As September looms menacingly on the horizon, all nature aligns to reinforce the sobering message that summer 2010 is gone forever. More than a few trees have sprouted red and yellow leaves, the punishing heat of the Toronto summer appears to be giving way to the air of fall, and – what is that strange humming sound in the air, especially on Thursday evenings?

Choirs or all sizes and configurations are beginning their vocal warmups. Major and minor chords buzz and resonate like eager cicadas at dusk. That strange, plaintive wail like the howl of a mournful coyote in the night? A choir director pleading in vain with singers to bring their pencils, put their music in order and pay their choir dues on time.

Choral singers, of course, are generally dormant in the summer. There is an odd and unsubstantiated rumour that they actually work for a living and go on the occasional vacation, but this is surely nothing more than idle conjecture.

If they are active at all, it is only as regards to the coming season of concerts, and each choir section has its own set of preparatory habits and customs. Sopranos check to make sure that their new season’s wardrobe is appropriate to both the year’s repertoire and to their central importance to the choir. Altos beam with pride on the new pair of sensible shoes they have invested in, knowing that the moment the conductor asks them to stand they will be able to do so in complete comfort – unlike those glory-hogs, the sopranos. The tenors busily practice their “scales” – in fact a series of spectacular high notes that bear the same relation to scales as chocolate icing to rye bread, smiling with satisfaction as the neighbours bang on the wall at a particularly resonant high C. The basses, getting ready for another comfortable season of snoozing in the back row, select their mystery novels, magazines and ergonomic pillows with care.

As these worthy folk assemble to grace us with another season’s concerts, let’s survey the vocal fun that awaits us in the year ahead. The Toronto Chamber Choir has a well-rounded season that includes a concert of English music from the renaissance era to modern times (October 24), a concert of the music of the great renaissance composer Josquin de Prez (April 2), and that finally delves into Bach’s fascination with numerology (May 15).

Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir will be performing Handel’s Dixit Dominus (November 11-14), Bach’s B Minor Mass (February 9-13) and, interestingly, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – this group’s first foray into what has been traditionally the territory of larger choirs and modern instrument orchestras (April 7-10). John Tuttle’s Exultate Chamber singers have an ambitious season that includes Duruflé’s Requiem, one of Bach’s Lutheran masses, and Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil, often known as the Vespers (www.exultate.net).

An admirable four out of five concerts by the Elmer Iseler Singers feature music by Canadian composers, notably an a-cappella programme of mass settings by Healey Willan, Ruth Watson Henderson and Eleanor Daley, as well as Palestrina (October 24). EIS conductor Lydia Adams pursues this Canadian theme with the Amadeus Choir as well, as they perform Our Home and Native Land: Songs and Stories of Canada (May 14).

Soundstreams Canada celebrates ten years of hosting epic gatherings of choirs, combining 180 voices to perform various works by Arvo Pärt, and a newly commissioned piece by the venerable R. Murray Schafer (November 7). Kitcher’s Da Capo Chamber Choir is undertaking a number of concerts featuring new music, as well (dacapochamberchoir.ca).

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir takes part in the TSO’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (September 25), and follows this with Bach’s St John Passion (March 3) and Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (May 11). Toronto’s Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs “Voices of the Diaspora – Haitian Voices” (February 23 and 26).

Barrie’s Lyrica Chamber Choir looks at some rarer repertoire in the excellent choral works of Montreal Composer Donald Patriquin (December 11), 19th-century German composer Josef Rheinberger (March 26), and an American themed mixed programme (May 28).

P22As a concert reviewer, the phrase “choral pot-pourri” tends to make my heart sink. But as a singer and concert-goer I know that these can be some of the most interesting concerts in any given season. It’s in concerts of smaller works that the interesting nooks and crannies of choral repertoire are fully explored. Smaller scale works – often written originally for liturgical contexts and not necessarily intended for concert performance – comprise a central part of the choral repertoire, and a concert of smaller works by one composer, or varied works with a similar theme, can be among the most interesting concerts of a season.

Several concerts in this vein are being given this season by Toronto’s Bell ‘Arte Singers (bellartesingers.ca), and the Burlington Civic Chorale (burlingtoncivicchorale.ca). The Cantabile Choirs of Kingston have gone an audacious step further than a single themed concert, and have programmed an entire season of concerts on the theme of “Voyages.” This set of programmes looks particularly intriguing (cantabile.kingston.net).

The multitudinous Messiah concerts that await us in December need no advertising at this time. One interesting point worth mentioning: recent scholarship has ascertained that the beloved “Hallelujah” chorus was in fact written by lesser-known Handel contemporary Nicola Porpora. Accordingly, no performance of Messiah this year will include that section of the work. (Just kidding!)

The Common Thread Community chorus of Toronto showcases Latin-American music (September 8), Robert Cooper’s Chorus Niagara provides a live choral soundtrack to the classic Lon Chaney film “Hunchback of Notre Dame” (November 5-6), and the Guelph Chamber Choir performs Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (November 27) and Brahms’ German Requiem (April 2). The Oriana Women’s Choir performs Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (March 5) and a special concert in tribute to William Brown’s 15th year as conductor (May 7).

Make sure to check out the various excellent childrens’ choirs in the region, among them the Mississauga Children’s Choir (mississaugachildrenschoir.com), the Bach Children’s Chorus (www.bachorus.org), the Toronto Beaches Children’s Chorus (torontobeacheschildrenschorus.com) and the Viva Youth Singers of Toronto (vivayouthsingers.com). The distinguished Toronto Children’s Chorus offers us a rare chance to hear Brahms’ Four Songs for Two Horns and Harp and Verdi’s Laudi Alla Vergine Maria (May 7).

All in all, the season appears to be a good mixture of the familiar and the rare, the majestic and the intimate. It’s excellent to see the amount of new music being performed: choirs are contributing new sounds to the tradition as well as building on what has gone before.

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

The 2010/11 opera season is upon us with the promise of over 26 different opera productions announced so far in Toronto and environs over the next ten months. Rather than give an overview of all these productions, I’ll focus on the five I presently look forward to most.

The 2010/11 season marks the first season planned entirely by Canadian Opera Company general manager Alexander Neef. He seems to have looked over the company’s production record to find those operas that the company has never or at least not recently produced. The first of these to arrive is Benjamin Britten’s final opera Death in Venice (1973), last staged by the COC in 1984. The opera is based on Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella about an elderly writer’s strange attraction to Tadzio, a Polish boy staying with his family in Venice before a cholera epidemic strikes the city. The COC will present the acclaimed 2007 Aldeburgh Festival production directed by Yoshi Oida, starring Alan Oke, who won kudos there as Aschenbach, and conducted by Steuart Bedford, who conducted the original production in 1973. Britten’s spare, delicate score should fare much better in the Four Seasons Centre than it could in the O’Keefe in 1984. The opera runs from October 16 to November 6.

