Celebrity success in classical music is a strange amalgam. In very few disciplines do we give as much focus to the medium-like, necromancing qualities that a good performer must have. Using training, taste, research and the occasional séance, an interpreter must form a personal connection with composers who are most often long-dead, and emerge with an interpretation that is ingeniously creative and original, yet faithful to the written score.

The duty of the classical performer is similar in many ways to that of an actor who takes a script, often written by someone else, and absorbs the on-page style and personality of a character while fusing it with an individual, personal energy. A play script, much like a musical score, can be read without hearing it live, but the deeper meaning that can be wrung from the page through practice and experience is what separates the “pros” from the “Joes.” And, if one is lucky as well as good, he or she may be fortunate enough to be discovered and swept up through the ranks into the realm of the classical music elite, just as can happen for actors.

This link between performing as a musician and as an actor is likely the closest parallel we can find within the arts – in no other discipline is pure interpretation the primary focus and determinant of artistic achievement. Imagine, for example, if we bought a copy of There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here!, the famous film of Charles Bukowski’s 1979 Vancouver poetry reading, only to find someone else reading his poems! In the same way, we cannot conceive of a person whose exclusive role might be to meander around art galleries, exhibits and openings to explain the works using great, erudite phrases and explanations. Certainly we have art critics, professors, curators and gallery owners, but they do not look at a Mapplethorpe photograph or Basquiat painting, stand there and tell us what to see, and expect to be thought of on the same artistic plane as the artist himself.

Since the late 19th century, when the roles of composer and performer began to exist independently, the classical musician as performing interpreter has existed in this rather paradoxical grey area. Where Beethoven, Liszt and countless others wrote the music they played, today’s batch of internationally renowned soloists with legendary technique may not have written a single note on staff paper since their student days. There are, of course, notable exceptions, including Leonard Bernstein, John Adams and Pierre Boulez, though these are often conductor-composers rather than instrumental virtuosi.

Modern academies and conservatories are compartmentalized, welcoming young, talented students to learn “more and more about less and less,” as the saying goes. When we ask “What are you studying?” they do not reply “Music,” but rather “Composition” or “Collaborative Piano” or “Conducting.” We categorize, break down and divide the encompassing art into smaller, easy-to-market bites, thereby enabling the young musician to become a rather pigeonholed, although superiorly skilled, superstar “[fill in the blank].”

This is the old-yet-new world of classical music in the 21st century, a roster consisting of a relatively small number of highly specialized, jet-setting superstars who tour the globe, guest-starring with the world’s top orchestras. Managed by a few artist agencies who book their clients in a manner reminiscent of pop music – the biggest venues in the biggest cities, for the biggest fees – the names are revered, and they need not be in good form, either. Recently Lang Lang, who is recovering from an injury to his left hand, took the stage with a teenage prodigy who literally served as his left-hand man for the performance.

Mind you, the phenomenon of the superstar performer is not a bad thing for the propagation of classical music. Superstars attract hype, and hype fills seats, which ultimately brings the music to a wider audience. Toronto is fortunate to host a spectrum of marquee artists from the international scene every year, which continues to foster interest in the revival and performance of music from long ago. This November is no exception. Here are some highlights from the early music world:

Angela Hewitt

Legendary Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt makes an extended stop in Toronto this month, playing a solo recital at Koerner Hall and two concerts with the TSO. (I wonder if her Fazioli piano will travel with her to each venue?)

Angela HewittOn November 12, Hewitt’s Koerner Hall recital, her third such appearance, will be an all-Johann Sebastian Bach program, which is part of her three-year exploration of the composer. Works include three Partitas (No. 3 in A Minor, BWV827, No. 5 in G Major, BWV829 and No. 6 in E Minor, BWV830) and the Partie in A Major, BWV832. This concert will be preceded at 7pm by a talk by Rick Phillips. According to the RCM box office, tickets are sold out, but industrious ticket seekers may dig some up through secondhand sources such as scalpers, rush tickets or StubHub.

The Toronto Symphony then features Hewitt as director and soloist on November 18 and 19 in a concert of works by Bach and Mozart. It will be interesting to hear how the modern grand-piano-with-orchestra instrumental approach to Bach and Mozart will come across, particularly in contrast with Hewitt’s solo recital. Will the TSO’s leader attempt to temper the Romantic tendencies of the full orchestra, or will we hear a more scaled-down, “HIP”-style performance?

