You’d do well to keep your frequent flyer card handy over the next two months. I know I will. We new-music seekers are going to be bouncing between Toronto and Ottawa a lot if we want to catch all the excellent programming promised by the mainstay festivals, as well as a few new offerings in a sizzling summer concert calendar.

We’ll start in Toronto with the 12th edition of New Adventures in Sound Art’s Sound Travels festival, which has a healthy run from June 26-September 26. Sound Travels takes a more grounded focus to sound and space than other NAISA festivals, bringing together a mix of interactive installations, performances, sound walks and workshops at their home in the Artscape Wychwood Barns. Featured artists include Toronto’s own Rose Bolton alongside Marcelle Deschênes, David Eagle, Ned Bouhalassa, D. Andrew Stewart, Satoshi Morita and Rob Cruickshank, among others. Full programming details are available at www.naisa.ca.

Next, we bounce over to Ottawa, where the adage seems to be “enough is never enough.” While our nation’s capital is already home to the world’s largest chamber music festival, it will welcome a new contender this summer, Music and Beyond. Running from July 5-14, Music and Beyond’s 85 concerts will forge links between music and other art forms in concerts featuring some of the greatest names in classical music. While new music from many countries can be found throughout the festival programming, those of us looking for a “bang for our buck” will want to pay attention to the mid-festival dates.

P18On July 8, CBC Radio 2, the National Gallery of Canada and Music and Beyond will unveil the results of their Gallery Project – the culmination of a national contest to choose five works of art from the Gallery to inspire new compositions. The programme includes works by a cross-country collection of Canadian composers, including Jocelyn Morlock, Denis Bédard, Michael Conway Baker, Colin Mack, Scott Macmillan, Elizabeth Raum and Kelly-Marie Murphy. The following day, Music and Beyond partners with the Ottawa New Music Creators to celebrate local composers Gabor Finta, Steven Gellman and Patrick Cardy at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Across both days, the National Arts Centre Orchestra will open its afternoon rehearsals to the public with two new music reading sessions. Conductor Gary Kulesha will lead the orchestra in explorations of new orchestral works by both emerging and established Canadian composers. For full Music and Beyond festival details, and to purchase passes, visit www.musicandbeyond.ca.

Back in Toronto, the lovely Queen of Puddings Music Theatre will unveil its latest project from July 29-31 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour comprises three distinct chamber operas sung in three languages (Mandarin, English and medieval French), exploring three cultures and three historical periods within the music of three Canadian composers: Fuhong Shi, John Rea and Pierre Klanac. Written for soprano, mezzo-soprano and accordion, these three premiere pieces are connected by the universal theme of love, and will be presented as one fully staged opera work. Two Toronto new opera pros, soprano Xin Wang and mezzo Krisztina Szabo, share the stage with accordionist John Lettieri. Tickets to Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour can be purchased through www.youngcentre.ca or 416-866-8666. To learn more about Queen of Puddings visit www.queenofpuddingsmusictheatre.com.

Meanwhile, running parallel to Beauty Dissolves is the Ottawa premiere of Christos Hatzis’ wildly successful Constantinople, featuring the Gryphon Trio with the extremely talented cabaret/opera singer Patricia O’Callaghan and renowned world music vocalist Maryem Tollar. This multimedia, concert-length chamber work, which has been presented to sold-out audiences on two continents, is a feature presentation of the 17th  Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, on July 29.

While the Ottawa festival gets underway on July 24, the real new music activity starts up on August 2 with the annual New Music Marathon. This year’s version offers no less than six concerts under the New Music Dialogues banner, all housed at the handsome St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts near Ottawa’s bustling Byward Market. Highlights include the world renowned Penderecki String Quartet performing new music by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich; the world premiere of 9 Dances for Flute and Accordion by Toronto-based composer Juliet Palmer; Alexina Louie’s spellbinding Take the Dog Sled for two Inuit throat-singers and ensemble; and the Gryphon Trio performing works by Gary Kulesha. Adventurous listeners will want to explore the Late Night at St. Brigid’s series, where Montreal composer Nicole Lizée pushes musical boundaries with turntablist DJ P-LOVE and the maverick trio Toca Loca. Full festival details, tickets and passes are available through www.chamberfest.com.

Finally, we return to Toronto, where the Toronto Summer Music Festival will be underway July 20 – August 14. July 30 seems to be a very popular date in the festival calendar. This time, we get to hear the Penderecki String Quartet, strong champions of new music, in a programme of five new string quartets. Waterloo-based composer Glenn Buhr gets special attention in this year’s festival:  the Pendereckis will perform his Quartet No. 4 and the composer himself will give a pre-concert talk on all five new works. (I was hoping that we would get an earful of the results from Toronto Summer Music’s Composer Workshop, but this young addition to their academy programming seems to have been inexplicably and sadly cancelled.) On August 7 at the University of Toronto’s MacMillan Theatre the festival will premiere Buhr’s Song of the Earth, a companion piece to the well known and loved Mahler song-cycle. Both will appear in versions for chamber ensemble with soloists Roxana Constantinescu and Gordon Gietz. For full festival details, and to purchase tickets, visit www.torontosummermusic.com.

After all of our city and concert-hopping, we can finally take advantage of the late summer weather and rest up for the concert season ahead. But not for too long! New music makes its return on September 26 with the Toronto New Music Marathon – eight hours of continuous and contemporary sounds from Toronto’s new music creators in the lively Yonge-Dundas Square.

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

 

P16Thinking of going on an early music treasure hunt this summer? Here are some ideas for you.

If your travel boundaries lie within Toronto and the GTA, you could spend the whole summer sampling a variety of styles and genres in many different programmes:

The Italian singer/instrumentalist Viva BiancaLuna Biffi (featured in the June early music column) presents her one-woman show, “Fermate il Passo,” a programme of Italian frottola in which she sings universal tales of love – its euphoria and torments, its ultimate triumph over adversity – while accompanying herself on the viola d’arco. This Music Mondays concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity takes place on July 5.

Beaches Baroque, a duo made up of baroque violinist Geneviève Gilardeau and lutenist Lucas Harris, presents “The Bach/Weiss Sonata.” The featured work is a seven-movement sonata for violin and lute supposedly by Bach, but striking in that the lute part began life as a sonata in its own right by Bach’s friend, the virtuoso lutenist Leopold Weiss. As well, more music by Bach, Weiss and Hagen will be presented, on July 10 at Beaches Presbyterian Church.

Hildegard von Bingen’s music broke the boundaries of expression for its time, and sounds amazingly modern today. The soaring chant of this 12th-century abbess can be heard on August 8 at the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, sung by a group that’s been acclaimed for its performances of medieval music and Gregorian chant. The five-voice women’s ensemble Schola Magdalena is led by artistic director Stephanie Martin.

And sprinkled through the ambitious Summer Music in the Garden programme of the Toronto Music Garden – a concert almost every Sunday and Thursday from now till late September – are the following hour-long programmes, each one featuring a different aspect of early music:

July 4: On the day before her Music Mondays concert (described above), Viva BiancaLuna Biffi’s imaginative show “Fermate il Passo” can be heard here too, in this lovely outdoor setting.

