P20The first months of any new year are not often wildly busy for choirs. Western choral repertoire is in many ways shaped and anchored by the holidays of Christmas and Easter, and it’s during these times of the year that ensembles jostle for audience attention. One way to avoid the traffic jam is to schedule a concert prior to spring, and hope that the desire for live choral timbres will entice concert-goers to brave the cold. Two large-scale works loom behemoth-like over the southern Ontario choral scene during the coming weeks.

The
Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir lead the charge with Verdi’s Requiem on February 18. This work, which will be led by guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda, is a study in contrasts. Verdi imbues the text with all the drama of a 19th-century Romantic opera composer, but also pays homage to earlier traditions of mass-setting with the fugal writing that pervades the choruses. The four soloists must have voices with enough operatic heft to sail above Verdian orchestration, but be able to tune the delicate a cappella section of the “Lacrymosa.” like singers of Renaissance motets. It’s a rewarding work for singers and audience alike.

On February 28, Toronto’s Orpheus Choir combines with the Guelph Chamber Choir to sing a programme with Rachmaninoff’s
Vespers as the centerpiece. The Vespers has a certain notoriety among choral singers for having some of the lowest bass writing in the choral repertoire. A colleague protested to Rachmaninoff that few basses would be able to handle the tessitura set out in several of the movements. Rachmaninoff replied simply, “I know my countrymen.” Perhaps what Rachmaninoff meant to say was, “I know what my countrymen sound like after a night of drinking Russian vodka.”

Thanks to the LCBO, it ought to be possible for southern Ontarian choristers to use this method as well. Watch the Orpheus and Guelph basses carefully as they ascend the steps: if any of them stagger or weave, you know what has occurred. There are of course other methods for lowering one’s voice to which choral singers might resort; staying up all night works very well, or singing with a cold in winter, which can be seen as a particularly Canadian solution to this problem.


Joking aside, Rachmaninoff’s
Vespers is very simply one of the highlights of the European choral repertoire. It combines brilliantly the lucid part-writing of a classically trained composer with the dusky, incense-imbued mystery and ritual of the Russian Orthdox Church. This sequence of motets is not, strictly speaking, a Vespers service. Rather it is a selection from what is known in the Russian Orthodox Church as the All-Night Vigil, a combination of the three canonical hours Vespers, Matins and First Hour. The work was an instant success in Russia when premiered in 1915, although it was suppressed for a period following the 1917 revolution. Its haunting austerity is perfect suited to a Canadian winter.

For those whose tastes run to less gigantic mass-settings, there are a few other options. The John Laing Singers of Hamilton and the Univox Choir of Toronto both perform concerts that showcase the Fauré
Requiem (February 7 and 26, respectively); the Durham Philharmonic Choir takes on Gounod’s Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile in Oshawa (February 21); the University of Western Ontario Singers sing Mozart’s D minor Requiem in London (February 26). On March 6, the Bell’Arte Singers sing Howells’ Requiem, the Oriana Women’s Choir sing a mixed programme that includes Canadian composer Imant Raminsh’s Missa Brevis, and the Tallis Choir performs the serene but passionate music of Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Elsewhere, there are concerts by the Georgetown Bach Chorale (Norval and Caledon on February 6 and 7, respectively) and the Da Capo Chamber Choir in Kitchener (February 27).
The Uxbridge Chamber Choir presents a programme that includes American composer Morten Lauridsen’s setting of the Lux Aeterna text and Brahms’ whimsically named but decidedly un-frothy Liebeslieder Waltzes (March 7).

Themed concerts are being given by several groups.
A Celtic Valentine features the  University of Toronto Women’s Singers in a concert that includes Celtic fiddlers and dancers (February 12). The Burlington Civic Chorale offers a Valentine Cabaret in Guelph (February 13). The Mississauga Choral Society sings Broadway melodies in Broadway With Heart (February 20), the Toronto Beach Chorale weds choral singing to hits from the 50s to the 70s with Sweet Sixteen (February 27), and the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir honours the 1st of March with a St. David’s Day Concert.

On 17 and 20 February, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs
Voices of the Diaspora, a concert that showcases music of the Gullah people. The Gullahs, based in South Carolina and the Georgia Sea Islands, have preserved more traditional elements of African culture than any other pan-African group in North America. It should be interesting to see what the Detts come up with in this programme. The Amadeus Choir is busy as well, mounting their own Celtic concert on March 6.

Altogether, the next couple of months offer a rich variety of concert choices. We can congratulate ourselves that Canadians will brave the cold not only for hockey, skiing and curling, but for choral singing as well.


Benjamin Stein is a tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at: choralscene@thewholenote.com.


P9The 2010-11 season marks the 25th anniversary of Toronto Operetta Theatre, the only professional operetta company in Canada. The company rang in the new year with a successful production of one of its signature works, Imre Kálmán’s Countess Maritza. In February TOT will remount the thoroughly Canadian operetta,Oscar Telgmann’s Leo, the Royal Cadet (1889), a work that TOT rediscovered and first staged in 2001. The show runs February 17, 19, 20 and 21 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. For more information visit www.torontooperetta.com.

In a telephone interview, Guillermo Silva-Marin, TOT’s artistic director since its inception, explained how the company came to be and has evolved over its first quarter century. The notion for an operetta company first arose as a project of the now-defunct Ontario Multicultural Theatre Association (OMTA). It staged a production of Franz Lehár’s The Land of Smiles in 1984, for which Silva-Marin was an alternate lead. The production was intended as a fundraiser but actually lost money, and, as Silva-Marin puts it, “I opened my big mouth and said I could do better than that because they were so disorganized.” As a result, he was asked if he would like to be the operetta company’s artistic director. The first four productions of what was already named Toronto Operetta Theatre began on September 25, 1985, with Lehár’s The Count of Luxembourg. In 1989 OMTA agreed to allow TOT to incorporate as a separate company on the condition that it would also take over OMTA’s debt. TOT thus began life with a millstone which today, luckily, amounts to only 5 percent of its operating budget.

