June is a month of transitions, the waning concert season having mostly drawn to a close, the summer festivals having barely emerged. Fortunately though, there are still several very interesting events happening that showcase the “early” side of music, enough to keep you going throughout the month.

There’s a strong interest in chant at Toronto’s Church of St. Mary Magdalene. In this “oasis in the city for contemplative music,” you can hear chant, or chant-influenced music, throughout the liturgical year. There’s even a chant club, open to anyone, in which participants learn about chant through both singing and instruction in its history, theory and technique. For more about this, go to their website: www.stmarymagdalene.ca.

If chant is of special interest to you, you might want to take advantage of a full day of chant-focused workshops, presentations and rehearsals offered on June 9, with Schola Magdalena and the SMM Ritual Choir. The day is surrounded by concerts: on Friday June 8, Schola Magdalena women’s ensemble for medieval music performs masterpieces of the School of Notre Dame de Paris, including Sederunt by the 13th-century Perotinus; on June 9, workshop participants and singers from SMM present an evening of Gregorian chant, Marian anthems by Lassus, and music by Hildegard von Bingen.

The above two concerts occur also as part of the Concerts Spirituels 2012 series, presented at St. Mary Magdalene on Friday evenings in June (the June 9 Saturday concert being the one exception). Others in order of appearance are: American organist, Rich Spotts, and the SMM Ritual Choir, perform the Gregorian chant-based music of Tournemire, June 1; a program of chamber music including works by Vivaldi, June 15; and the SMM Gallery Choir performs Lasso’s Missa Entre Vous Filles, the Buxtehude Magnificat, and music by Willan, June 22.

early_holy_family_church_-_scanned_from_the_wholenote_july-aug_1997One of the joys of working at The WholeNote is discovering connections, hidden in the musical kaleidoscope and just waiting to be uncovered. In preparing to write about Philip Fournier’s organ recital at The Oratory, Holy Family Church, I was led back to the 20th issue of our magazine — July/August 1997— where, on page 31, a short lament was written on the destruction by fire of Holy Family Church (did I take the accompanying photo?). Well, in the intervening 15 years this west-end Toronto church has now been rebuilt and the organ replaced with a magnificent Gabriel Kney/Halbert Gober tracker organ which Fournier says “is easily one of the finest instruments in Toronto. The unusually reverberant nave it speaks into further limits its circle of peers.”

The organist, Philip Fournier, has the credentials to be a very good judge of organs. His bio is impressive; organists among us especially will recognize names that figure significantly in his background. For example, he studied Gregorian chant at Solesmes, France, with the famed Dom Saulnier; he was the first Organ Scholar at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester USA, and was subsequently named a Fenwick Scholar, the highest academic honour given by the College. He won the Historical Organ in America competition in 1992 and performed at Arizona State University on the Paul Fritts organ, and was awarded a recital on the Flemtrop instrument at Duke University. Now organist and director of music at St. Vincent de Paul in Toronto, he gives recitals regularly at the Oratory. He is also guest organist of the Toronto Tallis Choir, artistic director and continuo player of the St. Vincent’s Baroque Soloists, and is active as a composer.

Fournier’s recital on the Kney/Gober organ is designed to show off the capabilities of this instrument, with music by Sweelinck, Buxtehude, Weckmann and Bach. It takes place at the newly rebuilt Holy Family Church on June 10.

Spadina Museum holds their outdoor concert series, Music in the Orchard, every spring, with four concerts coming up. On June 17, you can hear a concert of “live outdoor audible acoustic music” (by his own affirmation) by Mike Franklin— he’s a versatile multi-instrumentalist and singer who specializes in European medieval, renaissance and traditional music, and I can attest that he always presents a very imaginative program.

And if you happen to be in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Trinity (behind the Eaton Centre) at noon on Equinox or Solstice days, you can catch Mike creating a sonic landscape at the outdoor labyrinth there (this year, the Summer Solstice occurs on June 20). One late-September day, I heard him cast a cloak of sombre magic over the labyrinth and those who chose to walk it, with a hurdy-gurdy and with a most otherworldly shawm.

