The 2017/18 music theatre scene is starting with a bang this month with two large-scale, vastly different projects, both equally exciting.


Miigis by Red Sky Performance: Sandra Laronde, concept/direction; Jera Wolfe, choreography; Sophia Lebessis, performer - photo by Donald LeeIn this year of celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday how perfect is it to have a new creation by Red Sky Performance taking up residence at Fort York. Red Sky, based in Toronto, is Canada’s leading company of contemporary Indigenous performance in dance, theatre, music and media.

On September 15 and 16 they are bringing to life the world premiere of Miigis, a fusion of contemporary Indigenous dance and powerful original music, with concept and direction by artistic director Sandra Laronde, choreography by associate artist Jera Wolfe, and design by Julia Tribe, exploring the catalysts, trade routes, and stories of a journey from the Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes and the “seven prophecies marked by miigis.”

The seven prophecies (or seven fires prophecy) are at the heart of the belief of the Anishinaabe people, prophecies that follow seven epochs (and predicting an eighth) in the life of the people of Turtle Island (North America) following the migration of the people from the East Coast into the interior of the continent and encompassing the arrival of the Europeans and the effects of the meeting of the two cultures. The miigis in different tellings of the prophecies are either/both the cowrie shells that mark the various lands where the migrating people should stay and settle, and the prophets that guided them.

Fascinated with Laronde’s choice of this as the heart of the new piece, I asked her a few key questions about the inception of Miigis and her production choices (her responses have been edited for length).

WN: Can you tell me more about the choice of the seven prophecies of miigis as the subject matter for the new work? What is it about the prophecy that you want to communicate through the piece and that you think is important for audiences to learn about/experience now?

SL: Miigis is akin to the holy grail for the Anishinaabe people. We followed it from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes. I’m interested in the third fire prophecy given to us which was ‘to move westward until you come to a place where food grows on the water’. I’m interested in what happened along the travel and water routes, what got exchanged, what happened. The food that ‘grows on water’ is known as manoomin or wild rice which the Anishinaabe are renowned for harvesting. Its harvest life cycle is part of the structure of the Miigis production.

Our seven fires prophecy includes an eighth fire, where society could choose to go down either a dark path or a bright path, and we are in this eighth fire now. All of the warnings are here – now – especially with regard to the environment, nature, and the loss of many species.  The question is can we turn this around? Can the dominant culture move beyond a ‘take, take mentality’?

WN: Why did you choose Fort York as the location for the world premiere, and how will this location set off the work you will be creating? 

SL: We are fortunate to have wonderful partners involved in Miigis, and it is co-commissioned by the City of Toronto, The Bentway Conservancy and Fort York Historic Site. This location is perfect because the Gardiner Expressway was the natural shoreline of Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes. Garrison Creek runs along Fort York which is where the Anishinaabe used its waterways. Of course, Fort York has a lot of history before it became known as a fort, as Anishinabek and Haudenosaunee shared this land that is now known as Toronto. Toronto is a Haudensaunee word that means “where trees grow in the water.” That speaks to quite a beautiful image of Toronto, and its natural beauty.

Fort York has a lot of big open spaces and it has quite a good feel there. Ironically, while creating a high Indigenous content with Miigis, we would hear cannonballs being fired off on a daily basis, and young men and women marching around outside in colonial vestments. At first, it was quite startling to hear cannonballs firing a few times a day. It’s ironic that we have something very colonial happening all around us while we are inside the Blue Barracks creating a work that goes right back to our origin story and our seven fire prophecies. It’s strangely appropriate somehow as we are giving Indigenous voice back to this tract of land.

It’s ideal to be at the Bentway and Fort York because this work has approximately 18 to 20 dancers, both contemporary and traditional, and six live musicians, so a lot of people are involved. We need the space for this outdoor spectacle experience of original live music and dance. The music is extraordinary, rich, Indigenous and surprising. It’s a big ambitious piece in many ways.

WN: Will the piece take place in one place or move about the fort? How do you see this affecting both the creation of the piece and the reaction of the audience? 

SL: We will have a procession from The Bentway area into Fort York, and we will perform outside on a low-rise stage. We all want the feeling of the performance being accessible to audiences. Miigis is a piece to be performed outdoors amidst nature and the Toronto cityscape. This land allows our production to move distances, to cover ground, and to involve a lot of artists involved in the process, including traditional dancers and singers.

I would love audiences to take away images, moments, and knowledge nuggets that swim around in their heads and hearts for years to come, to feel the urgency of what Miigis is about, to experience the Indigenous artistry, and to have a rich sonic experience of Indigenous music. We are very excited to reveal this new terrain of dance and live music that immerses audiences in the power of nature and Indigenous prophecy right here in downtown Toronto.

Miigis plays for two performances only, September 15 and16, with a third music-only concert on September 17. Performances are free.

Life After

Britta Johnson’s musical Life After, which will debut at Canadian Stage September 23 to October 22The other centrepiece of the September season is Life After, a new Canadian musical by Britta Johnson, first seen and widely acclaimed at the Toronto Fringe in 2016, workshopped again last April, and in rehearsal now for its debut at Canadian Stage September 23 to October 22 (at the Berkeley Street Theatre), in a three-way co-production with the Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals. A funny and frank story of love, loss and vivid imagination, Life After follows 16-year-old Alice, left to navigate life after her father, a superstar self-help guru, dies in a car accident. The audience is plunged into Alice’s overactive inner world as she tries to decipher the events that led to that fateful day.

Unusually for a musical, the composer is also the writer of both book and lyrics, and the story is one she says she has been writing since her teens as it draws in part on her own experience of losing her father when she was young.

Reviews of the original Fringe production speak of how moving but also how funny Life After is, calling Johnson’s work revolutionizing and comparing her to Sondheim. In a recent blogpost, director Robert McQueen (who also directed the original Fringe production) wrote that he “can’t wait to get Life After back into the theatre and to invite audiences to hear the unique voice of this truly gifted musical theatre artist.”

Joining McQueen at Canadian Stage is a top-notch creative team and cast featuring emerging star Ellen Denny, Dan Chameroy, Rielle Braid, Tracy Michailidis, Kelsey Verzotti and Trish Lindström; leading the ensemble are Neema Bickersteth, Barbara Fulton, and Johnson’s sister Anika Johnson (who also is the production’s dramaturg).

The production is also marking a number of firsts. Britta Johnson is the inaugural artist chosen to be part of the Musical Stage Company’s new Crescendo series which gives the chosen composer a three-year residency with a commitment to produce three of her new musicals in development over that time. This is also the first Canadian musical to be programmed at Canadian Stage under artistic and general director Matthew Jocelyn. Jocelyn, whose family origins trace back to Johnson’s hometown Stratford, Ontario, caught some of her early student productions  and was immediately struck by the mature, insightful voice in her work, both as librettist and as a composer: “Life After is a searingly beautiful piece of music theatre that we are honoured to have opening our 30th anniversary season,” says Jocelyn.

We are in an exciting era of musical theatre development in Toronto with a growing proliferation of new musical incubators as well as more companies featuring music theatre of various kinds in their seasons. Canadian Stage stands out as breaking new ground in this regard with fully 10 out of 15 productions in their new season featuring music as an integral element of the production. I will be writing more on that next month.

Not Too Late

If you are still feeling the draw of summer days in small-town Ontario, head out to Stratford to see their strong production of Damon Runyon’s classic Guys and Dolls featuring Steve Ross’ perfect Nicely-Nicely Johnson at the Festival Theatre (until Oct 29) or grab the chance to see brilliant Canadian actor Michael Therriault (Golem in the ill-fated LOTR musical) starring in the 1930s musical Me and My Girl at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake (until Oct 15).

Or for something more modern, watch Cirque du Soleil explode into the Port Lands with Volta, their new show about blazing your own trail (Sept 7 to Oct 29).

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


Update 4pm, Aug 31 2017: A previous version of this article referred in one instance to Canadian Stage as 'CanStage'; this error has since been corrected.

In my summer 2017 column I examined the formation and first season of the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra – the Royal Conservatory’s supergroup celebrating cultural diversity and pluralism – and its search for a common language here in Toronto, Canada.

Now, with fall subtly nipping at our heels, two new initiatives aiming to address issues of interest to students, practitioners and audiences of globally sensitive music, are poised to set projects in motion. On the one hand, Polyphonic Ground aspires to bring under a big tent a group of individual “live music presenters committed to building and sustaining Toronto as a global music city.” On the other hand, Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario is a non-profit “dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of modal music traditions of Asia, Africa and Europe.” Both publicly launch in September.

Polyphonic Ground

TurkwazKayla McGee, Small World Music’s managing director, serves as Polyphonic Ground’s community lead. In a mid-August interview she told me why Polyphonic Ground was an obvious next step in the evolution of our region’s global music community. “We at Small World saw there was no real infrastructure for live music presenters, no shared platforms to allow us to work and grow together.” Small World couldn’t do it alone. But the need for setting up such infrastructure became abundantly clear to McGee when she served with Ontario’s Live Music Working Group, an industry association promoting live Canadian music.

