More often than not these days I can hear the sounds of new musical ideas coming through my walls, coaxed from the keys of my next-door neighbour’s grand piano. Living next to a composer is one of those curious joys of living in a big city like Toronto. If I’m patient, eventually I can hear those kernels of melody and harmony form into exciting new works that open brand new musical perspectives. But it’s not only my neighbour who’s been busy this winter, as March seems to be packed full with world premieres from local composers.
The month launches off with the TSO’s fifth New Creations Festival, which is focusing on music for string instruments and Far East influences (an odd connection, perhaps, but one that seems to work). This year’s special guest is Tan Dun, one of the world’s most accomplished living composers and perhaps most known for his Grammy Award-winning film score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The first two dates of this three-concert festival (March 5, 7 and 12) will feature several of Tan’s concerti and large ensemble works, which marry together music of Eastern and Western heritage with avant-garde techniques to explore cultural and spiritual themes. While more concerti from Toru Takemitsu and Toronto-based Gary Kulesha will add to the overall experience, I’m most keen to hear the results of Alexina Louie’s latest commission, a concerto for string quartet and orchestra.
The Silk Road was a series of trade routes linking ancient China to the Mediterranean and Europe. Not only were silks transported along these roads, but also ideas, technologies and cultures, linking East and West. The Silk Road Ensemble, a pet roject of world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, seeks to do the same, in music.
Made up of around sixty or so musicians, composers, artists and storytellers from around the world, the ensemble, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, performs in various configurations, transcending musical genres. The ensemble’s mission is “to connect the world’s neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe”. “Every time I open a newspaper” writes Yo-Yo Ma, “I am reminded that we live in a world where we can no longer afford not to know our neighbours.”
Among the Silk Road Ensemble’s instruments is the Chinese pipa, a 2000-year-old pear shaped lute, played by virtuoso Wu Man. She has performed as soloist with many of the world’s great orchestras, and has an extensive discography, including several recordings with the Kronos Quartet. In addition to performing with Silk Road at their Roy Thomson Hall concerts on March 19 and 20 (they’re presenting two different programs), she’ll also be the soloist in the Canadian premiere of Tan Dun’s Pipa Concerto with the Toronto Symphony, as part of the New Creations Festival, March 7.
I’ll start off this month with mention of a few upcoming events which caught my eye and should catch your ears.
Mavis Staples with special guest James Hunter will be onstage at Massey Hall on March 21. Both artists have appeared here in recent years at the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival and both were knock-out successes. From her early days with the family group, The Staples Singers, to her present day solo performances, Mavis Staples has been steeped in her gospel traditions. She has a great voice and she’s also a pretty neat lady. By contrast, English born James Hunter’s background is classic R & B. In the 80s he borrowed the name of classic blues performer, Howlin’ Wolf and in the 90s sang back-up for Van Morrison, who later described him as one of the best voices in British Soul music. Massey Hall will rock.
This March, the emphasis is clearly on contemporary Canadian opera. There are five on offer: four as part of Tapestry New Opera Work’s annual Opera to Go, plus the world premiere of Charles Wilson’s Kamouraska.
Tapestry’s Opera to Go has a special “Press Opening and Community Night” on March 26 at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, followed by its regular run March 27-29 at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront. All four works are conducted by Wayne Strongman and directed by Tom Diamond, and all involve a troupe of five well-known singers in various groupings. This year the troupe consists of soprano Sally Dibblee, countertenor Scott Belluz, tenor Keith Klassen, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó and baritone Peter McGillivray.
The first half of the evening is devoted to three short operas. The first is The Virgin Charlie by William Rowson to a libretto by Taylor Graham. Labelled “a dark comedy in retro musical theatre form,” the opera concerns the drag performer Charlie, who has an unexpected visitation from Virgin Mary. The second work, One Lump or Two, by Glenn James and librettist Sandy Pool, concerns four ladies who want to poison their husbands and meet over tea to plan the deed. The third short opera is My Mother’s Ring, by Stephen Andrew Taylor to a libretto by Marcia Johnson. Here, the central character is convinced that two strangers are posing as his parents.
What would we do without conductors? Would we be wandering aimlessly around the musical streets, searching for direction signs? Conductors offer ideas, projects, sense of purpose, interpretations, and guidance, not to mention encouragement and inspiration.
