Joel IvanyWhen Canada’s largest opera company commissions a new opera like Hadrian from Rufus Wainwright and Daniel MacIvor, it will necessarily be seen as the major event of the season. Yet we should not forget that Toronto’s smaller opera companies have been creating new operas and new interpretations of opera all along. One of the most exciting of these is Against the Grain Theatre which will be presenting two important operas this season. The first is BOUND v. 2 by composer Kevin Lau to a libretto by AtG artistic director Joel Ivany. The second is a major revival of Kopernikus, the only opera by Québecois composer Claude Vivier (1948-83). I spoke with Ivany in October about BOUND v. 2, which plays for only three performances in November, about its background and intent.

BOUND v. 2 is the second stage in AtG’s experiment with a three-year, concept-to-realization production. The first stage, simply titled BOUND, premiered in December 2017 and presented the basic concept of artists choosing various arias and ensembles by George Frideric Handel to which Ivany would write new lyrics. The premise was that seven citizens were detained by a government and held against their will in a waiting room. The audience watched and heard about their struggles, hopes and fears. Composer Lau introduced new sound ideas and arrangements to place the arias in a modern sound world.

BOUND v. 2 takes BOUND a significant step further. BOUND v. 2 is no longer a collection of reimagined, repurposed Handel arias that Lau has arranged. Rather it is now a fully fledged opera by Lau inspired by Handel. As Ivany says: “Kevin Lau received a commission for this project between last year and this year. What he’s written will be used in our third and final version. In the last month or six weeks he’s really immersed himself in the world of Handel to essentially write a brand new opera which, especially for us, is kind of unreal. Typically we’ve taken a Mozart or Puccini opera and written a new story on top of that which is familiar and exciting. But for this, Lau has done more than arranging. He is adding his own composition so that this is truly a new piece inspired by Handel about the humanity crises which we, unfortunately, are still reading about in the news. We’re still hearing these stories about persecuted people both in North America and abroad.”

The first version of BOUND was written for seven soloists and piano. BOUND v. 2 is written for four soloists and a ten-piece chamber orchestra with electronics. Of BOUND v. 2, Ivany says: “It is further fleshed-out musically in that Kevin has taken melodies and scenes but written them brand new. The opera is by Kevin Lau but you will definitely say this sounds like Handel.”

Why do this? Ivany explains: “Many people around the first version were saying why not just write a brand new piece, but Kevin very intellectually says this is a unique challenge to take these stories [by Handel] which were written in a specific context and to start with them. But then to move them somewhere else is compositionally an unusually interesting creative challenge. For the company, this is a further step after our Orphée where we take these tunes and melodies that have stood the test of time and ask what they could sound like to an ear of today.”

The obvious question is that if BOUND v. 2 will eventually be the basis for a new opera, why retain the link to Handel? Ivany responds to this in several ways: “At one point we were talking to [COC general director] Alexander Neef, who was talking about the party atmosphere of Handel and how people would go to socialize at the opera. He was curious about what a Handel mashup with AtG could look like. We took that idea and instead of going the party route we were charged by the fuel of the political nature of what was going on in the world. We looked back at who Handel was and how he gave a performance of his Messiah at the Foundling Hospital in London in 1750 where all the proceeds went to keeping the hospital going. We saw he had an intention behind his genius to do good as well.” Indeed, a BBC documentary states that the 1750 performance of Messiah was “the first ever secular charity benefit concert in which art and philanthropy came together to raise money from the haves for the have-nots.”

Ivany continues: “We saw that Handel was a composer who had social responsibility in his heart that obviously comes across through his music, whether it was his Messiah, or Jephtha or Alcina. He wrote these very complex characters of people who were being persecuted and what they would sing about their plight. And so Handel seems in some ways a very fitting composer for our subject. Last year we sat the singers just around a table and asked what arias speak to you and why and what contemporary stories do you find that speak to you. And then we married those two together and tested it in version 1 and saw what worked.”

Ivany has lots of experience in past AtG shows of writing a new libretto to pre-existing music as AtG’s version of Puccini’s La Bohème (2011) and Mozart’s Figaro’s Wedding (2013),Uncle John (2014) and A Little Too Cosy (2015). Ivany explains how this process works when now he has to add substantially different content to an aria as well as translating it: “With BOUND v. 2 and working with the previous version and with Kevin as well, a lot of the music has come first. He’s found this beautiful melody and we can tweak it as we find the text, but it’s not the traditional way that this is done and so he’s been inspired by themes. For example, he told me, ‘Here is a portion where Miriam [Khalil]’s character sympathizes with the refugee crisis and I don’t know how you can make that work.’ But I’m able to find the arc in what he’s written and match that story with it. I think this only makes the music much more powerful. Obviously in opera traditionally the text comes first, but in opera it’s the music more than the text which moves you.”

Of the production in general, Ivany says: “I’m really curious to know how this opera will resonate with people knowing that it was primarily driven by the music. In the third version I intend not to act as stage director, which will be a big leap of faith for me because I’m used to uber-controlling everything. It’s a big step for our company. It was a test and it’s becoming more of a turning point. I think that’s healthy for the company and for these types of unique shows that are a mashup of old and new, old stories and new stories, old music and new text.”

The third and final version of BOUND will be AtG’s feature production in 2020 and the world premiere of this opera, Ivany explains. “We have intentionally been taking a step-by-step process to culminate in what we anticipate as an immersive experience for both the audience and performers. It’s hard to push repeat on certain things and it turns our hair grey in terms of each time we do a new thing, but it keeps us creative.”

As one might guess from AtG’s past projects, Ivany is keen to demolish the notion that opera is an elitist genre: “I don’t consider myself elite. In fact I consider myself very un-elite. So I think that opera is for everyone who is willing to be open to it and not just a specific group of people. We hope that we can show that in our works.”

BOUND v. 2 is performed as a workshop concert and runs November 19, 20 and 21 at the Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. W. The singers are soprano Miriam Khalil, countertenor David Trudgen, tenor Andrew Haji and baritone Justin Welsh as the cast of detainees with actor Martha Burns as the voice of the State. The music includes stylings by modular electronic artist Acote. AtG founding member and music director, Topher Mokrzewksi, conducts. 

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

Before getting down to sampling November's wares, a couple of highlights from October are still reverberating in my thoughts. Djanet Sear’s searing and award-winning play Harlem Duet, while not really music theatre, is yet described by the playwright as a “rhapsodic blues tragedy.” As seen in the powerful production recently at Tarragon Theatre directed by the playwright, and with subtle live instrumental music accompanying and underscoring the action, it uses the form and structure of the blues to give shape and resonance to a reworking of Shakespeare’s Othello from the point of view of his first love, Billie, exploring the emotional and social politics of race and gender over three time periods.

Unequivocally grounded in the music theatre scene, the Canadian Musical Theatre Project’s Festival of New Musicals at Toronto’s CAA Theatre (as well as at Sheridan College where it is based) gave audiences the fun and excitement of being witness to the first public steps being taken by four new musicals currently in progress, promising great things to come both in terms of top-notch new musical shows and a whole new generation of excellent musical theatre performers.

November runs the gamut of riches of what we refer to as “Music Theatre,” offering an interesting chance to compare the recipes of its various subgenres. Music is always the essential ingredient in the recipe however much it may vary in style, tone, period or character. Story is also essential but after that the proportion of the other ingredients can vary extremely. Beyond the words of a libretto or book of a musical, how much will spoken dialogue, soliloquy, bridging-text or song lyrics be used in each creation? How much movement will a director decide on, or a project dictate, from simple or stylized staging to complex detailed choreography?

Poppins: Starting with established recipes this coming month, Young People’s Theatre is presenting the Broadway hit Mary Poppins (November 5 to January 6) which uses the traditional Broadway musical recipe of spoken dialogue, melodic show tunes and theatrical choreography to tell a beloved children’s story in a version shortened to appeal to families and younger children. An annual tradition, and always well received, the show this year will be directed by Thom Allison and choreographed by Kerry Gage.

Ain’t Too Proud: Over at the Princess of Wales Theatre until November 17, Des McAnuff’s new “jukebox musical” Ain’t Too Proud has taken up residence for a while on the long out-of-town road to Broadway. A thrilling recreation of the life story of “Motown’s greatest group” the Temptations – with superb singing and dancing – the book and structure are still undergoing changes. This gives us a fascinating glimpse into the development of what may become another monster hit for the director following his other award-winning jukebox smash, Jersey Boys. This musical format has an obvious appeal for fans but also unique obstacles to overcome: how do you package all the biographical information in a way that is interesting for an audience without it becoming just a linear storyline peppered with songs? How can you best interweave the songs into the story so that they are more than just stepping stones along the way? The secret seems to be identifying an underlying theme that can dictate an arc for the show that can include all the top hits and at the same time provide a satisfying journey for the audience to share. From the performance I saw, Ain’t Too Proud is close, with an unstoppable cast and a thrilling first act. If the second act can be given a tighter, bolder shape and the hinted-at themes strengthened, this could turn into not just a fun show but a powerful one, as well.

Maev Beaty. Photo by Jim Ryce.Uncovered: At the Musical Stage Company it is time for the annual Uncovered concert series, this year focusing on the songs of Joni Mitchell and Carole King – at Koerner Hall November 13 to 15 and at the George Weston Recital Hall November 21. While at first glance this might seem to be a straightforward jukebox event, it is anything but. What fascinated me about the Uncovered series when I first came across it was finding out from artistic director Mitchell Cushman that the impetus for the series was to explore the stories inherent in popular songs. From an in-studio exploration involving himself, the singers and music director Reza Jacobs, the goal is to come up with a new arrangement for each song that will enhance the story and perhaps recast it slightly to give the audience a new experience of an old favourite. These newly arranged songs are then built into a storytelling structure for the evening that encompasses the individual stories in an overall biographical arc. This year, headlining the experienced musical theatre cast are Maev Beaty (who played David Bowie for Uncovered 2016) as Joni Mitchell and Linda Kash as Carole King.

Dance: Over on the dance side of the music theatre spectrum, three events stand out, evidencing very different mixes of story, movement and music, even though, obviously, words apart from those in the libretti are absent from the stage.

Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, a long-beloved ballet version of one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream, appears as part of the National Ballet of Canada’s fall season mixed program, November 21 to 25.

I am always fascinated to see how well Shakespeare’s plays – which are, of course, made up of some of the most beautifully crafted words in the English language – will work when translated into pure movement, and this is one of the best. Mendelssohn’s music which forms the score is also much beloved and long associated with the play as well as the ballet.

