It’s October — the new fall concert season’s in full swing! And, as with most season launches — 2011/12 being no different — there was a flurry of press releases sent ‘round toward the end of summer announcing new artistic appointments — those “new faces in old places.”

classical_uri_meyer_at_arcadian_courtOne such appointment is conductor Uri Mayer’s new role as artistic director and principal conductor with the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra. Maestro Mayer, orchestral programme director and resident conductor of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, will lead the TPO in its upcoming concert series, at the George Weston Recital Hall.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Uri Mayer at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall café, where we chatted about his new appointment and related topics.

Right off the bat, I asked him what compelled him to take on the position with the TPO, given his busy schedule and his extraordinary conducting career to date.

"Actually, I’d known about the orchestra for some time. Last season they had a search for a new conductor/artistic director. I was not part of that [process] but I did conduct the first concert of the previous season. And I guess some people must have liked what I did. Because at the end of the season – really at the beginning of the summer – I was asked by the Board to take on the orchestra. And I thought about it, and I realized that it’s a very good group of musicians, in my neck of the woods, playing in a beautiful hall – at the Toronto Centre for the Arts – and I believed that my talents and my experience could bring them to the next level. And I was frankly flattered that they approached me.

"So this nice, relatively small ensemble, with a few concerts, I think can add a new dimension to musical life in North York, particularly, and in Toronto. And I’m delighted that I was asked to share my expertise and experience."

Click Here for the rest of the interview

And now to some other new appointees:

Judith Yan will make her debut on October 23, as the new conductor/artistic director of the Guelph Symphony Orchestra, in an all-Russian programme featuring works by Mussorgsky, Glazunov and Glinka, with guest violinist, Jacques Israelievitch (TSO concertmaster 1988–2008).

Speaking of Toronto Symphony Orchestra concertmasters, Jonathan Crow, the TSO’s newly appointed one, will be featured as soloist in two TSO programmes. On October 1 (at Roy Thomson Hall) and October 2 (at George Weston Recital Hall), Crow performs Beethoven’s Romance No.2 for Violin and Orchestra; as an added bonus, he’ll chat with TSO music director, Peter Oundjian, from the stage, following both performances. Also, pianist Emanuel Ax is performing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 on the same bill. The second programme, on October 15 and 16, will feature Crow as soloist in a performance of Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin and Brandenburg Concerto No.5, under the baton of TSO conductor laureate, Andrew Davis, at Roy Thomson Hall.

classical_simonfryer_2Unless you’re planning a trip to Saskatchewan in the near future, you won’t likely hear cellist Simon Fryer in his new appointment as principal cello with the Regina Symphony. However, if you’re in downtown Toronto on October 27, you’ll get to hear him perform Haydn and Weber trios with flutist Robert Aitken and pianist Walter Delahunt, and a new work for flute and cello by Chris Paul Harman, commissioned by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. The concert takes place at Walter Hall, and is a presentation of the WMCT’s long-standing, afternoon chamber series, of which Fryer is the artistic director.

Leaving the world of shiny, new appointments for something a bit older, I would be remiss if, in closing, I did not provide at least a brief “Liszting” — I know. Ouch! — of some concerts marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt (b. October 22, 1811):

• October 1, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, André LaPlante, piano, Centre in the Square, 101 Queen St. N., Kitchener;

• October 6, University of Toronto Faculty of Music, Jacqueline Mokrzewski, piano, MacMillan Theatre, 80 Queen’s Park;

• October 7, Gallery 345, Alejandro Vela, piano, 345 Sorauren Ave.;

• October 16, Royal Conservatory, Louis Lortie, piano, Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W.;

• October 22, Christopher Burton, piano, Oriole York Mills United Church, 2609 Bayview Ave.; also performing November 6, Women’s Art Association of Canada, 23 Prince Arthur Ave.; and

• October 22, Lenard Whiting, tenor, Brett Kingsbury, piano, Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge St.

The rest of the full interview

In addition to his having guest conducted numerous leading Canadian and international orchestras, including the Montreal, Toronto and Houston symphonies, the Israel Philharmonic and with the National Ballet of Canada, Mayer has been principal conductor/artistic director of several orchestras and ensembles over the course of his career – Edmonton Symphony, Orchestra London (then known as the London Symphony), Israel Sinfonietta, Osaka’s Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra. As a result, he’s had his share of “first days” as “the new one.” So, I inquired as to how Mayer approaches those first days with a new orchestra, what he does to set the tone, the rapport.

"For me it’s about making music. And that’s universal. So whether I conduct in Toronto or, when I’ve conducted in Japan, Germany or Israel, I try to make music. And because it’s such a universal language, it’s fairly easy to do that. And then I try to convince people and inspire people to do it my way," he added, grinning.

"Now, when somebody has an artistic leadership role, then one looks at each day differently, because one has long-term goals to really improve the quality of playing, the quality in which the music is delivered. And one has an obligation to build the ensemble, the organization, to become better and better each day. So, one addresses more specific issues and makes gentle corrections as one progresses with the work/rehearsal process. And then one has to have an outlook of what the priorities are – particularly artistic priorities. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the ensemble? And then try to capitalize, initially, on the strengths but immediately build up the weaknesses. So, that when one performs on stage, the public gets a sense of commitment and fulfillment from the music that’s performed at the platform.

"So being the music director/artistic director of an orchestra is a commitment for some years, to improve whatever is there. They take the best and improve it. And take the weaker parts and improve them even more."

