In 1979, Toronto became the first municipality in Canada to formally proclaim Black History Month. BHM affords citizens a special opportunity to recognize the past and present contributions that African Canadians make to the life of Toronto in such areas as education, medicine, public service, politics – and the arts, including music. Adding weight to this recognition, the United Nations has declared 2011 the “UN Year for People of African Descent.”

p10__amadou_keinouCelebrations kick off with the 15th annual Kuumba festival at the Harbourfront Centre for two weekends, February 5-6 and 12-13. Among the many notable events exploring Black and Caribbean culture, here are my musical picks. Amadou Kienou, who comes from a family of renowned traditional praise singers from Burkina Faso, performs on February 6. Kienou’s repertoire consists of Mandingue songs and dances that he has adapted, accompanied by the djembe (a West African drum). The same day, the group Pablo Terry y Sol de Cuba brings its Cuban-drenched sound to the Lakeside Terrace. Terry honed his musical skills working with outstanding Cuban musicians such as Celia Cruz, Omara Portuondo and Compay Segundo of the Buena Vista Social Club. The following weekend, on February 13, the Kuumba Gospel Fest 2011 features a who’s who of local gospel music talent. In addition there is a wealth of other events at Kuumba many free– programmed in the family-friendly manner we have become accustomed to at Harbourfront.

Chinese New Year also falls in February this year. In honour of the incoming Year of the Rabbit, the Canadian Sinfonietta presents a Chinese themed concert on February 12 at the Glenn Gould Studio. The well-known erhu (Chinese fiddle) virtuoso George Gao will be featured with the Sinfonietta in an unusual program of works composed by contemporary Chinese composers.

On February 17 the group Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa brings the music of East Africa to the Living Arts Centre, Mississauga. Rooted in Ugandan music, Soul Beat Africa’s music is a synthesis of African roots and world music, of traditional and modern instrumentation. The group is led by veteran multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Kinobe. In a forward-thinking educational tie-in, the Living Arts Centre is presenting two workshops on February 18, introducing traditional African instruments kora, kalimba, adungu, endongo, ngoni and various drums to elementary school children. More presenters ought to do the same!

Still in Mississauga, the Chamber Music Society of Mississauga presents the brilliant musicians of the Shiraz Ensemble in a programme of Persian classical music on February 19 at The Unitarian Congregation of Mississauga.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Canada’s professional ensemble dedicated to the dissemination of Afrocentric choral music, presents Voices of the Diaspora … Haitian Voices on February 23 and 26. Conducted by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, the program will highlight the poetic and musical traditions of Haiti, in particular Creole language and spirituality. The concert will feature the works of composer Sydney Guillaume, including two premieres – Ayiti and Diplomaci.

World musicians have often focused on the energy, synergy and excitement generated by cultural mixology. A good example can be heard February 26 at the Mod Club, with the premiere Toronto performance, presented by the Ashkenaz Foundation, of Yemen Blues, a new Israeli-based world music group enjoying quite a buzz. Founded a few years ago by the Yemenite vocalist Ravid Kahalani, this nine-piece international ensemble presents an energy-packed 21st century musical brew of Yemenite-Jewish song and poetry, American jazz, blues and funk, and West African grooves. Some Yemen Blues concerts have been reported to erupt into spontaneously ecstatic dance-fuelled celebrations.

Music and dance often go hand-in-hand. When the partnership works, there is a mysterious symbiosis, as in a good marriage. European Renaissance and Baroque composers knew this well, and the practice continues in the waltz time music of Johann Strauss every bit as much as in the hiphop-infused music of today.

That being said, it is rare to find anywhere a single person equally fluent in both music and dance. We have a homegrown practitioner of this exceptional dual mastery in Toronto’s Peter Chin. The Jamaican-born Chin has been called, “one of the finest contemporary choreographers working in Canada.” While he is best known for his award-winning choreography and dance performances, Chin is an accomplished life-long musician, singer, and a composer with a unique voice. His music has been performed by groups such as Gamelan Toronto, Array Music, Jeng Yi Korean percussion ensemble, St Michael’s Choir School and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. The CanAsian International Dance Festival is presenting a new program by Peter Chin titled Olden New Golden Blue on February 24 and 26 at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront. Five young Cambodian dancers will interpret choreography and music featuring big, deep social and artistic themes. I won’t miss it.

