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


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.

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Evidently, summer has caught me napping. Last weekend (July 24-25), I was in Stratford, where John Miller, director of Stratford Summer Music, told me that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra had announced that their joint plans for a summer festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake had been quietly shelved.

This was news to me – and I can’t help thinking that the mid-July announcement was intended to go pretty much unnoticed. However, a little online research brought me up to date: a press release, dated July 13, coyly cited a “complex economic and political environment” for the collapse of the initiative, after five-and-a-half years of planning.

This seems to be a reference to the opposition from some local residents that has plagued the project for several years. And it’s probably also a reference to the estimated $76 million that construction of the site was going to cost – most of it in government funding, from various levels. In plainer English, it was a small but noisy NIMBY group and Nervous Nelly politicians that killed the project.

Before the plug was quietly plugged, the TSO and NACO made glowing comparisons of their vision to the Tanglewood and Salzburg festivals, and predicted that the project would pump $100 million annually into the Ontario economy. Thus, the expenses would be recouped in the first year of operation. After that, the $20 million the festival would cost to run annually would amount to only one-fifth of the revenues it would generate. And since Niagara-on-the-Lake is right on the Canada-US border, much of the festival’s income would have come from visiting Americans, spending dollars that otherwise wouldn't have found their way into the Canadian economy at all.

Am I being oversensitive, or to I smell a whiff of disdain for something as “elitist” and “superfluous” as classical music – mixed, perhaps, with a little Toronto/Ottawa bashing? That would be ironic, since the plan was to establish the festival in a part of the province that already makes big bucks from its wineries, tourism, and of course the Shaw Festival. You’d think that politicians and local residents would have come to understand the benefits – in economic terms, at least – that the arts and culture can bring to a community.

But perhaps the NACO and the TSO presumed too much, and in this there may be a lesson to be learned. Ontario is a big place, and I hope that attempts to establish a major orchestral festival will be renewed. Only next time, the orchestras would do well to first determine that they’re going into an area where they’re entirely wanted, and that they have the political support they need.

Below, you’ll find a group of links that offer information and opinions on this sad story.

Colin Eatock, managing editor

Well the die-hards, self included, were lining up for the Geiger Torel Room at nine twenty this morning for Matthias Goerne’s public masterclass – there were thirty to forty of us I’d say by by ten when it started. Two hours; three singers in turn, forty minutes each, Liz Upchurch on piano.
The three singers each brought a mini-set of lieder (by three different composers) from their upcoming Aug 4 joint concert.  Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano, started things off with Richard Strauss, to be followed by Colin Ainsworth, tenor, (Hugo Wolf), and then Peter McGillivray, baritone (Robert Schumann). Reverse chronology.

Herman Geiger Torel presiding …

Goerne gets things going, bright and early after a spellbinding recital at Koerner the night before. Fresh as a daisy. Must have been his characters suffering on stage the night before, not him.

Engaging with pianist Liz Upchurch for the first time. “Collaborative pianist” describes much more accurately than “accompanist” the role that Upchurch will play over the next two hours.  In his teaching as in his singing Goerne worries through every detail of tempo, line, attack, breath – impacted viscerally and visibly by vocal and instrumental line alike, sailing back and forth between Upchurch at the piano and each of the singers as the music-making moves him.

Leslie Ann Bradley, takes the plunge – in at the technical deep end with Strauss’s Die nacht, Op. 10 No 3.

Sounding-like-you-know-what-you’re-talking-about terminology lesson: in a masterclass you don’t call the master the master, you call him or her the coach; and you don’t call the two waiting their turn (l. McGillivray, r. Ainsworth) the victims.

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Ainsworth with Wolf’s der Tambour  and Auf dem grunen Balkon, is next.

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And then McGillivray with Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Goerne’s own repertoire


A few minutes after this photo I sat for a quick chat with the singers. See below for the interview. 

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Next up for us masterclass die-hards will be a Sunday double header: Menahem Pressler coaching at 10:00am, and the Pacifica Quartet, at 2:30.  As with Goerne, we will be watching a masterclass the night following the coaches’own concert.

Leslie Ann Bradley, takes the plunge – in at the technical deep end with Strauss’s Die nacht, Op. 10 No 3.

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