With that, I proceeded to ask Mayer what he considered to be a tough question to answer, which was, on average, how long it takes him to assess, and to “gel” with, a new orchestra.

"It’s a bit elusive. It takes many rehearsals and performances to gel. But, I think if one does music with sincerity, musicians get, immediately, the sense of where the soul of the person in front of them is, where their heart is, what their approach is. And that’s a little mystical because the baton doesn’t make any noise. And the hands, with the best technique, are relative."

During my research for this interview, I learned that on October 22, 2009, Mayer received an honourary doctorate in music from the University of Western Ontario and gave the fall commencement address, that same afternoon, to about 600 graduates, including those from the Don Wright Faculty of Music. (For those interested, his full, inspiring address is available on youtube at the following link:

In his address, he spoke of the medium of music crossing all boundaries of culture, language and economic status, and of communicating one’s vision, with the stroke of a baton, to a hundred musicians. After admitting having listened to his entire address, I wanted him to elaborate, further, on the mystery of communicating through music. With an easy laugh, he began:

"You know, the older I get, the more mysterious this becomes. I’ll tell you a story from my youth. When I was a young conducting student – all my student life I was double majoring in viola and conducting – I had the privilege of attending a masterclass given by a quite renowned conductor at the time, Antal Doráti, who was previous music director of the Detroit Symphony, Minneapolis, Philharmonia Hungarica, and he came to the University of Tel Aviv and gave this masterclass for a couple of conductors. And I stood up in front of my buddies, the students, and attempted to conduct the opening of Mozart’s Symphony No.35, “Haffner.” And I thought that technically I was quite good – very, very clear – but I could not get the orchestra to play together at all. I tried three, four times. And then the maestro, who was feeble and sort of aging, but mentally in good shape, stood up in front of them, and waved his arms; and really, there was no clarity in the motion, whatsoever. But the students, the orchestra, played fantastically together and in good spirit and it was an amazing tone, an ensemble, right off the bat. And I realized that, you know, conducting has nothing to do with clarity of the motion. It has to do with conviction. And it worked.

"So, ever since, I attempt to stand up in front of a group of people – with a lot of preparation – and whatever I like to do, play it with the best conviction that I have. And then the language does not matter.

"And, conductors are known to travel in different countries and often they do not speak the language of the host country. But they do marvelous music. And then they feel it; they can convey the feeling – with the eyes, with the body, with the soul."

I asked Mayer about some of his more memorable moments of achieving that mysterious simpatico or “kismet” with an orchestra.

"I had some beautiful moments like that, actually. Quite a few in different countries. One of them was years ago – Mahler Eighth [Symphony], in Taipei. Some concerts with the Montreal Symphony, of which I did quite a few. And some amazing concerts that people played for me in a radio orchestra in Hungary."

After Mayer mentioned Taipei, I thought about some of his other work in Asia and was curious about how he ended up conducting the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan.

"A friend of mine heard that this orchestra was looking for a conductor and they recommended me to the orchestra. And I was asked to do a concert as a guest. And a few weeks after the concert, I got a call from the manager of the orchestra asking if I would like to become their next principal conductor. So, it was basically, very simple. How did their process work? I have no idea. But I spent many months there over a six and half, almost seven year period.

"And it’s interesting because the language was not easy. My Japanese is terrible; I learned a few words. So I worked mostly in English and in German. A lot of the people in Japan were trained in Germany or had German training. So [German] terminology is very familiar to them. And really, during rehearsals I tried to speak very little and do as much conducting as possible and work on the essentials. And they were fantastically prepared, I must say, in attitude and seriousness."

I asked about the size of the orchestra and Mayer said it was a good size of about 80 to 85 musicians, adding that they played big repertoire with an absolutely full complement. And he continued:

"The number of full scores that people brought to the rehearsals was stunning for me; I’d say 30 to 40% of the orchestra members brought scores. So they knew the repertoire and they knew what else was going on. It was beyond anything I’d seen anywhere or experienced with other orchestras – and some very good orchestras, by the way."

Mayer was with Kansai from 1994 to 2000. And from 2005 to now, he has been involved with the Royal Conservatory, initially on a part-time basis, with the level of involvement increasing two years ago, when he became director of the orchestral programme and resident conductor of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School. So I asked him what he was up to between 2000 and 2005.

"Guest conducting in different countries. Also, I did quite a few performances with the National Ballet of Canada. So, from the mid–1990s I did quite a few productions with the National Ballet which was a major time commitment and a wonderful opportunity to learn the art of the ballet, or some of the art of the ballet."

I couldn’t resist asking if he had a favourite ballet. His answer? Nutcracker. Of course, I had to ask him why?

"Because I think the music is so gorgeous. And I’ve conducted many performances of that ballet but each time the music is lovelier and lovelier. Some people will probably think that this is silly, because it’s overplayed. But I think Tchaikovsky was a genius.

"And music is music, regardless of whether it’s played on stage or in the pit. Good music is good music."

Given the number of times he has conducted Nutcracker over the years, I wondered about how he managed then, and manages now, with other “overplayed” repertoire, to avoid a dullness and to keep things fresh.

"I approach each performance as a new experience. But if you don’t love it, you don’t do it, or you mustn’t do it. Serious musicians, I think, will agree that when one approaches all scores – I mean, each time one goes back to the score, whether it’s Tchaikovsky or Mozart or Bach or something newer, but when one studies a score in depth – each time one discovers a new element, a new angle, a new beauty. And it’s such joy to look at this thing and say, How? What did he or she mean? How come? How did they have the wisdom and the inspiration to do that? And I marvel at the gifts of composers who could put down on paper – today, maybe on computer [he laughs] – such gorgeous stuff, and such complex scoring, ideas, sonorities.

