In recent columns we have been following the progress of a few startup community ensembles in this part of the world. In particular, we have been reporting on the progress of a few beginners groups. Without exception, the ones we have visited are flourishing, and at least two new such groups are in the planning stages. But what of the startups we reported on a few years ago? We arbitrarily chose three years as a reasonable time for a new group to either coalesce or cease operations. The Milton Concert Band and the Silverthorn Symphonic Winds fell into that category.

The brainchild of two members of the Etobicoke band who had moved to Milton, The Milton Concert Band is prospering with an experienced permanent conductor, a regular rehearsal home and an impressive performance schedule for a band that was just an idea in the minds of two members three years previously. The thorough step by step process followed by Cheryl Ciccarelli and Angela Rozario in their planning could well act as a textbook model for anyone contemplating the organization of a new musical ensemble in their community.

23_resendesmiltonOnce settled into Milton, a rapidly growing town with an active arts community, they decided to put a call out to see if there were any other amateur musicians in the area interested in performing together. First they did their research. They talked to people with other bands and looked at the Constitutions and By-Laws of several other groups. They lined up a potential conductor in the person of Joseph M. Resendes, an experienced instrumentalist, conductor and Ph.D. candidate in music at York University. Finally they contacted the Mayor, local councillors and anyone else they could think of to enlist their help and support. These included local music teachers, Arts Milton, and other community groups. When they felt that they were ready, they contacted the local paper and managed to get an article printed. Soon they had 20 musicians willing to join and they were scrambling for a place to rehearse.

Their first rehearsal took place in February 2007, squeezed into a small meeting room at a local hockey arena. By June 2007 four performances had been lined up. Fittingly, the first performance was for Milton’s 150th Anniversary Street Party. This was quickly followed by performances at the local hospital’s Strawberry Fair and a meeting of Arts Milton. By July 2007, they had hosted their first free concert in the park before taking a break for the summer. September 2007 marked the start of the band’s first full season. Interest in the band continued to grow and they moved to a new permanent home at the Lion’s Club Hall in Milton Memorial Arena, with plenty of space to accommodate more musicians. It was a season of firsts.

Since then the group has grown to 45 members and now hosts 8 to 10 public performances a year. Under the tutelage of Music Director Resendes, in the short span of three years the band has grown artistically and is now a vital arts organization in the community. Equally importantly, the members have become a family who support each other and have the confidence to tackle new musical challenges. They are very excited about the possibility of making use of the new Milton Art Centre next season and the opportunities that may provide.

In January of this year the band played the first of a proposed series of concerts for Deaf/Blind Ontario at the Bob Rumble Centre in Milton. This innovative performance was designed to allow people with varying degrees of hearing and/or vision loss to experience music in an “up close and personal” setting. The centre’s clients will hold balloons to amplify the vibrations of the instruments and will be invited to interpret the experience through an art project. Both the band and the clients are very excited about this opportunity. We look forward to hearing more about this initiative.

24_silverthorn_1443The Silverthorn Symphonic Winds (SSW) was established in September 2006 by a group of local musicians who wanted an opportunity to perform more challenging music. Composed of advanced amateurs and semi-professional musicians, the group is conducted by Andrew Chung, a graduate of the University of Toronto as well as universities in Hong Kong and Freiburg Germany. Andrew also serves as Music Director of The Brass Conspiracy and the Chinese Canadian Choir of Toronto.

Thanks to a three year grant from The Ontario Trillium Foundation, the SSW have embarked on an Artist in Residence program and are expanding their activities in York Region. The Artist in Residence for the 2010/2011 season will be clarinetist Peter Stoll, a member of the Talisker Players, principal clarinet of the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra and a member of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. As artist in residence he will be the featured soloist and host at two concerts in the Richmond Hill Centre. In addition to their concerts, the SSW will feature free public master classes for both adult and high school aged clarinetists. Throughout the season Stoll will assist in six SSW rehearsals where he will coach the woodwinds and offer advice to the ensemble as a whole.

IN RECENT YEARS I have developed an interest in how musicians that I meet settled on their chosen instruments. When I meet a musician, amateur or professional, for the first time, I ask “did you choose the tuba (or whatever instrument they play) or did the tuba choose you?” Such answers as “it was all that was left when I started music in grade nine” or “the teacher gave it to me as the best for me” are common. However, among tuba players, a more common answer is “I always wanted to play tuba” or “we were made for each other.”

I have had the pleasure of following the development of three young tuba players who fall into that “made for each other” category. Some years ago, as a grade ten student, Courtney Lambert arrived at the Newmarket band with the determination to be a professional tubist. Now, some years later, with a masters degree in music, she is busy performing professionally and teaching. At the other end of the time spectrum, Caitlin Jodoin was determined to play tuba in grade eight. Now in grade eleven and headed for France for a stint as an exchange student, she’s not taking her tuba with her. She’s renting one while there. In the centre of that triumvirate I first met Eric Probst as a grade eleven student. He is now in his final year in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto and has won the
U of T Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition. He will be performing the Gregson Tuba Concerto with the U of T Wind Symphony on February 11 at 7:30pm in the MacMillan Theatre. I certainly intend to be in the audience.

I think it is no accident that all three of these young musicians honed their skills under the tutelage of Anita McAllister and the Hannaford Youth Band organization.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: Fiddler Crabs: Grumpy string players. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions

And this just in: It has become common practice for community bands to program a concert around a particular theme. Now, The City of Brampton Concert Band goes one better. Their concluding concert for this season is titled “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: A Tribute to the Music of the West.” The program will highlight familiar music from the movies such as “The Magnificent Seven” and “Hang ‘em High,”compositions that reflect on the majestic and varied natural beauty of the region including “The Yellowstone Suite,” and other music inspired by native lullabies, dances and culture. The innovative twist is a throughline narrative, with local actor Scott Lale telling tales of the many personalities that gave the wild west its iconic imagery, and with local dancers as well as performers on such instruments as banjo, guitar and harmonica woven in. It all happens at 8pm on Saturday February 26, 2011 at the Rose Theatre in Brampton.

Please write to us: bandstand@thewholenote.com.

Sometimes I wonder which musicians love more, to play or to argue about music. It’s probably the former – it can be a hard way to make a living, so you’d blasted well better love it. But if you get ten musicians in a room, you’ll get least eleven opinions about the right way to play/sing/compose a Scarlatti sonata/Fado song/12 bar blues/raga/tuba concerto.

21_dorothee_mields_photo_credit_ujesko_Among composers, J.S. Bach is the uncontested favourite for many musicians. But if we generally agree on Bach, the ideal way to play his music is anything but uncontested. This topic is probably more hotly debated among musicians than that of sports teams, movies or microbrewed beer. Well, perhaps beer is discussed more, but as this is a music column, I will leave that subject alone, and refrain from throwing down the gauntlet for Guinness, in consideration for the feelings of those who may prefer other, inferior brands.

Small armies of musicians and writers have done battle throughout the twentieth century regarding Bach orchestra and choir size, tuning, phrasing, trills, pitch level, instrumentation, phrasing and for all I know, whether or not Bach tapped his foot while playing. The lines have often been most contentiously drawn between those who play modern instruments, and proponents of “historically informed performance” (often shortened to the seriously groovy acroynym HIP) who favour instruments designed like those used in Bach’s time, and musical interpretations that are to some degree based on research into the musical and rhetorical practices of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Most would agree that there has been a détente of late – early music players have become a good deal less dogmatic in recent years, and modern instrument players have allowed themselves to find inspiration in some of the interpretive choices that have emerged from the researches and experimentation of early music players.