Also at the NBoC from November 10 to 18, is the North American premiere of a much more experimental story ballet, Anna Karenina, choreographed by one of the modern masters of the story ballet, John Neumeier. While based on Tolstoy’s famous 19th-century novel of the tragic romance between Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky, this is apparently not a straightforward telling of that story but rather a reflection on the original. Interestingly, the choreographer made the decision to bring the story into the modern day to unearth more contemporary nuances. I am a longtime fan of Neumeier’s Don Juan but I am intrigued to see how he will maintain the power of the specific historic context of this novel – particularly the suffocating rules and mores of the society that trap Anna in an increasingly desperate and unhappy path to the final tragic decision to end her life by famously stepping in front of a train. How much will the choreography be literal storytelling and how much more abstract movement exploring the emotional content of the story’s highlights and themes? Musically it will also be interesting with the score combining the classical dramatic power of Tchaikovsky with the more modern eclectic sounds of Alfred Schnittke and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam.

Red Sky: The third dance theatre piece is more modern and yet more primal: the world premiere of Trace, the latest creation conceived and directed by Sandra Laronde for Red Sky Performance with choreography by her usual collaborator (and lead dancer) Jera Wolfe at the Berkeley Street Theatre from October 30 to November 11.

Continuing a theme of exploring the traditional legends and beliefs of the Anishnaabe people, Trace aims to map the Anishinaabe sky and star stories offering a glimpse at our origins and looking ahead to our possible evolution.

In the second year of a residency at Canadian Stage, where their Dora award-winning show Backbone debuted last fall, Red Sky have an increasingly strong presence on both the national and international scene. What gives their best pieces power is a unique combination of elements: the rich traditional stories and legends of the Anishinaabe people, the physically powerful and yet flexible dance vocabulary inspired by both modern and Indigenous dance forms, a mix of music that evokes a traditional First Nations atmosphere – which can then expand beyond evincing a mix of influences – and an increasingly sophisticated use of moving imagery with the use of video projections to echo and enhance the live work onstage.

Projections are being used far more frequently by almost every type of theatrical endeavour and really fall more under the category of design rather than the list of recipe ingredients I have been talking about, and yet for Red Sky they have become an increasingly important element of the creation of each project, although in the case of Miigis, it was the living backdrop of historic Fort York against the living urban landscape of Toronto that set the scene.

An interesting debate could be had about the impact of design on the success of theatrical works and how much they contribute to each piece’s intrinsic value, particularly as the barriers between genres are increasingly being bent and broken down.

All in all, November will be an exciting month with a music theatre menu to suit all tastes. 

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.

In last month’s column, I wrote about the Music Gallery’s X Avant festival and the vision of the Halluci Nation. From both my personal experience of attending some of the concerts and from talking to other concertgoers, it was an inspiring and exciting four days of listening to a wide and diverse array of music which also helped to further expand the Halluci Nation community. The last set on the Sunday evening (October 14) saw A Tribe Called Red performing together with other featured musicians to bring the whole festival to an exhilarating close. For this month’s column, I’d like to pursue this thread of building community further, and talk about other ways this is happening amongst presenters, composers and performers of new music in the city.

Arraymusic

Starting this fall, Arraymusic has appointed a new artistic director, percussionist David Schotzko. He succeeds Martin Arnold who stepped down to pursue a wonderful opportunity to teach at Trent University. Fortunately, Arnold will be staying on as artistic associate as well as continuing to curate his Rat-drifting series which will happen on December 7 and January 11 of this current season. I had a chance to speak with Schotzko about his vision moving forward for Arraymusic, and also to Allison Cameron whose music will be the focus of a mini-festival occurring on November 23 and 24.

Schotzko moved to Toronto in 2011 and has had an active career as a performer for several new music ensembles including Esprit Orchestra, New Music Concerts and also as a member of the Array Ensemble. Prior to 2011 he performed in New York City where he was a founding member of the acclaimed International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). In addition to performing, he also has been involved in composer advocacy work throughout his career.

We spoke about where Array has been in the past and the direction that Schotzko would like to take in the future. Historically, the ensemble has generally had composers or composer-performers as artistic directors, and was focused around specific individual performers developing repertoire for a quirky instrumentation of two percussion, piano, violin, double bass, trumpet and clarinet. Once these original players moved on in their careers, it’s been challenging Schotzko said, to replace them.

With both Arnold and Rick Sacks (AD from 2011 to 2016), the process of moving away from the original instrumentation began. Coming from a performing background, Schotzko would like to create an ensemble with a regular group of individuals who are able to perform more and more without a conductor. Essentially, he wishes to move the group towards becoming a true chamber ensemble – an ensemble similar to a string quartet who perform together for years without a conductor and have a unique way of both rehearsing and performing together. This is challenging to achieve with an ever-changing group comprised of freelance musicians.

Schotzko sees adding more artistic associates such as Arnold in the future and broadening the range of voices coming out of Array. One step in this direction has been the signing of the Canadian League of Composers Gender Parity Pledge. The issue of balanced programming has surfaced in several of my columns over the last year or more, making this recent initiative by the CLC all the more welcome. The pledge is intended for presenters across the country to adopt and can be read in full on their website. It begins with these words: “We pledge to achieve or maintain gender parity in our programming and commissioning by our 2022/23 season. We welcome the opportunity to add our voice to a growing international movement that acknowledges artistic choices must be representative of the gender diversity within the community of creators.” This is a direction that Array has already taken on and their programming is already at 50/50, Schotzko said.

Array will also continue its community-based focus through a commitment to co-productions with several resident artists and organizations, such as the Thin Edge New Music Collective, the Evergreen Club Gamelan and Frequency Freaks, amongst others, as well as presenting mini-festivals highlighting the music of specific composers, such as the one featuring Allison Cameron’s music, an event planned during Arnold’s tenure as artistic director.

Allison Cameron. Photo by Jolene Mok.Allison Cameron

The mini-fest will present a variety of pieces that Cameron has created over the years, including composed works as well as improvised music. Her current group c_RL will perform both nights, first with the Arrayensemble on November 23 and on their own on November. c_RL is an innovative improvising trio featuring Cameron, electronics/found objects/keyboards; Germaine Liu, percussion; and Nicole Rampersaud, trumpet. The composed works on November 23 will include a newly commissioned piece from Array (which for now is remaining untitled), Kid Baltan, and In Memoriam Robert Ashley. Kid Baltan was written for Dutch composer Dick Raaijmakers in 2013; its title is the alias that Raaijmakers gave himself during the late 1950s when he was creating some of the first electropop music ever written. It is a graphic score for mixed ensemble and was first performed at The Music Gallery’s X Avant festival with Trio 7090 and others from Toronto and Amsterdam. Cameron wrote this piece for Louis Andriessen’s 75th birthday and has reworked the piece for the current instrumentation of the Array Ensemble plus c_RL.

We spoke at length about the aesthetic vision behind both the newly commissioned work and the more recent pieces that use graphic scores, and she told me about one inspiring experience she had a few years ago in Amsterdam that has significantly influenced her thinking. It occurred when she met with the performers for a rehearsal of one of her works. The performers had all received their parts ahead of time, but had not had a chance to practise on their own. Cameron was quite surprised by how the music unfolded. “It was like they were coming to the score without preconceptions. It was very refreshing and innocent-like.”

Cameron realized she had structured the score in a more open way, allowing each player to make their own unique contributions. This experience inspired her to create pieces with more flexibility. “I used to write things where everything had to be perfect, where this note had to happen at this time.” With so little time and money for extensive rehearsals, this became a very frustrating experience and she wanted to find a way of moving away from the constraints of the rehearsal environment in order to create pieces that allowed players more freedom to contribute to the overall work.

The newly commissioned piece we will hear on November 23 has several short movements that can be changed around and played in no particular order. Some aspects are fixed and others are mobile, and the graphic score allows the players to make their own decisions. Over the years, Cameron has created various performing ensembles that have given her a platform to develop her own performing skills and to create work for a consistent instrumentation. Participating within the improvisational community in Toronto and developing relationships with performers has been a key aspect of her creative process that has also influenced her compositional practice. The second night of the festival will be dedicated to her improvised music with one set featuring c_RL and one solo set.

A Mini-Tour of Upcoming Concerts

Continuing with the theme of community building, here is a short walk through some of the events happening in November within new music.

First of all, it’s noteworthy to see the influence of Array’s contribution beyond their own activities as two of their resident ensembles will be presenting concerts this month. The Thin Edge New Music Collective are performing at the Canadian Music Centre on November 8 and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan will be appearing at the Aga Khan Museum on November 25 with a premiere of a new work by Canadian composer Peter Hatch. Also, c_RL member Germaine Liu will be teaming up with Sarah Hennies for a concert of percussion pieces on December 6 at the CMC.

Veteran composer and influential educator John Beckwith has a new work titled Meanwhile, for marimba and piano, which will be played by percussionist Zac Pulak (who commissioned it) and pianist Edana Higham at the CMC on November 22 at 5:30pm [not in our listings]. The piece, which received its first performance this past July in Ottawa, can be viewed on YouTube.

Esprit Orchestra’s concert on November 28 will feature works by Alexina Louie and Murray Schafer, as well as a piece by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, who was chosen in 2015 as the New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer. She is currently composer-in-residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Esprit will be performing Dreaming, her work from 2008. Schafer’s 1973 composition, North/White, sets the stage for an North-inspired evening, with Louie’s Take the Dog Sled capturing the essence of life in the Arctic.

Early in the month on November 2, Continuum Contemporary Music begins its new season with “Super Hot Sax,” featuring saxophonist Wallace Halladay in a number of works. This new season Continuum’s programming features 60 percent female composers, works that engage with new technologies and their newly expanded ensemble. The November 2 concert is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Cooper, a longtime supporter of contemporary chamber music in Toronto. Cooper’s commissioned work The Wind Wrests My Words by composer Jimmie LeBlanc will receive its world premiere.

On November 11, the Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal will be performing in Toronto as part of their Generation2018 Canadian tour presenting works by four emerging composers. Toronto’s New Music Concerts will be hosting this project as they have since 2000. The featured composers selected from across the country will be interviewed as part of the performance and audiences will be able to vote for their favourite work.

NMC will then continue their season on December 2 with a program of works selected by Michael Koerner who has served on their board since 1978. The concert includes works by several key composers from the 20th century: Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Charles Ives, Elliott Carter and Murray Schafer, whose String Quartet No. 6 “Parting Wild Horse’s Mane” was a commissioned work from Koerner.

And finally, a community building workshop on November 25 hosted by the Music Gallery will feature composer-improviser Anne Bourne guiding participants through various text scores by Pauline Oliveros. This will be the first of four opportunities this season to experience Oliveros’ Deep Listening process through listening and sounding and is aimed towards cultivating a shared creative expression. 

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

In my story on the Festival of Arabic Music and Art (FAMA) in my October 2018 column I explored the GTA’s Arabic music scene. That festival is still in full swing, so consult our concert listings for details or visit the festival website at CanadianArabicOrchestra.ca/FAMA.

