21_adamsherkinIt feels awkwardly “new age” to admit, but now that we’ve passed the spring equinox – the days becoming warmer, fresher and lighter – there is a sense of celebration in the air. But it’s not the type of unrestrained revelry we see during hotter summer months. Rather, it’s a bittersweet levity, balanced between an urge to discover what’s new and the impulse to commemorate and meditate on important influences and inspirations. As always, our makers of new music are attuned to these needs, as we can see in April’s offerings.

We open the month on a festive note with “Ping!” CMC-Ontario’s celebration of new music for young musicians, on April 5. While I may be biased, given my role with the CMC, I can think of no better way to usher in spring than brand new works created to showcase the talents of a new generation. “Ping!” will feature special guest, harpist Judy Loman, in an all-Canadian program alongside world premieres from composers Dean Burry, Jim Harley, Chris Paul Harman, and Jan Jarvlepp, performed by harpist Gina Min, cellists Gabby Hankins and Bridie McBride and the Earl Haig/Claude Watson Strings conducted by Alan Torok. This fête supports New Music for Young Musicians – a program to create music and opportunities which develop the talents of Canada’s young string players. For more visit the CMC online events calendar. For tickets, visit www.rcmusic.ca.

Spring also heralds the homecoming of a fresh new voice in composer/pianist Adam Sherkin, barely back from studies at the Royal College of Music in London, England. Following an illustrious series of overseas premieres and performances at the likes of London’s National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Covent Garden and Royal Albert Hall, Sherkin has returned to Toronto with gusto, receiving premieres in prestigious places like the Luminato Festival, Nuit Blanche and Soundstreams’ Young Artists Overture Series. He closes his own self-crafted concert series on April 7 at the Jane Mallett Theatre in what he is calling a “debut recital.” The concert title – “As at First” – refers to a world premiere work that will close an ambitious program, ranging from Bach and Beethoven to Claude Vivier and Colin McPhee. Amongst the mix of classical lineage and modern origins are two “older” Sherkin works: 2008’s Sunderance, inspired by the words of Virginia Woolf, and 2009’s Daycurrents, which was written for the Haydn bicentenary. To learn more about Adam Sherkin, visit www.adamsherkin.com. To purchase tickets, visit www.stlc.com.

The bittersweet balance comes in reflecting on the loss, late last year, of composer, educator, innovator and great champion of Canadian music, Ann Southam. Southam is still very much present in the thoughts of many communities with which she shared her great enthusiasm, energy, optimism and bigheartedness. While we can expect numerous dedications to appear next season, there will be two upcoming opportunities to assemble and celebrate Southam’s music and the art it inspired, as well as to share in personal tributes that honour some of the many aspects of her rich life and legacy. The first of these falls on April 14 at the Music Gallery, when the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshop will dedicate their “Composers Orchestra” concert to Ann Southam. Southam was always very encouraging of the next generation of Canadian composers, but was quiet about her generosity towards them. She took great responsibility for the family lineage she inherited, and shared widely the advantages that it could afford, including the ability to act as a constant source of support for the CCMW over its 25 year history. This tribute will include a performance of Southam’s intricate Waves for string orchestra, conducted by Gary Kulesha, alongside world premieres by emerging composers Adam Scime, Chris Thornborrow, Paola Santillan and Rob Teehan, and music by Colin Eatock. For more information about CCMW, visit www.ccmw.ca.

A fuller remembrance of Ann Southam will take place on April 21 at the MacMillan Theatre, U of T Faculty of Music. It’s a fitting location, given Southam’s many collaborations with modern dance which took place on that stage. Billed as an intimate event for family, friends, colleagues, and admirers of this pioneering Canadian composer, the “Ann Southam Tribute” will provide an opportunity for various communities blessed by the benefits of her best qualities to come together and celebrate her music, her life and her legacy. While the artists involved have asked to remain uncredited – the event is to truly focus on Ann – the calibre of her creative collaborators, including pianists Eve Egoyan and Christina Petrowska Quilico, as well as dancers/choreographers Patricia Beatty and Rachel Browne, should speak to the expected tone and quality of this occasion.

22_normabeecroftWe’re extremely fortunate to have at least one pioneering Canadian woman composer still with us, the remarkable Norma Beecroft, who at age 77 (as of April 11) seems to be making up for lost time. On her 75th birthday in 2009, Beecroft marked the occasion with a new piece for flautist Robert Aitken and harpist Erica Goodman. We’ll have the pleasure of hearing another new work for flute, harp and percussion at the Music Gallery on April 17, during a celebratory concert spanning Beecroft’s career. These are just two small credits in an active life as a composer, producer, broadcaster and administrator. Beecroft’s illustrious career is well noted for award-winning contributions to music broadcasting and production, but more so as a pioneer of electronic music. Her musical aesthetic was first influenced by the music of Debussy, then later by her teachers Weinzweig, Petrassi and Maderna, and furthermore by the music of Stockhausen. As an administrator, Beecroft is well known as founder, with Robert Aitken, of New Music Concerts. For all her efforts, she has been honoured twice with the Canada Council’s Lynch-Staunton Award, an honorary doctorate from York University and an Honorary Membership from the Canadian Electroacoustic Community. After a lengthy hiatus, Beecroft is back in the business of composing. We should all eagerly await the results. To learn more about the tribute concert, visit www.musicgallery.org.

This is just a small sampling of the newly sprung spring. From New Music Concert’s AMP showcase, to Array’s innovative Electrique concert, and from Talisker’s ongoing celebration of words in music, to the TSO’s emphasis on the music of the remarkable Kaija Saariaho, there is plenty of other inspiration to be found. So be sure to get in with the new via The WholeNote 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.

One of the more unusual concerts this month is “Samantha Chang and Friends” on April 16. Flutist, Samantha Chang, the enterprising woman behind the event, is a fine example of “musician-as-entrepreneur,” which is, in my opinion, what you have to be if you want to be a musician. Chang has a head start on many. “I see myself as someone who truly wants to take something I love and make it into a career,” she says. “I first started out as a commerce student at U of T, which gave me a lot of insights into the business world. I also worked in the financial district for nearly ten years, and you learn a lot by interacting with the bankers!”

19_classical_samanthachangMost musicians, when they do a solo concert select a venue like the Heliconian Hall or Gallery 345, venues with a capacity of about 85. You don’t need a large audience to fill the house and you can focus on the music without worrying (much) about filling the hall. The venue for Chang’s concert? Koerner Hall, with a capacity of just over 1,100. “If you have a dream,” she says, “you have to dream big!” What’s more, in a typical solo recital there are at most only a few other musicians – a collaborative pianist, of course, and occasionally a small ensemble. In Chang’s upcoming concert there are 16 other musicians – flutists, pianists, cellists, bass players, a violinist, a singer, an oboist, a harpist and even a drummer!

Having put on a few concerts myself, I had to ask how she has balanced the artistic and the management components. “I admit,” she says, “I am … sleep deprived … [but] I wouldn’t do any of this if I didn’t enjoy it. As a musician, I often feel like I am always at work: my ears are constantly listening, and my brain is churning.”

