54_sheila_jordanThe Lady is a Champ

When women in their eighties contract pneumonia, some take it easy. Not Sheila Jordan. Forced to cancel a Toronto appearance last September, she’s back to touring the world. “If it wasn’t for jazz music, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she sings, and means every word. Live jazz is not only Jordan’s occupation, it’s been her life for nearly seven decades. Brimming with depth, style, sincerity and unabashed joy, her concerts might as well offer a money-back guarantee. She’s never had a manager: “I never wanted to be, you know, ‘a star’,” she once told me. “That’s not my purpose, that’s not my calling. My calling is to be a messenger of this music, and I’m very happy being that.” Generous with her wisdom, she’s giving a full day workshop while in town April 2nd and 3rd at Gallery 345 (part of Yvette Tollar’s Women in Jazz Series).

www.sheilajordanjazz.com

New Lungs, New CD!

Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing Alex Pangman is one of this country’s most adored jazz singers, which is remarkable given that she was born with cystic fibrosis. When her condition became critical in 2008, a lung donor came through just in time. “With new lungs I open my mouth and song comes out, supported by litres of air … it’s as if someone took my banged up old student trumpet and handed me a gold Selmer or Monette!” Now recovered, she’s promoting organ donation and back into the swing of things, to the delight of all. On April 12 at Hugh’s Room Pangman releases her long-awaited new album 33, recorded shortly after her 33rd birthday, featuring tracks famous in 1933.

www.alexpangman.com

55Bee Younger

When JAZZ.FM91’s Jaymz Bee isn’t busy promoting this city’s jazz artists on the air, he’s buzzing about the club scene, martini in hand, making friends. He always celebrates his birthday in style. “This party is unique – you only turn 42 for the sixth time once!” Thanks to The Old Mill Inn and an anonymous friend who gave him a cheque to pay for some talent “I can offer up a night of some of my favourite local music to everyone with no cover charge.” It’s April 13, at The Old Mill Inn, with entertainment by the Eric St. Laurent Trio, the Robert Scott Trio, Barbra Lica, Waylen Miki, Kollage and special guests. Bee there!

www.jaymzbee.com

Jazz Teriyaki

Upscale EDO on Eglinton West welcomes a new weekly jazz series, Thursdays 8-11pm, with ace guitarist Tony Quarrington leading a different trio each week. “EDO has many skilled sushi chefs, a warm decor, and friendly service,” says Quarrington. The restaurant’s name is pronounced “eh-dough” in Canadian (the former name of modern day Tokyo until 1868). April guests include vocalist Beverly Taft and and violinist San Murata. (NO COVER CHARGE!)

www.tonyquarrington.com

Jazz Chow Mein

Also on Eglinton is the Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine haven China House with jazz presented by Larry Green every Thursday from 7:30-11:30 since May 2010. Owner Jonathan Wise: “… there is something about a wonderfully vintage and iconic dining room blended with world class jazz. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.” Highlights this month include the Bernie Senensky Quartet paying tribute to Moe Koffman as well as the legendary Peter Appleyard Quartet. (NO COVER CHARGE!)

www.chinahousetoronto.com

15_opera_michael_maniaci2_photo_by_michael_cooperApril is once again the opera month of the Ontario cultural calendar with eight fully-staged operas in Southern Ontario plus at least two operas in concert on offer. One of the fully-staged productions comes from a brand new company, Wish Opera, that seeks to further the work of Canadian artists in its productions.

The month begins with the final performance, outside our listings coverage area, on April 2, of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor by Opera Lyra Ottawa, at the National Arts Centre. It stars Lyubov Petrova as Lucia, Marc Hervieux as Edgardo and Gregory Dahl as Enrico. See www.operalyra.ca.

The month continues with the peripatetic Opera Kitchener presenting Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Guelph on April 7,
in Waterloo on April 9, and in Mississauga on April 15. Visit www.operakitchener.com for more information. Remaining on the periphery of the Big Smoke, Opera Hamilton presents the favourite double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci on April 21 and 23. Many familiar singers – Joni Henson, Sally Dibblee, Wendy Hatala-Foley and Gregory Dahl – appear along with Richard Troxall as Turiddu and Jeffrey Springer as Canio. See operahamilton.ca
for more.

The season in Toronto proper starts with performances of Rudolf Friml’s Rose Marie on April 15 and 16 by Wish Opera, about which there is more below. Opera Atelier concludes its 2010-11 season with North America’s first-ever period production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito running April 22 to May 1, and reuniting many of the cast members that made OA’s Idomeneo so electrifying: Measha Brueggergosman as Vitellia, Michael Maniaci as Sesto, Krešimir Špicer as Tito and Curtis Sullivan as Publio. They are joined by Mireille Asselin as Servilia and Mireille Lebel as Annio. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Orchestra. See www.operaatelier.com.

The Canadian Opera Company begins its spring season with Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola, April 23 to May 25. The COC last staged this work in 1996. This production, co-produced with Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera and two European companies, is directed by Joan Font and conducted by Leonardo Vordoni. Elizabeth DeShong in the title role is joined by Lawrence Brownlee, Brett Polegato and Donato DiStefano. The Rossini runs in repertory with Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, April 30 to May 29. The COC last staged this work in 1995. This production from Welsh National Opera is directed by Neil Armfield and conducted by the great Sir Andrew Davis. Richard Margison sings The Tenor and Bacchus, Adrianne Pieczonka is The Prima Donna and Ariadne and Jane Archibald scales the coloratura heights as Zerbinetta. For more details see www.coc.ca.

The final opening is Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, The Pirates of Penzance, from April 26 to May 1. Ryan Harper and Jessica Cheung will be Frederic and Mabel while David Ludwig and Jean Stilwell will sing the Pirate King and Ruth, his trusty maid of all work. Robert Cooper will conduct and Guillermo Silva-Marin will direct.

As for operas in concert, Opera by Request will present Verdi’s La Traviata on April 6 in St. Catharines, April 8 in Toronto and April 11 in London. OBR’s next presentation is Britten’s The Turn of the Screw on April 16. See www.operabyrequest.ca.

On April 28, the COC Ensemble Studio offers a triple bill for free at noon at the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium. On the program are Menotti’s The Telephone, Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and a new work by Ana Sokolovic, composer of Queen of Puddings’ The Midnight Court.

16_opera_tonia_cianciulli__wish_operaAs mentioned at the outset, entering the lists this month with Rudolf Friml’s Rose Marie is the brand new company, Wish Opera, founded by soprano Tonia Cianciulli. Last March, Wish Opera made its debut with concerts of opera arias at the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre at York University. A production of Don Giovanni announced for June that year never took place. Cianciulli loved the York University venue but realized that to be successful her company would have to find a more accessible venue, closer to dining options before and after the show. Luckily, she came across the John Bassett Theatre located in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The little-known venue is “a real gem” in Cianciulli’s words. Self-contained, with its own entrance onto Front Street, it has 1330 seats, an orchestra pit and adjacent rooms for receptions.

Cianciulli knows she has her work cut out for her in finding a niche in Toronto’s opera scene and creating a following, but she feels “Wish Opera has something different to offer that will appeal not just to opera lovers, but people in the fashion industry, the design industry, art, photography – we’ll have something for everyone.” Wish Opera “seeks to promote and nurture and gain awareness for Canadian talent in all mediums.”

