vision string quartetThe Strings aspect of Music Toronto’s 48th season gets off to an auspicious start with the local debut of two European-based string quartets, the more established Quartetto di Cremona from Genoa, Italy, and the more recently formed (2012) vision quartet centred in Berlin. The Quartetto is said to be the spiritual heir to the fondly remembered Quartetto Italiano; the vision string quartet (like the Polish Apollon Musagète Quartet) plays standing up but in addition performs their concerts completely from memory. Both ensembles will be new for me, so I asked Music Toronto’s artistic producer Jennifer Taylor to give me some background. How long had they been on her radar? How did she discover them? What excites her about them?

She told me that in general she takes a lot of recommendations from artists, managers, other series presenters and concertgoers. She also does a lot of Internet research and listening. “Quartetto are a 20-year quartet; I had heard of them some years ago, but … then they made what I think was their first North American tour, and I wasn’t on it – too late for my planning. They have some well-regarded recordings. In fall 2017 they were entrusted with the Paganini Strads, owned by the Nippon Foundation, that the Tokyo [Quartet] played in their final years. They later signed with a New York management who by coincidence were the Tokyo’s original management three decades ago. It is easier to invite Europeans who have North American management because there may be a tour; very tough to bring anyone for a single date. So I invited them.

“The vision string quartet – they prefer no caps in their name (I’ve just recently been told) – won two European competitions in 2016, but as a four-year-old quartet, I hesitated. Then they signed with a British management I know well, and I started getting info and recordings in early 2017. Later in 2017 they signed with a New York manager I know even better, and we started talking. I made the arrangement in October 2018. Yes, the standing up – I think for the vision it is part of being edgy young guys. We’ll see.

“That’s the way it generally goes. It usually takes about two years from thinking of an artist to finding out to having it suit my timing. I have just today concluded an arrangement for a pianist for 2020/2021. When I started investigating three full years ago, I tried for a date for this season; at long last I have a date. And now we wait to see if all that was worth it! The most long-term interest on my part was Quatuor Mosaïques who opened for us in October 2017. I had tried repeatedly over 20 years to bring them and finally managed it.”

Quartetto di Cremona performs music by Boccherini, Verdi, Puccini and Respighi in the Jane Mallett Theatre on October 17; vision quartet’s recital of works by Haydn, Bacewicz and Schumann takes place November 7.

Music Toronto’s Piano Series opens on October 22, with a gala concert by Piano 6 New Generation, a collective of six internationally acclaimed Canadian concert pianists – Marika Bournaki, Angela Park, Daniel Wnukowski, David Jalbert, Ian Parker and Anastasia Rizikov – who have taken up the mantle of the original Piano 6, founded by Janina Fialkowska. From 1994 to 2004, Piano 6 performed in small communities all over Canada concentrating on remote regions of the country. The appealing program for the Music Toronto Piano 6 New Generation gala will see each of the pianists perform solo as well as participate in a variety of two pianos, four hands repertoire. Solo works by the likes of Schumann, Korngold, Rzewski, Kapustiin, Gershwin and Ravel share the stage with two pianos four hands showstoppers by Ravel, Milhaud, Bernstein and Gershwin. Dead centre, just after intermission, Kevin Lau’s commission Chimaera for two pianos twelve hands will be showcased. It’s an 88-key cornucopia.

Denis MatsuevThree Questions for Denis Matsuev

In advance of his return to Koerner Hall on October 17, Russian piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev, whose victory in the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition brought him international fame, took time out of his busy schedule – he plays 265 concerts a year – to answer the following questions:

WN: What was the first piece of music you fell in love with?

DM: It was not classical music. I listened to Soviet songs, Oscar Peterson’s jazz improvisations, which I love from my childhood. And since then this music is my favourite.

Who were your musical heroes in your student days?

One cannot say that I believed only one musician or composer to be my musical hero. In different periods of my life I had different heroes. If we talk about performers, I can name Vladimir Horowitz, Svyatoslav Richter, Arturo Michelangeli, Emil Gilels and Sergei Rachmaninoff, of course, as a pianist, composer and great personality.

Your Toronto program is very impressive. Please tell us about what specific thoughts went into your selection of the Tchaikovsky and Liszt works you will be playing in Koerner Hall.

It is always really difficult to formulate for which reason I choose this or that program. My repertoire includes 45 concertos with orchestra and 21 solo programs. Every year I learn one solo program and two concertos [which he’s never played before] with orchestra. It is my usual schedule. Works that I am planning to perform in Toronto have been in my repertoire for some time already. We have a really affectionate relationship with them. Liszt is the apex of Romantic music, I mean his Sonata in B Minor and Mephisto Waltz as well. As for Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata, I believe that this music is not performed as frequently as it deserves to be performed. It is really difficult because of its form; one can call it a piano concerto without orchestra. I play it all over the world, so I am happy that I have an opportunity to perform it in the amazing Koerner Hall, that I am deeply in love with.

The Art of the Piano at Gallery 345

The ongoing Art of the Piano series at Gallery 345 takes a giant step forward in October with five concerts by four pianists (and a violinist) of predominantly 19th-century repertoire beginning on October 3 with 32-year-old Israeli pianist Raviv Leibzirer performing Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Prokofiev’s Sonata No.3 and the solo piano version of Gershwiin’s Rhapsody in Blue. On October 6, musical royalty in the person of Victoria Korchinskaya-Kogan – she is the granddaughter of violinists, Leonid Kogan and Elizaveta Gilels (the sister of iconic Ukrainian pianist Emil Gilels) – takes the stage for a program of Schumann and Chopin before joining with acclaimed Canadian-Lithuanian violinist Atis Bankas to perform Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas Nos.1 and 8.

Mark Pierre Toth’s complete Beethoven Sonatas Project continues with Part 5 (highlighted by the “Appassionata”) on October 11, and Part 6 (the “Pathetique”, “Hammerklavier” and more) on October 20. Toth, whose international career, teaching and performing, is flourishing, also performs for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society: Part 5 on October 12 and Part 6, October 16. Finally, on October 25, in a clever programming touch, Bulgarian-born, Chicago-based performer and pedagogue Ani Gogova follows Beethoven’s Sonata quasi Fantasia “Moonlight” with Liszt’s Fantasia quasi Sonata “After Reading Dante” before proceeding with two Rachmaninoff Études-Tableaux that lead into Mussorgsky’s monumental Pictures at an Exhibition.

Academy Concert Series New Price Policy

Established in 1991, Academy Concert Series (academyconcertseries.com) offers innovative and intimate chamber music concerts spanning the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras on period instruments. Recently, artistic director Kerri McGonigle announced that ACS is making a big, bold move to Pay What You Decide. “We no longer have ticket prices. People can pay what they want, when they want and how they want! Tickets can be reserved online or by phone,” she said. Audience feedback led to the change. Some people thought the ticket prices were too low and should increase; others found the ticket prices limited the number of concerts they could attend. With Pay What You Decide everybody gets to decide how much they want to give. The hope is that those that can give more will give generously.

The hoped-for funds will allow ACS to pour the receipts right back into the community via outreach, increasing the payment to their artists, hiring an administrative assistant and increasing the number of ACS concerts. As the ACS website puts it: “Music heals, connects and touches our soul. It moves us, inspires us, energizes and relaxes us.”

As examples of where the hoped-for extra money might go: supporting a new concertgoer, $20; and one community outreach concert in a school, hospital, retirement home or elsewhere $1000 to $1500.

October 5, ACS presents “Family Has Your Bach” – with music by Telemann, J.S. Bach and C.P.E.Bach – performed by recorders/Baroque flute virtuoso Alison Melville, harpsichordist Christopher Bagan, violist/violinist Emily Eng, and cellist Kerri McGonigle. Whatever you decide to pay, you’re welcome. 

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

OCT 9, 6:45: Founded in 2014, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra Chamber Soloists offer a diverse and varied range of instruments in a wide range of infrequently performed repertoire, along with some best-loved chamber works. They perform inside the Roy Thomson Hall auditorium with the audience seated in the choir loft, with admission included in the price of that night’s TSO concert ticket. The first of this season’s five concerts presents TSO principal flutist Kelly Zimba, assistant principal violist Theresa Rudolph and harpist Heidi Elise Bearcroft performing Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp and Skaila Kanga’s arrangement of Ravel’s inimitable Sonatine. And, in rare opportunity to hear the Soloists away from RTH, the program will be repeated OCT 10, 12PM as part of the COC’s free noon-hour concert series, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

OCT 11, 7:30PM: The Don Wright Faculty of Music, Western University, presents Stewart Goodyear in recital. The following day, OCT 12, 11AM, Goodyear will give a free two-hour masterclass.

Elisso GogibedaschviliOCT 18, 8PM: Teenage violinist Elisso Gogibedashvili is the soloist in Paganini’s rousing Concerto No.1 in the opening concert of Sinfonia Toronto’s new season. As well, conductor Nurhan Arman leads his string orchestra in Dvořák’s lyrical Chamber Symphony - Quintet Op.77a. The following day, OCT 19, 7:30, Barrie Concerts brings Arman, the Sinfonia and Gogibedashvili north for a repetition of the program.

OCT 19, 8PM: Formed in 1998, The highly touted Bennewitz Quartet, who made a strong impression in two visits to Ottawa in the last three years brings their middle-European sensibility to the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society and the music of Schumann (String Quartet No.2), Janáček (String Quartet No.2 “Intimate Letters”) and Dvořák (“American” String Quartet). The following afternoon, OCT 20, 3:15PM, they make their Toronto debut opening the new season for Mooredale Concerts. Their Walter Hall recital begins with selections from Bach’s The Art of the Fugue followed by Beethoven’s transportative String Quartet Op.132, and concluding with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op.13, which was directly inspired by Beethoven’s Op.132.

OCT 21, 7:30PM: U of T Faculty of Music presents TSO bulwarks, concertmaster Jonathan Crow and principal cellist Joseph Johnson, performing Ravel’s stripped-down Sonata for Violin and Cello (dedicated to Debussy’s memory) and Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello in Walter Hall.

OCT 23, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Dvořák Piano Quartet with Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová, piano, in an intriguing recital: Dvořák’s Op.87, an arrangement of Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds Op.16 and Mahler’s engaging Piano Quartet.

OCT 25, 8PM: TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson joins Matthew Jones and the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s delightful Variations on a Rococo Theme.

OCT 26, 8PM: Two sonatas by Beethoven – including the indelible “Waldstein” – and two works by Schumann should make for another memorable evening by the redoubtable Sir Andras Schiff who seems to be quite at home in Koerner Hall. The preceding afternoon, OCT 25, 3PM, he will give a free masterclass in Mazzoleni Hall. Neither event should be missed.

NOV 2, 3PM: For the opening concert of their tenth anniversary season, 5 at the First Chamber Players presents the AYR Trio (Angela Park, piano; Yehonatan Berick, violin; Rachel Mercer, cello) performing trios by Smetana and Dvořák (the melodious “Dumky”). It’s worth a trip to Hamilton.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Vania Chan (right) and RezonanceSoprano Vania Chan caught the Handel bug as a young voice student at York University. She had started her training believing she was a mezzo-soprano and was, as she describes it, just experimenting with her upper register. But then she began working with mezzo Catherine Robbin at York. “When I first met her she knew right away. She asked me to try higher repertoire and Oh had I Jubal’s lyre (from Joshua) was the first Handel I’d sung. I just loved getting into the coloratura. I was also given a recording of Alcina with Natalie Dessay as Morgana and heard her version of Tornami a vagheggiar. The sparkle of it amazed me. That’s when I started getting into my actual voice type.”

