Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins

Meryl Streep walks the finest of fine lines between send-up and sincerity in her inspired portrait of the socialite and patron of the arts, Florence Foster Jenkins (Toscanini was a beneficiary and friend), in this nuanced and enjoyable biopic directed by Stephen Frears: a bon mot here, a visual joke there. For 25 years, the matronly Jenkins promoted classical music through her Verdi Club with annual presentations of vivid tableaux set to the likes of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, in which she would invariably appear, for example, as “the angel of inspiration sent from on high to inspire.”

“We’d rather go without bread than Mozart,” she said.

Finally able to realize her childhood dream of singing after her father’s death, she began performing before her society friends and “music lovers,” ultimately making a record and playing a legendary Carnegie Hall concert in 1944 at age 76. It’s quickly apparent that the voice she heard in her head was not the one that came out of her mouth; it was excruciating and inimitable. The notoriety of her high coloratura soprano is marvellously captured by Streep and Frears in the film which unfolds over the months leading up to the infamous recital.

Meryl Streep, Simon Helberg and Hugh Grant

The Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute from that evening was gleefully depicted in the film, brazenly off key. Yet by this point, Frears and screenwriter Nicholas Martin had humanized Jenkins, her husband St. Clair Bayfield (wittily underplayed by Hugh Grant) and piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg, an adept comic actor whose musical training enabled him to actually play as Streep sang, upping the verisimilitude quotient immensely).

Considering the amount of music that was inherently part of the narrative – Adele’s Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus and The Bell Song from Lak (both enthusiastically and lovingly massacred by Streep and Helberg); Respighi’s Valse Caressante (surprisingly sung sweetly and straight by Streep and Helberg); Brahms’ Lullaby serenely done by Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg; Take It Easy by Fats Waller wisely used as an instrumental bridge – Alexandre Desplat’s discreet score was the model of support, lightly orchestrated contemporaneous jazz-based, even riffing on Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony at a crucial plot point.

Florence Foster Jenkins is currently playing at Cineplex Varsity & VIP and 14 other cinemas in the GTA.

profile_Lisa_MacIntosh.jpgEarlier this year, we came to a twofold realization about summer in Toronto: first, that it’s long, and in a lot of cases, the time when music presenters close up shop for the year; and second, that if local musicians aren’t at their usual musical day-jobs, they must be doing something else. Maybe that seems like an obvious conclusion to come to—but, as we found out, what that ‘something else’ is differs significantly across the local scene. Some performers are touring the festival circuit; others opt to pursue more personal projects that they otherwise wouldn’t have time for; still others take the time as a much-deserved chance to relax.

This June, we started a series called “How Ill Spend My Summer Vocation,” to ask around about Toronto’s long musical summer. Where do our opera singers go when the opera house is closed? How do musicians put on concerts when local venues have put a pause on their programming And what do our city’s orchestral players do when most of the major orchestras’ next concerts are in September?

Here are some of their replies.

radvanovsky.jpgName: Sondra Radvanovsky

Instrument: Soprano

How you might know her: Regular appearances with the Metropolitan Opera and COC

Summer Vocation: “The ONE thing that I will be doing this summer vacation, if you can call it a vacation, is resting my voice and NOT singing everyday. I think it is important when a singer sings the difficult repertoire like I sing to actually give the voice a rest and let the muscles in the throat just relax. Also, giving the mind and body a good rest is so important. Plus, then when I come back to singing before the opera season starts, I feel even more excited about getting back to singing and love my music even more. I guess that I just look forward to being a “normal” person in the summer…not having to worry about the voice, what I eat or drink giving me reflux, exercising and keeping up the “regime” plus also just spending time with our friends and family…oh, and driving our cars, if it isn’t raining all summer!”

