Being a university town, Kingston, Ontario, attracts interesting people. One such person is David Cameron who, after his early training in Toronto and the USA, has led a very busy musical life in Kingston for over four decades as organist, choir director, teacher and composer. He founded the Melos Choir in 1984 – a choir which, even then, had its sights on producing an authentic baroque style (Cameron’s graduate studies had involved early music and performance practice) in its execution of the major works of Bach, Handel and other composers of the era – but without the availability of period instruments or players to contribute to the authenticity to the sound.

Things are changing now, though, and Cameron’s vision of a part-time but professional baroque chamber orchestra in Kingston is much closer to realization. In his words: “In recent years the arrival in town of some early-music people, with replica instruments, and a broader selection of young players who had been exposed to early music work in their training, opened up new possibilities. So we began with a complete Messiah at A equals 415, with replica woodwinds and modern strings playing with baroque bows – and several further events have led to the present attempt to establish a continuing baroque chamber orchestra here. We can’t yet afford to buy replica strings, but are seeking grants for that purpose; we have players willing to master them when they become available. So it’s a work in progress.” The hope for the long term is to establish a presence in the city modelled after Toronto’s Tafelmusik.

This newly formed baroque orchestra gives its first performance this month, assuming the role of accompanist to the choir and the organ. On November 26 in Kingston, the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra and soloists present “In Praise of Music,” with Bach’s Cantata 148 Bringet dem Herrn, Purcell’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (a timely piece incidentally, as November 22 is the feast day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of music), Handel’s Organ Concerto in B Flat Major, and, in recognition of Wesley’s 200th anniversary, his anthem Ascribe unto the Lord. (In January, a further development: the first solo performance by the orchestra, so stay tuned for more news of this event.)

Meanwhile in Toronto, the model for Kingston’s new venture is fully into its 2010-11 season. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir presents (along with works by Rameau and Charpentier) Handel’s very spirited setting of Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus. This is Handel’s earliest surviving autograph, composed when he was just 22 and living in Rome. It demands extreme technical prowess from all the performers, suggesting that (to quote John Eliot Gardiner) “this young composer, newly arrived in the land of virtuoso singers and players, was daring his hosts to greater and greater feats of virtuosity.” Tafelmusik performs it four times, November 11 through 14.

Other November Concerts

p19You never know how talent will manifest itself. Soprano and core member of I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble, Gabrielle McLaughlin, has just had a short story published in Pilot Project’s new Pilot Pocket Book 7: Baroque. You have to read it to get the flavour. (I couldn’t begin to describe it here!) But you can get a copy (which contains as an added bonus: an I Furiosi five-track mini-CD) at the launch party, complete with live performance and auction, on November 7 at Tequila Bookworm, 512 Queen Street West in Toronto. (See Announcements Etc., page 53) As well, the group’s first concert of the season, entitled “The Empire Strikes Baroque,” takes place on November 27.

Some of the loveliest Bach is found in his chamber music, sacred and secular. If you desire to spend an evening listening to the more intimate treasures of the master, go to the Academy Concert Series’ An Evening with Bach. You’ll hear a whole world unfolding in the first movement of Violin Sonata BWV 1014, tender joy woven by soprano and cello in the aria “Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze” (from Cantata BWV 61), and an engaging gigue with an easy swing in the Trio Sonata BWV 1040, as well as other gems for baroque oboe, recorder, soprano voice, baroque violin, harpsichord and baroque cello. This concert takes place on November 13 at Eastminster United Church.

p20Anyone who’s been to a Toronto Consort performance knows Laura Pudwell – her marvellously flexible, clear and expressive mezzo voice has long been a feature in their concerts and in performances (from early music to contemporary) in Southern Ontario and internationally. With some friends of hers (Julie Baumgartel, baroque violin, Margaret Gay, baroque cello and Lucas Harris, archlute), she’ll be presenting “Laura Pudwell and Friends.” This performance is a presentation of Classics at the Registry, and it takes place in Kitchener on November 14.

Scaramella’s mission (or one of its missions) is to bring together diverse expressions of art and in so doing, reveal much about the connections that lie between them. In “Old World/New World,” the first concert of the season, this takes the form of exploring the meeting of widely separate cultures and their influences on each other. High art-music of 16th and 17th century France and Spain is juxtaposed with folk music from Brazil and Canada, much of which has only survived in oral form, transmitted from one generation to the next. The concert takes place in Victoria College Chapel – a stunning place to hear combinations of baroque guitar, recorders, harpsichord, violas da gamba and voice – on November 20.

The Community Baroque Orchestra of Toronto is perhaps the only community orchestra in Canada that dedicates itself to playing baroque music on period instruments. (If anyone knows of other such groups, would you please be in touch?) CBOT performs twice this month, with violinist Patricia Ahern as soloist in the Bach Violin Concerto in A Minor, and also with music by Muffat and Lully. Their first performance takes place in the Beach on November 21 and their second in Bloor West Village on November 28.

A glance at early December reveals that two choral concerts occur (alas!) on the evening of December 4: Cantemus Singers’ “Welcome Yule” (Sweelinck, Praetorius, Byrd, Schütz, Renaissance and Medieval carols) in Toronto’s east end (repeated later in December in the west end), and Toronto Chamber Choir’s “O Magnum Mysterium” (Palestrina, Monteverdi, Vivaldi) at Christ Church Deer Park. Not an easy choice!

For details of all these, and a whole range of other concerts, consult The WholeNote’s concert listings.

 

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.

My focus last month was Toronto as a cultural tourism destination, looking at the potential of several weekends for offering what I termed a festival experience – that is to say, more or less wall-to-wall concert going. Extraordinarily, November will begin with a whole week of just that, in the form of the new Chinese Cultural Centre’s Toronto International Piano Competition. This is a major development in the musical life of Toronto.

 

Lu Wang and Lang-Ning Liu

p14aThe minds behind the CCC International Piano Competition, November 1 to 8, are two young adopted (like so many of us) Torontonians, Lang-Ning Liu and Lu Wang. Concert pianists themselves, they perform all over the world as solo recitalists, concerto soloists and together as the Juilliard Duo.

p14bWhen they sat down with me to talk about their lives in music and the festival it was only two days before Lang-Ning was leaving for France to give two recitals and about a week before Lu was leaving for China, where (among other things) he was going to be meeting the conductor of the orchestra with which he’ll perform a concerto next year.

I asked why they had decided to make Toronto home, and what had motivated them to undertake such a major project as an international piano competition. For Lang-Ning, who had come here at the age of 17 to study at the Glenn Gould School, and then went to Juilliard, Toronto is an ideal place for an artist. “You can find quiet places here where you can work,” she told me. “In New York, no place is quiet.” Lu told me he had lived in New York most of his life, and would not have thought of settling in Toronto except that his parents told him they want to come here to retire. That was a good enough reason for him, and within seven months of applying for landed immigrant status he was here. His parents, however, haven’t yet arrived. “His mother runs a big music school in China,” explained Lang-Ning; “She’s not ready to give that up!”