Polyphonic Ground’s activities, McGee explains, will include collaborative programming, fundraising, addressing resource issues and professional development such as presenter panels and surveys. “We also want to stress to audiences that the music we collectively present is for the culturally curious and not just for members of a specific group. Many of us are looking for ways to break out of genre and confirmed audience silos … to cross-pollinate audiences.”

That Small World had identified a real need became instantly clear when they put the word out about Polyphonic Ground; 12 small-to-medium-sized organizations responded to the call for “a new initiative to strengthen Toronto’s culturally diverse music industry.” It’s an impressive list: Ashkenaz Foundation, Lula Music and Arts Centre, Batuki Music Society, Good Kind Productions, Link Music Lab, MonstrARTity Creative Community, Music Africa, Revolutions Per Minute, Uma Nota Culture, World Fiddle Day Toronto, iNative and Small World Music Society, the initiative’s catalyst.

I have featured the activities of many of its members individually in this column over the years. Under the Polyphonic Ground banner these presenters could constitute a significant cultural voice. Taken as a whole the numbers are impressive. Collectively they employ 40 people in their operations and present some 300 concerts each year, to an estimated audience of over 300,000.

The press release announcing Polyphonic Ground’s formation — Hear Toronto. Where the World Lives. — sets out its mission systematically: to provide points of connection for artists and audiences; to strengthen industry practices and be a united voice to government, business and industry; to encourage exchange and discovery through a monthly double-bill performance series and professional development initiatives for diverse artistic leaders. The release also acknowledges funding by the Ontario Media Development Corporation, as well as support from MusicOntario, Music Canada Live, City of Toronto and Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO). So at some level the collective has already begun making its case.

SandcatchersPolyphonic Ground serves up the first in its series of monthly double-bill concerts at Revival Bar, 783 College Street. As planned, for each concert, two partner organizations will pair in collaborative programs geared to transcultural musical discovery. The September 14 inaugural concert is spearheaded by Ashkenaz Foundation and Small World Music Society in co-presentation with three groups: Turkwaz (Toronto), GROOZ (Montreal) and Sandcatchers (Brooklyn). Transcultural the evening certainly will be, featuring the Balkan voices of the seasoned JUNO-nominated Turkwaz trio, the Middle Eastern-meets-Appalachian fusion of Sandcatchers, and GROOZ’s spirited Algerian-Québécois septet. (This inaugural concert also celebrates the launch of the 16th annual Small World Music Festival, running September 14 to 17, “bringing Toronto music from around the world and around the corner.”) Further double-bill Polyphonic Ground musical juxtapositions are scheduled for October 12, November 9 and December 14, with different Polyphonic Ground member organizations presenting. I’ll be eagerly following these concerts.

I’ll also be following with interest Polyphonic Ground’s other meaningful initiatives beyond the concert hall. These include access to training and leadership and bolstering professional development opportunities within the music industry. Already announced is its Diversity and Live Music Panel series, supported by Ontario government and industry players; the Developing Diverse Leaders program “with the goal of empowering young talent through mentorship;” as well as its Best Practice Workshops. The titles may not be as catchy as “Middle Eastern-meets-Appalachian fusion” but the need is real.

Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario

While Polyphonic Ground is presenter-driven, Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario focuses on the education of a new generation of musicians – and also audiences. Its stated mission and mandate is also distinctly different: “dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of modal music traditions of Asia, Africa, and Europe.”

Founded in 2017 by two Toronto-based musicians, Persian tar player and teacher Araz Salek and keyboardist, composer and sound designer Jonathan Adjemian, LMWO takes its cues directly from the successful Labyrinth Musical Workshop founded in 2002 at Houdetsi, Crete by leading world musician and educator Ross Daly and running annually since. That successful model has inspired similar workshops in Spain and Italy, establishing an international Labyrinth network.

In a recent telephone interview Salek framed the core reason for establishing Labyrinth Ontario as a belief “in encouraging the study of modal musical traditions in their specific details. [We believe in] embracing the diversity of musical traditions and audiences in the GTA rather than smoothing out particularities of tuning, rhythm or phrasing to cater to an assumed common ground. Our ultimate hope is to see the GTA become a global hub for the study and performance of these traditions, providing institutional support to the many world-class musicians already living here and encouraging a new generation of performers.”

Having begun his music career in Iran, Salek has been active as a tar player and leader in Toronto for about a decade in both Persian ensembles as well as in more eclectic music circles. He has taught and performed at the Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Houdetsi since 2011. Labyrinth Ontario will hold its first annual Toronto training intensive in May 2018. On offer will be a series of three week-long seminars in instrumental technique and in regional modal theory systems. Topics will cover aspects of Afghan, Arab, Azeri, Bulgarian, Greek, Iranian, Kurdish, and Turkish music. Confirmed faculty includes Bassam Bishara (CAN, oud), Ross Daly (Greece, modal music composition), Imamyar Hasanov (USA, Azeri kamancha), Pedram Khavarzamini (CAN, tombak), Ali Akbar Moradi (Iran, Kurdish tanbur), Araz Salek (CAN, tar) and Kelly Thoma (Greece, Cretan lyra). In addition to the workshops, faculty and their students will give concerts each week and moderated panel discussions will be open to the public.

Pedram KhavarzaminiFriday September 15, Labyrinth Ontario holds its Launch Event and Fundraiser at 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media and Education in order to celebrate its upcoming 2018 programming. The concert features performances by oud player and faculty member Bassam Bishara, Bulgarian and Balkan vocal and instrumental ensemble Meden Glas and Iranian Modal Music Ensemble of Toronto. Then a quartet co-led by faculty members tombak master Pedram Khavarzamini and artistic director Araz Salek on tar takes the stage, capped by a set by DJ Cheba Khadijah of Souk Sessions, known for his “Arab techno for the people.”

New Canadian Global Music Orchestra, Polyphonic Ground and Labyrinth Ontario all launched this year. They are all ambitious adventures in imagining new ground on which global music can grow in Ontario soil, in our Ontario souls. They also address, albeit in very different ways, challenges of bridging musical cultures and expanding global musics’ musician and audience base while maintaining the music’s quality.

We’ll keep eyes – and ears – open for just how they engage with all their necessary Toronto region stake-holders consisting of learners, creators, presenters, audiences and funders alike.

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

Update 3pm, Sep 6 2017: A previous version of this article incorrectly implied that Polyphonic Ground received financial support from organizations other than the OMDC, and that McGee encountered barriers among colleagues to setting up the organization. These errors have since been corrected.

As I sit down to put pen to paper (sit down to the keyboard; this is 2017!), and muse on where to start for this September issue, after our two-month hiatus, one question seems to be: What was significant in the summer in the band world? The answer which keeps coming up is just another question: What day was summer on this year? What with cancelled concerts and rained-out festivals I’m going to have to dig back all the way to June for some of my highlights.

Three of the Best

In the June column I mentioned that I was looking forward to attending the final concert of the season of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. I certainly was not disappointed. In particular, the arrangement of Calixa Lavallée’s Bridal Rose Overture by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves surpassed my expectations. In a previous column I had also mentioned that I hoped to meet Wynne Krangle, the clarinet player from Whitehorse who rehearses with the choir over the internet. There she was in the choir, and we managed to have a brief chat after the concert.

Another concert I mentioned in the June issue as one I hoped to attend was that of the Strings Attached Orchestra. Here again the concert exceeded my expectations. The orchestra has developed their Young Composers Initiative (YCI) where they “hope to encourage the writing of contemporary works for strings by composers 16 years of age and younger.” In this concert they performed Viaggio delle Farfalle by Damiano Perrella, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student from Port Credit Secondary School. In simple terms, one might say that it describes the evolution of a caterpillar to a butterfly. The title, translated from the Italian, means “the voyage of flight of the butterflies.” The composer states that he was inspired to write this during a stroll where he came across a butterfly flying away, and was immediately curious as to how he could translate this grace into music. In his words: “I wanted to convey the emotions related with flight starting from a caterpillar.” As Franz Liszt once said: “The musician who is inspired by nature exhales in tones nature’s most tender secrets without copying it. He thinks, he feels, he speaks through nature.” This young composer did just that.

Dan and Lisa Kapp (with Alphorn)The third musical event of the summer which stands out in my memory was by the Resa’s Pieces Concert Band. Not only were they joined for some numbers by Resa’s choir and strings, but they had a featured alphorn solo by none other than Dan Kapp of New Horizons fame. This was Dan’s arrangement for band of Ballad for Alphorn and Frustrated Percussionist by composer Dennis Armitage. He was aided by his wife Lisa who, as the frustrated percussionist, displayed her virtuosity on the triangle, cow bell, small and large cymbal, slide whistle, police whistle, bird call etc. Having never heard of this composer, I checked and learned that he was born in England, but lived most of his life in Switzerland. Hence the interest in the alphorn. We have learned that Dan and Lisa will be performing this work in Lindsay on October 28 with piano and organ accompaniment. Hopefully, we’ll have details of that event in time for the October issue.


