Erin Wall as Arabella in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Arabella, 2017. Photo by Michael CooperWhat is a thriving artist to do if serious illness strikes while everything else in life is going gloriously? Erin Wall, an elegant Straussian soprano in demand on both sides of the Atlantic, who defined Arabella and Kaija Saariaho’s Clémence for Torontonians and redefined Mozart’s Countess in a recent COC Figaro, had an extraordinarily difficult December last year. That winter, amidst all that bloom, professional and familial – she is happily partnered and a mother of two – she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

While looking at the treatment options, she also had to decide how to redraw the dense schedule of her professional engagements. She was going to have to invent for herself a new way of being in the world for some time to come: a much-travelled soprano who’s also in cancer treatment.

It’s crucial not to abandon everything – and to continue with life as you know it as much as possible, she tells me when we meet on a mild weekend afternoon in mid-August. Her hair, growing back after chemotherapy, is in a short boyish cut, which gives her a touch of punk. We met to talk about her upcoming song recital with Carolyn Maule at Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival, but soon enough move on to the much bigger issue: how to go on living and working while healing.

“Generally the week after the chemotherapy is not easy – you feel sick and don’t want to go out – but the second week I would start to feel better and by the third I felt normal. Luckily a lot of the gigs fell on those second and third weeks. I only had to cancel, like, two jobs.” A few dates had to be negotiated. “Staff at Princess Margaret Hospital at first thought I was crazy. They’re used to saying to the patients, ‘This is when your surgery will be, just show up, and this is when your appointment will be, and you show up.’ They’re used to sort of everybody abandoning everything, and I’d go, ‘That date is not going to work for me, I need it to be next week so I can go to Cleveland and record Beethoven’s Ninth.’ And they worked with me.” Meanwhile, with her manager she let all the symphonies know that she may not feel okay the day of the concert. “He told them, if you’d like Erin to back out now, she will, and most of them said: ‘No, we’ll hire a cover and we’ll play it by ear.’ People were wonderful about it.” This summer, she’s keeping her two engagements at the British Proms: the first concert was on July 21, four weeks after her surgery, and the next one is coming up on September 6, Britten’s War Requiem with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian.

Erin Wall as Clémence in the Canadian Opera Company production of Love from Afar, 2012. Photo by Michael CooperSinging has been a lifeline in the thick of the treatment; when we talked in August, she was undergoing radiation, which she was finding much easier. Singing, and also the rituals around getting ready and being in concert. “It was really nice to do, put on a dress and a wig and pretend that life was normal and not just be a cancer patient sitting on a couch watching Netflix.” You travelled quite a bit too? “It was fun actually because every time I got to go sing between the chemos, it’s like a vacation from cancer. Cancer treatment is like having a job. I rode to the hospital every day on the GO Train with the businessmen in suits, and it’s for weeks in a row, no gigging while this is happening-- it becomes your job.” As soon as she’s recuperated, it’s back to singing. “I’ve never sung more Beethoven Ninths in my life,” she jokes. “Which I love! And they’re easier to handle than, say, Mahler 8. I did a Mahler 8 I think between chemo four and five, and that put me absolutely to my limit.” This was in the Netherlands, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. “Any other time when I’m healthy, the amount of effort in Mahler 8 is between six and seven but there, I was at eleven out of ten.”

How does the chemotherapy affect a singer’s body? “The thing that it affected the most is breathing,” she says. As a later side effect, it turned out that she was becoming anemic; the red blood cells were not able to bounce back as quickly as the white cells until with the help of medication, they did. “I had to stop running toward the end of chemo.” You maintained your running schedule?! “I was sort of able to keep it up in the beginning, going slower and slower, but toward the end it became impossible as your blood can’t carry enough oxygen.”

I rewind the conversation back to the wigs and ask her about the practicalities around that. As soon as she was diagnosed, Wall emailed a friend who’s a professional wigmaker at the COC to ask her if she could create a wig specifically for her performances. Then she cut her hair short – she was told by girlfriends who’ve been through treatment that it’s easier to mourn the loss of short hair – and sent all the hair extensions she used over the years to the wigmaker friend to incorporate in the wig about to be created. “A week or two after chemo, when it was about to start to fall out, I had my husband shave my head. We had a party in my bathroom with my kids and my parents. I was about to go to Calgary and sing Mendelssohn and I didn’t want chunks of hair in my hands in the hotel room, and also didn’t want to carry hair brushes, and hair dryers and shampoo AND a bagful of wigs. It was all too much: I’m going to go to Calgary with no hair.” But what grew back since that bathroom symposium actually did fall off while she was in Calgary. “I woke up in Calgary and it was all over the pillow. It was still traumatic because it was real.”

She doesn’t dwell too much. “It’s nice to have hair again. I dyed it bright magenta a while ago, and will try platinum on Tuesday.” Then she shifts into a comedy mode. “I used a long straight wig for social occasions, but they’re so hot and itchy when you have no hair on your head.” There are also the hot flashes to contend with, another side to cancer. “When you’re getting hot flashes and you have a wig on, it’s un-bearable. There were times when I was in public and decided that the wig has got to come off. I’d go somewhere and 30 minutes in, the wig would go into my bag and I would put a little cap on. And people give you looks, they know you’re a cancer patient… but you stop caring.”

As she’s made me laugh multiple times during our conversation, I tell Wall that she’s coming up with some stand-up quality stuff that reminds me of Tig Notaro, the first US comic to talk about her cancer onstage and to, in fact, turn the illness into comedy material. Wall’s eyes lit up. “I love her work! Her comedy about having cancer and all the horrible things that came with it, I could not stop listening to it. It’s what got me through December. Everything is so true. The most horrible thing about it – she had a double mastectomy – is, she says, that nobody can hug you after surgery. It’s the thing you most need and you can’t stand to be touched.” The first Notaro video that went viral and broke new ground in comedy? Wall keeps it on her phone. “She made the hard things funny. And I love that bit where she talks about making fun of her breasts for being so small, and how they have turned on her and went ‘we’re gonna kill her now’… I just love her. I remember driving through Texas with my sister – my aunt passed away from breast cancer in March – my whole family went there to say goodbye and as we were driving back through Dallas after, really depressed about it all, I was like: you need to listen to this, it’s about when life is really really horrible and how you can ache and still be funny. So we listened together.”

Erin Wall. Photo by Alexander VasiljevAlready in August when we spoke, in between the preparations for the Proms, Wall was rehearsing the songs for the September 14 recital in Picton with Carolyn Maule. A beautifully crafted program awaits, with long, complex songs by Debussy and Duparc, the three Korngold songs of the Opus 22, the delightfully mad Poulenc cycle Fiançailles pour rire, and a three-song cycle by the fin-de-siècle American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes. “They’re all songs that I like and know really well, that are fresh in my mind, body and voice,” she says. “These Debussy songs – I started singing them about 13 years ago. Which was ambitious of me then because I didn’t always have the low part of the voice to sing them. So I put them away for ten years, and then came back to them a few years ago, after I became a mother.” While she’s sung Thaïs and quite a few Marguerites as a fledgling singer, and had a French repertoire specialist for a coach, she’s more often asked to sing German rep now.

Which will also soon enough include Wagner. The recital program is capped off by Elsa’s Dream, the soprano aria from Act 1 of Wagner’s Lohengrin – something she’s never sung before. Is this a sign of things to come? She smiles but can’t divulge too much. “There may be a staged Lohengrin in the cards. In a couple of years. But I can’t say more.” Can we at least know in what country? “…Spain.” Then adds: “I always thought my inroad to big Wagner roles would be either Elsa or Eva from Die Meistersinger… you know, the blonde ones. And that’s exactly how it turned out: Elsa it is.”

September 14 at 7:30pm: Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival presents “An Evening of Song” with Erin Wall, soprano, and Carolyn Maule, piano. St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, 335 Main St., Picton. 613-478-8416. $35. www.pecmusicfestival.com/erin-wall.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

The September 2018/19 music theatre season starts off with the exciting world premiere of a new piece by Jani Lauzon, which will be presented in a three-way co-production by Paper Canoe Projects, Cahoots Theatre Projects and Native Earth Performing Arts at Native Earth’s Aki Studio. I Call myself Princess (the lowercase of the “m” in “myself” is intentional) is a fascinating new “play with opera” that uses an interdisciplinary approach to delve into the past, making new discoveries about both the past and the present by relating it to today.

Jani Lauzon. Photo courtesy of Jani LauzonA hundred years ago in 1918, an opera titled Shanewis (The Robin Woman) with music by Charles Wakefield Cadman and libretto by Nelle Richmond Eberhart made its debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as part of a three-part program about American life. It was such a success that it returned the next season and continued to tour and be revived around the United States for years afterwards.

This was the second opera by Cadman and Eberhart on an “American Indian” theme, but their first to be accepted for production. What seemed to make the difference with Shanewis was the contribution to the story and libretto by Cadman’s musical touring partner the Creek/Cherokee singer Tsianina Redfeather, who, although never officially credited, provided ideas from her own life and experiences – resulting in an opera that resonated with both producers and audiences.

A hundred years later, playwright Jani Lauzon’s I Call myself Princess is about to bring this story back to life for us in a modern context. The first seeds of inspiration for the play came when the playwright was working with the Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, the acclaimed Native Women’s collective that she co-founded with Michelle St. John and Monique Mojica. While working on a new project, Lauzon came across the 1972 book The Only Good Indian: The Hollywood Gospel. It was full of critical viewpoints on the inclusion, or lack thereof, of Indigenous performers in opera, jazz, silent film, the talkies and vaudeville, starting at the turn of the 20th century.

“At first we were surprised by how many Indigenous performers there were. Then we were upset with ourselves that we were surprised,” Lauzon tells me. “We had bought into the narrative that we weren’t there. But we were there. We were producers, writers, performers.” The story of Tsianina and the opera Shanewis in particular stood out as something to be explored further. “What struck me about Tsianina Redfeather was her working relationship with Charles Wakefield Cadman,” she says, “and the complexities of how they were both navigating the industry and expectations of the audience.”

Cadman was already well known at the time as a composer and expert in “American Indian Music” and for composing his own pieces in a style that became known as “Indianist.” He gave lecture tours around the United States and Europe, joined from 1908 by Redfeather, who dressed for the concerts in beaded traditional costumes, her hair in braids, and was credited as “Princess Tsianina.”

In I Call myself Princess, we meet Tsianina and Cadman as they and their opera are discovered by William, a young Métis opera singer in the course of his studies. As he learns more and deals with the difficulties of finding his own identity as a young Indigenous performer in the world of opera and today’s political climate, music and theatre become intertwined. “I was conscious of the need to seamlessly integrate the libretto and music that was Charles Wakefield Cadman’s and Nelle Eberharts’ within the context of my story,” says Lauzon. “In many ways the writing process was a constant reminder that the very act of reconciliation is a delicate balance that takes work, thought and negotiation.”

