I’m not one who likes to start on a sad note, but the world of new music brings us some upsetting news of late. For, as the TSO’s New Creations Festival comes to a close on March 3, we will hear the last work ever created by one of Canada’s pioneering composers – Jacques Hétu – who passed away at his home on February 9 after a valiant battle with cancer.

page 21 Hetu,J_417_300dpiHétu pursued a distinguished career as both a composer and teacher. His catalogue of more than 80 works includes commissions from Canada’s major soloists and ensembles and demonstrates a love for lyrical, poetic and emotional music. He instructed for more than 40 years at Laval University, l’Université de Montréal and l’Université du Québec à Montréal, sharing his unique musical voice with the many generations of musicians he encountered through his teaching.

The departure of Hétu leaves a great void in the musical world of Canada, but his memory will live on through his music, which he defined himself as a merging of neo-classical forms and neo-romantic expressions, rooted in the language of the 20th century. Audiences will experience his great ability to sculpt sound and create strong musical structures when the TSO gives the world premiere of his Symphony No. 5 on March 3 at Roy Thomson Hall. Hétu had hoped to be in attendance and so I suspect we will feel his spirit in the hall that night.

Another “end of an era” comes to be on March 20 at the Glenn Gould Studio when Nexus, the venerable Canadian percussion ensemble, pays tribute to founding member Robin Engelman on his retirement from the group after almost 30 years of dedication. Nexus will be joined by pianist Midori Koga and percussionists Paul Ormandy and Ryan Scott to perform a mixed programme inspired by Engelman’s own musical interests, including the world premiere of R.E.member-ing by another Nexus founder, William Cahn, as well as the Canadian premiere of Handmade Proverbs by Toru Takemitsu – a longtime friend of the group and creator of one of their signature works, the concerto From Me flows What You Call Time. The programme also includes John Cage’s Credo in US, a piece which Engelman introduced to the ensemble many years back, and Robin Engelman’s own Remembrance, Lullaby for Esmé, and his arrangements of some Takemitsu songs. Tickets for “Tribute” are available online through the Roy Thomson box office at www.roythomson.com. Please make special note of the 7:30 pm start time.

But I don’t want to lead you to believing that this month is all about endings. In fact, there are a number of firsts also filling the March new music calendar. Among them is the appearance of the Flux Quartet, who will perform at the Music Gallery on March 13. Dubbed “one of the most fearless and important new-music ensembles around,” the flux Quartet takes their experimental “anything goes” ethos in part from the 60s fluxus art movement. To that end, flux has always been committed to projects that defy aesthetic categorization.

For this Toronto concert – in part a homecoming for the quartet, given that flux violist Max Mendel hails from here – the quartet takes inspiration from the storied meeting of Morton Feldman and John Cage in New York City at a concert of Anton Webern’s music. This odd inspirational spark allows the quartet to explore traces of infuence from Webern to groundbreaking works from the 1950s and 60s, and on to some of today’s most exciting and radical composer/performers who are remaking the NYC cultural landscape. Included along with the works by Cage and Feldman are two Canadian premieres: Lightheaded and Heavyhearted (2002) by the much-hailed Annie Gosfield and Elegies For The Afterland (2009) by eclectic composer and punk-era innovator David First. Tickets are available online at www.musicgallery.org or by phone at 416-204-1080. Further details about the highly prolific flux Quartet can be found at www.fluxquartet.com.

We get another dose of the New York downtown sound when composer and performer Lukas Ligeti – yes, the son of the legendary composer György Ligeti – returns to Toronto on March 27. When Ligeti the younger visited a few years back it was as an improvising percussionist in concert with some of our own local greats, but this time he’s back to offer us an earful of his own brand of new music, which melds experimentalism, contemporary classical, jazz, electronic and world music (particularly from Africa) into a style that is all his own.  With commissions already completed for the American Composers Orchestra, Bang on a Can, Vienna Festwochen, and the Kronos Quartet, as well as several solo CD releases to his credit, Ligeti’s composing career is already well off to a strong start. For this concert, he will be performing his own works for solo percussion and pieces for the rare electronic instrument, the marimba lumina. Tickets are available through the Music Gallery, as are further details about Lukas Ligeti and his music.

To conclude, I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to Tapestry New Opera Works’ Opera To Go experience, which runs March 24-26 in the Fermenting Cellar at the Distillery Historic District. This year’s concept is one of revival, as Tapestry brings back some of the best loved works from their 30-year history of creating exciting, new Canadian opera. The bill is full of some of the best new opera I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing; and they all pack a big punch even though they clock in at just 15 minutes apiece. I personally can’t wait to revisit these remounts by the Tapestry creative team, including the humorous Ice Time by Mark Brownell and Chan Ka Nin, the sensual yet bittersweet Ashlike on the Cradle of the Wind by Jill Battson and Andrew Staniland, and the equally emotionally and musically gripping Rosa by Camyar Chai and  James Rolfe. Tickets and more information are available through the Tapestry website at www.tapestrynewopera.com or by phone by calling 416-537-6066 ext. 243.

As always there’s much more new music on offer this month – so be sure to get in with the new via The WholeNote’s concert listings.

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

March opens with two promising Small World Music presentations in as many days. On March 4, a band of Taureg rock musicians from the Sahara Desert region of Mali, Tinariwen, performs at the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne). The group was formed in 1979, and since the beginning of last decade has gained prominence outside of Africa, appearing in festivals in Europe and the US. Their songs deal with the exile and suffering of their people, the Kel Tamashek of the southern Sahara, and the beauty of their desert homeland.

page 23 Red ChamberOn March 5, the vocal group Huun Huur Tu performs at the Mod Club (722 College). If you’ve never heard this group of Tuvan throat singers, do not miss this concert! I remember standing riveted to the spot when I first heard them on CBC radio around 13 years ago (remember the show “Global Village”?) This group of male singers/instrumentalists chants at the very base of their vocal range, producing celestial-sounding overtones. They’ll be collaborating with electronic musician Carmen Rizzo, presenting music from their new CD “Eternal.” For more information on both of these groups, visit www.smallworldmusic.com.

The next evening, March 6, the Vancouver-based Chinese instrumental ensemble Red Chamber performs a programme titled “Secret of the Chinese, Passion of the World” at the Music Gallery. Constisting of four women on traditional plucked instruments, their repertoire spans music from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the present, including styles such as Bluegrass and Jazz. Led by internationally renowned musician Mei Han, featured instruments include the zheng (zither), pipa and ruan (lutes). Their website, complete with musical samples, is worth a visit: www.mei-han.com/redchamber.html.

Cuba’s Havana-based dance company “Dance Cuba” is on tour in Canada this month. The 17-member all female troup, choreographed by Lizt Alfonso and accompanied by six musicians, fuses flamenco with classical ballet, Afro-Cuban dance, and jazz. They’ll be at the David S. Howe Theatre (Brock University) in St. Catharines on March 6, the Capitol Arts Centre in Port Hope on March 14, Markham Theatre on March 16, and the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts on the 17th.

