Gyan and Terry Riley. credit Scott CrowleyChange is not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s 21C of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 

60 years has helped define the course of new music.

The 21C Festival, produced by the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now in its sixth year and is, by definition, committed to presenting new sounds and ideas. That being said, opening up the flyer for this year’s 21C Music Festival was like a breath of fresh air. I couldn’t help but compare it to last year’s experience – a gasp of disbelief, even despair, when I realized that there was barely a female face to be seen or name to be read. Not so this year. The gasp this time round was more of delight, surprise and yes, relief. Finally! There is definitely a huge sea change occurring this year and for that reason alone, all the more incentive to attend and listen to what is percolating with creative innovators in music. Not only are there a significant number of works and premieres by women, but also by culturally diverse composers as well.

Another key change is the move to a January timeslot from the previous one in May, with this year’s festival happening January 16 to 20, dovetailing with the U of T New Music Festival, a short stroll away, which runs from January 16 to 27.

Change is, however, not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s festival of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 60 years has helped define the course of new music.

Riley’s music has had a significant influence not only on contemporary classical composers but also on rock composers such as Lou Reed and Peter Townsend. His attitudes and approaches to music making have contributed to the radical sea change in compositional ideas and practices that began in the 1960s. He was a key player in the experimental traditions that originated in the USA which filtered across the border.

In Toronto, it was the Arraymusic Ensemble that picked up on these currents, making it a priority in their programming to feature composers who were part of that scene, including people like Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Steve Reich, Jim Tenney and of course, Riley himself. I had a chance to talk with Robert Stevenson, former Arraymusic Ensemble member and artistic director about his memories and experiences working with Riley and his music.

One of the big festivals that occurred throughout the 1980s in the USA, he told me, was called New Music America and in 1990 it had travelled to Montreal as New Music Across America. That year the festival organizers partnered with Arraymusic to commission a work from Riley titled Cactus Rosary. (The piece appears on Array’s New World CD released in 1993.)

Stevenson remembers well the collaborative process involved in the creation of Cactus Rosary. “Most composers in the Western art music tradition aren’t strong in collaborating. It’s not part of the tradition and you’re not trained in that when you study composition. Rather, you’re learning how to tell people what to do. When we got the score for Cactus Rosary there was hardly anything on the page. ‘Where is the music?’ we wondered. There were a few notes, some pitches, no metre. Some of the notes were whole notes, others filled in but no stems. There were no rhythmic details, no dynamics, and no explanation of the tuning system, which was in just intonation (rather than the standard equal temperament). All we had that indicated the tuning was a DX7 synthesizer patch. Once Riley began to work with us, though, you began to realize that what was on the page was there to be fleshed out. A lot of what we did is not in the score.”

Stevenson gave the example of the vocal part he performed that was more like speak-singing a text. “I started reading and he said: ‘Can you change the harmonic content by changing your throat shape? Can you move the pitch around? There’s a delay line on the voice so we should set that up.’ Everything happened collaboratively in a very subtle yet determined kind of way. It was never, ‘This is what I want.’ He was clear about what he didn’t want and gave us instructions that would lead us in a direction to what he would like without having to say anything. It’s a different approach to composition. There’s not a blueprint but an invitation to a process.”

Using just intonation tuning is an important aspect of Riley’s work. Stevenson described the difference that it made for Cactus Rosary. “At the first rehearsals the acoustic piano had yet to be tuned to just intonation, so all we had was the DX7 patch. The ensemble was tuning itself to the DX sound but with the acoustic piano in equal temperament, everything was quite chaotic. When the piano was finally tuned it was extraordinary what happened to the music. Suddenly there was this resonating thing happening – the tuning was in the air.”

The staging of the piece was also a change from the usual. “There was an old-style wingback chair that conductor Michael Baker sat in facing the audience. He played two peyote rattles which Riley acquired specifically for the piece from a Wichita tribe member who made them himself. Baker made occasional hand gestures to signal when to move to a new section, but otherwise he played these rattles, coming in and out of the piece, often when the texture was less dense. From an audience point of view, you got the sense that you were watching someone’s aural meditation being made manifest, an internal experience being made external.”

Array took the piece on tour when they visited Europe spanning the years 1993 to 95. “That’s when the piece really started to take shape,” Stevenson said, “and the duration shifted from 33 minutes to close to 50. It became more expansive and we developed the trance meditative aspect. Tour organizers in Europe didn’t want Array to come and play European music, they wanted music they didn’t have a chance to hear. They went nuts over things like the Claude Vivier music we played and with the Riley piece, we were a big hit. People went crazy and were trancing out. They didn’t have many people in Europe who were authentically connected to the music who could play it.”

At the time in Toronto, there weren’t other groups performing his music, except his classic hit In C, which was much more of a communal experience for open instrumentation. Stevenson himself played that piece several times, often with people from Array, and once at a concert by New Music Concerts at The Copa, a massive dance club in Yorkville whose heyday was in the 1980s. In C appealed to some performers because of its collaborative nature, and it was devoid of the extreme demands made by composers like Boulez and Stockhausen, for example. With any number of ways to play it and the outcome undetermined, players could relax and enjoy the moment. “This type of process was very new to people at the time.”

Bob Stevenson with Red Rhythm at Communists Daughter, 2014.  photo by Ori DaganStevenson concluded our conversation by saying that “Riley had a light touch. Nothing was too serious or worth breaking a sweat about. That’s why it was easy to collaborate with him. He wasn’t stuck on an idea but rather always asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ He was always confident that things would be accomplished and I never got the idea that he was dissatisfied with how the process was going.”

The January 18 21C concert celebrates Riley: On the first half of the evening, Tracy Silverman on electric violin will perform excerpts from Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle and Sri Camel, both arranged by Silverman. On the second half of the evening, Terry and his son Gyan will perform five of his works including Mongolian Winds and Ebony Horn, along with selections from Salome Dances for Peace.

This year’s 21C

Surrounding that January 18 Riley celebration concert, there is much else to enjoy in this edition of 21C.

The opening concert on January 16 features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tania Miller and Simon Rivard. Since there will be no New Creations Festival at the TSO this year, this is one way for them to continue to support the work of contemporary composers.

Their 21C concert features two world premieres – one by Emilie Lebel (who has been appointed the TSO’s new affiliate composer) and the other by Stewart Goodyear. (Goodyear will also be performing in a full concert of his own works on January 17, including Variations on Hallelujah and other takes on various pop and rock songs.) Other composers featured in the TSO concert are Dorothy Chang, Dinuk Wijeratne, Jocelyn Morlock and Terry Riley.

Other Toronto-based presenters offering programs at this year’s 21C festival include Continuum with an all-female program featuring compositions by Cassandra Miller, Monica Pearce, Linda Smith, Carolyn Chen, Unsuk Chin and Kati Agócs. On the weekend, the performing ensembles of Cinq à Sept and Sō Percussion (both on January 19) as well as the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble (January 20) will be performing entire programs of new compositions, again featuring an abundance of works by women. Check the listings for a full rundown of all the composers you can hear.

Esprit bridge to U of T

As mentioned previously, the U of T’s Contemporary Music Festival picks up where 21C leaves off. On January 20 there will be an Esprit Orchestra concert which, fittingly, closes one festival and opens the other with works by Claude Vivier, Toshio Hosokawa, Alison Yun-Fei and Christopher Goddard. The two festivals are partnering to present the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by Wallace Halladay. Hosokawa is Japan’s pre-eminent living composer, creating his musical language from the relationship between Western avant-garde art and traditional Japanese culture. His music is strongly connected to the aesthetic and spiritual roots of the Japanese arts and he values the expression of beauty that originates from transience.

Hosokawa, who is this year’s Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the U of T Festival, will also be offering composition masterclasses on January 21 and 22, and his music will be presented in a concert by faculty artists on January 21, in a concert of Percussion and Electronics on January 23 and as featured composer for the New Music Concerts performance on January 25.

In with the New Quick Picks

DEC 11, 7:30PM: Gallery 345. PAPER: New Compositions and Improvisations by Nahre Sol, a pianist and composer who creates music that combines a unique blend of improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony and minimalism. She teams up with clarinetist Brad Cherwin for this free concert.

DEC 14, 8PM: Music Gallery, Rejuvenated Frequencies. A showcase of music curated by Obuxum featuring groundbreaking music by women of colour, music that is “progressive and healing all at once.” Performers include VHVL from Harlem with her thumping beats and bright melodies, Toronto-based YourHomieNaomi with roots in spoken word, and Korean-born, Toronto-based classically trained pianist Korea Town Acid whose DJ sets create an avant-garde journey.

JAN 17, 7:30PM: Canadian Music Centre. A mixed-genre evening of jazz-inflected works by Alex Samaras, one of Canada’s leading jazz vocalists, and Norman Symonds, a leading figure in the third-stream movement in Canada that combines jazz and classical forms. The concert will include works by the CMC’s 2018 Toronto Emerging Composer Award-winner Cecilia Livingston, who specializes in music for voice and opera.

JAN 29, 7:30PM: Tapestry Opera presents Hook Up at Theatre Passe Muraille. This opera by composer Chris Thornborrow, libretto by Julie Tepperman, raises questions of consent, shame and power in the lives of young adults navigating uncharted waters on their own. Content warning: Contains explicit language and discussion of sexual violence. Runs to February 9.

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

Johannes Debus. credit Tony HauserToronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Matthew Loden and I are chatting about the beloved cultural phenomenon that is Messiah in Toronto. Sitting in his office overlooking Roy Thomson Hall, I can see the iconic webbing of the edifice, a physical nest that cradles the music hall. In a few weeks, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and guests, under the baton of Johannes Debus, will present a major six-performance run of Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece.. (Full disclosure: as regular readers of this column know, I sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and will be on stage for these performances.)

“We live in a very disjointed and fractured time right now. I think that the human condition is to long for a kind of togetherness, to find your place with people,” says Loden, speaking about the need for a space for an event like Messiah. “Increasingly, we keep finding ways to disintegrate relationships. When you have a moment where you can come together collectively and still have an individual experience while feeling the music coming off the stage with a couple thousand other people – that is really powerful.” With these TSO performances alone, 15,000 people will experience the majesty of the most iconic of Toronto classical-music traditions.

“People are moved to tears not just because of the artistic nature of what they’re listening to,” Loden continues, “but because they are doing it with other people, live. It’s raw talent from 150-plus people on stage. There’s a kind of magic that happens when you get everybody together to be a part of that.”

Johannes Debus leads the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with soloists Claire de Sévigné (soprano), Allyson McHardy (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Haji (tenor), and Tyler Duncan (baritone). Surprisingly, over his significant career, Debus has never conducted the entire work. “This is my first time conducting it,” he tells me in a phone call from his home in Berlin. “But when I was in my early teens, I sang it. This was one of the strong, long-lasting musical impressions I have from my childhood. Afterwards, I made my mother buy the John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir recording. It’s a dream come true for myself to be able to conduct this piece.”

Debus is a fixture in the classical world in Toronto, serving as the music director for the Canadian Opera Company (COC), a post he has held for almost a decade. In that capacity he isn’t often on the stage, though, in Toronto, and this marks only his second time with the TSO. He is mindful that the music lovers of Toronto are very particular about their Messiahs. “[Conducting] might come with certain expectations,” he says. “On the other hand, you can rely on the experience of the musicians and hopefully bring something new. Not to reinvent the wheel but to inspire us all and bring all forces together. Make it an event that nourishes us and prepares us for the Christmas Day. In the case of Messiah, like every other masterpiece, you discover something new every time. Like a statue, you turn it around and look at it from the back or the side. You discover new angles. That’s what makes music so brave – you perform it in the moment and it can be new every time.” Audience members can safely expect a charismatic, flowing storyteller, and for once will be able to see his whole body in action from the stage, not just the top of his head and hands from the orchestra pit.

Debus is aware of other interpretations of Messiah. He mentions Sir Andrew Davis’ 2016 recording, for one, but promises something a little more literal. “In the beginning we’re dealing with prophecy, birth, and then redemption, like chapters. It’s like a novel, three big parts,” says Debus. “If we manage to bring out a distinctiveness in character and expression of all those aspects, I will be very pleased and happy.”