P20The second noteworthy opera from the COC is the Toronto premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China (1987), an opera now performed around the world that had its Canadian premiere as part of the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad. The choice is significant for a number of reasons. First, the COC hasn’t presented an American opera since Kismet in 1987 and before that Candide in 1984. While it’s true that Canada is inundated with American popular culture, it is foolish to exclude those American works that have become accepted touchstones of 20th-century opera. There are other operas by Adams, not to mention by Carlisle Floyd, Philip Glass or Jake Heggie, that have become well-known elsewhere but have never been staged here.

The COC production of Nixon in China comes from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis where it was staged in 2004 by James Robinson. He will also direct the Toronto production, which will feature Robert Orth as Richard Nixon, Adrian Thompson as Mao Tse-Tung and Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao. The production runs February 5 to 26, 2011. For more information see www.coc.ca.

Toronto is fortunate among North American cities to have a resident professional operetta company, Toronto Operetta Theatre. And we’re doubly fortunate that under the leadership of Guillermo Silva-Marin, the TOT has not been content to stage only Gilbert and Sullivan or Viennese operetta, but to introduce Toronto audiences to Old and New World zarzuela, the Spanish form of operetta that is part of the heritage of an increasing North American demographic. This year TOT presents its first production of Luisa Fernanda (1932) by Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982). The work is often considered the last of the great romantic zarzuelas before the form, as it became increasingly political, became extinct during the Spanish Civil War.

In Luisa Fernanda the action takes place in 1868 when the reign of Queen Isabel II is under threat by a revolutionary republican movement that eventually achieves success. For those curious to know more there is a 2006 DVD starring Placido Domingo as the protagonist, conducted by Jesús López-Corbos. The TOT production will be conducted by José Hernández and will star Mexican tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez and Canadian soprano Michèle Bogdanowicz. Luisa Fernanda plays March 9-13, 2011.

This season, Opera Atelier completes its long-held goal of staging what it calls its “Mozart Six.” The sixth in this series is Mozart’s second last opera, La Clemenza di Tito (1791), that Toronto has not seen fully staged since a COC production in 1991. What makes this production especially exciting is that it reunites five of the singers that made OA’s Idomeneo such a wild success in 2008. Returning for Tito are Kresimir Spicer in the title role, Measha Brüggergosman as Vitellia, Michael Maniaci as Sesto, Mireille Asselin as Servilia and Curtis Sullivan as Publio. David Fallis will conduct and Marshall Pynkoski will direct. See www.operaatelier.com for more.

Coming up sometime in 2011 (the date is still to be announced) will be the latest opera by Ana Sokolovic for Queen of Puddings Music Theatre. The work is called Svadba (The Wedding) and will be based on existing Slavic and Balkan folk tales. Sokolovic is the composer of QoP’s Sirens/Sirènes and the acclaimed chamber opera The Midnight Court from 2005 that travelled to London’s Covent Garden in 2006. Svadba, scored for six female singers, is set on the night before a fiancée leaves for her wedding while her friends keep her company with enactments of pagan rituals and peasant stories. See www.queenofpuddingsmusictheatre.com for further information.

 

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

Selecting highlights of the new-music season is a difficult task. There are so many great composers to discover, such great programming on offer, so many performers and ensembles to hear, and yet so little space to do them all justice. In September alone there are three major events across the space of a week that could easily take up all the words of this column. But in an effort to be helpful, I will dive in to my pile of press releases to help set a course for your concert-going.

So, let’s have a look at that action-packed opening week. It actually starts on Friday September 17 with “Red Brick,” a celebration of the artistic legacy of composer Michael J. Baker. Chartier Danse and Arraymusic, in association with Harbourfront Centre, are collaborating to revive some of Baker’s most outstanding works for both dance and the concert stage, ten years after his tragic passing. To do so, “Red Brick” brings together a roster of Baker’s close collaborators, including luminary dance artists Peggy Baker, Serge Bennathan, James Kudelka, Heidi Strauss and Jeremy Mimnagh. Toronto’s Arraymusic, led by artistic director/percussionist Rick Sacks, is joined by soprano Carla Huhtanen to provide the live music. Those unfamiliar with Baker’s legacy should definitely add this date to their calendar.

P18Quick on the heels of “Red Brick,” is New Music Concert’s season-opener, “Let’s Hear from Beckwith.” You’ve guessed it – this is a tribute to one of our country’s pioneering music creators, most diligent music historians and fiercest arts advocate. Now 83 years old, John Beckwith maintains an active writing and composing career. The concert on September 19 at Walter Hall will feature premieres of a number of his more recent, smaller chamber works for wind instruments. It will also prominently feature one of his many NMC commissions, namely his Eureka for woodwind quintet, two trumpets, trombone and tuba. The piece is classic Beckwith, complete with choreography. You can get a sonic peek at Eureka through the Canadian Music Centre’s online CentreStreams audio player.

The following Saturday, Contact Contemporary Music joins the national Culture Days movement with a return to Yonge-Dundas Square and their Toronto New Music Marathon. Starting at 2pm and holding strong until 10pm, Contact is going to turn Toronto’s top visitor destination into a hub of contemporary sound creation. A stream of remarkable performers – pianists Christina Petrowska Quilico and Alison Wiebe, saxophonist Wallace Halladay and guitartist Rob MacDonald – bring us music from a range of top-tier creators like Ann Southam, Steve Reich and Jordan Nobles. New Adventures in Sound Art will re-create their real-time Three Sided Square sound project, while sound sculptor Barry Prophet will showcase his interactive Rotary Mbira. Get there early to get a seat.

P19Passing over “Nuit Blanche” (which you really shouldn’t do, especially because Anthony Keindl is curating “Sound and Vision” in the Queen West neighbourhood, and the CMC is hosting projects by John Oswald and Chiyoko Szlavnics), we land on the Music Gallery’s “X Avant Festival,” which is packing in eleven events over nine days under the banner “What is Real?” Guest curator Gregory Oh has done an astounding job of assembling a remarkable range of talent in a series that questions theories of authenticity and the sanctity of new music. Quick highlights include “Will The Real Pierrot Please Stand Up?” featuring Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire performed by Deep Dark United, RCM New Music Ensemble and Renaissance Madrigal Group on October 22; The 50 Minute Ring Cycle performed by Myra Davies on October 23; and a Plunderphonics 25th Anniversary Lecture by John Oswald on October 24. Be sure to check in with the Music Gallery website for full details (www.musicgallery.org).

In the new year, the University of Toronto New Music Festival starts up on January 23, playing host to Distinguished Visiting Composer Chen Yi and American new music pianist/composer Keith Kirchoff in a series of concerts, workshops and forums. Chen blends Chinese and Western traditions to form abstract canvases of sound that transcend cultural and musical boundaries, and her work will appear on no less than four festival concerts. The young Kirchoff (not yet 30) has already premiered some 100 new works, which he champions in concerts of unusual, neglected and new repertoire. During his stay in Toronto he’ll premiere winning works from the Kirchoff/U of T International Composition Competition.

We’ll intersect with Soundstreams’ season at the midpoint on February 24 when they invite Les Percussions de Strasbourg to Koerner Hall as part of the ensemble’s 50th anniversary tour. Co-founded in 1962, this sextet is the oldest Western percussion group. Their exceptional longevity, artistry and commitment to new music have inspired the creation of hundreds of works, including 250 world premieres. The anniversary programme includes Xenakis’ iconic Persephassa (written for the ensemble in 1969 to premiere at the historic Persepolis in Iran), a world premiere from innovative Canadian composer Andrew Staniland, who has a strong command of percussion writing, and John Cage’s seminal Credo in US.

