2205 Art of Song 1There was a time when men loved lesbians and considered them essential for their own artistic output. No, stay with me, it’s true: that time is the latter half of the 19th century, the place is France, and the men are the poets of emerging modernism.

Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal’s working title was Les lesbiennes and the section that got him censored and fined includes poems Lesbos and Delpine et Hippolyte. (Femmes damnées somehow got away, in spite of its cries of solidarity: “Vous que dans votre enfer mon âme a poursuivies / Pauvres soeurs, je vous aime autant que je vous plains”). Paul Verlaine’s series of sonnets around amorous encounters between young women, Les amies, is more specific, more explicitly visual and sensual. His Ariette oubliée IV from the later Romances sans paroles is a poetic embrace of the carefree female same-sex coupledom that, some critics argue, masks the poet’s own embrace of male homoeroticism. “Soyons deux jeunes filles / Éprises de rien et de tout étonnées,” says the poem to the reader of either sex.

Sappho was mythologized and loomed large for male poets of the era, and Théodore de Banville and Henri de Régnier were just two of the poets who wrote lesbian poems set in some version of ancient Greece. In the words of Gretchen Schultz who wrote an entire book about this era of literary cross-sex fascination (Sapphic Fathers: Discourses of Same-Sex Desire from Nineteenth Century France), male poets’ quest for selfhood took detours through lesbian personae.

Best known in the classical world of all the lesbophile song cycles of this era remains Pierre Louÿs’ 1894 Les Chansons de Bilitis, an elaborate pseudotranslation of an “ancient Greek” Sappho-like figure, Bilitis–in fact, entirely concocted by Louÿs–whose biography of the senses the song cycle follows, from heterosexual beginnings through lesbian blossoming to the reminiscing of old age. Louÿs’ friend Claude Debussy set three of the poems to music in 1897 to create the lush piano and voice opus now known as Trois Chansons de Bilitis. Debussy then worked on another, longer cycle titled Musique de scène pour les Chansons de Bilitis with 12 of Louÿs’ poems, but the text there is recited within the tableaux vivants with musical interludes scored for a small orchestra of flutes, harps and celesta. Recorded only a modest number of times-there’s a Deutsche Grammophon recording with Catherine Deneuve as the recitant-this other version of Chansons is extremely rarely performed.

The three-song cycle with piano is another story: it is widely claimed by both mezzos and sopranos and has been recorded frequently. February 9, at the noontime Ensemble Studio concert at the COC, it will be sung by the young mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo accompanied by Hyejin Kwon at the piano. Both piano and vocal writing are of great richness, both of heightened sensuality of the Anaïs Nin kind. The well-curated program that abounds in literary references will also include baritone Bruno Roy with Stéphane Mayer at the piano in Poulenc’s cycle La fraîcheur et le feu set to poems by Paul Éluard, as well as Ravel’s last completed work, the colourful and energetic Don Quichotte à Dulcinée set to Paul Morand’s poems. D’Angelo rounds out the event with Messiaen’s Trois Mélodies, one of which is based on a poem written by the composer’s mother, poet Cécile Sauvage; the remaining two are Messiaen’s homage to her words.

The Lieder are another cultural domain where the poetic “I” wanders across the sexes and rewrites the lover and the beloved, primarily thanks to the performers who interpret them. While traditionally the poetic subject has always been male and the object of his interest female, many composers would bestow the same cycle to a variety of voices, and singers and pianists themselves would adopt song cycles however they saw fit. But performing traditions get established and listening habits settle in, and today Berlioz’s Nuits d’été is sung primarily by mezzos and sopranos, while Schubert’s Die Winterreise primarily by baritones or tenors. Only a handful of mezzos have dared record the Schubert cycle: Christa Ludwig, Brigitte Fassbaender, Nathalie Stutzmann and Alice Coote. Fassbaender’s 1988 recording (with Aribert Reimann at the piano) in particular ruffled misogynist feathers. “Can a Woman Do a Man’s Job in Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’?” pearl-clutched a New York Times critic in 1990 and proceeded to explain all the reasons the answer is no. Even fewer sopranos have recorded or performed it; one notable recent recording is by Christine Schaefer with Eric Schneider.

