Welcome back to another season of auditory excavation and resistance. For isn’t that what diving deep and creating new expressions using sound is all about? During the upcoming X Avant Festival produced by the Music Gallery – which takes resistance as its theme – this is definitely what will be occurring. Using this theme as a lens for this month’s column, I will be taking an overall survey of what you can expect both in the upcoming season and also during the month of September.

The Music Gallery

The big news at this hotbed place of sonic experimentation this fall is their change of venue. Due to renovations both at their usual home at St. George the Martyr church and in the neighbouring church lot, the Music Gallery’s programming will be happening at a variety of different venues for the foreseeable future. In my conversation with artistic director David Dacks about what sort of impact this change in venue will have, he noted that the Gallery’s Departure Series has already been creating programming in different venues for the last few years. The goal of this series is to make sure that the MG isn’t just identified with one place and to highlight their role as a presenter.

Man Forever aka Kid Millions - photo by Lisa CorsonFor the fall of 2017, the Gallery’s programming will be happening at 918 Bathurst, a not-for-profit arts and culture centre located in the heart of Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. Dacks mentioned that this location is actually closer to where many of the gallery’s patrons live, and this new location will provide opportunities for audience outreach in a more residential area of the city. And so it is fitting that the first show of the season on October 11 at 918 Bathurst will be a concert in the Departures Series with a performance by Man Forever aka Kid Millions touring a new album, Play What They Want. Joining the bill on that night will be Toronto-based percussionist, performer and composer Germaine Liu and her ensemble, along with Luyos MC/Reila. Expect an evening of indie rock, water-based music, electronic soundscapes, traditional chant and frequency art.

While changing location could pose a potential hazard for audience attendance, Dacks isn’t too worried. Last year was the MG’s biggest year to date where attendance was up by 40 percent, with seven sold-out concerts within the year. Each of those seven events was a partnership, thereby boosting audience numbers and reaching out to new communities. As I mentioned above, “Resistance” is the theme of this year’s X Avant Festival running from October 11 to 15. “It’s the thing to do right now, for obvious reasons, and more artists are exploring ideas that fit into this theme,” Dacks said.

One of the festival concerts will feature the music of composer James Tenney, who lived and taught in Toronto from 1976 to 2000 and had an important influence on many local composers during his time here. The program will include Pika-Don, which Tenney composed in 1991, a piece that features the voices of many local artists, including my own, which was a surprise to me when Dacks mentioned it. Rusty memory! Preceding the concert will be a panel discussion on questions such as what it means to be a socially conscious composer now as opposed to 20 to 30 years ago, and what audiences expect from socially conscious music in the concert hall.  The festival is also hosting another Deep Listening workshop led by Anne Bourne, taking place at the Tranzac Main Hall. In last year’s festival, Deep Listening pioneer Pauline Oliveros was a featured guest, and her sold-out concert was the last time she appeared in Toronto shortly before her passing in November.

Meitar EnsembleAnd of course the Music Gallery will continue its tradition of co-presenting with various partners. One such concert to note coming up on October 22 is the New Music Concerts’ season opener. It will be an opportunity to hear Tel Aviv’s Meitar Ensemble, whose membership comprises quite an array of virtuoso performers specializing in contemporary music.

Indie Opera

Tapestry Opera: Bandits in the ValleyToronto is becoming known as a major centre for contemporary indie opera. In the recent summer issue, I wrote about one such opera, Sweat, performed by the Bicycle Opera Project. I had an opportunity to experience the performance of this work of “resistance” this past summer and one of the highlights for me was the ensemble singing, which composer Juliet Palmer spoke about in our interview. The stage dynamics between the a cappella singers intermixed with their interlocking rhythms made for a stunning and compelling performance. The mere fact of giving such a prominent role to an ensemble of singers breaks operatic traditions while laying new ground for a different approach to this older art form.

Sweat was originally workshopped by Tapestry Opera, a major player in the current indie-opera scene, who are starting their season early this year with a performance of Bandits in the Valley. This opera is set in 1860s Toronto, and will be performed at Todmorden Mills, located, appropriately enough, in the Don River Valley. The story brings together a local bandit group with a troupe of travelling Gilbert and Sullivan singers who conspire to steal a mysterious object from a wealthy home situated in the valley. This story is reviving part of Toronto’s history by highlighting the fact that the valley was a haven for smugglers and bandits during the late 1800s. The work was composed by Benton Roark with libretto by Julie Tepperman, and features six performers moving throughout the various locations at the Todmorden site while singing and playing a variety of instruments. It will be an intimate setting with limited space, so audiences must reserve tickets. The good news is that the performances are free and run throughout the month of September.

Gallery 345 with Arraymusic

Quatuor BozziniGallery 345, located at 345 Sorauren Avenue, is another hotspot of performances spanning many genres. This month sees them partnering with Arraymusic on September 19 to present Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini performing Cassandra Miller’s Jules Léger Prize-winning piece About Bach. Miller began this work as a solo piece for viola specifically for violist Pemi Paull. She focused in on Paull’s musicality, first creating a transcription of his performance of Bach’s Partita No. 2. She then added her own harmonies to create something akin to a chorale, while setting up a process that takes the musical materials through a meandering journey. This version for string quartet is the result of many years of working with Quatuor Bozzini. The evening will also include a performance of Bryn Harrison’s new Piano Quintet by English piano virtuoso and experimental music champion Philip Thomas.

Toronto Symphony

Later in September, the TSO will be performing two newly commissioned works by Canadian composers. First of all, on September 22 and 23, their “Tribute to Glenn Gould” concert will include the world premiere of Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Curiosity, Genius, and the Search for Petula Clark, a work that the composer wrote based on the impact that Gould had on her creative life. The evening will begin with a performance of Wīhtikōw, composed by Yannick Plamondon, another in the series of "Sesquies" that have been occurring all year. A few days later, Alexina Louie’s Triple Concerto will have its world premiere. This piece was co-commissioned by the TSO, the Montreal Symphony and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and will feature the concertmasters of all three orchestras. The Sesquie for that evening is Hyacinth, by composer Rolf Boon. I will be writing more about Murphy and Louie in upcoming issues this season, so stay tuned to hear more about these pieces as well as what is currently, and coming up, on the composing plates of these two dynamic and innovative creators.

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

There are several song events worth your time this month, but the one that stands out will require a trip to upper Parkdale and Gallery 345, an unusually shaped space that’s becoming the recital hub of West Toronto. On the program for “The Imperfect Art Song Recital” (September 23 at 6pm), conceived by the soprano Lindsay Lalla, there is music by two living composers – Toronto’s Cecilia Livingston and Brooklyn-based Christopher Cerrone – as well as Strauss’ Mädchenblumen, an Anne Trulove recitative and aria from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and a brief musical theatre set with Carousel and Showboat songs.

Lindsay Lalla - photo by Marc BetsworthThe imperfect as a recital theme may sound unusual, but it’s a question as old as the arts. It’s also a personal notion that kept Lalla focused on teaching and the vocal health of her students and at a distance from performing and concert stage. “My strong technical focus in my teaching carried over to my singing and I felt almost paralyzed trying to find perfection,” she explained when I asked what the story was behind the title. After years of working on other singers’ voices, the minutiae of their development, health and rehabilitation, the goal of perfection struck Lalla as a little overbearing. What if she created a whole program around the fact that there’s no such thing as perfect singing, a perfect lover, a perfect human?

The theme of imperfection runs loosely – er, imperfectly – through the texts of the pieces on the program. “The Strauss songs compare women to flowers and to me represent ‘old school’ classical music where perfection is an appreciated aesthetic,” she says. Livingston’s songs “explore the theme of an absent lover, and I find it really interesting that absent lovers are always perfect.” The character of Penelope, that mythical perfect wife of antiquity, appears in a Livingston song as well as Lalla’s own drawings (she admits to something of an obsession about Penelope) which will be on display at the gallery along with art by clarinetist Sue Farrow created during rehearsals.

Then there’s the Cerrone song cycle on the poetry of Tao Lin. The 18-minute piece for soprano, clarinet, percussion and piano, I Will Learn to Love a Person, can be found in its entirety on the composer’s website; on first listening it sounded to me like plainchant meets American minimalism, with shades of Ann Southam. Its engagement with text is fascinating – and I don’t use this word lightly. Lin is now primarily known as a novelist – Shoplifting from American Apparel, Taipei, Eeeee eee eeee – but he had published poetry as a young writer and Cerrone made a selection of poems that rang particularly true to his experience. The composer’s own statement highlights Lin’s accuracy about “millennial lives” and Lalla agrees, but this Gen X-er can tell you that Cerrone’s piece, like any good music, speaks to all cohorts. (Some of Lin’s fiction, Shoplifting for example, a novella of young impecunious lives in NYC’s emerging ‘creative classes’ flowing on vegan smoothies, band following, brand savvyness, internet, psychological opaqueness of characters and overall scarcity of explicit feeling will remind of Douglas Coupland, who’s probably an ancient writer to the millennials.) Lin made a selection of his poems available online, and I’d recommend listening to I Will Learn to Love a Person alongside the poem i will learn how to love a person and then i will teach you and then we will know to appreciate fully how they enhance one another.

The first piece by Cerrone that Lalla ever heard was this song cycle, and it impressed immediately. To wit: “It hit me hard!” She decided to do the chamber music version and invited two of her best friends, husband and wife Brian Farrow (percussion) and Sue Farrow (clarinet). The pianist and Lalla’s accompanist in other songs on the program, Tanya Paradowski, happens to be their niece. “We’ve been rehearsing up at their cottage, with the sounds of vibraphone over the lake… I can’t imagine what the neighbours must think.

“Because there is so much repetition on just a few notes, the focus goes to the text,” she says of the inner mechanism of the cycle. “Just like in the recitative of an opera, it’s now about the words, and the emotion behind the words. And the accompanying instrumental part is very repetitive, so you instinctively listen to the words to find out what’s going on. So, over top of this unconventionally textured background (quite an unusual mix of instruments!), you get just words. And they happen to be on notes. I think this is a brilliant way that Cerrone is highlighting the directness of Tao Lin’s text.”

