A protégé of legendary lyricist Oscar Hammerstein and student of serialist composer and electronic music trailblazer Milton Babbitt, Stephen Sondheim is equally famous as a lyricist and tunesmith. Midway through the first decade of the 21st century, American pianist Anthony de Mare acted on his lifelong immersion in Sondheim’s work and commissioned a wide net of composers from multiple genres to create their own “re-imaginings” of a favourite Sondheim song for solo piano. By the time the Liaisons project was completed in 2014, 36 composers (31 men and five women; 32 of whom were American-born) had contributed and de Mare’s love affair with Sondheim’s music had borne a bountiful harvest.

Drawn from 12 shows – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) to Passion (1994) – Liaisons explores the sound world of the foremost creator of American musical theatre in the last half of the 20th century through the singular lenses of composers from Steve Reich to Gabriel Kahane. “Each of the composers is having a conversation with Mr. Sondheim,” de Mare told The New York Times, “with his material but also his influence, his musical wit and his craft.”

The lone Canadian contribution, Rodney Sharman’s Notes on “Beautiful,” written in the Valentine Studio, Leighton Arts Colony, Banff, Alberta, “is a transformation of the duet between mother and son, Beautiful, from Sunday in the Park with George, and dedicated to Anthony de Mare and the memory of my mother.” Sharman’s piece is one of 14 de Mare will be performing in Mazzoleni Hall on May 24 as part of the 21C Music Festival. A second concert, the following evening in Temerty Theatre, contains ten additional works concluding with a reprise of Reich’s Finishing the Hat.

Anthony de MareWN: How does it feel, as a lifelong fan of Stephen Sondheim’s music, to play a dozen or two of the Liaisons transcriptions in an evening?

AdM: It is always an exhilarating experience for me to perform these works, no matter how many are included on each program. And because I’m so enamoured with the entire canon of Sondheim’s work, there are just so many of his shows in addition to dozens and dozens of his songs that I love so much. He has often said that Sunday in the Park with George is the show “closest to his heart” and I would say that has [also] always been one of my favourites. And I would just add that for myself, the more I work and live with this material, the more I learn – it has become a body of work that I hold very close to my own heart and it is an honour to be able to share it with the world now.

The flexibility of the project allows me to create programs based on what each individual presenter desires coupled with my own instincts and choices. Some presenters have had me perform two to three concerts as a series covering a vast portion of the collection.

However, selecting the program content is very important to me, as is its shape. I actually consider the entire program (and its sequencing) to be its own “piece,” carefully assembled to guide the listener on a journey through these fascinating works. Each piece is very much a marriage between the composer’s individual style and Sondheim’s original material. Add to this the inclusion often of audio and video clips of the composers speaking about their relationship to Mr. Sondheim and his work, in addition to the short film of Sondheim himself speaking (extracted from the interviews that were part of the Liaisons premiere concerts at Symphony Space here in NYC). Audiences have often commented favourably on how satisfying the entire experience is for them.

What was the first Sondheim song you fell in love with? What did it mean to you?

The first Sondheim song I encountered was the iconic Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music. The first recording I heard of it was Judy Collins’ classic version back when I was in high school in the 1970s. I was so enamored with the shape of the melody, the beautiful sequence of harmonies, the eloquent lyrics, and of course her gentle interpretation, which made it memorable.

What is the first Sondheim song you remember hearing? How old were you?

Along with Send in the Clowns, there was Comedy Tonight from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Shortly thereafter, I began listening over and over to the original cast recording of Company – the opening song of which became an immediate favourite, along with Another Hundred People. Again, this was around junior high and high school.

What prompted you to embark on such an ambitious project of commissioning piano re-imaginings of Sondheim songs? What was the genesis of the project?

This massive project was the culmination of a series of musical endeavours that I had created in years past. I have long been referred to as one of the leading exponents of contemporary music and my love of musical theatre has played a distinctive role in establishing myself as the “pioneer” of the speaking/singing pianist genre which I created in the late 1980s, commissioning a variety of composers to create specific theatrical works that I would perform solo at the piano. This in turn led to a large multimedia concert project I created titled “Playing with MySelf” – which involved a wide variety of contemporary works, video, projections, lighting, set design, costumes, etc. – which had a successful run here in NYC and abroad.

My love for Stephen Sondheim’s work dates back to my teenage years, having discovered such shows as A Little Night Music, Company, Follies and Pacific Overtures – which led to an obsessive immersion into his work, especially each time one of his new shows appeared on the theatre scene. I had always wondered what his amazing songs would sound like transcribed as legitimate piano works, much in the same vein as what pianists like Earl Wild had accomplished with Gershwin’s songs, and what Art Tatum did for so many his contemporaries. This tradition goes back as far as Franz Liszt, but no one had ever approached Sondheim’s work like this for the piano, so I thought it was about time.

In the late 1980s, I was invited to create a transcription of one of his songs [Children and Art from Sunday in the Park with George] to perform at a summer music festival and from there I decided I would like to possibly create about five or six more of these transcriptions. My performing and teaching career started to take off and got in the way of focusing on the project, so I had to shelve the idea for a while – actually a long while. Several composer friends and colleagues kept asking me throughout the 1990s (and into the new century) when I was planning to do it. Finally, in 2006, my good friend – Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec – and I sat down and he encouraged me to seriously pursue this. My idea at the time was to cast the net wide to a variety of composers from multiple genres (contemporary classical, jazz, theatre, film, opera, indie, pop, etc.) to create their own settings or “re-imaginings” of a favourite Sondheim song. With the help of a very talented and dedicated fund-raising producer named Rachel Colbert, the project was set afoot.

Stephen SondheimHow long did it take to complete the project from the time of the first commission? What was the first commission?

The first commissions were put forth in 2008/09. There were many composers commissioned all at once, but not the total amount that it ended up being. The first completed work to arrive was Ricky Ian Gordon’s setting of Every Day A Little Death from A Little Night Music. Following that, a few more trickled in (William Bolcom, David Rakowski, Jake Heggie) and then they started coming one after the other between 2009 and 2014.

What were your criteria for which composers you invited to participate in the project?

The project was originally going to be about 20 to 25 works, but the roster kept expanding as the composer genres expanded. Also, Steve would suggest more composers along the way who seemed perfect for the project and it gradually climbed up to 36 – “a nice round number” as the producer said – and this provided many options for presenters in addition to emphasizing the possibilities for flexible programming on my part.

I wanted to be sure from the beginning that each composer involved felt a true “connection” to Mr. Sondheim’s work and that they wrote well for the piano. Over the years, several composers continued to contact me asking to participate, but we were committed to keeping a balance within the genres.

Was it intentionally multi-generational?

Yes, definitely. We wanted to have a wide range in age, and the final roster encompassed composers ranging in age from their late 20s to their 80s.

Did you have any guidelines you asked the composers to follow?

The word re-imagining is key to this project. I presented each composer with five parameters when they started. First, they were free to choose any song they felt connected to. There was a wish list, but they didn’t need to adhere to that list per se. Second, they were asked to retain the original melodic material of the song. Third, to retain most of his original harmonies. Fourth, they were free to play with the structure, especially since they would now be creating an instrumental piece from an original song, which is where much of the re-imagining seems to have originated for many of them. And finally, I requested that they not “deconstruct the material,” although a few actually did.

Did any composer ask to transcribe a song that had already been chosen by another?

They were of course free to choose a song that had already been chosen. However, the situation occurred only a few times where they asked about a song that was already taken. Once they knew that, they each decided to choose a different one. Nearly all of them had so many favourites, it wasn’t very hard for them to choose another.

Which of the commissioned works surprised you the most?

Let me just say that each piece was a revelation and each was quite unique from all the rest. Therefore, all of them were actually wonderful surprises. There were those that chose to either add an audio track accompaniment, while others incorporated unexpected “bells ’n whistles.” In each case, the approach was usually indicative of their individual style of writing.

Sondheim is so well known for the quality of his lyrics, how did the composers deal with the absence of words in their transcriptions?

One of the core missions of the project from the start was to illustrate Sondheim’s genius as one of the great composers of the 20th/21st century.

Since Sondheim’s original musical material in each song is expanded by lyrics and narrative, the challenge for many of the composers was to capture and encapsulate the essence of the lyrics, the overall ambience/mood, the character singing it, and the core of its message through an instrumental setting of his brilliant musical material.

Some composers found this a mighty challenge – many commented that the songs were already “perfect.” Therefore, some went the route of direct transcription for piano, some more fantasia-like. Each again is unique to each composer’s individual style, active within the fabric of Sondheim’s original musical material.

Three examples: Steve Reich’s two-piano setting of Finishing the Hat – enhancing the original passionate melody with his own signature pulsing metre-shifts; David Rakowski’s ingenious setting of The Ladies Who Lunch – capturing the complete musical material combined with the pathos, sadness, humour and bitterness of the character who sings this song. Andy Akiho’s prepared piano setting of Into the Woods, where he animates the piano by orchestrating each character’s voice and personality using prepared piano techniques (dimes, poster tacks, credit cards) and exotic timbres in lieu of the text.

There are actually numerous more examples, too many to cite, especially since each piece accomplishes something unique in terms of the individual direction each composer chose to take.

What, if any, was Stephen Sondheim’s involvement with the project?

Steve was quite intrigued by the idea of the project from the start and also very humbled by the fact that so many of these “A-list” composers (as he referred to them) were so interested in setting his melodies at the piano. He has been extremely generous throughout the entire ten-year trajectory of this project, offering suggestions, commissioners, constructive ideas and a strong foundation of support. We would check in with him periodically to give him updates and he always provided a very enthusiastic “go ahead.” He seems to have a very deep respect for all of the compositions in the collection.

How eager would you be to participate in a project that examined the evolution of the musical elements of Sondheim’s songs the way Sondheim himself examined his lyrics with Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat?

Oh I would be very eager. Over the past several years, I often present workshops and classes for students and the public illustrating the connections of each re-imagined piece to its original song both from a musical standpoint as well as from a dramatic one. This has oftentimes also included exploring the composers’ process in creating and re-imagining the works – their challenges and their breakthroughs.

Anthony de Mare performs selections from Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim as part of the 21C Music Festival in Mazzoleni Hall May 24 and Temerty Theatre on May 25.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The creation of new Canadian operas continues apace. April saw the premieres of The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring by James Rolfe to a libretto by Morris Panych and the premiere of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by Victor Davies to his own libretto. May will see the premieres of two more new operas that form a stark contrast in terms of subject matter, performers and intended audience. The first off the mark is Hockey Noir, the Opera by Quebecois composer André Ristic. The second is The Monkiest King by Hong Kong-born Canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho. While at the COC The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, featuring two operas by Igor Stravinsky, continues to May 19, and Anna Bolena by Donizetti continues to May 26, the arrival of these brand-new operas demonstrates how varied and vibrant the opera scene in Toronto has become.

Hockey Noir the Opera - illustration by Kimberlyn Porter

Hockey Noir

Hockey Noir, the Opera premieres on May 10 with a second performance on May 11. Subtitled “A bilingual chamber opera in 3 periods,” Hockey Noir is the first full-scale opera to be presented by Toronto’s Continuum Contemporary Music. It is co-produced by Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM) and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. As the title suggests, the opera is an homage to film noir, as well as a portrayal of the perennial Montreal-Toronto rivalry in hockey (which is why the libretto is in both French and English).

The setting is a fictional 1950s Canada during the playoff final between the Montreal Quabs and the Toronto Pine Needles.The action is narrated in voice-over by a Detective Loiseau, who describes the details of his investigation and the goings-on behind the scenes of the playoff series. He observes the backroom schemes of a colourful cast of characters consisting of mobsters, drag queens, hockey stars and femme fatales, whose paths all become entangled.

