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After “The Three Lennys” in 2011, its 19-event exhaustive examination of Lenny Bruce, Leonard Bernstein and Leonard Cohen, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival knew what it would do for an encore: TJFF’s sidebar series in 2012 was “The Sound of Movies: Masters of the Film Score.” With special guests, composers David Shire and Mychael Danna, leading the way, Toronto audiences were treated to a celebration of the Jewish gene’s musical genius.

For this year’s edition of the TJFF (, which began on April 12, there’s no such overt attention being paid to the role of music in Jewish life, but there are a number of films that create an identity through music.

Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg

Pierre-Henry Salfati’s Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self-Portrait tells the riveting story of the iconic French musician in his own words, no mean feat since he died in 1991. Yet the conceit works brilliantly as a way into the mind of this man who would hear people say “God he’s ugly,” when he was onstage. He calls his face “ravaged” and says “I was misogyny incarnate,” but he romped with Anna Karina, had a child (Charlotte Gainsbourg) with Jane Birkin and wrote two of his most famous songs – “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus” and “Bonnie and Clyde” – for Brigitte Bardot.

Born Lucien Ginzburg, he became Serge out of nostalgia for Russia (“I am Slav in my soul”), a country his parents left after the revolution. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was “his first revelation,” but he couldn’t play it the way his father could. And his father was a harsh critic. Still, once his father died, he felt close to him through classical music.

Art Tatum, Rachmaninoff, Berg and Chopin moved him and he turned part of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 into a pop song.

The film begins with a live concert near the end of his life (he died a month short of his 63rd birthday in March 1991), a veritable love-in thanks to his fans. Many of his revelations are accompanied by his own collection of videos, with movie pals Jean Gabin and Michel Simon or his daughter playing the piano under his tutelage. He drops personal and professional nuggets along the way. He was haunted by the Occupation when he was forced to wear a star and carry an axe into the woods for protection. He was an architecture student playing piano in a bar when he met Boris Vian (a major influence). Jacques Brel told him he’d only get ahead once he realized he was a crooner. Needless to say, that’s what happened.

Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond was only three years younger than Gainsbourg; his more prosaic route to success is examined in Samantha Peters’ Neil Diamond: Solitary Man. Gifted with knack of writing pop songs with musical and emotional hooks, Diamond took years to discover who he was. Ironically, that allowed him, following a number of sold-out shows at L.A.’s Greek Theatre, to become “the Jewish Elvis.”

As David Wild of Rolling Stone says: “He was selling sensitivity, raw sensitivity that’s not allowed anymore.” This taut BBC documentary serves up all you’d ever want to know about the creation of  “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “I Am, I Said” from the creator himself. As well as fine archival footage of Diamond at The Bitter End in the 1960s, plus talking heads from record execs to Neil Sedaka and Robbie Robertson.

My Father and the Man in Black Johnny Saul Guitar 1962 PRINT

Diamond began working with legendary record producer Rick Rubin a few years ago, after Rubin revived Johnny Cash’s career with American Recordings when the man in black covered “Solitary Man.”  An intriguing addition to the Cash iconography is Jonathan Holiff’s My Father and the Man in Black, in which a son’s desire to discover a father he never knew leads him down the path of showbiz arcana: Holiff’s father Saul managed Johnny Cash, when the singer wasn’t the most reliable act in show business. And Holiff fils has the phone recordings, the audiotape journals, the letters and the memento-filled boxes to prove it. What the film may lack in style, it makes up for in substance.

Second Movement for Piano and Sewing

A low-key hymn to finding love amidst the loneliness of urban life, Marco Del Fiol’s Second Movement for Piano and Needlework is a curious piece of cross-cultural pollination set in Sao Paolo’s Jewish quarter. After leaving the park where she’s been sketching dress designs, a woman is drawn to a modal tune on a piano being played by a Korean man. We watch these strangers continue their workaday lives until by chance they meet again. The pianist is sweet and so, in its simplicity, is this minimal movie.


