2205 Feat Classical 1Avi Avital: Israeli-born mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital (b. 1978) – who will appear at Koerner Hall with the zestful Dover Quartet on February 11 – once described his relationship with his instrument as “a bit like a rider and his horse.”

“I know my mandolin very well,” he told 15questions.net. “My hands remember blindly every curve and every fret of it. I have a deep understanding of how it works, but when I’m on stage it becomes part of me – I almost forget I’m holding it.”

A relative of the lute, the mandolin has grown in popularity over the last 300 years. “Familiar and foreign, folkish and classical, the mandolin is both a musical chameleon and a seasoned traveller,” Avital wrote in his introduction to his eclectic Deutsche Grammophon CD Between Worlds (2014).

Avital told Fifteen Questions about a transformative meeting he had in his mid-20s with the famed klezmer clarinetist Giora Feldman. After Avital played him a piece by Bloch, Feldman asked him to improvise. When Avital said he didn’t know how, Feldman insisted. “So I closed my eyes and for the first time in my life I started to play something that wasn’t written in notes. Giora took his clarinet and joined me, and we continued to improvise together for a little while that afternoon. That encounter opened the window to a new world and led me to play different genres of music.”

Avital spoke with medici.tv last year about his admiration for Menuhin, Heifetz and Rubinstein, about how he takes different things from different artists. And about how he was “really into rock ‘n’ roll” when he was 14. “I was the real grunger from Seattle; I remember making a lot of noise on the drums.”

He still carries something of the rock band experience when he plays in a classical music hall.

Describing his arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita No.2 for solo violin, he talked about how the freshness for an audience of discovering a monumental piece of music played on a different instrument is like hearing it for the first time. And that you hear contemporary music differently after listening to Bach in a recital. “It’s like the ginger with the sushi or the lemon sorbet between the dishes in a very fancy restaurant.”

So on February 11, after he plays the Chaconne, he and the Dovers will perform the Canadian premiere of David Bruce’s Cymbeline, for string quartet and mandolin, a piece written for him in 2013 and dedicated to Avital and his wife “in honour of their recent marriage.” The title is an old Celtic word meaning Lord of the Sun. “I think the idea of the piece being about the sun emerged out of the colours of the string quartet and the mandolin together,” Bruce wrote on his website. “The mandolin itself has always seemed to me to create a ‘golden’ sound, and when combined with the warmth of the strings it seems now obvious that I should be drawn towards something warm and golden.”

The concert opens with Tsintsadze’s Six Miniatures for String Quartet and Mandolin; Tsintsadze, who died in 1991, invariably wove his Georgian homeland’s folk music into his works. Then the Dovers give Avital a break when they take on Smetana’s penetrating autobiographical tone picture, his String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor “From My Life.” I’ve been eagerly awaiting their return to town ever since their memorable Toronto Summer Music performance of Beethoven quartets last summer. The Dovers’ playing was empathetic, subtle, impeccably phrased, marked by forward motion, drive and energy, musically mature, vibrant and uncannily unified in purpose and execution. Their collaboration with the larger-than-life Avital promises much joyous music making.

2205 Feat Classical 2In Mo Yang was 19 when he became the youngest winner of the Paganini International Violin Competition in 2015. Now 21, he makes his Canadian recital debut March 5 (with pianist Renana Gutman) presented by Mooredale Concerts. Born in Indonesia, Yang moved to Korea at two and began playing violin at five.  He currently studies with Miriam Fried on a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. Yang told me in an email exchange that he first met Fried in Korea when he was about 14 and played the Mendelssohn concerto for her. “I was struck by how drastically my sound improved with her methods of sound production.” In 2012, when it was time to find his next teacher, he wanted to have another lesson with her. “She was about to come to Korea to attend a festival in Seoul. I went to her hotel room and played the Tchaikovsky concerto. I was again struck and determined that she had to be my teacher.”

It’s striking as well that Yang’s Paganini success came 47 years after Fried herself won the same competition. I asked if she had passed on any insights to him. “She told me her story of winning the competition and encouraged me [saying] that I had a good chance of winning. During the competition, I was dissatisfied with one of the rehearsals and frustrated. I called her and she told me how to deal with the situation, which relieved me. It was also very insightful of her to recommend that I eat pesto.”

Yang’s Toronto program begins with Bach’s unaccompanied Violin Sonata No.1 in G Minor BWV 1001. Bach has only recently been included in his recital programs. “Bach’s music is endlessly imaginative and has such communicative power,” he said. “I would like to share this with the audience, not just with jurors [because these pieces are always required repertoire at auditions and competitions].”

He loves the rhapsodic aspect of Ysaÿe’s music and thinks the Sonata No.3 in D Minor for Solo Violin Op.27 No.3 “Ballade” highlights that rhapsodic aspect more than any of the other sonatas. “Despite its obscurity, the beauty of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor is evident throughout,” he told me. “I want to show that this is not a piece by a madman but a person who has extraordinary imagination and introspection.” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.7 in C Minor Op.30 No.2 is new for him; he started learning it only a month ago. ”I am especially working on the overall architecture of the sonata, because it is understanding the structure and living through the whole piece with a sense of inevitability that heighten the incredible drama of the piece,” he said.

His answer to my question about what musicians may have influenced him surprised me: “I am more influenced by non-musicians,” he said. “Plato’s Theory of Forms greatly inspired me; the idea that the most accurate reality exists in a non-physical world, and what we sense is a mere reflection of Idea, made me rethink the relation between composer, composition and performer. The audience is often an influential figure in my musical career; I got to play in a senior centre once and the smile of five patients who listened to me taught me an important lesson about the societal role of a musician.”

That’s quite a revealing comment, especially from a musician launching an international career. He’s clearly a talent to watch. When he made his Carnegie Hall recital debut in April 2016 he wanted to play on a great instrument. With the help of Reuning & Sons Violins, he met the owner of a Stradivarius violin and was very fortunate to be given a loan of it. As Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times of that Carnegie concert, “Mr. Yang proved himself most deserving of this fine instrument in an impressive program.”

Music Toronto. Music Toronto’s 45th season continues at the Jane Mallett Theatre with a pair of “discovery” concerts (pianist Ilya Poletaev on February 7 and the Eybler Quartet on February 16) before welcoming back the Prazak Quartet on March 2.

Poletaev began studying piano in Moscow at six, continuing his lessons in Israel before emigrating to Canada at 14. A year after winning the 17th JS Bach competition in Leipzig, he joined the Schulich School faculty at McGill. His February 7 recital at the Jane Mallett Theatre includes Bach’s richly textured French Overture BWV831, Enescu’s hymn to his native Romania, the Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.24 No.1 and Schumann’s episodic Humoreske Op.20.

The Eybler Quartet consists of cellist Margaret Gay and three members of Tafelmusik (violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, and violist Patrick G. Jordan), two of whom (Wedman and Aisslinn) are also members of I FURIOSI. Devoted to the repertoire of the early years of the string quartet, their namesake is the little-known composer Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler, a contemporary of Mozart who outlived Schubert. True to form, their February 16 program includes works by the lesser-known Viennese-based Johann Baptist Vanal and Franz Asplmayr as well as Haydn’s Op.33 No.1 (the first of his quartets “composed in a new, special way”) and Beethoven’s gentle Op.18 No.3.

2205 Feat Classical 3

In 2015, Jana Vonášková, a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London and a member of the Smetana Trio for nine years, joined the Prazak Quartet as first violinist, succeeding Pavel Hula who founded the quartet in 1972. Second violinist Vlastimil Holek has been with the Prazak for nearly four decades. Violist Josef Kluson is the last founding member still active in the quartet. Cellist Michal Kanka joined the group in 1986. Internationally acclaimed and an audience favourite, the Prazak makes their seventh appearance on the Jane Mallett stage since 1993 with a March 2 program that begins with late Haydn (the buoyant Op.71 No.1) and Bruckner’s rarely performed, highly Romantic Quartet before concluding with Dvořák’s beloved “American” Quartet.

TSO. The Toronto Symphony welcomes the renowned Jiří Bělohlávek, music director and artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic, to lead the orchestra in Martinů’s Symphony No.6 “Fantaisies symphoniques.” Bělohlávek has been focused on Martinů’s work for years so this is an opportunity to hear what may be a definitive reading of the piece. Adding to the allure of these February 9 and 11 concerts is the imposing figure of Garrick Ohlsson, the soloist in Beethoven’s resplendent Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor.” Debussy’s seductive Première Rhapsodie, which opens the program, is a showpiece for TSO principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas’ sweet sound. On February 15 and 16, rising star Jakub Hrůša, a Czech conductor half Bělohlávek’s age who is permanent guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, leads the TSO in two masterful orchestral ruminations, Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration and Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy. That being said, the main attraction on the program will be Schumann’s Piano Concerto with soloist Jan Lisiecki, the first time Toronto audiences will hear what is the major work on Lisiecki’s latest CD. Another treat on the TSO menu: February 18, American conductor Sarah Hicks will lead the TSO in two performances providing a live accompaniment to the Pixar animated classic Ratatouille. This delightful, sophisticated film about an enterprising rat who creates his inimitable ratatouille dish in a Paris restaurant for a discerning food critic, features a sentimental symphonic score that is all cane sugar, no saccharine. Peter O’Toole’s melodious narration as the critic adds another musical layer to the proceedings.

RCM. In addition to the Avital-Dover recital, the Royal Conservatory is presenting three other concerts of note. On February 4, Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica celebrate Kremer’s 70th birthday year and the ensemble’s 20th at Koerner Hall with “Russia – Masks and Faces,” including music by Pärt, Weinberg, Tchaikovsky, Silvestrov and Mussorgsky (an arrangement for string orchestra of the iconic Pictures at an Exhibition). A free concert (ticket required) February 5 in Mazzoleni Concert Hall will introduce Andrés Díaz, the inaugural Alexandra Koerner Yeo Chair in Cello at the RCM. Díaz performs works by Martinů, Richard Strauss and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, with Barry Shiffman and other special guests. Then on March 3 acclaimed Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Venice Baroque Orchestra celebrate the pleasures of her Italian heritage with an engrossing program of selections by Galuppi, Avison (after Scarlatti), Geminiani and two works by Vivaldi including The Four Seasons. Finally, the masterful Sir András Schiff brings his classical warmth to a selection of late-Schubert piano pieces March 5. The composer’s Moments musicaux D780 and Drei Klavierstücke D946 are bookended by his two sets of Impromptus D899 and D935, delightful works that are made for Schiff’s own stylish sense of panache.

QUICK PICKS

Feb 7: Following his refreshing performance of Mozart’s Rondo for Violin and Orchestra K373 with the TSO (part of this year’s Mozart @261 festival), 19-year-old Kerson Leong (and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu) gives a free noontime recital of French music at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

Feb 13: Associates of the Toronto Symphony adopt a French accent for a program of Poulenc’s insouciant Sonata for Flute and Piano, Stravinsky’s cunning Suite from L’Histoire du soldat and TSO bassoonist Fraser Jackson’s arrangement of Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G. Mar 6: TSO second oboist Sarah Lewis is featured in Mozart’s charming Oboe Quartet in F K370 and Britten’s bewitching Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings Op.2.

Feb 13: The Perimeter Institute, one of the joys of Waterloo, presents the remarkable violinist Christian Tetzlaff and the outstanding pianist Lars Vogt in a compelling program of Beethoven, Mozart, Widmann and Schubert.

Feb 19: Any chance to hear Jan Lisiecki is a chance to be taken. In this Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ recital in Kingston, the super-talented young pianist treats us to repertoire new to Southern Ontario: Bach’s Partita No.3 in A Minor BWV827; Schumann’s Klavierstücke Op.32; Schubert Impromptus Op.142; and a trio of Chopin pieces including the high-powered Scherzo No.1 Op.20.

Feb 21: Sae Yoon Chon, a Korean-born scholarship student at GGS and a prizewinner at the last two Hilton Head International Piano Competition tackles Beethoven’s monumental Sonata No.29 in B-flat Op.106 “Hammerklavier” in a COC free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. (Mar 7: Fellow GGS scholarship student, Unionville-born Charissa Vandikas, performs works by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff in her own COC free noontime concert.)

Feb 23: Irène Jacob performs original material sprinkled with covers of Georges Brassens at Jazz Bistro. The French actress, luminous in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Double Life of Veronique (where she sang) and Three Colours: Red, recorded her first album Je Sais Nager (I Know How To Swim) in 2011 with her brother Francis, a guitarist and jazz-based arranger. Now they’re touring their latest CD, En Bas de Chez Moi (Downstairs at My House), with their multinational band (including Senegalese bassist Mamadou Ba and Franco-Peruvian Jose Ballumbrosio).

