What do we mean when we use the word “expressive” to describe a musical performance? Among musicians, it’s a common but somewhat amorphous term that comes in handy when being critical. It can be a stick to beat performers one dislikes (or envies), as in, “I was surprised at how inexpressive her singing was.” It’s a useful term for music teachers and conductors: “Let’s try that again with a little more expressiveness, shall we?” It’s also great fun to throw around in undergraduate music theory and analysis classes. State, “Now, let’s think about what Brahms was trying to express with this melodic use of a minor sixth.” Then add, “and this will be on the exam,” and enjoy it as the students’ demeanours shift from blank to terrified.

In choral music performance, in which singers are most often reading from printed music, the goal of expressiveness is to move beyond a bland execution of the notes on the page, using timbre, dynamic contrast, diction, blend and balance to find some kind of meaning or point of view in the musical performance. One particular challenge in the journey towards musical expressiveness is that what constitutes appropriate expression for one composer or musical era is entirely inappropriate for another. A darker timbral colour appropriate to German choral music of the late 19th century may be too heavy for music of the Italian Baroque, which generally benefits from a light and transparent sound.

The situation becomes more complicated as one engages with early music, which often has been revived after centuries of neglect. It is odd to think that Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, for instance, considered by most people to be a classic for the ages, was not in fact a universally popular piece until well into the 20th century. In this case and many others like it, the absence of a continuing tradition has compelled musicians to engage in a process of rediscovery. Although performance practice of early music is thoroughly informed by scholarship, research, virtuosity and decades of experimentation, we have to acknowledge the paradoxical reality that the performance tradition of much ancient music is a young and almost entirely modern construct.

The reason that the modern musical world might go to such trouble to revive the past is the subject for a future column. In the meantime there are a number of concerts on the horizon that illuminate the question of expressiveness in music, especially early music.

Toronto’s Tallis Choir, which specializes in music of the Italian and English Renaissances (very roughly, the 15th to early 17th centuries) attempts to bridge the gap from a modern concert performance to the original conditions in which this choral repertoire was first performed. Accordingly, their concert on December 4 featuring the music of Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554–1612) will attempt to create the conditions of a midnight Christmas mass in 1605, performed in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Gabrieli’s music was specifically composed to take advantage of the architectural structure of the Basilica. His singers were split into two full and separate choirs situated in two different sections of the church, and the call-and-response structure of the music (also known as “antiphony,” but only by particularly expressive musicians) created wonderful sonic effects. Other works by Gabrieli will be on the programme as well.

p25In a similar vein, Toronto’s St Michael’s Choir School is an institution that has dedicated itself in part to maintaining a performance tradition of choral music from the early Renaissance up to the modern era. Rather defiantly eschewing the larger Catholic church’s modern predilection for folk or popular music, the school, which was founded in 1937, represents one of the pockets of the world in which a working understanding of a composer like Gabrieli has never entirely stopped. Many skilled Canadian singers and conductors have got their training at “St Mike’s.” The central work of their December 11 Christmas concert is English composer Ralph Vaughan Willliams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. This work, written in 1912, has taken on the status of a chestnut, and it contains songs that have become well-known favourites for carol aficionados. But Vaughan Willliams was part of the folk music revival that took place in England at the end of 19th century, and in writing the Fantasia he was engaged in an act of reconstruction and promotion similar to the early-music musicians of a later generation (in intention if not in execution).

In choral performances of Christmas carols, so prevalent at this time of year, both expressiveness and early music performance practice can be central questions. Carol concerts are almost without exception musical compendiums that can encompass 13th-century chant, 20th-century gospel music, and everything in between. Choirs must be able to execute well music from wildly disparate stylistic areas.

Among the many excellent carol and seasonal concerts presented this December, space permits only a sampling (please consult The WholeNote listings for a comprehensive guide). The Etobicoke Centennial Choir’s Sacred Traditions will feature sacred music from the African, Jewish, and Christian repertoire, and play host to the Nutifafa African Performance Ensemble on December 4. Toronto’s Upper Canada Choristers will feature Cantemos, the UCC’s Latin-American ensemble, in a December 10 performance of music from, and inspired by, the Medieval epoch; and on the same day the Oakville Choral Society will present Bach’s Magnificat and other works. The Alexander Singers will include some Chanukah music along with Christmas repertoire on December 11. And the Cantemus Singers will present a Christmas Oratorio by the pre-Bach German composer Heinrich Schütz on December 12.

As this magazine also includes listings for the new year, I will finish by mentioning two concerts to watch for after Christmas: The Elmer Iseler Singers join the Esprit Orchestra on January 30 for a concert that includes Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna and Montreal composer José Evangelista’s Symphonie minute; and on February 5 the Mississauga Festival Choir performs a concert in support of the mentoring organization Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Peel.

Benjamin Stein is a tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com.

For the last month of 2010 and the first of 2011, the most interesting works of music theatre in Toronto are not operas but musicals. If you think I mean the jukebox musicals currently playing on King Street, think again. Fortunately for the reputation of the American musical, there are still composers who choose to engage with serious themes and choose the musical as the most appropriate form of expression for their ideas. Unfortunately, the difficulty of their work does not suit the current frivolous conception of musical-as-event or musical-as-party. Both musicals in question, Parade and Assassins, have thus achieved a succès d’estime rather than wide popularity. Their less than positive depiction of life in the United States requires an audience that is not only serious-minded but open-minded.

First up is Parade, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Alfred Uhry. It opened in 1998 and closed after 84 performances. Nevertheless, it won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Musical Score and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. The musical’s downbeat historical subject is the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, who was accused and convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee. When, after reviewing the testimony, the Governor of Georgia commuted Frank’s death sentence to life imprisonment, Frank was transferred to a small-town prison where a lynching party kidnapped him and took him to his supposed victim’s hometown where they hanged him. The parade of the title is the annual parade for Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday still observed today in eight states.

Two theatre groups will join forces to produce the Canadian premiere of the musical: Acting Up Stage, responsible for Adam Guettel’s musical Light in the Piazza earlier this year, and Studio 180, the company behind such political plays as Stuff Happens and The Laramie Project. Michael Therriault will sing the role of Leo Frank, a role created by Brent Carver on Broadway, and Tracy Michailidis will play his wife Lucille. The cast is filled with members best-known from the Shaw Festival: Neil Barclay, Jeff Irving, Gabrielle Jones, George Masswohl, Mark McGrinder, Jay Turvey and Mark Uhre. The score, filled with references to popular music of the period, is conducted by Shaw Festival music director Paul Sportelli and directed by Studio 180 artistic director Joel Greenberg. Previews begin December 30, 2010, and the show opens January 3 2011, running to January 22 at the Berkeley Street Theatre. For more information phone 416-368-3110 or visit www.paradethemusical.com.

p20Later in January comes a musical on an equally inflammatory topic: Assassins, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by John Weidman. The musical opened Off Broadway in 1990 and ran for only 73 performances. Another of Sondheim’s musicals structured by theme rather than plot, Assassins uses the stories of nine people who assassinated or tried to assassinate a US president to examine the perverse underside of the American Dream. Killing the most powerful person in the world gives the deluded characters access to instant fame.