For Rose Marie, Cianciulli has assembled a wide-ranging group of artists and designers including Charles Pachter and aboriginal artists Maynard Jonny Jr. and Bernice Gordon, whose artworks projected on stage will provide backdrops for the action. Gordon is also contributing a hand-carved totem pole and serves as an advisor in revising the 1924 book by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II to make it more sensitive to aboriginal people. Finally, rather than calling Malabar to rent costumes, Cianciulli wants to make audiences aware of current Canadian designers. Thus, the show will feature fashions created by young Quebec designers Denis Gagnon and Marie Saint Pierre along with Girl Friday, Cabaret, Breeyn McCarney and Natasha Lazarovic. The furnishings and chandeliers will also be provided by Canadian companies.

Cianciulli says the idea of Rose Marie as Wish Opera’s first fully-staged opera came from conductor Kerry Stratton, who loves the music. Before he emigrated to the U.S., Friml was a pupil of Antonin Dvořák in Prague. The operetta, set in the Canadian Rockies about the love between a French Canadian girl and an English Canadian miner, was a great hit in New York and London. Especially in the famous 1936 film version starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, it became the archetypal image of Canada for many non-Canadians. There has likely not been a professional staging of the work since a production at the Shaw Festival in 1981. The Wish Opera production will be directed by Lesley Ballantyne with French Canadian mezzo Maude Brunet in the title role and tenor Todd Delaney as her lover. The cast also includes singers Olivier Laquerre, Michael York, Deborah Overes, Sarah Christina Steinert, Anne Marie Ramos, Dan Mitton and actor Sundance Crowe. As part of its community outreach, Wish Opera sponsors the attendance of children to special performances, donates a portion of all ticket revenue to the Hospital for Sick Children and sends artists to perform at Sick Kids’ in-house theatre. For tickets and more information visit www.wishopera.ca or call 1-877-700-3130. Though April may already be crowded with opera, Cianciulli knows that there are still not enough opportunities for Canadian singers at home. If Wish Opera can provide those opportunities and make Canadians more aware of all the artists in their midst, it will have performed an invaluable service. Its next project is Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette on October 28 and 29 this year. We wish them all the best. n

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

Call it jazz-theatre fusion if you must. Stephen Sondheim’s music inspired saxophonist Bobby Hsu to dream up and assemble “A Sondheim Jazz Project.”

47_bobbyhsu2_-_photo_by_amy_mcconnell“His songs are not only musically complex and lyrically highly sophisticated but beautifully melodic and singable,” Hsu asserts. “For me, one of the most fun things about the band is factoring dramatic and narrative aspects of the lyrics into the musical decision making, something which as a jazz player I’d always ignored before. Also, this band allows for ‘crossing over’ in both directions: exposing these songs to jazz people, and presenting a fresh take on them to people familiar with musical theatre.” Hsu’s sensitive arrangements aside, his alto work has never sounded better. Rounded out by pianist D’Arcy Myronuk, bassist James McEleney and drummer Morgan Childs, the band focuses the spotlight firmly on a force of nature, effervescent singer Alex Samaras.

In the bandleader’s words, “Alex is the only singer I know who, besides having an incredibly beautiful voice, is able to pull off the balance between the ‘jazzy’ and the dramatic elements of the arrangements.” Serious Sondheimites, reserve now: March 5, 8-11pm at Ten Feet Tall and March 11, 5-8pm at Gate 403.

Preview here: www.myspace.com/asondheimjazzproject.

Winters’ Warmth

March 22 (Stephen Sondheim’s birthday), Winters College at York University is hosting a fundraiser to celebrate more than 20 years of vibrant fine arts, with hopes of raising money to improve college performance spaces. College Master Marie Rickard puts it thusly: “A university college is where students spread their wings. At Winters, they come together in a way that is totally distinct from how they perform in their courses. This is where they experiment, take risks, pool their talents and work as a community of young artists. As their advocate, I want to draw attention to the fact that two of our most loved and well-used college spaces really need a little TLC – better lighting and acoustics, for a start.” Appearing at the fundraiser will be York’s Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, trombone master Ron Westray (who will be releasing a new CD at The Rex on March 2 and 3); alumna jazz vocalist/composer and faculty member Rita di Ghent; the York Gospel Choir; a cappella group WIBI, and many other York faculty, alumni and students. Tickets are $50 ($40 in advance), and $10 for students.

To reserve, email wcmaster@yorku.ca.

Kirk’s Works

The great American songbook has been a grand compositional influence on saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, whose “Songbook Vol. 2” recording has just received a Juno nomination. “Typically when I work as a leader I prefer to play my own music because it offers more of a personal statement, and so, over the years I’ve developed my own repertoire… Many years ago I came across the music of Spanish composer, Albéniz. He once said that when you start with something, if you follow the thread of that thought, it takes on a life of its own; you have no idea where it’s going to take you. That really stuck with me.” There are plenty of chances to hear Kirk’s works performed. He’s literally jazzed about next month’s “Deep Shadows,” a debut CD Release for the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, featuring big band arrangements of his compositions, April 2 at Humber College Auditorium. You can also find him this month in a far more intimate configuration with a three-night stint March 3-5 at Chalkers Pub alongside bass ace Neil Swainson and out-of-town guest drummer, Dennis Mackrel, music director of the Count Basie Orchestra. www.kirkmacdonald.com

Walker’s Chalkers Date

Speaking of Chalkers, under the category of grand, the venue is now home to a brand new Shigeru Kawai SK-3 6’ 2” piano! Perfect timing for a CD release by one of the country’s most acclaimed jazz pianists and composers, Nancy Walker, her sixth as leader. “New Hieroglyphics” gathers together a dozen original compositions. Alongside bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Ethan Ardelli, Walker welcomes a new addition to her group, guitarist Ted Quinlan.

“I love the sonic possibilities that the guitar offers: colours, textures, the ability to be treated as a “horn-like” voice as well as a harmonic one,” she explains. “Writing for a quartet configuration that includes guitar allows me to make use of all those sonic possibilities in combination with the piano, which I find exciting and inspiring.” Why Quinlan? “Not only is Ted a world class guitar player with killer chops, but he’s so open, flexible and adventurous, he’s game to try anything.”

Walker’s adventurous music is enriched with a captivating depth of feeling, especially in live performance. Reserve now for March 19 from 6-9pm at Chalkers Pub.

Two Mics Are Better Than One!

Though their voices are entirely different, jazz artists Heather Bambrick and Julie Michels have much in common, from vocal versatility to a sizzling sense of humour. In late 2008, a fantabulous version of “Moondance” (find it on YouTube) inspired the two, along with their mutually adored accompanist Diane Leah, to plan a duet show.

“I’ve been waiting for this concert for years!” exclaims Michels. “I think it’s because Heather and I are both crazed, fuzzy-haired, scatting women who love to sing and laugh. I can push myself when we sing together and that’s a wonderful feeling.”

“Anything we do involves laughter, spontaneity, adventure, vocal antics, and of course great music,” promises Bambrick. “And we chose the best source for duets: Show Tunes!”

As for the seated member of the trio – the two singers couldn’t be fonder of pianist Diane Leah. As Bambrick points out, “I swear, she knows every tune ever written. Her sense of humor is second only to her incredible sense of musicality.” Collectively the three broads settled on the title “Broadsway.” It will premiere on Saturday, March 26, 8pm at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto as part of the Leading Ladies Concert Series.

