A quick glance at last month’s column could lead a person to conclude (erroneously) that there were only men making music on the “classical and beyond” scene. If, as the old adage goes, a picture — in this case more than one — is worth a thousand words, then, indeed, we (inadvertently) told a skewed story.

So, dear readers, I intend to rectify the picture with this, my last installment, after two years on the Classical & Beyond beat.

classicalOf saints and season starters: And what better way to do so than to start things off with concerts featuring the Cecilia String Quartet (CSQ) — four formidably talented women whose namesake is none other than that patroness of musicians, herself, Saint Cecilia. Apparently it was the group’s coach at the time, Terry Helmer, who suggested “Cecilia” and the name stuck. While the quartet’s cellist, Rachel Desoer, “confesses” that the saint connection isn’t all that important to them, she does admit that “it is a fun bit of trivia.”

Asked about when the group gelled, founding violist, Caitlin Boyle, says that “at the very first rehearsal [in 2004, when the original CSQ members met as classmates in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music chamber music program] there was a sense that there was a very dynamic chemistry to our group, and it felt like we just ‘clicked.’ After that, many things just fell into place, and we were fortunate that the many opportunities that came our way led us down this magical quartet path.”

Currently ensemble-in-residence at U of T, the much-lauded CSQ launches Mooredale Concerts’ 25th season — Bravo, Mooredale! — on October 6, with two concerts at Walter Hall. The first, Mooredale’s always entertaining and educational series, Music & Truffles, offers an early afternoon interactive concert for young audiences ages 6 to 15. The second, starting two hours later at 3:15pm, is the extended concert Mooredale presents to its more adult patrons. These concerts will also mark the CSQ’s first Mooredale Concerts appearance, though violinist Min-Jeong Koh tells me that both she and fellow CSQ violinist, Sarah Nematallah, have played on the series several times over the years and that Koh also played in the Mooredale Youth Orchestra.

For the 3:15pm concert, the quartet will perform Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11 and Haydn’s Quartet No.4 in D Major Op.20. And then sparks will fly with double the fun, when special guest, the Afiara String Quartet (ASQ) joins the CSQ in Mendelssohn’s splendid and iridescent Octet in E-Flat Major. (For the earlier Music & Truffles concert, the two will perform excerpts from the Octet.)

The two quartets appear to be connected by only two degrees of separation, if that. For starters, the CSQ’s Koh is married to the ASQ’s cellist, Adrian Fung, and the two groups have performed together a number of times. In 2010, the CSQ won first prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition, with the ASQ coming in second. Closer to home, the CSQ was the first recipient of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School Quartet Residency Fellowship in 2010, and the ASQ the second in 2012. They performed the Mendelssohn Octet at the Festival of the Sound this summer and, earlier in the spring, at Stanford University’s Bing Concert Hall during its inaugural season. Interestingly, both quartets were first introduced to the Stanford campus by the university’s resident ensemble, “our” St. Lawrence String Quartet, who, just last month, awarded the CSQ the 2013 John Lad Prize (now in its third year), named in honour of the SLSQ’s dear friend John Lad (Stanford ’74), a violist and ardent chamber music lover who died in 2007.

In presenting the prize, the SLSQ’s violist and co-founder, Lesley Robertson, stated: “This award recognizes the Cecilia Quartet not only for the extraordinary impact this young ensemble has made already on the world’s concert stages but perhaps more significantly for the impact off stage — for their dedication and generous contributions as chamber music ambassadors in the greater community.” Nicely done, CSQ! (I figure the ASQ’s got to be the shoo-in for next year.)

All speculation aside, you can be sure that Mooredale’s 25th anniversary season openers will be a winning combination with these two exceptional quartets!

From Saint to St. and ST: Continuing with this business of “saints” and season launches, powerhouse Canadian-born violinist Lara St. John has been invited by Sinfonia Toronto (ST) to open the ensemble’s 15th season, the evening of October 26, at the George Weston Recital Hall.

Some things never change, and sometimes that’s a good thing. St. John’s first (and only) concert with ST was four years ago, almost exactly to the day (October 23, 2009). John Terauds, former music critic for the Toronto Star and now Toronto’s best-known classical music blogger, interviewed St. John for the Star in 2009, reporting that the program allowed her to “show off her wide-ranging repertoire.” Well, ST music director, Nurhan Arman, has done it again, with a wonderfully varied program that we’re told “dances from Bach to the vivid melodies of Nino Rota,” affording the six-foot-tall St. John significant opportunity to strut her stuff.

A skilled, prolific and thoughtful interpreter of Bach, St. John will perform Bach’s exhilarating and beloved Violin Concerto in E Major and then skip a few centuries to play the North American premiere of Australian composer Matthew Hindson’s evocative Maralinga for violin and string orchestra, which St. John co-commissioned and premiered in 2011. St. John has high praise for Hindson and this work, which she calls an “about-to-be” classic piece: “It was pretty amazing to play a piece called Maralinga in South Australia, for sure ... Every part of the world with such a story [think secret, nasty, nuclear testing] should be so lucky as to have Matthew write a piece about it.”

