Evan Winther in Holly Small's Cheap Sunglasses. Photo credit: David Hou.On November 16, the highly-regarded DanceWorks celebrated (in a three night run) its 40th anniversary, on the main stage of Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

Having emerged out of the York University Dance Department in the late 1970s and subsequently merging with other urban and metropolitan Toronto influences, this innovative company helped stimulate, contemporize and change the face of dance – and music composed or re-imagined for dance – in Canada. This special production presented a combination of world premieres and re-stagings of past successes, featuring both past company members and dancers still in the first blush of their careers. The packed, sold-out house was rife with a veritable who’s who of the Canadian dance community.

For any creative enterprise to reach the age of 40 is not only a magnificent accomplishment, but a statement of incredible commitment and devotion from the artists and administrators involved. Johanna Householder is the co-founder of DanceWorks, as well as a performance artist and professor at OCAD University, and Mimi Beck serves as dance coordinator. “This selection of works is rooted in the past, celebrates the present and invites hope for the future,” said Beck of the event. “The five choreographers have premiered and performed pieces in DanceWorks seasons – dating back to 1981. Each has a strong artistic vision that supports a unique, creative practice. All are still active in their craft.”

All five pieces were presented with integrity, technical skill and imagination, along with integral music and soundscapes that stirred the soul, heart and mind. First to take the stage was an exceptional world premiere titled The Night Journey, featuring veteran Learie McNicolls as both choreographer and single performer. The ghostly ‘live’ projections, as well as the eerie design concept, came from the mind of Judith Sandiford, and the entire piece was inspired by an album of solo, six-string bass playing by Wilbert de Joode, a cutting-edge, a masterful musician based in Amsterdam. The free, luminous soundtrack fed the performance, which fearlessly explored the true nature of the soul, as well as the plastic and subjective nature of time and the ability to transcend space/time through shamanic focus on the multi-layered nature of the “now.”

Jennifer Dahl and Robert Glumbek in Learie McNicolls' Dancing With the Ghost. Photo credit: John Lauener.Dancing With the Ghost was a glorious pas de deux that initially appeared in 1995. This soulful and seamless piece was originally performed with a quartet of dancers, but was presented here as a compelling duet, featuring the lithe and beautiful Jennifer Dahl and the agile and sinuous Robert Glumbek. Learie McNicolls acted as a choreographer here, as well as the composer of the “soundscape,” which included funky, steamy elements of Dance Hall motifs – adding to the already viscous eroticism and ‘push me-pull you’ nature of the piece.

A joyous delight was the multi-sensory Cheap Sunglasses. First presented in 1981, choreographer Holly Small was thrilled to reunite with composer Robert W. Stevenson. This piece is quite simply as relevant now as it was at its inception. Created with a four-person “Greek Chorus” that uttered, shouted and whispered both guttural and sibilant vocal sounds (in English and Japanese), this number ruthlessly examined youthful egotism and the breakdown of communication exemplified by shallow encounters, tinged with artifice and transitory desire.

The world premiere of Amalgam was the brilliant reboot of a 20-year-old acclaimed presentation entitled “Firedance” that reunited the original kathak/flamenco duo of Joanna de Souza and Esmeralda Enrique. The stirring live music (by Ian de Souza, Caroline Plante, Santosh Naidu and Maryem Toller) featured an incredible cross-cultural quartet, which fueled this dynamic dance-trek into the deep cultural connections of the music and dance of ancient India, as well as the music and dance of the “Gaetanos” – marginalized Spanish Roma peoples who may have originated in India, or possibly Egypt. The performance and commitment of these beautiful and accomplished dancers and musical artists was simply breathtaking.

Denise Fujiwara's Moving Parts. Photo credit: John LauenerCompleting this thoroughly stunning evening was the world premiere of the complex production Moving Parts, featuring choreography and direction by Denise Fujiwara of Fujiwara Dance Inventions. The exquisite musical direction and arrangements were created by the talented Phil Strong and Laurel MacDonald. New perspectives on four “pop” tunes comprised the musical score of this extended piece, including the evocative 1983 hit, Mad World (Roland Orzabal); Michael Franti’s Hey World (2009); last year’s Quiet by MILCK and a choral-infused arrangement of Parachute Club’s 1983 smash hit, Rise Up.

DanceWorks’ ongoing beautiful message of love, oneness, joy and hope was illustrated with every dance move, and with every vocal nuance of the fine choir and soloists. The audience returned that joy with an extended – and well-deserved) – standing ovation.

DanceWorks’ 40th Anniversary Celebration took place at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto from November 16 to 18, 2017.

Lesley Mitchell-Clarke is a media consultant, therapist and music and arts writer based in Toronto and NYC.

A still from the 2016 documentary Conduct! Every Move Counts.Filming the work of an orchestra is not an easy job. The television series Mozart in the Jungle, about a fictional orchestra, focuses on a handful of individuals to tell the broader story. Dutch documentary Around the World in 50 Concerts (dir. Heddy Honigmann, 2014) follows the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on tour and looks at the orchestra’s work in a roundabout way, by talking to music lovers about how they experience the music they hear. While both creations have much to recommend them, neither is quite as exciting as the orchestral music-making itself—and neither exactly capture the contingency, the heartache and the unpredictability of a career in music.

