Beat Columns (Live Music)
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
"Not Reconciled: The Cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet” is a retrospective of 31 films by the singular filmmaking duo that takes hold at TIFF Bell Lightbox March 3 with the screening of a new 35mm print of Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. Whether or not you’re familiar with the austere dissociation of the filmmakers’ style, this black and white 1967 film is essential viewing for any music lover. Compulsively watchable, it’s of key historical importance on two counts. As a portrait of J.S. Bach, it’s a focused biography zoning in on the last decades of his life, from the end of his stint working for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen to his time in Leipzig as cantor of St. Thomas Church (1723-1750). And as a 50-year-old film in which Bach is portrayed by harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt and the music is directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with musicians from his Concentus Musicus Wien, it’s also a record of a period-instrument movement that was then in its infancy.
The film is awash in music, all inspired by Bach’s love of, and devotion to, God. Almost the entire film consists of excerpts from 24 of Bach’s works – it’s a total immersion experience largely because most of the excerpts are each several minutes long. The bewigged Bach and musicians perform in period costume in the very places where the compositions were first played. The Straubs’ rigorous aesthetic reinforces this effect by selecting a camera position with a striking perspective and letting their unmoving camera soak up the moving image; they concentrate our attention on the music.
The film is narrated in a matter-of-fact manner by Bach’s second wife, a singer he married in 1721 after the death of his first wife. She gives a bare outline of Bach’s early years, touching on his organ prowess and the famous 250-mile walk he took from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear his idol Buxtehude play, but once she introduces herself events flow according to the pulse of time. For the most part the music follows in chronological order beginning with a sizable excerpt from the middle of the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No.5, the first great keyboard concerto and arguably the zenith of his time in Köthen. The camera placement is over the right shoulder of Bach as we watch Leonhardt play his double-keyboard harpsichord unfettered.
Just as Bach is about to take up his post in Leipzig, we’re treated to Leonhardt and Harnoncourt in lovely performance of the first movement adagio from the Sonata No.2 for viola da gamba and harpsichord BWV 1028. Then it’s a seamless parade of cantatas (embracing many instrumental passages, Bach conducting from the keyboard) with the Magnificat, St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor included, all integral to the narrative. Only a smattering of keyboard works interrupt the flow, notably the opening of the magisterial Prelude in B Minor for Organ BWV 544. Later, the camera actively moves in on Leonhardt for an intimate snippet of the Clavier-Übung organ chorale. He explains how his left hand plays written notes (basso continuo) while the right hand plays in consonance and dissonance; and that the music is for the glory of God.
Camera placement is critical. For example, in the Cantata BWV 198, written for the funeral of Queen Christiane, the vantage point is from the instrumental side focused on the lute, with Bach at left in front of the choir. Occasionally there will be a cut to a close-up of a singer or instrumentalist; even a view of the thick scores black with the density of notes. Despite the lack of camera movement, there is a variety of perspective, often at an angle, which adds to our involvement. The filmmakers also point us to original documents, contracts and the like. They are careful to point out the economics of Bach’s daily life and his concerns with his working conditions as he navigates his relationship to his employers.
The other major musical component of the retrospective, is the screening March 12 of the Straubs’ film of Schoenberg’s unfinished opera Moses and Aaron (1974), shot in a Roman amphitheatre with the Austrian Radio Choir and Austria Radio Symphony Orchestra (recorded in Vienna), along with the 1972 short film Accompaniment to a Cinematic Scene (which uses text by Schoenberg and Brecht to condemn anti-Semitism). Preceding the films will be a 15- to 20-minute live performance of five extracts from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire as well as Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht presented by Against the Grain Theatre with soprano Adanya Dunn and collaborative pianist Topher Mokrzewski.
Associates of the TSO. Now in their 45th season, the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra continue their current series March 6 with “Classics of Vienna Meet Voices of Britain.” TSO oboist Sarah Lewis is joined by Eri Kosaka, violin, Diane Leung, viola, and Emmaneulle Beaulieu Bergeron, cello, in Mozart’s effervescent Oboe Quartet K370, Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings Op.2 (written when the composer was 19 and featuring a singing oboe line). Beethoven’s splendid Trio Op.9 No.1 opens the concert.
On February 13, I heard their second concert of the season, “Paris en mille notes,” a delightful evening of chamber music in the friendly confines of Jeanne Lamon Hall. The distinctive Gallic-flavoured program began with a lively look at Stravinsky’s Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat. Stravinsky’s septet consisted of violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, double bass and percussion, a larger number of players than the Associates usually bring to a concert. The enthusiastic audience, who appeared to be made up of the proverbial “seven to seventy,” took up most of the seats on the main floor and seemed to energize the players.
Stravinsky’s score, which takes advantage of its instruments’ unique instrumental colour, was suitably raucous and lively with memorable violin playing by TSO assistant concertmaster Etsuko Kimura (as it should be given the story of a violinist-soldier who sells his instrument to the devil), the sweet bassoon of Fraser Jackson and buffoonery from the brass.
Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, which followed, acted as a palate cleanser after the Stravinsky’s exoticism, creating a wonderful sense of space with long flute lines and wide intervals that felt very French, all delivered with aplomb by Leonie Wall and collaborative pianist Monique de Margerie.
After intermission the duo joined the septet plus another percussionist for Jackson’s clever chamber arrangement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major which was being performed for the first time. With similar instrumentation as the Stravinsky, the concerto began in wind-band style before moving into its languorous piano theme with piccolo backing. Conductor Ryan Haskins brought a subtle baton to Ravel’s jazz touches, providing a good steady groove for the second movement’s lovely theme, while de Margerie’s intimate solo piano playing was well-suited to the chamber format.
Kudos to the musicians and their contagious spirit. It augurs well for the rest of the season to come. Following the March 6 concert previously mentioned, their season continues May 29 with a transcription of Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin arranged for violin and viola and Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat Major Op.3. June 5, it’s music for piano trio by Haydn, Luedeke, Piazzolla and Brahms.
Dmitry Masleev. Following in the footsteps of the 13 first-place winners of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the Siberian-born Dmitry Masleev joins such legends as Van Cliburn (1958), Vladimir Ashkenazy (1962) and Grigory Sokolov (1966) and most recently Denis Matsuev (1998), Ayako Uehara (2002) and Daniil Trifonov (2011). His Koerner Hall recital March 22 includes works he played in Round 1 of that competition (two of Rachmaninoff’s Études Tableaux Op.39 and Beethoven’s Sonata Op.81a “Les Adieux”) and Liszt’s Totentanz from Round 2. Four Scarlatti sonatas, additional Rachmaninoff pieces and Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.14 complete his ambitious program.
In response to a question I emailed him shortly before we went to press, Masleev told me that his musical hero is Sergey Rachmaninoff. “He was not only a genius composer whose music inspires all classical music lovers, but he was also a brilliant pianist,” he said. “Thank God we have lots of his recordings available and can listen to them.
“He has his own style of performing,” the 28-year-old said. “You will always be amazed by his precise touch, deep forte and piano, and of course, just incredible technique. His music combines deep meaning that touches your heart, a variety of harmonies, just unbelievable beautiful melodies. There is a quality in it that will find a response from any person in the audience.
Daniil Trifonov. Coincidentally, the previous Tchaikovsky winner, Daniil Trifonov (having just turned 26) returns to Koerner Hall just six days after Masleev, March 28 in a recital devoted to Schumann, Shostakovich and Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. The concert is sold out but a few rush tickets will be available 90 minutes prior to the performance. When he was 23, Trifonov gave a masterclass/interview at Mazzoleni Hall one evening in January 2015. He mentioned Rachmaninoff, Friedman, Horowitz, Hofmann and Michelangeli among pianists from the past who inspired him. He said then that the two hours before a concert is a period of intense concentration and that “somehow warming up for me is more mental [than physical].”
Mar 4: Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra principal trumpet Michael Fedyshyn joins violinist Bethany Bergman, cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Angela Park as 5 at the First presents music by Biber, Barnes, Ewazen and Piazzolla.
Mar 4: Academy Concert Series presents “A Frankly Fabulous Foray,” piano quintets by Franck and Fauré (See what they did there!), two lush chamber works. OSM principal second violin Alexander Read, HPO second violinist and Windermere String Quartet first violinist Elizabeth Loewen Andrews, TSM 2016 fellow Emily Eng, viola, Academy Concert Series artistic director Kerri McGonigle, cello, and Leanne Regehr, piano, bring the works to life.
Mar 5: Trio Con Brio Copenhagen’s concert, presented by Chamber Music Hamilton, includes Schubert’s uncommonly beautiful Piano Trio in B-flat Major Op.99.
Mar 5, 7 and 9: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Aviv String Quartet performing Mozart’s great last ten quartets. Mar 21 and 23: Movses Pogossian honours Bach’s birthday by playing his six sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin in the KWCMS music room. Mar 22: Peter Vinograde, who played the first solo recital in that music room in 1980, returns to play Bach, Beethoven and Peter Mennin. Apr 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9: Another major programming coup for KWCMS: the Lafayette String Quartet playing the complete Shostakovich string quartets.
Mar 5: It’s cloning time as Mooredale presents Paganini Competition prizewinner In Mo Yang at Walter Hall, while RCM presents the inimitable Sir András Schiff at Koerner Hall, and Roy Thomson Hall presents Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, recent Grammy winners for Best Orchestral Performance. All concerts will take place Sunday afternoon at three o’clock.
Mar 7: GGS scholarship student Charissa Vandikas plays Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff in a free noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Apr 4: Another COC free noontime concert features Mark Fewer in solo violin works by Bach, Ysaÿe and Chris Paul Harman. Apr 5: Rossina Grieco, a native of Southern California and winner of the GGS Ihnatowycz Prize in Piano, fills the Bradshaw Ampitheatre with Liszt’s iconic Sonata in B Minor in her free concert.
Mar 9: The relatively new Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch brings their chamber music bona fides to the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto for what promises to be a memorable afternoon of music by Rachmaninoff, Schumann and Shostakovich.
Mar 10: The celebrated duo pianists, Anagnoson and Kinton, continue their 40th anniversary season with a concert at Brock University in St. Catharines.
Mar 16: Music Toronto presents the Philharmonic Quartett Berlin (made up exclusively of members of the Berliner Philharmoniker) in a classic program of late Haydn, early Beethoven and middle Schumann.
Mar 18: TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow is the soloist in Brahms’ lyrical Violin Concerto with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bradley Thachuk, at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.
Mar 19: Four days before his Music Toronto recital, Marc-André Hamelin performs at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. The all-sonata program is anchored in the first half by Beethoven’s fervid Appassionata Sonata and in the second by Chopin’s dark Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor “The Funeral March.”
Mar 23: One-time protégé of the great Arthur Rubinstein, Janina Fialkowska brings her pianistic sensibility to an all-Chopin recital at the Aurora Cultural Centre.
Mar 27: The U of T Faculty of Music presents the dedicated and dependable Gryphon Trio performing Beethoven’s buoyant Piano Trio Op.11, Dinuk Wijeratne’s Love Triangle and Brahms’ romantic signpost, the Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor Op.25. Currently artists-in-residence at the faculty, the Gryphon is joined by guest violist Ethan Filner for the Brahms.
Apr 1: The indefatigable Angela Park joins Canadian Sinfonietta’s first violinist, Joyce Lai, and first cellist, András Weber, for an evening of chamber music by Rachmaninoff, Handel-Halvorsen and An-Lun Huang.