The program also includes Grieg’s Holberg Suite for string orchestra and Rota’s Concerto for Strings. I asked if she might join the ST in the Rota and her answer was classic St. John: “I think I’ll be leaving the Rota to the fabulous Sinfonia, seeing as I wouldn’t be there for enough rehearsals. Also, I am a terrible sight reader (everyone thinks I am joking until they actually see/hear this, at which point they try to leave the room).”

Other examples of her refreshing candour, humour, energy, passion and intelligence: in July, 2010, St. John was interviewed for an NPR special series titled, “Hey Ladies: Being A Woman Musician Today,” during which a few of her earliest CD covers, deemed by some to be “sexually suggestive,” ended up being the main topic of discussion. Somewhere in the middle, she said, teasingly, “I suppose I could have had a picture of a babbling brook on the front, but what would have been the point?” And toward the end, she simply told it like it was, and is: “Music is all about life and passion and love and death ... And if it takes sexuality to exude that visually, then so be it. It makes more sense for us, as women musicians, to express ourselves any damn way we want.”

St. John also expresses herself, exuberantly, through the record company she founded in 1999, where she gets to call all the shots (any damn way she wants), including naming the company Ancalagon, which I learned (and she confirmed) was in memory of her pet iguana. “Ancalagon, who I named after a dragon from Tolkien’s Silmarillion, died right before I began my company, and I was devastated. So I decided to keep him alive in a way. Now, I have another iguana ... named Cain.”

The woman definitely has a thing for reptiles. Which brings us marching full circle, back to the saints. Turns out, St. John has maintained an online WordPress page for years, under the name “sauriansaint.” And guess what? Saurian, in case you missed that evolutionary biology class, is defined as being “any of a suborder (Sauria) of reptiles including the lizards.”

Here’s a wee taste of some of the titles to her entertaining blog entries: from January 19, 2013, “Variations on ‘Is That a Violin???’”; from October 17, 2011, “Tricks For Getting Your Violin On a Plane”; and from June 7, 2003, “The Grey Plastic Laundry Tubs at Airport Security.” All cheeky and hilarious! (sauriansaint.wordpress.com)

Who wouldn’t want to invite Lara St. John to their gala — with or without her pet iguana? It will be thrilling to see and hear her, as Sinfonia Toronto ushers in its 15th year with grand gusto!

I’d love to fill several more pages with stories of successful women musicians but, unlike St. John, I don’t get to call the shots. For one final time, though, I can leave you with these:


More women (and a few good men) to watch for this month:

Women's Musical Club of Toronto

Oct 17, 1:30: Music in the Afternoon: Bax & Chung, piano duo.

Gallery 345

Oct 18, 8:00: The Art of the Piano: Beatriz Boizan.

Nov 2, 8:00: Leslie Ting, violin, and Sarah Hagen, piano.

University of Toronto Faculty of Music

Oct 26, 7:30: University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Bianca Chambul, bassoon.

Oct 31, 12:10: Thursdays at Noon: Debussy and Ravel. Shauna Rolston, cello; Erika Raum, violin; Lydia Wong, piano.

Royal Conservatory

classical 2Oct 27, 3:00: Yuja Wang, piano.

Nov 3, 2:00: András Schiff, piano.

Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society

Oct 18, 8:00: Triple Forte Trio. Jasper Wood, violin; David Jalbert, piano; Yegor Dyachkov, cello.

Oct 23, 8:00: Ang Li, piano.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Oct 10 and 12, 8:00: Masterworks: James Ehnes, Violin, Plays Britten.

Oct 19, 7:30: Light Classics: From Dvořák to Tchaikovsky. Vilde Frang, violin. Also Oct 20, 3:00.

University of Waterloo Department of Music

Oct 23, 12:30: Noon Hour Concerts: New Canadian Duos.
Stephanie Chua, piano; Véronique Mathieu, violin.

York Symphony Orchestra

Oct 19, 8:00: Heroic Exploits. Vivian Chon, violin. Also Oct 20 (Richmond Hill).

These last two years as Classical & Beyond columnist have been rich and rewarding. I don’t know that I’m any closer to answering that always-niggling question, “Beyond what?” and that’s okay. Above and beyond all else, the journey toward trying to figure it all out has been a true joy. To the music! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and has just wrapped up a three-year stint as listings editor at The WholeNote. Comments on and items of interest for the column should continue to be sent to classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

Last issue, way back in June, I made what I hope was a successful case — I am an ex-lawyer, after all — for “staying put” and exploring Toronto’s busy summer concert series scene. And, admittedly, I gave short shrift to the abundance of festivals that were on offer around the province all summer. So, to make amends, I now encourage you to head out of the city and experience some of the fall festival fare. However, if you’re intent on staying put, there is enough going on in September/early October to put you in that beginning-of-the-new-concert-season state of mind.

classicalFestivals sweet, PECturesque and colourful: There are three festivals in September that are definitely worth the drive out of the city ... and even the often-exasperating drive back in. Two of them, SweetWater Music Festival and Prince Edward County (PEC) Music Festival, begin on the same day (September 20) and each is celebrating its tenth season; the third and much larger Colours of Music begins a week later (September 27) and celebrates its 11th season over ten days. One of the things they share amongst themselves is the roster of artists; and sometimes even concert themes. A delightful byproduct — for audiences and musicians alike — and a financial practicality when mounting festivals in smaller communities. SweetWater, for example, takes place in the village of Leith and the neighbouring smallish city of Owen Sound; PEC Music Festival happens mostly in the “unincorporated community” of Picton, with one concert in the village of Bloomfield. Colours of Music, too, while located in Canada’s 34th largest city, Barrie, benefits from the joys of sharing. And with that little preamble, it’s off to the festivals!

