p26_barlow

In the last few years, Toronto’s best known Indo-jazz fusion band, Autorickshaw, has been very busy, concertizing locally, nationally and internationally and putting out several CDs. December 3 marks the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster in India, when a toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide plant killed 8,000-10,000 people within a day, and another 15,000 over a longer period, with over 100,000 more suffering chronic illness to this day. Autorickshaw will commemorate this event with a concert at the Lula Lounge, “Bhopal Remembered,” and funds raised from the launch of their new single, City of Lakes, will go to Bhopal’s Sambhavna Clinic, which offers treatment to survivors of the disaster.

“This is a new direction and new initiative for us that I think will resonate deeply within the general public long after our concert is done”, says lead vocalist Suba Sankaran. “I also think it’s a beautiful way to go in terms of giving a socially conscious gift this holiday season. In fact, we’re making the track available by donation. We’ve just been in the recording studio and are working hard to have some mixes of our original composition City of Lakes available for our December 3 deadline and concert date – that’s a promise!”

You can download the single at http://autorickshaw.bandcamp.com. You can also download their other CDs and learn more about Autorichshaw at www.autorickshaw.ca. For this concert, Suba and regular band members Ed Hanley, Rich Brown and Patrick Graham will be joined by guests Ben Grossman (hurdy gurdy), Dylan Bell (keyboard, voice), and a string quartet comprised of Aleksandar Gajic, Parmela Attariwala, Claudio Vena and Amy Laing.

Toronto’s acclaimed Art of Time Ensemble is known for combining classical music with other genres as well as other art forms such as dance, film or theatre. Their December 4 and 5 concerts will present Brazilian music from three different perspectives, at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre. Juno-nominated Canadian jazz vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow (named Female Vocalist of the Year, 2008 National Jazz Awards) will perform songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and others, accompanied by five of Toronto’s best jazz musicians. The second half of the programme will feature Brazilian composer/guitarist/singer Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar, better known as Guinga, accompanied by Art of Time musicians. Considered to be Brazil’s most innovative songwriter, and one of the country’s best guitarists, his music draws on many genres including samba, blues and jazz. Incidentally, he also maintained a dentistry practice for about 30 years! The program will also include Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 for eight cellos.

The Canadian Opera Company’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre continues its eclectic free noon-hour programming. The December 10 presentation is a concert of Indonesian Gamelan music, featuring the Balinese gamelan quartet Seka Rat Nadi (James Kippen, Annette Sanger, Albert Wong and John Carnes), as well as the Javanese ensemble Gamelan Gong Sabrang, based at the Indonesian Consulate. It’s unusual to be able to hear both Balinese and Javanese styles of music on the same programme, so this could prove to be an interesting musical experience. Seka Rat Nadi will also perform at Musideum (401 Richmond) on December 12 at 1 pm. Speaking of which, Musideum, which is both “unusual musical instrument store” and performance space, also hosts some interesting “lec-dems”; the first coming up this month is on December 5, featuring Araz Salek on the Persian tar (lute). Stay tuned for more at www.musideum.com.

Now in its 20th year, the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella performs at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, George Weston recital Hall on December 13. The 20-member choir will perform liturgical works and other songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian as well as “classics and international favourites.” Founded by conductor Alexander Tsaliuk, the choir’s repertoire includes many Jewish liturgical works that were banned by the Soviet authorities during most of the 20th century, and only in 1990, at the approval of Mikhail Gorbachev were manuscripts that had been confiscated from synagogues and Jewish ensembles by the KGB turned over to the choir. This concert is part of their North American tour.

Also on tour in North America, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre presents “HaBanot Nechama,” a spirited trio of Israeli female pop vocalists, January 13. To listen to some of their music, visit them at their Myspace page (www.myspace.com/habanotnechama).