Tickets are available here: www.mcctorontochoir.com.

27_bandstandIn last month’s issue I mentioned an upcoming concert by the University of Toronto Wind Symphony. I had the pleasure of attending that concert, and can report on a superb performance of all works on the programme. My principal reason for attending was to hear the solo performance of the Gregson Tuba Concerto by a young man whose development I have been following over the past few years. Now in his final year in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, Eric Probst was this year’s recipient of the U of T Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition. In 2008 Eric was the winner of  the Hannaford Youth Band Solo Competition.

I have heard this concerto a number of times in the past, and this performance ranks with the best that I have heard. At some performances, I have had the impression that I was hearing a sort of fight to the finish, with the performer attacking the concerto as an adversary to be subdued. That was not the case in this performance. Throughout the performance Eric gave the impression that he was embracing the work as his friend. They were cooperating with each other to share their mutual admiration with the audience. Even in the technically demanding cadenzas there was no hint of a struggle; by his body language and facial expressions the performer told us that he was enjoying himself at all times.

The only really well known work on the program was the Symphonic Dance Music from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Here the large woodwind section displayed a combination of precision, blend and depth of tone not often heard in a concert band.

The other student highlighted in the programme was Meaghan Danielson a graduate student conductor. She displayed her considerable conducting talent and stage presence in Contre Qui, Rose by American composer Morten Lauridsen, best known for his choral compositions. Originally written as a choral work, under Miss Danielson’s sensitive baton this transcription for wind ensemble by H. Robert Reynolds retained the feeling of a choir of wind instruments expressing the poetry which inspired the work.

The second half of the evening was devoted to Testament: Music for a Time of Trial and Give Us This Day: Short Symphony for Wind Ensemble, two contrasting works by contemporary American composer David Maslanka. Dr. Maslanka left active teaching some years ago and retired to a small town in Montana to devote most of his time to composition. He was spending several days in Toronto as the Wilma and Clifford Smith Visitor in Music at the Faculty of Music. During an interval in the programme he spoke of his inspirations for the two works featured and on his philosophy of composition. It was an inspiring talk, but too fleeting to summarize here.

This “Visitorship” was established in 1986 by the Steven and Jane Smith family to honour their parents. Since renowned singer John Vickers was named as first visitor, the students have benefited from the counsel of many distinguished musicians. During his stay Dr. Maslanka conducted master classes, sat in on rehearsals and conducted a forum with composition students.

My visit to this concert introduced me to a series of concerts at Faculty of Music that are well worth more attention than they usually receive. They provide top quality performances by talented young musicians at very affordable prices and are at an excellent venue just a few steps from two subway stations. They are worth investigating.

Now, back to the tuba. Since the tuba is generally not looked upon as a solo instrument, there is very little solo repertoire written specifically for that instrument. Personally, I knew of only two concertos for tuba; the one heard in this concert written by British composer Edward Gregson in 1976 and a somewhat earlier one by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I had a question. Since the tuba usually remains well hidden in all but small ensembles and is not generally considered a solo instrument, what prompted these composers and few lesser known ones to write concertos? So, like any good modern researcher, after consulting the Oxford Companion to Music and Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, I turned to the internet. Lo and behold, what did I find? I found a forum on the Gramophone Magazine website with the title “Why write a Tuba concerto”? (This was apparently specifically targeting the Vaughan Williams work.)Various submissions to this forum over a few months last year provide both entertainment and insight. I encourage you to read them!

(On a personal note, one of my all time favourite records is a set of duets for tuba and guitar by renowned tubist Sam Pilafian and guitarist Frank Vignola. In particular, their renditions of works by renowned French guitarist Django Reinhart show those works in a whole new melodic light.)

On the subject of compositions: Late in 2010, as a way to thank the city for all its support over the years, the members of the Pickering Community Concert Band were looking for a project to help the City of Pickering commemorate its bicentennial year. By happy coincidence 2010 also happened to be the 20th anniversary of the band. The decision was made to sponsor a competition open to amateur composers across Ontario. Entries were solicited for two distinct types of composition to be performed at ceremonies marking the two anniversaries.

After rigorous judging in accordance with well defined criteria, the winners for each of the two categories have been selected. “Elliott Overture,” by young Markham composer Sean Breen, will be performed by the Pickering Community Concert Band at the City of Pickering’s March 4 celebratory event in the Pickering Recreation Complex. “Inchworm/Lazy Afternoon,” by veteran trumpeter and singer Vern Kennedy, will be featured at the band’s 20th anniversary celebration to take place April 16. The winning composers will be introduced and awarded their prizes at each event.

And finally, a clarification: In last month’s Bandstand column we talked about the new Artist in Residence Program offered by Silverthorn Symphonic Winds. Subsequent to publication of that issue we have received some clarification on the status of this program. Raymond James Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of Raymond James Financial, Inc. will be the official corporate sponsor of the inaugural Artist in Residence Program offered by Silverthorn Symphonic Winds during the 2010/2011 season, rather than, as we thought the Ontario Trillium Foundation. While the band is in receipt of a Trillium grant these funds will be allocated for other community activities, not the Artist in Residence Program. (The Artist in Residence Program brings an established, professional musician as a collaborator with the band for a one-year term. The artist provides coaching to ensemble members, performs at two public concerts, and offers a free public master class.

Please write to us: bandstand@thewholenote.com.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is flute flies: “those tiny mosquitoes that bother musicians on outdoor gigs.”

We invite submissions from readers.

26_victor_recordsOn March 7 1917, two sides “The Dixie Jass Band One Step,” and “Livery Stable Blues” by Nick LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jass Band were released. It was the first jazz recording issued for sale in the U.S. That honour might well have gone to a group called The Original Creole Orchestra, the first New Orleans Jazz band to tour outside of the South, but in 1915 trumpeter Freddie Keppard turned down an offer from the Victor Talking Machine Company. The story goes that he didn’t want other musicians to be able to steal his music by listening to records.

Another version claims that the Victor Company wanted the band to make a test recording without pay. Yet another story is that Keppard was offered $25.00 to make a recording – much less than he was making on the vaudeville circuit at that time, although pretty well the going rate for a recording. He refused saying, “I drink that much in gin every day!”

But what was the earliest Canadian jazz recording?

Well, there isn’t much information available about the early Canadian bands or, for that matter, musicians. But in the mid 20s a piano player called Gilbert Watson formed a band which included an American trumpet player called Curtis Little. In 1925 they recorded a couple of numbers in Montreal for Starr Records, probably the first records by a Canadian band.

In these days when a little piece of electronic wizardry no bigger than a square of chocolate can store upwards of 2,000 tunes as MP3s, it is fascinating to look back in time to the early days of phonograph recordings. Before discs, recordings were made on cylinders, a process invented by Edison in 1877. By the early 1900s cylinders were selling by the millions. Then the gramophone disc took over the market. It also had been around since the late 1800s, invented by a German-born American called Emile Berliner. He founded the Berliner Gramophone Company in 1895, and in 1899 the Berliner Gramophone Company of Canada in Montreal. The original discs were only five inches in diameter and intended for toy phonographs.( He also created Deutsche Grammophon in 1898.)

I remember “Wild” Bill Davison, one of the hottest jazz cornet players in the history of the music (and who was already playing in the 1920s telling me about his memories of the early days of discs when it was an acoustic process, before the days of electric recording.