Prince Edward County (PEC) Music Festival: PEC Music Festival artistic director, the distinguished Canadian pianist, Stéphane Lemelin, has this to say about his approach to programming the festival: “I have always believed that musical communication is a three-way street flowing between performer, composer and audience. The intimate setting and superlative acoustics of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Picton have for the last ten years repeatedly allowed for that communication to inspire performers and audience members alike. Our programming has been broad and I have sought to balance celebrated masterworks of the past with music of our time.”

You can experience what he’s talking about in “Festival’s Greatest Hits,” the opening concert on September 20. It features works by Schubert, Brahms and Ottawa composer Steven Gellman, with some excellent performers including violinist Jacques Israelievitch, soprano Donna Brown, Ross Edwards on clarinet, and Lemelin, himself, at the piano. The Gryphon Trio will perform works by Haydn, Mozetich and Dvořák on the 22nd. And the “Grand Finale! Piano 1-2-3-4-5-6 Hands” on September 28 sounds spectacular ... and maybe even a little bit dangerous! “Can David Jalbert, Andrew Tunis and Stéphane Lemelin all fit on the same bench?” we’re asked. Find out for yourself, as the program progresses from music written for one hand to works for six — that’s 30 highly-skilled fingers — on one piano!

You can also catch hilarious musical antics with “Mary Lou Fallis and Peter Tiefenbach, More or Less Alive,” the premiere of Jeunesses Musicales’ touring production of La Bohème, and the debut of some of the region’s young artists. I’d say that Lemelin has met, and quite possibly exceeded, his programming principles!

SweetWater Music Festival: SweetWater is, indeed, a sweet little three-day/five-concert festival, programmed by the hugely talented violinist Mark Fewer, the festival’s founding and present-day artistic director. Its Friday evening opener features the Gryphon’s Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin) and Roman Borys (cello), along with several other superb musicians including violist Phillip Ying, Fewer and fellow violinist Edwin Huizinga (he of “Classical Revolution” fame; worth a google), in works by Schulhoff, Haydn, Ryan and Dvořák. Those “Gryphonites” can also be heard, along with the other members of the “SweetWater house band,” including clarinettist James Campbell, flutist Rosanne Wieringa, cellists Denise Djokic and David Ying, (along with Fewer, Huizinga and violist Ying) in two beautiful concerts featuring the music of Bach: the complete Brandenburg Concertos on September 21, with Rob Carli’s Seventh Brandenburg; and the Concerto for Two Violins on the 22nd; violinist Emily Aquin, introduced in SweetWater’s “Young Artists Concert,” joins them in the Bach “Double.”

SweetWater is a festival that “explores the continuities and evolution of small ensemble music from the Baroque to contemporary music and jazz.” True to its word, on September 21 it hosts a fabulous afternoon of Hot-Club-of-France/gypsy-jazz-inspired music, “A Musical Celebration of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli,” with the Vancouver-based ensemble Van Django.

classical2Colours of Music Festival: “Wonderful Music, Wonderfully Performed.” Those apt words appear on the homepage of Colours of Music’s website, which also informs us that the festival will “expose you to talent from all across Canada and other parts of the world.” Returning to the topic of festivals sharing their artists and concert ideas, five concerts for which that seems to be the case at Colours of Music provide a nice taste of the festival’s myriad offerings.

On September 28, SweetWater’s Mark Fewer, and James Campbell, join pianist Angela Park for “Classics at Noon,” in works by Bartók, Milhaud, Brahms, Beethoven, Saint-Saëns and Catoire. The next evening, Fewer and Campbell, along with guitarists Graham Campbell (yes, the clarinettist’s son), Roberto Rosenman and Chris Bezant, and bassist Chris Kettlewell, pick up the gypsy jazz fever where Van Django left off, in a concert titled ... can you guess? Oui, “Hot Club of France: music of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.”

A little earlier on September 29, in a bit of “downsizing” from the PEC Music Festival’s 30-finger extravaganza the day before, pianists Robert Kortgaard and Peter Tiefenbach play an exciting — though perhaps less perilous — program of works by Mozart, Schumann, Dvořák, Ravel, Poulenc and Grieg for one piano and 20 fingers. Any way you cut it, that’s still a lot of fingers on one keyboard.

The tireless and ubiquitous James Campbell appears twice more: once with the Gryphon Trio in a performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time on October 1, and the next day in a concert titled “On the Upbeat,” with the Amara Piano Quartet. They will perform works by Beethoven, Suk, Ager and others.

Beyond the five concerts mentioned, there are another 21 to consider, ranging from “Music for the Dance,” performed by Duo Concertante with narration by ballet legend Evelyn Hart, to Bach and Debussy on the banjo. The festival’s website said it best: “What a colourful, relaxing way to spend those first few lazy days of autumn!”

