BBB-Early1.jpgCount Hieronymus Joseph Franz de Paula Graf Colloredo von Wallsee und Melz, by the grace of God both spiritual and temporal ruler of the city of Salzburg, had ambitious plans for his new city. Although an unpopular choice with other church officials, as his election on the 13th ballot would indicate, Colloredo had no intention of currying favour with the common people either. His intentions were loftier. He wanted reform.

Reform, in any age, means not worrying over the popularity of your policies, and a certain optimism that you’ll be appreciated for them later. For the archbishop, a well-educated eighteenth-century modernizer and would-be statesman, this also meant embracing the ideals of the new Enlightenment. The religious superstition that still clung to Catholicism after a millenium was to be officially suppressed. No more pilgrimages, and worshipping relics was frowned upon. There were to be no more religious processions through the streets, no kitschy decorations hung in churches and no lengthy orchestral musical interludes during the Mass. Colloredo’s new modern church was to shed medieval superstition for the new ideals of reason and science – and if this meant he could save himself a bit of work, and a bit of money, along the way, then so much the better.

For the 16-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Colloredo’s reform, especially the part that involved budget cuts, was an unmitigated disaster. As the prince-archbishop’s new concertmaster, less music in church (call it cuts to arts funding) meant fewer commissions, and therefore less money, for composers like him. Furthermore, as what we might today refer to as an emerging artist, there was less opportunity for the young Mozart to distinguish himself by writing large-scale works that could get him a better appointment in the future. So faced with fewer opportunities Mozart did what artists typically do – he left to find work elsewhere. In this case, Mozart left for Milan to write an opera.

The result of Mozart’s journey to Milan was Lucio Silla, an opera seria based on the story of Julius Caesar’s predecessor (and Rome’s first dictator) Lucius Sulla. As a career move, the idea of putting on an opera in Milan circa 1772 seemed like a bit of a sure thing. This was the third opera the teenage wunderkind would be writing for the Milanese stage and he would be working with a capable librettist, the Teatro Ducale’s new appointment, Giovanni di Gamerra. Mozart also had a few months to devote to the project, more than enough time for a hyper-prolific composer who had already written some 25 symphonies, seven operas, and four piano concertos. Success, it would seem, was guaranteed.

Sadly, Lucio Silla didn’t go over quite as Mozart planned, and it wasn’t his fault, either. The lead tenor fell ill and his replacement couldn’t handle the part, so many of the best arias in the opera had to be rewritten or cut out entirely. The other singers were late arriving in the city and had to begin rehearsing behind schedule. Not only did they bomb in the premiere, but the opera was considerably longer in performance than during rehearsal – imagine, if you will, a poorly sung opera that seems to never end, and you’ll probably have some idea of how the premiere went. Lucio Silla would be the last opera written by Mozart for an Italian audience, and after a catastrophic run the chastened young composer crawled back to Salzburg and the archbishop, a failure at 16.

I think it’s safe to say that Opera Atelier’s Canadian premiere of Lucio Silla will raise the admittedly low bar set by its initial premiere. But they will likely do a lot better than that! Atelier’s artistic directors, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg played a significant role in the show’s triumphant return to Milan at La Scala last year, under the baton of Marc Minkowski, and an even more extensive role in the triumphant production of the opera in Salzburg two years prior to that (including the participation of the Atelier Ballet in the Salzburg run). Now they get to bring the opera, in their very own production, to Toronto audiences from April 7 to 16 at the Elgin Theatre, including the stars of of the Salzburg and La Scala runs (Kresimir Spicer and Inga Kalna). Unlike Mozart’s Milanese collaborators, Opera Atelier never fails to put on a great show, and this is a Canadian premiere that is long overdue! If you see one concert this month, make it this one.

