Beat Columns (Live Music)
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra embarks on a seven-concert, five-city tour of Israel and Europe in May, their first overseas tour since the summer of 2014. All told, nine works and two superstar guest soloists (one established, one emerging) will be toured. This is the first time the TSO will visit Israel, performing in Jerusalem at Sherover Hall in the Jerusalem Theatre, Israel’s largest centre for art and culture and at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, home to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Both concerts will feature Israeli-Russian superstar violinist Maxim Vengerov in Brahms’ lyrical Violin Concerto in D Major, Toronto-born composer Jordan Pal’s Iris (which had its successful world premiere at the recent New Creations Festival) and Dvořák’s dramatic Symphony No.7.
From Israel, the orchestra travels to Vienna with Vengerov, to be joined there by soprano Carla Huhtanen and the Wien Singakademie for a performance of Boulez’s harmonic soundscape Le soleil des eaux. Bartók’s masterpiece, Concerto for Orchestra, completes the Vienna program. Then it’s off to Regensburg in southeast Germany where pianist Jan Lisiecki takes over from Vengerov as the soloist, in Schumann’s popular Piano Concerto. (Lisiecki’s Deutsche Grammophon recording of the work was warmly greeted when it was released last year.) That concert opens with Oscar Morawetz’s charming Carnival Overture based on tunes from his Czech homeland. Rounding out the Regensburg program, concertmaster Jonathan Crow’s role in Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade is considerable (and available on the TSO’s Chandos recording from 2014) and his wonderful solo playing should be appreciated by this new audience.
The Morawetz remains on the program as an appropriate opener for the TSO’s first Prague appearance (at the famous Prague Spring International Festival) where it’s followed by Vengerov in the Brahms and the Dvořák Seventh. The second Prague concert opens with another specific audience nod - Smetana’s Overture to the Bartered Bride followed by Lisiecki’s Schumann and Bartók’s masterwork. The orchestra is dedicating the Prague concerts to former TSO Music Director Karel Ančerl. The tour then wraps up with a visit to Essen in west-central Germany with Morawetz, Schumann and Rimsky Korsakov on the bill.
Most importantly, the tour is an opportunity to bring the TSO (and the city) to new horizons and wider attention, re-establishing its European profile and introducing it to Israeli audiences. For a preview of six of the works being toured, check out concerts in Roy Thomson Hall May 3 - Morawetz’s Carnival Overture, Huhtanen in Le soleil des eaux and Crow in Scheherazade; and May 4 - Jordan Pal’s Iris, Lisiecki in the Schumann and the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra.
Post-tour, Sir Andrew Davis takes the podium for two programs. May 26 to 28 Beethoven’s Symphony No.7, a rhythmic tour de force and an essential component of the classical canon, is preceded by Grieg’s expressive Piano Concerto with the engaging Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and TSO principal flutist’s swan song, Griffes’ Poem for Flute and Orchestra. June 2 and 3, the Decades Project takes centre stage with a program reflective of the 1930s: Hindemith’s Music for Brass and Strings, Berg’s touching Violin Concerto (with Crow as soloist), Walton’s biblical oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast. It’s a busy month.
The Cliburn: Three Canadians are among the 30 competitors in the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held in Fort Worth, Texas: Algerian-born Mehdi Ghazi, Vancouver-born Tristan Teo and Chinese-born Tony Yike Yang. All three are no strangers to international competition - in 2015 Yang became the youngest prizewinner in the history of the International Chopin Competition. At 18, he’s the youngest participant in The Cliburn, with Teo, at 20, not far behind.
The schedule is gruelling and rigorous. In the preliminary round - May 25 to 28 - each pianist will perform a recital of their own choosing not to exceed 45 minutes in length and must include the commissioned work, Toccata on “L’homme armé,” (five minutes in length) written by Marc-André Hamelin who is also on the jury. “At least the piece isn’t too long,” Hamelin told me in a recent interview. “They asked me for four to six minutes and it ended up being about five. So it’s sort of a quick and painless injection.” “How many times will we hear that piece of yours?” I asked. “At least 30,” he answered. So the public and jury and worldwide audiences alike will have ample opportunity to get sick of it.”
The second round held on May 29 and 30 consists of 20 competitors who must again perform a recital of their own choosing not to exceed 45 minutes in length. Only complete works will be accepted and repertoire from the preliminary round may not be repeated. By the time of the semifinal round, June 1 to 5, there will be only 12 competitors left. Phase 1 of the round has each pianist performing a recital not to exceed 60 minutes in length with repertoire consisting of complete works of their own choosing not previously played in the competition. Phase 2 of the round will have each pianist perform a Mozart piano concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan.
By the final round, June 7 to 10, the jury process will have eliminated all but six competitors. Phase 1 of the round will have each pianist perform a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet. Phase 2 will have each pianist perform a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The pianists may choose any work scored for full symphony orchestra and piano.
Fortunately the competition will be widely available. The #cliburn2017 webcast will encompass over 110 hours of life performances, announcements, interviews, short features and other behind-the-scenes footage. All content will be available both live and on demand, for free, to viewers around the world at
cliburn2017.medici.tv (which will also host a variety of editorial content in English, Russian, French and Mandarin Chinese). The live stream will also be available at cliburn.org and medici.tv.
The jury, chaired by Slatkin, consists of distinguished pianists Arnaldo Cohen, Christopher Elton, Hamelin, Joseph Kalichstein, Mari Kodama, Anne-Marie McDermott and Alexander Toradze.
On April 2, I got a sneak peak at Tony Yike Yang’s Cliburn playbook. In the second of the Piano Bravura series at Church of the Holy Trinity, Yang electrified the audience with Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 in E Major Op.109 (which he will be playing in the preliminary round of The Cliburn) and Chopin’s Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor Op.35 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (which he hopes to play in the semifinal round). I for one hope he makes it at least that far. I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to be dazzled by the Mussorgsky once again.
May 2: COC’s free noontime concerts spotlight chamber music this month beginning with members of the COC Orchestra playing wind octets by Haydn, Beethoven and Jacob followed on May 4 by Schubert’s delightful Octet. May 23 the winners of the Glenn Gould School Music Competition perform. Toronto Summer Music artistic director Jonathan Crow presents a sneak preview of this summer’s festival featuring emerging artists May 24.
May 4: Charles Richard-Hamelin gives his first full-fledged solo recital since his silver medal at the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015. Presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, his program includes Mozart’s Fantasy K397, Chopin Impromptus and Mazurkas, a selection of Babadjanian and Schumann’s Sonata No.1, an early work reflective of his alter egos Florestan and Eusebius.
May 5, 6: Soprano Measha Brueggergosman and pianist Stewart Goodyear lend their star power to “Edwin’s Pops” as Edwin Outwater leads the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in an evening of musical humour. May 10, 12, 13: Violinist Aisslinn Nosky leads the orchestra in her curated program of Vivaldi, Handel, Bach and Geminiani. May 26, 27: Mahler’s thrilling Symphony No.1 and John Adams’ setting of Emily Dickinson, Harmonium, serve as the “Grand Finale: Edwin’s Farewell” marking the end of Outwater’s ten-year tenure as the symphony’s music director.
May 5: Austrian teenager, violinist Elisso Gogibedashvili, returns to Sinfonia Toronto and conductor Nurhan Arman two years after her first appearance with them when she was just 14. Sarasate’s virtuosic Carmen Fantasy is reason enough to attend.
May 6: The Haliburton Concert Series presents the inimitable duo of Guy Few, piano/trumpet, and Nadina Mackie Jackson, bassoon.
May 6: Lara St. John joins Gemma New and the Hamilton Philharmonic as soloist in Korngold’s seductive Violin Concerto.
May 6: Katarina Curtin’s String Quartet No.3 and Nicole Lizée’s Isabella Blow at Somerset House share the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s Music Room with Franck’s expressive Piano Quintet in F Minor in a recital by the Cecilia String Quartet (with Leopoldo Erice, pianist). May 17: K-WCMS presents flutist Suzanne Shulman and harpist Erica Goodman in an entertaining program of duets for this unusual pairing. May 24: The K-WCMS Music Room welcomes Israeli pianist Ishay Shaer in a program of Coulthard, Prokofiev and Schubert. Shaer repeats the same program in Toronto four days later.
May 12: The Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s final concert of the season includes Wagner’s majestic Siegfried Idyll, a Vivaldi flute concerto, Tchaikovsky’s fateful Symphony No.4 and the winner of the Young Composers’ Competition.
May 13: The Pacifica Quartet concludes Jeffery Concerts’ two-year complete Beethoven string quartet cycle with an early (Op.18 No.2), a middle (Op.95) and a late (Op.132) quartet.
May 19: Gallery 345 presents Trio Conventano, an unusual combination of flute (Dakota Martinů), cello (Thomas Beard) and piano (the charming Philip Chiu), in works by von Weber, Gaubert and Martinu. Jun 7: Acclaimed pianist Robert Silverman performs two Beethoven sonatas (No.1 and the great No.21 “Waldstein”) and the four Chopin Scherzos.
May 20: The Kindred Spirits Orchestra welcomes Younggun Kim as soloist in Brahms’ echt-Romantic Piano Concerto No.2. Kristian Alexander also leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ glorious Symphony No.5. May 26: Kim gives a free noontime recital presented by Music at St. Andrew’s with a technically demanding program that includes selections from Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études and Kapustin’s Variations.
May 20: Ensemble Made In Canada and bassist Joseph Phillips conclude this season’s 5 at the First chamber music series with music by Bach, Rossini, Kelly-Marie Murphy and Vaughan Williams (the substantial Piano Quintet in C Minor).
May 21: Bradley Thachuk leads the Niagara Symphony Orchestra, Chorus Niagara and soloists Allyson McHardy, mezzo, and Lida Szkwarek, soprano, in Mahler’s intense and beautiful Symphony No.2 “Resurrection.”
May 28: Syrinx presents the well-regarded Israeli pianist Ishay Shaer performing the penultimate Schubert Sonata D959 and Prokofiev’s dramatic Sonata No.6, the first of his “War Sonatas.”
May 28: The Windermere String Quartet’s upcoming recital includes Mozart’s very first string quartet K80, written when he was 14, and Schubert’s final string quartet, No.15 D887, written in ten days when he was 29.
May 29: Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (in this case, Leslie Dawn Knowles, violin; Gary Labovitz, viola; and Britton Riley, cello) perform Schubert’s 16 songs from Die schöne Müllerin D795 (transcribed for violin and viola) and Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat Op.3. Jun 5: ATSO presents the Zephyr Piano Trio in works by Haydn, Luedeke, Piazzolla and Brahms.