And, for those of you thinking to yourselves, “enough already with the festivals,” fear not. The 2013/14 concert season is about to begin.


Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society

Sept 11, 8:00: Soheil Nasseri, piano. Works by Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Hersch.

Sept 18, 8:00: Andrew Sords, violin; Cheryl Duvall, piano.
Works by Elgar, Mozart, Bach, Hubay.

Sept 22, 8:00: Peter Stoll, clarinet; Joseph Macerollo, accordion. Works by Kovacs, Nimmons, Messiaen, Palej, Nordheim and others.

Sept 27, 8:00: TrioEstonia. Works by Cirri, Piazzolla, Sumera/Kangro/Kuulberg, Pärt, Beethoven.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Sept 18 & 19, 8:00: Elgar Cello ConcertoAlisa Weilerstein, cello. Works by Britten, Elgar, Dvořák.

Sept 21, 7:00: Gala Performance – Lang Lang Plays Mozart. Piano Concertos Nos.17 and 24.

Sept 25 & 26, 8:00: Perlman Plays Tchaikovsky. Works by Britten, Walton. Itzhak Perlman, violin.

Gallery 345 – The Art of the Piano

Sept 18, 8:00: Kara Huber. Works by Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Liszt.

Sept 22, 3:00: Thomas Alexander. Works by Chopin, Liszt, Gershwin.

Sept 23, 8:00: Martin Soderburg. Works by Soler, Albeniz, Granados, Mompou, Infante, de Falla.

Music Toronto

Oct 3, 8:00: Quartet Series: Jerusalem Quartet. Works by Mozart, Shostakovich, Dvořák.

Flato Markham Theatre

Oct 4, 8:00: Chamber Orchestra Kremlin. Works by Rossini, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky.

Roy Thomson Hall

Oct 6, 2:00: Mariinsky Orchestra. Three works by Stravinsky.
Valery Gergiev, conductor.

Mooredale Concerts

Oct 6, 3:15: Cecilia and Afiara String Quartets. Works by Tchaikovsky, Haydn, Mendelssohn.

Whether you head out to the festivals or into the new concert season, enjoy fall’s early days in all their colour and splendour. 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

Ahhh, summer’s here, finally. Time to hit the road, get outta town, escape the city, right? Maybe not. There is so much going on in Toronto that you might want to consider a musical “staycation” this summer, for part of it, at least.

From Music Mondays to Sunday Serenades, you can catch a local, free (or at most $5–$10), indoor or outdoor summer concert series performance pretty well every day of the week, from June right up to the end of August and into September. Befitting summer’s easy pace, enjoy a leisurely perusal of the daily offerings below.

classical anastasia-rizikovMonday: For the past 21 years, every Monday throughout the summer, locals and visitors alike have “taken a load off” at around noon, entered the inviting, downtown sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity and experienced a wonderful, restorative, musical performance, presented by Music Mondays. What is different this year is that it is artistic director Eitan Cornfield’s first full season at the helm of this much-loved series.

Last year, Cornfield shared some of his thoughts with us at the end of the 2012 season. This year, the veteran former CBC radio producer offers a few more thoughts on his approach to the series, at the front end of the summer and from the vantage point of a year’s worth of hindsight.

Interestingly, in his search for “organizing principles” for Music Mondays,” Cornfield’s language is more reflective of environmentalism than show business or the arts: he speaks of “an ecological image of Toronto’s musical life,” and what it takes to “survive and thrive in such an environment ... the effects of climate, nurture, location.”

“I began to answer these questions by considering the ecological niches that are underserved” he says. “What comfort, solace and sanctuary is there for weary shoppers, tourists, finance and IT workers in the high rise beehives of downtown Toronto, what opportunities for reflection, to recharge our artistic and spiritual batteries? ... We’re surrounded by pop and light entertainment, the short burst of song, the guitar riff, the advertising jungle, all fuel for ADD. And so we’ve redefined the mission of Music Mondays as providing food for thought ... not just the traditional Western music of dead white guys, but the classical and art musics of all cultures ... [and] a new branch of the Music Mondays organism devoted to showcasing young composers.”

“In a nutshell: we know where we fit into the environment: we provide a distinct ecological niche for both music lovers and performers, we promote diversity and accessibility, we nurture the young and the talented and we marry their music with ideas.”

Food for thought, indeed! The delectable series runs June 3 to September 30.

classical bob-neighbourTuesday: “Be inspired by the power and overwhelming beauty of a great cathedral organ” says the Cathedral Church of St. James website, under “Recitals and Concerts,” inviting you to find inspiration at two weekly, downtown, organ recital series. Music at Midday is the one on Tuesdays at 1pm. (I’ll get to Sunday’s Twilight Recitals later.)

Composer and St. James Cathedral’s interim associate organist, Andrew Ager, holds court for the majority of these concerts, with current artist-in-residence David Briggs performing at four of the recitals over the summer. Music coaxed from the 5,000+ pipes of the cathedral’s Casavant organ can be heard on Tuesdays from June 4 to July 30, and again on August 13 and 27, when Briggs performs music with a “French Flair” (works by Langlais, Bach, Franck, Saint-Saëns and Briggs) followed by “Music to Rouse the Spirit” (works by Bach, Briggs, Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Widor).