Another project of note merging music and dance is The Toronto Consort’s Marco Polo Project. Over 38 seasons, the Toronto Consort has crystallised into one of our city’s musical jewels, recognized internationally for its top-flight performances of European medieval, renaissance and early baroque repertoire. On February 18 and 19 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, however, with the aid of guest artists skilled at working within a South Asian cultural heritage, their program seeks to answer the rhetorical question “what tunes would Marco Polo have had on his iPod?” Joining the Consort in this exploration is choreographer Lata Pada and members of her company Sampradaya Dance Creations. Singer/composer Suba Sankaran and tabla player Ed Hanley of the Indo-fusion ensemble Autorickshaw are also aboard for this expedition, as Consort and guests weave an imaginary tapestry of the sort of music 14th century explorer Marco Polo might have encountered on his travels. Performers and audience alike will undoubtedly have fun with this concept.

York University’s Department of Music is presenting several free concerts highlighting its world music instructors in programs jauntily titled World at Noon. All concerts are at the Martin Family Lounge, 219 Accolade East Building. On February 3 the Gareth Burgess Steelpan Ensemble performs jazz standards, R & B arrangements and original compositions. Leading local Japanese music masters Linda Caplan (koto) and Gerard Yun (shakuhachi) perform traditional and contemporary Japanese music February 17. And the Irene Markoff Ensemble, highly accomplished musicians all, performs traditional Balkan music on March 3.

Bookending Black History Month, on March 6, the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall is the venue for Acoustic Africa, presented in partnership with Small World Music, a musical journey led by five top African string instrumentalists and singers. The instruments include traditional monochords, kamele n’goni (Malian lute), as well as the modern guitar and violin. The group is co-directed by international stars of African pop music. No stranger to Toronto stages, the legendary Zimbabwean singer, composer and bandleader Oliver Mtukudzi is the innovator of an undeniably contagious musical style. His music has been inspired by the intricate melodies and rhythms of the mbira (thumb piano), and incorporates South African mbaqanga, the energetic Zimbabwean pop style jit, and traditional kateke drumming. Co-headliner Afel Bocoum is a Malian guitarist, singer, composer and protégé of the late Malian guitar innovator Ali Farka Touré. (I still recall with pleasure and a smile the memorable concert Farka Touré gave a couple of decades ago at Harbourfront.)

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be reached at

p30For almost a decade, Toronto’s Lula Lounge, on Dundas St. West, has been a hub of musical activity, most notably as an informal dining lounge and bar that has served up some of the best in World music over the years. On October 8, Lula’s co-founder and Artistic Director José Ortega was presented the 2010 Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition, one of several Toronto Arts Foundation Awards presented at the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards Lunch. The Roy Thomson Award is intended “to recognize creative, performing, administrative, volunteer or philanthropic contributions to Toronto’s musical life.” And who better than Ortega to receive this award – in addition to being Lula’s artistic director, he also overseas its outreach and educational programmes, and has volunteered his expertise in programming to music festivals throughout the city. And he’s also an internationally known visual artist who has donated works to various projects. I asked Ortega to talk a bit about the Lula Lounge, his own artistic life, and the award.

In addition to being co-founder and artistic director of the Lula Lounge, you are also a visual artist. Can you talk a bit about your background in art? I grew up in New Jersey and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I’ve worked as a commercial illustrator since 1986, doing book covers, posters, postage stamps, packaging, and public art projects for a variety of clients including NYC’s Metro Transit Authority, Macy’s, Absolut, the U.S. Postal Service and the Buckingham Hotel in Manhattan. Since moving to Toronto, I’ve done a lot of design work related to the city’s Latin jazz and salsa scenes: projects like CD covers for David Buchbinder, Hilario Durán and Alexis Baro, as well as many poster designs for Lula. Over the years, my work has been included in group exhibitions both here and in the U.S., and last summer I had a solo show in Seoul, Korea. Over the past four years, I’ve contributed mural designs to our local BIA for large murals in the Dundas West area.