In 1991, however, a TTC strike drastically cut attendance. The debt mounted to 15 percent, and the company, which had been performing at the Bluma Appel Theatre and the Winter Garden, began looking for a more manageable venue – ideally, with about 500 seats, a proscenium stage and a pit. No such venue existed then, and indeed, no such venue exists now. Since 1994 the TOT has made the 497-seat Jane Mallett Theatre its home. Built as a concert hall, it does have a sense of intimacy and excellent acoustics, but the lack of a pit, wings or backstage space made it “challenging but in an inventive way,” Silva-Marin affirms. There he developed the company’s hallmark minimalist style. As he explains, “I’ve always been committed to telling the story from a simple approach to text and music. I often think that if I had a million dollars to spend, I wouldn’t spend it on staircases and chandeliers. I would have greater amount of rehearsals, pay the cast sufficiently, invest in orchestra time and in a creative team that could support dealing with the text and music in ways we don’t often have opportunities to do.” Audiences questionnaires have consistently confirmed Silva-Marin’s approach by saying that sustained singing and acting, not sets and costumes, should always be the company’s priority.

A look over the TOT’s production history shows that it has gradually grown away from a focus on Central European repertoire to embrace an increasingly wider range, including Gilbert and Sullivan, Old and New World zarzuela, and American musicals, leading to at least eight Canadian premieres. As Silva-Marin explains, “I knew that for the company to remain vital and strong it needed to explore a greater gamut of works that were perceived as operetta or operetta-like.” This thrust included tracking down the piano-vocal score of Leo in the National Library in Ottawa and commissioning John Greer to orchestrate it after a study of Telgmann’s other works. It also led the TOT to commission its first world premiere, Earnest the Importance of Being (2008) from Victor Davies and Ernest Benson. “Now that we did Earnest there are all kinds of people knocking on the door. And I’m delighted because the art form is still valid, and valid enough for us to invest in our own composers and produce our own works and even works on subjects that are intrinsically Canadian.”

Silva-Marin notes that the average audience now is younger that when the TOT began. Why should operetta continue to be popular? As Silva-Marin says, “Some might call it light or featherweight, but the simple truth is that opera and music theatre of this type represents the better life that humans could possibly have.” Here’s to another 25 years of spreading joy!

The COC Announces its New Season

On January 20, COC General Director Alexander Neef announced the company’s 61st season. Of special significance is that this is the first season planned entirely by Neef. It was clear that he looked to see what works the COC had been neglecting, because five operas are works the COC has not staged for at least twelve years and two are COC premieres.

P10The season opens on October 2 with a new production of Verdi’s Aida directed by Tim Albery and starring Sondra Radvanovsky in her company debut. Next is a new production of Britten’s Death in Venice conducted by Steuart Bedford, who conducted the opera’s world premiere in 1973. The winter season begins with a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute directed by Diane Paulus and starring Michael Schade and Isabel Bayrakdarian. This is paired with the COC premiere of John Adams’s modern classic Nixon in China with Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao. The spring season brings a new production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Brett Polegato as Dandini; Ariadne auf Naxos with Adrianne Pieczonka and Richard Margison; and finally, and surprisingly, the COC premiere of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice directed by Robert Carsen, with Lawrence Zazzo and Isabel Bayrakdarian.

Again the COC Ensemble Studio is allowed to take over one performance of The Magic Flute rather than being given its own production. This is unfortunate because the Ensemble productions were a way for the COC to stage a wide range of chamber operas from baroque to contemporary that helped to broaden our perceptions of what opera is.

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera. He can be contacted at: opera@thewholenote.com.


“First there’s God; then there’s Bach; then there’s the rest of us,” was the credo of a friend of mine. Obviously a lot of people tend to agree about Bach’s supremacy in the artistic scheme of things, evident from the number of performances – even an entire concert – devoted to his chamber works this month. Bach’s creative genius is given a wide overview, as many of the pieces presented date from the early years of his career; and one, The Musical Offering, dates from three years before his death.

The Academy Concert Series


The Academy Concert Series has maintained a quiet presence in the east end of the city, yet there’s something very passionate about their presentations: an obvious devotion to presenting music in a historically-informed style with enthusiasm and integrity. Artistic director Nicolai Tarasov tells of the genesis of the series, “The beginning of the 1990s was still very much a continuation of the major discoveries and achievements in the field of “historically presented” music of the 80s. We (meaning Tarasov, a performer on several wind instruments, and founders baroque cellist/gambist Sergei Istomin and harpsichordist Viviana Sofronitsky) had our vision of how this music should sound, and wanted to share it with the audience.” Now, after almost two decades – 2010 /11 will be their 20th anniversary season – the series has broadened to include music from the early period to contemporary.


P11Their February concert, “Bach and the King,” consists entirely of one masterpiece: Bach’s Musical Offering. It was 1747 when King Frederick of Prussia gave “old Bach” that cryptic theme on which to extemporize a fugue; Bach subsequently took it home and developed it into an ingenious, multi-interpretable series of 12 canons and fugues, and one trio sonata, all displaying an incredible mastery of the art of counterpoint. There are mirror and crab canons, a never-ending canon, an instruction to “Seek and ye shall find!” – for Bach slyly set down some of the music as puzzles for the musicians to solve.

Tarasov sets the stage: “The very nature of the work offers a multiplicity of possible solutions. The open-endedness of the composer’s intentions invites players to enter into the spirit of the game and try different things. Venturing some distance down this path, we are offering a number of new realizations of Bach’s canons, as well as a  new order of the parts for better balance of the whole programme, and an entirely new instrumentation. It will be an evening of musical discoveries and delights!”

This is a wonderful and rare opportunity to hear what, in Tarasov’s words, is “a unique phenomenon in music. The symmetry and proportion, the emotional intensity and balance it exhibits are matchless even for Bach. In it is held the unfathomable and mysterious musical world, which reaches far and wide into the metaphysical Beyond, similar to
The Art of the Fugue or to the last string quartets of Beethoven.”

In addition to Nicolai Tarasov, who plays baroque oboe and recorder, you’ll hear Rona Goldensher, baroque violin; Laura Jones, viola da gamba; and Paul Jenkins, harpsichord. The concert takes place on February 13 at Eastminster United Church.


More Bach

Several upcoming concerts involve music from Bach’s younger years, for solo stringed instruments with or without keyboard accompaniment. The suites for solo cello, the sonatas for violin and harpsichord, and the sonatas for viola da gamba and keyboard are all represented:

On February 6, if you travel to Norval, near Georgetown, you’ll have a chance to hear the joyful G major suite for solo cello played by cellist Mary-Katherine Finch, as part of the Georgetown Bach Chorale’s “Cathedral Compositions”
concert – a programme which also includes choral works such as Allegri’s Miserere and Lotti’s Crucifixus.

