2209 art 1While Toronto’s concert scene is winding down for the summer, it’s still possible to work out a solid, if lighter and necessarily more travel-filled, art song schedule for the next three months.

June kicks off close to home, with the Music Gallery and Off Centre Music Salon/DÉRANGÉ co-presenting #IMWITHHER, a June 8 concert that puts women composers and soloists centre stage. An evening of electro-pop, modern jazz and contemporary art music is an intriguing enough mix; the contemporary segment with the mezzo Lucy Dhegrae and Lara Dodds-Eden at the piano, which includes so many composers that never get heard in Toronto, makes it a must.

One of Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations, “Heart Meditation,” is on the program. Oliveros was a fascinating twentieth-century avant-gardist – she passed away last year at the age of 84 – whose creative life spanned all the way from deep experimental electronics to an almost total withdrawal from performing and to sound creation as personal practice for staying sane and capable of listening in a disintegrating world. She also studied movement, kinetic awareness and the effect of social conditioning on the human body, and gradually merged her kinetic awareness and sonic practices into one. A group of women formed around these musical practices at the same time that the Second Wave of feminism began creating consciousness-raising groups. This new performing ensemble formed and reformed each time it would meet at Oliveros’ home. “They had been held down, musically, so long,” Oliveros said, explaining the reason behind the women-only group in an interview in late 1970s.

That composing is a whole-body activity, that it can be done by a collective, and that it can effect social and psychological change are notions that will sound foreign to our ears, but that just shows how far back our own era has retreated from the questions on the philosophy and politics of music that the musicians of the avant-garde have left us with.

Since there is no such thing as the definitive edition of Sonic Meditations, and since they tend to be textual (one recommends walking in absolute silence; another teaching oneself how to fly), what Lucy Dhegrae will do in this “Heart Meditation,” we can only guess. Actually, we probably can’t even guess. But to give you an idea of the Oliveros magic, I would recommend her Sound Patterns and Tropes, recorded on the 25 Years of New York New Music CD set, and her early Four Electronic Pieces 1959-1966 (both recordings are available in the Naxos free online music library via your library card).

Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s song Hvolf, Sky Macklay’s Glossolalia and Tonia Ko’s Smoke and Distance are also on the program. Each has already been performed and digitally preserved and can easily be found on Vimeo and SoundCloud. The art song section completes with an as-yet untitled world premiere by NYC-based composer Leaha Villarreal. And that is just one third of #IMWITHHER: Toronto-based electro-pop band Bernice will perform a selection of old and new songs (their new EP Puff is out in June) and FOG Brass Band, headed by the trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy, will complete the program. June 8 at 8pm at Heliconian Hall; tickets via Off Centre Music Salon and the Music Gallery websites and at the door.

Later in June, and quite out of town, there’s the Montreal Baroque Festival with some promising vocal offerings. On June 23, “Le Cracheur de feu,” with soprano Andréanne Brisson-Paquin and the ensemble Pallade Musica, is a program consisting of Purcell, John Eccles, Angelo Berardi, Alessandro Stradella and a world premiere by the young Quebec composer Jonathan Goulet. On June 24, Suzie LeBlanc and the musicians of the ensemble Constantinople will perform “improvisations on Italian masterpieces” (that is all the festival is willing to give away). Equally cryptic is the description of the concert by the ensemble Sonate 1704 with soprano Jacinthe Thibault scheduled for June 25, but we do know that that it will be a battle of sorts between Catholic and Protestant cantatas and sonatas that were written or published in France around the time of the early Reformation.

2209 art 2July: My suggested art song trip is to Ottawa for the Chamberfest (July 22 to August 4). July 24 is going to be particularly packed. A free daytime concert at the National Gallery led by accordionist Alexander Sevastian, titled The Mighty Accordion: A Brief History, will include operatic bass Robert Pomakov singing a selection of Russian folk-songs to accompaniment by Sevastian. At 7pm on the same day, the Toronto Consort is reprising the Catherine de Medici concert originally performed last November in Toronto, this time at Ottawa’s Dominion-Chalmers United Church. The Consort’s Laura Pudwell, Michele DeBoer, Katherine Hill, music director David Fallis, Paul Jenkins and John Pepper sang back in November, and I expect that the lineup of voices will remain similar for Ottawa. Most of the composers on the program, with the exception of Orlande de Lassus, are little known today, though some of the poets will score better (Ariosto and Pierre de Ronsard are still being read today). For those among us who regret having missed The Italian Queen of France in November, this second chance will be travel-worthy.

On that same night at 10pm at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins, the Bicycle Opera Project presents a new production of Juliet Palmer and Anna Chatterton’s garment workers opera, Sweat. I remember seeing its precursor, Stitch, on the night of its world premiere at the old and decrepit Theatre Centre almost ten years ago, and am curious to see how the musical ideas in that similarly themed opera have evolved into Sweat in the intervening years. Sweat was commissioned by Soundstreams and premiered at National Sawdust in Brooklyn last year. It’s still a cappella with five soloists, but with an added chorus, about 15 minutes longer and, in addition to English, includes lyrics in Cantonese, Ukrainian and Hungarian.

Think of August as the month for classical music in unusual venues. Classical Unbound Festival opens on August 18 in Prince Edward County, with a concert in a privately owned restored barn that doubles as a wine-tasting hall: the Grange of Prince Edward Estate Winery, which seats an audience of 80. There are two “libation-intermissions” which can also be used for the consumption of comestibles, given that picnic baskets will be on hand too. Prince Edward wine country meets Glyndebourne? Why not: Canadian land- and mansion-owners, take note, and consider starting your own festival or concert series.

Krisztina Szabó headlines the event, which opens with Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet Op. 76 No. 4 with Yosuke Kawasaki (violin I), Jessica Linnebach (violin II), Yehonatan Berick (viola) and Racher Mercer (cello). Berick and Mercer will return for John Burge’s Pas de deux for violin and cello (2011) and the entire quartet will accompany Szabó in Respighi’s Il Tramonto (1914) at the end. In the first two vocal pieces, however, the mezzo will be paired with Joanna G’froerer on flute. Szabó will sing John Corigliano’s Three Irish Folk Songs Settings for Voice and Flute (1988) and after the second intermission, Harry Freedman’s Toccata for Soprano and Flute (1968).

I asked Szabó how unusual the voice and flute pairing is in art song. “I have performed with flute before – with the Talisker Players, André Caplet’s piece Écoute, mon coeur – but I haven’t experienced this pairing more than a couple of times prior to this,” she emails back. “I think there is a fair amount of repertoire for voice and flute out there, though probably more for soprano.” Does the timbre react to the brightness of the flute, I wondered? Brightness is not the first image she associates with flute, Szabó tells me. “Of course, brightness is an aspect of its tone, but what strikes me about the flute is its warmth and roundness of tone, particularly in the middle register. I think that warmth will lend itself well to Corigliano’s Songs.” 

Freedman’s vocal piece uses phonemes for their sound rather than meaning and comes with its own set of demands and pleasures. “Because the voice and flute are equal partners and there is interplay and no words, I will be focusing on being more of an ‘instrument’ in duet with the flute. Freedom from words in art song really frees the singer up, I think, to play with colours more, and this piece has an improvisational, almost jazz-like feel.”  

Respighi’s Il Tramonto Szabó has sung before – in 2010 with Thirteen Strings – and knows it well. What should we be listening for? “It’s a beautifully expressive piece and I think audiences will be struck by the intimacy of the sound world created by the voice and ensemble, and the poetry and the drama of the storytelling. The dramatic arc makes the piece almost operatic: there is a real climax and dénouement to the story, a real scena. The music is lush and yet intensely intimate.”

Perfect for bringing summer to a close.

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

2209 Choral 1Alot of musical organizations go on break over the summer, but that doesn’t mean the end to opportunities for amazing music. Southern Ontario is lucky to have within a few hours’ drive several world-class music festivals, where there are lots of opportunities to see local and international artists at play. I’ve highlighted a few options for festivals and other exciting performances with a choral flavour.

Peter Oundjian at the helm

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Children’s Chorus are joined by soloists for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, for four performances June 21 to 24. This mainstay of choral performance is going to be a fun time. It also marks one of a handful of choral performances remaining in which you can catch Peter Oundjian on the podium before his tenure ends in 2017/18. In his remaining year, there are only three other opportunities to see him in action with a choir in Toronto before his departure. In September, Oundjian leads the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Brahms’ A German Requiem. In March 2018, he leads the Toronto Children’s Chorus in the premiere of Scottish composer James MacMillan’s Little Mass. And finally, his great send-off will be at the helm of Beethoven’s Nineth Symphony in June 2018. Flag these in your agendas and calendars. If you are a fan of choral music and Peter Oundjian, don’t miss!

The National Youth Choir of Canada

This year as part of Canada 150, the National Youth Choir of Canada (NYC) will tour Eastern Canada, performing alongside the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO) as part of the NYO’s Edges of Canada Tour. “This is a really unique year; we don’t usually do the choir every year,” says Hilary Knox, executive director of Choirs Canada. Just last year, the choir was convened under the baton of Michael Zaugg. “This year,” she continues, “the National Youth Orchestra was able to get a massive heritage grant to do a tour and to do collaborations as part of Canada 150.” Part of this work includes the National Youth Choir, who will perform and tour alongside the orchestra while also performing in their own concerts through Southern Ontario.

This year, the 40 singers of the choir are made up of musicians from every province and the Northwest Territories. Knox talks about their first-time use of YouTube auditions to have a broader reach for participants. “YouTube auditions allow us access to a number of singers we couldn’t reach otherwise.” Beverley Rockwell, a member from the Northwest Territories, enjoyed the YouTube option. “I found it quick, easy and painless,” she says. “Uploading to YouTube and sharing the link to the NYC committee was a good way to get everyone’s auditions easily, and for us to use the resources provided to us in this technological age.”

The NYC gives participants broad-based exposure to not only the choral world of Canada, but also the wider artistic community in the country. Rockwell is looking forward to this new experience. “To be experiencing it on the national scale is amazing,” she shares. “In the Northwest Territories, our choirs are small and everyone knows one another, very much like a family, but you can get quite stuck in the comfort of your surroundings…. Also, it’s a chance to gain perspective on how other singers from Canada grew up singing and how they view the wonderful country that is Canada.”