"We’re [the Royal Conservatory Orchestra] working now on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Ravel orchestration. It’s a score I’ve conducted, probably in two dozen countries for different occasions. And I’m studying the score again, and my god, you know, it’s like discovering a new piece. How smart, how brilliant, how many colours can somebody like Ravel add to Mussorgsky’s excellent piece!

"I never had aspirations to compose. Since I was a child, my leaning and attraction was to perform. And hence, when I study scores, and the more I get into it, the more I need to learn. And to be able to discover new stuff – new stuff to me – seeing the notes in a new light, or under a new light, or a new shade; trying to understand the emotions, or the possible ways to interpret it, is so gratifying.

"And then, one never has enough time – nor should one explain everything in the rehearsal process, (either to the orchestra or the public) – but, I think if one understands the score and goes into depth, then one hopefully can convey, often without words, the meaning and the depths of emotions that go into that."

Speaking of repertoire and newness and freshness, I turned the focus back to Mayer’s new appointment with the Toronto Philharmonia, and asked him about what he envisioned for the orchestra and the type of repertoire he would like to work on with the TPO.

"I envision them playing mostly classical, romantic repertoire, and added to that, some Canadian, some American stuff – a touch, a taste of the modern. But the foundations of the programmes will be rather traditional. The orchestra doesn’t have enough concerts to cover all the range, all the possible range. And it needs, I think, in building and improving the quality of the orchestra, classics. And Mozart and Beethoven are the best. So, I think it will be highly traditional.

"There’s a core of about 40 musicians who play regularly with the orchestra. So, the size and the budget do not lend themselves to playing the huge, romantic, and big, big repertoire. There’s a wonderful orchestra in the city that plays that. It’s called the Toronto Symphony [he laughs]. And I believe that they do a wonderful job with that and the Toronto Philharmonia does not, and must not attempt to go into that [repertoire].

"But, the other repertoire that we’ll play a lot – and I’m going to choose it carefully – will be fitting for the size of the orchestra, and will also appeal to their loyal public and their base. There’s a base on which we have to build, and we have to please that. But we are going to make an appeal to people who love classical music and who love coming to the Toronto Centre for the Arts. And hopefully, eventually, I’ll take them out from there into other communities."

I then asked if he would share with me what the TPO will be performing on January 25, for its opening concert of the season.

"Yes. Actually, it’s quite close to Mozart’s birthday, so it’s going to be an all-Mozart programme: Serenata Notturna, a “little known” piano concerto, Mozart K467 in C Major, also known as the “Elvira Madigan” [he laughs] (because of the movie), and Symphony No.40 in G Minor, the 'Great G Minor.'"

When I said it sounded like a nice program, he replied, with a smile, “I think it’s good Mozart. There are probably a dozen 'great composers.' And certainly Mozart belongs there. But, the orchestra has a tradition of, in January, celebrating Mozart’s birthday with an all-Mozart programme.”

And when I asked if the TPO usually starts off its season in January, Mayer explained that this was a unique situation, because of the search and the transition year which the orchestra had. He said that the TPO had decided, prior to his coming on board, that they would concentrate their efforts on 2012 and have concerts, once a month, starting in January, adding that the TPO’s season usually runs from October to April.

I then wondered whether, aside from having conducted them last year, he’d met with the orchestra since the new appointment and his answer was “no.” And the first rehearsal?

That’s going to be in January – January 23 or 24. When Mayer told me that, I commented on how amazing it is that conductors typically spend such little time together with an orchestra, in rehearsal, before a performance, acknowledging, of course, the hundreds of hours that go into the prep time, prior to meeting. His unequivocal reply:

"Look, we’re all professionals, starting with the musicians. These people are highly qualified, very well-prepared, very dedicated, very devoted. When I conducted them in October last year, in an all-Beethoven programme, with relatively short rehearsal time, people were very well-prepared. This is world-wide. Very few orchestras have long rehearsal periods. Musicians are serious about the profession and they come knowledgeable. Even those who don’t bring the scores know the repertoire [he grins]. Unlike dance or opera, where the rehearsal period has to be longer, symphony programmes are put together in a relatively short time at a very high level. So a lot of the preparation is in the background. And that’s the way it works."

As we began to wind down the interview, I asked Mayer about what he thought the future might hold for him in terms of any other “new posts” or artistic challenges down the road. Here’s what he told me:

"I enjoy every day as it comes. Right now, I’d like to put this orchestra on the map, as a force, an additional symphony orchestra in the city, to complement what’s already here, and to attract the public, particularly North York, to their concerts. And I’m convinced that we’ll play at a level – high enough and satisfying – that we’ll attract a lot of people.

"This is a huge city. There are a lot of music lovers in this city. There’s room on the stages; there are several very good concert halls. And there’s a public north of Eglinton, and certainly north of the 401, that likes the [George Weston Recital] hall – it’s a magnificent hall. So, we are going to show what we can do and hopefully people will listen to us."

And finally, in his 2009 address to those 600 graduates of the University of Western Ontario, Mayer spoke of those who mentored, assisted and influenced him along the way – great musicians and conductors such as Odeon Partos, Shalom Riklis, Walter Trampler, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Dutoit, to name a few. So my last question to Maestro Mayer was about whether mentoring others now played an important role in his professional life.