The plot involves Romanov, the city’s mob boss, who also has the hockey community in his grip, and Madame Lasalle, an irresistible seductress and Romanov’s girlfriend, who is under his thumb but who secretly hopes to take his place. Their problem is Bigowsky, a young hotshot player for the Quabs. Bigowsky is in love with Lasalle and deep in debt to Romanov, who is forcing him to lose the series so that Romanov will win his wager on the Pine Needles. To escape Romanov’s clutches, Bigowsky disappears, disguises himself as a female groupie for the Quabs and prowls around the stands encouraging and coaching his friend and teammate, winger Guy Lafeuille, a hockey veteran who wants to end his career on a high note by winning the cup.

The opera came about after Continuum commissioned 3 Environments by André Ristic in September 2015. At that time, artistic director Ryan Scott discussed the idea of a larger collaboration with Ristic and proposed a remount of the ECM production of Ristic’s first opera with librettist Cecil Castellucci, the highly successful comic book opera, Les Aventures de Madame Merveille (2010). By then, however, Ristic and Castellucci were already at work on the idea of Hockey Noir.

Veronique Lacroix. Photo by Pierre Etienne-Bergeron

To mount the opera, the four singers, conductor Véronique Lacroix and six ECM musicians (string quartet, percussion and synthesizer) will be onstage. They interact with projections designed by Serge Maheu based on illustrations by Kimberlyn Porter, moving from frozen to animated states, leaping from the giant screen onto the “skating rink” onstage.

Romanov will be sung by baritone Pierre-Étienne Bergeron, Madame Lasalle by mezzo-soprano Marie-Annick Béliveau, Bigowsky by soprano Pascale Beaudin and Lafeuille by tenor Michiel Schrey. All four are familiar with Ristic’s musical style of caricature and his mix of acoustic and electronic instruments because they all appeared in Ristic and Castellucci’s previous opera. Marie-Josée Chartier is the choreographer and stage director.

CCOC’s Monkiest King

In complete contrast to Hockey Noir, which is aimed at adults familiar with the various tropes of 1950s film noir, is the other new opera of the month: The Monkiest King, the main opera production of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, celebrating its 50th anniversary. The opera, commissioned by CCOC artistic director Dean Burry, is by composer Alice Ping Yee Ho and librettist Marjorie Chan, who won the 2013 Dora Award for Outstanding New Opera for their Toronto Masque Theatre commission of The Lessons of Da Ji. After school previews on May 25, the opera will have public performances on May 26 and 27.

The story is based on the Song Dynasty mythological figure of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. From these beginnings, the Monkey King as a mythological character grew to include Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu influences, spreading outside of China throughout East and Southeast Asia. He has appeared in many forms and adaptations, perhaps most prominently the classic 16th-century novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. The novel is best known in English under the title Monkey, in the 1942 abridged translation of Arthur Waley. The figure remains prevalent in the modern day, with appearances in Hong Kong action movies and video games. A proud trickster character reminiscent of Raven in First Nations lore or the god Loki in Norse mythology, Sun Wukong rebels against heaven, but ultimately learns humility.

The novel consists of 100 chapters and, in its latest, complete translation by W.J.F. Jenner, is 2346 pages long. In her librettist’s statement, Marjorie Chan writes that she and Ho realized that for an opera intended to be only one hour long, they would have to focus on only the first seven chapters of the novel. She says, “I wanted to steer away from a strict adaptation. I highlighted different parts of the story, changed a few details about characters for more impact, while remaining truthful to the novel’s message. So, instead of the Monkey King, we have the Monkiest King! Part of the joy for me on this project was creating a work for 50 or so diverse performers, from the very young to those out of their teenage years!”

In Chan’s version the story is told within a frame in which a child hides near a stuffed monkey in the Chinese exhibit in a museum and falls asleep. The action is thus the child’s dream. The action begins with the birth of the Monkey King and continues through the displeasure his boasting causes the Jade Emperor, who pursues and imprisons him. He manages to escape and under the guidance of the goddess of mercy, Kwanyin, begins to give up his foolish ways to do good.  

Alice Ping Yee HoIn her composer’s statement, Alice Ho writes, “The opera is written especially to showcase the talents of Canadian Children’s Opera Company: their soloists and six choruses of different ages. The young singers are featured in an abundance of roles, including a number of animal characters, soldiers of heaven, villagers, as well as the forceful Jade Emperor and the benevolent Kwanyin. The combination of Chinese and Western instruments (Western and Chinese woodwinds, erhu, pipa, guzheng, harp, percussion and string quartet) instigates an exotic sound world that depicts both the past and present, life or dream.”

The opera also explores the dramatic and expressive use of languages, Ho explains. “Though primarily sung in English, there are Mandarin songs that were composed to reflect the poetic side and spiritual philosophy of ancient Chinese culture. The occasional injection of Mandarin words and Cantonese slang also highlights the authenticity of Chinese folk culture. As a Canadian-Chinese composer, I hope this new opera will inspire and educate child performers with the magic of music and drama in a different cultural context. Taking a fresh look at Chinese folk mythology, The Monkiest King will bring new energy to a ‘cross-cultural’ children’s opera, bringing something exuberant and challenging to a diversified music community. It is a dream project for me to bring this mischievous good-natured character to life in a contemporary children’s opera setting.”

Unlike many previous CCOC operas, The Monkiest King will feature no adult singers. The only adult performer will be Yi Xi, a dancer from Toronto’s Little Pear Garden Dance Company (LPGDC). Stage direction will be by Nina Lee Aquino, choreography by LPGDC artistic director Emily Cheung and music direction by Teri Dunn. The production promises fun and challenges to all! 

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

Most songs are not created for the purpose of fighting injustice. There is, however, a definite period in the history of the English-language song when the political potential of songwriting craft became obvious: the 1960s and 1970s in the US, with roots reaching back to the 1930s and the odd branch extending into the 1980s. It’s this period, which we now call the golden age of protest song, that Art of Time Ensemble’s artistic director Andrew Burashko homes in on for the three-day festival “All We Are Saying” at Harbourfront Theatre. The festival runs May 10 to 12 with “The Songs Program” performed on May 10 and 12 and “The Classical and Folk Program” on May 11.

Andrew BurashkoWhere was the cutoff point for the protest song, I ask Burashko when we meet to talk about the festival. (It seems to me that few popular songs come out of political grievance these days.) They continue to be made, he replies, but generationally and aesthetically, he feels closest to the songs from this period, when the political songwriting was at its most creative. “Much of the first song program in our festival comes from the African-American experience. Nina Simone’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black, Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, Gil Scott-Heron, Marvin Gaye. Billie Holiday in the extraordinary Strange Fruit.

“Then there’s Stevie Wonder’s Village Ghetto Land, which he opens with a string orchestra and gives it a surprisingly light, almost ironic tune, while the lyrics talk about extreme poverty and ghettoization,” Burashko says. How do you explain that discrepancy? Perhaps as a distancing of sorts, avoidance of sentimentality? “It’s hard to tell, but it’s fascinating, and Stevie Wonder did it in some other songs too.” For this occasion, Burashko asked a few Canadian composers to create original arrangements for the songs. “We had to find the fine line between too complex and ‘classical’ arrangements, and remaining true to the spirit of the song. There’s such a thing as being too clever as an arranger.”

Music in songs like these is there to amplify the words, not distract. And the lyrics have a core meaning that should be honoured. “In all fairness, some of the legendary singer-songwriters like Dylan and Cohen haven’t been particularly great musicians. They have been great poets, though. Words are what matters.”

As they do, I suggest, in hip-hop today, though only some of the hip-hop is political or concerned with injustice. And in pop and electronic music there are even fewer instances of songs concerned with broader societal issues. At the risk of sounding like an old person complaining about “the kids today,” I ask him, are today’s songs across popular genres largely apolitical and indifferent? Burashko demurs: young people surely have their own causes in pop song, it’s just that perhaps we aren’t following them very closely. An interesting coincidence, he says: just before this interview somebody sent him a piece by Theodore Adorno in which the German sociologist of music was being typically sceptical about the freeing potential of pop music. In Adorno’s view, the so-called popular song is opium for the people, crafted by corporations and selling the illusion of happiness and the illusion of political engagement. “And what we usually find in Top 40 is not far from that description,” says Burashko, unlike the best protest songs which have had mobilizing effects, have voiced the previously unsaid, and served as a form of collective memory.

The largely American program of the song night won’t be entirely devoid of Canadian creators. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Universal Soldier, Bruce Cockburn’s ’Red Brother Red Sister and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi are also on the program. One wonders what a heavily Canadian program of political song would have looked like; it would certainly have more Quebec and other Canadian Francophonie in it, possibly the reggae remix of Michèle Lalonde reading Speak White (which exists on YouTube). On this occasion, it’s the performers who will bring in the Canadian component: singers Shakura S’Aida and Jackie Richardson, guitarist and vocalist Colin James, and instrumentalists Rob Piltch, Lina Allemano, Rob Carli and John Johnson, with Burashko at the piano. Among those Canadian composers who have be asked to rearrange the protest song classics are Andrew Staniland, Jonathan Goldsmith (who composed the music for Sarah Polley’s excellent Take This Waltz and Stories We Tell and who is an Art of Time Ensemble founding member) and Kevin Fox, composer, cellist and frequent Steven Page collaborator.

Jackie Richardson and the Art of Time EnsembleThe second program of the “Festival of Protest Music” is a classical- and folk-flavoured night on May 11. It will feature the Rolston String Quartet in George Crumb’s Vietnam War-era Black Angels for electric string quartet, and Burashko himself at the piano in a selection of variations from Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated. A set of roots and folk songs will be performed by Skydiggers’ Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson. Jay Gorney/”Yip” Harbur song of life on a skid row, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, made famous by Bing Crosby, will be heard, as will Dylan’s Masters of War, which borrows its melody from a late-medieval English folk ballad. Pete Seeger was an important link in the survival of the Black civil rights anthem Keep Your Eyes on the Prize and it’s his version that will be honoured on May 11.

Before saying goodbye to Burashko, I ask him who his all-time favourite songwriters are. He lists Lennon and McCartney, Tom Waits, George Gershwin, Paul Simon. “The last Leonard Cohen album I thought was exceptional,” he says. He also loves P.J. Harvey. Radiohead is still good – and will be touring Canada this July. And he really liked the 2010 album that John Legend released with The Roots, carried on the wave of activism well past Obama’s election.

But The Roots and John Legend compiled an album of songs from the 1960s and 1970s, not the Bush-era and Obama-era original content, I thought on my way back home. Not even Obama, the most youth-mobilizing US president in recent memory, managed to inspire much original political content in song. So far Trump’s presidency hasn’t ignited much either, Eminem’s anti-Trump song being one prominent exception. Or have I missed it, while trying to avoid being completely engulfed by American culture? Beyoncé’s performances and video art are certainly more political than her song lyrics, and her brand of feminism does mean a lot to a lot of young women. Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning album DAMN. has only two or three songs that struck me as being of the politically conscious hip-hop kind.

Björk, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu are extraordinary artists, yet remain mostly non-political in song. Janelle Monaé’s recent single ‘Pynk’ and its accompanying video directed by Emma Westenberg is rightly adored far and wide but it won’t turn anyone into an activist. Kate Tempest’s songs are political – see her album Let Them Eat Chaos – but Brits are on the other continent and do things differently: it’s American and Canadian song that strikes me as privately focused.

Ani DiFranco, Kathleen Hanna and Amanda Palmer are still around, though working for smaller, not planetary audiences, and not very much in the media. Was punk the last crowd of musicians who were overtly political in their work? (Grunge wasn’t exactly political, despite a political lyric here and there.) To echo Marvin Gaye, what has been going on, reader? When were you last stirred and made to pay attention to a problem in the world by a song? Or does the issue lie with the media and the Internet: pop artists who are multinational corporations hog everybody’s attention broadband?

Let me know your thoughts through the email below. Meanwhile, the protest song festival on May 10 to 12 is for taking stock, and maybe even inspiration.

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

The month of May is one of fully ripened choral fruit. At the end of the season for many choirs, these are the signature concerts for many ensembles and in some cases, farewells. I’ve provided some in-depth interviews and insights into a handful of concerts. Check out the Choral Canary Pages and learn about choirs in your area – and check out the listings for a more extensive list of concerts this month.

The Tallis Choir Celebrates 40 years: Rise Up my Love!

