera Muskoka, now in its ninth year. On August 21 it presents a concert performance of Mozart’s Così fan tutte in Italian with English surtitles at the Rene M. Caisse Theatre in Bracebridge. Soprano Sharon Tikiryan is the producer and will sing the role of the calculating maid Despina.

All of this operatic activity all over the province is certainly enough to occupy any Southern Ontarian opera-goer until the fall.

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.

In May, two shows stood out for me for different reasons. Picnic in the Cemetery at Canadian Stage’s intimate upstairs Berkeley Street Theatre was an unusual theatrical concert with a whimsical heart and setting, combining often-sublime chamber music (by composer Njo Kong Kie) with simple props, a dancer, short films and onscreen poetic introductions to the various compositions. The beautiful playing by violinist Hong Iat U and cellist Nicholas Yee (supported by the composer on the piano) stood out as enigmatic conversations between their instruments, in much the same way that author Patrick O’Brian describes the often improvisatory, lyrical, shipboard violin and cello duets played by his famous characters Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

A more traditional musical theatre outing was the TSO’s concert presentation of Leonard Bernstein’s musical Candide This was a wonderful opportunity to hear and see the exquisite Tracy Dahl as Cunegonde, with her crystal clear tone, perfect technique, and delightful acting and star mezzo Judith Forst in great comedic form as the lively Old Lady.

Looking ahead to June, there is no shortage of music theatre on offer but the most striking cluster of offerings is concentrated under the umbrella of the Luminato Festival. I took the opportunity to meet artistic director Josephine Ridge to ask her about her approach and goals for the festival as she nears the beginning of her second season in Toronto.

Josephine Ridge 4 Photo by Katherine HollandWN: Looking at the upcoming Luminato program, what really struck me was how much music there is, but also, and this seems new this year, how politically and socially engaged the whole festival is. Is that because of the current atmosphere we are living in?

JR: It’s actually deeper than that; it’s about the way I view the role of a festival within its home city – that a festival needs to be relevant to the inhabitants of its city and therefore we need to engage with the ideas that are in the public realm of discussion. We need to think about what are the issues, the concerns and the enthusiasms and in other words really what’s in the ether, because if we’re not a festival that is distinctly about Toronto and of Toronto then it means that we are not contributing and adding to the cultural landscape in the way that I believe we should as a festival.

It’s something that I was very proud to have been able to do when I was at the Melbourne Festival.

And it takes time to explore and get to know a new city.

That’s part of the excitement of course, and I think, as in all things, with fresh eyes one has a different perspective, perhaps, as well – and that certainly for me adds to the interest in terms of the conversations that I have.

You have talked before about wanting to have conversations with as many of the arts organizations as possible in the city.

Yes, this is the other side of the engagement and connection that we were just talking about. This is really about understanding what Toronto artists and companies are doing now, and how can we add to that and perhaps together achieve something which each can’t on their own.

There is already growing excitement about that approach from some of the artists I’ve spoken to – at Tapestry Opera for example.

In fact, Tapestry is a good case in point. I quickly came to understand the work that Michael Mori and his company are doing, so the conversation with Michael about this year was around work that they have produced in the past that is really deserving of a wider audience and being revisited and seen in an international festival context. We very quickly got to Nicole Lizée’s multimedia piece Tables Turned. It’s one of the important components of a platform we have created this year called Illuminated Works, which is all about fulfilling one of Luminato’s founding briefs – which was to throw a spotlight on the creativity of Toronto and take Toronto arts to the world. We are bringing a large group of international and Canadian presenters and producers to come and look at a whole range of work, with a view to it being picked up and given national and international touring opportunities. We can’t work with everybody every year but we can make a start and really make sure that over time we engage as widely as we can.

Will you be continuing with these conversations, looking for companies you haven’t yet met, and new artists emerging onto the scene?

Definitely. One of the important roles we have is not only to present work that is complete but also to recognize the proper support that is required for the creative development process of new work, and so in the program this year we have four works that are works in progress.

We’re giving those artists an opportunity to put their work in front of an audience so they can feel how it sits with that audience and feed that learning into the way they then take the work forward for future development.

This will be exciting for audiences, too, to be in on the development process on the ground floor.

Yes, and I think the works we have chosen are far-ranging: Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life, Hell’s Fury, The Ward Cabaret, and Balaklava Blues.

Dr. Silver a Celebration of Life - Photo by Neil SilcoxAnd they’re all music theatre – as we define it at The WholeNote – where music is an integral element in telling a theatrical story. This year the mix is very interesting and even more experimental than last year. Do you see music theatre as always being an essential part of the Luminato recipe, particularly as it crosses borders and genres?

