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 earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

early musicI should probably just come out and say, before I describe the concerts I’m looking forward to hearing this month, that I’m starting to have high hopes for the future of culture in Toronto; and the classical musicians I meet are giving me good reason to be an optimist. There are a few artists performing in Toronto this month who are giving this city a flavour that’s a little more cosmopolitan and a little less conventional. We’re now an important enough destination that at least a few lesser-known artists are performing in the city hoping to make it big-time, while the musicians that currently call Toronto home are continually coming up with new ideas that are every bit as innovative — if not more so — than concerts I’ve heard on the best European and American stages.

One artist that Toronto audiences will be happy to welcome back is Hank Knox, one of the leading lights of Montreal’s music scene and one of the founding members of Montreal’s Arion Baroque Orchestra. Knox has only occasionally performed in Toronto, in joint concerts with Arion and Tafelmusik. Never content to be heard behind the orchestra, Knox has struck out on a cross-Canada tour that includes dates in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Flin Flon, The Pas and Balmoral, Manitoba, as well as a stop in Toronto. The whole trip will amount to some 3,600 kilometres by car, which is impressive enough as a road trip without even factoring in the concerts after each drive. This sounds like a truly punishing concert schedule, as Knox is making the trip halfway across Canada alone.

Apparently he doesn’t mind. “It’s good, every so often, to blast your mind out of the usual rut it’s been in,” Knox answers when I ask him how he copes with the hours of driving. “I actually enjoy the solitude of long drives, and it’s very peaceful to just sit back and focus on the road for hours without any distractions.”

Knox will be at the Canadian Opera Company for a free noon-hour concert on October 3, and will be playing a mixed program for, as he puts it, “people who don’t know anything about the harpsichord,” which one can safely claim is well above 90 percent of the Canadian population. Knox’s program includes the trance-like The Bells by William Byrd, Frescobaldi’s gloriously perverse Fantasy on the Cuckoo, transcriptions of Handel arias from Rinaldo, La Poule by Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. What makes this appealing to a curious-but-ignorant-of-harpsichords concert-goer who doesn’t know what to expect? “Let’s put it this way,” Knox says, “if you don’t like what you hear, wait five minutes and something completely different will come along for you to listen to.” Sounds like a concert with something for everyone, and maybe even a possible ride to Montreal in it for you if you offer to pay for gas.

One Toronto-based artist who’s ventured off the beaten path to pursue her musical passions is Katherine Hill, who moved to the Netherlands and eventually Sweden to study medieval music. Hill is mainly known as a singer and viola da gambist, and is the proud holder of a master’s degree in medieval studies from the University of Toronto. Together with Ben Grossman and Alison Melville, Hill is also a member of Ensemble Polaris, a group which specializes in the folk music of circumpolar countries —Arctic fusion they call it. Hill’s deep and abiding love for the traditional folk music of Sweden led her to spend a year studying Swedish folk music at the Eric Sahlström Institute in Tobo, Sweden, and she came back with a unique knowledge of a relic from the the medieval era — a keyed fiddle known as the nyckelharpa.

“The nyckelharpa was actually fairly common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages,” Hill says, “but it’s only been preserved in Sweden. It’s becoming more popular in Germany and France and there are makers producing instruments now, but because no instruments have survived from the 14th century and the instrument kept changing, there’s no real way to tell what the original instrument looked and sounded like.”

Hill will be playing the nyckelharpa together with the Toronto Consort in a program of music from Sweden from the 16th to the 19th centuries, but that doesn’t mean it will be all Swedish composers — 17th-century Sweden was still a very multicultural country. “There was a huge international influence in Sweden in the 16th and 17th centuries,” Hill explains. “The Swedish court heard and loved music from England, France, Italy and Poland, too, and wanted to import the best musicians from all over Europe.” So a cosmopolitan Swede could possibly have heard, besides music from his own country, the music of the English composer Tobias Hume (a soldier in the Swedish army), tunes from John Playford’s The Dancing Master (a hit in 17th-century Sweden), compositions by Heinrich Isaac, and traditional Lutheran chorales — and that’s exactly what the Toronto Consort will be playing at Trinity-St. Paul’s on October 18 and 19.