For those concerts which were not cancelled because of weather conditions, the common theme was the Canada 150/sesquicentennial. For most that meant a major component of the programs had to be Canadian content. In most of the programs this Canadian content was largely by lesser-known contemporary Canadians. As a form of memorial, almost every concert that I was aware of featured something by Howard Cable. Unfortunately I saw little, if any, 19th-century or early 20th-century Canadian works. Although there are several fine concert band arrangements of his work, the only work by Calixa Lavallée in any concert program which came to my attention was O Canada (other than, as mentioned, Calixa Lavallée’s Bridal Rose Overture at Wychwood).


To lighten things up for the coming musical season it might be time for a bit of trivia. In the spring I had the pleasure of attending a fun-raising trivia night for the Amadeus Choir. Based on the popular Trivial Pursuit, attendees formed teams around tables and provided team answers to questions posed. Each team had to choose a team name. There were prizes for correct answers, but there was also a prize for the best team name. The name which struck the chord with me was “La Triviata.”

Anyone who plays a musical instrument knows only too well that one of the perils on the learning curve is learning the meaning of the multitude of stylistic markings which lie beneath the notes on any score telling us how that bit should be played. During a recent rehearsal, while sight reading a new work, I realized that I had never seen a warning of an impending awkward, difficult or tricky passage. Ergo, it is time to add to the lexicon. How about jp or justo pretendo as a recognized warning for such situations?

Hail (and Farewell?)

On a recent TV news broadcast there was a brief showing of US President Trump arriving at some ceremonial function. He was greeted by a military band in full dress regalia with ceremonial trumpeters at the fore. After suitable trumpet flourishes and fanfare, the president stepped down to the tune of the traditional Hail to the Chief. Having heard of a controversy about this particular music, I dug into some notes which I had made some years ago. The first question might be why this music, written by an Englishman? Based on a Scottish Gaelic melody, it was written around 1812 by James Sanderson who added words from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. It seems that Chester Arthur, US President in the late 1880s questioned why important ceremonial occasions would require music by anyone but an American composer. Based on this, a call went out for an American composition. While there may have been other submissions, John Philip Sousa submitted his new Presidential Polonaise. It never caught on, and Hail to the Chief is still the choice. But with his emphasis on buy American, will the current president reconsider? Several renditions of Presidential Polonaise are available on YouTube.


The Toronto New Horizons bands will be starting back soon with their annual Instrument Exploration Workshop to be held Friday, September 8 at 7:30pm at the Long and McQuade store on Bloor Street. As in the past, this will be an excellent opportunity for anyone, considering taking up music or getting back after an absence, to consider which instrument might appeal to them. Just a few years ago the first New Horizons band was formed in Toronto with modest hopes. This year there will be a second beginner band bringing the total number of NH bands in Toronto to ten. Classes begin September 11.

On Tuesday, October 10, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds presents the first concert of their season in the series, 59 Minute Soiree. Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave, Toronto (just north of Eglinton). These informal musical entertainments feature a variety of lighter music.

The Hannaford Youth Band is preparing for an interesting season including a concert with the West Humber Steel Band in their “Rising Stars Brass and Steel” concert in the new year. For anyone interested in joining this great band, auditions are Saturday, September 16. Applications may be submitted online.

The York Regional Brass are preparing for another season of brass band music. They are looking for new members and would welcome inquiries. They rehearse in Aurora on Wednesday evenings. If interested, contact Peter Hussey at

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

Lula Lounge at 1587 Dundas W. in Toronto describes itself as a “music club, venue, bar, restaurant, community centre, ground zero to the exploding world music scene in Toronto ... home to Latin, salsa, jazz, reggae, indie, and more.” So when a place like that shuts up shop in the middle of summer, people notice.

We certainly did. So we decided to ask José Ortega, Lula co-founder and artistic director, what was up.

WholeNote: Can you say something about the reno — is it mainly cosmetic or also functional?

Ortega: It’s a facelift, for sure: it vastly improves the washrooms and installs a wheelchair accessible washroom on the main floor. The reno will also give us more room in the lobby area, which Lula patrons know can become really crowded on a busy night. But it’s more than just a facelift. Making Lula more accessible will let us serve clients and communities better and more safely.

And in terms of your overall Lula mandate and your relationship with the surrounding community?

We do a lot of educational programming for youth and host many public meetings. The barrier free, universal washroom will make it easier for clients of all ages with mobility challenges to enjoy the music and activities presented here. Lula programming is done by the not-for-profit organization Lula Music and Arts Centre, which allowed us to get help from the City of Toronto Culture Build fund as well as from Enabling Accessibility, a national program. It’s encouraging because we see both the municipal and federal government stepping up to invest in cultural projects that serve diverse communities. 

Lula LoungeSo what can we look forward to when you re-open September 9?

This is the second stage (the first was removing the drop ceiling in 2015 to reveal the true height of the main room) of what we hope will be a multiphase project. Within the next couple of years, we’re hoping to open up a enlarged mezzanine area so that we can increase our capacity and can accommodate more music lovers in an even better, more beautiful venue!

I recognize what you say about encouraging support from the city’s Culture Build fund and the federal Enabling Accessibility program. But what kind of risk is undertaking something like this at a moment in time when local street level venues in the city seem to be under siege on many fronts?

That’s an interesting question. We want to make sure that as leaders at city hall put forth the idea of a music city, that they understand that our city of music includes salsa, reggae, samba, jazz, classical Indian, soca and many other genres. Toronto can be a leader in all of these areas, not just in pop and indie forms. The folks down at the city’s music office have been very open to hearing about this but we need to keep delivering this message.

I sometimes get the feeling that various topdown initiatives intent on “making us into a music city” take priority over initiatives to nurture the music city we already are.

We’ve been very involved with the efforts to look at the challenges facing Toronto music venues and have been working with the Toronto Music Office, TMAC and other venues to see explore how bylaws and enforcement of those bylaws can create almost impossible situations for responsible live music venue operators. We’ve also been working with Music Canada Live on their Regional Advisory Committee on Toronto Venue Health. We do see a need to recognize what grassroots venues contribute to the culture and economy of our city. It’s easy to take this stuff for granted but it takes a huge amount of energy, money and dedication to keep a music venue going. 

So you’re hopeful?

We’ve been at this for 15 years and have learned by trial and error how to survive in this market with its challenges and benefits. We’re feeling like the model we’re working with is supporting our mandate and should allow us to present live music for many years to come.

I noticed, from another story we’re following, Lula’s name among the organizations signing up for the new Polyphonic Ground collective. What’s your take on that?

We’re part of the Polyphonic Ground collective, which is currently a pilot project led by Small World Music to see what potential exists for small presenters who are serving diverse audiences and artists, to work together to lobby for resources, share best practices and develop audiences together. We’ll see where it goes but it’s bringing to light some interesting issues about access within the music industry.

On October 13, we’ll be hosting the first of a Polyphonic Ground panel series, which Lula has helped to put together, alongside the City of Toronto, Music Canada Live, Music Canada and Music Ontario. The series builds on a panel talk that we organized back in May and will look and diversity and inequities in the music industry. Ideally the series of conversations will lead to some clear recommendations about how to ensure that the festivals, conferences, funding, etc., better reflect the makeup of Toronto. As I say, we’ll see where it goes.

2209 WorldThis summer column focuses on an ensemble so new that at press time it hasn’t played a single concert, and yet with concerts already booked into next year!

The New Canadian Global Music Orchestra (we’ll call it NCGMO for short) was formed in late 2016 and gives its debut concert at Koerner Hall on June 2, after rehearsing and composing music for months. The orchestra includes 12 professional musicians each hailing from a different country, “from Peru to Burkina Faso to Cuba to Ukraine,” but who currently make their homes in the Toronto and Montreal areas. Then it goes on tour in the summer and fall.

Conceived by Mervon Mehta, executive director of Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatory, and hosted by the RCM, the NCGMO is, in the words of its host, “a major initiative by the RCM which celebrates the cultural diversity and pluralism of our great country as it turns 150, connecting us and communicating in ways that words, politicians and spiritual leaders cannot, and helping us to find a common language.”

To helm this ambitious undertaking, the RCM picked JUNO Award-winning trumpeter, composer and bandleader David Buchbinder as NCGMO’s artistic director. Buchbinder’s career bristles with varied performance and intercultural projects, on both large and small scales. Initially he was known for his music groups, such as the Flying Bulgars, Nomadica and Odessa/Havana, and as the founding artistic director (1995) of the flourishing Ashkenaz Festival. He has subsequently produced the shows Shurum Burum Jazz Circus, Andalucia to Toronto, Tumbling into Light and Jerusalem Salon, as well as award-winning scores for stage and screen.

He was also the founder, in 2010 of Diasporic Genius, founded on the premise that new hybrids can emerge from dramatically different musical traditions and art forms in a city like Toronto. The organization seeks to interweave communities and art forms that are typically estranged, to bring about personal and civic transformation, embodying in action “the notion of strength through diversity.”

All this activity has earned him a reputation as a leading figure in the Canadian world music and jazz scenes. In 2016 Buchbinder was recognised as a “cultural inventor” when he was presented with the Toronto Arts Council William Kilbourn Award for “artistic contributions to creative city building.” 

