2208 Early MusicThere’s a scene in the Milos Forman movie Amadeus that always sticks with me whenever I think about composers being disliked or misunderstood by non-musicians. It’s the scene where Emperor Joseph II of Austria, played by Jeffrey Jones, has just been to the premiere of one of Mozart’s operas. He goes up to the composer and tells him, with full imperial pomp and arrogance, that his music has “too many notes.”

Since learning a bit about music history, I’ve learned a few things about the historical accuracy of this scene. First, the basic elements of the story are true – Joseph II did in fact gripe that Mozart’s music had too many notes. Second, the story is kind of unfair to the emperor’s legacy. While he may not have been able to appreciate Mozart, Joseph II was a so-called enlightened despot who modernized his country and turned an authoritarian regime into a liberal country, introducing progressive reforms like religious freedom and universal public education and working to abolish the death penalty. Third, the “too many notes” anecdote, like the movie, is part of a larger mythology that grew up around classical composers and persists to this day.

The Mozart Myth was perhaps the most famous example, and while parts of it have been dispelled, a few misconceptions remain. We can probably all agree now that he wasn’t in fact poisoned by Salieri (19th-century Mozart truthers argued otherwise) and he wasn’t destitute, he just never got a sweet court sinecure with Joseph; the Viennese didn’t totally misunderstand his music either, although they weren’t obsessed with it the way subsequent generations were.

Of all the Romantic legends, the Mozart Myth is probably the one that’s seen the most open debate, and a historical rehabilitation of the composer (or his bewildered Viennese public) is well underway. But there are myths about other composers which persist for the contemporary concertgoing public, many of which are the more pernicious for being completely unknown. The Bach Myth is probably one we need to tackle, because it’s one that the concertgoing public, as well as the majority of musicians, have bought into wholesale, and besides not aging particularly well, it’s also condescending, factually incorrect, and deeply alienating to potential listeners.

We all know the story. Bach was a genius in a category all his own. He wrote music that was incredibly intricate. If people don’t, or didn’t, like it, it was because they can’t, or couldn’t, understand it.

And that’s sort of true, but there are a few things we need to talk about to set the record straight. While Bach was a brilliant contrapuntalist, he wrote music that was generally conventional, albeit way more complicated. His obsession with counterpoint, including weird technical tricks, marked him to his contemporaries as an arch-conservative, rather than an inimitable trailblazer. And while he got fired from his capellmeister job in Cöthen and the congregation at St. Thomas in Leipzig didn’t like him all that much, he did have a cult following among composers, musicians and music geeks who understood how his music worked – he enjoyed a reputation as a musician who wrote music for other musicians.

And oh yeah, if we appreciate Bach so much today, why is so much of his music left unperformed? He wrote over 200 cantatas and motets for voice, just under 100 individual songs, and over 200 works for organ, but good luck hearing any of those performed today – you’ll mainly get to hear a handful of instrumental works he composed in the Cöthen years, a full 30 years before he died, and a few cantatas and passions that have worked their way into the popular repertoire.

Toronto Bach Festival

With so much of Bach’s music left forgotten and on a shelf somewhere, it’s time to bring it out and give it a listen so we can decide for ourselves whether it’s any good. I’m especially happy to see that the Toronto Bach Festival, now in its second year, is willing to show us a side of Bach we don’t often get to see. Hosted by St. Barnabas Anglican Church (361 Danforth Ave.) and led by Tafelmusik oboist John Abberger, we’re going to hear Bach the vocal composer (Cantatas 150 and 161, along with, yes, Brandenburg 6 and an oboe concerto May 26 at 8pm), the St. Mark Passion (May 28 at 3:30pm) and some keyboard works that aren’t fugues (Chris Bagan’s solo recital of the Six Little Preludes and a solo keyboard capriccio May 27 at 2:30pm). I’m excited to see that the festival is both willing to dust off some of Bach’s less well-known works for us to enjoy as well as to pay homage to the Cult of Bach. (Yes, despite my tendency to rant about my misgivings, I have yet to rescind my membership).

Elisa Citterio

It’s fun to argue about a musician’s legacy 200 years after the fact, but there are musicians in this city today whose legend has yet to be written. One such musician who is about to make a mark on the classical music scene in Toronto is Elisa Citterio, who after what seems like an epic search, has just been named the new artistic director of Tafelmusik as of last January. Citterio has been concertmaster and soloist of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala di Milano and has been based mainly in Italy, playing with such groups as Europa Galante and Il Giardino Armonico. This month, she’ll be leading Tafelmusik along with Ivars Taurins in a program that includes Mozart’s Mass in C Minor and Haydn’s Symphony No.98. It’s repertoire that the group does especially well and I’m anticipating that Citterio will take the group in an exciting new direction in the coming years. You can catch Tafelmusik at Koerner Hall May 4 to 7. And if you’re interested in finding out what Citterio is like, she’ll be interviewed on stage by Robert Harris one hour before each performance.

Folies d’Espagne, a Clandestine Affair

Any concert, whether in Josephine Austria or contemporary Toronto, runs the risk that its paying public may not like or understand the music performed or interpreted, but you can avoid a great deal of that risk by making your concert a clandestine affair attended by a select few. This seems to be the thinking behind La Rêveuse’s concert, “Folies d’Espagne” which they’ll be performing at a secret location on May 11 at 7:30. The French-based group, founded by lutenist Benjamin Perrot and viola da gambist Florence Bolton, has been giving concerts since 2004. The group has decided to make this concert (sponsored by the publishing company Atelier Philidor) open to just 25 attendees; 80 bucks will get you a ticket to the concert, a free facsimile score and CD, and a chance to party with the group afterwards, but you have to contact 647-390-6037 or
emma@atelierphilidor.com before this concert sells out, which makes it very likely that by the time you’re reading this, it’s already too late. Then again, maybe the best way to make a reputation is to make music that’s unavailable to the general public and make them think they’ve missed out on something elite and exclusive.

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com

2208 Music Theatre BannerIf any more proof was needed that the story of Eugene Onegin in all its forms continues to capture the interest of audiences, the National Ballet of Canada revived John Cranko’s Onegin just last fall, and the latest Metropolitan Opera production of Tchaikovsky’s opera will appear on Cineplex screens in May.

2208 Music TheatreSo when I received an email message from the Musical Stage Company in February that tickets were on sale for their production of Onegin, a new Canadian musical opening in May, right away my excited interest was caught. Cranko’s Onegin (beloved by Toronto ballet fans) has long been one of my favourite “story ballets,” its aloof and then passionate title role a test of star quality for every male principal dancer, and the role of Tatiana, who falls headlong and unrequitedly in love with Onegin, an equal dramatic proving ground for female principals.

Cranko’s ballet was not, apparently, the first inspiration for this new telling of the story by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille, two of the creators of the 2012 musical Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata. But Tchaikovsky’s version of the story, a favourite of opera fans the world over, definitely was. This new Canadian Onegin had its world premiere a year ago at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver where it won rave reviews and an unprecedented ten Jessie awards. The Toronto production features an almost entirely new cast and is directed by Gladstone who will be working with a new creative team; Hille provides the musical direction.

Intrigued and wanting to know more I approached the show’s creators, Gladstone and Hille, as well as Musical Stage Company artistic director Mitchell Marcus. Here are those conversations.

AMIEL GLADSTONE and VEDA HILLE

Why Onegin? What was it about the story that caught your interest and inspired you to create a new musical version? After the Craigslist Cantata, which was all about disconnection and more of a revue kind of piece, we wanted to look at something that had real passion and a stronger narrative drive. It was an opportunity to push and challenge ourselves, and see what happened if we tried to make a musical like the ones we’d grown up with. We connected strongly to themes of love - bad timing and trying not to waste your life.

I read in the press release that it was a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera that gave the first spark and that you have adopted the opera’s structure. In the process of creation, did you also go back to the novel, for inspiration and/or material? Yes, many times and through many different translations. There was even an attempt to follow Pushkin’s verse structure, but that lasted for one song. If we’d stuck with that, we’d still be on the first draft. The Pushkin is one of those things that is untranslatable - the original Russian has it all, while in English we can only give an essence. So the show is our essence of “Russianness,” of being welcomed at the theatre, of creating a space to sing some songs and tell a story together. In the novel Pushkin is a rascal; we really tried to retain his sense of fun and provocation.

You have adopted the structure of Tchaikovsky’s opera and even some of the musical lines. How would you describe the music you have created and the larger musical choices you have made for this show? There are a few Tchaikovsky quotes here and there - hidden Easter eggs for true fans. The music is definitely a mix of what could be considered standard Veda Hille type fair, (piano-based indie folk?) but with a strong sense of cabaret and other musical theatre styles. We were influenced by a wide range - everything from Boney M. to Kendrick Lamar. And we try to rock out a bit.

What was your creative process as composer and book writer? Did words or music come first or did that change along the way? Although Veda is primarily a musician and Amiel a playwright, there isn’t a separate composer or book writer. Words would usually come first, then song structure, and then adapting and deepening as we went. We had to remind ourselves what life was like as virginal teenagers. In some cases, we would find a beat and then work off of that.

From the photographs it looks as though you have kept to the story’s original period setting. How have you given the story a contemporary relevance or edge? I think you are referring to the Arts Club premiere production in Vancouver. Most of the costumes in that were modern with period touches. We felt items like Onegin’s iconic top hat were important and we kept period silhouettes, but most of the costume pieces were things you could find on the rack today. For the Toronto production, we are doing a new design - similar ideas, but possibly exploring more of the Spanish and Italian fashion world. It’s a real mix of periods, just as we live now. We’ve also attempted to clear up any of our questions, along the way. Why does Lensky get so upset? What’s the deal with duels anyway? And so on.

You had a great success with the premiere in Vancouver. What do you feel the audience connected with so strongly? It’s unabashedly romantic. It’s about being together, and love.

This is a bigger project than your earlier Craigslist Cantata. Was it a very different creation and/or workshop development process in this case? The process was both similar and different. Our investigative process was similar - building ideas and themes and then looking at how to continually deepen and clarify. With Craigslist it was all about how to structure, and how to find a through-line not based on plot. With Onegin it’s been more about clarity - making it make sense for a modern audience, giving as much agency as possible to Tatyana. When should it sound classical? When should it sound like disco? When was it spoken? Those kinds of questions. We did workshops at the Arts Club and In Tune, we saw how the audience was responding, we could feel we were on the right track - that part felt very similar.

This is a new production with a new creative team other than yourselves, and an almost entirely new cast. Is it a bigger production? Will you be taking this opportunity to make any changes or to explore the material in any new ways? For the most part the design is all new - we are looking at pushing the contemporary even more. As evidenced by your earlier question, the Arts Club version may still look period, but we want to keep making it look more contemporary - or at least keep trying. And we continue to work on the writing, yes. Still many questions around how it all works.

Is there anything you would say to the audience here before they come to see Onegin, to shape their expectations? Bring someone you like, or love, or are hoping to love. We can’t wait to see you.