Incidentally, Hill will also be playing along in Toronto Masque Theatre’s production “Brief Lives: Songs and Stories of Old London,” based on the collected biographies by John Aubrey. Aubrey’s Brief Lives is a who’s who of famous Londoners from the 17th century, and includes William Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes, John Dee, Ben Jonson and Sir Walter Raleigh as its subjects. Even more interesting than the history lesson is the gossip: Aubrey dished the kind of dirt on his subjects that would get a modern biographer sued for libel if he published that kind of information today. Toronto Masque Theatre’s production features William Webster of Soulpepper and includes ballads and popular music from Aubrey’s London of the 17th century. The show will be at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts from October 25 to 27.

If you’re looking for more conventional concert-going fare (or you’re just an opera fan or Italophile) be sure to welcome a group of young players who are making their Toronto debut for Mooredale Concerts on Sunday October 20. Il Giardino d’Amore will be performing a concert of Italian baroque music in Walter Hall at 3:15 pm. The founders, Polish violinist Stefan Plewniak and Italian harpsichordist Marco Vitale, met when they joined Le Concert des Nations, the orchestra led by gambist and early-music superstar Jordi Savall, and decided to form their own band — since only the best players in Europe get to play with Savall it’s a safe bet these are some top-notch players. Their concert features Italian cantatas sung by the Polish soprano Natalia Kawalek, and compositions by Scarlatti, Corelli, Locatelli, Geminiani and Vivaldi. Il Giardino d’Amore will also be performing an interactive concert aimed at children ages 6 to 15 at 1:15 at Walter Hall. It’s a pared-down version of the same concert meant to last only an hour; tickets for the early performance are only $13.

I’m glad to see that Toronto is becoming a destination for foreign artists like Il Giardino d’Amore, and I’m always grateful for a chance to hear something new from familiar artists on the Toronto music scene. Be sure to check The WholeNote blog to see what I have to say about the early music concerts I actually manage to get out to in the weeks ahead. 

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

The next time you’re at an orchestra concert, take a close look at the musicians sitting at the back. Notice the looks on their faces as they play. If you have to, squint hard. Hear the brass section at full volume during an orchestral tutti, or the lutenist strumming away? Good. They’re working hard, they’re happy (or at least feeling professionally fulfilled for these few moments), and they’ll be glad you noticed them. But pay even closer attention when they’re sitting through a tacet and looking out over the orchestra with a blank look on their faces. They have nothing to do but sit and observe their co-workers, and I’m willing to bet you they’ve had a few hours to sit back and do nothing when the orchestra was rehearsing this week. They might seem idle, but this particular form of enforced idleness has great rewards.

early musicWhile their colleagues on stage are working, the musicians at the back, from their vantage point, can observe their every move. They watch stand partners glare daggers at each other through page turns, they watch the conductor wince as the flutist mangles an exposed passage and they can see everyone roll their eyes in unison as the soprano brings the entire piece to a halt to flirt with the world-famous tenor who just flew in from Milan (these are all hypotheticals, but you get the point): the backbenchers, more so than the soloists or even the artistic director are the people who really know what’s going on in an orchestra, and if you treat them right, they’ll give you all the inside info on the group that you need. Plus they return your phone calls faster.

I decided to ask Toronto’s top continuo players what they know about their respective groups and find out what concerts I should make a point of seeing (or missing) in the upcoming concert season. One continuo player who is privy to all kinds of inside information is Alison Mackay. As a bass player for Tafelmusik, she knows this year is going to be a momentous one for Toronto’s biggest baroque band. “We’re really excited that we’re going to have a brand new concert hall,” Mackay says, referring to the major renovation to Trinity-St.Paul’s. “We used to have to build the stage for every concert series and take it apart for the church services ... The new concert stage is going to make a huge difference to Tafelmusik’s sound.”

