October is a fine month to go exploring for what’s happening on the global music scene. We listen to hybrid Persian-Western classical music expressing profound Sufi insights, then travel all the way down the QEW to listen to the joyful songs of emerging Indian singer Anandi Bhattacharya. We end up at a College Street “Bar” relaxing with three local groups helping to define today’s Toronto world music brand. Along the way we hear how music is passed on in families abroad – as well as in one downtown Toronto hood. Read on.

(from left) Hafez Nazeri and Shahram NazeriUntold – A New Chapter: Shahram Nazeri and Hafez Nazeri

Veteran Persian classical vocalist Shahram Nazeri and his son, the multi-instrumentalist and composer Hafez Nazeri, are celebrated in their native Iran and increasingly on the international scene. There are also strong Toronto connections to this story. Shahram Nazeri (b.1950), the widely celebrated Kurdish-Iranian tenor, was the first vocalist to set the mystical Sufi poetry of the 13th-century Persian Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (known worldwide as Rumi), to Persian music in the 1980s. Dubbed the “Persian Nightingale” by The New York Times, he has a career discography of over 40 albums that have sold over 70 million units. In 2007 he was honoured with the Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres medal from the government of France for his achievements in Iranian traditional music; the same year he also received the Lifetime Cultural Heritage Award from the Asia Society of New York. Among connoisseurs of classical Persian music he’s considered a legend.

In his father’s footsteps, Hafez Nazeri (b.1979) has also sought to carry Rumi’s message to a global audience, mediated via his hybrid compositions. With formal training in both Persian and Western classical music, he aims to bridge musical divides between those cultures. Searching for common ground, he states: “I want to create a revolution with music, with love rather than hate, or chaos and bloodshed. At a time when all that we hear about Iran is filtered through headlines of intolerance, focusing around the development of nuclear weapons and facilities, it is important to also portray the 7,000-year-old cultural history, with its deeply poetic and artistic mystical tradition through music and art, to the world … The universal language of music can and should function as the common language of humanity, harmonized, refreshed and redefined.”

The Nazeris’ major work is the Rumi Symphony Project, composed by Hafez Nazeri as an evolving large-scale musical suite inspired by Rumi’s poetry, mixing elements of Persian, Hindustani and Western classical music including harmony, orchestration and choral singing, and enthusiastically received at its 2007 Los Angeles premiere.

Their 2014 album Rumi Symphony ProjectUntold, co-produced by Nazeri and Grammy-winning producer David Frost, reportedly took more than 5,000 studio hours to record. It featured the poetry of Rumi as transcribed by bestselling author Deepak Chopra, dozens of leading international musicians, and ecstatic vocals by Shahram Nazeri. Rumi Symphony ProjectUntold became the first album by Middle Eastern artists to top the Billboard Classical chart.

Toronto here they come!

In October 2018, the Toronto-based artist agency and concert producer, Link Music Lab, is taking the bold step of presenting the next chapter of the work, titled Untold – A New Chapter, in five Canadians cities. Rehearsals start in Toronto early in the month. The tour then launches on October 13 in Ottawa and October 14 in Montreal, moving to Calgary on October 27, and Vancouver on October 28.

October 21, right in the middle of the tour, Untold takes over the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, co-presented by Small World Music. “Small World was proud to present the extraordinary vocalist Shahram Nazeri 18 years ago,” says SWM’s Executive Director Alan Davis “It was one of the first classical Persian music concerts we presented. Now we’re continuing that tradition.”

In addition to the multi-instrumentalist Hafez Nazeri – primarily playing the hafez, his own adaptation of the Persian setar, a member of the lute family – the ensemble will include Hussein Zahawy, a versatile daf (Kurdish frame drum) specialist, plus Iranian percussionist Farhad Saffari. American cellist Felix Fan, violist Liuh-Wen Ting, and violinist Conrad Harris form the string section, while soprano Maria Sokolovsky and mezzo Anna Yelizarova provide a strong female vocal counterpart to Shahram Nazeri’s male voice.

Shahram’s vocal performance forms the core of Untold, featuring extensive use of the characteristic Persian tahrir vocal ornament consisting of very quick melismatic oscillations between notes, including tonal gradations finer than a quartertone when extended, forming what has been described as “sonic arabesques.” These tahrir passages, more than exhibitions of breathtaking virtuoso vocalism, express the underlying passion, yearning or even spiritual transcendence of the particular song’s lyrics.

On the Rumi Symphony Project CD’s liner notes Hafez Nazeri observes, “Traditional Middle Eastern music is essentially defined by the soloist and fluid improvisation. It serves the performer as a vehicle for a spiritual and deeply personal journey, even as the audience submits its will to the moment and journeys along where the soloist may lead. Classical Western music, on the other hand, has evolved as a formal composition characterized by orchestral forms built on a solid balance of harmony, rhythm and structure, and requiring a certain disciplined distance by the performers and the listeners to be properly interpreted and appreciated. One of my greatest challenges was to try and meld these two divergent frameworks into one integral structure.”

Hafez Nazeri’s ambitious goal in this project is nothing less than “to create a new sonic universe, a unified construct [… resulting] in a new school of music that would transcend the cultural divide rather than colour one musical system with another [… laying] the foundation of an inclusive and transformed musical language.”

Anandi BhattacharyaAnandi Bhattacharya: The Voice of Modern India

From the venerable mid-century Sony Centre located in Toronto’s core to the barely three-year-old FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown Catharines is about a two-hour drive – not of course including traffic jams. On November 2, audiences can also travel musically from Iran to Northern India to catch the concert billed as “Anandi Bhattacharya: The Voice of Modern India.”

As in the case of Hafez Nazeri, Anandi Bhattacharya grew up in a deeply musical family, surrounded by professional musicians. The daughter of renowned Hindustani classical slide guitar innovator Debashish Bhattacharya, and niece of tabla master Subhasis Bhattacharya, very early rigorous musical training was to be expected.

Now 22, Anandi is pursuing her own singing career. She has recently released her album Joy Abounds, an exploration of her musical roots and influences. Accompanied by her father, uncle and Catalan clarinetist/guitarist/vocalist Carola Ortiz, her sweet, light and lithe voice covers light classical to folk songs in arrangements interspersed with bravura instrumental solos.

Although steeped in Hindustani musical culture from a very early age, Anandi says she was never forced to be a musical purist by her father and guru. This liberal aesthetic view made possible her high regard for musical fusion and several genres are represented and mashed up in her current repertoire. For example, as well as the pervasive impact of renowned 20th-century Hindustani music masters, she also cites Thom Yorke, Ella Fitzgerald and Joni Mitchell as leading influences.

Her current set list includes folk songs of Rajasthan and Bengal, a song by poet Rabindranath Tagore, original compositions by her father Debashish Bhattacharya and Carola Ortiz, as well as accompaniments and solos by Subhasis Bhattacharya, among the world’s foremost tabla players. Anandi notes that her music “is light-hearted but carries the true essence of ragas and their moods, and evokes a sense of familiarity amidst uncharted waters.”

Another factor in her current direction was touring with her father and uncle on the global stage, a profoundly formative experience. Its impact is summed up by Anandi: “I do not believe that I was meant to imbibe my own culture alone. I think for me, finding my sound [… including] all that I love to hear, and all that churns within me, is my path forward.”

So Long SevenWorld Music! Fun!

October 28, Toronto world music quartet So Long Seven throws a family-friendly Sunday 4pm world music party at Toronto event venue, Revival Bar, as a sendoff for their November European tour. Called “World Music! Fun!” the afternoon concert features performances, headlined by So Long Seven, opened by two bands with overlapping membership: Near East Trio and Zephyr.

Recently nominated by the Canadian Folk Music Awards for Best Instrumental Band for its album Kala Kalo, So Long Seven is comprised of Neil Hendry (guitars), Tim Posgate (banjo, bass guitar), William Lamoureux (violin, other strings) and Ravi Naimpally (tabla, other percussion). Individually they’re among Canada’s leading instrumentalists on their respective instruments and in their chosen music genres. Jointly, they share a common mission. “We often play and compose for each other with great mutual respect, trying to challenge, push and inspire each other,” says banjoist Posgate.

Another group performing at the Revival Bar gig, Near East Trio – with Ernie Tollar (sax, flutes), Demetrios Petsalakis (oud), Ravi Naimpali (tabla) – was nominated by the Canadian Folk Music Awards for Best World Music Group.

“These groups are part of a rich local scene,” notes Posgate. “In fact, most of the musicians involved in the show can walk to the gig! So Long Seven rehearses just west of Revival, Zephyr two blocks east and Near East Trio a few blocks north. It’s our home turf!”

These musicians all live in one particular downtown Toronto hood, yet their music has taken them far. Collectively they have logged thousands of touring miles, hundreds of recording credits, and multiple Juno nominations. So Long Seven and Near East Trio both released well-received albums this year, while Zephyr – Brenna MacCrimmon sings songs from Turkey and the Balkans, accompanied by Demetrios Petsalakis (oud) and Jaash Singh (darbuka) – are among the city’s most in-demand world musicians.

Listening to all three groups, perhaps we can hear a kind of downtown Toronto music taking form, rooted in multiple world music traditions. For example So Long Seven’s instrumentation combines jazz violin, Hindustani tabla, bluegrass banjo and acoustic guitar.

“All three groups are dynamic and fun to watch – and at Revival there is space for dancing if the mood hits!” adds Posgate. “Plus we really want to make it fun for the whole family: there will be face painting for the kids and cool door prizes.” 

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

"We are the Halluci Nation. We are the tribe they cannot see. Our DNA is of earth and sky. Our DNA is of past and future. We are the Halluci Nation.” These words written and spoken by Indigenous poet, author, musician and activist John Trudell on the first track of A Tribe Called Red’s album We Are The Halluci Nation (2016) reverberate with strength and conviction. Based in Ottawa, A Tribe Called Red (ATCR) currently consists of musicians Bear Witness from the Cayuga First Nation and 2oolman from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Their powerful blend of music mixes traditional pow wow dance music with electronic dance music, otherwise known as EDM. Their collaboration with Trudell on the Halluci Nation album has sparked a movement that continues to grow and expand.

The poem describes “an imagined nation made up of people living within the philosophy of remembering what it is to be human, and what it is to treat other people like humans,” Bear told me during our recent phone interview. Not only do the words that articulate this vision appear as the opening track, but the entire album itself is a model of the idea of that nation. Each track is a collaboration with other musicians who by their very participation are expanding the scope of the Halluci Nation and were invited to participate “because the work they are doing already makes them part of Halluci Nation,” Bear said. Tanya Tagaq, Lido Pimienta, Chippewa Travellers, Jennifer Kreisberg and Northern Voice are some of the participating musicians. They are coming together to advocate for change, particularly around the issues of reconciliation and reparation, and to resist the mainstream, exploitative “ALie Nation.”

As Bear states: “The Halluci Nation are a group of people that break off from society to return to natural ways of life. It’s not just for Indigenous people, although it is a movement led by Indigenous people. It’s open to anyone as a mind frame and rallying point for those who understand there is something wrong with the current system.”