July 15: “In Four Hands, Twenty-Nine Strings,” baroque violinist Linda Melsted and guitarist Terry McKenna explore a whole range of styles from the 17th to the 20th century – old English dance tunes, an opera overture, tango and more.

August 12: “Inspired by Cremona” presents some of the bold new music created to showcase the unsurpassed perfection of the stringed instruments crafted by 17th-century Italian makers. Music by Farina, Merula and Castello will be performed by baroque violinists Patricia Ahern and Linda Melsted, harpsichordist Borys Medicky and lutenist Lucas Harris.

August 22: In “Masque of the Garden,” musicians of the Toronto Masque Theatre, actor Derek Boyes and baroque dancer Dorothea Ventura celebrate the Music Garden itself, with music and dances that inspired the six sections of the garden.

August 26: “Able was I ere I heard Abel” is a tribute to the 18th century’s last great gamba virtuoso, Carl Friedrich Abel. Gambist Justin Haynes and baroque cellist Kate Bennett Haynes present music by Haydn, Schaffrath, and Abel himself.

September 2: In “Bach at Dusk,” cellist Winona Zelenka’s six-year odyssey through the Bach solo cello suites is fulfilled, with her performance of the Suite in C Minor (which is actually number five in the set).

It’s so easy to “catch the fire” of a summer festival – music springing up in various places, artists and concert-goers sharing the excitement of magical moments – and I urge you to work one or more into your summer plans. Here’s some of what you might find in various Southern Ontario festivals:

July 4: North of Toronto at historic Sharon Temple, Music at Sharon presents Les Voix Baroques, a celebrated ensemble specializing in vocal works from the Renaissance and Baroque. They’ll offer music by Charpentier and Carissimi in this imposing space.

July 18: Northwest of Campbellford, the Westben Festival presents the Toronto Consort in their presentation “Shakespeare’s Songbook.” The Consort uses the songs and dances of Shakespeare’s plays to engage the audience in the wonderful world of Elizabethan music: “music for fools, fairies and Falstaff.”

July 9-August 1: The Elora Festival takes place in a village with a spectacular setting along the Elora Gorge, north of Guelph. If you go, you’ll be able to hear four early music concerts: choral works with the Elora Festival Singers and collaborating artists on July 18 (Handel and Vivaldi) and July 22 (The Tudors); the delightfully daring group I Furiosi on July 24; and “Love: Sacred and Profane” on July 31 – a programme of renaissance music presented by Ludus Modalis Vocal Ensemble from France.

July 16-August 8: At the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, you can hear concerts as diverse as “Sound the Trumpet” (music for trumpet, soprano and piano by Purcell, Handel, Bach and Scarlatti) on July 29; Bach’s powerful B Minor Mass on July 30; and “Baroque on the Boat” (a morning concert on the M.V. Chippewa in Georgian Bay with the Festival Winds) on August 6.

July 19-August 22: At Stratford Summer Music, gems seem to be multiplying: Winona Zelenka, having recently recorded all the Bach solo cello suites, will perform each of them in separate concerts – and as several of these are now sold out, more performances are being added as I write. (Zelenka is featured as the cover story in The WholeNote’s June issue.) As well, Bach’s Coffee Cantata can be enjoyed in the appropriate setting of a coffee house (August 13, 14 and 15); and from it another event has been brewed: “Bawk’s” (alias Tiefenbach’s) Cappuccino Cantata (or The Lonely Barista) can be savoured the following week (August 20, 21 and 22).

July 24-August 7: If you find yourself in Ottawa this summer, you must take in some events of the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. July 28: Les Voix Humaines (gambists Susie Napper and Margaret Little) present “Master and Pupil: Sainte-Colombe, the master, and Marin Marais, his pupil”; August 1: Ensemble Caprice explores an unlikely connection in “Bach and the Baroque Gypsies”; August 5: Helene Plouffe, Mark Simonds and friends present “Discovering the viola d’amore and chalumeau”; August 5: Ludus Modalis perform “Spiritual Songs and Psalms of the Renaissance” with music by Sweelinck, Estocart, Ferrabosco, Costelley and Le Jeune. (This list is not comprehensive, so do check the listings.)

As for me, I am enslaved by a gamba and a cat, neither of whom travels very well; so I’ll probably do most of my concert-going within the boundaries of Toronto. But you never know – don’t be surprised if you find me at any of the aforementioned events. And may your own treasure hunt be fascinating!

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.

p10There are two important opera stories this month: one surrounded by a plethora of media attention, and one that should be better known. The first is the North American premiere of Prima Donna by Rufus Wainwright, at Toronto’s Luminato Festival. The second is Handel’s Giulio Cesare, marking the first time Orchestra London will stage its own opera production.

It is safe to say that no opera by a Canadian composer has ever received as much international media coverage as Prima Donna, the centrepiece of this year’s Luminato Festival. The principal reason is that its composer, Rufus Wainwright, is at age 36 already famous as a singer/songwriter. The son of folk-singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III and brother of singer Martha Wainwright, he was born into a musical family and began touring with them at age 13. In 1998 his self-titled first album won him the accolade “Best New Artist of the Year” from Rolling Stone.

In 2006, Peter Gelb, the new general manger of the Metropolitan Opera, commissioned new operas from nine composers in an effort to revitalize the Met and to draw in younger audiences. Of these nine, who included Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking), Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza) and Wynton Marsalis, Wainwright had made the most progress by mid 2007. But there was a problem: Wainwright’s libretto, written by Bernadette Colomine and himself, was in French. Gelb claimed that presenting a new opera not in English was “an immediate impediment.” Wainwright, however, insisted that French was part of the texture of the work.

Once the two parted company, many festivals vied to produce it. It premiered at the Manchester International Festival on July 10, 2009, with a subsequent performances in London in April 2010. Wainwright insisted that Luminato should present the North American premiere.

The opera is set in Paris on July 14, 1970, and follows a day in the life of aging diva Régine Saint Laurent. She is planning her comeback but happens to fall in love with the journalist interviewing her. Wainwright, who has long been a fan of opera and whose songs are sometimes classified as “operatic pop,” has written an homage to traditional opera. Thus, audiences need not worry that this new work will also be avant garde. In Luminato’s new production, directed by Tim Albery, Janis Kelly reprises the title role with a cast that includes local favourites Gregory Dahl as the butler and Colin Ainsworth as the journalist. Robert Houssart conducts the 57-member orchestra. The opera will be performed at the Elgin Theatre on June 14, 16, 18 and 19. For more information see www.luminato.com.

cesaroniAt the start of the month, Orchestra London takes a bold new step by becoming a producer of opera. For the past five years the orchestra under maestro Timothy Vernon has presented one opera each June at the Grand Theatre. All of these have been transfers of productions from Pacific Opera Victoria where Vernon is the artistic director. The orchestra’s first production as “Opera London” is Handel’s Giulio Cesare, directed by American Timothy Nelson, who at age 30 has already received much acclaim for his productions.