Better acoustics for any orchestra is a marvellous change, but this year is also a seminal one for Tafelmusik for another reason. This is Jeanne Lamon’s final year with the orchestra and this season’s guest conductors could be considered as potential candidates to lead the group one day. Tafelmusik will also be celebrating Lamon’s legacy as artistic director and lead violinist with the orchestra and will be taking suggestions from the audience for pieces to play in a concert featuring Lamon in a series May 8to 14.

Despite a flurry of activity behind the scenes, Tafelmusik will also be putting on several ambitious and innovative concerts, including two which were designed by Mackay and are now an international success. The first, “The Four Seasons: A Cycle of the Sun,” is a re-envisioning of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which he composed in 1725, and includes music from around the world that would have been heard the same year, such as pipa music from China, a raga to celebrate the monsoon and interactive performances by Inuit throat singers. It also features a re-imagining of Vivaldi’s “Winter” by Oscar-winning Canadian composer Mychael Danna. (Mackay’s other program, “The Galileo Project,” will tour Japan and Korea, but Toronto audiences won’t hear that here this year.) Finally, Tafelmusik will release a DVD based on another concert of Mackay’s, “House of Dreams,” which features music and paintings from famous art patrons in Baroque Europe.

“Some of these paintings were part of private collections that were acquired by public galleries and haven’t been seen in their original locations for centuries,” Mackay explains. “We filmed performances in places like Handel’s house in London and the house of one of Bach’s close friends in Leipzig. The movie takes you all over Europe and gives you a sense of what it must have been like to experience that music back in the 18th century.” That movie will be commercially available in a few months, and Mackay hopes it will get a public premiere some time in November.

Another continuo insider I talked to was lutenist Lucas Harris. Besides providing a solid foundation to groups like Tafelmusik and the Toronto Consort, Harris makes up one-third of the Vesuvius Ensemble, a chamber group dedicated to Italian folk music. “We had a very successful concert program based on music from Naples, so we’re going to tour that to Port Hope, Cambridge and Ottawa,” Harris says. Toronto audiences will be able hear Vesuvius on November 2 when they open for Michael Occhipinti’s Sicilian Jazz Project at Koerner Hall. Harris will also have centre stage earlier that day when he conducts his final Masters recital in choral conducting at the Church of the Redeemer in a program that includes works by Arvo Pärt, Lili Boulanger and Clara Schumann. While the concert won’t be a straight early music performance, Harris will use the occasion to show off a repertoire he’s passionate about — the Austrian sacred music of the mid-17th century. “No one has really explored this repertoire before, and it’s really amazing music,” he says. “On the one hand, you have beautiful counterpoint descended from Schutz, and on the other, this incredible virtuosity from Italian music from that period.”

While choral and folk music fans will be keen to catch Harris’ shows, viol player Justin Haynes’ exploits will be of particular interest to lovers of chamber and orchestral music. Haynes’ main group, Elixir Baroque, is already slated to play as soloists with the Community Baroque Orchestra of Toronto (CBOT) November 9. “We get a really good sense of energy playing with CBOT,” Haynes says. “They’re amateur musicians with a deep love of baroque music. It’s great to feel that sense of passion ... sometimes professional musicians get a bit jaded.”

Besides his main gig with Elixir, which will take him to Oakville and Brampton this September, Haynes has plans for a concert that will feature some of Telemann’s Paris Quartets later this fall with Allison Melville and Kathleen Kajioka. Though perhaps under-appreciated, the quartets are exceptional chamber pieces and are a fitting example of Telemann’s musical rivalry with J. S. Bach.

And as if Haynes wasn’t busying himself enough, he also has plans to step out from behind the band and perform as a soloist with an all-Forqueray concert of his own in December. “I love French repertoire and Forqueray wrote amazing music for gamba. It’s a good chance to show off,” he says.