The TSO returns with the seventh edition of its New Creations Festival March 2-10, focusing on cross-border exchanges with music by American composers John Adams and Jennifer Higdon, performed by top tier guest artists. I’m particularly looking forward to the festival finale concert with guest artists, eighth blackbird. This dynamic new music ensemble will join the orchestra in a freshly commissioned chamber concerto from Higdon, which will sit alongside the world premiere of our own R. Murray Schafer’s latest symphonic work.

On March 20, Continuum will reprise “Step, turn, kick,” a programme prepared for Montreal Nouvelles Musique that highlights the idea of “dancing in the mind.” Composers Cassandra Miller, Nicolas Gilbert, Linda C. Smith and Lori Freedman each contribute a movement to a larger work based on the form of a French baroque dance suite. Also featured is the premiere of Marc Sabat’s John Jenkins, a work inspired by the prolific 17th-century dance composer, and written for Continuum.

Music Toronto has coaxed violinist Julie Anne Derome away from her regular Trio Fibonacci project for a solo recital on March 24 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. A well known new music specialist, Derome has assembled a nicely mixed contemporary programme, ranging from strong selections by compatriot Quebec composers Jean Lesage and Yannick Plamondon to demanding works with live electronics and video by Pierre Boulez and Laurie Radford. Chan Ka Nin’s favourite Soulmate completes the mix. At $15, this recital is a sure bet.

Finally, we catch up with the Esprit Orchestra for their final concert of the season on May 15 at Koerner Hall. While all four concerts in their season present an intriguing offer, the new commission from Chris Paul Harman is a particular draw. The concert theme looks at the many forms of human inspiration, from cosmic and mythological to historical and purely musical, through works by Sofia Gubaidulina, Alex Paul and Denis Gougeon.

But this is by no means all there is to hear! As always, there is much more new music all season long, so be sure to get in with the new via the WholeNote concert listings here and online at www.thewholenote.com.

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

Greetings of the new season to all early music lovers – you’re in for a great time ahead! I know, because in surveying the coming months I already find a vast and fascinating variety of music to talk about. There’s far too much to mention in this column – but here are a few of the many things that have caught my eye.

The earliest composer I see represented is Hildegard von Bingen, the German abbess, musician, author, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, poet and visionary. Her feast day (the anniversary of her death in 1179) will be celebrated on September 17 in the Church of the Holy Trinity with a concert and labyrinth walk, entitled “Meditation in Motion.” This is an opportunity to experience the mystical properties of her music while either sitting and meditating, or walking the spiraling 36-foot labyrinth placed in the church for the occasion, or simply listening to the music.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most recent compositions represented on the early-music scene probably have yet to be written: Aradia’s February 5 project, entitled “Baroque Idol!”, is to elicit ten new compositions from ten young composers, thereby fostering new music for baroque ensemble using the tonal possibilities of old instruments.

There’s a wide range in other areas too. For example, you can hear early music on modern instruments, such as cellist Winona Zelenka’s stylistically aware performances of Bach’s solo suites for cello (September 2 at the Toronto Music Garden; February 24 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts; April 16 at the Almonte Town Hall). Or you can experience romantic music on period instruments, such as pianist Janina Fialkowska’s performance of Chopin’s First Piano Concerto on an 1848 Pleyel piano – a Tafelmusik presentation from October 7 to 10. Contemporary music on period instruments can be heard on September 19, as the Windermere String Quartet plays Alexander Rapoport’s Quartet written in 2006 (as well as Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven).

P15The theme “Old World/New World” crops up, in two interesting programmes. Scaramella’s November 20 concert (with this same title) will pair European art-music with music of the colonies (specifically Brazil and French maritime Canada). On May 8, master gambist Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XXI will evoke Old Spain, the Mexican Baroque, and the living Huasteca and Jarocho traditions in their programme “The Route of the New World: Spain – Mexico.”

As has often occurred in the past, there are some striking correspondences to be noticed in this season’s programming. For instance, who would expect to find all three pinnacles of Bach’s choral works performed in the area, within a three-month period? That’s the case this season: the B Minor Mass is presented by Tafelmusik from February 9 to 13; the St. John Passion is offered by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (actually the 70-voice Mendelssohn Singers) on March 3; and the St. Matthew Passion is programmed by the Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra on April 15, 16 and 17.

If you missed Tafelmusik’s 2009 spectacular commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s development of the telescope – or if, like me, you absolutely have to see it again – you’re in luck: a reprise of “The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres” takes place March 2 to 6. A production like no other, it uses music, words, images and very imaginative staging and lighting to explore the artistic, cultural and scientific world in which 17th- and 18th-century astronomers lived and worked. It also features the orchestra performing almost completely from memory as they probe the wonders of the heavens.

Perhaps it’s the present climate of environmental consciousness? Our fellow furry and feathered creatures are represented in at least three programmes: September 18, Beaches Baroque (Geneviève Gilardeau, baroque violin, and Lucas Harris, theorbo) present “Beasts of the Baroque,” featuring baroque sonatas that imitate the calls of animals. Hot on its tracks, Classics at the Registry in Kitchener follows on September 19 with “Baroque for the Birds”: music inspired by birds, performed by Alison Melville, baroque flute and recorders and Borys Medicky, harpsichord. And February 5, Scaramella’s “Birds Bewigged” features musical improvisations based on readings of haiku, and poetic readings on an avian theme.

P16And I must draw your attention to some of the visiting artists coming this season: In addition to the above-mentioned ensemble from Spain (Hespèrion XXI), here are others to be noted: On October 26, the Venice Baroque Orchestra appears at Roy Thomson Hall to play both Vivaldi and Philip Glass. This group, founded in 1997, is recognized as one of Europe’s premier ensembles devoted to period instrument performance. On March 12, the a-cappella vocal ensemble the King’s Singers graces Koerner Hall stage to sing Palestrina and others. On March 23, Soundstreams presents Norwegian vocalists Trio Mediæval together with the Toronto Consort to perform a world premiere based on ancient music: James Rolfe’s “Breathe”, which draws inspiration from the music of 12th- century composer Hildegard von Bingen. The programme also includes medieval classics, music inspired by Norwegian folk traditions, and recent masterworks.

As well as all the above, you’ll find many other fascinating programmes coming up, which I hope to do more justice to in future columns – for example the Monteverdi Vespers sung by the Grand River Chorus on October 30; a concert of Josquin Motets and Chansons presented by the Toronto Chamber Choir on April 2; the Toronto Consort’s “Canti di a Terra” on April 1 and 2 with guests: Montreal’s Constantinople (who draw their inspiration from the music of the Mediterranean, the classical Persian tradition, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance) and Corsica’s vocal quartet Barbara Furtuna (who specialize in the centuries old traditions of Corsican singing).

