22_larry-beckwith_lbIf you have a passion to do something, there seem to be no limits to what you can accomplish. When musician Larry Beckwith conceived Toronto Masque Theatre in 2003, he had a vision of reviving an art form that arose probably during the Renaissance with masked processions visiting noble houses. It was developed substantially in Europe during the 16th to 18th centuries, evolving into an elaborate performance with scripted plot and combining elements of music, theatre and dance. To undertake the revival of this form and also to expand the repertoire by commissioning new works in the spirit of the masque, Beckwith invited some talented people to work with him: choreographer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière is a specialist in historical dance who has a magical touch for staging; actor and co-director Derek Boyes has an extensive background in stage, radio and TV drama as well as film.

22_les_jardins_choregraphiquesThis pursuit has taken them very far, leading them to mount performances of wide-ranging scope: everything from Shakespeare/Blow’s Venus and Adonis to the five major music theatre works of Purcell to Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale to newly commissioned works by James Rolfe, Omar Daniel, Abigail Richardson and Dean Burry, to plays by Molière, Reaney and others, to “variety” or “cabaret” evenings — some 25 productions in all.

This month, the company presents a masque on a theme that might be expressed (at least in my words) as “Woman: Proud, Beautiful and Decidedly Unattainable.”

Three 17th-century depictions are interwoven:

There’s the play: The Convent of Pleasure by English playwright Margaret Cavendish, in which the main character, a beautiful woman, turns her back on the company of men and establishes a convent open only to like-minded maids and widows, in which they create their own world of pleasure and where men are excluded from all access to their beauty and their worldly possessions. There’s the ballo, or semi-dramatic ballet: Monteverdi’s Ballo delle ingrate in which Venus and Cupid visit Pluto, King of the Underworld, to complain that the arrows from Cupid’s bow are no longer effective on the ladies of Mantua who are scorning their lovers. And there’s the comical cantata for a trio of women singers: Luigi Rossi’s Noi siam tre donzelette semplicette, in which the three little innocent maids mock men’s “empty babbling” about their love for women.
Ah, but will “Unattainable Woman” prevail, or be thwarted in the end? This is for you to find out, when you go to see this production, taking place at Hart House Theatre on May 11 and 12. If you attend the pre-show chat, you have the added treat of a conversation between Beckwith and professor Katie Larson, whose research area includes 16th- and 17th-century English literature with a focus on women’s writing and issues of gender and language, and who has made a special study of the writings of playwright Margaret Cavendish.

I’ll tempt you with Beckwith’s comments about the cast: “I’m very excited to be working with the brilliant young singers Virginia Hatfield, Dawn Bailey, Michele DeBoer and Benjamin Covey. I’m delighted that four dancers from Marie-Nathalie’s Montreal troupe (the renaissance dance troupe Les Jardins Choréographiques) will join us, and that the play will be realized by an abundantly talented group of young actors, directed by Derek Boyes. There are some top-notch players in the band (including harpsichordist Noam Krieger from Holland, and gamba player Justin Haynes). All in all it should be a glorious show!”

Other concerts this month have to do, in part, with transitions, and with the spirit of giving:

May 11: In Kingston, the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra explore the progression of musical style from the birth of Monteverdi to the death of Schütz — the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque — in their concert “The Age of Change: Monteverdi, Schütz and Gibbons.”

22_nota-bene-period-orchestraMay 13: “Bach Meets Frederick the Great” is the title of the next concert of Waterloo Region’s Nota Bene Baroque, and it’s inspired by an event in May, 1747, when the two actually did meet: Bach visited Frederick’s residence in Potsdam, where the king gave him a cunning theme upon which to construct a fugue on the spot (which of course he did). Further developments led to the creation of one of Bach’s most famous compositions, the collection of pieces known as The Musical Offering, entirely based on this theme. As for Nota Bene’s concert which takes place at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre, it presents music by Bach, by Frederick himself and by his court composers, as well as readings that explore the titanic aesthetic and cultural shifts taking place at that time. And, it features two very interesting guest artists: baroque flutist Emma Elkinson, and narrator Colin Fox.