May 31: Westwood Concerts presents “Hearing Double,” music for two clarinets (Michael Westwood and James Petry) and piano (Megumi Okamoto) by Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Krommer, Joplin and more.
Jun 3: In collaboration with Sistema Toronto, Ronald Royer conducts the strings of the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra in a program featuring cellist Shauna Rolston, young artist Cynthia Ding (violin) and teachers and students from Sistema Toronto performing Tchaikovsky, Popper, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn and Jim McGrath.
Paul Ennis is the Managing Editor of The WholeNote
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
Toronto is full of great musicians, as WholeNote readers know all too well. So abundant is our wealth that certain players get lost in the publicity shuffle – particularly the sidemen, and especially the humble ones. One such unsung hero is pianist Peter Hill, frequently an accompanist to Toronto treasures such as Laura Hubert and Alex Pangman, as well as hundreds of singers at a popular jazz open mic, Lisa Particelli’s “Girls Night Out (where gentlemen are welcome too)” for over a decade now. In music he is dependable and consistent; in person he is pleasant if a bit bashful, with a sense of humour that borders on existential. A veritable whiz at transposing tunes and swinging at any tempo, it is not surprising to learn that he has a doctorate in algebraic topology. We sat down at Faema Caffè on Dupont to discuss singers and players, life and music. This was a path that he naturally followed from a young age:
“Music was in my family. My father played a variety of instruments and my uncle was a professional trombone player so we had an LP of his band. When I was little I would see my dad playing – he was never a professional, but I remember seeing him in the Santa Claus Parade. He was mainly an alto saxophone player but he played piano so he showed me how to read chords. Growing up, I did a little bit of classical – I wasn’t a great student – then I decided I wanted to be Elton John and that lasted about one summer. But I practised a lot that year. And the following year I joined a Dixieland band; I was about 19. I went back and had more lessons in my 20s, with a guy named Darwyn Aitken, who a lot of people studied with at that time. He was from South Porcupine near Timmins, a classical guy but he also played some jazz and Latin.”
His decision to pursue mathematics was more practical than passionate:
“I was fairly good at math in high school but I didn’t go to university after high school – I was playing a fair bit of traditional jazz – but then I decided that I was wasting my life because I wasn’t doing anything during the day. So I went back to school and tried a whole bunch of things. I chose math because there are no essays in it. My undergraduate took forever because I was taking two courses a year and I was playing all through that time. Once I was in graduate school I wasn’t really playing music at all. My PhD took five years – coming out of graduate school is when I started doing stuff with Laura again.”
JUNO-winning powerhouse Laura Hubert, whose fascinating career took her from Kurt Weill to indie-rock stardom then back to the blues, is best known for being co-founder and lead vocalist of the Leslie Spit Treeo. She met Hill while studying drama at the University of Toronto, through mutual friends.
“I did pretty well drag him out of the basement,” recalls Hubert. “I’ve known Peter Hill since 1979. He was in school and I was in school, and there was a party at UC Playhouse and some of his classmates were in the theatre program, and that’s how I met him. Then we just sort of got together every week to learn some songs. We didn’t even have a show, we would just go through the real jazz vocal book and that’s how I got to singing tunes like Don’t Blame Me and Skylark. After my record deal, Jerome Godboo left his Monday night residency at Grossman’s and Christina asked me if I wanted to do Monday nights. I thought, perfect! So I called Peter and we played that gig every Monday for nearly a decade. Grossman’s is where we worked out a lot of these songs. Peter has the fastest left hand in the business. He’s a damn good player, that’s for sure, and he works well with others. He’s my bandleader but he’s more like an old friend.”
Hill’s penchant for feel-good swingin’ is also put to great use by “Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing,” vocalist Alex Pangman. Known for her honest, sentimental approach to music of the 1930s, it’s hard to believe that this sweet-voiced stylist of song is a two-time double-lung transplant. A shining example of how music can provide inspiration, she is an advocate for organ donation, swing music and a huge proponent of Hill as well:
“Working with Peter Hill is a delight,” says Pangman. “He communicates well and really cares. He wants the singer to be comfortable. On top of that he knows a million songs. Often on stage you’ll hear me say: “Peter, we have a request for <insert random song>. What key would I sing that in?” And Peter will just start playing it in my key. I call him a singer’s best friend because of that, and have done so for about a decade! He just never lets me down. I appreciate how steadfast he has been, which in the world of gigging musicians, can be a rare thing. His fidelity to my band, the Alleycats, is honourable and he is very much a supporting pillar to my sound. He’ll write out the changes lickety split if I throw some truly obscure song from 1935 to him. He’s probably so good at all this because his mind works through tunes mathematically (he is a professor after all) but he plays with great colours and has a wonderfully artistic, thoughtful and rhythmical feel to his playing. He’s a pal, a father figure and a really good man to have in the trenches with me when they sound the battle call.”
Hundreds of singers, this writer included, met Hill through Lisa Particelli’s GNO Jazz open mic, where he sensitively accompanies vocalists of all levels along with Ross MacIntyre on bass. The unique jam experience that jam host/founder Particelli set up back in 2005 is all about fostering community, education and connection with no tolerance for bad attitudes, on or off the bandstand. Part of the charm is the variety of talent; all are encouraged to sing, regardless of experience. Hill’s combination of patience and sensitivity, as well as his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook, makes accompanying someone who has never been on stage easy as pie.
“Musicians have talked to me thinking that it must be awful to deal with – the different level of performers – but actually I never have had a problem with it. People are generally doing their best. As with any open mic, sometimes people come up who are not very good, I’m fine with that. Experiences I haven’t liked in music are usually with players that might be fairly good but have an attitude that makes them unpleasant. I haven’t really experienced that at Girls Night Out – maybe once or twice – but those people tend to not come back because they think they are too good for it, so it works out.”
Recently Hill has been holding down a weekly Tuesday night residency at La Rev (2848 Dundas St. W.) where he performs in duo format with a guest instrumentalist each week.
“The prototype for me is an album by Dave McKenna with Joe Temperley on baritone. I played there with Chris Gale, but he has a conflict on Tuesdays because he usually hosts the Rex jam. So I did it with Shawn Nykwist a few times – he is a great player and in my opinion undervalued. I enjoyed that, so I do play with him every third week, and then I do it with other people including people I hadn’t played with before, including some great guitar players like Jesse Barksdale and Reg Schwager. I love that this is on an acoustic piano that the venue maintains – it belongs to the owner, Indira, and she takes good care of it since she is a musician. I always look forward to Tuesday nights.”
La Rev is a real gem in the junction, for those looking for live music paired with Mexican cuisine. Dinner reservations are recommended at 416-766-0746.
Rick Wilkins Back to the theme of unsung heroes, Ensemble Vivant is putting on a very special tribute to saxophonist and arranger Rick Wilkins, taking place at Grace Church on-the-Hill on Thursday, May 11, at 7:30pm, in celebration of his recent 80th birthday. Wilkins is best known for his arrangements for Oscar Peterson, Anne Murray, the Boss Brass and others; he also wrote for Ensemble Vivant for over 25 years, a group which he describes as “the highest calibre chamber music-making.”
Led by pianist Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant’s genre-diverse repertoire culls classical with modern musical styles, and has been acknowledged as a pioneer in the piano-chamber music world. Says Wilson of Wilkins: “Rick’s charts are original, sparkling with imagination, always fresh and always a joy to perform…It has been the highest honour and pleasure for me to work with Rick all these years. Our performances of his music have brought lasting joy to so many audiences of all ages.”
Repertoire at the concert will range from J.S. Bach to Jerome Kern, to Astor Piazzolla, Ernesto Lecuona, Leroy Anderson, Isaac Albeniz, Charlie Chaplin and George Gershwin, to originals by Rick Wilkins. Special guests joining Ensemble Vivant will be jazz greats Guido Basso on flugelhorn, Mike Murley on tenor sax and Brian Barlow on percussion. Proceeds from the concert will benefit EUTERPE, a non-profit charity which among many initiatives brings live high-calibre, interactive performances of classical, jazz and related popular styles of music to children and others who might not otherwise be exposed to these opportunities. For more information visit:
Support live music and on your way out be sure to tell the band how much you enjoyed their performance. Kind words go a long way to making an unsung hero’s heart sing!
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.
- Written by Lydia Perović
- Category: Art of Song
The Canadian Art Song Project is going big for the 150th birthday of the federation and Toronto’s biggest contemporary music festival 21C will host the party: 12 poets in a song cycle world premiere with four singers and a piano, alongside two song cycles for baritone and piano both performed for the first time in Ontario. And when I say party, I am not exaggerating. All three composers will be in attendance on May 25 at the Temerty Theatre at the RCM, as will most of the poets (Lucy Maud Montgomery and E.J Pratt have good excuses), and will stay after the concert together with the singers and pianists for an open panel conversation with the audience and to answer questions.
Marilyn Dumont’s lower-case titled poem dawn always begins in the bones is where composer Ana Sokolović got the title for the largest work on the program, a cycle commissioned by the CASP’s two artistic directors, Steven Philcox and Lawrence Wiliford. “We wanted something quite substantial to celebrate the sesquicentennial,” explained Philcox when we caught up with him in late April. “Both of us wanted to find a piece that would be a bit larger in scope, and that would possibly be breaking some of the established traditions of the song cycle.” They asked Sokolović, a composer known for her flair for incorporating the dramatic and the visual into her music as well as for the keenness to experiment, to create a cycle for four voices (SMTB) rather than one. She used texts by a wide range of poets; they hail from all the provinces, ethnic backgrounds, ages and poetic philosophies. There are poets from the past (E.J. Pratt and L.M. Montgomery) but most of the poems are by our contemporaries: Marilyn Dumont, George Elliott Clarke, Lorna Crozier, Christian Bök, Herménégilde Chiasson, Rienzi Crusz, Roo Borson, haiku writer Nick Avis, Ariel Gordon and the late Quebec Automatist Claude Gauvreau. Musically too, says Philcox, “Sokolović managed to capture the vivid and varied landscape of Canada.”
Sometimes a song may start as a solo and proceed as a duo or start as a duo that progresses into a trio. Everything will be in flux over the 40 minutes of the duration of the piece. There are times in the cycle when singers are tasked with playing ukulele and percussion instruments, and playing on the exposed piano strings with mallets. The young director and frequent collaborator with MYOpera, Anna Theodosakis, was hired as the “directorial eye” in putting this piece with a strong visual component together.