For example, take the Classical Music Consort, conducted by the new kid on the block, Ashiq Aziz. If it’s Haydn that you’re seekin’, take a look at his extraordinary concert series dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn, marking the 200th anniversary of his death. Highlights of the CMC series include Haydn’s twelve London Symphonies, Nos. 93 to 104, in four concerts, in the order they were first performed, to allow the listener to hear the progression of compositional refinement.
Aziz clearly reveres this classical master and notes that interpretive clues are in the score. “I hope,” he says, “that we are somehow able to bring out the wonderful humour that is so inherent in his music. Often the cleverness and wit of his ideas are expressed through the manipulation of form, harmony and structure.” Aziz continues: “For example, the element of surprise in Haydn’s music is one that I feel is quite important to recognize in order to ensure a successful performance.”
In December 2006 Cynthia Steljes, co-founder of Quartetto Gelato, died after a short but intense battle with an asbestos-related form of lung cancer. After a two-year period of reconstruction, now with two new members, and with the next two seasons planned, including an autumn 2009 Asian tour, the ensemble has been re-incarnated. Its other co-founder, violinist, tenor and Cynthia’s widower, Peter DeSotto, brings continuity; and management is provided by entrepreneur and graphic designer Darlene Kulig. The group celebrates its rebirth with CD launch concerts at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa on March 19 and at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio on March 21.
Allan Pulker talked to Peter in mid February about the ensemble, its meteoric ascent, the tragic loss of Cynthia, its members, way of working and the new CD and concert.
Allan: How did you find the strength and the will to keep going after Cynthia’s death? It was a devastating loss, for you as her husband, of course, but also for the other members of the quartet as well.
Peter: I have a lot of trouble talking about it. Cynthia was a real sweetie. But I made a commitment to her that I would keep the group going; and it’s also a commitment to myself as an artist. This is what makes life worthwhile.
(1)Don Thompson - Reg Schwager Nonet delights every first monthly Monday 7-10pm at Chalkers. Don Thompson (vbs) Reg Schwager (g) Luis Deniz (ss) David French (ts/bc) John de Simini (bs/fl) Jon Challoner (tp) Darren Sigesmund (tb) Jon Maharaj (b) Ethan Ardelli (d).
(2) Pat LaBarbera will dazzle with the Canadian Jazz Quartet as part of ‘Fridays at Five’ March 13 from 5-8pm at Quotes, with Frank Wright (vbs) Gary Benson (g) Duncan Hopkins (b) Don Vickery (d).
3)Laura Hubert is a jazz/blues vocal artist with a style all her own. Grossman’sTavern every Monday 9:30-1:30pm with band led by dependable Peter Hill (p).
(4)Ron Davis launches Ron Davis & Friends: a monthly playing, weekly hosting gig at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar Friday and Saturday March 6 & 7 from 8-11pm with Mike Downes (b) and Ted Warren (d).
(5)Julie Michels (voice) and Kevin Barrett (guitar) are two of Toronto’s most beloved resident musicians. Statlers every Wednesday at 9pm.
(6)Rita di Ghent is a vocalist/composer known for her unique sound and sophisticated phrasing.Ten Feet Tall on Sunday March 8 from 3:30 to 6:30pm.
(7)Richard Whiteman’s one of the country’s hardest-swinging piano players.The Pilot on Saturday March 7 from 3:30-6:30. Trent Reschny (ts) Richard Whiteman (p) Rob McBride (b) Sly Juhas (d)
(8)Eli Bennett is a tremendous tenor player destined for greatness. Tequila Bookworm, Thursday March 12th at 9pm with Darcy Myronuk (p) Devon Henderson (b) Fabio Ragnelli (d); also with Ragnelli at The Rex Wednesdays March 4th & 18th at 6:30.
(9)Drew Austin hosts a happenin’ jam every first monthly Friday 8pm-12am at Dave’s Gourmet Pizza.
(10)Whitney Ross-Barris sings beautiful jazz framed by a convincing theatrical approach.She debuts at Gate 403 on Sunday March 29th from 5-8pm.
