For this month’s column, I’ll be taking a look at two different events during the month of November that involve large-scale forces. The first involves the mainstay of communal soundmaking – the symphony orchestra, while the second is a significant new amalgam of voices coming together to create two operas.

Emilie LeBel. Photo by Phillipa C PhotographyI’ll begin with what’s happening with the Toronto Symphony and their affiliate composer, Emilie LeBel, who is currently in the second year of her position. One of the benefits of this position is that she is given the opportunity to compose one new piece each year for the orchestra. This year’s work, unsheltered, will receive its Toronto premiere on November 13, after performances on November 11 in Ottawa and November 12 in Montreal, part of an upcoming TSO tour. I spoke with LeBel about her new work, as well as another of the projects she is involved with at the TSO, titled Explore The Score.

Currently living and teaching in Edmonton, Alberta (when not engaged in her TSO commitments), LeBel says that she began composing unsheltered during the spring of 2019, while all around her wildfires were blazing north of Edmonton, amidst various public conversations and controversies about building more pipelines. She spoke about the general uneasiness and tensions that exist right now everywhere in the world and how her composition took on that atmosphere. She stressed that “the piece is not about politics or climate change in an overt way, rather I’m picking up on an uneasiness that feels very palpable right now.” In juxtaposition to this, LeBel said, is the natural beauty of the area she is currently living in, how different that environment is for her personally, and how it helps her aspire to be hopeful as well.

In her own note on unsheltered, she quotes a poem by Joanna Doxey as inspiration – speaking, as it does, to the importance of human connection during those moments we have with people, as well as to our experience of time, particularly when we look back on such moments in a more nostalgic way. The poem is from Doxey’s Book of Worry and begins  “…in this humming and doubled land, hold worry, only me”.

It is the word humming that LeBel frequently referenced while speaking of the piece, to describe the overall atmosphere being invoked in her composition. Musically, it started off as a bass line from a Baroque piece that she has been studying with her students. “I was thinking about Baroque bass lines and how everything on top of it is like a textural landscape. This is often what I do in orchestral pieces. There are sections with slippery glissandos and high string harmonics that create an atmosphere where things feel tenuous.” The poetic except from Doxey continues: “and I get older or I grow farther from myself and I always most love the moment before now…” It is a  sentiment that is also reflected in LeBel’s piece; she chooses to end it on a note that, while part of the humming atmosphere, is both nostalgic and hopeful.

LeBel’s responsibilities as TSO affiliate composer have also entailed involvement in another hopeful venture. This year is the eighth season in which the TSO has supported opportunities for composers to have their works read by the orchestra. Last year, along with Matthew Fava from the Canadian Music Centre, they devised a new approach to the project. They changed the jury process from being anonymous to asking people to send in their scores, along with informational statements outlining what they wished to get out of the program. This way, composers who would get the most from this opportunity would be selected, regardless of age or stage in their career. Around the same time, there was a conversation at the TSO about opening up the process to the public, to offer them an experience of how a new orchestral work is rehearsed. A new name was given to the program – Explore the Score – and they have received great feedback from both the public and the composers about the experience. This November 30 will mark the second year for this new approach, and will include works by composers Ian Cusson, Matthew Emery, Fjóla Evans, and Jared Richardson. In advance, the composers will have received guidance from the orchestra’s librarian on how to prepare the score and parts, with the new compositions being conducted by Gary Kulesha – the TSO’s composer advisor. After the performance, feedback from both Kulesha and LeBel will be given to the composers and during a lunch with representatives from the different sections of the orchestra, the composers will receive additional feedback from the musicians’ point of view. They will also have access to LeBel for a follow-up session for both compositional and/or career advice.

Beyond her TSO commitments, LeBel remains an active composer within the Toronto music community and she will be premiering a new work with Continuum on November 3 as part of their 35th anniversary celebration concert, alongside works by Canadians Jason Doell, Christopher Goddard, Cassandra Miller and Michael Oesterle.

Two Odysseys

The second project that caught my eye this month is the upcoming production of Two Odysseys: Pimooteewin/Gállábártnit running from November 13 to 17 at Daniels Spectrum. Produced by Soundstreams with partners Signal Theatre and the Sámi National Theatre, the performance will present two operas that are the first such works to be sung and narrated in the Indigenous languages of both Cree and Sámi (the language of the Sápmi people, whose territory today encompasses large northern parts of Norway and Sweden, northern parts of Finland, and the Kola Peninsula within the Murmansk Oblast of Russia. Both works will be directed collaboratively by Michael Greyeyes from Signal Theatre and Cole Alvis from lemonTree creations.

Britta ByströmPimooteewin (The Journey) was first premiered in 2008, a performance that initiated a collaboration between Soundstreams and Greyeyes. Since that time, through a series of performances, connections, meetings and creative thinking, the initial venture has now evolved to the current production that has expanded to include a second companion opera, Gállábártnit, written in the Sámi language. The libretto for Pimooteewin was written in Cree by the celebrated Indigenous playwright and novelist Tomson Highway. Canadian composer Melissa Hui was selected to compose the music for the libretto and this task demanded her full commitment to understanding how to work with the Cree language. The librettist for Gállábártnit is Norwegian and Sámi playwright/author Rawdna Carita Eira. Swedish composer Britta Byström, who received the Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for Female Composers in 2015 from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, was selected to bring her unique artistic language to bear in the creation of the music.

In the casting of Two Odysseys, great care was taken to reflect diverse Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. The performers include two narrators—Yolanda Bonnell and Heli Huovinen, each fluent in their respective languages of Cree and Sámi, as well as vocal soloists Melody Courage, Asitha Tennekoon and Bud Roach. The musical performers also include a choir assembled by Soundstreams as well as a chamber ensemble. Métis soprano soloist Melody Courage provides a quick peek into her experience of the rehearsal process in a short excerpt from the promotional video available on the Soundstreams website, in which she reflects on “…the amount of pride I feel performing with so many ridiculously talented Indigenous artists that I’ve met for the first time … It’s in the stages of coming together and it feels very magical.”

Both works examine the question of how we live together as a human community on this earth, and how we journey on to the land of the dead. Each piece is based on ancient stories from the two traditions. The Cree story tells the tale of the Trickster character Weesageechak (coyote) and Migisoo (eagle) and their desire to be reunited with loved ones. The Gállábártnit of the Sámi story are the “sons of the son of the sun,” hunter/inventor star beings who come to earth from the “belt” of the constellation known in European cosmology as Orion. This mix of Indigenous stories, languages, directors, librettists, narrators and soloists intermingle here in an art form with European roots, in music created by two composers who bring their own sensibilities and artistic voices to the project. It is a dialogue that explores the edges of the possibilities available when people of diverse cultures are able to work collaboratively with sensitivity, respect and a willingness to listen to each other. Soprano Melody Courage sums it up this way: “You can expect to be moved and transformed, musically and spiritually.”

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

NOV 12, 8PM: New Music Concerts/Faculty of Music, U of T. Kasemets@100. Palestrina: Tu es Petrus; Kasemets: Trigon; Märt-Matis Lill: When the Buffalo Went Away; Kozlova-Johannes: Horizontals; Kasemets: 4’33” Fractals; Future is past…is…now. Ensemble U:; Stephen Clarke, piano. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building.

NOV 17, 8PM: The Music Gallery. History Series: Celebrating Casey Sokol. An evening with one of the Music Gallery’s co-founders as he moves on from a storied career teaching improvisation at York University. The evening will be part improvised soirée/part interview with food and drinks.

NOV 24, 8PM: The Music Gallery. Emergents I: Sarah Albu & Mári Mákó + Anoush Moazzeni. Blend of electronics, improvisation and notated works. Sarah Albu, vocalist; Mári Mákó, composer/sound artist; Anoush Moazzeni, piano/improvisation/composer.

Casey SokolNOV 24, 8PM: Toronto Improvisors Orchestra. TIO Celebrates Casey Sokol. Casey Sokol, piano; Eugene Martynec, laptop; Rod Campbell, trumpet; Bill Gilliam, piano; Ambrose Pottie, percussion. Array Space

NOV 26 AND 27, 8PM: Confluence Concerts. “An Evening with Marion Newman: What Is Classical Indigenous Music?” Marion Newman, mezzo; Rebecca Cuddy, mezzo; Evan Korbut, baritone; Gordon Gerrard, piano; Ian Cusson, composer. Heliconian Hall.

DEC 1, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra. “Sustain.” Andrew Norman: Sustain, for orchestra; Adam Scime: Afterglow, concerto for violin and orchestra; José Evangelista: Accelerando, for orchestra. Véronique Mathieu, violin; Alex Pauk, conductor. Koerner Hall.

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

Time is an equal opportunity employer” – Denis Waitley

While time may provide equal opportunity to those now living, history can be much less kind to the legacies of those who have gone before us. For example, when reviewing composers of classical music, we see specific instances of how such artists are grouped into seemingly infinite pyramid-shaped hierarchies, their status as “genius” determined as much by the quality of their output as their enduring and perennial appeal. Starting at the top, we encounter the universally revered composers, the capital-G Geniuses: Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Bach, and the other craftsmen whose works have transcended time and transfixed audiences for centuries. These are the figures after whom busts are sculpted and monuments built, and who can be trusted to draw large audiences year after year.

Another tier of the legacy tower is that of the well-respected, yet under-performed composer. Arnold Schoenberg and subsequent proponents of the Second Viennese School belong here, as do many of the 20th century’s finest musical minds, such as Ligeti, Berio and Stockhausen. While their works might not tickle the ears of every person who happens upon them, or fill up a concert hall, they nonetheless played significant roles in the development of new forms of musical expression. Yet another category is that of composers who achieve renown by virtue of their writing for a specific instrument, such as Josef Rheinberger’s compositions for the organ or Franz Liszt’s piano works; while both of these examples wrote a wide variety of material for a range of vocal and instrumental forces, their legacies rest primarily on a specific segment of their output.

No matter how we categorize the characters in our history books, these theoretical organizational principles are just that – theoretical. From a practical perspective, how does one choose which of these compositional strata to draw from when deciding what to perform next week, month, or year? Balance is key when constructing a concert program, and finding a stimulating and satisfying blend of composers and repertoire is the challenge of artistic directors across the globe. A quick case in point: when Pierre Boulez assumed control of the New York Philharmonic in 1971, succeeding Leonard Bernstein, his attempts to incorporate higher volumes of contemporary music led to much criticism and a drop in annual subscriptions to the orchestra’s seasons. While there was great merit to Boulez’s contemporary crusade, the slight change in emphasis from the easily digestible, top-tier “Genius” to the more sinewy Schoenbergian genius did not resonate with his audience and led to a challenging tenure for one of the 20th century’s greatest composer-conductors.

Much like the categorization of composers, there is a near-infinite number of approaches that can be taken to program-building and we will encounter some of them in this column, exploring a variety of early music through numerous combinations and juxtapositions, both of the music itself and the people who wrote it.

Discovering Antonio Lotti

A relatively unknown figure in a scene dominated by such heavyweights as Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi and Domenico Scarlatti, Antonio Lotti was an Italian composer who spent his career at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, working his way up the musical hierarchy from singer to maestro di cappella. Lotti wrote in a variety of forms, producing masses, cantatas, madrigals, nearly 30 operas, and instrumental music, thereby influencing some of the era’s great geniuses: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Jan Dismas Zelenka owned copies of Lotti’s Missa Sapientiae, consisting of a Kyrie and Gloria scored for chorus and orchestra, transcribed from the manuscript by each in their own hand.