Cecilia Livingston - photo by Kaitlin MorenoIt was actually composer Cecilia Livingston who first recommended Cerrone among a few other composers to Lalla (the two women have known each other from high school). Livingston’s own songs, too, Penelope, Kalypso and Parting, are going to be in the recital. Livingston’s website lists an impressive number of commissions, collaborations and fellowships – including a recent research fellowship at King’s College in London with one of the most interesting Verdian thinkers today, Roger Parker – but also an array of publications and papers both academic and journalistic, including her U of T PhD thesis on “the musical sublime in 20th-century opera, with a particular focus on the connections between the sublime, the grotesque, minimalism and musical silence.” There are also audio files of her work, including a good number of songs. I was eager to ask this vast and curious creative mind about her work.

In which art song features prominently, it turns out. “I just finished a commission for the Canadian Art Song Project, which reminded me that art song is one of my favourite things to write, period! It calls for this very strange close reading: scrutiny of a text combined with a huge, bird’s-eye view of its emotional terrain,” Livingston says. “Northrop Frye wrote about this, and he titled his book from Blake: The Double Vision – seeing a text both for what it is, and for what it can be in the imagination. And then also – for a composer – in the musical imagination, in the ear.”

Her three songs in the Imperfect recital explore a style that she describes as “somewhere between art song and torch song. Penelope and Kalypso are both portraits of Homer’s characters, of women who are waiting; both songs have weird, dark middle sections: one is sort-of-aleatoric and one isn’t, and I can see I was working out different solutions.” With Kalypso, Livingston was looking for a new way to write for coloratura soprano and ended up thinking about scat singing and the Harold Arlen songs she loves, like Stormy Weather. “I think Duncan [McFarlane]’s lyrics for Kalypso are one of the most extraordinary texts I’ve ever worked with: beautiful, intricate layers of language; so much that the music can shade and shadow and shape.”

A pianist by training, Livingston composes by singing as she writes: “It helps me build on the natural prosody of the language and makes sure the vocal line is comfortable: that there’s time for breath, that it’s well supported musically, that it sits comfortably in the tessitura, etc. – even when it’s challenging.” The process of finding a text that will lead to a song is more intuitive, harder to pin down. “I’m looking for something that catches my inner ear: an image, mood, the sound of a phrase. When I come across that, I can sort of hear the music for it, and then I know I can work with it. I don’t hear actual music yet, but I can hear the intensification that music can bring. Which sounds slightly bizarre; it’s probably easier to say I get a particular feeling in the pit of my stomach.”

She doesn’t entirely buy the argument that simple, unambitious or bad poetry makes better (because easier) text to set to music. “Look at the riches of Alice Goodman’s libretti, or the ways that Britten illuminated all sorts of texts. If a writer savours language – its sounds and its meanings – then I’m interested.”

Among the larger projects on Livingston’s agenda, there’s a full-length opera in the works for TorQ Percussion Quartet and Opera 5, with the world premiere in Toronto scheduled for the 2018/19 season and a European premiere in 2020. “I’ve admired TorQ Percussion Quartet’s musicianship since we met in 2008, and I wanted to write an opera with them the moment I saw their incredible performance of John Luther Adams’ Strange and Sacred Noise,” says Livingston. “They have a dramatic physicality to their performances that is perfect for contemporary opera.” And Opera 5 produced her first chamber opera: “We built the kind of really supportive friendship that I wish all young composers could have.”

And what does her music feel like to a singer? Let’s let Lindsay Lalla have the last word: “I adore how lyrical and melodic Cecilia’s songs are. I feel that they were written like mini operas, with so much emotion to explore in once piece… One of her musical instructions in the Kalypso (over the introductory coloratura) says: “Ella-Fitzgerald-meets-Chopin, vocalise-meets-scat.” As a singer, I fell in love with her just from that.”

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

Based on the schedules that have already been announced, the 2017/18 opera season in Toronto will see old productions of well-known operas balanced by world premieres and new productions of both rarities and familiar works. In a new development, more than one non-musical theatre company will produce a new opera as part of its regular season.

The Canadian Opera Company opens with its first-ever production of Richard Strauss’ Arabella (1933), Strauss’s sixth and final collaboration with famed librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The opera is a comedy set in Vienna in the 1860s about a once-wealthy family who hope an auspicious marriage for Arabella will restore the family fortunes. Erin Wall will sing the title role and Jane Archibald will sing the role of her younger sister Zdenka, a girl brought up as a boy to save money. Tomasz Konieczny is Mandryka, the wealthy man Arabella’s father hopes she will marry. Michael Brandenburg sings Matteo, the poor soldier who also loves Arabella but is secretly loved by Zdenka. Tim Albery, famed for his COC Götterdämmerung, will direct and Patrick Lange will conduct the seven performances running from October 5 to 28.

Alternating with Arabella is a new production of Donizetti’s beloved opera buffa The Elixir of Love (1832), an opera the company has not staged since 1999. Former COC Ensemble member Andrew Haji sings Nemorino, a peasant in love with the wealthy Adina. Simone Osborne sings Adina. Gordon Bintner is Belcore the pompous sergeant, also in love with Adina. And Andrew Shore sings Dulcamera, the quack doctor who sells Nemorino a fake love potion to win Adina’s love. James Robinson directs and Yves Abel conducts the eight performances running from October 11 to November 4.

The winter season sees the revival of Christopher Alden’s 2011 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, alternating with a new production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. Rigoletto runs for ten performances from January 20 to February 23 and Abduction for seven performances from February 7 to 24. Roland Wood sings the title role of the tragic court jester, Anna Christy is his daughter, Stephen Costello sings the evil Duke of Mantua for the first six performances and Joshua Guerrero takes over for the final four. Stephen Lord, who conducted Norma last year, will wield the baton.

The COC has not staged Abduction since 1980, leaving that task to Opera Atelier which has mounted the opera for two runs since then. The COC’s new Abduction will be directed by Lebanese-Canadian playwright and director Wajdi Mouawad, famed for his play Scorched (Incendies), and conducted by Johannes Debus. Mauro Peter plays the noble Belmonte and Owen MacCausland is his servant Pedrillo, who rescue their respective beloveds Konstanze (Jane Archibald) and her servant Blonde (Claire de Sévigné) from the clutches of the Turkish Pasha Selim (Peter Lohmeyer).

(from left) Lothar Odinius as Tenor 2, Adam Luther as Tenor 1 and Peter Barrett as Baritone 1 in a scene from The Fox in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, 2009. - photo by Michael CooperThe COC spring season sees the return of Robert Lepage’s sensational production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables from 2010, which has since gone on to fame elsewhere. The program includes Stravinsky’s short operas The Nightingale (1914) and Renard (1916) along with Russian folksongs, the production united by the use of various Asian forms of puppetry. The orchestra is onstage and the pit is filled with water for the Vietnamese water puppets. Jane Archibald, artist in residence with the COC this season, sings the Nightingale, Owen Mccausland is the Fisherman, Christian Van Horn is the Emperor and Meredith Arwady sings the role of Death. The production runs for nine performances from April 13 to May 19 and is conducted by Johannes Debus. 

Alternating with Nightingale is the highly anticipated Anna Bolena by Donizetti, starring Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role. With this opera Radvanovsky, who recently became a Canadian citizen, completes Donizetti’s so-called Three Queens Trilogy, although Donizetti never intended them as such. Anticipation is especially high among longtime operagoers since the last time the COC presented the opera back in 1984 it starred Dame Joan Sutherland in the title role with Richard Bonynge conducting. Joining Radvanovsky are Eric Owens as Henry VIII, Keri Alkema as Jane Seymour and Bruce Sledge as Lord Percy. Stephen Lawless will direct this third part of his unified production originally created for Dallas Opera. Corrado Rovaris will conduct.

Opera Atelier’s season features two revivals – Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro running October 26 to November 4 and Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses running April 19-28. In the first, American Douglas Williams makes his OA debut in the title role with Mireille Asselin as Susanna, Stephen Hegedus as the Count, Peggy Kriha Dye as the Countess and Mireille Lebel as Cherubino. In the second, Krešimir Špicer returns to sing the title role joined by Mireille Lebel as Penelope, Carla Huhtanen as Fortuna, Christopher Enns as Telemaco, Stephen Hegedus as Neptune and Meghan Lindsay as Minerva. Both productions will be directed as usual by Marshall Pynkoski with David Fallis conducting the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.

Tapestry Opera has an exciting season beginning with a brand new opera playing weekends in September with free admission. That opera is Bandits in the Valley by Benton Roark to a libretto by Julie Tepperman. Set in 1860s Toronto, it follows a group of thieves through Todmorden Mills who are aided by a travelling Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. The work features Keith Klassen, Jennifer Taverner, Jacques Arsenault, Alex Dobson, Sara Schabas and Stephanie Tritchew.

The season continues with the return of “Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts,” showcasing four new short operas from November 30 to December 3. As part of the “Tap:Ex” series of experimental works, Tapestry presents Forbidden from February 8 to 11, a collaboration between Iranian-Canadian composer Afarin Mansouri and spoken-word artist Donna Michelle St. Bernard in an exploration of what is forbidden and why it is tempting.

Toronto Operetta Theatre has three fully-staged revivals on offer. First, to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, TOT revives The Widow (1882) by Calixa Lavallée (1842-91), composer of Canada’s national anthem, with Julie Nesrallah in the title role. Running from December 28, 2017 to January 7, 2018 is Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (1956), last staged by TOT in 2007. Tonatiuh Abrego sings the title role with Vania Chan as his beloved Cunegonde. The final offering is Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène (1864), a parody of the events leading to the Trojan War running April 25 to 29, starring Beste Kalender, Adam Fisher and Stuart Graham.

Toronto Masque: For fans of Toronto Masque Theatre this will be a bittersweet season since artistic director Larry Beckwith has decided that it will be the company’s last. The first of the TMT’s three mainstage shows will be a revival of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1687) paired with Canadian James Rolfe’s piece Aeneas and Dido (2007). Playing on October 20 and 21, the operas star Krisztina Szabó, Alexander Dobson, Andrea Ludwig and Jacqueline Woodley.