Feb 26: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Turgeon Piano Duo, husband-and-wife pianists, in a surefire program: Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Mozart’s Sonata in C K521, Gavrilin’s Sketches, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Mar 5: Israel’s Aviv String Quartet begins a traversal of Mozart’s last ten string quartets in three concerts in five days at the KWCMS Music Room.

Mar 4: The astonishingly gifted 23-year-old Montreal native Stéphane Tétreault, brings his Bernard Greenhouse cello to the Toronto Centre for the Arts when he performs Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1 with Sinfonia Toronto. Conductor Nurhan Arman also leads the orchestra in Morawetz’s Sinfonietta and Arman’s own string orchestra arrangement of Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor.

Mar 5: The famed Boston Symphony Orchestra (with special guest Emanuel Ax performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2) makes their first visit to Canada in 21 years. Conductor Andris Nelsons also leads the orchestra in Berlioz’s delirious, spectacular and enduring Symphonie Fantastique. Look for my interview with BSO principal horn James Sommerville elsewhere in this issue.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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2205 On OperaOn January 12 the Canadian Opera Company unveiled its 2017/18 season. The season will include the return of two recent COC productions, new productions of three operas not seen at the COC for 17 years or more and a company premiere of an opera by Richard Strauss. It is a well-rounded season that ought to have wide appeal.

One new feature in the evolution of the COC as a company was announced: the naming of its first artist-in-residence. For the coming season this will be renowned Canadian soprano Jane Archibald, who will appear in three of the six operas. In addition to her season-long residency, Archibald will perform in the COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre and work with the young artists of the COC Ensemble Studio and Orchestra Academy training programs in a mentorship capacity.

COC General Director Alexander Neef comments, “It’s exciting for the company and our audiences to have someone of Jane Archibald’s calibre choose to spend so much of her time with us… This kind of commitment from Jane is a testament to the international reputation of the COC, solidifying the company and our opera house as a showcase for the world-class talent working in opera today.”

Fall 2017: Opening the fall season from October 5 to 28 will be the company premiere of Richard Strauss’ Arabella (1933). Only the fifth opera by Strauss the COC has ever staged, Arabella is a co-production with Minnesota Opera and Santa Fe Opera and premiered with the latter company in 2012. The opera was Strauss’ final collaboration with his favourite librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who had written the libretti for Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911) and Ariadne auf Naxos (1912).

Arabella is a comedy set in Vienna in 1860 dealing with the financial crisis of the Waldner family. The family has two daughters, the beautiful Arabella, who needs to marry a wealthy man to save the family, and the younger Zdenka, whom they have brought up as a boy to save the expense of her coming out as a debutante.

Renowned Canadian soprano Erin Wall sings Arabella and Jane Archibald sings Zdenka. Mandryka, who woos Arabella, will be sung by Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny. Canadian tenor David Pomeroy is Matteo, whom Zdenka loves; Canadian baritone John Fanning is Count Waldner, the sisters’ father; German mezzo-soprano Gundula Hintz is their mother. COC Ensemble Studio graduate coloratura soprano Claire de Sévigné is the belle of the ball, Fiakermilli and Canadian mezzo-soprano Megan Latham is the Fortune Teller. The production is directed by Tim Albery, best known for his powerful production of the COC’s Götterdämmerung, currently being re-mounted, and is conducted by German conductor Patrick Lange.

Running in repertory with Arabella from October 11 to November 4 is a new COC production of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (L’elisir d’amore) from 1832. Elixir has not been seen at the COC since 1999. The new production is based on the 2008 co-production from San Francisco Opera, Colorado Opera and Kansas City Opera. American director James Robinson has relocated the action to a small town in the period before World War I. In this gentle comedy, the poor and shy Nemorino has fallen in love with the wealthy Adina. Despairing that Adina will fall for the dashing Captain Belcore, Nemorino buys a love potion from the travelling charlatan Doctor Dulcamara consisting only of red wine.

Three recent graduates of the COC Ensemble Studio training program take major roles. Tenor Andrew Haji is the lovesick Nemorino; soprano Simone Osborne is Adina; and baritone Gordon Bintner is Belcore. English baritone Andrew Shore is the sly Doctor Dulcamara. Toronto-born Yves Abel makes his COC debut at the podium.

Winter 2018: Beginning the winter season in 2018, from January 20 to February 23, will be a revival of the COC’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto directed by Christopher Alden and last seen in 2011. Audiences will recall this production as the one where the entire action is set inside the central room of a Victorian men’s club. English baritone Roland Wood sings the title role and American soprano Anna Christy is his daughter, Gilda. American tenor Stephen Costello shares the role of the vicious Duke of Mantua with American tenor Joshua Guerrero. Georgian bass Goderdzi Janelidze makes his Canadian debut as the assassin Sparafucile and Canadian mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule makes her COC debut as Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena. Stephen Lord conducts.

Running in repertory with Rigoletto from February 7 to 24 is Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung von dem Serail), not seen at the COC since 1980. The opera concerns the efforts of the Europeans, Belmonte and his servant Pedrillo, to rescue their sweethearts Konstanze and Blonde from captivity by the Muslim Turk, Bassa Selim. In this co-production with Opéra de Lyon, Lebanese-Canadian playwright and director Wajdi Mouawad has added his own prologue and reworked some of the dialogue to avoid caricature of the Muslim characters.

Jane Archibald performs one of her most acclaimed roles as Konstanze. Swiss tenor Mauro Peter sings Belmonte; Ensemble Studio graduates Claire de Sévigné and Owen McCausland are Blonde and Pedrillo, respectively. Croatian bass Goran Jurić is Osmin, Pasha Selim’s overseer and German actor Peter Lohmeyer appears in the spoken role of the Pasha. COC music director Johannes Debus conducts.

Spring 2018: The COC spring starts with the season’s only nod to modernity, a revival of Robert Lepage’s spectacular production of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables running from April 13 to May 19. Most notable as the production where the orchestra is on stage and the orchestra pit is filled with water, Nightingale, last seen in 2010, uses all forms of puppetry from East and West to illustrate songs by Stravinsky as well as the short operas Renard (1922) and The Nightingale (Le Rossignol, 1914).

Making her role debut as the Nightingale is Jane Archibald in her third opera of the season. Singing the Fisherman, who discovers the Nightingale, is Owen McCausland. The Emperor, whose life is saved by the Nightingale, is sung by American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn and American contralto Meredith Arwardy sings the role of Death. Johannes Debus conducts.

Concluding the 2017/18 season is the third in Donizetti’s so-called Three Queens Trilogy – Anna Bolena from 1830. The last time Toronto heard this work was in 1984 with Joan Sutherland in the title role and Richard Bonynge conducting. This time COC favourite Sondra Radvanovsky sings the role of Henry VIII’s spurned queen, the third queen after her Maria Stuarda in 2010 and her Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux in 2014.

American bass-baritone Eric Owens is Enrico VIII, King of England; American soprano Keri Alkema is Giovanna Seymour; American Bruce Sledge is Lord Riccardo Percy; and Canadian mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy sings the role of Smeton, the musician secretly in love with the queen. Italian maestro Corrado Rovaris conducts and Stephen Lawless, who directed the other two works in the trilogy, directs.

Currently: While the 2017/18 season announcement presents the COC’s future plans, the present 2016/17 COC season continues. Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which opened in January, runs until February 24. It is joined from February 2 to 25 by Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the concluding opera of his epic four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. American soprano Christine Goerke, who captivated audiences as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Siegfried, the second and third parts of the cycle, returns to sing her first Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager sings the role of Brünnhilde’s beloved Siegfried and German baritone Martin Gantner is Gunther, Siegfried’s rival. Estonian Ain Anger is Gunther’s villainous half-brother, Hagen, and Ileana Montalbetti is Gunther’s sister, Gutrune.

Tim Albery returns to direct his acclaimed production and COC music director Johannes Debus takes the plunge by conducting the massive opera for the first time.

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

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2205 Art of Song 1There was a time when men loved lesbians and considered them essential for their own artistic output. No, stay with me, it’s true: that time is the latter half of the 19th century, the place is France, and the men are the poets of emerging modernism.

Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal’s working title was Les lesbiennes and the section that got him censored and fined includes poems Lesbos and Delpine et Hippolyte. (Femmes damnées somehow got away, in spite of its cries of solidarity: “Vous que dans votre enfer mon âme a poursuivies / Pauvres soeurs, je vous aime autant que je vous plains”). Paul Verlaine’s series of sonnets around amorous encounters between young women, Les amies, is more specific, more explicitly visual and sensual. His Ariette oubliée IV from the later Romances sans paroles is a poetic embrace of the carefree female same-sex coupledom that, some critics argue, masks the poet’s own embrace of male homoeroticism. “Soyons deux jeunes filles / Éprises de rien et de tout étonnées,” says the poem to the reader of either sex.

Sappho was mythologized and loomed large for male poets of the era, and Théodore de Banville and Henri de Régnier were just two of the poets who wrote lesbian poems set in some version of ancient Greece. In the words of Gretchen Schultz who wrote an entire book about this era of literary cross-sex fascination (Sapphic Fathers: Discourses of Same-Sex Desire from Nineteenth Century France), male poets’ quest for selfhood took detours through lesbian personae.

Best known in the classical world of all the lesbophile song cycles of this era remains Pierre Louÿs’ 1894 Les Chansons de Bilitis, an elaborate pseudotranslation of an “ancient Greek” Sappho-like figure, Bilitis–in fact, entirely concocted by Louÿs–whose biography of the senses the song cycle follows, from heterosexual beginnings through lesbian blossoming to the reminiscing of old age. Louÿs’ friend Claude Debussy set three of the poems to music in 1897 to create the lush piano and voice opus now known as Trois Chansons de Bilitis. Debussy then worked on another, longer cycle titled Musique de scène pour les Chansons de Bilitis with 12 of Louÿs’ poems, but the text there is recited within the tableaux vivants with musical interludes scored for a small orchestra of flutes, harps and celesta. Recorded only a modest number of times-there’s a Deutsche Grammophon recording with Catherine Deneuve as the recitant-this other version of Chansons is extremely rarely performed.

The three-song cycle with piano is another story: it is widely claimed by both mezzos and sopranos and has been recorded frequently. February 9, at the noontime Ensemble Studio concert at the COC, it will be sung by the young mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo accompanied by Hyejin Kwon at the piano. Both piano and vocal writing are of great richness, both of heightened sensuality of the Anaïs Nin kind. The well-curated program that abounds in literary references will also include baritone Bruno Roy with Stéphane Mayer at the piano in Poulenc’s cycle La fraîcheur et le feu set to poems by Paul Éluard, as well as Ravel’s last completed work, the colourful and energetic Don Quichotte à Dulcinée set to Paul Morand’s poems. D’Angelo rounds out the event with Messiaen’s Trois Mélodies, one of which is based on a poem written by the composer’s mother, poet Cécile Sauvage; the remaining two are Messiaen’s homage to her words.

The Lieder are another cultural domain where the poetic “I” wanders across the sexes and rewrites the lover and the beloved, primarily thanks to the performers who interpret them. While traditionally the poetic subject has always been male and the object of his interest female, many composers would bestow the same cycle to a variety of voices, and singers and pianists themselves would adopt song cycles however they saw fit. But performing traditions get established and listening habits settle in, and today Berlioz’s Nuits d’été is sung primarily by mezzos and sopranos, while Schubert’s Die Winterreise primarily by baritones or tenors. Only a handful of mezzos have dared record the Schubert cycle: Christa Ludwig, Brigitte Fassbaender, Nathalie Stutzmann and Alice Coote. Fassbaender’s 1988 recording (with Aribert Reimann at the piano) in particular ruffled misogynist feathers. “Can a Woman Do a Man’s Job in Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’?” pearl-clutched a New York Times critic in 1990 and proceeded to explain all the reasons the answer is no. Even fewer sopranos have recorded or performed it; one notable recent recording is by Christine Schaefer with Eric Schneider.

2205 Art of Song 2Lyric soprano Adrianne Pieczonka will be adding her unique voice and approach to the small but valiant contingent of Winterreise women this month, in the Mazzoleni Masters Concert Series at the RCM on February 12. Each singer brings a different personality to the narrator, and Pieczonka is likely to bring her deep knowledge of German language, her Vienna savvy and her impeccable Straussian pedigree-including her Marschallins-to the fore. A bright female voice will sing the dark poems to the ghostly presence of the beloved woman, and in this case it will be the voice of a singer who is indeed married to another woman. An important cultural first.