Their reasons for putting their energy into a piano competition are related to their personal aspirations and goals. Lang-Ning feels strongly that music can be a force for good and for peace in the world. Lu, a child prodigy, has been immersed in music his whole life, and wishes to continue learning and to share his musical gift both as a performer and as a teacher. What motivated them was a wish to do something for the musical tradition.

“Each generation,” said Lu, “needs to find its own reasons for embracing, mastering and continuing the art music tradition; it’s as if each generation needs to re-invent it for themselves.” They see this competition as a way of doing this, by encouraging and supporting the next generation of pianists and giving audiences an opportunity to hear the great pianists of the future before they are considered stars. “Think how many people there must be who would love to have heard Marta Argerich when she was 17!” commented Lu.

Their original idea was a music festival that would feature the best young pianists in the world. The difficulty of bringing many artists together at the same time persuaded them that a competition would be more feasible. To make the event more like a festival for both audiences and competitors, in the first two rounds each of the 24 competitors will give a short recital, and the jury will select the six semi-finalists. For those of us fortunate enough to attend much or all of the first round, it will be a wonderful opportunity to develop a more discerning ear, by hearing a wide range of approaches to
the piano.

 

p17Christina Petrowska Quilico

To put this event into context I asked a few questions of Christina Petrowska Quilico, an international concert pianist who lives in Toronto.

 

Is there a hierarchy of piano competitions in the world? Where does the new Toronto competition fit in this hierarchy? In Canada the most prominent piano competitions are the extremely high profile Montreal International Piano Competition; the Honens, which is also becoming a Mecca for international pianists; and the Eckhardt-Grammate International Competition, which in addition to requiring classical and romantic repertoire has a contemporary music component. The competitions currently at the very top of the international hierarchy, however, are the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Queen Elisabeth and the Leeds.

The Toronto competition has an excellent jury, one of the factors that have enabled it to attract a good range of competitors from all over the world. I believe it will grow and develop into a major international event.

On what does the prestige of a competition depend? The winners and juries are what give these competitions prestige. Winners who make successful CDs and tours bring them notice. Pianists also feel that it is important to be judged by the top artist/performer/teachers from major schools. More important than prize money are the subsequent connections to the professional concert world: tours, bookings and media attention.

 

How does an aspiring concert pianist decide which of the many competitions available to enter? Aspiring concert pianists should have realistic expectations about their ability to perform under extreme pressure. They should select those competitions that require a repertoire that is comfortable and dependable under stress and suits their unique talents. You should have enough confidence in your ability to believe that you can win. Teachers are important in guiding the young pianists in repertoire selection and training. There are a lot of intermediate level competitions that would be a good training ground before attempting the big international ones.

 

What are the benefits to the competitors besides the prize money and the professional connections? The discussions about performances are invigorating, inspiring and educational for the performers. Feedback is crucial for competitors. That is how they learn to improve their performances. Competitions are about performing to your highest expectations. The satisfaction is not in the prize money but in being able to accept the challenge. For me the satisfaction in performing to the best of my ability is what I remember. I also loved bonding with the other pianists. We were extremely supportive of each other because we knew how difficult it is to be a concert pianist.

 

The first two rounds of the Toronto competition will be recitals by each competitor, which is somewhat unusual. What are your thoughts on that? I believe that the solo format is the way of the future. This gives the jury an opportunity to hear how the pianists construct a recital program and how they shape it musically.

 

What’s in it for the audience? Forget “reality TV” – get the real deal! At piano competitions you get the entire gamut of human emotions: fear, obsession, desire, triumph, happiness, living on the edge, love and hate. They bring out the best and worst in people – but what a ride! There is always excitement, debate and occasional controversy in the selection of the winners.  So everyone should definitely go and cheer on the pianists for Toronto’s new international competition.

 

Other Piano Events in November

Looking at other events featuring the piano in November I see that the month is particularly rich in piano concertos: Toronto pianist Peter Longworth performs Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Oakville Symphony Orchestra on November 6 and 7. Longworth appears again in the listings on November 27 playing Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. On November 13 and 14 Natasha Paremski will be the soloist with the Toronto Symphony in Dvořák’s Piano Concerto in G Minor; and on November 17 Andreas Haeflinger will perform Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 with the Toronto Symphony. The Unionville Symphonia’s Remembrance Day Concert (actually on November 14) will include Mozart concertos performed by three youngsters: Frederick Kwan, Jerrick Lo and Bjon Li.

However, there seem to be fewer solo piano recitals than usual. Among them are Todd Yaniw performing Schumann’s Carnival at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on November 2, Olena Klyucharova and Andriy Tykhonov at the KWCMS Music Room on November 7, and at noon the same day at the Royal Ontario Museum a recital by Leonard Gilbert.

 

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.

There’s no place like the Tranzac. Home to countless artists and audiences for nearly 40 years, it’s far more than a building rich with history. Initially intended to promote and foster Aussie and Kiwi cultures, with the passing decades the Toronto Australia New Zealand Club has become less focused on “Down Under” and more inclusive of “all over.” In other words, it has become a truly Canadian institution which values diversity, freedom and respect.

Read more: There’s No Place Like Home

By now, the concert season is well under way – and the world music scene has much to offer this month. Here are some highlights.

p30Virtuoso banjo player Jayme Stone launches a new CD with a cross-Canada tour that includes a concert October 13 at Hugh’s Room. Room of Wonders is a wonderful musical romp inspired by folk dances from around the world. I’ve had a sneak preview of the album, and this promises to be a lively evening of superb musicianship featuring banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, nyckelharpa and other instruments in a kind of Appalachian “old-time-meets the rest of the world” scenario. Represented are dance tunes from Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Norway and elsewhere. There’s even an arrangement of a Bach French suite.

Prior to this latest venture, Stone’s previous CD, Africa to Appalachia was a collaboration with Malian kora player and singer Mansa Sissoko, the result of a stay in Mali where Stone researched the banjo’s African roots. This Juno award-winning album led to a two-year tour of Canada, the US and the UK. I’ve been told Stone will soon launch a new website and a short documentary on the making of Room of Wonders, which will also include free lessons for aspiring banjoists! In the meantime, visit http://jaymestone.com.

After undergoing two years of extensive renovations, the Sony Centre re-opens this month with some exciting programming. Sure to be a spectacular event, “Dream of the Red Chamber” (October 12, 13) features the Beijing Friendship Dance Company in their interpretation of one of China’s most revered works of literature by the same name. Described as a “Chinese Romeo and Juliet love story,” the production blends classical ballet and traditional Chinese dance, with a score by Academy Award-winning composer Cong Su (best original score, The Last Emperor), 80 dancers and 800 costumes! The show is presented in celebration of 40 years of diplomatic relations between China and Canada.