We have a chance to compare examples of these two different approaches in the coming weeks. Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir are performing the Bach’s Mass in B Minor from 9-13 January, and Mendelssohn Singers (a pared down version of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) perform the St. John Passion on March 3.

The St. John Passion is a harrowing work, as intense as an Italian opera, filled with heroes, villains and a grim dénoument. While smaller ensemble Bach allows the interweaving of the various lines of music to be heard with greater clarity, a larger ensemble can convey a sense of grandeur, a sonic majesty that can overwhelm the listener.

Bach himself never actually heard his Mass in B Minor performed in full during his lifetime, which complicates the question of interpretation, as music researchers sometimes refer to documented information about an original premiere for clues to historically informed performance. Musicians have had to look instead at the musical resources with which Bach executed his weekly church cantatas, and have drawn conclusions in part from this information. Modern custom has tended to settle on a chamber choir and small orchestra, and it is in this manner that Tafelmusik will be performing the Mass.

But the debate continues. Large-scale Bach practitioners on modern instruments and smaller ensembles of Baroque players had learned to coexist with the wary respect of two neighbouring elephant herds. But then two musicologist/performers, Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott, leapt cheetah-like across the savannah, stampeding both herds with meticulously researched books and essays (in 1981 and 2000, respectively) suggesting that the ideal ensemble for Bach cantatas (and by extension, the Mass in B Minor) was one singer on each vocal part. Using this paradigm, the ideal force for the Mass would be 8-12 voices at the absolute most, and often no more than four or six voices at any given time.

Many musicians have picked up on this idea, and it may be that Bach oratorio and cantata performances in the next century will bear little or no resemblance to the choral roar-outs of the past. But will we ever really dare to attempt to play Bach’s music as he was compelled to do? Even the proponents of one-to-a-part Bach often use adult female sopranos and altos, rather than the schoolboy singers Bach had at his disposal, and perhaps this is for the best. In his excellent Inside Early Music, which contains a series of illuminating interviews with early music performers, Bernard Sherman writes, “…when we imagine shivering Thomasschule students, at seven-thirty on a winter morning, performing a virtuoso chorus written three days earlier, we might ask if we could tolerate truly historical Bach.”

Well – like many musicians, mention Bach and I become somewhat distracted. Switching gears with some effort (and the help of a Guinness), I will finish by flagging some other concerts coming up during the next few weeks.

Albert Greer is a veteran Canadian conductor and singer who has dedicated his career to fostering excellent music making in this region. He has conducted Orillia’s Cellar Singers since 1977, and is planning to retire in 2012. The Cellar Singers perform Faure’s Requiem and a new work by popular Canadian composer Nancy Telfer on March 5.

22_john_burge2On February 12 the Grand Philharmonic Choir sings Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and premieres Canadian composer John Burge’s Declaration, the lyrics of which are based on the text of the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights (which was drafted by Canadian law professor John Humphrey in 1948).

On February 26 the Tallis Choir presents an all French program of works by Martin, Poulenc and Duruflé. On the same night the Georgetown Bach Chorale performs works by Pärt and Bruckner.

On March 5 the Oakville Ensemble performs an all-English program of music by Byrd, Tallis, and Weelkes. And on the same night the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra and Toronto Choral Society combine forces to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Bruckner’s Te Deum.

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

Imagine how cohesive an orchestra that has had one stellar principal conductor for a couple of decades must become. Compare that in your mind to one that has been without a principal conductor for the same amount of time. You can speculate that the orchestras in question would evolve in very different ways with very different strengths and weaknesses.

Now, imagine if you can an orchestra that as a matter of fundamental policy has had no principal conductor for almost eighty years ... but can call regularly on Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustavo Dudamel, Andris Nelsons, Franz-Welser-Möst, Georges Prêtre, Christian Thielemann, Mariss Jansons, Esa-Pekka Salonen...  You can imagine that such an orchestra might evolve into something remarkable. As indeed it has, and they’re coming to town.

18_semyon_bychkov_1_credit_sheila_rockThe Toronto stop of the Vienna Philharmonic, March 6, is their only Canadian stop, and the last of an eight-concert, nine-day North American tour under the baton of Semeon Bychkov. The orchestra will rotate three different programs over the course of the nine days – one all Mahler, one Schumann and Brahms, and the third (the one we will hear) Schubert, Wagner and Bartók (see listings for details).

Bychkov’s most important Great Lake so far has been Erie, not Ontario. “My first five American years were in New York City” he says, “and I learned pretty quickly that it is not typical America.” The five years he spent after that in Michigan as music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony would doubtless have strengthened that impresssion. Around that time, he stumbled into a one-time engagement with the Buffalo Philharmonic – Il trovatore at the ArtPark Festival in Lewiston. It led to a ten year relationship. “My career in America was entirely fulfilling,” he says on his website. “I always look at that time as my second birth.”

For those who lost track of Bychkov after he left the Buffalo Philharmonic in the mid-nineties: he returned to Europe in 1989 to become music director of the Orchestre de Paris. From Paris he went to WDR Symphony Cologne, a post he still holds. Again from his website: “After ten years this must mean that we are not bored with each other, and that we all feel we are progressing and fulfilled in what we are doing. Anything other than that is a horrible life for a musician.”

Around the same time as the appointment with “very forward-looking” Cologne he was also appointed chief conductor of the very traditional Dresden Semperoper, “the house of Wagner and Strauss. It was fantastic for me [having both appointments] as if I was able to live in the 19th century and the end of the 20th as well.”

His equal delight in both the operatic and orchestral bodes well for the tour. Certainly the Vienna Philharmonic is no stranger to doing similar double duty; they are the pit band (if you pardon the expression) for the Vienna State Opera – a tradition going back further even than the idea that a great orchestra does not need a principal conductor. With “guests” like theirs on ready call, it’s hard to disagree.

One sometimes observes that orchestras on the road play it safe, going for a “trademark” sound so as not to disappoint the buyers of their records. With repertoire on tour that Bychkov is exploring for upcoming projects he’s passionate about, that ain’t going to happen.

THERE’S A HUGE ORCHESTRAL BUZZ right through the concert listings this month. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Beyond the GTA listings (page 43 on) where the Kingston, Hamilton, Huronia, Georgian Bay, Guelph, and Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestras account for almost a concert a day between them. An overall search for orchestral music in our online listings would doubtless yield a harvest several times that many.

20_edwin_outwater_2_-_sean_puckett_credit_-_6Particularly interesting to observe so far this season is the cracking pace being maintained by the Kitcher-Waterloo Symphony under Edwin Outwater’s aegis. Now in his fourth season with the KWS, Santa Monica born Outwater seems to stirring up a mix of music sure to appeal to every taste – from rock-solid mainstage productions of masterworks to family and child-centred fare with tantalizing titles like “Dan Deacon’s Electronic Bus” and “Symphony in Space.” From reading about him, Outwater is passionate about the educational aspect of his job, and he has the track record to prove it. As former music director of the San Francisco Symphony, he championed programs for school, community performances and outreach.

Oddly enough, the most eclectic programming of all for the KWS in the next little while is happening not in the K-W area but of all places, at Toronto’s Sony Centre. And what a contrast!

March 1-6 the orchestra takes on the responsibility of playing for the Mariinsky (aka Kirov) Ballet performances of Swan Lake. (Watch out for that Black Swan, though, Edwin. From what I saw in the trailer for the movie, she’s likely to rip your face off if she doesn’t like your tempi!)

And then April 9 (two shows only) they are back to provide live orchestral backing for a cartoon-fest titled “Warner Brothers present Bugs Bunny at the Symphony,” featuring the original Looney Tunes cartoons set to Carl Stalling’s original scores. Stalling is a ferociously interesting miniaturist – a bit like an orchestral Satie on speed. You can imagine why the project might have caught Outwater’s interested eye.

