As summer fades into fall, it’s time for one last lingering look at Toronto Summer Music’s 2019 season. I was fortunate to attend 16 events this year, nine mainstage concerts, five edifying TSM Connect sessions, one Shuffle Hour solo recital (excerpts from violinist Jennifer Koh’s Shared Madness project) and one reGENERATION concert. [See my two Concert Reports on thewholenote.com.] Several of the mainstage concerts were among the ten that were sold-out. Spontaneous standing ovations were the rule – Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu’s recital on July 29 garnered two: the first following the singular beauty, roiling intensity and dynamic contrasts of Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major; the second after John Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, which Crow called “youthful, exciting, with lots of notes, fun to play.”

The 33 Academy fellows and the 42 artist mentors entertained a record 16,000 audience members, of whom a score or so sat on the Koerner Hall stage (a TSM first!) for Angela Hewitt’s idiosyncratic, wildly well-received traversal of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The recital was preceded by a conversation between Eric Friesen and the award-winning author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien. Thien wrote her Scotiabank Giller Prize winner while listening to Glenn Gould’s recordings (mostly the 1955 version) of the Goldbergs 10,000 times over the five years it took her to complete the novel. She was walking beside rail tracks in Berlin listening to music on headphones in shuffle mode when Gould’s 1955 recording began to play. It had been years since she’d heard it and it “cracked her open,” she said. So began her purposeful routine. Hewitt’s performance on July 30 was the first time Thien had heard the piece live.

TSM’s irrepressible artistic director, Jonathan Crow, was the fulcrum of the festival, essential to its success and well deserving of the accolades he received. He and several of this year’s mentors will return to their main gig as members of the TSO – more on that later – but his next local appearance is an unexpected one, delightful as it promises to be.

Alexandru Tomescu. Photo by Ioana HameedaGeorge Enescu Festival

On September 7 in Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Crow and pianist Coral Solomon will inaugurate Toronto’s part in the George Enescu Festival. “We actually centred all three recitals mainly around pieces we loved,” Solomon said via email. “We also wanted to lightly centre these as a tribute to George Enescu who was one of the most remarkable musicians of 20th century Europe. An internationally acclaimed violinist, pianist, conductor, and composer who often advocated for new music and composers, as well as being an inspiring pedagogue and mentor to many prominent young musicians. We will follow his tradition and include some pieces that are not too often performed but that we are really passionate about, and hope the audience will fall in love with them as well!”

The festival began in Bucharest in 1958, three years after Enescu’s death; it’s been held every two years since then, with concerts throughout Romania and the world, including Canada for the first time this September. (Coincidentally, Charles Richard-Hamelin, a TSM mentor in 2019 will give two recitals in Romania as part of this year’s festival.) The programs for the three Toronto recitals sparkle on paper, with exciting and varied works spread over three venues.

Crow and Solomon (who is the artistic director of the Canadian branch of the festival) fill their program with late-19th- and early-20th-century fireworks representative of Enescu’s legacy. Ravel’s Sonata in G Major was premiered by Ravel at the piano and Enescu on the violin in 1927; Ysaÿe’s “fiery” Sonata for solo violin No.3 was dedicated to Enescu in 1923; Bartók’s Romanian Dances; Brahms’ Sonata No.3 for Violin and Piano; and Enescu’s Toccata from Piano Suite Op.10 and Impromptu Concertant.

RCM faculty members, pianist Michael Berkovsky, violist Barry Shiffman with violinists Conrad Chow and Nuné Melik and cellist David Hetherington settle in for the second concert (at Eglinton St. George’s United Church) featuring Enescu’s Sérénade lointaine, for violin, cello and piano; selections from Ilan Rechtman’s ”very engaging” Jazzicals for Piano Trio and Paul Schenfield’s Cafe Music; plus Brahms “epic” Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op.34. “In the mission of promoting young talent, this concert will also showcase a young rising star, Bill Vu from the Taylor Academy of the Royal Conservatory of Music, in a performance of a short and sweet highly virtuosic Toccata by Paul Constantinescu,” Solomon said.

Omar Massa. Photo by Alex VladAfter playing Montreal on September 21, violinist Alexandru Tomescu and bandoneon master Omar Massa repeat their program on September 22 in the Glenn Gould Studio. It’s a classical potpourri of Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Massenet, Kreisler, Enescu and Porumbescu miniatures before intermission “related to Enescu’s inspirations from Romanian and other European cultures” and “some of the finest works by the jazz giant, Astor Piazzolla,” in the second half. Tomescu’s Strad – he won the right to play it by winning a competition in his native Romania – will doubtless shine.

Barbara Hannigan. Photo by Marco BorggreveToronto Symphony Season Begins

The TSO’s season-opening concerts, September 19 and 21, will showcase the unique talents of the guest artists – Canadian soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan and Finnish violinist/conductor John Storgårds. Hannigan, the supernova of contemporary song, who just happens to be enamoured of Haydn, will conduct Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Haydn’s Symphony No.96 “Miracle” and Dutilleux’s Sur le même accord for violin and orchestra, with Storgårds as soloist. Then Storgårds takes the baton for Hannigan to sing Bret Dean’s And once I played Ophelia for soprano and string orchestra before leading the entire orchestra in Sibelius’ Symphony No.3.

Dean’s work uses Shakespeare’s original lines from Hamlet to present Ophelia’s thoughts, as well as what other characters say to and about her, delivered from her own perspective. The libretto is by Matthew Jocelyn, formerly artistic director of Canadian Stage. Interestingly, when Hannigan was in Toronto in March 2015 to take part in the New Creations Festival and give a lecture at U of T, she performed Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you, the text of which (by Paul Griffiths) consists entirely of Ophelia’s words in Hamlet. On September 20, Hannigan returns to U of T to give a masterclass on one of her signature roles, Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre, which she called her “party piece” back in 2015. “I felt that Ligeti’s music was so strong that I could exist inside it,” she said. “I felt I could become myself.” The soloist will be Maeve Palmer, who sang Stravinsky’s The Nightingale’s Soliloquy in Hannigan’s 2017 masterclass at the Glenn Gould School, as a Rebanks fellow.

Immediately after the September 20 masterclass in Walter Hall ends at 3pm, Hannigan and Dean will sit down for an hour-long conversation, also in Walter Hall. Both events are free to attend and highly recommended.

Ever-popular conductor Donald Runnicles returns to the TSO on September 27, 28 and 29 leading the orchestra in Brahms’ bucolic Symphony No.3 and two works by Richard Strauss. TSO principal oboist, Sarah Jeffrey, brings her singing tone to Strauss’ charming Concerto in D Major for Oboe and Small Orchestra before Runnicles illuminates the climactic radiance of Strauss’ early tone poem Death and Transfiguration. (Jeffrey was also a mentor at TSM2019. Weeks later, I still vividly recall the lovely interplay between her oboe and Crow’s violin in Schoenberg/Riehn’s stripped-down chamber version of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde played by an all-star band of virtuosi.)

Last June 28, 29 and 30, Gustavo Gimeno conducted the TSO for the first time as music director to be – his five-year contract begins with the 2020/21 season – and the result was an exhilarating evening the night I was there, a scene that reportedly repeated itself on the other nights as well. It was a love-fest of music making highlighted by the visceral virtuosity of Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Gimeno returns to the RTH podium on October 9, 10 and 12 and I look forward to listening for the orchestral balance and sense of musical architecture that Gimeno evinced then in a quite different program featuring the remarkable 26-year-old pianist, Beatrice Rana, who will bring her fearless expressiveness to that bravura staple of the repertoire, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3. Gemeno follows with Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest Fantasy-Overture and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No.2. After the concert, the audience is invited to stay for a chat with the personable Spaniard whose intelligence and charm were evident after the June concerts when he, concertmaster Jonathan Crow and TSO chief executive officer, Matthew Loden held a lively conversation onstage.

U of T Music Events

The new season of Thursdays at Noon free concerts begins in a big way in Walter Hall on September 12 with a performance by the venerable Gryphon Trio. The following week, September 19, Aiyn Huang and TorQ Percussion perform works by Michael Oesterle, Peter Edwards and more. Violinist Erika Raum and pianist Lydia Wong complete the month’s Thursday midday concerts with Székely’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Op.1 and Bartók’s Violin Sonata No.2.

On September 30, fresh from mentoring at TSM, pianist Steven Philcox joins fellow U of T faculty member, soprano Nathalie Paulin, to present a program inspired by Messiaen’s Chants de Terre et de Ciel (1938), a deeply personal song cycle celebrating the birth of Messiaen’s son in 1937. Quartet-in-residence, the Calidore String Quartet, puts its youthful virtuosity on display as it gets an early jump on Beethoven’s 250th birth-year celebrations with a program of the composer’s Op.74 “Harp,” Op.18, No.4 and Op.131 String Quartets.

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

SEP 9, 5:30PM: Leaf Music presents an album release concert for Duo Kalysta’s latest recording Origins. The harp (Emily Belvedere) and flute (Lara Deutch) twosome, collaborators since 2012, perform Debussy’s haunting Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Morlock’s Vespertine I & II at Burdock Music Hall (free admission).

SEP 13 TO 15 AND 20 TO 22: The Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival, with its distinctive and appealing program, takes over Picton’s St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church for two weekends. The A-list lineup includes the New Orford String Quartet; Jon Kimura Parker and Jamie Parker, pianist-brothers; the Gryphon Trio; soloists from Les Violons du Roy; soprano Julie Nesrallah and pianist Robert Kortgaard; and Charles Richard-Hamelin. Details at pecrmusicfestival.com.

SEP 14, 6PM: DISCoveries contributor Adam Sherkin launches The Piano Has Fallen on Your Head at Rainhard Brewery.

SEP 15, 4PM: Visiting cellist Kate Bennett Wadsworth takes time away from her Tafelmusik commitments to perform Bach’s Suite No.5 in C in the Toronto Music Garden.

SEP 28, 8PM: Confluence Concerts celebrates the music of pianist-composer Clara Schumann with performers Christopher Bagan, Alison Beckwith, Patricia O’Callaghan, Angela Park and Ellie Sievers, all hosted by the engaging Tom Allen. At St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Toronto.

OCT 3, 1:30PM: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s 122nd season opens with the effervescent Montreal-based Trio Fibonacci in a diverse program anchored by Beethoven’s sparkling Piano Trio Op.70 No.1 “Ghost” – its nickname derived from its eerie-sounding slow movement.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

According to The WholeNote’s “Previous Issues” searchable database, this marks the ninth year I’m writing this column. According to a back-of-the-envelope tally, I’ve written about 80 of these explorations of the seemingly inexhaustible globally conscious music communities in the GTA. Occasionally, I’ve even ventured off-continent following the touring activities of our musicians.

No matter how often I do it, however, writing about the launch of the pre-fall concert season amid our typical Southern Ontario August heat and humidity always feels oddly dyssynchronous.

One way to bridge this musical inter-seasonality is to select some of the musicians whose careers I’ve touched on here in past Septembers over the years, trace their 2019 summers, and see where they land this September. The fact they’re all recent Polaris Music Prize recipients, and all Indigenous artists, provides us with another interesting lens.

Polaris Music Prize

The Polaris Music Prize is arguably a Canadian music industry bellwether. It is annually given to the “best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label.” Founded in 2006 by Steve Jordan, a former Canadian music industry A&R executive, it was endowed with an inclusive-sounding mission statement: “A select panel of [Canadian] music critics judge and award the Prize without regard to musical genre or commercial popularity.” Polaris’ aim differs from other awards which recognize album and digital title sales and/or streaming, radio airplay, touring and social media engagement.

Mission statement notwithstanding, a review of Polaris winners for the first eight years reveals its juries chose artists reflecting commercial album production within relatively mainstream popular music genres. These include indie rock (Final Fantasy/Owen Pallett, Patrick Watson, Arcade Fire, etc), pop (Dan Snaith/Caribou), post-rock (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), electronic/hip-hop (Kaytranada), as well as hardcore punk. Given those genres, until a few years ago Polaris awardees would not have found their way into this column.

