20_millsJust after the completion of last month’s column, we learned of the sudden untimely death in September of internationally renowned trumpet player W. Fred Mills. Renowned for his work over the years with the Canadian Brass, Mills died following a single-car crash while driving to his home in Athens, Georgia, from the Atlanta airport after his return from an engagement in Italy. He was 74. Most recently, he was a professor of trumpet and brass chamber music in University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music.

To learn more about this remarkable musician and his career, we spoke to a fellow musician who knew him well and worked with him for many years. As a founding, and still active, member of the Canadian Brass, tubist Charles Daellenbach came to know Mills very well during the 24 years that he played with that group.

Born in Guelph, Ontario, Fred Mills acquired his first instrument, a cornet, from a traveling salesman. Soon after, he had his introduction to the musical world in the Guelph Police Boys Band. While attending a youth music camp in upstate New York, he learned of the Juilliard School and set his sights on a career in music. While still at Juilliard, he was invited to audition for the renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski in that conductor’s New York apartment. Soon thereafter he was engaged as principal trumpet of the Houston Symphony. In the ensuing years he became a regular in orchestras in the New York area, and a regular at the Casals Festival in San Juan Puerto Rico.

Some time in the late 1960s, although very successful in the USA and internationally, he expressed a desire to return to Canada and was soon engaged as principal trumpet for the National Ballet of Canada. In 1967 he was lured away from that post to become principal trumpet of the newly formed National Arts Centre Orchestra. At about he same time he took up teaching duties at the University of Ottawa.

Meanwhile, Daellenbach, who was teaching in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, teamed up with trombonist Eugene Watts to establish the Canadian Brass in 1970. With the inevitable turnover that such groups must face, by 1972 they were looking for two new trumpets, and invited Mills to join the group. Mills agreed, but with a condition: he recommended trumpeter Ronald Romm, a friend from his days at Juilliard. Soon it was a fait accompli, and the rest is history. The Canadian Brass put the brass quintet soundly on the world stage in the forefront of small ensembles. For the next 24 years, as the group toured the world, Mills’ dazzling trumpet work was featured in concerts and on dozens of records. During his tenure with the Canadian Brass, he arranged more than 60 pieces for Canadian Brass, many of which have since become standards in the brass repertoire.

After years of enduring the rigours of touring, Mills returned to academia and joined the brass faculty at the University of Georgia in September 1996. He was the first recipient of the William F. and Pamela P. Prokasy Professorship in the Arts, an endowed professorship that recognizes a faculty member in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences who has an outstanding national reputation. There he remained active in faculty and student brass chamber ensembles at as a performer, arranger and coach until his death. At about the same time as Mills’ departure from the Canadian Brass, Romm followed suit and took up a teaching post at the University of Illinois.

21_canadian_brassMills recorded more than 40 albums with the Canadian Brass and was nominated for a Grammy award in 1992. The Canadian Brass website calls him a “Canadian treasure who changed the world’s musical perspective.” It goes on to say that he “spent over 50 years helping establish the trumpet as a beautiful, lyrical voice amongst solo orchestral instruments.”

The Hannaford Street Silver Band will dedicate their first concert of the season to the memory of Fred Mills, whom they describe as “their colleague.” The HSSB will pay tribute to him performing Canzon Trigesmaquinta by T. Massaino; Before thy Throne, I Now Appear by Bach (arr. Irvine); and a rousing version of Harry James’ Trumpet Blues and Cantabile. In recalling his association with Mills, the Hannaford Band’s executive director, Ray Tizzard, stated: “Twenty-six years ago Fred conducted the very first officially organized rehearsal of the HSSB, as well as the HSSB’s earliest public performances in parks around the City of Toronto.”

In Daellenbach’s opinion, one of Mills’ greatest contributions to Canadian music was his work as a coach with the National Youth Orchestra. He will be missed.

Closer to Home

Closer to home, we regret to have to report the passing of trombonist John Williams at the age of 87. Williams had been a personal friend for more years than I can count, and over the years, I had the pleasure of playing beside him in many ensembles. Until recently he played regularly in the Encore Concert Band and the Markham Concert Band. He was the last WWII veteran to play in the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada.

On the home front, most community musical groups are now in full swing preparing for the fall concert season and many will already have at least one concert under their belts. On looking over the programmes one trend caught our attention: a number of bands are now programming original compositions by band members. Last year the Uxbridge Community Concert Band performed Eternal Flame, a work for band and soprano composed by their director Steffan Brunette. In a recent recording, the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada included Promenade by conductor Lt. William Mighton. In their October concert, the Markham Concert Band featured two works by band members. Longtime member of the trumpet section Vern Kennedy’s latest offering is a number entitled Marmalade, while Sean Breen’s latest opus is The Woodworker. Is your group scheduling the performances of works by band members? Tell us about them!

In recent weeks we have received interesting information from Resa’s Pieces Concert Band and the Markham Concert Band regarding their activities. We hope to cover those in the next issue.

Coming Events: (Please see the listings section for full details)

November 1, 3:00: Wellington Winds, First United Church, in Waterloo. One week later they repeat the programme at Grandview Baptist Church, in Kitchener.

November 8, 3:00: The Hannaford Street Silver Band welcomes The Nathaniel Dett Chorale in the Jane Mallett Theatre. St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

November 18, 7:30: The Plumbing Factory Brass Band presents Musica Britannica at at Byron United, in London.

presents A Tribute to Johnny CowellDecember 4, 8:00: Etobicoke Community Concert Band presents Christmas Pops, at Silverthorn Collegiate Auditorium December 6, 3:00: The Markham Concert Band welcomes the Chinguacousy Concert Band for A Seasonal Celebration at the Markham Theatre.

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

As a choral singer, I tend to think of December as the busiest choral month of the year, with Christmas carol and oratorio concerts piling up on one another in a vocal cavalcade of seasonal enthusiasm. But surveying the wealth of music choices available to Southern Ontario concertgoers this November, I may be forced to reconsider this view.

