This is the centenary year of the birth of Benjamin Britten and we have already had the opportunity of hearing a great deal of his music, notably in the mini-festival with which the Aldeburgh Connection ended its final season. This month we can see Peter Grimes, Britten’s breakthrough opera, in a production by the Canadian Opera Company (the first night is October 5). The opening concert of the Elmer Iseler Singers “Saint Cecilia Sings” will include music by Howells, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Daley as well as Britten (October 20). The Toronto Symphony Orchestra will perform the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, with Nicholas Phan, tenor, and Neil Deland, horn (October 31 to November 2). The November 5 concert by the Orpheus Choir includes the 1938 pacifist cantata, World of the Spirit.

The free lunchtime performances in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre include five concerts in October with music by Britten. Of these several are vocal concerts: a selection of his songs and song cycles on October 9; an afternoon of English song on October 22; highlights of Albert Herring on October 23.

art songGordon Bintner: Thebass-baritone Gordon Bintner will perform in the October 9 recital at the Four Seasons Centre. He will sing Tit for Tat, a cycle that Britten wrote as a teenager but did not put together until 1968. The texts are by Walter de la Mare and they explore the mental world of the child.

I only know of three earlier occasions in which Bintner sang in Toronto: in 2012 he was one of the Art of Song fellows in the Toronto Summer Music program; he sang Schubert with the Aldeburgh Connection last spring; he won both the jury prize and the audience prize at the competition for entrance to the COC Ensemble Studio last year. But he has a great deal of experience elsewhere. He studied at McGill and it is in Montreal that he gave many of his performances: he sang Lescaut in Massenet’s Manon for l’Opéra de Montreal. As a student he sang Don Giovanni as well as the Speaker in Die Zauberflöte and Argante in Handel’s Rinaldo for Opera McGill. In 2011 he performed Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro for Opera NUOVA (Edmonton). In 2012 he was a Merola fellow in San Francisco and performed the role of Nardo in Mozart’s La finta giardiniera there. He also sang Mozart and Donizetti with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

This year he has small parts in the COC productions of La Bohème and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. He will also be covering the roles of Swallow in Peter Grimes, Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Sancho in Massenet’s Don Quichotte. He will sing Don Alfonso in the COC Ensemble Studio performance of Così in February. And there are going to be other engagements: Messiah in Okanagan, a recital and a masterclass in Yellowknife and Mozart’s Coronation Mass with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. While it may be a bit early to talk about an international career, it is worth mentioning two events: Bintner has sung Colline in La Bohème in a production by Angers Nantes Opera in France and this November he will perform in Berlin in Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place with the Ensemble Modern under Kent Nagano.

Bintner is clearly at home in song, in opera and in oratorio. He says that he loves the three genres equally and that given the right opportunities he will sing all three!


October 6: The opening concert in the Recitals at Rosedale series, “The Seven Virtues,” features Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, Peter Barrett, baritone, Rachel Andrist and John Greer, piano. They will perform works by Purcell, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Strauss, Duparc, Vaughan Williams and others (Rosedale Presbyterian Church).

October 6: Bernie Lynch sings “Tenor songs through the ages.” (St. Anne’s Anglican Church).

October 11: A Wagner program will include scenes from Die Walküre, Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung; the singers are Susan Tsagkaris, soprano, Ramona Carmelly, mezzo, and Stuart Graham, baritone (First Unitarian Church).

October 11: Melody Moore and Rufus Wainwright sing works by Wainwright with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Roy Thomson Hall).

October 15: Robert Pomakov, bass, will sing a new work by Bohdana Frolyak based on a text by Taras Shevchenko (Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre).

October 24: Miriam Khalil, soprano, and Julien LeBlanc, piano, will perform a recital of French and Spanish art songs (Gallery 345).

October 25 to 27: Katherine Hill is the soprano soloist in a program based on Aubrey’s Brief Lives (Young Centre).

October 26: Stanislav Vitort, tenor, and Zhenya Yesmanovich, piano, perform a program presented by the Neapolitan Connection (Montgomery’s Inn).

October 26: Maryna Svitasheva, mezzo, and Brian Stevens, piano, perform works by Schumann, Moniuszko and others (Bloor Street United Church).

October 27: Lindsay Kesselman is the soprano soloist in a program of works for clarinet, piano and voice (Gallery 345).