Also, touted as “the Bob Dylan of Iran,” controversial musician Mohsen Namjoo fuses traditional Persian music with western blues and rock, October 16 at the Sony Centre, along with his band and a full live orchestra. Namjoo is a master vocalist, composer and setar player, who originally trained at and was later expelled from the Tehran University music programme for refusing to toe conventional lines. As difficult as it is to be an independent artist in Iran, Namjoo’s career took off due to internet exposure. Now based in California, he is free to create music that resonates with Iran’s youth, while appealing to audiences regardless of background.

Toronto based Yiddish singer Lenka Lichtenberg says, “after a little breather, to allow space for several members’ individual projects (namely CD releases), The Sisters of Sheynville are getting back into the groove and a regular rehearsal mode. The plan is to prepare a lot of new material this fall, and work towards a new CD in the spring.”

Upcoming gigs for this all-female Yiddish swing/klezmer band include Bread and Circus (299 Augusta Ave., Kensington Market) on October 7, and the Reservoir Lounge some time in November. Lenka had a well attended CD release concert of her own recently at last month’s Ashkenaz Festival, and you can read a review of Fray in the September WholeNote. She’s also been engaged in a unique synagogue project in Europe, doing recordings of traditional and new liturgical music that she says may be the most significant project of her life. She calls it “Songs for the Breathing Walls,” and hopes to continue with it for years to come. For more about Lichtenberg, visit www.lenkalichtenberg.com.

A new “kid” on the musical block, the Vesuvius Ensemble, has its inaugural concert on October 29 at the Edward Day Gallery, 952 Queen St. W. Dedicated to performing and preserving the folk music of Naples and southern Italy, the group is led by Italian tenor Francesco Pellegrino, who now teaches at the University of Toronto. He’ll be joined by Marco Cera (oboist with Tafelmusik who also plays baroque guitar, chitarra battente, and ciaramella – a type of Italian shawm), Lucas Harris (baroque guitar, and chitarrone – a large bass lute), and guest percussionist Kate Robson. And they’ve got a website up and running too: check out www.vesuviusensemble.com.

Looking ahead to November, Toronto’s own Nagata Shachu Japanese taiko drumming ensemble presents a new programme titled “Iroha” (colour), November 5 and 6 at Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queen’s Quay West. The production is directed by long-time member Aki Takahashi, with lighting by Arun Srinivasan. Each piece has been influenced by a colour, and in addition to drumming there will be more choreography.

“Colour can be expressed in countless ways,” says Takahashi; “people might describe the same colour differently depending on their mental and emotional associations with it. In Japan, where the four seasons are distinct, people experience each time of year through colours in nature. I hope people will discover the illuminating nature of our music reflected in the interplay of iroha.” Nagata Shachu (formerly known as the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble) has a number of CDs to its name; primarily it’s a drumming group, but they perform on a host of other traditional Japanese instruments as well, creating a variety of sonic textures. It will be interesting to see how they illustrate the notion of colour!

Thursdays 7:00 to 8:30pm, October 14 to November 18, at the Miles Nadal JCC. Call Harriet Wichin at 416-924-6211 x133 or music@mnjcc.org.

 

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

In last month’s Bandstand column I focused on a few new ensembles which had graced the local scene over the past two or three years, and mentioned some new ones scheduled to begin this fall. It seemed appropriate then to see how some of these proposed new startups were doing. Two in particular, with very different aims, attracted my attention. Resa’s Pieces Strings was billed as a beginners string orchestra. The New Horizons Seniors Band sponsored by Long and McQuade was to be a beginners band for people 50-plus who wanted to take up music for the first time or get back to it after a prolonged absence. How better to have my questions answered than to attend their inaugural sessions?

p29bFirst up was the rehearsal of the string group Resa’s Pieces Strings (RPS). This is the brain child of Resa Kochberg, founder and conductor of the very successful Resa’s Pieces Band. The strings group included a wide spectrum of ages from high-school students to white-haired seniors. All had enough experience to know how to hold their instruments and play basic scales. For those neophytes in the group who were less than familiar with some of the adjustments required by their instruments, a technician from George Heinl Co. was on hand to assist.

After a few opening remarks outlining the aims and objectives for the months ahead, and getting the instruments tuned, director Ric Giorgi started the group right off playing simple melodies interspersed with exercises on such matters as bowing techniques. By the time the break came along, this new ensemble was playing simple melodies in harmony with better tuning that might nave been expected. At the break, this new group was invited across the hall, where Resa’s Pieces Band had been practising. There they were welcomed into the fold with the cutting and sharing of a cake for their “birthday.”

The RPS will be following the same philosophy that Resa Kochberg has established from day one in leading Resa’s Pieces Concert Band. It is “to provide an opportunity for people to return to playing instruments that they have not touched for years.” Doing your best, but also having fun is what is expected, and everyone grows musically together with each “piece” completing the whole! As of that evening, 24 people had signed up and about 18 got to the first rehearsal.

Were there any shortcomings noted? Yes. As I anticipated, viola players are in short supply. In fact, one acquaintance of mine has been suggesting to me that I might be an ideal candidate to fill a coveted spot in the viola section. Here’s your chance, wannabe string players: get a viola and join the fun on Monday evenings. Even if your leanings are towards some other string instrument, check it out at their website www.resaspieces.org, or email strings@resaspieces.org.

Two days later, at 9:30am, I joined a group attending a get acquainted session at Long and McQuade’s downtown Toronto store to learn about their New Horizons Seniors Band. After a brief introduction by director Dan Kapp, the goals of this group were outlined. This is a band for retirees who either have not played for years, or have sung or played other instruments and would now like to play in an organized group. The majority of these people did not own instruments, and were curious about which instrument might be right for them. Over the next two hours most tried one or more instruments and decided. One woman initially considered trombone, learned how to hold it, blew a few notes and then decided to try an oboe. Her first attempt startled us. It was not the sound of a wounded duck that emanated. Rather, it was quite a pleasant musical tone. I immediately suggested that she and the oboe were meant for each other. Whether she will stick with oboe or sample other instruments before her final decision remains to be seen.

As with the string orchestra, there are initial shortages. Low brass wannabes were in short supply. It seems that, amongst grandmothers and grandfathers, flutes, clarinets or trumpets have more appeal that tubas and euphoniums.

The goal for this group has already been established, and it’s ambitious. The CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio has already been booked for their spring concert. If you are available Wednesday mornings and would like to try your hand at making this kind of music, experience is not necessary. Group instruction is part of the package. Contact them at www.newhorizonsbloor.ca or call 416-588-7886.

