The winter musical theatre season is off to a thriving start with the world premiere of Mike Ross and Sara Wilson’s new musical Rose winning over audiences at Soulpepper. Based on Gertrude Stein’s only children’s book, The World is Round, this is very much a children’s or family show, except that Rose’s solo songs transcend that context through their philosophy and aching vulnerability, as she tries to understand who, what, where, and why, she is, so that she can finally say her name out loud.

Although I have never seen Soulpepper’s famous Alligator Pie shows, I imagine that the staging style of Rose draws from those years of experience – a talented ensemble of actors and musicians happily playing myriad parts, slipping in and out of characters and costumes with the strum of a guitar. Hailey Gillis is superb as Rose, awkward and gawky as only a nine-year-old little girl can be; but beautiful in stillness and intensity as she focuses passionately on the goals of her adventure. Peter Fernandes is an excellent foil as Willie, her best friend, who is not bothered by existential questions at all until the day Rose is missing from school. The music is accessible and fun, and the show has huge potential though it seems still to be teetering between two plausible personalities, and hasn’t yet decided exactly how serious or tongue-in-cheek the ensemble should be. (Rose runs until February 24 at the Young Centre).

From family theatre to rock and roll, Jukebox Hero, based on the songs of Foreigner, notably I Want To Know What Love Is, Jukebox Hero and Waiting For A Girl Like You has its official world premiere at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, February 20 to 24, after successful workshop performances this past summer in Calgary and Edmonton. A dream come true for Foreigner founder and front man Mick Jones, the musical idea was inspired by a passing comment from Diana Ross back in the 1980s and is now coming to life through the partnering of the band with Canadian producer and promoter Jeff Parry (Annerin Theatricals) who says he is determined to develop more new musicals in Alberta where he is based. Directed by Broadway veteran Randy Johnson, with a book by prolific British duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, there is Canadian content on the team with music direction by Mark Camilleri and choreography by Tracy Flye as well as a Canadian cast featuring Geordie Brown and Richard Clarkin.

Sting. Photo by Eric Ryan AndersonMirvish is also presenting a very exciting Canadian premiere: an exclusive production created for Toronto of Sting’s 2014 musical The Last Ship; at the Princess of Wales Theatre, February 9 to March 24. A deeply personal story for Sting, who grew up in Newcastle, and based on the successful “work-in” staged by the Upper Strathclyde Shipbuilders in Scotland in the 1970s, the show tells the story of a young man who returns home after 17 years at sea to find that the local shipyard is closing and no one knows what will come next, although a half built ship looms over the working class homes below. Sting will star in the role of Jackie White, the union leader who, with his wife, rallies the community in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Original music and lyrics by Sting along with some of his best loved songs (Island of Souls, All This Time, When We Dance) form the score, and the book is a reworking of the original by director Lorne Campbell. This new version recently completed a sold-out run at Newcastle’s Northern Stage and a successful 12 -week UK tour. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a new North American life for the show. The Celtic-influenced music and theme irresistibly make me think of Come From Away, another wonderful story of a community coming together to do the impossible.

The Kiss of the Spider Woman

Jumping into the hotbed of musical theatre creation that Toronto has become, is a new company: Eclipse Theatre Company (ETC), founded by Canadian Broadway star Chilina Kennedy, artistic producer, Evan Tsitsias, artistic director, and choreographer/performer Sara-Jeanne Hosie, executive director.

ETC’s mandate is to create site responsive work: reworking traditional musicals in non-traditional settings; producing new Canadian works; and laying the groundwork for future site responsive work through their annual Lab where musical theatre creators are invited to experiment and create in a hothouse atmosphere. The Lab had its first outing in 2018, and their first full production will be Kander and Ebb’s The Kiss ofThe Spider Woman, at Toronto’s old Don Jail, starring Tracy Michailidis, Kawa Ada, and Jonathan Winsby.

Kiss of the Spider Woman famously began its road to a Tony Award-winning run on Broadway here in Toronto in 1992 under the banner of Livent. Directed by Hal Prince, it starred Chita Rivera as the Spider Woman and Brent Carver, who leapt to a new level of stardom and international recognition as Molina, the gay window dresser imprisoned for a “sexual indiscretion,” who survives the awful reality of his cell by escaping into Hollywood-fuelled fantasies of another world ruled by Aurora, the Spider Woman of the title.

Intrigued by the emergence of this company, their mandate, and their choice of flagship production, I asked two of the founders – Kennedy and Tsitsias – a few questions about their goals and what we might expect when Kiss of the Spider Woman opens in March.

WN: Why a new musical theatre company now – and in Toronto?

Eclipse: We are all music theatre performers and creators and wanted to contribute our share to the Canadian musical theatre landscape. Creating opportunities for both artists and audience was something that compelled us. Canadian musicals are exploding right now and we couldn’t be happier to be part of that ecology. We are also strong advocates for creation and wanted a chance to incubate new work to add to the expanding canon.

How did you come together to share this goal and why is creating “site responsive theatre” at the heart of your mandate?

Chilina: When I originally had the idea to start the journey to what is now the Eclipse Theatre Company, I wanted to bring on board an artistic director who had a strong and passionate vision for the company and who would help add a new colour to the already rich theatre scene in Toronto. Evan was the perfect choice and I have been excited by his ideas from our very first phone conversation. The addition of Sara-Jeanne Hosie made the perfect triumvirate. Her business skills mixed with a smart and creative artistic mind made her an easy and clear partner for Evan and I.

Evan: I have spent the better of ten years travelling around the world creating site responsive theatre in countries like Germany and Taiwan, usually creating original pieces that spoke to the history of the space we were creating and performing in and making parallels to what is happening now in the world. I wanted to bring that to Toronto, which has a rich history and is full of stories itself. We wanted to animate spaces that highlight that history and bring awareness to those spaces. It’s also a matter of “Why spend all that time and effort to recreate a space for a piece inside a theatre when we can find an actual space that exists and bring theatre to it?” Of course, this poses its own challenges, but in the end it’s all worth it for this magical experience.

Why did you choose Kiss of the Spider Woman as your inaugural show, and Toronto’s old (former) Don Jail as the performance location? Which came first? 

Evan: They kind of went hand in hand. I started by Googling “interesting spaces” in Toronto to see what would inspire or trigger an idea, while at the same time I created a list of shows that interested me. When I saw the Don Jail, those two ideas collided thrillingly into this production.

Kawa Ada in The Kiss of the Spider Woman. Photo by John GundyImmersive and site specific shows are on the rise again – what in your approach to using the space will be unique? Also, will the performers and/or the audience be stationary or moving around the site? 

Without giving much away, there is definitely a walk-through element to the piece pre-show that will be immersive. We are also doing our best to animate the space fully during the show to make that space a character in itself. The space, though extremely high, is still intimate and has the perfect bones to make the audience feel like they are experiencing the show inside the actual environment.

Given that the show will be in a non-traditional space, how big a band/orchestra will you have, and will they be set in one place or able to move to follow the staging if necessary? 

We are using a full orchestra and at the moment they are staying stationary since that space is an extremely tall echo-filled chamber so we need to control the sound as much as possible.

The run of Kiss of the Spider Woman is very short, just seven performances from March 6 to 10. Why such a short run?

This particular Eclipse “event” is something we want to produce annually. It is based on the New York City Centre’s Encores Series, where, although it’s “concert” style, it is still as fully realized as possible, but with scaled-back costumes and set, which is one of the reasons we are staging it in the Don Jail (where we are literally in the set). The short run is a way to produce these larger-scale shows on a more limited budget, otherwise it might not be possible. Musicals are extremely expensive!

How does this first production connect with the two other main elements of your season the Lab and the new Canadian show you will present next?

The Lab was an exhilarating project and the true definition of site responsive. We brought the creators to a loft we rented in Leslieville and, without ever seeing it until the first day of the week long project, they entered the space and responded to it, writing scenes and songs about the space itself and the objects they found in it. The results were tremendous and it was a magical event. We are now incubating a show from one of the scenes that was written that week based on a toy they found in the space. The other project is still in development, but again, we will respond to the piece appropriately once it’s completed. Even if it ends up being in a traditional theatre, we will do our best to create a space and environment that feels as immersive as possible.

Kiss of the Spider Woman runs March 6 to 10 at the Don Jail administrative building. For more information go to eclipsetheatre.ca.

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

CONTINUING TO FEB 9: Tapestry Opera/Theatre Passe Muraille. Hook Up. Opera meets music theatre in this hard-hitting new opera about the issue of consent by Julie Tepperman and Chris Thornborrow featuring a fabulous young cast of crossover performers directed by Richard Greenblatt in his opera-directing debut.

FEB 14 TO 24: Canadian Music Theatre Project/Theatre Sheridan. My Bonnie Lass. A first look at another new Canadian musical, this one with a Scottish theme, by Johnny Reid and Matt Murray.

FEB 21 TO 24: Canadian Stage. who we are in the dark. Peggy Baker joins forces with Jeremy Gara and Sara Neufeld of the award-winning Canadian band Arcade Fire, seven dancers, and light and projection designers, for the world premiere of what promises to be an exciting new collaboration

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.

First of all, a somewhat belated Happy New Year to all the music fans out there; I hope 2019 holds a lot of happy listening and new (and/or old) musical discoveries for everyone.

Departures

Since The WholeNote last went to press, the jazz world suffered significant losses with the deaths of singer Nancy Wilson on December 13 and trombonist Urbie Green, on December 31. While the passing of these two giants received ample and timely coverage in the jazz press, I feel it only right to use some of this space to briefly look back on the long careers of these artists who brought so much listening pleasure to us all.

Nancy Wilson Cannonball AdderleyNancy Wilson: Wilson died at 81 after a long battle with kidney cancer. She retired from performance in 2011 after a career which began in the mid-50s and spanned five decades. She was born in 1937 near Columbus, Ohio and her friendship with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley had a major impact on her early success. He urged her to move to New York, which she did in 1959, and helped secure for her the services of manager John Levy, which in turn led to her signing with Capitol records. Her first massive hit, Guess Who I Saw Today? was so successful it led Capitol to release five Wilson albums between 1960 and 1962 and she never looked back.

Her smoky voice, overall style and versatility – she could sing jazz standards, pop, ballads, blues, soul, and R & B – suggested a smoother, toned-down version of one of her early idols, the great Dinah Washington. This versatility, coupled with her fashion-model good looks and engaging manner, allowed Wilson to achieve crossover popular success as an artist in the 1960s and beyond. But even so, her singing and records often had a high jazz quotient, as Adderley urged her to stress ballads and jazz repertoire along with pop. Their 1962 collaboration, Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley, cemented her place with jazz fans even as she was reaching a wider audience, and it yielded a rare jazz hit in Please Save Your Love For Me. She had so much success as an entertainer – later branching out into acting and hosting her own TV show – that many forgot or doubted her bona fides as a jazz singer. But the record with Adderley belongs in any serious jazz record collection and she returned to singing straight-up jazz in the 1980s until the end of her career. Few of us will soon forget the glamorous image of her in that mango-yellow dress on the cover of the album with Cannonball.