A large metal horn protruded from one wall in the studio. On the other side of the wall was the recording equipment consisting of a needle, connected to the narrow end of the horn, which vibrated to the music and cut grooves in the form of wavy lines into a revolving slab of wax thus creating the sound track. It was, in fact, direct to disc recording. (An interesting aside: in 1977 Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass recorded a limited edition 2-LP set, direct to disc, but they didn’t use wax slabs!).

“Wild” Bill then went on to explain that if the band had to stop for whatever reason during the take, a ring of gas burners would be lowered to the wax in order to melt the surface making it smooth again. You could have a maximum of three attempts before the wax had to be replaced. An added complication was that the band could not set up as it normally would on stage because the louder the instrument, the farther it had to be from the horn in the wall!

A typical example of the difficulties that had to be overcome was described by American writer Rudi Blesh, writing about a recording session with the King Oliver band in the early 20s. The band had two cornet players, Oliver and the young Louis Armstrong and when the band set up around the horn in the wall, Oliver and Armstrong drowned out the rest of the band and had to back off while clarinet player Johnny Dodds had to play right into the horn. Drummer Baby Dodds couldn’t use his bass drum at all, and had to limit himself to a greatly reduced kit.

But that wasn’t the end of it; on the next try they could hear Louis Armstrong, but not King Oliver, so Louis had to move back even more before they could achieve some semblance of balance! Far from ideal conditions you might say.

But let’s go back to that first recording by The Original Dixieland Jass Band.  Note that they used the word jass. The transformation of the word jass to jazz is shrouded in conjecture and legend. There is correspondence dated April 19, 1917 from Victor addressed to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and certainly by 1918 the ODJB was using jazz in the band’s name. One of many stories about the change from jass to jazz is that mischief makers would obliterate the letter ‘j’ from posters advertising the music! But there is no real proof as to who first used the word.

On Friday December 10, 2010 a tongue-in cheek letter from the New York copylaw firm of Lloyd J. Jassin was issued. Here is a partial transcript of the letter. “In a ceremony on Friday, which exuded warmth and openness, the the Jazz world and Jassins came together and reconciled a 95-year dispute over the derivation of the term Jazz.” If you would like to read the very witty transcript you can find it in my expanded column on the WholeNote web site.

The letter closes with this quotation from Martin Luther King: “Everyone has the blues. Everyone longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved.  Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for Faith. In music, especially that broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

A sad note. Last month we lost George Shearing and I miss his sense of humour almost as much as his music. One of my favourite examples was the following; “When people ask me how is it I was a musician, I facetiously say that I’m a firm believer in reincarnation and in a previous life I was Johann Sebastian Bach’s guide dog.”

Happy listening.

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

March sees performances of two rarities – both influenced by the Nationalist movement in music in the 19th century.  On March 9, 11, 12 and 13, Toronto Operetta Theatre presents a fully staged version of the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda (1932) by Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) and on March 27 Opera in Concert presents a concert version of Antonín Dvořák’s comic opera The Devil and Kate (1899). Both works are regularly staged in their homelands – Spain and the Czech Republic, respectively – but are largely unknown outside of them. To discover more about the two works I spoke with Guillermo Silva-Marin, artistic director of both opera companies.

Luisa Fernanda is one of the most popular of all zarzuelas and will be the fourth zarzuela TOT has presented following Tomás Bretón’s La Verbena de la paloma in 1999, Gonzalo Roig’s Cecilia Valdés in 2003 and Francisco Asenjo Barbieri’s El Barberillo de Lavapiés in 2005. This makes TOT the only operetta company in the world, as far as can be determined, to include Spanish repertoire on a regular basis along with works from Europe and America. Ohio Light Opera, North America’s largest operetta festival, presented zarzuela once in 1999, but never since, and the Festival Internazionale dell’Operetta in Trieste has so far never included Spanish works.

Silva-Marin’s inclusion of zarzuela is a conscious effort to diversify the TOT’s offerings both because of the inherent value of the works and because the Hispanic community, as he notes, “is hardly ever represented in the cultural tapestry of this city.” Unlike Viennese or Parisian operetta, zarzuela has largely remained unknown outside of Spain, first because of the misconception that the works were “too typically Spanish” to travel and second for the practical reason that Spain was politically isolated in the central part of the 20th century when interest in opera was expanding.

It is true, though, that zarzuela is not quite like operetta. In fact, it presents an art form that neatly complements its European counterparts. As Silva-Marin explains, “Zarzuela is, unlike operetta, a little bit more overt as to how it is critical of social, moral and political issues and portrays those not so much in a fun way but in a critical way. Gilbert and Sullivan poke fun at those in power but the tone is light. In zarzuela it is more serious. A great number of zarzuelas are daringly critical of the government, the aristocracy or of whatever social issues they’re trying to present. That gives zarzuela more of an operatic tone. In Luisa Fernanda in particular the influence of Puccini and verismo is much stronger than in other zarzuelas of the period.” While the whole movement of zarzuela was to create a nationalist school of opera, Spanish composers were fully aware of the artistic movements of their time. Silva-Marin says, “You get this mixture which is fascinating in that it is undeniably Spanish but is pushing ahead under the influence of musical movements from abroad.”

Luisa Fernanda is set in Madrid in 1868 during the revolutionary republican movement that threatened the regime of Queen Isabel II.  A typical love triangle takes on political implications when the tenor lead Javier, a colonel, finds himself torn between his fiancée Luisa Fernanda, daughter of a court clerk and the Duchess Carolina.Luisa’s friends counsel her to forget Javier because of his dangerous revolutionary ideas and to accept the attentions of the wealthy landowner Vidal, who has come to Madrid to find a wife.

Mexican tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez will sing Javier, a role popularized on disc by Plácido Domingo and José Carreras. Michèle Bogdanowicz will sing Luisa, Miriam Khalil the Countess and Silva-Marin himself will sing Vidal. The zarzuela will be sung in Spanish with dialogue in English but for the first time the TOT will use surtitles for the musical numbers.

25_silva_marinShifting geography, Dvořák’s The Devil and Kate, like Luisa Fernanda, is a work that has never been off the boards in its home country since its premiere. Though it may seem heresy to say so, The Devil and Kate is generally considered even more popular in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia than than Dvořák’s best-known opera Rusalka (1901). Besides its robust humour, one of the work’s greatest attractions is its abundance of folk dances. Ever since Opera in Concert’s presentation of Rusalka in 1998, Silva-Marin became curious about Dvořák’s other eight published operas. As it happened he came across a DVD of the Wexford Festival’s 1988 production of the opera sung in English. Based on a Bohemian fairy tale, Kate wants to dance so much that she declares she’d dance with the devil himself. What do you know but a mysterious stranger named Marbuel suddenly appears, dances with Kate and disappears with her underground. Fortunately, Kate has a friend Jirka, who vows to rescue her. Marion Newman sings Kate, Giles Tomkins will be the devil’s servant Marbuel. OiC will use the same clever translation by Ian Gledhill used at Wexford.  For more information about TOT visit www.torontooperetta.com and for OiC go to www.operainconcert.com. Without the efforts of Guillermo Silva-Marin, Toronto’s opera scene would lose the diversity that makes it so rich.