The Orlando Consort, with over 25 recordings to their name, doesn’t come to town very often (although as a soloist their tenor, Charles Daniels, is well known to Tafelmusik audiences, and a welcome guest), but any chance to hear them live is certainly welcome. The medieval-themed a cappella vocal group is known for their imaginative concert programming as well as some exceptional singing. Their latest project is certainly as imaginative as choral concerts get; they’ve devised a program of music known to have been extant in France during the lifetime of Joan of Arc and used it to score a compilation soundtrack to the 1928 silent film classic La passion de Jeanne d’Arc, by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

As either a work of scholarship or of film scoring, this would have been a formidable workload. The fact that the Consort has accomplished both demonstrates incredible artistic vision and dedication, and I have no doubt the veteran singers will be able to pull it off splendidly. You can catch this at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, April 3 at 3pm.

BBB-Early2.jpgZelenka at Tafelmusik: One composer who’s been getting some well-deserved attention in recent years is the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. Since his rediscovery by fellow Czech composer Bedřich Smetana in the mid-19th century and the publication of a catalogue running to nearly 200 works, early music audiences have had more and more chances to hear him over the last few decades. Indeed, Tafelmusik audiences should already be familiar with the composer – the group performed his concert overture, Hippocondrie, earlier this concert season, and an excerpt from one of his sonatas made it on to their fantastic Galileo Project.

A double bassist, kapellmeister and avid contrapuntalist, Zelenka had the good fortune to work in the epic Dresden court of Augustus the Strong, where he wrote sacred works for choir and orchestra. Zelenka was also well-connected. Besides working with the great violinist, Johann Georg Pisendel, he was also a personal friend of Bach and was much admired by both composers. This month, Tafelmusik honors both Bach and Zelenka as composers of sacred music with a concert of Zelenka’s Missa Omnium Sanctorum and Bach’s cantata Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten at their home base at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, April 28 through 30 and May 1.

Bland by name only! A good trumpet player is hard to find, and an excellent one harder still. It’s again still rarer to find a great player of the baroque trumpet, since the instrument is considerably harder to play than its modern counterpart (smaller embouchure, no valves) and this may explain why Justin Bland is so darn busy and why he plays with, well, basically everyone. The Copenhagen-based musician will be visiting Toronto to play with Scaramella in a concert dedicated to music for baroque trumpet, and featuring the music of Bach, Melani, Merula and Purcell at Victoria College Chapel on April 16. The up-and-coming virtuoso will be playing with Scaramella artistic director Joëlle Morton on violone, the talented young soprano Dawn Bailey and local hotshot violinists Michelle Odorico and Rezan Onen-Lapointe, which means that this concert will feature a considerable amount of talent as well as youthful exuberance. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should  also say that the concert also features this columnist on harpsichord, whose talent and/or exuberance you will have to judge for yourselves.)

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

2106-Early.pngSo. Is there any point in reading Beowulf anymore? It has the distinct honour of being the first work of literature from a non-Greek or Latin source text, but while a quick glance at U of T’s course calendar would seem to indicate that the Viking Age epic will likely show up on an Old English literature course, you could very easily complete an entire English undergraduate degree without ever having to read it. In fact, reading it may well be entirely unnecessary. The poem has also undergone countless adaptations and updates to appeal to a modern audience, including Sci-Fi film versions, operas, comic books (there is a Beowulf: The Graphic Novel if you care to read it), novels (including the Michael Crichton bestseller Eaters of the Dead) and, currently, a made-for-TV mini-series created for British television and starring a cast of complete unknowns.

