2206- BBB - On Opera 1.jpgThis March offers a feast for opera lovers who fancy a taste of something other than the standard opera fare. There are several opera rarities and two world premieres on offer and they are so scheduled that an intrepid operagoer can see them all.

The month begins with the world premiere of Odditorium from Soundstreams running March 2 to 5, a theatrical presentation of excerpts from R. Murray Schafer’s 12-opera Patria cycle. Director Chris Abraham has taken four sections of the cycle to create a 75-minute theatre piece for two singers (Carla Huhtanen and Andrea Ludwig) and two dancers in which Ariadne, one of the cycle’s reappearing characters, goes deep into a labyrinth where she encounters sideshows, lovers, buskers and Tantric experts. Schafer’s music has been re-scored for harp, accordion and percussion. Since the company devoted to presenting Patria last produced part of the cycle in 2013, Odditorium will provide audiences with a rare chance to become acquainted with Schafer’s magnum opus.

Krása’s Brundibár: Overlapping with Odditorium, running from March 3 to 5, is the first-ever performance by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company of Brundibár by Czech composer Hans Krása (1899-1944). Brundibár is an important children’s opera since it was written by a Jewish composer in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and first premiered in a children’s orphanage in Prague in 1942. By the time of the performance, Krása had been transported to the concentration camp in Terezin (then known as Theresienstadt). By the next year almost all the chorus and staff had also been transported to Terezin. Terezin was set up as a model camp for propaganda purposes and the inmates were allowed to pursue the arts. From 1943 to 1944 Krása and his casts performed the opera 55 times. (According to new CCOC artistic director Dean Burry, the cast had to be constantly replaced as children were sent on to Auschwitz for extermination.)

One would not know the gruesome circumstances surrounding the opera from the work itself, though. It concerns a brother and a sister who try to earn money for milk for their ailing mother by singing in the town square. Brundibár, an evil organ-grinder with a moustache, chases them away, but with the help of three animals and the children of the town, the children chase him away.

I spoke with Burry, who was involved in the first production of the opera in Toronto in 1996. He said, “Since the opera is only about 35-minutes long, the CCOC received permission to use the film The Lady in Number 6 (2013) to frame the live performance. The film is about Alice Herz-Somers, who played the piano for Terezin performances and whose son was in the opera. We will also be using songs from the cantata For the Children (1996) by Canadian composer Robert Evans (1933-2005) that uses poetry written by the children of Terezin.” The CCOC’s production will mark the 75th anniversary of the work’s first performance in Prague. That the opera should have been performed in a concentration camp, Burry says is “a testament to the power of art.”

One question is how aware the young performers are of the historical context of the opera. As CCOC’s managing director Ken Hall wrote me, “As for the understanding of the kids, we have taken some pains to educate them on the circumstances of the opera. They have met John Freund, a Terezin survivor who attended the opera in the camp and had a lecture session with children’s novelist and holocaust educator Kathy Kacer. Some of children will be taking the production on tour this summer where they will actually visit the Terezin memorial.”

Concerning what it is like to work with children, director Joel Ivany wrote me, “What I enjoy about working with these younger performers is the expectation that they have for this experience. They know they are working with opera professionals and they’re trying their best to think about stagecraft, musicality, character and focus. Also, to see the sheer joy they get when you give them a prop to use is a great reminder of why we do this.”

2206- BBB - On Opera 2.jpgThe Masqued Man: The second world premiere of the month, running March 10 and 11, is Toronto Masque Theatre’s The Man Who Married Himself by composer Juliet Palmer to a libretto by Anna Chatterton with choreography by Hari Krishnan. The story derives from an Indian folktale about a man who, unwilling to marry a woman, creates a lover from his own left side. He is enchanted by her perfect beauty until he finds that this new woman longs for freedom and desires someone else.

Chatterton describes the background of her libretto: “While writing the libretto for The Man Who Married Himself, I was inspired by the work of contemporary Indian poet, scholar and translator A.K. Ramanujan. His renowned collection A Flowering Tree (1997) includes the original folktale which underpins our contemporary masque. Ramanujan’s work as a translator led me to the mid-17th-century Telugu poet Kshetrayya, whose erotic devotional songs [or padams] were written for, and in the voice of, the dancing courtesans who performed for both gods and kings. For me, these padams bring to life the sensual and intimate world of the original folktale The Man Who Married His Own Left Side.”

Palmer mentions that she began writing the opera while in India: “My earliest work on the piece was while I was in residence at the Kattaikkuttu Sangam in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. This is a training school for girls and boys in the traditional vernacular music theatre form of Kattaikkuttu. I worked collaboratively with students exploring the original folk tale through vocal and movement-based improvisation…Members of the creative team (Anna, Hari and myself) express ourselves through our own creative voices, grounded in our respective traditions. The dramatic combination of song and dance is common to many Indian forms of music drama, but unlike the role of movement in Western opera, dance is an equal partner in the work.”

The opera will feature countertenor Scott Belluz, jazz vocalist Alex Samaras, improvisational Carnatic singer Susha and dancers Jelani Ade-Lam and Sze-Yang Ade-Lam. The piece is directed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière. Larry Beckwith conducts a six-member period instrument ensemble. The percussionist’s set-up will include hurdy-gurdy, tom-tom, cymbal, rattle, woodblocks, triangle, cowbell and hand drum. Following TMT’s motto of presenting “performing arts in fusion,” The Man Who Married Himself will thus combine song, music and dance as well as East and West.

Two 18th-century rarities: Also noteworthy this month are two 18th-century rarities being presented by Toronto opera schools. On March 15 and 17 the Glenn Gould School presents La cecchina (1760) by Niccolò Piccinni (1728-1800). It is a perfectly delightful comic opera that anticipates Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (1786) by focusing not on the deeds of historical or mythological characters but on the lives of ordinary people of the composer’s own time. Cecchina is conducted by Les Dala and directed by Marilyn Gronsdal, a frequent assistant director with the COC.

At the same time, March 16 to 19, University of Toronto Opera presents the seldom-performed Handel opera Imeneo (1740), a piece for only five soloists. The production is directed by Tim Albery, who directed the COC’s fantastic Götterdämmerung. This opera is on a much more intimate scale. As Albery describes it: “At an estate by the sea five young people struggle with increasing desperation to unravel a tangled, intractable web of love, gratitude, loyalty and friendship.” This will be the Toronto premiere of Imeneo and, according to U of T Opera Administrator Catherine Tait, likely “the Canadian premiere of the original (1740) version in which the title role is sung by a bass.” The work will be conducted by renowned countertenor and early music specialist Daniel Taylor.

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

2206- BBB - Art of Song 1.jpgThe French Revolution is an inexhaustible source of fascinating characters, but I would bet my culottes that most of us would draw a blank before the name of Théroigne de Méricourt. This goes even for those of us who seek out female characters in history and for whom Olympe de Gouges, Charlotte Corday or Madame de Staël do ring a bell or two. Yet de Méricourt was a figure of immense notoriety in her own era, both veiled and amplified by myth, royalist propaganda and gossip by her contemporaries and the 19th-century historians alike.

She was a demimondaine who moved from job to job and region to region, and before 1789 mostly worked on trying to build a singing career. She moved to Paris when the Revolution called, attended the debates at the National Assembly, joined revolutionary clubs, argued for inclusion of women in them, and founded her own short-lived one before joining the Cordeliers. (During this time, her alter-ego concocted by the royalist pamphlets lived a life of insatiable promiscuity and fighting at the barricades. Plus ça change for women in public life.) Austrians arrested her as a “revolutionary spy” during a visit to her home region, then under Austrian occupation. She spent several months in a fortress and in between interrogations wrote her biography which would have to wait 100 years to be published.

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Freed thanks to the intervention of the Austrian emperor, she returned to Paris to find the tenor of the Revolution radically changed. She sympathized with the Girondins, but the Jacobins were ascending, and during the Terror she was captured and publicly whipped by a group of sans-culottes women for her politics. This brought about a breakdown from which she never recovered. Soon after, de Méricourt was committed to an insane asylum and spent the remaining years of her life locked in cells, increasingly demented, occasionally under the watch of a conservative pioneer of clinical psychiatry Dr. Esquirol who, like a great number of historians since, argued that her life was proof that a revolutionary shakeup of the hierarchies can clearly only have one outcome: madness. (In 1989, Élisabeth Roudinesco made a better argument in her Théroigne de Méricourt biography: a woman who found her voice during the Revolution lost it – together with her reason and liberty – when the Revolution betrayed its own ideals.)

It’s the Théroigne (her name brings to mind the word témoigne, the French word for bearing witness) in Austrian captivity that we will hear as one of the three voices in Magnus Lindberg’s Accused: Three Interrogations for Soprano and Orchestra on March 22 and 23 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Finnish soprano Anu Komsi. The TSO co-commissioned the piece with Radio France, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and NYC’s Carnegie Hall. This will be its North American premiere. To quote the composer’s publisher Boosey & Hawkes, “ Accused explores three documented cases of the individual under attack from the state, from three countries and three different centuries.”The world premiere took place in London in 2015. For the occasion the soprano (Barbara Hannigan) was placed within the orchestra, vocal line at times intentionally submerged by the orchestral forces. The text in the middle part is from a 1960s Stasi interrogation in East Germany, while the final one is adapted from the trial of Chelsea Manning, the US army whistleblower sentenced by a military court to 35 years of imprisonment for leaking 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks, including the infamous 2007 US Apache gunsight video that shows the killing in a public square in East Baghdad of a handful of Iraqi civilians suspected of insurgency, a Reuters journalist holding a camera and his driver. In one of the last acts of his presidency, U.S. President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence (the 29-year-old is expected to head home to Maryland in May this year). There is a final twist to the story of Accused. The course of time has cast a shadow over WikiLeaks itself, which was potentially enlisted by subterranean actors with connections to the Russian government in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. But that’s material for another composer.

There are few reviews around and no recording of Accused just yet. The available accounts from concertgoers suggest that Lindberg did not compose the vocal line in concertante with the orchestra, but in an often losing struggle of contrast and friction against the orchestral power. In interviews Lindberg cites Luciano Berio’s 1965 Epifanie as a model. Epifanie is a better-documented work, with a recording on the Orfeo label available, and a couple of streaming captures on YouTube, all with Cathy Berberian in the vocal role, and a good page on IRCAM online archives, should the fancy strike. The text for the Epifanie was built up by none other than Umberto Eco from quotes from Proust, Joyce, Brecht, Antonio Machado, Edoardo Sanguinetti and Claude Simon.

