Gustavo Gimeno. credit Marco BorggreveThe Toronto Symphony Orchestra announced mid-September that Gustavo Gimeno will be its next music director, having signed a five-year contract beginning with the 2020/21 season.

Some of you may have heard the 42-year-old Valencia-born native of Spain make his début with the TSO last February, in a program that included the Dvořák Cello Concerto (with Johannes Moser), Ligeti’s Concert Românesc and Beethoven’s Symphony No.4. Reports from attendees were that his connection with the orchestra was palpable. Gimeno began his international conducting career while principal percussionist at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. As assistant to Mariss Jansons and protégé of the legendary Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado, he developed a musical foundation that led him to head the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and propelled his career onto the world stage.

“Maestro Gimeno has an ability to connect with people, onstage and off,” said TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow. “He has a musical charisma and technical ability that is remarkable – he pulls you into the musical moment. Gustavo is absolutely the right match for the TSO, and we are looking forward to a truly unique partnership that will blend his musicianship with the amazing flexibility of our orchestra. Together, we will create something very special for music lovers in Toronto.”

Gimeno returns to conduct the TSO in the last pair of concerts of the current season, June 29 and 30, 2019. Mark your calendar.

And Meanwhile… Thirty-year-old Uzbekistan-born conductor Aziz Shokhakimov’s breakthrough was winning second prize in the 2010 Mahler International Conducting Competition. He makes his TSO debut October 13 and 14 in a program anchored by two pillars of the repertoire, Dvořák’s Symphony No.9 “From the New World” and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. George Li, winner of the Silver Medal at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, is the piano soloist. I was fortunate to hear Latvian-born violinist Baibe Skride’s electrifying performance of Brahms’ Violin Concerto with the TSO in February 2016 and eagerly anticipated her return. On October 18 and 20, she will play Britten’s Violin Concerto, a masterful work from the composer’s mid-20s that has been coming into its own in recent years. Thomas Søndergård conducts a program that also features Debussy’s iconic La mer. Russian-born, UK-based 33-year-old violinist Alina Ibragimova continues the TSO’s lineup of classical greatness on October 24, 25, 27 and 28 with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, a work that never fails to astound. Conductor Andrey Boreyko also leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Suite from The Sleeping Beauty.

Nocturnes in the City

Eighteen years ago, Nocturnes in the City started as a five-concert series at Prague Restaurant at Masaryktown in Scarborough. It was a great success from the beginning and five years later, the classical concerts were moved to downtown Toronto. Many Czech and Slovak artists have performed in last 17 years to mainly Czech-Canadian audiences: singers Eva Urbanová, Zdeněk Plech, Gustáv Beláček, Eva Blahová; pianists Antonín Kubálek, Karolina Kubálek, Jan Novotný, Boris Krajny and Martin Karlíček; violinists Ivan Ženatý and Bohuslav Matoušek; and famous quartets -- the Panocha, Zemlinsky, Pražák and Kocian.

This season, Nocturnes in the City marks the centenary of the birth of Czechoslovakia in 1918 with a special concert on October 28 when the prize-winning Zemlinsky Quartet with pianist Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová present two Dvořák string quartets and the ever-popular Piano Quintet No.2, Op.81. One week earlier on October 21, the same pianist will give a solo recital of works by three Czech composing giants – Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček.

The Zemlinsky Quartet also take advantage of their presence in Ontario to perform all 14 of Dvořák’s string quartets, as well as his Cypresses and Op.81 Piano Quintet (with Vernerová-Pěchočová), under the auspices of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, October 18, 20, 22, 24, 25 and 27. Not to be missed. 

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

OCT 10, 12PM: The Rosebud String Quartet, led by COC principal violist Keith Hamm and COC associate concertmaster/National Ballet concertmaster Aaron Schwebel, gives a free noon-hour concert of music by Haydn and Beethoven at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

OCT 10, 8PM: The Jeffrey Concerts (London) presents Canadian violinist supreme, James Ehnes, and his usual collaborative pianist, Andrew Armstrong in works by Beethoven, Brahms and Corigliano. The same program can be heard OCT 11 at 7:30PM in Kingston at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and OCT 12 at 7:30PM in Niagara-on-the Lake presented by Bravo Niagara!

OCT 11, 12PM: Pianists Rosemarie Duval-Laplante and Jean-Michel Dube honour the artistic legacy of “the Quebecois Mozart,” Andre Mathieu, on the 50th anniversary of his death by performing a selection of works for two and four hands composed by Mathieu, his father Rodolphe and by some of the composers that inspired them in a free noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

OCT 18, 8PM: The St. Lawrence Quartet bring their infectious energy and consummate musicianship to the Jane Mallett Theatre in a wide-ranging program of Haydn, Golijov, Barber (Dover Beach with baritone Tyler Duncan) and Beethoven (Op.135). Music Toronto says it’s the only performance of this program anywhere!

OCT 28, 3:15PM: Mooredale Concerts present the legendary Dorian Wind Quintet in a program of works by Bach, Perle and Dvořák.

Danish Quartet. Photo by Caroline BittencourtNOV 3, 7:30PM: The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts presents the acclaimed Danish String Quartet playing Haydn, Abrahamsen and Beethoven (the indelible Op.59 No.1). The same program can be heard NOV 4 at 3PM, presented by the RCM in Koerner Hall.

Stephen HoughNOV 6, 7:30PM: A recital by Stephen Hough is always worthwhile. For this appearance at the Isabel Centre for the Performing Arts, the British polymath brings his intelligence and flawless technique to a program of Debussy, Liszt (The Mephisto Waltz) and Chopin’s Sonata No.2.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The most important operatic event of the current season happens right at its beginning. It is the Canadian Opera Company’s presentation of the world premiere of Hadrian composed by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright to a libretto by multi-award-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor. Hadrian is important as the first COC commission for the main stage since The Golden Ass in 1999 composed by Randolph Peters to a libretto by Robertson Davies.

Hadrian librettist Daniel MacIvor. Credit Jim RyceHadrian stars renowned baritone Thomas Hampson making his COC debut in the title role, equally renowned soprano Karita Mattila as Plotina also making her COC debut and tenor Isaiah Bell as Hadrian’s lover Antinous, last seen in Toronto earlier this year as Eurimaco in Opera Atelier’s production of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Hadrian opens October 13 and runs to October 27; it is directed by Peter Hinton and conducted by Johannes Debus. 

The plot involves the Roman Emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138 AD), whom historian Edward Gibbon counted among the “five good emperors” of Rome, despite Hadrian’s habit of having his opponents executed and despite his bloody suppression of the Third Jewish Revolt (132-136). Hadrian was married for political reasons to his predecessor Trajan’s grand-niece Sabina, likely at Trajan’s wife Plotina’s behest, and spent more than half of his reign travelling about the empire. 

In Bithynia he met the youth Antinous, who became the love of his life. Antinous accompanied Hadrian on the rest of his travels for the next six years until Antinous’ mysterious death by drowning in the Nile in 130 at the age of about 20. Hadrian’s grief was so great he spent the rest of his life memorializing Antinous. He had the city Antinopolis built near where the youth died; he deified him, inaugurated games to honour him and established a religious cult to worship him which spread and continued for centuries after Hadrian’s death. The cult was condemned by some pagans of Hadrian’s time and by the early Christian Fathers. Historians, especially in the 19th century, suppressed mention of Hadrian and Antinous’ amorous relationship and it was not brought fully to the general public’s attention until the publication of French author Marguerite Yourcenar’s celebrated novel Mémoires d’Hadrien in 1951.

(from left) Assistant conductor Derek Bate, composer Rufus Wainwright, and COC Music Director Johannes Debus at the first read-through of Hadrian’s score, May 2018. Courtesy COCIn September just as rehearsals for Hadrian were starting, I spoke to Daniel MacIvor about the genesis and development of writing the opera. (Wainwright, in fact, had begun working on an opera about Hadrian after reading Yourcenar’s novel long before he wrote his first produced opera, Prima Donna, that played in Toronto as part of the Luminato Festival in 2010.) 

When asked how he became involved with Hadrian, MacIvor replied, “They [at the COC] were looking for someone to come on board with this; Atom Egoyan is a friend of mine and he recommended me to Alexander [Neef] who got in touch with me. Initially, I said no because I didn’t know anything about Hadrian or Antinous, and I knew very little about opera. But Alexander suggested that I look at the material about Hadrian and Antinous and as soon as I started to read about them I was floored that I had never heard of them because it seemed so incredibly important. How could I, as a gay man, never have known about it? So I became extremely interested in it. The story deals with grief which is an important theme of mine, so then I took a meeting with Rufus and we determined that we could work together.”

Though Wainwright was inspired by Yourcenar’s novel, MacIvor felt the story needed a different perspective: “We did talk about Yourcenar’s book, but I rejected reading it because I prefer not to read fiction when I’m writing fiction. Besides that, from what I had read about the novel and from what Rufus said, it seemed that the novel positioned Antinous as more an object of love, whereas I was very interested at looking at what it was that kept the couple together for six years, a relationship ended only by Antinous’ untimely death. I felt the story needed to be about a relationship that was physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional – that they were equals in the relationship and that that equality was frowned upon by people of the time.”

(MacIvor is correct. Though sexual relationships between older men and younger men were accepted in Ancient Rome, it was expected that the older man would be dominant in all aspects of the relationship.)

As it turned out, the late playwright Linda Griffith made an important contribution: “So when I was debating doing the job I went to visit Linda Griffiths and when she learned of the topic she gave me her copy of Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome (2009) by historian Anthony Everitt that she had just finished reading and that became my source book. One of the things Everitt talks about are the various theories of Antinous’ demise. Did he sacrifice himself in an effort to improve Hadrian’s health, was it an accident or was he murdered? Everitt offered a potential for drama there so I grabbed it. Treachery and duplicitousness are richly operatic. And then there’s also the question of Judea and Hadrian’s relationship to Jewry which is also historically known and I also created drama around that.”

(from left) Composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor at the first read-through of Hadrian’s score, May 2018. Courtesy COCMacIvor knew from the start what style of opera Wainwright intended and that affected how he approached the libretto: “I knew from the beginning that we were writing opera in the grand tradition – that I would be writing recits and arias and duets and I just went for it. I wanted the language to be formal, not casual as in [Benjamin Britten’s] Peter Grimes or in [John Adams’s] The Death of Klinghoffer

“I think that one of the things that drew Alexander to me in the first place was that if you look at my plays there’s a lot of white space on the page, so I think that might have been an early indication that I might be able to write a scene by using a minimum of words. And I love the challenge of that. It takes longer to sing a line than speak it and then there is the option that those words can be repeated over and over again.”  

MacIvor discussed the negotiations involved in collaboration: “I think structurally we landed well on the first draft, and then shifted quite a lot after that about where an aria lands or where a trio appears. Rufus and I met many times and it was a question of throwing axes and hammers with both of us feeling very passionate about the story. Opera is probably Rufus’ first musical love so he is deeply invested in it. He would speak in references to other operas for what he wanted and I would reject going there because I didn’t want to be influenced by other works. So we ended up bringing in a dramaturge, Cori Ellison, who works at Juilliard, to help bridge the very different ways we work in and I think now we are both very pleased with where we’ve landed.