Urbie GreenUrbie Green: Trombonist Urbie Green died at 92; he had been inactive for some time and suffering from advanced dementia. He was born in 1926 in Mobile, Alabama, and both his older brothers also played trombone. He was a natural – simply stated, Green was put on this earth to play the trombone perfectly, which he did effortlessly for six decades. I feel strongly that Jack Teagarden and J.J. Johnson are the two greatest jazz trombonists in history, but I would place Urbie very close to their level. While not as original or innovative as either man, Green combined elements of each into a fluent melodic style of his own, with an unmatched technical mastery of the horn often featuring the high tessitura register associated with Jack Jenny and Tommy Dorsey. Unlike many virtuosos he had musical taste to go along with all that gleaming technique; he never played a wasted or spurious note.

After serving an apprenticeship with a series of increasingly prominent big bands in the mid-to-late 1940s culminating with Woody Herman’s Third Herd in 1950, he moved to New York City in 1953, quickly establishing himself as a jazz player and first-call studio musician. He won the 1954 Down Beat New Star Award in the trombone category and began making a series of fine jazz albums throughout the 1950s. Because he never had a regular working group and did so much anonymous studio work buried in trombone sections, his jazz playing was often overlooked and underrated, though never by other trombonists – they knew.

Under the circumstances his death was hardly tragic, yet it hit me personally because I had the privilege of working with Urbie twice in the early 1980s at Toronto jazz clubs and came to know him a bit. He was such a nice man, incredibly modest for someone so accomplished and so shy and soft-spoken that at first he seemed almost backward. But once the ice was broken, Urbie loved talking about music and musicians and his conversation was laced with wisdom and insight. He took me under his wing and taught me some specific things about tunes and chord changes and he also liked to play duets with the bass. Trying to match his level and be heard over his massive sound was a challenge that forced me to up my game. I will always be grateful for having known him even so briefly.

Arrivals

These losses are inevitable but as always are assuaged by the knowledge that jazz keeps looking forward and new talent continues to arrive. What follows is a cross-section profile of young musicians in the U of T jazz program who have impressed me lately, either from playing/working with them as a teacher or hearing them perform, or both. It is by no means complete (there are at least three other post-secondary jazz programs in our catchment area)! These are simply some I’ve grown aware of in the last few months, and they’re just beginning to emerge. We’ll begin with three young women.

Jenna Marie Pinard, vocalist: Jenna hails from Montreal and at 25, is a little older than most U of students. She’s been performing since the age of seven and confesses to still having severe nerves before a performance, but one would never guess it. She has the gift of converting this anxiety into positive energy on stage. She has a big voice, a fearless delivery, an ebullient sense of rhythm and bubbles with humour, yet there is also an attractive introversion in her, as in a recent performance of her own ballad, Green Eyes. She has a flair for song-writing, both on her own and in collaboration with her close friend, pianist-singer Hannah Barstow.

Maddy (Madeleine) Ertel, trumpet: Maddy, 20, hails from Kelowna, B.C and is in her third year. I’ve heard her several times now in a variety of ensembles and have been impressed by the following: first, her sound, which is clear and centred, a real brass sound; second, her concentration and composure: she’s always entirely focused on the music at hand, always plays with musicality. Most of all, she’s a thoughtful, lyrical player not given to technical display or running a bunch of notes, she means what she plays. She’s also very open to a number of styles without seeming to be beholden to any particular one.

Charlotte McAfee-Brunner, trombone: There have been very few female trombonists in jazz and this continues even as there are more and more women entering the fray. Charlotte, just 18 and in her first year at U of T, may change this on the local scene, if not beyond. I heard her recently for the first time and it was immediately apparent that she is intimately acquainted with early jazz styles. It showed in her big, extroverted sound and blustery, gutsy delivery using plunger and mutes with a vocalism echoing trombonists of the 30s, yet she acquitted herself very well in this ensemble playing contemporary jazz. She’s from the Toronto area and learned to improvise while busking in a Dixieland band called The Eighth Street Orchestra. Best of all she’s something of a live wire who shows a natural joy in playing jazz. This cannot be taught and will serve her well in the future.

Next, three young pianists brimming with potential:

Anthony D’Alessandro: Anthony, 21 and from Toronto, is a protégé of Mark Eisenman and he shares many of the older pianist’s virtues: a natural feeling for swing and groove, the blues vocabulary, and making a rhythm section happy with buoyant comping. He has a scintillating technique and a penchant for such feel-good pianists as Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly and Monty Alexander. He also has a knack for arranging tunes for a piano trio with attention to detail.

Noah Franche-Nolan: Noah is 21, from Vancouver and in his third year. I’ve heard the name for a while now, but heard him recently for the first time at The Rex and was very impressed by his originality and abandon. He’s sturdily built and plays the piano with a crunchy percussiveness and physicality which recalls Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and the recently departed Randy Weston. He has plenty of technique but seems delighted to throw it all out the window in the pursuit of spontaneity. He’s also a gifted composer, as evidenced by his tune Hey Booboo, which also is redolent of Monk, without being derivative.

Ben Isenstein: Ben, from Calgary, is 20 and also in third year. He’s in my small jazz ensemble and I’ve yet to hear him apart from playing with him, which provides a special window. He has radar ears, is a very quick study and has a stylistic openness ranging from Phineas Newborn to Chick Corea and more contemporary players. He also loves the blues and has real jazz time, which can’t be taught.

And two bassists to watch:

Evan Gratham: Evan, 20, is from Vancouver and (conflict declared) a private student of mine. He already has a thorough enough technical grounding on the bass that you feed him raw information and it comes out sounding like music almost immediately. I recently heard him play an arrangement that involved playing Scrapple From the Apple at a brisk tempo but up a fifth in the key of C. He negotiated it so easily I wanted to cut off his hands. Enough said.

Leighton Harrell: Leighton, 19, hails from North Carolina and is in second year. I heard him for the first time recently and he sounds like a bass player – rock-solid time and sound with a natural feel for groove and the blues. I was also impressed with his tune Cook Out, based on Sonny Rollins’ Doxy. He also delivered some effective bow work on a Dave Holland piece.

As a bassist, I pay particular attention to drummers; you sink or swim with them. One of the most heartening aspects of the local scene is the recent influx of talented young drummers, starting with, but by no means limited to, these three:

Nick Donovan: Nick is 22 and in fourth year. He’s slightly built but powerful, and extremely versatile in his approach. I’ve heard him play very musically with everything from straight-ahead piano trios to larger scale ensembles playing ambitious music.

Jacob Slous: Jacob is 19 and in second year; he comes from Toronto but his family also spent some time in New York. I played with him in my ensemble last year and was impressed, but he has only improved since then, very strong in a small group or a big band, and he’s a talented composer to boot.

Keith Barstow: Keith, the younger brother of the aforementioned Hannah Barstow, is 19 and from Napanee. Already at a professional level, he’s a very serious, contained player with no flies on him, meaning he gets the time off the ground straight away.

I used to worry about where all this young talent will play and whether they’ll be able to make a living, but not so much anymore. For one thing, that’s out of my hands. Having made the commitment to pursue jazz, all I can do is support them and make people more aware of them, as here. But more importantly, I’ve come to recognize that these are smart, dedicated, resourceful young people. I have faith that they’ll figure it out just like I had to, so long ago. 

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

FEB 9, 8PM: Royal Conservatory of Music, Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W. Hilario Durán’s Latin Jazz Big Band with Horacio “El Negro” Hernández and Sarita Levya’s Rumberos. This promises to be an evening of spirited Cuban-inflected jazz with Durán’s powerhouse big band and special guests.

FEB 10 AND 24, 4:30PM: Christ Church Deer Park 1570 Yonge St. Jazz Vespers. Free Admission. Feb 10: Allison Au Trio. A chance to hear one of the best young saxophonists in the city in an intimate acoustic setting. Au is a thoroughly modern player, but her alto sound has a pleasant sweetness which suggests Benny Carter. And on Feb. 24 at the same time and venue, the wonderful duo of Chase Sanborn (trumpet) and Mark Eisenman (piano) will be performing.

FFEB 14, 9PM: Jazz Bistro, 251 Victoria St. Valentine’s Day with John Alcorn and Alex Samaras. Two of Toronto’s best male singers with an established chemistry will be performing a selection of romantic standards with a crack band.

FEB 15, 8PM: Gallery 345, 345 Sorauren Ave. Patrick Boyle Quartet: Boyle, trumpet; Bernie Senensky, piano; Jim Vivian, bass; Mike Billard, drums. A launch of the innovative Newfoundland-born trumpeter/composer’s latest release, After Forgetting.

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

I have often claimed that procrastination was one of my hobbies, As I sit down to write this February column, though, I can honestly say that Mother Nature offers me no pleasant alternatives to sitting down at the keyboard. Today, with snow, ice and nasty cold temperatures, getting down to writing is by far the most pleasant of tasks. Welcome to real winter.

Looking back

In contrast to the weather, January was a very mild musical start to 2019, with no significant musical events on my agenda other than some rehearsals. Looking a little further back, however, in December I had the privilege of attending several entertaining seasonal concerts which were too late to report on in the December issue of The WholeNote.

The first of these was the annual Christmas Soiree of the Silverthorn Symphonic Winds. It was a short but very entertaining program of their favourite Christmas delights. The Wilmar Heights Event Centre is a small but very warm and inviting venue, particularly for that event, where audience members mingled with band members during intermission to overindulge in the many taste treats offered.

As for the Wychwood Clarinet Choir, now in is tenth season, their repertoire spanned a few centuries from Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri and Tchaikovsky’ Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy to Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. One of the highlights of the program was Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock featuring soprano soloist Christina Haldane and clarinetist Michele Jacot. Roy Greaves and Richard Moore deserve special credit for their excellent arrangements of these works for clarinet choir.

Covey of partridges

Highlights of several of the festive season concerts which I attended were performances of the Twelve Days of Christmas (the festive days starting on the evening of Christmas Day on December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). In each case audience members were asked to pick a number corresponding to their birth month. Those born in January were identified with one, February two and so forth. In one case, audience members were then asked to stand up while the verse for their day/month was performed. In another case, audience members were asked to take any keys from their purses or pockets, hold them up and jingle them when their number was called.

The Resa’s Pieces Gala, in which members of the combined band and string orchestra played on the floor with the choir onstage, had the most imaginative approach. Audience members stood for their month, but at each appropriate moment, 12 members in the front row of the choir, facing the audience, raised large red cards, with pictures representing the words for each of the days.

As to the origin of the song, it’s generally agreed that it arose in England, perhaps as a coded catechism song from the era when Catholicism was outlawed there (1558-1829), and that each line symbolizes a tenet of the Catholic faith. Setting aside the dozens of learned line-by-line interpretations, the truest meaning of this cheerful song for me is the opportunity it provides for audience involvement in music making.

Back to Bugles

My grumble in the December issue about bugle calls not being played on bugles, but on trumpets got quite a response, for and against my comments.

In my life I have heard many bugle calls, but never played on a bugle myself. My first association with the instrument was in high school where, one day a week, almost every boy in the school, dressed in the full kilted highland uniform of our cadet corps, was part of the bugle band (bagpipes being too expensive and too difficult to maintain). Since I was already a trombone player in a boy’s band, not associated with the school, however, I missed out on this glorious opportunity. Some years later, I served aboard HMS Sheffield, the Admiral’s Flagship of the American and West Indies Squadron. We had a Royal Marine Band aboard as well as a few buglers. All orders over the ship’s sound system were preceded by the appropriate bugle call.