If you haven’t yet been to the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall, do pay it a visit! This stunning concert hall right in downtown Toronto has superb acoustics. Not only does it serve the Conservatory’s needs, but it also boasts a concert series in its own right. World music events coming up include Gypsy fiddler Roby Lakatos and ensemble on March 10, and Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal with band on April 6. Visit http://performance.rcmusic.ca for the Conservatory’s full concert line-up.

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, a number of Celtic-themed events are scheduled for March 20. The Southern Ontario Dulcimer Association presents a festival of traditional Irish culture and folk music from 1:00 to 10:00 pm in Alton Village, Caledon (the music part is in the evening). Featured performers include Steafan and Saskia Hannigan (check them out on YouTube), Les Starkey, Jason Pfeiffer and others. For more info, go to www.town.caledon.on.ca.

The same evening, Echo Women’s Choir presents a Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee), at Church of the Holy Trinity, a “Down-East Kitchen Party,” complete with fiddles, singing, Irish and Scottish dancers, and a “proper jam session to close out the evening!” Guest performers include members of Bold Steps Dance Studio, Bob Davis (piano), Judith Nancekivell (voice/guitar), and Sarah Shepherd (dance demonstration). Still on March 20, the Hamilton Philharmonic presents Celtic Traditions, a ceilidh with champion fiddler Pierre Schryer and his band, performing in styles from Irish to Scottish to Québécois.

March 27, Toronto based Indian-jazz fusion band Autorickshaw performs with the Jubilate Singers at Eastminster United Church. Says Autorickshaw’s lead vocalist, Suba Sankaran, “This is a very special collaboration, featuring the premiere of my Indo-choral composition Kannamma, commissioned by the Jubilate Singers.” The commission is in celebration of Jubilate’s 40th anniversary season.

The universities hold their end-of-term World Music ensembles concerts this month. York’s take place on March 11, 12 and 15; and U of T’s are March 13 and 18. Please see the daily listings for more info on these and other concerts.

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

 

This is an article of mostly personal recollections, thoughts of some friends no longer with us. But it’s not a column of obituaries. You can read them elsewhere. It’s just that the events of the past month have stirred up memories.

For example, I remember nights with Vic Dickenson when we would end up in his room after the gig. His favourite tipple was a scotch called Cutty Sark – not mine, but it took on a certain quality when sharing it with Vic who was for me the finest, most subtle and humorous of all the trombone players.

I learned so much from this gentle man. On the bandstand it was a music lesson just to stand beside him and listen, and after hours I marvelled at his knowledge of songs. “Do you know this one?” he would say and sing the verse and chorus to some lesser-known tune. He knew the lyrics to all of them and taught me that to interpret a ballad you should at least know what the lyric was saying. Only then could you really interpret the melody and “tell your story.” (There’s a wonderful anecdote about the tenor sax player Ben Webster, one of the greatest ballad players in all of jazz, who was unhappy with a chorus. When asked what was wrong, he said, “I forgot the words.”)

In these after-hours intimate times with Vic, if we emptied a bottle it was his habit to take the freshly opened replacement and pour the first few drops on the floor, saying, “For departed friends.” Well, in the past month alone I could have poured a fair amount of the golden liquid on my floor for four more departed friends.

John Norris, whose death was an enormous loss to the jazz world, was not a musician but was responsible for a huge legacy of writings and the recordings he produced for Sackville Records of which he was a founder/owner, making that label one of the most respected in the business. He dedicated his life to jazz and earned the love and respect of all the musicians whose life he touched. We travelled often together – to Europe, Britain, Australia and the United States – and became good friends over the 40-plus years that we knew each other.

Saxophonist/composer John Dankworth was not a close friend in the way that John Norris was, but we did share some enjoyable times together. One of my early recollections as a young bandleader in Glasgow was sharing the bandstand with my own group and the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra. The venue was Green’s Playhouse, a huge ballroom on Renfield Street with a sprung dance floor. To give some idea of its size, the hall was directly above the biggest cinema in Europe with seating for 4,368 patrons!

Over the years we saw each other on his visits to Toronto. Most recently, last May at the Norwich Jazz Party, I enjoyed some time with Johnny – now Sir John – who regaled us with stories at the dinner table and was still filled with love and enthusiasm for life and playing. On February 6 John died at age 82, having been ill since October. His last performance was at the Royal Festival Hall in London last December when, a trouper to the end, he played his saxophone from a wheelchair.

page 26 jake_hannaThe passing of Jake Hanna at age 78 in Los Angeles on February 13 of complications from a blood disease was another tremendous loss. He was one of the great drummers, equally at home in small groups and big bands, and one of the unforgettable characters in jazz. If Jake was behind the drums, one thing was sure – the band would swing. He began his professional career in Boston and by the late 50s was playing with Marion McPartland and Toshiko Akiyoshi, as well as in the big bands of Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman.

I bought my first car in Toronto in 1964, a beat-up old NSU Prinz, and drove it to Burlington because Woody’s band was playing at the Brant Inn. There, for the first time I heard Jake Hanna in person, making that great band swing mightily. At the time, of course, I had no idea that we were to become close friends and that he would one day make an album with my big band.

After the stint with Woody Herman, Hanna was a regular on the Merv Griffin television show, and when the show moved to the West Coast, Jake was one of a handful of players who made the move with Griffin. That job lasted until 1975, after which he played with a variety of groups including Supersax and Count Basie, and occasionally co-led a group with Carl Fontana. In addition, he was a fixture at festivals and jazz parties.

In a room full of musicians he was always a centre of attraction, telling stories from a seemingly endless collection of memories and cracking jokes with a dry humour that would have us all in stitches. He was the master of the one-liner on stage and off: “So many drummers, so little time.” Not all of them were original, but somehow Jake took ownership of them. If Jake liked you it was for life; if he didn’t it was also a pretty permanent arrangement. He was straight ahead in the way he played drums and straight as a die in the way he lived life. It just won’t be the same without him.

Earlier the same day I lost another good friend in cornet player Tom Saunders who died at age 71. Tom’s idol was Wild Bill Davison, a firebrand player and one of the great hot horn players. It was through Wild Bill that I met Tom and it began a friendship that lasted more than 40 years. Following in Bill’s footsteps he was recognized as one of the finest cornetists in traditional jazz. Although influenced by Wild Bill, Tom had his own sound, played great lead, but could also take a ballad and make it a thing of beauty. Like Jake Hanna he also had a dry wit, entertaining audiences between numbers with jokes and amusing reminiscences. In fact he could have had a career as a stand-up comedian.

Tommy lived life to the full and we enjoyed many hours together. He had his faults, but always played hard, partied a lot – sometimes too much – and enjoyed life until it eventually caught up to him. We all loved him and those of us who were close to him also knew that under a gruff exterior he was a sensitive and caring man.