Calgary-based conductor Timothy Shantz – chorus master of the Calgary Philharmonic, artistic director of Spiritus Chamber Choir, and founding director of Luminous Voices – will lead the NYC in its a cappella pieces and solo concerts this year.

It’s a big year and an exciting one for the NYC – a chance to not only learn and perform but also to share in the intense artistry of performing with the National Youth Orchestra. “For us, to do a collaboration is so fantastic; it speaks so beautifully to our mission,” says Knox. “To bring the kids together, have them work together…it’s kind of unprecedented. The discussions we’re having with the orchestra are exciting.”

Catch them in action across Eastern Canada:

July 18 – Knox Presbyterian Church, St. Catharines, ON.

July 19 – The NYC stops by the Elora Festival to sing with the Elora Singers. Knox Presbyterian Church, Elora, ON.

July 20 – Stratford Summer Music. Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. Stratford, ON.

July 22 – Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON.

July 23 – Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. Maison Symphonique, Montreal, QC.

July 25 – Toronto Summer Music Festival. Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. Koerner Hall, Toronto, ON.

The Elora Festival

The Elora Festival takes place in Elora, Ontario, from July 14 to July 30, and is without doubt the biggest Ontario festival featuring choral music. A mainstay in the quintessential Ontario village of Elora, Noel Edison – artistic director of the festival, the Elora Singers, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir – has programmed a pretty awesome feast of choral fun. The extensive choral highlights are below:

July 14 – Opening Night Gala: “Night of the Proms.” Under the baton of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra maestro Bramwell Tovey, the EFS will be joined by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for a colonial British romp to start the festival. Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 16 – The Elora Festival Singers are joined by the Guelph Youth Singers and the Festival Orchestra in Benjamin Britten’s Saint Nicolas cantata. Lawrence Wiliford (tenor) takes the lead as the storied Bishop of Smyrna. St. John’s Church, Elora.

July 21 – The Trinity College Choir of Cambridge University, UK, joins Michael York (bass) and Zach Finkelstein (tenor). This delightful concert will feature two Magnificats written by J.S. Bach and his son C.P.E. Bach. Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 22 – Mary Lou Fallis brings a comedic touch to choral singing with the Elora Singers and pianist Peter Tiefenbach in “Primadonna Choralis.” St. John’s Church, Elora.

July 23 – The Elora Singers and Festival Orchestra perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos No.1, No.5 and Wachet Auf. Knox Presbyterian Church, Elora.

July 23 – The Trinity College Choir of Cambridge University performs works by Arvo Pärt, William Byrd, Henry Purcell, and more! Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 27 – Celebrated countertenor Daniel Taylor joins the Elora Singers and Festival Orchestra in a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. St. John’s Church, Elora.

July 28 – Cantus, an American men’s ensemble, visits the festival performing songs from the all-male canon. Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 29 – Celebrating the 150th year since Confederation, a multimedia, multi-artist performance will be staged at the Gambrel Barn featuring the Elora Singers, Richard Margison, Martha Henry, Jackie Richardson and Hugh Brewster.

July 30 – The Elora Singers close off with a concert of hymns that will include audience participation. St. John’s Church, Elora.

The Bach Festival of Canada

2209 Choral 2The Bach Festival of Canada takes place in South Huron, Exeter, Ontario from July 6 to 16. Gerald Fagan, who co-founded and leads this festival, is one of the most distinguished choral conductors at work in the country. Earlier this year, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada for his dedication and work. As an existing Order of Ontario recipient, he is known for his work with Chorus London, the Concert Players Orchestra, CHOR AMICA, the Gerald Fagan Singers, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir.

There are two choral concerts at the tail end of the festival. Fagan leads his choir, CHOR AMICA, in an intimate performance on July 15. Then, closing off the festival will be “Our Home and Native Land,” featuring the Festival Massed Choir, Festival Symphony Orchestra and soloists John Avey, Anita Krause, Leslie Fagan, and Colin Ainsworth, in performances of works by Ontario-based composers.

Elise LeTourneau, Jeff Smallman, Matthew Emery and Stephanie Martin will all have world premieres of their work at this festival. Matthew Emery, a talented and prolific composer, premieres A Song of Canada. Using thematic elements of Canada’s diversity alongside physical characteristics of its landscapes, Emery has crafted a 12-minute work for orchestra, mixed choir, children’s choir and four soloists. Emery’s text comes from the poem A Song of Canada, written by Robert Reid in 1913. “I adapted the final phrases of the work to exemplify what being Canadian means to me – the freedom to be loved and to feel safe,” Emery says. This adapted text reads: “I hear the voice of Freedom, Sing me joy, Sing me peace, Sing me worth, Sing me love, Voicing your notes that the world may hear, Sing me a song of Canada!”

July 15 – CHOR AMICA and the Festival Symphony Orchestra. Trivitt Memorial Anglican Church, Exeter.

July 16 – Gala Closing Performance: “Our Home and Native Land,” South Huron Recreational Centre, Exeter.

Quick Picks

June 3 – The Toronto Mass Choir presents “Gospel Island Grooves” in anticipation of their mission trip to the Dominican Republic. This is their big fundraiser for the trip, with guests Roberto Sanchez and Joy Lapps-Lewis. Humber College (Lakeshore Auditorium), Toronto.

June 4 – Acquired Taste is hosting their first performance, as part of Pocket Concerts! Rory McLeod, co-founder of Pocket Concerts, shares: “Acquired Taste is an amateur choir for professional musicians who normally use instruments to make music (many of whom play in top orchestras and chamber groups in Toronto). For this project, we’ve put our instruments aside and embraced the spirit of the amateur musician, learning how to sing while rediscovering the joy of making music for fun.” Mitchell Pady leads the group in its first performance, including works by Brahms, Fauré, Healey Willan, Palestrina, Thomas Tallis, and more. St. Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church, Toronto.

July 25 – Further north than Elora, you can catch the Trinity College Choir at the Festival of the Sound. Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, Parry Sound.

July 26 – Countertenor and early music specialist Daniel Taylor returns to the Stratford Summer Music Festival with the Theatre of Early Music. This incredibly refined, art-focused ensemble continues to be a pleasure whenever they perform. A choreographed presentation of the Allegri’s Miserere is on the program. The Avondale, Stratford.

August 11 – The Elmer Iseler Singers stop by the Festival of the Sound. Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, Parry Sound.

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

 You’ll notice that this year, there are overall far fewer listings for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, June 23 to July 2. This year, with a few exceptions, all events will take place in and around Yorkville.

In achieving this intensification and scaling back, Toronto Jazz has almost completely eliminated the club series (although according to director of operations Patti Marshall the festival may wish to work again with the clubs in future). Maybe, for now, it’s a good thing – quantity does not always mean quality. And after all, a few generations ago the historic Yorkville neighbourhood was a true “music hub” in this “music city” of ours.

As this magazine goes to print, 50 years have passed since the then infamous May 1967 “love-in” was held, a stoner’s throw away from Yorkville at Queen’s Park. Back then Yorkville was a mecca of art, with legendary artists performing regularly at coffee houses like The Riverboat, Penny Farthing and The Purple Onion. Following decades of developers and lucrative land deals, today there is hardly any live music in the affluent area (a shout-out to The Pilot for being the enduring exception to the rule).

So here is hoping the festival creates some buzz to bring it back. But this cannot happen without YOU! That’s right, you, WholeNote reader. More than anyone I know, you are likely to spread the word about the fact that in addition to two quality mainstages (at Koerner Hall and the newly re-opened Concert Hall), this festival will have over 100 free shows that will be happening.

I wanted to highlight a handful of these daytime performances, so I hunted down eight of the artists who will be appearing in them. To read the full interview with each artist, see this article online, where in addition to the “where, what and when” summer information included here they each recall a “most memorable summer musical festival moment.”

2209 BBB Jazz Stories 1Mark Kelso & the Jazz Exiles

Mon Jun 26 8:00pm, OLG Stage on Hazelton Ave.

Mark Kelso (drums); Jeremy Ledbetter (keys); Luis Deniz (sax); Joey Martel (guitar).

Other summer gigs? “With the Jazz Exiles, the Rochester Jazz fest and the South Coast Jazz fest. Various other festivals with Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy.”

 Most memorable: Rochester jazz fest with Soul Stew and 3000 dancing patrons going crazy.

 

Joy Lapps Project

Fri Jun 30 2:30pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland St.

Joy Lapps (steel pan); Andrew Stewart (bass); Elmer Ferrer (guitar); Michael Shand (keys); Larnell Lewis (drums).

Other summer gigs? “I’ll be performing a special show as a part of the Newmarket Jazz Festival on August 17. For that show, I’ll be playing with this same quintet opening for my hubby Larnell… We basically have the same band, because he stole my band and then added horns…. lol. But when you’re married you share everything 50/50. Plus we all love to play together so it’s kind of nice that the group gets to create together in difference musical situations. It makes for amazing chemistry and lots of running jokes.

You can find us at the Toronto Pearson Street Festival on June 17th. So far I know Michael and Larnell will join me for this date.

 And it’s not a festival, but on June 3 I will join Professor Karen Burke and Toronto Mass for Gospel Island Grooves at Humber College.”

 Most memorable: My most memorable performance at a music festival was at Antigua's Moods of Pan Festival. There's nothing like playing on the island your parents called home on a warm November Sunday (yep WARM NOVEMBER) afternoon. As a first generation Canadian born to Antiguan parents, it was an honour to connect with the audience both with my music and by paying tribute to the music of King Short Shirt, one of the island's great calypsonians.

 

2209 BBB Jazz Stories 2 CascadeJoel Visentin’s Boogaloo Squad

Sun Jul 2 2:30pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland St.

Joel Visentin (Hammon B3); Adam Beer-Colacino (guitar); Jeff Halischuk (drums).

Other summer gigs? “I’ve got a really exciting summer ahead of me with a few different projects. I’m the regular pianist with Barbra Lica and she’s playing a bunch of festivals this summer including the Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Markham, Waterloo, Niagara and Rochester Jazz Festivals. I also play keyboards in a band called Bros which is a really fun band fronted by 2 members of the rock band The Sheepdogs. We’re playing the CBC music festival, Festival D’Ete in Quebec City and the Evolve music festival in the Maritimes. Also I play regularly with a great Canadian blues guitarist Jack Dekeyzer and we’ll be doing a handful of blues festivals this summer including Mont Tremblant in Quebec.”