In recent years however, Indigenous voices have come to the fore with Polaris juries, bringing their awards and their artistic achievements to the attention of the general public and to this column. While A Tribe Called Red’s album Nation II Nation – their electronic dance music, dubbed powwow-step, imbued with powerful elements of First Nations music – was short-listed in 2013; it didn’t win best album. But Indigenous sounds, however, did finally sweep into the Polaris award nightscape in downtown Toronto the following year.

Tanya Tagaq. Photo by Bob TomlinsonTanya Tagaq’s 2014 Win

On September 22, 2014 avant-garde Inuk vocalist Tanya Tagaq gave a jaw-dropping, dramatic ten-minute Polaris concert performance with drummer Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, along with, for the first time, the 44-voice improvising Element Choir conducted by Christine Duncan. “…It was as if an intense Arctic wind had blown into downtown Toronto’s The Carlu [venue]…” I wrote, reporting for The WholeNote. To cap off the evening, Tagaq was awarded the Prize for her brilliant, overtly political album Animism.

“Her win marks a significant milestone” I wrote in my WholeNote report. “For the first time it was awarded to an Indigenous musician. … a complex and heady mix of confrontation and reconciliation, of social and political issues [with] musical genres … hinting at the potential transcultural power of the healing force of sound.”

In the Polaris Spotlight in 2015 and Beyond

Tagaq’s 2014 award seemed to have opened some kind of Polaris door for Indigenous Canadian musicians. The following year, the Piapot Cree-born singer-songwriter, composer, educator and social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie won the Prize for her firebrand statement, Power in the Blood; her 15th studio release. This fearless veteran of the music business, 74-years-old at the time, has been writing and singing songs of love, war, religion and Indigenous resistance for over half a century.

Lido Pimienta. Photo by Alejandro SantiagoIn 2017 the Polaris jury awarded the $50,000 Polaris Music Prize to the Colombian Canadian singer-songwriter Lido Pimienta for her album La Papessa. Identifying as Afro-Colombian with Indigenous Wayuu heritage on her mother’s side, her music incorporates musical influences from those sources, as well as synthpop and electronic music genres. I also covered that Polaris gala evening for The WholeNote, and wrote: “In addition to her acrobatic voice, the sound of the tambura (Colombian bass drum), snare drum, electronics and a four-piece horn section dominated the music.” There wasn’t a single guitar or piano on stage; a rarity in the Polaris world.

Also significant that year, four of the ten short-listed albums directly reflected current Indigenous realities. A Tribe Called Red, Tanya Tagaq and Lido Pimienta were joined by Gord Downie’s Secret Path, a moving concept album about Chanie Wenjack, the Anishinaabe boy who tragically died after escaping from a residential school. 

Then in 2018, singer, pianist and composer Jeremy Dutcher captured the Prize with his moving freshman album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Dutcher, a Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, studied music and anthropology at Dalhousie University. He also trained as an operatic tenor, surely the first Polaris winner to do so. He later expanded his professional repertoire to include the traditional singing style and songs of his Wolastoqiyik community. His unique album reflects all those musical, linguistic and historically informed threads, reclaiming the past with an authenticity and emotional core that resonates with audiences.

Jeremy Dutcher. Photo by Christina CassaroIn his Polaris acceptance speech, Dutcher declared, “Canada, you are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance,” placing his work within a larger, growing Indigenous presence in the Canadian theatre, music, visual arts, dance and cinema scenes. With an eagle feather in his hand – holding an eagle feather honours the Creator and invites them to take notice – he continued, “What you see on the stage tonight is the future. … Are you ready to hear the truths that need to be told?”

Dutcher concluded his 2018 speech with a mission statement, an insight and a heartfelt invitation. “I do this work to honour those who have gone before and to lay the footprints for those yet to come. This is all part of a continuum of Indigenous excellence – and you are here to witness it. I welcome you.”

The Summer of 2019

The laying of footprints continues apace. Over the 2019 summer, Tagaq, Pimienta and Dutcher kept busy touring. Tagaq, having relocated to Toronto since her win, has been on tour with both her music and her award-winning genre-bending literary debut Split Tooth (2018) which masterfully mashes up fiction, memoir, Inuit myth and poetry. Her coming-of-age story is not unlike her music in the richly layered texture of its narratives. In July, Tagaq appeared several times at the Riddu Riđđu Festival at the Centre for Northern Peoples in Northern Norway, along with Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jeremy Dutcher and other global Indigenous acts.

Pimienta’s self-described “work of theatre, work of performance” We Are in a Non-relationship Relationship premiered earlier this year at Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The cross-disciplinary work illustrated her versatility across a variety of performance genres integrating music, storytelling and visual elements, portrayed on three screens above a living room-like set. She’s ambitiously expanding her career in new theatrical directions, “exploring the politics of gender, race, motherhood, identity and the construct of the Canadian landscape in the Latin American diaspora and vernacular.”

Pimienta also took her music on tour this summer to Montréal’s Suoni per il Popolo, Toronto’s Koerner Hall, Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife, Pickathon 2019 in Oregon, USA, SummerStage in New York City’s Central Park and headlined the Dawson City Music Festival.

The positive reception of Jeremy Dutcher’s Polaris win has provided a discernible lift to his career in radio plays, print coverage, record sales and live concerts. In The WholeNote‘s summer issue, I wrote about Dutcher’s August concert at the rural Westben in Campbellford ON., an event that also featured an Anishinaabe BBQ for concertgoers. He also appeared at summer festivals in Toronto (Luminato), San Francisco, Montreal, Canso NS, Moncton NB, Woody Point NL, and Rees, Germany.

And in September … and early October

September 24, Tanya Tagaq and her band take the National Arts Centre stage in Ottawa along with Kalaallit (Greenlandic Inuk) Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, in a concert evocatively titled “Voices Rising.” A frequent Tagaq onstage collaborator, Bathory is a performance artist, actor, and storyteller, a specialist in uaajeerneq, a Greenlandic mask dance.

Jeremy Dutcher’s tour dates include the World Music Festival in Chicago on September 18 and 19, the National Arts Centre Ottawa on September 25 and Centre in the Square in Kitchener on September 27 and 28. He continues with dates at First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines on October 3 and Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg on October 9.

October 18 The Music Gallery presents “Lido Pimienta: Road to Miss Colombia, plus OKAN” at its home Toronto hall as part of its annual X avant concerts. Pimienta presents songs from Miss Colombia, her La Papessa follow-up album, exploring Pimienta’s relationship to the culture of her birth. Performing with horns, winds and choir, the performance showcases her new songs arranged by Halifax-based composer Robert Drisdelle.

And the 2019 Polaris Music Award?

For one thing, Indigenous musicians remain contenders. The short list includes the Indigenous West Coast hip-hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids, nominated for their strong third album Trapline. Haisla rappers Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce incorporate themes from the Kitimat BC reservation, where they grew up, in their album’s dense lyrics, mixing it with trap (a style of hip-hop music developed in the Southern USA): a style the duo call “Indigenous Trap.”

Inuk singer, filmmaker and activist Elisapie, born in Salluit in Quebec’s far north, is also on the short list. Her The Ballad of the Runaway Girl is by turns moody, melodic, richly layered and skillfully arranged throughout.

Of course there are eight other, non-Indigenous, nominees too. But no matter which one wins on September 16, the 2019 edition of the Polaris Music Prize clearly reflects, as Jeremy Dutcher astutely observed, the “continuum of Indigenous excellence” that the Prize itself, since 2014 at least, has contributed to.

WORLD VIEW QUICK PICKS

SEP 7: Aga Khan Museum, in partnership with Raag Mala Society of Canada, presents “Stree Shakti: Celebrating Women in Music,” featuring Arati Ankalikar-Tikekar at the Museum. Ankalikar-Tikekar, an award-winning Hindustani music vocalist, accompanied by harmonium and tabla, performs raags associated with female deities and her own compositions.

SEP 28: Aga Khan Museum presents Madagascar’s supergroup Toko Telo in its auditorium. Toko Telo features the soulful vocals of Malagasy diva Monika Njava and guitarists D’Gary (the fingerpicking master) and Joël Rabesolo, inspired by the rich inter-cultural music traditions of the island’s southwest.

SEP 19 TO 29: Small World Music Society (SMWMS) presents its 18th Annual Small World Music Festival in Toronto. Here are just three of the concerts to look forward to:

SEP 19: Hanggai from China and Mongolia takes the stage at the Revival Bar. Beijing-based Hanggai convincingly mashes up rock and Mongolian music; the resulting mix can be heard on some of the world’s biggest festival stages;

SEP 26: Lula Music & Arts Centre in association with SMWMS present “Women in Percussion Festival” opening night at Lula Lounge, headlining Adriana Portela. A leading figure in the samba-reggae movement, Portela was the first woman to lead a samba-reggae ensemble, and has played percussion with many leading Brazilian groups. Also on the bill is Brazilian-Canadian percussionist and vocalist Aline Morales with her new horn and drum project, Aline Morales & Vulvas.

SEP 28: MRG Concerts in association with SMWMS present Tinariwen at the Danforth Music Hall. Formed 40 years ago, this Malian band is closely associated with the electric-guitar-driven desert blues sound and with their powerful songs about issues facing their Tuareg people.

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

If you, like me, are a once-active vocalist who took a break for an extended period of time, looking to rejoin a choir, or looking for a new choir to join, is daunting. A friend recently suggested that I could still audition for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC) at the end of August for their upcoming season. My mind went into panic mode. I let out a quick “No!” – I mean, how could I possibly be ready for an audition with mere weeks to get my voice back into shape? And isn’t September too late to join a choir like that? Surely their plans for the coming season are firmly in place?

But it got me thinking, so I spoke to some choristers and reached out by email to the artistic teams of three different choirs in Toronto to ask about their audition requirements, and how far along they are in the behind-the-scenes preparation it takes to get a new choral seasons rolling in the fall.

Cantabile Chamber SingersLooking through WholeNote’s Canary pages to decide who to contact was a great reminder of the variety of choirs present in Toronto. Whether you prefer bigger groups, like the 65-voice ensemble of The Annex Singers, or the intimate setting of a smaller chamber ensemble, like 15 to 20-voice Cantabile Chamber Singers, or a community choir, like the 30 to 35-member Jubilate Singers, there truly is a choir out there for everyone. Many ensembles are open to people of diverse backgrounds, both musical and occupational. Singing can be solely a hobby; using music as a release. It can also be a gateway to a professional career in music. In any case, no one should feel discouraged from joining a choir if an interest in singing is present.

After the summer break, would September be too late to get in touch with any of these three choirs?

The response to my inquiries was encouraging: although holding auditions in different months in the year – May and September for the Cantabile Chamber Singers; June, August and January for The Annex Singers; June and September for the Jubilate Singers – all three ensembles welcome inquiries throughout the season.

So, the fact that it’s nearly September is no excuse! Now is as good a time as any. As for my question as to what new and existing choristers should keep in mind prior to making a commitment to a choir, the responses were unanimous: understanding the extent of the commitment so you can figure out how you will balance your own schedule is essential. As mentioned, choir members come from different backgrounds, and choirs themselves are different: the ability to balance work with rehearsals sufficiently to maintain a dedication to the choir is important. Choristers likely need to be able to commit to weekly rehearsals, make personal time to learn music, and set dates aside for performances. And depending on the choir, additional commitments may be expected for various workshops, sectionals, and choir retreats.

Behind the Concerts

Meanwhile, in these months prior to the start of the new music season, the choral scene is bustling with preparation, a lot of it unobserved by audiences and often even by choristers. Music needs to be selected, artists contacted, auditions arranged, venues booked, funding organized, and year-round administrative duties maintained. As the artistic team of The Annex Singers told me, music selection, for example, must sometimes be done as much as a year in advance.

The music community as an art is unlike the music entertainment industry. It is a labour of love, a conscientious drive to keep music as an art form alive. It is not easy. All three choirs mentioned here are led by women, all of them sharing the same determination; a determination to bring diversity to Toronto’s choral scene and to make choral music accessible to a large number of people.