This month we are taking a peek into the world of Chinese orchestras in our midst, a form of community music-making long hidden from audiences outside its various host communities. Then we join an early world-music adapter, the American composer, percussionist and conductor Adam Rudolph as he returns to the Music Gallery to explore the implications of dastgah (melodic-modal systems) with Toronto tar player and Persian classical music advocate Araz Salek.

The Chinese orchestra

While ensemble music has been practised on a sophisticated level in Chinese aristocratic courts for some three millennia, I am referring here to the modern Chinese orchestra, as currently performed in China and overseas Chinese communities, which began its development in the 1920s, modelled on both the instrumentation of the regional Chinese Jiangnan sizhu ensemble and the organization of the Western symphony orchestra. Such orchestras use Chinese instruments divided into four sections: winds, plucked strings, bowed strings and Chinese percussion. They typically play modernized traditional music often called guoyue (literally “national music”), or adaptations of Western works.

In terms of the dawn of Chinese instrumental music in Canada, the relevant Canadian Encyclopedia entry states that Chinese emigration to Canada – specifically to the Fraser River Gold Rush in British Columbia – began in 1858, mostly from Kwangtung (Canton) Province. Already by the 1870s there were three Cantonese opera clubs established in Victoria, BC.

The production of Cantonese opera required about six instrumentalists, and this led to the founding of music clubs apart from opera clubs. These music associations, as exemplified by the Ching Won Musical Society (founded in Vancouver in 1936), performed for many types of Chinese community activities.

Amely ZhouChinese orchestras in the GTA

The Chinese community in Toronto was established around 1877, with an initial population of two laundry owners. The community grew considerably during the 20th century when, again according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, professional troupes from Hong Kong were frequently invited to perform Cantonese opera until the 1980s, when the expansion of the Chinese community provided performers for locally produced Cantonese opera, often featuring artists from abroad. [As well], local companies such as the United Dramatic Society in Toronto, the Wah Shing Music Group in Ottawa, and the Yuet Sing Chinese Musical Club in Montreal provided training and experience for Canadian performers.”

As I am a newbie to this world, I phoned Amely Zhou, an erhu musician and Chinese orchestra insider. Trained in both Chinese and Western music, she began her music studies at an early age in the city of Shenzhen, in southeastern China. “After immigrating to Canada in 2007,” she told me, “I joined the Toronto Chinese Orchestra where I served for ten years as the bowed string section assistant principal, as well as conductor of the TYCO, its Youth Orchestra.”

She pointed out that beginning with the TCO, today there appear to be four Chinese orchestras active in the GTA: Toronto Chinese Orchestra (1993- ), Ontario Chinese Orchestra (2007- ), North America Chinese Orchestra (2011- ) and Canadian Chinese Orchestra (2017- ).

“I founded the Canadian Chinese Orchestra (CCO) last year and serve as the CCO’s artistic director and conductor. We actually have three groups under the CCO banner: the Canadian Philharmonic Chinese Orchestra made up of amateur adult musicians and the Canadian Youth Chinese Orchestra (CYCO). The third group is a cadre of professional musicians who serve as section leaders. These contract artists teach our CYCO and CPCO musicians, while also performing as soloists in our concerts.”

What about the other Chinese orchestras in our region? “In 2007 the Ontario Chinese Orchestra (OCO) was founded by graduates of top-ranking Chinese music conservatories,” replied Zhou. “Led by Peter Bok, they have produced a regular series of concerts ever since.”

“More recently another performing group, the North American Chinese Orchestra (NACO), was formed by several Mandarin-speaking musicians in 2011,” added Zhou.

The TCO: Despite ample evidence of a century and a half of Chinese music making in Canada, it wasn’t until 1993 that the Toronto Chinese Orchestra was established by a group of Chinese traditional music enthusiasts. According to its website, the “TCO is the largest Chinese orchestra in Ontario and the longest running in Canada. Members include professional and amateur musicians trained in Asia as well as Canada.”

The TCO presents its next concert, “Scenic Sojourn: A night of Chinese Music,” at Yorkminster Citadel on December 1. In addition to works by Chinese composers, the TCO performs works by the emerging Toronto composers Matthew van Driel (Whiteout) and Marko Koumoulas (Reincarnation Suite), indicating an active engagement with the non-Chinese music community.

The Canadian Chinese Orchestra: Chinese orchestras in the GTA appear to be affiliated along linguistic and cultural lines, reflecting Cantonese and Mandarin origins. How does the CCO fit into this context? “In establishing the CCO I was motivated by a desire to reach out to the various Canadian Chinese communities, as well as to the Canadian public in general” said Zhou. “I believe we are Canadians first, so I wanted to include musicians from various Chinese communities, from newcomers to musicians born here.”

The CYCO mounted its most ambitious project to date in the summer of 2018: a five-city tour of the Cantonese region of China. “It came about through an invitation from the president of the Overseas Nanhai International Students Association,” stated Zhou, “partly funded by the Cultural Department of the government of China.”

It’s part of a trend of the GTA’s Chinese orchestras performing in the motherland, made possible through the Chinese government’s sponsorship of cultural exchange between overseas and mainland Chinese communities. It reflects 150 years of region-of-origin (Cantonese in this case) affiliations, transnational business links, and a trend of Canadian cities “sistering” with Chinese cities of similar industry focus, all connected via cultural links. For instance, both cities of Nanhai and Jiangmen, located in the Cantonese region of China and on CYCO’s 2018 tour itinerary, have sistered with the City of Markham, reflecting the commercial interests of high tech companies.

CCO’s November 17 concert at the Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School Theatre is conducted by Amely Zhou and Wang Yi. The concert features repertoire reflecting various regional Chinese folk genres. Here are some highlights.

The CCO’s young prize-winning Canadian-born dizi (bamboo transverse flute) soloist Sophie Du is accompanied by the CCO in an orchestrated Taiwanese folk song inspired by a scene of tea pickers in the Lugu mountains.

Racing Horses, an erhu standard, was composed by Haihuai Huang. Depicting horses racing on the vast Mongolian grassland it is performed by the CCO erhu section together, evoking the sound of a large herd of galloping horses. The concert closes with Flower Festival (1960s). Composed by Xuran Ye as a pipa solo, it is based on a Sichuan folk song; it has been arranged by Zhou for the CCO for this concert.

Adam RudolphDastgah: Go: Organic Orchestra

Coincidentally, also on November 17 the Music Gallery and New Ambient Modes present “Dastgah: Go: Organic Orchestra.” The concert will be curated by Araz Salek, the Toronto tar (Persian long necked lute) player, and conducted by American world music pioneer Adam Rudolph.

Rudolph embarked on a career as a jazz percussionist in Chicago in the late 1960s. He was eager however to expand his musical world view. In 1977 he travelled to West Africa to live and study music, experiencing drumming, singing and dancing, as well as trance ceremonies.

He shares on his blog that in 1978 he “lived in [trumpeter, pioneer of world fusion jazz] Don Cherry’s house in the Swedish countryside.” Cherry inspired Rudolph to “start composing and showed him about [free-jazz pioneer] Ornette Coleman’s concepts and the connection of music to nature.” Back in the USA Rudolph and kora player Jali Foday Musa Suso co-founded The Mandingo Griot Society in 1978, combining aspects of African and American music. He explored Moroccan Gnawa music in the 1980s with sintir (three-stringed bass lute) player and singer Hassan Hakmoun. His music-making and composing has continued to grow over the decades, resulting in a large number of ensemble projects, reflected in over 90 album releases.

Rudolph often sets discussions of his approach to music in a philosophical frame. Case in point, in an April 2017 Downbeat interview by John Ephland, Rudolph evocatively talks about “shooting the arrow and then painting a bullseye around it” when describing his music creation process. He also reports undertaking a rigorous study of North Indian tabla for over 15 years with leading tabla virtuoso and teacher Taranath Rao (1915-1991), crediting Rao with imparting the notion of music as a “form of yoga – the unity of mind, body and spirit…”

Founded two decades ago, Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra is a culmination of a lifetime of musical and philosophical searches, embracing music forms and cosmologies from around the world. His compositional and operational modus operandi is built on a three-page score with graphic notation elements he calls matrices and cosmograms. It’s evidently been successful: over the last ten years Rudolph has conducted several dozen Go: Organic Orchestra residencies throughout Europe, North America and in Turkey.

Toronto’s Music Gallery first presented Go: Organic Orchestra in 2016, inviting 15 eclectic Toronto musicians to play under Rudolph’s direction. Araz Salek, the only musician in the ensemble whose primary background was outside of jazz or Western classical music, was particularly inspired by the experience.

Salek: Born in Iran in 1980, Araz Salek began his tar tutelage at a young age and continued studying classical radif (sets of Persian melodic figures preserved through oral tradition) with master tar musicians. He began an active performing career in Tehran.

Moving to Toronto in 2005 however blew open the doors of Salek’s strict Persian classical music training. While establishing himself in his new home, he quickly began to learn and perform with a wide variety of musicians practicing in numerous musical traditions. In addition to gigging nationally and internationally as a tar player, in 2017 he founded Labyrinth Ontario, dedicated to presenting music workshops and concerts focused on global modal music traditions.

I’ve been involved in a number of concert projects with Salek for over 12 years. I am however not personally involved in Dastgah: Go, so I called Salek late in October to get the skinny.

“Adam Rudolph’s 2016 Music Gallery concert,” he began “was a stunning experience for me. As you know I have an extensive background in Iranian classical music. When I arrived in Toronto I continued my tar practice, but also engaged with the local free improvisation scene. On occasion however, I felt lost in the midst of such freedom, particularly when compared with my own rigorous training and practice in Iranian music.

Working with Adam, on the other hand, he says, felt substantially different than playing free improv. “What really amazed me was how his use of graphic matrices defined not only tonal [and rhythmic] structures, but also freed individual musicians to make choices within them. It was the best of both worlds for me, combining the liberty of free improv with the kind of modal structures I’m most comfortable with. In that way, the 2016 concert was personally an inspiring moment. I wanted the opportunity to expand that musical experience. I made a proposal to Adam: to develop his score by including aspects of Iranian tonal systems. He agreed and our Dastgah: Go: Organic Orchestra project was born.

“The 15 Toronto musicians chosen for the November 17 concert are divided roughly into two instrumental categories: a Western group and an Iranian group. “I will be conducting a series of ear training sessions for the musicians to develop their perception of the microtonal intervals in some of the traditional Iranian modes,” Salek says. “An interesting cross-cultural instrument in our orchestra will be a retuned acoustic piano. This used to be done in 20th-century Iran, but was found to be too costly, and moreover could only accommodate a very limited number of tonal modes. We’ve revived this practice for this concert. It will prove, I think, that even an instrument with fixed tuning like the piano can be accommodated to perform with Iranian instruments.”

Rudolph’s improvisationally conducted spontaneous orchestrations will no doubt be substantially complicated – and enriched – by Salek’s Iranian contributions.