Both groups stressed that playing in such ensembles was also very much a social activity. Members were encouraged to get to know their fellow members and consider forming trios and quartets to practise together outside of regular rehearsal times and hone their skills with the challenges of playing these more intimate forms.

As for other new groups for more experienced players, we have just received word that the new Richmond Hill Concert Band had its first rehearsal as this goes to press. They reported about 30 interested members already with a good distribution of instruments. Their rehearsals are on Thursdays at 7:30pm at Roselawn Public School, 422 Carrville Rd., Richmond Hill.

The Canadian Band Association (Ontario) is celebrating its 9th Annual Community Band Weekend from October 15 through 17. These annual weekends provide an opportunity for musicians from bands across Ontario to join together for music-making with friends, both old and new, under the leadership of expert conductors. As part of their 15th anniversary celebration, Etobicoke Community Concert Band will be acting as hosts this year. Check-in starts at 7:30pm Friday and is followed by a social gathering. Saturday will be devoted to rehearsals under the batons of no fewer than six conductors.

The massed band will perform the concert on Sunday afternoon. The rehearsal and concert take place at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, 86 Montgomery Rd., Etobicoke. The nearest major intersection is Dundas and Islington, and the school is a manageable walk from both Royal York and Islington subway stations. For full details contact Bill Harris, Acting President, Canadian Band Association (Ontario) at president@cba-ontario.ca, or 416-693-3980.

 

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is fermoota: a note of dubious value held for indefinite length. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.

 

Coming Events

• October 17, 8:00pm: The Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra.
Norman Reintamm and Friends Recital. St. Timothy’s Anglican          Church, 4125 Sheppard Ave. E.

• October 18, 7:30pm: Orillia Wind Ensemble. Joint Effort. Orillia               Opera House, 20 Mississaga St. W., Orillia.

• October 23, 8:00pm: Greater Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra.
Autumn Classics. Calvin Presbyterian Church, 26 Delisle Ave.

• October 23, 8:00pm: City of Brampton Concert Band. Rose Theatre             in Brampton.

Down the Road

• November 13, 8:00pm: Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra.
Subscription Concert No.1. P.C. Ho Theatre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E.

 

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

Last month I gave a talk to the Toronto Chapter of the Duke Ellington Society, a group of enthusiasts that gets together on the second Tuesday of every month, except for July and August.

p27The Society was founded in 1959 as the Duke Ellington Jazz Society through the efforts of one Bill Ross, a Canadian working in Hollywood who placed an ad in Downbeat magazine in late 1958, announcing that a Duke Ellington Jazz Society had been formed in Hollywood. Simply put, it consists of people who are interested in Duke Ellington: fans, musicians, researchers, scholars and writers, the common bond being a love of the music of Ellington – and, of course, his alter ego Billy Strayhorn. (It’s interesting to note that in 1968, at the Duke’s request, the word jazz was dropped from the name and all the Chapters became known as the Duke Ellington Society.)

The Toronto chapter’s origins make an interesting story, thanks to the Anger family. Rhea Anger, a champion of the music of Ellington, in response to a letter of January 29 from Ross, organized the first meeting of the Toronto Chapter, which was held on May 4, 1959. Anger was elected as the first president, and the Toronto Chapter has been meeting regularly ever since. There’s no doubt that she was a suitable choice. She was the widow of Justice Harry Anger of the Ontario Supreme Court, who had established a warm friendship with the Duke many years before. After his death, Rhea and her son, Ron, also a lawyer, maintained the relationship. Over a period of time, whenever the Ellington band came to Toronto they would be invited to the Anger home after the engagement to enjoy some home comfort. And Duke Ellington played this town many times from 1931 on. I came up with a list of 16 different venues where they performed.

Robert Fulford, in the Toronto Star, January of 1987, wrote the following: “In the early 1970s, when the Duke Ellington band was playing the O’Keefe Centre, tenor saxophone soloist Paul Gonsalves came down from the stage and stood before a middle-aged woman in the audience, affectionately serenading her as the band accompanied him. While Gonsalves played and the woman shyly smiled, Ellington dedicated the number ‘for Mrs. Anger, our dear friend.’” For years Rhea and her son Ron were familiar faces at jazz events in Toronto and their love and enthusiasm for the music never diminished.

In his book, Music Is My Mistress, Ellington wrote: “Mrs. Anger and her son, Ron, are also among our most loyal friends and supporters. They never miss our appearances in Toronto, and the city’s chapter of the Duke Ellington Society has always owed a great deal of its health to them. Canada has a character and a spirit of its own, which we should recognize and never take for granted.”

In 1987 Toronto hosted the fifth annual Ellington conference at The Inn on the Park. It was a three day event, and the musicians included two Ellington alumni: trombonist Booty Wood and bassist Aaron Bell, along with Doc Cheatham, George Kelly, Ray Bryant, Gus Johnson and from Canada, Oliver Jones, Neil Swainson, Fraser MacPherson and myself. In addition, there was a rare performance of Ellington’s extended work, The Tatooed Bride by my big band. Alice Babs, who had a long collaboration with the Duke, was present. She’s perhaps best remembered for her singing in the second and third Sacred Concerts, which Ellington wrote for her voice. It had a range of more than three octaves and was so remarkable that Ellington said that when she did not sing the parts that he wrote for her, he had to use three different singers!

In the early days of the society, meetings were held in members’ homes – but nowadays Montgomery’s Inn, at the junction of Dundas Street West and Islington, is the home of the Society. And each year the Toronto Chapter presents a fundraising concert at a date close to Ellington’s birthday, April 29. In 2011, on Saturday April 30, a group led by Dave Young and Terry Promane will be the featured ensemble. More about that closer to the date.

As a result of their fundraising activities, seven $1,000 scholarships are awarded to emerging Toronto musicians, a remarkable achievement for what is a relatively small group of enthusiasts. Speaking of which, they would welcome additional members – especially some younger blood – so if you’re interested please call Chris McEvilly at 416-234-0653 and help the spirit of Duke Ellington to live on in one of his favourite cities.

 

What’s in a Name?

When I spoke to the Toronto Duke Ellington Society the topic was nicknames given to some of the musicians who worked with him. Here are a few of them.

Trombonist Joe Nanton was one of the great pioneers of the plunger mute. He joined Ellington in 1926 and his growl and plunger sounds were a major ingredient in the band’s jungle sound that evolved in the 20s. He earned his nickname “Tricky Sam” during his first years with Ellington. There are a couple of conflicting stories about the origin of his nickname, neither having to do with his trombone technique – a common misconception.

One story is that he consistently won when he played poker with bandmates, so much so that he became known as tricky with a deck of cards. But saxophonist Toby Hardwick claimed that he was capable of “doing with one hand what someone else would do with two – he was tricky that way.” Nanton had perfected a technique of drinking on-stage without anyone noticing!