“If Rufus said ‘we really need to have an aria here in this scene,’ then I would move things around and adjust what I needed to adjust. And there are adjustments in tone where a character needs to show their weakness here or their strength there, and he’d ask me to do that. There was lots of music he had written before I came on – like how he wanted to begin Act 3 which is just after the intermission and I made space for that. There is also an aria that he adapted from a pop song of his that he elevated and wanted included, so the libretto I presented four years ago has changed considerably. Yet, the four-act structure, where the main arias occur and what the story basically is, have not really changed radically.”

When asked how much of the opera he considers his, MacIvor replied: “The idea that Hadrian has the chance to relive two nights again with Antinous was something that I brought to the story. But Rufus agreed with it and the fact that he did agree also makes it his don’t you think? If you look at my other work you see that I’m obsessed with certain kinds of structures and themes and looking at the libretto you will see it’s all there, like You Are Here (2001), A Beautiful View (2006), Here Lies Henry (1995). There so much of the work that I’ve done about a person being forced to perform their life again, I think an audience who knows my work will see that in the opera.”

MacIvor has been strongly inspired by how important the story is: “Peter Hinton talks about this story really beautifully in saying that this is one of a trio of great love affairs upon which empires rose and fell. He talks about Dido and Aeneas, Antony and Cleopatra and Hadrian and Antinous. It’s all about Rome but it seems to feel weirdly relevant somehow. I think that the story of Hadrian and Antinous is an important one and I think that in giving it attention that something is served. There was a kind of homophobia surrounding it in that prevented people being able to address their story. And that fuels my passion to get this story out.” 

ON OPERA QUICK PICKS

SEP 30 TO NOV 3, VARIOUS TIMES: Eugene Onegin, Four Seasons Centre. This the COC’s first production of Tchaikovsky’s great opera since 2008.  This time it will be staged in the acclaimed production Robert Carsen created for the Metropolitan Opera.  Gordon Bintner sings Onegin, Joyce El-Khoury is Tatyana, Joseph Kaiser is Lensky and Johannes Debus conducts.

OCT 13 TO 27, VARIOUS TIMES: Hadrian, Four Seasons Centre. This the COC’s first commission for the main stage since The Golden Ass in 1999. Composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor bring to the stage one of history’s great gay love stories – that of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the youth Antinous. The production stars the renowned Thomas Hampson as Hadrian and Karita Mattila, both making their COC debuts, with Isaiah Bell as Antinous. Peter Hinton directed and Johannes Debus conducts.

OCT 25 TO NOV 3, VARIOUS TIMES: Actéon & Pygmalion, Elgin Theatre. This is the first time Opera Atelier has presented Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Actéon (1683) and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pygmalion (1748) as a double bill – two operas based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Colin Ainsworth stars as both title characters with Mireille Asselin and Allyson McHardy.  The production travels later to Chicago and Versailles.

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

Often described by performers and critics as “deliriously sensuous,” Messiaen’s Harawi is the veritable black pearl of song cycles. Is it really thematically a variation on Tristan und Isolde? How much Peruvian and Andean folklore is there in it, really? Are Messiaen’s invented words employed purely for sonorous effect? How many narrators are there in the text, how many persons, if any? Was Messiaen looking closely at the suffering of his spouse who was beginning to struggle with mental health problems at the time of its composition? Is this a rare Messiaenic creation that’s completely devoid of Catholicism? Or should we, as pianist Vanessa Wagner suggests, abandon any attempt at intellectual analysis of Harawi and meet its raw emotions with raw emotions of our own?

These are the questions which mezzo Simone McIntosh and pianist Rachel Kerr are already trying to grapple with in rehearsal for their own Harawi, to be presented on October 25 at the Canadian Opera Company’s noon-hour concert series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. While the piece will not be staged or even semi-staged, Harawi is not exactly amenable to a typical self-contained song recital either.

(from left) Simone McIntosh and Rachael Kerr. credit Ian G McIntosh Photography “When I started thinking how I want to interpret this piece,” says McIntosh when we meet in a café one bright late-summer evening, “I realized there’s no way for me to do it without there being some sort of breaking of boundaries when it comes to art song. When you’re studying art song as a singer, it’s important to understand that the beauty is to be found within the music and to portray something in art song means to portray it in a subtle, non-bodily way. I feel though that this piece lends itself to being explored in a bodily way.”

Her first encounter with Harawi was Against the Grain Theatre’s 2015 mashup of the Messiaen song cycle with Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin, which Joel Ivany staged in a Parkdale gallery and Christopher Mokrzewski conducted from the piano. Krisztina Szabó gave voice to the Harawi woman, who is in a troubled relationship with baritone Stephen Hegedus’s Müllerin narrator. This marriage of two very different pieces worked extremely well. And made McIntosh determined to sing it ASAP: “I saw the AtG’s Harawi, and Krisztina Szabó doing it so brilliantly, and said to myself: I want to do this so bad. Since that night, it’s been on my wish list. When I got into the COC Ensemble, Liz Upchurch asked me what I’d like to sing while I’m here and I immediately said Harawi.”

It’s hard to describe Harawi to somebody who’s never heard it. McIntosh gives it a try: “I’d describe it as an eclectic piece that explores the musicality of both folk and contemporary music, and joins the tonality with the atonality. It’s a piece with an amazing range of emotion and musical expression.” Is she going to try to make sense of the words? “The poetry of it is so bizarre and surrealist and abstract. At first I thought, Hmm, what am I going to do with this? But I found some really wonderful sources that preserve Messiaen’s thoughts when he was writing the piece so I’ll be definitely incorporating what he had in mind while composing … I’ll be making sure that there’s a through storyline that makes sense to me, but also respects what he wanted.”

Does Messiaen’s ailing wife comes into the equation? “That’s an interesting aspect, and one of the ideas that I’m toying with as I’m rehearsing the piece. But the main aspect is – it’s a story of two lovers that are separated by death and at the end united in death.” It’s a decidedly non-Christian view of death, however. “Messiaen presents death as this chaotic nebula that is full of stars … It’s kind of atypical for him.”

Do we ever know who is narrating, and if it’s one specific person? “In one of the songs, there is the young woman narrator, and then the narration clearly switches to the young man. None of the other songs have that. Whenever the words are addressing Piroutcha, you could argue that I’m performing the young man. All in all, I think I’m playing two, if not three characters – as there’s an outside narrator. Maybe even four: where Messiaen used syllabic mutterings, a witch may speaking. Or a character with witchy features that’s based on Goya paintings.”

McIntosh has been passionate about 20th century and contemporary music since early university. She went to school alongside a group of composers and has been able to sing a lot of new works from the get-go. If there’s a red thread running through her undergraduate years at UBC, the years of working on a master’s at McGill, the Merola program in San Francisco and now the COC Ensemble Studio, it would probably be new music. “My goal is to be a voice for contemporary music, specifically Canadian composers. It’s really important to encourage young Canadian composers to write for the voice – and to advocate for those pieces. A lot of the time some amazing new music is not recognized because of the lack of performing opportunities. I hope to be changing that.” If she were to be an ambassador for any of the composers from the past? “Definitely Richard Strauss. Berg. I also love singing Schoenberg. Then of course Mozart: I love him and will be doing a lot of Mozart in the near future.” Starting with understudying Dorabella in the COC revival of Atom Egoyan’s production of Cosi fan tutte next year.

In another unusual project that came her way, McIntosh actually had the opportunity to combine Mozart and new music. Crush, a modern reconstruction of Don Giovanni composed by James Rolfe to a libretto by Anna Chatterton, turns the title character over to a mezzo – McIntosh, that is – in a production that was workshopped and performed at the Banff Centre. Or rather, off-off-Banff Centre, in a night club which doubled as a sex club for the occasion. Donna Giovanna was a “sex addicted sociopath,” as McIntosh puts it, chased by lovers of both sexes. “There were dildos on the walls, condoms on the floor…” she laughs. “It was pretty racy.” As in Da Ponte’s libretto, the protagonist takes advantage of people, but dies by the hand of the character named Lola, who is a modern approximation of Donna Elvira.

Upon finishing the Merola summer training program in San Francisco last month, McIntosh returned to her busy and sometimes unpredictable days as a COC Ensemble Studio member. Ensemble Studio is really good at taking the voices that they want, rather than the voices that they, for practical purposes need, she says. “A lot of similar programs have some kind of equal distribution, and take two sopranos, two mezzos, two tenors etc.” The COC Ensemble actually lets itself fall in love with a young voice, and works around that. “They choose the voices that they want, and then program.” And sometimes, fortunately, those young voices will insist on tackling the Mount Everests of art song like Messiaen’s Harawi

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

OCT 9, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company, Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre | “The Best of Rossini: Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio.” Arias and duos, comedic and dramatic. The dramatic Rossini is heard nowhere near enough in Toronto, so even the slightest chance of a Tancredi aria is worth the wait in that line around the block.

Lauren EberweinOCT 18, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company, Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre | “Mélodies et chansons.” Graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Lauren Eberwein joined the COC’s Ensemble Studio as a mezzo, but is now a soprano. How has the voice changed since she won the second prize in the COC Ensemble Competition in 2015 with the trouserissimo “Parto, parto” from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito? A chance to find out, and meet the soprano Anna-Sophie Neher as well. The two will perform a selection of French art songs.

OCT 21, 3PM: Off Centre Music Salon: Trinity-St. Paul ‘s Centre. “The Mystery of History: 1889 in Paris and Vienna.”An intriguing chamber program indeed, including Brahms and Johann Strauss’ very different approaches to Hungarian and Roma/Gypsy cultures, and Massenet and Chausson amidst quite a bit of Debussy. Readings throughout from Arthur Schnitzler by actor William Webster; historical commentary by Stephen Cera. Shannon Mercer, soprano; Krisztina Szabó, mezzo; Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin, piano; Mark Skazinetsky, violin.

OCT 27, 7:30PM & OCT 28, 3PM: Pax Christi Chorale: Grace Church on the Hill. “Slavic Devotion. “Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil and Vocalise with Natalya Gennadi, soprano. David Bowser conducts.

NOV 5, 7:30PM: “International Resource Centre for Performing Artists presents Singing Stars: The Next Generation.” Zoomer Hall. A program of opera and oratorio arias. Singers to be announced; Rachel Andrist at the piano.

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

In this month’s column we have two arts organizations taking on Slavic traditions and history. Pax Christi Chorale presents “Slavic Devotion” and Vesnivka Choir leads a commemorative concert for the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor.