Hear her next season: Radvanovsky will present a workshop for emerging singers, hosted by the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists (IRCPA), in Toronto on October 12. Radvanovsky will also sing the title role in Bellini’s Normasharing the part with Elza van den Heever—this October 6 to November 5 with the COC.

profile_Lisa_MacIntosh.jpgName: Alex Pangman

Instrument: Jazz vocalist

How you might know her: “Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing”; regular performer at the Reservoir Lounge

Summer Vocation:

“This summer I’ll be heading to the country and trying to find the groove with my new friend, Lola the horse.  I’m delighted to have found an equine who is almost as vocal as me. (She whinnies on average more than the average!) Apart from that, travel usually serves to inspire me: to free up my find from the humdrum of normal life, shake things up, create new ways of thinking and hopefully new project inspiration.”

Hear her next season: In addition to her monthly show at the Reservoir Lounge, Pangman and her band will make appearances at the CNE (September 2 to 3) and at the first-ever Kensington Market Jazz Festival (September 17) this fall.

alan2012.jpgName: Alan Gasser

Instrument: Singer and choral conductor

How you might know him: Co-director of Echo Women’s Choir; co-founder and member of Georgian folk group Trio Kavkasia

Summer Vocation:

“Our family has big plans this summer, a Song Masters study tour in the Caucasus Mountains. I’ve been singing the folk polyphony of Georgia for about 30 years, and travelled to Georgia a handful of times, mostly in the 90s, when my Trio Kavkasia was more active, and when the bigger choir, Darbazi, took shape in my living room. Over the past decade and more, my life in Toronto had family thrills and other musical work, but no possibility for Georgia travel.

​I’ve got friends I will be eager to see again, my family members who will thrill to the sights, songs, dances and tastes, and memories to resurrect. The plan includes some time in Lechkhumi, a remote part of the country that many visitors don’t see. Even a day or two in the capital city, Tbilisi. The elevation in Mestia, where we’ll stay for a week, is 1,500 m, but I expect we may get higher than that, emotionally and spiritually.”

Hear him next season: Echo Women’s Choir, led by Alan Gasser and Becca Whitla, plans to perform two main concerts in Toronto this year, in December and May (programs TBA). 

christina.jpgName: Christina Petrowska Quilico

Instrument: Piano

How you might know her: Regular solo appearances throughout Toronto and recordings on the Centrediscs label; professor of piano and musicology at York University

Summer Vocation:

“One thing that recharges my battery is learning and recording 7 Mozart Piano concerti at the Glenn Gould Studio in August. Mozart writes such pure and beautiful music that it lifts my heart and soul. I can’t wait to practise the concerti every day.”

Hear her next season: York University boasts a busy concert schedule throughout the school yearincluding a faculty concert series where Quilico makes regular appearances.

802253-violoniste-jonathan-crow-sera-trois.jpgName: Jonathan Crow

Instrument: Violin

How you might know him: Concertmaster at the TSO and associate professor of violin at the University of Toronto; artistic director designate at the Toronto Summer Music Festival

Summer Vocation:

“I rarely get much of a break in the summers, as festival season starts up right after TSO shuts down for the summer, but this summer is a chance for me to catch up on chamber music, as I’m doing chamber music festivals in Orford, Beijing, Toronto, upstate NY and Maine! The closest thing to orchestra during that time will be performing a Brahms Sextet with Alan Gilbert on 2nd viola- hopefully it will go well and he won’t need to step up to a podium… I’m also doing two weeks at TSM this year- not as AD, but I’ll certainly be hanging around pretty regularly trying to figure out how things work!”

Hear him next season: Crow continues his work with the TSO for a busy 2016/17 season, and will perform throughout North America with the New Orford String Quartet (of which he is a founding member). The quartet will play its first Toronto show of the season on November 1, at U of T’s Walter Hall.

We want to hear your summer stories! If you are a local musician and have a story to share about how you have been spending your own “summer vocation,” send us an email at editorial@thewholenote.com. Here’s to the summer, and to the musical season ahead!