The multicultural dynamics of Dastgah: Go: Organic Orchestra aptly express Rudolph’s creative vision of our shared humanity. As he states on his website, “It is a realization of creative community in a world without boundaries; of culture as the vessel for understanding, empathy and sharing.” It’s a fitting legacy for an early adopter of a single-minded approach to world music. 

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

The Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) is now in its tenth year – my, that went fast – and is celebrating the milestone with a special concert on November 24 at the Aga Khan Museum called “The Music of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.” It will feature Remi Bolduc on alto saxophone and arrangements; Bernie Senensky on piano; Reg Schwager on guitar; Terry Clarke on drums; and yours truly on bass. With well over 30 concerts under its belt to date, and many other presentations and initiatives, JPEC has become an integral part of the Toronto jazz scene. To mark the occasion I recently did an email interview with Ray Koskie, who, along with his wife Rochelle, is co-founder of JPEC.

I’ve known Ray (a retired founding partner of the law firm Koskie Minsky) and Rochelle (a retired schoolteacher) casually as dedicated jazz fans for close to 40 years now. As JPEC is clearly a labour of love for this jazz-loving couple, I decided to begin by asking Ray a little about how he and Rochelle became such avid fans.

(from left) Joe Sealey, Rochelle Koskie, Jackie Richardson and Ray Koskie at the Paintbox Bistro January 2013.WN: How did you and Rochelle catch the jazz bug?

RK: We both grew up in Forest Hill and met when we were in our late teens. Rochelle was a couple of years younger but way ahead of me; she was already musically educated, played piano and cello and had accumulated some jazz records. I mostly teethed on stuff my father listened to at home – Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and so on. Live jazz was kind of the soundtrack to our romance as some of our first dates were at the Town Tavern, where, thanks to part-owner and manager Sammy Berger, we were able to get in despite being underage. He took a shine to us for some reason and made a spot for us in the back room where we could nurse Cokes and split a club sandwich – about all we could afford in those days – while listening all night to incredible music by the likes of the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, Art Blakey, Illinois Jacquet, Jackie and Roy, Ben Webster and many others. It became clear before too long that we were both hooked and we’ve never looked back.

I graduated from Law School around 1961 and we got married and eventually started a family. The late, great John Norris was a big part of us getting to know more about jazz in those years and during this time we became regulars at Bourbon Street where we heard the likes of Chet Baker, Barney Kessel, Dexter Gordon, Al and Zoot, Paul Desmond and so many of the great Toronto players – Ed Bickert, Don Thompson, Bernie Senensky and Terry Clarke, among many others. In fact, that’s where we first heard you play, Steve. The rhythm section for the upcoming Brubeck/Desmond concert with Bernie, Terry and you is a nod toward those days. After Bourbon Street closed we frequented both the Café des Copains and the Montreal Bistro where we enjoyed the hospitality of Brigitte and Lothar Lang while hearing great music from people like Johnny Guarnieri, Jim Galloway, Doc Cheatham, Rob McConnell, Jay McShann, Geoff Keezer, Dave McKenna, Oliver Jones, Joe Sealy and so many others.

How did JPEC get started?

After The Top O’ the Senator and the Montreal Bistro closed we were approached by some other well-known Toronto jazz people to help in obtaining alternative jazz venues and as result a working committee was formed. Part of this involved examining the concept of the successful Jazz At Lincoln Center (JALC), which we thought might be a new model for presenting jazz in Toronto. Following a tour of that beautiful facility and being supplied with certain pertinent documents, we recommended to the committee that this approach – i.e. becoming a not-for-profit charitable organization – might be the best way to go under the circumstances. Although this might prove more challenging than creating another jazz club, we felt it would likely have a longer shelf life. As a result, JPEC was incorporated in August 2008 as a not-for-profit charitable organization.

What were some of the early challenges?

Some members of the committee felt that the charitable organization route, while laudable, was too ambitious, which led to certain people leaving who were replaced by those who believed more in the JALC concept. Lack of funding was an early problem with respect to meeting some of our objectives, but various fundraising events were held and Toronto jazz fans really pitched in. When we began to make progress certain members of the TO jazz community mistakenly seemed to believe that we were in competition with their endeavours even though we were all supposedly working for the same cause, namely the furtherance of jazz. We went on to succeed despite such misguided thinking because there were many others who supported our efforts and believed in our objectives.

What are those objectives?

To provide performance opportunities for Toronto’s jazz musicians, including jazz students, and to properly compensate them. To promote jazz in this city and reach out to new audiences. An educational element, namely to present community-based workshops in underserved areas at schools having little, if any, music education. This is something Rochelle, as a former schoolteacher, feels very strongly about. And eventually to establish a fulltime jazz hub similar in concept to, but smaller than, JALC.

After the inevitable early struggles, what kind of support have you received over the years?

We’ve been lucky to have the benefit of corporate sponsors such as TD Bank, BPA, LiUNA and private donors such as Jack Long of Long & McQuade, who has supported jazz so generously over the years. My law firm Koskie Minsky absorbs our administrative costs, which leaves more money for fulfilling our mandate. JPEC has been blessed with a talented board of directors and many other dedicated volunteers who have worked tirelessly to help deliver our mission.

How does JPEC plan its concert programming and choose the venues?

We try to present both international jazz stars and Toronto-based talent and often to combine them in one concert or even one band, as for example with Americans Ernie Watts and Brad Goode recently being backed by a crack Toronto rhythm section of Adrean Farrugia, Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke, with Rich Brown’s band opening. We like to present performance opportunities for up-and-coming musicians – all of JPEC’s shows include pre-concert duos or trios consisting of students from the three GTA jazz institutions or Mohawk College. As with most things JPEC, the programming is designed by a committee, some of the members of which are musicians, marketing people and those involved with the technical aspects of staging. All committee decisions are subject to board approval. As to venues, we’ve preferred more intimate concert ones with seating ranging from 150 to 300 people, such as the Glenn Gould, the George, and for the first time with our upcoming concert, the concert hall in the Aga Khan Museum, which we’re very excited about.

There’s also a community-outreach aspect to JPEC which is tied to both programming and education. In addition to the 170 music workshops we’ve presented in underserved schools over the last decade, we’re proud to be supporting and participating in the initiative of the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists, an outgrowth of the old “Jazzmobile” model, using a mobile facility to present events in more isolated communities that will benefit the talent in those areas as well as the talent of Toronto’s musicians. In other words, if the people can’t get to the jazz, then take the jazz to the people – good jazz makes for a good society and vice versa.

Not that I think it’s an odd idea, but why a Brubeck/Desmond concert at this particular time?

In consideration of JPEC’s tenth anniversary, we wanted to reach out to a broader jazz audience by presenting a tribute to two such well-known and respected musicians who achieved enormous popularity not only internationally, but with Desmond in particular, on a local level. Desmond’s late-career appearances at Bourbon Street were unforgettable to those of us lucky enough to have heard them, and his ringing musical endorsement of Ed Bickert in particular – but also Don Thompson and Jerry Fuller – gave Toronto jazz a major shot in the arm. Hence the addition of Reg Schwager on guitar to reflect Desmond’s career after Brubeck. Unless Ed Bickert himself were to come out of retirement, it would be hard to imagine a guitarist more suited to the task.

What do you see for JPEC moving forward and do you think you’ve made a difference?

We’ll continue to present quality concerts such as this one and of course the outreach workshops will continue. And we’re still seeking to create a fulltime hub. As for making a difference, I like to think we have. In July of 2018 Rochelle and I received a special award and donation to JPEC from TD Bank for: “Giving back to the community by bringing jazz to public schools, educating students young and old, and providing Toronto with outstanding jazz concerts.” I think that sums it up nicely.

Me too. Thanks for your time, Ray, and for all you and Rochelle have done for jazz in Toronto over the years. 

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

NOV 8, 5:30PM: Old MillKen Page Memorial Trust Annual Fundraiser. The Lairds of SwingWarren Vaché, cornet and musical director; Guido Basso, flugelhorn; Russ Phillips, trombone; Ken Peplowski, reeds; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Reg Schwager, guitar; Neil Swainson, bass; Terry Clarke, drums. I’ve written in greater detail about this star-studded event in the past – simply put, the finest in modern mainstream swing with both an international and local thrust.

NOV 16, 8PM: Toronto Centre for the Arts – Jazz at the George. Etienne Charles – Carnival. This concert by the brilliant young trumpeter/composer who explores his calypso/Caribbean roots in tandem with jazz, kicks off the five-concert Jazz at the George season.

Patricia Cano appears in the COC's Jazz Series on November 28.NOV 28, 12 NOON: Canadian Opera Company – Jazz Series “Songs In the Key of Cree.” Tomson Highway, piano and vocals; Patricia Cano, vocals; Marcus Ali, saxophone. Never mind whether it’s jazz or not, do not miss this rare chance to hear the musical – and I mean musical – side of one of our greatest playwrights. And Cano is a vocal powerhouse.

DEC 4, 8PM: Toronto Centre for the Arts – Jazz at the George. Dianne Reeves Christmas Time Is Here – For my money, the best jazz singer on the planet singing Christmas music can’t fail to put you in a festive spirit.

DEC 5, 5:30PM: Canadian Opera Company – Jazz Series. “Music From the Claudia Quintet Playbook – McGill Jazz Sextet, John Hollenbeck, director. This is highly recommended mostly for Hollenbeck, a highly original drummer/composer with an audacious taste for combining – and bending – musical genres.

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

In last month’s column I made reference to the upcoming Rebel Heartland celebration at Fairy Lake Park in Newmarket. Ergo: now we can report on what took place. As a starter, the weather could not have been better with a moderate temperature and a bright blue sky. Fairy Lake Park’s three gazebos (one large with two smaller ones immediately adjacent) provided an ideal location for musical performances. On the large gazebo we had the current Newmarket Citizens Band, somewhat scaled down to fit within their venue. On the smaller gazebos, three different ensembles made up of members of the main band performed. One was a brass ensemble roughly representative of the early 1800s. The other two were a flute ensemble and a clarinet group, including alto and bass clarinets.

Unless the organizers had been prepared to spend enormous amounts of money to ensure absolute accuracy and authenticity of all costumes and displays, this event inevitably was going to have some items that could not qualify as characteristic of the period. There were interesting anomalies, some more apparent than others. First was the makeup of the band: well-dressed in a wide range of period costumes, almost half of the band members were women, something town bands in the 1830s would not have permitted. In general, women were not allowed to play in such bands until the mid-1940s. I remember well when the first girl was permitted to play in the University of Toronto Band in 1947. It was some years after that when the first female player appeared in a military reserve band in this country.