Marjorie Chan. Photo courtesy of Marjorie ChanThis intertwining of story, genre, time and theme is exciting and ambitious. Joining Lauzon to undertake the challenge of bringing it all to life is director and dramaturge Marjorie Chan, also artistic director of Cahoots, a theatre company dedicated to working with diverse artistic voices. Many things, Chan says, drew her to the project: knowing Jani Lauzon and her work with the Turtle Gals, the chance to tell a story that has thus far had little opportunity to be heard, but also the combination of theatre with opera. Chan herself is well known as an opera librettist. “When we started to work on this project,” she says, “I often felt like my worlds were starting to come together.”

When I asked Chan about the intermixture of play and opera, she said that to her it is like an opera within a play. “In terms of the actual opera that was performed on the Met stage in 1918, we are, in the play, looking at its creation from both the time when it was created and from our modern perspective in 2018,” she explains. “We are poking at it from all different sides and different times so that pieces of the opera are consistently being performed throughout the entire evening.”

Marion NewmanOne of the challenges of getting this right is casting, particularly with the very specific demands for each character. Acclaimed for her warm strong mezzo-soprano voice and experience in contemporary opera, Marion Newman, of Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations as well as English, Irish and Scottish heritage, was an obvious choice for Tsianina, Chan says. Newman has been an integral part of the project since the workshop in 2014. Opposite her, as the composer Charles Wakefield Cadman, is versatile performer and director Richard Greenblatt, known, perhaps most famously, for his two-man show with Ted Dykstra, Two Pianos Four Hands. As Cadman he not only has an acting role but a musician’s role: playing the piano – in character – throughout the piece.

Playing William, the Métis opera student, is Aaron M. Wells (of Ehattesaht and Lax Kwalaams First Nations) from the west coast, who, Chan says, is not only a terrific singer but also “understands on a really intuitive level William’s position as an Indigenous person in a program that was not specifically designed with his culture in mind.”

Leading the musical side of the production is music director Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate whose background, classical training and compositional experience make him – as Lauzon says – a perfect fit for the show. A Chikasaw classical composer and pianist whose own works are inspired by Indigenous history and culture, Impichchaachaaha’ Tate met Jani Lauzon when he came to Toronto in 1994 to compose the music for Native Earth’s production of Diva Ojibway. While “blown away by his talent and experience as a composer,” Lauzon says, “it is also a blessing that Jerod is well versed in Cadman’s music, the Indianist music and Tsianina. He gets the way Indigenous people work and think because he is one, and he understands the circumstances that Tsianina faces because as an Indigenous artist he lives it every day.”

The music he will be directing is made up of key moments from the opera, from a beautiful aria about love to an idealized version of an Ojibwe song that Cadman included not only in the opera but also in the “Indian Lecture” tour that he and Tisanina took all over the world. As well, Lauzon says, “Jerod is composing a traditional Ojibwe melody that grows as a musical theme throughout, and Marion Newman has been hard at work practising the slide guitar, which Tsianina played for the troops overseas during World War One.”

As Chan says, since in the play William is discovering the opera Shanewis, “We have to dive in. We have to hear enough of the original to understand and ask, ‘How do I feel about that?’”

The company is also spending time exploring what might have been the original performance style for opera in 1918, adds Chan: “How well that (might) hold in our contemporary space and seeing where we should offer something more naturalistic that we might be more accustomed to, and to be more truthful to the piece.” The opera was daring for its time, as Chan emphasizes. “It has a female protagonist who is very strong, very forthright. Furthermore, she is a female protagonist who is an Indian who speaks quite truthfully about her experience as a colonized person. She is the love interest of a white man and rejects him in favour of honouring her people. So we think about how that would have landed on an audience of 1918.”

As Lauzon mentioned, the opera – though highly successful in its time – contains images and concepts that today would be recognized as problematic. A challenge for the creative team and company will be balancing this intriguing and daring 1918 world with the more familiar world of 2018, and focusing the play in performance so that the audience will receive it in the way the playwright intends.

Chan says that Lauzon is “gifted in layering all these complex ideas in a really articulated, clear way.” According to Chan, the play is about Tsianina Redfeather at the turn of the century but “it is also about this young Métis man in an opera program, and what it means for him to encounter and be impacted by this music. That’s the beauty of how we find the ways to leak the music in and take it out, to stay with the emotional journey of the young Métis opera singer.”

Intriguingly, when I suggest that there was a time travel element to be experienced, Chan says that they are aiming for something even more complex: “the thought that if we might expand what we know around us we could reach it; that they are existing at the same time.”

Ultimately, says Chan, the goal of the team is that “the audience should be able to come in and experience the journey of a young man reaching back into his culture – and reclaiming culture and music that belongs to him.”

I Call myself Princess plays September 9 to 30, at Native Earth Performing Arts’ Aki Studio, Toronto. 

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

 Donna-Michelle St. Bernard - "Sound of the Beast." Photo credit Graham Isador 2017SEP 28 & 29, 7:30PM: Sound of the Beast. Theatre Passe Muraille (followed by a national tour): Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, who collaborated so wonderfully with Tapestry Opera last season on the Persian inspired Tap Ex: Forbidden, is the solo artist here as emcee “Belladonna the Blest,” and, using a combination of hip-hop, spoken word and storytelling, tells truth to power with a brutally honest take on policing in Black communities.

SEP 18 to 29: Grand Theatre. Prom Queen: The Musical. The High School Project - Grand Theatre London, 471 Richmond St., London. The Grand Theatre’s annual high school project aroused controversy earlier this year in the city of London because it tells the true story of Marc Hall, who in 2002 wanted to take his boyfriend to the school prom. Originally developed at Sheridan’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project, the show has earned rave reviews elsewhere and here will have a large cast of real high school students, 50 onstage and 30 backstage.

SEP 13 to OCT 7: Musical Stage Company. Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life. Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave., Toronto. The latest creation by the talented Johnson sisters, Britta and Anika, this co-production with Mitchell Cushman’s Outside the March company promises to be “immersive” and very different from your usual musical. At the historic, tiny, Heliconian Hall in Yorkville.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Calidore String Quartet. Photo by Sophie ZhaiThe Calidore String Quartet (Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violins, Jeremy Berry, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello) made a name for themselves in 2016 by winning the $100,000 Grand Prize in the inaugural M-Prize International Chamber Music Competition, the world’s largest chamber music prize. More recently, they were awarded the 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant. During the upcoming season they will complete their three-year residency with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. They took time in August for an email Q&A in advance of their Mooredale Concerts recital of their “Music and Conflict” program in Walter Hall, on September 30.

WN: Please tell us about when and where the Calidore String Quartet began.

CSQ: We met at the Colburn School in Los Angeles where we were completing our music studies. Estelle and Jeff had been in a different quartet and we were looking to continue working together. Jeremy on viola was the next addition followed shortly by Ryan on second violin. The quartet officially formed in 2010.

How was your “Music and Conflict” program conceived?

Given the chaotic and uncertain world that we live in, we wanted to find guidance in the music that we spend our lives studying and performing. How did the great artists in our field take conflict and channel it creatively? How did they make their voice heard? Taking the Mendelssohn Op.80 as the anchor piece of the [new] album, we then began building the program by looking at composers who faced different challenges throughout their lives. This led to the addition of Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet, Janáček’s “Kreutzer,” and finally Golijov’s Tenebrae.

What is your approach for each of the four works on that program?

We tried to learn as much as we could about the circumstances each of the composers faced that led to them to write the works. Where were they in their lives, both physically and mentally? How did they resolve the cacophony around them?

In the Prokofiev, the composer was evacuated due to the Nazi invasion of Moscow, so this displacement must have left him feeling homesick and unsure of the future. Despite all of this he wrote a piece drawing on the folk music that surrounded him and produced a piece that evokes a sense of pride and an optimism for the days ahead. Prokofiev also conveys a wistfulness in the second movement, perhaps recalling better days.

While Prokofiev faced an external war, Janáček battled a personal struggle in his marriage. It is no wonder he felt that Leo Tolstoy’s novella, The Kreutzer Sonata, spoke to his own situation of being locked in a loveless marriage. In the novella, a husband becomes increasingly mad from jealousy. His pianist wife has begun learning Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” violin and piano sonata with a dashing violinist. He arrives home late at night to find the two of them conversing intimately. This drives the husband to kill his wife out of madness. In this piece, we become actors, playing all the different roles from the married couple to the new violinist and even including the husband’s growing insanity. This string quartet requires a playing style that is very physical and aggressive while also being able to sing with lyricism and tenderness. It is a visceral experience that Janáček has created, so it is important to highlight the physicality of the work.

From the brutality of the Janáček, we felt a sense of calm was needed to balance the tumultuous story of Tolstoy. Golijov’s Tenebrae acts as the fulcrum to the album. It takes the quiet serenity of the cosmos, and intersperses it with the chaos and conflict of the Middle East, drawn from the composer’s experiences closely tied to each. The experience of seeing the world as a tiny blue dot at the planetarium contrasted with the devastating violence in Israel and led Golijov to write this piece that brings light to a world often shrouded in darkness.

Finally, the Mendelssohn Op.80 string quartet closes the album. This work is a sharp contrast to all of his others and was written towards the end of the composer’s short life. Having lost his sister unexpectedly, Mendelssohn was swimming in grief, unable to write music from the sheer weight of the tragedy. In an attempt to elevate himself from the loss, he took to composing to channel the hurt, frustration and anger of the departure of his family member and dearest friend. The nostalgia of the slow movement evokes the tenderness of their relationship which launches the listener back to the turmoil of his mourning in the fourth and final movement. Even in his darkest days, Mendelssohn gave the world an outlet to help both himself and the audience to cope and rise above the difficulties of life.

How did your relationship with the Emerson Quartet come about? How important was it to your development as a quartet?

Our relationship with the Emerson Quartet first began when we first played for David Finckel in 2012 at the Aspen Music Festival and School. We simply approached him and asked if he would have any extra time to hear us. He graciously took time out of his busy schedule to coach us on our repertoire for a few upcoming competitions. We kept in contact over the next few years and as our time studying at the Colburn School came to an end we were looking for possible residency programs for which to apply. At this point David recommended us for an opportunity to work with the Emerson at Stony Brook University. We were incredibly fortunate to get to study with the Emerson String Quartet for the next two years.

The Emerson Quartet has played an instrumental role in the development of our quartet. Not only have they provided us with profound musical insight, but they have offered us advice on everything that makes the life in a string quartet work.

On The Horizon

Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The TSO’s post-Oundjian journey begins in earnest September 20 to 22 with interim artistic director Sir Andrew Davis conducting. The program brackets Jacques Hétu’s Variations concertantes with Berlioz’s rarely heard Fantasy on Shakespeare’s The Tempest from Lelio, or The Return to Life and his Symphonie fantastique, one of the cornerstones of the orchestral repertoire. The parade of guest conductors begins on September 26 and 29 with the TSO debut of Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits, the chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The program includes Karabits’ countryman Valentin Silvestrov’s Serenade for String Orchestra, Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.3, and charismatic Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti as the soloist in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 with its lovely middle movement. The ever-popular Mahler Symphony No.5 is coupled with Ravel’s jazz-tinged Piano Concerto in G on October 3 and 4. Spanish pianist Javier Perianes is the soloist; artistic leader and chief conductor of the Trondheim Symfoniorkester, South Korean-native Han-Na Chang makes her TSO debut.