In NCGMO’s official video trailer, Mervon Mehta lays out an ambitious, aspirational roadmap for the project. “We’re going deeper into a holistic [conception] of musical form rather than a fusion of musical styles. This is just what we need right now. We need to show people that, yes, we can work together and form a new entity with people from around the world.”

Buchbinder in the same trailer, as an experienced intercultural music director, is a bit more cautious, but just a bit: “It’s always a bit of a fool’s game to claim you’re doing something in music that’s never been done before – because it’s all been done in a way – but doing a process just like this is pretty rare.” He then proposes two initial roadblocks to success: “First of all, how do you make all these instruments work together? Second…how do you get them to speak to each other?”

Good questions and, without missing a beat, he offers solutions. “Well, you don’t try to make all the traditions directly speak to each other,” he says. Their approach, he explains, is to have the ensemble’s music filtered through each of the individual composers in the ensemble. “My gig” he says “is to coordinate things so that the band has a [cohesive] sound.”

Having explored the ever-changing subject of when and when not to attempt to bridge the boundaries of different music cultures from many angles in this column, I personally recognize and applaud the general goodwill and Canadian multiculturalism at work here. On the other hand, even before its premiere concert, NCGMO has prompted healthy dialogue on social media from invested performers in this field, based on media releases and video trailers. One commentator challenged the notion of “composing” for this combination of global instruments, suggesting a privileging of European orchestral culture at work. How will the compositions produced share credit with those whose cultures include a large proportion of improvisation, or those that interpret melody or structure without an externally imposed roadmap? Furthermore, will the differences between urban and high art cultures vs. rural and vernacular traditions be addressed?

Another concern raised: if you want to work as a single orchestra, compromise is necessary – but whose standard/s will govern? And how will writing music on staff notation as a modus operandi impact on the musicians in the group not fluent in it, or for whom such notation does not work for their instrument or performance tradition? And what happens in terms of the potential watering down and glossing over of the individual musical traditions represented, including those with tunings, tonal modes, idioms and performance contexts which diverge from those commonly practised by more dominant cultures? Furthermore, will some instruments lose things inherent to their cultural and musical identity when subsumed within an ensemble such as this?

Concerns such as these underline how complex and sensitive such a project is, and why it has rarely been tried on this scale. All the more reason, perhaps, for undertaking it as a crucible for their exploration.

Returning to Buchbinder’s initial observation about nothing ever being entirely new, self-avowed transcultural acoustic ensemble musicking – the kind NCGMO does – already has roots in this country and elsewhere. A ready example is the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra. Founded in 2001, it is going strong today. Before it, both the Vancouver World Music Collective and the ASZA acoustic quartet flourished in the 1990s, encouraging the appetite for hybrid music in the region. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Yo-Yo Ma’s pioneering, Grammy Award-winning Silk Road Ensemble here. Formed in 2000, it claims performers and composers from more than 20 countries. (The group, which set the bar high for cross-cultural understanding and innovation, was featured in my article Silk Road Stories: Spinning a Musical Web in The WholeNote in September 2015.)

Over the course of the last few months, NCGMO members have shared their music traditions with one another in rehearsals, composition sessions and workshops. I arranged to speak with Buchbinder in person, now that things are moving towards their first performance, about what it has taken to reach this point.

“Selecting the participant musicians was a lengthy process, one which involved a large number of potential candidates. The NCGMO audition call went out last fall. We had three rounds of auditions with more than 100 Canadian musicians, originally from 47 countries, applying to be in the orchestra, ending up with the 12 musicians we have today.”

What were the criteria used to choose the musicians? “We wanted to spread the music traditions represented as widely as possible round the globe,” replied Buchbinder. “We were also looking for musicians with a wide range of musical experience, open minds, and playing at a high and exciting level of musicianship.”

In the end, the chosen musicians include some who are established on the local world music, scene such as sitarist Anwar Khurshid, who also plays flute, esraj, tabla and harmonium, and Brazilian percussionist and vocalist Aline Morales. But it’s only by seeing the complete personnel list, however, that we can get an impression of NCGMO’s aspirational global reach: Luis Deniz (saxophone), Lasso Salif Sanou (Fulani flute, kambélé n’goni, tamanin, balafon, djembe, doum-doum, vocals), Paco Luviano (bass), Demetrios Petsalakis (oud, guitar, lyra, bouzouki, riq, Greek baglama), Padideh Ahrarnejad (tar), Sasha Boychouk (woodwinds, ethnic Ukrainian flutes), Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk (Métis fiddling, jaw harp, spoons, vocals); Matias Recharte (drums, percussion, cajón, conga, timbales); and, rounding out the Asian branch of the orchestra, Dorjee Tsering (dranyen, flute, piwang, yang chin, Tibetan vocals) and Dora Wang (bamboo flute, flute, hulusi, xiao, panpipe, ocarina).

I asked him about the biggest challenges of the process so far. “Creating a cohesive ensemble where musicians can connect on cultural and musical common ground,” he said. “Beginning with meetings at the end of last year, we began rehearsals in earnest in January of 2017. We used group-building exercises I’ve developed over the years including a language game.”

(We can see Buchbinder briefly conducting one of these games in the video trailer I mentioned earlier.)

There have been three phases to the group’s ongoing development, he says. “The first includes group building, creating a common language, exploring musical ideas. The second focuses on composition, since most of these performers hadn’t experienced working in this sort of environment, and exploring ways of approaching intercultural musical development. The third involves holding intensive rehearsals and then shaping the works each composer/musician developed. Each member of the group worked on a musical idea; most of the ideas were then arranged by me.”

I asked him how how they had negotiated the issue of notation, which could potentially conflict with the multiple oral traditions represented within the group.

“I was a bit surprised to find that eight of the twelve read Western staff notation well. Notation gives us the opportunity to specify musical intention [and to record it for performance]. Given the limitations of rehearsal time, in this phase of our work we’ve created charts on paper that serve as blueprints for performance. The big challenge is how to have a musical meeting in every piece, allowing each musician’s voice to emerge from among the ensemble – a process which includes adaptation and making space [for the individual within the collective].”

“After all, the notes are only a starting place. I think of the ideal texture as cultural heterophony, where everyone gets to perform with their own accent. The process of defining each musician’s voice is actually happening on two levels. On one level each composition is one person’s own; on the other each other person is putting their own shimmer on it.”

What about future directions for NCGMO? “One of our members, Alyssa [Delbaere-Sawchuk], is Indigenous, and that’s something I want to explore further. One of the essentials of cross-cultural creation is the idea of specificity, of individual identity. I completely believe in the power of intercultural creations, and it is powered by individual stories.”

The emergence of NCGMO signals a growing general societal awareness around embracing musical multiplicity. It also signals the recognition by an elite music organization, focused in the past almost exclusively on Euro-American music, of the reality of changing Canadian demographics and music markets, and the responsibility to broaden its musical landscape.

On the Road

After NCGMO’s inaugural June 2 performance on its RCM home turf, the show goes on the road. On June 30, it opens Toronto’s Canada 150 celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square. Then it travels west down Hwy. 401 to TD SunFest in London, Ontario, in downtown Victoria Park, where on Sunday, July 9, it plays two festival-headlining performances. Begun in 1994, Sunfest is a non-profit community arts organization “dedicated to promoting cross-cultural awareness and understanding of the arts,” and this year its main festival happens July 6 to 9. I can attest it is worth the drive to London to catch the small-town feel and the world music-centred programs.

NCGMO next appears in the evening program on Friday, July 14, at North York’s annual Cultura Festival at Mel Lastman Square. Curated by world-music programmer Derek Andrews, who has been on the world-music file for decades, Cultura is a free family-friendly outdoor festival presenting every Friday evening in July. Expect the eclectic. A sampling: the Korean folk pop of Coreyah, JUNO-winning Okavango Orchestra, and Peterborough Celtic fiddling by Donnell Leahy.

On July 15, NCGMO performs at the Hillside Community Festival held in the idyllic Guelph Lake Conservation Area in rural Ontario. It will give a mainstage performance as well as workshops at this festival that “celebrates creativity through artistic expression, community engagement and environmental leadership.” I attended years ago and eagerly soaked up the positive community vibe in the verdant park setting.

On July 23, the orchestra takes the afternoon stage at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre during the Canada Scene festival, produced by the RCM and presented in collaboration with Ottawa Chamberfest. Canada Scene is a vast festival aiming to be “a living portrait – a daring, eclectic reflection of contemporary Canadian arts and culture.” It includes “1,000 talented artists in music, theatre, dance, visual and media arts, film, circus, culinary arts and more for an extraordinary national celebration.” With some dozen concerts tagged “World” and “Folk,” I’m seriously tempted to visit our nation’s capital to take in the musical wealth. Fall dates have also been announced for NCGMO, including a recording session at the Banff Centre.

I wish the fledgling NCGMO beautiful sounds, exciting experiences and lasting friendships. And I wish all you, dear readers, a relaxing, music-filled summer.