By the time of the two workshop performances they already knew, Philcox says, that the work would have the alchemy of that rare perfect combination between the creators and performers. It was clear to them from the beginning that “It’s Canada’s youngest talent who should be presenting it – those who will carry us into the bicentennial.” Four of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio members sing the songs, soprano Danika Lorèn, mezzo Emily D’Angelo, tenor Aaron Sheppard and baritone Bruno Roy, and will be accompanied on the piano by the head of the Ensemble Studio, Liz Upchurch. Their enthusiasm for the project and their youthful energy further fuelled the cycle. Sokolović has gotten to know the singers over time and has occasionally made adjustments to play to their specific strengths. Lorèn and D’Angelo went to meet with her in Montreal and after hearing them sing the composer was so inspired by their companionship in timbre and their joint beauty of sound that she wrote a song for them literally overnight: she rushed to find the suitable poem immediately after the meeting and worked on it, sleep be damned, until it was done.
For those of us impatient to hear it, Dawn Always Begins in the Bones will have its ante-premiere in the COC’s noon-hour vocal series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre on May 17. On May 25 at the RCM, however, it will be presented in a full-sized concert (plus the post-performance discussion) with two other vocal works, by Andrew Staniland and by Lloyd Burritt.
Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier for baritone and piano was originally composed for American Opera Projects: Composers and the Voice in 2008 and had its world premiere in Santa Fe with an American cast of musicians. The poem by Wallace Stevens is very distantly based on the character Peter Quince, the director of the tradesmen-players ensemble in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The text actually dwells more on the story from the biblical Apocrypha about Susanna and the voyeur elders – and the unnamed woman who brought the story to the narrator’s mind. Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk / Is music. It is like the strain / Waked in the elders by Susanna and on and on; perhaps it is a Peter Quince-like figure attempting art song composition with no music other than Wallace Stevens’ poetic sense. On the music inherent in the poem itself a lot has been written (there’s a compilation of key excerpts from a number of studies on the University of Illinois’ English Department poetry pages) so adding actual music to it must have been an intriguing kind of a challenge. You can find out how Staniland solved this puzzle by heading to YouTube, where the composer generously uploaded the entire piece with the visuals closely following the score. “Writing is often sparse and rhythmically fraught and quite ferocious,” Philcox says about the music. “The baritone gets to do a lot of interesting things, including sing in the falsetto range.” Iain MacNeil will be accompanied by Mélisande Sinsoulier from the piano.
Sinsoulier and MacNeil will also perform the final song cycle in the program, the BC-based composer Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem set to the serial poem of that name by Robin Blaser (1925-2009). “It’s a piece that harkens back to the more traditional musical landscape and complements the rest of the program,” says Philcox. “It’s very evocative, lush at times, very melodic and tonal.”
Natalie Dessay returns to Toronto for a recital at Koerner Hall May 2 with the always brilliant Philippe Cassard at the piano. (Search for his name in the French public radio stations France Musique and France Culture websites; he unfailingly gives enlightening and entertaining interviews.) The program, conceived under the very broad umbrella of “Women’s Portraits,” includes Mozart, Gounod, Schubert, Pfitzner, Debussy, Bizet and Chausson, plus possible encores. Dessay is not best known for her Lieder singing, but after her soft retirement from the stage she is now moving into the art song territory – her latest CD is an all-Schubert recording with Cassard at the piano.
The COC’s lunch-hour Vocal Series is particularly rich this month. On May 9, mezzo Allyson McHardy will sing Schumann’s Poèmes de la reine Marie d’Écosse, Zemlinsky’s Six Songs after Poems by Maeterlinck. Rachel Andrist is at the piano. May 10, COC’s Ensemble Studio tenor Aaron Sheppard sings Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation based on the poetry of Thomas Hardy and May 11 one of Ensemble Studio’s mezzos Lauren Eberwein and the members of the COC orchestra present a program of two Bach cantantas, Ich habe genug, BWV82, and Vergnügte Ruh, BWV 170. Tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon will perform Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin in their final Ensemble Studio graduation concert on May 18. All concerts are free and start at noon in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
The very last two concerts to be played by Talisker Players as a presenting ensemble are their May 16 and 17 performances of “A Mixture of Madness.” Soprano Ilana Zarankin will sing Purcell’s Mad Songs for soprano, strings and continuo, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of William Blake for soprano and oboe and Marina Tsvetaeva’s Insomnia set to music by John Plant (with saxophone and piano). Baritone Bruce Kelly will sing a song from Mitch Leigh’s musical Man of La Mancha, “The Impossible Dream,” in the chamber ensemble arrangement by Laura Jones. He will also interpret Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King. The Talisker Players-commissioned Alice Ping Ye Ho’s The Madness of Queen Charlotte (text by Phoebe Tsang) for flute, viola, cello and piano will have its world premiere on the same night. Actor Andrew Moodie will read from select letters, diaries and memoirs. Concerts start at 8pm but there will be pre-concert chats starting at 7:15pm on both nights; at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.
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
There’s a scene in the Milos Forman movie Amadeus that always sticks with me whenever I think about composers being disliked or misunderstood by non-musicians. It’s the scene where Emperor Joseph II of Austria, played by Jeffrey Jones, has just been to the premiere of one of Mozart’s operas. He goes up to the composer and tells him, with full imperial pomp and arrogance, that his music has “too many notes.”
Since learning a bit about music history, I’ve learned a few things about the historical accuracy of this scene. First, the basic elements of the story are true – Joseph II did in fact gripe that Mozart’s music had too many notes. Second, the story is kind of unfair to the emperor’s legacy. While he may not have been able to appreciate Mozart, Joseph II was a so-called enlightened despot who modernized his country and turned an authoritarian regime into a liberal country, introducing progressive reforms like religious freedom and universal public education and working to abolish the death penalty. Third, the “too many notes” anecdote, like the movie, is part of a larger mythology that grew up around classical composers and persists to this day.
The Mozart Myth was perhaps the most famous example, and while parts of it have been dispelled, a few misconceptions remain. We can probably all agree now that he wasn’t in fact poisoned by Salieri (19th-century Mozart truthers argued otherwise) and he wasn’t destitute, he just never got a sweet court sinecure with Joseph; the Viennese didn’t totally misunderstand his music either, although they weren’t obsessed with it the way subsequent generations were.
Of all the Romantic legends, the Mozart Myth is probably the one that’s seen the most open debate, and a historical rehabilitation of the composer (or his bewildered Viennese public) is well underway. But there are myths about other composers which persist for the contemporary concertgoing public, many of which are the more pernicious for being completely unknown. The Bach Myth is probably one we need to tackle, because it’s one that the concertgoing public, as well as the majority of musicians, have bought into wholesale, and besides not aging particularly well, it’s also condescending, factually incorrect, and deeply alienating to potential listeners.
We all know the story. Bach was a genius in a category all his own. He wrote music that was incredibly intricate. If people don’t, or didn’t, like it, it was because they can’t, or couldn’t, understand it.
And that’s sort of true, but there are a few things we need to talk about to set the record straight. While Bach was a brilliant contrapuntalist, he wrote music that was generally conventional, albeit way more complicated. His obsession with counterpoint, including weird technical tricks, marked him to his contemporaries as an arch-conservative, rather than an inimitable trailblazer. And while he got fired from his capellmeister job in Cöthen and the congregation at St. Thomas in Leipzig didn’t like him all that much, he did have a cult following among composers, musicians and music geeks who understood how his music worked – he enjoyed a reputation as a musician who wrote music for other musicians.
And oh yeah, if we appreciate Bach so much today, why is so much of his music left unperformed? He wrote over 200 cantatas and motets for voice, just under 100 individual songs, and over 200 works for organ, but good luck hearing any of those performed today – you’ll mainly get to hear a handful of instrumental works he composed in the Cöthen years, a full 30 years before he died, and a few cantatas and passions that have worked their way into the popular repertoire.
Toronto Bach Festival
With so much of Bach’s music left forgotten and on a shelf somewhere, it’s time to bring it out and give it a listen so we can decide for ourselves whether it’s any good. I’m especially happy to see that the Toronto Bach Festival, now in its second year, is willing to show us a side of Bach we don’t often get to see. Hosted by St. Barnabas Anglican Church (361 Danforth Ave.) and led by Tafelmusik oboist John Abberger, we’re going to hear Bach the vocal composer (Cantatas 150 and 161, along with, yes, Brandenburg 6 and an oboe concerto May 26 at 8pm), the St. Mark Passion (May 28 at 3:30pm) and some keyboard works that aren’t fugues (Chris Bagan’s solo recital of the Six Little Preludes and a solo keyboard capriccio May 27 at 2:30pm). I’m excited to see that the festival is both willing to dust off some of Bach’s less well-known works for us to enjoy as well as to pay homage to the Cult of Bach. (Yes, despite my tendency to rant about my misgivings, I have yet to rescind my membership).
It’s fun to argue about a musician’s legacy 200 years after the fact, but there are musicians in this city today whose legend has yet to be written. One such musician who is about to make a mark on the classical music scene in Toronto is Elisa Citterio, who after what seems like an epic search, has just been named the new artistic director of Tafelmusik as of last January. Citterio has been concertmaster and soloist of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala di Milano and has been based mainly in Italy, playing with such groups as Europa Galante and Il Giardino Armonico. This month, she’ll be leading Tafelmusik along with Ivars Taurins in a program that includes Mozart’s Mass in C Minor and Haydn’s Symphony No.98. It’s repertoire that the group does especially well and I’m anticipating that Citterio will take the group in an exciting new direction in the coming years. You can catch Tafelmusik at Koerner Hall May 4 to 7. And if you’re interested in finding out what Citterio is like, she’ll be interviewed on stage by Robert Harris one hour before each performance.
Folies d’Espagne, a Clandestine Affair
Any concert, whether in Josephine Austria or contemporary Toronto, runs the risk that its paying public may not like or understand the music performed or interpreted, but you can avoid a great deal of that risk by making your concert a clandestine affair attended by a select few. This seems to be the thinking behind La Rêveuse’s concert, “Folies d’Espagne” which they’ll be performing at a secret location on May 11 at 7:30. The French-based group, founded by lutenist Benjamin Perrot and viola da gambist Florence Bolton, has been giving concerts since 2004. The group has decided to make this concert (sponsored by the publishing company Atelier Philidor) open to just 25 attendees; 80 bucks will get you a ticket to the concert, a free facsimile score and CD, and a chance to party with the group afterwards, but you have to contact 647-390-6037 or
email@example.com before this concert sells out, which makes it very likely that by the time you’re reading this, it’s already too late. Then again, maybe the best way to make a reputation is to make music that’s unavailable to the general public and make them think they’ve missed out on something elite and exclusive.
David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Written by Jennifer Parr
- Category: Music Theatre
If any more proof was needed that the story of Eugene Onegin in all its forms continues to capture the interest of audiences, the National Ballet of Canada revived John Cranko’s Onegin just last fall, and the latest Metropolitan Opera production of Tchaikovsky’s opera will appear on Cineplex screens in May.