"Absolutely! I do that on a regular basis. Whether it’s with young instrumentalists who come and play for me or young aspiring conductors who chat with me about scores, discuss scores, and who have come to my rehearsals. There are several people like that [in my life]. And I think it’s critical that I share my experiences and my insight into the music and into the scores that I have. It’s for them to take this from me and something else from somebody else.

"I was extremely lucky to be influenced by some magical people who were very generous with their time and very helpful in guiding me. Because of them, I am what I am. And I will be always indebted to them for the warmth and the wisdom that they gave me. So, if somebody comes to me, and asks questions or advice – someone who needs help – I am more than delighted to help. I feel it’s a privilege and an obligation. And I do it with all my heart and commitment. And if I can help one person improve, or find their goals or get closer to their goals and aspirations, that’s my goal."

It was a pleasure to chat with Uri Mayer. He was kind, candid, good-humoured and generous with his time. And it was clear that he loves doing what he does. It was also clear that he is well-liked around the Royal Conservatory. Many people strolled by our table, they all smiled at Mayer, and they all said “hello”; and he said “hello” back. Consequently, the interview tape was peppered with hellos, throughout. A fitting note on which to end.

One last reminder: You’ll be able to catch Uri Mayer in action, with the TPO, January 25, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts’ George Weston Recital Hall.

Enjoy this new and exciting season!

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

Finally, you say, the fall concert season has arrived! No more lovely, warm, breezy … windblown, rain-drenched, too-hot/too-cold, outdoor venues, right? Time to put away your festival folding chairs, straw hats and sunscreen and head for the comfort of the concert hall. Not so fast. There remain a few summer series and festivals “in the game,” reminding us, in the words of Yogi Berra that, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” However, for those of you itching to put away your daypack of festival gear, do not despair; there’s a handful of presenters off to a flying start with their 2011/12 concert seasons, ready to lure you inside.

Fall Flyers

Mooredale Concerts’ September 25 season opener at Walter Hall will be a milestone moment in Canadian music history. It will mark the return of celebrated cellist Ofra Harnoy to the concert stage after a 10-year hiatus. For The WholeNote’s “On the Road” project, Mooredale’s artistic director, Anton Kuerti, himself an eminent pianist, told us this when asked about his plans beyond the summer: “I will perform at the opening Mooredale Concert … with the extraordinary cellist Ofra Harnoy, who has not performed in Canada for about 10 years, and whom I have long admired but never played with.” Now is his chance. At 3:15pm, Harnoy will begin the programme with Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No.3 in C Major. Kuerti will then join her in a performance of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in A Major Op.69 and César Franck’s Cello Sonata. Earlier, at 1:15pm, Harnoy and Kuerti will offer an hour-long, interactive “Music and Truffles” concert geared toward 5 to 15 year olds. Welcome back Ofra!

In contrast to Harnoy’s 10-year sabbatical, distinguished actor Christopher Plummer has continued to grace the stage, non-stop, for close to 60 years. He will grace Roy Thomson Hall, as narrator, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra opens its season with a performance of William Walton’s music for the film Henry V, on September 22.

14Music Toronto marks the beginning of its 40th season on September 15 with the Tokyo String Quartet and pianist Markus Groh performing works by Brahms, Debussy and a world premiere by MT composer advisor Jeffrey Ryan; (and then, cannily, invites Groh back for a solo recital on September 20).

Over the Labour Day long weekend, you might want to consider the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s opening concert on September 4. KWCMS begins its jam-packed season with pianist Anne Louise Turgeon and flutist Ron Korb in works by Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Korb and others. Did I say “jam-packed?” Not only does KWCMS produce eight concerts in September, alone; it presents over 70 a year! And they’re held in the KWCMS Music Room — a large room in a private home in Waterloo, with an 1887 Steinway. Is there a nicer way to hear chamber music?

And here’s one final lovely fall season opener. For the first event of the Canadian Opera Company’s 2011/12 Free Concert Series, on September 27, artists of the COC Orchestra will perform music by Debussy, Mozart and Puccini, in a tribute to their late, great and beloved music director, Richard Bradshaw — in the magnificent amphitheatre that bears his name.

Summer Refrain

And now back to summer. The one series that braves the elements in September is Summer Music in the Garden, hosting its 12th season in the enchanting Toronto Music Garden. The series winds up with three concerts in September; there’s one on the 8th, followed by two Sunday afternoons. Interestingly, the first concert features baroque cellist, Kate Bennett Haynes, performing Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No.1 in G Major, the piece that was the inspiration for the design of the Toronto Music Garden! (

Music Mondays has four concerts on offer this month, in downtown Toronto’s acoustically superb Church of the Holy Trinity, bringing their extended 20th anniversary season to a close on September 26. Jerome Summers, clarinet, Sharon Kahan, flute, and Angela Park, piano, perform works by Debussy, Shostakovich and Bizet.

The following summer festivals serve up an impressive array of chamber music and all three take place beyond the GTA, where the churches of Barrie, Leith, Owen Sound and Picton are alive with the sound of music festivals in September!

For its 10-day event (September 23 to October 2), Barrie’s Colours of Music has assembled outstanding recitalists and chamber musicians in ensembles ranging from duos to orchestras. A few highlights: the Ames Piano Quartet plays works by Saint-Saëns, Fauré and Hahn on the 24th; violinist Brian Lewis and pianist Valerie Tryon will tackle Milhaud, Brahms and Schumann on September 28; and the finale, a “Concerto Celebration,” features Tryon and Sinfonia Toronto in works by Turina, Vaughan Williams, Dvořák and Mendelssohn. See for more.