How to introduce oneself to Lindberg, one of the busiest and most productive European composers around, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmoniker and the Concergebouw, past composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic and London Philharmonic? Here are his own words from the liner notes of a recent recording: “Though my creative personality and early works were formed from the music of Zimmermann and Xenakis, and a certain anarchy related to rock music of that period, I eventually realized that everything goes back to the foundations of Schoenberg and Stravinsky – how could music ever have taken another road? I see my music now as a synthesis of these elements, combined with what I learned from Grisey and the spectralists, and I detect from Kraft to my latest pieces the same underlying tastes and sense of drama.” Kraft is one of Lindberg’s earliest breakthroughs, a dramatic noise piece for electronics, a large orchestra and an ensemble of soloists which includes clarinet, two percussionists, piano, cello, a sound master and a conductor, each of whom is expected to leave their respective station and perform extended techniques on a set of makeshift instruments. There’s a solid online record of Kraft performances and history, including backstage and instructional videos, all of which is a hoot to explore. If you prefer an intimate listening of a piece for which you don’t have to do anything but let it wash over you, go for Lindberg’s Second Cello Concerto (commissioned by the LAPhil in 2013), which is a marvel.

Kurtag’s Fragments: A performance of Kafka Fragments is never to be missed if opportunity presents itself. Last heard in Toronto in 2014, the György Kurtág work for soprano and violin is an intense, technically demanding set of short pieces with bits of text taken from Kafka’s diaries and letters. Two of the world’s best known interpreters of the work, soprano Tony Arnold (of International Contemporary Ensemble) and violinist Movses Pogassian, will perform it in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo on March 26 and 27, respectively. Both musicians rehearsed the Fragments with Kurtág himself in 2008 and preserved a video document of the collaboration on their Kafka Fragments DVD+CD from 2009. The two have performed the work in over 30 venues since. The Toronto concert is a fundraiser for New Music Concerts at Gallery 345 and it’ll include a screening of the Kurtág collaboration, gourmet comestibles and socializing with other new music lovers. The ticket for the whole event is $100 ($150 for two), with charitable receipts issued for the CRA allowable portion. For a regularly priced performance ($35) at an even cosier venue, head to Kitchener-Waterloo where the K-W Chamber Music Society will be hosting the same concert the day after. KWCMS is a chamber music series privately run by Jan and Jean Narveson and hosted in the Music Room, a concert hall in his own house, professionally equipped for recitals and seating 85. Kafka Fragments in such a setting will be quite an experience.

Royal Canadian College of Organists is throwing a movable Bach concert with walking, organ showcasing and quite a lot of singing: soprano Jennifer Krabbe, tenor Matthew Dalen and baritone Daniel Thielmann are all listed as soloists. (Wo)manning the organ in each of the churches will be Michelle Cheung, with Mel Hurst accompanying. The program has not been made available as of print time, but the three church locations have – the organ and the acoustics will be put to test in Kingsway Baptist, All Saints Kingsway Anglican and Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic. Rain or shine (or March sleet), March 18, 1pm to 3pm. starting at Kingsway Baptist. Free, though donations are welcome.

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

2206- BBB - Early Music.jpgNot being an art critic, and indeed like most musicians completely unable to draw anything beyond crude stick figures, I find the iconography of Renaissance paintings difficult to interpret. I am however, willing to bet that the images in a typical painting by Hieronymous Bosch are bizarre enough to give most art critics a conniption fit trying to figure out what they are supposed to mean.

Some scholars argue that the Flemish painter’s fanciful and often downright weird imagery should be read allegorically, as it was intended to lampoon both contemporary mores as well as a hypocritical clergy, while others argue it was proof that Bosch was on a drug trip, specifically ergotism (google “St. Anthony’s Fire”). I’m unwilling to come down on either side of the debate, but I would like to volunteer the possibility that a certain amount of Bosch’s work was a nascent form of art for art’s sake. I mean, given the opportunity, who wouldn’t want to paint a man shitting out a flock of blackbirds while being eaten by bluebird-headed monsters?

What’s interesting for musicians about Bosch is how much music is in his work, and that he clearly finds a great deal of it immoral. Like it isn’t even subtle. In The Ship of Fools, a monk and nun sing along with the boat’s drunken passengers (one of whom is seen retching over the side, having overimbibed) while accompanied by a lute. In The Haywain, a cart of hay is being pulled by a creepy looking crowd of animal-headed demons toward hell and everlasting damnation. The haywain’s main passengers, a man and woman, are oblivious to this despite the apparent entreaties of both a guardian angel and the appearance of Christ a few feet above their heads – they’re too busy studying a piece of printed music in front of them while a white-robed lutenist plays for them, accompanied by a faceless blue demon on an eldritch clarinet.

While I doubt the examples above mean Bosch was completely against music in all its forms, they do show he was not only concerned about music’s ability to corrupt otherwise good people, but was someone who believed that music had a very real power to influence the character of its practitioners and listeners, and that music-making was just as much an ethical experience as it was an aesthetic one. It’s perhaps in this spirit that the Toronto Consort is presenting the Cappella Pratensis as part of its special guest series. The Canadian-led ensemble – their artistic director is Stratton Bull, a native of Cobourg, Ontario, with degrees from U of T and the Royal Conservatories of Toronto and The Hague – is a Belgian-based group that has made Franco-Flemish music its specialty, and their concert, on March 3 and 4 at 8 pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre is devoted entirely to composers based in Belgium whose music would have been performed in Bosch’s lifetime.

Although few music lovers in Canada go out of their way to praise Belgian composers, the country was the source of the leading composers of polyphony from the early Renaissance, so Pratensis has a wealth of music to choose from. This concert will likely feature the Missa Cum Jocunditate by Pierre de la Rue from the group’s latest album, released last year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the painter’s death. If you’re interested in Renaissance music, this is a very interesting concept for a concert program and Cappella Pratensis is a group that has mastered the art of polyphony.

Catch this concert if you can.

Nicola Benedetti: Cappella Pratensis isn’t the only international early music group to show up in town this month. Already with eight recordings under her belt, superstar 29-year-old Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti is a seasoned performer of violin pyrotechnics. She’s already recorded the Bruch and Korngold violin concertos, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op.35, which in the modern classical world makes her a wunderkind. “But can she play early music?” is probably the main question critics and concertgoers will ask, and I’m excited to hear what the answer to that question will be. Benedetti will answer it when she appears with the Venice Baroque Orchestra, itself a very fine performing ensemble, under the direction of the Italian harpsichordist Andrea Marcon.

They’ll be playing a massive program of Italian works meant, one assumes, to highlight Benedetti’s formidable talents. But even a talented young superstar and orchestra will have to work hard to hold the audience’s attention for the entire Four Seasons by Vivaldi (itself of full CD length); Avison and Geminiani concerti grossi, a Galuppi concerto, and another Vivaldi concerto are tacked on to the program, for good measure. This kind of show can easily clock in at two and a half hours, and if done well can be an absolutely sublime experience – anything less and the audience will feel like they’ve been beaten into submission. Benedetti’s clearly intended to be the main event in this concert, and this will be a great opportunity to get a look at a brilliant young soloist who can cross over between modern and early repertoire with ease. She has been a regular visitor to Toronto concert halls and will hopefully return in a similar capacity. You can catch this concert as part of the Royal Conservatory’s string series on March 3 at 8 pm at Koerner Hall.

Cor Unum: It’s always good to see new groups on the music scene, and there’s a new group in particular in Toronto that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time now. The Cor Unum Ensemble formed late last year and despite being under a year old is already putting together some ambitious concerts of difficult repertoire. This month, they’ll be playing the St. John Passion by Bach along with the violinist Adrian Butterfield, who will be filling in as guest director of the ensemble. Butterfield is not so well known outside of the United Kingdom, where he is one of the co-founders of the London Handel Players, but he has a dozen recordings to his name that mainly feature late-Baroque and early classical works. He also has the unique honour of being the resident Naxos recording artist for the label’s collection of the complete sonatas of Jean-Marie Leclair, so branching out from Handel and the mid-18th century to Bach seems like a logical shift in repertoire for this chamber player. For its part, Cor Unum is mainly a group of younger players who are both new to early music and the Toronto music scene, and it will be interesting to see what the group will be able to accomplish when under the direction of a veteran player like Butterfield. Youthful vigour applied to standard repertoire like the St. John Passion can make for exciting results, especially combined with the guidance of a leader who is experienced in early music performance practice. Catch this concert at Trinity College Chapel on March 12 at 7:30pm.

Stylus fantasticus: Finally, if your interests lean more towards chamber music than vocal or orchestral extravaganzas, consider checking out a program dedicated to a musical movement from the early Baroque known as the stylus fantasticus. It isn’t particularly well-known today, meriting a mere stub of an article in most musical encyclopedias, but without the stylus fantasticus, Western instrumental music as we know it would likely not exist. It was first mentioned by the Jesuit and polymath Athanasius Kircher, who, writing in 1650, described the stylus fantasticus as “the most free and unrestrained method of composing, bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject; [it] was instituted to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony and the ingenious composition of harmonic phrases and fugues.” Certainly before the Baroque era, the chance to compose music freely wasn’t really a possibility for composers. Musical form was largely limited to either the repeating rhythms of dance forms or based on a set melody like a Gregorian chant. Not only was the stylus fantasticus the first chance for composers to test their creativity, but it brought new prominence to the potential of instrumental, rather than vocal, music.

Four hundred years later, it’s easy to see what got Kircher so excited: no instrumental music means no symphonies, and no freedom of form means no sonatas or other compositions that can develop over a couple hundred bars. For the first time, composers, or competent improvisers, could let their imaginations roam freely, limited only by their knowledge of harmony or their technique. Rezonance (full disclosure, I am a founding member of the group) will be performing Italian and Austrian works in this style from the early 17th century as part of the Hammer Baroque series at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hamilton (320 Charlton Avenue West) on March 18 at 4pm, and at Gallery 345 on March 19 at 3pm. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box chamber music concert this month, this is a concert that invites you to enjoy composers who broke free from tradition and cliché and gave listeners a chance to hear musical creativity at its most expressive. You’ll definitely enjoy what they dreamt up.

