art of song - vmas offer early singing startLast summer my daughter Saskia turned 12. Turning 12 is a rite of passage since most primary schools in Toronto do not go beyond grade six. Saskia chose, with encouragement from her parents, to move to the Downtown Vocal Music Academy on Denison Avenue, a stone’s throw from Toronto’s Kensington Market. The two VMA schools in Toronto (the other is the suburban Heather Heights PS in Scarborough) are the brainchild of Mark Bell, a man known in musical circles for his leadership of Canada Sings, a community singalong that meets every second Tuesday of the month somewhere in East Toronto (the next meeting is on November 12 at Mustard Seed, 791 Queen St. E.).

In February 2007 Bell convened a meeting of directors and managers of children’s choirs and officials of the Toronto District School Board to explore the possibility of setting up one or more schools which would specialize in singing. The TDSB came onside and a few years later Bell became vice-principal of the Downtown VMA and started preparing the 2012-13 school year. That year the program began in grade four and went up to grade six. This year grade seven was added and grade eight should follow next year. Bell would like it to continue until grade 12 eventually but there are no immediate plans for that. For now the intention is to steer students to high schools that specialize in the arts, such as Rosedale Heights.

Every day the last period at the Downtown VMA is choir (except for the afternoon, once a week, when the pupils go swimming) but there is also singing at other times during the day. It was felt impractical to offer an extended program in instrumental music, but on Friday there are after-school optional classes in piano and guitar (in cooperation with Soul Music of the University of Toronto) as well as steel pan (in cooperation with the Regent Park School of Music). Violin classes were also offered but there were no takers. At present the children are preparing for their first concert of the season December 3, “The Four Elements: Celebrating the Power of Nature in Song.” The total number of students participating is 90, but we shall also be able to hear them in smaller groups. The concert will also include the inauguration of the newly restored Heintzman grand piano.

Suzie LeBlanc is a lyric soprano, especially known for her early music performances. But her concerts are not confined to early music. A glance at her discography shows that she has also recorded classical (Mozart, Gluck), modern (Messiaen), contemporary (Peter-Anthony Togni) and traditional Acadian music. Of particular interest is a new disc with songs set to texts by Elizabeth Bishop (the composers are Emily Doolittle, Christos Hatzis, Alasdair MacLean and John Plant). She will be singing Purcell and Carissimi, with the tenor Charles Daniels and the Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir November 6 to 10. There will be another chance to hear her this month with the viol consort Les Voix Humaines for the Women’s Music Club on November 21. That concert will be repeated November 23 in Sault Ste. Marie and November 24 in Brantford. LeBlanc will also lead a master class at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto November 20.

Simone Osborne is a former member of the Canadian Opera Studio Ensemble and has since performed several major roles for the COC: Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (while a member of the Studio Ensemble), Gilda in Rigoletto, Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi and, most recently Musetta in La Bohème. Next spring she will return to the COC in the role of Oscar in Un ballo in maschera. She is the inaugural winner of Jeunesses Musicales Canada’s Maureen Forrester Award Tour. One of the concerts on this tour will be a noontime recital in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium on November 12. She will sing Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und-leben as well as songs by Bellini, Strauss, Hahn and Current. The concert will be repeated at Midland, November 21 and at Prescott, December 6.

Other Events

Voice performance classes in the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, will be held on November 5, 19, 26 and December 3 at Walter Hall.

Adi Braun is the singer in a concert based on the songs and letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, November 6.

Erin Bardua and Maureen Batt, soprano, Stefan Fehr, tenor, and Giovanni Spanu, baritone, will be the soloists in a performance of Haydn’s L’isola disabitata at Heliconian Hall, November 8.

Eleanor James, mezzo, will be the soloist in Tanzlied by R. Murray Schafer. The concert will also feature the harpists Judy Loman and Angela Schwarzkopf and will include music by Brophy, Livingston, Buhr and Lau in the Mazzoleni Concert Hall, November 10.

Shannon Mercer, soprano, Krisztina Szabó, mezzo, Christopher Mayell, tenor, and Jesse Clark, bass, will be the soloists in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at the Cathedral Church of St. James, November 13.

Students from the Glenn Gould vocal program will perform The Silent Serenade by Korngold at the Royal Conservatory, November 15 and 16.

Sara Papini, soprano, will sing compositions by Andjelika Javorina at the Glenn Gould Studio, November 15.

Janet Obermeyer, soprano, will sing Der Hirt auf dem Felsen by Schubert at Metropolitan United Church, November 16.

Nathalie Paulin is the soprano soloist in a concert of 20th century music at Walter Hall, November 18.

York University Department of Music presents vocal masterclasses with Che Anne Loewen, November 19 and with Leslie Fagan, November 22 at Tribute Communities Hall, November.

Lesley Bouza, soprano, and Colin Ainsworth, tenor, will be the soloists in a Britten concert by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Yorkminster Baptist Church, November 20.

Darlene Shura, soprano, Jacqueline Gélineau, contralto, and John Holland, baritone, will sing selections from Bach’s cantatas at Heliconian Hall, November 30.

At Calvin Presbyterian Church November 30, Allison Cecilia Arends, soprano, and Stanislas Vitort, tenor, will be the soloists in Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 (Lobgesang) with the Oakham House Choir. The concert will also include a number of works composed or arranged by John Rutter.

Recitals at Rosedale presents “Opera nella chiesa” with music by Handel, Massenet and Menotti. The singers are Laura Albino, soprano, Laura Tucker, mezzo, Timothy Wong, countertenor, and Anthony Cleverton and Jason Howard, baritone, at Rosedale Presbyterian Church, December 1.

And beyond the GTA:Bethany Hörst, soprano, Bud Roach, tenor, and Alexander Dobson, bass, will perform baroque opera arias, with the Bach Elgar Choir at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, November 9 and 10.

Nicholas Phan, tenor, and Martin Limoges, horn, will perform Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. The concert will also include Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 at the Centre in the Square, Kitchener, November 29 and 30.

Charlene Pauls, soprano, Erica Iris-Huang, mezzo, Bud Roach, tenor, and James Baldwin, bass, will be the soloists in a performance of the Magnificat by Bach and the Magnificat by Rutter at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Oakville, November 30.

The first of many complete Messiahs will arrive on December 6 and 7 presented by the Bach Elgar Choir. The soloists are Jennifer Taverner, soprano, Michele Bogdanowicz, mezzo, Chris Fischer, tenor, and Andrew Tees, bass at Melrose United Church in Hamilton. 

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

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
Back to top