March has arrived and with it the vernal equinox, Saint Patrick’s Day, the famous Ides, probably an early thaw, and with it a flood of student recitals at music schools here and everywhere. Go to the website of the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario, for example, where events on the calendar are colour coded: student recitals are orange, and the March calendar is almost all orange! We cannot list all student solo recitals – there just isn’t the space in the print magazine to do so. But I recommend going to one in March. It’s great fun being able to say, down the road, that you spotted a great artist early in their career. Just go to the website of the music school nearest you and find out what is going on. That is not to say there are no student performances in our listings pages. We list music school recitals by student ensembles or by particular teachers’ students. For example, see the recital on March 4 by the York University Brass Ensemble or the one the following day by students of the voice teachers at York University.

Meanwhile faculty recitals continue through March: the Faculty Woodwind Quintet at Wilfrid Laurier University will perform there on March 3. The flutist in this ensemble, incidentally, is Amy Hamilton, whose flute quartet’s new CD, “Canadian Flute Quartets,” I have reviewed in this month’s “DISCoveries.” Other university teachers, Brock University piano professor Karin Bella and U of T guitar professor Jeffrey McFadden will give recitals on March 1 and 7 respectively, to name but a few.

Vocal Recitals

It looks like another good month for vocal recitals, getting off to an early start on March 1 with U of T voice students presenting a programme of songs composed by New Zealanders and Australians at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The very next day, hot on the heels of “Nixon in China,” the COC’s vocal series continues with compositions by John Adams, introduced by the composer himself, in town because of his major role, as composer and conductor, in the TSO’s New Creations series.

16_isabella_stewart_gardner_portraitOn March 6 the Aldeburgh Connection will tell the story in song of the life of Boston socialite and philanthropist, Isabella Stewart Gardner. Aldeburgh artistic co-director, Stephen Ralls told me this about the programme: “It’s one of those programmes which is so difficult to describe [because it] has so many [interwoven] threads!” The unifying theme, however, is the connection of the music with Bostonian Isabel Stewart Gardner. She patronised American composers, such as Clayton Johns, Margaret Ruthven Lang and Charles Martin Loeffler, who will be represented on the programme. As a young woman she spent time in France and when back in Boston programmed a lot of French music in concerts at her home, so there will also be songs by Fauré, Debussy, Chausson, D’Indy and Bemberg. One of her causes, Ralls told me, was the welfare of black people in Boston, so there will be arrangements of spirituals as well as other music of her time, including piano duets by Gottschalk and MacDowell. “As you can see,” Ralls said, “it’s a rich vein! We will take in all the people whom she patronised or who were friends of hers in Boston, [such as] John Singer Sargent, Bernard Berenson and Henry James…”

Returning for a moment to the universities, Brock University in St. Catharines appears to be a hotbed of vocal activity, with three recitals, March 15, 22 and 25; and on March 26 the Port Hope Friends of Music are presenting a concert by three singers from the Opera School of the University of Toronto. Other upcoming vocal recitals are mezzo Vilma Indra Vitols presented by the Latvian National Opera Fund Canada on March 27 and baritone Michael Fitzgerald at Metropolitan United Church on March 31.

Piano Recitals

17_jane_coopA number of fine pianists are performing in Toronto in March. Two of these are faculty members at the University of British Columbia, Jane Coop and Sara Davis Buechner. Jane Coop will give two recitals for Mooredale Concerts, one designed for children and one for the rest of us, featuring music by Beethoven and Scriabin, on March 20. Then on March 25 she will be at the Aurora Cultural Centre’s Brevik Hall, a beautiful new 150-seat facility that sells out fast, especially when an artist of Ms. Coop’s calibre is performing! I asked the newest member of The WholeNote team, Sharna Searle, herself a pianist, who has recently come here from Vancouver and has heard Jane Coop play on several occasions, to say something about her. Searle wrote: “I admire her focussed, considered and keenly intelligent understanding of, and approach to, the music. I’ve always thought she was a very grounded player with this wonderfully clean, unfussy, flawless technique, something I always appreciate in a pianist. My teacher at music school (U. of Western Ontario), Ronald Turini, had a similar technique; he never ‘got in the way of the music.’”

17_buechnerSara Davis Buechner will perform with Sinfonia Toronto in its interesting “Fantasies” programme on March 11 and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on March 12. She has an astonishing range of musical affinities, and an encyclopaedic concert and recital repertoire, spanning the breadth of keyboard music from Bach to contemporary. An indication of this: her back to back Sinfonia Toronto and K-WCMS appearances do not have a single composer in common.

Speaking of the K-W Chamber Music Society, yet another eminent pianist, Janina Fialkowska, will also perform for the K-W Chamber Music Society on March 15. This remarkable organization, you may be interested to know, has no fewer than eleven different concerts listed in this month’s issue. If you haven’t gone – I know I’ve said this before – go! It’s like a house concert but with artists who usually perform in larger, less intimate, venues. Fialkowska can also be heard on March  5 with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and on March 13 in a concert presented by Visual and Performing Arts Newmarket.

The list of piano recitals this month goes on and on, but I will mention three more. Sa Chen, a Chinese pianist, who has won prizes at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (2005), the 14th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (2000) and the Leeds International Piano Competition (1996), will perform at the MacMillan Theatre on March 27 under the auspices of the Li Delun Music Foundation. This will be her first appearance in Toronto. Just two days later, on March 29, Music Toronto will bring us the internationally renowned Montreal pianist, Marc-André Hamelin; and on March 30 and 31, French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be the soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the second concert of a TSO “Signature Series” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth.

Also Noteworthy

Of the several events designed for children, one in particular caught my eyes: the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra’s concert called “Bella the Tuba Gets Her Melody” on March 26.

On the community orchestra front, the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra continues its pattern of innovative programming on April 2, including in its programme three world premieres, including one by the evening’s guest conductor, Alex Eddington and a violin concerto by Bruce Broughton, a Hollywood film composer with Canadian roots.

AND FINALLY, A WARM WELCOME to an astonishing array of distinguished visitors this month: Marina Piccinini and Andreas Haefliger (March 11); Hilary Hahn, violin,  and Valentina Lisitsa, piano, March 1; John Williams, guitar, March 27; the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, March 11; John Adams (as conductor), (March 5); The Barra McNeils, (April 5 and 6) Evelyn Glennie, (March 2); Borealis Quartet, (March 3); Tokyo Quartet, (April 4); Karen Gomyo, violin, (March 23).

As Richard Margison observed in the very early days of WholeNote Magazine, the great thing about The WholeNote is that it includes local artists as well as internationally known stars. Since everyone’s career starts at the local level, he said, this is good for everyone. So, let’s all try to get out to hear at least one concert by a local artist and one by a student as well as one or two by our distinguished visitors. Our participation as part of the audience is just as important in creating a living musical culture as our participation as performers. Bravo, I say, to the man who came out to a concert by my students in January. “What brings you to our concert?” I asked him during the intermission. His answer was simple: “I wanted to hear some music I had never heard before.” He was not disappointed, and all of us who participated in the music-making were helped and affirmed by his presence there. ν

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

Last month I devoted a column to a discussion of Bach’s choral music, works that have probably become as central to the European choral canon as anything one can think of. This month, for contrast, I’ll write about lesser known and/or modern works being performed in March and April, and of choral endeavours that have sprung from other traditions as well. What follows is only a few of many excellent concerts this month – please consult the listings for more choices.