MITCHELL MARCUS

What was it about this show that made you want to produce it in Toronto? There were three things that really appealed to me. First off, the score is unbelievable. I can’t get enough of the songs in Onegin and knew that Toronto audiences had to have a chance to hear them. Second, we are fiercely dedicated to growing Canadian musical theatre. Onegin is certainly an impressive and surprising homegrown musical work which made me want to do anything we could to help it. I felt that giving the writers a second production in Toronto, and being able to promote the work nationally and internationally from our city would be advantageous for them. Finally, we believe in building long-term relationships with artists. We were so lucky to produce and tour Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata by Ami, Veda and Bill Richardson. So continuing to collaborate with Ami and Veda on this new piece was natural and welcome.

How would you describe what makes this version of the story different from the opera and ballet - and relevant, as you have said, to a contemporary audience? I must (embarrassingly) admit to having never seen the ballet or opera. But what I love about what Ami and Veda have done is keeping the piece firmly rooted in the 19th century but giving the music and performance aesthetic a 21st-century feel. I think this highlights the universal nature of love - how we fall into it, how we are shamed by it, how we lose it. Through the hip, artistic sensibilities of Ami and Veda, this story written 150 years ago feels like it captures our contemporary world so beautifully.

Onegin opens on May 13 and plays until June 4 at the Berkeley Street Theatre downstairs.

What’s On: It has become a cliche that there is so much going on in the Toronto arts and culture scene that it has become impossible to see everything you want to see, particularly if you like different genres. Even within the genre of music theatre there are almost too many shows to see ranging from opera to traditional broadway fare, to new musicals experimenting with style and form, to various new hybrids of words, music and dance. Not that I would complain.

If you are working on a show yourself it becomes even harder. I have been immersed myself in French Baroque music theatre as fight director for Opera Atelier’s production of Charpentier’s 17th-century Medea. One of the fascinating things about this production is the modernity and level of passion in the acting, so much so that director Marshall Pynkoski describes the story as one of “domestic passion similar to that of Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf.”

From the shows I was able to see over the last month, two that stood out were rarely seen operas steps from each other along Philosopher’s Walk, both with clever and interesting staging experiments by their directors illuminating the stories and making them accessible to the audiences: Marilyn Gronsdal’s production of Niccolo Picinnini’s La Cecchina for the Glenn Gould School at the RCM with the mutli-level permanent set on the Koerner Hall stage and Tim Albery’s setting for the U of T Opera School of Handel’s Imeneo along the full width of the back wall of the MacMillan stage with the audience sat on risers on the stage itself.

April also saw the return to Toronto of Garth Drabinksy with Sousatzka, a new musical on a mammoth scale of ambition and sheer size featuring an ensemble of 47 led by three Broadway stars, a multi-award-winning creative team, and a good number of Canadians. Hopes were high for going to Broadway in the fall. As it turned out, the show proved not to be ready yet for that leap.

Elsewhere in the city April saw the return of Soulpepper’s popular Spoon River. Sheridan’s Musical Theatre program continued to display the initiative which gave birth to the Toronto and Broadway sensation Come from Away, with the workshop production of a new musical by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill, Senza Luce; and Neema Bickersteth brought her one-woman amalgamation of song, dance and story, Century Song, to the new Crow’s Theatre space under the banner of Nightwood and Volcano.

Looking ahead: In May, and beyond, there is much to look forward to, from one-night-only events to long-running shows beginning their season at the big festivals.

May 1: One night only at the Atrium: Toronto Masque Theatre makes a specialty of bringing back to life rarities from the past as well as re-interpretations of well-known stories. On this evening they are presenting “The Ben Jonson Project: The Vision of Delight,” a staged reading of Ben Jonson’s Jacobean The Vision of Delight, reimagined and accompanied by an array of musical styles.

May 7: One night only at the Panasonic Theatre traditional musical theatre fans will be delighted to hear and see Stephen Schwartz (award-winning composer and lyricist of Wicked, Pippin, Godspell and more) live in conversation interspersed with performances of some of his greatest hits by Cynthia Dale, Chilina Kennedy and more.

Opening May 24: Opera as musical theatre: after a long development process with Tapestry Opera, Gervais and Murphy’s Oksana G., a daring new music theatre story of human trafficking gets a full production under the leadership of brilliant stage director Tom Diamond and music director Jordan de Souza.

April 18 to May 28 at the Tarragon Theatre, veteran musical theatre performer Tamara Bernier Evans directs the new Midsummer (a play with songs) described as “the hilarious story of a great lost weekend of ill-advised romance.”

And a final note: a heads-up for creators of new musical works! May 13 is the deadline to submit for The Aubrey and Marla Dan Fund for New Musicals. The Dan Fund is the first ever fund exclusively for the commissioning of new Canadian musical works. The fund offers financial and dramaturgical support to creators in developing new musicals. Ideas that exemplify the most potential will be awarded an $8,000 commission from the Musical Stage Company and a reading or workshop of a draft. Contact the Musical Stage Company for more information.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals. 

2208 In with the New 1The month of May brings a full blooming spring along with a packed 21C Music Festival, now in its fourth year. Running from May 24 to 28, the festival has had a significant impact on bringing new music to a wider audience, with five days of a wide range of musical voices and approaches to sonic experimentation spread over nine concerts, including 31 premieres. One of the themes this year, Canada 150, will be marked through collaborations with the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Art Song Project and Soundstreams.

Another is the festival’s strong focus on women composers and performers, with Korean-born Unsuk Chin as the featured composer. This focus makes for a perfect follow-up to my last two columns in which I explored stories about how issues of gender, race and musical diversity are impacting both large festivals such as the TSO’s New Creations (March issue) and individual projects, such as the work Century Song (April issue) performed and co-created by Neema Bickersteth.

Cecilia String Quartet: One of the 21C concerts that caught my attention is “Cecilia String Quartet Celebrates Canadian Women” on May 25 by the Toronto-based Cecilia String Quartet. In a conversation with the Quartet’s cellist Rachel Desoer, I discovered that the vision for the project began three years ago when the all-female quartet was inspired to encourage the representation of women’s music within their own genre. After looking at some of the existing string quartet repertoire, they decided to get involved in the curating process and commissioned four different composers as a way of encouraging these talented women to write for string quartet. The composers they chose were Katarina Ćurčin, Kati Agócs, Emilie LeBel and Nicole Lizée.

There has been much conversation over the years around the pros and cons of creating concerts that feature only women composers, but that is not the topic I particularly wish to delve into here. Rather, as I took a look at each piece on this program, I saw something else emerging that I hadn’t noticed so distinctly before in other women composer concerts. The pattern I noticed here was that the focus each composer chose for their piece harkened back to topics that characterized earlier movements of feminist art practice. Back in the 1970s, American women such as visual artist Judy Chicago and performance artist Suzanne Lacy, for example, began creating work organized around specific feminist principles. Their goal was to create work that influenced cultural attitudes so as to transform stereotypes. Strategies they employed included bringing awareness to women’s experience and history, as well as incorporating traditional forms of women’s creativity into their own work. This may seem not so revolutionary now, but at the time it was a bold departure from accepted practices. This movement however did not create strong inroads into the contemporary music world, although there was definitely a movement to research and perform music by women composers from the past.

So it was through this lens that I observed that each of the four works on the Cecilia String Quartet concert program shared something in common with these earlier feminist practices. When I asked Desoer if the quartet had given any guidelines for the pieces, her response was: “At the beginning of the project we wondered about creating a theme or having another piece of art for the composers to respond to. But instead, we let the artists decide, and were curious about what they would choose.” The quartet was delighted to discover that each composer found their inspiration in other art forms, texts and other women artists without any direct request.

Katarina Ćurčin’s String Quartet No.3 is based on a folk-song melody from her Serbian roots. The song tells the story of a young woman who feels trapped inside the house, expressing outrage at her mother for keeping her housebound. In Ćurčin’s quartet, her characteristic vibrant and rhythmic style aptly captures the song’s strong emotional journey, beginning with expressions of anger and finally dissolving into resignation. This work captures well the sense of limitation that has characterized women’s lives over millennia.

Kati Agócs’s music has been described as encouraging audience members to listen and be changed. In Tantric Variations, she bases her musical explorations on the word tantric, which means woven together. Using a one-bar motive as the basis, she weaves “a landscape that really goes everywhere you could imagine,” Desoer said. Desoer was originally drawn to Agócs’ music when she performed her Violoncello Duet (I And Thou) and was inspired by all the sounds she didn’t know her instrument could make. Starting with a word referring to the practice of weaving, Agócs is able to both reference the traditional craft as well as evoke the universal idea of weaving strands together to create a unified whole.

With Emilie LeBel’s Taxonomy of Paper Wings, we get a glimpse into one aspect of the work of writer Emily Dickinson, who lived a mostly introverted and confined life. Dickinson wrote a series of poems on fragments of used envelopes, using the shape of the paper to influence her placement of words on the page. LeBel uses the shape and structure of one of these envelope poems, which resembles the hinged wings of a bird, to inform the musical structure of her piece. The bird element translates into an ethereal texture in the music and as Desoer describes it, LeBel “explores the subtleties of softer sounds on string instruments in a way that is rare.”

Risk-taker and fashion designer Isabella Blow is the figure behind Nicole Lizée’s work entitled Isabella Blow at Somerset House. The composition is a response to a posthumous Blow photo exhibit of disembodied mannequin heads wearing Blow’s designs. These macabre images inspired Lizée to translate techniques from her background in vintage technologies and looping into instrumental gestures that “ride a beautiful line between roboticism and humanity,” says Desoer. This is a rare acoustic work for Lizée and yet she manages to expand the sound world of the string quartet with a few additional sources.

For a project that began with a search for repertoire by women, it’s inspiring to see how each of the composers addresses themes important in the early days of feminist art practices. For the quartet, the project has blossomed into something for which “it’s hard to see an end date” Desoer said. It certainly has inspired them with a desire to commission more repertoire for string quartet by women composers and to encourage other quartets to do so as well. (The quartet will also be performing both the Lizée and Ćurčin works on May 6 as part of a program presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.)

2208 In with the New 2Unsuk Chin: There will be plenty of opportunities at 21C to hear the music of featured composer Unsuk Chin. On May 24, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra will perform her work snagS&Snarls in Koerner Hall and on May 27, her Piano Étude will be performed in a concert in the Temerty Theatre that also includes works by Alexina Louie, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Kotoka Suzuki, and Aaron Parker. Chin will also join Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman as mentors for Soundstreams’ Emerging Composers Workshop with the final concert featuring world premieres by the six composers on May 26.

