It’s good to get out of the city once in a while. The Toronto early music scene is now big enough that rather than simply staying home and welcoming guest artists from elsewhere, our own artists are starting to migrate and perform on the outskirts of the GTA and occasionally further out – really as far as one could reasonably expect to drive in the course of one day. I really hope this is a positive development for both the musicians and the cities they visit. If you live in say, Stratford or Hamilton, you can get a little more variety in entertainment and nightlife, and if you’re a Toronto-based artist, you can tour not too far from home and get a chance to make some more money with a program you would otherwise only get to perform in town.

earlymusic borys-medickyVesuvius: If you live in St. Catharines, you might want to catch an outstanding Toronto group playing early this month. The Vesuvius Ensemble, founded by singer and guitarist Francesco Pellegrino, is devoted to playing traditional music from Italy, and they are performing at St. Barnabas Anglican Church at 2pm April 6 in a program of renaissance and baroque music. Painting a vivid picture of 17th-century Naples, the Vesuvius Ensemble will show the life of an exotic city and its surrounding countryside heavily influenced by Arabic and Spanish culture but with its own distinct culture that set it apart from the rest of Italy and Europe. This group also plays on a wide variety of traditional Italian instruments and guitars as well as more conventional baroque instruments, so you’ll definitely enjoy this program if you’re an Italianophile or just a gearhead.

Medicky: Another Toronto artist who has expanded outside the GTA is harpsichordist Borys Medicky. A co-founder of the Toronto Continuo Collective, Medicky has found something of a home away from home in Kitchener-Waterloo, where he leads the Nota Bene Baroque Players. April 12 Nota Bene will be putting on a fundraising concert at First United Church in Waterloo, performing Handel’s Messiah (which, I note as a musicological aside, is traditionally a concert celebrating Easter, not Christmas). Nota Bene is going all-out with this concert, which features soloists Daniel Taylor and Michael Schade, with John Thiessen on trumpet and Jan Overduin as a guest harpsichordist. And if that isn’t enough to draw a crowd, it’s also a sing-along and should be a blast. (There is a regular performance April 13.)

Lully: Closer to home, a must-see event is Opera Atelier’s run of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Persée, which they’ll be performing at the Elgin Theatre on April 26, 27, 29, and 30 as well as May 2 and 3. Opera Atelier has the singular honour of being the early music group responsible for reviving the classic Lully opera, which had its last performance in Versailles in the 1770s and had never been heard since until the group dug up the work in the 1990s. While it isn’t the first time Opera Atelier has done Persée, they will be taking the show back to Versailles after this run in Toronto, so this is a great chance to experience the work of a local group that is among the top ranks of performing artists worldwide.

Toronto Consort: Italian opera in the 17th century wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the operas playing at Versailles (it’s hard to match the budget available to the king of France) but Cavalli’s opera Giasone is still a great piece of music that opera fans should find to be an essential part of the opera canon. Based on the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, it was the most popular opera of the century. This month, the Toronto Consort is putting on its own production of Giasone. Laura Pudwell will join the Toronto Consort to sing the role of Jason (no castrati being available any more) and the Consort will supply the backup band of strings, continuo and winds. It all happens on April 4, 5, and 6 at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre.

Suzie Leblanc: Anyone in Toronto still looking to get their fix of opera this month should consider checking out the Toronto Masque Theatre – they’ll be presenting an opera of sorts at the Trinity-St Paul’s Centre on April 25 and 26. The opera in question is Michel Pignolet de Montéclair’s L’Europe, a cantata for soprano based on the myth of Europa. There’s only one vocal part, along with a backup band, in this cantata, so you could think of it as opera on the cheap, or alternately as really souped-up vocal chamber music. Suzie Leblanc will be singing with TMT and the concert will be further fortified by the choreography of Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, the dancing of Stéphanie Brochard and the acting talents of Martin Julien, so it will be a fine multimedia experience that will delight aficionados of French Baroque music. Also on the program is a newly-commissioned contemporary work: Toronto-based composer James Rolfe’s Europa and the White Bull, so if you don’t want to hear something old, stick around and listen for something new.

earlymusic sine-nomine-ensembleSine Nomine: If you’re completely against the idea of new music, indulge your inner arch-conservative and consider checking out the Sine Nomine Ensemble in a program devoted to the music of Guillaume de Machaut. Machaut was the leading composer of 14th-century France and an early writer of polyphonic masses and motets. If you have any interest in medieval music at all or are looking for a good place to start, Machaut is an excellent introduction to the Middle Ages. Sine Nomine will perform at St. Thomas Anglican Church  at 8pm on April 25.