You have
two chances to hear the grave and beautiful Cello Suite in D Minor (it contains my favourite of the sarabandes for solo cello). On February 7, in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Mazzoleni Hall, it will be played not on cello but on double bass by the Toronto Symphony’s principal bassist, Jeffrey Beecher (a concert which also includes modern works for bass). On February 14, cellist Nathan Whittaker will perform it in the Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series (which also features soprano Linda Tsatsanis singing delicious love songs of the 17th century).

Bach’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord pour forth movement after movement of exquisitely expressive music. On February 7 in Kitchener, Folia presents the second in a pair of concerts, entitled “Bach Sonatas in the Afternoon, Part 2
.” Violinist Linda Melsted and harpsichordist Borys Medicky will perform.

And on February 13, Scaramella’s “A Bach Extravaganza”
features artistic director Joëlle Morton and harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill in a performance of all three of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord – a programme special not only for Bach’s music but because two Canadian works will also be featured, and because the instrument showcased is the 1699 Joachim Tielke bass viol owned by Hart House.

More Concerts


Okay, it’s true that concerts featuring Bach are not the only interesting happenings on the early music scene this month. Some of the others you’ll find in the listings are:

The Cardinal Consort of Viols present
Love & Regretz, as part of Christ Church Deer Park’s Lunchtime Chamber Music Series.

Human weakness and the iniquities of the powerful
are explored in Sine Nomine’s Vanitas et corruptio, a programme of medieval songs of parody and satire.

Nota Bene Period Orchestra teams up with La
Belle Danse baroque dance company to present Baroque Dance: Courtesans from Versailles. The concert takes place on Feb. 28 in Kitchener; there is also an open dress rehearsal on Feb. 27 in Toronto.

The Windermere String Quartet, whose mandate is to
explore the well-known masterworks as well as lesser-known gems of the string quartet repertoire on period instruments, presents a programme of Mozart, Haydn and Georges Onslow quartets.

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.


This year is the two hundredth anniversary of the births of both Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann – a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by music presenters. On February 4 Music Toronto will present soprano Susan Gilmour Bailey, pianist Michael Kim and actor Colin Fox in “The Schumann Letters,” chronicling the composer’s troubled life through readings and song. And just two days later, the bicentenary of both Schumann and Chopin will be celebrated by soprano Donna Bennett and pianist Brian Finley, in a programme presented by the Lindsay Concert Foundation.

P14aIn the last week of February there are several concerts featuring very accomplished women singers. The young but already well-regarded Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta will perform with guitarist Jason Vieaux, in a Mooredale Sunday afternoon concert on February 21 – and again on February 24, with Amici Chamber Ensemble and American superstar soprano Dawn Upshaw. Upshaw will be performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra the next evening, on February 25. Both the Amici and the TSO concert programmes will include music by the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov. (In preparing this column I discovered the website, forum-network.org, which has interviews with both Upshaw and Golijov.)

Continuing with singers in the final week of February, in the afternoon of February 25 the Women’s Music Club presents a concert by soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian at Koerner Hall. Right next door, in Walter Hall at 12:10, soprano Monica Whicher will be performing music by the 20th-century English composer William Walton. On the same day at the same time but in Guelph, soprano Sarah Kramer will give a solo recital with pianist, Anna Ronai. On the last day of the month, mezzo and CBC Radio host Julie Nesrallah will give the 639th Sunday concert at Hart House. You might also want to get a ticket to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s March 3 concert, which will be a rare opportunity to hear Canadian soprano-in-exile extraordinaire Barbara Hannigan, in a programme that includes music by Golijov.

I was shocked when I read the last sentence of the following press release, sent to me early in January: “Violin/Piano duo returns to Toronto after eleven years to honour former patron: The international Violin/Piano Duo of Ariadne Daskalakis and Miri Yampolsky will give a concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto on March 6, 2010…to honour the memory of Susan Alberghini.”

There are, of course, two stories here. The first is Susan Alberghini, who was among the first people I met through The WholeNote (it was called Pulse, in those days), a person who really “got” what the magazine was all about, and encouraged us during times when it was easy to get discouraged. One of Kenneth Mills’ circle of devotees, and a supporter of his Star Scape Singers, she was an arts administrator, the co-founder of the Huntsville Festival of the Arts and, up to the time of her untimely death in January 2009, the executive director of the Guild of Canadian Film Composers. Personally I felt she tried in her life to bridge art and life, to bring beauty into her life and the lives of others and to infuse art with vitality.

The other story is the Daskalakis/Yampolsky recital on March 6. Originally scheduled by Alberghini for 2009, she passed away before the arrangements were put in place. Judging by Elissa Poole’s enthusiastic review of the duo’s last Toronto concert in February 1999, we can look forward to some very fine music-making on March 6.


P14bP14cThere are many, many more interesting concerts both in Toronto and in a good many other Southern Ontario centres in February. Indeed, I was particularly impressed by the “Beyond the GTA” listings, not just their quantity, but also their programming, sometimes very unusual and ambitious. For instance, there’s the “The Attar Project,” at the University of Western Ontario on February 26, and the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra’s February 13 programme, which includes the Fifth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich.

Allan Pulker is a
flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

Having spent some years in the Navy, it’s become a tradition for me to attend the New Year’s levee at one or more of the military messes in the Toronto area. At this year’s event I spent some time chatting with a friend who had joined the service as a musician, but had, after a time, set her clarinet aside and gone on to pursue a very rewarding career elsewhere in the service. Perhaps her timing was opportune in having enlisted when many traditionally male only roles were opening up for women. Now, well ensconced in a position with considerable responsibility, might she return to music for recreation? Her answer is “not in the foreseeable future.” Alas, she’s had her clarinets made into table lamps. She had no New Year’s resolution for 2010 to return to music making.

P24
As I write this, the year is now two weeks old. Some people will already have abandoned their well-intentioned resolutions made in haste over a midnight toast. For most of us though, there’s still time to resolve to pursue some course for personal betterment in the months ahead. While no statistics on the subject have crossed our desk, it’s generally agreed that a very high percentage of those who study instrumental music in high school do not continue with their instrument after graduation. For most, it is not a conscious decision to stop playing. They still enjoy music as listeners, but the time pressures of further education, marriage, family and career responsibilities have consumed most of their waking hours. That is barrier number one.

Frequently there is the additional barrier of the lack of an instrument. Most students who participate in school music programs learn on and use school instruments. This barrier is easily overcome by renting an instrument, until the return to playing is a firm decision. Renting also provides time to research the market, and determine the type of instrument best suited to one’s needs.