Han-Na ChangRoyal Conservatory (RCM): The Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble get the RCM-Koerner Hall regular season underway on October 3, with music by Nielsen, Françaix (his Octet for clarinet, bassoon, horn and string quintet) and Beethoven (his celebrated Septet for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass). Worth hearing alone for the distinctive timbre the unusual instrumentation produces. When Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain made their exciting Koerner Hall debut in April 2015, they brought the cello phenom Stéphane Tétrault; for their return visit, October 5, to augment a program that includes Sibelius’ Symphony No.1 and Nicolas Gilbert’s Avril, it’s the well-established pianist Nicholas Angelich who will be the soloist in Rachmaninoff’s first work composed after leaving Russia for good, the Piano Concerto No.4.

Poulenc TrioMusic in the Afternoon. Francis Poulenc’s invigorating, amusing, noble and otherworldly Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano is the best-known example of music written for this unusual combination of instruments. No double reed player can resist its charms, so it’s no wonder that the Poulenc Trio (pianist Irina Kaplan Lande, bassoonist Bryan Young and oboist James Austin Smith) named themselves for its composer. They launch the 121st season of the Women’s Musical Club on October 4 in Walter Hall, with a modernist program of music by Schnittke, Viet Cuong, Shostakovich, Previn and their namesake (whose famous trio they will perform) should enliven the first afternoon of the new month.

Summer continues. It’s still summer for the Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival. Artistic directors, the enterprising New Orford String Quartet, open this year’s edition on September 7 with Mozart’s “Dissonance” quartet along works by Burge and Ravel. André Laplante’s ambitious program on September 9 includes Schubert’s delightful Sonata in A Major D664 and a significant Liszt component: Three Sonetti del Petrarca, from Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année: Italie and his revolutionary masterpiece, the Sonata in B Minor. September 15 violinist Mark Fewer heads a jazz evening heavy on Ellington, with pianist David Braid and bassist Joseph Phillips. The next afternoon it’s Fewer with his classical pals doing a variety of chamber music headed by Dvořák’s Piano Quintet Op.81.

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

Jarred DunnSEP 20, 8PM: Brampton-native Jarred Dunn, a former assistant to, and collaborator with, the well-known author, pianist and teacher David Dubal, performs works by Szymanowski, Debussy, Górecki, Liszt and Chopin in his recital at Gallery 345.

SEP 23, 2PM & SEP 29, 2PM: Pocket Concerts launches their sixth season of chamber music in an intimate setting with Montreal-based violinist, Andrea Tyniec and Pocket Concerts co-director pianist Emily Rho in music by Beethoven, Sokolović and Debussy. In his Strings Attached column in our Summer 2016 issue, Terry Robbins praised Tyniec’s faultless technique and outstanding musicianship.

SEP 27, 7:30PM: Gallery 345 presents Payadora Tango Ensemble-member, Rebekah Wolkstein, performing music from Norway on the nine-string Hardanger fiddle. Tom King is the collaborative pianist.

OCT 2, 8PM: Marc-André Hamelin’s virtuoso program for Music Toronto’s new season continues his current examination of Samuel Feinberg with the Russian pianist-composer’s Sonata No.3, Op.3 and showcases old favourites like Alexis Weissenberg’s charming Six Arrangements of Songs Sung by Charles Trenet. Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s famous Chaconne and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cypresses bring out Hamelin’s astonishing technique, which of course also supports the Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie and Scherzo No.4 that conclude the recital.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The world of classical music can seem impenetrable to an outsider, requiring an extensive knowledge of history, languages, and an ear that is attuned to the code-like subtleties of prolonged instrumental and vocal works. With monumental multi-movement symphonies sometimes spanning well over an hour and operas (often in languages other than English) extending past the four-hour mark, it can be intimidating to take the plunge and immerse oneself in such an art form for the first time.

One way of getting one’s feet wet is through an increasing number of high-quality, entry-level venues for alternative classical music exploration, from indie opera pub nights to nightclub-based instrumental concerts. (And you can have a drink in hand throughout!)

Another is that, to help break down this seemingly impenetrable art form into more manageable units, many large symphonic groups have introduced a second kind of concert to their seasons – smaller in scale – featuring chamber-sized ensembles and shorter works that enrich and entertain both the aficionado and newcomer alike. One relatively recent addition to Toronto’s early music scene is Tafelmusik’s Close Encounters series, launched in 2016 and based, till now, in Heliconian Hall and the Royal Conservatory’s Temerty Theatre, with the aim of creating an up-close-and-personal encounter with Baroque and Classical repertoire in an informal style, with introductions from the musicians themselves. Although designed to be accessible and informative, these are definitely not low-calorie concerts; recent performances have included works by Biber, Mozart, Couperin and Rameau, pillars of the early music repertoire.

The increasing popularity of Close Encounters has meant that demand for seats at Heliconian Hall has outstripped supply, leading Tafelmusik to seek a new venue. This year’s Close Encounters series will be held, in addition to Temerty Theatre, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, in the centre of Toronto’s urban core. Holy Trinity, the fourth Anglican church built in Toronto, has been a premier venue for live music for many years, participating in Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche and presenting a weekly series of classical, choral and jazz concerts throughout the year, as well as a popular dramatization of the Christmas story that has run every December since 1937. As a concert hall, Holy Trinity boasts a magnificent acoustical space and a wonderful pipe organ, a three-manual German-style Casavant tracker instrument built in 1970 for Deer Park United Church.

As one of Toronto’s most significant orchestral groups, Tafelmusik undoubtedly considered many spaces as possible venues for their Close Encounters series, and the decision to move to Holy Trinity was not an arbitrary one. The ensemble has a surprisingly long connection with this church, beginning with their earliest concerts in the late 1970s. According to double bassist Alison Mackay:

“In the spring of 1979, a fledgling orchestra created by visionary founders Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves presented a concert of works by J.S. Bach performed on ‘original instruments.’ Within the ensemble were Kenny and Susan playing the baroque oboe and bassoon, and principal violist Ivars Taurins.

“Charlotte Nediger and I, who had not yet met, were in attendance at Holy Trinity Church by the Eaton Centre, and the event must have made a strong impression on both of us, since almost 40 years later we can each recall exactly where in the church we were sitting! (And in a fitting tribute to our anniversary we [will] host our chamber series Close Encounters at Holy Trinity this season.) Within a few months the orchestra had been christened ‘Tafelmusik’ and eventually moved to Trinity-St. Paul’s Church. I played in my first concert later that first year, and was soon joined by Charlotte and Dutch cellist Christina Mahler in a decades-long relationship of music-making and friendship at the bass end of the orchestra.”

Luigi BoccheriniThis year’s Close Encounters opening concert, “Quintessential Boccherini” on October 3, features violinists Elisa Citterio and Cristina Zacharias, violist Brandon Chui, and cellists Christina Mahler and Allen Whear performing the music of Luigi Boccherini, an often-overlooked 18th-century cello virtuoso. The French violinist Cartier once wrote, “If God wished to speak to man through music, he would choose Haydn. If he wanted to listen to the music himself, he would choose Boccherini.”

Boccherini was one of the most sensual composers of the 18th century, exploiting the colours and textures of string instruments and imbuing them with the flavour of Spain, where he worked for the Infante Don Luis. One of Boccherini’s most innovative creations was the two-cello quintet, conventionally called the “cello quintet.” Boccherini wrote over one hundred of these quintets (110, for the triviaphiles), which often feature a virtuoso cello part accompanied by the standard string quartet (two violin, viola and cello.) Boccherini would, of course, take the challenging part for himself and leave the second part for a secondary, lesser player! Boccherini also pioneered the double bass quintet, supplementing the traditional string quartet with a double bass, creating a much wider range of sound and greater depth to the bass line, taking the range of a typical string quartet and extending it downwards.

Since Boccherini, cello quintets have come from the pens of composers such as Schubert, Glazunov, Milhaud and Respighi, all written while Boccherini was an unknown name, a mere footnote to the history of 18th-century music. Much of Boccherini’s music follows the model of Joseph Haydn and was neglected after his death, with the dismissive sobriquet “Haydn’s wife,” introduced in the 19th century to illustrate Boccherini’s similarity to the great Austrian composer. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that Boccherini’s works were rediscovered and performed “for the first time,” many of them by the appropriately named Boccherini Quintet. Since then, Boccherini’s music has been performed increasingly frequently, gradually gaining the respect it deserves both for its musical quality and brilliant ingenuity.

In Other News…

Each September marks the beginning of a new musical season, a gradual reawakening of musicians and their ensembles as they return from various summer performances, seminars, programs and (maybe) a vacation or two. Although the concert calendar is rather sparse this month, there are a few exciting presentations on tap that will undoubtedly whet your early music appetite:

Although the Toronto Masque Theatre closed their curtains for the last time earlier this year, we look forward to exploring Confluence, a company of artists dedicated to intimate, thought-provoking and entertaining presentations. Led by TMT mastermind Larry Beckwith, Confluence launches on September 16 at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, promising food, drink and many performances. This event will provide a window into the newest endeavours being undertaken by some of Toronto’s most renowned and capable performers.

In addition to their Close Encounters chamber concert at Holy Trinity, Tafelmusik opens their 40th season on September 20 at Koerner Hall, with a performance of Mozart’s 40th Symphony. While this music needs little introduction, Mozart’s penultimate symphony will be paired with two of his concertos, including Tafelmusik’s first-ever performance of Mozart’s ebullient and sparkling Violin Concerto in D Major K218 with Elisa Citterio as soloist, the launch of a new cycle of Mozart concertos that will keep listeners enchanted all year long.

Robert BurnsScaramella opens their 2018/19 season on October 6 with a tribute to “Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire,” with selections from the Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803), a collaboration between Burns and music engraver James Johnson. These old Scottish tunes became wildly popular internationally, with many songs such as Auld Lang Syne and My Luve’s like a Red, Red Rose still cherished today. Singers Nils Brown and Donna Brown will lead a team of versatile instrumentalists whose classical and folk music interests collide, and the show will also include readings by Tam ‘O’ Shanter champion and Burns aficionado, Ronnie O’Byrne.

While New York may officially be The City That Never Sleeps, the same can be said of our musical scene here in Toronto. This magazine is full of some of the finest artists on the continent, and I encourage you to explore its contents in depth and go to as many concerts and events as you can! It may be tiring to return to work and school, but music has a way of inspiring above and beyond even the most exhausting daily grind. Have any questions or want to share your thoughts? Drop me a line at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

Barbara StrozziSEP 8, 7:30PM: Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival. Choir of Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal. St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, 335 Main St., Picton. A wonderful opportunity to hear a fine early music group performing Renaissance masterworks, including Tallis’ stunning Lamentations. This concert will certainly be worth the drive!

