Two of my favourite things in life are Bach and espresso. So when someone gets the idea of actually combining the two, I get the feeling he’s done it just for me. There’s a Bach-playing duo who obviously have a plan to meet me for coffee, and they are baroque violinist Edwin Huizinga and harpsichordist Philip Fournier. Their plan: an ingenious tour of coffee houses in Toronto’s west end, designed to forever ensnare unsuspecting coffee drinkers into an everlasting love of Bach and classical music performance. The engaging Huizinga (you may have noticed him playing in any one of several groups in town — Tafelmusik or Aradia for example — he’s the imposing fellow with the long red hair who plays his violin with obvious passion) tells me more:

1808-early“The idea is that so many musicians travel the world, and often don’t really get the benefit of getting to know their community, people on their street, people in their ‘hood.’ And vice versa, where the community often doesn’t realize the talent living ‘in their own backyard.’ These evenings will be free, super casual, super intimate, super up close and personal, and will feature an hour or more of music of Bach for harpsichord and violin; we will be playing some solos and some of the obbligato violin sonatas as well. The events will also include some words about the pieces, some conversation about us and the instruments we play.”

And they are two interesting musicians. Besides being an accomplished violinist in a whole range of genres from improv to indie rock to baroque to modern, Huizinga was a founding member of the international network Classical Revolution — an organization of musicians dedicated to performing high-quality chamber music in non-traditional settings — begun in San Francisco in 2006. Fournier is organist and music director at St. Vincent de Paul, a specialist in Gregorian chant, a well-known recitalist on harpsichord and organ who has been called one of the finest organists of his generation.

You’ll find them in three coffee houses on these dates: May 6: Baluchon (Sorauren Ave.); May 7: The Common (College and Dufferin); May 8: Sam James (Harbord and Clinton). It all culminates in a concert of Bach at Holy Family Church on May 18, where hopefully some of the audience will have had the pleasure of first hearing them over a latte.

There’s a different tour you can take this month, one which centres on the theme you could call aspects of the feminine nature.

On May 10, 11 and 12, Toronto Masque Theatre’s “The Lessons of Love” pairs two masques drawn from two traditions, Blow’s Venus and Adonis of 1683 and Alice Ping Yee Ho’s newly composed The Lesson of Da Ji, which is scored for voices and an ensemble of baroque instruments including violin, lute and recorder as well as traditional Chinese instruments. The Blow piece relates the story of the beautiful and seductive goddess Venus, tragically struck as a result of her own selfish decisions. Ho’s work, on the other hand, tells of a Chinese concubine of the Shang dynasty, now understood mostly as an interfering supernatural being or a conniving seductress — ah, but is she tortured by deep inner conflicts? This presentation features among its wonderful cast Peking Opera artist William Lau, who plays a traditional female role representing the “Dark Moon.”

On May 24, 25 and 26, women of talent and vision are celebrated in the Toronto Consort’s “A Woman’s Life,” created by Alison Mackay. She is the designer of such multi-disciplinary shows as “The Galileo Project,” House of Dreams” and “The Four Seasons, a Cycle of the Sun,” each one incorporating stunning imagery, movement and gorgeous music to allow the audience to bear witness to a culture vividly brought to life. In the present production, she explores the lives and accomplishments of women composers and singers from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and early Baroque — women such as Hildegard of Bingen, Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini. The Consort is joined by guests, actors Maggie Huculak and Karen Woolridge.

Aspects of Venus, even her ablutions apparently, are explored by soprano Dawn Bailey and the Elixir Baroque Ensemble, in TEMC’s last concert of the season on May 26. Bailey is surely one to watch; her extensive résumé includes art song, oratorio and operatic appearances in Canada and abroad, in new music and old. She’s especially sought after for her interpretations of music from the 17th and 18th centuries. In this concert she and the Elixir Ensemble perform music of the French Baroque, including a cantata by Colin de Blamont, La Toilette de Venus.

And finally, on May 27 the Toronto Continuo Collective presents “The Immortal Soul of Psyche.” An astoundingly beautiful mortal woman, Psyche had to overcome impossible obstacles in order to win her lover, the god Eros; through perseverence she was rewarded with immortality and everlasting happiness. Works by Locke and Lully unfold her story, performed by singers, guest instrumentalists and the Continuo Collective themselves, a group dedicated to the study of the art of expressive continuo playing.