If you’ve decided that such a New Year’s resolution is for you, where do you start? What are your goals? There are many questions to be answered. The first ones are: What instrument do I want to play and what type of music appeals to me most? For many, the choice of instrument will be to get back to the once familiar. For others it will be to answer a long-time urge to try a different challenge.

Having chosen the instrument, then there is some research to locate possible groups that perform your kind of music. Do they accept novices? Joining a group which consistently performs above your ability level would be frustrating and slow your personal progress. When and where do they rehearse? You want to be in a situation where you will look forward to your weekly music venture rather than worrying about how to fit it in. Once you’ve made contact, attend a few rehearsals to determine whether you and the group are compatible. Most community bands are open and welcoming, but there is a wide spectrum. On the one hand there are groups with a fixed instrumentation where all members are required to audition. At the other end there a few true “beginners bands.”

Over the past few weeks we had the opportunity to visit and sit in with one such group. Starting from scratch a year ago September, a small group in Newmarket organized The Stepping Stone Band. After a bit of a shaky start, the band is now prospering under the direction of a local music teacher. With a regular membership of about 25, they are honing their reading skills with a broad range of music, from basic instructional type music to works from the standard band repertoire.

Some members are getting back after a prolonged absence, while others are rank beginners. On more than one music stand there are fingering charts. One member loved to play his alto saxophone at home, but had never learned to read music. Now that is rapidly changing. Since the band’s inception, some members have gone on to a more advanced band in addition to their regular Monday evening rehearsals. They are sharing their common interest in a friendly non-threatening group. The New Year looks good for them. For information on this group contact Joe at joemariconda@gmail.com.

Harking back to my opening remarks, within a few days of hearing of the sad fate of my friend’s clarinets, I learned of an innovative project at a local school. The problem was not an unusual one. Like most schools, Uxbridge Secondary School wanted more serviceable instruments than their budget would permit. Tucked away in various corners were several unused instruments, but they were deemed to be beyond economical repair.

The solution: turn those old instruments into cash. Students in technology classes took the old clarinets and flutes and made table lamps with a musical motif and offered them for sale in the community. The result: winners all around. The school receives money for some new instruments, the old instruments go on to a new life and some homes in town have lamps which are topics of conversation and useful. The photo accompanying this column shows music student Caitlin Jodoin and music teacher Deb Thompson checking over some music by the light of one of the lamps. When not playing in the school band, Caitlin is a regular member of the Hannaford Youth Band.

Definition Department


This month’s lesser known musical term is “APPOLOGGIATURA”: A composition that you regret playing.” We invite submissions from readers.


Coming Events


The Etobicoke Community Concert Band
presents “That’s Entertainment” featuring jazz pianist Chris Don- nelly. Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium, 86 Montgomery Road.

The City of Brampton Concert Band will close its 125th Anniversary Concert Series with “2010: A Space Odyssey” at the Rose Theatre.

The Hannaford Street Silver Band presents “Trum- pet Spectacular” with trumpet soloist Allen Vizzutti.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments, and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at: bandstand@thewholenote.com.

 


If you happened to be in Wilmington, Delaware, in late February of 1976 – or Washington D.C. in early March, or even in Boston through early April that same year – you’d have had the chance to see that rarity in American musical-theatre history: a Richard Rodgers show limping its way to an early death on Broadway.

P23Rex, a musical treatment of Henry VIII and his obsession with siring a male heir, opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York on April 25, 1976, and closed on June 5 after 14 previews and a total of only 49 performances, the shortest run for a Rodgers show in almost 50 years. It is still the only post-1940 Richard Rodgers musical not included in the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization’s performing catalogue.

Hopefully, that might change in the not-too-distant future, following the Civic Light Opera Company’s three-week run of
Rex at Fairview Library Theatre this month. It’s another Canadian premiere for the company – the first production of the show anywhere outside the US, for that matter – and the first extended stage run since it closed on Broadway.

It’s a major coup for the CLOC’s Joe Cascone, an admitted Richard Rodgers aficionado. Cascone had known about the show since the time of its original demise, but despite his predilection for staging little-known or “problem” shows, in addition to the standard crowd-pleasers, he’d never given this particular “forgotten
op” much thought.

Seeing
The Other Boleyn Girl in 2008 sparked Cascone’s interest, however, and he took advantage of his excellent relationship with the R&H organization to ask if there was any possibility of staging Rex. He was warned of the show’s problems – an anti-hero wife-killing leading male role, for starters – but was promised their support if he was seriously interested.

The rights situation had certainly changed in the previous few years. Following the withdrawal of the show in 1976 lyricist Sheldon Harnick (of
Fiddler on the Roof fame) and book author Sherman Yellen had frozen the rights, feeling that the show they had originally envisioned with Richard Rodgers had been lost in the constant re-working in the pre-Broadway try-outs, overwhelmed by spectacle and suffocating historical detail.

In 1999, however, New York’s York Theatre asked if they could include
Rex in their piano-only, script-in-hand concert performance series, “Musicals in Mufti”; Harnick and Yellen initially said “No,” but then agreed as long as they could be given one year to revise the show. They went back to work, made drastic cuts to the script, tightened the focus, stripped away the pageantry, removed a few songs and reinstated several that had been cut pre-Broadway. The result? A well-received show that allowed the beautiful Richard Rodgers score to be heard more clearly, albeit without a full orchestra.

Harnick and Yellen have clearly retained a strong affection for
Rex. Over the years, they have continued to work on the show since 2000, being involved with both the brief but fully-staged production at the University of Findlay in Ohio in April 2002 as part of the Richard Rodgers Centennial celebrations, and another piano-only presentation at the Stages Festival of New Musicals in Chicago in August 2007.

Sheldon Harnick himself called Cascone early in 2009 to let him know they’d agreed to release the rights for CLOC, and Cascone met with Harnick and Yellen twice in New York last year to discuss plans for the show. Sheldon Harnick has re-written the lyrics for one song,
Dear Jane, specifically for this production. Both men have promised to come up to see the show – and Sheldon Harnick, now 85, will apparently be in the audience on opening night on Wednesday February 17.

Cascone aims to prove that the show is now well worth doing in its revised form, and hopes that a successful staging may lead R&H to include
Rex in their performance rental catalogue, so that a score containing some outstanding Rodgers songs will finally be available for stock and amateur theatre companies everywhere.
How that score will be heard is a story in itself. The Findlay University production apparently featured a 30-piece orchestra, but nobody seems quite sure what instrumental parts they used; all the R&H organization can confirm is that the original parts are now buried in unmarked boxes somewhere in storage. Cascone was originally told that he would have to go with piano only for the music, but has been given permission to add a few instruments so that he can feature his usual five-piece instrumental combo.