How and when did you come to create what we now know as the Lula Lounge, and who were some of the very first performers? We opened Lula is 2002. At the time, we were working as part of a not-for profit organization called Open City that organized weekend-long community arts festivals. These events had outgrown the private, warehouse space at 2 Federal that we were using. My business partner (José Neives) and I decided to take the plunge and buy a formal venue space. We felt that there was a void in Toronto’s live music scene that we hoped we could fill. It seemed to us that Toronto artists working outside of the mainstreams of North American music needed a high calibre performance space that they could launch new projects in.

Our very first performer was Cuban singer Isaac Delgado. The first local acts included many Canadian artists who have since made names for themselves on the national music scenes. Performers such as Amanda Martinez, Hilario Durán, Eliana Cuevas, Alexis Baro, Luisito Orbegoso. In the early days, we also hosted alternative bands like Metric and Feist; international performers have included Norah Jones, John Cale, the Mahotella Queens, Carl Palmer, Eliades Ochoa, Randy Brecker, El Negro and Ricardo Lemvo to name just a few.

What is your mandate or vision when it comes to programming? Our programming initially focussed on latin jazz and salsa but over the years has grown to include everything from rock to chamber to blues, African, Brazilian and other world music. Partly because of the high quality sound system at Lula as well as our commitment to providing the best performance experience that we can for the artists, we’ve had the pleasure of developing long term relationships with groups like the Gryphon Trio and organizations such as Small World Music and Batuki Music Society as well as individual artists such as Hilario Durán, Roberto Occhipinti, Dominic Mancuso and many many more.

The not for profit that we grew out of has changed it name to Lula Music and Arts Centre. Through that organization we continue to support Afro Latin Brazilian forms as they evolve in a Canadian context. At the same time, we try to build bridges across communities by bringing artists from different cultures together to realize various projects.

At lot of what we do is really facilitating musicians, organizations and presenters in creating their individual projects. These eight years of running Lula have lead us to the realization that in order to have a vibrant music scene, the city needs spaces where artists can realize their own visions, rather than trying to fit into the vision of programmers and venue owners.

Because of our world music programming direction and the quality of the performance experience that we strive for, we are often sought out by international, touring, world and Latin artists. So even on the international level, much of what we present seeks us out, rather than the other way around.

In addition to being a music performance venue, what other projects is the Lula Lounge involved with? Over the past few years, as Lula Music and Arts Centre, we’ve been involved in many projects outside of the walls of Lula. We helped to create the band SalsAfrica – a project that began in 2008 to bring together Latin, African and jazz musicians in order to explore the African roots of salsa. We’ve contributed to programming at Samba on Dundas, Harbourfront’s Ritmo y Color, Salsa on St. Clair and Luminato. Each May, we produce a world music festival called Lulaworld to showcase Canadian world musicians. Lula Music and Arts Centre also runs a very successful programme for high school French, Spanish and music students...

What does it mean to you to have won this award?

Of course, I was personally thrilled to have won the award. But I think that all of the Lula team including many of the musicians and community partners saw the award as recognition of the immense contribution that the Latin, Brazilian, African and other world musicians are making to the cultural vibrancy of Toronto. It feels like affirmation of our early intuition that there was a void in Toronto's musical landscape that needed to be filled. We do need affordable spaces for artists outside of the mainstream to do their thing. The award also seems like confirmation that the health of the city's musical life depends on embracing diversity and providing opportunities for the incredible wealth of talent that has made Toronto its home.

Who/what are some of the “not to be missed” performers/concerts coming up at the Lula Lounge in the coming months?

We're really excited about our new Sunday brunch program. This weekly event is an extension of other family friendly projects that we're working on. The brunches include live Cuban Son by Luis Mario Ochoa's Traditional Quartet. We've got the Roberto Linares Brown Orchestra on December 18th and New York based Gary Morgan is back with his PanAmericana project on December 29th. New concerts get added all the time so please check the schedule at!

What other projects are you involved with personally, either as a visual artist or in other capacities, ongoing or coming up in the future?

