tyniec cropAndréa Tyniec. Photo credit: Sasha Onyshchenko.“Almost Unplugged,” Soundstreams’ latest Ear Candy concert on February 1 at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Cabaret, was an experience in contrasts. Two very different violinists –  Andréa Tyniec and Jesse Zubot – took the stage to present their own mini-concerts, then came together at the end in a structured improvisation.

First up was Andréa Tyniec, a passionate performer raised in Montreal and currently pursuing an international career both as a soloist and a collaborator in dance and theatre. Her set featured two works by Canadian composers – Love Song for MAD by Terri Hron and Stand Still by Michael Oesterle – and began with a 1923 composition by Eugène Ysaÿe, a Belgian violinist, composer and conductor who was regarded as “the King of the Violin” in his day. Tyniec performed the Prelude of his Sonata No. 2 with agility and virtuosity, moving around the sixteenth-note passages with ease. Direct quotations from one of Bach’s partitas appeared throughout. Tyniec is one of the fortunate violinists in Canada to be loaned a violin from the Musical Instrument Bank of the Canada Council for the Arts, so we were treated to sounds played on the 1689 Baumgartner Stradivari violin.

The Ysaÿe composition ended up serving as a link to Hron’s 2013 composition, created in collaboration with Tyniec. Hron asked Tyniec to record something so she would have the violin sound in her ear as she composed, and Ysaÿe’s composition was the one chosen.  Hron states that the piece became a key element in her compositional decision-making. Love Song for MAD is part of Hron’s Sharp Splinter cycle, a project dedicated to an exploration of her family archive of letters, audio cassettes and films. These were documents made by her parents and grandparents, particularly during the time they were separated by the Iron Curtain. The four-movement composition is scored for audio playback and solo violin and features the sound of a typewriter along with excerpts of conversations between her sister Madelaine Hron and their parents. Tyniec’s solo performance ended with Oesterle’s four-movement Stand Still (2011), which was full of fast rhythmical and repetitive patterns that created intense pulsations of sound.

Jesse Zubot. Photo credit: Jessica Eaton.Jesse Zubot and his violin have an intense connection, and are like an extension of one another. Added to that mix was a series of foot pedals controlling an array of effects that Zubot danced his way around. The end result was something akin to “violin-plus-plus” – and that’s not a criticism at all. In fact, the sonic world that Zubot created was mesmerizing and fascinating – an endlessly-changing kaleidoscope of colour, with the violin sound almost fading into the background at times. Having only heard him live as a member of Tanya Tagaq’s band, this gave me a chance to listen with focused attention for each new twist and turn of his imagination as he navigated his way through one seamless improvisation that never wandered. At several points he moved his bow so rapidly across the strings that the bow became a blur, creating a fluttering sound somewhat like the movement of a hummingbird’s wings.

Zubot grew up studying classical music but has diversified over the years to explore multiple forms. He produced Tagaq’s Polaris Prize-winning Animism album and her 2016 shortlisted follow-up Retribution. Improvisation is his great love and passion, which was so evident onstage. The concert ended with a structured improvisation that Zubot created for himself and Tyniec to play, titled Collab. Just before they began, Zubot quipped that he hoped he didn’t get lost in one of the sections; however, to my ears, everything flowed with ease as they moved between scored material, at times in unison, and improvisational material. It was a most satisfying way to end the evening, with two extraordinary and distinctive violinists coming together to create a flurry of acoustic sound on two unplugged violins.

Soundstreams presented “Almost Unplugged,” featuring violinists Andréa Tyniec and Jesse Zubot, on February 1 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.

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

chelsey cropChelsey Bennett (right). Photo credit: Michael Grondin.On Friday, January 26, singers Chelsey Bennett and Joanna Majoko performed with their respective bands as part of Burdock’s Piano Fest, now in its third year. The premise of Piano Fest – procure a high-quality grand piano for the week, book piano-centric acts in complementary double bills – is fairly simple, but it has provided a welcome outlet for musicians during a month, following the eggnog-soaked fever dream of December, that is typically light on festival programming. It has also, judging by the packed house on the 26th, become a prime destination for live-music patrons, although the credit must, of course, be shared with Bennett and Majoko, both of whom perform regularly in Toronto and beyond.

Bennett – who is also a pianist, and played on the baby grand for the duration of her set – performed first, joined by keyboardist Darryl Joseph-Dennie, bassist Peter Eratostene and drummer Julian Clarke. Her show began with a looped, a cappella introduction to a bluesy, funky 4/4 piece, rounded out by solos from all four members of the band. The second song was “Don’t Use Your Eyes,” a minor-key, backbeat-focused original that evoked Jill Scott, both melodically and rhythmically, and was followed by “Missed Connections,” a song about the wistful aftermath of chance encounters, featuring an athletic solo from Joseph-Dennie.

Bennett is a natural, engaging storyteller, and her easy affinity with the crowd served her well in the intimate setting of Burdock’s Music Hall. This affinity was used to full effect in “My Place,” a 12/8 original dedicated to the warmth and comfort of the urban apartment, which Bennett performed alone, accompanying herself on acoustic piano. It was fitting that a song about the relationship between an individual and her environment was a solo performance – and it resulted in one of the most compelling moments of the evening, as the extra space gave Bennett the opportunity to showcase her dynamic range as both a singer and pianist. Rounding out her set was the original “No End,” a 6/8 gospel-tinged number about a shared sense of limitless possibility within a romantic relationship. The fact – which Bennett shared with the appreciative audience in another funny introduction – that the particular relationship that inspired the song ended soon after it was written, and that the song itself served as the last song of her set, only added to its charm.