Most memorable: The first that comes to mind right now is when I went to Japan with Barbra Lica to play at the Tokyo Jazz Festival. I had never been to Japan before and it’s an amazing country with amazing food and some of the world’s most devoted jazz lovers.

 

Stacie McGregor

Wed Jun 28 1:00pm, Yorkville Village - The Oval

Stacie McGregor (solo piano)

Other summer festivals /outdoor gigs: I will be performing with John MacMurchy’s Art of Breath, July 1, 4:00, OLG stage Yorkville as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival. Also, I will finally be performing with the New Kollage at the rooftop garden of Princess Margaret Hospital on Friday July 21 noon-1:30pm as part of the summer Friday music series to help give relief and joy to the patients, the staff and the general public. Cost is free. This is a concert that’s been a long time coming. Featuring Archie Alleyne’s young protégé Isaiah Gibbons on drums.

Kollage will also be doing its first recording in years on the G-Three label this summer. I will also be recording a new album with Henry Heillig’s Heillig Manoeuvre this summer and am very excited about that too!”

Most memorable: Most memorable performance hands down was performing with my band The Stacie McGregor Quartet at the Montreal Jazz Festival on the main stage and was my first performance for the festival.We performed on the July long weekend at 6pm after they had 'Pied Pipered" all these enthusiastic fans to a new orleans jazz ensemble up the main strip..The street was jammed. the seats ,packed and the crowd enthusiastic...it was surreal..like a large rock concert..and the band delivered..!

 

John MacMurchy’s Art of Breath

Sat Jul 1 4:00pm, OLG Stage on Hazelton Ave.

John MacMurchy (reeds); Bruce Cassidy (EVI/flugelhorn); Dan Ionescu (guitar); Stacie McGregor (piano); Ross MacIntyre (bass); Daniel Barnes (drums); Alan Hetherington (hand percussion).

 Other summer gigs? “I hope to be part of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival in September. Other than that, I’m performing in the Toronto fest with Alex Pangman on June 24 at The Rex, and at the Yorkville stage with Alex on the 25th. On June 23 I’m performing with my trio and featuring the remarkable Jocelyn Barth on vocals at the Library Series in Thornbury, Ontario. My trio will be at 120 Diner on June 30th featuring Jessica Lalonde on vocals. There’s a theme here - I like working with singers. I’m also doing a show with Alex Pangman in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in July.”

Most memorable: My most memorable performance to date at a festival was at the Toronto Festival Mainstage in 2010. I performed with Jim Galloway and Friends and it was memorable in a few different ways. First, the G20 meeting - and protests - were going on in town and attendance was affected by the police presence. Second, it included a stellar performance from Ian Barghe on piano and it was the last time I played with him as he passed away not long after. Third, and most importantly, the band played marvellously. everyone was at the top of their game as we played lots of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Jimmie Lunceford and yet there was hardly anyone there. This has happened before where the best performances are to small and intimate audiences.

 

Brian Barlow Big Band w/ Heather Bambrick Celebrating Ella

Thu Jun 29 12:00pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland St.

“Heather Bambrick and Friends Series at Home Smith Bar (ticketed) features Russ Little Quartet: Russ Little (trombone); Tom Szczesniak (piano); Scott Alexander (bass); Brian Barlow (drums), and guests June Garber (June 23); Shakura S’Aida (June 24); Amanda Martinez (June 30); Micah Barnes (July 1). All shows 7:30pm, $35.50 + service charge.

Other summer gigs? “Well, first things first: I’m making my debut with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of June, as a part of their special CA-NA-DA! show. It may not be a festival, but I’m pretty darned excited about it!! Then, in July, I’m bringing my trio to Sunfest in London, and my Quartet to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington for their Jazz and Blues series. I’ll be joining Mark Fewer and David Braid for a unique show as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival on July 20th. This is usually a Classical series, but Mark (who is a brilliant violinist / composer) is mixing it up a bit this year and has asked me to join him. It’s going to be very interesting and exciting! In August, I’ll be with the Brian Barlow Big Band in Picton for the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival. I still consider September festival season, so I’ll be heading north to Sudbury for the Jazz Festival there, and then back with the Barlow Big Band for another Ella tribute, this time at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope.”

Most memorable: I think the most memorable experience was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, during the East Coast Music Awards. I was nominated for an ECMA, and was invited to perform (as part of the weekend's programming) with a couple of my Toronto bandmates (Micheal McClennan and Chase Sanborn), as well as some local musicians (Bill Brennan and Scott Mansfield). We were at the end of our set in a packed room and I finished with my arrangement of the Newfoundland folk song “Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s”. This is often referred to as the unofficial anthem of Newfoundland, and you could hear a faint collective humming from the audience as I started singing the first few verses of the tune. I knew people wanted to join in, so after Bill played a stunning piano solo, instead of singing the final verse a cappella, I put down my microphone and invited the audience to "take it". Every Newfoundlander in the crowd began to sing in unison, and the room was absolutely lifted by the power of their voices and the pride in their hearts. I don’t remember ever having such a special moment in a performance! I was so full of love for, and pride in, my fellow Newfoundlanders that night!!

 

Eric St-Laurent Sextet (with Michel DeQuevedo, interviewed)

Sun Jun 25 8:30pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland St.

Eric St-Laurent (electric guitar); Jordan O’Connor (bass); Attila Fias (piano); Anh Phung (flute); Michel DeQuevedo (percussion) plus a special guest.

“This summer I am focusing on getting my album and myself ready so I will not be doing much travelling. Instead I am working on getting gigs around the city either with a full band or as a solo show to gain confidence and strength as a front man.”

Most memorable: This is a hard one, I have been lucky to participate in a lot of festivals with so many great musicians, not only in Canada but also in Mexico, where I am from and many other countries.
Probably the most memorable was at a festival called “Rock al Parque” (Rock to the Park) in Bogota, Colombia with a band from Mexico City called “La Lupita”.
150,000 people were ready to party with us but everybody kept pushing forward so the people in the from lines were starting to faint and have trouble breathing and moving, at that point our lead singer said “ok everyone, we are having some issues at the front so, before we start I want to ask you all to take 3 steps back” Almost immediately we witnessed that huge mass of people moving backwards together, in unity. That image, the sound it made and the enormous cheer that came afterwards have been in my memory since then and will stay there forever.

 

Joanna Majoko Quintet

Sat Jul 1 5:30pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland St.

Joanna Majoko (vocals); David Restivo (piano); Jocelyn Gould (guitar); Mark Godfrey (bass); Ian Wright (drums).

“I will be performing with Jane Bunnett and Maqueque at the Montreal Jazz Festival just four days after my show in the Toronto Jazz Festival.”

Most memorable: My most memorable performance took place in Paris, France, in October of 2015, performing with the Otis Brown III Quartet at one of the most well-known jazz clubs, Duc Des Lombards. It was my first international gig and more so, I was performing with someone who happens to be one of my musical heroes - I had followed his career from his time performing with Esperanza Spalding, to Joe Lavona, to Somi and finally his own music. It was a dream come true performing on a stage that so many jazz legends had stood on (a rather small stage to my surprise), but it unleashed a fire inside me that has driven me in all my successes that have followed.

 

One final high note: the festival this year has brought back the late-night jam sessions, which will be happening nightly 10pm at Proof Vodka Bar at the Intercontinental Yorkville Hotel. On June 30 the house band will be the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Ensemble; on all other nights the rhythm section will be a faculty trio from Humber College: Robi Botos on keys, Mike Downes on bass and Fabio Ragnelli on drums. To quote “Over the Rainbow,” that’s where you’ll fiiiiiind me, and hopefully lots of other jazz musicians from this town and beyond. There is no cover charge for these jam sessions, so no excuses! Represent!

Wishing you all the hottest music and cool sounds you can muster this summer!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

 

Most memorable: Rochester jazz fest with Soul Stew and 3000 dancing patrons going crazy.

2209 BBB BandstandIn last month’s column, while talking about the characteristics of various performance venues, I mentioned the Foster Memorial. You might ask: where and what is the Foster Memorial, and why should it be of interest to music lovers?

This architectural gem, little known to most people in the GTA, is less than an hour’s drive from Toronto and if you are not familiar with “The Foster,” this summer could be the ideal time. In their Ontario’s Choice Awards in November 2016, Attractions Ontario named the Thomas Foster Memorial as the Top Small Performing Arts Attraction in Ontario. In the words of Troy Young, CEO of Attractions Ontario, “These awards are unique because they were chosen exclusively by the consumers that visit these sites.”

So what exactly is the Foster Memorial? Located four kilometres north of the town of Uxbridge, it is actually a mausoleum built by Thomas Foster as a memorial to his wife. Thomas Foster was born and raised in Scott Township just north of Uxbridge where his father ran the Leaskdale Hotel. He became a butcher in Cabbagetown in Toronto, was elected as an MP, and served as mayor of Toronto from 1925 to 1927. He also made a large fortune from real estate.

In his late seventies, while on a visit to India, Foster was inspired by the Taj Mahal. On his return, he built this family memorial in the rolling countryside of Uxbridge Township. While the architecture was originally inspired by Foster’s trip, its design is greatly influenced by the architecture of the early Byzantine churches. Entering through the heavy bronze doors, one is struck by the beauty of the marble and terrazzo interior, flooded by the soft light coming through the stained glass windows. The Foster Memorial is truly a unique structure. Completed in 1936, it contains three crypts: for Mr. Foster, his wife and his daughter.

In recent years this “Diamond of the Durham Region” has been the venue for a wide spectrum of events, from weddings to concerts. As for musical performances, it’s “Fridays at The Foster” at 7:30pm all summer from the beginning of May until the end of September. For soloists and small groups, the acoustics are excellent, but the layout and acoustics do not work for large groups. As for repertoire, it ranges from Irish music, traditional folk ballads, bluegrass and Broadway hits to Diana Davis performing using quartz crystal singing bowls and flute. One group which really impressed me when they performed at The Foster a few years ago was the Shimoda Family recorder ensemble. I certainly intend to be in the audience when they return on August 25 with their rarely heard authentic Baroque music.