Other anomalies: some distance from the band there was an encampment of tents with all the occupants in period costumes. Immediately adjacent were all of their late model automobiles, with nary an 1837 model in sight! Also, whereas at such a concert in the park any time in the 1800s people would be sitting close enough to the band to hear well, that was not necessary here. A powerful sound system with speakers located throughout the park made it possible for the audience members to select a listening location of their choice.

Perhaps the most interesting anomaly for me was a gentleman dressed from head to toe in the greatest of sartorial splendour including an elegant top hat, an elegant impression that was a bit shattered when I noticed that he was speaking to someone on a 2018-model cell phone and had a modern plastic water bottle close at hand.

Anomalies or not, it was an excellent day to be reminded of some very important times in our history.

“Perhaps the most interesting anomaly for me was a gentleman dressed from head to toe in the greatest of sartorial splendour including an elegant top hat, an elegant impression that was a bit shattered when I noticed that he was speaking to someone on a 2018-model cell phone and had a modern plastic water bottle close at hand.” Old Instrument Donations Enrich Young Lives

In recent months I have been hearing of a number of varied programs to provide musical instruments for children in various parts of the world, including Canada. In a number of cases I am still waiting for responses to my requests for information, but here’s an interesting one.

Local bass clarinet and saxophone player Michael Holdsworth grew up in suburban London (England) in the austere 1950s, attending a secondary school with an extremely limited music program and a budget to match, and no band. In his words, when the music teacher proposed starting a small brass group, there was only enough money for one trumpet and one trombone.  As luck would have it, there was another high school nearby, which was not under the same monetary restraints, that was replacing all their old pre-war instruments, and were happy to give them to Mike’s school.

Their senior shop teacher took on the repair challenge and soon the euphonium, baritone and tuba were ready to play. Mike took the baritone. “It was the start of a lifetime of musical adventures,” he says. “The door had been opened, and I learned firsthand that those with the tenacity and desire to help others and share their love of music can indeed make a difference.”

After a move to Canada, and a 20-year hiatus from music, his musical interest was rekindled and he now plays in several musical organizations in the GTA, from concert bands to symphony orchestras and musical theatre. In his words: “Making music has been the most rewarding pastime I have had in my life, and all this started with a secondhand old B-flat baritone horn.”

Over the past few years, Mike has been able to spend a few weeks each winter in his favourite Mexican destination, Puerto Vallarta. A few years ago, he decided to take his clarinet with him. Somewhere, he reasoned, there would be a group of musicians who would welcome a stranger into their midst. In the centre of Puerto Vallarta is a small square with the rather grand name Plaza de Armas (Parade Ground). In the centre of that square there is a bandstand where the Municipal Band of Puerto Vallarta entertains the public two nights a week.

One evening, while listening to a concert, Mike noticed that there was a man in the band who looked like he was a bit of an outsider, not the least because he was not dressed in the all-white uniform everyone else was wearing. When Mike spoke with him, he discovered that this man, Bob, was from Ontario! Bob introduced Mike to the band leader Raul, and, just like that, Mike was invited to play with them. He soon discovered what an incredibly talented group they were; all are professional musicians and music school graduates. From them he also learned of the importance of music to the community. “The City of Puerto Vallarta, and, as far as I can gather, Mexico generally, is committed to encouraging all young people to take part and to put public money into these efforts.”

Next thing that caught Mike’s eye was a March 8, 2018 article by writer John Warren in the Vallarta Tribune, an English-language newspaper, about an upcoming performance of the Puerto Vallarta Orchestra School (OEPV), in which Warren wrote “Now in its fifth year, the OEPV has transformed the lives of many children in Puerto Vallarta. The aim of the cultural project is to reduce social problems, crime and addiction by providing free musical education and social development to children who would otherwise be unable to afford it.” The results have been impressive. “The International Friendship Club (IFC) has supported the OEPV since 2014 as part of the club’s emphasis on helping Mexican children reach their potential. Altogether, the OEPV is teaching almost 300 children the joy, teamwork, discipline, concentration and co-operation that come from learning music and, at the same time becoming good citizens.”

One of the major challenges facing the Puerto Vallarta Orchestral School is obtaining musical instruments, and this is where things came full circle for Mike. “The cost of labour in Mexico makes repairing things far more viable than in, say, Toronto” he says. “Many instruments that we might discard because of the cost of repair here in Canada can be repaired and reused in places like Mexico.”

Mike’s primary focus so far has been aimed at the more affluent schools in the Greater Toronto Area, and thanks to a generous donation of instruments by Upper Canada College, the process has begun. “Anyone with old instruments in the attic or garage that they know will never realize any real cash might wish to consider donating them to the children and young members of OEPV.” 

To this point Mike has received instrument donations including nine clarinets, six flutes, two bassoons, one alto sax, one tenor sax and one French horn (from Upper Canada College). An additional two flutes were received from individuals not associated with the school. Beyond donations of instruments, though, shipping costs are also a significant challenge. The total cost of shipping this first batch was $900 which was donated by a friend who also spends time in Puerto Vallarta in the winter. The initial shipment went directly using UPS and was $600. It arrived in three days. The other two shipments went using Chitchats Shipping and in total cost $300. It took four weeks but arrived intact.

For Mike it’s simple. “You can help improve a life through music!” he says. If you have any questions, comments, or, in particular, appropriate contacts in GTA schools, you may contact Mike at instrumentsforoepv6@gmail.com. For information regarding the OEPV, check their Facebook page – facebook.com/oepuertovallarta/ or website – oepv.org/web.

As mentioned earlier, I am still waiting for responses to my requests for information from a number organizations with similar projects. I know someone who is working on a similar project for South Africa, and have heard of another person collecting old instruments for children in Cuba. Stay tuned.

Prize for playful programming

November 21, 7:30pm. Henry Meredith of The Plumbing Factory Brass Band, sent the following: “In their 23 years of entertaining Southern Ontario audiences, the Plumbing Factory Brass Band has been noted for performing eclectic repertoire that exemplifies all kinds of brass music, ranging from A to Z,” he writes. “However, this concert will focus on a single letter of the alphabet – the letter B! That is ‘B is for BRASS.’” As an example of their diversity the band’s Basses, also known as the Tuba Mirum Trio, will be featured playing Leroy Anderson’s Bugler’s Holiday. I certainly don’t want to miss hearing three tubas perform that trumpet number. ... BEautiful, BEguiling and BEdazzling Music to BE presented by London’s Plumbing Factory Brass Band at Byron United Church , 420 Boler Road (@ Baseline), London.

BANDSTAND QUICK PICKS

NOV 4, 3PM: The Hannaford Street Silver Band presents “Cascades” with guest Carol Jantsch, tuba; Jean-Michel Malouf, conductor. Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts,

NOV 5, 7PM: The Toronto Artillery Foundation presents “Lest We Forget.” Toronto Artillery Foundation Band; John McDermott, tenor. Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.

NOV 24, 7:30PM: Silverthorn Symphonic Winds open their season with “Out of This World.” Their musical journey will include Astronaut’s Playlist, Superman and Moonscape. This takes place at Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave, Toronto.

NOV 25, 3:30PM: The Wychwood Clarinet Choir will celebrate their tenth season with “Clarinet Bells Ring.” Highlights will include Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock featuring Michele Jacot as clarinet soloist, Appalachian Folk Carol with guest soprano Christina Haldane and Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite.

NOV 30, 7:30PM: The Newmarket Citizens’ Band will combine with the York Harmony Chorus for the finale of their “Comfort and Joy” concert.” The theme for the evening will be “Christmas on Broadway.” Old Town Hall, Newmarket.

DEC 7, 8PM: The Etobicoke Community Concert Band presents “A Classic Christmas.” Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium.

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

We are fortunate in Southern Ontario to have access to a large number of live-music venues. In the listings below, you will find over 30 clubs and restaurants that regularly present jazz and creative music, including Grossman’s Tavern, which celebrated its 70th birthday in September; The Rex, which has been in operation for over 40 years; and Burdock, which, having opened in April of 2015, is a mere three-years old. Mixed in among many exciting one-off events in these listings are a number of recurring gigs, most commonly once a week or once a month. These residencies form a vital part of the Toronto gig ecosystem, playing an important role for musicians, venues, and audience members alike.

To begin, a working definition: to qualify as a recurring gig for the purposes of this article, a gig must happen at regular intervals and feature the same artist(s); a one-off, two-or three-night run at a club does not qualify. A residency is also functionally different than a series, in which a presenter (not necessarily the venue itself) books artists who may be representative of a certain genre or theme. A residency, as the name implies, is about the creation of a kind of home base for musicians, a (hopefully) comfortable space in which they build a show and grow over time. As guitarist and York University instructor Robb Cappelletto puts it, a residency provides an opportunity “to try out new music, new players, new gear, [and] new approaches in a real-world setting.” Cappelletto performs regularly at Poetry Jazz Café with his trio, as well as at 416 Snack Bar with the group re.verse (with bassist Damian Matthew and drummer Chino De Villa).

There are a number of different residencies that take place in Toronto on a regular basis. In addition to a full calendar of (typically) standalone shows that take place in the late slots throughout the week,

The Rex has a number of different residencies every month. If you visit on a Friday at 4pm, you’ll hear the Hogtown Syncopators; on Saturday at noon, the Sinners Choir; on Sunday at noon, the Excelsior Dixieland Jazz Band; on Mondays at 6:30, U of T Jazz Ensembles (at least throughout the school year); and, on the last Monday of every month, the John MacLeod Rex Hotel Orchestra, which features many of Toronto’s more established musicians. The Rex also features month-long weekly residencies in early evening slots; often dubbed “Rexidencies” on social media promotional material, these short-term weeklies are unique in the Toronto club scene. In November, watch out for the Brodie West Quintet on Tuesdays, JV’s Boogaloo Squad on Wednesdays, Kevin Quain on Thursdays, and the James Brown Trio on Fridays.

Dan McKinnon. Photo by Jen Squires.Beyond The Rex, many other local venues support residencies. At The Tranzac, the JUNO-nominated band Peripheral Vision (Don Scott, guitar, Michael Herring, bass, Trevor Hogg, saxophone, Nick Fraser, drums) hosts the first Tuesday of every month at 10pm. As Peripheral Vision typically books a band to play an opening set, this residency is also something of a series, as there is a curatorial component beyond the musical work that the band undertakes. Bassist Michael Herring plays regularly on Wednesdays with a guitar trio at the tequila bar Reposado, which also features its house band – the Reposadists – on Thursdays and Fridays. At Poetry Jazz Café, in Kensington Market, artists such as the guitarist Luan Phung, vocalist Joanna Majoko, vocalist/pianist Chelsey Bennett, guitarist Robb Cappelletto and singer/guitarist Dan McKinnon play monthly gigs. The structure provided by regular performances can give musicians the opportunity to focus on growth and development in a manner that isn’t always accessible in one-off gigs. Having a residency at Poetry, says McKinnon, “was pivotal to my development as a musician, bandleader and artist. Since that first gig over three years ago, my group won the 2017 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search, the Amy Louie Grossman’s Music Scholarship, and recently put out a well-received album this spring. None of this would have been possible if not for the residency I had at Poetry.”