And what did Jake and Tom have in common? They were not only great players, they were great entertainers, who were immensely proud of their music, but never took themselves too seriously. They genuinely loved the music and always gave it their best shot. The world of jazz is diminished by the passing of these four great talents and my personal world has become smaller.

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

46_grossmanThe appointment of 33-year-old Josh Grossman as the new Artistic Director of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival came as a bit of a surprise to some. Then again, jazz is a music that relies very much on surprises. I got a chance to pick Grossman’s brain about his newly acquired position and issues relating to jazz in Toronto. Here's what he had to say.

1) Stepping into the shoes of Jim Galloway is quite the feat! To what extent will you be programming the festival differently?
The $50,000 question! There are many challenges inherent in programming a jazz festival. How do we reach the varied jazz audiences that come to the festival each year? How do we put on a successful festival without alienating the purists, or the bepop fans, or the swing fans, or the avant-garde fans? I'm trying to take a balanced approach to this year's festival. It will very much be a learning year for me; discovering how Toronto Jazz Festival audiences respond to various styles of jazz, and figuring out what works best and why. Rather than thinking of programming the festival differently, I think of expanding on the great programming that has been done in each of the past 23 years. My priorities remain as they were with the Markham Jazz Festival, but now on a much larger scale: present great jazz music, in all its forms, which maintains the highest levels of artistic integrity.

2)
Toronto has occasionally been called the “Jazz Capital of Canada”. Do you agree with this statement?
Toronto has an outstanding, talented jazz community - this is evident in the variety of music a jazz fan can find on most nights and in the number of excellent post-secondary jazz education programs in the Greater Toronto Area. However, that is no longer unique to this city: cities across this country are host to top-notch university college and jazz programs, which are producing an excellent crop of young musicians, and are also home to internationally acclaimed jazz veterans. If we are to play a lead role in the Canadian jazz scene, we need to do better to spread the word about our local musicians, and find new, full-time jazz venues in which they can perform.

3)
You have previously served as Artistic Director for Markham’s Jazz Fest and continue to wear a variety of other hats, including conductor, producer, educator, music administrator as well as performer. Which is the most challenging of these and why?
The answer is yes. That is, they each have their distinct challenges. I feel fortunate that these various duties tend to compliment each other: when I'm standing in front of my big band, I'm working with musicians who I may book in other contexts, and I'm learning about music which might be applicable in an educational setting. When I'm in a purely administrative setting, I'm learning skills - especially the marketing and bookkeeping skills - that are vital to a performing musician. Each feeds into the other.

4)
Given the challenges faced by the Toronto jazz community and the club scene in particular, how do you believe the Toronto Jazz Festival can help the situation?
I would like to see Toronto Downtown Jazz (TDJ) become the hub of jazz in Toronto. When a local Torontonian or a tourist wants to find out about jazz, I want them to be able to do so through TDJ. I'd like to see Toronto Downtown Jazz become an active partner in jazz activities throughout the year through interesting collaborations, marketing support, financial support, etc. By helping to support the local, year-round community, and by seeking input into how to create a festival which best represents the local musicians, I'm hoping that the festival can feed into the year-round scene and vice versa.

5)
How do you believe the media can help?
The media has a vital role to play. Though local musicians (and, as we develop, TDJ) can do their best to market themselves and get the word out about the fantastic music happening in this city, we are currently not getting a lot of support from the local media. For example - it is rare to see a jazz CD or concert review in the weekly papers or the national dailies. (Wholenote is, on the other hand, consistent in its support.) I understand the current challenges facing the print market; but I would rather that local coverage go to the varied and interesting local music scene than to the mega-pop variety. Musicians need to concentrate on their craft; it would be great if the local media could pick up the slack a little bit so that musicians could concentrate more on creating and spend less time and energy on marketing their music. All that being said, we need to make sure that we're staying on top of media trends - especially online. If certain outlets aren't interested in supporting jazz, maybe there are online resources such as bloggers that will.

6)
The Toronto Jazz Festival has undergone many changes in the past decade. Where would you like to see it go in your tenure?
I'd like to see the festival become a venue not just for music that people already like, but a vehicle for education: honouring the music and musicians who have made jazz what it is today, while presenting audiences with what will be the trends of tomorrow. I'd like the festival to become more relevant to the overall jazz scene, presenting more music which demonstrates how current jazz musicians are pushing boundaries and redefining jazz. There is a big risk in challenging audiences with new music; but I think there is a bigger risk in not doing so.

Josh Grossman’s Toronto Jazz Orchestra plays the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar on February 20 from 3:30-6:30pm.

030026Speaking of the Rex Hotel, this month the venerable venue presents a special six-day music festival (February 2-7) featuring artists on the independent Chicago-based Nineteen-Eight record label dedicated to “the advancement of creative music.” Highlights will include instrumental jazz/jam super-group Rudder, exceptional British alto player Will Vinson and three-time Juno Award winners, the Chris Tarry Group. Arrive early to avoid disappointment. Most of these groups are currently on a world tour; kudos to the Rex for housing their Hogtown stopover.

One of the country’s most compelling jazz composers is bassist Al Henderson, who releases his latest CD “Regeneration” on the Cornerstone record label at Chalkers Pub on February 7 from 7-10pm. Rounding out Henderson’s Septet are some of the finest musicians in the land: saxophonists Alex Dean and Pat LaBarbera, cellists Matt Brubeck and Mark Chambers, pianist Richard Whiteman and drummer Barry Romberg. Henderson’s whimsical writing style is original in every sense of the word.032

Over at the Old Mill, respected pianist John Sherwood holds a new Thursday night weekly residence at the Home Smith Bar. The weekly “Fridays to Sing About” series continues, with highlights this month that include bluesy songstress Terra Hazelton on the 12th and adored crooner John Alcorn on the 19th. Piano masters continue to prevail every Saturday night, including the splendid Nancy Walker Trio on February 13 and a special evening on February 27 with the Ron Davis/Daniela Nardi Quartet.

Good news from the Reservoir Lounge, where the jazz policy is expanding to include early “Après Work” sets from 7-9pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, doors opening at 6:30pm.

More good news from Ten Feet Tall on the Danforth where a brand new Saturday night Cabaret series takes place from 8-10pm for a pay-what-you-can cover. The series kicks off with Pat Murray and Mark Kieswetter’s beautiful interpretations of the Beatles book on February 13th. Meanwhile, the
popular Sunday matinees continue, including a special Valentine’s Day show with the pleasing vocals of proprietor Carin Redman, accompanied by Mark Kieswetter on keys and Ross MacIntyre on bass.