Another Uxbridge gem: While on the subject of lesser-known performance venues, the town of Uxbridge has another gem. Since its grand opening in December 1901, the Uxbridge Music Hall, with its excellent acoustics, has been blessed with a wide range of concerts and stage productions. In 2011, for its 110th anniversary, there was a reenactment of the hall’s very first concert. On that occasion I had the privilege of performing in the recreated “Town Orchestra” for that reenactment. I even had the honour of supplying the anvil and hammer for our rendition of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore. (As for coming events, the only one that I am aware of at the moment in this significantly under-utilized venue is that of the small ensemble Quartetto Gelato, who will be performing there on September 30.)

 

Recent Events

Wellington Winds: When one looks at the scores of most works for concert bands, one finds that they frequently call for instruments that rarely get any consideration for even minuscule solos. One such instrument is the E-flat alto clarinet. If the band has an alto clarinet, it is rarely heard on its own. More often, it spends its time hidden and doubling the parts of other instruments. More often than not this instrument is the butt of uncomplimentary jokes. Rarely, if ever, is it the first choice for young players or their teachers. Now, enter Stephen Fox. A distinguished Canadian clarinetist and instrument historian, as well as a world-class clarinet builder, Fox has recently attracted attention for his new model of alto clarinet which has been receiving accolades for its warm compelling tone. Apparently, up till now, there was no known work for solo alto clarinet and wind ensemble. Enter Michael Purves-Smith: “Such a wonderful instrument deserves a significant solo voice,” he says and rose to the challenge. His concerto for alto clarinet and wind ensemble needed a name. When he asked his wife, Shannon, for a suggestion, possibly influenced by the common prejudices against the instrument she immediately responded, “Why not call it the Seven Deadly Sins”? The Seven Deadly Sins received its first performance by Stephen Fox, as soloist, and the Wellington Wind Symphony under the direction of Daniel Warren, April 30 in Kitchener and the following week in Waterloo.

New Horizons: The last time we heard from the New Horizons Band of York Region was some months ago. On a visit to one of their rehearsals in Richmond Hill there were fewer than 15 members. As with all New Horizons bands, this group is for active adults who want to learn music in a friendly, supportive atmosphere with other active adults. Now, with almost 30 members near the end of their first year of learning together, they had their first concert ever on May 25. If you have considered taking up a musical instrument, director Doug Robertson would love to hear from you. He can be reached at nhbyrdirector@gmail.com.

Silverthorn Symphonic Winds concluded their 2016/17 season on May 27 at the Wilmar Heights Event Centre with “Spring Celebration,” honouring Canada’s 150th. The repertoire featured works by Canadian composers and arrangers, including Morley Calvert, John Herberman and Howard Cable.

Wychwood: Finally, as I write this, I am looking forward to attending the final concert of the season of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir on May 28, so by the time this issue is on the streets the concert will be past history. At time of writing, I am looking forward to two matters. I hope to meet Wynne, the clarinet player from Whitehorse who rehearses with the choir over the Internet. I am also looking forward to hearing The Bridal Rose Overture by Calixa Lavallée, as arranged by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves.

Coming Events

Luminato: Fresh from their recent stunning victory at the Brass Band competition in the US, the Weston Silver Band is now taking on a very different role. This time they are onstage as part of a major musical event in this year’s Luminato Festival in Toronto. A hit of the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival, En avant, marche! is a genre-defying tragicomedy from acclaimed Belgium choreographer Alain Platel. It’s the story of a trombone player, no longer able to play his instrument due to illness, who is demoted to playing the cymbals. Throughout band practice, the larger-than-life protagonist terrorizes fellow band members, confides in the audience, sings arias and dances an unlikely ballet duet, all with exuberance and a riotous slapstick edge. Four actors and seven musicians are joined onstage by Toronto’s Weston Silver Band, playing marching band classics along with 19th- and 20th-century pieces ranging from Verdi to Beethoven and Schubert to Mahler. If there ever was a true, and truly unforgettable, celebration of the power of making music together, this sounds like it. Performances are from June 21 to 24 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

Looking Ahead

One band which has been on the local concert scene for years will not be there this coming year. After 25 years, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB) will be absent. Music director Steffan Brunette is taking a year off from the band and from his school, teaching and studying composition. In September he will take on new duties as Head of Music at a new high school in Markham. Hopefully, the UCCB will be back next year.

Saturday, June 3, at 2pm, the Festival Wind Orchestra will present their 2017 summer concert at North Toronto Collegiate (17 Broadway Ave., Toronto). Founded in 1996, the Festival Wind Orchestra is an adult community wind orchestra, which rehearses weekly under the direction of Keith Reid at Riverdale Collegiate in Toronto. Their concert will feature music by Canadian composers, including: Overture: St. John’s, 1828 by Ben Bolden; Sodbuster by Elizabeth Raum; Genesi by Vince Gassi; and Canadian Folk Song Fantasy by William McCauley. Also featured will be Jason Dallas performing Joseph Horovitz’s Euphonium Concerto. Since I am a dedicated euphonium aficionado, and having never heard of this composer, I decided to check for information on him. As professor of composition at the Royal College of Music since 1961, he is someone that we should have heard of before.

Sunday, June 4, at 7pm, Strings Attached Orchestra, under the direction of Ricardo Giorgi, will present their final concert of the season at the Isabel Bader Theatre. In the words of director Ric, “We have new, old and middle-aged music for you,” from Ravel’s Bolero and the last movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, to the rarely performed Concerto for 2 Recorders in B-flat by Telemann and a musical hoax by Samuel Dushkin. They will also give the first ever performance of the winning composition of Ric’s second annual Young Composers Initiative, called Viaggio delle Farfalle by Damiano Perrella.

Tuesday, June 6, at 8pm, Resa’s Pieces Concert Band will present their 18th annual gala at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Tuesday, June 13, at 7:30pm, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will present their final concert in their series of 59 Minute Soirees. These informal musical entertainments feature a variety of lighter music. Guests are invited to enjoy refreshments and conversation with the musicians after the concert. Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Toronto (just north of Eglinton).

Saturday, November 4, the Northdale Concert Band will present their 50th anniversary concert with the title “The Big 5-0h!” The program will include a newly commissioned work by Gary Kulesha. The concert will feature as trombone soloist Vanessa Fralick, associate principal trombone of the TSO.

Finally, in last month’s column I mentioned my belated introduction to the longtime Hart House Symphonic Band. The concert dates for their next academic year are: December 3, 2017 and April 8, 2018.

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

Look-alikes Lotte Lenya and Tilly LoschAs I start to write this column I am in Versailles with Opera Atelier, and after each rehearsal I tune into the news programs - on what seems like every TV channel - all discussing the recent election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France, his choice of Prime Minister, the ensuing choosing of government ministers, and his positive and hopeful approach to the renewal of Europe. Politics is the hot topic of the moment, particularly with the general relief at Macron’s win over Marine Le Pen of the Front National.

Then there is also the current pre-election state of the UK, made even more complex with the attack on Manchester as well as the ongoing passionate debate about Brexit. And there is the undefinable situation in the good old USA, south of our own border; the international rise of populism and its frightening similarity to Fascism; the continuing war and refugee crisis in Syria, and more.

How interesting then, that in Toronto, in June, there will be two productions in the same week that can be construed as reactions, quite different reactions, to the historical antecedents of these current political situations - specifically to the rise of Facism/Nazism? 

June 14 and 15, at Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony is presenting Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht’s 1933 classic “sung ballet” The Seven Deadly Sins in a semi-staged version by director Joel Ivany and choreographer Jennifer Nichols. Then, starting just two days later, June 16 to 18 at the Theatre Centre, Luminato presents Theaturtle’s work-in-progress production of CHARLOTTE, a genre-bending new chamber musical based on Charlotte Salomon’s life story, coming of age in Berlin during the rise of Nazism.

So, on the one hand we have a classic of the Brecht/Weill oeuvre, originally created for look-alikes Lotte Lenya and Tilly Losch, usually seen as a drivingly sarcastic condemnation of capitalism, as well as a wonderful vehicle for the leading singer and dancer who play two sisters - or are they the two sides of the leading character’s  personality? And on the other, we are offered a new work based on the life of a young girl who personally witnessed the rise of Nazism and recorded her experiences, her terrors, hopes and dreams in a series of over 700 gouaches - creating what has been described as possibly the first graphic novel or the story board for a musical of her life.

Curious about this juxtaposition and the approaches of the two creative teams to their respective projects, I reached out to both to talk about their own shows and this odd synchronicity. As it turns out the connections are, in the eyes of their respective producers, more apparent than real: the Brecht/Weill was written in the 1930s and is being presented as a “modern classic” by its producers. CHARLOTTE is an entirely new work based on historic/autobiographical material; the coincidence in timing is just that – a coincidence, and not particularly instructive.

So, are they connected? Yes, I think so, but perhaps more for the active observer reacting in one’s own time to the state of the world.

Brecht and Weill

2209 Music Theatre 2Let’s start with The Seven Deadly Sins. Part of the TSO’s ongoing “Decades Project,” it is being presented as emblematic of the 1930s and is accompanied on the program by Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celestina (as well as a newly commissioned short work for Canada’s 150th birthday).

Styled as a satirical sung ballet The Seven Deadly Sins follows the adventures of two sisters sent to seek their fortune in the big cities in order to earn enough money to buy their family a little house on the banks of the Mississippi. In each city they encounter one of the sins of the title: Sloth, Pride, Wrath, Gluttony, Lust, Avarice and Envy.  The sisters are both called Anna. Anna 1 (the singer) whose “head is on straight” is the entrepreneur type, and Anna 2 (the dancer) is the more compassionate one and also, as Brecht calls her, “the article sold.” The family acts like a Greek chorus, commenting on the events as they fall out in each city.

Creating semi-staged versions of things is at this point right up a familiar alley for Joel Ivany (artistic director of acclaimed Toronto opera company Against the Grain) and choreographer Jennifer Nichols who have collaborated previously on AtG’s groundbreaking staged Messiah in 2013, remounted in 2016, and on La Belle Hélène at the RCM. (Joel also created a semi-staged version of Mozart’s Requiem for the TSO last year.)

I was secretly hoping to hear from Ivany that he was seeing the piece from a political angle, given the current state of the world, but he said that they had decided to stay with a very straightforward approach, treating the piece as a modern classic, and coming at it from a place of “what is the music and text saying and then how are we going to show that?” They used an exploratory week at the Banff Centre at the end of the summer as a starting point and to set the company language for the exploration.