Nelson is unusual as opera directors go because he is also a musician and conductor. In 2003 he founded American Opera Theatre at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, to explore his interests in movement, music, design and opera as theatre. In 2008 he was the director and conductor of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s David et Jonathas (1688) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and last year, among many other credits, he was the director and conductor of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and John Blow’s Venus and Adonis in Virginia and the director of Philip Glass’s Hydrogen Jukebox, staged as part of Obama’s inaugural celebrations. Currently he is the artistic director of the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy at the University of Western Ontario.

Known for his up-to-date takes on the classics, Nelson plans to relocate the action in Giulio Cesare from Egypt to a present-day war-torn country suggesting Afghanistan. For a highly detailed look at Nelson’s thoughts behind this concept, have a look at his blog (blog.operalondon.ca), which includes video lectures and stage designs. The cast will feature the well-known countertenor Drew Minter in the title role with Lucia Cesaroni as Cleopatra, Roseanne van Sandwijk as Sesto and Ian Howell as Tolomeo.
Beside the excitement that this project will bring to London, this is a rare opportunity to see Handel’s opera fully-staged in a house of only 839 seats. Performances are June 3 and 5 at 7:30 and June 6 at 2pm. For more information visit www.uwo.ca/music/operalondon.

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

As always in June summer festivals of various kinds are getting under way. Some are big productions that are hard to miss, while others are smaller, out-of-the way events.

Brott Music Festival

The 23rd annual Brott Music Festival, which goes on through much of the summer, opens this year in Burlington, with three performances on three consecutive Wednesdays by the National Academy Orchestra, which principal conductor Boris Brott founded as a training orchestra for young professional musicians and conductors. This year the orchestra has two apprentice conductors: Geneviève Leclair, winner of the 2010 MacMillan Prize for conducting, is a doctoral conducting student at Boston University; Samuel Tam, a graduate of McGill University, has spent the last two years as apprentice and assistant conductor at the Canadian Opera Company, and will continue his training at the University of Toronto.
Each of the three Burlington concerts will feature a young instrumental soloist: cellist Denise Djokic on June 16, clarinettist Giampiero Sobrino on June 23, and violinist Jonathan Crow on June 30.

The Canadian Aldeburgh

On June 5, the fourth annual Bayfield Festival of Song opens with a recital by soprano Virginia Hatfield, mezzo Lauren Segal and pianist Bruce Ubukata. The festival will continue until June 13 with master classes and vocal and piano recitals. Bayfield is on Lake Huron halfway between Grand Bend and Goderich.

Luminato

The fourth annual Luminato Festival runs from June 11 to 20, with many events that will be of interest to WholeNote readers. All those events can be found, of course, on Luminato’s website. Events include an opera by Rufus Wainright, a late-night performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and a concert on June 12 by the Vienna Academy Orchestra.

Music at Sharon

p18bSharon Temple’s annual month-long Sunday afternoon concert series, under the new artistic leadership of Larry Beckwith and Rick Phillips opens on June 6 with a recital by mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta and pianist Stephen Philcox. This will be a great opportunity to hear this talented young singer, who, Globe and Mail reviewer Paula Citron predicts “is heading for stardom.” The series continues on June 13 with Ensemble Polaris, June 20 with the Tokai String Quartet and pianist Anton Kuerti, June 27 with pianist Alexander Seredenko, and on July 4 with Montreal’s Les Voix Baroques.

Blue Bridge Festival

Like Music at Sharon, The Blue Bridge Festival also takes place in York Region, and its artistic director Brenda Muller is also a music teacher with the York Region Board of Education. It opens on June 4 with a very eclectic programme of everything “from opera to folk, from chamber music to jazz, to the poetry of the spoken word.” All this takes place in beautiful Roches Point on the southern shores of Lake Simcoe. The festival continues the next evening with a Gala Concert in Newmarket. The third and last day of the festival, Sunday, June 6, offers a variety of events including a parade, opera singers performing from a raft and workshops at the Varley Art Gallery. For those of you who would like to make it a weekend getaway, festival pass holders will receive discounted rates from two really great local resorts, the Briars and Whispering Pines Inn.

Music Mondays and the Music Garden

You don’t, of course, have to leave the metropolis to hear music beside a lake or in an historic venue. Music Mondays offers a wonderful series of concerts at noon on Mondays at Holy Trinity Church from June right through to Labour Day and the Music Garden offers a great variety of music in an enchanting downtown lakeside location. Summer in Toronto just isn’t complete without at least one concert from each of these series.

Off the Beaten Track

Gallery 345, at 345 Sorauren Avenue in Toronto’s west end, between Lansdowne and Roncesvalles, has become a really busy venue over the past couple of years. I gave a concert there myself with pianist Elena Tchernaia, a couple of years ago – and can say from experience what a great place it is to perform in, with its lively acoustics and friendly ambience. In this magazine, there are six concerts listed there between June 4 and 30.

On June 6, the first of what I expect will be many concerts at Merriam Music in Oakville is taking place. Since Merriam Music is a high-end piano dealership, you can expect to hear high calibre music making on great instruments at these events. At this opening event the performers will be Adrean Farrugia, Robi Botos, and Stu Harrison, performing on three different pianos, covering a broad range of repertoire in a unique three-piano format. Take note, pianists: in his message to me, Stu Harrison wrote: “We’re also looking to expand the series in 2011 to include recording possibilities for artists who want an inexpensive method of recording live events on a Fazioli, or like pianos.”

I’ve often written about the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, which for those who live in K-W is right on the beaten path, of course. In this issue there are a staggering 16 events listed taking place in three locations, the Music Room, Maureen Forrester Hall and Keffer Memorial Chapel.

The Arts and Ideas Studio, located in what used to be a bank in an aging and definitely off the beaten track suburban location on O’Connor Drive, just northeast of St. Clair Avenue East, is used as a dance studio. With an intimate atmosphere, good acoustics and great light, however, this is a perfect venue for chamber music. The first of three concerts currently scheduled for the Studio will be on June 19, with the young jazz group Café Olé playing all original music by its leader, bassist Justin Shaskin; and the newly formed Ensemble Espressivo with clarinettist Nicolai Tarasov, Yours Truly on flute and a t.b.a. guitarist performing a delightful trio by the early 19th century guitarist-composer Francesco Molino, among other things.

Elsewhere in the News

At intermission during a performance of the opera Giiweden on May 14, I spoke to Aradia director Kevin Mallon, who told me he’d just been appointed artistic director of Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra in Ottawa. There’s a resonance here between orchestra and conductor. Mallon, after all, is best known as an early music specialist. It was Tafelmusik that brought him to Toronto in the first place, and he has made a name for himself and many recordings as the director of the Aradia Ensemble. Indeed, only a couple of years ago in a WholeNote review of Aradia’s Israel in Egypt CD, reviewer Robert Tomas dubbed him “Canada’s crown prince of period performance” – hastening to add that “frequently he is invited to guest-conduct standard repertoire and contemporary music.”

It will be interesting to see what new directions Mallon takes the ensemble in.

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.

Toronto is a city of constant musical discoveries. While the concert season is quickly coming to a close, the summer festival season starts to build, bringing with it a range of fresh new experiences. And for lovers of new music, June bursts open in a bouquet of new works and visiting artists.