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

The effect of too many winter days indoors and the budding promise of spring seem to have inspired new music presenters to think of movement in March, and especially of the human desire to dance. Or perhaps it’s my own craving for unbundling weather – where we can move more freely – that’s making me see choreographic connections. Regardless, no fewer than six concerts this month touch on the subject openly or in more subtle ways.

New Music Concerts’ celebration of British composer Jonathan Harvey may be the most tangential to the theme, but I can’t go without mentioning it. Harvey’s remarkable training and unique opportunities for musical exploration have allowed him to gather influences from Berg, Messiaen and Britten to Babbitt and Boulez, which he then infuses with the power of Stockhausen and his own investigation of the mystical. Early successes have since opened doors for Harvey to compose for just about every classical genre, and for some of the world’s best soloists and ensembles. But his skill and imagination seem best applied to electroacoustics, which is the main feature of this March 6 concert at the Betty Oliphant Theatre.

Programme notes for works like The Riot (the only non-premiere here) read like descriptions of choreography. Musical themes bounce about sharply, join in polyphonic ensembles or re-combine in new configurations. Scena for solo violin and large ensemble develops just like a classical ballet. Be sure to arrive early for a pre-concert event, where U of T’s gamUT ensemble will deliver the world premiere of Harvey’s Vajra. Harvey is in constant demand for commissions, meaning his dance card is plenty full, so any chance to catch a new work of his is a special one. To learn more or buy tickets, visit  www.newmusicconcerts.com.

On March 17, pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico will unveil the results of her Glass Houses Revisited recording project in a live concert at the Glenn Gould Studio. The CD, released on Centrediscs, consists of extensive revisions to nine selections from the original 1981 Glass Houses by composer Ann Southam, and was Petrowksa Quilico’s last Southam collaboration before the composer’s sudden passing last November.

In her incomplete programme notes, Southam explained the genesis of the work: “I have called these pieces Glass Houses in order to identify them as minimalist music. The best known composer of this style of music at the time… The tunes in Glass Houses were inspired by… Canadian east coast fiddle music. Generally speaking, these tunes are spun out… until all tunes are present, at which point they wind back to the beginning.”

Petrowska Quilico describes Glass Houses Revisited as “fiendishly difficult,” comparing the cycle to Ligeti’s etudes, Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and to the complexity of Bach’s counterpoint – fleet, virtuosic dances around the keyboard. It’s interesting to note that Southam was a celebrated composer of music for dance, having written over 40 scores for the likes of Patricia Beatty and the New Dance Group of Canada (now the Toronto Dance Theatre) and for other companies and choreographers such as Danny Grossman, Dancemakers, Rachel Browne and Christopher House, including House’s acclaimed choreography set to Glass Houses. To learn more about Ann Southam and her work, visit www.musiccentre.ca. ickets,

Continuum returns to Toronto from the 2011 Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques Festival for a March 20 concert at the Music Gallery. Titled “Step, Turn, Kick,” the programming here is grounded in the idea of “dancing in the mind.” At its core is a quartet of new pieces by Canadian composers Cassandra Miller, Nicolas Gilbert, Linda C. Smith and Lori Freedman, that, taken together, can be imagined as a French baroque dance suite for the 21st century. Also featured is the Canadian premiere of Marc Sabat’s John Jenkins, a work inspired by the prolific 17th-century English composer and dance master. Rounding out the concert are solos and duos by UK’s Michel Finnissy and Holland’s Martijn Padding that express an impulse to move. To learn more about Continuum, visit www.continuummusic.org. Tickets will be available at the door.

23_deromeI’m very eager to hear Julie-Anne Derome in recital on March 24 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. This new music specialist presents an ambitious programme rich with Canadian content. She will open with the brief but intense Ivresses, songes, sourdes nuit by Québec composer Jean Lesage. Its percussive sonics and other dramatic effects make it ripe for use as a solo dance soundtrack. Chan Ka Nin’s very popular Soulmate, taken from his figure-skating-inspired Poetry on Ice, will offer a nice counterbalance. And closing the evening is Tracking for solo violin and live video by Laurie Radford. Radford defines “tracking” in the sense of the title as “the coordination of speed and gesture for two points locked in a reciprocal force and action.” Put simply, the act of both leading and following, as in a pas de deux. Radford further explains that tracking implies linked relationships between time, material and action, controlling energy and gravitational force. All very heady stuff, but it sounds very dance-like to me! More details are available through www.music-toronto.com.

The Scarborough Philharmonic carries through the dance theme to April 2 with a new work by their Composer-in-Residence, Alex Eddington. Entitled Dancing about Architecture, Eddington describes the work for nine wind instruments and percussion as “a new way to organize a dance suite”, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s phrase “Give me music I can live in like a house!” This concert at the St. John the Baptist Norway Anglican Church also features world premieres by Toronto’s Phil McConnell and American composer Bruce Broughton. For more details and to reserve tickets, visit www.spo.ca.

We end on a high-energy note on April 3 with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and their premiere of Brian Current’s Whirling Dervish for sufi whirling and orchestra. If you have never experienced Sufi whirling – a dynamic, dancing form of mystic meditation – then you’re in for a treat. It can be a mesmerizing experience, and I’m sure Current has come up with some excellent new music to make this an event that will spin us right into spring! For more details, visit www.kwsymphony.ca.

From dances of the mind to mystic motion, new music never ceases to move us. So be sure to get in with the new via the WholeNote concert listings here and online at www.thewholenote.com. ν

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

19_arabesque_dance_companyThis month starts auspiciously with the Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra’s world premiere of its NOOR (Light), running March 3 - 6 at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre. This ambitious production promises to be among the grandest world performance events this season with an international ensemble of 17 dancers and 14 musicians, including three vocalists. Linking traditional art forms from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Spain, NOOR evokes the rich influence of Arab art in medieval Andalusia as expressed through spiritual poetry, regional music and dance. The company directors Yasmina Ramzy and Bassam Bishara collaborated with the noted violinist and exponent of the ancient Muwashshahaat poetic tradition Fathi Aljarah, with Canada’s premiere flamenco guitar master Roger Scannura and dancer Valeria Scannura of Ritmo Flamenco. The result is a juxtaposition of the more languid belly dancing tradition with the fiery brilliance of flamenco.

19_acoustic_africaWest African music lovers are in for a treat on March 6. The Royal Conservatory of Music in partnership with Small World Music present Acoustic Africa, a concert featuring three headliners: Habib Koité, Oliver Mtukudzi, and Afel Bocoum, legends in their native Mali and Zimbabwe. We can expect an infectious blend of pop, South African mbaqanga, jit and traditional kateke drumming. I’m willing to bet that more than a few patrons will get up out of their Koerner Hall seats to dance along.

Melodies of Armenia on March 10 is part of the free World Music Series held noon at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The concert by the Levon Ichkhanian Quartet shines the spotlight on the playing of Mark Korven’s soulful duduk, an apricot wood shawm with ancient roots in Armenian culture. Levon Ichkhanian on plucked strings, bassist Victor Bateman and Wilson Laurencin on percussion join the duduk in presenting the oft melancholy music of Armenia.

The Kodo Drummers of Japan marks its 30th anniversary this year bringing its show to the Sony Centre For The Performing Arts on March 11. I saw them years ago and their interpretations dazzled the audience with feats of astounding percussive speed, dexterity, and muscular endurance.