On November 11, Remembrance Day, the Toronto Symphony will perform Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, with the participation of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Children’s Chorus. Alternating texts from the Latin Mass for the Dead with the bleak texts of war poet Wilfred Owen, killed in WWI, Britten combined the composer’s ancient task of “setting the mass” with the modern artist’s responsibility of bearing witness to the horrors and injustices of his time. The result was a composition that remains unsettling, in the midst of a world that has clearly not yet learned the lessons of the 20th-century’s many conflicts.

The War Requiem is hardly the only larger-scale work in the classical repertoire taking place in Southern Ontario this month. The Oakville Chorus and Orchestra are performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Schubert’s Mass in G (November 14). Marking the 300th anniversary of Haydn’s Death, Chorus Niagara is singing The Creation in Grimsby and St. Catharines (November 7 and 8), the Aradia Ensemble is performing the Lord Nelson Mass (November 27) at the Glenn Gould Studio, and the Karen Schuessler Singers are singing the Lord Nelson Mass on November 21. Orchestra London Canada performs Fauré’s Requiem on November 11, and the Kingston Symphony Orchestra will assay Brahms’ German Requiem on November 22.

Ouch, ow, oy – the Brahms Requiem. I recently sat in on a rehearsal, for another group, of this amazing work, with its Bach-inspired fugues combined with late 19th-century chromatic harmonies. In the parlance of the choral world, the Brahms Requiem is what is known as a “voice-shredder,” and I salute any group of singers brave enough to take it on.

Speaking of Bach, aficionados can get their “J.S. fix” in all-Bach programmes: the Elora Festival Singers’ “Magnificent Motets – Music of Bach” (November 15, Elora), and the Tallis Choir’s “Bach: Mass of Christmas”(November 28).

Choral Gospel music is also well represented this month in concerts by two groups: the Toronto Mass Choir (November 21), and the York U Gospel Choir (November 27). Toronto’s Afrocentric specialists, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, present a concert at Glenn Gould Studio on November 4, and then team up with the Hannaford Street Silver Band on November 8.

There are two notable choral concerts this month that coincide with CD releases of music by Canadian composers. The Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae (Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah), is originally a stern and austere Hebrew text that was adapted by the Catholic Church for use in the Tenebrae Holy Week service, and it has been set by composers from William Bird to Ernst Krenek. Ontario-born East Coast composer Peter-Anthony Togni weighs in with his own setting in a recording and performance by the Elmer Iseler Singers (November 14). In the same weekend, the St. Mary Magdalene’s Gallery Choir will launch their new CD of music by Healey Willan. “St. Mary Mag” was of course Willan’s church, and the choral tradition that he founded there continues to thrive. The CD will include three Willan compositions that have never been recorded, and the price of admission not only covers the concert and CD, but a sherry reception as well. This strikes me as a civilized custom – Willan would have approved.

Just as Christmas paraphernalia is appearing in stores many weeks before the month of December, so Christmas-themed concerts are edging into Advent season. The Burlington Civic Chorale is doing a programme that includes Britten’s wonderful Ceremony of Carols and Vivaldi’s Magnificat (November 28). In Toronto, on the same day, there will be a tough choice between the Toronto Sinfonietta’s Christmas programme, and that of the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir – but the second group repeats their concert on December 2. The Oakville Children’s Choir nicely titled “Snowflakes, Songs and Stars” takes place on December 4-5. And these are just a few of many.

We now come to performances of Handel’s Messiah. First out of the gate is are Georgetown Bach Chorale and the Durham Community Choir (22 November). Après Durham, le déluge: Messiah offerings include the Mississauga Choral Society, Oakville Chamber Ensemble, Vocal Horizons Chamber Choir, and the Elmer Iseler Singers, all on November 29; the Brantford Symphony Orchestra with the Grand River Chorus, and the Grand Philharmonic Choir in Kitchener, both on December 5.

Why is there such appetite for this work around this time of year, even though it is technically an Easter oratorio rather than a Christmas composition? Better and more well-informed minds than mine may ponder this. I’ll content myself by raising an issue of equal or perhaps greater import, especially in Messiah-mad Southern Ontario: is it not time that we have a designation that we can give to plural Messiah performances?

Just as we have pods of Dolphins, flamboyances of Flamingos and charms of Hummingbirds, should we not group multiple Messiah concerts in a trenchant and evocative manner? Indeed we should, so get ready for a “heavenly host” of Messiahs. No? How about a “glorious company” of Messiahs? A “furious rage”? A “sundered bond”? A “sounding trumpet” of Messiahs? An “exalted valley” of – oh, never mind. I admit the last few are a stretch. Anyhow, you get the idea. Enjoy the terrific range of music this November, and get ready for more choral madness in the weeks and months ahead.

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

A concert series which has a unique and vivid perspective on the world of early music is Joëlle Morton’s Scaramella, now beginning its fifth season. I’ve been struck by the imaginative eclecticism of this series: each concert offers a totally different fare from the others, with “new” music often mixed with “old,” and a varied group of musicians and instruments on stage – although a common thread running through it all is the voice of the viol.

16_morton This is not surprising. Although Joëlle’s initial training and performing were on the modern double bass, she subsequently studied the viol and viol repertoire. “I became hooked,” she explains, “by the sheer beauty of the music, by a vast quantity of previously unexplored repertoire, and by a process of making music that allowed me to make my own decisions about style and interpretation. After a couple of years, I found myself feeling ‘more like myself’ on the viola da gamba, and ‘less like myself’ on the modern double bass.” And she’s now a full-fledged performer on a wide variety of Renaissance and Baroque bowed stringed instruments.

Of the initial impetus for her series, Joëlle tells me: “When I started Scaramella in the fall of 2005, I had in mind the idea of bringing together some good friends with whom I’d worked in various different places, and of collaborating with them to explore how early music could be presented in unusual and stimulating ways, to reach a broader audience. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of phenomenal musicians, who play all manner of kinds of music, though our ‘common ground’ is historical performance. I wanted to incorporate some of their kinds of music and approaches to ‘expand the boundaries’ of my own knowledge.”