2205 Art of Song 2Lyric soprano Adrianne Pieczonka will be adding her unique voice and approach to the small but valiant contingent of Winterreise women this month, in the Mazzoleni Masters Concert Series at the RCM on February 12. Each singer brings a different personality to the narrator, and Pieczonka is likely to bring her deep knowledge of German language, her Vienna savvy and her impeccable Straussian pedigree-including her Marschallins-to the fore. A bright female voice will sing the dark poems to the ghostly presence of the beloved woman, and in this case it will be the voice of a singer who is indeed married to another woman. An important cultural first.

The cycle itself is ink black and non-negotiably so. “I came a stranger, I depart a stranger.” The first of Wilhelm Müller’s 24 poems, Gute Nacht, sets the tone. The narrator is leaving the house and his beloved, never to return. There was even talk of marriage, but all came to naught. He could have been a music teacher or a tutor there. We are never told; or why he is leaving, by choice or by somebody’s demand. “We are drawn in by an obsessively confessional soul…who won’t give us the facts,” as Ian Bostridge writes in his recent book Schubert’s Winter Journey.

He walks through the snow-covered wood, but equally through the landscape of his memory. Objects and trees appear that are heavy with meaning and pain, a postman rings but brings no mail, a graveyard is called an inn, and the snow and the ice remain constant. The final song takes us before the barefoot hurdy-gurdy busker: “Wunderlicher Alter!” Strange old man! Will his be the music to accompany the poet? Should the poet, in this apparent but not a little sinister break from the solitude, now follow him?

Stage directors have been taking interest in Winterreise’s scenic potential at least since the 90s. The 2014 semi-staging by William Kentridge with elaborate video projections behind baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser will be available on DVD later this month, and it’s easy to predict more and more directors having a look at the piece. With Adrianne Pieczonka, and Rachel Andrist at the piano, we will finally have a chance to hear an all-female edition of the cycle which is to this day chiefly performed as an all-male enterprise.

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Feb 1 and 2: Two solos (Karina Gauvin in Pie Jesu and Russell Braun in Libera me) in Fauré’s Requiem with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra might on their own be worth going to the concert for, but of course the entire Requiem will be played, with the Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers; Stéphane Denève conducts.

Feb 3 and 4: Jeremy Dutcher – whom you might have noticed in Soundstream’s Electric Messiah – is a young singer/songwriter/composer to watch. He combines a training in Western classical music with the musical traditions of his Wolastoq Nation and a gusto for contemporary creations. “Shapeshifting between classical, contemporary, traditional and jazz” is how he describes his approach and once you hear him live, you get what he means. He will be one of the soloists at Toronto Consort’s “Kanatha/Canada” program at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, the mainstay of which will be the choral piece Wendake/Huronia by John Beckwith, a reflection on Samuel de Champlain’s first and only passage four centuries ago through what is now known as Ontario and his encounters with Ontario’s First Nations. Alongside the instrumental and vocal core ensemble of the Toronto Consort, including Laura Pudwell as the alto soloist, and singers of the Toronto Chamber Choir, the program will feature Huron-Wendat poet and historian Georges Sioui as the narrator and First Nations singer-drummers Shirley Hay and Marilyn George. The Consort will also perform a selection of early French-Canadian folksongs, including Le Prince Eugène, Renaud and Dans les prisons de Nantes.

Mar 3: The Cecilia String Quartet, with the always subtle Lawrence Wiliford, perform Amoretti for Tenor and String Quartet: five of Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser’s sonnets set to music by British composer Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986). The rest of the program at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, is also of interest: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet and the Britten-arranged Purcell Chacony for strings in G Minor.

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

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2204 Art of Song 1Many years ago, in the mid-90s, I sang in the Toronto Classical Singers. When an orchestra was needed, the choir as often as not engaged a newly formed group, the Talisker Players Chamber Music Orchestra, to accompany us. Talisker was set up under the leadership of the violist Mary McGeer and violinist Valerie Sylvester to provide amateur choirs with needed instrumental accompaniment. Within ten years, the Players were accompanying between 20 and 30 choirs a year and they maintain an active schedule to this day, with McGeer still active in the ensemble. Important as the orchestra is on the choral scene, within five years of its founding, the Talisker Players Chamber Ensemble had also come into being, and it is for the latter that the group is now best known, particularly for their ongoing series of chamber concerts (four or five a year) at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, which almost always offer carefully curated thematic explorations of the relationship between poetry/spoken word and a widely eclectic and challenging range of music.

