Red Sky Performance's work 'Trace'. Photo credit: David Hou.Red Sky Performance celebrates its 20th anniversary season in 2020/2021. Recognized nationally and internationally as one of Canada’s most prolific and acclaimed creators of contemporary Indigenous works, the company had planned a large-scale international tour for this year, but thanks to the pandemic – yes, we have all heard this before – they had to pivot. The result, a film titled More Than Dance, We Are A Movement, is an up close and personal introduction to the company’s history and work.

Anchored by interviews with executive and artistic director Sandra Laronde (who founded Red Sky Performance in 2000) and her company of collaborators, the film will bring audiences into the heart of the creation process for such iconic works as Trace (2018), inspired by Anishnaabe stories of the sky and stars, and Miigis (2017), which brings to life origin stories of travel from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes. Excerpts of these two award-winning works will illustrate Red Sky’s singular interdisciplinary artistic vision and thrillingly energetic physical style. 

Curious to know more about Red Sky and its multifaceted mandate before the film’s debut,  I had a short conversation with Laronde about the company and project.

The following interview has been condensed and edited.

Sandra Laronde, artistic and executive director of Red Sky Performance.WN: What inspired you to create Red Sky Performance in 2000?

SL: I wanted to create a company that celebrated our beauty, resilience, and an Indigenous worldview. I saw a lot that was issue-oriented, and about our problems, but we are so much more than our issues. I didn’t want to create from a place of issues, but rather from a more expansive vision and one that brought all of the art forms together. I wanted to create a company because there was a vacuum for the kind of work that we do in Canada and in the world.

WN: The company is celebrated for the interdisciplinary nature of its creations. Was this part of your vision from the beginning?

SL: Yes, it was definitely the vision from the beginning. We were interdisciplinary, intergenerational and international all at once from the very beginning. We were also highly collaborative from the beginning.

I guess there’s a part of me that never understood why artists, companies, and institutions silo the arts when you can have different disciplines all working together, to fuel one another, energize one another. I do believe that disciplines tend to run out of oxygen if they are not engaging other forms. Also, Indigenous arts tend to be more multidisciplinary in scope because we come from a tradition of ceremony where everything is intact, and we utilize all of the ways of human expression to serve spirit.

WN: Can you talk about the Red Sky process of creation? The works I have seen, including Miigis, have an immediately recognizable style that encompasses the choreography, design (including projections in some cases), and music. How does that process begin and then grow to a finished work of art?

SL: All of the projects start differently, but I would say the biggest thing is to have a very exciting and original idea. I love putting unlikely collaborators together where one would never guess in a hundred years that you would put these people together. And I love it because we create magic together. Sometimes it’s music that inspires the movement, sometimes the other way around, or it could even be just a few images that I have in mind. But all of our work is inspired by the connection to land and it is one of the creation foundation principles.

WN: The title of the film being presented through Digidance – More Than Dance, We Are A Movement – highlights the mandate of Red Sky to do more than create great contemporary Indigenous art. Was this always a part of your mandate, and how does the company accomplish this side of your goals? 

SL: We do need to remind people of the expansive scope of what we do. Sometimes, we get called an Indigenous dance troupe or dance group, and it just isn’t expansive enough and doesn’t capture all that we do. 

We have come up during a time of an Indigenous cultural resurgence in Canada. During a time of cultural reckoning. It wasn’t that long ago that our dance, music, traditions, language and ceremony were outlawed in Canada.

Within Red Sky, we have five businesses if you will, creating original work in dance and live music, creating new works for children, a REDTalks Series that focuses on Indigenous artists, changemakers, and leaders, and a Wisdom Keepers Series that we created during the pandemic because people were looking for meaning and wisdom during this time of great upheaval. We work within communities with some pretty amazing initiatives, and we also created an Associate Artists program that builds next-generation artists and the arts leadership capacity of Canada. Currently, we are developing energetic digital content as well to share across platforms. We have a lot going on and what I’ve shared is really just the tip of the iceberg. The big thing that we do is we add to the Indigenous canon creating new works which add to the cultural breadth and scope of Canada.