The end of August is still early in the classical concert season. For many of Toronto’s music groups, halls still need to be booked, guest performers flown in, concert dates confirmed. But the rank-and-file players one sees in Toronto are more than just orchestral employees; they’re increasingly turning out to be budding impresarios, conductors and soloists, sometimes even ending up exploring music that has nothing to do with what they’re playing that night. So the next time you find yourself at a concert, pay a bit more attention to the guys at the back. Next time you might find them running the show — or with a band of their own. Here’s to ambition. 

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

earlymusic la-nefRambling through three months of early music performances within the space of one column might seem a bit foolhardy but it can be done; here, with the help of a few judiciously chosen madrigals, is my run-down of concert activity for the coming summer months.

June, she’ll change her tune, in restless walks she’ll prowl the night. Well, not exactly renaissance lyrics — it’s Simon and Garfunkel — yet it does describe this month of transition, the last vestiges of the winter season giving way to festivals that herald the arrival of summer.

We’ll start with a lovely ending to the TEMC’s Musically Speaking series, which has been going on monthly at Toronto’s St. David’s Church since January. What better way to draw to a close than with a program of viol music? “The English Viol” features works by Locke, Purcell and others and is performed by the Cardinal Consort of Viols on June 16.

earlymusic tafelmusik-choir-members bysianrichardsNo sooner have they wrapped up their busy regular season than Tafelmusik bursts vigorously upon the scene in June with their Baroque Summer Institute, an advanced training program in baroque performance which draws musicians from around the world. Four public concerts are offshoots of this program: June 4, “Delightfully Baroque” features music by Handel, Vivaldi, Blow and others performed by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir; June 9, “Musical Interlude” is a casual concert of chamber music by Castello, Merula, Bononcini and others played by members of the faculty; June 13, “The TBSI Orchestras and Choirs” presents music by Purcell, Fasch, Vivaldi and others; June 16, “The Grand Finale” is a baroque extravaganza involving participants and faculty, with music by Handel, Rameau, Charpentier and Mondonville.

And still in June, the Tafelmusik orchestra and chamber choir appear at the Luminato Festival, joining the Mark Morris Dance Group and vocal soloists for three performances, June 21, 22 and 23, of Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Choreographed by Mark Morris, this piece is widely considered one of the great dance works of the 20th century.

On June 22, a step back to the medieval: Vocem Resurgentis presents “Journey into the Medieval Convent: Music of Hildegard von Bingen and Las Huelgas Codex,” with sopranos Linda Falvy and Mary Enid Haynes and alto Catherine McCormack, performed at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

If you’re in Burlington on June 29, you can experience all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos performed in two concerts, by members of the Brott Music Festival’s National Academy Orchestra. And if you find yourself in Old Montreal from June 21 to 24, you have a wonderful opportunity to experience the spectacular Montreal Baroque Festival, this year titled “Nouveaux Mondes/New Worlds.” It features Motezuma, an opera by Vivaldi, and too many events both grand and intimate to list here (you can find it all at montrealbaroque.com). It also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Montreal Recorder Society, with workshops, masterclasses and concerts focused on the recorder.

Festivals are in my mistress’ face; and July in the Garden hath place. Okay, it’s a paraphrase (and no disrespect intended) of a madrigal by Morley, but it does point out that Toronto’s Music Garden concerts are in full swing in July and that summer festivals are abounding everywhere, with lots of early music to hear. Let me tell you about a few of these:

In Exeter, the Bach Music Festival of Canada takes place July 14 to 20. While it’s not all early music, there’s a concert of Bach’s great choruses with choir and orchestra (July 15), a performance by Cappella Intima titled “Celestial Sirens," featuring the revolutionary music of Benedictine nun Chiara Maria Cozzolani (July 16) and a full performance of Bach’s St. John Passion (July 20).