Finally, you might want to expand your travel plans this month to include ancient Egypt, Scandinavia and the Baltics in Viking times, and Elizabethan England, with the following events taking place: Aradia’s semi-staged production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto plays on September 11, fresh from Sulmona, Italy, where it has had four triumphant performances. On September 27 at Barrie’s Colours of Music Festival, Ensemble Polaris presents “Nordic Music to Love,” a modern tribute to the Vikings with original, traditional and new music on a wide variety of instruments. On October 2 and 3, Cantemus Singers celebrates “Good Queen Bess” with glorious music from the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

 

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.

In the May issue I quoted Simon Wynberg, artistic director of the Royal Conservatory’s ARC Ensemble: “The more intriguing question is whether we are gradually moving away from the concept of a ‘core repertory,’” he said. What he saw emerging was “a new, broader and younger audience who do not have an inbuilt allegiance to the pillars of repertory, but are curious to explore the vast range of music that is now so readily and instantly available.” As I study the websites of the many Toronto and area music presenters I notice evidence of many different kinds of interesting and imaginative programming.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

While the “core repertoire” is still – as one would expect and probably as it should be – the principal focus of artistic director, Peter Oundjian’s programming, there are interesting forays into unusual programming. On November 10, for example, using Tchaikovsky’s short and appealing Marche Slave and Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite as points of departure from the core repertoire, he makes Janácek’s infrequently performed Glagolitic Mass and a contemporary work, Krystof Maratka’s Astrophonia for Viola and Orchestra the centre of the programme.

P12One of Oundjian’s most successful innovations with the TSO has been the New Creations Festival, which opens this season on March 2 with the iconoclastic Evelyn Glennie as the soloist, in what the TSO’s website describes as a “spectacular new percussion concerto” by Canadian composer Vincent Ho. The programme will also include John Adams’ popular Short Ride in a Fast Machine and his “vast, exhilarating Harmonielehre.”

 

Sinfonia Toronto

Almost as forgotten as the composers whose music the Royal Conservatory’s ARC Ensemble has been performing and recording, the Czech composer Vita Kapralova has been brought to the attention of the world by the Toronto-based Kapralova Society. On March 11, Sinfonia Toronto with pianist Sara Buechner will perform the Canadian premiere of her Partita for Piano and Strings. The rest of the programme is also unusual: Turina’s Rapsodia Sinfonica, Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, and Marjan Mozetich’s lovely Fantasia in its orchestral version. Interestingly, works by Mozetich will be performed on two other Sinfonia Toronto programmes this season.

 

Mooredale Concerts

Turina’s Rapsodia Sinfonica will be played earlier in the year by I Musici de Montréal, with Canadian piano soloist Katherine Chi, at the opening concert of Mooredale Concerts’ season on October 3. She will also perform the solo tour-de-force Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” by Leopold Godowsky. The core repertoire part of the programme will be the beautiful string serenades by Elgar and Tchaikovsky.

 

Royal Conservatory

Another fine pianist to look out for this season is Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who will perform in Koerner Hall on May 1. The New York Times described him as “astounding” and “an elegant and exciting performer.” Perhaps the repertoire of the concert says it all: Wagner’s Albumblatt in E-flat Major, Berg’s Piano Sonata in B Minor, Scriabin’s “Black Mass” Sonata No. 9 in F Major, and Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor.

Music Toronto

This summer the Pacifica Quartet played with the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler, for Toronto Summer Music. They’ll be back on December 9 to play three string quartets in a Music Toronto concert. While the quartets by Schumann and Shostakovich are probably “core repertoire,” the quartet Voices, by the American composer Jennifer Higdon, was written in 1993, so it’s likely to be new to most people.

On February 17 Music Toronto will present Trio Voce, three expatriate Canadians who now live and work in the Chicago area. The cellist in the trio is Marina Hoover, the founding cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet (which, incidentally, will open the Music Toronto 2010-11 season on October 14). Again the programme will combine core repertoire (piano trios by Beethoven and Shostakovich) with contemporary: the Toronto premiere of Jonathan Berger’s Memory Slips. Berger will be part of the performance as a commentator, combining a review of current research on music, memory and aging with personal and historical anecdotes and examples.

 

Amici Ensemble

If there were an annual prize for creative programming, I’d give it this season to Amici. Each of their four concerts has a theme to which each piece on the programme is related. Just to give an example, the theme of their fourth concert on April 3 is “In the Shadow.” (Is the shadow Beethoven’s or is it Mozart’s?) The programme will begin with Beethoven’s Twelve Variations for cello and piano on the popular “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute – certainly not Beethoven’s best known work, but probably core repertoire for cellists.

The rest of the programme consists of compositions by Spohr, Webern and the recently rediscovered late romantic Austrian composer, Carl Frühling (1868-1937). While the Amici Ensemble is a clarinet, cello, piano trio, they frequently invite guest artists to join them, which, of course, introduces a lot of variety to their programmes as well as extending their repertoire almost indefinitely. The guest artist at the April 3 concert will be the young mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, who will perform Spohr’s Six German Songs Op. 103, for voice, clarinet and piano.

Talisker Players

It’s easy to forget that there’s more to the United States than red-neck yahoos and Neanderthal foreign policy. It is a highly polarized society, which has produced scores of artists in all disciplines. Kudos to the Talisker Players for celebrating the cultural depth of our southern neighbour with a concert called “The Revolutionary Rhythms and Imagery of American Poets,” on October 27 and 28. The programme consists of settings by seven contemporary composers, including Toronto’s Alexander Rapoport, of poetry by American poets.

Roy Thomson Hall

Last but not least, Roy Thomson Hall has a terrific season planned, which will open on October 26 with yet another chamber orchestra, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, in a programme entitled “The Seasons Project.” It’s an artful blend of old and new, combining Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Philip Glass’s Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra: “The American Four Seasons,” with soloist Robert McDuffie, who premiered the work just last December with the TSO. If you missed it then, you now have a second chance!

This gives some idea of the programming breadth and depth of the coming season. At best, it’s an incomplete overview of what is coming. The profiles in the Blue Pages of the October WholeNote will, of course, fill out the picture somewhat – as I will also be trying to do in my columns.

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.