Another trombonist, Lawrence Brown, joined the band in 1932. Somewhat straight-laced, he kept away from the drinking and high-life enjoyed by the rest of the band, a rather puritan behavior that earned him the nickname “The Deacon.”

p28Tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves joined the band in 1950 and stayed for the rest of his life. His nickname was “Mex,” because people thought he was Hispanic, when in fact he was from the Cape Verde Islands. But Ellington bestowed on him another sobriquet. Because he sometimes walked around in the audience while soloing, the Duke dubbed him “Strolling Violins.”

Here’s one for punsters. In the 1950s Britt Woodman was in the trombone section. So was Quentin Jackson, whose nickname was “Butter,” thus giving rise to “Britt and Butter.” So you see, some of us don’t only play on instruments – and words seldom fail us.

Happy listening.

 

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

Setting the Mass” (composing music for the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus and Agnus Dei) has for centuries been a central task for Western composers. The result is generally considered to be a window into heart of the composer in question, and a signal example of their piety and devotion. A public performance of a Mass is a way for people engaged in worship to pray, mourn, celebrate and in general to commune with others in praise of an elliptical, elusive, but deeply felt presence that is commonly known as God.

Or is it? Who or what do you worship when you hear a musical setting of the Mass text? Do you even worship at all?

These days, when a Mass-setting by a famous composer is as likely to be heard in a concert setting as in a church, how does a worshipful attitude manifest itself? Does one venerate the conductor? The composer (easy to venerate, since they are most likely to be dead)? Does one revere the sonic phenomenon of the very music itself, and the sensitivity and skill of the musicians involved? Perhaps we celebrate the familiarity of the experience – another night out in the company of the Verdi Requiem, or the yearly pilgrimage to a performance of Mozart’s famous D minor setting.

To what degree are concert-goers especially concerned with the ostensible object of all the musico-devotional fuss – the Christian God? If you happen to come from a non-Christian faith tradition, or profess to atheism or agnosticism – as many people filling a concert hall might well do – do you simply ignore the devotional texts and concentrate instead the music? In doing so, are you inescapably engaged in some kind of blasphemous process that’s likely to get you in trouble with your in-laws?

It’s probably safe to say that a concert performance of a Mass is neither a religious rite nor an exercise in group conversion. But there is unquestionably a qualitative difference between the above event and a symphonic concert or evening of chamber music: a sense of occasion and ritual, an echo of ancient paths newly trod. Even when neither concert-goer nor composer is especially devout – Rachmaninoff was not known for his piety, though a performance of his All Night Vigil might convince you otherwise – both the texts and the music continue to draw our fascination.

The concert Mass is really a phenomenon of the 19th century onward, and there are several examples of this kind of setting in the weeks ahead.

Fauré’s beloved Requiem setting had its premiere in the Paris church at which he was music director from 1896-1905. But it has continued to live in the concert hall, and it’s a very inviting piece for people of all backgrounds. Its delicate transparency and serenity have always seemed to me to evoke a dreamlike, pre-Christian world of classical balance and reserve. The Pax Christi Chorale perform it on October 24, along with music by English composer S.S. Wesley (2010 marks the 200th anniversary of Wesley’s birth).

On November 5 and 6, Kitchener’s Da Capo Chamber Choir teams up with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in a concert of music by Schubert and Schumann. The choral part of the evening is Schubert’s Mass No.2 in G. Schubert wrote six masses, and this setting was written in 1815, when the composer was 18 years old. Structurally, the Mass in G is clearly indebted to Mozart and the Austro-German Mass tradition of the 18th century. But this setting also has the Schubertian quality of deceptive simplicity, a sweet credulousness that at first masks and then reveals a deep core of emotion. The concert also features Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, an unfortunate name for a work that conveys a complete mastery of symphonic form, and never feels truly unfinished at all – as does, for instance, Mozart’s renowned but (it has to be said) sketchy D Minor Requiem.

p26Murray Shafer is most likely Canada’s pre-eminent composer, and Arvo Pärt is surely the most popular living composer currently setting sacred texts. Hampered with a kind of composer’s block in the 1960s, Pärt actually found creative inspiration in settings of sacred texts from medieval and renaissance eras. Pärt’s large-scale compositions are perfect examples of sacred works that have lived and breathed most often in concert spaces, often for audiences far removed geographically and philosophically from the Slavonic church traditions from which he draws his texts. On November 7, Soundstreams Canada assembles 180 singers from their University Voices programme, conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste, in a concert of works by these two composers, “The Mystical Worlds of Pärt and Schafer.”

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s performance of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass on November 10 and 11 is a highlight of this season. I can’t recall a recent date in which it was performed in this area. Janáček writes in an idiom that blends both erudition and a rhythmic, sensuous appeal, and his Glagolitic Mass has proved as enduringly popular to audiences everywhere as his operas have become. The unusual name of the Mass (the English translation morphs the beautiful Czech Mša glagolskaja into a strange cross between a ominous-sounding geological landform and mouthwash) refers to Glagolitsa, the oldest known Slavic alphabet. Janáček, enchanted by the sound of the language, assembled rather chaotic translations of the Mass texts, delighting concert-goers, infuriating linguistic scholars, and providing headaches for generations of choral singers accustomed to nice, safe languages like French, Italian, German, and good old Church of England Latin. Janáček’s work takes place as part of a potentially riotous concert that includes Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slav Op. 31, Prokofiev’s bumptious Lieutenant Kijé Suite, and a new work by Czech composer Krystof Maratka.

Consult The WholeNote’s listings for more choral concerts taking place over the next few weeks.

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

October seems to be a month of refreshment, as there’s so much interestingly new going on in the realm of “early” music. Three relatively new groups have upcoming concerts:

The debut performance of the Vesuvius Ensemble takes place on October 29, and its title, ”Fronna: Folk Music of Southern Italy,” gives some idea of the sunny and impassioned outlook of this group. Led by the Italian tenor Francesco Pellegrino (now teaching Italian art-song at the University of Toronto), who is joined by early-music specialists Marco Cera (oboist with Tafelmusik, who plays both reed and strummed instruments in this group) and lutenist/guitarist Lucas Harris, this ensemble is dedicated to preserving and performing the traditional folk songs from Naples and the Italian countryside. Besides baroque guitars and voice, other instruments such as the ciaramella (a type of traditional Italian shawm, related to the bagpipe) and the tammorra (a very large frame drum with bells attached to the sides) will contribute their colours.

