The Easter season is upon us for April and as usual, the choral community has many fantastic offerings of sacred music to mark the occasion. First, we’ll focus on the Pax Christi Chorale’s Canadian premiere of grand Edward Elgar oratorio, The Apostles. For the non-sacred music inclined, Echo Women’s Choir has a fantastic concert inspired by American singer MILCK’s #ICANTKEEPQUIET campaign. Finally, a host of Quick Picks for the season are included.

Canadian Premiere of Elgar’s The Apostles

2207 Choral 1Edward Elgar died in 1934, aged 76. His work is well known to students of British classical music but he is best known for the eternal graduation hymn – Land of Hope and Glory, the end of Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. Equally gifted at orchestral and choral composition, often both, his work can usually be described as thick, dense and powerful. It is unusual that one of his grandest and biggest works, The Apostles, has never before been performed in Canada. Pax Christi Chorale under maestro Stephanie Martin is taking up the grand work.

Choral lovers here are more familiar with Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, last performed in fall 2014 with the Amadeus Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Elgar’s Enigma Variations makes frequent appearances on orchestral programs. The Apostles is the biggest piece he wrote. It requires the forces of six soloists, semichorus and double choir on top of arge orchestral forces. The personnel demands are one of the reasons why Martin believes the work hasn’t been programmed in Canada before. Pax Christi Chorale is joined by a stellar cast of Canadian talent: Meredith Hall, Krisztina Szabó, Brett Polegato, Lawrence Wiliford, Daniel Lichti, Michael Uloth and the Etobicoke School of the Arts chamber choir alongside an orchestra.

Pax Christi is no stranger to grand oratorios, having performed Elgar’s The Kingdom in 2012, and recently taking on Mendelssohn’s grandest work – Elijah – in the fall of 2016. Stephanie Martin conducts the two performances of The Apostles as her finale after 20 years at the helm of Pax Christi Chorale. She’s thoughtful and insightful about the music, identifying four key leitmotifs out of the many in Elgar’s masterpiece. She describes the work of singing through The Apostles as “peeling back the onion skin to reveal the leitmotifs that shape the music.”

Elgar was influenced by Wagner, who used the same compositional technique to inform the narrative of his musical stories. “It almost gives the music a sense of being a collage,” says Martin. “The music changes quickly, tonal messages change very quickly” throughout the music as Elgar delves into this story of Jesus and his followers. Many of the messages are hidden and not clear to a listening audience. Most interestingly, the final words of Christ “Eloi Eloi, lama sabachthani (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)” appear not in any sung lines but in a melody through the orchestra, words written above the orchestral line. Martin is superbly capable at leading her choirs through this work and deeply insightful at the hidden messages of the music.

As with the Verdi Requiem, the solos and choral lines are not separate and flow in and out of one another throughout The Apostles. “The oratorio is not constructed in a conventional way,” Martin says. “The soloists and choirs are integrated.” Usually singing different texts, overlaying each other, the resulting effect can be triumphant and bombastic as in “In Caesarea Phillipi” or unsettling and creepy, as in the “Tower of Magdala.”

Part IV of The Apostles, “The Betrayal” makes up the bulk of the second half of the concert. It focuses on the story of Judas Iscariot, sung by bass Michael Uloth. Elgar took great time and energy to humanize the story of Judas, showing him to be, as Martin says “remorseful” for his actions, ultimately believing in Jesus and his work. At the end of “The Betrayal,” Judas “falls apart as he realizes what he has done” as Martin describes, and he decides to take his own life. (Participants in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s Singsation on March 18 were treated to Uloth’s Judas and Martin’s approach as they read through The Apostles.)

Pax Christi Chorale presents the Canadian premiere of Edward Elgar’s The Apostles. April 29, 7:30pm and Sunday April 30, 3:00pm at Grace Church on-the-Hill.


2207 Choral 2Echo Women’s Choir, celebrating 25 years, continues to provide unique offerings that bridge the classical and contemporary choral spheres while always maintaining a strong commentary on issues facing our world. Their concert “We Can’t Keep Quiet!” takes its name from the #ICANTKEEPQUIET campaign created by American musician MILCK based on her song Quiet. An artist that “finds comfort in discomfort,” MILCK created the campaign to be a rallying call to break cycles of oppression and fear. The song was performed by a guerilla choir during the Women’s March on Washington, DC, on January 21, 2017.

Echo will be joined by a host of friends under the leadership of Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser. Frequent collaborator and artist-in-residence Annabelle Chvostek will take the reins for her song Firewalker. Including a host of different songs, Echo recently had a workshop with Hussein Janmohamed. Janmohamed is an Ismaili Canadian composer, performer, and educator who led Echo in what Gasser calls “a cultural and spiritual encounter.” Based on the title “Composing Pluralism: Music at the Intersections,” Janmohamed led the choir on a shared musical journey with inspirations from Christian, Muslim, folk, and other traditions.

“The whole thing was a big exercise in trust,” says Gasser. “Normally a workshop leader will work carefully to make a performance piece that’s almost satisfying to sing, all in one day… . But what he did was to open us up, as if he were operating on our compassionate hearts, and to trust that we’d understand how to make ourselves whole and ready to perform.” Janmohamed is a unique arts educator in his ability to open our ways of knowing and coming to music. He was similarly featured along with Shireen Abu Khader at SingOntario!, the recent annual Choirs Ontario festival, with a similar experience.

Gasser continues: “Hussein used a combination of the folk song Shenandoah, with an Islamic chant. He also trusted our community enough to sing the [Islamic] call to prayer (Azan), in an intimate way, that kept us open to sacred silence as a response.” Another song explored was the Dona Nobis Pacem, musically intertwined with a chant that asks Allah to bless Mohammed (peace be upon him) and his household with peace.

The choir will share the musical results of this journey they were led on by Janmohamed. Other features include Leonard Cohen’s Sisters of Mercy, a set of Georgian folk songs and Peggy Seeger’s Ballad of Springhill.

Echo Women’s Choir presents “We Can’t Keep Quiet!” celebrating their 25 th anniversary, Sunday, April 30, 3pm at Church of the Holy Trinity.

Sacred Music Quick Picks for the Easter season

The Easter season is second only to Christmas in activity for the choral community. Many choirs are presenting concerts themed around Easter and many fall on Good Friday. The offerings are wide and fantastic.

Apr 12, 14: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents “Sacred Music for a Sacred Space.” (I sing tenor in the choir.) Always a highlight of the TMC concert season, two performances are offered this year, a chance to catch some beautiful choral highlights including the transcendent Lux Aeterna based on Elgar’s Enigma Variations, the Allegri Miserere and some not-often performed gems from Healey Willan: How They So Softly Rest, written to commemorate the lives of servicemen lost from Willan’s congregation to World War II and his grand work An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts.

Apr 13, 14, 15, 16: St Anne’s Anglican Church presents “Holy Week and Easter” featuring sections from Schütz’s Johannes-Passion; Handel’s Messiah, and Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate.

Apr 14: The Toronto Beach Chorale presents “Mozart’s Requiem and More.” Featuring the eternally popular Mozart Requiem, the Chorale is including performed monologues from Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus. Salieri’s Te Deum is also on the evening’s program for the evening.

Apr 14: The Grand Philharmonic Choir presents Beethoven’s second most popular choral work, the Missa Solemnis, under the baton of Mark Vuorinen. This incredibly challenging work is a sure treat for choral lovers. Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the Missa Solemnis are hallmarks of the common mass. Pay special attention to the end of the Credo with its exceptionally difficult fugue in “Et vitam venturi saeculi.”

Apr 15: The Niagara Symphony Orchestra is joined by the Faith Chorale Gospel Choir, and the Laura Secord Secondary School Concert Choir in “Too Hot to Handel! –  The Gospel Messiah.” This glorious performance will feature blues, gospel, funk, jazz and more, all with familiar melodies we know and love. The original Gospel Messiah was the brainchild of the legendary Marin Alsop who conducted the premiere in 1993.

Apr 19: Edmonton’s Axios Men’s Ensemble visits Toronto’s St. Paul’s Bloor Street to present “Resurrection: Music from the Ukrainian Sacred Choral Tradition.” The feature is Father John Sembrat’s setting of the Resurrectional Divine Liturgy. Axios will be joined by Pro Coro Canada and a host of international friends including Boyan Ensemble of Kyiv (Revutsky Academic Male Capella), the Chorus of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Homin Municipal Choir of Lviv, and the Vydubychi Church Choir of Kyiv.

Apr 29, 30: Musikay presents Handel’s Messiah in two performances, one in Hamilton, the other in Oakville. The work, normally performed at Christmas, was meant to be performed at Easter according to Handel.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to

2207-JazzStoriesBanner.jpg2207 Jazz Stories 1Who might have guessed – other than Marshall McLuhan – that the world would be literally at our fingertips with the mere click of a touch screen? Imagine it: three of Toronto’s finest at play: Robi Botos commanding the Nord, Mike Downes thumping his bass and drummer Larnell Lewis weaving musical magic last month at Poetry Jazz Café, an intimate venue of 35 seats. Their second set was streamed on Facebook Live, and by the end of the hour, 1000 views were recorded; within a few days that number was 10,000. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it: go to Botos’ Facebook page and enjoy the set!

This newish notion of cultivating online audiences by way of streaming and social media is taking the global jazz community by storm, one day at a time. Back in 2011, thanks to the advocacy of Herbie Hancock, the first annual International Jazz Day – April 30 – was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization General Conference. Each year since, #JazzDay celebrations take place on the last day of April (the month known as Jazz Appreciation Month since 2002) in a host city and around the world. In 2016 alone, #JazzDay performances, education programs and media coverage reached more than three billion people.