From February 8 to 10, TMT presents a staged version of J.S. Bach’s Peasant Cantata (1742), followed by “All the Diamonds,” a cabaret of torch songs, lieder and madrigals featuring Patricia O’Callaghan and Giles Tomkins. TMT’s final show, “The Last Chaconne: A Celebration,” plays only on May 12 when a star-studded collection of singers and musicians celebrate the achievements of the company.

Tarragon and Canadian Stage: Theatre companies in Toronto have ventured into the realm of opera before, but it is unusual to have two such companies do so in the same year. This season the Tarragon Theatre presents the opera Mr. Shi and His Lover by Toronto’s Njo Kong Kie to a libretto by Wong Teng Chi from November 7 to December 17. The opera, based on the story behind the play and film M. Butterfly, had its world premiere in Macau in 2013 and its acclaimed Toronto premiere last year at SummerWorks. It is performed in Mandarin with English surtitles and stars Jordan Cheng and Derek Kwan. The composer conducts an ensemble of piano, marimba and Chinese percussion.

Canadian Stage, which previously presented the Canadian premiere of Philippe Boesmans’ opera Julie in 2015, this season presents the world premiere of The Overcoat by James Rolfe to a libretto by Morris Panych, based on the 1842 story of the same name by Nikolai Gogol. Panych and Wendy Gorling had previously created a wildly successful version of The Overcoat as an extended wordless physical theatre piece. This new Overcoat will thus represent a complete re-imagining of how to present Gogol’s story. The Canadian Stage production, running March 29 to April 14, is a co-production with Tapestry Opera and Vancouver Opera and is one of the dozen or so must-sees of what is already shaping up to be a very attractive opera season.

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

Nothing can polarize a room of musically minded people faster than an expression of opinion on Historically Informed Performance (HIP). Wikipedia, the go-to source for information on all things from humdingers to hemiolas, defines Historically Informed Performance as “an approach to the performance of classical music which aims to be faithful to the approach, manner and style of the era in which a work was originally conceived.” Like sideburns, Pez dispensers, and many other “hip” things, Historically Informed Performance began in the 1950s with a small but devoted, cult-like following and has since been associated with some of the 20th century’s classical music luminaries including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ton Koopman and John Eliot Gardiner.

Traditionally, HIP has been closely connected with (and most successfully applied to) early music, specifically music from the Baroque era (1600-1750, approximately). This often involves tools such as period instruments, various tunings and temperaments, and a number of other variables that performers take into consideration. The majority of this information has been gleaned over the past few decades from various historical treatises written by composers that are now as famous, if not more so, for their theoretical writings as for the musical works they composed. Notable treatises include those by musicians such as Johann Quantz, C.P.E. Bach and Johann Mattheson.

Enter Norrington

Roger NorringtonAs the HIP movement grew throughout the latter half of the 20th century, its scope similarly expanded to include music by Beethoven, Brahms, and even Mahler (culminating in British conductor Roger Norrington’s anti-vibrato crusade which resulted in tendentious performances and recordings of a number of Mahler’s symphonies. These non-vibrato performances are interesting much in the same way that a circular-breathing saxophonist is interesting – at once fascinating and impressive, but also somewhat unnatural). Some of these experiments in performance practice, like Norrington’s Mahler, were greater in theory than in application, such as the idea to perform Beethoven’s symphonies with strict adherence to his metronome markings. This was in stark contrast to the über-Romantic interpretations of past maestros such as Furtwängler and Klemperer, and could become a bit frenetic when Beethoven’s metronomic suggestions had an entire orchestra flooring the gas pedal!

Given its history, it’s understandable that HIP is a rather controversial topic among musicians, scholars and audiences – especially when discussing mainstream composers such as Bach, Handel or Vivaldi – and like any theory, it cannot be applied with a one-size-fits-all mentality. (As a Canadian HIP-trained harpsichordist and organist, I can’t help but think of Glenn Gould’s Bach performances which, despite the theoretical issues of the appropriateness of performing Bach on the piano, are so unique, effective and timeless.) Part of the joy of being a musician in a city as diverse as Toronto is being able to hear the variety of interpretations and open-minded approaches taken towards similar repertoire, especially when Messiah season is in full swing! Having the opportunity to absorb multiple performances of a well-known piece interpreted by different ensembles in different ways can be an eye- and ear-opening experience, and we are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to witness so many high-calibre concerts and players throughout the year.

September can be a slow month for the arts scene as musicians return from summer residencies and rehearsals resume after time away. Fortunately for early music lovers, there are a variety of concerts to choose from this month; here are a few highlights, organized by composer:

J.S. Bach

Top of most people’s list of Baroque composers is J.S. Bach, also known (to fans of P.D.Q. Bach creator Peter Schickele) as “Big Daddy” Bach. On September 13, Toronto Symphony Orchestra cellist Roberta Janzen performs cello suites by Bach and Kodály as part of the new ClassyAF concert series. This performance, part of a larger program that aims to bring classical music out of the concert hall, takes place at the Dakota Tavern on Ossington Avenue. The movement in recent years to present high-quality performers and performances in alternative venues such as pubs, clubs and taverns is a great way to welcome new audiences to music that is often stereotyped as outdated and stuffy. It’s also a chance to take in some great tunes with a drink in hand (a double bourbon on the rocks, preferably) amidst a refreshing change of scenery.

For those seeking a more traditional concert experience, Rosedale Presbyterian’s Recitals at Rosedale presents “My Good Fortune: The Music of J.S. Bach” on October 1. The program’s two cantatas, one secular (Schweigt stille, better known as the ‘Coffee Cantata’) and one sacred (Cantata 84, Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke) as well as a motet (Lobet den Herrn) will be led by music director Christopher Dawes and feature a roster of well-known soloists including soprano Gillian Keith, bass-baritone Daniel Lichti and tenor Lenard Whiting.

G.F. Handel

To many early music aficionados, Handel’s genius is surpassed only by Bach. Often grouped along with Domenico Scarlatti and Rameau into what John Eliot Gardiner calls “the Class of ’85,” Handel and Bach are certainly connected in some interesting ways, not least of which is the fact that both men were surgically mistreated by the same eye doctor. Bach died soon after his operation while Handel lived for nine years, increasingly blind, having derived no benefit from his treatment.

On a more positive note, Tafelmusik’s first full season under their new music director Elisa Citterio begins this September. Season-opening concerts can set the tone for the entire year, and this looks to be a dynamic and energetic program. With concerti by Handel and Corelli, a suite by Rameau, and a Vivaldi violin concerto featuring Citterio as soloist, we await these performances (September 21 to 24 and 26) with eager anticipation.

Gottfried Finger

I FURIOSI with James Johnstone (second from left) - photo by Ron SearlesIn a world full of concerts featuring oft-performed works by well-known composers, it’s important to point out the occasional deviation from the norm. On October 6, the Baroque chamber ensemble I FURIOSI presents “Introduction to the Body” which, according to their website, lauds “the various naughty and not-so-naughty bits” of the human anatomy. I FURIOSI, in addition to their engaging and often amusing titles and programming, are expert players and will perform works by Couperin, Handel and others, including the Moravian composer Gottfried Finger.

Finger was born in 1655 or 1656 and died in August 1730. He was a viol virtuoso and worked as a composer for the court of James II in London, where he was known as Godfrey Finger. He wrote a number of sonatas, operas, and suites for a variety of instrumental combinations. There are few recordings of Finger’s music, but the Echo du Danube disc of the Sonatae pro diversis instrumentis, Op. 1 on the Accent label is worth rooting around for.

October Outlook

Looking ahead, there are a number of exciting and important events on the horizon this October, as well as a stimulating opportunity for young professionals interested in working with some of Toronto’s best early music specialists. The deadline for applying to the Tafelmusik Winter Institute, a weeklong intensive which focuses on Baroque orchestral music, is October 11; this year’s participants will look at suites from the French Baroque by Lully, Rameau and others. For more information on this worthwhile program, visit the Tafelmusik website.

To keep up to date on everything early music in Toronto or to share your comments and questions, visit thewholenote.com or email me at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.

Canadian composer Matthew Emery’s musical setting “Peace, my heart” uses a poem by legendary Bengali poet and musician, Rabindranath Tagore. Emery’s composition is spartan and focused, somehow enabling deep mourning and peaceful contemplation to coexist within a single shape. Reflecting on the tumultuous state of current affairs, it’s going to be good to be able to get back to making collective music. The summer of presidential-inflamed white supremacy, the threat of nuclear war, the homophobic hatred in Chechnya, the loss of democracy in Venezuela, the imprisonment of elected officials in Hong Kong – there is a great heaviness throughout the world. The weight of recent events sits deeply in the minds, hearts, and souls of many people. As artists and enjoyers of music, our personal and communal healing often takes place in the context of music and to that we can turn our minds, hearts, and souls for healing. There is much good music ahead.

That Choir

At the beginning of August I lost an old friend who was only 31. Many of my memories with him were music related; we went through the same music program in high school. I can picture him vividly with flute in hand; I can picture him attempting clarinet; I can remember our conversations about Polish music. Music is all around us, and indeed, healing, if we allow it. At the back of the commemoration card, his family chose the poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

That Choir will feature Eleanor Daley’s iconic setting of Frye’s poem, In Remembrance, part of her Requiem in their first concert of the season, “That Choir Remembers.” That Choir has been busy, making itself one of Toronto’s busiest and most dynamic. Recently featured in Ramin Djawadi’s “Game of Thrones Live!” concert and “Hans Zimmer Live,” both at the Air Canada Centre, the choir is proving itself able to rise to a wide range of big occasions. These two events have been among the most amazing performances of live music I have ever, and will probably ever, witness.

This year, That Choir enters its tenth season under the direction of Craig Pike. Stay tuned for guest appearances as new concerts are announced.

Sistine Chapel Choir comes to St. Michael’s

Sacred Music Concert - photo courtesy of St. Michael's CathedralThe oldest operating choir in the world, the Sistine Chapel Choir, is coming to Toronto. Its official name, Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, describes its purpose – created for the Pope to serve in the Sistine Chapel. For centuries, the music and the ensemble were fiercely guarded and protected by the Church. The choir visits North America with several stops in the United States and Canada; on September 26, St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica will host them, a fitting celebration to launch and ambitious series of concerts in the recently renovated Cathedral.