Jubilate SingersI asked how specific works are selected for a music season. Cheryll Chung, artistic director of Cantabile, answered, “I usually have a running list of pieces that I want to perform. I’m always on the lookout for new repertoire – always researching, especially music written by living composers, and female composers who are local.” The music director of Jubilate, Isabel Bernaus, makes all programming decisions for their three-concert season, although she “usually consults with an informal program advisory group of choir members. Concert themes and individual works are outlined the previous January (in preparation for the arts council grant applications.)” Similarly, Maria Case, artistic director of The Annex Singers, creates the program for each concert well in advance, adding that the concerts usually centre on a theme.

With respect to collaborations with guest artists and/or ensembles, Jubilate makes their selections “depending on the music and program needs.” One example: inviting “a Spanish dance company to collaborate on a program of classical Spanish and flamenco music. […] The selection of collaborators is often dependent on the professional and personal connections of the music director (or, occasionally, of one of the choir members).”

In a like manner, The Annex Singers “match the instrument, style, and area of interest of [their] guest performers to the particular program.” They mentioned a tribute performance to Shakespeare where they welcomed guest harpsichordist, Cynthia Hiebert. They also “see supporting young artists as part of [their] responsibility within the choral community.”

As someone who previously worked behind the scenes in a choral organization, I am aware of how essential funding is to the advancement and scope of choirs. I asked if these choirs receive funding from any additional stakeholders outside of their members. As might be expected, their answers differed.

Chung shared that Cantabile hasn’t been successful with all of their grant applications, “except for the one [they] applied for with [their] composer-in-residence Laura Sgroi. It was a commissioning grant awarded by the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). [They therefore] rely solely on ticket sales and donations.”

The artistic team of The Annex Singers answered, “We receive advertising revenues from local business owners and merchants in the community who promote their services in our concert programs and provide donations to our raffles and silent auction throughout the concert season. We also receive financial support from donors within and outside the choir. Our audiences are aware of the costs of running a choir, and have proved loyal, responsive and generous to our fundraising campaigns. However, most of our revenue comes from membership fees and ticket sales.”

The Jubilate Singers have “the support of multi-year grants from the Toronto Arts Council. In some years [they] have been fortunate to receive a grant from the OAC. In addition, individual donors give some funding, and some businesses advertise in [their] programs.” I asked why arts funding is important to Jubilate. They answered, “Arts funding helps with expenses, especially for paying the honoraria to the music director and accompanist, as well as venue rental for rehearsals and concerts. This kind of funding also shows that the community at large respects our contribution and recognizes the importance of music in the life of the community.”

Why should there be an interest in investing in choirs? And why should people in the community care to expand the choral scene? For a community choir like The Jubilate Singers, it’s because they “[occupy] a special niche, performing an eclectic range of world music that reflects the diversity of the greater Toronto region. … A small donation to a choir can make a big impact on the ability of that choir to present interesting and/or unusual music […] More generally, community choirs represent the ideal of amateur musicians who rehearse and perform for the love of singing. Whatever polish a choir may lack is made up for by the energy and dedication that its members bring to the music.”

Chung adds a similar sentiment, “I think people want to give back to the arts and support living musicians. Generally they see the value of live music and enjoy the diversity of our concerts.”

As for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, I spoke briefly with a chorister I know, Chantelle Whiteside, who has been a TMC member, and is lamenting that, as TMC gets ready to celebrate their 125th anniversary, she won’t be able to make the commitment of time she knows she would have to, to be part of what promises to be a special year. “Being a part of Mendelssohn has been the most rewarding thing,” she says. “It’s a community, … meeting new friends who become your closest friends.” Many choral groups require a fee from members to survive; however, the experience earned and lasting relationships formed are ultimately priceless.

To inquire about any of the specific choirs mentioned above, please contact:

Jubilate Singers – info@jubilatesingers.ca; 416-223-7690

Cantabile Chamber Singers – cantabilechambersingers@gmail.com; 416-509-8122

The Annex Singers – joeidinger@gmail.com; 416-458-4434

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir – admin@tmchoir.org; 416-598-0422

Or to delve into the myriad other opportunities out there, check out the current WholeNote Canary Pages under “Who’s Who?” at thewholenote.com.

It’s never too soon or too late!

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

SEP 28, 4PM: Bringing a Spanish and Latin flair to the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, the Toronto Operetta Theatre presents “Viva La Zarzuela.” Let the vocal talents of tenor Romulo Delgado and sopranos Ana Persijn Alarcon, Cristina Pisani and Olivia Maldonado, under the direction of Guillermo Silva-Marin transport you to Latin America and Spain.

SEP 29, 4PM: The Elmer Iseler Singers celebrate 40 years of the Festival of the Sound including the Toronto premiere of Eric Robertson’s The Sound – A Musical Evocation of Georgian Bay. James Campbell and the Penderecki String Quartet are among the guest artists performing at Eglinton-St. George’s United Church.

OCT 5 AND 6, 7:30PM: Enjoy the familiar, “I like to be in America!” with Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in concert presented by Chorus Niagara and the Niagara Symphony Orchestra. Robert Markus, fresh from his recent performance as Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, takes the lead role as Tony; soprano Meher Pavri performs Maria. Tickets can be bought online and performances will take place at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

Menaka Swaminathan is a writer and chorister, currently based in Toronto. She can be reached via choralscene@thewholenote.com

As I sit down to write this September column (the beginning of my 14th year), it’s the usual dilemma. Should I start with the events of the summer about to end, or the fall just over the horizon? And what about summers past? I think I’ll start there.

In case you haven’t been around to notice, outdoor concerts have changed. Having worked for many years as master of ceremonies at a variety of summer band concerts, I remember well concerts every Sunday, sponsored by Toronto’s Parks and Recreation Department at the Beaches Bandstand and in High Park, with concerts during the week at Allan Gardens and St. James Park.

My own summers usually ended, back then, operating the “world’s first” outdoor stereo sound system on the main bandshell at the CNE. My first season there was working with the late Sir Vivian Dunn and the Band of the Royal Marines, Plymouth Division. On another occasion, the National Band on New Zealand was featured. During the times when the featured band was not performing on the main bandshell, there were concerts on the CNE’s north bandstand by various bands from local Army and Navy Reserve units.

It has probably been some years since there have been such events with major feature bands at any outdoor facility in the Toronto area. However, community bands all over the province have been performing at a wide range of performance venues ranging from such large dedicated facilities as the Millennium Bandstand in Unionville (built in 2000) or the Rotary Aqua Theatre in Orillia’s Couchiching Park (built in 1958), to grassy areas in public parks. In the cases of the more formal bandstands, most usually have some limited seating and lots of space for audience members to bring their own seats.

Lest I start to sound too nostalgic, I should point out that while the more informal concerts on grassy lawns may be pleasant for audience members, they are not necessarily so for band members. Other than bad weather, problems can include uneven terrain for members to place chairs and music stands, bright sun in their eyes, winds to blow the music off their stands and the logistics of getting large instruments to and from the parking area to the performance site.

Just as there is much less formality in the venues, so too there is now a wide range of the delivery of the music, the dress of band members and conductors, and the means of announcing the music and soloists. During this past summer I have seen attire ranging from bands with everyone wearing rather formal uniforms with shirt, tie and band blazer to groups with shorts and a wide variety of tops.

As for audiences, times have also changed. Cell phones scattered throughout the audience are common as is the eating of treats. The photograph with this column is a case in point: the Encore Symphonic Concert Band at the Millennium Bandstand in Unionville, in garb that does not really match their prestigious name. And at least one audience member trying hard to let the music distract him from his ice cream.

The Encore Symphonic Concert Band at the Millennium Bandstand in Unionville. Photo by Jack MacQuarrieSummer repertoire has evolved as well. Years ago, bands always played at least one march by Alford or Sousa. Of all of the concerts this summer, where I either played or listened, there was not a single march. All of which brings up a favourite topic of mine: repertoire. Should it be purely based on the preferences of the conductor, the skills and interests of band members, or what they hope will appeal to their audiences on a given day? Two recent concerts were a case in point: as is popular these days one was thematic, with the title: “Music of the Cinema, Popcorn Not Included.” The other concert did not have a specific title, but was made up either of Beethoven music or music inspired by Beethoven. After the latter of these concerts, I asked a man how he liked the program. His reply: “Why would a band play Beethoven at an outdoor concert?” When asked what he would prefer, he stated that it should be obvious: “A band outdoors should be playing Sousa marches.” All of which brings up that recurring theme: “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you will never please all of the people all of the time.”

Buried Treasure

At some time every summer, I morph into my occasional household alter ego, Johann Cluttermeister, and start digging through many boxes of “sometime I must get around to it” stuff. I uncovered a few musical gems. The first was an advertisement from the Stratford Festival of a few years back, for a performance of H.M.S. Pinafore. There he was, a sailor in the uniform of the United States Navy, embracing a sweet young lady. What, pray tell, was an American sailor doing in a story aboard a Royal Navy ship?

Then it was music for a lesser-known bugle call, The First Post. Most people are familiar with The Last Post, but how many have ever heard of The First Post? Having served many years ago in a large Royal Navy ship, which was the Admiral’s Flagship, I became acquainted with many bugle calls. We had a full Royal Marine Band with many buglers aboard. We heard a multitude of bugle calls every day to announce certain routines. The First Post was one of these. And there it was, the music for this little-known bugle call! Off to Google I went. I typed in “bugle call The First Post.” Almost immediately, I heard this call played in its entirety as I followed it with the sheet of music in front of me, after which to my surprise and pleasure, I was treated to a succession of many British bugle calls.

Into another box, and out came a true gem: a well-worn small book of music, titled the Universal Band Primer. “The indispensable and VERY FIRST BOOK for all Young Bands” it proclaimed. Published by Hawkes & Son in 1912. Price: one shilling and sixpence. The first page covered the “Rudiments of Music” and consisted of a stave with the comparative value of notes and rests: wholenotes, half notes, quarter notes, etcetera, except that here they are called, respectively: semibreve, minims, crotchets and so on, down into quavers, semiquavers and demisemiquavers. As for the instrumentation: there are books available for saxhorns, G bass trombones and bombardons. It seems that there have been some changes in the band world over the past century.

Band activities

Usually, around this time of year, I received considerable information on band activities over the summer months. This year, not so, but with one notable exception. Joan Sax of the Richmond Hill Concert Band wrote to inform us of a concert series at a new venue: during the months of July and August, the Richmond Hill Concert Band presented “The Lake Wilcox Summer Concert Series” Sunday afternoons at 1pm on the Oak Ridges Community Centre terrace. These featured the five concert bands of York Region: the Aurora Community Band, the Thornhill Community Band, the Richmond Hill Concert Band, the Markham Concert Band and the Newmarket Citizens Band. Playing in one of these concerts gave me an opportunity to tour this new community centre adjacent to Lake Wilcox. It is an excellent and much-needed new facility with too many features to describe here. If I ever needed a reminder of how things have changed over the years, though, this was it! Some years ago, as a young boy living in Windsor, Ontario, with a population then of 100,000, I occasionally visited the little village of Richmond Hill. On my way to this community centre, we passed a sign welcoming us to the City of Richmond Hill, population 208,000.

Also by this time in past years, I would start to get notices of future band activities. This year I have not received a single notice of any coming events yet! If you, as a reader, are a member of a band, we would love to be informed of any coming events. For me to make mention of them in this column, we generally need them no later than the fifteenth of the preceding month.

Other happenings

Earlier this year, we attended a ceremony at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, where members of HMCS York, Toronto’s Reserve Naval Division, were commemorating the annual Battle of Atlantic Sunday. We were astounded to see six or eight members of the band in formal army uniforms. How could this be? It turns out it was that time of year where many communities were experiencing serious flooding and needed people to fill and position sandbags, and several band regular band members were away on extra emergency duties doing so. Members of one or more reserve army bands had therefore the HMCS York band’s ranks to form an unusual Red and Blue ensemble.

Warning! Groaners ahead

Question: What’s musical and handy in a supermarket?
Answer: A Chopin Lizst.

Question: How do you get a million dollars playing jazz?
Answer: Start off with two million.