14_the_victoria_scholarsThe baroque French composer François Couperin (1668-1733) has traditionally been known for his innovative harpsichord compositions, and his influence on the keyboard works of later composers. In recent years musicians have been investigating his vocal works. While there are good recordings of Couperin’s choral music available, concerts of it are rare in this area. We have a chance to hear one of his early works, the Messe a l’usage ordinaire des paroisses (mass for regular parish use) performed by the Victoria Scholars on March 6. Belying its somewhat lumpish utilitarian title, it has the dancing rhythms typical of French choral music of this era.

Another composer better known for his keyboard works than choral music is 19th century German Josef Rheinberger. In recent years, the Lyrica Chamber Choir of Barrie has made a project of reviving Rheinberger’s work. On March 26, they perform his Missa Brevis Op.117.

I’ve known choral conductor Ron Cheung since we were young tenors in the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, in the years when it was conducted by choral wild man Robert Cooper. Ron founded the Voices Choir in 1996. In celebration of Ron’s 20th year of choral conducting and Voices’ 15th year in existence, they are presenting a programme on April 2 that includes Robert Schumann’s very rare late period setting of the Requiem text. It is not a work I know at all, but the inevitable “net search” reveals that it clearly has its champions. Schumann fans and others curious about his quirky, dynamic music might well want to give it a listen, especially performed live.

While the classical music world’s focus on the music of past centuries is often seen as conservative and unadventuresome, deeper investigation into neglected areas of musical history has resulted in the rediscovery and rehabilitation of female composers of past centuries. In honour of the centenary of International Women’s Day on March 8, St. Catharine’s “Primavera Concerts” are presenting an all day series of three separate concerts on March 5. Along with music by composers from earlier times – Hildegard von Bingen and the amazing Barbara Strozzi – the excellent Oriana Women’s Choir will perform works by Canadian choral heroes Ruth Watson Henderson and Eleanor Daley. These two composers constitute a genuine Canadian tradition of their own, and their works have anchored many a concert in this part of the world (including the Voices concert mentioned above).

15_karen_burkeI had the pleasure to participate in a choral event in December at which the Toronto Mass Choir performed. Many choirs make pleasant sounding music in a pleasant manner. The Toronto Mass Choir is the kind of group that arrests your attention with their exuberance and rhythmic drive. Choirs steeped in European traditions often stumble when executing gospel music. Two common elements of gospel performance are memorization and physical movement, the precise opposite of what most choirs are accustomed to. Freeing one’s hands of the necessity to hold a music folder allows singers to sway and clap on the off–beat. These elements are really not just options with gospel – they’re often as necessary to its performance tradition as agile coloratura is to Handel and Mozart.

Choirs can often be bribed to memorize music with extra goodies at break time, but movement while singing remains difficult for many groups – a basic shift in weight from one foot to the other can be enough to cause the pitch to drop and the tempo to drag. This kind of movement has to be built into the practice of the music from the beginning. While it is difficult, the advantage for choral singers is plain to see – a choir that programs a choral concert will likely be in better shape that season than ever before. Choirs interested in innovative marketing strategies might well consider the appeal of “choral–cize” concerts to a fitness–minded audience eager to work up a sweat. But I digress.

For choral musicians interested in getting their gospel chops in shape, Toronto Mass Choir and its dynamic director, Karen Burke, are hosting Power Up 2011, an annual gospel music workshop on the weekend of March 4-6. The weekend includes workshops in vocal improvisation and songwriting, and culminates in a mass choir performance on the Sunday evening of the weekend. More information can be found at the Choir’s website

Lastly, on April 2, the Toronto Chamber Choir devotes an evening to the works of Josquin Des Prez (c. 1450 approx - 1521). Josquin was quite possibly the world’s first genuine choral superstar. In a time in which music was not disseminated easily, his pan–national popularity and influence is well documented in sources from the early Renaissance. Now even more remote to our ears than Monteverdi, Byrd or Palestrina, his music denotes mystery, lost customs and sounds and beliefs. But well performed, it is hardly austere – he wrote rowdy and rhythmic popular songs as well as settings of religious texts.

Full disclosure prompts me to acknowledge that I have a small part to play in this concert. Likely, the proper thing for me to do was to not have written about it in the first place. But live performances of Josquin’s music are rare enough in this part of the world that I really have no choice but to risk my journalist’s credibility by highlighting it for The WholeNote readers. In the battle between journalistic ethics and Josquin, Josquin’s got to win pretty much every time. ν

Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at

Locations might be taken as a theme that loosely ties this month’s events together, in an oblique sort of way. To start with, Toronto is the lucky location of several appearances by visiting artists I’d like to tell you about.

12_barbara_furtuna_photo_3On March 12, The King’s Singers appear at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. This six-voice male ensemble from England hardly needs an introduction; their unique blend of impeccable intonation, flawless articulation, incisive timing and British humour have ensured their fame around the world for over 40 years. I myself fondly remember a performance of theirs at U of T Faculty of Music in November 1973 – I unearthed the program (this is true), which reveals that they did Renaissance motets by Victoria, Jacob Handl and Byrd, Italian madrigals and French chansons from the 16th and 17th centuries, 20th century works and some lighter fare too. Of course, no one in that early group still remains in the present incarnation some 37 years later; but it’s sure that the versatility and aplomb which have always characterized their performances have remained constant through all the changes in personnel. At Koerner Hall their artistry and expertise in early music will be evident in works by Bennet, Tomkins, Palestrina and Striggio; more contemporary works are on the programme as well.

A concert not strictly of early music but of a world premiere inspired by the music of 12th century musician and mystic Hildegard von Bingen takes place at St. Anne’s Church on March 23. It brings to Toronto an extraordinary women’s vocal trio from Norway, Trio Mediæval, who, with The Toronto Consort, will perform James Rolfe’s new commissioned work Breathe. This presentation of Soundstreams offers an added bonus on March 21: a free “Salon” at the Gardiner Museum, at which you can hear Trio Mediæval perform excerpts and talk about Rolfe’s composition.

The pure and expressive voice of Daniel Taylor, one of the world’s most sought-after countertenors, will grace the Tafelmusik stage in performances from March 24 to 27 (Trinity-St. Paul’s Church) and again on March 29 (Toronto Centre for the Arts). His is an amazingly busy life – his website tells us “Professor of Voice at the Conservatoire de musique in Montreal and at the University of Ottawa, Adjunct Professor at McGill, visiting scholar at the University of Victoria, Artist-in-Residence at the Banff Centre, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Theatre of Early Music, which performs over 30 concerts every year all over the world” – and this description doesn’t even mention his many appearances as recording artist and performer in opera, oratorio and concerts. In Toronto he’ll be singing Bach (the ravishing solo Cantata 170 Vergnügte RuhContented Rest) as well as virtuosic Italian arias. Definitely a desirable place to be on one of those dates!

Each season, The Toronto Consort introduces a guest ensemble to its audiences. But this April, it brings two: the richly-flavoured Montreal-based Constantinople, an instrumental ensemble inspired by musical traditions of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and Barbara Furtuna, a remarkable male vocal quartet from Corsica that specializes in the centuries-old traditions of polyphonic Coriscan singing. To listen to Constantinople is to travel back to ancient places and times when Eastern and Western cultures blended and influenced each other’s arts and philosophy; to listen to Barbara Furtuna (the name means “cruel fate”) is to hear stories of the long, troubled and impassioned history of their island. Together, they’ll take the audience on a voyage from the heart of the Mediterranean where lies the island of Corsica, to ancient Persia and medieval Europe. “Canti di a terra” is presented on April 1 and 2 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church.