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

2206- BBB - Choral 1.jpgMozart’s Requiem has captured the imagination of singers for centuries and continues to be a staple of choral repertoire the world around. It is wrought with emotion and feeling. Instrumentalists appreciate the compositional techniques and the understandable, intuitive flow of the music. Singers love the shape, grandness and dynamism of the music. Listeners love how it all fits together. But the Requiem is unfinished, which makes it the greatest piece of unfinished music ever written.

There is so much to like with the Requiem, from the powerful choral exclamation of “Rex Tremendae” and the gentle fragility of “Lacrimosa,” to the energetic fugue that finishes the written portion with “Cum Sanctis.” Many a chorister has fallen in love with this piece while hearing it or singing it for the first time. Many choristers are choristers because they heard and fell in love with this piece at some point in their life. Such is Mozart’s enduring legacy and ability. There is an extraordinary number of Requiem performances in the month ahead. It is also quite remarkable that none of these performances conflict; you could, in theory, see every single performance.

March 4, 7:30pm, the MCS Chorus presents Mozart’s Requiem. The program will also include Salieri’s Te Deum and short dramatic excerpts from the play Amadeus by Peter Schaffer at First United Church, Mississauga.

March 11, 8pm, Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra along with the Hamilton Bach Elgar Choir, Saint Joseph’s Church Parish Choir and the Grand River Chorus presents a requiem double bill with Fauré’s Requiem and Mozart’s Requiem, both in D Minor at P.C. Ho Theatre, Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, Scarborough.

March 25, 8pm, Voices Chamber Choir presents “Tallis and Mozart.” Ron Cheung conducts Mozart’s Requiem and Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah. Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Toronto.

March 26, 2pm, David Bowser, artistic director of the Mozart Project, and newly appointed conductor of Pax Christi Chorale, presents “Requiem and Farewell to a Soul Ascending.” Featuring a world premiere of Bowser’s own work, Farewell to a Soul Ascending, it will also include Mozart’s Requiem performed by the Toronto Mozart Players and the Hart House Chorus at the Church of the Redeemer.

April 1, 7:30pm, the Etobicoke Centennial Choir takes on the Mozart Requiem under conductor Henry Renglich. Other smaller works will be performed from Brahms, Rutter, Poulenc, Duruflé and Schubert at Humber Valley United Church, Etobicoke.

April 2, 2pm, the Hart House Chorus presents Mozart’s Requiem. This wonderfully unique, storied choir continues to be a high-quality ensemble made up of students, faculty, staff and community at the University of Toronto. David Bowser conducts at Hart House, Great Hall, University of Toronto.

April 2, 4pm, the Eglinton St George’s United Church Choir presents “Magnificent Mozart,” featuring a host of smaller works including Handel’s Zadok the Priest, Whitacre’s Alleluia and Mozart’s Requiem under conductor Shawn Grenke.

Get thee Hence, Elijah! Another great choral staple is Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah. As some readers will recall, in November last year, three of the largest choral groups in Ontario performed it on the same weekend, Pax Christi Chorale, Chorus Niagara and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This work is larger and more grand than Mozart’s Requiem; as such, it is hard to marshal the necessary forces to perform it effectively.

When sufficient power, technique, rehearsal and judicious artistic interpretation combine, there is nothing quite like a full performance of Elijah. It is discomforting with its praise and worship of Baal, it is exalting with its “Thanks Be to God,” it is comforting with its hymns “He Watching over Israel,” the ethereal “Lift Thine Eyes,” and the heartbreaking “Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord.” Elijah has, in my opinion, the most beautiful musical setting of the Beatitudes ever composed with “Blessed Are the Men Who Fear Him.” Elijah also has one of the most significant bass solos of any grand oratorio, “It Is Enough; O Lord, Take My Life.” It is the song of a broken man, lost in the wilderness, in need of guidance and love set to an evocative string accompaniment featuring a solo cello. Mendelssohn accomplished a unique success with Elijah. Once more popular than Handel’s Messiah, it is easy to see why the piece is so loved.

March 5, 2:30pm, the Georgetown Bach Chorale will be presenting “Choruses from the Great Masses and Oratorios.” The performance will include Haydn’s “The Heavens Are Telling” from the Creation, “Qui Tolis” from Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, “He Watching over Israel” and “Thanks Be to God” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, as well as selections from Brahms’ A German Requiem. Though not an entire presentation of Elijah, it will be a treat to hear this work presented along with other great songs from signature oratorios and masses across the choral canon.

March 25, 7:30pm, the Stratford Concert Choir presents Mendelssohn’s Elijah. With a host of soloists and a full orchestra, the ensemble will be led by Ian Sadler at St. James Anglican Church, Stratford.

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2206- BBB - Choral 3.jpgIf Mozart’s Requiem or Mendelssohn’s Elijah isn’t enough to satisfy your thirst for the great symphonic choir, there are a host of other grand options ahead. I’ve further highlighted a selection of other interesting choral performances throughout the region.

Mar 3 and 4: The Toronto Consort has been providing some exceptionally captivating music of late. For “Triptych: The Musical World of Hieronymus Bosch,” they are welcoming Dutch early music group Cappella Pratensis to Toronto. Conducted by Canadian Stratton Bull, the eight-member, all-male ensemble specializes in the music of Josquin des Prez amongst other composers of Renaissance polyphony. For this particular concert, they are presenting Triptych: The Musical World of Hieronymus Bosch.Typical for the ensemble, they will perform around one large book using original notation as well as the Brabant pronunciation of Latin; at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Mar 19: York University’s Concert, Chamber and Men’s Choirs present Carmina Burana. This big, bombastic, iconic choral work of Carl Orff is well-loved for its eccentricity, technical breadth, and satisfying aural experience. Lisette Canton conducts at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, Toronto.

Apr 1:The York University Gospel Choir performs with Karen Burke at the helm at the same venue.

Mar 19: Music At St. Thomas’ presents the “Choir of Men and Boys from Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa.” Matthew Larkin is the conductor of this all-male choir that was founded in 1891 and remains the only remaining all-male choir in service of an Anglican Cathedral in Canada. Here they perform a run-out show at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church, Belleville.

Mar 25: The Elmer Iseler Singers help celebrate renowned soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian’s new CD. “The Journey to Canada from Armenia” will feature Armenian sacred music of the 13th to 20th centuries with Lydia Adams at the helm; St. Anne’s Anglican Church.

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Apr 1: The Guelph Chamber Choir presents Bach’s St. John Passion. This is another great staple of grand symphonic choral works, but like any Bach, notoriously difficult to prepare and execute. The Guelph Chamber Choir under Gerald Neufield will present this concert with tenor James McLean in the lead as the Evangelist; at River Run Centre, Guelph.

Apr 1 and Apr 2: Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra present Brahms’ German Requiem. Another great choral symphonic work, Brahms’ Requiem is a musical setting of several passages from the Bible selected by Brahms. It is not a Latin requiem mass like Mozart’s or Verdi’s setting, but rather, a requiem in the German language; at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Oakville.

Apr 4: Take advantage of this opportunity to see the University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s Annual High School Choral Festival.” Local high schools like Unionville H.S. and Lawrence Park C.I., among others, will be joining director of choral activities, Hilary Apfelstadt and other faculty for a one-day intensive. Featuring individual performances and workshopping, the various choirs will also workshop a combined piece which they will perform together at the end of the day with Faculty of Music ensembles including the Men’s Chorus, the Women’s Chamber Choir and members of Young Voices Toronto. The workshops are free to attend and run from 9am until 12pm and then 1pm to 3pm at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

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

In last month’s column I focused on concert planning and suggested repertoire for bands to consider to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial year. What a pleasant surprise to learn of the plans of a few groups which intend to incorporate some of those suggestions into their programs. One of my top preferences in last month’s column was Calixa Lavallée’s La Rose Nuptial (Bridal Rose). So, very encouraging for me was news from the Wychwood Clarinet Choir that they hope to have an arrangement of that work as part of the Canadian celebration in their May concert. Choir members, and skilled arrangers, Roy Greaves and Richard Moore are working on that. This year’s winter concert “Midwinter Sweets” will not be at their usual location, but at Knox United Church in Scarborough, on Sunday, March 5 at 7:30. The program will also feature Concert Piece No. 2 for Two Clarinets by Felix Mendelssohn arranged by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves, Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg arranged by Greaves, “Tonight” from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein arranged by Steve Macdonald and No More Blues by Antonio Carlos Jobim, arranged by Macdonald. As usual, artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot will be at the helm.

Concert Band Composition for Canada 150: I’ve also just heard about another very encouraging project to celebrate this special year. It is by local Toronto musicians Tom Fleming and Vern Kennedy. About six months ago Fleming approached Kennedy, a longtime Toronto musician and composer of over 60 band and vocal creations, to compose a concert-band work to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. In Fleming’s words, “I had written a brief note meant to stir Vern’s creative juices and inspire and challenge him to write something patriotic and inspirational that spoke to Canada’s vast geography and diversity. Vern responded by completing a composition for band that does exactly that. It’s a six-movement suite that takes the listener on a musical journey across Canada, ending with a stirring tribute to the whole nation that includes optional vocals in both official languages.”

Kennedy’s musical experience includes appearances on many CBC television music shows and he was the composer of Run Terry Run for the Canadian Cancer Society and In Love with an Island the official song for PEI’s centennial.

Now that the work is ready for publication, Fleming has persuaded a local band to rehearse in private and record it for demo purposes. In addition, he has engaged a copywriter, an art director and an online direct marketing expert to develop a program to market these pieces to community concert bands and post-elementary school bands across the country, at his own expense. When the recording is complete the intention is to post excerpts of the music online and invite decision makers from bands and music schools across the country to listen to the music and hear for themselves that it is enjoyable listening and eminently playable by most bands.