It’s also well worth asking if Beowulf, being over a thousand years old, still holds up as literature. For practical purposes, reading it in the original Old English is effectively impossible. And despite numerous translations into modern English spanning over two centuries (including a very fine, if overly creative, adaptation by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney), Beowulf is, as I mentioned, no longer required reading. As poetry – in the sense of an exploration of language and wordplay – it probably won’t impress a modern audience. If you’ve read it, you will probably recall that the poet’s technique of choice was alliteration not rhyme, and rhythm not metre – not particularly impressive in a digital age. Besides, the plot is next to non-existent and focuses on a series of fights between the titular hero and increasingly large and dangerous monsters. What’s up with that? as they say these days. I also doubt if too many potential readers are at all interested in the period in which Beowulf is set – that is, Northern Europe between the 8th and 11th centuries. I’m no historian, but I take historians’ word for it when they call the period the Dark Ages. (And we haven’t even touched on the issue of whether the Beowulf poet’s own audience would or could have even read the poem themselves.) What were literacy levels like in eighth-century Denmark? What was their book publishing industry like? I’m guessing not very robust. So does the literary canon still need Beowulf, or should it be stricken from the roster of classic literature?

To answer this question, one need look no further than the very interesting life of one Benjamin Bagby who has made a career as (to my knowledge) the world’s only bard, meaning he travels the world performing ancient epic poetry and accompanies himself on the Anglo-Saxon harp. Yes, this is literally his day job. Bagby claims he was captivated by the Beowulf saga from the day he read it at the age of 12, and I for one am prepared to completely believe him. Since he first read it, Bagby taught himself to perform the epic in the original Old English, and has since been touring Beowulf around the world as a solo performance for the last decade. If there is any justification for Beowulf’s place in the literary canon, Bagby’s performance is it, and this month, he’ll be performing the epic poem (with English surtitles) in Toronto at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, courtesy of Toronto Consort, on March 11 and 12. I can’t think of any better reason for historically inspired performance than to revive classic musical or literary works and present them to the public in a manner as close to the original as modern scholarship will let us get. We still have no idea who wrote Beowulf, but if he knew his poem was still being performed over a thousand years later to sold-out concert halls, he’d be gobsmacked.

Swan of Avon: Some literary classics are more accessible than others, some because they’re written in modern English, and some because, unlike Bagby’s Beowulf, tickets haven’t already almost sold out a month in advance. So, while you still can, avail yourself of tickets to the Musicians in Ordinary who are in the midst of a three-concert series devoted to Shakespeare, featuring ornate poetry and elaborate musical arrangements (albeit fewer monster fights than Bagby’s Beowulf). But, like Bagby, “Sweet Swan of Avon” attempts to take the audience into the language of Shakespeare’s time, rendering Shakespeare’s words more the way people would have said them at the time, rather than, as is more customary these days, like a modern dude who happens to have studied Shakespeare. March 19 at 8pm, in the intimate surrounds of the Heliconian Hall, the MiO present the second of this three-concert series, “Shakespeare’s Saints & Sinners,” featuring excerpts from Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet read by U of T prof David Klausner, along with lute songs by Dowland and Thomas Campion, and motets with strings composed by Orlando Gibbons. Violinist Chris Verrette leads a string band along with soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards for a concert that’s 100 percent Shakespearean. Check it out, as well as the third concert in the series, “Shakespeare’s Sorrows,” which takes place at the same venue on April 23, the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

Sweet Kisses: Shakespeare still too serious? If you’re looking to enjoy a concert that that’s passionate, emotional and exciting, but demands less gravitas than (say) Shakespeare or Old English epics, consider checking out a concert by the Cantemus Singers instead. “Sweet Kisses/Baci Soavi” is a concert of Italian madrigals on March 19 at one of the hidden gems of Toronto’s downtown core – the Church of the Holy Trinity. By the end of the Renaissance in Italy, poetry and music went from romantic and refined to a roller coaster of emotions. One really wonders how Italians of the 16th century were able to make it through the day without making themselves lovesick. Soprano Iris Krizmanic joins the Cantemus singers for a program of music by aristocrat, composer and murderer Carlo Gesualdo and the undisputed father of the musical Renaissance, Claudio Monteverdi, as well as by two lesser-knowns – Monteverdi’s contemporary Luca Marenzio, and the composer/nun Vittoria Aleotti (apparently a nun of the time could write sordid love songs and none of her colleagues seemed to mind). This sounds like a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of the Italian renaissance vocal repertoire by a group that has made madrigals their specialty. Be sure to check this concert out.