“Live streaming and social media are tremendously important to International Jazz Day in that they help us connect directly with our audience, which includes both established jazz lovers and those who may be less familiar,” says Will Ramsey of the Thelonious Monk Institute, lead non-profit organization charged with planning, promoting and producing International Jazz Day festivities. “In many instances, Facebook and Twitter have helped us connect with organizers where email and phone calls have not worked. These sorts of tools also provide an unparalleled promotional resource – in just a few minutes, our social media team can engage hundreds of thousands of people with content from an organizer in Accra, or Tokyo, or Kansas City, or Asunción. From the beginning, social media has made the conversation about International Jazz Day extremely dynamic, in a way that befits its multicultural, multinational pedigree.

“Each year, we conduct grassroots outreach to hundreds of organizers in all 195 UNESCO member states. We have a small outreach team based in the US and France that works around the clock, mobilizing jazz clubs, cultural houses, libraries, NGOs, festival organizers, and even jazz musicians and enthusiasts to ensure that International Jazz Day is meaningfully celebrated on every continent (yes, that includes Antarctica). The centrepiece of the April 30 celebration, the All-Star Global Concert, is made available via live webcast each year from the Global Host City. This is a great tool because it makes it easy for people around the world to participate in Jazz Day – we often encourage them to screen the concert, which includes performances by over two dozen renowned jazz musicians from around the world, as a simple but powerful way to join the celebration.”

Notably, every nation in the world is invited to take part in #JazzDay, including a free listing on their website where one can browse events from Albania to Zanzibar. Ramsey reflects on this point further:

“It is also worth mentioning that many of our partners live in difficult circumstances, including conflict zones, areas undergoing economic difficulties and areas with limited infrastructure. Many organizers, however, including in places like Niger, Mali, Myanmar, Iran and Iraq, have thanked us for thinking of them and recognizing them as someone worthy of partnership. They tell us that no one ever approaches them from the outside with this kind of initiative – they get plenty of calls for interviews to talk about poverty, conflict and war, but never about including them in a global celebration.

“A manager of a music cafe in Niger, for example, thanked us profusely for not forgetting about his people and the artists in his country, saying that when there is so much strife and poverty, people forget that the human spirit needs music, culture and beauty just as much as food and water. He said that even when there is no food, there will always be music. He said he fights everyday to keep culture alive despite the odds and that international support and recognition from us gives him credibility on the ground to keep fighting. 

“There is a sense, then, in which International Jazz Day is fulfilling not just a cultural, but a humanitarian mission. Another example that sticks out in my mind: we have an organizer in Nepal, a music school dedicated to jazz called the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, who organizes an event every year. In 2015, just five days before Jazz Day, a massive earthquake struck Nepal – the worst in over 70 years. It was a terrible tragedy and they of course could not carry out their planned celebration on April 30. A few days later, however, the conservatory contacted us and let us know that they still wanted to hold an event. It was tremendously important to them to continue making music and demonstrate their resilience in the face of disaster. We helped connect them with an international artist who made a marathon trip from the US to Kathmandu in June. He conducted clinics and masterclasses with their students and even played in their official Jazz Day concert. It was the kind of powerful story that really shows the impact of International Jazz Day each year beyond just the numbers.”

Scroll down to Canada on and you’ll see that Toronto is part of the action too. On April 30 over brunch at Jazz Bistro, Steven Taetz and Joanna Majoko will celebrate Ella Fitgerald’s 100th birthday with Ewen Farncombe at the piano, Soren Nissen on bass and Eric West on drums.

The centenary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth can be tracked online at #EllaAt100. Some additional Ella celebrations you should know about: on April 24th, Heather Bambrick will salute Ella live on JAZZ.FM91 with Barbra Lica and Tia Brazda. On the First Lady of Song’s actual birthday, Tuesday, April 25: Billy Newton-Davis sings at Poetry Jazz Café; Kalya Ramu sings at The Rex; and yours truly at the Elizabeth Beeton Theatre.

2207 Jazz Stories 2Monk: As much as I love Ella, 1917 was also the birth year of Thelonious Monk, equally prolific as a composer, pianist and groundbreaking thinker in jazz. The delightfully nutty genius of modern music gets a bit of a spotlight this month, and not only because of the connection between #JazzDay and the Thelonious Monk Institute. Here in Toronto we have a very cool ongoing tribute to Monk in what is known as Monk’s Music, one of many side projects for vibraphonist/marimbist/composer Michael Davidson. On account of his musical dexterity, the infuriatingly talented Davidson is highly in demand for studio sessions, leads his own septet and is involved in several other projects.

“Monk’s Music began as a joint endeavour,” Davidson explains, “with drummer Dan Gaucher and myself on vibraphone around seven years ago. We both shared a collective love for the music of Thelonious Monk and approached the Tranzac Club about a regular performance slot. Dan and I felt that Monk’s music was underperformed and wanted to take an opportunity to present it regularly with a varied cast of musicians.

“The Tranzac agreed and we began playing the first and third Sundays of every month from 5 to 7pm. We would invite many different musicians to play with us and enjoyed exploring the music with shifting ensembles each time. After a few years Dan moved back to the West Coast and I continued the series. Over the years, since I have internalized much of Monk’s music, I try and breathe new life into it in each performance while respecting the vast and engaging body of work he has created.

“In the last two years it has settled into a trio formation with occasional guests, featuring drummer Nico Dann and double bassist Jim Sexton. We do free but true interpretations of more obscure Monk tunes like Coming on the Hudson, Introspection, Jackie-ing, Ugly Beauty, Off Minor, and well-known tunes like Pannonica or Criss-Cross. I continue to play his music because it has endless potential for expansion once you learn his harmonic language. It is a music of juxtapositions which makes it wonderfully rewarding and surprising to interpret. It is still not played nearly as much as I think is warranted.

“It has also branched out to another venue in Toronto, the Emmet Ray. We perform the second and fourth Sundays of each month from 6 to 8pm . This evolution marks its transformation into a weekly gig celebrating the harmonically rich, infectiously quirky, dexterously witty, melodic playground of Thelonious Monk.”

There you have it! Happy Jazz Appreciation Month to all loyal WholeNote readers and year-round live music appreciators.

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

2207-World 1.jpgArguably one of the most exciting features of Toronto’s musical geography today is how our metropolis has emerged as a kind of globally flavoured creative seedbed. Over the past few decades potentially viable music hybrids of myriad kinds have been created and encouraged to flourish. I’ve touched on many in this column over the years.

This inclusive scene is abetted by the presence of many of the world’s musics actively performed by musicians of the first rank. In this column last month, for example, I focused on music-making within the Persian community, which is thriving in the greater Toronto area.

In addition to performers, the GTA music scene is also supported by numerous audiences which have developed an appetite for tasting, mixing and merging of sonic genres from disparate worlds. Yet another essential element supporting this development includes a social-political infrastructure comprising community organizations, governments, venues and media which generally view hybrids favourably.

Inclusivity and diversity were adopted as part of the core philosophical platform of the current Canadian government. Recognizing that this approach is not necessarily the norm in other societies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly articulated its outlines, particularly in his foreign speeches. “Diversity is Canada’s strength,” he said in London, UK, in 2015. “Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them…that capacity will be at the heart of both our success and of what we offer the world.”

Let’s examine how Canada’s appreciation of the value of diversity –reflected and transformed by (both immigrant and Canadian-born) musicians through the process of artistic hybridization – is reflected in and shaped by several April concerts in Toronto.

Small World Music: Asian Music Series

Small World Music’s 15th Annual Asian Music Series, running April 1 to May 20, is a case in point. About half of the events are staged at SWM’s own intimate Centre at the Artscape Youngplace. The 14-concert series came about through networking with partner presenters such as the Aga Khan Museum, Batuki Music Society and Raag-Mala, in addition to support by various arts councils and levels of government. Its private sector sponsor is TD Bank.

The program brings together “emerging artists with internationally renowned figures, engaging communities around the GTA…embracing the scope of music from across the Asian cultural landscape – from India to Japan, via China, Pakistan and Iran….”

In order to assist audiences in navigating the two-month series, SWM groups concerts into what it calls Explorer Bundles. They are cannily shaping audience experiences thematically, as well as across genre and culture of origin. Allowing audiences to “take advantage of Small World’s place at the heart of the city’s global music scene,” the bundling of “Asian Music Experiences” is presented through discounted three-concert packages with the following evocative and user-friendly titles: Rhythm, Soul, Heritage and Motion.

The Asian Music Series Rhythm Explorer Bundle commences with the Haniya Aslam Trio on April 1. Aslam is a star in her native Pakistan, having co-led the country’s first all-female band Zeb and Haniya. Their groundbreaking 2008 hit album Chup! (Silence!) topped the charts for months. Now a Toronto resident, singer-guitarist Aslam fluidly combines pop, folk-rock, alt, blues and jazz with vernacular songs she learned in her native Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Lyrics in Urdu, Pashto, Dari and Turkish, and thematically bold subject matter, thicken the regional-transnational tensions in her songs, yet at the same time give them unusual potency. Continuing her advocacy of transnational culture in her music, she’s joined by leading Toronto world musicians Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion), Peter Lutek (winds) and Waleed Abdulhamid (bass).

The Rhythm Explorer Bundle continues April 16 with Upanishads, Toronto musician Debashis Sinha’s new solo project which explores ancient sacred text while remaining firmly rooted in the thoroughly contemporary sound world of electronic and beat-based music. Steeped in his experience as a second generation South Asian Canadian, Sinha’s music is “committed to expand[ing] the notions of what it means to express and be influenced by a life in/between cultures.”