Other locations – Sweden, Leipzig, restoration London, coffeehouses, ladies’ boudoirs – are also within reach, and once again there’s too much to do justice to:

Meeting friends for coffee is always an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. You can do this in the 18th century European way on March 4, as Baroque Music Beside the Grange invites you to Heliconian Hall for “The Coffeehouse Collective,” music by Telemann, Bach and others, played in an informal but attentive atmosphere with an array of instrumental colours, and served with coffee and cider. An hour-long version of this concert will be presented on March 6 in the lovely acoustic of Church of the Holy Trinity, the latest in Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series.

As lutenist/guitarist John Edwards explains, pre-Revolution France was an era “where men like the encyclopaedist Diderot, liberal thinkers like Rousseau and even a pre-imperial Napoleon would gather, literally, at the foot of the bed of great ladies. After they finished describing their hard work or how the plotting of the Revolution was progressing, chamber music would have offered a perfect diversion.” Music that might well be heard then is performed on March 12 by The Musicians In Ordinary in a concert called “Rococo!” with soprano Hallie Fishel, baroque guitarist John Edwards and guest violinist Christopher Verrette.

Also on March 12, you can hear a touch of Sweden at Victoria College Chapel, in Scaramella’s “Fiddle Me This,” as three bowed instruments are showcased – the Swedish nyckelharpa, the hurdy gurdy and the viola da gamba. There’ll be a mix of folk-inspired music and music coming from the high art tradition, especially pieces associated with the 17 th century Swedish Queen Kristina. Of special interest: a newly-composed piece for these three featured instruments, by hurdy gurdy and percussion player Ben Grossman.

Church of Our Lady Immaculate in Guelph is the location of Tactus Vocal Ensemble’s concert “Il Mio Sole” on March 12. With organist Christian Teeuwsen, this eight-voice ensemble will perform works by Allegri, Marenzio, Monteverdi, Palestrina and Sanders.

In Kitchener on March 13, Nota Bene Period Orchestra takes you back to “Bach’s Leipzig,” presenting music by Bach and his contemporaries including Telemann, Kuhnau and Rosenmüller. The trip is further enhanced with a slide show of Leipzig’s historic beauty and maybe even a little strudel.

With music ranging from restoration London to 21st century Toronto, Music at Metropolitan presents “Shakespeare in the City” on March 26 – a cross-cultural jam session on the lyrics of Shakespeare featuring singers, dancers and instrumentalists including composer/saxophonist Daniel Rubinoff and composer/theorbist (and The WholeNote’s choral columnist) Benjamin Stein.

On March 27, there’s a unique opportunity to celebrate the Age of the Enlightenment and its legacy with music, talks and readings of inspiring historical texts. Amnesty International and the Windermere String Quartet present “The Age of Enlightenment and Human Rights.” String quartets by Mozart and Beethoven will be performed on period instruments, and the location is First Unitarian Congregation.

THIS JUST IN: In the wake of the exciting news reported last month, of Aisslinn Nosky’s appointment as concertmaster of the prestigious Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, a solo violin recital arises. Nosky will perform three works: Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major (a very famous and joyful work); Ysaÿe’s second solo sonata ”Obsession” (a work “obsessed” with both the above Partita and the Dies Irae); and the world premiere of Stand Still, a new commissioned work by Michael Oesterle. Presented by I Furiosi, “The Good, The Baroque and The Ugly” takes place on April 2 at Church of St. Mary Magdalene. A recital “not for the faint of heart,” Nosky says, and this is certain; but I think it must also be a celebration of hope and joy in the prospect of a bright future.

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

AS THE WINTER WEEKS DWINDLE down to a precious few, here are some good excuses to head straight to the clubs:

A Four-Day Live Music Wonderland

Who knew Toronto was such a hotbed of folk, roots and blues talent? Meet The Association of Artists for a Better World, organizers of Winterfolk. This entirely volunteer-run, all-ages festival is now in its 9th season of emulating multi-stage rural summer festivals, right here in the city. The 2011 edition will showcase 150 artists over four days (February 18-21) at six venues in the Broadview and Danforth vicinity. Ranging from sports bar to church, the venues this year are: Black Swan Tavern, Mambo Lounge, Eastminster United Church, Danforth Café, Dora Keogh and Terry O’s Sports Bar. All shows will be free of charge with the exception of Saturday night’s “Brass Roots: Big Bands for Your Buck” at Eastminster United Church, a quadruple bill of multi-genre big bands for only $15 ($12adv).

Jazzers will notice guitarist Tony Quarrington’s name all over the performance schedule – he is well-known in the folk scene as both a performer and songwriter. Popular blues acts also appear on the bill, including Gary Kendall of the Downchild Blues Band fame, charismatic Danny Marks and breathtaking multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Bowskill; other promising billings include veteran jazzman Big Rude Jake, Latin chanteuse Laura Fernandez and acclaimed singer-songwriter Noah Zacharin.

Budding musicians should take advantage of the free workshops offered, which cover everything from blues songwriting and improvisation to songs of social justice and fingerstyle guitar.

The fourth and final Family Day is highlighted by two sets with Beth Anne Cole, familiar to many from her 22 years on Mr. Dressup and Sesame Street. The Winterfolk venues can all be found in our “In The Clubs” listings.

To find out more details about this exciting festival, visit

Salsa for Everybody!

47_luismarioochoaA surefire destination for latin jazz, The Lula Lounge has recently embarked on a weekly series that looks like it’s here to stay. The new Sunday Family Salsa Brunch is an authentic fiesta with live music by the incomparable Luis Mario Ochoa Traditional Cuban Quartet. Lula has made a grand choice because this man is not only an exquisite musician but also a world-class entertainer. Whether he is singing, strumming the guitar or keeping impeccable time on a maraca, Ochoa lights up a room like a lantern. $25 cover pays for the band, a beginner salsa lesson by Miko Sobreira as well as a wholesome buffet brunch, coffee, dessert, tax and tip. Free for kids 12 and under, seating at 11am and 1pm. For more info visit:

Balkan-Jazz-Funk-Fusion for the Brave

48_tovaSpeaking of salsa, I find Tova Kardonne’s music to be delectably spicy, or as she puts it, “tipsy, sexy music for the brave.” Indeed, this talented vocalist/composer has concocted a daring recipe of jazz, balkan, funk and afro-cuban music fusion for her eight-piece ensemble, The Thing Is. Nearly every piece Kardonne writes is composed in odd meter, each arrangement augmented with dynamic twists and turns, dissonance aplenty and lyrics poetic enough to recite a cappella.

What is it that compels Kardonne to write such challenging music? “There’s no denying…my peers find it challenging and my musical superiors find it challenging too, but only until they can sing it, which inevitably, everyone in the band can, whether they’re playing the melody, the bass line, or the most hidden inner harmony. It’s all singable, groovin’, and highly intuitive. Once everyone’s playing it, it becomes hard to remember why it seemed so challenging at first.” Not exactly dinner music, but a few good listens will likely warrant cravings for the band’s appealing complexity. The Thing Is: Tova Kardonne on vocals, compositions, lyrics and arrangements, with Graham Campbell, guitar; David Atkinson, piano; Amy Medvick, flute; Mike Wark, alto sax; Christian Overton, trombone; Trevor Falls, drums; and Chris Kettlewell, bass. The band plays The Rex Hotel on February 13 at 9:45pm. Fancy a sample? Hear The Thing Is here:

This Time the “Quote’s” on Me

Instrumental jazz is consistently respected in the “Fridays at Five” series happening at Quotes Bar & Grill, located beneath Barootes Restaurant at 220 King Street West. That’s where the Canadian Jazz Quartet (Gary Benson, guitar; Frank Wright, vibes; Duncan Hopkins, bass; Don Vickery, drums) have been entertaining audiences for nearly 5 years now.

