Raven Chacon bannerRaven ChaconBack in November 2018, I wrote about a conversation I had with David Schotzko, Arraymusic’s new artistic director. One of the things he told me about at the time was his plan to continue Arraymusic’s community-based focus through co-productions as well as the presenting of mini-festivals that highlight the music of specific composers. On the weekend of April 12 to 14, one such co-produced mini-festival will come to fruition, bringing together Arraymusic, the Music Gallery and Native Women in the Arts to present the music of Raven Chacon.

I had a chance to speak with Chacon about the music we’ll be hearing during the festival as well as acquaint myself with some of his other artistic projects and his thinking about music and composition. What I discovered was an intriguing body of work that was coming from a unique perspective: one that not so much pushed against established new music norms, but rather one that originated from a different place, a different mind.

Before we began our conversation, Chacon handed me a large-sized postcard with an image from Canyon de Chelly on the front, with recording grooves, playable on a turntable, imprinted upon the cardboard paper. It was a field recording he had made in 1999 from the Canyon de Chelly, located in the state of Arizona, east of the Grand Canyon – a visually stunning place close to the Navajo Nation home where he grew up. Later in our conversation he spoke about this recording: “It was made in a quiet place at a quiet time of day. In the studio, I turned the volume up to the max. It’s not about the pristine anthropological capturing or listening to this place. It’s about letting this place scream. Speak and scream,” he said.

Even though we were sitting in a Toronto café for our conversation, I felt the presence of this other space as we spoke about his chamber music compositions, noise-based pieces, score notations, installations, films and his various collaborations.

The mini-festival begins on April 12 with a concert of Chacon’s chamber music performed by the Array Ensemble. One piece on the program will be his solo cello work Quiver, commissioned by Michelle Kesler in 2018 and one of a three-part series of pieces connected to hunting. This hunting series began with his piece Taa’go Deza [Three Points], three songs for singing cellist commissioned by Dawn Avery in 2007. During that piece, the performer sounds like an animal being chased while having to sing and play simultaneously. Invisible Arc for solo cello, written in 2017, is inspired by a traditional Navajo hunting song and reflects the process of waiting for the animal as a prayer for the life of the animal about to be killed.) Quiver, Chacon explains, is about conflicting actions, much like what happens when one tries to rub one’s stomach in a circular motion while patting the head. During the hunt, the conflict comes in the trading of one life for another, the need to hunt and kill an animal so one can survive. One instance of this occurs musically when the cellist is asked to perform circular bowing in one direction while drumming with their fingers on the bow.

Other works on Friday night’s concert include Lats’ aadah, for solo violin (2004), a word which means the number 11 in Navajo; Naakishchiin Ana’i, for flute and marimba (2004) which includes a lot of silence during the piece; and a newly commissioned work titled (Bury Me) Where The Lightning [Will] Never Find Me for violin, cello, clarinet and percussion. In this piece, he is experimenting with zigzag forms within melodies, rhythmic patterns, timbral shapes and tempo accelerations; it is a continuation of a previous work, Atsiniltlishiye, from 2003.

The Saturday concert will feature four works that are part of Chacon’s ongoing project For Zitkála-Šá. Each piece in this series is written for a specific performer, and during the festival, we will hear the pieces he created for Cheryl L’Hirondelle, a Toronto-based singer of Cree descent; Suzanne Kite, a Lakota composer and performer currently based in Montreal; Laura Ortman, a White Mountain Apache violinist and improvisor from New York City, and Carmina Escobar, a Mestiza experimental vocalist and composer living in Los Angeles. Chacon originally wanted to write a large symphonic-like work about Zitkála-Šá whom he discovered while researching to find out who might have been the first recognized native composer. Zitkála-Šá was a Dakota woman who was an activist and writer of fiction and non-fiction, including political op-eds and essays, Chacon told me. She was also a composer and violinist, co-composing The Sun Dance Opera in 1913 with William F. Hanson. It is hard to know precisely what her contributions were to the creative process, Chacon says, but he speculates that she played or sang melodies that Hanson transcribed. “The more I researched her life, the more I realized she was a polarizing and controversial figure, even today, with how she had to navigate herself as a Native woman in the early 20th century. I abandoned the idea of writing about her and instead decided to write a series of solo pieces using graphic scores for 13 contemporary Indigenous women composers.” Besides the four pieces we will hear on the April 13 concert, pieces for two other local composer/performers – Barbara Croall and Ange Loft – are part of the ongoing project, as well as plans for a lecture series and a book. During the second half of Saturday’s concert, Chacon will perform with the trio c_RL (Allison Cameron, Nicole Rampersaud and Germaine Liu), whom I also wrote about back in November.

Sunday’s concert will begin with an opening set by Anishinaabe-Irish (Nipissing First Nation) saxophonist Olivia Shortt, followed by Chacon performing an electronic noise set. The main instrument he will use is a pair of hyper-directional speakers that will beam sound on audience members. The sounds being played back are field recordings he made at Standing Rock during the Dakota Access [oil] Pipeline protests.

Chacon’s ideas about music and composition are intriguing and inspiring. “I’m always trying to think of what I’m defining as music. For me it shifts. Sometimes there is a clear difference between music and sound art. Music is something that doesn’t ever need to be explained or spoken about, it’s already doing that. It doesn’t need to be justified. The more I think about music, the less I’m confident that it requires sound.” That seems contradictory, so I asked him to elaborate, and he spoke about time, positions in time and about how the events that arise in time are more important than the actual sound. He painted a picture of how a performance could be likened to the situation of he and I sitting in the café, engaging in actions along a timeline.

Clockwise from top left: Carmina Escobar’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Laura Ortman’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Suzanne Kile’s score of For Zitkála-Šá“We are syncing up,” he said, “because we are consciously connecting, or placing ourselves in the context of this space together. I think what’s interesting is how the events that you do and the events that I do might align or not align. Within such a situation, artifacts will arise – artifacts such as sound or moving image, a meditation or prayer or some other experience we don’t know how to define. When I say artifacts I mean the leftovers of the real-time experience which might not be the main guts of the thing.” Most of the chamber works we will hear in the first concert on Friday night are pieces coming from this point of view, works “that are primarily written for the people who are playing them and nobody else. The audience just happens to be there,” he said. With the solo works, there is a feedback loop built into the piece. “In Quiver, for example, this happens a lot, with the performer interacting silently with the audience. Dynamics are written on the rests to show how the performer might interact, to indicate the intensity of the way they manage that feedback loop.”

In the course of our conversation, we also spoke about a work composed for the Kronos Quartet as part of their Fifty for the Future project (something Toronto audiences were introduced to in 2016 when Kronos performed during the 21C Festival). In Chacon’s Kronos piece, The Journey of the Horizontal People (2016), he worked with the idea of a future creation story, “an alternate universe creation story” with people dispersing from a place to find other people like them in order to survive. “This could be related to the need to create diversity in philosophy, world view, or genetics,” he explained. “The music is written in such a way that the players will get lost, even the virtuosic players of Kronos. For example, at one point, the first violinist is asked to speed up, the cellist to slow down, the second violinist to stay at the original tempo, and the viola to speed up immensely.” Another aspect of the piece, he says, is that it stipulates that a woman must be in the quartet, as she is the one called upon to realign the other performers when they get lost. “And if no woman is in the quartet?” I asked. “Two options are possible: the eldest person in the quartet takes on that role, but more preferable would be for the man who most identifies as a woman. If more than one woman is in the quartet, the oldest one is chosen.” In this way, the matriarchal worldview found in many native traditions becomes an integral aspect of the piece, but as Chacon adds, “This should reflect everyone’s worldview.”

Another significant aspect of Chacon’s creative work has been his involvement in Postcommodity, a collective of Native American artists that began in 2007 and with whom he worked from 2009 to 2018. Much of Postcommodity’s work is installation-based with sound being one of the main mediums used. One of Chacon’s favourite pieces with the collective, he says, is the four-act opera The Ears Between Worlds Are Always Speaking, from 2017, a site-specific work using LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Devices) to project hyper-directional sound upon the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum in Greece. Each day, the installation performed music from Greece and the Southwestern United States, with a libretto both spoken and sung that told stories of long-walk migrations. Another collaboration is a performance art film created with Postcommodity member Cristóbal Martínez that tells the story of two characters searching for the mythological cities of gold which the conquistadors believed were in New Mexico. The piece has been showing this past winter at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston as part of an exhibition titled Soundings that explores the question of how a score can be a call, and tool, for decolonization.

Postcommodity’s From SmokeCurrently, Chacon is feeling the pull back to composing chamber music, finishing pieces already started or developing ideas he has been working on for a while. One major project due to be performed this November is Sweet Land, an opera with American composer Du Yun. They will be working with Yuval Sharon, the artistic director of The Industry, a company dedicated to new and experimental opera located in Los Angeles. The opera is an alternate history of the United States focusing on encounters such as ships arriving on a shore, railroads cutting through the country, and feasts or welcomings that turned out one way or the other. The opera will be telling of these encounters and contacts between Indigenous people and others coming to visit.

Overall, the weekend of April 12 to 14 provides an excellent opportunity to hear a body of work that combines many refreshing ideas and creative strategies from someone relatively new to local audiences. I for one look forward to having a unique experience of engagement with the musical imaginings of Raven Chacon.

Raven Chacon: Mini-Festival takes place at 918 Bathurst Street, Friday to Sunday April 12 to 14.

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

In with the new Quick Picks

APR 5, 7PM: Esprit Orchestra presents “New Wave Reprise” with world premieres by five emerging composers. The evening includes a keynote address by Montreal composer John Rea.

APR 6, 8PM: Spectrum Music presents “Jests in Time!” with compositions inspired by the Jester archetype and a pre-concert monologue by an emerging Toronto comedian. New pieces by Spectrum composers Chelsea McBride, Mason Victoria, Jackson Welchner, Graham Campbell, Tiffany Hanus and Noah Franche-Nolan will be presented by performers Simone Baron, accordion, the Odin String Quartet and Alex Pollard, dancer.

APR 28, 3PM: The Music Gallery presents “Sounding Difference,” another in their Deep Listening experiences with Anne Bourne performing the text scores of Pauline Oliveros. Free.

APR 28, 8PM: New Music Concerts. Their “Luminaries” concert remembers the music of two friends of NMC over the years: Gilles Tremblay and Pierre Boulez. The evening includes the performance of Tremblay’s work Envoi for solo piano and ensemble, and Boulez’s iconic masterpiece Le Marteau sans maître poems by René Char for voice and six instruments.

MAY 3, 8PM: The Music Gallery. In this final Emergents concert of the season, the experimental music theatre group Din of Shadows will present their newest project Material Mythology with a team of performers, composers, dancers and visual artists. The piece speculates about the hidden meanings and mythologies behind everyday actions, objects and spaces.

Judy Loman at Crow’s Theatre. Photo by Trevor HaldenbyA harp can sing: this we’ve learned from Judy Loman and her extraordinary career. The now-retired principal harp with the TSO has several harp-centric world premieres to her name by the composers like R. Murray Schafer, Kelly-Marie Murphy, Glenn Buhr and John Weinzweig, and has often accompanied voice in art song recital, notably on records with Lois Marshall in Folk Songs from the British Isles, Eleanor James in Schafer’s Tanzlied and Monica Whicher in Lullabies and Carols for Christmas. On April 14, she will be reuniting with Whicher in song and trying something entirely different: a selection of Mahler and Strauss arranged by Loman for the harp.

There’s going to be much else on the program, ranging from the Elizabethan era to Britten and spanning multiple countries, but the Mahler and Strauss songs re-tailored for the harp are the most exciting challenge, explains the 82-year-old harp virtuoso when I meet her at her midtown west-end home. I take a peek at the program that they are preparing, and much of the Strauss set is one lavish melancholy hit after another. The languid, soft “Ruhe, meine Seele” (Rest, My Soul) opens the set, followed by the bright melancholy of “Allerseelen” (All Souls’ Day) and sombre “Morgen!” (Tomorrow). Then, a change of mood for the finale. The playful “Heimliche Aufforderung” (The Lover’s Pledge) and the altogether brighter and vast “Zueignung” (Devotion) complete the Strauss set.