David Perlman is deputizing for Allan Pulker, the usual patroller of this beat.

Why is it that the winter months attract new music festivals? Is it because Canadian artistic directors feel that we contemporary music lovers are a highly dedicated lot, determined to weather the cold, the snow or any storm to experience the latest premiere or discover that new composer? Or is it simply now a matter of tradition? One of our hallmarks – the Winnipeg New Music Festival – celebrates 20 years of new music making this season. Whatever the case, we must all be attending these festivals with enough verve and volume that our country’s music institutions are encouraged to keep offering us more. For, just as Winnipeg, Halifax’s Open Water Festival and the U of T New Music Festival are all wrapping up in the first days of February, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra is gearing up for the sophomore edition of its What Next? Festival.

p16_17_parmela_attariwala_and_shawn_mativetskyIn 2011, What Next? expands upon its successful inaugural celebration by placing an emphasis on the multidisciplinary. From February 3 to 6, HPO-invited creators will cross-pollinate, taking to various locations throughout the city to present intriguing collaborations across different genres. Among them are numerous champions of Canadian composers’ music, such as violinist Parmela Attariwala and tablaplayer Shawn Mativetsky, who perform together as the Attar Project, and who often also incorporate South Asian influenced dance. Pianist Eve Egoyan and artist David Rokeby will present their mesmerizing Surface Tension project for disklavier and interactive video at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, where the McMaster Cybernetic Laptop Orchestra and Percussion Ensemble (led by composer DavidOgborn) will also unleash cutting edge sounds. In addition to these collaboration concerts and their related panel discussions, What Next? will also feature three chamber music concerts by HPO musicians. Friday’s “Rain Coming” will celebrate Canadian women composers Abigail Richardson and Nicole Lizée; Saturday’s “Buzz and Hum” will feature chamber music for brass by Jacques Hétu, Jeffrey Ryan, Scott Good and Michael Horwood; and Sunday’s “Kiss On Wood” showcases string music from Kotoka Suzuki, Toru Takemitsu and others inspired by nature, pop and cartoons. For complete details on the 2011 What Next? Festival visit www.whatnextfestival.com.

If you can’t make it to Hamilton for What Next? then there’s a nice duo of concerts in Kitchener-Waterloo that you may want to catch. On February 9, mezzo-soprano Ramona Carmelly will resume the role of famous Canadian painter Emily Carr for a reduced remount of Jana Skarecky’s Emily, the Way You Are at Conrad Grebel University. This one-woman opera, based on a libretto by poet Di Brandt, was premiered by Carmelly and the Talisker Players at the McMichael Gallery in 2008, as part of the New Music in New Places series. An excerpt of this performance, along with programme notes, can be found in Skarecky’s profile as part of the Canadian Music Centre’s Influence of Many Musics online project at http://musiccentre.ca/influences/. Then, on February 12 at Centre in the Square, the Grand Philharmonic Choir, the KW Symphony and violist Rivka Golani, all under the baton of conductor Mark Vuorinen, will premiere Kingston-based John Burge’s latest large-scale work. Entitled Declaration, the score takes its inspiration from the text of the United National Declaration of Human Rights, which was drafted by a Canadian – John Humphreys – during his tenure as the UN’s first Director of the Human Rights Division, and was globally adopted over 60 years ago.

If Hamilton and KW are too far away for you, especially in this winter weather, then there’s a trio of Toronto concerts to consider. First is Trio Voce’s February 17 appearance in the Music Toronto series. Alongside works by Shostakovich and Beethoven, this accomplished, all-female and Canadian piano trio will give the Toronto premiere of American composer Jonathan Berger’s Memory Slips. A Professor of Music at Stanford University, Berger is also an active researcher in a wide range of fields relating to music, science and technology. He’ll be present for this concert at the Jane Mallett Theatre to explain, amongst the music making, his current research and personal experiences with music, memory and aging. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit the St. Lawrence Centre box office at www.stlc.com.

On February 24 Soundstreams invites Les Percussions de Strasbourg to Koerner Hall as part of the ensemble’s 50th anniversary tour. Co-founded in 1962, this sextet is the first known Western percussion group. Their exceptional longevity, artistry and commitment to new music have inspired the creation of hundreds of works. Their anniversary program cradles a world premiere from Canadian composer Andrew Staniland, who has a strong command of percussion writing, between contemporary classics by Xenakis (his iconic Persephassa) and John Cage (Credo in US.) For more details and to purchase tickets visit www.soundstreams.ca.

p16_17_vincent_ho_portrait_photo_by_hans_arnoldThe Array Ensemble will take to the Music Gallery on February 27 to perform a collection of Canadian works drawn from their extensive score archive. This program of pieces from Martin Arnold, Scott Godin, Michael Oesterle and Rodney Sharman will be complemented by a newer work for the ensemble from past Array Artistic Director Linda Catlin Smith, which was premiered last season as part of the Contemporary Classics concert. Array has been very diligent in cataloguing their extensive score library, which includes over 250 commissioned works. Thankfully, they’ve made this catalogue publicly available online at www.arraymusic.com. It’s a useful tool for new music geeks like me. More information about the upcoming concert and how to buy tickets is also available at the Array website.

As I mentioned, February is bookended by yet another new music festival. This time it’s the TSO’s seventh New Creations, which will focus on cross-border exchanges, with music by guest American composers John Adams and Jennifer Higdon. Canada is represented here not only by TSO Composer Advisor Gary Kulesha, who will have his Torque performed on March 5, but also by Winnipeg-based Vincent Ho, in the form of his percussion concerto, The Shaman, which was premiered by remarkable Dame Evelyn Glennie during this year’s Winnipeg New Music Festival and will be repeated here on March 2. The work’s title is inspired by Ho’s impression of Glennie as a musical shaman, bridging human and spiritual worlds with her spellbinding performances. Adams is well represented with his now classic Short Ride in a Fast Machine and other works, and also with a TSO co-commission, City Noir. However, I’m particularly looking forward to the festival finale concert on March 10 with guest artists eighth blackbird. This dynamic ensemble will join the orchestra in a freshly commissioned chamber concerto from Higdon, which will sit alongside the world premiere of our own R. Murray Schafer’s latest symphonic work, simply titled Symphony No. 1. For more info about the 2011 New Creations Festival and to buy tickets visit www.tso.ca.

From the multidisciplinary to the simply symphonic, new music never ceases to seduce us. So be sure to get in with the new via our concert listings here and online at www.thewholenote.com/listings.

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

Dominating the Toronto opera scene in February are two new productions by the Canadian Opera Company. On January 29 the company unveils its new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Incredibly, for such an audience favourite, it has had no mainstage production since 1993, although the COC Ensemble Studio did stage its own production at the MacMillan Theatre in 2006. Then on February 5 the company presents its first-ever staging of John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China. This is the first American work the COC has produced since the 1953 Wright and Forrest operetta Kismet in 1987. Some would say it’s about time we caught up with the operatic achievements of our neighbour to the south.

p14_15the_queen_of_the_night_sketch_-_photo_credit_myung_hee_choToronto has not been starved for Magic Flutes, it must be said, largely because of the rise of Opera Atelier. In 1991 OA unveiled its first production of the work followed by revivals in 2001 and 2006. The sets by Gerard Gauci, costumes by Dora Rust-D’Eye and direction of Marshall Pynkoski captured the sense of innocence and fun that make the work so appealing. In creating a new production the COC will find it is competing with one that Toronto audiences already cherish.

Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University, will helm the COC’s new staging. She is perhaps best known for having directed the 2009 Broadway revival of Hair, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Those fearful that she will transpose Mozart’s opera to New York’s youth culture in the 1960s need only glance through the set and costume designs by Myung Hee Cho on display on the COC website to assuage their anxiety. The designs reflect the opera’s pseudo-Asian setting and emphasize masks – a move quite suitable for a story where people are not quite what they seem.

With a run of twelve performances, the COC will use alternates in the principal roles. The opening night cast features Michael Schade as Tamino, Isabel Bayrakdarian as Pamina, Rodion Pogossov as Papageno, Mikhail Petrenko as Sarastro and Aline Kutan as the Queen of the Night. Schade and Bayrakdarian sing on January 29 and February 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 16 and 18. Frédéric Antoun and Simone Osborne sing the parts on February 10, 20, 23 and 25. If Antoun’s name seems familiar, it may be because audiences remember the Québécois tenor as the charismatic Belmonte in Opera Atelier’s Abduction from the Seraglio in 2008. At a special performance on February 17, members of the COC Ensemble Studio take over as soloists with all tickets at $20 to $55. At all performances Johannes Debus conducts the full COC Orchestra and Chorus. For more information visit www.coc.ca.

Alternating with The Magic Flute is John Adams’ Nixon in China on February 5, 9, 11, 13, 19, 22, 24 and 26. The COC will be presenting the acclaimed production that premiered at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2004, the first major U.S. production after the work’s world premiere at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was this production of the opera that received its Canadian premiere on March 13, 2010, as part of the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad.

The opera, with a libretto by poet Alice Goodman in rhyming couplets based on news accounts and memoirs of the people involved, follows Richard Nixon’s historic five-day visit to the People’s Republic of China from February 21 to 28 in 1972. This was the first-ever visit by a sitting U.S. president to China and the first formal contact between the two countries in over twenty years. The purpose of the ardently anti-communist Nixon was a move to establish ties to counter what was deemed the threat of the Soviet Union. The opera intertwines grand public spectacle with moments of quiet reflection and, in the tradition of grand opera, even includes a ballet.

Baritone Robert Orth will sing Richard Nixon with lyric soprano Maria Kanyova as Pat Nixon, tenor Adrian Thompson as Mao Tse-Tung, coloratura soprano Marisol Montalvo as Madame Mao, bass Thomas Hammons as Henry Kissinger and baritone Chen-Ye Yuan as Chou En-lai. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts and James Robinson, who directed the 2004 production, will direct.

Adams has written, “Both Nixon and Mao were adept manipulators of public opinion, and the second scene of Act I, the famous meeting between Mao and Nixon, brings these two complex figures together face to face in a dialogue that oscillates between philosophical sparring and political one-upsmanship. Of particular meaning to me were the roles of the two principal women, Pat and Chiang Ch’ing. Both wives of politicians, they represented the ying and the yang of the two alternatives to living with someone immersed in power and political manipulation.” Those unfamiliar with Adams‘ music need only seek out the orchestra piece he extracted from the opera, “The Chairman Dances,” to recognize the appeal of Adams’ music in its use of chugging rhythms, soaring melodies and allusions to popular music, in this case the foxtrot. At long last, COC audiences will see that American opera has evolved quite a way from confections like Kismet.

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

The early music of 2011 sometimes includes the new. Consider, for example, the inaugural concerts of newly-formed Musathena, a group of five accomplished women (soprano, baroque violins, baroque cello, harpsichord) who, when asked to perform as part of Primavera Concerts’ celebration of the International Women’s Day Centenary, conceived a program of beautiful but rarely heard baroque music by women composers. But as one thing led to another, a new idea crept in: to commission a musical setting of an ode by Renaissance English poet Mary Sidney (1561-1621). As a result, a new work by Canadian composer Elizabeth Raum has emerged and will be premiered at Musathena’s first concerts, alongside music by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Barbara Strozzi and other women of the baroque.

p12_13musathenaAnd take, as another example, Scaramella’s Birds Bewigged, an avian-themed program of music and poetry (performed by soprano voice, recorders and traverso, violas da gamba, harpsichord and narrator) featuring not only works by Scarlatti, Rameau, Couperin and others from the baroque era, but also contemporary Canadian music. Harry Somers’ 12 Miniatures will be heard, a work centred on twelve Japanese haiku and composed in 1964, for the above instrumentation; and Emily Doolittle’s Music for Magpies, a fascinating piece written in 2003, will reveal to the audience the mischievous magpie’s own rendition of five attractive birdsongs, stolen from other birds, sung in its voice of solo bass viol with quarter-tone frets.

Then there is the Aradia Ensemble, a group normally concerned with baroque performance (though never afraid to take a new idea and run with it – I remember with enthusiasm last season’s Thunderbird – A First Nations/ Baroque Collaboration). Their whole upcoming program is devoted to new music for baroque instruments “where baroque meets the 21st century,” as ten very-much-alive composers (Rose Bolton, Ron Royer, Caitlin Smith and others) have been invited to write a five-minute work each for the ensemble. The programme title Baroque Idol! suggests the playful spirit of this concert (“à la American Idol”); but as artistic director Kevin Mallon says, the aim is to produce new music for baroque ensemble, using the tonal possibilities of old instruments.

Treatises could easily be written – probably have been written – on the various aspects of combining the new with the old in music. Performers from each of these groups have had some interesting reflections on the subject, a tiny bit of which I’ll pass on to you here:

From Sheila Smyth of Musathena: “It’s interesting that there seems to be an overlap of people who do both early music and new music. Perhaps it’s the sense of exploration and discovery in both new and old frontiers that is compelling… New music written for early instruments tends to make great use of the colours and wide range of articulation detail available on these instruments. We’ll approach the new piece in the same way as we would all vocal-instrumental music – the music serves the text, and it’s our job to bring the piece to life in a way which makes the poetry and its musical setting each seem indispensible to the other.”

From Scaramella’s artistic director Joëlle Morton: “As a performer who these days mainly plays ‘traditional early music,’ I really enjoy taking on the challenge of modern compositions. Contemporary composers often write very demanding parts– through rhythmic complexity, unusual tonal palettes and calling for special effects and techniques. In order to ‘understand’ this music, let alone perform it well and convincingly, I find I need to spend a lot of time, thinking as well as working at the technical demands. The intense involvement can be extremely satisfying. I have found that the process of learning a modern work can also have a benefit on the traditional repertoire on the programme – once my soul is engaged in such an intense process, I find that I tend to also listen and experience the older music deeply, as well.”

From Aradia’s Kevin Mallon: “When we play baroque music, it doesn’t occur to me that it’s old music; I just think we’re playing music – and then I think ‘Oh yeah, but it’s on old instruments.’ So we do think of ourselves as a contemporary ensemble; and we want to be really based in the time of today.”

Scaramella’s Birds Bewigged takes place in Toronto on February 5. Alas! – a terrible choice awaits you: Aradia Ensemble’s Baroque Idol! also takes place on February 5 in Toronto. Musathena’s Baroque Music by Women Composers will be presented on March 5 in St. Catharines and on March 6 in Waterloo. For full details, please consult WholeNote’s concert listings.

As for all the other early music performances this month, there’s plenty of variety to tempt a wide spectrum of tastes. Here, in brief, are a few of this month’s offerings:

Bach is gloriously represented, with two of his major choral works: The B Minor Mass is given five performances by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, February 9 to 13. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents the St. John Passion on March 3 in Koerner Hall.

Two solo recitals for gentle instruments can be heard. The Musicians In Ordinary presents Blame Not My Lute, music for the solo lute from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, performed by MIO’s John Edwards on February 5. On February 13, the Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series features harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill performing music by Byrd, Bach, Scarlatti and others.