With the “dream team” of artistic director/violinist Mark Fewer and guest directors, cellist Roman Borys and clarinetist James Campbell, programming this year’s SweetWater Music Festival, you know it’s going to be a stellar event. Over three days (September 16 to 18, in Leith and Owen Sound), they will be joined by violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and pianist John Novacek, and others, to perform works by Dohnanyi, Schulhoff, Messiaen, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Turina and Cam Wilson’s A Tribute to 20th Century Jazz Violin.

Over in Picton, the Prince Edward County Music Festival presents seven concerts between September 16 and 24, with Ana Sokolovic as composer-in residence. On September 23, at the Oeno Gallery in Bloomfield — the only non-Picton concert — you’ll be able to catch SweetWater’s Fewer, again, this time with the SuperNova String Quartet, playing Ravel’s String Quartet and Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59 No.3; another SuperNova member, recently named TSO concertmaster, Jonathan Crow, will also be in Bloomfield. And on September 24, Marie Bérard, concertmaster of the COC orchestra, will join the ubiquitous Fewer and his other two SuperNova mates, violist Douglas McNabney and cellist Denise Djokic, along with PECMF’s artistic director Stéphane Lemelin on piano, for Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major.

Clearly, there is much from which to choose in these latter days of summer and early days of autumn. Can’t decide? Here’s a suggestion: Drop everything, right now, hang a “GONE FISHIN’” sign on your office door, then head up to Barrie to catch the Colours of Music’s concert of the same name. It includes works by Gershwin. With any luck, maybe they’ll play Summertime.

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is Listings Editor on The WholeNote team. She can be contacted at

12_classical_roman_borysOttawa chamber music festival (Ottawa Chamberfest) artistic director, Roman Borys, and I sat down at a noisy restaurant that had spilled out onto Toronto’s burgeoning Ossington Ave. to discuss the festival and his role in it.

Borys, the cellist of the Gryphon Trio, had performed there most, if not every, summer since it began in 1993. In the fall of 2007, after the resignation of founding director, Julian Armour (also a cellist), the festival’s board of directors invited him to take on the job of artistic director.

In its first eleven years, according to Borys, “it was this amazing festival that had been fuelled by vision and charisma. The problem was that a lot of important production details were not being looked after. There wasn’t consistency in staff, and it is very difficult to run an organization like that. To be able to attract and keep good staff, you have to be able to pay them. All that business takes a great deal of time.” In spite of this, the festival had been very successful, supported almost entirely by Ottawa people. “It’s about small ensembles, a small group of people relying on one another, there’s an egalitarian feel about this music … everyone is an equal, everyone has their voice, and that’s the beautiful thing about chamber music. I think that is one of the reasons it took off in Ottawa when it did, that this aspect of the music corresponded with the Ottawa psyche.”

Borys brought to the job far more than the artistic maturity gained through study with some of the best teachers in the world and a dozen years of playing with the Gryphon Trio. With the Gryphons he had also found his stride as a musical entrepreneur. “I always paid attention to the way things work. It’s been my role in the trio to be the guy who keeps the business going,” something he has done with remarkable success. The Gryphon Trio has released 14 CDs with Analekta, two of which have won JUNO awards. For many years, while performing all over the world, it was ensemble-in-residence with Music Toronto, with whom it pioneered its innovative appearances at the Lula Lounge, including the highly successful multi-media collaboration with singers Patricia O’Callaghan and Maryem Tollar, Constantinople, which gave them the opportunity to work with Tapestry, the Banff Centre and Robert Lepage’s Ex Machina. “When you deal with these other producers who are working with you on a project, you pay attention and you learn from them, from their practices. You just listen to their conversations and you start to hear what their successes and what their responses to challenges are rooted in.”

Even more than his artistic insight and connections in the music world, Ottawa Chamberfest needed this kind of insight. The thing this organization needed more than anything else, he told me, “was to be given its own arms and legs so it could be an independent entity; it could, in fact exist with interchangeable pieces. It was my vision, right from the beginning, to get this thing to the point where it was an amazing machine.”

The first step in the realization of the vision was the hiring of Glenn Hodgins as executive director. With 12 years experience at Tafelmusik and seven at the Ontario Arts Council, Hodgins brought invaluable insight into how to run a highly successful arts organization and into the inner workings of government supported arts funding. Together, they undertook the major infrastructure upgrade of initiating the use of the database, Artifacts Event, which was created for the much larger Edinburgh Festival. “Starting from the basic premise that an artist is playing a piece at a time and a place,” Glenn Hodgins told me, “it brings together everything related to that event —other artists, sponsors, visitors, piano tuning, page turners, repertoire, guests, accommodation, transportation to and from the festival, local transportation, itineraries, letters of agreement, contracts, and payment, including T-4 slips. It has allowed us to use our limited human resources better and has led to a much calmer work environment!”

Two major infusions of capital, the estate of the late music critic, Jacob Siskind, which was left to the festival, and a Province of Ontario “Celebrate Ontario” grant, have helped the festival gain “some depth in terms of its financial stability.” It now also has a stable administration and administrative practices. “These have not been easy years for us. It has been an enormous amount of work, and we’re just getting to the point where workloads are becoming acceptable, and hopefully burnout and exhaustion are ceasing to be facts of life. I am also now very confident that in the future, when I or anyone else decides to move on, this organization won’t have any trouble going through a process to replace any one of us.”