So obviously this is no ordinary flute recital. It is a veritable Babette’s Feast of a concert: “I like to be entertained at a concert, and I hope to do the same for the audience when I am on stage by presenting … diverse programs and performers.” With a view to avoiding giving the audience an overdose of flute, she is including two works for violin that will be played by Conrad Chow, the Debussy violin sonata and the Canadian premiere of Gold Rush Songs by Bruce Broughton. (I mentioned Broughton’s name in last month’s column in connection with the Scarborough Philharmonic’s April 2 concert at which his Triptych for Violin and Chamber Orchestra will be premiered by the same Conrad Chow).

Another original on the program will be a Rumba by Chick Corea arranged for flute quartet by Dimitriy Varelas, an Uzbekistani flutist and former arranger for the Helsinki Wind Quintet, who now lives in Toronto and will be among the performers.

There is more to Chang than business smarts and good programming instincts. She took her first flute lessons at the age of 13 from Mizi Tan, the flute teacher at the Shanghai Conservatory, and played all through high school. In her third year of commerce studies at university, she realized that this what she really wanted to do with her life. She began to take lessons again, holding down a number of part-time jobs to pay for them. After graduating, having responded well to master classes with English flutists, Peter Lloyd and William Bennett, she auditioned for a number of English music schools and was accepted by them all. (Some of you may remember a concert she gave, with an orchestra, at the George Weston Recital Hall a few years back. A video of that concert was her audition!)

She chose to go to London’s Royal Academy, where she studied with Kate Hill. There, having been told that she would need to study for two years in order to graduate, she completed all her written assignments by the end of October and after one year received her diploma! “However, I go back every summer,” she told me. “I’m considering going back for another degree.”

Her artistic vision? “A great musician/flutist is someone who can touch the audience’s soul. I love listening to Rampal shape a phrase so effortlessly, same with Moyse, he breathes music! WIBB (William Bennett) has so much enthusiasm for music making that it shows in every performance.”

“And what personal qualities does one need to become a great musician?” I asked. “Persistence is key! Patience is a given! Also, learn to listen to other people, learn from their qualities … For me, the flute is the closest thing to singing. You can honestly breathe and speak through your flute.”

It’s been said that each generation must re-invent the musical tradition. I would take that a step further and say that each musician needs to re-invest in the musical tradition, absorb it as thoroughly as possible and mould it anew, into something that reflects the spirit of one’s time and one’s own awakening musical soul, infused with life through the assimilation of an artistic tradition. April 16, at Koerner Hall, let’s see how Chang is doing on her chosen path.

Brahms, Brahms and Brahms

THE MUSIC OF JOHANNES BRAHMS is prominent in the listings this month. For example, three of Brahms’ four symphonies will be performed in April, beginning with the Guelph Symphony Orchestra’s performance on April 3 of his fourth symphony. On April 9, the Oakville Symphony Orchestra will perform the third symphony. At the very end of the month, on April 29, the Ontario Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the first symphony in Oshawa and also the next day at Koerner Hall, the last concert in this season’s Mooredale Concerts series. The programs for these two concerts consist entirely of music by Brahms, and in both, the incomparable Anton Kuerti will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D Minor.

There’s an abundance of Brahms’ chamber music too. The Academy Concert Series’ concert on April 16 is an all-Brahms program performed in the style of the time. According to Academy artistic director Nicolai Tarasov, the program will “display the depth and the power of Brahms’ musical intellect, the wisdom, lyricism, warmth and charm of his melodies, and the manifold beauties and moving, passionate passages contained within [his] music.” Tarasov also let me know that this is, in fact, his last concert as artistic director of the Academy Series, a post that will be filled by cellist Kerry McGonigle.

One of the works on the Academy Series’ April 16 program is the Clarinet Sonata Op.120, which, coincidentally, will also be performed this month, on April 10, by Katarzyna Marczak, as part of Trio sTREga’s concert at Gallery 345. And there will be yet another Brahms-centred program on April 16 presented by The Chamber Music Society of Mississauga. The focus of their program, however, will be the friendship between Brahms and Clara Schumann, and will include music by both. There will also be two opportunities to hear Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5 on April 2, performed by the Hart House Symphonic Band, and on May 7 by Orchestra Kingston. There will be at least two other opportunities to hear chamber music by Brahms, and several to hear his choral music, including at Tafelmusik’s series of concerts between April 7 and 10.

Eye Catchers

THREE OTHER UNUSUAL PROGRAMS in the first half of the month also caught my eye: on April 7 pianist-composer Adam Sherkin, who is from Toronto and has, I believe, recently returned from England’s Royal Academy, is giving his Toronto debut at the Jane Mallett Theatre, with a program that combines works by Bach, Beethoven, Claude Vivier and Colin McPhee with three of his own compositions. On April 9 a group of musicians associated with Vermont’s famous Marlboro Festival will perform chamber music at Koerner Hall.

Finally, this year is the 39th season of The Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which from January to May presents four concerts given by members of the TSO and one by the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra. This month’s concert, on April 11 is, according to Armin Weber, Director of Marketing for the series, “… one of the biggest concerts the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra have launched.” What makes it one of the biggest is that two ensembles will perform, the first a quartet of traditional Chinese instruments, led by Anna Guo, who plays the yangqin, a Chinese hammer dulcimer. Ms. Guo taught at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and from 1985 to 1996, was head of the Shanghai Women’s Silk String Quintet. In 1996 she settled in Toronto. The other ensemble on the programme will be a string sextet led by TSO violinist, James Wallenberg. For most of the programme the two groups will perform separately, but for the final work, depicting harmony, the two ensembles will join forces, demonstrating the universality of music and by extension, of humanity. Ah, if only politics could be left to musicians, then we would have concerts instead of wars!

Need I repeat that what I have written about here just scratches the surface of our always abundant listings? So read those listings thoroughly to find what interests you.

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

17_early_torontomasque_muse6Last season, I attended an absolutely beguiling production of a double bill: two Molière comedies, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Le Malade Imaginaire, performed as masques, with acting, dance, and their respective music by Lully and Charpentier played by a period instrument orchestra. Though presented in 21st century Toronto, these pieces had all the charm, wit, inventiveness and sparkle that one could imagine in 17th century French comedy. The presenting company, Toronto Masque Theatre, has another pair of masques upcoming: the story of Orpheus and Euridice as told in the 17th century by M.A. Charpentier and in the 21st century by James Rolfe (music) and André Alexis (text).

I posed a number of questions to TMT artistic director Larry Beckwith. Here’s a little of what he told me:

So what is a masque?Our wide-ranging definition of a masque is: music theatre that involves some combination of the performing arts – music, dance, poetry – and pieces that explore a common theme or story from different points of view.”

Your three artistic directors (Beckwith, Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière and Derek Boyes) are a goldmine of complementary talents! How did you find each other and get together to produce masques?I’ve known Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière for close to 15 years now and think she’s an absolute genius. She was in the great Elaine Biagi-Turner’s network of dancers and we worked together a few times, back when I played with Arbor Oak (baroque trio). In addition to being a meticulous dancer, she has a deep knowledge of music and theatre, a terrific sense of humour and fun, and when she’s working she really goes for it. I met Derek Boyes on an Opera Atelier tour to Singapore about 12 years ago and we hit it off. He’s a very special actor. There’s a powerful humanity to all of his work. We work very well together. I feel tremendously lucky to be working with them on a regular basis!”

Any thoughts on how masque is, and is not, related to opera? “I think masque is very closely related to what opera was in its beginnings. Thinking of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (another amazing version of the story) of 1607, you have a strong literary base, lots of room for dancing and an intimate and charming setting. Of course, most people now think of opera as being very grand and larger than life, which also relates to one of the goals of masque, which is to take the audience out of their own lives for a little while and beguile them with a combination of art forms.”