2204 Art of Song 1.5Their concert on January 29 is their second for this season and is a bit of a departure from the norm, in that the words and music are not separate. Titled “’S Wonderful,” it presents the music of George and Ira Gershwin, who gave us some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century. The soloists are Erin Bardua, soprano, and Aaron Durand, baritone.

The Talisker Players’ two remaining concerts this season are “Land of the Silver Birch” and “A Mixture of Madness.” Both are more reflective of the Players’ trademark style.

“Land of the Silver Birch” on March 28 and 29 is an exploration of folk song reflective of British and French settlement in Canada over time, with music ranging from Ludwig von Beethoven’s Scottish Folk Songs to Four Canadian Folk Songs for flute, viola, cello and piano, a new work by Alexander Rapoport. Whitney O’Hearn, soprano, and John Allison, baritone, will be the soloists, and John Fraser is the reader.

“A Mixture of Madness” on May 16 and 17 is trademark Talisker. Featuring rising soprano Ilana Zarankin, and Bruce Kelly, baritone, as soloists, and with Andrew Moodie as actor/reader, it promises to be an erudite and yet entertaining romp from Aristotle to Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, by way of Purcell, Vaughan Williams and (a new commission) Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Madness of Queen Charlotte (for flute, violin cello and piano).

Looking back (and looking forward): The Canadian Opera Company has announced the winners in its annual vocal competition. Top prize went to the mezzo Simone McIntosh, while Samuel Chan and Gregory Schellenberg (both baritones) received the second and third prizes respectively. The audience prize went to the soprano Myriam Leblanc (and that marks the first occasion, as far as I can recall, that the first prize awarded by the jury and the audience prize did not coincide). Winning a prize does not automatically guarantee entrance to the COC Ensemble Studio but most prizewinners are offered a place there and I look forward to hearing them in opera or in concert.

2204 Art of Song 2Anyone who has ever sung in a Canadian church choir will be familiar with Healey Willan’s anthems, but the November 18 concert presented by the Canadian Art Song Project presented us with a much less familiar part of his compositions. Willan composed over 100 art songs, most of them now out of print. They were beautifully sung by Martha Guth, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, and Peter Barrett, baritone. A particular pleasure was to hear Guth sing O Littlest Hands, a song composed in 1920 for Willan’s baby daughter Mary. Mary, now Mary Mason and in her mid-90s, was in the audience and the concert provided the first occasion for her to hear the song. The Canadian Art Song Project intends to make a new volume of Willan’s art songs available. Will there eventually also be a CD? I certainly hope so. I recommend the Project’s next concert: on May 17 you will be able to hear Dawn Always Begins in the Bones, a newly commissioned work by Ana Sokolović.

Canadian Opera Company Free Vocal Concerts:

Dec 1: Chelsea Rus, soprano, the winner of the Schulich School of Music’s Wirth Vocal Prize, performs.

Jan 5: Marion Newman, mezzo, sings in Echo/Sap’a by Dustin Peters among other works.

Jan 24: Goran Jurić, bass, sings works by Tchaikovsky and Sviridov.

Jan 26: Jacqueline Woodley, soprano, sings Baroque music with members of the COC Orchestra Academy.

Jan 31: Philip Addis, baritone, and Emily Hamper, piano, perform works by Ross, Ravel and others.

Feb 2: The soprano Elizabeth Polese sings Debussy and Stravinsky.

U of T Faculty of Music Free Concerts:

Jan 19: Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and William Aide, piano, perform works by Duparc, Schumann and Liszt.

Jan 25: Singers from the faculty of music will perform as part of the Singer and the Songs Series.

 

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Dec 1: Music Toronto presents a recital by Suzie LeBlanc, soprano, and Robert Kortgaard, piano, with recently commissioned settings of poems by Elizabeth Bishop. The program, at the St. Lawrence Centre, will also include works by Schumann and Villa Lobos.

Dec 2: Toronto Early Music Centre presents Emily Klassen, soprano, and Meagan Zantingh, mezzo, in “Stella di Natale: A Journey from Advent to Christmas,” in a concert featuring a cantata by Scarlatti and other works, at St. David’s Anglican Church.

Dec 3: Kelsey Taylor, soprano, and Eugenia Dermentzis, mezzo, will be the soloists in an Oakham House Choir Society concert. The main works to be performed are Vivaldi’s Gloria and Mendelssohn’s Christmas cantata From Heaven on High, at Calvin Presbyterian Church.