This choir is very rarely heard except by those who are lucky enough to visit Vatican City during liturgy. It is for this choir that great Renaissance composers like Gregorio Allegri and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina wrote music intended to be sung in the Sistine Chapel itself. In the context of a growing fascination with Renaissance and early music, the Sistine Chapel Choir offers something unique. A direct descendant of the tradition, the choir also boasts access to the historical archives of music at the Vatican. In 2015, the choir released its first-ever recording, Cantate Domino, with performances directly from source materials and recorded in situ. The source in question, a 1661 version of the Allegri Misere, is especially haunting in its simplicity and the absence of the storied high C. Their second recording featured Palestrina and was reviewed by The WholeNote’s own Michael Schwartz.

St. Michael’s Choir School has quite a season of its own ahead, ambitious even by the standards of this storied choir program. Of note is the splitting of Handel’s Messiah into two performances, one for the Christmas season and another for the Easter season. The Choir School does not often perform Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece, and Peter Mahon, senior choir director, looks forward to teaching this music to another generation. Part 1 will be featured in Massey Hall in a contemporary interpretation featuring the 160 voices of the senior choir. In April, Parts 2 and 3 will be presented in a much smaller performance, with Mahon leading an early music interpretation with Baroque instruments and pitch. Alumni and early music specialists Simon Honeyman and Richard Whittall will be featured alto soloists for the performances along with Joel Allison, bass.

St. Michael’s Cathedral music programming is also turning to a new ticketing model, one with no ticket sales. Suggested donations are now the norm for this season. “Anyone can come and may pay only as they are able”, says William O’Meara, St. Michael’s Cathedral organist. “We all hope it welcomes those who may not be able to afford to go to regular concert series in the city.” This admirable choice will bring peace and music to many people who would otherwise not be able to afford the experience.

(And as an aside, St. Michael’s Choir School’s junior choir director, Maria Conkey, also takes on a new role this year, as artistic director of Young Voices Toronto, heading into its 31st season. Stay tuned for more news as Conkey takes the reins.)

Canadian Children’s Opera Company

Speaking of storied children’s and youth choirs, the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (CCOC) heads into its 50th anniversary season under music director Teri Dunn, also a choral instructor at St. Michael’s Choir School! The renowned Ben Heppner will host the CCOC’s October 26 gala concert at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which will feature performances by Richard Margison, Krisztina Szabó, Simone Osborne and Andrew Haji and a chorus made up of company alumni, many of whom have gone on to notable musical careers. Former music and artistic directors John Tuttle and Ann Cooper Gay will also conduct.

Their 50th anniversary season will also include the world premiere of The Monkiest King with music by Alice Ping Yee Ho and libretto by Marjorie Chan. This beloved Chinese folk tale will be brought to life by the CCOC in May 2018 as the CCOC under artistic director Dean Burry continues its pursuit of artistic, educational and cultural excellence.

TSO Doing Its Part

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has several big choral works planned this season, featuring the Toronto Children’s Chorus and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. September 27, 28 and 30, Brahms’ A German Requiem will be performed, including soprano Erin Wall and baritone Russell Braun. Just over a month later, the Toronto premiere of Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation will be performed by the massed power of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Measha Bruggergosman. Victoria Symphony Orchestra music director Tania Miller takes the podium, guiding the words of Suzanne Steele, Canada’s war poet, and set to music by Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan.

I bow to you and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.

As musicians around the region return home to start the new season, I will be there, diligently sitting in rehearsal, seeking that elusive balance of emotion and contemplation through music, and hopefully bringing peace to a few others along the way. Make sure to come out to as many performances as you can – audiences are an essential part of the musical process. See you out there and don’t forget to say hi!

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

The 2017/18 music theatre scene is starting with a bang this month with two large-scale, vastly different projects, both equally exciting.

Miigis

Miigis by Red Sky Performance: Sandra Laronde, concept/direction; Jera Wolfe, choreography; Sophia Lebessis, performer - photo by Donald LeeIn this year of celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday how perfect is it to have a new creation by Red Sky Performance taking up residence at Fort York. Red Sky, based in Toronto, is Canada’s leading company of contemporary Indigenous performance in dance, theatre, music and media.

On September 15 and 16 they are bringing to life the world premiere of Miigis, a fusion of contemporary Indigenous dance and powerful original music, with concept and direction by artistic director Sandra Laronde, choreography by associate artist Jera Wolfe, and design by Julia Tribe, exploring the catalysts, trade routes, and stories of a journey from the Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes and the “seven prophecies marked by miigis.”

The seven prophecies (or seven fires prophecy) are at the heart of the belief of the Anishinaabe people, prophecies that follow seven epochs (and predicting an eighth) in the life of the people of Turtle Island (North America) following the migration of the people from the East Coast into the interior of the continent and encompassing the arrival of the Europeans and the effects of the meeting of the two cultures. The miigis in different tellings of the prophecies are either/both the cowrie shells that mark the various lands where the migrating people should stay and settle, and the prophets that guided them.

Fascinated with Laronde’s choice of this as the heart of the new piece, I asked her a few key questions about the inception of Miigis and her production choices (her responses have been edited for length).

WN: Can you tell me more about the choice of the seven prophecies of miigis as the subject matter for the new work? What is it about the prophecy that you want to communicate through the piece and that you think is important for audiences to learn about/experience now?

SL: Miigis is akin to the holy grail for the Anishinaabe people. We followed it from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes. I’m interested in the third fire prophecy given to us which was ‘to move westward until you come to a place where food grows on the water’. I’m interested in what happened along the travel and water routes, what got exchanged, what happened. The food that ‘grows on water’ is known as manoomin or wild rice which the Anishinaabe are renowned for harvesting. Its harvest life cycle is part of the structure of the Miigis production.

Our seven fires prophecy includes an eighth fire, where society could choose to go down either a dark path or a bright path, and we are in this eighth fire now. All of the warnings are here – now – especially with regard to the environment, nature, and the loss of many species.  The question is can we turn this around? Can the dominant culture move beyond a ‘take, take mentality’?

WN: Why did you choose Fort York as the location for the world premiere, and how will this location set off the work you will be creating? 

SL: We are fortunate to have wonderful partners involved in Miigis, and it is co-commissioned by the City of Toronto, The Bentway Conservancy and Fort York Historic Site. This location is perfect because the Gardiner Expressway was the natural shoreline of Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes. Garrison Creek runs along Fort York which is where the Anishinaabe used its waterways. Of course, Fort York has a lot of history before it became known as a fort, as Anishinabek and Haudenosaunee shared this land that is now known as Toronto. Toronto is a Haudensaunee word that means “where trees grow in the water.” That speaks to quite a beautiful image of Toronto, and its natural beauty.

Fort York has a lot of big open spaces and it has quite a good feel there. Ironically, while creating a high Indigenous content with Miigis, we would hear cannonballs being fired off on a daily basis, and young men and women marching around outside in colonial vestments. At first, it was quite startling to hear cannonballs firing a few times a day. It’s ironic that we have something very colonial happening all around us while we are inside the Blue Barracks creating a work that goes right back to our origin story and our seven fire prophecies. It’s strangely appropriate somehow as we are giving Indigenous voice back to this tract of land.

It’s ideal to be at the Bentway and Fort York because this work has approximately 18 to 20 dancers, both contemporary and traditional, and six live musicians, so a lot of people are involved. We need the space for this outdoor spectacle experience of original live music and dance. The music is extraordinary, rich, Indigenous and surprising. It’s a big ambitious piece in many ways.

WN: Will the piece take place in one place or move about the fort? How do you see this affecting both the creation of the piece and the reaction of the audience? 

SL: We will have a procession from The Bentway area into Fort York, and we will perform outside on a low-rise stage. We all want the feeling of the performance being accessible to audiences. Miigis is a piece to be performed outdoors amidst nature and the Toronto cityscape. This land allows our production to move distances, to cover ground, and to involve a lot of artists involved in the process, including traditional dancers and singers.

I would love audiences to take away images, moments, and knowledge nuggets that swim around in their heads and hearts for years to come, to feel the urgency of what Miigis is about, to experience the Indigenous artistry, and to have a rich sonic experience of Indigenous music. We are very excited to reveal this new terrain of dance and live music that immerses audiences in the power of nature and Indigenous prophecy right here in downtown Toronto.

Miigis plays for two performances only, September 15 and16, with a third music-only concert on September 17. Performances are free.

Life After

Britta Johnson’s musical Life After, which will debut at Canadian Stage September 23 to October 22The other centrepiece of the September season is Life After, a new Canadian musical by Britta Johnson, first seen and widely acclaimed at the Toronto Fringe in 2016, workshopped again last April, and in rehearsal now for its debut at Canadian Stage September 23 to October 22 (at the Berkeley Street Theatre), in a three-way co-production with the Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals. A funny and frank story of love, loss and vivid imagination, Life After follows 16-year-old Alice, left to navigate life after her father, a superstar self-help guru, dies in a car accident. The audience is plunged into Alice’s overactive inner world as she tries to decipher the events that led to that fateful day.

Unusually for a musical, the composer is also the writer of both book and lyrics, and the story is one she says she has been writing since her teens as it draws in part on her own experience of losing her father when she was young.

Reviews of the original Fringe production speak of how moving but also how funny Life After is, calling Johnson’s work revolutionizing and comparing her to Sondheim. In a recent blogpost, director Robert McQueen (who also directed the original Fringe production) wrote that he “can’t wait to get Life After back into the theatre and to invite audiences to hear the unique voice of this truly gifted musical theatre artist.”

Joining McQueen at Canadian Stage is a top-notch creative team and cast featuring emerging star Ellen Denny, Dan Chameroy, Rielle Braid, Tracy Michailidis, Kelsey Verzotti and Trish Lindström; leading the ensemble are Neema Bickersteth, Barbara Fulton, and Johnson’s sister Anika Johnson (who also is the production’s dramaturg).