Others of note

May 10: Michael Kelly was an Irish tenor, composer, actor and theatrical manager whose career led him to artistic centres all over Europe; along the way he met and made friends with many of the most celebrated musicians of the day. Not the least of these friendships was with Mozart, whom he met in Vienna. In Kelly’s memoir Reminiscences he describes an evening’s entertainment he attended, a quartet party where the performers were Haydn, Dittersdorf, Vanhal and Mozart — it must have been quite an event! In “An Evening with Michael Kelly,” the Eybler Quartet recreates the music heard that evening while their guest, actor R.H. Thomson reads from Kelly’s memoir and other writings. Gallery Players of Niagara present the same program May 12 in St. Catharines.

May 11: The Peterborough Singers directed by Sidney Birrell is a 100-voice choir which celebrates the conclusion of their 20th season in their hometown of Peterborough with the performance of a masterpiece, Bach’s B Minor Mass. Soloists include soprano Leslie Fagan, mezzo Laura Pudwell, tenor Adam Bishop and baritone Peter McGillivray.

May 25: Who else but I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble would present a program titled “HIGH”? The plot is best described by themselves: “I FURIOSI rises from the depths and soars to new heights in this program of lofty heavens. Baroque gods always descended in a machine — but whence? Since those gods always returned up high, the ensemble endeavours to find out what all the fuss is about up there.” Guest for this concert, which takes place at St. Mary Magdalene Church, is lutenist and theorbist Lucas Harris.

May 30, 31, June 1 and 2: You shouldn’t be surprised to find 19th-century repertoire on Tafelmusik’s upcoming program (namely, Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, the Coriolan and Egmont Overtures, and Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto) — after all, they’ve been pushing the boundaries of their repertoire for some years now; also, they have as their next soloist the wonderful Polish-Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska, a Chopin specialist, playing an 1848 Pleyel piano — the same model as that used by Chopin when he gave his last concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1848, and one of very few to survive.

June 2: In a concert titled “Master Works of J.S. Bach,” organist Philip Fournier (of the coffee house duo above) plays three great works: Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G, several fugues from the Art of Fugue, and the C Minor Passacaglia, on the Gober/Kney tracker organ at The Oratory, Holy Family Church. 

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at

Early MusicIt seems that the arrival of spring (however tenuous it may be as I write) is an invitation for wonderful things to happen — collaborations and encounters, the influence of one element upon another, tranform what was into something new. Here, in the domain of early music, are a few examples:

The mission of Nota Bene Baroque is to bring music of the baroque and early classical periods to the Kitchener-Waterloo region. But this chamber group of strings and keyboard, whose members perform on period instruments in period style, enjoys presenting concerts “with a plus” as they say. This time it’s the addition of storytellers and a professional shadow puppet troupe — I think something magical might transpire! “Once Upon A Time” is presented on April 14 at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre, with guests including local storytellers and Shadow Puppet Theatre.

For Sine Nomine Ensemble, the collaboration with Peter Drobac, music director at Toronto’s Orthodox parish of Saint Silouan the Athonite, is a great opportunity to expose little-heard music from some of those “zones of encounter” of the Middle Ages — the “Christian West,” Byzantine civilization, the varied cultures of the Islamic world. Andrea Budgey describes the colourful variety of what will be presented: Eastern Orthodox chant from late-medieval manuscripts; Turkish late-medieval instrumental music; French-influenced polyphony from 14th-century Cyprus; 14th-century Italian instrumental music with probable Eastern influence. “Orientis partibus: A musical meeting of East and West” is presented at Saint Thomas’s Church on April 26.

The influence of Italian style was strong at the court of King Louis XIV of France. For French music this meant a general infusion of Italian exuberance, as well as the fostering of purely instrumental forms (sonata, symphony, concerto). You can hear some results of this melding of styles, the delicacy of the French mixed with the vivacity of the Italian, in the Musicians In Ordinary’s season finale “French Cantatas Mixed with Symphonies.” Cantatas by Clerambault and Jacquet de la Guerre as well as instrumental music by Marais and others are performed by soprano voice, theorbo, violin, harpsichord and viola da gamba, on April 27 at Toronto’s Heliconian Hall.