Scaramella: a chamber group with a reputation for bringing together informative and well-thought-out programs, this month Scaramella will play a concert devoted to the invention of the cello in Italy in the latter half of the 17th century and the gradual musical Darwinism that ensued as it sought to take the place in the musical world previously held by the viola da gamba. The cello ultimately won that contest, but it was a hard-won fight that lasted nearly a hundred years. Cellist Elinor Frey and gambaist Joëlle Morton will square off in an epic battle of bowed bass instruments, assisted by Daniel Zuluaga on chitarrone and guitar. Who will win? Find out at 8pm April 12 at Innis Town Hall.

Musical rivalry: it’s a great way to sell tickets, and it’s especially fun to watch in opera. Tafelmusik will commemorate one of the most famous rivalries in opera history, the battle between Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni. Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian will join the orchestra at Koerner Hall on April 9, 10, 12, and 13 for a program featuring arias written for the two divas by Handel, Hasse, and Bononcini; it also includes concertos by Handel, Vivaldi, and Telemann, and a sinfonia by Zelenka. I should stress that Ms. Bayrakdarian is singing all the arias composed for the two divas herself, so it is the historical rivaly that will be on display in what should be a comparatively civilized affair.

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


The writer Nick Hornby is, to the members of Generation X and the millennials, the leading authority on the art of the mix tape, and in his novel High Fidelity, he defined the poetic frustration of creating a playlist for someone, now rendered irrelevant in our current era of iTunes playlists and YouTube channels: “To me, making a tape is like writing a letter— there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch...” Anyone who’s ever made a mix tape knows this feeling. There’s a sense of curatorial omnipotence that making a mix tape confers on its maker: I may not play in a band, I may not know how to write any songs, but damn it, I’ve got taste!

If you thought mix tapes were a generational flash in the pan, you’d be wrong. Long before the compact disc and cassette tape, music nerds were compiling playlists of their favourite songs and sharing them, except these geeks were either composers or performers of music and were perfectly capable of making music of their own. There’s a substantial amount of evidence that Brahms, Beethoven and Mendelssohn were passionate music collectors who wanted to share their discoveries, but one composer stands above all other connoisseurs and arbiters of good taste as an obsessive hoarder, cultural pack rat, and literal all-out, all-time violator of copyright – none other than Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach’s reputation for near-autistic complexity and perfect detail as a contrapuntalist is well-known and I won’t bore you by repeating it here. Less appreciated, though, is the obsession he had with collecting music – either for personal consumption or to share with friends and colleagues. In the last 40 or so years of Bach scholarship, scholars have focused less on Bach the immortal master of counterpoint and more on Bach the music collector, virtually to the point where every composition and theme of Bach was thought to be originally written by another composer or else was derivative of some other style of music. It’s gotten a bit out of hand, and there isn’t a whole lot of direct cause and effect linking Bach’s musical taste with what he composed.

Bach’s St. Mark’s Mix: It’s for this reason that we are very fortunate to have actual evidence of a real playlist of songs that Bach collected, assembled into a concert program and had performed for a live audience. A particular version of the St. Mark Passion was one of a few concerts that Bach had performed while employed as the Thomaskantor in Leipzig; Bach not only thought highly enough of the music to have performed it three different times in his career, but reworked the concert order, cut arias and added new pieces by different composers, with just as much care (and possibly frustration) as Nick Hornby described as being part of the process of making a good mix tape. The final cut, completed just three years before he died, included songs by Handel (the leading composer of Bach’s day) and a composer lost to history but whom Bach evidently liked – known only as Kaiser.