Dec 10: Soulpepper presents “What the World Needs Now (Songs of Love and Hate),” a musical journey through the Mad Men era. The singers are Wendy Lands and Jim Gillard, at theYoung Centre for the Performing Arts.

Dec 11: OriginL Concert Series presents Brenda Enns and Susan Suchard, sopranos, and Hubert Razack, countertenor, in “Celebrate Life!” at Lawrence Park Community Church.

Dec 11: The Aga Khan Museum presents Maryem Tollar in “Arabica Coffee House Concert” featuring traditional songs from Syria’s Arabic classical and popular repertoire.

Dec 12: Andrea Ludwig, alto, and Bud Roach, tenor, will sing in “O Tannenbaum: The Tree of Life,” presented by the Toronto Masque Theatre at The Atrium at 21 Shaftsbury Avenue.

Dec 13 to Dec. 23: Coal Mine Theatre presents Louise Pitre singing in A Coal Mine Christmas which includes Dylan Thomas’ story A Child’s Christmas in Wales read by Kenneth Welsh.

Dec 31: Attila Glatz Concert Productions and Roy Thomson Hall present “Bravissimo! Opera’s Greatest Hits.” The soloists are Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi, soprano, Diletta Rizzo Marin, mezzo, Leonardo Caimi, tenor, and Lucio Gallo, baritone (Roy Thomson Hall).

Dec 31: Free Times Cafe presents Sue and Dwight, Michelle Rumball and Tony Laviola in a concert celebrating the folk songs of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Woody Guthrie.

Jan 19 to 22: The baritone Peter Harvey will perform with Tafelmusik, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, in a concert of German Baroque music that will include the lament Wie bist du denn, o Gott? by Johann Christoph Bach and the cantata Ich habe genug by J. S. Bach. Jan 21: Harvey will give a free masterclass beginning at 1pm in the same location.

Jan 20: John Greer will give a free vocal masterclass at York University’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall.

Jan 20: Lorna McDonald, soprano, will sing songs from New France at the Alliance Française, as well as selections from the opera The Bells of Baddeck (libretto by Macdonald, music by Dean Burry). Jan 29: Alliance Française presents Judith Cohen leading a concert of medieval songs of courtly love, with Michael Franklin, Andrea Gerhardt and others.

Feb 1 and 2: Karina Gauvin, soprano, and Russell Braun, baritone, are the soloists with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Fauré’s Requiem by and Detlev Glnert’s orchestration of Brahms’ Four Serious Songs by Brahms.

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@the wholenote.com.

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2203 Art of Song 1Last year the mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo won both First Prize and the Audience Choice Award at the annual vocal competition for a place held by the Canadian Opera Company. She went on to win the very prestigious First Prize at the National Council Audition Finals of the Metropolitan Opera.

I have long had a special fondness for the warm sound of the mezzo-soprano, a fondness which probably began with my hearing the great Janet Baker in concert, on the opera stage and in recordings. Later I enjoyed the singing of Jennifer Larmore and Anne Sofie von Otter, of Elina Garanča and Allyson McHardy and, most recently, Jamie Barton and Isabel Leonard.

D’Angelo is still at the beginning of her career but she is already such an assured performer that there is nothing odd in writing about her in this context. She herself names Cecilia Bartoli as a model, not only for the beauty of her singing but also for her scholarship in finding and reviving long forgotten works. D’Angelo also admires the English mezzo Alice Coote. She will have had many opportunities to hear Coote recently as she understudied her for the title role in Handel’s Ariodante in the COC production.

She recently appeared at one of the lunchtime concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium at the Four Seasons Centre and gave a lovely performance of the music-lesson scene of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. She had also sung that aria at the Ensemble Studio Competition but before that, in the afternoon portion of the event, she had performed Cherubino’s Voi che sapete from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. That I did not hear, but Bruce Ubukata, no mean judge, tells me that she was wonderful.

D’Angelo clearly has a special affinity with the music of Rossini, an affinity that recalls the career of Marilyn Horne. When I talked to D’Angelo, she emphasized that the situations may be comic on the surface in Rossini but for her there is an underlying seriousness and that Rossini’s characters are believable. We shall be able to hear D’Angelo next on November 10 when she will perform with other emerging artists at Koerner Hall. There she will sing Rossini’s cantata Giovanna D’Arco. That work is not entirely unknown to Toronto audiences (I remember hearing Janet Baker sing it in concert), but it represents a facet of his work that is less well known than the comic operas.