I'm currently working on a "love" stamp for the U.S. Postal service to be released in time for Valentine's Day 2011 as well as on a public art project for the municipality of Guyaquil, Ecuador. Over the next year, I want to work on a documentary about Lula and the artists and communities that make it what it is. Besides continuing to program and do design work for Lula, I'm hoping to find more time to work on my painting. Over the past few years, I haven't had nearly enough time to work on my own art but I hope to change that in 2011.

Some Upcoming World-Music Events

• Luis Mario Ochoa performs at Lula’s Family Sunday Brunch till Dec. 19, noon – 3 pm.

• Pandora’s Box Salon presents Around the World in 80 Minutes, December 5 at the Aurora Cultural Centre, featuring music and dance from India, Egypt, Iran, Bali, Africa, and Europe.

• The Pearl Company presents Celtic band “Rant Maggie Rant,” December 11, 16 Steven St., Hamilton. Traditional Celtic music combined with Latin percussion and Appalachian swing.

• Echo Women’s Choir performs December 12 at Church of the Holy Trinity. In addition to settings of text by Margaret Atwood (from The Year of the Flood), they’ll also sing two South African songs in their original languages, and a composition by co-choir director Alan Gasser (a setting of words by Desmond Tutu), Three Appalachian Love Songs and other works

p31• Juno Award-winning vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia performs North Indian ghazals and Punjabi folk songs at Koerner Hall, January 22. Opening for her is seven-member instrumental/vocal /dance ensemble Rhythm of Rajasthan.

And, a big congratulations to Toronto’s Klezmer/East European folk band Beyond the Pale for winning the “Instrumental Group of the Year” and “Pushing the Boundaries” awards at the sixth annual Canadian Folk Music Awards held in Winnipeg this November!

Karen Ages can be reached at

Wow – what a week! If this were a concert review column, it would be overflowing with superlatives for two very diverse concerts I attended in the past week. The week began with the Hannaford Street Silver Band’s first concert of the season with euphonium soloist David Childs. Promotional material billed this concert as “Child’s Play.” What Childs did with his instrument was anything but child’s play. The feature work was a concerto for euphonium and band by contemporary Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Playing with no music, this young virtuoso dazzled his audience not only with his technical skills, but also with amazing musical sounds never before heard from this instrument.

If that wasn’t enough, at the end of the week, we were treated to an even more amazing performance by the Interpreti Veneziani at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. The performance of this nine-member string ensemble from Venice prompted one very experienced and knowledgeable friend to proclaim it the best concert they had ever heard. They received no argument from me. From our vantage point in the best seats in the house, we not only heard their remarkable music, we saw them communicate with each other by knowing glances and a host of subtle gestures in the creation of their masterpieces.

Using no music throughout the first half, or during his dazzling solo rendition of a fiendishly challenging Paganini work, the cellist, Davide Amadio, was free to be in constant eye contact with the other members of the group and with those of us in his audience. He told us all in no uncertain terms that he was loving every minute of it. In short, all members of this ensemble were inside each others’ heads, and they were sharing with us in the audience their joy of performance.

This was the pinnacle of musicianship and showmanship. So why is this mini review of two professional concerts in a column devoted to community ensembles? What better way for those of us who play in community ensembles to improve our skills, and enjoy ourselves at the same time, than to immerse ourselves in the total experience of absorbing all aspects of a quality live performance. We have no illusions that we might someday perform to that standard, but it does provide both inspiration and a measuring stick should we tend to become complacent or smug about our abilities.

Many years ago, when serving in a naval air squadron, I was frequently treated to the philosophy of a friend who was one of the finest pilots to ever fly in the Canadian forces. His challenge to the junior pilots under his jurisdiction was simple and direct: “We must constantly strive for perfection, and perhaps we’ll achieve mediocrity.” A little harsh perhaps – but why not aim for the best we can achieve in music?