Apr 1, 2: Tokyo-born, Montreal-raised Karen Gomyo brings her superb musicianship to Beethoven’s splendid Violin Concerto. Young American, Robert Trevino, also conducts the TSO in the 1947 version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka rooted in Russian folklore and melody. Apr 6, 7: TSO favourite Thomas Dausgaard returns to conduct Deryck Cooke’s version of Mahler’s magnificent Symphony No.10; TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson is the soloist in Schumann’s ravishing Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129, the opening work on the program.
Apr 2: Pianist Anton Nel, fresh from two masterclasses on March 31, performs Mozart and Schumann in a free concert (tickets required; available from March 2) in Mazzoleni Hall.
Apr 7: Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts presents pianist Jon Kimura Parker in a fascinating program comprised of Beethoven’s formidable Appassionata Sonata, Ravel’s shimmering Jeux d’eau, Alexina Louie’s Scenes from a Jade Terrace and two movie-themed pastiches by William Hirtz: Bernard Herrmann Fantasy and Fantasy on the Wizard of Oz.
Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.
- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
In last month’s column, my opening story focused on the upcoming New Creations Festival presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with concerts on March 4, 8 and 11. I featured a conversation with Christine Duncan speaking about a new commission entitled Qiksaaktuq for the March 4 concert, a collaboration between Duncan, Tanya Tagaq, Jean Martin and orchestrator Christopher Mayo that combines both notated score and improvisation. To continue coverage of the New Creations Festival for the March issue, I spoke with guest curator and composer/performer Owen Pallett about his vision for the festival and the highlights of the March 8 and 11 concerts.
A year ago, a review by Michael Vincent in the March 6 edition of The Toronto Star noted that in the 2016 New Creations Festival there were no female composers featured. The author stated that this omission demonstrated “a lack of awareness towards the diversity of the community,” and he ended his review with a hope that the TSO would listen to this critique. By selecting Owen Pallett as the guest curator for this year’s festival, I think it’s fair to say that they are now listening. When I spoke with Pallett, I began by asking him what his curatorial vision was. “My priority is on critical work,” he began. “There has been a big change in the [cultural] conversation over the last 15 years, and I want to reflect that in the concerts.” For Pallett, this means having representation from both female and male composers, as well as the inclusion of Indigenous and culturally diverse performers. He also wanted to reflect the full spectrum of new music practices that exist outside the traditional concert hall. This goal is evident in both the selection of composers he wanted to include, as well as the choice of performers for the lobby concerts that happen both pre- and post-concert. “There’s an enormous audience in Toronto for new music, but they don’t know it exists. People are interested in listening to challenging music, and I’m also working to address that in this series.” In the end, Pallett is not interested in theoretical ideas of what new music is, but rather in selecting works that are, in his words, BOLD.
As examples, he cites the music of Cassandra Miller that displays “enormous and monolithic gestures, like giant glaciers, which are far removed from other schools of new music composition.” Speaking of glacial landscapes, another composer Pallett selected is Daniel Bjarnason from Iceland who takes Ligeti’s ideas of cloud structures and turns them into a new language. Both Bjarnason and Miller’s works (Round World and Emergence, respectively) will be premiered on March 11. Pallett’s choice to include Tanya Tagaq’s improvised performance will give audiences a chance to experience “the most emotional response you’ll hear from an improvised performer.” Another of his composer selections is American Nico Muhly (Mixed Messages, March 8 concert), whose style is a “concentrated John Adams-inspired tonalism drawing from many different sources and time periods.” Muhly, currently one of the most visible composers in the USA, has worked and recorded with a range of classical and pop/rock musicians and refuses to be pinned down to one specific genre.
Pallett’s own commissioned work, Songs From An Island, will be premiered on March 8. What we will hear that night is a 15-minute excerpt from a 75-minute work he is currently working on. Originally, Pallett began writing a more conventional piece for the festival, but after recently hearing American composer Andrew Norman’s work Play, he decided to shelve it and go full out to create a more edgy piece that “investigates the cross section of folk songwriting and the aspects of modern orchestration that I’m most interested in.” The piece is a series of songs about a man who washes up on an island and gets involved in an assortment of hedonistic activities. One might think that would result in a work with a bawdy flavour, but not so. Rather, Pallett says, the piece has a more spiritual tone and ends with the character circling the planet hearing the prayers of the people below. The music is as much inspired by trends in rock music since Talk Talk, an English new wave band active from 1981 to 1992, as it is by concert music influences such as Ligeti-inspired tone clusters and Grisé’s spectralism. However, Pallett made it clear that his is not a hybrid music as he “draws equally from a number of different languages to arrive at this one unified aesthetic, one unified conclusion. I’m still trying to find the sweet spot,” he said, which is not a space “between the two worlds, but is its own place unrelated to either genre. I am completely allergic to any conversations that distinguish between pop vs. serious music. I find it classist and I reject it.”
The Festival will also feature a lineup of outstanding performers, including violinst James Ehnes performing a new violin concerto by Aaron J. Kernis (March 8) and the Kronos Quartet performing Black MIDI, a new work by Nicole Lizée (March 11). And finally, each symphony concert will begin with the performance of a two-minute Sesquie, commissioned as part of the TSO’s year-long Canada Mosiac project. These include Andrew Staniland’s Reflections on O Canada after Truth and Reconciliation (March 4) Harry Stafylakis’ Shadows Radiant (March 8) and Zeiss After Dark by Nicole Lizée (March 11). Highlights of the lobby concerts include Indigenous performers The Lightning Drum Singers led by Derrick Bressette (March 4), and the Cris Derkson Trio with Derkson on cello, Anishinaabe Hoop Dancer Nimkii Osawamick and drummer Jesse Baird (March 11). The spirit of improvisation will make an appearance as well with the performance on March 8 by the Element Choir led by Christine Duncan.
Nicole Lizée: March 11 will be a busy night for composer Nicole Lizée with her two works at the New Creations Festival along with a piece she composed for a concert featuring the Plumes ensemble at the Music Gallery. Montreal-based Plumes is a six-member group combining pop and classical influences who have invited 13 composers to create pieces inspired by Vision, Canadian producer/singer Grimes’ album. And in the spirit of Owen Pallett’s vision for New Creations, this concert includes a majority of women composers as well as a creative mandate to push genre boundaries. Alongside Lizée, other composers include Emilie LeBel, Tawnie Olson, Monica Pearce and Stephanie Moore. (And later in the month at the Gallery, the all-female Madawaska Quartet along with harpist Sanya Eng and guitarist Rob MacDonald create an immersive performance environment in which to perform works by Omar Daniel, Andrew Staniland, Scott Good and Yoko Ono. This program will also be performed on March 29 in Kitchener as part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society series.)
Full Spectrum: March continues with a full spectrum of new music events. On March 10 and 11, The Toronto Masque Theatre presents The Man Who Married Himself composed by Juliet Palmer with libretto by Anna Chatterton and choreography by Hari Krishnan. The story is an intriguing one, given the gender issues already discussed. It’s an allegory of the inner battle between male and female parts, played out by the main character who rejects the idea of marrying a woman and instead creates a lover for himself from his own left side. The outcome of that experiment unfolds throughout the piece.
Continuum Contemporary Music’s lineup for their March 25 “Pivot” concert of works by emerging composers is another example of a more diverse representation of composers. The concert will present the creative outcomes of a six-month mentorship with works by four female composers (Rebecca Bruton, Maxime Corbeil-Perron, Evelin Ramon, Bekah Sims) and Philippine-born Juro Kim Feliz. Montrealer Beavan Flanagan rounds out a program of pieces exploring acoustic, electroacoustic and acousmatic traditions.
And finally, the Array Ensemble will perform “The Rainbow of Forgetting” in both Toronto (March 9) and Kingston (March 10) with compositions by Mozetich, Catlin Smith, Komorous, Sherlock, Bouchard and Arnold.
With so much going on also in the early part of March, I have not been able to cover it all here. I recommend you consult my February column for some of the early March events mentioned there.
Finally here are some additional Quick Picks for this month:
Mar 2: Canadian Music Centre. “Of Bow and Breath.” Works by Vivier, Baker, Tenney, Stevenson and Foley.
Mar 5: Oriana Women’s Choir. “Journey Around the Sun.” Includes a work by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis.
Mar 8: U of T Faculty of Music presents “A 90th Celebration of John Beckwith” featuring Beckwith’s works A Game of Bowls, Follow Me and a selection of songs.
Mar 9: Canadian Opera Company. Chamber Music Series: Contemporary Originals in collaboration with the TSO’s New Creations Festival.
Mar 12: Ritual 7 presents “The Announcement Made to Mary,” a miracle play with score by Anne Bourne.
Mar 18: Caution Tape Sound Collective. Array Space.
Mar 18: Scaramella presents. “Tastes: Old and New,” contemporary works by Peter Hannan, Grégoire Jeay and Terri Hron.
Mar 18: TO.U Collective/Music at St. Andrews.presents Radulescu’s Sonatas No.3 and No.6 performed by pianist Stephen Clarke.
Mar 19: Two electroacoustic music concerts presented by U of T Faculty of Music: works by Ciamaga, Staniland, Viñao and Mario Davidovsky, L’adesso infinito for organ, projections and 4-channel sound by Dennis and Barbara Patrick, Stockhausen’s Kontakte, John Chowning’s Turenas and Tomita’s arrangement of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun.
Mar 22 and 23: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sesquie A Hero’s Welcome by Kati Agócs and North American premiere of a co-commissioned work Accused: Three Interrogations for Soprano and Orchestra byMagnus Lindberg.
Mar 25: Guitar Society of Toronto presents Duo Scarlatti. Their exact program is unknown at press time but will be selected from music from the high Baroque and 20th century works by Bogdanovic, Pisati, Iannarelli, Cascioli and Del Priora, among others.
Mar 26: U of T Faculty of Music presents “There Will Be Stars: Music of Stephen Chatman,” which includes works by Chatman, Ramsay, Parker, Hagen, and Brandon.
Mar 26: New Music Concerts presents György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments as part of a benefit performance event. Also presented on March 27 by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.
Apr 7: Music Gallery. “Emergents III: Castle If + Laura Swankey.” Joe Strutt, curator.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. email@example.com
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
Whether you are in the band or in the audience, in jazz, the ideal experience is being there when something magical happens. The second best thing is hearing a live recording that captures such magic. Therefore, the production of live recordings, where the band is at its best with an enthusiastic audience, is essential to understanding, preserving and promoting jazz music. Norman Granz knew this and epitomized it; the famed impresario and record producer known for discovering Oscar Peterson and catapulting Ella Fitzgerald’s career was a civil rights hero who worked tirelessly to produce, book and champion his gifted artists. Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award, garnering 13 such trophies in her illustrious career. Between 1938 and 1989, Ella Fitzgerald recorded over 2000 songs.
On Mack the Knife: Live in Berlin, recorded February 13, 1960, something truly magical happened. In front of the perfect audience – rapturously cheering and not a single cough – Miss Fitzgerald was at the Mt. Everest-like peak of her vocal power and accompanied by the best jazz combo Granz could find: music director Paul Smith on piano, Jim Hall on guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Gus Johnson on drums. There is literally not one false eighth-note on this hotly swinging session. On the title track Ella forgets the lyrics and improvises her own (“You won’t recognize it…it’s a surprise hit!”). And equally historic is the nine-minute version of How High the Moon which is arguably the greatest scat solo ever recorded. Using Charlie Parker’s Ornithology as a starting point, Fitzgerald miraculously makes seven minutes of intergalactic wordless fireworks fly by as effortlessly as a hummingbird.