Polyphonic grand tour: For the more contemplative, the Oratory at Holy Family Church has a special concert for Lent that features sacred music from the Renaissance that transcends the everyday world of the secular. There, on March 16 at 8pm, you can hear a sung compline and a choral concert which includes choral pieces and arias by Bach, two settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Byrd and Tallis, and motets by Victoria and Cristóbal de Morales. It’s a grand tour of sacred polyphony by some of the greatest composers of the Renaissance performed by some exceptional singers.

Alard’s Goldberg: Finally, Tafelmusik is presenting a special concert of chamber music featuring the French harpsichordist Benjamin Alard that is sure to delight Bach aficionados. Alard is just 30 years old but is already working his way through the master’s repertoire for solo harpsichord. This month, Alard comes to Trinity-St. Paul’s, March 31 to April 3, to play the Goldberg Variations. He’ll be joined by Grégoire Jeay, Jeanne Lamon and Cristina Mahler to play the masterful trio sonata from The Musical Offering. Alard is a Bach specialist who already established that he has what it takes to make it as a soloist before his 30th birthday, so it will definitely be worth it to hear his take on Bach’s masterpiece. 

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

2105-Early.jpgDare one ask if there will come a time in music history when the historically informed performance practice advocated by the early music movement becomes no longer necessary? Devotees of capital-C classical music may well wonder why the early music revival is so preoccupied with bringing back minor composers from the 17th and 18th centuries, but stops, officially, with the death of Bach in 1750.

It’s a worthwhile question to ask: there were, after all, treatises on musical practice, like those beloved by the early music movement, written well into the 19th century; and the instruments of a Romantic-era orchestra were no more significantly different from those of their predecessors as they are from an an orchestra of today.

Fans of Tafelmusik, for example, might once in a while dare to whisper, given the group’s near-canonic range of orchestral literature, that the group should take on more conventionally classical repertoire for a symphony orchestra. And indeed, they sometimes do. This month, as an example, Tafelmusik is giving the concertgoing public the opportunity to hear an early music take on the Classical and Romantic eras. Hopefully they will both bend the ears of a few traditionalists with a rare foray into 19th century repertoire that features works by Brahms, Beethoven and Rheinberger, and will offer a fresh take on the works in question for hard core classicists more accustomed to hearing the same repertoire kicked to death by over-large orchestras in unforgivingly large halls. If there’s an early music group in Toronto that’s qualified to take on Romantic repertoire, Tafelmusik is it – the group cut its teeth on Haydn and Mozart in the early ’90s, making it the most forward-leaning ensemble on the Toronto early music scene.

Tafelmusik’s concert, on February 4 through 7 at Koerner Hall, features German conductor Bruno Weil, who has been leading the group through the Beethoven piano concertos and symphonies since 1996, and is now back to complete the cycle with a performance of the Ninth Symphony. While it’s easy to dismiss Beethoven’s Ninth as the warhorse of orchestral concert programs (who can’t hum the Ode to Joy?), it’s not often that one gets to hear it done by a period ensemble on classical instruments. From a performance practice perspective, The Ninth is also the gateway to the 19th century, and the choral works chosen to accompany it in this program complement Beethoven’s final symphony perfectly. Brahms’s chromatic, fugal Warum ist das Licht gegeben and Rheinberger’s beautifully imitative Abendlied are both delightful to listen to and entirely appropriate for an early music group – Brahms’ well-known penchant for trying to compose in the style of Bach is quite evident here, and the Rheinberger sounds like a Palestrina motet updated for a 19th-century audience.