Members of Pax Christi ChoralePax Christi Chorale: Slavic Devotion

Inseparable from Slavic history is the relationship of Orthodox Christianity in the region. The traditions of Slavic Orthodoxy are distinct from those of Western Europe, with the sphere of influence having been Constantinople rather than Rome. In the deep ritual and spirituality of the Orthodoxy, we find many of the great Eastern European composers. Two are featured by artistic director David Bowser: Stravinsky’s A Symphony of Psalms; and Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise and All Night Vigil.

“Slavic Devotion’ refers to the spirited expression of sacred and secular Slavic music,” replies Bowser in response to a few of my questions. “We are presenting Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian music to demonstrate a rich variety and beauty in contrasting styles.”

This is not a religious concert in the typical spiritual sense. Bowser has assembled these works to display the rich musical history of Slavic music and the languages, which he describes as “beautifully fluid and melodic.”

“The Symphony of Psalms is the perfect musical pairing for Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil,” says Bowser. “They are both conventional works in some ways, but the bright spark of personality and unique genius shines through. Like Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky before him, Stravinsky rejected much of the Orthodox Church’s teachings and generally did not attend church in his adult life. But these composers found a unique musical voice to express their personal spiritual culture and artistic link to tradition.”

Many choral composers, while not overtly religious, have worked within the space of the spiritual. Of the grand choral works that one can name offhand, a good bunch of them are masses or requiems. “Just as there is no political statement in this program, there is no religious one either,” shares Bowser. “It’s about the impact of beautiful art and vocal vibration on the audience. We are performing sacred and secular works not to recreate their social function but to reveal their beauty in a new light.”

With a strong Ukrainian tradition in Toronto, there are many descendants and members of the diaspora who continue to shape and influence music. Pax Christi Chorale is joined by Natalya Gennadi, a popular presence in the Toronto opera scene. Gennadi and Bowser have collaborated before. He shares: “I have known Natalya for many years ever since she was a selected soloist in the Toronto Mozart Vocal Competition, now called the Toronto Mozart Master Class Series. She is a stunning singer with incredible technique and wonderfully expressive investment in the text.”

Gennadi made a name for herself as the lead in the Tapestry Opera production of the new opera Oksana G. in May 2017. A Russian language and literature specialist, Gennadi’s thorough comfort in the Russian and Ukrainian languages and tradition will be well-suited to this concert. For Bowser, this is a chance to work together again” “We have been looking for a project and her expertise in Russian and Ukrainian repertoire and language gave us an opportunity to highlight the great works from this part of the world,” he says.

Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise contains no actual words. The ethereal sounds on beautiful open vowels allow Gennadi to evoke, inspire and create a narrative of her own making through the music. Unlike instrumental music, which exists without consonants and vowels, the physical function of singing is usually a carefully articulated rhythmic roadmap of deftly shaped words. Allowing yourself the indulgence of experiencing gorgeous vocal lines free of the constraints of words has a universality of the effect that may surprise even the most experienced choral listener. Paired with the stunning All-Night Vigil, listeners will find themselves transfixed. “These are extraordinary works for the human voice,” says Bowser. “The synchronized vibration of 100 voices makes this experience all the more satisfying.

October 17 at 7:30pm and October 28 at 3pm. Pax Christi Chorale performs Slavic Devotion. With guest soprano Natalya Gennadi. Grace Church on-the-Hill.

Vesnivka ChoirVesnivka Commemorates the Holodomor

Under the iron fist of Stalin’s Soviet Russia, millions of Ukrainians died from government-sponsored famine, neglect and isolation during peacetime. Restricting people from escaping famine-stricken communities, imposing total government control of food production, confiscating food and restricting community access to it, the Soviet government created the conditions for famine and millions died.

Writing together, artistic director Halyna Kondracki and executive member Lesia Komorowsky responded to a few of my inquiries about the commemorative concert. Chorister Valentina Kuryliw also provided comments. Their knowledge and gracious sharing of history show a connection and thoughtfulness bridging the important acts of memory, religion and music.

In 2003 and 2008, the choir commemorated the 70th and 75th Holodomor anniversaries, respectively. As Kondracki and Komorowsky share: “It is important to keep the memory of this event alive so that future generations learn about it and understand what can happen under the rule of tyranny and media censorship.”

(Compare the frightening reality of our current world in the genocide of Yazidis, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas, and the targeting of women and children by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Many of the horrors we wish would stay in the past continue forward into our present and future.)

Of the Holodomor, Kuryliw notes that for Ukrainians who survived, “No one was allowed to mourn for these people. It was forbidden to mention the famine in Soviet Ukraine for generations. The memory of it was erased from history under the Communists.” As Kuryliw notes, Ukrainians are particularly sensitive to the annexation of Crimea, properly Ukrainian territory, by Russia. For those still in the Ukraine and for the diaspora, remembering events like the Holodomor is “a testimony of the resilience to survive despite starvation, deportations and executions – all attempts to destroy [us].”

Music has been a way to keep many of those traditions alive. “Music is an integral part of Ukrainian culture and, in particular, a strong choral tradition,” say Kondracki and Komorosky. “From the very beginning when Ukrainian pioneers came to Canada, they organized in order to keep their cultural traditions alive in the diaspora. In almost every Ukrainian-Canadian community throughout Canada you will find choirs, bands, orchestras and dance groups. The Ukrainian community in and around the GTA has long been a strong bastion of Ukrainian culture with its many community and church choirs.”

It is no accident that Vesnivka is celebrating its 53rd year of music making.

For this commemoration, Kondracki has programmed an entirely Ukrainian concert. Many Ukrainian composers have written works to commemorate the Holodomor. Evhen Stankovych’s Requiem will be performed as well as Hanna Havryletz’s My God, why have You abandoned me? The late Ukrainian-Canadian composer Zenoby Lawryshyn’s Tryptych: In Memoriam to the Victims of Holodomor will also be performed. Lawryshyn was a dear friend of the choir and created many works for Vesnivka over the years. And treasured local Ukrainian-Canadian composer Larysa Kuzmenko’s Voice of Hope will be performed with soprano solo by Antonina Ermolenko accompanied by the Gryphon Trio.

Recognizing the Slavic Orthodoxy is inseparable from the Ukrainian-Canadian experience. Sacred music composer Roman Hurko is of Ukrainian Canadian descent. Educated at the University of Toronto and Yale University, his speciality has been composing for the Byzantine Rite, still the major form used by Slavic Orthodoxy. The historical rootedness of his composing was brought forth in his major work Requiem/Panachyda, written to commemorate another Ukrainian historical moment – the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The choirs will sing Eternal Memory, an excerpt from the Requiem.

This commemorative concert fits into the musical tradition of the community who have long marked important moments with music. “In addition to previous concerts commemorating Holodomor,” Kondracki and Komorosky write, “Vesnivka Choir has spearheaded or taken part in four concerts commemorating the Chernobyl disaster. Following the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986, many Ukrainian musicians in Canada and abroad wrote music, including requiems, commemorating this event. Other commemorative concerts have included remembering the Ukrainian Army of WWI, the arrival of Ukrainian pioneers in Canada, the 100th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence in 1918, and several concerts in tribute to various Ukrainian composers and literary figures.”

The church continues to be an important part of the Ukrainian-Canadian tradition and Vesnivka continues that work. And never far form their work is the Orthodox Rite. At their religious home of St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, Vesnivka bring forth all the history and memory of what it means to be Ukrainian and Canadian.

On October 21, 2018, Vesnivka will join other dignitaries and guests at the unveiling of the Toronto memorial to the victims of the Holodomor. Led by the Toronto Ukrainian Association, the new memorial will stand just north of the Princess Gates to Exhibition Place.

October 28, 5pm. Vesnivka and the Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir present “Commemorating Holodomor.” With special guests the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Gryphon Trio and soprano Antonina Ermolenko. Runnymede United Church, Toronto. 

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

OCT 10, 7:30PM: Chorus Niagara presents Brahms’ great work: Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem). With the Avanti Orchestra and soloists. Chorus Niagara, under Bob Cooper, is a fantastic ensemble bringing fine choral music to the Niagara region. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St Catharines.

OCT 27, 7:30PM: The Orpheus Choir of Toronto performs the music to the 1924 silent film Peter Pan. This is a new film undertaking for the choir and will prove to be an exciting addition to the oft-performed Phantom of the Opera. Eglinton St. Georges United Church.

NOV 4, 4PM: The Amadeus Choir presents “The Great War: A Commemoration.” Featuring Gabriel Faure’s Requiem and joined by guests, the Eglinton St. George’s Choir and soloists. This is an earlier option for those looking to catch commemorations for Remembrance Day. Eglinton St .George’s United Church.

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

October is a fine month to go exploring for what’s happening on the global music scene. We listen to hybrid Persian-Western classical music expressing profound Sufi insights, then travel all the way down the QEW to listen to the joyful songs of emerging Indian singer Anandi Bhattacharya. We end up at a College Street “Bar” relaxing with three local groups helping to define today’s Toronto world music brand. Along the way we hear how music is passed on in families abroad – as well as in one downtown Toronto hood. Read on.

(from left) Hafez Nazeri and Shahram NazeriUntold – A New Chapter: Shahram Nazeri and Hafez Nazeri

Veteran Persian classical vocalist Shahram Nazeri and his son, the multi-instrumentalist and composer Hafez Nazeri, are celebrated in their native Iran and increasingly on the international scene. There are also strong Toronto connections to this story. Shahram Nazeri (b.1950), the widely celebrated Kurdish-Iranian tenor, was the first vocalist to set the mystical Sufi poetry of the 13th-century Persian Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (known worldwide as Rumi), to Persian music in the 1980s. Dubbed the “Persian Nightingale” by The New York Times, he has a career discography of over 40 albums that have sold over 70 million units. In 2007 he was honoured with the Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres medal from the government of France for his achievements in Iranian traditional music; the same year he also received the Lifetime Cultural Heritage Award from the Asia Society of New York. Among connoisseurs of classical Persian music he’s considered a legend.

In his father’s footsteps, Hafez Nazeri (b.1979) has also sought to carry Rumi’s message to a global audience, mediated via his hybrid compositions. With formal training in both Persian and Western classical music, he aims to bridge musical divides between those cultures. Searching for common ground, he states: “I want to create a revolution with music, with love rather than hate, or chaos and bloodshed. At a time when all that we hear about Iran is filtered through headlines of intolerance, focusing around the development of nuclear weapons and facilities, it is important to also portray the 7,000-year-old cultural history, with its deeply poetic and artistic mystical tradition through music and art, to the world … The universal language of music can and should function as the common language of humanity, harmonized, refreshed and redefined.”

The Nazeris’ major work is the Rumi Symphony Project, composed by Hafez Nazeri as an evolving large-scale musical suite inspired by Rumi’s poetry, mixing elements of Persian, Hindustani and Western classical music including harmony, orchestration and choral singing, and enthusiastically received at its 2007 Los Angeles premiere.

Their 2014 album Rumi Symphony ProjectUntold, co-produced by Nazeri and Grammy-winning producer David Frost, reportedly took more than 5,000 studio hours to record. It featured the poetry of Rumi as transcribed by bestselling author Deepak Chopra, dozens of leading international musicians, and ecstatic vocals by Shahram Nazeri. Rumi Symphony ProjectUntold became the first album by Middle Eastern artists to top the Billboard Classical chart.

