Sharp-eyed readers have noticed TheWholeNote banner showing up in a less than customary spot – as “presenting sponsor” of a series of public masterclasses, the first time in our fifteen years that we have done so. These particular masterclasses are part of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Academy and Festival. The first of them was Friday July 23 from 3pm to 6pm– members of the Vienna Piano Trio, coaching three of the pre-formed chamber ensembles registered as students for this year’s TSM.
July 23, 3pm. Portrait of legendary opera director Herman Geiger Torel looks out affably over “his” room, as TSM founding artistic director Agnes Grossmann introduces, left to right, cellist Matthias Gredler, pianist Stefan Mendl, and violinist, Wolfgang Redik the acclaimed Vienna Piano Trio.
First student ensemble, The Darjeeling Trio (Ameline Chauvette-Groulx, violin; Leanna Rutt, violoncello; Peter Blake, viola) had prepared Beethoven’s String trio in c, Op.9/3. Gredler gestures, while Mendl to his immediate left, and Redik look on.
Give and take. Gredler and Mendl flank the afternoon’s second ensemble, Duo Axus Mundi (Joelle Mauris, violoncello; Viva Sanchez Reinoso, piano), who had prepared Chopin, Sonata in g, Op. 65.
Reflections. L to R: Redik, violin; Mendl, piano; Gredler, cello, observing, L to R, Sarah Wiebe, Meiyen Lee and Catherine Folstad (Trio Mecasa), the afternoon’s final ensemble, who had prepared Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat M, Op. 70/2
Occasional public masterclasses have been part of the TSM formula from the start. But it’s the first time in five summers that Agnes Grossmann has agreed (somewhat cautiously it must be said) to a series of public masterclasses like this, advertised well in advance. Not counting last Friday’s with the Vienna Piano Trio, there will be five opportunities over the next 3 weeks, for truly obsessive members of the concert-going public to indulge our pleasure in this fascinating concert/classroom hybrid.
And if Friday’s first masterclass was an indicator, we die-hards have something rare and special to look forward to. What greater pleasure can there be, after all, than to sit for two or three hours on the edge of things, entirely ignored, overhearing rather than hearing, while coach and student go over some fine point, over and over and over again? One can literally not hear a complete movement played through, or aria sung, in two or three hours. And yet one can come away from these experiences enlivened in the way one listens, staggered at how much detail true excellence demands, technically and emotionally.
A few minutes after last Friday’s masterclass, I had the pleasure of sitting with Redic, Gredler, and Mendl. Even with a couple of hours rehearsal looming before their dinner, they cheerfully indulged my appetite, whetted by the masterclass itself, to catch glimpses of things from the performer’s point of view. More from that conversation next time.
Next masterclass up is Matthias Goerne, Wednesday July 28 at 10am, in the Geiger Torel Room again, coaching a very interesting vocal threesome – Colin Ainsworth, Leslie-Ann Bradley, and Peter McGillivray, who will themselves present a concert of German Art Songs later in the festival (Aug 4).
The moniker of “best damn band in the land” may have been coined by Rob McConnell himself for one of the dozens of albums he recorded with his legendary big band, but it wasn't an undeserved boast. The Boss Brass set a standard and defined the Canadian sound for big band music for decades.
McConnell died of cancer in a Toronto hospital on May 1, 2010, and with his passing a unique era in big band music ended.
"Rob was one of our greatest gifts to music,” said Ross Porter, CEO and President of Jazz.FM91. “His stature, talent and importance in Canadian jazz should rank him with Oscar Peterson.”
McConnell was an extraordinarily talented arranger, a lyrical trombone player and a bandleader with a reputation for perfection and artistic drive that made The Boss Brass the renowned band it became after its debut in the late 60s.
Born in London, Ontario, McConnell took up the valve trombone in high school and began his performing career in the early 50s, performing and studying with Bobby Gimby and Maynard Ferguson.
But McConnell's influence went well beyond Canadian borders as the band played to acclaim at all the major festivals around the globe. In its heyday in the 70s when the Boss Brass played in clubs in Los Angeles, famed musicians and band leaders from the area, like Nelson Riddle, would flock to the shows. They could even be seen lining up night after night to hear the band, according to long time band member, trumpet and flugelhorn player Guido Basso.
McConnell and the Boss Brass collaborated with many jazz greats over the years including Mel Tormé on Mel Tormé, Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass in 1987 and Velvet and Brass in 1995 and The Singers Unlimited in 1978 on Singers Unlimited with Rob McConnell & The Boss Brass.
The list of musicians who played in the band reads like a who's who of Canadian jazz luminaries: Moe Koffman, Ed Bickert, Don Thompson, Terry Clarke and Guido Basso are just a few.
Awards and honours for McConnell and the band were numerous, with a phenomenal 17 Grammy nominations and three wins for Best Jazz Big Band, Best Arrangement and Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist. McConnell was also recognized at home with three Juno awards in 1978, 1981, 1984, an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1997, and the Order of Canada in 1998.
A unique musical voice, cutting wit and meticulous leadership on the bandstand were just a few of McConnell's trademarks. "His irreverence and comedic touch were endlessly entertaining,” said Porter. “He was a consummate professional, a perfectionist and difficult task master; an arranger of the highest order and one heck of a trombone player. For all of us that knew and worked with Rob, he made our lives richer in the process.”