In 1980, Neil Diamond starred in an updated version of The Jazz Singer (the songs he wrote for it made the soundtrack album a hit). In 1959, Jerry Lewis starred in The Jazz Singer for the TV show, Startime. TJFF is showing a restored version of this well-regarded vintage nugget on a program with Mehrnaz Saeedvafa’s short film, Jerry and Me. Before you scoff, the stars of two subsequent films directed by The Jazz Singer’s director, Ralph Nelson, went on to win Best Actor Academy Awards – Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Fields Cliff Robertson in Charly. Ms. Saeedvafa, meanwhile, confesses in her film clip-packed 38 minutes that “the hero of her childhood [in pre-revolution Iran] was the one and only Jerry Lewis.” She personalizes colonialism, the CIA, Bresson and poetic cinema, the Iran-Iraq war, feminism and fear of the atomic bomb. And as a bonus, we see Jerry Lewis dubbed into Farsi. If you think that’s farcical, you’re right.

don byron 3  by dave weiland

What Joe Papp and “Shakespeare in the Park” did for Don Byron: “When you got people of colour doing Shakespeare, then Shakespeare was mine. And then Sondheim was mine, Mahler was mine and Bartok was mine.” What Don Byron did for Tracie Holder’s and Karen Thorsen’s straightforward documentary, Joe Papp in Five Acts: he composed the tuneful, lively score for it.

Three films unavailable for previewing promise some intriguing musical insights.

Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, directed by Michael Kantor focuses on the central question: Why has the Broadway musical proven to be such fertile territory for Jewish artists of all kinds? Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian that Laurent Bouzereau’s Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir  “is strongest in elucidating the effects his life has had on his movies. Before this, I didn't realise how closely the 2002 film The Pianist was based on precise childhood memories of the Krakow ghetto. It is the film he says he is proudest of now.” Danny Ben-Moshe’s Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema tells of the 2000 year old Indian Jewish community and its formative place in the Indian film industry. Who knew? Nu?

Two very fine period pieces have recently opened in downtown Toronto.


The performance of music is integral to the plot of The Sapphires, which is based on the true story of an Aboriginal Australian girl group who entertained the American troops in Vietnam in 1968. Their Irish manager had to teach the three sisters and their cousin the soul music they sang, but for a few months they all rode the exhilarating entertainment highway. There are huge sociological implications to their feel good story but as we discover as the credits roll, it’s the love of singing that has sustained the lead singer for all the years that elapsed since, a gift that she shared with her own extensive family.

Until 1967 Australian Aborigines were classified as “flora and fauna.” Children were routinely adopted or stolen by Caucasians who raised them. Inspired by a true story of the lost generation of Aborigines who lived with white families, Wayne Blair’s film begins in 1958 with a young trio harmonizing a spiritual-like hymn. Ten years later they’re singing country tunes in a talent show where they’re recognized by a transplanted Irishman wannabe drummer, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), whose great piece of advice is that they should sing soul not Charley Pride. From there Sam and Dave’s “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar,” puts “love and affection to the bone” and the movie takes off.

Given that soul music is about being desperate to retrieve what has been lost, the girls’ social status feeds their musical language, they become “The Sapphires” and it’s off to Saigon.

Chris O’Dowd -- seen lately on cable and laptops in Girls as the investment banker who had a brief marital fling with wild child artist Jessa (Jemima Kirke) -- has a constant twinkle in his eye and smile on his face. Funny thing is, he seems to love soul music as much, if not more, than The Sapphires themselves. And he’s crazy about them.


Sally Potter’s Ginger and Rosa is the story of two 17-year-olds, best girlfriends. Set in the London of 1962 when Britain was rife with “Ban the Bomb” fervor, you can hear Count Basie, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Les Paul, Sidney Bechet and Thelonious Monk punctuating the narrative. Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) ride the rails of left-wing politics and poetics as they play out their bohemian rebelliousness. Ginger is the more grounded of the pair and it’s her perspective through which we see the action. A turn in the plot plays havoc with the girls’ friendship and nearly derails a nicely spun story.

Still, hitchhiking to “Apache” by The Shadows can’t be beat. And any movie that gives us Christina Hendricks (she plays Ginger’s mother) singing “The Man I Love,” bookended by Little Richard and Chubby Checker must be seen.

What do 20-something mezzo Wallis Giunta and not-yet 20-year-old piano phenom Jan Lisiecki have in common, other than providing further confirmation that when it comes to providing musical inspiration and opportunity for young Canadians, somebody up here must be doing something right? Well, for one thing, both have been guests of Conversations <at> The WholeNote, a still-evolving series of informal conversations videotaped in casual surroundings at 720 Bathurst Street, our Toronto home base.

1806 WallisGiuntaGiunta was among our first guests, in December 2011, right at the start of a previous flurry of Toronto-related activity: an appearance at the New Year’s Eve “Bravissimo” gala at Roy Thomson Hall; an announcement by the Canadian Opera Company that she would be appearing as Annio in the COC spring 2013 production of Clemenza di Tito; and an intriguing recital at Music Toronto in spring 2012, during which she premiered, as a solo song cycle, Rufus Wainwright’s Songs for Lulu. (The good news is that the interview in question, along with dozens more, can be accessed via The WholeNote’s website or, more easily still, via our YouTube channel.)