The dramatic edge of Messiah can easily be lost faced with the technicality of the music. For a master musical storyteller like Debus, it is at the core. Handel’s music uses the assembled text in an emotive fashion that creates a thread of luscious descriptiveness in his music. There is the venomous roar of choir in “He Trusted in God,” remarking in great anger and frustration. “And with his stripes” plainly invokes the whip marks covering Jesus’ body. The playfulness and athleticism of “All we like sheep” finishes with the introspective acknowledgement of the faithful’s iniquity. The solos carry this emotional energy as well. The emotional tenor sings “Thy rebuke has broken his heart,” a call from the deepest depths of despair, for help. The mezzo-soprano maintains a humble supplication with “He was despised.” All of this is underpinned by the orchestra. Handel’s music carries many emotional messages over a short period of time.

“It’s part of Handel’s success in general, that he can unfold and have this incredible impact on your emotional soul, your emotional centre,” says Debus. “It can really shake you and elevate you, make you weak and so on. Among the great dramatists and operatists, Handel knew how to establish this and make it work. He knows very well how to set the mood and his talent for writing ear-worm-like melodies.”

“As a composer of Italian opera, Handel was always drawn to the ideal of theatrical, operatic writing. In terms of drama, we will work to apply that here.” Bringing to life the dramatic solos is a quartet of Canadian talent who have all worked with Debus before: in fact De Sévigné, McHardy and Haji have all been members of the Ensemble Studio, a key part of Debus’ programming direction at the COC.

Matthew LodenMatthew Loden is particularly keen on this set of soloists as well, knowing that three of them have been members of the COC Ensemble Studio. “[This performance] represents a very strong partnership with the COC,” he says, “with Johannes on the podium and three of four of soloists connected to the Ensemble Studio. The fact that there are these remarkable development opportunities for these professional singers on their way into the world, and that the TSO can be one of the stops on their trajectory, is really fulfilling. And Canadians really appreciate when they can celebrate their homegrown talent.”

The Ensemble Studio is part of a musical ecosystem encompassing the University of Toronto, Royal Conservatory of Music, and the COC, incubating, supporting and celebrating new generations of talent. Through performances such as these on the biggest symphonic stage in Canada, the TSO becomes part of that ecosystem.

Messiah is a core programmatic element of the first half of every TSO season. “We do Messiah every year is because one of the roles we play in Toronto is to gather people together into a space that allows them to feel like they are part of something that is bigger than themselves. Bigger than they are individually,” shares Loden. “There’s a ceremony around getting together with friends and family and other musicians on an annual basis that allows people to both reflect and look forward. Messiah is a perfect opportunity for that kind of gathering.”

Messiah isn’t part of any regular subscription package on offer from the TSO. Annually, ever seat sold is an add-on to a subscription, a create-your-own subscription package, or individual concert sale. Sure-fire Messiah sales are important to the TSO when balanced against new works or unfamiliar ones to audiences. Loden acknowledges that these are concerts that sell and sell out. “Whenever we open the phone lines and the next season goes on sale, Messiah is often at the top of people’s list. It tells us that this is something that is working,” says Loden. “Messiah is a highlight and focal point from a financial standpoint, but also within the rhythm of the season. I think if people want to come and be proud of being in this great city, being Canadians and experience this monumental piece of music that has withstood the test of time; to do it in this concert hall, it’s a very special thing; and I think that’s why people keep coming back.”

“The images we get through Handel’s music – with all its weaknesses, the compassion, empathy, glory, exuberance – with all these aspects, you can find them concentrated in this theatre called Messiah. I hope that many people will come to these concerts,” Debus says, adding “and that there won’t be any snowstorms.”

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

MESSSIAH IS EVERYWHERE

From the November edition of HalfTones, The WholeNote’s mid-month digital newsletter (subscribe online!): Messiah is near-synonymous with choral community-building: with festivity, with meaningful memories of classical music, with standing and singing along. Something about Messiah, and the way it unites community initiatives with musical professionals, gives it a special place in the city and scene’s musical fabric.

Just an example - this year’s Messiah for the City (Dec 22) presented by Toronto Beach Chorale in partnership with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, features singers from the Toronto Beach Chorale, MCS Chorus Mississauga and the Georgetown Bach Chorale, and players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Founded by the late Jack Layton, Messiah for the City is a project dedicated to providing seasonal concert opportunities to people who otherwise might not have access to such events. Tickets are distributed by United Way and its partner agencies.

And then all over the map, and in order of appearance (details in our listings):

DEC 1, 4PM: Pax Christi Chorale’s special Children’s Messiah performance for children and families; Church of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto.

DEC 4-6, 8PM: Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah IV at the Drake Underground, Toronto.

DEC 11, 8PM: An Evening of Choruses and Arias from Handel’s Messiah. The debut performance of B-Xalted! a new choir founded by Barbara Gowdy and Whitney Smith, at the Church of St. Peter & St. Simon-the-Apostle, Toronto.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Cellar Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Orillia Opera House, Orillia.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Grand Philharmonic Choir. Handel’s Messiah. Centre in the Square, Kitchener.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: MCS Chorus Mississauga. G. F. Handel: Messiah. First United Church, Mississauga.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Orchestra Kingston. Handel’s Messiah. Kingston Choral Society. The Spire/Sydenham Street United Church, 82 Sydenham St., Kingston.

DEC 9, 3PM: Dufferin Concert Singers/New Tecumseth Singers. Handel’s Messiah. St. John’s United Church, Creemore.

DEC 15, 7:30PM: Chorus Niagara. Handel’s Messiah. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

DEC 15, 8PM: Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. Highlights from The Messiah. Living Arts Centre, Hammerson Hall, Mississauga.

DEC 15, 8PM: Orchestra Grey Bruce/Saugeen County Chorus. Messiah. Knox Presbyterian Church, Kincardine.

DEC 16, 3PM: Menno Singers. Sing-along Messiah. St. Jacob’s Mennonite Church, St. Jacobs.

DEC 17-22, 8PM AND 23, 3PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

DEC 17, 7:30PM: Peterborough Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Emannuel United Church, Peterborough.

DEC 18-21, 7:30PM: Tafelmusik’s Messiah at Koerner Hall, with their famous Sing-Along Messiah on DEC 22, 2PM, at Roy Thomson Hall (while Massey Hall is being renovated). Toronto

DEC 22, 7:30: Guelph Chamber Choir. Messiah. River Run Centre, Guelph.

NOT THE MESSIAH

Just a sampling …

DEC 5, 7:30PM: Nathaniel Dett Chorale. An Indigo Christmas: Black Virgin…Great Joy.

DEC 7, 7:30PM: Surinder Mundra. A Choral Christmas from Across Europe.

DEC 7, 8PM: Exultate Chamber Singers. Winter’s Night with You.

DEC 8, 2PM: Annual City Carol Sing. Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats; Hogtown Brass Quintet; Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Choir; VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto; That Choir; Hedgerow Singers; Kevin Frankish, host; and others.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Forte – Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus. All Is Calm, All Is Bright.

DEC 9, 2PM: Duly Noted. Toronto vs. Everybody. All a cappella music celebrating Toronto.

DEC 11, 7:30PM: City Choir. Cakes & Ale.

DEC 16, 3PM: Pax Christi Chorale. England’s Golden Age. A cappella masterpieces from the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

DEC 18, 7:30PM: Orpheus Choir of Toronto. A Child’s Christmas in Wales. With Geraint Wyn Davies.

DEC 22, 7:30PM: Quintessence Ensemble. Buon Natale: A Multilingual Christmas.

JAN 13, 3PM: Vesnivka Choir. Ukrainian Christmas Concert. With Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir and a folk instrumental ensemble.

JAN 13, 7:30PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music presents “We shall overcome: a celebration of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.” Damien Sneed and the Toronto Mass Choir: jazz, gospel, classical, blues, music theatre and spirituals – Sneed and guests will mark the 90th anniversary of MLK’s birth.

JAN 22 & 23, 7:30PM: Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. KW Glee.

JAN 26, 3PM: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Spotlight on North America. A free community concert celebrating great composers from Canada and the United States: interim artistic director David Fallis’ first fully programmed concert

JAN 26, 7PM: Newchoir. The High Society Soir-eh.

JAN 26, 8PM: Confluence. Centuries of Souls.

FEB 2, 2PM & 7PM: Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto. Songs from a Celtic Heart.

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

Justyna Gabzdyl PHOTO BY Beata NawrockiJustyna Gabzdyl: After graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Academy (now University) of Music in Warsaw in 2005, Polish-born pianist, Justyna Gabzdyl, continued her studies at the École Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris before earning a doctorate at Université de Montréal in 2012. Now 36 and based in Canada, Gabzdyl will be performing in Walter Hall in a U of T Faculty of Music recital on January 24; works by Syzmanowski and Gershwin will be featured. She spoke to La Scena Musicale for their February/March 2018 issue and detailed her fondness for Syzmanowski.

“I find his music incredibly stimulating to the imagination,” she said. “His style is unique, characterized by a beautiful, sensual tone. His huge sensibility to colour and sound is impressionistic. At the same time, the ecstatic climaxes make his style closer to expressionism.”

Szymanowski often travelled to Italy, Sicily, North Africa and France – destinations with which Gabzdyl is familiar, having lived in France, and visited the Maghreb numerous times.

“Countries that are culturally different from our own arouse our curiosity,” she said. “They open us to new smells, tastes, landscapes, lifestyles…I think all these factors affect our emotions and inspire us. In this case, travelling in the composer’s footsteps helped me to understand his intentions and galvanized my enthusiasm.”

Studying in Canada influenced her in several ways. She was introduced to a musical perspective that stressed the architecture of a piece. “In Poland, there is generally more interest in the progress of the music’s ‘character.’ This focus is quite typical of Slavic schools,” she said. Gabzdyl was also influenced by the French technique of jeu perlé (passages played quickly, lightly and clearly) which she uses in Chopin and Szymanowski. And she thinks that music interpretation is somehow influenced by the spirit of the nation. “Moving to Canada improved my positive thinking. I became more relaxed. I find Canadians more jovial. Polish people have a tendency to be melancholic.”

Hugo Kitano, 22, is a double major at Stanford (music and computer science) and an international prizewinner. His COC free noon-hour recital January 31 is comprised of Beethoven’s penultimate piano Sonata No.30, Op.110 and Chopin’s resplendent Polonaise-Fantaisie Op.61. Kitano has worked extensively with John Perry who also finds time to visit the Glenn Gould School on a regular basis as a faculty member.

Charles Richard-Hamelin’s star is still rising; the honeymoon from his Warsaw Chopin Competition honours in 2015 has evolved into a major concert schedule that brings him to Koerner Hall on February 3. Two C-Major works by Schumann, the Arabesque Op.17 and the Fantasy Op.16 precede a performance of Chopin’s Four Ballades. The 29-year-old pianist gave an insightful interview to Bachtrack on September 30, 2016 that showed the same maturity beyond his years that his piano playing already reflected.

In answer to a question about his relationship to the score: “The more we play a work, the less we leave the score. But it is not because we play by heart that we must not have it in mind anymore. For Chopin, it’s complicated because the editions are very contradictory, there is not really a reference edition. Finally, the most important thing is to read between the lines: if we just scrupulously execute what is written on the score, we fall into academism. There is a lot of unspoken music, such as rubato. In Chopin, for example, we sometimes find ornaments formed by several quick notes: obviously, he did not expect that we play them identically. You have to know how to distance yourself from the score; for it to be alive.”

On how his repertoire has changed since the Warsaw win: “Before the contest, I could choose to play what I wanted. But the audience did not want to hear me: I had a few concerts in Canada and Quebec but I never played abroad. Now, this is largely the case because the Chopin Competition is a showcase for the international scene. Playing what you want is good, yet you have to be engaged to play on a stage. That said, I was already very happy: I made a humble living, but I made a living.”

And on Chopin becoming a label that’s hard to get rid of: “Indeed, I have many commitments in Japan, but for Chopin! There are worse labels to have. If I were only to play Saint-Saëns for the rest of my life, I think I’ll stop playing the piano. Fortunately, we do not get tired of Chopin so quickly. I had to play three or four hours of music, while he wrote 12 or 13. And then, some programmers show more openness and let me build recital programs around Chopin, with other composers who accompany him well, by contrast or similarity.”

Juho Pohjonen CREDIT Henry FairJuho Pohjonen: The celebrated Finnish pianist, 37-year-old Juho Pohjonen, is another “fast-rising star” (The Guardian). His impressive NYC recital debut in 2004, while he was still a student at the Sibelius Academy, was praised by The New York Times as “formidable” and “breathtaking.” Lately his association with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has brought him more attention for “his effortless brilliance.” All of which only adds to my anticipation for his Music Toronto recital on February 5. His program pairs two suites by Rameau from his Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin with late works by Mozart (Rondo in A Minor K511) and Beethoven (Sonata No.28 in A Major, Op.101).