First up is the Luminato Festival, which opens its 2010 music series to showcase new music that is resonant in both its celebratory nature and serious content.  
In partnership with Soundstreams, and with the help of 684 public voters, Luminato has selected composer Robert Johnson’s Majestic Fanfare to serve as the festival’s official fanfare. This royal flourish will accompany the Rainbow King – the ruler of the world, created by Festival artists FriendsWithYou – throughout Luminato 2010. Keep an ear open for the Luminato brass quintet, appearing throughout the festival, in order to hear this fanfare live!

Soundstreams is certainly no stranger to this ceremonial and celebratory form, engrained in musical cultures throughout the world. In 2006, they presented new works by composers and quartets from Canada, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden in the soaring Barbara Frum Atrium at the CBC Broadcasting Centre. Sixty-plus trumpet players positioned throughout the balconies premiered these short works to usher in the 2006 soundaXis Festival.

In 2009, Soundstreams commissioned James Rolfe for a new fanfare to celebrate the Toronto Arts Foundation Awards, which was also offered as a gift to Mayor David Miller. You can get an advance listen to their latest fanfare project at the Soundstreams’ Salon 21 event on June 7, starting at 7:30pm at the Gardiner Museum. The salon is free, but be sure to reserve your seat in advance. These events fill up fast. You can do so at salonfanfare.eventbrite.com.

p20aOn June 11 and 12, we will finally get to experience the world premiere of Dark Star Requiem – the concert-length project from much-in-demand composer Andrew Staniland (winner of the 2009 CBC National Composition Prize) and internationally recognized poet Jill Battson. Staniland and Battson met as participants in Tapestry New Opera Works’ highly successful Composer-Librettist Laboratory. Their early experiments in creating opera scenes sparked an exciting new partnership that led to numerous projects, including LinguaElastic (2006) – an exploration of the contemporary collisions of humanity and electronic media through live vocal performance (by Battson) and interactive electronics (by Staniland) – for the Canadian Music Centre’s New Music in New Places series.

Tapestry invited the duo back in 2006 to write Ashlike on the Cradle of the Wind, a poetic and elegiac mini-opera that reveals our attitudes towards sex and love in the shadow of AIDS. Even in those early days, Staniland and Battson had expressed the desire to collaborate on a much larger work – a secular oratorio that tackles the major issues of our times. The current commission from Tapestry and Luminato has given them the space to bring that desire to fruition.

Tapestry’s decision to re-mount Ashlike this spring for their very first Opera to Go Revival was a prescient move in light of Dark Star Requiem’s world premiere. This full-scale dramatic work traces the 25-year history of AIDS from its origins to the present day. The evocative, poetic content weaves in topics from ecology to myth, politics to family. While the libretto includes fragments from the traditional Latin requiem mass, the overall perspective remains humanistic rather than religious. By focusing on the intimate and personal face of AIDS, Staniland and Battson hope that Dark Star Requiem will resonate with a broad audience. Based on past experiences with this duo’s work, and the remarkable creative team behind this production (The Gryphon Trio and the Elmer Iseler Singers join a quartet of talented vocal soloists conducted by Wayne Strongman), the work should resound strongly. For more information visit www.tapestrynewopera.com. To reserve tickets visit www.luminato.com.

p20bIn between the Luminato events, Gallery 345’s concert calendar is really heating up. Here, the new music comes from Edmonton-based pianist Roger Admiral, who delivers a solo recital on June 11. Admiral is a true contemporary music aficionado. He studied piano with Helmut Brauss, Peter Smith and Virginia Blaha, and graduated with a doctorate from the University of Alberta, where he now coaches contemporary chamber music. From 1990 to 1993 he was a member of the unique two-piano/two-percussion Hammerhead Consort. And since 1997 he’s been part of Duo Kovalis with Montreal percussionist Philip Hornsey. For this Toronto performance, Admiral focuses primarily on music of the “Victoria School” of Canadian composition, including works by Alfred Fisher, Linda Catlin Smith, Christopher Butterfield and Howard Bashaw. For more details, visit www.gallery345.com.

Nestled amongst all of the above is the return of the Music Gallery’s Summer Courtyard Series, taking contemporary music out of the concert hall and into the intimate setting of St. George the Martyr’s open-air spaces. Presented in partnership with Wavelength and curated in affiliation with Montreal’s Suoni per il Popolo Festival, these four concerts feature international stars from the worlds of avant-pop and new composed music who have been selected especially to suit this unique setting.

New music lovers will want to take note of the series’ opening concert, which includes New York cellist Julia Kent. After years of playing cello with a myriad of artists and ensembles, from Antony and the Johnsons to the chamber-rock trio Rasputina, Kent retired to her Lower East Side apartment to make music inspired by touring and the disjunctions of travel. Incorporating multi-tracked cello, omnichord, and field recordings from airports around the world, her melancholy compositions ache with “romanticism and rich melodicism.” Much like our own Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy fame, Kent has perfected the art of using live looping and effects to create rich layers of melody and rhythm in her solo cello concerts throughout Europe and the UK. We’ll get to experience the full effect live on June 9.

Another treat will be the double bill featuring classically trained soundscape composer/multimedia artist William Basinski with Toronto-based audio contortionist and collaborative creator Neil Wiernik. Wiernik, who also works under the pseudonym “naw” is creatively concerned with various types of storytelling, using abstract environments and spaces as his tools. We’ll get to hear both composers’ tales on June 12. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.musicgallery.org.

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

June is the month in which The WholeNote releases its “Green Pages” guide to summer music festivals – and there are at least two with events coming up that are obvious picks for world music lovers.

p21The 11th annual Muhtadi International Drumming Festival takes place June 5 and 6. The festival launch event is June 3 at the Wychwood Barns (7 – 10pm), and a parade on June 5 leaves Ramsden Park at 10am ending up at Queen’s Park, where performances continue to 8pm, as well as noon to 8 on June 6. The festival will showcase around 30 different groups or performers, representing drumming traditions from around the globe, with a focus this year on “Women in Rhythm.” For more details, visit www.muhtadidrumfest.com.

The other major host of world music events over the summer is of course Harbourfront Centre, which launches its World Routes series of mini festivals on July 1, running every weekend through September 6. For the 2010 series, Harbourfront explores  a “global to local, and local to global” theme in its programming. Canada Day events include “Gypsy Melody,” Roma music from Slovakia at 1pm, and vocalist Cheryl L’Hirondelle presenting contemporary songs expressing the Cree world view at 6:30 (Redpath Stage). “Hot Spot” runs July 2 – 4; highlights include The Toronto International Flamenco Festival, featuring dancers, singers and musicians, and L’Orchestre Septentrional, an 18-piece big band from Haiti, on July 3. Visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com/worldroutes2010 for more details.

Harbourfront also launches its annual Summer Music in the Garden series of free Thursday and Sunday concerts at the Toronto Music Garden. On July 1, there’s a concert featuring traditional Mohawk songs sung by the Ahkwesasne Women Singers, and the world premiere of a new piece by Barbara Croall, performed by the composer and clarinetist Peter Stoll. For full schedule, visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com/torontomusicgarden.