So when I received an email message from the Musical Stage Company in February that tickets were on sale for their production of Onegin, a new Canadian musical opening in May, right away my excited interest was caught. Cranko’s Onegin (beloved by Toronto ballet fans) has long been one of my favourite “story ballets,” its aloof and then passionate title role a test of star quality for every male principal dancer, and the role of Tatiana, who falls headlong and unrequitedly in love with Onegin, an equal dramatic proving ground for female principals.
Cranko’s ballet was not, apparently, the first inspiration for this new telling of the story by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille, two of the creators of the 2012 musical Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata. But Tchaikovsky’s version of the story, a favourite of opera fans the world over, definitely was. This new Canadian Onegin had its world premiere a year ago at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver where it won rave reviews and an unprecedented ten Jessie awards. The Toronto production features an almost entirely new cast and is directed by Gladstone who will be working with a new creative team; Hille provides the musical direction.
Intrigued and wanting to know more I approached the show’s creators, Gladstone and Hille, as well as Musical Stage Company artistic director Mitchell Marcus. Here are those conversations.
AMIEL GLADSTONE and VEDA HILLE
Why Onegin? What was it about the story that caught your interest and inspired you to create a new musical version? After the Craigslist Cantata, which was all about disconnection and more of a revue kind of piece, we wanted to look at something that had real passion and a stronger narrative drive. It was an opportunity to push and challenge ourselves, and see what happened if we tried to make a musical like the ones we’d grown up with. We connected strongly to themes of love - bad timing and trying not to waste your life.
I read in the press release that it was a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera that gave the first spark and that you have adopted the opera’s structure. In the process of creation, did you also go back to the novel, for inspiration and/or material? Yes, many times and through many different translations. There was even an attempt to follow Pushkin’s verse structure, but that lasted for one song. If we’d stuck with that, we’d still be on the first draft. The Pushkin is one of those things that is untranslatable - the original Russian has it all, while in English we can only give an essence. So the show is our essence of “Russianness,” of being welcomed at the theatre, of creating a space to sing some songs and tell a story together. In the novel Pushkin is a rascal; we really tried to retain his sense of fun and provocation.
You have adopted the structure of Tchaikovsky’s opera and even some of the musical lines. How would you describe the music you have created and the larger musical choices you have made for this show? There are a few Tchaikovsky quotes here and there - hidden Easter eggs for true fans. The music is definitely a mix of what could be considered standard Veda Hille type fair, (piano-based indie folk?) but with a strong sense of cabaret and other musical theatre styles. We were influenced by a wide range - everything from Boney M. to Kendrick Lamar. And we try to rock out a bit.
What was your creative process as composer and book writer? Did words or music come first or did that change along the way? Although Veda is primarily a musician and Amiel a playwright, there isn’t a separate composer or book writer. Words would usually come first, then song structure, and then adapting and deepening as we went. We had to remind ourselves what life was like as virginal teenagers. In some cases, we would find a beat and then work off of that.
From the photographs it looks as though you have kept to the story’s original period setting. How have you given the story a contemporary relevance or edge? I think you are referring to the Arts Club premiere production in Vancouver. Most of the costumes in that were modern with period touches. We felt items like Onegin’s iconic top hat were important and we kept period silhouettes, but most of the costume pieces were things you could find on the rack today. For the Toronto production, we are doing a new design - similar ideas, but possibly exploring more of the Spanish and Italian fashion world. It’s a real mix of periods, just as we live now. We’ve also attempted to clear up any of our questions, along the way. Why does Lensky get so upset? What’s the deal with duels anyway? And so on.
You had a great success with the premiere in Vancouver. What do you feel the audience connected with so strongly? It’s unabashedly romantic. It’s about being together, and love.
This is a bigger project than your earlier Craigslist Cantata. Was it a very different creation and/or workshop development process in this case? The process was both similar and different. Our investigative process was similar - building ideas and themes and then looking at how to continually deepen and clarify. With Craigslist it was all about how to structure, and how to find a through-line not based on plot. With Onegin it’s been more about clarity - making it make sense for a modern audience, giving as much agency as possible to Tatyana. When should it sound classical? When should it sound like disco? When was it spoken? Those kinds of questions. We did workshops at the Arts Club and In Tune, we saw how the audience was responding, we could feel we were on the right track - that part felt very similar.
This is a new production with a new creative team other than yourselves, and an almost entirely new cast. Is it a bigger production? Will you be taking this opportunity to make any changes or to explore the material in any new ways? For the most part the design is all new - we are looking at pushing the contemporary even more. As evidenced by your earlier question, the Arts Club version may still look period, but we want to keep making it look more contemporary - or at least keep trying. And we continue to work on the writing, yes. Still many questions around how it all works.
Is there anything you would say to the audience here before they come to see Onegin, to shape their expectations? Bring someone you like, or love, or are hoping to love. We can’t wait to see you.
What was it about this show that made you want to produce it in Toronto? There were three things that really appealed to me. First off, the score is unbelievable. I can’t get enough of the songs in Onegin and knew that Toronto audiences had to have a chance to hear them. Second, we are fiercely dedicated to growing Canadian musical theatre. Onegin is certainly an impressive and surprising homegrown musical work which made me want to do anything we could to help it. I felt that giving the writers a second production in Toronto, and being able to promote the work nationally and internationally from our city would be advantageous for them. Finally, we believe in building long-term relationships with artists. We were so lucky to produce and tour Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata by Ami, Veda and Bill Richardson. So continuing to collaborate with Ami and Veda on this new piece was natural and welcome.
How would you describe what makes this version of the story different from the opera and ballet - and relevant, as you have said, to a contemporary audience? I must (embarrassingly) admit to having never seen the ballet or opera. But what I love about what Ami and Veda have done is keeping the piece firmly rooted in the 19th century but giving the music and performance aesthetic a 21st-century feel. I think this highlights the universal nature of love - how we fall into it, how we are shamed by it, how we lose it. Through the hip, artistic sensibilities of Ami and Veda, this story written 150 years ago feels like it captures our contemporary world so beautifully.
Onegin opens on May 13 and plays until June 4 at the Berkeley Street Theatre downstairs.
What’s On: It has become a cliche that there is so much going on in the Toronto arts and culture scene that it has become impossible to see everything you want to see, particularly if you like different genres. Even within the genre of music theatre there are almost too many shows to see ranging from opera to traditional broadway fare, to new musicals experimenting with style and form, to various new hybrids of words, music and dance. Not that I would complain.
If you are working on a show yourself it becomes even harder. I have been immersed myself in French Baroque music theatre as fight director for Opera Atelier’s production of Charpentier’s 17th-century Medea. One of the fascinating things about this production is the modernity and level of passion in the acting, so much so that director Marshall Pynkoski describes the story as one of “domestic passion similar to that of Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf.”
From the shows I was able to see over the last month, two that stood out were rarely seen operas steps from each other along Philosopher’s Walk, both with clever and interesting staging experiments by their directors illuminating the stories and making them accessible to the audiences: Marilyn Gronsdal’s production of Niccolo Picinnini’s La Cecchina for the Glenn Gould School at the RCM with the mutli-level permanent set on the Koerner Hall stage and Tim Albery’s setting for the U of T Opera School of Handel’s Imeneo along the full width of the back wall of the MacMillan stage with the audience sat on risers on the stage itself.
April also saw the return to Toronto of Garth Drabinksy with Sousatzka, a new musical on a mammoth scale of ambition and sheer size featuring an ensemble of 47 led by three Broadway stars, a multi-award-winning creative team, and a good number of Canadians. Hopes were high for going to Broadway in the fall. As it turned out, the show proved not to be ready yet for that leap.
Elsewhere in the city April saw the return of Soulpepper’s popular Spoon River. Sheridan’s Musical Theatre program continued to display the initiative which gave birth to the Toronto and Broadway sensation Come from Away, with the workshop production of a new musical by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill, Senza Luce; and Neema Bickersteth brought her one-woman amalgamation of song, dance and story, Century Song, to the new Crow’s Theatre space under the banner of Nightwood and Volcano.
Looking ahead: In May, and beyond, there is much to look forward to, from one-night-only events to long-running shows beginning their season at the big festivals.
May 1: One night only at the Atrium: Toronto Masque Theatre makes a specialty of bringing back to life rarities from the past as well as re-interpretations of well-known stories. On this evening they are presenting “The Ben Jonson Project: The Vision of Delight,” a staged reading of Ben Jonson’s Jacobean The Vision of Delight, reimagined and accompanied by an array of musical styles.
May 7: One night only at the Panasonic Theatre traditional musical theatre fans will be delighted to hear and see Stephen Schwartz (award-winning composer and lyricist of Wicked, Pippin, Godspell and more) live in conversation interspersed with performances of some of his greatest hits by Cynthia Dale, Chilina Kennedy and more.
Opening May 24: Opera as musical theatre: after a long development process with Tapestry Opera, Gervais and Murphy’s Oksana G., a daring new music theatre story of human trafficking gets a full production under the leadership of brilliant stage director Tom Diamond and music director Jordan de Souza.
April 18 to May 28 at the Tarragon Theatre, veteran musical theatre performer Tamara Bernier Evans directs the new Midsummer (a play with songs) described as “the hilarious story of a great lost weekend of ill-advised romance.”
And a final note: a heads-up for creators of new musical works! May 13 is the deadline to submit for The Aubrey and Marla Dan Fund for New Musicals. The Dan Fund is the first ever fund exclusively for the commissioning of new Canadian musical works. The fund offers financial and dramaturgical support to creators in developing new musicals. Ideas that exemplify the most potential will be awarded an $8,000 commission from the Musical Stage Company and a reading or workshop of a draft. Contact the Musical Stage Company for more information.
Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.
- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
The month of May brings a full blooming spring along with a packed 21C Music Festival, now in its fourth year. Running from May 24 to 28, the festival has had a significant impact on bringing new music to a wider audience, with five days of a wide range of musical voices and approaches to sonic experimentation spread over nine concerts, including 31 premieres. One of the themes this year, Canada 150, will be marked through collaborations with the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Art Song Project and Soundstreams.
Another is the festival’s strong focus on women composers and performers, with Korean-born Unsuk Chin as the featured composer. This focus makes for a perfect follow-up to my last two columns in which I explored stories about how issues of gender, race and musical diversity are impacting both large festivals such as the TSO’s New Creations (March issue) and individual projects, such as the work Century Song (April issue) performed and co-created by Neema Bickersteth.