Some of Beethoven’s most sparkling music was written during his early years in Vienna, the years before his deafness finally took hold. Youthful and uplifting chamber works from this period are presented on February 12, in The Academy Concert Series’ Beethoven’s Happiest Years, played on period instruments (violin, cello, classical clarinet and fortepiano).

The Toronto Consort’s The Marco Polo Project: Part 2, February 18 and 19, takes you on an exotic musical journey, imagining the sounds that Marco Polo might have encountered on his travels up the coast of India and back to his native Venice – with the help of two special guests: vocalist Suba Sankaran, and Sampradaya Dance Creations with its artistic director, Lata Pada.

Scholars of the arts and culture of medieval times, Sine Nomine Ensemble always brings interesting stories. On February 25 they sink into bawdy revelry in observance of the pre-Lenten carnival, the Feast of Fools and other occasions, with Wanton and riotous living – Medieval songs of lechery, drunkenness, and other altered states.

Don’t forget Tafelmusik’s reprise of The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres, March 2 to 6. This spectacular homage to the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s development of the astronomical telescope was first presented in Toronto in January 2009, and has toured internationally to great acclaim.

p12_13_aisslinn_noskyAnd finally, some good news to report: Local audiences will know Aisslinn Nosky, the fiery violinist with the red hair who plays so passionately in such groups as Tafelmusik, I Furiosi, the Kirby and the Eybler Quartets, and in many other solo, chamber and orchestral situations. She has been appointed concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, a period instrument orchestra and chorus of international renown. This group is recognized as a leader in the field of historically informed performance and is the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the United States, having been founded in 1815. Artistic director Harry Christophers is impressed with Nosky’s “great style and leadership as guest concertmaster”; and says “she has the right combination of energy, experience and talent to fill this important position and assist in leading the Society toward its Bicentennial in 2015.”

More good news: Canada is not to lose Nosky forever; she’ll still perform as a core member of Tafelmusik (with a little flexibility in scheduling); and (who knows?) this might open up new possibilities: May we look forward to appearances here of the Handel and Haydn Society, with Aisslinn Nosky in the first chair?

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

 

 

 

In 1979, Toronto became the first municipality in Canada to formally proclaim Black History Month. BHM affords citizens a special opportunity to recognize the past and present contributions that African Canadians make to the life of Toronto in such areas as education, medicine, public service, politics – and the arts, including music. Adding weight to this recognition, the United Nations has declared 2011 the “UN Year for People of African Descent.”

p10__amadou_keinouCelebrations kick off with the 15th annual Kuumba festival at the Harbourfront Centre for two weekends, February 5-6 and 12-13. Among the many notable events exploring Black and Caribbean culture, here are my musical picks. Amadou Kienou, who comes from a family of renowned traditional praise singers from Burkina Faso, performs on February 6. Kienou’s repertoire consists of Mandingue songs and dances that he has adapted, accompanied by the djembe (a West African drum). The same day, the group Pablo Terry y Sol de Cuba brings its Cuban-drenched sound to the Lakeside Terrace. Terry honed his musical skills working with outstanding Cuban musicians such as Celia Cruz, Omara Portuondo and Compay Segundo of the Buena Vista Social Club. The following weekend, on February 13, the Kuumba Gospel Fest 2011 features a who’s who of local gospel music talent. In addition there is a wealth of other events at Kuumba many free– programmed in the family-friendly manner we have become accustomed to at Harbourfront.

Chinese New Year also falls in February this year. In honour of the incoming Year of the Rabbit, the Canadian Sinfonietta presents a Chinese themed concert on February 12 at the Glenn Gould Studio. The well-known erhu (Chinese fiddle) virtuoso George Gao will be featured with the Sinfonietta in an unusual program of works composed by contemporary Chinese composers.

On February 17 the group Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa brings the music of East Africa to the Living Arts Centre, Mississauga. Rooted in Ugandan music, Soul Beat Africa’s music is a synthesis of African roots and world music, of traditional and modern instrumentation. The group is led by veteran multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Kinobe. In a forward-thinking educational tie-in, the Living Arts Centre is presenting two workshops on February 18, introducing traditional African instruments kora, kalimba, adungu, endongo, ngoni and various drums to elementary school children. More presenters ought to do the same!

Still in Mississauga, the Chamber Music Society of Mississauga presents the brilliant musicians of the Shiraz Ensemble in a programme of Persian classical music on February 19 at The Unitarian Congregation of Mississauga.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Canada’s professional ensemble dedicated to the dissemination of Afrocentric choral music, presents Voices of the Diaspora … Haitian Voices on February 23 and 26. Conducted by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, the program will highlight the poetic and musical traditions of Haiti, in particular Creole language and spirituality. The concert will feature the works of composer Sydney Guillaume, including two premieres – Ayiti and Diplomaci.

World musicians have often focused on the energy, synergy and excitement generated by cultural mixology. A good example can be heard February 26 at the Mod Club, with the premiere Toronto performance, presented by the Ashkenaz Foundation, of Yemen Blues, a new Israeli-based world music group enjoying quite a buzz. Founded a few years ago by the Yemenite vocalist Ravid Kahalani, this nine-piece international ensemble presents an energy-packed 21st century musical brew of Yemenite-Jewish song and poetry, American jazz, blues and funk, and West African grooves. Some Yemen Blues concerts have been reported to erupt into spontaneously ecstatic dance-fuelled celebrations.

Music and dance often go hand-in-hand. When the partnership works, there is a mysterious symbiosis, as in a good marriage. European Renaissance and Baroque composers knew this well, and the practice continues in the waltz time music of Johann Strauss every bit as much as in the hiphop-infused music of today.

That being said, it is rare to find anywhere a single person equally fluent in both music and dance. We have a homegrown practitioner of this exceptional dual mastery in Toronto’s Peter Chin. The Jamaican-born Chin has been called, “one of the finest contemporary choreographers working in Canada.” While he is best known for his award-winning choreography and dance performances, Chin is an accomplished life-long musician, singer, and a composer with a unique voice. His music has been performed by groups such as Gamelan Toronto, Array Music, Jeng Yi Korean percussion ensemble, St Michael’s Choir School and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. The CanAsian International Dance Festival is presenting a new program by Peter Chin titled Olden New Golden Blue on February 24 and 26 at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront. Five young Cambodian dancers will interpret choreography and music featuring big, deep social and artistic themes. I won’t miss it.

Another project of note merging music and dance is The Toronto Consort’s Marco Polo Project. Over 38 seasons, the Toronto Consort has crystallised into one of our city’s musical jewels, recognized internationally for its top-flight performances of European medieval, renaissance and early baroque repertoire. On February 18 and 19 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, however, with the aid of guest artists skilled at working within a South Asian cultural heritage, their program seeks to answer the rhetorical question “what tunes would Marco Polo have had on his iPod?” Joining the Consort in this exploration is choreographer Lata Pada and members of her company Sampradaya Dance Creations. Singer/composer Suba Sankaran and tabla player Ed Hanley of the Indo-fusion ensemble Autorickshaw are also aboard for this expedition, as Consort and guests weave an imaginary tapestry of the sort of music 14th century explorer Marco Polo might have encountered on his travels. Performers and audience alike will undoubtedly have fun with this concept.

York University’s Department of Music is presenting several free concerts highlighting its world music instructors in programs jauntily titled World at Noon. All concerts are at the Martin Family Lounge, 219 Accolade East Building. On February 3 the Gareth Burgess Steelpan Ensemble performs jazz standards, R & B arrangements and original compositions. Leading local Japanese music masters Linda Caplan (koto) and Gerard Yun (shakuhachi) perform traditional and contemporary Japanese music February 17. And the Irene Markoff Ensemble, highly accomplished musicians all, performs traditional Balkan music on March 3.