HMS SheffieldThe most interesting of the comments I received came from reader Robert Frankling. In his opening salvo he states in part: “The question you raised of the too-seldom use of bugles in military units has nothing whatsoever to do with the expense, but everything to do with an unjustified anti-bugle snobbery and laziness of trumpet players to practise on the bugle, a tough instrument to master.” In his message he mentions that he has played the trumpet since age 13 and the bugle since late middle age. Now, at 67, he tells me that he has done “a fair bit of bugling in the last 30 years mostly for military events and funerals.”

“Ultimately, the reason more trumpet players do not play on the bugle,” he says, “is because they can’t, and they can’t because they won’t practise on the bugle enough to master this tricky instrument. They just pick up a bugle, try it once and say it sounds terrible, but that is because of the performer, not the fault of the instrument. Due to their ignorance of the bugle’s history and their unjustified snobbery, [they] consider the bugle to be beneath their dignity ... something that only an unsophisticated rube would use!”

(Taking Mr. Frankling’s comments about the bugle being harder to play than the trumpet, into account, the title of Leroy Anderson’s Bugler’s Holiday takes on a new meaning. Could it have been that buglers, tired of playing their more challenging instruments, were being offered a welcome day off?

Bugle from the Royal Montreal Regiment MuseumAs for the instrument’s venerable history, the modern bugle can trace its origins to the Roman bugle around the fourth century A.D. as early musical and communication instruments made from animal horns with a narrow opening cut at the tip. (The word bugle itself comes from buculus, the Latin for bullock, a castrated bull.) Just as in today’s instruments, the tone was produced by pursing the player’s lips against this narrow opening and producing a buzzing sound, with the horn acting as resonator of the sound, and the pitch dependent on the length of the air column in the horn. At some stage, someone decided to make a horn out of metal. A late Roman metal bugle, found in 1904 at Mont Ventoux in France, and now in the British Museum, is bent completely around upon itself to form a coil between the mouthpiece and the bell end. (In the case of this British Museum specimen, the bell end was broken off some time in the long and distant past).

The use of these instruments as signaling devices, particularly in military operations, goes back to its earliest days. The ancient Roman army used an instrument called the buccina. Centuries later, the purpose of the bugle was laid out in Niccoló Machiavelli’s 1521 treatise Libro dell’ arte della guerra (The Art of War), in which he wrote that the commanding officer should issue orders by means of trumpets because their piercing tone and great volume enabled them to be heard above the pandemonium of combat. The first verifiable formal use of a brass bugle as a military signal device was the Halbmondblaser, or half-moon bugle, used in Hanover in 1758. It first spread to England in 1764 where it was gradually accepted widely in foot regiments.

Bugles, and various types of trumpets or horns, without valves or keys, produce only limited notes (usually five) with the pitch of the lowest note being the resonant frequency of the horn, based on its length, and the other notes being harmonics of that.

Historically, the bugle was used in the army to relay instructions from officers to soldiers during battle. They were used to assemble the leaders and to give marching orders to the troops. During peace time the bugle call was used to indicate the daily routines of camp. When I served in HMS Sheffield, we had several Marine buglers, as well as a full Royal Marine Band, as befitting the Admiral’s Flagship. All routine orders throughout the day were by the specific bugle call for such times as “sunrise, hands to supper, lights out, sunset” etc.

Post Horn from the Grinnell College Musical Instruments CollectionOne of the most significant early peacetime uses of the instrument was the post horn, to signal the arrival in town of the postman with the mail. The original post horn had no taper until right at the bell and the tubing was straight and narrow. Its sound is so significantly different and appealing that many composers have written works for the post horn either as a featured solo instrument or to add an unusual voice in their composition.

Mozart composed his “Posthorn” Serenade in 1779. Another example of post horn use in modern classical music is the off-stage solo in Mahler’s Third Symphony. In the world of band music the Post Horn Gallop, written in 1844 by the German cornet player Hermann Koenig as a solo for post horn with orchestral accompaniment, is a favourite, if a post horn and player are available. Due to the scarcity of post horns (and competent players), music written for it is frequently played on a trumpet, cornet or flugelhorn. Which of course, brings us back to my original bugler’s lament in December, which got this thread going.

Over the years, the British Army has retained the bugle for ceremonial and symbolic purposes. In the Canadian forces, there was still the rank of “Bugler” until 1945, when the regimental trade of bugler was discontinued in the Canadian Army. Hence, bugle calls are now played on trumpets because the bugles went when the buglers went.

By the way, to see the most amazing array of bugles, horns, trumpets and their valved and unvalved relatives, developed over the ages, one would have to be lucky enough to be able to visit that portion of Henry Meredith’s vast collection in London, Ontario. Hopefully that collection will find a suitable museum as home in the near future.

New Horizons

So far we haven’t heard anything about the activities of the numerous Toronto New Horizons groups, but have received a fine update from Doug Robertson for the York Region groups. In an invitation for new members, he has suggestions for potential new members with references to Your New Year’s Resolution and Your Bucket List. He summarizes some of the many benefits, particularly for retirees, of learning to play an instrument in a group. He reminds people that it’s never too late, and it has the many advantages of remaining active, having fun with other adults, making new friends, and improving memory. Their group classes are on Monday evenings at Cosmo Music in Richmond Hill. For information, contact Doug Robertson,
nhbyrdirector@gmail.com or at 416-457-6316.

BANDSTAND QUICK PICKS

Phillip Smith. Photo by Chris LeeFEB 10, 3PM: The Hannaford Street Silver Band presents “From Russia with Brass” including The Festive Overture, The Procession of the Nobles, Polovtsian Dances and others. Philip Smith, conductor and trumpet soloist. Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

FEB 24, 3PM: The Weston Silver Band presents “Heart and Soul. R and B and Soul with a big brass spin.” Dan McLean Jr. and Some Honey. Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. W.

MAR 2, 7:30PM: The King Edward Choir will join the Barrie Concert Band in their “Last Night of the Proms” with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1; Gilbert & Sullivan: Medley; Arne’s Rule Britannia; Handel’s Zadok the Priest, and Hallelujah. Oliver Balaburski, conductor. Collier Street United Church, 112 Collier St., Barrie.

MAR 3, 2PM: The Markham Concert Band presents “Let’s Dance! Ballet, Waltzes and Swing,” including Big Band Polka, El Bimbo, Flunky Jim, Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier and other tunes. Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd., Markham.

MAR 3, 3:30PM: The Wychwood Clarinet Choir will have “WCC at the Oscars.” Selections range from Gershwin’s An American in Paris to Mozart’s Adagio from Gran Partita; Bernstein’s Tonight from West Side Story; Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow; and Loewe’s I Could Have Danced All Night. Michele Jacot, conductor. Church of St. Michael and All Angels, 611 St. Clair Ave. W.

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

As I write this, the temperature is hovering just about zero degrees Celsius, there is a considerable amount of snow on the ground, and it is raining. It will continue to rain until tomorrow morning, apparently, as per the forecast, which is typical of Toronto between New Year’s Day and the Ides of March: slushy, unpleasant and thoroughly inconvenient. It isn’t all bad, of course, as such weather affords us the opportunity to indulge in unique seasonal activities, such as Snowbank Roulette, in which we try to guess which section of the ugly pile of once-pristine snow adjoining the crosswalk is solid enough to step on, and which will give way immediately, soaking our feet for the rest of the day; Being Uncomfortable All The Time, in which we attempt to wear the right outfit for the day’s weather (winter jacket, toque, no gloves, umbrella?) but invariably miss the mark, resulting in profoundly unpleasant transit experiences; and, my personal favourite, Never Going To The Grocery Store, as we justify our daily desire to just order something fun tonight, and, seriously this time, pick up some real food tomorrow.

Thankfully, February isn’t all wet socks, streetcar woes, and ballooning Pad Thai-related credit card debt. We are fortunate, in Southern Ontario, to have some compelling reasons to brave the outdoors, not least of which are a number of stellar shows taking place this month, including at Toronto clubs such as The Rex and Burdock. I’d like to take a moment, however, to highlight the programming at a different venue: The Jazz Room, located in the Huether Hotel, in Waterloo. (The Huether Hotel building has existed, in various iterations, since 1899; check out their website for more interesting historical information.)

The Jazz Room is a comfortable, oak-heavy listening space, with consistently great sound courtesy of their in-house engineer. With shows presented by the Grand River Jazz Society, the Jazz Room has a mandate “to support exceptional musicians from [their] own community and to invite talent from elsewhere for local audiences to hear.” Included in the category of exceptional local musicians is the Penderecki String Quartet, a well-known group that has performed worldwide from their home base at Wilfrid Laurier University, where, since 1991, they have occupied the position of quartet-in-residence. The PSQ joins two different acts at the Jazz Room this month: the first, pianist/composer David Braid, has been working with string quartets for some time; his 2016 JUNO-nominated album Flow features the Epoque String Quartet. The second act to be joined by the PSQ at the Jazz Room this month is the duo of Glenn Buhr and Margaret Sweatman, who will be presenting a “jazz cabaret featuring words and music with a jazz twist.”

Florian HoefnerAlso at The Jazz Room in February: Pianist Florian Hoefner, who makes two appearances in our listings this month – at The Jazz Room, on February 22 and, two days earlier, at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar in Toronto, on February 20. Born in Germany, Hoefner attended the University of Arts in Berlin before being admitted to the MMus program at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Jason Moran and Dave Liebman, amongst other notable names; now, as an adjunct professor in the music program at Memorial University, he is based in Newfoundland. Hoefner – part of the collective Subtone, whose album Moose Blues was reviewed in the November 2018 issue of The WholeNote – is an accomplished pianist, who performed in Toronto multiple times last year, as a leader, in trio settings, and as part of Subtone. His appearances at The Old Mill and The Jazz Room come as part of a three-city mini-tour and follow a performance at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on February 19. Playing in trio format, he will be joined by drummer Nick Fraser and bassist Jim Vivian in Toronto, and by Fraser and bassist Andrew Downing in Waterloo. As his choice of collaborators suggests, Hoefner is a sensitive, communicative pianist, whose technical prowess is deployed in service to the music he makes; with a deft, modern touch, he is equally exciting playing ballads as he is playing up-tempo swing. He typically only makes a couple of trips to Ontario each year, so take advantage of this opportunity to hear one of Canada’s most exciting young resident pianists.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of February’s Valentine’s Day-themed shows, with the acknowledgment that Valentine’s Day can inspire very different emotions, depending on a person’s relationship status, tolerance for public displays of affection and appetite for subpar grocery-store milk-chocolate products. If you wish to celebrate your love – or if you don’t, but you’d like to enjoy an evening of excellent music (and also, perhaps, to glance spitefully at happy couples) – Jazz Bistro will feature the vocal duo of John Alcorn and Alex Samaras on February 14th. Both singers are confident, experienced students of the Great American Songbook, and they have performed together at the Bistro on multiple occasions over the past few years.

Khari Wendell McClelland - photo by DahliaKatzFor those who definitely want to go out on February 14, but definitely do not want to see music with a specific Valentine’s Day theme: don’t worry, as there are some excellent options. Taking place on February 14 and 15 at Burdock Music Hall, Khari Wendell McClelland brings his brand-new show We Now Recognize, a new group of songs “that explores the power of apologies, the nature of community and the redemptive potential of music.” Touring five Canadian cities in February in celebration of Black History Month, We Now Recognize is the follow-up to the Freedom Singer project, an album and documentary theatre musical created by McClelland, Andrew Kushnir, and Jodie Martinson. Freedom Singer is anchored by songs that recreate the music that “fugitive slaves carried [with them] on their journey north into Canada,” filtered through McClelland’s background in gospel, hip-hop and folk; We Now Recognize seems likely to occupy a similar space at the intersection of music, community, and social justice. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICKPICKS

FEB 7 AND 8, 9:45PM: Claire Daly with Adrean Farrugia, The Rex. New York-based baritone saxophonist Claire Daly visits The Rex for two nights, joined by pianist Adrean Farrugia, vocalist Sophia Perlman, bassist Mike Downes, and drummer Ernesto Cervini.