Bear Witness CREDIT Matt BarnesX Avant

With this year’s X Avant festival at the Music Gallery, the Halluci Nation will grow and expand even further. Artistic director David Dacks has invited Bear to be the guest curator for the 13th edition of this annual festival. Bear, in turn, has taken this opportunity to bring together a Canada-wide lineup of artists to create this next iteration of the Halluci Nation. Musically, the overall sound of this festival will be a distinct contrast to earlier festivals, as many of the invited musicians come from backgrounds in the plethora of approaches that have grown out of electronic dance music since the first devices for performing electronic music were developed at the end of the 19th century.

With the manifesto of the Italian futurists in the early 20th century, various sounds not previously considered musical began to be heard in artistic settings. Electroacoustic music as a European art form was introduced mid-20th century, with Canadian pioneers Hugh Le Caine and Norman McLaren contributing to the development of unique electronic technologies. Before the introduction of digital synthesizers and the MIDI system in the 1980s, the production of electronic music was largely limited to radio and university-based studios as the equipment was not easily transportable. Eventually, large-scale studios became somewhat obsolete with the introduction of laptops and iPads and other portable gear, making it possible for live and interactive performances. Electronic Dance Music arose in the late 1980s as music created largely for nightclubs, raves and festivals, and was produced for playback by DJs seamlessly mixing tracks. This club-based artform has mushroomed over the years, and this year’s X Avant festival will be a perfect opportunity to hear the latest innovations in these genres.

The opening concert of the festival on October 11 promises to be a visual feast with sets by Tasman Richardson, See Monsters, and Creeasian & Bear Witness. Before becoming a musician, Bear had a visual arts career that was mainly video based. Working with images that depicted misrepresentations of Indigenous people in the media, he sampled and reworked this material to create installations and short experimental films, highlighting the empowering aspects of the images and discarding the negative ones. Once ATCR began to take up more of his time, he folded his video work into his DJ sets.

Toronto-based Richardson was a huge influence on Bear’s visual work. Richardson will present two new three-channel live A/V performances, the first of which will use glitches from an Atari game console, and the second will use satellite-based images. See Monsters are a duo that come the closest to what ATCR do, using video, sound and sampling of traditional music. Being based in Northwest Coast traditions however, they have a very different aesthetic than ATCR. Bear’s collaboration with dancer and musician Creeasian will give him an opportunity to use some of his video work outside of the Tribe context and is for him another extension of the Halluci Nation idea. Sound artist and DJ, Maria Chávez, who will open the October 12 concert, was a new discovery for Bear who was intrigued by one of her signature DJ processes – using broken LPs layered on the turnable to create her unique sonic language. Bear cites Geronimo Inutiq as one artist who started working in a similar way as ATCR over 20 years ago, working with throat singing as well as electronic music and video production. The October 12 concert will conclude with respectfulchild, a solo instrument project of Gan from Saskatoon on Treaty 6 Territory. These ambient soundscapes are created from nuanced improvisations on their violin, resulting in a sound that takes the listener on an introspective reflective journey.

Saturday night’s events on October 13 will feature an all-out beat fest with Los Poetas, Above Top Secret and Ziibiwan at the Music Gallery, then wrapping up the evening with a dance party at The Mod Club. Headlining the dance party will be the sounds of El Dusty’s Colombian cumbia music, an artist with whom ATCR is currently collaborating. Following this will be mixes by two of Toronto’s most highly regarded DJs Dre Ngozi & Nino Brown; finishing off the evening is a set by Bear and his ATCR colleague 2oolman.

Narcy. credit TAMARA ABDUL HADIClosing out the festival on October 14 will be the music of veteran performers and innovators Narcy, Jennifer Kreisberg and Lillian Allen. Narcy is a pioneer of the Arab hip-hop movement working in Montreal, while Kreisberg innovates using multilayers of stunning vocal harmonies. Allen, of course, is well known in Toronto for her groundbreaking work in dub.

The festival also offers two occasions for audience members to engage with some of the festival artists. There will be a panel discussion at 6pm on October 14 about the concept of the Halluci Nation and a Sampler Café at 1pm on October 13 hosted by Creeasian where participants will have a chance to try out and play with different digital equipment. This is open to people of all ages and abilities.

Currently, Bear is developing material for the next album, and is reaching out to various artists that come across his path in Los Angeles. This album will be a contrast to We Are The Halluci Nation, although the very creating of it will be another extension of the Halluci Nation concept by bringing in other artists to collaborate. “This time the focus will be on celebration rather than dealing with the dystopian sci-fi vision of what the Halluci Nation could be,” Bear told me. When I asked the reason for this change, he replied that he feels that “people are getting stuck in the ideas of fighting and struggle. We need to start envisioning what it would be like beyond struggle.”

We concluded our interview by discussing how he would sum up the current issues facing Indigenous people, or whether that was even possible to do. “It’s a hard question to answer as there are hundreds of nations across one of the largest land masses in the world. One important thing for people to realize is that the things we talk about as Indigenous issues aren’t just that; they are human issues. Water rights, clean water, oil pipelines – we all need clean water, we all need to live on this planet. This is one of the most important things for people to realize at this point in time.”

The Halluci Nation vision is an invitation and call out for all those who find themselves seeking a more just world for all peoples and are committed to helping that come into being. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

OCT 12, 8PM: Soundstreams, “Six Pianos,” Koerner Hall. Steve Reich’s music returns to Toronto with a performance of Six Pianos (1973), a work that the composer originally wrote for all the pianos in a piano store and subsequently pared down to six pianos. This concert will feature the veteran Reich performer Russell Hartenberger who will be joined by five other local pianists. Other works on the program include music by Ristic, Cage, Lutosławski, Louie and Palmer.

OCT 15, 8PM: The Azrieli Music Prizes Gala Concert, Maison symphonique de Montréal. Although a bit of a drive away, this concert will feature Ottawa-based Kelly-Marie Murphy’s composition En el escuro es todo uno (In the Darkness All is One). Murphy wrote this piece after winning the 2018 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music, one of the biggest prizes for composers in the country. An interview with Murphy about her vision for this composition can be read in the October 2017 edition of The WholeNote.

Esprit Orchestras Alex Pauk studies a score (2015)OCT 24, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra. “For Orbiting Spheres,” Koerner Hall. Esprit Orchestra opens their current season with four orchestral works inspired by the various phenomena of the cosmos. Two Canadian premieres of works by Missy Mazzoli (USA) who composed Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres) and Unsuk Chin (Korea) are paired with Netherlands composer Tristan Keuris’s Sinfonia and Charles Ives’ tour de force An Unanswered Question. A heavenly night of music.

OCT 26 TO 28, 8PM: Arraymusic/Exquisite Beat Theatre, Rat-drifting 2: SlowPitchSound presents: Alternate Forest, Array Space. Rat-drifting is a concept developed by Martin Arnold to bring together free improvisation, noise, psychedelic process music and DIY para-punk composition. This month’s version features SlowPitchSound’s multidisciplinary adventure into a mystical forest space combining sound, dance and video.

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

Throughout the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Italy dominated the European cultural scene. The Renaissance movement began in Florence, on Italian soil, its humanist philosophy leading artists to seek greater realism and emotion in their work, and spread throughout Europe to influence entire generations of musicians, architects and painters. Their names are familiar and renowned for their groundbreaking music: Palestrina, Gabrieli and the infamous Gesualdo. Each of these composers laid a path for musicians across the continent. Still celebrated as luminaries today, their works are firmly ensconced in the early music canon.

The Baroque era has Italian roots as well, conceived in Rome in the 17th century. As with the Renaissance, Italian composers’ striking originality influenced all of Europe lead to the invention of new musical structures. Opera originated in Italy at the start of the 16th century and grew into an independent dramatic form. The toccata and the sonata were Italian inventions as well: the former developed by Frescobaldi into a virtuosic freestanding work later taken to even greater heights by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach; the latter brought to prominence by Domenico Scarlatti whose 555 sonatas provided models for Haydn and Mozart.

It is, therefore, impossible to imagine early music without Italy and its tremendous innovations and influences. This October, the Toronto classical music scene celebrates a few of these historical Italian composers and their creations through a number of comprehensive concerts of their vocal and instrumental works. The names may be very old but the sounds, brought to life by some of the city’s most esteemed performers, are as lively and inspiring as when they were first put to paper.

Antonio VivaldiVivaldi con Amore

Antonio Vivaldi, perhaps the most renowned of the Italian Baroque composers, needs little introduction. A composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher and priest, his concerti were of such high quality that the young J.S. Bach transcribed a number of them for solo organ as a way of studying Vivaldi’s contrapuntal and harmonic dexterity and skill. Wednesday October 10 to Sunday October 14,Tafelmusik celebrates “the red priest” in an all-Vivaldi concert featuring a sinfonia and seven concerti, some instantly recognizable and others undoubtedly new to many listeners. Featuring a variety of soloists playing violin, oboe, bassoon and lute, this exciting program showcases Vivaldi at his best, and is a preview of the music that will be featured on music director Elisa Citterio’s first recording with the Tafelmusik orchestra, to be released early in 2019.

Girolamo FrescobaldiThe Glories of Rome

On October 19 and 20 the Toronto Consort presents “Frescobaldi & the Glories of Rome,” with music by Palestrina, Frescobaldi, Landi and Caroso. Besides being the birthplace of the Baroque, Rome has a rich and complex history within early music, closely entwined with both Frescobaldi and Palestrina. Housing both Vatican City and the Vatican itself, the Catholic Church held a powerful influence over musicians of the 16th and 17th Centuries. In addition to being a strikingly gifted composer, Frescobaldi was organist of St. Peter’s Basilica and much of his instrumental and choral music was written for, or inspired by, the Catholic liturgy.

Palestrina’s involvement in the Catholic Church is the stuff of legends; as the story goes, he single-handedly saved polyphonic church music from obliteration, composing his Missa Papae Marcelli to persuade the Council of Trent that a draconian ban on the polyphonic treatment of text in sacred music (as opposed to a more directly intelligible homophonic treatment) was unnecessary. This dramatic tale of art triumphing over adversity was so inspiring that the 19th-century composer Hans Pfitzner composed an opera about it, suitably titled Palestrina. (It is actually a wonderful piece of music and well worth a listen.)

Apocryphal legends aside, Palestrina was extremely famous in his day, and his reputation and influence have steadily increased since his death. As he did with Vivaldi, J.S. Bach studied and hand-copied Palestrina’s first book of Masses, and in 1742 wrote his own adaption of the Kyrie and Gloria of the Missa sine nomine. Almost five centuries after his birth, modern scholarship retains the view that Palestrina’s music represents a summit of technical perfection, the pinnacle of the Renaissance choral art.

By pairing the renowned Frescobaldi and Palestrina with the rather less-known Landi and Caroso, the Toronto Consort’s Glories of Rome will undoubtedly have something for everyone, a don’t-miss exploration of Renaissance music and the brilliant people who composed it.

Elinor FreyAnd Now for Something…

...Completely different! Superimposing the new on the old, or vice versa, is a challenging task. How do we maintain the integrity of the old while creating something decidedly modern and new? This is the question to be answered on October 3, when Montreal-based virtuoso Elinor Frey presents a program of new music at the Canadian Music Centre. The concert features works for solo cello by Linda Catlin Smith, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Ken Ueno, Scott Godin, Lisa Streich, and David Jaeger.

But wait, why is this concert in the early music section? Each piece performed in this concert is composed for the Baroque-style cello, designed after models dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. This is far from the first time composers have written new music for an old instrument! Ligeti wrote fascinating pieces for the harpsichord, as did Hugo Distler, introducing contemporary techniques and challenging conventional methods of playing these historical keyboards.

