The lack of space for a full-out “In With The New” column this month is more than somewhat offset by the fact that several of our other columnists in the issue have stolen my thunder anyway!

20Robert Wallace, page 8, talks about Obeah Opera, Nicole Brooks’ new work, as well as about Queen of Puddings’ Beckett Feck-it, at Canadian Stage. Chris Hoile, pages 18 and 19, talks about two works I would otherwise have drawn attention to: the COC production of Kaija Saariaho’s opera, L’Amour de loin, playing at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts; and Toronto Operetta Theatre’s first professional rollout of the John Beckwith/James Reaney opus Taptoo!

And there’s more. Pamela Margles, in the concert notes to her review of Kaija Saariaho: Visions, Narratives, Dialogues (“BookShelf,”) draws attention to four other concerts that will feature Saariaho’s music during the composer’s visit. (Three of these, by the way, are under Soundstreams’s auspices — and I will return to a discussion of Soundstreams.) Even our CD reviewers get into the act. Andrew Timar’s review of a Finnish Radio Symphony recording of Saariaho’s music, page 62, references L’Amour de loin. And a Leslie Mitchell-Clarke review, on the same page, of two + two, a new release by TorQ Percussion Quartet, is followed by a note pointing out TorQ’s appearance in the final concert of the U of T New Music Festival (February 5).

Of Toronto’s major presenters of new music (Array, Contact!, Continuum, Esprit, Gallery 345, Music Gallery, New Music Concerts, Queen of Puddings, Soundstreams and Tapestry New Opera), Soundstreams is the one to which we have, so far this season, devoted the least ink in this column. This month is as good as any to redress that, because the company has an extraordinary diversity of material on offer. In addition to the three Saariaho contributions referred to earlier, Soundstreams also presents two full-fledged Koerner Hall productions. The first of these, The Sealed Angel, billed as a music drama, is the work of Rodion Shchedrin, a Russian composer born in 1932. In typical Soundstreams fashion, this concert is an intensely collaborative project, involving the Amadeus Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers and ProArteDanza dance company. And then, book-ending the current listings period, Soundstreams is, as far as I can tell, the first of the aforementioned major presenters out of the blocks with a concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of composer John Cage’s birth. Titled “So Percussion: Cage @100” the concert will feature works by Cage and turntablist Nicole Lizée.

With the 100th anniversary of Cage’s birth not till September, pianist Kate Boyd is also fast off the mark, with back to back performances Thursday, February 16: first a noon hour lecture/recital on Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes at University of Waterloo; then a concert the same evening of the complete Sonatas and Interludes, for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Not to be outdone, the Music Gallery, a week earlier, on February 10, presents a programme titled “Post-Classical Series: The Cold War Songbook – Pilgrims and Progress” which also features Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (1948) performed by Vicky Chow, piano. The “Cold War Songbook” then continues February 11 with a programme of piano works by Ustvolskaya, Carter and Feldman, featuring the pianistic post-classical virtuosity of Stephen Clarke and Simon Docking.

The next day, February 12, at the Music Gallery, it’s Continuum Contemporary Music back in action with a a programme featuring music by Ligeti, Oesterle, Current, Klanac and Richard Marsella, who also guests on the barrel organ. And it’s busy busy as usual all month at upstart Gallery 345, with concerts worth noting on February 19 (pianist Adam Sherkin), 20 (soprano Xin Wang), 25 (mezzo Marta Herman), and 28 (Les Amis Concerts); and on March 7 (Norman Adams, cello; Lee Pui Ming, piano; Erin Donovan, percussion).

It’s a bit ironic to be giving the city’s largest ensembles the shortest shrift in this column, but that’s sometimes the way things fall out. First, Esprit Orchestra continues the season’s torrid pace with their third, full-scale Koerner Hall concert, on February 26. Titled “Gripped By Passion,” it features works by Vivier, Scelsi, Rea and Schnittke, the vocal magic of mezzo, Krisztina Szabó and dazzling TSO violist Teng Li.