The upbeat “Frühlingsmorgen” (Spring Morning) with its fluttery ornaments opens the Mahler set, which proceeds to the deceptively simple and short, but devastating in effect, “Phantasie” and finishes with the highly dramatic song of farewell “Nicht wiedersehen!” from the cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

That, in addition to the Ravel and Britten sets, three Italian songs from the Baroque and classical periods, and the Elizabethan-era sequence that includes the gloriously melismatic “Chloris Sigh’d” and a song attributed to Anne Boleyn. The harp will also sing on its own in a nocturne by Marcel Tournier (d. 1951).

Monica WhicherThe two women have decided to name this Mazzoleni Songmasters program at the RCM simply Monica & Judy. They’ve known each other for a long time, says Loman; they originally met through a common acquaintance who was a member of a group advocating for better care of autistic children that Loman, parent of a now-adult son on the autism spectrum, used to belong to. Some of the paintings on the living room wall behind me, she later tells me, are her son’s.

The harp naturally occupies a prominent spot in her living room. On the coffee table, a monograph on the work of the visual and media artist and Guggenheim Fellow, Penelope Umbrico, Loman’s oldest daughter, who was born in the US, shortly before the young Curtis Institute of Music alumni Loman and her husband, trumpeter Joseph Umbrico, moved to Canada for good. The small family moved to Toronto in 1957 so Umbrico could take up the principal trumpet position with the TSO, and as luck would have it, two years later the orchestra needed a principal harpist. When she joined the TSO, Loman was by no means the only woman, she tells me; while some of the internationally prominent orchestras to this day struggle with the issue of too few women in the ranks, she wasn’t an oddity in the TSO of the 1960s. Though she did help set a positive precedent that eventually changed a particular bit of orchestral culture that will sound unusual to us today. “Well, a funny story. If a female player got pregnant,” Loman says, “she was expected to stop playing in the orchestra as soon as the pregnancy was beginning to show. But what happened with me is that I stayed for as long as I could comfortably embrace the instrument, because there weren’t many harpists that the TSO could hire while I’m away on maternity leave for months. So I played through pregnancy, and after that, other women in the orchestra could too.”

What is her theory; why is the harp now an almost exclusively female instrument? “I wonder as well … Perhaps a lot of girls do as I did – see a beautiful harp at the music school and decide, wow, this is the instrument for me.” Loman’s parents both had great affinity for music – her father was a gifted jazz pianist, her mother had keen interest in dance – but neither ended up going the professional route. When they went to register their five-year-old for piano lessons, the child spotted a small golden harp on the premises and decided there and then that was the instrument for her. (Piano came much later in life.) Orchestral brass, on the other hand, remains largely a male purview. “My husband too used to be a little chauvinistic on that topic,” says Loman mischievously, “but he changed his mind later in life, once women brass players started coming through the ranks in greater numbers.”

The couple raised three daughters and a son and remained together until Umbrico’s death in 2007. Both Loman and Umbrico frequently played pieces by living Canadian composers, and over the decades Loman built up a remarkable recorded legacy in harp repertoire with the emphasis on the 20th century. The first harp concerto written specifically for her was the 1967 Concerto for Harp and Chamber Orchestra by John Weinzweig, a piece which she now describes as “perhaps a little dry.” (Readers of CanLit and chroniclers of Canadian literary modernism will have noticed the recent and well-deserved surge of interest in the novels of Helen Weinzweig, the composer’s wife, due in large part to the NYRB Classics reissue of Basic Black with Pearls in 2018). Loman’s encounter with Murray Schafer was more fortuitous. She approached him after the TSO performed a piece by Schafer inside U of T’s Convocation Hall and suggested he consider creating something for the harp. “I mentioned to him that I’ve been talking with Toru Takemitsu about a possible harp piece for which the harpist would wear bracelets with bells, and I think this was what fired up his imagination,” remembers Loman. Soon after, Schafer dropped by her house with the score for The Crown of Ariadne, the now legendary six-movement segment of Schafer’s opera cycle Patria, which he set for the harp with an assortment of percussive instruments and prepared tape. Loman premiered it, recorded it, won a JUNO for it and most recently awed in it in an all-Schafer Soundstream production appropriately called Odditorium. In the darkened Crow’s Theatre, Loman alone on stage performed Ariadne Awakens and the dances. When I tell her that her performance created a religious experience for this atheist, she laughs and offers a more-down-to-earth comment: “It’s a very difficult piece, and I sometimes make the odd mistake, but I was so well prepared for that, I don’t think I made any during that run.”

Following Ariadne, Schafer went on to compose six other works for the harp, all of which were finally gathered on the same disc in 2016, Ariadne’s Legacy. Loman plays in five of the seven in addition to The Crown of Ariadne (1979), the 1986 Theseus for harp and string quartet, the 1987 Harp Concerto with the TSO under Andrew Davis, the 1997 Wild Bird with Jacques Israelievitch on violin and the 2004 Tanzlied with Schafer’s wife, mezzo Eleanor James.

Even with such a career behind her, the national treasure that is Judy Loman is not anywhere near the end of her bucket list. Her hearing is not 100 percent today but when did a little reduced hearing ever prevent great musicians from doing anything? “I’m 82 and not sure how long I’ll be able to play, so I’m busy getting into pieces that I haven’t yet done and really want to do,” she says.

More religious experiences brought to us by Loman at the harp to look forward to then.

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

APR 5 AND 6, 8PM: Confluence Concerts presents an all-Purcell program at Heliconian Hall, “Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined.” Larry Beckwith, Anna Atkinson, Andrew Downing, Patricia O’Callaghan, Drew Jurecka and Suba Sankaran, among others. $20-$30, with the pre-concert chat on each night starting at 7:15pm.

Allison AngeloAPR 14, 3PM: The new edition of the Off-Centre Music Salon (which takes place not at all in a salon but at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre on Bloor West) presents “To the Letter: An Epistolary Celebration,” a showcase of composers who have been known for their prolific and skillful letter writing. Soprano Allison Angelo, mezzo Andrea Ludwig, tenor Ernesto Ramirez, baritone Giles Tomkins and Kathryn Tremills at the piano appear in a program of Chopin, Brahms, Debussy and Mozart. Tickets not cheap at $40-$50, though there are deep discounts for young adults.

MAY 1, 6:30PM: Tongue in Cheek Productions’ latest is titled “Democracy in Action” and I’m told will involve “integrated online polls available to the audience throughout the concert”. My guess is as good as yours. Pianist Trevor Chartrand will accompany a solid lineup: mezzos Krisztina Szabó and Julie Nesrallah; sopranos Natalya Gennadi and Teiya Kasahara; tenors Asitha Tennekoon and Romulo Delgado; baritones Alexander Hajek and Stephen Hegedus. Lula Lounge, $35 ($25 arts workers); seating is a mix of dinner tables and theatre seating.

Finally some folk and pop content in the picks this month. Gordon Lightfoot is touring Ontario in April, including, among others, Richmond Hill (APR 3), Barrie (APR 8), St Catharines (APR 11 AND 12) and Mississauga (APR 15 AND 16). Ticket prices vary.

And on APR 27, 7:30PM: Music at Metropolitan presents” L’Aigle noir: The Music of Barbara,” the songs of the late French singer-songwriter in a cabaret-style tribute by Charles Davidson (singer-actor) and Jesse Corrigan (accordion). Metropolitan United Church, 56 Queen St. E. $20.

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

In the summer of 2016 I was given a package of Mahler DVDs produced and directed by Jason Starr, a prolific maker of dozens of video and films, from classical music and modern dance performances to documentary profiles of artists and cultural issues. He began his Mahler odyssey in 2003 with a splendid deconstruction of what Mahler himself called “a musical poem that travels through all the stages of evolution.” I wrote about What the Universe Tells Me: Unravelling the Mysteries of Mahler’s Third Symphony – Starr’s impressive 60-minute film – in the September 2016 issue of WholeNote in conjunction with the TSO’s performance of the symphony then.

Gustav Mahler

Having noticed the TSO’s upcoming performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 “Resurrection” on April 17, 18 and 20, I decided to take another look at Of Love, Death and Beyond, Starr’s 2011 exploration of that monumental work. The combination of an all-star orchestra and chorus conducted by Neeme Järvi, with narration by Thomas Hampson and talking Mahlerian heads led by Henry-Louis de La Grange, produced a rich tapestry of insight and background, some of which I thought I would share to illuminate what has become a cornerstone of the symphonic repertoire.

When Mahler began working on his second symphony in 1888, he was “a 27-year-old itinerant conductor and virtually unknown as a composer.” By the time of its premiere in December 1895, Mahler’s conducting star was burning brightly, although the negative reception of his first symphony still lingered.

Mahler believed that there must be something cosmic about a symphony; it should be as inexhaustible as the world. With the “Resurrection” Symphony, he burst the confines of symphonic form with a massive instrumental and choral cohort that outdid Beethoven. Haunted by death throughout his life – he lost several family members to early death – the symphony was a means to explore his own ideas of death and the purpose of life. (Early on in the symphony, Mahler picks up the hero’s theme from his Symphony No.1 and shockingly kills that hero right away, burying him with funeral-march references and Dies Irae allusions. Waves of struggle alternate with periods of serenity – the role of love always a factor for Mahler.)

After this 1888 start on the symphony, five years passed before Mahler returned to work on it. But during those years his conducting experience had grown, and a key relationship blossomed with the eminent conductor Hans von Bülow after Mahler’s appointment to the Hamburg State Opera. He settled on the edge of an Austrian lake in 1893 and finished the second, third and fourth movements. (It would, however, take von Bülow’s memorial service in 1894 to unleash Mahler’s creativity and act as a catalyst to compose the choral movement that would complete the work.)

The Andante Moderato second movement is mysterious and threatening in tone, but not without considerable charm, as happiness alternates with melancholy memory. The spooky and sardonic third movement is a parody of the Biblical fish sermon with a mocking tone that leads into music riven by despair. The basis of the fourth movement (Primal Light) is a child-like woman’s voice (sung by a mezzo-soprano) with text from one of Mahler’s favourite literary sources, the poems of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. There is compassion and simplicity in the voice of the child who is driven by a desire to enter heaven and be reborn into eternal blessed life.

The fifth and final movement opens with a reference to the third movement before we are treated to a series of tableaux that expand the bounds of the concert hall with two off-stage bands and otherworldly horns. The notes of the Dies Irae musical reference of the first movement is reversed, a sign that personal rebirth is on its way. A visceral percussion build followed by a march made up of popular music announces the struggle between the Dies Irae and resurrection motifs which morph into an apocalyptic tension. Then, after barely audible offstage brass, mass hysteria leads into celestial calm and an omnipotent feeling of love takes over. The chorus enters (everyone partakes of the resurrection) in one of the most sublime moments in all of music. Mahler’s own text leaves out much of the original religious content, replacing it with spirituality. Ultimately, a new life is unleashed. There had never been a symphonic movement of such scope and dramatic impact. It still generates a genuinely palpable feel-good climax.

Juanjo Mena. Photo by Mark LyonsMahler’s Massive Cohort

To illustrate the instrumental scope in personnel alone, this is what Mahler called for: four flutes (all doubling piccolo), four oboes (two doubling English horn), four clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet and another doubling E-flat clarinet) plus E-flat clarinet, four bassoons (two doubling contrabassoon), ten horns, ten trumpets, four trombones, tuba, timpani (two players), cymbals, triangle, military drum, orchestra bells, chimes, bass drums, tam-tams, two harps, organ and strings, plus soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists and a mixed chorus; an offstage band comprising four trumpets, bass drum with cymbals attached and additional triangle; another off-stage band consisting of four horns and additional timpani.

The TSO presents Mahler’s Symphony No.2 “Resurrection” on April 17, 18 and 20 at 8pm in Roy Thomson Hall. With Joëlle Harvey, soprano; Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto; Amadeus Choir; Elmer Iseler Singers; renowned Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena takes the baton.

Louis Langree. Photo by Jennifer TaylorLouis Langrée has been music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in New York since 2002 and of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 2013. On April 10, 12 and 13, he will lead the TSO in another pillar of the classical music canon, Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 “Eroica.” Originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte (the composer later defaced his original dedication to the French emperor, calling him a tyrant), the Eroica marked the beginning of Beethoven’s Middle Period and was a major musical step forward in his symphonic writing. The first movement’s grandeur is followed by the unnerving, influential funeral march and the uncanny scherzo which set the stage for the finale’s theme and variations that pushed the expressive envelope of 1803. Uncompromising and challenging to this day, the Eroica marked a bold step into the 19th century for a work that has never lost its power to connect emotionally.

