If I were looking for a theme for this month’s column, I might find it in the idea of music as the bringer of gifts.

Giving was certainly the intent when, in 1992, bassist Tim Dawson and his two friends, baritone Gord MacLeod and soprano Monica Whicher, performed a fundraising concert for adults with disabilities. Dawson told me a remarkable story of how this first event of The Bach Consort blossomed into a twice-yearly series which has raised significant funds for local charities over the last 19 years:

“Monica and Gord had been presenting annual fundraising recitals on behalf of adults with disabilities. I had always been interested in the music of Bach; so we simply put the two ideas together. We connected with some wonderful local charities that inspired us by their dedication and love. One of the main ones for us was Camphill Village Ontario – the local chapter of a worldwide group of rural communities for adults with disabilities. Literally dozens of other groups connected with the Bach Consort from this point and the group has raised over $400,000 for charity since its inception.”

15Remarkable too is the stature of the artists who, it seems, have clamoured to be included: among others, singers Russell Braun, Michael Schade and Kevin McMillan; conductors Nicholas McGegan, Ivars Taurins, Dame Jane Glover and – a special point of pride – Yannick Nézet-Séguin, now one of the most sought-after conductors in the world today, and who has worked with the Bach Consort five times to perform five of Bach’s major choral works. Says Dawson: “In those days it seemed that every concert with the Bach Consort celebrated another step in his rocketing career. All along the way he was generous, modest and open-hearted. Bach is a passion for Yannick and we were blessed to share those times with him.”

And throughout, all musicians and conductors have performed gratis, donating their fee to charity.

Dawson (“Head Dreamer”) concludes: “Bach’s music is so full of humanity – it seems fitting that we can enjoy and share these incredible riches while at the same time lending a helping hand to deserving groups in our community.”

On May 13, renowned Handel scholar Harry Bicket (in town to conduct Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with the COC), will moonlight with the Bach Consort, leading from the harpsichord a performance of Handel’s cantata Silete Venti, with soprano Monica Whicher as soloist. The rest of the programme is Bach, and other featured soloists are flutist Julie Ranti and baritone Phillip Addis. This concert’s recipients are Eva’s Initiatives and the TSO Adopt a Player Programme – two charities which benefit the lives of young people in Toronto.

Jordi Savall

16As a viol player, I can’t help being excited about the upcoming concert of a master of the viol and its music, Jordi Savall. As well as a wonderful gambist, he’s a conductor, teacher, scholar and musical philosopher; his work has had wide-ranging impact in practically all aspects of early music performance over the past several decades. He speaks of “restoring musical memory,” in the sense of awakening our awareness of cultural roots – not only Western cultures, but all co-existing ones – in order that music can proceed into the future. (“A people with no memory has no future,” he says.) To this end, his research, recording and performing are geared to recreating authentic early musical environments, always with great artistry.

On May 8, with this philosophy in mind, he’ll bring to Toronto’s Koerner Hall his own two groups – Hespèrion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya – along with his wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras and the Mexican chamber group Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, to present The Route of the New World: Spain – Mexico. The concert is described as a musical dialogue, featuring works by the foremost composers from Old Spain, the Mexican Baroque, and the living Huasteca and Jarocho traditions. It has been praised for its “exuberant and spontaneous creative energy,” with a presentation that is “lavish and scholarly.”

Savall says, “When you sing or play something, you touch somebody; the performer is in the process of mastering the art, and the listener becomes a kind of pupil who learns according to his or her sensitivity and abilities. The most important thing is that music is a dialogue. A musician doesn’t exist unless there is someone there with whom he or she is communicating. And the more sensitive this someone is, the more the musician can communicate. A truly living relationship is established between the two.”

A live appearance by Savall and his ensembles doesn’t happen in these parts very often, so don’t miss receiving its riches!

Others, Briefly

• May 3 to 8: An explosion of Handel, as Classical Music Consort presents Handelfest 2011, their second annual springtime Handel festival – six concerts over six days featuring some of the composer’s lesser-known music, plus a Handel Singing Competition.

• May 8: In Kitchener, Nota Bene Period Orchestra presents “Harmony in Chaos,” a programme of musical representations of disasters, both natural and man-made (nonetheless including beautiful music by composers such as Telemann, Vivaldi, Falconieri and Tomkins).

• May 11 to 14, 17: Virtuoso violinist and conductor Stefano Montanari returns to Tafelmusik, for a programme of exuberant Italian symphonies and concertos. (Note: Due to injury, Stefano Montanari will only be conducting.)