17a_mackie_jackson As for the first concert of this season, entitled A Merry Company, the brochure promises it will be “expressive, entertaining and eccentric.” It includes – unlikely as it may seem –   excerpts from Handel’s operas (transcribed for small instrumental ensemble during his lifetime), also quirky sonatas by Parcham and Mercy, virtuosic divisions, and the continental influences of Valentine, Matteis and Paisible. “Virtuosic” should also be added to the description of the concert, with the spectacular playing of the musicians involved: Alison Melville (recorders/ baroque flute), Nadina Mackie Jackson (baroque bassoon), Lucas Harris (theorbo), Borys Medicky (harpsichord), and Joëlle Morton herself (violas da gamba).

You can hear it on November 28, 8pm, in the lovely, intimate setting of Victoria College Chapel.

Tafelmusik and Purcell’s King Arthur

17b_taurins2009 has been a particularly fecund year for significant anniversaries in the musical world. The iconic, energetic Tafelmusik seize one last opportunity to honour Purcell in his 350th anniversary year, with concert performances of King Arthur.

 

A collaboration between Purcell and the playwright/poet John Dryden, the first performances of this “dramatic opera” were in 1691. Much of the drama is spoken, while the music is mostly incidental, intended to colour or comment on the action. You’ll discover Purcell’s unique genius for melody and form at work in the many dances, aires and choruses. Indeed, you’ll find music here to marvel at: I draw your attention to the extraordinary shivering lament of the Cold Genius, wakened unwillingly by Cupid from his icy sleep and longing only to be allowed to “freeze again to death” – an astonishing and endearing piece, even if it evokes images of pending weather.

This tale of a king, his foes and his fair maid, spells cast and battles fought, will be told in spoken word and music by an accomplished band: R.H. Thomson, actor; Suzie Leblanc, soprano; Charles Daniels, tenor; Nathaniel Watson, baritone; with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, directed by Ivars Taurins. Performances take place November 12 to 15.

Of course, as with 2009, every year has its share of anniversaries. A bit of research has revealed that 2010 is replete with significant anniversaries too. Among other things, it is: the 600th anniversary (estimated) of the birth of Ockeghem; the 550th anniversary of the death of Binchois; the 500th anniversary of the births of Diego Ortiz and Andrea Gabrieli; the 350th anniversary of the birth of Alessandro Scarlatti; and the 300th anniversary of the births of W.F. Bach, Pergolesi and Arne. Which of these composers will be celebrated during the coming year? It all remains to be seen …

A few more concerts:

November 7, 3:00 in Hamilton, November 8, 2:00 & 8:00 in Toronto: The new early music chamber ensemble Capella Intima brings glorious sacred music to two churches and to the Heliconian Hall, in their thrice-presented concert Celestial Sirens – Music of the Benedictine Nuns of 17th-century Milan. Performers include Bud Roach, tenor and founder; Dawn Bailey and Erin Bardua, sopranos; Vicki St. Pierre, alto; Sara-Anne Churchill, portative organ; and Kate Haynes, cello.

November 15, 3:00 in Waterloo: Greensleaves (Marilyn Fung, viola da gamba; Shannon Purves-Smith, viols and recorders; and Magdalena Tomsinska, lute) and guest artists present a CD Launch Concert of little-known music of the Polocki manuscript from the mid-17th century, discovered in 1960 in Krakow, Poland. Traditional period pieces (pavanes, galliards, canzonas, etc.) as well as dances and songs with a clearly Polish flavour – at times elegant and touching, at times rustic, boisterous, and humorous – are arranged by Michael Purves-Smith.

November 15, 3:30 in Kitchener: Folia presents Messengers of the Stars: Gods, Goddesses and Galileo. This fascinating programme of music and spoken word looks at the heavens as seen both by the new science of Galileo, and in music and song of his time. You’ll hear music by Caccini, Cavalli, Leonarda and others, performed by Meredith Hall, soprano; Linda Melsted and Julie Baumgartel, baroque violins; Terry McKenna, lutes/baroque guitar; Laura Jones, gamba/ cello; with Tamara Bernstein, host.

November 21, 8:00: Academy Concerts presents Glamour and Grace: French chamber music from the last decade of the Ancien Régime, a programme of refined, elegant and joyful music of Pre-Revolutionary France, presented on 18th-century original instruments and performed by historical performance scholars. Sharon Burlacoff, fortepiano; Nicolai Tarasov, clarinet; Anthony Rapoport, viola; and Robin Howell, bassoon play works by Tapray, Devienne, Dalayrac and Bréval.

November 29, 8:00: Did you know that Toronto has a flourishing Community Baroque Orchestra, founded in 2004? You have a chance to hear them in performance, playing music by Purcell, Buxtehude and Corelli on period instruments, with guests: violinist (and coach) Patricia Ahern and harpsichordist David Sandall.

For full details of these and many other concerts, see our concert listings; you can also search the listings by musical category by clicking here.

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

Two of November’s operatic highlights – Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) by Christoph Willibald Gluck from Opera Atelier and And the Rat Laughed (2005) by Ella Milch-Sheriff from Opera York – provide a glimpse of just how wide ranging the artform of opera can be.

And the Rat Laughed

15_aronsteinOpera York is now a resident company at the new Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. In previous years it focused primarily on Italian repertory classics and developed partnerships with York Region’s Italian community. OY’s new consultant Peninah Zilberman felt it equally important to appeal to the region’s Jewish community, and brought this contemporary Israeli opera to the board’s attention. The Opera York production, presented in partnership with the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, will be performed November 5, 7 and 8 in Hebrew with English surtitles. This will be not only the work’s North American premiere, but the first performance in North America of a Hebrew-language opera.