Much like at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar, there’s a clever policy of “No Reservations” which encourages music lovers to get there early to snag the best seats. And they do, without fail! To keep things interesting, each week the CJQ welcomes a special guest, usually a horn player of the highest order who gets to call the tunes. For instance, The WholeNote’s own Jim Galloway will be gracing the bandstand there on February 11th.

On February 18th the quartet will be calling the tunes themselves, as they launch a brand new recording. “Brazilian Reflections” features famous musical works of art by Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Zingaro”, “Desafinado”), Luis Bonfa (“Samba de Orfeu”, “Menina Flo”) plus pleasing originals by the quartet’s leader, Gary Benson (“Everytime I See You”, “Don’t Quote Me”).

I was able to obtain an advanced copy of Brazilian Reflections, and you can quote me when I say it captures the warm essence of bossa nova so well, you’ll forget all about winter.

Acouple of issues ago I wrote about the less than thriving club scene which is, by the way, not confined to Toronto. For those of you who did not read the article in question it bemoaned the sad state of affairs in the jazz job market and the difficulties of finding enough employment to sustain a career in music.It has never been an easy career choice. It’s tougher now. The article elicited a larger than usual response, favourable, with one exception and mostly from musicians who could empathise with the challenges faced by the musical community.

This is not to suggest that there is no scene at all in town. A fair number of venues do present jazz on a regular basis, albeit sometimes only once a week – a partial list includes Quotes, featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet on a Friday evening at 5pm, (I’m happy to say that I’ll be playing there on February 11), The Old Mill with its three nights a week policy in the Home Smith Bar, Grossman’s New Orleans inspired sessions on a Saturday afternoon, The Reservoir with its nightly entertainment and, of course, The Rex which rolls on its merry way.

They deserve your support.

Looking at all of the above you might say not a bad little crop. But it’s still a far cry from the days when you had a choice of three or four clubs six nights a week. Today it is the concert events which are just about the only way to hear some of the “big names” in jazz. The Wayne Shorter Quartet with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade will be at Massey Hall on Saturday Feb.12; JAZZ.FM91’s Sound of Jazz Concert Series at The Old Mill on February 14 will present a Valentine’s Day special with The Steve Koven Trio, special guests Christopher Plock on reeds and vocals, and singer Lori Cullen; and as part of the same series, on Monday February 28 Brian Browne, who for years was a fixture on the Toronto jazz scene, will team up with Robi Botos to play a tribute to Bill Evans.

A relative newcomer on the scene is the Jazz Performance and Education Centre, created to support and nurture the jazz scene here in Toronto and, whenever possible, across Canada. Created in 2007, it is dedicated to the preservation and continued development of jazz in Canada. A committee of jazz lovers, musicians and business people was assembled to make plans which would enrich Toronto’s jazz scene and complement existing successful local establishments

The driving forces behind the venture are longtime jazz supporters Ray and Rochelle Koskie and the ultimate goal is to create a full time multi purpose facility which would feature performances by top local, national and international jazz talent plus educational programming through which fans of all ages can learn about the music.

The centre would incorporate recording facilities; and a Hall of Fame which would preserve our jazz heritage and tradition. In other words a Canadian version of the Jazz at Lincoln Centre

25_lee_konitz1_Their 2010-2011 concert season began with an evening with Fred Hersch and Norma Winstone and will continue on Friday February 11 with Lee Konitz and the Brian Dickinson Trio. A word about Mr. Konitz. He has been a significant force in jazz for more than sixty years, was heavily influenced by Lennie Tristano, played on the Miles Davis compilation, “Birth of the Cool” and on the Bill Evans “Crosscurrents” album, and has well over a hundred albums as leader. Konitz has become more experimental as his playing evolves and has released a number of avant-garde jazz albums, working with many of today’s younger players. Composer/teacher/pianist Brian Dickinson and his trio (Jim Vivian on bass and Barry Romberg on drums) will be accompanying Konitz and it promises to be a very special occasion.

Looking ahead, on Friday, March 18, JPEC will be presenting the Robert Glasper Experiment, an electric, hip-hop influenced quartet, one of the best of the groups taking jazz in new directions. TASA, a world music ensemble inspired by the traditions of India will share the stage with Hugh Marsh on Friday April 29 and on Sunday June 5, the New York based tenor axophonist/composer Seamus Blake and his Quartet. “Extraordinary, a total saxophonist” is how he was described by John Scofield.

In addition to the above, JPEC is also planning special workshops at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and will establish the JPEC Jazz Hall of Fame with Phil Nimmons as its first inductee.

Certainly JPEC has lofty ambitions and I wish them well.

To finish off on a light-hearted note, I give you the following:

In 2009 The World Entertainment News Network ran an article about Dustin Hoffman and his unfulfilled life ambition. He claimed that he would give up Hollywood in an instant to be an accomplished piano player! He was quoted as saying, “If God tapped me on the shoulder and offered me an ultimatum – acting or jazz piano – I’d make the decision in a New York minute.”

All I can say is this. Don’t give up your day gig, Dustin.

Meanwhile, happy live listening.

All the club action worth taking in (yes, including a bunch of jazz) is in the Club Listings starting on page 45.


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

In recent columns we have been following the progress of a few startup community ensembles in this part of the world. In particular, we have been reporting on the progress of a few beginners groups. Without exception, the ones we have visited are flourishing, and at least two new such groups are in the planning stages. But what of the startups we reported on a few years ago? We arbitrarily chose three years as a reasonable time for a new group to either coalesce or cease operations. The Milton Concert Band and the Silverthorn Symphonic Winds fell into that category.

The brainchild of two members of the Etobicoke band who had moved to Milton, The Milton Concert Band is prospering with an experienced permanent conductor, a regular rehearsal home and an impressive performance schedule for a band that was just an idea in the minds of two members three years previously. The thorough step by step process followed by Cheryl Ciccarelli and Angela Rozario in their planning could well act as a textbook model for anyone contemplating the organization of a new musical ensemble in their community.

23_resendesmiltonOnce settled into Milton, a rapidly growing town with an active arts community, they decided to put a call out to see if there were any other amateur musicians in the area interested in performing together. First they did their research. They talked to people with other bands and looked at the Constitutions and By-Laws of several other groups. They lined up a potential conductor in the person of Joseph M. Resendes, an experienced instrumentalist, conductor and Ph.D. candidate in music at York University. Finally they contacted the Mayor, local councillors and anyone else they could think of to enlist their help and support. These included local music teachers, Arts Milton, and other community groups. When they felt that they were ready, they contacted the local paper and managed to get an article printed. Soon they had 20 musicians willing to join and they were scrambling for a place to rehearse.

Their first rehearsal took place in February 2007, squeezed into a small meeting room at a local hockey arena. By June 2007 four performances had been lined up. Fittingly, the first performance was for Milton’s 150th Anniversary Street Party. This was quickly followed by performances at the local hospital’s Strawberry Fair and a meeting of Arts Milton. By July 2007, they had hosted their first free concert in the park before taking a break for the summer. September 2007 marked the start of the band’s first full season. Interest in the band continued to grow and they moved to a new permanent home at the Lion’s Club Hall in Milton Memorial Arena, with plenty of space to accommodate more musicians. It was a season of firsts.