Kristian Bezuidenhout

Speaking of Mozart, Tafelmusik welcomes South African-born, London-based guest director and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout from November 9 to 12, as he leads the orchestra through an early Classical-era program which includes Mozart’s Concerto for Piano in A Major K414 and symphonies by Mozart and two of his mentors, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Bach.

Kristian BezuidenhoutThis performance will pair exceedingly well with the Hewitt/TSO concerts, as one ensemble interprets Mozart through a modern orchestra looking back in time, the other as a Baroque ensemble looking ahead. Both orchestras have deep roots in this style of music and it will be fascinating to hear the different approaches each group takes towards very similar repertoire.

In addition to his concert appearances, Bezuidenhout (who also plays the harpsichord and modern piano) will lead a masterclass on November 11 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, which is free and open to the public.

Ensemble Masques

Originally formed in Montreal, the international Baroque chamber group Ensemble Masques makes their Toronto debut on November 18 at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church. A classical supergroup featuring players from Collegium Vocale Gent, Tafelmusik and the English Concert, among others, this team of experts will perform a concert of music by Telemann. (Readers west of Toronto will be interested to know that Ensemble Masques will be performing the same program on November 16 in the Music Room of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.)

Ensemble MasquesGeorg Philipp Telemann was enormously prolific, writing well over a thousand works, and was one of the most celebrated composers of his time before falling into relative obscurity. According to Ensemble Masques’ recent press release, their concert looks to “wipe clean generations of misunderstanding that kept Telemann in the shadows. Where Bach looked heavenward, Telemann’s genius was for life here on Earth. A brilliant observer of the world around him, his music translates all facets of human experience into works that are full of humour, wit and infinite invention.”

For modern audiences familiar with the contrapuntal density of Bach and the rhythmic vitality of Handel, Telemann’s music might seem rather simple and transparent. But do not be fooled. Hiding within Telemann’s massive oeuvre are works of remarkable beauty, and Ensemble Masques is undoubtedly well-equipped to put these pieces on public display. In advance of their Toronto appearance, explore their latest recording of Telemann’s Theatrical Overture-Suites on the Alpha label.

QUICK PICKS

In addition to these international headliners, there are a number of other talents, both local and foreign, playing Toronto this month. Here are a few.

Nov 4 and 5: Cor Unum Ensemble - “Music from the Early Italian Baroque.”

Cor Unum Ensemble is one of Toronto’s newest groups, an orchestra and chorus comprised primarily of students and graduates from the University of Toronto’s Early Music program. This talented, homegrown group of players presented Bach’s St. John Passion last year and their take on music by Monteverdi, Gabrieli, Frescobaldi and other Italian composers from the early Baroque should be on point as well.

Nov 10: “At the Heart of Bach - Christian Lane plays CCDP.”

Winner of the 2011 Canadian International Organ Competition, American organist Christian Lane plays an all-Bach program on Christ Church Deer Park’s 1982 Karl Wilhelm tracker organ. This instrument, a perfect match for Bach’s inimitable organ music, should be like putty in Lane’s hands.

Nov 19: “Musicians on the Edge: Jazz Standards of the Seventeenth Century.”

Rezonance Baroque Ensemble presents a concert of 17th-century tunes with a focus on ensemble improvisation. With a continuo section of Ben Stein, whose doctoral work focuses on the ancient art of partimento and the development of improvisation, Erika Nielsen and David Podgorski, the bass lines in this concert should be tight and groovy.

Dec 1: Upper Canada Choristers – “Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit.”

Christmas comes early this year, particularly for Charpentier fans, as Upper Canada College’s choristers perform Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Noël and Kodály’s Christmas Dance of the Shepherds. Charpentier’s mass is a time-tested masterpiece that will bring in the Christmas season with style.

While it might seem rather early to mention Christmas, another month of seasonal favourites will be upon us before we know it! To keep up to date on all the Messiahs, oratorios, concertos and other Baroque things happening in the city, check out next month’s column. Until then, drop me a line at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

"Classical music is dying!" Charlie Albright reported for CNN back in May 2016, and its death is not a quick and abrupt one but rather slow and painful, like a cancer that kills from the inside out. “With [its] stifling atmosphere of rules and ‘appropriateness,’ it is no wonder that people (especially youth) are apprehensive and often uninterested in the whole idea of classical music. Somehow, classical music has become inaccessible and unwelcoming."