The Tallis Choir concludes their 40th anniversary season. Artistic director Peter Mahon spoke to The WholeNote about what to expect: “As we wrap up our 40th anniversary season, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Healey Willan and we offer a belated salute to our nation at the tail end of the 150th anniversary of Confederation with music by Canadian composers including Stephanie Martin, Eleanor Daley and Matthew Larkin” (all of whom reside in Toronto, as Mahon points out).

Mahon has a unique connection directly to Willan, whom he describes as “Canada’s best loved composer of church music.” There are few Canadian composers who have had the reach that Willan achieved. “Both my mother and father sang at St. Mary Magdalene,” shares Mahon, “from the time of their arrival in Canada in 1948, until Dr. Willan’s death in 1968 and for many years afterwards.” Willan served as music director at St. Mary Magdalene for almost 50 years. Mahon also remembers being a young chorister who was able to sing with his family in tribute at Willan’s passing: “I was 13 when Dr. Willan died and was privileged to sing at his Requiem Mass, sitting right behind my father in the Ritual Choir.”

“Most church singers in English Canada can name at least one piece by Healey,” says Mahon. “A good majority of them would also say that they can probably sing Rise Up My Love from memory. Such is the universal appeal of Willan’s music. For the most part, he wrote miniature gems, designed for the liturgy of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, but choirs across the country and beyond sing them regularly… Speaking personally, I grew up listening to Willan’s music at St. Mary Magdalene, so it is in my blood.” Willan’s music anchors this all-Canadian presentation of music for Tallis’ 40th anniversary.

May 12, 7:30pm. The Tallis Choir presents “Milestones.” St. Patrick’s Church, Toronto.

Schola Magdalena: Votes for Women!

Still on the subject of Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Stephanie Martin, the ever-thoughtful composer and conductor-extraordinaire, has noted the upcoming centenary of 100 years since the first Canadian women were permitted to vote for the federal government. Martin and the six-member Schola Magdalena will be singing an all-female-composer concert to mark the event. “A small departure from our usual fare, like Hildegard of Bingen and Brigitte of Sweden,” Martin says, “the concert will also include some modern Toronto music from female composers,” including Martin’s own Missa Lumen, and from soprano Gabrielle McLaughlin. The feature of the evening will be Martin’s Te Deum, which she describes as a song whose “text conjures up so many visual images of martyrs, angels, joy and judgment.”

Schola Magdalena. Photo by Iain LoweAlthough 1918 marked the first time that certain Canadian women were permitted to vote, it wouldn’t be until 1960 that all women in Canada were included in the right to suffrage. (Women of colour, Indigenous women and anyone with mental or physical disabilities were excluded until that time.) Women’s voting rights ties into another event that Martin is exploring. Her upcoming opera Llandovery Castle tells the story of “nurses who served in WWI on the Llandovery Castle hospital ship. [They] were able to vote earlier than other women because they were officers. They could vote federally in 1914.”

While we have much to appreciate in universal suffrage in our contemporary Canada, we would do well to remember that it wasn’t always this way. Stephanie Martin brings history into focus with her thoughtful approach to composition and music.

May 23, 8:15pm. Schola Magdalena presents Celebrating 100 Years of Votes for Women in Canada. Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto.

Upper Canada Choristers and Cantemos Latin Ensemble: La Rosa de los Vientos

For many newcomers to Canada, with family, children, partners, and friends far away, love can feel distant – strong, but distant, explains Jacinto Salcedo, coordinator of the Cantemos Latin Ensemble speaking to The WholeNote about the words he wrote in the poem: La Rosa de los Vientos (The Wind Rose). “This is a recurrent theme for immigrants. Often, families are split, but you still love them, care for them, and want the best for them,” he shares. “It is nostalgic and touching.” For the tenth anniversary of the ensemble, the poem has been set to music by César Alejandro Carrillo, a very well-known Venezuelan choral composer and conductor. Carillo is especially known for his work with the Orfeón Universitario of the Central University of Venezuela.

With 12 singers taken from the ranks of the Upper Canada Choristers (UCC), Cantemos endeavours to bring the sounds of Latin American heritage to Toronto audiences. “Ten years ago, the UCC wanted to feature one or two [Latin American] songs in a concert,” Salcedo shares. “It became a natural evolution to continue exploring the richness of the music. We’ve done Latin music that is sacred, secular, dance, Christmas, and modern pieces that aren’t as well known. It’s become a need to keep doing this. We’re always curious and interested in knowing more of our culture and sharing it with people.”

Cantemos Latin Ensemble. Photo by Daniel CharltonThe Upper Canada Choristers, under Laurie Evan Fraser, have a big offering with their “Magic of Music” concert. In addition to Cantemos, guest baritone Bradley Christensen and the Junior and Chamber Choirs of Allenby Public School will join the performance. Christensen will perform Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs along with the choir. En masse, the choirs will perform Rutter’s The Music’s Always There With You.

“UCC is about sharing music with the community,” says Salcedo. “We come from all kinds of different professions and interests in life, but [singing] is the common ground that we love and nurture.” Next year, the choir goes on tour to Japan with Canadian and Latin repertoire. “We want to keep exploring new rhythms, new songs. We are now at the point where we can be more well known. I think the level of quality and musicianship we’re getting will help us in the next ten years.”

May 11, 8pm. The Upper Canada Choristers and Cantemos Latin Ensemble present “The Magic of Music.” Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto.

Celebrating the Human Voice: SING! The A Cappella Festival

SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival co-artistic directors Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell present a packed schedule this year, with ten days that explore the magic of a cappella music. Sankaran chatted with The WholeNote: “It’s cool again to be singing in Glee clubs, in barbershop ... Through Pentatonix or Pitch Perfect, or Glee, it’s cool to be singing.”

FreePlay Duo: Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell. Photo by Edward HanleyThere’s an astounding lineup. Part of the festival I’m flagging: artists FreePlay Duo (which is Sankaran and Bell); hugely popular all-male Rockapella; Retrocity, a local 80s group; an all-female concert featuring the Penthelia Singers and Girl Pow-R with others; and Resound, a totally unbelievable gospel trio who will drop your jaw and melt your heart.

For new attendees, Sankaran has some tips. “Take in one of the weekend shows,” she says. “It will give you a chance to experience a workshop or two, go to the outdoor free stage, drink in some of the a cappella artists, and then go to an evening show.” In one concert, three groups are celebrating their 20th anniversaries: Retrocity, the Toronto Northern Lights and Cadence. It’s a great introduction to the “spectrum” of a cappella as Sankaran describes it, including barbershop, jazz and contemporary.

SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival offers big weekend concerts, a free outdoor stage, and intimate performances in small venues like the Jason George Pub and the Little Trinity Church. There’s a huge breadth of performers representing diverse musical styles and that is a direct reflection of the energy and connections that Sankaran and Bell bring to the table. Local sacred traditions are reflected with “SING! Crossroads,” which features the Ruach Singers and Six 13, both Jewish a cappella worship groups. “SING! Celebrates Gospel” brings in the Christian tradition rooted in Black music of North America. And the multidisciplinary aspect of the festival is reflected with “Art Battle”!

Central to all of this is people making music with nothing but their voices. “The power of the human voice, the fact that it can empower a person, whatever age, whatever ability – that to me is the most important thing. It truly is a universal language, especially when you get into a cappella,” says Sankaran. “Your voice is like your fingerprint. It’s completely unique. People can try and imitate you but they can never be you, they can never breathe like you.”

Make sure to check out ten days of empowering a cappella music.

SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival runs from May 23 to June 3 in a variety of venues, mostly centred around the Distillery District, Toronto. Check out www.singtoronto.com for all the offerings.

Exultate Chamber Singers: “We Sing and Connect”

Last month, I wrongly reported that Hilary Apfelstadt’s final concert with the Exultate Chamber Singers was at their April 6 concert. There is one remaining program in the season, however: “We Sing and Connect,” which takes place on Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26.

May 25 and May 26, 8pm. Exultate Chamber Singers presents “We Sing and Connect.” With special guests the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre Adult Choir (May 26 only). St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Toronto. 

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

Steven Reineke leads Stephanie J. Block and the TSO in "On Broadway." Photo: Jag Gundu/TSOApril provided a rich abundance of music theatre in Toronto from the traditional to the wildly experimental, from new creations to double adaptations. Early in the month the Toronto Symphony Orchestra celebrated the classic musical with the superb pops concert “On Broadway,” under the skilled and energetic baton of Steven Reineke. On hand to sing the songs were the brilliant and brilliantly contrasting current Broadway stars, Canadian Ramin Karimloo (Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis) and Stephane J. Block (Falsettos, Wicked). These two stars had never worked together before and their personal styles could not be more different. Block, with a bigger, brasher belting style, practically channelled Barbra Streisand in a galvanizing Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl and Karimloo, with a much quieter, focused presence, though equally powerful, captured the audience entirely with an exquisite rendering of Old Man River to his own classical guitar accompaniment partnered with principal cello Joseph Johnson. It was fascinating to see these giant talents each hold the audience in the palms of their hands and to come closer and closer as stage partners through various solos and duets, culminating in what felt like an anthem for each: Being Alive from Company for him and Defying Gravity from Wicked for her, and with a beautifully nuanced Move On by the two together from Sunday in the Park with George. It was an evening that reminded us of the power of the best Broadway scores to move our hearts with stories told through words and music; particularly in the hands of interpreters with such a profound connection to the material, with each other, the orchestra and the audience.

Other music theatre works attempting to take possession of our minds and hearts this past month ranged from a lesbian cartoonist trying to figure out her past in order to move on, a man trying to deal with a recent tragedy and escape his grief, a poor accountant whose life is irrevocably changed by the acquisition of a new coat, and an American GI staying behind in Paris after WWII to indulge his love of painting.

All but one of these are adaptations of other source material. Adaptations are often difficult to pull off, having to match script and score to the source and meet or exceed the expectations of an audience perhaps familiar with the original material.

Fun Home, the 2015 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, based on lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed and bestselling autobiographical graphic novel, opened on April 17 at the CAA (formerly Panasonic) Theatre in a new production from the Musical Stage Company presented by Mirvish Productions. It connected so strongly with its first audiences that its run was immediately extended (currently to May 20). I wasn’t familiar with the graphic novel before seeing the show, but the adaptation feels flawless. The characters are real, complex people, immediately recognizable; the script by Lisa Kron rings true and the songs by Jeannine Tesori (with lyrics by Kron) feel like necessary moments of heightened emotion, the musical style with a 70s feeling to it helping to create that sensation. The all-Canadian cast is excellent, led by Laura Condlin, Sara Farb, and young Hannah Levinson as central character Alison Bechdel at three different ages. (You can read my full review online on
thewholenote.com).

An American in Paris, another 2015 Tony Award-winner, also made its Toronto debut in April with the North American touring company coming to the Princess of Wales Theatre for a six-week run. In a way this could be looked at as a double adaptation. While this is a new stage musical inspired by/adapted from the famous MGM musical of the same name that starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (and won a special Academy Award for the innovative and brilliant 17-minute American in Paris ballet that took Kelly and Caron’s characters through a love story using panoramic sequence of Parisian painters), the film itself with a script by Alan J. Lerner, was built around earlier classic songs and works by George and Ira Gershwin.

In developing the new stage version, director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and book writer Craig Lucas have spoken in various interviews about how they wanted not to just “put the film on stage” but to create a new show with a deeper background. They wanted a more complex story, tied more closely to historical reality by setting it clearly in a Paris just beginning to recover from the ravages of occupation by the Germans. The first half of the show, I found, succeeds wonderfully in these goals. Paris slowly awakening from war and coming to life again becomes itself a character through the brilliant choreographed crowds who fill the stage from the top of the show, clearly signalling the style of the world we are about to enter. The characters we know and love from the movie are still there but slightly altered: Jerry Mulligan, the GI who has stayed after the war to paint, is here a slightly less confident character than in the movie, more uncertain in his talent, more affected by the war. Lise, Caron’s character, has become an aspiring ballet dancer, but still works in a perfume shop, still torn between Jerry and Henri Baurel. Henri is no longer an established musical hall star but a would-be performer, though still in love with Lise. Interestingly, Oscar Levant’s iconic cynical Adam has become the narrator and another would-be lover of Lise. Matthew Scott from the original Broadway company was so strong and likeable in this role that he stole the show from the other men.