Well, I’m particularly interested in artists and their work where they are not working in art-form silos; and distinctions between the definitions of particular art forms now are so blurry. Also, music to me is really central so it’s not surprising that so many works that we are looking at are cross-genre. I also think that the ability that music has to speak to audiences who perhaps might not think of themselves as being a “theatre audience” or a “dance audience,” for example, is exciting.

How did you choose the music theatre pieces this season? Did you start with one that was a cornerstone, the Irish Swan Lake, for example, or did you begin with the underlying themes and ideas you wanted to engage with this season and go from there?

I think it’s partly that I am always drawn to music and so there is no one answer to that. I have a long relationship with Teaċ Daṁsa, Michael Dolan’s company (Swan Lake), and have seen a lot of Michael’s work over the years as a director and choreographer. He is, I think, a unique and important voice, and Toronto audiences and the artists working in Toronto should see the works that he is creating

The excerpts that I have seen online look wildly theatrical.

It’s a completely original reading of such a well-known work, and all the elements of the Swan Lake story are there, but of course it is completely transformed into this really poor community in Ireland. There are no kings and queens and princes here, and the music is original Irish music (with folk references) played live onstage. Somehow even with all of that transformation, the classic story is there, which to me is just magical.

And the Canadian pieces – how did you choose those, Dr. Silver for example?

In the case of Dr. Silver, A Celebration of Life I was invited by Mitchell Cushman of Outside the March, very soon after I arrived in Canada (the middle of 2016), to go to a day of workshops they were holding, and this was one of those works in a very raw form. I met and talked with Mitchell and then also with Mitchell Marcus of The Musical Stage Company, as it was absolutely evident to me that Britta and Anika Johnson are a real creative force. I was interested in not just the direction of that work but of whatever else they were doing, and wanted to signal that I would be interested in finding a way for Luminato to be part of that story to support those artists. Although Dr. Silver has its official presentation in September as a finished work, I asked if it would be useful for them to have an opportunity on the way through to put it in front of an audience, so that’s how that conversation went.

Hells Fury: The Hollywood Songbook [Tim Albery’s concept based on the life and songs of composer Hanns Eisler], on the other hand, came to us as an idea from Lawrence Cherney at Soundstreams. He said “We want to create this work and need a partner.” So, there are many ways in which these projects can come to life. You have to be in the room, seeing work, having the conversation for these outcomes to even occur.

And if artists are interested in having a conversation with you how should they approach you?

I try to go to see artists working at all scales and at all types of work, so people do tend to find me in foyers, but I can also be easily be contacted at Luminato.

The Ward Cabaret you mentioned is also a work in progress – can you tell me a bit more about it?

I think it’s a really important piece because it comes from the recent book The Ward from Coach House Books that deals with the importance of the Ward [an area bounded roughly by Queen and College, Yonge and University] and the cultural diversity of its original inhabitants as being the real basis of Toronto’s cultural diversity today. What David Buchbinder (the show’s originator) has done is have a musical response to that material, and I think it’s going to be really interesting and very rich.

Now that playwright Marjorie Chan and director Leah Cherniak are newly involved in the collaboration, is there any sense yet of how theatrical it is going to be?

What we have now is really a cabaret concert performance, but eventually it will be a fully staged theatrical experience. I can’t tell you when that will be but we are certainly there for the journey.

Before we finish, could you tell me a bit more about Riot, the other show you are bringing from Ireland? It sounds like a smorgasbord of different genres, including music theatre, all mixed together.

Riot is uplifting. It’s funny, energetic, has got real heart and soul, and deals with – going back to your first questions – issues and ideas. It covers quite a lot of really important territory of social politics, in particular, but does it in a way that is very entertaining and lightly done. I think you’ll find a lot of connection to Toronto audiences because of the territory it covers and because it is so entertaining.

Up Over It in 'Riot' - Photo by Conor Horgan for THISISPOPBABYAnd because of the contrast in style with everything else?

That’s why we are running it a bit longer – so it has a chance to bridge a lot of the other works that are taking place.

The whole festival is longer this year. Is there extra programming or are you spreading things out?

It’s more about pace, allowing there to be some air in between, so hopefully people can see more but also connect the various aspects of the festival. It’s also structural: with only two weekends you begin and you end; with three weekends now we have a beginning, middle and end, and we’re telling a story.

Luminato runs from June 6 to 24 at various venues around Toronto.

Follow our online blog for more previews and reviews of music theatre around Ontario this summer.