A number of the works on this program contain historical ties, including Linda Catlin Smith’s Ricercar, Isaiah Ceccarelli’s With concord of sweet sounds, and Lisa Streich’s Minerva. The ricercar in particular is an ancient musical form, a type of late Renaissance and early Baroque instrumental composition. In the 16th century, the word ricercar could refer to several types of compositions: whether a composer called an instrumental piece a toccata, a canzona, a fantasia, or a ricercar was a rather arbitrary decision. But Frescobaldi began to give the ricercar a formal structure through his compositions in his fiori musicali. In its most common contemporary understanding, ricercar refers to a kind of fugue, particularly one of a serious character in which the subject uses long note values. Bach wrote two extremely elaborate ricercars as part of his Musical Offering, including a monumental six-voice fugue.

It is not often that we see such modern music appearing in the Early Music column, and this fascinating combination of new works for the Baroque cello make this a rare and exciting listening opportunity. (Besides, each featured composer is still alive, another rarity in this column!) What better way for an early music aficionado to explore the world of new music than through this creative, unexpected and worthwhile event?

As the days grow shorter and the temperature drops, take advantage of a fall evening and take in some of the wonderful music on offer in our city. Not only will you be able to walk around in something other than 40-degree heat, you will also have the opportunity to hear marvellous music from all eras performed by some of the city’s most talented artists. There are many other fantastic concerts happening in the early music world this month, too many to mention here, and I hope that you’ll do some exploring, both in this column and in the entire issue of The WholeNote.

I hope to see you at some of this month’s musical events. As always, feel free to get in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com. 

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

Five countertenors to perform at Kingston Road Village Concert Series: (from left) César Aguilar, Ryan McDonald, Ian Sabourin, Benjamin Shaw, Daniel Taylor and Miguel Brito (pianist). Photo credit KAREN E. REEVESOCT 5, 7:30PM: Kingston Road Village Concert Series. “Countertenor Madness!” Kingston Road United Church. Two words are enough to describe this concert: Five Countertenors! Hear Daniel Taylor and four others perform arias and songs by Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi and more.

OCT 6, 8PM: I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble.Brown Paper Packages Tied up with Strings.” Church of the Redeemer. I Furiosi kicks off their 20th anniversary season with some of their favourite music by Purcell, Handel, and Rosenmüller. Wish them a happy birthday and receive the gift of fantastic music!

OCT 13, 7:30PM: York Chamber Ensemble. “The Age of the Concerto.” Bradford Arts Centre, 66 Barrie St., Bradford. Take the drive to Bradford to hear some beautiful Bach and Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. Respighi’s music is based on Renaissance pieces for lute written by Italian composers, including Vincenzo Galilei, the father of Galileo!

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Jazz is forever being pronounced dead, or at least sickly, yet it has continued to survive and grow, if not in terms of audience share, then at least musically speaking. On the local level it’s a little difficult to assess the state of the music’s health these days, and I’m often flip-flopping on the subject. On the one hand there’s a pool of talent in Toronto growing deeper and more diverse all the time, but there are fewer gigs and places for everyone to play. It’s certainly harder to make a decent living playing jazz than in the past, yet the music is being played at a higher and higher level. Part of the problem in assessing all this is the disconnect between financial and musical success: there’s a lot of the latter but not much of the former for many. Further on the local Jekyll-and-Hyde axis, we have the continued success of the new grassroots Kensington Market Jazz Festival, contrasted with the recent troubles of JAZZ.FM91, which I’ll return to later.

We’re always being told by its keepers that jazz, like everything else these days, is a business. But to those who truly care about it – the fans, who consume it, and the musicians, who produce it – it’s not a business, it’s a music, a form of art and entertainment. (Louis Armstrong and countless others having long ago proved that the two are not mutually exclusive.) We care about it in terms of music, not dollars, and are thought to be naïve for this, yet saying that it’s primarily a business rather than an art form is putting the cart before the horse: the only reason there’s a business aspect to jazz is that people are willing to spend money to hear it because they’re drawn to its artistry; it’s that simple. The moment people stop being attracted to jazz as music there will be no business, because they’ll stop spending money to hear it. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people fail to see it. We’re constantly being told that the business side must take precedence otherwise there will be no music, but I think it’s the other way around. I’ve always found that when the artistic/real side of jazz is stressed and presented honestly then it thrives, as in the case of the KMJF, but woe betide when that focus gets lost amid too many extrinsic considerations.

I’m not going to comment too much further on the JAZZ.FM situation because it’s still up in the air and on a jazz musician’s salary I can’t afford a legal dream team, but I will say this: There’s a lot of angst and outrage in the jazz community over a recent turn of events, which is seen as another black eye for jazz, a fail which the music can ill afford. As currently constituted the station probably can’t continue, but there is a movement afoot to save it by making some changes. For those interested, I recommend going to savejazzfm.com and signing up; you’ll be casting a vote to salvage jazz on the air in Toronto, with some changes in management and philosophy, some lessons learned, greater accountability and more input from listenership.

But even if the station goes under, I hasten to point out that JAZZ.FM and jazz itself are not the same thing, not even close. Sooner or later another jazz station will crop up because there’s clearly sufficient interest in having one. In the meantime, make up for the dead air by going to hear more live music.

Jazz Survival 101: A Primer

Jazz Humour – With all the adversity the jazz life entails, how does one carry on? By boosting one’s morale, that’s how. What follows is a kind of jazz survival kit – to translate an old cliché into jazz terms: “When the blowing gets tough, the tough get blowing.” The first requisite is developing a sense of humour. I’m biased, but jazz musicians are the funniest people I know, mainly because they have to be. Jazz humour is laced with a gallows irony, a dry “laughin’ to keep from cryin’” wit. Here are some examples: Back in the early days of fusion when some jazz musicians were accused of selling out by trying to reach a wider audience through playing more rock-oriented music, Jim Hall turned to Paul Desmond (or perhaps it was the other way around) and asked ”So…. where do I go to sell out?”

Or “How do you make a million dollars playing jazz? Start out with two million.”

Or the one about a musician hiring another for a jazz gig, boasting that it pays “three bills” – two tens and a twenty.

Because jazz musicians improvise so much, the humour pool is constantly expanding on the fly, as when I recently bumped into Lesley Mitchell-Clarke on my way to a gig with John Alcorn at the KMJF. Lesley, well-known to WholeNote readers, is a jazz survivor extraordinaire on many fronts and one of the funniest people I know. She asked, “Steve, do you realize we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the venerable $100 jazz gig?” I doubled over and nearly dropped my bass because the line was so darkly funny and true. While house prices have at least quintupled over the last 20 years, the pay for many jazz gigs has stayed the same. This may not seem funny to many, but to jazz people it has an inverse, “do your worst” kind of sick irony. What else can you do but laugh?

(Two asides, in the interests of fairness and full disclosure. After many years, The Pilot Tavern recently upped the pay for its Saturday jazz matinee to $120 per musician, to which I remarked “Hey, alright! Tonight we eat!!” And just to show that not all jazz gigs top out at $100, the aforementioned Alcorn trio gig at the tiny Jazz Poetry Café was sold out and paid almost twice as much as we were expecting. This is because the KMJF volunteers collect the cash and then give all but a tiny fraction of it to the band. Somehow or other this very direct jazz economy works, so not all is lost.)

Peter LeitchTake A Week and Learn the Classics

This was guitarist Peter Leitch’s dryly sarcastic advice to a jazz beginner long ago. As in “listen to some records, for God’s sake,” and fortunately it takes much longer than a week. If the present seems chaotic and less than rosy, turn to the embarrassment of riches found in the back catalogue of great jazz records. This is not a matter of burying your head in the sand or living in the past, but rather a way of renewing yourself by taking a bath in the glories of the music while perhaps reminding yourself of why you love jazz in the first place. And you no longer need an extensive/expensive record collection to do so, because almost all of it is available on YouTube, another mixed blessing. Somehow things don’t seem so bad when you’ve just heard some Hot Fives, the 1938 Basie band, Spiritual Unity or whatever else takes your fancy. I do this all the time and it buoys me up, sending me off to a gig with a spring in my step and my musical sights set higher because I’ve just spent some time in the company of the masters.

Herbie NicholsA variation of this is checking out some jazz history by reading about it, which can bring some much-needed perspective. You think things are rough now? Try reading Mark Miller’s superb Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist’s Life, which tells the story of the pianist/composer who literally died from neglect and yet lives on through the efforts of people like Miller, the late Roswell Rudd, who curated his music, and The Herbie Nichols Project, which keeps his music alive by playing it. This is called inspiration and can also be found in books such as Robin D.G. Kelley’s exhaustive biography of a better-known giant who also endured much adversity – Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Or one I’m currently reading about clarinettist Pee Wee Russell. Not only did Russell never own a house, he mostly lived in shabby apartments, was perpetually broke and often out of work. And yet he earned permanent jazz immortality because of his singular and fearless individuality. Things were always tough, why would they be any different now?

Communal SupportThe local jazz community is a symbiotic relationship between fans, musicians and those employed as enablers of the music – writers, broadcasters, promoters, presenters, and so on. Essentially they’re all jazz fans and offer support to one another by attending jazz shows and events, which is crucial. But even more important is the palpable moral support shown by this group when the chips are really down. A good example – among many – is the recent memorial service for Kiki Misumi, who died at 58 in late August after a long and brave battle with cancer. Kiki was a very talented and creative cellist, singer and songwriter who was married for many years to one of our great stalwarts, guitarist Reg Schwager. Her memorial, held in early September at a facility of the Buddhist society to which she belonged, was packed to overflowing with her fellow Buddhists and members of the local jazz community who had known her for decades and came to pay their respects. Despite the overwhelming sadness of her too-early passing, it was a singularly moving and inspiring service, marked by some uplifting chanting, some lovely music and eloquent speeches, including one by Reg which staggered everyone – he’s normally quite reticent and I still don’t quite know how he managed it. Kiki fought fast-moving terminal cancer and ten gruelling surgeries for 12 years through a unique, self-styled blend of prayer, chanting, diet, humour, and sheer courageous positivity. We could all learn a lot about dealing with adversity from the way she lived her life and faced her death. Rest in peace Kiki, we will all really miss you. And come what may, I’ll take my chances with a jazz community as stout as this every day of the week. This video shows what Kiki was all about far better than I ever could in words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU0sZo13YWY.

I continue to face the fragility of jazz with a mixture of defiance and ambiguous world-weary irony, as in this paraphrase from the refrains of Mose Allison’s Gettin’ There: “I am not downhearted. I’m not discouraged. I am not disillusioned… But I’m gettin’ there. Yeah… I’m gettin’ there.”

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

Jackie RichardsonOCT 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 AT 6:30PM: The Rex Hotel 194 Queen St. W. - Jazz Ensembles from U of T and Humber College – The regular regimen of Monday performances by students and graduates from the jazz programs of these two schools. The music is varied, stimulating, honest, often surprising, and always worth hearing.

OCT 11 AND 12, 9:30PM: The Rex Hotel 194 Queen St. W. – The Mark Eisenman Quintet. I’m maybe biased (because I play in it), but this is one of my favourite Toronto bands, one which plays a bristling brand of contemporary bebop often laced with Eisenman’s compositions, many of them ingenious contrafacts on standards. John MacLeod, cornet, Pat LaBarbera, saxophone; Mark Eisenman, piano; Mark Micklethwaite, drums; and yours truly, bass.