The cycle itself is ink black and non-negotiably so. “I came a stranger, I depart a stranger.” The first of Wilhelm Müller’s 24 poems, Gute Nacht, sets the tone. The narrator is leaving the house and his beloved, never to return. There was even talk of marriage, but all came to naught. He could have been a music teacher or a tutor there. We are never told; or why he is leaving, by choice or by somebody’s demand. “We are drawn in by an obsessively confessional soul…who won’t give us the facts,” as Ian Bostridge writes in his recent book Schubert’s Winter Journey.

He walks through the snow-covered wood, but equally through the landscape of his memory. Objects and trees appear that are heavy with meaning and pain, a postman rings but brings no mail, a graveyard is called an inn, and the snow and the ice remain constant. The final song takes us before the barefoot hurdy-gurdy busker: “Wunderlicher Alter!” Strange old man! Will his be the music to accompany the poet? Should the poet, in this apparent but not a little sinister break from the solitude, now follow him?

Stage directors have been taking interest in Winterreise’s scenic potential at least since the 90s. The 2014 semi-staging by William Kentridge with elaborate video projections behind baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser will be available on DVD later this month, and it’s easy to predict more and more directors having a look at the piece. With Adrianne Pieczonka, and Rachel Andrist at the piano, we will finally have a chance to hear an all-female edition of the cycle which is to this day chiefly performed as an all-male enterprise.

QUICK PICKS

Feb 1 and 2: Two solos (Karina Gauvin in Pie Jesu and Russell Braun in Libera me) in Fauré’s Requiem with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra might on their own be worth going to the concert for, but of course the entire Requiem will be played, with the Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers; Stéphane Denève conducts.

Feb 3 and 4: Jeremy Dutcher – whom you might have noticed in Soundstream’s Electric Messiah – is a young singer/songwriter/composer to watch. He combines a training in Western classical music with the musical traditions of his Wolastoq Nation and a gusto for contemporary creations. “Shapeshifting between classical, contemporary, traditional and jazz” is how he describes his approach and once you hear him live, you get what he means. He will be one of the soloists at Toronto Consort’s “Kanatha/Canada” program at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, the mainstay of which will be the choral piece Wendake/Huronia by John Beckwith, a reflection on Samuel de Champlain’s first and only passage four centuries ago through what is now known as Ontario and his encounters with Ontario’s First Nations. Alongside the instrumental and vocal core ensemble of the Toronto Consort, including Laura Pudwell as the alto soloist, and singers of the Toronto Chamber Choir, the program will feature Huron-Wendat poet and historian Georges Sioui as the narrator and First Nations singer-drummers Shirley Hay and Marilyn George. The Consort will also perform a selection of early French-Canadian folksongs, including Le Prince Eugène, Renaud and Dans les prisons de Nantes.

Mar 3: The Cecilia String Quartet, with the always subtle Lawrence Wiliford, perform Amoretti for Tenor and String Quartet: five of Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser’s sonnets set to music by British composer Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986). The rest of the program at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, is also of interest: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet and the Britten-arranged Purcell Chacony for strings in G Minor.

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

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Every February I focus my column’s lens on Black History Month as it is musically celebrated in our midst. And with each year it becomes easier to assume that it has always been thus. It’s worth noting however that this is a relatively recent commemoration in our province, one with an evolving history.

The City of Toronto became the first municipality in Canada to proclaim Black History Month in 1979 in recognition of “the past and present contributions that African Canadians make to the life of Toronto in such areas as education, medicine, art, culture, public service, economic development, politics and human rights.”

Official provincial and national recognition of this aspect of cultural pluralism trailed far behind however. It wasn’t until 1993 that Ontario first proclaimed February as Black History Month citing as one of the reasons: “To mark the 200th anniversary of a law banning the importation of slaves into Upper Canada.” While people have been marking Black History Month throughout the province ever since, official status was not been granted until very recently. It was only last January that “Ontario passed legislation to formally recognize February as Black History Month on a continual annual basis,” according to the Ontario government website. The 2016 legislation “…gives Black History Month official status in law, ensuring that the uniqueness, vitality and continuing contributions of the Black community in Ontario will be celebrated for generations to come.”

I want to start by focusing on a single theatrical production. It’s a show with strong Afro-Caribbean musical roots that resonate throughout popular culture. It showcases Canadian creators and performers interpreting the life and career of an iconic nonagenarian, equally known for his rich contributions to the commercial entertainment landscape of the second half of the 20th century and for his social-political activism.

Harry Belafonte at 90: A Tribute Celebration

2205 World Music 1February 28 at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Culchahworks Arts Collective presents “Harry Belafonte at 90: A Tribute Celebration,” sponsored by TD Bank Group. Featuring leading African Canadian talent, including jazz-and-blues diva Jackie Richardson, singers Jay Douglas and Darryl Huggins and Stratford actor David Collins, the show’s choreographer Melissa Noventa weaves the numerous thematic and performative strands together with movement and colour.

Tribute Celebration’s writer, director, producer and music director is Andrew Craig. This prominent Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, broadcaster and impresario is also the founder and artistic director of Culchahworks. Founded in 2013, Culchahworks is a not-for-profit arts organization that “aims to celebrate and proliferate compelling stories, principally drawn from the Caribbean-Canadian, African-Canadian and African-American cultural legacies, yet having universal resonance, through the arts. Historical, didactic and cutting-edge all at once, Culchahworks endeavours to entertain, educate and inspire a broad range of audiences, using all manner of traditional and new media.”

It’s not easy to think of a living, successful entertainer with a more deeply held commitment and lengthy dedication to the cause of social justice and change than Harry Belafonte. The NYC-born African American has been at various times in his 60-plus-year career, a singer, actor, producer, and a leading international political and humanitarian activist who often challenged the power orthodoxy of the day.

Craig’s chronologically driven narrative traces Belafonte’s nine decades in a tribute filled with music, theatre, dance and screen-role excerpts. Starting with his formative years in NYC and on the island of Jamaica, the show follows his rise to stardom in the 1950s with performances of some of his best-selling recordings including Matilda, Jamaica Farewell and Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). The latter song originated as a Jamaican work song. Mento elements were incorporated in Belafonte’s hit recording.

These and several other records were highly successful commercially. The influence particularly of Belafonte’s early recordings on North American and European popular culture was immense. His Calypso (1956) is the first LP album to sell over one million copies, spending 31 weeks at number one on the recording industry Billboard charts. Belafonte received two Grammy Awards in the 1960s plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 for his outstanding work in the studio. With over 55 stage, film and TV credits, he has won both Emmy and Tony Awards and has received numerous major honours for his outstanding work on stage and screen, all the while accepting roles which exposed and explored prevalent racialized issues of the day.

Culchahworks’ Tribute Celebration next assays the other major thread in Belafonte’s life: his lifelong social and political activism. Inspired in his political orientation by his mentor, the renowned singer, actor and Communist activist Paul Robeson, Belafonte played an important role in the 1960s Civil Rights movement as both supporter and confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Belafonte played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement and has since 1987 served as UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Performances include songs from his live 1972 album recorded in Toronto, and the 1988 Live in Zimbabwe concert.

Belafonte has challenged many social and political barriers in both his off-stage and singing and acting careers. Tribute Celebration re-enacts scenes from his signature film and TV roles dramatizing these themes.

Having retired from active performing in the 2000s Belafonte has more time these days to advocate for political and humanitarian causes. Rather than slowing down in his senior-plus years, he founded Sankofa the year he turned 86. That social justice charity organization “enlists the support of today’s most celebrated artists and influential individuals in collaboration with grassroots partners to elevate the voices of the disenfranchised and promote justice, peace and equality.” (“Mission” on Sankofa.org.)

Belafonte continues to take his civic responsibilities seriously. He currently serves as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.

Tribute Celebration rounds out its program acknowledging Belafonte’s political engagement and recounting his continuing influence on the development of young artists and activists. I’m not sure if the show will touch on his passionate critique of the policies of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidential administrations. Speaking as ever truth to power, Belafonte has also chosen – in his 90th year – to serve as honorary co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington held on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Other Picks

2205 World Music 2February 7 the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts presents the pioneering Toronto world music ensemble Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan in its Global Salon Series. The concert takes place in the Centre’s acoustically warm, 560-seat concert hall, dubbed The Isabel. Opened in the fall of 2014, the Centre has positioned itself as a “new home for the creative arts at Queen’s University and a new hub of artistic study, creation and exhibition” in the greater Kingston region. I toured The Isabel during its very early days. All I can say is that it’s worth the drive to Kingston.

Before I discuss ECCG’s music, I feel obliged to mention to new readers of this column that I’m a 34-year founding member of the group. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, I know, but I still thoroughly enjoy each of our concerts, especially meeting new listeners with adventurous ears.

ECCG has based a three-decade career on commissioning new scores with the end game of performing, recording and touring them on its superb bespoke Sundanese gamelan degung, a kind of gamelan indigenous to West Java, Indonesia. At the same time the group also performs music which can be heard in its West Javanese homeland, though in ECCG’s own idiosyncratic arrangements. As I wrote in this column last fall, “It’s a complex world of music out there and ECCG aims to present that complication from a Canadian perspective.”

In its concert at The Isabel, ECCG explores various border crossings and cultural hybridities in works by Canadian composers Mark Duggan, Paul Intson, Andrew Timar, Linda Catlin Smith and John Wyre. Works by the composer American Lou Harrison and Indonesians Nano Suratno and Burhan Sukarma round out the program.

February 11 Alliance Française de Toronto and the Batuki Music Society co-present a “Concert of Malian Music” by Diely Mori Tounkara, kora and vocals. Hailing from a large family of Malian griots, Tounkara followed his father’s profession, becoming a young master of the kora. Among the leading griots of his generation, his knowledge of the role Mandingo musical tradition plays is profound. His virtuoso playing on the kora brilliantly supports his flexible vocals which convey a wide range of subtle feeling that can be appreciated by Malian as well as Canadian audiences. Tounkara’s appearance aptly connects with the celebration of Black History Month.

February 14 the Royal Conservatory presents Ladysmith Black Mambazo in its World Music Concert Series at Koerner Hall. As a reader of this column, I assume you’ve heard this all-male South African choir. Singing and recording for over half a century, they helped make Paul Simon’s album Graceland (1986) a huge hit with sales of 16 million units. LBM has long been considered South Africa’s musical ambassador. At Nelson Mandela’s request LBM accompanied Mandela to his 1993 Oslo Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, as well as singing at Mandela’s landmark inauguration as President of South Africa the following year.

Having made its first record in 1973, LBM has since recorded over 50 albums, many of which have garnered gold and platinum disc certification. Their most recent CD, Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers, has been nominated for Best World Music Album of 2016 by the Recording Academy, marking the group’s 17th Grammy Award nomination. (A rollcall of awards and honours received would take up an entire column.)

The album’s title accurately reflects the intergenerational makeup of the a cappella choir; most current members are descendants of the original 1960s singers. LBM is a world music institution, touring regularly to bring their uplifting, joyful message to a broad international fan base.

“May the Fourth Be with You”

March 4th, that is. It’s going to be a day of tough concert choices. If you feel in the mood for a raucous, dance-in-your-seat-worthy Balkan wedding band you can catch Goran Bregović and His Wedding and Funeral Band at Massey Hall. The concert is co-presented by Massey Hall and Small World Music.

In another fascinating March 4 concert – this one by two very different choirs, Schola Magdalena presents the joint program, “Weaving the World” with Schola Magdalena and Darbazi at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Schola Magdalena’s guest, Darbazi, is Toronto’s first choir specializing in the performance of the polyphony indigenous to the peoples of the Republic of Georgia. The resident choir will sing Georgian chant, for which they are justly respected, and medieval choral works by Hildegard and Dunstable. Darbazi will perform selections from its extensive Georgian repertoire. The listing also mentions the performance of the intriguing but as yet undesignated “new music.” Will the two choirs jointly sing a new work or two? My advice is to go and find out, along with me.

Finally, also on March 4, the Jubilate Singers connect with the Black History Month theme, bringing our column full circle. In a program titled “The African Connection” the choir celebrates the influence of African music in Christian liturgy, spirituals and vernacular songs, “as written and arranged by Western composers.” Isabel Bernaus conducts the Jubilate Singers while Sherry Squires accompanies on the piano at St. Simon-the-Apostle Church. It’s a felicitous way to wrap up the month.

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

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2205 Early 1I’m glad that Toronto’s early music scene has such a wide variety of talent. But every so often, someone shows up and makes even the best musicians in the city take notice. This month, Toronto has a rare opportunity to hear a soloist who’s spent decades becoming one of the living legends of early music. You may not have heard of the celebrated Belgian flutist Barthold Kuijken (pronounced CAUW-ken) but to hear him in concert is to appreciate an artist who has mastered some of the most ornate and technically demanding works of music in the classical canon.