Wednesday: With three very distinct concert series falling on Wednesdays, say “so long” to the mid-week slump. St. Stephen in-the-Fields Anglican Church, in Kensington Market, starts things off in June with its weekly Concerts at Midday (12:35pm), featuring a variety of instrumentalists including pianist Richard Herriott (June 5), organists Eric Osborne (June 12) and Andrew Adair (June 19), and clarinetist Nicolai Tarasov (June 26). The series winds up August 28 with Bruce Nasmith performing double duty on guitar and organ.

Come July, two other outdoor Wednesday series swing into action. From July 10 to August 28 the City of Toronto hosts the free 12:30pm “Fresh Wednesdays as part of its annual Summer Squares Concert Series. Munch on produce purchased from the Nathan Phillips Square Farmers’ Market while listening to a featured Canadian singer-songwriter of the week — a perfect pairing. And if you feel like an evening away from the bustle of downtown, the Artists’ Garden Cooperative obliges with its truly eclectic Plein Air Salon Garden Concerts. Taking place throughout July and August, at 7:30, these lovely garden concerts offer everything from folk/roots music and jazz to country blues and Bossa Nova. Attend the AGC’s free launch party on June 25 at 4:30 for a sampling.

Thursday: Thursdays will pose an even greater challenge to your concert-going plans, with four series to contemplate, in June at least. Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation wraps up its regular Lunchtime Chamber Music recital series at Christ Church Deer Park, with four June concerts. NSAF has been running the weekly noon hour recital series since the fall of 2009, presenting local musicians — often graduate performance majors from U of T’s Faculty of Music — in “a unique chamber music program designed to provide showcase opportunities for rising talent.” You can catch some of this young talent at 12:10 on June 6, 13, 20 and 27; mind you, that last recital happens to include some “seasoned” talent: The WholeNote’s own Allan Pulker on flute.

The pairing of music and food has always been a winning combination, especially when the former is free and the latter cheap. Once again, the City of Toronto has married the two for “Tasty Thursdays” at Nathan Phillips Square, inviting you to relish “international dishes (for $7 or less) served up by a variety of Toronto restaurants, while enjoying free live music from the stage, including roots, blues, reggae and Latin sounds.” The series runs Thursdays, from 11am to 2pm, with concerts at 12:30, July 11 to August 29. Yum!

As it’s done for the past 13 summers, Harbourfront Centre continues to gift us with Summer Music in the Garden, a glorious outdoor series in the entrancing Toronto Music Garden. Every Thursday from July 4 to September 12 (except September 5), people wend their way to the Garden, to set out blankets and chairs, or claim space on the terraced seating area, in anticipation of the evening’s live performance at 7pm. In her curatorial statement, Tamara Bernstein refers to the season’s “joyous eclecticism,” an apt and inspired description of what Bernstein has programmed: “music from 17th-century Europe; string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and more; South Asian ragas; thundering taiko drums; music for African kora, viola da gamba and Persian instruments; fiddling from Cajun, Celtic, French-Canadian and Norwegian traditions; several world premieres — and of course the garden’s ‘patron saint,’ J. S. Bach!” Irresistible, yes? The magic of the Garden awaits you ... as it does on several Sundays at 4pm, throughout the summer, as well.

The final Thursday series I want to mention here is the newest kid on the block, or rather, in the park, St. James Park, former home of the Occupy Toronto camp. Hosted by the St. Lawrence Market Neighbourhood BIA, Music in St. James Park was conceived and coordinated by local writer and music lover, Bob Neighbour, a spry (by all accounts) 87-year-old who, while in agreement with the Occupy message, wanted to revive his neighbourhood park, have it known and frequented for its loveliness rather than its political past. As Nancy Miller, Neighbour’s wife, wrote in an article for the online publication Good News Toronto, August 2012, Neighbour “just wanted to sit, on a warm evening, and listen to beautiful music.”

Armed with the old adage “they can only say no” — something my wise, Jewish mother taught me — Neighbour approached his neighbourhood BIA about supporting a free music series in the park, and they liked the idea. Musicians were lined-up, local businesses came on board and “occupy the gazebo” translated into beautiful music emanating from the park’s gazebo, which hadn’t been used in decades. In its inaugural year there were six concerts; this year there are eight at 7pm, ranging from those classical music boundary pushers, the Annex Quartet, on June 20, to the spirited Boxcar Boys performing their unique mix of wild gypsy, Dixieland jazz, klezmer and folk music, on August 8. Last year I attended the second concert. Two greats, Jane Bunnett and Hilario Durán, graced the gazebo with incredibly exhilarating, sexy Cuban music. It was a perfect evening. Here’s to eight more.