May 13: The Toronto Chamber Choir’s afternoon “Kaffeemusiks” are a mix of expert and entertaining commentary from music director Mark Vuorinen with music sung by the choir. In this, the last of them this season, choir and soloists perform Bach’s cantata Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot (Break Your Bread For the Hungry). Their press release offers this invitation: “In the spirit of the cantata’s reflections on the transformative power of charity, we encourage you to contribute to our food drive for the needy who live in our richly blessed city.”

May 20 & 21: Among the diverse groups who choose to focus on a particular aspect of the vast musical universe is the Toronto Continuo Collective, whose aim is to explore the art of baroque accompaniment and all that it entails: figured bass harmony, supporting text inflection, ornamentation, word painting, improvisation, and everything else that makes the music speak and come alive. In this pair of concerts, entitled “L’Authentique amour français,” they’ll show off their skills in a program of rarely-heard gems of the 17th-century French Baroque, by composers such as Pierre Guedron and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. With their lutes, violins, viols and keyboards, they’ll be joined by guest soloists, soprano Emily Klassen and tenor Bud Roach.

May 24 to 27: Tafelmusik’s music director, Jeanne Lamon, has observed that for them, playing Beethoven feels like playing “new music that’s exploding” because they come to it from the perspective of the music that has gone before, rather than approaching it from a 21st-century perspective. Conductor Bruno Weil has called Tafelmusik “a great Beethoven orchestra, because Beethoven needs the passion of every individual player.” You can experience this passion for yourself in this month’s group of concerts, when they play the mighty “Eroica” Symphony, paired with an even later work: Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4, the “Italian.”

And immediately afterwards, Tafelmusik embarks on an Ontario Tour: You can catch them May 29 in Owen Sound (presented by the Sweetwater Music Festival); May 30 on Manitoulin Island; May 31 in Parry Sound (presented by Festival of the Sound); June 1 in Port Hope (presented by Port Hope Friends of Music).

May 27: How wonderful to be able to contribute to the welfare of our fellow creatures on the earth, and to that of their habitat, through music. Soprano Ariel Harwood-Jones is well known from her performances with Tafelmusik (as soloist and within the Chamber Choir), with Opera Atelier, Sine Nomine ensemble and many other groups. She has gathered together a formidable group of fellow musicians — among them, harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill, gambist Justin Haynes, violinist Larry Beckwith —who all contribute their artistry in a “Friends & Family Concert,” with music by Purcell, Handel and Bach. Admission is pay-what-you-can and proceeds will go to the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

For details on all these and more, please see 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 earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

early_music_anonymous_4_1Of course we know we are not the only ones to stand aghast at the magnitude of the heavens, to question our role in the scheme of things, to revel in our youth, be lovestruck and devious and wicked, to worship our Creator. Medieval Man did all this too; but how to fathom the point of view of ancient cultures from our vantage point, so far removed from theirs? Much of the knowledge and thought existing in the Middle Ages has filtered down to the present day through music; and we’re very fortunate that people of tremendous scholarship and talent are continuing to bring this music to life. Three of this month’s concerts give fascinating insights into several aspects of the music and philosophy of medieval times.

First to appear, inviting us to enter a deeply devotional realm expressed in music both ancient and modern, is Anonymous 4, the truly remarkable women’s vocal quartet, who celebrate their 25th anniversary with the concert program “Anthology 25” at Koerner Hall on April 11. Renowned for both their historical scholarship and the sheer liquid silver beauty of their vocal blend, they’re currently touring a program that in a way sums up the work they’ve done over the past quarter century, for it presents offerings from 20 (if I counted right) of their recordings — including everything from 12th-century chant and polyphony to 15th-century carols to early American folk hymns to recently composed works, and more. They research, write about and perform their music with such meticulousness, yet with such joy; it’s no wonder they’ve developed a huge and enthusiastic audience over a quarter century.

As in the present day, when we are increasingly awestruck by the vastness of the cosmos, so in medieval times people sought explanations to questions arising from the phenomena they observed. They found answers in ancient philosophy, in which music and astronomy were closely linked — the harmonious proportions of sound were believed to echo the harmonious movements of the planets and stars. Metaphors based on astronomy permeated medieval religious and philosophical expression. Some of the wealth of music that reflects this, including music by Dunstable (the English composer, astronomer and mathematician) and Landini (the blind Italian composer, philosopher and astrologist) will be presented by Sine Nomine Ensemble in their concert, “Music of the Spheres: The stars moving in concert,” which takes place on April 27 at St. Thomas’s Church.