I’ll do my best to describe Kuijken’s influence on the early music movement without resorting to superlatives, but it won’t be easy. He belongs to what’s effectively the first generation of early music players (the previous generation being largely a bunch of eccentrics rather than professional musicians) who, finding modern classical performance practice unfulfilling, left promising careers as modern musicians to find a new style of performing. Given that there was no existing generation of musicians to teach them how to play differently, Kuijken et al. were complete autodidacts with only a handful of musical artifacts and historical treatises to guide them. Since then, Kuijken has become an educated performer and amassed an enviable instrument collection and library of historical sources. But what makes him unique is that, unlike other musicians of his generation, he didn’t have to do it alone. His older brother Weiland is one of the movement’s great viola da gambists, and another older brother, Sigiswald, not only became one the great violinists of the movement, but also founded La Petite Bande, one of the great European early music orchestras, in 1972.

Having family on his side helped Barthold Kuijken. Since moving to early music, he has performed extensively with Sigiswald’s orchestra as their principal flutist, played chamber music with both his brothers, and not incidentally also enjoyed a stellar career as one of the genre’s eminent soloists, generating a staggering discography along the way. This month, Baroque Music beside the Grange brings this legendary flutist to Heliconian Hall in Yorkville for a program that should serve to demonstrate Kuijken’s reputation as one of the greats. J.S. Bach’s sonata for unaccompanied flute, a piece by C.P.E Bach written for Frederick the Great, a couple of Telemann fantasias, and a suite by French composer Michel de la Barre are all pieces that were written for flutists to show off both artistic mastery and technical prowess, and I’m willing to bet that Kuijken doesn’t even find these tunes a fair match for his skills. If there’s one concert to make this month, this is it. Catch it on Sunday February 12 at 2:30 pm.

Profeti della Quinta: One generation inspires the next, and while the first generation of early music players tended to have the same musical and cultural background (Western European, conservatory trained, institutional misfits) the movement they founded means that younger players of today now come from all over the globe and have an entirely different view of the classical canon. A case in point is the Israeli vocal and instrumental group Profeti della Quinta, who came together as an early music group in Galilee and re-formed in Switzerland at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Since then, the group has specialized in late-Renaissance Italian music, particularly in the music of Salomone Rossi, the 17th-century Italian-Jewish composer of madrigals, sacred vocal music and chamber music.

To hear Profeti della Quinta’s singing is to know that Rossi has been unfairly neglected by history. He’s a top-tier composer in the seconda prattica vein – meaning he could compose sacred polyphony in the style of Palestrina as well as use later techniques such as word-painting in more secular works – who was just as comfortable setting texts in Hebrew as in Italian. The effect on a modern audience is splendid as well as jarring, as if Monteverdi had decided one day that Hebrew was a better language than Italian for his madrigals, but the Profeti are both technically and interpretively flawless players who do justice to both this composer and this style of music. You can catch them in performance in Kingston at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on February 15 for an all-Rossi concert. If you can’t make it out to Kingston, the group has posted a number of music videos on their website quintaprofeti.com featuring the music of Rossi, Orlando di Lasso and Carlo Gesualdo, all of which I highly recommend.

Ben Stein’s lute: Some artists choose to master the entire canon and others choose to specialize. Still others need no composer at all. We’ve known for years that performers in the Western art-music tradition were able to improvise. Bach’s Musical Offering, which was initially a challenge the composer received from Frederick the Great to improvise a three- and then six-part chromatic fugue, is a famous example, but many other famous composers were also great improvisers, and the tradition of improvisation stretches back much further than Bach. In the Renaissance and early Baroque, a young musician’s education included learning to improvise a melody over a commonly recognized bass line or series of chord changes – like the jazz standards of our time, but shorter and harmonically simpler. But knowing that improvisation was everywhere can change our view of compositions from the period. Printed music written down by gifted improvisers seems less like a painstakingly worked-out masterpiece and more like a surviving specimen from a larger group of improvisations, so players are supposed to perform music as if it were improvised. Less precise printings of music present other problems. But if they are just the shell of the music, rather than the final finished product, does that mean the performer is supposed to fill the gaps by ornamenting a bare melody or the chord progressions? Jazz musicians learn to improvise this way, but conservatory-trained classical players don’t. And as long as historically informed players can’t improvise in the style of the composer, it makes their supposed goal of re-creating the music as the composer heard it impossible.

Toronto-based lutenist Ben Stein may have an answer to this musical quandary. For the last several years, Stein has been researching how musicians of previous eras were taught musical improvisation, with a special focus on the conservatories of 18th-century Venice. Study and practice have let him re-create the part of a musical education from that period and, as a result, Stein can now improvise over a given melody or series of chord changes in much the same way that a 17th- or 18th-century musician would. If this sounds far-fetched to you, Stein can prove it – he’s going to both show and tell his musical discoveries in concert at a lecture-recital at Metropolitan United Church on February 10 at 7:30 pm. He’ll be joined by Lucas Harris on lute as well as Rezan Onen-Lapointe on violin and myself on harpsichord, and I’m pleased to say that Stein’s ability to teach classical musicians some necessary improv skills is as informative and entertaining for concert audiences as it is for his fellow musicians.

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

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2205 New 1With the beginning of 2017, Canada is about to enter into a year-long marking of the fact that the country began 150 years ago in 1867. Some will be celebrating, and others will have more ambivalent feelings about it all, aware of how much indigenous cultures have suffered and lost under a political system that attempted to destroy them. On the musical end of things, much is being planned as a celebration, and no doubt this theme will return in various ways in this column throughout the year.

One significant player in the creation of musical events to mark this moment in Canada’s history is the Toronto Symphony. Their major initiative, Canada Mosaic, will involve performance, education and collaboration initiatives across the country. One of their projects is the commissioning of two-minute orchestral works from Canadian composers called Sesquies, to be performed throughout the year by the TSO and 38 partner orchestras across the country. During February, the TSO will be premiering a series of these at several of their regular concerts, beginning on February 1 with Yatra, composed by Dinuk Wijeratne. Other Sesquies during the month include works by Vivian Fung (February 4); Jocelyn Morlock (February 8); Louis Babin (February 10); John Rea (February 15); and Andrew Staniland (March 4).

2205 New 2New Creations: One of the major ways the TSO has annually contributed to increase awareness of Canada’s composers has been through the New Creations Festival, and of course this year is no exception. The festival runs from March 4 to 11, with three concerts curated by Toronto-based composer and performer Owen Pallett. It features eight newly-commissioned works, including five from Canadian composers. In order to fit all the three festival concerts into The WholeNote issues, I will feature the March 4 program in this month’s column and follow up with the other two concerts in the March issue. The March 4 program is chock full of TSO-commissioned works: one from German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann, another from Canadian Jordan Pal, currently an affiliate composer with the TSO, and finally a collaboration between Tanya Tagaq, Christine Duncan and Jean Martin, with orchestrations by Christopher Mayo.

Some readers may recall a feature story about the 21C Festival that I wrote for last May’s issue of The Wholenote in which I discussed the collaboration between Tanya Tagaq and the Kronos Quartet. Tagaq, originally from Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, is a stunning improvising vocal performer in a style almost impossible to capture in words. Her sounds are influenced by both the deep guttural tones of traditional Inuit throat singing as well as the wild vocal exclamations of avant-rock. When combined with the explosive sounds of her band members, Jean Martin on percussion and Jesse Zubot on violin, both of whom use extensive electronic processing as well, it’s a sonic experience that often shakes audience members to their core. To find out more about how a performer of this nature will collaborate with the TSO, I contacted Christine Duncan, one of the collaborators in the current TSO commission.

Their commission will be a 20-minute-long work titled Qiksaaktuq, the Inuktitut word for grief, and is intended as a musical reflection upon missing and murdered indigenous women. The piece is in five movements inspired by the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Duncan talked about how the ideas for the piece came together during a series of exchanges about how to create a work combining improvisation and notation. The final verdict was that the piece would be collaboratively composed by Tagaq, Martin and Duncan with the final score orchestrated by composer Christopher Mayo. During the compositional process between the three of them, the primary focus was to create something that would feel familiar for Tagaq to improvise with. Because of Martin’s extensive experience of performing as a regular member of her band, his input was invaluable in creating a structure with the same peaks and valleys she’s used to. The piece came together using a computer software program that uses the traditional symphonic sounds, thus enabling the creators to hear the work unfolding as they worked. These tracks were then given to Mayo to create the final notated parts. The more subtle sounds not available on the computer program were discussed with Mayo and written into the score. Having an orchestrator involved was important Duncan said, as it ensured that everything would be clear to the orchestral players in a format they were used to.

Duncan’s role during the performance will be to use what she calls the “conduction hand cues” she has honed over the last several years working with the Element Choir. Using these cues, she will lead the brass section in an improvisation that will complement the notated score and Tagaq’s live improvisations. The hand cues are visual gestures that suggest the type of sound being asked for and it’s up to each performer to interpret how they will respond. During the composing of the work, the nature and timing of the specific hand cues were carefully chosen and added into the notated score. Duncan emphasized that the “overall effect of the entire piece will be like a large ensemble structured improvisation, sounding like what one of Tanya’s performances would sound like. In order to make it that loose and open it has to be completely and specifically notated to come off that way.” The piece will premiere on March 4 in Toronto and will be performed by at least three other orchestras across the country as part of the Canada Mosaic project.

I was also curious about the story behind Duncan’s creative relationship with Tagaq. It began, she said, in early 2014 when she was invited to sing at one of Tagaq’s performances in France. “Tanya is quite generous and inclusive. She loves to have people and friends around her – to get them up on stage and perform with them. For her it’s a way of having the act of performing be like an extension of family or community – that’s very important to her.” With that positive experience setting the stage, it was later on in 2014 when Tagaq’s band was preparing to perform at the Polaris Prize award show and looking for a way to do something more large scale. Martin suggested inviting Duncan’s improvising Element Choir to join in. Everyone agreed. As a testament to how much Tagaq trusted Duncan’s creative instincts, “The first time Tanya ever met the choir was onstage at the Polaris awards. It was a pretty transformative experience for everyone involved. Right away, Tanya said she wanted the Element Choir on every single gig we can have them on.”

Currently Duncan is preparing to join the band on their upcoming tour promoting Tagaq’s recent album Retribution. She will be training choirs in the conduction method in various cities and, if that isn’t possible at some locations, she will be joining in as a singer on stage with Tagaq. Reflecting back on the work that Tagaq created with the Kronos Quartet at the 21C Festival last May and how utterly original the venerable string quartet sounded in that piece, I am sure audiences will be equally entranced by this new collaborative creation with the orchestra.

Esprit: Continuing on in the spirit of new Canadian symphonic works being performed this month, Esprit’s concert on February 12 will feature three world premieres by Canadian composers, one of which has been co-commissioned by the TSO as part of their Canada Mosaic project. Survivance is the name of this piece, composed by Montrealer John Rea, who has previously received three commissions from Esprit. The program has works by two other Montreal-based composers – José Evangelista’s 2016 work Accelerando, and a world premiere by Analia Llugdar, a former student of Evangelista’s. The third world premiere, Surfacing, is a work by Adam Scime. Alongside these newly created compositions will be the performance of a 1985 piece by American Conlon Nancarrow, known for his complex works for player piano.

Wendake/Huronia: The Canadian-identity theme continues in two early February performances (February 3 and 4) by Toronto Consort of John Beckwith’s work Wendake/Huronia. The piece was originally premiered in 2015, toured amongst several Georgian Bay communities during that summer, and is orchestrated for chamber choir, First Nations drummers and singers, alto and narrator. Created in six movements with the ultimate goal being a statement of reconciliation between First Nations and European-based cultures, the majority of the work goes into an exposé of the reality of the Wendat experience – both pre- and post- contact with the French explorer Champlain. It is fitting that this work is being remounted just a month prior to John Beckwith’s 90th birthday.

Early March EventsMarch is overflowing with new music adventures so I’d like to give a heads-up now to some of what will be happening so you can mark your calendars. March 4 is shaping up to be an epic night, in addition to the New Creations concert.

First of all, Spectrum Music will be presenting “Tales of the Unconscious,” produced in partnership with Musicata: Hamilton’s Voices under the direction of Roger Bergs. Mixing jazz trio and classical choir, the concert will feature three leading jazz musicians – Mike Murley (saxophone), Andrew Downing (bass) and Chris Pruden (piano) – and give the Spectrum composers an opportunity to dig into the murky realms of dreams. Shannon Graham’s piece Bedtime Stories is based on her own dream journals while Ben McCarroll-Butler’s The Night Is Gone, the Light Is Near is based a dream had by a refugee from Syria’s civil war.

