pianist_jiayan_sunAs we all know, Toronto’s classical music scene has a lot going for it. But one thing that’s never been established here is an ongoing international piano competition.

Back in 1985, the Bach International Piano Competition was launched with great fanfare. Unfortunately, it proved to be a one-off event. However, its first-prize winner, Angela Hewitt, achieved a distinguished international career – thereby endowing the ephemeral event with a 100 percent success rate, in terms of selecting laureates who go places.

In the first week of November, Toronto’s Chinese Cultural Centre attempted to fill this gap in the city’s musical life by launching the CCC Toronto International Piano Competition. A total of $28,000 cash was offered, a distinguished jury was convened, and competitors from ten countries (including Canada) were accepted into the competition.

I attended the last round, on November 8, at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. This was the only round in which the competitors – narrowed down to field of three finalists – performed concertos. For this purpose, an orchestra of freelancers, under the baton of the conductor Kerry Statton, was assembled and given 24 hours notice to prepare a programme.

The soloists were Vakhtang Kodanashvili (born in the Republic of Georgia), who chose Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1; Kirill Zvegintsov (from Ukraine), who performed Ravel’s Concerto in G; and Jiayan Sun (from China), who played Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2. Never, in my experience, has a competition winner been easier to pick from the field of contestants.

Kodanashvili and Zvegintsov played with strength and agility (respectively). But Sun – by far the youngest finalist, at 20 years of age – left the others in the dust. His performance wasn’t just good, it was masterful, with an intensity and sureness of direction that left this listener hanging on every note. I expect it took the jury about one minute to agree on awarding first prize to him. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we hear more from this young man, who is currently studying in New York.

And what of the event itself? Has Toronto finally found its way into the international piano competition circuit? Perhaps. The organizers hope to continue, with an international competition every other year, but it remains to be seen if they can make it happen. If they do, I hope the competition finds more pianists of Sun’s stature: until he started to play, I wouldn’t have said that the event had attracted any serious contenders for a major career. Organizers might also think about incorporating performance opportunities into their prize structure. The cash is nice, but engagements are what young musicians need most.

handel-01In November and December, Southern Ontario will ring with the perennial glories of Handel's Messiah – big performances, small performances, and of course the sing-along variety. The following is a chronological guide to Messiah concerts taking place in and around Toronto.

Nov 21 3:00: Durham Community Choir. Messiah. Handel. Erin Burda, soprano; Vicki St. Pierre, mezzo; Andrew Haji, tenor; Alexander Dobson, bass; Talisker Players; John-Charles Coolen, director. College Park Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 1164 King St. E., Oshawa. 905-435-4061. $20; $14 (child 12 and under).

Nov 27 7:30: Arcady. A Baroque Messiah. Handel. Ronald Beckett, conductor. Central Presbyterian Church, 7 Queen's Sq., Cambridge. 519-623-1080 $20 $10.

Nov 27 8:00: Achill Choral Society. Messiah. Handel. Stephanie Kramer, soprano; Jennifer Enns Modolo, mezzo; Mark DuBois, tenor; Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone; A. Dale Wood, conductor; the Valen Ensemble; Shawn Grenke, organist. Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, 60 Allan Dr., Bolton. 905-584-6710. $25; $15(children 13 and under).

Nov 28 2:30: Orchestra Kingston. 3rd Annual Sing-Along Messiah. Handel. John Palmer, conductor. Salvation Army Citadel, 816 Centennial Dr., Kingston. 613-389-8110. $15; $12(adv); $10(sr); $8(sr adv). Bring your own score or rent one at the door.

Nov 28 3:00: Eglinton St. George’s United Church. 5th Annual Sing-Along Messiah. Handel. Singers will be invited to join our fabulous soloists for parts of the arias. 35 Lytton Blvd., Toronto. 416-481-1141 x250. $25; $20(sr); $15(st). Please bring a score if possible; a limited number of scores will be available for purchase or to borrow; non-singers welcome. Tickets include open rehearsals on Nov. 13, 20 and 27.

Nov 28 3:00: Mississauga Choral Society. Messiah. Handel. St Patrick's Church, 921 Flagship Dr., Mississauga. 905-278-7059.

