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

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

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

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

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

What does that sound like?

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

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

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

Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario: Have Yourself a Modal Summer

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

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

Didgori Ensemble: Georgian Polyphony Tours Ontario and Quebec

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

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

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

Polky Village BandSmall World Music: Free Summer Lunch

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

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

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

Summer Music at the Museum: Aga Khan Museum

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

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

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

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

Harbourfront Centre: Summer Music in the Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stratford Summer Music

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

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

Westben Concerts at The Barn

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stratford and Shaw

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

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


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

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

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

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

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare, and new Canadian plays.

The summer season is always full of a remarkable array of opportunities to hear cutting-edge music in a variety of settings, and the Luminato Festival that takes place in June in Toronto is no exception. For this year’s edition, I decided to take a look at The Cave, a new work created by composer John Millard, lyricist Tomson Highway and dramaturge Martha Ross, which runs from June 18 to 23 at Soulpepper’s Tank House Theatre. An additional exciting feature of this performance will be the opportunity to experience it across the country through webcasting. Through partnerships with about 25 different institutions in places like Inuvik, Rumble Theatre in Vancouver, the Banff Centre, Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, and the Gander Institute for the Arts in Newfoundland, people will be able to gather together in theatres to watch a simultaneous live webcast. Home live streaming will also be possible.

John MIllardI spoke with the composer of the project, John Millard, to get an inside look at what to expect from this project. He began by emphasizing that the piece is not based on any particular story, but is rather created from a premise. A group of animals find themselves trapped together in an unnatural environment – a bear’s cave – with a forest fire raging outside. What are their individual stories and what brought them to this place? What do they think about the human beings responsible for this fire? In the end Millard says, “we are trying to figure out something about ourselves by using the voices of animals,” with a particular focus on addressing the growing environmental crisis we are facing. Millard also emphasized that traditional Indigenous stories and legends are not used, but the lyrics come from Highway’s imaginative crafting of the dilemmas and issues that arose during the collaborative creative phase. One interesting example is the use of the Garden of Eden story, what Millard calls “an expulsion myth,” a type of myth that doesn’t exist in Indigenous mythologies. In one of the songs of The Cave, the snake character speaks about the tragic outcome that this myth has had culturally, a myth that has demonized women and led to a separation and banishment of the concept of paradise.

The piece is structured in the form of a cabaret with approximately 20 songs sung by both soloists and a quintet ensemble. The singers are from diverse backgrounds and include Neema Bickersteth (classical), Derek Kwan (opera), Andrea Koziol (cabaret/folk) and Alex Samaras (popular/jazz), as well as Millard whose musical influences include bluegrass, cabaret and classical. Each singer performs about two or three solos and they also come together to form a quintet at times. Instrumentation includes bass, percussion, reeds, accordion, keyboard and banjo, and Millard has composed various instrumental sections for this unusual ensemble. Since much of Millard’s work has been composing for theatre and its requirements, he told me that this piece is the first time he has written a through-composed piece that is primarily music-focused. Although there is some text in the role of the narrator who introduces the animals, this piece “is all about the songs”, Millard said. Working with musical director Gregory Oh and dramaturge Martha Ross, an emotional arc becomes the structure for the piece, rather than a plot arc, with the goal of discovering who these animals are, what’s important to them, and what the critical issues are for these creatures. The set design will be constructed as both a cave and a cabaret environment with the audience experiencing what it’s like to be inside this environment with fires raging outside. Sound designer Christopher Ross-Ewart will play an important role in creating this sonic world, and various elements of haute fashion will be incorporated into the costume design.

Iva BittováThe Something Else Festival is Hamilton’s four-day festival of jazz and experimental music that runs from June 20 to 23 presented by Zula Music & Arts Collective Hamilton. It features an eclectic lineup of performers and improvisers including Czech virtuoso violinist/vocalist Iva Bittová who will be performing solo in a free/by donation concert on June 21 in the afternoon, before teaming up in the evening with drummer Hamid Drake. On Saturday June 22, the afternoon begins with a performance by bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck from Brooklyn, followed in the evening with another solo performance by Bittová, followed by a set featuring clarinet master Don Byron collaborating with Indigenous Mind (Joshua Abrams, Hamid Drake and Jason Adasiewicz). Many more cutting edge performances will occur, so do check out the schedule both in our listings and at zulapresents.org.

Summer Music Residencies

The Toronto Creative Music Lab once again takes up residence for a week in June at the Music Gallery. The TCML is an artistic and professional development workshop for early-career musicians, ensembles and composers committed to risk taking. This year they will engage with members of Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini to present the Toronto premiere of legendary French electronic composer Eliane Radigue’s Occam Delta XV on June 14. Other pieces on the program include new works from Cléo Palacio-Quintin and Andrea Young, along with Jason Doell’s …amid the cannon’s roar.

The Westben Performer-Composer Residency occurs in southeastern Ontario’s Northumberland County near Campbellford and is an important milestone in Westben’s ongoing evolution from a summer festival to a multifaceted year-round centre. Their mandate for the residency is to encourage 11 young composers and performers from diverse countries and backgrounds to take creative risks by participating in a process of inter-generational exchange. Participants are expected to offer workshops to their peers featuring their own specialized approaches, with some of these workshops open to the public. This year’s residency features participants from Canada, the US, Chile, Argentina and Cuba, and the workshops will include explorations in four-handed piano, experimental luthiery, strings, dance, voice and custom-built electronics. The entire process will culminate with a performance on June 15 that will feature the collaborations and experiments that have taken place throughout the week.

Toronto Summer Music Festival

This year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival celebrates the various cultural influences on classical music from as far back as Mozart’s day up to today’s living composers. Two established Toronto composers will have world premieres at Walter Hall during the festival: Christos Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 (The Transforming) will be premiered by the New Orford String Quartet on July 12; and Alexina Louie’s new (as yet untitled) work will be performed on August 2. I asked each of the composers to write a short description of their pieces for this column.

Hatzis writes that his String Quartet No.5 is “the closing statement of a cycle depicting a psychic development spanning 25 years (1994-2019) which is best described by the subtitles of each quartet: Awakening, Gathering, Questioning, Suffering and finally Transforming.” This final work of the cycle is written in three movements and is intended “as a psychological hermeneutic (or explanation) of the story of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.” Psychologically there is a “strong resonance that radiates from these well-known events,” he says, which have left their spiritually transformative imprint upon humanity.

The inspiration for Louie’s new work began during a conversation with Jonathan Crow in his capacity as TSO concertmaster, while they were discussing her new piece, Triple Concerto For Three Violins And Orchestra, which premiered in 2017. Crow, as artistic director of Toronto Summer Music, suggested that she write a new piece for the same instrumentation as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire – flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano. Louie was inspired and got to work on it immediately. She describes the new work in this way: “The two outside movements are virtuosic and effervescent. In the middle movement, in order to evoke the mysteries of the night, I instruct the pianist to play on the inside of the piano, strumming and stopping the strings. The movement unfolds with quiet twitterings and undulating sounds played by the remaining musicians.”

Summer Music in the Garden

Celebrating its 20th season, this well-loved series, curated by Tamara Bernstein, is held along the waterfront at Harbourfront Centre’s Toronto Music Garden and offers several opportunities to hear new music. The dynamic TorQ Percussion Quartet will perform four works on July 21 by contemporary composers: Adam Campbell’s El Mosquito Marron; Steve Reich’s Drumming, Part 1; ensemble members Richard Burrows’ and Daniel Morphy’s Elements Suite; and Dinuk Wijeratne’s Ersilia from Invisible Cities. On August 22, the cello duo VC2 combines works from 18th-century Europe with contemporary works, including a commissioned world premiere by Kelly-Marie Murphy and two pieces based on Beethoven cello sonatas: Five Little Pieces by Andrew Downing and Entsprechung by Matt Brubeck. Towards the end of the summer on September 8, percussionist Aiyun Huang and violinist Mark Fewer join forces to present world premieres by Michael Oesterle and John Hollenbeck, with Huang performing Javier Alvarez’s Temazcal for two maracas and pre-recorded tape. 


JUN 5, 8PM: Canadian Music Centre. The Canadian Piano Left Hand Commissioning Project features new works for piano left hand by Christopher Butterfield, Taylor Brook, Anna Hostman, Emilie LeBel, Adam Sherkin and others.

AUG 7, 6PM: Festival of the Sound’s Discovery Concert. Continuum Contemporary Music’s artistic director, Ryan Scott, invites three young composers to participate in a residency under the mentorship of composer Gary Kulesha. This concert will feature their works.

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

Antiquity is a foreign country: they love and desire differently there. Or do they really, asks Amanda Hale in her libretto for the lesbian-themed opera composed by Kye Marshall which is about to have its premiere, June 5, onstage at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Pomegranate is structured as a tale of two couples in two different time periods, though the text is open to interpretation – it could be the tale of one couple imagining their historical antecedents, or the story of obstacles to same-sex love which never disappear entirely even in liberal societies. The first couple is in Pompeii in 79 AD, before the Vesuvius eruption. In the second act, we are in a downtown lesbian bar in 1980s Toronto.