2206- BBB - Bandstand.jpgAll conched out! Another sesquicentennial event is the “Canada Celebrates 150” concert by the Navy Band of HMCS York at J. Clarke Richardson C.V.I. in Ajax on March 4. This will feature the York full concert band with a combined Richardson Collegiate and HMCS York jazz set sandwiched in the middle. The program will also have students from the school’s Vimy Ridge trip giving a presentation during the concert about their trip to the Vimy Ridge 100th anniversary commemoration ceremonies. This concert is not only a celebration of Canada 150, but is also a veterans appreciation concert. Admission is free for all veterans.

A special treat will be the opening played by the band’s conch group, the only small ensemble from the band in this concert. YES! You read that right. They will be playing on conch shells. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing them in a concert at the Naval Club of Toronto where several small ensembles from the band entertained club members and any members of the community who wished to attend. This small group had its beginning last year when they played a fanfare for the visit of an admiral. The group consists of five different-sized conch shells which produce different pitches when the players move their hands in and out of the open end. Moving the hand in lowers the pitch and moving it out raises the pitch. To make these shells playable the tip has to be cut off and then they are basically played by buzzing into them like a trumpet. This special ensemble of five band members now has a name. They call themselves the Band Shells.

The Band Shells are the brainchild of Leading Seaman James Chilton, who is known in civilian life as James Chilton PhD. He is the man who, last year, was featured at the Naval Club event playing the didgeridoo. At this year’s event it was a duet with didgeridoo and tuba. He also performed on an instrument of his own design. It is a sort of “sliding didgeridoo” which is really played more like a trombone. He calls this one a “didjeribone.” Another selection which he played was done with a collection of variously pitched jaw harps and a looping pedal so that he could play them all at once.

Then there was the trombone quartet which performed a number of traditional sea songs. In some quarters you might find people who look upon military reserve bands as amateurs. Not so here. In that group, all four trombonists have degrees in music including one doctorate and two master’s degrees. The fourth member is working on a master’s degree. As for a name, members of this trombone quartet haven’t yet decided. Some like to be called the Tromboats and others prefer the Seabones.

Plumbing Factory and Northdale: While on the subject of anniversaries and similar celebrations we have just learned, from the indefatigable “Dr. Hank,” Henry Meredith, that the Plumbing Factory Brass Band is planning an evening of “19th Century Brass Band Music” in April. Similarly, The Northdale Concert Band is planning well in advance for a Gala Concert and Banquet to celebrate their 50th anniversary during Canada’s special year. This won’t be until November 4, so we have lots of time to provide full details. As a teaser though, it is safe to say that the concert will feature Vanessa Fralick of the TSO performing two solo pieces on trombone. The band has also commissioned a special work by Gary Kulesha, in honour of their 50th year, to be performed in the same concert.

New Horizons: In last month’s column I mentioned that the North York New Horizons Band was being re-established, at Long & McQuade on Steeles Ave. just east of Keele St. We have now learned that the band is up and running under the direction of experienced music teacher Susan Baskin. Their branch of New Horizons is called: New Horizons Music North York, and they rehearse on Monday nights from 6:45 to 8:45 in the Long & McQuade, North York, Lesson Centre, at 2777 Steeles Ave. W. As is the case with all New Horizons bands NHM NY Concert Band welcomes all adult woodwind, brass and percussion players from beginners to advanced. They are especially interested in bass clarinets, saxophones, trombones, baritones/euphoniums and tubas. Remember the New Horizons slogan: “It’s never too late!” Their email is: nhmnorthyork@gmail.com.

Kiwanis Music Festival Toronto: It has been many years since I had any direct connection to the kind of music festival that was a part of my life while playing in boys’ bands many long years ago. It was time to see what they are like today. Where better to start than with the community bands? Unfortunately, the Columbus Concert Band and the Newmarket Citizens Band were the only two entries this year; still, that was better than last year when there were no community band entries. On the other hand, there were 150 school bands entered in that class. The Wind Symphony of Cardinal Carter Academy took top honours with a Platinum award of 96 percent. I dropped in on the performance of the Newmarket Citizens Band and had an opportunity to chat with the festival artistic director Giles Bryant and adjudicators Dennis Beck and Michel Fortin. After the band’s performance the adjudicators provided many constructive comments and each conducted sections of the music to suggest possible options for improvement. It was a very worthwhile evening, even for a spectator.

And speaking of concert bands, the Markham Concert Band will present their Symphonic Pops Favourites Sunday, March 5, at 2pm at the Flato Markham Theatre with a potpourri of familiar tunes. A special treat: the band will be joined by pianist Ellen Meyer in a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 with the full band accompanying.

Gilbert and Sullivan again: This has nothing to do with bands or band music, but once in a while I choose to digress a bit. For me, attending the annual Gilbert and Sullivan production by Saint Anne’s Music and Drama Society has been a longtime tradition. G&S has been in my blood since I was born. My parents met in a G&S production where my mother was “poor Little Buttercup.” For many years I played in the pit orchestra at Saint Anne’s. When I started, Roy Schatz was one of the leading figures in the production. His daughter Laura Schatz was a little toddler who had chances to walk across the stage. Some years later, as Laura grew up, she had singing parts. Fast forward to this year’s production of The Grand Duke. Roy was the Prince of Monte Carlo and Laura was the artistic director and the Baroness Von Krakenfeldt. To complete the cast Laura Schatz’s two teenaged children also sang in the production. What a family tradition with three generations on stage!

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

I really hate the term “world music,” as it’s used today. It seems to me that it oversimplifies things. It lumps music that isn’t familiar to North American ears all in together and calls it foreign and exotic (as though North American is not part of the world). It implies that some musics are worthy of being divided up by genre and closely examined, and some musics aren’t.

With that said, I think jazz, at its best, can rightly be called world music. Jazz has been called a uniquely American art form, but I like to think of it as a music that only gestated in America, but was conceived elsewhere. Loath as I am to oversimplify things, European harmony and African rhythm and melody came together to make this music possible.

As more and more distinct cultures with distinct musical traditions adopted and blended – and continue to adopt and blend – with jazz, it became closer to what I would call an international, or worldly, music than a uniquely American one.

2206- BBB - Mainly Mostly 2.jpgI love listening to jazz musicians who have lived in another country or two. Moving place to place (Place to Place being the title of a Robi Botos album; Botos is a good example of this.), I think, especially if you’ve grown attached to those places and been uprooted, gives one a unique perspective on music. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to see the Israeli-born and Parisian-raised guitarist Samuel Bonnet doing his first mini tour of Southern Ontario this month, playing dates in Toronto, Guelph, Hamilton and more.

 Bonnet’s music is hard to nail down, because the influences are not only wide-ranging, they are compartmentalized to some degree. He is a formidable classical guitarist; he plays jazz and funk; much of his compositional output reflects a love of traditional Jewish musics; some of his solo works sound like explorative improvisations, others sound like pristine and carefully crafted compositions. These different sides of him can be exposed on various recordings; I recommend Aotefeis, New York Shuffle, and Two Preludes to get an introductory sense of who Bonnet is as a musician and perhaps where it all comes from.

The common thread amongst all of this is a virtuosic skill which enables completely authentic communication; when you listen to Bonnet, there’s no mistaking who you are listening to, or what he’s saying to you.

2206- BBB - Mainly Mostly 1.jpgThere’s one more gig I’d like to mention for now: singers in town – amateur and professionals alike – may be interested in knowing that Renée Yoxon, the crossover jazz-folk-pop etc. singer from Montreal, will be performing and running a vocal workshop at 120 Diner on the afternoon and evening of March 12. The young Yoxon’s voice is clear and precise, the manner of delivery, frank and direct, honest. You may feel as though they are speaking directly to you. Adept at interpreting standards, covering and writing pop songs, scat singing, blending in with horns as though their voice were one, and so on – it seems that taking the opportunity to participate in this workshop would be a wise choice.

 I hope to see you folks in at least one of the clubs, without your winter coats. Happy March! Happy vernal equinox! Be well!

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

2205 Feat Classical 1Avi Avital: Israeli-born mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital (b. 1978) – who will appear at Koerner Hall with the zestful Dover Quartet on February 11 – once described his relationship with his instrument as “a bit like a rider and his horse.”

“I know my mandolin very well,” he told 15questions.net. “My hands remember blindly every curve and every fret of it. I have a deep understanding of how it works, but when I’m on stage it becomes part of me – I almost forget I’m holding it.”

A relative of the lute, the mandolin has grown in popularity over the last 300 years. “Familiar and foreign, folkish and classical, the mandolin is both a musical chameleon and a seasoned traveller,” Avital wrote in his introduction to his eclectic Deutsche Grammophon CD Between Worlds (2014).

Avital told Fifteen Questions about a transformative meeting he had in his mid-20s with the famed klezmer clarinetist Giora Feldman. After Avital played him a piece by Bloch, Feldman asked him to improvise. When Avital said he didn’t know how, Feldman insisted. “So I closed my eyes and for the first time in my life I started to play something that wasn’t written in notes. Giora took his clarinet and joined me, and we continued to improvise together for a little while that afternoon. That encounter opened the window to a new world and led me to play different genres of music.”

Avital spoke with medici.tv last year about his admiration for Menuhin, Heifetz and Rubinstein, about how he takes different things from different artists. And about how he was “really into rock ‘n’ roll” when he was 14. “I was the real grunger from Seattle; I remember making a lot of noise on the drums.”

He still carries something of the rock band experience when he plays in a classical music hall.

Describing his arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita No.2 for solo violin, he talked about how the freshness for an audience of discovering a monumental piece of music played on a different instrument is like hearing it for the first time. And that you hear contemporary music differently after listening to Bach in a recital. “It’s like the ginger with the sushi or the lemon sorbet between the dishes in a very fancy restaurant.”

So on February 11, after he plays the Chaconne, he and the Dovers will perform the Canadian premiere of David Bruce’s Cymbeline, for string quartet and mandolin, a piece written for him in 2013 and dedicated to Avital and his wife “in honour of their recent marriage.” The title is an old Celtic word meaning Lord of the Sun. “I think the idea of the piece being about the sun emerged out of the colours of the string quartet and the mandolin together,” Bruce wrote on his website. “The mandolin itself has always seemed to me to create a ‘golden’ sound, and when combined with the warmth of the strings it seems now obvious that I should be drawn towards something warm and golden.”