The man responsible for bringing this mix of Bach’s to the Canadian concert stage is none other than Kenneth Hull, the director of the Spiritus Ensemble, and he will be leading a performance of the Bach compilation at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Kitchener on March 30. When I ask him about some of the great composer’s favourites, Hull is able to provide me with some clues. “Up to now we’ve known very little of what Bach had actually performed besides his own music,” Hull explains. “We know for sure that J.S. Bach performed music by his second cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach, and music composed by his relatives. Bach came from a very musical family and he had inherited a lot of family connections to good composers.” Besides the advantage of promoting family members, Bach had to select composers that were easier than his own music for the musicians at his church to perform, and playing the “Kaiser” St. Mark Passion is certainly easier than playing Bach, Hull admits.

Hull is also quick to mention that he is in fact giving this Passion its Canadian premiere – and that this is just the second time this St. Mark is being performed in North America. “The Bach Society of Houston was able to obtain a copy of the St. Mark Passion because they are the sister city of Leipzig,” he says. “I’m fortunate enough to have a close connection with the Bach Society and was able to hear about this discovery.”

I Furiosi, Biber, Lent: If you aren’t interested in Bach’s favourite composers, or if you can’t make it to Kitchener for a concert, consider checking out a few Toronto-based ensembles instead. I Furiosi, still the best classical band you can hear for ten dollars (if you’re a student, senior or just plain broke), will be joined by organist Stephanie Martin and mezzo-soprano Vicki St. Pierre to perform Giovanni Battista’ Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on March 22 at Windermere United Church. It will be well worth it to hear this work be performed by an ensemble that can play with verve, and well, fury.

This is your last chance to catch Chris Verrette and Musicians in Ordinary play Biber’s Mystery Sonatas on March 14 at St. Michael’s College’s Madden Hall. They’ll be playing the sonatas based on the Sorrowful Mysteries, so if you’re an observant Christian, this is an excellent program for Lent – if not, be prepared to hear something sad.

Speaking of Lent, on March 1 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, the Toronto Consort will perform music leading up to the 40 days’ fast with a program devoted to the Venetian Carnival represented by Italian composers Monteverdi, Banchieri and Vecchi.

Finally, Tafelmusik has a couple of programs well worth hearing: Alison McKay’s audience favourite “The Four Seasons: A Cycle of the Sun,” featuring music by Antonio Vivaldi and Mychael Danna, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on March 6 to 9, 11 and 12. Tafelmusik will be doing another program later in March –“A Night in Paris” – on March 27 to 30 also at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. This concert will feature superb music by Telemann and Leclair as well as Vivaldi’s violin concerto “Tempeste di Mare.”

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

Despite the fact that musicians are some of the most dedicated of professionals, no one really pays sufficient attention to the fact that we are also incredibly strange. I mean it. Musicians are some of the weirdest people you are ever likely to encounter socially, and I like to think it helps. Toronto hero Glenn Gould famously had an obsessive fear of illness which drove him to dress in sweaters and coats in mid-summer, and an equally obsessive desire to hear every possible melody line in a piece of music which led him to record some of the most original recordings of Bach of the 20th century. Obsessive behaviour comes with the artistic territory – if you’re going to devote your life to mastering an instrument, a long-dead composer, or an artistic tradition that’s been lost for several hundred years, it kind of helps if you don’t worry about looking like a bit of a nut socially, or indeed not having much of a social life at all.

bbb - early musicBud Roach: One Toronto-based artist who has let his obsession run wild is Bud Roach, who to the best of my knowledge possesses all of the social graces one needs (like I would know), but is nevertheless very, very dedicated to Italian vocal music circa 1600. I caught up with Roach one evening in January to discuss his next concert with Capella Intima, a re-creation of Marco da Gagliano’s Dafne, which ranked as one of the most avant-garde musical art works of its time when it was premiered in 1608. Dafne, you see, was written in a musical form that da Gagliano’s Italian contemporaries couldn’t understand, and they called the work a favola in musica (a musical fable). Later generations of Italians, like music-lovers elsewhere in Europe, would later find a new name for this sung fable: an opera.