Joanna Majoko.Taking the stage with guitarist Andrew Marzotto, pianist Ewen Farncombe, bassist Mark Godfrey and drummer Jon Foster, Joanna Majoko began her set with an arrangement of the jazz standard “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Bennett and Majoko share some musical similarities – but where Bennett sings R&B and neo-soul, Majoko sings modern vocal jazz with R&B and neo-soul influences, with an emphasis on harmony, individual soloing, and engaging rhythmic interplay between band members. All of these elements were used to full effect on “I Hear Sounds of Africa Calling,” a 6/8 Majoko original that featured a strong piano solo from Farncombe, and “These Nights,” an original ballad, sung by Majoko with a plain, delicate vocal quality that showcased the range and accuracy of her voice.

Majoko played the caxixi – a basket shaker used widely in Brazilian music – throughout much of her set, but never quite as impressively as in her wordless arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” in which she superimposed a consistent 3-beat figure on the 4/4 song while singing both the melody and a scat solo. Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” saw Farncombe taking another confident solo and Foster doing some of his strongest work of the evening, and the original “You Are Bold,” which began with a beautiful keyboard and voice introduction, gave Marzotto the space to stretch out on an excellent guitar solo.

“Where You Are,” a funky, swung-sixteenths original, served as the evening’s penultimate song, and showcased Godfrey’s electric bass skills, both as a thoughtful soloist and as a rock-solid timekeeper (he held down the low end on upright, for the majority of the evening). It should be noted that the sonic balance of Majoko’s set was really top-notch, a testament not only to the maturity of Majoko and her band, but also to Burdock and its consistently outstanding front-of-house sound. Finally, Bennett returned to the stage to join Majoko for Roy Hargrove’s “Forget Regret,” which featured both singers sharing the melody and trading scat solos over the rhythm section’s confident playing, eliciting enthusiastic applause and bringing a joyful night of music-making to a close.

Burdock presented Chelsea Bennett and Joanna Majoko in a double bill as part of its third annual Piano Fest, on Friday, January 26, 2018.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Alison Mackay’s Safe Haven: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra with guests Diely Mori Tounkara (kora) and Maryem Tollar (narrator, vocals). Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.Immigration and the status of refugees continues to be a global issue. Whether through the discourse and dissent on the fate of “Dreamers” on our own continent or the mass displacement of tens of thousands due to climate change, war and societal unrest around the globe, refugee-related concerns continue to receive increasing attention from media, politicians and the public as a whole.

A fundamental element of immigration debates, particularly in North America, centres on how our individual and massed views of outliers – our understanding of the foreigner – are often based on incorrect and stereotypical perceptions of how those different than ourselves will impact the social structures around us. We hear how immigrants will “steal jobs,” infiltrate our cities, poison the minds of our youths with “radical agendas,” and pose a threat to the very fabric of a democratic society which we have treasured since the Great Philosophers.

These arguments, presented everywhere from internationally-televised political speeches to private dinnertime conversations, are not new; many of these anti-immigration rationales have been used, in some form, for centuries. Running January 18 to 23, 2018 in Toronto, Safe Haven – Tafelmusik’s latest multimedia concert and the brainchild of bassist Alison Mackay – countered these age-old prejudices, exploring the overwhelmingly positive influence of refugee populations on their adopted cultures over the past four centuries. Working with guest performers Maryem Tollar (narration/vocals), Diely Mori Tounkara (kora) and Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion) to create a unified multimedia presentation incorporating music, words and projected images, Tafelmusik revealed how several significant developments in the Baroque era were the result of immigrant-based cultural collaborations.

Beginning with religious refugees from France fleeing Louis XIV’s revoking of the Edict of Nantes, Safe Haven first focused on the influence of the Huguenots, French Calvinist Protestants, on the rest of Europe. These refugees were welcomed by many, but others were concerned about the influx of these strange people, citing their religious beliefs, strange language and unusual headdresses as reasons why the entry of Huguenots should be prevented.

Weaving a thread through the music of Vivaldi, Lully, Goudimel and Purcell, we saw the influence of the French carried to Italy and England, intellectual exchanges resulting in the dissemination of Lully’s operas and suites, and the adaptation of these dance forms by Italian composers. By highlighting the influence of the French on German musicians, particularly through the introduction of the oboe (hautbois), we learned why J.S. Bach was so enamoured with the instrument and its rich, novel sound. Bach also utilized French suite forms in his compositions, writing works of astounding complexity and inventiveness and arguably stretching the style to its limit through works such as the Six Suites for solo cello.

Another significant Huguenot emigré featured in Safe Haven was the Amsterdam-based publisher Éstienne Roger. Beginning his trade by producing grammars and dictionaries, Roger started engraving music in 1696; by 1722 Roger had published over 500 editions of works by composers like Corelli, Albinoni and Vivaldi – a musical superconnector whose craft resulted in widespread distribution of these composers’ works.

Other notable religio-political conflicts which resulted in social diasporas and subsequent musical developments include the 17th-century expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands and Poland, as well as the outlawing of Catholicism in England by Elizabeth I. Poland, with its Warsaw Federation Act guaranteeing freedom of worship to all, became a cultural melting pot, a contact hub for Jews, Catholics and Roma that influenced numerous composers – including Telemann, who transcribed a number of Roma melodies and later used them in his orchestral compositions.

From a musical perspective, the standard of Tafelmusik’s performance was particularly impressive, especially given the changing stylistic elements throughout. Placing concerti by Vivaldi and Corelli cheek-to-cheek with a Lully suite or Bach oboe obbligato cantata movement requires immediate yet subtle changes in approach, and the orchestra’s fluency and expertise in all styles was on full display. The blended use of smaller chamber works and larger concerti to highlight instruments and their combinations was very effective: Elisa Citterio’s Winter solos glittered; Charlotte Nediger’s Sweelinck was subtle and sublime; and Marco Cera’s oboe lines sung in Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 156.