Conduct! Every Move Counts, screened in Toronto on Tuesday, November 21 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema as part of the cinema and the Royal Conservatory’s Music on Film series, made me think of these earlier examples because this 2016 German documentary about the Georg Solti Conductors’ Competition comes closer to both the glory and the gore. It zooms in on a few candidates (I presume the team interviewed many more of the 24 conductors selected for the 2008 competition before deciding who to follow), and while the winner did turn out to be among them, the documentary centres on the “losing” candidates and their personalities and musicianship, which they have in bucket-loads. The winner too comes across as an interesting character – Shizuo Kuwahara, who at first stands out for his bizarre arm gestures and grimacing, but who eventually convinces the orchestra (of the Frankfurt Opera), the jury, the audience on the final night as well as the doc viewers of the seriousness of his approach.

Still, he remains in the background. Foreground is occupied by the then little-known, now established conductors Alondra de la Parra (who doesn’t make it to the second round, and who in the cab on the way back to the airport says on camera: “I shouldn’t have done it. I already have my orchestra, I already conduct – I really didn’t need this”), James Lowe, Andreas Hotz, and the “dark horse” figure in this film, the very young Aziz Shokhakimov. Shokhakimov and Lowe become fast friends and the camera captures them a few times playing the “guess the symphony by my hand movement” game.

The director, Götz Schauder, managed to access and film the jury’s pre-selection of candidates, the rounds of the competition which are not open to the public, jury deliberations, the announcement of results, and of course, the final, public round at the Frankfurt Opera. On the candidates’ side, in addition to the on-camera interviews, there was access to their hotel rooms, prep time, off time, waiting time and the feedback conversations – including one particularly memorable one in which the orchestra’s first violinist tries to explain to Shokhakimov that he should try to be less cocky and listen more, since he just couldn’t fix a problem in a particular section in rehearsal.

This documentary is not afraid to go into details: there is a lot of useful footage on the nitty-gritty of the work of conducting and playing in an orchestra. There are also some surprises along the way, but after all is said and done, the reasoning of the jury remains looking fairly arbitrary, or mysterious at best. Competitions are there to drum up media interest and the excitement of the public, and to give a boost to the careers of musicians who don’t have connections or a big agency behind them. At the same time, competitions can be as arbitrary as awards and auditions, dependent on multiple other factors besides candidate’s musicianship and potential.

Conductor Tania Miller.In the post-screening Q&A at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, conductor Tania Miller talked about her own experiences with competitions – and as a young conductor, she’s tried some, including one that was won by the then still little-known Gustavo Dudamel. The Music on Film Series MC, the Royal Conservatory’s Mervon Mehta, asked her about her take on why there are still few women making a career in conducting, and she said she perceived three main reasons. First, the business side of a career in classical music: agencies, labels and media boost what they know and what’s been profitable so far, and that will be men. Second, some of the women conductors just out of school will not feel confident enough faced with what looks like an awe-inducing, largely male monolith – the classical music canon and the people whose job is to run it and write about it – and will need a confidence boost which may not come from anywhere. ‘Well, if nobody else is willing to believe in me, they must be right and I must be wrong,’ is the kind of thinking that may make a woman conductor change careers. And third, Miller said, is in part a matter of choice. It’s not an easy road to take. Alondra de la Parra says at one point in the documentary that she is studying scores from early morning to late in the evening, “and I believe her,” said Miller. “It is actually like that.” Miller went on to say that, if you want a family as an aspiring conductor, you must be extremely lucky to have an accommodating partner who is willing to do a lion’s share of child-rearing and relationship maintenance.

Greatest laugh of the evening? Mervon Mehta describing seasoned orchestra players as, on principle, “cranky bastards.” “Not the Royal Conservatory Orchestra,” interjected Miller. “Yes, not them, because they’re still students,” said Mehta to another wave of audience laughter.

The Music on Film series continues on January 30 with Strad Style, a documentary about an Ohio-based, Stradivari-obsessed violin maker, and February 27 with a bio-doc dedicated to Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa. Full program for Music on Film can be found here.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto.

Jake Epstein (L) and Sara Farb, singing a final duet as Springsteen and Dylan on November 14. Photo credit: Joanna Akoyl.How have I never been to an UnCovered concert until this point? How could I have missed that this series is right up my alley? Now a signature annual event for The Musical Stage Company, the UnCovered series makes a point of investigating and unearthing the stories told by popular songs and, via exploration with individual performers alongside artistic director Mitchell Markus and music director Reza Jacobs, creates new, explicitly theatrical musical arrangements to bring those stories out.

Every year, different singer/songwriters are chosen to be featured. This year they fell upon Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, a choice that led to a revelatory, moving, celebratory evening of both their and our times.

The evening began with Sara Farb as Bob Dylan. Calmly, with a quiet, almost disconcerting intensity, she came onstage to talk to us, slipping in and out of a cappella snippets of song before gradually moving into a full-throated performance of “Mr Tambourine Man.” It set the tempo and tone of the evening: a window into an unexpectedly self-deprecating, rather dark-humoured singer-songwriter denying to us that he had any deep purpose in the writing of his songs, that he was not, as some insisted, “the spokesman of his age.”