Bud Roach is accomplished both as an oboist and a tenor. Perhaps it is the combination of these musical sensibilities that led him to found Capella Intima in 2008, in order to revive hauntingly beautiful 17th-century motets and cantatas, chamber music both sacred and secular, for voices and instruments. Their next concert focuses on the influence of the great Monteverdi, insofar as it reveals something of the talents of  those composers who worked with him and indeed were overshadowed by him. “In the Shadow of Monteverdi” presents music by Cavalli, Grandi and Legrenzi as well as Monteverdi, and will feature tenor, baritone and bass voices, as well as portative organ and cello continuo. It will be performed three times: on October 30 and 31 and November 1.

With the intent of presenting little-heard music for voices from the Renaissance and Baroque, Michael Erdman began Cantemus Singers. In a relatively short time this 16-voice a-cappella choir has developed a flourishing concert series, performing each one back to back in two different parts of Toronto. Its next performances pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth I, with madrigals, motets and sacred works – including Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices – all by composers whose intent was to please “Good Queen Bess” with flattering prose and glorious music. You can hear them in the city’s east end on October 2, and in the west end on October 3.

And more, in chronological order…

p23Tafelmusik, always ready to deliver the unexpected, presents 19th-century composers Chopin and Spohr in its next group of concerts, October 7 to 10. Featured soloist is pianist Janina Fialkowska, who will perform Chopin’s First Piano Concerto on a 19th-century Pleyel piano, with chamber ensemble arrangement. The French piano manufacturing firm Pleyel et Cie has a long and important history: Founded in 1807 by composer Ignace Pleyel, it provided pianos to Frédéric Chopin, and ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel, where Chopin performed his first and last concerts in Paris. The innovative company was the first to use metal frames in their pianos. Pleyel pianos were the choice of musicians such as Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Ravel.

On October 9, the Cardinal Consort of Viols presents “An English Harvest”: five-part music for the viola da gamba, including works by Dowland, Holborne, Gibbons and Tye. This concert affords a rare opportunity to spend an evening enjoying the delicately ravishing sound of five viols in consort.

Intrigue, secrets and wonderful music are the subjects of The Toronto Consort‘s “The Ambassadors,” presented on October 15 and 16. An exploration of the world of 16th-century diplomats (“bearers of lavish gifts, writers of secret dispatches, keen observers of courtly life”) and the musical riches they encountered, this pair of concerts was designed by the ever-inventive Alison Mackay.

In Kingston, the ensemble Trillio celebrates both the music of the Baroque and the riches of October with “Baroquetoberfest.” With a real sense of occasion, this energetic group delights in presentations that combine music with culinary feasts; and I can attest to the fact that you’ll not be disappointed on either count if you go. Music by Telemann, Bach, Pepusch, Schickhardt and others for harpsichord, baroque oboe, recorders, baroque bassoon and viola da gamba will be performed; and German-style sausages, apfelstreusel and other mouth-watering treats will be served, on October 16 and 17.

In Kitchener, Nota Bene Period Orchestra perform their programme, “The Grand Tour,” presenting music that a young 17th-century English traveller might have heard as he completed his education by soaking up the cultural climate of the continent. Featured in this concert is a sonata from “Il Giardino Armonico” by the 17th-century Dutch composer and viol virtuoso Johann Schenck – a work that was considered lost in World War II, but in reality was part of a collection hidden in Kiev, and only recently uncovered and returned to Germany. The sonata, scored for two violins, gamba and basso continuo, probably hasn’t been heard in Canada in recent memory – but now it can be heard, on October 17.

The Venice Baroque Orchestra performs at Roy Thomson Hall on October 26, in a fascinating concert that juxtaposes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a recent violin concerto by Philip Glass, The American Four Seasons. Violinist Robert McDuffie is the soloist, and also Glass’s inspiration when he composed this 21st-century companion piece to the Vivaldi.

p24Musicians In Ordinary launch their tenth official season on October 30 with Her Leaves Be Green, a charming mix of songs and lute solos from the English courts of James I and Charles I. This duo, soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards, regularly invites Toronto audiences into the Privy Chambers of English kings and queens to hear the intimate music provided for their majesties by the “musicians in ordinary for the lutes and voices.”

 

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.

It’s that time of year when memories of the summer linger – of two or three days at a stretch when life can revolve around listening to music, when one makes a transition from the usual mode of things to a way of being in which music becomes the language of life.

In some sense, Toronto’s musical life could be seen as offering the opportunity for festival-like immersion all the time. Pretty well every night, and even every day of the week, there are concerts, frequently several at the same time. The WholeNote, of course, is like the festival programme, giving musical tourists all the information they need to plan their music festival experience in advance.

So this month’s column starts with a look at festival-like musical weekends, carved from WholeNote listings, in and near Toronto, beginning with a Friday evening event and ending on Sunday afternoon. (You could, of course, do the same thing with consecutive weekdays, but this gives you the idea.)

The first weekend of October offers build-your-own festival opportunities in Toronto and an actual festival, Colours of Music, in Barrie, about 100 km north. If you can get to Barrie on Friday morning so much the better – there are concerts at noon, 2:30 and 7:30, so you can immerse yourself right away in the festival experience. Saturday also offers three contrasting concerts: jazz at noon, violin and piano at 2:30 and, in the evening, Sinfonia Toronto with pianist Anya Alexeyev in an all-Chopin programme. Sunday offers one more concert at 2:30 in the afternoon: London’s Primus Men’s Choir with Brassroots brass ensemble. It sounds like a really glorious grand finale for the festival.

Were I a “musical tourist” in Toronto, that weekend offers an enticing opening to October; Friday, October 1, offers ten concerts in a dizzying range of genres: the Royal Canadian College of Organists’ “Organ Spectacular,” the Toronto Symphony, Sinfonia Toronto, chamber music, Cuban salsa, Somali hip-hop and the boundary-crossing Montreal musician Gabe Levine – something for everyone. (And having chosen one, you can keep going till last call by consulting our jazz listings on page 48 for after-concert fare.)

p21aYour Saturday could begin with the Canadian Opera Company’s Aida at 4:30 in the afternoon, followed by dinner at one of Toronto’s many fine restaurants and then a choice of 15 concerts, or indeed a whole night’s worth, as that evening is the annual Nuit Blanche night of music and art installations. Among the Nuit Blanche performers will be the Cecilia String Quartet, the first-prize winners of the 2010 Banff International String Quartet Competition and the first recipient of the Glenn Gould School Quartet Residency Fellowship for 2010-11. They’ll perform R. Murray Schafer’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in Koerner Hall that evening.