How have Toronto audiences responded to your productions? I am amazed and delighted at the extent to which Toronto has embraced TMT. Our audience continues to grow and we offer gentle educational talks and material to give them a context for what they are seeing. At the end of our seventh season, we look back and are very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and look forward to building on our strengths as we move forward. Touring is definitely in the plans!”

Masques of Orpheus takes place on May 5 and 6 (there’s a student matinee on May 4), with what Beckwith calls an “amazing cast”: Lawrence Wiliford, Shannon Mercer, Teri Dunn, Peter McGillivray, Alex Dobson; the whole production is directed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière. You won’t be disappointed if you go.

Feast of Bach

Bach wrote some of his greatest works for the Christian feast days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday which are approaching.

You can hear the Mass in B Minor twice this month: On April 3, the Elora Festival Singers, conducted by Noel Edison, presents it in Guelph; on April 10, the Georgetown Bach Chorale with music director Ron Greidanus, gives a period performance of the work in Georgetown. The St. Matthew Passion (for me the most profoundly touching of all Bach’s music), will be performed on April 15, 16 and 17 in Oakville, with Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra and their conductor Charles Demuynck. The St. John Passion can be heard on April 22, with the Grand Philharmonic Choir under director Mark Vuorinen in Kitchener.

On April 3 in the Royal Conxervatory’s Koerner Hall, revered pianist Leon Fleisher presents Bach from the standpoint of his own long life as an artist. He’ll play “Sheep May Safely Graze” from Cantata No. 208; Capriccio in B-flat Major, “On the Departure of a Most Beloved Brother”; and “Chaconne for the Left Hand” from the Violin Partita in D Minor, among other works.

Some Others, In Brief

• April 8: One of the world’s premier male voice choirs, currently touring, makes one Canadian stop at Toronto’s Grace Church on-the-Hill. Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Oxford England presents English sacred music by Taverner (Christ Church’s first music
director), Tallis, Gibbons, Bach, Purcell and Handel.

• April 10: Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series presents A Modern Troubadour. Benjamin Stein sings and plays on lute and theorbo: baroque and renaissance songs from France, England and Italy, and his own theorbo transcription of a Bach
cello suite.

• April 15: Vesuvius Ensemble presents I canti a Maria: Music for the Madonna, celebrating (with voice, baroque and renaissance guitars, chitarrone, hurdy-gurdy, percussion and rustic Neopolitan instruments) a rich folk heritage: ancient dances, rhythms, feasts, processions and pilgrimages which recall seasonal traditions repeated today.

• April 16: Grace, passion and elegance characterize The Musicians In Ordinary’s À Sa Lyre: musical settings of 16th century French poetry and dances for lute from the country that would invent ballet.

• April 29: “Greenness” is the overriding theme of Sine Nomine Ensemble’s final concert of the season. O viriditas! The greenness of life’s rising is celebrated with music from medieval times.

• May 6, 7 and 8: The Toronto Consort has among its members a contingent of wonderful female singers. Their beautiful sound and virtuosity are displayed in Songs of the Celestial Sirens, a program of music by and for women from 17th century Italy.

• May 7: Never a group to be left behind in the dust, I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble presents Baroqueback Mountain. With music by Handel, Geminiani and Rosenmueller, they urge you to “Park your horses outside, remove your Stetsons, sit back and enjoy the view.”

• May 7: Handel composed his four magnificent Coronation Anthems for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline in 1727. Their power to enthrall has never waned, nor has their popularity; you can hear them performed by The Tallis Choir under its director Peter Mahon, with guest artists The Talisker Players.

• May 7 and 8: Saints and Sinners mingle in this pair of concerts by Cantemus Singers, with some saucy English, French and German songs from the 16th century, balanced by Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli and motets by Byrd, Hassler and Clemens non Papa.

• May 3 to 8: Classical Music Consort’s second annual Springtime Handel Festival brings to light some of Handel’s rarely performed works in six concerts at Trinity and Victoria College Chapels. n

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.

54_sheila_jordanThe Lady is a Champ

When women in their eighties contract pneumonia, some take it easy. Not Sheila Jordan. Forced to cancel a Toronto appearance last September, she’s back to touring the world. “If it wasn’t for jazz music, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she sings, and means every word. Live jazz is not only Jordan’s occupation, it’s been her life for nearly seven decades. Brimming with depth, style, sincerity and unabashed joy, her concerts might as well offer a money-back guarantee. She’s never had a manager: “I never wanted to be, you know, ‘a star’,” she once told me. “That’s not my purpose, that’s not my calling. My calling is to be a messenger of this music, and I’m very happy being that.” Generous with her wisdom, she’s giving a full day workshop while in town April 2nd and 3rd at Gallery 345 (part of Yvette Tollar’s Women in Jazz Series).

www.sheilajordanjazz.com

New Lungs, New CD!

Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing Alex Pangman is one of this country’s most adored jazz singers, which is remarkable given that she was born with cystic fibrosis. When her condition became critical in 2008, a lung donor came through just in time. “With new lungs I open my mouth and song comes out, supported by litres of air … it’s as if someone took my banged up old student trumpet and handed me a gold Selmer or Monette!” Now recovered, she’s promoting organ donation and back into the swing of things, to the delight of all. On April 12 at Hugh’s Room Pangman releases her long-awaited new album 33, recorded shortly after her 33rd birthday, featuring tracks famous in 1933.

www.alexpangman.com

55Bee Younger

When JAZZ.FM91’s Jaymz Bee isn’t busy promoting this city’s jazz artists on the air, he’s buzzing about the club scene, martini in hand, making friends. He always celebrates his birthday in style. “This party is unique – you only turn 42 for the sixth time once!” Thanks to The Old Mill Inn and an anonymous friend who gave him a cheque to pay for some talent “I can offer up a night of some of my favourite local music to everyone with no cover charge.” It’s April 13, at The Old Mill Inn, with entertainment by the Eric St. Laurent Trio, the Robert Scott Trio, Barbra Lica, Waylen Miki, Kollage and special guests. Bee there!

www.jaymzbee.com

Jazz Teriyaki

Upscale EDO on Eglinton West welcomes a new weekly jazz series, Thursdays 8-11pm, with ace guitarist Tony Quarrington leading a different trio each week. “EDO has many skilled sushi chefs, a warm decor, and friendly service,” says Quarrington. The restaurant’s name is pronounced “eh-dough” in Canadian (the former name of modern day Tokyo until 1868). April guests include vocalist Beverly Taft and and violinist San Murata. (NO COVER CHARGE!)

www.tonyquarrington.com

Jazz Chow Mein

Also on Eglinton is the Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine haven China House with jazz presented by Larry Green every Thursday from 7:30-11:30 since May 2010. Owner Jonathan Wise: “… there is something about a wonderfully vintage and iconic dining room blended with world class jazz. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.” Highlights this month include the Bernie Senensky Quartet paying tribute to Moe Koffman as well as the legendary Peter Appleyard Quartet. (NO COVER CHARGE!)

www.chinahousetoronto.com

15_opera_michael_maniaci2_photo_by_michael_cooperApril is once again the opera month of the Ontario cultural calendar with eight fully-staged operas in Southern Ontario plus at least two operas in concert on offer. One of the fully-staged productions comes from a brand new company, Wish Opera, that seeks to further the work of Canadian artists in its productions.