The Cardinal Consort of Viols and a special guest perform in the Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series on June 17. “Music for Queen Elizabeth I” pays tribute to not only the first Queen Elizabeth but also the second, in celebration of her majesty’s Diamond Jubilee; and the music of course is English— Byrd, Gibbons, Dowland, Holborne and Bull. As for the special guest— well, he’s an accomplished countertenor whom we don’t get to hear enough these days: Frank Nakashima (who counts eight years as The WholeNote’s Early Music columnist among his many artistic ventures). The concert takes place in a setting that is proving to be just right for intimate music-making: St. David’s Church, Donlands and Danforth.

Surely one of the most exquisite concert settings around is Sharon Temple in the municipality of East Gwillimbury. Music has resounded within the walls of this stunningly beautiful edifice ever since it was built by the Children of Peace in 1831. The concert series Music at Sharon, whose co-artistic directors are Larry Beckwith and Rick Phillips, makes its home there every year in June. Of the four concerts, two involve music of the 18th and 17th centuries (respectively): on June 10, “Zelenka Plays Bach” features three of the Bach solo cello suites (nos. 1, 3 and 6) played by cellist Winona Zelenka— one of the most compelling cellists around, whose recording of Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello won her a 2011 JUNO Award nomination in the small ensemble/solo classical category; and on June 17, a concert version of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas will be presented, with soprano Meredith Hall as Dido, baritone Todd Delaney as Aeneas, and the Toronto Masque Theatre.

Publicity for Music at Sharon urges you to “Plan to arrive early to picnic on the beautiful park-like grounds and tour the site’s unique heritage buildings, before moving inside the Sharon Temple for the pre-concert chat at 1:15pm followed by the 2pm concert.” Sounds like a plan for a wonderful afternoon!

Readers may recall June 2011’s Early Music column, which covered Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute’s yearly program in some depth in many of its aspects: instrumental, vocal and conductor/director studies; lectures, masterclasses, workshops and more. (You can find this column on The WholeNote’s website at thewhole­note.com— go to “About Us” and click on “Previous Issues.”) It’s a very successful format which is repeated this June at the University of Toronto from the 3rd to the 16th of the month. Four concerts are spawned during its run: June 4, “Delightfully Baroque,” with music performed by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir; June 9, “Musical Interlude,” a casual noon-hour concert of baroque chamber music by TBSI faculty; June 13, “The TBSI Orchestras and Choirs,” directed by Jeanne Lamon and Ivars Taurins and featuring Institute participants; and June 16, “The Grand Finale,” a baroque extravaganza in which participants and faculty perform together. A lively baroque experience in a bustling city!

early_benjaminbagby_4_by_gilles_juhelSpeaking of “lively baroque experiences” in bustling cities, June 21 to 24 is a festive time to be in Montreal because the tenth anniversary of the Montreal Baroque Festival is happening; and though their theme this year is “The Apocalypse,” this is qualified by the subtext “Transformations, Revelations” — with the implied meaning that wonderful things are about to occur. Of this there can be no doubt: a look at their schedule reveals four days packed with events, from rendez-vous in a café to a “Parade for the Apocalypse,” to many concerts with terrific performers. You can witness a horse ballet presented at Louis XIII’s engagement in 1612, with horses from the Equimagie stables and music later transcribed by Lully. There is a dramatic monologue on the ancient epic story of Beowulf, the young hero slain by a dragon, formidably delivered by Benjamin Bagby (medieval specialist, singer and co-founder of the medieval vocal and instrumental ensemble Sequentia) who accompanies himself on the harp and has presented it to great acclaim over the past 20 years. There’s music by Hildegard von Bingen, Biber, Bach and others, including Telemann’s great sacred oratorio Der Tag des Gerichts (The Last Judgment). Performers include virtuoso natural trumpeters Jean-François Madeuf from France, and Graham Nicholson from Holland, as well as an array of top-notch musicians and ensembles whom audiences, especially in Quebec, are lucky enough to hear regularly. I hope you’ll be able to join them.

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

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

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

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

Three 17th-century depictions are interwoven:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For details on all these and more, please see The WholeNote’s daily listings.

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

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

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

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

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

String Quartets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For full details of all these, and more, please peruse The WholeNote’s daily listings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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