Toronto here they come!

In October 2018, the Toronto-based artist agency and concert producer, Link Music Lab, is taking the bold step of presenting the next chapter of the work, titled Untold – A New Chapter, in five Canadians cities. Rehearsals start in Toronto early in the month. The tour then launches on October 13 in Ottawa and October 14 in Montreal, moving to Calgary on October 27, and Vancouver on October 28.

October 21, right in the middle of the tour, Untold takes over the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, co-presented by Small World Music. “Small World was proud to present the extraordinary vocalist Shahram Nazeri 18 years ago,” says SWM’s Executive Director Alan Davis “It was one of the first classical Persian music concerts we presented. Now we’re continuing that tradition.”

In addition to the multi-instrumentalist Hafez Nazeri – primarily playing the hafez, his own adaptation of the Persian setar, a member of the lute family – the ensemble will include Hussein Zahawy, a versatile daf (Kurdish frame drum) specialist, plus Iranian percussionist Farhad Saffari. American cellist Felix Fan, violist Liuh-Wen Ting, and violinist Conrad Harris form the string section, while soprano Maria Sokolovsky and mezzo Anna Yelizarova provide a strong female vocal counterpart to Shahram Nazeri’s male voice.

Shahram’s vocal performance forms the core of Untold, featuring extensive use of the characteristic Persian tahrir vocal ornament consisting of very quick melismatic oscillations between notes, including tonal gradations finer than a quartertone when extended, forming what has been described as “sonic arabesques.” These tahrir passages, more than exhibitions of breathtaking virtuoso vocalism, express the underlying passion, yearning or even spiritual transcendence of the particular song’s lyrics.

On the Rumi Symphony Project CD’s liner notes Hafez Nazeri observes, “Traditional Middle Eastern music is essentially defined by the soloist and fluid improvisation. It serves the performer as a vehicle for a spiritual and deeply personal journey, even as the audience submits its will to the moment and journeys along where the soloist may lead. Classical Western music, on the other hand, has evolved as a formal composition characterized by orchestral forms built on a solid balance of harmony, rhythm and structure, and requiring a certain disciplined distance by the performers and the listeners to be properly interpreted and appreciated. One of my greatest challenges was to try and meld these two divergent frameworks into one integral structure.”

Hafez Nazeri’s ambitious goal in this project is nothing less than “to create a new sonic universe, a unified construct [… resulting] in a new school of music that would transcend the cultural divide rather than colour one musical system with another [… laying] the foundation of an inclusive and transformed musical language.”

Anandi BhattacharyaAnandi Bhattacharya: The Voice of Modern India

From the venerable mid-century Sony Centre located in Toronto’s core to the barely three-year-old FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown Catharines is about a two-hour drive – not of course including traffic jams. On November 2, audiences can also travel musically from Iran to Northern India to catch the concert billed as “Anandi Bhattacharya: The Voice of Modern India.”

As in the case of Hafez Nazeri, Anandi Bhattacharya grew up in a deeply musical family, surrounded by professional musicians. The daughter of renowned Hindustani classical slide guitar innovator Debashish Bhattacharya, and niece of tabla master Subhasis Bhattacharya, very early rigorous musical training was to be expected.

Now 22, Anandi is pursuing her own singing career. She has recently released her album Joy Abounds, an exploration of her musical roots and influences. Accompanied by her father, uncle and Catalan clarinetist/guitarist/vocalist Carola Ortiz, her sweet, light and lithe voice covers light classical to folk songs in arrangements interspersed with bravura instrumental solos.

Although steeped in Hindustani musical culture from a very early age, Anandi says she was never forced to be a musical purist by her father and guru. This liberal aesthetic view made possible her high regard for musical fusion and several genres are represented and mashed up in her current repertoire. For example, as well as the pervasive impact of renowned 20th-century Hindustani music masters, she also cites Thom Yorke, Ella Fitzgerald and Joni Mitchell as leading influences.

Her current set list includes folk songs of Rajasthan and Bengal, a song by poet Rabindranath Tagore, original compositions by her father Debashish Bhattacharya and Carola Ortiz, as well as accompaniments and solos by Subhasis Bhattacharya, among the world’s foremost tabla players. Anandi notes that her music “is light-hearted but carries the true essence of ragas and their moods, and evokes a sense of familiarity amidst uncharted waters.”

Another factor in her current direction was touring with her father and uncle on the global stage, a profoundly formative experience. Its impact is summed up by Anandi: “I do not believe that I was meant to imbibe my own culture alone. I think for me, finding my sound [… including] all that I love to hear, and all that churns within me, is my path forward.”

So Long SevenWorld Music! Fun!

October 28, Toronto world music quartet So Long Seven throws a family-friendly Sunday 4pm world music party at Toronto event venue, Revival Bar, as a sendoff for their November European tour. Called “World Music! Fun!” the afternoon concert features performances, headlined by So Long Seven, opened by two bands with overlapping membership: Near East Trio and Zephyr.

Recently nominated by the Canadian Folk Music Awards for Best Instrumental Band for its album Kala Kalo, So Long Seven is comprised of Neil Hendry (guitars), Tim Posgate (banjo, bass guitar), William Lamoureux (violin, other strings) and Ravi Naimpally (tabla, other percussion). Individually they’re among Canada’s leading instrumentalists on their respective instruments and in their chosen music genres. Jointly, they share a common mission. “We often play and compose for each other with great mutual respect, trying to challenge, push and inspire each other,” says banjoist Posgate.

Another group performing at the Revival Bar gig, Near East Trio – with Ernie Tollar (sax, flutes), Demetrios Petsalakis (oud), Ravi Naimpali (tabla) – was nominated by the Canadian Folk Music Awards for Best World Music Group.

“These groups are part of a rich local scene,” notes Posgate. “In fact, most of the musicians involved in the show can walk to the gig! So Long Seven rehearses just west of Revival, Zephyr two blocks east and Near East Trio a few blocks north. It’s our home turf!”

These musicians all live in one particular downtown Toronto hood, yet their music has taken them far. Collectively they have logged thousands of touring miles, hundreds of recording credits, and multiple Juno nominations. So Long Seven and Near East Trio both released well-received albums this year, while Zephyr – Brenna MacCrimmon sings songs from Turkey and the Balkans, accompanied by Demetrios Petsalakis (oud) and Jaash Singh (darbuka) – are among the city’s most in-demand world musicians.

Listening to all three groups, perhaps we can hear a kind of downtown Toronto music taking form, rooted in multiple world music traditions. For example So Long Seven’s instrumentation combines jazz violin, Hindustani tabla, bluegrass banjo and acoustic guitar.

“All three groups are dynamic and fun to watch – and at Revival there is space for dancing if the mood hits!” adds Posgate. “Plus we really want to make it fun for the whole family: there will be face painting for the kids and cool door prizes.” 

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

"We are the Halluci Nation. We are the tribe they cannot see. Our DNA is of earth and sky. Our DNA is of past and future. We are the Halluci Nation.” These words written and spoken by Indigenous poet, author, musician and activist John Trudell on the first track of A Tribe Called Red’s album We Are The Halluci Nation (2016) reverberate with strength and conviction. Based in Ottawa, A Tribe Called Red (ATCR) currently consists of musicians Bear Witness from the Cayuga First Nation and 2oolman from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Their powerful blend of music mixes traditional pow wow dance music with electronic dance music, otherwise known as EDM. Their collaboration with Trudell on the Halluci Nation album has sparked a movement that continues to grow and expand.

The poem describes “an imagined nation made up of people living within the philosophy of remembering what it is to be human, and what it is to treat other people like humans,” Bear told me during our recent phone interview. Not only do the words that articulate this vision appear as the opening track, but the entire album itself is a model of the idea of that nation. Each track is a collaboration with other musicians who by their very participation are expanding the scope of the Halluci Nation and were invited to participate “because the work they are doing already makes them part of Halluci Nation,” Bear said. Tanya Tagaq, Lido Pimienta, Chippewa Travellers, Jennifer Kreisberg and Northern Voice are some of the participating musicians. They are coming together to advocate for change, particularly around the issues of reconciliation and reparation, and to resist the mainstream, exploitative “ALie Nation.”

As Bear states: “The Halluci Nation are a group of people that break off from society to return to natural ways of life. It’s not just for Indigenous people, although it is a movement led by Indigenous people. It’s open to anyone as a mind frame and rallying point for those who understand there is something wrong with the current system.”

Bear Witness CREDIT Matt BarnesX Avant

With this year’s X Avant festival at the Music Gallery, the Halluci Nation will grow and expand even further. Artistic director David Dacks has invited Bear to be the guest curator for the 13th edition of this annual festival. Bear, in turn, has taken this opportunity to bring together a Canada-wide lineup of artists to create this next iteration of the Halluci Nation. Musically, the overall sound of this festival will be a distinct contrast to earlier festivals, as many of the invited musicians come from backgrounds in the plethora of approaches that have grown out of electronic dance music since the first devices for performing electronic music were developed at the end of the 19th century.

With the manifesto of the Italian futurists in the early 20th century, various sounds not previously considered musical began to be heard in artistic settings. Electroacoustic music as a European art form was introduced mid-20th century, with Canadian pioneers Hugh Le Caine and Norman McLaren contributing to the development of unique electronic technologies. Before the introduction of digital synthesizers and the MIDI system in the 1980s, the production of electronic music was largely limited to radio and university-based studios as the equipment was not easily transportable. Eventually, large-scale studios became somewhat obsolete with the introduction of laptops and iPads and other portable gear, making it possible for live and interactive performances. Electronic Dance Music arose in the late 1980s as music created largely for nightclubs, raves and festivals, and was produced for playback by DJs seamlessly mixing tracks. This club-based artform has mushroomed over the years, and this year’s X Avant festival will be a perfect opportunity to hear the latest innovations in these genres.

The opening concert of the festival on October 11 promises to be a visual feast with sets by Tasman Richardson, See Monsters, and Creeasian & Bear Witness. Before becoming a musician, Bear had a visual arts career that was mainly video based. Working with images that depicted misrepresentations of Indigenous people in the media, he sampled and reworked this material to create installations and short experimental films, highlighting the empowering aspects of the images and discarding the negative ones. Once ATCR began to take up more of his time, he folded his video work into his DJ sets.

Toronto-based Richardson was a huge influence on Bear’s visual work. Richardson will present two new three-channel live A/V performances, the first of which will use glitches from an Atari game console, and the second will use satellite-based images. See Monsters are a duo that come the closest to what ATCR do, using video, sound and sampling of traditional music. Being based in Northwest Coast traditions however, they have a very different aesthetic than ATCR. Bear’s collaboration with dancer and musician Creeasian will give him an opportunity to use some of his video work outside of the Tribe context and is for him another extension of the Halluci Nation idea. Sound artist and DJ, Maria Chávez, who will open the October 12 concert, was a new discovery for Bear who was intrigued by one of her signature DJ processes – using broken LPs layered on the turnable to create her unique sonic language. Bear cites Geronimo Inutiq as one artist who started working in a similar way as ATCR over 20 years ago, working with throat singing as well as electronic music and video production. The October 12 concert will conclude with respectfulchild, a solo instrument project of Gan from Saskatoon on Treaty 6 Territory. These ambient soundscapes are created from nuanced improvisations on their violin, resulting in a sound that takes the listener on an introspective reflective journey.