Digressing briefly, there will be two other opportunities, to hear the Cecilia Quartet: October 7 at noon at the Canadian Opera Company’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (co-presented by the COC and Jeunesses Musicales) and on October 13, performing quartets by Haydn and Mozart for the Mozart Society. Digressing even further, on p21bFriday, October 29, Mooredale Concerts has on offer the Afiara String Quartet, which won the second prize in this year’s Banff String Quartet Competition, as well as the Székely Prize for best performance of Beethoven or Schubert. The Afiara, which incidentally is composed entirely of Canadians, is currently the Graduate Resident String Quartet of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York. And there will be an opportunity to hear the Afiara Quartet this month at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre as well, at noon on Thursday October 14, exactly a week after the Cecilia String Quartet. I should also point out that the Banff Competition, at which these two Canadian quartets won the top two prizes, is an elite international competition – an extraordinary tribute to the level of music education in Canada.

But returning to our “weekend-as-festival” theme, on Sunday October 8 there are 15 further concerts to choose from in our GTA listings alone, and a further eight in “Beyond the GTA” (starting on page 46). Pick your predilection, and chart your course!

The Thanksgiving Weekend (October 8 to 11) is a bit of an exception to the “every weekend is a festival” rule. Nevertheless Tafelmusik, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Canadian Opera Company all have events. But the October 15 to 17 weekend is back up to speed again. As is the next, and indeed every weekend (bar three) from now till June and, yes, the start of the official festival season once again. So to summarize, if, as the days get shorter and colder, you’re looking to compensate with consecutive days of summer-like musical immersion, there’s no better “festival guide” than the WholeNote listings.

On another, and more personal, note, looking ahead to the first weekend of November, a former harmony teacher of mine, John Kruspe, his wife, Cathie, and two children, Jamie and Emily, will be performing together on Friday November 5, 7:30pm, at Walter Hall. John, an accomplished pianist, frequently performs as a solo recitalist – most recently in an all Chopin programme on September 23 in Walter Hall. Cathie, a violinist, maintains  a thriving private teaching studio, and performs as an orchestral and chamber musician. Jamie, who is 21 and also a violinist, is entering his last year of the undergraduate performance programme at U of T, studying with Jacques Israelievitch. His chamber group (a trio) won the Galimir award for the top ensemble at U of T this past academic year; and for the past two years was chosen for the Banff spring chamber music programme. Emily, who is 19 and also a violinist, is entering her second year of the same programme, studying with Erika Raum. This past winter she won the President’s Trophy at the Toronto Kiwanis festival, and like Jamie was a Banff resident this year.

This may be the last opportunity to hear the Kruspe Family ensemble, as it’s likely that soon both Jamie and Emily will be off to graduate schools and careers that might well take them far from home.

Also in early November, a very exciting new event to be aware of is the first Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto International Piano Competition, which begins on November 1 with the opening reception and a draw for performance order.  The first two rounds, November 2 to 3 and 4 to 5, and round three (six semi-finalists) November 7, all take place from 1 to 8pm at the CCCGT’s extraordinary P.C. Ho Theatre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E. For the final, Monday, November 8, 7:30pm, three finalists will perform with the new Toronto Concert Orchestra conducted by Kerry Stratton, at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall.

The competition offers a total of $28,000 U.S. in prizes. Twenty-four young pianists from ten countries have been selected to participate.

I’ll finish with a little story. Quite a few years ago I met Laurel Fay, a New Yorker who was the author of a new biography of Shostakovich. I was introduced to her as the (then) publisher of The WholeNote magazine (which she had evidently already discovered in her short time in Toronto). In that typical not-beating-about-the-bushes New Yorker way she said to me, “Come to New York. We need your magazine there!” I rather suspect there’s more music in New York, but thanks to The WholeNote, Toronto very likely has more music for “musical tourists” to discover.

 

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.

October continues to be a crossover month in the new-music calendar, with four festivals overlapping with several season openers.

p15We start north of Toronto at the closing weekend of Barrie’s Colours of Music Festival, where Toronto composer Rob Teehan is in residence. These two days include no less than three world premieres from the prolific early-career composer. On October 2 in the afternoon the extremely talented Duo Concertante – violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves – perform a new work by Teehan alongside pieces by Prokofiev, Schubert and Chan Ka Nin. If you can’t catch them here, you can also hear Duo Concertante at Walter Hall in Toronto on October 7, where they will premiere a new work by Chan, which incidentally also appears on their recently released Wild Bird CD on the Centrediscs label (reviewed in this month’s WholeNote). The following afternoon, the combined forces of the Primus Men’s Choir and Brassroots ensemble deliver an all-Canadian programme, featuring Teehan’s latest creation in combination with work by Western composers Stephen Hatfield and Allan Gilliland. The festival wraps up Sunday evening with a gala concert featuring Sinfonia Toronto and a stellar roster of soloists ranging from harpist Judy Loman to flautist Marc Grauwels and – you guessed it – an orchestral world premiere from Teehan.

Those who can make it to the festival a little earlier should catch violist Rivka Golani’s concert with the fantastic young TorQ percussion ensemble on October 1. Golani single-handedly established the viola and percussion combo as a made-in-Canada genre through her many commissions, and this programme offers some of the best in the bunch. You can find full festival details online at www.coloursofmusic.ca or by calling 705-725-1070.

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche will just be getting underway as Colours of Music closes up. This overwhelmingly successful, all-night contemporary art extravaganza gains more sonic content every year. For its fifth edition, which starts in Toronto at sundown on October 2, there are no less than five new-music projects worth mentioning. The Canadian Music Centre explores the interface between art and music in its Intimate Music project. Berlin-based Chiyoko Szlavnics pursues intimacies through her minimalist composition drawings, while Toronto’s John Oswald creates musical experiences for cozy spaces in Chalmers House.

Over at the ROM, you can find Laurel MacDonald’s sonic video installation XXIX, which depicts 29 singers performing in 29 languages, their voices emanating from 29 speakers. A few doors down, the Royal Conservatory will pulse with live music and projections all night long, including a series of videomusic performances. Travel over to the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre to catch the junctQín keyboard collective tackling Douglas C. Wadle’s Invention in Three Parts performance installation. Simultaneously, a sound artist will create a live mix from the sounds of a performing solo cellist.

Push further west to catch Micheline Roi’s Obsolescence at 601 Christie. This sound installation inverts the roles of current and outmoded technologies to question the ever-evolving means by which music reaches us. Loudspeakers become antique ornaments while an antique piano evolves into a transducer for other sounds. Get full details for these and other works at www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

New Adventures in Sound Art’s annual SOUNDplay festival overlaps its opening with Nuit Blanche. Roi’s Obsolescence is just part of their extended line-up of installations and concerts that cross paths between sound art and new media, all leading to new avenues for exploration. As artistic director Darren Copeland explains “Sound artists are continually challenged to reevaluate their artistic practice in the light of changing technologies. SOUNDplay is a starting point for exploring new possibilities of sound in relation to other artistic media and sensory experiences.” To date, confirmed artists include Mike Hansen, the Off-Centre DJ School with Erik Laar, Eric Powell, Helen Verbanz, Deb Sinha, Krista Martynes, Julien-Robert Legault Salvail and the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse with Tina Pearson. More programming details are to be announced, so stay in touch with www.naisa.ca to learn more.