The collaboration between composer Stephanie Martin and the Windermere String Quartet on Period Instruments bore the fruit of a new quartet, which Martin composed for the group in its 2011/12 season. Titled From a Distant Island, this work closes with a fugue and that particular feature prompted the WSQ to question: Why do composers like concluding with a fugue? “Does its contrapuntal nature appeal to a sense of instrumental justice, giving each instrument an equal voice? Or is it an opportunity to display compositional virtuosity by fusing intellectual and expressive approaches?” All questions to ponder as you listen to their program “The Art of the Fugal Finale,” which presents three works, by Haydn, Beethoven and Martin, each of whose final movement is a fugue. The concert takes place on April 28 at St. Olave’s Church.

Baroque encounters Baroque Idol at Aradia Ensemble’s next show, a takeoff on the popular American Idol concept — except this time, the audience votes for their favourite new work for baroque ensemble and its composer receives not only the “Baroque Idol” award but also the commission of a new work specially for Aradia. And there’s a further catalyst in the mix: the submitting composers can bring along their own bands too — you’ll get Aradia musicians sharing the stage with “progressive pop/rock” band The Quiet Revolution, the experimental musical storytelling of Ronley Teper and her Lipliners, the easy tuneful beat of Roman Tomé. Who knows what will come of this? “Baroque Idol 2!” happens on May 3 at the Music Gallery.


April 11: Virtuoso musicians are showcased in “Music for Three Violins,” a presentation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Violinists Christopher Verrette, Julia Wedman and Patricia Ahern, gambist Felix Deak and organist Philip Fournier perform music by Purcell, Marini, Schmelzer, Fontana and Gabrieli.

April 12: Based in Montreal, the Quatuor Franz-Joseph has performed the complete Haydn string quartets on period instruments alongside string quartet repertoire from both early and modern eras. In Waterloo, for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, they are heard in quartets by Haydn and Jadin.

April 20, 21:May no rash intruder disturb their soft hours” — this is one of the most beloved choruses from Handel’s oratorio Solomon. The complete work is presented by two different choirs this month, on the same weekend: April 20 and 21 in Oakville by Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra; and April 21 in Toronto by Pax Christi Chorale.

April 27: Each year the Tallis Choir delights in bringing to the surface an historic event, reimagining through music and research how it might have been experienced in actuality. On the 200th anniversaryof the British-American conflict at York, the choir presents “Upper Canada Preserved: A Grand Concert for the Battle of York, 1813.” Music reflecting the tumult of the times, by Haydn, Boyce, Billings and others, will be performed at St. James’ Cathedral, the site of the makeshift hospital set up for the injured, 200 years ago.

April 28: A year-end celebration of the music of Bach takes place in Brampton, as the Georgetown Bach Chorale presents “Music from the Great Passions.” Featured are sublime choruses and instrumental selections from concertos.

April 28: Two musicians whose musical hearts reside at least partially in medieval times bring you a program of medieval and early Mediterranean folk music. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Franklin (woodwinds, reeds, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, voice) and percussionist-singer Gaven Dianda are featured in this TEMC presentation, which takes place at St. David’s Church.

May 1–5, 7: When Handel is the subject of a performance by Tafelmusik and its wonderful Chamber Choir, great music happens. “A Handel Celebration” features odes, serenades and oratorio choruses, “in a celebration of the human spirit” as they affirm.

May 4: Two choirs double the pleasure of one. The Toronto Chamber Choir welcomes as guests the Chamber Singers of the Kitchener-Waterloo’s Grand Philharmonic Choir. Each group will perform a set (music by Sheppard and Purcell), and then come together for Duruflé’s Requiem (which incorporates Gregorian chant) and Tallis’ magnificent 40-voice motet Spem in Alium. “Media Vita: In the Midst of Life” is presented at Grace Church on-the-Hill and will be repeated in Kitchener later in May.

May 4, 5: Expressions of love originally written in biblical verses or heard in raunchy poems were often transformed by renaissance composers into innocent-sounding ditties or lush, sensual motets. The 16-voice a cappella choir Cantemus Singers performs a varied program of these works, by early French, English and German composers. “Love Songs” is presented twice, at Holy Trinity Church and at St. Aidan’s.