Quick Picks

June 1 to 10: Frame by Frame. A new collaboration between international theatrical innovator Robert Lepage with Canadian choreographer Guillaume Côté, celebrating and showcasing excerpts of Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren’s groundbreaking films. National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre, Toronto.

June 6, 7: Soundstreams finishes its 35th season with an exciting two-part music theatre program, the world premiere of James Rolfe’s I Think We Are Angels, with a libretto based on the poems of Else Lasker-Schüler, and a new theatrical version of David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion led by music director John Hess and stage director Jennifer Tarver. At Crows Theatre, 345 Carlaw, Toronto.

June 16: Tony Award-winning Scottish actor Alan Cumming (of The Good Wife and many other shows) comes to Massey Hall for one night only with his new cabaret show Legal Immigrant, built around stories and songs of his life and loves in his adopted homeland, the USA.

June 26: A rare chance to see Canadian stage and film star Christopher Plummer live at the TSO, in Christopher Plummer’s Symphonic Shakespeare, at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

July 13 to August 12: Rosalynde (or As You Like It). Driftwood Theatre places one of Shakespeare’s most musical comedies in Canada in 1918, with the songs given new musical settings to fit the period by music director and composer Tom Lillington. In parks around Ontario; see driftwoodtheatre.com/bards-bus-tour for details. 

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Music and nature are closely intertwined, the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of our planet inspiring musicians for centuries, even millennia. The ancient philosophical concept of a Harmony of the Spheres as proposed by Pythagoras suggests that the sun, moon and planets all emit their own unique pitch frequency based on their orbital revolution, and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the harmony of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear. Although Aristotle later contested this theory, the idea of Harmonia mundi continues to be reinvented and interpreted by composers in new and exciting ways. For example, in 1996 the Dutch composer Joep Franssens premiered his massive Harmony of the Spheres for chorus, combining minimalist and spectralist approaches to create a work that captures both the profound immensity of the universe and the bright shimmer of far-off stars.

Between Pythagoras and Franssens lies a wealth of nature-inspired music, from silly and serene to severe and stormy. Birds in particular have been a source of inspiration: German Baroque pipe organs contained special stops such as the nightingale, which produced a fluttering, high-pitched whistle (the organ at Metropolitan United has a nightingale stop, a generous donation from an organ aficionado), while French Baroque musicians such as Daquin and Rameau wrote imitations of birds in works such as Le Coucou and La Poule. Perhaps the greatest ornithological composer in history is Olivier Messiaen, who faithfully transcribed bird calls noting the species and location, and wove these threads into masterful pieces of music. It is nearly impossible to find a late work of Messiaen that does not incorporate bird song as an integral and essential component.

Bach and Handel used the pastoral as a musical model, illustrating idyllic scenes of shepherds tending their sheep. Mozart wove birds into The Magic Flute through the character of Papageno, an earthy birdcatcher who, when he finds his perfect match in Papagena, rejoices with an imitation of bird-like courting sounds. Beethoven and Brahms both enjoyed long walks through the woods, put to paper in Beethoven’s case in Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral, portraying everything from bubbling brooks and bird calls to a violent thunderstorm. Mahler used his mountain retreat as his summertime escape from Vienna, hiking, walking, rowing and composing his greatest works in a nearby hut, mirroring the intensity of his temperament and the immensity of the mountains in his large-scale symphonies.

Summer continues to be a time of escape and refuge for many, whether braving traffic on Highway 400 to reach a familiar lakeside cottage hideaway or taking a road trip and exploring new and exciting places. While many use the summer months as a chance to get away and recharge, musicians sometimes seem to grow busier over July and August, as evidenced by the plethora of festivals and concert series that continue to increase in number and scale each year. A quick glance at the Green Pages in this issue of The WholeNote provides some idea of the sheer number of exciting opportunities available to hear new, old and endearingly familiar masterpieces. Regardless of where your travels take you, there is something to see and listen to. Here is a brief overview of this summer’s early music festivals and events:

June

May and June offer season-ending performances by organizations across the city, grand finales showcasing great ensembles and equally great musical works. As seasons end, others begin, and this June serves as the starting point for numerous summer programs and concerts.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI), a world-renowned training program for advanced students, pre-professional and professional musicians in instrumental and vocal Baroque performance practice, is led by some of the world’s finest musicians in the field. This year’s TBSI runs from June 10 to 23 and features five separate performances by faculty and students at venues across Toronto’s Bloor-Annex corridor, including Jeanne Lamon Hall and Walter Hall, with the grand finale at Grace Church on-the-Hill. As a former participant in this superb training program, I cannot speak highly enough of the quality of repertoire and tutelage each participant receives, and strongly encourage lovers of early music to attend at least one of these performances. Keep the program, too – you’ll be amazed at how many names return as fully formed performers in following years!