Morgana will return for an appearance in the program titled “Handel Heroines” that Chan is performing with the Rezonance Baroque Ensemble on October 6 at the Plaza Suite in the Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre. Chan and Rezonance’s artistic director Rezan Onen-Lapointe have known each other since high school years at the Cardinal Carter Academy of the Arts in North York. As young musicians still in training, they both attended the Halifax Summer Opera Festival and took part, alongside Kevin Mallon and the Aradia Ensemble, in a production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. This is where Cleopatra struck. The demanding eight-aria role is now one of Chan’s favourites and the forthcoming concert will include at least three of those: the slow V’adoro pupille and Piangerò, and the break-neck Da tempeste.

The character of Alcina too is of great interest to Chan. “I have a whole new respect for Alcina now that I’ve dived into her arias,” she says. It’s a different kind of freedom to create the character in a concert setting, without stage direction, with the instrumental ensemble only. “For Morgana, I feel her excitement builds through the aria. For Alcina, in Ombre pallide, it’s a different situation. I start with a sense of desperation, a realization that Ruggiero has betrayed her and she has no power to make him love her anymore. Then she comes to a moment of strange peace, where things have got to stop and the body can’t take it anymore … but she’s all the while thinking what she can do next. Through the text and through the range, the aria goes up and it goes down. When it’s calmer, it’s not that she’s calm – she’s taking a moment to rethink. Morgana is in a way more surface-level, Alcina more manipulative.”

Natalie Dessay, whom she mentioned early on, was known both for her coloratura and her extraordinary acting skill. How important for Chan is the dramatic aspect alongside the technique? “I feel like one feeds the other,” she says. “You release more tension by being really invested in the character. Awareness of what you’re saying … a lot of it comes through the clarity of text. With clarity of text comes the clarity of storytelling. When I’m completely in the zone, everything comes together and flows, everything lines up, and the energy continues. The moment you start worrying about something you just did or begin thinking too far ahead, your singing and acting both tense up. There’s of course a certain amount of preparation you need to do to get to that point – but then you let it go.

The fun part is being able to play and experiment. Once I know the music and the text, I say to myself, let’s be spontaneous about it and tell the story. That makes it fresh for me every time.”

She’ll also include one aria from Handel’s Orlando in the program: Angelica’s Non potrà dirmi ingrata. When she was younger and first sang Orlando in concert with some friends, Chan most of all liked the role of Dorinda the shepherdess. It had a lower range and it was soubrette-ish, both of which appealed. But Angelica is more like the role of Alcina, she says, as it sits up higher for a longer time in the opera – and it’s in those heights that Chan’s voice lives now. “And Non potrà dirmi ingrata is such an edgy aria, very pointed. She’s perhaps feeling guilty about being in love with somebody else, not Orlando, who’s after her; but also thinks that he can’t blame her for that. I love the interplay with the ensemble: it all keeps rolling forward.”

Rezonance and Chan already performed similar programs of Baroque heroines in Toronto, Hamilton and at the Bloomington Early Music Festival in Indiana, and now it’s the turn for Chan’s hometown, Richmond Hill, to hear it. Torontonians can get there easily too, straight ahead on Yonge Street via local transit, after exiting the Finch subway station.

I tell Chan I first noticed her in a contemporary piece, the world premiere production of Brian Current’s opera Airline Icarus and she confirms that her interest in contemporary creation is as strong as her loyalty to early music. “I find a lot of singers who do a lot of early music like contemporary music too. It’s the two bookends of the music history.” And they tend to dislike the grand 19th-century opera? “Ha, it’s not so much that as it’s the types of voices and the approach to the music.” Early music and contemporary voices tend to be less voluminous, I take it, less vibrato’d? “Lighter perhaps, and that’s maybe what contemporary composers are looking for today. It’s interesting how we get placed. When I was in a master’s program in NYC’s Manhattan School of Music, I was in the early music ensemble and the contemporary ensemble. Those are my two homes. I’ve trained to learn music quickly and to use techniques and learning approaches that are based on Baroque and contemporary. They go hand in hand for me.”

Later in October, Chan will be branching out in another direction: she’ll sing Cunegonde in Bernstein’s Candide in Kitchener, with the Grand Philharmonic Choir, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the Elora Singers, conducted by Mark Vuorinen. (She’s loved musical theatre since a young age, she tells me.) That’s October 26. In November, she’ll be singing in Soundstreams’ new music production Two Odysseys and will tour with the same company in Claude Vivier’s Musik für das Ende in May next year to the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, to Rotterdam and to Bruges. There is a new opera in the works with Tapestry Opera for the 2020/21 season, and art song-wise, a recital with Syrinx Concerts and baritone Alex Dobson in May 2020, still unannounced (this is a Wholenote exclusive), featuring the cycle Frauenliebe und Leben and a few other of Schumann’s art songs.

Handel’s Heroines – Sunday, October 6, 3pm – Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre, Plaza Suite 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

OCT 11, 7PM: Neil Crory Tribute Concert. A fundraiser for The Neil F. Crory Endowment Fund in support of the Stratford Summer Music Vocal Academy. Phillip Addis, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Krisztina Szabó, Daniel Taylor, Erin Wall and others. Features spoken tributes and a pre-concert panel discussion moderated by Robert Harris. Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

OCT 13, 1:30PM: Kingston Road Village Concert Series. “The Passionate Voice: Countertenor, Baritone and Bass.” Works by Mendelssohn, O’Hara, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Grever and others. Russell Braun, baritone; Gary Relyea, bass-baritone; Dan Taylor, countertenor with five protégés and Miguel Brito and Michael Rose, piano. Kingston Road United Church.

OCT 27, 2PM and 4PM: Young People’s Concert: “Symphony Spooktacular.” Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King; Stravinsky: Infernal Dance of King Katschei from The Firebird; Maxime Goulet: Metamophosis of the Werewolf from Halloween Night; Mozart: Der Hölle Rache from Die Zauberflöte; Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette. Teiya Kasahara, soprano; Joy of Dance, dance troupe; Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall.

NOV 1, 7:30PM: St. George’s Lutheran Church/DAAD Alumni Association Canada. Schubert’s Winterreise. Arranged for bass-baritone and string quartet by Richard Krug. Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone; Penderecki String Quartet. St. George’s Lutheran Church.

NOV 1 8PM: Royal Conservatory of Music: Karina Gauvin, soprano, with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. Opera arias from 18th-century St. Petersburg. Koerner Hall.

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

According to a fundamental theory of perspective in the visual arts (grossly oversimplified here), an image can be broken down into three distinct components: a background (the space furthest away from the viewer); the foreground (the area closest to the viewer’s eye) and the middleground, which defines the space between the foreground and background. Together, these areas combine to form the image’s composition. This idea of building perspective through layers of perception carries over well into other disciplines and, as we shall see, provides a useful platform for understanding an essential facet of classical music.

The concept of context affects every musical performance we encounter; and like the theory of composition outlined above, can be thought through in terms of background, middleground and foreground.

Some contexts are broader in scope and include those pieces of historical background information that are essential in understanding how an individual composer, style or work developed. In the case of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, for example, it is useful to know before listening that Beethoven was deaf when he composed and conducted this piece, and that the choral finale is Beethoven’s musical representation of universal brotherhood based on the Ode to Joy theme. For a composer as dense and innovative as Gustav Mahler, whose symphonic tomes can be immense and overwhelming to first-time listeners, a basic knowledge of the German symphonic lineage (Haydn led to Mozart, led to Beethoven, led to Brahms and Wagner, led to Bruckner, led to Mahler) can help provide some perspective and shape perceptions of a specific work in an informed way.

Middleground information includes those anecdotes and facts that inform our modern perspectives in relation to music. That the Ninth Symphony was performed at the site of the Berlin Wall in 1989, soon after its toppling, is an important historical moment, as was the performance of Barber’s Adagio for Strings at the site of the fallen World Trade Center 12 years later. Much like the composition of visual images, the musical middleground can easily be overlooked and even eliminated altogether, and the drawing of our attention to it is often a noteworthy and revelatory experience. (Consider the isolated girl in the middleground of Rembrandt’s Night Watch – how illuminatory, once made apparent!)

Perhaps the most important of the three layers of perspective, foreground context most informs our immediate perception of a musical work, taking the music, its venue and its audience and creating a micro-environment unique to that specific concert. Factors such as location (Is the concert in a formal concert hall, in an outdoor amphitheatre, or a converted parking garage?) and the social atmosphere (a white-tie fundraiser or gala is a very different experience from a jeans-and-T-shirt casual concert) provide different ways of looking at and listening to the musical works contained therein. Imagine, for example, hearing the Ninth Symphony in three places: in a concert hall; on the radio while caught in traffic driving to work; and blaring from tinny speakers outside McDonalds, in an attempt to keep misbehaving youth at bay. The musical work is the same each time, the performers may even be the same each time, but the environment in which we hear a specific piece of music inherently informs our response to that artwork on a case-by-case basis.

By changing essential components of a concert presentation, the performing artists themselves can redefine and recreate the contextual setup for a musical work. Because the back- and middleground contexts are essentially uneditable, the majority of these presenter-based decisions correspond with our foreground perceptions, as we shall see in three concerts this month, each of which varies a different aspect of the classical music experiential composition.

Place

Nuit Blanche is an annual cultural tradition in Toronto in which the city is transformed by hundreds of artists and nearly 90 art projects. This year’s event features a fascinating installation at the Aga Khan Museum; according to the project synopsis, Arrivals and Encounters: Sama will present music and art from around the world, inviting listeners “to listen to the rhythms and stories of artists whose roots extend around the globe. Sacred spiritual music and dance, including whirling dervishes, staged in quiet spaces will evoke the more contemplative side of the city. The museum grounds will host an illuminated sound installation, offering visitors the chance to experience art while feeling the pulse of the arrivals and encounters that shape our city.”

While this sounds like a fine opportunity to step outside of one’s musical comfort zone and a remarkably obfuscating and inappropriate inclusion within an early music column, it is perhaps even more remarkable (and redemptive for your columnist) to find Vivaldi on the program of such an event. At 7:30pm on October 5, musicians from Tafelmusik bring the music of the Red Priest to the Aga Khan, kicking off their Nuit Blanche exhibition with a disorientingly orthodox bang. The contextual question is clear: how will the venue and environment (whirling dervishes and all) change the audience’s experience and perception of Vivaldi’s music? One could certainly expect that the effect and affect originally intended by Vivaldi will be modified by the extraordinarily varied surroundings, and exactly how this is accomplished will undoubtedly be a highlight of the month.

Joni Mitchell on a flyer for the Riverboat, Yorkville 1967Genre

Johann Sebastian Bach and Joni Mitchell walk into a bar…

So continues Tafelmusik’s contextual subterfusion, this time with their Haus Musik: Café Counterculture concert at the Burdock Music Hall on October 10. Incorporating and juxtaposing music from the 18th and 20th centuries through a series of classical standards and new arrangements of popular hits, concertgoers can expect everything from, well, J.S. Bach to Joni Mitchell, tied together through the concept of the coffee house. In the words of Tafelmusik: “It’s 1730s Leipzig, Germany. J.S. Bach and his colleagues gather at Zimmerman’s coffee house for weekly concerts featuring the new music of the day. Fast forward to Toronto in the 1960s. Yorkville (now known as the ‘Mink Mile’) is a hub of subversion and anti-establishment activism. Undiscovered artists are making their breaks and international acts have come to sling it in underground dives and coffee houses. Legends of this counterculture scene pepper music collections across the world.”