This connection between Lotti’s Missa Sapientiae and the music of Bach, Handel and Zelenka is made apparent in Tafelmusik’s “Lotti Revealed”, presented from November 14 to 17 and directed by Ivars Taurins. This is the first time Tafelmusik has performed music by Lotti and it will be paired with excerpts from Bach and Zelenka masses, as well as Handel’s Carmelite Vespers. Sumptuous and expressive, Lotti’s music will prove a valuable addition to Tafelmusik’s repertory and stimulating listening for those who enjoy the richness and depth of late-Baroque music.

This Sounds Familiar…

The turning back of our clocks signals more than the arrival of colder temperatures; it also commences the annual transition to Christmas music, which regularly features combinations of classic works and interesting revelations. On November 24, the York University Concert and Chamber Choirs join forces to present a seasonal selection of music by Dieterich Buxtehude, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, and Camille Saint-Saëns. Two of these composers are famous largely for their organ works: Buxtehude for his masterful praeludia, chorale preludes and pieces in free style; Saint-Saëns for his Third Symphony, which gives the organ a prominent place in what is an overall glorious masterpiece. Pergolesi, meanwhile, is renowned for his Stabat Mater, a passiontide classic that makes multiple appearances each year. While the names may be familiar, the York University choirs will not be performing a greatest hits concert, but rather a series of pieces that focuses on various aspects of the Christmas story.

Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noël is a cantata-oratorio hybrid written for soloists, chorus, organ, strings and harp, composed while he was an organist at La Madeleine in Paris. Distinctly French in harmonic language, yet clearly indebted to the form of the Baroque cantata and dramatic element of the oratorio, this work combines arias, recitatives and chorus movements with the Latin texts of the Catholic lectionary, creating a piece of music with distinct characteristics and fascinating form. The cantata theme continues with Buxtehude’s Das neugeborne Kindelein, a Protestant church cantata for chorus and chamber orchestra, and Pergolesi’s Magnificat. These works will not only frame Saint-Saëns’ unconventional cantata with more traditional essays in the form, but delight the audience with infrequently performed works by renowned masters of their craft.

Academie für Alte Musik BerlinTwo Bits of Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are stunning masterpieces, as virtuosic a display of compositional prowess as their instrumental interpreters must be to convey the secrets contained therein. This November, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin visits Kingston on November 26 and Koerner Hall on November 27 in a performance of the first five Brandenburgs, a not-to-be-missed musical event. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (Akamus for short), founded in East Berlin in 1982, is one of the world’s leading chamber orchestras on period instruments. It has established itself as one of the pillars of Berlin’s cultural scene, holding its own concert series at the Konzerthaus Berlin for more than 30 years, as well as a concert series at Munich’s Prinzregententheater. Having sold more than one million CDs, their highly successful recordings have won all important awards for classical recordings; with such extraordinary international performers making a rare Canadian appearance, tickets for these concerts will certainly be in high demand.

Ottawa Bach ChoirNow in its 18th season, the Ottawa Bach Choir (OBC) continues to impress with their high level of skill and devotion to the art of their namesake composer. As a testament to their dedication and continued excellence, the OBC has been invited to return to Leipzig for the 2020 Bachfest as one of a select number of ensembles worldwide to present Bach’s entire chorale cantata cycle, a remarkable and imposing proposition! On November 30, the Ottawa Bach Choir, led by founding artistic director Lisette Canton, will visit Toronto for A Bach Christmas, providing us with the opportunity to hear a miniature Bachfest of our own. This program includes the cantatas the choir will perform at Bachfest Leipzig 2020 (Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht, BWV124; Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV3; Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit, BWV111), as well as the Christmas interpolations from the Magnificat, BWV243 (Vom Himmel hoch, Freut euch und jubiliert, Gloria in excelsis Deo, Virga Jesse floruit), the celebratory motet, Singet dem Herrn, BWV225, and more. Featuring the Ensemble Caprice baroque orchestra with strings, oboes d’amore, horn, as well as soprano Meredith Hall, countertenor Nicholas Burns, tenor Philippe Gagné and bass Andrew Mahon, there is little doubt that this concert will give Bach aficionados much to rejoice about this Christmas season.

Whether discovering the profundity of Antonio Lotti for the first time, hearing a rare performance of Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noël, or basking in the resplendent genius of Bach, the month of November is full of magnificent music that is well worth the price of admission. There is also much to look forward to in the following weeks, as the ushering in of the Christmas season brings with it many more opportunities to take in landmark works by both renowned and less-known composers. See you in December – until then, feel free to get in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

NOV 19, 7:30 PM: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Early Music Concerts: Purcell’s King Arthur. Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Containing some of Purcell’s most lyrical music and adventurous harmonies, King Arthur is a mystical journey through Arthur’s battle against the Saxons, with cameo appearances by Cupid, Venus and more! Much like last month’s Acis and Galatea, this is a fine opportunity to hear the U of T’s rising stars.

NOV 23, 7:30PM; NOV 24, 3PM: Cantemus Singers. “A Boy is Born.” Church of the Holy Trinity, 19 Trinity Square (Saturday)/St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, 70 Silver Birch Avenue (Sunday). In a column devoted to building a program, Cantemus deserves a special mention, as their concerts regularly consist of a fascinating variety of material. This month’s presentation features carols and motets from Renaissance England, including Thomas Tallis’ stunning Missa Puer natus est nobis for seven voices.

NOV 24, 7PM: Cantorei Sine Nomine. Bach: Christmas Oratorio. St. Paul’s Anglican Church (Uxbridge), 59 Toronto Street South. And so, it begins! This season’s first performance of the Christmas Oratorio features six cantatas drawn from the larger work, one of the finest Christmas choral pieces ever written and an unbroken sequence of drama and beauty that continues to inspire audiences, despite being premiered almost three centuries ago.

DEC 4, 7PM; DEC 5 TO 7, 8PM; DEC 8, 3:30PM: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. “O Come, Shepherds.” Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. With a diverse program connected through an underlying pastoral theme, this concert promises a unique combination of Baroque Christmas concertos and the soulful folk music of Southern Italy, with its own rhythms, instruments, and spirit – a fine continuation of Tafelmusik’s mission to broaden its horizons and those of its listeners, through innovative and unexpected presentations.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

With the Canadian Opera Company sleeping off the effects of Turandot and Rusalka, its two wildly contrasting fall main stage blockbusters, top spot in the operatic food chain this month goes to Opera Atelier’s remount of their convention-bucking, commedia-based Don Giovanni, in their new digs at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly the Pantages) on Yonge Street, a big block north of OA’s longtime regular venue at the Elgin Theatre (now hosting an indefinite, and presumably lucratively lengthy, run of Come From Away)

Opera Atelier’s Don Giovanni. Photo by Bruce ZingerDon Giovanni opens October 31, one day before this issue hits the streets, but if you’re fast out of the blocks, you can still catch it November 2, 3, 8 and 9. And catch it you should, especially if you’re allergic to the heavy-handed Bergmanesque moralizing gloom that all too often accrues to this work. Mozart would have recognized the style of this production far more readily (and I dare say delightedly) than some of the other gloomily lit treatments it has received.

“Fast out of the blocks” will also need to be the operative phrase if you want to take advantage of the period covered in this issue to drill down into five other strata of activity that are the bedrock of opera as a lively art in our region: our universities and conservatories; our regional opera companies; a vibrant indie opera scene, constantly reinventing itself; a rich tradition of community-based performance – participation in opera for the sheer love of it; and a decades-long tradition of opera-in-concert presentation of works we might otherwise, for various reasons, never have the opportunity to see and hear.

Universities and conservatories: Nov 1 and 2, at Mazzoleni Concert Hall, the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School gets things rolling with its fall chamber opera: a production of English composer Jonathan Dove’s Siren Song (libretto by Nick Dear). It’s a 70-minute work for five singers, one actor, and an orchestra of ten players (here conducted by Peter Tiefenbach), based on “a bizarre, true story of a young sailor who exchanges letters with a beautiful and successful model. Over time, a romantic and passionate relationship develops, but a meeting proves increasingly difficult to arrange.”

Later in the month, a short stroll down Philosopher’s Walk from the Royal Conservatory, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music gets into the act, twice. Nov 21, 22, 23, and 24, in the MacMillan Theatre, Edward Johnson Building, the Opera School presents Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, with two casts getting two shows each, and an “Opera Talk” lecture half an hour before each concert. And then, Dec 5, the U of T Symphony Orchestra gets into the act with a program titled Operatic Showpieces, featuring U of T Opera and the MacMillan Singers, conducted by COC chorus master Sandra Horst and Uri Meyer.

And if that’s not enough, or you live westwards, head down the 401 to the Don Wright Faculty of Music in London, where, on the same dates (Nov 21, 22, 23, and 24) Opera at Western presents Mozart’s The Secret Gardener (La Finta Giardiniera), penned at the ripe old age of 18! Stage direction by renowned baritone Theodore Baerg.

Natalya GennadiRegional and community opera: Nov 1 and 3 also offer an opportunity to observe Opera York in action, in Verdi’s La Traviata, at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, one of two fully staged operas they will present this season. (The other will be Lehar’s Merry Widow, Feb 28 and Mar 1.) This tenacious company’s mission is “to provide professional opera that is accessible financially, geographically and comprehensibly to the communities of York Region and surrounding communities, to encourage the development of the art form through educational and outreach activities and provide a platform for emerging and established Canadian artists” and they stick to it, as reflected in the quality of their casts. An example from this show: Natalya Gennadi (Violetta), whose Dora-nominated title role in Tapestry Opera’s Oksana G. in 2017 was widely praised. NOW Magazine called it “stunning... piercing in its openness and vulnerability.”

Jennifer TungLater in the month, and proudly rooted at the community opera end of things for 73 years, on Nov 21 and 23, Toronto City Opera, formerly known as Toronto Opera Repertoire, presents Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, at the Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina. Founded in 1946, by an optimistic James Rosselino, as an “Opera Workshop” at Central Technical School, in collaboration with the Toronto School Board, and now under the artistic direction of the multi-talented Jennifer Tung (singer, vocal coach, collaborative pianist, conductor), they present at least two fully staged operas each year with early-career paid-professional soloists selected after open auditions, and an amateur non-auditioned community chorus that remains open to all. The result is a wonderful sense of community engagement that extends through the chorus to the audience, many of whom are often having their first opera experience. Their mission statement – passionately committed to opera for everyone – says it all.

Indie opera: With the recent buzz around Tapestry Opera’s 40th anniversary and the tenth anniversary tour of Against the Grain’s pub-based La Bohème, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that independent opera in this town is fertile soil for much more. Just one example: Nov 2, 3 and 4, at Heliconian Hall, Loose Tea Music Theatre, under the always searching and provocative direction of Alaina Viau presents Singing Only Softly/The Diary of Anne Frank - Operas from the Secret Annex which pairs two separate works: Singing Only Softly, (composed by Cecilia Livingston with libretto by Monica Pearce); and The Diary of Anne Frank composed by Grigory Frid. Singing Only Softly Is based on the original, unredacted texts of the diary, “voicing Anne Frank as a fully formed young woman describing her experiences while discovering herself. Freshly interpreted in a current female context, it explores Anne’s complex self-awareness and self-representation.” Anne Frank is variously portrayed by sopranos Sara Schabas and Gillian Grossman, with music direction by Cheryl Duvall.