May 5: In Kingston, the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra presents “The Tudors,” with music that includes Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Gibbons’ This is the record of John, and much else. Guests include tenor Dylan Hayden and a consort of viols, harpsichord and organ.

With all the riches of music abounding, we are also a little poorer for the deaths of two musicians who touched many people with their heartfelt music making. Washington McClain was a truly gentle and intensely musical soul, an esteemed baroque oboist who performed with many groups including Tafelmusik and Montreal’s Ensemble Arion. Leslie Huggett was a visionary who, with his wife Margaret and their four children, “The Huggett Family,” awakened audiences across Canada to the pleasures of medieval, renaissance and baroque music, in a day when early music was regarded mostly with disinterest. Both are remembered fondly and will be missed. 

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at

Surveying the concert scene this month, I can’t help noticing that there are several in which the central figure happens to be female — that’s a good theme, I’m thinking! So here’s my praise to the Power of Woman.

1806 Early MusicTafelmusik’s featured guest soloist and director this month is the eminent baroque violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch, an artist with a vivacious personality and a sparkling approach to the music she plays. Born in Australia into a very musical family — wind players, string players, singers — she is married to the British cellist Raphael Wallfisch. She’s long been a respected and sought-after leader and performer in the period performance movement, though she did not enter into this world until her late 20s, when she was handed a baroque instrument and bow and asked to play them in a concert in two weeks — “and I never looked back,” she says. “Suddenly I found myself in the thick of a ‘movement’ that was strong and vibrant and had a ‘truth’ to teach me. I am still learning — more and more to tell the truth.” Extremely committed to the nurturing of young artists, she’s been intensely involved with many groups such as the Carmel Bach Festival Orchestra and also has recently formed the Wallfisch Band, an international period-instrument orchestra in which young musicians play alongside mentors at the top of their profession.

The quote above is taken from an interview with Tafelmusik, published on their website (you can read the whole interview there). Here’s another Wallfisch quote, from a 2010 interview with Jesse Hamlin of the San Francisco Chronicle: “Making music defines us. It’s not a job, it’s what makes us tick.”

Wallfisch’s Tafelmusik program takes you to Madrid, with music by composers active in or having some connection to Spain — particularly Boccherini, who lived in Madrid and whose music is often highly inflected with Spanish rhythm and charm. You’ll hear his La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid, whichevokes the hustle and bustle of the Spanish capital, and his sizzling Fandango. Wallfisch and Tafelmusik are joined by flamenco dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés from the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company — a group described on their website as “passionate and driven,” whose “expressive, powerful dancers perform finely wrought pieces that hold in perfect balance tradition and classicism with a modern, contemporary aesthetic.”

“A Night in Madrid” is presented five times, March 20 to 24 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

1806 early music 2English soprano Emma Kirkby has been described as “the artist who almost single-handedly changed the way we listen to voices in early music.” Now an icon in the world of period performance, a renowned early music specialist known for her impeccable style and purity of voice, Kirkby initially spent her musical life singing in choirs and madrigal groups with no thought of making singing a career. In a world where the big operatic voice reigned supreme, she didn’t fit in, either with vocal equipment or by temperament. Her immense gifts couldn’t be hidden though, and inevitably she was “discovered” by such people as lutenist/director Anthony Rooley. Once she had found her own way as a singer, she, like Wallfisch, never looked back. She’s known as an artist of high technical skill, refinement and depth, one who conveys the meaning of the text in a powerfully poignant way.

On her website is a very telling remark, prompted by a 2007 survey of “the greatest sopranos” in which she placed at number ten: “While such things are inevitably parochial, partial, controversial and outdated as soon as they appear, (Kirkby) is pleased at the recognition this implies for an approach to singing that values ensemble, clarity and stillness alongside the more obvious factors of volume and display.”

She is joined by Swedish lutenist Jakob Lindberg for the Toronto Consort production of “Orpheus in England,” a program which pays particular homage to the 450th anniversary of John Dowland’s birth. Performances take place on April 5 and 6 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

And there’s more. As part of their residency at St. Michael’s College and in keeping with our theme, the Musicians In Ordinary present their own tribute to “Ladies that are Most Rare” on March 19, in a program of songs to poems by Lady Mary Sidney, Lady Mary Wroth and the Egerton Sisters, and music from the lute books of Mary Burwell and Margaret Board.