Unfortunately, my crystal ball is not revealing anything beyond this date, but there are still more events in December, and here they are in brief. Please check our daily listings for details on the following: December 2, Yamato Drummers of Japan perform at Massey Hall; December 4, KlezFactor is at the Trane Studio, with klezmer standards and original klezmer-fusion; December 4, Maryem Tollar, Roula Said, Sophia Grigoriadis, George Sawa and others perform at a fundraiser for the Gaza Freedom March, Ryerson U Student Centre, 55 Gould St. (www.gazafreedommarch.ca); December 5, Judith Cohen and Tamar Ilana Cohen Adams perform Sephardic and other Judeo-Spanish repertoire and Balkan dance music with musical friends at Casa do Alentejo, 1130 Dupont; December 16, the Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble (George Sawa and Suzanne Meyers Sawa) play at Mezzetta’s Restaurant, 681 St. Clair W.

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

 

“Little” slip

Thank you to the dozens of readers who took the time to contact us about last month’s “Little” slipup in my interview piece with Fay Olson. I discovered the editing error myself via a gracious email from Ms. Olson herself: “Other than the incorrect cutline under the picture of my husband Don Vickery and me, I thought you captured the essence of our interview very well … There is one more correction I’d appreciate your noting. Although Don Vickery is Music Director for Quotes Bar & Grill, guitarist Gary Benson is founding Musical Director and leader of the Canadian Jazz Quartet.”

Ten Feet Tall53_cooks_wife

Speaking of husband and wife teams, seasoned chef Andy Wooley and Carin Redman, both musicians, are the proprietors of bistro, café, bar and live music venue Ten Feet Tall (www.tenfeettall.ca) now in its 7th year of glory just steps away from the Greenwood subway stop. Danforth and Beaches locals are regularly treated to an inviting atmosphere of eclectic menu items, friendly service, vibrant decor and a tasty variety of live music.

Their Mill Street-sponsored Jazz Matinee takes place every Sunday from 3:30 - 6:30pm, with never a cover charge. Sometimes humbly referring to herself as “The Cook’s Wife”, Carin Redman is herself a professional vocalist who has been singing pop, jazz and R&B for over 15 years; she runs the restaurant and also books the room. I got a chance to catch up with Ms. Redman over a scrumptious Pad Thai ($14) and a pint of Mill Street Organic Lager ($5.50).

OD: What kind of reaction has your music policy received?

CR: The reaction we received was a very warm one.  The people in our neighbourhood have been great supporters.  They love that we have music at the end of the street...we are part of the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival every year and I’m continually thanked during that festival for us being here. It’s like a big party!  The music over here has been a wild success and I’ve enjoyed it so much.  I’ve met so many people and made some great friends as well.

OD: Were you surprised by this reaction?

CR: I have a little bit of a background in marketing so I knew that this would be a great area and time slot for jazz - no one was doing it around here.  Although I felt strongly that it would work, I was still pleasantly surprised.

OD: Ten Feet Tall is one of the few rooms in town that guarantees that the musicians are paid in a no cover/pay-what-you-can situation.  Is it especially challenging for your business to make money?

CR: I book people that can fill a room. Number one, they have to have talent and be good musicians...it took a while to have our “jazz regulars” which we now have. We still do rely on our bands having some sort of following, but I’m never worried any more because I’ve figured out how to book this room.

OD: Who are some of the highlights in the month of November?

CR: On November first we are proud to present Steve Cole & Russ Little. I mean, the names speak for themselves. We’ve had them here before and they are just unbelievable musicians…On November 22nd we are proud to welcome back Kingsley Etienne. If anyone reading hasn’t seen Kingsley, you simply must come out because it’s like a religious experience!

JAZZ PICK OF THE MONTH: Laura Hubert Band

54_hubert_w_bob_brough(www.laurahubert.com) at the Cameron House (408 Queen West), every Monday “9:30ish-Midnightish” Pay-What-You-Can. With a honed horn-like delivery she infuses her song with ample feeling, phrases daringly, and bends notes with ease. Always present in any given moment, Laura Hubert is a very convincing musical actor. To really get what she’s about, you have to witness the facial expressions, body language and stunning presence every Monday night, accompanied by Peter Hill and top-of-the-heap horn players including Chris Gale, Shawn Nykwist, Bob Brough or Ryan Oliver. Live jazz does not get much better than this!