The Musideum is a unique and fun downtown Toronto music retail store cum museum, filled to the ceiling with musical instruments from around the world. Its Friday 7pm series continues March 11 with the FreePlay Duo in which Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell (of Autorickshaw fame) sing a capella songs accompanied only by a digital looping station.  On March 25 local world music diva Maryem Hassan Tollar performs with musicians Ian De Souza and Chris Church.

Hindustani classical music will take the stage on March 17 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Presented by Small World Music, the concert presents the leading younger generation sitarist Nilandri Kumar (whose father was the prominent sitarist Pandit Kartick Kumar) with the celebrated tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.  Zakir received a firm musical foundation from his father the honoured late tabla virtuoso Allah Rakha, though many would say Zakir with his brilliant technique and crowd-pleasing musicianship has outstripped his guru’s international fame through his expeditions across once-forbidding musical boundaries.

Readers may be surprised to see the name of Toronto’s ViaSalzburg Chamber Orchestra in this column. They owe this distinction to the special guests for their Glenn Gould Studio concert on March 24 and 25: Canada’s pioneer Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. (Full disclosure: I have been composing for and performing with Evergreen since its inception in 1983). The programme will include the epic Beethoven String Quartet Op. 131, Montreal composer Michael Oesterle’s piece for gamelan degung and string quartet, and Evergreen Club’s performance of “Ibu Trish” (1989), its signature work by American composer Lou Harrison for gamelan.

Kicking off its New World Series on March 25, the Music Gallery and Batuki Music Society present ETHIO T.O.  This concert, described as “Ethiopian and Eritrean pentatonic jazz-funk” features two bands. Ethio Fidel is led by the local first-call Ethiopian bandleader saxophonist, Girma Wolde Michael. The group Canaille on the other hand is directed by the multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Strachan, who is strongly influenced by Ethiopian horn arrangements and tonality. Toronto has the second largest population of people from Ethiopia and Eritrea in North America. Kudos to The Music Gallery which has thought to bring the music of Ethiopia’s “Golden Age” of the ’60s and ’70s to its venue just north of Queen St.

The next day on March 26 the Echo Women’s Choir and Mariposa In The Schools present David and Goliath: An Earth Hour Evening of Song and Story at the historic Church of the Holy Trinity, benefitting both of these charitable organizations that bring music to diverse communities. This spirited evening of international songs and stories will feature artists such as Ken Whiteley, the 80-voice Echo Women’s Choir, David Anderson, Njacko Backo, Jowi Taylor and the Cuban Percussion Ensemble.

Brampton’s spiffy Rose Theatre is stepping up to challenge T.O.’s hold on touring world musicians on March 31. Debashish Bhattacharya, among the pre-eminent Hindustani slide guitarists today, will appear accompanied by Shubhasis Bhattacharya on tabla. The duo will bring the classical raag and taal based music of northern India to Flowertown.

Finally, this is the time of year for new beginnings. Nowruz marks the Iranian New Year, celebrated on the vernal equinox by Iranians all over the world. The youthful Sarv Ensemble presents two concerts on April 1 and 2 called Eidaneh: A Celebration of Persian New Year and Arrival of Spring. They perform Iranian classical and folk music at the Beit Zatoun House on 612 Markham St. in downtown Toronto. Just one year old, this new venue is a large open gallery that aims to serve as a platform for social justice and human rights events. “When we share the art and culture of another then there is no room for injustice or hatred.” A noble vision indeed. ν

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

March has arrived and with it the vernal equinox, Saint Patrick’s Day, the famous Ides, probably an early thaw, and with it a flood of student recitals at music schools here and everywhere. Go to the website of the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario, for example, where events on the calendar are colour coded: student recitals are orange, and the March calendar is almost all orange! We cannot list all student solo recitals – there just isn’t the space in the print magazine to do so. But I recommend going to one in March. It’s great fun being able to say, down the road, that you spotted a great artist early in their career. Just go to the website of the music school nearest you and find out what is going on. That is not to say there are no student performances in our listings pages. We list music school recitals by student ensembles or by particular teachers’ students. For example, see the recital on March 4 by the York University Brass Ensemble or the one the following day by students of the voice teachers at York University.

Meanwhile faculty recitals continue through March: the Faculty Woodwind Quintet at Wilfrid Laurier University will perform there on March 3. The flutist in this ensemble, incidentally, is Amy Hamilton, whose flute quartet’s new CD, “Canadian Flute Quartets,” I have reviewed in this month’s “DISCoveries.” Other university teachers, Brock University piano professor Karin Bella and U of T guitar professor Jeffrey McFadden will give recitals on March 1 and 7 respectively, to name but a few.

Vocal Recitals

It looks like another good month for vocal recitals, getting off to an early start on March 1 with U of T voice students presenting a programme of songs composed by New Zealanders and Australians at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The very next day, hot on the heels of “Nixon in China,” the COC’s vocal series continues with compositions by John Adams, introduced by the composer himself, in town because of his major role, as composer and conductor, in the TSO’s New Creations series.

16_isabella_stewart_gardner_portraitOn March 6 the Aldeburgh Connection will tell the story in song of the life of Boston socialite and philanthropist, Isabella Stewart Gardner. Aldeburgh artistic co-director, Stephen Ralls told me this about the programme: “It’s one of those programmes which is so difficult to describe [because it] has so many [interwoven] threads!” The unifying theme, however, is the connection of the music with Bostonian Isabel Stewart Gardner. She patronised American composers, such as Clayton Johns, Margaret Ruthven Lang and Charles Martin Loeffler, who will be represented on the programme. As a young woman she spent time in France and when back in Boston programmed a lot of French music in concerts at her home, so there will also be songs by Fauré, Debussy, Chausson, D’Indy and Bemberg. One of her causes, Ralls told me, was the welfare of black people in Boston, so there will be arrangements of spirituals as well as other music of her time, including piano duets by Gottschalk and MacDowell. “As you can see,” Ralls said, “it’s a rich vein! We will take in all the people whom she patronised or who were friends of hers in Boston, [such as] John Singer Sargent, Bernard Berenson and Henry James…”

Returning for a moment to the universities, Brock University in St. Catharines appears to be a hotbed of vocal activity, with three recitals, March 15, 22 and 25; and on March 26 the Port Hope Friends of Music are presenting a concert by three singers from the Opera School of the University of Toronto. Other upcoming vocal recitals are mezzo Vilma Indra Vitols presented by the Latvian National Opera Fund Canada on March 27 and baritone Michael Fitzgerald at Metropolitan United Church on March 31.

Piano Recitals

17_jane_coopA number of fine pianists are performing in Toronto in March. Two of these are faculty members at the University of British Columbia, Jane Coop and Sara Davis Buechner. Jane Coop will give two recitals for Mooredale Concerts, one designed for children and one for the rest of us, featuring music by Beethoven and Scriabin, on March 20. Then on March 25 she will be at the Aurora Cultural Centre’s Brevik Hall, a beautiful new 150-seat facility that sells out fast, especially when an artist of Ms. Coop’s calibre is performing! I asked the newest member of The WholeNote team, Sharna Searle, herself a pianist, who has recently come here from Vancouver and has heard Jane Coop play on several occasions, to say something about her. Searle wrote: “I admire her focussed, considered and keenly intelligent understanding of, and approach to, the music. I’ve always thought she was a very grounded player with this wonderfully clean, unfussy, flawless technique, something I always appreciate in a pianist. My teacher at music school (U. of Western Ontario), Ronald Turini, had a similar technique; he never ‘got in the way of the music.’”