Over at the Music Gallery, Thin Edge New Music Collective teams up with the Gallery to present “Raging Against the Machine: Coming Together.” The concert  on March 4 marks the second time the Thin Edge ensemble will team up with Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal and this year their concert will include Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together, Yannis Kyriakides’ Karaoke Études and new works by Canadians Colin Labadie, James O’Callaghan and Anna Pidgorna. The goal of these collaborations is to create connections amongst creators and organizations across distinct geographical, cultural and linguistic identities.

And finally, from March 2 to 5, Soundstreams will be presenting a concert entitled “R. Murray Schafer’s Odditorium.” It will feature a number of works from Schafer’s Patria cycle, which combines elements from opera, theatre and dance to create a hybrid genre the composer calls “theatre of confluence.” It promises to be full of dramatic surprises and energy, with theatre and film director Chris Abraham from Crow’s Theatre overseeing the entire production.

QUICK PICKS

Feb 4: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “The Year of the Rooster: A Chinese New Year Celebration.” Works by composers Huan Zhi Li, Chen Qigang, Vincent Ho, Shande Ding: Long March Symphony (Fifth Movement).

Feb 4: Music Gallery. “Emergents II: I=I + Caution Tape Collective.”

Feb 5: Syrinx Concerts Toronto. Includes works by Walter Buczynski.

Feb 7: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Kingston. Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan performing Canadian and international commissions.

Feb 11: Music Gallery. Performances by Alex Moskos, Doom Tickler and ZONES.

Feb 12: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Improvisations with the Penderecki Quartet and the Dave Young Trio.

Feb 16: David Lidov. “Paper and Keys” includes a performance of Lidov’s VoiceMail. Array Space.

Mar 3: Alliance Française de Toronto. “The Work and Ideas of Pierre Schaeffer” with Darren Copeland.

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

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2205 Choral 1South Africa has very strong choral traditions, among them the call-and-answer style known as isicathamiya; a strong male tenor-lead melody contrasted against repeating chord progressions shapes this music. You’ll know the famous The Lion Sleeps Tonight of Solomon Linda; that is indigenous South African choral music from the 1920s. Now Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of best-known practitioners of the form, and one of the oldest and most successful choral groups in South Africa, is coming to Toronto.

The name isicathamiya derives from a Zulu verb, cathama, meaning to tread softly. Isicathamiya has been a staple of culture in South Africa for almost a hundred years. Culturally Zulu, this a cappella musical style has its roots in a much more robust foot-pounding centuries-old traditional Zulu culture of singing and dance. Structural reshaping of the economy under colonial rule in the early 20th century made traditional lifestyles of many indigenous people impossible. Men had to leave for work in white-owned industries, unable to own land, farm, raise cattle, receive education, or own property in many cases. In a colonial and apartheid-era urban context the strong movements of traditional Zulu mbube (“lion”) vocals and dance were both feared and frowned upon by European populations who believed that the men were fighting. So the dances were adjusted to fit this reality; tiptoes and slower, deliberate movement became the new vocabulary. Isicathamiya was born and has become over time an important social and cultural force for urban populations forced to work far away from homes and far from family. Communities would convene on Saturday evening, as they had Sunday off in respect of the Christian Sabbath. Now-legendary Saturday gatherings in Durban and Johannesburg are often all-night competitions due to the number of groups involved. Hundreds of people attend. The only times these competitions do not take place are during Christmas and Easter.

While isicathamiya has morphed and changed over the decades through colonialism and apartheid, dancing remains as a core part of the tradition, with choreography to match the vocals. It is a philosophical and physical approach to music connecting myriad influences of music, dance, indigenous culture, external influences and, importantly, Christianity.

You know some of the sounds of isicathamiya if you’ve listened to the Lion King soundtrack. Lebo M., a South African composer and artist, is the powerful voice that opens the soundtrack with Circle of Life. If you’ve seen the musical adaptation, Grasslands Chant and One by One are Western examples of this music tradition alive. (Read more about this collaboration in Chip Stern’s June 2003 Playbill article on Mark Mancina and Lebo M.’s “African Sound for Lion King.”) Ladysmith Black Mambazo was also featured on the Lion King II soundtrack.

Joseph Shabalala founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1960s and continues to lead the group. The choir is prolific, having recorded over 50 albums. They have received 18 Grammy nominations and four Grammy awards for their work. The documentary of the group On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom was nominated for an Academy Award. They’ve worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon, Lebo M. and Michael Jackson.

There are four opportunities along the Canadian side of Lake Ontario to catch Ladysmith Black Mambazo in action as they tour North America: February 14, Koerner Hall; February 15, the Grand Theatre, Kingston; February 16;the London Music Hall, London; and February 17, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St Catharines.

 

Some great shows in store. As mentioned before the year turned, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is joined by the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers in Fauré’s Requiem. February 1 and 2. Another early presentation by Soundstreams sounds especially promising: the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performing Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, works by Arvo Pärt and more, February 2, St. Paul’s Basilica.

2017 is an especially auspicious year for the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir as it celebrates its 35th anniversary. With Ivars Taurins at the helm, A Bach Tapestry, February 9 to 12, features a collection of songs from the extensive Bach library. Joined by instrumentalists, the choir will present several Bach works never before performed by Tafelmusik including the Kyrie and Gloria from the Lutheran Mass in G Major, commonly known as the German Organ Mass. The meat of the concert will be various cantatas selected by Taurins from the over 200 cantatas attributed to Bach.

To round off the end of the Tafelmusik season, the orchestra and choir will present Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. This eternally cherished piece is sure to please. May 4 to 7 at Koerner Hall.

The Peterborough Singers present “Canadian Women of Song” February 25 at Calvary Church, Peterborough. The choir’s director Syd Birrell has arranged popular tunes for the choir with Steve McCracken orchestrating the music for the accompanying band. Featured are works such as Susan Aglukark’s O Siem, k.d. lang’s Constant Craving, Jully Black’s Seven Day Fool, Jann Arden’s Good Mother, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Up Where We Belong. This performance is conducted by Pam Birrell, who will be joined by MC Linda Kash. Saturday February 25, 2017, 2pm. Calvary Church, Peterborough.

The Musikay Choir and Orchestra under maestro Stéphane Potvin present “Love is…” in Waterdown on February 11 and Oakville February 12. Coming just before Valentine’s Day, the ensemble will present a host of small works all influenced by stories of love. The light and beautiful selections include Handel’s gorgeous Lascia ch’io pianga (Let Me Weep), Monteverdi’s Lamento d’arianna lasciatemi morire (The Lament of Arianna, Let Me Die), and Orlando di Lasso’s Mon Coeur se recommande à vous (I Give to You All of My Heart).

The 150th anniversary of Confederation is being celebrated across the country throughout 2017. The Orpheus Choir presents the first large choral concert in the region to mark the occasion with “Beginnings: With Glowing Hearts.” Ruth Watson Henderson’s The Magic of God’s World and Derek Holman’s Laudis Creationis are featured alongside two commissions by Mark Sirrett and Laura Hawley. The Toronto Children’s Chorus will also make a guest appearence, February 26 at Grace Church on-the-Hill.

Conductor Noel Edison leads the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (in which I sing) and the Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Singers in “Sing Joyfully!” on March 4. Healey Willan’s not-often-performed An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts makes an appearance. This grand work, written for TMC in 1921, is perfectly suited to the choir. John Cameron’s arrangement of Elgar’s Nimrod, Lux Aeterna is always a delight. The program will also feature common hymns for sing-along.

Chorus Niagara presents their first concert of 2017, “The Farthest Shore: A Celtic Celebration.” Artistic director Bob Cooper leads Chorus Niagara, the Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir, Chorus Niagara’s Side-By-Side High School Chorale, soloists Maeve Palmer, Ryan Moilliet, Michael Driscoll and musicians of Celtic Connection alongside the Chorus Niagara Brass Quintet. Irish dancers will also join the musicians. The main feature is Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s The Farthest Shore on March 4 at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

And finally, Tanya Tagaq, Christine Duncan, Jean Martin, Jordan Pal and Andrew Staniland are all featured in the first concert of the New Creations Festival of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra curated by Owen Pallett. This concert, March 4, will have strong improvisational and vocal elements and a guaranteed dynamic evening of music making.

Film Fun and Games: The Toronto Children’s Chorus presents “Celebrate at the Movies.” Alongside Andy Morris on percussion and Stan Klebanoff on trumpet, the choir invites the audience to dress up and sing along with hits from beloved children’s movies, February 25, 5pm at Randolph Theatre.

Speaking of film (and with apologies for straying far from my choral beat), there are lots of musical options for film, TV and game buffs in the coming months.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents “Disney-Pixar Ratatouille in Concert” February 18 at 11:30am and 4pm. This warm and hilarious movie is screened with the orchestra playing live under the baton of Sarah Hicks. (“Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark with Live Orchestra” on March 29 has been sold out for months).

The TSO’s Canada Mosaic Project is a pan-Canadian initiative designed to be part of the Canada 150 celebrations. Among many other concerts, “Lights, Camera…Orchestra!” is a special film-themed concert conducted by Earl Lee, the resident conductor of the TSO. It features a world premiere, and TSO co-commission with TIFF Kids, of Kjell Boersma’s film DAM! The Story of Kit the Beaver set to music by Erica Procunier played live by the orchestra. With additional fun provided with highlights from Star Wars, Jaws and Mission Impossible, this concert at 2pm and 4pm on February 25 is sure to be fun. Family friendly!

The Sony Centre also has some unique offerings in the coming months that will be great musical experiences. Presenting innovative and grand musical experiences, the Sony Centre gives us unique opportunities to experience global phenomena here in Toronto. “Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions” hits Toronto with full symphonic arrangements of every Pokémon game written in the last 20 years, May 6 at 7:30pm. This is a guaranteed sellout so buy early!

And we know that the Sony Centre is beginning a multi-year presentation of the Harry Potter films live in concert. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone runs June 27 and 28 at 7:30pm. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets runs October 12 and 13, 7:30pm. Expect to see all eight movies in the coming years. Tickets will sell out. Don’t get stuck on the platform; board the Hogwarts Express!

Just an FYI on the “Game of Thrones Live” concert March 4 at the Air Canada Centre I’ve already mentioned a few times. Top tier tickets began at $641.50 making this one of the most expensive musical experiences ever offered in the city. The entire concert is sold out.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang. Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com.

Update Feb 1, 11am EST: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will not be performing Healey Willan's An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts at their March "Sing Joyfully" concert, and will instead perform this work at their Good Friday concert, titled "Sacred Music for a Sacred Space." For details, visit www.tmchoir.org.

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The year 2017 is upon us, and with it comes all of the hype that reminds us that this is Canada’s Sesquicentennial Year. Many say that it is Canada’s 150th birthday, while others remind us that there were only four provinces as signatories to the Constitution Act which announced Canadian Confederation in Charlottetown in 1867. The other six provinces plus the territories joined over the ensuing years. In any case, whether you are a supporter of the idea or not, most communities are planning on ceremonies. Many of these are to include parades with bands, not as easy as for the Centennial, fifty years ago. While there are many community bands across the country, few of them are marching bands. Similarly, most of the town bandstands or “kiosques de musique,” which were popular in the 19th century, have disappeared.

Speaking of the Centennial, while contemplating what I might usefully say here for community bands planning their works for this year, I thought of my own experiences 50 years ago during 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year. Truth be told, I was too busy that summer to learn or think much of what other musical groups might be doing. I just happened to be the officer in charge of a naval entertainment troupe consisting of a full band, a choir, a group of sailors in traditional garb dancing The Sailor’s Hornpipe and sundry other displays. During the months of July and August our troupe performed on 31 different occasions in Ontario, Quebec and upstate New York. I don’t anticipate anything on that scale for this year, but it seems that many groups are planning on some form of special recognition in their musical offerings.

2205 BandstandMaking My List: What form might that recognition take? I have heard of a few very tentative community plans for parades for July 1. As for concert programs, there seem to be at least four main themes emerging so far. One is to focus on works by contemporary Canadian composers, while another is to program works of any era by Canadian composers. A third concept is for works by any composers which, in some way or other, relate to Canada. The fourth idea is to feature the kind of music which might have been played by Canadian town bands of the 19th century, irrespective of the origins of the music. Personally, I don’t have a strong preference, but when thinking of what I might program, I came up with a few ideas.

Topping my list would be at least three works, by Canadians, written as part of the Centennial Project 50 years ago. These would be:

Newfoundland Rhapsody by Howard Cable. This is one composer who certainly needs no introduction here. It would be foolish to list all of Cable’s compositions which might qualify.