FEB 14, 9PM: John Alcorn and Alex Samaras, Jazz Bistro. Two top interpreters of the Great American Songbook, appearing together in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

FEB 14 AND 15, 6:30PM: Khari Wendell McClelland, Burdock Music Hall. Part of a Canadian tour in celebration of Black History Month, singer Khari Wendell McClelland brings his new project, We Now Recognize, to Burdock for two consecutive evenings.

FEB 22, 8:30PM: Florian Hoefner Trio, The Jazz Room, Waterloo. From Germany, by way of New York, modern jazz pianist Florian Hoefner is joined by bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser for a night of communicative, meaningful music.

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

Leila Josefowicz Ludovic Morlot 2 Nick Wons 1 bannerThis article appears in The WholeNote as part of our collaboration in the Emerging Arts Critics program.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz with the TSO. Photo credit: Nick Wons.The opening night of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s (TSO) concert featuring Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 was a blisteringly cold night that might have kept some people home – but the energetic playing of each piece, led by conductor Ludovic Morlot, filled Roy Thomson Hall with an interesting selection of music. While all three pieces were written within a 30-year window, that’s where the similarities (and any chance of cohesion in the program) ended.

The music at the January 10 show was well performed, despite the distinct thematic differences between the three composers’ works that caused the whole evening to feel a bit disjointed. Beginning with Kurt Weill’s Kleine Dreigroschenmusik (Suite from The Threepenny Opera), the scaled-back orchestra executed the 1920s numbers with great energy. Each of the eight movements seemed more memorable than the last, with the closing “Threepenny Finale” shining brightest of all. Of the musicians onstage for the suite, by far the most entertaining to watch was the accordionist, Joe Macerollo, whose enthusiasm for the music was contagious and reminded me of my own childhood spent messing around with the old accordion my grandfather kept in his basement. While this personal connection was nice enough, the liveliness of the overall performance was heightened when the accordion was joined by the guitar, each complementing the other to create a light and playful sound that stood out from the rest of the orchestra. The Weill suite was a joyous way to begin the evening – although it didn’t set the tone for the following pieces on the program.

Following the Weill selection was Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in D Major for Violin performed by Leila Josefowicz, accompanied by a larger group of TSO musicians. The suite began quickly and sharply – a quick change from the showtunes-reminiscent Weill work that had been performed mere minutes before. After the initial musical whiplash, Josefowicz commanded attention as the clear lead of the piece, her sharp movements and emotive facial expressions outweighed only by her masterful playing. She demonstrated a clear ability to perform a technically very difficult piece, at times stomping her foot as if grounding herself within the music’s jarring, striking rhythmic patterns. The orchestral accompaniment shone alongside Josefowicz’s playing, bringing tension to the first two movements and later softening into a more haunting, sad sound in the third before rising back up in speed and force for the fourth movement. The dramatic pressure heard throughout the piece set an interesting tone to head into intermission – though, given the difference in style between the Stravinsky and Weill, it did little to prepare for the third and final work of the evening.

Following intermission, the piece for which the night was named was given its moment to shine in the spotlight – and, as both the longest and most epic-sounding performance of the three, it absolutely did just that. Throughout Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43, it seems clear that the composer wanted each section of the orchestra to have enough time to show off their expertise, and Morlot did not waste that opportunity while conducting the TSO. The strings made the absolute most out of Sibelius’ gorgeous, sweeping melodies, sounding like something out of a fantasy movie’s score. There was also a great layered sound to the violins, without real emphasis on harmony. Even when playing all the same notes, they took on the same type of sound a choir might; it suited the repeating melody well, as the simple line remained just as exciting to listen to on its sixth round as it had on the first.

Both the brass and woodwinds were able to hold their own against the strings’ massive choral sound, although at times the softer woodwinds section was noticeably quieter. The lone timpanist was great to watch and his control over the mallets while performing drumroll after drumroll was impressive, adding crucial drama to the symphony. While the tone of the Weill suite carried a 1920s Broadway sound, and the Stravinsky concerto inserted pressure, the performance of Sibelius was cinematic and elegant. If not a movie, then the huge sound of the orchestra during Sibelius’ repeating melodies was reminiscent of the climactic moment in an operatic aria, and for that reason it was the most memorable part of the evening.

The music selection during the January 10 performance wasn’t very cohesive, which affected the transitions between pieces. During each piece there was a story being told, but the lack of definition for the evening as a whole meant that there was a bit of musical whiplash each time the orchestra began to play a new composer’s work. The music was directed and performed as well as it could have been; the lack of continuity instead came from the varied and seemingly random selection of music chosen. It leaves the impression that having a wide range of styles included in a single program doesn’t always seem to work in favour of the audience, regardless of who performs or conducts it, and no matter how beautiful each piece sounds on its own.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented a program of Kurt Weill’s Suite from The Threepenny Opera; Stravinsky’s Concerto in D Major for Violin; and Sibelius’ Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op. 43 on January 10, 2019, at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

Isabella Perrone is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Journalism program who currently freelances for BroadwayWorld Toronto and Opera Canada. She is excited to be a member of the 2018/19 Emerging Arts Critics Program.

Ludovic Morlot 2 Nick Wons bannerThis article appears in The WholeNote as part of our collaboration in the Emerging Arts Critics program.

Conductor Ludovic Morlot with the TSO. Photo credit: Nick Wons.I was especially excited to attend this year’s opening concert by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a program of three works all written in the first half of the 20th century, with guest conductor Ludovic Morlot at the podium. Perhaps it was the sudden frigidity of the temperature outside (-16°C as I write!); or the two-thirds of orchestra chairs that sat empty during the first 20-minute piece on the program (which was without the entire string section); or perhaps the odd sight of a piano accordion onstage – but it wasn’t until halfway through the second piece that the evening delivered on its promise of electricity and excitement.

The program opened with Kurt Weill’s 1928 Suite from The Threepenny Opera, a condensation of an hour of music from the opera into eight movements spanning 20 minutes…though I would readily believe the opposite: that 20 minutes of music had somehow been made to feel an hour long. I remain unsure of the correlation between the bohemian Berliners of Weill’s opera and the Stravinsky Concerto in D Major for Violin that followed, or with the frosted nature-scenes described by the third work, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2. The program would have benefited from better attention being paid to the sequence in which this Suite was used, beginning instead, for example, with the much more exciting piece by Stravinsky. Staring at a cob of empty chairs for the first 20 minutes of the evening was the kind of an underwhelming start that even a first-rate orchestra like the TSO might not recover from.

Thankfully, the eighth movement of the Suite came to a close and on came the soloist of the evening: violinist Leila Josefowicz! She struck an athletic stance and took the next 22 minutes to task with her performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. Aside from the technical difficulties inherent in this Neoclassical interpretation of the violin concerto (described by musicologist Thomas May as “the Baroque remade in Stravinsky’s image”), there is also the difficulty of commanding our attention despite the shortage of fancy cadenzas. Though that was no problem for Josefowicz, as she maintained a fiery stage presence with a dexterous combination of tip-toeing finesse and emphatic power. Each movement (except the fourth) opened with three near-identical notes in pizzicato which were designed by Stravinsky as a “passport” into the nervous staccato energy of each movement. Although more emphasis could have been placed on the first instance of this passport (in the Toccata), Josefowicz entered into the remaining three movements with an exclamatory urgency that personified the devilish connotations the composer associated with the instrument, and delivered a much-needed jolt to the evening’s slow start. By the roughest estimate I can attest to the hall feeling several degrees warmer after the last member of her standing ovation surrendered to the bright lights of intermission.

By the time Morlot dipped his baton for the opening notes that bloom out of the string section of Sibelius’ Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op. 43, the energy in the room was sufficiently warm and toasty enough to take the challenge forward into the furious blasts of ice and thunderous cataracts that mark the landscape of this gargantuan symphony, which was the highlight of the evening. The orchestra took just over 44 minutes to reach the end of the final movement (Leonard Bernstein and his Vienna Philharmonic, for example, took 53 minutes), but I’d much rather believe, as a matter of perception, and as a matter of the orchestra’s marathonian fitness and vivacity, that this performance was in fact shorter than the preceding violin concerto. Whereas the intensity of Josefowicz’s performance provided the spark to resuscitate an underwhelming first act, the orchestra’s performance in this third work was the roaring blaze needed to counterpoint the wintry settings described by this symphony, and the conditions just outside the concert hall.

One of the enduring qualities of Sibelius’ Second Symphony is how little it suffers from its protracted length. The introductory Allegretto is a fragmented compilation of musical subjects pieced together in the developing Tempo Andante movement, explosively dissected in the third movement and relieved in the fourth by a long and prostrated gesture of triumph. As such, there are many opportunities for an orchestra to fall below the occasion. To overemphasize subjects that were intended as ambiguous and linger too long on what would be better served by urgency. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under Morlot’s understated conducting, I am happy to say, rose and soared up to the occasion.

Understatement as a style, which French authors of the previous century honed to perfection, seems to be just as potent on the podium. Morlot (a French conductor borrowed from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra to replace the initially scheduled David Robertson), even in the more emotionally intense segments of the third movement, remained reserved. Once, in anticipation of a thunderous crack on the timpani, he stomped his right foot – and the effect was a pleasurable jolt. All throughout he trailed behind the orchestra’s intensity and urged them on with subtle commands, allowing the brass and percussion sections to give muscle to the suppleness of his gestures. Despite the program’s slow start (which was announced before Morlot agreed to conduct it), the exhausting marathon of applause after the Finale was all that was needed to confirm the evening’s success – much of which is attributable to Morlot’s last-minute heroics in conducting a program that was the equivalent of an orchestral boost on the thermostat. And for that, I am grateful.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented a program of Kurt Weill’s Suite from The Threepenny Opera; Stravinsky’s Concerto in D Major for Violin; and Sibelius’ Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op. 43 on January 10, 2019, at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

Michael Zarathus-Cook is a student at the University of Toronto and a music and film blogger at www.briband.com.

Joanna MajokoAh, January, month of hope. Of new goals set, old acquaintances renewed, and the same old mute horror of gazing upon our bank accounts, which, though once approaching some facsimile of respectability, have been thoroughly reduced in order to fund the holiday indulgences of which we all now so piously repent. It is no small wonder that so many of our favourite New Year’s resolutions involve abstinence, from alcohol, or cigarettes, or that croissant that you always get from the coffee shop across the street from your office, even though you’ve already had breakfast, but you’ve ordered it so often that now the barista sometimes just gives it to you free of charge and makes a charming joke about how you deserve it, and really this is all his (the barista’s) fault, because doesn’t he know that you have no self-control and also that carbs are the enemy? In any case, the impulse towards post-December self-restraint is natural, and it’s not unusual for the most regular of show-goers to reduce their concert attendance in January. This is understandable, of course; clubs and restaurants serve drinks, and food, and spending time in these places may encourage us to break our nascent resolutions. I would argue, however, that live music itself is not indulgent, but rather – much like your newly-minted gym membership – an investment in yourself, and in your future well-being.