The concert opens with Tsintsadze’s Six Miniatures for String Quartet and Mandolin; Tsintsadze, who died in 1991, invariably wove his Georgian homeland’s folk music into his works. Then the Dovers give Avital a break when they take on Smetana’s penetrating autobiographical tone picture, his String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor “From My Life.” I’ve been eagerly awaiting their return to town ever since their memorable Toronto Summer Music performance of Beethoven quartets last summer. The Dovers’ playing was empathetic, subtle, impeccably phrased, marked by forward motion, drive and energy, musically mature, vibrant and uncannily unified in purpose and execution. Their collaboration with the larger-than-life Avital promises much joyous music making.

2205 Feat Classical 2In Mo Yang was 19 when he became the youngest winner of the Paganini International Violin Competition in 2015. Now 21, he makes his Canadian recital debut March 5 (with pianist Renana Gutman) presented by Mooredale Concerts. Born in Indonesia, Yang moved to Korea at two and began playing violin at five.  He currently studies with Miriam Fried on a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. Yang told me in an email exchange that he first met Fried in Korea when he was about 14 and played the Mendelssohn concerto for her. “I was struck by how drastically my sound improved with her methods of sound production.” In 2012, when it was time to find his next teacher, he wanted to have another lesson with her. “She was about to come to Korea to attend a festival in Seoul. I went to her hotel room and played the Tchaikovsky concerto. I was again struck and determined that she had to be my teacher.”

It’s striking as well that Yang’s Paganini success came 47 years after Fried herself won the same competition. I asked if she had passed on any insights to him. “She told me her story of winning the competition and encouraged me [saying] that I had a good chance of winning. During the competition, I was dissatisfied with one of the rehearsals and frustrated. I called her and she told me how to deal with the situation, which relieved me. It was also very insightful of her to recommend that I eat pesto.”

Yang’s Toronto program begins with Bach’s unaccompanied Violin Sonata No.1 in G Minor BWV 1001. Bach has only recently been included in his recital programs. “Bach’s music is endlessly imaginative and has such communicative power,” he said. “I would like to share this with the audience, not just with jurors [because these pieces are always required repertoire at auditions and competitions].”

He loves the rhapsodic aspect of Ysaÿe’s music and thinks the Sonata No.3 in D Minor for Solo Violin Op.27 No.3 “Ballade” highlights that rhapsodic aspect more than any of the other sonatas. “Despite its obscurity, the beauty of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor is evident throughout,” he told me. “I want to show that this is not a piece by a madman but a person who has extraordinary imagination and introspection.” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.7 in C Minor Op.30 No.2 is new for him; he started learning it only a month ago. ”I am especially working on the overall architecture of the sonata, because it is understanding the structure and living through the whole piece with a sense of inevitability that heighten the incredible drama of the piece,” he said.

His answer to my question about what musicians may have influenced him surprised me: “I am more influenced by non-musicians,” he said. “Plato’s Theory of Forms greatly inspired me; the idea that the most accurate reality exists in a non-physical world, and what we sense is a mere reflection of Idea, made me rethink the relation between composer, composition and performer. The audience is often an influential figure in my musical career; I got to play in a senior centre once and the smile of five patients who listened to me taught me an important lesson about the societal role of a musician.”

That’s quite a revealing comment, especially from a musician launching an international career. He’s clearly a talent to watch. When he made his Carnegie Hall recital debut in April 2016 he wanted to play on a great instrument. With the help of Reuning & Sons Violins, he met the owner of a Stradivarius violin and was very fortunate to be given a loan of it. As Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times of that Carnegie concert, “Mr. Yang proved himself most deserving of this fine instrument in an impressive program.”

Music Toronto. Music Toronto’s 45th season continues at the Jane Mallett Theatre with a pair of “discovery” concerts (pianist Ilya Poletaev on February 7 and the Eybler Quartet on February 16) before welcoming back the Prazak Quartet on March 2.

Poletaev began studying piano in Moscow at six, continuing his lessons in Israel before emigrating to Canada at 14. A year after winning the 17th JS Bach competition in Leipzig, he joined the Schulich School faculty at McGill. His February 7 recital at the Jane Mallett Theatre includes Bach’s richly textured French Overture BWV831, Enescu’s hymn to his native Romania, the Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.24 No.1 and Schumann’s episodic Humoreske Op.20.

The Eybler Quartet consists of cellist Margaret Gay and three members of Tafelmusik (violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, and violist Patrick G. Jordan), two of whom (Wedman and Aisslinn) are also members of I FURIOSI. Devoted to the repertoire of the early years of the string quartet, their namesake is the little-known composer Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler, a contemporary of Mozart who outlived Schubert. True to form, their February 16 program includes works by the lesser-known Viennese-based Johann Baptist Vanal and Franz Asplmayr as well as Haydn’s Op.33 No.1 (the first of his quartets “composed in a new, special way”) and Beethoven’s gentle Op.18 No.3.

2205 Feat Classical 3

In 2015, Jana Vonášková, a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London and a member of the Smetana Trio for nine years, joined the Prazak Quartet as first violinist, succeeding Pavel Hula who founded the quartet in 1972. Second violinist Vlastimil Holek has been with the Prazak for nearly four decades. Violist Josef Kluson is the last founding member still active in the quartet. Cellist Michal Kanka joined the group in 1986. Internationally acclaimed and an audience favourite, the Prazak makes their seventh appearance on the Jane Mallett stage since 1993 with a March 2 program that begins with late Haydn (the buoyant Op.71 No.1) and Bruckner’s rarely performed, highly Romantic Quartet before concluding with Dvořák’s beloved “American” Quartet.

TSO. The Toronto Symphony welcomes the renowned Jiří Bělohlávek, music director and artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic, to lead the orchestra in Martinů’s Symphony No.6 “Fantaisies symphoniques.” Bělohlávek has been focused on Martinů’s work for years so this is an opportunity to hear what may be a definitive reading of the piece. Adding to the allure of these February 9 and 11 concerts is the imposing figure of Garrick Ohlsson, the soloist in Beethoven’s resplendent Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor.” Debussy’s seductive Première Rhapsodie, which opens the program, is a showpiece for TSO principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas’ sweet sound. On February 15 and 16, rising star Jakub Hrůša, a Czech conductor half Bělohlávek’s age who is permanent guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, leads the TSO in two masterful orchestral ruminations, Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration and Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy. That being said, the main attraction on the program will be Schumann’s Piano Concerto with soloist Jan Lisiecki, the first time Toronto audiences will hear what is the major work on Lisiecki’s latest CD. Another treat on the TSO menu: February 18, American conductor Sarah Hicks will lead the TSO in two performances providing a live accompaniment to the Pixar animated classic Ratatouille. This delightful, sophisticated film about an enterprising rat who creates his inimitable ratatouille dish in a Paris restaurant for a discerning food critic, features a sentimental symphonic score that is all cane sugar, no saccharine. Peter O’Toole’s melodious narration as the critic adds another musical layer to the proceedings.

RCM. In addition to the Avital-Dover recital, the Royal Conservatory is presenting three other concerts of note. On February 4, Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica celebrate Kremer’s 70th birthday year and the ensemble’s 20th at Koerner Hall with “Russia – Masks and Faces,” including music by Pärt, Weinberg, Tchaikovsky, Silvestrov and Mussorgsky (an arrangement for string orchestra of the iconic Pictures at an Exhibition). A free concert (ticket required) February 5 in Mazzoleni Concert Hall will introduce Andrés Díaz, the inaugural Alexandra Koerner Yeo Chair in Cello at the RCM. Díaz performs works by Martinů, Richard Strauss and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, with Barry Shiffman and other special guests. Then on March 3 acclaimed Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Venice Baroque Orchestra celebrate the pleasures of her Italian heritage with an engrossing program of selections by Galuppi, Avison (after Scarlatti), Geminiani and two works by Vivaldi including The Four Seasons. Finally, the masterful Sir András Schiff brings his classical warmth to a selection of late-Schubert piano pieces March 5. The composer’s Moments musicaux D780 and Drei Klavierstücke D946 are bookended by his two sets of Impromptus D899 and D935, delightful works that are made for Schiff’s own stylish sense of panache.

QUICK PICKS

Feb 7: Following his refreshing performance of Mozart’s Rondo for Violin and Orchestra K373 with the TSO (part of this year’s Mozart @261 festival), 19-year-old Kerson Leong (and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu) gives a free noontime recital of French music at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

Feb 13: Associates of the Toronto Symphony adopt a French accent for a program of Poulenc’s insouciant Sonata for Flute and Piano, Stravinsky’s cunning Suite from L’Histoire du soldat and TSO bassoonist Fraser Jackson’s arrangement of Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G. Mar 6: TSO second oboist Sarah Lewis is featured in Mozart’s charming Oboe Quartet in F K370 and Britten’s bewitching Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings Op.2.

Feb 13: The Perimeter Institute, one of the joys of Waterloo, presents the remarkable violinist Christian Tetzlaff and the outstanding pianist Lars Vogt in a compelling program of Beethoven, Mozart, Widmann and Schubert.

Feb 19: Any chance to hear Jan Lisiecki is a chance to be taken. In this Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ recital in Kingston, the super-talented young pianist treats us to repertoire new to Southern Ontario: Bach’s Partita No.3 in A Minor BWV827; Schumann’s Klavierstücke Op.32; Schubert Impromptus Op.142; and a trio of Chopin pieces including the high-powered Scherzo No.1 Op.20.

Feb 21: Sae Yoon Chon, a Korean-born scholarship student at GGS and a prizewinner at the last two Hilton Head International Piano Competition tackles Beethoven’s monumental Sonata No.29 in B-flat Op.106 “Hammerklavier” in a COC free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. (Mar 7: Fellow GGS scholarship student, Unionville-born Charissa Vandikas, performs works by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff in her own COC free noontime concert.)

Feb 23: Irène Jacob performs original material sprinkled with covers of Georges Brassens at Jazz Bistro. The French actress, luminous in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Double Life of Veronique (where she sang) and Three Colours: Red, recorded her first album Je Sais Nager (I Know How To Swim) in 2011 with her brother Francis, a guitarist and jazz-based arranger. Now they’re touring their latest CD, En Bas de Chez Moi (Downstairs at My House), with their multinational band (including Senegalese bassist Mamadou Ba and Franco-Peruvian Jose Ballumbrosio).