In the collection of 13th- and 14th-century songs known as the Carmina Burana — the Songs of Benediktbeuren — we’re shown a colourful diversity of medieval life. These are lyrical poems in Latin, medieval German and French, some 300 in all, gathered probably by wandering scholars. Some celebrate springtime and love, or gambling and drinking; some are satirical or moralistic, or set forth religious feeling; and to borrow the words of one writer, “the pagan spirit inspiring most of the poems reminds us that the rough, intense world of medieval Europe was anything but a Sunday School picnic.” Though some indications exist of how they were to be sung, bringing them to life takes some imagination. Eminently equipped for this task, the musicians of the Toronto Consort will set their voices, fiddle, recorder, hurdy-gurdy, lute and harp to their performance in a trio of concerts, titled “The Original Carmina Burana,” April 27 to 29 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

String Quartets

early_music_lumiere_quartet_1Fast forwarding to the 18th and even the 19th century, we find concerts this month by no less than three string quartets devoted to period performance:

On April 22 the Eybler Quartet shouts Hey, I’m Mozart, too!and in reading the biographies of the three composers represented alongside Wolfgang Amadeus we find out why: Joseph Martin Kraus (1756–1792), sometimes called “the Swedish Mozart,” Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806–1826), dubbed “the Spanish Mozart,” and Joseph Boulogne, le Chevalier du Saint-George (1745–1799), “le Mozart noir,” all were precocious classical composers who had very short lives. Uncannily also, Kraus was born in the same year as Mozart; and Arriaga was born on what would have been Mozart’s 50th birthday.

On April 28, in a presentation of the Academy Concert Series, the Lumière Quartet commemorates “Schubert’s Final Journey” — his creative journey to his own imminent death — performing his “Death and the Maiden” String Quartet in D Minor, and the glorious, posthumous two-cello String Quintet in C Major, the last piece of chamber music he wrote.

On April 29, the Windermere String Quartet, on period instruments, conclude their seventh season with “Turning Points,” featuring works that exemplify pivotal moments in history and in music — by Joseph Boulogne (le Chevalier du Saint-George), Beethoven and Schubert (again, his two-cello quintet — the same work as will be heard the at the Academy Concert Series the night before; but, like the finest wine, it’s delicious enough to be sampled twice in two days!).

As if all these weren’t enough, there’s lots more this month to tempt you:

• April 7: Fairest Isle, all isles excelling, that gave us the genius of both Henry Purcell and the Beatles! But did you know that the two are linked artistically? Scaramella reveals the truth in this, illustrating some of the many parallels between the two famous English entities with lovely and beguiling music by both, in their last concert of the season, “Imagine.” Gambist/artistic director Joëlle Morton is joined by Brazilian guests, Paulo Mestre, countertenor, and Silvana Scarinci theorbo, as well as multi-instrumentalist Kirk Eliott, sitar, bouzouki and accordion.

• April 13: Once again, I FURIOSI is in an uproar — this time it’s about families. Of course in Baroque days, even while bursting with creative musical genius, they could be as unruly as ever. Join the furor of “I FURIOSI’s Family Jewels” as guests Jed Wentz, flauto traverso, and Olivier Fortin, harpsichord, come for the I FURIOSI dysfunctional family reunion.

early_3_alt-gil_shaham_high_res_2_-_credit_boyd_hagen• April 21: In his Koerner Hall debut, Israeli-American violinist Gil Shaham plays an all-Bach solo recital —the partitas in e major and d minor, and the Sonata for Solo Violin in C Major. One of today’s most engaging classical artists, he’s been described by The New York Times as “a virtuoso and a player of deeply intense sincerity.”

• April 29: Toronto’s own Community Baroque Orchestra gives its “Spring Concert,” performing music by Handel, Biber, Leclair and Vivaldi. Violinist Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith leads the group, and the soloists in Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major for two flutes are Roseen Giles and Gregory Kirczenow.

• May 2 to 6: A description of the artistry of British violinist Rachel Podger runs: “(She) is known for her highly accurate, virtuosic playing, outstanding musicianship and understanding of period style, and a cheerful, warm and decidedly non-stuffy stage presence.” All very good reasons to check out her guest appearances with Tafelmusik in their five concerts titled Bach and the Violin. Podger has held positions as leader with the English Concert, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Academy of Ancient Music, among other groups; she’ll perform with Tafelmusik as director and soloist in works by Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann.