Burdock Piano Fest: While January programming in Toronto (and in most cities) has been historically light, there are a number of exciting events happening, including some notable newer ventures that have positioned themselves to fill in the gaps in the early 2019 concert season. Included in these is the fourth annual Burdock Piano Fest, an eight-day festival with over 20 acts from a variety of stylistic backgrounds (predominantly indie, folk, and jazz, which reflect Burdock’s typical year-round bookings). The Piano Fest has a relatively simple premise: bring a high-quality baby grand piano onto the Burdock stage for eight days, and book piano-centric acts in complementary double-bills. (In previous years, pianos were loaned to Burdock by Robert Lowrey Pianos; this year, the piano is provided by Yamaha Canada Music.) In the spirit of full disclosure (and shameless plugging), I will be performing at Piano Fest on January 28; although I play the guitar, I will be joined by Mackenzie Longpré on drums, Tyler Emond on bass, and the excellent pianist Ewen Farncombe. For those who are still curious about Piano Fest, please feel free to peruse a couple of pieces that The WholeNote published about last year’s festival (see Sara Constant’s informative overview of the festival here, and my own review of Joanna Majoko and Chelsey Bennett’s performance in last year’s edition of the festival here).

On the subject of Joanna Majoko: her upcoming sextet performance at The Rex on January 19 – with saxophonist Rob Christian, guitarist Andrew Marzotto, pianist Ewen Farncombe, bassist Andrew Stewart, and drummer Larnell Lewis – is one highlight among many this month at the club. Other noteworthy performances slated for later this month at The Rex include New York-based trumpeter John Raymond’s bassless trio, with guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Colin Stranahan (January 17 and 18), drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s quartet with saxophonist Charlotte Greve, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, and bassist Eivind Opsvik (January 26 and 27), and saxophonist Matt Woroshyl’s quintet with guitarist Alexei Orechin, pianist Chris Pruden, bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes, and drummer Ian Wright, celebrating the recent release of his debut album Forward (January 25).

Also at The Rex: trombonist/composer Terry Promane with the University of Toronto Student 12tet, for which he functions as both conductor and class instructor (he is an Associate Professor in Jazz Studies at U of T). Promane is one of the Canadian jazz scene’s most accomplished large- and small-ensemble arrangers, and his U of T 12tet has become a significant showcase both for his compositional prowess and for the talents of U of T jazz students. The 12tet has recorded two albums (Rebirth, in 2012, and Trillium Falls, in 2016), and the ensemble performs at regular intervals throughout the academic year; check them out at The Rex in the late slot on January 21, following U of T’s regular student ensemble performances.

Ladom EnsembleLadom Ensemble/VC2: While it’s typical to find conversations about classical music in other sections of The WholeNote, a recent (and growing) trend amongst classical musicians and presenters towards atypical concert venues means that there are some happy surprises amidst the (mostly) jazz, indie, folk, and world music contained in the listings below. One such concert is the Ladom Ensemble and VC2 Cello Duo’s Double Album Release Party, which will take place on January 16 at Lula Lounge. Ladom Ensemble – made up of accordionist Michael Bridge, cellist Beth Silver, percussionist Adam Campbell, and pianist Pouya Hamidi – plays music inspired by diverse sources, including Argentine tango, Serbian folk, Persian classical, and rock, and has commissioned music from composers such as Elisha Denburg, Igor Correia, Maziar Heidari, and Keyan Emami; Hamidi also does double-duty as the group’s resident composer. They celebrate the release of their forthcoming album The Walls are Made of Song. Joining them is the cello duo VC2, the joint venture of Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt, who were featured on the cover of The WholeNote in February 2018. VC2 will also be celebrating the release of a new album, Beethoven’s Cellists, which is the culmination of a touring program that the duo performed in several cross-Canada forays last year. Beethoven’s Cellists features compositions by contemporary composers Andrew Downing, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Fjola Evans, Matt Brubeck, and Hunter Coblentz, as well as a Romantic-era sonata by Bernhard Romberg, arranged by the duo.   

Sadly, I will not able to attend many of these stellar performances, as I will be attempting to maintain some semblance of optimal body heat as a Musician in Residence at the Banff Centre for most of January. So if do you attend one of these performances, please feel free to send me a message via email or social media to let me know why you liked it, or why you didn’t like it, or why you thought it was just okay. Alternatively, feel free to let me know how your New Year’s resolutions are going; if they’re going poorly, please feel free to lie to me. I’m here for you either way.

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

JAN 16, 6:30PM: Ladom Ensemble and VC2 Cello Duo Double Album Release Party, Lula Lounge. Join classical/fusion groups Ladom Ensemble and VC2 Cello Duo as they both celebrate the release of new albums in a concert venue not often used for classical shows.

JAN 21, 9:30PM: University of Toronto 12tet, The Rex. Helmed by leading jazz arranger Terry Promane, this exciting 12tet – composed of U of T jazz students – plays classic and modern compositions in a swinging little-big-band style.

JAN 21-28, VARIOUS TIMES: Various Performers, Burdock Piano Fest, Burdock Music Hall. Burdock presents its fourth annual Piano Fest, featuring a variety of performers in complementary double bills that make good use of a beautiful (and well-tuned) baby grand piano.

JAN 26, 9:45PM: Matt Woroshyl Quintet, The Rex. Celebrating the release of his debut album Forward, saxophonist Matt Woroshyl leads his quintet for two sets of modern jazz at The Rex.

The WholeNote’s online club listings are now updated with info on all of the January concerts and events on offer; find them here.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Gyan and Terry Riley. credit Scott CrowleyChange is not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s 21C of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 

60 years has helped define the course of new music.

The 21C Festival, produced by the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now in its sixth year and is, by definition, committed to presenting new sounds and ideas. That being said, opening up the flyer for this year’s 21C Music Festival was like a breath of fresh air. I couldn’t help but compare it to last year’s experience – a gasp of disbelief, even despair, when I realized that there was barely a female face to be seen or name to be read. Not so this year. The gasp this time round was more of delight, surprise and yes, relief. Finally! There is definitely a huge sea change occurring this year and for that reason alone, all the more incentive to attend and listen to what is percolating with creative innovators in music. Not only are there a significant number of works and premieres by women, but also by culturally diverse composers as well.

Another key change is the move to a January timeslot from the previous one in May, with this year’s festival happening January 16 to 20, dovetailing with the U of T New Music Festival, a short stroll away, which runs from January 16 to 27.

Change is, however, not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s festival of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 60 years has helped define the course of new music.

Riley’s music has had a significant influence not only on contemporary classical composers but also on rock composers such as Lou Reed and Peter Townsend. His attitudes and approaches to music making have contributed to the radical sea change in compositional ideas and practices that began in the 1960s. He was a key player in the experimental traditions that originated in the USA which filtered across the border.

In Toronto, it was the Arraymusic Ensemble that picked up on these currents, making it a priority in their programming to feature composers who were part of that scene, including people like Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Steve Reich, Jim Tenney and of course, Riley himself. I had a chance to talk with Robert Stevenson, former Arraymusic Ensemble member and artistic director about his memories and experiences working with Riley and his music.

One of the big festivals that occurred throughout the 1980s in the USA, he told me, was called New Music America and in 1990 it had travelled to Montreal as New Music Across America. That year the festival organizers partnered with Arraymusic to commission a work from Riley titled Cactus Rosary. (The piece appears on Array’s New World CD released in 1993.)

Stevenson remembers well the collaborative process involved in the creation of Cactus Rosary. “Most composers in the Western art music tradition aren’t strong in collaborating. It’s not part of the tradition and you’re not trained in that when you study composition. Rather, you’re learning how to tell people what to do. When we got the score for Cactus Rosary there was hardly anything on the page. ‘Where is the music?’ we wondered. There were a few notes, some pitches, no metre. Some of the notes were whole notes, others filled in but no stems. There were no rhythmic details, no dynamics, and no explanation of the tuning system, which was in just intonation (rather than the standard equal temperament). All we had that indicated the tuning was a DX7 synthesizer patch. Once Riley began to work with us, though, you began to realize that what was on the page was there to be fleshed out. A lot of what we did is not in the score.”

Stevenson gave the example of the vocal part he performed that was more like speak-singing a text. “I started reading and he said: ‘Can you change the harmonic content by changing your throat shape? Can you move the pitch around? There’s a delay line on the voice so we should set that up.’ Everything happened collaboratively in a very subtle yet determined kind of way. It was never, ‘This is what I want.’ He was clear about what he didn’t want and gave us instructions that would lead us in a direction to what he would like without having to say anything. It’s a different approach to composition. There’s not a blueprint but an invitation to a process.”

Using just intonation tuning is an important aspect of Riley’s work. Stevenson described the difference that it made for Cactus Rosary. “At the first rehearsals the acoustic piano had yet to be tuned to just intonation, so all we had was the DX7 patch. The ensemble was tuning itself to the DX sound but with the acoustic piano in equal temperament, everything was quite chaotic. When the piano was finally tuned it was extraordinary what happened to the music. Suddenly there was this resonating thing happening – the tuning was in the air.”

The staging of the piece was also a change from the usual. “There was an old-style wingback chair that conductor Michael Baker sat in facing the audience. He played two peyote rattles which Riley acquired specifically for the piece from a Wichita tribe member who made them himself. Baker made occasional hand gestures to signal when to move to a new section, but otherwise he played these rattles, coming in and out of the piece, often when the texture was less dense. From an audience point of view, you got the sense that you were watching someone’s aural meditation being made manifest, an internal experience being made external.”

Array took the piece on tour when they visited Europe spanning the years 1993 to 95. “That’s when the piece really started to take shape,” Stevenson said, “and the duration shifted from 33 minutes to close to 50. It became more expansive and we developed the trance meditative aspect. Tour organizers in Europe didn’t want Array to come and play European music, they wanted music they didn’t have a chance to hear. They went nuts over things like the Claude Vivier music we played and with the Riley piece, we were a big hit. People went crazy and were trancing out. They didn’t have many people in Europe who were authentically connected to the music who could play it.”

At the time in Toronto, there weren’t other groups performing his music, except his classic hit In C, which was much more of a communal experience for open instrumentation. Stevenson himself played that piece several times, often with people from Array, and once at a concert by New Music Concerts at The Copa, a massive dance club in Yorkville whose heyday was in the 1980s. In C appealed to some performers because of its collaborative nature, and it was devoid of the extreme demands made by composers like Boulez and Stockhausen, for example. With any number of ways to play it and the outcome undetermined, players could relax and enjoy the moment. “This type of process was very new to people at the time.”

Bob Stevenson with Red Rhythm at Communists Daughter, 2014.  photo by Ori DaganStevenson concluded our conversation by saying that “Riley had a light touch. Nothing was too serious or worth breaking a sweat about. That’s why it was easy to collaborate with him. He wasn’t stuck on an idea but rather always asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ He was always confident that things would be accomplished and I never got the idea that he was dissatisfied with how the process was going.”

The January 18 21C concert celebrates Riley: On the first half of the evening, Tracy Silverman on electric violin will perform excerpts from Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle and Sri Camel, both arranged by Silverman. On the second half of the evening, Terry and his son Gyan will perform five of his works including Mongolian Winds and Ebony Horn, along with selections from Salome Dances for Peace.