SEP 21, 8PM: SweetWater Music Festival. Opening Night Gala: Party Like It’s 1689. Historic Leith Church, 419134 Tom Thomson Lane, Leith. Savour the beautiful scenery of the Bruce Peninsula and take in this delightful medley of Italian Baroque gems, including music by the great Barbara Strozzi and Antonio Vivaldi.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Christina Petrowska Quilico (left) and Ann Southam at the launch of the Rivers CD. Photo by André LeducFor the opening column of the new season, I thought I’d take a look at two new CDs being released by the prolific and virtuosic Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico. The first CD, Soundspinning, offers a series of older works composed by her friend and colleague, the late Ann Southam. It will be released on the Canadian Music Centre’s (CMC) Centrediscs label, with the official launch happening on September 25 at the CMC in Toronto. The second CD, Global Sirens, on the Fleur de Son/Naxos label, features the music of 15 different internationally-based composers and includes a total of 19 compositions, including two works by Canadians.

Southam: Petrowska Quilico is well known for her interpretations of Southam’s music, having already released seven CDs of Southam’s compositions including Glass Houses, Pond Life and Rivers, each one released as box sets. However, this recent CD is unique, as it consists of a number of rarely heard Southam works from 1963 to 1999. As Petrowska Quilico told me in our recent interview, Southam used to joke: “I love it when you root around in my old pieces and come up with something new.” When it came to choosing repertoire and creating an order for this new CD, Petrowska Quilico crafted it with careful attention to the flow of changes in mood and tempo between the works, quipping that in a sense she was creating a sonata in a very unorthodox way – a sonata whose contrasting movements were being fashioned from the different Southam compositions.

The album opens with Stitches in Time, composed in 1979 and revised in 1999. This work is comprised of two small collections of pieces: three pieces in Sonocycles and eight in Soundspinning. They are all short and fast pieces that reflect Southam’s love of nature, and are precursors to the larger Rivers and Glass Houses works. Petrowska Quilico spoke about how they were harder to play than they look, and have no indications regarding phrasing, dynamics or pedalling. Because of the 30-year working relationship she had enjoyed with Southam, this didn’t create a stumbling block for her. She approached them in a similar way to Rivers, accentuating hidden melodies and altering the tempos to create a more shimmering effect, making each one shine with its own unique characteristics. During their work together in preparing the Rivers CD, Southam had told her she trusted Petrowska Quilico’s musical judgment completely. And even though they are fast virtuosic pieces, they still require control, which Petrowska Quilico admits may seem like a bit of a contradiction.

She follows this intense, fast-flowing opening cycle of pieces with Slow Music (1979), a more meditative work composed using Southam’s signature 12-tone row, one that she used repeatedly for many of her pieces. One distinguishing feature of Southam’s approach to working with the serial technique was the freedom and openness she allowed herself, in comparison to the more strict approach used by composers such as Webern or Boulez. Altitude Lake is next, described by Petrowska Quilico as “massive” due to the presence of so many large chords that suggest images of immense landscapes and intense weather activity. It was written in 1963 at the same time as Southam began working in the electronic music studio at the University of Toronto. (As an aside: Southam also began teaching electroacoustic composition in 1966 at the Royal Conservatory of Music in a small studio in the sub-basement that she and composer John Mills-Cockell started up, offering drop-in classes for $10 each.) The score that Petrowska Quilico had of this early piece was handwritten and was so hard to read that she had to use a magnifying glass. Once she figured out the notes, she discovered how much she loved the piece, describing it as “a real treasure. It was written so early in such a different style, that you’d never realize it was her.”

The next few works are a series of Southam’s jazz-inflected pieces – Three in Blue (1965), Five Shades of Blue (1970) and Cool Blue; Red Hot (1980), all of which Petrowska Quilico selected due to her own love of playing jazz. The concluding work on the CD is Remembering Schubert from 1993 – a piece that also appears on the CBC album Glass Houses: The Music of Ann Southam, performed by pianist Eve Egoyan, who also enjoyed a special bond with the composer.

Petrowska Quilico spoke about how joyful and fluid Southam’s music is, and how the composer loved watching the light refracting on the water. She described playing Southam’s works as being similar to performing pieces by Chopin and Liszt, all of which require fast fingers. “If you don’t have good technique and are not in control, it will sound heavy, choppy and muddy. At the same time, you can’t think about the technique or all the notes you’re playing, otherwise you won’t be able to get through it. You have to think about the long line.”

Christina Petrowska Quilico. Photo by Bo HuangGlobal Sirens: Petrowska Quilico has spent a good deal of her career promoting the music of women composers, and this love and commitment is reflected in her second CD coming out this fall – Global Sirens. Her desire with this CD is “to show the great wealth of women’s compositions. Not to denigrate men’s compositions, but we hear more of them than we do the women,” she said. Arising out of the research she’s undertaken for her York University Gender and Performance course, she has uncovered many lost compositions and composers, a selection of which are on the CD. Primarily these are works that span the 20th century, and include composers from numerous backgrounds. One such example is the opening piece Langsamer Waltz composed by Else Fromm-Michaels, whose compositions were banned during the Nazi period because her husband was Jewish. Other composers represented include Else Schmitz-Gohr and Barbara Heller, also from Germany, Ada Gentile (Italy), Priaulx Rainier (South Africa), Peggy Glanville-Hicks (Australia) and French composers Lili Boulanger and Germaine Tailleferre, who was one of Les Six along with Milhaud, Poulenc and others. The two Canadians represented are Larysa Kuzmenko and Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté. Petrowska Quilico has included four pieces by American composer Meredith Monk, whose music she loves, as well as Wireless Rag (1909) by Adaline Shepherd, a woman who was forced by her husband to give up composing, until she was able to resume her creative life after his death (an event which made her quite happy, Petrowska Quilico remarked). Shepherd had great success with her rag Pickles and Peppers, which sold over 200,000 copies in 1906 and was used as a theme song by William Jennings Bryan during his presidential campaign in 1908.

This little slice of Shepherd’s experience offers us just a glimpse at the hostile environment many women composers faced in the past. But what about now? I asked what she thought about the current climate for women music creators in Canada and Toronto. She began by recounting the story of performing Violet Archer’s Piano Concerto No.1 in 1982. At that time, an entry in an American encyclopedia had listed it as one of the major concertos written in Canada – it had been composed in 1956 – and despite this acknowledgement, the piece had only received one performance in 1958 under the baton of Victor Feldbrill with the CBC Symphony. This was something that was quite upsetting to Archer, and so Petrowska Quilico set out to perform it again and eventually released it as a recording. It’s now available on the Centrediscs album 3 Concerti, which also includes works by Alexina Louie and Larysa Kuzmenko. On the subject of gender parity in programming, Petrowska Quilico feels that music composed by women should definitely be played more often, and concerts should include a good balance of pieces by both genders, as well as older works along with newer ones. “Let’s make sure we don’t forget the women and Canadian composers of the past, and sprinkle them through the programs.” The problem, she stated, is that the emphasis is on premieres, and it is often a fight to get women’s music played more than once.

In looking at the overall scope of Petrowska Quilico’s prolific career, the question that comes to mind is how she manages to do it all. Her discography alone is extensive – 50 CDs with four JUNO nominations. Many of these recordings are from live performances – and even when in the recording studio, her preference is to record with only one or two takes. Regarding her technique, earlier in her career she undertook a process of slowly relearning everything, which was particularly important after suffering a broken wrist. She described how she approaches her touch on the keyboard as being like Zen meditation. “The fluidity comes from the fingertip – that’s where you have to focus your energy. All extra movements such as in the elbows take away from the energy you need to play a line. The body needs to be aligned, and you need to be both flexible and strong at the same time.” Another important aspect that she learned early on was the importance of maintaining the electrical current within the music itself, a current that begins with the first note and continues up until the last one. Keeping the energy moving requires focus on the melodic line. “No matter how many chords and notes, what is important is the melodic line.”

All the training, practice and inner focus come together for the performance – and these two new CDs will be a welcome addition to her ongoing contribution to Canadian musical life.

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

Brodie West Quintet. Photo by Martin ReisSEP 8, 7:30PM: CMC Centrediscs, Bekah Simms’ impurity chains CD launch, Canadian Music Centre. In the spirit of celebrating new CDs by women creators, this launch marks the first recording of Simms’ music that abounds with the sounds of 21st-century chaos. Combining both acoustic and electroacoustic soundworlds, Simms weaves references to diverse traditions, from folk to concert.

SEP 12, 8PM: Guelph Jazz Festival. SUNG RA, Guelph Little Theatre. Rory Magill’s take on the legendary Sun Ra with his own Rakestar Arkestra combined with Christine Duncan and the Element Choir.

SEP 16, 8PM: Guelph Jazz Festival. Allison Cameron and Ben Grossman, Silence. These two eclectic composers join forces to perform improvisations on a wide array of instruments and objects, percussion, and electronics.

SEP 21, 6PM & 8PM: Music Gallery and Musicworks, The Brodie West Quintet “Clips” album release + Wow And Flutter. Join hosts Fahmid Nibesh and Joe Strutt for an interactive look-back at the 40-year legacy of Musicworks magazine & CD, to be followed by the music of the Brodie West Quintet for their Clips album release and the improvisations of the Wow & Flutter trio

SEP 27, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company, Awasaakwaa (Beyond, on the Other side of the Woods), Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. A solo recital by acclaimed Odawa First Nation composer and performer Barbara Croall, presenting her own compositions for voice and pipigwan (Anishinaabe cedar flute). Croall is currently preparing for a major performance piece about Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who was made a saint. More details about that coming later this fall.

OCT 6, 8PM: New Music Concerts, Linda Bouchard’s Murderous Little World, Betty Oliphant Theatre. NMC begins its new season with this music and theatre performance work, directed by Keith Turnbull with texts by Anne Carson. Combining an electronic score with live performers who double as actors, this event promises an emotional experience full of artistic electricity and intellectual prowess.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com

Judging from the playbills that opera companies have announced so far, the 2018/19 season looks to be an exciting one. Nearly every company, large or small, has a rarity or world premiere on offer to spice up the year.

Rufus Wainwright, composer of Hadrian. Photo by Matthew WelchHadrian: The most anticipated of these is the world premiere of Hadrian by Rufus Wainwright to a libretto by Daniel MacIvor. This is the first new opera that the Canadian Opera Company (COC) has commissioned for the main stage since The Golden Ass in 1999 by Randolph Peters to a libretto by Robertson Davies. Strangely enough, Hadrian also has a Roman theme, in that it focuses on how the grief of the Emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138AD) for his lover Antinous begins to distract him from affairs of state. For the premiere, the COC has assembled a starry cast that includes Thomas Hampson as Hadrian, Isaiah Bell as Antinous, Karita Mattila as Plotina, the widow of Hadrian’s predecessor, and Ben Heppner as Dinarchus. Johannes Debus conducts and Peter Hinton directs. The opera runs from October 13 to 27.