Nov 28 7:30: Tryptych. Messiah. Handel. Lenard Whiting, music director; Ian Sadler, organ. Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2717 Bayview Ave., Toronto. 416-763-5066 x3.

Dec 03 7:30: Arcady. A Baroque Messiah. Handel. Ronald Beckett, conductor. Immanuel Orthodox Reformed Church, 2900 4th Ave., Jordan. 905-892-9160 $20.

Dec 03 8:00: Amadeus Choir. The Glory of Christmas. Handel: Messiah. Jennifer Taverner, soprano; Jennifer Enns, mezzo; Patrick Huang, tenor; Giles Tomkins, bass; orchestra; Lydia Adams, conductor; Patricia Wright, organ. Metropolitan United Church, 56 Queen St. E., Toronto. 905-880-1889. $55; $50(sr/st).

Dec 04 8:00: Achill Choral Society. Messiah. Handel. Stephanie Kramer, soprano; Jennifer Enns Modolo, mezzo; Mark DuBois, tenor; Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone; Dale Wood, conductor; the Valen Ensemble; Shawn Grenke, organist. St. Timothy’s Roman Catholic Church, 42 Dawson Rd., Orangeville. 905-584-6710. $25; $15(children 13 and under).

Dec 05 2:30: Kingston Symphony. Hallelujah! Messiah. Handel. Tracy Smith Bessette, soprano; Marion Newman, mezzo; James McLean, tenor; Geoff Sirett, baritone; Kingston Choral Society; Glen Fast, conductor. Kingston Gospel Temple, 2295 Princess St., Kingston. 613-530-2050. $30; $20(sr); $10(st).

Dec 05 4:00: Toronto Classical Singers. Messiah. Handel. Sheila Dietrich, soprano; Sandra Boyes, mezzo; Stephen McClare, tenor; Bruce Kelly, bass; Talisker Players Orchestra, Jurgen Petrenko, conductor. Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge St., Toronto. 416-443-1490. $30; $25(sr/st).

Dec 05 4:00: Toronto Classical Singers. Messiah. Handel. Sheila Dietrich, soprano; Sandra Boyes, mezzo; Stephen McClare, tenor; Bruce Kelly, bass; Talisker Players Orchestra, Jurgen Petrenko, conductor. Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge St., Toronto. 416-443-1490. $30; $25(sr/st).

Dec 05 7:30: Achill Choral Society. Messiah. Handel. Stephanie Kramer, soprano, Jennifer Enns Modolo, mezzo; Mark DuBois, tenor; Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone; A. Dale Wood, conductor; the Valen Ensemble; Shawn Grenke, organist. St. James Roman Catholic Church, 2118 Adjala-Tecumseth Townline, Colgan. 905-584-6710. $25; $15(children 13 and under).

Dec 10 7:30: Cellar Singers. Messiah. Handel. Sandra Tucker, soprano; Marion Newman, mezzo; Mark DuBois, tenor; Benjamin Covey, baritone. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 118 McMurray St., Bracebridge. 705-645-4273. $30; $15(st).

Dec 11 4:00: Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The Children’s Messiah. Handel. Gallery Choir; Pax Christi Chorale; Stephanie Martin, conductor. 477 Manning Ave., Toronto. 416-531-7955. Pwyc.

Dec 11 7:30: Bach Elgar Choir. Messiah. Handel. With orchestra and soloists. Melrose United Church, 86 Homewood Ave., Hamilton. 905-527-5995. $30; $25; $10; free.

Dec 11 7:30: Grand Philharmonic Choir. Messiah. Handel. Meredith Hall, soprano; Allyson McHardy, mezzo-soprano; Michael Colvin, tenor; Stephen Hegedus, bass-baritone; Kitchener Waterloo Symphony; Mark Vuorinen, conductor. Centre In The Square, 101 Queen St. N., Kitchener. 519-578-6885/519-578-1570. $10-$65.

Dec 11 8:00: Aradia Ensemble. The Dublin Messiah. Handel. Original version of 1742. Catherine Rooney, soprano; Marion Newman, alto; Joseph Schnurr, tenor; Sean Watson, bass; Norman Engel, trumpet. Kevin Mallon, artistic director. Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. W., Toronto. 416-872-4255. $35; $20(sr); $15(st).