Toronto’s Luminato Festival has a few free noteworthy events: June 12, “Rock the Casbah” and “An African Prom” runs from 1 – 11pm at Queen’s Park, and features performances by Montreal banjo maestro Karim Saada, the Maryem Tollar Ensemble, Algerian-born rocker Rachid Taha, Nigeria’s Tony Allen, Mali’s Bassekou Kouyate and American banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Kouyate, a master of the ngoni, the banjo’s African ancestor, was a contributor to Fleck’s film and recording project Throw Down Your Heart, which you can catch the same day at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Luminato also presents a World Music Celebration on June 20, the closing day of the festival, at Queen’s Park, noon – 6.
Another festival offering a taste of music outside the Western “classical” tradition is Music at Sharon, which presents Ensemble Polaris on June 13. They’re known to play a host of unusual folk instruments, performing music from Scandinavia, the Baltics, Scotland and Canada.

And there’s still plenty happening on the usual concert curcuit. The Canadian Opera Company continues its noon-hour concert series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, with Nagata Shachu, Toronto’s Japanese Taiko ensemble that performs both traditional and newly composed works, June 3. The Toronto Children’s Chorus presents “Around the World in 80 Minutes” on June 5, featuring music from Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Europe, including a new klezmer work by Martin Van de Ven, clarinetist with guest performers Beyond the Pale klezmer ensemble.

p21_shajarianIn association with Roy Thomson Hall, Small World Music presents Persian vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian, with the Shahnaz Ensemble, June 6. One of the most well known performers of Iranian classical music, Shajarian has had a career spanning over 40 years, both at home and internationally. He’ll be accompanied by an ensemble of 15 instrumentalists, directed by Iranian composer and tar player Magid Derakhshani. Small World also presents Italian singer/songwriter Carmen Consoli at the Mod Club on June 20. See www.smallworldmusic.com.

As well, the Toronto Chinese Music School presents a concert of classical and contemporary Chinese music, June 25 at the P.C. Ho Theatre in north Toronto. Instruments featured include the huqin, erhu, gaohu and pipa. And last but not least, Toronto’s Shevchenko Musical Ensemble presents a feast of Ukrainian and other folk, classical and contemporary music, featuring the Shevchenko Choir, the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra, vocal and instrumental soloists and the Desna Ukrainian Dance Company, June 27 at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

Enjoy the warm weather (and the music) – and see you in July!

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

p23Brass week is coming to Toronto. As mentioned in last month’s column the International Women’s Brass Conference will be held June 16-20 in Toronto at the Humber College Lakeshore Campus. All of the performances during the week are at the auditorium of that campus. While the conference itself is restricted to those four days, organizers have planned a smorgasbord of musical events from serious academic sessions to whimsical anyone-can-join romps in the park. Space considerations limit how much detail I can include here, so I’ll try to highlight events of general interest. For registrations, ticket prices for performances, directions to venues and other information visit the IWBC website, www.iwbctoronto2010.com.

The first of the public participation affairs has been billed as “The World’s Biggest Brass Event!” The plan is to make an attempt at the world’s largest brass assembly ever. This will take place on Sunday, June 13, on the grounds of the Assembly Hall at Kipling Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard, adjacent to the Humber campus. Rehearsal will begin at 11am with the grand performance at 12 noon. This will be open to men, women and children of all ages and abilities, and music will be available ahead of time online at www.iwbctoronto2010.com.

Anyone with an instrument that’s made of brass and is capable of producing a musical scale will be eligible to participate. (Having said that, yes, most saxophones are made of brass, but you won’t be eligible to play along if that’s your chosen instrument.) Join the headliner groups, True North Brass, Canadian Brass and Hannaford Street Silver Band for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform in such a musical aggregation. Whether it be a French horn, Wagner tuba, mellophone, bass trumpet, contrabass trombone, helicon, saxhorn, flicorno or keyed bugle, get out your brass instrument and perform under the baton of distinguished Canadian conductor and composer, Howard Cable. (Personally, I haven’t decided yet whether to take my bass trumpet or my Soviet Army rotary valve baritone horn.) They need every able-bodied brass player in the Toronto area, as the record to beat is 596 players. Let’s all try to help set a new Brass Event record. Remember, you too could be on Youtube! A minimum donation of $2 is requested, and proceeds will go to the establishment of a music programme for underprivileged youth in the Lakeshore area, sponsored by Lakeshore Arts.

June 14 and 15 are reserved for the 2010 Susan Slaughter International Brass Competitions. Named for the founder of the IWBC, these competitions are for performers (both women and men) of all brass instruments. It’s my understanding that these are now fully booked, and that there are no further openings for competitors.

While there are a wide variety of clinics, workshops and other sessions for conference delegates, there is a plethora of concerts open to the public as long as tickets are available. Peforming ensembles hail from near and far. Local groups include the Weston Silver Band, the True North Brass, and the Hannaford Street Silver Band. From further afield we’ll have the Monarch Brass and the Viceroy Brass from the USA, the Japanese Ladies Brass Band, Bella Tromba from the UK, and more. You’ll find details on all these concerts in Section A of The WholeNote’s listings.

Another fun-for-all happening will be the “Brass Olympics,” Saturday, June 19 from 5 to 7:45pm on the east side of the Humber College grounds. If you’re frustrated with your brass playing abilities, then perhaps you should test your athletic prowess with one of these. For the muscular macho types there is the Tuba Toss to see who can throw a tuba the greatest distance out into Lake Ontario. There will be a line attached to retrieve the instrument after each competitor’s toss. For those wanting a challenge requiring more finesse, there will be the Horn Bell Frisbee Throw, the Trumpet Pin Game or the Trombone Balance competition. There will be prizes and fanfares, lots of fun, and a dinner at a nearby church.
The conference wraps up with a concert appropriately named “Brass Belles,” presented in conjunction with the Hannaford Street Silver Band at the St. Lawrence Centre. An array of brass band showpieces by international composers will be performed by an all-female cast of soloists and led by guest conductor Gillian MacKay. Soloists include Carol Jantsch, principal tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra; Susan Rider, lead cornet soloist with the US Marine Band; Bonnie Denton, euphonium soloist with the US Coast Guard Band; Gail Robertson, euphonium soloist performing J. Scott Irvine’s Concertino; and Joan Watson, principal horn of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra.

To provide a taste of the talent level expected at these events, I was sent a CD of tuba solos by Jantsch. She’s the young lady who startled the orchestral world by winning the prestigious tuba position in Philadelphia, thereby beating out some of the finest players in the world in a normally male-dominated position. After her first performance with the orchestra in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Carol had to rush back to write her final examinations at the University of Michigan.

In her CD, entitled Cascades, she displays a virtuosity rarely heard on a tuba. From the intricacies of a tango by Piazzolla, the allegro from a Khachaturian violin concerto and the ever popular Clarinet Polka she displays a technique normally only expected of much smaller instruments. She then shifts gears to a lyrical Adagio by Shostakovich where she showcases her tone and range. She will be one of the soloists at the Brass Belles concert.