October 31: Alexa Wing, soprano, and Peter Bishop, piano, perform (Metropolitan United Church).

November 1: Michele Bogdanowicz, mezzo, Ernesto Ramirez, tenor, and Rachel Andrist, piano, will perform works by Chopin, Viardot, Palej and Grever (Gallery 345).

November 2: Francesco Pellegrino is the tenor soloist in a program of traditional Italian music and Mediterranean jazz (Koerner Hall).

November 6: Adi Braun sings Kurt Weill (Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre).


October 3: At the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie Jennifer Krabbe, soprano, and David Roth, baritone, will sing works by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Britten, Barber and Duke (Burton Avenue United Church).

October 3: Also at the Colours of Music Festival, songs from wartime will be performed by Wendy Nielsen, soprano, and Patrick Raftery, tenor (Burton Avenue United Church).

October 9: MarionSamuel, soprano, and Anna Ronai, piano, perform “Sassy women – art songs” (Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo).

October 19: TheGrandPhilharmonicChoirwillperform Britten’s WarRequiem with soloists Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano, Thomas Cooley, tenor, and Russell Braun, baritone (Centre in the Square, Kitchener).

October 22: Richard Cunningham, countertenor, will give a recital accompanied by our own Benjamin Stein, theorbo (Convocation Hall, McMaster University).

October 25: A postmodern cabaret celebrating the legacy of Kurt Vonnegut. (Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo).

October 26: David Moore, tenor, and Katie Toksoy, horn, will perform Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, along with works by Elgar and Janáček (Trinity Anglican Church, Aurora).

October 26: Sara Laux Chappel, soprano, Luke Fillion, baritone, and Brian Turnbull, piano, perform songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms and others (Centenary United Church, Hamilton).

November 2: Meredith Hall, soprano, and Isaiah Bell, tenor, will be the soloists in Chorus Niagara’s performance of music by Handel (Calvary Church, St. Catharines).

November 3: A concert by Wellington Winds includes Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne; the soprano soloist is Caroline Déry (Grandview Baptist Church, Kitchener). 

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

There is, in ontario, a number of companies which have long histories: the Toronto Choral Society was founded in 1845, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in 1894, the Bach-Elgar Choir of Hamilton in 1905, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1922, the Canadian Opera Company in 1950, the National Ballet of Canada in 1951. But there are, in Toronto and Southern Ontario, other more recently founded companies.

art of songOne such company is Capella Intima, founded and directed by Bud Roach. Roach decided to start this ensemble in 2008 and the initial performances were in 2009. Before Roach became a tenor, he was a professional oboist; he was a member of a number of orchestras including the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. In his high school years he had been a rather weak baritone who conked out when confronted by a high F, so he put thoughts of singing aside in favour of the oboe. But in 2005, after having left the orchestral world, he discovered that he had high notes after all and from then on he has concentrated on singing. He managed to persuade Lydia Adams to allow him to sing in the Amadeus Choir’s performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Adams must have liked what she heard and, soon after, Roach became a member of the Elmer Iseler Singers. We have also been able to hear him in appearances with ensembles such as the Toronto Consort and the Aradia Ensemble. He now enjoys an active solo career. At the Fringe concerts in last June’s Boston Early Music Festival he performed excerpts from the third volume of arias by Alessandro Grandi (1626), accompanying himself on the baroque guitar. These performances are now also available on CD (on the Opera Omnia label).

Capella Intima specializes in the performance of 17th-century Italian sacred works, sung one to a part with a small instrumental ensemble. Last spring it gave three performances of the oratorio Giuseppe, which may or may not be by Luigi Rossi. This September Capella Intima will perform music by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (September 21 in Hamilton at McNeil Baptist Church; September 28 in Toronto in the Great Hall at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Bloor St.; both at 3pm) in a program titled “Celestial Sirens” which the ensemble first presented in 2010 and has since performed at the New Hamburg Live Festival and, most recently, at the Bach Festival of Canada in Exeter. (Another concert, also titled “Celestial Sirens” and featuring music by Cozzolani and others, was given by the Toronto Consort in May 2011.) It is only in recent years that the music composed by 17th-century cloistered Milanese nuns, like Cozzolani, has been given the attention it deserves by both musicologists and performers. I am myself greatly looking forward to this concert.