One of the busiest harpsichordists around, Sara-Anne Churchill is a woman on a mission to bring an awareness of her instrument to the general public. “People don’t realize how often they are exposed to the harpsichord and its music, and I want to show how ubiquitous it is, and how versatile (and amusing!) the harpsichord can be,” she says. So to draw in all those not yet seduced by the charms of the harpsichord she’s devised a program of familiar pieces (such as Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith variations), arrangements (such as Dowland’s Flow my Tears arranged by Byrd) and some unlikely surprises too, such as the theme from The Addams Family! “The Cliché Harpsichord” is a TEMC presentation that takes place on March 24 at St. David’s Church.

Fifteenth-century French martyr and saint, Joan of Arc, has inspired countless works of art throughout the ages. Not the least of these is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, depicting her trial and execution, for which Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s performance is described as one of the finest in cinematic history. In a co-presentation by the Toronto Silent Film Festival and Scaramella Concerts, this film is screened at Innis Town Hall on April 4 to an adventurous accompaniment: a newly composed score by Los Angeles composer Tom Peters, featuring the composer playing electric stick violone and Joëlle Morton playing amplified viola da gamba.


March 9: Music at Metropolitan presents “Baroque and Beyond III: Music from the French Baroque” including Couperin’s Leçons des Ténèbres and other works. Performers are soprano Ariel Harwood-Jones, mezzo Christina Stelmacovich, theorbist/lutenist Benjamin Stein, the Elixir Baroque Ensemble and others.

March 15: “Distres’d Innocency: The Community Baroque Orchestra of Toronto Mixes with Elixir” is the title of the next CBOT concert held at Victoria College. Their guests, Elixir Baroque Ensemble, are a vibrant new group consisting of gambist Justin Haynes, harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill, violinists Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith and Valerie Gordon. Together the two groups play music by Purcell, Vivaldi, Telemann and Bach; Elixir is featured on its own in music by Castello and Buxtehude.

March 16 in Hamilton, March 16 and 17 in Toronto: Capella Intima presents the anonymous oratorio Giuseppe, dating from around 1650 and discovered in the Vatican Library, for five voices and instruments. Sopranos Lesley Bouza and Emily Klassen, alto Laura McAlpine, tenor Bud Roach, and bass James Baldwin are joined by organ and gamba.

March 23: Bach’s B Minor Mass is presented at Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church by the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Amadeus Choir, soloists and orchestra, under the baton of Lydia Adams.

March 30: Ever probing life’s profound issues, I FURIOSI explores the deep, hidden things in life with music by Dowland, Scarlatti, Handel and Buxtehude. “The Down-Low” features guest Alison Mackay playing both double bass and viol, and takes place at a new venue, Windermere United Church.

March 31: At U of T’s Trinity College Chapel, the Schola Cantorum and Theatre of Early Music under director Daniel Taylor present “Jesu meines lebens leben,” with works by Buxtehude, Bruhns and Kuhnau.

April 5: Handel’s Concerti Grossi Op.6 are 12 of the finest and most attractive examples in this genre. Aradia Ensemble and the Kingsway Conservatory Strings sample from these works, in a CD release concert at Glenn Gould Studio.

For details of all these and others not mentioned here, please consult The WholeNote’s daily listings. 

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at

Here we are just past the top of the year, and it seems to this writer to be snowing composers — so many are represented in this month’s concerts. Some are not generally well known, so here’s a bit about five of them that I hope may whet your appetite to hear their music.

Pérotin: A man whose life is almost totally obscured by time, Pérotin is believed to have composed for the newly constructed Notre-Dame Cathedral in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. He must have been hugely affected by the spiritual power of this magnificent edifice, for he wrote monumental works in three- and four-part polyphony the likes of which had never been heard before. One of these, the complex and luminous Sederunt principes, is on Schola Magdalena’s upcoming program on February 8 at Toronto’s Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, along with music by Hildegard, plainchant, and newly-composed pieces. This six-voice women’s ensemble will also be performing at Waterloo’s NUMUS Concerts on February 7.