Younggun Kim: Fifth in this handful of talented young pianists, South Korean-born, Toronto-based, U of T Faculty member Younggun Kim will show off his dazzling technical prowess in a recital in Walter Hall on February 7. The demanding program moves from the Bach-Busoni Chaconne to Godowsky’s fiendishly difficult Studies on Chopin’s Etudes and Ravel’s jaw-dropping La Valse.

Heath Quartet CREDIT Simon WayTwo String Quartets

Heath: When the Heath Quartet made their memorable Toronto debut in January 2017, their second violinist had just left the ensemble to spend more time with her family. Nonetheless, their dynamism and exuberance were evident even with a last-minute replacement. Now, with a new violinist in place, they make a welcome return to Walter Hall early next February.

When I spoke to first violinist Ollie Heath two years ago 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.”

Sure enough, the paradigm still stands. For their Mooredale Concerts recital on February 3, they begin with Mozart’s Quartet K465 “Dissonance,” its nickname owing to the harmonic boldness of the slow introduction to its first movement. The most famous and last of the six quartets Mozart dedicated to “my dear friend Haydn,” will undoubtedly introduce the possibilities of what a string quartet can do.

The quartet is devoting this concert season to all three of Benjamin Britten’s quartets. We get to hear his first, commissioned in 1941 by the famous American patroness, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had previously commissioned Bartók’s Fifth Quartet (1934) and Schoenberg’s Fourth (1936). The emotional centre of the work, the long Andante Calmo third movement, is filled with melancholy beauty. The afternoon concert concludes with Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No.9, Op.59 No.3, one of the biggest of Beethoven’s quartets.

Van Kuick: Despite its Dutch-sounding name, the Van Kuijk Quartet, founded by Nicolas Van Kuijk in 2012, is French. Its growing international reputation was kindled by winning First Prize in the 2015 Wigmore Hall Competition and First Prize and Audience Award at the Trondheim International Chamber Competition; and its members have been named BBC New Generation Artists until 2017. Their Music Toronto concert on January 31, curiously enough, follows a similar programming concept as that of the Heath, beginning with Haydn’s celebrated late Quartet in D Major, Op.76, No.5, written at the height of his fame. Ligeti’s Quartet No.1 “Metamorphoses nocturnes” with its beguiling angularity, chromaticism and dissonance, is followed by Schubert’s monumental Quartet No.14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden.”

Two violinists

Benedetti: The enthralling Scottish violinist, Nicola Benedetti, makes her second visit to Toronto this season with her Koerner Hall recital on January 25. Her TSO engagement last September, playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2, broadened into a visit to Sistema Toronto that was chronicled by David Perlman on thewholenote.com in October. In Koerner Hall, she’ll be performing with Kiev-born pianist Alexei Grynyuk, a regular chamber music partner with Benedetti in the Benedetti, Elschenbroich, Grynyuk Trio. In 1942, Prokofiev found himself in far-off Central Asia working on the score for Eisenstein’s classic film Ivan the Terrible. For a change of pace he began to compose a sonata for flute and piano which was premiered in Moscow the following year to a lukewarm response. David Oistrakh suggested that Prokofiev turn it into a violin sonata, which he did, saying that he wanted to write it in a “gentle, flowing classical style.” That Violin Sonata No.2, with all its wit, lyricism, expressiveness and mood changes, is a centrepiece of a recital that begins with Bach’s unalloyed solo masterwork, the Chaconne from Partita No.2, and includes a Wynton Marsalis premiere and Richard Strauss’ surprisingly seductive Violin Sonata Op.18.

Blake Pouliot CREDIT Jeff Fasano PhotographyPouliot: Twentysomething Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot won the 2018 Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Award, an honour that followed his Grand Prize win at the 2016 Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Manulife Competition. His recent Debussy-Ravel Analekta CD was praised by WholeNote Strings Attached columnist Terry Robbins as “an outstanding recording debut.” Robbins noted that “Pouliot plays with strength, clarity, warmth, faultless intonation and a fine sense of phrase… [drawing] a gorgeous tone from the 1729 Guarneri del Gesù violin on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts.” With Hsin-I Huang at the piano, Pouliot gives a free (ticket required) concert in RCM’s Mazzoleni Hall Sunday afternoon, February 3. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this star on the rise in an appealing program of Mozart (K379), Janáček, Sarasate and Chausson (the divine Poème). 

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

DEC 8, 8PM: Violinist Alexandre Da Costa, who divides his time between Montreal and Australia, brings his Stradivarius 1701 to the Glenn Gould Studio stage when he joins Nurhan Arman and Sinfonia Toronto in “The Eight Seasons,” featuring Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

DEC 16, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society celebrates Beethoven’s 248th birthday with a compelling program that includes the Kreutzer Sonata, Eyeglass Duo and Archduke Trio. Angela Park, piano, Yehonatan Berick, violin, and Rachel Mercer, cello, make it happen as the AYR Trio.

JAN 10 AND 12, 8PM; JAN 13, 3PM: Intrepid Mississauga-born violinist, Leila Josefowicz, joins the TSO for a performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, the composer’s particular take on the Baroque era. David Robertson, American-born conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ grandly romantic Symphony No.2 and Kurt Weill’s evergreen Suite from the Threepenny Opera.

JAN 13, 3PM: Musical inheritance is the theme of the Windermere String Quartet’s upcoming concert, “Keeping It in the Family.” The period-instrument ensemble’s program opens with a J.S. Bach fugue arranged by W.A. Mozart, followed by a divertimento by Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father. Guest artist, traverso player Alison Melville, is featured in J.S. Bach’s son, Johann Christian’s Quartet No.1 for flute and strings; W.A. Mozart’s final string quartet, the masterful String Quartet No.23 in F Major, K590, concludes the Sunday afternoon recital.

JAN 15, 12PM: Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind heads a program of chamber music (that also includes works by Villa-Lobos and Piazzolla) performed by artists of the COC and National Ballet Orchestras, in this free noon-hour concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre.

JAN 27, 3PM: Pittsburgh-based guest violist, David Harding, and talented pianist, Todd Yaniw, join Trio Arkel members, Marie Bérard and Winona Zelenka for “the melodies just surged upon me.” The Trio chose this quote by Dvořák because it directly refers to his Piano Quartet No.2 in E-flat Major Op.87, the centrepiece of their Sunday afternoon concert, which also features music by Schubert and Röntgen.

JAN 28, 7:30PM: TSO principal cellist, Joseph Johnson, and chamber musician supreme, Philip Chiu, join forces for a U of T Faculty of Music recital featuring music by Beethoven, Britten and Chopin.

JAN 31 AND FEB 2, 8PM: After hors d’oeuvres of Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis and the TSO settle in for the main course: Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Lise Davidsen, soprano; Simon O’ Neill, tenor; and Brindley Sherratt, bass.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote

Erika Switzer (left) and Martha Guth. Photo by Colin MillsCompetitions are not unusual in classical music. Every few months, young voices and pianists are competing somewhere in the world – in standard repertoire by composers from the past. No new songs get commissioned especially for the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, or the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, or the Operalia. For new works by living artists one goes to poetry slams and literary death matches, where poets and novelists turn their writing into a performance and the audience, to a greater or lesser degree inebriated, decides the winner. We can go to competitions in old music – and watch them civilly and in silence – or competitions in new writing, spoken without music, where a certain degree of audience responsiveness and noise is in fact encouraged.

Those were the choices, that is, until spring 2017 and the inaugural songSLAM concert before a standing-room-only crowd in New York City. It’s when soprano Martha Guth and pianist Erika Switzer decided to give a spin to this new and (fair to say) populist format for presenting new art song creations. The two musicians, while pursuing independent careers, have, in their spare time, also been running Sparks & Wiry Cries, an organization and online magazine dedicated to the “preservation and the advancement of art song.” The new-song-competition format became popular almost overnight: after the NYC songSLAM, two new cities, Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, immediately wanted their own. There will be seven songSLAMs in three countries this season, says Guth via email from NYC when I get in touch with her to ask about the upcoming Toronto slam.

Scheduled for January 16 at the more formal Walter Hall at the University of Toronto, the Toronto songSLAM will otherwise remain true to the established slam practices: drinks (cocktails will be served 30 minutes before the 7pm start time, says Guth), all songs by living composers, and performers from all career levels – students, young professionals and established musicians from Toronto and Montreal. She could not confirm the final list of participants, as the 12 accepted composer-performer teams and five alternates were still being notified at the time of the interview, but at least two young singers have already shared on Twitter their excitement ahead of the concert – sopranos Sara Schabas and Danika Lorèn (who will be singing her own songs accompanied by Darren Creech on the piano).

“We created the songSLAM in order to get audiences excited and invested in the creation of new music,” says Guth, “and to build a sense of collaboration and interaction between composers and performers in each city where events are held. This social event has so far exceeded all of our expectations everywhere it has happened. The audiences have been incredibly enthusiastic, and the musicians taking part have told us that even if they didn’t place in the competition, they loved taking part because of the community-building aspects.  For us too, it is an amazing way to hear up-and-coming talent.” Ever on the lookout for new and exciting art songs, the pair have commissioned new music from some of their favourites from the slams, some of which will be performed in the 2019 songSLAM festival in NYC.

NYC songSLAM CREDIT Martha GuthTo put together song slams in different cities, partnership with a local organization is key. For the Toronto event, Sparks & Wiry Cries partnered with Women on the Verge, aka the sopranos Elizabeth McDonald, Emily Martin and Kathryn Tremills, the performing trio on a mission to tell the stories of women’s lives through song. The University of Toronto’s Voice Studies Program is the second Toronto partner that made the slam possible. After the Canadian edition, slams in Chicago, Denver and Ljubljana (Slovenia) are in the works, the latter scheduled to be televised on Slovenian TV.

Toronto-based tenor Jonathan Russell MacArthur and pianist Darren Creech took part in the first slam in NYC last year. The two musicians met while working on a production workshop with FAWN Chamber Creative, and “definitely clicked, being two queer boys who live in Toronto,” says MacArthur in an email when I ask about the experience. “There was always something to talk about.” When he heard of the competition and proposed a collaboration to Creech, the young pianist didn’t need much persuading. They agreed to do a piece by Wally Gunn, MacArthur’s Aussie friend who lived in the NYC borough of Queens. “Wally wanted to tell a story of Captain Moonlite – a gay Australian bushranger and outlaw – so he wrote that piece for us.” Once in NYC, they stayed with Gunn and rehearsed in Brooklyn. Their performance now lives on YouTube. “We had a great time.”

But first, December. The year is not over yet.

Just the other day I received an email from Happenstance’s clarinetist Brad Cherwin describing their next concert … or shall I call it experiment. As soprano Adanya Dunn is out and about travelling and auditioning, Happenstance will this time present themselves as a duo, “Alice” Nahre Sol (piano and composition) and Cherwin himself. On December 11 at Gallery 345, free admission, they will present PAPER, an exploration of that mundane yet essential material through music and visual art.

How is that going to work? “Expect a 30-minute performance piece, incorporating all new music by Alice and improvisations by both of us, alongside projections and painting. It’s going to be our first attempt at wrestling with the concert form. We’re pushing ourselves out of the standard recital paradigm.” The visuals will not be narrative but abstract, to match the music, he says. They won’t be incidental but fundamentally connected to the sound. In other words, we have to come and see what they have concocted. (To check out some of Cherwin’s art – he does all the visuals for the Happenstance programs – head over to Instagram, his account is public.) Meanwhile this fall, Nahre Sol has started a fellowship at the RCM in partnership with the 21C Music Festival, and Happenstance has received some TAC funding for the new season. The 2019 concerts will be announced on December 11, and the odd detail remains to be worked out, but Cherwin can confirm North American premieres of works by Wolfgang Rihm and Pascal Dusapin for soprano, clarinet and piano, as well as a world premiere of a new trio by Nahre Sol.

Meanwhile, across town, in the Amsterdam Bicycle Club on the Esplanade, Against the Grain Theatre, known for messing with traditional operatic repertoire to great effect, will launch its record label and its first release on December 7. Ayre, Osvaldo Golijov’s 2004 song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble that uses Sephardic, Arabic, Hebrew and Sardinian folk material, has been recorded in a live concert by the AtG’s founding member, Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil. Songs from the disc will be performed at the launch, which will be an art song recital that keeps all the informality of an AtG Opera Pub. And did I mention cocktails, which seem to be the recurring theme of this end-of-year column?