Suite on Canadian Folksongs by Morley Calvert, which includes She’s Like the Swallow. Among other musical accomplishments, Calvert founded McGill University’s Concert Band which he conducted for ten years. Calvert’s Thameside March could also be a candidate if one were able locate the music.

Century of Progress by Ron McAnespie. This latter work won the prize as the best march in the Centennial Project. After six years as a musician in the Canadian Navy, McAnespie obtained a Bachelor of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music. Although lesser known than the others, he was very active in the Toronto musical scene for many years.

Other “musts” on my list of Canadian composers would be Calixa Lavallée, Charles O’Neill and André Jutras. Lavallée, composer of O Canada, is an obvious choice. There is a fine concert-band arrangement of his La rose nuptial (Bridal Rose) which is readily available. Jutras’ They Came Sailing is one which frequently appears in concerts by bands in this part of the world. O’Neill was the first director of Quebec’s Band of the Royal 22nd Regiment and held many other significant musical positions over the years. His Tout à Vous is a fine concert number, but he also wrote some worthy marches.

Other marches worth considering would be Vimy Ridge by Thomas Bidgood and Men of Dieppe by Stephen Michell. While Bidgood, the composer, was not a Canadian, this number celebrates a most notable Canadian victory 100 years ago. Michell, a former trombone player with the Royal Regiment of Canada, was taken prisoner at Puys during the Dieppe Raid. To add a bit of lighter air to a program, one might include Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. There is no evidence of the origins of the title, but since the maple leaf is a significant Canadian symbol, this precursor of ragtime music could be used to light up any program.

Kudos to the Scarborough Phil: While one would not normally think of the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra as being part of the Bandstand community, their latest venture certainly merits accolades. On February 4, in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday the SPO will launch A Canadian Panorama, its first commercial CD. The launch concert will feature music from the CD, a group of Canadian compositions that the SPO commissioned two years ago for a wind ensemble of 13 players. This group features two flutes (including a piccolo), two oboes (including an English horn), two clarinets (including a bass clarinet), two bassoons, two horns, one trumpet, one percussion player and a string bass. All told, seven of the pieces in this concert come from Canadian composers. While there will be some Mozart and Beethoven on the program, the emphasis will be on the Canadian works. These will include: Howard Cable’s McIntyre Ranch Country, based on Canadian cowboy folk songs from central Canada; Alex Eddington’s Saturday Night at Fort Chambly, based on French Canadian folksongs; Chris Meyer’s Fundy, a tone poem, inspired by the Bay of Fundy; and East Coast Celtic music and Jim McGrath’s Serenade for Solo Clarinet and Wind Ensemble. This CD launch concert will be at the Salvation Army Scarborough Citadel, 2021 Lawrence Ave. E.

Plumbing Factory: While their next concert isn’t until April 19, Henry Meredith’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band, (PFBB), as usual, has a fascinating program in the works. In honour of Canada’s Sesquicentennial the program will consist entirely of 19th-century brass band music. While the program will include some traditional works such as Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra and Franz von Suppé’s Overture to the Beautiful Galatea, there will be a lot of light-hearted numbers rarely heard nowadays. These will include such gems as The Burlington PolkaThe Helicon Schottische, the Stolen Kisses Galop and the Ontario Quick March. The program will also include Calixa Lavallée’s Tempo di Marcia from his comic opera The Indian Question.

In past columns I have mentioned Henry Meredith’s vast collection of brass instruments and his hope of establishing a museum where this collection could be properly displayed. Some months ago I decided to make a contribution to this collection. As a start, during the last concert of the PFBB, I donated two trombones and a French horn. Of the two trombones, one was the very first instrument which I owned. This Selmer Manhattan was a model that Henry had never heard of before. The other trombone was a silver model Whaley Royce, Toronto circa 1900. See photo.

Community Band FestivalOnce again, it’s time for the York University Community Band Festival, but there will be significant changes from the format of previous years. There will be no workshops or keynote speaker as in the past. The conductors of each of the participating bands will rehearse one piece of music with the Massed Band. The concert will include performances by each band and then the Massed Band pieces will conclude the festival. It should be a challenging but enjoyable day of performing for all participants. That’s on Sunday, February 26, with the Massed Band rehearsal from 10am to 12pm and the concert from 1:30pm to 3:30pm.

New HorizonsAs sure as spring will follow winter, with the new year come more members to the New Horizons bands. As a precursor to the new season, the Toronto NH bands held their first Holiday Potluck Dinner Party on Friday, January 13. As guests, we enjoyed a great evening of food, music and lots of humour. Membership in the Toronto New Horizons bands is now up to 260, with eight bands rehearsing over the course of a week. There isn’t space here to go into detail of their activities, but a visit to their website will provide lots of information. Go to newhorizonsbandtoronto.ca. They do have a band festival coming up on Saturday, January 28 at St. Simon-The-Apostle Anglican Church, Sherbourne and Bloor. The festival starts at about 1:30pm, with the Guelph new horizons band attending as a guest performance group.

In the Toronto area there is a new NH band forming in Richmond Hill at Cosmo Music. For information contact Doug Robertson, Director, New Horizons Band of York Region at 
nhbyrdicrector@gmail.com. We have just learned that the North York New Horizons Band is being re-established at Long & McQuade on Steeles Ave. just east of Keele St. Classes will begin on Monday, February 5, starting at 6:30 For more information, people can call Dan Kapp at 647–201–8780, or they can contact the Long & McQuade North York store and ask for someone in the band department.

Other band activitiesNews from the York Brass Band is encouraging. They are now sufficiently well established that they have a new logo and are planning on producing banners for their music stands. Anyone interested in playing in an all-brass band should drop in at a rehearsal. They rehearse on Wednesdays at 7:30pm at Chartwell Park Place Retirement Residence, 15055 Yonge St., Aurora.

QUICK PICKS

Feb 2: On the first Thursday of each month the Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents their monthly concert at Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

Feb 2: At 7:30pm, to celebrate ten years of making music, the Milton Concert Band are inviting people to “Sit In & Play or Sit Down & Listen.” Woodwind, brass and percussion players are invited to sit in with the band and play along. Spectators are also welcome. That’s at Milton Baptist Church, 900 Nipissing Rd., Milton.

Feb 14: At 7:30pm, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will present one of their 59-Minute Soirees. “A Valentines Soiree” will be at Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

Feb18: At 8pm, the Milton Concert Band presents “Music Through the Decades” in MinMaxx Hall at at the Milton Centre for the Arts located at 1010 Main Street E., Milton.

Feb 25: At 7:30pm, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will present “Musician’s Choice” with selections from Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Belgian composer Bert Appermont’s Saga Candida: 7 Impressions of a Witch Hunt; Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi, selections from Holst’s The Planets and other works. At Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

Feb 26: At 3pm, the Stratford Concert Band will present “Remembering a Friend” with Edward Payne as guest commentator. Avondale United Church, 194 Avondale Ave., Stratford.

Mar 1: at 7pm, the Stratford Concert Band will present Bandarama 2017. Bands from area high schools will perform as guests. Northwestern Secondary School, 428 Forman Ave., Stratford.

Mar 5: At 3pm, Wellington Winds will present “In the European Tradition.” Works include Guilmant’s Morceau Symphonique for Trombone, First Movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 as well as works by Mendelssohn, Tull and Arnold. Rachel Thomas, trombone; Daniel Warren, conductor. Knox Presbyterian Church 50 Erb St. W., Waterloo.

Mar 5: At 7:30pm, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir; Michele Jacot, director will present their Spring Concert at a new location for this event, Knox United Church, Agincourt 2569 Midland Ave., Scarborough.

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

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2205 Jazz Stories 1As challenges abound in the 21st century music business model, many struggle to fix flat tires, while others proudly re-invent wheels. Last month (January 2017) I found myself at the Jazz Connect conference in New York City, a meeting of many a musical mind. Artists, presenters, journalists, record labels, media outlets and other key industry professionals attended the conference panels, workshops and lectures. I came away not so much with answers as with a sense of how many of the questions being asked also apply to the health of our own musical city.

Right off the top, the decline of the artist’s rights in the digital age was the subject of Maria Schneider’s haunting keynote address, and a constant conference refrain: to quote a blues tune of note: “Things ain’t what they used to be.”

Patreon: At Jazz Connect’s “Direct to Fan for Income Maximization” session, Carlos Cabrera of Patreon inspired the crowd, many of whom had not heard of this platform before. The idea of Patreon is to provide a way for creators to invite fans to become patrons who contribute either on a monthly basis or by creation. In this way a model of engagement can be built on the fact that in the Internet age, audiences can be reached  across the globe, as opposed to the old sequential model of local, national and then international success. You can find all sorts of creators on the Patreon platform, from musicians to visual artists to poets, and even publications like The WholeNote.

Following the session I sent Cabrera some questions by email:

Q. What inspired Patreon’s creation?  

A. Jack Conte (Patreon founder) had spent years making music and posting his videos on YouTube, and he was searching for a way to do that sustainably. After years of feeling dissatisfied with the income he earned from ad revenue, one project really brought things to a tipping point: he had spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars producing a music video called Pedals and, even though it delighted tens of thousands of fans, he only received around a hundred bucks in revenue. Hundreds of hours of work, thousands of dollars invested, tens of thousands of fans delighted, but a ridiculously low economic return. That’s when it finally clicked in Jack’s mind that the system was broken, and he developed Patreon to fix it.

Q. What are the statistics on Patreon currently in terms of where patrons are coming from? Which are the Top 5 countries?

A. Patreon has patrons in nearly every country in the world. The US represents our largest market, and we’re also popular in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and essentially everywhere that people appreciate art and creativity.

Q. As of this writing, to what degree are there jazz and classical musicians on Patreon?

A.We are really excited to see more than 1,000 jazz and classical musicians on Patreon - they’re close to our hearts because so many of us play jazz and classical music in the office on a daily basis. Jacob Collier is a noteworthy example of a successful jazz musician who earns over $9,000 per song on Patreon. Cyrille Aimée is one of my personal favourites; she earns over $1,300 per song on Patreon.

Connecting the dots: It’s funny how one thing can lead to another. Take Cabrera’s mention of Cyrille Aimée. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, and so inspiring is this lady’s scat singing that I happily just joined her on Patreon. Interestingly enough, I had also just picked up a CD by Aimée, “Live at Smalls”– for US$10 – at Jazz Connect by Aimée. The Brooklyn-based French singer recorded “Live at Smalls” in 2010, currently the best-selling record on the Smalls Live label, with a hot band that features pianist and Small’s owner and manager Spike Wilner on it. Which fact neatly takes us to the next part of this story.

2205 Jazz Stories 2Thinking Smalls: Spike Wilner. For almost a decade, Wilner has famously been live-streaming cutting-edge jazz of today from his intimate basement club, Smalls Jazz Club, to screens across the globe. Memorable music has been archived including sessions by Mark Soskin, Jimmy Greene, Joel Frahm, Johnny O’Neal, Ian Hendrickson-Smiths, Lage Lunds, Ari Hoenig, Tim Ries of Rolling Stones fame – who teaches jazz studies at the University of Toronto – and Spike Wilner himself.

“I’ve been a professional musician my whole life and started performing at Smalls right in the very beginning in the first couple of months of the club’s existence, back in 1994 when my partner and friend Mitch Borden created it,” he tells me in a phone interview. (He’s on his cell phone, taking a cab uptown from his Greenwich Village club.) “That club, the original Smalls, was shut down around 2002, it went bankrupt after 9/11 due to a lot of economic problems that took the city – there was a huge shift then and the model for Smalls was no longer a viable one and he went under.”

In 2007, after an interim period when the space was temporarily re-fashioned into a Brazilian club by a third party, Wilner was approached by Borden to become partner and manager. He celebrates ten years this month, a true labour of love. “The live streaming started back in the old Small’s – we had a recording device on stage and got into the habit early on of recording each show. When I took over I had a strong sense that we needed to archive the work. So I installed a more sophisticated recording system and we started recording every show, kept a log of who was on each gig. That started to grow very quickly, as weeks and months rolled by. So it became necessary to organize this library that was growing. I was thinking along the lines of back in the old days, in the 1930s, they used to put a radio wire in a club, and do live radio broadcasts in the clubs – that’s how Count Basie was discovered by John Hammond, who was driving his car in Chicago and turned on his AM radio and caught Basie’s band somewhere in Kansas City. The idea is that even if you have a small club you can shoot out the music electronically somewhere and it made sense to try the Internet. It got some traction right away, and this led to what has now become ‘Smalls Live’ which is a digital media company that has two components: live streaming, and our audio video archive that we have been working on since 2007. We wanted to make it all public and try to see if there was a way to make it all fair and beneficial for everybody. So we started to explore the ideas of what would be a fair model for sharing with artists and sharing with the public.”