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

JPEC at the Paintbrush Bistro 2013 (From Left): Joe Sealy, Rochelle Koskie, Jackie Richardson, Ray Koskie. Photo by Air'Leth AodfinI can’t remember a year in which the Toronto jazz scene suffered so many momentous losses; it’s been absolutely dreadful and has left many of us reeling in grief and shock. Close on the heels of Ed Bickert dying in late February, Norma Thompson (wife of the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson) and pianist Gary Williamson both passed over the Easter weekend. We had barely begun to absorb those losses when drummer John Sumner died in early June after suffering a massive stroke. And in late July came the news that Rochelle Koskie, long-time Toronto jazz fan and co-founder of JPEC, had died unexpectedly. I hate to keep using this space as a floating jazz obituary, but when in Rome, as it were. Each of them deserves remembrance and never so more now that they’re gone.

Don Thompson is a private and stoical man, so there was very little public marking of Norma’s death. Out of respect I won’t say much except that Norma had been suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s for some years and Don had been looking after her with heroic dedication, hence his reduced presence in public recently. Norma was a lovely woman, kind and vivacious, and also a talented musician – she played the bagpipes and the drums. She’ll be missed by many of us who knew her for a long time and our hearts go out to Don, who will miss her most of all.

Gary Williamson died at 75 after a long struggle with cancer which had left him unable to play much in recent years. Perhaps for this reason, Gary’s passing didn’t attract a lot of public attention either, but it certainly did among his fellow musicians. In fact, Gary was a classic example of a “musician’s musician” – one capable of improvising extraordinary things on the piano which might have gone over the heads of many listeners, but regularly left his musician colleagues open-mouthed.

He was a brilliant man who had an unusual and interesting life. His gifts extended beyond music to the academic sphere, where he particularly excelled in sciences and math. He made the Ontario Scholar’s list and was in the Engineering Physics program at U of T when he decided he wanted to pursue music full-time, much to the initial chagrin of his parents. As a young man, he played around Toronto on all manner of gigs, jazz and otherwise, including a stint in the house band at the Victory Burlesque Theatre which he often looked back on with great affection.

Gary spent much of the mid-to-late 1960s on an extended tour with a showband covering most of Asia. It was adventurous to say the least, leaving him with many great stories and a lifelong interest in all things Oriental. He met his lovely wife Rose in Hong Kong and brought her home to Toronto, where they bought a house and raised two beautiful children, Ty, and Sue May.

He became a fixture on the Toronto jazz scene from the early 70s on, performing regularly at Bourbon Street, George’s Spaghetti House and many other clubs, as well as doing his share of jingles and other studio work. He was the pianist with Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six during its heyday, and Gary and I often performed together with Phil Nimmons in his quartet and with trumpeter Sam Noto’s quintet among other groups. In recent years, he could be heard in many of bassist Dave Young’s bands. He was very active on the Local 149 TMA board and for a time edited its publication, Crescendo. He taught piano in the jazz program at U of T for many years and the list of fine young pianists who benefitted from his guidance is a long and distinguished one.

Pianistically, he had very few peers. His studies with Darwin Aitken left him with a thorough mastery of the instrument which he augmented with his own incisive intellect – especially when it came to harmony – and his wide-ranging and adventurous tastes in music and pianists. Gary had a natural feeling for blues and gospel and blended these with elements from older bebop masters like Bud Powell, Red Garland and Phineas Newborn, and more modern players such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett to form a challenging and intense personal style with great scope and a very wide, swinging beat. His playing was invariably inventive and uncompromising – he came at you – and expected you to respond in kind. I always found playing with him immensely rewarding and being around him a lot of fun, largely due to his rich sense of humour and wit.

I wish Gary had cultivated himself more as a leader and made more recordings of his own – there’s only one, long unavailable – but it wasn’t in his nature to do so. For this reason, he’s much less well-known than he should be and his illness keeping him off the scene in recent years didn’t help. Simply put, he was one of the very best pianists I’ve ever heard or played with. Like many, I miss him a lot but am glad his suffering is at an end.

Though a vastly different character than Gary Williamson, John Sumner was similarly under-recognized by the jazz public, even locally. Part of this was due to his somewhat reserved and standoffish nature – at least until you got to know him – and like Gary, John’s declining health had kept him out of the public eye lately. Along with long-term hypertension, he began suffering from acute fibromyalgia in the last 15 years, which left him with constant muscle/joint pain and fatigue, hampering his mobility in recent years. He somehow managed to still play the drums well through all this, but as the condition worsened, he was less able to get out and play, which was sad for his friends to witness.

He had become virtually housebound, and when he suffered the stroke in late May, doctors told his wife Juanita that even if he recovered, his days of living at home were over. This was unthinkable to his many friends because John was a guy who loved to be at home surrounded by his incomparable library – many thousands of CDs, scores of jazz books, favourite films, DownBeat magazines dating back to the 50s and all sorts of other goodies.

In this sense, and this sense only, John’s death was a mercy; otherwise I’ve found it personally unsustainable. He was my closest jazz friend for 34 years, and even though I’d seen him almost gradually disappear before my very eyes in recent years, he’s loomed so large in my life that I simply can’t believe he’s gone.

I’m in the midst of writing a long memorial blog on John that may take the rest of my life, so I’ll confine my remarks to the musician side of him rather than the personal. He was a superbly musical drummer, not given to technical displays – he often eschewed solos or even exchanges of eights – but always listening, always knowing what to deliver and when. He valued swing, groove and sound, and understood the subtleties underlying them, the value of texture and dynamics and how to develop these over a long arc in a performance.

He and I had an effortless rhythmic consensus, which developed when we first met and played together on an epic jazz concert tour of the Soviet Union led by Fraser MacPherson in 1986. After 30 concerts in 30 days we were joined at the hip, both musically and personally. Not long after that, he and his beloved Juanita moved to Toronto, and I soon introduced John to pianist Mark Eisenman, knowing that the rhythmic chemistry would extend to three. And it did. Playing with that rhythm section has provided me with many of the most enjoyable and satisfying musical moments of my career.

John was the ultimate autodidact. With only a couple of introductory drum lessons, he was playing high-level professional jobs in Portland, Oregon by the time he was a teenager, followed by vast experience playing with just about everyone imaginable in San Francisco and Los Angeles before moving to Canada in the early 80s. He knew more about jazz than anyone else I’ve ever met and was extremely generous in sharing his vast knowledge with anyone who showed interest. I can’t possibly say how much I learned from him and his vast collection of records and stories over the years. Suffice it to say that not one word of anything I’ve written about jazz in numerous blogs and articles would have been possible without knowing him, and that’s no exaggeration. I’m enormously grateful to have had John Sumner as a friend for so long and will miss him for the rest of my days.

And then out of nowhere, the news that on Sunday, July 28, 2019, Rochelle Koskie died suddenly and peacefully at home. Along with her husband Ray, Rochelle was co-founder of the Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. The vitality that fed Rochelle’s love of jazz could be seen in everything she did and her relationships with jazz musicians were personal and long-lasting. I observed this often with both local and American musicians over many years of knowing Rochelle as a jazz fan. She was also a grandmother extraordinaire. Condolences to Ray and the rest of her family, and to her JPEC colleagues; she’ll be greatly missed.

Her special love was JPEC’s School Outreach program, which she created. As a former teacher, bringing music to children was extremely important to her and she was personally involved in arranging and paying musicians to head up JPEC workshops in schools with little or no music education.

A memorial fund has been set up to keep her love of music for students alive. Donations can be made to the Rochelle Koskie Jazz Student Scholarship Fund c/o The Benjamin Foundation, 416-780-0324. www.benjamins.ca.

In the midst of all these losses, I suffered a small calamity of my own: on June 20th I had a small fall and tore one of the rotator cuff muscles in my left shoulder. It left me unable to play the bass and I had to cancel out of all upcoming gigs, some of them on short notice. The good news is that it’s improving thanks to physiotherapy and I’ve been able to resume practising and actually did my first real gig in almost two months on August 17. I was rusty, but it went pretty well and I didn’t have to stop playing at any point during the one-hour concert. As John MacLeod told me when I first began, the key to playing jazz bass is not stopping, no matter how much it hurts.

Oddly, this time on the shelf has helped me deal with the reeling sense of loss I’ve felt all spring and summer. Not being able to play made me realize how much I love it, and never to take it for granted again. The same goes for knowing these departed ones and others. Never take your friends for granted, mourn their passing but be grateful for the gifts they brought. And keep on, one foot in front of the other. It’s all we can do. The living owe the dead that much and more. 

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.

Regular WholeNote opera columnist Christopher Hoile embarked on a year that includes an enviable amount of travel. Consequently, with all the world as his stage, his attention to the local stages that comprise our opera beat is going to be significantly compromised. So during his agreed semi-sabbatical, the opera patrol here at The WholeNote is going to be something of a team effort. So away we go, with what promises to be a season of operatic proportions, both onstage and off.

September Start at the COC

The first of the COC’s two fall operas, Puccini’s Turandot, gets under way September 28, with the second, Rusalka, a couple of weeks behind, usually an indication that the first of the two shows requires all hands on deck, more often than not because it is a new production. Under other circumstances, the cast that has been assembled for this production would be the story, but the name that jumps off the page for me is Robert Wilson, 77-year-old, Waco, Texas-born theatre artist extraordinaire.

robert wilson hsu ping high resThose of you who saw the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson Einstein on the Beach at Luminato 2012 will be aware of the extent to which Wilson, while no slouch at deploying scenic machinery on the grandest scale, is also capable of achieving the subtlest of effects, minimalist visual moments of excruciating beauty and power. So, given the split personality of opera-going audiences in Toronto we’re almost guaranteed a hung jury, with fans of the grand gesture and lots of moving parts feeling cheated, and others, count me in, who can’t wait to see what Wilson makes of little things. “If I go to the opera,” Wilson himself said recently, “I really want to hear the music. I close my eyes. So the challenge is to find how I can keep my eyes open? How what I see can help me to hear music better.”

The quote in question is from an interview Wilson did this past February, with OperaWire contributor, Polina Lyapustina, when this Teatro de Madrid/Lithuanian National Opera/Canadian Opera Company co-commission touched down in Lithuania, the second stop on its three-nation tour, having started out in Madrid. It’s an interesting read, dotted with Wilsonian gems. He recounts a conversation with Lady Gaga: “You know, Gaga, in the theatre the last second is the most important, and next is the first second. Sometimes, if you get the last second right, they will forgive you for everything you’ve done all night.” Then continues: “In making Turandot I always tried to figure what that last second is. And then, where we began. And then, how you would draw a line from the beginning to the end.”

And this: “A stage is unlike any other space. I hate naturalism. To be on stage is something artificial. And if you try to act naturally it seems artificial. But if you accept it as something artificial, it becomes more natural.”

I can’t wait.

Neef

The production also gives the opportunity for some early reflection on what the implications will be of Alexander Neef’s announced move, after ten years heading up the COC, to assume the position of General Director of Opéra National de Paris. From where I sit, looking at Turandot, it’s potentially really good news, looking at the calibre of casts he’s attracted and the international co-producing allegiances he’s been able to build. Having someone “on the other side” with a bedrock understanding that this is a good place to build bridges to can only be a good thing. It’s an offstage season story that will unfold very interestingly over time.

Opera Atelier

With Atelier’s fall production, Don Giovanni, still a month away (October 31), their big news is also a “French connection” story, with Atelier founders and co-directors, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, having been invited to stage and choreograph Grétry’s opera Richard Coeur-de-lion, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Royal Opera House at Versailles from October 10 to 13, 2019 at Château de Versailles. “This extraordinary event marks the ultimate recognition of Pynkoski and Lajeunesse Zingg’s interpretation of French Baroque repertoire – selected as the only non-French artists involved in this milestone anniversary of the most prestigious opera house in France,” said OA’s press release about the event. And I wouldn’t change a word of it.

Opera by Request planning the entire Wagner Ring Cycle over the Ontario Family Day weekend this coming February (hmmm, talk about dysfunctional families); Tapestry Opera embarking on their 40th season; Against the Grain Theatre completing its tenth …

Let the good times roll.