And March 1, 3 and 7, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents its eighth annual New Creations Festival of which we will have much more to say in the coming issue.

10_vinko_globokar_-_kolo_1992Like many in the global village, I have become a fan of the Metropolitan Opera’s LIVE from the Met in movie houses, combining as it does all the lazy pleasures of movie going (a director telling you where to look, a soundtrack telling you what to feel) with an almost voyeuristic immediacy. I am behind the scenes of one of the world’s great opera houses, or face to face with the four feet tall tonsils of the world’s greatest bass-baritone, as the case may be. Add to this usual movie stuff the additional thrill, usually reserved for NASCAR or other such blood sports, of knowing that the whole thing might crash and burn right before my eyes, but almost never does, and I am hooked. Why? Because it’s LIVE!

Except that it isn’t. It’s “live from,” but not live at. At, in this case, is the Queensway Cineplex Odeon, TimBits, mint tea and all. Even the Met’s celebrity greeters acknowledge as much. One of them always comes on screen during one or the other intermission, backstage, to remind us, the TimBits audience, that watching this way isn’t the real thing, and that to fully experience the magic of opera we should pop down to New York, or [tiny pause] go out and support our local opera company. My most recent foray to the Odeon was for an enormously satisfying production of Phillip Glass’s Satyagraha, during which bass baritone Eric Owens (Alberich in the Met’s current Ring Cycle) appeared during the intermission to do the mandatory “live opera is real magic” speech. Even in his sonorous tones it came off stilted and, dare we say it, just a titch insincere.

More’s the pity, because it’s the absolute bottom-line truth. There is an innate, unmatchable theatricality in congregating live for music. It cannot be matched or emulated in other media, no matter how grand. And nowhere is this more evident than in the performance of new music.

Ironically, the first performance I want to draw to your attention, as an example of theatrical spectatorship, seems to negate that principle, because, to a significant extent, it takes place in the pitch dark. I heard about it from composer Brian Current, director of the New Music Ensemble of the Glenn Gould School. The work is Austrian spectral composer Georg Haas’ monumental In Vain, for 24 musicians and lighting (2000) Thursday December 8, 7:30pm and Friday December 9, 2:30pm, in the Conservatory Theatre of the Royal Conservatory.

“It’s a 70 minute piece, really a spectral wonder, a beautiful and substantial work, based almost entirely on musical colour,” Current says. “Sometimes they play in the pitch black, other times there are ghostly flashes of light.” They will be blocking the windows out on the Conservatory Theatre to get complete darkness. “The ensemble is all graduate students and they have been working hard on this difficult material, even memorizing the portions in the dark. We are also very fortunate that GF Haas is also coming in for these shows from Austria, just to work with us and to deliver a talk at 6pm before the Saturday performance.”

As it happens, the two In Vain performances fall slap bang right in the middle of what is undoubtedly December’s new music main event (the Vinko Globokar invasion, November 29 to December 11) so here’s hoping it won’t be overlooked. After all, somewhere in the tranformation of noises in the night to sounds in the dark, the truly theatrical nature of music has its beginnings.

By contrast, Queen of Puddings Music Theatre’s presentation of Galgenlieder à 3 (Gallows Songs) by Sofia Gubaidulina affirms its theatricality quite explicitly, billing itself as “a concert drama.” Queen of Puddings has always had an aesthetic of physical, singing theatre, going all the way back to their first production, “Mad for All Reasons” in 1996, which was built around Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King. Part of that aesthetic is curatorial, latching onto music that has an intrinsic theatricality rather than adding visual cheap tricks to jazz up the musically ordinary.

Gubaidulina’s Galgenlieder fits the bill. “It’s a 15-song cycle — sung in the original German — featuring the text of German poet Christian Morgenstern (1871–1914)” says Dáirine Ní Mheadra, QoP co-founder and director. “Gubaidulina’s stature in the world of contemporary music is enormous — she is one of the pre-eminent composers alive today. Her music is dramatic and intense.”