The month begins with the final performance, outside our listings coverage area, on April 2, of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor by Opera Lyra Ottawa, at the National Arts Centre. It stars Lyubov Petrova as Lucia, Marc Hervieux as Edgardo and Gregory Dahl as Enrico. See www.operalyra.ca.

The month continues with the peripatetic Opera Kitchener presenting Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Guelph on April 7,
in Waterloo on April 9, and in Mississauga on April 15. Visit www.operakitchener.com for more information. Remaining on the periphery of the Big Smoke, Opera Hamilton presents the favourite double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci on April 21 and 23. Many familiar singers – Joni Henson, Sally Dibblee, Wendy Hatala-Foley and Gregory Dahl – appear along with Richard Troxall as Turiddu and Jeffrey Springer as Canio. See operahamilton.ca
for more.

The season in Toronto proper starts with performances of Rudolf Friml’s Rose Marie on April 15 and 16 by Wish Opera, about which there is more below. Opera Atelier concludes its 2010-11 season with North America’s first-ever period production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito running April 22 to May 1, and reuniting many of the cast members that made OA’s Idomeneo so electrifying: Measha Brueggergosman as Vitellia, Michael Maniaci as Sesto, Krešimir Špicer as Tito and Curtis Sullivan as Publio. They are joined by Mireille Asselin as Servilia and Mireille Lebel as Annio. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Orchestra. See www.operaatelier.com.

The Canadian Opera Company begins its spring season with Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola, April 23 to May 25. The COC last staged this work in 1996. This production, co-produced with Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera and two European companies, is directed by Joan Font and conducted by Leonardo Vordoni. Elizabeth DeShong in the title role is joined by Lawrence Brownlee, Brett Polegato and Donato DiStefano. The Rossini runs in repertory with Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, April 30 to May 29. The COC last staged this work in 1995. This production from Welsh National Opera is directed by Neil Armfield and conducted by the great Sir Andrew Davis. Richard Margison sings The Tenor and Bacchus, Adrianne Pieczonka is The Prima Donna and Ariadne and Jane Archibald scales the coloratura heights as Zerbinetta. For more details see www.coc.ca.

The final opening is Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, The Pirates of Penzance, from April 26 to May 1. Ryan Harper and Jessica Cheung will be Frederic and Mabel while David Ludwig and Jean Stilwell will sing the Pirate King and Ruth, his trusty maid of all work. Robert Cooper will conduct and Guillermo Silva-Marin will direct.

As for operas in concert, Opera by Request will present Verdi’s La Traviata on April 6 in St. Catharines, April 8 in Toronto and April 11 in London. OBR’s next presentation is Britten’s The Turn of the Screw on April 16. See www.operabyrequest.ca.

On April 28, the COC Ensemble Studio offers a triple bill for free at noon at the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium. On the program are Menotti’s The Telephone, Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and a new work by Ana Sokolovic, composer of Queen of Puddings’ The Midnight Court.

16_opera_tonia_cianciulli__wish_operaAs mentioned at the outset, entering the lists this month with Rudolf Friml’s Rose Marie is the brand new company, Wish Opera, founded by soprano Tonia Cianciulli. Last March, Wish Opera made its debut with concerts of opera arias at the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre at York University. A production of Don Giovanni announced for June that year never took place. Cianciulli loved the York University venue but realized that to be successful her company would have to find a more accessible venue, closer to dining options before and after the show. Luckily, she came across the John Bassett Theatre located in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The little-known venue is “a real gem” in Cianciulli’s words. Self-contained, with its own entrance onto Front Street, it has 1330 seats, an orchestra pit and adjacent rooms for receptions.

Cianciulli knows she has her work cut out for her in finding a niche in Toronto’s opera scene and creating a following, but she feels “Wish Opera has something different to offer that will appeal not just to opera lovers, but people in the fashion industry, the design industry, art, photography – we’ll have something for everyone.” Wish Opera “seeks to promote and nurture and gain awareness for Canadian talent in all mediums.”

For Rose Marie, Cianciulli has assembled a wide-ranging group of artists and designers including Charles Pachter and aboriginal artists Maynard Jonny Jr. and Bernice Gordon, whose artworks projected on stage will provide backdrops for the action. Gordon is also contributing a hand-carved totem pole and serves as an advisor in revising the 1924 book by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II to make it more sensitive to aboriginal people. Finally, rather than calling Malabar to rent costumes, Cianciulli wants to make audiences aware of current Canadian designers. Thus, the show will feature fashions created by young Quebec designers Denis Gagnon and Marie Saint Pierre along with Girl Friday, Cabaret, Breeyn McCarney and Natasha Lazarovic. The furnishings and chandeliers will also be provided by Canadian companies.

Cianciulli says the idea of Rose Marie as Wish Opera’s first fully-staged opera came from conductor Kerry Stratton, who loves the music. Before he emigrated to the U.S., Friml was a pupil of Antonin Dvořák in Prague. The operetta, set in the Canadian Rockies about the love between a French Canadian girl and an English Canadian miner, was a great hit in New York and London. Especially in the famous 1936 film version starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, it became the archetypal image of Canada for many non-Canadians. There has likely not been a professional staging of the work since a production at the Shaw Festival in 1981. The Wish Opera production will be directed by Lesley Ballantyne with French Canadian mezzo Maude Brunet in the title role and tenor Todd Delaney as her lover. The cast also includes singers Olivier Laquerre, Michael York, Deborah Overes, Sarah Christina Steinert, Anne Marie Ramos, Dan Mitton and actor Sundance Crowe. As part of its community outreach, Wish Opera sponsors the attendance of children to special performances, donates a portion of all ticket revenue to the Hospital for Sick Children and sends artists to perform at Sick Kids’ in-house theatre. For tickets and more information visit www.wishopera.ca or call 1-877-700-3130. Though April may already be crowded with opera, Cianciulli knows that there are still not enough opportunities for Canadian singers at home. If Wish Opera can provide those opportunities and make Canadians more aware of all the artists in their midst, it will have performed an invaluable service. Its next project is Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette on October 28 and 29 this year. We wish them all the best. n

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

Call it jazz-theatre fusion if you must. Stephen Sondheim’s music inspired saxophonist Bobby Hsu to dream up and assemble “A Sondheim Jazz Project.”

47_bobbyhsu2_-_photo_by_amy_mcconnell“His songs are not only musically complex and lyrically highly sophisticated but beautifully melodic and singable,” Hsu asserts. “For me, one of the most fun things about the band is factoring dramatic and narrative aspects of the lyrics into the musical decision making, something which as a jazz player I’d always ignored before. Also, this band allows for ‘crossing over’ in both directions: exposing these songs to jazz people, and presenting a fresh take on them to people familiar with musical theatre.” Hsu’s sensitive arrangements aside, his alto work has never sounded better. Rounded out by pianist D’Arcy Myronuk, bassist James McEleney and drummer Morgan Childs, the band focuses the spotlight firmly on a force of nature, effervescent singer Alex Samaras.

In the bandleader’s words, “Alex is the only singer I know who, besides having an incredibly beautiful voice, is able to pull off the balance between the ‘jazzy’ and the dramatic elements of the arrangements.” Serious Sondheimites, reserve now: March 5, 8-11pm at Ten Feet Tall and March 11, 5-8pm at Gate 403.