Only one song from
Rex – the ballad “Away From You” – has achieved any independent life of its own, having been recorded by Sarah Brightman on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1989 CD The Songs That Got Away. But the score was the one aspect of the show to garner some praise in 1976, despite its somewhat anachronistic nature.

Rex
was the penultimate Richard Rodgers show before his death in 1979, and it’s certainly one worth seeing and hearing. This may well be the only chance you get! The show runs from February 18 to March 6. For ticket information call (416) 755-1717 or go to www.civiclightoperacompany.com.

One other local musical theatre group has a production this month: Scarborough Music Theatre will be presenting
Children of Eden at the Scarborough Village Theatre from February 11 to 27.

Music and lyrics for this 1991 show are by Stephen Schwartz, who used to have
Godspell and Pippin in brackets after his name, but is now most widely known for writing the smash hit Wicked. Children of Eden, which never made it to Broadway, is based on the Book of Genesis, and deals with family issues in the stories of Adam and Eve, and Noah and the Great Flood. Rarely performed on the professional stage, it remains one of the most popular shows for youth and community groups.

For ticket information contact the Scarborough Village Theatre box office at (416)267-9292.


Terry Robins is a musician and musical theatre enthusiast. He can be contacted at: musicaltheatre@thewholenote.com.


It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. If that is the case then the father of invention has to be that unforgiving adversary and necessary evil named Deadline.

Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” And author Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby wrote, “A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large.”


Please forgive my fascination with origins of words, but it led me to the following: perendinate (puh-REN-di-nayt) means to put off until the day after tomorrow. It is from the Latin perendinare (to defer until the day after tomorrow), from perendie (on the day after tomorrow), from dies (day). The word procrastinate is from Latin cras (tomorrow). So when you procrastinate, literally speaking, you are putting something off till tomorrow. In the words of Mark Twain “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” In other words, why procrastinate when you can perendinate?


P22I humbly plead guilty. Every issue of The WholeNote rolls around and I am faced with the inevitable deadline. Author Diana Scharf Hunt said, “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” And no less an authority than Samuel Johnson claimed that “A man may write at any time if he sets himself doggedly to it, for nothing excites a man to write but necessity.”

In other words, you can sit around waiting for inspiration which is another way of admitting that you are procrastinating – or is it perendinating? – but the surest way of actually getting something done is to have a deadline, and this ties in with inventor Thomas Alva Edison’s credo that “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” And as for inspiration, well, according to Cole Porter it was nothing more than a phone call from someone offering a job. Then, of course,  you sweat it out to meet the deadline.

One of my favourite deadline stories concerns the movie The Bridge On The River Kwai. The film was completed in December of 1957 and the producers wanted to submit it for that year’s Oscar Awards. The deadline for submissions was the end of the month, but the film did not yet have a musical score! Several composers were approached and they all turned it down saying that there wasn’t enough time to do the job. All except one, that is: British composer Malcolm Arnold agreed to take on the project and completed it in ten days! Not only that, he won an Oscar for the best musical score that year.


You Can Quote Me

Having included all these quotations reminded me that Quotes Bar and Grill, located across the street from the Roy Thomson Hall, is into another season of Friday jazz sessions. The club has a really good, intimate feel, and the jazz swings which is a given since the house band is the Canadian Jazz Quartet. Every week there’s a featured guest player, and the music is the thing from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. It’s the closest thing in town to an old-time New York jazz club like Jimmy Ryan’s or Condon’s.

Not far from Quotes is the Glenn Gould Studio, and this month there are three dates of interest to jazz fans. The Bad Plus will be there on the 6th followed by a couple of Canadian groups: the Ingrid Jensen Quintet on the 23rd, and Laila Biali, three evenings later.


Word Has It...


One of the great blessings of jazz is that the originators of the music were around when sound recording was in its infancy. We can hear what King Oliver sounded like, the young Louis Armstrong, or Bessie Smith – and we can listen to some
of these great innovators talk about their music. Jelly Roll Morton’s Library of Congress recorded interviews are a case in point. It’s akin to being able to listen to Bach or Beethoven talk about their lives and music. Over the years the art of the interview produced some highly skilled practitioners: Chris Albertson, Stanley Dance, Leonard Feather, Ralph J. Gleason, Nat Hentoff, Gene Lees, Dan Morgenstern, Studs Terkel and John S. Wilson.

All of the above are among the contributors to the recently published
Downbeat – The Great Jazz Interviews – A 75th Anniversary Anthology, from Hal Leonard Books. The book also includes contributions from a dazzling array of jazz musicians: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, W. C. Handy, Jon Hendricks, Marian McPartland, Jelly Roll Morton and Wayne Shorter among them.

Despite comedian Martin Mull’s claim that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” this is a treasure trove of information, opinions and insight, documenting events from the great years of
Downbeat magazine. The feud between Jelly Roll Morton and W.C. Handy makes for fascinating reading, as does the discussion Don DeMichael has with John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. But these are only a few of the gems, and only avid collectors who have back issues of the magazine would have access to the wealth of knowledge contained in this very welcome addition to anyone’s jazz library.

Let music help you to beat the February blues – and make some of it live jazz. Happy listening!


Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at: jazz@thewholenote.com.

 


February promises to be an eclectic month on the world music scene: collaborations between classical and world-music performers, concerts celebrating Black History Month, Yiddish cabaret, Balkan pop and a winter folk-festival are some of what will light up what is often a dreary time of year.

P21aCo-presented by Small World Music, Masters of Persian Music returns to Roy Thomson Hall on February 5, after an absence of four years. The ensemble is comprised of some of Iran’s top Persian classical musicians, including tar (plucked lute) master Hossein Alizadeh, who is also known for his soundtracks to Iranian films such as A Time for Drunken Horses, and Gabbeh, both of which I fondly recall seeing years ago at the now-defunct Carlton Cinema. He’ll be joined by Kayhan Kalhor on kamanchech (fiddle), who has perfomed and composed for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and five other musicians.
In honour of Black History Month, Harbourfront Centre hosts its 14th annual Kuumba Festival, February 6-7 and 13-14. (“Kuumba,” by the way, is the Swahili word for creativity). The festival includes dance workshops, film, music, comedy, family activities and more. Musical offerings include rock/funk/soul vocalist Saidah Baba Talibah in concert on February 6, traditional African drumming workshops February 6 and 7, “Salsa 101 for Dummies,” a live music and dance class February 6 and 7,  and “Urban X-Posure,” a hip-hop and spoken-word event on February 13. For full schedule of events visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com. Also in celebration of Black History Month, Music Africa presents a series of concerts at the Gladstone Hotel, February 5, 12, 19, and 26 – with a final concert, a tribute to Tarig Abubakar and the AfroNubians, at Evangadi Nightclub on February 28. See the daily listings for details.