October is here and based on the above we can anticipate a wave of the same old junk, identical to what came before, and identical to what will come next, a musical merry-go-round of the first degree: obsessive etiquettal xenophobia, predictable programming falling into pretty, compartmentalized categories (like a mother cutting up a pork chop for her child – easy to eat and it just tastes better this way) with attention-grabbing headlines that ensure that the conductor’s circle donors (who give more in a year than you’ll make in five) will remain happy, contentedly perennial boons to the budget.

Wanna hear something German? Here’s some Bach…

Wanna hear something French? Here’s some Lully and Rameau…

Wanna hear something English? Here’s a Handel oratorio…

Wanna be up to your eyeballs in gentrified groupies spewing vapid pleasantries? Here’s a post-concert reception…

Want something different?

Regeneration

In recent years there have been some interesting and original performances built around rather conventional repertoire, combining standard tunes with new visual and environmental stimulation. Alison Mackay’s multi-disciplinary Tafelmusik presentations of The Galileo Project and House of Dreams, among others, have broadened the horizons of many stiff-necked concertgoers in a way that is both familiar yet new, good for business but also for the regeneration of old music through new art forms. (“Thank Wotan for multimedia!” Wagner and his Gesamtkunstwerk ideals are whispering somewhere in the celestial ether.)

Multimedia collaboration is just one way that we can use old music in new incarnations. Last month I wrote about the fresh, modern movement that gets the cobwebs out of the canon by bringing classical music to bars, clubs and taverns. (You can read my review of the ClassyAF performance at Dakota Tavern on The WholeNote website.) These stripped-down yet high-quality performances declassify art music, removing the frills and snobbish attitude, making it less like a liturgical rite and more like the pop music it was when it was written. If you’re the guy who cringes when someone claps between movements at a concert or a member of the conductor’s circle, stay far, far away (and get your snotty nose out of my column!). If, however, you long for a way to take in the music you love without all the extra chi-chi superfluities, get out there and explore. Toronto is a wonderfully diverse city with dozens of concerts and events taking place every night, hundreds each month, thousands every year. I encourage you to go to as many as you can and step outside your comfort zone. Explore the different sections of this magazine, not just the ones you always do, and support the artists that bring this city to life!

(As a side note, if you own a bar and want to host a mean set of Bach and Brubeck, give me a shout…)

Aeneas and Dido?

Larry Beckwith conducting Toronto Masque Theatre's 'A Soldier's Tale'Henry Purcell, particularly his opera Dido and Aeneas, has become something of a fixture the last few years – Google “Dido and Aeneas Toronto” and watch the 275,000 hits pop up. Musically, the relative simplicity of Dido’s score has long permitted conductors, producers, choreographers and directors free reign over the dramatic and visual components of the theatrical production, resulting in a wide spectrum of aesthetics. The beauty of Purcell’s opera, from a programming perspective, is its brevity; the 40-minute-or-so runtime allows another work, similar or contrasting, to be placed cheek to jowl with it, thereby creating a more dynamic performance than the Purcell does as a freestanding piece of music.

Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre is doing just that – pairing Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with James Rolfe’s Aeneas and Dido to form a uniquely expressive concert. Far from being just a convenient inversion of the title, Rolfe’s Aeneas (commissioned by the Toronto Masque Theatre in 2007, with a libretto by 2015 Giller Prize-winning novelist André Alexis), “tries to imagine Aeneas’s interior life. What drives Aeneas to choose an uncertain quest for a new homeland over Dido’s offer of love and country?” (from jamesrolfe.ca) This performance takes place on October 20 and 21 and features soloists Krisztina Szabó, Alexander Dobson, Andrea Ludwig and Jacqueline Woodley, as well as orchestra and chorus.

It will be fascinating to see and hear how the Purcell and Rolfe complement, juxtapose and intertwine with each other, being separated in time by so many centuries. Choreographer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière will add another dimension to the performance, perhaps paving the way for even more adventurous interdisciplinary collaborations in the future as the Toronto Masque Theatre disbands after this season, and its creative minds seek stimulation elsewhere.