As we head into the colder and greyer months, there’s no better way to stave off the winter blues than with a concert of Brazilian music. On November 15, legendary singer Gal Costa will grace the stage of Massey Hall, joined by Romero Lubambo, on Brazilian violão. Born Maria da Graça Costa Penna Burgos in 1945, and an icon of the Brazilian “Tropicalia” style of music, she has produced over 30 recordings.

26b_costa “We’re really excited about this show,” says Alan Hetherington of Samba Toronto, who are presenting Ms. Costa. “Gal is a legend, from the family of Brazilian performers that include Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Maria Bethania. Even more exciting is that my band (Sambacana) will be opening the evening with our mentor, and musical genius, Filo Machado.” This is Gal Costa’s Canadian debut, and she’ll be singing the music of some of Brazil’s greatest composers, some of whom wrote songs inspired by her.

Also at Massey Hall, “Bollywood” musician Kailash Kher and his seven-piece band Kailasa perform on November 12. Having performed in over 60 Indian films and on soundtracks, Kher is also devoted to the Sufi tradition of using music as a way to get closer to God. Formed with two of his brothers, the band Kailasa combines classical Indian Sufi folk traditions with modern rock, funk and electronica.

27a_nagata_photo_sandra_symondsIn conjunction with Holocaust Education Week (Nov 1 - 11), Opera York  presents the North American premiere of And the Rat Laughed, an Israeli opera by composer Ella Milch-Sheriff based on a novel by Nava Semel. Sung in Hebrew with English surtitles, the opera tells the sory of a young girl hidden during the second world war with a family of Polish farmers. The opera features Israeli soprano Einat Aronstein who sang in the original production, and runs November 5, 7 and 8 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Arts. For more events associated with Holocaust Education Week, visit www.holocausteducationweek.com.

Small World Music presents an on-going series of concerts this month. Co-presented by the Diaspora Film Festival, American composer David Amram will be at the Revival club on November 3 to celebrate the Toronto debut of the documentary film “The Frontier Ghandi,” for which he composed the soundtrack. The concert will feature a program of music drawing on the cultures of Brazil, Puerto Rico, Quebec, Greece, Egypt, Ireland and other places. Amram himself will be perfoming on a variety of  instruments and will be joined by a small ensemble. The next evening at the Lula Lounge, Poland’s Warsaw Village Band perfoms folk tunes with a modern sensibility. Formed in 1997, they’ve performed in over 30 countries and have garnered several Grammy nominations, as well as BBC radio and European Broadcasting Union awards. November 15, Zimbabwean pop star Oliver Mtukudzi performs at the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne). He sings in both Shona and English, on themes of social and economic issues. For more information on these and other Small World presentations, visit www.smallworldmusic.com.

Other items in brief:

Africa New Music presents Marie Musamu, gospel singer from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, November 7 at College Francaise, 100 Carlton St., 5-10 pm. Also on November 7, local group Sapovnela presents a concert of Georgian music at the Heliconian Hall. Toronto’s own Japanese taiko ensemble Nagata Shachu (formerly the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble), gives three concerts at the Al Green Theatre, Nov. 27, 28 and 29. And the universities wrap up their fall terms with student concerts: York’s world music ensembles perform on November 5 and 6, and the U of T Faculty of Music’s play on November 30, December 2 and 4.

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

After writing last month’s column, touching on the fragility of Toronto’s new music festivals, sad news followed. Contact Contemporary Music had to pull the plug on its New Music Marathon due to a lack of funding. This one-day, dynamic and free music festival in the heart of the city only managed to turn out two editions before it was met with financial challenges. Here’s to hoping it can get back up on its feet soon.