Those who didn’t catch Rick Sacks’ spectacular conveyer belt percussion performance at last year’s Nuit Blanche can get an earful of his unique music creations on October 13 when New Music Concerts gives Rick the stage at Gallery 345 for “The Musical Theatre of Rick Sacks.” This fundraising concert features no less than three Toronto premieres of Sacks’ percussion performance pieces, including Light at the End of the Tunnel, Mbira Sketch for MalletKat and MalletKat Sketch II on a Bohlen Pierce Scale, the last performed with guest Peter Hannan. Details are available through www.newmusicconcerts.com and tickets can be purchased at 416-961-9594.

p16But the really big talk of October is the Music Gallery’s fifth X-Avant festival, which attempts to answer the question “What is real?” Guest curator Gregory Oh has been brought in to offer an answer through his wide-ranging programming that pulls at the threads of musical authenticity – letting them unravel enough to see what lies behind our presumptions of what makes music “real.”

X-Avant was originally conceived as the Music Gallery’s season-opening celebration, cutting across programming lines to showcase the depth and breadth of its myriad annual offerings. Oh has taken that intent to heart, bringing together a cross-section of artists, but in much more wildly unusual combinations. Take for example the festival-opening concert on October 16, which pairs Detroit techno pioneer Jeff Mills, whose electronic experiments meld with live acoustic performance and IRCAM inspired sound collage, with Montreal percussion band Big Zang, whose repertoire is inspired by the sound of DJ culture that Mills helped invent. It’s this type of cross-pollination that pervades X-Avant from beginning to end.

On October 22, X-Avant presents a madrigal ensemble, the RCM New Music Ensemble, and blues band Deep Dark United who will all join forces to re-interpret Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The closing “Dance Dance Revolution” collides live choreographic projects inspired by John Oswald’s Plunderphonics, George Aperghis’s dramatic music, and a virtual ballet created for a popular multi-player gaming environment. No convention is safe from Oh’s wild imagination, as you’ll see at www.musicgallery.org.

This is by no means all there is to hear. For example, Esprit Orchestra opens its season on October 17 at Koerner Hall with a long-awaited local premiere of Thomas Ades’ Asyla, among a stack of other great works. So be sure to get in with the new via The WholeNote concert listings here and online at www.thewholenote.com.

Finally, I must end with a correction and a clarification, both for my September column. First, the correction: one of the works appearing on Esprit Orchestra’s May 15 concert is indeed by music director Alex Pauk (not “Paul,” as printed.) The clarification is to say that, despite its longevity, Les Percussion des Strasbourg is a slightly rejuvenated ensemble. In the mid-to-late 70s, the founding members “sold” the name to some of their students. To be accurate, it is these students and their successors who are celebrating the ensemble’s 50th anniversary this year. Many thanks to percussionist Robin Engelman for supplying that detail.

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

The 2010/11 season marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Canadian Opera Company: the first season entirely planned by general manager Alexander Neef. Opera productions are scheduled so far ahead that, up till now, Neef had still been completing the plans created by his predecessor, the late Richard Bradshaw. In planning the current season, Neef seems to have looked very carefully over the company’s history to discover which operas were ripe for COC premieres and which were ready for revivals and new productions.

The season opens on October 2 with a new production of Verdi’s Aida. Incredible as it may seem, the COC has not staged this staple of the operatic repertoire since 1986! The fact that the opera premiered in Cairo in 1871 has caused various myths to accrue to it. It’s true that the opera was commissioned by Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, when Egypt was still part of the Ottoman Empire. It is not true, however, that it was written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal (which occurred two years earlier) or to open the Khedivial Opera House (which opened with Verdi’s Rigoletto earlier in 1871), the first opera house on the African continent.

Another myth is that you haven’t seen a “real” Aida unless you’ve seen the Triumphal March of Act 2 with live elephants. It is true that twelve elephants were part of the opera’s world premiere, but except for times when the work is staged as spectacle rather than opera (as in Shanghai in 2000), the only venue that regularly featured elephants in this scene was the outdoor Arena di Verona, seating 30,000. Yet even there, Franco Zeffirelli’s new production in 2002 replaced them with dancers.

p13The obsession with elephants and Aida in the popular imagination points to the central difficulty in staging the opera. Despite all the notions of spectacle the opera is in fact an intimate work about the complications of love and power involving only four characters. This is the aspect that director Tim Albery will emphasize. According to the COC, “In approaching Aida, Albery has taken note of how many private, intimate scenes are placed in the context of a society of great power, wealth, expansiveness and nationalism, and has considered how these characteristics are reflected in the societies of our own times. He has set the opera in a luxurious and ostentatious palace in an unspecified war-torn country. The lavish opulence of the surroundings will stand in contrast to the fundamental intimacy of many of the opera’s most important scenes.”

There will be 12 performances from October 2 to November 5. The first six will be sung by Sondra Radvanovsky, an American who lives just outside Toronto and is considered by many as the pre-eminent Verdi soprano of her generation. The second six will be sung by Michele Capalbo, a Canadian now resident in New York and recently hailed by Opera News as “a world-class Aida.” Australian-born tenor Rosario La Spina will sing Radames with American mezzo Jill Grove as Amneris, American Scott Hendricks as Amonasro, and Canadians Phillip Ens and Alain Coulombe as Ramfis and the King of Egypt, respectively.

The second offering of the season is Benjamin Britten’s final opera, Death in Venice (1973), last staged by the COC in 1984.
p14aRichard Bradshaw used to refer to the Britten operas he presented as part of the COC’s “Britten series,” and it’s heartening to see that Neef is continuing that notion. Let’s hope this is not the end of it. We’ve never had Owen Wingrave (1970) – and is it too much to hope for Gloriana (1953)?

The COC staging is a co-production with the Aldeburgh Festival and three other opera companies, and its unveiling at Aldeburgh was greeted with rave reviews. As at Aldeburgh, Japanese director Yoshi Oida will helm the production. British tenor Alan Oke, who won great acclaim as Gustav von Aschenbach, the central character, will reprise the role here. And to top it all off, Britten expert Steuart Bedford, who conducted the original production in 1973 at age 34, will conduct. British baritone Peter Savidge will sing The Traveller, a man Aschenbach encounters in many different guises in Venice, and British counter-tenor William Tower will sing Apollo. Canadian Adam Sergison will play Tadzio, the boy who becomes the symbol of youth and creativity that Aschenbach feels he has lost. To increase the sense of difference and unattainability, Britten envisioned Tadzio as a non-singing dancer. The opera runs from October 16 to November 6, 2010. For tickets or more information for both Aida and Death in Venice, see www.coc.ca.

 

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

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