2203 Art of Song 2Suzie LeBlanc and Elizabeth Bishop. The soprano Suzie LeBlanc is best known for her performances of early music and also of Acadian folk song. Recently she has been commissioning and performing new work. A major influence has been the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. LeBlanc’s interest in Bishop’s life and poetry began in the summer of 2007 when, quite by chance, she found a leaflet about Bishop in a church in Nova Scotia. That leaflet not only dealt with the time Bishop spent as a child in Nova Scotia but also recorded a walking tour she undertook in Newfoundland in 1932. LeBlanc and a friend retraced that tour in 2008. She continued to immerse herself in Bishop’s poetry and commissioned several settings from four Canadian composers: Emily Doolittle, Christos Hatzis, John Plant and Alisdair Maclean (all have been recorded on the disc I am in need of music, issued by Centredisc).

On December 1, in a Music Toronto concert at the St. Lawrence Centre, LeBlanc will perform settings by Doolittle, MacLean and Plant and will add two world premieres, also settings of Bishop’s poetry: Paris 7am by Ivan Moody and Lullaby for the cat by Peter Togni. LeBlanc, who will be accompanied by the pianist Robert Kortgaard, will also sing Six Songs Op.107 by Robert Schumann as well as Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Cançao do Poeta do século XVIII. The program is rounded out by two other works by Villa-Lobos: Serra Da Piedade de Belo Horizonte (played by Kortgaard) and the first three movements from his String Quartet No.1 (played by the Blue Engine String Quartet). Bishop lived in Brazil for many years and the concert will bring together the two places dear to her: Brazil and Nova Scotia.

Russian Song at the Off Centre Music Salon: The next Off Centre Music Salon concert at Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre, November 13, will have an all-Russian program: songs by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev as well as the Canadian premiere of Valery Gavrilin’s Seasons and the Piano Trio in D Minor op.32 by Arensky. The singers are Joni Henson and Ilana Zarankin, soprano, and Ryan Harper, tenor.

Healey Willan and the Canadian Art Song Project: The Canadian Art Song Project and Syrinx Concerts present “The Art Song of Healey Willan” at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, November 18. The singers are Martha Guth, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, and Peter Barrett, baritone. The pianist is Helen Becqué.

The 2016 COC Annual Vocal Competition: The COC has released the names of the finalists in this year’s Ensemble Studio Competition to be held at the Four Seasons Centre; November 3. They are: Myriam Leblanc, Maria Lacey, Andrea Lett, and Andrea Nunez, soprano; Simone MacIntosh, mezzo-soprano; Samuel Chan and Geoffrey Schellenberg, baritone.

Toronto Masque Theatre: At one time, a long time ago, a rumour circulated that the great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau had become interested in performing early music, that he had consulted some early music guru but that he had been told not to bother, as performing this music required special abilities. I am very skeptical about the authenticity of that story. First, because Fischer-Dieskau has never struck me as the kind of singer who allowed anyone to tell him what he could and could not sing. But also because it cannot be true: Fischer-Dieskau performed and recorded a great deal of early music, much of it by Bach but also works by other composers. One of the works he recorded was the part of Apollo in Handel’s cantata Apollo e Dafne. For some reason that LP was never issued as a CD and has become something of a collector’s item. (I have seen it offered on eBay.)

The Toronto Masque Theatre will perform the cantata on November 17, 18 and 19, with the baritone Geoffrey Sirett as Apollo and the soprano Jacqueline Woodley as Dafne. There is a double bill: the other half consists of Richard Strauss’ monodrama for speaker and piano, Enoch Arden, a setting of Tennyson’s poem. (Glenn Gould was interested in this work and recorded it; his performance is still available in a CD version.) In the Toronto Masque Theatre performances the pianist is Angela Park, a fabulous musician, perhaps especially known as a member of the trio Made in Canada. The speaker is Frank Cox-O’Connell.

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Nov 2 to 6: a celebration of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, now 35 years old, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The soloists are Sherezade Panthaki, soprano, Philippe Gagné, tenor, and Jonathan Woody, bass-baritone. The concert will include works by Handel, Rameau, Lully and Zelenka (Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre).

Nov 11: Deborah Voigt, soprano, and Brian Zeger, piano, will perform works by Bach, Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Bernstein at Koerner Hall.