An ingenious and creative programming idea, the inherently multi-genre concept of café counterculture provides an opportunity to combine music that does not at first appear to fit together at all, creating an opportunity to produce a concert experience greater than the sum of the parts. In this particular instance, the foreground context will be a constantly shifting, unexpected series of works that could give unsuspecting audience members a hint of temporal whiplash, but do so in favour of an innovative means of exposing fresh ears to the masterpieces of bygone eras.

Claude Le JeuneStyle

From extreme, genre-bending fluctuations within a single concert to more orthodox programming, the variation of context via musical means is a fluid and exploratory spectrum, as demonstrated by the Toronto Consort on October 25 and 26. In this instance, the fundamental organizational principle is the music of France, presented in a variety of forms and styles. Whether enjoyed in refined 16th-century courts or in today’s traditional music scene, the popular “voix de ville” songs and exquisite courtly music of Claude Le Jeune and his contemporaries or modern folk stylings, the appeal of French music has endured through the centuries. It is exactly these components, the countryside and court, combined with traditional fiddle and dance, that the Consort combines this month, a juxtaposition in triplicate that is sure to enthrall those in attendance.

With artistic direction by Katherine Hill, a well-known early music performer and director of music at St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, and guest fiddler and dancer Emilyn Stam, the musical quality will undoubtedly be top notch and well worth a listen.

After a relatively slow September, this month is full of remarkable and worthwhile early music concerts for all who enjoy the genre in all its forms. From conventional concerts in traditional venues to more exploratory programming in contemporary spaces, there is something for everyone in this issue of the WholeNote, and I encourage you to support as many of our talented artists as possible. Have questions as you develop your own contextual compositions? Email earlymusic@thewholenote.com for your October tutorial.

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

OCT 19, 2:30PM and OCT 20, 7:30 PM: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Early Music Concerts: Handel’s Acis and Galatea. Heliconian Hall. One of Handel’s miniature dramatic works (referred to as a ‘little opera’ in a letter by the composer while it was being written), Acis and Galatea was the pinnacle of pastoral opera in England, Handel’s most popular dramatic work, and his only stage work never to have left the opera repertory. This is a fine opportunity to hear the University of Toronto’s rising stars, led by the superbly talented Larry Beckwith.

OCT 27, 2PM: Rezonance Baroque Ensemble. “Bach’s Extraordinary Oboe.” St. Barnabas Anglican Church. Dig deep into the Bach canon with his works for oboe, an instrument for which Bach was undoubtedly fond: not only does this instrument receive some of the most beautiful passages within the cantatas and passions, but Bach also composed four concerti, passed down in various forms and instrumentations and reconstructed for oboe and ensemble. Featuring U of T alum Ruth Denton on the double reed, this concert will surely be a delight.

OCT 31 TO NOV 9, various times: Opera Atelier. Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Whether intimately familiar with this opera or only aware of it from the death-premonition scene in Amadeus, this opera is a sublime opportunity for the operatic veteran and neophyte alike to experience Mozart’s masterwork through a historically informed lens. With a superstar cast and magnificent orchestra, you can’t go wrong with this classic.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Against the Grain's 2017 production of La BohèmeQuick now. What do Bob’s Burger Bar in Kenora, the Red Lion Smokehouse in Thunder Bay and the SRO Nightclub in Sudbury have in common? Answer: they are the last three stops, October 5, 6 and 8 on an 11-city cross-Western Canada tenth anniversary tour of Against the Grain Theatre’s groundbreaking production of La Bohème, before, fittingly, settling in for a further 11 performances at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. The Tranzac was where, in 2011, Against the Grain burst onto the Toronto opera scene with their interpretation of the classic Puccini love story updated from 19th-century Paris to the uncompromisingly unglamorous environs of this iconic Brunswick Ave watering hole. If you’ve missed the show so far (or just missed it while it was gone) you get 11 opportunities to make amends, between October 11 and 25, and they’ve put together an anniversary season that reflects both the company’s past and ongoing creative flair. Take a look. They are at againstthegraintheatre.com

Turning 40 in style

Take the streetcar almost as far south as you can down Bathurst Street from the Tranzac, and you come to Stackt Market, at 28 Bathurst, built entirely of shipping containers and home to more than 30 retailers, service providers, event spaces and, yes, a brewery. As unlike the Tranzac as one might imagine, if you make it down there October 10 at 6pm (and have $225 to spare) you can join a select group of opera aficionados in raising at least one glass to Tapestry Opera, celebrating 40 groundbreaking years on the Toronto and North American new opera scene. Originally the brainchild of artistic director Wayne Strongman and Claire Hopkinson, now heading the Toronto Arts Council, Tapestry has successfully weathered the proverbial succession storm, and in the capable hands of artistic director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, continues to break new ground, carrying the essential storytelling power of the operatic art form into territories and media that were unimagined when the company was formed, intersecting in the past with punk rock, film, Persian classical music, physical theatre, turntablism and hip-hop. Next month, November 20 to 23, the ongoing program/project/series they call TAP:EX will take their operatic explorations into Sidewalk Labs experimental workspace at 307 Lakeshore E. for a night of “experiential opera.” (They will also be reviving Chan Ka Nin and Mark Brownell’s monumental 2001 mainstage opera, Iron Road, in an opera-in-concert remount next July 15 at Koerner Hall. But that will definitely be another story!) Go to tapestry.com for details of everything they have in store.

Erin Wall. Photo by Kristin HoebermannOpera in Concert

Tapestry’s Iron Road next July would be a very long time to wait for fans of opera in concert as an art form. But there’s never a dearth of the art form here. At one end of the spectrum, Opera by Request hits the ground running, October 4 and 5, at their intimate College St. United home base, with an OperOttawa presentation of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers, with Cristina Pisani, soprano (Leila); Robert Martin, tenor (Nadir); Norman Brown, baritone (Zurga); and John Holland, bass (Nourabad). And at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of size of undertaking – November 7 and November 9 – the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents an opera-in-concert rendition of Jules Massenet’s Thaïs, with Erin Wall, soprano; Joshua Hopkins, baritone; Andrew Staples, tenor; Nathan Berg, bass-baritone; Liv Redpath, soprano; and others; along with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the inimitable Sir Andrew Davis conducting.

Opera Atelier

Back in 1996, as a fledgling opera company, Opera Atelier took a Mozartian sacred cow by the horns, mounting what was not only the first period production of Don Giovanni in North America, but one which stood the Bergmanesque gloom of standard treatments of the opera on its head, by exploring with savage glee the darkness of the comedy inherent in the plot. Remounted in 2004 and again in 2011, this year’s iteration boasts a cast that as always, is a blend of familiar faces – performers for whom Atelier’s commedia-based, stylized gestural vocabulary is comfortable second nature – and newcomers who more often than not, once they get past the learning curve, understand and revel in the freedom of not having to worry about what their bodies are doing while their voices soar. This production features Colin Ainsworth, Gustav Andreassen, Mireille Asselin, Stephen Hegedus, Carla Huhtanen, Olivier Laquerre, Meghan Lindsay and Douglas Williams in the singing cast; Marshall Pynkoski, stage director; Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, choreographer; Artists of Atelier Ballet; Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; and David Fallis, conductor. It opens October 31 and continues November 2, 3, 8 and 9. operaatelier.com

Canadian Opera Company

I talked a bit about the COC’s Turandot in the previous column, but the run, about to open as we go to press, continues to October 27, by which time, I predict, lovers and haters of Robert Wilson’s uncompromising staging will have lined up on opposite sides of the Four Seasons lobby to do battle. As I said then, having seen Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, it’s a production I would not miss.

At risk of getting lost in the fog of operatic audience wars is the second of the two fall COC productions, opening Oct 12 and running till October 26, Dvořák’s Rusalka with Sondra Radvanovsky, soprano (Rusalka); Pavel Černoch, tenor (The Prince); Ŝtefan Kocán, bass (Vodnik); Elena Manistina, mezzo (Jezibaba); Keri Alkema, soprano (The Foreign Princess); Johannes Debus, conductor; and Sir David McVicar, stage director. MacVicar’s new production, for the Lyric Opera of Chicago has been getting rave reviews, and if the chemistry that Kerri Alkema (as Giovanna Seymour) and Radvanovsky generated in Anna Bolena here in May 2018 is anything to go by, we are in for a treat. coc.ca 

And there’s always more

Check out the Music Theatre listings in this issue of the magazine (or go to “Just Ask” under the listings tab on our website) for details on all the following:

OCT 8, 12 noon: Canadian Opera Company/U of T Opera. Vocal Series: Parlami d’Amore - Speak to Me of Love. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

OCT 19, 2:00: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Early Music Concerts: Acis and Galatea. Handel: Acis and Galatea. Heliconian Hall.

OCT 31, 12:10: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Thursdays at Noon: Opera Spotlight - The Marriage of Figaro Preview. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto.

NOV 1, 7:30: Royal Conservatory of Music. The Glenn Gould School Fall Opera: Siren Song. Music by Jonathan Dove, libretto by Nick Dear. Mazzoleni Concert Hall, Telus Centre.

NOV 1 and 3, 7:30: Opera York. La Traviata. Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com. Opera-related leads and news should be directed to opera@thewholenote.com.

Two unconventional music theatre works opening in early October caught my eye right away for the excitement of their risk-taking and also for the clear desire each production has to find new ways to involve audiences in a deeper, more immersive way.

Ghost QuartetGhost Quartet: Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet, a four-person ghost-storytelling “live concept album” presented in a joint production by the new Eclipse Theatre Company (Kiss of the Spiderwoman at the Don Jail) and the always innovative Crows Theatre, is the first. Malloy is best known for his Tony Award-winning popera take on Tolstoy’s War and Peace: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.

Ghost Quartet is a smaller show but hugely ambitious within a deceptively straightforward format. A camera breaks, and four friends drink whiskey and tell each other ghost stories in an interwoven narrative that spans seven centuries drawing on sources as varied as The Arabian Nights, a retelling of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Japanese Noh Drama, Grimmsian fairly tales, grisly urban legends and 19th-century broadsheet ballads. The music is equally eclectic including gospel, folk ballad, honky-tonk, electropop, doo-wop and jazz. The cast is made up of four of Toronto’s top actor/singer/musicians: Hailey Gillis (star of Soulpepper’s Rose), Kira Guloien (Doctor Zhivago on Broadway, The Who’s Tommy at Stratford), and Beau Dixon (Soulpepper’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Harlem Duet), led by Andrew Penner (Sunparlour Players and Harrow Fair) who is also the music director.

Wanting to find out more about how this show works from the inside and how they will be approaching the production, I spoke with Andrew Penner and stage director Marie Farsi:

WN: What do you think led Dave Malloy to create this show in the format of a “live concept album”?

Marie Farsi: It was definitely an homage to great masterpieces made on vinyl. Dave explains that his desire was to take the narrative form of the rock concept album “with all of its vaguery and weirdness, symbolism and surrealism, adrenaline and angst” and theatricalize it. In the show, each of the songs is announced by one of the performers with its track number and title. I think the intention is to use it as a device to reframe the narrative and encourage a looser frame of mind.