“I had been to Pompeii in the early 2000s and my inspiration for Pomegranate was the frescoes that I saw in the Villa of Mysteries there,” says Hale. To this day archaeologists are not sure what the frescoes depict, but it’s presumed to be some kind of a Dionysian ritual that involved women. “The images stayed with me so I formed a story for myself about two young girls falling in love. They’re teenage girls, they’re innocent, and the setting is sort of a Roman girls boarding school.” Worship of Isis was one of the unofficial religious traditions practised in Rome of the time, so Hale introduced a temple of Isis, as a refuge for the girls, and a temple priestess to the story.

Hale, a novelist and a poet, initially wrote a poem cycle about two young Pompeii women. Cellist and composer, Kye Marshall, set the poems to music, and the tale was told as a song cycle, at the Heliconian Club in 2014. “The audience responded so strongly to it that we decided to make an opera,” says Hale. It would take six years of work, grant writing, collaborator hunting, creating contacts in the opera world, two workshops, producer changes and cast changes until Pomegranate the opera was ready to premiere. “I first contacted Michael Mori from Tapestry who was always very supportive (and who is directing the June 5 to 9 run). He put me in touch with Marjorie Chan, who became my dramaturge. She helped me enormously. She coached me in the arts of the libretto.”

Mount Vesuvius has an eerie presence in the first act and its own changing soundscape. The catastrophic event brewing in the background, says Hale, is another parallel with our time. “We all have our little plans and machinations and arguments but we are facing climate-related disasters all over the world.”

In the libretto, which Hale shared with me, there are hints of a female-only utopia in the temple scenes and perhaps in the lesbian bar in the second act, but the idea is complicated. Would an all-women religion or a political party or a living setup be, in her view, a functioning social utopia of the Call the Midwife type, or a dystopia where women merge too much and ignore interpersonal boundaries, in the vein of Grey Gardens? “In my ardent feminist days in the 1980s when I was much younger, feminism was a real vehicle for my political education. I was quite a lesbian separatist and I had a lot of those utopian ideas but I have aged and mellowed,” says Hale. “I didn’t see it in those terms but there is a lot of conflict in the libretto. Another character, Julia, is almost in love with the priestess but she becomes jealous of Cassia, one of the principals. That, and the fear of being crucified as an escaped slave, leads her to betray everybody. In the second act there’s a big fight between the two women on whether one of them should finally come out to her conservative family who’ve come from a war-torn part of the world. Her mother is the one who betrays her and it’s often the women who betray their daughters, unfortunately. If you, for example, look at the clitoridectomy and infibulation today, it’s the mothers who take the daughters to have it done.” As well, the priestess of the women-centred temple is, it turns out, the sister of the Roman soldier pursuing one of the women. “I think it’s a fairly realistic view of how it might have been.”

The parallels between the past and today do not end there. Pompeii was a multicultural port city with people of all backgrounds living there and passing through; half the population of Toronto is foreign-born. Politics on the small and large scale was presumably as present in Pompeii’s citizens’ lives as it is for Torontonians today. Hale herself is foreign-born – British – and moved to Canada in 1968. She lived in Montreal through the 1970s and the War Measures Act and Bill 101, but describes herself now as “quite politically naïve at that time.” Her politically active life started in Toronto, where she moved in the 1980s and got involved with Nightwood Theatre, wrote for the feminist paper Broadside and founded Red Tree, a visual arts company, with Lynn Hutchinson. Today she divides her time between Hornby Island, BC and Toronto. Before returning to writing in the late 1990s, with her first novel published by Raincoast Books, Hale earned her living as a painter and sculptor in BC.

She still travels to England to visit family. “It was a good thing, leaving England, because when you leave a place, you can see it.” Her family’s story has been far from ordinary: Hale’s father was a supporter of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists during the Second World War, and died by suicide some years after the war. “That legacy has hung over me all my life,” says Hale, who has written about it in her latest novel, Mad Hatter (Guernica, Toronto), to be launched in September. “I feel absolutely liberated for having told that story. It’s been a great shame and humiliation so it was good for me to leave England and be able to see all that. But it’s taken my lifetime to process it.”

Hale’s own politics are at the opposite end of the spectrum to her father’s. She often travels to Cuba and has developed a lot of connections, personal and professional, over the last 15 years. “I went there first to paint a mural with Lynn Hutchinson in solidarity with the revolution and we made a connection with a gallery in Havana and did an installation there on colonialism and sugar, then another one about surveillance, which Cubans really understand.” Latin America was always of great interest. “I’ve had a lot of connections with Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile. A big change I saw here in Toronto in the 1980s was the refugees coming from those countries who’d experienced American interference, people who enriched Toronto tremendously during the 1970s and 1980s. There were Greeks coming here after the Junta and people emigrating to Canada after the Iranian Revolution. On Hornby Island we have an Iranian man who’s taken refuge there, who is a wonderful potter.”

While she would define herself as bisexual today (and is no fan of labels), Hale’s view on the importance of lesbian presence in culture hasn’t changed. “It’s still fairly new to see it – and women’s experience in general–- and some of the terrible things that happen to us and some of the great things that should be celebrated. I think it enriches the culture generally, and for men as well. It’s not being against men: it’s filling out a picture that has been half blank a long time.”

Rebecca Gray (left) and Camille Rogers in Pomegranate. Photo by Greg Wong


JUN 4, 7PM: Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto presents Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir, mezzo & Snorri Sigfús Birgisson, piano; atTimothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto.

JUN 8, 4PM: Lisa Di Maria, soprano, and Adolfo De Santis, piano; at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Toronto. Barber, Fauré, Puccini.

JUN 10, 12:15PM: Music Mondays presents Heine’s Buch der Lieder. James McLean, tenor, and William Aide, piano; at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto .

JUN 19 TO 22, 7PM AND JUN 23, 2PM: Soundstreams, Luminato, & Pinkhouse Productions present Hell’s Fury, The Hollywood Songbook. Music by Hanns Eisler, staging and concept by Tim Albery with design by Michael Levine. Russell Braun, baritone, and Serouj Kradjian, piano. Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto.

JUN 27, 8PM: Muse 9 Productions/Village Opera present “Bon Appétit! A Musical Tasting Menu.” Lee Hoiby: Bon Appétit!; Danika Lorèn: The Secret Lives of Vegetables; Peter Tiefenbach: Chansons de mon placard. Katy Clark, soprano, Victoria Borg, mezzo. Hyejin Kwon is the music director, staging by Anna Theodosakis. Merchants of Green Coffee, Toronto..

JUL 11, 7:30PM: Toronto Summer Music opening night: “Beyond Borders.” R. Strauss: Vier letze Lieder; Ravel: Cinq mélodies populaires grecques; Sarasate, Mozart, Chopin and more. Adrianne Pieczonka, soprano, Jon Kimura Parker, piano, Kerson Leong, violin, and Steven Philcox, piano, with the New Orford String Quartet and Tom Allen hosting. Koerner Hall.

JUL 16, 7:30PM: Toronto Summer Music presents “Griffey & Jones in Recital.” Anthony Dean Griffey, tenor, and Warren Jones, piano. Music by Bridge, Griffes, Barber, Finzi, Laitman, Niles and Ives. Walter Hall, U of T.

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

Opera performances in Southern Ontario are not quite as abundant this summer as they were last summer, but there is certainly enough activity to keep any opera-lover busy, especially those who have an interest in new opera.


Outside Toronto, the young opera company Vera Causa Opera is presenting its second annual Canadian Opera Fest in Cambridge, Guelph and Waterloo. A contest was held for local high school and middle students in the region to create the plot of an opera. Once selected, the students collaborated with VCO to turn these initial ideas into full stories with music, i.e. short operas.

Five winners were chosen. The first is The Village Girl, with a concept by Chloe Bissada and words and music by Dylan Langan. The story involves a young girl who wants to purchase a cow for her family’s farm to help boost the town’s economy, but the meat marketer refuses, putting the town on the brink of starvation. The opera explores family and responsibility.

The second is Refracted, with a libretto by Charlotte Lilley and music by Emma Verdonk. The work is a semi-abstract exploration of the influence of media and technology on one’s self-perception. A young girl debates with her reflection on how her culture is affecting her, and whether it is a welcome influence or not.

Third is La jugement, with a libretto by Emma Lemieux and music by Dylan Langan. This is an emotional musical soliloquy, relaying the story of a young woman battling an eating disorder. La jugement is performed in French.

Fourth is The Shoemaker’s Orphans, with a libretto by Rivi and Kyri Friedman and music by Emma Verdonk. The action takes place in France in the year 1600, during the outbreak of the Black Plague. After losing their father to the terrible disease, two sisters embark on a mission to prevent the spread of the disease, with the help of their kindly aunt.

The last of the five is L’étrange et belle, with a libretto by Lexie McCorkindale and Vanessa Kerr and music by Dylan Langan. The opera tells the story of an unstable young woman and her tempestuous relationships with her friends when she invites them to stay at her house for a Christmas celebration. This is the second opera of the five to be performed in French.