The action is set within two frames. The first is the setting itself, a seedy carnival shooting gallery, where the insidious Proprietor invites fairgoers to step up and shoot a president. Within this frame is a narrative frame provided by the Balladeer, who, as in Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, provides the backgrounds of the eight sorry figures under examination. That the Balladeer also plays the ninth assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, is a further ploy to prevent identification of the actor with his role. Besides this, the production’s director Adam Brazier has the actors play instruments, inspired no doubt by John Doyle’s famous Sweeney Todd, thus forcing us to view the performances as performances.

Two innovative theatre companies combined forces to produce Assassins last year: Talk Is Free Theatre of Barrie and BirdLand Theatre of Toronto. The show received the 2010 Dora Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical which has led to this revival. The cast combines stars from both Stratford and Shaw: Graham Abbey, Lisa Horner, Trish Lindström and Steve Ross, among others. Reza Jacobs, assistant music director at the Shaw Festival, conducts the score that makes witty use of popular musical styles ranging from the 1860s of John Wilkes Booth to the 1980s of John Hinckley Jr . Performances take place January 8 to 23 at the Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen Street West. For more information phone 416-504-7529 or visit www.birdlandtheatre.com.

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


This time of year and the ensuing holiday cheer inevitably result in a rash of Messiahs, Nutcrackers, and other ubiquitous advent events. But those with a taste for the new shouldn’t fear. There’s still plenty to satisfy now and into the new year. In fact, Toronto music presenters have produced such a rich arrangement that curious ears will be challenged in deciding what to hear.

p16December 3 is a good case in point, when the calendar is triple booked with new music. Wind enthusiasts will want to make their way to MacMillan Theatre to hear the U of T Wind Ensemble perform Christos Hatzis’ Tongues of Fire. This eclectic percussion concerto was originally commissioned by the Scotia Festival in 2007 for full orchestra and soloists Beverley Johnston and Dame Evelyn Glennie. The work caught the ear of conductor Glenn Price, who commissioned Toronto composer Kevin Lau to arrange a wind ensemble version for an international assortment of eleven ensembles. Beverley Johnston serves as soloist for this Toronto premiere, part of an all-contemporary programme, with works by Americans Joseph Schwanter and Morten Lauridsen, and Canadian John Estacio. Call 416-978-3744 for more info.

Those with a taste for French music should visit the Alliance Française, where pianist Adam Sherkin, soprano Jennifer Taverner, flautist Tristan Durie and toy pianist Stéphanie Chua perform a sonic architecture of music by Iannis Xenakis and Philippe Leroux. Details are available by phone at 416-922-2014. Meanwhile, those seeking the latest sounds from New York City can shuttle over to Gallery 345 to hear Canadian pianist Vicky Chow. An internationally accomplished soloist and new-music collaborator, Ms. Chow has worked with top-tier composers such as John Adams and Louis Andriessen. In addition to being a member of the illustrious Bang On A Can All-Stars, she is the pianist for the Chicago-based avant-garde Opera Cabal and NYC’s ai ensemble. For her visit to Toronto, Ms. Chow performs an assemblage of world and Canadian premieres by the likes of Bang on a Can colleagues David Lang and Evan Ziporyn, as well as works by early-career composers Ryan Anthony Francis, Daniel Wohl, Eliot Britton and Andy Jakub Ciupinski. For more info visit www.gallery345.com or call 416-822-9781.

Those who want to avoid selection stress should wait until December 4, when the San Agustin Duo appears at Gallery 345 in an all-Canadian programme of music by women composers. Violinist Emma Banfield and pianist Diana Dumlavwalla perform a gamut of Canadian violin literature, from pioneer Gena Branscombe through to contemporary classics from Kelly Marie Murphy and Alice Ho.

On December 10, there’s a mixed double bill to challenge your choice-making skills. Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz appears at Koerner Hall with a programme including Stravinsky and Shostakovich, but more notably a recent work by world-famous Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür. Tüür’s music isn’t often heard in Toronto, and I can’t really describe it well myself, but this Conversio for violin and piano has been compared to a cross between Steve Reich and Messiaen. Sounds intriguing. Meanwhile, over at the Isabel Bader Theatre, New Music Concerts continues its decades-long relationship with the long-lived American composer Elliott Carter, who continues to create at a remarkable rate. This concert features the Canadian premieres of several new works written within the last two years, among them the long-awaited Flute Concerto. Carter gets his tribute concert on the eve of his 102nd birthday no less! More details are available at www.newmusicconcerts.com.

p18We arrive at mid-month with a simple selection of demanding but mesmerizing music by Hungarian composer György Kurtág. On December 16, mezzo Krisztina Szabó and pianist John Hess offer a programme of vocal and chamber works in tribute to this most important Hungarian composer. The noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Theatre will feature Kurtág’s harrowing Attila József Fragments for solo voice, Three Old Inscriptions for voice and piano, as well as works for solo piano and piano four hands. More details are available at www.coc.ca.

Then you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the holiday season and rest up before the New Year. And I assure that you will want to recharge your batteries, because the January new-music schedule is jam-packed with not-to-be-missed events.

We start with the spectacular, Victoria-based Aventa Ensemble, which returns to Toronto on January 4 to launch their 2011 Canadian tour at the Music Gallery. The programme includes a word premiere from Vancouver-based Jordan Nobles for spatialized ensemble, alongside works by Quebec’s quirky André Ristic and a contemporary classic from Pierre Boulez.

New Music Concerts opens the second half of their season on January 14 at the Music Gallery, with the renowned Diotima Quartet in a programme of recent works by 21st century, heavy-hitting composers like James Dillon, Emmanuel Nunes, Roger Reynolds and Thomas Larcher. This music selection – all Canadian premieres – has been carefully curated in co-operation with NMC to represent the range of international composers that both groups have worked closely with over the years.

On January 16, Mooredale Concerts pairs trombonist Alain Trudel and organist Peter Webb for an unique afternoon concert. The programme includes works by well-known 20th century composers Holst, Schnittke, Messiaen and others, but also features the world premiere of Flow for trombone and organ by Vancouver Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence Scott Good. More details are available at www.mooredaleconcerts.com and 416-587-9411.

The following day, Continuum launches its season with a one-two punch. On January 17, soprano Carla Huhtanen joins Continuum’s ensemble to release Raw, the Centrediscs CD of James Rolfe’s chamber music, marking in the process a 20-year partnership between the presenter and one of Canada’s most accomplished composers. A scant week later, on January 24, Continuum collaborates with students from OCADU to explore associations between visual and musical arts. Choosing from some of Continuum’s best repertoire – including thirteen works by the most adventurous Canadian and international composers – students filter music through the visual in various curatorial fashions. For more info visit www.continuummusic.org or call 416-924-4945.