Throughout the first half of the evening, Farb (as Dylan) continued this theme, talking to us between songs performed by others, often watching from an armchair ensconced in the territory of the (magnificent) band. He continued to deny his importance until near the end of this first half, when he expressed the hope that someone might be found to carry on “the work” – work that clearly, through the performance of the songs, proved wrong his insistence that he wrote without any socio-political purpose.

In Part Two, Jake Epstein as Bruce Springsteen took over the narrative duties, as his own story overlapped with Dylan's – the young Springsteen inspired to write songs and “make a difference” in the same way, but along that journey having to fight being compared to Dylan, and create his own identity and style. Like Farb as Dylan, Epstein was completely believable as his character, embodying Springsteen’s personality and his clear approach to involving the audience in the concert experience – a more joyful, lighthearted approach than Dylan’s, with songs with just as much weight and anger and purpose, yet also filled with longing and hope.

The superb company of singers joyfully shared the songs with us, excavating the stories and bringing them to life with subtle detail. Melissa O'Neill, with her rough, dark velvet sound, made magic first in Dylan's “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and then again in the classic Springsteen “The River,” making the iconic character of Mary live before us in a moving partial duet with Epstein’s Springsteen. Brent Carver proved again why he is at the top of the list of interpreters of song, imperceptibly gathering up all the audience into his arms to wring our hearts with a quiet exploration of “Knocking on Heaven's Door” that built to an apocalyptic passionate finish. There was also the joyful release of full rock and roll power in Dylan's “Like A Rolling Stone,” with Farb saying to the band “now play loud” and singing full out – and in the second half, Andrew Penner backed up by Hailey Gillis and Arinea Hermans blasting out a joyously rocking rendition of “Born to Run.”

All was tied up at the end, with Dylan and Springsteen meeting backstage on the occasion of  Dylan being awarded the Kennedy Centre Honours – Dylan asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?”, Springsteen replying, “Are you kidding, you have already done it” – and the two of them joining in a quietly powerful duet of “The Times They Are A Changin’,” an arrangement that in its subtlety and complexity summarized all we had heard: difficult times are still here, and we still need music and song that connects with our world, that tells its stories and that asks the questions and speaks the truths that not everyone wants to hear.

I could easily write several pages more about all the talent onstage and in the full creative team: Jackie Richardson’s soul-inspired rocking of the house with a powerful yet soft, all-encompassing “Forever Young,” Hailey Gillis and Arinea Hermans, who did excellent work as the backup singers and giving us exquisite harmonies of notes and emotions in “Make You Feel My Love,” Jake Epstein again showing a wide range, from an aching performance of Dylan's “Don't Think Twice/It's All Right” in the first half to creating Springsteen before our eyes in the second.

This is an unmissable show and series – and I am already looking forward to the next one.

The Musical Stage Company’s present “UnCovered: Dylan & Springsteen” at Koerner Hall in Toronto, November 14 to 16.

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.

cassettes100BANNERThe original performance of Cassettes 100, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1971. Photo c/o Andrea Mapili.At a performance in Toronto’s Distillery District this Sunday, over a hundred people will come together to experience community, and community listening, in a monumental way.

Cassettes 100, a 30-minute music/movement piece taking place at the Distillery’s Young Centre on November 19, is, in some ways, exactly what it sounds like: a set of 100 pre-recorded cassette tracks, all played at once. However, it’s also more than that. The piece, first created and presented by late Filipino composer and ethnomusicologist José Maceda in 1971, requires 100 ‘musicians’ to weave their way through and around the audience – each of them carrying one of those 100 cassette players, playing recordings of indigenous Philippine instruments, voices and natural sounds. This performance will be its Canadian premiere.

José Maceda was a leader in the field of ethnomusicology, renowned for his field recordings of the Indigenous music of the Philippines. His granddaughter, artist, movement and awareness coach Andrea Mapili, and theatre artist Byron Abalos, are behind this Toronto performance of Maceda’s work.

José Maceda with field recording equipment. Photo c/o Andrea Mapili.“I’ve always been curious about my grandfather’s work,” explains Mapili. “This January, [Byron and I] were both in the Philippines for the kickoff of Maceda 100, the yearlong celebration of his life and work in honour of [what would have been his 100th birthday]. We were a part of a Cassettes 100 performance there, and we were blown away – and we just thought, ‘we really need to bring this to Canada.’”

The Toronto performance will be a collaborative effort between the University of the Philippines’ Center for Ethnomusicology and Soulpepper Theatre Company’s 2017 Shen Development Festival – a free one-day event dedicated to celebrating theatre, dance and musical works by artists of Asian heritage.

The team needs 100 volunteers to make the project happen; so far, they’re at 70, and counting. “We have more people signing up every day,” says Abalos. “We really tried our best to reach out to many different communities: the academic community, the theatre community, the dance community, the Filipino community in Toronto, and the new music community as well.”

The volunteers will be coached on how to move throughout the space in a rehearsal the morning of the show, have lunch, and then start the performance. They’ll be separated into teams, each with its own distinct choreography, and move through the theatre lobby, stairwells and balconies – creating shifting sonic textures as they go.

“We’re building a soundscape – a moving soundscape,” Mapili says. “That’s really what the piece allows us to do.”