The issues: There are many positive aspects to Toronto’s many fine residencies, but they are not without their issues. The first, and most obvious, is financial: for most of the aforementioned gigs, there is no financial guarantee. Musicians are typically compensated by passing the hat, through a percentage of bar sales, and occasionally through a percentage of a cover charge. This is not to say that it isn’t possible to make a fair fee playing in a residency – it can sometimes be the case, on a good night, that a group earns more than they may have if they were playing for an average preset guarantee – but it is certainly not always the case. There can also be other, unforeseen musical consequences of playing the same music with the same people in the same venue over an extended period of time. Nick Teehan, who held residencies at The Cameron House and The Rex for a number of years, makes the point that while playing consistently “really cemented the sound of [his] band,” providing “a regular audience who knew what to expect,” it also, unexpectedly, made the recording process harder. It “took a lot of effort to re-configure the songs” for the studio, Teehan says, as “some of the energy we felt was propelling our shows didn’t sound so great in a studio setting.”

Even with these issues, however, residencies are an important part of any healthy live-music scene, and, for most of the musicians who spoke to me about this column, participating in a residency is an overwhelmingly valuable, positive experience that fosters the growth both of individual musicianship and of the community at large. So, this month: check out a residency! As an audience member, it may become your regular gig, too. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

NOV 1, 9:30PM: Saxophonist Jeff LaRochelle celebrates the release of his new album Lenses Extend at Burdock; with opening set from singer/guitarist Sabine Ndalamba.

NOV 6, 10PM: JUNO-nominated modern jazz quartet Peripheral Vision plays at The Tranzac in the November installment of their monthly residency.

NOV 7 AND 8, 9:30PM: Leading alto saxophonist Dave Binney returns to The Rex for two evenings with his new quartet.

NOV 30, 9PM: Guitarist Robb Cappelletto brings his electric trio to Poetry Jazz Café as part of his monthly residency.

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

Gustavo Gimeno. credit Marco BorggreveThe Toronto Symphony Orchestra announced mid-September that Gustavo Gimeno will be its next music director, having signed a five-year contract beginning with the 2020/21 season.

Some of you may have heard the 42-year-old Valencia-born native of Spain make his début with the TSO last February, in a program that included the Dvořák Cello Concerto (with Johannes Moser), Ligeti’s Concert Românesc and Beethoven’s Symphony No.4. Reports from attendees were that his connection with the orchestra was palpable. Gimeno began his international conducting career while principal percussionist at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. As assistant to Mariss Jansons and protégé of the legendary Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado, he developed a musical foundation that led him to head the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and propelled his career onto the world stage.

“Maestro Gimeno has an ability to connect with people, onstage and off,” said TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow. “He has a musical charisma and technical ability that is remarkable – he pulls you into the musical moment. Gustavo is absolutely the right match for the TSO, and we are looking forward to a truly unique partnership that will blend his musicianship with the amazing flexibility of our orchestra. Together, we will create something very special for music lovers in Toronto.”

Gimeno returns to conduct the TSO in the last pair of concerts of the current season, June 29 and 30, 2019. Mark your calendar.

And Meanwhile… Thirty-year-old Uzbekistan-born conductor Aziz Shokhakimov’s breakthrough was winning second prize in the 2010 Mahler International Conducting Competition. He makes his TSO debut October 13 and 14 in a program anchored by two pillars of the repertoire, Dvořák’s Symphony No.9 “From the New World” and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. George Li, winner of the Silver Medal at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, is the piano soloist. I was fortunate to hear Latvian-born violinist Baibe Skride’s electrifying performance of Brahms’ Violin Concerto with the TSO in February 2016 and eagerly anticipated her return. On October 18 and 20, she will play Britten’s Violin Concerto, a masterful work from the composer’s mid-20s that has been coming into its own in recent years. Thomas Søndergård conducts a program that also features Debussy’s iconic La mer. Russian-born, UK-based 33-year-old violinist Alina Ibragimova continues the TSO’s lineup of classical greatness on October 24, 25, 27 and 28 with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, a work that never fails to astound. Conductor Andrey Boreyko also leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Suite from The Sleeping Beauty.

Nocturnes in the City

Eighteen years ago, Nocturnes in the City started as a five-concert series at Prague Restaurant at Masaryktown in Scarborough. It was a great success from the beginning and five years later, the classical concerts were moved to downtown Toronto. Many Czech and Slovak artists have performed in last 17 years to mainly Czech-Canadian audiences: singers Eva Urbanová, Zdeněk Plech, Gustáv Beláček, Eva Blahová; pianists Antonín Kubálek, Karolina Kubálek, Jan Novotný, Boris Krajny and Martin Karlíček; violinists Ivan Ženatý and Bohuslav Matoušek; and famous quartets -- the Panocha, Zemlinsky, Pražák and Kocian.

This season, Nocturnes in the City marks the centenary of the birth of Czechoslovakia in 1918 with a special concert on October 28 when the prize-winning Zemlinsky Quartet with pianist Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová present two Dvořák string quartets and the ever-popular Piano Quintet No.2, Op.81. One week earlier on October 21, the same pianist will give a solo recital of works by three Czech composing giants – Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček.

The Zemlinsky Quartet also take advantage of their presence in Ontario to perform all 14 of Dvořák’s string quartets, as well as his Cypresses and Op.81 Piano Quintet (with Vernerová-Pěchočová), under the auspices of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, October 18, 20, 22, 24, 25 and 27. Not to be missed. 

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

OCT 10, 12PM: The Rosebud String Quartet, led by COC principal violist Keith Hamm and COC associate concertmaster/National Ballet concertmaster Aaron Schwebel, gives a free noon-hour concert of music by Haydn and Beethoven at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

OCT 10, 8PM: The Jeffrey Concerts (London) presents Canadian violinist supreme, James Ehnes, and his usual collaborative pianist, Andrew Armstrong in works by Beethoven, Brahms and Corigliano. The same program can be heard OCT 11 at 7:30PM in Kingston at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and OCT 12 at 7:30PM in Niagara-on-the Lake presented by Bravo Niagara!

OCT 11, 12PM: Pianists Rosemarie Duval-Laplante and Jean-Michel Dube honour the artistic legacy of “the Quebecois Mozart,” Andre Mathieu, on the 50th anniversary of his death by performing a selection of works for two and four hands composed by Mathieu, his father Rodolphe and by some of the composers that inspired them in a free noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

OCT 18, 8PM: The St. Lawrence Quartet bring their infectious energy and consummate musicianship to the Jane Mallett Theatre in a wide-ranging program of Haydn, Golijov, Barber (Dover Beach with baritone Tyler Duncan) and Beethoven (Op.135). Music Toronto says it’s the only performance of this program anywhere!

OCT 28, 3:15PM: Mooredale Concerts present the legendary Dorian Wind Quintet in a program of works by Bach, Perle and Dvořák.

Danish Quartet. Photo by Caroline BittencourtNOV 3, 7:30PM: The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts presents the acclaimed Danish String Quartet playing Haydn, Abrahamsen and Beethoven (the indelible Op.59 No.1). The same program can be heard NOV 4 at 3PM, presented by the RCM in Koerner Hall.

Stephen HoughNOV 6, 7:30PM: A recital by Stephen Hough is always worthwhile. For this appearance at the Isabel Centre for the Performing Arts, the British polymath brings his intelligence and flawless technique to a program of Debussy, Liszt (The Mephisto Waltz) and Chopin’s Sonata No.2.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The most important operatic event of the current season happens right at its beginning. It is the Canadian Opera Company’s presentation of the world premiere of Hadrian composed by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright to a libretto by multi-award-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor. Hadrian is important as the first COC commission for the main stage since The Golden Ass in 1999 composed by Randolph Peters to a libretto by Robertson Davies.

Hadrian librettist Daniel MacIvor. Credit Jim RyceHadrian stars renowned baritone Thomas Hampson making his COC debut in the title role, equally renowned soprano Karita Mattila as Plotina also making her COC debut and tenor Isaiah Bell as Hadrian’s lover Antinous, last seen in Toronto earlier this year as Eurimaco in Opera Atelier’s production of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Hadrian opens October 13 and runs to October 27; it is directed by Peter Hinton and conducted by Johannes Debus. 

The plot involves the Roman Emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138 AD), whom historian Edward Gibbon counted among the “five good emperors” of Rome, despite Hadrian’s habit of having his opponents executed and despite his bloody suppression of the Third Jewish Revolt (132-136). Hadrian was married for political reasons to his predecessor Trajan’s grand-niece Sabina, likely at Trajan’s wife Plotina’s behest, and spent more than half of his reign travelling about the empire. 

In Bithynia he met the youth Antinous, who became the love of his life. Antinous accompanied Hadrian on the rest of his travels for the next six years until Antinous’ mysterious death by drowning in the Nile in 130 at the age of about 20. Hadrian’s grief was so great he spent the rest of his life memorializing Antinous. He had the city Antinopolis built near where the youth died; he deified him, inaugurated games to honour him and established a religious cult to worship him which spread and continued for centuries after Hadrian’s death. The cult was condemned by some pagans of Hadrian’s time and by the early Christian Fathers. Historians, especially in the 19th century, suppressed mention of Hadrian and Antinous’ amorous relationship and it was not brought fully to the general public’s attention until the publication of French author Marguerite Yourcenar’s celebrated novel Mémoires d’Hadrien in 1951.

(from left) Assistant conductor Derek Bate, composer Rufus Wainwright, and COC Music Director Johannes Debus at the first read-through of Hadrian’s score, May 2018. Courtesy COCIn September just as rehearsals for Hadrian were starting, I spoke to Daniel MacIvor about the genesis and development of writing the opera. (Wainwright, in fact, had begun working on an opera about Hadrian after reading Yourcenar’s novel long before he wrote his first produced opera, Prima Donna, that played in Toronto as part of the Luminato Festival in 2010.) 

When asked how he became involved with Hadrian, MacIvor replied, “They [at the COC] were looking for someone to come on board with this; Atom Egoyan is a friend of mine and he recommended me to Alexander [Neef] who got in touch with me. Initially, I said no because I didn’t know anything about Hadrian or Antinous, and I knew very little about opera. But Alexander suggested that I look at the material about Hadrian and Antinous and as soon as I started to read about them I was floored that I had never heard of them because it seemed so incredibly important. How could I, as a gay man, never have known about it? So I became extremely interested in it. The story deals with grief which is an important theme of mine, so then I took a meeting with Rufus and we determined that we could work together.”