While by intermission I felt won over by this new version of one of my favourite films, I found in contrast that the second half was a bit of a letdown, particularly in the iconic ballet sequence which here is very modern and abstract, and where Lise makes her professional debut and becomes a star. I found the choreography in this sequence dull and frustrating after the character and imagination elsewhere throughout the show, particularly in contrast to the movie, and not completely saved by the intense romantic pas de deux at its centre where Lise imagines that she is dancing with Jerry. I will say, though, that the audience around me did not seem to have the same reaction. It also seemed to me too easy and clichéd to make Lise a Jewish girl saved by Henri’s family when her parents were killed by the Germans, instead of her being, as she is in the film, the child of Resistance fighters. Still, with those caveats aside, this is a show worth seeing, particularly for its re-creation and re-imagination of post-war Paris.

Overcoat: The other big new music theatre production, half opera, half musical, this month was the world premiere production of The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring, a three-way co-production from Tapestry New Opera, Canadian Stage and the Vancouver Opera Company.

Highly anticipated as a new experimental exploration of Gogol’s famous short story by Morris Panych (the director and co-creator of the famous wordless physical theatre production of The Overcoat 20 years ago that repeatedly toured here and internationally), The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring is, as I wrote in The WholeNote last issue, also the first collaboration between Panych and acclaimed Canadian composer James Rolfe. When I spoke with Panych about the show before rehearsals began he talked about the scope of expectations that this new production was facing: people who had loved the original show so much and seen it many times told him they did not want to see this new version for fear that it would dilute that original experience. And yet the creative team were all so energized and excited by the possibilities of exploring the original source material again from new angles and with new artistic tools, that one couldn’t help but feel as though they couldn’t fail to bring something remarkably new to life.

The new Overcoat, with words and singers rather than purely physical performers, is definitely recognizable as a relative of the first production but also clearly something different. It realizes many of the goals of the creative team to explore more intellectual themes and ideas, and it explores the potential of melding purely physical theatre with new opera. To anchor the physicality, choreographed again by Wendy Gorling (co-creator of the original Overcoat), are two actors from that original company and while they stand out from the rest as they do not sing, they perform their function well of anchoring the audience’s perception of the physical world in the style of movement presented, as well as leading the way for the rest of the cast. The singers do a wonderful job with the choreography, in fact seeming to revel in the extra theatricality, particularly the brilliant Peter McGillivray, a standout as singer and actor in his leading contrasting roles of Head of the Department and the Tailor.

The design team has created a clearly evocative world, a slightly macabre, slightly Dickensian, silent movie-in-looks world, dark with colours for highlights, faces all painted white with black-rimmed highlighted eyes exaggerating every facial expression. The music is clean and spare, toeing the line between new opera and new music theatre, occasionally going into flights of fancy (as when the tailor takes his snuff) and finding eerie harmonies for the mad-girl chorus who haunt the hero like an invisible three fates waiting for him to fall, commenting on his actions and predicting his end.

What I did miss was the odd aria, or solo song, to give the characters a chance to connect more deeply with the audience. Both librettist/director and composer spoke to me about wanting to give primacy to the words and ideas rather than musical ornamentation. But I missed the connection that an aria or solo can create between the stage and the audience, particularly for the lead character Akakiy, embodied well by Geoffrey Sirett, a simple man obsessed with numbers to the exclusion of almost everything else in his life. Oblivious to the attraction his rather Brechtian landlady has for him (she gets to tell us a little bit about this) he follows his daily routine and does sing to us a bit about numbers but not at any length or to any great depth. If the creative team still tinker with their creation as it goes on the road and goes into the opera repertoire I hope they will consider adding a solo or two.

Musicals, in my view, need to have these moments – in Fun Home, currently onstage, for example, the most powerful moments are captured in solo songs where the leading characters, unable to hold their feelings in, turn to the audience and sing. Middle Alison in Changing My Major and Small Alison in Ring of Keys, for example, offer clear moments of discovery for both characters.

That being said, there are some other very interesting dramaturgical choices that work well in this Overcoat. Taking Akakiy’s original obsession with copying letters from the short story, turning it into an obsession with numbers and then throughout the libretto into combined themes of counting and measuring a man’s worth, for example. The biggest dramaturgical choice that departs from the short story is the framing of the stage version with madness. When Akakiy loses his overcoat to thieves here, he goes mad rather than just getting mad, and the mad girls and physical performers become the inmates of a mad house where Akakiy ends up, wearing another sort of jacket altogether.

While there is a definite neatness to this concept, it is a bit frustrating in that it loses the universality of the original symbolism of Akakiy dying and his ghost continuing to haunt the streets stealing coats from passersby. There is a haunting moment in the staging where it looks as though this will indeed happen, but then it is gone. These caveats aside, this Overcoat is a highly accomplished, highly theatrical night in the theatre, and I’m sure it will live on and develop further.

QUICK PICKS

To June 3: Fans of TV Series Downton Abbey will be delighted to see Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) as Miss Hannigan in Annie (run extended to June 3), presented by Mirvish at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

To May 6: Former composer for La La La Human Steps, Canadian Njo Kong Kie brings his musical collage Picnic in the Cemetery to Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre.

Starting May 3: Grand Hotel begins at the Shaw Festival. Fans of the film starring Greta Garbo and John Barrymore may be curious to see this musical version.

May 4 to June 2: Soulpepper presents August Wilson’s classic 1920s musical Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Alana Bridgewater and a strong Toronto cast.

May 24 to June 17: Grease Toronto presents Grease. Music, lyrics and book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge St. 

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.

Discussing early music is similar to discussing winter in Canada, particularly here in Toronto. We know where each is supposed to begin and end: early music covers everything from the Medieval era to the end of the Baroque, widely considered to be 1750 (the year of J.S. Bach’s death); winter begins with the winter solstice near the end of December and lasts until the spring equinox in March. This year, though, Toronto was treated to an intense April ice storm, causing almost 1,500 car accidents over a single weekend, wreaking havoc on property, and instilling regret in those who switched over their vehicle’s winter tires too soon. The Farmer’s Almanac may have told us one thing, but as we well know, real life scenarios rarely match our neat-and-tidy theoretical assumptions.

When attempting to categorize early music, we encounter many of the same practical and theoretical conflicts we face when discussing the weather. As time moves forward, formerly avant-garde composers such as Cage, Messiaen and Berio become part of music’s history, relics from the past century, while the greats of long ago, including Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, move even further into the distant past. When this happens, we realize that this inevitable progression of time pushes composers and their works further and further back in history, thereby blurring our outdated and neatly conceived 19th- and 20th-century categorizations of classical music’s epochs.

The continually expanding exploration and development of performance practice in music mirrors this passing of time. The Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement, for example, was started 60-or-so years ago, when Leonhardt, Rilling and Harnoncourt began recording the complete Bach cantatas, and has since grown to encompass Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and even Mahler. As what we consider contemporary continues to move ahead and composers continue to utilize technology and digital media as compositional techniques to be included along with live performers, we look back at the music of the past through a constantly-changing lens.

Is this to say that we should consistently take the pruning shears to Western music, judiciously weeding out repertoire that no longer serves a purpose or that seems too old or outdated? Probably not – we wouldn’t want to cause a riot, after all, by acknowledging the inherent clunkiness of some of Beethoven’s compositions or the influence of Leopold Mozart on young Mozart’s symphonies and concerti, or echo Pierre Boulez’s critiques of Schoenberg’s structural schizophrenia. Instead, we should look at music as a whole, do away with our naïve categorizations and acknowledge the ancient nature of this music and its place in history.

By taking a large-scale look at individual repertoire in its historical context – as a progression of musical lineage and development that bridges the enormous gulf between the beginning of medieval staff notation and monophony to the monstrous complexity of Ferneyhough and Finnissy, ultimately ending up with the products of today’s composers – we see that everything is connected. If we acknowledge the innate interconnectedness between Schütz and Scelsi, Fasch and Ferneyhough, we can throw away the idea of narrow-minded specialization in music and increase our own awareness of the greatness of all musics, and then pass on this awareness to our audiences. As Robert Heinlein writes: “specialization is for insects.”

Toronto Bach Festival

The month of May provides many interesting opportunities to see presenters straddle the lines more frequently, offering concerts of music taken from different eras and showing the progression of musical history over time, whether in shorter segments or over large, epoch-spanning periods. The third annual Toronto Bach Festival, which takes place from May 11 to 13, explores Bach’s influences, the musical figures from the Renaissance and early Baroque that combined and incubated to result in one of classical music’s primary figures. Featuring three concerts and a lecture by professor Michael Marissen, this year’s Bach Festival, curated by artistic director (and Tafelmusik oboist) John Abberger, focuses on the music of Bach and Heinrich Schütz, regarded as the most important German composer before Bach and an influence on later composers such as Brahms and Webern. The opening concert includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos No.2 and 4, Concerto for Oboe d’amore and Orchestral Suite No.4, with Abberger (as oboist and director), Baroque violinist Julia Wedman, and natural horn player Scott Wevers among the orchestra’s 14 players.

Toronto Bach Festival artistic director John AbbergerBritish composer Brian Eno recently spoke of our contemporary cult of genius, stating that “although great new ideas are usually articulated by individuals, they’re nearly always generated by communities.” Through performances of Bach’s orchestral music, including two Brandenburg Concerti, Schütz’s stunning Johannes Passion and an organ recital by Rachel Mahon featuring works by Dieterich Buxtehude, this year’s Toronto Bach Festival will paint a large-scale picture of Bach in relation to his peers and predecessors, an engaging portrait that removes Bach from his isolated, elevated pedestal of genius and contextualizes his works within his musical community.

21C Music Festival

Continuing the theme of multi-era concerts, The Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival presents pianist Simone Dinnerstein with chamber orchestra A Far Cry, in what looks to be a magnificent juxtaposition of the complex counterpoint of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G Minor with the deceptively simple minimalism of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3. While Bach uses counterpoint to create an overall effect greater than the sum of the parts, Glass’ counterpoint sounds less complex than it actually is, with characteristically repetitive themes and gradually evolving, large-scale processes combining to create works that bring to mind Michael Caine’s quote on the duck: calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.

Lest one say that Glass’ music is “light” or “superficial,” it is helpful to remember that Glass received the same intensive training as many of his compositional contemporaries, even studying for two years with Nadia Boulanger, the legendary French pedagogue. Glass’ music, particularly his large-scale works, contains moments of distinct compositional ingenuity, thematic developments sharing similarities with the age-old fugue, and ideas that are combined, contrasted and displayed in virtuosic versatility. This ingenuity correlates perfectly with Bach’s own ideas on counterpoint, and this unexpected combination of old and new works not only provides a vehicle for virtuosity that spans the centuries, but also contains a consistent set of underlying principles, albeit within distinctly different soundscapes.

Tafelmusik plays Beethoven

Tafelmusik’s Beethoven collaborations with conductor Bruno Weil, culminating in a recently-released set of the complete symphonies, expand the repertoire conventionally assumed as suitable for a Baroque orchestra. This May, the Tafel/Weil duo reunites to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” and his magnificent Violin Concerto, with Jeanne Lamon as concertmaster and Elisa Citterio as soloist. Many are familiar with Romantic interpretations of this symphony – think Furtwängler and later – rife with pictorial depictions of rolling hills, birdsong and the inevitable storm. By performing this work on period instruments – thereby reducing the kaleidoscopic range of expression typically available on modern instruments – the characteristically caricatured interpretation we have come to expect may be tempered somewhat. It will be worthwhile to hear this work in the context of its time, rather than as a scene-painting predecessor to Wagnerian drama!

