It was back in the late fall that we decided, here at The WholeNote, that a case could be made for a regular beat column covering the art of song, focussing not on choirs but on voice as a solo instrument. This column has been the result, and judging by the amount of material that leaps to hand each month, the decision was the right one. So count on it being a regular feature of the magazine, although likely under some other columnist’s tender loving care. (And if that sounds to you like an invitation to apply for the job, you may contact me at the email address listed at the end of the column and argue your case.)
Art of Song
It’s a funny thing how an event can suddenly explode onto the scene with little or no prior buzz, emerging fully formed and ready to rumble. A case in point: the first annual SING! a cappella vocal festival, set to debut April 13–15 at Harbourfront Centre, comes accoutred not just with the necessary headliners (like last summer’s abortive BlackCreek faux summer festival), but also with a fine array of local talent, and a very healthy mix of workshops, singalongs and other opportunities for the public to feel part of it all. Needless to say, the illusion that SING! sprang up out of nowhere is just that — an illusion.
“Informally, the festival has been a going concern since March 2011,” says Aaron Jensen, SING!’s artistic director. “The idea was first bounced around by myself and J-M Erlendson, the business manager of Countermeasure — a Toronto-based a cappella ensemble that I direct. We then approached entertainment agent, Pat Silver and artist manager, Paul Ryan. Shortly thereafter, the Harbourfront Centre came on as business partners, and bit by bit, we enlisted an all-star board of directors made up of some of Toronto’s top arts agents, marketing experts, sponsorship co-ordinators and innovators, including Robert Missen, Patti Jannetta Baker, the Hon. Sarmite Bulte …” (Demonstrating at least one of the skill sets necessary for the helmsman of an enterprise like this, he goes on to name them all.)
Jensen has been an active member of the Toronto vocal community since moving to the city in 2001 (he was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan). “I’ve done so as a performer (Cadence, Retrocity, Countermeasure, The Amadeus Choir, WIBI, Dina Ledi), as a composer (I was the composer-in-residence for Univox Choir from 2007–2009, and have written commissioned choral works for The Swingle Singers, Vox Humana, Windago, Serenade! Washington DC Choral Festival, etc.), and as a music educator and clinician (U of T, CAMMAC, and various arts schools through Prologue to the Performing Arts.)”
Why a cappella? “Arguably a cappella vocal music is the foundation of all music,” he says. “Every genre of music can be traced back to a vocal tradition. Also it doesn’t hurt that television programs like Glee and The Sing Off have popularized a cappella music for a whole new demographic. In the midst of this vocal renaissance, we felt that the time is ripe to launch an a cappella festival, because despite this resurgence of interest in a cappella music, festivals are often slow to include vocal groups in their series. This initiative will be the first international a cappella vocal festival held in Toronto.”
“Through my involvement in these circles, I have become acquainted with the abundance of vibrant and exciting singing groups that Toronto has to offer. With so much talent and variety, it seemed a shame that there was no platform that celebrated this wealth of talent. It is our goal with SING! to host a large-scale international a cappella festival that will act as a summit for singers, educators, and all lovers of vocal music,and in doing so, to cultivate a growing audience and body of patrons.”
Beyond the headliners (Swingle Singers, Nylons, New York Voices) and outstanding supporting cast (Cadence, Darbazi, Cantores Celestes, Iselers, Toronto Chamber Choir), it is the festival’s extensive outreach that fires Jensen’s evident enthusiasm for the job.
“Educational Outreach is a cornerstone. In addition to the Friday school outreach event, we’ve also programmed eleven masterclasses geared toward singers of all ages and skill levels, led by top vocal educators such as the Swingle Singers, Heather Bambrick and Orville Heyn. We have launched a YouTube Contest that will give groups the opportunity to open for the Nylons, and whose prizing includes a guaranteed showcase opportunity in Canadian Music Week 2013. We’ve also planned a Mass Sing-Along which will be open to everyone attending the festival.”
And again he emphasizes that the time is right. “The fact that the Toronto District School Board is opening two special interest vocal arts academies in the fall speaks to Toronto’s growing appetite for vocal music.”
For more detail on the festival’s concert component see our GTA concert listings, and for more on the festival’s extensive non-concert component, our “ETCeteras” (commencing page 60).
Serious Star Power: in terms of visiting star power on the vocal scene, April is turning out to be a stunner. Bobby McFerrin brings his incomparable and indescribable vocal act to Roy Thomson Hall, April 16. Dawn Upshaw, whose interpretive gifts have made modern repertoire not only accessible but beautiful to audiences worldwide, is at Koerner Hall, April 22, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Friday April 20, Renée Fleming comes to Roy Thomson Hall with pianist Harmut Höll, in a very fresh program including works by Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, Korngold, Duparc and others. And, in two concerts added very recently to the calendar, on April 19 at the Marham Theatre and April 20 at Trinity-St. Paul’s, Measha Brueggergosman launches her I’ve Got A Crush On You CD.