In between, on January 22, Tapestry New Opera Works delves back into its library of contemporary stage works to pick the most memorable arias for “The Tapestry Songbook.” The selections have been carefully made by long-time Tapestry collaborator Chris Foley and will be performed by members of the Tapestry New Work Studio Company alongside recent workshop participants. For more info, visit www.tapestrynewopera.com or call 416-537-6066.

Spanning the last week of January is the ever-expanding University of Toronto New Music Festival, which this year hubs around distinguished visiting composer Chen Yi. Now based in the USA, Chen is a prolific and highly awarded Chinese composer who blends musical traditions from the East and West, thus transcending cultural boundaries. The ten events that cover the January 23-29 festival dates include composer talks, student recitals, faculty concerts and multimedia events, and feature no less than six concerts of Chen’s music. For full details visit www.music.utoronto.ca/events/nmf.htm.

Once again, on January 25 we arrive at a choice challenge. At noon, wind and string ensembles from the Glenn Gould School fill the Richard Bradshaw Theatre with a celebration of the Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. In addition to select Golijov works – Lullaby and Doina for mixed chamber ensemble and a new work for violin and piano – the programme includes pieces by Ginastera and Prokofiev that reflect Golijov’s rich cultural heritage. And while Chen Yi gives a talk at Walter Hall, Soundstreams will be presenting works by other Chinese composers at Koerner Hall, most notably fellow American Tan Dun and his Ghost Opera. This chamber work for string quartet and pipa explores ancient Chinese shamanism. Surrounding Ghost Opera are a premiere from Canadian composer Dorothy Chang and works by Chen Xiaoyong. You can find details at www.soundstreams.ca.

The month closes out without conflict (but perhaps very full ears) on January 30 at Koerner Hall, where Esprit Orchestra will partner with the Elmer Iseler Singers for a powerful programme hinging on Giya Kancheli’s Styx for orchestra, chorus and viola. Haled as a 21st- century choral masterpiece, Styx is dedicated to departed composer colleagues Schnittke and Terterian. The masterful violist Teng Li joins Esprit as soloist. The programme is completed with a counterbalance of works from Ligeti and Canadians Douglas Schmidt and José Evangelista. More details are available at www.espritorchestra.com.

From cheer to lament, new expressions through music never cease. So be sure to get in with the new via The WholeNote’s concert listings, here and online at www.thewholenote.com.

Jason van Eyk is the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre. He can be contacted at newmusic@thewholenote.com.

p14As well as bringing some of the best pianists and string quartets to Toronto, Music Toronto also supports young talent with its three-concert Discovery Series. The second Discovery concert of the season will be a recital on January 20 by soprano Laura Klassen, with collaborative pianist Megan Chang.

I asked Jennifer Taylor, the artistic and administrative director of Music Toronto, how she selects young artists for the three annual Discovery Series concerts. She told me it’s not by a formal process, but rather by getting out and hearing performances and sometimes even by reading about young musicians who sound interesting. She first heard Laura Klassen in a student opera at the University of Toronto a few years ago. Klassen made an impression, not only on her but also on some of her subscribers, and a year or so ago, when programming the 2010-11 season, Taylor invited her to participate.

There are various bits of biographical information about Klassen on the Music Toronto website: she has ARCT diplomas in both piano and voice, has a Master’s degree from the U of T Opera School, received the Canadian Opera Volunteers Committee Borowska Distinguished Graduate Award, and sings with the Canadian Opera Company Chorus and with the Orpheus Choir. But who is the person behind all this good news? What kind of person earns the opportunity to give a solo recital presented by Music Toronto’s prestigious Discovery Series?

In corresponding with Klassen, I was astonished to learn that it wasn’t until her second-last year of high school that she started to sing. “I went to an arts high school to play the flute and we all had to sing solos as a ‘music project,’” she said. “In grade 12 I got the lead role in our school musical, Once Upon a Mattress. I was terrified, but my love of acting helped get me over my fright pretty quickly!” With that under her belt she started taking private voice lessons from her high-school teacher just in time to be ready for university auditions.

What she had been doing musically since the age of two was playing the piano, which undoubtedly helped her to progress quickly with singing. “My mom was my first and only piano teacher. When we were kids, it was made clear that all three of us would become proficient pianists. I thank my mom so much for it all now! I sing often with my mom at the piano, and she has really encouraged me with all of my performing.”

Asked why the voice rather than the piano is her instrument of choice, she said that she has found it much easier to perform as a singer than as a pianist, and that singing just came naturally. “I’m really thankful that I started out on the piano, though, because I feel that I have a solid musical background. Also, it’s handy to be able to play my own accompaniments when practising!”

I asked Klassen how her years of music have shaped her character. Not only has work in music fostered her creativity but it has also helped her to channel her competitive nature. “University was very competitive, and I learned to be more focused on competing with myself rather than with others.” What led to this was the realization that there will always be someone out there who’s better than her, which put things into perspective.

Now, with university studies behind her, she is fortunate that all her work is music-related: “I enjoy it so much, and I think that makes me a really happy person. I’ve started singing in the Canadian Opera Company Chorus this year, and though it probably won’t enhance my solo career, it’s a great job. It’s a lot of fun, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot just being able to sing on the same stage as the amazing singers who have the lead roles. It’s also very interesting to be able to view all that goes on behind the scenes of such a large company.”

As for the future, her plan is to do her best and sing for as many people as she can. “So far, all of my big opportunities haven’t come from auditions, they’ve come from other performances that I’ve done. Of course I’ll keep on auditioning and see where it takes me! Every performance is an audition, and you need to be fully prepared. I just make sure that I’m as prepared as I can be for every performance and then just try to do my best. You never know who’s going to be in the audience.”

I was intrigued by her programme for January 20: it’s varied, covering four centuries and a variety of genres. “I wanted a very diverse programme,” she commented, “different languages, different periods, different styles. I wanted it to be interesting. I mostly chose songs that I absolutely love, and I hope that comes through in my performance.”

I’m sure it will – along with an energetic and practical personality with more than a tinge of idealism. I think it is true to say that behind every great singer there is a great person, a person who has risen to the challenges both of music and of life. Brava Laura!

Laura Klassen's Music Toronto recital, January 20th CANCELLED!

For health reasons: Ms Klassen recently had emergency surgery and  has been advised she will need 4-6 mnths for complete recovery. To inquire about a ticket exchange or refund tickeholders should contact the box office 416-366-7723

Elsewhere in the News

Superstar soprano Renée Fleming will sing with the Toronto Symphony on December 8 as will the Canadian mezzo Marie-Nicole Lemieux on January 22 and 23, in performances conducted by Bernard Labadie.

p15bOn December 10, Sinfonia Toronto will be joined by Spanish trumpet player Vicente Campos, who will perform the Hummel Trumpet Concerto. On January 21, violinist Judy Kang will perform Affairs of the Heart by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich.

The Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall is making an enormous contribution to the musical life of the city. In December, along with a number of other performers in genres covered elsewhere in The WholeNote, it is bringing us the Canadian-born violin superstar Leila Josefowicz to do a solo recital on December 10, and on December 12 the highly individual American pianist Simone Dinnerstein. January is particularly busy, with the RCM Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian on the 21st, pianist Hélène Grimaud on the 23rd, the RCM Piano Competition Finals on the 26th, the Banff String Quartet Competition winners, the Cecilia String Quartet, on the 27th, and flutist Kathleen Rudolphe and collaborators on the 30th.

Mooredale Concerts will bring us trombonist extraordinaire Alain Trudel, and organist also extraordinaire Patrick Wedd, at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church on January 16. And two days later, on January 18, the co-founders of the CCC Toronto International Piano Competition, Lu Wang and Lang-Ning Liu, will perform as the Juilliard Duo at the Glenn Gould Studio.

All this is, of course, just scratching the surface. Read the listings to get the whole story!

Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

p12fRecently, a most engaging talk fell into my hands, a CBC radio interview from 2002 between Eric Friesen and gambist, cellist and educator Peggie Sampson, on the occasion of her 90th birthday. During the course of the interview, Dr. Sampson reflected on various possible ways of presenting early music in concert. One way to do it, she said, is to recreate an occasion: “to be in somebody’s court, on a definite day – the marriage of this princess to that prince or something like that, and then you try to reproduce the whole scene.”

Her comment led me to observe that more than one group have thought to celebrate this season of “definite days” by recreating an occasion, bringing the audience as close as possible to an experience of what that event must have been like. So I asked the artistic directors of three of these groups to tell me a bit about the genesis and development of this idea in their performances. Here is some of what they told me.

The Tallis Choir and its artistic director Peter Mahon very much enjoy taking this approach in their programming, devoting one concert per season to a reconstruction of the musical content of an historic event. Choir member (and enthusiastic researcher of programme material) Douglas Cowling notes: “These reconstructions allow us to hear the classic repertoire in the musical sequence which the composer intended. In the upcoming Gabrieli mass, we will be unable to recreate the cannon volleys on the Grand Canal which punctuated the service at significant moments, but we will see how Venetian composers assembled a mass with seemingly independent movements, hear for the first time Orlando di Lasso’s polyphonic settings of the mass responses, and experience Gabrieli’s famous brass music as ‘cover’ for grand ceremonial in San Marco. It will be a unique concert experience – and a lot of fun.” And so on December 4, the Tallis Choir takes the audience back to 1605 with a recreation of Christmas Eve in the ducal chapel of San Marco in Venice. Featured is Giovanni Gabrieli’s Mass for Twelve Voices, interwoven with more glorious sacred music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Lasso and Grandi.

p13On December 11, the Aradia Ensemble and its artistic director Kevin Mallon take their audience to Dublin, Ireland, in April 1742 for “The Dublin Messiah,” recreating the premiere of Handel’s famous work. Mallon is enthusiastic about this presentation and the reasons for it: “As early music performers, we try to recreate the instruments so they sound as the people of the time and the composer would have heard; we try to get as close as possible to a performing style they would have expected; we try to get as close as we can to the text the composer wrote, etc. So, the notion of recreating a particular event from a definite time or place is all part of that. However, I have found that the audience get a real kick out of the recreation. We can have fun with it – for example, pointing out that the tradition of King George standing at the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ came from the London performances which post-dated the premiere in Ireland. So in my strong Irish accent I ask them to sit and enjoy it! The first audience was asked: ‘The Ladies who honour this Performance with their Presence would be pleased to come without hoops, as it will greatly encrease the Charity by making room for more company. The Gentlemen are desired to come without their Swords.’ So we ask our audience to do likewise!”

On December 10, 11 and 12 the Toronto Consort presents “Praetorius Christmas Vespers,” recreating the joyful celebration of Christmas Vespers as it might have been heard under the direction of Michael Praetorius in 17th-century Germany. As in all Toronto Consort presentations, a great deal of scholarship has gone into the preparation of this concert. Artistic director David Fallis talked a bit about the research involved – everything from determining the permissible elements of the Lutheran Vespers service as distinct from the Catholic service (for example cutting down the number of psalms to only one or two, and the addition of the Creed), all the way to delving into Praetorius’ complete works to create parts, thereby enabling the performers to play and sing the music. Praetorius, as you’ll discover if you go, loved groups of strings and groups of brass; and there’s something very warming in being enveloped by the massive chords of singers, violins, cornetti, sackbuts, theorbos and keyboards as they resound from the balconies and all around the church – a joyful invitation to join in the celebration of a north German Christmas.

 

Some upcoming concerts

There’s no possibility of doing justice to the amazing flurry of early music concerts in December and January – you’ll have to go on a listings treasure hunt to find them all. Here are but a few:

• December 4: A night to make a choice. In addition to the Tallis Choir concert, discussed above, there is: Toronto Chamber Choir, “O Magnum Mysterium” (serene motets of Palestrina, expressive harmonies of Monteverdi, beautiful voices and strings of Vivaldi); Flutes by Night, “Bach, Bach and More” (J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Telemann and Hotteterre for traverso, recorder, cello and harpsichord); Cantemus Singers, “Welcome Yule” (renaissance and medieval carols; Sweelinck, Praetorius and Byrd; Schütz’s delightful Christmas Oratorio). Fortunately, this concert is repeated on December 12.

• December 18: Sine Nomine Ensemble for Medieval Music, “Minstrels at a Christmas Court” (In this English romance, the faithful Sir Cleges, benefactor of minstrels, becomes the beneficiary of a Christmas miracle. Around this compelling narrative framework is woven a mixture of seasonally evocative 14th- and 15th-century English Christmas music for voices and instruments).

• January 15: I Furiosi, “My Big Fat Baroque Wedding” (We are not just staging a wedding, but the clothes will be designed by Canadian designer extraordinaire Rosemarie Umetsu who is presenting eight to ten new garments at the show. Works by Bach, Campion, Handel and more. We encourage audience members to come wearing bridesmaid gowns that they have never reworn.)

• January 28 in Kingston: Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra, “Handel’s and Haydn’s London” (J.S. Bach, J.C. Bach, Handel, Geminiani, Haydn and Greene – the second concert of this newly-formed, mainly baroque-spirited, chamber orchestra).

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities, who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

I’ll begin where I left off last month, with a reminder about Nagata Shachu, Toronto’s own Japanese taiko drumming ensemble, who present a new programme titled “Iroha” (colour), directed by Aki Takahashi, with lighting by Arun Srinivasan, November 5 and 6 at Fleck Dance Theatre. Each piece on the programme is inspired by a colour. In addition to drumming and the use of other traditional instruments, the programme includes some choreography.