Alison Mackay’s Safe Haven: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra with guests Diely Mori Tounkara (kora), Maryem Tollar (narrator, vocals) and Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion). Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.One performer that cannot go unmentioned is kora player Diely Mori Tounkara, a native of Mali and resident of Montreal. Tounkara’s virtuosity and musicality added another dimension to this performance, most notably with his first solo, mesmerizing everyone in Jeanne Lamon Hall with his total immersion in the music and his instrument. The kora, a plucked instrument that resembles an upright lute (it’s actually a hide-covered calabash with a neck and 21 strings) flourished within the Mali bardic tradition, and its inclusion in Safe Haven presented a fascinating cross-cultural collaboration that was likely a new and novel sound experience for many in the audience.

A highly effective and tightly-woven tapestry of words, music and art, Safe Haven used all three forms of media in such a way that the entirety was far greater than the sum of the individual parts. Removing one component would have caused the whole to unravel, like the pulling of a thread: without the words, the musical selections would be decontextualized, disconnected, and discombobulating; without the music, we would have a dramatic lecture; without the images, another entire layer of contextualization and visual engagement would be lost. It is new and innovative presentations such as Safe Haven that help us appreciate what a wonderful culture and community we live in – one where creative, experimental and profound concepts and ideas can be realized onstage, to the benefit of all.

Tafelmusik presented Safe Haven January 18 to 23, 2018 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

notredame2The interior of the Notre-Dame de Paris.From the earliest days of Western musical civilization to the present, Notre-Dame de Paris has played a prominent and pivotal role in many of music’s finest moments and housed some of its most brilliant minds. In the 13th century, Pérotin le Grand, one of the Medieval era’s most respected and influential composers, developed the organum, the first exploration of polyphony in European church music. Through his organa, Pérotin pioneered an entirely new style of music, expanding previously monophonic chants (single lines sung in unison, such as Gregorian chant) into two-, three-, and four-part compositions, thereby paving the way for choral music as we understand it today.

In 1900, more than six centuries after Pérotin le Grand, Louis Vierne was appointed principal organist at Notre-Dame de Paris. By this time the tradition of excellence in church music at Notre-Dame was firmly established, continuously developing and thriving, despite changing social conditions and political unrest. Nearly blind from birth due to congenital cataracts, Vierne studied with César Franck and was assistant to Charles-Marie Widor before obtaining the highly-regarded and equally highly sought-after organist post at Notre-Dame. (To this day, the position of titulaires des grandes orgues is considered one of the most prestigious in France.)

Vierne maintained this high standard, playing hundreds of organ recitals and inspiring generations of future composers and organists through his concert and service playing, powerful and skillful improvisations, and extraordinarily emotive compositions. Vierne was so closely connected to Notre-Dame that he passed away during what was to be his last recital, his 1750th, suffering either a stroke or heart attack on the bench of the great Cavaillé-Coll organ in his beloved church.

Organist David Briggs.Upon entering Notre-Dame de Paris and hearing the organ for the first time, the majesty and grandeur are overwhelming. The enormity of space and sound, working together in perfect synchronicity, produce an unparalleled and profound effect. On January 19 in Toronto, the Choir of St. James Cathedral, led by director of music Robert Busiakiewicz and organist David Briggs (former artist-in-residence at St. James), sought to recreate this powerful atmosphere with their concert The Splendour of Notre Dame, featuring music by composer-improvisers connected with Notre-Dame in the 20th and 21st centuries: Louis Vierne, Pierre Cochereau, Maurice Duruflé and Yves Castagnet.

The first work of the program, Vierne’s Messe Solennelle, Op. 16, is a personal favourite. Written the year before his appointment to Notre-Dame, this piece opened the concert in an extraordinarily powerful way: majestic, imposing, dissonant C-sharp minor played on full organ, answered antiphonally by the choir. Originally composed for two organs and played by two organists (the Grand-Orgue and the Orgue de Choeur), Briggs masterfully adapted the score for solo performance on St. James’s pipe organ, making the necessarily rapid adjustments seamless throughout. The Cathedral choir, although comprising only 18 voices, held their own against Vierne’s weighty writing, maintaining their presence, balance and impressive tuning, even with the Trompette en-chamade blaring from the West end of the building!

One of the finest performers on the international pipe organ scene today, David Briggs followed the Vierne Messe with his own transcription of Variations sur ‘Alouette, Gentille Alouette’ by famed organist and improviser Pierre Cochereau, organist of Notre-Dame from 1955-1984. Cochereau’s improvisations, renowned for their innovation, technical challenges and sheer complexity, are a nightmare for any transcriber – by his own estimation, Briggs spent “about six months, at an average pace of 4 hours to transcribe one minute of music” – and the Cochereau Variations were well over 10 minutes in duration! A piece of staggering complexity, the Variations were astounding in every way: the thought that Cochereau could compose, let alone improvise such a work – and that Briggs had the patience and determination to transcribe it – lent the performance an even higher degree of impressiveness.

Although never titulaire at Notre-Dame (he held an identical post at the nearby Saint-Étienne-du-Mont), Maurice Duruflé was an influential member of the Paris organ scene, an established composer, performer, and teacher whose pupils included Pierre Cocherau. A severely self-critical composer who continually edited his works (there are only 12 published with opus numbers), Duruflé’s Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, op. 10 are miniature gems, and the St. James Cathedral Choir shone in their interpretations of these works. As with the Vierne Messe, the choir’s intonation, dynamic contrasts and phrasing were masterfully executed, and Busiakiewicz’s choices of slightly quicker tempi helped compensate for the Cathedral’s relatively dry acoustic; dry, at least, in comparison to the great churches of Paris!