Bookending Black History Month, on March 6, the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall is the venue for Acoustic Africa, presented in partnership with Small World Music, a musical journey led by five top African string instrumentalists and singers. The instruments include traditional monochords, kamele n’goni (Malian lute), as well as the modern guitar and violin. The group is co-directed by international stars of African pop music. No stranger to Toronto stages, the legendary Zimbabwean singer, composer and bandleader Oliver Mtukudzi is the innovator of an undeniably contagious musical style. His music has been inspired by the intricate melodies and rhythms of the mbira (thumb piano), and incorporates South African mbaqanga, the energetic Zimbabwean pop style jit, and traditional kateke drumming. Co-headliner Afel Bocoum is a Malian guitarist, singer, composer and protégé of the late Malian guitar innovator Ali Farka Touré. (I still recall with pleasure and a smile the memorable concert Farka Touré gave a couple of decades ago at Harbourfront.)

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

p30For almost a decade, Toronto’s Lula Lounge, on Dundas St. West, has been a hub of musical activity, most notably as an informal dining lounge and bar that has served up some of the best in World music over the years. On October 8, Lula’s co-founder and Artistic Director José Ortega was presented the 2010 Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition, one of several Toronto Arts Foundation Awards presented at the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards Lunch. The Roy Thomson Award is intended “to recognize creative, performing, administrative, volunteer or philanthropic contributions to Toronto’s musical life.” And who better than Ortega to receive this award – in addition to being Lula’s artistic director, he also overseas its outreach and educational programmes, and has volunteered his expertise in programming to music festivals throughout the city. And he’s also an internationally known visual artist who has donated works to various projects. I asked Ortega to talk a bit about the Lula Lounge, his own artistic life, and the award.

In addition to being co-founder and artistic director of the Lula Lounge, you are also a visual artist. Can you talk a bit about your background in art? I grew up in New Jersey and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I’ve worked as a commercial illustrator since 1986, doing book covers, posters, postage stamps, packaging, and public art projects for a variety of clients including NYC’s Metro Transit Authority, Macy’s, Absolut, the U.S. Postal Service and the Buckingham Hotel in Manhattan. Since moving to Toronto, I’ve done a lot of design work related to the city’s Latin jazz and salsa scenes: projects like CD covers for David Buchbinder, Hilario Durán and Alexis Baro, as well as many poster designs for Lula. Over the years, my work has been included in group exhibitions both here and in the U.S., and last summer I had a solo show in Seoul, Korea. Over the past four years, I’ve contributed mural designs to our local BIA for large murals in the Dundas West area.

How and when did you come to create what we now know as the Lula Lounge, and who were some of the very first performers? We opened Lula is 2002. At the time, we were working as part of a not-for profit organization called Open City that organized weekend-long community arts festivals. These events had outgrown the private, warehouse space at 2 Federal that we were using. My business partner (José Neives) and I decided to take the plunge and buy a formal venue space. We felt that there was a void in Toronto’s live music scene that we hoped we could fill. It seemed to us that Toronto artists working outside of the mainstreams of North American music needed a high calibre performance space that they could launch new projects in.

Our very first performer was Cuban singer Isaac Delgado. The first local acts included many Canadian artists who have since made names for themselves on the national music scenes. Performers such as Amanda Martinez, Hilario Durán, Eliana Cuevas, Alexis Baro, Luisito Orbegoso. In the early days, we also hosted alternative bands like Metric and Feist; international performers have included Norah Jones, John Cale, the Mahotella Queens, Carl Palmer, Eliades Ochoa, Randy Brecker, El Negro and Ricardo Lemvo to name just a few.

What is your mandate or vision when it comes to programming? Our programming initially focussed on latin jazz and salsa but over the years has grown to include everything from rock to chamber to blues, African, Brazilian and other world music. Partly because of the high quality sound system at Lula as well as our commitment to providing the best performance experience that we can for the artists, we’ve had the pleasure of developing long term relationships with groups like the Gryphon Trio and organizations such as Small World Music and Batuki Music Society as well as individual artists such as Hilario Durán, Roberto Occhipinti, Dominic Mancuso and many many more.

The not for profit that we grew out of has changed it name to Lula Music and Arts Centre. Through that organization we continue to support Afro Latin Brazilian forms as they evolve in a Canadian context. At the same time, we try to build bridges across communities by bringing artists from different cultures together to realize various projects.

At lot of what we do is really facilitating musicians, organizations and presenters in creating their individual projects. These eight years of running Lula have lead us to the realization that in order to have a vibrant music scene, the city needs spaces where artists can realize their own visions, rather than trying to fit into the vision of programmers and venue owners.

Because of our world music programming direction and the quality of the performance experience that we strive for, we are often sought out by international, touring, world and Latin artists. So even on the international level, much of what we present seeks us out, rather than the other way around.

In addition to being a music performance venue, what other projects is the Lula Lounge involved with? Over the past few years, as Lula Music and Arts Centre, we’ve been involved in many projects outside of the walls of Lula. We helped to create the band SalsAfrica – a project that began in 2008 to bring together Latin, African and jazz musicians in order to explore the African roots of salsa. We’ve contributed to programming at Samba on Dundas, Harbourfront’s Ritmo y Color, Salsa on St. Clair and Luminato. Each May, we produce a world music festival called Lulaworld to showcase Canadian world musicians. Lula Music and Arts Centre also runs a very successful programme for high school French, Spanish and music students...

What does it mean to you to have won this award?

Of course, I was personally thrilled to have won the award. But I think that all of the Lula team including many of the musicians and community partners saw the award as recognition of the immense contribution that the Latin, Brazilian, African and other world musicians are making to the cultural vibrancy of Toronto. It feels like affirmation of our early intuition that there was a void in Toronto's musical landscape that needed to be filled. We do need affordable spaces for artists outside of the mainstream to do their thing. The award also seems like confirmation that the health of the city's musical life depends on embracing diversity and providing opportunities for the incredible wealth of talent that has made Toronto its home.

Who/what are some of the “not to be missed” performers/concerts coming up at the Lula Lounge in the coming months?

We're really excited about our new Sunday brunch program. This weekly event is an extension of other family friendly projects that we're working on. The brunches include live Cuban Son by Luis Mario Ochoa's Traditional Quartet. We've got the Roberto Linares Brown Orchestra on December 18th and New York based Gary Morgan is back with his PanAmericana project on December 29th. New concerts get added all the time so please check the schedule at www.lula.ca!

What other projects are you involved with personally, either as a visual artist or in other capacities, ongoing or coming up in the future?

I'm currently working on a "love" stamp for the U.S. Postal service to be released in time for Valentine's Day 2011 as well as on a public art project for the municipality of Guyaquil, Ecuador. Over the next year, I want to work on a documentary about Lula and the artists and communities that make it what it is. Besides continuing to program and do design work for Lula, I'm hoping to find more time to work on my painting. Over the past few years, I haven't had nearly enough time to work on my own art but I hope to change that in 2011.

Some Upcoming World-Music Events

• Luis Mario Ochoa performs at Lula’s Family Sunday Brunch till Dec. 19, noon – 3 pm.

• Pandora’s Box Salon presents Around the World in 80 Minutes, December 5 at the Aurora Cultural Centre, featuring music and dance from India, Egypt, Iran, Bali, Africa, and Europe.

• The Pearl Company presents Celtic band “Rant Maggie Rant,” December 11, 16 Steven St., Hamilton. Traditional Celtic music combined with Latin percussion and Appalachian swing.