Nothing daunted I asked choreographer, Jennifer Nichols, (who, conveniently, was with me in Versailles, dancing in Médée, if there was more she could tell me about her approach to the creation of the dance elements:

“What I am hoping to achieve choreographically is that the family is simply an extension of Anna,” she said. “That their hopes and fears and judgment are her own [judgment] of herself…. At times Anna 1 and 2 blend, as if one is the puppet and the other the puppeteer, and then this dynamic switches.” Supporting the staging will also be video elements created by Nichols with Christopher Monetti, inspired by  the layering of facial symmetry and asymmetry in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and “posing the question: Is Anna 1 the sister of Anna 2, or are they two parts of the same person?”

Playing the singing Anna 1 opposite Nichols’ dancing Anna 2 is Canadian star mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, headlining a strong cast of singer/actors: Isaiah Bell, Owen McCausland, Geoffrey Sirett, Stephen Hegedus (who just played King Creon in Médée to acclaim in Toronto and Versailles), with TSO Maestro Peter Oundjian conducting the TSO.

So, look forward to a potentially interesting and well-sung version of Brecht and Weill’s 1933 classic, the last piece they would create together.

CHARLOTTE

A much more complex and ambitious project and one very much intent on portraying the state of the world as it is now as well as how it was in the 1930s is CHARLOTTE: a Tri-Coloured Play with Music.

2017 is the centenary of Charlotte Salomon’s birth, a significant milestone, and one of the sparks that led to the creation of this new multidisciplinary chamber musical.

What were the other sparks? Where did it all begin? “Seventeen years ago,” says librettist Alon Nashman, “I encountered the artistic genius of Charlotte Salomon at the Art Gallery of Ontario. There I saw over 700 paintings, stunning in their complexity and beauty. I read every word of the text she offered for what was in essence a huge graphic novel and a thinly veiled autobiography. I listened to the music Charlotte proposed as accompaniment to her images and storytelling. I fell in love with this highly intelligent and talented young artist, whose ironic take on events I thought I already knew well is completely disarming. I mourned for the loss that her immediate death at the doors to Auschwitz represented. Here was a profoundly and articulate witness, not only to the atrocity that was Nazism, but to a complex stew of artistic, familial and societal transformation.”

Unable to shake the notion that Charlotte wanted her work to be performed publicly, Alon dreamed of adapting this painted/indicated singspiel “Life? Or Theatre?” for the stage. The next step was to find the right director who would understand from the inside Charlotte’s world and artistry. Through the help of Canadian-bred producer Liz  Bradley, Nashman found  her in British director and sceneographer Pamela Howard, who had already been thinking independently about creating a piece based on Charlotte’s work. Pamela in turn introduced Nashman to composer Aleš Březina, one of the leading lights of European composition for theatre, and director of the Martinu Institute in Thessaloniki and the Czech Republic, and the creative team was complete.

The development process began with meetings in 2013 and 2014, leading to a first three-week workshop at Canadian Stage in 2014. On their promotional video the team state that their goals were to create a fully 3D realization of Charlotte’s visions and images, in an equal partnership of text, movement/image and music. By the end of the first workshop they had an initial footprint for the production to grow from. In 2016 there was a further music workshop, and this year a double workshop residency at Kingston’s Isabel Bader Centre and at Toronto’s Theatre Centre leading up to a return visit to the Bader June 1 for a concert premiere, and then the upcoming work-in-progress performances for Luminato which will have full sets, props, and costumes, although production details will continue to evolve.

All three CHARLOTTE collaborators declined any specific political alignment or direct artistic parallel to The Seven Deadly Sins other than that of recognizing the general use of art to ridicule and expose the moral bankruptcy of the Nazi regime, particularly through the way of  theatre that Brecht and Weill established. Pamela Howard suggests that a more appropriate parallel would be Brecht’s Theatre poems or his dictat “Show what has to be shown.” Much more clearly they all three talk about bringing this specific story to life: “This beautiful portrait of a decline of a flourishing multicultural life in Berlin (or Germany or Europe) in the late 1930s…the link not only to today but to all times to come” as Březina puts it. Or in Howard’s words “The inspiration or rather determination…to create something that reinforces the power of art to survive beyond human life…not simply a reaction to Nazism, tragic as that is, but (to) the current political repetition once again that is daily witnessed (that) is motivating artists all over the world to make work together that speaks louder than words.”

Nashman says: “Charlotte did not know how the war would unfold but she had a sense that everything she associated with civilization was being destroyed. She sets the date of her creativity as ‘Year One of the New Salvation.’ Her remarkable premonition was that out of the ashes of Europe would arise a new and better civilization. And that she would likely not survive to see it.”

Charlotte in exile had only three colours of paint to create her series of 700 + gouaches images. From three colours she made a myriad colours. This “tricolour” is the tricolour of the subtitle of the show, but it also refers to the three collaborators, to the equal importance of words, images, and music coming together to communicate a world and story. All three collaborators champion this idea and process. In Březina’s words: “We were like three sides of the same person, discussing every small detail together to find out a solution, which (would) always display all three aspects inevitably intertwined.”

Finally, I asked the three what they wanted to create for their audiences, how they wanted their audiences to emerge from the experience of the project. Howard summed up their goals: “To experience a remarkable - yet horrific - story and to come out changed” she said. “I think of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as a guiding principle. We have to be optimistic for the future otherwise…how can we go on? The Soviet Union fell, Hitler died, Idi Amin ceased to exist and Rome fell. People suffer, but the human spirit will rise, as Brecht said ‘In the dark times - will there also be singing?’”

And a last word from Nashman: “Charlotte’s artistic response to her tribulations make me wonder if there is a young woman in Aleppo today painting her life, or writing poetry or songs, in order to survive.”

 Works like CHARLOTTE: a Tri-Coloured Play with Music, giving us new windows on times we don’t want to return to, are essential to the survival of the human spirit.

Is CHARLOTTE an example of how the art of music theatre is becoming more widely and wildly experimental, pushing the envelope, breaking the box, becoming more strongly political? Or is it just that there happens to be a whole bunch of this happening clearly and visibly right now?

The rest of the line up at Luminato is an interesting case in point. More than half the productions could be described as falling under the music theatre umbrella, but from under the shelter of that umbrella are breaking and making  new rules, becoming radically diverse, more connected to the world around us, engaging with hot button topics through art, wanting to shock, perhaps, but even more wanting to engage and connect with audiences and the world around us. Active political theatre-making in the best sense.

2209 Music Theatre 3Staying with the offerings at Luminato for a moment, King Arthur’s Night, (whose composer Veda Hille also co-created Onegin which continues until June 4 at the Berkeley Street Theatre), is a new take on the classic legend, commissioned by Luminato from British Columbia’s Neworld Theatre. This world premiere is co-created by Hille, Marchus Youseff, James Long and writer/co-creator Niall McNeil - an artist living with Down syndrome who grew up in the midst of BC’s Caravan Theatre. The production  features a fully integrated professional cast, which includes actors from Burnaby, BC’s Down Syndrome Research Foundation, a live band and a 16-person choir: “An upside down world. A Betrayed Love. An unwanted child. Animals learning to walk and talk. A revolt by the subjugated masses. A kingdoms come undone. This isn’t the King Arthur you know.”

Nearby on Front Street, the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre will house a custom-built performance space for two very different cross-genre productions to tell epic stories from two different cultures.

Bearing is a world premiere dance-opera by internationally acclaimed theatre-maker Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree), playwright/director Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) and librettist Spy Denomme-Welch (Anishnaabe). It explores the legacy of Canada’s residential school system through music, dance, and spoken word, presented in three sections on a nearly bare stage with - in the words of the creators - “live music being integral to the audience’s understanding of the work,” and with music ranging from Bach to Vivier to new pieces composed for this Signal Theatre production. Actor and singer Marion Newman (Kwagiulth and Sto:lo) leads a company of actors, singers, and dancers,  a custom built choir, and members of the National Youth Orchestra in what promises to be an unflinching yet poetic look at this difficult and enduring scar on Canada’s history.

Until the Lions is a tantalizingly feminist dance/music theatre project drawn from Karthika Nair’s “Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata,” a collection of poems about the overlooked female characters in the Sanskrit epic.  Director and (award-winning) choreographer Akram Khan, who spent two years as a performer in Peter Brook’s renowned international nine-hour version of the full Mahabharata, declares that “as in many myths, the female characters are often the unsung heroes, the figures of strength and imagination and endurance. It is their unsung stories in particular that still haunt me today.” His “Until the Lions” fuses traditional kathak with contemporary dance and live music (an original score) to explore the tale of one of the these women, the Princess Amba, who invokes the gods to seek revenge when her chances of love and marriage are stolen from her.

 The juxtaposition of these two new works in a custom built in-the-round space should prove to be fascinating for the avid music theatre goer to see. How will the space affect the different productions and how will each make use of it, and to what effect?

Worth a look as well for their promised pushing of genre boundaries are Vertical Influences, an ice-skating double bill by Montreal’s Le Patin Libra aiming to move skating into the theatrical arena (one piece being about bullying); Breakin’ Convention, an international  festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre from Sadler’s Wells, London, and UK hip hop pioneer Jonzi D; and an award-winning production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia which promises, in the style of theatre pioneer V. Meyerhold, a blend of words, music, mime and symbolism.

Elsewhere in the City

Soulpepper brings us Porgy and Bess in Concert (June 1-3 ) as well as the closing performances of their very successful run of “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.”       The National Ballet of Canada unveils their new production (and Canadian premiere, of John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire (June 3-10 using music and dance to reimagine Tennessee Williams’ famous play, focusing on exploring themes of memory and loss. The ballet has a new first act, set to romantic music by Sergei Prokofiev and picks up the familiar story in the second act to more jarring, fragmentary music by Alfred Schnittke.

On a lighter note, the Gerald Isaac studio presents a short run (June 29-July 2) of Sweet Will.

This time-bending musical transforms the Bard’s most iconic works into a new story “rife with song and sass that strikes a powerful synthesis between old and new.” The exhilarating musical hodgepodge originally from 1985 is dressed up this time in spectacular Steampunk style, with Tony Award-winning Lance Mulcahy’s original book enhanced by a new script, and is under the direction and choreography of Stratford alum and Canadian theatre great Gerald Isaac and musical direction of Dora Award-winning Bob Ashley. See their Sweet Will Facebook page for more information or universe.com for tickets.

