16If you were a court “musician in ordinary” during Tudor and Stuart times, you’d be required to provide music for the Royal Household on any occasion, on call at any time of the day or night. And if you played the lute or sang, your duties would be in the Privy (private) Chambers, as purveyor of the gentler, more intimate music appropriate to this setting.

Toronto’s own Musicians in Ordinary have been inviting audiences into the Privy Chambers of kings and queens for many years now, to listen to the gentle and heartfelt music of John Dowland and others of the 17th and 18th centuries. And core members Hallie Fishel, voice, and John Edwards, lute and guitar, bring a wealth of scholarly activity to their performances. Fishel is in demand as a coach and lecturer on performance-practice and the place of music in early modern culture at universities and colleges across North America; Edwards is a Fellow of the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto, and has given lectures and demonstrations throughout North America.

In the first concert of their eighth official season (though they’ve been together as performers for much longer than that), the Musicians in Ordinary explore, in words and music, the many facets of a condition as relevant to commoners as to royalty, and as pervasive in the 21st century as it was in the 17th: melancholy (or depression, as we today might perhaps think of it). Two famous personnages are represented: English composer John Dowland, who expressed deeply felt emotions with exquisite originality in his songs for voice and lute; and Robert Burton, vicar in Oxford and then rector of Seagrave, who published in 1621 the first version of his book The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Apparently both men were subject to bouts of despair. But fortunately, both also had a spectacular sense of humour, and the dark and tragic aspects of melancholy were by no means the only ones they dealt with. The Anatomy abounds in all sorts of unexpected references, from goblins to the geography of America, and is obviously a very entertaining treatise to read. Dowland’s lute songs display a wide range of temperaments and are collectively one of the pinnacles of 17th-century English song. We can fully expect that the Musicians in Ordinary will present a wide-ranging spectrum in their concert.

Fortunately too, Fishel and Edwards have David Klausner as their collaborator in this performance. Klausner, who is a professor in the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies and Department of English (and who was one of the original members of the Toronto Consort), will read from The Anatomy of Melancholy. His delivery of the text is described by Edwards as “stentorian.”

The performance takes place on October 10 at 8:00pm in the Heliconian Hall.

Purcell’s Fantasias for Viols

In the autumn of the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth, the Toronto Consort presents music he wrote in the spring of his life: the Fantasias for viols. These were almost all composed in the summer of 1680 (some dated precisely); and as far as one can tell, came into being as Purcell’s challenge to himself, to affirm his mastery of what was by then an archaic form. They are masterpieces of contrapuntal writing in the old style, a summing up of what had gone before and was now abandoned in favour of newer styles. This is not music for casual enjoyment. Be prepared to enter an introspective world of rare sonic palate (from three to seven viols), music that will reward you for listening intently to its great beauty.

Les Voix Humaines and friends perform on the beautiful Hart House viols (featured in last month’s column). The concerts take place on October 30 and 31, 8:00pm, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Some of the many other interesting early music performances this month are:

October 3, 7:00pm: The Elmer Iseler Singers, with guests the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, present what seems like a lovely programme, Gibbons to Gospel, including music by Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons, Whitacre and Tomkins, as well as gospel repertoire.

October 10, 8:00pm: In their own take on melancholia, the ever-daring I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble presents In Corpore Sano with guests, oboist Marco Cera and Jonathan Addleman, harpsichord.

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October 15 to 17 at 8pm, October 18 at 3:30: Taflemusik’s Sizzling Strings offers music by Corelli, Vivaldi and C.P.E. Bach, and reaches into the 19th century with music of Mendelssohn. Violinist Aisslinn Nosky is the featured soloist.

October 17, 7:30pm in Barrie: Barrie Concerts presents Baroque Gypsies. Montreal’s Ensemble Caprice perform music from their repertoire, which no doubt will include samples from their 2009 Juno award-winning Vivaldi CD. Their members are shining lights in the early music world: Matthias Maute, recorder, baroque flute and composer;

November 3, 12:10pm: You have a chance to hear samplings of the Toronto Masque Theatre’s work, in U of T’s Voice Performance Class series – a free concert in Walter Hall.

To avoid melancholy one must avoid idleness, states Robert Burton; so grab a friend and heigh yourselves off to some of these concerts, and others that will be presented this month. Full details can be found in The WholeNote’s daily listings sections both in print and online.