17_buechnerSara Davis Buechner will perform with Sinfonia Toronto in its interesting “Fantasies” programme on March 11 and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on March 12. She has an astonishing range of musical affinities, and an encyclopaedic concert and recital repertoire, spanning the breadth of keyboard music from Bach to contemporary. An indication of this: her back to back Sinfonia Toronto and K-WCMS appearances do not have a single composer in common.

Speaking of the K-W Chamber Music Society, yet another eminent pianist, Janina Fialkowska, will also perform for the K-W Chamber Music Society on March 15. This remarkable organization, you may be interested to know, has no fewer than eleven different concerts listed in this month’s issue. If you haven’t gone – I know I’ve said this before – go! It’s like a house concert but with artists who usually perform in larger, less intimate, venues. Fialkowska can also be heard on March  5 with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and on March 13 in a concert presented by Visual and Performing Arts Newmarket.

The list of piano recitals this month goes on and on, but I will mention three more. Sa Chen, a Chinese pianist, who has won prizes at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (2005), the 14th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (2000) and the Leeds International Piano Competition (1996), will perform at the MacMillan Theatre on March 27 under the auspices of the Li Delun Music Foundation. This will be her first appearance in Toronto. Just two days later, on March 29, Music Toronto will bring us the internationally renowned Montreal pianist, Marc-André Hamelin; and on March 30 and 31, French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be the soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the second concert of a TSO “Signature Series” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth.

Also Noteworthy

Of the several events designed for children, one in particular caught my eyes: the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra’s concert called “Bella the Tuba Gets Her Melody” on March 26.

On the community orchestra front, the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra continues its pattern of innovative programming on April 2, including in its programme three world premieres, including one by the evening’s guest conductor, Alex Eddington and a violin concerto by Bruce Broughton, a Hollywood film composer with Canadian roots.

AND FINALLY, A WARM WELCOME to an astonishing array of distinguished visitors this month: Marina Piccinini and Andreas Haefliger (March 11); Hilary Hahn, violin,  and Valentina Lisitsa, piano, March 1; John Williams, guitar, March 27; the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, March 11; John Adams (as conductor), (March 5); The Barra McNeils, (April 5 and 6) Evelyn Glennie, (March 2); Borealis Quartet, (March 3); Tokyo Quartet, (April 4); Karen Gomyo, violin, (March 23).

As Richard Margison observed in the very early days of WholeNote Magazine, the great thing about The WholeNote is that it includes local artists as well as internationally known stars. Since everyone’s career starts at the local level, he said, this is good for everyone. So, let’s all try to get out to hear at least one concert by a local artist and one by a student as well as one or two by our distinguished visitors. Our participation as part of the audience is just as important in creating a living musical culture as our participation as performers. Bravo, I say, to the man who came out to a concert by my students in January. “What brings you to our concert?” I asked him during the intermission. His answer was simple: “I wanted to hear some music I had never heard before.” He was not disappointed, and all of us who participated in the music-making were helped and affirmed by his presence there. ν

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.

Last month I devoted a column to a discussion of Bach’s choral music, works that have probably become as central to the European choral canon as anything one can think of. This month, for contrast, I’ll write about lesser known and/or modern works being performed in March and April, and of choral endeavours that have sprung from other traditions as well. What follows is only a few of many excellent concerts this month – please consult the listings for more choices.

14_the_victoria_scholarsThe baroque French composer François Couperin (1668-1733) has traditionally been known for his innovative harpsichord compositions, and his influence on the keyboard works of later composers. In recent years musicians have been investigating his vocal works. While there are good recordings of Couperin’s choral music available, concerts of it are rare in this area. We have a chance to hear one of his early works, the Messe a l’usage ordinaire des paroisses (mass for regular parish use) performed by the Victoria Scholars on March 6. Belying its somewhat lumpish utilitarian title, it has the dancing rhythms typical of French choral music of this era.

Another composer better known for his keyboard works than choral music is 19th century German Josef Rheinberger. In recent years, the Lyrica Chamber Choir of Barrie has made a project of reviving Rheinberger’s work. On March 26, they perform his Missa Brevis Op.117.

I’ve known choral conductor Ron Cheung since we were young tenors in the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, in the years when it was conducted by choral wild man Robert Cooper. Ron founded the Voices Choir in 1996. In celebration of Ron’s 20th year of choral conducting and Voices’ 15th year in existence, they are presenting a programme on April 2 that includes Robert Schumann’s very rare late period setting of the Requiem text. It is not a work I know at all, but the inevitable “net search” reveals that it clearly has its champions. Schumann fans and others curious about his quirky, dynamic music might well want to give it a listen, especially performed live.

While the classical music world’s focus on the music of past centuries is often seen as conservative and unadventuresome, deeper investigation into neglected areas of musical history has resulted in the rediscovery and rehabilitation of female composers of past centuries. In honour of the centenary of International Women’s Day on March 8, St. Catharine’s “Primavera Concerts” are presenting an all day series of three separate concerts on March 5. Along with music by composers from earlier times – Hildegard von Bingen and the amazing Barbara Strozzi – the excellent Oriana Women’s Choir will perform works by Canadian choral heroes Ruth Watson Henderson and Eleanor Daley. These two composers constitute a genuine Canadian tradition of their own, and their works have anchored many a concert in this part of the world (including the Voices concert mentioned above).

15_karen_burkeI had the pleasure to participate in a choral event in December at which the Toronto Mass Choir performed. Many choirs make pleasant sounding music in a pleasant manner. The Toronto Mass Choir is the kind of group that arrests your attention with their exuberance and rhythmic drive. Choirs steeped in European traditions often stumble when executing gospel music. Two common elements of gospel performance are memorization and physical movement, the precise opposite of what most choirs are accustomed to. Freeing one’s hands of the necessity to hold a music folder allows singers to sway and clap on the off–beat. These elements are really not just options with gospel – they’re often as necessary to its performance tradition as agile coloratura is to Handel and Mozart.

Choirs can often be bribed to memorize music with extra goodies at break time, but movement while singing remains difficult for many groups – a basic shift in weight from one foot to the other can be enough to cause the pitch to drop and the tempo to drag. This kind of movement has to be built into the practice of the music from the beginning. While it is difficult, the advantage for choral singers is plain to see – a choir that programs a choral concert will likely be in better shape that season than ever before. Choirs interested in innovative marketing strategies might well consider the appeal of “choral–cize” concerts to a fitness–minded audience eager to work up a sweat. But I digress.

For choral musicians interested in getting their gospel chops in shape, Toronto Mass Choir and its dynamic director, Karen Burke, are hosting Power Up 2011, an annual gospel music workshop on the weekend of March 4-6. The weekend includes workshops in vocal improvisation and songwriting, and culminates in a mass choir performance on the Sunday evening of the weekend. More information can be found at the Choir’s website www.tmc.ca.

Lastly, on April 2, the Toronto Chamber Choir devotes an evening to the works of Josquin Des Prez (c. 1450 approx - 1521). Josquin was quite possibly the world’s first genuine choral superstar. In a time in which music was not disseminated easily, his pan–national popularity and influence is well documented in sources from the early Renaissance. Now even more remote to our ears than Monteverdi, Byrd or Palestrina, his music denotes mystery, lost customs and sounds and beliefs. But well performed, it is hardly austere – he wrote rowdy and rhythmic popular songs as well as settings of religious texts.