The Holy Gospel According to Gould

Art of Time Ensemble's Andrew BurashkoTaking a leap well beyond the usual scope of this column, from November 2 to 4 the Art of Time Ensemble will present “…Hosted by Glenn Gould: Gould’s Perspectives on Beethoven and Shostakovich,” via screenings from CBC’s Glenn Gould on Television as introductions to live performances of music by Beethoven and Shostakovich.

In addition to being an interesting and exciting concert idea, a voice-from-the-grave presentation similar to holographic posthumous appearances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis, it will be fascinating to hear Gould’s perspectives on Beethoven, whose music has been comfortably and successfully interpreted by a great number of historically informed performing groups. Gould was equal parts genius and eccentric, certainly not at all a traditional performer in the historical sense, and those of us indoctrinated with the idea of fidelity to the score above all else should look forward to this concert as an opportunity to broaden our horizons, especially those of us (myself included) who were not fortunate enough to experience Gould in person during his lifetime.

Speaking of Beethoven…

This month is a good one for fans of Beethoven and his symphonic music. In addition to the release of Tafelmusik’s complete Beethoven symphony cycle featuring Bruno Weil directing the Tafelmusik orchestra and chorus (look for the CD review in this issue of The WholeNote), on November 4 and 5 former Tafel violinist Aisslinn Nosky leads the Niagara Symphony Orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Hearing a modern orchestra tackle historic repertoire while led by an expert in historically-informed performance practice is a stimulating and thought-provoking experience. For those who have been trained to play a certain type of music a certain way, it is often difficult to reorient yourself around a different style and method of interpretation. I often spoke with Ivars Taurins on this topic while at the University of Toronto, and it was enlightening to hear his ideas on approaching Baroque and Classical symphonic repertoire with a modern orchestra such as the Calgary Philharmonic, where Taurins is a frequent guest conductor, versus a more specialized group such as Tafelmusik.

So take a trip down to wine country, partake in a tasting or two, and enjoy an evening of one of Beethoven’s greatest symphonies. (And if someone wants to clap between movements, for chrissakes, let them!)

I said at the beginning of this article that classical music as we know it is dying – that’s a good thing, for it is also being reborn under our noses.

Back to CNN’s Charlie Albright for the final word:

Breaking down ‘classical’ rules will kill ‘classical’ music – and thus save it. It will make the artform more accessible, more entertaining, and more disinhibiting, allowing for all of us to share more emotion and passion through the music. It will welcome those of us who are interested yet apprehensive about making the leap to buy a ticket to a concert. It will encourage more young people to have fun with the performing arts instead of viewing them as a necessary evil that requires a boring practice each day after school. And it is this death of “classical” music that will bring true classical music more life than ever.”

If you want to drop me a line, email me at earlymusic@thewholenote.com or talk to me in person at one of this month’s concerts – I’ll be at the bar.

Nothing can polarize a room of musically minded people faster than an expression of opinion on Historically Informed Performance (HIP). Wikipedia, the go-to source for information on all things from humdingers to hemiolas, defines Historically Informed Performance as “an approach to the performance of classical music which aims to be faithful to the approach, manner and style of the era in which a work was originally conceived.” Like sideburns, Pez dispensers, and many other “hip” things, Historically Informed Performance began in the 1950s with a small but devoted, cult-like following and has since been associated with some of the 20th century’s classical music luminaries including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ton Koopman and John Eliot Gardiner.

Traditionally, HIP has been closely connected with (and most successfully applied to) early music, specifically music from the Baroque era (1600-1750, approximately). This often involves tools such as period instruments, various tunings and temperaments, and a number of other variables that performers take into consideration. The majority of this information has been gleaned over the past few decades from various historical treatises written by composers that are now as famous, if not more so, for their theoretical writings as for the musical works they composed. Notable treatises include those by musicians such as Johann Quantz, C.P.E. Bach and Johann Mattheson.