Born April 25, 1917, Ella’s centenary quickly approaches and fittingly there are musical tributes to her left, right and centre. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra will wait until June 6 and 7 to toast the “First Lady of Song,” in a tribute conducted by Steven Reineke and featuring American vocalists Capathia Jenkins, Montego Glover and Sy Smith. For something coming up sooner and featuring extraordinary Canadian talent, as part of the Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) Concert Series, the Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra will celebrate 100 years of Ella Fitzgerald at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Saturday March 18. The Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra is Darcy Hepner, lead alto saxophone; Simon Wallis, alto saxophone; Michael Stuart, tenor saxophone; Jeff King, tenor saxophone; Terry Basom, baritone saxophone; Jason Logue, lead trumpet; Brigham Phillips, trumpet; Mike Malone, trumpet; Ron Baker, trumpet; Russ Little, lead trombone; Rob Somerville, trombone; Phil Gray, trombone; Bob Hamper, bass trombone; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Pat Collins, bass; Kevin Dempsey, drums; and vocalist, Sophia Perlman, who Hepner describes calls “the only singer the band will ever need.”
SOPHIA PERLMAN: The term “using one’s voice as an instrument” gets tossed around too casually in the jazz world. Vocalists are sometimes not perceived to be musicians. Toronto’s Sophia Perlman is not merely a musician, but an excellent one, thanks to her natural talent, unflinching dedication and a wide variety of musical experiences and influences.
Now a faculty member of Mohawk College’s jazz program, from 2008 to 2013 Perlman worked with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s OPERAtion KIDS outreach program, and during her tenure worked with close to 2000 elementary school-aged students in Toronto creating music and opera, as well as instructing two of their choruses for children as young as three.
Not one to pigeonhole herself, in PerlHaze, her new folk/roots/singer-songwriter partnership with fellow jazz singer Terra Hazelton, Perlman writes, sings and plays a half-dozen instruments:
“One of the things I love about the ways Terra and I have been exploring writing and arranging for two musicians is the multitudes of ways that harmony and counterpoint can help to fill in other aspects of the music like time or harmonic rhythm. I think, as a former choral singer, I tend to hear parts in my head most of the time. When I’m singing especially loosely, or in different jazz settings like playing with my quartet, or when I’m improvising, it’s still largely rooted in writing alternate arrangements in my head.”
What do you remember about your very first experience singing with a big band? I think maybe the first large band experience I ever had was singing in a Mirvish musical at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1996. It wasn’t jazz, but the process of learning music over piano reductions and then having the experience of singing them when those piano parts expanded was incredible to my 12-year-old brain…
I played saxophones and clarinet in high school and got introduced a bit more to big band music through the perspective of an instrumentalist. The way different horn sections were used and voiced seemed very akin to the choral and vocal music I was already singing outside of school. I had a very smart band teacher who found a million excuses to get me to arrange and reduce things. Thanks, Mr. Alberts! The summer before my last year of high school, I went to the jazz camp at Interprovincial Music Camp. I’m almost afraid to list the IMC faculty that summer because since then some of these people have become my colleagues, my mentors and my friends, and I’m afraid I’m going to leave someone out: Lisa Martinelli, Kevin Turcotte, Pat Collins, Mike Murley, Cam Ryga, Lorne Lofsky, Barry Elmes…Hugh Fraser was at the helm and that was my introduction to VEJI and to the incredible Christine Duncan who really reframed my ideas as to how big band music didn’t necessarily mean historical music and it was inspiring to hear compositions go from small band to big band six months later at the IAJE conference in Toronto. My camp friends and I stormed the hall as soon as the doors were open to try and get as close to the front as possible. Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass reunited that night too. I don’t think my 17-year-old self understood how fortunate I was – as excited and inspired as I was.
Tell me a bit about your experience working with the Toronto All-Star Big Band and how the experience influenced you as a musician. I auditioned for TABB in the spring of my last year of high school. It was just artistic director Zygmunt Jedrzejek and a pianist who was very kind and gamely played through End of a Love Affair a second time when I was asked if I could try to improvise…The pianist was Ernesto Cervini. I actually knew him as a pianist and a clarinetist before I ever figured out he played the drums.
That band has turned out a whole bunch of wonderful alumnae. Ernesto has put out some incredible records as a drummer, arranger and composer. Jeff Halischuk and I have been playing together ever since. Melissa Lauren and I overlapped as vocalists, and Elliot Madore, who was the baritone in our vocal quartet is taking the opera world by storm in New York.
What have you learned from working with Darcy Hepner? I first met Darcy Hepner when he pulled up in front of our Toronto apartment to drop off charts for my then boyfriend, this cute piano player. He was starting a weekly big band gig in Hamilton, exploring the music of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra…I started riding the bus out to Hamilton after work to hear the band play almost every week. At some point the piano player put the bug in Darcy’s ear that I sang and he threw a couple of mp3’s my way – Joe Williams with the Band. It’s always a challenge as a female singer to navigate the ranges of some of these charts. You want to try, and you can’t ask a whole big band to transpose. It requires some creativity.
I don’t particularly remember how it went that night but they kept inviting me back and finding things for me to do – an Ella Fitzgerald/Oscar Peterson show during the Brott Festival, and what is becoming an annual gig fundraising for the Good Shepherd’s Society in Ancaster.
The band has so many musicians that I love and respect. I am so grateful that my now husband Adrean Farrugia introduced me to the community of musicians and supporters of music that exists out here in Hamilton. It’s extraordinary to me that they sustained a weekly residency, with a fixed wage for musicians, for an 18-piece big band for as long as they did. And the friendships and musical connections that I made inevitably ended up with my getting involved at Mohawk College and ultimately the decision to move to Hamilton a couple years ago.
JAZZ.FM91 YOUTH BIG BAND/JULES ESTRIN: Established in 2008, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band is a free educational program that provides the opportunity for selected middle and high school students to rehearse with an 18-piece big band and perform with international jazz luminaries. The 2016/17 personnel is Avery Raquel, vocals; Nick Forget, trombone; Aidan Sheedy, trombone; Sam Boughn, trombone; Daniel Strickland, trombone; Leo Silva, trumpet; Daniel Barta, saxophone; Marton Pandy, trumpet; Garrett Hildebrandt, saxophone; Lucas Udvarnoky, trumpet; Gabriella Ellingham, saxophone; Aakanx Panchal, alto saxophone; Evan Garner, trumpet; Martin Pandy, trumpet; J.C. Chung, saxophone; Felix Fox-Pappas, piano; David Cheon, guitar; Jaden Raso, bass, Jackson Haynes, drums.
On March 7 at Lula Lounge, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band will appear in a double bill with the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra. Teaching teenagers to play jazz in the 21st century is a noble endeavour. I spoke with Jules Estrin, director of the Jazz.FM91 Youth Big Band:
How does this gig compare and contrast with leading a big band of adults? During my career I have had the good fortune of leading big bands ranging from middle/high school, community bands and professional groups.
The difference between the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band and a professional group would be that professional musicians are normally great sight readers and section players. They already have maturity in their playing: phrasing, articulation and dynamics are instinctual and professional players can make the music happen the first or second time in performance.
In contrast to this the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band can sound quite polished with a couple of rehearsals. I still need to teach/discuss each of the above concepts as they relate to their repertoire. The expectation for the JAZZ.FM91 kids is that they come to rehearsal with their music learned so that we are working on polishing the music not learning it in rehearsal.
The JAZZ.FM91 kids are quick learners and often do not need to be taught a concept more than once. Which is very helpful…and they practise a lot!
Who are some of the musicians you have been most wowed by who we might hear from in years to come? We have plenty of alumni from the program who have gone on to some pretty incredible things! Matt Woroshyl (saxophone), Jonny Chapman (double bass), Marika Galea (double bass), Sam Dickinson (guitar), Andrew Marzotto (guitar), Sam Pomanti (piano), Anthony Fung (drums).
Brandon Tse (saxophone) and Kaelin Murphy (trumpet) are the most recent graduates that I would keep a look out for! Kaelin took the bus each week from Owen Sound to participate in the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band program. He attended nearly every rehearsal and endured eight hours of bus travel every weekend. He is a great player with great dedication.
What are some of the most memorable performances put on by the Youth Big Band over the years? The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band presently performs nearly 20 concerts per year! Which is a lot of performances and shows the dedication of the students. Each one of those concerts equals about ten rehearsals in terms of the band growing musically and maturing.
We have had the opportunity to perform with some pretty incredible musicians over the past ten years including: Randy Brecker, Lew Tabackin, Bucky Pizzarelli, Tom Scott and Joey DeFrancesco. We have also featured some of Canada’s greatest musicians: Guido Basso, PJ Perry, Al Kay, Shirantha Beddage, Kelly Jefferson and Brian O’Kane.
Perhaps the most notable for me was having the opportunity to open for Al Jarreau at the Brantford International Jazz Festival in 2010.”
“Like many other people who participate in the ensemble, this was my first experience playing in large ensembles and I was still developing my musical abilities. By the end of my time with the band, I was a completely different bass player - I could hold my own in both the big band and in other ensembles I was working in and I had confidence in my playing that I never had before. Jules’ continued support and refusal to accept anything but my best from me changed my playing for the better.”
Now an undergraduate student in the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Toronto, she is studying privately with Order-of-Canada- member Dave Young.
“Different ensembles provide me with unique experiences. In the UTJO, we work on such a range of material – from classic big band arrangements by Neal Hefti, to iconic Canadian writings by Rob McConnell and Ron Collier, to modern composition and arrangements by Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue. Working on this material with Gordon Foote, who has such a wealth of knowledge about the history of the music and the musicians is truly inspiring. Sonuskapos, on the other hand, is completely outside of an academic setting and performs primarily compositions and arrangements of Mason Victoria. In this setting, we are the first band to play these pieces and it is so satisfying to see how the music changes shape as we work with them.”
Of playing in larger ensembles, Harrett observes:
“There are so many wonderful things that happened after I started working in big band settings. My sense of intonation and articulation and other important aspects of musicality became heightened. I had to quickly develop a strong sense of confidence in my musical abilities. One of the biggest things that I did not expect to get from playing in big bands was such a strong sense of community from the members of the band.”
Bassist of the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, Irene Harrett will be performing at Lula Lounge on March 7. Dinner reservations guarantee seating: consult our Jazz Club listings.
Never too late: Finally, to close on a cool note one whole month ahead of April being Jazz Appreciation Month, it’s never too late to pick up some jazz chops! If you know an adult who has been playing jazz as a hobby and is looking to improve his/her skills, I invite you to send them to Anthony Rice’s Vegas North school, which features a variety of instrumental jazz workshops including adult jazz band, big band and salsa, with new courses starting in April: vegasnorth.ca.
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.
- Written by Andrew Timar
- Category: World Music
The 2015 Canadian census estimated that Iranian Canadians number over 200,000. They have settled in significant numbers in the greater Montreal and Vancouver regions but the largest group – some estimates put the number at around 65,000 – lives in the northern Toronto outliers of Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Markham and Thornhill.
Over the past few decades, increasing numbers of singers, musicians, composers, conductors and music teachers specializing in many genres have joined their ranks, greatly enriching the musical life of the GTA. They and musicians from many other lands, including those native to Canada, are truly “making Toronto into a real music city,” a politicized phrase I’m cheekily lifting from The WholeNote’s Publisher/Editor In Chief David Perlman’s insightful Op-Ed last issue.
I have highlighted numerous concerts with a Persian theme in my column over the years, however this March several presenters are combining forces to highlight Persian culture alive and well right here in the diaspora. Under the rubric of Nowruz, the Persian annual New Year’s celebration welcoming the advent of spring, a museum exhibition, epic shadow theatre, storytelling, educational workshops, culinary experiences, children’s programs, cinema, dance and music performances – even a Nowruz DJ party – will warm our burg residents’ late-winter blahs.
