marion_portrait2005_3Over the years April has become the most opera-heavy month of the year. Joining a full slate of old favourites from well-known companies (I’ll say more about these later) is a world premiere from an exciting young company.

Indie(n) Rights Reserve presents Giiwedin (“The North Wind”), in co-production with the Native Earth Performing Arts Centre. The opera, written in the Anishnaabemowin, French and English languages, tells the story of Noodin-Kwe and her struggle to protect her ancestral land in Northeastern Ontario. It runs at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace April 8-24.

Librettist and co-composer Spy Dénommé-Welch and co-composer Catherine Magowan respeonded to questions I asked them, providing much insight into the opera and its background.

Read more: Giiwedin- Operatic Winds of Change

This month opens with the lively sounds of Klezmer music. April 1, the University of Toronto Klezmer Ensemble presents “Klezmer Trajectories: Old World Jewish Fusion meets New World Surprises!”, as part of the noon-hour free concert series at the Canadian Opera Company’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. These concerts are always well attended, so it’s advisable to arrive early to get a good seat. There will be more Klezmer later in the month – Off Centre Music Salon presents “Klezmer...on the Roof!”, April 11 at the Glenn Gould Studio, featuring mezzo Annamaria Popescu, accordion virtuoso Joseph Macerollo and the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band.

Asha Bhosle 1Roy Thomson Hall presents a concert of Indian vocal music, April 3. Born in 1933, the legendary Asha Bhosle is best known as a singer for numerous Bollywood films, and is said to have recorded over 12,000 songs in her 65-year career. In addition to film music, she sings ghazals (poetic songs), bhajans (Hindu devotional songs) and folk songs, as well as traditional Indian classical music. More vocal music follows on April 6, this time from Senegal. Baaba Maal mixes the tradition of griot songs with rock, reggae and Afro-Cuban music. He’ll be performing with his nine-member band at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall.

Dubbed “Queen of the Toronto Cajun scene,” vocalist and fiddler Soozi Schlanger has been branching out on her own lately. Known primarily as the driving force in the band Swamperella (where, in addition to singing and fiddling, I’ve also witnessed her play a mean washboard!), this Canadian powerhouse of art and music first learned Cajun music at Ashokan, a fiddle camp in upstate New York. Out of that experience Swamperella was born, and the band has performed extensively, their dedication to authenticity garnering comments such as, “Now where all in Looziana y’all from?” Recently, she’s been going solo with “Soozimusic,” developing a repertoire of her own songs. Along with musicians Emilyn Stam and Victor Bateman, she’ll be performing at Slacks (562 Church St.) on April 4, the Tranzac Club on April 25 and the Moonshine Cafe in Oakville on May 2. You can check her out at www.myspace.com/soozischlanger.

Alex Cuba 1Recently back from performing at the Olympic Games, Juno award-winning Cuban musician Alex Cuba has a busy touring schedule this month. In Ontario, he’ll be performing at London’s Aeolian Hall on April 6, the Brock Centre for the Arts in St. Catharines on April 7, Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre on April 9, the Mod Club in Toronto on April 10 and the Neat School Stage in Burnstown (an hour northwest of Ottawa) on the 11th. After several performances in Quebec later in the month, he’ll be heading to Europe in May. His newest CD will be released on June 8.

On April 24, the Music Gallery presents two artists visiting from Berlin: Amelia Cuni and Werner Durand in “Ancient Trends & New Traditions in Indo-European Music.” Cuni is a vocalist trained in the traditions of Indian classical music, while Durand is a multi instrumentalist who also explores digital sound. Together they blend the old and the new, ranging from traditional music to microtonality. The concert is preceded on April 23 by an artist talk featuring Amelia Cuni, who shares experiences of her 30-year journey between European and Indian cultures. Visit www.musicgallery.org for more details.

Also on April 24, Music on the Donway presents “Journey to Andalusia,” a blend of Jewish, jazz, Indian and Arabic music featuring Toronto’s own Jaffa Road, headed by lead vocalist Aviva Chernick. Jaffa Road will also perform at Hugh’s Room on April 25, where they’ll be joined by Iraqi-Israeli oud/violin master Yair Dalal. This is one of Toronto’s most exciting up-and-coming fusion bands – not to be misssed!

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

The tragic earthquake in Haiti inspired three highly spirited full houses at Hugh’s Room, thanks to the fundraiser’s organizer, three-time Juno Award winning jazz artist, Jane Bunnett. The January 12 disaster came just days shy of what would have been Haiti’s 4th Annual Jazz Festival, an event which would have brought Bunnett’s band Spirits of Havana to the country for concerts on stages and workshops in schools. Heartbroken over the devastating disaster, she worked prestissimo to arrange the fundraiser.

47_jane bunnett“January 28 was available, so we took it, and it sold out quickly, so we booked January 31 and when that sold out we got February 1. It was so fast - the poster never even went out! I felt funny asking the musicians if they were available for a third night.”

Artists who donated their talent include Don Thompson, Hilario Duran, Molly Johnson, Laura Hubert, Amanda Martinez, Telmary Diaz, Dionne Brand, Madagascar Slim, Bill King, Sophie Berkal-Sarbit, Big Rude Jake, Chris McKool, and Bunnett’s own Spirits of Havana.

“I was truly amazed by the generosity of the people. We raised $40,722 and when the Canadian government matched it, the total was over $80,000.” Notably, Mario Romano made a remarkable $25,000 contribution and several people wrote thousand-dollar cheques, all funds going to Doctors Without Borders.

Three days prior to these happenings, “Curtain Down for Haiti” was a tremendous success at the Pantages Hotel. The January 25th fundraiser raised over $2000 for the Red Cross, most of it coming from the thin pockets of young musical theatre artists. The evening was co-produced by Jennifer Walls, Amy Smith and the multi-talented host of “Curtains Down”, Jenni Burke.