OCT 14, 4:30PM: Christ Church Deer Park 1570 Yonge St: Jazz Vespers: The Drew Jurecka Trio – An opportunity to hear one of Toronto’s most brilliant and versatile multi-instrumentalists in a quiet and reflective setting.

OCT 18, 7:30PM: Garage at the Centre for Social Innovation 720 Bathurst St. Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band, directed by Martin Loomer, special guest Pat LaBarbera, soprano saxophone. With its lively and retro repertoire, this unique band is always worth hearing, but having the encyclopedically talented LaBarbera as a guest soloist makes this a must-attend.

NOV 3, 7:30PM: Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts – FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre 250 St. Paul St., St. Catharines: “Voices of Freedom Concert”For those willing to travel further afield, a concert featuring two of Canada’s best-loved jazz singers, Jackie Richardson and Molly Johnson, backed by a superb trio of Robi Botos, piano; Mike Downes, bass; and Larnell Lewis, drums.

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.

The 2018/19 season has started off with a bang with an exciting mix of risk-taking experimental music theatre alongside the traditional musicals continuing on many stages large and small. Over the course of just one week in September I saw three world premieres in a row that were entirely different from each other; unique in atmosphere and style, yet alike in a desire to explore and push the boundaries of what music theatre is capable of.

Opera Briefs: The first of these, Tapestry Opera’s Opera Briefs: Tasting Shorts is always one of my favourite fall shows, the chance to see a smorgasbord of bite-sized brand new operas created in Tapestry’s annual summer composer librettist laboratory, the Liblab. This year’s edition of sophisticated operatic speed-dating was no exception, with 11 mini-operas on a variety of themes. One of the necessities of successful bare-bones staging is good direction - this time by artistic director Michael Mori assisted by Jessica Derventzis. Another is having a company of singers who are equally good as actors, able to intuitively convey complexities of character and story as well as to master new and widely varied music scores very quickly. Anchored by the veteran brilliance of tenor Keith Klassen and baritone Peter McGillivray (who were joined by newcomers soprano Teiya Kasahara and mezzo Stephanie Tritchew) this company shone throughout the evening with each “brief” a tiny complete world of its own, set apart by story and music style. Jennifer Tung’s music direction and playing was also subtle and effective throughout. As always there were strong “real life” musical stories most notably the funny but heartbreaking The Farewell Poo by Rene Orth and Daniel Solon, and the more stylized and politically apposite Bring Me the Head of Our President by August Murphy-King and Colleen Murphy. Taking the program even beyond this usual excellence was a new experiment: writing for Virtual Reality settings. Of the Sea created the VR experience of meeting African slaves thrown overboard on their way to the new world who have made new lives below the ocean, and was surprisingly powerful although fantastical. Even more experimental was sci-fi thriller Hydrophis Expedition designed as a purely aural experience. Eerie and fascinating, as we listened with our eyes closed, the sung music as well as the underwater soundscape made it easier to succumb to the experience and believe in the underwater world and its lurking dangers.

Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life, with Edge of the Sky Young Company. Photo credit DAHLIA KATZDr. Silver: In contrast to the multiple worlds of Tapestry’s Briefs, the latest creation of the uber-talented Stratford-born and raised sisters Anika and Britta Johnson: Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life is a fully realized, intensely cohesive, almost claustrophobic, single immersive world.

At Toronto’s historic Heliconian Hall in the heart of Yorkville the audience arrives at the door to be greeted by young members of the “congregation” welcoming us to the funeral of Dr. Silver who – we find out quite soon – was the leader of a cult. As the congregation we sit around three sides of the room with an altar and multimedia screen at one end, and with space in the middle for the cult’s youth chorus (the incredibly polished Edge of the Sky Young Company) to sing and perform.

Once the show begins we are completely immersed in the funeral and music, and then the history of the family at the centre of the cult. It is this mix of family history and the formal dynamics of the funeral ritual that gives interest and depth to what might otherwise be just a clever concept. As idiosyncratic moments occur (as at any real funeral) they sometimes trigger flashbacks and we get to know the various members of the family (mother, two daughters, estranged son, and son’s friend/devoted acolyte): suffice it to say, all is not as perfect as one might think from surface appearances.

The excellent cast (Donna Garner, Bruce Dow, Kira Guloien, Rielle Braid, Peter Deiwick) sing and act so well and truthfully that we don’t just watch, we come to really care about them and what is going to happen. The sung-through nature of most of the show seems natural, particularly because the cult worships music as divine (a clever concept). The direction by Mitchell Cushman is seamless and the choreography by Barbara Johnston for the young chorus is dramatic and effective. The use of character quirks and comedic moments in the writing lightens the tension and darker side of the material and the electro-pop music works for all the characters (though I found myself wishing for a bit more musical variety). Currently a co-production between Outside the March and The Musical Stage Company this show will likely continue to develop and be seen again. Please see my upcoming interview with the Johnson sisters on our online blog at thewholenote.com for a much more in-depth look at the show and its creation.

I Call myself Princess: Now, from the multiple individual worlds of Tapestry’s Briefs and the immersive single world of Dr. Silver, to Jani Lauzon’s I Call myself Princess where two worlds 100 years apart not only exist side by side but intersect and influence each other. Excitingly ambitious in scope Lauzon’s “play with opera” is rich in rediscovered historical fact and imaginative in how it combines this history with present-day reality. From the beginning, the two worlds seem to be overlapping, with Indigenous singing like a magical chant opening the doors between the two. Music interweaves the 2018 world of young gay Métis opera student Will with the world, 100 years earlier; which gave rise to the classically oriented “Indianist” music of Charles Wakefield Cadman. Cadman was a composer of many songs but also of the first opera with an Indigenous story to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera: Tsanewis or The Robin Woman. When Will is given an aria from this opera to learn he becomes obsessed with learning more about its creation. As he does, the walls between the worlds become increasingly thin, allowing him to meet and even interact with the woman who inspired Tsanewis – Tsianina Redfeather, a classically trained Creek Cherokee singer who, as Will eventually realizes, is experiencing many of the same trials that he himself is facing as a lone Indigenous artist trying to navigate a primarily non-Indigenous world. The power of the play comes from this intersection and interaction, as both characters find comfort and strength in the other’s understanding and through a sharing of the music. While the acting and singing of some of the company are not as smoothly integrated as they could be, I found myself caught up in both stories and fascinated by the reality of the proto-feminist ground-breaking opera of 100 years ago

I Call myself Princess continues at the Aki Studio until October 6 and Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life at Heliconian Hall until October 14.

Upcoming: October 17 and 18, another risk-taking musical, and a longtime cult favourite of musical theatre fans, Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along is being revisited in a semi-staged concert format by Toronto Musical Concerts at the Al Green Theatre.

Based on Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1934 play of the same name, which begins at the end of the story and goes back in time to the beginning, Merrily We Roll Along has had a problematic production history beginning with its less-than-fully-successful premiere in 1981, but as TMC’s Artistic producer Christopher Wilson says “Yet it is one of Sondheim’s finest, most complex, and diverse scores, and the thematic material of choosing success over artistry is age-old and one worth exploring through a contemporary lens.” In fact, as time goes by, audiences and critics seem to have found a new appreciation for the show, in part, perhaps, because the original production’s decision to cast very young adults who would have to play “forty-somethings” at the beginning before reverting to their own ages, was flipped to having performers roughly the right age at the beginning, who would then play younger selves as the play went on – a concept that Wilson has followed for this version. The wonderful 2016 documentary about the original production, The Best Worst Thing That Could Have Happened, has certainly whetted a lot of appetites to see and hear this musical live once again,

Speaking of revivals, on the second last day of October, the Stratford Festival is presenting, for one day only, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s beloved chamber musical, The Fantasticks, in concert at the Avon Theatre starring Eric McCormack. Yes, Eric McCormack from TV’s Will and Grace. McCormack’s ties to Stratford go back 30 years to when he was a young actor in the company appearing, for example, in Measure for Measure, Murder in the Cathedral and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; last year he was awarded the Festival’s Legacy Award. It is also a homecoming in another sense, McCormack being Toronto-born, raised, and trained (Ryerson Theatre School) and having cut his early professional teeth in outdoor park performances at Skylight Theatre in North York’s Earl Bales Park. He also has musical theatre credentials having made his Broadway debut as Harold Hill in The Music Man in 2001. In The Fantasticks he is aptly cast in the wonderfully swashbuckling role of the “kidnapper” El Gallo. Richard Ouzounian will direct, and Franklin Brasz, is in charge of the music.

This should be a fun revisiting of an old favourite musical and also raises the tantalizing question of whether we might see a longer run of The Fantasticks, or McCormack himself, in a full Stratford Festival season in the near future.

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

OCT 2 TO 20: Oraltorio, A Theatrical Mixtape, Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Soulpepper joins with Obsidian for the first time to present this intriguing coming-of-age story through movement and music described as “part poetry slam, part house party.”

OCT 18 TO 21: Xenos, Bluma Appel Theatre. Canadian Stage presents Akram Khan’s highly acclaimed last solo dance creation (with a book by Jordan Tannahill) exploring and commemorating Indian soldiers’ experience in World War I. Khan’s fiercely dramatic Until the Lions was a highlight of the 2017 Luminato Festival.

OCT 24 TO 28, 7pm: Dancyn Productions present Billy Bishop Goes to War at RCAC Oshawa. A fun chance to see John Gray’s Canadian classic musical about Canada’s great pilot in an appropriate military setting.

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.

As I sit down to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) the darkness outside does not mean that it is bedtime. In fact, it is only just after dinner. The reality is that the autumnal equinox is upon us. It is time to reflect on the musical happenings of the past few months and peer into our crystal ball for details of what’s ahead in our musical world. As for the past few months, with few exceptions, no outstanding musical activity took place which was not mentioned in our September column.

Rebel Heartland: one exception will have passed into history by the time this issue of The WholeNote is available for reading but is worth revisiting. It was the participation by the Newmarket Citizens Band in Rebel Heartland, a 2018 re-enactment of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion, in which the Town of Newmarket played a vital role. The re-enactment, like the writing of this column, just happens to have been programmed for this equinox!

The Bayham-Richmond Band, part of the Baseball and Brass Bands exhibit at the Elgin County Museum until December 22. COURTESY OF ELGIN COUNTY MUSEUMBaseball and Brass: Another noteworthy event which will be over before the end of September was a concert of period brass music on authentic instruments by the Cottonwood Brass, relating to an exhibition called “Baseball and Brass Bands,” which will run all the way to the December 22 solstice! Not surprisingly, Henry Meredith of Plumbing Factory Brass Band fame had a hand in things! Working over the summer with Michael Baker, the curator of the Elgin County Heritage Centre, they have mounted an exhibition featuring lots of period brass instruments, photographs of area brass bands, plus other materials from Meredith’s collection and from the Elgin County archives. Included is a PowerPoint presentation about Meredith’s involvement in providing the instruments for Disney’s movie remake of The Music Man, along with a filmed lecture demonstration about all kinds of musical instruments, particularly lip-vibrated aerophones.