“Marco da Gagliano has all the traits of a composer of the Florentine camerata,” Roach explains, referencing the artistic movement that advocated for a new, dramatic form of vocal music in 17th-century Italy. “His music has long, singing recitatives and focuses on emphasizing the text. His music is really as much about poetry as it is about singing.” Dafne was one of the first operas ever written, but da Gagliano didn’t take that particular prize: he was beaten out by Jacopo Peri, who wrote Eurydice just eight years earlier in 1600.

Read more: The Long Lost

1904 early musicI swear i’m not a Grinch. Really. Although I find getting ready for Christmas to be the most stressful experience of the year, I do my best to get into the Christmas spirit and enjoy the holidays. I buy presents for family and friends. I help stuff and baste the turkey. I dutifully go to church every Christmas Day even though I’d probably rather stay home and open presents. I buy egg nog at the grocery store, even though I have no idea what it is. I even have the sweater, five sizes too big, that my grandmother knit me for Christmas in 1995, and I will happily wear it again this Christmas, even though it hangs down well below my knees.

I am prepared to make sacrifices in the spirit of the holidays. This does not, however, extend far enough to make me feel inclined to go see the Messiah again. No Nutcracker either. I think I sat through enough amateur productions of the Nutcracker to sing the whole score from memory, and I could probably do the same for the better part of the Messiah as well. I don’t mean to detract from those who enjoy these holiday traditions, but I find surviving the holidays stressful enough without an incurable case of earworm accompanying me everywhere I go, thank you very much.

However, if you are so inclined to take in a Messiah this holiday season, you can do no better than Tafelmusik’s “Sing-Along Messiah” December 22 at 2pm in Massey Hall. Tafelmusik has been doing this for 25 years. They know what they’re doing. Ivars Taurins will dress up as Handel. It will be fun. Bring your own score. Or, if you’d rather let someone else do the singing, catch their other performances and hear soloists Emma Kirkby, Laura Pudwell, Colin Balzer, and Tyler Duncan sing it for you in Koerner Hall December 18 to 21. If you prefer a more authentic version, you can also head down to the Glenn Gould Studio at 8pm on December 21 to check out the Aradia Ensemble’s Dublin Messiah, based on Handel’s original version composed for (ahem) Easter in 1742. Both of these productions are very good. I highly recommend them, although I won’t be there.

Delayed onset: Alternately, if you are trying to delay the onset of Christmas for as long as possible, you might want to check out a couple of concerts in December that are in no way Christmas-themed. The Rezonance Baroque Ensemble will be presenting chamber works by Telemann and Erlebach as well as solo works by J.S. Bach in an afternoon concert at the Tranzac on December 8 at 3pm. If you’re the sort of person who is more inclined to look for a pub on a Sunday afternoon than a concert hall, you’ll find the cozy and welcoming atmosphere of the Tranzac very appealing. (Also in the interest of full disclosure I will mention that I will be playing harpsichord in this concert. Please do not heckle unless I’ve given you a bad review recently.) The La Mode Quartet will also be giving a concert worth investigating that weekend on December 6 in Bloor Street United Church at 8pm with chamber works by Rameau and Guillemain as well as one of the Telemann Paris Quartets, which are some of the most beautiful (and difficult) chamber works of the 18th century. And anyone observing Advent and wanting to take in a concert might want to check out the Musicians in Ordinary’s concert for the Advent season, featuring Magnificats by Vivaldi and Telemann at St. Basil’s Church December 3 at 7:30.

Involuntary vac: If you feel like seeing a concert in the New Year, be warned — January is an extended (and largely involuntary) vacation for baroque musicians on the Toronto scene. Thankfully, the Musicians in Ordinary have put together a program for New Year’s Day that will round out the holidays quite enjoyably. This concert features the French Baroque composer Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, a child prodigy and well-known composer of cantatas and solo instrumental works during her lifetime, and the Musicians in Ordinary will be performing her cantata Le Sommeil d’Ulisse (The Sleep of Ulysses). You can catch them at 2pm at Heliconian Hall.