How do the different styles of music contribute to the telling of the individual stories, and the overall theme of the show?

MF: Through different styles of music, we can paint different worlds for the audience to travel to through their own imagination; and the restlessness and unexpectedness of the music captures love, which is so beautifully complicated. It makes us feel alive and invincible until it’s gone, or stolen, or lost.

What is it like as music director, working with a cast of actor/singer/musicians to master all these different styles? 

Andrew Penner: The three other performers in the show are killers. We made sure of that before we went ahead with the show. They’re all amazing multi-instrumentalists with great instincts. Plus, we’re all really hard on ourselves in the best way. The styles are very genre spanning and we are trying to bend them as far as we can.

Will the staging be traditional or more immersive than we usually expect to mimic the telling of ghost stories and how they interconnect? 

MF: The staging will definitely be more immersive. Among the multiple storylines, one is simply the four performers (Hailey, Kira, Beau and Andrew) as friends, jamming, drinking whiskey and telling each other ghost stories. So I anchored the reality of the show in the “here and now” of the theatre: instruments, microphones, cables are all on stage. However, I’d say our production is even more theatrical than the original, which was presented at the McKittrick Hotel and had a real concert feel, because I’m creating a secret hideout for the band, placing it in a more natural environment. I was inspired by the Black Forest associated with the Brothers Grimm, and the stories we tell around the campfire. We’re bringing the magic of fairytales and the wonder of haunted forests a bit more to life on stage!

Have the different styles of music led to different styles of staging within the one show?

MF: I’d say the different worlds have led to different styles of music and staging. Many ghosts haunt (or come visit?) our four actor-musicians each night. We eventually understand piece by piece that the characters are reincarnations of each other, and ultimately past lives of the performers. Some of those past realities have very distinct atmospheres (created musically and sonically of course) that I am amplifying through visuals.

How do you expect audiences to react to this mix of storytelling elements?

MF: I’m expecting total disorientation and confusion at first, but in a very good and intended way. The show is a huge mishmash of various horror and fantasy tropes, and taps into our irresistible curiosity for mysteries (the murder kind along with the mystery of ghosts, life, love and death). The show is a very well-constructed puzzle to solve as well as an exciting adventure quest for the main character Rose. I have no doubt that the audience will be wrapped in the dreamy and dark.

Ghost Quartet runs October 5 to November 3 at Streetcar Crowsnest: crowstheatre.com.

Broken Tailbone. Photo by Erin BrubacherBroken Tailbone: The second show that caught my eye is even more immersive than Ghost Quartet, aiming to not only wrap the audience completely in the show’s context but to make them moving, dancing participants in the story. Broken Tailbone was inspired by multiple award-winning creator and performer Carmen Aguirre’s personal experience arriving in Vancouver as a child with her parents, all Chilean refugees, and helping her family recreate wildly popular makeshift Latinx dance halls. She also really broke her tailbone, which comes into the story.

While there are chairs around the sides for those who need to sit, most of the audience is literally on their feet learning to salsa, being taught by Aguirre as she takes them through a partly choreographed, partly improvised immersion in an irresistible musical environment that weaves together hilarious personal stories with tales of radical resistance in South American history.

The show was wildly successful in Vancouver in 2018 and I got in touch with its creator to find out more about the inspiration behind it and what it is like to perform.

WN: What made you decide to create this show – to share your own experience with audiences in this unusual format?

Carmen Aguirre: About six or seven years ago I spent two years touring the country with my one-woman show Blue Box, also dramaturged and directed by Brian Quirt, and also developed and produced by Nightswimming Theatre. In that show, I talk for 80 minutes. Non-stop. I literally stand in one spot for almost the entire show. The theatricality of that piece lies 100 percent in the text.

However, in the middle of the piece a loud salsa song comes on seemingly out of nowhere, and I break into dance. I invite the audience to join me onstage and we have an impromptu dance party. Once the song is over, they sit back down and I continue with the story. There were several reasons to have that moment in Blue Box, which did actually make sense in terms of the content of the play. Every night the response was different, of course. (There were a couple of times that every single person in the audience got up and danced and there was one time that no one did.) Brian Quirt and I were really taken with that part of the show and decided to create a piece where the audience is dancing with me the entire time. The fact that the form is simultaneously accessible and confrontational is compelling to us. 

How does the audience follow the story while they are in the midst of learning to salsa?

Interestingly, they follow the story far better than when they are seated. The act of listening while you’re moving makes you listen better. You are taking in a story about a dance hall while you are dancing in an impromptu dancehall, or a story about the dance form that you are actually doing in the moment, or geopolitical history of Latin America from a Marxist perspective, all while listening to a song with political lyrics and learning to dance to it. You are listening, processing, digesting with your entire body. It is embodied listening.

How does this change the usual performance experience for you?

I’m juggling a lot during the show. Remembering my lines; really watching the audience and interacting with them because it truly is a dance lesson; improvising based on what I’m seeing; translating bits and pieces of the songs; and dancing! It is completely immersive for me and for the audience. This type of performance requires you to be completely yourself. There are no filters. 

How intricate is the relationship of the music to the storytelling and immersive staging?

There are 15 songs in the play that were curated by Brian and I over a series of workshops. I brought in dozens of songs that mean something to me, each with a story attached. We played with all of them, and at the end of each workshop process we shared what we had with an audience. We finally distilled it down to the 15 songs in the play based on the particular story that was attached to it and how it fit in the over-all narrative arc.

Broken Tailbone runs from October 2 to 13 at Factory Theatre: factorytheatre.ca.

For some of the other exciting and varied shows opening this month please see my quick picks below.

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

OCT 2, 8PM: No Change In The Weather, Jane Mallet Theatre. In a world where Come From Away is at the top of the musical theatre pinnacle, here comes another show from the Rock but this time looking at a story older than 9/11 The identity of Newfoundland and Labrador is explored through a historical lens focusing on the 23-year tenure of Premier Joey Smallwood and the controversial creation of the Churchill Falls power plant. Packed with traditional music the show has been on a cross-country tour and is garnering great word of mouth: nochangeinitheweather.com.

OCT 3 to 5, 9 to 13: Caminos Festival, Aluna Theatre and Native Earth Performing Arts. Artscape Daniels Spectrum. An increasingly important launching pad for new work by Canadians from the South American diaspora and Indigenous populations, this year’s program features some exciting experimental music theatre content including The Art of Storytelling, Catarsis, We are, what we are, The Mente, and the free Aluna Cabaret (October 10 to 12) alunatheatre.ca.

OCT 9 TO 20: Something for the Buoys. Sapling Productions/Bygone Theatre. George Ignatieff Theatre, A new musical that sounds like a fun take on an old-style musical à la Anything Goes or On the Town, in one of Toronto’s best intimate theatre spaces.

OCT 13, 7:30 PM: ONE NIGHT ONLY. “Portrait of a Collaboration.” Meighan Forum, Stratford Festival Theatre Lobby. A rare treat of an evening with celebrated composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors and many Disney shows) in conversation with one of the Festival’s best kept secrets, the multi-talented Marion Adler, interwoven with performances of songs from Little Pinks, the musical they created together from Damon Runyon’s short story.

OCT 20, 2:30PM: Fallis & Tiefenbach. Haliburton Concert Series. If you have never seen the inimitable Mary Lou Fallis (soprano) and Peter Tiefenbach (piano) in concert, now is your chance! Their theatrical concerts can leave you helpless with delighted laughter and this one promises to have songs from the very best of their Primadonna shows as well as “a sendup of every voice recital you’ve ever been to.”

OCT 25, 7:30PM: Urinetown, (The Musical) in concert. Toronto Musical Concerts. Al Green Theatre. TMC concert stagings of important musicals are getting stronger all the time. Urinetown is more of a parody than a serious look at the dangers of politics gone wrong, but this should be fun. Featuring Erica Peck from We Will Rock You and Kinky Boots.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

With the arrival of the fall season in the world of new and experimental music comes the next installment of the X Avant New Music Festival at the Music Gallery. Over the years, this festival has organized itself around various themes, many of which have focussed on different challenges inherent in the artistic practices of those who engage in the creation of adventurous ideas in the arts of music and sound. This year is of course no exception; the festival will be exploring the notion of how artists move forward in their careers and the various challenges and risks involved in that. Sometimes, as the Music Gallery’s David Dacks told me, the artist’s life is all about daily survival, which creates a tension when pursuing “the next big idea.” As Dacks notes, the political parties in the upcoming Canadian federal election have adopted the idea of “moving forward,” as a slogan, but what does this really mean for the creator and how should this idea which our culture takes for granted be challenged? It is, after all, the motivating concept behind capitalism – the idea of limitless growth, but, as Dacks points out, the current ecological crisis is forcing the culture to rethink the limits of growth – and to create new models of cooperation and collective action. This is needed in the arts too.

This month’s column delves more deeply into two curatorial visions: first, this year’s X Avant, and, second, a fall series of “Quiet Concerts,” at the Cedarbrae Public Library in Scarborough, curated by composer, musician and researcher Christopher Willes, as part of an artist-in-residency hosted by the Toronto Public Library. Willes’ series is an examination of the experience and practice of listening and performing in public spaces; the unique aspect of these performances is that they explore the use of headphones as an aspect of listening in a quiet public space.

Germaine LiuX Avant

To begin though, let’s return to this year’s lineup for the X Avant Festival, which opens on October 17 with a concert featuring the world premiere of Still Life by composer and percussionist Germaine Liu. The piece is a composition/sounding installation activated by five players: Susanna Hood, Julie Lassonde, Germaine Liu, Heather MacPhail, and Sahara Morimoto. Liu describes this work in the following way: “The installation is made up of a collection of found objects which will be prepared or left as they are and brought to life through sound and movement by the five players. The goal of the performance is to create an opportunity to honour these found objects with an attempt to focus on the exchanges and negotiations of partnership between object and human.” Liu states that she is “particularly interested in exploring play and imagining objects in fresh ways through living our processes rather than performing them. I have a deep curiosity for relationships like stillness and movement, negative space and positive space, silence and sound.”

Liu has an intriguing approach to the X Avant theme of moving forward: a desire to be still and take on the role of observer. From this position she seeks to learn “to listen and take mindful actions from inspiration.” Over the last year she has been revisiting scores by Pauline Oliveros, and has been particularly drawn to a direction given in one of Oliveros’ scores: “All that is required is a willing commitment to the given conditions”. Combining these words and her love for found objects that she has recently experienced in her work with composer Juliet Palmer, she states that she wants “to make living creations that have the goal of being inclusive and a space for any players to thrive in, with the only requirement being a willingness to participate.”

(Readers may recall my September 2019 column where I spoke about Palmer’s piece Ukiyo, floating world that was created from improvisations using floating ocean debris in Japan. Liu was part of the live interactions with these ocean objects along with Palmer and Sonja Rainey.)

On the Friday night of the X Avant Festival (October 18), Lido Pimienta will be performing songs from her new album – her next step after winning the 2017 Polaris Prize. However, these songs will be presented in a completely different way at the festival from how they appear on the album, being performed by brass ensemble and choir. Dacks quoted Pimienta’s description of this festival version as “the wind in the background” of the new album. Saturday’s concert on October 19 will feature a collaboration that Dacks himself was pivotal in setting up. He has brought together one of Toronto’s senior reggae and dub artists, Willi Williams, to perform with indie electronica artists New Chance. For Dacks, the inspiration behind this pairing was that mixing performers from different generations and different forms doesn’t happen much in Toronto, so this is an experiment to see what will emerge. The final concert on October 20 will highlight a 90-minute work by Ithaca, NY composer and percussionist Sarah Hennies, The Reinvention of Romance (2018), performed by Nick Storring on cello and Hennies on percussion. Toronto audiences will have heard the Thin Edge New Music Collective perform Hennies’ film and sound work, Contralto, at TIFF in 2018; her appearance at this year’s X Avant is a perfect example of artistic “next steps.”

