Boris Brott by Bob HatcherWe were already deep in production on this edition when Boris Brott was killed in a hit-and-run accident, steps away from his home in Hamilton. The disbelief, shock and dismay from the arts community and beyond has been followed by a wave of affectionate stories on television, in mainstream print media and digital/social media – expressions of admiration and gratitude, reflecting Brott’s lifetime of enthusiasm and commitment, energetically making many kinds of great music accessible to all kinds of people.

In light of this – with very little time and space before publishing – rather than dilute, in re-telling, what is now being said, so eloquently, by so many, in the wake of his death, we thought we would share with you somethings from a past issue of The WholeNote that gives a taste of how he spoke and lived life.

The year 2007 was the Brott Summer Music Festival’s 20th anniversary, and they had some pretty special events planned, including Boris Brott conducting a performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, a massive tour-de force dedicated to the nearly 1,000 students the National Academy Orchestra had graduated to date. Just imagine how many more there have been since then!

Read more: Remembering Boris Brott (1944-2022)

Worth weighing in on

Joseph Burr Tyrrell has his own Canadian Heritage minute (or, spoiler alert, just google “Albertosaurus” to find him doing what he loved best.) He also has at least one school and a Toronto park, on Brunswick Avenue, named after him. Well, more like a parkette aspiring to be a park, actually. One of a dozen or so “don’t blink or you’ll-miss-it” strips of green along the Line 2 subway right-of-way, between the backs of the north-side Bloor St. buildings, and the adjacent neighbourhoods (in this case the Annex).

The renewed Joseph Burr Tyrrell ParkFor a parkette, aspiring to parkhood is a good thing, by the way. The city is dotted with gems of the genre: right-sized, community-defined, and neighbourhood-enhancing – healthy common ground. Typically, at some point enough neighbours are enthusiastic enough about park revitalization for the city to get involved, and city and neighbourhood stakeholders thrash out a plan for renewal. As reported by Joshua Chong, (Toronto Star, January 24), the renewed Joseph Burr Tyrrell Park, unveiled in December, included in its new and improved play area, wonder of wonders, an octave set of colour-coded tubular bells, with beautifully satisfying hammer handles for any neighbourhood child wanting to whale away at the bells. Musical pennies from heaven!

Until “one neighbour complained,” and the bells were gone within days. ‘Right idea but wrong location” tends to carry a lot of weight when rate-payers (a.k.a. voters) get irate.

One of the pianos from the Play Me, I’m Yours projectRichard Marsella, executive director of Regent Park Music School, wrote a wide-ranging March 2021 WholeNote article on the whole idea of “Musical Playgrounds, Virtual and Real”, and how and where to implement them. “With community music models out there such as Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours project (which has seen over 2,000 street pianos installed in 65 cities) and others that allow public access to musical experience, the notion of noise in a public space cannot simply be ignored”, he acknowledges. 

“[But]” he continues, “on this particular topic, I have always supported the concept of choosing, even helping shape, the noise and sonic landscape of one’s community. I can think of a lot less constructive soundscapes in a city or neighbourhood than a musical playground.” 

Amen to that.

Tale of Two

It was shaping up to be an intriguing study in contrasts.

Aria UmezawaOn the one hand was the Canadian Opera Company’s Madama Butterfly scheduled to run from February 4 to 26, to be conducted by rising Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, and featuring the COC directing debut of Aria Umezawa, co-founder of Toronto-based, experimental Amplified Opera. With lots of mutterings all round about the COC resorting to war-horse repertoire for their safety-first relaunch, and amid more general rumblings about the outdated premises of the opera itself, it was going to be very interesting to see what kind of contemporary rabbits the artistic team was going to be able to pull out of the hat. Outright cancellation of the run unfortunately means we won’t get to find out first hand.

Teija KasaharaThe COC cancellation is all the more disappointing because February 11, a week into the run, their Butterfly was on an eagerly anticipated collision course with a Confluence Concerts online-only presentation titled Butterfly Project: The Ballad of Chō-Chō San, described as a “meditation on the ongoing controversies surrounding Puccini’s Madama Butterfly [and] the problematic nature of this opera in today’s environment of growing cultural awareness.” The presentation features Teiya Kasahara, who describes themself as “a queer, trans/non-binary, multi and interdisciplinary creator-performer based in Tkarón:to.” Most interesting in this context, perhaps, Kasahara is co-founder, with Aria Umezawa, of Amplified Opera. So maybe we will get some hints after all, in the Confluence show, regarding the trajectory the COC’s cancelled Butterfly was on. So I’d say double underline Confluence’s February 11 show, rather than crossing it off your list.