The evening’s joyful exploration of Notre-Dame’s 20th-century choir and organ music came to a rousing conclusion with the performance of Yves Castagnet’s Messe Salve Regina, based on and including excerpts from the great 11th-century Gregorian chant. Castagnet is the current Organist of the Orgue de Choeur at Notre-Dame where, since his appointment in 1988, he accompanies daily masses and plays choral accompaniments; he is also a gifted composer, as his Messe demonstrated! Demanding a great variety of timbres, textures and sonorities from both organ and choir, Castagnet’s love of Notre-Dame, its instruments and its choirs shines through his music, as both organ and choir play equal roles in the declamation and interpretation of the traditional Latin Mass texts.

Clearly demanding and intricate but never superficial or indulgent, the Messe Salve Regina was a splendid way to conclude a concert that did exactly what it promised to do: bring the splendour of Notre-Dame and its inimitable traditions and musical pedigree to Toronto. For a little while, it felt as though we too could turn around and savour the stunning rose windows of that great gothic structure.

The Cathedral Church of St. James presented “The Splendour of Notre Dame” on January 19, 2018 in Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Noah Reid as Hamlet, at the Tarragon Theatre. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.I wasn’t sure what to expect after the interview I did with Richard Rose on the Tarragon Theatre’s production of Hamlet for the December/January issue of The WholeNote. How much music would there be and how many songs? Even the director wasn’t sure at that point as, although there had been a preliminary exploratory workshop of the idea, he didn't know how or in which direction the show would grow once in full rehearsal.

As it turns out, it is much closer to a traditional Shakespeare play than I expected. Rather than a rock musical, it is much more what the director described: “a radio play meets a rock concert,” yet it is staged, not on a traditional set but on a narrow strip of stage in front of the “band setup.” For furniture: simple chairs with some basic props, memorably the rapiers and daggers for the  excellent slow motion duel at the end.

The script is totally Shakespeare’s Hamlet, pared down nicely to the essential with particularly good cutting in the second half when Hamlet comes back from England and Laertes from France, including a cleverly succinct staged scene of Hamlet on shipboard switching the letter carried by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, speaking the words he writes to Horatio.  

The rock music underscoring mostly makes the story clearer, underpinning emotions, freeing the actors to surf and soar on and over the music and letting the words take flight. Microphones took away the need to project, so the words could be spoken in whispers when necessary in great intimacy – or shouted – all reaching the back of the theatre.

This was particularly true of the “Rogue and Peasant Slave” soliloquy, where Hamlet berates himself for his inability to revenge his father after watching the passionate performance of the First Player (the commanding Jack Nicholson) in the previous scene. The passion, anger and black humour of Hamlet’s soliloquy was fully realized by the excellent Noah Reid, with music building to a point where it felt like he almost might burst into song.

Unfortunately, the scoring doesn’t always work that well. After the magnificence and complete understanding of this sequence, the more famous soliloquy, “To Be or Not to Be,” falls flat, too quiet, too little music, and not enough urgency. The same can be said for the characters’ music themes, which sometimes worked well, but at other times – as in the church organ accompaniment created for Cliff Saunders' Polonius (to highlight his sententious sermonizing) – got in the way of the performance.

The ensemble watching the "play within a play," in the Tarragon's production of Hamlet. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.Even though not always perfect, what was effective was the constant presence of the music throughout the show – music all composed, arranged and played live by the incredibly versatile ensemble. Other highlights included a wonderfully eerie atmospheric soundscape for the ghost, and an effective mini rock-opera for the “play within the play,” Beau Dixon standing out as both demure Player Queen and Judas-style rock and roll murderer.

Part of the fun of the production is watching the performers’ smooth transitions from character to musician and back again, almost as if a rock band had decided to put on Hamlet. Even Hamlet plays the keyboard in his first appearance. Laertes is glued to his guitar until he returns to Denmark to find his sister has gone mad, and Rachel Cairns as Rosencrantz is a great find, easily switching from playing various instruments to embodying Hamlet’s old school friend, with her mobile speaking face and great physicality. At the same time, more could have been done with the idea of Ophelia’s songs beginning as sweet love tunes at the beginning. I had expected them to appear much more strange and haunting in the mad scenes, given Tiffany Ayalik’s experience as a throat singer and vocoder player. It was also a pity that Gertrude and Claudius were not involved in the music-making at all, although Claudius (Nigel Shawn Williams) did effectively command the band to play and stop during the court scenes.

Opening night was an exciting high energy performance and the younger people in the audience were particularly thrilled (though some of the older were not). The original concept of director Richard Rose and music director Thomas Ryder Payne of Hamlet’s rage finding a voice through rock music is fulfilled to a great extent. In many ways this production made me think of Neil Munroe’s controversial Hamlet’s Room back in the 1990s at Theatre Plus: radical experimenting with a well-known classic, bringing it into our times to make a Hamlet for today.

Hamlet, music directed by Thomas Ryder Payne, runs January 2 to February 11 in the Tarragon Main Space at 30 Bridgman Ave., Toronto.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Tim Baker, known for his work with Newfoundland band, Hey Rosetta!, is a headliner at this year’s Piano Fest.The Burdock is one of those special Toronto places that feels like it can be anything you want it to be. It’s a bar and restaurant, it’s a brewery – and notably, it’s a music venue. In a room separate from the bar area in the northwest corner of the Bloor Street space, booking manager Charlotte Cornfield and the Burdock team have created an intimate atmosphere that works surprisingly well for a vast array of music: quiet enough for a wind quintet, cosy enough for a folk set, but still spacious enough for something bigger, more adventurous, or experimental. And, for one week every year, they have a piano.