The showcase concert of Chin’s work will be on May 28 in a co-presentation with Soundstreams with performances of her Advice from a Caterpillar and Cantatrix Sopranica. (The concert will also include Harman’s works Love Locked Out along with the world premiere of It’s All Forgotten Now.) A major theme that emerges in Chin’s music is her fascination with word play and word games. In a written correspondence, I asked Chin to describe the relationship between the music and the projected text one sees during the performance of Advice from a Caterpillar. This piece for bass clarinetist is “part of my opera Alice in Wonderland, in which the performer is dressed up as a caterpillar” she replied. “In my opera, the caterpillar, one of the grotesque characters in the Wonderland, questions Alice, who is in the midst of an identity crisis and seeks advice. Instead of replying to her questions, he talks to her in bizarre riddles. By playing the bass clarinet, the Caterpillar ‘speaks’ his lines and the musical gestures are inspired by the Caterpillar’s words.”

In speaking about her work Cantatrix Sopranica, she expands upon her fascination with “the threshold regions between music and language. The piece was inspired by the ideas of OULIPO (a loose group of French-speaking writers and mathematicians), and the texts, which I wrote during the process of composition, mostly consist of palindromes, acrostics, anagrams and other wordplays. I used the texts as totally flexible musical material – just like pitches, timbre or rhythm. The piece is “about the act of singing itself, and plays with all kinds of clichés about singing. There is a good dose of black humour in it.”

Regarding questions of identity of gender or race in music, she responds that she has not “pondered [the subject] during the 30 years I’ve been in the business since that would have been stifling for my compositional work.” However, she did bring up a more pressing concern for her – “that young musicians (female, but also male) who refuse to play the glamour game are easily disadvantaged. There is the problematic tendency that the focus is less and less on music and more on marketed image.” She did note too the growing number of excellent female conductors, “one good example being the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new principal guest conductor Susanna Mälkki.”

The question of gender in contemporary music is varied and complex and I’ve tried to shine a light on some aspects of the issue within the context of the 21C Festival offerings. There is much more to explore in the festival programming than is possible to cover here, so I encourage you to check out the listings. As for other goings-on in May, here is a quick look at upcoming concerts by local new music presenters:

 

QUICK PICKS

May 17: The Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan will be celebrating their new double CD release, performing arrangements of Indonesian songs as well as Translating Grace, for gamelan, voice, cello, organ, bass clarinet and film.

May 19: Contact Contemporary Music is back with two programs: “Without a Net” with works by Tina Pearson, John Mark Sherlock, Anna Hostman and Jerry Pergolesi; and Jun 2: “Feeling Backwards” with works by Christopher Reiche, Allison Cameron, Nephenee Rose, Annette Brosin, and Julius Eastman.

May 24: The Thin Edge New Music Collective also has two upcoming programs with their “Keys, Wind and Strings Festival, works by Allison Cameron, Gregory Lee Newsome, Solomiya Moroz, Uroš Rojko and Marielle Groven; and May 25 works by Jason Doell, Germaine Liu, Fjóla Evans, Kasia Czarski-Jachimovicz and Tobias Eduard Schick.

Jun 3 and 4: Continuum Contemporary Music presents Four Lands in collaboration with Jumblies Theatre.

Jun 3: Spectrum Music presents “Tales from Turtle Island” featuring new compositions along with storytelling.

Additional events:

May 10: Burdock. “A Strange Impulse.”

May 12: Anne Mizen in concert: “Celebrating Canada” includes Schafer’s Snowforms.

May 12: Gallery 345. “From Sea to Sea: A Celebration of Canada 150 in Poetry and Music.” David Jaeger, composer.

May 14: Orpheus Choir of Toronto. “Identities: Glorious and Free,” with compositions by Kuzmenko and Estacio

May 27: Array Ensemble. “Young Composers’ Workshop Concert.”

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

2208 On OperaThe focus of Toronto opera enthusiasts’ attention in April, self included, was the COC’s revival of the much heard of but seldom seen Canadian opera from 1967, Louis Riel, now running to May 13. The focus this month is on Tapestry Opera’s presentation of the world premiere of a new full-length Canadian opera, Oksana G., on May 24.

Since Oksana G. will be the largest production Tapestry has presented since Chan Ka Nin’s Iron Road in 2001, I spoke with Tapestry Opera artistic director Michael Mori in April about how the work came to be and how it was decided to expand it beyond chamber opera scale.

Mori said that composer Aaron Gervais and librettist Colleen Murphy met at a Tapestry LibLab in 2006: “In the LibLab, over the course of two weeks, four writers and four composers get to work with every one of their counterparts on a short ‘seed’ scene, in a kind of speed-dating fashion where the pressure and intensity of it are meant to encourage ideas that are free from the fetters of self-doubt. Sometimes the collaborations are just an experiment, but sometimes we strike on the kernel that shows the dynamic between the two creators that could be very exciting for something bigger.”

At the time, the subject of human trafficking was in the air. As Mori says, “Aaron and Colleen were talking about something that was more of an issue in 2006 than now, although it’s coming back with the war in Ukraine. With the fall of the Soviet Union came poverty in certain areas and with that came crime including human trafficking. This would be the world within which they wanted to explore the character of Oksana.” That collaboration led up to its performance as one of the “Tapestry Briefs” in 2006 where it had the title, The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G.

At that point Wayne Strongman, former A.D. of Tapestry, “felt it had the potential to develop into a fully grown opera. Even since the beginning Wayne and the creators had been thinking that this was one that needed a bit more time, a bit more breadth and scale, so that it wouldn’t be a two- or three-person piece in a chamber setting but would have both an epic-ness to the music and to the libretto, so the scalability of the staging would have to encompass that.”

Mori continues: “In those first years the Canadian Opera Creation Fund, an initiative of the Canada Council, was instrumental in first helping develop the work, as would later the COC and the Banff Centre. I came in 2012, a year before the first workshop of the second act. One of the reasons for the length of time between the Brief and and the workshop was that director Tom Diamond and Colleen felt that the characters should not sing everything in English but in the original languages the characters would be using. Colleen worked with a number of translators on giving this an element of realistic naturalism so that Ukrainian characters sing in Ukrainian among themselves and in Russian when communicating with a Russian or Italian with an Italian. Of course, this means the opera will be presented with surtitles.”

Canadian coloratura soprano Ambur Braid had originally been scheduled to sing the title role, but she had to pull out when an opportunity arose for her in Europe. Nevertheless, Mori is more than pleased with the replacement he found in Ukrainian-Canadian soprano Natalya Gennadi, who recently received her master’s degree in Operatic Performance from the University of Toronto. As Mori explains, “One reason why it is exciting to have Natalya Gennadi sing the role of Oksana is that she grew up in Ukraine at the time depicted in the opera. She has direct experience of poverty there, of hunger, of sharing shoes and of people in friends’ families who disappeared and reappeared five years later, and of some who never came back. So she will be able to sing with authority because it is her mother tongue and also because she has the greatest insight of any of us into what was happening at that time.”

Producing opera on a larger scale fits in with Mori’s overall plans for Tapestry’s future: “Oksana G. is a bigger project than we have done in about 15 years. Wayne and I wanted it to be special but we are a fiercely nimble company. I also wanted it to be within our ability to be flexible and to continue producing. One of the things I have tried to prioritize since I have become artistic director is that I want to present bigger shows in Toronto every year. So in the last four years we’ve had Shelter, M’dea Undone, The Devil Inside, Rocking Horse Winner and now Oksana. It was important to me also that this wouldn’t be so big that we would have to take a couple years off.”

Mori deliberately chose the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre on Front Street for the production because it is a non-traditional opera venue: “We want to embrace what it means to be an opera company in the 21st century in Toronto. So in creating our own theatre inside the space on Front Street, it’s going to have a much more industrial feel that won’t seem like you’re walking into one of those theatres that suggests a very prescriptive theatre experience.”

Mori emphasizes that “Oksana is a full-force opera. There will be over 40 people on stage, some as villagers, some as other trafficked women, and this lends to the breadth of her journey from a small town in Ukraine to a refugee shelter in Italy. The score was originally orchestrated for about 36 people, but since the space we’re using doesn’t have a pit, such forces would overwhelm the singers. Therefore, Aaron has reduced the orchestration to about 16. The future of the work will depend entirely on the openness of other producers in Canada and the States to this piece. This is not an opera about human trafficking but it is an opera that is framed by the challenge that that presents in the same way that Tosca [running at the COC until May 20] is framed by the politics of its time. It’s a story about survival and heroism and challenging the demons that you face and overcoming this idea that women in opera shouldn’t always be portrayed as victims.”

The key to the opera’s impact will be the empathy that we feel for Oksana: “One of the most important things is that the victims in human trafficking are dehumanized and we tend to dismiss the fact that they could be your sister, your friend; it could be anyone from any background. Just following Oksana’s story, her challenge to redemption, we take a human journey. We haven’t been given a lesson in anything but what we will always remember is that there are humans out there that this is happening to, and we do have an opportunity to know more, to help. It is an emotional journey that can help us to transcend that block that our culture has with looking at uncomfortable topics.”

To sum up, Mori is very excited about his cast and creatives and what they will do: “The team we have is really something. You never know how these things will go but I often find that if you put the right people in the room together, magic will happen.”

Oksana G. plays at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre May 24, 26, 28 and 30. Natalya Gennadi sings Oksana. Tenor Keith Klassen is Konstantin, the man who trafficks her to the West. Tenor Adam Fisher sings Father Alexander who runs the refugee camp where Oksana finds herself. And mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó is Sofiya, Oksana’s mother. Tom Diamond, associated with the work since the beginning, is the stage director and the increasingly in-demand Jordan de Souza conducts.

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

In both my lead stories this month, World Fiddle Day Toronto and the “folk opera” Zemlya (Earth), an ethnomusicologist is the driving force; Anne Lederman in the former and Marichka Marczyk in the latter.

Pioneering American ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood in 1969 broadly described his discipline as “a holistic investigation of music in its cultural contexts.” He also notably advocated for direct participation, requiring that his students learn to play the music they were studying, calling his approach “bi-musicality” in a 1960 paper. As these two stories clearly demonstrate, however, the role of the ethnomusicologist can extend even further than Hood proposes: beyond the role of investigator, participant and reporter, to that of interpreter for the audience and as presenter of received musical traditions. At times it can even encompass roles of musical and dramatic creator, as demonstrated in Lederman’s intercultural co-composed fiddle tunes and scored Around-the-World Jam, and in Marczyk’s dramatic, staged performative reframing of the transformation of Ukraine village women’s lives.

Presentational ethnomusicology (which some in the field might contrast with the participatory kind) may not yet be a well-defined sub-discipline. There are however increasing numbers of musicians in our midst who are curating, producing, composing, performing and in other ways presenting music to the public combining aspects of folklore, comparative musicology, psychology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, music theory and history – in other words covering the gamut of ethnomusicology. I’ll be tracking this way of presenting music from time to time here in this column.

Zemlya: A Ukrainian folk opera

2208 World View 1

May 18 the Toronto (mostly) women’s Kalendar Folk Ensemble premieres a new work Zemlya (Earth), which it describes as a “Ukrainian folk opera,” at the St. Vladimir Institute, 620 Spadina Ave. A few years ago Kalendar itself grew out of the Kosa Kolektiv urban folk movement, a subject I explored in this column in 2013. (For backstory completists, it is accessible on thewholenote.com by searching “Kosa Kolektiv”.)