Feb 26: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Turgeon Piano Duo, husband-and-wife pianists, in a surefire program: Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Mozart’s Sonata in C K521, Gavrilin’s Sketches, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Mar 5: Israel’s Aviv String Quartet begins a traversal of Mozart’s last ten string quartets in three concerts in five days at the KWCMS Music Room.

Mar 4: The astonishingly gifted 23-year-old Montreal native Stéphane Tétreault, brings his Bernard Greenhouse cello to the Toronto Centre for the Arts when he performs Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1 with Sinfonia Toronto. Conductor Nurhan Arman also leads the orchestra in Morawetz’s Sinfonietta and Arman’s own string orchestra arrangement of Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor.

Mar 5: The famed Boston Symphony Orchestra (with special guest Emanuel Ax performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2) makes their first visit to Canada in 21 years. Conductor Andris Nelsons also leads the orchestra in Berlioz’s delirious, spectacular and enduring Symphonie Fantastique. Look for my interview with BSO principal horn James Sommerville elsewhere in this issue.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

2205 On OperaOn January 12 the Canadian Opera Company unveiled its 2017/18 season. The season will include the return of two recent COC productions, new productions of three operas not seen at the COC for 17 years or more and a company premiere of an opera by Richard Strauss. It is a well-rounded season that ought to have wide appeal.

One new feature in the evolution of the COC as a company was announced: the naming of its first artist-in-residence. For the coming season this will be renowned Canadian soprano Jane Archibald, who will appear in three of the six operas. In addition to her season-long residency, Archibald will perform in the COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre and work with the young artists of the COC Ensemble Studio and Orchestra Academy training programs in a mentorship capacity.

COC General Director Alexander Neef comments, “It’s exciting for the company and our audiences to have someone of Jane Archibald’s calibre choose to spend so much of her time with us… This kind of commitment from Jane is a testament to the international reputation of the COC, solidifying the company and our opera house as a showcase for the world-class talent working in opera today.”

Fall 2017: Opening the fall season from October 5 to 28 will be the company premiere of Richard Strauss’ Arabella (1933). Only the fifth opera by Strauss the COC has ever staged, Arabella is a co-production with Minnesota Opera and Santa Fe Opera and premiered with the latter company in 2012. The opera was Strauss’ final collaboration with his favourite librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who had written the libretti for Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911) and Ariadne auf Naxos (1912).

Arabella is a comedy set in Vienna in 1860 dealing with the financial crisis of the Waldner family. The family has two daughters, the beautiful Arabella, who needs to marry a wealthy man to save the family, and the younger Zdenka, whom they have brought up as a boy to save the expense of her coming out as a debutante.

Renowned Canadian soprano Erin Wall sings Arabella and Jane Archibald sings Zdenka. Mandryka, who woos Arabella, will be sung by Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny. Canadian tenor David Pomeroy is Matteo, whom Zdenka loves; Canadian baritone John Fanning is Count Waldner, the sisters’ father; German mezzo-soprano Gundula Hintz is their mother. COC Ensemble Studio graduate coloratura soprano Claire de Sévigné is the belle of the ball, Fiakermilli and Canadian mezzo-soprano Megan Latham is the Fortune Teller. The production is directed by Tim Albery, best known for his powerful production of the COC’s Götterdämmerung, currently being re-mounted, and is conducted by German conductor Patrick Lange.

Running in repertory with Arabella from October 11 to November 4 is a new COC production of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (L’elisir d’amore) from 1832. Elixir has not been seen at the COC since 1999. The new production is based on the 2008 co-production from San Francisco Opera, Colorado Opera and Kansas City Opera. American director James Robinson has relocated the action to a small town in the period before World War I. In this gentle comedy, the poor and shy Nemorino has fallen in love with the wealthy Adina. Despairing that Adina will fall for the dashing Captain Belcore, Nemorino buys a love potion from the travelling charlatan Doctor Dulcamara consisting only of red wine.

Three recent graduates of the COC Ensemble Studio training program take major roles. Tenor Andrew Haji is the lovesick Nemorino; soprano Simone Osborne is Adina; and baritone Gordon Bintner is Belcore. English baritone Andrew Shore is the sly Doctor Dulcamara. Toronto-born Yves Abel makes his COC debut at the podium.

Winter 2018: Beginning the winter season in 2018, from January 20 to February 23, will be a revival of the COC’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto directed by Christopher Alden and last seen in 2011. Audiences will recall this production as the one where the entire action is set inside the central room of a Victorian men’s club. English baritone Roland Wood sings the title role and American soprano Anna Christy is his daughter, Gilda. American tenor Stephen Costello shares the role of the vicious Duke of Mantua with American tenor Joshua Guerrero. Georgian bass Goderdzi Janelidze makes his Canadian debut as the assassin Sparafucile and Canadian mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule makes her COC debut as Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena. Stephen Lord conducts.

Running in repertory with Rigoletto from February 7 to 24 is Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung von dem Serail), not seen at the COC since 1980. The opera concerns the efforts of the Europeans, Belmonte and his servant Pedrillo, to rescue their sweethearts Konstanze and Blonde from captivity by the Muslim Turk, Bassa Selim. In this co-production with Opéra de Lyon, Lebanese-Canadian playwright and director Wajdi Mouawad has added his own prologue and reworked some of the dialogue to avoid caricature of the Muslim characters.

Jane Archibald performs one of her most acclaimed roles as Konstanze. Swiss tenor Mauro Peter sings Belmonte; Ensemble Studio graduates Claire de Sévigné and Owen McCausland are Blonde and Pedrillo, respectively. Croatian bass Goran Jurić is Osmin, Pasha Selim’s overseer and German actor Peter Lohmeyer appears in the spoken role of the Pasha. COC music director Johannes Debus conducts.

Spring 2018: The COC spring starts with the season’s only nod to modernity, a revival of Robert Lepage’s spectacular production of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables running from April 13 to May 19. Most notable as the production where the orchestra is on stage and the orchestra pit is filled with water, Nightingale, last seen in 2010, uses all forms of puppetry from East and West to illustrate songs by Stravinsky as well as the short operas Renard (1922) and The Nightingale (Le Rossignol, 1914).

Making her role debut as the Nightingale is Jane Archibald in her third opera of the season. Singing the Fisherman, who discovers the Nightingale, is Owen McCausland. The Emperor, whose life is saved by the Nightingale, is sung by American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn and American contralto Meredith Arwardy sings the role of Death. Johannes Debus conducts.

Concluding the 2017/18 season is the third in Donizetti’s so-called Three Queens Trilogy – Anna Bolena from 1830. The last time Toronto heard this work was in 1984 with Joan Sutherland in the title role and Richard Bonynge conducting. This time COC favourite Sondra Radvanovsky sings the role of Henry VIII’s spurned queen, the third queen after her Maria Stuarda in 2010 and her Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux in 2014.

American bass-baritone Eric Owens is Enrico VIII, King of England; American soprano Keri Alkema is Giovanna Seymour; American Bruce Sledge is Lord Riccardo Percy; and Canadian mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy sings the role of Smeton, the musician secretly in love with the queen. Italian maestro Corrado Rovaris conducts and Stephen Lawless, who directed the other two works in the trilogy, directs.

Currently: While the 2017/18 season announcement presents the COC’s future plans, the present 2016/17 COC season continues. Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which opened in January, runs until February 24. It is joined from February 2 to 25 by Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the concluding opera of his epic four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. American soprano Christine Goerke, who captivated audiences as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Siegfried, the second and third parts of the cycle, returns to sing her first Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager sings the role of Brünnhilde’s beloved Siegfried and German baritone Martin Gantner is Gunther, Siegfried’s rival. Estonian Ain Anger is Gunther’s villainous half-brother, Hagen, and Ileana Montalbetti is Gunther’s sister, Gutrune.

Tim Albery returns to direct his acclaimed production and COC music director Johannes Debus takes the plunge by conducting the massive opera for the first time.

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

2205 Art of Song 1There was a time when men loved lesbians and considered them essential for their own artistic output. No, stay with me, it’s true: that time is the latter half of the 19th century, the place is France, and the men are the poets of emerging modernism.

Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal’s working title was Les lesbiennes and the section that got him censored and fined includes poems Lesbos and Delpine et Hippolyte. (Femmes damnées somehow got away, in spite of its cries of solidarity: “Vous que dans votre enfer mon âme a poursuivies / Pauvres soeurs, je vous aime autant que je vous plains”). Paul Verlaine’s series of sonnets around amorous encounters between young women, Les amies, is more specific, more explicitly visual and sensual. His Ariette oubliée IV from the later Romances sans paroles is a poetic embrace of the carefree female same-sex coupledom that, some critics argue, masks the poet’s own embrace of male homoeroticism. “Soyons deux jeunes filles / Éprises de rien et de tout étonnées,” says the poem to the reader of either sex.

Sappho was mythologized and loomed large for male poets of the era, and Théodore de Banville and Henri de Régnier were just two of the poets who wrote lesbian poems set in some version of ancient Greece. In the words of Gretchen Schultz who wrote an entire book about this era of literary cross-sex fascination (Sapphic Fathers: Discourses of Same-Sex Desire from Nineteenth Century France), male poets’ quest for selfhood took detours through lesbian personae.

Best known in the classical world of all the lesbophile song cycles of this era remains Pierre Louÿs’ 1894 Les Chansons de Bilitis, an elaborate pseudotranslation of an “ancient Greek” Sappho-like figure, Bilitis–in fact, entirely concocted by Louÿs–whose biography of the senses the song cycle follows, from heterosexual beginnings through lesbian blossoming to the reminiscing of old age. Louÿs’ friend Claude Debussy set three of the poems to music in 1897 to create the lush piano and voice opus now known as Trois Chansons de Bilitis. Debussy then worked on another, longer cycle titled Musique de scène pour les Chansons de Bilitis with 12 of Louÿs’ poems, but the text there is recited within the tableaux vivants with musical interludes scored for a small orchestra of flutes, harps and celesta. Recorded only a modest number of times-there’s a Deutsche Grammophon recording with Catherine Deneuve as the recitant-this other version of Chansons is extremely rarely performed.