• May 3 and 5: Aradia’s “The Grain of the Voice” features two groups of very different vocal “grains”: the choir and orchestra of Aradia who will perform motets by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, and guests, the Toronto-based Georgian choir Darbazi who will present traditional Georgian repertoire (a uniquely beautiful polyphony). Artistic director Kevin Mallon unites the two with a new composition of his own. (May 3 is a free noonhour concert presented by the COC; May 5 is at the Glenn Gould Studio.)

• May 5: In its final concert of the season, the Tallis Choir presents “The Glory of the English Anthem,” tracing the a cappella anthem’s 500-year presence in the Chapel Royal, cathedrals and colleges of England. Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah and Byrd’s Sing Joyfully, as well as 20th-century works, will be performed.

For full details of all these, and more, please peruse 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 earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote inseveral capacities who plays the viola da gambaShe can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Let me take you on a little journey in Bachian lines. Its outset was some 40 years ago, during the days when Melville Cook was director of music at Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church. Its steps reach right through to this present season, with Metropolitan United’s four-concert BachFest.

Some readers will remember Metropolitan’s yearly Holy Week presentations of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: the elegant, white-haired Cook at the helm of double choir, double orchestra and imposing soloists, with the gambist Peggie Sampson at the centre of it all. These performances occurred annually for many years, until approximately 1985.

22_EARLY_Patricia_Wright_photo_by_Darcy_Glionna_1The Bachian tradition has remained with Cook’s successor, Patricia Wright. She calls Bach her “heart composer,” and describes the genesis of this season’s BachFest as very much a continuation of what has gone before: “At Metropolitan, I inherited a Good Friday concert tradition; (under Dr. Melville Cook, my predecessor, the St. Matthew Passion was performed each year). With financial challenges, we have gone to presenting a major work with orchestra every other year. In my 25 years at Metropolitan, we have presented Bach’s St. John Passion five times and the B Minor Mass three times. Wanting to do the B Minor again was the beginning, and when choir members offered to help finance a performance of part of Christmas Oratorio, the idea of a BachFest took hold. As an organist, I could not resist an organ recital, even though the Metropolitan organ (the largest in Canada, a 1930/98 five-manual Casavant) is a masterpiece of romantic organ design. Then the idea of an instrumental concert with the ever-creative Benjamin Stein gave us the four-concert BachFest.”

Two of these concerts have already taken place: theorbist Benjamin Stein (also WholeNote’s choral columnist) was one of the featured artists in February’s “Jam Sessions with Bach,” and the first three cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio were presented last November. But the remaining two are imminent: On March 16, Wright will give an all-Bach organ recital entitled “Bach and the King of Instruments.” On April 6, the Metropolitan Festival Choir and Orchestra, with soloists, will give a Good Friday performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass.

Those Bachian lines also extend down other roads this month. On March 17, the British cellist Colin Carr comes to Koerner Hall for a monumental performance of all six Bach suites for solo cello. On March 18, a recital at Heliconian Hall entitled “Bach Bliss,” presented by soprano Amy Dodington and oboist Hazel Nevin Newton, features the Wedding Cantata and other music by Bach. On March 25, the Church of St. Simon-the-Apostle with the Canadian Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra will present Bach’s St. John Passion. On April 6 in Kitchener, the Grand Philharmonic Choir brings our journey full circle, with a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.


It’s always good to learn from a specialist. Here are some instructive, and no doubt fabulous, events that you can take advantage of this month.

Conductor, composer and commentator Rob Kapilow has, for years now, championed the idea that the appreciation of any worthy piece is enhanced by really getting inside it. He has developed a series of programmes called “What Makes It Great?” which is, in his words, “about listening. Paying attention. Noticing all the fantastic things that might otherwise go by. When you begin to hear the things that make a piece great, it can spring to life as if you have never heard it before. We take a piece of great music, tear it apart, put it back together again, and do everything in our power to get inside to see what makes it tick and what makes it great. Then on the second half of the program we hear the piece performed in its entirety — hopefully with a new pair of ears.”