25_st_lawrence However, one outfit on which we can rely to remain a stable champion of new music is the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season.
Formed in 1989 by violinists Geoff Nuttal and Barry Shiffmann (replaced by Scott St. John in 2006), violist Lesley Robertson and cellist Marina Hoover (replaced by Christopher Costanza in 2003), the St. Lawrence first settled in Toronto to take advantage of a special training programme run jointly by the U of T Faculty of Music and the Royal Conservatory. While the ensemble was warned that the chances of survival were slim, it defied the odds with early, career-boosting collaborations with performers like violinist Jaime Laredo and pianist Anton Kuerti. A move to New York City in 1990, to study with the Emerson Quartet, led to two years as Juilliard’s graduate quartet-in-residence, and then on to teaching assistantships with the Tokyo Quartet at Yale University in 2004. In between, the quartet came to international attention by winning several key prizes, including the first Banff International String Quartet Competition in 1992.
The rest, as they say, is history. The St. Lawrence has since gone on to record with EMI, creating award-winning discs of both standard and new repertoire by contemporary composers like Christos Hatzis and Osvaldo Golijov. Currently they are the ensemble-in-residence at Stanford University, and maintain a vibrant international concert calendar of some 100-150 performances per season.
Over its history, the quartet has become well known as a champion of more adventurous works, which they present with the same characteristic passion, intensity, physicality and malleable approach to style that they bring to their entire repertoire. As the quartet has continued to age and improve technically, it has also fervently protected these qualities. “This is the constant challenge,” said Nuttal in a recent interview with The Strad magazine “to try and get better in terms of…all of the important stuff, and not lose that edge.”
It has also protected its loyalty to Canada and Canadian composers. And so – unlike some other quartet anniversaries that focus on well-worn quartet cycles – the St. Lawrence Quartet has partnered with the Canadian Music Centre, CBC Radio 2 and a handful of private donors and music presenters to commission five Canadian composers from across the country. The Quartet will arrive back in Toronto on November 16 after a tour of Atlantic Canada to present the culminating concert of this commissioning project at Walter Hall – the first time all five works will be performed together on one programme.

The St. Lawrence was hard pressed to select just five composers from the trove of almost 90 submissions they received back in the fall of 2007, when this project as launched. “To hold in our hands such a body of work from Canadians, coast to coast, was tremendously inspiring,” said Robertson, who coordinated the project. In trimming the selection down to the final group, the quartet was struck again and again by the diversity, creativity and strength of all the submissions. But in the end, only five could be selected, and so composers Marcus Goddard, Elizabeth Raum, Brian Current, Suzanne Hébert-Tremblay and Derek Charke were invited to join the St. Lawrence’s Anniversary Commissioning Team. The resulting works are themselves as diverse as Canada itself.

BC-based Marcus Goddard created Allaqi, inspired by the katajjaq style of Inuit throat singing. The title, which means “a clearing of the clouds” reflects the music’s movement from a place of darkness to brightness. Imitative textures and rhythmic patterns jump from instrument to instrument in the style of katajjaq, evaporating into folk song-based melodies, lyricism and calm simplicity. Murmurings of the opening rhythms grow again, but are softened by broad melodies that guide the work to its conclusion.

Elizabeth Raum, who hails from Saskatchewan, was inspired by the landmark Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina’s Old Warehouse District to write her work, Table at the Bushwakker. The piece’s opening introduces the various characters that are portrayed throughout the work. The scene is a typical Saturday night at the pub, where the tables are full of students, amorous couples and women out for a “girl’s night” on the town.

26a_current Toronto composer Brian Current based his work, Rounds, on initial sketches made while staying in Kyoto, Japan, over the spring of 2008 and completed during the winter months in Toronto. The title refers to the use of melodies throughout the work that overlap and layer one another, much like the musical rounds children sing in the school yards.

Suzanne Hébert-Tremblay, who makes her home in Québec, drew on a fascination with nature and birds to compose A tire-d’aile. The work is built up from the song of three specific birds: the common loon, the hermit thrush and the song sparrow. These songs make up the core musical material, which is repeated and developed through four distinct sections in the first part of the work, and then overlapped in a polyphonic style for the second part. Both parts are framed by a lyrical theme inspired by loon song.

Finally, New Brunswick-born composer Derek Charke offers a musical journey from the present to the past in his Sepia Fragments. The work plays off of several quotations, both original and borrowed, that appear to be sometimes clear, sometimes blurred, like memories captured in a time capsule. Fiddle tunes and reels dissolve to fragments of harmonics and trills. Snippets of Shostakovich transition into parlour music. Tchaikovsky-inspired tunes gives way to Vietnamese folk melody.