 

Wilner organized a couple of town hall-style meetings at Small’s where they invited musicians to come and speak and ask questions. “And we also did a couple of meetings with Union guys at the local 802 and musical reps – the idea was to ask what would be the fairest system in terms of payout, and we eventually came to the system we now have, which we call the Smalls Live Revenue Share project. Live streams are free, but if you want to access the archive you become a subscribing member – we call them “supporting members” and it’s $10 a month. That allows you unlimited access to our library, which right now is about 12,000 recordings in there, and almost 2,000 musicians. We made partner with a tech guy and we designed a system whereby subscribers go to the archive and listen to shows or watch video.”

The system records the number of seconds that subscribers are watching. Every artist at the end of a certain period is tagged with a total number of seconds that he or she was watched, either as a leader or a sideman on a gig. “So if someone watched the show and you’re associated with it, you’re going to get time credit, and so the money you get comes from how much you have been listened to. The other component that we offer is the fact that the recording itself is owned 100% by the artist. So if you come to Small’s and you play, that is your property, you have the right to not make it public, sell it any way you like, you keep 100% of the publishing and you keep the royalties from any original music. So we really endeavoured to make the fairest royalty paying system for musicians. That got launched in October 2015, and we are trying to build subscribers now. We are closing in on about 800 people that are paying $10 a month at this time which doesn’t sound like a huge amount but it is enough to run this system. The artists have had two payouts where we gave away about $8,000 to artists.”

The amounts sound small, but the top 15-20 musicians in our system are getting substantially better payouts than what they would see from Spotify or any of these other services where they would be getting fractions of a penny. “They’d be getting a few hundred bucks, which can be a game-changer in an artist’s life. And of course as our subscriber base grows, so will their payouts. It’s been an interesting project – very successful, a lot of work. I don’t think our website is utilized the way it should be yet – I don’t think people are aware yet of what a resource it is. The number of recordings we have there is outstanding, including artists who are no longer with us. My goal is to hit 5000 subscribers worldwide.”

How does it feel to be seen as a visionary, an innovator, an inspiration to jazz clubs around the world?

“My hat is off to anyone that wants to run a jazz club anywhere – I have sympathy and love for anyone willing to take this path, it is a very thankless and generally speaking profitless job, but a very important one. Anytime I meet someone who is presenting this music, I support it heartily. The trick with a small business is that the guy who owns it has to work, you can’t really afford somebody to do your job. I’m glad to have all this responsibility. I relish it – I love my club and I love working there and performing there, I love the community of artists that hang out there. I think it’s a miracle that it exists and I want to keep going as long as we possibly can. All I can say is you have to work your ass off and not really expect much in terms of dough. People need jazz – they want it and need it – it’s a real service to humanity.”

Following the success of Smalls, Wilner expanded the business to open Mezzrow, a magical haunt adorned by a Steinway, just a few doors down. One admission buys entry to both clubs on the same night.

As our industry struggles to thrive and grow in an ever-changing world, we must keep an open mind; in clinging to the old, we must embrace the new. So subscribe to Smalls Live, support an artist on Patreon, and most importantly, go out to enjoy live music. Now’s the time!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com

more sophisticated recording system and we started recording every show, kept a log of who was on each gig. That started to grow very quickly, as weeks and months rolled by. So it became necessary to organize this library that was growing. I was thinking along the lines of back in the old days, in the 1930s, they used to put a radio wire in a club, and do live radio broadcasts in the clubs – that’s how Count Basie was discovered by John Hammond, who was driving his car in Chicago and turned on his AM radio and caught Basie’s band somewhere in Kansas City. The idea is that even if you have a small club you can shoot out the music electronically somewhere and it made sense to try the Internet. It got some traction right away, and this led to what has now become ‘Smalls Live’ which is a digital media company that has two components: live streaming, and our audio video archive that we have been working on since 2007. We wanted to make it all public and try to see if there was a way to make it all fair and beneficial for everybody. So we started to explore the ideas of what would be a fair model for sharing with artists and sharing with the public.” Wilner organized a couple of town hall-style meetings at Small’s where they invited musicians to come and speak and ask questions. “And we also did a couple of meetings with Union guys at the local 802 and musical reps – the idea was to ask what would be the fairest system in terms of payout, and we eventually came to the system we now have, which we call the Smalls Live Revenue Share project. Live streams are free, but if you want to access the archive you become a subscribing member – we call them “supporting members” and it’s $10 a month. That allows you unlimited access to our library, which right now is about 12,000 recordings in there, and almost 2,000 musicians. We made partner with a tech guy and we designed a system whereby subscribers go to the archive and listen to shows or watch video.” The system records the number of seconds that subscribers are watching. Every artist at the end of a certain period is tagged with a total number of seconds that he or she was watched, either as a leader or a sideman on a gig. “So if someone watched the show and you’re associated with it, you’re going to get time credit, and so the money you get comes from how much you have been listened to. The other component that we offer is the fact that the recording itself is owned 100% by the artist. So if you come to Small’s and you play, that is your property, you have the right to not make it public, sell it any way you like, you keep 100% of the publishing and you keep the royalties from any original music. So we really endeavoured to make the fairest royalty paying system for musicians. That got launched in October 2015, and we are trying to build subscribers now. We are closing in on about 800 people that are paying $10 a month at this time which doesn’t sound like a huge amount but it is enough to run this system. The artists have had two payouts where we gave away about $8,000 to artists.”  The amounts sound small, but the top 15-20 musicians in our system are getting substantially better payouts than what they would see from Spotify or any of these other services where they would be getting fractions of a penny. “They’d be getting a few hundred bucks, which can be a game-changer in an artist’s life. And of course as our subscriber base grows, so will their payouts. It’s been an interesting project – very successful, a lot of work. I don’t think our website is utilized the way it should be yet – I don’t think people are aware yet of what a resource it is. The number of recordings we have there is outstanding, including artists who are no longer with us. My goal is to hit 5000 subscribers worldwide.” How does it feel to be seen as a visionary, an innovator, an inspiration to jazz clubs around the world? “My hat is off to anyone that wants to run a jazz club anywhere – I have sympathy and love for anyone willing to take this path, it is a very thankless and generally speaking profitless job, but a very important one. Anytime I meet someone who is presenting this music, I support it heartily. The trick with a small business is that the guy who owns it has to work, you can’t really afford somebody to do your job. I’m glad to have all this responsibility. I relish it – I love my club and I love working there and performing there, I love the community of artists that hang out there. I think it’s a miracle that it exists and I want to keep going as long as we possibly can. All I can say is you have to work your ass off and not really expect much in terms of dough. People need jazz – they want it and need it – it’s a real service to humanity.” Following the success of Smalls, Wilner expanded the business to open Mezzrow, a magical haunt adorned by a Steinway, just a few doors down. One admission buys entry to both clubs on the same night.  As our industry struggles to thrive and grow in an ever-changing world, we must keep an open mind; in clinging to the old, we must embrace the new. So subscribe to Smalls Live, support an artist on Patreon, and most importantly, go out to enjoy live music. Now’s the time!  Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com

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2205 Mainly MostlyOne of my very favourite Canadian jazz albums is one called Valentina, featuring a quartet led by Italian-Canadian pianist, composer and successful entrepreneur Mario Romano. Romano’s bandmates, including Pat LaBarbera on the sax, Roberto Occhipinti on the bass and Mark Kelso on the drums, support him on his imaginative journey through yet unexplored possibilities of old standards like Green Dolphin Street, A Night in Tunisia and Nardis. Romano revamps these tunes with stretched-out interpretations of the melodies, low-end ostinatos and fun new rhythmic underpinnings that frame the heads in interesting ways (without compromising their integrity).

Valentina (released in 2010) is sometimes cerebral and complex, and sometimes primitive and aggressive, but it is, through and through, riveting and beautiful.

Romano’s playing on the album is astoundingly unrestrained. I can’t speak for anyone’s ears but my own, and this is just speculation, but it sounds to me like after the three-plus decades he spent away from the music scene, he returned with a lot of pent-up creative and physical energy. The result was Valentina; I cannot recommend this album enough.

With the exception of Romano, who has been conspicuously absent from the live scene for a number of years, every member of the quartet that played on Valentina can be found leading their own fine ensembles, and acting as sidemen about town; and each can be heard this month at least once. Kelso will be behind the kit with Rich Brown’s Abeng at The Rex on the February 23 and 24; on February 10 and 11 LaBarbera will be on the same stage with an ensemble featuring Kirk MacDonald as well as drummer Adam Nussbaum (about whom I am especially excited); and Occhipinti will be playing with his own quintet (Luis Deniz, Tim Ries, Dafnis Prieto and Manuel Valera) at Jazz Bistro on February 17 and 18. Coming full circle, in Occhipinti’s case the concert is to celebrate the release of a new CD, Stabilimento, featuring the quintet.

Night School Twilight: Since she was a kid, Chelsea McBride has been writing original music. From when it started with, as she puts it, “messing around with little pop songs,” to the present in which she leads and co-leads at least five ensembles in varying styles and genres, McBride has had a drive to create; not to recreate what’s been done, but to create music that is new, interesting and authentically her own. “My whole thing is original music,” McBride says, “I love doing covers, but it’s not me as an artist and composer.”

This is an endeavour which, for any creative person, is never-ending. It’s one that requires not only curiosity and imagination, but dedication and hard work. A whole lot of hard work.

And that labour bears fruit; Socialist Night School, McBride’s large ensemble project which, for five years, has served primarily as a vehicle for her own composition and arranging, released The Twilight Fall, their first full-length album (their second recorded effort after a short, self-titled EP was released in the spring of 2014) this January, on McBride’s 25th birthday.

The music on The Twilight Fall seems to tell a story. Even though there are some tracks with words (sung by the illustrious Alex Samaras, about whom I have written before), it’s hard to decipher what, exactly, that story is. But it’s there. One song speaks to the next. Universal themes are suggested by the lyrics. Tunes range from the angular and assertive (Intransitory) to the poignant and mellifluous (In Dreams).

Like Valentina, I can’t recommend The Twilight Fall enough. It’s the kind of album that you can’t use as background music. It insists upon the foreground. It’s a time commitment of about an hour, but it will pay off.

You can see Socialist Night School live at The Rex on February 20 at 9pm. I have no way of knowing what the cover charge will be, but just like the time commitment you put into listening to the album and doing nothing else, it will be worth it.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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Charles Richard-Hamelin

2204 Classical 1It is said that making your mark in a prestigious international competition changes your life and for Charles Richard-Hamelin that is exactly what happened when he was 25. “There is something magical about this legendary hall [Warsaw Philharmonic Hall] that somehow made it possible for me to be myself on stage, and be able to say what I wanted to say, at least most of the time,” he wrote on the Scene and Heard International website.

Richard-Hamelin won the silver medal at the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015 as well as the Krystian Zimerman Prize for best performance of a sonata and his career took off. “This silver medal was of course incredibly unexpected and has single-handedly changed my whole life,” he said. “I’ve never performed professionally outside of Canada before the Chopin and now I have confirmed engagements in Canada, the USA, Poland, France, Spain, Mexico, Japan and South Korea.”

By May 2016 when he spoke to Yves Leclerc (Journal de Québec) he had already given 40 concerts that calendar year with 40 more to come. One of those concerts is his upcoming Sinfonia Toronto performance, December 9, of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major K488 conducted by Nurhan Arman. The pattern continues in 2017 when he joins Christian Reif and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony January 13 and 14 for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D Minor K466. The following evening he gives a recital for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society that mirrors most of the repertoire Analekta captured on the CD of his May 2016 Quebec City concert – two Beethoven Rondos, Enescu’s Suite No.2 and Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise No.6. There his playing sparkled, his confidence was clearly evident, his musicianship mature and engaging.

“I love this new life, even if it is a bit tiring,” he said to Leclerc. “I am not in a position, however, where I can afford to refuse offers that arrive on my table. This is what will enable me to secure a future abroad. I have contracts for the next two years and we will see if it will continue and open doors.”

A mere five months before his Chopin Competition success, he was awarded the prestigious Career Development Award by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. That venerable institution will reap the benefits of their prescience when Richard-Hamelin returns May 4, 2017, for his first Toronto solo recital since winning the Chopin Competition prizes.

Isabelle Faust and the Mozart @ 261 Festival.