Weil is also a fine conductor with the unique ability to straddle both early music and modern territory deftly. Having him back to conduct the Ninth in order to complete the Beethoven cycle celebrates a particularly successful artistic collaboration between the conductor and the orchestra. Who knows? Maybe we will see Weil next year conducting Tafelmusik in a Schubert or Brahms symphony.

If you miss this particular orchestral extravaganza, you might still want to catch Tafelmusik’s other concert later this month. Like the earlier concert, it features the group doing orchestral repertoire that stretches hard-line early music definitions; this time Mozart, not Beethoven, is the evening’s dedicatee. The Romanian violinist Mira Glodeanu will return to lead the group in a concert of Mozart’s greatest hits – including Eine kleine NachtmusikSymphony No. 40 and his Sinfonia Concertante. It should be a worthwhile evening for similar reasons to the Beethoven concert – like Weil, Glodeanu is a gifted musician with an ear for Classical repertoire, and it will be interesting to see what kind of performance she can pull out of the ensemble. And once more, it’s a chance to hear an early music take on some orchestral standards by a group that will do a first-class job. Maybe that’s why Tafelmusik keeps getting mistaken for the TSO. You can catch Tafelmusik doing Mozart at their more usual venue, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, February 25 to 28.

The Way of the Consort: It’s been 16 years since the Toronto Consort released their medieval album The Way of the Pilgrim, and if you’ve never heard the disc before, you’ll get a chance to hear it in concert February 12 and 13. The Consort is re-releasing the album this month on the Toronto-based independent label Marquis records, and celebrating the occasion with a concert/CD-release-party at Trinity-St. Paul’s on February 12 and 13 at 8 pm. The Way of the Pilgrim features songs from the 12th and 13th centuries, from Spain, France and Germany, sung by crusaders, travellers, and yes, pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Way of the Pilgrim became something of a seminal album after its release in 2000, and it ranks as one of the best recordings of medieval music by a Canadian group, so it’s good to see that the Consort is giving the disc some publicity as well as a live performance.

Scaramella pardessus: The social conventions around what is considered appropriate behaviour often seem confusing to outsiders or succeeding generations. In the ultra-conservative conformity of 18th-century France, it was apparently considered unladylike behaviour for a woman to hold a violin on her shoulder, or worse, under her chin. The elegant solution the French came up with was the pardessus de viole, a miniature version of the viola da gamba that could play music in the same register as the violin while being held daintily in the lap. On March 5 at 8pm in the Victoria College Chapel Scaramella pays tribute to this eccentric instrument with a concert of French music composed just for the pardessus de viole. Montreal-based gambist Mélisande Corriveau joins New York harpsichordist Eric Milnes and Toronto’s own Jöelle Morton for a concert of French 18th-century music. An excellent chance to hear a rare instrument played by a virtuoso, so be sure to check it out.

Pisendel: Sometimes you can judge someone by the company he keeps. We might not appreciate the music of Johann Georg Pisendel very much today, but the Dresden composer and orchestra leader was a colleague and friend to a galaxy of talent in 18th century Germany and Italy, including Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Zelenka, JG Graun … you get the idea. Although Pisendel was more of a bandleader and violinist than a composer – he left us with just a handful of violin concertos, orchestral works and sonatas – he had the good fortune to be a musician in a city where culture counted for a lot. His employer, Augustus the Strong, may well rank as the most extravagant man in history, and spent lavishly on cultural events ranging from court balls, Venetian-inspired masquerades, and animal-tossing contests (?) in order to entertain a wide succession of mistresses, to a court orchestra, directed by Pisendel and paid for by Augustus, which was one of the finest, and largest, in Europe. On February 28 at 2 pm at Gallery 345, my group, Rezonance, presents a concert of some of the finest music of the late Baroque, all dedicated to a man who was one of the greatest conductors of his day. If I may be permitted to blow my own (modern) horn for a moment, Rezonance is an energetic ensemble that features up-and-coming talent in the city playing insightful and interesting concert programs. If you’re interested in an informal, fun concert of chamber music, this concert promises to be both informative and entertaining. 