47_ jenni burkeAffectionately nicknamed Jenni B, Miss Burke is a contagiously warm, funny and versatile stage presence. Her open mic “Curtains Down” is a weekly Monday night geared to singers of musical theatre, pop, jazz and cabaret, all of whom owe much to accompanist Michael Barber on the piano. By turns hilarious, dramatic, sweet, tragic and generally flamboyant, “Curtains Down” is an impromptu variety show that is consistently entertaining. Now held in the Pantages Hotel lobby, which is steps from Dundas subway station, and for a limited time every Monday: $5 martinis and wine! The latest updates about this event can be found on the “Curtains Down” Facebook Group or atwww.curtainsdown.com.

Speaking of open mics and community, one of the highlights at Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam 5th anniversary show at Chalkers (www.gnojazz.com) was a performance by popular television personality Fred Penner, who delighted everyone present with “The Cat Came Back”. The beloved Mr. Penner comes back to Hugh’s Room on March 18th. Kids of all ages absolutely must check out his website! www.fredpenner.com.

At 19 years of age, prodigious drummer Adam Arruda is set to take the jazz world by storm. Awarded the Zildjian Outstanding Young Drummer Award eight years in a row, he is reportedly working on relocating to New York City. While he’s still in town, check out astounding Arruda’s anticipated tributes to groundbreaking jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk, “The High Priest of Bop”, on the nights of March 4 at The Rex Hotel and March 25 at Tequila Bookworm. If anyone deserves two tributes in one month, it’s the man who was the opposite of square and whose middle name was Sphere! The two evenings will inevitably be very different, not only venue-wise but also in terms of instrumentation. Joining Arruda at the Rex will be none other than Dave Restivo on piano, Michael Davidson on vibes and Pat Reid on bass; at TB he’s hired Trevor Giancola on guitar, Michael Davidson on vibes and a pair of bass players: Dan Fortin and Devon Henderson. To sample Adam Arruda check out www.myspace.com/adamarrudamusic.

47_alex pangmanSeeking inspiration? Canada’s “Sweetheart of Swing” is a walking, singing miracle that sweetly swings from her great big heart. After years of fiercely battling cystic fibrosis, Alex Pangman recently underwent a successful double-lung transplant and is now singing with more air than ever before. Her musical style is rooted in the “trad” jazz singing of the 1920s and 30s, all her own but reminiscent of Mildred Bailey, Annette Hanshaw and Connee Boswell. Catch the tantalizing jazz of Alex & her Alleycats – Dr. Peter Hill on piano, Ross Wooldridge on clarinet, Chris Banks on bass and Chris Lamont on drums – at The Rex Hotel on Saturday, March 20 starting at 9:45pm. Pangman can also be heard every Sunday 7-9pm with hubby Tom Parker’s tasty country band Lickin’ Good Fried at the Dakota Tavern. www.alexpangman.com

On to a new and noteworthy house gig on the Danforth: Roberto Occhipinti’s trio now holds down a weekly Saturday matinee from 4-7pm at the Dora Keogh Irish Pub, just steps from the Broadview subway station at 141 Danforth Avenue. Occhipinti’s on bass, Hilario Duran on keys, Mark Kelso on drums and weekly special guests such as star saxophonist Pat LaBarbera. Priceless music, no cover charge, and no you can’t get a better deal than that! www.robertoocchipinti.com

The Brampton community has a brand new opportunity to embrace live jazz, with the fancy Fireside Jazz Series Brampton, Friday and Saturday nights at Aria Bistro & Lounge. This certainly isn’t a No Cover situation, but if you can treat yourself plus one to a romantic evening out, the menu and venue both look promising. Reservations are “a must” with seating limited to 40 patrons and “Dinner & Show” packages that start at $75: www.queen-b-events.com. Playing at Aria on March 5 and 6 is this reporter’s current favourite singer Laura Hubert with dependable Dr. Peter Hill on keys. Hubert’s band can also be found at the Rex Hotel on March 13 for their monthly Saturday matinee 3:30-6:30pm as well as every Monday night at the Cameron House for a 10-midnightish nightcap. www.laurahubert.com.

Ori Dagan (www.oridagan.com) is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can best be reached by email at jazz@thewholenote.com

I’m going to start this month’s column with four only somewhat related anecdotes, then, with luck, connect the dots between them.

Page 24 Thomas_EdisonIn December 1877, a young man walked in to the office of the Scientific American magazine, and placed before the editors a small, simple machine about which very few preliminary remarks were offered. The visitor, without any ceremony whatever, turned the crank and, to the astonishment of all present, the machine said: “Good morning. How do you do? How do you like the phonograph?” The young man was Thomas Edison.

One of my prized possessions is an old Edison cylinder phonograph with a few cylinders. One of those cylinders contains a conversation between Edison and Johannes Brahms where Brahms asks Edison about how his new invention might influence music.(Little could either have known that in just a few years, as recording technology advanced, performer and listener could be separated by time and distance, and a single performance could be heard many times at many different locations.)

Twenty-nine years after Edison introduced his phonograph, in December 1906, a Canadian, Reginald Fessenden, was the first to transmit sound by radio. In the world’s very first radio broadcast, Fessenden played his violin to the astonishment of the crews aboard ships in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The age of broadcasting had begun.

In a recent broadcast of the CBC Radio programme “The Sunday Edition,” host Michael Enright had as his guest music guru Robert Harris, who was there to “teach us how to listen to music without straining ourselves.” The Enright programme was interesting in many ways. One idea, though, made me stop in my tracks: it was when Harris suggested that we consider all of the elements making up the “infrastructure” of a modern concert performance.

Some are obvious: performers, conductor, composers; repertoire; presenter; venue. But what of all the other less obvious factors? How did each of the composers on the programme come to be a composer, for instance? Childhood ambition to compose? Experience as a performer? How did their first musical thoughts gel, evolve and end up on a printed page? And speaking of the printed page, how many people, over a period of several centuries were involved in the development of the notation system for Western Music that is now universally used? For that matter, where would music performance be today if the art of printing had never been invented?