WN:  Do you see this 20th anniversary season as a significant marker in the life of Red Sky? You have already accomplished so much. Where do you see the company going and growing over the next 10 to 20 years?

SL: It is definitely a significant marker. Twenty years is quite a milestone to achieve – we have done so well over the past 20 years and I applaud everyone who has worked with us. It’s a big question to talk about the next 10 to 20 years, but I can say that we will continue to put Indigenous arts on the map. We will remain true to our purpose: to centre and elevate Indigenous narrative through the telling of our own stories through interdisciplinary creations, and to make a difference.

The Canadian premiere of More Than Dance, We Are A Movement will be streamed across Canada by the Canadian online dance showcase Digidance from April 14-20. (Video on demand for those seven days only). Tickets are $15 + tax, and are available at www.harbourfront.com

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

Pianist Nate Ben-Horin (L) and soprano Jaclyn Grossman.On Sunday, April 4, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company presented a new series by Likht Ensemble involving five installments of rarely-performed music by Jewish artists, composed during the Holocaust. The Shoah Songbook online performances launched on the eve of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, with Part One: Terezín.

Theresienstadt was a concentration camp located in the city of Terezín, in what’s now the Czech Republic. In dire circumstances, imprisoned artists occupied their minds writing and performing music to keep joy and hope alive, long beyond the time they themselves were murdered.

Likht Ensemble’s 35-minute streamed concert included the music of multifaceted musician Gideon Klein, famed pre-war composer Viktor Ullmann, as well as the joyous tunes of cabaret artist Karel Švenk and the haunting lullabies of Ilse Weber, who all found themselves in Terezín over the course of the Second World War.

In the concert’s introduction, Jaclyn Grossman, soprano and co-creator of The Shoah Songbook, said she found a recording of Ilse Weber’s music and it opened the gates to a “goldmine of extraordinary music.” Grossman said she was “disappointed that as a classical artist and as a Jewish person,” she had never heard any of these composers before.

When Ilse Weber—a poet and musician—was forced into a concentration camp, she worked as a nurse in the children’s infirmary and sang songs to the children there. When children in her care were ordered to a death camp, Weber volunteered to go with them. Legend goes she sang her lullaby “Weigela” in the gas chamber to soothe the children in their final moments, taking comfort in soothing others. Grossman sang “Weigela” gracefully and woefully, conjuring images of pastoral breezes and bright moonlight—a performance suggesting that “Weigela” is overdue to take its rightful place in the lullaby canon alongside the best-loved classics.

After the war, what remained of Weber’s music were fragments of melodies she would have accompanied herself on the guitar. Many had never been arranged for the piano by a Jewish composer until these thoughtful arrangements by pianist and co-creator Nate Ben-Horin, such as “Und der Regen rinnt” (And the rain falls)—an arrangement replete with tinkling notes in the upper register of the piano, like drops of rain hitting a tin roof. 

During the presentation, Ben-Horin recalled that the first thing he and Grossman had ever performed together was a set of songs by Wagner—an infamous anti-Semite. “There’s actually a long-standing tradition of anti-Semitism in classical music, not just Wagner,” Ben-Horin explained in the stream. “It’s really powerful to find music by Jewish composers because it gives us a point of identification within this tradition that we felt like we’d been missing.”

Grossman had command over a powerful range of expressive emotion throughout the concert. She sang Weber’s “Ade kamerad” with particular awe-inspiring exuberance and masterful rolled r’s, capturing the power of this music to bring light to the darkest places. She also recited gut-wrenching verses of Weber’s original poetry. As for the recording itself, video quality was crystalline and professional but the piano sounded distant, making Ben-Horin’s beautiful arrangements sound too quiet at times.