Performances will be held in Cambridge on June 14 at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts, in Waterloo on June 15 at Knox Presbyterian Church and in Guelph on June 16 at Harcourt Memorial United Church. The operas will feature performances by soprano Autumn Wascher, soprano Michaela Chiste and baritone Jorge Trabanco.

General Director Dylan Langan says: “It is great to see everyone coming together to make brand new opera, regardless of their previous experience. These are truly original and Canadian stories that need to be told.” VCO provides paid professional opportunities for youth, aimed at improving their health and well-being, while presenting affordable entertainment to the community with free admission for students and kids.

Closer to Toronto, Opera by Request has three presentations in June. On June 1 in Mississauga OBR presents Verdi’s Nabucco (1842) in concert with piano accompaniment at Christ Church UCC. Gene Wu sings the title role, Cristina Pisani is Abigaille, Dylan Wright is Zaccaria, Cian Horrobin is Ismaele and Meghan Symon is Fenena.

In Toronto on June 7, OBR presents a triple bill under the title “A Summer Feast,” at College St. United Church. The works include Henry Purcell’s If Music Be the Food of Love (1692), Lee Hoiby’s Bon Appétit!(1989) in which an television episode of Julia Child making a chocolate cake is set to music, and Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement (1954) about impoverished aristocrats having dinner for a wealthy prince they hope their daughter will marry. Performers include mezzo-soprano Meghan Symon, baritone Lawrence Shirkie, soprano Gwendolynn Yearwood, tenor Josh Clemenger and tenor Francis Domingue.

On June 15 in Toronto, OBR presents Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (1835) at St. Andrews United Church. Antonina Ermolenko sings Maria, Cristina Pisani is Elizabeth I, Paul Wiliamson is Leicester, Dylan Wright is Talbot, Henry Irwin is Cecil and Anna Belikova is Anna. For all three OBR operas in concert, William Shookhoff is the pianist and music director.

Shiata Lewis in Obeah Opera. Photo by Osato EreborThis year the Luminato Festival has two operas on its schedule. The first is a remount of Obeah Opera by Nicole Brooks first seen in Toronto in 2012. The work, which runs from June 13 to 22, is an all-female a cappella opera that retells the story of the Salem witch trials from the perspective of the first woman accused, the young Caribbean slave Tituba.

The second opera, running June 19 to 23, is Hell’s Fury, The Hollywood Songbook. Last year Luminato presented it as a work in progress. Now it presents the finished piece. The story follows the life of composer Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), who escaped Nazi Germany for the US in 1938, only to be rejected for his adherence to Communism in 1948 and forced to return to Europe, finally settling in the new East Germany. The opera, conceived and directed by Tim Albery, constructs a song cycle of Eisler’s many Lieder to tell the story. Baritone Russell Braun is the soloist, Serouj Kradjian is the pianist and Michael Levine the designer.


This year the Brott Music Festival (June 27 to August 15) will again present a fully staged opera as part of its overall schedule. This summer’s opera will be Puccini’s La Bohème presented for one night only in Italian with English surtitles on July 18 at the FirstOntario Concert Hall. Natalya Gennadi sings Mimi, Andrew Derynck is Rodolfo, Chelsea Rus is Musetta, Kyle Lehmann is Marcello, Cesar Bello is Schaunard, Simon Chalifoux is Colline and John Fanning sings both Alcindoro and Benoît. The production changes the location from late 19th-century Paris to Hamilton in the 1930s. Boris Brott conducts the Brott Festival Orchestra.

Those who missed the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s mainstage show earlier this year will have another chance to catch The Snow Queen (1993) by John Greer to a libretto by Jeremy James Taylor in Campbellford. On July 7 the CCOC will present the hour-long opera based on the 1844 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale at Westben Concerts at The Barn. Rob Kempson is the stage director and Teri Dunn is the conductor.

Katy Clark is Shoestring Opera’s Schoolyard Carmen. Photo by Jiayin LiuOn July 20 the Elora Festival hosts Shoestring Opera’s Schoolyard Carmen at the Heritage Barn in Fergus. In this adaptation for children in Grades 1 to 8, Carmen is a feisty little girl and newcomer to Canada who has a dark past. When Tory Adair, the “coolest kid in school” tries to bully her, she stands up to him. Shoestring Opera uses Carmen’s story to look at the immigrant in Canadian society, the child who is different, schoolyard bullying, personal independence and the saving properties of art.

Straddling July and August is Guillermo Silva-Marin’s venerable Summer Lyric Opera Theatre in Toronto. Founded in 1986, the training program culminates in staged concert performances. This year the operas are Verdi’s La Traviata (1853) on July 26, 28, 31 and August 3; Victor Davies’ Earnest, The Importance of Being (2008), an operetta based on Oscar Wilde’s well-known comedy, on July 27 and 30, August 1 and 4; and a double bill of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea (1937) and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (1918) on July 27 and 31, August 2 and 3. All performances take place at the Robert Gill Theatre on the downtown campus of the University of Toronto.


Last year Stratford Summer Music presented a staged version of J.S. Bach so-called Coffee Cantata of 1733 and followed this up with a more contemporary version called The Cappuccino Cantata. This year the festival keeps up with the times with a new work, the Cannabis Cantata, A Musical ‘Pot’ Pourri, commissioned by Stratford Summer Music and Ottawa Chamberfest from Peter Tiefenbach. Soprano Mireille Asselin, tenor Matthew Dalen and baritone Adam Harris explore the new landscape of legal weed in Canada through music by J.S. Bach with a libretto reimagined by Tiefenbach, on August 1 at Factory 163 in Stratford.

The Highlands Opera Studio is presenting two programs of opera. On August 15 in Haliburton and on August 17 in Orillia, it presents a fascinating triple bill under the title “Women in Opera: Then and Now.” First on the bill is Puccini’s Suor Angelica (1918) with Valerie Kuinka as stage director, Louise-Andrée Baril as music director and Lauren Margison in the title role. Next are two short operas from 2019.The Chair, by Maria Atallah to a libretto by Alice Abracen, focuses on a teenaged girl who tries to cope with the death of her best friend in an accident.Book of Faces, by Kendra Harder to a libretto by Michelle Telford, takes an irreverent look at the many faces of social media. Both short works were winners of the inaugural Musique 3 Femmes prize for emerging female opera creators. Jessica Derventzis is the stage director for both and Jennifer Szeto the pianist and music director.

In Haliburton on August 22, 24, 25 and 26, HOS presents Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (1912) in German with English surtitles with one cast on August 22 and 25 and another on August 24 and 26. Valerie Kuinka directs the Prologue and Richard Margison the main opera, while Philip Morehead is the music director for both parts.

All of this operatic activity should be more than enough to occupy any Southern Ontarian operagoer until the fall season.

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

Roomful of Teeth in Triptych (Eyes of One on Another). Photo (c) Maria BaranovaOn June 22 at 8pm, Luminato presents Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a new multidisciplinary work composed by Bryce Dessner with libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle, inspired by the controversial and revolutionary work of Robert Mapplethorpe; at the Sony Centre (soon to be Meridian Hall), Toronto.

A consistent throughline at Luminato has been introducing local audiences to the international array of interesting, challenging collisions of storytelling and performance. In this year’s festival we have this multidisciplinary work inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe’s art. His stark black and white photography, often focused upon unapologetic queerness in a striking visual way, here collides with an equally striking vocal ensemble called Roomful of Teeth. Hand-picked by Triptych composer Bryce Dessner to bring his score to life, Roomful of Teeth is not quite a choir, not quite a band, not quite what you’d think of for an eight-voice ensemble. Their number includes bass-baritone Dashon Burton, founder Brad Wells, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw.

Triptych’s subject is Robert Mapplethorpe himself. His photography of provocative people was challenged in American courts under obscenity laws in 1990. To this day, Mapplethorpe’s work is controversial, but his unique approach has left an indelible impact in the intersection of photography and viewer. The composer, Bryce Dessner is an accomplished orchestral writer but is mostly known for his work as guitarist in the American band, The National. Interestingly, he is a native of Cincinnati, the city where Mapplethorpe’s exhibit was shut down under obscenity laws. At the world premiere in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in March of 2019, Dessner and librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle participated in an hour-long talk with NPR’s Neda Ulaby. Their interview, available on Youtube, is a fascinating look into the creative process of collaboration and informed this month’s column.

“The images were always core to the work,” shares Dessner to Ulaby. “There are so many images that stand out … there are the images you can find which have been in exhibitions or on books or on their website and then there’s 1000 times that; his archives [in the Getty Institute] are extensive … [But] if he didn’t himself publish a photo, we’re technically not allowed to show it.” So for Dessner and Arrington Tuttle, they were able to see so much more than the public has, and this personal look has shaped Triptych.