Daniel MacIvor, librettist of Hadrian. Photo by Guntar KravisThe COC fall season begins with the Canadian debut of Robert Carsen’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Gordon Bintner sings the title role and Joyce El-Khoury the role of Tatyana, the young woman infatuated with Onegin. Johannes Debus conducts the opera, which runs from September 30 to November 3.

The COC’s remaining operas are standard repertory but with some spicy casting – Richard Strauss’ Elektra running January 26 to February 22, Mozart’s Così fan tutte running February 5 to 23, Puccini’s La Bohème running April 17 to May 22 and Verdi’s Otello running April 27 to May 21. Elektra will be of special interest since it stars two former COC Brünnhildes – Christine Goerke as the vengeful Elektra and Susan Bullock as her hated mother Klytämnestra. Otello should also be exciting with Russell Thomas in the title role and with Gerald Finley as Iago.

Measha Brueggergosman in Opera Atelier’s 2008 production of Idomeneo. Photo by Bruce ZingerOpera Atelier begins its season with two one-act operas it has never paired before. The first is Actéon (1683) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and the second is Pygmalion (1748) by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Colin Ainsworth sings both title roles, Mireille Asselin sings Diana in the first and Amour in the second and Allyson McHardy sings Juno in the first and Céphise in the second. The double bill runs from October 25 to November 3 in Toronto and will later tour to Chicago and Versailles.

OA’s spring opera is Mozart’s Idomeneo (1781), but the draw for many people will be the return of soprano Measha Brueggergosman to the Toronto stage after a ten-year absence to sing the role of Elettra as she did when OA premiered this production in 2008. The rest of the cast is just as noteworthy. Colin Ainsworth sings Idomeneo, Wallis Giunta is Idamante, Meghan Lindsay is Ilia and Douglas Williams is Neptune. As usual Marshall Pynkoski directs and David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. The opera runs from April 4 to 13, 2019.

Tapestry Opera has much in store. From September 13 to 16 it presents Tapestry Briefs, in which four singers present short operas by four composers and four librettists. On March 29 and 30 it presents Songbook IX, a collection of highlights from Tapestry’s 39 years of opera creation.

Tapestry also will present two new full-length operas. The first is Hook Up by Chris Thornborrow to a libretto by Julie Tepperman, running from January 29 to February 9. The opera looks at the difficulties encountered by three friends when they discover sexual freedom at university, along with questions of shame and consent. The opera features three singers best known for work in musicals rather than opera – Alicia Ault, Nathan Caroll and Jeff Lillico. The second is Shanawdithit by Dean Burry to a libretto by Yvette Nolan. The opera tells of Shanawdithit (1801-1829), who was the last recorded surviving member of the Beothuk Nation in Newfoundland. In the last months of her life she created a series of drawings that expressed the loneliness of survival and her lost history. Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations, English, Irish and Scottish mezzo-soprano Marion Newman sings the title role, with the rest of the cast and the performance dates in May 2019 to be determined.

Ivor NovelloToronto Operetta Theatre presents two of operetta’s greatest hits with Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Die Fledermaus running from December 28, 2018, to January 2, 2019, and Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow running from April 23 to 28, 2019. In between these blockbusters, however, on March 3, TOT presents a major rarity in the form of Ivor Novello’s operetta Perchance to Dream (1945), the only work for which he wrote both the music and the libretto. The operetta tells the usual story of the inhabitants of the same house, Huntersmoon, in three different historical periods – the Regency, the Victorian age and in 1945. Though a huge success in Novello’s day, it has seldom been revived, though many will know its most famous song, We’ll Gather Lilacs.

Vera Causa: While we have focused so far on opera in Toronto, it’s worth noting that recently small opera companies have been sprouting up across Ontario. One of these is Vera Causa Opera, based in Cambridge and serving what has become known as the Golden Triangle, Ontario’s answer to California’s Silicon Valley. For VCO the 2018/19 season is its most ambitious since it was founded by artistic director Dylan Langan in 2015. It begins with the 1884 rarity Le Villi (The Fairies), Puccini’s very first opera, which happens to be based on the same story that provided the scenario for Adolphe Adam’s ballet Giselle (1841). The opera will have three performances in Waterloo from November 16 to 18.

VCO’s second production is the world premiere of Langan’s own opera Dracula, to be performed in Cambridge on February 15, Waterloo on February 16 and Guelph on February 17. The company’s third production is Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, to be performed in the same three cities in the same order from April 5 to 7. VCO’s season concludes with its Canadian Opera Fest, which will include two brand new operas performed in the same three cities from June 14 to 16.

Busy September: In addition to the 2018/19 seasons above, September itself is very busy for local opera. Opera by Request, the concert opera company where the singers choose the repertory, is presenting an encore of its successful performance of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena on September 7, with Antonina Ermolenko as Anna and John Holland as Enrico VIII. On September 28, OBR presents Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, with Peter Bass as the Dutchman and Brigitte Bogar as Senta. On September 14 it presents Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with Norman E. Brown as the reprobate and John Holland as Leporello. Then OBR takes the opera on tour – first to Ottawa on September 16, then to London on September 22 and finally to Windsor on September 30. This is a great way to serve cities that once had or never had professional opera available.

Opera has returned sporadically to the Hamilton area because of the Brott Music Festival. But a new company, SOLO, or the Southern Ontario Lyric Opera, is presenting its second fully-staged opera in the area, with Verdi’s Rigoletto on September 16 in Burlington. Jeffrey Carl sings Rigoletto, Allison Cecilia Arends is his daughter Gilda and Romulo Delgado is the lecherous Duke of Mantua. SOLO founder and artistic director Sabatino Vacca conducts.

Paper Canoe and Cahoots: Also in September, running from September 9 to 30, is a play from Paper Canoe and Cahoots Theatre that ought be of interest to those curious about early North American opera. The play is I Call myself Princess by Jani Lauzon, about a modern-day Métis student who encounters the opera Shanewis: The Robin Woman, which was written for Creek/Cherokee mezzo-soprano Tsianina Redfeather (1882-1985). The opera premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1918 and was later performed in Denver and Los Angeles. Lauzon’s play features music from Shanewis composed by Redfeather’s creative partner Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946), an American composer in the early 1900s who was part of a musical movement which sought to use Indigenous music to create a distinct North American musical identity.

The question the play raises is similar to some of the issues encountered in the recent COC production of Harry Somers’ 1967 opera Louis Riel –namely, “How can we engage with tensions between representation, inspiration and cultural appropriation?” Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman sings the role of Tsianina, Richard Greenblatt plays Cadman, Marjorie Chan directs and Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate conducts. 

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

Lucas Harris. Photo by Scarlet O'Neill.All it takes is one person with initiative and a few friends to start a choir.” The speaker is Lucas Harris, current artistic director of the Toronto Chamber Choir (TCC). The person he is talking about is Annegret Wright whose initiative it was, five decades ago, to get the TCC started. Not many arts organizations can sustain themselves for decades, and 50 years is a remarkable feat, requiring not just loyalty to an organization’s founder but also the ability to change. Harris is now at the helm, taking the TCC into its golden jubilee, but “[past conductors],Elizabeth Anderson, Mark Vuorinen and David Fallis are all heroes of mine,” says Harris, “and I’m honoured to feature them in this concert.” Together on September 29, the combined forces of these impressive artistic leaders should make the start of the TCC’s 50th anniversary season a celebration to remember.

Harris reaches me by email, providing a glimpse into how the choir retains its awareness of its history. The choir’s archivist, Sharon Adamson, has kept meticulous records, he explains. These include “the choir’s complete membership history, every concert performed, every venue rented, every work sung, every soloist/section lead/instrumentalist hired over the choir’s entire history.” He gives me statistics that can be drawn from the archival work: 177 concert programs, 1500 works performed, 418 members across the decades, 357 instrumentalists hired, and five artistic directors. Impressive.

The work for this concert began last season, and the programming reflects Harris’s awareness of its past. He has programmed “hits by the choir’s all-time favorite composers, including Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Britten and more,” he says. There’s even a chorus from Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien (Funeral Music) that was in the very first TCC concert. Other homages include Fallis leading Healey Willan’s three Marian motets. Elizabeth Anderson, a frequent guest conductor of the choir, began rehearsing the concert in March. Harris describes her as “a seasoned church musician with amazing ears (and perfect pitch) and is brilliant at firing up the group to learn music quickly.” As they head back to rehearsals, they’ve already got a head start.

“Because it’s a best of/greatest hits… it’s a lot of repertoire we already know. We started last season when we had some down time,” shares David Barber, a longtime singer in the choir. Barber has also created a new work for the choir, Gaudeamus, adding something new to the mix. It is meant to feel old, though, and fits right into the mix of the flavours that make up the typical repertoire of the choir. “It starts with the Introit of the Gregorian chant and actually goes through the history of the music that this choir sings, all in about five minutes,” continues Barber. He describes the song as including flavours and techniques akin to Machaut, Tudor, Byrd, Tallis, Purcell and much more. This combination of the old and the new fits well for the choir. It’s a unique value proposition that TCC offers that other choirs don’t. Barber describes the versatility: “We’re one of the few choirs that specializes in early music, with a bridge to the contemporary when we can find a connection. Certainly, it’s been a speciality of this choir.”

Harris has further thoughts on the longevity of the choir and what it has to offer. “I think that the most important factor keeping our music-making fresh is the enormous amount of repertoire there is to explore … even just within Baroque and Renaissance music,” says Harris. Much can be said about the bridging of the old and the new in creative ways.

Under Harris’s leadership, the ensemble is embracing some innovative programming. With a modernization of the “Kaffeemusik” format, the choir’s Sunday afternoon performances have taken on a new life with multimedia, narrators and actors. The goal is “to explore something broader than just the music … to add historical and/or social context to the music,” shares Harris. He’s excited about previous forays into Eastern European and Scandinavian music, and a special focus on female composers prior to Clara Schumann.

“We’re also partnering with more diverse artists in order to explore beyond our usual repertoire,” he continues. The list of upcoming guests is impressive and exciting. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, soprano/conductor Teri Dunn, tenor Charles Daniels, musicologists, and even First Nations language specialists are part of the plans. Harris continues to look both to the old and the new in programming. “There is still so much more music out there to explore … I’m keenly aware of this every time I visit a good music library and just pull volumes of music off the shelves. Even after two decades of specializing in early music, I humbly realize that I have only experienced the tip of an iceberg,” he says.

The rest of the season will include many more collaborations and explorations of new and challenging programs. For now though, it’s a chance for the ensemble to take 50 years of history and have a great time. “The goal is to bring the TCC family together and celebrate its history,” says Harris. “It is really about celebrating the TCC’s extended family by bringing together as many former members, directors, soloists/section leads and other friends.” It’s a big family too, with over 400 members from seasons past and 17 years of an apprentice program with the Rosedale School for the Arts. Alumni of the choir have been invited to join in the program, and will beef up some of the performances in the second half of the concert. “Even more than the music itself, I’m looking forward to this as a community event,” says Harris. “It will be a gathering of people whose love of early music caused them to be connected to this extraordinary organization at some point in their lives.”