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

Early Music 1For most non-musicians, the end of December is a welcome opportunity to take a break from the pressures of work, usually present year-round, and spend time with family and friends. This is sadly not the case if you happen to be a performing musician. While most of us are winding down for the holidays, it seems like Toronto early music groups are working harder in the next couple of months. December and January are two busy months for early music groups in the city, and whether it’s Christmas repertoire or part of their regular programming, if you’re in the mood for a concert on any given week in the next couple of months, there will be an early music concert that will be well worth going out to hear.

It’s not often that I find myself in the position of trying to argue that Antonio Vivaldi is an underrated composer who needs to be given his due. But while Vivaldi still ranks as the great Italian orchestral composer of the 18th century, it’s rare to hear his opera music, and still rarer to hear his sacred vocal music performed in concert. I’m happy to say that the Aradia Ensemble will be doing their part to give us a new take on the Red Priest with their recording of his sacred vocal music, which they’ll be celebrating with a CD launch concert at 7:30pm on December 5 at St. Anne’s Anglican Church (270 Gladstone Ave). Soloists Hélène Brunet and Vicki St. Pierre will join the group to sing in an all-Vivaldi program that includes his cantatas Beatus VirCur Sagittas, Cur Tela, and Vos Aurae per Montes. Aradia has over 50 albums under its belt, many of them excellent, so it’s a bit of a shame that the group remains largely ignored by the Toronto concert-going public. This promises to be a solid concert of some rare music by a first-rate composer.

Not Ordinary: Another Toronto group that deserves a little more attention is the Musicians in Ordinary. Over the last few years, the group has been positively thriving as the ensemble-in-residence at St. Michael’s College, of the University of Toronto. In an age of cuts to culture and with symphony orchestras being forced to close their doors for lack of funding, it’s heartening to see that U of T is giving the group a regular performance space as well as some resources for larger-scale concerts. There is absolutely no group on the Toronto early music scene that performs as wide a range of repertoire as frequently as this one. Their concert next month is a great example of what the group can do when it’s scaled up. St. Michael’s Schola Cantorum will be joining the Musicians in Ordinary for a concert of English music by Handel and Geminiani. Violinist Chris Verrette will also be performing with the group in what promises to be a very enjoyable musical evening, December 7 at 7:30, at St. Basil’s Church, St. Michael’s College. The holiday season also promises a chance to get out and see some concerts, and it’s nice to see that there’s more than just Messiahs to get us all in the mood.

Cantemus Singers start the Christmas season off early at 7:30pm on December 5 with a concert of Christmas music from the courts of 16th-century Spain and Austria at the Church of the Holy Trinity. If you happen to be in Kingston, or if you’d prefer a choral concert that’s a little more conventional in its repertoire, you might want to consider checking out the Melos Choir, who will be doing a program of Advent and Christmas songs and readings featuring music by some Renaissance heavyweights –Schütz, Byrd, Praetorius and Victoria. It’s at St. George’s Church in Kingston on December 5 at 7:30.

The Oratory at Holy Family Church often puts on timely music and a well-researched repertoire. This month’s concert at 8pm on December 9 at the Oratory is no exception. They’ll be doing Advent music by Charpentier and Bach, as well as some baroque composers that I had to look up. Giovanni Rigatti was a 17th-century Venetian composer, while Nicolaus Bruhns was a Danish-German composer, organist and violinist, who was a student of Dietrich Buxtehude. Both these composers wrote music for Advent, and both of them would probably be better known if more of their work had survived to the present day. Have they been justifiably ignored, or are they neglected masters? Check out the concert and find out.