“Mapplethorpe’s work gets deep into the heart of all kinds of issues around our identity and how we see one another,” continues Dessner. “The images are so powerful; and his art is so powerful in that way. The conflict within it is always unfolding.” Thirty years after the death of Mapplethorpe, there are still discussions around what art is, the lines of art and obscenity, and how to respond to it all. Many still call the work obscene and profane, but there is a persistent draw in the work that continues to make Mapplethorpe popular.

“I came to Mapplethorpe’s life and work in college... For me, it had something to do with how he saw,” shares Arrington Tuttle. “It had something to do with precision, it had something to do with an attempt at how to grasp at what he describes as perfection. But also a kind of transcendent beauty and a kind of love that might not look like love. It might not look like how I’m used to perceiving love or tenderness. There’s something about coming to terms with and spending time intimately with discomfort and placing myself in that discomfort … It was provocation that asked me and required my presence …the way Mapplethorpe is mixing the sacred and the profane and elevating images that some people might call pornographic but are actually great works of art.”

“There’s been intense discomfort and reckoning,” says Dessner. “Almost every day we’ll have a discussion or confront something new in terms of the bigger work of what this is. I think for me the piece has become the process of making the piece.” That process included working with Roomful and writing the music knowing it was going to be them performing it. In fact he can’t think of anyone other than Roomful performing the work. As it travels, so too does the ensemble.

“They’re really like a band, Roomful, they bring a kind of intent. They can’t just sing something, they have to know why they’re singing something.”

Roomful of Teeth as an ensemble name sounds crass and jarring., and their music can sound like that as well. There is a lot of sound and a lot of different techniques all being thrown at listeners at once. There is something dynamic about listening to a female voice sing in the style of Bulgarian women. It’s another feeling altogether to hear Tuvan throat singing droning away. Sometimes it is just plain weird to listen to –an example of “spending time intimately with discomfort” that Arrington Tuttle referred to. Roomful constantly seeks to find all the various ways that voices can make sound and confront you with them. The seductive sound of Sardinian cantu, for example, provides a fullness and constant envelope of sound much like a bagpipe. Higher tones can then play around on top of the solid bass provided by the style. Many of the singers in Roomful are composers; they understand the interplay that art has between presenting, listening, invoking, and creating. “They’ve been quite involved in shaping the work … it’s made the piece much stronger,” says Dessner.

Roomful’s intersection with Dressner and Mapplethorpe in Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) is just that – an intersection. It’s worth checking out, and it will also be interesting to see what lies next on their own path.

The State Choir LATVIJA in Moscow, 2015The 15th Latvian Song and Dance Festival

Latvian culture has a strong choral tradition of massive ensembles in summer festivals. Here in Canada, many Latvians have made indelible marks in the Canadian choral landscape. As part of the 15th Latvian Song and Dance Festival, the State Choir LATVIJA comes to Canada for the first time.

The Latvian Song and Dance Festival occurs every five years in Latvia. A distinguishing feature of the festival is the massed power of thousands of voices. These huge summer gatherings devoted to music are cultural gems in Latvia. The Toronto version of the festival includes choral, instrumental, and dance performances all centred around the significant contributions of Latvians to choral art.

In their concert of Latvian sacred music on July 4 at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre, State Choir LATVIJA performs a host of beautiful works written by Latvian composers including Canadians Imant Ramnish, George Juris Ķeniņš, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš, Arvīds Purvs and Ērika Yost. Raminsh’s stirring Ave Verum Corpus is a well-loved standard of Canadian choral programming. Ķeniņš’ work, Miss Brevis Latviensis was commissioned by the Choir and had its premiere in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

On July 5, the State Choir LATVIJA – now in its 77th season – comes to Koerner Hall, the grandest of spaces for this fine choir. Featuring music from Latvian-Canadian composers Jānis Kalniņš, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš and Imant Raminsh, the choir is joined by violinist Laura Zariņa, pianist Arthur Ozolins and members of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra.

Finally, in keeping with the Latvian large choir tradition, on July 6 at 3pm, State Choir LATVIJA conductor Māris Sirmais will lead a Mass Choir Concert – an expected 800 choristers – in a program of all-Latvian composers at Mattamy Athletic Centre. 


JUN 13 TO 22: Asah Productions and Luminato present Obeah Opera. An a cappella, all-female cast explore the Salem witch trials in a work conceived, written and composed by Nicole Brooks. Tituba, a young Caribbean slave was the first woman accused in the trials. This is her story amidst the paranoia that gripped colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693: at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto.

JUN 19, 20, 22, 8PM AND JUN-23, 3PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Carmina Burana conducted by Donald Runnicles. James Ehnes performs Korngold’s Violin Concerto to open the concert. For the signature work of the evening, Nichole Haslett, Sunnyboy Dladla and Norman Garrett anchor the solos. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will be joined by the Toronto Youth Choir and the Toronto Children’s Chorus in performing one of the greatest pieces in the choral canon. It may well be the biggest presentation of Carmina Burana Toronto has ever seen at Roy Thomson Hall.

JUN 23, 8PM: The closing event of Luminato 2019, Maada’ookii Songlines, composed by Cris Derksen, will bring together the power of over 200 performers, including almost a dozen choirs, plus soloists and instrumentalists, in a free performance meant to bridge the time between evening and night; at Harbourfront Centre.

JUL 19, 7:30PM: The Festival of the Sound’s Opening Gala features the Elmer Iseler Singers. With a host of guests including soprano Mary Lou Fallis; narrator Colin Fox; the Penderecki String Quartet; and instrumentalists Guy Few, Suzanne Shulman, James Campbell, Beverley Johnston, and Bob Mills. A huge assortment of choral excerpts mark and evoke performances from the 40-year history of the Festival. Excerpts include Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Carmina Burana, Mozart’s Requiem, and the world premiere of The Sound: A Musical Evocation of Georgian Bay by Eric Robertson and Gary Michael Dault. Lots of other musical experiences can be found throughout the festival. Stockey Centre, Parry Sound.

AUG 17 TO 25: Wellington Water Week is a celebration of the water in the idyllic Price Edward County community of Wellington. Husband-and-wife duo Johannes Debus, COC music director, and Elissa Lee, violinist, curate the musical offerings for the celebration, including August 17, at 5:30pm, Opus 8 presenting an a cappella program of folk songs titled “How Can I Keep from Singin’?” at Wellington United Church, and, on August 23 at 6pm, Debus and singer/songwriter Sarah Slean presenting SING!, a crowd-sourced mass choir event. The two will co-direct songs for everyone to participate in; also at Wellington United Church.

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

Summer is a time when everything seems to move a little slower, the days are longer, and there is more fun to be had than at any other time of year. For musicians, however, the ending of the formal concert season in May or June doesn’t necessarily signal a slowdown, as festivals and special events, frequently featuring exciting masterworks, begin to fill the calendar. Whether you’re looking for a concert in downtown Toronto, scenic Collingwood, or further east in Montreal, this year’s “second season” has something for everyone.


June is a transitional month, offerin season-ending performances by organizations across the city, grand finales showcasing great ensembles and equally great musical works. And as these seasons end, others begin.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI), a world-renowned training program for advanced students, pre-professional musicians and professionals, in instrumental and vocal Baroque performance practice, is led by some of the world’s finest musicians in the field. This year’s TBSI runs from June 10 to 23 and features five separate performances by faculty and students at venues across the Bloor-Annex corridor, including Jeanne Lamon Hall and Walter Hall, with the grand finale slightly further north at Grace Church on-the-Hill. As a former participant in this superb training program, I cannot speak highly enough of the quality of repertoire and tutelage each participant receives, and strongly encourage lovers of early music to attend at least one of these performances. Keep the program, too – you’ll be amazed at how many names return as fully formed performers in following years.

If you are planning a trip to Montreal in June, make sure to explore the Montreal Chamber Music Festival, taking place from June 7 to 16. This season marks the beginning of a three-year project by MCMF to celebrate the life of the great Ludwig van Beethoven – Beethoven Chez Nous – featuring cycles of complete works by Beethoven over the course of the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Chamber Music Festival seasons. Highlights this year are the Beethoven Violin Sonatas performed by James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong, and the Beethoven Symphonies as transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt, with six outstanding pianists from across the world. Although the “early music” classifier is often used for music written from the medieval era until approximately 1750, as time progresses and musical art forms develop in new ways, the works of classical composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven grow older and, by relation, “earlier” within the scope of music history. Fortunately for lovers of this wonderful repertoire, events such as the Montreal Chamber Music Festival provide opportunities to hear superb performers interpreting works from this pantheon of musical history and ensure that, while this music may be from ages past, the sounds it makes are as revitalizing and sublime as ever.