Saturday night’s events on October 13 will feature an all-out beat fest with Los Poetas, Above Top Secret and Ziibiwan at the Music Gallery, then wrapping up the evening with a dance party at The Mod Club. Headlining the dance party will be the sounds of El Dusty’s Colombian cumbia music, an artist with whom ATCR is currently collaborating. Following this will be mixes by two of Toronto’s most highly regarded DJs Dre Ngozi & Nino Brown; finishing off the evening is a set by Bear and his ATCR colleague 2oolman.

Narcy. credit TAMARA ABDUL HADIClosing out the festival on October 14 will be the music of veteran performers and innovators Narcy, Jennifer Kreisberg and Lillian Allen. Narcy is a pioneer of the Arab hip-hop movement working in Montreal, while Kreisberg innovates using multilayers of stunning vocal harmonies. Allen, of course, is well known in Toronto for her groundbreaking work in dub.

The festival also offers two occasions for audience members to engage with some of the festival artists. There will be a panel discussion at 6pm on October 14 about the concept of the Halluci Nation and a Sampler Café at 1pm on October 13 hosted by Creeasian where participants will have a chance to try out and play with different digital equipment. This is open to people of all ages and abilities.

Currently, Bear is developing material for the next album, and is reaching out to various artists that come across his path in Los Angeles. This album will be a contrast to We Are The Halluci Nation, although the very creating of it will be another extension of the Halluci Nation concept by bringing in other artists to collaborate. “This time the focus will be on celebration rather than dealing with the dystopian sci-fi vision of what the Halluci Nation could be,” Bear told me. When I asked the reason for this change, he replied that he feels that “people are getting stuck in the ideas of fighting and struggle. We need to start envisioning what it would be like beyond struggle.”

We concluded our interview by discussing how he would sum up the current issues facing Indigenous people, or whether that was even possible to do. “It’s a hard question to answer as there are hundreds of nations across one of the largest land masses in the world. One important thing for people to realize is that the things we talk about as Indigenous issues aren’t just that; they are human issues. Water rights, clean water, oil pipelines – we all need clean water, we all need to live on this planet. This is one of the most important things for people to realize at this point in time.”

The Halluci Nation vision is an invitation and call out for all those who find themselves seeking a more just world for all peoples and are committed to helping that come into being. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

OCT 12, 8PM: Soundstreams, “Six Pianos,” Koerner Hall. Steve Reich’s music returns to Toronto with a performance of Six Pianos (1973), a work that the composer originally wrote for all the pianos in a piano store and subsequently pared down to six pianos. This concert will feature the veteran Reich performer Russell Hartenberger who will be joined by five other local pianists. Other works on the program include music by Ristic, Cage, Lutosławski, Louie and Palmer.

OCT 15, 8PM: The Azrieli Music Prizes Gala Concert, Maison symphonique de Montréal. Although a bit of a drive away, this concert will feature Ottawa-based Kelly-Marie Murphy’s composition En el escuro es todo uno (In the Darkness All is One). Murphy wrote this piece after winning the 2018 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music, one of the biggest prizes for composers in the country. An interview with Murphy about her vision for this composition can be read in the October 2017 edition of The WholeNote.

Esprit Orchestras Alex Pauk studies a score (2015)OCT 24, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra. “For Orbiting Spheres,” Koerner Hall. Esprit Orchestra opens their current season with four orchestral works inspired by the various phenomena of the cosmos. Two Canadian premieres of works by Missy Mazzoli (USA) who composed Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres) and Unsuk Chin (Korea) are paired with Netherlands composer Tristan Keuris’s Sinfonia and Charles Ives’ tour de force An Unanswered Question. A heavenly night of music.

OCT 26 TO 28, 8PM: Arraymusic/Exquisite Beat Theatre, Rat-drifting 2: SlowPitchSound presents: Alternate Forest, Array Space. Rat-drifting is a concept developed by Martin Arnold to bring together free improvisation, noise, psychedelic process music and DIY para-punk composition. This month’s version features SlowPitchSound’s multidisciplinary adventure into a mystical forest space combining sound, dance and video.

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

Throughout the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Italy dominated the European cultural scene. The Renaissance movement began in Florence, on Italian soil, its humanist philosophy leading artists to seek greater realism and emotion in their work, and spread throughout Europe to influence entire generations of musicians, architects and painters. Their names are familiar and renowned for their groundbreaking music: Palestrina, Gabrieli and the infamous Gesualdo. Each of these composers laid a path for musicians across the continent. Still celebrated as luminaries today, their works are firmly ensconced in the early music canon.

The Baroque era has Italian roots as well, conceived in Rome in the 17th century. As with the Renaissance, Italian composers’ striking originality influenced all of Europe lead to the invention of new musical structures. Opera originated in Italy at the start of the 16th century and grew into an independent dramatic form. The toccata and the sonata were Italian inventions as well: the former developed by Frescobaldi into a virtuosic freestanding work later taken to even greater heights by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach; the latter brought to prominence by Domenico Scarlatti whose 555 sonatas provided models for Haydn and Mozart.

It is, therefore, impossible to imagine early music without Italy and its tremendous innovations and influences. This October, the Toronto classical music scene celebrates a few of these historical Italian composers and their creations through a number of comprehensive concerts of their vocal and instrumental works. The names may be very old but the sounds, brought to life by some of the city’s most esteemed performers, are as lively and inspiring as when they were first put to paper.

Antonio VivaldiVivaldi con Amore

Antonio Vivaldi, perhaps the most renowned of the Italian Baroque composers, needs little introduction. A composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher and priest, his concerti were of such high quality that the young J.S. Bach transcribed a number of them for solo organ as a way of studying Vivaldi’s contrapuntal and harmonic dexterity and skill. Wednesday October 10 to Sunday October 14,Tafelmusik celebrates “the red priest” in an all-Vivaldi concert featuring a sinfonia and seven concerti, some instantly recognizable and others undoubtedly new to many listeners. Featuring a variety of soloists playing violin, oboe, bassoon and lute, this exciting program showcases Vivaldi at his best, and is a preview of the music that will be featured on music director Elisa Citterio’s first recording with the Tafelmusik orchestra, to be released early in 2019.

Girolamo FrescobaldiThe Glories of Rome

On October 19 and 20 the Toronto Consort presents “Frescobaldi & the Glories of Rome,” with music by Palestrina, Frescobaldi, Landi and Caroso. Besides being the birthplace of the Baroque, Rome has a rich and complex history within early music, closely entwined with both Frescobaldi and Palestrina. Housing both Vatican City and the Vatican itself, the Catholic Church held a powerful influence over musicians of the 16th and 17th Centuries. In addition to being a strikingly gifted composer, Frescobaldi was organist of St. Peter’s Basilica and much of his instrumental and choral music was written for, or inspired by, the Catholic liturgy.

Palestrina’s involvement in the Catholic Church is the stuff of legends; as the story goes, he single-handedly saved polyphonic church music from obliteration, composing his Missa Papae Marcelli to persuade the Council of Trent that a draconian ban on the polyphonic treatment of text in sacred music (as opposed to a more directly intelligible homophonic treatment) was unnecessary. This dramatic tale of art triumphing over adversity was so inspiring that the 19th-century composer Hans Pfitzner composed an opera about it, suitably titled Palestrina. (It is actually a wonderful piece of music and well worth a listen.)

Apocryphal legends aside, Palestrina was extremely famous in his day, and his reputation and influence have steadily increased since his death. As he did with Vivaldi, J.S. Bach studied and hand-copied Palestrina’s first book of Masses, and in 1742 wrote his own adaption of the Kyrie and Gloria of the Missa sine nomine. Almost five centuries after his birth, modern scholarship retains the view that Palestrina’s music represents a summit of technical perfection, the pinnacle of the Renaissance choral art.

By pairing the renowned Frescobaldi and Palestrina with the rather less-known Landi and Caroso, the Toronto Consort’s Glories of Rome will undoubtedly have something for everyone, a don’t-miss exploration of Renaissance music and the brilliant people who composed it.

Elinor FreyAnd Now for Something…

...Completely different! Superimposing the new on the old, or vice versa, is a challenging task. How do we maintain the integrity of the old while creating something decidedly modern and new? This is the question to be answered on October 3, when Montreal-based virtuoso Elinor Frey presents a program of new music at the Canadian Music Centre. The concert features works for solo cello by Linda Catlin Smith, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Ken Ueno, Scott Godin, Lisa Streich, and David Jaeger.

But wait, why is this concert in the early music section? Each piece performed in this concert is composed for the Baroque-style cello, designed after models dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. This is far from the first time composers have written new music for an old instrument! Ligeti wrote fascinating pieces for the harpsichord, as did Hugo Distler, introducing contemporary techniques and challenging conventional methods of playing these historical keyboards.

A number of the works on this program contain historical ties, including Linda Catlin Smith’s Ricercar, Isaiah Ceccarelli’s With concord of sweet sounds, and Lisa Streich’s Minerva. The ricercar in particular is an ancient musical form, a type of late Renaissance and early Baroque instrumental composition. In the 16th century, the word ricercar could refer to several types of compositions: whether a composer called an instrumental piece a toccata, a canzona, a fantasia, or a ricercar was a rather arbitrary decision. But Frescobaldi began to give the ricercar a formal structure through his compositions in his fiori musicali. In its most common contemporary understanding, ricercar refers to a kind of fugue, particularly one of a serious character in which the subject uses long note values. Bach wrote two extremely elaborate ricercars as part of his Musical Offering, including a monumental six-voice fugue.

It is not often that we see such modern music appearing in the Early Music column, and this fascinating combination of new works for the Baroque cello make this a rare and exciting listening opportunity. (Besides, each featured composer is still alive, another rarity in this column!) What better way for an early music aficionado to explore the world of new music than through this creative, unexpected and worthwhile event?

As the days grow shorter and the temperature drops, take advantage of a fall evening and take in some of the wonderful music on offer in our city. Not only will you be able to walk around in something other than 40-degree heat, you will also have the opportunity to hear marvellous music from all eras performed by some of the city’s most talented artists. There are many other fantastic concerts happening in the early music world this month, too many to mention here, and I hope that you’ll do some exploring, both in this column and in the entire issue of The WholeNote.

I hope to see you at some of this month’s musical events. As always, feel free to get in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com. 