Though Wainwright was inspired by Yourcenar’s novel, MacIvor felt the story needed a different perspective: “We did talk about Yourcenar’s book, but I rejected reading it because I prefer not to read fiction when I’m writing fiction. Besides that, from what I had read about the novel and from what Rufus said, it seemed that the novel positioned Antinous as more an object of love, whereas I was very interested at looking at what it was that kept the couple together for six years, a relationship ended only by Antinous’ untimely death. I felt the story needed to be about a relationship that was physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional – that they were equals in the relationship and that that equality was frowned upon by people of the time.”

(MacIvor is correct. Though sexual relationships between older men and younger men were accepted in Ancient Rome, it was expected that the older man would be dominant in all aspects of the relationship.)

As it turned out, the late playwright Linda Griffith made an important contribution: “So when I was debating doing the job I went to visit Linda Griffiths and when she learned of the topic she gave me her copy of Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome (2009) by historian Anthony Everitt that she had just finished reading and that became my source book. One of the things Everitt talks about are the various theories of Antinous’ demise. Did he sacrifice himself in an effort to improve Hadrian’s health, was it an accident or was he murdered? Everitt offered a potential for drama there so I grabbed it. Treachery and duplicitousness are richly operatic. And then there’s also the question of Judea and Hadrian’s relationship to Jewry which is also historically known and I also created drama around that.”

(from left) Composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor at the first read-through of Hadrian’s score, May 2018. Courtesy COCMacIvor knew from the start what style of opera Wainwright intended and that affected how he approached the libretto: “I knew from the beginning that we were writing opera in the grand tradition – that I would be writing recits and arias and duets and I just went for it. I wanted the language to be formal, not casual as in [Benjamin Britten’s] Peter Grimes or in [John Adams’s] The Death of Klinghoffer

“I think that one of the things that drew Alexander to me in the first place was that if you look at my plays there’s a lot of white space on the page, so I think that might have been an early indication that I might be able to write a scene by using a minimum of words. And I love the challenge of that. It takes longer to sing a line than speak it and then there is the option that those words can be repeated over and over again.”  

MacIvor discussed the negotiations involved in collaboration: “I think structurally we landed well on the first draft, and then shifted quite a lot after that about where an aria lands or where a trio appears. Rufus and I met many times and it was a question of throwing axes and hammers with both of us feeling very passionate about the story. Opera is probably Rufus’ first musical love so he is deeply invested in it. He would speak in references to other operas for what he wanted and I would reject going there because I didn’t want to be influenced by other works. So we ended up bringing in a dramaturge, Cori Ellison, who works at Juilliard, to help bridge the very different ways we work in and I think now we are both very pleased with where we’ve landed.

“If Rufus said ‘we really need to have an aria here in this scene,’ then I would move things around and adjust what I needed to adjust. And there are adjustments in tone where a character needs to show their weakness here or their strength there, and he’d ask me to do that. There was lots of music he had written before I came on – like how he wanted to begin Act 3 which is just after the intermission and I made space for that. There is also an aria that he adapted from a pop song of his that he elevated and wanted included, so the libretto I presented four years ago has changed considerably. Yet, the four-act structure, where the main arias occur and what the story basically is, have not really changed radically.”

When asked how much of the opera he considers his, MacIvor replied: “The idea that Hadrian has the chance to relive two nights again with Antinous was something that I brought to the story. But Rufus agreed with it and the fact that he did agree also makes it his don’t you think? If you look at my other work you see that I’m obsessed with certain kinds of structures and themes and looking at the libretto you will see it’s all there, like You Are Here (2001), A Beautiful View (2006), Here Lies Henry (1995). There so much of the work that I’ve done about a person being forced to perform their life again, I think an audience who knows my work will see that in the opera.”

MacIvor has been strongly inspired by how important the story is: “Peter Hinton talks about this story really beautifully in saying that this is one of a trio of great love affairs upon which empires rose and fell. He talks about Dido and Aeneas, Antony and Cleopatra and Hadrian and Antinous. It’s all about Rome but it seems to feel weirdly relevant somehow. I think that the story of Hadrian and Antinous is an important one and I think that in giving it attention that something is served. There was a kind of homophobia surrounding it in that prevented people being able to address their story. And that fuels my passion to get this story out.” 

ON OPERA QUICK PICKS

SEP 30 TO NOV 3, VARIOUS TIMES: Eugene Onegin, Four Seasons Centre. This the COC’s first production of Tchaikovsky’s great opera since 2008.  This time it will be staged in the acclaimed production Robert Carsen created for the Metropolitan Opera.  Gordon Bintner sings Onegin, Joyce El-Khoury is Tatyana, Joseph Kaiser is Lensky and Johannes Debus conducts.

OCT 13 TO 27, VARIOUS TIMES: Hadrian, Four Seasons Centre. This the COC’s first commission for the main stage since The Golden Ass in 1999. Composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor bring to the stage one of history’s great gay love stories – that of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the youth Antinous. The production stars the renowned Thomas Hampson as Hadrian and Karita Mattila, both making their COC debuts, with Isaiah Bell as Antinous. Peter Hinton directed and Johannes Debus conducts.

OCT 25 TO NOV 3, VARIOUS TIMES: Actéon & Pygmalion, Elgin Theatre. This is the first time Opera Atelier has presented Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Actéon (1683) and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pygmalion (1748) as a double bill – two operas based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Colin Ainsworth stars as both title characters with Mireille Asselin and Allyson McHardy.  The production travels later to Chicago and Versailles.

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

Often described by performers and critics as “deliriously sensuous,” Messiaen’s Harawi is the veritable black pearl of song cycles. Is it really thematically a variation on Tristan und Isolde? How much Peruvian and Andean folklore is there in it, really? Are Messiaen’s invented words employed purely for sonorous effect? How many narrators are there in the text, how many persons, if any? Was Messiaen looking closely at the suffering of his spouse who was beginning to struggle with mental health problems at the time of its composition? Is this a rare Messiaenic creation that’s completely devoid of Catholicism? Or should we, as pianist Vanessa Wagner suggests, abandon any attempt at intellectual analysis of Harawi and meet its raw emotions with raw emotions of our own?

These are the questions which mezzo Simone McIntosh and pianist Rachel Kerr are already trying to grapple with in rehearsal for their own Harawi, to be presented on October 25 at the Canadian Opera Company’s noon-hour concert series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. While the piece will not be staged or even semi-staged, Harawi is not exactly amenable to a typical self-contained song recital either.

(from left) Simone McIntosh and Rachael Kerr. credit Ian G McIntosh Photography “When I started thinking how I want to interpret this piece,” says McIntosh when we meet in a café one bright late-summer evening, “I realized there’s no way for me to do it without there being some sort of breaking of boundaries when it comes to art song. When you’re studying art song as a singer, it’s important to understand that the beauty is to be found within the music and to portray something in art song means to portray it in a subtle, non-bodily way. I feel though that this piece lends itself to being explored in a bodily way.”

Her first encounter with Harawi was Against the Grain Theatre’s 2015 mashup of the Messiaen song cycle with Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin, which Joel Ivany staged in a Parkdale gallery and Christopher Mokrzewski conducted from the piano. Krisztina Szabó gave voice to the Harawi woman, who is in a troubled relationship with baritone Stephen Hegedus’s Müllerin narrator. This marriage of two very different pieces worked extremely well. And made McIntosh determined to sing it ASAP: “I saw the AtG’s Harawi, and Krisztina Szabó doing it so brilliantly, and said to myself: I want to do this so bad. Since that night, it’s been on my wish list. When I got into the COC Ensemble, Liz Upchurch asked me what I’d like to sing while I’m here and I immediately said Harawi.”

It’s hard to describe Harawi to somebody who’s never heard it. McIntosh gives it a try: “I’d describe it as an eclectic piece that explores the musicality of both folk and contemporary music, and joins the tonality with the atonality. It’s a piece with an amazing range of emotion and musical expression.” Is she going to try to make sense of the words? “The poetry of it is so bizarre and surrealist and abstract. At first I thought, Hmm, what am I going to do with this? But I found some really wonderful sources that preserve Messiaen’s thoughts when he was writing the piece so I’ll be definitely incorporating what he had in mind while composing … I’ll be making sure that there’s a through storyline that makes sense to me, but also respects what he wanted.”

Does Messiaen’s ailing wife comes into the equation? “That’s an interesting aspect, and one of the ideas that I’m toying with as I’m rehearsing the piece. But the main aspect is – it’s a story of two lovers that are separated by death and at the end united in death.” It’s a decidedly non-Christian view of death, however. “Messiaen presents death as this chaotic nebula that is full of stars … It’s kind of atypical for him.”

Do we ever know who is narrating, and if it’s one specific person? “In one of the songs, there is the young woman narrator, and then the narration clearly switches to the young man. None of the other songs have that. Whenever the words are addressing Piroutcha, you could argue that I’m performing the young man. All in all, I think I’m playing two, if not three characters – as there’s an outside narrator. Maybe even four: where Messiaen used syllabic mutterings, a witch may speaking. Or a character with witchy features that’s based on Goya paintings.”

McIntosh has been passionate about 20th century and contemporary music since early university. She went to school alongside a group of composers and has been able to sing a lot of new works from the get-go. If there’s a red thread running through her undergraduate years at UBC, the years of working on a master’s at McGill, the Merola program in San Francisco and now the COC Ensemble Studio, it would probably be new music. “My goal is to be a voice for contemporary music, specifically Canadian composers. It’s really important to encourage young Canadian composers to write for the voice – and to advocate for those pieces. A lot of the time some amazing new music is not recognized because of the lack of performing opportunities. I hope to be changing that.” If she were to be an ambassador for any of the composers from the past? “Definitely Richard Strauss. Berg. I also love singing Schoenberg. Then of course Mozart: I love him and will be doing a lot of Mozart in the near future.” Starting with understudying Dorabella in the COC revival of Atom Egoyan’s production of Cosi fan tutte next year.

In another unusual project that came her way, McIntosh actually had the opportunity to combine Mozart and new music. Crush, a modern reconstruction of Don Giovanni composed by James Rolfe to a libretto by Anna Chatterton, turns the title character over to a mezzo – McIntosh, that is – in a production that was workshopped and performed at the Banff Centre. Or rather, off-off-Banff Centre, in a night club which doubled as a sex club for the occasion. Donna Giovanna was a “sex addicted sociopath,” as McIntosh puts it, chased by lovers of both sexes. “There were dildos on the walls, condoms on the floor…” she laughs. “It was pretty racy.” As in Da Ponte’s libretto, the protagonist takes advantage of people, but dies by the hand of the character named Lola, who is a modern approximation of Donna Elvira.