Enter Norrington

Roger NorringtonAs the HIP movement grew throughout the latter half of the 20th century, its scope similarly expanded to include music by Beethoven, Brahms, and even Mahler (culminating in British conductor Roger Norrington’s anti-vibrato crusade which resulted in tendentious performances and recordings of a number of Mahler’s symphonies. These non-vibrato performances are interesting much in the same way that a circular-breathing saxophonist is interesting – at once fascinating and impressive, but also somewhat unnatural). Some of these experiments in performance practice, like Norrington’s Mahler, were greater in theory than in application, such as the idea to perform Beethoven’s symphonies with strict adherence to his metronome markings. This was in stark contrast to the über-Romantic interpretations of past maestros such as Furtwängler and Klemperer, and could become a bit frenetic when Beethoven’s metronomic suggestions had an entire orchestra flooring the gas pedal!

Given its history, it’s understandable that HIP is a rather controversial topic among musicians, scholars and audiences – especially when discussing mainstream composers such as Bach, Handel or Vivaldi – and like any theory, it cannot be applied with a one-size-fits-all mentality. (As a Canadian HIP-trained harpsichordist and organist, I can’t help but think of Glenn Gould’s Bach performances which, despite the theoretical issues of the appropriateness of performing Bach on the piano, are so unique, effective and timeless.) Part of the joy of being a musician in a city as diverse as Toronto is being able to hear the variety of interpretations and open-minded approaches taken towards similar repertoire, especially when Messiah season is in full swing! Having the opportunity to absorb multiple performances of a well-known piece interpreted by different ensembles in different ways can be an eye- and ear-opening experience, and we are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to witness so many high-calibre concerts and players throughout the year.

September can be a slow month for the arts scene as musicians return from summer residencies and rehearsals resume after time away. Fortunately for early music lovers, there are a variety of concerts to choose from this month; here are a few highlights, organized by composer:

J.S. Bach

Top of most people’s list of Baroque composers is J.S. Bach, also known (to fans of P.D.Q. Bach creator Peter Schickele) as “Big Daddy” Bach. On September 13, Toronto Symphony Orchestra cellist Roberta Janzen performs cello suites by Bach and Kodály as part of the new ClassyAF concert series. This performance, part of a larger program that aims to bring classical music out of the concert hall, takes place at the Dakota Tavern on Ossington Avenue. The movement in recent years to present high-quality performers and performances in alternative venues such as pubs, clubs and taverns is a great way to welcome new audiences to music that is often stereotyped as outdated and stuffy. It’s also a chance to take in some great tunes with a drink in hand (a double bourbon on the rocks, preferably) amidst a refreshing change of scenery.

For those seeking a more traditional concert experience, Rosedale Presbyterian’s Recitals at Rosedale presents “My Good Fortune: The Music of J.S. Bach” on October 1. The program’s two cantatas, one secular (Schweigt stille, better known as the ‘Coffee Cantata’) and one sacred (Cantata 84, Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke) as well as a motet (Lobet den Herrn) will be led by music director Christopher Dawes and feature a roster of well-known soloists including soprano Gillian Keith, bass-baritone Daniel Lichti and tenor Lenard Whiting.

G.F. Handel

To many early music aficionados, Handel’s genius is surpassed only by Bach. Often grouped along with Domenico Scarlatti and Rameau into what John Eliot Gardiner calls “the Class of ’85,” Handel and Bach are certainly connected in some interesting ways, not least of which is the fact that both men were surgically mistreated by the same eye doctor. Bach died soon after his operation while Handel lived for nine years, increasingly blind, having derived no benefit from his treatment.

On a more positive note, Tafelmusik’s first full season under their new music director Elisa Citterio begins this September. Season-opening concerts can set the tone for the entire year, and this looks to be a dynamic and energetic program. With concerti by Handel and Corelli, a suite by Rameau, and a Vivaldi violin concerto featuring Citterio as soloist, we await these performances (September 21 to 24 and 26) with eager anticipation.

Gottfried Finger

I FURIOSI with James Johnstone (second from left) - photo by Ron SearlesIn a world full of concerts featuring oft-performed works by well-known composers, it’s important to point out the occasional deviation from the norm. On October 6, the Baroque chamber ensemble I FURIOSI presents “Introduction to the Body” which, according to their website, lauds “the various naughty and not-so-naughty bits” of the human anatomy. I FURIOSI, in addition to their engaging and often amusing titles and programming, are expert players and will perform works by Couperin, Handel and others, including the Moravian composer Gottfried Finger.