Alison Melville, recorder player and flutist of North Wind Concerts, when she hosted CBC Radio 2’s 'This Is My Music'North Winds Do Blow! On June 16, some of Canada’s most celebrated Baroque music specialists play a cornucopia of beautiful tunes from Handel operas and oratorios. ”Handel: Airs for the Theatre” showcases tunes from Rinaldo, Acis & Galatea, Riccardo Primo, Orlando, Admeto and other Handelian hits, arranged by Toronto’s own Colin Savage after 18th-century models, as well as a few 18th-century arrangements published by Handel’s contemporary, John Walsh. Featuring Baroque woodwind wizards from across the city playing a diverse and colourful array of period instruments, this concert is an ideal celebration of summer’s arrival, and the debut performance of North Wind Concerts, an evolution of the group formerly known as Baroque Music Beside the Grange. Taking place at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, this concert is perfectly located, just down the road from Tafelmusik’s Summer Institute.

Montréal Baroque: If you are planning a trip to Montreal in June, make sure to explore the 2018 Festival Montréal Baroque’s “Hallelujah Handel,” taking place from June 21 to 24. This overview of Handel’s output from his solo sonatas to opera will be a first for Montreal, focusing on rarely heard music including the complete keyboard works, the complete sonatas for flute, recorder, violin and gamba, the complete trio sonatas, concerti for violin, organ and harp, and rarely heard oratorios and masques, performed by many of Montreal’s Baroque ensembles, established and novice, as well as invited guests. Taking inspiration from Berlioz’s description of Handel as a “tub of pork and beer,” the Montreal Festival events will include food and wine tastings. (Handel, a famously corpulent person, was a well-known epicurean famed for downing two bottles of red each evening – he eventually developed a serious case of gout!)

July

Elora and Parry Sound: If June is the month of Handel, July presents a mixed-bag assortment of much-loved early music. The Elora Festival, renowned for its varied and eclectic programming, offers performances by both guest ensembles and the resident Elora Singers and Festival Orchestra. This year’s guests include the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal in a concert of three settings of Lamentations by the prophet Jeremiah, written by the 16th-century composers Tallis, Morales and de Lassus; the renowned English ensemble The Gesualdo Six, making their Canadian debut; and two concerts by the Elora ensembles, featuring Bach’s Lutheran Masses, Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum and Mozart’s Mass in C.

Further north, the Festival of the Sound presents six concerts from July 25 to 27, pairing works by Bach with pieces by other canonic composers such as Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Debussy. This series (titled “Papa Bach”) explores Johann Sebastian Bach’s influence on subsequent generations of musicians, as each concert features a solo cello suite followed by a work from a composer who was inspired by his music. Featuring a wide range of performers playing on modern instruments, this varied series presents an interesting contrast with the Baroque specialists featured throughout June’s festivals.

Angela Hewitt -Photo by Keith SaundersAugust

Stratford Summer Music: Although August marks the beginning of the end of summer (and back-to-school ads appear earlier and earlier each year), the music continues – notably in the Stratford Summer Music series. Angela Hewitt returns to Stratford on August 11 and 12 to present Books One and Two of Bach’s inspiring keyboard work The Well-Tempered Clavier. Through two performances, Hewitt will play the complete 48 preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys. Seldom heard live in its entirety, The Well-Tempered Clavier is an astonishing masterpiece and this will be a rare and memorable opportunity to experience one of the world’s most profound works of creativity performed by one of today’s leading Bach interpreters.

Music Garden:Tucked away in Toronto’s waterfront, the Toronto Music Garden was conceived by internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy in partnership with the City of Toronto’s Parks and Recreation department. Through its labyrinthine landscape, the garden interprets Bach’s Suite No.1 in G Major, BWV 1007 for unaccompanied cello. Each summer the Toronto Music Garden is home to Summer Music in the Garden, presenting a tremendous range of chamber and world music. On August 19, “Sunday Afternoon at the Opera” offers scenes and arias from Mozart operas; late medieval love songs, including works by Guillaume de Machaut and Johannes Ciconia, are the focus of the August 23 concert “Elas mon cuer”; and on August 26, a program of chamber music and dance from the French Baroque is presented in “Confluence: Baroque Dance in the Garden.”

Navigating the Summer

As anyone who has travelled to an unfamiliar place knows well, navigating is often the trickiest part of going somewhere new. This issue of The WholeNote serves as your musical road map, helping you traverse the winding roads of summer music in all its forms without a GPS shouting “Recalculating!” With so many opportunities to hear splendid music, it is impossible to make a wrong turn and I encourage you to delve into some of these magnificent concerts and festivals.