Zak Ozmo: As far as original ideas for Christmas concerts go, you can’t get much more creative – or exotic – than the Toronto Consort’s Christmas concert this year. On December 11, 12 and 13 at Trinity St-Paul’s Centre the group will present a concert of Christmas music from the monastery of Santa Cruz. Guest director and lutenist Zak Ozmo will lead the group in a program of Portuguese- and Brazilian-influenced music unearthed from the monastery’s archives. I’m especially looking forward to hearing this concert, as it’s a unique program from a musical tradition we don’t often get to hear much of in Toronto (Be honest, when was the last time you got a chance to go to a concert of Portuguese baroque music?) and this find could very well be a treasure trove of scores to add to the early music canon.

I Furiosi: After the holidays, I’m happy to say that the music scene in the city won’t be quieting down at all. The always-boisterous I Furiosi ensemble will be presenting a mixed concert of Luzzaschi, Charpentier and Purcell at 8pm on January 9 at Calvin Presbyterian Church. The band will be joined by soprano Merry-Anne Stuart and organist Stephanie Martin for a concert of songs about unrequited love, rejection, and futility.

Tafel welcomes Glodeanu: Finally, at the end of January, more Vivaldi. Tafelmusik will be honouring Vivaldi’s music in an all-Italian concert led by Romanian violinist Mira Glodeanu. Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico (“harmonic fancy”) is a series of 12 concertos published by Vivaldi that endure as the composer’s best-known work and was hugely influential on music in the 18th century. (J. S. Bach liked the concertos so much he transcribed six of them.) On January 20 at 7pm and on the following weekend, Tafelmusik will perform the second, fourth, and eleventh concerts from the work, along with chamber music and a concerto grosso by Locatelli as well as music by Vivaldi’s contemporary Giovanni Guido, who was so enamoured of The Four Seasons that he based his Scherzi Armonici on them. This promises to be an exceptional sampling of 18th-century Italian music and with Glodeanu making her debut with the ensemble from the first violin, the concert offers for Tafelmusik regulars another teasing view of how the ensemble plays with someone other than Jeanne Lamon leading from first violin. 

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

EarlyThere’s an anecdote from a book I read once that’s been bothering me for a while. In the memoir Kitchen Confidential the American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain describes the following altercation he had with one of his Italian chefs at a restaurant he owned:

“Gianni had taken one look at my chef de cuisine, shaken his head and warned, ‘Watch out for dees guy. He’ll stobb you inna back,’ making a stabbing gesture as he said it.

“What? What’s his problem? He’s Sicilian?’ I asked jokingly, knowing Gianni’s preference for all things Northern.

‘Worse,’ said Gianni. ‘He’s from Naples.’”

Bourdain never explained what the problem with being Neapolitan was at any point in the rest of the book (maybe he never got around to asking Gianni), and frankly, I’ve never tried to ask anyone whether they were from Naples, Italy, or anywhere else. Was Bourdain’s chef a racist? Are Neapolitans intrinsically untrustworthy? And (most importantly) why would they be intrinsically untrustworthy to other Italians?

Maybe the chef’s mistrust had to do with the fact that Naples had a history that pitted it against the rest of the Italian kingdoms for most of the last millennium: the Kingdom of Naples, comprising the city of Naples and roughly the southern half of the Italian boot, was ruled by the (French) King of Anjou from mid-13th to mid-14th century, the (Spanish) Aragonese from then to the early 16th century, the Spanish and Habsburg Empires for the next 200 years, and became a Napoleonic possession from then until 1815. That wasn’t a lot of time for Southern Italy to develop an independent, let alone pan-Italian identity, so maybe other Italians (or at least that particular Italian) are referencing the fact that, politically, Naples was in fact a French, Spanish, or Austrian province more than it was ever an Italian one.

As a cultural centre, though, Naples in its prime was a fascinating place. Ethnically Italian with a Spanish influence, its position smack in the middle of the Meditarranean made it a natural port of call between the rest of the European continent and the Middle East. Naples is also largely responsible for giving us a major institution of both culture and of classical music – the modern conservatory. The Spanish regime in Naples was one of the first governments to found conservatories, which it did in Naples – initially church-run institutions to shelter and educate orphans, they later became the music schools we know today. In 17th-century Naples, with the new form of opera quickly becoming popular and a sudden high demand for trained singers and musicians throughout Italy, conservatories found themselves part of a feeder system for professional musicians and singers, as they were both amply funded and made music education a significant part of a child’s education.