In addition to this culminating concert, the St. Lawrence has opened their November 16 afternoon rehearsal to the public. Anyone wishing to attend this free session may benefit immensely by observing the interaction between the Quartet and the composers, some of who will be hearing their work for the first time. The session, which will run 1-4 pm in Walter Hall, will include demonstrations and conversation with the musicians and the Commissioning Team.

For concert details and to purchase tickets, visit www.music.utoronto.ca, call 416-978-3744 or e-mail boxoffice.music@utoronto.ca.

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

23_scottI read recently that Britain’s most famous jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This got me to thinking that doing a piece about long-lasting jazz clubs would make a pleasant change from writing about Toronto-based clubs that seem to come and go like ripples in a stream.

That Toddlin’ Town

The Jazz Showcase in Chicago first opened its doors in 1947 and lasted 60 years in a variety of locations. The club is managed by Wayne Segal – but it was his father, Joe, who opened the original Jazz Showcase in the area of Chicago known as The Gold Coast in 1947. Over the years the club migrated between Lincoln Park, South Loop (in the Blackstone Hotel), River North at 59 West Grand, constantly falling victim to that all-too-common and sometimes fatal complaint, L and L, (landlords and leases). Extravagant rents eventually forced Segal to close the doors of the West Grand location on January 1, 2007. After a brief hiatus the club re-opened at Dearborn Station in June of 2008 and is going strong, at least at time of writing this article.

24a_green_mill Still in Chicago, Andy’s Jazz Club on Hubbard Ave. has been going for more than 30 years. Before its incarnation as a jazz club Andy’s was a grungy hangout where printers from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times would hang out. The first jazz sessions began in 1977, every Friday at noon. It was enough of a success that in 1978 Andy’s tried out “Jazz at Five.” It caught on and now they have jazz seven days a week at 5:00 and 9:00pm. The original owner was Andy Rizzuto. He purchased the red brick building and sold it in 1975 to a group of investors who decided to keep the original name. Soon after, one of the investors, Scott Chisholm took over Andy’s and has been the owner ever since.

But the grandfather of all the clubs in the Windy City has to be the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge on N. Broadway. The Green Mill opened in 1907 as Pop Morse’s Roadhouse and in its early days was a watering hole for mourners on their way to funerals at St. Boniface’s Cemetery. It became the Green Mill Gardens around 1910 when it changed ownership and a huge green windmill was installed on the roof. The inspiration for this was the famous Moulin Rouge in Paris, but the colour green was chosen so that it would not be confused with the red light districts in Chicago.

When prohibition arrived in 1920, the Green Mill was already established as the hottest place in town, and the singers who appeared at the club and went on to become famous included Helen Morgan, Anita O’Day, and Billie Holliday. In the mid-1920s the club was leased to Al Capone’s south side mob. Capone himself often enjoyed hanging out at the club, listening to the music and entertaining friends. Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and 50s, the Green Mill presented a  mix of swing, dance and jazz music – but in the 60s the neighbourhood started to go into decline and by the mid-70s business had really fallen off. But in 1986, present owner Dave Jemilo bought the Green Mill, restored it to its earlier décor and  today  the Mill still enjoys a reputation as a mainstay of the Chicago jazz scene. Over the years a wide range of entertainment was showcased in the club, but since 1942 there has been a steady diet of jazz and blues giving the Green Mill the distinction of being the oldest, continuously running club in the country.

Motown

24b_tatumIn May of 2009, Baker’s Lounge in Detroit celebrated its 75th anniversary as one of the oldest jazz venues and in fact  advertises itself as “The World’s Oldest Jazz Club.”  Baker’s did feature pianists beginning in late 1934 but didn’t become a major jazz club until the 1950s. Clarence Baker took over Baker’s Bar from his father Chris in 1939, the year when out-of-town pianists were brought in for the first time. Art Tatum played there frequently from 1948–1953 and the bandstand has a grand piano selected by him.

In recent times the club has gone through some rough times and was in danger of closing earlier this year, but so far it is still a survivor. The jazz community rallied, some artists co-operated by taking reduced fees and the music was cut back to presenting established performers on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, with Sunday for student groups and Thursday as comedy night.