Angela Hewitt. Photo by Keith SaundersJuly

Angela Hewitt is an Ottawa-born Canadian favourite and one of the top pianists on the scene, especially for fans of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. Hewitt comes to Toronto this July as part of the 2019 Toronto Summer Music Festival in a performance of Bach’s mind- and finger-bending Goldberg Variations. Being a Canadian pianist makes taking on the Goldbergs an even more daunting task, the legacy of Glenn Gould looming large over this particular conglomeration of notes and rhythms. Audiences are, of course, able to understand that different performers bring necessarily different interpretations to musical works, a combination of nature and nurture that is almost impossible to define, yet readily perceptible to the ear, especially in the case of Gould! And that individual performers’ take on particular works evolves over time. Hewitt has lived with the Goldberg Variations for a musical lifetime, including recordings in 1999 and 2015, and we look forward to hearing her current approach to the work, as a continuation of her exploration of Bach’s keyboard works and follow-up to last year’s performance of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier. Both the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldbergs are astonishing masterpieces and this will be a rare and memorable opportunity to experience one the world’s most profound works of creativity performed by one of today’s leading Bach interpreters.

Nestled in cottage country north of Toronto, Collingwood is perhaps best known as the gateway to Blue Mountain ski resort. This year, however, Collingwood becomes a hub for summer music through the inaugural Collingwood Summer Music Festival, filling a gap in the community that has been there since 2011 when Douglas Nadler’s Collingwood Music Festival ended its 11-year run. Featuring the Elmer Iseler singers performing Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, the Gryphon Trio and the Rolston String Quartet, the classical music component of this multifaceted festival will be a delightful escape for those already fleeing the hectic city for a more serene locale.


This July and August, Ottawa Chamberfest presents an all-star lineup of Canadian performers, including James Ehnes, pianists Janina Fialkowska and Angela Hewitt, as well as a noteworthy celebration of Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi’s 400th birthday. Strozzi (1619-1677) was an Italian singer and composer who studied with famed composer Francesco Cavalli. Renowned for her poetic ability as well as her compositional talent, Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer – man or woman – of printed secular vocal music in Venice in the middle of the 17th century, a time when the publishing of original material was in itself a remarkable accomplishment for a female composer.

Toronto Music GardenAlthough August marks the beginning of the end of summer and back-to-school ads appear earlier and earlier each year, the music continues by Toronto’s waterfront. Tucked away in Toronto’s waterfront, the Toronto Music Garden was conceived by internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy in partnership with the City of Toronto’s Parks and Recreation department. Through its labyrinthine landscape, the garden interprets Bach’s Suite No.1 in G Major, BWV 1007 for unaccompanied cello. Each summer the Toronto Music Garden is home to Summer Music in the Garden, presenting a tremendous range of chamber and world music at 7pm most Thursdays and 4pm most Sundays throughout the summer. On August 25, Baroque cellists Elinor Frey and Phoebe Carrai present “Duetto Violoncello,” with works by Bach, Cirri, Thomas and Dall’Abaco. These free concerts provide a fine opportunity to take in music that may be new or unfamiliar, or to explore the sounds of instruments that one does not hear frequently, such as the Baroque cello.

Other Performances

In addition to the larger multi-event festivals taking place, there are also a number of interesting early-music concerts this summer occurring outside the festal realm:

On June 9, fans of Bach’s choral music will be delighted to hear the Ascension Oratorio, a dramatic work structured in 11 movements in two parts: approximately the same size, layout, and duration as Bach’s two-part church cantatas. (Parts 1–6 were performed before the sermon and 7–11 after the sermon.) Presented by contralto Jacqueline Gélineau in Heliconian Hall, and featuring a solo vocal quartet and harpsichordist Brahm Goldhamer, this chamber-sized, keyboard-and-voice performance will be of interest both to those familiar with the master’s works and those wanting to dig a little deeper and explore Bach’s music on a smaller scale.

On June 16, the Tudor Consort presents “The Song of Songs and Songs of Love” at Historic Leaskdale Church in Leaskdale. Featuring works by Schütz, Monteverdi, Marenzio, Palestrina, and Verdelot, this concert provides a window into the Italianate stylings of the Late Renaissance and Early Baroque eras.

On June 30, Westben presents “Viva Vivaldi! The Four Seasons and Gloria,” featuring two of Vivaldi’s masterworks. The Four Seasons, a captivating and expressive set of four concerti is interpreted by violinist Amy Hillis, while the Westben Festival Orchestra & Chorus tackle the Gloria. Make sure to check it out – not only do you get to hear one of the masters of the Italian Baroque, but you get to do so in a barn!

As anyone who has travelled to an unfamiliar place knows well, navigating is often the trickiest part of going somewhere new. This issue of The WholeNote serves as your musical road map, helping you traverse the winding roads of summer music in all its forms without a GPS shouting “Recalculating!” With so many opportunities to hear splendid music, it is impossible to make a wrong turn and I encourage you to delve into some of these magnificent concerts and festivals.

If you have any questions or want to hear my two cents on anything early music this summer, send me a note at earlymusic@thewholenote.com. See you in September! 

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Photo by Don Vickery / TD Toronto Jazz FestivalThe weather in April and May was so cool, grey and damp it barely felt like spring, yet here I am pondering a column for this summer issue of WholeNote, which covers not only June, but July and August as well. I’ve always found this tricky, as it involves a time warp of looking three months into the future – something I’m ill-suited to at the best of times – and the weather this year has only made it worse. It’s like hugging thin air – what to write about? A preview of the many upcoming festivals, perhaps? Well, yes, but they haven’t happened yet and besides, they’re often covered elsewhere in the issue.

For jazz musicians, summer means not only jazz festival season but often playing in hot and muggy conditions, indoors or out. So, after some head-scratching I’ve decided to write about what it’s like to play in the sticky cauldron of summer. Lest the following litany of complaints seems too petulant or kvetchy, remember they’re mostly meant to be humorous, real though they are.

For starters, there’s what happens to instruments as the weather grows more hot and humid, in particular my instrument, the double bass, which vehemently protests the onset of each summer by becoming almost impossible to play for two or three weeks in late June to early July. It tightens up and the body swells, forcing the action – i.e. the distance of the strings above the fingerboard – to get uncomfortably high. Now, I generally like a high action, but what happens right when the festivals are starting and you’re hoping to be at your best, is just ridiculous. The bass feels like concrete and its sound gets choked, not exactly what you need while having to deal with the enervation of the heat yourself!

Then there’s the stickiness. The fingerboard and neck get all gummy from sweat and the humidity, as do the strings, so you’re constantly wiping them down, which works for about five seconds. All the stickiness leads to greater friction, which leads to – you guessed it – blisters. No matter how much I’ve been playing or how tough my calluses are, I always end up with blisters playing in the summer as the skin gets softer from the humidity. There’s usually one on my right thumb, one or two on the plucking fingers and a couple of small ones on the tips of my left fingers. All this while the action is so stiff it feels like the strings are steel cables. But best of all – pinch me, I’m dreamin’ – is when these blisters break, and sweat, never in short supply on a jazz bandstand, gets into them. It feels roughly like squeezing lemon juice onto a paper cut and brings a whole new meaning to “burning it up.”

The best part about jazz sweat though, is the sting when it runs down into your eyes, rendering them useless for sight-reading purposes. (Luckily, I don’t read music well enough to ruin my playing.) Bassists and drummers often play continuously throughout a piece, so they rarely have a chance to wipe their eyes, making the rivulets of acid off the forehead a constant torture. I’ve had many experiences with this, but the one that stands out came during a performance of Two Bass Hit with Rob McConnell’s Tentet during the Toronto festival years ago. It was late June at The Rex, always a steambath in the summer, but especially so when packed.

Two Bass Hit eventually becomes a very fast blues in D-flat – not a bassist’s favourite key – and our version devolved into a marathon joust between the three saxophonists, P.J. Perry, Alex Dean and Mike Murley, each having their way with the changes and giving the others no quarter. This saxophone combat usually lasted 15 to 20 minutes, with drummer Terry Clarke and me flailing away underneath, playing time at this breakneck tempo. After about a minute there was so much sweat running into my eyes all I could do was shut them tight to keep it out. Eventually there was a break when the band stopped and left all three saxophonists alone in a kind of Coltrane-meets-Dixieland polyphonic wankfest. Terry and I couldn’t wipe ourselves down fast enough but as soon as we resumed playing it was sweat blindness all over again and I remember playing the head out by memory because I couldn’t see my music. There’s a blown-up photograph on the wall at The Rex showing Murley, Dean and me in the middle of this soggy battle, hair soaked and faces beet-red, a testament to a jazz ordeal I won’t ever forget.

Just to show that the trial-by-fire of tropical jazz conditions extends beyond musicians to their audience, on that same night at The Rex, a lady – and a youngish one at that – fainted from the heat, flopping out of her seat onto the floor right in the middle of a tune. I remember the band playing on as the paramedics arrived and carried her out on a stretcher. As they say, the show must go on.

The conditions don’t improve much, if at all, when jazz moves from sweatshop clubs to the other common summer venue – the outdoor stage. It’s a general principle that often what’s good for the paying customer – in this case, enjoying live jazz in the open air with some shade and maybe a beer – is not so good for the performers. And outdoor stages, even when adequately covered, present difficulties. First of all there’s the sound, which dissipates into the open air with nothing to hold it, or bounces back off tall buildings, creating a weird echo-chamber effect. This causes musicians to play harder than they should without getting much back and is often exacerbated by soundmen of the louder-is-better school, who decide to “help you out” by boosting things in the monitors to Thor-like levels. Great, my prayers have been answered, now it sounds thin and deafening.