A few song-themed tips for the gifting season

For the new music eccentric in your life, consider the recently released CD of songs by Andrew Staniland to the poetry of Robin Richardson, Go By Contraries. SongSLAM’s Martha Guth and baritone Tyler Duncan lend their voices, with Erika Switzer at the piano. For the early music jester, get Sallazzo Ensemble’s debut album Parle qui veut: Moralizing Songs of the Middle Ages (Linn Records). And for those few people in your life who still read books (not a huge number of us are still kicking about), look for Robert Harris’ Song of a Nation, on the eventful life of the composer of Canada’s national anthem, Calixa Lavallée. 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

DEC 22 AND 23, 8PM: Heliconian Hall. The Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Toronto presents the Vesuvius Ensemble’s “Christmas in Southern Italy.” Francesco Pellegrino and the lads of Vesuvius see the year off with their traditional December concert of secular Southern Italian songs around Christmas themes. Pellegrino, Marco Cera and Lucas Harris are joined by Romina di Gasbarro at the guest vocals and Tommaso Sollazzo on the bagpipes. Knowing Vesuvius, I expect some high quality arrangements of Italian pop songs as well – at least in the encores.

JAN 26 AND 27, 7:30PM: Trinity College Chapel, U of T. Cor Unum Ensemble and Sub Rosa Ensemble bring to the fore the little-known works by women composers from the 16th and 17th centuries.

JAN 27, 2PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music. Mazzoleni Songmasters Series: “Winter Words.” Mezzo Lucia Cervoni and tenor Michael Colvin sing Britten, Mahler and assorted other music around the broad theme of winter.

FEB 3, 7:30PM: Vocalis: The Song Narrative Project, curated by Stephen Philcox and Laura Tucker. The Extension Room, 30 Eastern Ave. Meet University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s outstanding master’s and doctoral students in concert. Free admission.

What stood out for you this year? Send me your highlights to artofsong@thewholenote.com. Wishing you a merry and song-filled end of the year.

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

Give Yourself A Jazzy Little ChristmasWith Christmas fast approaching – where did the year go? – an overview of gifts any jazz lover would love to receive. And remember, sometimes to get what you really want, you have to buy it yourself.

BooksFirst, two with a Canadian perspective:

Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend – Mark Miller, 2017. Available from indigo.ca in e-book, paperback, and hardcover formats. Not exactly hot off the press, Miller’s latest release was reviewed by Stuart Broomer in the September 2017 issue of The WholeNote. But like all good jazz books it has a lasting relevancy. It tells the story of one of Canada’s greatest and most enigmatic jazz artists while attempting to explore the mystery of his eventual unravelling – Ranger, presumed dead, has been officially listed as a missing person for 14 years. Mark Miller is a first-rate writer, but an even better researcher, and the tale he weaves here makes for a compelling read. Readers should look forward to Miller’s forthcoming work in progress, a book on another of our great originals, guitarist Sonny Greenwich.

Live at the Cellar – Marian Jago, UBC Press. A very recent and welcome addition to books on Canadian jazz, this was released in October. Jago, a Halifax-born saxophonist who now teaches at the University of Edinburgh, examines the development of Canadian jazz through the lens of an iconic club on Canada’s opposite coast: The Cellar in Vancouver, during the hot-house period of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It abounds with rare photographs, musical analysis and anecdotes about, and from, many notables who were there, including Jerry Fuller, Fraser MacPherson, Terry Clarke, P.J. Perry and Don Thompson, who wrote the foreword. It’s a handsome and interesting book; I’m about halfway through and thoroughly enjoying it.

Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century – Nate Chinen, Paragon. Hardcover, 288 pages, August 14, 2018. Chinen has covered jazz for 20 years in The New York Times, Jazz Times and elsewhere. His wittily titled, double-entendre-titled book – warm, richly detailed and incisive – offers a look at the state of jazz right now and highlights the important changes – technological, practical, ideological – that contemporary musicians have negotiated in the new century. It’s a kind of jazz version of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and is informative reading for those who are attempting to understand the torturous and ever-shifting changes of the current jazz landscape. I’m not sure yet that I agree with everything Chinen has to say, but he offers a convincing and refreshing rebuttal to any notions that jazz is irrelevant, or even close to being dead.

50 Years at the Village Vanguard: Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra – Dave Lisk and Eric Allen. Hardcover, 328 pages. A sumptuous, coffee table-style book which celebrates and documents the history of one of the greatest large ensembles in jazz history, covering the noted founders but also the band’s survival and development well past their deaths. It contains scores of rare photographs, musical commentary, interviews with key members past and present, and a complete discography of the band’s massive output. People wax about the “jazz tradition” all the time, but the story of this great band in its natural habitat is the jazz tradition, continuing before our very eyes.

Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon – Maxine Gordon. October 30, 2018. University of California Press. Hardcover, 296 pages. Available in stores and online. I haven’t read this book yet but judging from reviews, it looks promising. A close-up look at the life and music of one of the great individualists and innovators in jazz history, written by the woman who is not only his widow, but an accomplished jazz writer in her own right.

CDsToo many to list, but here are a few I’ve enjoyed of late:

An Evening of Indigos – Bill Kirchner. Jazzheads, 2015. This beautiful 2-CD set is the entirety of a 2014 concert soprano saxophonist Kirchner gave in the Jazz Performance Space of The New School in New York City, where he has taught for over 25 years. He is joined by Carlton Holmes on piano, Holli Ross on vocals and bassist/singer Jim Ferguson in varying combinations. As the title suggests, the program is reflective in nature, though not monochromatically so – a mixture of some fine originals and choice standards, all performed with a startling, almost vulnerable intimacy. This is something of a musical banquet which repays repeated listening. Those who wish to know more about Bill Kirchner may read a piece I wrote about him at wallacebass.com.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album – John Coltrane. Recorded March 6, 1963. Released June 29, 2018 by Impulse! Records. Not much needs to be said here, this is a fascinating discovery of an entire session by Coltrane’s classic quartet at their peak and as such belongs in any jazz fan’s collection.

Three from Mosaic Records The superb mail-order CD-reissue company has three recent, essential historic releases, available at mosaicrecords.com. They may seem pricey at first glance, but given the rarity of the music and the as-always-superb production values, these are actually a bargain:

The Savory Collection: 1935-40 - 6 CDs, $99 US. Bill Savory was a recording engineer in NYC whose day job was editing transcription recordings for overseas consumption. By night he took to recording the blazing jazz being played in various clubs such as The Famous Door, the Onyx and others. His collection of tapes languished unknown for years until recently when they were discovered, curated and partially issued as downloadable files by jazz scholar and saxophonist Loren Schoenberg. Mosaic has gathered more of them and issued them on CD for the first time. The quality of both the music and sound is staggering; featuring the Count Basie Orchestra, Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, the John Kirby Sextet and many others.

Classic Brunswick & Columbia Teddy Wilson Sessions: 1934-427 CDs, $119 US. A cornucopia of great music from the most artistic swing pianist of them all, leading a stunning array of star-studded groups. Much of it is seeing the light of day for the first time in decades. So this is not to be missed.

Classic 1936-47 Count Basie & Lester Young Studio Sessions8 CDs, $136 US. This set features Basie and Young, both together and separately, during their respective primes. Many fans will already have some of this music in their collections, but probably not all of it; and thanks to Mosaic’s superb mastering, it’s never sounded this good. Desert island music.

DVDsNeither of these are particularly new, but are of such high quality that even fans who have already seen them would like to have them to watch over and over again.

I Called Him Morgan – Directed, produced and written by Kasper Collins. Released 2016, available at amazon.ca and other sites. This documentary tells the complex and cautionary tale of the relationship between star trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen, who rescued him from severe heroin addiction, nurtured him back to health and oversaw the most successful years of his career, only to shoot him dead on the bandstand at Slug’s in February, 1972. The story is told so well that even those who could never otherwise forgive Helen Morgan for the murder are forced to view her with compassion and to admit that she paid sorely for the crime; and that if left to his own devices, Lee Morgan would have died long before he did at her hand.

The Jazz Loft According to Eugene W. Smith – Directed by Sara Fishko. Released September, 2016; available at amazon.com. For my money, this is the best jazz documentary ever made. Fishko and her team did a phenomenal job of editing a mountain of raw material into a linear and cohesive story, which tells two tales. Firstly, that of Eugene W. Smith, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who virtually created the photo-essay genre while at Life magazine, and who took some of the most famous black-and white photographs of the 20th century. In the mid-50s he began to unravel under the pressure of his own obsessiveness with his work, leaving his wife and children and taking a loft in an abandoned, rat-infested building located in New York’s flower district, where he lived between 1957 and 1965. While there he took over 40,000 photographs and secretly recorded 4,000 hours of the jazz played in the all-night jam sessions that were held in the building for years. These form the soundtrack for the movie, a kind of rare insider’s view into an underground scene only a city like New York could produce. Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams and Bob Brookmeyer were among the “frequent fliers” and Sims in particular receives a lot of attention. There are jazz tales from other denizens of the building such as drummer Ronnie Free, who arrived from the South an innocent with much promise but got hooked on heroin and barely survived. And there’s a stunning sequence between composer/arranger Hall Overton, who had a studio in the building, and Thelonious Monk, preparing the music for Monk’s Town Hall concert featuring a ten-piece band which rehearsed in the building. This doc makes a fascinating peak period in jazz history come alive. I could watch it every day, but I’d never get anything done.

I’d like to add to this jazz Christmas list my best wishes to WholeNote readers everywhere for a safe and joyous holiday and a Happy New Year. 

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

DEC 7, 8PM: Koerner Hall. Royal Conservatory of Music presents Paquito D’Rivera with the Harlem Quartet. The great alto saxophonist/clarinetist in an interesting program featuring some rags, Debussy, Bolcom, Webern and music reflecting his Cuban roots.

DEC 8, 8PM: Gallery 345; 345 Sorauren Ave. The Art of the Piano: Hilario Durán. If you like Cuban-inflected jazz piano – and who doesn’t these days? – this is the concert for you; in an intimate setting with an excellent piano.

U of T 12tetFEB 6, 7:30PM: Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. 80 Queen’s Park. U of T 12tet, directed by Terry Promane. I love small big bands ranging from 9 to 14 members and this, comprising some of the best jazz students U of T has to offer, is an excellent one, expertly directed and arranged for by Promane.

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

Rose - A Name Means a Lot: (from left) Michelle Bouey, Raha Javanfar, Scott Hunter, Hailey Gillis, Nicole Bellamy, John Millard, Mike Ross and Frank Cox-O’Connell. Photo credit: Daniel Malavasi.In the new year, one of the most exciting shows coming up is the world premiere by Soulpepper Theatre Company of Rose, a new musical inspired by Gertrude Stein’s first children’s book, The World Is Round. Yes, that Gertrude Stein, who wrote “A Rose is a Rose is a Rose.” A real Rose, a little girl neighbour of Stein’s, had inspired her to write the story, and when author Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon) approached Stein on behalf of new publisher Young Scott Books in 1938 to see if she might be interested in writing a children’s book for them, she sent this manuscript. With clean-cut yet whimsical illustrations by Clement Hurd (also of Goodnight Moon) to give a tangible reality to the whimsical yet deeply philosophical story of a young girl trying to make sense of her world, the book became a classic that was reprinted several times, although it isn’t as well known today.

As soon as I heard about the project to turn this unique children’s story into a musical I wanted to know more and reached out to Soulpepper to get in touch with the creators, well-known composer and music director Mike Ross (music and book) and writer/actor Sarah Wilson (lyrics and book).

What follows is an absorbing conversation I had with Wilson, leaving me even more intrigued than before about the show itself.

WN: How or why did Gertrude Stein’s rare children’s book The World is Round become the inspiration or starting point for your new musical?

SW: Mike and I had talked about making something together, specifically adapting something for all ages, but we hadn’t found the right thing yet. We had a couple of false starts on other projects before I came across an excerpt from The World is Round online and was drawn enough to it that I ordered it. I thought it was weird and wonderful and musical and so I showed it to Mike, who agreed.

You have worked together before at Soulpepper, but what brought you together to create this piece? 

Yes, we were part of the first Academy, so we’ve known each other a long time now. A really great thing about Soulpepper is that you kind of swim around one another for years and get to know each other and find creative partnerships in a really organic way. So we’d acted in shows together and we’re good friends, but it wasn’t until years later that we started batting ideas around to create something.