If you have any questions or want to hear my two cents on anything early music this summer, send me a note at
earlymusic@thewholenote.com. See you in September! 

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

A few months ago I mentioned a trip to Ukraine by Bob Gray, a local band conductor, teacher and trumpet player. What he learned on that trip inspired him to pay another visit, with two primary goals in mind. The first was to investigate the feasibility of start-up brass bands in Ukraine during his eight-week stay in Kiev. The second was to be there for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Salvation Army’s ministry in Ukraine. In a recent email from Kiev, Bob reported on how things are going there, and unfortunately his first goal is not working out as easily as he had hoped. The idea was to investigate the feasibility of establishing new brass bands there. However, at present, there are no Salvation Army bands in Ukraine to use as models. Since there is no tradition upon which to build, there are no qualified leaders or instructors already active within the Salvation Army organization, making it difficult for some of the congregations to sustain and support the start and development of any band. Other setbacks: he has also learned that their music for worship in Salvation Army services differs greatly from the rest of the Salvation Army world. There are no brass band arrangements of the songs used there. Even for Christmas, the carols used in many places elsewhere differ from those familiar and popular in Ukrainian culture.

His second purpose for his extended trip will likely have a happier outcome. He will be there for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of The Salvation Army’s ministry in Ukraine. This event will take place on the weekend of June 8 to 10 in Victory Park and Hotel Bratislava. For this occasion, the Salvation Army band from Winton Corps, in Bournemouth, England will be participating. Bob has been asked to sit in with that band, as one of their cornet players is unable to make the journey to Kiev. It is the hope that the activities of this well-established band will stir some interest in resurrecting the brass band movement within the ranks of the Salvation Army in Ukraine. We wish him every success, and hope to hear of the establishment of new bands there in the near future.

Strings Attached

From messages about all-brass music thousands of miles away, we move to news about all-strings music right here in town. We have just heard from Ric Giorgi about the next concert of the Strings Attached Orchestra, their final concert for this year on June 3, again at the Isabel Bader Theatre. As usual, the program was designed to span a wide spectrum of music from such classics as Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.6 to Ashokan Farewell and the Best of ABBA.

The Plumbing Factory

Speaking of all-brass bands, we also just had a message from Henry Meredith of the Plumbing Factory Brass Band where he referred to the “devastating and relentless winter” we’ve all just been through. Rather than paraphrase what he said, here is his musical response to Mother Nature, verbatim: “Because of the ice storms only a week before our ‘spring’ concert, and the snowstorm on the night of our dress rehearsal, the PFBB has now decided to expand our concert season into the late spring and early summer. It is hoped that this will make it easier on both us and our audience, not to have to battle the weather to prepare and enjoy our brass band music. So we have decided to keep rehearsing, and to develop a brand new concert for you, to be performed on June 27.”

In typical Henry Meredith style, he outlines the program in one of his poems.

This little rhyme will explain the reason
Why we established a new summer season
It also provides a few hints about
The music which you will enjoy, without doubt.

The concert, “Summertime Musical Adventures” (June 27, 7:30pm at Byron United Church, 420 Boler Rd., London), will include such band favourites as Ringling Bros. Grand Entry, Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite, Bernstein’s Candide and The Whistler and his Dog by Arthur Pryor.

A Musical Movie

Something entirely new appeared on my radar screen recently: a Russian-Canadian film production company that is in the process of making a documentary about Benny Goodman’s historic tour of the USSR in 1962. Now, over 55 years later, this story is still alive in the minds of people who remember those concerts of the jazz orchestra of Benny Goodman, those “strange” but incredibly attractive American musicians. They remember the joy of buying scarce tickets and enjoying music, and screaming “encore” up to ten times. The whole world as we knew it was struck by the headline at the time. “The King of Swing Benny Goodman Plays Yankee Doodle Dandy on Red Square.” Certainly Russians had never seen anything like that before.

This full-length feature film, Trojan Jazz, will retell the events of the exchange of talented musicians between the US and the Soviet Union. The anticipated appeal is to jazz enthusiasts in both English- and Russian-speaking cultures. The concept of Trojan Jazz likens the Benny Goodman Orchestra to members of a Trojan horse that brought Western jazz culture into an isolated Eastern jazz culture. The impact was unpredictable. Jazz musicians of both cultures exchanged written ideas, which began a collaboration second to none.

Julian Miklis (at left)Local concert clarinetist Julian Milkis, son of former TSO concertmaster Yasha Milkis, is cast as Benny Goodman. Milkis actually studied with Goodman while attending the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. He can be seen in a variety of ensembles recreating some of Goodman’s hit songs.