Opening the program is another keystone of the repertoire, Debussy’s hugely popular Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894) that stretched the traditional system of keys and tonalities to their late 19th-century limits. Rounding out the evening’s first half is Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No.1 (1916), considered one of the first modern violin concertos and a musical heir to Debussy’s work. Christian Tetzlaff, whose consummate musicianship and versatility have long been a source of great pleasure, is the violin soloist.

Students Rule

As spring blossoms fill our senses, it’s time to partake in the fruits of another year’s worth of musical training. Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation presents “Rising Stars” of the U of T Faculty of Music on April 2 and of the Glenn Gould School on April 30 and May 7. Admission is free for these 12:10pm recitals at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in midtown Toronto. The Royal Conservatory presents the Glenn Gould School Chamber Music Competition Finals in Koerner Hall at 7pm on April 3. Tickets are required (but free) and can be reserved a week in advance. At noon on April 9, the COC presents “Rachmaninoff-Go-Round,” a free concert featuring GGS piano students playing selections from Six Moments musicaux, Op.16 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre. In the same location, on April 10 at noon, the COC presents a free concert featuring the winner of the GGS Chamber Music Competition. On the same day at 7:30pm in Mazzoleni Hall, RCM presents the final Rebanks Family Fellowship concert of the season (free; ticket required). The future is ours to see.

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

APR 7, 2PM: The Gallery Players of Niagara present the Gryphon Trio at 25 years young! Fresh from winning their latest JUNO, the venerable trio’s program includes works by Haydn, Brahms and Wijeratne. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

APR 7, 3PM: RCM presents the justly celebrated American pianist Richard Goode in an all-Beethoven recital topped off by the master’s final sonata, the celestial Op.111. Goode will also give two masterclasses in Mazzoleni Hall, to which the public is welcome, on April 5 at 2pm and April 6 at 2:30pm.

APR 7, 7:30PM: Gallery 345 presents pianist/scholar/writer Jarred Dunn in a recital comprised of a selection of Chopin pieces along with Beethoven’s penultimate sonata, Op.110. Featured on the 2018 CBC Top 30 Under 30 list, Dunn has been highly praised by piano stalwarts Seymour Bernstein and David Dubal.

APR 14, 2PM: Chamber Music Hamilton presents the luminous Calidore String Quartet in a superbly constructed program of Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major Op.77, No.2, Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.131 and two pieces by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw (whose Taxidermy was one of the revelations of the recent 21C Music Festival performance by Sõ Percussion).

APR 14, 3:15PM: Mooredale Concerts presents the New Orford String Quartet whose impeccable musicianship will be on display in an all-Beethoven program featuring a quartet from each of the composer’s early (Op.18, No.4), middle (Op.74) and late (Op.131) periods.

Ariel QuartetAPR 18, 8PM: Music Toronto presents the Ariel Quartet (winner of the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award in 2014) in a program they call “Neue Bahnen (New Paths).” The title comes from Schumann’s famous article from 1853 heralding a new era with the arrival of the then-unknown Brahms. The program highlights the special relationship Schumann and Brahms shared, and looks back to Beethoven and forward to Webern.

APR 27, 7:30PM AND APR 28, 2:30PM: Elsewhere in these pages David Jaeger writes extensively about Marjan Mozetich, whose Postcards from the Sky is part of this concert by the Niagara Symphony Orchestra. Another reason to attend is to catch up with one-time prodigy, pianist Anastasia Rizikov, featured in Shostakovich’s Concerto in C Minor for Piano and Trumpet and String Orchestra. Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings complete the surefire program. Bradley Thachuk conducts.

APR 28, 3PM: Jeffery Concerts presents the five-time Grammy Award winner, MacArthur Foundation Fellow, Dawn Upshaw, singing Respighi’s haunting Il Tramonto and Schoenberg’s visionary String Quartet No.2 with the esteemed Brentano String Quartet (who also perform Haydn’s Op.20, No.2 and Bartók’s String Quartet No.2). Wolf Performance Hall, London.

Peter Serkin. Photo by Regina Touhey SerkinMAY 1, 8PM: Pianist Peter Serkin, heir to the Busch-Serkin musical family, makes his Koerner Hall debut performing Mozart's Adagio K540 and Piano Sonata K570 as well as Bach's Goldberg Variations. Serkin replaces the originally scheduled Murray Perahia, who is unable to appear due to a sudden medical setback.

MAY 2, 12PM: Spring may be in the air, but summer’s not too far from violinist Jonathan Crow’s mind as he previews the 2019 Toronto Summer Music Festival – Crow is its artistic director – in this COC free concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre.

MAY 2, 1:30PM: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto closes out their season in Walter Hall with a strong program – Mozart, Schafer and Beethoven – by the acclaimed Rolston String Quartet, who have been on an extensive tour since winning the 12th Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2016. Named one of CBC’s 30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30 and recent winner of the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award, the Rolstons – who take their name from Canadian violinist Thomas Rolston, longtime director of the Music and Sound Programs at the Banff Centre -- are currently fellowship quartet-in-residence at the Yale School of Music.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The boundaries of music theatre in Toronto continue to be stretched in all directions from Opera Atelier’s The Angel Speaks, the brilliant “modern meets Baroque” extrapolation by composer Edwin Huizinga, choreographer Tyler Gledhill, and director Marshall Pynkoski, from Purcell’s The Blessed Expostulation of the Virgin Mary, to the changing nature of what we know as the traditional stage musical into the most effective platform for exploring and dealing with some of society’s darker and more difficult issues in such shows as Parade, Next to Normal, and Dear Evan Hansen. While the latter two have not yet opened as I write, Toronto Musical Concerts just presented a two-day run of a semi-staged concert reading of Jason Robert Brown’s Parade. Based on real events – false accusation, mistrial, and eventual lynching of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank in 1913 Georgia – this is dark material. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the theatre was packed for a strong rendition of this powerful work anchored by outstanding, magnetic performances from Eric Craig and Ma-Anne Dionisio as Leo and Lucille Frank. The content is so relevant to the evils faced by contemporary society, and the audience attention was so rapt, that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a full production happening somewhere soon.

Another direction of the current redefining of music theatre being explored by an increasing number of companies is the move from purely text-based shows to plays where music is not only an important but an integral element of powerful theatrical storytelling. This is resulting in some fascinating and unique hybrids.

AngéliqueToronto’s Factory Theatre is hosting, in the latter part of its season, two productions from other Canadian companies that are experimenting in this way: Bears and Angélique. When I asked Factory’s artistic director, Nina Lee Aquino, about the choosing of these two multidisciplinary shows, particularly if their incorporation of music as an integral element of storytelling was instrumental in her choice, she said:

“Not directly on purpose, but ... how the Canadian experience is presented on our stages is just as important as the what and the why. All the productions in our past seasons have had amazing, different, and unique containers of telling the Canadian story. It is necessary to be able to look at something in different ways, from different lenses and perspectives. It reminds us (and our audiences) to keep witnessing and listening to stories in prismatic ways. That’s one of the more meaningful ways to learn from one another and become better human beings to each other.”

Bears (an Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Punctuate! Theatre co-production) which just finished its run on March 17, is unique in that it began with playwright Matthew Mackenzie exploring his newly discovered Indigenous heritage and wanting there to be a movement vocabulary along with his words to create the specific world and language of the play. From the beginning he worked with choreographer Monica Dottor as his co-creator to invent the show’s physical language, then brought on board composer and sound designer Noor Dean Musani to develop a musical vocabulary to meld the two together. The result is an amazingly effective myth-turned-music theatre experience. With humour as an important element, the words, music and movement align to immerse us in a mythic yet completely modern wake-up call to recognize our ties to the earth and the need to save it from the inroads of industry and climate change.

Next in the season, Factory partners with Obsidian Theatre to present the Toronto premiere of Lorena Gale’s award-winning musical play Angélique in a new production from Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau D’Hôte Theatre that incorporates a live musical score throughout. Like Parade, Angélique is based on real events and another case of false accusations and miscarriage of justice. The location this time, though, is Montreal in 1734, where an enslaved Black woman, Marie Joseph Angélique, was accused and convicted of setting fire to the city although there was very little evidence against her.

I asked director Mike Payette why he feels this play written in 1998 is an important one to share with audiences now. He responded passionately about its contemporary relevance:

Angélique is an urgent play that speaks to the immediate and historical systemic nature of oppression and racism within our country, but more importantly, as this is not a history lesson on slavery, it is about the life of a woman who is forced into an environment of abuse and servitude, unrelenting in her condemnation of slavery, and ultimately tortured and killed for something we will never know she did. This is a play that looks at the visceral qualities of us as human beings; the monsters that we have inside all of us and the questioning of whether we act on these monstrous thoughts. Angélique says at one point: ‘And though I am wretched, I am not wicked.’ I find this to be a compelling distinction of the human experience. In the pursuit of dialogue and understanding, Lorena Gale urges us to find the inherent and universal qualities of both the oppressed and the privileged; all this through a highly theatrical and contemporary experience.”

Sixtrum Percussion EnsembleMusic is central to the language of the play and particularly this production. As the director explains:

“I wouldn’t call Angélique a musical theatre play, but it is indeed, musical. The score, composed by award-winning Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble, has myriad influences, from Afrocentric to European to popular, seamlessly heightening tension and giving breath when we need it most. The drum is central to this play, it is one of the last words spoken, and it becomes the instrument that is universal because it represents not only the rage of fire, but the swelling of a heart beat.

The score is unique to this production. From my understanding, although the script calls for dance and musicality, this is the first time the play has offered the music to be a character in and of itself. The musicians are ultimately always present, we allow ourselves to be swept by how they complement the action of the play, and ultimately it is but one of the elements of the production that makes it an exceptionally alive and aural experience.”

Under the StairsUnder the Stairs at YPT

This fascinating concept of the music becoming “a character in and of itself” or having a very specific role, coincidentally is also true of the world premiere this month at Young People’s Theatre (YPT) of acclaimed British playwright Kevin Dyer’s Under the Stairs.

Innovative, poignant, and funny, the play tells the story of Timmy, a boy who tries to escape the throwing of plates and noise of his parents arguing by going into the cupboard under the stairs only to find that there are other children there, too. When Timmy’s parents disappear, he enlists the help of the other children to find them. Together they uncover surprising secrets that could repair the turmoil in Tim’s house. In the words of the playwright, “This is a story that is sung; a contemporary mash-up of free verse, prose and delicious music.”

YPT’s artistic director Allen MacInnis explained the unique roles of music and spoken text that the playwright imagined:

“YPT has produced two other new works by Kevin Dyer (The Monster Under the Bed and Minotaur). When he proposed this play, one of its many intriguing features was his idea that the turmoil in Timmy’s home should be expressed entirely in singing while the quiet of the cupboard under the stairs to which Timmy retreats should be expressed in talking, no music. When we asked if he planned to write the music, Kevin said ‘heavens no … but I think I know what it sounds like.’ This set us on a journey to find a Canadian music theatre composer who could capture what Kevin heard in his head. We asked a number of people to set to music some of Kevin’s poetic, rhythmic dialogue from sung sections of the first draft of the script. Having heard them all, the composer Kevin chose was Reza Jacobs. We couldn’t have been more pleased to bring these two great artists together.”

Jacobs, who will also be the music director for the show, is well known as an award-winning composer and music director for companies including the Stratford and Shaw Festivals as well as being the “Fine Furneaux Director of Music” for the Musical Stage Company, where he creates the musical reworkings of iconic songs for the annual Uncovered concerts as well as music directing regular shows in the company’s season.

Playing the role of the mother in Under the Stairs, is Neema Bickersteth, one of our most versatile and accomplished cross-genre performers, known for her classically trained beautiful soprano voice, rich acting talent, and for her multidisciplinary theatrical work. When I asked her what it is like performing the “mash-up” of text, poetry and music in this show, and knowing that she will be playing to younger audiences, she said that in contrast to some of her other work this show is a natural extension of her everyday life:

“It is all mashed up so beautifully! When I’m at home with my kid, all our games are a mishmash of one thing flowing to the next. And in the moment, it all totally makes sense.”