Sara Constant is social media editor at The WholeNote and studies musicology at the University of Amsterdam. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

 

The Coronation of King George II – July 26 Photo Credit: James M. Ireland. Daniel Taylor, Conductor and The Choir and Orchestra of the Theatre of Early Music

The Coronation of King George II took place in October of 1727; George Frederic Handel was commissioned to write four anthems for the ceremony. Last July 26, Daniel Taylor led his Theatre of Early Music in a delightful hour-long re-imagining of the event that literally and figuratively was the grand centrepiece of Toronto Summer Music’s “London Calling” season. In addition to using music of the day, Taylor had the wisdom to include three anachronistic elements, Hubert Parry’s I Was Glad and Jerusalem as well as John Tavener’s Hymn to the Mother of God, which broadened the evening and extended the ceremonial maelstrom into the 20th century.

The presence of a real archbishop, a bewigged monarch-to-be and the participation of the large Walter Hall audience in the singing of Jerusalem added to the sense of occasion. The effervescent Taylor and his company had the musical smarts to carry it off. The regal Handel procession and spirited anthems, the big-voiced Orlando Gibbons and the a cappella Palestrina backed up the serious religiosity on display. And Parry’s 1916 setting of Jerusalem, William Blake’s vision of a holy city built “in England’s green and pleasant Land,” crowned the spirit of the British Empire that had ruled the waves for hundreds of years.

Jonathan Crow. Photo credit: Sian Richards

TSO concertmaster and TSM artistic director designate, Jonathan Crow, headlined an enjoyable evening of mostly British chamber music, July 28 in Walter Hall. The program began with an invitation into the world of the young Mozart, his Violin Sonata No.10 in B-flat Major, K15, written in London in 1764 while the eight-year-old genius was on a European tour with his violinist sister. Crow and his accommodating collaborative pianist, Angela Park, made the most of the repeated simple theme of the first movement while their well-balanced playing sparked the second.

With Elgar’s meaty Violin Sonata in E Minor, Op.82, the duo’s musicianship was even more evident in the muscular, but sweet, long lines of its first movement. The hugely melodic, virtuosic Romance was filled with tonal contrasts, sensitively played, its lovely pastoral tune and haunting ending, memorable. The finale evoked the English countryside with an Edwardian glow powerfully devolving into fragments of tunes, which it rebuilt into a positive conclusion.

Following intermission, the two were joined by violist Eric Nowlin and cellist Roberta Janzen for a fine performance of Arnold Bax’s Piano Quartet in One Movement. Crow’s musicianship shone and his leadership showed as well, while Nowlin’s rich viola playing made the most of Bax’s notes. Again, Park blended in nicely. With the addition of violinist Bénédicte Lauzière, the group concluded the night with a distinctive tour of Frank Bridge’s Piano Quintet in D Minor. Its massive first movement had a drawing room quality, its rich harmonies sensitively played. The lovely Adagio featured good dialogue among the string players, which enhanced its pristine sadness. The leisurely finale was brightened by the unexpected tunes appearing around the music’s many corners.

The Dover Quartet

A week of exceptional musicality concluded July 29, with an outstanding recital by the talented Dover Quartet (formed in 2008 when its members were 19-year-old students at the Curtis Institute). It was TSM’s nod to the Beethoven Quartet Society of 1845, the first public cycle of the composer’s complete string quartets, a series of London concerts each of which included an early, middle and late quartet. So, in that spirit, the capacity Walter Hall audience was treated to Op.18 No.4, Op.59 No.3 and Op.132.

The Dovers’ playing of the early quartet was empathetic, subtle, impeccably phrased, marked by forward motion, drive and energy. They played up the inherent contrasts in the middle quartet’s first movement, the innocence and aspiration, warmth and solidity of the third and the controlled freneticism of the finale.