For Mapili and Abalos, Cassettes 100 sits at the juncture of several monumental moments in time – the Maceda 100 centenary celebrations, Canada 150, and the development of Soulpepper’s Shen series. And for both of them, reimagining this piece in a way that makes it transnational, integrative and inclusive has been crucial.

“My grandfather was really interested in technology as a tool for humanism and humanitarianism,” says Mapili. “So it was very important to him to use as low-tech equipment as possible. That’s why we’re actually using .mp3 players for this performance, as opposed to cell phones or even cassettes [like those used in the premiere]. It’s the most low-tech, accessible, cheap-as-possible technology within the current, modern context.”

“And I think it’s important for us to have this moment where we can gather a lot of people to celebrate the launch of this festival,” adds Abalos. “It’s a way to call in people from other communities, so that we’re not so siloed. So that it’s not like, “here’s an Asian Canadian festival; it’s for Asian Canadians’. No – this is a festival for everyone. And it will be a chance for people from Soulpepper’s [audience base], who are used to coming to that space, to be a part of something that is from a different tradition other than the Western, European tradition of theatre, dance and art.”

“We’re trying to highlight difference in people,” says Mapili. “We’re trying to unite through diversity. And I think that that’s a huge hope for Canada right [now]. We hope that even though everybody’s different, we can still come together as a community. And I hope that by seeing the size and the scope of this project – 100 people, almost like a microcosm of Toronto – that people will leave with the knowledge that connection through difference is possible.”

Cassettes 100 will be performed at the launch of Soulpepper’s 2017 Shen Development Festival on Sunday, November 19 at 1pm, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. For event details or information about volunteering, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1185305688237509/.

Soulpepper’s Shen Development Festival is a free day-long event on November 19 featuring the work of Asian and Asian-Canadian performers and artists. For details, visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/shen-festival.

Ivar Taurins as “Herr Handel,” at a Tafelmusik Messiah performance. Photo credit: Gary Beechey.Ivar Taurins as “Herr Handel,” at a Tafelmusik Messiah performance. Photo credit: Gary Beechey.A palpable change takes place in the atmosphere the day after Halloween. Creeping ahead in our calendars with ever greater urgency while we nurse our M&M-induced sugar hangovers, grim reapers are suddenly replaced with gingerbread lattes, skulls with seasonal spices, and the tricks and treats cleared out to make way for trees and tinsel. Commercial segments are suddenly comprised of barely palatable (and occasionally downright awful) adaptations of carols, jingles and other seasonal songs, which have already made me buy three unnecessary pairs of pants and a shirt…Fa la la la la, la la la la!

And at the same time as all this takes place around us, our mailboxes are inundated with invitations to holiday parties and weddings. The beauty and romanticism of a winter wedding, freshly-fallen snow draping evergreens and wood-burning chalet fireplaces, makes jingle-bell time a swell time to get married in a one-horse sleigh.

If you find yourself needing a festive boost at the end of all this running around, be sure to catch another holiday tradition: one of the Greater Toronto Area’s plethora of performances of Handel’s Messiah. Here are six Messiah performances that we’re looking forward to this year – arranged in an appropriately matrimonial manner.

Something Old

Messiah is a classic work, and each year it receives numerous top-notch interpretations. Here are two ensembles that will undoubtedly bring the audience to its feet with rousing performances of that legendary ‘Hallelujah!’ chorus.

Who: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
When: December 18 to 20, 22 to 23; see www.tso.ca for concert times.
What to bring: Kleenex – I challenge you to make it through an entire Messiah without tearing up at least once.

Who: Grand Philharmonic Choir
When: December 9, 7:30pm
What to bring: See above.

Something New

Handel wrote Messiah for a traditional ensemble of orchestra and chorus, but not everyone wants to hear that style of classically-performed classical music. For those who like their mulled wine old and their bottles new, here’s the Messiah for you.

Who: Soundstreams
When: December 4 to 6, 8pm
What to bring: An open mind. Nominated for the Classical:NEXT 2017 Innovation Award, Electric Messiah promises to revamp Handel’s holiday classic through a plugged-in and completely immersive musical experience.

Something Borrowed

For those whose attention spans and renal systems can’t Handel (ha!) a full-length performance of Messiah, here are two groups that provide concerts of selections and excerpts, hand-picked from the score to provide a satisfying concert experience without the extended duration of Handel’s original tome.

Who: Pax Christi Chorale
When: December 2, 4pm
What to bring: A festive sweater, the brighter and uglier the better.

Who: Porgiamor Chamber Concerts
When: November 22, 7:30pm
What to bring: An affinity for art song. This interesting concert removes the orchestral and choral parts from Handel’s score, presenting all the solo recitatives, arias, and duets with piano accompaniment.

Something Blue

For diehard singers and do-it-yourselfers, participating in a sing-along Messiah is as much of an annual tradition as baking cookies, stuffing a turkey and decorating the tree. With a national study recently finding there are more choral singers in Canada than hockey players, perhaps we’ll soon find sing-along Messiahs on TSN 15, receiving coverage alongside a curling tournament or two!

Who: Tafelmusik
When: December 17, 2pm
What to bring: Your favourite dog-eared Messiah score. Bonus points if you have the Bärenreiter edition – it’s blue!