According to Cornfield, at first the Burdock Piano Festival grew out of a kind of team problem-solving exercise. “The original Burdock team are all big music lovers and big piano fans,” she says. “We talked about having a piano in the space, but we wanted the space to be malleable and able to morph into a different kind of stage environment depending on the type of show that we do...and also, January ends up being a quieter gig month because it’s post-holidays and it’s cold. So we were like: what could we do to both embrace the piano and liven up January?

“We often just throw goofy ideas around, and it started as what seemed to be a goofy idea that formed into ‘actually, this is a great idea’,” she continues. “Why don’t we bring in a really nice piano for a week, and just program a week of piano shows, and get people excited about that?”

Charlotte Cornfield.Cornfield and the team came up with suggestions of artists; Robert Lowrey Pianos donated the baby grand. That was for January 2016; three years later, the Burdock Piano Fest is still gathering momentum.

This year’s festival is the biggest yet – 16 shows over 8 days – and the team is trying to expand their scope to match. “This year was the first year that I actually did a call for submissions, because I really wanted to reach out beyond our immediate community,” says Cornfield. “I wanted to reach out beyond the walls of what we already know. And it was great: we got a ton of eclectic submissions. There were a lot of people who I wasn’t familiar with before who reached out, and I’m super excited about the lineup.”

That lineup includes an impressive array of artists: headliner vocalist/pianists Tim Baker (of Hey Rosetta! fame) and Jeremy Dutcher, along with sets spanning classical, jazz, experimental and pop. In particular, Cornfield points out the January 29 shows – emerging baroque pop singer/songwriter/pianist Ryland Dinneen paired in a double bill with Kritty Uranowski, followed by a late-night solo set by singer-songwriter Emma Frank – and a jazz- and soul-influenced show featuring Joanna Majoko and Chelsea Bennett, on January 26.

As usual for the festival, double bills make up the bulk of the programming. For Cornfield – who, as a songwriter, pianist/guitarist and jazz drummer, is herself a musician with several different facets – it’s a part of her strategy to bridge the gap between genres and create new musical connections. “I started doing the double bill thing in the first year, just because I thought it would be interesting to bring people together who might not already know one another but whose music might line up in some way,” she says. “And then that was really cool because it brought in two different crowds to one show.

“It was really fun this year to be like, ‘oh, who would this artist work well with?’ and ‘oh, this is kind of left-field to put this classical guy with a cabaret singer, but I think it would work really well!’ Things like that,” Cornfield adds. “I like to mix it up; I’m a big fan of double bills that wouldn’t be the obvious choice, but that have things about each set that complement one another.”

More than anything, it’s about celebrating the piano in the Burdock space, and making it special.

“What I’ve been looking for are acts and ideas that are unique to having an opportunity to have a piano like that in an intimate space,” says Cornfield. “While we have a lot of different ideas [at the festival], what brings them together is that it’s a special occasion to do something cool with a piano in this space. So genre-wise this year, we’re definitely casting a wider net than we have in previous years. We definitely wanted the programming to be diverse – as diverse as possible.”

The Burdock Piano Fest runs from January 22 to 29.

IbrahimBannerPianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who will perform in Toronto on April 21, 2018.Now that it’s officially 2018, it’s time to start looking forward – and thankfully, there’s a lot to look forward to. The year is full of compelling music, both locally and abroad, and as clichéd as it sounds, there actually is something for everyone. To take stock of the year ahead, we asked our writers: if you had to choose one concert that you’re already planning on attending in 2018, what would it be?

Here are some of WholeNote staff and contributors’ picks for their must-see concerts of 2018.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra - Mahler Symphony 9
June 20 and 23, 2018, Toronto

TSO music director Peter Oundjian's 14-year run comes to a joyous conclusion in June with a series of powerhouse concerts. The one that I'm particularly looking forward to is the June 20 and 23 program, which finds Oundjian leading the orchestra in Mahler's emotionally transformative Symphony No.9, a work its first conductor, Bruno Walter, said was filled with “a sanctified feeling of departure.” Of all the ninth symphonies that followed Beethoven's unsurpassable example, Mahler's stands tallest. As a significant bonus, the program opens with longtime friend of Oundjian's TSO, the always engaging Emanuel Ax, bringing his musical ease and humility to Mozart's Piano Concerto No.15 K451, its celebratory mood perfectly appropriate for the occasion.

- Paul Ennis, managing editor and classical columnist

More info: https://www.tso.ca/concert/mahler-symphony-9#performance-1630

The Royal Conservatory - Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya and special guest Freddie Hendrix in tribute to The Jazz Epistles
April 21, 2018, Toronto

For me it's a commemorative confluence April 21 at Koerner Hall: Abdullah Ibrahim on piano with his band Ekaya, and with Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, in an evening featuring Jazz Epistles original compositions. Drawing on the music of Monk, Parker and 'Trane, the Epistles were at the roots of a distinctively South African jazz sound, which filtered into my childhood consciousness from the King Kong kitchen yards of my Johannesburg childhood. And newly arrived in Canada (who knew it would be for good?) 40 years ago, I heard Abdullah Ibrahim, still in exile, spin two hours of solo piano magic at what would become the Jane Mallett Theatre, as part of the “Plus” in Polish refugee writer/director Marion Andre's groundbreaking Theatre Plus series.