But the heart of the evening was the middle movement of Op.132, a work of naked supplication and beauty transformed into optimistic assertiveness. The feeling of divine well-being has rarely been better expressed. (Beethoven was suffering severe intestinal pain as he was about to write the quartet but recovered and wrote in the score, “A convalescent’s hymn of thanks to the Deity in the Lydian mode,” and for the movement’s livelier second theme,“Feeling new strength.”) Musically mature, vibrant and uncannily unified in purpose and execution, the youthful players brought passion and grace to the first two movements, took a decisive approach to the fourth and emphasized the rhapsodic character of the finale.

Pedja Muzijevic la Pedja Muzijevic

In a refreshing concert last Tuesday, July 19, Toronto Summer Music presented pianist Pedja Muzijevic’s "Haydn Dialogues,” a 75-minute performance of four Haydn sonatas separated by pieces by Oliver Knussen, John Cage and Jonathan Berger. Passionate about mixing old and new music, Muzijevic is also a genial talker, combining a delicious wit and the occasional catty comment with a streamlined historical sensibility that made it easy to relate to Haydn and his relationship to his patrons, the Esterházy family, and to the timely invitation by the British impresario, Salomon, to live and work in London. (“Talk about London Calling,” Muzijevic added in a clever aside.”)

Muzijevic also likes short concerts. “Don’t you just love an eight-minute sonata,” he said after playing the final London sonata, the two-movement Sonata in D Major, Hob.XVI:51 (1794), redolent with classical architecture.  

Continuing TSM’s London Calling theme, Muzijevic chose British contemporary composer Knussen’s Sonya’s Lullaby, Op.16 (1977-8) as his first modern work. Written as a lullaby to get his infant daughter to sleep (“wishful thinking”), it features a scampering atonality amidst a calm underpinning. More a description of a child finally falling asleep rather than a hypnotic sleep-inducing exercise, it was delightful.

The next Haydn (from 1784), the Sonata in G Major, Hob.XVI:40 (also in two movements), featured Muzijevic’s  sensitive broad tone in the Allegretto innocente with its stately theme contrasting with a sparkling secondary section. The Presto was filled with rapid chattering on the keyboard, humourous comments, joyous fun. (“It’s very hard to express humour in music and Haydn was a master at it.”)

Muzijevic then moved into a brief history of his relationship with the writings and compositions of Cage (“4’33” -- I’m available anytime”), from his university days to touring with Baryshnikov. (“Cage spoke in so many [musical] languages.”) In the afternoon that same Tuesday I had audited the invigorating three-hour masterclass led by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke in which she pointed out that “art song is not painting a picture; it’s stepping into it.” Muzijevic’s dreamy take on Cage’s “serene nocturne, a meditation on tones and overtones,” In a Landscape, found the pianist truly in the landscape. Magical.

The third and fourth Haydn sonatas, Hob.XVI:44 (1773) and Hob.XVI:50 (1794) framed Berger’s impish and charming Intermezzo (2015) written specifically for the Haydn Dialogues. The earlier Haydn reminded Muzijevic of C.P.E. Bach and the pianist wondered if Haydn knew the work of Bach’s most famous offspring. The later sonata, the “grandest” of the London sonatas, sparkled with wit in the Allegro, as if the music were wearing a constant smile. The Adagio seemed to take on a contemporary viewpoint as Muzijevic’s juxtapositioning worked its magic on me; the virtuosic Allegro molto was simply radiant.

Inon Barnatan at Koerner Hall

The disappointment of Jeremy Denk’s cancellation of his TSM recital July 21 due to illness was assuaged somewhat by the opportunity to hear his replacement, rising star, Israeli-born, 27-year-old Inon Barnatan, make his Toronto recital debut. Barnatan, who begins his third and final season as the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural Artist-in-Association this fall, even managed to preserve Denk’s choice of Schubert’s final piano sonata following intermission. Its first movement had a burnished, well-lived-in quality; Barnatan’s interpretation was contemplative and lyrical, relaxed and unified. The Andante sostenuto had no hard edges; it felt otherworldly. The third movement was light and dextrous while the finale had the intimacy of chamber music. It was the fourth time I’ve heard this masterpiece in the last 16 months. While Barnatan had neither the uncluttered Romanticism of Schiff, nor the technical ease of Hamelin, his playing was spellbinding nonetheless.