The jubilant music of Švenk, who continued to produce cabarets in the ghetto, ended the concert on a powerful and victorious note for those that survived to pass on his message: “And on the ruins of the ghetto shall we laugh!”

The next concert will be in November 2021, in time for the sombre anniversary of Kristallnacht. Grossman says the repertoire will focus on music from the Kovno ghetto, specifically the music of Edwin Geist, a German composer and librettist banned from creating music in Nazi Germany. Geist created music including symphonic works, chamber music and opera before he was killed in the ghetto in 1942. After World War II, much of his music was lost in Germany but some survived in Lithuania.

“To our knowledge, his music has never been recorded and it has rarely—if ever—been performed,” Grossman wrote in an email to The WholeNote. “Bret Werb from the Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum shared his archived manuscript music with us, and [Ben-Horin] and I are working to decipher the music and re-notate it now.”

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company presented The Shoah Songbook Part One: Terezín online on April 4, 2021, featuring soprano/co-creator Jacyln Grossman, pianist/co-creator Nate Ben-Horin, creative directors Ilan Waldman and Madison Matthews, and audio engineer Jonathan Colalillo.

Leah Borts-Kuperman is a Toronto-based journalist whose arts reporting has also been featured in The Dance Current, Opera Canada and The Hoser. She has a Master's of Journalism from Ryerson University and a Bachelor's in Political Science and Art History from the University of Toronto. 

John Beckwith has lived in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood for more than 30 years, with his life-partner, Kathleen McMorrow.  Beyond his musical career Beckwith’s interests include cycling and Scottish country dancing. Beyond cycling, as a contribution to environmental preservation he collects elastic bands which he donates to a local supermarket.Confluence Concerts most recent event was a marathon of composer John Beckwith’s music for solo voice – three 90-minute back-to-back online recitals. The production was a family affair, curated and co-hosted by the composer’s son, Larry Beckwith, and granddaughter Alison Beckwith. Confluence Concerts is a relatively new presenter on the Toronto scene with their concert debut occurring in September of 2018, with deep previous roots in Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre, but a unique and diverse artistic manifesto, with artistic associates Marion Newman, Andrew Downing, Suba Sankaran and Patricia O’Callaghan joining Larry Beckwith to create a variety of intimate and stimulating concert events. 

This particular series, celebrating the 94th birthday of the esteemed composer, writer, pianist, teacher and administrator, was available on YouTube from March 7-21. Interspersed between performances of the music were interviews with colleagues and with the composer himself, as well as special birthday greetings from a number of wellwishers. One of them, the current Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, Don McLean, described Beckwith’s songs as capturing the “essence and range of his musical personality – his lyricism, pianism, craft, conceptual focus and wit.”

Beckwith’s song repertoire featured in this series was composed from 1947-2014, with performances from an astonishing array of singers in all stages of their careers, from students to seasoned professionals.  Each performer created their own performing environment, filming in classrooms, living rooms, empty concert halls, and churches using portable cameras, iphones, and other devices. Many of the singers performed while listening to the piano accompaniment through ear buds with the video screen split between the two performers. 

One of my favourite locations was a classroom at U of T’s Faculty of Music, featuring large glass windows with protective bird decals, overlooking the campus’s Philosophers Walk and other university buildings, and with car traffic visible in the distance.  It brought the outside world into the performance and because of the preponderance of natural light, reflections were cast in a variety of directions, all contriving together in making a most out-of-the-ordinary concert setting.  Having the performances in settings of the performers’ choosing created not only a wide range of different visual elements but also the challenge of a series of constantly changing acoustic spaces. 

In one of the recorded interviews, colleague and pianist William Aide spoke about how one the strong characteristics of Beckwith’s music for voice arose from his close association with words and with literary people. “He has a perceptive response to the rhythm of the words”, Aide said.  When Beckwith himself was asked about his relationship with text and poetry, he explained how he has always allowed himself to be guided by the way the poetry is spoken.  “This gives you a guide to the tempo, inflection, melodic ups and downs you would use in setting to music – the pauses and musicality of speech.”  Throughout the three concerts, his close association with a variety of poets and authors was clearly evident.