May 6 at 10pm, the Rhythm Explorer Bundle wraps with a lighthearted “throwback dance party, Globetrotter’s Retro Bollywood Edition.” Local and international DJs will mix a live “cross-cultural concoction on the dance floor, in celebration of diversity and inspired community…with spicy blends of funk, sitar, tabla, soaring vocals and lush orchestras, all mashed up with modern beats.” Vintage Bollywood film clips, South Asian-themed decor and a chai bar round out this multisensory, playful party at Round, 152a Augusta Ave.

Tinariwen and Dengue Fever

Those are only three out of 12 concerts in SWM’s Asian Music Series which fall into the framework of this issue of The WholeNote so I can’t possibly highlight them all here, even though I’m itching to. Well – maybe just one more.

Tinariwen, presented at Massey Hall by Small World Music, Batuki Music Society and Massey Hall on April 12, is a Grammy Award-winning Malian sextet with an impressive international fan following. Formed in 1979 in Algerian exile by Malian Tuareg musicians, Tinariwen is among the pioneers of the desert blues genre. Digging heavily into traditional Tuareg music, but also influenced by Bob Marley, Carlos Santana, American blues and Bob Dylan, Tinariwen’s powerful driving music and controversial lyrics address the pain of exile and the struggle against political repression. Slate called the group “rock ‘n’ roll rebels whose rebellion, for once, wasn’t just metaphorical.”

The opening act Dengue Fever is fronted by award-winning Cambodian native vocalist Chhom Nimol. She sings in both Khmer and more recently in English. California based, the five-piece band with standard pop instrumentation takes 1960s Khmer pop music as its primary source of inspiration. It then liberally adds rock of the garage and psychedelic persuasion. Rock icon and veteran world music champion Peter Gabriel said of their music: “It’s done with a lot of style. It’s spirited, impassioned stuff.”

2207 World 2Tabla and Taiko: April 15 two of Toronto’s veteran world music groups join forces. Toronto Tabla Ensemble and Nagata Shachu present “Tabla and Taiko: Two Ancient Traditions Meet” at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. The promotional material states the concert is to serve as a “cross-cultural music collaboration of Indian and Japanese percussive traditions with the goal of bringing communities together.” It promises to be a textbook demonstration of how the evolutionary processes of artistic hybridization can be developed over years and successfully presented.

I’ve written before about how both Toronto-based ensembles have significantly contributed to the Canadian world music scene since the 1990s. In pursuing their groups’ artistic vision they have both succeeded in raising the profiles of received Indian and Japanese musics. In this concert they join hands and drums, featuring compositions by the two ensembles’ artistic directors, Ritesh Das and Kiyoshi Nagata. Each is creating works that maintain their home traditions’ integrity while also searching to integrate the other group’s inherent strengths. I spoke to each AD to better understand their collaborative approach.

“I wrote Sare Panch, in a rhythmic cycle of five and a half beats,” said Das. “I then modified and fine-tuned it in rehearsal so it would work with the extreme dynamic range of the taiko ensemble. I’m also looking forward to performing a piece by Aki Takahashi in 14 beats, as well as a work where I play solo tabla and Kiyoshi plays the chappa, a Japanese cymbal.”

How would he characterize the common denominators between the two quite different groups? “We both share values of respect, discipline and knowledge,” Das replied without pause.

Kiyoshi Nagata added: “I agree we share those values. [On the other hand] I always tell Ritesh it’s not our similarities but our differences that complement one another! For example taiko is loud, tabla is quiet; taiko is primal, tabla intricate and technical. It’s those kinds of juxtapositions which offer rich new sonic and artistic possibilities.

“In addition, both our ensembles work within the oral tradition,” continued Nagata. “Not being bound by notation makes it easier to communicate, I find. As we like to recite to one another: ‘Once you say it, you can play it!’ It’s quite liberating to be able to internalize music in order to express yourself. You could reduce the process to memorization, internalization and finally expression. After all, the goal of taiko practice is that the body becomes the extension of the rhythm.”

Finally Nagata added “Collaborations like this are pretty hard to come by. Toronto is one of the few places where this could happen. There’s a certain convenience in having both groups in the same town. They’re 20 minutes from us, so we can get together any day of the week!”

Aga Khan Museum’s “Entrancement”

As for presenters, they are continually evolving ways to reinterpret aspects of musical inclusivity, diversity and cultural framing to their audiences. The Aga Khan Museum is one such presenter and venue which has actively welcomed the music of the world right from its beginnings in 2014. I spoke to Umair Jaffar, performing arts manager at the AKM about its latest efforts to retag its concert series in order to keep it relevant to its patrons.

“We’ve had series called ‘classical’ and ‘world music’ in the past. Now we’re considering using the word ‘entranced’ however,” said Jaffar. “Trance is a word that aptly describes and connects several of our upcoming performing arts programs.”

It is an idea clearly reflected in the “mesmerizing and mood-altering grooves of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s slide guitar” that will be showcased in his April 22 concert presented in partnership with Raag-Mala Toronto and Small World Music’s Asian Music Series. The Grammy Award-winning Bhatt performs exclusively on his bespoke 19-stringed mohan veena. While his instrument borrows as much from the Hawaiian and blues slide lap guitars as from the indigenous Indian veena, the music Bhatt plays on it is strictly Hindustani classical, relying on the performance of raga. Raga itself is a complex concept in classical Indian music akin to melodic mode, possessing the power to “colour the mind” of the performer, as well as to affect the emotions of the listener.

The April crop from the Toronto global seed bed is promising indeed!

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

2207 BandstandIt all began in the spring of 1948 when a small research group at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, announced the development of a new electronic device which they named the “transistor,” initially more of a laboratory curiosity than a practical component of any electronic device. I recall a telephone call five years later in 1953 from a friend. He was an engineer in a research organization in Toronto and had just obtained “management approval” to purchase two transistors to try them out. Over the next few years the transistor became the successor, in most applications, to its much larger power hungry predecessor, the vacuum tube, invented in 1906. It only took till 1956 for the three researchers at Bell Labs to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work.

Now, 69 years after that 1948 announcement, smart phones, home computers, flat-screen TVs, GPS units and other compact electronic systems are homes to countless millions of much smaller transistors. Cable and satellite TV as well as Internet are the norm in most homes in this country. We listen to music on all kinds of devices from large home audio systems to hand-held smart phones. But how has this impacted on the activities that go into making music, especially as a collective social endeavour?

Obviously we are able to research titles and composers to assist in programming, but we may also go to YouTube sites to hear and watch performances of music to determine their suitability for possible performance. It is now common practice with many bands to send email messages to band members with a list of works scheduled for a rehearsal and YouTube sites to visit to get familiar with the music prior to a rehearsal. Some groups also send out recordings of rehearsals for members to review and determine ways to improve.

In fact, I know of one music director (who shall remain nameless) who became sufficiently technically savvy and innovative to electronically monitor the playing accuracy of individual band members and record each individual’s errors. Each member was then presented a personal report with a rating of their errors per minute. I don’t know whether or not that is still happening, but I certainly would have no interest in joining such an ensemble.

The most interesting example of constructive use of this rapidly evolving technology that I have heard of includes long-distance instruction and practice over the Internet. It all began when a woman in Whitehorse in the Yukon decided that she would like to learn to play clarinet. Wynne Krangle was in Toronto visiting her mother and decided to drop in to the Long & McQuade store. After she purchased her clarinet, she asked if they could suggest a clarinet teacher to visit for introductory lessons before returning to Whitehorse.

They gave her the name and number of Michele Jacot, conductor of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. The rest is history. Krangle emailed Jacot. They met by email, arranged to meet in person and managed to squeeze in two lessons before Krangle had to return to Whitehorse. As Jacot says “Wynne was quite the beginner.”

After she returned home they arranged to continue regular lessons using Skype and FaceTime as the primary means of communication until Krangle was able to visit Toronto again. As Jacot put it, “She certainly must have been highly motivated to faithfully practise regularly in her relative isolation.” There just aren’t that many playing opportunities for beginning amateur musicians in Whitehorse. On one of her visits to Toronto Krangle attended one of Jacot’s Wychwood Clarinet Choir concerts. It was then that Jacot suggested that she play every rehearsal. Yes, the idea was for Krangle to “virtually attend” Clarinet Choir rehearsals. She could sit at home in Whitehorse and observe the rehearsals in Toronto over the Internet. Progressing from that, the next step was to schedule a lesson every two weeks using FaceTime.

Last summer, Jacot suggested a challenge for Krangle. It was for her to learn all 11 pieces of music for the choir’s “Harvest Song” concert in Toronto in November. The idea was to use the scores and tapes from the weekly rehearsals and then come to Toronto to be part of at least two rehearsals and the performance. Krangle arranged to be in Toronto. She played in the final rehearsal before the concert and in the dress rehearsal. In her words, “I did just that and had an amazingly successful time integrating into the choir.” As for the future, she plans to be in Toronto and perform in the “Sounds of Spring” concert scheduled for May 28 at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.

(While on the subject of the Wychwood Clarinet, like many other groups this sesquicentennial year, the choir is planning for a definite Canadian component for the spring concert. Composer-arranger Fen Watkin has written an arrangement for clarinet choir of selections from the musical Anne of Green Gables. The choir folks intend to add a visual component to their concert as well. They will be showing historical photographs of the Wychwood neighbourhood in Toronto where they perform. Hopefully, there will be pleasant surprises for the audience, not only regarding local history, but also of the history of the choir.)