On another front, we have news from Resa Kochberg. From time to time we have mentioned Resa’s Pieces Concert Band, established a number of years ago by Kochberg. The stated philosophy of that group from the beginning has been “to provide an opportunity for people to return to playing instruments that they had not touched for years.” Now Kochberg is launching a new venture: the Resa’s Pieces Strings. The RPS will be launched in September and will be under the directorship of Ric Giorgi, who will be welcomed into the Resa’s Pieces “family.” Look for more information in a later issue of this magazine, or contact them at: strings@resaspieces.org.

In the meantime CBC Radio is producing a documentary on Resa’s Pieces Concert Band. This is scheduled to be aired as part of “Sunday Edition,” which airs on CBC Radio One (99.1 FM) on June 6 – just before the band’s concert that evening.

Please write to us: bandstand@thewholenote.com

Definition Department
This month’s lesser known musical term is: “CORAL SYMPHONY”: a large multi-movement work from Beethoven’s Caribbean Period. We invite submissions from readers.

Coming Events Please see the listings section for full details.

• Wednesday, June 16, 7:00: The Etobicoke Community Concert Band present the first of their Twilight Concerts in the Park. There will be a community BBQ, 5:00 to 7:00. Admission is free.

Down the Road
• Between July 18 and August 21: The National Band of the Naval Reserve will be performing a series of concerts in various locations throughout Southern Ontario to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Canadian Navy.

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

p24aAs usual, there’s no shortage of interest on the early music scene this month, as the 2009/10 season draws to a close and the 2010 summer season begins.
Viva BiancaLuna Biffi is a name I hadn’t heard before, until I was alerted to her presence at three different concert series in Southern Ontario this month. This engaging Italian musician has a solid grounding in medieval fiddle, renaissance viola da gamba, baroque cello and voice, and she’s a specialist in the late 15th/early 16th-century form of Italian secular song known as the frottola, a predecessor to the madrigal.

Biffi has revived a long-lost art practised by late renaissance and early baroque musicians, singing the upper line of the songs while performing her own arrangement of the other voices on the viola d’arco (no mean feat!) – and, judging from the audio files I’ve heard, she’s a consummate and I’ll bet completely delightful musical storyteller with a twinkle in her eye, a smile in her voice and an apt sense of accompaniment on her instrument.

The one-woman show she brings to Canada is Fermate il Passo (“Stay a moment, passer-by!”). She describes it as a mini- or proto-opera (opera as we know it had yet to be born), that charts the course of love from sunset to night to dawn. I thought it might be interesting to follow her around and have a look at this area’s summer festivals where she’ll be performing.

On June 19 you can hear Biffi at Knox United Church in Ayr, one of the Grand River Baroque Festival’s two venues. I think she’ll fit in well with the spirit of this festival – it really is a feast of wonderful performers and very unusual programming. Artistic directors Guy Few and Nadina Mackie Jackson have conjured up three days of celebration that include a masquerade gala with fireworks, a concert-combination of Vivaldi and Piazzolla, and another concert of music by Glenn Buhr, Mathieu Lussier, Vivaldi and the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. There’s early music mixed with pop (“Pop-Period Fusion”) and fencing demonstrations too. It all takes place from June 18 to 20, just west of Kitchener in the Buehlow Barn and a bit south of that in Ayr.

Then, after appearances at the Montreal Baroque Festival (June 25) and in Quebec City, Biffi returns to Toronto on July 4 for the Toronto Music Garden’s “Summer Music in the Garden” series, curated by Tamara Bernstein. The design of this lovely public garden was inspired by a Bach unaccompanied cello suite – an appropriate setting for early music – and Biffi’s performance there will be the first of this year’s early music lineup. (There will be more news of what’s to come in the July/August WholeNote.)
Biffi’s final appearance in this area is on July 5 at the Church of the Holy Trinity, in its “Music Mondays” series. Right in the middle of downtown Toronto, you can spend an hour or so on a Monday afternoon in this quiet setting, enveloped in intimate music-making.

Tafelmusik’s  “Baroque Summer Institute” is a comprehensive training programme in baroque performance, now in its ninth year and held at U of T’s Faculty of Music. It attracts about 85 participants from around the world – and no wonder: study includes orchestra and choir rehearsals, masterclasses, opera scene study for singers, chamber ensembles, private lessons, lectures and workshops, classes in baroque dance, and concerts. This year’s Institute takes place from June 6 to 19. During this time four concerts will be presented – June 7, 12, 16 and 19 – featuring either Institute participants or faculty, and ending in a “Grand Finale” with combined forces in a baroque extravaganza. Both faculty and students are top-notch, and one couldn’t go wrong in checking out the fruits of their labours.

A few more concerts

Helmuth Rilling came to town a few weeks ago to conduct the Toronto Symphony and collaborating artists in stunning performances of Bach’s B Minor Mass. A lot of it is still in my ear, and I remember having particular “heroes” within the performing forces – one of whom was the first cellist, whose sheer commitment to the beauty and inexorability of her line was riveting to hear and to see. Winona Zelenka was the cellist – featured in the magazine this month. She’ll be playing at the Glenn Gould Studio on June 6, to celebrate the release of her new two-CD recording of Bach’s cello suites.

About 40 kilometres north of Toronto stands the Sharon Temple, a unique architectural beauty and a testimonial to the vision of the Children of Peace, who built it in the 19th century. The “Music at Sharon” concert series takes place there on Sunday afternoons, and Ensemble Polaris (a group difficult to classify) appears there on June 13. While they seek to explore the music of northern countries and traditions, many of the members of this group are early-music specialists as well, and you can hear ancient influences in their varied and colourful soundscape.

Also on June 13, the Toronto Early Music Centre presents the last of its “Musically Speaking” series for this year. Ensemble L’indiscrète performs the Pièces de clavecin en concerts by Rameau, as well as music by Marais, Buxtehude and Telemann, on harpsichord, baroque violin and viola da gamba.

Another concert at the Sharon Temple that is clearly devoted to early music is a performance by Les Voix Baroques, on July 4. A celebrated ensemble specializing in vocal works from the Renaissance and Baroque, they will perform music by Charpentier and Carrisimi.

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.

p25aI’ve been writing the “Choral Scene” column for The WholeNote since last fall – and my short time writing this column leads me to the happy conclusion that our local choral music scene is thriving and inventive.

To be sure, the final concerts of the season attest to the liveliness and diversity of the choral scene. For instance, on June 2, the Toronto Choral Society performs The Resting Place of Pioneers, an interesting programme that combines music and story to illuminate the journeys and exploits of the first settlers of Toronto. The centerpiece of the concert is Toronto composer Eleanor Daley’s tuneful and appealing setting of the Requiem text. In Newmarket on 5 June, the Blue Bridge Festival Choir and Orchestra perform two relatively rare choral pieces, Weber’s Mass in E flat and Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music. And on July 1, First Nation’s group the Ahkwesasne Women Singers will be singing at the Queen’s Quay Toronto Music Garden, combining traditional Mohawk songs with a new work by distinguished Canadian-Odawa composer Barbara Croall.

Four more concerts demonstrate the breadth of current choral activity. On June 2, the St. Thomas’s Anglican Church choir performs music to celebrate Canadian composer and music director Walter MacNutt, who served at St Thomas’s from 1954-1977. Toronto’s Jubilate Singers celebrate their 40th anniversary with a concert on June 5. On June 13 the Headwaters Concert Choir sings Inspiration, a fundraising concert for First Nations’ children in Ontario. And the Niagara Vocal Ensemble perform the intriguingly titled Night Music – A Women’s Voice in Stratford on June 28.