The Elora Festival, July 12 to August 4, presents two concerts completely devoted to Handel: July 14, Dixit Dominus and Laudate Pueri with the Elora Festival Singers and Chamber Players, Noel Edison, conductor, and on July 27, the chamber opera Acis and Galatea, with the Elora Festival Singers and the musicians of the Toronto Masque Theatre.

At Festival of the Sound, July 18 to August 11 in Parry Sound, some of the most beautiful spaces in the area (such as the Museum at Tower Hill and St. Andrew’s Church) open their doors to the audience for “Bach Around Town,” a series of performances featuring music of Bach and others, with performers such as violinist Moshe Hammer, the New Zealand String Quartet, harpist Erica Goodman and flutist Suzanne Shulman (July 24, 26 and 30).

Ottawa’s Music and Beyond festival, July 4 to 15, has an impressive lineup of music and performers. Among the events are a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, an Albinoni oboe concerto and love duets by Handel, with soprano Karina Gauvin, countertenor Daniel Taylor, baroque violinist Adrian Butterfield and the Theatre of Early Music (July 6) and two performances of Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” featuring the Theatre of Early Music and soloists (July 7).

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Music Niagara festival, July 12 to August 11, offers a tasteful event for those who like to explore the wineries of the region. On July 20 the Toronto Consort will appear at the Trius Winery at Hillebrand, in a performance titled “Music & Wine.”

The Ottawa Chamberfest commands the city from July 25 to August 8, with irresistible concerts happening in many venues. Among them are three devoted to early music: July 28, Les Voix Baroques present “Beyond the Labyrinth: In Search of John Dowland” in honour of the composer’s 450thbirthday — an exploration of how Dowland’s songs may change when they are performed as lute songs, as part songs or in a grey zone between the two. Also July 28, “Dowland in Dublin” features tenor Michael Slattery and the early music ensemble La Nef, who focus on the lighter-hearted side of Dowland with new arrangements of some of his well-known airs. July 31, there’s a performance of Monteverdi’s iconic Vespers of 1610 with Les Voix Baroques and La Rose des Vents, directed by Alexander Weimann.

On Lamèque Island in northeastern New Brunswick, the three-day Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival takes place from July 25 to 27. There you can hear works for harpsichord, baroque flute and cello, instrumental and vocal music by Vivaldi, Handel, Corelli and Scarlatti, and choral music by Bach, Pachelbel and Leonarda.

early music pallade musicaMeanwhile at Toronto’s Music Garden, the Summer Music in the Garden series is in full swing. Approximately one hour in length, concerts take place in the outdoor amphitheatre and are a wonderful way to spend a Thursday evening or a late Sunday afternoon. Two in July feature baroque music: July 4, “Mediterranean Baroque” features music from baroque Italy, Spain and Turkey, played by baroque cellist Kate Haynes, baroque violinist Christopher Verrette and theorbist Matthew Wadsworth. July 18, Pallade Musica (Grand Prize winners of the 2012 Early Music American Baroque Performance Competition) presents “Terreno e vago,” an exploration of the emotional polarities found in music of the Italian Baroque.

In addition to all this, the following July events take place: July 19 in Waterloo, the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents Pallade Musica, fresh from their appearance in Toronto the previous day. July 20 at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, harpsichordist Philip Fournier brings together accomplished singers and viola da gamba for “Méditations pour le Carême,” with music by Charpentier, Marais and Couperin.

Come away, come sweet love, golden August breaks. All the earth, all the air, of love and music speaks. O dear, another paraphrase — this time apologies to Dowland — but it does serve to note that if you want to go to early music concerts in August, you’ll probably have to “come away,” as all the concerts I know about at this point are in widespread locations: Parry Sound, Stratford, Toronto and Kingston.