Opera in Concert: From the scope and scale of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s “Grand Opera in Concert” performances of Jules Massenet and Louis Gallet’s Thaïs, on Nov 7 and 9 at Roy Thomson Hall, to the intimate informality of Opera by Request’s Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Nov 15 at College St. United Church, opera in concert is alive and well as an art form in these parts. So it’s a fitting close to this exercise to give a special nod to a production by the company, now in its fifth decade, that pretty much single-handedly made the genre a natural and necessary part of the fabric of all things operatic around here: VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert’s presentation on Dec 1 of Leoš Janáček’s 1921 opera, Katya Kabanová.

Sung in English, the performance, in the company’s customary Jane Mallet Theatre surrounds, will feature Lynn Isnar, soprano; Emilia Boteva, mezzo; and tenors Michael Barrett and Cian Horrobin; with Jo Greenaway, music director/piano, and, as always, Robert Cooper, as chorus director. It’s not the opera that the brilliant 20th-century composer of Jenufa, The Cunning Little Vixen, and The Makropulos Affair is best known for. But that is the whole point. Opera in concert allows presenters, as play readings sometimes do, to bring to the eyes, and more importantly ears, of audiences, works that, for a range of reasons that have nothing to do with artistic quality, might otherwise be consigned to archival oblivion. And we would all be the poorer for it.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Through the years, jazz in Hamilton has often been overshadowed by the bigger scene in Toronto, just as Toronto jazz has been dwarfed by the huge and active scene in New York. Part of it has to do with economics and sheer size, as jazz, not being a popular music for some time, has always required a large population base in order to flourish. Generally, the bigger the city, the bigger and better its jazz scene. While all sorts of jazz musicians have come from very small towns, they have cut their musical teeth either on the road or by moving to bigger cities. Part of it also has to with Toronto tending to see itself as the centre of the universe, as many big cities do.

None of this has been fair to Hamilton, which has had its own interesting jazz scene for many years and continues to. For one thing, Hamilton, like its steel-producing sister city Pittsburgh, has produced a remarkable number of significant jazz musicians for a city its size. For example, guitarist Sonny Greenwich is from Hamilton, and it’s hard to think of a more singularly original voice in the entire history of Canadian jazz. Granted, like musicians from Pittsburgh who gravitated to New York in search of more work, Greenwich settled in Toronto and later Montreal, but he got his start in Steeltown.

So did saxophonist/arranger Rick Wilkins, another hugely important figure in Canadian music, jazz and otherwise. Being so quiet and mild-mannered, Rick is perhaps the ultimate insider in Canadian music. By this I mean that one could randomly pick 100 people on the street aged 60 or older and ask them if they’d heard of Rick Wilkins and maybe one or two would answer yes. But all of them would have heard lots of his music in some form – a saxophone solo with the Boss Brass, countless scores for television or movies, an arrangement on somebody’s record, a jingle – often without realizing it. Most of his career has taken place in Toronto, but he was born in Hamilton. Torontonians who are boastfully proud of their city’s rich jazz history would do well to remember that an awful lot of the major contributors have come from somewhere else – Vancouver, Winnipeg, Northern Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and yes, Hamilton.

David BraidA more recent example is pianist/composer David Braid, who has had a major impact with his sextet, the more recent quartet, The North, and as a composer and educator. He grew up not far from Mohawk College in Hamilton and, as much as any Canadian jazz musician, has taken his music abroad with frequent tours in China, Russia, Europe and elsewhere. There have been other important Hamilton-born jazz players – pianist Bruce Harvey, two excellent trumpeters in Jason Logue and Steve McDade, and no doubt many others I’ve forgotten or overlooked.

Mohawk and more

The jazz program at Mohawk College has had a major impact as a centerpiece of jazz in Hamilton in several ways. It draws talented young players from the surrounding region, provides a venue for concerts and has attracted, as teachers, important musicians, some of them previously Toronto-based, who have raised the level and profile of jazz in Hamilton in recent years. 

Mike Malone and the Writer’s Jazz OrchestraSome musicians who were full-time faculty, such as the late trombonist Dave McMurdo and trumpeter Mike Malone, moved to Hamilton from Toronto, reversing an age-old tradition. McMurdo had a huge impact on Hamilton jazz as a teacher and by starting his Mountain Access (sometimes affectionately known as “Mounting Excess”) Jazz Orchestra, which provided an outlet for writers and players both from Toronto and the Hamilton area. Malone has continued this with his Writer’s Jazz Orchestra, which performs regularly in and around Hamilton and at Toronto venues such as The Rex. More recently, the Hamilton-born, gifted pianist Adrean Farrugia and his equally gifted wife, singer Sophia Perlman, who both teach at Mohawk, have moved from Hogtown to Steeltown, perhaps attracted by a city that’s less hectic, more affordable, and still offers opportunities for cultural expression. With the Toronto jazz scene shrinking in recent times, the worm is beginning to turn toward smaller cities.

Hamilton has also boasted attractive musical venues and organizations through the years, often created and sustained by dedicated music lovers and arts activists. Liuna Station is an excellent example. It was originally a CN Railway station which had fallen into disrepair until a guild of local artisans was commissioned to give it a lavish facelift. The result is a unique and splendid venue for concerts as well as other functions. I’ve played there numerous times with the likes of Oliver Jones and David Braid and was bowled over by its extravagance. One of my favourite places to play in Hamilton was not really a jazz venue but a small Polish restaurant on Main St. called Izzy’s, named for its cheerful and generous proprietor Isidora, who loved jazz, cooking, jazz musicians and Irish whiskey, not necessarily in that order. I’ll never forget playing there one night with the Mike Murley Trio when Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Dave McMurdo and Mike Malone were in the audience. Wheeler and Winstone were in Hamilton as artists-in-residence for a week of clinics and concerts at Mohawk College, another example of how that institution has boosted jazz in Hamilton.

Steel City Jazz Festival

Hamilton boasts many other long-term jazz outlets – the Corktown Pub, Artword Artbar (on which more later), Fieldcote Park in nearby Ancaster, The Pearl Company, as well as concert venues at Mohawk College and McMaster University. Hamilton has also staged its own festival for the last seven years, The Steel City Jazz Festival. This year’s festival runs from November 6 to 10 and will feature shows at Artword Artbar, the Corktown Pub and The Pearl Company. It will return to its roots by showcasing pianist Paul Benton, a longtime seminal figure in Hamilton jazz, in its opening concert, and by focusing on the past 30 years of jazz in the area.

Other artists will include the Nick McLean Quartet, the Sextet of Smordin Law artist-in-residence Jason Logue, the Waleed Kush African Jazz Ensemble and Mike Malone, playing as part of the ECJ quintet led by bassist Evelyn Charlotte Joe. This year the festival is also launching performances at the legendary Corktown Pub – George Grossman’s Bohemian Swing featuring Brandon Walker on November 7 and Blunt Object on November 8. It’s a diverse and interesting lineup.

Farewell Artword, hail Zula

Unfortunately, this year’s festival will mark the end of one of Hamilton’s best music venues, Artword Artbar, a café-bar on Colbourne Street which has been hosting jazz and other interesting music and theatre for the past ten years. Proprietors Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford have sold the building and its future use is unclear, but it won’t likely have to do with music or the arts. This is a decided blow to the local scene and one hopes someone will step in with an alternative space at some point. I only played there once, some years ago with the Mike Murley Trio, and very much enjoyed the experience. Artword Artbar has (had) good natural sound and a relaxing, casual, grassroots feeling which combined the best of both worlds – a small concert space and a rustic pub – one which encouraged audiences to listen and inspired artists to play their best. It will be missed.

But not all is lost… finally, a word on another force in Hamilton jazz, one largely unknown to many Torontonians, including yours truly until recently: Zula, a bold and independent arts organization dedicated to presenting adventurous and under-the-radar music against long odds in Hamilton. It is the brainchild of music lover and arts activist Cem Zafir, who originally founded Zula in Vancouver way back in 2000, transplanting the concept to Hamilton when he moved there in 2012. It is supported by the Ontario Arts Council and has gathered a board of local artists including Donna Akrey, Chris Alic, Neil Ballantyne, Gary Barwin, Ted Harms, Connor Bennett, Taing Ng-Chan, Kay Chornook, Andrew Johnson, Heather Kanabe, Neal Thomas and above all Zafir, whose non-conformist and creative spirit is the driving force behind it all.

Since 2014, Zula has staged the Something Else Festival, presenting under-known and adventurous musicians from Canada and abroad who one would never expect to hear in Hamilton, never mind a larger city like Toronto. Such as William Parker, Samuel Blaser, Dave Gould, the Lina Allemano Four, David Lee, Ken Aldcroft and many more. Zula often coordinates with the equally adventurous Guelph Jazz Festival, another good example of uncompromising music flourishing in a smaller population centre against long odds, largely due to the vision and dedication of its founders.

So, as we’ve seen, bigger is not always better and jazz continues to grow in Hamilton, with all signs indicating that it will continue to.

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

NOV 2, 8PM: Royal Conservatory of Music. “Music Mix Series: Toronto Sings the Breithaupt Brothers’ Songbook.” Jackie Richardson, Kellylee Evans, Denzal Sinclaire, Heather Bambrick, Patricia O’Callaghan and others. Koerner Hall. A lineup of first-rate Canadian singers performing the witty and artistic songs of the Breithaupt Brothers.

NOV 8, 7:30PM: Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts. Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express and Larnell Lewis Band. Works by Monty Alexander and Larnell Lewis. Monty Alexander, piano; Hassan Abdul Ash-Shakur, bass; Jason Brown, drums; Andrew Bassford, guitar; Larnell Lewis Band. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre Partridge Hall, 250 St. Paul St., St. Catharines. An attractive doubleheader featuring Monty Alexander, who needs no introduction, and local drummer Larnell Lewis, who has become something of a force in recent years.

NOV 21, 7:30PM: Ken Page Memorial Trust. Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band. 40th Anniversary celebration of swing-era music with special selections from Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Martin Loomer, guitar, arranger, leader. Arts and Letters Club, 14 Elm St. Licensed facility. Even after the death of its founder, this band is always worth hearing because it is so unique and has been left in the capable hands of its chief arranger/transcriber and longtime rhythm guitarist, Martin Loomer.

Nick Fraser TrioNOV 30, 8PM: Zula. Nick Fraser Trio: “Rock on Locke.” Nick Fraser, drums/composition; Tony Malaby, saxophones; Kris Davis, piano. Church of St. John the Evangelist, 320 Charlton Ave. W., Hamilton. zulapresents.org. $15 or PWYC. A concert by a very interesting trio featuring three of the most inventive players on the local scene, or any other for that matter.

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.