Borys also told me a lot about the artistic end of his work, about his collaborations with James Campbell of the Festival of the Sound, Brian Finlay of the Westben Festival and other Canadian summer festivals, as well as about exciting developments for the Gryphon Trio. I will try to get some of this onto our website ASAP, but meanwhile I am sure a look at our festival listings and at the Ottawa Chamberfest’s website will be indicative of his work at the artistic end of things.

Allan Pulker is a flautist, a founder of The WholeNote and serves as chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at

p10_anastasia_rizikovLast November in The WholeNote I interviewed Christina Petrowska Quilico about the many international piano competitions in the world today, and the abundance of pianists vying for the opportunity to compete. Almost as if to prove my point a message arrived in my inbox yesterday telling me that a twelve-year old Toronto pianist, Anastasia Rizikov had just been awarded the first prize in the adult pianists’ class of the Concurso International de Piano Rotary in Mallorca, Spain, the youngest pianist ever to win this award. Needless to say, this will be the first time many readers will have heard of Ms. Rizikov, who, I expect, has a brilliant career ahead. I doubt it will be the last. Hopefully we will have the opportunity soon to hear her play again in Toronto.

Another Toronto pianist, whose name is not yet well known outside the piano competition circuit, is Ilya Poletaev. He came to Toronto from Russia via Israel at the age of fourteen, continuing his piano studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Some years later he completed a Bachelor of Music degree at the Faculty of Music at U. of T., moving on to Yale University, where he did his Master’s and Doctorate.

Just last July he captured First Prize at the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig and, as the winner, will appear in recital at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. He won first prize in the 2008 Concorso Sala Gallo Piano Competition in Monza, Italy, where he also received the Audience Prize, the Bach Prize, and the Orchestra Prize. He also won First Prize at the 2009 Grieg International Competition, is a laureate of the 2008 National Stepping Stone Competition in Canada and joined the Astral Artists roster as a winner of its 2009 National Auditions. But it was way back in 1997 that he got his start in Toronto when he won the TSO Volunteer Competition which gave him the opportunity to perform Brahms’ Concerto in D Minor with the TSO.

p10or11_poletaevUnlike most pianists, Poletaev manages to find time in his day for harpsichord and fortepiano, intending to include them in his performing career along with the modern piano. “What is important to me is not so much playing various instruments as being able to speak each musical language fluently. I have done a lot of continuo playing on the harpsichord. Doing this you can’t help but see the connection between the continuo and the text, which informs the musical rhetoric. Interestingly, I have found it possible to transfer something of this to my mainstream piano playing to make it more rhetorically vivid.”

In addition to all this he also finds time to pursue his interest in music history with a focus on the less well-known works of well-known composers. He has recently completed a project unearthing largely unknown works of the twentieth-century Romanian composer George Enescu, and with violinist Jennifer Curtis has recorded Enescu’s complete works for violin and piano, scheduled for release soon by Naxos. Not surprisingly, with abilities as both a performer and as a scholar, he has recently been appointed an assistant professor at McGill University.

A little closer to home I asked harpsichord wrangler extraordinaire Dawn Lyons of Claviers Baroques about Ilya Poletaev: “… He is a really, really nice guy who can play the piano and the harpsichord very well … I mean very, VERY well … stupendously well, in fact. Den [Den Ciul, her partner in Claviers Baroques] says he is one of the ten best harpsichordists on the planet who can do ‘magic’.”

Where this is all leading is to the good news that we will have the opportunity to hear this accomplished Torontonian on June 4, when he will play the rarely-performed Piano Concerto No. 3 by Nikolai Medtner, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Oundjian.

The choice of this concerto would appear to reflect Poletaev’s musicological interests and perhaps his Russian background. Nikolai Medtner, who was Russian, lived from 1880 to 1951, and was trained at the Moscow Conservatory as both a concert pianist and as a composer (he studied composition under Taneyev). From a Canadian perspective it is interesting that in 1924 he toured the United States and Canada. A slightly younger contemporary of the much better known Russian composer and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff, he dedicated his second Piano Concerto in c minor, Op. 50 (1920–27) to Rachmaninoff, who dedicated his own Fourth Concerto to Medtner. The third Piano Concerto (in e minor “Ballade”, Op. 60, 1940–43) was written towards the end of his life when he was living in London. Medtner recorded his three piano concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1947.

“I first became acquainted with Medtner’s music when I was sixteen” Poletaev writes. “Something that makes him a very special composer is that he was able in a very original way to put together both his Russian and his German roots. What makes it Germanic is its coherence, the way unity is built into it in a very organic way. This was not an important feature of Russian music. What seems Russian to me is his thematic material, which while not overtly “Russian,” is somehow psychologically charged in that it contains a quality of remembering the essential. It is definitely not cliché, but when you hear it you feel as if you have heard it before but then forgot. Unlike Rachmaninoff, his music is hard to follow on first hearing. It is denser, more polyphonic and almost overloaded. While it unfolds very logically it requires an effort on the part of the listener. To me Rachmaninoff’s appeal is more immediate but Medtner’s is more lasting.”


In an editorial in the May issue of The WholeNote David Perlman observed that one of the biggest changes to occur in the Toronto music scene over the past fifteen years has been the emergence of a summer music season in Toronto. I remember more than once commenting in the June or July issues on the migration of musicians to small towns and rural areas, which came alive with the sound of music while the music almost stopped in the city.