Cavalli: Think of a little boy with a good soprano voice, mentored by a Venetian nobleman who took him to Venice to sing in the cappella at St. Mark’s Basilica. His life was forever shaped by this early turn of events. He worked under the direction of the great Monteverdi, eventually became organist at St. Mark’s, composed sacred music and also branched out to write for the stage — 41 operas in all — becoming the most influential composer in the genre of opera in mid-17th century Venice. This was Francesco Cavalli, and his music is featured in two presentations this month: February 15 and 16, the Toronto Consort performs as an opera in concert The Loves of Apollo and Daphne; February 24, tenor Bud Roach and guests perform sacred motets by Cavalli and others as part of TEMC’s Musically Speaking series.

Taverner: Scaramella’s “Hartes Ease” (February 9) and Cantemus Singers’ “The Virgin Queen” (March 2 and 3) don’t appear at first glance to have much similarity, but they do have common elements. One of these is the 16th century composer John Taverner. Lincolnshire-born-and -buried, not much else is known about his life except that he held the position of organist and Master of the Choristers at Christ Church, Oxford; also he is alleged to have been an agent of Cromwell, assisting in Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries. But he is forever revered as the one who brought English choral polyphony of the period to its pinnacle. Viol players also regard him as rather notorious, for a particular sequence of notes on the words “In Nomine Domini” (excerpted from his mass Gloria Tibi Trinitas) that has forever installed itself in viol consort repertoire. You can hear one “In Nomine” by him in Scaramella’s showcasing of four antique English viols, which brings together four marvellous musicians to play them, in a diversity of music both early and modern. Taverner’s Sanctus and Benedictus from the Missa “Westron Wynde” is featured in the 16-voice Cantemus Singers’ performance, along with many madrigals and church motets.

earlymusic-feb2013Vincenzo Galilei was the father of the astronomer Galileo. In his own right he was an important musical figure of the late Renaissance, a lutenist, theorist and composer. He seems to have displayed an interesting mix of progressive thought and backward-looking sentiments: On the one hand, he made substantial discoveries in acoustics, reportedly involving his son in his experiments and encouraging him to approach scientific research in a practical as well as a theoretical way (who knows how the invention of the telescope would have played out without the counsel of Galileo the father?). On the other hand though, Vincenzo condemned modern music and championed the revival of the monodic (single melody) singing style of ancient Greece. He is one of several composers featured in the Musicians In Ordinary’s concert “You Who Hear In These Scattered Rhymes.” Soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards perform baroque settings of great Italian renaissance poetry on March 2.

“The greatest composer you’ve never heard of” is the Windermere String Quartet’s description of Georges Onslow, whose string quintet they’ll be presenting. Onslow was a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert, coming from an aristocratic British family but actually born in France. He “did not mean to become an artist, even less a composer” states a website devoted to him — but obviously he was meant to be one, writing operas, symphonies and much chamber music and becoming a highly regarded composer in his time. His music is extremely beautiful and full of inspiration but, alas, has virtually disappeared from modern view. On March 3 you can hear a lovely example of his work in the Windermere String Quartet’s “The Power of Five.” Played on period instruments, with guest violist Emily Eng, this is a concert of early 19th century viola quintets — a special, dark sound that only two violas can bring.


February 7 to 9: Feeling lately that you’d like to forsake the Canadian cold for a delightful evening in Paris? Well just around the corner, there’s a cabaret happening with the gaity and sophistication of Parisian life from medieval times right to the present day. Toronto Masque Theatre presents “Les Roses de la Vie: A Parisian Soirée,” with music by Marais, Couperin and more recent composers, also poetry, movement and film. Among the featured performers is acclaimed corporeal mime artist Giuseppe Condello.

February 9: The Academy Concert Seriespresents “Bach’s Blessings,” in the form of music for solo cello and solo harpsichord, a violin sonata, cantata arias and the complete Wedding Cantata. This concert features four artists well versed in the art of historically informed interpretations: soprano Nathalie Paulin, violinist Emily Eng, cellist Kerri McGonigle and harpsichordist Lysiane Boulva.

February 9, 12 and 16: The Velvet Curtain Ensemble with director Douglas Rice, orchestra and guest artists presents Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Among the stated values of this group is “to believe in our potential to shape the future of our diverse cultures and civilization by bringing strength and confidence to future generations who will endeavor to define humanity through the arts.”