Finger was born in 1655 or 1656 and died in August 1730. He was a viol virtuoso and worked as a composer for the court of James II in London, where he was known as Godfrey Finger. He wrote a number of sonatas, operas, and suites for a variety of instrumental combinations. There are few recordings of Finger’s music, but the Echo du Danube disc of the Sonatae pro diversis instrumentis, Op. 1 on the Accent label is worth rooting around for.

October Outlook

Looking ahead, there are a number of exciting and important events on the horizon this October, as well as a stimulating opportunity for young professionals interested in working with some of Toronto’s best early music specialists. The deadline for applying to the Tafelmusik Winter Institute, a weeklong intensive which focuses on Baroque orchestral music, is October 11; this year’s participants will look at suites from the French Baroque by Lully, Rameau and others. For more information on this worthwhile program, visit the Tafelmusik website.

To keep up to date on everything early music in Toronto or to share your comments and questions, visit thewholenote.com or email me at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

2208 Early MusicThere’s a scene in the Milos Forman movie Amadeus that always sticks with me whenever I think about composers being disliked or misunderstood by non-musicians. It’s the scene where Emperor Joseph II of Austria, played by Jeffrey Jones, has just been to the premiere of one of Mozart’s operas. He goes up to the composer and tells him, with full imperial pomp and arrogance, that his music has “too many notes.”

Since learning a bit about music history, I’ve learned a few things about the historical accuracy of this scene. First, the basic elements of the story are true – Joseph II did in fact gripe that Mozart’s music had too many notes. Second, the story is kind of unfair to the emperor’s legacy. While he may not have been able to appreciate Mozart, Joseph II was a so-called enlightened despot who modernized his country and turned an authoritarian regime into a liberal country, introducing progressive reforms like religious freedom and universal public education and working to abolish the death penalty. Third, the “too many notes” anecdote, like the movie, is part of a larger mythology that grew up around classical composers and persists to this day.

The Mozart Myth was perhaps the most famous example, and while parts of it have been dispelled, a few misconceptions remain. We can probably all agree now that he wasn’t in fact poisoned by Salieri (19th-century Mozart truthers argued otherwise) and he wasn’t destitute, he just never got a sweet court sinecure with Joseph; the Viennese didn’t totally misunderstand his music either, although they weren’t obsessed with it the way subsequent generations were.

Of all the Romantic legends, the Mozart Myth is probably the one that’s seen the most open debate, and a historical rehabilitation of the composer (or his bewildered Viennese public) is well underway. But there are myths about other composers which persist for the contemporary concertgoing public, many of which are the more pernicious for being completely unknown. The Bach Myth is probably one we need to tackle, because it’s one that the concertgoing public, as well as the majority of musicians, have bought into wholesale, and besides not aging particularly well, it’s also condescending, factually incorrect, and deeply alienating to potential listeners.

We all know the story. Bach was a genius in a category all his own. He wrote music that was incredibly intricate. If people don’t, or didn’t, like it, it was because they can’t, or couldn’t, understand it.

And that’s sort of true, but there are a few things we need to talk about to set the record straight. While Bach was a brilliant contrapuntalist, he wrote music that was generally conventional, albeit way more complicated. His obsession with counterpoint, including weird technical tricks, marked him to his contemporaries as an arch-conservative, rather than an inimitable trailblazer. And while he got fired from his capellmeister job in Cöthen and the congregation at St. Thomas in Leipzig didn’t like him all that much, he did have a cult following among composers, musicians and music geeks who understood how his music worked – he enjoyed a reputation as a musician who wrote music for other musicians.

And oh yeah, if we appreciate Bach so much today, why is so much of his music left unperformed? He wrote over 200 cantatas and motets for voice, just under 100 individual songs, and over 200 works for organ, but good luck hearing any of those performed today – you’ll mainly get to hear a handful of instrumental works he composed in the Cöthen years, a full 30 years before he died, and a few cantatas and passions that have worked their way into the popular repertoire.