Another compelling feature of these concerts was the inclusion of performers of all ages as in the performance of his Ten English Rhymes (1963) by various members of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. The texts were taken from a collection of nursery rhymes entitled Lavender’s Blue that John Beckwith’s own children had loved.  Many of the rhymes already had traditional tunes, but for those that didn’t, Beckwith made up the tunes. As music director Teri Dunn stated in her comments about working on this production, the challenge for the performers, ranging in age from 8 to 15, was going from singing and learning in an ensemble to singing alone in front of a camera.

 Mary Morrison and Larry Beckwith in conversation. Photo courtesy of Confluence ConcertsThe first concert of the series showcased two works set to texts by e. e. cummings. The first of these, Four songs to poems by e. e. cummings was commissioned in 1950 by soprano Lois Marshall for her professional debut at the Eaton Auditorium.  One this occasion one of Marshall’s prize students, Leslie Fagan, performed the piece in a classroom setting, with a Happy Birthday greeting written on the white board behind her.  The second work, for baritone, Six songs to poems by e. e. cummings from 1982 was performed by three different singers, including Cameron Martin who performed in the glass-window classroom environment mentioned above.  During an interview with singer and teacher Mary Morrison, she spoke of how unique the first four e.e. cummings works were in the early ’50s, and how her students throughout the years have loved to perform them. She also spoke of her friendship with Beckwith during their student days in the late 1940s, and of how there was a close-knit circle between Canadian composers such as Beckwith, Harry Somers, Harry Freedman and Oskar Morawetz, and performers such as herself interested in what Canadians were writing. “It was a very rich time,” she said.

Beckwith also consistently championed Canadian writers, and throughout the three-concert series, we hear works set to texts by Miriam Waddington, Colleen Thibaudeau, Margaret Laurence and bp Nichol.  In 1985 Beckwith collaborated with the sound poet Nichol to create the tour de force work entitled avowals performed for this occasion by tenor Benjamin Butterfield and keyboardist Robert Holliston who moved seamlessly between piano, celeste and harpsichord. Due to some inventive camera work, we were able to see close-ups of each of the keyboards as well as shots of the score.  William Aide’s comments about this piece sum it up quite comically:  “I never played anything so crazy in all my life.” He stated that the keyboard performer has to have a wide wingspan in order to get from one instrument to the other.  In Beckwith’s book Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, he describes the unfolding drama of the piece.  “The soloist personifies a pop singer who is unable to detach his own love pangs from the lyrics he is performing on stage.  Besides three fragments in a realistic crooning style, the inventive script offers vocalizing sections on plain vowels, some with double meanings and some without.” 

Not only does Beckwith champion Canadian writers, but also traditional songs from the diverse cultures that make up Canada.  Over the course of these three concerts we hear four different collections that feature his arrangements of songs from the Hungarian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Doukhobor, Mennonite, Quebecois, and Atlantic Canadian communities. 

One stand-out is a touchingly intimate performance by soprano Barbara Hannigan accompanying herself on piano from the living room of her rural home in northern France while singing Müde kehrt ein Wanderer zurück, a song from the Mennonite community in Manitoba. This song is featured in Beckwith’s collection of traditional songs entitled I love to dance, written in 1999.  Fittingly, these songs end the third recital, mirroring the song collection titled Young Man from Canada, written in 1998, which opened the first recital. 

Beckwith’s contribution to establishing a Canadian musical identity is enormous, being a life-long creator and advocate for the country’s many singers, writers and performers, as well as being himself, in the words of Don McLean, one of Canada’s most diversified musical presences. On a personal note, it was in Beckwith’s History of Canadian Music course at the University of Toronto that my own awareness of local musical traditions such as the Sharon Temple just north of Toronto expanded in a course that gave new meaning to musical history previously relegated in a Faculty context to a distant Europe. 