Stay informed about these and dozens of other local performances of Handel’s Messiah by checking our listings online and in the upcoming December issue of the magazine.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

23316828 10155724437963815 8702082761833099016 nBANNERThe Vancouver Symphony Orchestra welcomes composer Charlotte Bray (standing, left), during a concert including her music at the ISCM 2017 festival.Of the 30 or more concerts that took place in Vancouver during ISCM 2017, the annual festival presented by the International Society for Contemporary Music, only a few involved orchestras. Naturally, due to the greater costs of larger musical forces, the majority of concerts in the festival were for smaller ensembles. It was, nonetheless, impressive that the organizers of ISCM 2017 Vancouver were able to include several orchestras: the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and the Victoria Symphony. And then there was the Vertical Orchestra, definitely not your conventional classical orchestra – but more about that in a moment.

On November 5, day four of the week-long ISCM festival, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) and music director Bramwell Tovey presented a concert of Canadian and international works at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre. VSO composer-in-residence Jocelyn Morlock introduced the evening, which began with the premiere of a re-write of her own 2015 composition, That Tingling Sensation. She said that her work was inspired by “that fascinating human experience of being physically thrilled by music.”

“I think that this is why people love music – that visceral reaction to beauty, to energy, to lovely or powerful sound,” she explained. “I've named my piece out of love for this ideal, and for the kaleidoscope and electrifying palette of sounds the orchestra can create.” Whatever prompted the re-write of the piece, Morlock seemed to get everything right: her ten-minute composition scintillated with energy and orchestral colour.

Every ISCM concert contains works that are chosen in advance by an international jury. At the VSO concert, this was the case with UK composer Charlotte Bray's brilliant composition, At the Speed of Stillness. Bray explained that the imagery that prompted the music was a poem by the surrealist poet Dora Maar. “The energy, sense of endless movement, and exhaustion encapsulated in the poem permeates the music,” she wrote in the program notes. “Important also is the play of paradoxical ideas: the contrary notion that something moving quicker than the human eye detects can appear to be motionless.” Bray read Maar's poem, and then Tovey and the orchestra immediately dazzled the audience with her powerful musical depiction, revelling in colourful and inventive orchestration and an unstoppable pulsing drive.

German composer Friedrich Heinrich Kern's Indigo was another jury-selected composition at the VSO concert. The work had been commissioned by the German chemical company, BASF, to celebrate the restoration of a concert hall in Ludwigshafen, Kern's hometown. Kern said he intended the work to exploit the acoustics of the hall. However, Kern shared another impetus for the work – namely the connection of BASF to the creation of synthetic indigo dye in the late 19th century. In fact, the celebratory nature of the work was uplifting in a broadly stated sense, and yet another take on colourful orchestration.

A highlight of the evening was the collaborative composition Pressed for Time, a sitar concerto jointly composed by the soloist, Mohamed Assani, from Pakistan and Vancouver composer John Oliver. Oliver and Assani managed to create an attractive, effective work that was very well received – a true meeting of Hindustani classical music and Western orchestral composition, and a wonderful example of community-building.

Later in the festival on November 7, an orchestra of a very different nature performed at the Atrium of the Vancouver Downtown Public Library: the Redshift Vertical Orchestra, named after the way that Redshift organizes ensembles to play spread out throughout the seven levels of the library space. The November 7 show, titled “21st-Century Guitars,” involved seven world premieres for guitar ensemble, performed by what composer and organizer Jordan Nobles described to me as “18 of the most innovative and respected guitarists working in Canada today.”

According to Nobles, “the Vertical Orchestra brings music into the public sphere with works addressing important themes and ensemble configurations tailored to unique architectural spaces.” Nobles told me this was the seventh time that he and his Redshift organization had staged such site-specific events.

As the audience entered the enormous atrium, the 18 electric guitarists were already positioned high up in alcoves lining the outer wall of the library atrium, tuning up their gear. The air was filled with random frequencies, exactly as one might hear in a conventional hall where a classical orchestra is preparing to play. But in this case, the sounds of 18 electric guitarists were sending signals that bounced around the reflective surfaces of the space, producing a sort of audio halo that was at once chaotic and mesmerising.

At the appointed time, all fell silent, and we were welcomed to the performance by Nobles, whose piece would be the first of the seven on the program. At Nobles' signal, the music began.

From composition to composition, each composer's work played with the acoustics of the space, stringing a succession of contrasting sonic adventures with pieces by Nobles, Lisa Cay Miller, Alfredo Santa Ana, Rita Ueda, James Maxwell, Benton Roark and Tim Brady – all Canadian composers. The effect of all this cascading, reflecting, enveloping sound was magical – and made the Redshift Vertical Orchestra’s performance an ISCM festival highlight.

The 2017 edition of the ISCM festival took place in Vancouver from November 2 to 8. This report is part of a series of articles on thewholenote.com on ISCM 2017 and related music in the Vancouver area this month.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in performance at the savannah Music Festival in 2011. Photo ℅ Frank Stewart, the Savannah Music Festival, via npr.org.Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in performance at the savannah Music Festival in 2011. Photo ℅ Frank Stewart, the Savannah Music Festival, via npr.org.“Dearest Mozart,

Warm greetings from across the globe! I am wrapping up my time-travels here in Canada and find myself in a city called Toronto, in the province of Ontario – it’s quite cold for November, but the town is delightful, and my stay has been nothing if not pleasant. This place is altogether incredible; there are enormous buildings, all of them new, great and majestic churches, and millions of people living in this one municipality!