Fifty years ago, all it took was a few friends around Annegret Wright (far left) to start a new choir.Fifty years ago, all it took was a few friends around Annegret Wright to start a new choir. 177 concert programs and 1500 works performed later, the Toronto Chamber Choir begins its 50th anniversary season in fine style and esteemed company – with the prospect of much more ahead.

The Toronto Chamber Choir presents “Music & Friendship” September 29 at 8pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Toronto. See more about upcoming performances of the Toronto Chamber Choir at torontochamberchoir.ca.

Honorary Mention

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra opens its season with a rarely heard choral presentation of Fantasy on Shakespeare’s The Tempest from Lélio, or The Return to Life by Hector Berlioz. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joins the TSO under interim artistic director Sir Andrew Davis. September 20 and 22 at 8pm; September 21 at 7:30pm. Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

A choir for you!

At the start of every season I always encourage readers to get out there and join. Whether you sing or not, there’s a choir for you in this city. The WholeNote maintains a database of choirs across the region known as the Canary Pages – available on thewholenote.com under the “Who’s Who” tab. Here are just some of the many options:

Accessible Community – City Choir
Adult Female – Penthelia Singers
Adult Male – Forte - Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus
Barbershop – Toronto Northern Lights
Casual – Choir! Choir! Choir!
Chamber Choir – Exultate Chamber Singers
Contemporary – That Choir
Early Music – Toronto Chamber Choir
East York – VOCA Chorus of Toronto
Etobicoke – Etobicoke Centennial Choir
Everyone – Univox
Gospel – Toronto Mass Choir
Inclusive – Singing Out!
Mississauga – Mississauga Festival Choir
Opera – Toronto City Opera Chorus
Richmond Hill – Chorus York
Rock – newchoir
Scarborough – Ruckus: the UTSC Alumni and Community Choir
Social Justice – Echo Women’s Choir
Youth (Mississauga) – Resonance Youth Choir (See Mississauga Festival Choir)
Youth (Toronto) – Toronto Youth Choir

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang. Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com.

Just past mid-August my WholeNote editor called. Fall on the doorstep, it was time to fine-tune stories for my September column. “What do you have?” he asked. “I am wondering if it’s time for a terminology reboot” I replied. (My column has been called “World View” and the beat I cover has been described as “world music” for a decade or more, even before I took over from my pioneering predecessor columnist Karen Ages.) What got me thinking about all this is that I’d been busy all summer attending, playing in and following online stories of festivals which could be tagged with the “world music” moniker.

To begin with, in June I toured with Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan (ECCG) representing Canada at the International Gamelan Music Festival in Munich, Germany. Cheekily dubbed “Indonesia # Bronze.Bamboo.Beats,” the experience proved both exhilarating and exhausting. For ten days the Munich Municipal Museum hosted for the first time what turned out to be Europe’s largest gamelan festival. There was a two-day symposium, over 300 participants giving 40 concerts and 28 workshops at six venues, in an environment that was much more about a global community sharing a passion for music rather than a commercial enterprise. Not a single band was selling an album or T-shirt.

On public display all over downtown Munich was the face of the transnational contemporary gamelan music scene. Far from its birthplace on the islands of Java and Bali in Indonesia, European audiences witnessed live performances of gamelan music which had been adopted and adapted by people all over the globe. What was emotionally and artistically powerful to hear was how some of those diasporic musical adaptations and personalizations (including those by 35-year-global-gamelan-scene veterans ECCG - Canadians who are musically rather than ethnically connected to Indonesian culture) have been in turn absorbed and indigenized by Indonesian innovators. It was in turns unexpected and inspiring to personally experience all this in the Bavarian home of Oktoberfest. Is this one face of “world music” in practice today?

Then on the August 17 weekend I attended the Small World Music Festival (SWMF) at Harbourfront Centre. This year it celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first North American WOMAD (World of Music Art and Dance) which took place at the same venue. WOMAD, “the world’s most influential global music event … became a landmark event during its [five-year] tenure at Harbourfront,” according to Small World. “The ear-opening inspiration it provided led directly to the formation of Small World Music. Three decades on, we explore this legacy and how it resonates in multicultural 21st-century Toronto.”

Evergreen Club Gamelan performing on the Anne Tindall stage at the first Toronto WOMAD, August 14, 1988. Photo by Ramona Timar.I had not only visited WOMAD during its landmark first year here but had also helped arrange an Evergreen Club Gamelan concert on August 14, 1988 and then played in it. So at some level my interest in this year’s SWMF was personal. Keen to get beyond the autobiographical, though, I checked out two SWMF panels and a workshop, on the afternoon of August 18, 2018. The “WOMAD 30” panel, made up of people who were involved in it on various levels, looked back at that first 1988 music festival that in the words of its Facebook events page, “changed the perception of music in Toronto.” Moreover, in terms of live music, it introduced the “world music” brand, then barely one year old, imported from the UK to Canada.

The second panel “A Post-Genre World” asked some big questions: How do artists, audiences and industry work together in the post-genre world? How are livelihoods and bottom lines affected by a multi-fractured or multi-faceted music space? How does genre affect the creative process?” I found the answers offered in both panels memory-jogging, thought-provoking and compelling.

World Music: the double birth of a term

I’ve weighed in on various occasions in this column on the notion of world music, its promoters, detractors, its problems and its origins. It’s helpful to keep in mind that the term “world music” entered the musical lexicon on two separate occasions, on two continents, serving two quite different purposes and masters.

Its academic origins appeared around 1962, coined and promoted by American ethnomusicologist Robert Brown, professor at Wesleyan University. He meant it as an inclusive term to be used in university music education to describe “living music” and to be used to “foster awareness and understanding of the world’s performing arts and cultural traditions through programs of performance and teaching.” That once-academic term got a marketing refresh a quarter century later, however, at a June 1987 gathering of record label bosses, retailers and producers in the Empress of Russia, a now-defunct London pub. Why was a new marketing tag so necessary that these thirsty English professionals had to put their pints down?

In a succinct 2011 story in The Guardian, journalist Caspar Llewellyn Smith reported that “Charlie Gillett who was present that evening, recalled one example of the problem at hand: in the US, Nigeria’s King Sunny Ade would be filed under reggae, while in the UK, he ‘was just lost in the alphabet, next to ABBA.’ After several proposed terms were vetted, ‘world music’ stuck and ‘11 indie labels put in £3,500 between them to introduce newly labelled sections in record stores.’”

At its commercial birth, “world music” was all about labelling, increasing album visibility, genre identity, market share - and thus hopefully sales - in international brick and mortar record stores. (It doesn’t take a Cassandra to observe that it’s a very different world in 2018, when there are many fewer physical shops and when some musicians and presenters increasingly embrace the possibility of a post-genre musical future.)

Genre vs post-genre: late 20th century record store racks

Back in the last two decades of the 20th century, genre still proudly ruled Toronto’s imposing multi-department, multi-floor record (and then also cassette tape) shops. Following London’s lead, there was a wholesale switchover for many records to the World Music label from what previously were marked Folk or International record shelves.

I well recall schlepping numerous times up the creaky upper level wooden stairs of Sam the Record Man’s flagship Yonge St. store to its upper floors. My mission as Evergreen Club Gamelan’s artistic director and Arjuna label manager was to chart the (to be frank, modest) sales of our LP North of Java (1987). I did the same for its CD remix namesake when it was released in 1992, making sure it wasn’t buried too deeply on the shelf.

What was on that album? All the compositions were by younger-generation Canadian composers. All the musicians were Canadian, it was recorded in a Scarborough, Ontario studio, and the label was registered in Ontario by ECG. While gamelan degung instruments were featured on most cuts, some made prominent use of decidedly non-gamelan sound sources like a synthesizer, electric bass and field recordings, as in the case of my work North of Java. Nevertheless, Sam’s didn’t rack it in the substantial Classical Canadian section on the first floor. Now I understand the album was a novelty, being the first Canadian gamelan disc. But this (to my mind) quintessential Canadian album in that retail environment was displayed not with Canadian music, but in the World Music section among other albums with which it had little in common, a long, long walk up.

World music: contesting and defending the term

My North of Java album story reveals the difficulties retailers faced when attempting to apply the new world music marketing tool. In that case it was misinterpreting a product with multiple layers of cultural and music genre affiliation, racking it by default, I assume, in the World Music section.

The commercial use of world music on one hand fuelled consumer interest in sounds from outside the Western mainstream both on recordings and in live concerts, yet on the other hand it posed the risk of ghettoization, of “othering,” the world’s myriad individual music traditions. Such risks have been articulated in recent decades by numerous voices raised in consternation over the term, seeing it as a polarizing factor.

Rock star David Byrne, an early world music adopter, was also thereafter an early dissenter. In his strongly worded October 1999 New York Times article provocatively titled Why I Hate World Music, he sums up some of the problems he saw in the way it had been commercially applied and then received by consumers: “In my experience, the use of the term world music is a way of dismissing artists or their music as irrelevant to one’s own life ... It’s a way of relegating this ‘thing’ into the realm of something exotic and therefore cute, weird but safe, because exotica is beautiful but irrelevant … It groups everything and anything that isn’t ‘us’ into ‘them.’ This grouping is a convenient way of not seeing a band or artist as a creative individual … It’s a label for anything at all that is not sung in English or anything that doesn’t fit into the Anglo-Western pop universe this year.”

Many in the business took notice of Byrne’s passionate denunciation. The following March, Ian Anderson, musician, broadcaster and the editor of fRoots published a lengthy rebuttal in his magazine. In it, he explored many crannies of the topic, including the different resonances world music had in America, UK, France, and among African musicians and audiences. He summed up with, “It’s not all positive, but World Music (or Musique du Monde in neighbourly Paris) is way ahead on points. It sells large quantities of records that you couldn’t find for love or money two decades ago. It has let many musicians in quite poor countries get new respect (and houses, cars and food for their families), and it turns out massive audiences for festivals and concerts. It has greatly helped international understanding and provoked cultural exchanges. …I call it a Good Thing…”

Pierre KwendersPierre Kwenders, the early-career Congolese-Canadian singer and rapper is not impressed with arguments for the term’s usefulness. Shortlisted for the 2015 JUNO Award for World Music Album of the Year and the September 2018 Polaris Prize, Kwenders called out the marketing term on the CBC show q on August 24, 2018. His point comes close to the one I made in the case of North of Java. “What is world music? What is that ‘world’ we put in that box? It’s ridiculous [for example] that classical music from India is put in the same category as the music I make … it doesn’t make any sense. I believe I’m making pop music and it should be put in the pop music category.”

Despite all these concerns, there is still a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album today. Ladysmith Black Mambazo won it earlier this year. Moreover the terms world fusion, ethnocultural music, worldbeat and roots music have been touted as less controversial alternatives, but with modest commercial or popular traction.

As I wrote at the outset of this article, this column has been called “World View” and this beat has been described as “World Music” for over a decade. Is it time for a change? I, and my editor, welcome your comments. 

