Leila Schayegh by Mona Lisa Fielder tifAlthough a little bit misleading, and perhaps overly optimistic, the notion that we are entering a post-pandemic world is a seductive one right now, as governments, performing arts venues, theatres, restaurants, and countless other businesses enter a period of comprehensive reopening unseen since the summer of 2021. 

Whether driven by a new, ‘hands-off’ governing approach or an overwhelming public desire to return to normalcy after nearly two years of restricted living, the progression of this latest loosening of restrictions is undoubtedly a source of hope, optimism, and relief for many performers, ensembles, presenters, and venues. Indeed, a cursory scan of this month’s concert listings could almost be mistaken for a month in pre-pandemic times, with a comprehensive collection of performances in a variety of genres that is very encouraging.

Met United pipe organ tif

Midday Magic

One of the stalwart features of a healthy music scene is the noon-hour concert, usually held in churches throughout a given city with admission either free or by donation, and featuring a range of performers and performances, including pianists, organists, and chamber groups. This month marks the return of several such concert series, including Organix Concerts, an organ-centric set of recitals that feature some of Toronto’s finest organs and organists. With performances taking place on both the modern instrument at All Saints’ Anglican Church and the mechanical-action instrument at Our Lady of Sorrows, fans of all types of organ music are sure to find their match with Organix.

Housing the largest pipe organ in Canada with 8,333 pipes, Metropolitan United Church is a premier source for top-notch organ music, and the return of their Noon at Met recital series is a welcome one. Presented every other week both in-person and online, the audience has a range of viewing possibilities, though nothing compares with the immense drama of hearing this spectacular instrument live. For those seeking broader musical selections, Music at St. Andrew’s offers virtual performances of soloists and chamber music groups every Friday at 12:10 pm, and Yorkminster Park Baptist Church offers their Lunchtime Chamber Music series every Tuesday at 12:10.

An important part of Toronto’s classical music scene, noon-hour concerts serve as a useful indicator of the overall status of the community. The reintroduction of these performances and the broad range of repertoire they present are vital and valuable, and we are fortunate to once again be able to hear such beautiful music in beautiful spaces.

Dr Patricia Wright PHOTO: ALISON ROY

More Music at Met

One of Toronto’s perennial musical events that captivates audiences every year is the Good Friday concert at Metropolitan United. Rather than featuring a solo performer on their magnificent pipe organ, as they do during the aforementioned Noon at Met series, the Good Friday concert presents masterworks for choir, organ, and orchestra, with a focus on the Passiontide theme. This year’s performance is centered on Johann Sebastian Bach and Dieterich Buxtehude, two of the German Baroque’s greatest musical minds, and includes Bach’s 23rd Cantata, Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, excerpts from the Johannes Passion, and Buxtehude’s passion cantata Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit. Written for strings, continuo, and five-part chorus, Fürwahr is a single-movement work that will undoubtedly enthrall audiences, especially those who enjoy the early-Baroque, quasi-improvisatory writing style that Buxtehude mastered so thoroughly.

In addition to these renowned composers, this year’s Good Friday performance will also include Johann Michael Bach’s Unser Leben währet siebenzig Jahr. Known primarily for a small chorale prelude that was misattributed to J.S. Bach for many years, J.M. Bach (1648-1694) served as the organist and town clerk of Gehren, where he lived until his death. The Bach family tree is rather complex and closely knit, and J.M. Bach’s relation to J.S. Bach is no exception - the elder Bach was the first cousin, once removed and father-in-law of Johann Sebastian Bach, being the father of Johann Sebastian’s first wife Maria Barbara Bach.

In short, then, this Good Friday concert is about the universe of J.S. Bach, encompassing both his extended family and his professional interaction with Buxtehude. The clever programming, as well as the extraordinary quality of the music itself, makes this performance a guaranteed highlight of this April, even without the opportunity it will afford to recognize the conductor, Metropolitan United’s Minister of Music, Dr. Patricia Wright, who is retiring in May 2022. Wright has devoted 35 years to arts programs as Minister of Music at Metropolitan United Church, including numerous inspired organ performances and the tireless nurturing of countless young organists.


Tafelmusik Tackles Dvořák

Considered one of the highest quality and most specialized period performance ensembles in the country, Tafelmusik is poised to break out of their mold, as they tackle Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 22 in a groundbreaking performance of late Romantic music, with Leila Schayegh as guest director. The Serenade is a renowned and widely appreciated work, at times tender and lilting, at others animated and optimistic, and this will surely be a worthwhile experience for anyone who tunes in. The concert is part of Tafelmusik’s digital series, and has its online premiere April 7, 2022, at 8pm EDT.

Such a divergence from the established norm of an equally established group can be perplexing, but it is important to understand that historical instruments exist on a temporal spectrum. In the same way as there are newly built period performance instruments based on old models and entirely modern instruments built using modern principles, there are also instrumental models, based on the instruments of the 19th century, which give yet another take on the music. Consider, for example, Roger Norrington’s recordings of the Mahler Symphonies in which the orchestra used replicas of the instruments of Mahler’s time. While Norrington’s recordings are subject to mixed reviews – largely due to Norrington’s interpretive eccentricities, rather than any instrumental inferiority – it is not a stretch to suggest that the cross-pollination of period instruments and Dvořák’s music will be equally illuminating, from both auditory and musicological perspectives.

In addition to the Dvořák Serenade, this performance includes Louise Farrenc’s Nonet, op. 38. Farrenc (1804-1875) was a French composer, virtuoso pianist, and teacher, whose fame and reputation earned her an appointment as Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory, a position she held for 30 years. Despite her great success in this role and the successes of many of her students, Farrenc was paid less than her male counterparts for nearly a decade, and it was only after the premiere of her Nonet that she was able to demand and receive equal pay. Recognized by many of her contemporaries as a first-rate composer, Ferrenc’s works nonetheless fell into neglect after her death, before a revival of interest took place in the late 20th century.

With two late-Romantic works on the program, written in approximately the same era, it will be fascinating, as it was during their September 2019 foray into the work of Tchaikovsky, to hear how instrumental considerations and interpretive decisions shape the performances of the Serenade and Nonet, especially in comparison to contemporary approaches on modern instruments. This is a concert worth looking forward to and it will undoubtedly be exciting to witness Tafelmusik’s latest foray into the 19th century when it arrives online this April.

Whether in search of a short midday break to unwind with some live music, a full-length performance, or a living room concert, there are many options available, only a few of which are mentioned in this column. Flip, scroll, or scan your way through this issue of The WholeNote, rejoice in the fact that concerts are once again being presented throughout the city, and engage with as many of these fine organizations as you can. The road to recovery for the Arts world is a long one which will not be easy, and the courage, fortitude, and strength of each of these performers is admirable and highly worthy of our support.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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