To illustrate the Goodman legacy of playing big band music continuing to this day in community groups around the world, the producers wanted to show such a group in rehearsal So, all of a sudden, one evening a few weeks ago, I and my bandmates found ourselves being bombarded by bright studio lighting and surrounded by at least a half-dozen cameras. The Toronto-based rehearsal band Swing Machine, of which I have been a member for many years, was chosen and filmed to exemplify this ongoing tradition. There we were many years later, still enjoying the performance of big band music. We haven’t heard anything of when or where this movie might be seen, but I am told a visit to https://firstjazztourinussr.com will provide more in-depth information as the project develops.

Mikhail Sherman

A few weeks ago, at a regular rehearsal of the Swing Machine Big Band, I looked across at the saxophone section. The usually very reliable baritone saxophone player, Mikhail Sherman, was missing. We later learned that he had decided to have a nap before leaving for the rehearsal, but never woke up.

Born in the USSR, Mikhail grew up with a love of music in a country famed for great classical musicians. After serving time in the army and playing in a military band, he went on to become the principal clarinet and saxophone player for the famed Moscow State Circus, City of Lviv, for seven years.

In 1979 he left and came to Toronto to pursue more opportunities. He started his life here as a refugee with nothing. He washed dishes and became a cook at the Windfields Restaurant. His love for music led him in another direction. It was here that he met Frank Fermosi and Rocco Nufrio, the owners of the then-successful Saxophone Shop. They quickly spotted Mikhail’s love for music. He, in turn, showed a keen ability to learn the trade of repairing instruments. They offered him a job and training, in which he quickly excelled!

In 1986, when the Sax Shop closed, Mikhail decided to would open his own shop in North Toronto. Still with little in his pocket, he started Mikhail Sherman Music Service, which was to become one of the most successful woodwind repair shops in Canada, servicing the educational system and many top professional musicians. Mikhail passed away peacefully and suddenly in his sleep on April 26, 2018. Many of the great musicians and music educators in the GTA will miss his quick response and expertise. A true rags-to-riches story.

Uxbridge Community Concert Band

After a year’s absence from the local band scene and some questions about the band’s rebirth, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band, with Steffan Brunette at the helm, has now had its first rehearsal. Steffan took a year off to study composition and to do some travelling. Rather than assume all of the many duties required to operate a band successfully, Steffan now has an executive team to help with the many details, but it is, once again, a superbly organized band. After their first rehearsal it became evident that a few more trumpets would be welcome. The band is a summertime-only group that rehearses in Uxbridge on Wednesday evenings. For information, email uccb@powergate.ca.

Toronto Summer Music Festival

On Sunday, July 29 at 2pm, the 2018 Toronto Summer Music Festival will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI with a concert titled “Reflections on Wartime” at The Bentway. This will include a full afternoon of events with a feature performance by theCanadian National Brass Project.” For those not familiar with it, The Canadian National Brass Project brings together many of the best brass players from professional symphony orchestras throughout North America, and each summer this all-star ensemble, led by conductor James Sommerville, joins forces and performs across the country. The program will include Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Mars from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Concertgoers can also take in the sights and sounds of the Fort York Guard, enjoy a demonstration of artillery firepower, and hear military music by the Fort York Drums. There will also be a “Musical Petting Zoo” for children to test out a variety of musical instruments. For those not familiar with it, The Bentway, 250 Fort York Boulevard adjacent to Old Fort York, is being described as Toronto’s most exciting new outdoor concert venue.

A few days later, on Thursday, August 2 at 7:30pm in Koerner Hall, TSM will present “A Big Band Celebration,” which will focus on music of World War II. During the darkest days of the war the big band music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Glenn Miller and others was a major source of entertainment for life on the home front. As the presenters suggest, these familiar tunes became a metaphor for the way of life soldiers were fighting to preserve. This promises to be a stimulating evening of the best of the big band era as interpreted by music director Gordon Foote and featuring JUNO Award-winning jazz singer Ranee Lee.

Ranee LeeComing Events

By the time this issue is available in print, some of the events mentioned below will have taken place, but for the record and for online users, they are included here. Now that summer is close at hand, Resa Kochberg’s three musical groups have announced their current concert plans:

On Sunday, May 27 at 7:30pm, Resa’s Pieces Concert Band will perform at the Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd., Markham.

On Sunday, June 3 at 7:30pm, Resa’s Pieces Strings Ensemble will be at St. Basil College School, 20 Starview Ln., North York.

On Monday, June 4 at 7:30pm, Resa’s Band will present another concert at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto.