Vesuvius: This month, The Toronto Consort pays tribute to the music and culture of this Renaissance cosmopolis in their opening concert of the season, “The Soul of Naples.” The Consort will be performing this month at Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity-St-Paul’s Centre at 8pm on November 13 and 14. I’ve been looking forward to this concert for some time. The Consort is teaming up with the Vesuvius Ensemble, which is the only folk group I’ve ever encountered that specializes specifially in Renaissance Neapolitan folk music. The group has the good fortune to be led by a top-rate tenor, Francesco Pellegrino, who will be directing both Vesuvius and the Consort this time around. And if you’re a guitar fan, this is definitely the concert for you – this show features a menagerie of plucked-string instruments, including baroque guitar, theorbo and lute, as well as the far more obscure chitarra battente and colascione. The Consort has a few concerts for 2015/16 that look very interesting, and this is one of them. The group has a unique talent for taking an audience back to a particular time and place in history. I can’t wait for opening night.

The Canadian Opera Company is a Toronto institution that dabbles in early music only occasionally, but it will be well worth checking out their upcoming program this month if you’re a fan of either Monteverdi or new music. Pyramus and Thisbe is a new opera by Canadian composer Barbara Monk Feldman and will be headlining the evening, but the two opening acts are overlooked gems of the Baroque repertoire and rank as some of the Venetian composer’s most accomplished miniatures. Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Lamento d’Arianna are both exciting and powerful (though brief) works that take the listener back and forth from vivid depictions of warfare to intense sadness, often in the space of just a few bars. They’re great examples of the revolution in music that happened at the beginning of the 17th century when Monteverdi declared that poetry and text was more important than any musical idea could be. And more importantly, they’re fun to listen to. Check them out on November 5 and 7 at the Four Seasons.

The Oratory: Sometimes less is more. If a folk/medieval supergroup and a pair of Monteverdi mini-operas with a full continuo band aren’t enough to get you to a concert this month, there are a couple of choral concerts that promise to be very enjoyable indeed. The Oratory at Holy Family Church (1372 King Street West) is presenting two concerts based around the Renaissance choral repertoire. The first, featuring a five-voice men’s chorus singing just one to a part, is a requiem mass for the feast of All Souls. The oratory has some fairly pious music lined up for the occasion – they’ll be performing works by that great papal hero of Renaissance polyphony, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, as well as the Spanish composer Cristobal de Morales on November 2 at 8pm. If you miss the occasion (or don’t want to sit through a whole mass) consider going instead to their November 18 concert at 7:30, which will feature Roland de Lassus’ Requiem for 5 Voices and his Music from the Office of the Dead as well as music by Tomas Luis de Victoria and J.S. Bach. Hardly cheerful music, to be sure, but a chance to hear Renaissance sacred music done with all soloists as opposed to a massive chorus is a rare and enjoyable experience.

Rossi in Ordinary: The 16th-century Italian composer Salamone Rossi has the unique legacy, for musicians and scholars, of having written sacred music for the synagogue which survives and is still performed today. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more extant examples of Jewish sacred music that modern audiences can listen to – Catholics  being the main recipients of a half millennium of high-level patronage to the exclusion of nearly everyone else – but this month, the Musicians in Ordinary are performing Rossi’s sacred music as well as some of his sonatas for two violins. Violinists Chris Verrette and Patricia Ahearn will join the ensemble on November 27 at 8 pm at Father Madden Hall in the Carr building at the University of Toronto to explore the work of a fine composer in the Renaissance mould who has been regrettably overlooked by history. 

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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