Born in Christopol in the Tatar Republic of the Soviet Union in 1931, Gubaidulina’s music was an escape from the terrifying socio-political atmosphere of Soviet Russia, Ní Mheadra says. “For this reason, she associated music with human transcendence and mystical spiritualism. Bringing these qualities plus a wicked sense of humour to her settings of Morgenstern is a knockout combination. And to have a star singer like Betty Allison singing this Galgenlieder is sumptuous. Betty’s sound has voluptuousness and an emotional depth to it that is profoundly moving.”

From Ladysmith, BC, by way of the Canadian Opera Company ensemble, Allison has been exercising her new music “chops,” coming to town hot off the title role in the Pacific Opera premiere of Mary’s Wedding (music Andrew P. MacDonald, libretto Stephen Massicotte.) In Galgenlieder she shares the stage with Ryan Scott, percussion, and Joseph Phillips, double bass, both accustomed to swimming outside of the mainstream as well as in.

Phillips, a former student of “tune ’em in fifths” bass virtuoso Joel Quarrington, has made frequent appearances with Art of Time Ensemble and is a member of Hotland Trio, a moody Balkan/Canadian trio (with violinist Aleksandar Gajic and accordionist Milos Popovic) that brings serious classical muscle to moody, driven, strongly rhythmic repertoire.

12_percussionists_kitchen_ryan_scottAnd Ryan Scott is one of the most versatile, accomplished (and busy) percussionists in this or any other town. Case in point, he will take the stage for Galgenlieder a week after a scorching performance of 20th century Japanese percussion titan Maki Ishii’s South-Fire-Summer for Esprit Orchestra at Koerner Hall November 30 — a work of extraordinary complexity requiring a percussion array the size of (and better stocked than) the average kitchen. And just one day later, December 9, it will be out of the proverbial frying pan into the improvational fire for Scott, as he anchors the second half of the first of the two Vingko Globokar concerts to which I referred briefly at the beginning of this column and to which I now return.

Vinko Globokar, French avant-garde composer and trombonist, returns to Toronto at the invitation of New Music Concerts’ artistic director Robert Aitken, almost forty years (1972) after Aitken brought him here in the first place.

He’s been back in between, but this is a 12-day Vinko-fest, culminating Sunday December 11, at Betty Oliphant Theatre, 8pm, in an NMC presentation of works spanning four decades, ranging from Fluide (1967) for brass and (very extended) percussion through Eppure si Muove (2003) for solo trombone (Globokar) and an ensemble of 11 disparate instruments including cimbalom, accordion, saxophone, synthesizer and electric guitar, without conductor. In between are Discours VII (1987) for brass quintet, which “attacks problems posed by spatialisation of sound, mobility of sound sources and different degrees of communication between five people,” and Eisenberg (1990) for four groups of four: brass instruments ad libitum (such as Tibetan horn, Moroccan nafir, conch), melodic instruments, harmony instruments and musicians who work with noises (unspecified percussion).

Even this mere recitation of ideas and instrumentation gives a tiny taste of the infinite variety, and jest, of this pioneer of modern trombone technique. Quite simply this is an individual who never repeats himself compositionally or artistically, challenging audiences and players (be warned, they are not always entirely distinct!) anew with every new outing and every new work.

Events in his visit will already be under way by the time this issue hits the street: at the University of Toronto, where Globokar is the Michael and Sonja Koerner Distinguished Visitor in Composition — improvisation workshops, forums, lecture, and a Globokar Colloquium at the Robert Gill Theatre. The following week Globokar will work extensively with the musicians of the New Music Concerts Ensemble and give masterclasses and improvisation workshops through the auspices of the Music Gallery. Some of the results of all this activity will be on display at the Music Gallery, Friday December 9, in the first half of the concert, titled “Back to Back.” The second half of that concert is an extended music/theatre piece Terres brulées, ensuite co-presented by Toronto New Music Projects and Continuum, which bring me back to percussionist Ryan Scott.