February 10: In Kitchener, a celebration of food — for the ear and for the palate, as Nota Bene Baroque presents “If Music Be the Food of Love...” with food-related music by Schmelzer, Legrenzi, Bernier and others, and guest soprano Stephanie Kramer.

February 12: The Musicians In Ordinary are busy people — not only do they present their regular concert series at Heliconian Hall (March 2, mentioned above) but they are also ensemble-in-residence at U of T’s St. Michael’s College. In this capacity they present “Hail Bishop Valentine!” performing love songs from the time of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I, to Frederick, Elector Palatine. Guest reader is David Klausner.

February 21 to 24: “Shrouded in mystery and speculation since Mozart’s death, the Requiem is a masterpiece for all time ...” begins Tafelmusik’s press release for their next concerts. Mozart’s Requiem features four wonderful soloists: soprano Nathalie Paulin, mezzo Laura Pudwell, tenor Lawrence Wiliford and baritone Nathaniel Watson; the Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir are directed by Ivars Taurins.

February 22: Sine Nomine Ensemble takes you to medieval Iberia, whose musical culture was greatly influenced by that of both North Africa and neighbouring Europe. In “Musica Yspanica: Spanish music of pilgrimage and praise” you’ll hear how some of these colourful influences manifested themselves, in songs of courtly love, cantigas in praise of Mary, sacred music from the royal nunnery at Las Huelgas and songs of popular devotion from Spanish pilgrimage centres.

March 3: “Out of the depths have I called unto you, O Lord” begins Psalm 130, a stunning poem of entreaty that has inspired composers through the ages. In “Kaffeemusik,” a concert which seeks to inform and enlighten as well as entertain, the Toronto Chamber Choir presents several settings of this text by composers including Schein, Sweelinck, Schütz and Bach.

Please consult The WholeNote’s daily listings for details of all these, and others not mentioned. 

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at

We go to concerts to hear music, sometimes not aware of the interesting backgrounds of the artists there on stage, playing or singing their hearts out. In conjunction with two upcoming concerts, here are two performers with fascinating stories to tell.

earlymusic randall rosenfeldRandall Rosenfeld has been a mainstay of Sine Nomine Ensemble for Medieval Music since its founding in 1991. He’s often heard playing vielle, gittern, recorder and early flute in this group which performs vocal and instrumental music of Europe from around the tenth to the 15th centuries. But did you know that he’s received a major award from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for excellence in astronomical writing and has been honoured by having a minor planet named after him? It’s all in his work as national archivist of the RASC; he’s received high praise for creating a first-class archive that provides an insight on the development of Canadian astronomy in the last century. I asked him to talk about the co-existence of music and astronomy in his life; here, distilled, is a little of what he told me:

“My formal training wasn’t as a scientist, but rather as a medievalist. One can’t go very far in the exploration of the intellectual world of say, 1,200 or 600 years ago without encountering the very close connections between music and astronomy. They were sister mathematical disciplines through which an understanding of the world could be apprehended. Those connections could be found directly in music surviving from the 11th to the 15th centuries. There’s a surprising amount of medieval music with texts unmistakably using the technical vocabulary of astronomy, or describing types of celestial events. Very convenient for someone with an interest in the history of both music and astronomy.

“I can’t say that my work in the history of post-medieval astronomy influences what I do musically, or vice versa, with one notable exception. The problems associated with restaging historical observations and those involved with recreating past musical practices are in many respects quite similar — it is as difficult to fully recover or comprehend how an experiment may have been done in the past or how the results were perceived at the time as it is to recreate a past musical performance and hear it with the ears of the past (some aspects and perceptions will never be recoverable). Much can be learned by endeavouring to do both, and each may provide an illuminating analogue to the other.”

On December 21 at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Sine Nomine Ensemble performs “A Christmas Court Entertainment: The Romance of Erec and Enide,” one of the most popular Arthurian romances, with music by Machaut, Binchois, Dufay and other late medieval French composers. While the concert is not directly structured around an astrological theme, there’s astrological imagery: “Some of the repertoire mentions celestial objects and is concerned with aspects of the construction of the world, and touches on questions of time and eternity.”