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

The Barricades

The Mysterious Barricades concert series came out of a tragedy: in 2015, the series co-founder and president, Edmonton-based mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Turnbull, lost her husband to suicide. “Beth and Chris and my husband Gord and I, and Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule and many others in this group – we were all friends mainly through University of Toronto Opera School,” explains Monica Whicher, Mysterious Barricades’ Toronto leader and presenter, when we meet in her home to talk about this year’s event. “Chris wasn’t a musician professionally, but he was a music lover. We were each other’s families essentially, as you are when you’re young in school and away from your own family. We have been friends for at least 30 years when it happened.” Turnbull herself speaks eloquently about her loss and her partner’s struggle with depression and anxiety in the video on the Mysterious Barricades website. Nothing, however, prepares one for the devastation that is the loss of a loved one.

“Beth understood that a way for her toward healing would be music,” says Whicher. The mezzo invited her musician friends to join forces and create a consciousness-raising event, rolling out as a series in multiple cities across the country in the course of one day. Each year, the event takes place during World Suicide Prevention Week and includes guest speakers and representatives from mental health organizations. Each concert has its own presenter and programmer. There will be a Kitchener-Waterloo concert on September 10 at 7pm. And on September 14, Ottawa (12pm), Toronto (1pm), and London (2pm) will be the three Ontario cities participating in what is planned as a 17-hour sequence, coast-to-coast concerts which will also be streamed live.

The 1pm Toronto concert will be in the University of Toronto’s Walter Hall. From the very start, the Toronto Mysterious Barricades concert has been under the auspices of the University of Toronto, where Whicher and many other musicians involved happen to be teaching. Everybody is volunteering their time. “There’s space, there’s some generosity amidst of it all, and there is a student body who we feel can use the knowledge and shared experience,” says Whicher. This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Andrea Levinson, psychiatrist-in-chief, Health and Wellness, University of Toronto. “Our goal is to make sure that everybody knows that there is help available. We will present these resources in between the music making. It’s easy when one is not struggling to let something in one ear and out the other; but when one is struggling or one’s loved one is, it becomes difficult to understand how to proceed in a crisis. The more we can put this info forward – the better.”

While much of the messaging of MB is directed toward the university population, students and instructors, the resources listed on the website for each city include information for the general population as well. Representatives from the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Canadian Mental Health Association and CAMH will also be there. “At university each year we’re encountering a group of people, and I was this person at one time, trying to do something that they love and trying to do it better. Whether this is music or anything else. You are coming to a new level of critical process, and this is very difficult. You may need support.” If a student is struggling, there’s a confidential number to call and an email address, and this is easy to find in all student handbooks.

I ask her if there are perhaps plans to grow out of the university setting, move to a non-university-affiliated hall. She explains that given that most things are currently donated, including the access to Walter Hall, this would not be an easy transfer, but that they’d be open to it should the opportunity present itself. Thanks to the live-streaming – which is, let’s not forget, still extremely rare in Canadian performing arts – the concerts do get seen by a large swath of people who are not attending university or teaching in it.

And while Mysterious Barricades is not a day of advocacy for better funding or better insurance coverage for talk therapy, it is an invitation to look at the available resources, and to start a conversation around mental health. “I appreciate that it can be difficult,” says Whicher. “We want to deal with problems before they become a crisis. The understanding of what’s already available, and the availability – both of these need to be ramped up. Everybody comes to their help differently. We are here to start the conversation, and get past the initial discomfort around it.” Social media is not helping – they’re making, Whicher says, things worse. “It’s not helping the isolation factor, it’s not helping the understanding – in fact it’s diminishing the understanding. We need daily contacts with humans. We just have to keep finding ways to make contact with one another. And in this world of online likes and dislikes that can be difficult.”

Does she program each year around an idea? “Yes – Beth initially asked and I think it’s a beautiful plan, that the music provide some space for contemplation. Now, of course, it may also create space for emotion. We want to have music that evokes shared experience and be contemplative… forward-looking… colourful… in a word: hopeful.”

“Music has been the thing that’s upheld me for as long as I can remember,” she says. “And that’s true for so many people.”

Monica WhicherThe Barriers

So you need talk therapy and live in Ontario and are not wealthy? A quick primer based on personal experience.

Talk to your GP – many will know psychotherapists who are covered by OHIP and can give you their contact information. This will not guarantee anything, unfortunately, as OHIP-covered psychotherapists tend to have long waiting lists. The current Ontario government has embarked on a reform of mental health care which, as part of the new negotiated contract with physicians, stipulates that a psychiatrist cannot bill the Ontario Ministry of Health unlimited number of hours anymore, but can bill 24 hours a patient a year instead. The change would save money for the Ontario government (and this is probably the primary motive) but would also, ideally, open up some of those waiting lists. When I asked my then-GP (who has since left Canada) for therapy leads three years ago, she gave me contact info for two psychotherapists who never even bothered returning my phone calls – I expect due to the length of their already existing waiting lists.

A debate has been taking place among mental healthcare providers in the province even since the proposed changes have been announced. A star psychotherapist, Dr. Norman Doidge, author of the internationally acclaimed The Brain That Changes Itself, contributed an op-ed to The Globe and Mail in which he argued that the reduction of fully billable hours would effectively mean abandoning the most vulnerable patients in need of intense, multiple-times-a-week care. Others, like some of the physicians featured in Dr. Matt Strauss’ recent National Post piece have argued that the proposed cuts to hours will be the only way for a good number of people, currently excluded due to where in Ontario they live, whether they’re new Canadians or old, or how much they earn, from access to mental healthcare. Would the only way to increase access to psychotherapy while not taking it away from existing patients be to expand the list of registered psychotherapists who could bill OHIP (currently only MDs can)? This does not seem likely under the current government which primarily seems to be interested in short-term cost cutting.

OHIP-covered therapy therefore, you soon learn, is not available to a lot of us. You may get yourself on the waiting list, but what about right now? The other possibility is to have a job that comes with health benefits which also have excellent provisions for psychotherapy. And even if you are lucky to have a job that gives you additional health insurance, most health plans will have fairly low mental healthcare claims limits. I currently have a part-time job unrelated to writing, which has insurance (freelancers and precariat of any kind have no additional health insurance unless they individually pay into it – but that’s a topic for another article). This insurance has reasonably ample provisions for dental care, for example, but limits the amount you can spend on psychotherapy to $700 a year (about five or six hours!). Meaning that every two months you can see somebody for an hour.

Otherwise, you must pay out of pocket. I once had an initial session with a non-MD psychoanalyst and it cost more than $200. There was no second session; there was no way I could afford to continue.

Certain large hospitals, like Women’s College, offer support, therapy and treatment groups, but a quick check on their website reveals that even some of the groups, like the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) one, are not accepting referrals any more due to high demand. (The Day Treatment Program group seems to be still open.)

And so, many of us must press on without mental health care. There’s a federal election coming up, but the provincial one is not before 2022. Meanwhile, perhaps we could all think about how the quality of our lives or our loved ones’ could be improved by bringing down the systemic barriers preventing access to psychotherapy, and get in touch with our MPPs and politely ask them if they see that as a society we have a problem, and what their plan to address it is. 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

And in the meanwhile, we have music.

SEP 14, 1PM: Set to join Monica Whicher in the Toronto Mysterious Barricades concert are baritone Russell Braun, mezzo Norine Burgess, harpist, Judy Loman, pianists Carolyn Maule and Jialiang Zhu, soprano Nathalie Paulin, three members of the Turkwaz vocal and instrumental ensemble (Jayne Brown, Sophia Grigoriadis and Maryem Tollar), and a Mysterious Barricades Toronto Chorale, conducted by Tracy Wong. Updates on the program for the concert, an opportunity to reserve your free concert ticket, as well as detailed information on all 15 Canadian concerts can be found at mysteriousbarricades.org.

SEP 19 AND 21, 8PM: TSO, Hannigan and Storgårds. Beethoven: Overture to Egmont; Dutilleux: Sur le même accord, for violin and orchestra; Haydn: Symphony No.96; Brett Dean: And once I played Ophelia, for string orchestra and Piano (Canadian Première); Sibelius: Symphony No.3. John Storgårds, conductor and violin; Barbara Hannigan: conductor and soprano. Roy Thomson Hall

SEP 20: Masterclass with Barbara Hannigan – Ligeti: Mysteries of the Macabre, with the Contemporary Music Ensemble and Maeve Palmer, soprano. 1 to 3pm, Walter Hall, 80 Queen’s Park. Followed by “In Conversation: Barbara Hannigan and composer Brett Dean.” Q&A with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s visiting artists. 3 to 4pm, Walter Hall. Both events are free admission and open to the public.

SEP 22, 2PM: Renée Bouthot and Ana Cervantes. “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air sur soir: Music by French and Mexican Composers.” Debussy: Fêtes galantes; Études and Préludes (selections); Ibarra: Tres canciones; Uribe: El viaje nocturno de Quetzalpapálotl (Canadian premiere); Poulenc: Tel jour, telle nuit. Renée Bouthot, soprano; Ana Cervantes, piano. Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave.

SEP 28, 4PM: Toronto Operetta Theatre. Viva La Zarzuela. Music of Latin America and Spain. Romulo Delgado, tenor; Ana Persijn Alarcon, soprano; Cristina Pisani, soprano; Olivia Maldonado, soprano; Guillermo Silva-Marin, tenor; Narmina Afandiyeva, music director/piano; Henry Ingram, host. St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

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

And we’re back. After The WholeNote’s typical aestival hiatus – and our packed-to-the-margins summer issue, which featured information on a wide assortment of excellent festivals in the Greater Toronto Area – I’m happy to be writing this column for you again, doing my best to provide a preview of some of the most interesting musical events that will be occurring around town each month. It has been exactly 12 months since I first took over this column, and the timing seems appropriate; though it has been a few years since I finished grad school, September still feels like the spiritual beginning of the upcoming year. Though we know that the month brings with it waning heat, it also heralds the promise of much to come: the return of musical friends from sweaty summer touring; the reinstatement of all of your favourite regular gigs, artist-curated concert series, and post-secondary-student nights at The Rex; scarves. It is, in short, one of the most exciting times of the year to be a jazz fan in Toronto.

To begin: there are quite a few notable festivals taking place in September. To run any festival in Toronto is a difficult, labour-intensive process; earlier this year, I wrote about the TD Toronto Jazz Festival’s shift to Yorkville, and the many challenges that artistic director Josh Grossman deals with on a regular basis in order to keep an established, decades-old, major-Canadian-banking-institution-sponsored festival ticking. The prospect of establishing a new festival – of working with local communities, of soliciting sponsor partnerships, of booking venues and talent and vendors and making sure that guests are happy and artists are hydrated and, oh my god, did no one think that we might need porta-potties?! – is a daunting undertaking indeed. But that is exactly what the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival (TUJF) and the Kensington Market Jazz Festival (KMJF) have done.

The TUJF, which began in 2015 in the Distillery District, with 26 distinct undergraduate bands performing over the course of three days, has grown into a five-day affair, from September 3 to September 7. The bulk of the programming will take place on September 6 and 7 in Mel Lastman Square, with a kick-off performance by the Robi Botos Trio at Hugh’s Room on September 3, and two days on September 4 and 5 at The Frog, a pub owned by the Firkin Group, located a convenient seven-minute walk from the Square. The TUJF will feature performances and master classes by a variety of local and not-so-local groups, including the aforementioned Robi Botos Trio, the Pat LaBabera Quartet and Donny McCaslin.

While the TUJF has emulated, to a certain degree, the large, primarily outdoor format of traditional Canadian jazz festivals, the KMJF has chosen a different approach. Taking place, as the name suggests, in Kensington Market, the KMJF does not have an expansive communal space like Mel Lastman Square to transform into festival grounds. Instead, under the guidance of the unsinkable Molly Johnson, they have opted for a more grassroots approach, working directly with pre-existing venues and other businesses throughout the Market to create a network of unique performance spaces. Last year, acts played at traditional venues, such as Poetry Jazz Café and Supermarket, at which it is possible to hear live music throughout the year; at Café Pamenar and Koi Koi Saké Bar, at which it is not typically possible to hear live music, but at which one can imagine performances taking place; at the men’s clothing store Tom’s Place, at which, presumably, no one has ever expected to hear live music. (Far from being an outlier, Tom’s Place – and eponymous Tom’s Place owner, Tom Mihalik – is a major festival sponsor. Mihalik is referred to as “the festival’s patron saint” on the KMJF website. In 2018, the clothing store provided the location for the “Yamaha Grand Piano Room,” which, considering the complications of moving a grand piano anywhere, let alone into a retail space in a busy neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, should be proof enough of Mihalik’s commitment to the festival’s artistic cause.) Performers for this year’s festival, taking place from September 13 to 15, include Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School, Jozsef Botos, Ethan Ardelli and Virginia MacDonald, to name but five of the well-over-100 established local musicians who will perform in more than 30 venues around this iconic market neighbourhood.

Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night SchoolOutside of the Greater Toronto Area, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) will celebrate its 25th birthday this year, continuing to fulfil its stated mission of inviting “listeners to be inspired by and engaged with creative music,” from September 11 to 15. As this mission statement suggests, the focus of the GJF is on creative, improvised music that falls outside of either mainstream modern or neo-traditionalist jazz styles; this year’s festival will include performances by Jen Shyu, Malcolm Goldstein and Rainer Wiens, the Brodie West Quintet and Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey and Hank Roberts. As in past years, the GJF will also partner with Guelph University’s International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation to convene a colloquium on improvisation and its social contexts. Some of this year’s presentations will include Jesse Stewart’s “Different Drums: Unorthodox and Unusual Percussion Instruments,” Niel Scobie and Alyssa Woods’ “Finding the Groove: A Workshop on Hip-hop Turntablism and Improvisation,” and Lee Blalock’s “Instr/Augmented Bodies: A Performative Artist Talk About Hybrid Bodies, Modes of Communication, and Modified Behaviours.” 2019 will also mark a year of new artistic leadership for the GJF, with Scott Thomson assuming the role of artistic and general director, and Karen Ng taking on the role of assistant artistic and general director.

There are also a number of excellent non-festival performances happening in September. Head to Burdock on September 12 to catch saxophonist Matt Lagan, on September 19 to hear TuneTown (Kelly Jefferson, Artie Roth, Ernesto Cervini), and on the 21st to hear Mingjia Chen and Claire Lee. At The Rex, check out the return of Monday nights with University of Toronto Jazz Program students, Humber College’s Annual Back-to-School Faculty Jam on September 19, and a full schedule of great music for the rest of the month. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

SEP 3 TO 7: Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival, various venues. The best of Toronto’s undergraduate bands playing alongside established local and international artists, including saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Donny McCaslin. tujazz.com

SEP 11 TO 15: Guelph Jazz Festival, various venues (Guelph). Canada’s most important creative/improvised music festival, complete with top Canadian and international performers and a colloquium co-presented with Guelph University.
guelphjazzfestival.com

SEP 13 TO 15: Kensington Market Jazz Festival, various venues. The fourth annual installment of this exciting new festival, which sees traditional and non-traditional Market venues come together to create a network of performance spaces.
kensingtonjazz.com

MONDAYS, 6:30PM: University of Toronto Jazz Ensembles, The Rex. Catch up-and-coming students from the U of T Jazz’s undergrad and grad programs performing in the comfortable confines of The Rex, in September and on most Mondays throughout the school year. therex.ca

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.

This summer’s many festivals promise music to engage the most discerning listener across the GTA and the vast country beyond. What follows is meant to augment our Green Pages supplement, with special emphasis on the Toronto Summer Music Festival but touching on other noteworthy festivities elsewhere.

Toronto Summer Music

With more than 200 ethnic groups speaking 140 languages, Toronto is one of the world’s most diverse cities – slightly more than half the population is foreign-born – setting the stage for Toronto Summer Music Festival’s 2019 edition. “Beyond Borders” will explore and celebrate the “cross-cultural influences that have pervaded classical music from the times of Mozart and Mahler, right up to the composers of today.” With such a timely theme opening up our ears to listen afresh to the richness of a packed three weeks of concerts, TSM’s 14th festival has become the go-to musical event of the summer.

A look at the content of the opening night Koerner Hall concert on July 11 gives us an insight into how these cross-cultural influences work in practice. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka’s part in the evening includes Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques directly inspired by Greek folk songs. Violinist Kerson Leong contributes Sarasate’s electrifying Zigeunerweisen, an homage to Gypsy fiddling prowess. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker will perform Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.11 in A Major, K331 with its famed “Turkish March” final movement; as well as Chopin’s Ballade No.4 in F Minor, Op.52, written in France, far away from his native Poland.

An unusual connection to the Beyond Borders leitmotif is Madeleine Thien’s pre-concert conversation with Eric Friesen preceding Angela Hewitt’s Koerner Hall performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on July 30. Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing is filled with musical references from Bach to Beethoven and Shostakovich. The Malaysian-born, Chinese-Canadian began writing the novel in a Berlin cafe, spending five hours a day listening on headphones to Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldbergs on repeat to block out the cafe’s noise as she wrote. She told the literary journal Brick that she was experimenting with musical time in her novel (which won the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction) and that the Goldberg Variations “is both a structure for the novel and a way of trying to make space for the vast inner lives of the characters.” She said: “Bach always seems to me to be creating time. He makes space where there seems to be none and makes something feel eternal in a finite space.”

Other examples of border crossing? On July 12, the world premiere of Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 “The Transmuting” is part of the New Orford String Quartet’s tenth anniversary celebration which also includes one of Beethoven’s finest achievements, his String Quartet No.9 in C Major, Op.59, No.3, the last of the three string quartets that Count Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador in Vienna commissioned. Then, on July 15, the fruits of a five-year collaboration between the musicians of Montreal’s Middle Eastern/early music group, Constantinople, and Ablaye Cissoko, a West African griot, will be on display in Walter Hall. And the remarkable Dover Quartet’s concert on July 17 at Koerner Hall features three works with strong links to the USA: England’s Benjamin Britten composed his String Quartet No.1 in California in 1941; Hungarian composer Bela Bartók’s String Quartet No.3 was dedicated to the Musical Society Fund of Philadelphia; and Antonin Dvořák spent three years in America away from his Czech homeland – he wrote his immensely popular “American” Quartet in Spillville, Iowa, a town of 300 Czech immigrants where he was surrounded by his home culture.

Dover Quartet. Photo by Carlin MaCharles Richard-Hamelin’s July 19 recital in Walter Hall includes Chopin’s Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante Op.22, a piece he began composing soon after he left Warsaw for Paris in 1830. Also on the program (with members of the Dover Quartet) is Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor, Op.25, with its Hungarian-rhapsody finale. A July 26 Walter Hall concert titled “Souvenir of Florence,” headed by violinists Jonathan Crow and Jennifer Koh, and pianist Philip Chiu, features Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous Sextet in D Minor, Op.70 (written while the composer was visiting Florence, Italy), Debussy’s Piano Trio in G Major (also while living in Italy), and Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for violin and piano, written in 1920 while touring California.

Crow and Chiu, incidentally, give a recital on July 29 that reaches beyond TSM’s thematic borders but one that, based on its recent COC noon-hour preview, should not be missed: their performance of César Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major was truly transformative, dramatic, delicate and dynamic, from its magical hushed opening onwards.

World-class performers like Pieczonka, Parker, Hewitt, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, and the New Orford, Dover and Rolston String Quartets, are only part of what TSM offers: 32 emerging professionals are given the opportunity to be mentored by a faculty of established musicians. These fellows, as they are called, from TSM’s Art of Song and Chamber Music Institute come together to perform at the Festival’s reGENERATION Saturday concerts, alongside their mentors. In addition, Chamber Music fellows also perform in ensembles that receive coaching from mentors at free noon-hour concerts in Heliconian Hall.

From July 11 to August 3, TSM provides a sumptuous serving of midsummer music. I will be there.

Mark FewerStratford Summer Music

After 18 years as founding artistic director, John Miller has ceded leadership of Stratford Summer Music to violinist Mark Fewer, and Fewer’s interest in jazz and improvisation shows in this year’s program. Stephen Prutsman, Duane Andrews, Phil Dwyer, Jodi Proznick (with Heather Bambrick), John Novacek and Fewer himself will participate in a Friday night series at Revival House. There will be tributes to Nat “King” Cole and Dave Brubeck, and appearances by John McLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra, Laila Biali and The Two Bass Hit (Joel Quarrington and Dave Young) with Novacek.

That being said, Stratford Summer Music’s longstanding focus on chamber music as “a vital aspect of music-making … fostering listening, awareness, flexibility and collaborating with others, while offering the audience exposure to different styles, genres, and forms of music” still remains. Highlights include Isabel Bayrakdarian with pianist Robert Kortgaard and violinist Fewer in recital August 9; “Party Like It’s 1689” with Suzie LeBlanc, Matthias Maute (recorder) and Fewer on August 22; cellist (and SSM favourite) Stéphane Tétreault, Prutsman and Fewer on July 21; the Dann Family in separate chamber and jazz programs on August 8; clarinetist James Campbell, Stephen Prutsman and friends on August 22. Pianist Janina Fialkowska presents an intriguing recital of Mozart, Debussy, Ravel, Chopin and more on August 3.

Of special note, in a nod to the 1960s when Glenn Gould was part of a triumvirate (with violinist Oscar Shumsky and cellist Leonard Rose) directing music programs as part of the Stratford Festival, Art of Time Ensemble is reviving “Hosted by Glenn Gould” where the iconic pianist introduces performances of chamber music by Shostakovich and Beethoven via clips from the CBC’s Glenn Gould on Television. Fewer’s first Stratford Summer Music promises to enhance this music festival’s reputation as something more than a sidebar to Stratford’s theatrical main event.

Ottawa Chamberfest

There is a plethora of musical pleasure to be found July 25 to August 8 at this year’s Ottawa Chamberfest – beginning with the collaboration between the St. Lawrence String Quartet and versatile pianist Stephen Prutsman in Franck’s masterful Piano Quintet and then, later that evening, providing the soundtrack for Buster Keaton’s classic comedy, College. On July 26, Finland’s KallaKvartetti (flute, violin, viola and cello) harkens back to its Nordic ancestors; on July 27, pianist David Jalbert performs an ambitious program of Shostakovich, Rzewski and Wijeratne; and on July 28, Janina Fialkowska offers a strong lineup of piano works by Mozart, Debussy, Ravel and a considerable selection of Chopin.

And there’s more. The Netherlands’ all-female saxophone quartet, Syrène Saxofoonkwartet, returns to the festival on July 29 with arrangements of Handel’s Water Music, Vivaldi, Barber’s Serenade for Strings and excerpts from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Honens laureate, German pianist Hinrich Alpes plays 15 of Beethoven’s first 20 piano sonatas in two concerts, July 30 and August 1. French string quartet Quatuor Danel plays Russian repertoire (Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Weinberg) on July 30. And James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong play all of Beethoven’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano broken into two concerts on July 31 and August 2.

Other highlights: Ottawa’s own Angela Hewitt joins violinist Yosuke and the Cheng2 Duo for a tribute to Clara Schumann, August 3; then, August 5, Hewitt plays Bach, focusing on the first three English Suites and the Rolston String Quartet performs Schafer’s String Quartet No.2 and Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Quartet No.7, Op.59 No.1. Various combinations of the Manhattan Chamber Players perform diverse Mozart and Dvořák on August 6; and the next day they team up with the celebrated Dover Quartet for Shostakovich’s String Octet.

Two Mini-Tours

National Youth Orchestra Canada’s 59th year has been an auspicious one so far with the spring release of the NFB documentary That Higher Level, the result of two months spent with the 100 musicians between the ages of 16 and 28 who comprised the orchestra as they prepared for last year’s Canadian tour. A trip to Spain will follow this summer’s Odyssey Tour to five cities: July 21 during Ottawa Chamberfest; July 22 at the Maison symphonique de Montréal; July 25 in Parry Sound at the Festival of the Sound; Stratford on July 27 at SSM; and, finally, Toronto, July 29 at Koerner Hall, as part of TSM.

The summer tour concert program includes Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Op.64; Suites Nos.1 and 2 from Manuel de Falla’s The Three Cornered Hat; Mahler’s Symphony No. 5; and Sinfonia Sacra (Symphony No.3) by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik. The tour will also feature Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello Op.102, with the winners of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Michael Measures Prize as soloists (to be announced in July).