Cecilia String Quartet: One of the 21C concerts that caught my attention is “Cecilia String Quartet Celebrates Canadian Women” on May 25 by the Toronto-based Cecilia String Quartet. In a conversation with the Quartet’s cellist Rachel Desoer, I discovered that the vision for the project began three years ago when the all-female quartet was inspired to encourage the representation of women’s music within their own genre. After looking at some of the existing string quartet repertoire, they decided to get involved in the curating process and commissioned four different composers as a way of encouraging these talented women to write for string quartet. The composers they chose were Katarina Ćurčin, Kati Agócs, Emilie LeBel and Nicole Lizée.
There has been much conversation over the years around the pros and cons of creating concerts that feature only women composers, but that is not the topic I particularly wish to delve into here. Rather, as I took a look at each piece on this program, I saw something else emerging that I hadn’t noticed so distinctly before in other women composer concerts. The pattern I noticed here was that the focus each composer chose for their piece harkened back to topics that characterized earlier movements of feminist art practice. Back in the 1970s, American women such as visual artist Judy Chicago and performance artist Suzanne Lacy, for example, began creating work organized around specific feminist principles. Their goal was to create work that influenced cultural attitudes so as to transform stereotypes. Strategies they employed included bringing awareness to women’s experience and history, as well as incorporating traditional forms of women’s creativity into their own work. This may seem not so revolutionary now, but at the time it was a bold departure from accepted practices. This movement however did not create strong inroads into the contemporary music world, although there was definitely a movement to research and perform music by women composers from the past.
So it was through this lens that I observed that each of the four works on the Cecilia String Quartet concert program shared something in common with these earlier feminist practices. When I asked Desoer if the quartet had given any guidelines for the pieces, her response was: “At the beginning of the project we wondered about creating a theme or having another piece of art for the composers to respond to. But instead, we let the artists decide, and were curious about what they would choose.” The quartet was delighted to discover that each composer found their inspiration in other art forms, texts and other women artists without any direct request.
Katarina Ćurčin’s String Quartet No.3 is based on a folk-song melody from her Serbian roots. The song tells the story of a young woman who feels trapped inside the house, expressing outrage at her mother for keeping her housebound. In Ćurčin’s quartet, her characteristic vibrant and rhythmic style aptly captures the song’s strong emotional journey, beginning with expressions of anger and finally dissolving into resignation. This work captures well the sense of limitation that has characterized women’s lives over millennia.
Kati Agócs’s music has been described as encouraging audience members to listen and be changed. In Tantric Variations, she bases her musical explorations on the word tantric, which means woven together. Using a one-bar motive as the basis, she weaves “a landscape that really goes everywhere you could imagine,” Desoer said. Desoer was originally drawn to Agócs’ music when she performed her Violoncello Duet (I And Thou) and was inspired by all the sounds she didn’t know her instrument could make. Starting with a word referring to the practice of weaving, Agócs is able to both reference the traditional craft as well as evoke the universal idea of weaving strands together to create a unified whole.
With Emilie LeBel’s Taxonomy of Paper Wings, we get a glimpse into one aspect of the work of writer Emily Dickinson, who lived a mostly introverted and confined life. Dickinson wrote a series of poems on fragments of used envelopes, using the shape of the paper to influence her placement of words on the page. LeBel uses the shape and structure of one of these envelope poems, which resembles the hinged wings of a bird, to inform the musical structure of her piece. The bird element translates into an ethereal texture in the music and as Desoer describes it, LeBel “explores the subtleties of softer sounds on string instruments in a way that is rare.”
Risk-taker and fashion designer Isabella Blow is the figure behind Nicole Lizée’s work entitled Isabella Blow at Somerset House. The composition is a response to a posthumous Blow photo exhibit of disembodied mannequin heads wearing Blow’s designs. These macabre images inspired Lizée to translate techniques from her background in vintage technologies and looping into instrumental gestures that “ride a beautiful line between roboticism and humanity,” says Desoer. This is a rare acoustic work for Lizée and yet she manages to expand the sound world of the string quartet with a few additional sources.
For a project that began with a search for repertoire by women, it’s inspiring to see how each of the composers addresses themes important in the early days of feminist art practices. For the quartet, the project has blossomed into something for which “it’s hard to see an end date” Desoer said. It certainly has inspired them with a desire to commission more repertoire for string quartet by women composers and to encourage other quartets to do so as well. (The quartet will also be performing both the Lizée and Ćurčin works on May 6 as part of a program presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.)
Unsuk Chin: There will be plenty of opportunities at 21C to hear the music of featured composer Unsuk Chin. On May 24, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra will perform her work snagS&Snarls in Koerner Hall and on May 27, her Piano Étude will be performed in a concert in the Temerty Theatre that also includes works by Alexina Louie, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Kotoka Suzuki, and Aaron Parker. Chin will also join Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman as mentors for Soundstreams’ Emerging Composers Workshop with the final concert featuring world premieres by the six composers on May 26.
The showcase concert of Chin’s work will be on May 28 in a co-presentation with Soundstreams with performances of her Advice from a Caterpillar and Cantatrix Sopranica. (The concert will also include Harman’s works Love Locked Out along with the world premiere of It’s All Forgotten Now.) A major theme that emerges in Chin’s music is her fascination with word play and word games. In a written correspondence, I asked Chin to describe the relationship between the music and the projected text one sees during the performance of Advice from a Caterpillar. This piece for bass clarinetist is “part of my opera Alice in Wonderland, in which the performer is dressed up as a caterpillar” she replied. “In my opera, the caterpillar, one of the grotesque characters in the Wonderland, questions Alice, who is in the midst of an identity crisis and seeks advice. Instead of replying to her questions, he talks to her in bizarre riddles. By playing the bass clarinet, the Caterpillar ‘speaks’ his lines and the musical gestures are inspired by the Caterpillar’s words.”
In speaking about her work Cantatrix Sopranica, she expands upon her fascination with “the threshold regions between music and language. The piece was inspired by the ideas of OULIPO (a loose group of French-speaking writers and mathematicians), and the texts, which I wrote during the process of composition, mostly consist of palindromes, acrostics, anagrams and other wordplays. I used the texts as totally flexible musical material – just like pitches, timbre or rhythm. The piece is “about the act of singing itself, and plays with all kinds of clichés about singing. There is a good dose of black humour in it.”
Regarding questions of identity of gender or race in music, she responds that she has not “pondered [the subject] during the 30 years I’ve been in the business since that would have been stifling for my compositional work.” However, she did bring up a more pressing concern for her – “that young musicians (female, but also male) who refuse to play the glamour game are easily disadvantaged. There is the problematic tendency that the focus is less and less on music and more on marketed image.” She did note too the growing number of excellent female conductors, “one good example being the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new principal guest conductor Susanna Mälkki.”
The question of gender in contemporary music is varied and complex and I’ve tried to shine a light on some aspects of the issue within the context of the 21C Festival offerings. There is much more to explore in the festival programming than is possible to cover here, so I encourage you to check out the listings. As for other goings-on in May, here is a quick look at upcoming concerts by local new music presenters:
May 17: The Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan will be celebrating their new double CD release, performing arrangements of Indonesian songs as well as Translating Grace, for gamelan, voice, cello, organ, bass clarinet and film.
May 19: Contact Contemporary Music is back with two programs: “Without a Net” with works by Tina Pearson, John Mark Sherlock, Anna Hostman and Jerry Pergolesi; and Jun 2: “Feeling Backwards” with works by Christopher Reiche, Allison Cameron, Nephenee Rose, Annette Brosin, and Julius Eastman.
May 24: The Thin Edge New Music Collective also has two upcoming programs with their “Keys, Wind and Strings Festival, works by Allison Cameron, Gregory Lee Newsome, Solomiya Moroz, Uroš Rojko and Marielle Groven; and May 25 works by Jason Doell, Germaine Liu, Fjóla Evans, Kasia Czarski-Jachimovicz and Tobias Eduard Schick.
Jun 3 and 4: Continuum Contemporary Music presents Four Lands in collaboration with Jumblies Theatre.
Jun 3: Spectrum Music presents “Tales from Turtle Island” featuring new compositions along with storytelling.
May 10: Burdock. “A Strange Impulse.”
May 12: Anne Mizen in concert: “Celebrating Canada” includes Schafer’s Snowforms.
May 12: Gallery 345. “From Sea to Sea: A Celebration of Canada 150 in Poetry and Music.” David Jaeger, composer.
May 14: Orpheus Choir of Toronto. “Identities: Glorious and Free,” with compositions by Kuzmenko and Estacio
May 27: Array Ensemble. “Young Composers’ Workshop Concert.”
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. email@example.com.
- Written by Christopher Hoile
- Category: On Opera
The focus of Toronto opera enthusiasts’ attention in April, self included, was the COC’s revival of the much heard of but seldom seen Canadian opera from 1967, Louis Riel, now running to May 13. The focus this month is on Tapestry Opera’s presentation of the world premiere of a new full-length Canadian opera, Oksana G., on May 24.
Since Oksana G. will be the largest production Tapestry has presented since Chan Ka Nin’s Iron Road in 2001, I spoke with Tapestry Opera artistic director Michael Mori in April about how the work came to be and how it was decided to expand it beyond chamber opera scale.
Mori said that composer Aaron Gervais and librettist Colleen Murphy met at a Tapestry LibLab in 2006: “In the LibLab, over the course of two weeks, four writers and four composers get to work with every one of their counterparts on a short ‘seed’ scene, in a kind of speed-dating fashion where the pressure and intensity of it are meant to encourage ideas that are free from the fetters of self-doubt. Sometimes the collaborations are just an experiment, but sometimes we strike on the kernel that shows the dynamic between the two creators that could be very exciting for something bigger.”
At the time, the subject of human trafficking was in the air. As Mori says, “Aaron and Colleen were talking about something that was more of an issue in 2006 than now, although it’s coming back with the war in Ukraine. With the fall of the Soviet Union came poverty in certain areas and with that came crime including human trafficking. This would be the world within which they wanted to explore the character of Oksana.” That collaboration led up to its performance as one of the “Tapestry Briefs” in 2006 where it had the title, The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G.
At that point Wayne Strongman, former A.D. of Tapestry, “felt it had the potential to develop into a fully grown opera. Even since the beginning Wayne and the creators had been thinking that this was one that needed a bit more time, a bit more breadth and scale, so that it wouldn’t be a two- or three-person piece in a chamber setting but would have both an epic-ness to the music and to the libretto, so the scalability of the staging would have to encompass that.”