The production is also marking a number of firsts. Britta Johnson is the inaugural artist chosen to be part of the Musical Stage Company’s new Crescendo series which gives the chosen composer a three-year residency with a commitment to produce three of her new musicals in development over that time. This is also the first Canadian musical to be programmed at Canadian Stage under artistic and general director Matthew Jocelyn. Jocelyn, whose family origins trace back to Johnson’s hometown Stratford, Ontario, caught some of her early student productions  and was immediately struck by the mature, insightful voice in her work, both as librettist and as a composer: “Life After is a searingly beautiful piece of music theatre that we are honoured to have opening our 30th anniversary season,” says Jocelyn.

We are in an exciting era of musical theatre development in Toronto with a growing proliferation of new musical incubators as well as more companies featuring music theatre of various kinds in their seasons. Canadian Stage stands out as breaking new ground in this regard with fully 10 out of 15 productions in their new season featuring music as an integral element of the production. I will be writing more on that next month.

Not Too Late

If you are still feeling the draw of summer days in small-town Ontario, head out to Stratford to see their strong production of Damon Runyon’s classic Guys and Dolls featuring Steve Ross’ perfect Nicely-Nicely Johnson at the Festival Theatre (until Oct 29) or grab the chance to see brilliant Canadian actor Michael Therriault (Golem in the ill-fated LOTR musical) starring in the 1930s musical Me and My Girl at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake (until Oct 15).

Or for something more modern, watch Cirque du Soleil explode into the Port Lands with Volta, their new show about blazing your own trail (Sept 7 to Oct 29).

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.

 

Update 4pm, Aug 31 2017: A previous version of this article referred in one instance to Canadian Stage as 'CanStage'; this error has since been corrected.

In my summer 2017 column I examined the formation and first season of the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra – the Royal Conservatory’s supergroup celebrating cultural diversity and pluralism – and its search for a common language here in Toronto, Canada.

Now, with fall subtly nipping at our heels, two new initiatives aiming to address issues of interest to students, practitioners and audiences of globally sensitive music, are poised to set projects in motion. On the one hand, Polyphonic Ground aspires to bring under a big tent a group of individual “live music presenters committed to building and sustaining Toronto as a global music city.” On the other hand, Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario is a non-profit “dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of modal music traditions of Asia, Africa and Europe.” Both publicly launch in September.

Polyphonic Ground

TurkwazKayla McGee, Small World Music’s managing director, serves as Polyphonic Ground’s community lead. In a mid-August interview she told me why Polyphonic Ground was an obvious next step in the evolution of our region’s global music community. “We at Small World saw there was no real infrastructure for live music presenters, no shared platforms to allow us to work and grow together.” Small World couldn’t do it alone. But the need for setting up such infrastructure became abundantly clear to McGee when she served with Ontario’s Live Music Working Group, an industry association promoting live Canadian music.

Polyphonic Ground’s activities, McGee explains, will include collaborative programming, fundraising, addressing resource issues and professional development such as presenter panels and surveys. “We also want to stress to audiences that the music we collectively present is for the culturally curious and not just for members of a specific group. Many of us are looking for ways to break out of genre and confirmed audience silos … to cross-pollinate audiences.”

That Small World had identified a real need became instantly clear when they put the word out about Polyphonic Ground; 12 small-to-medium-sized organizations responded to the call for “a new initiative to strengthen Toronto’s culturally diverse music industry.” It’s an impressive list: Ashkenaz Foundation, Lula Music and Arts Centre, Batuki Music Society, Good Kind Productions, Link Music Lab, MonstrARTity Creative Community, Music Africa, Revolutions Per Minute, Uma Nota Culture, World Fiddle Day Toronto, iNative and Small World Music Society, the initiative’s catalyst.

I have featured the activities of many of its members individually in this column over the years. Under the Polyphonic Ground banner these presenters could constitute a significant cultural voice. Taken as a whole the numbers are impressive. Collectively they employ 40 people in their operations and present some 300 concerts each year, to an estimated audience of over 300,000.

The press release announcing Polyphonic Ground’s formation — Hear Toronto. Where the World Lives. — sets out its mission systematically: to provide points of connection for artists and audiences; to strengthen industry practices and be a united voice to government, business and industry; to encourage exchange and discovery through a monthly double-bill performance series and professional development initiatives for diverse artistic leaders. The release also acknowledges funding by the Ontario Media Development Corporation, as well as support from MusicOntario, Music Canada Live, City of Toronto and Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO). So at some level the collective has already begun making its case.

SandcatchersPolyphonic Ground serves up the first in its series of monthly double-bill concerts at Revival Bar, 783 College Street. As planned, for each concert, two partner organizations will pair in collaborative programs geared to transcultural musical discovery. The September 14 inaugural concert is spearheaded by Ashkenaz Foundation and Small World Music Society in co-presentation with three groups: Turkwaz (Toronto), GROOZ (Montreal) and Sandcatchers (Brooklyn). Transcultural the evening certainly will be, featuring the Balkan voices of the seasoned JUNO-nominated Turkwaz trio, the Middle Eastern-meets-Appalachian fusion of Sandcatchers, and GROOZ’s spirited Algerian-Québécois septet. (This inaugural concert also celebrates the launch of the 16th annual Small World Music Festival, running September 14 to 17, “bringing Toronto music from around the world and around the corner.”) Further double-bill Polyphonic Ground musical juxtapositions are scheduled for October 12, November 9 and December 14, with different Polyphonic Ground member organizations presenting. I’ll be eagerly following these concerts.

I’ll also be following with interest Polyphonic Ground’s other meaningful initiatives beyond the concert hall. These include access to training and leadership and bolstering professional development opportunities within the music industry. Already announced is its Diversity and Live Music Panel series, supported by Ontario government and industry players; the Developing Diverse Leaders program “with the goal of empowering young talent through mentorship;” as well as its Best Practice Workshops. The titles may not be as catchy as “Middle Eastern-meets-Appalachian fusion” but the need is real.

Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario

While Polyphonic Ground is presenter-driven, Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario focuses on the education of a new generation of musicians – and also audiences. Its stated mission and mandate is also distinctly different: “dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of modal music traditions of Asia, Africa, and Europe.”

Founded in 2017 by two Toronto-based musicians, Persian tar player and teacher Araz Salek and keyboardist, composer and sound designer Jonathan Adjemian, LMWO takes its cues directly from the successful Labyrinth Musical Workshop founded in 2002 at Houdetsi, Crete by leading world musician and educator Ross Daly and running annually since. That successful model has inspired similar workshops in Spain and Italy, establishing an international Labyrinth network.

In a recent telephone interview Salek framed the core reason for establishing Labyrinth Ontario as a belief “in encouraging the study of modal musical traditions in their specific details. [We believe in] embracing the diversity of musical traditions and audiences in the GTA rather than smoothing out particularities of tuning, rhythm or phrasing to cater to an assumed common ground. Our ultimate hope is to see the GTA become a global hub for the study and performance of these traditions, providing institutional support to the many world-class musicians already living here and encouraging a new generation of performers.”

Having begun his music career in Iran, Salek has been active as a tar player and leader in Toronto for about a decade in both Persian ensembles as well as in more eclectic music circles. He has taught and performed at the Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Houdetsi since 2011. Labyrinth Ontario will hold its first annual Toronto training intensive in May 2018. On offer will be a series of three week-long seminars in instrumental technique and in regional modal theory systems. Topics will cover aspects of Afghan, Arab, Azeri, Bulgarian, Greek, Iranian, Kurdish, and Turkish music. Confirmed faculty includes Bassam Bishara (CAN, oud), Ross Daly (Greece, modal music composition), Imamyar Hasanov (USA, Azeri kamancha), Pedram Khavarzamini (CAN, tombak), Ali Akbar Moradi (Iran, Kurdish tanbur), Araz Salek (CAN, tar) and Kelly Thoma (Greece, Cretan lyra). In addition to the workshops, faculty and their students will give concerts each week and moderated panel discussions will be open to the public.

Pedram KhavarzaminiFriday September 15, Labyrinth Ontario holds its Launch Event and Fundraiser at 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media and Education in order to celebrate its upcoming 2018 programming. The concert features performances by oud player and faculty member Bassam Bishara, Bulgarian and Balkan vocal and instrumental ensemble Meden Glas and Iranian Modal Music Ensemble of Toronto. Then a quartet co-led by faculty members tombak master Pedram Khavarzamini and artistic director Araz Salek on tar takes the stage, capped by a set by DJ Cheba Khadijah of Souk Sessions, known for his “Arab techno for the people.”

New Canadian Global Music Orchestra, Polyphonic Ground and Labyrinth Ontario all launched this year. They are all ambitious adventures in imagining new ground on which global music can grow in Ontario soil, in our Ontario souls. They also address, albeit in very different ways, challenges of bridging musical cultures and expanding global musics’ musician and audience base while maintaining the music’s quality.

We’ll keep eyes – and ears – open for just how they engage with all their necessary Toronto region stake-holders consisting of learners, creators, presenters, audiences and funders alike.

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

Update 3pm, Sep 6 2017: A previous version of this article incorrectly implied that Polyphonic Ground received financial support from organizations other than the OMDC, and that McGee encountered barriers among colleagues to setting up the organization. These errors have since been corrected.

As I sit down to put pen to paper (sit down to the keyboard; this is 2017!), and muse on where to start for this September issue, after our two-month hiatus, one question seems to be: What was significant in the summer in the band world? The answer which keeps coming up is just another question: What day was summer on this year? What with cancelled concerts and rained-out festivals I’m going to have to dig back all the way to June for some of my highlights.

Three of the Best

In the June column I mentioned that I was looking forward to attending the final concert of the season of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. I certainly was not disappointed. In particular, the arrangement of Calixa Lavallée’s Bridal Rose Overture by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves surpassed my expectations. In a previous column I had also mentioned that I hoped to meet Wynne Krangle, the clarinet player from Whitehorse who rehearses with the choir over the internet. There she was in the choir, and we managed to have a brief chat after the concert.

