Beste Kalender, at Koerner Hall with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra (2014)The year 2020 is coming up roses for mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender, who grew up in Turkey and moved to Canada at the age of 22 to pursue two great interests – post-graduate research in the psychology of musical cognition, and professional singing. One of those is now clearly taking over, and the current year is marked by gigs that she finds particularly meaningful. “I hope I won’t be just a singer who sings pretty music and has no other interests,” she says when we meet in the RCM cafe, deserted for the long weekend. Our voices are ringing in the empty space but the security guy on duty doesn’t seem to mind us being there. “I’d like to be able to engage with larger issues and causes. And have my own distinct voice. This year feels like I do.”

One of those larger causes is cross-cultural collaboration. Last month, Kalender performed as a soloist with Sinfonia Toronto in Musical Bridges: Komitas@150, a program of Armenian, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Hungarian and Greek music conducted by an Armenian-Canadian, Nurhan Arman. Komitas – composer, Orthodox priest, ethnomusicologist, and the first Armenian national music systematizer – was born in the Ottoman Empire in 1869. April 24, 1915, Komitas was among more than 200 prominent Armenians rounded up by Ottoman/Turkish forces and deported from Istanbul to Ankara. Unlike most of the group, he survived, but he had a breakdown, was moved between military hospitals, and ended his life in a Paris asylum in 1935 a broken man. “This concert is about celebrating Komitas, and it’s about celebrating peace and always working to keep it”, says Kalender. “I’ve listened to a lot of Armenian music alongside my Armenian friends at the Conservatory in Istanbul, and loved it. Our musical traditions share so much.”

Read more: Beste Kalender: Mezzo Rising

Peggy Baker Dance Projects
Collaborations between choreographers and composers have played a significant part in the creation of some of the most loved pieces of contemporary music. The classic example is, of course, the partnership between composer Igor Stravinsky and Serge Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes that resulted in the scores for The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Among the first of the contemporary dance companies to form in Toronto were Toronto Dance Theatre in 1968 and Dancemakers in 1974, and both companies quickly began to work with contemporary composers, many of them local. One of the early company members of Dancemakers was Peggy Baker, and in 1990 she went on to establish Peggy Baker Dance Projects. Over the years, she has received much praise for her collaborative partnerships with composers such as Michael J. Baker, John Kameel Farah, Ahmed Hassan and Ann Southam as well as with performers Andrew Burashko, Shauna Rolston, Henry Kucharzyk and the Array Ensemble, among many others. Over the last five years, contemporary vocalist innovator and music creator Fides Krucker has collaborated on all of Baker’s new works, bringing to their collaboration her expertise in the creation of non-verbal human sound textures and her commitment to an emotionally integrated vocal practice.

Anne BourneBaker’s latest work, her body as words, will be performed March 19 to 29 at the Theatre Centre. For this piece, Baker has drawn together a unique intergenerational ensemble of dancers and composer/musicians who have taken up the challenge of addressing questions of female and gender identity. I invited one of the composer/musician members of the ensemble, Anne Bourne, who herself has collaborated on past projects with Baker, to have a conversation with me about her contribution to the piece as a composer and how her distinctive performance style of combining vocal toning while playing the cello will contribute to the overall musical score.

Read more: Gender Fluidity in Music and Dance

Benjamin Grosvenor. Photo by Patrick AllenBenjamin Grosvenor first came to prominence when he won the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of 11. He was invited to perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms at 19. In the same year he became the youngest British musician ever, and the first British pianist in almost 60 years, to sign with Decca Classics. Gramophone named him Young Artist of the Year in 2012. A riveting performer with keen musical insights, many inspired by pianists of the past, Grosvenor’s Music Toronto recital on March 31 marks his fourth appearance here since 2014, a testament to his prodigious talent. In the following email Q & A, which took place in mid-February, Grosvenor spoke about his latest CD and the program for his upcoming Toronto concert.