This year’s 21C

Surrounding that January 18 Riley celebration concert, there is much else to enjoy in this edition of 21C.

The opening concert on January 16 features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tania Miller and Simon Rivard. Since there will be no New Creations Festival at the TSO this year, this is one way for them to continue to support the work of contemporary composers.

Their 21C concert features two world premieres – one by Emilie Lebel (who has been appointed the TSO’s new affiliate composer) and the other by Stewart Goodyear. (Goodyear will also be performing in a full concert of his own works on January 17, including Variations on Hallelujah and other takes on various pop and rock songs.) Other composers featured in the TSO concert are Dorothy Chang, Dinuk Wijeratne, Jocelyn Morlock and Terry Riley.

Other Toronto-based presenters offering programs at this year’s 21C festival include Continuum with an all-female program featuring compositions by Cassandra Miller, Monica Pearce, Linda Smith, Carolyn Chen, Unsuk Chin and Kati Agócs. On the weekend, the performing ensembles of Cinq à Sept and Sō Percussion (both on January 19) as well as the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble (January 20) will be performing entire programs of new compositions, again featuring an abundance of works by women. Check the listings for a full rundown of all the composers you can hear.

Esprit bridge to U of T

As mentioned previously, the U of T’s Contemporary Music Festival picks up where 21C leaves off. On January 20 there will be an Esprit Orchestra concert which, fittingly, closes one festival and opens the other with works by Claude Vivier, Toshio Hosokawa, Alison Yun-Fei and Christopher Goddard. The two festivals are partnering to present the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by Wallace Halladay. Hosokawa is Japan’s pre-eminent living composer, creating his musical language from the relationship between Western avant-garde art and traditional Japanese culture. His music is strongly connected to the aesthetic and spiritual roots of the Japanese arts and he values the expression of beauty that originates from transience.

Hosokawa, who is this year’s Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the U of T Festival, will also be offering composition masterclasses on January 21 and 22, and his music will be presented in a concert by faculty artists on January 21, in a concert of Percussion and Electronics on January 23 and as featured composer for the New Music Concerts performance on January 25.

In with the New Quick Picks

DEC 11, 7:30PM: Gallery 345. PAPER: New Compositions and Improvisations by Nahre Sol, a pianist and composer who creates music that combines a unique blend of improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony and minimalism. She teams up with clarinetist Brad Cherwin for this free concert.

DEC 14, 8PM: Music Gallery, Rejuvenated Frequencies. A showcase of music curated by Obuxum featuring groundbreaking music by women of colour, music that is “progressive and healing all at once.” Performers include VHVL from Harlem with her thumping beats and bright melodies, Toronto-based YourHomieNaomi with roots in spoken word, and Korean-born, Toronto-based classically trained pianist Korea Town Acid whose DJ sets create an avant-garde journey.

JAN 17, 7:30PM: Canadian Music Centre. A mixed-genre evening of jazz-inflected works by Alex Samaras, one of Canada’s leading jazz vocalists, and Norman Symonds, a leading figure in the third-stream movement in Canada that combines jazz and classical forms. The concert will include works by the CMC’s 2018 Toronto Emerging Composer Award-winner Cecilia Livingston, who specializes in music for voice and opera.

JAN 29, 7:30PM: Tapestry Opera presents Hook Up at Theatre Passe Muraille. This opera by composer Chris Thornborrow, libretto by Julie Tepperman, raises questions of consent, shame and power in the lives of young adults navigating uncharted waters on their own. Content warning: Contains explicit language and discussion of sexual violence. Runs to February 9.

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

Johannes Debus. credit Tony HauserToronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Matthew Loden and I are chatting about the beloved cultural phenomenon that is Messiah in Toronto. Sitting in his office overlooking Roy Thomson Hall, I can see the iconic webbing of the edifice, a physical nest that cradles the music hall. In a few weeks, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and guests, under the baton of Johannes Debus, will present a major six-performance run of Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece.. (Full disclosure: as regular readers of this column know, I sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and will be on stage for these performances.)

“We live in a very disjointed and fractured time right now. I think that the human condition is to long for a kind of togetherness, to find your place with people,” says Loden, speaking about the need for a space for an event like Messiah. “Increasingly, we keep finding ways to disintegrate relationships. When you have a moment where you can come together collectively and still have an individual experience while feeling the music coming off the stage with a couple thousand other people – that is really powerful.” With these TSO performances alone, 15,000 people will experience the majesty of the most iconic of Toronto classical-music traditions.

“People are moved to tears not just because of the artistic nature of what they’re listening to,” Loden continues, “but because they are doing it with other people, live. It’s raw talent from 150-plus people on stage. There’s a kind of magic that happens when you get everybody together to be a part of that.”

Johannes Debus leads the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with soloists Claire de Sévigné (soprano), Allyson McHardy (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Haji (tenor), and Tyler Duncan (baritone). Surprisingly, over his significant career, Debus has never conducted the entire work. “This is my first time conducting it,” he tells me in a phone call from his home in Berlin. “But when I was in my early teens, I sang it. This was one of the strong, long-lasting musical impressions I have from my childhood. Afterwards, I made my mother buy the John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir recording. It’s a dream come true for myself to be able to conduct this piece.”

Debus is a fixture in the classical world in Toronto, serving as the music director for the Canadian Opera Company (COC), a post he has held for almost a decade. In that capacity he isn’t often on the stage, though, in Toronto, and this marks only his second time with the TSO. He is mindful that the music lovers of Toronto are very particular about their Messiahs. “[Conducting] might come with certain expectations,” he says. “On the other hand, you can rely on the experience of the musicians and hopefully bring something new. Not to reinvent the wheel but to inspire us all and bring all forces together. Make it an event that nourishes us and prepares us for the Christmas Day. In the case of Messiah, like every other masterpiece, you discover something new every time. Like a statue, you turn it around and look at it from the back or the side. You discover new angles. That’s what makes music so brave – you perform it in the moment and it can be new every time.” Audience members can safely expect a charismatic, flowing storyteller, and for once will be able to see his whole body in action from the stage, not just the top of his head and hands from the orchestra pit.

Debus is aware of other interpretations of Messiah. He mentions Sir Andrew Davis’ 2016 recording, for one, but promises something a little more literal. “In the beginning we’re dealing with prophecy, birth, and then redemption, like chapters. It’s like a novel, three big parts,” says Debus. “If we manage to bring out a distinctiveness in character and expression of all those aspects, I will be very pleased and happy.”

The dramatic edge of Messiah can easily be lost faced with the technicality of the music. For a master musical storyteller like Debus, it is at the core. Handel’s music uses the assembled text in an emotive fashion that creates a thread of luscious descriptiveness in his music. There is the venomous roar of choir in “He Trusted in God,” remarking in great anger and frustration. “And with his stripes” plainly invokes the whip marks covering Jesus’ body. The playfulness and athleticism of “All we like sheep” finishes with the introspective acknowledgement of the faithful’s iniquity. The solos carry this emotional energy as well. The emotional tenor sings “Thy rebuke has broken his heart,” a call from the deepest depths of despair, for help. The mezzo-soprano maintains a humble supplication with “He was despised.” All of this is underpinned by the orchestra. Handel’s music carries many emotional messages over a short period of time.

“It’s part of Handel’s success in general, that he can unfold and have this incredible impact on your emotional soul, your emotional centre,” says Debus. “It can really shake you and elevate you, make you weak and so on. Among the great dramatists and operatists, Handel knew how to establish this and make it work. He knows very well how to set the mood and his talent for writing ear-worm-like melodies.”

“As a composer of Italian opera, Handel was always drawn to the ideal of theatrical, operatic writing. In terms of drama, we will work to apply that here.” Bringing to life the dramatic solos is a quartet of Canadian talent who have all worked with Debus before: in fact De Sévigné, McHardy and Haji have all been members of the Ensemble Studio, a key part of Debus’ programming direction at the COC.

Matthew LodenMatthew Loden is particularly keen on this set of soloists as well, knowing that three of them have been members of the COC Ensemble Studio. “[This performance] represents a very strong partnership with the COC,” he says, “with Johannes on the podium and three of four of soloists connected to the Ensemble Studio. The fact that there are these remarkable development opportunities for these professional singers on their way into the world, and that the TSO can be one of the stops on their trajectory, is really fulfilling. And Canadians really appreciate when they can celebrate their homegrown talent.”

The Ensemble Studio is part of a musical ecosystem encompassing the University of Toronto, Royal Conservatory of Music, and the COC, incubating, supporting and celebrating new generations of talent. Through performances such as these on the biggest symphonic stage in Canada, the TSO becomes part of that ecosystem.

Messiah is a core programmatic element of the first half of every TSO season. “We do Messiah every year is because one of the roles we play in Toronto is to gather people together into a space that allows them to feel like they are part of something that is bigger than themselves. Bigger than they are individually,” shares Loden. “There’s a ceremony around getting together with friends and family and other musicians on an annual basis that allows people to both reflect and look forward. Messiah is a perfect opportunity for that kind of gathering.”

Messiah isn’t part of any regular subscription package on offer from the TSO. Annually, ever seat sold is an add-on to a subscription, a create-your-own subscription package, or individual concert sale. Sure-fire Messiah sales are important to the TSO when balanced against new works or unfamiliar ones to audiences. Loden acknowledges that these are concerts that sell and sell out. “Whenever we open the phone lines and the next season goes on sale, Messiah is often at the top of people’s list. It tells us that this is something that is working,” says Loden. “Messiah is a highlight and focal point from a financial standpoint, but also within the rhythm of the season. I think if people want to come and be proud of being in this great city, being Canadians and experience this monumental piece of music that has withstood the test of time; to do it in this concert hall, it’s a very special thing; and I think that’s why people keep coming back.”

“The images we get through Handel’s music – with all its weaknesses, the compassion, empathy, glory, exuberance – with all these aspects, you can find them concentrated in this theatre called Messiah. I hope that many people will come to these concerts,” Debus says, adding “and that there won’t be any snowstorms.”

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

MESSSIAH IS EVERYWHERE

From the November edition of HalfTones, The WholeNote’s mid-month digital newsletter (subscribe online!): Messiah is near-synonymous with choral community-building: with festivity, with meaningful memories of classical music, with standing and singing along. Something about Messiah, and the way it unites community initiatives with musical professionals, gives it a special place in the city and scene’s musical fabric.

Just an example - this year’s Messiah for the City (Dec 22) presented by Toronto Beach Chorale in partnership with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, features singers from the Toronto Beach Chorale, MCS Chorus Mississauga and the Georgetown Bach Chorale, and players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Founded by the late Jack Layton, Messiah for the City is a project dedicated to providing seasonal concert opportunities to people who otherwise might not have access to such events. Tickets are distributed by United Way and its partner agencies.

And then all over the map, and in order of appearance (details in our listings):

DEC 1, 4PM: Pax Christi Chorale’s special Children’s Messiah performance for children and families; Church of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto.

DEC 4-6, 8PM: Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah IV at the Drake Underground, Toronto.

DEC 11, 8PM: An Evening of Choruses and Arias from Handel’s Messiah. The debut performance of B-Xalted! a new choir founded by Barbara Gowdy and Whitney Smith, at the Church of St. Peter & St. Simon-the-Apostle, Toronto.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Cellar Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Orillia Opera House, Orillia.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Grand Philharmonic Choir. Handel’s Messiah. Centre in the Square, Kitchener.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: MCS Chorus Mississauga. G. F. Handel: Messiah. First United Church, Mississauga.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Orchestra Kingston. Handel’s Messiah. Kingston Choral Society. The Spire/Sydenham Street United Church, 82 Sydenham St., Kingston.