A bit further afield

The Stratford Festival, underway from mid-April, is getting into full swing with two musicals onstage: the wonderful Broadway classic Guys and Dolls directed by Donna Feore, with Ben Carlson as Sky and Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown; and the perennial G & S favourite  H.M.S. Pinafore directed by Lezlie Wade. For one day only, on June 24, at 2:00 pm., you can also catch Stratford Company member and Tony-Award winning singer and actor Brent Carver in concert with The Art of Time Ensemble at the Avon Theatre in a program of songs  by Charles Aznavour, Leonard Cohen, Kander and Ebb, Elton John, Jacques Brel, Noël Coward and others, arranged especially for this concert by a selection of the best composers and arrangers in Canada.

At the Shaw Festival, Me and My  Girl continues its run until October 15. The sparkling and fun British musical about whether a Cockney man can give up his old life – and love -  to join the upper class, was famously a hit in London’s West End starring Emma Thomson in full tap dancing mode in the 1980s; in the 1930s, when it premiered, it was so successful that its hit song and dance “The Lambeth Walk” was so popular across Europe during the Munich Crisis that an article in The Times of October 18, 1938, quoted a contemporary poet: “While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances – to The Lambeth Walk.”

Summer Stock

Ontario’s long Summer Stock Season has also begun with many performances around the province featuring both new Canadian and traditional Broadway musicals.

The WWII theme continues at the 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook with David S. Craig’s musical Bombers: Reaping the Whirlwind,  a new play with music danger and romance about Canadian bomber crews “as they struggle to win the war.” The new Canadian musical about Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope by John Connolly and Peter Colley, plays at the Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge, as well as the King’s Wharf Theatre in Penetanguishene. Broadway musical favourites Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are coming to the Drayton Festival Theatre, and Huron Country Playhouse, and Thoroughly Modern Millie comes along at the beginning of July to the St Jacob’s Country Playhouse.

For more details on Summer Stock shows see our own listings and helpful websites summertheatre.ca, or summerfunguide.ca.

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.

2209 BBB Mainly MostlyZuze – pronounced “zoo zay” – is a project which communicates musically, instrumentally, what it means to straddle the lines of two or more different cultures. Its essence is emblematic of the experience of many first-generation citizens, especially immigrants. One such citizen is Zuze’s bassist, Arif Mirbaghi, whose interest in these blurred lines became a foundational stepping stone to the band’s inception.

Mirbaghi explains: “I wanted a project that spoke to the way culture shifts around identity across generations. Canada is built on nascent identities, and Zuze aims to prove just how beautiful that diversity can be.”

The collective draws its repertoire mostly from popular tunes familiar to folks from Iran, especially the northern region. This is my ancestry, too: my paternal ancestors were Jewish Kurds living in the north of present-day Iran, so when I showed Zuze to my dad, he recognized some of the tunes (none of which were familiar to me) from his youth, and demanded to know why I was all of a sudden interested in Persian music.

The folk and popular music of Iran is, on its own, a fascinating study in the way cultures bleed into each other. Zuze, though, muddies the waters further, by filtering these melodies through multiple sets of multicultural ears: those of Mirbaghi who knows them intimately, those of band members including co-arranger and alto sax player Bruce McKinnon, to whom they’re a little more novel, and finally, ours – the listeners’.

I’d been interested in Zuze for a while, but it wasn’t until this week that I went to see them live, in the back room of the Tranzac Club. Before they went on, the audience was given a short dance lesson. I observed from the sidelines, because I cannot and do not dance, but if any music was the stuff to dance to, this was it.

Mirbaghi banters with the audience between songs, and it seems very improvised, but less off-the-cuff, and more stream-of-consciousness. It’s kind of poetic sometimes, in an off-kilter way. But then they launch into these grooves, these very groovy grooves, these destined-for-restless-feet grooves, which serve as a red carpet for the incoming melody, played assertively or sweetly or coyly by up to five melodic instruments: trombone, trumpet, two saxes and violin, often in a tight unison.

Very little emphasis is placed on solos (not that they don’t happen) because, to my mind, this music is geared more towards showcasing beautiful songs in tight arrangements than using known songs as vehicles for improvisation.

Going to a Zuze show can be a rowdy experience or a contemplative one, I think. You can dance, or you can sit on the sidelines and think about things – for example, about how far removed you may or may not be from the cultures that effectively created you, and how important (or how unimportant) it may be for you to reconnect. Or you could do both.

I have to say, lately, I have started to find that a lot of live music that I like and I think is good doesn’t sound fresh anymore, and Zuze is one of a few groups that’s scratching me where I itch. Maybe they’ll scratch you, too.

Zuze will be heard at Mel Lastman Square on the afternoon of July 1. Keep an eye out for more future gigs at Zuze.ca.

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

 

2208 Classical 1The Toronto Symphony Orchestra embarks on a seven-concert, five-city tour of Israel and Europe in May, their first overseas tour since the summer of 2014. All told, nine works and two superstar guest soloists (one established, one emerging) will be toured. This is the first time the TSO will visit Israel, performing in Jerusalem at Sherover Hall in the Jerusalem Theatre, Israel’s largest centre for art and culture and at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, home to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Both concerts will feature Israeli-Russian superstar violinist Maxim Vengerov in Brahms’ lyrical Violin Concerto in D Major, Toronto-born composer Jordan Pal’s Iris (which had its successful world premiere at the recent New Creations Festival) and Dvořák’s dramatic Symphony No.7.

From Israel, the orchestra travels to Vienna with Vengerov, to be joined there by soprano Carla Huhtanen and the Wien Singakademie for a performance of Boulez’s harmonic soundscape Le soleil des eaux. Bartók’s masterpiece, Concerto for Orchestra, completes the Vienna program. Then it’s off to Regensburg in southeast Germany where pianist Jan Lisiecki takes over from Vengerov as the soloist, in Schumann’s popular Piano Concerto. (Lisiecki’s Deutsche Grammophon recording of the work was warmly greeted when it was released last year.) That concert opens with Oscar Morawetz’s charming Carnival Overture based on tunes from his Czech homeland. Rounding out the Regensburg program, concertmaster Jonathan Crow’s role in Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade is considerable (and available on the TSO’s Chandos recording from 2014) and his wonderful solo playing should be appreciated by this new audience.

The Morawetz remains on the program as an appropriate opener for the TSO’s first Prague appearance (at the famous Prague Spring International Festival) where it’s followed by Vengerov in the Brahms and the Dvořák Seventh. The second Prague concert opens with another specific audience nod - Smetana’s Overture to the Bartered Bride followed by Lisiecki’s Schumann and Bartók’s masterwork. The orchestra is dedicating the Prague concerts to former TSO Music Director Karel Ančerl. The tour then wraps up with a visit to Essen in west-central Germany with Morawetz, Schumann and Rimsky Korsakov on the bill.

Most importantly, the tour is an opportunity to bring the TSO (and the city) to new horizons and wider attention, re-establishing its European profile and introducing it to Israeli audiences. For a preview of six of the works being toured, check out concerts in Roy Thomson Hall May 3 - Morawetz’s Carnival Overture, Huhtanen in Le soleil des eaux and Crow in Scheherazade; and May 4 - Jordan Pal’s Iris, Lisiecki in the Schumann and the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra.

Post-tour, Sir Andrew Davis takes the podium for two programs. May 26 to 28 Beethoven’s Symphony No.7, a rhythmic tour de force and an essential component of the classical canon, is preceded by Grieg’s expressive Piano Concerto with the engaging Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and TSO principal flutist’s swan song, Griffes’ Poem for Flute and Orchestra. June 2 and 3, the Decades Project takes centre stage with a program reflective of the 1930s: Hindemith’s Music for Brass and Strings, Berg’s touching Violin Concerto (with Crow as soloist), Walton’s biblical oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast. It’s a busy month.

2208 Classical 2The Cliburn: Three Canadians are among the 30 competitors in the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held in Fort Worth, Texas: Algerian-born Mehdi Ghazi, Vancouver-born Tristan Teo and Chinese-born Tony Yike Yang. All three are no strangers to international competition - in 2015 Yang became the youngest prizewinner in the history of the International Chopin Competition. At 18, he’s the youngest participant in The Cliburn, with Teo, at 20, not far behind.

The schedule is gruelling and rigorous. In the preliminary round - May 25 to 28 - each pianist will perform a recital of their own choosing not to exceed 45 minutes in length and must include the commissioned work, Toccata on “L’homme armé,” (five minutes in length) written by Marc-André Hamelin who is also on the jury. “At least the piece isn’t too long,” Hamelin told me in a recent interview. “They asked me for four to six minutes and it ended up being about five. So it’s sort of a quick and painless injection.” “How many times will we hear that piece of yours?” I asked. “At least 30,” he answered. So the public and jury and worldwide audiences alike will have ample opportunity to get sick of it.”

The second round held on May 29 and 30 consists of 20 competitors who must again perform a recital of their own choosing not to exceed 45 minutes in length. Only complete works will be accepted and repertoire from the preliminary round may not be repeated. By the time of the semifinal round, June 1 to 5, there will be only 12 competitors left. Phase 1 of the round has each pianist performing a recital not to exceed 60 minutes in length with repertoire consisting of complete works of their own choosing not previously played in the competition. Phase 2 of the round will have each pianist perform a Mozart piano concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan.

By the final round, June 7 to 10, the jury process will have eliminated all but six competitors. Phase 1 of the round will have each pianist perform a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet. Phase 2 will have each pianist perform a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The pianists may choose any work scored for full symphony orchestra and piano.

Fortunately the competition will be widely available. The #cliburn2017 webcast will encompass over 110 hours of life performances, announcements, interviews, short features and other behind-the-scenes footage. All content will be available both live and on demand, for free, to viewers around the world at
cliburn2017.medici.tv (which will also host a variety of editorial content in English, Russian, French and Mandarin Chinese). The live stream will also be available at cliburn.org and medici.tv.

The jury, chaired by Slatkin, consists of distinguished pianists Arnaldo Cohen, Christopher Elton, Hamelin, Joseph Kalichstein, Mari Kodama, Anne-Marie McDermott and Alexander Toradze.