Having suggested that we set our sights high, how are the beginner and other startup groups faring? From Resa’s Pieces Strings, conductor Ric Giorgi tells us that they now have 22 players enrolled and inquiries coming in weekly from players interested in joining. He states: “More interestingly however is the wonderful performance this group has managed thus far. They have come together as an ensemble remarkably quickly and show every indication that despite the huge differences in skill levels, everyone seems pleased with the challenges and rewards of the repertoire and the satisfaction of making good music together as an ensemble.” Ric also reminded me of the old adage among groups seeking to recruit string players – that the audition piece for string players is “Check For Breath.” By the way, they would still welcome more violas.

p29The other beginner group that I have mentioned before seems to be coming along equally well. Dan Kapp conductor of the New Horizons Band at Long & McQuade tells us that, in mid December, less than three months since their inaugural information meeting, the band will be performing for the folks at a Toronto retirement residence. This group rehearses on weekday mornings so membership is limited to retirees and others who don’t have daytime commitments. In response to many requests, an affiliated band for beginners and those reconnecting with music will begin evening rehearsals in January. For information give Dan a call at Long & McQuade.

A couple of years ago I mentioned the formation of the Scarborough Society of Musicians, a band to provide the opportunity to continue to perform in a musical group after leaving high school. After a brief hiatus, the band’s directors have been busy over the past few months working on a new season to begin in January 2011, with rehearsals continuing into June 2011. As with previous years, they will be rehearsing twice a month on Saturday mornings at Dr. Norman Bethune C.I. For this year’s rehearsal schedule, membership fees and rehearsal dates visit their website ( They have also created a survey to gauge the interest in music beyond high school within the community. Your response would be appreciated.

Last year at this time we reported on the joint ventures of instrumental and choral groups. Again this year, the Hannaford Band will be teaming up with the Amadeus Choir for two performances in Toronto and one in Niagara Falls (December 4, 13 and 14). A new venture this year has two Markham groups joining forces. The Kindred Spirits Orchestra and the Village Voices Choir will present two performances of the Vivaldi Gloria (December 11 and 17).

Since I am ex-navy, and a member of the Naval Club of Toronto, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention regular small combo performances two Sunday afternoons per month at the club’s new location, 1910 Gerrard Street East. Treat yourself to an afternoon of relaxing music by the Downtown Jazz Band, and enjoy an optional light hot meal. See us there December 12, January 9 and 23 at 2pm.

On the personal front, I have both happy news and sad news to report. On the happy side, members of the Newmarket Citizens Band attended the recent wedding of two band members. Ron Spencer of the euphonium section and Linda Heath of the flute section tied the knot. The band now has several couples active in the band. With a few more, they could have an all-couples band, with a few children added.

On a sad note, members of the Toronto band community are mourning the loss of Gary Cameron, a former music teacher at Danforth Technical School and Northern Secondary School. In recent years Gary was most active with the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Encore Symphonic Concert Band and a number of swing bands. We will miss him and his great welcoming personality.

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

As long as there is life, there will always be the gift of music. But live music requires an audience to be present in order to survive, and it is a challenge. When it comes to “getting bums in seats,” this challenge is typically addressed by artists, venues and, if publicists are lucky, the media. Judging by the state of live music venues in this city, audiences may not realize how much they are a part of this art form. As Avishai Cohen recently said, “People who come to the concert are the concert as much as the artist.”

p27Enter the Toronto Music Lovers, a local branch of the popular Meetup website ( This thriving social networking group perfectly exemplifies the mission statement of Meetup: “to revitalize local community” by creating groups that “are powerful enough to make a difference.” After four-and-a-half years, the group boasts nearly 850 members, has graced 200 events and continues to make a great difference in our music community. This difference could not be made without Marg Cameron, the group’s dedicated founder and host.

A Torontonian since 1979, Cameron works for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, where she runs their library and facilitates several support groups for caregivers. She also studies expressive arts at ISIS, belongs to a pottery studio and thinks of herself as a full-time music lover.

“I have always loved music. I was active in a number of choirs and studied piano when I was younger. As a teenager, I would occasionally get to visit Toronto, and can recall going to the Riverboat in Yorkville for folk music on New Year’s Eve, and attending the Mariposa Festival when it was still on Centre Island. I fell in love with the magic of live music way back then and it’s with me still.”