November 6 is also the date you can catch the Ukulele Orchestra of Britain, performing at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall. This ensemble of around eight players is on tour this year (they’ll be coming to us via New York’s Carnegie Hall and a concert in Erie Pennsylvania, before heading back home briefly, then departing to New Zealand). The name says it all – they play ukuleles of various sizes, and if you’d like a sampling of their music, check them out on YouTube! You can also visit their website, www.ukuleleorchestra.com. Check out their rendition of “Ride of the Valkyries”; and yes, they sing too!

page_29_lulaSmall World Music continues its regular programming this month with concerts at the Lula Lounge and elsewhere. (And speaking of Lula, their artistic director for the past decade, José Ortega, was recently awarded the Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition, one of the 2010 Toronto Arts Foundation Awards; more about Ortega next month.)

But to continue with Small World Music: Septeto Nacional, Cuba’s “son” band formed over 80 years ago, brings the spirit of Havana to the Lula Lounge on November 5; then, hailed as “the new voice of Brazil”, singer Luisa Maita performs there on November 12. On November 13 there is a co-presentation of Chhandayan, Small World Music and Creations India — devotees of Indian classical music can experience a traditional all-night concert at St. Andrew’s Church. Featured musicians include Swapan Chaudhuri, Samir Chatterjee, Shashank, Ramesh Misra, Pandita Tripti Mukherjee, Suman Ghosh, Alam Khan, Gauri Guha, Dibyarka Chatterjee and others. Finally, on November 26 “India’s first YouTube star” Wilbur Sargunaraj, who hails from Tamil Nadu, brings a combination of dance, drumming and humour to the Lula Lounge.

For more info on all of these, visit www.smallworldmusic.com.

Yiannis Kapoulas

Also at the Lula Lounge, multi-instrumentalist Yiannis Kapoulas performs selections from his self-titled debut CD, with a six-piece ensemble, November 14. His signature instrument is the “Ethno III” a 3-necked instrument designed by his father George Kapoulas, which combines sonorities of the Greek bouzouki with those of two Turkish instruments, the saz and cumbus. Born in Hamilton to Greek parents, Yiannis plays a number of instruments from this region, including bouzouki, tzoura, baglama, laouto, oud, as well and other Eastern stringed instruments, guitar, percussion and keyboard. He first began performing with his father and brother at the age of 5. Since then he has gone on to establish himself as a musician and award-winning songwriter in international competitions. His career has flourished in both Greece and Canada, where earlier this year he was named this city’s “Best Live Acoustic Act” by the Toronto Independent Music Awards.

Folk music lovers will also be interested to know that award-winning blues singer/guitarist Joel Fafard is on tour this month with the release of his new album “Cluck Old Hen.” Included are vocal covers of old Southern roots and blues songs, tunes by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Richard Thompson, Lyle Lovett, and traditional Appalachian pieces. He’ll be performing at the Free Times Cafe (320 College St. just west of Spadina) on November 20.

And looking ahead to December: Pandora’s Box Salon is a new venture in Aurora put together by French horn player Katie Toksoy. There are 5 events planned this season (the first has just passed, as I write this). Each is on a particular theme; a variety of art forms are featured including music, dance, literature, film, and visual arts. It all takes place at the newly renovated concert space in the Aurora Cultural Centre. Each event also includes wine and finger foods during an extended intermission so that artists and audience can mix and mingle. Proceeds go to a local charity. The next event is on December 5, and is titled “Around the World in 80 Minutes”; it features music and dance from India, Egypt, Iran, Bali, Africa, and Europe. Performers include sitarist Anwar Khurshid (director of the Sitar School of Toronto), the Sonore Percussion Trio, Sabrina Nazar on wooden flute, a bellydancer, and others. For more information on Pandora’s Box, visit www.pandorasboxsalon.com.

 

Karen Ages can be reached at

worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

Oops. There was bit of a mistake in one of our photo captions last month. One of our photos showed the trumpet section of Resa’s Pieces band, but the caption stated that this was the trumpet section of the New Horizons Band. Actually, at the time of publication, the New Horizons Band did not yet have a trumpet section. The band had just had its first organizational meeting, and potential members were trying to decide which instrument they would like to embrace as their own. Now, one month after that organizational meeting, I am pleased to report that the New Horizons Band has 24 members signed up, with more anticipated in the wings.

p28Having heard of the very favourable response from that organizational meeting, I decided that a visit to one of their rehearsals might be in order. So, on a Wednesday morning at 9:30, I arrived at rehearsal number three. While the repertoire was still very rudimentary, there was a sense of a cohesive organization blossoming. It was not the group of strangers that arrived one month earlier. Members were chatting on a first name basis and generally helping each other. In one case, one member seemed a bit discouraged at slow progress in mastering the fingering of the instrument. Section members were sympathetic and helpful. Now, by the advent of the third rehearsal, they had formed ad hoc committees and there was an impressive array of refreshment goodies at the break.

They are still short of low brass players. Trombones, French horns and tubas would all be welcomed. Otherwise, there was good balance. After I took a few photographs, conductor Dan Kapp handed me a tuba and offered the opportunity to sit in and participate in a mixture of basic exercises and in playing a few simple melodies. By the end of the session The New Horizons Band had performed recognizable renditions of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and a somewhat simplified version of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Now, after only three weeks, midtown Toronto has the makings of a new daytime rehearsal band.

Also in last months issue, there was a photo of Resa’s Pieces Strings at their inaugural rehearsal. At that time they were doing remarkably well, but were still out prospecting for their first viola player. Now, Resa Kochberg reports that the orchestra has a small viola section, and the general progress of the orchestra is exceeding expectations.

In both of these startup groups the social rewards of playing in some form of musical ensemble have quickly come to the fore. However, for the beginner, there is the question of what instrument would be preferable. What are the physical demands and the demands on one’s dexterity posed by the various instruments? It seems that there are significant numbers of people interested in learning to play an instrument who have no idea of the skills required for the many different instruments. Perhaps that could be the subject of a future column.

 

Our Readers Write

I’m pleased to report that I have just received an interesting “Short history of the Thorold Reed Concert Band” from their musical director, Brian Williams. Here’s what Brian sent to us.

“The band was formed back in 1851, when Thorold was a village, and has been active to the present day. The band has seen many conductors and instrumentalists over the years, and today boasts a membership of 45 musicians from the Niagara area. It has been an integral part of the Thorold community, and in the past it raised the money to build a bandstand and the present-day Cenotaph monument in Memorial Park. The bandshell in Battle of Beaverdams Park in the center of Thorold was sponsored jointly by the City of Thorold, the St. Lawrence Seaway and a Wintario grant.

“The band has competed in the Waterloo Music Festival and CNE competitions, and attained top honours. A highlight occurred when the Band led the two 1956 New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades. This was a first for Canadian bands. The band was presented with a gold medal and the keys to the city. In 2001 the band celebrated its 150th year of continuous operation with a grand concert on Canada Day. Nine free Wednesday evening “pops” concerts are still provided by the Band in Battle of Beaverdams Park. Concerts are also given at local retirement residences and nursing homes in Thorold and St. Catharines throughout the year, in addition to supporting special activities put on by the city of Thorold and the Royal Canadian Legion.