Mori continues: “In those first years the Canadian Opera Creation Fund, an initiative of the Canada Council, was instrumental in first helping develop the work, as would later the COC and the Banff Centre. I came in 2012, a year before the first workshop of the second act. One of the reasons for the length of time between the Brief and and the workshop was that director Tom Diamond and Colleen felt that the characters should not sing everything in English but in the original languages the characters would be using. Colleen worked with a number of translators on giving this an element of realistic naturalism so that Ukrainian characters sing in Ukrainian among themselves and in Russian when communicating with a Russian or Italian with an Italian. Of course, this means the opera will be presented with surtitles.”
Canadian coloratura soprano Ambur Braid had originally been scheduled to sing the title role, but she had to pull out when an opportunity arose for her in Europe. Nevertheless, Mori is more than pleased with the replacement he found in Ukrainian-Canadian soprano Natalya Gennadi, who recently received her master’s degree in Operatic Performance from the University of Toronto. As Mori explains, “One reason why it is exciting to have Natalya Gennadi sing the role of Oksana is that she grew up in Ukraine at the time depicted in the opera. She has direct experience of poverty there, of hunger, of sharing shoes and of people in friends’ families who disappeared and reappeared five years later, and of some who never came back. So she will be able to sing with authority because it is her mother tongue and also because she has the greatest insight of any of us into what was happening at that time.”
Producing opera on a larger scale fits in with Mori’s overall plans for Tapestry’s future: “Oksana G. is a bigger project than we have done in about 15 years. Wayne and I wanted it to be special but we are a fiercely nimble company. I also wanted it to be within our ability to be flexible and to continue producing. One of the things I have tried to prioritize since I have become artistic director is that I want to present bigger shows in Toronto every year. So in the last four years we’ve had Shelter, M’dea Undone, The Devil Inside, Rocking Horse Winner and now Oksana. It was important to me also that this wouldn’t be so big that we would have to take a couple years off.”
Mori deliberately chose the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre on Front Street for the production because it is a non-traditional opera venue: “We want to embrace what it means to be an opera company in the 21st century in Toronto. So in creating our own theatre inside the space on Front Street, it’s going to have a much more industrial feel that won’t seem like you’re walking into one of those theatres that suggests a very prescriptive theatre experience.”
Mori emphasizes that “Oksana is a full-force opera. There will be over 40 people on stage, some as villagers, some as other trafficked women, and this lends to the breadth of her journey from a small town in Ukraine to a refugee shelter in Italy. The score was originally orchestrated for about 36 people, but since the space we’re using doesn’t have a pit, such forces would overwhelm the singers. Therefore, Aaron has reduced the orchestration to about 16. The future of the work will depend entirely on the openness of other producers in Canada and the States to this piece. This is not an opera about human trafficking but it is an opera that is framed by the challenge that that presents in the same way that Tosca [running at the COC until May 20] is framed by the politics of its time. It’s a story about survival and heroism and challenging the demons that you face and overcoming this idea that women in opera shouldn’t always be portrayed as victims.”
The key to the opera’s impact will be the empathy that we feel for Oksana: “One of the most important things is that the victims in human trafficking are dehumanized and we tend to dismiss the fact that they could be your sister, your friend; it could be anyone from any background. Just following Oksana’s story, her challenge to redemption, we take a human journey. We haven’t been given a lesson in anything but what we will always remember is that there are humans out there that this is happening to, and we do have an opportunity to know more, to help. It is an emotional journey that can help us to transcend that block that our culture has with looking at uncomfortable topics.”
To sum up, Mori is very excited about his cast and creatives and what they will do: “The team we have is really something. You never know how these things will go but I often find that if you put the right people in the room together, magic will happen.”
Oksana G. plays at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre May 24, 26, 28 and 30. Natalya Gennadi sings Oksana. Tenor Keith Klassen is Konstantin, the man who trafficks her to the West. Tenor Adam Fisher sings Father Alexander who runs the refugee camp where Oksana finds herself. And mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó is Sofiya, Oksana’s mother. Tom Diamond, associated with the work since the beginning, is the stage director and the increasingly in-demand Jordan de Souza conducts.
Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Andrew Timar
- Category: World Music
In both my lead stories this month, World Fiddle Day Toronto and the “folk opera” Zemlya (Earth), an ethnomusicologist is the driving force; Anne Lederman in the former and Marichka Marczyk in the latter.
Pioneering American ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood in 1969 broadly described his discipline as “a holistic investigation of music in its cultural contexts.” He also notably advocated for direct participation, requiring that his students learn to play the music they were studying, calling his approach “bi-musicality” in a 1960 paper. As these two stories clearly demonstrate, however, the role of the ethnomusicologist can extend even further than Hood proposes: beyond the role of investigator, participant and reporter, to that of interpreter for the audience and as presenter of received musical traditions. At times it can even encompass roles of musical and dramatic creator, as demonstrated in Lederman’s intercultural co-composed fiddle tunes and scored Around-the-World Jam, and in Marczyk’s dramatic, staged performative reframing of the transformation of Ukraine village women’s lives.
Presentational ethnomusicology (which some in the field might contrast with the participatory kind) may not yet be a well-defined sub-discipline. There are however increasing numbers of musicians in our midst who are curating, producing, composing, performing and in other ways presenting music to the public combining aspects of folklore, comparative musicology, psychology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, music theory and history – in other words covering the gamut of ethnomusicology. I’ll be tracking this way of presenting music from time to time here in this column.
Zemlya: A Ukrainian folk opera
May 18 the Toronto (mostly) women’s Kalendar Folk Ensemble premieres a new work Zemlya (Earth), which it describes as a “Ukrainian folk opera,” at the St. Vladimir Institute, 620 Spadina Ave. A few years ago Kalendar itself grew out of the Kosa Kolektiv urban folk movement, a subject I explored in this column in 2013. (For backstory completists, it is accessible on thewholenote.com by searching “Kosa Kolektiv”.)
When Kalendar came to commissioning Zemlya, they looked to the Ukrainian village music specialist and ethnomusicologist Marichka Marczyk, a Toronto resident. Marczyk completed her studies at the National Academy of Music in Kyiv in 2002 and while still a student became a founding member of, and a soloist with, the important Bozhychi folklore ensemble.
For over 17 years Bozhychi members have conducted research into village performance traditions, emphasizing what they call an inclusive “authentic” approach to folklore reenactments. This is in contrast to the older 20th century paradigm of academic folk singing and dancing, state-sponsored during the Soviet era, which intended to turn “unsophisticated” folk traditions into “true art.” “We are not just after faithful reproduction. We want to present the treasures of folk music in their living, authentic form,” declared Bozhychi member Illya Fetisov. One of the group’s slogans illustrates their holistic approach: “Everything is authentic – from food to feelings.”
Marczyk counts her repertoire at over 1,000 songs, most personally collected in Ukrainian villages. She has performed them regularly with numerous groups, in Canada the best-known of which is the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Canada’s popular self-styled “guerilla-folk party-punk band.” For over a year in the wake of the 2014 Maidan Revolution, which overtook the streets of her native city, Marichka Marczyk travelled widely across Ukraine with LBO violinist Mark Marczyk, writing articles, short stories and a play aiming to represent the revolutionary gestalt. Their award-winning guerrilla folk opera Counting Sheep (2015), enlivened by the music of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, sold out at the 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
For Zemlya (Earth), Marichka Marczyk has chosen other themes to explore: urbanization and the mechanization of the lives of Ukrainian village women. Each scene is thematically connected to the earth in some way, from babies made on the earth to bodies buried deep within it. Zemlya takes received village-style solo and polyphonic songs and dances and weaves them together with a narrative tracing the radically changing roles of Ukrainian village women and their essential connection to the cycles of the earth.
Will Marczyk’s approach to the narrative present a nuanced view of the complex issues of the urbanization and mechanization of the roles of agrarian women? How will village songs, dances and instrumental music be integrated into the play and employed to illuminate the story? Will the power of these songs and the play’s drama transcend its possible thematic limitations? I’ll be eager to find answers to those questions at the sole performance of the work on May 18.
May 20: World Fiddle Day Toronto
World Fiddle Day falls on the third Saturday of May. Its aim: to celebrate the “playing of bowed string instruments throughout the world through participation, sharing and outreach, with respect to all world musical traditions.” Originating in Ireland as recently as 2011, this fiddle-centric festival is growing into a significant annual world music event. It has swiftly been embraced by string music aficionados worldwide and is now celebrated in over 45 countries, in thousands of events. Here in Canada, in 2015, Parliament declared the third Saturday of May National Fiddling Day.
On May 20 it will be recognized for the fifth year in a row by a collective of professional and amateur Toronto musicians, beginning in 2013 as a humble gathering on the lawn of Howard Park Emmanuel Church in the visibly multicultural Toronto Roncesvalles neighbourhood. At Fort York last May World Fiddle Day Toronto had grown to the point that 96 players participated in WFDT’s epic signature Around-the-World Jam.
Award-winning Canadian fiddler, singer, composer, ethnomusicologist and music educator Anne Lederman of the groups Muddy York, Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and several other ensembles is WFDT’s artistic director and “teacher-in-chief.” I spoke to Lederman about her vision for the day-long event.
“Having outgrown our lovely space at Fort York, we accepted the invitation of the Aga Khan Museum to bring World Fiddle Day Toronto there this May,” began Lederman. “We aim to be a world music presenter so it’s a perfect fit for us to partner with the museum since its inclusive mission includes serving as a catalyst for mutual understanding and tolerance.
“There is also particular resonance with regards to the thousands of Syrian refugees Canada accepted last year in partnering with that institution.” The AGM’s own mandate echoes that sentiment, offering a space for “unique insights and new perspectives into Islamic civilizations and the cultural threads that weave through history binding us all together.”
Lederman further noted that “while celebration is an important part of World Fiddle Day Toronto, through our work with diverse cultural expressions we also strive to raise awareness of world issues, strengthen cultural diversity and encourage dignity, respect and basic human rights for all cultures.”
When I pressed her for her overarching vison for WFDT, she said simply, “I just want to get people excited about the many possible different approaches to music and art there are.”
WFDT’s Around-the-World Jam
This year for example, the WFDT’s theme tune for the Around-the-World Jam evolved from a collaboration between Lederman and prominent Toronto-based Persian violin and kamancheh player Kousha Nakhaei. “Called Persionada, it pays tribute to our partners at the Aga Khan and also honours Canada’s 150th,” says Lederman. “Kousha chose the traditional Persian song Dost Khan Amiri, and I created a second melody that works with it so it can be performed by the up to 100 bowed string players, expected that day at the Museum.” The rest of the Around-the-World Jam participants will include “violin, viola, cello and some bass players, all accompanied by our stellar back-up house band. But the occasional accordionist has also sometimes snuck in!” quipped Lederman.