Establishing the Toronto Music Lovers Meetup Group came about completely by accident, she explains.

“On the site you can start a wish list for any type of group you want if one doesn’t exist. At the time there were no groups for live music, but wish lists for lots of different genres – jazz, blues, folk. As I have very eclectic tastes, I figured I’d start a group that went to all types of live music and encourage some of these people to join. I thought perhaps I’d get a few members and then there’d be someone to go out with when I wanted to see a live band. Now there are nearly 850 members and counting, and we average about 20-30 or so at each event.”

Cameron is a very committed volunteer, ideally suited to spearheading such a group. She is friendly, organized, inclusive and full of positive energy.

“I love hearing live music, meeting new people, making new friends. It’s been a very positive experience for me. Some members have told me that the group has been a lifeline for them in hard times, which is both rewarding and humbling at the same time. If I can bring some joy into other people’s lives then so much the better. I think music is a great way to bring people together, a positive focus in one’s week, therapeutic and uplifting at the same time. For the main part, the members of TML are wonderful people and I love having them in my life.”

With over 200 events since 2006, Cameron and the TML have graced a majority of the venues in The WholeNote’s directory. Not that there haven’t been, or don’t continue to be, challenges.

“There are several challenges actually. There aren’t a lot of places with live music large enough to hold a group of more than 20. Some venues aren’t very good at promoting their events in advance so it’s hard to always give group members adequate notice of upcoming events. Some places that do have live music don’t really highlight this feature properly, what with stages sort of stuck in the middle of nowhere so the bands can’t be seen and poor sound systems so that the music can’t be heard… It would be nice to find some new places big enough to hold a large group of people that actually play live blues and jazz on a regular basis, take good care of their musicians and actually appreciate our patronage.”

Future plans for the Toronto Music Lovers Meetup Group? “To continue having great turnouts for events, to use our numbers to support worth while causes – in the past we’ve gone to benefit concerts for WarChild and ArtsCan. Soon we’ll be also out in support of CAMH and the Second Base Youth Shelter.”

What should readers know about joining the Meetup group? “They can find us online at There is no fee for joining. We have approximately three or four meetups each month. We are not a singles club – just lovers of great live music. Our members are very friendly and easy going. Everyone is welcome, there’s no age limit. If you love live music, like to have fun, and want to actively support the local music scene, then you should consider joining us.

Blues singer Raoul Bhaneja has developed a close rapport with the Meetup Group; the group attended his sold-out tribute to Little Walter CD release last May. “As an artist these days,” he notes, “I’m told that our future relies on corporate sponsorship and partnerships of that kind. But TML reminds us that the focus of a grassroots organization can be just as powerful and in fact more relevant. When Cameron arrives at a show with anywhere from 15 to 50 Toronto Music Lovers, not only does it change the dynamic of the band by providing a secure income, but it changes the energy of the room – and for that I am truly grateful.” Bhaneja’s band, Raoul and the Big Time play the Rex Hotel on December 18 and January 16.

Club Sampling

p28In other news, one of Toronto’s most versatile vocalists will be performing at Ten Feet Tall on January 15. A self-taught singer/songwriter, Debbie Fleming is a remarkable talent who is equally at home singing R&B, jazz, folk, country or classical music. She can frequently be heard singing soprano with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and has fronted several of her own bands over the years including the a-cappella group Hampton Avenue and the folk/roots trio Choir Girlz. Fleming is also highly skilled as a choral arranger, and you can hear some of her Christmas charts when the precocious Ault Sisters take the stage at Hugh’s Room on the afternoon of December 12.

Speaking of Hugh’s Room, the legendary singer, pianist and songwriter Bob Dorough takes that stage on January 19 for what promises to be a sensational sold-out event. Dorough is a legend in the jazz world for memorable compositions like “Devil May Care” and “Comin’ Home Baby.” Catchy and hip, his songs have been recorded by Miles Davis, Blossom Dearie, Mel Tormé and Diana Krall. He is perhaps even more famous for setting the multiplication tables to music on ABC-TV’s “Schoolhouse Rock,” a Saturday morning cartoon series that ran from 1973-1985 featuring songs such as “Conjunction Junction,” “My Hero Zero” and “Three is a Magic Number.”