Rose is listed on the Soulpepper website as a project ImagiNation commission.” Can you tell me about this program and how Rose will fit with its mandate?

It’s a commissioning project for new Canadian work. Practically, it means that we get resources (time, space, people, money) to create and workshop, and potentially a full production. The support let us do the concert two years ago, which was invaluable, and has let us be ambitious. We’re free to write a bigger show for more performers, hire a choreographer so we can have full production numbers, test material out both in-house and publicly…it gives you practical support to dream.

Have you stuck closely to the story of Rose in the book, and her journey to understand and feel comfortable in the world, or have you made changes/additions to make it more contemporary or Canadian? 

Anybody familiar with the book will certainly recognize it as the source, but we’ve created a more active, accessible narrative. It’s based on the book, but expanded. Rose is set in a little mountain town that’s familiar but not naturalistic, so it’s got that kind of fairy-tale quality. We don’t specifically reference Canada, but there’s a lot of maple flavour. Some loggers. Some plaid. A certain kind of small-town snow-globe feel that I associate with home.

The style of Gertrude Stein’s writing in the book can seem too adult as it is so abstract and without much punctuation, and yet it also sounds – when read aloud – very like the way a child tells stories to other children. Have you kept this style of the text in your book and lyrics? 

We’ve used Stein’s text in many ways in Rose. Some of the more typical Stein poetry – the stream of consciousness, fantastic rhythmic stuff is how Rose thinks to herself, her brain chatter when she’s all alone. She’s isn’t outgoing, she knows she’s different somehow from other kids, but she’s got an incredibly rich inner life and that kind of runaway-train kid-think is best expressed by Stein. Other characters express themselves differently. There’s a town full of people who love Rose, but don’t think like her or talk like her. Some are more straightforward, like Rose’s best friend Willie, so while his text and lyrics aren’t direct pulls from the book, they use bits of Stein, an idea or a phrase as a jumping-off point. Other characters have their own eccentricities and rhythms.

Lyrically, I’ve also used a pretty simple vocabulary. Stein has a famous quote where she says “I like words of one syllable” and although this wasn’t a conscious choice initially, I’ve found that what we’re trying to do is best served by simple language. Big ideas in little words, and sometimes arranged in unusual ways.

Can you tell me about the process of tackling this material and adapting it into a musical that could appeal to all ages and yet still have the flavour and philosophy of Gertrude Stein’s original story?

Flavour is a good word to describe it. I love the energy and strange sense of Stein’s work, but we didn’t want to make an avant-garde musical. Rose is different than anything I’ve seen, but it’s not abstract, it’s not remote. You don’t require knowledge of Stein or a degree in literature or anything like that to enjoy it.

We both really responded to this story of a nine-year-old girl trying to figure out who she is, asking big questions that sometimes she’s not even sure she understands. Nine is such an important age. It’s so young, but it’s also a time that your mind starts to really zoom in and out on the world. You’re grappling with everyday things, but underneath that there are much larger questions lurking. And they’re questions that can last a lifetime.

Our Rose is warm and big-hearted and really funny. I guess in writing it I check in a lot with my own taste and sensibilities. I love challenging, off-centre work, but not in a cerebral way. I respond to it viscerally – I find it exciting, and so it’s a process of trying to wrangle that energy and marry that to our own ideas and desires to create something new. When I see a show, I want heart and brains and humour. And I want to feel welcome. I want to feel people trying to express something that’s difficult to talk about. And I think that’s what we’ve done.

What sort of balance is there between spoken dialogue and song? Is there a special way words and music work together on this show that is different from or similar to other shows you have created or worked on? 

It’s not a sung-through show – there are spoken scenes as well as songs. There’s a ton of variety in Rose. In some ways it’s a very traditional story, beginning with “Once upon a time,” but then from there, we go everywhere.

Has the three-year development process, including the concert presentation in 2016 given you any surprises in rehearsal or in front of its first audiences? Has the show changed during the process from what you thought it would be? 

We started this process very open-minded. We didn’t have an end goal of what we thought it would or should be, but it’s been amazing to see it grow. Sometimes we find files of writing or MP3s from years ago and it’s so neat to see how it’s evolved.

The concert was especially useful. Since then, the major part of our process has been book work, which then necessitates a lot of song rewriting, so there’s a ton of new material since then. But it was very encouraging in that I could see that even though there was a lot of work to do, there was a strong heartbeat.

Will the designs by Lorenzo Savoini for the show be inspired or influenced by the book’s famous Clement Hurd illustrations? 

Yes! They’re such beautiful illustrations, so that influence is absolutely there. Lorenzo’s created a gorgeous container for our story to unfold, and that container is that terrific pink of the pages of The World Is Round. Both the illustrations and Lorenzo’s design live in that sweet spot between childlike and sophisticated. The first time I saw Hurd’s drawings they struck me as both unlike anything I’d ever seen and at the same time totally familiar. The design lives in that space, too.

Mike and I have handed Lorenzo, our costume designer Alexandra Lord and our director Gregory Prest a ton of challenges, and what I’ve seen so far has been so inventive and enchanting. I think it’ll be a real pleasure to spend time in the world they’re creating.

If you had to sum up the show in one sentence for prospective audience members what would you say? 

This is a grown-up show for kids and a kids show for grow-ups – it’s beautiful, funny and unusual and you’ll leave humming.

That’s kind of a cheat sentence, but there it is.

(For a first taste and glimpse of the musical go to the Soulpepper YouTube channel to hear the song A Name Means a Lot performed by Hailey Gillis. Rose opens at Soulpepper on January 17 and has already been extended to February 24.)

Looking Back (And Immediately Ahead)

Fantasticks: For one night only, on October 30, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s sweet-yet-tart chamber musical The Fantasticks came back to life in a delightful semi-staged concert at the Stratford Festival as part of the Forum series. I know the music well, but had never seen the show live – although it is famous as being the longest-ever running musical off-Broadway. It was fascinating to see this version which was true to the original but subtly revised for 21st-century sensibilities, including changing the two fathers of the original to two mothers. In the role of El Gallo, the mysterious character who acts as narrator and mastermind of the plot, TV star and former Stratford company member Eric McCormack led the cast with great warmth and style.

Red Sky: Another highlight of the season so far for me was Red Sky Performance’s most recent dance theatre creation, Trace, which premiered at Canadian Stage in early November sweeping audiences to their feet. A powerful and inspiring envisioning of Anishinaabe sky stories, this production is, in my opinion, the best yet from Red Sky. All the elements: Jera Wolfe’s athletic sculptural choreography, the atmospheric music of Eliot Britton and projections by Marcella Grimaux, are reaching for new heights and attaining new levels of artistry through their combination in the service of specific, yet universal, storytelling.

Coming up in December: All the usual seasonal favourites including Ross Petty’s annual panto (this year The Wizard of Oz), the National Ballet’s Nutcracker, and many versions of A Christmas Carol are on tap. On December 8, there is also a first public workshop of a new family-oriented musical version of Jack & the Beanstalk by classically trained Canadian composer William Lavigne. Inspired by the traditional musicals of Gershwin, Bernstein and Rogers and Hammerstein, Lavigne says that he really wants to “present a new theatre piece that is musically accessible and suitable for all ages to enjoy, based on a story that is relatable to everyone.” Benoit Boutet, Gabrielle Prata, and Adi Braun lead the cast in this first public outing of the in-development Jack & the Beanstalk at the Royal Conservatory’s Temerty Theatre. 

Vanessa Sears is YPT’s Mary Poppins

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

DEC 1 TO JAN 6: Young People’s Theatre. Mary Poppins.

DEC 7, 7PM: Brampton Music Theatre. Mary Poppins (full-length version). As the sequel to the original movie takes over cinemas, two productions of the recent stage version of Mary Poppins (book revised by Julian Fellows) are playing in time for the holidays. YPT’s shortened version, ideal for young children, this year directed by well-known performer Thom Allison, has excellent word of mouth

DEC 1, ONWARDS: Mirvish Productions. Come from Away. If you haven’t seen it yet, treat yourself and loved ones to this ridiculously good and truly heartwarming Canadian musical soon transferring from the Royal Alex to the Elgin Theatre and with a run extended to at least June 2019

DEC 5 TO 16: Civic Light Opera Company. Scrooge, the Musical. Music, lyrics and book by Leslie Bricusse. As a longtime fan of Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics for Victor/Victoria I am very intrigued by this version of A Christmas Carol.

DEC 8 TO 30: National Ballet of Canada. The Nutcracker. One of the best introductions to the ballet for children, and for many families an annual outing; possibly more popular than ever now that a new film version has just appeared.

JAN 4 TO 27: Tarragon Theatre. Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic. Music, drumming, dance and storytelling combine in a new modern evocation of the legendary figure of Kiviuq: hero, seeker, wanderer by the Qaggiq Collective; all in Inuktitut.

JAN 17 TO 27: Mirvish. The Simon and Garfunkel Story. This immersive concert-style presentation of a biographical walk-through of the musical partnership, with large-scale screen projections and a full band, is said to be a must-see for fans and should be a good fit for the intimate CAA Theatre.

JAN 29 TO FEB 9: Tapestry Opera. Hook Up. Another exciting world premiere from Tapestry, this time dealing with the very current issue of consent in a university setting. With a young cast of classically trained singer/actors, a contemporary book by Julie Tepperman and score by Chris Thornborrow, word is that Hook Up is part opera/part musical.

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

The end of the old year and beginning of the new features a mix of old and new operas and old operas rejigged to be like new. There never used to be so much variety at this time of year, but it’s a challenge operagoers will gladly have to get used to.

(from left) Betty Allison as the Trainbearer, Susan Bullock as Elektra and Ewa Podleś as Klytämnestra in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra, 2007. Photo Michael CooperElektra: The production on the largest scale in these two months is the Canadian Opera Company’s remount of Richard Strauss’ Elektra running for seven performances from January 26 to February 22. This will be the second revival of the imaginative production directed by James Robinson since its debut in 1996. It is especially noteworthy that this productions stars two former COC Brünnhildes. Christine Goerke, the COC’s most recent Brünnhilde, sings the title role and Susan Bullock, the Brünnhilde for the COC’s first ever Ring Cycle in 2006, sings Elektra’s hated mother Klytämnestra. Bullock previously sang the role of Elektra when the COC last presented the opera in 2007. Soprano Erin Wall sings Elektra’s sister Chrysothemis, baritone William Schwinghammer sings Elektra’s avenging brother Orest and COC favourite, tenor Michael Schade, sings Klytämnestra’s lover Aegisth. Johannes Debus conducts the score of this opera that inhabits the same rich, violent sound world as its immediate predecessor by Strauss, Salome, and is a real showpiece for the orchestra.

WOW Factor: Though they are largely unseen by the general public, the COC has steadily been developing a repertory of operas for children that it tours to schools all around the province. Lately, the COC has taken to giving the public a look at these charming works. Its newest is WOW Factor - A Cinderella Story with music by Gioacchino Rossini from his Cinderella opera La Cenerentola (1817) adapted by Stéphane Mayer with a new English libretto by Joel Ivany, artistic director of Against the Grain Theatre. Ivany is well-known for his ability to write new libretti to existing music as he has done for AtG’s Mozart series of Figaro’s Wedding (2013), Uncle John (2014) and A Little Too Cosy (2015). One can tell that La Cenerentola has undergone quite a lot of musical adaptation since the original runs about 148 minutes whereas WOW Factor runs only 50 minutes.

Rossini’s opera has no Fairy Godmother and neither does Ivany’s adaptation. In his updated version the hit singing show WOW Factor arrives at Cindy’s school. Students jump at the chance to compete for the top prize – especially with pop sensation Lil’ Charm rumoured to be there. Shy Cindy dreams of sharing her talents with the world but friends become mean girls when she steps into the spotlight. The question is can Cindy, driven by her desire to sing, and with a bit of help from a reluctant pop star and his sidekick, overcome her fears to find her own unique voice? The roles are sung by members of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio and before each performance, young audience members can take part in interactive activities related to the opera. The recommended age is from 5 to 12 years old.

Performances at 11am and 2pm take place on both December 1 and 2 in the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre and tickets are free for children under 12. The 11am performance on December 2 is designated as a relaxed performance and people of all abilities are welcome.    