Dec 11 8:00: Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra. Howard Cable's Winter Wonderland. Handel: Messiah (excerpts); seasonal favourites for orchestra and choir.  Iris Krizmanic, soprano; Toronto Choral Society; Howard Cable, conductor and host; Geoffrey Butler, guest conductor. Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute, 3663 Danforth Ave., Toronto. 416-429-0007. $30; $25; $10.

Dec 12 2:30: Cellar Singers. Messiah. Handel. See Dec 10. St. Paul’s United Church, 62 Peter St. N., Orillia. 705-329-2333. $30; $15(st).

Dec 12 3:00: Chorus Niagara. Messiah. See Dec 11. Calvary Church, 89 Scott St., St. Catharines.

Dec 12 3:00: Elora Festival Singers. Messiah. Handel. Noel Edison, conductor; Festival Chamber Orchestra. Knox Church, 55 Church St. E., Elora. 519-846-0331. $40.

Dec 12 3:00: Scola Cantorum. In Concert. Handel: Messiah (excerpts); Hungarian Christmas carols. Guests: Hungarian Children's Chorus; soloists; Ian Sadler, organ; Imre Olah, conductor. St. Elizabeth RC Church, 432 Sheppard Ave. E. Toronto. 416-971-9754. $15; $10.

Dec 12 7:30: Arcady/National Academy Orchestra. Messiah. Handel. Boris Brott, conductor. Mohawk College McIntyre Theatre, 135 Fennell Ave. W., Hamilton. 1-888-475-9377. $27; $22; $10.

Dec 12 8:00: Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Messiah. Handel. Vocal Horizons Chamber Choir; Vincent Cheng, conductor. 10268 Yonge St., Richmond Hill. 905-787-8811. $35; $32(sr/st).

Dec 13 7:30: Arcady/National Academy Orchestra. Messiah. Handel. Boris Brott conductor. Port Nelson United Church, 3132 South Dr., Burlington. 1-888-475-9377. $27; $22; $10.

Dec 15 7:30: Tafelmusik. Handel: Messiah. Christine Brandes, soprano; Daniel Taylor, countertenor; Rufus Muller, tenor; Brett Polegato, baritone. Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, 427 Bloor St. W., Toronto. 416-964-9562. $85-$22.

Dec 15 7:30: Toronto Choral Society. Messiah. Handel. With the Talisker Players Orchestra, Geoffrey Butler, conductor. Eastminster United Church, 310 Danforth Ave. Toronto. 416-410-3509. $25; $20(adv).

Dec 16 7:30: Tafelmusik. Handel: Messiah. See Dec 15.

Dec 16 8:00: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir/Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toronto’s Biggest Messiah. Handel. Messiah. Adriana Churchman, soprano; Jill Grove, mezzo; Toby Spence, tenor; John Relyea, bass-baritone; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; Andrew Davis, conductor. Pre-concert chat with Rick Phillips (Dec.16 only). Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St., Toronto. 416-872 4255. $38-$107. Also Dec. 18-21.

Dec 17 7:30: Arcady. A Baroque Messiah. Handel. Ronald Beckett, conductor. Metropolitan United Church, 468 Wellington St., London. 519-672-8800. $20.

Dec 18 7:30: Ardeleana Chamber Music Society. Messiah Singalong. Handel. Blue Bridge Festival Choir and Orchestra. Trinity United Church, 461 Park Ave., Newmarket. 289-470-1099. $20 or Pwyc.

Dec 18 7:30: Oakville Ensemble. Messiah. Handel. Stéphane Potvin, condcutor. St. John's United Church, 262 Randall St., Oakville. 905-825-9740. $35; $25(adv); $25(sr); $15(sr adv); $15(st).

Dec 18 7:30: Tafelmusik. Handel: Messiah. See Dec 15.

Dec 19 2:00: Tafelmusik. Sing-Along Messiah. Christine Brandes, soprano; Daniel Taylor, countertenor; Rufus Muller, tenor; Brett Polegato, baritone. Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St., Toronto. 416-964-9562. $95-$25.