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

Five countertenors to perform at Kingston Road Village Concert Series: (from left) César Aguilar, Ryan McDonald, Ian Sabourin, Benjamin Shaw, Daniel Taylor and Miguel Brito (pianist). Photo credit KAREN E. REEVESOCT 5, 7:30PM: Kingston Road Village Concert Series. “Countertenor Madness!” Kingston Road United Church. Two words are enough to describe this concert: Five Countertenors! Hear Daniel Taylor and four others perform arias and songs by Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi and more.

OCT 6, 8PM: I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble.Brown Paper Packages Tied up with Strings.” Church of the Redeemer. I Furiosi kicks off their 20th anniversary season with some of their favourite music by Purcell, Handel, and Rosenmüller. Wish them a happy birthday and receive the gift of fantastic music!

OCT 13, 7:30PM: York Chamber Ensemble. “The Age of the Concerto.” Bradford Arts Centre, 66 Barrie St., Bradford. Take the drive to Bradford to hear some beautiful Bach and Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. Respighi’s music is based on Renaissance pieces for lute written by Italian composers, including Vincenzo Galilei, the father of Galileo!

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Jazz is forever being pronounced dead, or at least sickly, yet it has continued to survive and grow, if not in terms of audience share, then at least musically speaking. On the local level it’s a little difficult to assess the state of the music’s health these days, and I’m often flip-flopping on the subject. On the one hand there’s a pool of talent in Toronto growing deeper and more diverse all the time, but there are fewer gigs and places for everyone to play. It’s certainly harder to make a decent living playing jazz than in the past, yet the music is being played at a higher and higher level. Part of the problem in assessing all this is the disconnect between financial and musical success: there’s a lot of the latter but not much of the former for many. Further on the local Jekyll-and-Hyde axis, we have the continued success of the new grassroots Kensington Market Jazz Festival, contrasted with the recent troubles of JAZZ.FM91, which I’ll return to later.

We’re always being told by its keepers that jazz, like everything else these days, is a business. But to those who truly care about it – the fans, who consume it, and the musicians, who produce it – it’s not a business, it’s a music, a form of art and entertainment. (Louis Armstrong and countless others having long ago proved that the two are not mutually exclusive.) We care about it in terms of music, not dollars, and are thought to be naïve for this, yet saying that it’s primarily a business rather than an art form is putting the cart before the horse: the only reason there’s a business aspect to jazz is that people are willing to spend money to hear it because they’re drawn to its artistry; it’s that simple. The moment people stop being attracted to jazz as music there will be no business, because they’ll stop spending money to hear it. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people fail to see it. We’re constantly being told that the business side must take precedence otherwise there will be no music, but I think it’s the other way around. I’ve always found that when the artistic/real side of jazz is stressed and presented honestly then it thrives, as in the case of the KMJF, but woe betide when that focus gets lost amid too many extrinsic considerations.

I’m not going to comment too much further on the JAZZ.FM situation because it’s still up in the air and on a jazz musician’s salary I can’t afford a legal dream team, but I will say this: There’s a lot of angst and outrage in the jazz community over a recent turn of events, which is seen as another black eye for jazz, a fail which the music can ill afford. As currently constituted the station probably can’t continue, but there is a movement afoot to save it by making some changes. For those interested, I recommend going to savejazzfm.com and signing up; you’ll be casting a vote to salvage jazz on the air in Toronto, with some changes in management and philosophy, some lessons learned, greater accountability and more input from listenership.

But even if the station goes under, I hasten to point out that JAZZ.FM and jazz itself are not the same thing, not even close. Sooner or later another jazz station will crop up because there’s clearly sufficient interest in having one. In the meantime, make up for the dead air by going to hear more live music.

Jazz Survival 101: A Primer

Jazz Humour – With all the adversity the jazz life entails, how does one carry on? By boosting one’s morale, that’s how. What follows is a kind of jazz survival kit – to translate an old cliché into jazz terms: “When the blowing gets tough, the tough get blowing.” The first requisite is developing a sense of humour. I’m biased, but jazz musicians are the funniest people I know, mainly because they have to be. Jazz humour is laced with a gallows irony, a dry “laughin’ to keep from cryin’” wit. Here are some examples: Back in the early days of fusion when some jazz musicians were accused of selling out by trying to reach a wider audience through playing more rock-oriented music, Jim Hall turned to Paul Desmond (or perhaps it was the other way around) and asked ”So…. where do I go to sell out?”

Or “How do you make a million dollars playing jazz? Start out with two million.”

Or the one about a musician hiring another for a jazz gig, boasting that it pays “three bills” – two tens and a twenty.

Because jazz musicians improvise so much, the humour pool is constantly expanding on the fly, as when I recently bumped into Lesley Mitchell-Clarke on my way to a gig with John Alcorn at the KMJF. Lesley, well-known to WholeNote readers, is a jazz survivor extraordinaire on many fronts and one of the funniest people I know. She asked, “Steve, do you realize we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the venerable $100 jazz gig?” I doubled over and nearly dropped my bass because the line was so darkly funny and true. While house prices have at least quintupled over the last 20 years, the pay for many jazz gigs has stayed the same. This may not seem funny to many, but to jazz people it has an inverse, “do your worst” kind of sick irony. What else can you do but laugh?

(Two asides, in the interests of fairness and full disclosure. After many years, The Pilot Tavern recently upped the pay for its Saturday jazz matinee to $120 per musician, to which I remarked “Hey, alright! Tonight we eat!!” And just to show that not all jazz gigs top out at $100, the aforementioned Alcorn trio gig at the tiny Jazz Poetry Café was sold out and paid almost twice as much as we were expecting. This is because the KMJF volunteers collect the cash and then give all but a tiny fraction of it to the band. Somehow or other this very direct jazz economy works, so not all is lost.)

Peter LeitchTake A Week and Learn the Classics

This was guitarist Peter Leitch’s dryly sarcastic advice to a jazz beginner long ago. As in “listen to some records, for God’s sake,” and fortunately it takes much longer than a week. If the present seems chaotic and less than rosy, turn to the embarrassment of riches found in the back catalogue of great jazz records. This is not a matter of burying your head in the sand or living in the past, but rather a way of renewing yourself by taking a bath in the glories of the music while perhaps reminding yourself of why you love jazz in the first place. And you no longer need an extensive/expensive record collection to do so, because almost all of it is available on YouTube, another mixed blessing. Somehow things don’t seem so bad when you’ve just heard some Hot Fives, the 1938 Basie band, Spiritual Unity or whatever else takes your fancy. I do this all the time and it buoys me up, sending me off to a gig with a spring in my step and my musical sights set higher because I’ve just spent some time in the company of the masters.

Herbie NicholsA variation of this is checking out some jazz history by reading about it, which can bring some much-needed perspective. You think things are rough now? Try reading Mark Miller’s superb Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist’s Life, which tells the story of the pianist/composer who literally died from neglect and yet lives on through the efforts of people like Miller, the late Roswell Rudd, who curated his music, and The Herbie Nichols Project, which keeps his music alive by playing it. This is called inspiration and can also be found in books such as Robin D.G. Kelley’s exhaustive biography of a better-known giant who also endured much adversity – Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Or one I’m currently reading about clarinettist Pee Wee Russell. Not only did Russell never own a house, he mostly lived in shabby apartments, was perpetually broke and often out of work. And yet he earned permanent jazz immortality because of his singular and fearless individuality. Things were always tough, why would they be any different now?

Communal SupportThe local jazz community is a symbiotic relationship between fans, musicians and those employed as enablers of the music – writers, broadcasters, promoters, presenters, and so on. Essentially they’re all jazz fans and offer support to one another by attending jazz shows and events, which is crucial. But even more important is the palpable moral support shown by this group when the chips are really down. A good example – among many – is the recent memorial service for Kiki Misumi, who died at 58 in late August after a long and brave battle with cancer. Kiki was a very talented and creative cellist, singer and songwriter who was married for many years to one of our great stalwarts, guitarist Reg Schwager. Her memorial, held in early September at a facility of the Buddhist society to which she belonged, was packed to overflowing with her fellow Buddhists and members of the local jazz community who had known her for decades and came to pay their respects. Despite the overwhelming sadness of her too-early passing, it was a singularly moving and inspiring service, marked by some uplifting chanting, some lovely music and eloquent speeches, including one by Reg which staggered everyone – he’s normally quite reticent and I still don’t quite know how he managed it. Kiki fought fast-moving terminal cancer and ten gruelling surgeries for 12 years through a unique, self-styled blend of prayer, chanting, diet, humour, and sheer courageous positivity. We could all learn a lot about dealing with adversity from the way she lived her life and faced her death. Rest in peace Kiki, we will all really miss you. And come what may, I’ll take my chances with a jazz community as stout as this every day of the week. This video shows what Kiki was all about far better than I ever could in words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU0sZo13YWY.

I continue to face the fragility of jazz with a mixture of defiance and ambiguous world-weary irony, as in this paraphrase from the refrains of Mose Allison’s Gettin’ There: “I am not downhearted. I’m not discouraged. I am not disillusioned… But I’m gettin’ there. Yeah… I’m gettin’ there.”

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

Jackie RichardsonOCT 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 AT 6:30PM: The Rex Hotel 194 Queen St. W. - Jazz Ensembles from U of T and Humber College – The regular regimen of Monday performances by students and graduates from the jazz programs of these two schools. The music is varied, stimulating, honest, often surprising, and always worth hearing.

OCT 11 AND 12, 9:30PM: The Rex Hotel 194 Queen St. W. – The Mark Eisenman Quintet. I’m maybe biased (because I play in it), but this is one of my favourite Toronto bands, one which plays a bristling brand of contemporary bebop often laced with Eisenman’s compositions, many of them ingenious contrafacts on standards. John MacLeod, cornet, Pat LaBarbera, saxophone; Mark Eisenman, piano; Mark Micklethwaite, drums; and yours truly, bass.

OCT 14, 4:30PM: Christ Church Deer Park 1570 Yonge St: Jazz Vespers: The Drew Jurecka Trio – An opportunity to hear one of Toronto’s most brilliant and versatile multi-instrumentalists in a quiet and reflective setting.

OCT 18, 7:30PM: Garage at the Centre for Social Innovation 720 Bathurst St. Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band, directed by Martin Loomer, special guest Pat LaBarbera, soprano saxophone. With its lively and retro repertoire, this unique band is always worth hearing, but having the encyclopedically talented LaBarbera as a guest soloist makes this a must-attend.

NOV 3, 7:30PM: Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts – FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre 250 St. Paul St., St. Catharines: “Voices of Freedom Concert”For those willing to travel further afield, a concert featuring two of Canada’s best-loved jazz singers, Jackie Richardson and Molly Johnson, backed by a superb trio of Robi Botos, piano; Mike Downes, bass; and Larnell Lewis, drums.

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

The 2018/19 season has started off with a bang with an exciting mix of risk-taking experimental music theatre alongside the traditional musicals continuing on many stages large and small. Over the course of just one week in September I saw three world premieres in a row that were entirely different from each other; unique in atmosphere and style, yet alike in a desire to explore and push the boundaries of what music theatre is capable of.