On March 9, with the help of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, he’ll lead the audience to a new appreciation of none other than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Acclaimed violinist Jennifer Koh will play the Spring and Summer concertos.

Masterclasses can be edifying experiences, not only for the student performer but also for the auditors. Everyone receives the benefit of (hopefully) constructive insights from someone who has a life-long dedication to the subject, and more: they are a window into the mind and personality of the artist/teacher conducting the class. At the Royal Conservatory, masterclasses are free and open to the public. Carr, a committed teacher, will give two of them, in the morning and the afternoon of Friday March 16, the day before his Koerner Hall concert. You are encouraged to attend!

And, in case you’ve been wondering about that occasionally unwieldy but beautifully expressive instrument, the baroque oboe, you have a chance to hear what a master player like John Abberger has to say about it, and also to hear him play it in works by Hotteterre, Telemann and Handel. With collaboration by harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill, he’ll acquaint you with the mysteries of his instrument in Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series concert, “The Art of the Baroque Oboe,” at their new concert space, St. David’s Anglican Church, on March 25.


March 11: Have you ever heard a verse set to music and said “Aha, I know that — but it’s different, not the same tune as I’m used to hearing!” At Nota Bene Baroque’s “An English Messiah” concert in Kitchener, you’ll be intrigued to hear the Messiah texts masterfully set to music by … not Handel, but by his great predecessor Henry Purcell. Violinist Stephen Marvin leads the ensemble with special guest Tactus Vocal Ensemble.

March 17: Lutenist John Edwards and soprano Hallie Fishel combine their scholarship and talents in the Musicians in Ordinary’s last concert of the season, Sero, sed Serio. “Late, but in earnest” was the motto of one of the most influential British political figures during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I: Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. A patron of music, he supported composers Byrd, Gibbons and Dowland, whose music you’ll hear in this tribute to Cecil.

March 23 and 24: In honour of our winged, furry and watergoing friends, both actual and mythical, recorder/traverso player Alison Melville has designed “A Musical Bestiary.” This programme presented by the Toronto Consort features music from renaissance Europe, including “The Ape, the Monkey, and Baboon,” “The Counterpoint of the Animals,” “Le chant des oyseaux” and more!

March 24 and 25: As its title “Viva Italia!” suggests, this concert of Cantemus Singers celebrates Italy with passionate songs and madrigals as well as religious music of the Renaissance and early Baroque. Songs of love — divine, human and patriotic — by Monteverdi, Vecchi, Gabrieli, Palestrina and others will be featured, as well as the soaring Miserere by Allegri.

March 27, 29 to 31, April 1: Tafelmusik’s “Choral Spectacular” celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. Read more about it in this month’s “Choral Scene” beat column by Benjamin Stein.

April 01: Port Rowan, near Long Point on Lake Erie, is the setting for Arcady’s upcoming “A Baroque Messiah. This very active Southwestern Ontario ensemble often features the music of its artistic director, Ronald Beckett, and performs a range of early music as well.

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

“It’s such an incredibly simple instrument. You can hold philosophical, physical or constructional arguments against this view, but it still won’t change the fact that it is, in its very heart of hearts, an incredibly simple instrument. And yet it is so hard to make it sound beautiful. That is what makes it so fascinating. You start practising and it sounds ridiculous. It is the most amazing challenge to create a small, but personal musical universe with this instrument.”

The subject of this description — the recorder — is an instrument that I personally find very beautiful. I love the organ-like chuff of its breath in consort, and the purity of its angelic voice in solo repertoire. If you’re of like mind, you’ll be very pleased at the prospects before you this month; if you are not, well, be prepared to be converted, as not one, but two internationally famous virtuoso recorder players are performing in Toronto, one at the beginning of February and one near the end. The details:

21The comment which begins this article was uttered by a truly amazing musician, the Swiss virtuoso Maurice Steger, who appears near the start of the month. Steger has been called “the Paganini of the recorder”; one concert review states that he’s “unquestionably an artist operating to the furthest boundaries of what is technically and tonally possible on the recorder.” Several reviews about him mention the spontaneity of his technique — arising, no doubt, from the challenge he gives himself to create a “personal musical universe” in the music he plays. He’ll be displaying his uncanny abilities in music by Telemann, Sammartini and Geminiani, in a concert which also features the wonderful chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy. With music director Bernard Labadie, Les Violons will contribute music by Handel and Geminiani. The performance takes place on February 5 at Koerner Hall.