 

Alex Pangman isn’t the only jazz-singing Alex in town. A recent graduate of Humber College, jazz/pop/funk vocalist Alex Tait is a versatile musician and luminous composer with many influences ranging from Jaco Pastorius to Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Be sure to check out Miss Tait’s Toronto Jazz Festival debut on July 2 at Ten Feet Tall 9pm-midnight, with three aces accompanying: Ted Quinlan on guitar, Roberto Occhipinti on bass and Ethan Ardelli on drums. Pay-what-you-can, limited seating, reservations recommended. (www.tenfeettall.ca)

Yet another sensational singer by the same first name is Alex Samaras, a young musician taking the scene by storm with his impeccable taste, flawless technique and penchant for challenging material. Friday July 9 at Gate 403 5-8pm he will be singing songs by Stephen Sondheim, specifically “Sweeney Todd & Beyond” with Ernesto Cervini on drums, Bram Gielen on bass and Tyson Kerr on piano. (www.gate403.com)

An experimenter in everything from blues to hip hop, vocalist-composer Rita di Ghent has recently assembled Rita and her Jump & Soul Seven, an irresistibly exuberant slice of old-school, with guitarist/arranger Martin Loomer, Bob Brough on tenor, Bobby Hsu on alto, Brendan Davis on bass, Don Laws on trombone, Jake Wilkinson on trumpet and Drew Austin on drums. Don’t miss ‘em Tuesday July 13 at The Reservoir Lounge 7-9pm. (www.reservoirlounge.com)

43_jefflarochelleFor some contemporary instrumental jazz with an edge, check out up-and-coming reedman Jeff LaRochelle, a Humber College student with a bold tone on the horn. His group is playing Tequila Bookworm on Saturday July 31 from 9pm-midnight. The quintet: LaRochelle on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Sabine Ndalamba on guitar, Bora Lim on keys, Julian Anderson-Bowes on acoustic bass and Eric West on drums. (tequilabookworm.blogspot.com)

Not so much a jazzer as a fiercely free improviser, another young musician to listen for is pianist Avesta Nakhaei. A proud member of the Association of Improvising Musicians in Toronto, the York University music grad approaches music with an astounding effortlessness and endless imagination. He performs at The Tranzac on Saturday August 7 from 6:30-8:30pm. (www.tranzac.org)

Great news for Danforth jazz fans! Now in its second year, the “Mosaic Does Jazz in the Park” festival will spotlight the diversity of the jazz genre throughout the summer, every Wednesday, July 7-September 1 inclusive, rain or shine, from 6-9pm in the Robertson Parkette, just west of Coxwell Avenue. This free event is open to all local residents as well as jazz enthusiasts from across Toronto. Everyone is encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket, and vendors from local businesses will be on-hand to provide food and refreshments to the listening audience. Acts in the series include Rick Lazar’s Samba Squad, Heather Bambrick and Jane Bunnett; and do not miss the rarely heard treat that is Michael Danso (www.michaeldanso.com), a spectacular vocalist and irresistible entertainer, appearing on Wednesday August 11 from 6-9pm at the Mosaic Does Jazz in the Park Festival.

Not only will it be a full moon, but a “Political Party” when JAZZ.FM91 on-air host and man-about-town Jaymz Bee will host an event on Tuesday August 24 at the Old Mill Inn that takes place in eight different rooms! The Dining Room and Home Smith Bar will feature jazz, and other rooms will showcase folk, avante-garde, com-

 

 

As I sit down to produce this final column before The Wholenote’s summer break, I’m in the throes of recovery from the weekend of June 12-13. It started with a dress rehearsal on Saturday afternoon followed by a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in the evening with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra. Sunday started with “The World’s Biggest Brass Event” for the International Women’s Brass Conference (IWBC). Then it was off to an end-of-season garden party for another musical group. Before long I had to leave the party early for another orchestral rehearsal of Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto.

P25I switched from bass trombone in the Beethoven to an antique Soviet Army rotary valve baritone horn in the Colonel Bogey march at the IWBC. I also went from a tuxedo on Saturday to a T-shirt on Sunday, and from The Glenn Gould Studio Saturday to a grassy slope at the Humber College Lakeshore Campus for the IWBC. It certainly was a weekend of variety!

Now let’s take a very unscientific look at what community musical groups have planned for the summer months.

There may be the odd performance in a summer festival, but, with few exceptions, most community orchestras and choirs take a break during the summer months. Not so for community bands. A century ago, before radio and television, the “town band” was a principal source of musical entertainment for most communities in our part of the world. From its construction in 1936, for the next 40 or so years, the Main Bandshell at Toronto’s CNE featured twice-daily concerts by famous bands from around the world. In between those there were concerts by local bands, there and on the North Bandstand. I remember well the Bands of the Royal Marines and the National Band of New Zealand. All summer long there were weekly band concerts in Toronto at Kew Gardens, High Park, Allen Gardens and St. James Park. Similar concerts on a smaller scale took place in most smaller communities.

How have community bands changed? How do today’s bands perceive their roles? While some community bands do close down for a while, many simply switch to an annual summer agenda, with more emphasis on outdoor performances. So I’ve decided to look at the four modern community bands of my acquaintance, to see how each has evolved with the changing times.

The oldest of these bands is the Newmarket Citizens Band. Having operated continuously for over 100 years, it’s not surprising that this band’s activities most closely resemble those of the town band when they were first formed. They play regular outdoor concerts in a variety of venues and play for many parades for which they frequently receive honoraria. The proceeds of these have been sufficient for the band to purchase, at no expense to the members, a complete set of new blazers with embroidered crests. In appearance, this band most closely adheres to its traditional roots.

The Concert Band of Cobourg is an excellent anomaly among community bands, both in appearance and activities. A good many years ago the town band in Cobourg was struggling. Then a new resident with a solid band background moved to town. Roland White (“Roly,” as he is known), had for many years served in bands of the Royal Marines, and studied conducting under Sir John Barbirolli. Having brought many of the traditions of the Royal Marines with him, the band was adopted as the official band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Association, Ontario, and subsequently obtained Royal permission to wear a uniform closely resembling that of the Royal Marines. Some years ago, ill health forced White to retire and hand the reins over to Paul Storms, who carries on the tradition admirably.

Every year the band travels to Plattsburgh NY in September for the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemorative Weekend. As part of that celebration, they will be performing September 11 in a parade, beat retreat ceremony and evening concert. Once again this summer, from July 6 through to August 31, they will perform their summer-evening concert-series in the Victoria Park Bandshell in Cobourg. As with the Newmarket Band, this group participates regularly in parades and other ceremonial events.

The Markham Concert Band was organized 32 years ago by a group of local residents who had a common desire to make music. A few charter members are still active in the band. Unlike traditional town bands, this group has never participated in parades. They do, however, take part in a wide range of community activities. As of this writing, they already have commitments for 12 events this summer, ranging from a Main Street Festival to a concert at the Orillia Aquatheatre. As for uniforms, they are much less formal. In winter it’s a dark green sweater with an embroidered logo, and in summer it is a golf shirt with the same logo.

The Uxbridge Community Concert Band had its origins 19 years ago and bears little resemblance to the town bands of yesteryear. It is a summer-only band, operating only during the months of June, July and August. Founded initially to provide an opportunity for high school students to continue playing during the summer, it has evolved over the years to include a core group of adult players who return each summer. In addition, many of the original students return each year when they are home on vacation from university. As for uniform, each member receives a T shirt with a new musical motif each year on payment of their dues. They do not parade, but do play for one Decoration Day ceremony for the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. To encourage the development of the talents of the younger members, there is within the band a smaller wind ensemble which rehearses one special challenging selection each summer. This band is a welcome addition to the summer life of the community – but it’s quite unlike the town band of old.

Enjoy your summer of music, whatever your taste in bands!

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: DILL PICCOLINI, “an exceedingly small wind instrument that plays only sour notes.” We invite submissions from readers.

Coming Events

July 18-August 21: National Band of the Naval Reserve will be performing a series of concerts in various locations throughout Southern Ontario as part of the celebrations commemorating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Canadian Navy.