TOT’s Fledermaus: Meanwhile, as it has done for more than 30 years, Toronto Operetta Theatre continues its service of helping Torontonians bridge the old and new years with operetta as it has done for more than 30 years. This year it revives its production of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Die Fledermaus for five performances from December 28, 2018, to January 2, 2019. Die Fledermaus, the peak of the Golden Age operetta, which has become over time intimately associated with New Year’s Eve in Europe and abroad, stars Lara Ciekiewicz, who previous was a stunning Sylva Varescu in Kálmán’s The Gypsy Princess in 2011. Also in the cast are tenor Adam Fisher, who sang Paris in TOT’s La Belle Hélène earlier this year, Caitlin Wood as Adele and TOT favourite Elizabeth Beeler as Prince Orlovsky. Derek Bate conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin not only directs but plays the role of Frosch, the jailer.

Silva-Marin’s re-imagination of the role of Frosch is one his best ideas in this Die Fledermaus, last seen in 2010. Typically, the role is played by a comedian who does a long spoken routine in Act 3 before the singing recommences. Silva-Marin avoids this general slump in the action by making Frosch a would-be opera singer who gets into a competition with the tenor he has locked up in the cells. This not only keeps the music going but is far funnier than any spoken-word routine I’ve seen.

Lucia Cervoni. CREDIT Tom WolfHamilton and Kitchener: Since the demise of Opera Ontario in 2014, symphonies in the two cities served, Hamilton and Kitchener, have begun including opera in their programming. In Hamilton the Brott Festival Orchestra has mounted a fully staged opera for several years during the Festival’s summer run. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has also begun adding opera to its schedule due to popular demand. On January 11 and 12 it will perform Bizet’s Carmen in concert with mezzo soprano Lucia Cervoni in the title role and tenor Ernesto Ramirez as Don José. The cast will also feature baritone Alexander Dobson; sopranos Midori Marsh, Claire de Sévigné and Autumn Wascher; baritone Chad Louwerse; the Opera Laurier Chorus, Laurier Singers and Alumni Choir; and the Grand Philharmonic Children’s Choir. Daniel Isengart is the director and Andrei Feher is the conductor.

Hosokawa’s Raven and Maiden from the Sea: Those interested in contemporary opera should know that renowned Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa is in residence at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music this season. The faculty is staging several concerts to celebrate Hosokawa’s work, one of which is devoted to two of the seven operas he has written. The program is made up of Hosokawa’s setting of The Raven as a monodrama from 2012 and Futari Shizuka (The Maiden from the Sea) from 2017.

Hosokawa wrote The Raven, based on Edgar Allen Poe’s 1845 poem, for Swedish mezzo-soprano Charlotte Hellekant after he had heard her sing in his opera Matsukaze (2011). Hosokawa has noted the similarities in theme between The Raven and Japanese Noh drama in which creatures of nature play an important part. While all the roles in Noh are traditionally played by men, Hosokawa has said that having a mezzo-soprano interpret the part of the Narrator who mourns her lost love purposely reverses the tradition in order to broaden the theme to feelings of loss in general.  

Futari Shizuka (which literally means “The Two Shizukas”) was conceived as a companion to The Raven. It is based on a Noh drama attributed to Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) about the departed spirit of Shizuka Gozen, or Lady Shizuka, who possesses the body and soul of a young beautiful girl. Hosokawa’s librettist Oriza Hirata has updated the action to the present by making the girl a refugee who has made it to the Mediterranean Sea, and sings of her sorrow for wars and hateful disputes. Soprano Xin Wang will sing the role of the young girl. Ryoko Aoki, a Noh singer and dancer, will be the spirit of Lady Shizuka, the role she created in 2017. The double bill takes place in Walter Hall of the Edward Johnson Building at the University of Toronto on January 17 only. clip_image001.png

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

National identity and culture play a profound and vital role in the artistic self-perception of a country’s performers and composers. Looking back on the Renaissance and Baroque eras, it is clear that unique combinations of pedagogy, performance practice, politics and technique led to the development of identifiable national schools, particularly in France, Germany, Italy and England. These schools are where we see the development of such localized phenomena as the polyphony of Tudor England, the chorale-based compositions of Lutheran Germany, and the development of Italian operatic and dramatic forms.

The annual arrival of Christmas brings with it a host of music from across Europe, connected through various forms of Christianity, but unique in individual flavours and styles. Last month we were introduced to the villancicos navideños, an ebullient form of proto-popular Christmas music native to Spain; this December and January we are fortunate to hear a wide range of music from other cultural hotspots, performed by some of our city’s finest ensembles.

Jubilance and Joy

No name is more synonymous with the German Baroque than Johann Sebastian Bach, whose choral compositions combined Lutheran theology with divinely inspired music. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is a classic Christmas composition from the Baroque era, compiled and composed between 1733 and 1734 to celebrate the Christmas season in Leipzig. Although considered a single, freestanding work (catalogued as BWV 248) this “oratorio” is a series of six individual cantatas that were performed during the time between Christmas and Epiphany and divided between the Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche. Monumental in scope and brilliant in its musical expression of Bach’s beliefs and theology, the Christmas Oratorio is, along with the Passions, the closest Bach came to writing a dramatic work. The Toronto Classical Singers tackle this incredible work on December 9, bringing a touch of variety to an oratorio scene saturated with performances of Handel’s Messiah!

About 100 years before Bach was born, Michael Praetorius was pioneering new musical forms in the Lutheran tradition, developing and incorporating Protestant hymnody into freely composed pieces, such as the chorale fantasias for organ. Praetorius was prolific, his voluminous output showing the influence of Italian composers and his younger contemporary Heinrich Schütz. His works include the nine volume Musae Sioniae (composed between 1605 and 1610), a collection comprised of more than 1200 chorale and song arrangements, and Terpsichore, a compendium of more than 300 instrumental dances, which is both his most widely known work and his sole surviving secular work. Now known almost exclusively for his harmonization of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, made famous in the Carols for Choirs collection, a broader overview of Praetorius’s music will be on display December 14 to 16 with The Toronto Consort’s Praetorious Christmas Vespers, a reproduction of a Christmas Vespers as it might have sounded in the early 17th century. It is worth remembering that there were many generations of composers who paved the path for the great composers of the late baroque, and the chance to hear the unique sounds of these earlier soundsmiths is certainly valuable and rewarding.

Ensemble Masques350 Years of François Couperin

François Couperin (1668 - 1733), known by his contemporaries as Couperin le Grand (Couperin the Great), was born into one of the most renowned musical families in Europe, the French equivalent of the German Bachs. Couperin was a prolific and influential composer, receiving a 20-year royal publishing privilege in 1713 and subsequently issuing numerous volumes of keyboard and chamber music including his most famous book, L’Art de toucher le clavecin. Unlike other Baroque composers whose works were lost and later revived, Couperin’s have remained in the repertory; Johannes Brahms performed Couperin’s music in public and contributed to the first complete edition of Couperin’s Pièces de clavecin by Friedrich Chrysander in the 1880s; Richard Strauss orchestrated a number of Couperin’s harpsichord pieces; and Maurice Ravel memorialized his fellow French composer in his Le Tombeau de Couperin.

On December 15, Ensemble Masques visits the University Club of Toronto Library to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Couperin’s birth with a commemorative concert featuring the music of Couperin, Lully and Corelli. While the inclusion of an Italian in this French-themed concert might seem strange, Corelli was tremendously influential to Couperin. Couperin himself acknowledged this debt to Corelli, introducing Corelli’s trio sonata form to France through his grand trio sonata Le Parnasse, ou L’Apothéose de Corelli (Parnassus, or the Apotheosis of Corelli), in which he blended the Italian and French styles of music in a set of pieces which he called Les Goûts réunis (styles reunited).

With selections from Couperin’s Concerts Royaux, Pièces de Clavecin, and Nouveaux Concerts et Pièces de Violes, this concert will provide an overview of the great composer’s works, expertly interpreted by harpsichordist Olivier Fortin, violinist Kathleen Kajioka and gambist Mélisande Corriveau.

England’s Golden Age

Despite the challenging and potentially lethal political situations that occurred during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the composers of Tudor England created some of the most sublime choral music ever written. Whether Catholic or Protestant, in English or in Latin, the music of William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and their contemporaries underwent a well-deserved revival in the 20th century and continues to be popular in churches and concert halls across the globe.

Pax Christi Chorale, an ensemble known for their performances of large-scale dramatic oratorios, lend their voices to some smaller-scale, a cappella masterpieces from the English Renaissance on December 16. With Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices and anthems by Tallis, Weekes and Gibbons, this exploration of Tudor polyphony will undoubtedly be beautiful and, depending on the size and finesse of the ensemble, likely more aligned with the massed-choir sound of King’s College, Cambridge than the streamlined timbres of the Tallis Scholars.

A Little Italy

Tafelmusik’s exploration of multimedia concert experiences has led to some magnificent performances, including Safe Haven and J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation. The latest in this series of innovative programming is The Harlequin Salon – created, scripted and illustrated by oboist Marco Cera – which explores music of the Italian Baroque through the character of Pier Leone Ghezzi: caricaturist, painter, and host of some of 18th-century Rome’s most popular salon parties. What makes the character of Ghezzi particularly fascinating is that he was a real person (he lived from 1674 to 1755, primarily in Rome), an Italian painter who was probably the world’s first professional caricaturist. Ghezzi was an enthusiastic music lover, holding exclusive musical salons at his palazzo for the Roman intellectual and artistic elite. (His most well-known portrait is the famous caricature of Antonio Vivaldi, with long, curly hair and a protruding, crooked nose.)

Vivaldi caricature by Pier Leone GhezziCera, who plays the role of Ghezzi in The Harlequin Salon, is an artist as well; he studied figurative art at Liceo Artistico Citta’ di Valdagno in Italy before joining Tafelmusik in 2000. The Harlequin Salon’s recreation of one of Ghezzi’s famous salon evenings will undoubtedly be entertaining, giving audiences a chance to travel back in time and imagine what happens (and what music results) when these famous characters from the past cross paths. Famous guests at this salon include composer Antonio Vivaldi, 24-year-old opera diva Faustina Bordoni, and cello virtuoso Giovanni Bononcini. These guests and their music will be performed by Tafelmusik’s music director Elisa Citterio, guest soprano Roberta Invernizzi and Tafelmusik cellist Christina Mahler, making this new concert a don’t-miss event, January 16 to 20.

Two Melting Pots

Now in their third full season, Cor Unum Ensemble is one of Toronto’s newest early music ensembles, an orchestra and chorus comprised of emerging professionals interested in vocal and instrumental collaboration within the early music repertoire. On December 8 and 9, Cor Unum presents “Merry & Bright,” a collection of seasonal music from across Europe, followed by “Sub Rosa” on January 26 and 27. Sub Rosa, a collaboration between Cor Unum and the Sub Rosa Ensemble, explores 16th- and 17th-century repertoire written for and by cloistered nuns who, although often highly trained, are rarely considered in the context of music history. These nuns used singing and composition to communicate their identity and their devotion beyond the convent walls, developing their social and financial independence, and their music will be used to explore the important role played by women in the early Baroque musical scene.

“Centuries of Souls,” presented by Confluence on January 26, promises to be one of January’s most interesting concerts. Featuring Opus8 singing Ockeghem’s famous Requiem mass, Matthew Larkin playing Messiaen organ works, and Schola Magdalena singing Hildegard, this performance stretches across five centuries of musical history. Messiaen and Hildegard are, although separated by a great temporal distance, closely connected through their mysticism. Hildegard experienced visions and expressed them through tune and text, while Messiaen expressed the mysteries of his devoutly held Catholic beliefs through strikingly original works for the organ. With this eclectic mixture of medieval and modern, Centuries of Souls will undoubtedly be an extraordinary experience for all in attendance.

Amidst all the the seasonal hustle and bustle, I encourage you to explore the vibrant musical offerings that are on display this December and January. Whether you prefer Handel’s Messiah, Tafelmusik’s The Harlequin Salon, a traditional Festival of Lessons and Carols, or any of the other listings in this double issue of The WholeNote, the richness and depth of Toronto’s classical music scene ensures that everyone has something to look forward to this holiday season. Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus and New Year – see you in 2019. Until then, keep in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

The Messiah Edition

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Grand Philharmonic Choir. “Handel Messiah.” Centre in the Square, 101 Queen St. N., Kitchener. A large-scale, symphonic Messiah with choir and symphony orchestra for maximum impact!

DEC 15, 7:30PM: Chorus Niagara. Handel Messiah. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, 250 St. Paul St., St. Catharines. For those further down the QEW, this Messiah features an excellent choir and the superb Talisker Players.