This points again to the inherent ability of music to connect with all of us, and how it is a part of our lives even if we don’t specifically notice from moment to moment. Theatre creators are drawing more and more on this intrinsic power of music as a universal language, continuing to push the boundaries of how words and music can be combined together in a myriad of different ways uniquely appropriate to each theatrical story. 

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

APR 1 TO 16: Under the Stairs. YPT.

APR 3 TO 21: Angélique. Factory Theatre.

ONGOING: Dear Evan Hansen. Mirvish, Royal Alexandra Theatre. The almost entirely Canadian cast is just one of the reasons to see this multi-Tony Award-winning pop musical by Pasek and Paul.

APR 9 TO 11: The House of Martin Guerre. Theatre Sheridan. Canadian composer Leslie Arden’s 1993 version of The Return of Martin Guerre seems to be making a comeback now that its rights, which were tied up for years, are available again. It had a successful concert performance at the Charlottetown Festival last September.

APR 9 TO MAY 5: Beautiful: The Carol King Musical. Mirvish, Princess of Wales Theatre, another chance to see the luminous Canadian star Chilina Kennedy reprise her Broadway triumph as Carole King in this biographical musical.

APR TO MAY 19: Next to Normal. Musical Stage Company. Ma-Anne Dionisio, continuing her season with the Musical Stage Company, leads the cast as a mother trying to deal with bipolar disorder in this urgently contemporary rock musical

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.

Art cannot exist in a vacuum, independent, immune, and untouched by the innumerable facets and fluctuations of the world, for all art is created at a specific time and in a specific place. The artist, without exception, exists in a society with its own concerns, issues and goals, and it is these chronic yet changing problems that play a large part in the creation of new works. Whether due to war, famine, personal poverty, or forced relocation, each piece of music that we perform or listen to has its own context and purpose. We must wonder if much of the art that we now consider great would have been created at all, had it not been for the struggles that come with living in such an imperfect world.

Perhaps the most poignant and radical example of this social-artistic reactivity was in the 20th century, when the abominations and mass destruction of World War II necessitated the creation of a new aesthetic to reflect the forever-changed and irreparably damaged global community. Artists of all types were forced to flee their respective countries and seek refuge elsewhere, many coming to North America to escape the dangers of the European continent. Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Hindemith are only a few of the significant composers who relocated to the United States, a career move that, far from being planned, was forced by external factors.

While some musicians went less far afield, choosing to flee their homelands in favour of another European state, others involved themselves in the defense of their country by picking up arms, sometimes with tragic results. Jehan Alain, the French organist and composer, was killed in battle, and Olivier Messiaen was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war. Messiaen wrote his Quatuor pour la fin du temps while in German captivity and it was first performed by his fellow prisoners; it has come to be recognized as one of his most important works.

The deconstruction of music’s essential components through serialism was a significant and reactive measure to the postwar world, a highly ordered approach to composition that served as a juxtaposition to external chaos and is one of the most recognized movements of the postwar musical aesthetic. Renowned serial composer and conductor Pierre Boulez was perhaps the most outspoken advocate of music as a social and political vehicle, giving such memorable quotes as, “I assert that any musician who has not experienced – I do not say understood, but, in all exactness, experienced – the necessity for the dodecaphonic language is USELESS. For his whole work is irrelevant to the needs of his epoch … All the art of the past must be destroyed.” For artists who witnessed the destruction of their national histories and cultures with their own eyes, such sentiments likely seemed far less radical than they now appear.

Although the discussion of serialism might seem strikingly modern within the context of an early music column, the sociopolitical catastrophes that precipitated serialism’s formation are not at all new. The Thirty Years’ War, for example, lasted from 1618 to 1648 and was one of the most destructive conflicts in human history resulting in eight million fatalities, not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine and plague. Conflict between the Catholics and Protestants created an unstable social environment, which resulted in a myriad of responses from composers and performers, including Heinrich Schütz. As Kapellmeister to the Elector of Saxony, Schütz had to provide music not only for standard liturgical ceremonies but also for special occasions, which was complicated by reduced performing forces as the war progressed. In fact, members of his church ensemble dropped one by one so that from 1632 to 1639 the number of members diminished by 29 people. Other composers were forced to flee the violence and disease or lost their positions as courts were eliminated or relocated, events that were to repeat themselves three centuries later as Europe’s nations once again took up arms against each other.

Dido and Belinda

Although the current political climate is far less devastating than in either the early 17th or 20th centuries, contemporary issues continue to affect the way we perform and perceive art. By changing the lens through which we view it, old music can be reinvented and presented in a new way. One method of doing so is through de-contextualization, reapplying an ancient work to tell a new and immediately relevant story. On May 4 and 5, Cor Unum Ensemble attempts to do just this in their collaboration with OperaQ, focusing on Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, re-labelled and reworked as Dido and Belinda. According to Cor Unum’s press release, “Dido and Belinda offers a new perspective on Purcell’s beloved opera, Dido and Aeneas. With the addition of narration from the point of view of Dido’s closest confidante, Belinda, this staged production will emphasize many of the themes already found in the original libretto: the shame surrounding feminine sexuality, the blindness of male privilege and the societal pressure to conform to gender roles.”

Ryan McDonald 3An additional circumvention of tradition includes the casting of reversed-gender roles, with this performance featuring countertenor Ryan McDonald as Dido, Camille Rogers as Aeneas and Rebecca Genge as Belinda. While this may seem like a radical departure from Purcell’s original intention and scoring, this novel interpretation should maintain the integrity of the musical score as well as increasing its dramatic poignancy through a contemporary reimagining.

Purcell Reimagined

Before Cor Unum and OperaQ combine to tackle Dido, Purcell’s music gets reconstructed by Confluence on April 5 and 6. “‘Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined” features arrangements of vocal works by Purcell performed by an extended roster including Anne Atkinson, Larry Beckwith, Andrew Downing, Drew Jurecka, John Millard, Patricia O’Callaghan, Gregory Oh, Alex Samaras and Suba Sankaran. The most renowned arrangements of Purcell’s vocal music were done by Benjamin Britten, whose deliberately pianistic realizations of figured bass launch this harpsichord-based 17th-century music into the piano-focused 20th century. For this concert, however, Confluence associates Patricia O’Callaghan and Andrew Downing bring together some of Toronto’s finest composer-musicians to rearrange and perform the music of Henry Purcell. It will be most interesting to hear their perspectives on Purcell’s songs, which run from the simple to the sublime and everything in between.

Marco Cera. Photo credit Sian Richards PhotographyStrangers in Strange Lands

Renowned for both their musical finesse and social awareness through novel multimedia presentations, Tafelmusik goes small-scale on April 10 with Strangers in Strange Lands, part of their Close Encounters chamber series. Presented in smaller venues across the city, these concerts are a wonderful opportunity to get an up-close look at the performers that make Tafelmusik the ensemble it is; this session features Marco Cera, Julia Wedman, Patrick G. Jordan, Allen Whear and Charlotte Nediger as they explore music in the galant style.

julia wedmanThe galant style was short-lived, bridging the Baroque era with the classical, but it nonetheless featured some fine musicians and their works: C.P.E. and J.C. Bach, Quantz, Hasse, Sammartini, Tartini, Alberti and early Mozart are all exemplars of galant style, which simplified the contrapuntal density of the Baroque and introduced more melody-driven features. Even Haydn was influenced by this melody-based movement, reportedly commenting, “If you want to know whether a melody is really beautiful, sing it without accompaniment.” With such fine musicians performing such delightful repertoire, beautiful melodies will undoubtedly abound, both with accompaniment and without!

No matter how charming or innocuous a piece of music may seem, there is inevitably a story behind it. Whether written during or because of war, as a lifeline during a period of personal financial hardship, or as part of an application for a position or promotion, it is remiss of us to extract our art from its historical context. While it may be overly idealistic to apply to all works, the hearing of certain pieces such as Britten’s War Requiem, Penderecki’s Threnody or Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi can serve as reminders of historical and personal landmarks. It is also possible, as we see this month, to adapt and reinterpret old music in new ways, increasing its relevance to the modern audience member.

Regardless of whether you prefer old music or new, I encourage you to listen with open ears and an informed mind. Get in touch if you have any questions or want some more context on what’s happening this month: earlymusic@thewholenote.com

Daniel CabenaEARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

APR 6, 8PM: Scaramella presents “Red Priest” at Victoria College Chapel, 91 Charles St. W. Despite being one of Italy’s greatest Baroque composers, Antonio Vivaldi’s vocal music is still underperformed. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear a selection of his mini-masterpiece chamber cantatas featuring countertenor Daniel Cabena.

APR 27, 8PM: Rezonance Baroque Ensemble presents “Harpsichord Explosion” at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, 361 Danforth Ave. Two words: Harpsichord. Explosion. Have you ever seen a harpsichord explode? Neither have I.

MAY 4, 7:30PM: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts presents “Baroque and Beyond: Bach and His World.” 390 King Street West, Kingston. Conceived, scripted and programmed by Alison Mackay, this multimedia presentation is sure to entertain and inform, and features works by one of the greatest musical minds in history.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

VOCA Chorus of Toronto. Photo by Jim CrawfordFall workshop: Once in the fall and once in the spring, artistic director Jenny Crober brings in an artist to work with the VOCA Chorus of Toronto in an intensive workshop. Matthew Emery was the clinician for the fall, working on his song Still Colours, Velvet Shoes. At the very end Crober asked, “Do you mind if we take a little peek at Sing your Song? Would you mind telling them something about who you’ve dedicated this to and why?” Emery agreed and spent the time explaining his reason for writing this song – to honour one of his musical mentors, Ken Fleet, when Fleet retired from Amabile. (Fleet has been living with dementia for many years now.)

“I first met Ken Fleet as a young singer in the Amabile Choirs of London, Canada,” Emery shared by email with The WholeNote. “My first memory of him was thinking “Wow he is so tall, will I ever be that tall?” (Fleet stood six feet five inches. Those who have met Emery in person can attest that yes, he did get to be almost as tall).

“I was a young boy in Grade 4 or 5 at the time,” Emery continues. “It was his presence and influence from singing with Amabile that led me to attend Medway High School where Ken taught music for nearly 30 years. Ken was one of the early mentors I had in composition. He was always encouraging me to write. He also introduced me to the music of Stephen Chatman who I later studied with at UBC.”

The story was impactful for the choir. Crober is reminded “when you look out at the choristers and you see their faces soften; some tears in the eyes. It’s obvious when you hear Matthew speak, the fondness he has for Ken.” That fondness is felt by Crober too, who studied music with Fleet at Western University. “We were at Western together,” she shared. “He was three years ahead of me. And everyone knew who he was, partly because he was very tall, but he was a gentle giant. An extraordinarily lovely human being, a wonderful person.”

“The refrain used in this song is built on the text ‘sing your song’ which is taken from a short documentary about Ken,” shares Emery. “His wish in life was that no matter what “just sing your song” – a beautiful image to be yourself and to be proud of who you are.” For Crober, that message “means get to the heart of it, right now. Get right into it. Don’t waste time. Just do it. In a gentle and supportive way.” The choir has loved learning and singing the song.

“The song uses a verse-chorus type framework to increase its accessibility,” shares Emery. “Ken worked with musicians of all levels, so I wanted to honour that philosophy in some way. There are phrases where the voices enter in canon, a metaphor for life. After the contrapuntal middle passage, the voices join in unity on the text “come home, come home.” This is intentional, to suggest that through grief, strife – anything – music is our refuge.”

“The song has to be very active, very positive, very buoyant,” says Crober. “It really is bubbly. But not flip. There’s nothing flippant or trivial about it … It’s jubilant and tender at the same time. It’s a really lovely piece.”

Emery put significant thought into creating this outcome. “I wanted to create a poignant work,” he said. “The meaning is deeply felt, but kept light-hearted with the syncopated melodies and pulsing piano gestures. To me, I am reminded of the lessons Ken taught me about life and the values he passed on when I hear the song. He was always full of joy and generosity. I tried to capture his genuine full spirit in the work.” The notion that music can bring us “home” – a perfect image to end a concert celebrating a beloved conductor and mentor to thousands of singers.”