Since then the group has grown to 45 members and now hosts 8 to 10 public performances a year. Under the tutelage of Music Director Resendes, in the short span of three years the band has grown artistically and is now a vital arts organization in the community. Equally importantly, the members have become a family who support each other and have the confidence to tackle new musical challenges. They are very excited about the possibility of making use of the new Milton Art Centre next season and the opportunities that may provide.

In January of this year the band played the first of a proposed series of concerts for Deaf/Blind Ontario at the Bob Rumble Centre in Milton. This innovative performance was designed to allow people with varying degrees of hearing and/or vision loss to experience music in an “up close and personal” setting. The centre’s clients will hold balloons to amplify the vibrations of the instruments and will be invited to interpret the experience through an art project. Both the band and the clients are very excited about this opportunity. We look forward to hearing more about this initiative.

24_silverthorn_1443The Silverthorn Symphonic Winds (SSW) was established in September 2006 by a group of local musicians who wanted an opportunity to perform more challenging music. Composed of advanced amateurs and semi-professional musicians, the group is conducted by Andrew Chung, a graduate of the University of Toronto as well as universities in Hong Kong and Freiburg Germany. Andrew also serves as Music Director of The Brass Conspiracy and the Chinese Canadian Choir of Toronto.

Thanks to a three year grant from The Ontario Trillium Foundation, the SSW have embarked on an Artist in Residence program and are expanding their activities in York Region. The Artist in Residence for the 2010/2011 season will be clarinetist Peter Stoll, a member of the Talisker Players, principal clarinet of the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra and a member of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. As artist in residence he will be the featured soloist and host at two concerts in the Richmond Hill Centre. In addition to their concerts, the SSW will feature free public master classes for both adult and high school aged clarinetists. Throughout the season Stoll will assist in six SSW rehearsals where he will coach the woodwinds and offer advice to the ensemble as a whole.

IN RECENT YEARS I have developed an interest in how musicians that I meet settled on their chosen instruments. When I meet a musician, amateur or professional, for the first time, I ask “did you choose the tuba (or whatever instrument they play) or did the tuba choose you?” Such answers as “it was all that was left when I started music in grade nine” or “the teacher gave it to me as the best for me” are common. However, among tuba players, a more common answer is “I always wanted to play tuba” or “we were made for each other.”

I have had the pleasure of following the development of three young tuba players who fall into that “made for each other” category. Some years ago, as a grade ten student, Courtney Lambert arrived at the Newmarket band with the determination to be a professional tubist. Now, some years later, with a masters degree in music, she is busy performing professionally and teaching. At the other end of the time spectrum, Caitlin Jodoin was determined to play tuba in grade eight. Now in grade eleven and headed for France for a stint as an exchange student, she’s not taking her tuba with her. She’s renting one while there. In the centre of that triumvirate I first met Eric Probst as a grade eleven student. He is now in his final year in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto and has won the
U of T Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition. He will be performing the Gregson Tuba Concerto with the U of T Wind Symphony on February 11 at 7:30pm in the MacMillan Theatre. I certainly intend to be in the audience.

I think it is no accident that all three of these young musicians honed their skills under the tutelage of Anita McAllister and the Hannaford Youth Band organization.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is: Fiddler Crabs: Grumpy string players. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions

And this just in: It has become common practice for community bands to program a concert around a particular theme. Now, The City of Brampton Concert Band goes one better. Their concluding concert for this season is titled “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: A Tribute to the Music of the West.” The program will highlight familiar music from the movies such as “The Magnificent Seven” and “Hang ‘em High,”compositions that reflect on the majestic and varied natural beauty of the region including “The Yellowstone Suite,” and other music inspired by native lullabies, dances and culture. The innovative twist is a throughline narrative, with local actor Scott Lale telling tales of the many personalities that gave the wild west its iconic imagery, and with local dancers as well as performers on such instruments as banjo, guitar and harmonica woven in. It all happens at 8pm on Saturday February 26, 2011 at the Rose Theatre in Brampton.

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Sometimes I wonder which musicians love more, to play or to argue about music. It’s probably the former – it can be a hard way to make a living, so you’d blasted well better love it. But if you get ten musicians in a room, you’ll get least eleven opinions about the right way to play/sing/compose a Scarlatti sonata/Fado song/12 bar blues/raga/tuba concerto.

21_dorothee_mields_photo_credit_ujesko_Among composers, J.S. Bach is the uncontested favourite for many musicians. But if we generally agree on Bach, the ideal way to play his music is anything but uncontested. This topic is probably more hotly debated among musicians than that of sports teams, movies or microbrewed beer. Well, perhaps beer is discussed more, but as this is a music column, I will leave that subject alone, and refrain from throwing down the gauntlet for Guinness, in consideration for the feelings of those who may prefer other, inferior brands.

Small armies of musicians and writers have done battle throughout the twentieth century regarding Bach orchestra and choir size, tuning, phrasing, trills, pitch level, instrumentation, phrasing and for all I know, whether or not Bach tapped his foot while playing. The lines have often been most contentiously drawn between those who play modern instruments, and proponents of “historically informed performance” (often shortened to the seriously groovy acroynym HIP) who favour instruments designed like those used in Bach’s time, and musical interpretations that are to some degree based on research into the musical and rhetorical practices of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Most would agree that there has been a détente of late – early music players have become a good deal less dogmatic in recent years, and modern instrument players have allowed themselves to find inspiration in some of the interpretive choices that have emerged from the researches and experimentation of early music players.

We have a chance to compare examples of these two different approaches in the coming weeks. Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir are performing the Bach’s Mass in B Minor from 9-13 January, and Mendelssohn Singers (a pared down version of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) perform the St. John Passion on March 3.

The St. John Passion is a harrowing work, as intense as an Italian opera, filled with heroes, villains and a grim dénoument. While smaller ensemble Bach allows the interweaving of the various lines of music to be heard with greater clarity, a larger ensemble can convey a sense of grandeur, a sonic majesty that can overwhelm the listener.

Bach himself never actually heard his Mass in B Minor performed in full during his lifetime, which complicates the question of interpretation, as music researchers sometimes refer to documented information about an original premiere for clues to historically informed performance. Musicians have had to look instead at the musical resources with which Bach executed his weekly church cantatas, and have drawn conclusions in part from this information. Modern custom has tended to settle on a chamber choir and small orchestra, and it is in this manner that Tafelmusik will be performing the Mass.

But the debate continues. Large-scale Bach practitioners on modern instruments and smaller ensembles of Baroque players had learned to coexist with the wary respect of two neighbouring elephant herds. But then two musicologist/performers, Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott, leapt cheetah-like across the savannah, stampeding both herds with meticulously researched books and essays (in 1981 and 2000, respectively) suggesting that the ideal ensemble for Bach cantatas (and by extension, the Mass in B Minor) was one singer on each vocal part. Using this paradigm, the ideal force for the Mass would be 8-12 voices at the absolute most, and often no more than four or six voices at any given time.

Many musicians have picked up on this idea, and it may be that Bach oratorio and cantata performances in the next century will bear little or no resemblance to the choral roar-outs of the past. But will we ever really dare to attempt to play Bach’s music as he was compelled to do? Even the proponents of one-to-a-part Bach often use adult female sopranos and altos, rather than the schoolboy singers Bach had at his disposal, and perhaps this is for the best. In his excellent Inside Early Music, which contains a series of illuminating interviews with early music performers, Bernard Sherman writes, “…when we imagine shivering Thomasschule students, at seven-thirty on a winter morning, performing a virtuoso chorus written three days earlier, we might ask if we could tolerate truly historical Bach.”

Well – like many musicians, mention Bach and I become somewhat distracted. Switching gears with some effort (and the help of a Guinness), I will finish by flagging some other concerts coming up during the next few weeks.