When Kalendar came to commissioning Zemlya, they looked to the Ukrainian village music specialist and ethnomusicologist Marichka Marczyk, a Toronto resident. Marczyk completed her studies at the National Academy of Music in Kyiv in 2002 and while still a student became a founding member of, and a soloist with, the important Bozhychi folklore ensemble.

For over 17 years Bozhychi members have conducted research into village performance traditions, emphasizing what they call an inclusive “authentic” approach to folklore reenactments. This is in contrast to the older 20th century paradigm of academic folk singing and dancing, state-sponsored during the Soviet era, which intended to turn “unsophisticated” folk traditions into “true art.” “We are not just after faithful reproduction. We want to present the treasures of folk music in their living, authentic form,” declared Bozhychi member Illya Fetisov. One of the group’s slogans illustrates their holistic approach: “Everything is authentic – from food to feelings.”

Marczyk counts her repertoire at over 1,000 songs, most personally collected in Ukrainian villages. She has performed them regularly with numerous groups, in Canada the best-known of which is the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Canada’s popular self-styled “guerilla-folk party-punk band.” For over a year in the wake of the 2014 Maidan Revolution, which overtook the streets of her native city, Marichka Marczyk travelled widely across Ukraine with LBO violinist Mark Marczyk, writing articles, short stories and a play aiming to represent the revolutionary gestalt. Their award-winning guerrilla folk opera Counting Sheep (2015), enlivened by the music of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, sold out at the 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

For Zemlya (Earth), Marichka Marczyk has chosen other themes to explore: urbanization and the mechanization of the lives of Ukrainian village women. Each scene is thematically connected to the earth in some way, from babies made on the earth to bodies buried deep within it. Zemlya takes received village-style solo and polyphonic songs and dances and weaves them together with a narrative tracing the radically changing roles of Ukrainian village women and their essential connection to the cycles of the earth.

Will Marczyk’s approach to the narrative present a nuanced view of the complex issues of the urbanization and mechanization of the roles of agrarian women? How will village songs, dances and instrumental music be integrated into the play and employed to illuminate the story? Will the power of these songs and the play’s drama transcend its possible thematic limitations? I’ll be eager to find answers to those questions at the sole performance of the work on May 18.

May 20: World Fiddle Day Toronto

2208 World View 2World Fiddle Day falls on the third Saturday of May. Its aim: to celebrate the “playing of bowed string instruments throughout the world through participation, sharing and outreach, with respect to all world musical traditions.” Originating in Ireland as recently as 2011, this fiddle-centric festival is growing into a significant annual world music event. It has swiftly been embraced by string music aficionados worldwide and is now celebrated in over 45 countries, in thousands of events. Here in Canada, in 2015, Parliament declared the third Saturday of May National Fiddling Day.

On May 20 it will be recognized for the fifth year in a row by a collective of professional and amateur Toronto musicians, beginning in 2013 as a humble gathering on the lawn of Howard Park Emmanuel Church in the visibly multicultural Toronto Roncesvalles neighbourhood. At Fort York last May World Fiddle Day Toronto had grown to the point that 96 players participated in WFDT’s epic signature Around-the-World Jam.

Award-winning Canadian fiddler, singer, composer, ethnomusicologist and music educator Anne Lederman of the groups Muddy York, Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and several other ensembles is WFDT’s artistic director and “teacher-in-chief.” I spoke to Lederman about her vision for the day-long event.

“Having outgrown our lovely space at Fort York, we accepted the invitation of the Aga Khan Museum to bring World Fiddle Day Toronto there this May,” began Lederman. “We aim to be a world music presenter so it’s a perfect fit for us to partner with the museum since its inclusive mission includes serving as a catalyst for mutual understanding and tolerance.

“There is also particular resonance with regards to the thousands of Syrian refugees Canada accepted last year in partnering with that institution.” The AGM’s own mandate echoes that sentiment, offering a space for “unique insights and new perspectives into Islamic civilizations and the cultural threads that weave through history binding us all together.”

Lederman further noted that “while celebration is an important part of World Fiddle Day Toronto, through our work with diverse cultural expressions we also strive to raise awareness of world issues, strengthen cultural diversity and encourage dignity, respect and basic human rights for all cultures.”

When I pressed her for her overarching vison for WFDT, she said simply, “I just want to get people excited about the many possible different approaches to music and art there are.”

WFDT’s Around-the-World Jam

This year for example, the WFDT’s theme tune for the Around-the-World Jam evolved from a collaboration between Lederman and prominent Toronto-based Persian violin and kamancheh player Kousha Nakhaei. “Called Persionada, it pays tribute to our partners at the Aga Khan and also honours Canada’s 150th,” says Lederman. “Kousha chose the traditional Persian song Dost Khan Amiri, and I created a second melody that works with it so it can be performed by the up to 100 bowed string players, expected that day at the Museum.” The rest of the Around-the-World Jam participants will include “violin, viola, cello and some bass players, all accompanied by our stellar back-up house band. But the occasional accordionist has also sometimes snuck in!” quipped Lederman.

This year Jam fiddlers will play 35 tunes from 25 different cultural traditions. And Canadian songs take pride of place among those drawn from most of the world’s continents. Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire features in as a tribute to the celebrated late Montreal-born songwriter, as will Jerry Holland’s nostalgic waltz My Cape Breton Home and Pascal Gemme’s Valse Beaulieu.

As an example of the cultural diversity on show, the WFDT hosts five accomplished guest artists in workshops and at the long evening concert. Featured are Kousha Nakhaei playing Persian violin and kamancheh, Anne Lindsay on Finnish jouhikko, Swedish nyckelharpa and jazz violin, and, as mentioned earlier in this issue’s cover story, Chinese erhu virtuoso Amely Zhou. Representing French-Canadian fiddling are Pascal Gemme and Yann Falquet, while the award-winning youthful brother and sister duo DnA – Diana and Andrew Dawydchak – perform in the best old-time Ontario fiddle and step-dance tradition. These two duos, representing Quebec and Ontario fiddling styles and repertoires, are a particularly apt fit for WFDT’s Canada 150 theme this year.

Lederman is quick to add that WFDT “is not only a celebration of Toronto’s multi-cultural musical traditions, but the culmination of our organization’s full year of activity. These include holding community practice and workshop sessions exploring world traditions, as well as collaborating with Tafelmusik on an outreach program with young string players at the Etobicoke School for the Arts and the MNjcc Suzuki Program.”

At 5:30pm visitors can enjoy a buffet supper of Mid-East cuisine, continuing the exploration of world cultural traditions, all the while listening to WFDT’s Youth Showcase performances.

With its institutional, government, corporate and all-important community support, and driven by Lederman’s vison, World Fiddle Day Toronto’s future as a “cross-cultural ambassador” looks bright.

QUICK PICKS

“Sounds of Spring”: Georgian romantic songs

May 13: Members of Toronto’s extended Georgian musical community present “Sounds of Spring” at Heliconian Hall at 6:30pm. The concert features Georgian romances, as well as city and a cappella rural polyphonic songs, showcasing the classically trained singer Ucha Abuladze and the vocal duo of Diana and Madona Iremashvili. Singer Bachi Makharashvili, also a superb guitar and chonguri player in this repertoire, plus his vocalist wife Andrea Kuzmich and children will perform, making it a warm Georgian family affair. I recommend you make the effort to attend.

Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan goes vocal

May 17: At 8pm at Array Space, the Toronto pioneering world music ensemble Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan presentsCelebrating the Voice,” with music from its two new CD releases. (As usual, when writing about the group, I need to state that I have been a career-long membership of Evergreen, one of many very satisfying, though seldom particularly remunerative, ways I have been engaged in music long before I was a music journalist.)

The eight-musician group typically adheres to an all-instrumental program but here performs a wide range of songs from its hot-off-the-press genre-defying CD Bridge. The fine Toronto vocalists Jennifer Moore and Maryem Tollar are in the spotlight, along with violinist Parmela Attariwala.

Then from its new CD release Grace, ECCG will perform Bill Parsons’ large-scale Translating Grace, scored for the very probably unique instrumentation of soprano (Jennifer Moore), ECCG’s degung, cello (Andrew Downing), bass clarinet (Bob Stevenson) and keyboard (Erik Ross). A bespoke video by Chuck Samuels provides added visual enhancement of the song cycle’s textual themes. As a trumpet virtuoso and University of Victoria music professor very recently put it, “The reckless abandon [ECCG] shows for borders, genres, and easy classification remains an inspiration.”

Autorickshaw celebrates 15 years

May 18: Toronto’s twice JUNO-nominated, Indo-fusion ensemble Autorickshaw presents “Under the Hood” live in concert. Autorickshaw celebrates 15 years, kicking off its 2017 concert season at Lula Lounge. Vocalist Suba Sankaran is joined by elite Toronto musicians Justin Abedin (guitars), Dylan Bell (voice, bass, beatboxing), Ed Hanley (tabla) and Ben Riley (drumkit).

Autorickshaw’s post-fusion repertoire spans Indian classical, folk and Bollywood as well as original compositions. Rooted in both North and South Indian classical music repertoire, its music is further framed by its members’ experiences growing up and studying music in culturally diverse Toronto. Autorickshaw is working on a new album featuring the core trio, to be released later this year. Perhaps we’ll be treated to some of their new work in progress in addition to its greatest hits.

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

2208 Choral Scene 1In a month when The WholeNote Canary Pages celebrates choral music and and features opportunities to participate in it, it’s fitting that there’s an incredible amount of amazing choral performance happening around the region. In this month’s column, on top of some great quick picks, SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival runs throughout most of the month; I’ve dug into the fantastic upcoming Royal Conservatory 21C Music Festival launch featuring the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Elmer Iseler Singers and the 21C Ensemble; and finally, Elisa Citterio, Tafelmusik’s new artistic director takes the stage for Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. What a bounty indeed!

SING! – A Guinness World Record Attempt!

SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival makes its return with events between May 11 and 28. This year marks the first for artistic directors Dylan Bell and Suba Sankaran, partners in FreePlay Duo, and masters of jazz and a capella arranging. “What makes SING! stand out is the sheer array of vocal artistry we offer in our various programs,” says Sankaran. “The ‘SING! In Concert’ series offers world-class groups from New York, and from our own backyard. ‘SING! In The Clubs’ offers a more intimate vocal experience, while ‘SING! Free,’ in the Distillery District, offers a weekend of multicultural and multi-stylistic acts, representing Canada’s unique cultural diversity, all free to the public. And ‘SING! and Learn’ offers educational outreach to schools, as well as public masterclasses where participants can work face-to-face with some of the greatest vocal ensembles in the world.”