Matthew Emery and Jenny CroberUpcoming concert: The signature work of VOCA’s upcoming April 27 concert is the Paul Winter Missa Gaia/Earth Mass. “It has been a while since we last did the Missa Gaia/Earth Mass,” says Crober. “We did it in 2012, when the East York Choir first became the VOCA Chorus of Toronto. This was the first performance of the choir under our new name.” Crober didn’t revisit the piece until two years ago when she had to step in at the last minute to conduct it for the Achill Choral Society in Orangeville. She admits, “I had kind of forgotten how much I loved the piece.” The revisiting is the reason for the “II” added to the concert title – “Earth, Seas & Sky.”

Joining the choir is vocalist Alana Bridgewater who has done the Missa Gaia on several occasions. “I’ve known about her a long time so it’s just a joy to finally be able to work with her,” says Crober. “We’re also doing three pieces by Paul Halley: Freedom Trilogy, Sound Over All Waters and The Rain Is Over and Gone. Alana will be really featured in some of these as well. There’s a moment in the third movement of the Missa Gaia, for example, the Beatitudes. It starts off slow and contemplative and by the end it’s a rocking gospel choir. Alana’s a powerhouse.”

Andrew BalfourSpring workshop: At the end of March, the choir had its spring workshop with Andrew Balfour. (The choir has been learning his piece Ambe for their upcoming concert.) “The first time I heard the piece we were at Podium 2018 in Newfoundland,” says Crober. “It was being performed by Chronos Vocal Ensemble from Edmonton. It was so hypnotic and driving and compelling and powerful and beautifully sung. The minute it was done, I marked in my program ‘Do this!’” Crober approached Balfour later during that conference. She booked him for the VOCA spring clinic this year, so the choir would have a chance to workshop the song directly with Balfour.

Going through the experience of Balfour’s thought process and listening to him give life and meaning to the music he’s written was important. Recently, the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance (IPAA), of which Balfour is a part, released a statement on Indigenous Musical Sovereignty. The statement is an invitation to participate in the full experience of the music created by Indigenous peoples while simultaneously acknowledging that much of what has passed for Indigenous music or Indigenous themes by outsiders has been traumatizing. The statement asks hard questions of presenters who seek to perform Indigenous music: “to non-Indigenous composers who seek to tell ‘Indigenous-inspired’ works: be honest with yourself and ask why you feel compelled to tell this story and whether you are the right person to do so.”

The statement acknowledges that there is a place for non-Indigenous musicians in partnership, but there is an added weight and depth of responsibility that Indigenous creators have to their communities. To do this work well, the IPAA says, “We seek to hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards of Indigenous community engagement, and request that our collaborators in the Canadian music community work to the same level of accountability.”

For Crober, through the opportunity to learn directly from Balfour, the choir will have a better chance to bring life to his musical offering while respecting its Indigenous nature.

See all of this in action in “Earth, Sea & Sky II” presented by VOCA Chorus of Toronto under artistic director Jenny Crober featuring guest artists Alana Bridgewater (vocalist); Colleen Allen (saxaphone); Shawn Grenke (organ); Roberto Occhipinti (bass); Mark Kelso (drums); and Juan Carlos Medrano (percussion). April 27, 7:30pm. Eastminster United Church, Toronto. 

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

APR 17, 18 AND 20, 8PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is joined by the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers for the superlative Mahler Symphony No.2 “Resurrection.” A stunning masterpiece of choral music caps off this transformative symphony. Under the baton of Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, the iconic organ of Roy Thomson Hall shall shake thee to thy bones with the full force and power of orchestra and choirs blended together in a way that only Mahler could. With three options to catch these performances, do it! Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

APR 19, 7:30PM: The Grand Philharmonic Choir performs Bach’s St. Matthew Passion joined by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra and a stellar line up of soloists: Isaiah Bell, Daniel Okulitch, Esteli Gomez and Allyson McHardy. Centre in the Square, Kitchener.

Cheryll ChungAPR 27, 4PM: Reaching Out Through Music presents “Spring Breezes.” ROTM provides free music education to children in the St. James Town community. Their hallmark is the Choral Program run by Cheryll Chung. Their Spring fundraising concert features Asitha Tennekoon. With a varied programme, this event will help ensure that the program can continue to provide accessible music education for future generations. Grace Church, Toronto, 383 Jarvis St.

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

In most years, April is the month with the single highest concentration of opera presentations in Toronto and environs. In past years there have often been so many examples of opera from all periods that the month’s offerings could form a survey of the genre. This month, for unknown reasons, there is a high concentration of operatic warhorses which will certainly please those who primarily enjoy familiar works. Yet, two companies are presenting works out of the ordinary to help spice up a month heavy on household-name composers.

Opera Atelier’s Idomeneo. Photo by Bruce ZingerIdomeneo and Atelier

The first on offer is a remount of Opera Atelier’s stunning production of Mozart’s Idomeneo (1780), first seen in 2008. Famed soprano Measha Brueggergosman made her Mozart operatic debut and her debut with Opera Atelier in this production. Now she returns to OA to sing the role of Elettra again. The cast includes tenor Colin Ainsworth in the title role, mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta as Idamante and soprano Meghan Lindsay as Ilia. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Marshall Pynkoski directs.

Because the Mirvish production of the hit musical Come From Away has taken over OA’s traditional venue, the Elgin Theatre, Idomeneo will be performed in the Ed Mirvish Theatre, a block or so north of the Elgin. Audiences will have to decide whether performing in an auditorium with 700 more seats than the Elgin has any effect on the acoustics. The opera runs from April 4 to 13. 

Opera by Request

Opening next is familiar Mozart on a smaller scale in the form of his Così fan tutte in concert only on April 5 by Opera by Request. Deena Nicklefork sings Fiordiligi, Erin Armstrong is Dorabella, Conlan Gassi is Ferrando, Anthony Rodrigues is Guglielmo, Danie Friesen is Despina and John Holland is the cynical Don Alfonso. Claire Harris is the pianist and music director. 

Vera Causa

In April even the new company Vera Causa Opera, which presented the world premiere of Dylan Langan’s Dracula last month and will present a selection of arias from Canadian operas in June, has chosen a work from the standard repertory for April. This is Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore from 1832 that the company, as per its mandate, will present in three cities in Southern Ontario. Allison Walmsley will sing Adina, James Smith will be Nemorino, Jorge Trabanco will be Belcore, Michaela Chiste is Giannetta and Camilo Rodriguez-Cuadrado is the wily Dr. Dulcamara. Dylan Langan conducts the Vera Causa Opera Chorus and Orchestra and is also the stage director. The production opens in Cambridge on April 5, moves to Waterloo on April 6 and finishes its run in Guelph on April 7.

Opera Belcanto

Filling out the crammed first week of April, running April 4 and 6 at the Richmond Hill Centre, is the blockbuster opera Carmen presented by Opera Belcanto of York. Mila Ionkova sings the title role, Stanislas Vitort is Don Jose, Michele Pearson is Micaela and Andrew Anderson is Escamillo. David Varjabed conducts the Opera Belcanto of York Chorus and Orchestra and Edward Franko, co-artistic director of TrypTych Concert and Opera which has now moved to Kenora, will direct. 

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of La Boheme, 2013. Photo by Michael CooperCaird’s La Bohème at COC

In mid-April the spring season of the Canadian Opera Company opens with Puccini’s La Bohème, the opera that vies with Carmen as the world’s most popular. The production (which runs from April 17 to May 22) directed by John Caird was first seen in Toronto in 2013. It features Angel Blue as Mimi, Atalla Ayan as Rodolfo, Andriana Churchman as Musetta, Lucas Meachem as Marcello, Brandon Cedel as Colline and Phillip Addis as Schaunard. On May 5, 11 matinee and 22 the cast is Miriam Khalil as Mimi, Joshua Guerrero as Rodolfo, Danika Lorèn as Musetta, Andrzej Filończyk as Marcello, Önay Köse as Colline and Joel Allison as Schaunard. Fans of the opera may wish to see both casts. The conductor will be Paolo Carignani.

The COC follows La Bohème with yet another work from the standard repertory, Verdi’s Otello, but one not seen in Toronto since 2010. The production will be directed by David Alden, creator of such other COC productions as The Flying Dutchman, Rigoletto and Lucia di Lammermoor. Alden’s production is most notable for relocating the action from the Renaissance to around the time of the opera’s premiere in 1887. The COC fields its first African-American Otello in the person of Russell Thomas. Canadian Gerald Finley is Iago, Tamara Wilson is Desdemona, Andrew Haji is Cassio and Carolyn Sproule is Emilia. COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts the opera that runs from April 27 to May 21. 

Lucia Cesaroni is The Merry WidowTOT goes tried and true

This year even Toronto Operetta Theatre finishes its season with the tried and true – in this case Franz Lehár’sThe Merry Widow (1905), the greatest of all Silver Age operettas. The opera runs April 24 to 28 and features Lucia Cesaroni in the title role, Michael Nyby as Count Danilo, Daniela Agostino as Valencienne and Gregory Finney as Baron Zeta. Larry Beckwith conducts the TOT Ensemble and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.

Dion Mazerolle, featured in Shakespeare’s CriminalAnd finally … something new

Despite this plethora of familiar works, April does offer one new opera and one important but seldom-seen opera. The new opera is Shakespeare’s Criminal by Dustin Peters to a libretto by Sky Gilbert. Orpheus Productions will give the chamber piece three workshop performances at Factory Theatre from April 26 to 28.

The magic realist work, set in the present, plays with the notion that Shakespeare was gay, a view some hold since many of Shakespeare’s sonnets are addressed to a young man. Other sonnets are addressed to an unknown woman whom critics have dubbed the “Dark Lady of the Sonnets.” In Shakespeare’s Criminal, an older male poet named Shakespeare is unable to admit that he is homosexual. Instead he hides his attraction for men in the eloquent language of the sonnets for which he is much esteemed. He meets a beautiful young HIV-positive man to whom he finds himself attracted, but whom he resists. Enter a wild, fierce voyeur who urges the older poet to fall in love with the young man and bed him. The woman is so persuasive that it seems the older closeted poet will succumb, but at the last moment he cannot bring himself to risk his reputation. In revenge, the woman turns the old poet into a tree – a gender-reversed image of what the river god Peneus does in Ovid’s Metamorphoses to his daughter Daphne to preserve her chastity.

Dustin Peters is a Toronto-based composer whose works range from concert and chamber music to film scores and pieces for voice and dance. Sky Gilbert is an award-winning writer, director, filmmaker and professor. His many critically acclaimed plays have been performed in theatres worldwide. Guernica will publish his investigation of Shakespeare’s rhetoric, Shakespeare: Beyond Science, later this year.

The opera features mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, baritone Dion Mazerolle and actor Nathaniel Bacon. The structure of Shakespeare’s Criminal is inspired by musicologist Ellen T. Harris’s notion that male composers were able to ground the emotional core of their operas through the wild female voice (something which eventually led to the tragic Romantic heroines of Verdi and Puccini). Presented opera-in-concert style, Shakespeare’s Criminal raises many questions including, “Why do gay men often gravitate towards friendships with women and vice versa?” Peters is music director of the accompanying string quartet and Gilbert directs.

And something seldom seen

The important seldom-seen opera in April is Against the Grain Theatre’s production of Kopernikus: Rituel de la Mort (1980), the only opera by Québécois composer Claude Vivier (1948-83). This will be the first performance of the opera in Toronto since a touring Banff Centre production visited in 2001. In 2017 the present AtG production also had its premiere at Banff. Of what may be the most performed Canadian opera outside Canada, director Joel Ivany says, “I think this could be Canada’s greatest opera ever written. Vivier was unique, he was an innovator and a true artist.”

Ivany related in a conversation in March that he first heard of Kopernikus when he read that famed director Peter Sellars included it on his wish list of operas he’d like to direct. Sellars indeed went on to direct the American premiere of the opera in 2016 at the Ojai Festival in California. Ivany began working on it as a project for Canada 150 at the Banff Centre. While AtG is well known for its productions of Mozart’s operas with new English libretti written by Ivany, Ivany mentions that AtG has also presented operas with their libretti unchanged such as its open-air production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in 2014.