The better news is that during February this year Giunta has been back with us for a follow-up interview, this time just before the end of the previously mentioned COC run of Clemenza.

The current production of Clemenza; pants roles in general; next year’s return to the COC as Dorabella in Così fan tutte; a comparison between her experiences in the COC Ensemble Studio and the Met Lindemann Young Artist Development Program; thoughts on how well music schools prepare artists for life as self-employed entrepreneurs — all these topics and more are part of this latest interview.

Most topical was her description of her upcoming March 24 recital at Glenn Gould Studio in the RTH/Massey Canadian Voices series. In the recital she will use Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins as a kind of emotional “clothesline” upon which she, and accompanist Ken Noda, will hang a dozen or so other songs, from Monteverdi to Cole Porter, that accord with the nine songs in the Weill work.

At time of writing this latest conversation had not yet been posted, but should be, well ahead of the aforementioned March 24 recital. “Like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and we’ll let you know.

In the meanwhile, why not look in on our conversation with Jan Lisiecki. We connected with the then 16-year-old Lisiecki early last spring, ahead of an upcoming Stratford Summer Music mini-residency. It was just before the Canadian release of his first Deutsche Grammophon CD (the first of four recordings for which he is contracted to DG.) At the time, I tried to draw him out on what the next DG recording was going to be, but he refused to rise to the bait! Time, however reveals all, as those lucky enough to have a ticket to his upcoming March 3 Koerner Hall all-Chopin recital (Études Op.10 and Op.25) will shortly discover.

Viva la musica! And happy viewing. 

junoWe are proud to say that out of the 35 classical and jazz albums nominated for JUNO awards in 2013, our hardworking crew of CD reviewers has already reviewed 26! Kudos to them and to our intrepid DISCoveries editor, David Olds. Has any other publication been so diligent and prescient?

Here are the nominees in the classical and jazz categories, with embedded links (in blue) to related reviews already published in The WholeNote. Several of them are contained in Editor’s Corner and Jazz, Eh? One review is part of Strings Attached, another can be found in It’s Our Jazz. (To view all JUNO categories and for other information related to the April 21 event, visit


Amici Chamber Ensemble ATMA*Naxos


Angela Hewitt Hyperion*Harmonia Mundi


Canadian Brass Opening Day*Naxos  


James Ehnes Chandos*Naxos


Triple Forte ATMA*Naxos



Antonio Peruch/Edmonton Symphony Orchestra FisarmonicArt*Independent


Bramwell Tovey/Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Canadian Classics*Naxos


James Ehnes Onyx*Harmonia Mundi


Jan Lisiecki Deutsche Grammophon*Universal


Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra Tafelmusik Media*Naxos



Elora Festival Singers Canadian Classics*Naxos


Gerald Finley Hyperion*Harmonia Mundi


Karina Gauvin ATMA*Naxos


Marie-Nicole Lemieux Naive*Naxos


Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir Tafelmusik Media*Naxos



Alexina Louie Analekta*Select


Denis Gougeon ATMA*Naxos


Howard Shore Howe*Harmonia Mundi


R. Murray Schafer Centrediscs*Naxos


Vivian Fung Naxos



Carol Welsman Justin Time*Universal


Diana Krall Verve*Universal


Diana Panton Independent*eOne


Elizabeth Shepherd Linus*eOne


Emilie-Claire Barlow Empress*eOne



Alex Goodman Quintet Connection Point


Allison Au Quartet Independent


François Houle 5+1 Songlines*Outside


Joel Miller Origin*F>A>B


Rafael Zaldivar Effendi*Sélect



Brian Dickinson Quartet Addo


Cory Weeds Quartet Cellar Live*Outside


Dave Young/Terry Promane Octet Modica*Independent


Murley, Brickert & Wallace Cornerstone*Outside


Shirantha Beddage Addo



Wallis Guinta Photos from Interview - 22-12-08.JPGDavid Perlman talks again Wallis Guinta, mezzo.

To hear the full conversation with Wallis Guinta click the play button below. For any of our other podcasts, search for “The WholeNote” in your favourite podcast app, or go to for the entire list.