Preview here: www.myspace.com/asondheimjazzproject.

Winters’ Warmth

March 22 (Stephen Sondheim’s birthday), Winters College at York University is hosting a fundraiser to celebrate more than 20 years of vibrant fine arts, with hopes of raising money to improve college performance spaces. College Master Marie Rickard puts it thusly: “A university college is where students spread their wings. At Winters, they come together in a way that is totally distinct from how they perform in their courses. This is where they experiment, take risks, pool their talents and work as a community of young artists. As their advocate, I want to draw attention to the fact that two of our most loved and well-used college spaces really need a little TLC – better lighting and acoustics, for a start.” Appearing at the fundraiser will be York’s Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, trombone master Ron Westray (who will be releasing a new CD at The Rex on March 2 and 3); alumna jazz vocalist/composer and faculty member Rita di Ghent; the York Gospel Choir; a cappella group WIBI, and many other York faculty, alumni and students. Tickets are $50 ($40 in advance), and $10 for students.

To reserve, email wcmaster@yorku.ca.

Kirk’s Works

The great American songbook has been a grand compositional influence on saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, whose “Songbook Vol. 2” recording has just received a Juno nomination. “Typically when I work as a leader I prefer to play my own music because it offers more of a personal statement, and so, over the years I’ve developed my own repertoire… Many years ago I came across the music of Spanish composer, Albéniz. He once said that when you start with something, if you follow the thread of that thought, it takes on a life of its own; you have no idea where it’s going to take you. That really stuck with me.” There are plenty of chances to hear Kirk’s works performed. He’s literally jazzed about next month’s “Deep Shadows,” a debut CD Release for the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, featuring big band arrangements of his compositions, April 2 at Humber College Auditorium. You can also find him this month in a far more intimate configuration with a three-night stint March 3-5 at Chalkers Pub alongside bass ace Neil Swainson and out-of-town guest drummer, Dennis Mackrel, music director of the Count Basie Orchestra. www.kirkmacdonald.com

Walker’s Chalkers Date

Speaking of Chalkers, under the category of grand, the venue is now home to a brand new Shigeru Kawai SK-3 6’ 2” piano! Perfect timing for a CD release by one of the country’s most acclaimed jazz pianists and composers, Nancy Walker, her sixth as leader. “New Hieroglyphics” gathers together a dozen original compositions. Alongside bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Ethan Ardelli, Walker welcomes a new addition to her group, guitarist Ted Quinlan.

“I love the sonic possibilities that the guitar offers: colours, textures, the ability to be treated as a “horn-like” voice as well as a harmonic one,” she explains. “Writing for a quartet configuration that includes guitar allows me to make use of all those sonic possibilities in combination with the piano, which I find exciting and inspiring.” Why Quinlan? “Not only is Ted a world class guitar player with killer chops, but he’s so open, flexible and adventurous, he’s game to try anything.”

Walker’s adventurous music is enriched with a captivating depth of feeling, especially in live performance. Reserve now for March 19 from 6-9pm at Chalkers Pub.

Two Mics Are Better Than One!

Though their voices are entirely different, jazz artists Heather Bambrick and Julie Michels have much in common, from vocal versatility to a sizzling sense of humour. In late 2008, a fantabulous version of “Moondance” (find it on YouTube) inspired the two, along with their mutually adored accompanist Diane Leah, to plan a duet show.

“I’ve been waiting for this concert for years!” exclaims Michels. “I think it’s because Heather and I are both crazed, fuzzy-haired, scatting women who love to sing and laugh. I can push myself when we sing together and that’s a wonderful feeling.”

“Anything we do involves laughter, spontaneity, adventure, vocal antics, and of course great music,” promises Bambrick. “And we chose the best source for duets: Show Tunes!”

As for the seated member of the trio – the two singers couldn’t be fonder of pianist Diane Leah. As Bambrick points out, “I swear, she knows every tune ever written. Her sense of humor is second only to her incredible sense of musicality.” Collectively the three broads settled on the title “Broadsway.” It will premiere on Saturday, March 26, 8pm at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto as part of the Leading Ladies Concert Series.

Tickets are available here: www.mcctorontochoir.com.

27_bandstandIn last month’s issue I mentioned an upcoming concert by the University of Toronto Wind Symphony. I had the pleasure of attending that concert, and can report on a superb performance of all works on the programme. My principal reason for attending was to hear the solo performance of the Gregson Tuba Concerto by a young man whose development I have been following over the past few years. Now in his final year in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, Eric Probst was this year’s recipient of the U of T Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition. In 2008 Eric was the winner of  the Hannaford Youth Band Solo Competition.

I have heard this concerto a number of times in the past, and this performance ranks with the best that I have heard. At some performances, I have had the impression that I was hearing a sort of fight to the finish, with the performer attacking the concerto as an adversary to be subdued. That was not the case in this performance. Throughout the performance Eric gave the impression that he was embracing the work as his friend. They were cooperating with each other to share their mutual admiration with the audience. Even in the technically demanding cadenzas there was no hint of a struggle; by his body language and facial expressions the performer told us that he was enjoying himself at all times.

The only really well known work on the program was the Symphonic Dance Music from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Here the large woodwind section displayed a combination of precision, blend and depth of tone not often heard in a concert band.

The other student highlighted in the programme was Meaghan Danielson a graduate student conductor. She displayed her considerable conducting talent and stage presence in Contre Qui, Rose by American composer Morten Lauridsen, best known for his choral compositions. Originally written as a choral work, under Miss Danielson’s sensitive baton this transcription for wind ensemble by H. Robert Reynolds retained the feeling of a choir of wind instruments expressing the poetry which inspired the work.

The second half of the evening was devoted to Testament: Music for a Time of Trial and Give Us This Day: Short Symphony for Wind Ensemble, two contrasting works by contemporary American composer David Maslanka. Dr. Maslanka left active teaching some years ago and retired to a small town in Montana to devote most of his time to composition. He was spending several days in Toronto as the Wilma and Clifford Smith Visitor in Music at the Faculty of Music. During an interval in the programme he spoke of his inspirations for the two works featured and on his philosophy of composition. It was an inspiring talk, but too fleeting to summarize here.

This “Visitorship” was established in 1986 by the Steven and Jane Smith family to honour their parents. Since renowned singer John Vickers was named as first visitor, the students have benefited from the counsel of many distinguished musicians. During his stay Dr. Maslanka conducted master classes, sat in on rehearsals and conducted a forum with composition students.

My visit to this concert introduced me to a series of concerts at Faculty of Music that are well worth more attention than they usually receive. They provide top quality performances by talented young musicians at very affordable prices and are at an excellent venue just a few steps from two subway stations. They are worth investigating.

Now, back to the tuba. Since the tuba is generally not looked upon as a solo instrument, there is very little solo repertoire written specifically for that instrument. Personally, I knew of only two concertos for tuba; the one heard in this concert written by British composer Edward Gregson in 1976 and a somewhat earlier one by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I had a question. Since the tuba usually remains well hidden in all but small ensembles and is not generally considered a solo instrument, what prompted these composers and few lesser known ones to write concertos? So, like any good modern researcher, after consulting the Oxford Companion to Music and Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, I turned to the internet. Lo and behold, what did I find? I found a forum on the Gramophone Magazine website with the title “Why write a Tuba concerto”? (This was apparently specifically targeting the Vaughan Williams work.)Various submissions to this forum over a few months last year provide both entertainment and insight. I encourage you to read them!