- David Perlman, publisher and editor-in-chief

More info: https://www.rcmusic.com/performance/event/jazz-epistlesevent/jazz-epistles

Mirvish - Come From Away
February 13 to September 2, 2018, Toronto

A show I am looking forward to with great anticipation this season is the return of David Hein and Irene Sankoff’s Come From Away. A truly Canadian musical based on a true – and recent – Canadian story that has triumphed on Broadway after quickly selling out its original Toronto run, Come From Away returns to Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre on February 13 for a long run. Having missed the first run when it sold out so quickly, I am eager to catch up with a show that everyone who has seen it says is not only brilliantly written and composed but enormously heartwarming and inspiring as well.

- Jennifer Parr, music theatre columnist

More info: https://www.mirvish.com/shows/come-from-away

Works by Leoš Janáček
Various

This year I’m excited to hear a variety of music from the Czech composer Leoš Janáček, especially (hopefully) his spectacularly epic Glagolitic Mass. December 8, 2018 is the 90th anniversary of Janáček’s death, which will hopefully serve as an impetus for deeper exploration
of Janáček and his works, and more performances of his music here in Toronto.

- Matthew Whitfield, early music columnist

Glyndebourne Opera Festival - Giulio Cesare
June 10 to July 28, 2018, Glyndebourne, UK

This June will be my first ever visit to Glyndebourne Opera Festival (provided there's no global nuclear war etc. before then). The festival is reviving Handel's Giulio Cesare, which I'd argue is the best production that David McVicar ever created, though my main draw is Sarah Connolly in the title role. Squeaky countertenors have all but taken over this pants role from the powerful mezzos and this could well be the last time Cesare is sung by a woman on a major operatic stage. A few of us are coming from around the world, including a fellow mezzo-sexual opera lover from Australia. Given the Glyndebourne evening-wear dress code, my usual casual getups won't do. What to wear in Sussex in June where a clear sky can quickly turn to rain? To dress feminine or masculine of centre? All those Glyndebourne Cesare clips on Youtube will come in handy for inspiration.

- Lydia Perović, art song columnist

More info: http://www.glyndebourne.com/

Toronto Symphony Orchestra - Beethoven Symphony 9
June 28 to 30, 2018, Toronto

Freude! There are reasons that works like Beethoven's 9th bring tears to performers and listeners alike: the sheer power of a full orchestra and choir belting out a beloved tune; the dancing strings and powerful timpani hits as the choir soars with “Freude, schöner Götterfunken”; the dangerously fast ending that always erupts into applause. As a performer there are few works with the great dynamism of the 9th. This year, 2018, we have an auspicious event to celebrate – Peter Oundjian's final stand on the podium after 14 years as artistic director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sure, he'll be back, hopefully often, but what better work to commemorate his time at the TSO and to set a glorious tone for the future of classical music in Toronto? I'll be singing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Also, although details are still being hashed out, some interesting surprises will be in store for the final performances. Virtual choir? Simulcasts? Public performance? Choir of hundreds? We'll have to see!

- Brian Chang, choral columnist

More info: https://www.tso.ca/concert/beethoven-symphony-9

Music Gallery - Yoko Ono - The Riverbed: Voice Pieces
February 23, 2018, Toronto

In a 2010 interview with Artinfo’s Sarah Douglas, Yoko Ono describes her 1964 conceptual artwork Voice Piece for Soprano – a set of instructions where the reader is told to scream “1) against the wind, 2) against the wall, and 3) against the sky” – as a protest song, and a form of resistance. “The inspiration was that I was feeling very rebellious as a woman,” she says. “The wind, the wall, and the sky didn’t represent men, but they were situations in life that you have to scream against.”

This February, a co-pro between the Music Gallery and the Gardiner Museum will present three performances inspired by these instructions. Experimental improvisers The Element Choir, dub poet Lillian Allen and vocalist Mamalia will each perform an homage to this work, in light of the Gardiner’s February 22-June 3 exhibition of Ono’s art. I have no idea what to expect, or whether the concept of screaming will be interpreted literally or loosely. Either way – like much of Ono’s work – it will likely be bold, and impossible to ignore.

- Sara Constant, digital media editor

More info: https://musicgallery.org/events/yoko-ono-the-riverbed-voice-pieces/

Labyrinth Music Workshop Ontario, NCGMO, Polyphonic Ground
Various

My pick is not one concert/music event, but rather tracing in 2018 the development of a few breaking 2017 stories featured in my WholeNote column. I’d include Labyrinth Music Workshop Ontario, New Canadian Global Music Orchestra and Polyphonic Ground. Why? Collectively, they address core issues in world music education, creation, performance, presentation and legacy relevant in the GTA.

- Andrew Timar, world music columnist

Drummer Anthony Fung, of JabFung.JabFung, a project helmed by bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes and Richmond Hill-born, LA-based drummer Anthony Fung, has emerged in recent years as one of Toronto’s leading presenters of collaborative jazz residencies. Anchored by the core rhythm section of Anderson-Bowes and Fung, the group’s past performances have featured excellent local and international guest musicians, including saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, pianist James Hill, guitarist Andrew Marzotto, French vibraphonist Simon Mouiller, and, for two nights at The Rex this past July, the eminent American saxophonist George Garzone.

The group’s latest residency, which took place at the Rex on December 18 and 19, continued the local/international trend, as Anderson-Bowes and Fung were joined by the LA-based pianist Isaac Wilson, who was a classmate of Fung’s at Berklee, and Cuban-born alto saxophonist Luis Deniz, a Humber College faculty member and mainstay of the Toronto jazz scene. In its current iteration, JabFung proves itself to be a rarity: a special project with the chemistry of a working band, capable of putting on an exuberant, thoughtful performance, and of displaying both virtuosity and sensitivity in equal measure.