There are many other fantastic concerts happening in the early music world this month, too many to

mention here, and I hope that you’ll do some exploring, both in this magazine and in the Toronto arts scene as a whole. With the last blast of winter hopefully behind us, take some time this spring to get outside and take in some music. Not only will you be able to walk around in something other than a parka and boots, you will also have the opportunity to hear marvellous music from all eras performed by some of the city’s most talented artists.

I hope to see you at some of this month’s musical events. As always, feel free to get in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The spirit of an extended modal family is reflected in Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario’s inaugural season’s remarkably ambitious lineup featuring 11 masters of Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Iranian, Azerbaijani, Arabic, Kurdish and Afghani music traditions. Historically these musical cultures interacted for centuries in their ever-shifting places of origin. In 2018 Toronto it’s possible to see such fruitful musical interactions reflecting the demographic reality on the ground.

Each faculty member will conduct week-long workshops and then perform in four concerts in Toronto throughout May and into June.

Labyrinth Ontario is a made-in-Toronto modal music school founded by an Iranian-Canadian musician, but with roots in an unlikely place (a Mediterranean island), and perhaps an even more unlikely founding father (the English-born Ross Daly who boasts Irish ancestry). Let’s go explore.

Labyrinth Musical Workshop, Crete

Labyrinth Musical Workshop began in 1982 as the brainchild of the Cretan world musician and educator of Irish descent Ross Daly. His first series of Labyrinth workshops took place in 1997 in Athens, Greece.

Daly – a specialist on the music of the Cretan lyra (fiddle) and of the Ottoman court, a participant in intercultural composition before world music became a commercial term, and a composer – originally wanted to establish a space for a creative group of friends. His overall aim was to explore “various modal musical traditions from around the world, as well as of the potential for creative interaction between them.”

In 2002, a permanent base for Labyrinth was established in a restored manor house in the village of Houdetsi on the island of Crete, Greece. There Daly has fine-tuned his workshop model of concentrated weekly music lessons focusing “primarily on the modal musical traditions of the Balkans, Middle East, Central Asia, India, North Africa,” as well as presenting concerts by “outstanding teachers/musicians, the prime representatives of these traditions.”

While leading international musicians and students travel twice a year to Labyrinth’s Cretan village environment, in the last two years Daly’s notion of teaching global modal musical traditions has really caught fire. It has spread across Europe and now jumped the Atlantic to Canada. In 2016 Labyrinth Catalunya was established in Barcelona, and in 2017, Labyrinth Italia in Santa Sofia. This year Labyrinth Cyprus launched, with three modal music seminars which were held April 10 to 15, 2018 in Nicosia, capped with a concert.

Ross DalyLabyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario: Backstory

That brings us to the most recent iteration of the concept, Labyrinth Ontario Musical Workshop in Toronto. And it may be the most ambitious of the Daly-inspired spinoffs, animated by a series of 11 workshops running over four weeks, plus four concerts.

Labyrinth Ontario was on my radar back in September 2017 when I offered a preview in my World Music column, observing that it “focuses on the education of a new generation of musicians – and also audiences.”

Two Toronto-based musicians are at the heart of the project. Virtuoso tar (Persian lute) player and teacher Araz Salek serves as its artistic director and keyboardist and sound designer Jonathan Adjemian as its admin director. Having begun his music career in Iran, Salek has been active as a tar player and leader in Toronto for over a decade in both Persian classical music ensembles as well as in eclectic music circles, such the Persian-flamenco fusion group Persamenco. He performs often in other settings too, in Toronto and on tour internationally, experimenting with new transcultural groupings and various crossroads of classical, experimental and improvised music, seeking out creative musicians in all those areas.

Starting an unorthodox music education and concert series is certainly a risky endeavour, but Salek’s street cred in this arena positions him strongly to kickstart Labyrinth’s presence in Toronto. For example, he has served as an instructor at Daly’s Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Crete and since 2012 has been a core member, with Daly, Pedram Khavarzamini and Kelly Thoma, of the Toronto-Crete quartet This Tale of Ours – a group continuing to be a source of inspiration for Salek. They are all workshop leaders in Labyrinth Ontario’s inaugural season.

I followed the story to the 918 Bathurst Centre. There, on the evening of September 15, 2017, Labyrinth Ontario held its launch and fundraising concert. The event had a warm, mixed-community feel, underscored by the ethnically diverse music and foods on offer covering Persian, Southeastern European, Turkish, Kurdish and Middle Eastern ground. That diversity was reflected in Labyrinth Ontario’s board of directors introduced at the event: Poorya Ferdowsi, Pouria Lotfi, Alia Hamdan O’Brien, Irene Markoff and Rob Simms.

Silk Road and the Spirit of the Extended Modal Family

Simms, associate professor of music at York University, recently posted an essay on Labyrinth Ontario’s website placing its project into a much larger frame. He begins by pointing out that while as recently as 40 years ago “Toronto was thoroughly white-bread, WASP dominated,” today it is “regularly cited as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. While this is a wonderful fact and opportunity for those of us who live in the city, it is even more remarkable how recent this came to be.” He continues that while world history “features many previous hotbeds of cultural contact … none of these come close to the complete global integration we now inhabit and that forms the fabric of daily lives” in major global cosmopolitan centres.

Simms then invokes the example of the network of trade routes known as the Silk Road which provide us with “an incredible continuity of musical expression stretching from North Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe, clear across to Central Asia and Western China. This massively extended musical family shares similar social contexts for performance, aesthetics, philosophy, performance practice, instrumentation and musical structures – rhythmic cycles, forms and melodic modes (scales with particular behaviours or personalities).”

Among the various systems of melodic modes which grew up along the Silk Road, one of the most common is the maqam, literally “station, place” in Arabic. “While the underlying musical foundation was shared … a rich array of varying musical traditions flowered, cross-pollinated and withered through the centuries into our own time. Most of the musicians stayed in their particular sonic and social worlds … Until the late 20th century” – which is when Ross Daly enters Simms’ essay. Simms nominates Daly as one of the “early pioneers of exploring the larger maqam family.” Attracted to the lyra tradition of Crete where he has lived for over 40 years, Daly has “established a unique and highly successful series of workshops that brings together master teachers of myriad maqam traditions and keen students from around the world.”

One of the keys to the success of Daly’s Labyrinth Workshops is that they are at the same time informal and highly social yet also intensive and serious in musical focus. In this mix Simms sees the “spirit of the extended modal family tradition throughout history,” echoing Daly’s own ethos: “Labyrinth is more than a musical workshop, it is a way of life through music.”

Labyrinth Ontario’s First Season: Workshops, Concerts and Discussions

Labyrinth Ontario’s first season workshop faculty includes an international roster of leading instrumentalists, singers and composers in their respective genres. They are: Ross Daly (Greece) on modal music composition, Kelly Thoma (Greece) on Cretan lyra, Ali Akbar Moradi (Iran) on Kurdish tanbur, plus American-based Imamyar Hasanov on Azeri kamancha, Tzvetanka Varimezova on Bulgarian singing, and Quraishi on Afghan rabab.

Toronto-area expert practitioners George Sawa on Arabic music theory and qanun, Araz Salek on tar, Bassam Bishara on oud, Pedram Khavarzamini on tombak and Ahmet Ihvani on Turkish bağlama/saz complete this year’s teaching faculty. Interested readers can find bios of each instructor and the dates of instruction on Labyrinth Ontario’s informative website: www.labyrinthontario.com/labyrinth-2018-workshops.

In addition to the workshops, faculty will give a concert each week, and TBA-moderated panel discussions will be open to the public.

The first concert on May 12 features This Tale of Ours, a quartet with members hailing from Canada and Greece, though certainly not musically limited by those nationalities. (The group’s membership – Daly, Thoma, Khavarzamini and Salek – bridges the parent Labyrinth with its newly minted Toronto offspring.) Look to The WholeNote listings and the Labyrinth Ontario website for details on this and the other three concerts.

Each month in this column I chart a few of (what appear to me at the time as) the high points of master musicians from around the world appearing in Toronto and region in concerts, festivals and one-off workshops. From my vantage point it seems Labyrinth Ontario takes this situation to yet another level, focusing our attention intensively – and at an uncompromisingly high artistic level – on a few fascinating and related modal musical cultures.

Borrowing a phrase from Simms’ essay I’m prompted to ask whether Toronto is indeed the “perfect location to carry this amazing, vibrant Eurasian cultural treasure [offered by Labyrinth Ontario] to wherever it is heading in the 21st century.”

It’s too early to give a definitive answer: we’re still weeks away from the final workshop and concert. But the fact that this ambitious project was founded by a person who has emerged from outside Canada’s established cultural elite circles should be a source of pride in the direction we as a community are moving. I will continue to cover Labyrinth Ontario’s progress as it seeks to explore sites of our own Toronto brand of “post-global” music. clip_image001.png

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

Quite unexpectedly and after a long hiatus, I began teaching again in September of 2016. Mike Murley, director of the U of T Jazz Program, hired me to lead a small jazz ensemble with one unusual wrinkle: not only would I be coaching the group, I would also play bass in it. This two-headed function took some getting used to but has the advantage of being very hands-on: the students seem to benefit from playing with an experienced bassist and playing with them gives me a very palpable sense of their strengths and weaknesses, of what they need to learn.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being back at it, having the chance to pass on my knowledge and also to be involved with young people again – their energy, their enthusiasm and their curiosity – which has made me feel more connected and relevant. It’s also been inspiring to meet and teach some of the impressive young players we’ll be hearing from in the near future, even if this means they’ll be stealing gigs from me and my colleagues.

This column will profile two bassists – neither of whom I’ve taught – who are graduating from the U of T Jazz Program: Bernard Dionne, who has earned his master’s degree in jazz performance (double bass), and Irene Harrett, who has earned her bachelor’s degree in the same category.

Bernard DionneAt 60, Bernard Dionne is a late bloomer and hardly a typical graduate. I first met Bernard way back in the summer of 1991 when I taught him for a week at the Interprovincial Jazz Camp at Manitouwabing run by Phil Nimmons, and we have stayed in touch ever since. Even then, at 33, he stood out as a mature student amongst all the teenagers, which may have prepared him for his similar experience at U of T. Bernard hails from Quebec City and has been interested in jazz and playing the bass since his teens. He earned a bachelor of music education degree and spent 29 years teaching in the Ontario French School system, first in Ottawa and then in Toronto. All the while he continued to play and study jazz bass, doing whatever gigs his schedule would allow and becoming a regular at weekend jam sessions.

He was able to retire a few years ago and was determined to use his newfound spare time to get more involved with the bass fulltime and to study composition and arranging. The master’s program at U of T seemed ideal as it requires achievement in both playing and writing, so Bernard decided to apply. Realizing he needed to up his game for the audition, he took an intensive round of lessons from the superb Toronto bassist Neil Swainson while practising constantly. And it paid off; he was accepted. His enrollment coincided with my return to teaching and, knowing nothing of his master’s plan, I was surprised to see him in the hallway one evening and was delighted for him.

It was a very intensive two years for Bernard – studying bass with Jim Vivian, composition and arranging with Terry Promane, and improvisation with Mike Murley, while playing in ensembles and completing numerous written assignments on jazz history and the like. He worked very hard and it showed in his master’s recital in early April, which I attended. He led a group which ranged from a piano-bass duo to a trio to a sextet with three horns, playing a varied program which included some of his original compositions and his arrangements of standards and jazz tunes by others. I hadn’t heard him play in some time and was immediately struck by how much he’d improved in all areas: a big, meaty sound, a confident rhythmic attack with a strong beat and incisive bass lines, gutsy and melodic solos with good range and an engaging way with the sizeable crowd on hand. His writing was also impressive: his originals included a very Quebecois-tinged folk song A La Legrand which showed his Scott LaFaro side; La Vida, a Chick Corea-inspired samba which demonstrated his admiration for Eddie Gomez; and For D.H., a modal-Latin composition in 7/4 written for Dave Holland. His more bluesy side came out in his arrangement of Christian McBride’s funky In a Hurry for sextet. It was an impressive and well-received recital; a satisfying culmination for an individual who has worked so hard to come full circle.