And, before that, for some interesting insights into what motivates Amplified Opera and its founders, take a look at Sara Constant’s “Deep and Slow Thought: Amplified Opera’s artist-first mandate” in the July 2020 WholeNote.

Connecting the dots

Angela Hewitt at TrasimenoPianist Angela Hewitt, as mentioned elsewhere in the magazine (“Orchestras and others buying into hope”) will be in town as a guest of the TSO, February 16, 17 and 19, leading the orchestra from the keyboard in a program that includes Bach, Mozart, Camille Saint-Saëns and Gerald Finzi.

Volume 13 Issue 2 October 2007Fast forward to the summer and it will be Hewitt as host rather than guest we will see, in her role as founder/curator of the Trasimeno Festival in Perugia, Italy. (For the really curious, feature writer Pamela Margles caught up with Hewitt at Trasimeno in an October 2007 cover story (Vol 13 no 2) that stands the test of time. 

It’s not the TSO that will be going to Trasimeno, though. Hewitt’s Trasimeno guests will be Opera Atelier, making its debut. Hewitt has invited Opera Atelier co-founder Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg to choreograph and perform along with the Artists of Atelier Ballet, joined by OA regular ensemble member, soprano Mireille Asselin singing “music by Purcell that demonstrates the influence of Baroque dancing on 17th and 18th century vocal music.”

Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and Dominic Who in Opera Atelier's The Resurrection CREDIT: BRUCE ZINGERHere’s the nice coincidence, though: Sunday February 19, the third of Hewitt’s TSO performances also happens to be Opera Atelier’s first of two shows, in their long-delayed return to live performance, at Koerner Hall. It’s a Valentine’s Day-themed “fully staged production” titled All Is Love, with Measha Brueggergosman Lee, Opera Atelier’s artist-in-residence, headlining a stellar ensemble cast, including performing the title piece, a mashup of Henry Purcell and Renaldo Hahn created specifically for Brueggergosman Lee by composer Christopher Bagan, and with the show culminating in the opening scene of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.

Hewitt will be busy on February 19; but, who knows, maybe on February 20 she and the Opera Atelier team will get to connect some of the dots about Trasimeno after the Atelier show.

Measha Brueggergosman Lee CREDIT: SHAWN PETERS


Cover Vol 17 No 3 SN BIANCAIn this issue: “The Mirvish season also includes the return in the spring of 2 Pianos 4 Hands starring its creators and original stars, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt.”
Jennifer Parr, p 13.

Flash back ten years, Vol 17 No 3, and you’ll find Dykstra and Greenblatt in a very nice Robert Wallace story, “bringing home arguably the most successful play in the history of Canadian theatre … opening on November 2 [2011] for a limited run at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre, before it moves to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre in January”.

The show was already in its 15th season by 2011, featuring several different duos. “This is their first reunion since 2003” Wallace writes, “and, according to Greenblatt, probably their last.”

The hastily arranged photo shoot for the cover reflected the mood. One of them had a cold, they wanted to get on with rehearsing; nobody had told them. Five minutes. No time to plug anything in. They sat down at the piano and mugged. Bravely but having done this before.

“O.k. I’m done.” The wannabe famous photographer concedes defeat, and the two look up from the keys with a look of [click!] release, relief …. gratitude.

Note: the 700-seat Panasonic Theatre of 2011 (now dubbed the CAA Theatre) is still part of the Mirvish suite of theatres. But it is to the 2000-seat Princess of Wales Theatre on King St. W. that Greenblatt and Dykstra will return, March 19 2022, for a ten-years-since-their-last reunion, further final farewell appearance together in these roles.

Aline Homzy

Aline HomzyThen was April 2018 (Vol 23 No 7) – Sara Constant’s story titled Bitches Brew Anew - A Conversation with Aline Homzy.

“When violinist Aline Homzy submitted an application to [2018’s] TD Toronto Jazz Festival Discovery Series for a project called “The Smith Sessions presents: Bitches Brew,” she had a lot of musical and linguistic history to reckon with. And when her application was selected, with a concert of the same name slotted for April 28 at the Canadian Music Centre’s Chalmers House in Toronto, she knew it would be a starting point for something new … a quadruple-bill show, featuring four different women-led ensembles fronted by Homzy, flutist Anh Phung, bassist Emma Smith and drummer/percussionist Magdelys Savigne.”