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

Jazz Takes a Holiday: As with most things, when the dog days of summer hit, jazz slows down a bit, particularly after the festival season ends in early July. There was still jazz to be heard at the usual Toronto venues in July and August, but many of the gigs I attended or played were sweaty, sparsely attended affairs, owing to so many people being away on vacation or simply trying to dodge the stickiness of the city. Even The WholeNote takes a break and it was certainly a slow summer for me and many of my colleagues in terms of work, but I didn’t mind so much because a lot of the time it was too hot to play jazz, or even think about it.

But now that September is suddenly upon us and the jazz programs resume at York University, Humber College and U of T, live jazz will be back in full swing, pun intended. The two are not unrelated; increasingly, the Toronto jazz scene is impacted and shaped by the young musicians studying and playing the music, interacting with so many of the city’s veteran jazz players – the usual suspects - teaching it. There have always been promising young players on the Toronto scene – I myself was one of them over 40 long years ago – but I can’t remember a time when there were so many as now, and their presence will be felt at the clubs in September and the coming months.

For one thing, the students form a large and enthusiastic audience at jazz gigs, and for another, Monday nights at The Rex will again feature student ensembles from U of T and Humber playing short sets. This allows for a wide array of styles ranging from the contemporary to the traditional (“traditional” now meaning “bebop,” not Dixieland.) I plan on attending these regularly and I urge Toronto jazz fans to do so as well. Not only to support the students, which is important, but because these evenings offer a kind of one-stop-shopping opportunity to hear varied and interesting music played by talented young people who represent the future of jazz. Well-known Toronto players not only direct these groups but often play in them as well. This interplay between the young and old(er) can produce satisfying musical results; jazz is grown this way.

I want to touch upon one group that has sprung out of this student-teacher cooperation which will play a couple of times in September and which I find interesting, despite the fact that I’m in it: Harrison Squared. It’s named after two young men who graduated from the U of T jazz program in April: drummer Harrison Vetro and tenor saxophonist Harrison Argatoff, with tenor saxophonist Mike Murley and me cast as the mentoring oldsters. Not that either of these young men need mentoring, as both are well on their way as advanced players; we all simply enjoy playing together. We’ll be playing at The Rex on September 1 and on September 30 at The Emmett Ray, another venue where young Toronto players can be heard frequently and to advantage. There are plans to record early in 2019, which I look forward to.

The group hatched out of a chance encounter between Harrison Vetro and me in early 2016 at U of T. His drum teacher, Nick Fraser, was on tour and asked me if I would teach Vetro a lesson, reasoning that he might benefit from some pointers from a veteran bassist. We worked on a few tempos and rhythmic feels and I liked his drumming straight away: it was quiet but intense, creative yet swinging. About halfway through the lesson he asked if it would be okay if his friend Harrison Argatoff joined us on saxophone for a few tunes. Glad of some melodic content I said sure thing, while wondering what was up with all the Harrisons all of a sudden – my ensemble that year had a very fine guitarist in it named Harrison Bartlett. Like Vetro, Argatoff is a thinking, creative player, very much in the Lennie Tristano/Warne Marsh vein. I cautioned Argatoff not to play so far behind the beat and told Vetro not to follow him when he did so, but otherwise I really enjoyed the instant musical chemistry between us. We resolved to get together and play again but scheduling made this difficult, so finally the two Harrisons took the bull by the horns, landing a gig at The Rex in September of 2016 and asking Murley and me to join them; thus was a band born. We didn’t rehearse, just agreed on a selection of standards and some out-of-the-way jazz originals. The gig had a very open, spontaneous feeling and was immensely satisfying – having played together on countless occasions, Murley and I enjoyed the stimulus of playing with fresh partners and the Harrisons upped their game playing with such muscular and experienced veterans!

In their own words, here are Vetro and Argatoff on what they’ll be up to musically in the near future:

Harrison VetroHarrison Vetro: “I’m leading my own project called Northern Ranger. I will be releasing a CD under this name on October 20 at Gallery 345 in Toronto. It has been funded by the U of T Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association. The album features Lina Allemano, Harrison Argatoff and Andrew Downing, as well as a few others. This is a student/teacher project and we had Nick Fraser come into the studio as a producer. It was a lesson in leading a band, making decisions as a band leader, using studio time efficiently.

The Northern Ranger album is inspired by the Canada 150 celebration and is a series of compositions following my cross-Canada travels in 2016 and 2017. My curiosity for Indigenous music propelled me to visit specific locations within the six Indigenous cultural areas in Canada: Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains and the Eastern Woodlands. My compositions offer a new perspective on the landscape of Canada.

Proceeds from this album will assist outreach programs for youth with limited access to music education. I have a tour booked for this album release and will be performing at The Jazz YYC (Calgary) and Yardbird Suite (Edmonton) winter jazz festivals, as well as The Bassment in Saskatoon and some other dates on the east coast this November. I have also been invited by Jazz YYC to give an improvisation workshop in a high school on one of the reserves in the Calgary area.

I also have a residency at the Tranzac on the fourth Wednesday of every month, where I will present new music.”

Harrison ArgatoffHarrison Argatoff: “Having graduated from U of T this past spring, my current plan is to continue making music in Toronto. This fall I’m excited to be releasing my first CD, Dreaming Hears the Still, a collaboration between pianist Noah Franche-Nolan and myself. The CD exclusively features our original repertoire, most of which uses precise composition as a framework for improvisation. I am also currently working on music for my solo saxophone project and the Harrison Argatoff Quartet (both of which are in their infancy). Having grown up a Doukhobor in the interior of British Columbia, teachings of pacifism, communal music making and respect for life and nature have deeply affected my personal and artistic endeavours. I’m currently focusing on developing a modern approach to music through original composition for a variety of ensembles, and also for solo performance. My music combines the study of free improvised music, traditional jazz music and contemporary classical music.”

As their words indicate, both young men are interesting and dedicated creative young musicians and I hope many of you will come out to hear them in action with Murley and me at The Emmett Ray on September 30, as well as in their own future ventures.

Toronto’s young jazz players and students will also be taking a significant part in two September music events. One, the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival (TUJF), taking place September 4 to 8 at The Frog pub, Mel Lastman Square and Jazz Bistro, is devoted entirely to them. And, as in the past, young players will have a role in the upcoming Kensington Market Jazz Festival, September 14 to 16. Both of these festivals are covered in detail elsewhere in this issue.

Miss Aretha. A brief word on Aretha Franklin, whose recent death packed a momentous, end-of-an-era kick in the gut even though we knew it was coming. Her music transcended musical genres, politics, international boundaries and even race; only a handful of artists have made so many feel so good for so long. As we mourn her passing, we can only feel grateful to have had her here on earth with us for so many years. Few thought of her as a jazz artist but her early records on Columbia belie this, as did her piano playing; she was a great singer but the real magic happened when she sat down at the piano to accompany herself. R.I.P. Aretha.

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

William ParkerSEP 4, 8:30PM: The Frog, TUJF. The Anthony D’Allessandro Trio. A chance to hear one of Toronto’s best and hardest-swinging young pianists in an intimate setting playing his choice arrangements of standards and jazz classics.

SEP 13, 8PM: Guelph International Jazz Festival, River Run Centre. A double bill with the Nick Fraser Quartet featuring Andrew Downing, cello, Rob Clutton, bass, and Tony Malaby, guitar; and Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones. A chance to hear one of Toronto’s most creative bands and a highly adventurous international one.

SEP 15, 10:30AM: Royal City Church, Guelph International Jazz Festival William Parker, bass. One of the giants of contemporary avant-garde jazz in a solo performance. ‘Nuff said.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at Wallace-bass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

During 2017 it seemed that most community ensembles focused their programming on music which, in some way or other, related to the fact that it was Canada’s sesquicentennial. This year, when we took our usual WholeNote summer break for July and August, focusing on anniversaries seemed to have tapered off somewhat. Then, out of the blue, we learned of two very special anniversary-themed events in the region.

Anglo Canadian Leather Company Band

The first of these events was in Huntsville to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the arrival in town of Herbert L. Clarke to take on the leadership of the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company Band. The company, also known as the Anglo-Canadian Tannery, was, at that time, the largest tannery in the British Commonwealth. Charles Orlando Shaw, an American businessman who had built the Bigwin Island Resort, moved to Huntsville, bought the tannery and built it to prominence.

As it happens, Shaw, who had also been a keen cornet player in earlier years, discovered groups of tannery workers getting together to make music in their off time. For Shaw it sparked the idea of getting back to his playing cornet again after having abandoned the instrument for some years. Over a period of time a band gradually developed. After a while the tannery workers were given free musical instruction and time off to practise. Then at some stage, he purchased an old school building and had it converted to a band hall.

In those days many companies sponsored company bands, so it was not that surprising that Shaw, a keen amateur musician, would want a top company band. What was unusual was the lengths he was prepared to go to to improve the band. It is reported that within a few years, money was no object when it came to buying instruments or hiring instructors; as a result, 100 years ago, the Anglo-Canadian Band was considered the “best industrial band in North America.”

But Shaw wanted a big name in the music world in his band. In the early part of the 20th century it would be a rare band concert which did not include significant solos to highlight the dazzling talents of the soloist. Therefore, it was not surprising that Shaw, a cornetist himself, sought out a top cornetist for his band. Luckily one was close at hand.

In the decade from 1910 to 1920 one of the world’s most renowned cornet virtuosos was Herbert L. Clarke. Clarke’s father was choirmaster, organist and bandmaster of the band at Jarvis St. Baptist Church in Toronto. Clarke was a member of the band of the Queen’s Own Rifles, touring the world as a featured soloist with leading bands of the day. Yet, after many years as featured soloist with the band of John Philip Sousa in Washington DC, in 1918 Clarke was lured to Huntsville, Ontario by Shaw to be the leader and featured soloist with that band. The sum that Clarke was paid was anything but typical – amazing, in fact, for the year 1918 – rumoured to be somewhere between $15,000 and $18,000 per year!

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Clarke’s arrival in Huntsville, and as a tribute to the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company Band itself, two special band concerts titled “Brilliance” took place in late July. Since I had other musical commitments elsewhere, I was not able to attend, so I am deeply indebted to my friend Barrie Hodgins, who was there. Barrie provided me with more information about the concerts than I can do justice to here, including the program and a copy of a 40-page booklet about the history of the band, compiled in 1986, Huntsville’s centennial year, and containing many programs and photographs of the band from as early as 1915, and numerous reviews of the band’s performances from the Toronto Daily Star and The Mail and Empire.

This year’s 100th-anniversary program featured concerts on July 21 and 22 in Huntsville’s Algonquin Theatre, under the direction of Neil Barlow with a core group from the Muskoka Concert Band, augmented by some 30 talented musicians from other parts of Ontario and the USA.