Christopher WillesQuiet Concerts at Cedarbrae

In preparation for interviewing Christopher Willes about his Quiet Concerts Series, I attended the first of five headphone concerts in this series on September 15, with the remaining four concerts scheduled over the months of September and October. This concert featured Toronto-based vocalist/songwriter Robin Dann whose performance centred on the phenomenon known as ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. This practice has a cult-like following on YouTube whose practitioners focus on the close miking of sound, with the intention of creating sounds to stimulate the body with therapeutic results. In Dann’s concert she combined whispering, singing with electronic keyboard accompaniment, performing on such items as combs, brushes, and a foldout fan, the process of boiling water for the making of tea, and reading a children’s story. I experimented with taking off my headphones at several points to see how audible the acoustic sound was and to my surprise discovered I could barely hear what was happening. With the headphones on however, it was a completely different story – very close-up and intimate.

For Willes, curating this concert series is an opportunity to explore how listening can free one to have a different understanding and experience of a given space, and how listening functions in a public space to create a different type of gathering together. Using headphones in a traditionally quiet environment offers a uniquely individual way of experiencing the sounds being performed, and Willes is interested in what kinds of effects this has on the listener. For him as curator, these concerts are also a good way to meet people who use the library, and are part of his overall residency at Cedarbrae, a residency that will also include sound-based workshops for children and teenagers. Part of the challenge of the concerts is figuring out how to involve people as listeners, and he is devising various strategies to encourage the library patrons to listen in, including walking about as the concert unfolds. Although listening through the wireless headphones in the vicinity of the performance taking place is the main way of listening, the concert is also available for online listening for people working at their laptops while in the library, thus creating an invisible audience.

As I mentioned, there are four more concerts in this series, with three of them during the month of October. All the remaining concerts will feature a collaboration between a musician and a poet, thus mixing two types of sound making – textual sound and a musical/soundscape performance. On October 6, the concert will feature the work of Philippe Melanson and Christopher Dela Cruz. Both performers work strictly with electronics, so there will be no acoustic sound present. Melanson works with his own chance-operated synthesizers while Dela Cruz will be using one of his sound sculptures to operate a turntable to play poetry records from the vinyl archives of the library. On October 20, Germaine Liu will bring her fascination with the relationships between objects and with different forms of kinetic interactions to her collaboration with Aisha Sasha John. Likewise, John has an interest in presence and works with silence in her poetry. How they will approach performing quietly will be revealed during the performance. The final event of the series is on October 27, featuring Karen Ng and Fan Wu. Ng will be performing on her woodwind instruments using extended techniques and wants to create a close mike system for the performance. Wu is a prolific poet with a dry sense of humour and Willes is anticipating quite an entertaining afternoon between the two of them. The other concert will have already occurred before this issue is published – on September 29 Gayle Young performed on one of her stringed instruments in collaboration with poet Tom Gill.

With each concert offering a very different approach to the overall concept of listening together in a more isolated way through the headphone experience, this series is essentially an experimentation and exploration of how togetherness can be experienced in new ways in a public space we associate with quiet and internal focus. It could get a bit raucous and even quite political, Willes suggests.

More information about each concert can be found on the individual Facebook event pages, accessible through this link: tiny.cc/quietconcerts. Details about van transportation from both the downtown area and U of T’s Scarborough campus to the Cedarbrae library can also be accessed on these event pages. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

OCT 3, 8PM: Soundstreams begins their season with “Top Brass,” a concert mix of classical and jazz genres featuring three trumpet performers performing world premieres by Anna Pidgorna (The Three Woes), Brian Current (Serenade for Three Trumpets) and Heather Schmidt (Titanomachy). For details see David Jaeger’s “Soundstreams and the Trumpets of October” elsewhere in this issue.

OCT 5, 7PM: Leaf Music/Gillian Smith. A CD launch of Into the Stone, featuring works for violin and piano by Alice Ping Yee Ho (Caprice), Veronika Krausas (Inside the Stone), Ana Sokolović (Cinque danze per violino solo), Canadian composer Carmen Braden, Belgian composer Ysaÿe (1858-1931), and Baroque-era composer Telemann.

OCT 6, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra launches their new season with I Hit My Head and Everything Changed, which is also the title of a new commissioned work by Brian Harman to be premiered at the concert. Compositions by Alexia Louie (Love Songs for a Small Planet), English composer Thomas Adès (Overture to The Tempest) and Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen (Left, alone) complete the program.

OCT 19, 7:30PM: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts along with Full Frequency Productions in Kingston present “Orchestral Virtuosity” with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. A new work by Jessie Montgomery will be on the program.

OCT 20, 3:30PM: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s 125th Anniversary Gala Concert, “Singing Through Centuries,” includes a newly commissioned work by Andrew Balfour, Mamihimowin (The act of singing praises), to represent the third of the three centuries the TMC has been active in.

DEC 6, 8PM: Music Gallery and Bad New Days present “Melancholiac: The Music of Scott Walker,” an event that is part concert, part spectacle, part existential talk show. Also on DEC 7, 4PM.

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

I mentioned in my last column that I injured my left shoulder in a fall on June 20, just as the Toronto Jazz Festival was starting – timing has not always been my long suit. Like most accidental falls, it was silly and avoidable, but only in hindsight. I was about to put out the recycling bin, which was quite heavy owing to some stranger mysteriously filling it with an outrageous number of wine bottles. My neighbour Gary was standing at the bottom of the steps and, noticing I was struggling with the weight, decided to lend a helping hand by grabbing the bottom of the bin and pulling it. The sudden yank caught me off guard and I did a spectacular twisting tumble down the steps – the international judges would have given me 9.5s across the board for clumsiness, which has always been my long suit. Just as well I play the bass, but as I was about to discover, I wouldn’t be playing it for quite a while.

I was lucky in that the bin broke my fall and prevented my head from smashing on the pavement, preventing a concussion. But otherwise I was buggered; I’d landed in an awkward position with the left arm bent up behind my back at an angle I was pretty sure was not natural. My wife Anna, and Gary, helped me to my feet and the arm felt dead; I couldn’t move it or feel anything except a dull ache, which started to intensify.

John AlcornI iced the shoulder, which seemed to be the main problem, and took some Advil for the inflammation. As the shock wore off the reality set in – I could barely move the left arm, certainly not enough to play the bass. The next night I was to play a festival gig at Jazz Bistro with John Alcorn which I had been looking forward to because it involved such wonderful players – Drew Jurecka on violin and clarinet, Reg Schwager on guitar and Mark Micklethwaite on drums. I hated to do it but there was nothing for it except to call John and tell him he needed to get a sub, no easy task on such short notice. He took it well and, incredibly, Neil Swainson was available to take my place. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to cancel out of other upcoming gigs as well, and made the necessary phone calls.

An aside: Neil also subbed for me on a Pilot gig a few days later with Mike Murley, Harrison Argatoff and Harry Vetro. When a bassist as good as Neil is available twice on short notice during Jazz Festival time... well, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

The morning after the fall I awoke and soon noticed another problem: my left wrist and hand were incredibly sore and swollen, roughly the size and colour of a ham hock. I hadn’t noticed this at first and immediately iced the hand, trying to fight off the growing panic that my issues were worse than I had first thought. It was a losing battle. An irony – one that I could have done without – is that my wife Anna has been suffering for months from a similar injury to the same shoulder, enduring a lot of pain and limited mobility. I wondered if it would be the same for me and how we would cope with basic daily functioning now that we both had broken wings. I realized it would be weeks, maybe months, till I could play the bass and this sent me to a dark place. Playing the bass and just schlepping to gigs has become harder with aging, but this had taken it to new level.

I came out of this despair after about a day or so. Despite having a deep cynical streak, I’m a cockeyed optimist at heart – probably one of the reasons I chose a “career” in jazz – and I began to feel more philosophical about the setback. I heard a voice inside me saying, “Steve, you’ve been pounding on that big goddamn log for 45 years now, you’ve given at the office, so maybe having to take a break from it for a couple of months is not the worst thing ever. Try to enjoy the summer, kick back and relax, watch some baseball, see how the other half lives.”

This small optimism was helped by my first visit to East Toronto Orthopaedic & Sports Injury Clinic, where I met Mackenzie Merritt, the splendid young man who would be my physiotherapist. He examined the arm and tested it for range of motion and told me I likely had a full tear of the supraspinatus tendon in the shoulder, part of the rotator cuff, a diagnosis later confirmed by an MRI. I explained to him about being a jazz bassist and tried to demonstrate the movements that bass playing required of the left am, which he understood immediately. He said this was typically a slow-healing injury and that I was probably looking at six to eight weeks of rehabbing before I would be able to start practising again. He showed me some simple exercises designed to increase strength and range of motion in the shoulder and also to loosen it. He also told me about “muscle guarding,” essentially the mind protecting the muscles by “telling” them not to do certain things which might be painful. He said there would be pain but the good news was that I couldn’t do further damage to the muscle unless I had another fall calamity.

This was heartening and I set about faithfully doing the exercises, while gradually the swelling and soreness in the hand and wrist subsided. I began weekly physio appointments where Mackenzie manipulated and stretched the shoulder and ramped up the difficulty of the exercises I was to do at home. These involved stretching and lifting the arm at various angles to increase flexibility, and some resistance training to strengthen the muscle. Gradually I began to notice improvement; there was still soreness but I was able to do more with the arm.

Meanwhile, back at the bass ... I was concerned about getting rusty and losing my calluses, so I began just plucking the open strings to keep my right hand in shape, which was pretty boring. Toward the end of July I decided to try lifting the left arm up enough to get on the fingerboard and begin fingering some notes. There was an initial pinch but I found that if I angled the bass back toward me – or better still, sat down – I could use my left arm to actually play some. It was a Eureka moment and I began practising this way a little every day, increasing from about ten minutes to half an hour. I was usually quite sore afterward and was concerned but Mackenzie told me not to worry about it, that this was progress.

I had an upcoming gig with the Mike Murley trio on August 18 at the PEC Jazz Festival, with my son Lee filling on guitar for Reg Schwager, and I decided I’d made enough progress to manage doing it. As it approached I grew more anxious – it would be my first real performance in over two months and practising is one thing but actually playing for a solid hour on stage is another. It was a leap of faith because until I was out there and got a tune or two under my belt, I had no real idea how the arm would hold up or how long I’d be able to go. What if I had to suddenly stop? What if my left hand wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do? I stanched down these doubts, telling myself it was like riding a bicycle and that Mike and Lee had my back; there are no two musicians I trust more than them.

In the end, the concert was a kind of out-of-body experience, but it went fine. I felt a pretty serious burn in the shoulder after the second tune, which went away, only to return a couple of times later. Playing wasn’t as easy as it should have been but that was to be expected; I was really rusty. But the arm held up, none of the tempos slowed down and I didn’t have to stop playing at any time, so overall I was pleased. We closed with Just in Time at a “manly” tempo which I was able to keep up with and I even managed to solo on it – not the best solo I’ve ever played, but I had enough gas left to pull it off. Best of all, both Mike and Lee said that I sounded like myself.