With much the same group, Bernard staged a concert billed as “100 Years of Jazz Bass” on April 21 at Alliance Française de Toronto. Along with some of the works discussed above, the evolution of jazz bass was fleshed out with compositions by (or associated with) Wellman Braud, Jimmie Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers. I very much wanted to attend and perhaps review this concert but couldn’t as my own band, Lesterdays, was playing a concert the same night. The concert occurred after the deadline for this article but judging by Bernard’s recital it was a great success, aided by the intimate and good-sounding venue which has become one of Toronto’s best.

Very much a Francophone, Bernard plans on moving to Quebec City and becoming involved fulltime in the jazz scene there, where he is sure to have an impact.

Irene HarrettIrene Harrett is 22 and has just finished the four-year Jazz Program at U of T, earning her degree with flying colours. Mature beyond her years, she has become something of a linchpin in the program both because of her musical skills and her active involvement in organizing jams and gigs and also by playing in the U of T big band, one of the school’s focal ensembles, for the last two years.

She was born in Etobicoke, not far from the Humber College campus, which held some early musical advantages. Bassist Corky Monahan, formerly of the TSO and for many years married to the late Tom Monahan – principal bassist of the orchestra and the dean of Canadian bass teachers – lived in the neighbourhood and she was able to study bass with her at the local high school. This gave her a thorough grounding in bass technique – bowing, correct fingering and hand positioning, tone production and so on; fundamentally, she’s a very sound bassist. When her interests turned to playing jazz she was able to study with Neil Swainson, who had begun teaching at Humber. At U of T she has studied with Dave Young, Jim Vivian and Andrew Downing. As she put it to me: “There’s no such thing as a bad bass teacher in Toronto.” (Obviously, she hasn’t studied with me.)

Recognizing how talented and hardworking she is, Monahan and Swainson arranged a deal for her to acquire a fine old German bass from Heinl’s which bears the nickname “Frank,” after the younger son of founder George Heinl. A large instrument, it is what is known in bass parlance as “a cannon.”

I first heard Harrett play at The Rex in a trio led by pianist/singer Hanna Barstow with her brother Keith playing drums, and later on the same stage in a seven-piece U of T ensemble. I was immediately impressed by the authority of her playing: a big deep sound with a percussive edge, a powerful attack, good pitch, notes and a general bull-dog attitude of playing the bass like a bass – someone who can be heard and felt from the back of the room. The U of T ensemble was particularly powerful and after hearing her with it I complimented her, saying that her attack and the length of her notes – long but clearly defined and slightly bright – reminded me of the old bebop and Latin-jazz master Al McKibbon. This was met with something of a blank stare but I assured her it was a compliment. From that moment I resolved to write about her at some point.

That she’s been in very high demand to play for other students’ year-end recitals both at U of T and at Humber is an indication of how highly she is regarded among her peers, as these performances come with considerable pressure and carry a lot of weight. She told me that last year she did 11 of them, including four back-to-back in one day, leaving her ill with exhaustion. This year she’s holding it down to five or six, though three of them came on April 14. I adjudicated the first of these, a recital by a wonderful trio led by third-year-piano student Josh Sinclair, which only increased my admiration of her playing. Along with the strengths described earlier she showed an open-minded, adventurous inventiveness and fine all-around musicianship in sight-reading and negotiating complex ensemble parts.

I asked her about her plans after graduating and she replied that she wants to take a year off school to let the dust settle, to practise and digest the many musical concepts that have been coming at her fast and furious. Also to investigate creating more gig opportunities and networking with students at other schools and with fellow bassists, a fraternity she has found to be welcoming and supportive. After that, she plans on returning to earn her master’s degree at U of T, an essential as she wants to teach at the university level in the future. She also feels that the process of pursuing a master’s degree puts you in touch with so many others in the jazz world – students and teachers alike – all of whom can be learned from. She’s very community-minded and is always seeking to learn and improve, and to help others do so.

As for gigs, Harrett has been asked to lead a series of jam sessions this spring and summer at the 120 Diner. The evenings will start with her trio, followed by opening the stage for sitting in; the first of these was April 3 and the next one will be May 16. She is quite excited by this opportunity and has also been doing some playing at the Tranzac and The Rex, as well as some concerts and private gigging. I will be adjudicating Irene’s recital on April 27 – well after the deadline of this article – and I look forward to hearing not only her playing, but some of her compositions too. She feels positive about the future and I feel optimistic about a jazz future with players like Irene Harrett in it; we’ll be hearing a lot from her.

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

Last month’s column began with some comments about the fact that spring had officially arrived, but that Mother Nature was not agreeing. Now, one month later, what do I see when I look out the window? I see my neighbour, large shovel in hand, trying to remove large quantities of some white material from his driveway. At the side of the house I see a delightful, but unusual sight. Yes, there was a beautiful bright purple crocus surrounded by glistening white crystals. The snow is still here. So it is with this month’s column that we stay with the same theme. Last month we were talking about bands in transition evolving one way or another. Here we are with more stories.

Uxbridge Community Concert Band

The Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB) is another band in transition. This time, rather than some gradual change, we have a one-year interruption. Founded by Steffan Brunette in 1992, the UCCB has been silent for a year. Brunette, a high school music teacher, took a year off from his teaching to study composition and do some travelling.

Steffan BrunetteSince its founding in 1992, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band has been a volunteer organization from its director down to its youngest player. Its original intention was to allow school musicians to bridge the gap between their spring concert ending the school year and their first rehearsal at school in September. Over the years the UCCB became a band where adult musicians could rediscover their love of playing music as a member of an ensemble.

For most of the first 25 years of its existence, the UCCB was run solely through Brunette’s leadership. To encourage new growth and new directions, the band is rebuilding itself with the assistance of a new executive committee. Since the band only rehearses during the months of May through August, committee members are currently planning the recruitment drive, promotional strategies and laying out the performance plans for the coming summer season, all the while learning the processes which were normally overseen by only one. Brunette is no longer jack of all trades. He is now artistic director.

It is hoped that by bringing in additional people, the range of talents and skills for running a musical organization will also grow and allow the UCCB to grow as well. Committee members are taking over publicity, membership, logistics, venue booking, transportation, music folder preparation, uniform distribution and concert planning.

The UCCB is currently recruiting members for its 26th summer season, set to begin on Wednesday May 23 at 7pm in the music room of Uxbridge Secondary School. Rehearsals will continue every Wednesday until the end of August. The band performs two major concerts in Port Perry and Uxbridge at the end of the summer. The ensemble is non-auditioned and welcomes players who have had at least two years’ of playing experience, so students as young as Grade 9 and adults as old as 90-plus are encouraged to come out and join. For those interested, the band now has a Facebook page; it is simply Uxbridge Community Concert Band. For more information, contact Terry Christiansen at uccb@powergate.ca.

Resa’s Pieces Band

Resa’s Pieces first came together in the year 2000. The creation of what has evolved into a very special group was a dream born out of Resa Kochberg’s life experiences, and it was many years in the making. When she was growing, up there was nothing else that she ever wanted to do but study music. As a little girl she would watch her eldest brother wave his arms around as if he were a virtuoso conductor. She says that she could feel the music radiate and come alive visually through his passionate motions. Her very first album of recorded music was Peter and the Wolf. She says that she loved listening to the different instruments mimicking the sound of animals, Peter, the grandfather and the hunters. 

Resa Kochberg. Photo by Atira Frankel.At an early age her mother gave her some choices for after-school activities. She chose piano lessons. As it turned out, that decision determined her career. After studying piano and playing flute during her high school years, She knew that the only thing she wanted was to study music at university. After graduation with a bachelor of music degree from U of T, she taught music for the Scarborough Board of Education until she put her school teaching on hold to raise three children.

As a stay-at-home mom, after so many years of playing music and being surrounded by music every day, the only music she listened to was on the radio. For 23 years her flute never came out of its case. One day she realized that she missed the camaraderie and the excitement of playing music with other people, and the joy of musical expression. She knew that somehow she had to get music back into her life. So in 1998 she returned to teaching, and after that 23-year hiatus, she finally took her flute out of its case and joined the North York Concert Band.

Although quite rusty, after putting her daily routine behind, she would concentrate on the music. As she says, she was once again surrounded by like-minded people, all of whom wanted to create music together. She soon loved the challenge, the frustration and the sense of accomplishment, as she continued to improve with practice and support from new music friends.

With the resurfacing of her “musical urge” she thought of the many others in similar situations. In her words: “I realized that there were so many others who had also temporarily abandoned their instruments due to life circumstances, and I saw this as an opportunity to create a fun-filled, social atmosphere where people could return [as she had] to playing music. I hoped that by creating such an environment it would also give others the same joy and pleasure while also providing the opportunity for them to learn and then share their accomplishments with each other. My ultimate goal, which has been realized, was to have members of the band learn repertoire, perform to audiences and share their expression of music within the community.”

That’s how Resa’s Pieces was born. Then, as Resa put it, “one magical day” in late 1998, it actually began. Resa says that one day, she was talking to the music director at the Koffler Centre of the Arts about her idea for a band. The response that she received couldn’t have been more encouraging. “Resa,” she said, “I don’t like your idea – I love it!” Then and there Resa knew that it would happen. “When would you like to start?” the director asked. “How about next September?” That would give her enough time to spread the word and recruit. How many people would join? She was hoping for 18 as it’s a symbolic number for life, and music is so much part of everyone’s life. A few weeks later, while at a party, she took advantage of this great opportunity to announce her idea, and it became the buzz of the evening. Surprisingly, those interested didn’t want to wait until September. 

Shortly afterwards, with the 18 names gathered, and long before September, they held their first rehearsal at the Jewish Community Centre on Bathurst Street. They began with a basic review of the names and values of the notes. Then all of the fundamentals were reviewed, such simple facts as how to hold the instrument and make the first sound. Everyone left excited and eager to practise. In June 2000 they held their first concert. The band could now play eight notes and seven songs. Seventy-five people sat in the audience, the concert was 25 minutes long and the band got a rousing standing ovation at the end.

In Resa’s words: “Members are guided by the mantra, do your best and have FUN.” As for the band’s name, it was chosen by the band members.

Resa’s Pieces is now an active diverse group of amateur musicians who range in age from their 20s to their 90s, and who come from all over the GTA with the common goal: “Reawaken that Talent – Rediscover making Music.”

Then what? The birth of Resa’s Pieces Strings began. After one band concert a violinist approached her and asked to join the band. She felt terrible having to say “no” because stringed instruments require a different approach and, other than a double bass, there is simply no place for them in a concert band. As more and more string players approached, and walked away disappointed, she decided to start a string group. Thus, Resa’s Pieces Strings began in September 2010, not coincidentally also with 18 members.

A few years later Resa began wondering about all of those people who’ve never played an instrument but who love to sing? Is it fair that they should be left out of the FUN? No! She knew in her heart that a vocal group had to come next! So, after a successful trial run in the spring of 2013, Resa’s Pieces Singers began. Under the direction of Robert Graham, the ensemble is now in its third season of weekly rehearsals with growing membership and more smiling faces.

As is not uncommon for community bands, as they prepared for their “Spring Concert Band Gala,” they found themselves short of people in a couple of spots. Suddenly, I found myself joining Dan Kapp, of New Horizons renown, to play euphonium. If that wasn’t coincidental enough, as we looked over our shoulders, we saw our two spouses. (Or should that be spice?) There they were, two accomplished flute players, playing percussion.

So, on Sunday, May 27 at 7:30pm they will present their Concert Band Gala, featuring a wide range of music from rock ‘n’ roll, classical, jazz standards and marches. That’s at the Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd. in Markham. As for the String Ensemble Gala, it will take place on Sunday, June 3; the Singers Gala will be on Monday, June 11.