And what about the instruments? The trombone was certainly the first fully chromatic member of the brass family of instruments, and is generally considered to be the oldest instrument, in unchanged form, of the modern symphony orchestra. All of the other instruments in a modern symphony orchestra, including the strings, have undergone varying degrees of change over the past two centuries.

In short, once we start, we can’t possibly count the number of individuals who have directly or indirectly had an influence on any given performance we hear or play in.

Now, let’s look back over the past one hundred plus years since Edison and Fessenden. Since those early days, sound recording devices and media have become more compact and much more portable. The media have evolved from cylinders through 78 rpm records, LPs, reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, eight-track tapes to CDs, and now to various forms of solid state gadgets like MP3 players and iPods. Similarly, broadcasting has changed considerably. Compare the Metropolitan Opera’s “revolutionary” Texaco live radio broadcasts to their current HD “Live from the Met” telecasts, and you’ll see what I mean.

Another example: look at the evolving major role of electronics in music in recent years. Some years ago MIDI appeared on the scene to harness the power of digital computers. This was closely followed by various music notation programmes to minimized the drudgery of writing out parts by hand. Then, of course, the ubiquitous internet is having a profound influence on many aspects of music. Whether it be downloading actual music, looking for publisher’s catalogues, purchasing instruments, researching composers and their works, reviewing performances, or visiting band or orchestra websites, the internet has become an essential part of our musical toolbox.

The point? Rather than trying to experience music as something distinct from the social forces shaping and reshaping it – what Harris might call “straining ourselves” – we should enjoy the way music performance reects our changing world.

Which brings us to requesting your comments. How is technology impacting on the bands or orchestras you are interested in? What can (and should) band and orchestra websites set out to do, beyond such obvious things as giving you the name of the group, the conductor, their concert schedule, rehearsal time and location? From the perspective of the music you love to play or listen to, what are the history-making changes now getting under way?

Coming Events

The Etobicoke Community Concert Band, John Edward Liddle, Music Director, present “That’s Entertain ment” featuring special guest, Juno-nominated jazz pianist Chris Donnelly. Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium, 86 Montgomery Road.

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

The Hannaford Street Silver Band pre sents: “Trumpet Spectacular” with trumpet soloist Allen Vizzutti.

The Plumbing Factory Brass Band, Henry Meredith, Conductor present “Heroes – ordinary and extra ordinary.” Byron United Church, 420 Boler Rd., London, Ontario.

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

This March, two opera companies celebrate anniversaries: Opera By Request celebrates its third, and Tapestry New Opera Works its 30th. Tapestry was part of the boom in opera in the 1980s that also saw the birth of Opera Hamilton and Opera Atelier. The more recent rise of Opera by Request (OBR) shows that the audience for opera in Toronto is still increasing.

page 11_ Tamara Hummel in Rosa_Opera to go 2004_photo michael cooperOBR Artistic Director William Shookhoff shared the company’s impressive statistics: “By June 2010 when we will break for the summer, OBR will, in its short history, have performed 32 different operas in a total of 45 performances. I haven’t totalled up the number of singers, but let us conservatively estimate 150. We have also enjoyed the co-operative services of four area choirs, who have enhanced a number of performances. Can anyone else come close?”

If we emphasize that these have all been full-length or one-act operas, the answer is “No.” This month OBR will present Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera on March 5, Handel’s Giulio Cesare on March 12 and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame on March 19. All operas are presented in concert with Shookhoff at the piano.

OBR presented its first performance on March 3, 2007. The idea came when two singers whom Shookhoff had accompanied in a recital of opera excerpts from La Traviata mentioned that they wished they could perform the entire opera. Shookhoff, a noted vocal coach, had always maintained that “singers study roles all the time but they never really learn them properly unless they perform them fully with the other cast members.”

What make OBR unusual is that all its repertoire is chosen by the singers themselves. All the box office returns go to the singers. Two or more singers will come forward with a proposal for an opera and will then seek out other singers to fill the remaining roles. What has developed is a form of co-operative, which Shookhoff likes, “because the people are there supporting one another; they’re not doing it for me.” In some cases, though, when a singer is new to Toronto or to the country and has few connections, Shookhoff will step in to take a more active part in the casting – but otherwise Shookhoff views himself primarily as a facilitator.

The concept has been so successful that Shookhoff now has to restrict how many OBR shows there will be in a given year. In future he foresees creating a network of music directors who can take on a greater number of operas. While the majority of singers are recent graduates of opera programmes around the country, there are also veteran singers who have desire to perform certain roles. The singers benefit simply by being heard – which in some cases has led to contracts – and by adding roles to their repertoire, which makes them more attractive as understudies or short-notice replacements. As Shookhoff notes, “Good luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” For more information about OBR visit www.operabyrequest.ca.

Meanwhile, Tapestry New Opera Works is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a special edition of its popular Opera to Go series. All five short works will be remounts from past seasons. The programme consists of The Laurels (2002) by Jeffrey Ryan to a libretto by Michael Lewis MacLennan; The Colony (2008) by Kevin Morse to a libretto by Lisa Codrington; Ashlike on the Cradle of the Wind (2006) by Andrew Staniland to a libretto by Jill Battison; Rosa (2004) by James Rolfe to a libretto by Camyar Chai; and Ice Time by Chan Ka Nin to a libretto by Mark Brownell. As usual, all five will be directed by Tom Diamond, with artistic director Wayne Strongman at the podium. The quartet of singers are Tapestry favourites: soprano Xin Wang, mezzo Krisztina Szabó, tenor Keith Klassen and baritone Peter McGillivray. The performances take place March 24-26 in the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District. For more information visit www.tapestrynewopera.com.

According to Strongman, many considerations went into choosing which works to include. First was the desire to reflect both the range of styles of opera, and the history of the series (which has led to similar programmes in Scotland and South Africa). Second was to provide showcases for the Opera to Go ensemble. Strongman is still glowing from having been named to the Order of Canada last December, cited for “his innovative contributions as the founding artistic director of Tapestry New Opera Works; as the long-time volunteer choral director for the Regent Park School of Music; and as a champion of Canadian composers.” Congratulations for such a well-deserved honour!