• May 13: In Kingston, the Melos Ensemble and Chamber Orchestra present “Recorders, Viols and Voices” – music from the Renaissance including a mass by Victoria, Elizabethan and Italian madrigals and instrumental music on period instruments.

• May 14: Aradia Ensemble. Bach + 1. Bach plus a singer, Bach plus a dancer and Bach plus an artist.
• May 15: Toronto Chamber Choir explores Bach’s fascination with numbers, in “Kaffeemusik: Bach and Numerology,” uncovering numerological secrets to be found hidden in the St. Matthew Passion, the B Minor Mass, and the cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden.

• May 23 and 24: Toronto Continuo Collective, the Cardinal Consort of Viols and guests present “Joyne Hands!: Chamber Music from Seventeenth-Century London,” which includes Lanier’s dramatic lament for Hero and Leander (considered the first piece of English recitative), and the sublime Royal Consorts by Lawes for four viols and two theorbos.

• June 5: Toronto Early Music Centre’s” Musically Speaking” series presents baroque music by women composers, in the Church of the Holy Trinity’s lovely acoustic.

If all this isn’t enough, don’t forget other compelling concerts mentioned in last month’s column: Toronto Masque Theatre’s “Masques of Orpheus” (May 5 and 6); Toronto Consort’s “Songs of the Celestial Sirens” (May 6 to 8); I Furiosi’s “Baroqueback Mountain” (May 7); Tallis Choir’s “Handel: Coronation Anthems” (May 7); Cantemus Singers’ Saints and Sinners (May 7 and 8).

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.

17_early_torontomasque_muse6Last season, I attended an absolutely beguiling production of a double bill: two Molière comedies, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Le Malade Imaginaire, performed as masques, with acting, dance, and their respective music by Lully and Charpentier played by a period instrument orchestra. Though presented in 21st century Toronto, these pieces had all the charm, wit, inventiveness and sparkle that one could imagine in 17th century French comedy. The presenting company, Toronto Masque Theatre, has another pair of masques upcoming: the story of Orpheus and Euridice as told in the 17th century by M.A. Charpentier and in the 21st century by James Rolfe (music) and André Alexis (text).

I posed a number of questions to TMT artistic director Larry Beckwith. Here’s a little of what he told me:

So what is a masque?Our wide-ranging definition of a masque is: music theatre that involves some combination of the performing arts – music, dance, poetry – and pieces that explore a common theme or story from different points of view.”

Your three artistic directors (Beckwith, Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière and Derek Boyes) are a goldmine of complementary talents! How did you find each other and get together to produce masques?I’ve known Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière for close to 15 years now and think she’s an absolute genius. She was in the great Elaine Biagi-Turner’s network of dancers and we worked together a few times, back when I played with Arbor Oak (baroque trio). In addition to being a meticulous dancer, she has a deep knowledge of music and theatre, a terrific sense of humour and fun, and when she’s working she really goes for it. I met Derek Boyes on an Opera Atelier tour to Singapore about 12 years ago and we hit it off. He’s a very special actor. There’s a powerful humanity to all of his work. We work very well together. I feel tremendously lucky to be working with them on a regular basis!”

Any thoughts on how masque is, and is not, related to opera? “I think masque is very closely related to what opera was in its beginnings. Thinking of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (another amazing version of the story) of 1607, you have a strong literary base, lots of room for dancing and an intimate and charming setting. Of course, most people now think of opera as being very grand and larger than life, which also relates to one of the goals of masque, which is to take the audience out of their own lives for a little while and beguile them with a combination of art forms.”

How have Toronto audiences responded to your productions? I am amazed and delighted at the extent to which Toronto has embraced TMT. Our audience continues to grow and we offer gentle educational talks and material to give them a context for what they are seeing. At the end of our seventh season, we look back and are very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and look forward to building on our strengths as we move forward. Touring is definitely in the plans!”

Masques of Orpheus takes place on May 5 and 6 (there’s a student matinee on May 4), with what Beckwith calls an “amazing cast”: Lawrence Wiliford, Shannon Mercer, Teri Dunn, Peter McGillivray, Alex Dobson; the whole production is directed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière. You won’t be disappointed if you go.

Feast of Bach

Bach wrote some of his greatest works for the Christian feast days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday which are approaching.