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 I shut myself up with all your eyes
Why do you want to know
Why do I say why

On January 21 at the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival presented by the Faculty of Music, something of historical importance occurred.  A concert was presented of the complete series of Italian composer Luciano Berio’s Sequenze – a series of fourteen works written for solo performers, each for a different orchestral instrument.  This concert was the first performance in Canada of the entire Sequenze repertoire – you may remember it was the cover story in WholeNote’s Dec–Jan issue. 

But first, I must digress and place the experience of this historical event into a broader context.  I’ve been noticing that there seems to be something going on in the artistic world these days that’s in sync with what may be called the rise of the new democracy.  We see this being demonstrated not through any government actions, but rather through the expression of a diversity of voices arising out of a communal desire for change.  It’s what we witnessed in the Arab Spring, in Occupy Wall Street and now with Idle No More. 

Over the next 35 days or so, Toronto audiences will have an opportunity to experience the impact of this emerging zeitgeist in two very different settings. And perhaps surprisingly, these opportunities are being offered under the auspices of two venerable and traditional institutions – the opera and the symphony.  The first is the directing style of Peter Sellars who will be guiding the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.  In his January 28 talk at the Metro Toronto Reference library, he spoke about how his goal in directing is to set up the stage for discovery so that something can happen in performance that you don’t know about beforehand. “It’s not about what the director wants, but rather about creating the opportunity for participation on multiple levels,” he said.

The second opportunity to catch the wind of this cultural change will be with the Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival and the premiere of Tod Machover’s new work: A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City.  To compose this piece, Machover undertook a ‘massive collaboration’ with anyone who was interested in participating.  It required no previous skill, just inquisitive ears.  He sees this co-creation principle at the heart of how music will be created in the future.  You can read more about his future visions in my “In With The New” column in the February issue of WholeNote.

Now that’s a very long introduction to what this blog post is all about – the Luciano Berio Sequenze concert. I felt compelled to mention these two examples of current artistic vision (Sellars and Machover) as a contrast to the creative motivation of what we heard in these works of Beri, and also to get a glimpse into how cultural movements unfold and intertwine with creative expression. 

And here begins your desire
Which is the delirium of my desire
Music is the desire of desires.

TheWholeNote-1804-Cover-smallAlthough the fourteen Sequenze were written over a period of 45 years and during a time that saw a wide range of styles and aesthetic viewpoints emerge, they are, in essence, a celebration of the specialist, the individual, the virtuoso.  They rely on the highly refined skill of the soloist and are examples of an ethos that is about pushing the sonic edge of the instrument and of the performer’s expertise.  They reflect the scientific perspective of singular observation.

I have felt your rough and rigid noises

And for that reason, it was a thrilling ride.  The concert was one of those rare moments in time when you were able to hear fifteen exceptional and individual musicians excel at what they’ve spent their entire lives perfecting – a mastery of their instrument.  And yes, there were fifteen performers, as Sequenza VII was performed first on the oboe and then later on soprano saxophone.

For my ears, it was as if “timbre” or instrumental colour was being held up to the light or put under the microscope, as one after another, we the listeners zeroed in on a specific hue.  It was like a parade of sound whereby first one instrument  and then another was explored, encountered and investigated. Its depths exposed, its possibilities opened up.  Each work becoming an opportunity for Berio to engage in a cultural dialogue with an instrument’s specific historical traditions, legacy, practices and attitudes. 

My song will be your very slow silence

To prepare myself for the concert, I watched an online performance on YouTube of Sequenza III for female voice.  This had been one of my favourite works during my student composer days and I needed a memory refresher.  Astonishingly, in the Toronto concert, I barely recognized it as the same piece.  Not that either one was good, bad, better or worse,  but just so different from each other.  A great demonstration of how much room there is for personal and individual interpretation.  There was a nuance and subtlety, almost an understatement, to Canadian soprano Xin Wang’s performance in the concert January 21 that also carried through to other works heard in the evening – the Sequenze for guitar, accordion, cello and clarinet. 

At the other extreme there was flair and flamboyance in the Sequenze for trumpet, soprano saxophone, trumpet, piano and bassoon. One of my favourite moments was listening to the incredibly rapid and continuously repeating patterns of Sequenza VIII for violin that seemed to effortlessly fly through the air off performer Mark Fewer’s fingers.

And in between each exposition was the spoken word, written by Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti and eloquently delivered by trumpeter Guy Few.  A final refrain:

I move very slow
I look at you from all sides
I turn
transforming you
tormenting you
terrifying you.