Opera Briefs: The first of these, Tapestry Opera’s Opera Briefs: Tasting Shorts is always one of my favourite fall shows, the chance to see a smorgasbord of bite-sized brand new operas created in Tapestry’s annual summer composer librettist laboratory, the Liblab. This year’s edition of sophisticated operatic speed-dating was no exception, with 11 mini-operas on a variety of themes. One of the necessities of successful bare-bones staging is good direction - this time by artistic director Michael Mori assisted by Jessica Derventzis. Another is having a company of singers who are equally good as actors, able to intuitively convey complexities of character and story as well as to master new and widely varied music scores very quickly. Anchored by the veteran brilliance of tenor Keith Klassen and baritone Peter McGillivray (who were joined by newcomers soprano Teiya Kasahara and mezzo Stephanie Tritchew) this company shone throughout the evening with each “brief” a tiny complete world of its own, set apart by story and music style. Jennifer Tung’s music direction and playing was also subtle and effective throughout. As always there were strong “real life” musical stories most notably the funny but heartbreaking The Farewell Poo by Rene Orth and Daniel Solon, and the more stylized and politically apposite Bring Me the Head of Our President by August Murphy-King and Colleen Murphy. Taking the program even beyond this usual excellence was a new experiment: writing for Virtual Reality settings. Of the Sea created the VR experience of meeting African slaves thrown overboard on their way to the new world who have made new lives below the ocean, and was surprisingly powerful although fantastical. Even more experimental was sci-fi thriller Hydrophis Expedition designed as a purely aural experience. Eerie and fascinating, as we listened with our eyes closed, the sung music as well as the underwater soundscape made it easier to succumb to the experience and believe in the underwater world and its lurking dangers.

Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life, with Edge of the Sky Young Company. Photo credit DAHLIA KATZDr. Silver: In contrast to the multiple worlds of Tapestry’s Briefs, the latest creation of the uber-talented Stratford-born and raised sisters Anika and Britta Johnson: Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life is a fully realized, intensely cohesive, almost claustrophobic, single immersive world.

At Toronto’s historic Heliconian Hall in the heart of Yorkville the audience arrives at the door to be greeted by young members of the “congregation” welcoming us to the funeral of Dr. Silver who – we find out quite soon – was the leader of a cult. As the congregation we sit around three sides of the room with an altar and multimedia screen at one end, and with space in the middle for the cult’s youth chorus (the incredibly polished Edge of the Sky Young Company) to sing and perform.

Once the show begins we are completely immersed in the funeral and music, and then the history of the family at the centre of the cult. It is this mix of family history and the formal dynamics of the funeral ritual that gives interest and depth to what might otherwise be just a clever concept. As idiosyncratic moments occur (as at any real funeral) they sometimes trigger flashbacks and we get to know the various members of the family (mother, two daughters, estranged son, and son’s friend/devoted acolyte): suffice it to say, all is not as perfect as one might think from surface appearances.

The excellent cast (Donna Garner, Bruce Dow, Kira Guloien, Rielle Braid, Peter Deiwick) sing and act so well and truthfully that we don’t just watch, we come to really care about them and what is going to happen. The sung-through nature of most of the show seems natural, particularly because the cult worships music as divine (a clever concept). The direction by Mitchell Cushman is seamless and the choreography by Barbara Johnston for the young chorus is dramatic and effective. The use of character quirks and comedic moments in the writing lightens the tension and darker side of the material and the electro-pop music works for all the characters (though I found myself wishing for a bit more musical variety). Currently a co-production between Outside the March and The Musical Stage Company this show will likely continue to develop and be seen again. Please see my upcoming interview with the Johnson sisters on our online blog at thewholenote.com for a much more in-depth look at the show and its creation.

I Call myself Princess: Now, from the multiple individual worlds of Tapestry’s Briefs and the immersive single world of Dr. Silver, to Jani Lauzon’s I Call myself Princess where two worlds 100 years apart not only exist side by side but intersect and influence each other. Excitingly ambitious in scope Lauzon’s “play with opera” is rich in rediscovered historical fact and imaginative in how it combines this history with present-day reality. From the beginning, the two worlds seem to be overlapping, with Indigenous singing like a magical chant opening the doors between the two. Music interweaves the 2018 world of young gay Métis opera student Will with the world, 100 years earlier; which gave rise to the classically oriented “Indianist” music of Charles Wakefield Cadman. Cadman was a composer of many songs but also of the first opera with an Indigenous story to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera: Tsanewis or The Robin Woman. When Will is given an aria from this opera to learn he becomes obsessed with learning more about its creation. As he does, the walls between the worlds become increasingly thin, allowing him to meet and even interact with the woman who inspired Tsanewis – Tsianina Redfeather, a classically trained Creek Cherokee singer who, as Will eventually realizes, is experiencing many of the same trials that he himself is facing as a lone Indigenous artist trying to navigate a primarily non-Indigenous world. The power of the play comes from this intersection and interaction, as both characters find comfort and strength in the other’s understanding and through a sharing of the music. While the acting and singing of some of the company are not as smoothly integrated as they could be, I found myself caught up in both stories and fascinated by the reality of the proto-feminist ground-breaking opera of 100 years ago

I Call myself Princess continues at the Aki Studio until October 6 and Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life at Heliconian Hall until October 14.

Upcoming: October 17 and 18, another risk-taking musical, and a longtime cult favourite of musical theatre fans, Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along is being revisited in a semi-staged concert format by Toronto Musical Concerts at the Al Green Theatre.

Based on Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1934 play of the same name, which begins at the end of the story and goes back in time to the beginning, Merrily We Roll Along has had a problematic production history beginning with its less-than-fully-successful premiere in 1981, but as TMC’s Artistic producer Christopher Wilson says “Yet it is one of Sondheim’s finest, most complex, and diverse scores, and the thematic material of choosing success over artistry is age-old and one worth exploring through a contemporary lens.” In fact, as time goes by, audiences and critics seem to have found a new appreciation for the show, in part, perhaps, because the original production’s decision to cast very young adults who would have to play “forty-somethings” at the beginning before reverting to their own ages, was flipped to having performers roughly the right age at the beginning, who would then play younger selves as the play went on – a concept that Wilson has followed for this version. The wonderful 2016 documentary about the original production, The Best Worst Thing That Could Have Happened, has certainly whetted a lot of appetites to see and hear this musical live once again,

Speaking of revivals, on the second last day of October, the Stratford Festival is presenting, for one day only, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s beloved chamber musical, The Fantasticks, in concert at the Avon Theatre starring Eric McCormack. Yes, Eric McCormack from TV’s Will and Grace. McCormack’s ties to Stratford go back 30 years to when he was a young actor in the company appearing, for example, in Measure for Measure, Murder in the Cathedral and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; last year he was awarded the Festival’s Legacy Award. It is also a homecoming in another sense, McCormack being Toronto-born, raised, and trained (Ryerson Theatre School) and having cut his early professional teeth in outdoor park performances at Skylight Theatre in North York’s Earl Bales Park. He also has musical theatre credentials having made his Broadway debut as Harold Hill in The Music Man in 2001. In The Fantasticks he is aptly cast in the wonderfully swashbuckling role of the “kidnapper” El Gallo. Richard Ouzounian will direct, and Franklin Brasz, is in charge of the music.

This should be a fun revisiting of an old favourite musical and also raises the tantalizing question of whether we might see a longer run of The Fantasticks, or McCormack himself, in a full Stratford Festival season in the near future.

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

OCT 2 TO 20: Oraltorio, A Theatrical Mixtape, Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Soulpepper joins with Obsidian for the first time to present this intriguing coming-of-age story through movement and music described as “part poetry slam, part house party.”

OCT 18 TO 21: Xenos, Bluma Appel Theatre. Canadian Stage presents Akram Khan’s highly acclaimed last solo dance creation (with a book by Jordan Tannahill) exploring and commemorating Indian soldiers’ experience in World War I. Khan’s fiercely dramatic Until the Lions was a highlight of the 2017 Luminato Festival.

OCT 24 TO 28, 7pm: Dancyn Productions present Billy Bishop Goes to War at RCAC Oshawa. A fun chance to see John Gray’s Canadian classic musical about Canada’s great pilot in an appropriate military setting.

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.

As I sit down to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) the darkness outside does not mean that it is bedtime. In fact, it is only just after dinner. The reality is that the autumnal equinox is upon us. It is time to reflect on the musical happenings of the past few months and peer into our crystal ball for details of what’s ahead in our musical world. As for the past few months, with few exceptions, no outstanding musical activity took place which was not mentioned in our September column.

Rebel Heartland: one exception will have passed into history by the time this issue of The WholeNote is available for reading but is worth revisiting. It was the participation by the Newmarket Citizens Band in Rebel Heartland, a 2018 re-enactment of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion, in which the Town of Newmarket played a vital role. The re-enactment, like the writing of this column, just happens to have been programmed for this equinox!

The Bayham-Richmond Band, part of the Baseball and Brass Bands exhibit at the Elgin County Museum until December 22. COURTESY OF ELGIN COUNTY MUSEUMBaseball and Brass: Another noteworthy event which will be over before the end of September was a concert of period brass music on authentic instruments by the Cottonwood Brass, relating to an exhibition called “Baseball and Brass Bands,” which will run all the way to the December 22 solstice! Not surprisingly, Henry Meredith of Plumbing Factory Brass Band fame had a hand in things! Working over the summer with Michael Baker, the curator of the Elgin County Heritage Centre, they have mounted an exhibition featuring lots of period brass instruments, photographs of area brass bands, plus other materials from Meredith’s collection and from the Elgin County archives. Included is a PowerPoint presentation about Meredith’s involvement in providing the instruments for Disney’s movie remake of The Music Man, along with a filmed lecture demonstration about all kinds of musical instruments, particularly lip-vibrated aerophones.

Swing Patrol: One very special recent event for me was a small birthday party for Bunny Graf: not a band event, but with very important band connections. During World War II one of the army entertainment groups in Europe was called Swing Patrol. One of its key members was musician and arranger Eddie Graf; one of the dancers was a young lady named Bernice O’Donnell, known by her friends in the show as “Bunny.” At some stage in their travels through Belgium and Holland, Eddie and Bunny discovered each other, and they were married on New Year’s Day 1946. When released from the army they settled in Toronto where Eddie continued his musical career as an arranger and big band leader. His musical talents came to the fore with such programs as The Juliette Show. Bunny became a dedicated stay-at-home. This party was hosted by son Lenny Graf who has followed in Eddie’s footsteps as a band leader, soloist and children’s entertainer.