047Since writing last issue’s column about some of my favourite jazz venues, I’ve become hip to the hippest new neighbourhood for live music, the Trinity-Bellwoods area, right at Ossington and Dundas. Aside from plenty of live music, this strip is refreshing for its hip retro vibe, positive energy and zero pretentiousness. The charmingly petite, 25-seat Communist’s Daughter (1149 Dundas West) features gypsy jazz every Saturday from 4-7pm and famous pickled eggs every day of the week. Find intoxicating music and imported tequila at Reposado (133 Ossington Avenue), live music (jazz and/or creative) Sunday through Thursday at the supremely funky TODO Fusion Resto-Bar (217 Ossington) which is right across the street from the Painted Lady (218 Ossington). All of these venues have been added to our jazz listings using as much detail as was available at print time.

Finally, also happening in downtown clubs this month is the annual Winterfolk Festival, from February 12-15. Look for performances at the Black Swan, Mambo Lounge, Willow Restaurant, and other venues. (Go to www.abetterworld.ca for more information.)

Note that in most cases, when there’s a tip jar being passed around, it means that this is how the band is getting paid. Show your appreciation. Good tips mean good karma!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, writer and photographer.

For those of you who visit The WholeNote website (and I hope you all do), you’ll have seen Larry Lake’s article that extensively profiles the “perfect musical storm” of star composers who are gracing Toronto stages over the next few months. Rather than re-visiting the myriad of concerts, lectures and other events that Larry has already showcased (which also includes a good overview of the many accompanying world premieres by our own excellent Canadian composers), I thought I’d dig deeper to discover those February concerts that will feature an up-and-coming generation of Canadian music creators.

On February 9 and 10, the Talisker Players continue their annual vocal chamber-music series with a concert titled “To the Sea in Ships.” As you can imagine, this is an evening of nautically inspired works exploring high seas adventures from across the ages and around the world. Amongst works by Britain’s John Ireland and Arthur Bliss, America’s Lee Hoiby and our own Sir Ernest MacMillan is a newly commissioned work by young Toronto composer Juliet Hess.

P17Hess is a University of Toronto graduate who focused her studies on composition, music education, choral music, voice, and world music. While she worked in elementary music education for the TDSB, her compositional career also started to take off. It’s this marriage of educational and vocal backgrounds that has resulted in a number of works for children’s chorus, published by Boosey & Hawkes. However, her preference is for vocal chamber music, which made her a perfect match for the Taliskers. Hess is currently pursuing doctoral studies in world music education at OISE, while maintaining a foot in the music scene as a freelance composer, percussionist and choral musician.

Her latest work, The Mariner’s Albatross, sets an excerpt from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for tenor, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and double bass. The specific instrumentation was chosen to express the various dramatic elements of the text, in turns plaintive, melancholy, ironic and foreboding. The musical materials use chromatic undulations to depict the sea, while maintaining the consistent meter of the poetry, perpetuating the Mariner’s interminable situation. The Taliskers will be joined by tenor Keith Klassen to premiere The Mariner’s Albatross at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre. For more information, please visit www.taliskerplayers.ca.

The Montreal-based Quasar saxophone quartet will land at the Music Gallery on February 13 as part of their 15th anniversary cross-Canada tour. The programme features newly commissioned pieces from a generational and aesthetic range of Canadian composers, specifically chosen to open a window onto the diversity and richness of our nation’s musical culture. The works written by Daniel Peter Biro (Victoria), Michael Matthew (Winnipeg) and Piotr Grella-Mozejko (Edmonton) are joined by two previously commissioned pieces, from the young Quebec composer Simon Martin and pioneer Gilles Tremblay, who is receiving a major celebration of his work in Quebec this season.

Despite Tremblay’s large presence, the Montréal-based Martin still manages to draw good attention to himself. At age 28 he’s already won three SOCAN Foundation prizes, was a 2008 finalist in the much coveted Jules Léger Award competition for new chamber music, has been broadcast on CBC, and was selected to participate in the National Arts Centre’s Young Composers’ Programme. As well, he’s been commissioned and selected by the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal to participate in the Génération 2010 Canadian tour.

His work for Quasar, titled Projections Libérantes, pays tribute to the famous Quebec modern painter Paul-Émile Borduas. It is inspired specifically by the 1949 text “Projections libérantes,” and the painting “Composition 69,” which was found on the artist’s easel upon his death in 1960. In his own work, Martin uses multiphonics – an extended wind technique that produces fractured and split sounds – almost exclusively. Martin treats these multiphonics like blocks that can be superimposed and juxtaposed, mirroring Borduas’ thick, black and white impastos.

The Quasar quartet will precede their concert with an open chamber music workshop on the afternoon of February 11, also at the Music Gallery. For more details about the Quasar quartet, visit www.quasar.com. To learn more about the composer, visit the Canadian Music Centre at www.musiccentre.ca. For concert and workshop details, visit www.musicgallery.org or call 416-204-1080.

Kevin Lau is another quickly emerging Toronto composer who’s experiencing a growing demand for his music by local ensembles. Since completing his first full composition in 1999, he’s had music commissioned and performed by the Esprit Orchestra, the Cecilia String Quartet and the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra – among many other eminent ensembles such as Eighth Blackbird, the Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

This month, he unveils two new creations. On February 13, the Mississauga Symphony premieres Lau’s Voyage to the East at the Living Arts Centre on a programme of Far-East inspired music for film and concert stage. The concert includes Colin McPhee’s popular Tabuh Tabuhan, Chan Ka Nin’s Flower Drum Song and excerpts from Tan Dun’s music for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Then, on February 18 and 19, Lau will get to hear his latest creation, a concerto for taiko drums and strings, which will be premiered by Via Salzburg and the Onnanoko Drumming Ensemble at the Glenn Gould Studio. The combination of warm string sounds and insistent taiko rhythms should provide for interesting contrasts. For more concert details, visit www5.mississauga.ca/symphony and www.viasalzburg.com. To learn more about the composer and hear samples of his past work, visit the CMC website or www.kevinlaumusic.com.

On February 27 the maverick Toca Loca ensemble belatedly releases its debut album, P*P at the Music Gallery. The disc, which has been both picked and panned by critics from all over, features music by some of  Canada’s most interesting composers: think Aaron Gervais, Geof Holbrook, Veronika Krausas, Nicole Lizée, Juliet Palmer, Erik Ross, Andrew Staniland and Robert Stevenson. It seems that Toca Loca hardly ever plays Toronto these days, and having already released P*P in Berlin and Vancouver, I’m sure they’ll be pleased to finally introduce the disc to their hometown audience. On the programme are works by American early-career composer Matthew Burtner – whose music has been described as horrific, beautiful, eerily, effective and impressive – the extremely popular Australian Matthew Hinson, and the virtuosic but often humorous Canadian André Ristic. For more details visit www.musicgallery.org.