Albert Greer is a veteran Canadian conductor and singer who has dedicated his career to fostering excellent music making in this region. He has conducted Orillia’s Cellar Singers since 1977, and is planning to retire in 2012. The Cellar Singers perform Faure’s Requiem and a new work by popular Canadian composer Nancy Telfer on March 5.

22_john_burge2On February 12 the Grand Philharmonic Choir sings Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and premieres Canadian composer John Burge’s Declaration, the lyrics of which are based on the text of the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights (which was drafted by Canadian law professor John Humphrey in 1948).

On February 26 the Tallis Choir presents an all French program of works by Martin, Poulenc and Duruflé. On the same night the Georgetown Bach Chorale performs works by Pärt and Bruckner.

On March 5 the Oakville Ensemble performs an all-English program of music by Byrd, Tallis, and Weelkes. And on the same night the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra and Toronto Choral Society combine forces to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Bruckner’s Te Deum.

Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at

Imagine how cohesive an orchestra that has had one stellar principal conductor for a couple of decades must become. Compare that in your mind to one that has been without a principal conductor for the same amount of time. You can speculate that the orchestras in question would evolve in very different ways with very different strengths and weaknesses.

Now, imagine if you can an orchestra that as a matter of fundamental policy has had no principal conductor for almost eighty years ... but can call regularly on Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustavo Dudamel, Andris Nelsons, Franz-Welser-Möst, Georges Prêtre, Christian Thielemann, Mariss Jansons, Esa-Pekka Salonen...  You can imagine that such an orchestra might evolve into something remarkable. As indeed it has, and they’re coming to town.

18_semyon_bychkov_1_credit_sheila_rockThe Toronto stop of the Vienna Philharmonic, March 6, is their only Canadian stop, and the last of an eight-concert, nine-day North American tour under the baton of Semeon Bychkov. The orchestra will rotate three different programs over the course of the nine days – one all Mahler, one Schumann and Brahms, and the third (the one we will hear) Schubert, Wagner and Bartók (see listings for details).

Bychkov’s most important Great Lake so far has been Erie, not Ontario. “My first five American years were in New York City” he says, “and I learned pretty quickly that it is not typical America.” The five years he spent after that in Michigan as music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony would doubtless have strengthened that impresssion. Around that time, he stumbled into a one-time engagement with the Buffalo Philharmonic – Il trovatore at the ArtPark Festival in Lewiston. It led to a ten year relationship. “My career in America was entirely fulfilling,” he says on his website. “I always look at that time as my second birth.”

For those who lost track of Bychkov after he left the Buffalo Philharmonic in the mid-nineties: he returned to Europe in 1989 to become music director of the Orchestre de Paris. From Paris he went to WDR Symphony Cologne, a post he still holds. Again from his website: “After ten years this must mean that we are not bored with each other, and that we all feel we are progressing and fulfilled in what we are doing. Anything other than that is a horrible life for a musician.”

Around the same time as the appointment with “very forward-looking” Cologne he was also appointed chief conductor of the very traditional Dresden Semperoper, “the house of Wagner and Strauss. It was fantastic for me [having both appointments] as if I was able to live in the 19th century and the end of the 20th as well.”

His equal delight in both the operatic and orchestral bodes well for the tour. Certainly the Vienna Philharmonic is no stranger to doing similar double duty; they are the pit band (if you pardon the expression) for the Vienna State Opera – a tradition going back further even than the idea that a great orchestra does not need a principal conductor. With “guests” like theirs on ready call, it’s hard to disagree.

One sometimes observes that orchestras on the road play it safe, going for a “trademark” sound so as not to disappoint the buyers of their records. With repertoire on tour that Bychkov is exploring for upcoming projects he’s passionate about, that ain’t going to happen.

THERE’S A HUGE ORCHESTRAL BUZZ right through the concert listings this month. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Beyond the GTA listings (page 43 on) where the Kingston, Hamilton, Huronia, Georgian Bay, Guelph, and Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestras account for almost a concert a day between them. An overall search for orchestral music in our online listings would doubtless yield a harvest several times that many.

20_edwin_outwater_2_-_sean_puckett_credit_-_6Particularly interesting to observe so far this season is the cracking pace being maintained by the Kitcher-Waterloo Symphony under Edwin Outwater’s aegis. Now in his fourth season with the KWS, Santa Monica born Outwater seems to stirring up a mix of music sure to appeal to every taste – from rock-solid mainstage productions of masterworks to family and child-centred fare with tantalizing titles like “Dan Deacon’s Electronic Bus” and “Symphony in Space.” From reading about him, Outwater is passionate about the educational aspect of his job, and he has the track record to prove it. As former music director of the San Francisco Symphony, he championed programs for school, community performances and outreach.

Oddly enough, the most eclectic programming of all for the KWS in the next little while is happening not in the K-W area but of all places, at Toronto’s Sony Centre. And what a contrast!

March 1-6 the orchestra takes on the responsibility of playing for the Mariinsky (aka Kirov) Ballet performances of Swan Lake. (Watch out for that Black Swan, though, Edwin. From what I saw in the trailer for the movie, she’s likely to rip your face off if she doesn’t like your tempi!)

And then April 9 (two shows only) they are back to provide live orchestral backing for a cartoon-fest titled “Warner Brothers present Bugs Bunny at the Symphony,” featuring the original Looney Tunes cartoons set to Carl Stalling’s original scores. Stalling is a ferociously interesting miniaturist – a bit like an orchestral Satie on speed. You can imagine why the project might have caught Outwater’s interested eye.

David Perlman is deputizing for Allan Pulker, the usual patroller of this beat.

Why is it that the winter months attract new music festivals? Is it because Canadian artistic directors feel that we contemporary music lovers are a highly dedicated lot, determined to weather the cold, the snow or any storm to experience the latest premiere or discover that new composer? Or is it simply now a matter of tradition? One of our hallmarks – the Winnipeg New Music Festival – celebrates 20 years of new music making this season. Whatever the case, we must all be attending these festivals with enough verve and volume that our country’s music institutions are encouraged to keep offering us more. For, just as Winnipeg, Halifax’s Open Water Festival and the U of T New Music Festival are all wrapping up in the first days of February, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra is gearing up for the sophomore edition of its What Next? Festival.

p16_17_parmela_attariwala_and_shawn_mativetskyIn 2011, What Next? expands upon its successful inaugural celebration by placing an emphasis on the multidisciplinary. From February 3 to 6, HPO-invited creators will cross-pollinate, taking to various locations throughout the city to present intriguing collaborations across different genres. Among them are numerous champions of Canadian composers’ music, such as violinist Parmela Attariwala and tablaplayer Shawn Mativetsky, who perform together as the Attar Project, and who often also incorporate South Asian influenced dance. Pianist Eve Egoyan and artist David Rokeby will present their mesmerizing Surface Tension project for disklavier and interactive video at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, where the McMaster Cybernetic Laptop Orchestra and Percussion Ensemble (led by composer DavidOgborn) will also unleash cutting edge sounds. In addition to these collaboration concerts and their related panel discussions, What Next? will also feature three chamber music concerts by HPO musicians. Friday’s “Rain Coming” will celebrate Canadian women composers Abigail Richardson and Nicole Lizée; Saturday’s “Buzz and Hum” will feature chamber music for brass by Jacques Hétu, Jeffrey Ryan, Scott Good and Michael Horwood; and Sunday’s “Kiss On Wood” showcases string music from Kotoka Suzuki, Toru Takemitsu and others inspired by nature, pop and cartoons. For complete details on the 2011 What Next? Festival visit