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

Mooredale Concerts, under artistic director Anton Kuerti, is second to none in bringing artists of the highest standard from Canada and beyond to its main concert series. As well, it’s a nurturing force for young musicians through its Mooredale Youth Orchestras and Music and Truffles concerts. The next programme well illustrates the series’ various facets: on March 7, Mooredale will bring Les Violons du Roy to town.

page 13_Violons du Roy - photo by LucDelisleNow in its 25th-anniversary season, this chamber orchestra was founded by music director Bernard Labadie and is based in Quebec City. Through its many concerts, broadcasts, recordings and much touring the orchestra has developed an international reputation for the energy and vitality of its performances. Its repertoire is wide ranging – from baroque to present day – and always performed in the stylistic manner most appropriate to each era. When playing music from the baroque and classical periods, the musicians use modern instruments, but also copies of period bows to conform with the performance practice of the era.

Their March 7 concerts are dedicated to the vibrant string concertos of Vivaldi. You’ll hear why this group is so renowned: each of its members is a soloist in his or her own right, and almost all of them will be featured as such in these concerts.

Yes, I do mean the plural – “concerts.” A unique and charming feature of Mooredale Concerts is Music and Truffles: a one-hour, interactive version of the 3:15pm concert, taking place at 1:15pm and designed for children. But you don’t have to be a child to attend; all you need is the curiosity to learn more about the great music and artists being presented that day.

Please note, too, that there’s yet another chance to hear Les Violons du Roy in the southern Ontario area this month, as they’ll be presenting the same programme in London on March 6. You’ll find the details in our Beyond GTA listings.

… and more!

It’s hard to know how to continue describing the early music scene this month, as March is turning out to be such a treasure trove of riches. Some of this has to do with the approaching Christian holy days of Easter weekend, which have inspired an enormous wealth of musical creativity throughout the ages. You’ll discover music (most often involving voices) that is not heard at any other time of year. Several other concerts this month have to do with Bach, as his devotees have a penchant for celebrating his birthday (March 21) by performing his music.

Here are some concerts you might not want to miss:

The music of the early German Baroque is replete with magnificent sacred works for massed forces of voices and instruments. The Toronto Consort presents heartfelt works of anguish and redemption from this era in their programme “From Praetorius to Bach: Visions of Darkness and Light.” You will revel in the sounds of a large ensemble of rarely heard instruments including sackbuts and cornetti, as well as singers (even in works for double choir), strings, lutes and keyboards, in music by Praetorius, Schütz, Schein, Bach and others.

The Tallis Choir with its conductor Peter Mahon take us to the Royal Convent of Madrid during Holy Week, 1611, to hear some of the most glorious polyphonic music ever written for voices. Tomás Luis de Victoria’s “Tenebrae for Good Friday” is from a magnificent collection of music he wrote for this portion of the Christian liturgical year – choral music of unparalleled dramatic expressiveness. It will be performed in the enveloping acoustical setting of St. Patrick’s Church.

If you seek drama as well as poignant music in the re-telling of the Easter story, there’s no better place to find them than in Bach’s St. John Passion. Chorus Niagara with conductor Robert Cooper presents this trenchant work twice, in Grimsby and in St. Catharines.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir present Bach in Leipzig, an imaginative journey to 18th-century Leipzig where Bach lived and worked from 1723 till his death. This is the latest of several acclaimed presentations designed by Tafelmusik’s own Alison Mackay, and one that is sure to bring to life a colourful array of characters and a vigorous community, as well as highlighting the variety and breadth of the music Bach composed during his long tenure in that city.

Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking presentation is entitled “The Grand Tour.” This tradition Flourished in the 1660s as the customary English gentleman’s post-Oxbridge cultural education, serving as a rite of passage. You’ll hear music that such a traveller might have heard during Purcell’s lifetime, taking the Grand Tour from England through France to Italy.

In Port Dover, Arcady and its artistic director Ronald Beckett present “A Baroque Miscellany,” with works by Bach, Sammartini, Handel, Corelli, Telemann and Beckett played on violin, recorder and keyboard.

Aradia Ensemble presents “The English Orpheus.” In Greek mythology, the god Orpheus is credited with being the inspiration for literature, poetry, drama and music. Who might be his counterpart in later times but Purcell, who set poetry to music so brilliantly and wrote so much wonderful incidental music to plays? Aradia Ensemble under its artistic director Kevin Mallon explores some of this, presenting the original text alongside the music for plays such as Don Quixote (with excerpts from Thomas D’ Urfey’s play) and for Bonduca, or The British Heroine (with excerpts from John Fletcher’s play).

An enchantress she is, and a passionate explorer of all kinds of repertoire. In Tafelmusik’s programme entitled “Enchantress,” soprano Karina Gauvin displays her lovely virtuosity in music by Vivaldi and Handel; the orchestra does the same in complementary pieces by Vivaldi and Locatelli.


If you go to Kingston you can have a crash course in baroque music everyone should know, as the Kingston Symphony Orchestra presents “Classics 101.” You’ll hear such beloved pieces as Vivaldi’s
Four Seasons, Handel’s Water Music Suite, Pachelbel’s Canon and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3. Gisèle Dalbec, the orchestra’s concertmaster, is the featured soloist.

Buxtehude’s Passion oratorio Membra Jesu Nostri is an amazingly daring outpouring of grief, seven cantatas each based on a medieval hymn, that meditate on the feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and face of the crucified Christ. Scored generally for five soloists, choir, two solo violins and continuo, the emotion is softened by the appearance of a quintet of viols in the sixth cantata, “To His Heart.” Composed for Passion Week of 1680, it will be presented by the Toronto Chamber Choir with its conductor Mark Vuorinen.

If you go to Kitchener you can hear Bach’s monumental B Minor Mass, performed by the Grand Philharmonic Choir and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony – a performance especially notable as it will be one of the last conducted by the Choir’s director of 38 seasons, Howard Dyck. The featured soloists are an impressive quartet of Canadians: soprano Suzie Leblanc, mezzo Laura Pudwell, tenor Michael Schade and baritone Russell Braun.