The movement from the one to the many. 

tmc rehearsing The conductor’s symposium week came to resounding end with a concert on Saturday, Jan. 26. The almost capacity audience at Yorkminster Church was treated to an eclectic collection of music and conducting styles. The confidence of the conductors increased through the week and with limited, but intensive rehearsal time, we were ready for the performance. The great humour and very animated conducting style of Xavier Brossard-Menard stands out as one of the highlights of the week.

Most live performers have experienced the sudden feeling of terror, the knot in the stomach when a cue is dropped, a lyric is forgotten, a choral entry is missed, etc. Matthew Otto, the TMC’s Associate Conductor and past participant in the symposium conducted the concert’s final piece, a chorus from Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation”. There is a point in the chorus where the tenor section is the first vocal section to resume a fugal theme (after several bars of solo voices). When rehearsing this piece at the end of the dress rehearsal, about an hour before the concert, much of the tenor section (at least I) completely missed the entry (c’mon, it was a long week). In a large choir, during a momentary lapse in concentration, you can usually count on someone around you to know what they are doing (and I was nowhere near any Elora Festival tenors, who always know what they are doing). It seems that I, and the tenors around me all had the same momentary lapse. When the chorus was done, and Matthew gave the choir a few notes, he mentioned, almost in passing, something like “oh, and the tenors will remember their entry at the end of the solos on page 28, right?”. When we did the piece in the concert, that was one entry the tenors (including me) got.

It continues to be a privilege for me to be part of the TMC ( We get to perform the most beautiful music with the most talented musicians in the greatest concert halls. During my second year with the choir in 1984, we travelled with the TSO to New York for two days of concerts at Carnegie Hall. I called my parents in Winnipeg from a backstage phone to tell them that I finally made it to Carnegie Hall, to which they replied “but we didn’t think you practised enough”.

Public funding of arts organizations is crucial to their existence. Just as crucial is the work of volunteers and private supporters (thanks to RBC for their support of the past week’s conductor’s symposium). Most crucial for performing artists is having an audience. I urge you to support live music.  This leads me to tell you that every few weeks I change out of my TMC white tie and tails and switch from one hip style to another that better suits singing jazz at a local club. On Friday, February 22 I’ll be singing the songs of the American Songbook at the Old Mill’s Homesmith Bar it 21 Old Mill Road, Toronto.  The songlist will be sure to include songs from my favorite songwriter, Johnny Mercer. I repeat, I urge you to support live music.

tmconducts - group shot with noelAt one point during the week, Noel Edison, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir conductor and artistic director, encouraged one of the conducting symposium participants with the comment “everyone is looking for someone to follow.” I don’t think Noel meant that the choir members are lacking spiritual leadership, or even that they couldn’t follow that particular conductor and were looking for someone to better lead them through the music. I think he was saying that the choir was there, eager and willing to be engaged, and here is an opportunity to lead them. He is right. We are a dedicated, mostly volunteer chorus, and we love to be led to create beautiful music.

A consistent theme in the comments that Noel has been making to the conductors is the importance of establishing rhythmic security. “If the rhythm is there, the notes will follow” says Noel. The right hand is the metronome and the left hand provides the character of the piece (are all conductors right-handed?).

We have had a couple of rehearsals of almost three hours each with the five conductors. There are 8 pieces that the large choir has been rehearsing (they have also been working with the 20-voice Elora Festival singers), each conductor having a 15 to 20 minute segment, in rotation with pieces assigned by Noel on the spot. I don’t mean to suggest that a regular rehearsal with Noel at the helm feels particularly long, but the 3 hours with the symposium conductors seem to fly by. It is delightful and inspiring to be part of the passion and joy that they bring to the music.

Most of the participating conductors are either in, or have completed, a master's degree in choral conducting.  They are all highly trained excellent musicians. The benefit that they feel they are getting from this week’s symposium is the opportunity to work intensively with a highly respected choral conductor and with both a professional small choir and an excellent large choir. Having attended intensive master classes myself, I believe that they can provide a unique and crucial learning experience.