And looking ahead: Show One’s Svetlana Dvoretsky, in collaboration with the COC, has announced the Canadian debut of Trio Magnifico, at the Four Seasons Centre, April 25. This new opera trio consists of Anna Netrebko, soprano, her husband, the Aberbaijan-raised tenor Yusif Eyvasov and the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Tickets for this event are now on sale.

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@thewholenote.com

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2202-ArtSong.jpgMooredale Concerts was founded in 1988 by the cellist Kristine Bogyo. After Bogyo’s death the organization was led by her husband, the well-known pianist Anton Kuerti. The present artistic director is Adrian Fung, like Bogyo a cellist. From the beginning the organization had two aims, one of which is educational. Mooredale Concerts presents us with three string orchestras. But they also give us a series of concerts, generally in pairs. The first installment is a scaled down children’s concert called Music and Truffles in the early afternoon; later in the afternoon the full-length concert is performed. Most of their concerts consist of instrumental chamber music.

This season’s second Mooredale offering, at 3:15pm on November 6, foregoes Music and Truffles and offers up something different in the way of repertoire. Taking as its subject the words and music of one of the most important, and one of the most appealing, songwriters of the 20th century – Noel Coward – the program will include such favourites as I’ll See You Again, I’ll Follow My Secret Heart, Some Day I’ll Find You, If Love Were All and Why Do the Wrong People Travel? The guiding spirit behind the concert is the pianist, composer and arranger John Greer. The singers are Monica Whicher, soprano, Norine Burgess, mezzo, Benjamin Butterfield, tenor, and Alexander Dobson, baritone. (Those who like the songs may also be interested in seeing a performance of Coward’s play Cavalcade by students of George Brown College at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts; November 9 to 19.)

Beckett at CanStage: In recent years there have been a number of Samuel Beckett’s late minimalist plays presented including three at the Berkeley Street Theatre last season directed by the gifted Jennifer Tarver. Beginning October 11, Canadian Stage presents All But Gone, a new work juxtaposing Beckett’s short plays with the operatic voices of Shannon Mercer, soprano, and Krisztina Szabó, mezzo. At the Berkeley Street Theatre, it runs until November 6. Jennifer Tarver is again the director; musical direction by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra.

Core Contemporary: In recent years there have perhaps been more opportunities to hear contemporary music in the classical mainstream than used to be the case, with such works being programmed more vigorously by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the U of T Faculty of Music and others. But there have also been, for decades, organizations entirely devoted to core presentation of contemporary music, including vocal works (New Music Concerts, Soundstreams and the Esprit Orchestra, to name a notable few).

The first concert of the Esprit Orchestra this season at Koerner Hall, October 23, is a tribute to the eminent Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. It includes Schafer’s Adieu Robert Schumann for mezzo, orchestra and electronic instruments, which was commissioned by John Roberts and the CBC for the contralto Maureen Forrester in 1976 (it was revised in 1980). The work uses passages from the diaries of Clara Schumann as she witnesses her husband’s descent into madness. The work also includes allusions to some of Robert Schumann’s compositions. The singer is Krisztina Szabó, who is having an especially busy month.

COC Ensemble Gala: The annual Ensemble Studio Competition is always an important event for the Canadian Opera Company, both in terms of an early opportunity to glimpse potential operatic stars of the future, and as an important fundraiser for the Ensemble itself. In recent years that competition has brought forward such outstanding young singers as the bass-baritone Gordon Bintner, the soprano Karine Boucher and, most recently, the mezzo Emily D’Angelo. Hosted by Ben Heppner, the 2016 competition will be held on November 3 at the Four Seasons Centre.

Mazzoleni Songmasters consists of a series of three recitals jointly curated by Rachel Andrist and Monica Whicher. Its first concert this season – “Welcome and Adieu” – will be on October 23. The sopranos Nathalie Paulin and Monica Whicher will sing English and French duets.

QUICK PICKS

Oct 1: The baritone Adam Harris sings six songs from Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad with the U of T Symphony at the MacMillan Theatre.

Oct 1: Marc B. Young is the singer in a concert which will combine songs by Rachmaninoff with the poems he set; at the Chapel, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Oct 4 and 5: The Ensemble Rajaton presents the music of ABBA, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall.

Oct 6: The tenor Benjamin Stein, former choral columnist in The WholeNote, sings and plays the lute and the theorbo in a free noon-hour concert at Metropolitan United Church.