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.


As I wrote in last month’s column, much Western choral music denotes and illuminates the celebrations and rituals of the Christian year. Over a span of many centuries, European temporal powers employed composers and performers to create thousands of religious masses and motets giving praise to God.

page 15 robert cooper 4These works reflected the genuine piety of religious and political leaders, in a way in which a post-Enlightenment society can scarcely understand. But at the same time, those who commissioned these works surely understood the power of art to reinforce their temporal power. A performance of a mass was more than pleasant musical setting of a sacred text. It was a statement of cultural and ethnic identity,  and a potential rallying point in times of strife.

At the beginning of the 21st century, many find themselves in the odd position of encountering religious choral music most often in the rarified atmosphere of the concert setting, rather than as part of a sacred service. Although we may come to know much of this music well, we have little knowledge of, or interest in, the societies from which it sprang. We’re more likely to venerate Mozart than we are to regard with much interest or respect the autocratic Salzburg Archbishop who employed him to fill his church with music.

Composers’ mass settings had their part to play in the sectarianism and strife of past centuries. But what do they mean to us today, in a society in which religious plurality is buttressed by law, and multiculturalism is an essential if imperfectly realized aspect of Canadian identity?

A definitive answer to this question is (thankfully) beyond the scope of this article. But upcoming performances of Bach’s St. John Passion, given by Chorus Niagara and led by veteran conductor Robert Cooper on March 6-7, illuminate this ongoing question. One of the most important works of the classical repertoire, the St. John Passion can be alarming in its depiction of the Jewish hordes as a mob of Christ-killers, in light of some of the anti-semitic excesses of 18th-century Europe.

But while anti-semitism has by no means disappeared from the modern world, the concert setting in which Bach’s music is now most often heard in many ways removes it, in a positive sense, from the more problematic aspects of the Baroque church. What is left is Bach’s extraordinary settings of the Passion scriptures. The finger-pointing inherent in the text is to a great degree mitigated by music filled with compassion, tenderness, and a vast understanding of human frailty.

Various other sacred settings can be enjoyed in the weeks to come. The Elora Festival Singers sing Rachmaninoff’s Vespers (Guelph, March 21); The Etobicoke Centennial Choir sings Beethoven’s Mass in C and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (March 27). The Hart House Singers perform Brahms’ German Requiem (also March 27). Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Piano Concerto No. 21 will be heard at Jubilee United Church on March 28. And Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts performs Fauré’s Requiem and Duruflé’s Messe Basse as part of an all-French programme on 30 March.

Good Friday, which this year falls on April 2 , brings with it many concerts. One can choose from among the following: Cantabile Chorale of York Region’s The Rose of Calvary; Toronto Chamber Choir’s Membra Jesu Nostri, an oratorio setting by J.S. Bach’s idol, Dietrich Buxtehude; the Durham Philharmonic Choir’s programme that includes Fauré’s Requiem; and the Metropolitan United Church Festival Choir performing Brahms’ German Requiem. As well, the Grand Philharmonic Choir of Kitchener performs Bach’s Mass in B Minor in Kitchener with a as good a group of solists as one is likely to hear anywhere: Suzie Leblanc,Laura Pudwell, Michael Schade, and Russell Braun.

page 16 David FallisOther unusual “non-mass” concerts are of note in March and April. Lovers of Brahms can also hear two interesting choral works: Rinaldo, and the beautiful Alto Rhapsody, performed by the Victoria Scholars on March 7. David Fallis conducts the March 13 debut concert of Choir 21, an intriguing new ensemble specializing in 20th century music (though I note that they are throwing in some Hildegard of Bingen as well). The excellent Toronto Children’s Chorus teams up with American counterparts the Boston City Singers, for a March 5 concert that includes Schumann’s often overlooked Mädchenlieder. And the Tafelmusik Orchestra and Choir mount a programme, from March 10 to 14, entitled “Bach in Leipzig,” which focuses on Bach’s work in the final stage of his career, as Cantor of the Thomasschule and music director of Leipzig’s two largest churches.

Two world music/classical-hybrid concerts stand out in March. Echo Women’s Choir is a lively Toronto ensemble led by husband and wife team Becca Whitlaw and Allan Gasser. These musicians are as at home with folk music as they are with classical music, and their repertoire choices always reflect this easy pairing. Their offering on March 20 is “Ceilidh: A Down-East Kitchen Party.” Also, in a short number of years, world music ensemble Autorickshaw has established itself as one of the more inventive and interesting groups around. They team up with the Jubilate Singers on March 27.

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

Toronto’s music-presenting scene could be described as being like a good hockey team – having depth, and with strength in all areas. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Canadian Opera Company are both thriving; Tafelmusik is one of the best baroque orchestras in the world; in Sinfonia Toronto and the Esprit Orchestra we have two other professional orchestras, one focussed on the chamber orchestra repertoire and the other on contemporary repertoire. There’s great contemporary music strength in Toronto: Soundstreams consistently gives us innovative programming, as also do New Music Concerts, the Music Gallery, the Art of Time Ensemble, Continuum and Arraymusic.

At the presenter end of the spectrum, Music Toronto brings some of the world’s best chamber music and pianists to the city; the Aldeburgh Connection maintains a high level vocal recital series; and Roy Thomson Hall brings some of the world’s best singers, pianists and orchestras to its stage; Off Centre and the Women’s Musical Club also present chamber music at a very high level. While we have lost the influx of performers brought here when Livent was alive and well, others – such as a newly invigorated Mooredale Concerts under Anton Kuerti’s direction and the RCM’s new Koerner Hall series – have moved in to take up the slack.

page 18 Svetlana Dvoretskaia Karolina BalashAnother relatively new presenter is Show One Productions, founded and run by Russian-born “superwoman,” Svetlana Dvoretskaia. As I write she is busy in Montreal, where she’s presenting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, which, as you’ll know if you read my column last month, performs in Toronto on February 24. On March 20 she is putting together on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall the remarkable combination of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and l’Orchestre de la Francophonie with guest conductor Constantine Orbelian.