Mystic Persian Music and Poetry: March 4, the Aga Khan Museum in partnership with Rumi Canada presents “Mystic Persian Music and Poetry” with the Soley Ensemble at the museum’s auditorium. The concert animates the current museum exhibition “Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians,” highlighting “cultural rebellion and lyrical reflection” in the works of 23 artists who have chosen self-expression over silence.
The Soley Ensemble is led by the veteran singer-songwriter Soleyman Vaseghi. Born in Tehran in 1946 into a multi-generational Sufi-centric family, he was already popularly known as “Soley” throughout Iran by the age of 20, singing his own songs on National Iranian Radio and Television. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, however, Soley was prohibited from performing in public. He turned intensive research into Persian literature, poetry and music. This work eventually resulted in a series of new age-style albums aimed at international audiences, inspired by the lessons of Sufism.
Soley left Iran in 1986 and by the early 2000s had joined forces with the Lian Ensemble, a Los Angeles-based group of expat Iranian virtuoso musicians and composers. Their common goal was to fuse their classical Persian music heritage with contemporary jazz sensibilities, aiming for a “synthesis of mystical world music.”
Soley now makes Toronto his home and his Soley Ensemble is comprised primarily of several younger generation Toronto-area musicians of Iranian origin playing traditional Persian instruments. In Mystic Persian Music and Poetry, the Soley Ensemble performs devotional Sufi music honouring Nowruz. They are joined by “sacred whirling dancer” Farzad AttarJafari and Toronto-based spoken-word artist Sheniz Janmohamad reciting her English-language poetry.
Nowruzgan Festival: Tirgan, a “non-profit, non-religious and non-partisan cultural organization committed to promoting a cross-cultural dialogue between the Iranian-Canadians and the larger Canadian community,” is at the centre of Toronto’s Nowruz cultural festivities this year. Intending to honour both Nowruz as well as Canada’s sesquicentennial, Tirgan is producing the three-day Nowruzgan Festival.
The festival posits a twin purpose, one that looks culturally to the Persian homeland, but one which also embraces the community’s presence within Canada’s multiple socio-cultural and political geography. In addition, Tirgan’s Nowruzgan Festival mission statement emphasizes not only the entertainment value of its programming but also a didactic purpose.
“Daytime activities are geared toward youth and families and combine Persian art/craft technique with Canadian content.Using workshops and performances, children, teens and young adults have an opportunity to gain a clearer perception of their roles in society’s development as a cultural mosaic. Evening activities are designed for family and adult audiences.” It appears that the Nowruzgan Festival also aims to encourage younger Canadians of Iranian origin to better understand Canadian society.
Running over the March 10 to March 12 weekend, in partnership with Toronto Centre for the Arts, North York Arts and Aga Khan Museum, the Nowruzgan Festival events take place at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. It’s strategically located in the lower end of the heart of contemporary Toronto’s Iranian neighbourhood centred on Yonge Street. Of the nearly 60 scheduled events let’s take a closer look at a few with music as a key ingredient.
Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic: The festival kicks off Friday March 10 with the multidisciplinary shadow theatre production Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic which is repeated three more times during the weekend. Billed as a “cinematic shadow play for all ages,” the production is rooted in stories from the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), an epic literary milestone written by the great Persian poet Ferdowsi roughly between 977 and 1010 CE.
Conceived, designed and directed by New York-based Iranian filmmaker, playwright and graphic artist Hamid Rahmanian in collaboration with the American shadow-theatre trailblazer Larry Reed, Feathers of Fire features original music by composer/musician Loga Ramin Torkian and vocalist Azam Ali, an Iranian American husband-and-wife team. Torkian co-founded the groups Niyaz and Axiom of Choice, both incorporating Persian and Middle Eastern music and lyrics. Torkian performs on the Azerbaijani tar, the Turkish saz and, a recent invention, the guitarviol, a new bowed hybrid of guitar and viola da gamba. He has scored a number of films, a skill which comes in handy supporting this epic production which employs eight actors, 160 puppets, 15 masks and many costumes. Its 158 animated backgrounds are rear-projected onto a vast 15- by 30-foot screen.
Sahba Motallebi with Special Guest Maneli Jamal: Saturday, March 11, at 5pm, the Aga Khan Museum and Tigran co-present Sahba Motallebi with special guest Maneli Jamal at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Motallebi is that rare musician, a female soloist on the tar and setar. Recognized internationally for her virtuosity for four years running (1995-1998), she was named the Best Tar Player at the Iranian Music Festival while still enrolled at the Teheran Conservatory of Music. In 1997 she co-founded the groundbreaking women’s music ensemble Chakaveh and was subsequently invited to join the Iranian National Orchestra.
Motallebi currently lives in Southern California where she completed a degree in world music performance at CalArts. She performs worldwide and has released a series of albums, the latest of which is A Tear at the Crossroad of Time. She has also pioneered Internet tar instruction. Her online teaching has inspired a renewed interest in the transmission of this venerable art form.
Joining Motallebi on stage is the hot Iranian Canadian guitarist Maneli Jamal. He won first place in the 2014 Harbourfront Centre’s Soundclash Music Awards wowing audiences with his signature approachable style of playing acoustic guitar with connections to his Iranian roots. A Minor 7th review raved about his “mastery of phrasing, a sumptuous tone and an ability to wrest emotion from every note, even from the pauses between the notes.” I, for one, look forward to the plucked-string heat generated by Motallebi and Jamal. It will certainly put me in a proper celebratory Nowruz frame of mind.
Mar 4: The Church of St. Mary Magdalene provides an earthly setting for the meeting of two musical choral worlds – the church’s Schola Magdalena and their guest choir Darbazi, the latter singing the polyphonic music from the Republic of Georgia. Schola Magdalena supplies its trademark medieval-to-Renaissance liturgical repertoire of Gregorian chant, Hildegard, Dufay, Dunstable, as well as Appalachian folk song. Toronto’s first Georgian choir Darbazi, on the other hand, performs selections from its extensive sacred and profane Georgian repertoire. The listing also mentions the performance of the intriguing but as yet undesignated “new music.” Will the two choirs jointly sing a new Canadian work or two? My advice is to go and find out.
Mar 16 and 17: Rounding out the month York University Music Department’s World Music Festival runs over two days, March 16 and 17, at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Martin Family Lounge and Sterling Beckwith Studio, all in the Accolade East Building. The genres on offer are wide-ranging: Chinese Classical Orchestra, Cuban and Klezmer Ensembles, West African Ghanaian Drumming, Escola de Samba, West African Mande and Caribbean Music. The Korean Drum, the Celtic as well as the Balkan Music Ensembles, will also show what they have learned this year. I’m willing to bet you’ll be impressed.
Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Christopher Hoile
- Category: On Opera
This March offers a feast for opera lovers who fancy a taste of something other than the standard opera fare. There are several opera rarities and two world premieres on offer and they are so scheduled that an intrepid operagoer can see them all.
The month begins with the world premiere of Odditorium from Soundstreams running March 2 to 5, a theatrical presentation of excerpts from R. Murray Schafer’s 12-opera Patria cycle. Director Chris Abraham has taken four sections of the cycle to create a 75-minute theatre piece for two singers (Carla Huhtanen and Andrea Ludwig) and two dancers in which Ariadne, one of the cycle’s reappearing characters, goes deep into a labyrinth where she encounters sideshows, lovers, buskers and Tantric experts. Schafer’s music has been re-scored for harp, accordion and percussion. Since the company devoted to presenting Patria last produced part of the cycle in 2013, Odditorium will provide audiences with a rare chance to become acquainted with Schafer’s magnum opus.
Krása’s Brundibár: Overlapping with Odditorium, running from March 3 to 5, is the first-ever performance by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company of Brundibár by Czech composer Hans Krása (1899-1944). Brundibár is an important children’s opera since it was written by a Jewish composer in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and first premiered in a children’s orphanage in Prague in 1942. By the time of the performance, Krása had been transported to the concentration camp in Terezin (then known as Theresienstadt). By the next year almost all the chorus and staff had also been transported to Terezin. Terezin was set up as a model camp for propaganda purposes and the inmates were allowed to pursue the arts. From 1943 to 1944 Krása and his casts performed the opera 55 times. (According to new CCOC artistic director Dean Burry, the cast had to be constantly replaced as children were sent on to Auschwitz for extermination.)
One would not know the gruesome circumstances surrounding the opera from the work itself, though. It concerns a brother and a sister who try to earn money for milk for their ailing mother by singing in the town square. Brundibár, an evil organ-grinder with a moustache, chases them away, but with the help of three animals and the children of the town, the children chase him away.
I spoke with Burry, who was involved in the first production of the opera in Toronto in 1996. He said, “Since the opera is only about 35-minutes long, the CCOC received permission to use the film The Lady in Number 6 (2013) to frame the live performance. The film is about Alice Herz-Somers, who played the piano for Terezin performances and whose son was in the opera. We will also be using songs from the cantata For the Children (1996) by Canadian composer Robert Evans (1933-2005) that uses poetry written by the children of Terezin.” The CCOC’s production will mark the 75th anniversary of the work’s first performance in Prague. That the opera should have been performed in a concentration camp, Burry says is “a testament to the power of art.”
One question is how aware the young performers are of the historical context of the opera. As CCOC’s managing director Ken Hall wrote me, “As for the understanding of the kids, we have taken some pains to educate them on the circumstances of the opera. They have met John Freund, a Terezin survivor who attended the opera in the camp and had a lecture session with children’s novelist and holocaust educator Kathy Kacer. Some of children will be taking the production on tour this summer where they will actually visit the Terezin memorial.”
Concerning what it is like to work with children, director Joel Ivany wrote me, “What I enjoy about working with these younger performers is the expectation that they have for this experience. They know they are working with opera professionals and they’re trying their best to think about stagecraft, musicality, character and focus. Also, to see the sheer joy they get when you give them a prop to use is a great reminder of why we do this.”
The Masqued Man: The second world premiere of the month, running March 10 and 11, is Toronto Masque Theatre’s The Man Who Married Himself by composer Juliet Palmer to a libretto by Anna Chatterton with choreography by Hari Krishnan. The story derives from an Indian folktale about a man who, unwilling to marry a woman, creates a lover from his own left side. He is enchanted by her perfect beauty until he finds that this new woman longs for freedom and desires someone else.
Chatterton describes the background of her libretto: “While writing the libretto for The Man Who Married Himself, I was inspired by the work of contemporary Indian poet, scholar and translator A.K. Ramanujan. His renowned collection A Flowering Tree (1997) includes the original folktale which underpins our contemporary masque. Ramanujan’s work as a translator led me to the mid-17th-century Telugu poet Kshetrayya, whose erotic devotional songs [or padams] were written for, and in the voice of, the dancing courtesans who performed for both gods and kings. For me, these padams bring to life the sensual and intimate world of the original folktale The Man Who Married His Own Left Side.”
Palmer mentions that she began writing the opera while in India: “My earliest work on the piece was while I was in residence at the Kattaikkuttu Sangam in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. This is a training school for girls and boys in the traditional vernacular music theatre form of Kattaikkuttu. I worked collaboratively with students exploring the original folk tale through vocal and movement-based improvisation…Members of the creative team (Anna, Hari and myself) express ourselves through our own creative voices, grounded in our respective traditions. The dramatic combination of song and dance is common to many Indian forms of music drama, but unlike the role of movement in Western opera, dance is an equal partner in the work.”
The opera will feature countertenor Scott Belluz, jazz vocalist Alex Samaras, improvisational Carnatic singer Susha and dancers Jelani Ade-Lam and Sze-Yang Ade-Lam. The piece is directed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière. Larry Beckwith conducts a six-member period instrument ensemble. The percussionist’s set-up will include hurdy-gurdy, tom-tom, cymbal, rattle, woodblocks, triangle, cowbell and hand drum. Following TMT’s motto of presenting “performing arts in fusion,” The Man Who Married Himself will thus combine song, music and dance as well as East and West.