One of the hidden bargains of the early summer are the free concerts given as part of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. Combining Tafelmusik musicians with the up-and-coming talents who attend the Institute, concerts run on June 7, 12 16 and 19. Prior to this, Tafelmusik will be closing its run of Handel’s sprawling Israel in Egypt on June 1. This massive work has some of Handel’s most dramatic and inventive choruses, and is in fact more choir-heavy than the more famous Messiah. Those looking for a Handel chorus fix to tide them over for the summer need look no further.

Those who prefer their choral music to come from religious sources and “serious” composers may turn their noses up at concerts that draw upon music from areas such as music theatre, film and television. But as anyone who has tried can attest, singing popular music well is a good deal harder than it may appear, and the work of a classically trained musician truly comfortable in popular styles is both rare and a pleasure to experience. In this crossover vein, the Choralairs of North York perform a free pops concert at Earl Bales Park Community Centre, and Toronto’s East York Choir presents a programme of opera and music theatre (both on June 6). As well, Burlington’s Harlequin Singers perform “Here Comes Broadway” on June 4-6, and Barrie’s Bravado! Show Choir performs “Reel Music” on June 11-12.

On the classical end, Bach’s Magnificat in D is performed on June 5 by the St. Anne’s Concert Choir and Orchestra, with all concert proceeds going to help repair the historic and unique St. Anne’s Parish. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven’s beloved Symphony No. 9 on 16-17 June. The two groups also collaborate the next night for “Scheherazade,” a Russian-themed programme of Khachaturian, Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel. The Victoria Scholars perform “Choral Explorations” on June 2, as part of the Canadian Opera Company’s vocal series, and aficionados of British choral music can attend a “Concert of 20th Century Sacred Music” by the visiting Choir of St. Chad’s College, (University of Durham) at Toronto’s Church of St. Mary Magdalene on June 11.

June brings the opportunity to hear a new oratorio, the Dark Star Requiem, written by young Toronto-based composer Andrew Staniland. Tackling the twenty-five-year modern history of the AIDS epidemic, the Elmer Iseler Singers, Gryphon Trio and four vocal soloists perform this work on June 11-12 as part of the Luminato Festival. As well, three youth choir concerts take place this season, all on June 5: the Mississauga Children’s Choir presents “Eine Kleine Jazz Musik”; the Guelph Youth Singers present “Whistle While You Work,” songs of carpenters, clowns, goatherds, sailors and pirates; and the St. Mary’s Children’s Choir presents “It’s a Grand Night For Singing.”

Finally, on 14 June, the Cantabile Chorale of York Region performs “Strawberries and Song 2010,” with strawberries and ice cream, raffles and more. Any choral concert that includes strawberries gets my vote! Happy singing and concertgoing to all during the summer months.

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

p26Another death in the family. Less than two weeks after the passing of Gene Lees, the ranks were thinned even more by the passing of Rob McConnell. But the legacy left by him leaves no doubt that his music will live on. Like Duke Ellington, the orchestra was his instrument and his arrangements will be a living memorial to his great talent as an arranger.

A native of London, Ontario, he took up the valve trombone in high school and began his performing career in the early 1950s. In 1954 he played in Edmonton with the band of saxophonist Don (DT) Thompson. Back in Toronto he played piano in drummer Alex Lazaroff’s Rhythm Rockets and trombone with Bobby Gimby before moving to New York for several months in 1964 to play, mainly with Maynard Ferguson’s big band.

On his return to Toronto he became one of the busiest studio musicians and arrangers in town. At one point he was doing the Bob Maclean Show five days a week, playing the Juliette Show, both on CBC plus any number of jingles. Whichever way you slice it, McConnell was a very successful studio musician, but the real satisfaction came from playing jazz, mostly in small group settings until he formed the Boss Brass in 1968. The band’s first engagement was at the Savarin, an attractive watering hole on Bay Street in Toronto. As the band’s name suggests, it originally had no reeds. The instrumentation was 16 pieces consisting of trumpets, trombones, french horns, and a rhythm section – but no saxophones, much to the chagrin of the local reed movers and shakers. Eventually McConnell repented and introduced a saxophone section in 1970. He also added a fifth trumpet in 1976, bringing the total to 22 members.

Inevitably it took some time for the band to be recognized in the United States, but Times jazz critic Leonard Feather, in 1986, proclaimed it the jazz band of the year. Now this was long after the heyday of big bands and for such a group to win critical and a degree of financial success was quite remarkable - an achievement all the more extraordinary when you consider the fact that five Juno and three Grammy awards were accumulated by the Boss Brass over the years.

I think it’s fair to say that it was because of the Boss Brass that McConnell was regarded as one of the major Canadian jazz musicians on the world stage. In 1997 he gave up the unenviable tasks of running a big band and formed a 10-piece group which still had the unique McConnell sound and with which he continued to work until bad health forced him to slow down.

As a person, McConnell had his light and dark sides – we all have different facets to our personality and he was certainly no exception – and was not always the easiest of people. He could be grumpy and difficult to work with, but those of us who knew him offstage also saw a much more gentle, good natured man in contrast to the crusty persona he could present.

He had a biting sense of humour, and pity on anyone on the receiving end of it. I like to think of him as the Don Rickles of jazz.! There was also a wry side to his humour. His close friend, Ted O’Reilly recalled the following little episode.

“The Boss Brass did a CJRT concert at the Ontario Science Centre for me one time, and it was intense. Setting up a 22-piece orchestra, complete with microphone setups and sound checks was hard work. To add to that, we got word that Dizzy Gillespie was going to come to the concert. It went well, of course, but at the end of the hour, with an empty hall, there was Rob collecting all the music, packing his horn; and me, wrapping up mic cables and putting equipment away. Rob stopped, shook his head and laughed, saying ‘Here’s the reward of the jazz world: you the producer, me the leader – where’s the broom to sweep the floor?”

Like many great artists McConnell coped with feelings of insecurity throughout his career, using that bluff exterior he presented to the world as a cover. Not that he was modest or insecure in his belief in the greatness of the Boss Brass – and rightly so.

On a personal note, I’m proud of the fact that in my last year as artistic director of the Toronto Jazz Festival I was able to present McConnell and the Boss Brass in what was to be their final performance. When I called him he really didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting the Brass together, and suggested that I hire the tentet instead. For my part, I knew exactly what I wanted, and fortunately I was able to convince him that a July 1 noon-hour concert in the marquee at City Hall and free to the public would be a perfect way to celebrate Canada Day, and that the Boss Brass had to be the band.

Just before the start of the performance on that day we had a few private minutes together, and it was quite clear that Rob was less than well. We walked to the tent and I know it was an effort for him to even get onstage, but there he was, cracking a joke, making the audience and his musicians feel good and launching into what was to be the last hurrah.

Drummer Dennis Mackrel summed it up nicely: “Rob McConnell was a giant among musicians and one of the finest arrangers of his day or anyone else’s. To listen to his writing was a lesson in excellence, and remains one of the best examples of just how high the bar can be!”