WN: I very much enjoyed your new recording of the Chopin piano concertos which I found to be highly contemporary yet informed by a sensibility reaching back into the last century. I interviewed you in the fall of 2017 and remember your response to my question “Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?” being Chopin. How did you decide to select his piano concertos as your first recording since Homages in 2016? How long have the concertos been part of your repertoire?

Read more: Fourth Grosvenor Recital Tops an Intriguing List

Over the last seven centuries, German-speaking artists have provided a powerful and innovative influence in almost every artistic discipline, from the region’s beginnings as a constellation of independently governed states to the present day, setting a standard for excellence in music, art, and architecture, and producing a roster of artists and artworks that are exemplars within their chosen fields.

Consider, for example, these composers from what now constitutes a unified Germany: Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss and Schoenberg; each is a pivotal figure in the Western art music tradition, their music appearing countless times each year on concert programs throughout the world. Also consider these interpreters, conductors who have revolutionized the way we think of the baton-wielding orchestral leader: Mendelssohn, von Bülow, Furtwängler and Klemperer. Their recordings are some of the best-selling of all time. Expand our lists of German-speakers to neighbouring Austria, and the list becomes even more astoundingly impressive: Mozart, Mahler, Karajan, Böhm, Kleiber ….

Read more: “Im Deutsch” - Exploring Germanic Musical Identity

The end of March and beginning of April mark a special time for anyone in the post-secondary education sector. The term comes to a close, the academic school year settles into its final exams, papers, and for music students – final concerts. This month we’re exploring the end-of-term concerts at Western University, University of Toronto (my alma mater), and York University.

University of Toronto is lucky in its breadth of ensembles and guests. The program is also very large with four major choral ensembles and over 200 students across the various ensembles. As conductors Mark Ramsay, Elaine Choi, Lori-Anne Dolloff, and David Fallis share, this work begins the previous year before the students even start classes.

It’s a delicate balance to program works that are familiar while challenging; pedagogical, but fun. Not all the music needs to be new, because as Ramsay shares, “Working with a new conductor and/or singing with new colleagues can bring a fresh perspective to a familiar work. Singers also sometimes note [by revisiting familiar works] that their own skills have improved. Elements such as break management, vowel unification and dynamic control that were challenging the first time, may now be easier.” But they note, “It’s important to have some challenging music late in the season to keep a goal to strive for.” The MacMillan singers, under David Fallis also have the pleasure of singing a composition written by one of their own, Katharine Petkovski’s The Angels.

Read more: Graduation With High Honours in Song

Evan Buliung (left) and Tess Benger in Sunday in the Park with GeorgeIn Act Two of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, Dot sings to George: “Move on! Anything you do let it come from you, then it will be new.” This double idea, of continually trying new things but anchoring them in personal experience or passion, was at the heart of three of my music theatre highlights of February, and promises to be so for three of the shows coming up in March.

Caroline or Change, presented at the Winter Garden Theatre by The Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre Company is anchored in Tony Kushner’s semi-autobiographical book and this powerful production amped up the electricity by casting as Caroline, R & B Queen Jully Black, who, in her musical theatre debut, gave a performance of great passion and integrity. Tapestry New Opera’s Jacqueline, a fascinating journey into the internal thoughts of virtuoso cellist Jacqueline du Pré as her career and life were both being tragically cut short by MS, was an exciting risk-taking experiment in storytelling, inspired by personal connections to the artist and envisioned as a duet for soprano and cello. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton finally arrived in Toronto, showing us why it has been acclaimed as the “reinvention of the American musical,” a thrilling example of unexpected medium (hip-hop and diverse casting) melding with inspiring message (surprisingly interesting biography of lesser-known American founding father Alexander Hamilton) to create a truly satisfying evening of music theatre.

As March approaches, three more exciting productions, all wildly different, are blending personal passion and innovation to share with us both new and familiar stories in new ways designed to give them more immediacy and/or urgency in the telling.