But, of course, this isn’t all that’s on offer. Don’t miss New Music Concerts’ ringing-in of the Chinese New Year/Valentine’s Day on February 14 with world premiere works by composer couple Alice Ho and Chan Ka Nin, or Continuum’s much-anticipated James Rolfe retrospective, “The Thread,” on February 28 at the Royal Conservatory. Check in with all that’s new in the concert listings and at www.thewholenote.com.

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

 

P20The first months of any new year are not often wildly busy for choirs. Western choral repertoire is in many ways shaped and anchored by the holidays of Christmas and Easter, and it’s during these times of the year that ensembles jostle for audience attention. One way to avoid the traffic jam is to schedule a concert prior to spring, and hope that the desire for live choral timbres will entice concert-goers to brave the cold. Two large-scale works loom behemoth-like over the southern Ontario choral scene during the coming weeks.

The
Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir lead the charge with Verdi’s Requiem on February 18. This work, which will be led by guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda, is a study in contrasts. Verdi imbues the text with all the drama of a 19th-century Romantic opera composer, but also pays homage to earlier traditions of mass-setting with the fugal writing that pervades the choruses. The four soloists must have voices with enough operatic heft to sail above Verdian orchestration, but be able to tune the delicate a cappella section of the “Lacrymosa.” like singers of Renaissance motets. It’s a rewarding work for singers and audience alike.

On February 28, Toronto’s Orpheus Choir combines with the Guelph Chamber Choir to sing a programme with Rachmaninoff’s
Vespers as the centerpiece. The Vespers has a certain notoriety among choral singers for having some of the lowest bass writing in the choral repertoire. A colleague protested to Rachmaninoff that few basses would be able to handle the tessitura set out in several of the movements. Rachmaninoff replied simply, “I know my countrymen.” Perhaps what Rachmaninoff meant to say was, “I know what my countrymen sound like after a night of drinking Russian vodka.”

Thanks to the LCBO, it ought to be possible for southern Ontarian choristers to use this method as well. Watch the Orpheus and Guelph basses carefully as they ascend the steps: if any of them stagger or weave, you know what has occurred. There are of course other methods for lowering one’s voice to which choral singers might resort; staying up all night works very well, or singing with a cold in winter, which can be seen as a particularly Canadian solution to this problem.


Joking aside, Rachmaninoff’s
Vespers is very simply one of the highlights of the European choral repertoire. It combines brilliantly the lucid part-writing of a classically trained composer with the dusky, incense-imbued mystery and ritual of the Russian Orthdox Church. This sequence of motets is not, strictly speaking, a Vespers service. Rather it is a selection from what is known in the Russian Orthodox Church as the All-Night Vigil, a combination of the three canonical hours Vespers, Matins and First Hour. The work was an instant success in Russia when premiered in 1915, although it was suppressed for a period following the 1917 revolution. Its haunting austerity is perfect suited to a Canadian winter.

For those whose tastes run to less gigantic mass-settings, there are a few other options. The John Laing Singers of Hamilton and the Univox Choir of Toronto both perform concerts that showcase the Fauré
Requiem (February 7 and 26, respectively); the Durham Philharmonic Choir takes on Gounod’s Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile in Oshawa (February 21); the University of Western Ontario Singers sing Mozart’s D minor Requiem in London (February 26). On March 6, the Bell’Arte Singers sing Howells’ Requiem, the Oriana Women’s Choir sing a mixed programme that includes Canadian composer Imant Raminsh’s Missa Brevis, and the Tallis Choir performs the serene but passionate music of Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Elsewhere, there are concerts by the Georgetown Bach Chorale (Norval and Caledon on February 6 and 7, respectively) and the Da Capo Chamber Choir in Kitchener (February 27).
The Uxbridge Chamber Choir presents a programme that includes American composer Morten Lauridsen’s setting of the Lux Aeterna text and Brahms’ whimsically named but decidedly un-frothy Liebeslieder Waltzes (March 7).

Themed concerts are being given by several groups.
A Celtic Valentine features the  University of Toronto Women’s Singers in a concert that includes Celtic fiddlers and dancers (February 12). The Burlington Civic Chorale offers a Valentine Cabaret in Guelph (February 13). The Mississauga Choral Society sings Broadway melodies in Broadway With Heart (February 20), the Toronto Beach Chorale weds choral singing to hits from the 50s to the 70s with Sweet Sixteen (February 27), and the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir honours the 1st of March with a St. David’s Day Concert.

On 17 and 20 February, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs
Voices of the Diaspora, a concert that showcases music of the Gullah people. The Gullahs, based in South Carolina and the Georgia Sea Islands, have preserved more traditional elements of African culture than any other pan-African group in North America. It should be interesting to see what the Detts come up with in this programme. The Amadeus Choir is busy as well, mounting their own Celtic concert on March 6.

Altogether, the next couple of months offer a rich variety of concert choices. We can congratulate ourselves that Canadians will brave the cold not only for hockey, skiing and curling, but for choral singing as well.


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


P9The 2010-11 season marks the 25th anniversary of Toronto Operetta Theatre, the only professional operetta company in Canada. The company rang in the new year with a successful production of one of its signature works, Imre Kálmán’s Countess Maritza. In February TOT will remount the thoroughly Canadian operetta,Oscar Telgmann’s Leo, the Royal Cadet (1889), a work that TOT rediscovered and first staged in 2001. The show runs February 17, 19, 20 and 21 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. For more information visit www.torontooperetta.com.

In a telephone interview, Guillermo Silva-Marin, TOT’s artistic director since its inception, explained how the company came to be and has evolved over its first quarter century. The notion for an operetta company first arose as a project of the now-defunct Ontario Multicultural Theatre Association (OMTA). It staged a production of Franz Lehár’s The Land of Smiles in 1984, for which Silva-Marin was an alternate lead. The production was intended as a fundraiser but actually lost money, and, as Silva-Marin puts it, “I opened my big mouth and said I could do better than that because they were so disorganized.” As a result, he was asked if he would like to be the operetta company’s artistic director. The first four productions of what was already named Toronto Operetta Theatre began on September 25, 1985, with Lehár’s The Count of Luxembourg. In 1989 OMTA agreed to allow TOT to incorporate as a separate company on the condition that it would also take over OMTA’s debt. TOT thus began life with a millstone which today, luckily, amounts to only 5 percent of its operating budget.

In 1991, however, a TTC strike drastically cut attendance. The debt mounted to 15 percent, and the company, which had been performing at the Bluma Appel Theatre and the Winter Garden, began looking for a more manageable venue – ideally, with about 500 seats, a proscenium stage and a pit. No such venue existed then, and indeed, no such venue exists now. Since 1994 the TOT has made the 497-seat Jane Mallett Theatre its home. Built as a concert hall, it does have a sense of intimacy and excellent acoustics, but the lack of a pit, wings or backstage space made it “challenging but in an inventive way,” Silva-Marin affirms. There he developed the company’s hallmark minimalist style. As he explains, “I’ve always been committed to telling the story from a simple approach to text and music. I often think that if I had a million dollars to spend, I wouldn’t spend it on staircases and chandeliers. I would have greater amount of rehearsals, pay the cast sufficiently, invest in orchestra time and in a creative team that could support dealing with the text and music in ways we don’t often have opportunities to do.” Audiences questionnaires have consistently confirmed Silva-Marin’s approach by saying that sustained singing and acting, not sets and costumes, should always be the company’s priority.