The three-song cycle with piano is another story: it is widely claimed by both mezzos and sopranos and has been recorded frequently. February 9, at the noontime Ensemble Studio concert at the COC, it will be sung by the young mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo accompanied by Hyejin Kwon at the piano. Both piano and vocal writing are of great richness, both of heightened sensuality of the Anaïs Nin kind. The well-curated program that abounds in literary references will also include baritone Bruno Roy with Stéphane Mayer at the piano in Poulenc’s cycle La fraîcheur et le feu set to poems by Paul Éluard, as well as Ravel’s last completed work, the colourful and energetic Don Quichotte à Dulcinée set to Paul Morand’s poems. D’Angelo rounds out the event with Messiaen’s Trois Mélodies, one of which is based on a poem written by the composer’s mother, poet Cécile Sauvage; the remaining two are Messiaen’s homage to her words.

The Lieder are another cultural domain where the poetic “I” wanders across the sexes and rewrites the lover and the beloved, primarily thanks to the performers who interpret them. While traditionally the poetic subject has always been male and the object of his interest female, many composers would bestow the same cycle to a variety of voices, and singers and pianists themselves would adopt song cycles however they saw fit. But performing traditions get established and listening habits settle in, and today Berlioz’s Nuits d’été is sung primarily by mezzos and sopranos, while Schubert’s Die Winterreise primarily by baritones or tenors. Only a handful of mezzos have dared record the Schubert cycle: Christa Ludwig, Brigitte Fassbaender, Nathalie Stutzmann and Alice Coote. Fassbaender’s 1988 recording (with Aribert Reimann at the piano) in particular ruffled misogynist feathers. “Can a Woman Do a Man’s Job in Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’?” pearl-clutched a New York Times critic in 1990 and proceeded to explain all the reasons the answer is no. Even fewer sopranos have recorded or performed it; one notable recent recording is by Christine Schaefer with Eric Schneider.

2205 Art of Song 2Lyric soprano Adrianne Pieczonka will be adding her unique voice and approach to the small but valiant contingent of Winterreise women this month, in the Mazzoleni Masters Concert Series at the RCM on February 12. Each singer brings a different personality to the narrator, and Pieczonka is likely to bring her deep knowledge of German language, her Vienna savvy and her impeccable Straussian pedigree-including her Marschallins-to the fore. A bright female voice will sing the dark poems to the ghostly presence of the beloved woman, and in this case it will be the voice of a singer who is indeed married to another woman. An important cultural first.

The cycle itself is ink black and non-negotiably so. “I came a stranger, I depart a stranger.” The first of Wilhelm Müller’s 24 poems, Gute Nacht, sets the tone. The narrator is leaving the house and his beloved, never to return. There was even talk of marriage, but all came to naught. He could have been a music teacher or a tutor there. We are never told; or why he is leaving, by choice or by somebody’s demand. “We are drawn in by an obsessively confessional soul…who won’t give us the facts,” as Ian Bostridge writes in his recent book Schubert’s Winter Journey.

He walks through the snow-covered wood, but equally through the landscape of his memory. Objects and trees appear that are heavy with meaning and pain, a postman rings but brings no mail, a graveyard is called an inn, and the snow and the ice remain constant. The final song takes us before the barefoot hurdy-gurdy busker: “Wunderlicher Alter!” Strange old man! Will his be the music to accompany the poet? Should the poet, in this apparent but not a little sinister break from the solitude, now follow him?

Stage directors have been taking interest in Winterreise’s scenic potential at least since the 90s. The 2014 semi-staging by William Kentridge with elaborate video projections behind baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser will be available on DVD later this month, and it’s easy to predict more and more directors having a look at the piece. With Adrianne Pieczonka, and Rachel Andrist at the piano, we will finally have a chance to hear an all-female edition of the cycle which is to this day chiefly performed as an all-male enterprise.

QUICK PICKS

Feb 1 and 2: Two solos (Karina Gauvin in Pie Jesu and Russell Braun in Libera me) in Fauré’s Requiem with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra might on their own be worth going to the concert for, but of course the entire Requiem will be played, with the Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers; Stéphane Denève conducts.

Feb 3 and 4: Jeremy Dutcher – whom you might have noticed in Soundstream’s Electric Messiah – is a young singer/songwriter/composer to watch. He combines a training in Western classical music with the musical traditions of his Wolastoq Nation and a gusto for contemporary creations. “Shapeshifting between classical, contemporary, traditional and jazz” is how he describes his approach and once you hear him live, you get what he means. He will be one of the soloists at Toronto Consort’s “Kanatha/Canada” program at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, the mainstay of which will be the choral piece Wendake/Huronia by John Beckwith, a reflection on Samuel de Champlain’s first and only passage four centuries ago through what is now known as Ontario and his encounters with Ontario’s First Nations. Alongside the instrumental and vocal core ensemble of the Toronto Consort, including Laura Pudwell as the alto soloist, and singers of the Toronto Chamber Choir, the program will feature Huron-Wendat poet and historian Georges Sioui as the narrator and First Nations singer-drummers Shirley Hay and Marilyn George. The Consort will also perform a selection of early French-Canadian folksongs, including Le Prince Eugène, Renaud and Dans les prisons de Nantes.

Mar 3: The Cecilia String Quartet, with the always subtle Lawrence Wiliford, perform Amoretti for Tenor and String Quartet: five of Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser’s sonnets set to music by British composer Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986). The rest of the program at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, is also of interest: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet and the Britten-arranged Purcell Chacony for strings in G Minor.

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

Every February I focus my column’s lens on Black History Month as it is musically celebrated in our midst. And with each year it becomes easier to assume that it has always been thus. It’s worth noting however that this is a relatively recent commemoration in our province, one with an evolving history.

The City of Toronto became the first municipality in Canada to proclaim Black History Month in 1979 in recognition of “the past and present contributions that African Canadians make to the life of Toronto in such areas as education, medicine, art, culture, public service, economic development, politics and human rights.”

Official provincial and national recognition of this aspect of cultural pluralism trailed far behind however. It wasn’t until 1993 that Ontario first proclaimed February as Black History Month citing as one of the reasons: “To mark the 200th anniversary of a law banning the importation of slaves into Upper Canada.” While people have been marking Black History Month throughout the province ever since, official status was not been granted until very recently. It was only last January that “Ontario passed legislation to formally recognize February as Black History Month on a continual annual basis,” according to the Ontario government website. The 2016 legislation “…gives Black History Month official status in law, ensuring that the uniqueness, vitality and continuing contributions of the Black community in Ontario will be celebrated for generations to come.”

I want to start by focusing on a single theatrical production. It’s a show with strong Afro-Caribbean musical roots that resonate throughout popular culture. It showcases Canadian creators and performers interpreting the life and career of an iconic nonagenarian, equally known for his rich contributions to the commercial entertainment landscape of the second half of the 20th century and for his social-political activism.

Harry Belafonte at 90: A Tribute Celebration

2205 World Music 1February 28 at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Culchahworks Arts Collective presents “Harry Belafonte at 90: A Tribute Celebration,” sponsored by TD Bank Group. Featuring leading African Canadian talent, including jazz-and-blues diva Jackie Richardson, singers Jay Douglas and Darryl Huggins and Stratford actor David Collins, the show’s choreographer Melissa Noventa weaves the numerous thematic and performative strands together with movement and colour.

Tribute Celebration’s writer, director, producer and music director is Andrew Craig. This prominent Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, broadcaster and impresario is also the founder and artistic director of Culchahworks. Founded in 2013, Culchahworks is a not-for-profit arts organization that “aims to celebrate and proliferate compelling stories, principally drawn from the Caribbean-Canadian, African-Canadian and African-American cultural legacies, yet having universal resonance, through the arts. Historical, didactic and cutting-edge all at once, Culchahworks endeavours to entertain, educate and inspire a broad range of audiences, using all manner of traditional and new media.”

It’s not easy to think of a living, successful entertainer with a more deeply held commitment and lengthy dedication to the cause of social justice and change than Harry Belafonte. The NYC-born African American has been at various times in his 60-plus-year career, a singer, actor, producer, and a leading international political and humanitarian activist who often challenged the power orthodoxy of the day.

Craig’s chronologically driven narrative traces Belafonte’s nine decades in a tribute filled with music, theatre, dance and screen-role excerpts. Starting with his formative years in NYC and on the island of Jamaica, the show follows his rise to stardom in the 1950s with performances of some of his best-selling recordings including Matilda, Jamaica Farewell and Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). The latter song originated as a Jamaican work song. Mento elements were incorporated in Belafonte’s hit recording.

These and several other records were highly successful commercially. The influence particularly of Belafonte’s early recordings on North American and European popular culture was immense. His Calypso (1956) is the first LP album to sell over one million copies, spending 31 weeks at number one on the recording industry Billboard charts. Belafonte received two Grammy Awards in the 1960s plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 for his outstanding work in the studio. With over 55 stage, film and TV credits, he has won both Emmy and Tony Awards and has received numerous major honours for his outstanding work on stage and screen, all the while accepting roles which exposed and explored prevalent racialized issues of the day.

Culchahworks’ Tribute Celebration next assays the other major thread in Belafonte’s life: his lifelong social and political activism. Inspired in his political orientation by his mentor, the renowned singer, actor and Communist activist Paul Robeson, Belafonte played an important role in the 1960s Civil Rights movement as both supporter and confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Belafonte played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement and has since 1987 served as UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Performances include songs from his live 1972 album recorded in Toronto, and the 1988 Live in Zimbabwe concert.

Belafonte has challenged many social and political barriers in both his off-stage and singing and acting careers. Tribute Celebration re-enacts scenes from his signature film and TV roles dramatizing these themes.

Having retired from active performing in the 2000s Belafonte has more time these days to advocate for political and humanitarian causes. Rather than slowing down in his senior-plus years, he founded Sankofa the year he turned 86. That social justice charity organization “enlists the support of today’s most celebrated artists and influential individuals in collaboration with grassroots partners to elevate the voices of the disenfranchised and promote justice, peace and equality.” (“Mission” on Sankofa.org.)

Belafonte continues to take his civic responsibilities seriously. He currently serves as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.