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

2209 NewExperiencing music and sound in different places and environments is increasingly becoming a regular part of the summer experience. Starting things off this year in early June will be a new collaboration between Continuum, Jumblies Theatre and Evergreen Brick Works in their event Four Lands, which combines both a concert and an interactive installation on June 3. The concert will feature three new works by composers Jason Doell, Erik Griswold and Juliet Palmer. Palmer is also involved in a few other intriguing projects and collaborations this summer, so I contacted her to find out more about what was new and upcoming. Her piece for the Four Lands project is titled Quarry, an homage to the large quarry hole on site at the Evergreen Brick Works where the performances will occur. At one time in Toronto’s history, stones from this quarry were excavated for both city homes as well as iconic buildings such as Queen’s Park and Massey Hall. Palmer’s piece is created from a series of texts written by participants from Jumblies community projects across the country, as well as Toronto-based participants, with the theme of excavating memory to envision possible worlds as well as describe the current worlds they live in.

Sweat: Envisioning change in one’s life and living circumstances is a theme that carries through into another of Palmer’s works that will be widely performed this summer – her opera, Sweat, with libretto by Anna Chatterton. Originally workshopped in 2013 by Soundstreams and performed in New York in the fall of 2016, the piece has undergone several rewrites, including changes of perspective in the storyline and the addition of more characters. This summer, it will be the intrepid Bicycle Opera Project that takes the piece to the next level, performing the work in eight communities throughout the province, starting in Hamilton on July 15 and 16 and concluding in Toronto from August 3 to 6. The company distinguishes itself by cycling from one performance to the next and is committed to bringing Canadian-written opera into smaller communities in intimate spaces.

Sweat takes on a critical global issue, weaving stories from around the world of women’s experiences working in the garment industry. Palmer was inspired by the questions “who makes my clothes, and what are the dreams and ambitions of those whose hands created the clothes I’m wearing?” It’s a diverse cast, representing the different communities impacted by the garment industry, and is written for nine performers – a chorus of five plus four soloists, with libretto in English, Cantonese, Ukrainian and Hungarian. During the performance in New York, Palmer realized that the “main character” of the piece is really the workers who are portrayed by the chorus – an approach outside the usual expectations for opera, where the focus is typically on soloists. Palmer elaborates: “The chorus is where you experience the sense of collective action and cooperation and the strength that comes from building on each other’s sound. Musically, there are a lot of patterns, some machine-like, reflecting the idea that you’re part of a big process which can be depressing, and then on the other hand, when you’re working for change, your small action builds on the small actions of others, which make a compelling voice that is impossible to ignore.”

Unsilent: The third summer project for Palmer is her involvement in the Unsilent Project, a new work being created through a collaboration with the National Youth Orchestra, Signal Theatre and its artistic director Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree) and the family of the late Piikani Blackfoot spoken-word artist Zaccheus Jackson. Palmer is writing a piece using one of Jackson’s poems to be performed by two spoken-word Indigenous artists from Saskatchewan, while the other composer, Ian Cusson (Métis), is also creating a piece from one of Jackson’s poems. The project is inspired by the vision that there can be no reconciliation until we all work together, one of the important principles that came from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. Orchestral performances will be interpolated among the spoken word compositions, and together with projected images, the end result will be a performance piece celebrating the life and creative power of Zaccheus Jackson and the themes so important to him – healing, empowerment and hope. Palmer is eagerly anticipating the outcome of combining orchestral traditions with Indigenous spoken-word performances. The piece is part of the NYO’s summer tour, with the Toronto performance happening on July 25 at Koerner Hall.

Barbara Croall’s Wiikondiwin: Another opportunity to hear the worlds of Indigenous performance traditions and European musical forms coming together will be in a new opera written by composer Barbara Croall of Odawa First Nation. The work is entitled Wiikondiwin, which means feast or feasting. The idea originated with Valerie Kuinka, one of the directors of the Highlands Opera Studio. In our conversation, she told me that after listening to a lecture by Peter Schleifenbaum, owner of the Haliburton Forest reserve, on the impacts of climate change on the forest, Kuinka imagined an opera that would portray the forest environment of 150 years ago, of current times, and of 150 years into the future. She approached Croall with the idea, as well as production collaborators L’Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. The first workshop performance will take place this summer on August 19 in the Haliburton Highlands area, with a full premiere to take place in Montreal on December 5.

Croall proceeded first by writing a story from these initial ideas from Kuinka, out of which came the libretto and music. It is set for a core of six performers – three opera singers (drawn from participants in the Highlands Opera Studio Program) and three Indigenous performers who will perform vocally and play drum. One of these performers will be Croall herself, who will also play the pipigwan, an Anishinaabe cedar flute. The libretto for the opera uses Odawa, Métis French and English. The other main performing component will be community choirs: for the performance in August, choirs from the Haliburton Highlands area will participate, with choirs from the Montreal area joining in for the December performance. The story of the opera revolves around the response of forest animals to the earth’s suffering due to the abuses caused by humans. They hold a feast, a wiikondiwin, and decide that their solution will be to infiltrate the human world to effect change. Short excerpts from the opera will be presented as a sneak preview on July 29 at the Elora Festival at the “With Glowing Hearts” concert and at a special private event on June 28 hosted by the Lieutenant Governor.

Stratford Summer Music: Croall will also be appearing at Stratford Summer Music, performing a work titled Morning during the “Music for an Avon Morning – A First Nations Experience” event happening from August 4 to 6. During a lecture she will give on August 4, she will also perform and discuss how the history of the pipigwan guides her creative work. Another intriguing performance at Stratford Summer Music will be the work 100 Very Good Reasons Why_for 100 Spatialised Electric Guitars on July 23, an experience created by composer/guitarist Tim Brady. For this event, 100 local electric guitarists, both amateur and professional, will be joining Brady in an installation-like concert, where the audience is invited to walk amongst the performers on the floor of the Allman Arena.


Other Summer Festival Highlights

Luminato: Continuing with the theme of new music created by Indigenous performers, there are two works at the Luminato Festival that deserve mention. On June 16, Jeremy Dutcher, a Toronto-based composer and vocal artist with Wolastoq First Nation roots will be performing his unique compositions created from melodies he transcribed from the oldest known field recordings of the Indigenous peoples along the St. John (Wolastoq) River basin. Then on June 22-24, Signal Theatre will present a dance-opera entitled Bearing, with Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree) working as co-director alongside Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) and librettist Spy Dénommé-Welch (Anishnaabe). The music will include works by Claude Vivier, as well as a commissioned work from Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan. The National Youth Orchestra will appear as performers, along with mezzo-soprano Marion Newman (Kwagiulth and Stó:lo).

Ottawa Chamberfest: At the Ottawa Chamberfest, Sweat will be performed twice, on July 23 (Almonte) and 24 (Ottawa). On July 25, the Architek Percussion ensemble will explore the sounds of minimalist electroacoustic music using a range of percussion instruments. On July 31, the festival’s annual New Music Now series returns with three concerts, including works by composers Current, Schafer, Sokolović, Llugdar, Schmidt, Palej, Daniel and others. Performers include the Canadian Art Song Project, Penderecki String Quartet, Land’s End Ensemble and VC2. The Cris Derksen Trio performance on August 1 will include master hoop dancer Nimkii Osawamick and percussionist Jesse Baird. The Canadian premiere of Stewart Goodyear’s Piano Quartet will be performed on August 2 by Ensemble Made in Canada.

Harbourfront and Westben: Summer Music in the Garden at Harbourfront features two concerts of new music. On June 29, cellist Elinor Frey will perform Ricercar by Linda Catlin Smith and, on August 17, the Taktus marimba duo will play arrangements of music by Ann Southam and Philip Glass. On July 21 at the Westben Festival in Campbellford, the emerging pianist Rashaan Allwood’s interest in birdsong will be highlighted. This will include his own interactive performance adaptations of two of Messiaen’s piano works, with further inspiration drawn from artworks he commissioned from Avery Kua. These images will be projected along with other photos and videos during the performance. In addition, on July 21 and 22 the festival will also offer an opportunity to experience a soundwalk led by Parker Finley, an activity focused on listening to the environment.

Music From Scratch: Contact Contemporary Music, in partnership with the Canadian Music Centre, is once again offering Music From Scratch, their free creative workshop for youth from July 10 to 14. This year, guest facilitator Tina Pearson will join Jerry Pergolesi and the Contact ensemble to delve into creative listening, writing, vocal performance, movement and improvisation exercises, with a final concert on July 14. Pearson brings her work influenced by the Deep Listening tradition of Pauline Oliveros and her unique explorations in Biospheric Art Practice and Sonic Mimicry to the participants. She will also lead a Deep Listening workshop for members of the public at the CMC on July 8 and perform on July 16 with the Contact Ensemble in a collaboration entitled Without a Net. Also, come Labour Day weekend, you’ll want to check out Contact’s lineup for their annual INTERsection event.

Additional Summer Quick Picks

June 3: Spectrum Music presents Tales from Turtle Island. Spectrum composers create music to playwright Yolanda Bonnell’s pieces. Performers include members of the Métis Fiddler Quartet, DJ/electronic artist Classic Roots, who will also perform a solo work with Pow Wow dance, and violinist Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk performing an excerpt of her own work Memere Colibri.