Another concert I mentioned in the June issue as one I hoped to attend was that of the Strings Attached Orchestra. Here again the concert exceeded my expectations. The orchestra has developed their Young Composers Initiative (YCI) where they “hope to encourage the writing of contemporary works for strings by composers 16 years of age and younger.” In this concert they performed Viaggio delle Farfalle by Damiano Perrella, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student from Port Credit Secondary School. In simple terms, one might say that it describes the evolution of a caterpillar to a butterfly. The title, translated from the Italian, means “the voyage of flight of the butterflies.” The composer states that he was inspired to write this during a stroll where he came across a butterfly flying away, and was immediately curious as to how he could translate this grace into music. In his words: “I wanted to convey the emotions related with flight starting from a caterpillar.” As Franz Liszt once said: “The musician who is inspired by nature exhales in tones nature’s most tender secrets without copying it. He thinks, he feels, he speaks through nature.” This young composer did just that.

Dan and Lisa Kapp (with Alphorn)The third musical event of the summer which stands out in my memory was by the Resa’s Pieces Concert Band. Not only were they joined for some numbers by Resa’s choir and strings, but they had a featured alphorn solo by none other than Dan Kapp of New Horizons fame. This was Dan’s arrangement for band of Ballad for Alphorn and Frustrated Percussionist by composer Dennis Armitage. He was aided by his wife Lisa who, as the frustrated percussionist, displayed her virtuosity on the triangle, cow bell, small and large cymbal, slide whistle, police whistle, bird call etc. Having never heard of this composer, I checked and learned that he was born in England, but lived most of his life in Switzerland. Hence the interest in the alphorn. We have learned that Dan and Lisa will be performing this work in Lindsay on October 28 with piano and organ accompaniment. Hopefully, we’ll have details of that event in time for the October issue.

Other

For those concerts which were not cancelled because of weather conditions, the common theme was the Canada 150/sesquicentennial. For most that meant a major component of the programs had to be Canadian content. In most of the programs this Canadian content was largely by lesser-known contemporary Canadians. As a form of memorial, almost every concert that I was aware of featured something by Howard Cable. Unfortunately I saw little, if any, 19th-century or early 20th-century Canadian works. Although there are several fine concert band arrangements of his work, the only work by Calixa Lavallée in any concert program which came to my attention was O Canada (other than, as mentioned, Calixa Lavallée’s Bridal Rose Overture at Wychwood).

Trivia

To lighten things up for the coming musical season it might be time for a bit of trivia. In the spring I had the pleasure of attending a fun-raising trivia night for the Amadeus Choir. Based on the popular Trivial Pursuit, attendees formed teams around tables and provided team answers to questions posed. Each team had to choose a team name. There were prizes for correct answers, but there was also a prize for the best team name. The name which struck the chord with me was “La Triviata.”

Anyone who plays a musical instrument knows only too well that one of the perils on the learning curve is learning the meaning of the multitude of stylistic markings which lie beneath the notes on any score telling us how that bit should be played. During a recent rehearsal, while sight reading a new work, I realized that I had never seen a warning of an impending awkward, difficult or tricky passage. Ergo, it is time to add to the lexicon. How about jp or justo pretendo as a recognized warning for such situations?

Hail (and Farewell?)

On a recent TV news broadcast there was a brief showing of US President Trump arriving at some ceremonial function. He was greeted by a military band in full dress regalia with ceremonial trumpeters at the fore. After suitable trumpet flourishes and fanfare, the president stepped down to the tune of the traditional Hail to the Chief. Having heard of a controversy about this particular music, I dug into some notes which I had made some years ago. The first question might be why this music, written by an Englishman? Based on a Scottish Gaelic melody, it was written around 1812 by James Sanderson who added words from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. It seems that Chester Arthur, US President in the late 1880s questioned why important ceremonial occasions would require music by anyone but an American composer. Based on this, a call went out for an American composition. While there may have been other submissions, John Philip Sousa submitted his new Presidential Polonaise. It never caught on, and Hail to the Chief is still the choice. But with his emphasis on buy American, will the current president reconsider? Several renditions of Presidential Polonaise are available on YouTube.

Coming

The Toronto New Horizons bands will be starting back soon with their annual Instrument Exploration Workshop to be held Friday, September 8 at 7:30pm at the Long and McQuade store on Bloor Street. As in the past, this will be an excellent opportunity for anyone, considering taking up music or getting back after an absence, to consider which instrument might appeal to them. Just a few years ago the first New Horizons band was formed in Toronto with modest hopes. This year there will be a second beginner band bringing the total number of NH bands in Toronto to ten. Classes begin September 11.

On Tuesday, October 10, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds presents the first concert of their season in the series, 59 Minute Soiree. Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave, Toronto (just north of Eglinton). These informal musical entertainments feature a variety of lighter music.

The Hannaford Youth Band is preparing for an interesting season including a concert with the West Humber Steel Band in their “Rising Stars Brass and Steel” concert in the new year. For anyone interested in joining this great band, auditions are Saturday, September 16. Applications may be submitted online.

The York Regional Brass are preparing for another season of brass band music. They are looking for new members and would welcome inquiries. They rehearse in Aurora on Wednesday evenings. If interested, contact Peter Hussey at pnhussey@rogers.com.

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

Lula Lounge at 1587 Dundas W. in Toronto describes itself as a “music club, venue, bar, restaurant, community centre, ground zero to the exploding world music scene in Toronto ... home to Latin, salsa, jazz, reggae, indie, and more.” So when a place like that shuts up shop in the middle of summer, people notice.

We certainly did. So we decided to ask José Ortega, Lula co-founder and artistic director, what was up.

WholeNote: Can you say something about the reno — is it mainly cosmetic or also functional?

Ortega: It’s a facelift, for sure: it vastly improves the washrooms and installs a wheelchair accessible washroom on the main floor. The reno will also give us more room in the lobby area, which Lula patrons know can become really crowded on a busy night. But it’s more than just a facelift. Making Lula more accessible will let us serve clients and communities better and more safely.

And in terms of your overall Lula mandate and your relationship with the surrounding community?

We do a lot of educational programming for youth and host many public meetings. The barrier free, universal washroom will make it easier for clients of all ages with mobility challenges to enjoy the music and activities presented here. Lula programming is done by the not-for-profit organization Lula Music and Arts Centre, which allowed us to get help from the City of Toronto Culture Build fund as well as from Enabling Accessibility, a national program. It’s encouraging because we see both the municipal and federal government stepping up to invest in cultural projects that serve diverse communities. 

Lula LoungeSo what can we look forward to when you re-open September 9?

This is the second stage (the first was removing the drop ceiling in 2015 to reveal the true height of the main room) of what we hope will be a multiphase project. Within the next couple of years, we’re hoping to open up a enlarged mezzanine area so that we can increase our capacity and can accommodate more music lovers in an even better, more beautiful venue!

I recognize what you say about encouraging support from the city’s Culture Build fund and the federal Enabling Accessibility program. But what kind of risk is undertaking something like this at a moment in time when local street level venues in the city seem to be under siege on many fronts?

That’s an interesting question. We want to make sure that as leaders at city hall put forth the idea of a music city, that they understand that our city of music includes salsa, reggae, samba, jazz, classical Indian, soca and many other genres. Toronto can be a leader in all of these areas, not just in pop and indie forms. The folks down at the city’s music office have been very open to hearing about this but we need to keep delivering this message.

I sometimes get the feeling that various topdown initiatives intent on “making us into a music city” take priority over initiatives to nurture the music city we already are.

We’ve been very involved with the efforts to look at the challenges facing Toronto music venues and have been working with the Toronto Music Office, TMAC and other venues to see explore how bylaws and enforcement of those bylaws can create almost impossible situations for responsible live music venue operators. We’ve also been working with Music Canada Live on their Regional Advisory Committee on Toronto Venue Health. We do see a need to recognize what grassroots venues contribute to the culture and economy of our city. It’s easy to take this stuff for granted but it takes a huge amount of energy, money and dedication to keep a music venue going. 

So you’re hopeful?

We’ve been at this for 15 years and have learned by trial and error how to survive in this market with its challenges and benefits. We’re feeling like the model we’re working with is supporting our mandate and should allow us to present live music for many years to come.

I noticed, from another story we’re following, Lula’s name among the organizations signing up for the new Polyphonic Ground collective. What’s your take on that?

We’re part of the Polyphonic Ground collective, which is currently a pilot project led by Small World Music to see what potential exists for small presenters who are serving diverse audiences and artists, to work together to lobby for resources, share best practices and develop audiences together. We’ll see where it goes but it’s bringing to light some interesting issues about access within the music industry.

On October 13, we’ll be hosting the first of a Polyphonic Ground panel series, which Lula has helped to put together, alongside the City of Toronto, Music Canada Live, Music Canada and Music Ontario. The series builds on a panel talk that we organized back in May and will look and diversity and inequities in the music industry. Ideally the series of conversations will lead to some clear recommendations about how to ensure that the festivals, conferences, funding, etc., better reflect the makeup of Toronto. As I say, we’ll see where it goes.

2209 WorldThis summer column focuses on an ensemble so new that at press time it hasn’t played a single concert, and yet with concerts already booked into next year!

The New Canadian Global Music Orchestra (we’ll call it NCGMO for short) was formed in late 2016 and gives its debut concert at Koerner Hall on June 2, after rehearsing and composing music for months. The orchestra includes 12 professional musicians each hailing from a different country, “from Peru to Burkina Faso to Cuba to Ukraine,” but who currently make their homes in the Toronto and Montreal areas. Then it goes on tour in the summer and fall.

Conceived by Mervon Mehta, executive director of Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatory, and hosted by the RCM, the NCGMO is, in the words of its host, “a major initiative by the RCM which celebrates the cultural diversity and pluralism of our great country as it turns 150, connecting us and communicating in ways that words, politicians and spiritual leaders cannot, and helping us to find a common language.”

To helm this ambitious undertaking, the RCM picked JUNO Award-winning trumpeter, composer and bandleader David Buchbinder as NCGMO’s artistic director. Buchbinder’s career bristles with varied performance and intercultural projects, on both large and small scales. Initially he was known for his music groups, such as the Flying Bulgars, Nomadica and Odessa/Havana, and as the founding artistic director (1995) of the flourishing Ashkenaz Festival. He has subsequently produced the shows Shurum Burum Jazz Circus, Andalucia to Toronto, Tumbling into Light and Jerusalem Salon, as well as award-winning scores for stage and screen.