Author Nava Semel based the libretto on her 2001 novel of the same name. The action of the opera, shifting among three time periods – 1943-44, 1999 and 2099 – examines how memories of an event are preserved and changed. Two cultural anthropologists of 2099 are resolved to uncover the origins of a myth they know as “Girl and Rat.” They discover a report from 1999, when a schoolgirl interviewed her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, to find out about her family history. As a child the grandmother was hidden in a cellar, a rat her only friend, and protected by the local farmers – except for a farmer’s son who repeatedly raped her. When support money from the girl’s parents ceases, the farmers take her to the local Roman Catholic priest and suggest he turn her in for a reward. Instead he saves her.

Einat Aronstein, who created the role in Israel, sings the role of the Little Girl. Adriana Albu plays the Grandmother that the Little Girl becomes and Dion Mazerolle is Father Stanislaw. Geoff Butler conducts and Penny Cookson directs. For more information and tickets visit www.operayork.com or call 905-787-8811.

Iphigénie en Tauride

From October 31 to November 7, Opera Atelier revives its 2003 production of Iphigénie en Tauride with a new cast in the principal roles. Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer, last seen here as Mozart’s Idomeneo in 2004, sings Oreste. Canadian tenor Thomas Macleay makes his OA debut as Pylade. And OA regular Peggy Kriha Dye is Iphigénie.

Gluck has long been revered for his “reform operas,” with Iphigénie considered the culmination of his efforts. In a telephone conversation with conductor Andrew Parrott, I asked, “Why was Gluck considered so revolutionary in his time?” Parrott explained that Gluck’s reforms were directed at “bringing the drama back into opera.” The dominant form of the 18th century was the opera seria, best known to us through the operas of Handel. They are characterized by a strict separation of recitative and aria, and by the da capo aria in which the first section is repeated, albeit with florid ornamentation, after the second. According to Parrott, this type of opera was popular, and in Handel’s case, has regained popularity “because they were written, for lack of a better word, for ‘canary-fanciers.’” The opera’s primary function was to showcase star singers rather than to tell a unified story.

The difficulty with opera seria is its inherent tendency to stasis. As Parrott notes, “By the second half of the 18th century the form had ossified and was in need of reform.” Gluck banished the da capo aria so that a character’s emotional state would develop rather than return to its point of departure. He abolished cadenzas and blended recitative with aria to move the action forward. Parrott says, “Gluck wanted to bring opera back to its origins as sung drama” and notes that “singers on 18th-century playbills were referred to as ‘actors’ not ‘singers’, since all actors were also expected to sing.”

Although Parrott has nothing against modern productions, as long as they capture the true nature of a piece, he says the period productions of Opera Atelier make his job as conductor much easier because “there is no disruptive tension between the music and what I see on stage.” What Parrott admires particularly in the direction of Marshall Pynkoski and choreography of Jeannette Zingg is their keen attention to detail and their emphasis on “getting the balance right among all the arts involved in opera.” In particular, Parrott notes that OA singers learn “to act with their words, not only with their voices,” just as would have been the case in Gluck’s day. For more information about Iphigénie en Tauride, visit www.operaatelier.com.

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

This month’s column is all about singing!

Two names jump out at me because of their involvement in four different events. They are Shannon Mercer and Carla Huhtanen, both young sopranos already with a wealth of experience behind them – and, I suspect, brilliant careers ahead. Of Mercer, Toronto composer and organist Andrew Ager says, “She is a true artist for whom I have unbounded admiration. What I like most is her consistent commitment to delivering the meaning of the text with an instrument of great flexibility and beauty, always with an unusual intensity of expression.” As for Carla Huhtanen, Boris Zarankin, co-artistic director of the Off Centre Salon, had only to hear her once (at last year’s Soulpepper Cabaret Festival) to know that she met the exacting standards of his highly respected concert series.

The two sopranos appear together in Queen of Puddings’ November 12 performance of Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist’s Puksånger-Lockrop, a category-defying composition described in Queen of Puddings’ press release as “a fearless, hair-raising, primal and exhilarating tour-de-force for two female singers and timpani inspired by Swedish folk music and herding calls.”

13a_huhtanen Huhtanen admires Queen of Puddings directors in general for their challenging repertoire choices, and says that this piece is challenging not only to the performers but also to the audience, in a way that engages rather than alienates the listener. Rehnqvist, she says, does this by using contrast as a musical development strategy, varying colours and textures, moving from passages that are almost hypnotic to gradual accelerations to traditional Swedish folk music techniques. These include the raucous and penetrating “kulning,” formerly used out of doors for herding cattle and communicating over long distances – Huhtanen calls it a “sung shout.”

On November 29 Huhtanen will join pianists Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin, mezzo Krisztina Szabó and baritone Jesse Clark in Toronto’s longest running Schubertiad (their 15th!) at Glenn Gould Studio. The programme for this concert is of particular interest because it was all composed in the last year of Schubert’s all too short life. While it will include well known masterpieces, such as Shepherd on the Rock, and the posthumously compiled song cycle Schwanengesang, it will also include less known lieder.

“While I really enjoy doing contemporary music, I also love to sing lieder,” commented Huhtanen, “which is like a yoga class for the voice. With Schubert it is all about telling a story, communicating the words, it all starts with the words, with simplicity. It is so simple and so intimate; it’s just being there with the pianist and the audience. It has also been almost a discovery, after not singing any German repertoire for some time, to experience how good it feels to come back to singing in German.” Zarankin also looks forward to working with Clark and Szabó – and with flutist Robert Aitken, who will perform Schubert’s very last song, “Tauben Post,” as a solo flute piece.

13b_mercer The third concert, on November 22, St. Cecilia’s Day (Cecilia being the patron saint of music) and also Benjamin Britten’s birthday, is called simply “Blessed Cecilia.” It’s the Aldeburgh Connection’s second Sunday concert of the season and will mark the 350th anniversary of the birth of Henry Purcell and the 96th of Benjamin Britten. The Aldeburgh Connection at this event, according to their website, will “seize the opportunity of celebrating the songs of two English masters,” and will “acknowledge the healing and sustaining power of music.” The soprano soloist in this concert will be Shannon Mercer, who will share the stage with tenor James McLean, and bass-baritone Giles Tomkins.