That will be the case with Kopernikus. Set in two acts for seven singers, it challenges the norms of classical opera with its innovative use of compositional and technical devices to create a vivid meditation on self-transcendence. It unfolds through a series of obscure trials, inspired by Mozart’s Magic Flute, but played as an enchanted ritual. Canadian mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan revives her role as Agni, the central character who travels to an unknown space suspended in time wherein she meets the fragmented embodiment of many eclectic characters, such as Tristan and Isolde, Copernicus, Lewis Caroll and Mozart. Singing these roles are mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, bass Alain Coulombe, baritone Dion Mazerolle, sopranos Nathalie Paulin and Jonelle Sills and baritone Bruno Roy. Joining the singers on stage are dancers Anisa Tejpar and William Yong who will realize Matjash Mrozewski’s choreography.

Ivany has taken an innovative twist on orchestration by incorporating members of the orchestra into the onstage roles of the ensemble. AtG music director Topher Mokrzewski conducts the dispersed ensemble. The production will be presented at Theatre Passe Muraille on April 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13, 2019. 

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

After a long, dreary, weary winter, spring is finally deigning to show us some sun. Yet springtime signs are still meagre. In the midtown city park across the street the trees remain starkly bare. On the bright side, a few brave bird chirps can occasionally be heard. It’s surely a harbinger of kinder weather to come when we can venture out of doors to hear human as well as nature’s music.

Written while still firmly in the grip of winter, my column last month, World Music Goes to School explored the commitment of several Ontario universities to global music education. The focus was on world music ensemble courses as seen through the perspectives of several current teaching and performing practitioners.

James Kippen and Annette SangerPerforming Scholars: Annette Sanger and James Kippen

We did not hear however from Annette Sanger and James Kippen, veteran University of Toronto ethnomusicologists, musician-educators and partners in life. And that’s because I found out only recently that, by the time this issue is well and truly launched, the university’s Faculty of Music will have honoured them with a rare two-day symposium and concert on March 29 and 30, in celebration of their distinguished university careers.

An expert on tabla performance and the life and music of communities of hereditary drummers in North India, Kippen has authored several books and numerous articles on the subject. He began his career at the Faculty of Music in January 1990 where he has taught and mentored several generations of students. He’s also been active in several musical groups in our town.

Sanger received her PhD for her research on the music and dance in Balinese society. That background served the GTA well, as she is a pioneer of Balinese music performance here. Commencing teaching in 1990 at the university’s Scarborough Campus, within a few years she arranged to have the university purchase a complete Balinese gamelan, inaugurating the Semar pegulingan gamelan ensemble course in the fall of 1993. That launched the first Balinese ensemble and course in Canada west of Montreal, an ensemble she led for a remarkable 25 years. Later she formed the performing ensemble Seka Rat Nadi – more of which further on.

Outside academia, Sanger served Toronto’s larger music community in many roles. Just two examples: from 1990 to 2000 she was the director of the Music & Arts School at the University Settlement House, the first community-based social service centre in Toronto. For several years she also reviewed CDs for The WholeNote.

Titled “Constant Flame: A concert honoring the retirements of Professors Annette Sanger and James Kippen,” the March 29 event features a performance by Seka Rat Nadi with Sanger, Kippen plus Toronto musicians Albert Wong and John Carnes. Seka Rat Nadi is the name of the group consisting of four Balinese gendèr (metallophone instruments), a quartet traditionally called a gendèr wayang. In addition, several guest musicians will perform Hindustani classical and other musics.

The symposium is called “The Performing Scholar,” reflecting the interlocking twin aspects of Kippen and Sanger’s careers. (It also rather accurately describes the lifelong work of most of the musician-educators I interviewed for my March 2019 column.)

By the time most of you read this, the symposium honouring our two performing scholars will have probably already taken place. But I couldn’t leave you, dear reader, hanging like that. I asked them what they intend to do now that they’ve officially retired.

“We plan to return to Bali to learn more gendèr repertoire including more unusual regional styles that are fast becoming eclipsed by inevitable standardization,” replied Sanger. “As well, we will go to India where Jim will continue to work on his research into the history of the tabla. As always, we are open to doing occasional performances and demonstrations in and around Toronto.”

It’s clear they don’t intend to hang up their performing scholar hats anytime soon.

Small World Music Society’s Asian Music Series

Toronto’s oldest and largest presenter of culturally diverse music, Small World Music Society celebrates springtime with the 17th annual edition of its Asian Music Series. Marking Asian and South Asia Heritage Month, throughout April and May, 11 concerts, a film screening, plus a talk will be held at the intimate Small World Music Centre (SWMC) in downtown Toronto, as well as at grander venues across the GTA.

I asked SWM’s founding director Alan Davis about his longstanding relationships with his programming partners. “We’ve always embraced partnerships as a way to get Small World’s message out to as many people as possible,” he replied. “This is increasingly true in recent years, as more and more larger presenters embrace diversity and cross paths with artists who are part of our musical ecosystem.”

Davis is confident that with SWM’s hard-won reputation for community outreach and deep connections, they can bring value to their partners by connecting them to audiences that they may not otherwise intersect with. “This speaks to both audience taste and geography. [For example]… audiences going to the Markham Theatre will be aware of events at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Koerner Hall and the Small World Centre downtown, and a wide variety of presentations from traditional to modern. Collectively, the hope is … audience-building and community intersection. ‘Cause that’s how we all succeed!”

Let’s explore a few of the concerts in this year’s Asian Music Series.

Mahmood Schricker – thoughtful sadness of the electric setar: April 4 the Series launches at the SWMC with the music of Mahmood Schricker, the Toronto musician-producer of electronic music for film and commercials. An electric setar (Persian long lute) performer, Schricker’s concert is a release of his new instrumental album El Muerte, inspired by the Persian dastgah (tonal modal system), the delicate strumming of the setar, international dub and techno, all supported by electronics and drum machine sounds. Nima Dehghani’s videos provide a backdrop for Schricker’s live music, reflecting moods of “thoughtful sadness…” onto the screen.

Bageshree Vaze – Global Bollywood: April 5 at 7pm, SWM in association with The Rose presents “Bageshree Vaze: Global Bollywood” at the Rose Theatre, Brampton. The show is a celebration of the widely popular music and dance featured in the globe’s biggest film industry. Starring Indo-Canadian GTA resident vocalist and dancer Bageshree Vaze, the concert is a tribute to the songs, instrumentals and extravagant dance numbers that have propelled Bollywood to international fame. Featuring a cast of Toronto musicians and dancers, Global Bollywood is also choreographed and directed by the multitalented Vaze.

Qais EssarQais Essar and Fazelyar Brothers – Afghani instrumental: April 11 at 8pm, SWM and the Tawoos Initiative co-present Qais Essar x Fazelyar Brothers at SWMC. Qais Essar is a GTA-based Afghan composer, instrumentalist and producer, a specialist on the rubab (a.k.a. rabab), a short-necked Afghani lute. He has toured extensively visiting international stages, releasing two LPs, five EPs plus a live album.

Essar contributed original music to feature films such as the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film The Breadwinner (2017) and earned a Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Song for his work The Crown Sleeps. He will be playing selections from his recently released EP I am Afghan, Afghani is a Currency, Vol. III. The concert also features the Afghani-Canadian duo Fazelyar Brothers, consisting of tabla player Haris Fazelyar and Wares Fazelyar a rubab student of Essar.

Dang Show – Iranian musical hybridity: Both April 12 and 13 concerts at the SWMC by the Dang Show sold out well in advance. Dang Show is a popular Iranian four-piece band which regularly sells out Tehran venues. The band has also composed and recorded soundtracks for over ten major Iranian movie releases. Its unusual name in Farsi evokes, in the words of the band, “mountainous vocals as well as velvety textures, jazz saxophone, medieval counterpoints, rock rhythms, [a sound which is] lush, rich and brassy like the best Balkan bands. Dang Show could be defined as a fusion of Persian classical and jazz.”

With an instrumentation of piano, saxophone, Persian vocals and percussion, Dang Show’s ambitious goal is to satisfy traditional Iranian classical music aficionados as well as those primarily interested in pop-flavoured music. In 2018 Dang Show was awarded Best Fusion Album for Mad O Nay in Iran. No wonder both their SWMC shows are sold out.

Amjad Ali Khan and sonsAmjad Ali Khan – sarod master: April 13 at 8pm, The Rose in association with SWMS present Amjad Ali Khan, with his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash at the Rose Theatre, Brampton. The multiple award-winning veteran sarod (a.k.a. sarode) master and composer, Amjad Ali Khan, was born into a renowned Indian classical musical family and has toured internationally since the 1960s. Over the course of his distinguished career he has garnered numerous international accolades.

The sixth generation exponent of the Senia-Barash gharana (a North Indian music lineage), Khan is at heart a classicist with a populist’s need to “communicate with the listener who finds Indian classical music remote,” as he once put it. You can expect khayal (the Hindustani classical music genre) musicianship at its finest in his recital.

Anda UnionAnda Union – Mongolian fusion revival: April 17 at 8pm, SWM and Flato Markham Theatre explore Northern Asian culture in their presentation of the Mongolian fusion group Anda Union at the Flato Markham Theatre in Markham. Hailing from Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia in northern China, the versatile nine-piece band has deep cultural roots in the vast grasslands where many of their families still live. Its mission: to rework the region’s music, filled with ancestral stories of nomadic customs and beliefs.

The band brings together tribal and musical traditions from all over Inner Mongolia playing a wide variety of Indigenous instruments and vocal throat singing styles. Its 2018 set at the London UK Songlines Encounters Festival was dubbed “a rousing masterclass in folk revivalism,” by The Guardian.

Qawwali – demystified and performed: April 18 at 8pm, SWM’s executive director Umair Jaffar gives a free talk titled “Demystifying Qawwali” at the SWMC. He notes that “Qawwali is the most popular Sufi devotional music from South Asia and, in recent years, has gained increased attention from worldwide audiences. Despite its popularity, upbeat rhythm and emotional appeal, qawwali’s origins and lyrics are shrouded in mystery.” Jaffar explains the genre, exploring its history, and demystifies the hidden messages in its poetry.

April 19, the series moves to the Aga Khan Museum with “Hamza Akram Qawwal and Brothers.” The 26-year-old singer Hamza Akram’s music is deeply rooted in the Pakistani Sufi devotional tradition. The group is becoming known in the subcontinent, across Europe, Middle East and North America. Akram and his brothers are the 26th generation of their musical lineage, the Qawwal Bachon ka Delhi Gharana, and are dedicated to sharing qawwali with the world. Their performance is part of the Aga Khan Museum’s 2018/19 Performing Arts season titled “The Other Side of Fear,” featuring artists who seek to transcend fear through music, dance and spoken word.

Anoushka Shankar – continuing a legacy of transcultural collaborations: The Asian Music Series continues well into May, but the last concert we will look at in this column takes place early that month. May 2, the Royal Conservatory of Music and SWM co-host sitar virtuosa and composer Anoushka Shankar and party on the Koerner Hall stage. Being groomed by her illustrious father from an early age, she has developed into one of South Asia’s most celebrated instrumentalists. In March 2019, Shankar released her latest Deutsche Grammophone album, Reflections, a retrospective of her career so far, focusing on musical collabs.

I last saw her live at Koerner Hall almost ten years ago with her father Ravi, who was a still musically vibrant 89 at the time. She has, since his death in 2012, taken his musical legacy into several new territories, crossing classical and vernacular, South Asian and Euro-American. Audiences at her concert can expect more transcultural musical dialogues while she demonstrates the versatility of her sitar across musical genres. 

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

Ed Bickert with Don Thompson (bass) in the late 1970sAs all Canadian jazz fans know, guitarist Ed Bickert passed away on February 28 at the age of 86. A bit of time has elapsed by now and his death has been marked by numerous eulogies in the jazz and mainstream press, both here and abroad. I wrote a remembrance of him on my blogsite on March 6 which some WholeNote readers have probably read. For those who haven’t and are interested, it’s available here: wallacebass.com/so-long-ed-a-remembrance/

Despite all this coverage, it’s only right that Ed should be remembered in the jazz column of this publication; he was that important and his death is a huge loss that is still reverberating, just as his magically voiced chords once did. Judging by the many comments left after my post about Ed, the scores of emails I have received, not to mention perfect strangers who have come up to me in clubs to share their memories and stories of Ed and how much they admired him as a person and musician, he will not soon be forgotten, if ever. He withdrew from playing in late 2000, yet the huge body of work he left behind, both live and on recordings from the mid-50s on, made a lasting impact on both musicians and fans. As he would have put it, he was an “Ed-biquitous” presence on the Toronto jazz scene: with Phil Nimmons, on the CBC; with Rob McConnell (in duo, small groups and with The Boss Brass); with Moe Koffman, his own groups, the Barry Elmes Quintet, the Mike Murley Trio; accompanying countless US jazz luminaries here and abroad; and much more.