DEC 18 to 21, 7:30PM: Tafelmusik. Handel Messiah. Koerner Hall, Telus Centre, 273 Bloor St. W. The quintessential Messiah experience for early music aficionados – sit and enjoy the show or participate in the Sing-Along Messiah at 2pm in Roy Thomson Hall on December 22!

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

At times in this column I have gone deep into a particular world music theme, presenter, musician, ensemble, audience or school. For example, last month in this column I explored in some detail, the 150-year lineage of Chinese music performance in Canada, then pulled a tighter focus on the world of Chinese Orchestras active in the GTA today. Concerts by two of those ensembles bookend the two-month-plus period I’m covering here.

At other times I’ve painted our region’s worldly music pulse with a broad brush. For this December-January-early February column I’ve chosen the latter approach, surveying the seasonal tapestry of our region’s astonishingly diverse music scenes. So, consider this column the tip of the GTA winter season’s live music iceberg.

Toronto Chinese Orchestra “Scenic Sojourn: A Night of Chinese Music”

December 1: The Toronto Chinese Orchestra is the oldest such continually operating regional orchestra. It’s presenting a concert on December 1 at North York’s Yorkminster Citadel titled “Scenic Sojourn: A Night of Chinese Music” with Matthew Poon conducting. Angela Xu is the yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) soloist, while Charlotte Liu is featured on the dizi (Chinese transverse flute).

On the program is music by both Chinese and Canadian composers chosen to underscore the concert’s geographic and seasonal themes. They paint portraits of village life in Jiangsu, scenic views of mountain ranges in Taiwan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as evoking the prototypical Canadian winter chill.

Works include Whiteout by Matthew van Driel and Reincarnation Suite by Marko Koumoulas, both early-career Toronto composers. IMHO the performance of these works signals a healthy active engagement with the broader non-Chinese Canadian music community. Composers Hua Wu (Taiwan Folk Song Rhapsody), Xianyu Jiang, arr. Chunmin Zhang (Touring Gusu), and He Huang (Tian Shan Poetry) present Chinese approaches to orchestral writing. Rounding out the evening, a performance by the TCO’s Toronto Youth Chinese Orchestra ensures essential interpretive orchestral skills are passed on to the younger generation.

Payadora: “Tango and Argentine Folk Music”

Payadora Tango EnsembleDecember 2: The warm and intimate Gallery 345 hosts the tango-centric Toronto quartet Payadora in concert. “Tango and Argentine Folk Music” is the aptly concise title of its committed tribute to the tango repertoire and ethos. Payadora regulars, violinist Rebekah Wolkstein, Drew Jurecka, bandoneon, pianist Robert Horvath and bassist Joseph Phillips are joined by guest vocalist Elbio Fernandez in a program drawn partly from the roots of the Buenos Aires’ early 20th-century tango heyday.

The group typically plays scores which favour instrumental tangos designed for listening in a concert setting rather than those intended for couple dancing. The evening continues with Astor Piazzolla’s well-known, trend-setting nuevo tango compositions of the second half of the 20th century.

In my May 1, 2017 review of a Payadora concert in The WholeNote, I wrote that in addition to tango they “also performed two Argentinian vernacular dance music genres. The zamba is set in a slow 3/4 meter – or is it in 6/8? – while yet another couples’ dance, the chacarera, also plays on similar hemiola syncopation.”

Audiences at the December 2 concert can certainly expect similar rhythmically compelling folkloric renditions. Founded in 2013, with its playful and virtuoso approach to the musically accessible tango repertoire, we can see why Payadora has, in a few years, garnered a healthy regional fan base.

Christmas musical themes

Every year at this time I look at music traditions of those who celebrate Christmas in its many guises. For those who don’t, it may be time for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or just simply “The Holidays.” This year is no exception.

I’ve assembled a few picks from the many seasonal musical offerings that highlight diversities in our region.

December 5: The Toronto Choral Society, Geoffrey Butler conductor, presents “Navidad Nuestra (Our Christmas)” at Koerner Hall. The concert features two of the best-known works of popular Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez (b. 1921). The 150-voice TCS choir is joined by the Latin ensemble (and past collaborator) Cassava, led by Rodrigo Chavez, with tenor soloist Ernesto Cárdenas.

Ramírez’s Navidad Nuestra for choir and Andean instruments is a “folk drama of the Nativity” based on Hispanic-American traditions. His earlier Misa Criolla (1964), a Creole Catholic mass in a South American hybrid mixture of Iberian and Indigenous musical genres, swiftly became a big hit among international choirs and on LP. A pioneering mass written in a regional Indigenous dialect, Misa Criolla’s bright, optimistic sound exuded an unpretentious spirituality, in tune with the changing times in which it was produced.

Founded in 1845, the TCS is the city’s oldest and largest community choir and it is impressive to see them tackle these Ramírez scores again. Feliz navidad!

December 8: Celtic-themed music appears alive and well, particularly during the holiday season. Here’s just one concert example at the eastern end of our own “fertile crescent.”, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts presents “The Kingston Connection: A Celtic Christmas with Kelli Trottier” at its beautiful Kingston Ontario hall.

A member of the North America Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame, Kingston fiddler, step dancer and vocalist Trottier’s musical vocabulary is steeped in her deep Scottish and French roots, reflected in her ten albums. Trottier and her backup musicians present an album of Canadian and Celtic Christmas songs and fiddle music.

Chris McKhool brings his Holidays of the Global Village with Chris McKhool and Friends to the Kingston Road United Church, December 9. Then he puts on his Sultans of String hat for a whirlwind six-city Beyond the GTA tour from December 12 to 18 with a stop in Markham on December 13 in between. Photo Jake JacobsonDecember 9 at 2pm: “Holidays of the Global Village with Chris McKhool and Friends” plays at the Kingston Road United Church. Kid-friendly Canadian violinist, guitarist and singer-songwriter McKhool is bringing two armloads of world music friends to help him fete the “multicultural mosaic of our country.” Inclusive songs about “Bodhi Day (Buddhist), Carnival (Quebec), Chanukah, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Diwali, Halloween, Kwanzaa (Pan-African), Native Traditions, Ramadan and Winter Solstice” will ring out in the church. Assisting McKhool with his ecumenical vision are Toronto-based musicians Aviva Chernick, Shannon Thunderbird, Maryem and Ernie Tollar, Kevin Laliberté and Drew Birston.

December 20: in keeping with the Celtic theme – and at the southern end of our fertile crescent – The Gallery Players of Niagara present “Glissandi & Guy Bannerman: A Celtic Solstice” at Silver Spire United Church, St. Catharines. Guy Bannerman provides the Celtic-themed narration with the Glissandi trio playing the soulful music of Ireland, Wales and the Scottish Highlands. The program is repeated December 21 even further south at Grace United Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Congratulations! We’ve made it to the New Year

KamancelloJanuary 8, 12pm: Kamancello plays on the Canadian Opera Company’s World Music Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Kamancello is an innovative bowed string duo with Shahriyar Jamshidi on kamanche (Persian spike-fiddle) and Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello. Theirs is an East-meets-West artistic partnership that “blurs musical genre conventions and cultural boundaries with their highly evocative improvised performances,” ranging in tone from soulful to incendiary.

January 20, 4pm: Folk Under the Clock presents Harry Manx at the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, Peterborough. Manx is a veteran of the Canadian music fusion scene who has released 11 albums and garnered multiple industry awards by successfully merging Hindustani classical music with acoustic blues. It’s all propelled by the hybrid sitar-guitar he plays: the mohan veena. His ability to gracefully wed the blues with the classical Indian ragas is unparalleled. It’s an unusual musical mix that has led him to be labelled the “Mysticssippi Blues Man.” Manx and Steve Marriner (vocals, harmonica, guitar) will play tracks from their new album Hell Bound for Heaven.

January 24, 12pm: The Canadian Opera Company presents “Volando: Tango Takes Flight” as part of its World Music Series. The Payadora Tango Ensemble takes over the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre space in a noon-hour master class on contemporary tango listening music, performing from their latest album Volando, inspired by a “beautiful sunset in the clouds as seen from a flight home by violinist Rebekah Wolkstein.”

February 2: Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Aline Morales perform at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall. I’ve written appreciatively about both the Orkestra and Morales numerous times in this column. The quotes, “Adventurous, multicultural and amazing!” (The Wall Street Journal), and “Toronto’s guerilla-punk-Balkan-folk-brass band that started on the streets of Toronto” (their website) about sum up the Orkestra. And we know Morales as the Toronto-based Brazilian singer, percussionist, bandleader and member of KUNÉ: Canada’s Global Orchestra. It’s bound to be a good time.

Also on February 2: Alliance Française Toronto and Batuki Music Society present Les Frères Cissoko Bannaya Family from Senegal, part of their Musique du monde series at 9pm. Les Frères Cissoko’s illustrious Malinke (aka Mandika) musical lineage stretches back several centuries in West Africa, along with their primary instrument, the kora. The kora (21-string long-necked harp lute) was traditionally played by a griot (a.k.a. jali, or jeli) who combines the bardic roles of a historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and musician. As a main repository of regional oral tradition the griot therefore has often been an influential advisor to the West African ruling classes.

Malinke oral tradition recounts that Jali Mady Fouling Cissoko, one of the three Cissoko brothers’ ancestors, a griot in the Kaabu Empire (1537–1867), was responsible for the development of the kora, launching a family tradition still in force today.

Senior brother Noumoucounda has taken his family’s practice considerably further afield however, embracing international vernacular music genres. Formerly with Positive Black Soul, among the first hip-hop groups based in Dakar, Senegal (founded in 1989), he has played with Youssou N’Dour, Ki-Mani Marley (son of Bob Marley) and others, earning him the colourful sobriquets “the hip-hop griot,” and “the Jimi Hendrix of the kora.”

Finally, welcome the Year of the Pig (Boar)!

February 5, 12pm: The Canadian Opera Company celebrates the Chinese New Year featuring the Toronto Chinese Orchestra Chamber Players (TCO-CP) at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

Led by erhu virtuosa Patty Chan, TCO-CP forms the professional core of the Toronto Chinese Orchestra. Marking the Chinese New Year they perform a mix of Chinese music plus contemporary works by Canadian and international composers.

TCO-CP members are established Toronto musicians and music teachers. Their repertoire embraces not only demanding Chinese works, but also contemporary scores by Canadian and international composers. This demonstration of transcultural musical solidarity is a marvellous way to bring in the year of the – carefree, honest, trusting, sincere, brave and wealthy – boar (aka pig). clip_image001.png

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

The combined bands of the naval reserve divisions of HMCS York (Toronto) and HMCS Star (Hamilton) in the Cathedral Church of St. James, Toronto. Photo Jack MacQuarrieThroughout the year 2017 the programming focus for community musical groups was Canada’s sesquicentennial year, with concert repertoire focused on almost any music which might have some connection to the development of Canada during the previous 150 years. By the end of that year, most bands had pretty well exhausted their library assets for music sesquicentennial connections. Then came 2018 with no similar focus in the first part of the year, except the perennial question about repertoire for concert bands: “Who are we trying to please, the audiences, band members, the conductor etc.?”

There were the usual budding composers waiting to be heard and, always, old-time favourites which might attract the largest audiences to help swell the band’s precarious coffers.

The 11th day

Towards the end of 2018, though, many groups turned their attention to another significant anniversary in the year: November 11 of this year, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice to end the First World War.

Having spent some time in the Navy, it was only natural for me to gravitate towards a November 10 Navy band concert commemorating that occasion: the combined bands of the naval reserve divisions of HMCS York from Toronto and HMCS Star from Hamilton performing “A Festival of Remembrance” in the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto.

The program for this concert was one of the most appropriate that I have ever experienced. Every number was either music that might have been performed during that wartime period or was written to commemorate a significant event of the war. Since the WWI battle most commemorated by Canadians is the Battle of Vimy Ridge, it was fitting that the opening number was Thomas Bidgood’s march Vimy Ridge. Much of the program was divided between such works as Songs From the Great War, Boys of the Old Brigade and Abide With Me and major orchestral pieces by composers who were at their prime during the period of WWI. These included three composers who were British-born: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst.

There were also some other top-quality marches, which rarely get their due these days. Although community bands, in general, had their origins in town bands – which traditionally played in parades – many community bands nowadays have never played in a parade. In fact, with some bands, marches are considered somewhat beneath their dignity, and are never included in programs. Fortunately, in this concert, such was not the case. The marches included here, other than Vimy Ridge, were all composed by Kenneth Alford (1881-1945), often referred to as “Britain’s March King.” Each was chosen because it was written to commemorate a particular event in WWI. The Middy and On the Quarterdeck were both written to commemorate the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The Vanished Army was dedicated to the first 100,000 British soldiers lost in WWI, and Voice of the Guns was to honour the regiments of the Royal Artillery in the British army.