Brueggergosman’s new CD is not your standard opera diva repertoire. “I’ve looked for pieces that are an extension of myself,” she explains. And the extensions in this case include a hefty dose of jazz standards (the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Errol Garner), some Lerner & Loewe, spirituals, some Feist, Joni Mitchell, Ron Sexsmith and more. Supporting cast (on the album at least) includes Holly Cole perennial sidemen, Aaron Davis (who co-produced) and Rob Piltch, as well as bassist George Koller and Davide Direnzo on drums (to name just a few). Expect Brueggergosman, to paraphrase the words of one of the songs on the album, to “spread her wings and do a thousand things (well, at least 14) she’s never done before.”
On the topic of jazz vocalists, Nikki Yanofsky comes to Massey April 21, Lauren Margison is at the Bradshaw amphitheatre in a “New York state of mind” April 24, and Kellylee Evans is at the Glenn Gould Studio April 27. And there will be two opportunities to catch Adi Braun, jazz “offshoot” of a famous operatic family, who just keeps getting better and better. Her main appearance is as part of the Kabaret at Koerner series April 15 with Jordan Klapman (piano), George Koller (bass) and Daniel Barnes (drums). Her other appearance will be two days earlier April 13 at a fundraiser for the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (see our “ETCeteras” on page 60) where Braun and Klapman will share the billing with vocalist Sophia Perlman and pianist Adrean Farrugia (to whose indisputable collective talents our editorial rules on nepotism forbid me to sing praise).
And speaking of solo vocal turns at galas and benefits: April 11 the luminous Adrianne Pieczonka, with Stephen Ralls on piano, headlines a VIVA! Youth Singers gala evening at St. Lawrence Hall; and May 6 Shannon Mercer, soprano, Krisztina Szabó, mezzo, Keith Klassen, tenor, and Roderick Williams, baritone, frontline Pax Christi’s 25th Anniversary Gala Concert presentation of Elgar’s The Kingdom at Koerner Hall. Stephanie Martin conducts.
All this, and I have not even scratched the surface of the art song recital treasury that waits to be discovered in the month’s listings.
Those quick off the mark will not want to miss Mooredale Concerts’ April 1 Walter Hall presentation of Stéphane Lemelin, piano, and Donna Brown, soprano, performing works by Debussy, Fauré, Schubert, Mahler and Wolf. Ottawa-born Brown, better known on the concert stages of Europe than in her own home, is an all-too-infrequent visitor.
And those wanting to be quick off the mark in spotting an up-and-comer should circle soprano Layla Claire’s May 3 Glenn Gould Studio appearance in the Massey/ RTH Art of Song series, performing works by Britten, Canteloube, Strauss and Golijov, with Stephen Philcox on the piano. Claire will make a splash, I predict, in early 2013, performing Mozart with the TSO, so grab some career-spotting bragging rights while the getting’s good.
It’s a good month too for Toronto’s longest established practitioners of salon-style concertizing, Aldeburgh Connection and Off Centre Music.
April 29, at Walter Hall, Aldeburgh Connection presents the final concert of this, their 30th anniversary concert season. It’s titled “A Country House Weekend: an English idyll,” and features soprano Lucia Cesaroni, mezzo Krisztina Szabó and baritone Peter Barrett, with Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano.
And May 6 Inna Purkis’ and Boris Zarankin’s long-running Off Centre Music Salon makes its usual Sunday afternoon Glenn Gould Studio touch-down with a salon titled “Spanish Ballade with a Russian Interlude.” Soprano Joni Henson, baritone Peter McGillivray and mezzo Leigh-Anne Martin do the vocal honours.
Aaron Jensen had it right. “Vocal renaissance” is indeed a good way to describe the current state of things.
David Perlman can be reached at email@example.com
If you were quick off the mark picking up this month’s magazine or one of the smart/lucky ones who have registered on our website to receive a “heads-up” when the online facsimile edition is up (usually 24–48 hours ahead of the print edition) then you still have time to make it down to the St. Lawrence Centre for mezzo Wallis Giunta’s March 1 recital, with very busy collaborative pianist Steven Philcox at the keys. The Music Toronto Discoveries Series concert was originally billed as “a recital of English language songs,” but a very interesting turn of events has technically made a liar out of Giunta. As reported in this column last month, half of the programme will now consist of a song cycle, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, by Rufus Wainwright.
It should be an intriguing evening. Wainwright performed the cycle himself at the Winter Garden Theatre two summers ago, as part of the lead-in to the North American premiere of his opera, Prima Donna, at that year’s Luminato festival. The audience that night consisted, to a very large extent, of legions of longtime Wainwright fans who were baffled and frustrated by the request to refrain from applauding between the individual songs. Hearing it sung through will provide an opportunity to hear it as a true song cycle, a single work with a compelling emotional arc to it, in the hands of a mezzo/piano team whose stars are both on the rise. The other half of the programme will feature Britten, Purcell, Vaughan Williams, Barber and others. So the evening will be a true test of all concerned.