“To maintain the enthusiasm of audience and musicians alike, the band’s repertoire is kept up to date with selections of new music every year, alongside many of the old favourites. All of the musicians are volunteers and rehearse throughout the winter months. Today’s band is the best yet, and we look forward to starting our ‘pops’ concert season at the Bandshell in Battle of Beaverdams Park. The nine Wednesday evening concerts are sponsored by the City of Thorold. Some of our concerts feature massed bands with the City of Thorold Pipes and Drums. For more information about the band please call 905-227-0150 or email to gbwilliams@cogeco.ca.

Also in our mailbox this month was a notice about a competition. To commemorate the City of Pickering’s bicentennial celebrations in 2011, the Pickering Community Concert Band, together with the City of Pickering, have announced a music composition competition. The first-prize winning piece will be the City of Pickering’s 200th celebration commemorative piece, and the winner will be awarded $500. The second prize will become the Band’s 20th anniversary celebration commemorative piece and the prize winner will be awarded $300. Both winning compositions will be performed by the Pickering Community Concert Band during the planned 2011 celebrations. For more information, contact info@concertband.ca and use the subject line “composition query.” Budding composers, here’s your opportunity for fame.

On the brass band front, Toronto’s Hannaford Street Silver Band have announced the appointment of noted Canadian trombone virtuoso Alain Trudel as Principal Guest Conductor of the HSSB. Their first concert of the 2010-2011 season (November 7), aptly titled “Childs’ Play,” will feature internationally renowned euphonium soloist David Childs.

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

"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” So wrote Benjamin Franklin in a letter to French historian Jean-Baptiste Leroy, on November 13, 1789. Well, Ben, add another one: change. As a veteran of the Toronto jazz scene I’ve seen a lot of changes. I wish I could say they’ve been for the better, but the sad fact is that looking back is more enjoyable than looking ahead.

What has changed Toronto from being a leading city on the jazz club circuit to the sad state of today? For a start, there is no club circuit any more. Rising costs and declining, aging audiences put paid to that. Touring groups, except for the few that can fill a concert hall, have become a thing of the past. With the demise of the great jazz clubs in this city – the Colonial, Town Tavern, Bourbon Street, Cafe des Copains, Montreal Bistro, Top O’ The Senator, to name only some of them – I feel a sense of loss. The club circuit has its equivalent now in the festival roundabout, relying more and more on ticket sales, often at the expense of the music. And festivals come around once a year; clubs entertained us year round.p26b

Jazz has undergone huge changes since the 1930s when Louis Armstrong was not only a musical genius, he was a pop star. His music was accessible and entertaining. Even into the 1950s jazz was relatively popular, based on a melodic foundation. But it evolved into a complex musical form much of which was no longer easily accepted by the public at large. Audiences started to decline. It was becoming a sophisticated art form rather than an entertainment.

Last month I wrote about nicknames of some of the musicians who played with Duke Ellington. Why did they have nicknames? Because they were colourful characters and it was reflected in their music. In Canada, in his early years Oscar Peterson was “The brown bomber of boogie-woogie.” Trumpeter Jimmy Davidson was “Trump.” But today where are the characters, players who have a personal trademark sound, making them immediately recognizable?

As a profession, jazz is perhaps at its lowest ebb. Making a decent living in jazz has never been easy. Now it is just about impossible. The irony is that jazz has now become something that can be “taught.” In Toronto alone scores of graduates from jazz courses enter a market that hardly exists any more. They have been taught by some of the finest players in Canada – who teach to supplement their income because there isn’t enough work out there to pay the bills. (I know that I’m going to ruffle some feathers by saying such things, but I am echoing what I hear in a lot of opinions expressed when veteran players and aficionados get together.)

Certainly, students can learn to master the techniques and mechanics of playing in all the scales, coming out at the end of it all as superb musicians. But the thing that can’t be taught is the soul of the music. “The teaching of jazz is a very touchy point. It ends up where the jazz player, ultimately, if he’s going to be a serious jazz player, teaches himself.” Whose quotation is that? Pianist Bill Evans. A technically great musician doesn’t necessarily know how to make music.

Some musicians with relatively limited technique made great music: Muggsy Spanier, Pee Wee Russell, Art Hodes, Kid Ory. And – not that I recommend it – greats like Errol Garner and Buddy Rich didn’t even read music. I also believe that a well rounded musician should have a vocabulary which includes songs by the great songsmiths; as well, the great ballad players have also known what the lyric, if there is one, is about.

A well-known Toronto musician once told a story about being on an engagement which was a surprise birthday party. There were a couple of horn players on the gig who were recent graduates of one of the jazz courses. When the guest of honour (a well-known horn player) walked in he asked the band to play “Happy Birthday.” The horn players didn’t know it!

Now, it wasn’t the responsibility of their teachers on the course of studies to teach them that song – it was their job to have it in their musical vocabulary. Not that they would ever choose to play it on a jazz gig, but not all of their gigs are going to be opportunities to play their original compositions. Some gigs are “bread and butter” ones, no matter how well you play.

Here’s a suggestion. If you are a young player about to make your first CD, which nowadays is your calling card, don’t make every number an original composition. Swallow your pride and play at least one number by one of the great songwriters. It gives your listeners a point of reference and demonstrates how well you can interpret one of the numbers which, as I pointed out, should be in any well-rounded musical vocabulary.

p27Change is inevitable in any art form, and in many ways reflects the society of its time. And given that we live in a world full of doubt, insecurity and danger to a degree unequalled in this declining civilization, it’s no surprise that much of the joy has gone from the music. So I accept the fact that change is inescapable and indeed necessary. But maybe it’s time to find a word to replace “jazz” – Duke Ellington stopped using the term in 1940 – because much of today’s music simply does not meet the criteria of some of the music’s great players.

Here are a few things to consider. Miles Davis: “I don’t care if a dude is purple with green breath as long as he can swing.” Stan Getz: “The saxophone is actually a translation of the human voice, in my conception. All you can do is play melody. No matter how complicated it gets, it’s still a melody.” John Coltrane: “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”

Swing, melodic content and a knowledge of the roots –
I rest my case.

 

Postscript

I wrote this month’s piece just before leaving for an engagement at Jazzland in Vienna, one of the few remaining jazz venues which presents jazz six nights a week. I’m sitting looking at the photo collection on the walls of musicians who have played the club, among them many of the players who used to appear in Toronto clubs. I can’t stifle a certain feeling of nostalgia and, again, a sense of loss. But then, years from now I’m sure there will be another generation looking back at 2010 as “the good old days.” However, in my present mood, to paraphrase playwright John Osborne, it’s “Look Back In Sorrow.”