When one considers touring recorder players, one can’t help thinking of Marion Verbruggen, the celebrated Dutch virtuoso who has brought the warmth of her personality to audiences all over the world for many years. With her sheer good-natured presence and verve as a performer, I think she could win anyone over to the love of the recorder. She’s back in Toronto to add a colourful presence to Tafelmusik’s “Virtuoso Vivaldi” concerts, which feature a splash of concertos: mandolin, viola d’amore and lute, cello, bassoon, and recorder played by Verbruggen. Except for the Concerto for Recorder and Bassoon by Telemann, the music is all by Vivaldi. These concerts will take place on February 21 at George Weston Recital Hall, and February 23 to 26 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

So many musical treasures this month, with some of them unfortunately occurring on the same evening:

• February 8 to 12: One of Tafelmusik’s biggest and most ambitious artistic creations to date, “House of Dreams,” is the latest of Alison Mackay’s multi-media programmes. The audience is taken to five European cities where baroque music and art intersect. Stunning images, paintings and a concert played from memory make this truly a tour de force.

• February 17: “Anger Management,” in the hands of I Furiosi, means subtle procedures such as calling up the spirits of the dead to exact revenge on one’s enemies. With guest, mezzo Laura Pudwell, this will be “a concert of anxiety and discord” — but undoubtedly with some exquisitely performed and lovely music.

• February 18: “Fresh Baroque” are almost the first words to appear in the Aradia Ensemble’s website. Their February concert is no exception, combining glorious instrumental and vocal music from 17th- and 18th-century Venice with newly-composed works by Rose Bolton and Chris Meyer (winner of last season’s Baroque Idol competition). As well, the freshness of youth appears in the participation of the Toronto Youth Chamber Orchestra, led by violinist Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith.

• February 18: Another of early music’s shining lights is in town, for Scaramella’s concert “The Angel and the Devil.” Gambist Liam Byrne currently resides in England and is professor of viola da gamba at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He’s also in great demand as soloist and ensemble musician. Scaramella’s programme features music by rival viol players from the French Baroque — Marin Marais (who played “like an angel”) and Antoine Forqueray (possessing the virtuosity of “the devil”). Liam’s collaborators are harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill and gambist Joëlle Morton.

• February 18: Intriguing mini-dramas, stories of the interaction of nymphs and shepherds, make for a delightful programme of duets and dialogues from the 16th and 17th centuries as the Musicians In Ordinary presents “When Tircis Met Chloris. Soprano Hallie Fishel and theorbist John Edwards are joined by guest tenor and baroque guitarist, Bud Roach.

• February 19: in Kitchener: Spiritus Ensemble, dedicated to the performance of great religious music, presents an “All-Bach Concert” of two cantatas, the Magnificat in D, and the Sinfonia from Cantata 29.

• February 19: In their programme “The Art of Conversation,” the Windermere String Quartet, on period instruments, explores Goethe’s comment on the string quartet: “One hears four rational people conversing with one another.” They’ll illustrate this thought with works by Haydn, Mozart and Boccherini.

• February 24: Two of the Canterbury Tales are interspersed with lively English songs and instrumental pieces, and also music by the Frenchman Machaut and his contemporaries, in Sine Nomine Ensemble’s “The Road to Canterbury: Music for Chaucer’s Pilgrims.

• February 26: A programme of early 17th-century German chamber music is presented by Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series, featuring violinists Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith and Christopher Verrette, and harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill.

• March 1 in Toronto, March 2 in Kitchener: These concerts, (at Koerner Hall and Perimeter Institute, respectively), by world-renowned gambist/scholar/conductor Jordi Savall and his group Hespèrion XXI take place, in spite of the death of Savall’s partner in life and in music, soprano Montserrat Figueras.

• March 3: Tallis Choir recreates the passion of Holy Week in “Stabat Mater: Music for Passiontide. A brilliant six-voice Monteverdi mass, Missa in Illo Tempore (“Mass In That Time”) interweaves themes from an earlier motet by Gombert. Lotti’s Crucifixus and settings of the Stabat Mater by Palestrina and Scarlatti, along with plainsong for Holy Week, will also be heard.