You can hear the Mass in B Minor twice this month: On April 3, the Elora Festival Singers, conducted by Noel Edison, presents it in Guelph; on April 10, the Georgetown Bach Chorale with music director Ron Greidanus, gives a period performance of the work in Georgetown. The St. Matthew Passion (for me the most profoundly touching of all Bach’s music), will be performed on April 15, 16 and 17 in Oakville, with Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra and their conductor Charles Demuynck. The St. John Passion can be heard on April 22, with the Grand Philharmonic Choir under director Mark Vuorinen in Kitchener.

On April 3 in the Royal Conxervatory’s Koerner Hall, revered pianist Leon Fleisher presents Bach from the standpoint of his own long life as an artist. He’ll play “Sheep May Safely Graze” from Cantata No. 208; Capriccio in B-flat Major, “On the Departure of a Most Beloved Brother”; and “Chaconne for the Left Hand” from the Violin Partita in D Minor, among other works.

Some Others, In Brief

• April 8: One of the world’s premier male voice choirs, currently touring, makes one Canadian stop at Toronto’s Grace Church on-the-Hill. Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Oxford England presents English sacred music by Taverner (Christ Church’s first music
director), Tallis, Gibbons, Bach, Purcell and Handel.

• April 10: Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series presents A Modern Troubadour. Benjamin Stein sings and plays on lute and theorbo: baroque and renaissance songs from France, England and Italy, and his own theorbo transcription of a Bach
cello suite.

• April 15: Vesuvius Ensemble presents I canti a Maria: Music for the Madonna, celebrating (with voice, baroque and renaissance guitars, chitarrone, hurdy-gurdy, percussion and rustic Neopolitan instruments) a rich folk heritage: ancient dances, rhythms, feasts, processions and pilgrimages which recall seasonal traditions repeated today.

• April 16: Grace, passion and elegance characterize The Musicians In Ordinary’s À Sa Lyre: musical settings of 16th century French poetry and dances for lute from the country that would invent ballet.

• April 29: “Greenness” is the overriding theme of Sine Nomine Ensemble’s final concert of the season. O viriditas! The greenness of life’s rising is celebrated with music from medieval times.

• May 6, 7 and 8: The Toronto Consort has among its members a contingent of wonderful female singers. Their beautiful sound and virtuosity are displayed in Songs of the Celestial Sirens, a program of music by and for women from 17th century Italy.

• May 7: Never a group to be left behind in the dust, I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble presents Baroqueback Mountain. With music by Handel, Geminiani and Rosenmueller, they urge you to “Park your horses outside, remove your Stetsons, sit back and enjoy the view.”

• May 7: Handel composed his four magnificent Coronation Anthems for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline in 1727. Their power to enthrall has never waned, nor has their popularity; you can hear them performed by The Tallis Choir under its director Peter Mahon, with guest artists The Talisker Players.

• May 7 and 8: Saints and Sinners mingle in this pair of concerts by Cantemus Singers, with some saucy English, French and German songs from the 16th century, balanced by Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli and motets by Byrd, Hassler and Clemens non Papa.

• May 3 to 8: Classical Music Consort’s second annual Springtime Handel Festival brings to light some of Handel’s rarely performed works in six concerts at Trinity and Victoria College Chapels. n

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.

Locations might be taken as a theme that loosely ties this month’s events together, in an oblique sort of way. To start with, Toronto is the lucky location of several appearances by visiting artists I’d like to tell you about.

12_barbara_furtuna_photo_3On March 12, The King’s Singers appear at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. This six-voice male ensemble from England hardly needs an introduction; their unique blend of impeccable intonation, flawless articulation, incisive timing and British humour have ensured their fame around the world for over 40 years. I myself fondly remember a performance of theirs at U of T Faculty of Music in November 1973 – I unearthed the program (this is true), which reveals that they did Renaissance motets by Victoria, Jacob Handl and Byrd, Italian madrigals and French chansons from the 16th and 17th centuries, 20th century works and some lighter fare too. Of course, no one in that early group still remains in the present incarnation some 37 years later; but it’s sure that the versatility and aplomb which have always characterized their performances have remained constant through all the changes in personnel. At Koerner Hall their artistry and expertise in early music will be evident in works by Bennet, Tomkins, Palestrina and Striggio; more contemporary works are on the programme as well.