February 6, singers Miriam Eskin and Stella Walker present a cabaret performance in English, French, Russian and Yiddish, accompanied by pianist Nina Shapilsky, at the Winchevsky Centre (585 Cranbrooke Ave.). The event is a benefit for the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir, and apparently last year’s was packed, so it is advised to get tickets in advance (416-789-5502).

P21bThe 8th Annual Winterfolk Festival runs February 12-15, at six venues downtown. This event, founded by Brian Gladstone as a means of building community, getting people out, and supporting local businesses during the bleakest time of year, features 100 local folk, roots and blues musicians. This year’s festival includes family programming on the last day, which is in fact the “Family Day” holiday. Visit www.winterfolk.com for details.

The Mississauga Symphony has an interesting programme coming up on February 13. Titled “Temples, Tigers and Mountains,” it will include a new work by internationally renowned sitar master Irshad Khan. His
Gypsy in Red features the sitar and tabla as soloists with the orchestra. And up-and-coming Toronto composer Kevin Lau (currently a doctoral student at U of T) also has a newly commissioned world premiere: Voyage to the East is an orchestral work based on sounds and themes from Asian cultures. The programme also features John Williams’ “Sayuri’s Theme” from Memoirs of a Geisha, and Tan Dun’s YouTube Symphony, Eroica.
Toronto’s high-energy all-female Onnanoko Taiko Ensemble will be performing as guest artists with the chamber group Via Salzburg, at the Glenn Gould Studio on February 18. They’ll be premiering two new pieces for taiko/percussion and string orchestra, by composers Alice Ho and the aforementioned Kevin Lau.

On February 21 at Walter Hall, the chamber series Mooredale Concerts presents an afternoon of Spanish music, with classical guitarist Jason Vieaux and 23-year-old mezzo Wallis Giunta – who premiered roles in Dean Burry’s opera
Pandora’s Locker, and Murray Schafer’s Children’s Crusade last season. Together, they’ll perform two Spanish song cycles: Canciones Españolas Antiguas (Ancient Spanish Songs) arranged by poet Federico Garcia Lorca, and Siete Canciones Populares Españolas by Manuel de Falla, among other works.


P21cFinally, “Briga” – formerly with Montreal’s Algerian hip-hop band Syncop, as well as Les Gitans de Sarajevo and Rembetica Hipsters – launches her debut Balkan pop album Diaspora, February 23 at Hugh’s Room. This multi-talented violinist and singer (born Brigitte Dajczer, daughter of a Warsaw Symphony musician) plays virtuoso gypsy violin, and sings French chansons and art songs in her new venture as solo artist, with a number of back-up musicians. She’s also an award-winning independent film maker. Judging by the musical samples I’ve heard, this promises to be a lively evening!


Karen Ages can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.


p23_TaurinsFrom Medieval times to well into the 19th century, to state in company that December was the month to sing carols would have drawn a quizzical look or a mocking laugh. Carols were lively celebratory songs sung all year round, with dance rhythms and vivid, colloquial lyrics. Their subject matter could be anything from celebrations of the spring planting and the summer harvest, to robust appreciations of good food and drink on a cold winter’s night. Medieval carolers assembling music for dancing at a village party would have regarded Mendelssohn’s stately, regal music attached to Wesley’s poem “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” as distinctly unpromising.

In our time, the word “carol” has become a catch-all term for the various musics sung around Christmas time: popular songs, with subjects like the dreaded Rudolph and Frosty, stirring and high-toned hymns like the Mendelssohn mentioned above, plainchant or folk music from diverse sources arranged into massive vocal workouts by modern choral specialists such as Rutter and Willcocks.

One thing that has remained the same from ancient times to the present is that this music is meant to be sung and enjoyed in a group setting. For many people, a carol concert is often the only time in which they are called to raise their own voice, in an era in which music is ubiquitously supplied by electronic means of every type. Little wonder then, at the enthusiasm with which we attend Christmas concerts, and the array of choices that invite us this December.

Christmas concerts are offered by the Bravado! Show Choir (Barrie, 4-6 December), the County Town Singers (Oshawa, 4-5 December), Toronto Accolades (6 December) and the East York Choir has an inventive programme titled “To Drive the Cold Winter Away” (6 December). Other Christmas programmes on the first weekend of December are offered by the Mississauga Festival Choir, Mississauga Children’s Choir, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Bell’arte Singers, the Echo Women’s Choir and the Irish Choral Society of Canada, among others. The following weekend, look for concerts given by the Annex Singers, Kingston Symphony Orchestra and Choral Society, and the Hannaford Street Silver Band in collaboration with Amadeus Choir. A notable concert not concerned with Christmas repertoire this December is that of the visiting Moscow Male Jewish Cappella on 13 December. (See The WholeNote’s listings for details on all of the above.)

On 19 December, the Toronto Chamber Choir gives an intriguing concert of Finnish and Swedish music from the Piae Cantiones. This 1582 collection of Latin songs from Sweden was plundered for its musical riches by English hymn composers in the 19th century, and it’s the source for many well known English language hymns and carols, such as “Unto Us A Boy Is Born” and “Good King Wenceslas.” It should be fascinating to hear melodies from Piae Cantiones sung by an ensemble that specializes in historically informed performance, as an alternative to modern arrangements of ancient carols that are often sugary or bombastic by turns.

Performances of Handel’s Messiah account for another significant aspect of December music-making. While Messiah is not the most difficult choral work in the repertoire, to get through a series of performances with the vocal cords intact requires careful management of the voice, combined with a conductor who utilizes choral forces reasonably. I remember participating in one harrowing Messiah, directed by a conductor who shall remain nameless, in which the dynamic range was forte to triple-fortissimo for almost every chorus. It didn’t help that he was using Mozart’s orchestration, which calls for added brass and woodwind players, who of course learn early on in their training that singers are to be drowned out whenever possible. The audience loved the show, and the conductor came out for repeated bows, stepping across the prostrate bodies of exhausted choristers as he did so.