Thank you, Rob, for the musical pleasure you gave to fans around the world and the music that will continue to inspire young players for years to come. The boss is dead – long live the Boss Brass.

Hank Jones

p27As I was writing about Rob McConnell, word came in that we had lost yet another jazz master with the passing of pianist Hank Jones. Born in 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he outlived two younger brothers, trumpeter, composer Thad and drummer Elvin, surely one of the most musical families in jazz.

Jones was a prodigious talent and revered by every other piano player. Case in point: seven years ago The WholeNote printed a piece I wrote after spending an afternoon with Oscar Peterson. I talked about his huge talent as an accompanist, knowing when to use his great technique and when to leave spaces, and O.P. said, “Do you know who my teacher was? It was Hank Jones.” He then spoke about the Jazz At The Phil concerts when the closing of the show would feature Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by Jones. “Hank would be right there, playing for Fitz and I’d soak up whatever I could, ‘cause he taught me everything I know about it. I learned from Hank Jones. I’m not ashamed to say that – I’m proud to say it.”

Jones leaves a wonderful legacy, and although we feel sorrow we should also celebrate his remarkably rich gifts.

Happy listening and make some of it live jazz.

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

What a heavenly time to be a club owner, jazz musician or music lover! Although it’s impossible to attend absolutely everything you read about in the summer festival season, the mood remains festive so long as snow is impossible (knock on wood!). But seriously, whether or not it rains, there’s a decidedly warm buzz in the air these days.

Great News!

page_41_annemarieFans of Anne Marie Leonard’s Open Mic (formerly held at the defunct Statlers on Church) will be pleased to know that she is now holding it in the same vibrant neighbourhood Thursday nights at Fuzion, (www.fuzionexperience.com) located at 580 Church Street just north of Wellesley. Charismatic Leonard currently coaches dozens of performers and accompanies three choirs in the Greater Toronto Area. Listen to her masterful way with the ivories at www.annemarieleonard.com, and be sure to check out the Thursday night open mic from 9-midnight. All styles welcome. Arrive early to catch entertaining vocalist Mark Cassius with lovely Ken Lindsay on keys from 6-9pm.

Two Much Fun

Speaking of duos, every Torontonian needs to experience Robert Scott and drummer Great Bob Scott, who come across as marvelously mad geniuses. The pair never fails to enchant an audience with their energetic delivery of a diverse repertoire. Scott (www.robertscottmusic.com) and Scott (www.myspace.com/greatbobscott) are thankfully easy to catch, appearing regularly three times a week: down at the Novotel at 45 The Esplanade every Wednesday from 7-11pm and Saturdays from 8:30-midnight, as well as Friday nights starting at 9:30pm at the Pantages Martini Lounge located at 200 Victoria Street. Real pianos, no cover!

Attention Piano Lovers

page_42_adrean_farrugiaSpeaking of real pianos, there are two very exciting series to report about: Merriam Music (www.merriamlive.com) in Oakville is launching a monthly piano series on Sunday June 6 featuring Robi Botos, Adrean Farrugia and Stu Harrison showcasing three state-of-the-art pianos. Limited to 100 seats, the series features divine acoustics, wines, cheeses, scotches and an interactive audience component with your questions. Also, Gallery 345 (www.gallery345.com) at 345 Sorauren Avenue has a nine-foot Baldwin and a seven-foot Steinway, this month featuring a “Piano Jazz Masters” series June 13 with the Matthew Shipp Trio, June 20 with the Mario Roman Quartet and June 27 with the Hilario Duran Trio. Check the website for times and ticket prices.  

Jazz Festival Pride

The TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival will be proudly presented simultaneously with Pride Toronto and the G20 summit! Looks like the world will be in our city, so here’s hoping this helps. In terms of programming, there are dozens of noteworthy choices.

The Headliner

Harry Connick Jr. and Orchestra: consummate entertainer, the famed and photographable New Orleans native makes a welcome return to Toronto, backed by full orchestra at the Canon Theatre on June 27, 8pm, tickets $50-150. www.harryconnickjr.com.


Welcome Returns

Herbie Hancock Imagine Project: the highly influential and critically acclaimed pianist will be featuring songs from his most recent triumph, River: The Joni Mitchell Letters with the Imagine Project, completed by Vinnie Colaiuta, drums, Lionel Loueke, guitar, Greg Phillinganes, keyboards, Tal Wilkenfeld, bass, and vocalists to be announced. Opening set by Juno-winning bassist/composer Brandi Disterheft. Mainstage Concert Series, June 26, 8pm, tickets $55. www.herbiehancock.com.  

Dave Brubeck: with a legendary career that spans over six decades, his compositional experiments in odd time signatures, improvised counterpoint, polyrhythm and polytonality still turn heads. At 89-and-a-half years young, the consummate entertainer is a marvel to behold. Don’t miss Brubeck’s Quartet as part of the Koerner Hall Jazz Series on June 29, 8pm, tickets $50-75. www.davebrubeck.com.
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette: this consistently imaginative piano-bass-drums trio continues to set standards and is aptly known as the Standards Trio. Now in their third decade of collectively breathtaking, mind-boggling, heartfelt musical creativity, these are three grand masters you don’t want to miss. June 30 at the Four Seasons Centre, tickets $47.50-127.50.

It Ain’t Necessarily Jazz!

With hopes of drawing from outside of the jazz pool, the festival has invited pop acts set to make a splash, including Esthero (June 27 at the Lee’s Palace, $24.50), Serena Ryder (June 29 at Harbourfront’s Sirius Stage, $34.50) and Chaka Khan and Macy Gray (July 3 at Dundas Square, free). In contrast, the “Next Wave Series” at the Music Gallery (www.musicgallery.org) will be a magnet for lovers of experimental, envelope-pushing music. One such show will be Christine Duncan’s haunting Element Choir (June 29 at the Music Gallery, $20). Fearlessly conducted, this diverse group of musicians weaves unforgettable webs of improvised vocal textures.

Tribute To A Legend

The jazz world recently lost a genuine legend with the passing of Rob McConnell (February 14, 1935 – May 1, 2010). McConnell was a true renaissance man who wore many hats, earned many accolades and will not be forgotten. The Old Mill’s Dining Room will house a tribute to Rob McConnell’s legacy on June 24.

One, Two, A-One, Two, Free!

As always, the festival offers free-admission shows. The 12-noon lunchtime show on June 30 will be a particularly special performance, for it will be a CD launch by Ricochet, the brainchild of Adrean Farrugia, one of our city’s most creative pianists. When Farrugia takes a solo on any old standard, it’s hard not to be engaged by his playful approach to the familiar; his own compositions tend to be rich with flowing emotion, drawing from varied sources.

“The music is inspired by a need to try and cohesively combine all the things I love in music,” says Farrugia. “The music attempts to fuse jazz, classical, Indian, South African, pop and film-music textures and rhythms into a unified sound, while being equally appealing to both lay listeners and highly trained ears. Creating music that has a wide appeal without making sacrifices is very important to me.”
For everything from fabulous freebies to genuine grandmasters, visit the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival website: www.torontojazz.com.

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

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