August 8 7:00: Northdale Concert Band with conductor Graziano Brescacin presents a concert at the Upper Queen’s Park Bandshell, Stratford, Ontario. Free admission.

August 15 12:30pm: Northdale Concert Band with conductor Graziano Brescacins present a matinee concert at the Events Pavilion, Black Creek Pioneer Village, 1000 Murray Ross Parkway, Toronto. Concert is free with park admission.

August 15 6:30: Markham Concert Band with conductor Doug Manning performs at the Aquatheatre, Couchiching Beach Park, Orillia

August 22 6:30: Newmarket Citizens Band with conductor Les Saville perform at the Aquatheatre, Couchiching Beach Park, Orillia

August 29 12:30: Newmarket Citizens Band with conductor Les Saville presents a matinee concert at the Events Pavilion, Black Creek Pioneer Village, 1000 Murray Ross Parkway, Toronto. Concert is free with park admission.

September 5: Northdale Concert Band with conductor Graziano Brescacin performs at the Aquatheatre, Couchiching Beach Park, Orillia.

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

 

 

 

“I’ve been a great jazz fan my whole life. I certainly like modern jazz as well, but my favourite kind is New Orleans jazz. Something about the primitive quality, the simplicity of it, the directness. It is the one style of jazz that stays with me the most.”

So says Allan Stewart Konigsberg, better known as Woody Allen in a recent article in New York’s Village Voice.

“Early jazz was very pleasurable and very simple,” explains Allen. “After a while, that stuff became concert music, and the chord progressions got very complicated, and the harmonies got very complicated. It became less pleasurable. Not less great … But it required more concentration and more effort from the audience.”

Allen has just finished the season of sold-out Monday night appearances at New York’s up-market Carlyle Hotel where, to be honest, his fame rather than his music was the big attraction, and forking out $100 for the privilege wasn’t a problem.

He does not deny his limitations as a musician, but his love of the music is genuine.

It is, however, a form of jazz that is no longer a part of the mainstream of the music. The audience for traditional jazz has diminished, partly through attrition, changing tastes, media neglect and the fact that jazz has embraced so many different influences that it is now well nigh impossible to define. Only a few young musicians now choose to specialize in traditional jazz and you have to look to Europe to find many of them.

Certainly, early jazz and swing musicians looked upon themselves largely as entertainers. There was no comprehension that jazz music might be or develop into an art form. “Entertainment”: such a vital word when describing early jazz, and a word that’s foreign to much of today’s music.

New York, which used to be a stronghold of jazz in the tradition with places such as Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s still does have a few places where you can hear jazz that swings: Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street, Il Valentino at the Sutton Hotel on E. 56th St., and on Mondays you can catch Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (11-piece band) at Club Cache, downstairs at the Edison Hotel on W. 46th St.

Here in Toronto the longest running of these traditional strongholds has to be Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina, which this year celebrates the 40th anniversary of New Orleans Jazz every Saturday afternoon from 4:30 pm.

P24The original bandleader was Cliff (“Kid”) Bastien, and his Saturday afternoon residence at Grossman’s began when, in 1970, then-owner Al Grossman hired the young trumpeter and his Camelia Band, later called Kid Bastien’s Happy Pals, to perform every Saturday. Apart from a short period around 1980, Kid played there until his death in February 2003. But the band, now led by Patrick Tevlin, still plays New Orleans jazz to a faithful following.

C’est What has bi-weekly sessions with the Hot Five Jazzmakerss from 3-6pm, although in the next few weeks the dates are June 5 and July 4. They play a mix of ragtime, blues, spirituals and classic jazz, and they have been strutting their stuff in this downtown watering hole on Front St. E. for over 20 years. The leader is trombonist Brian Towers, and the band is dedicated to playing in the traditional style with the emphasis on entertaining their audience.

It’s worth making the observation that when I say traditional jazz, I’m using terms of reference that have changed from the old days when jazz was still relatively easy to define – the time when you were either a traditionalist or a bebopper. Nowadays, as I have said in earlier columns, it is pretty well impossible to define just what jazz is, so widespread are the influences – and Charlie Parker’s music, once considered pretty “outside,” now sounds positively traditional.

Having said that, a great spot for jazz that swings has to be Quotes on King St., opposite Roy Thomson Hall. They have established a loyal following for their Friday sessions from 5 to 8pm with the resident Canadian Jazz Quartet plus a guest each week drawn from the extensive pool of front-rank local musicians. If you want a seat near the band you have to get there early.

What makes this club so successful? For one thing the timeframe of 5 to 8 is a winner. You can make your way there after work or make it a destination. you can enjoy the music and be home by 9 o’clock, or go out for an evening on the town. It also falls into the TGIF category at the end of the work week for most people.

But there’s another significant element; the quality of the music is extremely high by any standards, and the club has become a “hang” for local musicians, adding to the cachet. In this regard it is reminiscent of the old Montreal Bistro. They do, however, take a break over the summer months, so you will have to wait until September 17, when jazz at Quotes will enter its fifth year of swinging jazz.

However, the reality is that more and more traditional jazz finds itself surviving in little enclaves, supported by a small but dedicated following. Yet there’s a vital significance to this music: every style of jazz is an integral part of the story and if you know nothing about the roots your music – or your listening experience – will be less rewarding than it might have been.

If art reflects the age, and recognizing that we are in an era of anger and frustration, then it’s no wonder that today’s music often reflects what is happening around us these days. As the Austrian writer Ernst Fischer said: “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay.” But I like to think that music also has the power to heal, soothe and calm, and there has to be room in our lives for jazz that lifts our spirits and entertains us.

Happy listening – with the emphasis on happy!

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

 

 

 

Summer is here, bringing with it a plethora of world music events to take in, many of which will occur outdoors. Harbourfront is of course one of the biggest purveyors of music and culture on its many stages both indoor and out, but before having a look at its summer line-up, I’d like to draw your attention to a special event hosted by the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Bunraku is a form of Japanese puppet theatre, which originated in 17th-century Osaka. Puppets are often life-size, and the drama is accompanied by traditional music. On July 22, the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe and Imada Puppet Troupe will perform at U of T’s MacMillan Theatre, preceded by a pre-performance talk at 6:45pm. The Bunraku Bay group is the only American troupe of its kind, and they are joined by their mentors from Japan (Imada was founded in 1704!) in a series of short plays.

p22Heading down to Harbourfront, Music in the Garden curator Tamara Bernstein has once again put together a fine series of free Thursday (7pm) and Sunday (4pm) concerts, running July 1 to September 19. For the full schedule, check out Harbourfront’s website, but here are some “world” highlights: on Canada Day, the Ahkwesasne Women Singers sing traditional Mowhawk songs, and there will be a world premiere of a new piece by Barbara Croall, Agamiling (On the Shore), for Native instruments, voice, clarinet and field recordings. On July 22, folk dances from around the world will be performed by Jayme Stone (banjo), Mike Barnett (fiddle), Grant Gordy (guitar) and Greg Garrison (bass). Vancouver’s Orchid Ensemble presents “The Road to Kashgar” on July 29, featuring music inspired by countries and cultures along the Silk Road. In addition to Chinese, Indian, Jewish and Central Asian music, they’ll play works by contemporary British Columbia composers. Toronto’s own Japanese taiko ensemble Nagata Shachu performs on August 5; and sarangi virtuosa Aruna Narayan, with Vineet Vyas (tabla) and Akshay Kalle (tanpura) perform North Indian ragas designated for twilight on August 19.