2204 Classical 2When German violinist Isabelle Faust was 11, she played in a string quartet. “That was in Stuttgart, where I grew up,” she told Jeff Kaliss (San Francisco Classical Voice, May 28, 2012). “That was my father’s brilliant idea. It was even more unusual than now that young kids would get together and try to do chamber music. My brother Boris also played in this, the viola part. And the parents had a very important role to play, driving everybody from one rehearsal to the other. We played for five years, every weekend rehearsals and lessons and competitions, national and international, and we started, slowly, to play little concerts. At age 15, we stopped with that. I wanted to make an impression with my solo playing, [to learn] where I actually stood internationally. So I went to participate in this Leopold Mozart Competition in Augsburg, and I was so lucky, I won it right away. So that opened a new chapter in my musical life.”

Winning led to her playing Dvořák under Yehudi Menuhin, an experience she found to be special since “if you play the standard repertoire, you can see that the conductor knows every little corner, and whether technical difficulties require a bit of attentive conducting.”

Known for her pristine sound and incisive approach, Faust will be the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 in Koerner Hall January 18 and 20, part of the TSO’s Mozart @ 261 Festival. All five of the composer’s concertos for violin were completed during the year he turned 19 (1775) but none is so universally loved as the elegant, playful and joyous Third which is particularly tuneful and buoyant.

When Faust spoke with Aart van der Wal for the Dutch website Opus Klassiek in April 2011, she talked about keeping an open mind (and open ears) about different performances of familiar repertoire: “Music must be enjoyed without prejudice. I notice so often that people have made up their minds already before really listening to a piece. They know it all, they have heard it so many times, and they know exactly which recordings are fabulous and which are not. It happens often that one is so deeply engaged with one specific recording or interpretation that each and everything else is compared to and diminished by it. I was at a concert where a Beethoven symphony was performed. One of the critics recognized me and, already before the performance, started to explain to me which specific very old recording he thought was the one and only version of this symphony…I advised him not to go to any concert anymore because he would never be happy with any living conductor, or any live performance for that matter…”

Mozart @ 261 begins January 11 and 12 under Peter Oundjian, with wunderkind Leonid Nediak (b.2003) playing Mozart’s final piano concerto on a program that also includes Mozart’s moving Symphony No.40 K550. The festival continues January 13 and 14 when Emanuel Ax brings his pianistic geniality to the spirited Concerto No.16 K451 and the effervescent Concerto No.22 K482. Mozart’s vigorous Symphony No.33 K319 opens the program with the TSO led by Michael Francis. Bernard Labadie leads the orchestra in the grand Symphony No.38 K504 “Prague” which concludes the January 18 and 20 concerts.

2204 Classical 3The Heath Quartet. The Heath Quartet – making their Canadian debut in concerts in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto in January – is a young British ensemble whose star has recently risen considerably since their recording of Tippett’s string quartets won Gramophone magazine’s 2016 Chamber Music Award. It was their debut recording. A slew of adjectives like “vibrant, adventurous, irresistible energy” has followed in their wake over the last few years. First violinist Oliver Heath, violist Gary Pomeroy and cellist Chris Murray originally met at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. Five years after getting together, they moved to London in 2009 where they met Cerys Jones, freshly returned from graduate studies at Juilliard. She became their second violinist, and their career path ascended. Now, November 2016, she has announced that she is stepping down from the quartet to devote more time to her family.

“We had eight wonderful years with Cerys,” Ollie Heath told me via email. “But that chapter has now closed and we are looking forward to the next stage in the future of the quartet.” I asked what qualities he was looking for in a new violinist. “To be a great second violinist you need many different qualities,” he said. “To be a first-rate violinist and musician, of course, and to have the ability to be the glue of the ensemble, but most importantly you need a strong fire in your belly! Our first teacher said a good second violinist is always on the brink of revolution.”

I asked how he would characterize the ensemble’s approach to quartet playing. “We try to be as truthful to the composer’s intentions as possible,” he said. “To discover the way of speaking each composer’s language in a way that communicates most dynamically the emotional core of the work. Also we are very communicative with one another when we perform – there is a lot of energy that flows between the members of the quartet. We are also open to things being different from performance to performance – we never try to create a definitive way to interpret a work.”

The programs in Toronto for Mooredale Concerts January 22 and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society January 20 are somewhat similar, with Bartók’s First and Dvořák’s 13th in each, but opening with Bach Organ Preludes in Toronto and Beethoven’s Op.18 No.3 in Waterloo.

I asked how he constructs a program. “Nearly always we begin a concert with a piece from earlier in the repertoire,” Heath said. “The simpler, cleaner textures and conversational aspects of these pieces is a good way of bringing everyone ‘into the room,’ and introducing the possibilities of what a string quartet can do. The second work is often more complex – more demanding on both listener and player. We then fill the second half with a more generously sized work – from one of the Romantic, nationalist composers or one of the big Beethoven quartets.”

Ergo Bartók’s masterful String Quartet No.1 Op.7 which is formally modelled on Beethoven’s unsurpassable String Quartet No.14 Op.131 (the movements of each are played without a break, for example). And Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 Op.106, with its joyous opening, poetic slow movement, idiomatic third, and ebullient conclusion, one of the composer’s most expressive chamber works, emblematic of his return home in 1895 after his American sojourn.

Till Fellner. Viennese-born Till Fellner has spoken elsewhere of his pleasure working with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony on their ECM recording of Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos, mentioning the orchestra’s ability to play softly and transparently. In our conversation for The WholeNote’s March 2015 issue, I asked about his own transparent approach with its focus on the music’s singing lines. He confirmed that transparency (clarity) and a singing way of playing the piano are essential goals of his. He told me that when he played for his teacher Alfred Brendel in 1990, it was the first movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata that started the teaching process. Brendel told him that the beginning of a Beethoven sonata was crucial, that everything is there. Brendel also said that your playing should be so clear that a musical person would be able to write down the score just by listening.

Fellner’s subtle approach and the apparent ease with which he and the OSM carry it off augurs well for their appearance performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 Op.58 at Roy Thomson Hall December 8. In a brief interview (available on YouTube) with Jim Cunningham of Classical 89.3 in Pittsburgh, Fellner talked about the character of that same concerto which he was about to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony in late November 2013:

“It’s a very poetic piece, a lyrical piece – even pastoral – so it’s very different from the other Beethoven concertos. The second movement is an Andante con moto so it shouldn’t be played too slowly. It’s a traumatic scene between the orchestra and the piano, a very tragic movement. The music kind of dies away at the end of this movement. There are lyrical elements in the third movement but there is also this joy and enthusiasm. It’s like seeing a person you haven’t seen for a very long time.”

December 13, Fellner turns his musical artistry to Brahms (Four Ballades Op.10) and Schumann (Humoreske in B-flat Major Op.20 and Fantasie in C Major Op.17) in a recital presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

2204 Classical 4Music Toronto. The invigorating sounds of the St. Lawrence Quartet will again fill the Jane Mallett Theatre, January 26. The exuberant Geoff Nuttall leads the quartet in their continuing examination of the treasure trove that is the music of Haydn, this time with his Quartets Op.20 Nos.1 and 5. The two Haydn quartets bookend works by Rachmaninoff and Jonathan Berger. On his website, Berger describes Swallow, commissioned by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in celebration of their 25th year: “My daughter taught me that swallows communicate in a rich sonic repertoire that humans categorize as chirps, whines, and gurgles. These sounds – lowered in pitch and stretched in time – inspire the musical materials of my sixth quartet. In addition to chirps, whines, and gurgles, the work pays homage to blues musician Mance Lipscomb, as well as Haydn, (in the scherzo of the third movement), and Schubert (in the elegiac fourth movement).”

Young American pianist Sean Chen, who finished an impressive third in the most recent Cliburn Competition makes his Toronto debut January 10 with an ambitious program primarily devoted to his piano transcriptions of larger works. He sets the stage with one of Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata and L’escalier du diable (Étude No.XIII) before beginning a series of his own transcriptions: Mozart’s Offertorium from his Requiem and Madamina (Catalogue Aria) from Don Giovanni and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2 mvt.3. Beethoven-Liszt’s Symphony No.2 mvts.3 and 4 completes what promises to be a wild ride.

Dec 4: The highly skilled artistry of Toronto’s own Stewart Goodyear is on display at Koerner Hall in a typically ambitious program that includes Bach’s Fifth Partita, Beethoven’s final piano sonata, two Chopin favourites, selections from his own concert-length piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (’Tis the season) and the world premiere of Acabris! Acabras! Acabram! commissioned in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. Jan 28: Goodyear returns home to perform Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Piano Concerto No.1 with Peter Oundjian and the TSO after their mini-tour to Montreal and Ottawa.

Dec 11: Simone Dinnerstein links Schubert’s Impromptus and Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. If you’re wondering what these two composers share besides a common birthday (January 31), pianist Hans Pålsson shed light on their musical kinship on the Swedish TV series I döda mästares sällskap (In the company of dead masters). One example: they both have an economical way of composing; they use simple harmonics, few tones and a limited amount of musical material.

Dec 11: Syrinx Concerts showcases clarinetist Shalom Bard in trios by Brahms and Beethoven. Feb 5: Syrinx presents two pianists: Walter Buczyinski performing his own Sonatas Nos.13 and 14; and Richard Herriot playing works by Chopin, Albéniz, Ravel and Turina. The octogenarian Buczyinski, a Canadian icon, is an accomplished pianist whose devotion to the classical repertoire has informed his compositions.

Dec 13: The Cameron House, once home to Handsome Ned and countless other musicians, atypically plays host to “A Winter’s Night” with works by Bach, Schumann and Mozart performed by the Duo Mechant (Joseph Nadurata, viola; Linda Shumas, piano) and James Petry, clarinet.

Dec 13: Ukrainian-Canadian Dmitri Levkovich’s Heliconian Hall recital includes such staples of the piano repertoire as Chopin’s Sonata No.2 and12 Études.

Dec 19: The amazing talents of Nadina Mackie Jackson are on display in her traditional “Vivaldi Christmas Concert,” six festive and rarely heard bassoon concerti performed by Toronto’s top professional bassoonists, including Michael Sweeney, Catherine Chen and Jackson, with chamber strings and harpsichord. Jan 22: Jackson’s Bassoon out Loud series continues with a recital by Chen, the TSO’s new associate principal, accompanied by pianist Rachael Kerr, performing works by Jeanjean, Elgar and Boudreau, as well as a two-bassoon concerti with Jackson herself.

Jan 13: If you’re in London, don’t miss the vibrant, musically mature playing of the Dover Quartet in works by Mozart, Britten and Shostakovich (in which they are joined by pianist Arthur Rowe).

Jan 14: Pocket Concerts’ latest presentation of quality chamber music in an intimate setting features violinist Csaba Koczó and pianist Emily Rho performing two musical pillars, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 Op. 47 “Kreutzer” and Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D Minor Op. 108.

Jan 15: The Royal Conservatory presents Canadian violinist Dennis Kim, who was recently appointed concertmaster with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Diana Doherty, currently principal oboe with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, in works by Bach and Mozart, among others, in Mazzoleni Hall. Jan 21: Stefan Jackiw (violin), Jay Campbell (cello) and Conrad Tao (piano) – the JCT Trio – perform an early and a late trio by Mozart as well as music by Ives and Dvořák in this unusual program in Koerner Hall. Feb 4: Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica return to Koerner Hall, thanks to the RCM, in a program with an Eastern European tilt: works by Pärt, Weinberg, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Silvestrov.

Jan 18: The COC free noontime Piano Virtuoso Series continues with the talented, young (20-year-old) Chinese pianist, Jingquan Xie, performing Bach’s magnificent Partita No.6 and Chopin’s Sonata No.2 with its famous funeral march.

Jan 27: Armenian-born Kariné Poghosyan returns to Sinfonia Toronto to play Schumann’s impulsive and passionate Piano Concerto in A Minor.

Jan 28: 5 at the First Chamber Music Series presents pianist Angela Park, violinist Yehonatan Berick and cellist Rachel Mercer – the AYR Piano Trio – in a Saturday afternoon Hamilton recital. The program by the three high-powered musicians includes works by Ysaÿe, Haydn and Sigesmund but the icing on the cake is Schubert’s luminous Trio Op.100 in E-flat Major. Jan 29: the “Star Canadian Trio” travels to the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s Music Room for a reprise.

Feb 7: Nineteen-year-old violinist Kerson Leong – First Prize-winner in the Junior Category of the 2010 Menuhin Competition – and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu perform works by Ravel, Poulenc, Fauré, Debussy and Dompierre in this free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Leong can also be heard Jan 11 and 12 with the TSO, launching Mozart @ 261 with the Rondo for Violin K373.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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