Beste Kalender, at Koerner Hall with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra (2014)The year 2020 is coming up roses for mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender, who grew up in Turkey and moved to Canada at the age of 22 to pursue two great interests – post-graduate research in the psychology of musical cognition, and professional singing. One of those is now clearly taking over, and the current year is marked by gigs that she finds particularly meaningful. “I hope I won’t be just a singer who sings pretty music and has no other interests,” she says when we meet in the RCM cafe, deserted for the long weekend. Our voices are ringing in the empty space but the security guy on duty doesn’t seem to mind us being there. “I’d like to be able to engage with larger issues and causes. And have my own distinct voice. This year feels like I do.”

One of those larger causes is cross-cultural collaboration. Last month, Kalender performed as a soloist with Sinfonia Toronto in Musical Bridges: Komitas@150, a program of Armenian, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Hungarian and Greek music conducted by an Armenian-Canadian, Nurhan Arman. Komitas – composer, Orthodox priest, ethnomusicologist, and the first Armenian national music systematizer – was born in the Ottoman Empire in 1869. April 24, 1915, Komitas was among more than 200 prominent Armenians rounded up by Ottoman/Turkish forces and deported from Istanbul to Ankara. Unlike most of the group, he survived, but he had a breakdown, was moved between military hospitals, and ended his life in a Paris asylum in 1935 a broken man. “This concert is about celebrating Komitas, and it’s about celebrating peace and always working to keep it”, says Kalender. “I’ve listened to a lot of Armenian music alongside my Armenian friends at the Conservatory in Istanbul, and loved it. Our musical traditions share so much.”

Read more: Beste Kalender: Mezzo Rising

Messing with Winterreise is a growing and delightful industry within classical music performance. Schubert’s best-known song cycle has been fully staged and orchestrated for a chamber ensemble (Netia Jones/Hans Zender/Ian Bostridge), divided between three female singers (Toronto’s Collectìf ensemble), multi-mediatized (William Kentridge’s video projections), arranged for singer, puppet, guitar, and piano with animated drawings (Thomas Guthrie) and staged with the piano and illustrated backdrops (Ebbe Knudsen). On January 17, Toronto will have a chance to see another contribution to the conversation on the meaning of Winterreise, when Le Chimera Project, with baritone Philippe Sly, bring their klezmer- and Roma-inflected take on it to Koerner Hall.

Philippe Sly. Photo Courtesy of Columbia Records.“The inspiration came when I saw a video clip of two friends, Félix de l’Étoile and Samuel Carrier, performing Gute Nacht on accordion and clarinet at a recital,” says Philippe Sly on a Skype call from San Francisco. “I thought, Oh my God, that sound suits this musical content so well. I approached Felix and asked what he thought would be the best arrangement if we were to continue with this klezmer-Gypsy-like aesthetic and he came up with the idea of having trombone, clarinet, violin and accordion instead of the piano.” De l’Étoile and Carrier wrote the draft arrangement and the entire group with Sly worked intensely on the piece for two secluded wintry weeks at the Domaine Forget in Charlevoix, where the Chimera Winterreise had its premiere.

Read more: Winterreisse Unmasked - Le Chimera at Koerner

Not a lot of people in Canada know a whole lot about Colombia, the third largest country in South America, and what we manage to gather usually comes from American television shows and media reports on drug wars. The November 5 Toronto edition of Crossing Borders, the recital series founded by the Halifax-based soprano Maureen Batt, which pairs up Canadian composers with foreign ones in creatively themed evenings, may just change things on this score. Batt’s key partner in programming this time is Colombia-born, Ontario-based tenor Fabián Arciniegas, whom Toronto audiences may remember from the productions with Essential Opera and Opera in Concert. He left the Republic of Colombia in 2010 to complete a master’s at U of T, and stayed. “If any Latin American music is presented here in Canada,” he tells me on the phone from Coburg, where he now lives, “it’s usually a zarzuela – and that’s rare enough. When people think of music from Hispanic places, Spain included, they think either dance, or zarzuela, or de Falla. Composers from South America that are being performed outside South America are few. Carlos Guastavino is one – and he died in 2000. Piazzolla is another. And that’s where it ends.”