Two 18th-century rarities: Also noteworthy this month are two 18th-century rarities being presented by Toronto opera schools. On March 15 and 17 the Glenn Gould School presents La cecchina (1760) by Niccolò Piccinni (1728-1800). It is a perfectly delightful comic opera that anticipates Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (1786) by focusing not on the deeds of historical or mythological characters but on the lives of ordinary people of the composer’s own time. Cecchina is conducted by Les Dala and directed by Marilyn Gronsdal, a frequent assistant director with the COC.
At the same time, March 16 to 19, University of Toronto Opera presents the seldom-performed Handel opera Imeneo (1740), a piece for only five soloists. The production is directed by Tim Albery, who directed the COC’s fantastic Götterdämmerung. This opera is on a much more intimate scale. As Albery describes it: “At an estate by the sea five young people struggle with increasing desperation to unravel a tangled, intractable web of love, gratitude, loyalty and friendship.” This will be the Toronto premiere of Imeneo and, according to U of T Opera Administrator Catherine Tait, likely “the Canadian premiere of the original (1740) version in which the title role is sung by a bass.” The work will be conducted by renowned countertenor and early music specialist Daniel Taylor.
Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Written by Lydia Perović
- Category: Art of Song
The French Revolution is an inexhaustible source of fascinating characters, but I would bet my culottes that most of us would draw a blank before the name of Théroigne de Méricourt. This goes even for those of us who seek out female characters in history and for whom Olympe de Gouges, Charlotte Corday or Madame de Staël do ring a bell or two. Yet de Méricourt was a figure of immense notoriety in her own era, both veiled and amplified by myth, royalist propaganda and gossip by her contemporaries and the 19th-century historians alike.
She was a demimondaine who moved from job to job and region to region, and before 1789 mostly worked on trying to build a singing career. She moved to Paris when the Revolution called, attended the debates at the National Assembly, joined revolutionary clubs, argued for inclusion of women in them, and founded her own short-lived one before joining the Cordeliers. (During this time, her alter-ego concocted by the royalist pamphlets lived a life of insatiable promiscuity and fighting at the barricades. Plus ça change for women in public life.) Austrians arrested her as a “revolutionary spy” during a visit to her home region, then under Austrian occupation. She spent several months in a fortress and in between interrogations wrote her biography which would have to wait 100 years to be published.
Freed thanks to the intervention of the Austrian emperor, she returned to Paris to find the tenor of the Revolution radically changed. She sympathized with the Girondins, but the Jacobins were ascending, and during the Terror she was captured and publicly whipped by a group of sans-culottes women for her politics. This brought about a breakdown from which she never recovered. Soon after, de Méricourt was committed to an insane asylum and spent the remaining years of her life locked in cells, increasingly demented, occasionally under the watch of a conservative pioneer of clinical psychiatry Dr. Esquirol who, like a great number of historians since, argued that her life was proof that a revolutionary shakeup of the hierarchies can clearly only have one outcome: madness. (In 1989, Élisabeth Roudinesco made a better argument in her Théroigne de Méricourt biography: a woman who found her voice during the Revolution lost it – together with her reason and liberty – when the Revolution betrayed its own ideals.)
It’s the Théroigne (her name brings to mind the word témoigne, the French word for bearing witness) in Austrian captivity that we will hear as one of the three voices in Magnus Lindberg’s Accused: Three Interrogations for Soprano and Orchestra on March 22 and 23 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Finnish soprano Anu Komsi. The TSO co-commissioned the piece with Radio France, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and NYC’s Carnegie Hall. This will be its North American premiere. To quote the composer’s publisher Boosey & Hawkes, “ Accused explores three documented cases of the individual under attack from the state, from three countries and three different centuries.”The world premiere took place in London in 2015. For the occasion the soprano (Barbara Hannigan) was placed within the orchestra, vocal line at times intentionally submerged by the orchestral forces. The text in the middle part is from a 1960s Stasi interrogation in East Germany, while the final one is adapted from the trial of Chelsea Manning, the US army whistleblower sentenced by a military court to 35 years of imprisonment for leaking 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks, including the infamous 2007 US Apache gunsight video that shows the killing in a public square in East Baghdad of a handful of Iraqi civilians suspected of insurgency, a Reuters journalist holding a camera and his driver. In one of the last acts of his presidency, U.S. President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence (the 29-year-old is expected to head home to Maryland in May this year). There is a final twist to the story of Accused. The course of time has cast a shadow over WikiLeaks itself, which was potentially enlisted by subterranean actors with connections to the Russian government in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. But that’s material for another composer.
There are few reviews around and no recording of Accused just yet. The available accounts from concertgoers suggest that Lindberg did not compose the vocal line in concertante with the orchestra, but in an often losing struggle of contrast and friction against the orchestral power. In interviews Lindberg cites Luciano Berio’s 1965 Epifanie as a model. Epifanie is a better-documented work, with a recording on the Orfeo label available, and a couple of streaming captures on YouTube, all with Cathy Berberian in the vocal role, and a good page on IRCAM online archives, should the fancy strike. The text for the Epifanie was built up by none other than Umberto Eco from quotes from Proust, Joyce, Brecht, Antonio Machado, Edoardo Sanguinetti and Claude Simon.
How to introduce oneself to Lindberg, one of the busiest and most productive European composers around, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmoniker and the Concergebouw, past composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic and London Philharmonic? Here are his own words from the liner notes of a recent recording: “Though my creative personality and early works were formed from the music of Zimmermann and Xenakis, and a certain anarchy related to rock music of that period, I eventually realized that everything goes back to the foundations of Schoenberg and Stravinsky – how could music ever have taken another road? I see my music now as a synthesis of these elements, combined with what I learned from Grisey and the spectralists, and I detect from Kraft to my latest pieces the same underlying tastes and sense of drama.” Kraft is one of Lindberg’s earliest breakthroughs, a dramatic noise piece for electronics, a large orchestra and an ensemble of soloists which includes clarinet, two percussionists, piano, cello, a sound master and a conductor, each of whom is expected to leave their respective station and perform extended techniques on a set of makeshift instruments. There’s a solid online record of Kraft performances and history, including backstage and instructional videos, all of which is a hoot to explore. If you prefer an intimate listening of a piece for which you don’t have to do anything but let it wash over you, go for Lindberg’s Second Cello Concerto (commissioned by the LAPhil in 2013), which is a marvel.
Kurtag’s Fragments: A performance of Kafka Fragments is never to be missed if opportunity presents itself. Last heard in Toronto in 2014, the György Kurtág work for soprano and violin is an intense, technically demanding set of short pieces with bits of text taken from Kafka’s diaries and letters. Two of the world’s best known interpreters of the work, soprano Tony Arnold (of International Contemporary Ensemble) and violinist Movses Pogassian, will perform it in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo on March 26 and 27, respectively. Both musicians rehearsed the Fragments with Kurtág himself in 2008 and preserved a video document of the collaboration on their Kafka Fragments DVD+CD from 2009. The two have performed the work in over 30 venues since. The Toronto concert is a fundraiser for New Music Concerts at Gallery 345 and it’ll include a screening of the Kurtág collaboration, gourmet comestibles and socializing with other new music lovers. The ticket for the whole event is $100 ($150 for two), with charitable receipts issued for the CRA allowable portion. For a regularly priced performance ($35) at an even cosier venue, head to Kitchener-Waterloo where the K-W Chamber Music Society will be hosting the same concert the day after. KWCMS is a chamber music series privately run by Jan and Jean Narveson and hosted in the Music Room, a concert hall in his own house, professionally equipped for recitals and seating 85. Kafka Fragments in such a setting will be quite an experience.
Royal Canadian College of Organists is throwing a movable Bach concert with walking, organ showcasing and quite a lot of singing: soprano Jennifer Krabbe, tenor Matthew Dalen and baritone Daniel Thielmann are all listed as soloists. (Wo)manning the organ in each of the churches will be Michelle Cheung, with Mel Hurst accompanying. The program has not been made available as of print time, but the three church locations have – the organ and the acoustics will be put to test in Kingsway Baptist, All Saints Kingsway Anglican and Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic. Rain or shine (or March sleet), March 18, 1pm to 3pm. starting at Kingsway Baptist. Free, though donations are welcome.
Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by David Podgorski
- Category: Early Period
Not being an art critic, and indeed like most musicians completely unable to draw anything beyond crude stick figures, I find the iconography of Renaissance paintings difficult to interpret. I am however, willing to bet that the images in a typical painting by Hieronymous Bosch are bizarre enough to give most art critics a conniption fit trying to figure out what they are supposed to mean.
Some scholars argue that the Flemish painter’s fanciful and often downright weird imagery should be read allegorically, as it was intended to lampoon both contemporary mores as well as a hypocritical clergy, while others argue it was proof that Bosch was on a drug trip, specifically ergotism (google “St. Anthony’s Fire”). I’m unwilling to come down on either side of the debate, but I would like to volunteer the possibility that a certain amount of Bosch’s work was a nascent form of art for art’s sake. I mean, given the opportunity, who wouldn’t want to paint a man shitting out a flock of blackbirds while being eaten by bluebird-headed monsters?
What’s interesting for musicians about Bosch is how much music is in his work, and that he clearly finds a great deal of it immoral. Like it isn’t even subtle. In The Ship of Fools, a monk and nun sing along with the boat’s drunken passengers (one of whom is seen retching over the side, having overimbibed) while accompanied by a lute. In The Haywain, a cart of hay is being pulled by a creepy looking crowd of animal-headed demons toward hell and everlasting damnation. The haywain’s main passengers, a man and woman, are oblivious to this despite the apparent entreaties of both a guardian angel and the appearance of Christ a few feet above their heads – they’re too busy studying a piece of printed music in front of them while a white-robed lutenist plays for them, accompanied by a faceless blue demon on an eldritch clarinet.
While I doubt the examples above mean Bosch was completely against music in all its forms, they do show he was not only concerned about music’s ability to corrupt otherwise good people, but was someone who believed that music had a very real power to influence the character of its practitioners and listeners, and that music-making was just as much an ethical experience as it was an aesthetic one. It’s perhaps in this spirit that the Toronto Consort is presenting the Cappella Pratensis as part of its special guest series. The Canadian-led ensemble – their artistic director is Stratton Bull, a native of Cobourg, Ontario, with degrees from U of T and the Royal Conservatories of Toronto and The Hague – is a Belgian-based group that has made Franco-Flemish music its specialty, and their concert, on March 3 and 4 at 8 pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre is devoted entirely to composers based in Belgium whose music would have been performed in Bosch’s lifetime.
Although few music lovers in Canada go out of their way to praise Belgian composers, the country was the source of the leading composers of polyphony from the early Renaissance, so Pratensis has a wealth of music to choose from. This concert will likely feature the Missa Cum Jocunditate by Pierre de la Rue from the group’s latest album, released last year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the painter’s death. If you’re interested in Renaissance music, this is a very interesting concept for a concert program and Cappella Pratensis is a group that has mastered the art of polyphony.
Catch this concert if you can.
Nicola Benedetti: Cappella Pratensis isn’t the only international early music group to show up in town this month. Already with eight recordings under her belt, superstar 29-year-old Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti is a seasoned performer of violin pyrotechnics. She’s already recorded the Bruch and Korngold violin concertos, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op.35, which in the modern classical world makes her a wunderkind. “But can she play early music?” is probably the main question critics and concertgoers will ask, and I’m excited to hear what the answer to that question will be. Benedetti will answer it when she appears with the Venice Baroque Orchestra, itself a very fine performing ensemble, under the direction of the Italian harpsichordist Andrea Marcon.