Read more: Newness Anchored in Passion and Experience

It seems the longer I’m involved with jazz, the less I understand it. I’ve been immersed in it now for nearly 50 years in many ways – studying it, playing it, reading about it, collecting records, listening to it, and more recently writing about it and teaching it – and yet at times I feel I know less and less about it and would be hard-pressed to offer a succinct definition of its essence. If it even has an essence anymore.

Part of it is the truth of that old saw: the more you learn about a subject, the less you know about it, or so it seems. As knowledge of jazz expands, so do the boundaries; the forest keeps getting bigger to the point where you can’t see it for the trees.

Perhaps this is as it should be, because jazz is not a simple music, though often at its best it seems so. But it’s quite complex, and part of the problem in trying to get a fix on what jazz actually is, is that it never stands still. It’s constantly shifting and expanding, taking on new influences while also exerting an effect on other types of music. Like many things in the digital age, this cross-pollination process has sped up in recent years, leading to a bewildering array of hybrids, which I call “hyphen-jazz”: Acid-jazz, smooth-jazz, jazz-rock, vocal-jazz, Latin-jazz and so on, seemingly ad infinitum. Well, okay, these are contrived terms to describe narrow sub-genres of varying validity, but increasingly I hear people asking – and often ask myself – “Well, yeah, but what about ‘jazz-jazz’”? Does that exist anymore, and if so, then what the heck is it?

Read more: Notes Toward a Definition of Jazz, Part One: The Forest and the Trees

Beware the Ides of March! Thus spoke the soothsayer as he, correctly, warned Julius Caesar of his impending doom. While “impending doom” is probably not the cause, we haven’t heard much of anything from our current band world about any activities planned for the month of March of this year, at least not in time to report on here. On the bright side, while waiting for information on coming band activities, I had time to check on the meaning of the Ides of March. While the term originally referred to the full moon, in ancient Rome it was the time for several religious observances and was also a deadline for settling debts. It is the word “deadline”, particularly, that caught my eye. In fairness to bands in our part of the world, it may be that the month of March may be one of preparation, but not performance. In a few cases, notices we receive, about concerts that have been in the works for months, arrive only a few days before the event. For us to mention an event we must receive any notice no later than the 15th of the month prior to the event. Be aware of the Ides of March (Sunday March 15) is therefore my message this month. Send me your April concert listings by then and I will be sure to make mention of them here.

Newmarket Citizens BandBehind the Scenes
As many of you know full well, keeping a concert band going requires a few activities other than concert preparation and performances. These include library updating, financial matters and executive elections among others. As I think about such non-performance activities, a few stand out. Obviously a well-organized and well-catalogued library tops the list. There isn’t space here to detail the many possible formats, but with most bands having access to computers, a spreadsheet where searches may be easily done based on title, composer, library catalogue number, style etc. is easy to create and maintain! A few bands I know have a numbering system for all selections in their libraries, but others just stick to names. I’m a big proponent of a numbering system. When the conductor calls out a number to rehearse, everyone knows what to get. If the conductor should call for a selection such as Pop and Rock Legends: Elton John, and filing is alphabetical, one might look for Pop, Rock or Elton John. Numbering all of the charts would eliminate any confusion. Years ago I played with someone who filed any chart with a name starting with The under the letter T.

Read more: Tenth Anniversary: NHB’s Expanded Horizons

Sarah Thawer kicks off Drum Week March 8. Photo by Brendan MarianiIn my column last month, I wrote about the February 7 appearance of the American jazz guitarist Russell Malone at Hugh’s Room Live, an unusually high-profile show to occur in the bleak Toronto winter. What looked like an anomaly for the Dundas West venue, however, now seems as though it’s part of a growing trend. During the week of March 8, Hugh’s Room Live hosts a special event: Drum Week, sponsored by Yamaha. With seven acts taking the stage from Sunday, March 8, to Saturday, March 14, Drum Week will feature leading Canadian and American drummers from multiple generations and stylistic backgrounds.