 

Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and the former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at jazznotes@thewholenote.com.

Choral singing is generally considered to be fun and pleasurable. But often an encounter with a modern choral work – in which fun and pleasure may not necessarily be the composer’s primary goal – can feel like a child’s encounter with a disagreeable vegetable. “Why do conductors give us weird music to struggle through when we’re supposed to be having a good time? I’m paying choir dues for this?” On this subject, I am always struck by the range in attitudes among conductors, composers, singers and choral audiences.

Composers must by their very nature be champions of new music, and their desire to connect with either audience or singers may well be secondary to their drive to define an individual musical identity. Conductors must when programming strike a balance between the popular an profitable, and the adventuresome but potentially alienating. If they are lucky, they will have an organization that allows them some artistic license. In general, whatever their personal musical preferences, conductors have a sense of responsibility to work in tandem with living composers to bring new works into being.

Singers are usually the first people to create the sounds that the composer has imagined, and their response is often a visceral one: “This is difficult – I don’t like it.” Or perhaps, “This speaks to me, although it is unfamiliar.” Often a singer’s judgment of the music stems from this very subjective first encounter, and may or may not render an unfair verdict on the actual quality of the music itself.

marjan-mozetichAudiences as a rule have made their feelings known regarding much new music, and the problem that choral groups encounter when debuting new works is the one that has in many ways defined musical life in the previous century: the disconnect between modern composers and modern audiences. Still, composers tend to write more conservatively for choirs than they might for chamber ensembles, soloists or orchestras. And the liturgical background of a great deal of choral music tends to foster an audience-friendly aesthetic. A new composition that connects with an audience is a wonderful thing, and a good premiere can be an exciting experience for both audiences and musicians alike. There are a number of premieres and concerts featuring living composers coming up in the next few weeks that we can certainly hope will fit this paradigm.

The Cantabile Choirs of Kingston have become a choral juggernaut in that region, with seven different choirs and 300 voices performing separately and in tandem throughout the season. Their November 6 concert, “Silk Road,” features the premiere of a new composition by Slovenian-Canadian Marjan Mozetich. (The Cantabile artistic director, Mark Sirett, has his own premiere of a piece for choir, brass and organ that will be presented by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir as part of their December 8 “Festival of Carols.”)

Cantabile Chorale of York Region’s November 14 concert features a setting of the Requiem mass by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Jenkins comes at composition from a jazz background and, like many modern composers, is as likely to draw from world-music influences as from European compositional techniques. His music is tuneful and has some of the hard-won simplicity of the compositions of Carl Orff.

The Mississauga Festival Choir performs Jonathan Willcocks’s An English Christmas as part of their December 4 concert. Willcocks is the son of Sir David Willcocks, whose Carols for Choirs has been a mainstay of Christmas choral singing for decades. His son has carved out his own impressive career as a conductor and composer, as well. Hamilton’s John Laing also combines conducting and composing. His operetta St. George and the Dragon is performed by the John Laing singers November 6 in Guelph and November 7 in St. Catharines.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s Indigo Christmas (December 15 and 18) features works by three African American composers: Glenn Burleigh, Adolphus Hailstorks and Margaret Allison Bonds. These are likely Canadian premieres, although the NDC website isn’t clear about this. The most intriguing-sounding work is Bonds’ The Ballad of the Brown King, with settings of poetry by the great American writer Langston Hughes.

Premieres and performances of unfamiliar works give concertgoers the chance to help define for future audiences which pieces will become part of a regular concert tradition. This is an ongoing process – and works that were once unfamiliar but are now well known include Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Ramirez’s Missa Criolla (York University Concert Choir, November 23), Fauré’s Requiem (Amadeus Choir, November 6) and Britten’s St. Nicholas (Orillia’s Cellar Singers, November 6).

We are also heading into Messiah season, with a plethora of choices to satisfy Handelian addictions. In The WholeNote’s listings, you’ll find dozens of performances: small-ensemble Messiahs, opulent thousand-voice Messiahs – just about everything but Justin Bieber’s Messiah, or Messiah as interpreted by competing Led Zeppelin tribute bands.

Benjamin Stein is a tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com.

Emerging and early career composers are making their mark all over the November concert calendar. No less than half a dozen upcoming Toronto events feature fresh and fascinating works by new, international and increasingly noticeable local names – sometimes in showcase formats, but just as often tucked into more traditional programming.

p22bOne of those more noticeable locals is composer Kevin Lau, who will have his symphonic work Artemis performed by the Sneak Peek Orchestra on November 6 at the Calvin Presbyterian Church. Lau is a remarkably prolific young composer, gifted with a strong control of his craft and an easily approachable musical voice. As a result, he already holds to his credit commissions and premieres from the likes of the Esprit Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Toronto Philharmonia and the Cecilia String Quartet. He’s also co-founder with conductor Victor Cheng of Sneak Peek, one of Toronto’s fastest-rising symphonic ensembles, and one that specifically showcases the talents of this city’s emerging professionals.

Lau describes Artemis as “a musical portrait of the Greek goddess in the manner of Holst’s The Planets, whose seven movements are based on the Greek deities’ Roman counterparts. The movement “Mars, the Bringer of War” was particularly influential in the conception of this piece. At the same time, I sought to emphasize qualities which I thought would befit a more feminine warrior: speed and swiftness, lightness, agility.” Artemis will sit alongside Glenn Buhr’s slow and spacious symphonic miniature Akasha, and more classical fare from Brahms and Berlioz. For more info visit www.sneakpeekorchestra.com.

The following afternoon marks the beginning of Alain Trudel’s appointment as the Hannaford Street Silver Band’s principal guest conductor. Oddly enough, the programme will include a brass band arrangement of Holst’s The Planets and a new work from another of our local emerging talent, composer Rob Teehan. We heard a lot about Teehan last month during his residency at the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie, where he had no less than three world premieres, including two for major choral and orchestral forces.

When I asked him about his latest work, titled Wildfire, he explained “It’s very fast, very rhythmic, aggressive, somewhat dark, and it will push the players to their limit. I think I wrote it because I spent the summer writing beautiful, slow music and I needed a change of pace. It was nice to get back to brass writing, since that’s my original background, as a tuba player.” This is Teehan’s second time working with Trudel. The first was for his orchestral work Dream of Flying, which was premiered and recorded by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and subsequently nominated for a 2010 Juno. For more info about the concert and to get tickets, visit
www.hssb.ca.

p24aOn November 10 and 11, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra brings back the distinctive voice of early-career composer Krystof Maratka. We first heard of Maratka in 2004 with the world premiere of his Otisk, a TSO commission that came only two years after this Czech-born, Paris-based composer started making a significant mark in Europe. Now 38 years old – still an early age in any composer’s creative development cycle – Maratka has amassed commissions, premieres and residencies with some of the world’s leading cultural institutions, not to mention two CDs dedicated to his music. He returns to Toronto with his 2002 viola concerto Astrophonia, which has been described as a “poetic voyage on the origins of the cosmos.” The two-movement work is dedicated to his wife, violist Karine Lethiec, whose strong interest in the alliance between music and the universe has clearly inspired the concerto’s theme. At 23 minutes in length, it’s a substantial work around which Peter Oundjian has built this Slavic Celebration concert, including works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Janáček. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit www.tso.ca.