DEC 9, 3PM: Dufferin Concert Singers/New Tecumseth Singers. Handel’s Messiah. St. John’s United Church, Creemore.

DEC 15, 7:30PM: Chorus Niagara. Handel’s Messiah. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

DEC 15, 8PM: Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. Highlights from The Messiah. Living Arts Centre, Hammerson Hall, Mississauga.

DEC 15, 8PM: Orchestra Grey Bruce/Saugeen County Chorus. Messiah. Knox Presbyterian Church, Kincardine.

DEC 16, 3PM: Menno Singers. Sing-along Messiah. St. Jacob’s Mennonite Church, St. Jacobs.

DEC 17-22, 8PM AND 23, 3PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

DEC 17, 7:30PM: Peterborough Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Emannuel United Church, Peterborough.

DEC 18-21, 7:30PM: Tafelmusik’s Messiah at Koerner Hall, with their famous Sing-Along Messiah on DEC 22, 2PM, at Roy Thomson Hall (while Massey Hall is being renovated). Toronto

DEC 22, 7:30: Guelph Chamber Choir. Messiah. River Run Centre, Guelph.

NOT THE MESSIAH

Just a sampling …

DEC 5, 7:30PM: Nathaniel Dett Chorale. An Indigo Christmas: Black Virgin…Great Joy.

DEC 7, 7:30PM: Surinder Mundra. A Choral Christmas from Across Europe.

DEC 7, 8PM: Exultate Chamber Singers. Winter’s Night with You.

DEC 8, 2PM: Annual City Carol Sing. Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats; Hogtown Brass Quintet; Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Choir; VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto; That Choir; Hedgerow Singers; Kevin Frankish, host; and others.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Forte – Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus. All Is Calm, All Is Bright.

DEC 9, 2PM: Duly Noted. Toronto vs. Everybody. All a cappella music celebrating Toronto.

DEC 11, 7:30PM: City Choir. Cakes & Ale.

DEC 16, 3PM: Pax Christi Chorale. England’s Golden Age. A cappella masterpieces from the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

DEC 18, 7:30PM: Orpheus Choir of Toronto. A Child’s Christmas in Wales. With Geraint Wyn Davies.

DEC 22, 7:30PM: Quintessence Ensemble. Buon Natale: A Multilingual Christmas.

JAN 13, 3PM: Vesnivka Choir. Ukrainian Christmas Concert. With Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir and a folk instrumental ensemble.

JAN 13, 7:30PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music presents “We shall overcome: a celebration of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.” Damien Sneed and the Toronto Mass Choir: jazz, gospel, classical, blues, music theatre and spirituals – Sneed and guests will mark the 90th anniversary of MLK’s birth.

JAN 22 & 23, 7:30PM: Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. KW Glee.

JAN 26, 3PM: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Spotlight on North America. A free community concert celebrating great composers from Canada and the United States: interim artistic director David Fallis’ first fully programmed concert

JAN 26, 7PM: Newchoir. The High Society Soir-eh.

JAN 26, 8PM: Confluence. Centuries of Souls.

FEB 2, 2PM & 7PM: Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto. Songs from a Celtic Heart.

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

Justyna Gabzdyl PHOTO BY Beata NawrockiJustyna Gabzdyl: After graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Academy (now University) of Music in Warsaw in 2005, Polish-born pianist, Justyna Gabzdyl, continued her studies at the École Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris before earning a doctorate at Université de Montréal in 2012. Now 36 and based in Canada, Gabzdyl will be performing in Walter Hall in a U of T Faculty of Music recital on January 24; works by Syzmanowski and Gershwin will be featured. She spoke to La Scena Musicale for their February/March 2018 issue and detailed her fondness for Syzmanowski.

“I find his music incredibly stimulating to the imagination,” she said. “His style is unique, characterized by a beautiful, sensual tone. His huge sensibility to colour and sound is impressionistic. At the same time, the ecstatic climaxes make his style closer to expressionism.”

Szymanowski often travelled to Italy, Sicily, North Africa and France – destinations with which Gabzdyl is familiar, having lived in France, and visited the Maghreb numerous times.

“Countries that are culturally different from our own arouse our curiosity,” she said. “They open us to new smells, tastes, landscapes, lifestyles…I think all these factors affect our emotions and inspire us. In this case, travelling in the composer’s footsteps helped me to understand his intentions and galvanized my enthusiasm.”

Studying in Canada influenced her in several ways. She was introduced to a musical perspective that stressed the architecture of a piece. “In Poland, there is generally more interest in the progress of the music’s ‘character.’ This focus is quite typical of Slavic schools,” she said. Gabzdyl was also influenced by the French technique of jeu perlé (passages played quickly, lightly and clearly) which she uses in Chopin and Szymanowski. And she thinks that music interpretation is somehow influenced by the spirit of the nation. “Moving to Canada improved my positive thinking. I became more relaxed. I find Canadians more jovial. Polish people have a tendency to be melancholic.”

Hugo Kitano, 22, is a double major at Stanford (music and computer science) and an international prizewinner. His COC free noon-hour recital January 31 is comprised of Beethoven’s penultimate piano Sonata No.30, Op.110 and Chopin’s resplendent Polonaise-Fantaisie Op.61. Kitano has worked extensively with John Perry who also finds time to visit the Glenn Gould School on a regular basis as a faculty member.

Charles Richard-Hamelin’s star is still rising; the honeymoon from his Warsaw Chopin Competition honours in 2015 has evolved into a major concert schedule that brings him to Koerner Hall on February 3. Two C-Major works by Schumann, the Arabesque Op.17 and the Fantasy Op.16 precede a performance of Chopin’s Four Ballades. The 29-year-old pianist gave an insightful interview to Bachtrack on September 30, 2016 that showed the same maturity beyond his years that his piano playing already reflected.

In answer to a question about his relationship to the score: “The more we play a work, the less we leave the score. But it is not because we play by heart that we must not have it in mind anymore. For Chopin, it’s complicated because the editions are very contradictory, there is not really a reference edition. Finally, the most important thing is to read between the lines: if we just scrupulously execute what is written on the score, we fall into academism. There is a lot of unspoken music, such as rubato. In Chopin, for example, we sometimes find ornaments formed by several quick notes: obviously, he did not expect that we play them identically. You have to know how to distance yourself from the score; for it to be alive.”

On how his repertoire has changed since the Warsaw win: “Before the contest, I could choose to play what I wanted. But the audience did not want to hear me: I had a few concerts in Canada and Quebec but I never played abroad. Now, this is largely the case because the Chopin Competition is a showcase for the international scene. Playing what you want is good, yet you have to be engaged to play on a stage. That said, I was already very happy: I made a humble living, but I made a living.”

And on Chopin becoming a label that’s hard to get rid of: “Indeed, I have many commitments in Japan, but for Chopin! There are worse labels to have. If I were only to play Saint-Saëns for the rest of my life, I think I’ll stop playing the piano. Fortunately, we do not get tired of Chopin so quickly. I had to play three or four hours of music, while he wrote 12 or 13. And then, some programmers show more openness and let me build recital programs around Chopin, with other composers who accompany him well, by contrast or similarity.”

Juho Pohjonen CREDIT Henry FairJuho Pohjonen: The celebrated Finnish pianist, 37-year-old Juho Pohjonen, is another “fast-rising star” (The Guardian). His impressive NYC recital debut in 2004, while he was still a student at the Sibelius Academy, was praised by The New York Times as “formidable” and “breathtaking.” Lately his association with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has brought him more attention for “his effortless brilliance.” All of which only adds to my anticipation for his Music Toronto recital on February 5. His program pairs two suites by Rameau from his Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin with late works by Mozart (Rondo in A Minor K511) and Beethoven (Sonata No.28 in A Major, Op.101).

Younggun Kim: Fifth in this handful of talented young pianists, South Korean-born, Toronto-based, U of T Faculty member Younggun Kim will show off his dazzling technical prowess in a recital in Walter Hall on February 7. The demanding program moves from the Bach-Busoni Chaconne to Godowsky’s fiendishly difficult Studies on Chopin’s Etudes and Ravel’s jaw-dropping La Valse.

Heath Quartet CREDIT Simon WayTwo String Quartets

Heath: When the Heath Quartet made their memorable Toronto debut in January 2017, their second violinist had just left the ensemble to spend more time with her family. Nonetheless, their dynamism and exuberance were evident even with a last-minute replacement. Now, with a new violinist in place, they make a welcome return to Walter Hall early next February.

When I spoke to first violinist Ollie Heath two years ago I asked how he constructs a program. “Nearly always we begin a concert with a piece from earlier in the repertoire,” Heath said. “The simpler, cleaner textures and conversational aspects of these pieces is a good way of bringing everyone ‘into the room,’ and introducing the possibilities of what a string quartet can do. The second work is often more complex – more demanding on both listener and player. We then fill the second half with a more generously sized work – from one of the Romantic, nationalist composers or one of the big Beethoven quartets.”

Sure enough, the paradigm still stands. For their Mooredale Concerts recital on February 3, they begin with Mozart’s Quartet K465 “Dissonance,” its nickname owing to the harmonic boldness of the slow introduction to its first movement. The most famous and last of the six quartets Mozart dedicated to “my dear friend Haydn,” will undoubtedly introduce the possibilities of what a string quartet can do.

The quartet is devoting this concert season to all three of Benjamin Britten’s quartets. We get to hear his first, commissioned in 1941 by the famous American patroness, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had previously commissioned Bartók’s Fifth Quartet (1934) and Schoenberg’s Fourth (1936). The emotional centre of the work, the long Andante Calmo third movement, is filled with melancholy beauty. The afternoon concert concludes with Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No.9, Op.59 No.3, one of the biggest of Beethoven’s quartets.

Van Kuick: Despite its Dutch-sounding name, the Van Kuijk Quartet, founded by Nicolas Van Kuijk in 2012, is French. Its growing international reputation was kindled by winning First Prize in the 2015 Wigmore Hall Competition and First Prize and Audience Award at the Trondheim International Chamber Competition; and its members have been named BBC New Generation Artists until 2017. Their Music Toronto concert on January 31, curiously enough, follows a similar programming concept as that of the Heath, beginning with Haydn’s celebrated late Quartet in D Major, Op.76, No.5, written at the height of his fame. Ligeti’s Quartet No.1 “Metamorphoses nocturnes” with its beguiling angularity, chromaticism and dissonance, is followed by Schubert’s monumental Quartet No.14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden.”

Two violinists

Benedetti: The enthralling Scottish violinist, Nicola Benedetti, makes her second visit to Toronto this season with her Koerner Hall recital on January 25. Her TSO engagement last September, playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2, broadened into a visit to Sistema Toronto that was chronicled by David Perlman on thewholenote.com in October. In Koerner Hall, she’ll be performing with Kiev-born pianist Alexei Grynyuk, a regular chamber music partner with Benedetti in the Benedetti, Elschenbroich, Grynyuk Trio. In 1942, Prokofiev found himself in far-off Central Asia working on the score for Eisenstein’s classic film Ivan the Terrible. For a change of pace he began to compose a sonata for flute and piano which was premiered in Moscow the following year to a lukewarm response. David Oistrakh suggested that Prokofiev turn it into a violin sonata, which he did, saying that he wanted to write it in a “gentle, flowing classical style.” That Violin Sonata No.2, with all its wit, lyricism, expressiveness and mood changes, is a centrepiece of a recital that begins with Bach’s unalloyed solo masterwork, the Chaconne from Partita No.2, and includes a Wynton Marsalis premiere and Richard Strauss’ surprisingly seductive Violin Sonata Op.18.