If you can’t make it to Hamilton for What Next? then there’s a nice duo of concerts in Kitchener-Waterloo that you may want to catch. On February 9, mezzo-soprano Ramona Carmelly will resume the role of famous Canadian painter Emily Carr for a reduced remount of Jana Skarecky’s Emily, the Way You Are at Conrad Grebel University. This one-woman opera, based on a libretto by poet Di Brandt, was premiered by Carmelly and the Talisker Players at the McMichael Gallery in 2008, as part of the New Music in New Places series. An excerpt of this performance, along with programme notes, can be found in Skarecky’s profile as part of the Canadian Music Centre’s Influence of Many Musics online project at Then, on February 12 at Centre in the Square, the Grand Philharmonic Choir, the KW Symphony and violist Rivka Golani, all under the baton of conductor Mark Vuorinen, will premiere Kingston-based John Burge’s latest large-scale work. Entitled Declaration, the score takes its inspiration from the text of the United National Declaration of Human Rights, which was drafted by a Canadian – John Humphreys – during his tenure as the UN’s first Director of the Human Rights Division, and was globally adopted over 60 years ago.

If Hamilton and KW are too far away for you, especially in this winter weather, then there’s a trio of Toronto concerts to consider. First is Trio Voce’s February 17 appearance in the Music Toronto series. Alongside works by Shostakovich and Beethoven, this accomplished, all-female and Canadian piano trio will give the Toronto premiere of American composer Jonathan Berger’s Memory Slips. A Professor of Music at Stanford University, Berger is also an active researcher in a wide range of fields relating to music, science and technology. He’ll be present for this concert at the Jane Mallett Theatre to explain, amongst the music making, his current research and personal experiences with music, memory and aging. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit the St. Lawrence Centre box office at

On February 24 Soundstreams invites Les Percussions de Strasbourg to Koerner Hall as part of the ensemble’s 50th anniversary tour. Co-founded in 1962, this sextet is the first known Western percussion group. Their exceptional longevity, artistry and commitment to new music have inspired the creation of hundreds of works. Their anniversary program cradles a world premiere from Canadian composer Andrew Staniland, who has a strong command of percussion writing, between contemporary classics by Xenakis (his iconic Persephassa) and John Cage (Credo in US.) For more details and to purchase tickets visit

p16_17_vincent_ho_portrait_photo_by_hans_arnoldThe Array Ensemble will take to the Music Gallery on February 27 to perform a collection of Canadian works drawn from their extensive score archive. This program of pieces from Martin Arnold, Scott Godin, Michael Oesterle and Rodney Sharman will be complemented by a newer work for the ensemble from past Array Artistic Director Linda Catlin Smith, which was premiered last season as part of the Contemporary Classics concert. Array has been very diligent in cataloguing their extensive score library, which includes over 250 commissioned works. Thankfully, they’ve made this catalogue publicly available online at It’s a useful tool for new music geeks like me. More information about the upcoming concert and how to buy tickets is also available at the Array website.

As I mentioned, February is bookended by yet another new music festival. This time it’s the TSO’s seventh New Creations, which will focus on cross-border exchanges, with music by guest American composers John Adams and Jennifer Higdon. Canada is represented here not only by TSO Composer Advisor Gary Kulesha, who will have his Torque performed on March 5, but also by Winnipeg-based Vincent Ho, in the form of his percussion concerto, The Shaman, which was premiered by remarkable Dame Evelyn Glennie during this year’s Winnipeg New Music Festival and will be repeated here on March 2. The work’s title is inspired by Ho’s impression of Glennie as a musical shaman, bridging human and spiritual worlds with her spellbinding performances. Adams is well represented with his now classic Short Ride in a Fast Machine and other works, and also with a TSO co-commission, City Noir. However, I’m particularly looking forward to the festival finale concert on March 10 with guest artists eighth blackbird. This dynamic ensemble will join the orchestra in a freshly commissioned chamber concerto from Higdon, which will sit alongside the world premiere of our own R. Murray Schafer’s latest symphonic work, simply titled Symphony No. 1. For more info about the 2011 New Creations Festival and to buy tickets visit

From the multidisciplinary to the simply symphonic, new music never ceases to seduce us. So be sure to get in with the new via our concert listings here and online at

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

Dominating the Toronto opera scene in February are two new productions by the Canadian Opera Company. On January 29 the company unveils its new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Incredibly, for such an audience favourite, it has had no mainstage production since 1993, although the COC Ensemble Studio did stage its own production at the MacMillan Theatre in 2006. Then on February 5 the company presents its first-ever staging of John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China. This is the first American work the COC has produced since the 1953 Wright and Forrest operetta Kismet in 1987. Some would say it’s about time we caught up with the operatic achievements of our neighbour to the south.

p14_15the_queen_of_the_night_sketch_-_photo_credit_myung_hee_choToronto has not been starved for Magic Flutes, it must be said, largely because of the rise of Opera Atelier. In 1991 OA unveiled its first production of the work followed by revivals in 2001 and 2006. The sets by Gerard Gauci, costumes by Dora Rust-D’Eye and direction of Marshall Pynkoski captured the sense of innocence and fun that make the work so appealing. In creating a new production the COC will find it is competing with one that Toronto audiences already cherish.

Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University, will helm the COC’s new staging. She is perhaps best known for having directed the 2009 Broadway revival of Hair, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Those fearful that she will transpose Mozart’s opera to New York’s youth culture in the 1960s need only glance through the set and costume designs by Myung Hee Cho on display on the COC website to assuage their anxiety. The designs reflect the opera’s pseudo-Asian setting and emphasize masks – a move quite suitable for a story where people are not quite what they seem.

With a run of twelve performances, the COC will use alternates in the principal roles. The opening night cast features Michael Schade as Tamino, Isabel Bayrakdarian as Pamina, Rodion Pogossov as Papageno, Mikhail Petrenko as Sarastro and Aline Kutan as the Queen of the Night. Schade and Bayrakdarian sing on January 29 and February 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 16 and 18. Frédéric Antoun and Simone Osborne sing the parts on February 10, 20, 23 and 25. If Antoun’s name seems familiar, it may be because audiences remember the Québécois tenor as the charismatic Belmonte in Opera Atelier’s Abduction from the Seraglio in 2008. At a special performance on February 17, members of the COC Ensemble Studio take over as soloists with all tickets at $20 to $55. At all performances Johannes Debus conducts the full COC Orchestra and Chorus. For more information visit

Alternating with The Magic Flute is John Adams’ Nixon in China on February 5, 9, 11, 13, 19, 22, 24 and 26. The COC will be presenting the acclaimed production that premiered at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2004, the first major U.S. production after the work’s world premiere at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was this production of the opera that received its Canadian premiere on March 13, 2010, as part of the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad.

The opera, with a libretto by poet Alice Goodman in rhyming couplets based on news accounts and memoirs of the people involved, follows Richard Nixon’s historic five-day visit to the People’s Republic of China from February 21 to 28 in 1972. This was the first-ever visit by a sitting U.S. president to China and the first formal contact between the two countries in over twenty years. The purpose of the ardently anti-communist Nixon was a move to establish ties to counter what was deemed the threat of the Soviet Union. The opera intertwines grand public spectacle with moments of quiet reflection and, in the tradition of grand opera, even includes a ballet.

Baritone Robert Orth will sing Richard Nixon with lyric soprano Maria Kanyova as Pat Nixon, tenor Adrian Thompson as Mao Tse-Tung, coloratura soprano Marisol Montalvo as Madame Mao, bass Thomas Hammons as Henry Kissinger and baritone Chen-Ye Yuan as Chou En-lai. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts and James Robinson, who directed the 2004 production, will direct.