Full disclosure prompts me to acknowledge that I have a small part to play in this concert. Likely, the proper thing for me to do was to not have written about it in the first place. But live performances of Josquin’s music are rare enough in this part of the world that I really have no choice but to risk my journalist’s credibility by highlighting it for The WholeNote readers. In the battle between journalistic ethics and Josquin, Josquin’s got to win pretty much every time. ν

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

Locations might be taken as a theme that loosely ties this month’s events together, in an oblique sort of way. To start with, Toronto is the lucky location of several appearances by visiting artists I’d like to tell you about.

12_barbara_furtuna_photo_3On March 12, The King’s Singers appear at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. This six-voice male ensemble from England hardly needs an introduction; their unique blend of impeccable intonation, flawless articulation, incisive timing and British humour have ensured their fame around the world for over 40 years. I myself fondly remember a performance of theirs at U of T Faculty of Music in November 1973 – I unearthed the program (this is true), which reveals that they did Renaissance motets by Victoria, Jacob Handl and Byrd, Italian madrigals and French chansons from the 16th and 17th centuries, 20th century works and some lighter fare too. Of course, no one in that early group still remains in the present incarnation some 37 years later; but it’s sure that the versatility and aplomb which have always characterized their performances have remained constant through all the changes in personnel. At Koerner Hall their artistry and expertise in early music will be evident in works by Bennet, Tomkins, Palestrina and Striggio; more contemporary works are on the programme as well.

A concert not strictly of early music but of a world premiere inspired by the music of 12th century musician and mystic Hildegard von Bingen takes place at St. Anne’s Church on March 23. It brings to Toronto an extraordinary women’s vocal trio from Norway, Trio Mediæval, who, with The Toronto Consort, will perform James Rolfe’s new commissioned work Breathe. This presentation of Soundstreams offers an added bonus on March 21: a free “Salon” at the Gardiner Museum, at which you can hear Trio Mediæval perform excerpts and talk about Rolfe’s composition.

The pure and expressive voice of Daniel Taylor, one of the world’s most sought-after countertenors, will grace the Tafelmusik stage in performances from March 24 to 27 (Trinity-St. Paul’s Church) and again on March 29 (Toronto Centre for the Arts). His is an amazingly busy life – his website tells us “Professor of Voice at the Conservatoire de musique in Montreal and at the University of Ottawa, Adjunct Professor at McGill, visiting scholar at the University of Victoria, Artist-in-Residence at the Banff Centre, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Theatre of Early Music, which performs over 30 concerts every year all over the world” – and this description doesn’t even mention his many appearances as recording artist and performer in opera, oratorio and concerts. In Toronto he’ll be singing Bach (the ravishing solo Cantata 170 Vergnügte RuhContented Rest) as well as virtuosic Italian arias. Definitely a desirable place to be on one of those dates!

Each season, The Toronto Consort introduces a guest ensemble to its audiences. But this April, it brings two: the richly-flavoured Montreal-based Constantinople, an instrumental ensemble inspired by musical traditions of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and Barbara Furtuna, a remarkable male vocal quartet from Corsica that specializes in the centuries-old traditions of polyphonic Coriscan singing. To listen to Constantinople is to travel back to ancient places and times when Eastern and Western cultures blended and influenced each other’s arts and philosophy; to listen to Barbara Furtuna (the name means “cruel fate”) is to hear stories of the long, troubled and impassioned history of their island. Together, they’ll take the audience on a voyage from the heart of the Mediterranean where lies the island of Corsica, to ancient Persia and medieval Europe. “Canti di a terra” is presented on April 1 and 2 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church.

Other locations – Sweden, Leipzig, restoration London, coffeehouses, ladies’ boudoirs – are also within reach, and once again there’s too much to do justice to:

Meeting friends for coffee is always an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. You can do this in the 18th century European way on March 4, as Baroque Music Beside the Grange invites you to Heliconian Hall for “The Coffeehouse Collective,” music by Telemann, Bach and others, played in an informal but attentive atmosphere with an array of instrumental colours, and served with coffee and cider. An hour-long version of this concert will be presented on March 6 in the lovely acoustic of Church of the Holy Trinity, the latest in Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series.

As lutenist/guitarist John Edwards explains, pre-Revolution France was an era “where men like the encyclopaedist Diderot, liberal thinkers like Rousseau and even a pre-imperial Napoleon would gather, literally, at the foot of the bed of great ladies. After they finished describing their hard work or how the plotting of the Revolution was progressing, chamber music would have offered a perfect diversion.” Music that might well be heard then is performed on March 12 by The Musicians In Ordinary in a concert called “Rococo!” with soprano Hallie Fishel, baroque guitarist John Edwards and guest violinist Christopher Verrette.

Also on March 12, you can hear a touch of Sweden at Victoria College Chapel, in Scaramella’s “Fiddle Me This,” as three bowed instruments are showcased – the Swedish nyckelharpa, the hurdy gurdy and the viola da gamba. There’ll be a mix of folk-inspired music and music coming from the high art tradition, especially pieces associated with the 17 th century Swedish Queen Kristina. Of special interest: a newly-composed piece for these three featured instruments, by hurdy gurdy and percussion player Ben Grossman.

Church of Our Lady Immaculate in Guelph is the location of Tactus Vocal Ensemble’s concert “Il Mio Sole” on March 12. With organist Christian Teeuwsen, this eight-voice ensemble will perform works by Allegri, Marenzio, Monteverdi, Palestrina and Sanders.

In Kitchener on March 13, Nota Bene Period Orchestra takes you back to “Bach’s Leipzig,” presenting music by Bach and his contemporaries including Telemann, Kuhnau and Rosenmüller. The trip is further enhanced with a slide show of Leipzig’s historic beauty and maybe even a little strudel.

With music ranging from restoration London to 21st century Toronto, Music at Metropolitan presents “Shakespeare in the City” on March 26 – a cross-cultural jam session on the lyrics of Shakespeare featuring singers, dancers and instrumentalists including composer/saxophonist Daniel Rubinoff and composer/theorbist (and The WholeNote’s choral columnist) Benjamin Stein.

On March 27, there’s a unique opportunity to celebrate the Age of the Enlightenment and its legacy with music, talks and readings of inspiring historical texts. Amnesty International and the Windermere String Quartet present “The Age of Enlightenment and Human Rights.” String quartets by Mozart and Beethoven will be performed on period instruments, and the location is First Unitarian Congregation.

THIS JUST IN: In the wake of the exciting news reported last month, of Aisslinn Nosky’s appointment as concertmaster of the prestigious Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, a solo violin recital arises. Nosky will perform three works: Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major (a very famous and joyful work); Ysaÿe’s second solo sonata ”Obsession” (a work “obsessed” with both the above Partita and the Dies Irae); and the world premiere of Stand Still, a new commissioned work by Michael Oesterle. Presented by I Furiosi, “The Good, The Baroque and The Ugly” takes place on April 2 at Church of St. Mary Magdalene. A recital “not for the faint of heart,” Nosky says, and this is certain; but I think it must also be a celebration of hope and joy in the prospect of a bright future.

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.

Back to top