The fourth event is Toronto New Music Projects’ December 6 performance at the Music Gallery of Philippe Leroux’s “Voi(REX)” for six instruments, electronics and soprano. Carla Huhtanen, the soprano in this performance, describes the work as “difficult,” but also “fun and witty.” Leroux, who was associated for many years with Pierre Boulez’s IRCAM in Paris, is not yet well known in Canada, but his works are performed around the world.

The singers I’ve written about are of the rising generation of Canadian vocal artists whose talents are in demand, not just at home but abroad as well. In fact, at the time of writing, Mercer was in London rehearsing Eric Idle’s comic oratorio Not the Messiah – she performed in its world premiere in Toronto in 2007 – and Szabó was in Ireland performing in the Wexford Opera Festival.

They, of course, are the latest in a long line of internationally renowned Canadian singers, the first of whom was probably Emma Albani, whose career began around 1870 – eight years before the birth of the legendary Canadian tenor, Edward Johnson, who not only sang at New York’s Metropolitan Opera but later became its director. Since then many more Canadian singers have performed on opera and recital stages around the world.

Two of the greatest artists in our long tradition of vocal artistry were soprano Lois Marshall, and contralto Maureen Forrester. The two did a tour together in 1973, which will be commemorated by soprano Lorna MacDonald, and mezzo Kimberly Barber, in a special recital, “Celebrating Marshall and Forrester” on November 10 in the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall at Wilfrid Laurier University, where Barber is the co-ordinator of vocal studies, and on November 19 in Walter Hall at the University of Toronto, where MacDonald is the head of vocal studies. I see this not only as a tribute to two great singers of the past but also as a celebration of the singing tradition, to which these two great Canadians added so much.

I’m reminded of something one of our great Canadian singers, Richard Margison, said to me a dozen or more years ago: “I like The WholeNote because it covers the local scene, and that’s where we all start our careers.” How true! So keep in mind that great talent may be found even at small events in humble venues. By all means, do go and hear the great ones in our midst, but also get out and support a smaller event in a smaller venue as well. It’s rewarding to be able to say – as I can of bass Robert Pomakov, whom I heard sing in a gymnasium at University Settlement House 15 years ago – that you heard so-and-so before he/she was famous!

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.

 

43olson and littleFay Olson has worked in the public relations field for over 30 years, spending much of that time focused on music and sports sponsorships specifically. In her heyday, Fay played an instrumental role in launching what used to be known as the du Maurier Downtown Toronto Jazz Festival; she has since fought hard for arts funding since tobacco sponsorships were ruled illegal.

Semi-retired now, Olson books an admirable three nights of jazz a week at the historic Old Mill Inn, located steps from the Old Mill subway stop. Every Thursday night is a house gig for Russ Little, the famed trombonist previously associated with the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Count Basie Band and the Boss Brass.

In booking a brand new Friday night series at the Old Mill called “Something to Sing About!” this month Olson has chosen a refreshing mix of choice singers, veterans and rising stars: Sophia Perlman, Cal Dodd, Laila Biali, Arlene Smith and Trish Colter. “We didn’t want people to think we were ‘singer-phobic’,” she jokes. The Saturday Piano Masters Series continues, this month spotlighting the trios of Paul Read, Joe Sealy, Don Thompson, Bill King and Paul Hoffert. All performances take place at the elegant Home Smith Bar at The Old Mill Inn, where an atmospheric experience for all senses easily merits the minimum $20 food/drink expenditure.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Jazz Quartet’s “Fridays at Five” with-featured-jazz-instrumentalist series, initiated by Olson in 2006 as a response to the Montréal Bistro’s closure, is still the talk of the town. The formidable “no cover, no reservations” series runs Fridays from 5-8pm at Quotes Bar & Grill, located right under Barootes at 220 King Street West. The CJQ is: quartet founder Gary Benson, guitar, Frank Wright, vibes, Duncan Hopkins, bass, and Don Vickery on drums, pictured here with Fay.

October is a busy time for choirs. A brief perusal of the listings sections of this magazine reveals a wide range of choral performances, from small, intimate works to big choral warhorses. But if you look past the sheer variety of it all, a few trends emerge.

Early music seems to be especially well represented this month, with several choirs presenting entire programmes of pre-1800 repertoire. Toronto’s Cantemus Singers are singing English music, with an October 3 concert of Purcell, Tallis, Gibbons and Byrd. In Orillia, on October 24, the Cellar Singers open their season with Bach’s Mass in B Minor. On the same night, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will perform Handel’s Israel in Egypt (the first big choral concert in the Royal Conservatory’s new Koerner Hall). And on November 1, the Toronto Chamber Choir will present a programme of Renaissance works by Byrd, Lasso, Weelkes and Sheppard.

19_Lydia_Adams_photo_Pierre_Maravel19_Brainerd B-T

This sort of concert, when done well, has the happy effect of transporting its audience into a remote time, to explore the artistic ideals of a historical era. But it’s also nice to see a more varied and integrated approach to early-music programming. On October 4 Toronto’s Elmer Iseler Singers  and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale will team up to present a concert that mixes Byrd, Tallis, et al. with African-American gospel repertoire. In a similar vein, Waterloo’s Renaissance Singers will sing a concert on October 17 (repeated the following day in Cambridge) that combines 16th- and 17th-century English choral works with Rutter’s The Sprig of Thyme, composed in the late 20th century.

At first glance, the Renaissance Singers’ approach makes a little more sense: Rutter is English, and there are strong historical references in his style that connect his music to the English Renaissance. But that’s not to say that the Iseler-Dett collaboration is a non-starter. On the contrary, some of the most fascinating artistic experiences originate in the conjoining of ideas that don’t seem to have much in common.

Contemporary music is a sometimes a scary proposition – for choirs and audiences alike. But there are three concerts of new works coming up that no one should shy away from.

20_tollarOn October 8, Toronto composer Christos Hatzis’ From the Song of Songs will be performed in a programme presented by the Royal Ontario Museum. The 18-minute work will be performed by the musicians who originally commissioned it: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir. As well, the culturally adventurous piece also features Arabic vocalist Maryem Hassan-Tollar as soloist.