Still at Harbourfront, World Routes 2010 is a series of mini festivals running every weekend from Canada Day through Labour Day. Some highlights: vocalist Cheryl L’Hirondelle presents contemporary songs expressing the Cree world view, July 1, at Redpath Stage. (Unfortunately this is around the same time as that evening’s Music Garden concert, so you’ll have to choose.) “Hot Spot” runs July 2-4; highlights include the Toronto International Flamenco Festival, featuring dancers, singers and musicians, and l’Orchestre Septentrional, an 18-piece big band from Haiti, on July 3. “Expressions of Brazil” runs July 16-18; Roda de Samba performs July 17, and 17-year-old Mallu Magalhaes performs songs from her two albums, in Portuguese, English and French. “Island Soul” presents Caribbean culture July 30-August 2; roots/reggae vocalist Queen Ifrica performs July 31, and some of Canada’s best steelpan players jam August 1 and 2.

“What is Classical?” (Aug. 6-8) explores notions of “classical” music, of both East and West. The Turkish ensemble Djoumbush joins forces with Warhol Dervish (baroque and contemporary chamber music collective) on August 7. And last but not least, the Ashkenaz Festival of Jewish culture returns for its eighth round of performances showcasing both local and international artists, August 31-September 6. For details, visit www.ashkenazfestival.com and www.harbourfrontcentre.com/worldroutes2010 for details on all Harbourfront festivals.

The 11th annual Bana Y’Afrique, a free outdoor festival of African music and culture, takes place July 24 and 25 at Metro Hall Square (King/John). Presented by Africa New Music, there will be 16 performances by groups from across Canada and one from abroad. Performers include M’bilia Bel (Congolese singer known as the “Queen of Congolese rumba”), Ethio Stars Band (Ethiopian songs from the 1960s to the present), Afrafranto (Ghanaian “palm wine music” – a style involving guitars, named after the drink served at gatherings where African guitarists played), Umurisho (a Burundian-Canadian drumming/dance group), and much more.

Staying on the outdoors theme, Yonge/Dundas Square is a hub of activity throughout the summer. The Global Grooves series includes Tambura Rasa on July 2, a cross-cultural group featuring Spanish guitar, gypsy strings, Afro-Latin percussion, Flamenco and belly dancers. Co-presented with Small World Music, another “ethno-fusion” band from Quebec, Apadoorai combines Australian didgeridoo, Reggae, Arabic, Celtic and folk music, July 23. Also a Small World co-presentation, Les Gitans de Sarajevo plays Balkan/Gypsy style music and song on August 13. For the full schedule of events at Yonge/Dundas Square visit www.ydsquare.ca and for more from Small World Music, visit www.smallworldmusic.com.

If you’re a jazz fan, the Danforth Mosaic BIA (www.danforthmosaicbia.com/blog) has a series of free outdoor concerts at the Coxwell Parkette (Danforth, just west of Coxwell station), every Wednesday evening beginning July 7. You can hear Suba Sankaran and Indian-jazz fusion band Autorickshaw on July 14.

If staying indoors is a must, head to Hugh’s Room on July 9 to hear the Gypsy jazz ensemble Gypsophilia; they’ll also be at London, Ontario’s Sunfest on July 10/11. And the Russians are coming!  The Russian Cossack State Dance Company makes its Massey Hall debut on September 1. Thirty dancers, a chorus, vocal soloists, and a 10-piece chamber orchestra present a colourful and lively evening of some of the most athletic dance and music around!

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

 

 

 

What do a Medieval mystic, Santa Claus and Elvis Presley have in common? They are the centerpieces of contrasting concerts in Southern Ontario this July and August. Stylistic extremes are quite common in any healthy choral scene, but in the summer, when many choirs are on hiatus, the relative paucity of concerts makes the contrasts even more noticeable.

p20The Elora Festival (July 9-August 1) has as its centerpiece the excellent Elora Festival Singers, who are performing a range of music from works by Beethoven, Vivaldi and Handel to a Broadway concert with the great Jackie Richardson as soloist. But if I had to pick one concert to go to during the festival, I would opt for their performance of Benjamin Britten’s oratorio St. Nicholas, on July 25.

Britten is hardly a neglected composer, but I have always been curious as to why his St. Nicholas isn’t performed more often. Written in 1948, it shows all the poise and dash of the young composer of Peter Grimes, combined with the genuine friendliness towards the audience – not an especially widespread attitude in 20th-century composers – of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The subject of the work is of course the Medieval bishop who was the source for the modern Santa Claus, and with Christmas concert attendance often being the economic anchor for many choral groups, I would have thought that this clearly seasonal work could do well against more familiar seasonal offerings by Handel, Bach, Monteverdi and others.

One possible explanation for St. Nicholas’s relative rarity in concert is its unusual scoring. Written in celebration of the centenary of the English boy’s school Lancing College, Britten made use of the school’s comprehensive musical resources to score the piece for tenor soloist, an adult mixed choir, a children’s choir, two pianos, organ, percussion and strings. To quote a character in Robertson Davies’s A Mixture of Frailties, it is “just the size to be neglected.” He might have been referring to St. Nicholas.

Britten’s conception of St. Nicholas himself is filled with nuance. Outwardly powerful, stern yet benign, the true character of the bishop is one of doubt and conflict. This powerful tenor role alternates between quiet soliloquies and fiery sermons, while the choral movements encompass childlike playfulness, pageantry, savage cannibalism, a wonderful depiction of a storm at sea and finally Nicholas’s death and ascent into sainthood. It is a rare treat to hear this work in concert, especially this time of year.

The Medieval mystic mentioned above is Hildegard of Bingen, and her music is the focus of a concert on August 8 given by Schola Magdalena, a five-voice ensemble of female singers based out of Toronto’s Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Hildegard was a medieval polymath of almost Leonardian scope, and recent researches into both early music and the work of female composers has brought her work, neglected for centuries, into new focus.

Medieval scholars often struggle with lost or incomplete sources in their attempts to shine a light on the past. They have been lucky with Hildegard, who left behind a clear legacy of songs, poems, books and letters that gives us insight both into the times in which she lived and the mind of an individual artist. Performers of her music have found a richness of invention, in which melody can be made to illuminate and enhance the meaning of the text in a way that can be challenging with even the most beautiful chant.

From a Medieval cleric to a modern composer’s take on a Medieval saint, to the proverbial King of Rock and Roll may seem like a unlikely leap – especially in a choral context. But Elvis Presley was a deeply religious man, who loved singing gospel music as a vocal warm-up prior to giving concerts, and whose earliest musical influences were the choirs and quartets that he heard attending church as a young child. On August 20 Hamilton’s Brott Festival Choir and National Academy Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in good classical fashion. But on August 4 the orchestra is joined by a Gospel choir to perform Elvis: The Way it Was with vocalist Stephen Kabakos. Though the concert will likely focus on Presley’s pop songs, anyone familiar with Presley’s gospel singing can hear clearly the degree to which a song like “Suspicious Minds” draws on that influence.