One day not so long ago, Batt and Arciniegas were chatting over instant messenger when the tenor mentioned in passing that he really wanted to put on a recital of songs by living composers from Colombia. Batt liked the idea and offered to produce it as a half-half evening, Canadian and Colombian/Latin American, and soon enough they were posting public calls for scores. Arciniegas urged the Colombian composers that he knew or knew of to submit, but nobody’s placement in the program was guaranteed. It was, unusually, a blind submission process, which upon completion of the first round, Batt, Arciniegas and pianist Claire Harris tweaked here and there for diversity of themes and musical approaches.

Read more: Crossing Borders Builds Bridges

Vania Chan (right) and RezonanceSoprano Vania Chan caught the Handel bug as a young voice student at York University. She had started her training believing she was a mezzo-soprano and was, as she describes it, just experimenting with her upper register. But then she began working with mezzo Catherine Robbin at York. “When I first met her she knew right away. She asked me to try higher repertoire and Oh had I Jubal’s lyre (from Joshua) was the first Handel I’d sung. I just loved getting into the coloratura. I was also given a recording of Alcina with Natalie Dessay as Morgana and heard her version of Tornami a vagheggiar. The sparkle of it amazed me. That’s when I started getting into my actual voice type.”

Morgana will return for an appearance in the program titled “Handel Heroines” that Chan is performing with the Rezonance Baroque Ensemble on October 6 at the Plaza Suite in the Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre. Chan and Rezonance’s artistic director Rezan Onen-Lapointe have known each other since high school years at the Cardinal Carter Academy of the Arts in North York. As young musicians still in training, they both attended the Halifax Summer Opera Festival and took part, alongside Kevin Mallon and the Aradia Ensemble, in a production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. This is where Cleopatra struck. The demanding eight-aria role is now one of Chan’s favourites and the forthcoming concert will include at least three of those: the slow V’adoro pupille and Piangerò, and the break-neck Da tempeste.

Read more: Handelian Heroines With Vania Chan

The Barricades

The Mysterious Barricades concert series came out of a tragedy: in 2015, the series co-founder and president, Edmonton-based mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Turnbull, lost her husband to suicide. “Beth and Chris and my husband Gord and I, and Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule and many others in this group – we were all friends mainly through University of Toronto Opera School,” explains Monica Whicher, Mysterious Barricades’ Toronto leader and presenter, when we meet in her home to talk about this year’s event. “Chris wasn’t a musician professionally, but he was a music lover. We were each other’s families essentially, as you are when you’re young in school and away from your own family. We have been friends for at least 30 years when it happened.” Turnbull herself speaks eloquently about her loss and her partner’s struggle with depression and anxiety in the video on the Mysterious Barricades website. Nothing, however, prepares one for the devastation that is the loss of a loved one.

“Beth understood that a way for her toward healing would be music,” says Whicher. The mezzo invited her musician friends to join forces and create a consciousness-raising event, rolling out as a series in multiple cities across the country in the course of one day. Each year, the event takes place during World Suicide Prevention Week and includes guest speakers and representatives from mental health organizations. Each concert has its own presenter and programmer. There will be a Kitchener-Waterloo concert on September 10 at 7pm. And on September 14, Ottawa (12pm), Toronto (1pm), and London (2pm) will be the three Ontario cities participating in what is planned as a 17-hour sequence, coast-to-coast concerts which will also be streamed live.

The 1pm Toronto concert will be in the University of Toronto’s Walter Hall. From the very start, the Toronto Mysterious Barricades concert has been under the auspices of the University of Toronto, where Whicher and many other musicians involved happen to be teaching. Everybody is volunteering their time. “There’s space, there’s some generosity amidst of it all, and there is a student body who we feel can use the knowledge and shared experience,” says Whicher. This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Andrea Levinson, psychiatrist-in-chief, Health and Wellness, University of Toronto. “Our goal is to make sure that everybody knows that there is help available. We will present these resources in between the music making. It’s easy when one is not struggling to let something in one ear and out the other; but when one is struggling or one’s loved one is, it becomes difficult to understand how to proceed in a crisis. The more we can put this info forward – the better.”

Read more: Mysterious Barricades and Systemic Barriers
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