On April 2, I got a sneak peak at Tony Yike Yang’s Cliburn playbook. In the second of the Piano Bravura series at Church of the Holy Trinity, Yang electrified the audience with Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 in E Major Op.109 (which he will be playing in the preliminary round of The Cliburn) and Chopin’s Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor Op.35 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (which he hopes to play in the semifinal round). I for one hope he makes it at least that far. I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to be dazzled by the Mussorgsky once again.

QUICK PICKS

May 2: COC’s free noontime concerts spotlight chamber music this month beginning with members of the COC Orchestra playing wind octets by Haydn, Beethoven and Jacob followed on May 4 by Schubert’s delightful Octet. May 23 the winners of the Glenn Gould School Music Competition perform. Toronto Summer Music artistic director Jonathan Crow presents a sneak preview of this summer’s festival featuring emerging artists May 24.

May 4: Charles Richard-Hamelin gives his first full-fledged solo recital since his silver medal at the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015. Presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, his program includes Mozart’s Fantasy K397, Chopin Impromptus and Mazurkas, a selection of Babadjanian and Schumann’s Sonata No.1, an early work reflective of his alter egos Florestan and Eusebius.

May 5, 6: Soprano Measha Brueggergosman and pianist Stewart Goodyear lend their star power to “Edwin’s Pops” as Edwin Outwater leads the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in an evening of musical humour. May 10, 12, 13: Violinist Aisslinn Nosky leads the orchestra in her curated program of Vivaldi, Handel, Bach and Geminiani. May 26, 27: Mahler’s thrilling Symphony No.1 and John Adams’ setting of Emily Dickinson, Harmonium, serve as the “Grand Finale: Edwin’s Farewell” marking the end of Outwater’s ten-year tenure as the symphony’s music director.

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. Sarasate’s virtuosic Carmen Fantasy is reason enough to attend.

May 6: The Haliburton Concert Series presents the inimitable duo of Guy Few, piano/trumpet, and Nadina Mackie Jackson, bassoon.

May 6: Lara St. John joins Gemma New and the Hamilton Philharmonic as soloist in Korngold’s seductive Violin Concerto.

May 6: Katarina Curtin’s String Quartet No.3 and Nicole Lizée’s Isabella Blow at Somerset House share the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s Music Room with Franck’s expressive Piano Quintet in F Minor in a recital by the Cecilia String Quartet (with Leopoldo Erice, pianist). May 17: K-WCMS presents flutist Suzanne Shulman and harpist Erica Goodman in an entertaining program of duets for this unusual pairing. May 24: The K-WCMS Music Room welcomes Israeli pianist Ishay Shaer in a program of Coulthard, Prokofiev and Schubert. Shaer repeats the same program in Toronto four days later.

May 12: The Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s final concert of the season includes Wagner’s majestic Siegfried Idyll, a Vivaldi flute concerto, Tchaikovsky’s fateful Symphony No.4 and the winner of the Young Composers’ Competition.

May 13: The Pacifica Quartet concludes Jeffery Concerts’ two-year complete Beethoven string quartet cycle with an early (Op.18 No.2), a middle (Op.95) and a late (Op.132) quartet.

May 19: Gallery 345 presents Trio Conventano, an unusual combination of flute (Dakota Martinů), cello (Thomas Beard) and piano (the charming Philip Chiu), in works by von Weber, Gaubert and Martinu. Jun 7: Acclaimed pianist Robert Silverman performs two Beethoven sonatas (No.1 and the great No.21 “Waldstein”) and the four Chopin Scherzos.

May 20: The Kindred Spirits Orchestra welcomes Younggun Kim as soloist in Brahms’ echt-Romantic Piano Concerto No.2. Kristian Alexander also leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ glorious Symphony No.5. May 26: Kim gives a free noontime recital presented by Music at St. Andrew’s with a technically demanding program that includes selections from Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études and Kapustin’s Variations.

May 20: Ensemble Made In Canada and bassist Joseph Phillips conclude this season’s 5 at the First chamber music series with music by Bach, Rossini, Kelly-Marie Murphy and Vaughan Williams (the substantial Piano Quintet in C Minor).

May 21: Bradley Thachuk leads the Niagara Symphony Orchestra, Chorus Niagara and soloists Allyson McHardy, mezzo, and Lida Szkwarek, soprano, in Mahler’s intense and beautiful Symphony No.2 “Resurrection.”

May 28: Syrinx presents the well-regarded Israeli pianist Ishay Shaer performing the penultimate Schubert Sonata D959 and Prokofiev’s dramatic Sonata No.6, the first of his “War Sonatas.”

May 28: The Windermere String Quartet’s upcoming recital includes Mozart’s very first string quartet K80, written when he was 14, and Schubert’s final string quartet, No.15 D887, written in ten days when he was 29.

May 29: Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (in this case, Leslie Dawn Knowles, violin; Gary Labovitz, viola; and Britton Riley, cello) perform Schubert’s 16 songs from Die schöne Müllerin D795 (transcribed for violin and viola) and Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat Op.3. Jun 5: ATSO presents the Zephyr Piano Trio in works by Haydn, Luedeke, Piazzolla and Brahms.

May 31: Westwood Concerts presents “Hearing Double,” music for two clarinets (Michael Westwood and James Petry) and piano (Megumi Okamoto) by Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Krommer, Joplin and more.

Jun 3: In collaboration with Sistema Toronto, Ronald Royer conducts the strings of the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra in a program featuring cellist Shauna Rolston, young artist Cynthia Ding (violin) and teachers and students from Sistema Toronto performing Tchaikovsky, Popper, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn and Jim McGrath.

Paul Ennis is the Managing Editor of The WholeNote

2208 Jazz Stories 1Toronto is full of great musicians, as WholeNote readers know all too well. So abundant is our wealth that certain players get lost in the publicity shuffle – particularly the sidemen, and especially the humble ones. One such unsung hero is pianist Peter Hill, frequently an accompanist to Toronto treasures such as Laura Hubert and Alex Pangman, as well as hundreds of singers at a popular jazz open mic, Lisa Particelli’s “Girls Night Out (where gentlemen are welcome too)” for over a decade now. In music he is dependable and consistent; in person he is pleasant if a bit bashful, with a sense of humour that borders on existential. A veritable whiz at transposing tunes and swinging at any tempo, it is not surprising to learn that he has a doctorate in algebraic topology. We sat down at Faema Caffè on Dupont to discuss singers and players, life and music. This was a path that he naturally followed from a young age:

“Music was in my family. My father played a variety of instruments and my uncle was a professional trombone player so we had an LP of his band. When I was little I would see my dad playing – he was never a professional, but I remember seeing him in the Santa Claus Parade. He was mainly an alto saxophone player but he played piano so he showed me how to read chords. Growing up, I did a little bit of classical – I wasn’t a great student – then I decided I wanted to be Elton John and that lasted about one summer. But I practised a lot that year. And the following year I joined a Dixieland band; I was about 19. I went back and had more lessons in my 20s, with a guy named Darwyn Aitken, who a lot of people studied with at that time. He was from South Porcupine near Timmins, a classical guy but he also played some jazz and Latin.”

His decision to pursue mathematics was more practical than passionate:

“I was fairly good at math in high school but I didn’t go to university after high school – I was playing a fair bit of traditional jazz – but then I decided that I was wasting my life because I wasn’t doing anything during the day. So I went back to school and tried a whole bunch of things. I chose math because there are no essays in it. My undergraduate took forever because I was taking two courses a year and I was playing all through that time. Once I was in graduate school I wasn’t really playing music at all. My PhD took five years – coming out of graduate school is when I started doing stuff with Laura again.”

JUNO-winning powerhouse Laura Hubert, whose fascinating career took her from Kurt Weill to indie-rock stardom then back to the blues, is best known for being co-founder and lead vocalist of the Leslie Spit Treeo. She met Hill while studying drama at the University of Toronto, through mutual friends.

“I did pretty well drag him out of the basement,” recalls Hubert. “I’ve known Peter Hill since 1979. He was in school and I was in school, and there was a party at UC Playhouse and some of his classmates were in the theatre program, and that’s how I met him. Then we just sort of got together every week to learn some songs. We didn’t even have a show, we would just go through the real jazz vocal book and that’s how I got to singing tunes like Don’t Blame Me and Skylark. After my record deal, Jerome Godboo left his Monday night residency at Grossman’s and Christina asked me if I wanted to do Monday nights. I thought, perfect! So I called Peter and we played that gig every Monday for nearly a decade. Grossman’s is where we worked out a lot of these songs. Peter has the fastest left hand in the business. He’s a damn good player, that’s for sure, and he works well with others. He’s my bandleader but he’s more like an old friend.”

Hill’s penchant for feel-good swingin’ is also put to great use by “Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing,” vocalist Alex Pangman. Known for her honest, sentimental approach to music of the 1930s, it’s hard to believe that this sweet-voiced stylist of song is a two-time double-lung transplant. A shining example of how music can provide inspiration, she is an advocate for organ donation, swing music and a huge proponent of Hill as well:

“Working with Peter Hill is a delight,” says Pangman. “He communicates well and really cares. He wants the singer to be comfortable. On top of that he knows a million songs. Often on stage you’ll hear me say: “Peter, we have a request for <insert random song>. What key would I sing that in?” And Peter will just start playing it in my key. I call him a singer’s best friend because of that, and have done so for about a decade! He just never lets me down. I appreciate how steadfast he has been, which in the world of gigging musicians, can be a rare thing. His fidelity to my band, the Alleycats, is honourable and he is very much a supporting pillar to my sound. He’ll write out the changes lickety split if I throw some truly obscure song from 1935 to him. He’s probably so good at all this because his mind works through tunes mathematically (he is a professor after all) but he plays with great colours and has a wonderfully artistic, thoughtful and rhythmical feel to his playing. He’s a pal, a father figure and a really good man to have in the trenches with me when they sound the battle call.”

Hundreds of singers, this writer included, met Hill through Lisa Particelli’s GNO Jazz open mic, where he sensitively accompanies vocalists of all levels along with Ross MacIntyre on bass. The unique jam experience that jam host/founder Particelli set up back in 2005 is all about fostering community, education and connection with no tolerance for bad attitudes, on or off the bandstand. Part of the charm is the variety of talent; all are encouraged to sing, regardless of experience. Hill’s combination of patience and sensitivity, as well as his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook, makes accompanying someone who has never been on stage easy as pie.