Here we are midway through the last third of the year, and most community bands are busy rehearsing, for a variety of programs from formal concerts to Santa Claus Parades; the last thing that any band needs at this time of year is any disruption of rehearsals. Many community groups rehearse in schools, so for many bands in this part of the world there was near panic that these schools might be closed due to a possible labour dispute. Fortunately, at the very last minute the matter was settled. I, myself, received notices a few days later that all rehearsals would proceed as scheduled.

It was, however, a sobering reminder of a topic I have been known to occasionally rant about: the dilemma facing many community musical groups regarding rehearsal space. Most groups are tenants of schools, churches or community centres. Few have any real means of avoiding such matters. School music rooms are ideal rehearsal spaces, complete with music stands, and much of the heavier percussion equipment. However, most music teachers and many principals have concern for the safety of this equipment. I have known of a number of situations where a new music teacher, or principal, arrived at a school and expressed concern for equipment safety. All of a sudden, a band which might have rehearsed there for years, found themselves homeless. Even if they manage to obtain another kind of rehearsal space, where do they keep larger percussion instruments, stands and maybe music library?

Actually, we just recently heard of a good compromise. When the band Resa’s Pieces were told that the music room they had been using would no longer be available, they were offered a different, much larger room with no instruments or stands. With a bit of ingenuity the band was able to negotiate a compromise. Members of the band were given permission to construct a storage space at the end of the rehearsal room to store percussion equipment. Members still have to bring their own music stands.

Might it be time for community bands to be recognized as important components of the local culture and be accorded more assistance in obtaining and retaining a home?

Speaking of rants, I’d like to refer to one that I overheard at a rehearsal recently. One member of a band referred to it as the “band practice.” Another vigorously disputed the choice of words: stating that he was at “a band rehearsal.” The matter was eventually settled amicably; all agreed that they should “practice” at home to prepare for the “band rehearsal.”

Conspicuous cold weather commitment

Now, for coming band activities. When I first entered the band world, parades were an integral part of almost every band’s activities. My very first public performance was a Labour Day Parade. In smaller communities particularly, the town band was a major component of community activities. How often do community bands parade now? For many, the answer is never. We just received word from one of the few exceptions in this part of the world. The Newmarket Citizens Band (by their own admission, Canada’s oldest town band) has announced no fewer than three such events in the coming (chilly) weeks. These include a Remembrance Day Parade, A Candlelight Parade and Treelighting Ceremony, and Santa Claus Parade. For those who have never played their instruments on parade before, help is available from more experienced band members. That band even has a set of special cold weather band parkas as part of their uniforms. They look at these events as an important part of their community involvement. What percentage of community bands in our part of the world can match that?

Fanfarones“Blowhards” by name

On October 11, I had the pleasure of attending a very different type of concert from anything that I had ever experienced before, by an instrumental group I had never heard of before. Made up of 10 wind musicians, conducted by John Liddle, they call themselves “Fanfarones.” The first portion of the concert consisted of relatively familiar music including: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen from Grieg’s Holdberg Suite, Tango Op.165 by Albeniz, Jamaica Farewell by Irving Burgie, and excerpts from Rocky Mountain Suite by Canadian composer Pete Coulman. To end the first portion of the program, conductor John Liddle played Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust on his trumpet.

The second portion of the program featured the Fanfarones performing a new work, Canoe Dancing, by local composer Stu Beaudoin. Beaudoin’s original idea had been to produce a ballet, and Canoe Dancing could still be described as a dance-like programmatic musical journey. As the work progressed, its musical impressions of canoeing were reflected on two large viewing screens on either side of the stage, capturing the many different aspects of canoeing in the music. The pictures taken by Beaudoin himself, and fellow canoeing enthusiasts, portrayed both scenic beauty and the sometimes terrifying experiences of the canoeists in rough water: from views of canoeists gently paddling along tranquil waters at sunset to others struggling to stay afloat while trying to negotiate violent rapids with surf thundering over rocks on all sides. At times, audience members felt as though they were participating in a journey, with emotions ranging from tranquillity to terror. In all, a fascinating and entertaining performance, by a group worth knowing more about.

I contacted Helen Graham, one of the founding members of the group. Here’s how she described their birth: “Fanfarones was invented in 2012 as an experiment in sound, to add a pair of flutes to a wind octet. We decided it was more fun with ten, and so have kept with this formation. Core members at the time in 2012 were Tom Fleming, Bill Krangle, Helen Graham, Dorothy Ward and John Liddle. Our player-members are drawn from the wind sections of community orchestras across the Toronto area.

“The name Fanfarones is Italian for ‘blowhards,’ which we consider to be both a pun on wind players, and poking some fun at ourselves if we ever got too arrogant, given the English language meaning (somebody who boasts and brags). We also like to say that Fanfarones means “quirky, elegant music.” 

They perform music originally written for their instrumentation, as well as arrangements, and their programming ranges from classical through to modern day popular music. The earliest original piece for such instrumentation that they have found so far is a work by Donizetti.

All in all, Fanfarones are 11 musicians who celebrate beautiful music that surprises as well as delights. The group is comprised of pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, French horns and bassoons. Sometimes they refer to themselves as a “dectet.” The 11th member is conductor John Liddle, who on occasion plays trumpet with the group. In Helen Graham’s words: “We create a sonority that plays with a broad palette of instrumental colours. Orchestral musicians who also revel in that small group vibe, we provide quirky, elegant music.” 

Other News

As I have mentioned previously, for many years my contact with Silverthorn Symphonic Winds has been Heather Engli. Heather decided to make a drastic move to Wolfville, Nova Scotia a few weeks ago. She now tells me that she is loving Wolfville. She already has hooked up with Dan Kapp, of New Horizons renown, who moved there some months ago. She is also very busy playing with the Symphonic Band at the university and singing in a church choir. Dan Kapp also plays in the Symphonic Band and has invited her to play in the King’s County Community Band. It’s a great example of the social benefits of playing in musical groups, and of how one can find community through music.

Just Missed

As I write this, I am looking forward to the Wychwood Clarinet Choir’s Halloween concert “Creepy Clarinets” on October 27. Unfortunately, it will have passed by the time this issue is available. It includes Humperdink’s Overture to Hansel and Gretel; Moussorgsky’s Baba Yaga’s Hut and Great Gate of Kiev; Mancini’s; The Pink Panther and Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.

BANDSTAND QUICK PICKS

NOV 2, 2:30PM: The combined Navy bands of Toronto’s HMCS York and Hamilton’s HMCS Star present their Remembrance Concert at the Cathedral Church of St. James, 106 King St. E in Toronto.

NOV 2, 7:30PM: Toronto’s Professional Flute Choir, Flute Street will be joined by special guests, Les Flûtistes de Montréal, at the Church of St. Peter and St. Simon-the-Apostle, 525 Bloor St. E. If you are not familiar with the variety of flute sizes, this is a great chance to hear them. From the usual concert flute this group includes alto flutes, bass flutes, contrabass flutes and even a giant sub contrabass flute. Compared to the regular flute, about two feet long, this instrument stands over six feet tall.

NOV 2, 7:30PM: “A Little Wind Music” by Upper Canada Brass will include Impressions by Paul Lovatt-Cooper, When Thunder Calls by Len Ballantine and Hannaford Street March by Kevin Lau. St. Paul’s Anglican Church-Innisfil, 3294 St. Paul’s Crescent St., Barrie.

NOV 23, 7:30PM: Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will present their fall concert at the Wilmar Heights Events Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Toronto.

NOV 29, 7:30PM: The Newmarket Citizens Band will be at Newmarket’s historic Old Town Hall, 460 Botsford Street, to present their formal seasonal concert, ”Winter Fantasy,” with special guests, Marquee Theatrical Productions Elite Intermediate Youth Group.

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

Ah, November. A month so rich in music that it causes one to strain against word limits, bridle at the constraints of the page and discard a number of truly perfect jokes, whose inclusion – if a writer took less seriously his charge to write about, well, music – would have sent this magazine’s readership into dangerous paroxysms of laughter, such that finishing the rest of this column would surely prove impossible. Out of kindness: let’s get to it. 

Gentiane MG TrioOn November 14 and 15, the Montreal-based pianist Gentiane MG (Michaud-Gagnon) leads her eponymous trio at Jazz Bistro in support of her recent album, Wonderland. Though Michaud-Gagnon may be a new name to Toronto audiences, she has been increasingly active on the Canadian jazz scene following her time at McGill, at which she studied with Rémi Bolduc, André White and Jean-Michel Pilc, among others. Her debut trio recording, Eternal Cycle, was on CBC Music’s list of 10 outstanding Canadian jazz albums of 2017, along with the likes of Matthew Stevens, Diana Krall, and PJ Perry. At Jazz Bistro, Michaud-Gagnon brings her working rhythm section, bassist Levi Dover and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel. The trio’s playing runs the gamut from introspective, pensive ballads to uptempo swingers. Throughout it all, Michaud-Gagnon discharges her pianistic duties with aplomb, playing both single-note lines and lush chords with succinct clarity. 

Also at Jazz Bistro: vibraphonist Dan McCarthy, on November 26, appearing in quartet formation with guitarist Ted Quinlan, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Ted Warren. McCarthy’s quartet appears in support of his recently released album, City Abstract, which features the same band. Recorded in May of this year at Canterbury Music Company, City Abstract is something of a homecoming for McCarthy, who, after living and working in New York for 15 years, has moved back to his hometown of Toronto. McCarthy is a superlative vibraphonist, with chops, tone and taste to spare; his performance/recording credits include work with American musicians such as Steve Swallow, Ben Monder and George Garzone, as well as with leading Canadian musicians, including Lorne Lofsky, Terry Clarke and Laila Biali. Though the vibraphone has been something of an uncommon instrument in modern jazz, McCarthy – along with other notable young players, including the American Joel Ross and Toronto’s Michael Davidson – serves as a good reminder of the instrument’s strengths and capabilities, and of the unique music that it makes possible. 

LandlineOn November 6 and 7, saxophonist Chet Doxas brings the group Landline to The Rex. Though currently a Brooklyn resident, Doxas was born and raised in Montreal, where he attended McGill for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees; his brother, Jim Doxas, is one of Canada’s better-known jazz drummers, and still based in their shared hometown. Landline – whose eponymous debut album will release on November 1 – is a quartet, made up of Doxas, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Landline is something of a family affair: in May of this year, George Doxas, Chet’s father, recorded the album in Montreal at Boutique de Son Studios. Landline gets its name from a two-year-long process of “collaborative composition” by all four members of the quartet, each of whom made contributions to each piece in a process reminiscent of the children’s game “broken telephone.” What this means isn’t precisely clear, but I imagine that all will be revealed at The Rex. What is clear is that Landline represents an intriguing new project from accomplished modern jazz musicians who have played together – both in this specific quartet and in other configurations – for a number of years, with a collective group dynamic that only comes with shared experience. 