Beyond sound, there’s odour. As in the venerable jazz tent, which, after a few days of use not only resembles a giant sneaker, but smells like one too – a piquant mixture of sweat, stale beer, mildew, melted plastic and barfed-up popcorn with just a hint of salami underneath. Heavenly.

And for bands using written music, wind is always a useful ally, tossing charts to and fro, or blowing cymbal stands to the ground – “Wow, that drummer is really bringing it today!” There are solutions like clothes pegs or see-through plexi-glass covers to hold sheet music in place, but they never quite do the trick even if you can get them in place. As for turning pages with these gizmos, forget it. And in some jazz version of Murphy’s Law, it’s never a chart you hate that blows away, but one that you actually were looking forward to playing.

But the best part of playing jazz al fresco is the wildlife, as in insects. There’s nothing quite like being in the middle of a ballad and watching several mosquitoes land on your forearm, all damp and juicy, knowing they’re going to bite you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or flying into your eye and buzzing about your ears while you’re in the middle of a solo. It’s also fun when a fly lands in the middle of a complex passage of 16th notes on your music, lending a whole new meaning to “reading fly shit.” Bees up the ante and have been known to swarm bandstands; being bitten by mosquitoes is one thing but being stung by a bee while playing is the frozen limit, though all in a day’s work in the great jazz outdoors.

Sometimes the wildlife comes in human form, particularly in sweltering tents where beer has been served all day long. I once played in a tent at the Barrie Jazz Festival where the audience had been imbibing for hours and were in something of a Belfast mood. The leader did a little too much talking out front and someone bellowed out “Play some *$#&ing music already!!” So we made with the sounds, but they did not soothe the savage breast. The bird was definitely in the air and I had the distinct feeling that if live produce had been on hand it would have been hurtling toward us with a vengeance. Jazz is not an open-air sport and when I approach playing an outdoor venue I often feel like W.C. Fields – “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia” – or at least indoors, with a frosty martini and a ballgame on.

So, outdoors or in a sweatbox, the next time you hear some live jazz in the summer and notice the musicians seem a little bedraggled and moist, perhaps a little red in the face or less focused than usual, you’ll understand why and extend them some empathy. Or at least refrain from throwing vegetables at them. After all, they’re not getting danger pay – that’s if they’re getting paid at all. No pun intended, it’s hard to play hot music while you’re melting.

I’d like to leave off by wishing everyone a happy summer of listening to music, and with a favourite joke about the season: How many singers does it take to sing Summertime?

All of them, apparently. 


AUG 3, 7:30PM: Festival of the Sound. “Jazz Canada: That Latin Flavour.” Guido Basso, trumpet; Dave Young, bass; Terry Clarke, drums; Reg Schwager, guitar; David Restivo, piano. Charles W. Stockey Centre, 2 Bay St, Parry Sound. What amounts to a Canadian jazz all-star band performing Latin jazz in concert.

AUG 4, 2PM: Westben. “Sophisticated Ladies.” Music of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Etta James, Blossom Dearie, Sarah Vaughan. Barbra Lica and Sophia Perlman, jazz vocals; Brian Barlow Big Band. The Barn, 6698 County Road 30, Campbellford. A fine big band accompanying two good singers paying tribute to some of the jazz divas of the past, in a wonderful setting.

AUG 18, 7PM: Stratford Summer Music. John MacLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra. The Avondale, 194 Avondale Ave, Stratford. A chance to hear Toronto’s premier big band away from their natural habitat.

Remi BolducAUG 25, 3PM: Stratford Summer Music. “Rémi Bolduc Jazz Ensemble: Tribute to Dave Brubeck.” The Avondale, 194 Avondale Ave, Stratford. One of Canada’s best alto saxophonists puts his own stamp on Brubeck’s music.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

Since we haven’t seen any snowflakes for two weeks, it is probably safe to assume that spring is here, and that summer won’t be far behind. But that being said, it is also true that this will be the last issue of The WholeNote until the September issue by which time fall will be looming. So there is a lot to cover here, and a lot that will likely fall through the cracks. While we frequently hear talk of the “paperless society,” it isn’t here yet, and probably never will be. For The WholeNote, as with any other paper publication, that means that there must always be a gap between the time when all of the final copy is written and the day when the first paper publication is available for our readers. A number of events will take place during that gap. I hope to attend several of them, but they will already be past history by the time you read this, and long gone by the time I report next. I will take notes as I go, though.


In recent years there has been much talk about the demise of the “town band” insofar as the traditional concert in the park and/or parade of the town band. Yes! Developments in technology have certainly changed much of community music. On the other hand, some bands have embraced these developments to further their bands’ connection with their communities. Two such situations have come to my attention recently.

The Uxbridge Community Concert Band cnnecting to their community. Photo by Jack MacQuarrieThe first of these, by the Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB), was an unusual way for a band to connect with their community. This band, a summertime-only group, had a unique way to contact citizens of Uxbridge. On the seasonal opening day of the town’s Summer Farmers’ Market, the band had a display stand with a dual purpose. One: Invite any potential members to consider joining the band. Two: Invite anyone passing by to attend UCCB summer events. One feature of their display was a laptop computer with a large screen and loudspeakers showing the band in one of its concerts. The photograph here shows the band’s membership chair, Terry Christiansen with her French horn and conductor Steffan Brunette with his computer.

Speaking of the UCCB’s Steffan Brunette, a couple of years ago, he took a year off from teaching and studied composition and this summer’s repertoire will include the premiere performance of a new composition of his with a very unusual inspiration. Brunette is recovering from major surgery and has appointed two assistants to conduct rehearsals at times when he may not be able to do so. Well, while recovering in the cardiology ward of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, he conceived this work. In his words: “The beeping of a specific heart monitor (on an F-sharp, in 5/4 time) throughout the day and night became the inspiration for the basis of a new piece.” This summer, audiences will be treated to the world premiere of Tachycardia.

The other town band innovation I want to mention here is by the Newmarket Citizens Band. The band has had a YouTube channel for about three years now, and have just announced that they currently have 43 videos posted on the channel – audio recordings of their performances from several of their various concerts that have taken place during that period. One, in particular, jumps out as having received exceptional numbers over a short period of time. Since being posted last August, The Lord of the Rings by Richard Saucedo, recorded at the Orillia Opera House, has had over 1200 views. That’s the most for any of their posted videos! 

New Horizons

I heard recently from Heather Engli about a big move on the horizon for her. I first met Heather many years ago when she was a music student and trumpet player at university. Years later, when we moved to Goodwood in Uxbridge Township, there was Heather, and she had stopped playing trumpet. A few years later, she was back playing and teaching trumpet. For some time now she has been my principal contact with The Silverthorn Symphonic Winds. Very soon Heather will be moving to Wolfville, Nova Scotia where she may even study more music at Acadia University, and she has already made contact with Dan and Lisa Kapp who moved there a couple of years ago, she informed me.

Dan Kapp, as regular readers of this column will know, was the driving force behind the first New Horizons Band of Toronto in 2010, when they started with one band made up of 19 adults, who had either never played music before, or who wanted to return to music after having played in high school. The qualifications for becoming a member were simple: you had to love music and be willing to do your best. “I will never forget my first practice” said Randy Kligerman, who is now president of NHBT. I too remember it well: a call from Dan Kapp, telling me that the first NH band did not have any trombones for their very first concert, I took action. I dug out, not one, but two trombones. One was for myself. The other I handed over to Joan, “the lady of the house,” and stated that “we are the trombone section.” I thought that Dan was being more than ridiculous to schedule that very first concert for a new beginner band to take place in the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio. I was wrong. The concert was appreciated and applauded by a full-house audience.

NHBT has since grown to approximately 260 members, with eight concert bands and two jazz bands, and offers a variety of mini-enrichment programs throughout the year. Initially they rehearsed in a studio space at Long & McQuade in Toronto. When they outgrew that, they were able to rehearse at the Salvation Army location at Bloor and Dovercourt. Again they have faced an enviable problem, many more people wanted to join NHBT and enrich their lives with music, but the bands had outgrown the space availability at their current Bloor and Dovercourt location. “We are a difficult tenant” said Kligerman, “ We have day and evening classes, require a band room with good acoustics and lighting, and many of our members prefer not to drive, so access from the Bloor Subway line is a priority. Not an easy thing to find in Toronto, especially at a rent we could afford.” After looking at numerous buildings and churches, Kligerman visited the Seicho-No-le Centre, at Danforth and Victoria Park. He knew this would be their new home as soon as he walked in. “The building is beautiful and has all the amenities we need, and our new landlords are welcoming and supportive of what we do with the community. Everyone is excited about what the future holds for NHBT, and most importantly, we can continue to grow as an organization,” said Kligerman.

NHBT now offers summer classes in beginner/advanced theory, beginner concert, sight reading and jazz, starting June 3. Their regular concert/jazz program starts up again in September. Read more about this on their website: newhorizonsbandtoronto.ca.