Oct 6: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s opening concert of the season at Walter Hall presents tenor Issachah Savage singing music by Beethoven, Schumann, Strauss and Quilter as well as spirituals.

Oct 14: Allison Arends is the soprano soloist in a concert that includes English and Canadian folk songs arranged by Britten and Vaughan Williams as well as the song cycle Cuatro madrigales amatorios by Rodrigo; at the Heliconian Club.

Oct 14 and 15: Mirvish Productions presents Kacee Clanton in An Evening with Janis Joplin at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Oct 16: The Amici Chamber Ensemble performs the work of Johann and Richard Strauss at Mazzoleni Concert Hall with Russell Braun.

Oct 19: There will be a singalong tribute to the songs of the 1960s at Free Times Café, featuring If I Had a Hammer, Walk Right In, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Tom Dooley and others. The singers are Sue and Dwight Peters and Michelle Rumball.

Oct 20: U of T Faculty of Music presents a selection from Schumann’s Myrthen performed by Nathalie Paulin, soprano, and Krisztina Szabó, mezzo at Walter Hall; free.

Oct 21: York University department of Music presents a vocal masterclass with the tenor Lawrence Wiliford. Young singers from the studios of Catherine Robbin, Stephanie Bogle, Norma Burrowes, Michael Donovan and Karen Rymal will perform at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building; free.

Oct 23: The mezzo Maria Soulis will be the soloist in Elgar’s Sea Pictures with Orchestra Toronto at George Weston Recital HallThe program will also include Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony.

Oct 25: Another free midday recital by students at York University will be given at Tribute Communities Hall.

Oct 25: The Talisker Players give us readings and performances of poems and songs in “Songs of Enchantment: Tales of Wonder, Spells and Transformation.” The concert includes work by Schafer, Purcell, Arnold, Morlock and Louie. The singers are Miriam Khalil, soprano, and Lauren Segal, mezzo; at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Oct 30: Songs from Georgia will be performed by Diana and Madona Iremashvili and Bachi Makharashvili at the Heliconian Club.

Oct 31: “Manhattan: Midtown – 42nd Street and Broadway,” the second installment of Soulpepper’s exploration of 20th-century American music, opens on October 31 and runs to November 5. At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Nov 1, 2, 3: Music by Queen and David Bowie will be performed by the Acting Up Stage Company at Koerner Hall.

Nov 3: The U of T Faculty of Music presents a free lunchtime concert of music inspired by Hamlet and Macbeth. The singers are Monica Whicher, soprano, and Laura Tucker, mezzo.

Nov 5: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The title part will be sung by the bass-baritone David Pittsinger and other parts will be performed by Leslie Bouza, soprano, Christina Stelmacovich, mezzo, and Michael Schade, tenor, at Koerner Hall.

Nov. 5 and 6: The Bicycle Opera Project are the guests in Pax Christi Chorale’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Grace Church on-the-Hill.

And beyond the GTA:

Nov 5: Another performance of Elijah, this one featuring Chorus Niagara, takes place in St. Catharines at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Russell Braun (as Elijah), Leslie Ann Bradley, Anita Krause and Adam Luther join Chorus Niagara.

Nov 5: Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass will be performed by the Stratford Concert Choir in St. James Anglican Church, Stratford. The soloists are Catherine Sadler, soprano, Anna Tamm Relyea, alto, Mathias Memmel, tenor, and Gary Relyea, bass.

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@thewholenote.com  

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September is always a lean month. Many musical organizations do not start their seasons until October. There are, however, a number of early events.

2201_-_Art_of_Song_1.jpgThe Toronto Symphony Orchestra begins its season with a concert at Roy Thomson Hall featuring Renée Fleming on September 21, her first visit since an October 2015 RTH recital, accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore. The program features Ravel’s Shéhérazade as well as works by Puccini and Leoncavallo and selections from The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Mahler’s Third Symphony, which the TSO will perform September 28 and 29, was not a favourite of Otto Klemperer, an early admirer and interpreter of Mahler’s music. In fact, he refused to conduct it. Times have changed and I think that there is now fairly general agreement that the Third is one of Mahler’s finest works. Peter Oundjian conducts and the mezzo solo will be sung by Jamie Barton, the young American singer who gave such an impressive recital for Toronto Summer Music last July. The choral parts will be taken by the women of the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers and by the Toronto Children’s Chorus.