A relatively new company, Show One first stepped into Toronto’s cultural scene in 2004, presenting  Vladimir Spivakov and the Moscow Virtuosi at the George Weston Recital Hall. In the early days, most of the audiences at Show One productions were from the Russian community; but now, according to Dvoretskaia, “It’s totally different. Russians are still supporting me a lot, but I would say they’re about 30-35 percent of my patrons now.” Encouraged by the success of her Weston Recital Hall concerts, she knew she wanted to move to a downtown location. At that time (a little over two years ago) there was nothing downtown comparable in size to the Weston so she took the risk and presented a recital by Hvorostovsky at Roy Thomson Hall, with more than twice the seating. “Of course it was a big risk on my part, but so is our business – always a big risk!” That concert was a great success, so concerts by the Moscow Virtuosi and the Moscow Soloists followed, and now the March 20 concert.

This collaboration between Hvorostovsky and Radvanovsky is one of many. They’ve performed together in Russia and Europe, as well as in productions by the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. Orbelian is a frequent collaborator with “Dima” (as Dvoretskaia refers to Hvorostovsky) – and a fortuitous meeting with Jean Philippe Tremblay, conductor of L’Orchestre de la Francophonie, led to its involvement.

To say that Svetlana Dvoretskaia is enthusiastic about the show, which is also being done in Montreal, would be an understatement: “Italian opera is very dramatic – especially when it’s performed by such superstars.” Kudos to Svetlana for her courage and willingness to take risks! Toronto, as well as Montreal and Vancouver, are the richer for what she is doing.

Now let’s look beyond the Greater Toronto Area, where, if you look at our listings, you’ll see there is no shortage of music. There are ten listings this month for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. If you have never been to one of their concerts, you really must, as the venue – a large (22- by 32-foot) living room that seats 85 in the home of Jan and Jean Narveson in Waterloo – is ideal for listening to chamber music. The society, which was founded in 1974, began presenting its concerts in local churches and other public venues, but in the 1980-81 season chose to present all its events in the “Music Room.” What struck me as I read the society’s listings this month was the variety: two string quartets, a piano trio, as string trio, a quartet of ancient Chinese instruments, two pianists, a guitarist and a saxophone, viola, piano trio.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra is also very active. Pushing the envelope of the pops concert tradition, it will present three concerts celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (two in Kitchener, one in Guelph), entitled “From the Rock,” acknowledging the Irish presence in Newfoundland, with guest soloist, accordionist Bernard Philip.

March is really the last full month of the academic year, and so is a busy time not only for student ensemble concerts and solo recitals but also for concerts and recitals by the professional musicians who are on faculty. This is as true at McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario as it is at the universities in Toronto, so you may want to look at their listings. Something that caught my utist’s eye was a performance of Howard Hanson’s Serenade for flute, Harp and Strings with the McMaster Chamber Orchestra – a wonderful work that’s not often enough performed, especially in its orchestrated version, although I have heard it with flute and piano.

page 20 Three CantorsIf you live in Toronto but don’t have the time or energy to break through the city’s force of gravity, all is not lost: music from beyond the GTA is coming to town, in the form of “The Three Cantors,” three singing Anglican clergymen and their organ- and piano-playing accompanist, from London, Ontario. For the last dozen or so years, they’ve been charming audiences all over the country – and in so doing have raised over $1 million for The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. In other words, their audiences love them not only because their voices blend, but also (according to their website) because their concerts “are a tour-de-force of everything from beloved music of the church, contemporary anthems, spirituals, and new, original compositions, to folk songs and the best of Broadway.” They will be in Toronto at St. Anne’s Church on March 26.

Finally, this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frédéric Chopin – in fact my Grove Dictionary indicates, with a question mark, that his birthday may have been March 1, so look for concerts featuring his music – there are quite a few!

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.


I’m not one who likes to start on a sad note, but the world of new music brings us some upsetting news of late. For, as the TSO’s New Creations Festival comes to a close on March 3, we will hear the last work ever created by one of Canada’s pioneering composers – Jacques Hétu – who passed away at his home on February 9 after a valiant battle with cancer.

page 21 Hetu,J_417_300dpiHétu pursued a distinguished career as both a composer and teacher. His catalogue of more than 80 works includes commissions from Canada’s major soloists and ensembles and demonstrates a love for lyrical, poetic and emotional music. He instructed for more than 40 years at Laval University, l’Université de Montréal and l’Université du Québec à Montréal, sharing his unique musical voice with the many generations of musicians he encountered through his teaching.

The departure of Hétu leaves a great void in the musical world of Canada, but his memory will live on through his music, which he defined himself as a merging of neo-classical forms and neo-romantic expressions, rooted in the language of the 20th century. Audiences will experience his great ability to sculpt sound and create strong musical structures when the TSO gives the world premiere of his Symphony No. 5 on March 3 at Roy Thomson Hall. Hétu had hoped to be in attendance and so I suspect we will feel his spirit in the hall that night.

Another “end of an era” comes to be on March 20 at the Glenn Gould Studio when Nexus, the venerable Canadian percussion ensemble, pays tribute to founding member Robin Engelman on his retirement from the group after almost 30 years of dedication. Nexus will be joined by pianist Midori Koga and percussionists Paul Ormandy and Ryan Scott to perform a mixed programme inspired by Engelman’s own musical interests, including the world premiere of R.E.member-ing by another Nexus founder, William Cahn, as well as the Canadian premiere of Handmade Proverbs by Toru Takemitsu – a longtime friend of the group and creator of one of their signature works, the concerto From Me flows What You Call Time. The programme also includes John Cage’s Credo in US, a piece which Engelman introduced to the ensemble many years back, and Robin Engelman’s own Remembrance, Lullaby for Esmé, and his arrangements of some Takemitsu songs. Tickets for “Tribute” are available online through the Roy Thomson box office at www.roythomson.com. Please make special note of the 7:30 pm start time.