A very different and very heartening example of the creative use of our rapidly evolving technology has just come to our attention. Many years ago, Jack Savage, a trombone player from Newmarket formed a swing band. Ever since he started the group his wife Joyce was their biggest fan. She never missed a rehearsal or performance. Even after her husband’s death in May 2016 she was still a devoted fan. However, her stars were not in alignment when she learned of a memorial concert for him scheduled for December 7 last year. She had broken her hip and was bedridden at Orchard Villa Long Term Care residence in Pickering. Her son Ken couldn’t see how he might get her to that concert, but was determined to find some solution for her to attend virtually. Then he learned of the Pickering library’s PPL Connect program. This is a part of their digital education program where free Wi-Fi hotspots are available for loan. Ken contacted Saul Perdomo of the library about the possibility of getting the concert to his mother’s bedside.

On the night of the concert at the Alexander Muir Senior’s Residence in Newmarket, Perdomo took an iPad tablet to the concert. At Joyce’s bedside he had located suitable computer equipment. During the concert there was Joyce, in her bed almost part of the action, and even able to interact with band members. This was the first request of its kind to the library. It not only let Joyce attend Jack’s memorial concert, but it also brought two retirement communities together. Sadly Joyce passed away a couple of months later on February 17 at age 89.

Coming Events

Not only is 2017 Canada’s sesquicentennial year, but it is also the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. While this was certainly not the only large-scale battle of World War I where Canadian troops fought, it is accorded a special recognition in Canada’s history because this was the first major battle where the entire Canadian force was under Canadian command. Several bands have already presented, or soon will present, some form of special Vimy concert. One of the most imaginative is that of the “100th Anniversary Vimy Trench Dinner and Band Concert” on the evening of April 4 at the Flato Markham Theatre. Organized by the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles Association, the concert is being advertised as “The Mayor’s Vimy Concert.”

The evening will begin at 5:30 with a sit-down dinner of typical foods of that era that would have been served to the men behind the lines. At 7:00 the audience will move into the theatre for the concert by two bands. The first band will be a composite group made up of members from the various regimental reserve bands of the Toronto Garrison. This band will be conducted by Lt. Nick Arrigo, director of music of the 7th Toronto Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery Band. This band will be joined by the Pipes and Drums of York Regional Police.

Periodically, throughout the concert, a narrator will read letters home from men at the front. The concept is very similar to that performed a few times in recent years by the Toronto New Horizons Band under Dan Kapp. In the New Horizons performances letters from Europe were actual letters home from a man who was later killed in action during WWII. Since this concert is about a battle 100 years ago, there would be little chance of finding suitable letters. For this Vimy concert, the letters will be historically accurate simulated accounts, carefully crafted by a history professor, from a soldier, here called George, his fiancée Sally and his grandson living in the present day. The letters will be read by actors as the band plays appropriate music softly in the background. Information and reservations are available at the Flato Markham Theatre box office: 905-305-7469.

Allan Calvert

It is with a heavy heart that I report the passing of Allan Calvert. One of four children born in Ottawa from Irish immigrants who came from Belfast in the 1920s, he moved to Toronto with his mother and three siblings after his father died. At an early age he learned to play various brass instruments and in Salvation Army Bands. Later he became music director and conductor of the Evangel Temple Brass Band in Toronto. I first met Al when we were both on the executive of CBA, Ontario. Al was the very diligent treasurer of that organization for over 25 years.

Odds and Ends

Every once and a while someone will come up with a clever title for a piece of music which strikes a chord. The opening number in the latest concert of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir was H2Overture by Jerry Williams. Yes, it was a medley of over 30 themes with reference to water in their titles.

In the past, in this column, I have occasionally ranted about people with smart phones held up so that their bright images are in full view of the audience members behind them. So, it was time to take action. At the last two concerts attended, I took the risk of asking a few users to put their distracting devices away. Rather than any adverse reactions, I received apologies in all cases.

There’s nothing like authenticity when researching costumes for period productions. Being a longtime Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado, I was a bit perplexed to see an advertisement for this year’s Stratford Festival’s production of HMS Pinafore. There we see a man dressed as a sailor in the Royal Navy, but wearing the “Dixie cup” hat of the US Navy. Such integration!

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

Lately, I have been walking around and humming the melody of You Must Believe in Spring, partially because it’s a nice melody, and partially as a reminder – sometimes it’s easy to forget that warmer days are in fact on their way. As we wait for our little corner of the world to thaw, it may help our collective state of mind if we listened to some music that carries in it echoes of warmer places. Like, for example, South Asia, or West Africa, or the Mediterranean. Such echoes can be found in the lineup of the eclectic So Long Seven, which showcases Neil Hendry on the mandolin and guitar, Tim Posgate on the banjo, Ravi Naimpally on the tabla and the remarkably young (barely out of his teens) William Lamoureux on the violin. With this unusual blend of instruments, and a collective and unmistakable jazz sensibility, So Long Seven’s highly organized, mostly non-hierarchical approach to composition and improvisation constitutes what I would call cross-cultural chamber music.

A year ago – almost to the day, as I write this – the band released their eponymous debut album, a colourful and contemplative work of art, and a formidable effort that will be tough to follow.

Aside from the quality of the music, what captures me about this album is the fact that, from top to bottom, each tune seems to share a goal; this is not just a collection of tracks that will demonstrate the versatility and skill of a band, but a cohesive work that is united by one purpose. What that purpose is, I suppose, up to each individual listener. When the music has no words, it can be tough to pinpoint or articulate these things, even though you may have a strong sense of them. My first instinct would be to call it music to meditate to, but that may be too restrictive since not everyone meditates (and I don’t). I’ll call it music to think to.

My favourite track by far is the one which opens the album, Torch River Rail Company. The introspective and rhythmically driven melody, which rolls like a train over the five-beat pattern that underlies it, maintains its momentum through these almost arbitrary - though definitely not arbitrary - pauses; as Lamoureux takes his bow off the strings, or as the rhythm section freezes, you can almost hear it continue, and you are not the least bit startled when it comes back in. The melody and accompaniment - separately - continue to weave in and out like that, and it’s fascinating to hear.

You’ll have two opportunities to hear So Long Seven in Southern Ontario this month. If you’re in or around Hamilton, you can catch them at Artword Artbar on April 7; if you live closer to Toronto and you aren’t able to get out to Hamilton, you can catch up with them the very next day, April 8, at the Small World Music Centre, a short walking distance from the corner of Dundas and Ossington.

I’ll level with you on this one: while I’m confident that I’ve seen all the footage of them that exists on the Internet, I’ve never seen So Long Seven live. I have a friend who used to invite me to their shows constantly back when they were known as Oolong 7, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to dive into their recorded music. So if I make it out to Hamilton, I’ll be discovering them right alongside you.

I hope to see you there.

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

2206-BBB-Classical 1.jpg"Not Reconciled: The Cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet” is a retrospective of 31 films by the singular filmmaking duo that takes hold at TIFF Bell Lightbox March 3 with the screening of a new 35mm print of Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. Whether or not you’re familiar with the austere dissociation of the filmmakers’ style, this black and white 1967 film is essential viewing for any music lover. Compulsively watchable, it’s of key historical importance on two counts. As a portrait of J.S. Bach, it’s a focused biography zoning in on the last decades of his life, from the end of his stint working for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen to his time in Leipzig as cantor of St. Thomas Church (1723-1750). And as a 50-year-old film in which Bach is portrayed by harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt and the music is directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with musicians from his Concentus Musicus Wien, it’s also a record of a period-instrument movement that was then in its infancy.

The film is awash in music, all inspired by Bach’s love of, and devotion to, God. Almost the entire film consists of excerpts from 24 of Bach’s works – it’s a total immersion experience largely because most of the excerpts are each several minutes long. The bewigged Bach and musicians perform in period costume in the very places where the compositions were first played. The Straubs’ rigorous aesthetic reinforces this effect by selecting a camera position with a striking perspective and letting their unmoving camera soak up the moving image; they concentrate our attention on the music.

The film is narrated in a matter-of-fact manner by Bach’s second wife, a singer he married in 1721 after the death of his first wife. She gives a bare outline of Bach’s early years, touching on his organ prowess and the famous 250-mile walk he took from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear his idol Buxtehude play, but once she introduces herself events flow according to the pulse of time. For the most part the music follows in chronological order beginning with a sizable excerpt from the middle of the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No.5, the first great keyboard concerto and arguably the zenith of his time in Köthen. The camera placement is over the right shoulder of Bach as we watch Leonhardt play his double-keyboard harpsichord unfettered.

Just as Bach is about to take up his post in Leipzig, we’re treated to Leonhardt and Harnoncourt in lovely performance of the first movement adagio from the Sonata No.2 for viola da gamba and harpsichord BWV 1028. Then it’s a seamless parade of cantatas (embracing many instrumental passages, Bach conducting from the keyboard) with the Magnificat, St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor included, all integral to the narrative. Only a smattering of keyboard works interrupt the flow, notably the opening of the magisterial Prelude in B Minor for Organ BWV 544. Later, the camera actively moves in on Leonhardt for an intimate snippet of the Clavier-Übung organ chorale. He explains how his left hand plays written notes (basso continuo) while the right hand plays in consonance and dissonance; and that the music is for the glory of God.

Camera placement is critical. For example, in the Cantata BWV 198, written for the funeral of Queen Christiane, the vantage point is from the instrumental side focused on the lute, with Bach at left in front of the choir. Occasionally there will be a cut to a close-up of a singer or instrumentalist; even a view of the thick scores black with the density of notes. Despite the lack of camera movement, there is a variety of perspective, often at an angle, which adds to our involvement. The filmmakers also point us to original documents, contracts and the like. They are careful to point out the economics of Bach’s daily life and his concerns with his working conditions as he navigates his relationship to his employers.