A concert not strictly of early music but of a world premiere inspired by the music of 12th century musician and mystic Hildegard von Bingen takes place at St. Anne’s Church on March 23. It brings to Toronto an extraordinary women’s vocal trio from Norway, Trio Mediæval, who, with The Toronto Consort, will perform James Rolfe’s new commissioned work Breathe. This presentation of Soundstreams offers an added bonus on March 21: a free “Salon” at the Gardiner Museum, at which you can hear Trio Mediæval perform excerpts and talk about Rolfe’s composition.

The pure and expressive voice of Daniel Taylor, one of the world’s most sought-after countertenors, will grace the Tafelmusik stage in performances from March 24 to 27 (Trinity-St. Paul’s Church) and again on March 29 (Toronto Centre for the Arts). His is an amazingly busy life – his website tells us “Professor of Voice at the Conservatoire de musique in Montreal and at the University of Ottawa, Adjunct Professor at McGill, visiting scholar at the University of Victoria, Artist-in-Residence at the Banff Centre, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Theatre of Early Music, which performs over 30 concerts every year all over the world” – and this description doesn’t even mention his many appearances as recording artist and performer in opera, oratorio and concerts. In Toronto he’ll be singing Bach (the ravishing solo Cantata 170 Vergnügte RuhContented Rest) as well as virtuosic Italian arias. Definitely a desirable place to be on one of those dates!

Each season, The Toronto Consort introduces a guest ensemble to its audiences. But this April, it brings two: the richly-flavoured Montreal-based Constantinople, an instrumental ensemble inspired by musical traditions of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and Barbara Furtuna, a remarkable male vocal quartet from Corsica that specializes in the centuries-old traditions of polyphonic Coriscan singing. To listen to Constantinople is to travel back to ancient places and times when Eastern and Western cultures blended and influenced each other’s arts and philosophy; to listen to Barbara Furtuna (the name means “cruel fate”) is to hear stories of the long, troubled and impassioned history of their island. Together, they’ll take the audience on a voyage from the heart of the Mediterranean where lies the island of Corsica, to ancient Persia and medieval Europe. “Canti di a terra” is presented on April 1 and 2 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church.

Other locations – Sweden, Leipzig, restoration London, coffeehouses, ladies’ boudoirs – are also within reach, and once again there’s too much to do justice to:

Meeting friends for coffee is always an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. You can do this in the 18th century European way on March 4, as Baroque Music Beside the Grange invites you to Heliconian Hall for “The Coffeehouse Collective,” music by Telemann, Bach and others, played in an informal but attentive atmosphere with an array of instrumental colours, and served with coffee and cider. An hour-long version of this concert will be presented on March 6 in the lovely acoustic of Church of the Holy Trinity, the latest in Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series.

As lutenist/guitarist John Edwards explains, pre-Revolution France was an era “where men like the encyclopaedist Diderot, liberal thinkers like Rousseau and even a pre-imperial Napoleon would gather, literally, at the foot of the bed of great ladies. After they finished describing their hard work or how the plotting of the Revolution was progressing, chamber music would have offered a perfect diversion.” Music that might well be heard then is performed on March 12 by The Musicians In Ordinary in a concert called “Rococo!” with soprano Hallie Fishel, baroque guitarist John Edwards and guest violinist Christopher Verrette.

Also on March 12, you can hear a touch of Sweden at Victoria College Chapel, in Scaramella’s “Fiddle Me This,” as three bowed instruments are showcased – the Swedish nyckelharpa, the hurdy gurdy and the viola da gamba. There’ll be a mix of folk-inspired music and music coming from the high art tradition, especially pieces associated with the 17 th century Swedish Queen Kristina. Of special interest: a newly-composed piece for these three featured instruments, by hurdy gurdy and percussion player Ben Grossman.

Church of Our Lady Immaculate in Guelph is the location of Tactus Vocal Ensemble’s concert “Il Mio Sole” on March 12. With organist Christian Teeuwsen, this eight-voice ensemble will perform works by Allegri, Marenzio, Monteverdi, Palestrina and Sanders.

In Kitchener on March 13, Nota Bene Period Orchestra takes you back to “Bach’s Leipzig,” presenting music by Bach and his contemporaries including Telemann, Kuhnau and Rosenmüller. The trip is further enhanced with a slide show of Leipzig’s historic beauty and maybe even a little strudel.

With music ranging from restoration London to 21st century Toronto, Music at Metropolitan presents “Shakespeare in the City” on March 26 – a cross-cultural jam session on the lyrics of Shakespeare featuring singers, dancers and instrumentalists including composer/saxophonist Daniel Rubinoff and composer/theorbist (and The WholeNote’s choral columnist) Benjamin Stein.