Dec 19 3:00: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir/Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toronto’s Biggest Messiah. See Dec 16.

Dec 19 7:00: Grand River Chorus. Messiah Singalong. Handel. Heather Plewes, soprano; Richard Cunningham, countertenor/director; Christopher Edwards, tenor; John van Maanen, bass. Heritage United Church, 360 Colborne St., Brantford. 519-770-0478. $25; $20(sr/st); $5(child).

Dec 20 8:00: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir/Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toronto’s Biggest Messiah. See Dec 16.

Dec 20 8:00: Uxbridge Messiah Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Trinity United Church, 20 First Ave., Uxbridge. 905-852-6213. $15 suggested donation.

Dec 21 8:00: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir/Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toronto’s Biggest Messiah. See Dec 16.

Dec 21 8:00: Uxbridge Messiah Singers. Handel’s Messiah. See Dec 20.

img_1325The reigning king of African jazz-funk, Hugh Masekela, held court at Koerner Hall in Toronto on Saturday night. It was a subdued start to the evening as the trumpeter and his five-piece backing band opened with a series of breezy, mid-tempo grooves. It wasn't until after the fourth tune that the band started to break a sweat and Masekela chose to speak to the audience. But I guess when you're 71 you're entitled to take a while to warm up.

When he did speak to the crowd he joked with us, chided us for being too quiet, told stories from his childhood and preached about gratitude. His singing--which he did a surprising amount of--was raw, full-throated and gravelly, in sharp contrast to his flugelhorn playing which was very controlled; soft and sweet one minute, clear and commanding the next.

Masekela is best known for his huge hit from the late 60s, Groovin' in the Grass and since then hasn't had a lot of North American radio play for his solo work, but has guested and toured with other performers such as Paul Simon. But he has been steadily working in South Africa, collaborating with and mentoring musicians there, protesting the political situation through music and regularly releasing records.

Once the band got going there was no stopping them as they played for over two and half hours, eventually getting the whole audience on its feet clapping, singing and celebrating along. The guitarist Cameron Ward got most of the spotlight when Masekela took a breather, as he alternated between iconic African sounds and wailing, distorted solos on his Stratocaster. Every band member got a little solo time to showcase their style, but the band's strength was as a unit as they laid down solid, funky grooves enabling Masekela to stretch out and take us again and again on vocal, spoken word and instrumental adventures.

cirqueeloizeid_sonycentre_006I was there last Friday night for the grand re-opening of the Sony (aka Hummingbird aka O’Keefe) Centre. My travelling companion was 19 years old and we celebrated his newly acquired legal drinking status, before the show started, by crawling from concession to concession (basement, lobby and mezzanine), partaking of Absolut-ly free shooters of various descriptions, and food-on-a-different theme at each concession. Clever idea, each concession was set up to mirror the ethnicity of different shows in this upcoming first season: Japanese at one station (the Kodo Drummers); Chicken Kiev and caviar – separately – for the Kirov Ballet (Kiev/Kirov what’s the difference); Chinese for “Dream of the Red Chamber”; ... well, you get the idea.

The final station we hit (Ontario Rack of Lamb) was in honour of the opening act, Cirque Eloize, hailing from Iles de Madeleine by way of Montreal. Not sure of the symbolism, except maybe the idea that, in hockey anyway, this part of Ontario is forever offering sacrificial lambs to real teams from Quebec. (In this case, I’d say it was the fine little circus troupe that was the sacrificial lamb, but more of that a bit later.)

Read more: Cirque Eloize at the Sony Centre

Every day I pass through Toronto’s Bathurst Street Subway Station, on the way to work. And sometimes, on days when I’m not running late, I pause to listen to the classical music that the Toronto Transit Commission pipes into the station. But as much as I enjoy being gently eased into my working day with a Mozart symphony or a Vivaldi concerto, I’m well aware that the TTC isn’t really trying to gratify my particular musical tastes. There are other motives at work here...


This essay continues on the website 3 Quarks Daily. You'll find a link below:



Sheila Jordan

The Women in Jazz series, organized by Toronto singer Yvette Tollar, is closing with a concert by 81-year-old jazz legend Sheila Jordan.