The other major musical component of the retrospective, is the screening March 12 of the Straubs’ film of Schoenberg’s unfinished opera Moses and Aaron (1974), shot in a Roman amphitheatre with the Austrian Radio Choir and Austria Radio Symphony Orchestra (recorded in Vienna), along with the 1972 short film Accompaniment to a Cinematic Scene (which uses text by Schoenberg and Brecht to condemn anti-Semitism). Preceding the films will be a 15- to 20-minute live performance of five extracts from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire as well as Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht presented by Against the Grain Theatre with soprano Adanya Dunn and collaborative pianist Topher Mokrzewski.

2206-BBB-Classical 2.jpgAssociates of the TSO. Now in their 45th season, the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra continue their current series March 6 with “Classics of Vienna Meet Voices of Britain.” TSO oboist Sarah Lewis is joined by Eri Kosaka, violin, Diane Leung, viola, and Emmaneulle Beaulieu Bergeron, cello, in Mozart’s effervescent Oboe Quartet K370, Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings Op.2 (written when the composer was 19 and featuring a singing oboe line). Beethoven’s splendid Trio Op.9 No.1 opens the concert.

On February 13, I heard their second concert of the season, “Paris en mille notes,” a delightful evening of chamber music in the friendly confines of Jeanne Lamon Hall. The distinctive Gallic-flavoured program began with a lively look at Stravinsky’s Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat. Stravinsky’s septet consisted of violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, double bass and percussion, a larger number of players than the Associates usually bring to a concert. The enthusiastic audience, who appeared to be made up of the proverbial “seven to seventy,” took up most of the seats on the main floor and seemed to energize the players.

Stravinsky’s score, which takes advantage of its instruments’ unique instrumental colour, was suitably raucous and lively with memorable violin playing by TSO assistant concertmaster Etsuko Kimura (as it should be given the story of a violinist-soldier who sells his instrument to the devil), the sweet bassoon of Fraser Jackson and buffoonery from the brass.

Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, which followed, acted as a palate cleanser after the Stravinsky’s exoticism, creating a wonderful sense of space with long flute lines and wide intervals that felt very French, all delivered with aplomb by Leonie Wall and collaborative pianist Monique de Margerie.

After intermission the duo joined the septet plus another percussionist for Jackson’s clever chamber arrangement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major which was being performed for the first time. With similar instrumentation as the Stravinsky, the concerto began in wind-band style before moving into its languorous piano theme with piccolo backing. Conductor Ryan Haskins brought a subtle baton to Ravel’s jazz touches, providing a good steady groove for the second movement’s lovely theme, while de Margerie’s intimate solo piano playing was well-suited to the chamber format.

Kudos to the musicians and their contagious spirit. It augurs well for the rest of the season to come. Following the March 6 concert previously mentioned, their season continues May 29 with a transcription of Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin arranged for violin and viola and Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat Major Op.3. June 5, it’s music for piano trio by Haydn, Luedeke, Piazzolla and Brahms.

2206-BBB-Classical 3.jpgDmitry Masleev. Following in the footsteps of the 13 first-place winners of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the Siberian-born Dmitry Masleev joins such legends as Van Cliburn (1958), Vladimir Ashkenazy (1962) and Grigory Sokolov (1966) and most recently Denis Matsuev (1998), Ayako Uehara (2002) and Daniil Trifonov (2011). His Koerner Hall recital March 22 includes works he played in Round 1 of that competition (two of Rachmaninoff’s Études Tableaux Op.39 and Beethoven’s Sonata Op.81a “Les Adieux”) and Liszt’s Totentanz from Round 2. Four Scarlatti sonatas, additional Rachmaninoff pieces and Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.14 complete his ambitious program.

In response to a question I emailed him shortly before we went to press, Masleev told me that his musical hero is Sergey Rachmaninoff. “He was not only a genius composer whose music inspires all classical music lovers, but he was also a brilliant pianist,” he said. “Thank God we have lots of his recordings available and can listen to them.

“He has his own style of performing,” the 28-year-old said. “You will always be amazed by his precise touch, deep forte and piano, and of course, just incredible technique. His music combines deep meaning that touches your heart, a variety of harmonies, just unbelievable beautiful melodies. There is a quality in it that will find a response from any person in the audience.

Daniil Trifonov. Coincidentally, the previous Tchaikovsky winner, Daniil Trifonov (having just turned 26) returns to Koerner Hall just six days after Masleev, March 28 in a recital devoted to Schumann, Shostakovich and Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. The concert is sold out but a few rush tickets will be available 90 minutes prior to the performance. When he was 23, Trifonov gave a masterclass/interview at Mazzoleni Hall one evening in January 2015. He mentioned Rachmaninoff, Friedman, Horowitz, Hofmann and Michelangeli among pianists from the past who inspired him. He said then that the two hours before a concert is a period of intense concentration and that “somehow warming up for me is more mental [than physical].”


Mar 4: Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra principal trumpet Michael Fedyshyn joins violinist Bethany Bergman, cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Angela Park as 5 at the First presents music by Biber, Barnes, Ewazen and Piazzolla.

Mar 4: Academy Concert Series presents “A Frankly Fabulous Foray,” piano quintets by Franck and Fauré (See what they did there!), two lush chamber works. OSM principal second violin Alexander Read, HPO second violinist and Windermere String Quartet first violinist Elizabeth Loewen Andrews, TSM 2016 fellow Emily Eng, viola, Academy Concert Series artistic director Kerri McGonigle, cello, and Leanne Regehr, piano, bring the works to life.

Mar 5: Trio Con Brio Copenhagen’s concert, presented by Chamber Music Hamilton, includes Schubert’s uncommonly beautiful Piano Trio in B-flat Major Op.99.

Mar 5, 7 and 9: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Aviv String Quartet performing Mozart’s great last ten quartets. Mar 21 and 23: Movses Pogossian honours Bach’s birthday by playing his six sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin in the KWCMS music room. Mar 22: Peter Vinograde, who played the first solo recital in that music room in 1980, returns to play Bach, Beethoven and Peter Mennin. Apr 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9: Another major programming coup for KWCMS: the Lafayette String Quartet playing the complete Shostakovich string quartets.

Mar 5: It’s cloning time as Mooredale presents Paganini Competition prizewinner In Mo Yang at Walter Hall, while RCM presents the inimitable Sir András Schiff at Koerner Hall, and Roy Thomson Hall presents Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, recent Grammy winners for Best Orchestral Performance. All concerts will take place Sunday afternoon at three o’clock.

Mar 7: GGS scholarship student Charissa Vandikas plays Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff in a free noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Apr 4: Another COC free noontime concert features Mark Fewer in solo violin works by Bach, Ysaÿe and Chris Paul Harman. Apr 5: Rossina Grieco, a native of Southern California and winner of the GGS Ihnatowycz Prize in Piano, fills the Bradshaw Ampitheatre with Liszt’s iconic Sonata in B Minor in her free concert.

Mar 9: The relatively new Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch brings their chamber music bona fides to the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto for what promises to be a memorable afternoon of music by Rachmaninoff, Schumann and Shostakovich.

Mar 10: The celebrated duo pianists, Anagnoson and Kinton, continue their 40th anniversary season with a concert at Brock University in St. Catharines.

Mar 16: Music Toronto presents the Philharmonic Quartett Berlin (made up exclusively of members of the Berliner Philharmoniker) in a classic program of late Haydn, early Beethoven and middle Schumann.

Mar 18: TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow is the soloist in Brahms’ lyrical Violin Concerto with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bradley Thachuk, at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.

Mar 19: Four days before his Music Toronto recital, Marc-André Hamelin performs at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. The all-sonata program is anchored in the first half by Beethoven’s fervid Appassionata Sonata and in the second by Chopin’s dark Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor “The Funeral March.”

Mar 23: One-time protégé of the great Arthur Rubinstein, Janina Fialkowska brings her pianistic sensibility to an all-Chopin recital at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Mar 27: The U of T Faculty of Music presents the dedicated and dependable Gryphon Trio performing Beethoven’s buoyant Piano Trio Op.11, Dinuk Wijeratne’s Love Triangle and Brahms’ romantic signpost, the Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor Op.25. Currently artists-in-residence at the faculty, the Gryphon is joined by guest violist Ethan Filner for the Brahms.

Apr 1: The indefatigable Angela Park joins Canadian Sinfonietta’s first violinist, Joyce Lai, and first cellist, András Weber, for an evening of chamber music by Rachmaninoff, Handel-Halvorsen and An-Lun Huang.

Apr 1, 2: Tokyo-born, Montreal-raised Karen Gomyo brings her superb musicianship to Beethoven’s splendid Violin Concerto. Young American, Robert Trevino, also conducts the TSO in the 1947 version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka rooted in Russian folklore and melody. Apr 6, 7: TSO favourite Thomas Dausgaard returns to conduct Deryck Cooke’s version of Mahler’s magnificent Symphony No.10; TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson is the soloist in Schumann’s ravishing Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129, the opening work on the program.

Apr 2: Pianist Anton Nel, fresh from two masterclasses on March 31, performs Mozart and Schumann in a free concert (tickets required; available from March 2) in Mazzoleni Hall.

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

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

2206-BBB-New.jpgIn last month’s column, my opening story focused on the upcoming New Creations Festival presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with concerts on March 4, 8 and 11. I featured a conversation with Christine Duncan speaking about a new commission entitled Qiksaaktuq for the March 4 concert, a collaboration between Duncan, Tanya Tagaq, Jean Martin and orchestrator Christopher Mayo that combines both notated score and improvisation. To continue coverage of the New Creations Festival for the March issue, I spoke with guest curator and composer/performer Owen Pallett about his vision for the festival and the highlights of the March 8 and 11 concerts.