During the festival, organizers hope to break two Guinness World Records: the most nationalities singing a national/regional anthem simultaneously; and the most nationalities in a simultaneous popular music sing-along. Bring your passports to show Guinness adjudicators and get ready to belt out O Canada. The pop song will be Rise Up led by Lorraine Segato, formerly of Parachute Club. On May 13 at 1pm, Distillery District Stage. Free!

Give Me A Head With Hair (please!)

Segato will also perform as part of the “O Canada! The Golden Age of Canadian Pop” concert, May 25 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Organizers have gathered the members of the original Toronto cast of Hair which premiered here in 1969. The musical, which opened Off-Broadway in 1967, shaped a generation and provided the groundwork for the modern musical as we know it, creating a fusion of rock, culture and social commentary in music theatre. This is a remarkable chance to see the cast throw back 50 years.

“We’re pleased to be a part of this one-of-a-kind festival celebrating vocal talent from Toronto and around the world, bringing the best performers and facilitators together at Canada’s premier a cappella festival,” says Bell. “We look forward to bringing our experience and observations to SING! Toronto, and to building on the momentum of the last six years to make SING! 2017 the best festival yet.”

21C – The RCM Welcomes the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra

The Royal Conservatory’s new music festival, 21C, is a gem of contemporary art, now providing its fourth year of programming with nine concerts, five days, 31 premieres, (12 world premieres) and 90 percent Canadian artists. Mervon Mehta, RCM’s executive director of programming, says, “We are thrilled to welcome the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Art Song Project and Soundstreams as our artistic collaborators and to have Unsuk Chin, a composer of international stature, in residence.”

The festival begins May 24 at 8pm in Koerner Hall with Johannes Debus conducting the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and the Elmer Iseler Singers with Lydia Adams, conductor and artistic director, and the 21C Ensemble. Featuring a host of Canadian and international composers, this promises to be one of the highlights of the festival. The concert will feature the Canadian premiere of American Matthew Aucoin’s The Orphic Moment taking inspiration from the “primal self-justification and self-glorification” of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Aucoin calls this a “dramatic cantata” exploring what would have happened if Orpheus had made the conscious decision to turn around escorting Eurydice back to the living as a deliberate choice of ultimate tragedy and, ultimately, of unparalleled inspiration.

Celebrated South Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s opera Alice in Wonderland first began as the composition snagS&Snarls. This scenic piece invokes the various parts of the beloved story. Canadian Samy Moussa, recently awarded the 2017 International Hindemith Prize by the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and his popular piece, Kammerkonzert will be featured.

The evening also features Toronto-based composer Brian Current presenting the world premiere of Nàaka (Northern Lights), the third movement of his River of Light multi-movement cycle, projected to be completed in 2018. Based on Dante’s Paradiso, Current’s inspiration for the entire cycle is the line: “And I saw a light in the form of a river, radiant as gold, between banks painted with wondrous springs.” Current furthers his thoughts on the piece: “No matter where we come from, or whom we pray to, a fascination with transcendence into light permeates nearly all of our religious beliefs and unites us. We are all part of the River of Light.”

Richard Van Camp, an indigenous storyteller, and Elder Rosa Mantla, both of the Dogrib (Tłįchǫ) First Nation in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, provided language and cultural contexts for Nàaka. Recognizing the deep cultural and physical relationship of the northern lights to the Tłįchǫ, Nàaka forms the Canadian contribution to the River of Light cycle.

The concert will also include Current’s The Seven Heavenly Halls, another movement of River of Light, which won the inaugural Canadian Azrieli Music Project Prize in 2015. The Seven Heavenly Halls (2015) was inspired by the Zohar (The Book of Enlightenment), the most important work of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). Central to the story is the concept of the Sefer Hekalot (the Seven Heavenly Halls) described loosely as the complexity of forgiveness within light, figurative and physical. Current describes the work as “a 12 minute journey for choir, orchestra and solo tenor based on the Zohar that traces a mystical progression where each of the seven ecstatic states is described by an orchestral colour.”

Tafelmusik – Elisa Citterio in Action at Koerner Hall

A momentous occasion is upon us May 4 to 7 in Koerner Hall with Italian violinist and early-music specialist Elisa Citterio taking the reins of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for the first time at Koerner Hall since her appointment as artistic director. Marking the end of Tafelmusik Chamber Choir’s 35th season, Citterio and Ivars Taurins lead the inimitable Mozart Mass in C Minor and Haydn’s Symphony No.98 in B-flat Major. British sopranos Julia Doyle and Joanne Lum are joined by Asitha Tennekoon, tenor, and Joel Allison, bass-baritone, as soloists. Don’t miss these performances!

QUICK PICKS

There are a host of music-theatre-themed concerts in May.

May 6: The Oakville Children’s Choir presents a fun set of showtunes in “The Best of Broadway!”

May 6: Further east, the Mississauga Festival Choir is also presenting pops in “From Broadway to Hollywood” at the Living Arts Centre on the same day.

May 7: Even further east you can catch Florivox, a treble choir, in “Be Our Guest” featuring songs from popular musicals like Wicked and Hamilton.

May 10: The Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts presents Missa Gaia/Earth Mass featuring 170 voices and the premiere of Paul Halley’s In the Wide Awe and Wisdom of the Night.

May 12: The Upper Canada Choristers and their Cantemos Latin Ensemble, with guests École Secondaire Catholique Saint-Frère-André Choir, present “Ubi Caritas et Amor” featuring Vivaldi’s Gloria, the Fauré Requiem and Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights amongst many others.

May 17: Elite ensemble Opus 8 presents another free concert in their series “H2O” – described as “no mere offering of sea shanties, but a phantasmagoria of all things aquatic, shipwrecked and watery.” If you didn’t know what a phantasmagoria was (like me) it’s a series of images like those of a dream.

May 21: The grand, sumptuous, spine-tingling, incredible, massive, tremendous, bone-shaking, tear-inducing, emotional powerhouse – Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” is presented by the Niagara Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Niagara.

May 25: The Leaside United Church Chancel and Junior Choir present “Broadway Bedazzled.”

May 27: VOCA Chorus of Toronto takes on Carl Orff’s hair-raising masterpiece Carmina Burana. Other selections include a world premiere setting for two marimbas of Ola Gjeilo’s The Spheres. Torq Percussion Quartet joins Elizabeth Polese, soprano, Michael Nyby, baritone, and Christopher Mayell, tenor, for a sure night of choral fire.

June 2 and 3: Right at the beginning of June you can catch the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (in which I sing) with guests, the Huddersfield Choral Society in William Walton’s bombastic Belshazzar’s Feast. This huge British work will be led by conductor laureate Sir Andrew Davis. Part of the continuing Decades Project, this epic work was chosen by Peter Oundjian forthe decade 1930-1939. Later, at the end of June, Carmina Burana featuring the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir finishes off the Decades Project for the 2016/2017 season.

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

2208 BandstandWhen I first heard of a concert by the Hart House Symphonic Band, I was very surprised. I have been a member of Hart House continuously ever since my arrival at University of Toronto as an undergraduate student back when dinosaurs were roaming the campus. For those who are not familiar with Hart House, it is the elegant gothic style student union building with the majestic Soldier’s Tower which dominates the landscape of the main campus. When was this Hart House band formed and why had I never heard of it? On April 2 I had my chance. That was the evening of the band’s spring concert titled “Angels in the Architecture.” As I sat waiting to see what sort of ensemble might perform, no fewer than 65 band members entered and dominated the entire south end of the House’s Great Hall. This is not a band of students from the Faculty of Music. Membership is a mix of undergraduate students and alumni from a wide range of disciplines.

Different would probably be the best single word to describe the programming of this concert. The selections involving the entire band were almost exclusively by modern composers. However, the only contemporary selection which I recognized was the March from the Great Escape. The real difference in the programming occurred when the program switched to the first soloist. Melanie Warren from the trumpet section moved to the piano and performed one of her own compositions. After the applause for the performance of her Rondo No. 2 she returned to her seat in the trumpet section.

Immediately after this original composition by a band member, there was a dramatic switch to Five Pieces of Dmitri Shostakovich. Here again it was not the entire band, but a trio of violin, clarinet and piano. After the performance the violinist returned to the flute section and the pianist to the trombone section.

After a return to full band renditions of Robert W. Smith’s Star Trek: Through the Generations and Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium we had a dramatic shift to solo piano. This time, Duncan Kwan the band’s bass trombonist took centre stage on piano with Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor.

The final solo of the evening forced me to start digging for information as soon as I arrived home. This was the Fantasie sur un thème original by Jules Demersseman. Little known today, Demersseman was a French composer who lived in the mid-1800s. Renowned in his day as a flutist and teacher, he was a close friend of Adolphe Sax and composed many of the earliest works for saxophone and saxhorn.

Conductor Mark Saresky states that he has only been with the band for nine years and couldn’t say when it was first established. One thing is certain: he has an impressive spectrum of musical talent and imaginative programming! Stay tuned for their next concerts which are tentatively scheduled for December and next April.

Unfortunately the acoustics of the Great Hall vary considerably depending on the placement of the group performing. The acoustics are generally excellent when the group is placed close to the middle along the long wall. That would certainly not be feasible with a 65-piece band. With the band located at the south end of the hall the sound was at times overwhelming. Nonetheless, the performance was memorable.

More on Venues and Acoustics

While on the subject of venue acoustics, one of the finest performance venues that I have encountered recently was the auditorium of J. Clarke Richardson C. in Ajax. I attended a concert there recently by the Navy Band of HMCS York as part of the school’s sesquicentennial celebration. Unlike many modern schools which have only a cafetorium, this school boasts a true theatre. It has a large stage with a full proscenium arch. I would estimate that it has a seating capacity of about 600 in comfortable upholstered tiered seats where every audience member has a full unobstructed view of the stage.

As for unusual performance venues for small groups, in the next issue I hope to be in a position to introduce readers to a little known gem within a short driving distance from Toronto. Stay tuned for a visit to the Foster Memorial.

Other Recent Events

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the “Sesquicentennial Celebration Concert” by the Plumbing Factory Brass Band on April 19. A severe and painful shoulder injury made the multi-hour drive from home to London and back a non-starter. This was the concert which I had been looking forward to more than almost any other this season. Henry Meredith’s programming of an evening made up exclusively of 19th-century brass band selections was the sort of program that I have never heard before. With any luck they may have recorded it. If so, I’ll be first in line for a copy.

While school concerts are commonplace where students perform and parents applaud, I recently attended a school concert with a difference. On April 20, St. Andrew’s Junior High School in North York presented “Jazz @ St. Andrew’s.” This included several works by four different jazz ensembles including the Swingin’ Strings. That’s right. A large group of students from Grades 8 and 9, accustomed to playing Baroque and classical music showed their adaptation to the challenges of swing style with such numbers as Duke Ellington’s C-Jam Blues.