I say “almost” because a series of weekly concerts beginning in late May and continuing until Labour Day was growing and flourishing all through that time. The series, still flourishing and which is now celebrating its twentieth anniversary season, is Music Mondays. The visionary behind the series was Margot Linken, the administrator (a position she still holds) at Holy Trinity Church, the series’ venue. For the first ten years the artistic director of the series was the organist and harpsichordist, Paul Jenkins, who moved on to other things and was replaced by the series’ current director, Sue Crowe Connolly.

p12_holy_trinityThe venue, the venerable Holy Trinity Church, an heirloom from a Toronto now long gone is almost as much a part of the performance as the roster of excellent performers that Ms. Crowe Connolly assembles for the series. Sheltered from Yonge and Dundas Streets by the Eaton Centre, it stands like an oasis of memories of things past. This impression becomes all the more intense when you go inside and are enveloped by the smell of the aging pine interior, the light mellowed by the stained glass windows and a silence that can remind you of an almost forgotten quiet place inside yourself. When the music begins it comes out of that silence, surrounds you and fills you at the same time, as if it had always been there and always will be there. We don’t know how lucky we are that this beautiful building, this beautiful idea, was saved from the wrecker’s ball – but that is another story.

Besides providing a weekly concert Music Mondays has provided opportunities for emerging artists such as Autorickshaw and violinist, Jasper Wood and many others. I was also surprised to find out that its fame has crossed the Atlantic and requests to perform come regularly from abroad. Among these have been the Polokwane Choral Society from South Africa, Italian early music singer and instrumentalist Viva Biffi Biancaluna, organists Reinhard Seeliger from Germany and Henri Ormieres from France, and German French horn player, Manfred Dippmann.

To mark the anniversary, Music Mondays has extended its season to the end of September and will also host a celebrative reception after its June 6 concert. I hope to see some of you there!


Another musical visionary in our midst is Boris Brott. In response to the lack of cultural activity in the Hamilton area way back in 1988 he put together the first Brott Summer Festival, which was eleven days long. This year the festival begins in June and ends in August. The very next year, with support from the Ministry of Labour Brott started National Academy Orchestra, as the official Orchestra of the Brott Music Festival. The orchestra gave the festival something most summer festivals don’t have, a resident symphony orchestra, and additionally provided what amounted to an apprenticeship programme for young orchestral musicians. What a stroke of brilliance!

The 2011 Brott Festival begins in Burlington with four performances by the National Academy Orchestra on June 11, 18, 25 and 30 with an impressive array of soloists and conductors.


Started in 2007, the current incarnation of the Music at Sharon concert series is a relative newcomer to the early summer music season. By the time you read my column the first concert in the series will probably already have taken place, but four others remain – June 5, 12, 19 and 26.

Needless to say, there are many other wonderful performances waiting to be discovered in our listings. I hope you get out to some of them.

Allan Pulker is a flutist, a founder of The WholeNote, and serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at

12bFar east of the Don River, past which some denizens of the Annex and points west proudly tell you they never go – the poorer, they – two fine orchestras are quietly (in a manner of speaking) getting better and better, becoming two more of those “best kept secrets.” Let’s begin with the one based in north-eastern Scarborough, the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra, now in its 25th season, which is coming of age under the capable leadership of artistic director, Norman Reintamm.

Appointed to this position four years ago, Reintamm sees himself as part of a team which has worked together to create a stronger ensemble than the one they began with. “I abhor the ‘maestro mentality’,” he told me. “It has been a pleasure seeing the orchestra grow over the past four years, and it is because of team work; one must give credit where it is due.” In the team, he includes his principal players – all strong musicians – the manager, Colleen O’Dwyer, a former banker, who runs the orchestra like a business, the personnel manager, Alan Ogilvy and the librarian, John Selleck, who at one time actually worked with Leonard Bernstein.

There is no denying, of course, the central role of the artistic director/conductor in raising the level of the orchestra. “I’m very much a builder and like working with an organization to take it to ‘the next level.’ To start with, I’m looking for an orchestra that has strong community ties and is at a level equivalent to a good community orchestra in Europe. What I am finding is that the more attention one puts into detail [at rehearsals] – intonation, phrasing and performance practice – the better the musicians that are attracted to the orchestra.” Better rehearsals and better players, of course, result in a better orchestra which creates more interest in the community. In the short time Reintamm has been in charge, subscriptions have increased by about 20 percent. As an example of the calibre of players the orchestra is now attracting he mentioned principal cellist, Oleg Volkov, who at one time was a student of Rostropovich and was a cellist in the Bolshoi Orchestra in Moscow.

Reintamm, a relative newcomer to Toronto – more on that later – brings an exceptionally strong conducting background to the job. Born in Hamilton, he caught the “musical bug,” as he calls it, as a chorister at Christ’s Church Cathedral there. Later he studied as an organ major at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, at McMaster University and at the Royal College of Music in England, where he studied with Sir Norman del Mar, Sir David Willcocks and Christopher Adey. While in London he conducted ballet performances with the Young London Ballet Company at Sadlers Wells Theatre. Upon returning to Canada he guest conducted a number of orchestras and for two years was an apprentice conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic under Boris Brott.

During this time, in discussion with his parents about his career, they suggested – much to his surprise given that his father had escaped from Estonia after its annexation to the Soviet Union – that he go to Estonia and work in the theatres. He went there, played and conducted for the National Opera Company in Talinn and was offered a job.

There, Reintamm “learned the profession from the ground up, playing rehearsals, accompanying singers, playing chamber music, leading orchestra rehearsals, chorus master work – the whole shpiel that you learn as a conductor growing through the house. Working in an opera house you literally learn, as in the trades, as a ‘journeyman apprentice.’ So, you know, when the tenor doesn’t come in, how to get out of it … there are stories I could tell!”