Jordan's career stretches back to the early 50s when she studied with Charles Mingus in New York and became a huge follower of Charlie Parker (and married Parker's piano player Duke Jordan). Jordan has over 20 recordings under her belt and has performed with such heavies as Lee Konitz and Carla Bley.

Jordan will be performing with JUNO Award-nominated Tollar on Tuesday, September 14 at Hugh's Room, which is an ideal space to experience a singer of Jordan's subtlety. Whether delivering a poignant ballad or making up lyrics on the spot for a blues tune, audiences get caught up in her inventive story telling.

Dave Restivo and Kieran Overs will accompany on piano and bass respectively.

Jordan is also known for mentoring up-and-coming singers and her generosity as a teacher is renowned.

“Sheila is really an inspiration to me and so many other people," said Yvette Tollar. "She loves the music so much and is so sincere about how she delivers it to the world. Whether she's teaching master classes or on stage she is always giving and engaging."

Jordan's one-day workshop is on September 12 at Q Music at 401 Richmond Street in Toronto. Details can be found on the Facebook event page or by contacting Tollar at yvettetollar@hotmail.com.


At The WholeNote, we spend a lot of time looking at the websites of various orchestras. So when the YouTube video below was brought to my attention (by an arts bureaucrat who shall remain nameless), I immediately understood the frustrations that inspired it. I don't know who created it, but it I suspect that its creator has looked at a lot of orchestral websites, too.

Sometimes arts organizations are so eager to broadcast what they want the public to know – how to make a donation, for example – that they lose sight of what it is that the public wants to find out. They may forget that if their website, brochure or other promotional materials are too complicated and user-unfriendly, they simply won't be used.


A little drama has been unfolding in Cleveland. To make a long story very short, Donald Rosenberg, a music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (the city's only daily newspaper) was "reassigned" from his beat for writing too many unfavourable reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra and its conductor, Franz Welser-Möst. Rosenberg sued both his newspaper and the orchestra, alleging that they conspired to remove him from his position.

Rosenberg lost his case. You can read about it here:

I know Rosenberg: he’s a scholar and a gentleman, with oodles of integrity. I’m sorry that he lost – although I can’t say I’m especially surprised, given the forces he was up against.

But there’s one problem at the root of this issue that I haven’t seen articulated: it’s a structural problem throughout the newspaper industry that has a direct bearing on the situation in Cleveland. However, it's a problem that we in Toronto don't have – so as a Toronto-based writer, I'm well placed to point out the error of everyone else's ways.

Now that so many North American cities have become one-paper towns, often with only one classical-music critic, de-facto monopolies of opinion have arisen. This is bad for critics, bad for newspapers and bad for music.

In my view, a healthy criticism thrives on diversity of opinion. Such diversity underscores the subjective nature of criticism: in an environment where there are many critical voices, it’s obvious to all that a review is simply one individual’s subjective position. In an environment where there is only one person writing about classical music, that one person becomes "The Critic," and may be implicitly saddled with expectations of balance, objectivity, and other bogus responsibilities.

One of the complaints expressed by an editor at the Plain Dealer about Rosenberg’s reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra was that his opinions were "predictable." Rosenberg didn’t think much of Welser-Möst’s conducting, and he said so consistently.

I can also see how a newspaper editor would find predictable coverage problematic. Why would anyone bother continuing to read reviews in The (only) Newspaper if The (only) Critic consistently doesn’t like The (only) Conductor? It's the editor's job to keep the "Lively Arts" section lively.

But expecting Rosenberg to moderate (i.e. falsify) his opinions is just plain wrong: it’s his job to be honest. And simply "re-assigning" Rosenberg was a very crude solution. How’s about bringing in a second critic, with different views, to alternate with Rosenberg, or to appear in print alongside his columns?

Toronto, as I noted above, is a happy exception to this problem. I can't think of another North American city with four daily newspapers, three of which cover classical music to some extent. When three differing reviews of a concert appear in print, it makes for interesting reading. And when three reviews appear that all offer the same verdict on a concert, that’s interesting, too.

Check out our latest video interview from the Toronto Summer Music Festival Masterclass series.

[hdplay videoid=8 height=300 width=400 playlist=false autoplay=false]

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