Swing Patrol: One very special recent event for me was a small birthday party for Bunny Graf: not a band event, but with very important band connections. During World War II one of the army entertainment groups in Europe was called Swing Patrol. One of its key members was musician and arranger Eddie Graf; one of the dancers was a young lady named Bernice O’Donnell, known by her friends in the show as “Bunny.” At some stage in their travels through Belgium and Holland, Eddie and Bunny discovered each other, and they were married on New Year’s Day 1946. When released from the army they settled in Toronto where Eddie continued his musical career as an arranger and big band leader. His musical talents came to the fore with such programs as The Juliette Show. Bunny became a dedicated stay-at-home. This party was hosted by son Lenny Graf who has followed in Eddie’s footsteps as a band leader, soloist and children’s entertainer.

Coming Soon

The Canadian Band Association (CBA)-Ontario have just announced this fall’s Community Band Weekend. It is being hosted by the Nickel City Wind Ensemble in Sudbury over the weekend of October 13 and 14. These Community Band Weekends offer attendees an opportunity to meet musicians from many bands and to experience a fun-filled and challenging weekend practising music all day Saturday. Some of the music will be familiar, and some not. Then on Sunday afternoon, all attendees will perform in a massed band concert. For information go to: cba-ontario.ca/cbw

In The Future

Barrie Concert Band: Looking into the future, there are a few more bands which have plans for anniversary events of various forms. One of these is the Barrie Concert Band, under the direction of Peter Voisey. They have announced their plans to celebrate the band’s sesquicentennial in 2019. Founded in 1869, the 55-member band claims that theirs is the longest running musical organization north of the Golden Horseshoe. Beginning with its 16th annual “Veterans’ Salute” on October 16, the band will present various concerts throughout the coming year, in Barrie and across Simcoe County. Their 2018/2019 subscription series will begin with “A Christmas Fantasy” on December 8, and will continue with their “Last Night at the Proms” on March 2. Winding things up, in collaboration with the King Edward Choir they will present “150 years – Let’s Celebrate!” Saturday, June 1. In this final offering of the series, a number of previous conductors will share the baton with Mr. Voisey, directing the band in numbers which had personal significance to them at the time they were at the helm. In that performance internationally acclaimed tuba player, Mark Tetrault, will make a guest appearance and Rick Pauzé, the band’s immediately previous conductor, will conduct a work of his own, commissioned by the band for this anniversary year.

Icing on the cake, the band will also host a special 2019 spring CBA Community Band Weekend June 14 to16. The band conferred with the CBA for permission to hold it in June 2019, as part of their 150th celebrations. They are hoping to hold the Sunday afternoon concert portion of the CBA weekend outdoors, and reasoned that October would be too cold to do so. So the Sunday afternoon concert will take place at Meridian Place, Barrie’s newly designed and refurbished public space in the heart of downtown Barrie on the waterfront. For more information go to the band’s website: barrieconcertband.org

Waterloo Concert Band: Another significant anniversary event now in the planning stage for 2019 is one by the Waterloo Concert Band. The year 2019 will be the centenary of “Professor” C.F. Thiele’s arrival in Waterloo and his legendary three decades of leadership of the Waterloo Concert Band (formerly Waterloo Musical Society). My personal recollections of Professor Thiele go back to the days when I played in a couple of boys bands in Windsor. During the summer months we were off to play in a small town tattoo or similar event almost every weekend. Many of those included some form of competition where we played before one or more adjudicators. Of those, Professor Thiele was the adjudicator whom we feared most.

So far, what we know is that The Waterloo Concert Band has plans underway for a major historically focused public concert on May 5, 2019. Included in those plans will be at least one new musical commission. There will also be a number of, as yet undefined, other retro events around this occasion. As Pauline Finch, our contact with the band, says: “We’re aware of growing interest in band history in Ontario and especially in pivotal figures like C.F. Thiele, who built the foundations of band culture across Canada.” Hopefully we will have much more detailed information on these anniversary events as we get closer. In particular, we hope to have much more information on Professor Thiele’s legacy in Canada’s community band world. When he arrived in Waterloo a hundred years ago the Waterloo Musical Society was already well established, having been performing since 1858. So, this celebration is not a band anniversary, but a Professor Thiele celebration. In the mean while we will be paying some visits to the band’s website:
waterlooband.com.

Colin Jones

I am very saddened to report on the passing of euphonium player Colin Jones. Although I originally met Colin through our joint association with the Royal Naval Association, over the years I learned much more about him through the band world. Colin joined the Royal Navy in Portsmouth in 1950. Although most bands for British naval establishments and ships were Royal Marine Bands, there were a few Navy Bands. Colin served in one such band, The Bluejacket Band, in Portsmouth as well as aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable and the battleship HMS Vanguard. He left the Navy in 1955 and arrived in Canada in 1958. He played for a brief stint in the Cobourg Kiltie Band. In 1970 he joined the Concert Band of Cobourg and was a stalwart member until the time of his passing. To quote words from his obituary: “As a fantastic euphonium player his contributions were enormous musically.” He also gave freely of his time to make sure that the band hall was always in tip-top shape physically. He will be missed. 

Bandstand Quick Picks

OCT 14, 2PM: The Markham Concert Band presents “Heroes and Villains.” Flato Markham Theatre. Blvd., Markham.

OCT 16, 7:15PM: The Barrie Concert Band presents “Veterans’ Salute.” Royal Canadian Legion Branch 147, Barrie.

OCT 26, 8PM: Etobicoke Community Concert Band. It’s “Don’t Look Under the Bed.” Music for Halloween at Etobicoke Collegiate Auditorium.

OCT 28, 2PM: The Orillia Silver Band presents “Fall Harvest.” Gravenhurst Opera House.

OCT 28, 3PM: The Peterborough Concert Band has their “160th Anniversary Concert” with Peter Sudbury, music director. Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, Peterborough.

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

For many, September marks a transitional period: we go back to school, back to work, back to a daily routine that can either feel welcome (structure! responsibility!) or unwelcome (structure! responsibility!), depending on the quality of our summer experiences. Whatever the case may be, the calamities of our collective re-entry into the real world usually resolve themselves by October, giving us all a bit more time to go out and enjoy live music, at venues both familiar and not. In addition to discussing exciting upcoming performances by the legendary jazz singer Sheila Jordan and the Afro-Cuban group OKAN, the focus of my column this month is on Burdock, a relatively new venue that may be a familiar name to some, but which, I suspect, may be unfamiliar to many readers. (In this month’s listings, you’ll find the full monthly schedule for Burdock.)

In a short amount of time – it opened in April of 2015 – Burdock has emerged as one of Toronto’s most important live-music venues. Located on Bloor, just west of Dufferin, Burdock is divided into two parts connected by heavy, soundproof double doors. On one side is the Music Hall, an intimate space that can accommodate about a hundred people, complete with its own bar, seating (depending on the show), and an excellent sound system. (Burdock consistently sounds great, owing, in no small part, to the talents of their live audio engineers, Aleda Deroche, Matthew Bailey and Jess Forrest.) On the other side is the brewpub, with a rotating tap list of beers, brewed in-house, and a full menu of seasonal food, including both small and larger plates, such as their summer tartine, crispy ribs and wild mushroom taco, all on the menu at the time of the writing of this column. As a brewery, Burdock has found a niche in the busy Toronto beer market by focusing on saisons, sours and wine/beer blends, such as their ever-popular BUMO series, brewed in conjunction with the Niagara-based winery Pearl Morissette. This decision has proven fruitful: by avoiding entering into the high-ABV arms race, Burdock’s brewery has found success at their bottle shop, their own bar, and on the beer list at many of Toronto’s best restaurants.

Through the double doors in the Music Hall, venue coordinator Charlotte Cornfield books acts from a variety of different genres. (Cornfield is an accomplished musician in her own right, touring and releasing music regularly under her own name.)

While many of the musicians who play at Burdock come from Toronto’s creative indie scene, Burdock also regularly features jazz and blues, as well as the occasional classical performance, including, in October, an installment of Haus Musik, presented by the Toronto-based Baroque orchestra Tafelmusik. (The concert will feature members of the orchestra and special guest percussionist Graham Hargrove performing music written by Italian composer Luigi Boccherini.) Beyond its regularly scheduled programming – which has recently jumped from one to two shows per day, due to increasing demand – Burdock also hosts a number of special events throughout the year. Their annual Piano Fest, which celebrated its third birthday this past January, is built around the simple premise of temporarily installing a high-quality grand piano on stage and booking piano-centric acts in complementary double bills; this year’s festival featured artists such as Joanna Majoko, Chelsea Bennett, Tim Baker and Jeremy Dutcher, the latter of whom would go on to win the Polaris Prize in September of this year for his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa.

AKKU QuintetIn addition to Tafelmusik’s show, there are a number of notable performances that will be taking place in October. These include a modern jazz double bill, with AKKU Quintet and Living Fossil, on October 2 (Living Fossil’s debut album NEVER DIE! was reviewed in our March 2018 issue.); a live recording of radio personality Laurie Brown’s Pondercast podcast, with music provided by Joshua Van Tassel, on October 9; jazz bassist Robert Lee’s Big Band, celebrating the release of the EP Blink, on October 14; and francophone singer/songwriter Safia Nolin, fresh off the release of her third album, performing on October 25.

It also seems important to note, for those who have not yet visited, that the Burdock Music Hall is an uncommonly comfortable venue that shifts its seating structure around to accommodate the needs of specific acts and their audiences, even when those audiences comprise a variety of different demographic representatives. In a recent show I attended at Burdock, the open area in front of the stage was flanked by a few narrow rows of chairs. While enthusiastic attendees danced, those audience members who desired a bit more comfort – some of whom, let it be said, were quite possibly related to the musicians on stage – sat and enjoyed an unobstructed view of the performance. At no point did this mixed setup feel divisive or contrived; as is typically the case at Burdock, the vibe was relaxed, inclusive, and fun.

Sheila JordanSheila Jordan at the Jazz Bistro

There are a number of excellent shows happening in other venues this month, not the least of which will be Sheila Jordan’s three-night engagement at Jazz Bistro, on October 4, 5 and 6. Jordan, now 89, has a storied history within the jazz community, studying with Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus in the early 1950s, performing and recording with Herbie Nichols, George Russell and Lee Konitz in the 60s and 70s, and teaching, as artist-in-residence, at City College of New York, from 1978 through to the mid-2000s. Jordan – who was referred to as “the singer with the million dollar ears” by Charlie Parker – will be joined by pianist Adrean Farrugia and bassist Neil Swainson in an intimate trio format, whose instrumentation should prove well-suited to Jazz Bistro’s ecclesiastical acoustics.

OKAN at Lula

At Lula Lounge, OKAN celebrate the release of their debut EP recording on October 21. Co-led by Cuban-born, Toronto-based multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne – both of whom are veterans of saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett’s Maqueque group – OKAN fuses traditional Afro-Cuban music with jazz, pop and soul. In their live show, Rodriguez and Savigne find success both in the complementary chemistry they share as performers (Rodriguez typically stands and plays violin, while Savigne sits behind her congas; both sing.) and in their talent for deftly borrowing from various musical sources. At times OKAN’s music sounds distinctly Afro-Cuban; at other times, like pop-inflected R&B. Anchored by Rodriguez and Savigne, this month’s show should prove to be a worthwhile reason to visit Lula Lounge. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

OCT 4 TO 5, 9PM: Sheila Jordan, Jazz Bistro. Accompanied by local mainstays Adrean Farrugia (piano) and Neil Swainson (bass), legendary jazz singer Sheila Jordan performs in this three-night run at Jazz Bistro.