On the second night of their two-night engagement, the group’s playing was convincing and assured from the opening bars of the first set, which began with an arrangement of Duke Pearson’s “Is That So?” that featured tight, focused solos from all band members, including a winning turn by Fung over a 7/8 vamp in the song’s penultimate section. The set continued with Wilson’s “Prized Possessions,” a medium-tempo, straight-eighths piece that showcased the strong relationship between Wilson and Fung, whose intuitive comping was both supportive and propulsive. “Opus Something,” a slow 3/4 composition of Anderson-Bowes’, morphed organically into a pulsing, triplet-heavy feel during Deniz’ confident, searching solo. Deniz’ work was also exemplary on Fung’s “A Call For Peace,” in which the saxophone solo began as an exploratory, communicative duet with Wilson, satisfying both in its harmonic and rhythmic sophistication.

The second set, like the first, featured mostly original material, including Deniz’ elegant “Marta,” Wilson’s bubbling, odd-metre “Bring it Back,” and “Tarnished,” another Wilson tune, on which Anderson-Bowes took an outstanding solo, displaying a well-developed sense of phrasing and a strong command of the bass’s upper register. It is a credit to the band’s maturity that such a relatively quiet moment was given the same attention as anything else on the program, and that the resulting solo – articulate, melodic, and displaying a clear sense of direction – was just as engaging as the more bombastic solos of the saxophone and piano.    

What emerged, during the performance, is that one of JabFung’s great strengths is its attention to detail, and many of the evening’s most compelling moments were the result of airtight shifts in texture, time signature and dynamic level. There is always a risk, at the performances of the young and the technically gifted, that excitement can lead to high-volume monotony; happily, this was far from the case during the quartet’s show, which recalled, at certain points, the telepathy of Ari Hoenig’s small ensembles, and the joyful reciprocity of Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade’s trio playing.

Nowhere was this attention to detail more evident than during the evening’s final number, an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Boo Boo’s Birthday,” which toggled back and forth from energetic up-tempo to medium swing, and which, in the wrong hands, could have easily become a repetitive, predictable blowing vehicle. Instead, the time-feel changes allowed the group to showcase its superb dynamic command, and for Deniz and Wilson to execute some of the most interesting (and fun) solos of the night. It should come as no surprise, perhaps, that a group co-led by a bassist and a drummer might prioritize group interactivity over individual heroism, but the result – an absorbing performance, equal parts serious and ebullient – seems well worth the effort.

JabFung performed at The Rex in Toronto on December 18 and 19, 2017.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir performing Handel's Messiah on Wednesday, December 13, 2017, directed by Ivars Taurins. Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.Every year in mid-December, audiences gather at churches and concert halls throughout North America to hear performances of Handel’s Messiah, the 1741 masterpiece that, although written for Lent, has become synonymous with the Christmas season. First performed in Toronto in December 1857, it was also the first work performed in Massey Hall when it opened in 1894, with hundreds of singers and players and thousands of attendees.

Given the tremendous number of performances offered to modern audiences, it is not uncommon to find truncated and modified interpretations of Handel’s oratorio, often billed as the “Christmas portion” or the “Easter portion,” with the occasional hodgepodge medley of movements thrown in (hello, “Hallelujah” chorus!). As you may have noticed in The WholeNote’s 2017 Messiah preview, there are also a number of ‘outside the box’ interpretations taking place this year, from arias-only concerts to electronic mashups, ensuring that every type of listener has access to Handel’s music, even if only in part.

Despite the temptation to go window shopping through these myriad options, there is something profoundly satisfying about hearing Messiah in its entirety, performed in its unabridged, three-hour original form. Tafelmusik does this every year in what is now an annual tradition, culminating in their sing-along Messiah led by Herr Handel (a costumed and in-character Ivars Taurins) himself, a massive (and massively fun) concert that gives choral aficionados from across Toronto the opportunity to be a part of the action.

An old adage says that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and Tafelmusik’s Wednesday performance of Messiah, led by Ivars Taurins, proved that to be true. A number of years have passed since I went to a live concert of Handel’s oratorio, in which time I had the privilege to study Historically Informed Performance and work with a number of renowned experts in the field. My early music brain, much like the Grinch’s heart, has grown three sizes since my first Messiah concert, and this return to the work as a concert piece was one of the highlights of my musical year.

From the opening orchestral chords to the closing Amen, Taurins’ interpretation, much like his style of leadership, was light, agile and energetic. The Sinfonia, a relatively brief French overture, was delightfully precise, and the relatively quick tempi taken throughout the entire oratorio ensured that there was dramatic continuity and musical flow from beginning to end. The dance-inspired forms which dominate Baroque music shone through, the essential gestures so well-articulated that I could see every slur, bow mark, and over-dotted note in my mind’s eye, a remarkable feat of focus and endurance on the part of the performers that brought every note to life. Pauses between movements were kept to a minimum: the opening chord of a recitative and aria immediately followed the conclusion of a chorus, the next chorus following closely behind, which not only maintained the narrative flow of Messiah but prevented the concert from extending into its fourth hour.

If Taurins’ conception of Messiah, with its obsessively worked-out details and sheer velocity, increased the demands on performers, it was not noticeable that evening. Soloists, chorus and orchestra met the challenge head-on, not once sounding insecure or uncertain. Indeed, the majority of those onstage have played and sung Messiah many times before, their expertise adding a level of surety and confidence that was not lost on this listener. Melismatic passages flew through the air with fleetness, fugal textures were clearly audible, and every musical aspect implied in the score was manifested in marvelous sound.