After these performances the program shifted to show how the love of performing music may continue after school life is over. The regular student groups were followed by the York Mills Titan Jazz Band, an extracurricular after-hours club open to anyone interested in playing big band music. That was followed by a few numbers by Swing Shift, a community big band which rehearses weekly in nearby York Mills Collegiate. Members range in age from the twenty-somethings to several retirees, drawn together to read through music of the big band era. I have been a member of this group for some years, but had to serve as an audience member because my shoulder complained when I tried to hold my instrument. Both of the last two groups were led by Bob Gray, a longtime music teacher in this area.

For students and parents alike this evening showed, in no uncertain terms, that musical skills do not end when school is over, but can be a lifelong avocation. In the comment section of the program, music teacher Mr. Corbett summed up the value of musical training with these observations: “Our students have all worked hard to prepare this concert for you and have learned so much about music and about themselves. They have learned about commitment, self-discipline and the rewards of hard work. They have learned to be effective leaders and followers, ignoring their phones for hours at a time.”

Coming Events

The Newmarket Citizens Band will be presenting their Canada 150 concert on May 26 at 8pm in Newmarket’s Old Town Hall on Botsford Street. Canadian compositions scheduled include Ten Provinces March by Howard Cable, They Came Sailing by Andre Jutras and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Silverthorn Symphonic Winds 2016/2017 season concludes with their “Spring Celebration” on Saturday, May 27, 7:30pm at the Wilmar Heights Event Centre. The program will honour Canada’s 150 years since Confederation with works by Canadian composers and arrangers.

On Sunday, May 28, at 3:30pm The Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents their “Sounds of Spring - the Canadian Edition.” Whether or not my suggestions had any effect, they will be featuring: The Bridal Rose Overture by Calixa Lavallée, arranged by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves. This was one of my leading picks for Canadian compositions to be included in any group’s repertoire this year. I’m looking forward to hearing this new clarinet choir arrangement. Works by Howard Cable will include Point Pelee, Wychwood Suite, McIntyre Ranch Country and Canadian Folk Song Suite. Norman Campbell’s Anne of Green Gables Medley arranged by Fen Watkin will also be played.

In last month’s column I mentioned how Wynne Krangle, sitting at home in Whitehorse, had “virtually attended” Clarinet Choir rehearsals, took lessons using FaceTime, and ended up playing in the last concert. Will she be back? Yes, Wynne will be back, arriving in time for two rehearsals and then playing with the Choir for this performance with artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.

Barbara Kissick

It is with great sadness that I report on the passing of Barbara Kissick. Barbara was a pioneer in establishing the idea that women should have an equal right to play in most bands where, traditionally, they were all-male organizations. As a student at Barrie Central Collegiate she became the first female band president. As I mentioned in this column a few years ago, when she was a physiotherapy student at University of Toronto, she rocked the boat again. The student council of the university actually convened a special meeting to debate whether or not a female student should be “PERMITTED” to join the Varsity Band. Barbara won. Years later, when we formed the university’s Blue and White Alumni Band, Barbara came down regularly from Barrie with her clarinet. When I learned of her passing I pulled out the CD we made with that band in May 1993, and there was Barbara’s name. My dilemma: what selection should I play? In the end it was Close to You.

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

received 832710110228698I first met and heard the painter and singer Laura Marks four or five years back at Lisa Particelli’s singer-friendly jam about which I’ve written before. The first time I heard Marks, my impression was that she had a nice voice but was timid. Since then, one or both of us, her voice or my ears, has matured, probably the latter. Listening more recently, I hear a cool confidence, a clear sense of purpose and an unmistakable character. That character is quaint and charming, introspective and sincere – as is demonstrated clearly on her debut album, 57 Minutes. The album is a Marks-illustrated work (Marks is primarily a visual artist), and it features the instrumental prowess of Chris Gale, Reg Schwager, Mark Kieswetter, Ross MacIntyre and Ben Riley, on sax, guitar, piano, bass and drums, respectively.

Although Marks has only been playing jazz gigs about town for the last eight or nine years, her first public performance as a jazz singer happened in the early 70s at Toronto’s Poor Alex Theatre; her experiences with jazz in private reach even further back. “My dad was a jazz fan so we were exposed very early,” Marks explains. “He met Dizzy Gillespie on an airplane twice. The second time Dizzy said to him, ‘How are you, Mr. Marks?’ He remembered him.”

One of the last tracks on the album is Body and Soul, a standard which all jazz musicians know, but which also happened to be an early influence on Marks: “I used to listen to the jazz programs on radio and when I heard Billie Holiday sing Body and Soul that was it. I started to sing jazz. I remember the moment and where I was in my parents’ house. I think I was 15.”

Marks doesn’t have dazzling, virtuosic chops, but she is and has always been an artist: prone to exploring, and creating, and expressing, relentlessly and endlessly; no exceptions are made behind the microphone. I recommend you go to see her at Jazz Bistro on May 21. There’s something special about her performance, her laid-back sensibility, that aforementioned character. I just love hearing her sing and I suspect you will too.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

2207-OperaBanner.jpg2207 On Opera 1While there are several noteworthy operas on offer in April, one looms over them all. This is the COC’s first new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel since it premiered in 1967. Co-produced by the Canadian Opera Company and the National Arts Centre, the new production will give Canadians the rare opportunity to see what has often been called the greatest Canadian opera ever written.

Written and performed for Canada’s centennial in 1967, Louis Riel is being revived for the sesquicentennial this year. Reasons for the scarcity of productions of it are not hard to see. The opera is in three acts and 17 scenes, requires a chorus, a 67-member orchestra and has 39 named roles. Composer Harry Somers and librettist Mavor Moore wanted to create an epic opera on the model of French grand opera and one could say they succeeded only too well.

In an interview in March, director Peter Hinton threw light on how he plans to meet the many challenges that the opera poses. Speaking of his concept for the production, Hinton explained, “What we’ve tried to do is create a setting that can serve each of the locations of the opera but also create a sort of container of imagery that in some ways sets the entire opera at the trial of Louis Riel. So on the one hand the set resembles Fort Garry, an enclosure, the contrast of a colonized building against an incredible landscape of the land, and also a courtroom where the events of history are put on trial and we’re examining the motivations and intentions behind enormous ideas like governments, justice, confederation. So it was very challenging but very exciting because the ideas of the opera are really big, the history is very big, and not surprisingly it’s very contemporary. Yes, it’s a historical story, but it’s one that continues to speak to us today.”

Hinton said that Somers and Moore made an intriguing choice of subject for an opera meant to celebrate Canada’s centennial: “I thought it was very interesting that they chose the history of Louis Riel. And I think that’s a very key kind of distinction because when I first sat down to listen to it I suspected it might be a very pro-Canada, ‘we are one nation,’ idealized kind of history telling. But I was really taken with how critical it is, how it brought forward the problems of Confederation, that it exposed Sir John A. Macdonald and his political motivations for Confederation in a very critical way. And so it poses very contemporary questions about what are we commemorating, what are we celebrating, what, in addition to our history of achievement, [are] our losses, our injustices, what continues to be needed to be worked out and expressed and understood today.”

Thus, Hinton’s concept for the opera as a trial means more than Riel’s trial. Canada and how it was founded are also on trial. In addition, Hinton points out, he is re-examining the opera itself: “In another way we’re sort of putting the opera on trial. Clearly, if the COC were to take on creating a new opera today about Louis Riel, it would have more indigenous and Métis involvement in the creation of it. So even more than the challenges of staging the narrative of Louis Riel, the politics of it have been much more challenging and very, very difficult to reconcile oneself with because opera itself might be characterized as one of the most colonial art forms because its roots are so Eurocentric.”

2207 On Opera 2The solution, as he explains it, was to treat Harry Somers’ and Mavor Moore’s opera as an artifact of its time.

“It reflects very much the aesthetic sensibilities of contemporary music of the 1960s and it has great dramatic strength and power and beauty. It also has many colonial biases. So part of the job here is to do the opera and let its beauty be heard and soar and not be afraid to cast light on its biases; not to pretend the opera is an Indigenous creation – it is definitely created by two white settler guys – but to try to open up a more inclusive representation in the show.

“And I have to say honestly that [COC General Director] Alexander Neef knew exactly what I was talking about…it took me a long time to make a commitment to be involved because of issues about inclusion and appropriation especially in light of Truth and Reconciliation. I’m very aware of my privilege and my own cultural heritage as a director for the piece. So I really had to think a way through that I could contribute without continuing a legacy of misrepresentation.”

To achieve this, Hinton has re-envisioned the opera’s chorus: “In the original production there was one very large opera chorus who played a variety of roles from members of the Métis Assembly to demonstrators at an Orangemen’s protest in Toronto. And I decided to split up the chorus and identify them culturally. So we in fact have two choruses in this production – one which we are calling the Parliamentary Chorus. This chorus is in modern dress and sing the allocated choral parts in the score but they are removed from the action. They sit above in a gallery not unlike visitors to a house of parliament and comment on the opera, debate the opera, encourage characters within the narrative to act or not. But they do nothing. They have no physical impact on the story or its outcome. They comment.

“In contrast and in equal representation in the show is a 35-member Indigenous chorus who are a physical chorus and we’re calling them the Land Assembly. They physically embody the world in which the narrative Riel is enacted and are directly involved in all of the action but are not given a voice. So in many respects the opera is one about silence, about who speaks on behalf of whom, and who gets a voice and who doesn’t. And so what I’m very hopeful about is that our Land Assembly brings a very strong Indigenous representation of bodies on stage and has an impact of reminding the audience as they see this story enacted that land is also about people. And the opera is also very much people and groups and where does someone stand as an individual, what do they represent. That’s one aspect of the show that will be very different from the way it was done 50 years ago.”

The COC has cast Indigenous men and women to make up the Land Assembly. In addition new characters have been added to the opera to present a more informed history of the Métis and Indigenous people. The previously unattributed opening vocal line is now delivered by a character known as The Folksinger, to be sung by Jani Lauzon, a singer of Métis heritage. The new role of The Activist, to be played by Cole Alvis of Métis-Irish/English heritage, will deliver the Land Acknowledgement as the opera unfolds, setting the tone for interpreting the action playing out on stage. 

 A separate group of 30 artists will play the 39 named characters in the opera with baritone Russell Braun as the title character. Among these are Joanna Burt, a Métis/Saugeen Ojibway artist, who sings Sara Riel, Cree actor and playwright Billy Merasty as the Plains Cree chief Poundmaker and Cree bass-baritone Everett Morrison as Cree war chief Wandering Spirit.

Justin Many Fingers, a singer, actor and dancer from the Lavern Kainai Blackfoot Reserve in southern Alberta, will perform two dance sequences titled “Buffalo Hunt,” in the last scene of Act II, intended as a reenactment of a Métis buffalo hunt.

Asked if, despite the opera’s biases, it is still a work worth being revived, Hinton answered, “Definitely. I think it’s a magnificent work of art. And it’s really important that we revive it and examine it. It was the first opera written by Canadians with a Canadian story produced at the Canadian Opera Company and so it’s a very interesting thing to take a look at what was created 50 years ago, where we have come in that time and how this piece sits within the repertoire of the works the COC does. I think it’s a really important complement to that. And I think the work is very powerful and very strong, but it requires context.