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

The Early Music scene isn’t called “early” for nothing; the season is barely under way, and already there are some very interesting presentations to tell you about.

Hildegard von Bingen and the Labyrinth

The ancient labyrinth has long been used as a pathway toward achieving a contemplative state. Music is an important accompaniment in the winding journey that one takes from circumference to centre and out again, providing a soundscape that can aid in shutting out the bustle of life. In recent times, composers such as John Burke have found the labyrinth an apt companion in their efforts to create music that touches the soul; and I well remember the haunting sounds of the traditional Japanese flute, the shakuhachi, helping me along as I walked a labyrinth, a decade ago.

But it is the exquisite music and poetry of the 12th-century mystic, abbess, philosopher, physician, scientist, Hildegard von Bingen, that will accompany you if you choose to walk the labyrinth on her feast day, September 17. Hildegard composed ecstatically soaring vocal lines to express her poetic visions, each composition of one melodic line designed for limited instrumental accompaniment which was not written down, but left to the performers to improvise. In the upcoming event, performers include soprano and Hildegard scholar Krystina Lewicki; Mike Franklin, woodwinds and voice; Ann-Marie Boudreau, voice, sitar, ngoni, harp; and others who contribute the sounds of diverse instruments. Walking the labyrinth is not mandatory but only for those moved to do so; otherwise, one can remain seated and enveloped in this exalted poetry and music.

The performance takes place inside the Church of the Holy Trinity behind the Eaton Centre, September 17 at 8pm, and is presented in collaboration with the Labyrinth Community Network of Toronto. The labyrinth itself is patterned on the medieval style of the one set into the floor of Chartres Cathedral, in the 13h century.

Primadonnas and The Colours of Music

10SuzieLeblancSoprano Suzie Leblanc is a completely delightful artist whose specialties range from baroque repertoire to lieder, to French mélodies and Acadian folk music, to modern music and improvisation. Her versatility made her a prime choice as the first Singer-in-Residence at Barrie’s Colours of Music Festival (as the Festival’s indefatigable artistic director, Bruce Owen, told me). In this role, her activities will include concert collaborations with several other Festival artists, as well as giving workshops to elementary and high school students in the area – something Owen is very enthusiastic about, as for many students these will be rare exposures to the joys of music-making.

The early music component of Leblanc’s performances in Barrie is a concert entitled “Primadonnas of the Renaissance,” in which she will be joined by the singers and musicians of The Toronto Consort. What could be more natural than to repeat this concert at the Toronto Consort’s own series? – and so, you can hear it in Barrie on October 1, and in Toronto on October 2 and 3.

And ah! the music is from the Italian Baroque, when opera was new; when a ground bass and a few colourful instrumental touches supporting a melody could express all the fire, all the tenderness, that any primadonna could hope for. Monteverdi, Castaldi, Frescobaldi, Strozzi and others will lead you into their world of love (requited and unrequited), laments, entreaties, smiles and tears.

An all-too-brief mention of several other upcoming performances:

September 3, 7pm: Toronto Music Garden presents “Bach at Dusk – with Claudia.” Cellist Winona Zelenka continues her annual exposé of Bach’s Solo Cello Suites in a performance of No. 4 in E flat, joined by dancer Claudia Moore.

September 13, 2:30pm: “Tartini meets Hagen”, virtuoso music of the 18th century for violin and lute, is presented by the newly-formed Beaches Baroque, with baroque violinist Genevieve Gilardeau and lutenist Lucas Harris.

September 23 to 27: In the first of their season’s concerts, Tafelmusik is joined by Montreal’s Arion Baroque Orchestra to present “Handel: Royal Fireworks,” a programme that also includes music by J.C. Bach and Rameau.

September 26, 8pm: Toronto Masque Theatre reprises “Purcell: Dido and Aeneas / Aeneas and Dido,” a double-bill of Purcell’s masterpiece and TMT’s commission by James Rolfe and Andre Alexis.

October 3, 7:30: Cantemus, a newly formed choir whose focus is secular choral music of the Renaissance, presents “Fairest Isle – A Celebration of Early English Choral Music,” with music by Gibbons, Byrd, Taverner, Purcell and others.

And don’t forget the 25th annual Early Music Fair held on September 12 from noon to 5pm at Montgomery’s Inn, where you can encounter all sorts of early music performances, instruments, books and enthusiasts throughout the afternoon.