Coming Soon

The Canadian Band Association (CBA)-Ontario have just announced this fall’s Community Band Weekend. It is being hosted by the Nickel City Wind Ensemble in Sudbury over the weekend of October 13 and 14. These Community Band Weekends offer attendees an opportunity to meet musicians from many bands and to experience a fun-filled and challenging weekend practising music all day Saturday. Some of the music will be familiar, and some not. Then on Sunday afternoon, all attendees will perform in a massed band concert. For information go to: cba-ontario.ca/cbw

In The Future

Barrie Concert Band: Looking into the future, there are a few more bands which have plans for anniversary events of various forms. One of these is the Barrie Concert Band, under the direction of Peter Voisey. They have announced their plans to celebrate the band’s sesquicentennial in 2019. Founded in 1869, the 55-member band claims that theirs is the longest running musical organization north of the Golden Horseshoe. Beginning with its 16th annual “Veterans’ Salute” on October 16, the band will present various concerts throughout the coming year, in Barrie and across Simcoe County. Their 2018/2019 subscription series will begin with “A Christmas Fantasy” on December 8, and will continue with their “Last Night at the Proms” on March 2. Winding things up, in collaboration with the King Edward Choir they will present “150 years – Let’s Celebrate!” Saturday, June 1. In this final offering of the series, a number of previous conductors will share the baton with Mr. Voisey, directing the band in numbers which had personal significance to them at the time they were at the helm. In that performance internationally acclaimed tuba player, Mark Tetrault, will make a guest appearance and Rick Pauzé, the band’s immediately previous conductor, will conduct a work of his own, commissioned by the band for this anniversary year.

Icing on the cake, the band will also host a special 2019 spring CBA Community Band Weekend June 14 to16. The band conferred with the CBA for permission to hold it in June 2019, as part of their 150th celebrations. They are hoping to hold the Sunday afternoon concert portion of the CBA weekend outdoors, and reasoned that October would be too cold to do so. So the Sunday afternoon concert will take place at Meridian Place, Barrie’s newly designed and refurbished public space in the heart of downtown Barrie on the waterfront. For more information go to the band’s website: barrieconcertband.org

Waterloo Concert Band: Another significant anniversary event now in the planning stage for 2019 is one by the Waterloo Concert Band. The year 2019 will be the centenary of “Professor” C.F. Thiele’s arrival in Waterloo and his legendary three decades of leadership of the Waterloo Concert Band (formerly Waterloo Musical Society). My personal recollections of Professor Thiele go back to the days when I played in a couple of boys bands in Windsor. During the summer months we were off to play in a small town tattoo or similar event almost every weekend. Many of those included some form of competition where we played before one or more adjudicators. Of those, Professor Thiele was the adjudicator whom we feared most.

So far, what we know is that The Waterloo Concert Band has plans underway for a major historically focused public concert on May 5, 2019. Included in those plans will be at least one new musical commission. There will also be a number of, as yet undefined, other retro events around this occasion. As Pauline Finch, our contact with the band, says: “We’re aware of growing interest in band history in Ontario and especially in pivotal figures like C.F. Thiele, who built the foundations of band culture across Canada.” Hopefully we will have much more detailed information on these anniversary events as we get closer. In particular, we hope to have much more information on Professor Thiele’s legacy in Canada’s community band world. When he arrived in Waterloo a hundred years ago the Waterloo Musical Society was already well established, having been performing since 1858. So, this celebration is not a band anniversary, but a Professor Thiele celebration. In the mean while we will be paying some visits to the band’s website:
waterlooband.com.

Colin Jones

I am very saddened to report on the passing of euphonium player Colin Jones. Although I originally met Colin through our joint association with the Royal Naval Association, over the years I learned much more about him through the band world. Colin joined the Royal Navy in Portsmouth in 1950. Although most bands for British naval establishments and ships were Royal Marine Bands, there were a few Navy Bands. Colin served in one such band, The Bluejacket Band, in Portsmouth as well as aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable and the battleship HMS Vanguard. He left the Navy in 1955 and arrived in Canada in 1958. He played for a brief stint in the Cobourg Kiltie Band. In 1970 he joined the Concert Band of Cobourg and was a stalwart member until the time of his passing. To quote words from his obituary: “As a fantastic euphonium player his contributions were enormous musically.” He also gave freely of his time to make sure that the band hall was always in tip-top shape physically. He will be missed. 

Bandstand Quick Picks

OCT 14, 2PM: The Markham Concert Band presents “Heroes and Villains.” Flato Markham Theatre. Blvd., Markham.

OCT 16, 7:15PM: The Barrie Concert Band presents “Veterans’ Salute.” Royal Canadian Legion Branch 147, Barrie.

OCT 26, 8PM: Etobicoke Community Concert Band. It’s “Don’t Look Under the Bed.” Music for Halloween at Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium.

OCT 28, 2PM: The Orillia Silver Band presents “Fall Harvest.” Gravenhurst Opera House.

OCT 28, 3PM: The Peterborough Concert Band has their “160th Anniversary Concert” with Peter Sudbury, music director. Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, Peterborough.

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

For many, September marks a transitional period: we go back to school, back to work, back to a daily routine that can either feel welcome (structure! responsibility!) or unwelcome (structure! responsibility!), depending on the quality of our summer experiences. Whatever the case may be, the calamities of our collective re-entry into the real world usually resolve themselves by October, giving us all a bit more time to go out and enjoy live music, at venues both familiar and not. In addition to discussing exciting upcoming performances by the legendary jazz singer Sheila Jordan and the Afro-Cuban group OKAN, the focus of my column this month is on Burdock, a relatively new venue that may be a familiar name to some, but which, I suspect, may be unfamiliar to many readers. (In this month’s listings, you’ll find the full monthly schedule for Burdock.)

In a short amount of time – it opened in April of 2015 – Burdock has emerged as one of Toronto’s most important live-music venues. Located on Bloor, just west of Dufferin, Burdock is divided into two parts connected by heavy, soundproof double doors. On one side is the Music Hall, an intimate space that can accommodate about a hundred people, complete with its own bar, seating (depending on the show), and an excellent sound system. (Burdock consistently sounds great, owing, in no small part, to the talents of their live audio engineers, Aleda Deroche, Matthew Bailey and Jess Forrest.) On the other side is the brewpub, with a rotating tap list of beers, brewed in-house, and a full menu of seasonal food, including both small and larger plates, such as their summer tartine, crispy ribs and wild mushroom taco, all on the menu at the time of the writing of this column. As a brewery, Burdock has found a niche in the busy Toronto beer market by focusing on saisons, sours and wine/beer blends, such as their ever-popular BUMO series, brewed in conjunction with the Niagara-based winery Pearl Morissette. This decision has proven fruitful: by avoiding entering into the high-ABV arms race, Burdock’s brewery has found success at their bottle shop, their own bar, and on the beer list at many of Toronto’s best restaurants.

Through the double doors in the Music Hall, venue coordinator Charlotte Cornfield books acts from a variety of different genres. (Cornfield is an accomplished musician in her own right, touring and releasing music regularly under her own name.)

While many of the musicians who play at Burdock come from Toronto’s creative indie scene, Burdock also regularly features jazz and blues, as well as the occasional classical performance, including, in October, an installment of Haus Musik, presented by the Toronto-based Baroque orchestra Tafelmusik. (The concert will feature members of the orchestra and special guest percussionist Graham Hargrove performing music written by Italian composer Luigi Boccherini.) Beyond its regularly scheduled programming – which has recently jumped from one to two shows per day, due to increasing demand – Burdock also hosts a number of special events throughout the year. Their annual Piano Fest, which celebrated its third birthday this past January, is built around the simple premise of temporarily installing a high-quality grand piano on stage and booking piano-centric acts in complementary double bills; this year’s festival featured artists such as Joanna Majoko, Chelsea Bennett, Tim Baker and Jeremy Dutcher, the latter of whom would go on to win the Polaris Prize in September of this year for his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa.

AKKU QuintetIn addition to Tafelmusik’s show, there are a number of notable performances that will be taking place in October. These include a modern jazz double bill, with AKKU Quintet and Living Fossil, on October 2 (Living Fossil’s debut album NEVER DIE! was reviewed in our March 2018 issue.); a live recording of radio personality Laurie Brown’s Pondercast podcast, with music provided by Joshua Van Tassel, on October 9; jazz bassist Robert Lee’s Big Band, celebrating the release of the EP Blink, on October 14; and francophone singer/songwriter Safia Nolin, fresh off the release of her third album, performing on October 25.

It also seems important to note, for those who have not yet visited, that the Burdock Music Hall is an uncommonly comfortable venue that shifts its seating structure around to accommodate the needs of specific acts and their audiences, even when those audiences comprise a variety of different demographic representatives. In a recent show I attended at Burdock, the open area in front of the stage was flanked by a few narrow rows of chairs. While enthusiastic attendees danced, those audience members who desired a bit more comfort – some of whom, let it be said, were quite possibly related to the musicians on stage – sat and enjoyed an unobstructed view of the performance. At no point did this mixed setup feel divisive or contrived; as is typically the case at Burdock, the vibe was relaxed, inclusive, and fun.

Sheila JordanSheila Jordan at the Jazz Bistro

There are a number of excellent shows happening in other venues this month, not the least of which will be Sheila Jordan’s three-night engagement at Jazz Bistro, on October 4, 5 and 6. Jordan, now 89, has a storied history within the jazz community, studying with Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus in the early 1950s, performing and recording with Herbie Nichols, George Russell and Lee Konitz in the 60s and 70s, and teaching, as artist-in-residence, at City College of New York, from 1978 through to the mid-2000s. Jordan – who was referred to as “the singer with the million dollar ears” by Charlie Parker – will be joined by pianist Adrean Farrugia and bassist Neil Swainson in an intimate trio format, whose instrumentation should prove well-suited to Jazz Bistro’s ecclesiastical acoustics.

OKAN at Lula

At Lula Lounge, OKAN celebrate the release of their debut EP recording on October 21. Co-led by Cuban-born, Toronto-based multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne – both of whom are veterans of saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett’s Maqueque group – OKAN fuses traditional Afro-Cuban music with jazz, pop and soul. In their live show, Rodriguez and Savigne find success both in the complementary chemistry they share as performers (Rodriguez typically stands and plays violin, while Savigne sits behind her congas; both sing.) and in their talent for deftly borrowing from various musical sources. At times OKAN’s music sounds distinctly Afro-Cuban; at other times, like pop-inflected R&B. Anchored by Rodriguez and Savigne, this month’s show should prove to be a worthwhile reason to visit Lula Lounge. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

OCT 4 TO 5, 9PM: Sheila Jordan, Jazz Bistro. Accompanied by local mainstays Adrean Farrugia (piano) and Neil Swainson (bass), legendary jazz singer Sheila Jordan performs in this three-night run at Jazz Bistro.

OCT 14, 9:30PM: Robert Lee, Burdock. Upright bassist Robert Lee leads his big band in celebration of the release of his EP Blink, a collection of modern jazz pieces inspired by pop, folk and classical music.

OCT 25, 9:30PM: Safia Nolin, Burdock. Francophone singer/songwriter Safia Nolin – 2017 Félix Award winner for Female Artist of the Year – performs in support of her new album, releasing October 5.

OCT 21, 6:30PM: OKAN, Lula Lounge. Co-led by Cuban-born multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne, OKAN celebrates the release of their debut EP.

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

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