OCT 14, 9:30PM: Robert Lee, Burdock. Upright bassist Robert Lee leads his big band in celebration of the release of his EP Blink, a collection of modern jazz pieces inspired by pop, folk and classical music.

OCT 25, 9:30PM: Safia Nolin, Burdock. Francophone singer/songwriter Safia Nolin – 2017 Félix Award winner for Female Artist of the Year – performs in support of her new album, releasing October 5.

OCT 21, 6:30PM: OKAN, Lula Lounge. Co-led by Cuban-born multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne, OKAN celebrates the release of their debut EP.

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

Erin Wall as Arabella in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Arabella, 2017. Photo by Michael CooperWhat is a thriving artist to do if serious illness strikes while everything else in life is going gloriously? Erin Wall, an elegant Straussian soprano in demand on both sides of the Atlantic, who defined Arabella and Kaija Saariaho’s Clémence for Torontonians and redefined Mozart’s Countess in a recent COC Figaro, had an extraordinarily difficult December last year. That winter, amidst all that bloom, professional and familial – she is happily partnered and a mother of two – she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

While looking at the treatment options, she also had to decide how to redraw the dense schedule of her professional engagements. She was going to have to invent for herself a new way of being in the world for some time to come: a much-travelled soprano who’s also in cancer treatment.

It’s crucial not to abandon everything – and to continue with life as you know it as much as possible, she tells me when we meet on a mild weekend afternoon in mid-August. Her hair, growing back after chemotherapy, is in a short boyish cut, which gives her a touch of punk. We met to talk about her upcoming song recital with Carolyn Maule at Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival, but soon enough move on to the much bigger issue: how to go on living and working while healing.

“Generally the week after the chemotherapy is not easy – you feel sick and don’t want to go out – but the second week I would start to feel better and by the third I felt normal. Luckily a lot of the gigs fell on those second and third weeks. I only had to cancel, like, two jobs.” A few dates had to be negotiated. “Staff at Princess Margaret Hospital at first thought I was crazy. They’re used to saying to the patients, ‘This is when your surgery will be, just show up, and this is when your appointment will be, and you show up.’ They’re used to sort of everybody abandoning everything, and I’d go, ‘That date is not going to work for me, I need it to be next week so I can go to Cleveland and record Beethoven’s Ninth.’ And they worked with me.” Meanwhile, with her manager she let all the symphonies know that she may not feel okay the day of the concert. “He told them, if you’d like Erin to back out now, she will, and most of them said: ‘No, we’ll hire a cover and we’ll play it by ear.’ People were wonderful about it.” This summer, she’s keeping her two engagements at the British Proms: the first concert was on July 21, four weeks after her surgery, and the next one is coming up on September 6, Britten’s War Requiem with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian.

Erin Wall as Clémence in the Canadian Opera Company production of Love from Afar, 2012. Photo by Michael CooperSinging has been a lifeline in the thick of the treatment; when we talked in August, she was undergoing radiation, which she was finding much easier. Singing, and also the rituals around getting ready and being in concert. “It was really nice to do, put on a dress and a wig and pretend that life was normal and not just be a cancer patient sitting on a couch watching Netflix.” You travelled quite a bit too? “It was fun actually because every time I got to go sing between the chemos, it’s like a vacation from cancer. Cancer treatment is like having a job. I rode to the hospital every day on the GO Train with the businessmen in suits, and it’s for weeks in a row, no gigging while this is happening-- it becomes your job.” As soon as she’s recuperated, it’s back to singing. “I’ve never sung more Beethoven Ninths in my life,” she jokes. “Which I love! And they’re easier to handle than, say, Mahler 8. I did a Mahler 8 I think between chemo four and five, and that put me absolutely to my limit.” This was in the Netherlands, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. “Any other time when I’m healthy, the amount of effort in Mahler 8 is between six and seven but there, I was at eleven out of ten.”

How does the chemotherapy affect a singer’s body? “The thing that it affected the most is breathing,” she says. As a later side effect, it turned out that she was becoming anemic; the red blood cells were not able to bounce back as quickly as the white cells until with the help of medication, they did. “I had to stop running toward the end of chemo.” You maintained your running schedule?! “I was sort of able to keep it up in the beginning, going slower and slower, but toward the end it became impossible as your blood can’t carry enough oxygen.”

I rewind the conversation back to the wigs and ask her about the practicalities around that. As soon as she was diagnosed, Wall emailed a friend who’s a professional wigmaker at the COC to ask her if she could create a wig specifically for her performances. Then she cut her hair short – she was told by girlfriends who’ve been through treatment that it’s easier to mourn the loss of short hair – and sent all the hair extensions she used over the years to the wigmaker friend to incorporate in the wig about to be created. “A week or two after chemo, when it was about to start to fall out, I had my husband shave my head. We had a party in my bathroom with my kids and my parents. I was about to go to Calgary and sing Mendelssohn and I didn’t want chunks of hair in my hands in the hotel room, and also didn’t want to carry hair brushes, and hair dryers and shampoo AND a bagful of wigs. It was all too much: I’m going to go to Calgary with no hair.” But what grew back since that bathroom symposium actually did fall off while she was in Calgary. “I woke up in Calgary and it was all over the pillow. It was still traumatic because it was real.”

She doesn’t dwell too much. “It’s nice to have hair again. I dyed it bright magenta a while ago, and will try platinum on Tuesday.” Then she shifts into a comedy mode. “I used a long straight wig for social occasions, but they’re so hot and itchy when you have no hair on your head.” There are also the hot flashes to contend with, another side to cancer. “When you’re getting hot flashes and you have a wig on, it’s un-bearable. There were times when I was in public and decided that the wig has got to come off. I’d go somewhere and 30 minutes in, the wig would go into my bag and I would put a little cap on. And people give you looks, they know you’re a cancer patient… but you stop caring.”

As she’s made me laugh multiple times during our conversation, I tell Wall that she’s coming up with some stand-up quality stuff that reminds me of Tig Notaro, the first US comic to talk about her cancer onstage and to, in fact, turn the illness into comedy material. Wall’s eyes lit up. “I love her work! Her comedy about having cancer and all the horrible things that came with it, I could not stop listening to it. It’s what got me through December. Everything is so true. The most horrible thing about it – she had a double mastectomy – is, she says, that nobody can hug you after surgery. It’s the thing you most need and you can’t stand to be touched.” The first Notaro video that went viral and broke new ground in comedy? Wall keeps it on her phone. “She made the hard things funny. And I love that bit where she talks about making fun of her breasts for being so small, and how they have turned on her and went ‘we’re gonna kill her now’… I just love her. I remember driving through Texas with my sister – my aunt passed away from breast cancer in March – my whole family went there to say goodbye and as we were driving back through Dallas after, really depressed about it all, I was like: you need to listen to this, it’s about when life is really really horrible and how you can ache and still be funny. So we listened together.”

Erin Wall. Photo by Alexander VasiljevAlready in August when we spoke, in between the preparations for the Proms, Wall was rehearsing the songs for the September 14 recital in Picton with Carolyn Maule. A beautifully crafted program awaits, with long, complex songs by Debussy and Duparc, the three Korngold songs of the Opus 22, the delightfully mad Poulenc cycle Fiançailles pour rire, and a three-song cycle by the fin-de-siècle American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes. “They’re all songs that I like and know really well, that are fresh in my mind, body and voice,” she says. “These Debussy songs – I started singing them about 13 years ago. Which was ambitious of me then because I didn’t always have the low part of the voice to sing them. So I put them away for ten years, and then came back to them a few years ago, after I became a mother.” While she’s sung Thaïs and quite a few Marguerites as a fledgling singer, and had a French repertoire specialist for a coach, she’s more often asked to sing German rep now.

Which will also soon enough include Wagner. The recital program is capped off by Elsa’s Dream, the soprano aria from Act 1 of Wagner’s Lohengrin – something she’s never sung before. Is this a sign of things to come? She smiles but can’t divulge too much. “There may be a staged Lohengrin in the cards. In a couple of years. But I can’t say more.” Can we at least know in what country? “…Spain.” Then adds: “I always thought my inroad to big Wagner roles would be either Elsa or Eva from Die Meistersinger… you know, the blonde ones. And that’s exactly how it turned out: Elsa it is.”

September 14 at 7:30pm: Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival presents “An Evening of Song” with Erin Wall, soprano, and Carolyn Maule, piano. St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, 335 Main St., Picton. 613-478-8416. $35. www.pecmusicfestival.com/erin-wall.

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

The September 2018/19 music theatre season starts off with the exciting world premiere of a new piece by Jani Lauzon, which will be presented in a three-way co-production by Paper Canoe Projects, Cahoots Theatre Projects and Native Earth Performing Arts at Native Earth’s Aki Studio. I Call myself Princess (the lowercase of the “m” in “myself” is intentional) is a fascinating new “play with opera” that uses an interdisciplinary approach to delve into the past, making new discoveries about both the past and the present by relating it to today.

Jani Lauzon. Photo courtesy of Jani LauzonA hundred years ago in 1918, an opera titled Shanewis (The Robin Woman) with music by Charles Wakefield Cadman and libretto by Nelle Richmond Eberhart made its debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as part of a three-part program about American life. It was such a success that it returned the next season and continued to tour and be revived around the United States for years afterwards.

This was the second opera by Cadman and Eberhart on an “American Indian” theme, but their first to be accepted for production. What seemed to make the difference with Shanewis was the contribution to the story and libretto by Cadman’s musical touring partner the Creek/Cherokee singer Tsianina Redfeather, who, although never officially credited, provided ideas from her own life and experiences – resulting in an opera that resonated with both producers and audiences.

A hundred years later, playwright Jani Lauzon’s I Call myself Princess is about to bring this story back to life for us in a modern context. The first seeds of inspiration for the play came when the playwright was working with the Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, the acclaimed Native Women’s collective that she co-founded with Michelle St. John and Monique Mojica. While working on a new project, Lauzon came across the 1972 book The Only Good Indian: The Hollywood Gospel. It was full of critical viewpoints on the inclusion, or lack thereof, of Indigenous performers in opera, jazz, silent film, the talkies and vaudeville, starting at the turn of the 20th century.

“At first we were surprised by how many Indigenous performers there were. Then we were upset with ourselves that we were surprised,” Lauzon tells me. “We had bought into the narrative that we weren’t there. But we were there. We were producers, writers, performers.” The story of Tsianina and the opera Shanewis in particular stood out as something to be explored further. “What struck me about Tsianina Redfeather was her working relationship with Charles Wakefield Cadman,” she says, “and the complexities of how they were both navigating the industry and expectations of the audience.”

Cadman was already well known at the time as a composer and expert in “American Indian Music” and for composing his own pieces in a style that became known as “Indianist.” He gave lecture tours around the United States and Europe, joined from 1908 by Redfeather, who dressed for the concerts in beaded traditional costumes, her hair in braids, and was credited as “Princess Tsianina.”

In I Call myself Princess, we meet Tsianina and Cadman as they and their opera are discovered by William, a young Métis opera singer in the course of his studies. As he learns more and deals with the difficulties of finding his own identity as a young Indigenous performer in the world of opera and today’s political climate, music and theatre become intertwined. “I was conscious of the need to seamlessly integrate the libretto and music that was Charles Wakefield Cadman’s and Nelle Eberharts’ within the context of my story,” says Lauzon. “In many ways the writing process was a constant reminder that the very act of reconciliation is a delicate balance that takes work, thought and negotiation.”