13At this point in the conversation I commented on the formidable piano technique required to do the sorts of things he had described. “You have to be [a good pianist]. For instance, any soloist that I work with, I coach myself; and for any concerto soloist, we rehearse first with me playing the orchestral part, so that all the work is done before going in front of the orchestra. That way everything works and you don’t have to put it together in front of a group of musicians waiting for the soloist and the conductor to decide what’s going on! Every conductor should be able to play a keyboard fluently, just for the sake of rehearsing with musicians.”

Returning to Estonia, Reintamm was there during the momentous events, portrayed in the film, The Singing Revolution, which The WholeNote showed a few years ago at the Bloor Cinema, when Estonia became independent of the Soviet Union.

I wondered out loud about why he had left such a great job to come back to Canada. The reason was his father, whose health was failing. “It was a very hard decision for me to come back and face the reality of restarting my life in a completely new set of circumstances. How do you leave a fabulous opera house, where you’re in the pit every night doing operas and ballets, but my dad had given me so much of his life that I knew it was time for me to go back. I returned about eight and a half years ago in 2002. My father died about a year later, and I’m glad I was able to be with him.”

We will have one more opportunity this 25th anniversary season to hear the fruits of the labour of Norman Reintamm and his team. On May 28, the orchestra will perform Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which he is very excited about. “It’s a good piece for our orchestra to do because there is such a super range of musicians especially right now with a large string section and great strength in the brass and woodwind sections. It’s something they can really get their teeth into. With close to 90 musicians we’re a large romantic orchestra, the kind of orchestra you can use to do Mahler. It’s great for me because in my days with Boris [Brott] I discovered I had an affinity with Mahler and it’s a showpiece for the finale of our 25th season.”

Definitely worth the trip to the P.C. Ho Theatre in Scarborough.

We will move now to south-western Scarborough, home base for the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra. This story is something of an update on my story, Two Cities, Four Orchestras, a Flutist and her Nephew, in the February 2009 issue of The WholeNote. The occasion was the visit to Toronto of flutist, Louise DiTullio, to perform with the Scarborough Philharmonic and Sinfonia Toronto and to record a CD, a kind of retrospective of her five decades of playing recording sessions for movie soundtracks in Los Angeles.

There have been developments in the two years since then. First, the CD is now available from its distributor, Naxos. Second, a review of it can be found in the DISCoveries section of this issue of The WholeNote. Third, at that time (the 2008/9 season) Ron Royer, Ms. DiTullio’s nephew, now a resident of Toronto, was the interim conductor of the Scarborough Philharmonic while a search was underway for a new artistic director.

What has occurred between then and now is best described in Royer’s own words: “The search committee chose three excellent guest conductors who ended up being offered other career opportunities which prevented them from accepting Scarborough’s permanent music director job. For example, conductor Daniel Swift became a music officer for the Canada Council for the Arts and is doing great work there. So the board offered me the permanent position, but I asked that the orchestra have the opportunity to vote on it first. I received a strong majority of support from the players, so I decided to take the plunge and become a music director for the first time in my career.”

Since Royer is also a composer with quite a roster of commissions, performances and recordings, the time-honoured tradition of the composer-conductor is alive and well and living in Scarborough. I was interested in his perceptions of how composing informed his work as a conductor:

“I believe that composing gives a particular perspective on understanding the construction of music, which can’t be learned from just score study. I [originally] wanted to study composition to better understand the music of great composers (both past and present). It is interesting … how many … conductors have also composed or arranged music for orchestra. For example, Vancouver Symphony music director and conductor, Bramwell Tovey, is an excellent composer and premiered an opera this season.”

Royer is also a cellist with over ten years of professional, mostly orchestral, work under his belt. This, he told me, “gave me a lot of practical experience to facilitate both composing for and conducting an orchestra. Performing cello with the Toronto Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra in Los Angles, touring for Columbia Artists and performing at the Grammy Awards, all gave me different, but interesting viewpoints on music,” which, he told me, have facilitated both composing and conducting.

These experiences, he said, have also influenced the way he approaches conducting and composing. “When I program for the SPO, an important consideration is choosing music that the orchestra will play well and will enjoy playing. When I compose, I want the players to sound good performing my music and to enjoy playing it. I usually approach things from a player’s perspective, which can be a very different approach from someone who has rarely or never ‘sat in the trenches’ as a symphony performer.”

The last opportunity to hear the Scarborough Philharmonic this season will be on May 14, in a programme called “Spaghetti Western: music inspired by Hollywood.” The soloists will be Louise DiTullio and Toronto Symphony Orchestra English horn player, Cary Ebli. Ms. DiTullio’s CD, The Hollywood Flute, will be available for purchase and she will be on hand after the concert to autograph them.

The really big event this May, however, is the sixth annual Organix Festival, which, of course, is all about the pipe organ, that musical and technological wonder that was developed centuries before steam engines, trains, cars, airplanes, telephones and computers! The great thing about this festival is that it offers performances by some of the best local organists as well as by one of the best in Europe, this year, Dr. Andreas Sieling from Berlin. Two American artists will also be part of this year’s festival, Jonathan Ortloff from Vermont and David Troiano from Michigan. The local organists performing this year are Andrew Adair, Elizabeth Anderson, Alison Clark, Paul Jenkins, Gordon Mansell, William O’Meara, David Palmer, Sarah Svendsen, Aaron Tan and John Tuttle. More details on the festival can be found in the listings and on page 2 of this issue, or online at

Allan Pulker is a flutist, a founder of The WholeNote and serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at

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