On October 24, the University of Toronto’s MacMillan Singers perform a programme called “Music of the North,” which will hopefully find an appreciative audience. The chosen composers – Rautavaara, Hyökki and Tormis – are from Finland and Estonia: two countries with strong choral traditions and composers who have attracted the world’s attention.

And the following day, Toronto’s Pax Christi Chorale will sing an entire programme of premieres. Billed as a “Fanfare for Canadian Hymns,” the concert will feature the winning compositions in the choir’s inaugural Great Canadian Hymn Competition. Back in the summer, composers across the country were invited to submit entries for unison or SATB choir (accompanied or unaccompanied) – and now the winners will be heard for the first time.

“We wanted to highlight the fact that there are so many fantastic hymns by Canadians,” notes Pax Christi conductor Stephanie Martin. “We don’t tend to celebrate our achievements, like the Americans and British do. So we thought it would be fun to sponsor a contest.”

20_Martin-StephanieAccording to Martin, the competition attracted hymns from almost every Canadian province, with an impressive total of 68 entries. “We have a real rainbow of different styles,” she says. “What people consider a hymn, in different traditions, can vary widely. We have hymns from the Anglican tradition, hymns from the Mennonite tradition, and some more fashioned like folk-songs.”

As well, three cash awards will be announced at the concert. “The choir is voting on who gets the prizes,” Martin explains. “We wanted to sing the hymns through for several weeks, and get to know them before deciding. One of the qualities of a great hymn is that it grows on you.”

What else does the month have to offer? The Mendelssohn bicentennial that has led to many performances of the composer’s works this year still has some steam left in it. On October 23, the Exultate Chamber Singers give an all-Mendelssohn programme; and on November 1 the Mississauga Choral Society will also devote an entire programme to the brilliant composer who lived for just 38 years.

And there’s a lot more. For further information about any of the concerts mentioned above, see the GTA and Beyond the GTA listings in this magazine.

Colin Eatock is a composer, writer, and the managing editor of The WholeNote. He can be contacted at: editorial@thewholenote.com.

10One of the more unusual concerts of the month – perhaps of the season – is the Halloween “monster concert” on October 31, organized by pianist and educator Mary Kenedi. “Monster concert,” for the record, is a term referring to a concert performed on ten pianos by as few as ten and as many as 30 pianists.

The idea goes back well over a century and a half, when the famous Austrian pianist, composer and educator Carl Czerny organized the first monster concert ever in the 1830s to raise money to help the victims of the flooding of the Danube River. More recently, Kenedi herself performed in a monster concert in Toronto conducted by William Shookhoff, who himself once organized, at Rosalyn Carter’s (Jimmy Carter’s wife) request, a monster concert at the White House.

As this appears to be one of Shookhoff’s specialties, Kenedi has enlisted him as the conductor of her concert on October 31. Among other performers joining Kenedi for the occasion are composers Abigail Richardson, Gary Kulesha and Larissa Kuzmenko, as well as piano teachers from Kenedi’s North Toronto Institute of Music and 30 of their students, who will play, three to a piano, the prelude to Bizet’s Carmen and three songs from the Harry Potter movies, arranged by a North Toronto Institute student.

All the performers will wear costumes, and Cadbury has donated the content of loot bags to be given out to children attending the event.

To add some contrast, Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals will be played by two pianists on two pianos, and Kenedi will perform Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz. The concert will take place at Massey Hall between 3:00 and 5:00 on Halloween, so there will be no conflicts with the important business of trick-or-treating.

Minsoo Sohn

11A charming and somewhat off-the-beaten-track venue is the lobby of Classical 96 FM on Queen St. E. It is not large – perhaps 30 feet square, two stories high, with a long staircase leading up to a mezzanine on the floor above. Beneath the stairs sits a small grand piano, which was the focus of a noon-hour concert I attended recently. The performer was the Korean-born, 33-year-old pianist and Honens First Prize Laureate (2006) Minsoo Sohn, who will be back in Toronto on October 3 for his Glenn Gould Studio debut recital and again on January 14 to perform with Canadian cellist, Rachel Mercer, for Music Toronto.

From my vantage point on the stairs I got a wonderful view of Sohn’s hands on the keyboard – their strength and the sureness, economy and ease with which they moved. Best of all, I could hear the piano extremely well from this unusual position and appreciated his sound, which belied its percussive origin and seemed to float with the fluidity of a violin or a flute.

The whole scene below me – Sohn at the piano and perhaps 40 people sitting around it – made me think of a drawing I’ve seen of Liszt playing in a salon. In it, each person in the audience seems to reveal his innermost self through posture and expression. Salons don’t seem to be part of our experience these days, so kudos to Classical 96 FM for keeping the tradition alive. The only big difference between this and Liszt’s salon was the presence of a video camera on a long boom and several robotic cameras that captured the occasion for web broadcasting.

After the concert Sohn, Honens executive director Stephen McHolm and I went upstairs to talk about Sohn’s life as a musician and the Honens Competition. “Were you born into a family of musicians?” I asked. “Not really. My mother was a singer but stopped singing when I was born. And my father wasn’t a musician but loved music, especially the music of Rachmaninoff. I don’t know how many times I heard recordings of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto while I was still a kid. It was a lot!”

I went on to ask Sohn about how he started playing the piano at the age of three, and what motivated him to practise. “I’ve wondered about that too!” he commented. “I don’t remember that time in my life. All I know about it is what my mother has told me, which is that I would stay at the keyboard for three hours at a time, as if there was something fascinating about it for me.”

I was interested in how he found a balance, in learning repertoire, between the demands of technique and the demands of understanding the message of the music. “They’re not really separate. Facility needs to be there, of course, and everything can come together when I’m practising and trying to find the meaning of the music. It is a struggle and doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I feel like a sculptor, giving form, shaping sound.”