This year Jam fiddlers will play 35 tunes from 25 different cultural traditions. And Canadian songs take pride of place among those drawn from most of the world’s continents. Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire features in as a tribute to the celebrated late Montreal-born songwriter, as will Jerry Holland’s nostalgic waltz My Cape Breton Home and Pascal Gemme’s Valse Beaulieu.
As an example of the cultural diversity on show, the WFDT hosts five accomplished guest artists in workshops and at the long evening concert. Featured are Kousha Nakhaei playing Persian violin and kamancheh, Anne Lindsay on Finnish jouhikko, Swedish nyckelharpa and jazz violin, and, as mentioned earlier in this issue’s cover story, Chinese erhu virtuoso Amely Zhou. Representing French-Canadian fiddling are Pascal Gemme and Yann Falquet, while the award-winning youthful brother and sister duo DnA – Diana and Andrew Dawydchak – perform in the best old-time Ontario fiddle and step-dance tradition. These two duos, representing Quebec and Ontario fiddling styles and repertoires, are a particularly apt fit for WFDT’s Canada 150 theme this year.
Lederman is quick to add that WFDT “is not only a celebration of Toronto’s multi-cultural musical traditions, but the culmination of our organization’s full year of activity. These include holding community practice and workshop sessions exploring world traditions, as well as collaborating with Tafelmusik on an outreach program with young string players at the Etobicoke School for the Arts and the MNjcc Suzuki Program.”
At 5:30pm visitors can enjoy a buffet supper of Mid-East cuisine, continuing the exploration of world cultural traditions, all the while listening to WFDT’s Youth Showcase performances.
With its institutional, government, corporate and all-important community support, and driven by Lederman’s vison, World Fiddle Day Toronto’s future as a “cross-cultural ambassador” looks bright.
“Sounds of Spring”: Georgian romantic songs
May 13: Members of Toronto’s extended Georgian musical community present “Sounds of Spring” at Heliconian Hall at 6:30pm. The concert features Georgian romances, as well as city and a cappella rural polyphonic songs, showcasing the classically trained singer Ucha Abuladze and the vocal duo of Diana and Madona Iremashvili. Singer Bachi Makharashvili, also a superb guitar and chonguri player in this repertoire, plus his vocalist wife Andrea Kuzmich and children will perform, making it a warm Georgian family affair. I recommend you make the effort to attend.
Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan goes vocal
May 17: At 8pm at Array Space, the Toronto pioneering world music ensemble Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan presents “Celebrating the Voice,” with music from its two new CD releases. (As usual, when writing about the group, I need to state that I have been a career-long membership of Evergreen, one of many very satisfying, though seldom particularly remunerative, ways I have been engaged in music long before I was a music journalist.)
The eight-musician group typically adheres to an all-instrumental program but here performs a wide range of songs from its hot-off-the-press genre-defying CD Bridge. The fine Toronto vocalists Jennifer Moore and Maryem Tollar are in the spotlight, along with violinist Parmela Attariwala.
Then from its new CD release Grace, ECCG will perform Bill Parsons’ large-scale Translating Grace, scored for the very probably unique instrumentation of soprano (Jennifer Moore), ECCG’s degung, cello (Andrew Downing), bass clarinet (Bob Stevenson) and keyboard (Erik Ross). A bespoke video by Chuck Samuels provides added visual enhancement of the song cycle’s textual themes. As a trumpet virtuoso and University of Victoria music professor very recently put it, “The reckless abandon [ECCG] shows for borders, genres, and easy classification remains an inspiration.”
Autorickshaw celebrates 15 years
May 18: Toronto’s twice JUNO-nominated, Indo-fusion ensemble Autorickshaw presents “Under the Hood” live in concert. Autorickshaw celebrates 15 years, kicking off its 2017 concert season at Lula Lounge. Vocalist Suba Sankaran is joined by elite Toronto musicians Justin Abedin (guitars), Dylan Bell (voice, bass, beatboxing), Ed Hanley (tabla) and Ben Riley (drumkit).
Autorickshaw’s post-fusion repertoire spans Indian classical, folk and Bollywood as well as original compositions. Rooted in both North and South Indian classical music repertoire, its music is further framed by its members’ experiences growing up and studying music in culturally diverse Toronto. Autorickshaw is working on a new album featuring the core trio, to be released later this year. Perhaps we’ll be treated to some of their new work in progress in addition to its greatest hits.
Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
In a month when The WholeNote Canary Pages celebrates choral music and and features opportunities to participate in it, it’s fitting that there’s an incredible amount of amazing choral performance happening around the region. In this month’s column, on top of some great quick picks, SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival runs throughout most of the month; I’ve dug into the fantastic upcoming Royal Conservatory 21C Music Festival launch featuring the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Elmer Iseler Singers and the 21C Ensemble; and finally, Elisa Citterio, Tafelmusik’s new artistic director takes the stage for Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. What a bounty indeed!
SING! – A Guinness World Record™ Attempt!
SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival makes its return with events between May 11 and 28. This year marks the first for artistic directors Dylan Bell and Suba Sankaran, partners in FreePlay Duo, and masters of jazz and a capella arranging. “What makes SING! stand out is the sheer array of vocal artistry we offer in our various programs,” says Sankaran. “The ‘SING! In Concert’ series offers world-class groups from New York, and from our own backyard. ‘SING! In The Clubs’ offers a more intimate vocal experience, while ‘SING! Free,’ in the Distillery District, offers a weekend of multicultural and multi-stylistic acts, representing Canada’s unique cultural diversity, all free to the public. And ‘SING! and Learn’ offers educational outreach to schools, as well as public masterclasses where participants can work face-to-face with some of the greatest vocal ensembles in the world.”
During the festival, organizers hope to break two Guinness World Records: the most nationalities singing a national/regional anthem simultaneously; and the most nationalities in a simultaneous popular music sing-along. Bring your passports to show Guinness adjudicators and get ready to belt out O Canada. The pop song will be Rise Up led by Lorraine Segato, formerly of Parachute Club. On May 13 at 1pm, Distillery District Stage. Free!
Give Me A Head With Hair (please!)
Segato will also perform as part of the “O Canada! The Golden Age of Canadian Pop” concert, May 25 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Organizers have gathered the members of the original Toronto cast of Hair which premiered here in 1969. The musical, which opened Off-Broadway in 1967, shaped a generation and provided the groundwork for the modern musical as we know it, creating a fusion of rock, culture and social commentary in music theatre. This is a remarkable chance to see the cast throw back 50 years.
“We’re pleased to be a part of this one-of-a-kind festival celebrating vocal talent from Toronto and around the world, bringing the best performers and facilitators together at Canada’s premier a cappella festival,” says Bell. “We look forward to bringing our experience and observations to SING! Toronto, and to building on the momentum of the last six years to make SING! 2017 the best festival yet.”
21C – The RCM Welcomes the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra
The Royal Conservatory’s new music festival, 21C, is a gem of contemporary art, now providing its fourth year of programming with nine concerts, five days, 31 premieres, (12 world premieres) and 90 percent Canadian artists. Mervon Mehta, RCM’s executive director of programming, says, “We are thrilled to welcome the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Art Song Project and Soundstreams as our artistic collaborators and to have Unsuk Chin, a composer of international stature, in residence.”
The festival begins May 24 at 8pm in Koerner Hall with Johannes Debus conducting the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and the Elmer Iseler Singers with Lydia Adams, conductor and artistic director, and the 21C Ensemble. Featuring a host of Canadian and international composers, this promises to be one of the highlights of the festival. The concert will feature the Canadian premiere of American Matthew Aucoin’s The Orphic Moment taking inspiration from the “primal self-justification and self-glorification” of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Aucoin calls this a “dramatic cantata” exploring what would have happened if Orpheus had made the conscious decision to turn around escorting Eurydice back to the living as a deliberate choice of ultimate tragedy and, ultimately, of unparalleled inspiration.
Celebrated South Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s opera Alice in Wonderland first began as the composition snagS&Snarls. This scenic piece invokes the various parts of the beloved story. Canadian Samy Moussa, recently awarded the 2017 International Hindemith Prize by the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and his popular piece, Kammerkonzert will be featured.
The evening also features Toronto-based composer Brian Current presenting the world premiere of Nàaka (Northern Lights), the third movement of his River of Light multi-movement cycle, projected to be completed in 2018. Based on Dante’s Paradiso, Current’s inspiration for the entire cycle is the line: “And I saw a light in the form of a river, radiant as gold, between banks painted with wondrous springs.” Current furthers his thoughts on the piece: “No matter where we come from, or whom we pray to, a fascination with transcendence into light permeates nearly all of our religious beliefs and unites us. We are all part of the River of Light.”
Richard Van Camp, an indigenous storyteller, and Elder Rosa Mantla, both of the Dogrib (Tłįchǫ) First Nation in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, provided language and cultural contexts for Nàaka. Recognizing the deep cultural and physical relationship of the northern lights to the Tłįchǫ, Nàaka forms the Canadian contribution to the River of Light cycle.
The concert will also include Current’s The Seven Heavenly Halls, another movement of River of Light, which won the inaugural Canadian Azrieli Music Project Prize in 2015. The Seven Heavenly Halls (2015) was inspired by the Zohar (The Book of Enlightenment), the most important work of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). Central to the story is the concept of the Sefer Hekalot (the Seven Heavenly Halls) described loosely as the complexity of forgiveness within light, figurative and physical. Current describes the work as “a 12 minute journey for choir, orchestra and solo tenor based on the Zohar that traces a mystical progression where each of the seven ecstatic states is described by an orchestral colour.”
Tafelmusik – Elisa Citterio in Action at Koerner Hall
A momentous occasion is upon us May 4 to 7 in Koerner Hall with Italian violinist and early-music specialist Elisa Citterio taking the reins of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for the first time at Koerner Hall since her appointment as artistic director. Marking the end of Tafelmusik Chamber Choir’s 35th season, Citterio and Ivars Taurins lead the inimitable Mozart Mass in C Minor and Haydn’s Symphony No.98 in B-flat Major. British sopranos Julia Doyle and Joanne Lum are joined by Asitha Tennekoon, tenor, and Joel Allison, bass-baritone, as soloists. Don’t miss these performances!
There are a host of music-theatre-themed concerts in May.
May 6: The Oakville Children’s Choir presents a fun set of showtunes in “The Best of Broadway!”
May 6: Further east, the Mississauga Festival Choir is also presenting pops in “From Broadway to Hollywood” at the Living Arts Centre on the same day.
May 7: Even further east you can catch Florivox, a treble choir, in “Be Our Guest” featuring songs from popular musicals like Wicked and Hamilton.
May 10: The Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts presents Missa Gaia/Earth Mass featuring 170 voices and the premiere of Paul Halley’s In the Wide Awe and Wisdom of the Night.