Do you remember our old colleague who built you that piano a while back? (Not Schantz, I know you didn’t like his instruments very much, even though Herr Haydn thought otherwise!) I mean Herr Gabriel Anton Walter, of course. Well, you won’t believe what I discovered this week – a virtual replica of one of his own instruments here, 7,000 millaires away from our beloved Austria! Apparently, the Canadians copied his design almost exactly with this particular piano, which is housed by the University here. [Ed: the fortepiano used for this performance was built by Virginia-based builders Thomas and Barbara Wolf in 1997 and maintained by Barbara Wolf for the duration of these concerts.]

I found and heard this piano in a beautiful old church, named after the Holy Trinity and St. Paul, and it was played in the most remarkable way by Herr Kristian Bezuidenhout, a fellow European (by way of the Dutch colonies, but that is another story) from London, England. The instrument was mellow and warm, beautiful in appearance and tone, a little auditory snapshot of our homeland here in this wondrously wintry metropolis. [Ed: The ‘Mozart’s Piano’ concerts, presented by Tafelmusik, took place at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre in Jeanne Lamon Hall, from November 9 to 12, 2017.]

You will be delighted to know, dear Mozart, that Herr Bezuidenhout was accompanied by Toronto’s own Tafelmusik orchestra and together they played an entire concert of our Austrian and German music. They included one of your ‘Viennese’ symphonies, a piano concerto (from those Lenten concerts you gave in Vienna a while back) and your rondo – the one in A minor – as well as two symphonies written by our old colleagues Johann Christian Bach (also from London!) and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It was terrific to hear their music again; apparently Tafelmusik obtained their performing parts for Carl Philipp Emanuel’s little work from across the continent – on loan from a library in California – part of the United States, the country immediately south of Canada. How wonderful it is that our little tunes are now being discovered and played across the world!

Herr Bezuidenhout is a striking figure, immensely poised and possessing quite the aura onstage, and he led the group with a vigour that rivals our young Beethoven. (His hair is considerably more restrained, though, and his wardrobe much nicer!) He played with love and passion, and I would be hard-pressed to find a single flaw with his leadership, technique, or performance. His interpretation of your Rondo would bring you particular joy, for he imbued it with freedom and sensuality (but always tastefully) – and your concerto was played the fastest I’ve ever heard it! Even the Emperor himself would have risen from his seat in excitement at the end of it.

The hall was packed to the rafters (I was in the balcony and almost didn’t get a seat – they sell tickets to their concerts here!) and people were most approving of your music – it received three rounds of applause at the end of the evening. All in all, the concert was performed in a way that expressed both the simple joys of your music and the complexity of your ideas, always balanced, nuanced, and, I dare say, virtuosic enough that one might think the players were fellow Austrians! On the whole, my dear Mozart, they did a fine job of bringing our music to life and I think you would be immensely pleased with the results.

I return to Austria soon, with some regret, but I must get back and resume my work at the publishing house where we will soon print Herr Haydn’s last collection of string quartets.

Give my warmest regards to your sister, your lovely wife and child, and all those whom I have sorely missed while on my journeys. I look forward to reuniting with you all upon my return. Until then I remain

Your faithful and true friend,

Carlo Artaria* ”

*Artaria & Co. was founded as a publishing house for art and maps by Carlo Artaria (1747–1808) in 1770 in Vienna, then the capital of the Habsburg Monarchy. The company expanded its business to include music in 1778. Its most important early collaboration was with the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, who published more than 300 works through Artaria, including many of the composer's string quartets (such as the Opus 33), which were a popular seller. The value of Haydn's works helped push Artaria to the top of the music publishing world in the late 18th century. This important relationship helped Artaria secure the rights to the works of other important classical composers such as Luigi Boccherini and, most notably, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. -Wikipedia

Tafelmusik presented the concert “Mozart’s Piano,” featuring fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, November 9 to 12, 2017 in Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The Semer Ensemble in performance in Toronto, on November 8, 2017. Photo credit: Avital Zemer.The Semer Ensemble in performance in Toronto, on November 8, 2017. Photo credit: Avital Zemer.The nature of music is inherently temporary. Play a note and it’s gone – a disruption of air, a few sine waves released into the beyond. Fire, flood, an ill-tempered or poorly-worded review, changing tastes – all these can render music obsolete, stricken from history and never to be heard again. Whether Bach’s lost church cantatas, untranscribed folk tunes within an atrophying culture, or the deliberate destruction of musical scores, the abstract nature of our artistic medium presents unique challenges for preservation and performance – challenges to which, at one concert last week presented by the Ashkenaz festival, the Germany-based Semer Ensemble rose with ease.

By the year 1933, the Nazi party controlled Germany, appointed to power at the end of that January. That April, the Nazis began redefining the status of persons they considered socially undesirable, including homosexuals, those with disabilities, and Germany’s Jewish population. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, stripped Jews of even their most basic rights and culminated in ‘Kristallnacht’, the Night of Broken Glass, in November 1938.