The other comparatively new company is the Toronto Masque Theatre, directed by Larry Beckwith, now entering its tenth anniversary year. When I first knew Beckwith, he was primarily a tenor (he was a member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir). As time went by, he became more interested in playing the baroque violin and performing chamber music. Before founding the Toronto Masque Theatre, he was a member of the Arbor Oak Trio along with Stephanie Martin, harpsichord, and Todd Gilman, viola da gamba (replaced by Mary-Katherine Finch after Gilman left Toronto). The Trio did not confine itself to chamber music but also staged several 17th- and 18th-century operas, including Love in a Village by Thomas Arne and John Gay’s ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera. (I played the Beggar in the latter. Can I call it the title role?)

Literary historians tend to define “masque” rather narrowly and see it as a 16th- or 17th-century courtly entertainment with strong allegorical elements. Beckwith has always thought of the masque in a much wider sense, as a work that provides a fusion between opera, dance, song, chamber music, theatre, puppetry, visual art and film. The company has performed several 17th-century operas such as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and John Blow’s Venus and Adonis but it has also commissioned a number of new works by composers like James Rolfe and Dean Burry. Its most recent commission was The Lesson of Da Ji (music by Alice Ping Yee Ho, text by Marjorie Chan), which won a Dora Mavor Moore award.

The first TMT event of the new season is a ten-year retrospective salon on September 30 at 21 Shaftesbury Ave. Beckwith and others will speak and there will be musical contributions by, among others, soprano Teri Dunn and lutenist Lucas Harris. Tickets for a suggested donation of $20 are bookable through the TMT website or by phoning 416-410-4561. Their first regular concert will give us Patrick Garland’s dramatization of Brief Lives by John Aubrey with actor William Webster and soprano Katherine Hill at the Young Centre, October 25 to 27. It will be followed by the cabaret Arlecchino Allegro featuring mezzo Laura Pudwell at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, January 23 to 25. The final concert on April 25 and 26 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, will give us three versions of the myth of Zeus and Europa; the soprano soloist will be Suzie LeBlanc.

Other Events

On September 26 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, in a free noon hour concert, the young artists of the 2013/14 Canadian Opera Company Ensemble will introduce themselves by singing their favourite arias.

The season at Koerner Hall will open with a concert on September 28 featuring Audra McDonald. She will sing a mix of Broadway show tunes, classic songs from movies and pieces specially written for her.

Soundstreams opens its season at Koerner Hall on October 1 with a concert devoted to the music of Arvo Pärt, James Rolfe and Riho Maimets. Shannon Mercer will be the soprano soloist.

The opening concert of the Recitals at Rosedale series will be on October 6 at 2:30pm at the Rosedale Presbyterian Church. Its title is “The Seven Virtues” — the series will pair that concert with “The Seven Deadly Sins,” but not until May.

And beyond the GTA

The Colours of Music Festival in Barrie will include “A Song in the Air” on October 3, including music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Britten sung by mezzo Jennifer Krabbe and baritone David Roth. “I’ll Be Seeing You” on October 6 features songs from wartime, sung by Wendy Nielsen, soprano, and Patrick Raftery, tenor. Both concerts will be at Burton Avenue United Church. 

Hans de Groot is a concert-goer and active listener
who also sings and plays the recorder. He can
be contacted at

artofsong philippe-slyIt seemed only yesterday (though it was probably 18 years ago) that I travelled up to North York to hear Elly Ameling's farewell recital in the George Weston Recital Hall. A fabulous concert it was. Well, Ameling is back – this time as a mentor to the eight singers and four collaborative pianists who have been selected as fellows in this festival. Other mentors will be baritone Sanford Sylvan and pianist Julius Drake. Sylvan will also perform Le bal masqué by Poulenc in Walter Hall, July 19 at 7:30pm.

Read more: Toronto Summer Music Festival 2013: Performers, Mentors and Fellows

artofsong robbie burnsRobert Burns was not a musician but he liked music; he was especially fond of traditional Scottish airs. He wrote several times that his main goal in writing texts for them was to preserve the music. After Burns’ death, that process was reversed by composers like Schumann and Loewe, who wrote new settings for Burns’ texts. More recently, Benjamin Britten did so in A Birthday Hansel, a song cycle beautifully performed at the Royal Conservatory on April 14 by soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and harpist Ingrid Bauer.