Dan WeissSacks will be returning to The Rex later in the month with the Dan Weiss Trio, where he – along with Weiss (drums) and Thomas Morgan (bass) – will be playing two consecutive nights on November 20 and 21. The last time that I wrote about Weiss for The WholeNote, it was in the wake of his 2018 Jazz Festival performance with his Starebaby project. Drawing influence from Twin Peaks, the album Starebaby was a study in Lynchian intensity, with bombastic and quiet moments sustained past conventional points of resolution. During the group’s packed Toronto show, this exploratory spirit was on display in full force; the show that I saw qualified as one of the loudest and quietest shows that I’ve ever seen at The Rex, or, for that matter, at any jazz club. Though Weiss’ trio may not have the same mandate for extreme dynamics, it does have the same mandate for intensity and intentionality. It is not hyperbole to say that Weiss is one of the preeminent jazz drummers of his generation; a brief look at his recent schedule reveals engagements with the likes of Nir Felder, Adam Rogers, Miles Okazaki and Chris Potter’s Underground Quartet, amongst many other notable gigs, including his own. As a drummer and as a bandleader, he is much the same: specific, exacting, exciting and, at unexpected moments, funny, in a way that complements the seriousness of his dedication to his craft. 

A final note on The Rex: guitarist Robb Cappelletto, who has crafted a unique musical identity that straddles the line between jazz, rock, blues, and other genres, releases his new album Double Red on November 14, in performance with keyboardist Michael Shand, bassist Andrew Stewart and drummer Amhed Mitchel. Cappelletto – a faculty member at York University – has been putting out consistently interesting music since his debut album !!! was released in 2012, both under his own name and with the instrumental group re.verse, which has been heard in its residency slots at 416 Snack Bar and The Drake, as well as at Koerner Hall, collaborating with the likes of Shad and DJ Skratch Bastid. Cappelletto is a fiery player, with ample technical command of his instrument, but what sets him apart from his peers is his conscientious attention to the nuances of tone, and his commitment to building a multilayered sonic world in which his music can live. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS 

NOV 6 AND NOV 7, 9:30PM: Chet Doxas’ Landline, The Rex. Landline, a new project helmed by Montreal-born saxophonist Chet Doxas, play in support of their new self-titled album, the material for which the band composed cooperatively through a musical version of “broken telephone.” With pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. 

NOV 14, 9:30PM: Robb Cappelletto Group, The Rex. Robb Cappelletto celebrates the release of his new album Double Red, the latest entry in the fusion guitarist’s discography. With keyboardist Michael Shand, bassist Andrew Stewart and drummer Amhed Mitchel. 

NOV 14 AND NOV 15, 9PM: Gentiane MG Trio, Jazz Bistro. An up-and-coming musician from Montreal, Gentiane MG (Michaud-Gagnon) leads her eponymous trio (bassist Levi Dover and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel) at Jazz Bistro in support of her recent album, Wonderland.

NOV 20 AND NOV 21, 9:30PM: Dan Weiss Trio, The Rex. Playing compelling modern jazz, drummer Dan Weiss’ trio, with pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Thomas Morgan, has been active for over a decade, and has developed a thrillingly intuitive musical connection. 

NOV 26, 8PM: Dan McCarthy Quartet, Jazz Bistro. Toronto-born vibraphonist Dan McCarthy returns from New York with a new project and a new album, both of which feature guitarist Ted Quinlan, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Ted Warren. 

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.

vision string quartetThe Strings aspect of Music Toronto’s 48th season gets off to an auspicious start with the local debut of two European-based string quartets, the more established Quartetto di Cremona from Genoa, Italy, and the more recently formed (2012) vision quartet centred in Berlin. The Quartetto is said to be the spiritual heir to the fondly remembered Quartetto Italiano; the vision string quartet (like the Polish Apollon Musagète Quartet) plays standing up but in addition performs their concerts completely from memory. Both ensembles will be new for me, so I asked Music Toronto’s artistic producer Jennifer Taylor to give me some background. How long had they been on her radar? How did she discover them? What excites her about them?

She told me that in general she takes a lot of recommendations from artists, managers, other series presenters and concertgoers. She also does a lot of Internet research and listening. “Quartetto are a 20-year quartet; I had heard of them some years ago, but … then they made what I think was their first North American tour, and I wasn’t on it – too late for my planning. They have some well-regarded recordings. In fall 2017 they were entrusted with the Paganini Strads, owned by the Nippon Foundation, that the Tokyo [Quartet] played in their final years. They later signed with a New York management who by coincidence were the Tokyo’s original management three decades ago. It is easier to invite Europeans who have North American management because there may be a tour; very tough to bring anyone for a single date. So I invited them.

“The vision string quartet – they prefer no caps in their name (I’ve just recently been told) – won two European competitions in 2016, but as a four-year-old quartet, I hesitated. Then they signed with a British management I know well, and I started getting info and recordings in early 2017. Later in 2017 they signed with a New York manager I know even better, and we started talking. I made the arrangement in October 2018. Yes, the standing up – I think for the vision it is part of being edgy young guys. We’ll see.

“That’s the way it generally goes. It usually takes about two years from thinking of an artist to finding out to having it suit my timing. I have just today concluded an arrangement for a pianist for 2020/2021. When I started investigating three full years ago, I tried for a date for this season; at long last I have a date. And now we wait to see if all that was worth it! The most long-term interest on my part was Quatuor Mosaïques who opened for us in October 2017. I had tried repeatedly over 20 years to bring them and finally managed it.”

Quartetto di Cremona performs music by Boccherini, Verdi, Puccini and Respighi in the Jane Mallett Theatre on October 17; vision quartet’s recital of works by Haydn, Bacewicz and Schumann takes place November 7.

Music Toronto’s Piano Series opens on October 22, with a gala concert by Piano 6 New Generation, a collective of six internationally acclaimed Canadian concert pianists – Marika Bournaki, Angela Park, Daniel Wnukowski, David Jalbert, Ian Parker and Anastasia Rizikov – who have taken up the mantle of the original Piano 6, founded by Janina Fialkowska. From 1994 to 2004, Piano 6 performed in small communities all over Canada concentrating on remote regions of the country. The appealing program for the Music Toronto Piano 6 New Generation gala will see each of the pianists perform solo as well as participate in a variety of two pianos, four hands repertoire. Solo works by the likes of Schumann, Korngold, Rzewski, Kapustiin, Gershwin and Ravel share the stage with two pianos four hands showstoppers by Ravel, Milhaud, Bernstein and Gershwin. Dead centre, just after intermission, Kevin Lau’s commission Chimaera for two pianos twelve hands will be showcased. It’s an 88-key cornucopia.

Denis MatsuevThree Questions for Denis Matsuev

In advance of his return to Koerner Hall on October 17, Russian piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev, whose victory in the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition brought him international fame, took time out of his busy schedule – he plays 265 concerts a year – to answer the following questions:

WN: What was the first piece of music you fell in love with?

DM: It was not classical music. I listened to Soviet songs, Oscar Peterson’s jazz improvisations, which I love from my childhood. And since then this music is my favourite.

Who were your musical heroes in your student days?

One cannot say that I believed only one musician or composer to be my musical hero. In different periods of my life I had different heroes. If we talk about performers, I can name Vladimir Horowitz, Svyatoslav Richter, Arturo Michelangeli, Emil Gilels and Sergei Rachmaninoff, of course, as a pianist, composer and great personality.

Your Toronto program is very impressive. Please tell us about what specific thoughts went into your selection of the Tchaikovsky and Liszt works you will be playing in Koerner Hall.

It is always really difficult to formulate for which reason I choose this or that program. My repertoire includes 45 concertos with orchestra and 21 solo programs. Every year I learn one solo program and two concertos [which he’s never played before] with orchestra. It is my usual schedule. Works that I am planning to perform in Toronto have been in my repertoire for some time already. We have a really affectionate relationship with them. Liszt is the apex of Romantic music, I mean his Sonata in B Minor and Mephisto Waltz as well. As for Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata, I believe that this music is not performed as frequently as it deserves to be performed. It is really difficult because of its form; one can call it a piano concerto without orchestra. I play it all over the world, so I am happy that I have an opportunity to perform it in the amazing Koerner Hall, that I am deeply in love with.

The Art of the Piano at Gallery 345

The ongoing Art of the Piano series at Gallery 345 takes a giant step forward in October with five concerts by four pianists (and a violinist) of predominantly 19th-century repertoire beginning on October 3 with 32-year-old Israeli pianist Raviv Leibzirer performing Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Prokofiev’s Sonata No.3 and the solo piano version of Gershwiin’s Rhapsody in Blue. On October 6, musical royalty in the person of Victoria Korchinskaya-Kogan – she is the granddaughter of violinists, Leonid Kogan and Elizaveta Gilels (the sister of iconic Ukrainian pianist Emil Gilels) – takes the stage for a program of Schumann and Chopin before joining with acclaimed Canadian-Lithuanian violinist Atis Bankas to perform Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas Nos.1 and 8.

Mark Pierre Toth’s complete Beethoven Sonatas Project continues with Part 5 (highlighted by the “Appassionata”) on October 11, and Part 6 (the “Pathetique”, “Hammerklavier” and more) on October 20. Toth, whose international career, teaching and performing, is flourishing, also performs for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society: Part 5 on October 12 and Part 6, October 16. Finally, on October 25, in a clever programming touch, Bulgarian-born, Chicago-based performer and pedagogue Ani Gogova follows Beethoven’s Sonata quasi Fantasia “Moonlight” with Liszt’s Fantasia quasi Sonata “After Reading Dante” before proceeding with two Rachmaninoff Études-Tableaux that lead into Mussorgsky’s monumental Pictures at an Exhibition.

Academy Concert Series New Price Policy

Established in 1991, Academy Concert Series (academyconcertseries.com) offers innovative and intimate chamber music concerts spanning the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras on period instruments. Recently, artistic director Kerri McGonigle announced that ACS is making a big, bold move to Pay What You Decide. “We no longer have ticket prices. People can pay what they want, when they want and how they want! Tickets can be reserved online or by phone,” she said. Audience feedback led to the change. Some people thought the ticket prices were too low and should increase; others found the ticket prices limited the number of concerts they could attend. With Pay What You Decide everybody gets to decide how much they want to give. The hope is that those that can give more will give generously.

The hoped-for funds will allow ACS to pour the receipts right back into the community via outreach, increasing the payment to their artists, hiring an administrative assistant and increasing the number of ACS concerts. As the ACS website puts it: “Music heals, connects and touches our soul. It moves us, inspires us, energizes and relaxes us.”

As examples of where the hoped-for extra money might go: supporting a new concertgoer, $20; and one community outreach concert in a school, hospital, retirement home or elsewhere $1000 to $1500.

October 5, ACS presents “Family Has Your Bach” – with music by Telemann, J.S. Bach and C.P.E.Bach – performed by recorders/Baroque flute virtuoso Alison Melville, harpsichordist Christopher Bagan, violist/violinist Emily Eng, and cellist Kerri McGonigle. Whatever you decide to pay, you’re welcome. 

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

OCT 9, 6:45: Founded in 2014, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra Chamber Soloists offer a diverse and varied range of instruments in a wide range of infrequently performed repertoire, along with some best-loved chamber works. They perform inside the Roy Thomson Hall auditorium with the audience seated in the choir loft, with admission included in the price of that night’s TSO concert ticket. The first of this season’s five concerts presents TSO principal flutist Kelly Zimba, assistant principal violist Theresa Rudolph and harpist Heidi Elise Bearcroft performing Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp and Skaila Kanga’s arrangement of Ravel’s inimitable Sonatine. And, in rare opportunity to hear the Soloists away from RTH, the program will be repeated OCT 10, 12PM as part of the COC’s free noon-hour concert series, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

OCT 11, 7:30PM: The Don Wright Faculty of Music, Western University, presents Stewart Goodyear in recital. The following day, OCT 12, 11AM, Goodyear will give a free two-hour masterclass.