“We have to look at Louis Riel as one of the first civil activists. He’s right up there to me with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the states. He was an incredibly progressive person for his time. So looking at the history again in operatic terms is incredible and the show has enormous, enormous power and range, from satire in the way that Macdonald and Cartier and their political manoeuvres are expressed, to deep tragedy of someone who gave his entire life for justice for the people and maybe expressed it best in losing it. There’s a tragedy in that. It’s a magnificent work in that regard, so all of the efforts of this production are to bring that genius to light in it and to see how we can see that with the knowledge we have today. Producing the work is not just a chance to look but but also to guide us forward.” 

Louis Riel runs for seven performances from April 20 to May 13 at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto and on June 15 and 17 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

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

2207 Early 1In professions that are physically and mentally challenging as well as competitive, there’s no experience quite as disappointing as discovering that you’re second best. Back in 1995, a team of psychologists observed and ranked the emotions displayed by Olympic athletes right when the final results in their events were announced, and then again when they were standing on the podium. What they found was not only that the bronze medal winners seemed significantly happier than the silver medallists, but that winning a silver actually caused negative emotions in the athletes who won them. Instead of celebrating an achievement – and how many people even know who are the second best in the entire world at something? – they expressed both sadness and contempt, and harshly critiqued their own performance, listing their mistakes and replaying the event in their heads, wishing they had acted differently in order to win gold.

The career of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) is an excellent example of the frustrations of being almost the greatest. Despite a professional lifetime of artistic patronage in some of the best courts in 17th-century France, a mid-career collaboration with Molière, an appointment as maître de musique for the Jesuit order in France, and a lifetime composing music with over 500 compositions to his name, he was still a (distant) second, career-wise, to the greatest French composer of the period, Jean-Baptiste Lully. It’s important to keep two things in mind about being second-best to Lully: one, that it doesn’t mean Charpentier, or any of his other contemporaries, was any less of a composer, and in many cases Charpentier was arguably better. Two, that being anything other than the best composer in Louis XIV’s France came with significant creative limitations on what composers were allowed to write. Lully, one must bear in mind, was not simply interested in writing better music than everyone else. He was also determined to be the richest and the most influential and, to the best of his ability, the only composer in France, and the centralization of French cultural and political life around Versailles made sure he could maintain an artistic monopoly.

The result for Charpentier was that he couldn’t legally produce an opera, or indeed any other piece of music, with more than two singers and six instrumentalists, without the express written permission of Lully. Although working for the prominent House of Guise meant that Charpentier could somewhat circumvent this, he still had to wait until he was 50 years old before he could get an opera produced at court after Lully finally died in 1687.

The opera in question was Médée (Medea) and although Charpentier had to wait most of his life to get a chance to write something like it, the wait was well worth it for the French court. Listening to Médée, the listener can tell right away that Charpentier was able to perfectly imitate the style developed by the old Italian monopolist and, although the opera only ran for a few months, Médée was critically well-received by contemporary audiences.

This month, Opera Atelier is reviving the crowning achievement of a composer whose career never did justice to his compositional talent. Medea is running April 22 to 29 at the Elgin Theatre and Opera Atelier, with its exceptional roster of singers, opulent staging and crack pit orchestra (Tafelmusik), will certainly make this rare performance of a composer who never got to be the best a must-see.

We like to think we’ve come a long way, culturally, since Louis XIV and his privilèges royaux, but the distance between first and second place in Canada still seems like a wide gulf. A perfect example of this is Les Violons du Roy who, from a vantage point within the Toronto early music scene, never seem to enjoy the popularity and success of Tafelmusik.

I’m not sure the lack of coverage is entirely fair to the the Quebec City-based group, as it’s certainly not lacking for talent. They’ve been led in the past by Bernard Labadie, Jonathan Cohen and Mathieu Lussier, all of whom have led full careers and made significant contributions to the early music field. The group’s members are all perfectly competent players and have enjoyed a lifetime of experience playing orchestral, solo and chamber music in Quebec. The group itself is one of Canadian early music’s stalwarts, having been in operation since 1984 (just five years after Tafelmusik) and now has some 35 recordings to its name. If there’s any reason this group is being held back, I have no idea what it is.

This month, you’ll be able to see for yourself what makes Les Violons du Roy worth hearing, as they’ll be coming to play Koerner Hall April 13 in a program that includes Bach, Handel, Fux and Graun. Lussier will be leading the group and, to sweeten the deal, the orchestra will be joined by the great countertenor Philippe Jaroussky who, far from being just a voice, has a versatility that lets him sing a wide range of repertoire from Monteverdi to Fauré. I will be very interested to hear what this soloist and this group are capable of when they collaborate.

Music-making has probably been a family business since about as long as there have been professional musicians. Although the history of music pedagogy is full of brilliant teachers and outstanding pupils, it’s difficult to overcome the problem of what the student does when the lesson ends and he goes home to (one hopes) practise, and a good deal of the numerous performance issues that arise from a typical piece of music can be resolved much more quickly in having an older, more experienced musician on hand at home to help.

The Bach family is an obvious example of such dynasty, but there are plenty of musicians who also parented a younger generation of great performers. Tafelmusik explores the theme of musical families in their concert this month, “Bach: Keeping It in the Family,” which features one great early music father-daughter duo, Alfredo and Cecilia Bernardini. Dad is a well-known baroque oboist, and daughter Cecilia is a baroque violinist who is beginning to shine as a soloist. They’ll both be coming to Toronto to show off their talents in a program that includes the JS Bach Concerto for Violin in E Major BWV 1042 and the CPE Bach Oboe Concerto in E-flat Major Wq. 165, as well as a sinfonia by Bach’s eldest son Wilhelm Friedmann and a Telemann orchestral suite. This is a pair of soloists who can handle virtuostic works with ease, and Tafelmusik always sounds great when there’s a guest director to give a new perspective on performance practice. Check this concert out April 5 through 9 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

If you’d prefer a concert of chamber music this month to a full-scale French opera or orchestral concerts of high Baroque music, consider checking out “Fork in The Road,” I Furiosi’ s concert on April 21 at Calvin Presbyterian Church. It’s somewhat unclear what the group is up to, but no matter: I Furiosi can always be counted on to put on an exciting concert with great performers, and this concert will highlight some seldom-heard composers, including Jean Baptiste Senaillé, Giuseppe Tartini and Louis Bourgeois.

David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

2207-ClassicalBanner.jpg2207 Classical 2The New Orford String Quartet, founded in July 2009, takes its name from the trailblazing Orford String Quartet whose 26-year career ended in 1991. The New Orford’s pedigree is impressive: violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, respectively concertmasters of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; Eric Nowlin, principal viola of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; and Brian Manker, the OSM’s principal cello. Their concert April 23, the finale of Mooredale Concerts’ current season, is the quartet’s third appearance with Mooredale since 2012.

Terry Robbins wrote about their latest CD of Brahms’ two Op.51 Quartets in his February 2016 Strings Attached column for The WholeNote: “Just about all of the Brahmsian qualities you would want to hear are present: these are warm, passionate, nuanced, beautifully judged and balanced performances, full of that almost autumnal, nostalgic introspection so typical of the composer and with a lovely dynamic range.”

2207 Classical 1Notwithstanding the JUNO nomination (Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensemble) for that Brahms’ String Quartets CD, which includes the A Minor Op.51 No.2 that they will perform April 23, the highlight of the afternoon will be the opportunity to hear Schubert’s Quintet in C Major D956 which represents the peak of chamber music writing. I asked Mooredale Concerts’ artistic director, Adrian Fung (also the cellist of the Afiara String Quartet, who will be playing the Cello II part in the concert), when he first heard Schubert’s Quintet in C. He said it was a recording with the Cleveland Quartet and Yo-Yo Ma. Fung was about 10 or 11, shortly after he had begun the cello. “It was transcendent,” he said. “And only later did I realize how few recordings (and performances!) respect the true dynamic markings in the first movement (where the two-cello theme is intended within a pianissimo dynamic).”

I was moved by the sheer complexity and scope of intention,” he told me. “It is incredible how each of the two cellos enables the other to let go of a supporting bass line and soar as a melody. In string quartets, when the cello soars, usually the viola needs to step in as best as it can to provide resonance below. In this work, there is an incredible spectrum of sound because of the equal balance of two violins, one viola, and two cellos. One would think there would be more cello quintets!”

His favourite configuration for performances of the work, he says, is “an established quartet playing with a guest cellist. There is so much poetry in how a group’s existing cellist plays a welcoming role – musically – to a ‘brother/sister’ joining for this masterwork. I love how in the second movement, Cello II gets such a spotlight playing a recurring, transcendent, low bass line that is at once melismatic [and] a deep pondering of life’s meaning.”

Fung first heard the piece live when he was about 15 or so (and a student at different chamber music festivals), performed by various faculty musicians coming together to give the work a reading. His relationship to it has continued to evolve: “From first as a listener, to having played both Cello I and Cello II parts with my own quartet (Afiara) and as a guest with other quartets, the work has opened up several unexpected riches with each performance. I have had the privilege of welcoming incredible guest cellists in my role in Afiara, learning especially from the late Marc Johnson of the Vermeer Quartet, my mentor Joel Krosnick of the Juilliard String Quartet, Denis Brott of the first Orford Quartet and Bonnie Hampton. In turn, I have enjoyed playing the work with the Alexander and Cecilia String Quartets, among others….The Schubert is truly something to behold, with so many layers becoming more apparent with each visit. One of my favourite performances of it was with my Afiara and Shauna Rolston.”

As for me, I first heard Schubert’s Quintet as a teenager, taken to the Eaton Auditorium by an aunt and uncle one fall afternoon. It was played by the Quintetto Boccherini and presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. I had never before been so moved by a piece of chamber music. Many years and many diverse recordings since, I still relish the opportunity to hear this sublime music live.

Music in the Afternoon: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s current season comes to a vigorous conclusion with two very different concerts. The first, on April 6, features the Toronto debut of the Aizuri String Quartet, described by WMCT’s artistic director Simon Fryer in his season announcement as “four girls in residence at the Curtis Institute,” in a program of “how young composers grappled with the past.” It’s comprised of early Beethoven (Op.18 No.6), American Caroline Shaw’s Blueprint (2016), Webern’s late-Romantic Langsamer Satz and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No.2 in A Minor Op.13, written in 1827, just months after Beethoven’s last quartet when Mendelssohn was just 18.

Then, on May 4 it’s Charles Richard-Hamelin’s turn to shine. The WMCT can be justifiably proud of their prescience in awarding pianist Richard-Hamelin their Career Development Award in April 2015. Only a few months later he became the silver medalist and laureate of the Krystian Zimerman award for the best sonata at the International Chopin Piano Competition. Take advantage of his first Toronto full-fledged solo recital since then, to hear this 27-year-old Canadian whose pianism exhibits the musicianship and maturity of a more seasoned artist. His program includes an early Schubert sonata, Chopin’s captivating Impromptus and Scriabin’s Op.8 and 9, works which owe much to Chopin.