By 1939, almost 250,000 of Germany’s 437,000 Jews had fled the country.

One of the businesses destroyed during Kristallnacht was the Hebräische Buchhandlung, a Hebrew Bookstore run by Hirsch Lewin, which sold a variety of books, religious items and gramophone records. In 1932, Lewin had founded Semer Records, an in-house label, which had become increasingly popular as the Nazis increased their restrictions on Jewish cultural involvement, ultimately forbidding Jewish musicians from performing in or around non-Jewish settings and people. Lewin had produced a tremendous number of records between 1932 and 1938 as artists rushed to create a lasting memento of their culture.

With the destruction of Levin’s Buchhandlung, the entire catalogue of the Semer label – 4,500 recordings – was wiped out, evidence of its existence instantly erased from history.

Fast-forward to Toronto, in 2017. Nearly every seat in the George Weston Recital Hall is full, a few fresh faces peppering the predominantly middle-aged and older crowd. This audience is buzzing with excitement, chattering like schoolchildren in energetic and enthusiastic tones all around, close connections and family ties being discussed as if at a reunion.

The stage of the hall is shrouded in indigo-hued light, illuminating a mélange of instruments including a Steinway grand piano, accordion, trumpet, violin, upright bass, electric guitar, and six or seven microphones. It looks like the prelude to a strange fusion performance – part retro, part modern. According to the program, the evening’s performers are equally eclectic, coming from Russia, Latvia, Japan, Germany and the United States.

Why the all the excitement for what seems to be a distinctly eccentric performance? We gather to hear the lost music of Levin’s Semer record label, rescued from obscurity by the German musicologist Dr. Rainer E. Lotz in the 1990s. Through his exhaustive and persistent search across Europe, Lotz was able to recover and restore almost the entire Semer collection, reissued as an 11-CD set in 2002. In 2012, Berlin-based musician Alan Bern was commissioned to transcribe and arrange the collection and assembled the Semer Ensemble, a group of Jewish music specialists, to perform these pieces in live venues.

It is Bern who leads tonight’s performance by the Semer Ensemble, and his powerful stage presence and leadership captivates us even before the first notes are played. The music is extraordinary, both in scope and quality, a mix of art song, folk music, traditional prayers and genre-bending compositions for varied combinations of voices and instruments. Czárdas, a magnificent fantasy for violin solo and piano, combines classical and folk music in a seamlessly delightful composition, while The Little Bell uses a beautiful vocal line over sumptuous choral textures to form a touching piece. Smiles are everywhere throughout the three-hour concert – on stage and in the crowd. We can feel the joy in the air and can’t help but clap and tap along to the infectious rhythms.

Throughout the concert, Bern and his band pause to share stories of individual songs and works, providing us with invaluable context. Especially powerful are the unexpected parallels Bern draws between much of this decades-old music and contemporary global issues. Take, for example, the striking ballad The World Has Become Small; although written in the 1920s, Fred Endrikat’s text could pass as a modern protest of what the ensemble’s singer Sasha Lurje calls the ‘Smartphone Era’:

“The world’s become cramped,
It’s become a struggle
For the smallest bit of trash.
We roar along with a thousand horsepower
And can’t ever let it go again.
We’re sitting in the Tower of Babel
And we can only hate each other.”

Other highlights feature traditional music, including the ebullient Klezmer-style Rejoice in Jerusalem and the chant-like As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel. A personal favourite is A tender hand, based on an Arabic melody and magnificently realized by the ensemble. These surprisingly multi-dimensional musical works, all recorded on the Semer label within a few years of one another, show an incredible snapshot of the vibrancy of Jewish musical life in the 1920s, before the Nazi oppression attempted to eliminate all record of it.

In his introductory note, Askenaz Foundation director Eric Stein referred to ‘living culture’ and the phenomenon whereby art that, lost in obscurity only decades prior, can be revived, reinvigorated, and restored to a place of cultural prominence. As we face a future in which eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and life in pre-World War II Europe can no longer share first-hand accounts and recollections, stunning performances and presentations by groups such as the Semer Ensemble provide opportunities to discover and celebrate those living histories which inspire, educate, and enrich anyone who takes the time to listen.

The Ashkenaz Festival presented the Semer Ensemble in performance on November 8, 2017, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

JaegerConcertBannerEnsemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+), performing at ISCM 2017 on November 6, 2017. Photo credit: Jan Gates.The World New Music Days festival has been held in a different country each year, since 1922. Organized by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), its stated purpose is “to present music from each of our members, showcasing the incredible diversity of musical practice in our time.” The 2017 edition of the festival, marketed as ISCM2017, took place in Vancouver, B.C., November 2 to 8. In the 95-year history of the festival, this was only its second time in Canada.

The Canadian Section of the ISCM partnered with the Vancouver organization Music on Main to host the 2017 festival, staging some 30 concerts in a wide range of Vancouver venues. Local ensembles, as well as visiting artists and groups, were presented. Two of the visiting groups, Ensemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+), and Land's End Ensemble from Calgary, made notably strong impressions, especially with Canadian works.