The following Sunday I had a Jazz In The Kitchen gig, which would raise the stamina ante some. Murley’s concert was just one hour, whereas this would be two one-hour sets, with no amplifier and playing with drums, so there would be some more grinding involved. It was the first JITK gig in some time and there were some unique emotional stakes involved. For one thing, others in the band were also in the process of physical recovery. John Loach, who co-hosts and plays trumpet, had been suffering from embouchure issues since the spring from dental surgery gone wrong. Saxophonist Perry White is suffering from multi-concussion syndrome and has had to greatly reduce how much he can play. Patti Loach, who always plays a piano piece before each concert, had broken her collarbone in early July in a biking accident. So I had company among the walking wounded; only pianist Mark Eisenman and drummer Mark Micklethwaite were healthy.

Beyond this, there were memorials involved. Just days before the gig, Patti and John’s good friend Tex Arnold, a first-rate pianist and composer based out of New York, died suddenly after suffering multiple strokes. They were devastated, but in tribute to him decided to play his arrangement (for Margaret Whiting) of a complex and obscure song called The Coffee Shoppe. They brought it off brilliantly, injuries be damned. And this was the first JITK since John Sumner died in June. He’d played on the vast majority of the nearly 60 concerts we’ve done and his absence was palpable. We played a trio version of Django dedicated to him.

I’ve always thought of JITK as an easy gig and in a lot of ways it is, being held in a relaxed, small venue with good sound and a listening audience. I told myself to take it easy, but it’s a funny thing. Once the music starts and the players start coming at you with all that energy and intensity, you can’t take it easy, you have to match them. I found myself digging in for all I was worth, pain and all, sweat streaming everywhere. It hurt and I started to develop some serious blisters but I was overjoyed to be back where I belong, in the crucible of a jazz band creating in the moment. It was one of the most emotionally satisfying gigs I’ve ever done and when it was over I realized I was mostly back. Amen to that.

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

OCT 5, 7:30PM: Yamaha Canada Music. Yamaha Canada Jazz Orchestra Featuring Bobby Shew. Led by Rick Wilkins. Walter Hall. 416-408-0208. $25. A rare Toronto appearance by the estimable veteran trumpeter Bobby Shew, with Rick Wilkins directing the band – enough said.

OCT 13, 4:30PM: Christ Church Deer Park. Jazz Vespers: Tribute to Ray Brown. Dave Young. 1570 Yonge St. 416-920-5211. Freewill offering. Religious service. A tribute to one of the great jazz bassists by one of our best, Dave Young.

OCT 24, 7:30PM: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. U of T 12tet. Walter Hall. 416-978-3750. Free and open to the public. A first-rate ensemble of U of T jazz students directed by trombonist-arranger Terry Promane.

Warren VacheOCT 31, 5:30PM: Ken Page Memorial Trust. The Irresistible Spirits of Rhythm Halloween Jazz Party. Warren Vaché, cornet; Guido Basso, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ken Peplowski, reeds, Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Russ Phillips, trombone; and others. Old Mill Toronto. Call Anne at 416-515-0200. $200. Complimentary cocktail reception, gala dinner service and grand raffle. Not sure who the “others” are, but the list of headliners alone makes this attractive, even at that price.

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.

Autumn is the most enjoyable season of the four we are lucky to experience in Canada. All right, this may be a biased opinion, but I stand by it. The temperature is comfortable and somewhat consistent, the leaves are changing and we are presented with beautiful colours for a few weeks. And of course Thanksgiving is nigh, which means pumpkin spice everything. Cue all the excitement. I also notice people are happier around this time. That could be an arguable statement too, but I do think the brightness of the season somehow results in an overall brighter demeanour with people.

While looking through choral performances over the next couple of months, I noticed a bit of a thematic trend, in terms of human connection to nature, which reflects the season we are entering, which we appreciate for the natural beauty that surrounds us. Additionally as part of a culture where attempts at living with zero waste are slowly becoming more prominent, it seems fitting to see concerts not only calling for reflection on the state of the Earth and respect of nature but also, especially with our current political climate, providing opportunities to listen to music that takes us out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life with all its distractions, thereby keeping us zoned in to what is truly important: Earth, nature, togetherness.

Dr. Charlene PaulsAdvancing to Where We Are Today

Accordingly, a few concerts piqued my interest pertaining to these themes, one of them being a performance by the Guelph Chamber Choir of Bob Chilcott’s Five Days that Changed the World and other works on October 27. Many choristers will easily recognize Chilcott’s name, for he is a prominent composer of choral repertoire. I have experienced many a Chilcott work, both as a chorister and as an audience member; however, I had not heard of this particular work. I got in touch with Dr. Charlene Pauls, the new artistic director of the Guelph Chamber Choir, to inquire a little further about the work.

I was interested, I told her, to know why Pauls chose to perform Five Days that Changed the World and her reason for calling on this theme of unity; the concert features other pieces as well, but Chilcott is clearly the main event. Pauls explained that “in a world that seems increasingly to highlight so much of what is negative about the human spirit, we wanted to create a program that did the opposite.” As mentioned earlier, we are in a time where there is an increased urge to be more united, trying to leave behind a lighter footprint on our planet and taking care of what we have. “We tend to hear so much about the problems in our world,” Pauls continues, “however, throughout time there have always been those around us who have made an impact through positive change, who have created innovations that have improved society and who have made the world a better place.” This piece “highlights five moments in time that have connected people: the invention of the printing press, the abolition of slavery, the invention of flight, the discovery of penicillin and the first human in space. […] The music is wonderfully varied, with threads of humour, poignancy and wonder woven throughout the various movements.”

Some of the other works to be performed “celebrate connections between us.” They include Winnipeg composer Andrew Balfour’s welcoming song Ambe (sung in Ojibway), American composer Joan Szymko’s It Takes A Village, French composer Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas, Canadian composer Sarah Quartel’s Sing, My Child, and a great gospel arrangement of Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water by Kirby Shaw. Other pieces on the program include works that challenge us to action, such as Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst that urges us to “dream with our hands.” To top it off, there is a surprise encore piece that should not be missed. Pauls revealed the surprise to me, but I am going to keep it to myself.

Continuing on to explain her aim with this performance, Pauls comments: “Fundamentally, I believe that the foundation of society must be relationships, humanity connecting with each other, because it is only then that we can have empathy and create positive change.”

Mark RamsayNature’s Beauty and Environmental Consciousness

Similarly, another concert that I think will be a captivating listen is “Voices of Earth: In Celebration of Nature’s Beauty” by the Exultate Chamber Singers, entering its 39th season, conducted by Mark Ramsay on October 18. I was interested to know more about the program as well as his decision to set on the theme of nature. Ramsay answered a few of my questions via email..

The music is quite varied, he says, and the concert is a compilation of works by an interesting mix of composers, many of whom are Canadian.

A few works he mentioned are: Voices of Earth by Mark Sirett, which will be performed with a guest violinist, Adrian Irvine. Due North by Stephen Chatman, Ramsay tells me, “is a fun set of five pieces set in the style of soundscapes where [they] explore the sounds associated with and inspired by specific words related to our Canadian landscape, including Mountains, Trees, Mosquitoes and even Woodpecker.”

Come to the Woods by Jake Runestad, with a text by John Muir, is the cornerstone of the program, Ramsay informs me. “It’s an extended work, with a fantastic piano part, that takes us on an emotional journey.” The composer describes it as a piece that “explores Muir’s inspirations and the transporting peace found in the natural world.”

The program also includes, but is not limited to, works by Johannes Brahms, Allan Bevan, Gwynyth Walker, Matthew Emery, and Samuel Barber.

What led him to decide on the theme? Ramsay says: “I personally believe the theme is a timely one. The Earth and our environment has always been a powerful inspiration for writers, musicians and artists from all creative streams. Recently, I think we are seeing a general increased interest in our environment and our relationship with it. How are we harming it? How are we caring for it? What does our future look like? With that in mind I tried to design a program filled with beautiful texts and choral music that depicts this diverse and stunning environment we are so strongly connected to.”

Keep these questions that Ramsay poses in mind as you take in the music. We have to make a conscious effort to take a minute to centre ourselves, think about our planet, think about all that we have gained from it. This theme is one that cannot really get stale or uninteresting, as we continue to slowly but surely witness an active push in working together to keep our Earth healthy and to bridge the divides in society.

On October 27th at 3pm, the Guelph Chamber Choir will perform Bob Chillcot’s Five Days that Changed the World, amongst other works. The performance will take place at the Harcourt Memorial United Church in Guelph. In keeping with a theme of unity, the Guelph Collegiate and Vocational Institute (GCVI) high school choir will join the Guelph Chamber Choir for the main piece.

Exultate Chamber SingersOn October 18th at 8pm, the Exultate Chamber Singers will perform Voices of Earth: In Celebration of Nature’s Beauty at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church in Toronto. 

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

OCT 20, 2:30PM: The University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents “Choirs in Concert: Seasons of Song.” Be treated to a combination of the Men’s Chorus and Women’s Chorus, under conductors Elaine Choi and Mark Ramsay. Some featured works will be by contemporary Canadian composers Frances Farrell, Matthew Emery and E.K.R. Hammell. The performance will be held at the Church of the Redeemer. U of T students should be sure to carry a valid TCard for free admittance, space permitting.

OCT 27, 3PM: Orchestra Toronto, together with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, will present “Freude! 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall” at the George Weston Recital Hall. Under the direction of Michael Newnham, with soloists Lesley Bouza (soprano), Andrea Ludwig (mezzo), Andrew Walker (tenor) and Bradley Christensen (baritone), with pianist Elijah Orlenko; revel in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 and Beethoven’s Symphony No.9.

OCT 27, 3PM: The Vesnikva Choir, the Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir and the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church Choir come together for “Tribute to Koshyts,” a concert featuring some of the sacred and secular works of Oleksander Koshyts; at All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church with an introduction by Wasyl Sydorenko.

NOV 2, 7:30PM: Pax Christi Chorale present the world premiere of The Sun, the Wind, and the Man with the Cloak at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church. Music by Stephanie Martin, commissioned by Pax Christie Chorale. With the Intermediate Chorus of Canadian Children’s Opera Company and soloists Allison Walmsley (soprano), Catherine Daniel (mezzo), Asitha Tennekoon (tenor), and Brett Polegato (baritone).

The Kingdom ChoirNOV 5 and 6, 7:30PM: Remember the choir at the big royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry? They will be performing in Toronto soon. With two dates in November, the Kingdom Choir, with a reputation of the best gospel choir in the world, will take over the Meridian Arts Centre. Expect to hear stunning renditions of Beyoncé’s Halo, John Legend’s All of Me and of course Stand By Me, now made famous from their world-viewed performance.

Menaka Swaminathan is a writer and chorister, currently based in Toronto. She can be reached via choralscene@thewholenote.com.

As I sit down to produce this column I realize that we are dealing with the autumnal equinox. That means the official end to summer, or beginning of autumn. To be more precise, right at the time this issue is going to the printer, the official equinox will be occurring, at 4:02pm on Sunday, September 22. (Musicians aren’t always the only ones working on weekends.) In other words, even though there has been some beautiful weather, fall is here and it’s time for much new music making. That being said, while we have some information on what lies ahead in our musical world, so far my notes are still a bit of this and a bit of that, so I think that I’ll just consider this month’s column as Variations on a Non Existent Theme and dive right in.