The series ended with the raising of a glass and a toast given by Larry Beckwith “to the memory of all the poets, novelists and playwrights whose words we heard; to all the traditions represented in the Canadian cultural mosaic of traditional songs; to dad, Dean Beckwith.” And when singer Mary Morrison was asked if she had any words for Beckwith on this occasion of celebration, her answer was simply – ONWARD! 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com

Still from the Toronto Consort’s Of Tricksters and Trolls.A wraithlike water-dweller, a covetous goddess, a phantom bride. Welcome to the world of Of Tricksters and Trolls, the Toronto Consort’s latest performance released March 16 on their new streaming platform, Early Music TV. Filmed earlier this year at the 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media and Education, the virtual performance features traditional music from Scandinavia alongside dramatic retellings of medieval and folk tales from similar regions. Don’t be fooled by the whimsical premise – the Consort wades into the murk of early Scandinavian repertoire to retrieve pieces that are merry, mournful and haunting in turn. It is a seriously transporting concert.

The show opens with the eerie, decaying notes of a vielle à roue (hurdy-gurdy) played by Ben Grossman, and a close-up shot of five ivory figurines clutching knives, horns and shields – keen medievalists will recognize the Lewis Chessmen, 12th-century playing pieces carved into fierce Viking warriors. (We’re not in Kansas anymore.) Then Peter Tiefenbach, the evening’s storyteller, launches into the first of many tales starring the fickle and vindictive, yet beautiful and funny, Norse gods, as well as the shadowy creatures of later oral tradition.

Suspenseful sound effects are woven delicately into the narrative. Soft, spaced notes from harpist Paul Jenkins mimic falling snowflakes, while Grossman on drum and Katherine Hill on the nyckelharpa create rumbling, Thor-triggered thunder. Tiefenbach stays in character, if you will, easily flipping between whiny dwarves and breathy goddesses, without descending into pantomime. Refreshingly, nobody interrupts the flow to announce names or historical anecdotes; the tension is sustained, the spell unbroken.

Read more: Concert Report: Toronto Consort’s Of Tricksters and Trolls - a whirl of haunting repertoire

Women From SpaceThe third annual Women From Space Festival, a Toronto-based concert series, is returning this year, livestreamed on www.womenfromspace.com. Recently postponed due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the festival is now taking place April 9-11, 2021.

Festival passes this year are free, but there will be a PayPal donation button set up during the livestream to contribute to next year’s festival. The concerts will remain online for a week following the events. Access to the livestream will begin at 7:30pm each evening; the concert itself starts at 8pm (EST). The artists’ roughly 30-minute-long sets will be pre-recorded, with live MCing in between.

Founded by Kayla Milmine and Bea Labikova to celebrate International Women’s Day in 2019, the Women From Space Festival focuses on women-led experimental arts. The festival’s directive is “to celebrate and create a space for women [...] working within and between various exploratory musical traditions,” aiming to counteract underrepresentation and inspire a new generation of performing artists. Keeping with the festival’s boundary-pushing nature, this year’s virtual format is not your typical livestreamed concert, instead offering an innovative and exciting alternative to in-person performances: The Holobox Theatre, a miniature holographic stage hand-crafted by the festival and available for $10 plus shipping. 

Read more: Now via hologram: Women From Space returns, streaming April 9-11

Still: Miriam Khalil as “Elle” in OIC’s La Voix Humaine. Photo credit: Ryan Harper.On February 5, Toronto’s Voicebox: Opera in Concert (OIC) made its digital debut with a fascinating double bill: The Human Voice and La Voix Humaine. This choice of material—an English-language version of Jean Cocteau’s 1928 play, paired with the 1958 Poulenc opera inspired by it—was in part, according to OIC general director Guillermo Silva Marin, in tribute to OIC founder, the late Stuart Hamilton, who first programmed these two pieces together in 1975. It also, however, makes for a perfect entry into digital pandemic programming. That both are solo pieces is ideal for working in a state of safety from infection—and also creates a great opportunity to showcase top talent and virtuosity, in this case the outstanding Chilina Kennedy and Miriam Khalil.