(If you haven’t already done so, check out my video interview with Giunta, part of our “conversations@thewholenote” series. She says quite a bit about the choice of repertoire for this concert.)
As mentioned, collaborative pianist Philcox is a busy man this month. In addition to the March 1 Music Toronto recital, he will be at the piano for a March 6, 12 noon, “Celebration of Canadian Art Song,” part of the COC’s Bradshaw amphitheatre concert series. He will be accompanying soprano Carla Huhtanen, mezzo Krisztina Szabó and tenor Lawrence Wiliford in a programme of works by Harman, Passmore and Glick. And March 12 at 7:30pm, at Walter Hall, in a U of T Faculty Artist Series concert, he will accompany two of the finest, soprano Monica Whicher and baritone Russell Braun, in a programme of works by Barber, Rorem, Fleming, Vivier, Greer, Beckwith and others. (Composer Samuel Barber’s name, incidentally, crops up in these vocal listings as often as Philcox’s.)
In addition to the concerts already mentioned, Barber is one of the featured composers in Off Centre Music Salon’s March 25 event titled “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life: inaugural American Salon,” featuring works by Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, Kern and the aforementioned Barber. Tenors Keith Klassen and Rocco Rupolo, baritone Giles Tomkins and Ilana Zarankin will do the vocal honours, with Off Centre co-founders, Boris Zarankin and Inna Perkis, collectively or individually, at the piano.
Song Cycles and — Cyclists
Complete song cycles are, in truth, in somewhat short supply this month, but seasoned song-cyclists we have a-plenty. I’ll come back to the seasoned cyclists soon, but first a nod to the one cycle that jumps out: March 17 at 8pm, the astonishingly consistent and prolific Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents baritone Matthew Zadow, accompanied by Dina Namer, piano, in Schubert’s Die Schöene Müllerin. (Zadow then crosses to the other side of The WholeNote’s “Beyond” for an appearance, on March 25, with the Kingston Symphony in Haydn’s The Creation, along with Laura Albino, soprano, and James McLean, tenor.)
Returning to our veteran “song cyclists,” as mentioned last month Aldeburgh Connection’s Bruce Ubukata and Stephen Rawls, fresh off their sold-out triumphant gala at Koerner Hall, return to their more customary format and venue for their 14th (or is it 15th?) annual Greta Kraus Schubertiad, at Walter Hall, on March 18. Titled “Schubert and the Esterházys,” it will feature soprano Leslie Ann Bradley, mezzo Erica Iris Huang, tenor Graham Thomson and baritone Geoffrey Sirett.
Three other recitals to mention here: March 4, at Koerner Hall, the Royal Conservatory presents acclaimed English tenor Ian Bostridge, with Julius Drake, in a mainly Schumann and Brahms programme; Michael Schade, who seems more comfortable in his musical skin every time out, comes to Roy Thomson Hall March 30 with Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni and accompanist Justus Zeyen; and reminding us that the continuum of art song reaches from some of the city’s largest venues to it’s most intimate, in between those dates, on March 25, Nocturnes in the City presents Marta Herman, mezzo, with Timothy Cheung on piano at St. Wenceslaus Church, in a programme of works ranging from Mozart to Kapralova.
“Art of Song”
Keen-eyed readers of this magazine will have noticed that by including this article among our “Beat by Beat” columns this issue, we are taking steps to ensure that “the Art of Song” takes its regular place here (although almost certainly not with the publisher as its regular writer!).
In truth, this little essay barely scratches the surface of a genre as nuanced as any we cover. Take cabaret for example: Max Raabe & Palast Orchester at Koerner Hall, March 8 and 9; Ute Lemper with the Vogler Quartet at the same venue April 4; Alliance Française’s March 9 presentation of “Quand la ville nous habite” (The city inside us)” with Patricia Cano, vocals and Louis Simao, multiple instruments at the Pierre-Léon Gallery; Against the Grain’s March 13 presentation of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins at Gallery 345; and an ongoing programme of vocalists with serious credentials at the Green Door Cabaret (Peter McGillivray on March 6 for example) ...
We are looking forward to exploring this new beat, in all its diversity, in the months ahead.
In october 1995, in the second ever issue of this magazine (then known as Pulse), we ran as a cover image, not a photograph but a kind of abecedarius — a stylized alphabetical list consisting for the most part of presenters, performers or composers featured in the issue’s concert listings. The Penderecki Quartet came to our rescue for both P and Q. For Z we resorted to jazZ (where were you that month, Winona?), which was a bit lame. And A was as problematic as Z, but for the opposite reason — too many candidates rather than too few.