Simone Dinnerstein, the soloist in Philip Glass’ Piano Concerto No.3 when it had its Canadian premiere at last year’s 21C Music Festival in Koerner Hall, is on something of a mini-tour of her own, with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra: this summer she performs the work in Ottawa (at Music and Beyond July 15, 16), Stratford (July 17), Festival de Lanaudière (July 19), and Westben Concerts at the Barn (July 20). A treat to savour.

Two 40th Anniversaries

The Festival of the Sound begins its 40th anniversary year on July 19 with a celebratory Gala Opening Concert comprised of highlights from past seasons. From Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah; excerpts from Bach’s B-Minor Mass and Orff’s Carmina Burana; Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and favourite bits from Gilbert and Sullivan, the specialness of the occasion is underlined.

Other highlights include two concerts by the Rolston String Quartet playing pillars of the classical repertoire: Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.59, No.1 “Razumovsky” and Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor” (with Janina Fialkowska), July 24; and Mozart’s “Dissonance” String Quartet and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”, July 25. Larry Beckwith’s production of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is enhanced through narration by Indigenous elder John Rice (who participated with Beckwith in last year’s FOTS opening event), an art song, the sonnet on which the concerto is based, and projected images. With Mark Fewer, violin; John Rice, narrator; Julie Nesrallah, soprano; Robert Kortgaard, piano; and the Festival Ensemble, July 30.

The first concert of the FOTS was held at 2pm on August 5, 1979 in the Parry Sound High School Gymnasium under the direction of Anton Kuerti. That same all-Beethoven program will be replicated at 2pm on August 5, 2019 at the Stockey Centre, headed by artistic director James Campbell and the Cheng2 Duo. There will be an all-day celebration of 40 works from 40 years of the festival’s history on August 9, beginning with a musical morning cruise, followed by several events running concurrently from noon to 4pm, an afternoon tea and an evening concert.

Not to be outdone, the Elora Festival’s 40th Anniversary Opening Night brings together many world-class artists for a celebration in song on July 12 in the Gambrel Barn. Carmina Burana heads a varied program featuring the Elora Singers, the State Choir LATVIJA, members of the Grand Philharmonic Children’s & Youth Choirs, singers Jane Archibald, James Westman and Daniel Taylor, TorQ Percussion, two members of Piano Six, and conductors Maris Sirmais and Mark Vuorinen.

Some of the festival’s many highlights include the entire lineup of Piano Six on July 13; André Laplante (piano), Mayumi Seiler (violin) and Colin Carr (cello) performing Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio and Ravel’s Piano Trio on July 14; the Cheng2 Duo on July 20; countertenor Daniel Taylor and tenor Charles Daniels, on July 21; and Measha Brueggergosman on July 27.

My Magic Carpet Wish

If I had a magic carpet, I’d ride to the Festival de Lanaudière northeast of Montreal on July 12 to hear Charles Richard-Hamelin and Les Violons du Roy perform Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos.22 and 24. And I’d return on July 28 for Marc-André Hamelin, Yannick Nézet-Seguin and Orchestre Métropolitaine for Brahms’ Piano Concertos Nos.1 and 2.

Safe travels and happy listening.

Circle the Dates

June 28, 29, 7:30pm; June 30, 3pm: Anticipation for these concerts has been building since last September when Spanish-born conductor, Gustavo Gimeno, was announced as the TSO’s 11th music director. Having guest-conducted the orchestra in February 2018, this will be his second appearance on the Roy Thomson Hall podium. The appealing program opens with Sibelius’ richly melodic Violin Concerto, with concertmaster Jonathan Crow as soloist. Prokofiev’s exuberant Symphony No.1 “Classical” and Stravinsky’s ever-popular Suite from the Firebird follow. Gimeno’s term as music director begins with the 2020/21 season.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

“Idecided to noise-cancel life,” begins Olga Khazan in a provocative recent article What Happens When You Always Wear Headphones in The Atlantic’s Health section. “The buck stops at my cochlea. Just like we choose everything else, I choose exactly what to put in my ears.” she concludes.

Early in May of this year, the Global Musics and Musical Communities conference at California’s UCLA posed a question: “How and why [do] specific musical genres travel outside their countries of origin and lead to the formation of new musical communities?” Presenters examined genres such as hip-hop, gamelan and taiko as musics that have “become global in the past century.” Ethnomusicologist Henry Spiller’s talk sported the cheeky yet insightful title The Hereness of the There: Making Sense of Gamelan in the United States.

So what do Khazan’s noise-cancelling earbud manifesto and the Global Musics and Musical Communities conference have to do with my summer column?

The UCLA conference reminded me that the examination of musical nation-hopping performed every day in Canadian locales has been one of my main subjects here over the years, arguing strenuously that cross-cultural musical interaction is the norm rather than the exception. The widespread, speedy transmission of these genres to musical communities around the world, beginning in the second half of 20th century, and their adoption and incorporation, is a significant and remarkable development.

As for living a “noise-cancelling life” – I’m not sure that, even if attainable, it is a healthy goal. I’m all for choice and for protecting the health of one’s ears in an increasingly noise-polluted environment, but for me the joy of music includes the excitement of exploration, the pleasure of surprise, chance, or even surreptitious discovery.

What does that sound like?

It’s the feeling of walking through the lush shrub- and tree-filled lakeside Toronto Music Garden on a hot summer afternoon – the garden that was co-designed by cellist Yo Yo Ma to reflect in landscape Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for cello. The music of a small group you’ve only read about slowly emerges out of the city’s din as you come to the brow of a knoll in the garden. They’re playing at the bottom of a modest grassy amphitheatre sheltered by a mature weeping willow.

There’s no front of house, program, no ushers or bar to contend with. You’re in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals, wearing a protective hat. If you’ve ridden your bike down, as I have on occasion, you search for a safe place to park it. Pleasure boats are moored at Marina Quay West to the left, Billy Bishop Airport’s prop planes within earshot. On the right, the Lakeshore Blvd. and Gardiner Expressway traffic sings with an eternal buzz, like the drone of thousands of urban cicadas.

That urban Toronto scene for me is one of the great and unique joys of music in the summer. It can’t be experienced with earbuds on, noise-cancelling or otherwise. So, with transcultural music in mind, and minds and ears open rather than closed, let’s explore just a few of the summer global music treats in store in the urban jungle, the GTA and beyond.

Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario: Have Yourself a Modal Summer

Let’s begin by following up on two of the stories from my column last month.

Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario (LO) recently announced several concerts in addition to its June modal music workshops (check its website to register) and its June 8 concert, “Modal Music Summit: Ross Daly with This Tale of Ours plus Tzvetanka Varimezova,” at Eastminster United Church. On the July 1 weekend it is programming three separate performances as part of the Aga Khan Museum’s Rhythms of Canada program (more on this further on). Then on consecutive Saturday afternoons – August 3, 10, 17 and 24 – LO offers afternoon concerts in Flemingdon Park (at Don Mills and Eglinton), supported by the Toronto Arts Council’s Arts in the Parks program. The concerts are billed as “family-friendly” and will include a chance to meet the musicians and instruments. Start time is around 3pm. Best confirm both the Aga Khan Museum and Flemingdon Park events in the listings or on the LO website.

Didgori Ensemble: Georgian Polyphony Tours Ontario and Quebec

My other lead story last issue was on the six-member Didgori Ensemble, the award-winning choir from the Republic of Georgia, and its June Canadian tour. As I mentioned, such a rare moment for Canadian Georgian-music lovers only happens once a lifetime.

We pick up the choir’s tour on June 7 when a consortium of Toronto presenters showcase the Didgori Ensemble at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre’s Jeanne Lamon Hall. Audiences can expect brilliant performances of Georgian polyphony, with ensemble members accompanying themselves on traditional Georgian instruments. June 8, Didgori gives a public Georgian choral workshop from 5 to7pm at the St. Vladimir Institute, 620 Spadina Ave., and the next day they hold a five-hour Georgian choral workshop at the MusiCamp Studio, 11 Cobourg Ave., starting at 11am. Check MusiCamp’s website for registration information.

June 10, Didgori travels east to Kingston Ontario’s St. George’s Cathedral where they sing liturgical music at 12:15pm, presented by MusiCamp, the Melos Choir and Period Instruments. They continue east to Quebec, where on Wednesday June 12, Gabrielle Boutillier presents “Didgori en concert à Québec” at the Voûtes de la Maison Chevalier. The next day, they perform and conduct a workshop at the Auberge La Caravane, in North Hatley, QC. The tour then concludes on Saturday June 15 at 8pm in Montreal where the Harira Ensemble and MusiCamp present Didgori: Live in Concert at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes. For those eager to experience this extraordinary music first-hand, Didgori offers an all-ages Workshop for Singers of All Levels June 15 and 16 at the Centre des Musiciens du Monde, 5043 St Dominique St, Montreal. You can reserve a spot at hariraensemble@gmail.com.

Polky Village BandSmall World Music: Free Summer Lunch

Small World Music presents its free Summer Lunch concert series in partnership with Union Station on the latter’s TD Stage, 65 Front St. W. on nine consecutive Wednesdays from 12 noon to 1pm. SWM’s Summer Lunch lineup launches June 5 with Mimi O’Bonsawin who recently won the Best Pop Album at the 2019 Indigenous Music Awards. It continues June 12 with Moskitto Bar, the Toronto quartet musically covering territory from Brittany to Bagdad, through Ukraine and the Balkans. June 19 the Polky Village Band, an energetic Polish-Canadian folk music group takes audiences on a musical journey to Poland, “the melting pot of Eastern and Central Europe with Carpathian, Jewish, Gypsy, Ukrainian, Slovak and Hungarian influences.” June 26 the Tich Maredza Band, fronted by Toronto-based Zimbabwean singer, guitarist, mbira-ist and composer Tichaona Maredza takes the stage.

Of the five additional acts appearing on the Summer Lunch series, Fränder, a Swedish and Estonian folk quartet, is the only non-Ontario group, appearing on July 17. Representing the latest generation of talented musicians to take their rich heritage of indigenous songs to the world stage; it’s worth taking your soup, sandwich or sushi to their set.

SWM’s Summer Lunch series, incidentally, is part of Union Summer: Presented by TD, a sprawling 50 consecutive days of summer programming on the Front St. TD Stage, promising to “showcase …Toronto’s talent, culture and spirit right at the gateway to the city.”

Summer Music at the Museum: Aga Khan Museum

Earlier I mentioned Labyrinth Ontario’s three Canada Day weekend performances at the Aga Khan Museum. The AKM is producing three festivals this summer celebrating “Canada’s contemporary fabric, a dynamic mix of world views, cultures, stories, and rhythms. Our festivities honour the Indigenous people of this land … much of it planned to happen outdoors.”

Some other selections from its “Rhythms of Canada” festival, running Sunday June 30 and Monday July 1:

Sunday opens with the 13-member Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble led by Nigerian-born bandleader Foly Kolade, and includes Toronto-based singer and composer Hussein Janmohamed, plus two-time world-champion hoop dancer Lisa Odjig from the Odawa/Ojibwe/Pottawatomi Nations from Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Headlining the event is the Cris Derksen Trio, led by rising star musician and composer Derksen, who describes herself as a “half-Cree, half- Mennonite classically trained cellist.” Also on the bill is the Waleed Kush Ensemble offering percussion-driven African jazz, led by Sudanese multi-instrumentalist Waleed Abdulhamid. The next day on July 1 Toronto’s Maracatu Mar Aberto perform the rhythms, songs and dances derived from the traditions of Northeastern Brazil, while other world music and dance events fill out the Canadian Day afternoon.

The AKM’s “Moon Landing Festival” (July 20 and July 21) plus its “First Five Fest” celebrating five years of programming (August 31 and September 1) both have plenty for global music explorers. Please check the listings and the Museum website for details.

Harbourfront Centre: Summer Music in the Garden

My introduction to this month’s column makes it pretty clear how I feel about Harbourfront Centre’s delightful annual series of al fresco concerts. Summer Music in the Garden ranks among our city’s essential music-in-the-park experiences. Now entering its third decade, artistic director Tamara Bernstein always makes room for top-rank global music in her astutely curated series. The concerts are scheduled for Thursdays at 7pm and Sundays at 4pm, so it pays to check the listings. Pro tip: unless it’s sunny, best call the info desk at 416-973-4000 for the up-to-the-minute rain call.