Jazz In The Clubs: February 08
By: Ori Dagan
In 2005, fans of Canadian jazz singer-songwriter Georgia Ambros were saddened to learn that she was battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma and held a benefit in her honour, “Georgia on My Mind”. After chemotherapy and two invasive throat operations, Georgia has made a remarkable recovery and last month played her first gig in four years at the intimate Upstairs Cabaret at Statlers. Singing an elegant cocktail-themed 90-minute set with venerable gentlemen Gary Williamson at the piano and Steve Wallace on bass, her voice was in pretty good shape and as always, every word was sincere. The lady’s talents as a clever songwriter were proven when fans ended up singing along to “The Limousine Song”. Congratulations to sweet Georgia on coming back in style! To learn more about the artist visit: www.agerecords.com
February concludes with two extremely promising shows at Hugh’s Room. The first: Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana with Voices featuring Elizabeth Shepherd and Telmary Diaz on Friday, February 27. Bunnett is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist internationally recognized as one of Canada’s most significant jazz artists. The latest album, “Embracing Voices”, is a large-scale collaborative effort of epic proportions, remarkable depth and haunting beauty. Tickets are selling fast!
On Saturday February 28, Hugh’s Room presents a tremendously talented singer: Betty Richardson. Born to a supremely gifted musical family that includes sister/actress Jackie, Betty started singing professionally at fifteen with Dr. Music’s Doug Riley and the Silhouettes. Most of her career has been spent as a background vocalist, but fans insist that powerhouse Betty belongs in the foreground. Her soulful performances are so heavenly that they border on religious experiences. Reservations are strongly recommended.
PLEASE NOTE: as of February 18, Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam moves to WEDNESDAY nights at Chalkers Pub. For more information visit www.girlsnightoutjazz.com
Since 1997, Alan Davis, curator of Small World Music, has been introducing Toronto audiences to some of the finest non-Western musicians from around the world. We missed acknowledging Small World’s tenth anniversary season, but there’s no time like the present to have a chat with Alan about what’s been, and what’s coming up.
How did Small World Music come into being?
Small World grew out of my love of forms of music from outside the culture I grew up with. Rock and jazz had always been my ‘world’ and remain very important to me, but somewhere around the early 80’s my ears were opened, largely by some very influential ‘mainstream’ artists - Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. Without a doubt, Gabriel’s creation of WOMAD, the festival which still takes place in various locations around the globe each year, was a sea change in music for many people. The festival’s presence in Toronto for several years at Harbourfront was a huge revelation to me and many others, who discovered a world of sounds that, while sung in languages we didn’t understand, touched a spiritual place that resonated deeply.
Last month, Tafelmusik co-produced a marvellous concert program, “The Galileo Project,” with The Banff Centre — an immersion in the stories, people, and times of the 16th century, through a fusion of arts, science, and culture. It was in 1609, you see, that Galileo Galilei’s first demonstration of the telescope took place, and Monteverdi’s Orfeo was published. So, 400 years later, it was a natural to jointly celebrate Galileo’s work and the music from that period. The collaboration included the Orchestra, astronomers, a stage director, a filmmaker, a set and lighting designer, astronomical photographers, and a recording engineer. It was the kind of sensory experience that gives us a context for our musical relationship with the world, and a reminder that “the music of the spheres” is not a phrase to take lightly.
This month, celebrating their 30th anniversary, and just returned from their Carnegie Hall debut, Tafelmusik features a suite from Rameau’s Dardanus and Handel’s Water Music (February 18 – 22). Website: www.tafelmusik.org / www.myspace.com/mytafelmusik
The cities are Toronto and Los Angeles; the orchestras are the Niagara Symphony, the Scarborough Philharmonic, Sinfonia Toronto and the New American Orchestra; the flutist is Louise Di Tullio, and her nephew is Toronto composer and teacher, Ron Royer.
Let’s start with the flutist. You have probably never heard of Louise Di Tullio, but if you ever watch American movies you are almost sure to have heard her play. Since she began playing professionally in 1958 Ms. Di Tullio has been the flutist or principal flutist in at least 1200 films. She has played the music of all the great American film composers – Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Henry Mancini, David Rose, John Barry, Danny Elfman – the list goes on and on.
She was born into a family of musicians in Los Angeles, and grew up in a highly cultivated musical milieu. Her father and three uncles were all members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s string section as young men. Father, Joseph Di Tullio, and his brother-in-law Kurt Reher later became first stand partners in the cello section of the 20th Century Fox orchestra. Reher later returned to the L.A Philharmonic as the principal cellist.