Starting things off on March 8 is Sarah Thawer, who plays at 2pm. Thawer – who stays busy both locally and internationally as a bandleader, sideperson, and educator – is an exciting, high-energy drummer with a wealth of technique, whose own music incorporates elements of jazz, hip-hop, fusion and other genres. Next up during drum week: the legendary Jimmy Cobb, who, at the age of 91, is the only surviving contributor to the seminal Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, recorded in 1959. Active since the 50s, Cobb has played with a wide range of jazz luminaries in addition to Davis and co., from Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Stan Getz, to younger players such as Peter Bernstein, Brad Mehldau and Vincent Herring.

Read more: Drum Week at Hugh’s and Women From Space

Clockwise from top left: Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker & Gerry Mulligan, Lee Wiley, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan. Sarah Vaughan photo by William P. GottliebFebruary is the shortest month of the year, which is merciful, because it is also surely the bleakest. By the time it rolls around, winter has been with us for what seems like an eternity, with still plenty to come. The festivities of Christmas and Hanukkah are a distant memory and the bloom is off the rose of the new year. Of course there’s Valentine’s Day on February 14, but even that special day of celebrating romance is a mixed blessing to some, and many have sworn off it. Those not blessed with a partner, or who have recently lost one, find it lonely and painful. And even many with partners find it an empty and contrived occasion filled with pressure, a cash-in day for florists, candy makers, card companies, swanky restaurants and the like.

Despite these misgivings, I thought it might be interesting to explore the history of the song most associated with the day, My Funny Valentine, one which has become an essential part of jazz history and its repertoire, and also one which has been much misunderstood. It has been recorded over 1,600 times by more than 600 artists, both instrumentally and vocally, and is permanently associated with Frank Sinatra, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Miles Davis, among others. It was written in 1937 by perhaps my favourite songwriting team, Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart. Rodgers had the supreme gift of writing simple, pure melodies which stuck in the ear and which he would often flesh out with more interesting chords. And Hart stood alone as a lyricist; his words had great wit and charm, ironic humour, interior rhythm and often plumbed emotional depths worthy of poetry. As a team, they were incomparable; Rodgers’ later songs with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein are far less successful simply because the words don’t work nearly as well. (As an aside, this didn’t stop Cole Porter’s “beard” wife, Linda Lee Thomas, from asking pointedly of Rodgers & Hart after meeting them at a party: “Two guys, to write one song!?”)

Read more: My (Not So) Funny Valentine: A Brief History

Stephen Hough. Photo by Sim Canetty-ClarkeIn Billy Wilder’s classic 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, Tom Ewell fantasizes seducing his upstairs neighbour (Marilyn Monroe) while playing a recording of the slow movement of a piano concerto – “Good old Rachmaninoff,” he says, “the Second Piano Concerto, it never misses.” Monroe replies, “It’s not fair. Every time I hear it I go to pieces.” Indeed, the power of the concerto was extensive. Its second movement played a major role in David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945); Eric Carmen’s All by Myself (1975), notably used in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), is also derived from the second movement; Full Moon and Empty Arms, a song written by Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman derived from the third movement, has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra (1945) and Bob Dylan (2014). And that just scratches the surface of the impact of some of the most romantic music ever written. It’s an appropriate valentine to Toronto as Stephen Hough and the TSO, conducted by Elim Chan, perform it February 14 to 16 – the evening’s other major work is Rimsky-Korsakov’s crowd-pleasing Scheherazade with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow as soloist.

A leading pianist of the generation that includes Marc-André Hamelin, Hough is also a polymath, the first classical performer to receive the MacArthur Genius Award, an exhibited artist, a published author and newspaper columnist. He’s also a lively participant on Twitter, engaging with his audience, posting personal photos (especially of food) and links to musical nuggets out of the past.

Read more: Romancing Rachmaninoff, and Ophelia Gets Mad
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