But I don’t want to lead you to believing that this month is all about endings. In fact, there are a number of firsts also filling the March new music calendar. Among them is the appearance of the Flux Quartet, who will perform at the Music Gallery on March 13. Dubbed “one of the most fearless and important new-music ensembles around,” the flux Quartet takes their experimental “anything goes” ethos in part from the 60s fluxus art movement. To that end, flux has always been committed to projects that defy aesthetic categorization.

For this Toronto concert – in part a homecoming for the quartet, given that flux violist Max Mendel hails from here – the quartet takes inspiration from the storied meeting of Morton Feldman and John Cage in New York City at a concert of Anton Webern’s music. This odd inspirational spark allows the quartet to explore traces of infuence from Webern to groundbreaking works from the 1950s and 60s, and on to some of today’s most exciting and radical composer/performers who are remaking the NYC cultural landscape. Included along with the works by Cage and Feldman are two Canadian premieres: Lightheaded and Heavyhearted (2002) by the much-hailed Annie Gosfield and Elegies For The Afterland (2009) by eclectic composer and punk-era innovator David First. Tickets are available online at www.musicgallery.org or by phone at 416-204-1080. Further details about the highly prolific flux Quartet can be found at www.fluxquartet.com.

We get another dose of the New York downtown sound when composer and performer Lukas Ligeti – yes, the son of the legendary composer György Ligeti – returns to Toronto on March 27. When Ligeti the younger visited a few years back it was as an improvising percussionist in concert with some of our own local greats, but this time he’s back to offer us an earful of his own brand of new music, which melds experimentalism, contemporary classical, jazz, electronic and world music (particularly from Africa) into a style that is all his own.  With commissions already completed for the American Composers Orchestra, Bang on a Can, Vienna Festwochen, and the Kronos Quartet, as well as several solo CD releases to his credit, Ligeti’s composing career is already well off to a strong start. For this concert, he will be performing his own works for solo percussion and pieces for the rare electronic instrument, the marimba lumina. Tickets are available through the Music Gallery, as are further details about Lukas Ligeti and his music.

To conclude, I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to Tapestry New Opera Works’ Opera To Go experience, which runs March 24-26 in the Fermenting Cellar at the Distillery Historic District. This year’s concept is one of revival, as Tapestry brings back some of the best loved works from their 30-year history of creating exciting, new Canadian opera. The bill is full of some of the best new opera I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing; and they all pack a big punch even though they clock in at just 15 minutes apiece. I personally can’t wait to revisit these remounts by the Tapestry creative team, including the humorous Ice Time by Mark Brownell and Chan Ka Nin, the sensual yet bittersweet Ashlike on the Cradle of the Wind by Jill Battson and Andrew Staniland, and the equally emotionally and musically gripping Rosa by Camyar Chai and  James Rolfe. Tickets and more information are available through the Tapestry website at www.tapestrynewopera.com or by phone by calling 416-537-6066 ext. 243.

As always there’s much more new music on offer this month – so be sure to get in with the new via The WholeNote’s concert listings.

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

March opens with two promising Small World Music presentations in as many days. On March 4, a band of Taureg rock musicians from the Sahara Desert region of Mali, Tinariwen, performs at the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne). The group was formed in 1979, and since the beginning of last decade has gained prominence outside of Africa, appearing in festivals in Europe and the US. Their songs deal with the exile and suffering of their people, the Kel Tamashek of the southern Sahara, and the beauty of their desert homeland.

page 23 Red ChamberOn March 5, the vocal group Huun Huur Tu performs at the Mod Club (722 College). If you’ve never heard this group of Tuvan throat singers, do not miss this concert! I remember standing riveted to the spot when I first heard them on CBC radio around 13 years ago (remember the show “Global Village”?) This group of male singers/instrumentalists chants at the very base of their vocal range, producing celestial-sounding overtones. They’ll be collaborating with electronic musician Carmen Rizzo, presenting music from their new CD “Eternal.” For more information on both of these groups, visit www.smallworldmusic.com.

The next evening, March 6, the Vancouver-based Chinese instrumental ensemble Red Chamber performs a programme titled “Secret of the Chinese, Passion of the World” at the Music Gallery. Constisting of four women on traditional plucked instruments, their repertoire spans music from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the present, including styles such as Bluegrass and Jazz. Led by internationally renowned musician Mei Han, featured instruments include the zheng (zither), pipa and ruan (lutes). Their website, complete with musical samples, is worth a visit: www.mei-han.com/redchamber.html.

Cuba’s Havana-based dance company “Dance Cuba” is on tour in Canada this month. The 17-member all female troup, choreographed by Lizt Alfonso and accompanied by six musicians, fuses flamenco with classical ballet, Afro-Cuban dance, and jazz. They’ll be at the David S. Howe Theatre (Brock University) in St. Catharines on March 6, the Capitol Arts Centre in Port Hope on March 14, Markham Theatre on March 16, and the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts on the 17th.

If you haven’t yet been to the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall, do pay it a visit! This stunning concert hall right in downtown Toronto has superb acoustics. Not only does it serve the Conservatory’s needs, but it also boasts a concert series in its own right. World music events coming up include Gypsy fiddler Roby Lakatos and ensemble on March 10, and Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal with band on April 6. Visit http://performance.rcmusic.ca for the Conservatory’s full concert line-up.

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, a number of Celtic-themed events are scheduled for March 20. The Southern Ontario Dulcimer Association presents a festival of traditional Irish culture and folk music from 1:00 to 10:00 pm in Alton Village, Caledon (the music part is in the evening). Featured performers include Steafan and Saskia Hannigan (check them out on YouTube), Les Starkey, Jason Pfeiffer and others. For more info, go to www.town.caledon.on.ca.