June 10: Blythwood Winds presents “Voices of Canadian Women,” with works by Höstman, Beecroft, Catlin Smith, Raum, Richardson-Schulte, Simms and Sokolović.

June 17: Canadian Women Composers Project. She’s In the House! Works by Coulthard, Weaver, Sokolović, Duncan, Skarecky and others.

July 10, 17 & 31: Church of the Holy Trinity. Music Mondays. Concerts include works by Canadian composers Burge (10th), Murphy-King (17th) and Doolittle (31st).

Jun 22: “Crossroads.” Works by Ivana Popovic and Michael Gfroerer.

Jun 23 & 25: Jumblies Theatre’s Touching Ground Festival, featuring Under the Concrete composed by Martin van de Ven.

July 5: Music and Beyond Festival. The Kronos Quartet performs original and arranged works including pieces by Canadians Nicole Lizée and Tanya Tagaq (arr. Jacob Garchik).

August 4-6: Electric Eclectics: an outdoor festival with an eclectic program of avant-garde and crossover musicians, as well as art installations, DJs and films.

August 9-12: Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES), 2017. The featured artist is Quebec sound artist Chantal Dumas, whose work encompasses production of audio fiction and docufiction, sound installation, composition and sound design.

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


2209 Classical 1Formed in the summer of 2013 at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Chamber Music Residency, the Rolston String Quartet took its name from late Canadian violinist Thomas Rolston, founder and long-time director of the Music and Sound Programs at the Banff Centre. In an interview with Rebecca Franks last October shortly after their big win, and available on BBC Music Magazine’s official website (, the Rolstons – violinists Luri Lee and Jeffrey Dyrda, violist Hezekiah Leung and cellist Jonathan Lo – talked about their formation. Leung and Lee were students at the Glenn Gould School in 2013 who took their quartet ambitions to Banff’s Chamber Residency Program, where they added Lo and Dyrda. They coalesced permanently during a two-year string quartet residency at Rice University in Texas.

Three years later they won the prestigious Banff International String Quartet Competition and took off on a year-long victory lap that will culminate in an appearance at the Banff Centre International String Quartet Festival, September 1 to 3.

Their year-long winners’ tour heads down the final stretch with the summer festival season, beginning June 8 at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival where they will be joined by previous Banff International String Quartet Competition victors (2013) the Dover Quartet, in their first joint appearance, performing Mendelssohn’s Octet Op.20. In fact following where else in Canada this tour takes them gives us a glimpse into some of the richness of the Eastern Canadian festival circuit circuit.

Westben Music Festival (July 2 to August 6) in Campbellford, Ontario, is set in the rolling hills of Northumberland on the Trent River. The Rolstons’ July 9 program there includes Ravel’s sumptuous String Quartet in F (a piece Dyrda told BBC Music Magazine they feel particularly close to), in addition to Mozart’s String Quartet No.14 K387 “Spring,the first of his six quartets dedicated to Haydn, and Beethoven’s resplendent String Quartet No.8 Op.59 No.2 “Razumovsky.”

Along with the Rolstons, there are several other intriguing offerings in this year’s Westben line up. Pianist Rashaan Allwood pairs two sets of Messiaen “bird songs,” Petites esquisses d’oiseaux and the first book of Catalogue d’oiseaux pour piano, on July 21, followed the next morning by a musical and ornithological treasure hunt in a nearby park. That afternoon (July 22), Jan Lisiecki brings his sensitivity to every note of Bach’s Partita No.3, Schubert’s Impromptus Op.142 and pieces by Schumann and Chopin. (And if you miss him at Westben, six days later Lisiecki performs a variant of that program in Stratford Summer Music’s newly renovated – and air-conditioned – Avondale Hall.)

The following afternoon on July 23, Angela Hewitt brings her starry musicianship to the Westben Barn with Bach’s Partita No.1, two Beethoven sonatas (including the mighty “Waldstein”) and six Scarlatti sonatas. Curiosity-seekers might be rewarded by Belgian National Radio’s Outstanding Young Artist, violinist Jolente De Maeyer and her husband, pianist Nikolaas Kende, whose program includes Beethoven’s iconic “Kreutzer Sonata.”

Toronto Summer Music and Ottawa Chamber Music Festival

Heading west from Westben, with their recital on July 24 the Rolston String Quartet find themselves literally at the centre of Toronto Summer Music’s 24-day festival. In an inspired pairing, their program will echo that of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which opens TSM on July 13. Each quartet will perform their Banff-winning program, which in the SLSQ’s case, was in 1992. “We work a lot on character, colour and sound quality,” Rolston violist Hezekiah Leung said in their BBC Music Magazine Q&A. The Rolstons’ prize-winning program consists of the Ravel, the Beethoven (“Razumovsky” No.2 – “One of our favourites,” according to cellist Jonathan Lo) and Zosha Di Castri’s Quartet No.1.

On July 27 and 28, The Rolstons head east again, to the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival where they play a recital program on the 27th and join pop star Kishi Bashi on the 28th for a performance of his 2015 recording, String Quartet Live, which contains the luminous, hook-filled Manchester and a host of recognizable string tropes. (Presumably his latest album, Sonderlust, a disco tribute from the multi-instrumentalist, won’t be on the agenda.) If you do make the trip to Ottawa, or happen to be there already, don’t miss the opportunity to hear other notable concerts at the festival. Angela Hewitt plays three Bach Partitas and his Sonata in D Minor July 20. The brilliant Stephen Hough plays works by Beethoven, Schumann and Debussy on July 23. Patricia O’Callaghan and the Gryphon Trio illuminate songs by Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman and Ron Sexsmith July 27. The Miró, Cecilia and Penderecki String Quartets each give separate concerts, with the latter two joining the Gryphon Trio and friends Hinrich Alpers, piano, Roberto Occhipinti, double bass and Jenna Richards, celesta, for “Kubrick Mashup,” an intriguing concoction hosted by broadcaster/writer Eric Friesen on July 30 and focused on the music of the films of Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick’s use of existing works of the classical canon across the centuries was instrumental in growing the audience for these works.

Indian River and Tuckamore

Staying with the indefatigable Rolstons, for their August 6 concert in the historic St. Mary’s Church at the Indian River Festival in PEI, the Rolstons revert to the works they played at Westben a month earlier: Mozart’s first Haydn Quartet, Beethoven’s Op.59 No.2 and Ravel’s Quartet in F. The Indian River venue, considered to be a fine example of the French Gothic influence, was built in 1902 by PEI architect William Critchlow Harris. The use of fir, pine, spruce, maple and birch throughout the building, coupled with Harris’ trademark rib-vaulted or groined ceiling, enhances the site’s quality of sound, making for a fine natural acoustic. Among the other artists appearing at Indian River this summer are the Canadian Brass, one-time piano child-prodigy Anastasia Rizikov (now 17), Patricia O’Callaghan (with her “Canadian Songbook”) and on September 15 – yes, it’s still summer – the captivating pop-jazz stylings of Barbra Lica.

Three days later the Rolstons find their way across the mighty Gulf of St. Lawrence and through the Cabot Strait to St. John’s, Newfoundland, for dates at the Tuckamore Chamber Music Festival, where their core touring program of Mozart, Beethoven and Ravel is augmented by R. Murray Schafer’s String Quartet No.2 “Waves” and Andrew Staniland’s Four Elements. Knowing Tuckamore’s artistic directors violinist Nancy Dahn and her husband, pianist Timothy Steeves (who also play together as Duo Concertante), the festival will have a stellar lineup to fill the days between August 7 and 20.

The tuckamore tree, from which the festival takes its name, is an evergreen unique to Newfoundland and Labrador, celebrated for its tenacity, strength and special beauty. Like some other summer festivals, Tuckamore has a program for young artists; in fact, Dahn and Steeves will also spend July 16 to 29 on the faculty of the Domaine Forget International Festival in Saint-Irénée, on the St. Lawrence east of Quebec City, before leading their own festival’s educational program back at home.

Gananoque and Leith, then back to Banff

From Tuckamore it’s westward ho (there’s no more east left) to the Gananoque Music Festival, a series of four concerts in a waterfront setting, hosted by former CBC Radio personality Friesen, who chats with the performers as the sun sets over the St. Lawrence River. The Rolstons will perform their summer staple: Mozart, Schafer, Beethoven and Schumann.

And last stop before their return to Banff finds the quartet again in Ontario in a rural spot on Georgian Bay near the base of the Bruce Peninsula for the Leith Summer Festival on August 26. Artistic director, pianist Robert Kortgaard, spreads his well-chosen series of five concerts out from July 1 to August 26; the concerts are presented in the sanctuary of the Leith “Auld Kirk,” an “intimate chamber with an incredible sound and ambience.” Duo Concertante performs there a mere three weeks before their Tuckamore Festival begins; the ever-popular Gryphon Trio is given a subsequent Saturday slot before the Rolstons wrap up the festival less than a week before their Banff concerts.