Friday and Saturday: It seems that there’s a dearth, generally, of Friday and Saturday summer concert series. Perhaps presenters figure the city empties out on weekends with its citizens making a beeline for “the cottage.” For those of us who remain in the city (by choice or otherwise), local pianist Gordon Murray kindly fills the void with his two, one-man “mini-series.” On Fridays (June 7, 14, 21, 28 and August 23 and 30) it’s Piano Potpourri, 1:10pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, featuring an assortment of selections from classics, opera, operetta, musicals, ragtime, pop, international and other genres; you’re encouraged to bring your lunch. The three Piano Soirée concerts (June 29, July 27, August 24), at 8pm on Saturdays, also at Trinity-St. Paul’s, offer up more formally programmed recitals with works ranging from Kalman’s Dream Once Again to Liszt’s Un Sospiro. Check the listings for details.

Sunday: In contrast to the scarcity of Friday and Saturday concerts,Sunday’s abundance includes afternoon concerts in gardens, twilight church recitals and evening serenades in the square. You already know about two of them: Cathedral Church of St. James’ Twilight Recitals at 4pm (June 2, 9, 16, 23) and Harbourfront’s Summer Music in the Garden, also at 4pm (June 30; July 21, 28; August 11, 18, 25; and September 8, 15). And there’s yet another of the City of Toronto’s Summer Squares Concert Series. This time it’s “Summer Serenades” at Mel Lastman Square, featuring swing, jazz and big band music, at 7:30pm, on seven consecutive Sunday evenings from July 7 to August 18. Last in our survey of Sunday, City of Toronto Historic Sites presents Music in the Orchard. These popular outdoor performances in June at the Spadina Museum, begin at 1:30pm and feature jazz and improvised music (June 2); works by Mozart and beyond for wind octet (June 9) and classical to modern works for flute, clarinet and bassoon (June 16). As its press release suggests, “Bring a blanket. Bring a picnic. Bring the whole family. Pay what you wish.” Instructions for a perfectly pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday: And last but certainly not least is Toronto Summer Music Festival. Originally conceived as a summer series, with concerts every other day or so over a four-week period, TSMF now commands mid-July to the beginning of August with an astonishing array of local and imported talent gracing its three stages, five days a week. For those whose idea of a “staycation” includes total musical immersion, TSMF is, more than any other, the in-town festival for which to stick around or come home.

Convinced to stay put for a bit? Good. Enjoy the music and summer on! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

Rossini, Wagner, von Suppé, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Donizetti, Grieg, Offenbach, J. Strauss, Jr., Liszt. Sure, they all hold membership in the pantheon of great composers, but do you know what else they have in common? Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote, to name some of those lovable Looney Tunes characters who have danced, pranced, chased and raced around on screen, to the music of those aforementioned composer heavyweights, or rather, to brilliantly conceived and executed adaptations, orchestrations, arrangements and “borrowings” of their music by American composers, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, the ingenious creators of the symphonic soundtracks to those zany Warner Bros. cartoons of yesteryear. (They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.)

1808-classicalLooney Tunes: Remember The Rabbit of Seville? (1949) — “Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop, let me shave your crop. Daintily, daintily.” (Can’t you just hear/see Bugs Bunny, dressed in a barber’s outfit, beckoning Elmer Fudd with that Rossini-inspired score à la Stalling?) And what about What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) that amazing tour de force where Franklyn manages to condense the four nights of Wagner’s Ring cycle into seven exhilarating orchestral minutes to accompany the cartoon capers as Bugs and Elmer battle it out in a parody of Wagner operas. It’s famous, of course, for Fudd’s “Kill the Wabbit,” sung to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” from Die Valküre. As George Daugherty, creator and conductor of “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” has said, “Once you’ve seen Elmer Fudd chasing about on screen singing “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit,” you will never hear Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” the same way again.”

Well, guess what? Bugs is back in town! And you’ll be able to test Daugherty’s theory when “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” returns to the Sony Centre after its hugely successful 2011 engagement. Celebrating over two decades of Bugs Bunny on the concert stage, the production involves projecting the classic cartoons onto a large screen, while an orchestra, in this case the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, provides a live accompaniment, with Daugherty conducting. It’s great fun for both the audience and orchestra (though a little more tricky for the latter). There is one performance in Toronto on May 18, at 7pm; a 2pm show was recently cancelled. Two days earlier, on the 16th, Daugherty will conduct the KWS on home turf at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square, at 7pm.

And what’s on the program? In addition to the two iconic cartoons mentioned, I dangle a carrot with a few others: Baton Bunny, with music by von Suppé, orchestrated by Franklyn; Zoom and Bored (Road Runner “epic”), with an original score by Stalling and Franklyn, based on “The Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride by Smetana; A Corny Concerto, with music by Stalling, based on Tales of the Vienna Woods and The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II; and Long-Haired Hare, with an original score by Stalling, “after” Wagner, von Suppé, Donizetti and Rossini. You’ll also hear selections from the Great American Songbook and traditional American folk songs. And there will be “guest appearances” by Tom and Jerry, the Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, not to mention an appearance by Tweety and Sylvester in a cartoon titled (presciently) Home Tweet Home, with an original score by Franklyn. I guarantee it will contain a lot more than 140 notes ... and lots of character.

This is serious entertainment, folks. Resist (and poo-poo) at your own risk. Besides, as Daugherty contends: “If most people — even the most highbrow of opera and classical music lovers — were to admit the truth, they would fess up that they heard their first strains of the Ring cycle or ... The Barber of Seville courtesy of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.” As for Stalling and Franklyn, Daugherty holds them in high regard, suggesting that they’re “up there” with the likes of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Come see for yourself.