The same evening, Echo Women’s Choir presents a Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee), at Church of the Holy Trinity, a “Down-East Kitchen Party,” complete with fiddles, singing, Irish and Scottish dancers, and a “proper jam session to close out the evening!” Guest performers include members of Bold Steps Dance Studio, Bob Davis (piano), Judith Nancekivell (voice/guitar), and Sarah Shepherd (dance demonstration). Still on March 20, the Hamilton Philharmonic presents Celtic Traditions, a ceilidh with champion fiddler Pierre Schryer and his band, performing in styles from Irish to Scottish to Québécois.

March 27, Toronto based Indian-jazz fusion band Autorickshaw performs with the Jubilate Singers at Eastminster United Church. Says Autorickshaw’s lead vocalist, Suba Sankaran, “This is a very special collaboration, featuring the premiere of my Indo-choral composition Kannamma, commissioned by the Jubilate Singers.” The commission is in celebration of Jubilate’s 40th anniversary season.

The universities hold their end-of-term World Music ensembles concerts this month. York’s take place on March 11, 12 and 15; and U of T’s are March 13 and 18. Please see the daily listings for more info on these and other concerts.

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

 

This is an article of mostly personal recollections, thoughts of some friends no longer with us. But it’s not a column of obituaries. You can read them elsewhere. It’s just that the events of the past month have stirred up memories.

For example, I remember nights with Vic Dickenson when we would end up in his room after the gig. His favourite tipple was a scotch called Cutty Sark – not mine, but it took on a certain quality when sharing it with Vic who was for me the finest, most subtle and humorous of all the trombone players.

I learned so much from this gentle man. On the bandstand it was a music lesson just to stand beside him and listen, and after hours I marvelled at his knowledge of songs. “Do you know this one?” he would say and sing the verse and chorus to some lesser-known tune. He knew the lyrics to all of them and taught me that to interpret a ballad you should at least know what the lyric was saying. Only then could you really interpret the melody and “tell your story.” (There’s a wonderful anecdote about the tenor sax player Ben Webster, one of the greatest ballad players in all of jazz, who was unhappy with a chorus. When asked what was wrong, he said, “I forgot the words.”)

In these after-hours intimate times with Vic, if we emptied a bottle it was his habit to take the freshly opened replacement and pour the first few drops on the floor, saying, “For departed friends.” Well, in the past month alone I could have poured a fair amount of the golden liquid on my floor for four more departed friends.

John Norris, whose death was an enormous loss to the jazz world, was not a musician but was responsible for a huge legacy of writings and the recordings he produced for Sackville Records of which he was a founder/owner, making that label one of the most respected in the business. He dedicated his life to jazz and earned the love and respect of all the musicians whose life he touched. We travelled often together – to Europe, Britain, Australia and the United States – and became good friends over the 40-plus years that we knew each other.

Saxophonist/composer John Dankworth was not a close friend in the way that John Norris was, but we did share some enjoyable times together. One of my early recollections as a young bandleader in Glasgow was sharing the bandstand with my own group and the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra. The venue was Green’s Playhouse, a huge ballroom on Renfield Street with a sprung dance floor. To give some idea of its size, the hall was directly above the biggest cinema in Europe with seating for 4,368 patrons!

Over the years we saw each other on his visits to Toronto. Most recently, last May at the Norwich Jazz Party, I enjoyed some time with Johnny – now Sir John – who regaled us with stories at the dinner table and was still filled with love and enthusiasm for life and playing. On February 6 John died at age 82, having been ill since October. His last performance was at the Royal Festival Hall in London last December when, a trouper to the end, he played his saxophone from a wheelchair.

page 26 jake_hannaThe passing of Jake Hanna at age 78 in Los Angeles on February 13 of complications from a blood disease was another tremendous loss. He was one of the great drummers, equally at home in small groups and big bands, and one of the unforgettable characters in jazz. If Jake was behind the drums, one thing was sure – the band would swing. He began his professional career in Boston and by the late 50s was playing with Marion McPartland and Toshiko Akiyoshi, as well as in the big bands of Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman.

I bought my first car in Toronto in 1964, a beat-up old NSU Prinz, and drove it to Burlington because Woody’s band was playing at the Brant Inn. There, for the first time I heard Jake Hanna in person, making that great band swing mightily. At the time, of course, I had no idea that we were to become close friends and that he would one day make an album with my big band.

After the stint with Woody Herman, Hanna was a regular on the Merv Griffin television show, and when the show moved to the West Coast, Jake was one of a handful of players who made the move with Griffin. That job lasted until 1975, after which he played with a variety of groups including Supersax and Count Basie, and occasionally co-led a group with Carl Fontana. In addition, he was a fixture at festivals and jazz parties.

In a room full of musicians he was always a centre of attraction, telling stories from a seemingly endless collection of memories and cracking jokes with a dry humour that would have us all in stitches. He was the master of the one-liner on stage and off: “So many drummers, so little time.” Not all of them were original, but somehow Jake took ownership of them. If Jake liked you it was for life; if he didn’t it was also a pretty permanent arrangement. He was straight ahead in the way he played drums and straight as a die in the way he lived life. It just won’t be the same without him.

Earlier the same day I lost another good friend in cornet player Tom Saunders who died at age 71. Tom’s idol was Wild Bill Davison, a firebrand player and one of the great hot horn players. It was through Wild Bill that I met Tom and it began a friendship that lasted more than 40 years. Following in Bill’s footsteps he was recognized as one of the finest cornetists in traditional jazz. Although influenced by Wild Bill, Tom had his own sound, played great lead, but could also take a ballad and make it a thing of beauty. Like Jake Hanna he also had a dry wit, entertaining audiences between numbers with jokes and amusing reminiscences. In fact he could have had a career as a stand-up comedian.

Tommy lived life to the full and we enjoyed many hours together. He had his faults, but always played hard, partied a lot – sometimes too much – and enjoyed life until it eventually caught up to him. We all loved him and those of us who were close to him also knew that under a gruff exterior he was a sensitive and caring man.

And what did Jake and Tom have in common? They were not only great players, they were great entertainers, who were immensely proud of their music, but never took themselves too seriously. They genuinely loved the music and always gave it their best shot. The world of jazz is diminished by the passing of these four great talents and my personal world has become smaller.

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

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