Strings Attached

After not hearing from him for some time, we just received information from Ricardo Giorgi, conductor of the Strings Attached Orchestra, about their final concert of the year, scheduled for Sunday, June 3 at 7pm, again at Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre. With an impressive and varied program planned, they intend to show how they have grown bigger and better over the past year. With that, of course, they are anticipating that they will attract a larger audience. They may have sprung up as a small fish in a very big pond, but it’s time to support them and attend this concert. It’s not possible to list their complete program here, but it varies from Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 to The Best of ABBA and Pirates of the Caribbean. For more information go to www.stringsattachedorchestra.com

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

Gramophone’s 2017 Young Artist of the Year, 25-year-old Italian-born pianist Beatrice Rana, makes her Koerner Hall debut April 8. I remember fondly her Toronto Summer Music concert in 2014, where she brought the Walter Hall audience instantly to its feet with a heartfelt, technically gripping performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No.6. Her career was clearly on the rise then; it continues on its upward path. I recently had an email Q&A exchange with her.

Beatrice Rana - photo by Marie StaggatWN: What are your first memories of playing the piano?
BR: I began studying piano when I was four, but before that I have some little memories of me trying to repeat the melodies of cartoons four hands with my father. I also remember my parents taking me out for concerts on Friday nights; it was always a very special feeling.

Your parents are professional pianists and your younger sister plays the cello. Please describe the musical atmosphere in your home growing up.
I would say that music is really part of our daily life, as much as drinking water or eating lunch. The house could be pretty noisy at times (!), but it was absolutely wonderful to grow up in a family that really understood and supported our musical choice.

Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?
The first musical challenges when I was a child were some pieces by Mozart and Schumann, but the composer that was giving me the biggest sense of accomplishment was Bach, and I ended up playing a lot of his music. I still have a very special relationship with Bach’s music, even though I constantly fall in love with so many other composers.

Who were the first musicians you fell in love with?
Martha Argerich and Glenn Gould.

Do you have any piano idols?
I wish I could have listened live to Horowitz and [Arturo] Benedetti Michelangeli.

How life-changing was winning the Silver Medal and Audience Award at the Cliburn piano competition in 2013?
It was absolutely a shock – a good shock of course! The first big change in my musical career came with [winning] the Montreal competition in 2011, but after the Cliburn I really reached what I was looking for, which was having the chance to be a concert pianist. The thing is that you don’t know what it really means to be a concert pianist until you become one: it’s an amazing life, full of travel, people, different cultures, but sometimes it can be tiring.

I’d like to focus on your upcoming Koerner Hall recital on April 8. What is it about Schumann’s music that speaks to you in general? And what about Blumenstück and the Symphonic Etudes in particular?
I always loved Schumann, probably also because of my close relationship to Bach with whom there are many connections. Blumenstück and Symphonic Etudes really reflect Schumann’s aesthetic with his two opposite personalities: on one hand there is Blumenstück, which represents Eusebius with his poetic, intimate and dubitative approach to life; on the other, the Symphonic Etudes are Florestan, incredibly extroverted and brilliant, inspired also by the bigger sonorities of an orchestra.

What fascinates you about Ravel’s Miroirs?
The choice of Miroirs is connected to the choice of the piano as a symphonic instrument. Ravel was an incredible orchestrator and two pieces of the Miroirs were in fact orchestrated. What strikes me the most in this music is the imagination and plasticity of sound, which is able to recreate vividly either the hysteric movement of a butterfly in the night or a ship moving on the ocean and struggling with the storms.

What are some of the challenges of Stravinsky’s The Firebird?
Again, the piano is imitating an orchestra but this time the process is the opposite: The Firebird was originally written for the orchestra, and [Guido] Agosti – an incredible pianist of the last century – wrote this amazing transcription. The main challenge is of course to recreate the different sounds that such a big orchestra can reach, but on the other side, the advantage is the freedom with the interpretive choices that it’s impossible to have with an orchestra.

What do you find most rewarding and most challenging in your professional life?
It is very fascinating to travel so much and get to know so many audiences: every country is completely different, because of its culture and its musical traditions. Still, being able to communicate with all of them through music is a real privilege, and sharing moments of such authenticity on so many different stages is just incredible.

Alison Chernick’s Itzhak

“When you finally get the sound [of the violin], you are really getting something out of yourself,” the young Itzhak Perlman says in black and white footage from Israeli television in 1974, during Alison Chernick’s new documentary Itzhak. “The more you have in your heart, the more you have to give,” he explains, having noted that to get a sound out of a piano you merely have to strike a key. The Israeli-born Perlman has given an enormous amount over his long professional career; and he’s been in the public eye since his appearance in 1958 as a 13-year-old on The Ed Sullivan Show playing an excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Itzhak is a congenial portrait of the living legend, from the child crippled by polio to the 70-year-old musical icon travelling out to the CitiField pitcher’s mound in his motorized wheelchair to play The Star-Spangled Banner in the home of the New York Mets.

Itzhak Perlman in 'Itzhak' - photo by Films We LikeWith the aid of old video, photographs and home movies we get a sense of what drove the young violinist to succeed. More recent footage records the love and devotion of his wife Toby and the importance to him of their family and Jewish heritage. His physical challenges are constant, his triumph over them as a performer, teacher, husband and father implicit throughout.

But it’s the singularity of his musical life and the joy he brings to it that is the raison d’être of Chernick’s film. Where does she lead us from the baseball diamond? To a rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio Op.50 with cellist Mischa Maisky and pianist Evgeny Kissin. Then the star-spangled musical trio takes a break in Perlman’s New York City kitchen where the host animates the eating of takeout Chinese food with a hoary old Russian-Jewish joke.

Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata, Bruch and Wieniawski Violin Concertos, Brahms, Respighi and Ravel, Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart and Schubert all resonate on the soundtrack. Marian Anderson’s singing of the spiritual Crucifixion has a special place in Perlman’s iconography. As his playing of klezmer music with The Klezmatics does in ours. And what is the most requested piece of music in his repertoire? The theme from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List by John Williams.

You can watch how Perlman evokes the beauty of a phrase and marvel at the way he brings out the colour of a melody when Itzhak plays at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema April 6 to 12, followed by a run at the Mt. Pleasant Theatre beginning April 13.

Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall presents Itzhak Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva in recital at Roy Thomson Hall April 22, performing works by Schubert, Beethoven and Dvořák.

Paul Moon’s Absolute Beauty

Recently I celebrated what would have been the 108th birthday of American composer Samuel Barber by watching Absolute Beauty, a comprehensive portrait of a man who wrote some of the most beautiful music of the 20th century. H. Paul Moon’s documentary has just now become available via internet streaming or purchase, having made the rounds of film festivals over the last several months. I found Moon’s assemblage of Barber scholars, musicians, personal reminiscences, film footage and photographs so touching that I immediately put on two of my personal Barber favourites: his Violin Concerto with its lovely first two movements; and his evocative Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for soprano and orchestra, the setting of James Agee’s clear-eyed nostalgic picture of family life from the point of view of a five-year-old boy. I had just learned that Agee and Barber were the same age and that Agee’s text spoke directly to Barber’s own youthful memories.

Gian Carlo Menotti (left) and Samuel Barber in the summer of 1936 from 'Absolute Beauty' - photo by HP MoonMoon took the film’s title from Leonard Bernstein: “I’ve always associated Sam’s music in my mind with Plato – I think, in terms of what Plato called the Absolutes, he’s a Platonic composer… the concept that there is an absolute truth and an absolute beauty and the absolute rightness of things… that all Sam’s music has tried to form one version or another of absolute beauty.”

The documentary begins with the transfixing melancholy of Dover Beach Op.3, written for baritone and string quartet (from the poem by Matthew Arnold) when Barber was 21 and still a student at the Curtis Institute. “Barber found the profound essence of the poem in very small motives,” Thomas Hampson says. The film moves through Barber’s compositional output from the Cello Concerto, Symphony No.1, the justly famous Adagio for Strings, the Piano Sonata (written for Horowitz, a frequent visitor to Barber’s Mt. Kisco home), Hermit Songs (and his collaboration with Leontyne Price) et al, ending with his 1966 opera Antony and Cleopatra and its misplaced stage direction by Franco Zeffirelli that blinded the critics to its musical qualities. Conductor Leonard Slatkin, one of Absolute Beauty’s roster of talking heads, says that he was enchanted listening to the opera on the radio when he was 22.

Barber wrote very little after those negative reviews and spent the last years of his life without his longtime partner Gian Carlo Menotti. Unable to afford Capricorn, their country home with its sylvan setting, Barber moved back to New York City where a Fifth Avenue apartment was of little consolation. He left us with a legacy of blissful melancholy as Absolute Beauty’s moving soundtrack depicts.

Absolute Beauty is available for purchase through Amazon and for rental at watch.samuelbarberfilm.com and at
https://vimeo.com/156522774.

TSO and Friends

Up-and-coming violinist Ray Chen is the soloist in Bruch’s beloved Violin Concerto No.1; Sir Andrew Davis leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ magnificent Symphony No.2 Apr 5, 7 and 8. Christian Tetzlaff performs Berg’s ineffably beautiful Violin Concerto; Kent Nagano leads the OSM in Bruckner’s ever-popular Symphony No.7 Apr 13. Violinist Blake Pouliot, recently named Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s 2018 Career Development Award Winner, plays Beethoven’s lyrical Romances 1 and 2 as part of an all-Beethoven program under the baton of resident conductor Earl Lee that also includes the iconic Symphony No.5 Apr 14 and 15. The Associates of the TSO perform two of the greatest string chamber works: Schubert’s Quintet in C D946 and Brahms’ String Sextet No.1 Apr 23. Bramwell Tovey conducts the 1993 concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant musical Candide (essentially Bernstein’s 1989 recording with a few excisions) Apr 26 and 28. The legendary pianist Leon Fleisher brings the wisdom of his 89 years to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.12; Peter Oundjian conducts Bruckner’s immense Symphony No.8 May 2 and 3 (RTH), May 6 (Montreal) and May 8 (Ottawa).

QUICK PICKS

Apr 6: The indefatigable Stewart Goodyear joins Nurhan Arman and Toronto Sinfonia for Vinzenz Lacher’s chamber version (originally for piano and string quintet) of Beethoven’s masterful Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor.” Also in Barrie Apr 7. Later in the month Goodyear joins the estimable Trio Arkel (COC concertmaster Marie Bérard, TSO principal violist Teng Li and associate principal cellist Winona Zelenka) and Silk Road Ensemble bassist Jeffrey Beecher for a performance of Schubert’s sublime Trout Quintet Apr 27. Music by Schoenberg, Boccherini and Barrière complete the program.

Apr 8: Syrinx Concerts presents three internationally known musicians who happen to be on the faculty of the Schulich School of Music at McGill University – Ilya Poletaev, piano; Axel Strauss, violin; and Yegor Dyachkov, cello – performing music by Beethoven, Ravel and Oesterle.

Apr 12: Music Toronto presents the German-based Schumann Quartet, proteges of the Alban Berg Quartet and winners of the BBC Music Magazine Newcomer Award 2016 in a program of Haydn, Shostakovich and Schumann.

Apr 14: WholeNote Early Music columnist Matthew Whitfield is the organist in “The Wagner Effect” presented by Abendmusik at St. John’s Norway. (Apr 21 Whitfield plays harpsichord and organ in Bach’s The Musical Offering with Molly Evans-Stocks and Jimin Shin, violinists, another Abendmusik presentation.)

Apr 21: Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra’s Annual Fundraising Concert features two young soloists, cellist Alik Volkov in Tchaikovsky’s charming Variations on a Rococo Theme and pianist Lauren Esch in Grieg’s enduring Piano Concerto.

Apr 22: Pocket Concerts has decided it’s time to tackle Late Beethoven. Shane Kim and Katya Poplyansky, violins, and Amy Laing, cello, join co-director Rory McLeod, viola, in a performance of String Quartet No.12 Op.127.

Apr 22: Nocturnes in the City presents pianist Karolina Kubálek (Antonín Kubálek’s daughter) performing music by Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Ravel.

Apr 26: The dean of Canadian pianists, Robert Silverman (soon to turn 80), gives an all-Chopin recital at Gallery 345. The program is repeated Apr 28 in the Music Room of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

Apr 27: Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian joins Amici to celebrate the ensemble’s 30th anniversary in a program of works by Respighi, Dohnanyi and much Bernstein.