He was a true original and Toronto jazz fans knew how great he was for years, but word began to leak out south of the border by the early 70s. I was at Bourbon St. as a young jazz fan the first night he played there with Paul Desmond, the first of several such engagements. I clearly remember the altoist’s head swivelling slowly toward Ed as he played some of those penetrating, glow-in-the-dark chords which so often punctuated his solos like little gems. Desmond’s jaw dropped ever so slightly – he was a subtle man, not given to overt gestures – and he grinned and shook his head slowly with his eyes closed. The thought bubble over his head would have read “Oh, my God, this guy is a jewel.”

Indeed he was, and we know the rest. Desmond admired Ed’s playing so much he took him to New York to record Pure Desmond, one of the finest albums of his career and one which brought him out of retirement. Such was the inspiration of playing with Ed; and the impact of this belated showcasing of Ed’s playing with such a star, universally well-received, boosted the standing of Canadian jazz and musicians almost overnight. Before long, Canadian players such as Don Thompson, Bernie Senensky, Dave Young and Terry Clarke were being celebrated and recognized by Americans. Without saying much, Ed kept the bar high and led by example through his understated but powerful playing. Quiet though he was, his inspiration of, and influence on, several generations of Canadian jazz musicians cannot be overstated, and continues to this day. His playing was inimitable, yet the let’s-keep-it-real musical values he projected became an integral part of the jazz aesthetic around these parts even well after he retired. When Ed Bickert was around, either on the bandstand or in the audience, you sharpened up, brother, and played your best.

It’s a big loss for us all and Ed Bickert can’t be replaced, but he can be remembered and will be. He lives on through other musicians, his many fine recordings and the countless stories that are told about him. Nobody gets out of this saloon alive, but in our sadness over his passing we must be grateful that he was with us for so long and left behind so much good music and so many nice memories. Thanks for everything Ed, and rest in peace.

Mezzetta

Ed Bickert was a jazz institution and I want to touch on several others which crossed my mind lately. One is Mezzetta, the excellent Middle Eastern restaurant on St. Clair Ave. W. which has featured live jazz on Wednesday evenings since soon after opening in 1991. One night a week may not seem like much, but the café is small and primarily a restaurant, yet is also a wonderful place to play partly because of its tininess. Its commitment to presenting jazz in a respectful and uncompromising way has been steadfast for over 25 years, making it an integral part of the Toronto jazz mosaic. Mezzetta is worth going to for the food alone, which consists of mezze – the Middle Eastern version of tapas – a choice of 40 small dishes priced at five dollars each which offers a wide variety of flavours and textures for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. I’ve probably had everything on the menu over the years and it’s all authentic, delicious and very consistent in quality. Like the food, the presentation of music at Mezzetta is living proof that small is good, small works. Owner Safa Nemati is a very cultured and congenial man who always treats the musicians fairly, introducing the groups – generally duos featuring a guitarist, as there is no piano – with a polite but firm insistence that people listen, and they do. The ten-dollar cover charge all goes to the musicians; nobody gets rich playing there but that’s not the point. I’ve always left there feeling musically fulfilled because Mezzetta’s intimacy, natural acoustics and warm atmosphere encourage audiences to listen intently, which in turn brings out the best in musicians. And that’s all we want, really. It’s real, a small oasis of culture, high-minded yet modest, not unlike Ed Bickert.

I played at Mezzetta on March 13 with Mike Murley and Reg Schwager. It was originally booked as a duo, but at the last minute Mike asked me to come along to fill out the trio, and that he’d take care of paying me himself. It would serve as a kind of live, paid rehearsal for an upcoming concert and recording we would be doing a few days later with pianist Renee Rosnes as a guest. It was a very special evening for a number of reasons, chief among them being that Ed Bickert seemed to be in the room with us. My piece on him had been out for about a week and the room was packed with his fans, many of whom came over to me to talk about him or share a memory. Mike spoke about him briefly before we started, mentioning that Mezzetta was Ed’s favourite place to play in Toronto, which says a lot. And we played I’ll Never Stop Loving You as a tribute to him, inspired by his beautiful 1985 recording of it. With the people sitting so near and listening so closely, there was an effortless and silent communion between the audience and the band which was as close to a religious experience as I can imagine coming to.

Brian BarlowEllington Society

Another longstanding jazz institution is The Duke Ellington Society, chapters of which have existed in major cities worldwide for decades, celebrating and promoting knowledge of the most imperishable genius jazz has produced. The Toronto DES will be presenting its annual concert on April 27 at Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building; further details in the Quick Picks section that follows. This year’s concert features a big band led by, and arranged for, by drummer Brian Barlow, featuring vocals by the estimable Sophia Perlman. I’ve played on quite a few of these concerts over the years in groups ranging from trios to quintets to big bands, including one led by Ron Collier and an another one by Barlow some years ago. They’re always rewarding; partly, of course, because they offer the chance to play music by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, but mostly for reasons similar to the ones mentioned in connection to Mezzetta: the audience wants to be there, values the music and they listen. The concert I played with Brian Barlow’s big band revealed a side of him I didn’t realize until then: what a fine and imaginative arranger he is. He clearly loves and knows Ellington’s music and his charts managed to bring out new things in the maestro’s music; no small achievement.

Renee Rosnes. Photo by Daniel AzoulayRenee Rosnes

Finally, a few words about another great Canadian musician who, much like Ed Bickert, has raised the bar and inspired so many jazz players in this country: Renee Rosnes. Being a major star out of New York and internationally for many years now, Renee hardly needs the likes of me to pump up her tires, but nevertheless, I’m going to. The aforementioned project with Renee joining the Mike Murley trio as a guest consisted of a March 16 Jazz In The Kitchen concert, followed the next day by a marathon recording session in the same venue, namely the home of Patti and John Loach in the Beaches. Much thanks to both of them for generously hosting this event and to John for his superb and easygoing engineering.

As for Renee, well, we’ve known each other for about 35 years now and this was the first time we’d played together, which came as a small mutual shock. All I can say is that finally playing with her was the fulfillment of a long-held wish and she was everything I expected and hoped for, and more. Simply put, she’s a joy to play with and to be around. She fits into the trio’s dynamic effortlessly, plus she doesn’t seem to have any ego whatsoever. With her, it’s all music all the time and she can play anything with anybody, anytime. And as we discovered on the recording, she’s a two-take gal: she plays great on the first take, and really great on the second. If I had to pick someone to offer as a model to a young aspiring jazz musician, male or female, it would be Renee Rosnes. They might as well aim high.

Oddly enough, as if to underscore all this, the last tune we recorded was a trio version of I’ll Never Stop Loving You featuring Reg Schwager, as a tribute to Ed Bickert. Mike Murley’s cell rang right after we’d finished and it was Ed’s daughter Lindsey calling. They chatted for a moment and Mike told her we’d just finished the recording with Renee and that it had gone really well. Lindsey asked Mike to tell Renee that Ed once told her that Renee was one of his favourite people. Being Ed’s daughter, we knew Lindsey meant it, and nobody was about to argue.

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

APR 13, 8PM: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Dave Young Trio. Music of Duke Ellington. KWCMS Music Room, 57 Young St. W., Waterloo. 519-569-1809. $35; $20(students). The dean of Canadian jazz bassists leads a trio performing Ellington music. My guess would be Robi Botos on piano and Terry Clarke on drums, but whoever is playing with Young, this is sure to be well worth hearing.

APR 14, 4:30: Christ Church Deer Park. Jazz Vespers. Rob Pitch, guitar; Neil Swainson, bass. 1570 Yonge St. 416-920-5211. Freewill offering. Religious service. Two of Toronto’s best veteran players who have a special chemistry through a long history of playing together.

APR 27, 7PM: Toronto Duke Ellington Society’s “Annual Concert.” Ellington: Suites (excerpts). Sophia Perlman, vocalist; The Brian Barlow Big Band. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto, 80 Queen’s Park. 416-239-2683. $35. Limited availability. This was already discussed in the article. Enough said – be there or be square.

APR 28, 2PM: Visual and Performing Arts Newmarket presents the Drew Jurecka Trio. Jazz trio with violin, piano and bass. Newmarket Theatre, 505 Pickering Cres., Newmarket. 905-953-5122. $30; $25(seniors); $10(students). Drew Jurecka is listed here as a violinist and he’s a brilliant one. But he’s also one of Toronto’s most talented and rangy multi-instrumentalists, playing clarinet, alto saxophone and singing. He’s also stylistically encyclopedic, especially on violin, ranging from trad/swing to contemporary. Whatever mode he’s in this evening, the music will be rewarding.

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

As this past winter dragged on interminably I started finding myself singing to myself Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year, and began to ask fellow musicians to play the tune, only to learn that I could not find anyone who had ever even heard of such a song, which was very popular some years ago. Such is progress! Finally, one day after the vernal equinox, a cheery robin said hello to me from a tree in the back yard. Had spring arrived? Yes, but only for a day. The snow and ice were back. So: what will the bands be doing this spring when it really arrives?

Anniversaries

Wee Big Band: It turns out that there are some spring programs on the horizon, but there are also a number of anniversaries. In fact, I have already had the pleasure of attending the first of these a couple of weeks ago when Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band celebrated their 40th anniversary with a special performance at The Garage at the Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst Street. This was presented by the Ken Page Memorial Trust and WholeNote Media Inc.

Formed in 1979 as a repertory band specializing in the music of the great bands of the swing era, Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band, with Rosemary Galloway on bass, continued until Jim passed away in December 2014.

In the recent concert almost all of the selections were arranged by Martin Loomer, the current guitarist and leader. On a number of occasions Martin mentioned, with fond memories, the performances of saxophonist Gord Evans who had been a member of the band until he passed away a few years ago. The first thing that I did when I arrived home after the concert was to play a recording of Gord playing Sammy Nestico’s Lonely Street on alto sax. That is my favourite number on a CD recorded about 20 years ago by a group that I was in. On looking over the list of members, at least six others beside Gord are no longer with us.

Wychwood: Another anniversary coming soon is that of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. On Sunday, May 26 they will be celebrating their tenth year of concerts. Founded and led by clarinetist Michele Jacot, they now have over 200 pieces in their music library and over half of those are their own contributions through their “Composers’ Collective.” Over the years the choir had a wonderful relationship with Howard Cable who became their “Composer and Conductor Laureate.” Howard had never heard of the choir when they first contacted him to ask him to conduct his two previous compositions for clarinet choir. He was so impressed that he wrote a brand new three-movement work, the Wychwood Suite, for the choir with Michele Jacot as soloist. Howard continued to work with the choir and arrange other works for them until he passed. The choir now presents three main concerts per season with a solid and growing audience base. Special kudos should go out to Roy Greaves, one of the founding members and arranger extraordinaire. On checking their last program, of the 11 selections performed six were arranged by Roy.

Waterloo: Another anniversary of a very different sort takes place when the Waterloo Concert Band performs on May 5 at Knox Presbyterian Church in uptown Waterloo. Rather than an anniversary of the band’s founding, this will celebrate the upcoming centenary of the arrival in Waterloo of Charles Frederick “Professor” Thiele. So far I have not been able to find much information about Thiele before his arrival in Waterloo. I do remember well the name though: from my days playing in a boys’ band eons ago. At that time boys’ bands and adult bands regularly went to tattoos and many other events where they were adjudicated by “Professor” Thiele. I hope to learn more about this man soon.

A newly discovered manuscript of a previously unknown composition by “The Professor” couldn’t have come along at a more opportune time for the Waterloo Concert Band. The discovery of an undated work called Festival Overture gave a natural impetus for programming this into the concert celebrating the anniversary of Thiele’s arrival in Waterloo. The band’s director, Trevor Wagler, now has the task of transforming the fragile paper artifact into individual parts, adapted to the keys and clefs that today’s musicians use.