A look over the TOT’s production history shows that it has gradually grown away from a focus on Central European repertoire to embrace an increasingly wider range, including Gilbert and Sullivan, Old and New World zarzuela, and American musicals, leading to at least eight Canadian premieres. As Silva-Marin explains, “I knew that for the company to remain vital and strong it needed to explore a greater gamut of works that were perceived as operetta or operetta-like.” This thrust included tracking down the piano-vocal score of Leo in the National Library in Ottawa and commissioning John Greer to orchestrate it after a study of Telgmann’s other works. It also led the TOT to commission its first world premiere, Earnest the Importance of Being (2008) from Victor Davies and Ernest Benson. “Now that we did Earnest there are all kinds of people knocking on the door. And I’m delighted because the art form is still valid, and valid enough for us to invest in our own composers and produce our own works and even works on subjects that are intrinsically Canadian.”

Silva-Marin notes that the average audience now is younger that when the TOT began. Why should operetta continue to be popular? As Silva-Marin says, “Some might call it light or featherweight, but the simple truth is that opera and music theatre of this type represents the better life that humans could possibly have.” Here’s to another 25 years of spreading joy!

The COC Announces its New Season

On January 20, COC General Director Alexander Neef announced the company’s 61st season. Of special significance is that this is the first season planned entirely by Neef. It was clear that he looked to see what works the COC had been neglecting, because five operas are works the COC has not staged for at least twelve years and two are COC premieres.

P10The season opens on October 2 with a new production of Verdi’s Aida directed by Tim Albery and starring Sondra Radvanovsky in her company debut. Next is a new production of Britten’s Death in Venice conducted by Steuart Bedford, who conducted the opera’s world premiere in 1973. The winter season begins with a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute directed by Diane Paulus and starring Michael Schade and Isabel Bayrakdarian. This is paired with the COC premiere of John Adams’s modern classic Nixon in China with Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao. The spring season brings a new production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Brett Polegato as Dandini; Ariadne auf Naxos with Adrianne Pieczonka and Richard Margison; and finally, and surprisingly, the COC premiere of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice directed by Robert Carsen, with Lawrence Zazzo and Isabel Bayrakdarian.

Again the COC Ensemble Studio is allowed to take over one performance of The Magic Flute rather than being given its own production. This is unfortunate because the Ensemble productions were a way for the COC to stage a wide range of chamber operas from baroque to contemporary that helped to broaden our perceptions of what opera is.

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


“First there’s God; then there’s Bach; then there’s the rest of us,” was the credo of a friend of mine. Obviously a lot of people tend to agree about Bach’s supremacy in the artistic scheme of things, evident from the number of performances – even an entire concert – devoted to his chamber works this month. Bach’s creative genius is given a wide overview, as many of the pieces presented date from the early years of his career; and one, The Musical Offering, dates from three years before his death.

The Academy Concert Series


The Academy Concert Series has maintained a quiet presence in the east end of the city, yet there’s something very passionate about their presentations: an obvious devotion to presenting music in a historically-informed style with enthusiasm and integrity. Artistic director Nicolai Tarasov tells of the genesis of the series, “The beginning of the 1990s was still very much a continuation of the major discoveries and achievements in the field of “historically presented” music of the 80s. We (meaning Tarasov, a performer on several wind instruments, and founders baroque cellist/gambist Sergei Istomin and harpsichordist Viviana Sofronitsky) had our vision of how this music should sound, and wanted to share it with the audience.” Now, after almost two decades – 2010 /11 will be their 20th anniversary season – the series has broadened to include music from the early period to contemporary.


P11Their February concert, “Bach and the King,” consists entirely of one masterpiece: Bach’s Musical Offering. It was 1747 when King Frederick of Prussia gave “old Bach” that cryptic theme on which to extemporize a fugue; Bach subsequently took it home and developed it into an ingenious, multi-interpretable series of 12 canons and fugues, and one trio sonata, all displaying an incredible mastery of the art of counterpoint. There are mirror and crab canons, a never-ending canon, an instruction to “Seek and ye shall find!” – for Bach slyly set down some of the music as puzzles for the musicians to solve.

Tarasov sets the stage: “The very nature of the work offers a multiplicity of possible solutions. The open-endedness of the composer’s intentions invites players to enter into the spirit of the game and try different things. Venturing some distance down this path, we are offering a number of new realizations of Bach’s canons, as well as a  new order of the parts for better balance of the whole programme, and an entirely new instrumentation. It will be an evening of musical discoveries and delights!”

This is a wonderful and rare opportunity to hear what, in Tarasov’s words, is “a unique phenomenon in music. The symmetry and proportion, the emotional intensity and balance it exhibits are matchless even for Bach. In it is held the unfathomable and mysterious musical world, which reaches far and wide into the metaphysical Beyond, similar to
The Art of the Fugue or to the last string quartets of Beethoven.”

In addition to Nicolai Tarasov, who plays baroque oboe and recorder, you’ll hear Rona Goldensher, baroque violin; Laura Jones, viola da gamba; and Paul Jenkins, harpsichord. The concert takes place on February 13 at Eastminster United Church.


More Bach

Several upcoming concerts involve music from Bach’s younger years, for solo stringed instruments with or without keyboard accompaniment. The suites for solo cello, the sonatas for violin and harpsichord, and the sonatas for viola da gamba and keyboard are all represented:

On February 6, if you travel to Norval, near Georgetown, you’ll have a chance to hear the joyful G major suite for solo cello played by cellist Mary-Katherine Finch, as part of the Georgetown Bach Chorale’s “Cathedral Compositions”
concert – a programme which also includes choral works such as Allegri’s Miserere and Lotti’s Crucifixus.

You have
two chances to hear the grave and beautiful Cello Suite in D Minor (it contains my favourite of the sarabandes for solo cello). On February 7, in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Mazzoleni Hall, it will be played not on cello but on double bass by the Toronto Symphony’s principal bassist, Jeffrey Beecher (a concert which also includes modern works for bass). On February 14, cellist Nathan Whittaker will perform it in the Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series (which also features soprano Linda Tsatsanis singing delicious love songs of the 17th century).

Bach’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord pour forth movement after movement of exquisitely expressive music. On February 7 in Kitchener, Folia presents the second in a pair of concerts, entitled “Bach Sonatas in the Afternoon, Part 2
.” Violinist Linda Melsted and harpsichordist Borys Medicky will perform.