(On a personal note, one of my all time favourite records is a set of duets for tuba and guitar by renowned tubist Sam Pilafian and guitarist Frank Vignola. In particular, their renditions of works by renowned French guitarist Django Reinhart show those works in a whole new melodic light.)

On the subject of compositions: Late in 2010, as a way to thank the city for all its support over the years, the members of the Pickering Community Concert Band were looking for a project to help the City of Pickering commemorate its bicentennial year. By happy coincidence 2010 also happened to be the 20th anniversary of the band. The decision was made to sponsor a competition open to amateur composers across Ontario. Entries were solicited for two distinct types of composition to be performed at ceremonies marking the two anniversaries.

After rigorous judging in accordance with well defined criteria, the winners for each of the two categories have been selected. “Elliott Overture,” by young Markham composer Sean Breen, will be performed by the Pickering Community Concert Band at the City of Pickering’s March 4 celebratory event in the Pickering Recreation Complex. “Inchworm/Lazy Afternoon,” by veteran trumpeter and singer Vern Kennedy, will be featured at the band’s 20th anniversary celebration to take place April 16. The winning composers will be introduced and awarded their prizes at each event.

And finally, a clarification: In last month’s Bandstand column we talked about the new Artist in Residence Program offered by Silverthorn Symphonic Winds. Subsequent to publication of that issue we have received some clarification on the status of this program. Raymond James Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of Raymond James Financial, Inc. will be the official corporate sponsor of the inaugural Artist in Residence Program offered by Silverthorn Symphonic Winds during the 2010/2011 season, rather than, as we thought the Ontario Trillium Foundation. While the band is in receipt of a Trillium grant these funds will be allocated for other community activities, not the Artist in Residence Program. (The Artist in Residence Program brings an established, professional musician as a collaborator with the band for a one-year term. The artist provides coaching to ensemble members, performs at two public concerts, and offers a free public master class.

Please write to us: bandstand@thewholenote.com.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is flute flies: “those tiny mosquitoes that bother musicians on outdoor gigs.”

We invite submissions from readers.

26_victor_recordsOn March 7 1917, two sides “The Dixie Jass Band One Step,” and “Livery Stable Blues” by Nick LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jass Band were released. It was the first jazz recording issued for sale in the U.S. That honour might well have gone to a group called The Original Creole Orchestra, the first New Orleans Jazz band to tour outside of the South, but in 1915 trumpeter Freddie Keppard turned down an offer from the Victor Talking Machine Company. The story goes that he didn’t want other musicians to be able to steal his music by listening to records.

Another version claims that the Victor Company wanted the band to make a test recording without pay. Yet another story is that Keppard was offered $25.00 to make a recording – much less than he was making on the vaudeville circuit at that time, although pretty well the going rate for a recording. He refused saying, “I drink that much in gin every day!”

But what was the earliest Canadian jazz recording?

Well, there isn’t much information available about the early Canadian bands or, for that matter, musicians. But in the mid 20s a piano player called Gilbert Watson formed a band which included an American trumpet player called Curtis Little. In 1925 they recorded a couple of numbers in Montreal for Starr Records, probably the first records by a Canadian band.

In these days when a little piece of electronic wizardry no bigger than a square of chocolate can store upwards of 2,000 tunes as MP3s, it is fascinating to look back in time to the early days of phonograph recordings. Before discs, recordings were made on cylinders, a process invented by Edison in 1877. By the early 1900s cylinders were selling by the millions. Then the gramophone disc took over the market. It also had been around since the late 1800s, invented by a German-born American called Emile Berliner. He founded the Berliner Gramophone Company in 1895, and in 1899 the Berliner Gramophone Company of Canada in Montreal. The original discs were only five inches in diameter and intended for toy phonographs.( He also created Deutsche Grammophon in 1898.)

I remember “Wild” Bill Davison, one of the hottest jazz cornet players in the history of the music (and who was already playing in the 1920s telling me about his memories of the early days of discs when it was an acoustic process, before the days of electric recording.

A large metal horn protruded from one wall in the studio. On the other side of the wall was the recording equipment consisting of a needle, connected to the narrow end of the horn, which vibrated to the music and cut grooves in the form of wavy lines into a revolving slab of wax thus creating the sound track. It was, in fact, direct to disc recording. (An interesting aside: in 1977 Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass recorded a limited edition 2-LP set, direct to disc, but they didn’t use wax slabs!).

“Wild” Bill then went on to explain that if the band had to stop for whatever reason during the take, a ring of gas burners would be lowered to the wax in order to melt the surface making it smooth again. You could have a maximum of three attempts before the wax had to be replaced. An added complication was that the band could not set up as it normally would on stage because the louder the instrument, the farther it had to be from the horn in the wall!

A typical example of the difficulties that had to be overcome was described by American writer Rudi Blesh, writing about a recording session with the King Oliver band in the early 20s. The band had two cornet players, Oliver and the young Louis Armstrong and when the band set up around the horn in the wall, Oliver and Armstrong drowned out the rest of the band and had to back off while clarinet player Johnny Dodds had to play right into the horn. Drummer Baby Dodds couldn’t use his bass drum at all, and had to limit himself to a greatly reduced kit.

But that wasn’t the end of it; on the next try they could hear Louis Armstrong, but not King Oliver, so Louis had to move back even more before they could achieve some semblance of balance! Far from ideal conditions you might say.

But let’s go back to that first recording by The Original Dixieland Jass Band.  Note that they used the word jass. The transformation of the word jass to jazz is shrouded in conjecture and legend. There is correspondence dated April 19, 1917 from Victor addressed to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and certainly by 1918 the ODJB was using jazz in the band’s name. One of many stories about the change from jass to jazz is that mischief makers would obliterate the letter ‘j’ from posters advertising the music! But there is no real proof as to who first used the word.

On Friday December 10, 2010 a tongue-in cheek letter from the New York copylaw firm of Lloyd J. Jassin was issued. Here is a partial transcript of the letter. “In a ceremony on Friday, which exuded warmth and openness, the the Jazz world and Jassins came together and reconciled a 95-year dispute over the derivation of the term Jazz.” If you would like to read the very witty transcript you can find it in my expanded column on the WholeNote web site.

The letter closes with this quotation from Martin Luther King: “Everyone has the blues. Everyone longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved.  Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for Faith. In music, especially that broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

A sad note. Last month we lost George Shearing and I miss his sense of humour almost as much as his music. One of my favourite examples was the following; “When people ask me how is it I was a musician, I facetiously say that I’m a firm believer in reincarnation and in a previous life I was Johann Sebastian Bach’s guide dog.”

Happy listening.

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

March sees performances of two rarities – both influenced by the Nationalist movement in music in the 19th century.  On March 9, 11, 12 and 13, Toronto Operetta Theatre presents a fully staged version of the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda (1932) by Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) and on March 27 Opera in Concert presents a concert version of Antonín Dvořák’s comic opera The Devil and Kate (1899). Both works are regularly staged in their homelands – Spain and the Czech Republic, respectively – but are largely unknown outside of them. To discover more about the two works I spoke with Guillermo Silva-Marin, artistic director of both opera companies.