Earlier, you may recall, I mentioned that, for Scott, going from Galgenlieder on December 8 to Globokar at the Music Gallery the next day would be like going from frying pan to fire. Here’s how he described it (in the Continuum Contemporary Music November newsletter).

“After intermission is the epic Terres brulées, ensuite (Burned Lands, Then). Prepare for global annihilation! This trio for saxophone, piano and percussion featuring Wallace Halladay, Stephen Clarke (piano) and myself, is of legendary proportions and is rather difficult to describe: 6 saxophones, a prepared (and lightly abused) piano, over 70 percussion instruments (e.g. #43 “plank”) spread around the stage in 7 stations, 115 performance instructions (e.g. #21 Saw the plank and hammer in a nail), … live electronics … What else? Hmmm … a motet … a foghorn … oh, and explosions with fire (well, we’re working on that).”

There’s a wonderful interview with Globokar by British composer John Palmer available on the website of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community. For the curious it’s a great place to start.

What I got from it was the sense of energetic decades of musical inquiry, endlessly parsing and reparsing the relationships between music and speech, and rendering into music the theatricality of relationship. Part of his secret, I suspect, is a thick skin, the ability not to judge his own work in terms of success or failure. As he puts it:

“What is sure is that a musical work is a document which will remain. It’s a document that testifies certain things that happened at a certain time in society. This is an historical truth which cannot be denied. In one hundred years people will say, ‘This music reflects certain events that happened in those years.’ … L’art pour l’art as such does not interest me, at all.”


“Beyond Sound,” the 2012 iteration of the annual New Music Festival at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, coordinated by composer Norbert Palej, features Swedish composer Anders Hillborg as the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition and runs from January 22 to February 5. It’s billed as an exploration of “the diverse scientific and artistic interests that form the musical landscape of the 21st century,” with a focus on Hillborg’s work. It’s an event warranting much more of a mention than this. Happily, it’s well covered in our concert listings, and in “The ETCeteras” (page 67), our regular compilation of musical workshops, forums, lectures, etc. It is also very well described on the Faculty’s own website under “Events.”

Once upon a time, we regularly ran, alongside this column, a companion piece called New Music QuickPicks. The idea of QuickPicks was to give the new music aficionado a filtered list of all the concerts that might be of interest. But since these QuickPicks consisted of short form listings only (i.e. date, time, presenter name, concert title), one still had to go to the main listings for the details if something in the QuickPicks caught one’s eye. It was very handy, but also very irritating when the main listing in question turned out to be only of passing interest.

So we built in a rating system: NNN before a listing meant that new music was the main event (usually with a live composer or two in attendance). NN meant new music was not the main thrust but was of more than passing interest. And N meant, well … that was the problem. What did N mean? Did it mean there was a work of Britten’s on the programme, so you should come to pay homage to the pioneer? Or did it mean that the 10-minute contemporary work right before the intermission had actually been commissioned a few years back and/or had already been played more than twice?

That was the problem: the N’s started out as a time saving device; once they became viewed as a comment on the worth of events they lost their utility. It’s a pity, though, because at each of these three levels of intensity, N to NNN, so much is happening this month, and all of it plays its part: keeping composers busy, and enabling players and audiences to break new sonic ground.

19_estacioheadshot2010_colour900Starting with the Ns: Born in Newmarket, Ontario, John Estacio has single works on two different upcoming symphonic programmes: Friday November 4, the University of Western Ontario Symphony Orchestra plays his Variations on a Memory; Wednesday, November 9, Symphony on the Bay plays his Frenergy.

Frenergy’s highest profile performance in our catchment area was with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra September 26, 2009 —
the season opener with violinist Joshua Bell. “The concert opened with John Estacio’s Frenergy,”wrote The Globe and Mail, “a splashy short work full of propulsive rhythms and dramatic flourishes that should have tipped us off, when the piece was new in 2003, to Estacio’s future career as an opera composer. Somebody should use it for a film score.” And of Estacio as an opera composer (Filumena and Frobisher) arts writer Paula Citron, also in The Globe, wrote “If ever a contemporary opera deserved a shelf life, Filumena is the one.”