Elisso GogibedaschviliOCT 18, 8PM: Teenage violinist Elisso Gogibedashvili is the soloist in Paganini’s rousing Concerto No.1 in the opening concert of Sinfonia Toronto’s new season. As well, conductor Nurhan Arman leads his string orchestra in Dvořák’s lyrical Chamber Symphony - Quintet Op.77a. The following day, OCT 19, 7:30, Barrie Concerts brings Arman, the Sinfonia and Gogibedashvili north for a repetition of the program.

OCT 19, 8PM: Formed in 1998, The highly touted Bennewitz Quartet, who made a strong impression in two visits to Ottawa in the last three years brings their middle-European sensibility to the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society and the music of Schumann (String Quartet No.2), Janáček (String Quartet No.2 “Intimate Letters”) and Dvořák (“American” String Quartet). The following afternoon, OCT 20, 3:15PM, they make their Toronto debut opening the new season for Mooredale Concerts. Their Walter Hall recital begins with selections from Bach’s The Art of the Fugue followed by Beethoven’s transportative String Quartet Op.132, and concluding with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op.13, which was directly inspired by Beethoven’s Op.132.

OCT 21, 7:30PM: U of T Faculty of Music presents TSO bulwarks, concertmaster Jonathan Crow and principal cellist Joseph Johnson, performing Ravel’s stripped-down Sonata for Violin and Cello (dedicated to Debussy’s memory) and Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello in Walter Hall.

OCT 23, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Dvořák Piano Quartet with Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová, piano, in an intriguing recital: Dvořák’s Op.87, an arrangement of Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds Op.16 and Mahler’s engaging Piano Quartet.

OCT 25, 8PM: TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson joins Matthew Jones and the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s delightful Variations on a Rococo Theme.

OCT 26, 8PM: Two sonatas by Beethoven – including the indelible “Waldstein” – and two works by Schumann should make for another memorable evening by the redoubtable Sir Andras Schiff who seems to be quite at home in Koerner Hall. The preceding afternoon, OCT 25, 3PM, he will give a free masterclass in Mazzoleni Hall. Neither event should be missed.

NOV 2, 3PM: For the opening concert of their tenth anniversary season, 5 at the First Chamber Players presents the AYR Trio (Angela Park, piano; Yehonatan Berick, violin; Rachel Mercer, cello) performing trios by Smetana and Dvořák (the melodious “Dumky”). It’s worth a trip to Hamilton.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Vania Chan (right) and RezonanceSoprano Vania Chan caught the Handel bug as a young voice student at York University. She had started her training believing she was a mezzo-soprano and was, as she describes it, just experimenting with her upper register. But then she began working with mezzo Catherine Robbin at York. “When I first met her she knew right away. She asked me to try higher repertoire and Oh had I Jubal’s lyre (from Joshua) was the first Handel I’d sung. I just loved getting into the coloratura. I was also given a recording of Alcina with Natalie Dessay as Morgana and heard her version of Tornami a vagheggiar. The sparkle of it amazed me. That’s when I started getting into my actual voice type.”

Morgana will return for an appearance in the program titled “Handel Heroines” that Chan is performing with the Rezonance Baroque Ensemble on October 6 at the Plaza Suite in the Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre. Chan and Rezonance’s artistic director Rezan Onen-Lapointe have known each other since high school years at the Cardinal Carter Academy of the Arts in North York. As young musicians still in training, they both attended the Halifax Summer Opera Festival and took part, alongside Kevin Mallon and the Aradia Ensemble, in a production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. This is where Cleopatra struck. The demanding eight-aria role is now one of Chan’s favourites and the forthcoming concert will include at least three of those: the slow V’adoro pupille and Piangerò, and the break-neck Da tempeste.

The character of Alcina too is of great interest to Chan. “I have a whole new respect for Alcina now that I’ve dived into her arias,” she says. It’s a different kind of freedom to create the character in a concert setting, without stage direction, with the instrumental ensemble only. “For Morgana, I feel her excitement builds through the aria. For Alcina, in Ombre pallide, it’s a different situation. I start with a sense of desperation, a realization that Ruggiero has betrayed her and she has no power to make him love her anymore. Then she comes to a moment of strange peace, where things have got to stop and the body can’t take it anymore … but she’s all the while thinking what she can do next. Through the text and through the range, the aria goes up and it goes down. When it’s calmer, it’s not that she’s calm – she’s taking a moment to rethink. Morgana is in a way more surface-level, Alcina more manipulative.”

Natalie Dessay, whom she mentioned early on, was known both for her coloratura and her extraordinary acting skill. How important for Chan is the dramatic aspect alongside the technique? “I feel like one feeds the other,” she says. “You release more tension by being really invested in the character. Awareness of what you’re saying … a lot of it comes through the clarity of text. With clarity of text comes the clarity of storytelling. When I’m completely in the zone, everything comes together and flows, everything lines up, and the energy continues. The moment you start worrying about something you just did or begin thinking too far ahead, your singing and acting both tense up. There’s of course a certain amount of preparation you need to do to get to that point – but then you let it go.

The fun part is being able to play and experiment. Once I know the music and the text, I say to myself, let’s be spontaneous about it and tell the story. That makes it fresh for me every time.”

She’ll also include one aria from Handel’s Orlando in the program: Angelica’s Non potrà dirmi ingrata. When she was younger and first sang Orlando in concert with some friends, Chan most of all liked the role of Dorinda the shepherdess. It had a lower range and it was soubrette-ish, both of which appealed. But Angelica is more like the role of Alcina, she says, as it sits up higher for a longer time in the opera – and it’s in those heights that Chan’s voice lives now. “And Non potrà dirmi ingrata is such an edgy aria, very pointed. She’s perhaps feeling guilty about being in love with somebody else, not Orlando, who’s after her; but also thinks that he can’t blame her for that. I love the interplay with the ensemble: it all keeps rolling forward.”

Rezonance and Chan already performed similar programs of Baroque heroines in Toronto, Hamilton and at the Bloomington Early Music Festival in Indiana, and now it’s the turn for Chan’s hometown, Richmond Hill, to hear it. Torontonians can get there easily too, straight ahead on Yonge Street via local transit, after exiting the Finch subway station.

I tell Chan I first noticed her in a contemporary piece, the world premiere production of Brian Current’s opera Airline Icarus and she confirms that her interest in contemporary creation is as strong as her loyalty to early music. “I find a lot of singers who do a lot of early music like contemporary music too. It’s the two bookends of the music history.” And they tend to dislike the grand 19th-century opera? “Ha, it’s not so much that as it’s the types of voices and the approach to the music.” Early music and contemporary voices tend to be less voluminous, I take it, less vibrato’d? “Lighter perhaps, and that’s maybe what contemporary composers are looking for today. It’s interesting how we get placed. When I was in a master’s program in NYC’s Manhattan School of Music, I was in the early music ensemble and the contemporary ensemble. Those are my two homes. I’ve trained to learn music quickly and to use techniques and learning approaches that are based on Baroque and contemporary. They go hand in hand for me.”

Later in October, Chan will be branching out in another direction: she’ll sing Cunegonde in Bernstein’s Candide in Kitchener, with the Grand Philharmonic Choir, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the Elora Singers, conducted by Mark Vuorinen. (She’s loved musical theatre since a young age, she tells me.) That’s October 26. In November, she’ll be singing in Soundstreams’ new music production Two Odysseys and will tour with the same company in Claude Vivier’s Musik für das Ende in May next year to the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, to Rotterdam and to Bruges. There is a new opera in the works with Tapestry Opera for the 2020/21 season, and art song-wise, a recital with Syrinx Concerts and baritone Alex Dobson in May 2020, still unannounced (this is a Wholenote exclusive), featuring the cycle Frauenliebe und Leben and a few other of Schumann’s art songs.

Handel’s Heroines – Sunday, October 6, 3pm – Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre, Plaza Suite 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

OCT 11, 7PM: Neil Crory Tribute Concert. A fundraiser for The Neil F. Crory Endowment Fund in support of the Stratford Summer Music Vocal Academy. Phillip Addis, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Krisztina Szabó, Daniel Taylor, Erin Wall and others. Features spoken tributes and a pre-concert panel discussion moderated by Robert Harris. Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

OCT 13, 1:30PM: Kingston Road Village Concert Series. “The Passionate Voice: Countertenor, Baritone and Bass.” Works by Mendelssohn, O’Hara, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Grever and others. Russell Braun, baritone; Gary Relyea, bass-baritone; Dan Taylor, countertenor with five protégés and Miguel Brito and Michael Rose, piano. Kingston Road United Church.

OCT 27, 2PM and 4PM: Young People’s Concert: “Symphony Spooktacular.” Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King; Stravinsky: Infernal Dance of King Katschei from The Firebird; Maxime Goulet: Metamophosis of the Werewolf from Halloween Night; Mozart: Der Hölle Rache from Die Zauberflöte; Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette. Teiya Kasahara, soprano; Joy of Dance, dance troupe; Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall.

NOV 1, 7:30PM: St. George’s Lutheran Church/DAAD Alumni Association Canada. Schubert’s Winterreise. Arranged for bass-baritone and string quartet by Richard Krug. Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone; Penderecki String Quartet. St. George’s Lutheran Church.

NOV 1 8PM: Royal Conservatory of Music: Karina Gauvin, soprano, with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. Opera arias from 18th-century St. Petersburg. Koerner Hall.

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

According to a fundamental theory of perspective in the visual arts (grossly oversimplified here), an image can be broken down into three distinct components: a background (the space furthest away from the viewer); the foreground (the area closest to the viewer’s eye) and the middleground, which defines the space between the foreground and background. Together, these areas combine to form the image’s composition. This idea of building perspective through layers of perception carries over well into other disciplines and, as we shall see, provides a useful platform for understanding an essential facet of classical music.

The concept of context affects every musical performance we encounter; and like the theory of composition outlined above, can be thought through in terms of background, middleground and foreground.

Some contexts are broader in scope and include those pieces of historical background information that are essential in understanding how an individual composer, style or work developed. In the case of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, for example, it is useful to know before listening that Beethoven was deaf when he composed and conducted this piece, and that the choral finale is Beethoven’s musical representation of universal brotherhood based on the Ode to Joy theme. For a composer as dense and innovative as Gustav Mahler, whose symphonic tomes can be immense and overwhelming to first-time listeners, a basic knowledge of the German symphonic lineage (Haydn led to Mozart, led to Beethoven, led to Brahms and Wagner, led to Bruckner, led to Mahler) can help provide some perspective and shape perceptions of a specific work in an informed way.

Middleground information includes those anecdotes and facts that inform our modern perspectives in relation to music. That the Ninth Symphony was performed at the site of the Berlin Wall in 1989, soon after its toppling, is an important historical moment, as was the performance of Barber’s Adagio for Strings at the site of the fallen World Trade Center 12 years later. Much like the composition of visual images, the musical middleground can easily be overlooked and even eliminated altogether, and the drawing of our attention to it is often a noteworthy and revelatory experience. (Consider the isolated girl in the middleground of Rembrandt’s Night Watch – how illuminatory, once made apparent!)