 A year ago, a review by Michael Vincent in the March 6 edition of The Toronto Star noted that in the 2016 New Creations Festival there were no female composers featured. The author stated that this omission demonstrated “a lack of awareness towards the diversity of the community,” and he ended his review with a hope that the TSO would listen to this critique. By selecting Owen Pallett as the guest curator for this year’s festival, I think it’s fair to say that they are now listening. When I spoke with Pallett, I began by asking him what his curatorial vision was. “My priority is on critical work,” he began. “There has been a big change in the [cultural] conversation over the last 15 years, and I want to reflect that in the concerts.” For Pallett, this means having representation from both female and male composers, as well as the inclusion of Indigenous and culturally diverse performers. He also wanted to reflect the full spectrum of new music practices that exist outside the traditional concert hall. This goal is evident in both the selection of composers he wanted to include, as well as the choice of performers for the lobby concerts that happen both pre- and post-concert. “There’s an enormous audience in Toronto for new music, but they don’t know it exists. People are interested in listening to challenging music, and I’m also working to address that in this series.” In the end, Pallett is not interested in theoretical ideas of what new music is, but rather in selecting works that are, in his words, BOLD.

As examples, he cites the music of Cassandra Miller that displays “enormous and monolithic gestures, like giant glaciers, which are far removed from other schools of new music composition.” Speaking of glacial landscapes, another composer Pallett selected is Daniel Bjarnason from Iceland who takes Ligeti’s ideas of cloud structures and turns them into a new language. Both Bjarnason and Miller’s works (Round World and Emergence, respectively) will be premiered on March 11. Pallett’s choice to include Tanya Tagaq’s improvised performance will give audiences a chance to experience “the most emotional response you’ll hear from an improvised performer.” Another of his composer selections is American Nico Muhly (Mixed Messages, March 8 concert), whose style is a “concentrated John Adams-inspired tonalism drawing from many different sources and time periods.” Muhly, currently one of the most visible composers in the USA, has worked and recorded with a range of classical and pop/rock musicians and refuses to be pinned down to one specific genre.

Pallett’s own commissioned work, Songs From An Island, will be premiered on March 8. What we will hear that night is a 15-minute excerpt from a 75-minute work he is currently working on. Originally, Pallett began writing a more conventional piece for the festival, but after recently hearing American composer Andrew Norman’s work Play, he decided to shelve it and go full out to create a more edgy piece that “investigates the cross section of folk songwriting and the aspects of modern orchestration that I’m most interested in.” The piece is a series of songs about a man who washes up on an island and gets involved in an assortment of hedonistic activities. One might think that would result in a work with a bawdy flavour, but not so. Rather, Pallett says, the piece has a more spiritual tone and ends with the character circling the planet hearing the prayers of the people below. The music is as much inspired by trends in rock music since Talk Talk, an English new wave band active from 1981 to 1992, as it is by concert music influences such as Ligeti-inspired tone clusters and Grisé’s spectralism. However, Pallett made it clear that his is not a hybrid music as he “draws equally from a number of different languages to arrive at this one unified aesthetic, one unified conclusion. I’m still trying to find the sweet spot,” he said, which is not a space “between the two worlds, but is its own place unrelated to either genre. I am completely allergic to any conversations that distinguish between pop vs. serious music. I find it classist and I reject it.”

The Festival will also feature a lineup of outstanding performers, including violinst James Ehnes performing a new violin concerto by Aaron J. Kernis (March 8) and the Kronos Quartet performing Black MIDI, a new work by Nicole Lizée (March 11). And finally, each symphony concert will begin with the performance of a two-minute Sesquie, commissioned as part of the TSO’s year-long Canada Mosiac project. These include Andrew Staniland’s Reflections on O Canada after Truth and Reconciliation (March 4) Harry Stafylakis’ Shadows Radiant (March 8) and Zeiss After Dark by Nicole Lizée (March 11). Highlights of the lobby concerts include Indigenous performers The Lightning Drum Singers led by Derrick Bressette (March 4), and the Cris Derkson Trio with Derkson on cello, Anishinaabe Hoop Dancer Nimkii Osawamick and drummer Jesse Baird (March 11). The spirit of improvisation will make an appearance as well with the performance on March 8 by the Element Choir led by Christine Duncan.

Nicole Lizée: March 11 will be a busy night for composer Nicole Lizée with her two works at the New Creations Festival along with a piece she composed for a concert featuring the Plumes ensemble at the Music Gallery. Montreal-based Plumes is a six-member group combining pop and classical influences who have invited 13 composers to create pieces inspired by Vision, Canadian producer/singer Grimes’ album. And in the spirit of Owen Pallett’s vision for New Creations, this concert includes a majority of women composers as well as a creative mandate to push genre boundaries. Alongside Lizée, other composers include Emilie LeBel, Tawnie Olson, Monica Pearce and Stephanie Moore. (And later in the month at the Gallery, the all-female Madawaska Quartet along with harpist Sanya Eng and guitarist Rob MacDonald create an immersive performance environment in which to perform works by Omar Daniel, Andrew Staniland, Scott Good and Yoko Ono. This program will also be performed on March 29 in Kitchener as part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society series.)

Full Spectrum: March continues with a full spectrum of new music events. On March 10 and 11, The Toronto Masque Theatre presents The Man Who Married Himself composed by Juliet Palmer with libretto by Anna Chatterton and choreography by Hari Krishnan. The story is an intriguing one, given the gender issues already discussed. It’s an allegory of the inner battle between male and female parts, played out by the main character who rejects the idea of marrying a woman and instead creates a lover for himself from his own left side. The outcome of that experiment unfolds throughout the piece.

Continuum Contemporary Music’s lineup for their March 25 “Pivot” concert of works by emerging composers is another example of a more diverse representation of composers. The concert will present the creative outcomes of a six-month mentorship with works by four female composers (Rebecca Bruton, Maxime Corbeil-Perron, Evelin Ramon, Bekah Sims) and Philippine-born Juro Kim Feliz. Montrealer Beavan Flanagan rounds out a program of pieces exploring acoustic, electroacoustic and acousmatic traditions.

And finally, the Array Ensemble will perform “The Rainbow of Forgetting” in both Toronto (March 9) and Kingston (March 10) with compositions by Mozetich, Catlin Smith, Komorous, Sherlock, Bouchard and Arnold.

With so much going on also in the early part of March, I have not been able to cover it all here. I recommend you consult my February column for some of the early March events mentioned there.

Finally here are some additional Quick Picks for this month:

Mar 2: Canadian Music Centre. “Of Bow and Breath.” Works by Vivier, Baker, Tenney, Stevenson and Foley.

Mar 5: Oriana Women’s Choir. “Journey Around the Sun.” Includes a work by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis.

Mar 8: U of T Faculty of Music presents “A 90th Celebration of John Beckwith” featuring Beckwith’s works A Game of Bowls, Follow Me and a selection of songs.

Mar 9: Canadian Opera Company. Chamber Music Series: Contemporary Originals in collaboration with the TSO’s New Creations Festival.

Mar 12: Ritual 7 presents “The Announcement Made to Mary,” a miracle play with score by Anne Bourne.

Mar 18: Caution Tape Sound Collective. Array Space.

Mar 18: Scaramella presents. “Tastes: Old and New,” contemporary works by Peter Hannan, Grégoire Jeay and Terri Hron.

Mar 18: TO.U Collective/Music at St. Andrews.presents Radulescu’s Sonatas No.3 and No.6 performed by pianist Stephen Clarke.

Mar 19: Two electroacoustic music concerts presented by U of T Faculty of Music: works by Ciamaga, Staniland, Viñao and Mario Davidovsky, L’adesso infinito for organ, projections and 4-channel sound by Dennis and Barbara Patrick, Stockhausen’s Kontakte, John Chowning’s Turenas and Tomita’s arrangement of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun.

Mar 22 and 23: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sesquie A Hero’s Welcome by Kati Agócs and North American premiere of a co-commissioned work Accused: Three Interrogations for Soprano and Orchestra byMagnus Lindberg.

Mar 25: Guitar Society of Toronto presents Duo Scarlatti. Their exact program is unknown at press time but will be selected from music from the high Baroque and 20th century works by Bogdanovic, Pisati, Iannarelli, Cascioli and Del Priora, among others.

Mar 26: U of T Faculty of Music presents “There Will Be Stars: Music of Stephen Chatman,” which includes works by Chatman, Ramsay, Parker, Hagen, and Brandon.

Mar 26: New Music Concerts presents György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments as part of a benefit performance event. Also presented on March 27 by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

Apr 7: Music Gallery. “Emergents III: Castle If + Laura Swankey.” Joe Strutt, curator.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

2206-Feat- Jazz Stories.jpgWhether you are in the band or in the audience, in jazz, the ideal experience is being there when something magical happens. The second best thing is hearing a live recording that captures such magic. Therefore, the production of live recordings, where the band is at its best with an enthusiastic audience, is essential to understanding, preserving and promoting jazz music. Norman Granz knew this and epitomized it; the famed impresario and record producer known for discovering Oscar Peterson and catapulting Ella Fitzgerald’s career was a civil rights hero who worked tirelessly to produce, book and champion his gifted artists. Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award, garnering 13 such trophies in her illustrious career. Between 1938 and 1989, Ella Fitzgerald recorded over 2000 songs.