• Echo Women’s Choir performs December 12 at Church of the Holy Trinity. In addition to settings of text by Margaret Atwood (from The Year of the Flood), they’ll also sing two South African songs in their original languages, and a composition by co-choir director Alan Gasser (a setting of words by Desmond Tutu), Three Appalachian Love Songs and other works

p31• Juno Award-winning vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia performs North Indian ghazals and Punjabi folk songs at Koerner Hall, January 22. Opening for her is seven-member instrumental/vocal /dance ensemble Rhythm of Rajasthan.

And, a big congratulations to Toronto’s Klezmer/East European folk band Beyond the Pale for winning the “Instrumental Group of the Year” and “Pushing the Boundaries” awards at the sixth annual Canadian Folk Music Awards held in Winnipeg this November!

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

Wow – what a week! If this were a concert review column, it would be overflowing with superlatives for two very diverse concerts I attended in the past week. The week began with the Hannaford Street Silver Band’s first concert of the season with euphonium soloist David Childs. Promotional material billed this concert as “Child’s Play.” What Childs did with his instrument was anything but child’s play. The feature work was a concerto for euphonium and band by contemporary Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Playing with no music, this young virtuoso dazzled his audience not only with his technical skills, but also with amazing musical sounds never before heard from this instrument.

If that wasn’t enough, at the end of the week, we were treated to an even more amazing performance by the Interpreti Veneziani at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. The performance of this nine-member string ensemble from Venice prompted one very experienced and knowledgeable friend to proclaim it the best concert they had ever heard. They received no argument from me. From our vantage point in the best seats in the house, we not only heard their remarkable music, we saw them communicate with each other by knowing glances and a host of subtle gestures in the creation of their masterpieces.

Using no music throughout the first half, or during his dazzling solo rendition of a fiendishly challenging Paganini work, the cellist, Davide Amadio, was free to be in constant eye contact with the other members of the group and with those of us in his audience. He told us all in no uncertain terms that he was loving every minute of it. In short, all members of this ensemble were inside each others’ heads, and they were sharing with us in the audience their joy of performance.

This was the pinnacle of musicianship and showmanship. So why is this mini review of two professional concerts in a column devoted to community ensembles? What better way for those of us who play in community ensembles to improve our skills, and enjoy ourselves at the same time, than to immerse ourselves in the total experience of absorbing all aspects of a quality live performance. We have no illusions that we might someday perform to that standard, but it does provide both inspiration and a measuring stick should we tend to become complacent or smug about our abilities.

Many years ago, when serving in a naval air squadron, I was frequently treated to the philosophy of a friend who was one of the finest pilots to ever fly in the Canadian forces. His challenge to the junior pilots under his jurisdiction was simple and direct: “We must constantly strive for perfection, and perhaps we’ll achieve mediocrity.” A little harsh perhaps – but why not aim for the best we can achieve in music?

Having suggested that we set our sights high, how are the beginner and other startup groups faring? From Resa’s Pieces Strings, conductor Ric Giorgi tells us that they now have 22 players enrolled and inquiries coming in weekly from players interested in joining. He states: “More interestingly however is the wonderful performance this group has managed thus far. They have come together as an ensemble remarkably quickly and show every indication that despite the huge differences in skill levels, everyone seems pleased with the challenges and rewards of the repertoire and the satisfaction of making good music together as an ensemble.” Ric also reminded me of the old adage among groups seeking to recruit string players – that the audition piece for string players is “Check For Breath.” By the way, they would still welcome more violas.

p29The other beginner group that I have mentioned before seems to be coming along equally well. Dan Kapp conductor of the New Horizons Band at Long & McQuade tells us that, in mid December, less than three months since their inaugural information meeting, the band will be performing for the folks at a Toronto retirement residence. This group rehearses on weekday mornings so membership is limited to retirees and others who don’t have daytime commitments. In response to many requests, an affiliated band for beginners and those reconnecting with music will begin evening rehearsals in January. For information give Dan a call at Long & McQuade.

A couple of years ago I mentioned the formation of the Scarborough Society of Musicians, a band to provide the opportunity to continue to perform in a musical group after leaving high school. After a brief hiatus, the band’s directors have been busy over the past few months working on a new season to begin in January 2011, with rehearsals continuing into June 2011. As with previous years, they will be rehearsing twice a month on Saturday mornings at Dr. Norman Bethune C.I. For this year’s rehearsal schedule, membership fees and rehearsal dates visit their website (www.continuingmusic.ca). They have also created a survey to gauge the interest in music beyond high school within the community. Your response would be appreciated.

Last year at this time we reported on the joint ventures of instrumental and choral groups. Again this year, the Hannaford Band will be teaming up with the Amadeus Choir for two performances in Toronto and one in Niagara Falls (December 4, 13 and 14). A new venture this year has two Markham groups joining forces. The Kindred Spirits Orchestra and the Village Voices Choir will present two performances of the Vivaldi Gloria (December 11 and 17).

Since I am ex-navy, and a member of the Naval Club of Toronto, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention regular small combo performances two Sunday afternoons per month at the club’s new location, 1910 Gerrard Street East. Treat yourself to an afternoon of relaxing music by the Downtown Jazz Band, and enjoy an optional light hot meal. See us there December 12, January 9 and 23 at 2pm.

On the personal front, I have both happy news and sad news to report. On the happy side, members of the Newmarket Citizens Band attended the recent wedding of two band members. Ron Spencer of the euphonium section and Linda Heath of the flute section tied the knot. The band now has several couples active in the band. With a few more, they could have an all-couples band, with a few children added.

On a sad note, members of the Toronto band community are mourning the loss of Gary Cameron, a former music teacher at Danforth Technical School and Northern Secondary School. In recent years Gary was most active with the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Encore Symphonic Concert Band and a number of swing bands. We will miss him and his great welcoming personality.

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

As long as there is life, there will always be the gift of music. But live music requires an audience to be present in order to survive, and it is a challenge. When it comes to “getting bums in seats,” this challenge is typically addressed by artists, venues and, if publicists are lucky, the media. Judging by the state of live music venues in this city, audiences may not realize how much they are a part of this art form. As Avishai Cohen recently said, “People who come to the concert are the concert as much as the artist.”

p27Enter the Toronto Music Lovers, a local branch of the popular Meetup website (www.meetup.com). This thriving social networking group perfectly exemplifies the mission statement of Meetup: “to revitalize local community” by creating groups that “are powerful enough to make a difference.” After four-and-a-half years, the group boasts nearly 850 members, has graced 200 events and continues to make a great difference in our music community. This difference could not be made without Marg Cameron, the group’s dedicated founder and host.

A Torontonian since 1979, Cameron works for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, where she runs their library and facilitates several support groups for caregivers. She also studies expressive arts at ISIS, belongs to a pottery studio and thinks of herself as a full-time music lover.

“I have always loved music. I was active in a number of choirs and studied piano when I was younger. As a teenager, I would occasionally get to visit Toronto, and can recall going to the Riverboat in Yorkville for folk music on New Year’s Eve, and attending the Mariposa Festival when it was still on Centre Island. I fell in love with the magic of live music way back then and it’s with me still.”

Establishing the Toronto Music Lovers Meetup Group came about completely by accident, she explains.

“On the site you can start a wish list for any type of group you want if one doesn’t exist. At the time there were no groups for live music, but wish lists for lots of different genres – jazz, blues, folk. As I have very eclectic tastes, I figured I’d start a group that went to all types of live music and encourage some of these people to join. I thought perhaps I’d get a few members and then there’d be someone to go out with when I wanted to see a live band. Now there are nearly 850 members and counting, and we average about 20-30 or so at each event.”