Toronto Bach Festival

With so much of Bach’s music left forgotten and on a shelf somewhere, it’s time to bring it out and give it a listen so we can decide for ourselves whether it’s any good. I’m especially happy to see that the Toronto Bach Festival, now in its second year, is willing to show us a side of Bach we don’t often get to see. Hosted by St. Barnabas Anglican Church (361 Danforth Ave.) and led by Tafelmusik oboist John Abberger, we’re going to hear Bach the vocal composer (Cantatas 150 and 161, along with, yes, Brandenburg 6 and an oboe concerto May 26 at 8pm), the St. Mark Passion (May 28 at 3:30pm) and some keyboard works that aren’t fugues (Chris Bagan’s solo recital of the Six Little Preludes and a solo keyboard capriccio May 27 at 2:30pm). I’m excited to see that the festival is both willing to dust off some of Bach’s less well-known works for us to enjoy as well as to pay homage to the Cult of Bach. (Yes, despite my tendency to rant about my misgivings, I have yet to rescind my membership).

Elisa Citterio

It’s fun to argue about a musician’s legacy 200 years after the fact, but there are musicians in this city today whose legend has yet to be written. One such musician who is about to make a mark on the classical music scene in Toronto is Elisa Citterio, who after what seems like an epic search, has just been named the new artistic director of Tafelmusik as of last January. Citterio has been concertmaster and soloist of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala di Milano and has been based mainly in Italy, playing with such groups as Europa Galante and Il Giardino Armonico. This month, she’ll be leading Tafelmusik along with Ivars Taurins in a program that includes Mozart’s Mass in C Minor and Haydn’s Symphony No.98. It’s repertoire that the group does especially well and I’m anticipating that Citterio will take the group in an exciting new direction in the coming years. You can catch Tafelmusik at Koerner Hall May 4 to 7. And if you’re interested in finding out what Citterio is like, she’ll be interviewed on stage by Robert Harris one hour before each performance.

Folies d’Espagne, a Clandestine Affair

Any concert, whether in Josephine Austria or contemporary Toronto, runs the risk that its paying public may not like or understand the music performed or interpreted, but you can avoid a great deal of that risk by making your concert a clandestine affair attended by a select few. This seems to be the thinking behind La Rêveuse’s concert, “Folies d’Espagne” which they’ll be performing at a secret location on May 11 at 7:30. The French-based group, founded by lutenist Benjamin Perrot and viola da gambist Florence Bolton, has been giving concerts since 2004. The group has decided to make this concert (sponsored by the publishing company Atelier Philidor) open to just 25 attendees; 80 bucks will get you a ticket to the concert, a free facsimile score and CD, and a chance to party with the group afterwards, but you have to contact 647-390-6037 or
emma@atelierphilidor.com before this concert sells out, which makes it very likely that by the time you’re reading this, it’s already too late. Then again, maybe the best way to make a reputation is to make music that’s unavailable to the general public and make them think they’ve missed out on something elite and exclusive.

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com

2207 Early 1In professions that are physically and mentally challenging as well as competitive, there’s no experience quite as disappointing as discovering that you’re second best. Back in 1995, a team of psychologists observed and ranked the emotions displayed by Olympic athletes right when the final results in their events were announced, and then again when they were standing on the podium. What they found was not only that the bronze medal winners seemed significantly happier than the silver medallists, but that winning a silver actually caused negative emotions in the athletes who won them. Instead of celebrating an achievement – and how many people even know who are the second best in the entire world at something? – they expressed both sadness and contempt, and harshly critiqued their own performance, listing their mistakes and replaying the event in their heads, wishing they had acted differently in order to win gold.

The career of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) is an excellent example of the frustrations of being almost the greatest. Despite a professional lifetime of artistic patronage in some of the best courts in 17th-century France, a mid-career collaboration with Molière, an appointment as maître de musique for the Jesuit order in France, and a lifetime composing music with over 500 compositions to his name, he was still a (distant) second, career-wise, to the greatest French composer of the period, Jean-Baptiste Lully. It’s important to keep two things in mind about being second-best to Lully: one, that it doesn’t mean Charpentier, or any of his other contemporaries, was any less of a composer, and in many cases Charpentier was arguably better. Two, that being anything other than the best composer in Louis XIV’s France came with significant creative limitations on what composers were allowed to write. Lully, one must bear in mind, was not simply interested in writing better music than everyone else. He was also determined to be the richest and the most influential and, to the best of his ability, the only composer in France, and the centralization of French cultural and political life around Versailles made sure he could maintain an artistic monopoly.