On Mack the Knife: Live in Berlin, recorded February 13, 1960, something truly magical happened. In front of the perfect audience – rapturously cheering and not a single cough – Miss Fitzgerald was at the Mt. Everest-like peak of her vocal power and accompanied by the best jazz combo Granz could find: music director Paul Smith on piano, Jim Hall on guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Gus Johnson on drums. There is literally not one false eighth-note on this hotly swinging session. On the title track Ella forgets the lyrics and improvises her own (“You won’t recognize it…it’s a surprise hit!”). And equally historic is the nine-minute version of How High the Moon which is arguably the greatest scat solo ever recorded. Using Charlie Parker’s Ornithology as a starting point, Fitzgerald miraculously makes seven minutes of intergalactic wordless fireworks fly by as effortlessly as a hummingbird.

Born April 25, 1917, Ella’s centenary quickly approaches and fittingly there are musical tributes to her left, right and centre. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra will wait until June 6 and 7 to toast the “First Lady of Song,” in a tribute conducted by Steven Reineke and featuring American vocalists Capathia Jenkins, Montego Glover and Sy Smith. For something coming up sooner and featuring extraordinary Canadian talent, as part of the Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) Concert Series, the Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra will celebrate 100 years of Ella Fitzgerald at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Saturday March 18. The Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra is Darcy Hepner, lead alto saxophone; Simon Wallis, alto saxophone; Michael Stuart, tenor saxophone; Jeff King, tenor saxophone; Terry Basom, baritone saxophone; Jason Logue, lead trumpet; Brigham Phillips, trumpet; Mike Malone, trumpet; Ron Baker, trumpet; Russ Little, lead trombone; Rob Somerville, trombone; Phil Gray, trombone; Bob Hamper, bass trombone; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Pat Collins, bass; Kevin Dempsey, drums; and vocalist, Sophia Perlman, who Hepner describes calls “the only singer the band will ever need.”

SOPHIA PERLMAN: The term “using one’s voice as an instrument” gets tossed around too casually in the jazz world. Vocalists are sometimes not perceived to be musicians. Toronto’s Sophia Perlman is not merely a musician, but an excellent one, thanks to her natural talent, unflinching dedication and a wide variety of musical experiences and influences.

Now a faculty member of Mohawk College’s jazz program, from 2008 to 2013 Perlman worked with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s OPERAtion KIDS outreach program, and during her tenure worked with close to 2000 elementary school-aged students in Toronto creating music and opera, as well as instructing two of their choruses for children as young as three.

Not one to pigeonhole herself, in PerlHaze, her new folk/roots/singer-songwriter partnership with fellow jazz singer Terra Hazelton, Perlman writes, sings and plays a half-dozen instruments:

“One of the things I love about the ways Terra and I have been exploring writing and arranging for two musicians is the multitudes of ways that harmony and counterpoint can help to fill in other aspects of the music like time or harmonic rhythm. I think, as a former choral singer, I tend to hear parts in my head most of the time. When I’m singing especially loosely, or in different jazz settings like playing with my quartet, or when I’m improvising, it’s still largely rooted in writing alternate arrangements in my head.”

What do you remember about your very first experience singing with a big band? I think maybe the first large band experience I ever had was singing in a Mirvish musical at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1996. It wasn’t jazz, but the process of learning music over piano reductions and then having the experience of singing them when those piano parts expanded was incredible to my 12-year-old brain…

I played saxophones and clarinet in high school and got introduced a bit more to big band music through the perspective of an instrumentalist. The way different horn sections were used and voiced seemed very akin to the choral and vocal music I was already singing outside of school. I had a very smart band teacher who found a million excuses to get me to arrange and reduce things. Thanks, Mr. Alberts! The summer before my last year of high school, I went to the jazz camp at Interprovincial Music Camp. I’m almost afraid to list the IMC faculty that summer because since then some of these people have become my colleagues, my mentors and my friends, and I’m afraid I’m going to leave someone out: Lisa Martinelli, Kevin Turcotte, Pat Collins, Mike Murley, Cam Ryga, Lorne Lofsky, Barry Elmes…Hugh Fraser was at the helm and that was my introduction to VEJI and to the incredible Christine Duncan who really reframed my ideas as to how big band music didn’t necessarily mean historical music and it was inspiring to hear compositions go from small band to big band six months later at the IAJE conference in Toronto. My camp friends and I stormed the hall as soon as the doors were open to try and get as close to the front as possible. Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass reunited that night too. I don’t think my 17-year-old self understood how fortunate I was – as excited and inspired as I was.

Tell me a bit about your experience working with the Toronto All-Star Big Band and how the experience influenced you as a musician. I auditioned for TABB in the spring of my last year of high school. It was just artistic director Zygmunt Jedrzejek and a pianist who was very kind and gamely played through End of a Love Affair a second time when I was asked if I could try to improvise…The pianist was Ernesto Cervini. I actually knew him as a pianist and a clarinetist before I ever figured out he played the drums.

That band has turned out a whole bunch of wonderful alumnae. Ernesto has put out some incredible records as a drummer, arranger and composer. Jeff Halischuk and I have been playing together ever since. Melissa Lauren and I overlapped as vocalists, and Elliot Madore, who was the baritone in our vocal quartet is taking the opera world by storm in New York.

What have you learned from working with Darcy Hepner? I first met Darcy Hepner when he pulled up in front of our Toronto apartment to drop off charts for my then boyfriend, this cute piano player. He was starting a weekly big band gig in Hamilton, exploring the music of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra…I started riding the bus out to Hamilton after work to hear the band play almost every week. At some point the piano player put the bug in Darcy’s ear that I sang and he threw a couple of mp3’s my way – Joe Williams with the Band. It’s always a challenge as a female singer to navigate the ranges of some of these charts. You want to try, and you can’t ask a whole big band to transpose. It requires some creativity.

I don’t particularly remember how it went that night but they kept inviting me back and finding things for me to do – an Ella Fitzgerald/Oscar Peterson show during the Brott Festival, and what is becoming an annual gig fundraising for the Good Shepherd’s Society in Ancaster.

The band has so many musicians that I love and respect. I am so grateful that my now husband Adrean Farrugia introduced me to the community of musicians and supporters of music that exists out here in Hamilton. It’s extraordinary to me that they sustained a weekly residency, with a fixed wage for musicians, for an 18-piece big band for as long as they did. And the friendships and musical connections that I made inevitably ended up with my getting involved at Mohawk College and ultimately the decision to move to Hamilton a couple years ago.

2206-Feat- Jazz Stories 2.jpgJAZZ.FM91 YOUTH BIG BAND/JULES ESTRIN: Established in 2008, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band is a free educational program that provides the opportunity for selected middle and high school students to rehearse with an 18-piece big band and perform with international jazz luminaries. The 2016/17 personnel is Avery Raquel, vocals; Nick Forget, trombone; Aidan Sheedy, trombone; Sam Boughn, trombone; Daniel Strickland, trombone; Leo Silva, trumpet; Daniel Barta, saxophone; Marton Pandy, trumpet; Garrett Hildebrandt, saxophone; Lucas Udvarnoky, trumpet; Gabriella Ellingham, saxophone; Aakanx Panchal, alto saxophone; Evan Garner, trumpet; Martin Pandy, trumpet; J.C. Chung, saxophone; Felix Fox-Pappas, piano; David Cheon, guitar; Jaden Raso, bass, Jackson Haynes, drums.

On March 7 at Lula Lounge, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band will appear in a double bill with the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra. Teaching teenagers to play jazz in the 21st century is a noble endeavour. I spoke with Jules Estrin, director of the Jazz.FM91 Youth Big Band:

How does this gig compare and contrast with leading a big band of adults? During my career I have had the good fortune of leading big bands ranging from middle/high school, community bands and professional groups.

The difference between the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band and a professional group would be that professional musicians are normally great sight readers and section players. They already have maturity in their playing: phrasing, articulation and dynamics are instinctual and professional players can make the music happen the first or second time in performance.

In contrast to this the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band can sound quite polished with a couple of rehearsals. I still need to teach/discuss each of the above concepts as they relate to their repertoire. The expectation for the JAZZ.FM91 kids is that they come to rehearsal with their music learned so that we are working on polishing the music not learning it in rehearsal.

The JAZZ.FM91 kids are quick learners and often do not need to be taught a concept more than once. Which is very helpful…and they practise a lot!

Who are some of the musicians you have been most wowed by who we might hear from in years to come? We have plenty of alumni from the program who have gone on to some pretty incredible things! Matt Woroshyl (saxophone), Jonny Chapman (double bass), Marika Galea (double bass), Sam Dickinson (guitar), Andrew Marzotto (guitar), Sam Pomanti (piano), Anthony Fung (drums).

Brandon Tse (saxophone) and Kaelin Murphy (trumpet) are the most recent graduates that I would keep a look out for! Kaelin took the bus each week from Owen Sound to participate in the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band program. He attended nearly every rehearsal and endured eight hours of bus travel every weekend. He is a great player with great dedication.

What are some of the most memorable performances put on by the Youth Big Band over the years? The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band presently performs nearly 20 concerts per year! Which is a lot of performances and shows the dedication of the students. Each one of those concerts equals about ten rehearsals in terms of the band growing musically and maturing.

We have had the opportunity to perform with some pretty incredible musicians over the past ten years including: Randy Brecker, Lew Tabackin, Bucky Pizzarelli, Tom Scott and Joey DeFrancesco. We have also featured some of Canada’s greatest musicians: Guido Basso, PJ Perry, Al Kay, Shirantha Beddage, Kelly Jefferson and Brian O’Kane.

Perhaps the most notable for me was having the opportunity to open for Al Jarreau at the Brantford International Jazz Festival in 2010.”

2206-Feat- Jazz Stories 3.jpgIRENE HARRETT, Bassist: Bassist Irene Harrett joined the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band during her final year of high school, after learning fundamentals at the Humber College Community Music Program.