Trevor Wagler, Waterloo Concert Band director, with C.F. Thiele’s score. Photo by Pauline Finch.An accomplished digital transcriber, as well as a busy freelance French horn player and co-owner of Waterloo’s Renaissance School of the Arts, Wagler estimates that it will take about 20 hours to complete the task. The photograph shows Wagler at an oversized vertical computer screen in his office as he gently converts the yellowed sheets, each covered with dense but precise handwritten notes, into the individual parts.

As Wagler explains: “We’ve been including a lot of Thiele’s music in our repertoire during the past few seasons because more and more is coming to light, and so much of it is of very good quality. We couldn’t let this year go by without doing something special to celebrate the huge presence he had.”

Other Bands

Richmond Hill: In the good news department, we have just heard from a band that we hadn’t heard from directly before. Connie Learn, president of the Newmarket Citizens Band, put us in touch with Joan Sax of the Richmond Hill Concert Band (RHCB). Joan told us about RHCB’s new York Region Band Concert Series taking place this summer. This series has been tentatively called “Sundays at the Amphitheatre,” until the band finds a naming sponsor for it. The series is aimed at an audience of families, and will be held at the amphitheatre in Richmond Green Park, at Elgin Mills Road and Leslie Street in Richmond Hill.

The series will consist of five concerts, on Sundays from July 14 to August 11 inclusive, beginning at 1pm as follows: July 14, Aurora Concert Band; July 21, Richmond Hill Concert Band; July 28, Markham Concert Band; August 4, Thornhill Community Band; and August 11, Newmarket Citizens Band. The concert series is supported by the Town of Richmond Hill’s Cultural Grant, and a yet-to-be-named sponsor. They are also partnering with the Richmond Hill Food Bank to collect food for this worthy Richmond Hill organization.

The Richmond Hill Concert Band, formed in 2010, is a charitable organization that provides musical service and cultural support to their community, and education for band members. They perform annually at Richmond Hill’s Canada Day celebration, and in the Richmond Hill Summer Park Series. In addition to their public concerts, the band also performs concerts at seniors residences and hospitals.

Uxbridge: It’s much too early to talk much about that remarkable summer band, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB), but this year is different. Founder and leader Steffan Brunette appears to be on the road to recovery from a serious medical situation, and is already talking about rehearsals. As one member of the band’s executive put it: “He is planning to be well enough to run the band this summer, but may have some stand-ins for conductors in the beginning as he might not be strong enough to listen to us play wrong

notes for two full hours!” Their theme for the 27th season is: “Inspired by Bach,” and they have a new website: uxbridgeccb.webs.com.

Big Band Scene

Aside from my remarks earlier about Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band, we have some other news from the big band scene. We have just been informed by Lawrence Moule, of the After Hours Big Band, about a unique concert to take place Saturday evening, April 13, at the Aurora Cultural Centre. Music students from Sir William Mulock Secondary School in Newmarket will be presenting their first-ever public concert, a jazz program in collaboration with the After Hours Big Band. As Lawrence states: “The idea here is that an established band is helping to encourage youthful players, and possibly pointing the way toward future opportunities.” Aurora’s Town Council is studying plans to redevelop a portion of the town’s core into an entertainment and cultural complex, with the working title of “Library Square.” Plans include a new professional concert venue with 250 seats.

 Meanwhile, existing concerts are held at the Cultural Centre (the former Church Street School, where Lester B. Pearson taught). It’s a professional venue but its concert hall, called Brevik Hall, is quite small. The organizers hope that this could be a model for future events at Library Square, once that development affords an expanded showcase for arts and culture in Aurora. Talented young local performers will be able to join forces with veterans to produce musical entertainment that will be unique to Aurora.

The After Hours Big Band got its start when some members of the Newmarket Citizens Band wanted to get together to play “big band music.” Those people stayed behind after the regular concert band rehearsal. Now, years later, this group, still mostly members of the concert band, have rehearsals on a different night at a different location.

I recently had unusual unplanned visit with another big band. I had been invited to visit a rehearsal of the York Region Brass Band. When I arrived at the venue, I was stunned to see a couple of saxophones. As it turned out I had been given the wrong date. I was just in time for a regular rehearsal of the Borealis Band of Aurora. Since I knew a few of the members of the band, I stayed until after intermission, and enjoyed a bit more big band music.

Murray Ginsberg

Shortly after last month’s column about Murray Ginsberg, I received a lovely message from Barby Ginsberg, Murray’s youngest daughter. Along with her thanks about comments in that column, she was very curious about where I had obtained some of my information. In particular, she said that someone would have had to be at his funeral to have known, as I wrote, that “someone said after his passing: ‘Look out heaven - you just got one more Saint who’s marching in.’.... That someone was me! That was how I ended my eulogy!” (Unfortunately, at this juncture, I can’t recall my exact sources.)

BANDSTAND QUICK PICKS

APR 6, 7PM: The Mississauga Big Band Jazz Ensemble will present “Best of Big Band Open Mic.” Cooksville United Church, 2500 Mimosa Row, Mississauga.

APR 27, 7PM: Toronto Duke Ellington Society. Annual Concert. Ellington: Suites (excerpts). Sophia Perlman, vocalist; The Brian Barlow Big Band. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto.

APR 28, 2PM: The Mississauga Big Band Jazz Ensemble will present “Jazz at the Legion.” Port Credit Legion, 35 Front St. N., Port Credit.

MAY 3, 7:30PM: Scarborough Concert Band. Spring Concert. Keith Bohlender, conductor. Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

MAY 5, 3PM: The Weston Silver Band will have their “Afternoon at the Proms” with. Canadian and British repertoire. Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. W.

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

Over the past month, Toronto lost two of its most creative, sophisticated guitarists: Ed Bickert (1932-2019) and Justin Haynes (1973-2019). Though 40 years apart in age, both exemplified a dedication to the craft of jazz guitar, a broad knowledge of the ever-evolving history of improvisational music, and a deep commitment to expanding and reshaping the role of the guitar in a wide variety of conventional and unconventional settings.

Justin HaynesGrowing up in Ottawa, Justin Haynes studied with Roddy Ellias before moving to Toronto in the late 1990s, where he quickly established himself as a creative, boundary-pushing musician, collaborating regularly with Jean Martin, Nick Fraser, Christine Duncan and many other members of Toronto’s vital jazz/improvising music community. A prolific recording artist, he appeared on over 25 albums (currently available through his website), toured regularly, and performed consistently throughout Toronto. Haynes was the 2012 artist-in-residence at Calgary’s National Music Centre. For those who wish to attend, there will be a remembrance service at the TRANZAC on April 19; there is also a GoFundMe page, on which visitors may donate money to benefit Haynes’ son.

Ed Bickert, an active member of the Toronto music community since his move to the city in the mid-1950s, was a consummate musician, and a major influence on guitarists who came after him, both in Toronto and throughout the world. Recording and touring with a range of artists, including Moe Koffman, Phil Nimmons, Rob McConnell, Rosemary Clooney and Paul Desmond, Bickert was a tasteful, precise player, whose rhythmic and harmonic command of the guitar was such that even his simplest phrases could immediately capture a listener’s attention. His most memorable performances were often in small ensembles, including the seminal album At The Garden Party, with bassist Don Thompson, which endures as one of the most important (and frequently transcribed) guitar/bass duo albums in jazz, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Jim Hall and Ron Carter’s Alone Together. He is also one of the reasons that it has become a relatively common sight to see a Toronto jazz guitarist playing a Telecaster (or other Fender-style guitar), in lieu of an archtop or semi-hollow body guitar; Bickert’s ability to get a warm, round, articulate sound out of an instrument that is associated, even today, with the trebly twang of country and bluegrass music, is a testament to his unique artistic vision.

Lorne LofskyLorne Lofsky
It is fitting, though likely not intentionally so, that April should be particularly rich in guitar performances, many of which will be happening at The Rex, a venue whose stage position, ceiling height, and relaxed atmosphere make it particularly amplifier-friendly. For two consecutive evenings on April 4 and 5, Lorne Lofsky leads a quartet featuring saxophonist Alex Dean, bassist Kieran Overs, and drummer Barry Romberg. A York University faculty member, Lofsky is, in many ways, the direct heir to Bickert: the two played in a quartet together from 1983 to 1991, releasing two albums together with the group. In addition to collaborations with leading saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Kirk MacDonald, Lofsky spent 1994 to 1996 as a fulltime member of the Oscar Peterson Quartet, touring worldwide and playing on three of Peterson’s albums. Though he performs regularly, it is not always common to see Lofsky leading his own ensemble, so his two-night stint at The Rex represents a valuable opportunity to hear him in his element.

The Rex will also host a number of other notable guitarists, including both the established and the new.

First, the new: Alex Goodman – a graduate of both the University of Toronto and Manhattan School of Music’s jazz programs, and now a New York resident – brings his quartet to town on April 6. Accompanying Goodman are three of New York’s top young jazz musicians: saxophonist Ben van Gelder, bassist Martin Nevin, and drummer Jimmy MacBride. Nir Felder, another young guitarist (and Fender-style guitar proponent) based in the United States, joins Toronto’s Tetrahedron for two nights of music on April 9 and 10. Tetrahedron – typically a chordless trio, made up of saxophonist Luis Deniz, electric bassist Rich Brown, and drummer Ernesto Cervini – is a natural pairing for Felder, who shares their penchant for groove, melodicism, and a decidedly electric aesthetic that touches on jazz, rock and R&B.

Second, the established: on April 14, bassist Dave Young, who performed and recorded, at various points, with Bickert, Lofsky and Peterson, amongst myriad other jazz luminaries, brings his quartet to The Rex. He is joined by trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, drummer Terry Clarke and guitarist Reg Schwager. Schwager, a first-call player for many of Canada’s top jazz singers, has an incredible command of the idiomatic language of classic jazz, and plays with a warm, round tone. Performing later in the month with the Barry Romberg Group, guitarist Geoff Young – who, as a faculty member at the University of Toronto’s jazz program, has taught many of Toronto’s most exciting young guitarists – is a dynamic, multifaceted guitarist, a thrilling improviser, and, like Bickert, a dedicated Fender player, whose biting, rock-tinged tone works to complement the sweeping lyricism of his phrasing.

VIrginia and Kirk MacDonald at the Cape Breton Jazz FestivalElsewhere
April will also see some other notable guitar performances at venues outside of The Rex. On April 17, the Virginia and Kirk MacDonald Quartet plays at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar. Virginia – an increasingly busy clarinettist, band leader, and the daughter of Toronto jazz scene mainstay Kirk – has collaborated with her father before, on the recent album Generations, featuring pianist Harold Mabern. The MacDonalds are joined at the Home Smith Bar by bassist Neil Swainson and guitarist Lucian Gray. Gray is a burgeoning master of the guitar stylings of Wes Montgomery, amongst other foundational figures, but his unique gift is his ability to make the classic sound new, vital and immediately exciting. In another part of town, and at a different end of the guitar-style spectrum, Luan Phung can be found on most Sunday afternoons playing trio at Poetry Jazz Café in Kensington Market. Aesthetically, Phung’s playing can be located in the school of modern jazz guitar, and is, at times, reminiscent of players such as Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder. But his deft touch, strong harmonic sensibility and searching improvisational tendencies mark a developing style all his own.

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICKPICKS

APR 4 AND 5, 9:30PM/9:45PM: Lorne Lofsky, The Rex. Lorne Lofsky appears with his stellar quartet for two nights of communicative jazz at The Rex.

APR 9 AND 10, 9:30PM: Nir Felder and Tetrahedron, The Rex. American guitarist Nir Felder joins bassist Rich Brown, saxophonist Luis Deniz, and drummer Ernesto Cervini for two evenings of fusion-tinged jazz.

APR 17: Virginia and Kirk MacDonald Quartet, Home Smith Bar. Father/daughter duo Virginia and Kirk MacDonald lead their quartet at The Home Smith Bar, with bassist Neil Swainson and exciting young guitarist Lucian Gray.

MOST SUNDAYS, 4:30 TO 7:30: Luan Phung, Poetry Jazz Café. Hear burgeoning modern jazz guitarist Luan Phung at in an intimate, communicative trio setting in Kensington Market’s Poetry Jazz Café.

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

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