The result for Charpentier was that he couldn’t legally produce an opera, or indeed any other piece of music, with more than two singers and six instrumentalists, without the express written permission of Lully. Although working for the prominent House of Guise meant that Charpentier could somewhat circumvent this, he still had to wait until he was 50 years old before he could get an opera produced at court after Lully finally died in 1687.

The opera in question was Médée (Medea) and although Charpentier had to wait most of his life to get a chance to write something like it, the wait was well worth it for the French court. Listening to Médée, the listener can tell right away that Charpentier was able to perfectly imitate the style developed by the old Italian monopolist and, although the opera only ran for a few months, Médée was critically well-received by contemporary audiences.

This month, Opera Atelier is reviving the crowning achievement of a composer whose career never did justice to his compositional talent. Medea is running April 22 to 29 at the Elgin Theatre and Opera Atelier, with its exceptional roster of singers, opulent staging and crack pit orchestra (Tafelmusik), will certainly make this rare performance of a composer who never got to be the best a must-see.

We like to think we’ve come a long way, culturally, since Louis XIV and his privilèges royaux, but the distance between first and second place in Canada still seems like a wide gulf. A perfect example of this is Les Violons du Roy who, from a vantage point within the Toronto early music scene, never seem to enjoy the popularity and success of Tafelmusik.

I’m not sure the lack of coverage is entirely fair to the the Quebec City-based group, as it’s certainly not lacking for talent. They’ve been led in the past by Bernard Labadie, Jonathan Cohen and Mathieu Lussier, all of whom have led full careers and made significant contributions to the early music field. The group’s members are all perfectly competent players and have enjoyed a lifetime of experience playing orchestral, solo and chamber music in Quebec. The group itself is one of Canadian early music’s stalwarts, having been in operation since 1984 (just five years after Tafelmusik) and now has some 35 recordings to its name. If there’s any reason this group is being held back, I have no idea what it is.

This month, you’ll be able to see for yourself what makes Les Violons du Roy worth hearing, as they’ll be coming to play Koerner Hall April 13 in a program that includes Bach, Handel, Fux and Graun. Lussier will be leading the group and, to sweeten the deal, the orchestra will be joined by the great countertenor Philippe Jaroussky who, far from being just a voice, has a versatility that lets him sing a wide range of repertoire from Monteverdi to Fauré. I will be very interested to hear what this soloist and this group are capable of when they collaborate.

Music-making has probably been a family business since about as long as there have been professional musicians. Although the history of music pedagogy is full of brilliant teachers and outstanding pupils, it’s difficult to overcome the problem of what the student does when the lesson ends and he goes home to (one hopes) practise, and a good deal of the numerous performance issues that arise from a typical piece of music can be resolved much more quickly in having an older, more experienced musician on hand at home to help.

The Bach family is an obvious example of such dynasty, but there are plenty of musicians who also parented a younger generation of great performers. Tafelmusik explores the theme of musical families in their concert this month, “Bach: Keeping It in the Family,” which features one great early music father-daughter duo, Alfredo and Cecilia Bernardini. Dad is a well-known baroque oboist, and daughter Cecilia is a baroque violinist who is beginning to shine as a soloist. They’ll both be coming to Toronto to show off their talents in a program that includes the JS Bach Concerto for Violin in E Major BWV 1042 and the CPE Bach Oboe Concerto in E-flat Major Wq. 165, as well as a sinfonia by Bach’s eldest son Wilhelm Friedmann and a Telemann orchestral suite. This is a pair of soloists who can handle virtuostic works with ease, and Tafelmusik always sounds great when there’s a guest director to give a new perspective on performance practice. Check this concert out April 5 through 9 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

If you’d prefer a concert of chamber music this month to a full-scale French opera or orchestral concerts of high Baroque music, consider checking out “Fork in The Road,” I Furiosi’ s concert on April 21 at Calvin Presbyterian Church. It’s somewhat unclear what the group is up to, but no matter: I Furiosi can always be counted on to put on an exciting concert with great performers, and this concert will highlight some seldom-heard composers, including Jean Baptiste Senaillé, Giuseppe Tartini and Louis Bourgeois.

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

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