Flash forward three and a half years to November 17 2021 and Homzy’s focus has shifted again. In  Reigniting a musical neighbourhood: Aline Homzy’s “Sounds of Davenport”, written for The WholeNote blog, Samantha Fink writes about Homzy’s recent project, which again digs deep, this time into the music life of her own neighbourhood.

Photo 2.2: Luanda Jones (R) and Chaveco (L), performing in Sounds of Davenport. CLAIRE HARVIE

Sounds of Davenport, Fink writes, “[is] a virtual concert, featuring 17 performances by 28 musicians from the Toronto Davenport riding, many of whom belong to the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. From September 20-22, 2021, the musicians performed original music at the Paradise Theatre, where they were recorded by Homzy’s team; on October 23, these performances debuted together in an hour-and-a-half-long virtual compilation available on YouTube.”

The Midnight Court

In this issue:  

A COC commission titled The Old Fools, by Ana Sokolović to a libretto by Paul Bentley is near completion, Lydia Perović informs us at the end of a conversation with Montreal-based Sokolović about her opera Svadba. “Sokolović collaborated on the shaping of the opera, across the Atlantic, with the original Svadba music director [Queen of Puddings Music Theatre founder/director] Dáirine Ní Mheadhra,” we are informed.

Cover of Vol. 10. ISSUE 7Flashback to April 2005: right when Ní Mheadhra and Queen of Puddings Music Theatre were in the process of putting librettist Bently and Sokolović together for their first collaboration,

The Midnight Court.

“The Midnight Court, a new Canadian opera by the brilliant Montreal composer Ana Sokolović, with a libretto by Paul Bently of The Handmaid’s tale fame and based on a wild and famous 17th century Irish epic poem by Brian Merriman, a rambunctious and earthy tale ... will premiere at Toronto’s Harbourfront centre June 11 [2005],” we wrote back then.

Looking back now, Sokolović reflects: “What also made Svadba so easy to follow is, paradoxically, that it’s in the original language. When I composed The Midnight Court for Queen of Puddings, I needed to make the story legible. The pace is decided by the text: the opera must unfold at the speed of the text, and must follow our understanding of the text.”

Which direction will Old Fools have taken, we wonder, when eventually (sooner rather than later, we hope), it comes back into focus.


Then: David Perlman in Vol 20 No 4 (Dec 2014), page 12, in a short piece titled “Survival Guide to the Season’s Messiahs”, writes “I remember hobnobbing with one of the region’s greatest boosters (and presenters) of the Messiah, Grand Philharmonic Choir’s former longtime conductor Howard Dyck in the lobby of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. I think I said something about wondering what the secret was to the enduring popularity of Handel’s Messiah. As best as I can remember, his reply in a stage whisper was “It’s the music, stupid!”

And of course he’s right. It’s the music. And more than that, it’s the music’s ability to shift its shape and the size of its grandeur to accommodate almost any combination of musical forces – the bigger, the better.

This time last year: we were all variously riffing on the anomaly of “Sing-alone-Messiahs” …

Now: Will this be remembered as the year of the “Masked Messiahs” for those of us who dare to sing Hallelujah?


OA 2405 Huizinga etc in Versailles 2018WHAT: Oct 28 7:00: Opera Atelier. Angel. A 70-minute film fully staged and filmed at St. Lawrence Hall, with music by Edwin Huizinga, Christopher Bagan, Jean-Philippe Rameau, William Boyce, Matthew Locke, and Max Richter, and featuring Measha Brueggergosman, Mireille Asselin, Meghan Lindsay, sopranos; Colin Ainsworth, tenor; Jesse Blumberg, baritone; and others; Marshall Pynkoski, stage director; Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, choreographer; Artists of Atelier Ballet; Nathaniel Dett Chorale; Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; and David Fallis, conductor. 

WHEN: Single tickets went on sale Oct 1, and the production will be available until November 12.

Versailles 2017: We’ve followed the gestation of Angel since its earliest beginnings as a piece titled Inception, featuring violinist and composer Edwin Huizinga and dancer Tyler Gledhill, commissioned by OA for their Versailles tour in 2017 and reprised, in an expanded version, in February 2018 in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery. 