There’s the continuation of the Bach Around Town series at Festival of the Sound, which this month finds soprano Leslie Fagan, trumpeter Guy Few and others performing Bach, Vivaldi and Handel at St. James Church on August 6, and violinist Julie Baumgartel and the Festival Baroque returning the series to the festival’s home base, the Stockey Centre, to perform an array of baroque composers on August 9.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra makes one more appearance, this time at Stratford Summer Music, with two all-Bach programs on August 17 and 18. In Toronto at Summer Music in the Garden, members of New York’s period instrument ensemble, Gretchen’s Muse, come to play two 18th-century string quartets, one by Haydn and one by Mozart, on August 22. And in Kingston, the St. George’s Cathedral Summer Concert series features the Kingston Viol Consort on August 29.

Oh it’s a long, long while from May to December, but the concerts grow fewer when you reach September ... (Will anyone argue that Frank Sinatra wasn’t a consummate madrigalist?) There’s one more at the Music Garden which shouldn’t be missed, though technically it falls outside the boundaries of this column: on September 12, the superb baroque cellist Kate Haynes returns to continue her six-year cycle of the Bach unaccompanied cello suites, with Suite No.3 in C Major. She’ll also premiere a new work by Christopher Hossfeld, inspired by the Bach.

And so good-bye to our summer tour of early music performances. Please consult The WholeNote’s website throughout the summer for updates and additional concerts as we hear about 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.

Two of my favourite things in life are Bach and espresso. So when someone gets the idea of actually combining the two, I get the feeling he’s done it just for me. There’s a Bach-playing duo who obviously have a plan to meet me for coffee, and they are baroque violinist Edwin Huizinga and harpsichordist Philip Fournier. Their plan: an ingenious tour of coffee houses in Toronto’s west end, designed to forever ensnare unsuspecting coffee drinkers into an everlasting love of Bach and classical music performance. The engaging Huizinga (you may have noticed him playing in any one of several groups in town — Tafelmusik or Aradia for example — he’s the imposing fellow with the long red hair who plays his violin with obvious passion) tells me more:

1808-early“The idea is that so many musicians travel the world, and often don’t really get the benefit of getting to know their community, people on their street, people in their ‘hood.’ And vice versa, where the community often doesn’t realize the talent living ‘in their own backyard.’ These evenings will be free, super casual, super intimate, super up close and personal, and will feature an hour or more of music of Bach for harpsichord and violin; we will be playing some solos and some of the obbligato violin sonatas as well. The events will also include some words about the pieces, some conversation about us and the instruments we play.”

And they are two interesting musicians. Besides being an accomplished violinist in a whole range of genres from improv to indie rock to baroque to modern, Huizinga was a founding member of the international network Classical Revolution — an organization of musicians dedicated to performing high-quality chamber music in non-traditional settings — begun in San Francisco in 2006. Fournier is organist and music director at St. Vincent de Paul, a specialist in Gregorian chant, a well-known recitalist on harpsichord and organ who has been called one of the finest organists of his generation.

You’ll find them in three coffee houses on these dates: May 6: Baluchon (Sorauren Ave.); May 7: The Common (College and Dufferin); May 8: Sam James (Harbord and Clinton). It all culminates in a concert of Bach at Holy Family Church on May 18, where hopefully some of the audience will have had the pleasure of first hearing them over a latte.

There’s a different tour you can take this month, one which centres on the theme you could call aspects of the feminine nature.

On May 10, 11 and 12, Toronto Masque Theatre’s “The Lessons of Love” pairs two masques drawn from two traditions, Blow’s Venus and Adonis of 1683 and Alice Ping Yee Ho’s newly composed The Lesson of Da Ji, which is scored for voices and an ensemble of baroque instruments including violin, lute and recorder as well as traditional Chinese instruments. The Blow piece relates the story of the beautiful and seductive goddess Venus, tragically struck as a result of her own selfish decisions. Ho’s work, on the other hand, tells of a Chinese concubine of the Shang dynasty, now understood mostly as an interfering supernatural being or a conniving seductress — ah, but is she tortured by deep inner conflicts? This presentation features among its wonderful cast Peking Opera artist William Lau, who plays a traditional female role representing the “Dark Moon.”