On March 27, there’s a unique opportunity to celebrate the Age of the Enlightenment and its legacy with music, talks and readings of inspiring historical texts. Amnesty International and the Windermere String Quartet present “The Age of Enlightenment and Human Rights.” String quartets by Mozart and Beethoven will be performed on period instruments, and the location is First Unitarian Congregation.

THIS JUST IN: In the wake of the exciting news reported last month, of Aisslinn Nosky’s appointment as concertmaster of the prestigious Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, a solo violin recital arises. Nosky will perform three works: Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major (a very famous and joyful work); Ysaÿe’s second solo sonata ”Obsession” (a work “obsessed” with both the above Partita and the Dies Irae); and the world premiere of Stand Still, a new commissioned work by Michael Oesterle. Presented by I Furiosi, “The Good, The Baroque and The Ugly” takes place on April 2 at Church of St. Mary Magdalene. A recital “not for the faint of heart,” Nosky says, and this is certain; but I think it must also be a celebration of hope and joy in the prospect of a bright future.

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.

The early music of 2011 sometimes includes the new. Consider, for example, the inaugural concerts of newly-formed Musathena, a group of five accomplished women (soprano, baroque violins, baroque cello, harpsichord) who, when asked to perform as part of Primavera Concerts’ celebration of the International Women’s Day Centenary, conceived a program of beautiful but rarely heard baroque music by women composers. But as one thing led to another, a new idea crept in: to commission a musical setting of an ode by Renaissance English poet Mary Sidney (1561-1621). As a result, a new work by Canadian composer Elizabeth Raum has emerged and will be premiered at Musathena’s first concerts, alongside music by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Barbara Strozzi and other women of the baroque.

p12_13musathenaAnd take, as another example, Scaramella’s Birds Bewigged, an avian-themed program of music and poetry (performed by soprano voice, recorders and traverso, violas da gamba, harpsichord and narrator) featuring not only works by Scarlatti, Rameau, Couperin and others from the baroque era, but also contemporary Canadian music. Harry Somers’ 12 Miniatures will be heard, a work centred on twelve Japanese haiku and composed in 1964, for the above instrumentation; and Emily Doolittle’s Music for Magpies, a fascinating piece written in 2003, will reveal to the audience the mischievous magpie’s own rendition of five attractive birdsongs, stolen from other birds, sung in its voice of solo bass viol with quarter-tone frets.

Then there is the Aradia Ensemble, a group normally concerned with baroque performance (though never afraid to take a new idea and run with it – I remember with enthusiasm last season’s Thunderbird – A First Nations/ Baroque Collaboration). Their whole upcoming program is devoted to new music for baroque instruments “where baroque meets the 21st century,” as ten very-much-alive composers (Rose Bolton, Ron Royer, Caitlin Smith and others) have been invited to write a five-minute work each for the ensemble. The programme title Baroque Idol! suggests the playful spirit of this concert (“à la American Idol”); but as artistic director Kevin Mallon says, the aim is to produce new music for baroque ensemble, using the tonal possibilities of old instruments.

Treatises could easily be written – probably have been written – on the various aspects of combining the new with the old in music. Performers from each of these groups have had some interesting reflections on the subject, a tiny bit of which I’ll pass on to you here:

From Sheila Smyth of Musathena: “It’s interesting that there seems to be an overlap of people who do both early music and new music. Perhaps it’s the sense of exploration and discovery in both new and old frontiers that is compelling… New music written for early instruments tends to make great use of the colours and wide range of articulation detail available on these instruments. We’ll approach the new piece in the same way as we would all vocal-instrumental music – the music serves the text, and it’s our job to bring the piece to life in a way which makes the poetry and its musical setting each seem indispensible to the other.”

From Scaramella’s artistic director Joëlle Morton: “As a performer who these days mainly plays ‘traditional early music,’ I really enjoy taking on the challenge of modern compositions. Contemporary composers often write very demanding parts– through rhythmic complexity, unusual tonal palettes and calling for special effects and techniques. In order to ‘understand’ this music, let alone perform it well and convincingly, I find I need to spend a lot of time, thinking as well as working at the technical demands. The intense involvement can be extremely satisfying. I have found that the process of learning a modern work can also have a benefit on the traditional repertoire on the programme – once my soul is engaged in such an intense process, I find that I tend to also listen and experience the older music deeply, as well.”