He was also the founder, in 2010 of Diasporic Genius, founded on the premise that new hybrids can emerge from dramatically different musical traditions and art forms in a city like Toronto. The organization seeks to interweave communities and art forms that are typically estranged, to bring about personal and civic transformation, embodying in action “the notion of strength through diversity.”

All this activity has earned him a reputation as a leading figure in the Canadian world music and jazz scenes. In 2016 Buchbinder was recognised as a “cultural inventor” when he was presented with the Toronto Arts Council William Kilbourn Award for “artistic contributions to creative city building.” 

In NCGMO’s official video trailer, Mervon Mehta lays out an ambitious, aspirational roadmap for the project. “We’re going deeper into a holistic [conception] of musical form rather than a fusion of musical styles. This is just what we need right now. We need to show people that, yes, we can work together and form a new entity with people from around the world.”

Buchbinder in the same trailer, as an experienced intercultural music director, is a bit more cautious, but just a bit: “It’s always a bit of a fool’s game to claim you’re doing something in music that’s never been done before – because it’s all been done in a way – but doing a process just like this is pretty rare.” He then proposes two initial roadblocks to success: “First of all, how do you make all these instruments work together? Second…how do you get them to speak to each other?”

Good questions and, without missing a beat, he offers solutions. “Well, you don’t try to make all the traditions directly speak to each other,” he says. Their approach, he explains, is to have the ensemble’s music filtered through each of the individual composers in the ensemble. “My gig” he says “is to coordinate things so that the band has a [cohesive] sound.”

Having explored the ever-changing subject of when and when not to attempt to bridge the boundaries of different music cultures from many angles in this column, I personally recognize and applaud the general goodwill and Canadian multiculturalism at work here. On the other hand, even before its premiere concert, NCGMO has prompted healthy dialogue on social media from invested performers in this field, based on media releases and video trailers. One commentator challenged the notion of “composing” for this combination of global instruments, suggesting a privileging of European orchestral culture at work. How will the compositions produced share credit with those whose cultures include a large proportion of improvisation, or those that interpret melody or structure without an externally imposed roadmap? Furthermore, will the differences between urban and high art cultures vs. rural and vernacular traditions be addressed?

Another concern raised: if you want to work as a single orchestra, compromise is necessary – but whose standard/s will govern? And how will writing music on staff notation as a modus operandi impact on the musicians in the group not fluent in it, or for whom such notation does not work for their instrument or performance tradition? And what happens in terms of the potential watering down and glossing over of the individual musical traditions represented, including those with tunings, tonal modes, idioms and performance contexts which diverge from those commonly practised by more dominant cultures? Furthermore, will some instruments lose things inherent to their cultural and musical identity when subsumed within an ensemble such as this?

Concerns such as these underline how complex and sensitive such a project is, and why it has rarely been tried on this scale. All the more reason, perhaps, for undertaking it as a crucible for their exploration.

Returning to Buchbinder’s initial observation about nothing ever being entirely new, self-avowed transcultural acoustic ensemble musicking – the kind NCGMO does – already has roots in this country and elsewhere. A ready example is the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra. Founded in 2001, it is going strong today. Before it, both the Vancouver World Music Collective and the ASZA acoustic quartet flourished in the 1990s, encouraging the appetite for hybrid music in the region. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Yo-Yo Ma’s pioneering, Grammy Award-winning Silk Road Ensemble here. Formed in 2000, it claims performers and composers from more than 20 countries. (The group, which set the bar high for cross-cultural understanding and innovation, was featured in my article Silk Road Stories: Spinning a Musical Web in The WholeNote in September 2015.)

Over the course of the last few months, NCGMO members have shared their music traditions with one another in rehearsals, composition sessions and workshops. I arranged to speak with Buchbinder in person, now that things are moving towards their first performance, about what it has taken to reach this point.

“Selecting the participant musicians was a lengthy process, one which involved a large number of potential candidates. The NCGMO audition call went out last fall. We had three rounds of auditions with more than 100 Canadian musicians, originally from 47 countries, applying to be in the orchestra, ending up with the 12 musicians we have today.”

What were the criteria used to choose the musicians? “We wanted to spread the music traditions represented as widely as possible round the globe,” replied Buchbinder. “We were also looking for musicians with a wide range of musical experience, open minds, and playing at a high and exciting level of musicianship.”

In the end, the chosen musicians include some who are established on the local world music, scene such as sitarist Anwar Khurshid, who also plays flute, esraj, tabla and harmonium, and Brazilian percussionist and vocalist Aline Morales. But it’s only by seeing the complete personnel list, however, that we can get an impression of NCGMO’s aspirational global reach: Luis Deniz (saxophone), Lasso Salif Sanou (Fulani flute, kambélé n’goni, tamanin, balafon, djembe, doum-doum, vocals), Paco Luviano (bass), Demetrios Petsalakis (oud, guitar, lyra, bouzouki, riq, Greek baglama), Padideh Ahrarnejad (tar), Sasha Boychouk (woodwinds, ethnic Ukrainian flutes), Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk (Métis fiddling, jaw harp, spoons, vocals); Matias Recharte (drums, percussion, cajón, conga, timbales); and, rounding out the Asian branch of the orchestra, Dorjee Tsering (dranyen, flute, piwang, yang chin, Tibetan vocals) and Dora Wang (bamboo flute, flute, hulusi, xiao, panpipe, ocarina).

I asked him about the biggest challenges of the process so far. “Creating a cohesive ensemble where musicians can connect on cultural and musical common ground,” he said. “Beginning with meetings at the end of last year, we began rehearsals in earnest in January of 2017. We used group-building exercises I’ve developed over the years including a language game.”

(We can see Buchbinder briefly conducting one of these games in the video trailer I mentioned earlier.)

There have been three phases to the group’s ongoing development, he says. “The first includes group building, creating a common language, exploring musical ideas. The second focuses on composition, since most of these performers hadn’t experienced working in this sort of environment, and exploring ways of approaching intercultural musical development. The third involves holding intensive rehearsals and then shaping the works each composer/musician developed. Each member of the group worked on a musical idea; most of the ideas were then arranged by me.”

I asked him how how they had negotiated the issue of notation, which could potentially conflict with the multiple oral traditions represented within the group.

“I was a bit surprised to find that eight of the twelve read Western staff notation well. Notation gives us the opportunity to specify musical intention [and to record it for performance]. Given the limitations of rehearsal time, in this phase of our work we’ve created charts on paper that serve as blueprints for performance. The big challenge is how to have a musical meeting in every piece, allowing each musician’s voice to emerge from among the ensemble – a process which includes adaptation and making space [for the individual within the collective].”

“After all, the notes are only a starting place. I think of the ideal texture as cultural heterophony, where everyone gets to perform with their own accent. The process of defining each musician’s voice is actually happening on two levels. On one level each composition is one person’s own; on the other each other person is putting their own shimmer on it.”

What about future directions for NCGMO? “One of our members, Alyssa [Delbaere-Sawchuk], is Indigenous, and that’s something I want to explore further. One of the essentials of cross-cultural creation is the idea of specificity, of individual identity. I completely believe in the power of intercultural creations, and it is powered by individual stories.”

The emergence of NCGMO signals a growing general societal awareness around embracing musical multiplicity. It also signals the recognition by an elite music organization, focused in the past almost exclusively on Euro-American music, of the reality of changing Canadian demographics and music markets, and the responsibility to broaden its musical landscape.

On the Road

After NCGMO’s inaugural June 2 performance on its RCM home turf, the show goes on the road. On June 30, it opens Toronto’s Canada 150 celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square. Then it travels west down Hwy. 401 to TD SunFest in London, Ontario, in downtown Victoria Park, where on Sunday, July 9, it plays two festival-headlining performances. Begun in 1994, Sunfest is a non-profit community arts organization “dedicated to promoting cross-cultural awareness and understanding of the arts,” and this year its main festival happens July 6 to 9. I can attest it is worth the drive to London to catch the small-town feel and the world music-centred programs.

NCGMO next appears in the evening program on Friday, July 14, at North York’s annual Cultura Festival at Mel Lastman Square. Curated by world-music programmer Derek Andrews, who has been on the world-music file for decades, Cultura is a free family-friendly outdoor festival presenting every Friday evening in July. Expect the eclectic. A sampling: the Korean folk pop of Coreyah, JUNO-winning Okavango Orchestra, and Peterborough Celtic fiddling by Donnell Leahy.

On July 15, NCGMO performs at the Hillside Community Festival held in the idyllic Guelph Lake Conservation Area in rural Ontario. It will give a mainstage performance as well as workshops at this festival that “celebrates creativity through artistic expression, community engagement and environmental leadership.” I attended years ago and eagerly soaked up the positive community vibe in the verdant park setting.

On July 23, the orchestra takes the afternoon stage at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre during the Canada Scene festival, produced by the RCM and presented in collaboration with Ottawa Chamberfest. Canada Scene is a vast festival aiming to be “a living portrait – a daring, eclectic reflection of contemporary Canadian arts and culture.” It includes “1,000 talented artists in music, theatre, dance, visual and media arts, film, circus, culinary arts and more for an extraordinary national celebration.” With some dozen concerts tagged “World” and “Folk,” I’m seriously tempted to visit our nation’s capital to take in the musical wealth. Fall dates have also been announced for NCGMO, including a recording session at the Banff Centre.

I wish the fledgling NCGMO beautiful sounds, exciting experiences and lasting friendships. And I wish all you, dear readers, a relaxing, music-filled summer.