• March 3: “God give you good morrow my masters, past three o’clock and a fair morning …” The street cries of Gibbons’ London contrast with his magnificent music for the cathedral, when the Toronto Chamber Choir presents “Gibbons: Canticles and Cries.” With organ, lute and the viols of the Cardinal Consort, they’ll perform Renaissance canticles, anthems, madrigals and vendors’ cries by Gibbons, Byrd and others.

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

Tallis Choir

The year is 1725, the night is Christmas Eve. In the colonial city of Quebec it is crisp and clear; snow upon snow has fallen and tonight lies in vast expanses, sparkling under the stars. Life is not easy — in no small measure because of the extreme cold — ah, but inside the church this night there is warmth and a sense of wonder at the holiness of this yearly ritual. And there is wonderful music: a marvellous Messe de Minuit pour Noël by the late French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier is being performed. Brought over from France, it’s filled with delightful melodies of French carols. Its sections are surrounded and interspersed with other Christmas music too, noëls and motets by composers both from the French court of King Louis XIV and from the New World; a carol in an aboriginal language; also lovely organ music from a book recently brought over from France by the new organist of Notre-Dame parish. For the sophisticated congregation of Quebec, it truly is a glorious feast of music.

Every year, the Tallis Choir presents a concert programme, built around an imagined but possible historical event such as the above, with music that was performed in the period. They do this with obvious joy in the extensive research involved in the preparation, by people such as choir member Douglas Cowling and director Peter Mahon. On December 10 at St. Patrick’s Church, you can hear this season’s offering as the Tallis Choir, the Talisker Players, organist Philip Fournier and director Peter Mahon recreate a high mass for Christmas Eve as it might have been celebrated in colonial Quebec city, “Midnight Mass for New France, 1725.”


18_early_messiah_herrhandelThere’s no dearth of annual Messiahs in the offing, each one special in its own way. Here’s a sampling of some which offer a particularly unique approach:

Georgetown Bach Chorale takes an historical approach in terms of location and musical presentation. Director Ronald Greidanus waxes enthusiastic about the venues: “The buildings are as incredible as the music, Acton’s Old Town Hall being very similar to the theatre Handel would have performed his Dublin premiere in; the second location (east of Georgetown) even more breathtaking — an isolated wooden Catholic church situated in the middle of a field, lit by candles, decorated by incredible byzantinian icons. Listeners will be bemused by a beautiful chorale sound (complete with 22-member choir, two harpsichords, baroque chamber organ, baroque strings and brass) in an intimate church that seats only 180 — it truly is like going back in time, it’s like the best kept secret!” December 3 in Acton, December 4 in Brampton.

Pax Christi Chorale’s performance, under the direction of Stephanie Martin, acknowledges children. “The Children’s’ Messiah” is designed especially for youngsters, in a condensed version with narration and a casual, child-friendly setting. December 10 at Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

Aradia Ensemble’s “The Dublin Messiah” recreates the first performance of Handel’s famous work using the original version of the score, as presented in Dublin on April 13, 1742. And there’s a nod to the dress code of the day: as in the original performance, they request that, “The Ladies who honour this Performance with their Presence would be pleased to come without hoops (hoop framed skirts), as it will greatly increase the Charity by making room for more company.” December 17 at Glenn Gould Studio.

Tafelmusik’s “Sing-Along Messiah,” celebrating its 25th anniversary, is directed by none other than Handel himself (aka Ivars Taurins). Taurins received a Gemini Award nomination this year for the film version; his immersion in his character is based on painstaking research — from Handel’s ruddy complexion (he was fond of drink) to the type of starch (not powder!) Handel used in his wig. As their press release says: “Does the audience notice these subtle distinctions? Maybe not, but they completely buy into the illusion that Handel has come back after 270 years to conduct them in this three-hour annual ritual.” December 18 at Massey Hall.

A Host Of Others To See Out The Old And Welcome In The New:

• December 8: The Tallis Scholars appear at Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall, in a programme that features diverse composers’ settings of the Magnificat — glorious choral music from 15th century John Taverner all the way to late 20th century Arvo Pärt.

• December 9, 10, 11: Toronto Consort celebrates “A Spanish Christmas” — Christmas with a Latin flavour as it might have been experienced by the Spanish-speaking nations of the world on both sides of the Atlantic in renaissance and baroque-period times. This is a world the Consort revisits every two years; this year’s presentation includes solemn motets, lively villançicos, pieces in native languages and dialects, some in African rhythmic inflections. Music of “irrepressible spirit, flashing rhythms and soulful sonorities.”