From Aradia’s Kevin Mallon: “When we play baroque music, it doesn’t occur to me that it’s old music; I just think we’re playing music – and then I think ‘Oh yeah, but it’s on old instruments.’ So we do think of ourselves as a contemporary ensemble; and we want to be really based in the time of today.”

Scaramella’s Birds Bewigged takes place in Toronto on February 5. Alas! – a terrible choice awaits you: Aradia Ensemble’s Baroque Idol! also takes place on February 5 in Toronto. Musathena’s Baroque Music by Women Composers will be presented on March 5 in St. Catharines and on March 6 in Waterloo. For full details, please consult WholeNote’s concert listings.

As for all the other early music performances this month, there’s plenty of variety to tempt a wide spectrum of tastes. Here, in brief, are a few of this month’s offerings:

Bach is gloriously represented, with two of his major choral works: The B Minor Mass is given five performances by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, February 9 to 13. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents the St. John Passion on March 3 in Koerner Hall.

Two solo recitals for gentle instruments can be heard. The Musicians In Ordinary presents Blame Not My Lute, music for the solo lute from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, performed by MIO’s John Edwards on February 5. On February 13, the Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series features harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill performing music by Byrd, Bach, Scarlatti and others.

Some of Beethoven’s most sparkling music was written during his early years in Vienna, the years before his deafness finally took hold. Youthful and uplifting chamber works from this period are presented on February 12, in The Academy Concert Series’ Beethoven’s Happiest Years, played on period instruments (violin, cello, classical clarinet and fortepiano).

The Toronto Consort’s The Marco Polo Project: Part 2, February 18 and 19, takes you on an exotic musical journey, imagining the sounds that Marco Polo might have encountered on his travels up the coast of India and back to his native Venice – with the help of two special guests: vocalist Suba Sankaran, and Sampradaya Dance Creations with its artistic director, Lata Pada.

Scholars of the arts and culture of medieval times, Sine Nomine Ensemble always brings interesting stories. On February 25 they sink into bawdy revelry in observance of the pre-Lenten carnival, the Feast of Fools and other occasions, with Wanton and riotous living – Medieval songs of lechery, drunkenness, and other altered states.

Don’t forget Tafelmusik’s reprise of The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres, March 2 to 6. This spectacular homage to the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s development of the astronomical telescope was first presented in Toronto in January 2009, and has toured internationally to great acclaim.

p12_13_aisslinn_noskyAnd finally, some good news to report: Local audiences will know Aisslinn Nosky, the fiery violinist with the red hair who plays so passionately in such groups as Tafelmusik, I Furiosi, the Kirby and the Eybler Quartets, and in many other solo, chamber and orchestral situations. She has been appointed concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, a period instrument orchestra and chorus of international renown. This group is recognized as a leader in the field of historically informed performance and is the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the United States, having been founded in 1815. Artistic director Harry Christophers is impressed with Nosky’s “great style and leadership as guest concertmaster”; and says “she has the right combination of energy, experience and talent to fill this important position and assist in leading the Society toward its Bicentennial in 2015.”

More good news: Canada is not to lose Nosky forever; she’ll still perform as a core member of Tafelmusik (with a little flexibility in scheduling); and (who knows?) this might open up new possibilities: May we look forward to appearances here of the Handel and Haydn Society, with Aisslinn Nosky in the first chair?

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.




p12fRecently, a most engaging talk fell into my hands, a CBC radio interview from 2002 between Eric Friesen and gambist, cellist and educator Peggie Sampson, on the occasion of her 90th birthday. During the course of the interview, Dr. Sampson reflected on various possible ways of presenting early music in concert. One way to do it, she said, is to recreate an occasion: “to be in somebody’s court, on a definite day – the marriage of this princess to that prince or something like that, and then you try to reproduce the whole scene.”

Her comment led me to observe that more than one group have thought to celebrate this season of “definite days” by recreating an occasion, bringing the audience as close as possible to an experience of what that event must have been like. So I asked the artistic directors of three of these groups to tell me a bit about the genesis and development of this idea in their performances. Here is some of what they told me.