Mercedes and Alfredo Caxaj, Sunfest co-artistic directorsSunfest: “Canada’s Premier Celebration of World Cultures”

Every summer for a quarter of a century the southwestern Ontario city of London has hosted what has become “one of the best overseas [world] music festivals,” according to the UK’s prestigious Songlines Magazine, transforming London’s central Victoria Park into “a culturally diverse jewel, where 40 top world music and jazz groups from all corners of the planet entertain.” This year from July 4 to 7 the admission-free festival jams the park chock-a-block with five stages and more than 225 exhibitors, including vendors of global cuisine, crafts and visual art.

I spoke directly with co-artistic director Mercedes Caxaj. “This is the 25th edition of Sunfest,” Caxaj explained, “which my father Alfredo Caxaj founded.” Mercedes has literally grown up with the festival. “You could consider it a family operation since my mother and brother are also involved in running Sunfest,” she added.

On the fact that Sunfest’s website the festival’s lineup is divided into International and National performers, so I asked her about that. “It’s one way visitors can get a feel for the world music scene today,” she replied. “Also, by separating Canadian acts from those we’ve invited from abroad, we can highlight homegrown talent. Our main aim is to represent as many cultures as possible, and to ensure that Sunfest 2019 in the centre of London, Ontario, is an inclusive space.”

Indeed, the geographic scope of the festival is vast, covering music from five continents. Caxaj listed groups from Cape Verde, Spain, England, Scotland, Netherlands, Norway, Czech Republic, Russia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Niger, Cameroon, Uganda, Palestine and Canada. It would be impossible to list them all. I don’t think it would be fair to highlight just a few either, so I invite you to visit the Sunfest 2019 website for details. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

There is one more thing to note: Sunfest’s community-level arts engagement, a key reason why it’s thriving and moving into its second generation. “Sunfest has accomplished in 25 years what has eluded municipal planners, politicians and corporations alone,” states its media release. “From the beginning, the Sunfest Committee recognized the inestimable power of the performing arts to effect cultural and social change in this community and, despite the incredible challenges, organizers, patrons and sponsors were willing to take a chance on what’s arguably one of London’s most inspired utopian projects of the past quarter century. At its heart, TD Sunfest is about vision and hope: along with providing exemplary representation and accessibility … [it] offers inclusiveness to our visitors through the common denominator of their shared humanity.”

Is Sunfest’s inspirational model one that other festivals and presenters could emulate?

Stratford Summer Music

One of Ontario’s most venerable annual summer music festivals takes place in Stratford. Last year the award-winning Canadian violinist Mark Fewer was appointed Stratford Summer Music’s new artistic director, taking over the reins from John Miller who ran the extensive multi-week festival for 18 years.

This year, 100 events featuring more than 350 musicians in both indoor and outdoor venues will be heard throughout downtown Stratford – a great opportunity for what I described earlier as surreptitious musical discovery . As an example, two concerts with global themes, both presented at Factory 163 in Stratford: July 25, the Tehran-born Canadian musician Amir Amiri takes the stage. Amiri, a soloist on the santur (72-string Persian hammer dulcimer), composer and music director, strives to “explore the limits of music, stretching beyond the constraints of classical thought.” July 29, Toronto’s brilliant Payadora Tango performs a selection from their large repertoire of original compositions and arrangements of Argentinean tango and folk music.

Westben Concerts at The Barn

Also located in Southern Ontario, Westben Concerts at The Barn celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer. This rural music festival with a wide range of programs holds most of its concerts at The Barn, 6698 County Road 30 in Campbellford.

July 28, it presents Toronto’s Kuné – Canada’s Global Orchestra. Dubbing itself “a celebration of Canada’s cultural diversity” Kuné’s eclectic ensemble of Canadian musicians “hail from all corners of the globe, play over 20 instruments,” representing the musics of their home cultures. August 2, the 2018 Polaris Prize-winning Jeremy Dutcher, a classically trained tenor and composer plays The Barn. Dutcher’s music creatively blends his Wolastoq First Nation linguistic and music roots with Euro-Canadian classical and vernacular music. Come early for the 5pm feast featuring Anishinaabe BBQ; reservations are required two days in advance.

WORLD VIEW QUICK PICKS

JUN 7, 8PM: Small World Music Society presents Arnab Chakrabarty Sarod Recital featuring Arnab Chakrabarty (sarod), Zaheer-Abbas Janmohamed (tabla) in a concert of Hindustani classical music at the Small World Music Centre, Artscape Youngplace.

JUN 8, 8PM: Toronto’s most seasoned and celebrated taiko group Nagata Shachu presents Nagata Shachu and American Rogues at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. Nagata Shachu directed by Kiyoshi Nagata performs with The American Rogues Celtic Band.

JUN 9, 7:30PM: The Toronto Chinese Orchestra presents The Butterfly Lovers, featuring The Butterfly Lovers Concerto at the Markham People’s Community Church, 22 Esna Park Dr., Markham.

JUL 21, 7:30PM: The Elora Festival presents Kuné, Canada’s Global Orchestra at the Gambrel Barn, at the corner of Country Rd. 7 and 21 in Elora, ON.

AUG 2 and 3, 7PM: The Collingwood Summer Music Festival presents Nhapitapi from Zimbabwe at the New Life Church, Collingwood ON August 2, followed by the Payadora Tango Ensemble at the same venue the following evening.

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

Luminato: Two years ago, in one of my first columns for The WholeNote, I interviewed the creative team of Theaturtle’s Charlotte: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music, Canadian librettist Alon Nashman, acclaimed Czech composer Aleš Březina, and legendary British director/scenographer Pamela Howard, as they were presenting a series of work-in progress performances at the Luminato Festival before touring to Europe. The play is inspired by the real life and artwork of Berlin-born Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon who was sent to Auschwitz at age 26 in 1942, and who in the last two years of her life created a sequence of nearly 800 paintings accompanied by text and musical references to which she gave the title “Life? Or Theatre?” – works which, against all odds, survived. At the time I was bowled over by the wild theatricality of their vision and the bright central message of hope in the arc of Charlotte’s story.

This summer, they are about to go on another tour, this time to Israel, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic, with first, a one-performance-only send-off at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre on June 1. Always curious about what happens over time to things I first encountered as “works in progress,” I plan to attend and to reach out to the creative team again to catch up on what has been happening with this exciting show between world tours. Stay tuned!

This year is, again, a Luminato hotbed of creation including a number of exciting music theatre productions from both home and abroad. Stories shaped by political extremes, and the need to find a personal path through societies characterized by prejudice and oppression, again are highlighted particularly in two Canadian productions that caught my eye: Nicole Brooks’ large scale a cappella Obeah Opera and Tim Albery’s one-man (with one-piano accompaniment) Hell’s Fury; or The Hollywood Songbook starring Canadian opera superstar Russell Braun.

Obeah Opera has been in the works for ten years, a project of personal passion for creator, librettist, and composer Nicole Brooks. Inspired by a desire to tell the untold story of the female Caribbean slaves who were as much a part of the Salem witch trials as the white women and men whose stories have been recorded, Obeah Opera uses Caribbean-inspired music and dance to tell that story. Drawing on transcriptions of the actual trials in Salem, combined with in-person consultation with African spiritual practitioners, Brooks has created a libretto and score focused on the experience of Tituba (the Caribbean slave whom we know from Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible), and her fellow practitioners of “obeah” (witchcraft). A necessary story for our times, it is a reminder of the dangers of societal paranoia and also of histories lost that should be recovered and shared. The cast is 20 strong, all female, all singing and dancing. The dances, showcased last October as part of the Fall for Dance North Festival at the Sony Centre, won rave reviews for their superb theatricality and energy.

Hell’s Fury; or The Hollywood Songbook, on the other hand, is a one-man musical journey through the life of Austrian Jewish Marxist composer Hanns Eisler. Based on a concept from well-known opera director Tim Albery, it was originally developed with Soundstreams and Soundstreams’ artistic director Lawrence Cherney and given a work-in-progress showcase during Luminato last year. Eisler fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and landed in Hollywood where he worked successfully, composing many film scores including the Academy Award-nominated Hangmen Also Die (Fritz Lang) and None But The Lonely Heart (Clifford Odets). Privately, at the same time he was writing Hollywood Songbook, an evocative song cycle full of both wit and melancholy, often using for words, poems by his frequent collaborator Bertolt Brecht, weaving a tale of the horrors of Nazi Germany, the seductions of Hollywood, and a longing to return home. In real life, the seduction of Hollywood was interrupted in 1948 when the House Committee on Un-American Activities banished Eisler from the US, labelling him an “unperson.” The storyline is woven through the songs of Eisler’s own Hollywood Songbook, and is performed by acclaimed Canadian baritone Russell Braun accompanied by JUNO Award-winning pianist Serouj Kradjian.

The cast of Masquerade Photo by Dmitriy DubinskiyIn contrast to these two overtly political story lines, and yet with a central theme illustrating the hidden masked cynical truths of society, is Masquerade, a lavish spectacle presented by the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia, based on the verse drama of Russian poet and playwright Mikhail Lermontov. This production promises to be a tremendously theatrical event employing a clown-influenced physical theatre style of staging supported by and interwoven with a musical score by Faustas Latenas that incorporates the famous Waltz by Aram Khachaturian which was itself commissioned for a production of this play by the Vahtankgov Theatre in 1941. It also promises us “heaps of snow.” Judging by last year’s production of Uncle Vanya, this should be another theatrical feast.

Luminato runs from June 7 to 23 at various venues around Toronto; luminatofestival.com.

Stratford and Shaw

Once again we are entering the season of big musicals at the Stratford and Shaw Festivals. There is already great word of mouth about Stratford’s production of Billy Elliot, the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical inspired by the 2000 film set during the British miners’ strikes of 1984/85. Here again is a political setting, and a score that even includes a song, “Merry Christmas, Maggie,” mercilessly mocking then-British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. At the same time as depicting the destruction of a community, however, Billy Elliot is also a wonderful story of hope, of a young boy in a mining town who discovers an inborn talent for dance and finds a way to follow his dreams in spite of all the obstacles in front of him. Director and choreographer Donna Feore has reimagined the staging to work on the Stratford Festival thrust stage and talks in the show program about the inspiration of Elton John’s brilliantly contemporary score. Billy Elliot plays at the Festival Theatre through November 3.

The Shaw Festival reaches further back into the traditional musical theatre canon to bring us a much more escapist romance than the musicals discussed above: Lerner and Loewe’s 1947 classic Brigadoon, perhaps best known from the 1954 MGM movie starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. A brash young New Yorker, Tommy Albright, on holiday in the Scottish Highlands, falls in love with a girl from a magical village, Brigadoon, that only exists for one day every 100 years. After leaving Scotland Tommy finds himself torn between his increasingly empty life in the modern city and the love he left behind. Naturally there is a happy ending, though one could imagine a dystopian millennial sequel set 10 or 15 years later with Tommy now feeling trapped in the magical but tiny village. One of the great draws of the Shaw Festival’s production will be seeing former Stratford musical star Alexis Gordon as Fiona. Brigadoon plays at the Shaw Festival until October 13. 

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

Around Ontario over the summer, there are many more musicals to be seen, with something for almost every taste. Consult our music theatre listings for details.

JUN 5 TO 22: Drayton Entertainment. Thoroughly Modern Millie. Huron Country Playhouse. The fun 1920s-set musical probably best known from the slightly goofy movie version starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing. And also from Drayton, Peter Colley’s You’ll Get Used to It!: The War Show, a nostalgic and fun Canadian look back at WWII with period songs, starting at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, June 5 to 22, then continuing June 27 to July 13.

JUN 27, 8PM: Silly Stages. Chasing Rainbows. Songs of Judy Garland. Regent Theatre, Oshawa. The brilliant Canadian musical theatre star Louise Pitre sings Judy Garland.

JUL 24 TO AUG 16: Gravenhurst Opera House. Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been. Created by Jesse Collins this two man show about Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and their long partnership, has been gaining a growing loyal audience at summer stock theatres around Ontario.

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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