Toronto concertgoers may choose between Messiah performances by the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Vocal Horizons Chamber Choir on 4 December, Aradia Ensemble’s “Dublin Messiah” (after the original 1742 performance) on 12 December, Tafelmusik’s Baroque interpretation from 16-19 December, and the Toronto Symphony’s series with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir from 18-21 December. Two sing-along versions are being offered by Eglinton St. George’s United Church (13 December) and Tafelmusik (20 December).

Outside Toronto, there are Messiah offerings by Aradia Ensemble in Port Hope (5 December), the Grand River Chorus in Brantford (6 December), Elora Festival Singers in Elora (13 December) and Orchestra London (16 December).

Notable works other than Messiah are often combined with Carol concerts in December. Britten’s luminous Ceremony of Carols is part of concerts by the John Laing Singers (Hamilton, 5 December), the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (9 December) and the Toronto Children’s Chorus (19 December).

Bach’s wonderful group of six cantatas that comprise the Christmas Oratorio contain some of his very best choruses and arias. The Pax Christi Chorale performs cantatas IV and V on 5-6 December, and the Toronto Choral Society sings Christmas Oratorio excerpts on 5 December. The latter group reprises part of this programme on 13 December, in a benefit concert for Street Haven Women’s Choir.

The Canadian Sinfonietta and Toronto Cantata Chorus perform Rutter’s Magnificat as part of their “Holiday Sounds from the 20th Century,” the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir performs Vivaldi’s Gloria (RV58), and the Jubilate Singers sing Charpentier’s delicate Messe de Minuit, all on 5 December.

In the aftermath of such seasonal festivities, January is generally understood to be Worldwide Choral Hangover Month. Singers soak their throbbing vocal cords in hot chocolate or more grown-up substances; choir librarians gaze in dismay at the piles of music to be re-filed; conductors put icepacks on their forearms and ignore the phone. In other words, we’re all hibernating in January. But a few concerts stand out for those not sated by December offerings.

The Grand Philharmonic Choir and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony weigh in with The Dream of Gerontius on 16 January, as part of the ongoing celebrations of Howard Dyck’s final season as conductor of the GPC. On 30 January The Elmer Isler singers and the Toronto Children’s Chorus combine with the Polish Chamber Choir in a concert of works by Penderecki, Gorecki, and Palej, in collaboration with Soundstreams.

Looking ahead to February, the Georgetown Bach Chorale will mount a programme that includes the Allegri Miserere and Bruckner’s setting of Christus factus est (6 Febuary), and the John Laing Singers will sing works that include the Fauré Requiem and Britten’s Festival Te Deum (February 7). These are slim pickings compared to December’s riches – but elegant and intriguing choices worth seeking out in the cold first weeks of the new year.

Benjamin Stein is a tenor and theorist. He can be contacted at: choralscene@thewholenote.com.

It’s curious how time and the seasons can have such an effect on our perception. I think that Toronto’s new-music presenters have been influenced by the approaching end of 2009 and the impending new year in their programming choices. From December into January, many concerts are looking back, marking milestones and celebrating experience, while others look forward with fresh faces and new ideas. Several other concerts bridge the divide, bringing together time-tested talents with new creative voices.

The first case in point is the Music Gallery’s collaboration with Toronto New Music Projects. This will blend the established with the emerging, for an upcoming concert/workshop involving iconic French composer Phillippe Leroux.

p11_Kasemets A teacher of electronic music composition at IRCAM in Paris and currently a visiting professor at l’Université de Montréal, Leroux has studied with many great composers of the 20th century, including Oliver Messiaen, Franco Donatoni and Iannis Xenakis. He is recognized as part of a group of music creators (among them, the highly respected Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail) who write in the post-spectralist style – a  combination of spectralism’s concern with the deconstructed components of sound as compositional material, but filtered through temporal transformations and other playful techniques. The results can be witty and often virtuosic.
On December 6, Toronto New Music Projects showcases Leroux’s chamber music in concert, including more recent works such as Voi(REX) for soprano, live electronics, and ensemble. An expanded TNMP ensemble (Stephen Clarke, piano; Sanya Eng, harp; Wallace Halladay, saxophones; and Ryan Scott, percussion) will feature soprano Carla Huhtanen, flautist Stephen Tam and guitartist Rob McDonald. David Adamcyk handles the electronics while Gregory Oh conducts. Ticketing details are available through the Music Gallery at www.musicgallery.org or at 416-204-1080.

Although the official date went past on November 16, the new-music community will fête composer Udo Kasemets’ 90th birthday on December 13th at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. For the past 50-plus years, Kasemets has been a remarkable contributor to the GTA’s experimental music scene as a concert presenter, teacher and writer.

As a composer, Kasemets is best known as one who has shared the concerns of the international avant-garde. In the early 1960s he became a leading Canadian representative of John Cage’s school of experimental music. He has made use of chance operations and unusual performance methods in an attempt to approach a Cageian fusion of art and technology. Concepts of time and space, nature and memory, ancient and modern, also recur throughout his creative practice, with explorations ranging from Chinese and Mayan civilizations and their perceptions of time, to the theoretical work of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
Udo Kasemets has written an impressive body of work, and remains active into the 21st century. In recent years, a younger generation of musicians has taken up his cause, performing and recording his music. Among them is pianist Stephen Clarke, who has premiered, performed and recorded several of Kasemets’ works. This process will continue on December 13, when New Music Concerts presents Kasemets with a tribute concert, featuring the Canadian premiere of his fraCtal fibONaCciERTO (1996) for piano and large ensemble, with Clarke as soloist. The New Music Concerts Ensemble will be directed by Robert Aitken. For event and ticketing details, visit www.newmusiccocnerts.com or call 416-961-9594.

Arraymusic bridges the old and the new in a slightly different manner with two reading sessions drawn from their substantial collection of commissioned repertoire (now searchable online through a new music score library.) On December 19 the ensemble will perform at the Array Studio in a pay-what-you-can afternoon reading of works by Serge Provost and Michael J. Baker. The event will repeat in the new year on January 16 with music by Jo Kondo and Scott Godin. Further details and the Array Score Library can be found online at www.arraymusic.com.

Continuum continues the prevalent concert/workshop combination into 2010 with “Chrysalis” – a programme of freshly hatched sounds from some of Toronto’s most promising emerging composers. Step inside the creative process on January 24 as these Toronto talents are guided by the insightful Victoria-based composer Christopher Butterfield towards further success with their featured works. Butterfield’s skill, these composer’s fresh voices and the Continuum ensemble’s unique chemistry promise a memorable event. Gallery 345 provides an inviting atmosphere for all to explore new music together. This event is open to the public free of charge. Stay tuned to www.continuummusic.org for further details.