New York, New York

Max Gordon first opened the Village Vanguard in 1935 as a variety venue presenting sketch comedy and poetry, but there is an interesting history to the venue. In 1921 a developer built a pie-shaped building on Seventh Avenue South. This was prohibition time and there was a speakeasy in the basement, called the Golden Triangle. With the end of bootlegging the club closed and lay empty for a couple of years until the young Max discovered it. In his autobiography, Gordon explained that it met all his requirements: it was 200 feet away from a church or synagogue or school, had two washrooms, two exits and a rent that was less than $100 a month.

In the early days, jazz was only a small part of the programming, but the club switched to a full-time jazz policy in 1957. Since then a Who’s Who of jazz has appeared in the tiny venue. One of the things that has spread the name of this jazz temple is the number of jazz albums that have been recorded there: more than 150 have “Live at the Village Vanguard” proudly displayed on the cover! The decor is minimal and the service can vary, but it remains one of the leading jazz clubs in the world.

In the world of traditional jazz clubs, it is impossible to leave out Eddie Condon’s. Guitarist Condon, born in 1905, was one of the real characters of jazz, a lover of free-wheeling straight-ahead jazz. A native of Goodland, Indiana, he was instrumental in creating a new, hard driving type of “Chicago Dixieland Jazz.” In 1927 he moved to New York, worked with various groups and from 1937 to 1944, he worked nightly at a famous New York Jazz club called Nick’s. In 1945 the first “Eddie Condon’s” (on West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village) opened. In 1961, the club lost its lease to New York University, and relocated to the Hotel Sutton on East 56th Street, which was home until 1967. It was  relocated to West 54th Street until the wrecker’s ball claimed it in 1985, ending a 40-year history.

Condon was one of the great wits of jazz: for example,  when asked about bebop musicians he replied, “They flatten their fifths, we drink ours.”

Mass Jazz

Wally’s Café in Boston, Massachusetts, is among the oldest family owned and operated jazz clubs in existence. It was founded in 1947 by Mr. Joseph L. Walcott and Wally, as he was known, was the first African-American to own a nightclub in New England.

The original location on 428 Massachusetts Avenue moved across the street to 427 Massachusetts in 1979 and to this day features live music 365 days a year.

London Calling

Back to Ronnie Scott’s. Ronnie and fellow saxophonist Pete King opened the original club in London’s Soho on Gerrard Street. The aim was to provide a place where British jazz musicians could jam, and it developed a reputation for presenting the best of British modern jazz musicians. In November 1961 it was the first British venue to offer engagements to an American musician in a club setting. That first guest was Zoot Sims.

In 1965 the club moved to its present address on Frith Street where it has maintained its reputation as the leading jazz club in the country. Ronnie Scott died in 1996, aged 69 and nine years later, Pete King sold the business to Sally Greene, theatre impressario and, incidentally, owner of one of London’s great theatres, the Old Vic. After closing for a three-month facelift, it has continued to present some of the greatest names in jazz.

Ronnie Scott was  also another of the great jazz wits and told jokes, mostly the same ones, night after night from the stage of the club. A typical example is as follows: “We’ve got a sensational new group playing at the club for the next two weeks...tenor sax player Stan Getz is back and is joined in the front line by the jazz violinist Stuff Smith. It’s called the Getz Stuffed Quintet.” Or, another of my favourites: “We had Miles Davis in the club last week, and he was very kind. He took me to one side – and left me there”

Happy Listening, in Toronto or wherever you are.

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and longtime Artistic Director of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival. He can be contacted at: jazznotes@thewholenote.com.


It’s not often that we hear welcome news of a new company on the local community musical theatre scene: most rumours in recent years have had more to do with the financial problems facing some of the groups, and their possible demise. Steppin’ Out Theatrical Productions, however, is doing just what their name boldly declares, stepping into their second season and their first full season at the new Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

Based in York Region, the group was formed last year by the 16-year-old Brian Lee. A musical theatre devotee and performer, Lee started acting at 7, has been in community theatre since he was 12, and has also produced and directed his own shows with Markham Youth Theatre. Part of the new Richmond Hill theatre’s mandate is to provide space for community theatre groups, and when Lee saw an ad saying that the theatre was accepting bookings he jumped at the chance of putting a new group on the RHCPA stage. Their 2009-2010 season opens with the 1954 Adler and Ross classic The Pajama Game, which runs for four performances from November 19 to 21. Steppin’ Out will be presenting three shows per season, and we hope they’ll be around for a long time to come.