Could he say what it is that changes when this occurs? “It’s as if I come to a very fundamental place in myself where I can become the music and the music becomes me.” Does playing for an audience help? “Playing for an audience is great and sometimes it seems to bring waves and layers of emotion, but for me the real work of searching for the music occurs when I’m alone with the piano. It’s this search that makes it worthwhile and which keeps me interested and motivated.”

Minsoo Sohn’s fascination with the meaning of the music he plays seems to be what makes him special to those who hear him perform. Of the 90 young pianists selected for the first round of the Honens competition from the 150 who apply, really only ten or a dozen, according to Stephen McHolm, have what the Honens jury is looking for: the ability to go beyond technique to look for what the music has to say.

I also asked Minsoo what he was looking forward to doing in the not-too-distant-future. “Right now my big project is a recording of the Goldberg Variations. I would like to add my own personal footprint to the discography of this great work.” Indeed, his interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations from the Honens Competition has been described as “extraordinary,” and has been broadcast numerous times on CBC and across the United States on NPR’s Performance Today.

Other Events

There’s far more than can be written about here – but perhaps I can give a feel for the depth and breadth of music that October and early November offer:

Early in the month, there are a number of noteworthy concerts, including, of course, all the musical events related to Nuit Blanche and the final four days of the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie. The Emerson String Quartet with pianist Menahem Pressler, who performed at the Toronto Summer Music festival this year, will play in Koerner Hall on October 1; and on October 10 Frederica von Stade will be on the Koerner Hall Stage as part of her farewell tour. October 1 and 2 the Ontario Philharmonic (formerly the Oshawa-Durham Symphony Orchestra) presents its season opener, The Philharmonic Rocks, in the superior acoustics of the P.C. Ho Theatre at the Chinese Cultural Centre in Scarborough.

The Royal Canadian College of Organists (RCCO) has started a new series, “Organ Horizons,” which makes its debut on October 2 with Kola Owalabi giving a recital at Glenview Presbyterian Church. The next evening, October 3, pianist Raymond Spasovski gives a benefit concert at Walter Hall while Caledon Chamber Concerts presents the Cecilia String Quartet in Caledon East. Also on October 3 the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Orchestra, with pianist Koichi Inoue, will play the music of the Czech composers Dvořák and Vorisek. At the University of Toronto, cellist Shauna Rolston will give a recital on October 16, followed on October 19 by the American Brass Quintet. On October 29 composer Srul Irving Glick will be remembered in a tribute concert at the Al Green Theatre.

Season Openers

On October 15 Music Toronto presents the Takács Quartet; on October 15 and 16 Via Salzburg performs music by Dvořák and Pärt; on October 16 the Toronto Centre for the Arts presents Argentinean pianist Christina Ortiz; on October 17 the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra plays Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” with soloist Li Wang; on October 18 the Aldeburgh Connection focuses on the life, times and poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson; on October 23 Sinfonia Toronto performs with violinist Lara St. John; and on October 25 Mooredale Concerts presents pianist Gary Graffman.

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.

12aThe undoubted highlight of the fall season is the world premiere of “The Nightingale and Other Short Fables,” directed by the renowned Robert Lepage. This is only his second project for the Canadian Opera Company – after his Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung of 1993, which caused the COC to be invited to festivals all over the world. Lepage has more of a hand in this production than the earlier one, since he also chose the various vocal and instrumental pieces by Igor Stravinsky that make up the evening’s programme, along with the two short operas The Nightingale (Le Rossignol) and Renard.

For The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, Robert Lepage draws on ancient and contemporary storytelling traditions, incorporating singers, acrobats and Asian shadow puppetry geared to appeal to audience members of all ages. A co-production with the Festival d’Aix- en-Provence and l’Opéra national de Lyon, in collaboration with Lepage’s Ex Machina company, this is the production’s only North American engagement. It runs October 17, 20, 22, 24, 30, and November 1, 4 and 5, and is sung in Russian with English surtitles.

The programme begins with a selection of short, non-operatic pieces: the jazzy octet Ragtime (1916), a set of four nonsense songs called Pribaoutki (1914), the four lullabies that comprise the The Cat’s Cradle Songs (1917), Two Poems of Constantin Balmont (1911), Four Russian Peasant Songs (1917) and Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet (1919). The songs introduce the theme of animals central to the two operas presented after the intermission.

Both The Nightingale and Renard were unconventional works in their own time. The Nightingale had its first performance in 1914 at the Paris Opera in a production by Sergei Diaghilev with the singers in the pit and their roles mimed and danced on stage. The next year the Princesse Edmond de Polignac commissioned Stravinsky to write a piece that could be played in her salon. Stravinsky envisioned Renard as a new form of theatre in which acrobatic dance would be connected with singing while declamation commented on the action. As it happened, the premiere of Renard never took place in the salon, but as part of a double-bill with Mavra in 1922 by the Ballets Russes, again at the Paris Opera. As with The Nightingale, the singers were part of the orchestra, while their roles were danced on stage.

In The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, Lepage takes Stravinsky’s innovations several steps further. The orchestra pit will be filled with water to become a pool where the singers perform and manipulate puppets designed by award-winning American puppet designer Michael Curry. The COC Orchestra, under the baton of Jonathan Darlington, performs on stage. The set is designed by Canadian Carl Fillion, who has worked with Lepage on many projects, including Lepage’s upcoming Ring Cycle with the Metropolitan Opera. The lighting designer, Canadian Étienne Boucher, is also part of Lepage’s Ring Cycle team. The Chinese-inspired costumes are by Mara Gottler, resident costume designer with Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Lepage’s notion, as explained in several video interviews available through the COC website (www.coc.ca), is to have the course of the action recapitulate the development of puppetry, from the simplest hand shadows to larger two-dimensional variations, and finally to the three-dimensional complexities of Vietnamese water puppetry.

12bRenard was last seen in Toronto in an imaginative COC Ensemble production directed by Tom Diamond. The story is based on Aleksandr Afanasyev’s popular compilation, Russian Folk Tales, and follows the Fox’s attempts to outsmart the Cock, who luckily is rescued by the Cat and the Ram. The cast includes Ensemble tenor Adam Luther and baritone Peter Barrett, who were both in Diamond’s production, tenor Lothar Odinius and bass Robert Pomakov. The cast is joined by five acrobats/puppeteers.