Katherine Hill is well known as a soprano in the early music world, here and in Europe — no doubt you’ve heard her in ensembles such as the Toronto Consort, Sine Nomine and Scaramella. You may have seen her playing the medieval fiddle or the gamba too. But lately, another fascinating instrument has entered her life: The nyckelharpa is a bowed stringed instrument with keys that can be traced back to 14th-century northern Europe and is still widely used in Swedish traditional music. It got Hill’s attention when she heard it on recordings many years ago. She says: “The sound reminded me of my medieval fiddle, but I also loved the sound of the keys clicking away. And Swedish music, with its mix of major and minor modes, crazy rhythms and haunting songs also captivated me.”

Having the good fortune to borrow one for a summer and then to buy it, she seized opportunities to do summer courses in Sweden in nyckelharpa and Swedish music. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn! So last year I got a Canada Council grant to study technique, repertoire and Swedish traditional dance in Sweden for nine months, which was a very rich experience. Now that I’m home, I want to keep exploring the Swedish music side of things, but also the medieval fiddle side.”

There’s a good opportunity to hear her and this instrument, in the first concert of the Toronto Early Music Centre (TEMC) 2013 season. Hill says: “I will be playing nyckelharpa in this show. The general uniting element in the repertoire is the nyckelharpa, first as a medieval fiddle (pictured in Siena in 1408 in the chapel of the town hall). So we’ll be playing some music from that time and place. And second, the nyckelharpa as a Swedish traditional instrument; so there will be some Swedish songs and dance tunes. My partner will be Julia Seager-Scott, who will play a gothic harp for the medieval material and a folk (or a baroque) harp for the Swedish music. There’s a nice connection too, with the word harp also being in the name nyckelharpa (in Swedish ‘harpa’ can mean harp or fiddle).”

The performance takes place on Sunday afternoon, January 27 in TEMC’s intimate venue, St. David’s Anglican Church.

earlymusiccollegiumvocalegent credit michel garnierCollegium Vocale Gent/Schola Cantorum

We’re lucky that the RCM’s Performing Arts director, Mervon Mehta, is passionate about bringing internationally renowned artists to our parts of the world — for example, the wonderful ensemble Collegium Vocale Gent who appear in Koerner Hall on December 14 to perform four cantatas from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Specialists in historically authentic performances of vocal renaissance and baroque music, they’re led by the acclaimed conductor Philippe Herreweghe who founded this group in 1970. Their work has been described as “breathtaking,” “eloquent,” “unusually finely blended.”

A week earlier on December 7, the U of T’s newly formed early music vocal ensemble Schola Cantorum performs in the beautiful, acoustically rich and relatively intimate setting of Trinity College Chapel. Featured are Handel’s Coronation Anthems, the four joyful and celebratory pieces that he composed for the coronations of King George II and Queen Caroline. The concert is directed by countertenor Daniel Taylor, whose ensemble, the Theatre of Early Music, also participates in this performance.

A few others in brief

December 14 to 16: The Toronto Consort and guests, the Toronto Chamber Choir, present “Praetorius Mass for Christmas Morning.” This production recreates the music that might have been heard at a Lutheran mass on Christmas morning under Michael Praetorius and features the sounds of early brass, strings, lutes, keyboards and voices from their positions around the balconies at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

December 19: At Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields Church, the Elixir Ensemble — harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill, gambist Justin Haynes, violinists Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith and Valerie Gordon — performs music from the Baroque on historical instruments.

January 1 and 2: Don’t forget the Musicians In Ordinary’s annual New Year’s Day Baroque Concerts. Soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist/theorbist John Edwards are joined by violinists Christopher Verrette and Edwin Huizinga.

January 12: The Oratory, Holy Family Church presents “O Beata Infantia: Baroque Music for the Christ Child.” Organist Philip Fournier and a fine vocal and string ensemble perform works by Praetorius, Sweelinck, François and Louis Couperin, Perotin and Palestrina.

January 17 to 20, 22: Tafelmusik’s “Baroque London” explores the music of the King’s Theatre Haymarket under the guidance of retired oboist, Mr. Richard Neale. Music by Handel, Galliard, Sammartini, Bononcini and Pepusch illustrates the remembrances of this forgotten oboist, as imagined by actor R.H. Thomson.

January 31, February 1 to 3: Again the formidable Tafelmusik, whose show “Vivaldi, Handel & Sandrine Piau” features this French soprano in baroque arias, also orchestral suites and concertos. 

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities who plays the viola da gamba.
She can be contacted at

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