Cocteau’s play La Voix Humaine (1928) and Francis Poulenc’s 1958 opera of the same name, inspired by the play, tell the story of a nameless woman (“She” or “Elle”) in torment at the end of a love affair, longing and waiting for a phone call from her lost lover. That phone call, after several wrong numbers, makes up the whole of the play/opera. A woman alone in her apartment, her only connection with the outside world her phone, feels like an uncanny parallel to the lives so many of us are living now, prohibited from spending time with anyone outside our “bubbles.” When you have a bubble of one, the loneliness can be unbearable. This is the case with “She” in The Human Voice, alone on her end of the phone call and doing everything to win her lover back while knowing she has lost him forever.

According to biographies of Cocteau, the actors in his company had been complaining of coming second to directorial and design concepts in his productions. Taking up the challenge,  Cocteau created this one-woman play that needs, even demands, a bare staging, so that the audience’s attention is clearly focused on the story and the virtuosity of the performer. In the OIC-streamed production, both play and opera take place in the same setting, a living space delineated by starkly white furniture arranged around the familiar confines of OIC’s Edward Jackman Studio. The setting is simple while also giving opportunity for movement and levels of action, and highlights the differences between the spoken and sung versions of the story as we watch both in the same space.

Read more: Concert report: “The Human Voice/La Voix Humaine” makes for fascinating programming, digital or live

Still from Tafelmusik’s Il Seicento, February 18. L-R: Keiran Campbell (cello), Pippa Macmillan (violone), Lucas Harris (theorbo and guitar), Brandon Chui (viola), Elisa Citterio (violin), Patricia Ahern (violin) and Christopher Bagan (harpsichord and organ).In December 2020, nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario was placed under lockdown for a second time, further limiting the already restrictive measures taken to control the spread of this virus. With firm (though somewhat inconsistent) restrictions making large-scale concert performances all but impossible, arts organizations across the city faced a demanding creative challenge—one that required equally creative responses.

On February 18, 2021, Toronto-based early music presenter Tafelmusik released Il Seicento, a virtual concert recorded at Jeanne Lamon Hall, featuring innovative music by trendsetting Italian composers from the 1600s. The concert title, “Il Seicento,” is a term that refers specifically to Italian history and culture during the 17th century, marking the end of the Renaissance movement in Italy and the beginning of the Counter-Reformation and the Baroque era. While many of these names will be unfamiliar to all but connoisseurs, a few, such as Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger and Domenico Gabrielli, are recognizable as significant figures who straddled the Renaissance and Baroque eras, ushering in the new Baroque style and paving a way for the later generation, which included such household names as Corelli and Vivaldi.

Described by Tafelmusik music director Elisa Citterio as “a contrast between light and dark” inspired by the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio’s paintings, Il Seicento strives to bring light into a world that is currently shrouded in darkness, and it is strikingly successful in this regard. Indeed, with over a dozen individual works on the program, there are too many sublime moments to describe in such a brief review, but a few particularly remarkable instances deserve special mention.

Read more: Concert report: Tafelmusik’s Il Seicento - a stunning virtual experience

Video still from Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah, 2020.

I still remember my first Messiah: seated in the rather uncomfortable pews at St. Paul’s Basilica in Toronto, gazing up at the church’s ceiling instead of following along with the text in the program, and only drifting back into attentiveness for “All we like sheep have gone astray,” the lyrics of which I found most amusing at age eight. My appreciation for long-form classical music and my attention span have both, thankfully, matured since then, such that I can more properly enjoy and be challenged by a work such as Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah: a lively, free-spirited adaptation of Handel’s oratorio, performed with unbounded joy and more than a few electronics.