Lucas Debargue and the TSO. The Tchaikovsky 2015 Competition keeps on giving. In the last year Show One has presented three of its prizewinners at Koerner Hall: a unique joint recital of runner-up Lukas Geniušas and Moscow Music Critics Association prizewinner Lucas Debargue last spring was followed by the Tchaikovsky Competition first-place finisher, a polished and secure Dmitry Masleev, in March 2017. Meanwhile on December 7, 2016, the TSO and a soulful Geniušas performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1. Now, Debargue will join Andrey Boreyko and the orchestra for a performance of Liszt’s poetic Piano Concerto No.2 in A Major, April 12 and 13.

If Debargue’s backstory weren’t true, few would believe it as fiction. He heard the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 K467 when he was ten, fell under its spell and into the world of music. He played a friend’s upright piano by ear before beginning lessons at 11 with his first teacher, Madame Meunier, in the northern French town of Compiègne. He credits her with helping him to find his way as an artist, but when he moved to Paris to study literature at Diderot University he stopped playing piano, using the bass guitar as a musical outlet. After being away from the piano for years, he accepted an invitation to a competition in his home province. He won and began an intense pupil-teacher relationship with Rena Sherevskaya in Paris at 21. The finals of the Tchaikovsky Competition marked his concerto debut. Many attributed his fourth-place finish to his unfamiliarity with playing with an orchestra, yet he walked away with a Sony Music recording contract. Now, at 26, he’s bringing his spontaneous and improvisatory pianistic approach to world stages. Last year in an email he said that his goal as an interpreter of music is “to find out and then keep as much as possible the spirit of the music I play. Let it live and reach the listener by being clear and expressive.”

2207 Classical 3QUICK PICKS

Apr 2: Since my article in our March issue on the Church of the Holy Trinity’s Piano Bravura series, 18-year-old Tony Yike Yang has been selected as one of the 30 competitors (and the youngest) for the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear him before he heads down to Fort Worth TX in May. His formidable program includes Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Chopin’s “Funeral March” Sonata. Apr 23: Sheng Cai’s piano recital on Holy Trinity’s Steinway includes two Scarlatti sonatas, Mozart’s K332, Chopin’s Barcarolle, Schumann’s Humoresque Op.20 and Villa Lobos’ Rudepoêma, written for Arthur Rubinstein.

Apr 2, 4, 5, 7, 8:  The ever-resourceful Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Lafayette String Quartet playing the complete string quartets of Shostakovich. Then, Apr 30, KWCMS’ season continues with a recital by the American colourist Eric Himy featuring his own piano arrangements of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue. And on May 6, the Cecilia String Quartet’s Music Room recital juxtaposes works by Kati Agócs and Nicole Lizée with Franck’s expressive Piano Quintet in F Minor (Leopoldo Erice, piano).

Apr 4: COC’s free noontime concert series features violinist Mark Fewer in “Partita Perfection.” Apr 5: The series continues with Rossina Grieco in “Piano Panache.” Apr 11: The COC Orchestra brass play works by Poulenc and Salonen. Apr 20: “Join the siblings of the Métis Fiddler Quartet on a musical voyage across the trade routes of the Northwestern frontier. Clap, jig and sing along with this award-winning group and discover the history of the Métis people in Canada through fiddle tunes and songs passed down by elders from across the country.” May 2: The COC Orchestra winds play works by Haydn, Beethoven and Jacob. May 4: Members of the COC Orchestra perform Schubert’s masterful Octet.

Apr 7: Bravo Niagara! presents Jon Kimura Parker in Beethoven’s formidable Appassionata Sonata, Ravel’s shimmering Jeux d’eau, Alexina Louie’s Scenes from a Jade Terrace and two movie-themed pastiches by William Hirtz: Bernard Herrmann Fantasy and Fantasy on The Wizard of Oz.

Apr 8: Gemma New leads her Hamilton Philharmonic in music by Beethoven, Mozetich (with solo harpists Erica Goodman and Angela Schwarzkopf) and Mendelssohn. May 6: Lara St. John joins New and the orchestra as soloist in Korngold’s Violin Concerto. The concert also includes two orchestral favourites: Strauss’ Don Juan and Stravinsky’s Petroushka.

Apr 8, 9: Violinist Scott St. John and violist Sharon Wei join Roberto De Clara and the Oakville Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s engaging Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra K364; the concert concludes with Tchaikovsky’s passionate Symphony No.6 “Pathétique.”

Apr 9: Pocket Concerts presents a diverse, exciting program featuring co-artistic director, pianist Emily Rho. After a Glass étude (No.8) and a Mozart sonata (K310), Rho takes a break while a high-powered wind quintet performs Ligeti’s compelling Six Bagatelles; then she joins them for Poulenc’s highly addictive Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet Op.100.

Apr 9: Les Amis presents Lynn Kuo, violin, Winona Zelenka, cello, and Rachael Kerr, piano, performing Schulhoff, Oesterle, Pepa and Dvořák’s charming “Dumky” Trio Op.90, in Cobourg.

Apr 9: The Royal Conservatory presents the eminent pianist Louis Lortie performing Chopin’s Études Op.10 and 25 and Preludes Op.28. Apr 28: RCM presents the Montrose Trio (Jon Kimura Parker, piano; Martin Beaver, violin; Clive Greensmith, cello; the latter two are former members of the disbanded Tokyo String Quartet) and friends (Barry Schiffman and Erika Raum, violins; Teng Li and Sharon Wei, violas; Desmond Hoebig, cello; and Allyson McHardy, mezzo-soprano) in a program that includes Brahms’ Piano Trio No.1 and Alto Songs, plus Tchaikovsky’s memorable Souvenir de Florence.

Apr 12: The Bata Shoe Museum presents the effervescent Quartetto Gelato.

Apr 16: Chamber Music Hamilton brings Quatuor Danel to Southern Ontario, a rare visit to North America for this Belgian-based quartet that is considered by some as the heirs to European quartets such as the Beethoven and Pro Arte, with whose surviving members they studied.

Apr 16: The Rosebud String Quartet, featuring COC Orchestra principal violist Keith Hamm (founder and artistic director of the Rosebud Chamber Music Festival in Rosebud, Alberta, his hometown) and COC Orchestra associate concertmaster/National Ballet Orchestra concertmaster Aaron Schwebel, performs Haydn and Schumann in historic Campbell House.

Apr 21: Remenyi House of Music presents Russian-born, British-based pianist Amiran Zenaishvili in a recital devoted to the music of Brahms.

Apr 21: TSO piccolo Camille Watts and COC/National Ballet Orchestra piccolo Shelley Brown join forces for Gallery 345’s The Art of the Flute, with a little help from their friends Erin Cooper Gay, Aaron Schwebel, Keith Hamm and Britt Riley. Apr 29: The Art of the Flute continues with RCM faculty-member Sibylle Marquardt and her friends Fraser Jackson, Monique de Margerie, Paul Pulford and Michael Donovan.

Apr 21: In the penultimate concert of Jeffery Concerts’ two-year traversal of the complete Beethoven Quartets, the New Orford String Quartet performs Op.18 No.3 and No.5, and Op.135; Wolf Performance Hall, London.

Apr 21, 22: Virtuoso German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser joins Edwin Outwater and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Dvořák’s grand Cello Concerto in B Minor Op.104; Brahms’ glorious Symphony No.3 in F Major Op.90 completes the program. May 5, 6: Soprano Measha Brueggergosman and pianist Stewart Goodyear lend their star power to “Edwin’s Pops” as Outwater leads his orchestra in PDQ Bach’s hilarious take on Beethoven’s Fifth and other musical jokes.

Apr 22: Estonian cellist Aare Tammesalu is the soloist for Dvořák’s ever-popular Cello Concerto in B Minor Op.104, the centrepiece of Cathedral Bluffs’ “Annual Fundraising Concert and Silent Auction,” which also features the composer’s beloved Symphony No.9 “From the New World,” led by Norman Reintamm, who also happens to be Tammesalu’s pianistic chamber music partner in Trio Estonia.

Apr 22, 23: Honens’ 2015 Laureate Luca Buratto is the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25 in C Major K503; RBC resident conductor Earl Lee also leads the TSO in Mendelssohn’s exuberant Symphony No.4 “Italian.” Apr 27: Buratto, whose first disc for Hyperion will be released later this year, gives a solo recital at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Apr 23: Georgian Music presents the Cecilia String Quartet in Schubert’s great “Death and the Maiden” String Quartet; Leopoldo Erice adds his pianism to Franck’s expressive Piano Quintet in F Minor. Nadia Boulanger once said it contains more ppp and fff markings than any other chamber piece.

Apr 27: The Eybler Quartet’s Heliconian Hall recital, which includes classical stalwarts Mozart’s String Quartet in E-flat Major K428  and Haydn’s String Quartet Op.20 No.2 in C major as well as two early quartets by Johann Baptist Vanhal, is also a CD-release concert for the group’s new disc of Vanhal’s Quartets Op.6 Nos.1-6.

Apr 29: TSO principal horn Neil Deland brings his ravishing sound to Brahms’ Horn Trio with pianist Peter Longworth and Trio Arkel violinist Marie Bérard. The program concludes with Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.2 in A Major Op. 26 with Trio Arkel violist Teng Li and cellist Winona Zelenka joining Bérard and Longworth.

Apr 29: Günter Neuhold conducts the Ontario Philharmonic in an all-Mozart program. Maria Sourjko is the soloist in the ineffable Piano Concerto No.21 K467; Jean Desmarais takes the keyboard in the delightful Piano Concerto No.17 K453. The exhilarating Symphony No.35 in D Major K385 “Haffner” concludes the evening.

Apr 30: Amici Chamber Ensemble (Joaquin Valdepeñas, clarinet, David Hetherington, cello, and Serouj Kradjian, piano) is augmented by violinist Jonathan Crow in a program that begins with Arvo Pärt’s heavenly Spiegel im Spiegel and ends with Olivier Messiaen’s ethereal Quartet for the End of Time; in Mazzoleni Hall.

Apr 30: Nocturnes in the City presents Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová, a pupil of the great Ivan Moravec, playing piano music by Janáček, Schumann and Smetana.

May 5: Austrian teenager, violinist Elisso Gogibedashvili, returns to Sinfonia Toronto and conductor Nurhan Arman two years after her first appearance with them when she was just 14. The program includes Mozart’s early Salzburg Symphony K137, Sarasate’s virtuosic Carmen Fantasy and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.”

May 6: The Haliburton Concert Series presents the inimitable duo of Guy Few, piano/trumpet, and Nadina Mackie Jackson, bassoon, performing works by Dutilleux, Beethoven, Buhr, Rossini and Paganini.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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