Greeted by a spontaneous standing ovation by the big Koerner Hall audience, Barnatan said that there is only one thing to do after Schubert and that is to go back to Bach. The evening concluded with an arrangement of the lovely chorale, Sheep may safely graze, from the Hunting Cantata BWV208, which glowed with understated spirituality.

The evening began with two Brahms’ extensions of Baroque staples by Bach and Handel. Barnatan emphasized the exalted nature of Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor for the left hand, deftly exposing the composer’s inner chordal universe. The masterful Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, Op.24 with its 25 variations on the Air from Handel’s B-flat Major harpsichord suite culminating in the brilliant, never-failing-to-satisfy fugue was carried off with aplomb by the young pianist. He mined the music’s rich melodic veins from limpid loveliness to devilish technical difficulty.

English_Music-2.jpgEnglish Music For Strings -July 14 Photo Credit: James M. Ireland - Tenor Nicholas Phan (left), conductor Joseph Swenson (centre), Neil Deland (right) with the TSM Festival Strings

 

Artistic Director Douglas McNabney’s farewell season of Toronto Summer Music (TSM), the “London Calling” edition, got off to a memorable start July 14 with a concert of English music for strings conducted by Joseph Swensen. McNabney introduced the evening and spoke to the large crowd in Koerner Hall of his programming raison d'être: celebrating the tradition of musical life in London over several centuries. He cited the huge repertoire to be unfurled in the more than three weeks through August 7 which would include European music reflected by the various concert-giving associations that provided 19th-century London music lovers with a rich diet of Continental fare. As well, he described the very pastoral, optimistic qualities of the English music that would bolster TSM’s ambitious schedule. He noted that Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, which we were about to hear, was the first piece he wanted to program in the festival.

The remarkable performance by American tenor Nicholas Phan, TSO principal horn Neil Deland and the TSM Festival Strings, was breathtaking in its execution; Deland’s horn playing unforgettable in its purity of tone, a wondrous support for the mercurial tenor and the assorted poetic anthology, the text taken from some of Britten’s favourite verse by the likes of Tennyson, Blake and Keats. The powerful Blow, Bugle Blow, the foreboding horn of The Sick Rose, the anguished and awestruck Lyke Wake Dirge and the seductive voice of To Sleep. What a rare treat!

The concert opened with Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite and the Jig which evoked the days of the British Empire with its quintessentially bright and optimistic spirit and delicate pastoral quality. Later, North African tone colouring contrasted with the British stiff upper lip before a familiar folk tune (with a subtle nod to Greensleeves) seemed to acknowledge imperial primacy.

After intermission, the outer movements of Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra concealed a lovely jewel, ahead of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro in which the TSM Strings were joined by the formidable Parker String Quartet. Initial full-blown energy turned to a graceful execution of Elgar’s melodious introduction. There was wonderful interplay between the quartet and the strings; an impressive sonic richness and typical Elgarian tunefulness filled the sweeping phrases as the Parker Quartet played with compelling intensity.

The Parker Quartet

The following day, July 15, the quartet took centre stage at Walter Hall in a nod to The Musical Union of 1865, a classical chamber music association “disseminating a taste for good music amongst the upper classes in London.” Led by the forceful first violinist Daniel Chong, the Parker Quartet produced a dynamic, cohesive full sound; their balanced ensemble playing conveyed all of Haydn’s sophistication in his String Quartet Op.71 No.2 (1793), the 55th iteration of the form he invented. All voices were heard and paid attention to in the resplendent Adagio.

In Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.18, No.2 (1799), his second (written less than a year after the Sonata Pathétique for piano), the Parker showed great togetherness and sense of purpose as they swirled through the composer’s complex development. They brought a Haydnesque playfulness to the Scherzo with its theses and antitheses and in the final Allegro, intimations of the great creative spirit that would flower as Beethoven matured.