Home again, at Banff, the Rolstons will participate in three programs, performing Schumann’s Third String Quartet, Schafer’s Second Quartet “Waves,” Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor (with London-based, Australian-born pianist Piers Lane), and Steve Reich’s masterwork Different Trains.

Charles Richard-Hamelin.

2209 Classical 2Since his second-place finish in the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, Charles Richard-Hamelin has been building a burgeoning international career, and he’s also carving an interesting trail across the map this summer. It begins with two Polish recitals in Gdańsk and Katowice, at the second of which he reprises the recent program he performed for the Toronto Women’s Musical Club’s Music in the Afternoon series May 4 at Walter Hall (a concert I attended): Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor K397; four Chopin Impromptus and three Mazurkas Op.59; four pieces by the Armenian composer Arno Babadjanian; and Schumann’s vibrant Sonata No.1 Op.11.

Richard-Hamelin’s sensitivity and unalloyed virtuosity belie his rumpled appearance. At his May 4 concert, he brought an improvisatory quality to the Mozart, occasionally adding grace notes to the manuscript, and a masterful dynamic range contained within a cohesive whole. He brought out the lovely melody of Chopin’s Impromptu No.2 with simplicity and restraint even as he projected the music’s intrinsic freedom. His playing of the well-known No.3 defined “Chopinesque.” The even-more famous Fantaisie Impromptu was well-framed dynamically and rhythmically with its I’m Always Chasing Rainbows tune a lesson in judicious rubato. The first movement of the Schumann sonata brimmed with the excitement of a young man in love; the tenderness of the second movement led into a playful Scherzo that developed into Papillons/Carnaval territory, while the complex, extended finale was at times riven, yet yearning, forthright. The Babadjanian pieces, with their Armenian romantic colourings, ranged from the bucolic to lively, folk-based dance tunes and served as a light contrast to the rest of the menu. It’s a worthy program to hang one’s reputation on over the course of a season.

Perugia to Amherst Island

After his Gdańsk and Katowice recitals, Richard-Hamelin stops in Perugia, Italy, to visit his compatriot Angela Hewitt, the artistic director of the Trasimeno Music Festival. She’s planned a “Four Piano Spectacular” for July 1 (Canada’s 150th birthday, in case you hadn’t noticed). With Hewitt and Richard-Hamelin playing alongside Janina Fialkowska and Jon Kimura Parker, the party will include solos, duos and arrangements for four pianos.

Back in North America, Richard-Hamelin plays the Waterside Summer Series on July 6. Located on Amherst Island, just west of Kingston, Waterside’s six concerts also include the Triple Forte Piano Trio and the Saguenay Quartet (formerly the Alcan).


Three weeks later on July 27, our inveterate pianist takes the stage as part of the star-studded Lanaudière Festival. It’s Lanaudière’s 40th anniversary this summer, and it is a festival that is as wide as it is deep, from the July 1 opening concert, highlighted by Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) performing Mahler’s Symphony No.5, to the spectacular close August 4 to 6. The closing weekend, for example, begins with Nagano and the OSM accompanying Yulianna Avdeeva (who won first prize in the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition) in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1, then moves on to Brahms’ Symphony No.2. Saturday it’s the Nagano-led OSM tossing off Mozart’s Symphony No.39 before tackling Fauré’s gorgeous Requiem. Concluding the festivities is a concert version of Wagner’s Parsifal with the Orchestre Métropolitain under Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

There’s plenty of music in between, too. The Jupiter Quartet ends the complete Beethoven cycle they started last year, with eight quartets in three days, ending on July 13 with Op.131. L’Orchestre de chambre I Musici and Les Violons du Roy, two of Quebec’s most renowned orchestras, combine on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon with Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducting Saturday and Bernard Labadie on Sunday. Saturday night, July 8, is given over to each orchestra, alternating with an intermission in between. Rising-star cellist Stéphane Tétreault, pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone and the members of the Saguenay Quartet come together July 18 to 20 for three programs of chamber music by Viennese classicists. A major work of Schubert concludes each program, preceded by works of Beethoven and Mozart. (And speaking of Tétreault,  he and Jan Lisiecki hook up for a certain-to-be-high-wattage recital at Stratford Summer Music July 29, two days after Tétreault plays solo Bach there.)

Richard-Hamelin’s Thursday, July 27, concert is a a carefully chosen program of works by some of his favourite composers: Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor K. 397, and works by Chopin and Schumann.

Not to be overlooked, Lanaudière also offers up a Marc-André Hamelin double bill: July 21, Liszt followed by Schubert’s Impromptus Op.142; July 22, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the Orchestre Métropolitain under the direction of Mathieu Lussier. Hamelin is experiencing a particularly high point at the moment (early May), having just played Carnegie Hall twice in ten days: first with fellow pianist Leif Ove Andsnes to great acclaim, and second at the 40th anniversary concert of the Emerson String Quartet.


Meanwhile, our intrepid pianist, Charles Richard-Hamelin, travels back to Ontario, where on July 29 he plays his standard program (having added an additional Schumann work at Lanaudière) at the Elora Festival, founded by artistic director Noel Edison in 1979. Given Edison’s choral focus, the festival is not short on song: Karina Gauvin, Emily D’Angelo, Susan Aglukark, Joni NehRita, Mary Lou Fallis, Gordon Lightfoot and the Elora Singers appear this summer. But so do Angela Hewitt (The Goldberg Variations), up-and-coming cellist Cameron Crozman, the Cecilia and Penderecki String Quartets and violinist Jonathan Crow (July 29, with a program that he will then repeat at his TSM recital two days later).

Final flurry

It’s back to his native province for Richard-Hamelin on August 3 to play his summer recital for the last time in Canada (at Musique de chambre à Sainte-Pétronille), before heading west to Parry Sound on August 9, where he dons his chamber music hat for “Three Great Sonatas,” joined by veteran violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Yegor Dyachkov in music by Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann. Festival of the Sound artistic director, clarinetist James Campbell, has assembled a deep roster of instrumentalists for the 2017 edition, which runs from July 21 to August 13. Pianists Alexander Tselyakov and Martin Roscoe, cellist Cameron Crozman, the New Zealand and Penderecki String Quartets, the Gryphon Trio, trumpeter Guy Few, double bassist Joel Quarrington, flutist Suzanne Shulman and harpist Erica Goodman will participate in a plethora of chamber music programming that will undoubtedly thrive in the Georgian Bay air.

And by August 11, Richard-Hamelin is back in Montreal playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the OSM led by Kent Nagano as part of the fifth edition of the OSM Classical Spree: more than 30 concerts in four days, August 10 to 13, most 45 minutes in length.

Music and Beyond

Neither Richard-Hamelin nor the Rolston String Quartet is participating in Ottawa’s Music and Beyond, an appealing and intricately constructed festival that runs from July 4 to 17. But just because they are missing it is no reason I should in this roundup!

It opens with a recital by the high-powered American violinist Sarah Chang, still in her 30s, having made a seamless transition from prodigy to mature artist. Then come three concerts by the Auryn Quartet, a rare opportunity to hear this exquisite Cologne-based German ensemble. After programs by the Kronos Quartet, the Canadian Brass and the imposing American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, Music and Beyond welcomes back the Vienna Piano Trio for three concerts. Pianist Sergei Babayan breaks the pattern, with a one-off show on July 10, before three concerts by The Revolutionary Drawing Room (who play their late-18th- and early-19th-century repertoire on period instruments). Artistic director Julian Armour should be commended for his fresh approach to programming. The Czech Bennewitz Quartet are also playing three concerts while the Saguenay String Quartet does two and the remarkable Flûte Alors one. Cellists Stéphane Tétreault and Johannes Moser give separate recitals; Eve Egoyan plays Ann Southam and David Rokeby. Mélisande McNabney (daughter of violist Douglas McNabney) gives a harpsichord concert.

From the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox, there’s much to see and hear and no better place to do so than in Canada this year. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers: when music is live, magic is afoot.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

2209 opera 1Summers in Southern Ontario used to be known for their dearth of opera. Not anymore. While festivals such as Glimmerglass beckon across the border, there is so much operatic activity of interest in Ontario and Quebec that opera lovers need not venture out of Canada.


Stratford: Opening on May 31 and running until October 21, the Stratford Festival makes one of its occasional forays into operetta with a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. The 1878 work, G&S’s first big success, features the favourite Gilbertian plot device of babies switched at birth and its attendant satire of the British class system. Steve Ross is Captain Corcoran, Mark Uhre is Ralph Rackstraw, who loves above his station in pining for Josephine, sung by Jennifer Rider-Shaw, the captain’s daughter. Affairs on board are scrutinized by Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, sung by Laurie Murdoch, while Lisa Horner, well-known from Mirvish musicals, is Little Buttercup. Lezlie Wade, who directed Obeah Opera in 2015 in Toronto, is the stage director and Franklin Brasz is the music director.

TOT: Those with a taste for more operetta should check out the Galope Offenbachienne on June 4 by Toronto Operetta Theatre. There will be excerpts from La Vie parisienne, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, La Belle Hélène, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein and Orphée aux enfers. Michael Rose at the piano will accompany Holly Chaplin, Meagan Larios, Michael McLean and Janaka Welihinda, and Virginia Reh will direct.