Perhaps the most important of the three layers of perspective, foreground context most informs our immediate perception of a musical work, taking the music, its venue and its audience and creating a micro-environment unique to that specific concert. Factors such as location (Is the concert in a formal concert hall, in an outdoor amphitheatre, or a converted parking garage?) and the social atmosphere (a white-tie fundraiser or gala is a very different experience from a jeans-and-T-shirt casual concert) provide different ways of looking at and listening to the musical works contained therein. Imagine, for example, hearing the Ninth Symphony in three places: in a concert hall; on the radio while caught in traffic driving to work; and blaring from tinny speakers outside McDonalds, in an attempt to keep misbehaving youth at bay. The musical work is the same each time, the performers may even be the same each time, but the environment in which we hear a specific piece of music inherently informs our response to that artwork on a case-by-case basis.

By changing essential components of a concert presentation, the performing artists themselves can redefine and recreate the contextual setup for a musical work. Because the back- and middleground contexts are essentially uneditable, the majority of these presenter-based decisions correspond with our foreground perceptions, as we shall see in three concerts this month, each of which varies a different aspect of the classical music experiential composition.

Place

Nuit Blanche is an annual cultural tradition in Toronto in which the city is transformed by hundreds of artists and nearly 90 art projects. This year’s event features a fascinating installation at the Aga Khan Museum; according to the project synopsis, Arrivals and Encounters: Sama will present music and art from around the world, inviting listeners “to listen to the rhythms and stories of artists whose roots extend around the globe. Sacred spiritual music and dance, including whirling dervishes, staged in quiet spaces will evoke the more contemplative side of the city. The museum grounds will host an illuminated sound installation, offering visitors the chance to experience art while feeling the pulse of the arrivals and encounters that shape our city.”

While this sounds like a fine opportunity to step outside of one’s musical comfort zone and a remarkably obfuscating and inappropriate inclusion within an early music column, it is perhaps even more remarkable (and redemptive for your columnist) to find Vivaldi on the program of such an event. At 7:30pm on October 5, musicians from Tafelmusik bring the music of the Red Priest to the Aga Khan, kicking off their Nuit Blanche exhibition with a disorientingly orthodox bang. The contextual question is clear: how will the venue and environment (whirling dervishes and all) change the audience’s experience and perception of Vivaldi’s music? One could certainly expect that the effect and affect originally intended by Vivaldi will be modified by the extraordinarily varied surroundings, and exactly how this is accomplished will undoubtedly be a highlight of the month.

Joni Mitchell on a flyer for the Riverboat, Yorkville 1967Genre

Johann Sebastian Bach and Joni Mitchell walk into a bar…

So continues Tafelmusik’s contextual subterfusion, this time with their Haus Musik: Café Counterculture concert at the Burdock Music Hall on October 10. Incorporating and juxtaposing music from the 18th and 20th centuries through a series of classical standards and new arrangements of popular hits, concertgoers can expect everything from, well, J.S. Bach to Joni Mitchell, tied together through the concept of the coffee house. In the words of Tafelmusik: “It’s 1730s Leipzig, Germany. J.S. Bach and his colleagues gather at Zimmerman’s coffee house for weekly concerts featuring the new music of the day. Fast forward to Toronto in the 1960s. Yorkville (now known as the ‘Mink Mile’) is a hub of subversion and anti-establishment activism. Undiscovered artists are making their breaks and international acts have come to sling it in underground dives and coffee houses. Legends of this counterculture scene pepper music collections across the world.”

An ingenious and creative programming idea, the inherently multi-genre concept of café counterculture provides an opportunity to combine music that does not at first appear to fit together at all, creating an opportunity to produce a concert experience greater than the sum of the parts. In this particular instance, the foreground context will be a constantly shifting, unexpected series of works that could give unsuspecting audience members a hint of temporal whiplash, but do so in favour of an innovative means of exposing fresh ears to the masterpieces of bygone eras.

Claude Le JeuneStyle

From extreme, genre-bending fluctuations within a single concert to more orthodox programming, the variation of context via musical means is a fluid and exploratory spectrum, as demonstrated by the Toronto Consort on October 25 and 26. In this instance, the fundamental organizational principle is the music of France, presented in a variety of forms and styles. Whether enjoyed in refined 16th-century courts or in today’s traditional music scene, the popular “voix de ville” songs and exquisite courtly music of Claude Le Jeune and his contemporaries or modern folk stylings, the appeal of French music has endured through the centuries. It is exactly these components, the countryside and court, combined with traditional fiddle and dance, that the Consort combines this month, a juxtaposition in triplicate that is sure to enthrall those in attendance.

With artistic direction by Katherine Hill, a well-known early music performer and director of music at St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, and guest fiddler and dancer Emilyn Stam, the musical quality will undoubtedly be top notch and well worth a listen.

After a relatively slow September, this month is full of remarkable and worthwhile early music concerts for all who enjoy the genre in all its forms. From conventional concerts in traditional venues to more exploratory programming in contemporary spaces, there is something for everyone in this issue of the WholeNote, and I encourage you to support as many of our talented artists as possible. Have questions as you develop your own contextual compositions? Email earlymusic@thewholenote.com for your October tutorial.

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

OCT 19, 2:30PM and OCT 20, 7:30 PM: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Early Music Concerts: Handel’s Acis and Galatea. Heliconian Hall. One of Handel’s miniature dramatic works (referred to as a ‘little opera’ in a letter by the composer while it was being written), Acis and Galatea was the pinnacle of pastoral opera in England, Handel’s most popular dramatic work, and his only stage work never to have left the opera repertory. This is a fine opportunity to hear the University of Toronto’s rising stars, led by the superbly talented Larry Beckwith.

OCT 27, 2PM: Rezonance Baroque Ensemble. “Bach’s Extraordinary Oboe.” St. Barnabas Anglican Church. Dig deep into the Bach canon with his works for oboe, an instrument for which Bach was undoubtedly fond: not only does this instrument receive some of the most beautiful passages within the cantatas and passions, but Bach also composed four concerti, passed down in various forms and instrumentations and reconstructed for oboe and ensemble. Featuring U of T alum Ruth Denton on the double reed, this concert will surely be a delight.

OCT 31 TO NOV 9, various times: Opera Atelier. Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Whether intimately familiar with this opera or only aware of it from the death-premonition scene in Amadeus, this opera is a sublime opportunity for the operatic veteran and neophyte alike to experience Mozart’s masterwork through a historically informed lens. With a superstar cast and magnificent orchestra, you can’t go wrong with this classic.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Against the Grain's 2017 production of La BohèmeQuick now. What do Bob’s Burger Bar in Kenora, the Red Lion Smokehouse in Thunder Bay and the SRO Nightclub in Sudbury have in common? Answer: they are the last three stops, October 5, 6 and 8 on an 11-city cross-Western Canada tenth anniversary tour of Against the Grain Theatre’s groundbreaking production of La Bohème, before, fittingly, settling in for a further 11 performances at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. The Tranzac was where, in 2011, Against the Grain burst onto the Toronto opera scene with their interpretation of the classic Puccini love story updated from 19th-century Paris to the uncompromisingly unglamorous environs of this iconic Brunswick Ave watering hole. If you’ve missed the show so far (or just missed it while it was gone) you get 11 opportunities to make amends, between October 11 and 25, and they’ve put together an anniversary season that reflects both the company’s past and ongoing creative flair. Take a look. They are at againstthegraintheatre.com

Turning 40 in style

Take the streetcar almost as far south as you can down Bathurst Street from the Tranzac, and you come to Stackt Market, at 28 Bathurst, built entirely of shipping containers and home to more than 30 retailers, service providers, event spaces and, yes, a brewery. As unlike the Tranzac as one might imagine, if you make it down there October 10 at 6pm (and have $225 to spare) you can join a select group of opera aficionados in raising at least one glass to Tapestry Opera, celebrating 40 groundbreaking years on the Toronto and North American new opera scene. Originally the brainchild of artistic director Wayne Strongman and Claire Hopkinson, now heading the Toronto Arts Council, Tapestry has successfully weathered the proverbial succession storm, and in the capable hands of artistic director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, continues to break new ground, carrying the essential storytelling power of the operatic art form into territories and media that were unimagined when the company was formed, intersecting in the past with punk rock, film, Persian classical music, physical theatre, turntablism and hip-hop. Next month, November 20 to 23, the ongoing program/project/series they call TAP:EX will take their operatic explorations into Sidewalk Labs experimental workspace at 307 Lakeshore E. for a night of “experiential opera.” (They will also be reviving Chan Ka Nin and Mark Brownell’s monumental 2001 mainstage opera, Iron Road, in an opera-in-concert remount next July 15 at Koerner Hall. But that will definitely be another story!) Go to tapestry.com for details of everything they have in store.

Erin Wall. Photo by Kristin HoebermannOpera in Concert

Tapestry’s Iron Road next July would be a very long time to wait for fans of opera in concert as an art form. But there’s never a dearth of the art form here. At one end of the spectrum, Opera by Request hits the ground running, October 4 and 5, at their intimate College St. United home base, with an OperOttawa presentation of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers, with Cristina Pisani, soprano (Leila); Robert Martin, tenor (Nadir); Norman Brown, baritone (Zurga); and John Holland, bass (Nourabad). And at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of size of undertaking – November 7 and November 9 – the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents an opera-in-concert rendition of Jules Massenet’s Thaïs, with Erin Wall, soprano; Joshua Hopkins, baritone; Andrew Staples, tenor; Nathan Berg, bass-baritone; Liv Redpath, soprano; and others; along with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the inimitable Sir Andrew Davis conducting.

Opera Atelier

Back in 1996, as a fledgling opera company, Opera Atelier took a Mozartian sacred cow by the horns, mounting what was not only the first period production of Don Giovanni in North America, but one which stood the Bergmanesque gloom of standard treatments of the opera on its head, by exploring with savage glee the darkness of the comedy inherent in the plot. Remounted in 2004 and again in 2011, this year’s iteration boasts a cast that as always, is a blend of familiar faces – performers for whom Atelier’s commedia-based, stylized gestural vocabulary is comfortable second nature – and newcomers who more often than not, once they get past the learning curve, understand and revel in the freedom of not having to worry about what their bodies are doing while their voices soar. This production features Colin Ainsworth, Gustav Andreassen, Mireille Asselin, Stephen Hegedus, Carla Huhtanen, Olivier Laquerre, Meghan Lindsay and Douglas Williams in the singing cast; Marshall Pynkoski, stage director; Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, choreographer; Artists of Atelier Ballet; Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; and David Fallis, conductor. It opens October 31 and continues November 2, 3, 8 and 9. operaatelier.com

Canadian Opera Company

I talked a bit about the COC’s Turandot in the previous column, but the run, about to open as we go to press, continues to October 27, by which time, I predict, lovers and haters of Robert Wilson’s uncompromising staging will have lined up on opposite sides of the Four Seasons lobby to do battle. As I said then, having seen Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, it’s a production I would not miss.