Square Dealing

Happenings in my own personal musical world might be a place to start. Some days ago I came across a bulletin mentioning an open house at a local Masonic Lodge for local citizens to learn about how Freemasons have been part of our communities for centuries. One component of the emblem of Freemasonry is the square, one of the earliest working tools of craftsmen. It was, and still is, used to confirm the accuracy of right angles. Hence “Acting upon the Square” is a familiar metaphor for square and honest dealings with others.

So what does all of this have to do with music? As I looked at this emblem, I remembered hearing that there was a march titled On The Square based on some ceremonies of Freemasonry. Where to get information on this march? Where else but to Google! There it was, played by a number of different bands. I chose to listen to the version by a Band of the Royal Marines. For a few days after that I could not get that music out of my head. I had a chronic earworm. Then, a few nights later at a band rehearsal, what was the very first number that the director chose to rehearse? On The Square. Now that earworm was firmly implanted in my head, so it was time to confirm just what an earworm really is. Off to Wikipedia I went. There were a number of other terms, but the definition I liked there was “involuntary musical imagery,” where a catchy piece of music continuously repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.

How to stop an earworm? Initially I thought that there should be an “ear bird” like a robin that liked eating worms. Off to Wikipedia again. “Scientists at Western Washington University have found that engaging one’s working memory in moderately difficult tasks (such as anagrams Sudoku puzzles, or reading a novel) is an effective way of stopping earworms and of reducing their recurrence.” That’s great, but working on a Sudoku puzzle while driving, or reading a novel is a bit risky, I’d say. Several days later, On The Square still frequently returns to my brain. My decision so far: live with it; just try to let a whole library of tunes worm their way into my brain so I can change channels for variety.

For those interested, On The Square was composed by Frank Panella, a clarinetist in the Pittsburgh Symphony, sometime in the early 1900s. It is a very fine march and worthy of inclusion in a band’s library. And for any of you out there who have surefire cures for earworms, I am all ears!

From the files of Johann Cluttermeister

Once again, this month, I morphed into my occasional household “alter ego” of Johann Cluttermeister. This time I found an envelope postmarked May 21, 1973 “from the desk of Murray McEachern” in Mentone, California, promoting a new release of three records titled Music for Sleepwalkers Only. In the listing of selections in Vol. II of these records I was familiar with all of the selections, but the one tune that struck a chord with me was Too Little Time; written in 1950 by Henry Mancini, Too Little Time was the main theme in the 1954 movie The Glenn Miller Story. It was then off to my record collection to play my copy of this tune, (made early in the year 2000 by a band where I was a member). It did not get rid of my earworm, by the way, but at least I now had two different numbers in my earworm library.

The Music Lovers at Royal York. Photo by Joan AndrewsThe trouble with my Cluttermeister collection is that no sooner do I get rid of something in it, than something else comes along that needs to be added. I was recently presented with a photograph with personal relevance for me. A friend of a friend had found the photo in a pile destined for the scrap heap, and thought that it might interest me. It was of swing band called The Music Lovers, all decked out in blazers and gray flannel pants in a ballroom of the Royal York Hotel. Of the 17 members, I was only able to name three, other than myself! There I am, back row, far right! Adding a single photo to my collection of memorabilia shouldn’t be a problem, you’d think. Well, this case is a bit different. This full-colour photograph just happens to be three feet wide and two feet high mounted on 3/8-inch plywood. It won’t fit in any album here, and there isn’t any suitable wall space to hang it up.

One of my favourites in the world of classical music is Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca. (one of many different spellings). While I have a recording of that work, I also have among my memorabilia an old Dixieland version with the name Mo Zart’s Turkey Trot. So much, for now, for the Cluttermeister collection.

Back to Bugles

More on my beef about bugle music on trumpets. On June 6 this year I attended a ceremony on the street in front of the home of a man named Fred Barnard to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Fred was one of only two or three men, from The Queen’s Own Rifles regiment, still living, who landed on Juno Beach in Normandy in 1944. Two months later I attended Fred’s funeral service. At the funeral there were many members of his regiment and the regimental association. During the service in the chapel there was the customary playing of The Last Post by a bugler at the rear of the chapel. I was stunned when I heard the first notes of this. I was hearing a real bugle, not a trumpet. There, in full uniform, was the bugler from The Queen’s Own Band playing on an excellent new bugle. It had been a very long time since I had heard such a beautiful tone and flawless playing.

I had to learn more about this bright silver bugle. A few weeks later I visited a rehearsal of the Band of the Queen’s Own Rifles at Moss Park Armoury and chatted with the man who played that bugle. It was not the old traditional copper instrument with brass trim around the bell. This was a bright silver instrument, and the big feature for me was that it uses a standard trumpet mouthpiece. One of the problems with the tradition copper bugle is that the mouthpiece has a very different shank than a trumpet. Consequently, most trumpet players are reluctant to play bugle calls on an unfamiliar mouthpiece. In this case any trumpet player just uses their regular mouthpiece. It’s a win - win situation. My next question was: where did they get this excellent bugle. All I have found out so far is that this bugle was made to order locally. I hope get more information on that soon and will pass it on to you when I do.

Concerts with Themes

Looking over information on recent and planned future concerts, it seems that they are now the usual standard format. In the past few months I’ve encountered such themes as: “Music based on Bach,” “A Night at the Oscars,” and “A Night at the Cinema.” Christmas is still too far away to to be rearing its head just yet. Halloween, though, is getting the definite nod. A recent flyer from the Markham Concert Band is for three concerts, all with themes. The first, on October 30 is “MCB’s Hallowe’en Party.” Then, on Sunday, October 27 the Wychwood Clarinet Choir will perform their fall concert with the theme “Creepy Clarinets.”

Programming themed concerts solves some problems, but also poses some dilemmas. In programming who are we trying to please, the audience, the conductor or band members? For band members at least, the limitations of library contents can become an issue when all the music on the chosen theme is at one level of difficulty.

Of the concerts on the near horizon that we have heard of, only one really states what an audience can expect. On Sunday, October 27 at 4pm The Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents “Creepy Clarinets” featuring Humperdink’s Overture to Hansel and Gretel; Moussorgsky’s Baba Yaga’s Hut and Great Gate of Kiev; Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther; and Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. With artistic director Michele Jacot conducting, this should be a very entertaining afternoon at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, 611 St. Clair Ave. W. in Toronto.

Plumbing Factory Brass Band on Hiatus

Speaking of creative thematic programming, elsewhere in the band community, we have received sad news from Henry Meredith who officially announced just the other day that he has made the decision to suspend the Plumbing Factory Brass Band indefinitely. This band has presented nearly 60 different programs over the last two dozen years. This will be sad news for Brass Band fans. There will be no PFBB next season. As for the future, who knows? Henry himself certainly has a lot of musical irons in the fire. For one thing, there is his huge instrument collection which needs proper cataloguing if he is to find the museum home for it that it richly deserves. We’ll follow this next chapter in “Dr. Hank’s” life with interest, and report back.

Elsewhere, the Music Continues

Following are upcoming concerts we know about. Only the bare bones are here. All the details can be found in The WholeNote’s listings sections.

BANDSTAND QUICK PICKS

OCT 5, 7:30PM: St. George’s Cathedral. Metropolitan Silver Band. 270 King St. E., Kingston. Proceeds to the Cathedral Heritage Preservation Trust.

OCT 15, 7PM: Barrie Concert Band. Musical tribute to the veterans of the Canadian Forces and to those currently serving abroad or at home. Entertainment by the Skyliners’ Big Band will follow tribute. Royal Canadian Legion Branch 147, 410 St. Vincent St., Barrie.

OCT 20, 3PM: Weston Silver Band. In Concert. Guests: TorQ Percussion Quartet. Glenn Gould Studio.

OCT 20, 4PM: Guelph Concert Band. Masterclass Concert with Elisabeth Fessler (trumpet) and Cristian Ganicenco (trombone). Chris Cigolea, conductor. Salvation Army Citadel, 1320 Gordon St., Guelph.

OCT 23, 12:30PM: Don Wright Faculty of Music. Western University Symphonic Band. Paul Davenport Theatre, Talbot College, Western University, London.

OCT 27, 3PM: Church of the Ascension. Swing Shift Big Band: Memories of Yesteryear - The Big Band Sound.

OCT 27, 3PM: Hannaford Street Silver Band. Nine Daies Wonder. Guest: Mark Fewer, violin. Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

OCT 29, 8PM: Roy Thomson Hall. A Tuba to Cuba: Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Yusa and Special Guests.

NOV 1, 8PM: Etobicoke Community Concert Band. Radio Days. Alex Dean, saxophone. Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium.

NOV 7, 7:30PM: York University Department of Music. York University Wind Symphony & York University Symphony Orchestra’s Preview Concert. Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East.

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

It is October, and summer – which clung on so tenaciously throughout September – is officially over. In many ways, this month is a hopeful one: after a perpetually hot, sticky and undignified period, the prospect of wearing a sweater and coat has become almost thrilling. In other ways, however, this month is frightening: the weather will get ever colder, the evenings ever darker, and, no matter how you’re planning on voting, the federal election will bring a certain amount of anxiety (October 21: don’t forget!). But regardless of the coming changes, rest assured that there are a number of standout shows coming your way, and multiple opportunities to hear excellent musicians in action.

Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarberaColtrane Tribute at The Rex

On October 10, 11 and 12, saxophonists Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera present their annual John Coltrane Tribute at The Rex, with pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Joe LaBarbera. This yearly run of shows has become an institution unto itself, a tradition that serves to highlight the Toronto jazz scene’s appreciation and respect for Coltrane’s invaluable musical legacy. It is also an opportunity, of course, to delight in the prowess of MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera, both of whom are leading voices on the saxophone, as well as being conscientious stewards of the modern tenor tradition inaugurated by Coltrane. The rhythm section is equally impressive: Dickinson, Swainson and Joe LaBarbera bring their own set of experiences to Coltrane’s music. (Though he and Pat are indeed brothers, Joe LaBarbera is the only non-Torontonian in the group; he is based in California, where is he a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, in Santa Clarita.) In addition to their careers as performers, MacDonald, Pat LaBarbera, Dickinson and Swainson are also faculty members at Humber College, and it is normal to see a large cohort of jazz students from Humber, U of T, and York at any show that they play.

The Coltrane shows are happening a bit later in the year than is usual – they typically take place around September 23, on Coltrane’s birthday – but it’s likely that they will still generate a strong back-to-school sensation, an inspiration to budding jazz musicians as well as an opportunity to experience a sense of musical community. Head down to The Rex to hear it all: masterful playing, the music of one of the 20th century’s greatest musical innovators, and sporting-event-style cheering when students recognize the changes to Giant Steps being superimposed on a blues.

Rexcetera!

While the Coltrane Tribute will be a major highlight, The Rex’s October schedule is replete with notable concerts. On October 23 and 24, pianist Florian Hoefner celebrates the release of his new album First Spring. Hoefner is one of Canada’s most interesting young jazz pianists, and his path here has been somewhat unconventional. Originally from Germany, he went to school both in Berlin and in New York, where he obtained an MMus from the Manhattan School of Music. He is now a resident of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and a faculty member at Memorial University. Featuring Toronto musicians Andrew Downing (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums), and released on the Canadian label Alma Records, First Spring speaks to Hoefner’s ongoing engagement with the Canadian jazz scene. At The Rex, Hoefner will be playing with Downing and drummer Jim Doxas. Also at The Rex: vocalist Joanna Majoko brings her sextet on October 19, Chelsea McBride’s large ensemble Socialist Night School plays on October 21 and Dayna Stephens’ Pluto Juice – with Anthony Fung, Andrew Marzotto, and Rich Brown – plays on October 25 and 26.