For ECM+, conducted by artistic director Véronique Lacroix on November 6 at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Centre, it was the world premiere of a stunning new concerto for violin and chamber ensemble by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović, EVTA, written for the brilliant young violin soloist Andréa Tyniec. Sokolović’s concerto is structured in seven contiguous movements, each inspired by colours of the chakras. The title, EVTA, means “seven” in the language of the Serbian Roma, and accordingly, the work is strongly influenced by the style of gypsy violin playing in the Balkans. Tyniec's solo violin was an astounding traveller through the seven movements, flashing virtuosity in so many ways, one lost count. The thread of this exciting composition never lost clarity as it swept through its intricate and surprising courses.

Lacroix also led her superb ECM+ in contrasting pieces by Grzegorz Pieniek (Poland), Martin Rane Bauck (Norway) and Iñaki Estrada Torío (Spain). ECM+ shared the concert with Vancouver's Turning Point Ensemble, conducted by Owen Underhill, who performed music from Chile, Croatia, Serbia and Tajikistan. The decision to present these two virtuoso ensembles in the same concert was an inspired one – and the display of contemporary performance techniques was impressive throughout.

Land's End Ensemble from Calgary is essentially a piano trio (John Lowry, violin; Beth Root Sandvoss, cello; and Susanne Ruberg-Gordon, piano) who, together with artistic director Vincent Ho, follow a mission to introduce audiences to contemporary music by Canadian and international composers. Their concert was also staged at the Roundhouse in Vancouver’s Yaletown, earlier in the week on November 5, and included works from Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland and Ukraine. The highlight was Toronto composer Omar Daniel's Trio No. 2, commissioned by Land's End in 2015. Daniel describes the trio as a polystylistic discourse through levels of nostalgia. The enormous range of expressive nuances in this piece left the listener satiated – and convinced by the music’s maturity.

The 2017 edition of the ISCM festival took place in Vancouver from November 2 to 8. This report is part of a series of articles on thewholenote.com on ISCM 2017 and related music in the Vancouver area this month.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. Photo credit: Patrick Allen, operaomnia.co.uk.On Tuesday, November 7, the remarkable British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor made his third appearance on Music Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre stage since February 2014, to the delight of a large and appreciative audience.

Grosvenor’s exceptional talent was revealed at the age of 11, when he won the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. At 19, he became the first British pianist in more than six decades to be signed to a recording contract by Decca. Shortly thereafter, he was the youngest soloist to perform at the First Night of the Proms in London. Gramophone magazine named him its Young Artist of the Year in 2012. Today, at 25, Grosvenor is in the vanguard of the new generation of pianists, in the company of the likes of Daniil Trifonov, Yuja Wang and Jan Lisiecki.

Grosvenor is a unique creator of sound worlds, attentive and nuanced – a riveting performer with keen musical insights which his effortless and prodigious technique affords.

From the opening notes of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K333, the mood was set as Grosvenor invited us into a self-contained world of tone colour and dynamic balance, of sparkling and well-shaped phrases that conveyed the composer’s musical structure. The middle movement was marked by the pianist’s singing tone and a delicacy built on strength, typified by a hush in the development section. The Allegretto grazioso exuded Mozartean joy and playfulness, leading to a cadenza that showcased Grosvenor’s brilliant technique. It would not be the last time that technique – and not just for its own sake – would be evident.

Grosvenor’s program then jumped ahead to four – “seminal works” he called them in a recent email exchange with me – written within two decades spanning the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Brahms’ Four Pieces for Piano, Op.119, his final compositions (comprising three intermezzos and a rhapsody), alternated with Brett Dean’s three-part Hommage à Brahms, managing at times to look forward, at times back. Grosvenor played the first Brahms Intermezzo very slowly, its nostalgic, dreamy beginning emphasizing the harmonic progression, occasionally drawing out the chords by breaking them. Dean’s Engelsflügel 1, which followed, began impressionistically before entering into a conversation with our memory of the Brahms. Grosvenor brought a fine sense of control to the second Intermezzo, allowing its lovely lyrical melody to grow organically, followed by the boisterous energy of Dean’s second piece, Hafenkneipenmusik. The third Brahms Intermezzo picked up some of the bits of whimsy present in Dean’s writing, before Grosvenor’s unerring sense of grace balanced Brahms’ strong chord progressions. Grosvenor’s light touch brought out the spellbinding modernism of Dean’s final Engelsflügel 2, before the grand climax of Brahms’ Rhapsody brought the section to a triumphal close.

Grosvenor widened his tonal palette in Leonard Borwick’s arrangement of Debussy’s pivotal Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune – a piece Pierre Boulez called the beginning of modern music – a colouristic tour de force. Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op.1 came next, given an astounding interpretation, a forceful, romantic, totally engaged, propulsive, yearning, tender, ardent chordal jamboree. Ravel’s atmospheric three-part Gaspard de la nuit followed, with Ondine and its rigorous dynamism, massive wave-upon-wave impressionism, tender glissando and double arpeggios displayed with unalloyed fluency. The colourist in Grosvenor came to the fore
in the mysterious, inscrutable Le Gibet before expanding in the demonic Scarbo to every hue in a dark rainbow, shaped with a raison d’être that was far more than a blurred handful of whirling notes.

His next visit cannot come soon enough.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor was presented in recital by Music Toronto on November 7, at Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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