• December 10: I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble presents “Hell Hath No Fury” …  like I Furiosi scorned! “Not your average Christmas concert” so be prepared to be surprised.

• December 16: Sine Nomine Ensemble for Medieval Music presents “Puer natus est nobis: A 14th-century Mass for Christmas Day,” a musical reconstruction of a nativity mass from Avignon. This year the ensemble celebrates 20 years of inventive programming, combining vocal and instrumental music from medieval courts and churches with readings, drama, and liturgical action, to provide insight into the fascinating artistic and intellectual culture of the Middle Ages.

20_early_hallie_fishel___john_edwards_-_the_musicians_in_ordinary_-_500__-_alexandra_guerson• January 1 and 2: Musicians In Ordinary’s annual New Year’s Day concerts offer an elegant alternative to the traditional New Year’s fare, with cantatas by Vivaldi and Alessandro Scarlatti, a trio sonata by Corelli and music for solo archlute by Zamboni. Soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards are joined by violinists Edwin Huizinga and Christopher Verrette, and others.

• January 15: Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series resumes at its new location of St. David’s Anglican Church, 49 Donlands Ave. Music by Guillemain, Leclair and Telemann is performed by Alison Melville, recorders/traverso; Elyssa Lefurgey-Smyth, violin; Justin Haynes, viola da gamba; and Sara-Anne Churchill, harpsichord.

• January 19 to 22: What a way to celebrate your 30th anniversary! Jeanne Lamon’s “gift” to herself is to direct Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, along with spectacular guest soloists, in a semi-staged performance of Handel’s rarely performed music drama Hercules — a dramatic story “seething with the destructive power of sexual jealousy” inspired by a Greek tragedy written by Sophocles more than 2500 years ago.

• January 27: In Kingston, the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra presents “The Italian Connection: Gabrielli to Vivaldi,” welcoming guest guitarists Jeff Hanlon and Chad Yacobucci.

• January 27 and 28: Perhaps you’ve heard him singing with Tafelmusik: the passionate evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion, the tenor soloist in the B Minor Mass, or the tenor voice in Purcell’s opera King Arthur. Or with the Toronto Consort, in the Monteverdi Vespers or the opera Orfeo. If so, you’ll not have forgotten the remarkable agility of his voice, or the intensity of his commitment to the text. Now the Toronto Consort presents the English tenor Charles Daniels in recital, in “It was a lover and his lass,” a concert of exquisite lute songs from the English and French Renaissance. He’ll be accompanied by lutenist David Miller, in works by Morley, Danyels, Campian and Moulinié.

• January 28: The years 1788 to 89 were incredibly creative ones for Mozart; he was then at the height of his powers. Academy Concert Series performs three of his major chamber works written during that time, in “Mozart: A Year In Vienna.”

• February 4: Fellow columnist, lutenist Benjamin Stein, makes the point that “Improvisation was a natural part of Bach’s musical milieu, and this skill, neglected in much classical music training, is one that has reappeared as an essential aspect of training in early music.” In Music at Metropolitan’s “BachFest II: Jam Sessions with Bach,” performances of works by Bach and other German composers are combined with improvisations on baroque dance forms and hymn tunes. Taking part are four talented musicians: Benjamin Stein, theorbo/lute; Sara-Anne Churchill, keyboard; Daniel Rubinoff, saxophone; Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith, violin.

• February 4: In “Pergolesi’s Inspiring Stabat Mater,” Barrie Concerts brings internationally renowned musicians to their stage: soprano Dame Emma Kirkby, countertenor Daniel Taylor and the Theatre of Early Music will surely inspire with their performance. The series is sold by subscription only and is virtually sold out; lucky are those who already have their tickets.

Finally, a correction to last month’s column: it’s not often I mistake Schubert for Gounod. Granted, they both wrote Ave Marias, but only one of these is based on Bach’s Prelude No.1 from the Well Tempered Clavier Book I, and it definitely wasn’t the Schubert as I stated in the print version of last month’s issue. I guess The Well-tempered Sleeper finally awoke … Better late than never!

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

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