There are several other noteworthy single new works on upcoming programmes. Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s “Crossings” for cello and piano in four movements (2011) will be performed by Rachel Mercer and Angela Park at a Les Amis concert, Tuesday November 8 at the Toronto Heliconian Club, along with works by Mahler, Mozart and Brahms. Saturday December 3, East York Choir’s Winter Solstice: Seasonal 25th Anniversary Celebration features a world premiere by Stephen Hatfield. Sunday November 6, Antonín Kubálek Projects’ Music for Anton features a premiere — Daniel Foley’s Music for the Duke of York. Thursday November 17, at Music Toronto, The Gryphon Trio includes the Ontario premiere of Calgary-based William Jordan’s Owl Song in their programme, between Beethoven and under-performed late nineteenth century Russian composer Anton Arensky … The list goes on.

Moving up to NN on the intensity scale, a number of presenters this month provide main portions of new music in well rounded programmes. Saturday November 5, Vesnivka Choir/Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir present a concert titled 120th Anniversary of Ukrainians in Canada. Their guests will be Het Lysenko Koor (The Lysenko Choir) from Utrecht, a choir that focuses on Ukrainian folk and Byzantine sacred repertoire. The concert features two Canadian composers with strong Ukrainian ties — Laryssa Kuzmenko and Roman Hurko. Kuzmenko’s newest work Behold the Light helped to kick off both the 2011 TSO and Toronto Children’s Chorus seasons. And one of Hurko’s works, Panachyda/Requiem for the Victims of Chornobyl was performed in concert at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on April 9, 2006, by the combined Elmer Iseler Singers, Orpheus Choir, Amadeus Choir, Vesnivka, and the Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir. It was then rebroadcast on CBC Radio 2 on April 26 that year (the 20th anniversary of the disaster).

There’s more: Friday November 18, Sinfonia Toronto gets into the NN act with Gems Old and New, including two premieres: Rob Teehan’s Zephyr (Toronto premiere) and a world premiere by Christos Hatzis, titled Extreme Unction (In Memoriam Gustav Ciamaga); Thursday November 24 the Royal Conservatory’s Discovery Series presents Véronique Mathieu, violin, in works by Donatoni, Dufour-Laperrière and Boulez; also on November 24 is a recital titled Fallen Realm by pianist/composer Adam Sherkin, that will include works by Brahms, Rihm, Froberger and Sherkin himself; and on Friday November 25, Alliance Français de Toronto, who seem to be getting into music programming in a serious way, present a programme with the self-explanatory title Maurice Ravel, Omar Daniel: One Century, One Ocean.

Also steadily climbing the ladder in terms of a commitment to new music programming are the COC’s regular lobby concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Tuesday November 8 Array Ensemble present a programme titled Three. T(w)o. One, featuring music by Komorous, Kondo, Riley and Array director Rick Sacks himself. (And this is by no means the last you’ll hear of Array this month: they also have a concert at the Music Gallery, Saturday November 19, followed by an “improv concert,” in their own Atlantic Avenue space on Saturday November 26.)

But returning to the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre for a moment: make sure also to check out Thursday November 17, What to Do ’Til the Power Comes On, featuring the TorQ Percussion Quartet in works by Lansky, Ligeti, Southam and Morphy (premiere).

Top of the NNN ladder: the good news for true new music aficionados is that the higher up the ladder we go, the more crowded it gets. Friday November 4, York University Department of Music presents Improv Soiree. Thursday November 10, Music Gallery/Goethe Institut Toronto/Istituto Italiano di Cultura presents Pop Avant Series: Whitetree. Saturday November 12 Hannaford Street Silver Band/Amadeus Choir present The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. Tuesday and Wednesday November 15 and 16, the Talisker Players Chamber Music Series has an intriguing programme called Rumours of Peace. And Tuesday November 29 and Wednesday November 30, Soundstreams and Esprit Orchestra respectively are back for the second concerts of what promise to be thoroughly compelling seasons.