The centerpiece of this month’s emerging composer theme falls on November 14, when New Music Concerts plays host to Ensemble contemporain de Montréal +, and their biennial “Generation” tour. Building on its mandate to encourage and support musical creativity, ECM+’s project offers a unique and extensive professional development platform for composers under the age of 35. Since 1994, it has been discovering and nurturing the next generation of Canadian music creators, most of whom go on to make significant marks on the national and international music scene. The only project of its kind in Canada, Generation encourages musical research through live experimentation. Over the course of two years, four carefully selected young composers explore their musical voices by developing new works in collaboration with the ECM+ ensemble and their remarkable director Véronique Lacroix. The results are then presented in a cross-Canada tour, which – in addition to creating major exposure – builds new professional networks for these emerging talents.

The 2010 Generation composers are Simon Martin (Montreal), Christopher Mayo (Toronto/London, UK), Cassandra Miller (Victoria) and Gordon Williamson (Toronto/Bloomington, Indiana). Despite their young age, all of them are Associate Composers of the Canadian Music Centre, and many carry a cache of international experience and high-level accolades. For example, Gordon Williamson was a finalist in the CBC’s recent “Evolution” Young Composers Competition and Simon Martin has been a finalist in the prestigious Jules Léger Prize for Chamber Music. Chris Mayo and Cassandra Miller both already have international careers, most notably in the UK and the Netherlands respectively. Consequently, the Generation tour is a rare chance to hear some of the absolute best up-and-coming Canadian voices. For more info about the Generation program visit www.ecm.qc.ca. To purchase tickets for the November 14 concert at the Music Gallery visit www.musicgallery.org.

p24bBut the discovery of new musical voices doesn’t stop there. Both York University and the University of Toronto showcase new music by their student composers on November 16 and 30 respectively. On November 18, 32-year-old Polish-American (and now Canadian) composer Norbert Palej – a recent addition to the U of T faculty – joins clarinetist Peter Stoll on stage at Walter Hall in a free lunchtime concert of his works for clarinet. That same evening, the Gryphon Trio performs selections from their Young Composers Program alongside core repertoire by Ives, Beethoven and Dvorak for the Music Toronto series. So be sure to get in with the new via The WholeNote’s concert listings here.

 

Jason van Eyk is the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre. He can be contacted at newmusic@thewholenote.com.

Major productions from the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier continue into November. But there are also numerous productions from the smaller companies that give the Toronto opera scene so much diversity and vibrancy.

Opera by Request will present a concert revival of Genoveva (1850), Robert Schumann’s only opera. Schumann, most famous today for his piano music, four symphonies, and his amazing output of Lieder, always nourished the dream of a “German opera.” Genoveva is based on a medieval legend concerning Genevieve of Brabant. It tells of Genoveva, the chaste wife of Siegfried of Trier, falsely accused of adultery by his servant Golo in revenge for rejecting his advances. Siegfried eventually discovers Golo’s deception and restores his wife’s honour. Richard Wagner told Schumann the libretto was undramatic, and the negative criticism of the work at its premiere discouraged Schumann from ever writing another opera.

Nevertheless, various recent revivals have often been enthusiastically received. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt stated, “Genoveva is a work of art for which one should be prepared to go to the barricades,” and the DVD he recorded at the Zurich Opera House in 2008 has brought many over to the cause.

The Opera by Request presentation will feature artistic director William Shookhoff at the piano accompanying Doug MacNaughton as Siegfried, Lenard Whiting as Golo and Mila Iankova as Genoveva. This will be only the second time the work has been performed in Canada, the first presented by Opera in Concert, where Whiting and MacNaughton also sang their respective roles.

p21Asked why the work has remained a rarity, Shookhoff admits that it could be “dramatically stronger,” but says, “Perhaps because the initial productions were beset with problems, and because Schumann had no reputation as an opera composer, it was easy for the work to be ignored.” MacNaughton adds that “Schumann didn’t have the time nor the energy to be a relentless self promoter like Richard Wagner.” Both are convinced of the work’s importance. MacNaughton calls it “the missing link between Weber and Wagner.” Shookhoff notes that “The piece is musically very powerful, and Schumann’s unique orchestrations, often unfairly maligned, carry the day. It is a perfect quartet opera, where each of the four principals is given arias of exquisite beauty (Schumann’s gift as a composer of song comes through), as well as well-constructed ensembles that reach powerful climaxes. The choral writing is on a par with Schumann’s best choral works.”

Take this rare opportunity to judge for yourself and attend the November 17 performance at University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus or the November 20 performance at Trinity Presbyterian York Mills, 2737 Bayview Avenue, at Highway 401. For more information visit www.operabyrequest.ca.

Moving to the present, Urbanvessel follows its acclaimed sewing-machine opera Stitch, with the world premiere of Voice-Box. The piece was inspired by the unusual combination of talents of mezzo-soprano Vilma Vitols, known from her appearances with Opera Atelier, but who is also an accomplished boxer. Composer Juliet Palmer says, “The result is a kind of fight night where the voice and body are both challenged. The audience gets a great sense of the power of women and the power of the singing voice.” Librettist Anna Chatterton adds, “We were also inspired by the history of female boxing. Up until 1991 women were not allowed to box until the lawyer Jenny Reid who had been training as a boxer took it to court and won the right for women to legally fight in the ring.” Women boxers last fought in the Olympics in 1922 and will finally do so again in 2012.

Asked about the structure of the work, Chatterton explains, “Voice-Box is similar to Stitch in that it is variations on the theme of female boxers rather than a linear story. This time round dance plays a larger role in the piece as choreographer Julia Aplin was on board from the beginning as a creator. We are looking at all the aspects of being a female boxer – the experience of being in the ring, fighting, training, getting ready to fight, female aggression, the choice to punch and to get punched, society’s assumptions when they see a woman with a black eye, and the history of female boxing. The opera is structured in a series of six bouts, with a fight of sorts in each bout.”

Palmer says, “The music took me to some strange new places. The electronic music is inspired by the clichés of sports themes as well as the totally captivating and visceral sounds of the boxing gym (the sounds of bells, punching bags, squeaking ropes and the hisses and grunts of a good fight). The vocal performances range from operatic combat to throat singing with a tango along the way. I needed to be able to show both the strength and vulnerability of these four incredible women.” The four performers are Vitols herself, Neema Bickersteth, Savoy Howe and Christine Duncan. Performances runs from November 10 to 14 at the Brigantine Room in the York Quay Centre, 235 Queen’s Quay West. For tickets phone 416-973-400 or visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com.

 

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

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