On Monday, June 11 at 8pm, Resa’s Singers Ensemble will perform at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue, 100 Elder St., North York.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at bandstand@thewholenote.com.

Keeping apace of new music events in the city is like a never-ending discovery of new ideas, initiatives and opportunities to expand one’s horizons on both the local and international scenes. The Royal Conservatory’s annual 21C Music Festival, running from May 23 to 27, provides an opportunity to experience all this within a five-day span, with eight concerts and 37 premieres. The Kronos Quartet, along with composer and multi-instrumental performer Jherek Bischoff, will open the festival, followed by concerts featuring a number of different international and national pianists, including Anthony de Mare with his special project Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim From the Piano, Sri Lankan-Canadian composer and pianist Dinuk Wijeratne performing with Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, and the French sibling pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque.

As is customary for 21C, one of their concerts is a co-presentation with an established Toronto new music presenter – in this case, New Music Concerts, who will bring a Claude Vivier-inspired program to Mazzoleni Hall on May 27. This year, however, a second co-presentation also caught my eye: Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis with Maarja Nuut & HH, presented on May 26 in collaboration with Estonian Music Week, running concurrently in the city from May 24 to 29.

The Estonian Music Week co-presentation is one of two concerts at 21C that combine music by contemporary composers with music of the past – thus creating a blurring of time, as it were. Vox Clamantis will offer both Gregorian chant music alongside contemporary works by primarily Estonian composers – while in another 21C show on May 25, pianist Simone Dinnerstein and the A Far Cry chamber orchestra will combine two works by J.S. Bach and two by Philip Glass.

Vox ClamantisVox Clamantis

I had an opportunity to speak with Jaan-Eik Tulve, the conductor of Vox Clamantis, about the ensemble, the connections between Gregorian chant and contemporary music, and the legendary singing tradition in Estonia. Vox Clamantis was formed 20 years ago by Tulve as a way to continue singing the Gregorian chant he had studied in Paris in the 1990s. However, it quickly expanded into an ensemble that embraced the music of contemporary Estonian composers, who were keen to write music for them. One of the key reasons for this desire to compose for Vox Clamantis, Tulve told me, “was because they found that our musicality, phrasing and voices are different from classical singers. Even though Gregorian chant is the basis for classical music, the differences are that it is unmetered and monophonic music, so you must pay close attention to phrasing and listening to each other.”

Jaan Eik Tulve. Photo by Bartos BabinskliOne of the composers the ensemble has a very close working relationship with is the esteemed Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Back in 1980, Pärt was forced to leave Estonia, which was part of the USSR at the time, in order to have his creative freedom. He lived in Berlin for 30 years, only returning to Estonia in the late 1990s after the country regained its independence. A strong relationship between Pärt and Vox Clamantis was quickly established, strengthened by the fact that Pärt had studied Gregorian chant when he was young. “We found a lot of similarities in our musical expressions and understandings of music, and little by little we sang more and more music that he wrote for us. He also often comes to us with new compositions while he is working on them so he can hear what they sound like,” Tulve said. The program at the 21C Festival will include five pieces by Pärt, all of which are on The Deer’s Cry CD, an album fully dedicated to performances of Pärt’s music by Vox Clamantis. As well, one of the repertoire programs that the ensemble regularly performs is comprised of a mixture of Pärt’s music with Gregorian music, a program designed by both Tulve and Pärt.

Other contemporary composers whose works will be on Vox Clamantis’ 21C program include the music of Helena Tulve, Jaan-Eik’s wife, who also studied Gregorian chant along with contemporary composition. “It’s a very short but concentrated monophonic piece which is quite different from most of her other instrumental compositions,” Tulve said. It will be paired with Ave Maria by Tõnis Kaumann, who is also a singer in the ensemble. And finally, a work by American composer David Lang will round out the concert, demonstrating Lang’s ability to write in a wide range of styles. When I asked Tulve about the connection between the ensemble and Lang’s musical language, he remarked that Lang’s music “was perfect for our ensemble as it is quite close to our musicality. It’s minimalist music, and we find minimalism in Pärt’s music, Gregorian chant and Lang’s music. Minimalism is the one common point.”

I concluded my conversation with Tulve by asking him to speak about the relationship between singing and the Estonian national identity. In what’s known as the Estonian Age of Awakening, which began in the 1850s and ended in 1918 with the declaration of the Republic of Estonia, the Estonian Song Festival was established in 1869. It is one of the largest amateur choral events in the world, held every five years, bringing together around 30,000 singers to perform the same repertoire for an audience of up to 80,000. “This festival was very important during the Soviet occupation” Tulve told me, “and helped Estonians survive this period by strengthening their own national identity. To preserve this strong link between singing and the Estonian identity, every child learns to sing in choirs at school, and the singing is at a very high level throughout the country with many good amateur choirs.”