And on February 13, Scaramella’s “A Bach Extravaganza”
features artistic director Joëlle Morton and harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill in a performance of all three of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord – a programme special not only for Bach’s music but because two Canadian works will also be featured, and because the instrument showcased is the 1699 Joachim Tielke bass viol owned by Hart House.

More Concerts


Okay, it’s true that concerts featuring Bach are not the only interesting happenings on the early music scene this month. Some of the others you’ll find in the listings are:

The Cardinal Consort of Viols present
Love & Regretz, as part of Christ Church Deer Park’s Lunchtime Chamber Music Series.

Human weakness and the iniquities of the powerful
are explored in Sine Nomine’s Vanitas et corruptio, a programme of medieval songs of parody and satire.

Nota Bene Period Orchestra teams up with La
Belle Danse baroque dance company to present Baroque Dance: Courtesans from Versailles. The concert takes place on Feb. 28 in Kitchener; there is also an open dress rehearsal on Feb. 27 in Toronto.

The Windermere String Quartet, whose mandate is to
explore the well-known masterworks as well as lesser-known gems of the string quartet repertoire on period instruments, presents a programme of Mozart, Haydn and Georges Onslow quartets.

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


This year is the two hundredth anniversary of the births of both Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann – a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by music presenters. On February 4 Music Toronto will present soprano Susan Gilmour Bailey, pianist Michael Kim and actor Colin Fox in “The Schumann Letters,” chronicling the composer’s troubled life through readings and song. And just two days later, the bicentenary of both Schumann and Chopin will be celebrated by soprano Donna Bennett and pianist Brian Finley, in a programme presented by the Lindsay Concert Foundation.

P14aIn the last week of February there are several concerts featuring very accomplished women singers. The young but already well-regarded Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta will perform with guitarist Jason Vieaux, in a Mooredale Sunday afternoon concert on February 21 – and again on February 24, with Amici Chamber Ensemble and American superstar soprano Dawn Upshaw. Upshaw will be performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra the next evening, on February 25. Both the Amici and the TSO concert programmes will include music by the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov. (In preparing this column I discovered the website, forum-network.org, which has interviews with both Upshaw and Golijov.)

Continuing with singers in the final week of February, in the afternoon of February 25 the Women’s Music Club presents a concert by soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian at Koerner Hall. Right next door, in Walter Hall at 12:10, soprano Monica Whicher will be performing music by the 20th-century English composer William Walton. On the same day at the same time but in Guelph, soprano Sarah Kramer will give a solo recital with pianist, Anna Ronai. On the last day of the month, mezzo and CBC Radio host Julie Nesrallah will give the 639th Sunday concert at Hart House. You might also want to get a ticket to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s March 3 concert, which will be a rare opportunity to hear Canadian soprano-in-exile extraordinaire Barbara Hannigan, in a programme that includes music by Golijov.

I was shocked when I read the last sentence of the following press release, sent to me early in January: “Violin/Piano duo returns to Toronto after eleven years to honour former patron: The international Violin/Piano Duo of Ariadne Daskalakis and Miri Yampolsky will give a concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto on March 6, 2010…to honour the memory of Susan Alberghini.”

There are, of course, two stories here. The first is Susan Alberghini, who was among the first people I met through The WholeNote (it was called Pulse, in those days), a person who really “got” what the magazine was all about, and encouraged us during times when it was easy to get discouraged. One of Kenneth Mills’ circle of devotees, and a supporter of his Star Scape Singers, she was an arts administrator, the co-founder of the Huntsville Festival of the Arts and, up to the time of her untimely death in January 2009, the executive director of the Guild of Canadian Film Composers. Personally I felt she tried in her life to bridge art and life, to bring beauty into her life and the lives of others and to infuse art with vitality.

The other story is the Daskalakis/Yampolsky recital on March 6. Originally scheduled by Alberghini for 2009, she passed away before the arrangements were put in place. Judging by Elissa Poole’s enthusiastic review of the duo’s last Toronto concert in February 1999, we can look forward to some very fine music-making on March 6.


P14bP14cThere are many, many more interesting concerts both in Toronto and in a good many other Southern Ontario centres in February. Indeed, I was particularly impressed by the “Beyond the GTA” listings, not just their quantity, but also their programming, sometimes very unusual and ambitious. For instance, there’s the “The Attar Project,” at the University of Western Ontario on February 26, and the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra’s February 13 programme, which includes the Fifth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich.

Allan Pulker is a
flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

Having spent some years in the Navy, it’s become a tradition for me to attend the New Year’s levee at one or more of the military messes in the Toronto area. At this year’s event I spent some time chatting with a friend who had joined the service as a musician, but had, after a time, set her clarinet aside and gone on to pursue a very rewarding career elsewhere in the service. Perhaps her timing was opportune in having enlisted when many traditionally male only roles were opening up for women. Now, well ensconced in a position with considerable responsibility, might she return to music for recreation? Her answer is “not in the foreseeable future.” Alas, she’s had her clarinets made into table lamps. She had no New Year’s resolution for 2010 to return to music making.

P24
As I write this, the year is now two weeks old. Some people will already have abandoned their well-intentioned resolutions made in haste over a midnight toast. For most of us though, there’s still time to resolve to pursue some course for personal betterment in the months ahead. While no statistics on the subject have crossed our desk, it’s generally agreed that a very high percentage of those who study instrumental music in high school do not continue with their instrument after graduation. For most, it is not a conscious decision to stop playing. They still enjoy music as listeners, but the time pressures of further education, marriage, family and career responsibilities have consumed most of their waking hours. That is barrier number one.

Frequently there is the additional barrier of the lack of an instrument. Most students who participate in school music programs learn on and use school instruments. This barrier is easily overcome by renting an instrument, until the return to playing is a firm decision. Renting also provides time to research the market, and determine the type of instrument best suited to one’s needs.

If you’ve decided that such a New Year’s resolution is for you, where do you start? What are your goals? There are many questions to be answered. The first ones are: What instrument do I want to play and what type of music appeals to me most? For many, the choice of instrument will be to get back to the once familiar. For others it will be to answer a long-time urge to try a different challenge.

Having chosen the instrument, then there is some research to locate possible groups that perform your kind of music. Do they accept novices? Joining a group which consistently performs above your ability level would be frustrating and slow your personal progress. When and where do they rehearse? You want to be in a situation where you will look forward to your weekly music venture rather than worrying about how to fit it in. Once you’ve made contact, attend a few rehearsals to determine whether you and the group are compatible. Most community bands are open and welcoming, but there is a wide spectrum. On the one hand there are groups with a fixed instrumentation where all members are required to audition. At the other end there a few true “beginners bands.”

Over the past few weeks we had the opportunity to visit and sit in with one such group. Starting from scratch a year ago September, a small group in Newmarket organized The Stepping Stone Band. After a bit of a shaky start, the band is now prospering under the direction of a local music teacher. With a regular membership of about 25, they are honing their reading skills with a broad range of music, from basic instructional type music to works from the standard band repertoire.