The Markham New Horizons Band is one that I had not heard of before, but met them for the first time recently. As a member of New Horizons International Music Association, the band serves as an entry access point to music making for adults, with or without musical background, and for those who have missed playing. They practise at Long & McQuade, Markham (9833 Markham Road) every Tuesday from 1pm to 3pm. During my brief visit, it became apparent that they would love to welcome some “low brass” members. For information contact their conductor Soah Lu at markhamnewhorizonsband@gmail.com.


The Canadian Band Association (Ontario) just announced their next Band Weekend. It will take place from June 14 to 16 in Barrie and be hosted by the Barrie Concert Band. For those not familiar with these events, the CBA Weekend brings together musicians from community bands across the province to join together for a challenging, but fun couple of days of music making. Under a number of different guest conductors, attendees will rehearse all day Saturday. That evening is a time for people to socialize. Then on Sunday afternoon, all will come together as a massed band to perform in a public concert. If you or your band have CBA membership, you will receive all information needed to register.

Outdoor venues

Over the years we have usually received information on concerts at a number of outdoor venues in Southern Ontario. So far we only have information on the Orillia Sunday evening Concert Band Series. These all take place on the Orillia Aqua Theatre in a park on the shore of Lake Couchiching. If the weather is bad, the concerts are automatically moved to the Orillia Opera House. This year’s lineup: June 23 - Orillia Concert Band; June 30 - Baytowne Big Band; July 7 - Weston Silver Band; July 14 - Orillia Silver Band; July 21 - Newmarket Citizens Band; July 28 - Barrie Skyliners Big Band; August 4 - Muskoka Concert Band; August 11 - Mississauga Pops Concert Band; August 18 - Simcoe County Band; and August 25 - Markham Concert Band. So far we have not heard anything from The Millennial Bandstand in Unionville or the Civic Bandstand in Oshawa.


A community choir was plagued with attendance problems. Several singers were absent at each rehearsal! As a matter of fact, every singer in the choir had missed several rehearsals, except for one very faithful alto! Finally at the dress rehearsal for their big concert, the conductor took a moment to single out and thank the faithful alto. She, of course, humbly responded, “Well it’s the least I could do, since I won’t be able to make the performance!”

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

Reading through some of my previous columns, I realize that I’ve been somewhat fixated on the weather. Although “the weather” as topic is typically a signifier of reflexive small talk, I would like to propose that it is, in fact, an important and interesting subject for those of us who routinely attend live concerts in Toronto, as the weather has a large impact not only on our collective mood and mental well-being, but also on the feasibility of any potential concert venture. Grabbing a drink after work, checking out a show, walking over to another venue to catch a late set: these are all activities that seem not only less appealing but, somehow, less possible if the weather is uncooperative.

That being said, with the advent of warmer weather, the portentous reopening of the city’s many accommodating patios and festival season rapidly approaching, we should finally – after many months of lacklustre, unsympathetic meteorological conditions – be able to enjoy the many upcoming shows in Toronto and the surrounding areas without fear of salt stains, ruined umbrellas or hypothermia. But! I would not be diligent in my duties if I did not divulge the fact that as I write this, in mid-May, I do so with a sunburn. Did I acquire this embarrassing evidence of my own negligence on a tropical vacation, on tour in some sunnier corner of the world, or doing anything remotely athletic? I did not. I managed to burn myself on a breezy 17-degree afternoon, in Trinity Bellwoods Park, sitting on a blanket with a friend. The afternoon was fun; the subsequent day, in which I was giggled at by side-eyed schoolchildren in the street, was not. And so, before you journey outside to experience the many exciting events happening over the next month and beyond, a friendly word of warning: if you burn easily – and probably even if you don’t – wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water and consider wearing a hat, lest you too hear the phrase, “He looks like a tomato that came to life.”

The first order of business: it will come as a surprise to approximately zero readers of this column that the TD Toronto Jazz Festival is taking place at the end of the month, from June 21 to June 30. (Consult the Festival website for a full look at the schedule, as there are lots of great shows to check out, and not enough ink to mention them all here.) It will also probably not be news that the Jazz Festival is now in the third year of a relatively new format, with a number of free outdoor (and indoor) stages based around Yorkville, and that as part of this format, the Festival’s club shows are more limited than they once were, in order to accommodate a more focused, concise programming mandate. That being the case, there are still a number of excellent club shows that will be taking place as part of the Jazz Festival, featuring both local performers and international acts. Some of these will take place around the Festival grounds in Yorkville, at bars and restaurants that don’t typically host music, or that do so in a more limited capacity than they will during the Festival. These include the Gatsby, at the Windsor Arms Hotel, which will have nightly shows at 10pm for the duration of the festival, Sassafraz, which will similarly have nightly shows at 10pm, and Proof Bar, at the Intercontinental Hotel, which will be the site of the Mill Street Late-Night Jam, primarily hosted by the Lauren Falls Trio.

Broadsway (from left): Heather Bambrick, Julie Michels, Diane Leah. Photo by Karen E ReevesAway from Yorkville at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar – which, of course, presents jazz year-round – Heather Bambrick leads the “Heather Bambrick and Friends” vocal series, which will feature Elizabeth Shepherd, on June 21; Barbra Lica, on June 22; Ranee Lee, on June 28; and the group, Broadsway (Diane Leah, Julie Michels, Heather Bambrick), on June 29. The most significant Jazz Festival club offerings, however, come by way of The Rex, which will be hosting no fewer than 40 shows between June 20 and 30 during the “TD Toronto Jazz Festival Cooperative Concert Series at The Rex.” This 11-day event – The Rex will be starting their programming one day before the official start of the Jazz Festival – is subtitled “Saxophone Summit.” The choice is an appropriate one, given the lineup, which includes Pat LaBarbera, Dayna Stephens, Brodie West, Mike Murley, David Binney, Donny McCaslin, Patrick Smith, Emily Steinwall, Autobahn, Alison Young, and, for the final two nights of the festival, Chris Potter, appearing with his relatively new Circuits Trio project, which will also feature Matt Brewer and Eric Harland. (There are also a number of great acts that are not quite so saxophone-centric, including singers Joanna Majoko and Melissa Stylianou, pianist Jeremy Ledbetter, and the experimental duo Paris Monster, one of last year’s festival favourites.)

ParisMonsterWhile the bulk of the Jazz Festival’s club programming is concentrated in The Rex, two other Toronto clubs will be hosting their own special series. The “Jazz Bistro Cabaret Series” will be taking place at Jazz Bistro from June 19 to June 30, running more or less concurrently with the Jazz Festival, and featuring, as the name implies, a number of mostly local singers in cabaret setting. Performances included June Garber and Stu Mac, on June 21, Adi Braun, on June 25, Tomson Highway and Patricia Cano, on June 28, and Alana Bridgewater on June 29. Further afield on Dundas, Lula Lounge will be hosting their LULAWORLD Festival from June 6 to 16, and, like Jazz Bistro, will mainly be showcasing the kind of Latin American music which they present throughout the year, including the Bianca Gismonti Trio and OKAN, on June 12; Tres Estrellas de Salsa, on June 14; and Lengaia Salsa Brava NG, on June 15.

Bianca Gismonti TrioAs this will be my last column until The WholeNote’s September issue, I hope that those of you reading this have a great summer and check out lots of live music. If you do see some of these shows, please feel free to email me to let me know what you enjoyed, what you didn’t enjoy, and everything in between. Also: please check out our website throughout the summer for online coverage of a wide variety of musical events, including the Jazz Festival, upcoming album releases, and more. And, finally: remember to wear sunscreen!


JUN 6 TO JUN 16: LULAWORLD Festival, Lula Lounge. Featuring primarily Latin American music and musical artists, Lula Lounge will be one of the first venues to kick off this year’s festival season.

JUN 19 TO JUN 30: Jazz Bistro Cabaret Series, Jazz Bistro. Check out Jazz Bistro for a number of cabaret performances in late June, featuring many of the vocalists who regularly appear at Jazz Bistro throughout the year.

JUN 21 TO JUN 30: TD Toronto Jazz Festival, various locations. The city’s annual jazz festival, with lots of free outdoor performances in Yorkville and the surrounding area, club performances at The Rex and The Old Mill, and much more.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Liz Upchurch accompanies Jane Archibald in the COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, 2018. Photo by Kevin LloydNot a lot of people know that Liz Upchurch, the head of the COC Ensemble Studio and a key figure in operatic training in our country, started her career as an art song buff. The Royal Academy of Music graduate and London-born pianist who studied with Roger Vignoles first came to Canada for a lieder course led by Martin Isepp in Banff, where she met Mary Morrison, Michael McMahon and John Hess, who all had extensive opera experience. “At the time I had just started to lose my sight,” she remembers. “I have a retinal disease which started to manifest seriously around that time… it had been a difficult year. I’d just been given an okay by the specialist to go for the summer.”