“Musicians have talked to me thinking that it must be awful to deal with – the different level of performers – but actually I never have had a problem with it. People are generally doing their best. As with any open mic, sometimes people come up who are not very good, I’m fine with that. Experiences I haven’t liked in music are usually with players that might be fairly good but have an attitude that makes them unpleasant. I haven’t really experienced that at Girls Night Out – maybe once or twice – but those people tend to not come back because they think they are too good for it, so it works out.”

Recently Hill has been holding down a weekly Tuesday night residency at La Rev (2848 Dundas St. W.) where he performs in duo format with a guest instrumentalist each week.

“The prototype for me is an album by Dave McKenna with Joe Temperley on baritone. I played there with Chris Gale, but he has a conflict on Tuesdays because he usually hosts the Rex jam. So I did it with Shawn Nykwist a few times – he is a great player and in my opinion undervalued. I enjoyed that, so I do play with him every third week, and then I do it with other people including people I hadn’t played with before, including some great guitar players like Jesse Barksdale and Reg Schwager. I love that this is on an acoustic piano that the venue maintains – it belongs to the owner, Indira, and she takes good care of it since she is a musician. I always look forward to Tuesday nights.”

La Rev is a real gem in the junction, for those looking for live music paired with Mexican cuisine. Dinner reservations are recommended at 416-766-0746.

2208 Jazz Stories 2Rick Wilkins Back to the theme of unsung heroes, Ensemble Vivant is putting on a very special tribute to saxophonist and arranger Rick Wilkins, taking place at Grace Church on-the-Hill on Thursday, May 11, at 7:30pm, in celebration of his recent 80th birthday. Wilkins is best known for his arrangements for Oscar Peterson, Anne Murray, the Boss Brass and others; he also wrote for Ensemble Vivant for over 25 years, a group which he describes as “the highest calibre chamber music-making.”

Led by pianist Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant’s genre-diverse repertoire culls classical with modern musical styles, and has been acknowledged as a pioneer in the piano-chamber music world. Says Wilson of Wilkins: “Rick’s charts are original, sparkling with imagination, always fresh and always a joy to perform…It has been the highest honour and pleasure for me to work with Rick all these years. Our performances of his music have brought lasting joy to so many audiences of all ages.”

Repertoire at the concert will range from J.S. Bach to Jerome Kern, to Astor Piazzolla, Ernesto Lecuona, Leroy Anderson, Isaac Albeniz, Charlie Chaplin and George Gershwin, to originals by Rick Wilkins. Special guests joining Ensemble Vivant will be jazz greats Guido Basso on flugelhorn, Mike Murley on tenor sax and Brian Barlow on percussion. Proceeds from the concert will benefit EUTERPE, a non-profit charity which among many initiatives brings live high-calibre, interactive performances of classical, jazz and related popular styles of music to children and others who might not otherwise be exposed to these opportunities. For more information visit:
euterpemusicarts.com

Support live music and on your way out be sure to tell the band how much you enjoyed their performance. Kind words go a long way to making an unsung hero’s heart sing!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

2208 Art of SongThe Canadian Art Song Project is going big for the 150th birthday of the federation and Toronto’s biggest contemporary music festival 21C will host the party: 12 poets in a song cycle world premiere with four singers and a piano, alongside two song cycles for baritone and piano both performed for the first time in Ontario. And when I say party, I am not exaggerating. All three composers will be in attendance on May 25 at the Temerty Theatre at the RCM, as will most of the poets (Lucy Maud Montgomery and E.J Pratt have good excuses), and will stay after the concert together with the singers and pianists for an open panel conversation with the audience and to answer questions.

Marilyn Dumont’s lower-case titled poem dawn always begins in the bones is where composer Ana Sokolović got the title for the largest work on the program, a cycle commissioned by the CASP’s two artistic directors, Steven Philcox and Lawrence Wiliford. “We wanted something quite substantial to celebrate the sesquicentennial,” explained Philcox when we caught up with him in late April. “Both of us wanted to find a piece that would be a bit larger in scope, and that would possibly be breaking some of the established traditions of the song cycle.” They asked Sokolović, a composer known for her flair for incorporating the dramatic and the visual into her music as well as for the keenness to experiment, to create a cycle for four voices (SMTB) rather than one. She used texts by a wide range of poets; they hail from all the provinces, ethnic backgrounds, ages and poetic philosophies. There are poets from the past (E.J. Pratt and L.M. Montgomery) but most of the poems are by our contemporaries: Marilyn Dumont, George Elliott Clarke, Lorna Crozier, Christian Bök, Herménégilde Chiasson, Rienzi Crusz, Roo Borson, haiku writer Nick Avis, Ariel Gordon and the late Quebec Automatist Claude Gauvreau. Musically too, says Philcox, “Sokolović managed to capture the vivid and varied landscape of Canada.”

Sometimes a song may start as a solo and proceed as a duo or start as a duo that progresses into a trio. Everything will be in flux over the 40 minutes of the duration of the piece. There are times in the cycle when singers are tasked with playing ukulele and percussion instruments, and playing on the exposed piano strings with mallets. The young director and frequent collaborator with MYOpera, Anna Theodosakis, was hired as the “directorial eye” in putting this piece with a strong visual component together.

By the time of the two workshop performances they already knew, Philcox says, that the work would have the alchemy of that rare perfect combination between the creators and performers. It was clear to them from the beginning that “It’s Canada’s youngest talent who should be presenting it – those who will carry us into the bicentennial.” Four of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio members sing the songs, soprano Danika Lorèn, mezzo Emily D’Angelo, tenor Aaron Sheppard and baritone Bruno Roy, and will be accompanied on the piano by the head of the Ensemble Studio, Liz Upchurch. Their enthusiasm for the project and their youthful energy further fuelled the cycle. Sokolović has gotten to know the singers over time and has occasionally made adjustments to play to their specific strengths. Lorèn and D’Angelo went to meet with her in Montreal and after hearing them sing the composer was so inspired by their companionship in timbre and their joint beauty of sound that she wrote a song for them literally overnight: she rushed to find the suitable poem immediately after the meeting and worked on it, sleep be damned, until it was done.

For those of us impatient to hear it, Dawn Always Begins in the Bones will have its ante-premiere in the COC’s noon-hour vocal series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre on May 17. On May 25 at the RCM, however, it will be presented in a full-sized concert (plus the post-performance discussion) with two other vocal works, by Andrew Staniland and by Lloyd Burritt.

2208 Art of Song 2

Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier for baritone and piano was originally composed for American Opera Projects: Composers and the Voice in 2008 and had its world premiere in Santa Fe with an American cast of musicians. The poem by Wallace Stevens is very distantly based on the character Peter Quince, the director of the tradesmen-players ensemble in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The text actually dwells more on the story from the biblical Apocrypha about Susanna and the voyeur elders – and the unnamed woman who brought the story to the narrator’s mind. Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk / Is music. It is like the strain / Waked in the elders by Susanna and on and on; perhaps it is a Peter Quince-like figure attempting art song composition with no music other than Wallace Stevens’ poetic sense. On the music inherent in the poem itself a lot has been written (there’s a compilation of key excerpts from a number of studies on the University of Illinois’ English Department poetry pages) so adding actual music to it must have been an intriguing kind of a challenge. You can find out how Staniland solved this puzzle by heading to YouTube, where the composer generously uploaded the entire piece with the visuals closely following the score. “Writing is often sparse and rhythmically fraught and quite ferocious,” Philcox says about the music. “The baritone gets to do a lot of interesting things, including sing in the falsetto range.” Iain MacNeil will be accompanied by Mélisande Sinsoulier from the piano.

Sinsoulier and MacNeil will also perform the final song cycle in the program, the BC-based composer Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem set to the serial poem of that name by Robin Blaser (1925-2009). “It’s a piece that harkens back to the more traditional musical landscape and complements the rest of the program,” says Philcox. “It’s very evocative, lush at times, very melodic and tonal.”

Quick Picks

Natalie Dessay returns to Toronto for a recital at Koerner Hall May 2 with the always brilliant Philippe Cassard at the piano. (Search for his name in the French public radio stations France Musique and France Culture websites; he unfailingly gives enlightening and entertaining interviews.) The program, conceived under the very broad umbrella of “Women’s Portraits,” includes Mozart, Gounod, Schubert, Pfitzner, Debussy, Bizet and Chausson, plus possible encores. Dessay is not best known for her Lieder singing, but after her soft retirement from the stage she is now moving into the art song territory – her latest CD is an all-Schubert recording with Cassard at the piano.

The COC’s lunch-hour Vocal Series is particularly rich this month. On May 9, mezzo Allyson McHardy will sing Schumann’s Poèmes de la reine Marie d’Écosse, Zemlinsky’s Six Songs after Poems by Maeterlinck. Rachel Andrist is at the piano. May 10, COC’s Ensemble Studio tenor Aaron Sheppard sings Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation based on the poetry of Thomas Hardy and May 11 one of Ensemble Studio’s mezzos Lauren Eberwein and the members of the COC orchestra present a program of two Bach cantantas, Ich habe genug, BWV82, and Vergnügte Ruh, BWV 170. Tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon will perform Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin in their final Ensemble Studio graduation concert on May 18. All concerts are free and start at noon in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

The very last two concerts to be played by Talisker Players as a presenting ensemble are their May 16 and 17 performances of “A Mixture of Madness. Soprano Ilana Zarankin will sing Purcell’s Mad Songs for soprano, strings and continuo, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of William Blake for soprano and oboe and Marina Tsvetaeva’s Insomnia set to music by John Plant (with saxophone and piano). Baritone Bruce Kelly will sing a song from Mitch Leigh’s musical Man of La Mancha, “The Impossible Dream,” in the chamber ensemble arrangement by Laura Jones. He will also interpret Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King. The Talisker Players-commissioned Alice Ping Ye Ho’s The Madness of Queen Charlotte (text by Phoebe Tsang) for flute, viola, cello and piano will have its world premiere on the same night. Actor Andrew Moodie will read from select letters, diaries and memoirs. Concerts start at 8pm but there will be pre-concert chats starting at 7:15pm on both nights; at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

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

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. 

Back to top