Upon finishing the Merola summer training program in San Francisco last month, McIntosh returned to her busy and sometimes unpredictable days as a COC Ensemble Studio member. Ensemble Studio is really good at taking the voices that they want, rather than the voices that they, for practical purposes need, she says. “A lot of similar programs have some kind of equal distribution, and take two sopranos, two mezzos, two tenors etc.” The COC Ensemble actually lets itself fall in love with a young voice, and works around that. “They choose the voices that they want, and then program.” And sometimes, fortunately, those young voices will insist on tackling the Mount Everests of art song like Messiaen’s Harawi

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

OCT 9, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company, Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre | “The Best of Rossini: Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio.” Arias and duos, comedic and dramatic. The dramatic Rossini is heard nowhere near enough in Toronto, so even the slightest chance of a Tancredi aria is worth the wait in that line around the block.

Lauren EberweinOCT 18, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company, Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre | “Mélodies et chansons.” Graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Lauren Eberwein joined the COC’s Ensemble Studio as a mezzo, but is now a soprano. How has the voice changed since she won the second prize in the COC Ensemble Competition in 2015 with the trouserissimo “Parto, parto” from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito? A chance to find out, and meet the soprano Anna-Sophie Neher as well. The two will perform a selection of French art songs.

OCT 21, 3PM: Off Centre Music Salon: Trinity-St. Paul ‘s Centre. “The Mystery of History: 1889 in Paris and Vienna.”An intriguing chamber program indeed, including Brahms and Johann Strauss’ very different approaches to Hungarian and Roma/Gypsy cultures, and Massenet and Chausson amidst quite a bit of Debussy. Readings throughout from Arthur Schnitzler by actor William Webster; historical commentary by Stephen Cera. Shannon Mercer, soprano; Krisztina Szabó, mezzo; Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin, piano; Mark Skazinetsky, violin.

OCT 27, 7:30PM & OCT 28, 3PM: Pax Christi Chorale: Grace Church on the Hill. “Slavic Devotion. “Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil and Vocalise with Natalya Gennadi, soprano. David Bowser conducts.

NOV 5, 7:30PM: “International Resource Centre for Performing Artists presents Singing Stars: The Next Generation.” Zoomer Hall. A program of opera and oratorio arias. Singers to be announced; Rachel Andrist at the piano.

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

In this month’s column we have two arts organizations taking on Slavic traditions and history. Pax Christi Chorale presents “Slavic Devotion” and Vesnivka Choir leads a commemorative concert for the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor.

Members of Pax Christi ChoralePax Christi Chorale: Slavic Devotion

Inseparable from Slavic history is the relationship of Orthodox Christianity in the region. The traditions of Slavic Orthodoxy are distinct from those of Western Europe, with the sphere of influence having been Constantinople rather than Rome. In the deep ritual and spirituality of the Orthodoxy, we find many of the great Eastern European composers. Two are featured by artistic director David Bowser: Stravinsky’s A Symphony of Psalms; and Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise and All Night Vigil.

“Slavic Devotion’ refers to the spirited expression of sacred and secular Slavic music,” replies Bowser in response to a few of my questions. “We are presenting Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian music to demonstrate a rich variety and beauty in contrasting styles.”

This is not a religious concert in the typical spiritual sense. Bowser has assembled these works to display the rich musical history of Slavic music and the languages, which he describes as “beautifully fluid and melodic.”

“The Symphony of Psalms is the perfect musical pairing for Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil,” says Bowser. “They are both conventional works in some ways, but the bright spark of personality and unique genius shines through. Like Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky before him, Stravinsky rejected much of the Orthodox Church’s teachings and generally did not attend church in his adult life. But these composers found a unique musical voice to express their personal spiritual culture and artistic link to tradition.”

Many choral composers, while not overtly religious, have worked within the space of the spiritual. Of the grand choral works that one can name offhand, a good bunch of them are masses or requiems. “Just as there is no political statement in this program, there is no religious one either,” shares Bowser. “It’s about the impact of beautiful art and vocal vibration on the audience. We are performing sacred and secular works not to recreate their social function but to reveal their beauty in a new light.”

With a strong Ukrainian tradition in Toronto, there are many descendants and members of the diaspora who continue to shape and influence music. Pax Christi Chorale is joined by Natalya Gennadi, a popular presence in the Toronto opera scene. Gennadi and Bowser have collaborated before. He shares: “I have known Natalya for many years ever since she was a selected soloist in the Toronto Mozart Vocal Competition, now called the Toronto Mozart Master Class Series. She is a stunning singer with incredible technique and wonderfully expressive investment in the text.”

Gennadi made a name for herself as the lead in the Tapestry Opera production of the new opera Oksana G. in May 2017. A Russian language and literature specialist, Gennadi’s thorough comfort in the Russian and Ukrainian languages and tradition will be well-suited to this concert. For Bowser, this is a chance to work together again” “We have been looking for a project and her expertise in Russian and Ukrainian repertoire and language gave us an opportunity to highlight the great works from this part of the world,” he says.

Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise contains no actual words. The ethereal sounds on beautiful open vowels allow Gennadi to evoke, inspire and create a narrative of her own making through the music. Unlike instrumental music, which exists without consonants and vowels, the physical function of singing is usually a carefully articulated rhythmic roadmap of deftly shaped words. Allowing yourself the indulgence of experiencing gorgeous vocal lines free of the constraints of words has a universality of the effect that may surprise even the most experienced choral listener. Paired with the stunning All-Night Vigil, listeners will find themselves transfixed. “These are extraordinary works for the human voice,” says Bowser. “The synchronized vibration of 100 voices makes this experience all the more satisfying.

October 17 at 7:30pm and October 28 at 3pm. Pax Christi Chorale performs Slavic Devotion. With guest soprano Natalya Gennadi. Grace Church on-the-Hill.

Vesnivka ChoirVesnivka Commemorates the Holodomor

Under the iron fist of Stalin’s Soviet Russia, millions of Ukrainians died from government-sponsored famine, neglect and isolation during peacetime. Restricting people from escaping famine-stricken communities, imposing total government control of food production, confiscating food and restricting community access to it, the Soviet government created the conditions for famine and millions died.

Writing together, artistic director Halyna Kondracki and executive member Lesia Komorowsky responded to a few of my inquiries about the commemorative concert. Chorister Valentina Kuryliw also provided comments. Their knowledge and gracious sharing of history show a connection and thoughtfulness bridging the important acts of memory, religion and music.

In 2003 and 2008, the choir commemorated the 70th and 75th Holodomor anniversaries, respectively. As Kondracki and Komorowsky share: “It is important to keep the memory of this event alive so that future generations learn about it and understand what can happen under the rule of tyranny and media censorship.”

(Compare the frightening reality of our current world in the genocide of Yazidis, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas, and the targeting of women and children by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Many of the horrors we wish would stay in the past continue forward into our present and future.)

Of the Holodomor, Kuryliw notes that for Ukrainians who survived, “No one was allowed to mourn for these people. It was forbidden to mention the famine in Soviet Ukraine for generations. The memory of it was erased from history under the Communists.” As Kuryliw notes, Ukrainians are particularly sensitive to the annexation of Crimea, properly Ukrainian territory, by Russia. For those still in the Ukraine and for the diaspora, remembering events like the Holodomor is “a testimony of the resilience to survive despite starvation, deportations and executions – all attempts to destroy [us].”

Music has been a way to keep many of those traditions alive. “Music is an integral part of Ukrainian culture and, in particular, a strong choral tradition,” say Kondracki and Komorosky. “From the very beginning when Ukrainian pioneers came to Canada, they organized in order to keep their cultural traditions alive in the diaspora. In almost every Ukrainian-Canadian community throughout Canada you will find choirs, bands, orchestras and dance groups. The Ukrainian community in and around the GTA has long been a strong bastion of Ukrainian culture with its many community and church choirs.”

It is no accident that Vesnivka is celebrating its 53rd year of music making.

For this commemoration, Kondracki has programmed an entirely Ukrainian concert. Many Ukrainian composers have written works to commemorate the Holodomor. Evhen Stankovych’s Requiem will be performed as well as Hanna Havryletz’s My God, why have You abandoned me? The late Ukrainian-Canadian composer Zenoby Lawryshyn’s Tryptych: In Memoriam to the Victims of Holodomor will also be performed. Lawryshyn was a dear friend of the choir and created many works for Vesnivka over the years. And treasured local Ukrainian-Canadian composer Larysa Kuzmenko’s Voice of Hope will be performed with soprano solo by Antonina Ermolenko accompanied by the Gryphon Trio.

Recognizing the Slavic Orthodoxy is inseparable from the Ukrainian-Canadian experience. Sacred music composer Roman Hurko is of Ukrainian Canadian descent. Educated at the University of Toronto and Yale University, his speciality has been composing for the Byzantine Rite, still the major form used by Slavic Orthodoxy. The historical rootedness of his composing was brought forth in his major work Requiem/Panachyda, written to commemorate another Ukrainian historical moment – the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The choirs will sing Eternal Memory, an excerpt from the Requiem.

This commemorative concert fits into the musical tradition of the community who have long marked important moments with music. “In addition to previous concerts commemorating Holodomor,” Kondracki and Komorosky write, “Vesnivka Choir has spearheaded or taken part in four concerts commemorating the Chernobyl disaster. Following the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986, many Ukrainian musicians in Canada and abroad wrote music, including requiems, commemorating this event. Other commemorative concerts have included remembering the Ukrainian Army of WWI, the arrival of Ukrainian pioneers in Canada, the 100th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence in 1918, and several concerts in tribute to various Ukrainian composers and literary figures.”

The church continues to be an important part of the Ukrainian-Canadian tradition and Vesnivka continues that work. And never far form their work is the Orthodox Rite. At their religious home of St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, Vesnivka bring forth all the history and memory of what it means to be Ukrainian and Canadian.

On October 21, 2018, Vesnivka will join other dignitaries and guests at the unveiling of the Toronto memorial to the victims of the Holodomor. Led by the Toronto Ukrainian Association, the new memorial will stand just north of the Princess Gates to Exhibition Place.

October 28, 5pm. Vesnivka and the Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir present “Commemorating Holodomor.” With special guests the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Gryphon Trio and soprano Antonina Ermolenko. Runnymede United Church, Toronto. 

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

OCT 10, 7:30PM: Chorus Niagara presents Brahms’ great work: Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem). With the Avanti Orchestra and soloists. Chorus Niagara, under Bob Cooper, is a fantastic ensemble bringing fine choral music to the Niagara region. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St Catharines.

OCT 27, 7:30PM: The Orpheus Choir of Toronto performs the music to the 1924 silent film Peter Pan. This is a new film undertaking for the choir and will prove to be an exciting addition to the oft-performed Phantom of the Opera. Eglinton St. Georges United Church.

NOV 4, 4PM: The Amadeus Choir presents “The Great War: A Commemoration.” Featuring Gabriel Faure’s Requiem and joined by guests, the Eglinton St. George’s Choir and soloists. This is an earlier option for those looking to catch commemorations for Remembrance Day. Eglinton St .George’s United Church.

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

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