The Toronto-based music group Soundstreams usually produces Electric Messiah as a cabaret-style event at the Drake Underground, bringing together a vocal quartet with instrumentalists both classical and modern to rethink the melodies of Handel’s original. This year, Electric Messiah has moved online, taking the form of an hour-long music video paying homage not only to Handel’s timeless work, but also to the city of Toronto and its own artists. The YouTube premiere on Thursday, December 17 was no lagging live-streamed event: Electric Messiah is a highly-polished affair, a delight to both eye and ear, and available for multiple rewatches until the end of December 2020. 

Read more: Concert Report: Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah continues to reimagine a classic

Frank Zappa in ZAPPA. Photo credit: Roelof Kiers; photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.Alex Winter’s new documentary – ZAPPA – about the iconoclastic musician and biting social satirist, Frank Zappa, has much in common with Thorsten Schütte’s absorbing, revelatory 2016 documentary, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words. Zappa’s widow Gail (d. 2015) and son Ahmet (who runs the extensive Frank Zappa estate through the Zappa Trust as co-Trustee) were executive producers of the 2016 film. Ahmet Zappa is also a producer of the new film, which is more about the man than the previous more music-oriented doc. A conservative libertarian who had no use for drugs, Zappa was not how he appeared to be. Nonetheless, given the extent of the Zappa archives, there is much treasure to be found here. Early in the film the man himself takes us on an archival tour – a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling 8mm movies, audio and videotape of recording sessions, even jam sessions by the likes of Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and Eric Clapton (neither of which we hear – perhaps they’re being saved for future release).

Zappa’s early home life was completely without music. His father worked at a gas chemical factory, so his toys were gas masks and his interests concentrated on chemistry – he made gunpowder at the age of six. As a young teenager he read a magazine story about how Sam Goody’s (a major record seller in the 1950s) was able to sell records by Edgard Varèse that were considered too strange for most people to buy. Zappa bought The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse and it changed his life. “I just liked it [the way percussion was playing an integrated melodic part] and couldn’t understand why other people just didn't like it,” he said. There’s an 8mm snippet of him playing Varèse on the harmonica. He had no interest in Mozart or Beethoven, “only in the man who could make music which was that strange.” Hearing Ionisation led Zappa to write orchestral music. Much later, he took to playing Varèse’s Octandre as an encore “because after hearing it, the audience wouldn’t possibly hear another number.”

He taught himself to play blues guitar in high school by listening – sometimes staying up until 3am – to the music of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Guitar Slim, Elmore James, Lowell Fulson and Johnny “Guitar” Watson (with whom he later played). In his mid-teens he was a member of a racially mixed band, The Blackouts, which at the time was considered too radical for the small California town where he lived.

Read more: Music and the Movies: ZAPPA

keiko photo 2Keiko Devaux. Photo credit: Caroline Desilets.The gala concert for the Azrieli Foundation Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) took place on Thursday, October 22, 2020 at 8pm, live-streamed on Facebook and MediciTV. The concert featured the works of this year’s winners: Keiko Devaux (Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music), Yotam Harbor (Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music) and Yitzhak Yedid (Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music).

According to their website, the Azrieli Foundation was established by David Azrieli in 1989 as a philanthropic effort based in both Canada and Israel. In 2014 they introduced their first two prizes for new Jewish concert music. In 2019, the AMP announced the creation of a new prize – the Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music, intended to encourage the creation of new Canadian concert music – and invited all Canadian composers to apply. Awarded every two years, 2020 marked the first opportunity for composers to win the prize: a world premiere by the Montreal-based Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, a commercial recording to be released on the Analekta label, another national or international premiere after the gala concert and $50,000 in cash. The award’s full value is quoted at $200,000.

Read more: Azrieli Commission winner, composer Keiko Devaux reflects on the debut of Arras

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