Performing popular music in a choral context is much trickier than it might seem. Ease with syncopated rhythms is an essential part of the performance of popular music, and classically trained musicians can struggle to free themselves from the straightjacket of notated music, in which syncopation is often difficult to convey convincingly and idiomatically. An awareness of the backbeat (accents on two and four in a 4/4 measure) needs to inform the performance at all times, and often singers must re-jig their vocal style as well. A legato vocal line that serves Handel and Mozart is usually too heavy and rhythmically undifferentiated for popular music.

I predict that even choirs mostly accustomed to classical repertoire will begin to delve with increasing frequency into the world of popular music. The challenge for choirs and choral directors will be to recognize that good execution of popular music takes skills that classical training has neglected, and adjust and even re-train accordingly. The term “performance practice” is often applied to early music: equal care and respect is needed in the area of popular and vernacular music as well.

p21Some last notes. The Elmer Iseler Singers perform on July 11 at Westben, and at Parry Sound’s Festival of the Sound on July 30 and August 8. The 2010 Ontario Youth Choir, directed this year by Iwan Edwards appear from 27-29 August, in London, Orillia and Toronto respectively. And in a final Gospel context, at Toronto’s Fringe Theatre Festival (June 30-July 11), the play “Maurice Carter’s Innocence” will feature a Gospel choir onstage, helping to illuminate and tell the true story of a miscarriage of justice that led to one man’s wrongful imprisonment, and of the determination of those who fought for his release.

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

 

 

You’d do well to keep your frequent flyer card handy over the next two months. I know I will. We new-music seekers are going to be bouncing between Toronto and Ottawa a lot if we want to catch all the excellent programming promised by the mainstay festivals, as well as a few new offerings in a sizzling summer concert calendar.

We’ll start in Toronto with the 12th edition of New Adventures in Sound Art’s Sound Travels festival, which has a healthy run from June 26-September 26. Sound Travels takes a more grounded focus to sound and space than other NAISA festivals, bringing together a mix of interactive installations, performances, sound walks and workshops at their home in the Artscape Wychwood Barns. Featured artists include Toronto’s own Rose Bolton alongside Marcelle Deschênes, David Eagle, Ned Bouhalassa, D. Andrew Stewart, Satoshi Morita and Rob Cruickshank, among others. Full programming details are available at www.naisa.ca.

Next, we bounce over to Ottawa, where the adage seems to be “enough is never enough.” While our nation’s capital is already home to the world’s largest chamber music festival, it will welcome a new contender this summer, Music and Beyond. Running from July 5-14, Music and Beyond’s 85 concerts will forge links between music and other art forms in concerts featuring some of the greatest names in classical music. While new music from many countries can be found throughout the festival programming, those of us looking for a “bang for our buck” will want to pay attention to the mid-festival dates.

P18On July 8, CBC Radio 2, the National Gallery of Canada and Music and Beyond will unveil the results of their Gallery Project – the culmination of a national contest to choose five works of art from the Gallery to inspire new compositions. The programme includes works by a cross-country collection of Canadian composers, including Jocelyn Morlock, Denis Bédard, Michael Conway Baker, Colin Mack, Scott Macmillan, Elizabeth Raum and Kelly-Marie Murphy. The following day, Music and Beyond partners with the Ottawa New Music Creators to celebrate local composers Gabor Finta, Steven Gellman and Patrick Cardy at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Across both days, the National Arts Centre Orchestra will open its afternoon rehearsals to the public with two new music reading sessions. Conductor Gary Kulesha will lead the orchestra in explorations of new orchestral works by both emerging and established Canadian composers. For full Music and Beyond festival details, and to purchase passes, visit www.musicandbeyond.ca.

Back in Toronto, the lovely Queen of Puddings Music Theatre will unveil its latest project from July 29-31 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour comprises three distinct chamber operas sung in three languages (Mandarin, English and medieval French), exploring three cultures and three historical periods within the music of three Canadian composers: Fuhong Shi, John Rea and Pierre Klanac. Written for soprano, mezzo-soprano and accordion, these three premiere pieces are connected by the universal theme of love, and will be presented as one fully staged opera work. Two Toronto new opera pros, soprano Xin Wang and mezzo Krisztina Szabo, share the stage with accordionist John Lettieri. Tickets to Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour can be purchased through www.youngcentre.ca or 416-866-8666. To learn more about Queen of Puddings visit www.queenofpuddingsmusictheatre.com.

Meanwhile, running parallel to Beauty Dissolves is the Ottawa premiere of Christos Hatzis’ wildly successful Constantinople, featuring the Gryphon Trio with the extremely talented cabaret/opera singer Patricia O’Callaghan and renowned world music vocalist Maryem Tollar. This multimedia, concert-length chamber work, which has been presented to sold-out audiences on two continents, is a feature presentation of the 17th  Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, on July 29.

While the Ottawa festival gets underway on July 24, the real new music activity starts up on August 2 with the annual New Music Marathon. This year’s version offers no less than six concerts under the New Music Dialogues banner, all housed at the handsome St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts near Ottawa’s bustling Byward Market. Highlights include the world renowned Penderecki String Quartet performing new music by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich; the world premiere of 9 Dances for Flute and Accordion by Toronto-based composer Juliet Palmer; Alexina Louie’s spellbinding Take the Dog Sled for two Inuit throat-singers and ensemble; and the Gryphon Trio performing works by Gary Kulesha. Adventurous listeners will want to explore the Late Night at St. Brigid’s series, where Montreal composer Nicole Lizée pushes musical boundaries with turntablist DJ P-LOVE and the maverick trio Toca Loca. Full festival details, tickets and passes are available through www.chamberfest.com.

Finally, we return to Toronto, where the Toronto Summer Music Festival will be underway July 20 – August 14. July 30 seems to be a very popular date in the festival calendar. This time, we get to hear the Penderecki String Quartet, strong champions of new music, in a programme of five new string quartets. Waterloo-based composer Glenn Buhr gets special attention in this year’s festival:  the Pendereckis will perform his Quartet No. 4 and the composer himself will give a pre-concert talk on all five new works. (I was hoping that we would get an earful of the results from Toronto Summer Music’s Composer Workshop, but this young addition to their academy programming seems to have been inexplicably and sadly cancelled.) On August 7 at the University of Toronto’s MacMillan Theatre the festival will premiere Buhr’s Song of the Earth, a companion piece to the well known and loved Mahler song-cycle. Both will appear in versions for chamber ensemble with soloists Roxana Constantinescu and Gordon Gietz. For full festival details, and to purchase tickets, visit www.torontosummermusic.com.

After all of our city and concert-hopping, we can finally take advantage of the late summer weather and rest up for the concert season ahead. But not for too long! New music makes its return on September 26 with the Toronto New Music Marathon – eight hours of continuous and contemporary sounds from Toronto’s new music creators in the lively Yonge-Dundas Square.

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

 

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