There was a hushed tension, a kind of magical effect, as they began their magisterial performance of Schubert’s String Quartet No.15, D887 (1826), his final quartet. The first movement was driven and overflowing with melodic moments, with Chong parrying and thrusting like a master musical swordsman, balanced by the empathetic cello playing of Kee-Hyun Kim. The charming trio of the third movement was suffused in songful melody while the final Allegro assai was replete with contrasts, style and verve.

Frank Zappa and Steve Allen 1963Frank Zappa

When Frank Zappa was a young teenager in high school he bought an Edgard Varèse album (The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume One) that spoke to him; the Rite of Spring excited him, too, as did an album by Webern. From the age of 14 he wrote chamber music; he was 22 before he wrote a lyric. Indeed, the influence of Varèse is audible in much of his music. In Thorsten Schütte’s absorbing, revelatory documentary, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, it’s never clearer than when we hear Pedro’s Dowry (1979) with its distinctive 20th-century noodling. Schütte spent years “snuffling out Zappa truffles in television archives, finding an amazing treasure trove of interviews, TV appearances and concert recording” before celebrating the man and his extraordinary musical and political legacy through the prism of this archival footage in his finished film.

Frank Zappa and Steve Allen 1963

Excerpts from 28 of Zappa’s compositions, including the very early Improvised Piece for Two Bicycles, Pre-Recorded Noise and Orchestra he performed on the Steve Allen Show in 1963 (alongside the bemused host), make up the rich soundtrack. Fascinating archival footage ranges from two interviews from the 1980s with Chuck Ash, a Pennsylvania State Trooper in full uniform, to a remarkable reception by Czech president Vaclav Havel which formalized the state acceptance of his music by a country whose citizens first fell in love with it in 1972 causing it to be banned by the then Soviet bloc country.

Frank Zappa

With his unruly hair and soul patch, Zappa appeared to embody the 1960s generation gap, his appearance alone an affront to straight society. Yet he barely tasted cannabis and banned drug taking by his band on road trips. A master showman whose acute social observations led to lyrics that caught the zeitgeist (while mocking and offending the establishment), Zappa was an articulate defender of free speech and a self-proclaimed conservative with a wife, four children and a mortgage. A gifted guitarist who led small and large groups of musicians, he considered himself primarily a conductor who was also the music’s composer.

For a man who “always wanted to be a serious musician,” who hired the London Symphony Orchestra and the 31-year-old Kent Nagano to perform and record several of his complex scores in 1983, and who believed that “the whole body of my life is one composition,” it’s fitting that Schütte’s final images of Zappa in the film show him conducting Varèse’s Ionisation (the only music in the film Zappa didn’t write).

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words began its exclusive Toronto engagement at TIFF Bell Lightbox July 8.

Yo-Yo Ma in The Music of Strangers

Morgan Neville, fresh from his Oscar-winning documentary, Twenty Feet from Stardom, has crafted his most personal film to date with The Music of Strangers, a joyous account of Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Neville, a musician himself, found working with “these great musicians almost a religious experience.” His devotion shows in the three and a half years of work that took him all over the globe to tell the film’s uplifting story of the power of music to speak to disparate audiences and unite diverse performers.

Ma literally grew up with music and fell into being a professional musician without having found his voice (according to the composer Leon Kirchner who was one of his Harvard professors). But he would do so through his association with the worldwide collection of upwards of 50 musicians who comprise Silkroad. A constant questioner, Ma was influenced by Leonard Bernstein’s 1973 Norton Lectures that sought a universal explanation of music. The cellist’s search for the origins of creativity took him to the intersections of cultures.