Within this overall standard of excellence, a few moments deserve special mention, the first being the on-the-spot adaptations made by the singers to accommodate ailing countertenor soloist James Laing who, being ill, was ‘replaced’ in multiple places. Soprano soloist Joanne Lunn sung the entirety of “He shall feed His flock,” thereby turning the soprano/alto duet into a range-testing solo, and choral countertenor Simon Honeyman saved the day by taking over for the magnificent alto/tenor duet “O death, where is thy sting?” Despite these impromptu adaptations (one of the perils of live performance!) the level of musicality was uncompromisingly high. The other (less nail-biting) highlights included what might be the best “Rejoice greatly” I’ve heard, a roof-raising “The trumpet shall sound” sung by baritone Brett Polegato, and an “And He shall purify” that showcased the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir at its finest, the challenging melismatic passages dashed off with apparent ease. (Of course, the “Hallelujah” chorus was expertly done as well, the audience standing at attention, some smiling at their immediate recognition of this famed moment in the context of its much larger whole.)

Regardless of whether you prefer your Messiah in whole or in part, performed in historical style, arranged in electronic modernity, or sung as in the “good old days” by a massive choir and orchestra, I encourage you to take time this year to explore this grand oratorio. Handel’s score is uncompromisingly delightful from beginning to end and we are fortunate to have ensembles such as Tafelmusik here in Toronto, consistently delivering delightful and excellent interpretations. It is rare to hear a live performance that is virtually flawless from beginning to end, much less when it involves three hours of constantly-changing music, but that is what we were treated to on Wednesday night – a marvelously nuanced overview of a quintessential Baroque masterpiece.

Tafelmusik presented Handel’s Messiah from December 13 to 16 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, followed by a December 17 sing-along Messiah at Toronto’s Massey Hall. For information on upcoming performances of Handel’s Messiah, please visit our listings.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

(L-R) Amira Casar as Annella, Michael Stulhbarg as Mr. Perlman, Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio. Photo credit: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, c/o Sony Pictures Classics.The third film in director Luca Guadagnino’s trilogy about desire, Call Me By Your Name wears its sensuousness on its sleeve without going over the edge into sensory overload. The visceral attraction of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) to 24-year-old graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an organic outgrowth of the younger man’s sensitivity to all things sensorial. Set in Northern Italy during the hot summer of 1983 and based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name places Elio’s first same-sex affair in the context of an idyllic family villa with a pair of intellectually committed, compassionate, understanding parents.

Elio’s art historian/archaeologist father (the quietly hedonistic Michael Stuhlbarg) and translator mother (the elegant Amira Casar) welcome Oliver into their home for a six-week internship, a home that also serves as an axis for neighbours and friends. Elio’s sexual energy, already occupied with his girlfriend (the winsome Esther Garrel, whose director father Philippe and actor brother Louis are major talents in the French film world), begins to be focused sporadically and haltingly on Oliver. Guadagnino captures these moments with great sensitivity, aided by James Ivory’s insightful script and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s sun-dappled cinematography. Ivory, known for his directorial chops in such films as A Room with a View and Howards End, has adapted Aciman’s novel with great care; Mukdeeprom, fondly remembered for his camerawork on the award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, brings that same evocative eye to Guadagnino’s film. Chalamet and Hammer are superb, realizing their characters’ relationship of nuanced anticipation and shaded desire.

Music is intrinsic to Call Me By Your Name, both as a key plot/character point and in its varied use on the soundtrack. Right from the moment when John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction jolts the opening credits with an infectious burst of pianistic energy, we have a sense that Guadagnino’s ear will be almost as crucial to the action as his eye. Not only will Hallelujah Junction return to enliven the proceedings later on, Adams’ Phrygian Gates makes a quizzical point and his China Gates contributes a sunny mood. The wispy romanticism of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s piano adds atmosphere; so does Frank Glazer’s austere take on Satie’s Sonatine bureaucratique and Valéria Szervánszky and Ronald Cavaye’s excerpt from Ravel’s Ma mère l'Oye. The beauty and warmth of André Laplante’s playing of Ravel’s Barque sur l’ocean from Miroirs deepen Elio and Oliver’s bicycle ride through the countryside.

Timothée Chalamet as Elio. Photo credit: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, c/o Sony Pictures Classics.Elio is an amateur pianist and music copyist who also dabbles on the guitar; he performs Bach’s Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother on both. In another scene, for a transfixed Oliver, Elio plays the familiar “Zion hört die Wächter singen,” from Bach’s Cantata BWV140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme as if he were Busoni channelling Liszt’s version of the piece. (Alessio Bax covers it on the soundtrack.)

Popular music also figures in Guadagnino’s vision. When Oliver dances with a girl in a club to Giorgio Moroder and Joe Esposito’s Lady, Lady, Lady it evokes jealousy in Elio; the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way is a favourite of Oliver’s; Loredana Bertè’s J’adore Venise is of the times. Three songs by Sufjan Stevens, including two that Guadagnino commissioned for the film, comment directly on it. As the director said (via thefilmstage.com) when Call Me By Your Name played at the New York Film Festival in October 2017: “I like in cinema when you have an ominous narrator. It’s something that fascinates me a lot, and in fact, I wanted that here. In a way the narrator became Sufjan Stevens with his new songs, made contemporary, about our story…I felt Sufjan’s lyricism, both in the voice and the lyrics itself, had some beautiful elusiveness on one hand, on the other hand poignancy that [was] really [resonant].”

Call Me By Your Name is currently playing at Cineplex Varsity & VIP.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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