This sample just barely scratches the surface. See our Club Listings, beginning on page 58, for great music in December and January. Season’s Greetings to one and all – get out to hear some music and have a ball!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can best be contacted at

This being the issue that sees out the old year and welcomes the new, it has something of a “hail and farewell” feel to it – so before all hail breaks out let me offer season’s greetings to you in the hope that you will fare well in the new year.

Some Local Festivities

Throughout the year there is a fair sprinkling of jazz vespers, and much of it takes place at Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge Street. December 19 at 4:30 I’ll be there with a quartet for Christmas Vespers. On January 9 the Colleen Allen Quartet will be there at 4:30. There’s no admission charge but donations are welcomed.

Beach United Church at 140 Wineva Avenue will have Jazz Vespers: “Music for the Soul,” featuring Cadence on December 4. The time is 4:30, and again there is no admission charge. On December 12 at 4:00pm St. Philip’s Anglican Church at 25 St. Phillips Road will also have Jazz Vespers with Diana Panton, Reg Schwager and Don Thompson.

So, there you are – some opportunities to hear jazz that’s good for the soul.

In the New Year

The popular afternoon jazz series presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts continues on January 11 with “Winter Heat,” when the Humber Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, directed by Don Thompson, will perform a programme of music written by Thompson. The next day at 5:30 the programme is called “The Fifth Season,” featuring chamber jazz performed by Duologue (David Occhipinti, bass; Mike Murley, saxophone).

Looking ahead, on February 5 the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra presents a “Tribute to Henry Mancini,” with special guests Canadian Jazz Quartet. Norman Reintamm conducts the concert at the P.C. Ho Theatre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E.

p26Big guns coming into town include pianists McCoy Tyner and Alfredo Rodriguez in a presentation called “Aspects of Oscar: Oscar Solo” – a tribute to Oscar Peterson’s solo piano music. They will be at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory, 273 Bloor St. W., on December 11 at 8 pm.

Tyner hardly needs any introduction: over the years he’s been a frequent visitor to Toronto. Born in Philadelphia, he came to the attention of the jazz public when he joined the John Coltrane Quartet. He was a mere 17 years old! He joined Coltrane for the classic album My Favorite Things (1960). The band also included drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, and was one of the landmark groups in jazz history. Tyner is also on such classic recordings as Coltrane’s Live at the Village Vanguard, Impressions, and A Love Supreme.

Havana-born Rodriguez, like many pianists from Cuba, has a prodigious technique. Classically schooled, his music is influenced not only by jazz and his Cuban roots but also by the great classical composers. Hearing these two great talents should surely make for an evening to remember.

Bill Mays’ Chamber Jazz Septet will be at The Old Mill on December 16, combining jazz improvisation and classical themes. It’s impossible to find a category for Mays, so diverse are his talents. He has deep roots in jazz, but can take a pop theme and turn it into a rich experience and then sound equally at home with a classical theme. He could make a scale in C sound interesting! Then on February 1 at Massey Hall, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will be playing music of jazz greats, including Ellington, Mingus and Coltrane.

Time for the annual visit of this exceptional group of musicians. Marsalis may have his detractors, but there’s no denying that he is at the helm of a unique orchestra which can at times reach the heights. A programme that includes the music of Ellington, Mingus and Coltrane demonstrates just how versatile this orchestra is. I also like the fact that the concert is being presented in venerable old Massey Hall.

Finally, this little variation on a seasonal theme is for those musicians out there who do not have any gigs at Christmas.

God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
In spite of having no gigs and not a place to play.
“Tis the season to be merry and fill our hearts with joy,
At least we will not have to play The Little Drummer Boy.
Ring out the bells, greet all the Kris Kringles,
Forget the fact that there are no jingles.
But let’s not be downhearted and all to no avail,
We could try our hand at fishing – at least we would get scale!

Have a happy holiday season, and make sure you hear some live jazz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere in the News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some upcoming concerts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more info on all of these, visit

Yiannis Kapoulas

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

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

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


Karen Ages can be reached at

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