Some members are getting back after a prolonged absence, while others are rank beginners. On more than one music stand there are fingering charts. One member loved to play his alto saxophone at home, but had never learned to read music. Now that is rapidly changing. Since the band’s inception, some members have gone on to a more advanced band in addition to their regular Monday evening rehearsals. They are sharing their common interest in a friendly non-threatening group. The New Year looks good for them. For information on this group contact Joe at joemariconda@gmail.com.

Harking back to my opening remarks, within a few days of hearing of the sad fate of my friend’s clarinets, I learned of an innovative project at a local school. The problem was not an unusual one. Like most schools, Uxbridge Secondary School wanted more serviceable instruments than their budget would permit. Tucked away in various corners were several unused instruments, but they were deemed to be beyond economical repair.

The solution: turn those old instruments into cash. Students in technology classes took the old clarinets and flutes and made table lamps with a musical motif and offered them for sale in the community. The result: winners all around. The school receives money for some new instruments, the old instruments go on to a new life and some homes in town have lamps which are topics of conversation and useful. The photo accompanying this column shows music student Caitlin Jodoin and music teacher Deb Thompson checking over some music by the light of one of the lamps. When not playing in the school band, Caitlin is a regular member of the Hannaford Youth Band.

Definition Department


This month’s lesser known musical term is “APPOLOGGIATURA”: A composition that you regret playing.” We invite submissions from readers.


Coming Events


The Etobicoke Community Concert Band
presents “That’s Entertainment” featuring jazz pianist Chris Don- nelly. Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium, 86 Montgomery Road.

The City of Brampton Concert Band will close its 125th Anniversary Concert Series with “2010: A Space Odyssey” at the Rose Theatre.

The Hannaford Street Silver Band presents “Trum- pet Spectacular” with trumpet soloist Allen Vizzutti.

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

 


If you happened to be in Wilmington, Delaware, in late February of 1976 – or Washington D.C. in early March, or even in Boston through early April that same year – you’d have had the chance to see that rarity in American musical-theatre history: a Richard Rodgers show limping its way to an early death on Broadway.

P23Rex, a musical treatment of Henry VIII and his obsession with siring a male heir, opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York on April 25, 1976, and closed on June 5 after 14 previews and a total of only 49 performances, the shortest run for a Rodgers show in almost 50 years. It is still the only post-1940 Richard Rodgers musical not included in the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization’s performing catalogue.

Hopefully, that might change in the not-too-distant future, following the Civic Light Opera Company’s three-week run of
Rex at Fairview Library Theatre this month. It’s another Canadian premiere for the company – the first production of the show anywhere outside the US, for that matter – and the first extended stage run since it closed on Broadway.

It’s a major coup for the CLOC’s Joe Cascone, an admitted Richard Rodgers aficionado. Cascone had known about the show since the time of its original demise, but despite his predilection for staging little-known or “problem” shows, in addition to the standard crowd-pleasers, he’d never given this particular “forgotten
op” much thought.

Seeing
The Other Boleyn Girl in 2008 sparked Cascone’s interest, however, and he took advantage of his excellent relationship with the R&H organization to ask if there was any possibility of staging Rex. He was warned of the show’s problems – an anti-hero wife-killing leading male role, for starters – but was promised their support if he was seriously interested.

The rights situation had certainly changed in the previous few years. Following the withdrawal of the show in 1976 lyricist Sheldon Harnick (of
Fiddler on the Roof fame) and book author Sherman Yellen had frozen the rights, feeling that the show they had originally envisioned with Richard Rodgers had been lost in the constant re-working in the pre-Broadway try-outs, overwhelmed by spectacle and suffocating historical detail.

In 1999, however, New York’s York Theatre asked if they could include
Rex in their piano-only, script-in-hand concert performance series, “Musicals in Mufti”; Harnick and Yellen initially said “No,” but then agreed as long as they could be given one year to revise the show. They went back to work, made drastic cuts to the script, tightened the focus, stripped away the pageantry, removed a few songs and reinstated several that had been cut pre-Broadway. The result? A well-received show that allowed the beautiful Richard Rodgers score to be heard more clearly, albeit without a full orchestra.

Harnick and Yellen have clearly retained a strong affection for
Rex. Over the years, they have continued to work on the show since 2000, being involved with both the brief but fully-staged production at the University of Findlay in Ohio in April 2002 as part of the Richard Rodgers Centennial celebrations, and another piano-only presentation at the Stages Festival of New Musicals in Chicago in August 2007.

Sheldon Harnick himself called Cascone early in 2009 to let him know they’d agreed to release the rights for CLOC, and Cascone met with Harnick and Yellen twice in New York last year to discuss plans for the show. Sheldon Harnick has re-written the lyrics for one song,
Dear Jane, specifically for this production. Both men have promised to come up to see the show – and Sheldon Harnick, now 85, will apparently be in the audience on opening night on Wednesday February 17.

Cascone aims to prove that the show is now well worth doing in its revised form, and hopes that a successful staging may lead R&H to include
Rex in their performance rental catalogue, so that a score containing some outstanding Rodgers songs will finally be available for stock and amateur theatre companies everywhere.
How that score will be heard is a story in itself. The Findlay University production apparently featured a 30-piece orchestra, but nobody seems quite sure what instrumental parts they used; all the R&H organization can confirm is that the original parts are now buried in unmarked boxes somewhere in storage. Cascone was originally told that he would have to go with piano only for the music, but has been given permission to add a few instruments so that he can feature his usual five-piece instrumental combo.

Only one song from
Rex – the ballad “Away From You” – has achieved any independent life of its own, having been recorded by Sarah Brightman on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1989 CD The Songs That Got Away. But the score was the one aspect of the show to garner some praise in 1976, despite its somewhat anachronistic nature.

Rex
was the penultimate Richard Rodgers show before his death in 1979, and it’s certainly one worth seeing and hearing. This may well be the only chance you get! The show runs from February 18 to March 6. For ticket information call (416) 755-1717 or go to www.civiclightoperacompany.com.

One other local musical theatre group has a production this month: Scarborough Music Theatre will be presenting
Children of Eden at the Scarborough Village Theatre from February 11 to 27.

Music and lyrics for this 1991 show are by Stephen Schwartz, who used to have
Godspell and Pippin in brackets after his name, but is now most widely known for writing the smash hit Wicked. Children of Eden, which never made it to Broadway, is based on the Book of Genesis, and deals with family issues in the stories of Adam and Eve, and Noah and the Great Flood. Rarely performed on the professional stage, it remains one of the most popular shows for youth and community groups.

For ticket information contact the Scarborough Village Theatre box office at (416)267-9292.


Terry Robins is a musician and musical theatre enthusiast. He can be contacted at: musicaltheatre@thewholenote.com.


Back to top