Apr 28: Charismatic French cellist Gautier Capuçon and his longtime duo partner Jerome Ducros grace the Koerner Hall stage with a selection of Fauré, Brahms and Rachmaninoff plus French and Russian short pieces from their latest CD Intuition.

May 3: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s final concert of the season “Cellodrama!” features principal cellist of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, Simon Fryer, who also happens to be artistic director of the WMCT. He’s programmed himself along with seven cellist friends and special guest soprano Sarah Slean in a recital featuring works for solo cello, four cellos and eight cellos by Barrière, Penderecki, Jocelyn Morlock, Bach, Kelly-Marie Murphy, Queen and Villa-Lobos (the incomparable Bachianas Brasileira No.5).

May 3 to 6: Tafelmusik, with guest conductor Bruno Weil at the podium, takes a fresh approach to Beethoven, dipping into two classics from his fertile middle period. Music director emerita Jeanne Lamon is the concertmaster for the evening. Current music director Elisa Citterio is busy as the soloist in the Violin Concerto, which opens a strong program that ends with the Pastoral Symphony.

May 4: Festival of the Sound artistic director James Campbell gets ready for summer with music for clarinet, piano and cello in various combinations by Beethoven, Ravel, Fauré, Saint-Saëns and Brahms, at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Oversimplifying a complex subject, I believe that all music is essentially hybrid, reflecting the diversity and the hybridity of our own music-loving species. What fuels the hybridizing impulse when staying with the tried and true often seems the safer musical choice?

The continual process propelling the evolution of musical culture can be witnessed in seemingly small things. I’ve seen it sparked by casual jams and offstage exchanges between musicians from different cultures, for example. Such explorations have also occasionally been instigated by adventurous composers eager to incorporate new sounds or cultural sound-views in their scores and recording projects. I see this kind of cultural transfusion as a hallmark of the healthiest scenes, those which will continue to thrive among future music creators, interpreters and audiences.

Relevant to this discussion is the evolving notion of transculturalism. Simply put, it is “involving, encompassing, or combining elements of more than one culture.”

The idea of the transcultural society was developed by the German cultural philosopher Wolfgang Welsch. In Transculturality – the Puzzling Form of Cultures Today (1999) he asserts that the notion of transculturality takes into account “the internal complexities and constant variations characteristic of every culture, as well as recognizing the degree to which cultures are becoming inseparably linked with one another.” According to Welsch, cultures today are no longer homogenous and monolithic but rather have multiple intersections and interdependencies which exhibit network characteristics.

A number of Toronto musicians and music groups have creatively embraced the practices of cultural hybridity and transculturality (with or without using that tag), putting the social reality we experience every day on centre stage.

For this month’s column I’ve sought out music creators and presenters among us who seek to combine instruments, melodies and modes, musical forms, song lyrics, performance genres and practices, presenting concerts mixing two or more musical cultures. Here are just a few I’ve found.

KUNÉ – Canada’s Global Orchestra

Launched last year as The New Canadian Global Music Orchestra by the RCM’s Mervon Mehta, and recently rebranded as the more mellifluous-sounding KUNÉ (“together” in Esperanto), this Toronto world music supergroup could be transcultural music’s poster family. (I wrote extensively on KUNÉ’s origin story in my May 2017 column in The WholeNote (NCGMO Explores the Power of the Collective) and recommend a visit there for those who would like to know more about this ambitious project.)

Directed by David Buchbinder, KUNÉ releases its debut album in concert on April 7 in its Koerner Hall home. As I mention in my review of the album elsewhere in this issue, it is a milestone in the group’s “journey to create a band that looks and sounds like Canada today.”

After intermission David Buchbinder is joined by Grammy Award-nominated Cuban piano master Hilario Durán along with their band Odessa/Havana. They skillfully mash up the worlds of klezmer and Latin music, creating new lyrical and swinging transcultural music along the way.

Kiran Ahluwalia’s “LOVEfest: Welcome the Stranger”

Two-time JUNO Award-winning singer and songwriter Kiran Ahluwalia’s concert “LOVEfest: Welcome the Stranger” is a case study in transcultural performance. The production tours eight North American cities in April. Its sole Toronto stop is on April 14 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, part of Small World Music’s 16th Annual Asian Music Series which runs April 6 to May 25.

Kiran Ahluwalia - photo by Swathi ReddyBorn in India, raised in Canada and currently living in New York City, Ahluwalia makes songs deeply rooted in Indian and Pakistani classical music and ghazal traditions. Her songs and arrangements draw from her rich South Asian heritage but they are also heavily influenced by African desert blues and American jazz. In these disparate elements we can trace Ahluwalia’s own multicontinental life journey, witnessing how she has morphed musical influences from each into a sweet sounding emblem of transculturality.

Tagged as “an eclectic celebration of love and diversity through music and dance,” LOVEfest includes sacred and secular performers from both Muslim and Sikh traditions. In an impromptu text chat with me, Ahluwalia pointed out with concern that these “two communities are currently experiencing an alarming rise in hate crimes.” It’s an issue evidently front of mind. The April tour supports her new album 7 Billion; its second track Saat (Seven) explores the faces of cultural intolerance. Says Ahluwalia, “It is a theme close to my personal experience. My story is that of an immigrant born in India and raised in Canada. As an immigrant child the hardships we faced were touted as temporary – the effects were permanent.”

Onstage, Ahluwalia is supported by her crack five-piece band on electric guitar, electric bass, tabla, accordion and voice. Affirming cultural diversity, she welcomes to the show Souad Massi (Algeria), the most successful female singer-songwriter in the Arabic-speaking world today. Massi’s lyrics are about creativity and tolerance, and the common human yearning for freedom.

Adding cultural layers and spiritual dimensions to the concert, the Bhai Kabal Singh trio of tabla, two harmoniums and three voices performs songs in their Sikh temple kirtan tradition. Then Egyptian dancer Yasser Darwish renders the tanoura, a colourful whirling Dervish dance featuring multicoloured skirts that symbolically demonstrate core values of Sufi spiritual belief, such as unconditional forgiveness.

Now for an exclusive insider tip just for WholeNote readers. In our recent text exchange Ahluwalia hinted she and Massi may be singing a cover of a song by a renowned world music diva. After some prompting, she revealed they’re working on Gracias a la Vida, the song made famous by Mercedes Sosa, the late Argentinian giant of Latin American song. It’s a telling choice. Written in 1966 by Violeta Parra, a founder of Nueva Canción Chilena, the song stands as a defiant, life-affirming response to political injustice while unblinkingly reflecting on the bittersweet nature of life’s joy and sadness.

To a generation of Chileans Gracias a la Vida became an anthem uniting people in times of trouble. For audiences on both sides of the world’s longest peaceful border, LOVEfest’s program aims to demonstrate, employing elements from diverse global cultures, what it feels like to “welcome the stranger” though heartfelt music and dance.

“LOVEfest: Welcome the Stranger” also plays April 12 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts and April 13 at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.

Ensemble Constantinople “Under the Senegalese Musical Sky”

April 13 the Aga Khan Museum presents “Under the Senegalese Musical Sky,” featuring the Montreal-based Ensemble Constantinople directed by Kiya Tabassian, and guest Senegalese musician Ablaye Cissoko. Inspired by the ancient city illuminating East and West, Ensemble Constantinople was conceived as a forum for encounters and cross-fertilization. In its two-decade career it has explored many musical genres and historical periods, from medieval manuscripts to contemporary aesthetics, from Mediterranean Europe to Eastern traditions.

Ablaye Cissoko (left) and Ensemble Constantinople - photo by Michael SlobodianLast fall the Aga Khan Museum inaugurated a series of performances titled “Conversation Nation,” linked thematically to its HERE exhibition. Using Ensemble Constantinople as the house band, four musical pairings, each with a different national focus and guest musician, were programmed. The series launched in October 2017 with “Under the Syrian Musical Sky.”

The scene shifts to Senegal April 13, with the master kora player, vocalist and composer Cissoko. Born into a Mandingo griot (troubadour/historian) family, Cissoko has developed an international concert and recording career playing music characterized as “at the confluence of African music and jazz.”

Ensemble Constantinople has worked with Cissoko since 2014, forging innovative encounters between Mandinka and Persian classical music, set within a transnational world music aesthetic. Their 2015 collaborative album Jardins migrateurs (Itinerant Gardens) garnered critical plaudits for “conveying a sense of effortless invention grounded in unassuming technical masterery.” We can expect another masterclass in gentle transcultural music from this quartet on April 13.

Taiko Plus! Esprit Orchestra with guest group Nagata Shachu

Although I’ve followed the trailblazing Esprit Orchestra since its inception, I rarely get a chance to write about its music in this column. Why? As Canada’s only full-sized professional orchestra devoted to performing new orchestral music, it usually falls outside my world music beat. Not this month.

On April 15, the 65-member Esprit Orchestra, under the direction of Alex Pauk, assays the transcultural embedded at the core of contemporary orchestral music in its Koerner Hall concert. The work in question is Japanese composer Maki Ishii’s Mono-Prism (1976), scored for orchestra and a group of seven taiko drummers. Under the direction of Toronto’s Kiyoshi Nagata, members of his veteran taiko group Nagata Shachu perform those demanding drum parts.

I caught up with Esprit conductor Alex Pauk on the phone recently. “This isn’t the first Ishii work with non-orchestral percussion we’ve played. In a past season we performed his Afro-Concerto (1982) which uses African drums. The earlier Mono-Prism had its roots in Ishii’s extended studies with Ondekoza, the founding group of the modern taiko movement.”

Mono-Prism, the first work for orchestra and taiko, was premiered in 1976 by conductor Seiji Ozawa at the Tanglewood Music Festival, with Ondekoza playing the taiko parts. Its compelling energy, rhythmic vitality, clouds of sound from the pen of a skilled orchestrator, and its East-meets-West subtext, won a favourable reception. Its heart-skipping finale still excites audiences today.

I should mention that the Esprit Orchestra has embraced transcultural music making before. In 2013 it hosted Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, jointly performing two works by Canadian composers. (As usual I want to flag my 35-year membership in ECCG – yes, I was on that stage and yes, I’m still having fun doing so!)

As a bonus that night Esprit added a dance performance by Balinese dancer Evie Suyadnyani. Intrepid classical music blogger Leslie Barcza recognized the transculturality that night, exclaiming, “My head is still buzzing in a good way from this exquisitely intercultural experience.”

Gamelan in Concert

Finally, speaking of the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, the pioneer Canadian world music octet has built a 35-year career making music which regularly crosses cultural stereotypes and boundaries. The group has embraced not only the West Javanese music indigenous to its gamelan degung (set of instruments) but many other global genres as well. ECCG has collaborated in concerts and recordings with an enormous variety of music-makers, including Baroque and contemporary orchestras, string quartets, violin soloists, choirs, NEXUS, opera and world music singers, turntable duo iNSiDEaMiND, rapper Abdominal, and the leading Sundanese songwriter of his generation, Nano S.

On April 21 the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Toronto presents “Gamelan in Concert” at its Jarvis Street hall. Doesn’t sound particularly transcultural? What if I told you that three types of gamelan from three distinct cultures are represented?

In addition to playing its Sundanese degung, ECCG hosts Javanese musician and scholar Sutrisno Hartana as its artist-in-residence. He’ll be developing new works in a series of workshops with ECCG, exploring common ground between Sundanese, Javanese and Western instruments and performance practices.

Kayonan Balinese Gamelan Orchestra represents Bali, the third culture in the concert. Founded in 2011 by dancer/choreographer and gamelan musician Keiko Ninomiya, Kayonan is Toronto’s first gong kebyar (orchestra). She has actively promoted the awareness and appreciation of Balinese gamelan music and dance in Toronto through performances, demonstrations, workshops and weekly courses ever since.

During the break between the first and second halves of the concert, the Consulate has considerately arranged Indonesian snacks for anyone in the audience who feels peckish. After a feast of mixed gamelan music and dance, what better than a plate of gado-gado piled high with sticks of sate and pink krupuk to feel truly transcultural on Jarvis Street?

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

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