David Perlman talks with Alex Pauk, founder and artistic director of Esprit Orchestra.

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I learned the following things from Daniel Taylor and Suzie Leblanc about how to put on a classical music concert last Friday, October 24:

  1. Be a famous and talented artist. Taylor and Leblanc are without a doubt the most well-recognized names in early music in Canada. They have been blessed with phenomenal voices and have been performing for decades. They are fantastic and are 50 times the musican I will ever be. If there was something less than flawless that they did last Friday, I never heard it and neither did anyone else in attendance.
  2. Find a university-affiliated venue and get on the tenure track. Trinity College Chapel at U of T is a beautiful place to hear a concert, not least because it has excellent acoustics for vocal music. I can't say it projects bass instruments all that well, but given the star power of the two soloists, it's not as if anyone was there to hear great feats of continuo being performed.
Read more: Early Music: Daniel Taylor and Suzie Leblanc

When Marshall Pynkoski boasted that Opera Atelier's performance of Alcina would be both the Canadian premiere of the opera and the first major Handel opera ever performed by the company, it was clear his expectations were high. Since the group's recent successes at Salzburg, La Scala and Versailles, I've felt a barely perceptible anxiety creeping in among the audience at Atelier's performances, almost as if we can't enjoy Opera Atelier without wondering how well they're going to represent Canada on the world stage. I mean, what if the Toronto premiere gets a standing ovation and the same show flops in San Francisco? What does that say about Torontonians as a concert-going public? Are our standards high enough? Our artists good enough? What if we're rubes?

Read more: Early Music: Opera Atelier’s Alcina

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In the February 2013 Strings Attached column I reviewed the debut CD by the Greek-Polish violinist Irmina Trynkos, who is now based in London, England. It was also the first CD in her Waghalter Project, created specifically to promote the music of the Polish composer and conductor Ignatz Waghalter, a remarkably successful and established musician who fled the Nazi regime in Germany in the late 1930s, and whose music fell out of fashion and remained virtually unplayed for more than 60 years. 

I noted at the time that Trynkos “plays with warmth, style and confidence; she is clearly one to watch.” 

Read more: Irmina Trynkos, Sinfonia Toronto and Ignaz Waghalter

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A Swedish family's five-day Alpine vacation is the idyllic setting for Force Majeure, a caustic moral tale that would have done Eric Rohmer proud. The photogenic, seemingly perfect upper-middle-class unit is thrust into a psychodrama that's as darkly comic as it is shocking. As the apparently banal events of the holiday play out with deceptive repetition the family’s emotional reactions evolve above an underbelly of heightened tension.

Read more: Music and the Movies: Force Majeure

In my October World Music Beat column I offered a “Polaris Music Prize Trailer,” luring readers with the promise of “a backstage pass to the avant-garde Inuk vocalist Tany Tagaq’s jaw-dropping ten-minute performance…” I’m here to deliver on that promise. I will also be weighing in on the ramifications of the thrice JUNO-nominated Tagaq’s win on September 22, 2014 for her CD Animism. It’s the “best Canadian album regardless of genre and sales” according to Polaris, and her win this year certainly marks a significant milestone. For the first time it was awarded to an indigenous musician.

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When Tagaq, drummer Jean Martin, and violinist Jesse Zubot lit into their Polaris spot, it was as if an intense Arctic wind had blown into downtown Toronto's The Carlu, howling. They played sections of their superb Animism with improvised throat singing upfront in the mix. I'd seen the trio on two other occasions. But when Christine Duncan cued her 40-voice improvising choir behind Tagaq, sounding like Xenakis or Ligeti's atonal chord clusters had just entered the hall, the concert achieved liftoff, moving onto another plane entirely. The multiple musical textures and traditions blended powerfully, the Inuit with the Euro-American-Canadian (featuring rock, free improv, soundscape, classical avant-garde and yet more genres).

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You can see the show for yourself in the video here. As for me, I experienced a complex and heady mix of confrontation and conciliation of social, and political issues and musical genres. The performance also hinted at the potential transcultural power of the healing force of sound.

Read more: When Tanya Tagaq Won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize

Before the existence of public museums, gentlemen of a certain social standing would compile what they called a “cabinet of curiosities.” Like a museum in that it was a room, or rooms of artifacts devoted to culture in natural history, it differed in that the collection depended entirely on the whim of the gentleman collector and could include anything at all related to history, archaeology, geology, religious relics, antiquities and works of art. It was an approach to culture that depended on the collector’s freewheeling sense of enthusiasm.

One could feel it in the air at the annual Toronto Early Music Fair, where the wide-ranging talents of a diverse group of musicians were on display at Montgomery's Inn, along with a pile of antiques, musical scores and musical instruments, all curated as a labour of love by Early Music Toronto (EMT) and Frank Nakashima.

Read more: The Toronto Early Music Fair

While we generally think of Elizabethan England as a Golden Age for the Arts, we often forget the political culture of paranoia, suspicion, and suspension of personal rights and freedoms that plagued England at the beginning of the 17th century. The average English citizen could expect to be detained indefinitely, tortured, and even executed if it was suspected that he was a member of a religion that was deemed by the English Crown to be hostile to English interests – namely, Catholicism. This was the theme of the Musicians in Ordinary's latest concert at Carr Hall at St. Michael's College, exploring the sacred music sponsored and composed by the undercover Catholics of England in a dangerous climate of religious persecution.

It didn't look like the Musicians in Ordinary had a particularly large body of work to choose from (given that the concert was dedicated to music that, by its very nature, was intended to remain as secret as possible) but despite lasting little over an hour, MiO managed to put together a comprehensive survey of composers from the English Renaissance, including Byrd, Robert Johnson, Tallis and Nicholas Strogers, and lutenist John Edwards played several solo English lute pieces as well as accompanied soprano Hallie Fishel with the help of a very fine violin band led by violinist Chris Verrette.

It was an interesting theme for a concert both from a historical and musical perspective, and the pre-concert lecture, given by Reverend Lisa Wang describing the persecution endured by Catholics in Elizabethan England was a welcome addition to the evening, but St. Mike's needs to invest in a stage manager if only to remind the octagenarian members of the concertgoing public that they are carrying cell phones that need to be turned off before the concert starts (yes, if you go to a classical concert in Toronto in 2014, someone's cell phone will still ruin part of it). The performers were further hindered by Carr Hall's air-conditioning system, which was left on throughout the concert and was loud enough to render most of the music, especially the lute solos, inaudible (which would have been bad enough without letting a techinician come in mid-concert to try to turn off said air conditioning with his walkie-talkie still on and receiving messages). This is simply not acceptable for a concert that advertizes itself to the paying public. Still, frustration is a powerful motivator, and the Musicians did seem to improve with the disturbances, or at least try harder to win back the audience's attention. Here's hoping they outshine their venue next time.

love is strange wedding day

Two men, as comfortable with one another as the proverbial pair of old shoes, rise and get dressed up accompanied by Chopin’s exquisite Berceuse. It’s a most appropriate lullaby for Love Is Strange, Ira Sachs’ compassionate new film about family and other inter-connected relationships. And it’s just the first of six pieces by Chopin that serve as the principal soundtrack for this sweet, observant story of the ironies of life.

Read more: Music and the Movies: Love Is Strange

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