Cameron is a very committed volunteer, ideally suited to spearheading such a group. She is friendly, organized, inclusive and full of positive energy.

“I love hearing live music, meeting new people, making new friends. It’s been a very positive experience for me. Some members have told me that the group has been a lifeline for them in hard times, which is both rewarding and humbling at the same time. If I can bring some joy into other people’s lives then so much the better. I think music is a great way to bring people together, a positive focus in one’s week, therapeutic and uplifting at the same time. For the main part, the members of TML are wonderful people and I love having them in my life.”

With over 200 events since 2006, Cameron and the TML have graced a majority of the venues in The WholeNote’s directory. Not that there haven’t been, or don’t continue to be, challenges.

“There are several challenges actually. There aren’t a lot of places with live music large enough to hold a group of more than 20. Some venues aren’t very good at promoting their events in advance so it’s hard to always give group members adequate notice of upcoming events. Some places that do have live music don’t really highlight this feature properly, what with stages sort of stuck in the middle of nowhere so the bands can’t be seen and poor sound systems so that the music can’t be heard… It would be nice to find some new places big enough to hold a large group of people that actually play live blues and jazz on a regular basis, take good care of their musicians and actually appreciate our patronage.”

Future plans for the Toronto Music Lovers Meetup Group? “To continue having great turnouts for events, to use our numbers to support worth while causes – in the past we’ve gone to benefit concerts for WarChild and ArtsCan. Soon we’ll be also out in support of CAMH and the Second Base Youth Shelter.”

What should readers know about joining the Meetup group? “They can find us online at www.meetup.com/to-musiclovers. There is no fee for joining. We have approximately three or four meetups each month. We are not a singles club – just lovers of great live music. Our members are very friendly and easy going. Everyone is welcome, there’s no age limit. If you love live music, like to have fun, and want to actively support the local music scene, then you should consider joining us.

Blues singer Raoul Bhaneja has developed a close rapport with the Meetup Group; the group attended his sold-out tribute to Little Walter CD release last May. “As an artist these days,” he notes, “I’m told that our future relies on corporate sponsorship and partnerships of that kind. But TML reminds us that the focus of a grassroots organization can be just as powerful and in fact more relevant. When Cameron arrives at a show with anywhere from 15 to 50 Toronto Music Lovers, not only does it change the dynamic of the band by providing a secure income, but it changes the energy of the room – and for that I am truly grateful.” Bhaneja’s band, Raoul and the Big Time play the Rex Hotel on December 18 and January 16.

Club Sampling

p28In other news, one of Toronto’s most versatile vocalists will be performing at Ten Feet Tall on January 15. A self-taught singer/songwriter, Debbie Fleming is a remarkable talent who is equally at home singing R&B, jazz, folk, country or classical music. She can frequently be heard singing soprano with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and has fronted several of her own bands over the years including the a-cappella group Hampton Avenue and the folk/roots trio Choir Girlz. Fleming is also highly skilled as a choral arranger, and you can hear some of her Christmas charts when the precocious Ault Sisters take the stage at Hugh’s Room on the afternoon of December 12.

Speaking of Hugh’s Room, the legendary singer, pianist and songwriter Bob Dorough takes that stage on January 19 for what promises to be a sensational sold-out event. Dorough is a legend in the jazz world for memorable compositions like “Devil May Care” and “Comin’ Home Baby.” Catchy and hip, his songs have been recorded by Miles Davis, Blossom Dearie, Mel Tormé and Diana Krall. He is perhaps even more famous for setting the multiplication tables to music on ABC-TV’s “Schoolhouse Rock,” a Saturday morning cartoon series that ran from 1973-1985 featuring songs such as “Conjunction Junction,” “My Hero Zero” and “Three is a Magic Number.”

This sample just barely scratches the surface. See our Club Listings, beginning on page 58, for great music in December and January. Season’s Greetings to one and all – get out to hear some music and have a ball!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can best be contacted at jazz@thewholenote.com.

This being the issue that sees out the old year and welcomes the new, it has something of a “hail and farewell” feel to it – so before all hail breaks out let me offer season’s greetings to you in the hope that you will fare well in the new year.

Some Local Festivities

Throughout the year there is a fair sprinkling of jazz vespers, and much of it takes place at Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge Street. December 19 at 4:30 I’ll be there with a quartet for Christmas Vespers. On January 9 the Colleen Allen Quartet will be there at 4:30. There’s no admission charge but donations are welcomed.

Beach United Church at 140 Wineva Avenue will have Jazz Vespers: “Music for the Soul,” featuring Cadence on December 4. The time is 4:30, and again there is no admission charge. On December 12 at 4:00pm St. Philip’s Anglican Church at 25 St. Phillips Road will also have Jazz Vespers with Diana Panton, Reg Schwager and Don Thompson.

So, there you are – some opportunities to hear jazz that’s good for the soul.

In the New Year

The popular afternoon jazz series presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts continues on January 11 with “Winter Heat,” when the Humber Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, directed by Don Thompson, will perform a programme of music written by Thompson. The next day at 5:30 the programme is called “The Fifth Season,” featuring chamber jazz performed by Duologue (David Occhipinti, bass; Mike Murley, saxophone).

Looking ahead, on February 5 the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra presents a “Tribute to Henry Mancini,” with special guests Canadian Jazz Quartet. Norman Reintamm conducts the concert at the P.C. Ho Theatre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E.

p26Big guns coming into town include pianists McCoy Tyner and Alfredo Rodriguez in a presentation called “Aspects of Oscar: Oscar Solo” – a tribute to Oscar Peterson’s solo piano music. They will be at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory, 273 Bloor St. W., on December 11 at 8 pm.

Tyner hardly needs any introduction: over the years he’s been a frequent visitor to Toronto. Born in Philadelphia, he came to the attention of the jazz public when he joined the John Coltrane Quartet. He was a mere 17 years old! He joined Coltrane for the classic album My Favorite Things (1960). The band also included drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, and was one of the landmark groups in jazz history. Tyner is also on such classic recordings as Coltrane’s Live at the Village Vanguard, Impressions, and A Love Supreme.

Havana-born Rodriguez, like many pianists from Cuba, has a prodigious technique. Classically schooled, his music is influenced not only by jazz and his Cuban roots but also by the great classical composers. Hearing these two great talents should surely make for an evening to remember.

Bill Mays’ Chamber Jazz Septet will be at The Old Mill on December 16, combining jazz improvisation and classical themes. It’s impossible to find a category for Mays, so diverse are his talents. He has deep roots in jazz, but can take a pop theme and turn it into a rich experience and then sound equally at home with a classical theme. He could make a scale in C sound interesting! Then on February 1 at Massey Hall, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will be playing music of jazz greats, including Ellington, Mingus and Coltrane.

Time for the annual visit of this exceptional group of musicians. Marsalis may have his detractors, but there’s no denying that he is at the helm of a unique orchestra which can at times reach the heights. A programme that includes the music of Ellington, Mingus and Coltrane demonstrates just how versatile this orchestra is. I also like the fact that the concert is being presented in venerable old Massey Hall.

Finally, this little variation on a seasonal theme is for those musicians out there who do not have any gigs at Christmas.

God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
In spite of having no gigs and not a place to play.
“Tis the season to be merry and fill our hearts with joy,
At least we will not have to play The Little Drummer Boy.
Ring out the bells, greet all the Kris Kringles,
Forget the fact that there are no jingles.
But let’s not be downhearted and all to no avail,
We could try our hand at fishing – at least we would get scale!

Have a happy holiday season, and make sure you hear some live jazz.

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

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