1808-classical2Lenny tunes: Staying with the screening-with-live-orchestral-accompaniment idea for a moment, if watching Looney Tunes cartoons isn’t your thing, but Bernstein is, then you’re in luck! Because, on May 28 (7:30) and 29 (1:30 and 7:30), at Roy Thomson Hall, Bernstein’s dazzling score to West Side Story will be performed by the TSO, while the 2011 re-mastered version of the film (with original vocals and dialogue intact) is shown, in high definition, on the big screen. “West Side Story: film with live orchestra,” was initiated and shepherded by The Leonard Bernstein Office in New York City, to mark the 50th anniversary of the film which was originally released in October of 1961. You can read here about the amazing journey of the West Side Story reconstruction project — starting with the startling fact that the original score materials did not exist. The piece, alone, is a loving tribute to the film, and offers a real appreciation for, and a fascinating, in-depth account of, the complexities involved in bringing a project of this nature to fruition.

Steven Reineke, recently appointed principal Pops conductor of the TSO (and music director of the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall), will conduct the TSO in what is sure to be a magical and memorable experience. We’re invited to enjoy the two evening concerts with “drink in hand” and popcorn, both available for purchase.

I have to say, as an unabashed fan of the film’s music, choreography and Sondheim lyrics, that the TSO’s bringing it even further to life is going to be very “cool.”

(And if you’d like to hear the TSO play more Bernstein, you can catch the orchestra at the George Weston Recital Hall on June 2, 3:00pm, in a performance of his Overture to Candide, along with Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Bramwell Tovey conducts and is at the piano.)

Birthday tunes: And with that nod to Bugs and Bernstein accomplished, I close this column with two bicentennial birthday acknowledgments: Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, and Verdi on October 10. Both the Oakville Symphony and the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra mark the Verdi milestone with concerts titled, coincidentally, “Viva Verdi.” On May 11 (8pm) and 12 (2pm) at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, the OSO offers selected Verdi overtures, arias and duets, with guest soprano Laurie Reviol. On May 24, the EPO returns to the Martingrove Collegiate, at 8pm, and performs the “Triumphal March” and “Ballet Music” from Aida, “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco and other selections. Baritone Jeffrey Carl and soprano Rachel Cleland join conductor Sabatino Vacca, along with special guest, tenor Richard Margison — another coup for the EPO! (Last month, it was pianist Arthur Ozolins performing the Rachmaninoff Third.)

For its free noonhour Chamber Music Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the Canadian Opera Company presents "Happy Birthday, Wagner" on, you guessed it, the composer’s actual birthday, May 22. The intriguing program, featuring the cellists of the COC Orchestra, includes arrangements of Wagner’s opera overtures for four cellists, Bizet’s Carmen Fantasy for five cellos, and a work by 19th-century cellist, David Popper, who knew and admired Wagner, subsequently transcribing several of his piano solo works for cello. Hmmm. I wonder what either of them would have thought of Stalling’s and Franklyn’s way with Wagner.

Th-Th-Th-Th ... That’s all folks! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

It’s impossible, given the copious concert-going options available each month, to note adequately all those that fall within the scope of this column. Each month, I take a deep breath and then choose a cluster of concerts, a theme, a genre, a group of artists or composers, to fill the few precious pages allotted to the Classical & Beyond beat, knowing full well that I will have left out innumerable events equally deserving of coverage. Such is the nature of the beast.

I’m aware, as well, that many concerts warrant more than the scant lines I’m able to afford them. Sometimes though, when the date of a short-shrifted concert falls within the first seven days of the month, thus overlapping two issues, I get to redeem myself. And while it means less space still for the newer listings, well ... I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will always be those irked and annoyed at me for the concerts I select to write about each month: such, too, is the nature of the beast.

Redemption via Rachmaninoff: Hence my decision to revisit the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s upcoming April 5 performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with the distinguished pianist, Arthur Ozolins. In its 52-year history, the EPO has never performed the Rachmaninoff Third. For its 50th anniversary gala, however, Ozolins played Rachmaninoff’s Second with the orchestra. Sabatino Vacca, the EPO’s music director, tells what happened afterward:

“As we were coming offstage I gently remarked that we really should do the Third sometime. He politely declined, knowing how demanding a piece it is and how demanding he would be of himself to prepare it. I knew it was a lot to ask so I was not too disappointed. A few months passed and Arthur then called us to see if in fact it were possible to program the Third as he was considering playing it after all. You cannot imagine how delighted I was! I immediately began to see where it would best fit into our current season.”

Vacca goes on to describe the thrill of rehearsing the concerto in the two-piano version with Ozolins; of getting a glimpse into ‘’just how thoroughly Mr. Ozolins prepares a concerto; no ‘note’ is left unturned!” And how Ozolins “often manages, somehow to play both [piano parts] at the same time!” Though Ozolins has played it throughout his long career, Vacca remarks on the “boyish curiosity” that comes through Ozolin’s preparation, “as if coming to it for the first time, always discovering new things.”