Two Toronto-based baroque musicians who won’t be taking a vacation this winter are Daniel Taylor and Jeanne Lamon. Both Lamon and Taylor have teamed up to put together a performance of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, which ranks as Purcell’s best-known work, a 17th century English classic, and the only major English-language opera composed before 1900 that is still performed today. (There is perhaps one other — John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, which I’m still waiting to see performed in town.) Taylor and Lamon are directing the Schola Cantorum and the Theatre of Early Music for three performances of Dido and Aeneas at the Trinity College Chapel January 17 to 19. (If you miss this program, you can still catch another Theatre of Early Music concert a week later, as they will perform works by Gibbons, Purcell, Tallis and Handel in the same hall on January 26.

Late Jan: The concert season will pick up later in the month of January as the Musicians in Ordinary (who, I have to say, are really starting to emerge as the hardest-working musicians in Toronto in the next couple of months) have yet another performance, this time featuring violinist Chris Verrette playing five of the Biber Rosary Sonatas. Verrette, in between regular concerts with Tafelmusik, has been working his way through all 15 of these sacred instrumental works this season, and he plays them with remarkable sensitivity and grace. Definitely try to hear him if you can — this concert is at Madden Hall on January 24.

Finally, Tafelmusik returns with a program that features some exceptional chamber and orchestral music by J.S. Bach. “Intimately Bach will be a great chance to hear Bach’s Triple Concerto for flute, violin, and harpsichord BWV1044. It’s scored the same as the Brandenburg Concerto No.5 and is not as famous, but is easily as great a piece of music as the more famous Brandenburg. Soloist Grégoire Jeay will join Tafelmusik to play flute, and the orchestra will also play Bach’s Violin Concerto in G BWV1056 and his Trio Sonata in C BWV529. Tafelmusik will be back at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre for this concert January 29 to February 1 at 7 pm, with a matinee on February 2. 

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

When fans of early music walk into a concert in November, they may be impressed by the diversity of the repertoire and the performers. Concerts coming up this month feature both wide-ranging programs from under-appreciated composers and top-level performers who are just starting to emerge as soloists on the Toronto music scene.

early music - old made new 1Huizinga: One such relatively new face is Edwin Huizinga, a violinist originally from California who now calls Toronto home. Huizinga is already somewhat familiar to Toronto audiences, as he’s played as a section violinist in both Tafelmusik and Aradia, but having recently returned from a tour with his indie rock band The Wooden Sky, Huizinga is ready to come into his own as a soloist on the Toronto music scene. To accomplish this, Huizinga picked some of the hardest violin sonatas in the classical canon — having already performed the first three of Bach’s six sonatas for harpsichord and violin, he’s teaming up with harpsichordist Philip Fournier to complete the cycle by playing Bach’s B minor, A major, and E major Sonatas at the Oratory, Holy Family Church, November 8.

“I have a great love for the music of Bach,” Huizinga says when I ask him about his upcoming concert with Fournier. “As a musician, I can appreciate the well-crafted nature of his music on a purely intellectual level, but to also be the vehicle creating the notes — to be able to put a smile on someone’s face using just the music that Bach wrote — that’s amazing.” Bach composed these violin sonatas for a concert series at a local coffeehouse in Leipzig — the same place where his Coffee Cantata was performed. In a similar spirit of informality, Huizinga and Fournier are giving an additional performance at a café. The Common, located at College and Gladstone, will host the duo on November 4, and Huizinga hopes giving listeners a casual — and historically correct! — musical experience will attract new listeners to the music of Bach.