Cristina Pato

Neville focuses on Ma but also brings us the stories of several key Silkroad participants: Kinan Azmeh, the genial Syrian clarinetist, who found refuge in New York City from his country’s civil war; Wu Man, pipa virtuoso extraordinaire, who was part of the first class to enter the conservatory in China following the Cultural Revolution, and who benefitted from Isaac Stern’s historic master classes [see the 1979 documentary From Mao to Mozart]; and Cristina Pato, the Galician bagpiper whose enthusiastic musicianship is contagious, and whose dog is named Yo-Yo.

Neville said after last September’s TIFF premiere that he thinks of culture as the plate the cake sits on -- it’s “the most essential thing, not just the frosting on the cake.” The Music of Strangers is prima facie evidence of that essence.

The Music of Strangers plays the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema [formerly the Bloor] from July 8 to 14.

Tom Cruise and Brian De Palma on set of Mission: Impossible as seen in De Palma.

De Palma, the indispensable documentary about Brian De Palma, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, is a candid, highly entertaining and illuminating look at one of Hollywood’s longest directorial careers from the mouth of the man himself. In compulsively watchable detail, De Palma -- who considers himself “the one practitioner who took up Hitchcock’s form” -- talks about each of his 29 features, dropping one factual nugget after another. (As a child, the fledgling director saw a lot of blood watching his orthopedic surgeon father operate; later he would follow his father hoping to catch him cheating on his mother.)  Anecdotes and analysis range from camerawork and direct influences to gossip about famous actors not learning lines (Orson Welles).  

Baumbach and Paltrow seamlessly intercut scenes from 45 years of filmmaking; the comfort level among the three men (who have known each other for ten years) is key to De Palma’s ease and forthrightness as he examines his entire career.

                                  Sean Connery, Brian De Palma and Andy Garcia on set of The Untouchables as seen in De Palma.

De Palma has worked with the cream of film composers, from Bernard Herrmann (“who sees the movie and goes off and writes the score”) on Obsession and Sisters to John Williams (Williams’ 1978 score for The Fury was one of De Palma’s favourites); Danny Elfman (Mission: Impossible), Mark Isham and Ryuichi Sakamoto to seven with Pino Donaggio (Carrie, Dressed to Kill etc). The idea for Phantom of the Paradise came from hearing a Beatles song playing as Muzak in an elevator; Paul Williams, its composer, was able to write parodies of all sorts of pop music forms. De Palma offers several insights into Ennio Morricone’s work on The Untouchables. (“Give a composer the time and space to develop the scene… the sequences inspire the composer.”)

And to think it all began when De Palma saw Vertigo at Radio City Music Hall as a teenager in 1958.

De Palma opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox June 17. Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian De Palma – also at the Lightbox – runs from June 18 until September 3 screening 25 of his feature films.

Diamond driller and sunrise over Northwest B.C.  A scene from KONELĪNE: our land beautiful.. A Canada Wild Production

Nettie Wild’s magnificent new documentary, Koneline, is a fully fleshed-out portrait of a place and its diverse inhabitants. Shot in northwestern B.C. in the region of the Stikine River and the Cassiar Mountains, it’s a film of contrasts anchored by an inclusive even-handedness that reflects the filmmaker’s mature view of her subject, a wild habitat of pristine beauty and precious natural resources that is home to the Tahltan First Nation, fishermen, miners, hunting guides and hydro workers, all of whom are in thrall to the area’s remoteness.

Northern Lights on the North West Transmission Line.                              A scene from KONELĪNE: our land beautiful.                             A Canada Wild Production.

Some are attracted by the Northern Lights, the snow-covered mountains, glaciers and the howling wolves; others by the Stikine River valley (“the Serengeti of North America”). The Tahltan First Nation elders are worried about Imperial Metals’ mine (Wild cuts from their meeting with the mining company’s supervisor and B.C. Cabinet Minister to a pristine birch grove but also pointedly shows the bonds between the elders and a young Tahltan miner who welcomes the opportunity to feed his family and the compromise that seems to be the modus operandi of everyone involved).