Sam Kirmayer at the Bistro

On October 2, Montreal guitarist Sam Kirmayer will be stopping by Jazz Bistro as part of a cross-Canada tour to promote his recent organ trio album, High and Low, released on Vancouver’s Cellar Music label. As on the album, Kirmayer will be joined by Montreal’s Dave Laing on drums and the American keyboardist Ben Paterson on B3. Kirmayer is something of a traditionalist, and his playing resembles that of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery more than it does Pat Metheny, John Scofield or Kurt Rosenwinkel. His preferred instrument is a large-body archtop guitar, and he typically plays with minimal effects, a choice that lends itself well to the swinging, bluesy style that he favours. Kirmayer has made an apt choice in bandmates: Paterson has worked with Bobby Broom, Johnny O’Neal and Peter Bernstein, and is equally adept on piano as he is on organ. Laing – a McGill faculty member – has performed with a wide range of notable jazz artists, from Canadian luminaries such as Ed Bickert, Lorne Lofsky and Don Thompson, to international musicians such as Dave Liebman, Kenny Werner, and Sheila Jordan.

Burdock Beat Goes On

Burdock continues to be a venue at which jazz consistently intersects with indie music, to ongoing success. On October 12, the New York-based singer Emma Frank makes a stop at the Music Hall on tour in support of her recent release Come Back, with Aaron Parks, Franky Rousseau, Tommy Crane and Zack Lober. On October 29, Bernice – Toronto vocalist Robin Dann’s pop, jazz and R&B-flavoured indie vehicle, which features Thom Gill, Felicity Williams, Phil Melanson and Dan Fortin – plays with Booty EP. Frank and Dann play different kinds of music, and have each developed an interesting, individual body of work. But the projects are aligned in the sense that they feature open, creative musicians with a high degree of formal jazz training playing intelligent vocal music with a distinctive indie sensibility. Also at Burdock: On October 21, guitarist Dan Pitt celebrates the release of his trio’s debut album Fundamentally Flawed. Joined by bassist Alex Fournier and drummer Nick Fraser, Pitt’s trio plays a brand of modern jazz rooted in an open, improvisatory practice that allows for a diverse range of influences – from classical to folk to metal – to make themselves heard. 

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.

It’s been a wonderful summer of musical theatre highlights: the TSO’s brilliant “Modern Broadway” pops concert starring the electric Jeremy Jordan; the return of The Lion King to the Princess of Wales, where families could introduce their children to the joys of musicals via the still amazing puppetry of Julie Taymor; Nicole Brooks’ wonderfully positive a cappella retelling of the Salem witch trials in Obeah Opera at Luminato; Jake Epstein’s Boy Falls From The Sky at the Toronto Fringe; and Reprint: three brand new short musicals inspired by articles In The Globe and Mail archives. And now the new fall season is ready to begin.

Erin Shields. Photo by Dahlia KatzErin Shields’ Nuanced Piaf/Dietrich Book

September brings an exciting new production to the CAA Theatre that draws on well-known musical material but gives it a new and thrilling twist. Piaf/Dietrich; A Legendary Affair, as the title indicates, is about two of the most legendary performers of the 20th century: France’s petite passionate songbird Edith Piaf and Germany-by-way-of-Hollywood’s cool and aloof femme fatale Marlene Dietrich. There have been many shows written about Piaf, and not enough about Dietrich, but they haven’t been seen together until now. It turns out that the two stars were friends (and perhaps more than friends) for the last few years of Piaf’s life, meeting for the first time in the washroom of a New York theatre where Piaf had just given a less-than-successful concert in 1960. This rich possibility for a theatrical undertaking was discovered and developed by German playwrights Daniel Grosse Boymann and Thomas Kahry, beginning in 2009 as a reading of letters and writings from and about the two stars accompanied by matching songs. In 2014, a hugely successful full production (in German) called Spatz und Engel (The Sparrow and the Angel) opened in Vienna and played for six seasons while other productions followed throughout Europe.

For its debut in North America last year, it was felt that something more than a direct translation was needed, so award-winning playwright Erin Shields was asked to take on the task of creating the first English-language version, adapting the original by way of a literal translation from Sam Madwar. As soon as I saw Shields’ name attached to this show, I knew I wanted to find out more about her involvement and how the show might have developed from its European version. I have known Erin since I invited her to take part years ago in the New Ideas Festival (of which I was then artistic director) and was impressed by her adaptation of classic fairy tales. Since then she has gone from strength to strength, becoming one of Canada’s most highly regarded playwrights, from winning the Governor General’s Award in 2011 for If We Were Birds, to skewering the sexism of the television industry with Beautiful Man at Factory Theatre, to her brilliant feminist updating of Milton’s Paradise Lost for the Stratford Festival. There is also something wonderful about a Canadian woman adapting this material for an all-Canadian cast led by two of our top musical theatre performers: Louise Pitre (Piaf) and Jayne Lewis (Dietrich). Shields’ adaptation made its debut at Montreal’s Segal Centre last year as The Angel and the Sparrow (also starring Pitre) to great acclaim. I reached out to her to learn more about what the adaptation experience was like,

“This whole process has been a very different type of project from what I usually do,” she told me. “I’m not the primary creator, I wasn’t the person that had the primary impulse. Daniel and Thomas, did. They have devoted so much to creating this play that for me there is a joy in respecting their vision but also doing my best to make sure that their creation is able to meet a North American audience in a way that will be successful and speak to them.”

Breaking that down into more detail, she explained that making the language more natural than the literal translation was one of her tasks, but on a deeper level there were two bigger cultural and dramaturgical issues to address. “The biggest thing the original playwrights realized,” she told me, “was that Marlene Dietrich is extremely famous in Germany, so there were a lot of things taken for granted in the script about who she is. In North America, although we know Dietrich from her movies, we don’t know much more about her. We have to teach people who she is, whereas with Edith Piaf we have a bit more of a sense of her life, particularly in Montreal. Equally important”, Shields continued, “the show is about female friendship and because it was written by two guys there were some missing elements.” She made it her goal to deepen the depiction of the friendship between the two legendary figures, yet to not shy away from the conflict that arose from their completely opposite backgrounds and public personas. This led, again, to making sure the audience would understand how different the two are. “Piaf’s track has always been very clear,” Shields says. “She has a real Hollywood storybook tragic arc to her life. She has a compulsive artistic drive: she sings and brings people to tears, and then she gets addicted to all this stuff to maintain her self and keep performing, and ends up dying young. Marlene’s story is very different. It doesn’t have the same trajectory as Piaf’s; they are working in opposite ways. While Piaf is tearing herself apart, Dietrich is trying to maintain a very composed, manicured, beautiful, iconic version of herself while she rails against age and becoming less important in the world. I am trying to bring out her story more, and to make sure that the audience sees how important Piaf and Dietrich are to each other as foils, how they provoke each other, but also ultimately how they love and support each other in a way that no one else can, partly because they both lived this life of fame which is so alien to most of us.”

Of course, this isn’t only a play, but a musical, and the show includes 20 songs including La Vie En Rose, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, Falling in Love Again and Lili Marlene, all performed by the stars and all integrated into the telling of the story.

While Shields has had experience with musicals before – she performed in shows in high school and recently took part as a book writer in The Musical Stage Company’s Reframed – she had never written or adapted the book for a full scale musical. The rehearsal process in Montreal with the expert cast and creative team was full of revelations. “The director Gordon Greenberg (who also directs the Toronto production) really has an intuition for musical theatre. He is on his feet all the time and the show lives in his body as he is directing, so he would have thoughts, suggestions or provocations all the time on the fly – searching for clarity in the storytelling. Watching him and music director Jonathan Monroe and the actors navigate and negotiate the elements of the show, I learned that the text isn’t always the most important thing in terms of character or story. In some ways, spoken scenes have to be slightly more perfunctory; each still has to have an action and the actors have to ‘do things to one another’, but at the same time the function of some scenes is simply to get us from one song to another, and the songs should function as story moments themselves. For example, working with a performer like Louise Pitre whose whole body becomes overwhelmed with emotion when she is singing – grounded in that same visceral quality that Edith Piaf has – made me realize the effect her singing would have on an audience and that I could cut bits out of the script and rely a bit more, instead, on the music for the emotional journey of the play. The emotional heart of a musical really is the music.”

This is a particularly interesting journey for Shields to have experienced. “As a playwright I would say I am more of an auditory creator than a visual creator which is why I always love when I start working with a director, because directors are all visual. I always hear the play in my head, the voices and rhythms of the characters, the totality of the play whether that incorporates music or not.”

Something else always important to Shields as she crafts her plays is (often dark) humour, and while she hopes that Piaf/Dietrich will make “questions bubble up in the audience about fame and the cost of sacrificing oneself for art’, she also insists that the show is “funny, too. There is a lot to enjoy and have fun with.”

When I asked if she might consider writing the book for a new musical now that she has adapted the book for this one, she said, “Absolutely!” and already has several projects on the go, giving us even more to look forward to. Piaf/Dietrich plays at the CAA Theatre from September 17 to December 8.

Two contrasting Canadian Premieres

Toward the end of September are two intriguing, contrasting Canadian premieres: The first, Girl From The North Country, written and directed by Conor Mcpherson (The Weir, Seascape), is a look back at small town America at the height of the Depression, as seen through the eyes of this Irish playwright; “of the people” and infused with the passionate and political songs of American icon Bob Dylan. Described as a “powerful new show full of hope and heartbreak,” Girl is coming to Toronto for a strictly limited run from September 28 to November 24 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre after acclaimed sold-out runs at both the Old Vic in London’s West End and at the Public Theatre in New York. For fans of both McPherson and/or Dylan this should be fascinating to see. (mirvish.com)

The second, a call to the present and cry to the future, is Resonance, a new creation by (Seoul-born, but Canadian resident) choreographer and director Hanna Kiel. Inspired by the peaceful protests in 2016 that led to the ousting of South Korea’s former corrupt president, Park Geun-Hye, Kiel is fusing an original rock music score by JUNO Award-winning Greg Harrison with passionate new choreography for 12 dancers to explore this evolution of social outcry into direct but peaceful action.

September 26 to 28, at the Saints Cyril and Methody Macedonian-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church in Toronto (brownpapertickets.com).

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

SEP 7, 2PM AND 8PM ONLY: Miz/Saigon, Broadway Concert Series Inc. Toronto Centre for the Arts (ticketmaster.ca). A rare chance to see some of our top Canadian musical theatre stars including George Masswohl (Come From Away) and Ma-Anne Dionisio (Next to Normal, Miss Saigon) singing hits from Les Mis and Miss Saigon.

SEP 16, 7:30PM: The PAL Kitchen Party. One show only. Stratford Festival Theatre (stratfordfestival.ca). Support the Stratford Performing Arts Lodge by attending this one-night-only concert, a mix of songs and stories with a Newfoundland theme, performed by members of the Stratford Festival Company (and some special guests including George Masswohl and Greg Hawco) directed and hosted by company member and “Newfoundland’s own” Brad Hodder.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

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