20_eve_egoyan-david_rokeby_2To conclude, two NNN concerts that nicely bookend the month: Sunday November 6, at the Music Gallery, Continuum Contemporary Music kicks off their season with a programme titled Fuzzy Logic, which is also the name of one of the works, by Alex Eddington, premiered on the programme. “How would you make music that sounds like a sheep? And more importantly, why? It’s a cheeky start to what looks like a delightfully eclectic programme.

And last, Friday December 2 brings an eagerly awaited Earwitness Productions/Eve Egoyan CD release concert. The disc is called Returnings and consists of works by Ann Southam for solo piano, including Returnings II: A Meditation (world premiere). Count on this CD to add to a burgeoning appreciation of Southam as a composer, and to Egoyan’s reputation as a wholly truthful and compelling interpreter, not only of Southam’s work, but of new music in general.

“New music in new places” is the name of a Canadian Music Centre initiative, now in its eighth year, to assist Canadian composers in “taking their music out of the concert hall and into the community where they work and live.” The CMC’s annual contribution to Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s annual all-night contemporary art festival, has been one of these events. This year, from 6:59pm October 1 till sunrise, it’s bells and more bells at Chalmers House (the CMC’s home on St. Joseph) “blended with electronic musical material and video projections in a continuous and evolving flow.” Titled “The “Crown of the Bell,” the installation is by Rose Bolton and video artist Marc de Guerre. Its companion piece, downstairs, by sound artist Barry Prophet is titled “Post Apocalyptic Belfry” and features glass lithophones, percussion, and electronics. For those of you getting October off to a flying start, it will be a great way to untune and retune your ears for what promises to be a chock-a-block new music month.

Gallery 345

“New music in new places” may well be the name of a CMC initiative, but it also describes a trend. Take Gallery 345 for example. South of Dundas Street W. at 345 Sorauren Avenue, five or six blocks west of where Dundas and College meet, this L-shaped gallery space is definitely “on the wrong side of the tracks” for a new music audience that traditionally gets nose bleeds north of St. Clair and fumbles for passports east of Parliament.

The place reminds me of the Music Gallery in some ways; even 30 people feels like a decent crowd, and you can cram a bunch more than that through the doors. It has the advantage of two decent pianos well maintained, a bright sound, and the cheerfully genre-blind, indefatigable curatorship of gallery owner Edward Epstein.

Even a partial list of concerts there gives you some idea: Saturday October 1 is AIM Toronto’s Interface Series with Sylvie Courvoisier, piano and composer, Marilyn Lerner, piano, and others. Wednesday October 5 it’s “The Art of the Piano Duo: Pieces of the Earth,” a CD release concert featuring original compositions and improvisations by John Kameel Farah and Attila Fias, pianos. “Improvisation unfolds over the evening” says their press release. Sounds like just the spot for it.

October 8 its “Trikonasana.” Friday October 14 it’s Arraymusic with “The Piano Music of Ann Southam” (mentioned in this month’s cover story). Saturday October 15 Toy Piano Composers Ensemble is there with “Avant-Guitars,” the 13 member Aventa Ensemble on Friday Oct 21; Jurij Konje on October 27; Vlada Mars on October 28; and the Tova Kardonne Octet on October 29.


18_newmusic_charleswuorinenArraymusic’s October 14 foray into Gallery 345 also provides a neat segue into New Music Concerts’ next big event. It was Arraymusic artistic director and gifted percussionist Rick Sacks who persuaded NMC’s Robert Aitken to take on the challenge of presenting Charles Wuorinen’s “Percussion Symphony for 24 Players,” the work that anchors NMC’s upcoming October 30 concert at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. The work includes two pianos and a celesta (think Sugar Plum Fairy) and an entire platoon of top-flight percussionists, so it’s not that often performed. Rarely enough, in fact that Charles Wuorinen himself is coming to town to direct. (He will, as others before him, be astonished by the depth of musical talent in this town.) If you are going, get there 45 minutes ahead for Aitken’s “Illuminating Introduction.” Aitken is as deeply into the music as his interviewees and it makes for fascinating listening. There’s also a new piece by Eric Morin on the programme, matching Joseph Petric on accordion with the Penderecki String Quartet — that’s three accordionists in two concerts this season already for NMC! And those of you who also take in the Women’s Musical Club concert on October 16 will have an all too rare opportunity — the chance to hear a new work (Chris Paul Harman’s Duo for flute and cello) performed twice in four days!