“I’ve been playing in a lot of classical revolution concerts [in bars and clubs] and I really believe it’s a great way of bringing the music to people other than regular concertgoers,” Huizinga says. “As an artist, I believe I have a responsibility to find new ways of sharing the art I’m passionate about.” While a café concert would certainly do that, the coffeehouse concert starts at 9pm, so perhaps you should consider having a beer instead of a coffee while you listen to them play. Bach would certainly have enjoyed either beverage.

early music - old made new 2Scaramella: Concertgoers looking to hear an interesting and varied repertoire steeped in a rich history should be sure to check out Scaramella’s concert on November 30 at the Victoria College Chapel. The program features composers based in England from the period of the English Civil War and Restoration, a dangerous time in English history when Catholics, Protestants, Republicans and Monarchists all fought for control of the country and supporting the wrong side at the wrong time could cost a man his head. Scaramella will play music by Henry Purcell and Matthew Locke as well as some by lesser-known musicians such as William Lawes, John Jenkins, Orlando Gibbons, Davis Mell and Simon Ives.

I caught up with Scaramella’s gambist Joëlle Morton and asked her what inspired her program. “The history of the times really had a huge influence on the music,” Morton explained. “Because there was no court for most of this period, the closest thing to court music was the private music people had in their homes. Composers who didn’t want to lose their jobs or their lives had to be very ambiguous about what religious denomination they belonged to.”

The result was a huge variety of secular chamber music for small ensembles that was performed in the homes of England’s wealthiest citizens. Perhaps because even a rich household couldn’t afford a full orchestra (or have enough space in the house for one) the instrumental combinations were incredibly diverse, and Scaramella has found a wide array of these unusual orchestrations for their concert. In addition to a duet for violin and viola da gamba plus continuo, the program features compositions for lyra viol, which has become a speciality of Morton’s in recent years. Lyra viol involves playing chords on the habitually melodic viola da gamba as well as retuning the instrument in one of over 40 different ways; this style of gamba playing will be represented by a fantasia by Jenkins for a lyra viol playing continuo and a piece for solo lyra viol by Ives. Combined with Purcell’s most famous sonata for strings (the “Golden”), a Locke suite and a virtuosic organ fantasia by Gibbons, chamber music lovers should get quite a kick out of this concert.

Daniels and LeBlanc: Music fans looking for a more conventional concert experience (or who just like their music sung rather than played) won’t want to miss Tafelmusik’s November concert series, titled “Purcell and Carissimi: Music from London and Rome, presented at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre from November 6 to 10. “Purcell and Carissimi” features tenor Charles Daniels and soprano Suzie LeBlanc, both of whom are world-renowned singers who have made a lasting impression on audiences across Canada. LeBlanc is probably best-known for her collaboration with countertenor Daniel Taylor and the Theatre of Early Music, and is herself the artistic director of her own opera company, Le Nouvel Opéra, based in Montreal. Englishman Daniels, best known for his interpretations of Bach, Purcell and Monteverdi, astonished audiences at the Montreal Baroque Festival in 2009 with his completion of Purcell’s ode Arise My Muse. Both Daniels and LeBlanc have sung with Tafelmusik before, most notably together in a performance of Purcell’s King Arthur during Tafelmusik’s 2009/10 season. Listening to them sing, it’s easy to tell why the orchestra wants them to keep coming back.

Others to watch: Some other early-music concerts to watch out for in November: the Community Baroque Orchestra of Toronto, performing Brandenburg Concerti 4 and 5, as well as a reconstructed “Brandenburg 9” (by the late musicologist and oboist Bruce Haynes) at the 519 Community Centre, November 9; the evening will feature violinists Valerie Gordon and Elyssa Lefurgy-Smith and harpsichordist Sarah-Anne Churchill. Soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards from Musicians in Ordinary will be playing an all-Dowland tribute concert for his 450th birthday at Heliconian Hall on November 16. Finally, lutenist and choir conductor Lucas Harris will present a mixed program for his master’s recital in choral conducting at the Church of the Redeemer, November 2 at 4:30. While the program will include choral works by Arvo Pärt, Clara Schumann, and Lili Boulanger, the concert will also feature Austrian sacred music from the 17th century with some help from the “Jeanne Lamon Baroque String Ensemble,” so this concert might be an opportunity to hear some Tafelmusik players free of charge 

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

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