Blake Pouliot CREDIT Jeff Fasano PhotographyPouliot: Twentysomething Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot won the 2018 Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Award, an honour that followed his Grand Prize win at the 2016 Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Manulife Competition. His recent Debussy-Ravel Analekta CD was praised by WholeNote Strings Attached columnist Terry Robbins as “an outstanding recording debut.” Robbins noted that “Pouliot plays with strength, clarity, warmth, faultless intonation and a fine sense of phrase… [drawing] a gorgeous tone from the 1729 Guarneri del Gesù violin on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts.” With Hsin-I Huang at the piano, Pouliot gives a free (ticket required) concert in RCM’s Mazzoleni Hall Sunday afternoon, February 3. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this star on the rise in an appealing program of Mozart (K379), Janáček, Sarasate and Chausson (the divine Poème). 

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

DEC 8, 8PM: Violinist Alexandre Da Costa, who divides his time between Montreal and Australia, brings his Stradivarius 1701 to the Glenn Gould Studio stage when he joins Nurhan Arman and Sinfonia Toronto in “The Eight Seasons,” featuring Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

DEC 16, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society celebrates Beethoven’s 248th birthday with a compelling program that includes the Kreutzer Sonata, Eyeglass Duo and Archduke Trio. Angela Park, piano, Yehonatan Berick, violin, and Rachel Mercer, cello, make it happen as the AYR Trio.

JAN 10 AND 12, 8PM; JAN 13, 3PM: Intrepid Mississauga-born violinist, Leila Josefowicz, joins the TSO for a performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, the composer’s particular take on the Baroque era. David Robertson, American-born conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ grandly romantic Symphony No.2 and Kurt Weill’s evergreen Suite from the Threepenny Opera.

JAN 13, 3PM: Musical inheritance is the theme of the Windermere String Quartet’s upcoming concert, “Keeping It in the Family.” The period-instrument ensemble’s program opens with a J.S. Bach fugue arranged by W.A. Mozart, followed by a divertimento by Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father. Guest artist, traverso player Alison Melville, is featured in J.S. Bach’s son, Johann Christian’s Quartet No.1 for flute and strings; W.A. Mozart’s final string quartet, the masterful String Quartet No.23 in F Major, K590, concludes the Sunday afternoon recital.

JAN 15, 12PM: Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind heads a program of chamber music (that also includes works by Villa-Lobos and Piazzolla) performed by artists of the COC and National Ballet Orchestras, in this free noon-hour concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre.

JAN 27, 3PM: Pittsburgh-based guest violist, David Harding, and talented pianist, Todd Yaniw, join Trio Arkel members, Marie Bérard and Winona Zelenka for “the melodies just surged upon me.” The Trio chose this quote by Dvořák because it directly refers to his Piano Quartet No.2 in E-flat Major Op.87, the centrepiece of their Sunday afternoon concert, which also features music by Schubert and Röntgen.

JAN 28, 7:30PM: TSO principal cellist, Joseph Johnson, and chamber musician supreme, Philip Chiu, join forces for a U of T Faculty of Music recital featuring music by Beethoven, Britten and Chopin.

JAN 31 AND FEB 2, 8PM: After hors d’oeuvres of Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis and the TSO settle in for the main course: Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Lise Davidsen, soprano; Simon O’ Neill, tenor; and Brindley Sherratt, bass.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote

Erika Switzer (left) and Martha Guth. Photo by Colin MillsCompetitions are not unusual in classical music. Every few months, young voices and pianists are competing somewhere in the world – in standard repertoire by composers from the past. No new songs get commissioned especially for the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, or the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, or the Operalia. For new works by living artists one goes to poetry slams and literary death matches, where poets and novelists turn their writing into a performance and the audience, to a greater or lesser degree inebriated, decides the winner. We can go to competitions in old music – and watch them civilly and in silence – or competitions in new writing, spoken without music, where a certain degree of audience responsiveness and noise is in fact encouraged.

Those were the choices, that is, until spring 2017 and the inaugural songSLAM concert before a standing-room-only crowd in New York City. It’s when soprano Martha Guth and pianist Erika Switzer decided to give a spin to this new and (fair to say) populist format for presenting new art song creations. The two musicians, while pursuing independent careers, have, in their spare time, also been running Sparks & Wiry Cries, an organization and online magazine dedicated to the “preservation and the advancement of art song.” The new-song-competition format became popular almost overnight: after the NYC songSLAM, two new cities, Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, immediately wanted their own. There will be seven songSLAMs in three countries this season, says Guth via email from NYC when I get in touch with her to ask about the upcoming Toronto slam.

Scheduled for January 16 at the more formal Walter Hall at the University of Toronto, the Toronto songSLAM will otherwise remain true to the established slam practices: drinks (cocktails will be served 30 minutes before the 7pm start time, says Guth), all songs by living composers, and performers from all career levels – students, young professionals and established musicians from Toronto and Montreal. She could not confirm the final list of participants, as the 12 accepted composer-performer teams and five alternates were still being notified at the time of the interview, but at least two young singers have already shared on Twitter their excitement ahead of the concert – sopranos Sara Schabas and Danika Lorèn (who will be singing her own songs accompanied by Darren Creech on the piano).

“We created the songSLAM in order to get audiences excited and invested in the creation of new music,” says Guth, “and to build a sense of collaboration and interaction between composers and performers in each city where events are held. This social event has so far exceeded all of our expectations everywhere it has happened. The audiences have been incredibly enthusiastic, and the musicians taking part have told us that even if they didn’t place in the competition, they loved taking part because of the community-building aspects.  For us too, it is an amazing way to hear up-and-coming talent.” Ever on the lookout for new and exciting art songs, the pair have commissioned new music from some of their favourites from the slams, some of which will be performed in the 2019 songSLAM festival in NYC.

NYC songSLAM CREDIT Martha GuthTo put together song slams in different cities, partnership with a local organization is key. For the Toronto event, Sparks & Wiry Cries partnered with Women on the Verge, aka the sopranos Elizabeth McDonald, Emily Martin and Kathryn Tremills, the performing trio on a mission to tell the stories of women’s lives through song. The University of Toronto’s Voice Studies Program is the second Toronto partner that made the slam possible. After the Canadian edition, slams in Chicago, Denver and Ljubljana (Slovenia) are in the works, the latter scheduled to be televised on Slovenian TV.

Toronto-based tenor Jonathan Russell MacArthur and pianist Darren Creech took part in the first slam in NYC last year. The two musicians met while working on a production workshop with FAWN Chamber Creative, and “definitely clicked, being two queer boys who live in Toronto,” says MacArthur in an email when I ask about the experience. “There was always something to talk about.” When he heard of the competition and proposed a collaboration to Creech, the young pianist didn’t need much persuading. They agreed to do a piece by Wally Gunn, MacArthur’s Aussie friend who lived in the NYC borough of Queens. “Wally wanted to tell a story of Captain Moonlite – a gay Australian bushranger and outlaw – so he wrote that piece for us.” Once in NYC, they stayed with Gunn and rehearsed in Brooklyn. Their performance now lives on YouTube. “We had a great time.”

But first, December. The year is not over yet.

Just the other day I received an email from Happenstance’s clarinetist Brad Cherwin describing their next concert … or shall I call it experiment. As soprano Adanya Dunn is out and about travelling and auditioning, Happenstance will this time present themselves as a duo, “Alice” Nahre Sol (piano and composition) and Cherwin himself. On December 11 at Gallery 345, free admission, they will present PAPER, an exploration of that mundane yet essential material through music and visual art.

How is that going to work? “Expect a 30-minute performance piece, incorporating all new music by Alice and improvisations by both of us, alongside projections and painting. It’s going to be our first attempt at wrestling with the concert form. We’re pushing ourselves out of the standard recital paradigm.” The visuals will not be narrative but abstract, to match the music, he says. They won’t be incidental but fundamentally connected to the sound. In other words, we have to come and see what they have concocted. (To check out some of Cherwin’s art – he does all the visuals for the Happenstance programs – head over to Instagram, his account is public.) Meanwhile this fall, Nahre Sol has started a fellowship at the RCM in partnership with the 21C Music Festival, and Happenstance has received some TAC funding for the new season. The 2019 concerts will be announced on December 11, and the odd detail remains to be worked out, but Cherwin can confirm North American premieres of works by Wolfgang Rihm and Pascal Dusapin for soprano, clarinet and piano, as well as a world premiere of a new trio by Nahre Sol.

Meanwhile, across town, in the Amsterdam Bicycle Club on the Esplanade, Against the Grain Theatre, known for messing with traditional operatic repertoire to great effect, will launch its record label and its first release on December 7. Ayre, Osvaldo Golijov’s 2004 song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble that uses Sephardic, Arabic, Hebrew and Sardinian folk material, has been recorded in a live concert by the AtG’s founding member, Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil. Songs from the disc will be performed at the launch, which will be an art song recital that keeps all the informality of an AtG Opera Pub. And did I mention cocktails, which seem to be the recurring theme of this end-of-year column?

A few song-themed tips for the gifting season

For the new music eccentric in your life, consider the recently released CD of songs by Andrew Staniland to the poetry of Robin Richardson, Go By Contraries. SongSLAM’s Martha Guth and baritone Tyler Duncan lend their voices, with Erika Switzer at the piano. For the early music jester, get Sallazzo Ensemble’s debut album Parle qui veut: Moralizing Songs of the Middle Ages (Linn Records). And for those few people in your life who still read books (not a huge number of us are still kicking about), look for Robert Harris’ Song of a Nation, on the eventful life of the composer of Canada’s national anthem, Calixa Lavallée. 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

DEC 22 AND 23, 8PM: Heliconian Hall. The Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Toronto presents the Vesuvius Ensemble’s “Christmas in Southern Italy.” Francesco Pellegrino and the lads of Vesuvius see the year off with their traditional December concert of secular Southern Italian songs around Christmas themes. Pellegrino, Marco Cera and Lucas Harris are joined by Romina di Gasbarro at the guest vocals and Tommaso Sollazzo on the bagpipes. Knowing Vesuvius, I expect some high quality arrangements of Italian pop songs as well – at least in the encores.

JAN 26 AND 27, 7:30PM: Trinity College Chapel, U of T. Cor Unum Ensemble and Sub Rosa Ensemble bring to the fore the little-known works by women composers from the 16th and 17th centuries.

JAN 27, 2PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music. Mazzoleni Songmasters Series: “Winter Words.” Mezzo Lucia Cervoni and tenor Michael Colvin sing Britten, Mahler and assorted other music around the broad theme of winter.

FEB 3, 7:30PM: Vocalis: The Song Narrative Project, curated by Stephen Philcox and Laura Tucker. The Extension Room, 30 Eastern Ave. Meet University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s outstanding master’s and doctoral students in concert. Free admission.

What stood out for you this year? Send me your highlights to artofsong@thewholenote.com. Wishing you a merry and song-filled end of the year.

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

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