The Tallis Choir and its artistic director Peter Mahon very much enjoy taking this approach in their programming, devoting one concert per season to a reconstruction of the musical content of an historic event. Choir member (and enthusiastic researcher of programme material) Douglas Cowling notes: “These reconstructions allow us to hear the classic repertoire in the musical sequence which the composer intended. In the upcoming Gabrieli mass, we will be unable to recreate the cannon volleys on the Grand Canal which punctuated the service at significant moments, but we will see how Venetian composers assembled a mass with seemingly independent movements, hear for the first time Orlando di Lasso’s polyphonic settings of the mass responses, and experience Gabrieli’s famous brass music as ‘cover’ for grand ceremonial in San Marco. It will be a unique concert experience – and a lot of fun.” And so on December 4, the Tallis Choir takes the audience back to 1605 with a recreation of Christmas Eve in the ducal chapel of San Marco in Venice. Featured is Giovanni Gabrieli’s Mass for Twelve Voices, interwoven with more glorious sacred music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Lasso and Grandi.

p13On December 11, the Aradia Ensemble and its artistic director Kevin Mallon take their audience to Dublin, Ireland, in April 1742 for “The Dublin Messiah,” recreating the premiere of Handel’s famous work. Mallon is enthusiastic about this presentation and the reasons for it: “As early music performers, we try to recreate the instruments so they sound as the people of the time and the composer would have heard; we try to get as close as possible to a performing style they would have expected; we try to get as close as we can to the text the composer wrote, etc. So, the notion of recreating a particular event from a definite time or place is all part of that. However, I have found that the audience get a real kick out of the recreation. We can have fun with it – for example, pointing out that the tradition of King George standing at the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ came from the London performances which post-dated the premiere in Ireland. So in my strong Irish accent I ask them to sit and enjoy it! The first audience was asked: ‘The Ladies who honour this Performance with their Presence would be pleased to come without hoops, as it will greatly encrease the Charity by making room for more company. The Gentlemen are desired to come without their Swords.’ So we ask our audience to do likewise!”

On December 10, 11 and 12 the Toronto Consort presents “Praetorius Christmas Vespers,” recreating the joyful celebration of Christmas Vespers as it might have been heard under the direction of Michael Praetorius in 17th-century Germany. As in all Toronto Consort presentations, a great deal of scholarship has gone into the preparation of this concert. Artistic director David Fallis talked a bit about the research involved – everything from determining the permissible elements of the Lutheran Vespers service as distinct from the Catholic service (for example cutting down the number of psalms to only one or two, and the addition of the Creed), all the way to delving into Praetorius’ complete works to create parts, thereby enabling the performers to play and sing the music. Praetorius, as you’ll discover if you go, loved groups of strings and groups of brass; and there’s something very warming in being enveloped by the massive chords of singers, violins, cornetti, sackbuts, theorbos and keyboards as they resound from the balconies and all around the church – a joyful invitation to join in the celebration of a north German Christmas.


Some upcoming concerts

There’s no possibility of doing justice to the amazing flurry of early music concerts in December and January – you’ll have to go on a listings treasure hunt to find them all. Here are but a few:

• December 4: A night to make a choice. In addition to the Tallis Choir concert, discussed above, there is: Toronto Chamber Choir, “O Magnum Mysterium” (serene motets of Palestrina, expressive harmonies of Monteverdi, beautiful voices and strings of Vivaldi); Flutes by Night, “Bach, Bach and More” (J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Telemann and Hotteterre for traverso, recorder, cello and harpsichord); Cantemus Singers, “Welcome Yule” (renaissance and medieval carols; Sweelinck, Praetorius and Byrd; Schütz’s delightful Christmas Oratorio). Fortunately, this concert is repeated on December 12.

• December 18: Sine Nomine Ensemble for Medieval Music, “Minstrels at a Christmas Court” (In this English romance, the faithful Sir Cleges, benefactor of minstrels, becomes the beneficiary of a Christmas miracle. Around this compelling narrative framework is woven a mixture of seasonally evocative 14th- and 15th-century English Christmas music for voices and instruments).

• January 15: I Furiosi, “My Big Fat Baroque Wedding” (We are not just staging a wedding, but the clothes will be designed by Canadian designer extraordinaire Rosemarie Umetsu who is presenting eight to ten new garments at the show. Works by Bach, Campion, Handel and more. We encourage audience members to come wearing bridesmaid gowns that they have never reworn.)

• January 28 in Kingston: Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra, “Handel’s and Haydn’s London” (J.S. Bach, J.C. Bach, Handel, Geminiani, Haydn and Greene – the second concert of this newly-formed, mainly baroque-spirited, chamber orchestra).

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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