The relation between text and music in Burns is actually more complicated than his own statements would suggest. O My Love is Like a Red Red Rose was first published by Pietro Urbani, an Italian musician active in Scotland. Burns gave him the words of the song and essentially told him to use them as he saw fit. Urbani then came up with his own composition, an elaborate setting featuring two violins, viola and harpsichord, with an instrumental introduction and with the notation “Largo con Molta Espressione.” James Johnson republished the song in 1797 and used the tune that Burns had himself suggested, Major Graham. Then in 1821, long after Burns’ death, Robert Archibald Smith proposed an alternative tune, Low Down in the Broom. It is that tune that is now generally used. The case of Auld Lang Syne is different but also complicated. Burns wrote, in a letter, that he “took it down,” that is to say he took the words down, from an old man’s performance. Johnson published it in 1796 to an old tune, but two years earlier Burns had already written to another publisher, George Thomson, that he did not like that tune; he added that there was another, which “you may hear as a Scottish country dance.” It is that other tune that everyone now knows. It is clear then that in some cases Burns wrote, or wrote down, the texts first and then looked for a traditional melody that he liked and that fit metrically.

art of song virginia hatfieldSeveral Toronto musicians sing Scottish songs. Lorna Macdonald has done so in a number of her recitals, Allyson McHardy included a set in a recent concert and there is a fine performance of a Burns song on an ATMA CD by Meredith Hall with Ensemble La Nef. There will be another chance to hear songs by Burns in a concert entitled “The Star of Robbie Burns,” with Virginia Hatfield, soprano, and Benjamin Covey, baritone at the Church of the Redeemer, June 7. R.H. Thomson will narrate Burns’s life, while the second half of the concert will feature songs from the musical Brigadoon. The pianist is Melody McShane. And just in case that is not enough, the ticket price includes tea and shortbread. The concert will be repeated at the Festival of the Sound at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, Parry Sound, but with a different soprano, Charlotte Corwin. A different Burns/Brigadoon concert will be given at the Westben Festival in Campbellford with Donna Bennett, soprano, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Brian Finley, piano, July 13. You will also be able to hear Burns’ songs Ae Fond Kiss and Auld Lang Syne in a concert titled “A Celtic High Tea” at St. John’s Church, Ancaster, August 11.

Read more: The Songs of Robert Burns

1808-artsonIn Virginia Woolf’s novel, To the Lighthouse, the painter Lily Briscoe is much troubled when she recalls a young ambitious male academic saying: “Women can’t write; women can’t paint.” Nobody has ever doubted that there have been great women performers. Just think of the concerto delle donne in late 16th-century Ferrara or the girls who were trained at the Ospedale della Pietà in 18th-century Venice, of actresses like Sarah Siddons, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse or dancers like Anna Pavlova. But the ability of women to become creative artists has in the past been questioned. It was sometimes asserted that women could never become great poets since they lacked creative power. I suspect that this attitude goes back to a long discredited physiological theory that held that only men could create, since the homunculus was already present in the sperm and that a woman simply provided a space where the embryo could develop.

Of course, there have been a number of important women composers from Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century to Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger in the early 20th and Kaija Saariaho, Sofia Gubaidulina and Ana Sokolović in our time. I also suspect that there would have been others had the intellectual climate been more sympathetic to the female composer. Several women composers have been close relatives of more famous men: Francesca Caccini was the daughter of Giulio Caccini; Clara Schumann was the wife of Robert Schumann; Fanny Mendelssohn was the sister of Felix Mendelssohn; Pauline Viardot was the daughter of Manuel García. As a consequence they are sometimes seen as pale reflections of the male figures to whom they were related.

Sometimes too, a woman may have been content to be a “helpmeet.” There are two extant manuscripts of Claudio Monteverdi’s last opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea; one of these shows that Francesco Cavalli, Monteverdi’s pupil and successor, had made a number of revisions. But two-thirds of the manuscript is in the hand of Cavalli’s wife Maria. We know little about her: she was a widow when Francesco married her in 1630; she began copying in 1650 (her hand has been detected not only in the Monteverdi but also in several of Cavalli’s own operas); she died in 1652. She must have been musically literate to be able to do this work. Could she have become a composer herself? We shall never know. When Gustav Mahler courted Alma Schindler (who had studied composition with Alexander von Zemlinsky), he insisted that she could not be a composer, as it would be wrong to have more than one composer in the family. Like Maria Cavalli, she became a copyist of her husband’s music. (Mahler was to change his mind about Alma’s compositions later.)