Interestingly, in an audio interview with Paul Robinson (posted July 31, 2010 — date of conversation unknown; theartoftheconductor.podbean.com), Ozolins speaks endearingly of his early childhood exposure to (and enduring affinity for) the music of Rachmaninoff:

“I used to sit under my mother’s piano when she was practising before she died. [Ozolins was only five and a half.] Then afterward my grandmother kept playing because she was also a graduate from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia. And she knew Rachmaninoff; and she just almost constantly was practising the First and the Second piano concertos of Rachmaninoff. Maybe that’s why I have such an identification with Rachmaninoff. I just adore Rachmaninoff so much; I’ve heard it ever since a child.”

Vacca clearly appreciates Ozolins’ deep connection to Rachmaninoff’s music, acknowledging that “it will be a great experience and privilege for us to perform [the Third Concerto] with someone who counts it as one of his signature pieces. “It will be,” he enthuses, “a rare opportunity for the Etobicoke community and beyond to hear Mr. Ozolins perform this concerto, one of the pinnacles of ultra-Romantic bravura pianism.”

It seems rather fitting that this exceptional concert, which gets under way at 8pm, is being performed at Martingrove Collegiate, home to the gifted program in Etobicoke. There certainly will be no shortage of musical gifts emanating from the stage that night.

classical russell braun 001115 years young: The EPO may be in its 52nd year, but it’s a mere tot compared to the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, now in its 115th season — yes, 115, and going strong — it announced season 116 last month! And of course, the wonderful women — and men — of the WMCT are celebrating the organization’s 115th anniversary in grand style. On May 2 at 1:30pm, the stage of Koerner Hall will be graced by Canadian musical luminaries, violinist James Ehnes and baritone Russell Braun. Collaborative pianist Carolyn Maule, who happens to be married to Braun, joins them.

How do you get two of the busiest classical musicians on the planet to perform together? How does the program get chosen? How long does it take to nail down the details? And the venue? Last week I put these questions to WMCT’s artistic director, Simon Fryer (concurrently principal cello with the Regina Symphony, head of strings at the Regina Conservatory and active chamber musician), and here’s what he told me:

“The idea for this project came forward in the course of a discussion with Russell in Parry Sound at the 2009 Festival of the Sound. Both artists have been long-time favorites of the WMCT so when Russell mentioned that they had been talking about collaborating it was a no-brainer to grab the idea and run with it. The details of programming took longer to pin down but Russell had clear and wonderful ideas to build around and once the skeleton was in place James was able to fit appropriate works into it. These are both major artists with very busy schedules, but once we had a good handle on the program direction it fell into place nicely. With such possibilities the project was an obvious choice to present at a major event in Koerner Hall.”

Simple, eh? But it took a lot more than just being at the right place at the right time. Fryer’s background, experience and personality all contributed to his being at that “right place.” In asking what drew him to the WMCT position, which he assumed in 2005/6 — planning was then under way for the 110th season — he shed some light on all three:

“I had left the Toronto Symphony to join the Penderecki String Quartet in 2003. My sheepdog personality enjoys collecting artists and audiences together with great music, so bringing ideas for musical events and collaborations to reality had always been an interest for me. With many such events behind me, the opportunity to consolidate from random events to a coherent season was something I began to search for.

“The opportunity presented itself in the form of the WMCT. Here was an organization in strong financial shape, with a loyal and knowledgeable audience, looking for artistic direction from the professional arena for the first time ... I had known of the WMCT ever since I arrived in Toronto and was impressed by the people I met with and their clear sense of purpose.”

classical james ehnesTo what does he attribute the WMCT’s unparalleled success and how does he plan to sustain it?

“The success of the series over 115 years is a result of careful management, strong understanding of the tastes of the members and a large and enthusiastic resource of volunteers. It is my job to maintain and build that understanding so that tastes are developed and new horizons approached. Continuing the tradition of bringing a spectrum of Canadian and international artists to the WMCT stage, is a fascinating and rewarding task. I do not work alone either — I have a wonderful artists selection committee that provides both an expert sounding board for ideas and a superb resource of knowledge.”

It sounds like the WMCT is in very savvy and capable hands under Fryer’s artistic leadership.

And now back to the big event. While it won’t be the first time Ehnes and Braun will be sharing the stage for a WMCT concert — that happened in 1998 at the WMCT’s centennial celebration concert– it will be their first time actually playing together. (A further “fun fact”: in 1992 both Ehnes and Braun made their Toronto debuts with the WMCT in season 95, within a month of each other.)

The afternoon will begin with works by Bach (the first for voice and violin; the second for solo violin) and will end with settings of English songs based on poet A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, by Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Barber, for the combinations of voice and violin, voice and piano, and voice, violin and piano. In between you’ll get to marvel at Ehnes’ virtuosity with three Paganini caprices, and luxuriate in Braun’s rich tones in Beethoven’s only song cycle. A new work for voice, violin and piano by John Estacio, commissioned by the WMCT for the occasion, will complete the outstanding program — one fit for this most exciting and monumental occasion!

In addition to these two magnificent evenings of music making, there are probably another 115 listings to consider for April and early May. It’s spring — time to step out and take in the season’s multitude of musical offerings. Enjoy! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.


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