On May 24, 25 and 26, women of talent and vision are celebrated in the Toronto Consort’s “A Woman’s Life,” created by Alison Mackay. She is the designer of such multi-disciplinary shows as “The Galileo Project,” House of Dreams” and “The Four Seasons, a Cycle of the Sun,” each one incorporating stunning imagery, movement and gorgeous music to allow the audience to bear witness to a culture vividly brought to life. In the present production, she explores the lives and accomplishments of women composers and singers from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and early Baroque — women such as Hildegard of Bingen, Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini. The Consort is joined by guests, actors Maggie Huculak and Karen Woolridge.

Aspects of Venus, even her ablutions apparently, are explored by soprano Dawn Bailey and the Elixir Baroque Ensemble, in TEMC’s last concert of the season on May 26. Bailey is surely one to watch; her extensive résumé includes art song, oratorio and operatic appearances in Canada and abroad, in new music and old. She’s especially sought after for her interpretations of music from the 17th and 18th centuries. In this concert she and the Elixir Ensemble perform music of the French Baroque, including a cantata by Colin de Blamont, La Toilette de Venus.

And finally, on May 27 the Toronto Continuo Collective presents “The Immortal Soul of Psyche.” An astoundingly beautiful mortal woman, Psyche had to overcome impossible obstacles in order to win her lover, the god Eros; through perseverence she was rewarded with immortality and everlasting happiness. Works by Locke and Lully unfold her story, performed by singers, guest instrumentalists and the Continuo Collective themselves, a group dedicated to the study of the art of expressive continuo playing.

Others of note

May 10: Michael Kelly was an Irish tenor, composer, actor and theatrical manager whose career led him to artistic centres all over Europe; along the way he met and made friends with many of the most celebrated musicians of the day. Not the least of these friendships was with Mozart, whom he met in Vienna. In Kelly’s memoir Reminiscences he describes an evening’s entertainment he attended, a quartet party where the performers were Haydn, Dittersdorf, Vanhal and Mozart — it must have been quite an event! In “An Evening with Michael Kelly,” the Eybler Quartet recreates the music heard that evening while their guest, actor R.H. Thomson reads from Kelly’s memoir and other writings. Gallery Players of Niagara present the same program May 12 in St. Catharines.

May 11: The Peterborough Singers directed by Sidney Birrell is a 100-voice choir which celebrates the conclusion of their 20th season in their hometown of Peterborough with the performance of a masterpiece, Bach’s B Minor Mass. Soloists include soprano Leslie Fagan, mezzo Laura Pudwell, tenor Adam Bishop and baritone Peter McGillivray.

May 25: Who else but I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble would present a program titled “HIGH”? The plot is best described by themselves: “I FURIOSI rises from the depths and soars to new heights in this program of lofty heavens. Baroque gods always descended in a machine — but whence? Since those gods always returned up high, the ensemble endeavours to find out what all the fuss is about up there.” Guest for this concert, which takes place at St. Mary Magdalene Church, is lutenist and theorbist Lucas Harris.

May 30, 31, June 1 and 2: You shouldn’t be surprised to find 19th-century repertoire on Tafelmusik’s upcoming program (namely, Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, the Coriolan and Egmont Overtures, and Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto) — after all, they’ve been pushing the boundaries of their repertoire for some years now; also, they have as their next soloist the wonderful Polish-Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska, a Chopin specialist, playing an 1848 Pleyel piano — the same model as that used by Chopin when he gave his last concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1848, and one of very few to survive.

June 2: In a concert titled “Master Works of J.S. Bach,” organist Philip Fournier (of the coffee house duo above) plays three great works: Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G, several fugues from the Art of Fugue, and the C Minor Passacaglia, on the Gober/Kney tracker organ at The Oratory, Holy Family Church. 

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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