Tribute Celebration rounds out its program acknowledging Belafonte’s political engagement and recounting his continuing influence on the development of young artists and activists. I’m not sure if the show will touch on his passionate critique of the policies of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidential administrations. Speaking as ever truth to power, Belafonte has also chosen – in his 90th year – to serve as honorary co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington held on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Other Picks

2205 World Music 2February 7 the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts presents the pioneering Toronto world music ensemble Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan in its Global Salon Series. The concert takes place in the Centre’s acoustically warm, 560-seat concert hall, dubbed The Isabel. Opened in the fall of 2014, the Centre has positioned itself as a “new home for the creative arts at Queen’s University and a new hub of artistic study, creation and exhibition” in the greater Kingston region. I toured The Isabel during its very early days. All I can say is that it’s worth the drive to Kingston.

Before I discuss ECCG’s music, I feel obliged to mention to new readers of this column that I’m a 34-year founding member of the group. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, I know, but I still thoroughly enjoy each of our concerts, especially meeting new listeners with adventurous ears.

ECCG has based a three-decade career on commissioning new scores with the end game of performing, recording and touring them on its superb bespoke Sundanese gamelan degung, a kind of gamelan indigenous to West Java, Indonesia. At the same time the group also performs music which can be heard in its West Javanese homeland, though in ECCG’s own idiosyncratic arrangements. As I wrote in this column last fall, “It’s a complex world of music out there and ECCG aims to present that complication from a Canadian perspective.”

In its concert at The Isabel, ECCG explores various border crossings and cultural hybridities in works by Canadian composers Mark Duggan, Paul Intson, Andrew Timar, Linda Catlin Smith and John Wyre. Works by the composer American Lou Harrison and Indonesians Nano Suratno and Burhan Sukarma round out the program.

February 11 Alliance Française de Toronto and the Batuki Music Society co-present a “Concert of Malian Music” by Diely Mori Tounkara, kora and vocals. Hailing from a large family of Malian griots, Tounkara followed his father’s profession, becoming a young master of the kora. Among the leading griots of his generation, his knowledge of the role Mandingo musical tradition plays is profound. His virtuoso playing on the kora brilliantly supports his flexible vocals which convey a wide range of subtle feeling that can be appreciated by Malian as well as Canadian audiences. Tounkara’s appearance aptly connects with the celebration of Black History Month.

February 14 the Royal Conservatory presents Ladysmith Black Mambazo in its World Music Concert Series at Koerner Hall. As a reader of this column, I assume you’ve heard this all-male South African choir. Singing and recording for over half a century, they helped make Paul Simon’s album Graceland (1986) a huge hit with sales of 16 million units. LBM has long been considered South Africa’s musical ambassador. At Nelson Mandela’s request LBM accompanied Mandela to his 1993 Oslo Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, as well as singing at Mandela’s landmark inauguration as President of South Africa the following year.

Having made its first record in 1973, LBM has since recorded over 50 albums, many of which have garnered gold and platinum disc certification. Their most recent CD, Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers, has been nominated for Best World Music Album of 2016 by the Recording Academy, marking the group’s 17th Grammy Award nomination. (A rollcall of awards and honours received would take up an entire column.)

The album’s title accurately reflects the intergenerational makeup of the a cappella choir; most current members are descendants of the original 1960s singers. LBM is a world music institution, touring regularly to bring their uplifting, joyful message to a broad international fan base.

“May the Fourth Be with You”

March 4th, that is. It’s going to be a day of tough concert choices. If you feel in the mood for a raucous, dance-in-your-seat-worthy Balkan wedding band you can catch Goran Bregović and His Wedding and Funeral Band at Massey Hall. The concert is co-presented by Massey Hall and Small World Music.

In another fascinating March 4 concert – this one by two very different choirs, Schola Magdalena presents the joint program, “Weaving the World” with Schola Magdalena and Darbazi at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Schola Magdalena’s guest, Darbazi, is Toronto’s first choir specializing in the performance of the polyphony indigenous to the peoples of the Republic of Georgia. The resident choir will sing Georgian chant, for which they are justly respected, and medieval choral works by Hildegard and Dunstable. Darbazi will perform selections from its extensive Georgian repertoire. The listing also mentions the performance of the intriguing but as yet undesignated “new music.” Will the two choirs jointly sing a new work or two? My advice is to go and find out, along with me.

Finally, also on March 4, the Jubilate Singers connect with the Black History Month theme, bringing our column full circle. In a program titled “The African Connection” the choir celebrates the influence of African music in Christian liturgy, spirituals and vernacular songs, “as written and arranged by Western composers.” Isabel Bernaus conducts the Jubilate Singers while Sherry Squires accompanies on the piano at St. Simon-the-Apostle Church. It’s a felicitous way to wrap up the month.

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

2205 Early 1I’m glad that Toronto’s early music scene has such a wide variety of talent. But every so often, someone shows up and makes even the best musicians in the city take notice. This month, Toronto has a rare opportunity to hear a soloist who’s spent decades becoming one of the living legends of early music. You may not have heard of the celebrated Belgian flutist Barthold Kuijken (pronounced CAUW-ken) but to hear him in concert is to appreciate an artist who has mastered some of the most ornate and technically demanding works of music in the classical canon.

I’ll do my best to describe Kuijken’s influence on the early music movement without resorting to superlatives, but it won’t be easy. He belongs to what’s effectively the first generation of early music players (the previous generation being largely a bunch of eccentrics rather than professional musicians) who, finding modern classical performance practice unfulfilling, left promising careers as modern musicians to find a new style of performing. Given that there was no existing generation of musicians to teach them how to play differently, Kuijken et al. were complete autodidacts with only a handful of musical artifacts and historical treatises to guide them. Since then, Kuijken has become an educated performer and amassed an enviable instrument collection and library of historical sources. But what makes him unique is that, unlike other musicians of his generation, he didn’t have to do it alone. His older brother Weiland is one of the movement’s great viola da gambists, and another older brother, Sigiswald, not only became one the great violinists of the movement, but also founded La Petite Bande, one of the great European early music orchestras, in 1972.

Having family on his side helped Barthold Kuijken. Since moving to early music, he has performed extensively with Sigiswald’s orchestra as their principal flutist, played chamber music with both his brothers, and not incidentally also enjoyed a stellar career as one of the genre’s eminent soloists, generating a staggering discography along the way. This month, Baroque Music beside the Grange brings this legendary flutist to Heliconian Hall in Yorkville for a program that should serve to demonstrate Kuijken’s reputation as one of the greats. J.S. Bach’s sonata for unaccompanied flute, a piece by C.P.E Bach written for Frederick the Great, a couple of Telemann fantasias, and a suite by French composer Michel de la Barre are all pieces that were written for flutists to show off both artistic mastery and technical prowess, and I’m willing to bet that Kuijken doesn’t even find these tunes a fair match for his skills. If there’s one concert to make this month, this is it. Catch it on Sunday February 12 at 2:30 pm.

Profeti della Quinta: One generation inspires the next, and while the first generation of early music players tended to have the same musical and cultural background (Western European, conservatory trained, institutional misfits) the movement they founded means that younger players of today now come from all over the globe and have an entirely different view of the classical canon. A case in point is the Israeli vocal and instrumental group Profeti della Quinta, who came together as an early music group in Galilee and re-formed in Switzerland at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Since then, the group has specialized in late-Renaissance Italian music, particularly in the music of Salomone Rossi, the 17th-century Italian-Jewish composer of madrigals, sacred vocal music and chamber music.

To hear Profeti della Quinta’s singing is to know that Rossi has been unfairly neglected by history. He’s a top-tier composer in the seconda prattica vein – meaning he could compose sacred polyphony in the style of Palestrina as well as use later techniques such as word-painting in more secular works – who was just as comfortable setting texts in Hebrew as in Italian. The effect on a modern audience is splendid as well as jarring, as if Monteverdi had decided one day that Hebrew was a better language than Italian for his madrigals, but the Profeti are both technically and interpretively flawless players who do justice to both this composer and this style of music. You can catch them in performance in Kingston at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on February 15 for an all-Rossi concert. If you can’t make it out to Kingston, the group has posted a number of music videos on their website quintaprofeti.com featuring the music of Rossi, Orlando di Lasso and Carlo Gesualdo, all of which I highly recommend.

Ben Stein’s lute: Some artists choose to master the entire canon and others choose to specialize. Still others need no composer at all. We’ve known for years that performers in the Western art-music tradition were able to improvise. Bach’s Musical Offering, which was initially a challenge the composer received from Frederick the Great to improvise a three- and then six-part chromatic fugue, is a famous example, but many other famous composers were also great improvisers, and the tradition of improvisation stretches back much further than Bach. In the Renaissance and early Baroque, a young musician’s education included learning to improvise a melody over a commonly recognized bass line or series of chord changes – like the jazz standards of our time, but shorter and harmonically simpler. But knowing that improvisation was everywhere can change our view of compositions from the period. Printed music written down by gifted improvisers seems less like a painstakingly worked-out masterpiece and more like a surviving specimen from a larger group of improvisations, so players are supposed to perform music as if it were improvised. Less precise printings of music present other problems. But if they are just the shell of the music, rather than the final finished product, does that mean the performer is supposed to fill the gaps by ornamenting a bare melody or the chord progressions? Jazz musicians learn to improvise this way, but conservatory-trained classical players don’t. And as long as historically informed players can’t improvise in the style of the composer, it makes their supposed goal of re-creating the music as the composer heard it impossible.

Toronto-based lutenist Ben Stein may have an answer to this musical quandary. For the last several years, Stein has been researching how musicians of previous eras were taught musical improvisation, with a special focus on the conservatories of 18th-century Venice. Study and practice have let him re-create the part of a musical education from that period and, as a result, Stein can now improvise over a given melody or series of chord changes in much the same way that a 17th- or 18th-century musician would. If this sounds far-fetched to you, Stein can prove it – he’s going to both show and tell his musical discoveries in concert at a lecture-recital at Metropolitan United Church on February 10 at 7:30 pm. He’ll be joined by Lucas Harris on lute as well as Rezan Onen-Lapointe on violin and myself on harpsichord, and I’m pleased to say that Stein’s ability to teach classical musicians some necessary improv skills is as informative and entertaining for concert audiences as it is for his fellow musicians.

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

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