The Nightingale, based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, is narrated by a Fisherman (Odinius), who tells of an Emperor (bass Ilya Bannik), who longs to hear the song of the Nightingale (coloratura soprano Olga Peretyatko) at court. The bird appears, but when Japanese emissaries unveil a mechanical nightingale at court, the real bird flies away and the furious Emperor banishes it from his realm. Later, when the Emperor is ill and confronted by Death (contralto Maria Radner), the Nightingale contravenes the edict and returns to save the Emperor in an unexpected and moving way. Tickets are available online at www.coc.ca or by calling 416-363-8231.


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

13October’s main attraction in the new music community will no doubt be the fourth edition of the Music Gallery’s X Avant festival.

Past attempts at creating a steady new music festival in Toronto have met with challenges: NuMuFest disappeared in 2001 when its key organizer could no longer offer its support and the exciting soundaXis festival barely got off the ground before going on hiatus after its 2008 edition. Both festivals were built on rich but fragile networks that challenged their stability. In light of what remains – the TSO’s continuing but contained New Creations Festival – X Avant stands out as a sustainable model for the celebration of new music in Toronto.

This year’s X Avant theme of “convergence and collaboration” is very a propos, given the importance of networks and partnerships to making such a large event a success. It is also a theme that the Music Gallery practices itself, with artistic director Jonathan Bunce working alongside guest curators Gregory Oh and Andrew Timar to deliver both this festival and the season’s programming. Inspired by Brian Eno’s idea of “scenius” – the communal form of genius created by harnessing the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene – X Avant celebrates the notion of co-operation in contemporary music making. It’s a timely return to the topic, given the growing discussions around the influences and impact that networks have on the intentions, ideas and actions of artists.

Given the Music Gallery’s desire to celebrate innovation and experimentation throughout the full continuum of the creative music scene, X Avant not only spans four days, eight concerts and various workshops and symposia, but also numerous genres and generations of music exploration.

The festival opens on October 21 with one of the world’s oldest electronic collaborations. The German duo Cluster, which set many landmarks for modern-day electronic music, has re-formed after a decade-long hiatus to release their 2009 album Qua (their first in 14 years), and now to make their Canadian live debut. Cluster members Dieter Mobius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius have been collaborating since the 1960s. Their influence predates other electronic music pioneers like Kraftwerk, and extended well into the 1990s, sometimes in partnerships with talent like Brian Eno. Sharing the concert bill is relative newcomer Hauschka, the alias of German pianist/composer Volker Bertlemann, who has built a reputation with his miniature sound vignettes composed for prepared piano. In this second engagement with the Music Gallery (Hauschka paired up with John Kameel Farah for a local show in 2007), he will partner with a local string quartet to explore new musical territory.

Some of the youngest partnerships at X Avant are those suggested by the festival curators as part of a musical laboratory they are calling “Beats, Notes and Loops: A Hip-Hop/New Music Summit.” Take, for example, the three-way improv between the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, emcee Abdominal and DJ duo iNSiDEaMiND slated for October 23. Experimental turntable music will meet rap in a new music frame filtered through traditional Indonesian gamelan. What will emerge remains to be heard, but this curious combination offers interesting possibilities. Sharing the summit is the emerging yet already consummate crossover composer Nicole Lizée with DJ P-Love and chamber ensemble. Nicole has made her name in part as a member of Montréal’s indie-rock band Besnard Lakes, but more so as a music creator who crosses the boundaries between popular musical tropes and contemporary musical language. For X Avant she will present works that explore both the continuing karaoke phenomenon and the integration of turntablism into contemporary chamber music.

Other collaborations are looser, such as Czech violinist/singer Iva Bittova’s occasional creative collisions with British art-rock percussionist Chris Cutler. The two will meet again on October 24 at the Polish Combatants Hall. Still others are more regular, like the Phantom Orchard project of downtown New Yorkers Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori. The combination of Mori’s laptop artistry and Parkins’ extended techniques on electric harp started coming together as Phantom Orchard around 2004, although the two have been friends and colleagues since 1988. The duo will perform on October 22 at the Music Gallery on a double bill with Ken Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble, which provides a vehicle for this improvising guitarist, bandleader, composer, producer and organizer to explore more nuanced contexts for his compositions and ensemble-based ideas. The Convergence Ensemble, which has been recording together since 2006, will take its X Avant opportunity to release a new CD.

Rounding out the festival are two very different presentations by local, long-standing new music outfits. On October 24, Arraymusic offers a new way of hearing in collaboration with the Sound, Music, Auditory Research and Technology (SMART) Lab based at Ryerson University. The auditory research at work in this concert involves a new device called the emoti-chair – a sensory substitution technology that converts sound into a dispersion of vibrotactile information and, therefore, provides greater access to music for all people, including the hearing impaired. The chairs will be test-driven through new music by percussionist and composer Rick Sacks, alongside Arraymusic standards by Jo Kondo, Michael J. Baker and Claude Vivier.

On the festival’s closing night, Continuum will converge on a set of musical works that explore the push and pull between past and present, convention and disruption, start and stop. Compositions by Chris Paul Harman, Samuel Andreyev and Lucas Franesconi play with notions of continual inception, dissolution, truncation and perpetuation by exploiting the customs of classical music construction. As well, the concert will feature the subtly shifting colours of Fuhong Shi’s Emanations and the driving rhythms of Juan Trigos’s Pulsacion y Resonancias.

In total, X Avant asserts the Music Gallery as the central hub of Toronto’s creative music scene, and offers an intense concentration of what we can expect to find expanding across the course of the season ahead. For more information about X Avant and the Music Gallery’s 2009-2010 season visit www.musicgallery.org. For tickets visit www.ticketweb.ca, call 416-204-1080, or go to Soundscapes or Rotate This.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purcell’s Fantasias for Viols

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

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

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

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

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

17

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

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

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

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

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

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