At risk of getting lost in the fog of operatic audience wars is the second of the two fall COC productions, opening Oct 12 and running till October 26, Dvořák’s Rusalka with Sondra Radvanovsky, soprano (Rusalka); Pavel Černoch, tenor (The Prince); Ŝtefan Kocán, bass (Vodnik); Elena Manistina, mezzo (Jezibaba); Keri Alkema, soprano (The Foreign Princess); Johannes Debus, conductor; and Sir David McVicar, stage director. MacVicar’s new production, for the Lyric Opera of Chicago has been getting rave reviews, and if the chemistry that Kerri Alkema (as Giovanna Seymour) and Radvanovsky generated in Anna Bolena here in May 2018 is anything to go by, we are in for a treat. coc.ca 

And there’s always more

Check out the Music Theatre listings in this issue of the magazine (or go to “Just Ask” under the listings tab on our website) for details on all the following:

OCT 8, 12 noon: Canadian Opera Company/U of T Opera. Vocal Series: Parlami d’Amore - Speak to Me of Love. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

OCT 19, 2:00: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Early Music Concerts: Acis and Galatea. Handel: Acis and Galatea. Heliconian Hall.

OCT 31, 12:10: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Thursdays at Noon: Opera Spotlight - The Marriage of Figaro Preview. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto.

NOV 1, 7:30: Royal Conservatory of Music. The Glenn Gould School Fall Opera: Siren Song. Music by Jonathan Dove, libretto by Nick Dear. Mazzoleni Concert Hall, Telus Centre.

NOV 1 and 3, 7:30: Opera York. La Traviata. Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com. Opera-related leads and news should be directed to opera@thewholenote.com.

Two unconventional music theatre works opening in early October caught my eye right away for the excitement of their risk-taking and also for the clear desire each production has to find new ways to involve audiences in a deeper, more immersive way.

Ghost QuartetGhost Quartet: Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet, a four-person ghost-storytelling “live concept album” presented in a joint production by the new Eclipse Theatre Company (Kiss of the Spiderwoman at the Don Jail) and the always innovative Crows Theatre, is the first. Malloy is best known for his Tony Award-winning popera take on Tolstoy’s War and Peace: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.

Ghost Quartet is a smaller show but hugely ambitious within a deceptively straightforward format. A camera breaks, and four friends drink whiskey and tell each other ghost stories in an interwoven narrative that spans seven centuries drawing on sources as varied as The Arabian Nights, a retelling of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Japanese Noh Drama, Grimmsian fairly tales, grisly urban legends and 19th-century broadsheet ballads. The music is equally eclectic including gospel, folk ballad, honky-tonk, electropop, doo-wop and jazz. The cast is made up of four of Toronto’s top actor/singer/musicians: Hailey Gillis (star of Soulpepper’s Rose), Kira Guloien (Doctor Zhivago on Broadway, The Who’s Tommy at Stratford), and Beau Dixon (Soulpepper’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Harlem Duet), led by Andrew Penner (Sunparlour Players and Harrow Fair) who is also the music director.

Wanting to find out more about how this show works from the inside and how they will be approaching the production, I spoke with Andrew Penner and stage director Marie Farsi:

WN: What do you think led Dave Malloy to create this show in the format of a “live concept album”?

Marie Farsi: It was definitely an homage to great masterpieces made on vinyl. Dave explains that his desire was to take the narrative form of the rock concept album “with all of its vaguery and weirdness, symbolism and surrealism, adrenaline and angst” and theatricalize it. In the show, each of the songs is announced by one of the performers with its track number and title. I think the intention is to use it as a device to reframe the narrative and encourage a looser frame of mind.

How do the different styles of music contribute to the telling of the individual stories, and the overall theme of the show?

MF: Through different styles of music, we can paint different worlds for the audience to travel to through their own imagination; and the restlessness and unexpectedness of the music captures love, which is so beautifully complicated. It makes us feel alive and invincible until it’s gone, or stolen, or lost.

What is it like as music director, working with a cast of actor/singer/musicians to master all these different styles? 

Andrew Penner: The three other performers in the show are killers. We made sure of that before we went ahead with the show. They’re all amazing multi-instrumentalists with great instincts. Plus, we’re all really hard on ourselves in the best way. The styles are very genre spanning and we are trying to bend them as far as we can.

Will the staging be traditional or more immersive than we usually expect to mimic the telling of ghost stories and how they interconnect? 

MF: The staging will definitely be more immersive. Among the multiple storylines, one is simply the four performers (Hailey, Kira, Beau and Andrew) as friends, jamming, drinking whiskey and telling each other ghost stories. So I anchored the reality of the show in the “here and now” of the theatre: instruments, microphones, cables are all on stage. However, I’d say our production is even more theatrical than the original, which was presented at the McKittrick Hotel and had a real concert feel, because I’m creating a secret hideout for the band, placing it in a more natural environment. I was inspired by the Black Forest associated with the Brothers Grimm, and the stories we tell around the campfire. We’re bringing the magic of fairytales and the wonder of haunted forests a bit more to life on stage!

Have the different styles of music led to different styles of staging within the one show?

MF: I’d say the different worlds have led to different styles of music and staging. Many ghosts haunt (or come visit?) our four actor-musicians each night. We eventually understand piece by piece that the characters are reincarnations of each other, and ultimately past lives of the performers. Some of those past realities have very distinct atmospheres (created musically and sonically of course) that I am amplifying through visuals.

How do you expect audiences to react to this mix of storytelling elements?

MF: I’m expecting total disorientation and confusion at first, but in a very good and intended way. The show is a huge mishmash of various horror and fantasy tropes, and taps into our irresistible curiosity for mysteries (the murder kind along with the mystery of ghosts, life, love and death). The show is a very well-constructed puzzle to solve as well as an exciting adventure quest for the main character Rose. I have no doubt that the audience will be wrapped in the dreamy and dark.

Ghost Quartet runs October 5 to November 3 at Streetcar Crowsnest: crowstheatre.com.

Broken Tailbone. Photo by Erin BrubacherBroken Tailbone: The second show that caught my eye is even more immersive than Ghost Quartet, aiming to not only wrap the audience completely in the show’s context but to make them moving, dancing participants in the story. Broken Tailbone was inspired by multiple award-winning creator and performer Carmen Aguirre’s personal experience arriving in Vancouver as a child with her parents, all Chilean refugees, and helping her family recreate wildly popular makeshift Latinx dance halls. She also really broke her tailbone, which comes into the story.

While there are chairs around the sides for those who need to sit, most of the audience is literally on their feet learning to salsa, being taught by Aguirre as she takes them through a partly choreographed, partly improvised immersion in an irresistible musical environment that weaves together hilarious personal stories with tales of radical resistance in South American history.

The show was wildly successful in Vancouver in 2018 and I got in touch with its creator to find out more about the inspiration behind it and what it is like to perform.

WN: What made you decide to create this show – to share your own experience with audiences in this unusual format?

Carmen Aguirre: About six or seven years ago I spent two years touring the country with my one-woman show Blue Box, also dramaturged and directed by Brian Quirt, and also developed and produced by Nightswimming Theatre. In that show, I talk for 80 minutes. Non-stop. I literally stand in one spot for almost the entire show. The theatricality of that piece lies 100 percent in the text.

However, in the middle of the piece a loud salsa song comes on seemingly out of nowhere, and I break into dance. I invite the audience to join me onstage and we have an impromptu dance party. Once the song is over, they sit back down and I continue with the story. There were several reasons to have that moment in Blue Box, which did actually make sense in terms of the content of the play. Every night the response was different, of course. (There were a couple of times that every single person in the audience got up and danced and there was one time that no one did.) Brian Quirt and I were really taken with that part of the show and decided to create a piece where the audience is dancing with me the entire time. The fact that the form is simultaneously accessible and confrontational is compelling to us. 

How does the audience follow the story while they are in the midst of learning to salsa?

Interestingly, they follow the story far better than when they are seated. The act of listening while you’re moving makes you listen better. You are taking in a story about a dance hall while you are dancing in an impromptu dancehall, or a story about the dance form that you are actually doing in the moment, or geopolitical history of Latin America from a Marxist perspective, all while listening to a song with political lyrics and learning to dance to it. You are listening, processing, digesting with your entire body. It is embodied listening.

How does this change the usual performance experience for you?

I’m juggling a lot during the show. Remembering my lines; really watching the audience and interacting with them because it truly is a dance lesson; improvising based on what I’m seeing; translating bits and pieces of the songs; and dancing! It is completely immersive for me and for the audience. This type of performance requires you to be completely yourself. There are no filters. 

How intricate is the relationship of the music to the storytelling and immersive staging?

There are 15 songs in the play that were curated by Brian and I over a series of workshops. I brought in dozens of songs that mean something to me, each with a story attached. We played with all of them, and at the end of each workshop process we shared what we had with an audience. We finally distilled it down to the 15 songs in the play based on the particular story that was attached to it and how it fit in the over-all narrative arc.

Broken Tailbone runs from October 2 to 13 at Factory Theatre: factorytheatre.ca.

For some of the other exciting and varied shows opening this month please see my quick picks below.

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

OCT 2, 8PM: No Change In The Weather, Jane Mallet Theatre. In a world where Come From Away is at the top of the musical theatre pinnacle, here comes another show from the Rock but this time looking at a story older than 9/11 The identity of Newfoundland and Labrador is explored through a historical lens focusing on the 23-year tenure of Premier Joey Smallwood and the controversial creation of the Churchill Falls power plant. Packed with traditional music the show has been on a cross-country tour and is garnering great word of mouth: nochangeinitheweather.com.

OCT 3 to 5, 9 to 13: Caminos Festival, Aluna Theatre and Native Earth Performing Arts. Artscape Daniels Spectrum. An increasingly important launching pad for new work by Canadians from the South American diaspora and Indigenous populations, this year’s program features some exciting experimental music theatre content including The Art of Storytelling, Catarsis, We are, what we are, The Mente, and the free Aluna Cabaret (October 10 to 12) alunatheatre.ca.

OCT 9 TO 20: Something for the Buoys. Sapling Productions/Bygone Theatre. George Ignatieff Theatre, A new musical that sounds like a fun take on an old-style musical à la Anything Goes or On the Town, in one of Toronto’s best intimate theatre spaces.

OCT 13, 7:30 PM: ONE NIGHT ONLY. “Portrait of a Collaboration.” Meighan Forum, Stratford Festival Theatre Lobby. A rare treat of an evening with celebrated composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors and many Disney shows) in conversation with one of the Festival’s best kept secrets, the multi-talented Marion Adler, interwoven with performances of songs from Little Pinks, the musical they created together from Damon Runyon’s short story.

OCT 20, 2:30PM: Fallis & Tiefenbach. Haliburton Concert Series. If you have never seen the inimitable Mary Lou Fallis (soprano) and Peter Tiefenbach (piano) in concert, now is your chance! Their theatrical concerts can leave you helpless with delighted laughter and this one promises to have songs from the very best of their Primadonna shows as well as “a sendup of every voice recital you’ve ever been to.”

OCT 25, 7:30PM: Urinetown, (The Musical) in concert. Toronto Musical Concerts. Al Green Theatre. TMC concert stagings of important musicals are getting stronger all the time. Urinetown is more of a parody than a serious look at the dangers of politics gone wrong, but this should be fun. Featuring Erica Peck from We Will Rock You and Kinky Boots.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

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