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

2209 NewExperiencing music and sound in different places and environments is increasingly becoming a regular part of the summer experience. Starting things off this year in early June will be a new collaboration between Continuum, Jumblies Theatre and Evergreen Brick Works in their event Four Lands, which combines both a concert and an interactive installation on June 3. The concert will feature three new works by composers Jason Doell, Erik Griswold and Juliet Palmer. Palmer is also involved in a few other intriguing projects and collaborations this summer, so I contacted her to find out more about what was new and upcoming. Her piece for the Four Lands project is titled Quarry, an homage to the large quarry hole on site at the Evergreen Brick Works where the performances will occur. At one time in Toronto’s history, stones from this quarry were excavated for both city homes as well as iconic buildings such as Queen’s Park and Massey Hall. Palmer’s piece is created from a series of texts written by participants from Jumblies community projects across the country, as well as Toronto-based participants, with the theme of excavating memory to envision possible worlds as well as describe the current worlds they live in.

Sweat: Envisioning change in one’s life and living circumstances is a theme that carries through into another of Palmer’s works that will be widely performed this summer – her opera, Sweat, with libretto by Anna Chatterton. Originally workshopped in 2013 by Soundstreams and performed in New York in the fall of 2016, the piece has undergone several rewrites, including changes of perspective in the storyline and the addition of more characters. This summer, it will be the intrepid Bicycle Opera Project that takes the piece to the next level, performing the work in eight communities throughout the province, starting in Hamilton on July 15 and 16 and concluding in Toronto from August 3 to 6. The company distinguishes itself by cycling from one performance to the next and is committed to bringing Canadian-written opera into smaller communities in intimate spaces.

Sweat takes on a critical global issue, weaving stories from around the world of women’s experiences working in the garment industry. Palmer was inspired by the questions “who makes my clothes, and what are the dreams and ambitions of those whose hands created the clothes I’m wearing?” It’s a diverse cast, representing the different communities impacted by the garment industry, and is written for nine performers – a chorus of five plus four soloists, with libretto in English, Cantonese, Ukrainian and Hungarian. During the performance in New York, Palmer realized that the “main character” of the piece is really the workers who are portrayed by the chorus – an approach outside the usual expectations for opera, where the focus is typically on soloists. Palmer elaborates: “The chorus is where you experience the sense of collective action and cooperation and the strength that comes from building on each other’s sound. Musically, there are a lot of patterns, some machine-like, reflecting the idea that you’re part of a big process which can be depressing, and then on the other hand, when you’re working for change, your small action builds on the small actions of others, which make a compelling voice that is impossible to ignore.”

Unsilent: The third summer project for Palmer is her involvement in the Unsilent Project, a new work being created through a collaboration with the National Youth Orchestra, Signal Theatre and its artistic director Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree) and the family of the late Piikani Blackfoot spoken-word artist Zaccheus Jackson. Palmer is writing a piece using one of Jackson’s poems to be performed by two spoken-word Indigenous artists from Saskatchewan, while the other composer, Ian Cusson (Métis), is also creating a piece from one of Jackson’s poems. The project is inspired by the vision that there can be no reconciliation until we all work together, one of the important principles that came from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. Orchestral performances will be interpolated among the spoken word compositions, and together with projected images, the end result will be a performance piece celebrating the life and creative power of Zaccheus Jackson and the themes so important to him – healing, empowerment and hope. Palmer is eagerly anticipating the outcome of combining orchestral traditions with Indigenous spoken-word performances. The piece is part of the NYO’s summer tour, with the Toronto performance happening on July 25 at Koerner Hall.

Barbara Croall’s Wiikondiwin: Another opportunity to hear the worlds of Indigenous performance traditions and European musical forms coming together will be in a new opera written by composer Barbara Croall of Odawa First Nation. The work is entitled Wiikondiwin, which means feast or feasting. The idea originated with Valerie Kuinka, one of the directors of the Highlands Opera Studio. In our conversation, she told me that after listening to a lecture by Peter Schleifenbaum, owner of the Haliburton Forest reserve, on the impacts of climate change on the forest, Kuinka imagined an opera that would portray the forest environment of 150 years ago, of current times, and of 150 years into the future. She approached Croall with the idea, as well as production collaborators L’Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. The first workshop performance will take place this summer on August 19 in the Haliburton Highlands area, with a full premiere to take place in Montreal on December 5.

Croall proceeded first by writing a story from these initial ideas from Kuinka, out of which came the libretto and music. It is set for a core of six performers – three opera singers (drawn from participants in the Highlands Opera Studio Program) and three Indigenous performers who will perform vocally and play drum. One of these performers will be Croall herself, who will also play the pipigwan, an Anishinaabe cedar flute. The libretto for the opera uses Odawa, Métis French and English. The other main performing component will be community choirs: for the performance in August, choirs from the Haliburton Highlands area will participate, with choirs from the Montreal area joining in for the December performance. The story of the opera revolves around the response of forest animals to the earth’s suffering due to the abuses caused by humans. They hold a feast, a wiikondiwin, and decide that their solution will be to infiltrate the human world to effect change. Short excerpts from the opera will be presented as a sneak preview on July 29 at the Elora Festival at the “With Glowing Hearts” concert and at a special private event on June 28 hosted by the Lieutenant Governor.

Stratford Summer Music: Croall will also be appearing at Stratford Summer Music, performing a work titled Morning during the “Music for an Avon Morning – A First Nations Experience” event happening from August 4 to 6. During a lecture she will give on August 4, she will also perform and discuss how the history of the pipigwan guides her creative work. Another intriguing performance at Stratford Summer Music will be the work 100 Very Good Reasons Why_for 100 Spatialised Electric Guitars on July 23, an experience created by composer/guitarist Tim Brady. For this event, 100 local electric guitarists, both amateur and professional, will be joining Brady in an installation-like concert, where the audience is invited to walk amongst the performers on the floor of the Allman Arena.

 

Other Summer Festival Highlights

Luminato: Continuing with the theme of new music created by Indigenous performers, there are two works at the Luminato Festival that deserve mention. On June 16, Jeremy Dutcher, a Toronto-based composer and vocal artist with Wolastoq First Nation roots will be performing his unique compositions created from melodies he transcribed from the oldest known field recordings of the Indigenous peoples along the St. John (Wolastoq) River basin. Then on June 22-24, Signal Theatre will present a dance-opera entitled Bearing, with Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree) working as co-director alongside Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) and librettist Spy Dénommé-Welch (Anishnaabe). The music will include works by Claude Vivier, as well as a commissioned work from Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan. The National Youth Orchestra will appear as performers, along with mezzo-soprano Marion Newman (Kwagiulth and Stó:lo).

Ottawa Chamberfest: At the Ottawa Chamberfest, Sweat will be performed twice, on July 23 (Almonte) and 24 (Ottawa). On July 25, the Architek Percussion ensemble will explore the sounds of minimalist electroacoustic music using a range of percussion instruments. On July 31, the festival’s annual New Music Now series returns with three concerts, including works by composers Current, Schafer, Sokolović, Llugdar, Schmidt, Palej, Daniel and others. Performers include the Canadian Art Song Project, Penderecki String Quartet, Land’s End Ensemble and VC2. The Cris Derksen Trio performance on August 1 will include master hoop dancer Nimkii Osawamick and percussionist Jesse Baird. The Canadian premiere of Stewart Goodyear’s Piano Quartet will be performed on August 2 by Ensemble Made in Canada.

Harbourfront and Westben: Summer Music in the Garden at Harbourfront features two concerts of new music. On June 29, cellist Elinor Frey will perform Ricercar by Linda Catlin Smith and, on August 17, the Taktus marimba duo will play arrangements of music by Ann Southam and Philip Glass. On July 21 at the Westben Festival in Campbellford, the emerging pianist Rashaan Allwood’s interest in birdsong will be highlighted. This will include his own interactive performance adaptations of two of Messiaen’s piano works, with further inspiration drawn from artworks he commissioned from Avery Kua. These images will be projected along with other photos and videos during the performance. In addition, on July 21 and 22 the festival will also offer an opportunity to experience a soundwalk led by Parker Finley, an activity focused on listening to the environment.

Music From Scratch: Contact Contemporary Music, in partnership with the Canadian Music Centre, is once again offering Music From Scratch, their free creative workshop for youth from July 10 to 14. This year, guest facilitator Tina Pearson will join Jerry Pergolesi and the Contact ensemble to delve into creative listening, writing, vocal performance, movement and improvisation exercises, with a final concert on July 14. Pearson brings her work influenced by the Deep Listening tradition of Pauline Oliveros and her unique explorations in Biospheric Art Practice and Sonic Mimicry to the participants. She will also lead a Deep Listening workshop for members of the public at the CMC on July 8 and perform on July 16 with the Contact Ensemble in a collaboration entitled Without a Net. Also, come Labour Day weekend, you’ll want to check out Contact’s lineup for their annual INTERsection event.

Additional Summer Quick Picks

June 3: Spectrum Music presents Tales from Turtle Island. Spectrum composers create music to playwright Yolanda Bonnell’s pieces. Performers include members of the Métis Fiddler Quartet, DJ/electronic artist Classic Roots, who will also perform a solo work with Pow Wow dance, and violinist Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk performing an excerpt of her own work Memere Colibri.

June 10: Blythwood Winds presents “Voices of Canadian Women,” with works by Höstman, Beecroft, Catlin Smith, Raum, Richardson-Schulte, Simms and Sokolović.

June 17: Canadian Women Composers Project. She’s In the House! Works by Coulthard, Weaver, Sokolović, Duncan, Skarecky and others.

July 10, 17 & 31: Church of the Holy Trinity. Music Mondays. Concerts include works by Canadian composers Burge (10th), Murphy-King (17th) and Doolittle (31st).

Jun 22: “Crossroads.” Works by Ivana Popovic and Michael Gfroerer.

Jun 23 & 25: Jumblies Theatre’s Touching Ground Festival, featuring Under the Concrete composed by Martin van de Ven.

July 5: Music and Beyond Festival. The Kronos Quartet performs original and arranged works including pieces by Canadians Nicole Lizée and Tanya Tagaq (arr. Jacob Garchik).

August 4-6: Electric Eclectics: an outdoor festival with an eclectic program of avant-garde and crossover musicians, as well as art installations, DJs and films.

August 9-12: Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES), 2017. The featured artist is Quebec sound artist Chantal Dumas, whose work encompasses production of audio fiction and docufiction, sound installation, composition and sound design.

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

 

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