Betty Oliphant Theatre, 8pm Oct 30, will be the place to hear the drums go bang and the cymbals clang. But for the horns that blaze away, Koerner Hall, five hours earlier, is the place to be. MassBrass promises to be one of those Soundstreams initiatives that Lawrence Cherney is famous for — throwing together players who’d otherwise be more likely to cross paths in an airport, adding a conductor who responds to what he hears, and watching the sparks fly. Copland, Schafer, and works by André Ristic (world premiere), Gabrieli and more will be the ingredients. The Stockholm Chamber Brass, Simón Bolivar Brass Quintet, and True North Brass will provide the heat. And conductor David Fallis will stir the pot.

Esprit’s Stirred So Much

20_newmusic_shaunarolston_-_photo_courtesy_of_the_banff_centreSpeaking of Koerner Hall, Alex Pauk’s Esprit Orchestra was the first of the core new music presenters to move its whole season to Koerner. Having an extra 400 seats to sell was a daunting challenge, but with curiosity about the new hall high last season it was a good time to take the plunge. After all, without extra seats how do you take on the challenge of outreach? This year they are taking it a step further, switching from a Sunday night format to include three week nights, making reaching out to a school audience viable.

First of these week nights is Wednesday October 19 and it’s a stirring programme, as befits a band big enough to make some complex noise in a hall big enough to handle it. Douglas Schmidt’s new work on the programme “The Devil’s Sweat” caught my eye: “Carbon Concerto for carbon cello and orchestra” it says. Solo cellist Shauna Rolston’s carbon fibre cello is billed as “indestructible” so it sounds like she’s in for an unorthodox workout!

Over the past 15 or 16 years we’ve seen Toronto’s new music community taking a wider and wider detour around the 11 days (September 8–18) during which the Toronto International Film Festival is the biggest circus in town. Some sneak in ahead, like InterSection, this year’s fifth annual New Music Marathon, which runs noon till 10pm, Saturday September 3 at Yonge/Dundas Square. (We’ll be there!) But after that, with one notable exception, it’s mostly bits of this and that until New Music Concerts’ Opening Gala on September 25. After which it’s into October before some of the other local heavyweights like Soundstreams and Esprit kick into action.

The notable exception is Kitchener-Waterloo based presenter NUMUS Concerts, which rolls into town September 17 — the day before TIFF folds its tents — with a Glenn Gould Studio concert featuring the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in a program of the film music of Philip Glass.

Founded in the mid-80s by composer Peter Hatch, NUMUS has become a catchword in Kitchener-Waterloo, where the organization is associated with contemporary music productions, occasionally on the wild side, like Jeremy Bell’s production — Nude Show — a few years ago. “The poster for that concert,” says current artistic director, composer Glenn Buhr, “showed composer Omar Daniel shirtless and hanging upside down from a trapeze pole while he manipulated some electronics. That was our all time best seller.”

18_buhr_option_2Toronto audiences may also remember their more recent “Battle of the Bands” concert last January at the Music Gallery. “I curated that show,” says Buhr, “and it featured my progressive jazz/blues ensemble the Ebony Tower Trio (Rich Brown, electric bass, Daniel Roy, drums, and myself on piano) doing battle with the Penderecki String Quartet. The idea was to contrast contemporary music with roots in old Europe alongside new music with roots in the blues and jazz traditions of North America. I think it’s still there on CBC’s Concerts on Demand.”