Luisa Fernanda is one of the most popular of all zarzuelas and will be the fourth zarzuela TOT has presented following Tomás Bretón’s La Verbena de la paloma in 1999, Gonzalo Roig’s Cecilia Valdés in 2003 and Francisco Asenjo Barbieri’s El Barberillo de Lavapiés in 2005. This makes TOT the only operetta company in the world, as far as can be determined, to include Spanish repertoire on a regular basis along with works from Europe and America. Ohio Light Opera, North America’s largest operetta festival, presented zarzuela once in 1999, but never since, and the Festival Internazionale dell’Operetta in Trieste has so far never included Spanish works.

Silva-Marin’s inclusion of zarzuela is a conscious effort to diversify the TOT’s offerings both because of the inherent value of the works and because the Hispanic community, as he notes, “is hardly ever represented in the cultural tapestry of this city.” Unlike Viennese or Parisian operetta, zarzuela has largely remained unknown outside of Spain, first because of the misconception that the works were “too typically Spanish” to travel and second for the practical reason that Spain was politically isolated in the central part of the 20th century when interest in opera was expanding.

It is true, though, that zarzuela is not quite like operetta. In fact, it presents an art form that neatly complements its European counterparts. As Silva-Marin explains, “Zarzuela is, unlike operetta, a little bit more overt as to how it is critical of social, moral and political issues and portrays those not so much in a fun way but in a critical way. Gilbert and Sullivan poke fun at those in power but the tone is light. In zarzuela it is more serious. A great number of zarzuelas are daringly critical of the government, the aristocracy or of whatever social issues they’re trying to present. That gives zarzuela more of an operatic tone. In Luisa Fernanda in particular the influence of Puccini and verismo is much stronger than in other zarzuelas of the period.” While the whole movement of zarzuela was to create a nationalist school of opera, Spanish composers were fully aware of the artistic movements of their time. Silva-Marin says, “You get this mixture which is fascinating in that it is undeniably Spanish but is pushing ahead under the influence of musical movements from abroad.”

Luisa Fernanda is set in Madrid in 1868 during the revolutionary republican movement that threatened the regime of Queen Isabel II.  A typical love triangle takes on political implications when the tenor lead Javier, a colonel, finds himself torn between his fiancée Luisa Fernanda, daughter of a court clerk and the Duchess Carolina.Luisa’s friends counsel her to forget Javier because of his dangerous revolutionary ideas and to accept the attentions of the wealthy landowner Vidal, who has come to Madrid to find a wife.

Mexican tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez will sing Javier, a role popularized on disc by Plácido Domingo and José Carreras. Michèle Bogdanowicz will sing Luisa, Miriam Khalil the Countess and Silva-Marin himself will sing Vidal. The zarzuela will be sung in Spanish with dialogue in English but for the first time the TOT will use surtitles for the musical numbers.

25_silva_marinShifting geography, Dvořák’s The Devil and Kate, like Luisa Fernanda, is a work that has never been off the boards in its home country since its premiere. Though it may seem heresy to say so, The Devil and Kate is generally considered even more popular in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia than than Dvořák’s best-known opera Rusalka (1901). Besides its robust humour, one of the work’s greatest attractions is its abundance of folk dances. Ever since Opera in Concert’s presentation of Rusalka in 1998, Silva-Marin became curious about Dvořák’s other eight published operas. As it happened he came across a DVD of the Wexford Festival’s 1988 production of the opera sung in English. Based on a Bohemian fairy tale, Kate wants to dance so much that she declares she’d dance with the devil himself. What do you know but a mysterious stranger named Marbuel suddenly appears, dances with Kate and disappears with her underground. Fortunately, Kate has a friend Jirka, who vows to rescue her. Marion Newman sings Kate, Giles Tomkins will be the devil’s servant Marbuel. OiC will use the same clever translation by Ian Gledhill used at Wexford.  For more information about TOT visit www.torontooperetta.com and for OiC go to www.operainconcert.com. Without the efforts of Guillermo Silva-Marin, Toronto’s opera scene would lose the diversity that makes it so rich.

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

The effect of too many winter days indoors and the budding promise of spring seem to have inspired new music presenters to think of movement in March, and especially of the human desire to dance. Or perhaps it’s my own craving for unbundling weather – where we can move more freely – that’s making me see choreographic connections. Regardless, no fewer than six concerts this month touch on the subject openly or in more subtle ways.

New Music Concerts’ celebration of British composer Jonathan Harvey may be the most tangential to the theme, but I can’t go without mentioning it. Harvey’s remarkable training and unique opportunities for musical exploration have allowed him to gather influences from Berg, Messiaen and Britten to Babbitt and Boulez, which he then infuses with the power of Stockhausen and his own investigation of the mystical. Early successes have since opened doors for Harvey to compose for just about every classical genre, and for some of the world’s best soloists and ensembles. But his skill and imagination seem best applied to electroacoustics, which is the main feature of this March 6 concert at the Betty Oliphant Theatre.

Programme notes for works like The Riot (the only non-premiere here) read like descriptions of choreography. Musical themes bounce about sharply, join in polyphonic ensembles or re-combine in new configurations. Scena for solo violin and large ensemble develops just like a classical ballet. Be sure to arrive early for a pre-concert event, where U of T’s gamUT ensemble will deliver the world premiere of Harvey’s Vajra. Harvey is in constant demand for commissions, meaning his dance card is plenty full, so any chance to catch a new work of his is a special one. To learn more or buy tickets, visit  www.newmusicconcerts.com.

On March 17, pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico will unveil the results of her Glass Houses Revisited recording project in a live concert at the Glenn Gould Studio. The CD, released on Centrediscs, consists of extensive revisions to nine selections from the original 1981 Glass Houses by composer Ann Southam, and was Petrowksa Quilico’s last Southam collaboration before the composer’s sudden passing last November.

In her incomplete programme notes, Southam explained the genesis of the work: “I have called these pieces Glass Houses in order to identify them as minimalist music. The best known composer of this style of music at the time… The tunes in Glass Houses were inspired by… Canadian east coast fiddle music. Generally speaking, these tunes are spun out… until all tunes are present, at which point they wind back to the beginning.”

Petrowska Quilico describes Glass Houses Revisited as “fiendishly difficult,” comparing the cycle to Ligeti’s etudes, Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and to the complexity of Bach’s counterpoint – fleet, virtuosic dances around the keyboard. It’s interesting to note that Southam was a celebrated composer of music for dance, having written over 40 scores for the likes of Patricia Beatty and the New Dance Group of Canada (now the Toronto Dance Theatre) and for other companies and choreographers such as Danny Grossman, Dancemakers, Rachel Browne and Christopher House, including House’s acclaimed choreography set to Glass Houses. To learn more about Ann Southam and her work, visit www.musiccentre.ca. ickets,

Continuum returns to Toronto from the 2011 Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques Festival for a March 20 concert at the Music Gallery. Titled “Step, Turn, Kick,” the programming here is grounded in the idea of “dancing in the mind.” At its core is a quartet of new pieces by Canadian composers Cassandra Miller, Nicolas Gilbert, Linda C. Smith and Lori Freedman, that, taken together, can be imagined as a French baroque dance suite for the 21st century. Also featured is the Canadian premiere of Marc Sabat’s John Jenkins, a work inspired by the prolific 17th-century English composer and dance master. Rounding out the concert are solos and duos by UK’s Michel Finnissy and Holland’s Martijn Padding that express an impulse to move. To learn more about Continuum, visit www.continuummusic.org. Tickets will be available at the door.