Two other Estonian performers will also take to the stage that same evening – Maarja Nuut, performing on vocals, violin and electronics, along with Hendrik Kaljujärv on electronics. For the evening finale, the choir and these two young experimental performers will come together with a work performed by Vox Clamantis with improvisations by Nuut and Kaljujärv.

Simone Dinnerstein with A Far Cry

One of the pianists the 21C Festival is programming is Brooklyn-based Simone Dinnerstein, who burst onto the international scene with her self-produced recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2007. Since that time, she has performed internationally, with repertoire spanning from Baroque to select 21st-century works especially composed for her. Recently, she entered into a creative collaboration with composer Philip Glass, whose Piano Concerto No. 3 for piano and strings will receive its Canadian premiere at 21C along with pieces by J.S. Bach and Glass’ Symphony No.3. The concerto was a co-commission from a consortium of 12 orchestras; it was premiered in Boston in 2017 with string orchestra A Far Cry.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie MazzuccoIn my recent phone interview with her, Dinnerstein spoke about how this came about. The idea arose in 2014 when both artists discovered that they had a mutual interest in the music of Bach. Glass was interested in writing a work for her and Dinnerstein proposed that it be a concerto for piano and string orchestra. “I thought it would be interesting if the performance of the piece was paired with a Bach concerto,” she said. “All of Bach’s keyboard concertos are for keyboard and string orchestra, and there haven’t been many pieces written for that combination since Bach’s time. Glass liked the idea and from there, along with A Far Cry, we all decided it would be interesting to create a whole program with music by Bach and Glass.” At the May 25 concert, the first half includes Glass’ Symphony No. 3 followed by Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G Minor BWV1058, and in the second half, Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor will be followed by Glass’ new Piano Concerto. And just in time for the festival, the two keyboard concertos on the program will be available on a CD titled Circles.

Glass’ concerto is written in three movements, with some parts more flowing and others quite dynamic. Dinnerstein said that in the second movement, some parts remind her of rock music in terms of sonority and rhythm. “At times the orchestra almost sounds like one of those 1970s synthesizers and it’s a really amazing sound. The third movement is definitely what I call transcendental music.”

In a an accidental but striking instance of synchronicity between 21C and Estonian Music Week, this third movement is dedicated to Arvo Pärt. “I can see why he dedicated it to Pärt,” Dinnerstein commented, “because there is a stillness to it that is present in a lot of Pärt’s music. But to me, it still sounds very much like Philip Glass. It’s a very slow-paced movement and is extremely difficult to rehearse because you need to be an active listener all the time. Everybody in the orchestra and the pianist have to be really aware of each other and of the music moment by moment, which takes a great deal of focus. I’ve now played this with a number of orchestras and one of the things that is wonderful about playing it with A Far Cry is they are an ensemble that really spends a lot of time listening to each other since they have no conductor. It’s part of their artistic personality to be able to respond to each other in a very instantaneous way, so we’ve tried different things with that movement. I might suddenly change something I’m doing and they have to respond to it without having a plan, so it’s much more improvisatory. That kind of thing is very hard to do with a larger orchestra and a conductor, but with them, it’s really possible.”

Dinnerstein went on to describe the commonalities between the music of Glass and Bach. “Both of their writing deals a lot with sequences of patterns and they have a common interest in the larger architecture of a piece. As well, they have written relatively very little regarding the interpretation of a performance. Their use of tempo, articulation and dynamic markings is quite bare, so that leaves a great deal up to the interpreter to try and delve into the music and see what the music is saying to them. I love that about those composers. As a result, when you hear different people play their music, it can sound wildly different.”

As for commonalities between Baroque and contemporary music, Dinnerstein commented: “I’ve always thought there’s a stronger connection there than between Romantic music and contemporary music. There’s a kind of abstraction to both Baroque and contemporary, and if you listen to Chopin for example, it feels very much of its time. You’re very aware of Chopin the artist. With Bach and Glass, the expression is less tied to the composers themselves – I don’t feel a sense of them as people. Rather, I feel that whoever is playing their music can bring out something quite different. The personality of the composer feels less dominant and there is a wider spectrum that lies within the music itself.”

What is striking about both these concerts I’ve highlighted here is the way contemporary music is linked with the sensibilities of both medieval Gregorian chant and Baroque music. It will definitely make for some fascinating listening – and an opportunity to experience music in all its timelessness. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

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