Alford and Dunn

The name Kenneth Alford was actually a pseudonym for Major Fredrick Joseph Ricketts, bandmaster of a Royal Marine Band. This was common practice because, in those days, members of the British Armed Forces were not permitted to earn any income other that their regular military pay. Some years after Ricketts left the Royal Marines his position was filled by Major F. Vivian Dunn, bandmaster of the Royal Marines Portsmouth Division.

When the Canadian National Exhibition first opened after WWII, the featured band on the main bandshell was that Royal Marine Band from Portsmouth with Major Dunn conducting. As a student with a very rewarding summer job, I was in charge of operating the sound system on the Main Bandshell. When I first introduced myself to Major Dunn, his first question was “Can you read music?” When I answered in the affirmative, before each of the two daily concerts Dunn would spend a few minutes with me, going over the scores to ensure that there would be proper microphone pickup. Shortly after, Dunn became Lt. Col. Sir Vivian Dunn KCVO OBE FRSA, principal director of music Royal Marines. After he left the Royal Marines, Dunn became conductor of a number of top orchestras in Britain.

A few days after that November 10 Navy Festival of Remembrance concert, I still had an ear-worm: I couldn’t get the melodies of Vimy Ridge out of my head. The cure was to play a recording of it. Having written a review for The WholeNote a couple of years ago of a CD containing Vimy Ridge, the remedy was at hand so I played it, only to find that the very next number on that CD just happened to have been written by none other than Major F. Vivian Dunn: The Captain General, written in 1949 shortly after his stint at the CNE.

(The honorific “Captain General,” by the way, is the title bestowed on the ceremonial head of the British Royal Marines. This particular march was written to mark the occasion in 1949 when then Captain General, none other than His Majesty King George VI dined with Royal Marine officers at the Savoy Hotel in London. Since then the appointment has been held by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and, since May 14, 2018, Prince Harry.

Bugler’s Holidays

The evening before writing this column I attended a concert in London by the Plumbing Factory Brass Band under Henry Meredith, very curious to hear the three tubas performing Leroy Anderson’s famous Bugler’s Holiday. My reactions were mixed. As for technique, the performance by the three tubists of the band was excellent. As for personal enjoyment, I would still prefer to hear the staccato components of this music with the crisp attack of a trumpet rather than the broad tonal base of a tuba. It was also, as usual, a great example of the theatrical imagination that “Doctor Hank” Meredith brings to his programming.

One selection on the program tied in well with my comments earlier about marches: Le pére la victoire (Father of Victory), written by French composer Louis-Gaston Ganne (1862-1923) during the Napoleonic Wars. Ganne was a leading composer and conductor at that time. His Marche Lorraine written in 1892 for national gymnastic games became a battle song for the Free French during WWII.

Still on the topic of bugles, though, the recent Armistice ceremonies have triggered one of my occasional grumbles, namely the butchering of bugle calls. In the week prior to, and on Armistice Day itself, I heard many “bugle calls,” but none played on a bugle. They were all played on trumpets. A trumpet has the same pitch as a bugle, but certainly does not sound like a bugle. A proper bugle has a unique mellow tone which cannot be simulated by a trumpet. This may sound a bit strange to some people, but to me it does not work. To me, using a trumpet to substitute for a bugle is akin to using a motorcycle to substitute for a horse in a dressage ceremony. Proper bugles are not that expensive. Why can’t each military unit (and similar organization) obtain just one bugle to be used on such occasions?

Shifting into Christmas mode

Now that Armistice ceremonies are over for another 11 months, most bands are shifting into Christmas mode, a shift that brings them into close alignment (and in many cases joint concerts) with some of our top community choirs. There is a natural continuum between bands and choirs: from the pure pleasure of the process to the thrill of performing to high levels of professionalism.

There will be several such joint concerts in the coming weeks. Look for them in the listings and in the Band Quick Picks below.

BANDSTAND QUICK PICKS

DEC 2, 3PM: The York University Wind Symphony directed by Bill Thomas present a concert of various classical works at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, York University.

DEC 3, 7:30PM: Resa’s Pieces, all three ensembles in “Holiday Concert” at York Mills Collegiate.

DEC 7, 8PM: Etobicoke Community Concert Band “Classic Christmas” with Jean Augustine, reader; Andrew Scott, guest MC. Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: University of Toronto Wind Symphony in concert. Fucik’s Florentiner March; Weinzweig’s Deep Blues from Out of the Blues, Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone in E-flat Op.109, Tull’s Sketches on a Tudor Psalm, Ticheli’s Postcard, and other works. MacMillan Theatre.

DEC 8, 4PM: Weston Silver Band’s annual “Yule Sing!” Sing along with Timothy Eaton Memorial Church’s Choir School and Sanctuary Choir. Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: The Barrie Concert Band A Christmas Fantasy”. Do They Know It’s Christmas?, Huron Carol and film music from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Polar Express, and Nightmare Before Christmas; Collier Street United Church (Barrie).

DEC 11, 7:30PM: Silverthorn Symphonic Winds “Christmas Soiree”. A one-hour program of favourite Christmas delights. Free refreshments and conversation with the musicians after the concert. Wilmar Heights Event Centre Concert Hall.

DEC 11, 7:30PM: Hannaford Street Silver Band’s “Christmas Cheer” with host and tenor soloist Ben Heppner and the Elmer Iseler Singers. Metropolitan United Church.

DEC 15, 7PM: The Salvation Army North York Temple Band, joined by the Amadeus Choir, present their “Christmas Spectacular”. Works by Willcocks, Rutter, Venables, Graham, Balantine. Tyndale Chapel.

DEC 16, at 2PM: The Borealis Big Band will stage “A Big Band Family Christmas Concert”. Seasonal favorites along with jazz charts by Brubeck, Lopez, Toombs, Stevie Wonder and others. Gord Shephard, conductor. Newmarket Old Town Hall (Newmarket).

DEC 16, 2PM: The Festival Wind Orchestra. “A Fireside Christmas”. Big Band Showcase, Mary Poppins Medley, Argentum, Gypsy Dance from Carmen. Also seasonal favourites and a Christmas carol sing-a-long. Isabel Bader Theatre.

DEC 22, 4:30PM: Christ Church Deer Park & North York Temple Salvation Army Band present “Joy to the World: A Community Carol-Sing”. Christ Church Deer Park.

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

The holiday season in Toronto – which begins, at least in some major retail stores, as early as November 1 – carries with it different meanings for different people. For some, of course, it is still primarily a religious occasion; for others, it is a chance to spend at least one morning drinking excessive amounts of rum and eggnog before having a recuperative nap on a disappointed family member’s couch. What tends to remain constant in our shared experience of December and early January is a celebration of community and a desire to enjoy, at least briefly, a sensation of abundance and plenty.

For live music fans in Southern Ontario, this will not be difficult to achieve: December is one of the most exciting months of the year to hit the town and take in a show. This is true whether you enjoy the great canon of Christmas songs (they’re fun, and they’re basically just standards) or not (they’re “fun,” and they’re basically just standards); the true gift that December brings us is the sheer volume of excellent and unusual programming, much of which is not explicitly holiday-themed. So, while there will be plenty of opportunities to hear songs about inclement weather, precocious reindeer, and bearded paternalistic wizards who watch you while you sleep, there will also be an ample supply of non-holiday music to check out in a wide variety of venues.

The Bistro: To begin: there are, of course, some really top-notch holiday shows taking place in December. On Saturday December 22, the pianists Robi Botos and Hilario Durán perform holiday classics, standards and more at Jazz Bistro, in what has become an annual tradition. It is rare enough to hear two pianists perform together, and rarer still to hear two pianists of Botos and Duran’s calibre in a club setting. Other holiday offerings from Jazz Bistro include Sam Broverman’s A Jewish Boy’s Christmas album release show, on Sunday December 16, and the Robert Scott Trio playing music from A Charlie Brown Christmas, on Tuesday December 18. Outside of the GTA, The Woodhouse performs at The Jazz Room in Waterloo with the help of singer Barbra Lica, who has joined the band in previous years for their annual run of holiday shows.

Bernice: Another notable holiday event: Bernice, the dreamy, synthy indie project led by singer Robin Dann, will play at Lula Lounge on December 16 as part of Venus Fest’s Winter Market, which celebrates women and non-binary artists and entrepreneurs. The market runs throughout the day, with performances from Bernice and the group Kith & Kin to be followed by winter bingo, hosted by the singer Alex Samaras.

Kirk MacDonaldThe Rex: The Rex’s December lineup is perhaps its most exciting since June, when it hosted the co-curated TD Toronto Jazz Festival concert series, due in no small part to the fact that some of the same artists are back, including the pianist Geoffrey Keezer and the duo, Paris Monster. Keezer – an alumnus of bands led by Benny Golson, Ray Brown and Art Blakey, in the final iteration of the fabled Jazz Messengers group – is both virtuosic and communicative, and has tremendous access to the jazz piano tradition. His performance, which takes place on Sunday December 16, will feature the singer Gillian Margot, who sung on Keezer’s recent trio album On My Way To You, and the drummer Jon Wikan, a longtime Keezer collaborator.

When Paris Monster played at The Rex in June, their performance became one of the most talked-about breakout shows of the whole jazz festival, in part because of how surprising it was that such a full band sound could be produced by just two people. The duo consists of Josh Dion, who simultaneously plays drums, keyboards, and sings, and the bassist Geoff Kraly, whose effects-heavy playing fills out the middle in a way that has more in common with shoegaze-inspired electric guitar playing than it does with traditional electric bass playing. (Dion often plays bass lines on his keyboard.) Beyond their unique performance practice, however, it’s the music itself – a combination of rock, synthpop, and jazz fusion – that is at the heart of Paris Monster’s compelling project. Paris Monster plays two consecutive nights at The Rex, on December 8 and 9.

The Rex will also be hosting a different two-night residency, on December 19 and 20, as Kirk MacDonald, one of Canada’s pre-eminent saxophonists, celebrates the release of his album Generations, his 15th as a bandleader. Generations features MacDonald’s contemporaries Neil Swainson and André White, as well as the American pianist Harold Mabern, who, at 82-years-old, is one of jazz’s prominent elder statesmen, and the clarinetist Virginia MacDonald, who, at 23, represents the next generation of jazz both figuratively and literally. (Kirk MacDonald is her father.)

Virginia MacDonald, who is becoming an important presence on the Toronto jazz scene in her own right, will also be playing at The Rex on December 18, one evening before joining her father for his two-night stint. She is joined by the bassist Dan Fortin and, keeping the family theme intact, by the siblings Lucas Dann and Nico Dann, a pianist and drummer (respectively) who share a sister in Robin Dann, the aforementioned singer in the group Bernice.

Burdock: While December is typically one of the best months of the year in which to see live music, January is one of the worst, for a variety of reasons. There is usually an expectation that people don’t go out as much, both for reasons financial (it’s time to start paying down that credit card) and caloric (those resolutions won’t keep themselves). The success of Burdock’s annual Piano Fest, however, has given both artists and audiences a reason to get back into the swing of things following the holidays. Taking place from January 21 to 28, this eight-day festival sees the temporary installation of a baby grand piano in Burdock’s Music Hall and, traditionally, double bills featuring complementary acts. Past performers include Joanna Majoko, Chelsey Bennett, Michelle Willis, Jeremy Dutcher and Tim Baker, amongst many others. While the full schedule has not yet been released, check out Burdock’s website for full listings when they become available.

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

DEC 18, 9:30PM: Virginia MacDonald, The Rex. The night before she joins her father Kirk MacDonald on the same stage for his album release show, clarinetist Virginia MacDonald leads her own accomplished quartet at The Rex.

DEC 16, 8PM: Venus Fest presents Bernice with Kith & Kin, Lula Lounge. As part of Venus Fest’s Winter Market, watch Kith & Kin perform before a very special holiday set by Bernice; followed by bingo.

DEC 22, 9PM: Robi Botos and Hilario Durán, Jazz Bistro. Leading pianists Robi Botos and Hilario Duran present a holiday-themed show in a rare configuration.

JAN 21 TO 28: Various performers, Burdock Piano Fest. Burdock Music Hall. Burdock presents its fourth-annual Piano Fest, featuring a variety of performers in complementary double bills that make good use of a beautiful (and well-tuned) baby grand piano.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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