Herbert L. Clarke’s personally annotated Arban Method BookAs one might expect, the featured solo number was for a cornet solo. In Clarke’s day the standard method from which brass musicians honed their craft was Arban’s Tutor. (Author Jean Baptiste Arban was a virtuoso cornetist and teacher in Paris.) To this day, over 100 years, later Tutor is still the preferred method book; and perhaps the most popular all-time solo work for cornet is Arban’s variations on the traditional Italian work The Carnival of Venice. Since Clarke was noted for his performances of Carnival of Venice, I thought that this might be the solo selection, but I should have realized that, at this concert, the solo work would be a Clarke composition. It was Clarke’s From the Shores of the Mighty Pacific, performed by Robert Venables, one of the top freelance cornet and trumpet players in Canada, best known in the local band world for his work with the Canadian Staff Band of the Salvation Army and with the Hannaford Street Silver Band.

Robert VenablesThe Anglo-Canadian Leather Company band was officially formed in 1914 just before war broke out. For six years this band was the feature at the Canadian National Exhibition at a time when most feature bands were, more often than not, highly paid professionals. By 1926, Shaw realized that he would not be able to raise his great dream band to the even higher status he aspired to, and the band was broken up.

Rebel Heartland

In another form of anniversary event, over the weekend of September 22 and 23, the Newmarket Citizens Band will be joining in “Rebel Heartland,” a 2018 re-enactment of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion, under the auspices of a committee, comprised of the Newmarket Historical Society, Heritage Newmarket and the Elman W. Campbell Museum. Some of the events will be in the downtown core and some at Fairy Lake Park.

Established in 1872, the band has a long history in the community and was thrilled to be asked to participate in this historic re-enactment in their hometown.

On Saturday morning, the band will be part of the drama on Main Street, where the rebels recruit followers at the Farmer’s Market and William Lyon Mackenzie makes a rousing speech encouraging armed rebellion against the colonial government. On Saturday afternoon a battle re-enactment will take place at Fairy Lake Park. This will be followed by the capture, trial and subsequent “hanging” of rebel leaders, Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, in front of the Old Town Hall.

On Sunday, social life in the colony will be on display at Fairy Lake. There will be demonstrations, church services, a boxed lunch social and entertainment. That’s where the Newmarket Citizens Band comes in again. Clothed in period dress, the band will host daily concerts showcasing music that would have been familiar to residents of the day. In addition, the concerts will also include smaller ensembles, to represent how music was commonly shared in the community in 1837. For more information go to newmarketcitizensband.ca

Seasonal Changes

Here it is almost fall, and that means seasonal changes for some bands. For the Uxbridge Community Concert Band, a summertime-only group, Saturday, August 25, was the final concert of their 2018 season. Last year the band’s founder and music director Steffan Brunett took a year away to travel and to study composition. With no one to take the helm, there was no band in 2017. Now, after a year’s hiatus, the band has a well-organized committee in place to share the administrative load. Brunett can now concentrate on his job as artistic director. As a simple but effective example: rather than place the whole load of collecting and filing the season’s music on one person, the band has an “End of Season Music Sorting Party”.

As previously reported, there are also seasonal changes in the air for New Horizons Bands. After many years at the helm, Dan Kapp, founder and director of the Toronto groups, has retired and moved to Wolfville Nova Scotia with his wife Lisa. Now settling in, he already has New Horizons plans for Wolfville, and also intends to study composition at Acadia University.

With his departure, the Toronto New Horizons groups now have an executive committee with Randy Kligerman, a member of the original Toronto NHB at the helm as president, and with a number of conductors. Head of education, and director of the senior band, is Donna Dupuy, who may be contacted at nhbteducation@gmail.com. As in past years, they will have an open evening for prospective band members. Previously billed as “The Instrument Petting Zoo,” this year the event is being called “The Instrument Exploration Workshop.” It will take place at Long and McQuade’s Bloor Street store on Thursday, September 13, at 6:30. These workshops are for those who have never played an instrument and for those who currently play an instrument, but would like to try playing a different one, bassoon to piccolo, in a fun, non-stressful environment. For more information go to newhorizonsbandtoronto.ca.

Having started a few years later than in Toronto, The New Horizons Band of York Region, with Doug Robertson at the helm as conductor, will be starting their season in a similar fashion. Their “Test Drive a Musical Instrument” event takes place on Thursday, September 6, at 7pm at the Cosmo Music store in Richmond Hill. Come out and “test-drive” 17 different instruments. Experienced players from the NHBYR as well as Cosmo Music staff will be on hand to help you get a sound out of any of the 17. Regular music classes begin the week of September 10. For more information contact nhbyrdirector@gmail.com.

Yet another band starting up, after a summer break, is Resa’s Pieces Band. Started 20 years ago by Resa Kochberg, Resa’s group’s evolution over the years has been different from that of the New Horizons groups. Rather than a number of concert bands rehearsing at different levels, Kochberg, over time, started different kinds of groups. Now, there are also the Resa’s Pieces Strings and Resa’s Pieces Singers, sometimes performing separately, and sometimes jointly. For more information on all these groups contact conductor@resaspieces.org.

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

It’s September, and, for students and faculty members of the Toronto jazz community, it’s time to head back to school. While not all who play jazz in Toronto teach or study, the scene is still very much tied to the academic calendar, and, as the pervasive humidity of summer gives way to the first crisp whispers of autumn, everyone is suddenly back in town, venues return to their regular post-festival-season programming, and a variety of new musical ventures are suddenly at hand. September heralds the coming of a new artistic year, and, in the spirit of yearly reassessment and rejuvenation, September prompts the jazz community to undertake new projects.

Despite the persistent sentiment that performance opportunities for jazz musicians are shrinking by the minute, it is reassuring that the past few years in Toronto have seen new jazz programming efforts in festivals, clubs and other venues. These larger efforts reflect the ideals found, at the best of times, in post-secondary music programs: namely, that new opportunities and resources should be developed not for the gains of the individual, but for the betterment of the community.

TUJF: One of the best examples of this community spirit comes in the form of the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival, now in its fourth year (having had its inaugural run in 2015), running from September 4 to 8. Helmed by David M.J. Lee, Dave Holla and Eunsang Edwin Yu – all of whom attended post-secondary jazz programs in Toronto – the festival’s mandate is to “bring attention to the younger generation of musicians” in Toronto, with an emphasis on musicians currently enrolled in (or recently graduated from) post-secondary music programs at the University of Toronto, York University and Humber College. This mission is commendable, as it can take a considerable amount of time for young jazz acts to establish themselves and book the larger shows necessary to the process of audience development; by programming a number of these acts together, the TUJF has created both a valuable opportunity for musicians and a compelling package for audiences who, in other circumstances, might not connect with these performers for several years.

With main festival grounds at Mel Lastman Square and additional performances at Jazz Bistro, Memorial Hall, and The Frog: A Firkin Pub, all of the TUJF performances and masterclasses are open to the public and free to attend. In addition to performances from young musicians, Toronto jazz mainstays Mike Downes and Larnell Lewis are also playing with their respective bands. (Both Downes and Lewis, it should be noted, are also prominent jazz educators, and are on faculty at Humber College.) In addition to these performances, highlights from the festival include The Anthology Project, playing at 8:30pm on September 6, guitarist Luan Phung, playing with his quintet at 6pm on September 7, and Montreal pianist Marilou Buron, whose sextet will be playing at 6pm on September 8. Other notable attractions, according to the 2018 festival map: food trucks, a VIP section, and multiple bouncy castles. Check out listings in this issue of The WholeNote and tujazz.com for full schedule and additional information.

The Heavyweights Brass Band return to this year's Kensington Market Jazz Festival. Photo credit Jazz/Blues/Street ArtKensington Market Jazz: September will also feature the third annual edition of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, another relatively new enterprise started by local musicians looking to fill a gap in pre-existing jazz programming. Led by Molly Johnson, Ori Dagan, Genevieve Marentette, and Céline Peterson, the KMJF will take place from September 14 to 16, with a large number of different artists in various formats, from solo pianists (including Nancy Walker, Robi Botos and Ewen Farncombe) and guitarists (such as Margaret Stowe, Harley Card and David Occhipinti) to full big bands (including the John MacLeod Orchestra, the Brian Dickinson Jazz Orchestra and the Toronto Jazz Orchestra), with all manner of acts in between.

One of the most interesting aspects of the KMJF is its engagement with Kensington Market businesses in the creation of new performance spaces: while many shows will be taking place at venues that present music throughout the year, including Poetry Jazz Café, Supermarket and LOLA, a large number of shows will be held at businesses that are not regular music venues. Some, like the coffee shop Pamenar and the Hotbox Lounge and Shop, are venues that do host live events, although they do not usually present jazz. Other businesses, like the discount suit shop Tom’s Place, are functioning as special venues specifically for the festival.

Beyond the shows previously mentioned, highlights include Joanna Majoko, playing at 1pm on September 15, Tania Gill and Friends, playing at 5pm (also on September 15), and Anh Phung, who will be playing at 6pm on September 16. Please check out listings in this issue and kensingtonjazz.com for full schedule – and please note that ticketed events are cash only (although the festival features both free and ticketed shows).

Apart from new programming at emergent jazz festivals, September sees the return of post-secondary ensembles to the Toronto club scene, with representation from U of T, York and Humber: U of T jazz ensembles resume their weekly slot on Mondays at 6pm at The Rex, the Humber College Faculty Jazz Jam will be taking place at 9:30pm on September 18 (also at The Rex), and the York Jazz Ensemble will be performing in the matinee slot on September 22 at Alleycatz. Beyond school-associated acts, there are several other exciting shows taking place throughout the month, including Sam Kirmayer, at Jazz Bistro, on the 16th; The Rex’s Annual Birthday Tribute to John Coltrane, with the Pat LaBarbera and Kirk MacDonald Quintet, on September 20, 21 and 22; Christine Duncan, Laura Swankey and Patrick O’Reilly at the Tranzac, on September 23; and the Nick Fraser Quartet at The Emmet Ray, on September 24.

September marks the beginning of a rich artistic cycle within the improvised music community that will play out through summer 2019. For the concert-going public – from the most casual fan to club regulars – September is a wonderful opportunity to become reacquainted with your favourite performers, check out a few new venues, and set the tone for the rest of the 2018/19 scholastic year, regardless of your own educational status. Enjoy.

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

Pat LaBarbera (left) and Kirk MacDonaldSEP 7, 6PM: Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival: Luan Phung Quintet. Drawing from the work of Boulez and Schoenberg as well as the jazz tradition, guitarist Luan Phung brings his exciting quintet to Mel Lastman Square for a free show at the TUJF.

SEP 16, 6PM: Kensington Market Jazz Festival: Anh Phung. Equally at home playing orchestral music and the music of Jethro Tull, flutist and singer Anh Phung performs at LOLA as part of the KMJF.

SEP 20 to 22, 9:30PM: The Rex’s Annual Birthday Tribute to John Coltrane: Pat LaBarbera & Kirk MacDonald Quintet. An annual event at The Rex featuring master saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Kirk MacDonald leading a world-class quintet, celebrating Coltrane’s life and music.

SEP 23, 10PM: Christine Duncan, Patrick O’Reilly, and Laura Swankey at The Tranzac. Leading improvising vocalist Christine Duncan is joined by guitarist Patrick O’Reilly and vocalist Laura Swankey for an evening of new music at The Tranzac.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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