They’ll be playing a massive program of Italian works meant, one assumes, to highlight Benedetti’s formidable talents. But even a talented young superstar and orchestra will have to work hard to hold the audience’s attention for the entire Four Seasons by Vivaldi (itself of full CD length); Avison and Geminiani concerti grossi, a Galuppi concerto, and another Vivaldi concerto are tacked on to the program, for good measure. This kind of show can easily clock in at two and a half hours, and if done well can be an absolutely sublime experience – anything less and the audience will feel like they’ve been beaten into submission. Benedetti’s clearly intended to be the main event in this concert, and this will be a great opportunity to get a look at a brilliant young soloist who can cross over between modern and early repertoire with ease. She has been a regular visitor to Toronto concert halls and will hopefully return in a similar capacity. You can catch this concert as part of the Royal Conservatory’s string series on March 3 at 8 pm at Koerner Hall.
Cor Unum: It’s always good to see new groups on the music scene, and there’s a new group in particular in Toronto that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time now. The Cor Unum Ensemble formed late last year and despite being under a year old is already putting together some ambitious concerts of difficult repertoire. This month, they’ll be playing the St. John Passion by Bach along with the violinist Adrian Butterfield, who will be filling in as guest director of the ensemble. Butterfield is not so well known outside of the United Kingdom, where he is one of the co-founders of the London Handel Players, but he has a dozen recordings to his name that mainly feature late-Baroque and early classical works. He also has the unique honour of being the resident Naxos recording artist for the label’s collection of the complete sonatas of Jean-Marie Leclair, so branching out from Handel and the mid-18th century to Bach seems like a logical shift in repertoire for this chamber player. For its part, Cor Unum is mainly a group of younger players who are both new to early music and the Toronto music scene, and it will be interesting to see what the group will be able to accomplish when under the direction of a veteran player like Butterfield. Youthful vigour applied to standard repertoire like the St. John Passion can make for exciting results, especially combined with the guidance of a leader who is experienced in early music performance practice. Catch this concert at Trinity College Chapel on March 12 at 7:30pm.
Stylus fantasticus: Finally, if your interests lean more towards chamber music than vocal or orchestral extravaganzas, consider checking out a program dedicated to a musical movement from the early Baroque known as the stylus fantasticus. It isn’t particularly well-known today, meriting a mere stub of an article in most musical encyclopedias, but without the stylus fantasticus, Western instrumental music as we know it would likely not exist. It was first mentioned by the Jesuit and polymath Athanasius Kircher, who, writing in 1650, described the stylus fantasticus as “the most free and unrestrained method of composing, bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject; [it] was instituted to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony and the ingenious composition of harmonic phrases and fugues.” Certainly before the Baroque era, the chance to compose music freely wasn’t really a possibility for composers. Musical form was largely limited to either the repeating rhythms of dance forms or based on a set melody like a Gregorian chant. Not only was the stylus fantasticus the first chance for composers to test their creativity, but it brought new prominence to the potential of instrumental, rather than vocal, music.
Four hundred years later, it’s easy to see what got Kircher so excited: no instrumental music means no symphonies, and no freedom of form means no sonatas or other compositions that can develop over a couple hundred bars. For the first time, composers, or competent improvisers, could let their imaginations roam freely, limited only by their knowledge of harmony or their technique. Rezonance (full disclosure, I am a founding member of the group) will be performing Italian and Austrian works in this style from the early 17th century as part of the Hammer Baroque series at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hamilton (320 Charlton Avenue West) on March 18 at 4pm, and at Gallery 345 on March 19 at 3pm. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box chamber music concert this month, this is a concert that invites you to enjoy composers who broke free from tradition and cliché and gave listeners a chance to hear musical creativity at its most expressive. You’ll definitely enjoy what they dreamt up.
David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and music teacher. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
Mozart’s Requiem has captured the imagination of singers for centuries and continues to be a staple of choral repertoire the world around. It is wrought with emotion and feeling. Instrumentalists appreciate the compositional techniques and the understandable, intuitive flow of the music. Singers love the shape, grandness and dynamism of the music. Listeners love how it all fits together. But the Requiem is unfinished, which makes it the greatest piece of unfinished music ever written.
There is so much to like with the Requiem, from the powerful choral exclamation of “Rex Tremendae” and the gentle fragility of “Lacrimosa,” to the energetic fugue that finishes the written portion with “Cum Sanctis.” Many a chorister has fallen in love with this piece while hearing it or singing it for the first time. Many choristers are choristers because they heard and fell in love with this piece at some point in their life. Such is Mozart’s enduring legacy and ability. There is an extraordinary number of Requiem performances in the month ahead. It is also quite remarkable that none of these performances conflict; you could, in theory, see every single performance.
March 4, 7:30pm, the MCS Chorus presents Mozart’s Requiem. The program will also include Salieri’s Te Deum and short dramatic excerpts from the play Amadeus by Peter Schaffer at First United Church, Mississauga.
March 11, 8pm, Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra along with the Hamilton Bach Elgar Choir, Saint Joseph’s Church Parish Choir and the Grand River Chorus presents a requiem double bill with Fauré’s Requiem and Mozart’s Requiem, both in D Minor at P.C. Ho Theatre, Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, Scarborough.
March 25, 8pm, Voices Chamber Choir presents “Tallis and Mozart.” Ron Cheung conducts Mozart’s Requiem and Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah. Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Toronto.
March 26, 2pm, David Bowser, artistic director of the Mozart Project, and newly appointed conductor of Pax Christi Chorale, presents “Requiem and Farewell to a Soul Ascending.” Featuring a world premiere of Bowser’s own work, Farewell to a Soul Ascending, it will also include Mozart’s Requiem performed by the Toronto Mozart Players and the Hart House Chorus at the Church of the Redeemer.
April 1, 7:30pm, the Etobicoke Centennial Choir takes on the Mozart Requiem under conductor Henry Renglich. Other smaller works will be performed from Brahms, Rutter, Poulenc, Duruflé and Schubert at Humber Valley United Church, Etobicoke.
April 2, 2pm, the Hart House Chorus presents Mozart’s Requiem. This wonderfully unique, storied choir continues to be a high-quality ensemble made up of students, faculty, staff and community at the University of Toronto. David Bowser conducts at Hart House, Great Hall, University of Toronto.
April 2, 4pm, the Eglinton St George’s United Church Choir presents “Magnificent Mozart,” featuring a host of smaller works including Handel’s Zadok the Priest, Whitacre’s Alleluia and Mozart’s Requiem under conductor Shawn Grenke.
Get thee Hence, Elijah! Another great choral staple is Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah. As some readers will recall, in November last year, three of the largest choral groups in Ontario performed it on the same weekend, Pax Christi Chorale, Chorus Niagara and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This work is larger and more grand than Mozart’s Requiem; as such, it is hard to marshal the necessary forces to perform it effectively.
When sufficient power, technique, rehearsal and judicious artistic interpretation combine, there is nothing quite like a full performance of Elijah. It is discomforting with its praise and worship of Baal, it is exalting with its “Thanks Be to God,” it is comforting with its hymns “He Watching over Israel,” the ethereal “Lift Thine Eyes,” and the heartbreaking “Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord.” Elijah has, in my opinion, the most beautiful musical setting of the Beatitudes ever composed with “Blessed Are the Men Who Fear Him.” Elijah also has one of the most significant bass solos of any grand oratorio, “It Is Enough; O Lord, Take My Life.” It is the song of a broken man, lost in the wilderness, in need of guidance and love set to an evocative string accompaniment featuring a solo cello. Mendelssohn accomplished a unique success with Elijah. Once more popular than Handel’s Messiah, it is easy to see why the piece is so loved.
March 5, 2:30pm, the Georgetown Bach Chorale will be presenting “Choruses from the Great Masses and Oratorios.” The performance will include Haydn’s “The Heavens Are Telling” from the Creation, “Qui Tolis” from Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, “He Watching over Israel” and “Thanks Be to God” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, as well as selections from Brahms’ A German Requiem. Though not an entire presentation of Elijah, it will be a treat to hear this work presented along with other great songs from signature oratorios and masses across the choral canon.
March 25, 7:30pm, the Stratford Concert Choir presents Mendelssohn’s Elijah. With a host of soloists and a full orchestra, the ensemble will be led by Ian Sadler at St. James Anglican Church, Stratford.
If Mozart’s Requiem or Mendelssohn’s Elijah isn’t enough to satisfy your thirst for the great symphonic choir, there are a host of other grand options ahead. I’ve further highlighted a selection of other interesting choral performances throughout the region.
Mar 3 and 4: The Toronto Consort has been providing some exceptionally captivating music of late. For “Triptych: The Musical World of Hieronymus Bosch,” they are welcoming Dutch early music group Cappella Pratensis to Toronto. Conducted by Canadian Stratton Bull, the eight-member, all-male ensemble specializes in the music of Josquin des Prez amongst other composers of Renaissance polyphony. For this particular concert, they are presenting Triptych: The Musical World of Hieronymus Bosch.Typical for the ensemble, they will perform around one large book using original notation as well as the Brabant pronunciation of Latin; at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.
Mar 19: York University’s Concert, Chamber and Men’s Choirs present Carmina Burana. This big, bombastic, iconic choral work of Carl Orff is well-loved for its eccentricity, technical breadth, and satisfying aural experience. Lisette Canton conducts at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, Toronto.
Apr 1:The York University Gospel Choir performs with Karen Burke at the helm at the same venue.
Mar 19: Music At St. Thomas’ presents the “Choir of Men and Boys from Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa.” Matthew Larkin is the conductor of this all-male choir that was founded in 1891 and remains the only remaining all-male choir in service of an Anglican Cathedral in Canada. Here they perform a run-out show at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church, Belleville.
Mar 25: The Elmer Iseler Singers help celebrate renowned soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian’s new CD. “The Journey to Canada from Armenia” will feature Armenian sacred music of the 13th to 20th centuries with Lydia Adams at the helm; St. Anne’s Anglican Church.
Apr 1: The Guelph Chamber Choir presents Bach’s St. John Passion. This is another great staple of grand symphonic choral works, but like any Bach, notoriously difficult to prepare and execute. The Guelph Chamber Choir under Gerald Neufield will present this concert with tenor James McLean in the lead as the Evangelist; at River Run Centre, Guelph.
Apr 1 and Apr 2: Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra present Brahms’ German Requiem. Another great choral symphonic work, Brahms’ Requiem is a musical setting of several passages from the Bible selected by Brahms. It is not a Latin requiem mass like Mozart’s or Verdi’s setting, but rather, a requiem in the German language; at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Oakville.
Apr 4: Take advantage of this opportunity to see the University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s “Annual High School Choral Festival.” Local high schools like Unionville H.S. and Lawrence Park C.I., among others, will be joining director of choral activities, Hilary Apfelstadt and other faculty for a one-day intensive. Featuring individual performances and workshopping, the various choirs will also workshop a combined piece which they will perform together at the end of the day with Faculty of Music ensembles including the Men’s Chorus, the Women’s Chamber Choir and members of Young Voices Toronto. The workshops are free to attend and run from 9am until 12pm and then 1pm to 3pm at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.
Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Written by Jack MacQuarrie
- Category: Bandstand
In last month’s column I focused on concert planning and suggested repertoire for bands to consider to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial year. What a pleasant surprise to learn of the plans of a few groups which intend to incorporate some of those suggestions into their programs. One of my top preferences in last month’s column was Calixa Lavallée’s La Rose Nuptial (Bridal Rose). So, very encouraging for me was news from the Wychwood Clarinet Choir that they hope to have an arrangement of that work as part of the Canadian celebration in their May concert. Choir members, and skilled arrangers, Roy Greaves and Richard Moore are working on that. This year’s winter concert “Midwinter Sweets” will not be at their usual location, but at Knox United Church in Scarborough, on Sunday, March 5 at 7:30. The program will also feature Concert Piece No. 2 for Two Clarinets by Felix Mendelssohn arranged by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves, Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg arranged by Greaves, “Tonight” from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein arranged by Steve Macdonald and No More Blues by Antonio Carlos Jobim, arranged by Macdonald. As usual, artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot will be at the helm.
Concert Band Composition for Canada 150: I’ve also just heard about another very encouraging project to celebrate this special year. It is by local Toronto musicians Tom Fleming and Vern Kennedy. About six months ago Fleming approached Kennedy, a longtime Toronto musician and composer of over 60 band and vocal creations, to compose a concert-band work to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. In Fleming’s words, “I had written a brief note meant to stir Vern’s creative juices and inspire and challenge him to write something patriotic and inspirational that spoke to Canada’s vast geography and diversity. Vern responded by completing a composition for band that does exactly that. It’s a six-movement suite that takes the listener on a musical journey across Canada, ending with a stirring tribute to the whole nation that includes optional vocals in both official languages.”
Kennedy’s musical experience includes appearances on many CBC television music shows and he was the composer of Run Terry Run for the Canadian Cancer Society and In Love with an Island the official song for PEI’s centennial.
Now that the work is ready for publication, Fleming has persuaded a local band to rehearse in private and record it for demo purposes. In addition, he has engaged a copywriter, an art director and an online direct marketing expert to develop a program to market these pieces to community concert bands and post-elementary school bands across the country, at his own expense. When the recording is complete the intention is to post excerpts of the music online and invite decision makers from bands and music schools across the country to listen to the music and hear for themselves that it is enjoyable listening and eminently playable by most bands.
All conched out! Another sesquicentennial event is the “Canada Celebrates 150” concert by the Navy Band of HMCS York at J. Clarke Richardson C.V.I. in Ajax on March 4. This will feature the York full concert band with a combined Richardson Collegiate and HMCS York jazz set sandwiched in the middle. The program will also have students from the school’s Vimy Ridge trip giving a presentation during the concert about their trip to the Vimy Ridge 100th anniversary commemoration ceremonies. This concert is not only a celebration of Canada 150, but is also a veterans appreciation concert. Admission is free for all veterans.
A special treat will be the opening played by the band’s conch group, the only small ensemble from the band in this concert. YES! You read that right. They will be playing on conch shells. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing them in a concert at the Naval Club of Toronto where several small ensembles from the band entertained club members and any members of the community who wished to attend. This small group had its beginning last year when they played a fanfare for the visit of an admiral. The group consists of five different-sized conch shells which produce different pitches when the players move their hands in and out of the open end. Moving the hand in lowers the pitch and moving it out raises the pitch. To make these shells playable the tip has to be cut off and then they are basically played by buzzing into them like a trumpet. This special ensemble of five band members now has a name. They call themselves the Band Shells.
The Band Shells are the brainchild of Leading Seaman James Chilton, who is known in civilian life as James Chilton PhD. He is the man who, last year, was featured at the Naval Club event playing the didgeridoo. At this year’s event it was a duet with didgeridoo and tuba. He also performed on an instrument of his own design. It is a sort of “sliding didgeridoo” which is really played more like a trombone. He calls this one a “didjeribone.” Another selection which he played was done with a collection of variously pitched jaw harps and a looping pedal so that he could play them all at once.
Then there was the trombone quartet which performed a number of traditional sea songs. In some quarters you might find people who look upon military reserve bands as amateurs. Not so here. In that group, all four trombonists have degrees in music including one doctorate and two master’s degrees. The fourth member is working on a master’s degree. As for a name, members of this trombone quartet haven’t yet decided. Some like to be called the Tromboats and others prefer the Seabones.
Plumbing Factory and Northdale: While on the subject of anniversaries and similar celebrations we have just learned, from the indefatigable “Dr. Hank,” Henry Meredith, that the Plumbing Factory Brass Band is planning an evening of “19th Century Brass Band Music” in April. Similarly, The Northdale Concert Band is planning well in advance for a Gala Concert and Banquet to celebrate their 50th anniversary during Canada’s special year. This won’t be until November 4, so we have lots of time to provide full details. As a teaser though, it is safe to say that the concert will feature Vanessa Fralick of the TSO performing two solo pieces on trombone. The band has also commissioned a special work by Gary Kulesha, in honour of their 50th year, to be performed in the same concert.
New Horizons: In last month’s column I mentioned that the North York New Horizons Band was being re-established, at Long & McQuade on Steeles Ave. just east of Keele St. We have now learned that the band is up and running under the direction of experienced music teacher Susan Baskin. Their branch of New Horizons is called: New Horizons Music North York, and they rehearse on Monday nights from 6:45 to 8:45 in the Long & McQuade, North York, Lesson Centre, at 2777 Steeles Ave. W. As is the case with all New Horizons bands NHM NY Concert Band welcomes all adult woodwind, brass and percussion players from beginners to advanced. They are especially interested in bass clarinets, saxophones, trombones, baritones/euphoniums and tubas. Remember the New Horizons slogan: “It’s never too late!” Their email is: email@example.com.
Kiwanis Music Festival Toronto: It has been many years since I had any direct connection to the kind of music festival that was a part of my life while playing in boys’ bands many long years ago. It was time to see what they are like today. Where better to start than with the community bands? Unfortunately, the Columbus Concert Band and the Newmarket Citizens Band were the only two entries this year; still, that was better than last year when there were no community band entries. On the other hand, there were 150 school bands entered in that class. The Wind Symphony of Cardinal Carter Academy took top honours with a Platinum award of 96 percent. I dropped in on the performance of the Newmarket Citizens Band and had an opportunity to chat with the festival artistic director Giles Bryant and adjudicators Dennis Beck and Michel Fortin. After the band’s performance the adjudicators provided many constructive comments and each conducted sections of the music to suggest possible options for improvement. It was a very worthwhile evening, even for a spectator.
And speaking of concert bands, the Markham Concert Band will present their Symphonic Pops Favourites Sunday, March 5, at 2pm at the Flato Markham Theatre with a potpourri of familiar tunes. A special treat: the band will be joined by pianist Ellen Meyer in a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 with the full band accompanying.
Gilbert and Sullivan again: This has nothing to do with bands or band music, but once in a while I choose to digress a bit. For me, attending the annual Gilbert and Sullivan production by Saint Anne’s Music and Drama Society has been a longtime tradition. G&S has been in my blood since I was born. My parents met in a G&S production where my mother was “poor Little Buttercup.” For many years I played in the pit orchestra at Saint Anne’s. When I started, Roy Schatz was one of the leading figures in the production. His daughter Laura Schatz was a little toddler who had chances to walk across the stage. Some years later, as Laura grew up, she had singing parts. Fast forward to this year’s production of The Grand Duke. Roy was the Prince of Monte Carlo and Laura was the artistic director and the Baroness Von Krakenfeldt. To complete the cast Laura Schatz’s two teenaged children also sang in the production. What a family tradition with three generations on stage!
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Bob Ben
- Category: Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz
I really hate the term “world music,” as it’s used today. It seems to me that it oversimplifies things. It lumps music that isn’t familiar to North American ears all in together and calls it foreign and exotic (as though North American is not part of the world). It implies that some musics are worthy of being divided up by genre and closely examined, and some musics aren’t.
With that said, I think jazz, at its best, can rightly be called world music. Jazz has been called a uniquely American art form, but I like to think of it as a music that only gestated in America, but was conceived elsewhere. Loath as I am to oversimplify things, European harmony and African rhythm and melody came together to make this music possible.
As more and more distinct cultures with distinct musical traditions adopted and blended – and continue to adopt and blend – with jazz, it became closer to what I would call an international, or worldly, music than a uniquely American one.
I love listening to jazz musicians who have lived in another country or two. Moving place to place (Place to Place being the title of a Robi Botos album; Botos is a good example of this.), I think, especially if you’ve grown attached to those places and been uprooted, gives one a unique perspective on music. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to see the Israeli-born and Parisian-raised guitarist Samuel Bonnet doing his first mini tour of Southern Ontario this month, playing dates in Toronto, Guelph, Hamilton and more.
Bonnet’s music is hard to nail down, because the influences are not only wide-ranging, they are compartmentalized to some degree. He is a formidable classical guitarist; he plays jazz and funk; much of his compositional output reflects a love of traditional Jewish musics; some of his solo works sound like explorative improvisations, others sound like pristine and carefully crafted compositions. These different sides of him can be exposed on various recordings; I recommend Aotefeis, New York Shuffle, and Two Preludes to get an introductory sense of who Bonnet is as a musician and perhaps where it all comes from.
The common thread amongst all of this is a virtuosic skill which enables completely authentic communication; when you listen to Bonnet, there’s no mistaking who you are listening to, or what he’s saying to you.
There’s one more gig I’d like to mention for now: singers in town – amateur and professionals alike – may be interested in knowing that Renée Yoxon, the crossover jazz-folk-pop etc. singer from Montreal, will be performing and running a vocal workshop at 120 Diner on the afternoon and evening of March 12. The young Yoxon’s voice is clear and precise, the manner of delivery, frank and direct, honest. You may feel as though they are speaking directly to you. Adept at interpreting standards, covering and writing pop songs, scat singing, blending in with horns as though their voice were one, and so on – it seems that taking the opportunity to participate in this workshop would be a wise choice.
I hope to see you folks in at least one of the clubs, without your winter coats. Happy March! Happy vernal equinox! Be well!
Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
Avi Avital: Israeli-born mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital (b. 1978) – who will appear at Koerner Hall with the zestful Dover Quartet on February 11 – once described his relationship with his instrument as “a bit like a rider and his horse.”
“I know my mandolin very well,” he told 15questions.net. “My hands remember blindly every curve and every fret of it. I have a deep understanding of how it works, but when I’m on stage it becomes part of me – I almost forget I’m holding it.”
A relative of the lute, the mandolin has grown in popularity over the last 300 years. “Familiar and foreign, folkish and classical, the mandolin is both a musical chameleon and a seasoned traveller,” Avital wrote in his introduction to his eclectic Deutsche Grammophon CD Between Worlds (2014).
Avital told Fifteen Questions about a transformative meeting he had in his mid-20s with the famed klezmer clarinetist Giora Feldman. After Avital played him a piece by Bloch, Feldman asked him to improvise. When Avital said he didn’t know how, Feldman insisted. “So I closed my eyes and for the first time in my life I started to play something that wasn’t written in notes. Giora took his clarinet and joined me, and we continued to improvise together for a little while that afternoon. That encounter opened the window to a new world and led me to play different genres of music.”
Avital spoke with medici.tv last year about his admiration for Menuhin, Heifetz and Rubinstein, about how he takes different things from different artists. And about how he was “really into rock ‘n’ roll” when he was 14. “I was the real grunger from Seattle; I remember making a lot of noise on the drums.”
He still carries something of the rock band experience when he plays in a classical music hall.
Describing his arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita No.2 for solo violin, he talked about how the freshness for an audience of discovering a monumental piece of music played on a different instrument is like hearing it for the first time. And that you hear contemporary music differently after listening to Bach in a recital. “It’s like the ginger with the sushi or the lemon sorbet between the dishes in a very fancy restaurant.”