The week will end with a free concert at 3PM on Saturday, January 26 at Yorkminster Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge St. It will also be streamed live on the internet. For internet coordinates and concert information, visit  We will be performing some very beautiful choral pieces including the Kyrie section of Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem”, which is one of my all-time favorites. We will perform a couple of modern pieces as well. “Sleep” by Eric Whitacre has some chords dear to a jazz lover’s (like mine) heart like major sevenths and minor ninths (I haven’t noticed any flat 5’s yet).  After Wednesday’s rehearsal I was so inspired by those jazzy chords that I just had to indulge in another passion – jazz singing. I headed up to Chalkers Pub on Marlee St. for Lisa Particelli’s weekly vocal jazz jam  “Girls Night Out,” where gentlemen are welcome too (, to sing in the last set.

conductorsymposiumSinging is an almost involuntary action for most people. Having been a singer all my life, I firmly believe that. Parents sing to children to comfort and amuse them and children sing to themselves while playing. People singing together is also almost instinctive behaviour, whether it is singing at a religious gathering or on a bus heading to camp, singing the national anthem at a memorial or sports event, celebrating a birthday or the stroke of midnight on new year’s eve. Noel Edison, conductor and artistic director of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC), believes that all people are “innately artistic” and that singing provides a most natural personal, emotional and artistic release.

It is a belief in the importance of the centuries old choral music tradition that inspired Noel to create the TMC Choral Conductors’ Symposium. This provides an annual intensive week of hands-on training to five talented young conductors while giving them a chance to work with Canada’s pre-eminent large choir as well as Edison’s Grammy-nominated professional chorus, the Elora Festival singers (which he founded in 1980). This year’s symposium begins Monday January 21. An intensive week of rehearsals will culminate in a free concert at 3PM on Saturday, January 26 at Yorkminster Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge Street. The concert will also be streamed live on the internet. 

The TMC is Canada’s oldest continually operating arts organization. Founded in 1894, it will soon celebrate its 120th anniversary (I am a proud chorister in my 30th season). Among the highlights in its illustrious history is the 1986 Juno award for the recording of Handel’s “Messiah” with the Toronto Symphony, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. The choir has been performing Messiahs with the TSO since 1932.

The high standards of the choir are maintained by annual re-auditions of all choristers. In addition, the choir is anchored by the 20-voice professional Elora Festival Singers.

A popular monthly choir outreach event is “Singsation Saturdays”. The public is invited to join TMC choristers to sing great classic choral works led by an experienced guest conductor.  Singsations takes place from 10:30AM to 1PM in the choir’s rehearsal hall at Yorkminster Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge St. This is an opportunity each month to get that personal, emotional artistic release Noel talked about.

For information about the choir’s performances, the Conductor Symposium, Singsation Saturdays, and much more, visit .

I’ll be reporting on the symposium’s progress and the participant conductors in my Thursday blog in this space.

quartet 06-00702 lg

“This is not a retirement home -- this is a madhouse,” the inimitable Maggie Smith announces in the ebullient new film Quartet. But what’s to be done when the diva refuses to sing?  The show must go on, of course.

Each October 10, Beecham House, a fictional home for retired opera singers and other musicians, celebrates Verdi’s birthday with a fundraiser for the residence. When Jean, an operatic grande dame (played by the equally grand, Dame Smith) and ex-wife of Reggie (Tom Courtenay) unexpectedly moves in, Wilf (Billy Connolly), Cissy (Pauline Collins) and Reggie see their plans for the latest bash unravel. The titular quartet of concert performers is thus inadvertently reunited, unleashing all manner of grudges and glories.

Quartet (just now in theatres) is a rarity. Ronald Harwood’s highly enjoyable screen adaptation of his 1999 play manages to fuse the acting talents of some of the UK’s finest (Michael Gambon is also featured) and the directorial debut of 75-year-old Dustin Hoffman with a cornucopia of musical excerpts. Verdi’s La Traviata and Rigoletto, Puccini’s Tosca, G&S’s The Mikado, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Haydn’s “Sunrise” quartet and “Military” symphony, a Boccherini string quintet and the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach are all fodder for the cast. Harwood was inspired by Tosca’s Kiss, Daniel Schmid’s loving documentary depiction of the residents of the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, which Verdi founded in Milan as lodgings for elderly singers who needed material help.

quartet 11-01447 lg

Music percolates everywhere in Beecham House (named after Sir Thomas) with the residents exuberantly playing out Bette Davis’ maxim “Old age is not for sissies.” As they prepare for the house fundraiser, their love of life is infectious. And with many of them portrayed by musicians, from soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones (unforgettable performing “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca) to former BBC Symphony principal clarinetist Colin Bradbury and versatile trumpet player Ronnie Hughes (his resume even includes the Beatles’ “Martha, My Dear”), the quality of the musical content is assured. Be sure to stay through the beginning of the credits where many of the musicians are pictured in their younger days.

Quartet seems poised to appeal to the same audiences that made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel the sleeper hit of last summer.

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