Marjorie Chan. Photo courtesy of Marjorie ChanThis intertwining of story, genre, time and theme is exciting and ambitious. Joining Lauzon to undertake the challenge of bringing it all to life is director and dramaturge Marjorie Chan, also artistic director of Cahoots, a theatre company dedicated to working with diverse artistic voices. Many things, Chan says, drew her to the project: knowing Jani Lauzon and her work with the Turtle Gals, the chance to tell a story that has thus far had little opportunity to be heard, but also the combination of theatre with opera. Chan herself is well known as an opera librettist. “When we started to work on this project,” she says, “I often felt like my worlds were starting to come together.”

When I asked Chan about the intermixture of play and opera, she said that to her it is like an opera within a play. “In terms of the actual opera that was performed on the Met stage in 1918, we are, in the play, looking at its creation from both the time when it was created and from our modern perspective in 2018,” she explains. “We are poking at it from all different sides and different times so that pieces of the opera are consistently being performed throughout the entire evening.”

Marion NewmanOne of the challenges of getting this right is casting, particularly with the very specific demands for each character. Acclaimed for her warm strong mezzo-soprano voice and experience in contemporary opera, Marion Newman, of Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations as well as English, Irish and Scottish heritage, was an obvious choice for Tsianina, Chan says. Newman has been an integral part of the project since the workshop in 2014. Opposite her, as the composer Charles Wakefield Cadman, is versatile performer and director Richard Greenblatt, known, perhaps most famously, for his two-man show with Ted Dykstra, Two Pianos Four Hands. As Cadman he not only has an acting role but a musician’s role: playing the piano – in character – throughout the piece.

Playing William, the Métis opera student, is Aaron M. Wells (of Ehattesaht and Lax Kwalaams First Nations) from the west coast, who, Chan says, is not only a terrific singer but also “understands on a really intuitive level William’s position as an Indigenous person in a program that was not specifically designed with his culture in mind.”

Leading the musical side of the production is music director Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate whose background, classical training and compositional experience make him – as Lauzon says – a perfect fit for the show. A Chikasaw classical composer and pianist whose own works are inspired by Indigenous history and culture, Impichchaachaaha’ Tate met Jani Lauzon when he came to Toronto in 1994 to compose the music for Native Earth’s production of Diva Ojibway. While “blown away by his talent and experience as a composer,” Lauzon says, “it is also a blessing that Jerod is well versed in Cadman’s music, the Indianist music and Tsianina. He gets the way Indigenous people work and think because he is one, and he understands the circumstances that Tsianina faces because as an Indigenous artist he lives it every day.”

The music he will be directing is made up of key moments from the opera, from a beautiful aria about love to an idealized version of an Ojibwe song that Cadman included not only in the opera but also in the “Indian Lecture” tour that he and Tisanina took all over the world. As well, Lauzon says, “Jerod is composing a traditional Ojibwe melody that grows as a musical theme throughout, and Marion Newman has been hard at work practising the slide guitar, which Tsianina played for the troops overseas during World War One.”

As Chan says, since in the play William is discovering the opera Shanewis, “We have to dive in. We have to hear enough of the original to understand and ask, ‘How do I feel about that?’”

The company is also spending time exploring what might have been the original performance style for opera in 1918, adds Chan: “How well that (might) hold in our contemporary space and seeing where we should offer something more naturalistic that we might be more accustomed to, and to be more truthful to the piece.” The opera was daring for its time, as Chan emphasizes. “It has a female protagonist who is very strong, very forthright. Furthermore, she is a female protagonist who is an Indian who speaks quite truthfully about her experience as a colonized person. She is the love interest of a white man and rejects him in favour of honouring her people. So we think about how that would have landed on an audience of 1918.”

As Lauzon mentioned, the opera – though highly successful in its time – contains images and concepts that today would be recognized as problematic. A challenge for the creative team and company will be balancing this intriguing and daring 1918 world with the more familiar world of 2018, and focusing the play in performance so that the audience will receive it in the way the playwright intends.

Chan says that Lauzon is “gifted in layering all these complex ideas in a really articulated, clear way.” According to Chan, the play is about Tsianina Redfeather at the turn of the century but “it is also about this young Métis man in an opera program, and what it means for him to encounter and be impacted by this music. That’s the beauty of how we find the ways to leak the music in and take it out, to stay with the emotional journey of the young Métis opera singer.”

Intriguingly, when I suggest that there was a time travel element to be experienced, Chan says that they are aiming for something even more complex: “the thought that if we might expand what we know around us we could reach it; that they are existing at the same time.”

Ultimately, says Chan, the goal of the team is that “the audience should be able to come in and experience the journey of a young man reaching back into his culture – and reclaiming culture and music that belongs to him.”

I Call myself Princess plays September 9 to 30, at Native Earth Performing Arts’ Aki Studio, Toronto. 

MUSIC THEATRE QUICK PICKS

 Donna-Michelle St. Bernard - "Sound of the Beast." Photo credit Graham Isador 2017SEP 28 & 29, 7:30PM: Sound of the Beast. Theatre Passe Muraille (followed by a national tour): Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, who collaborated so wonderfully with Tapestry Opera last season on the Persian inspired Tap Ex: Forbidden, is the solo artist here as emcee “Belladonna the Blest,” and, using a combination of hip-hop, spoken word and storytelling, tells truth to power with a brutally honest take on policing in Black communities.

SEP 18 to 29: Grand Theatre. Prom Queen: The Musical. The High School Project - Grand Theatre London, 471 Richmond St., London. The Grand Theatre’s annual high school project aroused controversy earlier this year in the city of London because it tells the true story of Marc Hall, who in 2002 wanted to take his boyfriend to the school prom. Originally developed at Sheridan’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project, the show has earned rave reviews elsewhere and here will have a large cast of real high school students, 50 onstage and 30 backstage.

SEP 13 to OCT 7: Musical Stage Company. Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life. Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave., Toronto. The latest creation by the talented Johnson sisters, Britta and Anika, this co-production with Mitchell Cushman’s Outside the March company promises to be “immersive” and very different from your usual musical. At the historic, tiny, Heliconian Hall in Yorkville.

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.

Calidore String Quartet. Photo by Sophie ZhaiThe Calidore String Quartet (Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violins, Jeremy Berry, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello) made a name for themselves in 2016 by winning the $100,000 Grand Prize in the inaugural M-Prize International Chamber Music Competition, the world’s largest chamber music prize. More recently, they were awarded the 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant. During the upcoming season they will complete their three-year residency with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. They took time in August for an email Q&A in advance of their Mooredale Concerts recital of their “Music and Conflict” program in Walter Hall, on September 30.

WN: Please tell us about when and where the Calidore String Quartet began.

CSQ: We met at the Colburn School in Los Angeles where we were completing our music studies. Estelle and Jeff had been in a different quartet and we were looking to continue working together. Jeremy on viola was the next addition followed shortly by Ryan on second violin. The quartet officially formed in 2010.

How was your “Music and Conflict” program conceived?

Given the chaotic and uncertain world that we live in, we wanted to find guidance in the music that we spend our lives studying and performing. How did the great artists in our field take conflict and channel it creatively? How did they make their voice heard? Taking the Mendelssohn Op.80 as the anchor piece of the [new] album, we then began building the program by looking at composers who faced different challenges throughout their lives. This led to the addition of Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet, Janáček’s “Kreutzer,” and finally Golijov’s Tenebrae.

What is your approach for each of the four works on that program?

We tried to learn as much as we could about the circumstances each of the composers faced that led to them to write the works. Where were they in their lives, both physically and mentally? How did they resolve the cacophony around them?

In the Prokofiev, the composer was evacuated due to the Nazi invasion of Moscow, so this displacement must have left him feeling homesick and unsure of the future. Despite all of this he wrote a piece drawing on the folk music that surrounded him and produced a piece that evokes a sense of pride and an optimism for the days ahead. Prokofiev also conveys a wistfulness in the second movement, perhaps recalling better days.

While Prokofiev faced an external war, Janáček battled a personal struggle in his marriage. It is no wonder he felt that Leo Tolstoy’s novella, The Kreutzer Sonata, spoke to his own situation of being locked in a loveless marriage. In the novella, a husband becomes increasingly mad from jealousy. His pianist wife has begun learning Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” violin and piano sonata with a dashing violinist. He arrives home late at night to find the two of them conversing intimately. This drives the husband to kill his wife out of madness. In this piece, we become actors, playing all the different roles from the married couple to the new violinist and even including the husband’s growing insanity. This string quartet requires a playing style that is very physical and aggressive while also being able to sing with lyricism and tenderness. It is a visceral experience that Janáček has created, so it is important to highlight the physicality of the work.

From the brutality of the Janáček, we felt a sense of calm was needed to balance the tumultuous story of Tolstoy. Golijov’s Tenebrae acts as the fulcrum to the album. It takes the quiet serenity of the cosmos, and intersperses it with the chaos and conflict of the Middle East, drawn from the composer’s experiences closely tied to each. The experience of seeing the world as a tiny blue dot at the planetarium contrasted with the devastating violence in Israel and led Golijov to write this piece that brings light to a world often shrouded in darkness.

Finally, the Mendelssohn Op.80 string quartet closes the album. This work is a sharp contrast to all of his others and was written towards the end of the composer’s short life. Having lost his sister unexpectedly, Mendelssohn was swimming in grief, unable to write music from the sheer weight of the tragedy. In an attempt to elevate himself from the loss, he took to composing to channel the hurt, frustration and anger of the departure of his family member and dearest friend. The nostalgia of the slow movement evokes the tenderness of their relationship which launches the listener back to the turmoil of his mourning in the fourth and final movement. Even in his darkest days, Mendelssohn gave the world an outlet to help both himself and the audience to cope and rise above the difficulties of life.

How did your relationship with the Emerson Quartet come about? How important was it to your development as a quartet?

Our relationship with the Emerson Quartet first began when we first played for David Finckel in 2012 at the Aspen Music Festival and School. We simply approached him and asked if he would have any extra time to hear us. He graciously took time out of his busy schedule to coach us on our repertoire for a few upcoming competitions. We kept in contact over the next few years and as our time studying at the Colburn School came to an end we were looking for possible residency programs for which to apply. At this point David recommended us for an opportunity to work with the Emerson at Stony Brook University. We were incredibly fortunate to get to study with the Emerson String Quartet for the next two years.

The Emerson Quartet has played an instrumental role in the development of our quartet. Not only have they provided us with profound musical insight, but they have offered us advice on everything that makes the life in a string quartet work.

On The Horizon

Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The TSO’s post-Oundjian journey begins in earnest September 20 to 22 with interim artistic director Sir Andrew Davis conducting. The program brackets Jacques Hétu’s Variations concertantes with Berlioz’s rarely heard Fantasy on Shakespeare’s The Tempest from Lelio, or The Return to Life and his Symphonie fantastique, one of the cornerstones of the orchestral repertoire. The parade of guest conductors begins on September 26 and 29 with the TSO debut of Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits, the chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The program includes Karabits’ countryman Valentin Silvestrov’s Serenade for String Orchestra, Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.3, and charismatic Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti as the soloist in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 with its lovely middle movement. The ever-popular Mahler Symphony No.5 is coupled with Ravel’s jazz-tinged Piano Concerto in G on October 3 and 4. Spanish pianist Javier Perianes is the soloist; artistic leader and chief conductor of the Trondheim Symfoniorkester, South Korean-native Han-Na Chang makes her TSO debut.