Opera by Request: As for those with a taste for opera that has operetta very much in mind, they will be pleased to see that Opera by Request, for its 10th anniversary gala, is presenting a semi-staged version of Richard Strauss’s waltz-inflected Der Rosenkavalier (1911) on June 9 and 10. Unlike most previous OBR operas, the opera will be accompanied by a chamber ensemble under the baton of William Shookhoff. Shookhoff states that Rosenkavalier will mark the debut of a new production model for OBR. Katharine Dain sings the role of the Marschallin, Barbara King is her lover Octavian, Uwe Dambruch is the Marschallin’s cousin Baron Ochs and Danielle Dudycha is the young Sophie, his fiancée who falls in love with Octavian.

TSO: On June 14 and 15, audiences can get a feel for how much changed in continental music between 1911 and 1933, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Peter Oundjian presents the “sung ballet” The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill, written to a libretto by Bertolt Brecht after both had fled Nazi Germany. The story concerns two sisters, Anna I, a dancer, and Anna II, a singer, who are really two sides of the same person. The Annas’ actions are the subject of commentary by a male quartet called The Family. Anna I’s simple project is to have her own little house, but in trying to achieve this she commits each one of the seven deadly sins. Jennifer Nichols dances Anna I, Wallis Giunta sings Anna II, and the quartet is made up of tenors Isaiah Bell and Owen McCausland, baritone Geoffrey Sirrett and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus. The much-in-demand Joel Ivany directs the semi-staged production, which also includes filmed segments. The evening program is completed with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings (1938), and Bela Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1937), and a short new work by Andrew Balfour.

Riel at NAC: On June 15 and 17, anyone who missed the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Louis Riel by Harry Somers and Mavor Moore will have another chance to see it at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It is the same production that played in Toronto directed by Peter Hinton and starring Russell Braun in the title role. The major difference will be that in Ottawa’s Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra will replace Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra.

Charlotte: Back in Toronto as part of Luminato on June 16 through 18 are performances of a work-in-progress called CHARLOTTE: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music. Czech composer Aleš Brezina has set a libretto by Canadian actor Alon Nashman about the life and artwork of French artist Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943), who produced over 1000 paintings between 1941 and 1942 while in hiding from the Nazis. Before she was deported to Auschwitz at age 26, she gave her book Leben? oder Theater?: Ein Singspiel to a local physician for safekeeping. The goal of CHARLOTTE is to put this modern singspiel on the stage as Salomon might have envisioned it. A cast of eight actors and singers, including Nashman, is directed by Pamela Howard and an ensemble of four is conducted by Peter Tiefenbach.

Opera 5: June closes with a major treat for rarity hunters in the form of Suffragette, presented June 22 through 25 by Opera 5. The evening is comprised of two one-act operas by British composer and women’s rights campaigner, Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), the first female composer to be awarded a damehood. Her full-length opera The Wreckers (1906) is often considered one of the most important English operas ever written. Opera 5 will perform fully staged productions of Smyth’s Fête Galante (1923) and The Boatswain’s Mate (1916) accompanied by the composer’s own reductions for chamber orchestra. The first is a story about commedia dell’arte characters that ends unhappily. The second depicts a battle of the sexes and features Smyth’s own feminist March of the Women. Both works are directed by Jessica Derventzis and conducted by Evan Mitchell.


2209 opera 2Bicycle Opera: In July and August, the intrepid Bicycle Opera tours to towns all through Ontario. In the past the company has toured collections of very short operas or opera excerpts. This year, it is touring the Canadian premiere of a single one-act piece titled Sweat, by composer Juliet Palmer and librettist Anna Chatterton. If these names seem familiar it is because the same duo wrote The Man Who Married Himself for Toronto Masque Theatre, which had its premiere earlier this year. Sweat is an a cappella opera for a five-member chorus and four soloists about the ethical problems of the global garment industry and is performed in English, Cantonese, Ukrainian, Spanish and Hungarian. The four soloists are Stephanie Tritchew as the Union Organizer, Catherine Daniel as an Overseer, Larissa Koniuk as a Neighbour and Keith Lam as the Factory Owner. The director is Banuta Rubess and Geoffrey Sirett conducts. The tour starts in Hamilton on July 15, travels to six other municipalities in Ontario including Ottawa and ends with a run in Toronto from August 3 to 6.

Brott’s Carmen: While many still lament the disappearance of Opera Hamilton, opera in Hamilton has not completely died. In recent years the Brott Music Festival has presented a fully staged opera as part of its offerings from June 21 to August 17. This summer’s opera will be Bizet’s Carmen, presented for one night only on July 13 at Mohawk College. Beste Kalender sings the title role, Justin Stolz is Don José, Lauren Margison is Micaëla and Johnathon Kirby is Escamillo. Patrick Hansen directs and Boris Brott conducts the Brott Festival Orchestra.

The Elora Festival also occasionally features opera. This year, the opera is Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, performed in concert by the Elora Singers and Festival Orchestra for one night only on July 27 on a double bill with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, starring countertenor Daniel Taylor.

SOLT: Straddling the end of July and beginning of August are the three productions of the Summer Opera Lyric Theatre in Toronto, fully staged with piano accompaniment. Two of the offerings are standard repertoire. On July 29, August 1, 3 and 6 is Bizet’s Carmen and on July 29, August 2 and 4 is Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. What stands out in this sesquicentennial year is a double bill of two Canadian operas – Night Blooming Cereus (1953-58) by John Beckwith and A Northern Lights Dream (2017) by Michael Rose. Beckwith’s opera, to a libretto by James Reaney, was commissioned by the CBC and first broadcast in 1959, with its first stage performance in 1960. The opera concerns the healing of a family rift that coincides with the mystical blooming of a rare plant that flowers once every 100 years. Rose’s opera will be a world premiere. It is set inside Helen’s Prêt-à-Porter and Bridal Shop on a hot midsummer day near the hamlet of Shakespeare, Ontario. A client’s refusal to pay a bill brings the shop close to ruin, until Helen calls on Robin to solve the problem and ordinary Ontarians start to meld with characters from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Stratford Summer Music: In August, opera can be found in unexpected places. For the past two years Stratford Summer Music has presented a staged opera with dinner at the Revival House (formerly known as The Church). This year, the opera will be Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (1843). Alexander Dobson sings the title role of an elderly bachelor who plans to disinherit his nephew by taking a wife and producing an heir. Irina Medvedeva sings Norina, the wily woman Don Pasquale wants to marry, and Jonathan MacArthur is the nephew Ernesto who is in love with Norina. Amanda Smith directs and designs the piece and Peter Tiefenbach is the music director. The opera runs August 18 through 20.

Highlands Opera: In Haliburton, the Highlands Opera Studio is presenting two operas. On August 27, 29, 30 and 31 it presents a fully staged production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, with one cast on the 27th and 30th and another on the 29th and 31st. On August 19, HOS presents the first public semi-staged workshop performance of a brand new Canadian opera, Wiikondiwin (Feast/Feasting), a co-commission with L’Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, by Odawa composer Barbara Croall. Soprano Adanya Dunn and baritone Samuel Chan join with First Nations actors/singers/musicians Rod Nettagog, Bradley Nettagog and Croall herself in the performance. Woodland creatures are living happily until they realize that human influence is destroying their habitat. Led by a wolf, they hold a feast to discuss how to return the Earth to its healthy state. This December, Wiikondiwin will return in a fully staged form to both Haliburton and Montreal.

Opera Muskoka: A second summer opera company in cottage country is Opera Muskoka, now in its eighth year. On August 22 it presents a concert performance of Puccini’s La Bohème in Italian with English surtitles at the Rene M. Caisse Theatre in Bracebridge. Tenor Daevyd Pepper is the organizer and will perform Rodolfo in the opera.

Those willing to travel as far as Montreal will find a major treat in store. On August 6, the Festival de Lanaudière in Joliette will give audiences a chance to hear the Metropolitan Opera’s new music director designate, Quebec’s own Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conduct his favourite opera for the first time – Wagner’s Parsifal. The singers for this concert performance include tenor Christian Elsner, mezzo Mihoko Fujimura, baritones Peter Rose, Boaz Daniel and Brett Polegato and bass-baritone Thomas Goerz. Nézet-Séguin conducts Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain – certainly a pilgrimage worth making.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect for bringing summer to a close.

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

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

Peter Oundjian at the helm

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

The National Youth Choir of Canada

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

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

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

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

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

Catch them in action across Eastern Canada:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Elora Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bach Festival of Canada

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2209 BBB Jazz Stories 1Mark Kelso & the Jazz Exiles

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

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

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

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


Joy Lapps Project

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

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

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

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

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

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


2209 BBB Jazz Stories 2 CascadeJoel Visentin’s Boogaloo Squad

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

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

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

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


Stacie McGregor

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

Stacie McGregor (solo piano)

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

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

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


John MacMurchy’s Art of Breath

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

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

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

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


Brian Barlow Big Band w/ Heather Bambrick Celebrating Ella

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Joanna Majoko Quintet

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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