Closing out the month is a significant collaboration between the U of T, Soundstreams Canada and the Esprit Orchestra. The annual U of T New Music Festival is always an exciting event, featuring the best work by some of Canada’s rising talents. It is also a fantastic vehicle through which to showcase the University’s annual Distinguished Visitor in Composition, who this year is none other than Krzysztof Penderecki – a living legend of contemporary music. Over the last 50 years of his career, Penderecki has collaborated with some of the world’s most outstanding soloists to create an impressive catalogue of music that spans every genre – from solo instrumental to opera, from chamber to film music.

On January 25, this eight-day festival opens with a panel discussion hosted by Soundstreams Canada at the Gardiner Museum, where Penderecki will speak with Canadian composer Norbert Palej about his years composing music in Communist Poland. The following few days intersperse conversations and composer masterclasses among concerts of Penderecki’s chamber music, performed by a mix of emerging talent and leading local musicians such as Steven Dann, Erika Raum, Shauna Rolston, Peter Stoll and Lydia Wong.

The festival culminates in two concerts of Penderecki’s larger works. On January 29, the Esprit Orchestra offers “Penderecki Plus!” at Koerner Hall. The programme reflects two periods in Penderecki’s stylistic evolution. Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 strings epitomizes the 1960s avant-garde, while the for three cellos and orchestra reveals the transformation of his voice through to the present.

On January 30 and 31, Soundstreams combines the forces of the Polish Chamber Choir with the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Children’s Chorus at the Metropolitan United Church for a grand retrospective of Penderecki’s work. The programme also includes works by Henryk Gorecki and a world premiere by newly Toronto-based Norbert Palej. Full festival details are available at
www.music.utoronto.ca/events/nmf.htm.

And if that isn’t enough to fill your calendar, then you can join the Madawaska String Quartet on January 31 at 10 am and 1 pm back at the Array Studio for their Composers’ Open Workshp and reading session. The MSQ will take any and all composer sketches, read through them and provides feedback. While attendance for the public is free, composers may participate by donation only. Further details are available at the Array website.

If there was any ever doubt before, 2010 certainly is ringing in with the new.

Jason van Eyck is the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre. He can be contacted at: newmusic@thewholenote.com.

Dean Burry - ComposerThe last month of 2009 and the first of 2010 will witness premieres of two new Canadian operas. On December 3, Toronto Masque Theatre will present the world premiere of The Mummers’ Masque by Dean Burry, and on January 20 TrypTych will present the world premiere of Andrew Ager’s Frankenstein. These are not the only events. The Music Gallery will present the “rockabilly techno opera” The Ship of Fools by renowned avant-gardists Daniella de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke on December 12, the Toronto Operetta Theatre will revive its production of Emmerich Kálmán’s Countess Maritza December 26-January 3 and the COC will revive its production of Bizet’s Carmen January 27-February 27.

The Mummers’ Masque is the 11th music theatre work by Newfoundland-born composer Dean Burry. His children’s opera The Brothers Grimm for the COC Ensemble for its annual schools tour is believed to be the most-performed opera in Canadian history. Burry’s companion piece to Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, will premiere with Opera Lyra Ottawa on December 12.

According to Burry, the masque “will be a contemporary interpretation of the mumming tradition in Canada and worldwide, incorporating dance, music, drama, stage combat and puppetry. Mummer plays are considered one of the forerunners of the masque, which makes this pairing of company and composer an obvious choice. With a new libretto fashioned from various historic sources, the music shall be in a contemporary style. The production is being created to play in non-traditional venues and capitalize on the informal nature of the original material.”

The venue for the premiere will be Victoria College Chapel at Victoria College on the University of Toronto Campus and will run December 3-6. The work incorporates the legend of St. George and traditional carols, while the musicians, singers and dancers move about the chapel in imitation of the Newfoundland Christmas tradition of door-to-door entertainment. The cast features Laura Whalen, Krisztina Szabó, John Kriter, Giles Tomkins, a children’s choir and band including such traditional instruments as accordion, penny-whistle, guitar and fiddle. See www.torontomasquetheatre.com for more information.

For Andrew Ager, Composer-in-Residence at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, will mark his first foray into opera. His previous works for choirs, soloists, orchestras and chamber ensembles have had numerous premieres in Europe. Next year he goes off to Santa Fe for performance of his Winter: An Evocation and then to Monte Carlo to make a recording of his organ music.

In a telephone conversation, Ager revealed that his interest in writing Frankenstein began about eight years ago when he was living in Halifax. He initially was drawn to the vampire novella Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu, but after conversations with William Whitla, a specialist in the Gothic novel at York University, he turned to the most famous Gothic novel of them all, with Whitla agreeing to serve as librettist. Ager admits he has a certain insider’s knowledge of the subject matter having once worked in a morgue in Halifax. A meeting with Edward Franko, Artistic Director of TrypTych Concerts and Opera, ensured that the work would see the light of day. TrypTych held a staged workshops of the opera in 2003 and 2005 when the work was three hours long. He has now shortened it to 100 minutes on the model of Richard Strauss’s Salome, feeling that an intermission would cause a deleterious break in tension.

From the very start, Ager and Whitla agreed that the opera must “at all costs avoid anything campy” particularly all the extraneous paraphernalia associated with the innumerable movie versions. Ager’s interest is in “following the book as closely as possible with its focus on the personal and metaphysical relation of the creator and his creation.”

Ager’s inspiration for the music is Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1925) because of “its depiction of extreme psychological states.” Ager, however, does not employ Berg’s atonal technique but rather a mode he calls “extremely extended harmony.” In the nine-member cast tenor Lenard Whiting sings Victor, baritone Steven King sings the Monster and soprano Dawn Bailey sings Victor’s beloved and wife, Elizabeth. The premiere will be fully staged, with Ager providing the accompaniment on grand piano. Two companies in Germany have already expressed interest in the opera, but Ager hopes that a DVD of the January performances will provoke even more responses.

Meanwhile, Ager is already at work on his second opera, The Wings of the Dove, based on the 1902 Henry James novel, which he plans to have ready for presentation, fittingly enough, in a palazzo during the next Venice Biennale. For more information see
www.tryptych.org.

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera.
He can be contacted at: opera@thewholenote.com.

 

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