Han-Na ChangRoyal Conservatory (RCM): The Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble get the RCM-Koerner Hall regular season underway on October 3, with music by Nielsen, Françaix (his Octet for clarinet, bassoon, horn and string quintet) and Beethoven (his celebrated Septet for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass). Worth hearing alone for the distinctive timbre the unusual instrumentation produces. When Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain made their exciting Koerner Hall debut in April 2015, they brought the cello phenom Stéphane Tétrault; for their return visit, October 5, to augment a program that includes Sibelius’ Symphony No.1 and Nicolas Gilbert’s Avril, it’s the well-established pianist Nicholas Angelich who will be the soloist in Rachmaninoff’s first work composed after leaving Russia for good, the Piano Concerto No.4.

Poulenc TrioMusic in the Afternoon. Francis Poulenc’s invigorating, amusing, noble and otherworldly Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano is the best-known example of music written for this unusual combination of instruments. No double reed player can resist its charms, so it’s no wonder that the Poulenc Trio (pianist Irina Kaplan Lande, bassoonist Bryan Young and oboist James Austin Smith) named themselves for its composer. They launch the 121st season of the Women’s Musical Club on October 4 in Walter Hall, with a modernist program of music by Schnittke, Viet Cuong, Shostakovich, Previn and their namesake (whose famous trio they will perform) should enliven the first afternoon of the new month.

Summer continues. It’s still summer for the Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival. Artistic directors, the enterprising New Orford String Quartet, open this year’s edition on September 7 with Mozart’s “Dissonance” quartet along works by Burge and Ravel. André Laplante’s ambitious program on September 9 includes Schubert’s delightful Sonata in A Major D664 and a significant Liszt component: Three Sonetti del Petrarca, from Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année: Italie and his revolutionary masterpiece, the Sonata in B Minor. September 15 violinist Mark Fewer heads a jazz evening heavy on Ellington, with pianist David Braid and bassist Joseph Phillips. The next afternoon it’s Fewer with his classical pals doing a variety of chamber music headed by Dvořák’s Piano Quintet Op.81.

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

Jarred DunnSEP 20, 8PM: Brampton-native Jarred Dunn, a former assistant to, and collaborator with, the well-known author, pianist and teacher David Dubal, performs works by Szymanowski, Debussy, Górecki, Liszt and Chopin in his recital at Gallery 345.

SEP 23, 2PM & SEP 29, 2PM: Pocket Concerts launches their sixth season of chamber music in an intimate setting with Montreal-based violinist, Andrea Tyniec and Pocket Concerts co-director pianist Emily Rho in music by Beethoven, Sokolović and Debussy. In his Strings Attached column in our Summer 2016 issue, Terry Robbins praised Tyniec’s faultless technique and outstanding musicianship.

SEP 27, 7:30PM: Gallery 345 presents Payadora Tango Ensemble-member, Rebekah Wolkstein, performing music from Norway on the nine-string Hardanger fiddle. Tom King is the collaborative pianist.

OCT 2, 8PM: Marc-André Hamelin’s virtuoso program for Music Toronto’s new season continues his current examination of Samuel Feinberg with the Russian pianist-composer’s Sonata No.3, Op.3 and showcases old favourites like Alexis Weissenberg’s charming Six Arrangements of Songs Sung by Charles Trenet. Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s famous Chaconne and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cypresses bring out Hamelin’s astonishing technique, which of course also supports the Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie and Scherzo No.4 that conclude the recital.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The world of classical music can seem impenetrable to an outsider, requiring an extensive knowledge of history, languages, and an ear that is attuned to the code-like subtleties of prolonged instrumental and vocal works. With monumental multi-movement symphonies sometimes spanning well over an hour and operas (often in languages other than English) extending past the four-hour mark, it can be intimidating to take the plunge and immerse oneself in such an art form for the first time.

One way of getting one’s feet wet is through an increasing number of high-quality, entry-level venues for alternative classical music exploration, from indie opera pub nights to nightclub-based instrumental concerts. (And you can have a drink in hand throughout!)

Another is that, to help break down this seemingly impenetrable art form into more manageable units, many large symphonic groups have introduced a second kind of concert to their seasons – smaller in scale – featuring chamber-sized ensembles and shorter works that enrich and entertain both the aficionado and newcomer alike. One relatively recent addition to Toronto’s early music scene is Tafelmusik’s Close Encounters series, launched in 2016 and based, till now, in Heliconian Hall and the Royal Conservatory’s Temerty Theatre, with the aim of creating an up-close-and-personal encounter with Baroque and Classical repertoire in an informal style, with introductions from the musicians themselves. Although designed to be accessible and informative, these are definitely not low-calorie concerts; recent performances have included works by Biber, Mozart, Couperin and Rameau, pillars of the early music repertoire.

The increasing popularity of Close Encounters has meant that demand for seats at Heliconian Hall has outstripped supply, leading Tafelmusik to seek a new venue. This year’s Close Encounters series will be held, in addition to Temerty Theatre, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, in the centre of Toronto’s urban core. Holy Trinity, the fourth Anglican church built in Toronto, has been a premier venue for live music for many years, participating in Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche and presenting a weekly series of classical, choral and jazz concerts throughout the year, as well as a popular dramatization of the Christmas story that has run every December since 1937. As a concert hall, Holy Trinity boasts a magnificent acoustical space and a wonderful pipe organ, a three-manual German-style Casavant tracker instrument built in 1970 for Deer Park United Church.

As one of Toronto’s most significant orchestral groups, Tafelmusik undoubtedly considered many spaces as possible venues for their Close Encounters series, and the decision to move to Holy Trinity was not an arbitrary one. The ensemble has a surprisingly long connection with this church, beginning with their earliest concerts in the late 1970s. According to double bassist Alison Mackay:

“In the spring of 1979, a fledgling orchestra created by visionary founders Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves presented a concert of works by J.S. Bach performed on ‘original instruments.’ Within the ensemble were Kenny and Susan playing the baroque oboe and bassoon, and principal violist Ivars Taurins.

“Charlotte Nediger and I, who had not yet met, were in attendance at Holy Trinity Church by the Eaton Centre, and the event must have made a strong impression on both of us, since almost 40 years later we can each recall exactly where in the church we were sitting! (And in a fitting tribute to our anniversary we [will] host our chamber series Close Encounters at Holy Trinity this season.) Within a few months the orchestra had been christened ‘Tafelmusik’ and eventually moved to Trinity-St. Paul’s Church. I played in my first concert later that first year, and was soon joined by Charlotte and Dutch cellist Christina Mahler in a decades-long relationship of music-making and friendship at the bass end of the orchestra.”

Luigi BoccheriniThis year’s Close Encounters opening concert, “Quintessential Boccherini” on October 3, features violinists Elisa Citterio and Cristina Zacharias, violist Brandon Chui, and cellists Christina Mahler and Allen Whear performing the music of Luigi Boccherini, an often-overlooked 18th-century cello virtuoso. The French violinist Cartier once wrote, “If God wished to speak to man through music, he would choose Haydn. If he wanted to listen to the music himself, he would choose Boccherini.”

Boccherini was one of the most sensual composers of the 18th century, exploiting the colours and textures of string instruments and imbuing them with the flavour of Spain, where he worked for the Infante Don Luis. One of Boccherini’s most innovative creations was the two-cello quintet, conventionally called the “cello quintet.” Boccherini wrote over one hundred of these quintets (110, for the triviaphiles), which often feature a virtuoso cello part accompanied by the standard string quartet (two violin, viola and cello.) Boccherini would, of course, take the challenging part for himself and leave the second part for a secondary, lesser player! Boccherini also pioneered the double bass quintet, supplementing the traditional string quartet with a double bass, creating a much wider range of sound and greater depth to the bass line, taking the range of a typical string quartet and extending it downwards.

Since Boccherini, cello quintets have come from the pens of composers such as Schubert, Glazunov, Milhaud and Respighi, all written while Boccherini was an unknown name, a mere footnote to the history of 18th-century music. Much of Boccherini’s music follows the model of Joseph Haydn and was neglected after his death, with the dismissive sobriquet “Haydn’s wife,” introduced in the 19th century to illustrate Boccherini’s similarity to the great Austrian composer. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that Boccherini’s works were rediscovered and performed “for the first time,” many of them by the appropriately named Boccherini Quintet. Since then, Boccherini’s music has been performed increasingly frequently, gradually gaining the respect it deserves both for its musical quality and brilliant ingenuity.

In Other News…

Each September marks the beginning of a new musical season, a gradual reawakening of musicians and their ensembles as they return from various summer performances, seminars, programs and (maybe) a vacation or two. Although the concert calendar is rather sparse this month, there are a few exciting presentations on tap that will undoubtedly whet your early music appetite:

Although the Toronto Masque Theatre closed their curtains for the last time earlier this year, we look forward to exploring Confluence, a company of artists dedicated to intimate, thought-provoking and entertaining presentations. Led by TMT mastermind Larry Beckwith, Confluence launches on September 16 at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, promising food, drink and many performances. This event will provide a window into the newest endeavours being undertaken by some of Toronto’s most renowned and capable performers.

In addition to their Close Encounters chamber concert at Holy Trinity, Tafelmusik opens their 40th season on September 20 at Koerner Hall, with a performance of Mozart’s 40th Symphony. While this music needs little introduction, Mozart’s penultimate symphony will be paired with two of his concertos, including Tafelmusik’s first-ever performance of Mozart’s ebullient and sparkling Violin Concerto in D Major K218 with Elisa Citterio as soloist, the launch of a new cycle of Mozart concertos that will keep listeners enchanted all year long.

Robert BurnsScaramella opens their 2018/19 season on October 6 with a tribute to “Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire,” with selections from the Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803), a collaboration between Burns and music engraver James Johnson. These old Scottish tunes became wildly popular internationally, with many songs such as Auld Lang Syne and My Luve’s like a Red, Red Rose still cherished today. Singers Nils Brown and Donna Brown will lead a team of versatile instrumentalists whose classical and folk music interests collide, and the show will also include readings by Tam ‘O’ Shanter champion and Burns aficionado, Ronnie O’Byrne.

While New York may officially be The City That Never Sleeps, the same can be said of our musical scene here in Toronto. This magazine is full of some of the finest artists on the continent, and I encourage you to explore its contents in depth and go to as many concerts and events as you can! It may be tiring to return to work and school, but music has a way of inspiring above and beyond even the most exhausting daily grind. Have any questions or want to share your thoughts? Drop me a line at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

Barbara StrozziSEP 8, 7:30PM: Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival. Choir of Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal. St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, 335 Main St., Picton. A wonderful opportunity to hear a fine early music group performing Renaissance masterworks, including Tallis’ stunning Lamentations. This concert will certainly be worth the drive!

SEP 21, 8PM: SweetWater Music Festival. Opening Night Gala: Party Like It’s 1689. Historic Leith Church, 419134 Tom Thomson Lane, Leith. Savour the beautiful scenery of the Bruce Peninsula and take in this delightful medley of Italian Baroque gems, including music by the great Barbara Strozzi and Antonio Vivaldi.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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