After the course, Isepp asked her to come with him to Italy, to an opera summer program he was running. “I wasn’t in love with opera then,” she admits. “I was in love with singers and art song. When I asked what we’d be working on, and was told a Mozart opera, I thought, hmm. But I’m so glad I went: it changed the course of my life. He became a mentor. I wanted to have that kind of artistic sensibility where I can be in both worlds, opera and art song.”

Liz Upchurch. Photo by Chris HutchesonUpchurch is celebrating her 20 years with the COC with a noon concert, “Some of My Favourite Things,” on May 7 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (RBA), and the program will be back-to-back-to-back art song. “I did a double first at the RAM in solo and chamber music, but I always played for singers, for their classes and recitals, and was kind of crazy for singers. There’s nothing as amazing as the written words set to music – the human voice. Human voices send me.”

Back in Banff, John Hess, in particular, became a fast friend, and opened further doors into opera – and hiking. “John would always lead these hikes. I couldn’t do the hikes with other singers and pianists – when you start to lose your vision, you’re seeing in two dimensions, the whole up-down thing is confusing. He said, ‘I’ll take you on walks at the end of the course.’ And he got me over a couple of fears that I had.” Banff was also the place where Upchurch met her future wife, theatre director Jennifer Tarver, who was then assisting Rhoda Levine. But that was to come later. “Then John on that hike said, ‘Look, I do this course in the winter, it’s called Dramatic Integration, for Canadian singers doing contemporary music. I can’t really explain the course, it’s a bit crazy, but I think you might be the right kind of crazy to do it.’”

Two things were immediately evident, Hess tells me when I ask him about the experience. “Liz was a beautiful pianist. Superb sound, great fingers, deeply musical and a superb ensemble player. The other thing was a wicked sense of humour.” She was also, he writes, a dramatic sight to see while playing. “She was already beginning to have vision issues and she would often play with a tissue draped over one side of her glasses.” She accepted this unknown disease in stride, almost in an off-hand manner. “This was vintage Liz. She had an unabated appetite for the beauty of the Rockies and even with her physical challenges she was undaunted in getting to the top of whatever mountain she could.”

Young pianist Jennifer Szeto, now Montreal-based former Ensemble Studio member and Adler Fellow, also remembers that sense of humour and the cheek. They met by accident, when Szeto played an audition for a friend whose regular pianist cancelled. “It’s a story which Liz likes to tell in a completely different way. But we met at that COSI audition. I walked in, played the audition, the singer left and Liz looked at me at the piano and went Who are you?! Um, I’m Jenn Szeto. I was a second-year student at that point. She asked me if I’ve ever seen an opera before. Which is a funny thing to ask someone. And thankfully I had seen an opera, as I was dating a young baritone. Liz invited me to the COSI program on the spot, and I spent the summer immersing myself in opera. Martin Isepp was coaching Cosi fan tutte, conducted by Stephen Philcox and featuring all the ensemble members at the COC. Sam Chan was there. Kinza Tyrrell conducted a Haydn opera, Aviva Fortunata was singing. I had an amazing introduction to the world of opera. That’s how Liz found me and I joined the Ensemble eight years after that. I’ve been learning and working in opera for about ten years since that first encounter. If I hadn’t agreed to play that audition, I’d never have met her; if she hadn’t asked who I was, I wouldn’t have the career that I’m building right now. It’s really because of her. And I’m sure I’m not the only person.”

The two kept in touch over the years, but when Szeto inquired too early about trying out for the Ensemble Studio, she got an honest answer. “Jenny, she said. You’re not ready. I needed to wait a few more years. She is always honest with her advice. And I auditioned when I was ready.” Upchurch is known for keeping an eye on young musical talent across the country, and Szeto confirms it. “She likes to keep tabs. She likes to keep a good pulse on everything. I think that’s what makes her so good at her job: she has a remarkable eye for talent. She is a fabulous teacher and mentor, but really has an eye for spotting that thing that makes you different.”

Liz Upchurch with the 2018/2019 COC Ensemble Studio. Gaetz PhotographyBy the time the first round of taped submissions for the Ensemble Studio auditions arrives, Upchurch will have heard a good number of applicants already. She spends a chunk of her year travelling to vocal programs and festivals. “By the end of a summer, I’ve heard between 50 and 80 Canadian singers from undergraduate level up, and several pianists. That allows me not just to hear young people with a lot of potential and watch them and be at the significant point to guide them over the next few steps, but also to interact with their teachers and people that they are with. So: there are no real surprises, honestly. The talented people rise. It’s important to have that big radar.”

What is she looking for in the 130-plus submissions that they get? “Extraordinariness. Beauty. People with amazing sense of message: communicators. You can have a wonderful voice and not know how to communicate. You’ve got to sort of have it all and then you’ve got to really want it. It has to be a calling. It’s a very hard discipline, singing. It looks incredibly glamorous, but the fact is it’s a very difficult life.”

The international success of Canadian singers thrills her, but she’s not entirely sure how to explain it. “It’s a miracle. I’ve said it for years: for a country this size, how is it conceivable that everywhere you go, any of the major opera houses right now, you will fall over a Canadian on the stage. Frankfurt’s now become a mini-Toronto, in a way.” There are Canadians in Berlin, and Paris, and across France. Doesn’t it also speak to the quality of training here? “Yes. When you have such a plethora of amazing training, there’s not necessarily work of a certain type for everybody,” she adds, and the singers travel abroad.

What about the training program, developed over the years, at the COC that she now heads up? “I have a small army, basically,” she says. Because it’s a large art form, it can be broken down and taught in separate ways. “You’ll do movement in one room, you do German diction over here, you have a vocal session here, you have coaching over there, everything is silo’d in boxes. For the singers who’re trying to put it all together, if there wasn’t a unified language, they are starting to ping pong.” She is first and foremost a pianist and she plays for all the trainers that she brings in, which means that she can see first-hand whether this trainer is a good fit for that particular group of singers. “It took me a long time to find this team. I have people like Wendy Nielsen, and Tom Diamond, and Jennifer Swan whom I met in Italy ten years ago, who’s an expert on breathing and physicality. It’s taken years to develop a sort of language, an understanding, a philosophy, and a method – a repeatable method. Sometimes we have four trainers in the room. We’re very good at sharing who needs to go when in the room, who needs to talk. The teamwork is essential. They also teach them separately.”

The new Studio members are always introduced to the audience of the noon-hour concert series as a group, but they say farewell individually, in the Les Adieux concerts. Near the end the repertoire is often ambitious. “They sometimes want to do big song cycles, and we created space for them in the series for that. I’ve already spoken to the incoming studio members about their Les Adieux concert. For a Schubert concert like Samuel Chan just did, that is two years’ work.”

“The song aspect has been elevated during Liz’s tenure with the Ensemble and that’s been a fantastic thing,” says Wendy Nielsen, the head vocal consultant at the Ensemble Studio and the head of voice at U of T. The two women did a recital together in 2011 in the RBA and after meeting as teachers at the Ensemble Studio, Nielsen invited Upchurch to come to her own summer program in St. Andrews in New Brunswick. What is Upchurch after in a young singer? “She’s primarily focused on helping them to develop their artistry,” says Nielsen. “Obviously voice matters, that’s their instrument, but she has a real ability to bring out the artist inside them.” And if that includes singers or pianists who also compose, like Danika Lorèn and Stéphane Mayer, she will find ways to bring forward their original work. “She is very respectful of what each ensemble member needs, and aware that they all need something different. One of her strengths is that she meets someone where they are. The recipe is not the same for each person. While providing training, the program allows for a lot of growth in different directions.”

When I ask Upchurch what composers she favours personally, she takes the Romantic lane. “Brahms was my first love – and Schumann. I get Schumann. I was obsessed with the letters, with the relationship, with how he wrote, how he changed from improvising to seeing text for the first time, that whole thing. The Brahms-Mendelssohn-Schumann-Wolf axis was a major love affair for me. All of the piano trios, Brahms piano trios, Brahms cello sonatas, violin sonatas, how violin sonatas bleed into art song – all that.” But Brahms and Schumann won’t be on the program on May 7, giving way to some contemporary music, as is only right. Schubert, though – “a god of writing for text” – will make an appearance, with An die Musik.

It was hard reducing her favourite things to an hour-long concert, she says. “I was really stuck – and I’m never stuck. It gelled about a month ago when I really knew exactly who I could have. I decided it should be about the Studio – the first year Simona Genga and Anna-Sophie Neher, who are friends, will do duets and rep that they love. The COC orchestra concertmaster, Marie Bérard, will play the violin solo in Strauss’ Morgen, with Genga singing.” Among the songs by living composers, the Ana Sokolović cycle Dawn Always Begins in the Bones will be well represented, as will Derek Holman’s The Four Seasons. “It’s an incredible set, which I’ve already recorded with Lance [Wiliford]. The Fair Daffodils is a true gem – Anna-Sophie will sing it.”

Upchurch also composes. “Monica Whicher and I used to perform this song that I wrote, but this time it will be with a violin since Marie is there. It’s a lullaby for my son, who’s now nine, and who I have to go collect right after our interview. He’s never fallen asleep to it, not once in nine years,” she tut-tuts.

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

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