So on February 11, after he plays the Chaconne, he and the Dovers will perform the Canadian premiere of David Bruce’s Cymbeline, for string quartet and mandolin, a piece written for him in 2013 and dedicated to Avital and his wife “in honour of their recent marriage.” The title is an old Celtic word meaning Lord of the Sun. “I think the idea of the piece being about the sun emerged out of the colours of the string quartet and the mandolin together,” Bruce wrote on his website. “The mandolin itself has always seemed to me to create a ‘golden’ sound, and when combined with the warmth of the strings it seems now obvious that I should be drawn towards something warm and golden.”
The concert opens with Tsintsadze’s Six Miniatures for String Quartet and Mandolin; Tsintsadze, who died in 1991, invariably wove his Georgian homeland’s folk music into his works. Then the Dovers give Avital a break when they take on Smetana’s penetrating autobiographical tone picture, his String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor “From My Life.” I’ve been eagerly awaiting their return to town ever since their memorable Toronto Summer Music performance of Beethoven quartets last summer. The Dovers’ playing was empathetic, subtle, impeccably phrased, marked by forward motion, drive and energy, musically mature, vibrant and uncannily unified in purpose and execution. Their collaboration with the larger-than-life Avital promises much joyous music making.
In Mo Yang was 19 when he became the youngest winner of the Paganini International Violin Competition in 2015. Now 21, he makes his Canadian recital debut March 5 (with pianist Renana Gutman) presented by Mooredale Concerts. Born in Indonesia, Yang moved to Korea at two and began playing violin at five. He currently studies with Miriam Fried on a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. Yang told me in an email exchange that he first met Fried in Korea when he was about 14 and played the Mendelssohn concerto for her. “I was struck by how drastically my sound improved with her methods of sound production.” In 2012, when it was time to find his next teacher, he wanted to have another lesson with her. “She was about to come to Korea to attend a festival in Seoul. I went to her hotel room and played the Tchaikovsky concerto. I was again struck and determined that she had to be my teacher.”
It’s striking as well that Yang’s Paganini success came 47 years after Fried herself won the same competition. I asked if she had passed on any insights to him. “She told me her story of winning the competition and encouraged me [saying] that I had a good chance of winning. During the competition, I was dissatisfied with one of the rehearsals and frustrated. I called her and she told me how to deal with the situation, which relieved me. It was also very insightful of her to recommend that I eat pesto.”
Yang’s Toronto program begins with Bach’s unaccompanied Violin Sonata No.1 in G Minor BWV 1001. Bach has only recently been included in his recital programs. “Bach’s music is endlessly imaginative and has such communicative power,” he said. “I would like to share this with the audience, not just with jurors [because these pieces are always required repertoire at auditions and competitions].”
He loves the rhapsodic aspect of Ysaÿe’s music and thinks the Sonata No.3 in D Minor for Solo Violin Op.27 No.3 “Ballade” highlights that rhapsodic aspect more than any of the other sonatas. “Despite its obscurity, the beauty of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor is evident throughout,” he told me. “I want to show that this is not a piece by a madman but a person who has extraordinary imagination and introspection.” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.7 in C Minor Op.30 No.2 is new for him; he started learning it only a month ago. ”I am especially working on the overall architecture of the sonata, because it is understanding the structure and living through the whole piece with a sense of inevitability that heighten the incredible drama of the piece,” he said.
His answer to my question about what musicians may have influenced him surprised me: “I am more influenced by non-musicians,” he said. “Plato’s Theory of Forms greatly inspired me; the idea that the most accurate reality exists in a non-physical world, and what we sense is a mere reflection of Idea, made me rethink the relation between composer, composition and performer. The audience is often an influential figure in my musical career; I got to play in a senior centre once and the smile of five patients who listened to me taught me an important lesson about the societal role of a musician.”
That’s quite a revealing comment, especially from a musician launching an international career. He’s clearly a talent to watch. When he made his Carnegie Hall recital debut in April 2016 he wanted to play on a great instrument. With the help of Reuning & Sons Violins, he met the owner of a Stradivarius violin and was very fortunate to be given a loan of it. As Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times of that Carnegie concert, “Mr. Yang proved himself most deserving of this fine instrument in an impressive program.”
Music Toronto. Music Toronto’s 45th season continues at the Jane Mallett Theatre with a pair of “discovery” concerts (pianist Ilya Poletaev on February 7 and the Eybler Quartet on February 16) before welcoming back the Prazak Quartet on March 2.
Poletaev began studying piano in Moscow at six, continuing his lessons in Israel before emigrating to Canada at 14. A year after winning the 17th JS Bach competition in Leipzig, he joined the Schulich School faculty at McGill. His February 7 recital at the Jane Mallett Theatre includes Bach’s richly textured French Overture BWV831, Enescu’s hymn to his native Romania, the Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.24 No.1 and Schumann’s episodic Humoreske Op.20.
The Eybler Quartet consists of cellist Margaret Gay and three members of Tafelmusik (violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, and violist Patrick G. Jordan), two of whom (Wedman and Aisslinn) are also members of I FURIOSI. Devoted to the repertoire of the early years of the string quartet, their namesake is the little-known composer Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler, a contemporary of Mozart who outlived Schubert. True to form, their February 16 program includes works by the lesser-known Viennese-based Johann Baptist Vanal and Franz Asplmayr as well as Haydn’s Op.33 No.1 (the first of his quartets “composed in a new, special way”) and Beethoven’s gentle Op.18 No.3.
In 2015, Jana Vonášková, a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London and a member of the Smetana Trio for nine years, joined the Prazak Quartet as first violinist, succeeding Pavel Hula who founded the quartet in 1972. Second violinist Vlastimil Holek has been with the Prazak for nearly four decades. Violist Josef Kluson is the last founding member still active in the quartet. Cellist Michal Kanka joined the group in 1986. Internationally acclaimed and an audience favourite, the Prazak makes their seventh appearance on the Jane Mallett stage since 1993 with a March 2 program that begins with late Haydn (the buoyant Op.71 No.1) and Bruckner’s rarely performed, highly Romantic Quartet before concluding with Dvořák’s beloved “American” Quartet.
TSO. The Toronto Symphony welcomes the renowned Jiří Bělohlávek, music director and artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic, to lead the orchestra in Martinů’s Symphony No.6 “Fantaisies symphoniques.” Bělohlávek has been focused on Martinů’s work for years so this is an opportunity to hear what may be a definitive reading of the piece. Adding to the allure of these February 9 and 11 concerts is the imposing figure of Garrick Ohlsson, the soloist in Beethoven’s resplendent Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor.” Debussy’s seductive Première Rhapsodie, which opens the program, is a showpiece for TSO principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas’ sweet sound. On February 15 and 16, rising star Jakub Hrůša, a Czech conductor half Bělohlávek’s age who is permanent guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, leads the TSO in two masterful orchestral ruminations, Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration and Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy. That being said, the main attraction on the program will be Schumann’s Piano Concerto with soloist Jan Lisiecki, the first time Toronto audiences will hear what is the major work on Lisiecki’s latest CD. Another treat on the TSO menu: February 18, American conductor Sarah Hicks will lead the TSO in two performances providing a live accompaniment to the Pixar animated classic Ratatouille. This delightful, sophisticated film about an enterprising rat who creates his inimitable ratatouille dish in a Paris restaurant for a discerning food critic, features a sentimental symphonic score that is all cane sugar, no saccharine. Peter O’Toole’s melodious narration as the critic adds another musical layer to the proceedings.
RCM. In addition to the Avital-Dover recital, the Royal Conservatory is presenting three other concerts of note. On February 4, Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica celebrate Kremer’s 70th birthday year and the ensemble’s 20th at Koerner Hall with “Russia – Masks and Faces,” including music by Pärt, Weinberg, Tchaikovsky, Silvestrov and Mussorgsky (an arrangement for string orchestra of the iconic Pictures at an Exhibition). A free concert (ticket required) February 5 in Mazzoleni Concert Hall will introduce Andrés Díaz, the inaugural Alexandra Koerner Yeo Chair in Cello at the RCM. Díaz performs works by Martinů, Richard Strauss and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, with Barry Shiffman and other special guests. Then on March 3 acclaimed Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Venice Baroque Orchestra celebrate the pleasures of her Italian heritage with an engrossing program of selections by Galuppi, Avison (after Scarlatti), Geminiani and two works by Vivaldi including The Four Seasons. Finally, the masterful Sir András Schiff brings his classical warmth to a selection of late-Schubert piano pieces March 5. The composer’s Moments musicaux D780 and Drei Klavierstücke D946 are bookended by his two sets of Impromptus D899 and D935, delightful works that are made for Schiff’s own stylish sense of panache.
Feb 7: Following his refreshing performance of Mozart’s Rondo for Violin and Orchestra K373 with the TSO (part of this year’s Mozart @261 festival), 19-year-old Kerson Leong (and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu) gives a free noontime recital of French music at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.
Feb 13: Associates of the Toronto Symphony adopt a French accent for a program of Poulenc’s insouciant Sonata for Flute and Piano, Stravinsky’s cunning Suite from L’Histoire du soldat and TSO bassoonist Fraser Jackson’s arrangement of Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G. Mar 6: TSO second oboist Sarah Lewis is featured in Mozart’s charming Oboe Quartet in F K370 and Britten’s bewitching Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings Op.2.
Feb 13: The Perimeter Institute, one of the joys of Waterloo, presents the remarkable violinist Christian Tetzlaff and the outstanding pianist Lars Vogt in a compelling program of Beethoven, Mozart, Widmann and Schubert.
Feb 19: Any chance to hear Jan Lisiecki is a chance to be taken. In this Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ recital in Kingston, the super-talented young pianist treats us to repertoire new to Southern Ontario: Bach’s Partita No.3 in A Minor BWV827; Schumann’s Klavierstücke Op.32; Schubert Impromptus Op.142; and a trio of Chopin pieces including the high-powered Scherzo No.1 Op.20.
Feb 21: Sae Yoon Chon, a Korean-born scholarship student at GGS and a prizewinner at the last two Hilton Head International Piano Competition tackles Beethoven’s monumental Sonata No.29 in B-flat Op.106 “Hammerklavier” in a COC free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. (Mar 7: Fellow GGS scholarship student, Unionville-born Charissa Vandikas, performs works by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff in her own COC free noontime concert.)
Feb 23: Irène Jacob performs original material sprinkled with covers of Georges Brassens at Jazz Bistro. The French actress, luminous in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Double Life of Veronique (where she sang) and Three Colours: Red, recorded her first album Je Sais Nager (I Know How To Swim) in 2011 with her brother Francis, a guitarist and jazz-based arranger. Now they’re touring their latest CD, En Bas de Chez Moi (Downstairs at My House), with their multinational band (including Senegalese bassist Mamadou Ba and Franco-Peruvian Jose Ballumbrosio).
Feb 26: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Turgeon Piano Duo, husband-and-wife pianists, in a surefire program: Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Mozart’s Sonata in C K521, Gavrilin’s Sketches, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Mar 5: Israel’s Aviv String Quartet begins a traversal of Mozart’s last ten string quartets in three concerts in five days at the KWCMS Music Room.
Mar 4: The astonishingly gifted 23-year-old Montreal native Stéphane Tétreault, brings his Bernard Greenhouse cello to the Toronto Centre for the Arts when he performs Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1 with Sinfonia Toronto. Conductor Nurhan Arman also leads the orchestra in Morawetz’s Sinfonietta and Arman’s own string orchestra arrangement of Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor.
Mar 5: The famed Boston Symphony Orchestra (with special guest Emanuel Ax performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2) makes their first visit to Canada in 21 years. Conductor Andris Nelsons also leads the orchestra in Berlioz’s delirious, spectacular and enduring Symphonie Fantastique. Look for my interview with BSO principal horn James Sommerville elsewhere in this issue.
Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.