Jennifer Parr (who had attended the Versailles performance in her capacity as Opera Atelier fight director), interviewed Huizinga and wrote about it for our February 2019 edition: 

When I tell people about Opera Atelier’s ongoing The Angel Speaks project, I always begin with when I saw the very first performance of its first installment, in May 2017. I was sitting at the back of the Royal Chapel at the Palace of Versailles … suddenly there appeared high up on the balcony above, the dramatic figure of what appeared to be a Viking angel playing an exquisite melody on solo violin. This beautiful mystical thread of music then seemed to bring forth, and become tangibly present in, the figure of a dancer (Tyler Gledhill) – another face of the angel – on the ground level with the singers and audience, a figure in search of something or someone... 

The work was invited back to Versailles in December 2018.

October 2020: Inception/Angel is now part of a larger, fully staged production titled Something Rich and Strange, with soprano Measha Brueggergosman now on board. David Perlman interviewed Huizinga and Brueggergosman together, from Brueggergosman’s Halifax home, where they were working together on Huizinga’s musical setting of the Rilke poem, to be sung by Brueggergosman, that was at the heart of the latest iteration of the piece, and wrote in our October 2020  issue:

OA 2602 MeashaEdwin IMG 8908I’d been wanting to talk to Huizinga and Brueggergosman for a while about [it], but had been expecting to have to speak with each of them separately, so it was an unexpected bonus to find out that he would be flying to Nova Scotia on the Monday “to finish a project with our amazing fearless Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman.” “Finish the project” sounds optimistic to me. For one thing, Huizinga and Opera Atelier (OA) have been exploring the 24-line poem at the heart of the project (“Annunciation to Mary” by Bohemian/Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke) for well over two years.

Which brings us to now: Each iteration of Angel so far has been coloured and shaped by obstacles transformed into opportunities – choices of medium dictated by shifting pandemic-related circumstances. Intriguingly, with social distancing requirements and public health guidelines having shifted again, OA has an opportunity to add yet another dimension to the shape-shifting show: simultaneously with the 7pm October 28 launch of the stream, there will be a movie presentation of the stream at the TIFF Lightbox, turning the evening, for those attending, into the kind of live, collective event we are all so hungry for. 

Angel is dedicated to the memory of Tafelmusik’s founder, Jeanne Lamon.

Jack Buell


COVER from Volume 14 Issue 5 February 2009Funny how an ensemble can slip off one’s radar for a while, then, all of a sudden seem to show up in several unrelated contexts all at once, when really they never went away.

Front and centre on our February 2009 cover, The Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs on the steps of the Canadian Embassy overlooking the beginning of U.S.President Barack Obama’s Inaugural parade. The choir’s founder and conductor, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor talked about the founding of the Chorale in the story: “The idea was to do more than just sing notes well. There was also a social component to it – to build bridges of caring, understanding and appreciation through the medium of music. And we wanted to do that within what is perceived to be the larger black community. When I started it, I decided that I didn’t want to name the group after myself – I wanted a name that would honour black Canadian heritage somehow.

In our February 2019 edition in a story titled Celebrating Jessye Norman | 12th Glenn Gould Prize Laureate we reported that the Nathaniel Dett Chorale would perform three pieces at the gala concert in Norman’s honour, and chatted with Blyden-Taylor (for whom Norman had long been part of his inspirational musical frame of reference: 

“My consciousness of her goes back to my youth in Barbados in the mid-60s” he says, “and even more so after I came to Toronto in 1973 to be musical director at my uncle’s church. She was an ongoing part of my listening in terms of a sound ideal in terms of performance of spirituals, in my work with the Orpheus Choir, and workshops I was asked to do across the country, helping other choirs with interpretation of spirituals. You’d have to say she was one of those voices that were pivotal in terms of reading of the spirituals.”

Now, “all of a sudden”

– as noted above The Chorale features (“heard but not seen”) in Opera Atelier’s Angel;

– Nathaniel Dett’s The Chariot Jubilee is one of two major works on the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s season-opening concert, and Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, with the Chorale returns to TMC in April for the third concert of the TMC season;

– Icing on the cake: December 4 at 8pm Orchestra Toronto presents Great Joy II: An Indigo Christmas with the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. Blyden-Taylor directs, with Corey Butler on piano. Available on demand, but also live at George Weston Recital Hall, in the Meridian Arts Centre (formerly Toronto Centre for the Arts). 

David Perlman

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