“Like many other people who participate in the ensemble, this was my first experience playing in large ensembles and I was still developing my musical abilities. By the end of my time with the band, I was a completely different bass player - I could hold my own in both the big band and in other ensembles I was working in and I had confidence in my playing that I never had before. Jules’ continued support and refusal to accept anything but my best from me changed my playing for the better.”

Now an undergraduate student in the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Toronto, she is studying privately with Order-of-Canada- member Dave Young.

 “Different ensembles provide me with unique experiences. In the UTJO, we work on such a range of material – from classic big band arrangements by Neal Hefti, to iconic Canadian writings by Rob McConnell and Ron Collier, to modern composition and arrangements by Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue. Working on this material with Gordon Foote, who has such a wealth of knowledge about the history of the music and the musicians is truly inspiring. Sonuskapos, on the other hand, is completely outside of an academic setting and performs primarily compositions and arrangements of Mason Victoria. In this setting, we are the first band to play these pieces and it is so satisfying to see how the music changes shape as we work with them.”

Of playing in larger ensembles, Harrett observes:

“There are so many wonderful things that happened after I started working in big band settings. My sense of intonation and articulation and other important aspects of musicality became heightened. I had to quickly develop a strong sense of confidence in my musical abilities. One of the biggest things that I did not expect to get from playing in big bands was such a strong sense of community from the members of the band.”

Bassist of the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, Irene Harrett will be performing at Lula Lounge on March 7. Dinner reservations guarantee seating: consult our Jazz Club listings.

Never too late: Finally, to close on a cool note one whole month ahead of April being Jazz Appreciation Month, it’s never too late to pick up some jazz chops! If you know an adult who has been playing jazz as a hobby and is looking to improve his/her skills, I invite you to send them to Anthony Rice’s Vegas North school, which features a variety of instrumental jazz workshops including adult jazz band, big band and salsa, with new courses starting in April:

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

2206- BBB - World.jpgThe 2015 Canadian census estimated that Iranian Canadians number over 200,000. They have settled in significant numbers in the greater Montreal and Vancouver regions but the largest group – some estimates put the number at around 65,000 – lives in the northern Toronto outliers of Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Markham and Thornhill.

Over the past few decades, increasing numbers of singers, musicians, composers, conductors and music teachers specializing in many genres have joined their ranks, greatly enriching the musical life of the GTA. They and musicians from many other lands, including those native to Canada, are truly “making Toronto into a real music city,” a politicized phrase I’m cheekily lifting from The WholeNote’s Publisher/Editor In Chief David Perlman’s insightful Op-Ed last issue.

I have highlighted numerous concerts with a Persian theme in my column over the years, however this March several presenters are combining forces to highlight Persian culture alive and well right here in the diaspora. Under the rubric of Nowruz, the Persian annual New Year’s celebration welcoming the advent of spring, a museum exhibition, epic shadow theatre, storytelling, educational workshops, culinary experiences, children’s programs, cinema, dance and music performances – even a Nowruz DJ party – will warm our burg residents’ late-winter blahs.

Mystic Persian Music and Poetry: March 4, the Aga Khan Museum in partnership with Rumi Canada presents “Mystic Persian Music and Poetry” with the Soley Ensemble at the museum’s auditorium. The concert animates the current museum exhibition “Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians,” highlighting “cultural rebellion and lyrical reflection” in the works of 23 artists who have chosen self-expression over silence.

The Soley Ensemble is led by the veteran singer-songwriter Soleyman Vaseghi. Born in Tehran in 1946 into a multi-generational Sufi-centric family, he was already popularly known as “Soley” throughout Iran by the age of 20, singing his own songs on National Iranian Radio and Television. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, however, Soley was prohibited from performing in public. He turned intensive research into Persian literature, poetry and music. This work eventually resulted in a series of new age-style albums aimed at international audiences, inspired by the lessons of Sufism.

Soley left Iran in 1986 and by the early 2000s had joined forces with the Lian Ensemble, a Los Angeles-based group of expat Iranian virtuoso musicians and composers. Their common goal was to fuse their classical Persian music heritage with contemporary jazz sensibilities, aiming for a “synthesis of mystical world music.”

Soley now makes Toronto his home and his Soley Ensemble is comprised primarily of several younger generation Toronto-area musicians of Iranian origin playing traditional Persian instruments. In Mystic Persian Music and Poetry, the Soley Ensemble performs devotional Sufi music honouring Nowruz. They are joined by “sacred whirling dancer” Farzad AttarJafari and Toronto-based spoken-word artist Sheniz Janmohamad reciting her English-language poetry.

Nowruzgan Festival: Tirgan, a “non-profit, non-religious and non-partisan cultural organization committed to promoting a cross-cultural dialogue between the Iranian-Canadians and the larger Canadian community,” is at the centre of Toronto’s Nowruz cultural festivities this year. Intending to honour both Nowruz as well as Canada’s sesquicentennial, Tirgan is producing the three-day Nowruzgan Festival.

The festival posits a twin purpose, one that looks culturally to the Persian homeland, but one which also embraces the community’s presence within Canada’s multiple socio-cultural and political geography. In addition, Tirgan’s Nowruzgan Festival mission statement emphasizes not only the entertainment value of its programming but also a didactic purpose.

“Daytime activities are geared toward youth and families and combine Persian art/craft technique with Canadian content.Using workshops and performances, children, teens and young adults have an opportunity to gain a clearer perception of their roles in society’s development as a cultural mosaic. Evening activities are designed for family and adult audiences.” It appears that the Nowruzgan Festival also aims to encourage younger Canadians of Iranian origin to better understand Canadian society.

Running over the March 10 to March 12 weekend, in partnership with Toronto Centre for the Arts, North York Arts and Aga Khan Museum, the Nowruzgan Festival events take place at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. It’s strategically located in the lower end of the heart of contemporary Toronto’s Iranian neighbourhood centred on Yonge Street. Of the nearly 60 scheduled events let’s take a closer look at a few with music as a key ingredient.

Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic: The festival kicks off Friday March 10 with the multidisciplinary shadow theatre production Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic which is repeated three more times during the weekend. Billed as a “cinematic shadow play for all ages,” the production is rooted in stories from the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), an epic literary milestone written by the great Persian poet Ferdowsi roughly between 977 and 1010 CE.

Conceived, designed and directed by New York-based Iranian filmmaker, playwright and graphic artist Hamid Rahmanian in collaboration with the American shadow-theatre trailblazer Larry Reed, Feathers of Fire features original music by composer/musician Loga Ramin Torkian and vocalist Azam Ali, an Iranian American husband-and-wife team. Torkian co-founded the groups Niyaz and Axiom of Choice, both incorporating Persian and Middle Eastern music and lyrics. Torkian performs on the Azerbaijani tar, the Turkish saz and, a recent invention, the guitarviol, a new bowed hybrid of guitar and viola da gamba. He has scored a number of films, a skill which comes in handy supporting this epic production which employs eight actors, 160 puppets, 15 masks and many costumes. Its 158 animated backgrounds are rear-projected onto a vast 15- by 30-foot screen.

Sahba Motallebi with Special Guest Maneli Jamal: Saturday, March 11, at 5pm, the Aga Khan Museum and Tigran co-present Sahba Motallebi with special guest Maneli Jamal at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Motallebi is that rare musician, a female soloist on the tar and setar. Recognized internationally for her virtuosity for four years running (1995-1998), she was named the Best Tar Player at the Iranian Music Festival while still enrolled at the Teheran Conservatory of Music. In 1997 she co-founded the groundbreaking women’s music ensemble Chakaveh and was subsequently invited to join the Iranian National Orchestra.

Motallebi currently lives in Southern California where she completed a degree in world music performance  at CalArts. She performs worldwide and has released a series of albums, the latest of which is A Tear at the Crossroad of Time. She has also pioneered Internet tar instruction. Her online teaching has inspired a renewed interest in the transmission of this venerable art form.

Joining Motallebi on stage is the hot Iranian Canadian guitarist Maneli Jamal. He won first place in the 2014 Harbourfront Centre’s Soundclash Music Awards wowing audiences with his signature approachable style of playing acoustic guitar with connections to his Iranian roots. A Minor 7th review raved about his “mastery of phrasing, a sumptuous tone and an ability to wrest emotion from every note, even from the pauses between the notes.” I, for one, look forward to the plucked-string heat generated by Motallebi and Jamal. It will certainly put me in a proper celebratory Nowruz frame of mind.

Other Picks

Mar 4: The Church of St. Mary Magdalene provides an earthly setting for the meeting of two musical choral worlds – the church’s Schola Magdalena and their guest choir Darbazi, the latter singing the polyphonic music from the Republic of Georgia. Schola Magdalena supplies its trademark medieval-to-Renaissance liturgical repertoire of Gregorian chant, Hildegard, Dufay, Dunstable, as well as Appalachian folk song. Toronto’s first Georgian choir Darbazi, on the other hand, performs selections from its extensive sacred and profane 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 Canadian work or two? My advice is to go and find out.

Mar 16 and 17: Rounding out the month York University Music Department’s World Music Festival runs over two days, March 16 and 17, at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Martin Family Lounge and Sterling Beckwith Studio, all in the Accolade East Building. The genres on offer are wide-ranging: Chinese Classical Orchestra, Cuban and Klezmer Ensembles, West African Ghanaian Drumming, Escola de Samba, West African Mande and Caribbean Music. The Korean Drum, the Celtic as well as the Balkan Music Ensembles, will also show what they have learned this year. I’m willing to bet you’ll be impressed.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

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

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

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