For details of these and many other upcoming events, see The WholeNote’s daily listings.

Purcell and the Hart House Viols

12_HartHse viol photo christine guestOn October 30 and 31, The Toronto Consort will present a very special pair of concerts – very special, in that the music presented is an iconic oeuvre in the history of music (Purcell’s complete Fantasias for viols); and in that they will be performed on a unique set of instruments – the Hart House viols.

More will be said about the Purcell Fantasias in the next Early Music column. But for now, it’s worth noting that Toronto is very fortunate to be called home to the six instruments known as the “Hart House viols.” Ranging in dates from c.1598(!) to 1781, they have recently been re-appraised and restored fully to playing condition, and are now recognized as a collected treasure of great historical and artistic value.

It’s a bit of a mystery how they turned up in Vancouver in the late 1920s, housed neatly in a large wooden chest thought to be a dowry chest. Around 1930, the Massey Foundation presented them as a gift to Hart House, where they have resided ever since.

Their public appearances have been relatively few. Local musicians Leo Smith and Wolfgang Grunsky played them during their early residency, and Peggie Sampson’s Hart House Consort used them in performance during the 1970s and 80s; more recently Joëlle Morton secured the loan of two of the viols for one of her innovative Scaramella concerts. Now we have the chance to hear all of them in The Toronto Consort’s October offering  – incomparable Purcell played by Les Voix Humaines – a musical experience to look forward to indeed.

With this column I take over the early music beat from my colleague, Frank Nakashima, who has faithfully researched and reported the early music scene over the past eight and a half seasons. I will try to follow in his able footsteps and will very much enjoy chronicling the fascinating spectrum of early music performance.

As summer approaches, so do the many opportunities to enjoy nature’s beauty and wonderful music in, but mostly outside, our cities. Below are several events that would be of special interest to seekers of historical performance. Don’t forget your sunblock!

The Grand River Baroque Festival, June 19-21 (www.grbf.ca), takes place in and around the Buehlow Barn in Ayr and also Paris, Ontario, just outside of Brantford. Special guests include the fabulous Flanders Recorder Quartet, presenting their “Banchetto Musicale” program, and Folia (violinist Linda Melsted, lutenist Terry McKenna, and harpsichordist Borys Medicky), reprising their fascinating “Chocolate Road” programme. The opening gala features the irrepressible artistic directors Nadina Mackie Jackson (bassoonist) and Guy Few (trumpeter), plus members of Folia and violinist Julie Baumgartel in various concerti by Vivaldi.

Read more: Early, and often

Tallis Choir. Peter Mahon is front left.

The name Peter Mahon will be familiar to many concert-goers in Toronto, especially if, as I do, you have a love of both choral music and early music. The affable Mahon has had a dual musical career: as a conductor over the last two decades he has worked with St. James Cathedral, Tafelmusik, the Hart House Singers, and Grace Church on-the-Hill, as well as being the founder and director of the William Byrd Singers. As a countertenor, over an even longer time, he has appeared with Tafelmusik, Toronto Consort, Aradia Ensemble, Montreal Chamber Music Festival, Pax Christi Chorale, Arbor Oak Concerts, The Bach-Elgar Choir, The Tallis Choir, The Toronto Chamber Choir and The St. James Cathedral Choral Society... .

Read more: Family Mahon

Walk like a man, talk like a man,” or so the song goes. When people think of a man with a high voice, they often think of Frankie Valli, Neil Sedaka, Smokey Robinson, or Art Garfunkel. Michael Maniaci, a male soprano, is a 32-year old singer whose voice is being compared to that of many female sopranos. What’s the difference? Female sopranos are from Venus, and the male sopranos, from Mars, right? I’m afraid to ask.

Singing as a boy, Maniaci discovered a love for music and singing. Then, reaching puberty, his voice didn’t change, or at least, not much. To this day, as far as we know, he remains to be the only natural male soprano on the operatic stage today. I ask if his vocal range is the same as a female soprano.

More or less,” Maniaci replies, “I mean, my voice most naturally rests in sort of a high lyric mezzo tessitura. I call myself a soprano because I’m not a countertenor and the roles that I sing are substantially higher that what traditional countertenors can do.” He adds, “If people are expecting to hear a countertenor, then I will be far from what they expect.”

Read more: Early Music: April 09
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