Adams has written, “Both Nixon and Mao were adept manipulators of public opinion, and the second scene of Act I, the famous meeting between Mao and Nixon, brings these two complex figures together face to face in a dialogue that oscillates between philosophical sparring and political one-upsmanship. Of particular meaning to me were the roles of the two principal women, Pat and Chiang Ch’ing. Both wives of politicians, they represented the ying and the yang of the two alternatives to living with someone immersed in power and political manipulation.” Those unfamiliar with Adams‘ music need only seek out the orchestra piece he extracted from the opera, “The Chairman Dances,” to recognize the appeal of Adams’ music in its use of chugging rhythms, soaring melodies and allusions to popular music, in this case the foxtrot. At long last, COC audiences will see that American opera has evolved quite a way from confections like Kismet.

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

The early music of 2011 sometimes includes the new. Consider, for example, the inaugural concerts of newly-formed Musathena, a group of five accomplished women (soprano, baroque violins, baroque cello, harpsichord) who, when asked to perform as part of Primavera Concerts’ celebration of the International Women’s Day Centenary, conceived a program of beautiful but rarely heard baroque music by women composers. But as one thing led to another, a new idea crept in: to commission a musical setting of an ode by Renaissance English poet Mary Sidney (1561-1621). As a result, a new work by Canadian composer Elizabeth Raum has emerged and will be premiered at Musathena’s first concerts, alongside music by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Barbara Strozzi and other women of the baroque.

p12_13musathenaAnd take, as another example, Scaramella’s Birds Bewigged, an avian-themed program of music and poetry (performed by soprano voice, recorders and traverso, violas da gamba, harpsichord and narrator) featuring not only works by Scarlatti, Rameau, Couperin and others from the baroque era, but also contemporary Canadian music. Harry Somers’ 12 Miniatures will be heard, a work centred on twelve Japanese haiku and composed in 1964, for the above instrumentation; and Emily Doolittle’s Music for Magpies, a fascinating piece written in 2003, will reveal to the audience the mischievous magpie’s own rendition of five attractive birdsongs, stolen from other birds, sung in its voice of solo bass viol with quarter-tone frets.

Then there is the Aradia Ensemble, a group normally concerned with baroque performance (though never afraid to take a new idea and run with it – I remember with enthusiasm last season’s Thunderbird – A First Nations/ Baroque Collaboration). Their whole upcoming program is devoted to new music for baroque instruments “where baroque meets the 21st century,” as ten very-much-alive composers (Rose Bolton, Ron Royer, Caitlin Smith and others) have been invited to write a five-minute work each for the ensemble. The programme title Baroque Idol! suggests the playful spirit of this concert (“à la American Idol”); but as artistic director Kevin Mallon says, the aim is to produce new music for baroque ensemble, using the tonal possibilities of old instruments.

Treatises could easily be written – probably have been written – on the various aspects of combining the new with the old in music. Performers from each of these groups have had some interesting reflections on the subject, a tiny bit of which I’ll pass on to you here:

From Sheila Smyth of Musathena: “It’s interesting that there seems to be an overlap of people who do both early music and new music. Perhaps it’s the sense of exploration and discovery in both new and old frontiers that is compelling… New music written for early instruments tends to make great use of the colours and wide range of articulation detail available on these instruments. We’ll approach the new piece in the same way as we would all vocal-instrumental music – the music serves the text, and it’s our job to bring the piece to life in a way which makes the poetry and its musical setting each seem indispensible to the other.”

From Scaramella’s artistic director Joëlle Morton: “As a performer who these days mainly plays ‘traditional early music,’ I really enjoy taking on the challenge of modern compositions. Contemporary composers often write very demanding parts– through rhythmic complexity, unusual tonal palettes and calling for special effects and techniques. In order to ‘understand’ this music, let alone perform it well and convincingly, I find I need to spend a lot of time, thinking as well as working at the technical demands. The intense involvement can be extremely satisfying. I have found that the process of learning a modern work can also have a benefit on the traditional repertoire on the programme – once my soul is engaged in such an intense process, I find that I tend to also listen and experience the older music deeply, as well.”

From Aradia’s Kevin Mallon: “When we play baroque music, it doesn’t occur to me that it’s old music; I just think we’re playing music – and then I think ‘Oh yeah, but it’s on old instruments.’ So we do think of ourselves as a contemporary ensemble; and we want to be really based in the time of today.”

Scaramella’s Birds Bewigged takes place in Toronto on February 5. Alas! – a terrible choice awaits you: Aradia Ensemble’s Baroque Idol! also takes place on February 5 in Toronto. Musathena’s Baroque Music by Women Composers will be presented on March 5 in St. Catharines and on March 6 in Waterloo. For full details, please consult WholeNote’s concert listings.

As for all the other early music performances this month, there’s plenty of variety to tempt a wide spectrum of tastes. Here, in brief, are a few of this month’s offerings:

Bach is gloriously represented, with two of his major choral works: The B Minor Mass is given five performances by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, February 9 to 13. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents the St. John Passion on March 3 in Koerner Hall.

Two solo recitals for gentle instruments can be heard. The Musicians In Ordinary presents Blame Not My Lute, music for the solo lute from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, performed by MIO’s John Edwards on February 5. On February 13, the Toronto Early Music Centre’s Musically Speaking series features harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill performing music by Byrd, Bach, Scarlatti and others.

Some of Beethoven’s most sparkling music was written during his early years in Vienna, the years before his deafness finally took hold. Youthful and uplifting chamber works from this period are presented on February 12, in The Academy Concert Series’ Beethoven’s Happiest Years, played on period instruments (violin, cello, classical clarinet and fortepiano).

The Toronto Consort’s The Marco Polo Project: Part 2, February 18 and 19, takes you on an exotic musical journey, imagining the sounds that Marco Polo might have encountered on his travels up the coast of India and back to his native Venice – with the help of two special guests: vocalist Suba Sankaran, and Sampradaya Dance Creations with its artistic director, Lata Pada.

Scholars of the arts and culture of medieval times, Sine Nomine Ensemble always brings interesting stories. On February 25 they sink into bawdy revelry in observance of the pre-Lenten carnival, the Feast of Fools and other occasions, with Wanton and riotous living – Medieval songs of lechery, drunkenness, and other altered states.

Don’t forget Tafelmusik’s reprise of The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres, March 2 to 6. This spectacular homage to the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s development of the astronomical telescope was first presented in Toronto in January 2009, and has toured internationally to great acclaim.

p12_13_aisslinn_noskyAnd finally, some good news to report: Local audiences will know Aisslinn Nosky, the fiery violinist with the red hair who plays so passionately in such groups as Tafelmusik, I Furiosi, the Kirby and the Eybler Quartets, and in many other solo, chamber and orchestral situations. She has been appointed concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, a period instrument orchestra and chorus of international renown. This group is recognized as a leader in the field of historically informed performance and is the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the United States, having been founded in 1815. Artistic director Harry Christophers is impressed with Nosky’s “great style and leadership as guest concertmaster”; and says “she has the right combination of energy, experience and talent to fill this important position and assist in leading the Society toward its Bicentennial in 2015.”

More good news: Canada is not to lose Nosky forever; she’ll still perform as a core member of Tafelmusik (with a little flexibility in scheduling); and (who knows?) this might open up new possibilities: May we look forward to appearances here of the Handel and Haydn Society, with Aisslinn Nosky in the first chair?

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




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