The ecstasy of stick gambling,                                   A scene from KONELĪNE: our land beautiful.                                   A Canada Wild Production.

A Tahltan father and son spend a day killing and cleaning a moose, then the evening playing fiddle and guitar in a dance band; a woman who hunts in the bush also makes moccasins with her husband; others fish the river as their ancestors did 8,000 years ago; and there are those whose love of stick gambling is vocation enough. A hunting guide clears 100 miles of trails and guides her pack of horses from a motorboat as they swim across a wide river to prepare for a season of 14-hour tourist-driven days of hunting.

The astounding images and the stories of the people who live within them are enhanced by Koneline’s evocative electronic score by Jesse Zubot and Hildegard Westerkamp, whose fingerprints seem to be all over the soundtrack. Known for her work as a founding member of R. Murray Schaefer’s World Soundscape Project, soundwalking -- her own environmental listening events -- and her considerable contribution to several films of Gus Van Sant, Westerkamp is able to contextualize an individual within his surroundings using an uncanny blend of natural and electronic sounds. At one point the sound of ice pellets and the wind merge into a melodious hybrid; sometimes we seem to be listening to a concerto for wind. At others, the soundtrack varies from wariness and apprehension to inspiration, intensifying Wild’s narrative.

Koneline: Landscape with Pink Sky

Koneline [Kóh - nah - lee - nah] won the Best Feature Documentary Award at the 2016  Hot Docs Canadian and International Film Festival.

Koneline: our land beautiful begins a limited week-long engagement June 10 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

ROCKING HORSE WINNERRecently several colleagues had urged me not to miss Tapestry Opera’s world premiere production of Rocking Horse Winner. This co-commission with Scottish Opera had been playing since the end of May and I was interested to see how the spare narrative of D.H. Lawrence’s short story, required reading in high school literature classes of my generation, would be translated to the operatic medium.

Perfectly sized for the Berkeley Street Theatre, the production by Tapestry’s artistic director Michael Hidetoshi Mori was skillfully paced, permitting the cast of eight to fill the intimate space. Music director Jordan de Souza led an accomplished string quartet plus piano in Gareth Williams’ sparse score which provided ongoing commentary comfortably suited to the shifting moods of the hour-long drama.

Traditional wisdom says that English is one of the hardest languages to sing clearly. This was not the case on Saturday evening, June 4. From soprano Carla Huhtanen’s first tentative lines in the role of Ava, the deceptively simple, poetic libretto by Anna Chatterton rang out distinctly, even in the quietest moments, easily inviting the audience into the drama from the outset. In the challenging role of Paul, Ava’s young son, tenor Asitha Tennekoon captured the right tone and physicality to convey the obsessed yet endearingly damaged boy who uncannily predicts horse race winners. His scenes with his mother, also a broken victim, were particularly moving. Completing the cast were tenor Keith Klassen as Paul’s greedy Uncle Oscar and baritone Peter McGillivray as Bassett, Paul’s equally mercenary caregiver. As Paul’s major male influences, both presented contrasting portraits of avaricious protectors who were out for themselves while still professing to care for their young charge. A unique feature of this work is the four-member chorus which embodies the spirit voices of the stifling house. Tenor Sean Clark, baritone Aaron Durand, mezzo-soprano Erica Iris, and soprano Elaina Moreau, fashioned an atmosphere at once terrifyingly believable and haunting.

Camellia Koo’s two-level set ushered us into a cozily domestic but claustrophobic home with the upper part reserved for Paul’s cramped bedroom with its eerily over-sized rocking horse. This platform also served well as the race track where Oscar, Bassett and Paul excitedly cheered on the winners (and losers) of the horse races.

Overall, this was a compelling theatrical experience and can easily rest alongside Tapestry Opera’s other successes such as Nigredo Hotel, Sanctuary Song, Iron Road and M’dea Undone. The company continues to grow in stature as an alternative source for new opera of the highest quality.

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