22_cascone And if you think that 16 is too young an age to run a successful stage company then you’d better think again: Joe Cascone was a mere 14 years of age when he founded what is now the Civic Light Opera Company 30 years ago, and just look where they are now. CLOC will be providing one of several local productions aimed at festive season audiences when they stage It’s A Wonderful Life, a musical setting of the classic 1948 James Stewart movie, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (of Fiddler On The Roof fame), and music by Joe Raposo, best-known for his musical contributions to the TV programme Sesame Street. The show runs at Fairview Library Theatre from December 10 to 27, with matinees around the Christmas dates.

Last year’s CLOC Christmas offering was Scrooge, based on A Christmas Carol, and the perennial Dickens favourite is also the basis for Etobicoke Musical Productions’ upcoming offering, A Christmas Carol – The Musical, with music by Alan Menken, the award-winning composer of the scores for so many of the recent Disney animated movies. EMP’s home is the Burnhamthorpe Auditorium in Etobicoke, and the show runs from November 27 to December 12.

Scarborough Choral Society provide the third seasonal production with their annual Sounds of Christmas presentation at Markham Theatre on Saturday and Sunday December 12 and 13. Their next stage musical will be Guys and Dolls in April 2010.

If you don’t know the music of Maury Yeston (Titanic, Grand Hotel) then you’ve really been missing something. Scarborough Music Theatre gives you the opportunity to put that right with their production of Yeston’s Nine at the Scarborough Village Theatre from November 5 to 21. Despite being an unknown quantity for many people the show is something of a cult favourite, and won five Tony Awards in 1982, including Best Original Score. SMT’s recent productions – especially Urinetown – have been quite exceptional, and this one promises to keep the standard flying.

Incidentally, you’ll have a chance to hear Yeston’s stunning – and also Tony Award winning – Titanic score when Curtain Call Players stage it next April at Fairview Library Theatre. CLOC’s highly-acclaimed production of the show at the same theatre in 2006 proved that a relatively small performing space doesn’t have to be an issue for a show with this large a cast and orchestration, so it should be interesting. CCP’s current show is the Marvin Hamlisch/Ed Kleban classic A Chorus Line, which ran for over 6,000 performances on Broadway and was, at the time, the longest-running Broadway show in history. CCP’s production runs from November 5 to 14.

Also running in mid-November, from 11 to 14, is Brampton Music Theatre’s staging of the 1998 ‘juke-box’ show Footloose - The Musical at the beautiful Rose Theatre in Brampton. Based on the 1984 movie of the same name, Footloose is another show that opened to mixed critical reaction but has since developed a devoted fan following; it’s a popular choice for high-schools in the US.

Another huge favourite with high school producers is Thoroughly Modern Millie, which Clarkson Music Theatre will be presenting at the Meadowvale Theatre in Mississauga from November 20 to 28. Julie Andrews starred in the original 1967 movie, which mixed early 20th-century songs with originals by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and somehow won an Oscar for Elmer Bernstein for Best Original Score – but the 2002 Broadway version featured 11 new songs by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan. Clarkson’s handbill flyer for their production shows “Music by Elmer Bernstein and André Previn,” the latter having orchestrated Bernstein’s score for the movie, so I’m not quite sure which version they will be presenting.

With three shows running in the middle of the month, and with three more in rehearsal at the same time, it’s a tough time if you’re trying to book musicians. (I’ll be playing for one production but had to turn down two others.)  However, it’s a great time to experience the local community musical theatre scene. The nights may be getting darker, but musical theatre is a perfect way to keep them bright – and with adult ticket prices usually around $24 or $25, you won’t be breaking the bank just before the holiday gift-buying season.

Full performance dates and ticket information for all of these community shows can be found in the listings section of this edition of The WholeNote.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closer to Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tafelmusik and Purcell’s King Arthur

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

 

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

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

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

A few more concerts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Rat Laughed

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

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

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

Iphigénie en Tauride

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

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

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

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

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

This month’s column is all about singing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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