May 12: The Upper Canada Choristers and their Cantemos Latin Ensemble, with guests École Secondaire Catholique Saint-Frère-André Choir, present “Ubi Caritas et Amor” featuring Vivaldi’s Gloria, the Fauré Requiem and Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights amongst many others.
May 17: Elite ensemble Opus 8 presents another free concert in their series “H2O” – described as “no mere offering of sea shanties, but a phantasmagoria of all things aquatic, shipwrecked and watery.” If you didn’t know what a phantasmagoria was (like me) it’s a series of images like those of a dream.
May 21: The grand, sumptuous, spine-tingling, incredible, massive, tremendous, bone-shaking, tear-inducing, emotional powerhouse – Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” is presented by the Niagara Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Niagara.
May 25: The Leaside United Church Chancel and Junior Choir present “Broadway Bedazzled.”
May 27: VOCA Chorus of Toronto takes on Carl Orff’s hair-raising masterpiece Carmina Burana. Other selections include a world premiere setting for two marimbas of Ola Gjeilo’s The Spheres. Torq Percussion Quartet joins Elizabeth Polese, soprano, Michael Nyby, baritone, and Christopher Mayell, tenor, for a sure night of choral fire.
June 2 and 3: Right at the beginning of June you can catch the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (in which I sing) with guests, the Huddersfield Choral Society in William Walton’s bombastic Belshazzar’s Feast. This huge British work will be led by conductor laureate Sir Andrew Davis. Part of the continuing Decades Project, this epic work was chosen by Peter Oundjian forthe decade 1930-1939. Later, at the end of June, Carmina Burana featuring the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir finishes off the Decades Project for the 2016/2017 season.
Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Written by Jack MacQuarrie
- Category: Bandstand
When I first heard of a concert by the Hart House Symphonic Band, I was very surprised. I have been a member of Hart House continuously ever since my arrival at University of Toronto as an undergraduate student back when dinosaurs were roaming the campus. For those who are not familiar with Hart House, it is the elegant gothic style student union building with the majestic Soldier’s Tower which dominates the landscape of the main campus. When was this Hart House band formed and why had I never heard of it? On April 2 I had my chance. That was the evening of the band’s spring concert titled “Angels in the Architecture.” As I sat waiting to see what sort of ensemble might perform, no fewer than 65 band members entered and dominated the entire south end of the House’s Great Hall. This is not a band of students from the Faculty of Music. Membership is a mix of undergraduate students and alumni from a wide range of disciplines.
Different would probably be the best single word to describe the programming of this concert. The selections involving the entire band were almost exclusively by modern composers. However, the only contemporary selection which I recognized was the March from the Great Escape. The real difference in the programming occurred when the program switched to the first soloist. Melanie Warren from the trumpet section moved to the piano and performed one of her own compositions. After the applause for the performance of her Rondo No. 2 she returned to her seat in the trumpet section.
Immediately after this original composition by a band member, there was a dramatic switch to Five Pieces of Dmitri Shostakovich. Here again it was not the entire band, but a trio of violin, clarinet and piano. After the performance the violinist returned to the flute section and the pianist to the trombone section.
After a return to full band renditions of Robert W. Smith’s Star Trek: Through the Generations and Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium we had a dramatic shift to solo piano. This time, Duncan Kwan the band’s bass trombonist took centre stage on piano with Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor.
The final solo of the evening forced me to start digging for information as soon as I arrived home. This was the Fantasie sur un thème original by Jules Demersseman. Little known today, Demersseman was a French composer who lived in the mid-1800s. Renowned in his day as a flutist and teacher, he was a close friend of Adolphe Sax and composed many of the earliest works for saxophone and saxhorn.
Conductor Mark Saresky states that he has only been with the band for nine years and couldn’t say when it was first established. One thing is certain: he has an impressive spectrum of musical talent and imaginative programming! Stay tuned for their next concerts which are tentatively scheduled for December and next April.
Unfortunately the acoustics of the Great Hall vary considerably depending on the placement of the group performing. The acoustics are generally excellent when the group is placed close to the middle along the long wall. That would certainly not be feasible with a 65-piece band. With the band located at the south end of the hall the sound was at times overwhelming. Nonetheless, the performance was memorable.
More on Venues and Acoustics
While on the subject of venue acoustics, one of the finest performance venues that I have encountered recently was the auditorium of J. Clarke Richardson C. in Ajax. I attended a concert there recently by the Navy Band of HMCS York as part of the school’s sesquicentennial celebration. Unlike many modern schools which have only a cafetorium, this school boasts a true theatre. It has a large stage with a full proscenium arch. I would estimate that it has a seating capacity of about 600 in comfortable upholstered tiered seats where every audience member has a full unobstructed view of the stage.
As for unusual performance venues for small groups, in the next issue I hope to be in a position to introduce readers to a little known gem within a short driving distance from Toronto. Stay tuned for a visit to the Foster Memorial.
Other Recent Events
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the “Sesquicentennial Celebration Concert” by the Plumbing Factory Brass Band on April 19. A severe and painful shoulder injury made the multi-hour drive from home to London and back a non-starter. This was the concert which I had been looking forward to more than almost any other this season. Henry Meredith’s programming of an evening made up exclusively of 19th-century brass band selections was the sort of program that I have never heard before. With any luck they may have recorded it. If so, I’ll be first in line for a copy.
While school concerts are commonplace where students perform and parents applaud, I recently attended a school concert with a difference. On April 20, St. Andrew’s Junior High School in North York presented “Jazz @ St. Andrew’s.” This included several works by four different jazz ensembles including the Swingin’ Strings. That’s right. A large group of students from Grades 8 and 9, accustomed to playing Baroque and classical music showed their adaptation to the challenges of swing style with such numbers as Duke Ellington’s C-Jam Blues.
After these performances the program shifted to show how the love of performing music may continue after school life is over. The regular student groups were followed by the York Mills Titan Jazz Band, an extracurricular after-hours club open to anyone interested in playing big band music. That was followed by a few numbers by Swing Shift, a community big band which rehearses weekly in nearby York Mills Collegiate. Members range in age from the twenty-somethings to several retirees, drawn together to read through music of the big band era. I have been a member of this group for some years, but had to serve as an audience member because my shoulder complained when I tried to hold my instrument. Both of the last two groups were led by Bob Gray, a longtime music teacher in this area.
For students and parents alike this evening showed, in no uncertain terms, that musical skills do not end when school is over, but can be a lifelong avocation. In the comment section of the program, music teacher Mr. Corbett summed up the value of musical training with these observations: “Our students have all worked hard to prepare this concert for you and have learned so much about music and about themselves. They have learned about commitment, self-discipline and the rewards of hard work. They have learned to be effective leaders and followers, ignoring their phones for hours at a time.”
The Newmarket Citizens Band will be presenting their Canada 150 concert on May 26 at 8pm in Newmarket’s Old Town Hall on Botsford Street. Canadian compositions scheduled include Ten Provinces March by Howard Cable, They Came Sailing by Andre Jutras and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Silverthorn Symphonic Winds 2016/2017 season concludes with their “Spring Celebration” on Saturday, May 27, 7:30pm at the Wilmar Heights Event Centre. The program will honour Canada’s 150 years since Confederation with works by Canadian composers and arrangers.
On Sunday, May 28, at 3:30pm The Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents their “Sounds of Spring - the Canadian Edition.” Whether or not my suggestions had any effect, they will be featuring: The Bridal Rose Overture by Calixa Lavallée, arranged by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves. This was one of my leading picks for Canadian compositions to be included in any group’s repertoire this year. I’m looking forward to hearing this new clarinet choir arrangement. Works by Howard Cable will include Point Pelee, Wychwood Suite, McIntyre Ranch Country and Canadian Folk Song Suite. Norman Campbell’s Anne of Green Gables Medley arranged by Fen Watkin will also be played.
In last month’s column I mentioned how Wynne Krangle, sitting at home in Whitehorse, had “virtually attended” Clarinet Choir rehearsals, took lessons using FaceTime, and ended up playing in the last concert. Will she be back? Yes, Wynne will be back, arriving in time for two rehearsals and then playing with the Choir for this performance with artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.
It is with great sadness that I report on the passing of Barbara Kissick. Barbara was a pioneer in establishing the idea that women should have an equal right to play in most bands where, traditionally, they were all-male organizations. As a student at Barrie Central Collegiate she became the first female band president. As I mentioned in this column a few years ago, when she was a physiotherapy student at University of Toronto, she rocked the boat again. The student council of the university actually convened a special meeting to debate whether or not a female student should be “PERMITTED” to join the Varsity Band. Barbara won. Years later, when we formed the university’s Blue and White Alumni Band, Barbara came down regularly from Barrie with her clarinet. When I learned of her passing I pulled out the CD we made with that band in May 1993, and there was Barbara’s name. My dilemma: what selection should I play? In the end it was Close to You.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Written by Bob Ben
- Category: Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz
I first met and heard the painter and singer Laura Marks four or five years back at Lisa Particelli’s singer-friendly jam about which I’ve written before. The first time I heard Marks, my impression was that she had a nice voice but was timid. Since then, one or both of us, her voice or my ears, has matured, probably the latter. Listening more recently, I hear a cool confidence, a clear sense of purpose and an unmistakable character. That character is quaint and charming, introspective and sincere – as is demonstrated clearly on her debut album, 57 Minutes. The album is a Marks-illustrated work (Marks is primarily a visual artist), and it features the instrumental prowess of Chris Gale, Reg Schwager, Mark Kieswetter, Ross MacIntyre and Ben Riley, on sax, guitar, piano, bass and drums, respectively.
Although Marks has only been playing jazz gigs about town for the last eight or nine years, her first public performance as a jazz singer happened in the early 70s at Toronto’s Poor Alex Theatre; her experiences with jazz in private reach even further back. “My dad was a jazz fan so we were exposed very early,” Marks explains. “He met Dizzy Gillespie on an airplane twice. The second time Dizzy said to him, ‘How are you, Mr. Marks?’ He remembered him.”
One of the last tracks on the album is Body and Soul, a standard which all jazz musicians know, but which also happened to be an early influence on Marks: “I used to listen to the jazz programs on radio and when I heard Billie Holiday sing Body and Soul that was it. I started to sing jazz. I remember the moment and where I was in my parents’ house. I think I was 15.”
Marks doesn’t have dazzling, virtuosic chops, but she is and has always been an artist: prone to exploring, and creating, and expressing, relentlessly and endlessly; no exceptions are made behind the microphone. I recommend you go to see her at Jazz Bistro on May 21. There’s something special about her performance, her laid-back sensibility, that aforementioned character. I just love hearing her sing and I suspect you will too.
Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.