23_deromeI’m very eager to hear Julie-Anne Derome in recital on March 24 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. This new music specialist presents an ambitious programme rich with Canadian content. She will open with the brief but intense Ivresses, songes, sourdes nuit by Québec composer Jean Lesage. Its percussive sonics and other dramatic effects make it ripe for use as a solo dance soundtrack. Chan Ka Nin’s very popular Soulmate, taken from his figure-skating-inspired Poetry on Ice, will offer a nice counterbalance. And closing the evening is Tracking for solo violin and live video by Laurie Radford. Radford defines “tracking” in the sense of the title as “the coordination of speed and gesture for two points locked in a reciprocal force and action.” Put simply, the act of both leading and following, as in a pas de deux. Radford further explains that tracking implies linked relationships between time, material and action, controlling energy and gravitational force. All very heady stuff, but it sounds very dance-like to me! More details are available through www.music-toronto.com.

The Scarborough Philharmonic carries through the dance theme to April 2 with a new work by their Composer-in-Residence, Alex Eddington. Entitled Dancing about Architecture, Eddington describes the work for nine wind instruments and percussion as “a new way to organize a dance suite”, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s phrase “Give me music I can live in like a house!” This concert at the St. John the Baptist Norway Anglican Church also features world premieres by Toronto’s Phil McConnell and American composer Bruce Broughton. For more details and to reserve tickets, visit www.spo.ca.

We end on a high-energy note on April 3 with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and their premiere of Brian Current’s Whirling Dervish for sufi whirling and orchestra. If you have never experienced Sufi whirling – a dynamic, dancing form of mystic meditation – then you’re in for a treat. It can be a mesmerizing experience, and I’m sure Current has come up with some excellent new music to make this an event that will spin us right into spring! For more details, visit www.kwsymphony.ca.

From dances of the mind to mystic motion, new music never ceases to move us. So be sure to get in with the new via the WholeNote concert listings here and online at www.thewholenote.com. ν

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

19_arabesque_dance_companyThis month starts auspiciously with the Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra’s world premiere of its NOOR (Light), running March 3 - 6 at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre. This ambitious production promises to be among the grandest world performance events this season with an international ensemble of 17 dancers and 14 musicians, including three vocalists. Linking traditional art forms from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Spain, NOOR evokes the rich influence of Arab art in medieval Andalusia as expressed through spiritual poetry, regional music and dance. The company directors Yasmina Ramzy and Bassam Bishara collaborated with the noted violinist and exponent of the ancient Muwashshahaat poetic tradition Fathi Aljarah, with Canada’s premiere flamenco guitar master Roger Scannura and dancer Valeria Scannura of Ritmo Flamenco. The result is a juxtaposition of the more languid belly dancing tradition with the fiery brilliance of flamenco.

19_acoustic_africaWest African music lovers are in for a treat on March 6. The Royal Conservatory of Music in partnership with Small World Music present Acoustic Africa, a concert featuring three headliners: Habib Koité, Oliver Mtukudzi, and Afel Bocoum, legends in their native Mali and Zimbabwe. We can expect an infectious blend of pop, South African mbaqanga, jit and traditional kateke drumming. I’m willing to bet that more than a few patrons will get up out of their Koerner Hall seats to dance along.

Melodies of Armenia on March 10 is part of the free World Music Series held noon at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The concert by the Levon Ichkhanian Quartet shines the spotlight on the playing of Mark Korven’s soulful duduk, an apricot wood shawm with ancient roots in Armenian culture. Levon Ichkhanian on plucked strings, bassist Victor Bateman and Wilson Laurencin on percussion join the duduk in presenting the oft melancholy music of Armenia.

The Kodo Drummers of Japan marks its 30th anniversary this year bringing its show to the Sony Centre For The Performing Arts on March 11. I saw them years ago and their interpretations dazzled the audience with feats of astounding percussive speed, dexterity, and muscular endurance.

The Musideum is a unique and fun downtown Toronto music retail store cum museum, filled to the ceiling with musical instruments from around the world. Its Friday 7pm series continues March 11 with the FreePlay Duo in which Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell (of Autorickshaw fame) sing a capella songs accompanied only by a digital looping station.  On March 25 local world music diva Maryem Hassan Tollar performs with musicians Ian De Souza and Chris Church.

Hindustani classical music will take the stage on March 17 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Presented by Small World Music, the concert presents the leading younger generation sitarist Nilandri Kumar (whose father was the prominent sitarist Pandit Kartick Kumar) with the celebrated tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.  Zakir received a firm musical foundation from his father the honoured late tabla virtuoso Allah Rakha, though many would say Zakir with his brilliant technique and crowd-pleasing musicianship has outstripped his guru’s international fame through his expeditions across once-forbidding musical boundaries.

Readers may be surprised to see the name of Toronto’s ViaSalzburg Chamber Orchestra in this column. They owe this distinction to the special guests for their Glenn Gould Studio concert on March 24 and 25: Canada’s pioneer Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. (Full disclosure: I have been composing for and performing with Evergreen since its inception in 1983). The programme will include the epic Beethoven String Quartet Op. 131, Montreal composer Michael Oesterle’s piece for gamelan degung and string quartet, and Evergreen Club’s performance of “Ibu Trish” (1989), its signature work by American composer Lou Harrison for gamelan.

Kicking off its New World Series on March 25, the Music Gallery and Batuki Music Society present ETHIO T.O.  This concert, described as “Ethiopian and Eritrean pentatonic jazz-funk” features two bands. Ethio Fidel is led by the local first-call Ethiopian bandleader saxophonist, Girma Wolde Michael. The group Canaille on the other hand is directed by the multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Strachan, who is strongly influenced by Ethiopian horn arrangements and tonality. Toronto has the second largest population of people from Ethiopia and Eritrea in North America. Kudos to The Music Gallery which has thought to bring the music of Ethiopia’s “Golden Age” of the ’60s and ’70s to its venue just north of Queen St.

The next day on March 26 the Echo Women’s Choir and Mariposa In The Schools present David and Goliath: An Earth Hour Evening of Song and Story at the historic Church of the Holy Trinity, benefitting both of these charitable organizations that bring music to diverse communities. This spirited evening of international songs and stories will feature artists such as Ken Whiteley, the 80-voice Echo Women’s Choir, David Anderson, Njacko Backo, Jowi Taylor and the Cuban Percussion Ensemble.

Brampton’s spiffy Rose Theatre is stepping up to challenge T.O.’s hold on touring world musicians on March 31. Debashish Bhattacharya, among the pre-eminent Hindustani slide guitarists today, will appear accompanied by Shubhasis Bhattacharya on tabla. The duo will bring the classical raag and taal based music of northern India to Flowertown.

Finally, this is the time of year for new beginnings. Nowruz marks the Iranian New Year, celebrated on the vernal equinox by Iranians all over the world. The youthful Sarv Ensemble presents two concerts on April 1 and 2 called Eidaneh: A Celebration of Persian New Year and Arrival of Spring. They perform Iranian classical and folk music at the Beit Zatoun House on 612 Markham St. in downtown Toronto. Just one year old, this new venue is a large open gallery that aims to serve as a platform for social justice and human rights events. “When we share the art and culture of another then there is no room for injustice or hatred.” A noble vision indeed. ν

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

Back to top