2201_-_Art_of_Song_2.jpgThe Women’s Musical Club of Toronto's directors have  over the years demonstrated a superb sense for finding the finest artists. It looks as if they have again found an exciting performer for their opening concert on October 6. The tenor Issachah Savage will be familiar to some Toronto audiences as he was the cover for the role of Siegmund in Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Canadian Opera Company last spring and performed the role on February 7. He also won the 2014 Seattle International Wagner Competition and has sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His Toronto recital at Walter Hall on October 6 will include Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, songs by Strauss and Quilter as well as a selection of spirituals.

The Toronto Masque Theatre’s 2016/17 season will start off with a salon concert on September 19 at The Atrium, 21 Shaftesbury Avenue. The program consists of poetry and songs inspired by trees. The singers are members of the Elizabeth McDonald Voice Studio.

TMT’s first regular concert will be on November 17 and consists of a particularly interesting coupling: Handel’s cantata Apollo and Daphne for soprano and baritone and Richard Strauss’ Enoch Arden, a monodrama for speaker and piano. More on this intriguing pairing as the season unfolds.

And looking back: When it comes to finding the very best performers available, the track record of Toronto Summer Music is unsurpassed. But the festival has always done more than find performers. Their program has always included an academy in which young professional and pre-professional performers are mentored by senior musicians. In 2016 a new branch of the academy, the TSM Community Academy, was inaugurated. It was a program aimed at amateurs. I seriously thought of applying to the program but in the end was too intimidated to do so.

I did go last summer, however, and realized that, while the program was extremely demanding, there was no need to feel intimidated. The Community Academy consisted of three parts: instrumentalists were coached by professionals, mainly front desk players of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or the Canadian Opera Company; pianists studied with David Jalbert; singers with Matthias Maute and Peter McGillivray. The work we singers focused on was Bach’s B Minor Mass. This was not the first time that I have attempted to sing the work but on other occasions we only had a day or an afternoon. These occasions always left me with the feeling that someday, in another life, I would get things right. I would not wish to claim that our performance last summer was everything it should be but we certainly got a lot closer than had been possible on earlier occasions. While we rehearsed all the choral parts, we performed only five movements. I think the decision to restrict us was entirely sensible. We were much helped by having four professional section leads. Separate from the rehearsals for the mass were the vocal lessons and the vocal masterclass conducted by Peter McGillivray. Kathryn Tremills was the very able pianist throughout.

2016 marked the final year of Douglas McNabney’s leadership of TSM. He will be missed. I am, however, looking forward with confidence to the new leadership which will be provided by his successor, Jonathan Crow.

GTA Quick Picks

Aug 26 to Sept 3: Soulpepper presents “Taking the A Train Uptown Manhattan – Harlem”: the music, words and ideas that have made Harlem great.

Sept 9: “The Four Lads and the Four Aces: the Greatest Love Songs of the 20th Century” at the Palais Royale.

Sept 9 and 21: A tribute to the folk songs of the 60s with Sue and Dwight Peters and Michelle Rumball at the Free Times Café.

Sept 13: Nine Sparrows presents a free lunchtime recital by Linda Condy, mezzo, and Ellen Meyer, piano, at Westminster Park Baptist Church. Donations welcome.

Sept 16: Kristine Dandavino, mezzo, and Michael Robert-Broder, baritone, will give a joint recital of music by Wagner, Schumann, Brahms, Weill and Sharman at the Women’s Art Association of Toronto.

Sept 22: A free lunchtime recital at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music will feature the soprano Eizabeth McDonald in works by Beethoven, Spohr and Schumann, at Walter Hall.

Sept 25: Vania Chan is the soprano soloist in Bach’s Coffee Cantata in the Rezonance Ensemble’s concert at 2pm at CSI Annex that also includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.5.

Sept 27: The first of this season’s free vocal recitals at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre features artists of the 2016/17 COC Ensemble Studio.

And Beyond the GTA

Sept 12: A celebration of the Beatles hosted by Lucy Peacock is a fundraiser for PAL Stratford, an organization that offers support and affordable housing to retired artists in need; Avon Theatre, Stratford.

Sept 16: The soprano Meredith Hall will sing Hasse and Handel with the Ensemble Caprice at the SweetWater Music Festival, Leith Church.

Sept 17: Hall will also sing at another SweetWater Music Festival concert which includes Schubert’s The Shepherd on the Rock (with the clarinetist James Campbell), as well as a new work for soprano and community singers by David Braid.

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@thewholenote.com.

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