I joked with Buhr about invading Toronto during TIFF. The plan, I suggested, was a) crazy like a fox, b) just plain crazy, or c) a stroke of genius. But he refused to rise to the bait.

“NUMUS is a presenter as well as a producer,” he said, “so I’m always looking for projects to buy in to our season. I was approached by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra about the Philip Glass program. I was particularly interested in the new Piano Concerto adapted by Michael Riesman from Glass’s music for the film The Hours. Riesman has been playing those Philip Glass arpeggios for quite a while and has developed a formidable technique.”
“So my answer is neither. It’s pure accident. The MCO wanted to tour this material in preparation for a recording and was looking for a presenter. The fee was so reasonable that we decided to present them in Toronto and Guelph as well as Kitchener-Waterloo. The overlap with TIFF is serendipity; this was the only possible date for the MCO. I have no idea if TIFF will work in our favour or otherwise.”

20_sarah_slean_photo_by_ivan_otisThe September 17 concert will be the first of two NUMUS visits to the Glenn Gould Studio within this issue’s listings period. The second, October 6, will also ring bells for Toronto audiences. Titled “Song of the Earth,” it was presented August 10, 2010, at Walter Hall — one of Agnes Grossmann’s final programs as artistic director of Toronto Summer Music. It paired a new commission, Song of the Earth, by Buhr himself, with Mahler’s master work. “Yes. I vowed to repeat that program if I was given the opportunity,” says Buhr, “because I felt that it could be curated a bit differently — by ending with the contemporary work and beginning with the Mahler. Also, we’ve hired popular songstress Sarah Slean to sing, and also record my work. I’m more interested in contemporary singing styles than I am in European classical singing, and I’ve worked with Sarah before. She was soloist in my third symphony (a choral symphony). Her presence on stage, and also the Margaret Sweatman libretto — which alludes to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in 2010 — puts the Mahler masterpiece into a more contemporary context. The new work is still a ‘Song of the Earth,’ but it poetically underlines our more current concerns.” You can read more about NUMUS at

Other TIFF tamers

Though it’s fun to think of NUMUS as the only new music mouse brave enough to bell the TIFF cat, I don’t want to overstate the case. There is new music throughout the middle of the month, if you pick your spots. Sunday September 11, the Music Gallery’s Pop Avant series presents Esmerine with guest Muh-he-con. Music Toronto’s Thursday September 15 season opener (the Tokyo String Quartet with Markus Groh, piano) features a world premiere of a new work by Music Toronto’s composer advisor Jeff Ryan. And on September 18, Contact Contemporary Music presents “Walk on Water,” at Gallery 345, with Wallace Halladay, saxophone, Mary-Katherine Finch, cello, Ryan Scott, percussion and Allison Wiebe, piano.

Once the curtain falls on TIFF, the pace picks up: Friday September 23 Tapestry New Opera’s “Opera Briefs” gets under way at the Theatre Passe Muraille Main Space, with new works from their annual Composer-Librettist Lab. And the same day the Toronto Heliconian Club presents Emily, The Way You Are, a one-woman opera celebrating the life and work of Emily Carr, with music by Jana Skarecky and libretto by Di Brandt.

The following day, Sunday September 25, will see many of us back at the Glenn Gould for the opening gala concert of New Music Concerts’ 41st season — a concert titled “Secret of the Seven Stars” that will showcase not only NMC’s stellar players, but a numinous constellation of Canadian composers and works.

Friday September 30 and Saturday October 1 bring two concerts by AIM Toronto in their “Interface Series” at Gallery 345, featuring Sylvie Courvoisier, piano and composer.

To close, it would be remiss of me not to mention several out of town festivals that not only extend the summer well into September, but pay more attention to new music than one might expect. The Prince Edward County Music Festival, September 16 to 24, has Ana Sokolovic as composer-in-residence; and Barrie’s Colours of Music, September 23 to October 2, has the forward looking Ames Quartet on board, and several other notably adventurous programs on display.

David Perlman can be reached at

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