Alison Mackay has played violone and double bass for Tafelmusik since 1979. For Tafelmusik she has created several highly successful multi-media projects: “The Galileo Project;” ‘The Four Seasons;” “The House of Dreams.” Her next project is for the Toronto Consort: “A Woman’s Life” on May 24 and 25 at 8pm and May 26 at 3:30pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The program will explore the lives of women composers and singers from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the early Baroque. It will feature vocal music by von Bingen, Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi.

Other events: Tafelmusik presents arias and choruses from Handel’s oratorios with Sophie Daneman, soprano, and Rufus Müller, tenor, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, May 1 to May 4 at 8pm and May 5 at 3:30pm, and at the George Weston Recital Hall, May 7 at 8pm.

The Aldeburgh Connection continues its Britten Festival of Song with “The Song Cycles,” with Shannon Mercer, soprano, and Susan Platts, mezzo at the Glenn Gould Studio, May 7 at 8pm and “A Time There Was,” with Virginia Hatfield, soprano, Scott Belluz, countertenor, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone, at Walter Hall May 26 at 2:30pm.

On May 7 and 8 the Talisker Players presents a program of works that evoke birds. It includes music by Telemann and Arvo Pärt. The singers are Erin Bardua, soprano, and Vicki St. Pierre, mezzo, at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre at 8pm.

I met R.H. Thomson more than 40 years ago when we were both in a production of the crucifixion scene from the York Mystery plays. Thomson played Pilate and I was one of the malefactors who torment Christ. This may have been the high point of my theatrical career but Thomson’s had barely taken off. Over the years he has become one of our most distinguished actors. Earlier this season he performed (for Tafelmusik) the fictional memoirs of an early 18th-century oboist. On May 10, Thomson appears in an Eybler Quartet performance titled “An Evening with Michael Kelly” at the Heliconian Hall; repeated at St. Barnabas Church, St. Catharines, May 12 at 2pm. Although the works played are instrumental, the program will be of interest in relation to the history of vocal music. Kelly was an Irish tenor, who created the roles of Don Curzio and Don Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro andThomson’s performance will be based on Kelly’s Reminiscences. Thomson will also perform in “The Star of Robbie Burns” (Church of the Redeemer, June 7) with Virginia Hatfield, soprano, and Benjamin Covey, baritone.

The Toronto Masque Theatre will give its final concert of the season on May 10 and 11 (at 8pm) and May 12 (at 3pm; all at the Al Green Theatre). The program consists of John Blow’s masque, Venus and Adonis, and a newly commissioned opera by Alice Ping Yee Ho, The Lesson of Da Ji. The singers are Vania Chan, Charlotte Corwin and Xin Wang, soprano, Marion Newman, mezzo, Timothy Wong, countertenor, Benjamin Covey and Alexander Dobson, baritone.

Klara Ek, soprano, and Gerald Finley, bass-baritone, will be the soloists in Brahms’ German Requiem, with the Toronto Symphony (Roy Thomson Hall, May 22, 23 and 25). The first two of these concerts will also include Lieberson’s settings of poems by Neruda.

Recitals at Rosedale kicks off its 2013/14 season with a special launch concert on June 1 (Rosedale Presbyterian Church at 7:30pm).

This month in its free Vocal Series the COC presents: Anna Christy, soprano, the star of the current production of Lucia di Lammermoor, in recital on May 21; a concert by the graduating artists of the COC Ensemble Studio on May 23; and a sneak preview of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival on May 30. All three concerts are in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre from 12 noon to 1pm and are free.

And beyond the GTA: Leslie Fagan, soprano, Laura Pudwell, mezzo, Adam Bishop, tenor, and Peter McGillivray, baritone, will be the soloists in a performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass (George Street United Church, Peterborough, May 11 at 7:30pm).

A postscript: I enjoyedthe lively performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by students of the Glenn Gould School (although I have always seen the opera more as an account of frustrated desire than as an indulgence in bunga bunga). The Don (Diego Catala) sang a beautiful “Serenade” and Don Ottavio (Justin Stolz) was terrific in “Il mio tesoro.” The finest performance came from Beste Kalender as Zerlina. She sang with warmth and had just the right mixture of naiveté, spontaneity and artfulness. 

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener. He also sings and plays the recorder.

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