The Boss Brass last played a three-day concert run at the Old Mill Inn in Toronto in December 2008, which sold out in one day, reviewed here by the Globe and Mail.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s, when the Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto was filled with hippies and cafes, and the notion of world music was just a gleam in Steve Winwood's eye, guitarist David Phillips was quietly building a musical subculture that flourishes to this day in Toronto. Along with his wife, dancer Paula Moreno, and with the support of venues like Joso's and Embrujo Flamenco, Phillips brought flamenco to Toronto.
Flamenco was born in the south of Spain from a mix of cultures, but it is most strongly associated with the gypsies, and many maintain that only gypsies can properly interpret flamenco. “El Payo” which means the non-gypsy, is the title of an excellent new documentary film about the life of David Phillips.
Born in Northern Ontario, Phillips fell in love first with the nylon string guitar, then with flamenco after he was introduced to it by his teacher and great classical guitarist Eli Kassner. Like many non-gypsies who become obsessed with flamenco, Phillips travelled to Spain to study, then brought his knowledge and passion for the art form back to Toronto where he cultivated the next generation of guitarists and dancers, many of whom are featured in the film.
The director and writer of the film, Max Montalvo, is a first time filmmaker – as well as an emergency room physician and guitarist. He's done a marvelous job of tracing the history of the art form in Toronto, gathering archival concert footage and interviewing Phillips' family, former students and fellow guitarists like Eli and Anne Kassner and Liona Boyd, and sensitively telling Phillips ultimately tragic story.
View the trailer for the film here:
Earlier this spring, Canadian Opera Company audiences were treated to the spectacle of two queens battling for supremacy on the stage of the Four Season Centre, in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda.
Now, we learn, the COC has two more queens – this time on the roof. These are queen bees, in a pair of beehives recently installed atop the Four Seasons Centre. Let's hope these queens get along a little better than Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots did: both ladies clearly had bees in their bonnets.
This is the latest idea that the COC has imported from Europe, where bees have been living on the roof of the Paris Opera for some years. However, the COC's bees are more technologically advanced than their French cousins: they have their own blog, on the COC's website. (The COC's blog can be read here.)
It would be a fine thing if the COC could make some money selling the honey the bees produce – and timely too, as the company was stung by a nasty deficit last season. But beyond that, it's not yet clear what role the bees will play within Canada's largest opera company. Will the "Humming Chorus" in Madama Butterfly be replaced with a droning chorus? Will worker bees be substituted for the slaves in the company's upcoming production of Aida? Or will the clever insects become season subscribers, occupying a block of seats in Row B?
Despite all the unanswered questions swarming around this initiative, it has all the markings of a trend that might catch on in Toronto. What will be next? A pond of frogs, kept by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and called upon whenever Israel in Egypt is programmed? An orchestra of cats, herded together for performances in the TSO's annual New Creations Festival? Bats in the belfry at Tafelmusik concerts?
Whatever happens, The WholeNote will keep readers up to date on the latest buzz.
One of this country’s choral legends, conductor, mentor and master teacher, Deral Johnson, passed away recently, on March 24, in a hospice in Arkansas.
Deral, or “DJ,” as he was known by so many, was truly a legend, and a mentor to many of Canada’s finest conductors, including Bob Cooper, Ken Fleet, Brenda Zadorsky, Victoria Meredith (the list is a long one), as well as several noted composers (including Nancy Telfer) and performers (including Darryl Edwards, head of voice studies at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music). I feel so fortunate to have studied conducting and advanced choral conducting with DJ when I was an undergrad, back in the late 70s, in the Music Education programme at the University of Western Ontario.
It’s a nice problem to have when renowned international musicians are clamouring to play in your concert venue – and according to Mervon Mehta, the Royal Conservatory’s Executive Director of Performing Arts, no less than Yo-Yo Ma was one of the clamourers. As announced today, Ma will be opening Koerner’s second season on October 14 accompanied by Katherine Scott.
There’s a new jazz room in town, and it's a very welcome addition to what has become a meagre choice of jazz venues, given Toronto's size and sophistication. When I say “new” I hasten to add that there have been jazz concerts going on at The Old Mill Inn for some time now via the Home Smith Bar. As well, Jazz.FM91 has been running its Sound of Jazz concert series there for the last couple of years. But the Old Mill has also recently added regular jazz concerts in their main dining room via the Thursday Night Jazz Club.
I was there this past Thursday for one of my favourite singers, Karrin Allyson. Allyson and her trio appeared as part of the "TDJ Presents" series, which will see international artists playing once a month, courtesy of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival. The first set starts at 7:30, making it possible for morning people to actually get out and see some live music, have a drink or a meal, and still make it home before their coach turns into a pumpkin. And seeing a singer of Allyson’s calibre in an intimate setting like the Old Mill was a total treat.
Her appealing sandpaper-on-velvet voice sounded as good in person as it does on any of her 12 albums as she made her way through a range of styles like blues, swing and bossa nova. Always technically spot-on yet maintaining a relaxed, assured manner, she made that Brazilian tongue- and larynx-twister “O Pato” seem like a day at the beach. “Footprints,” the gorgeous Wayne Shorter cover from her 2006 album of the same name, was a case study in ballad singing.
The next in the "TDJ Presents" series is New York piano master Bill Mays, with Terry Clarke and Neil Swainson, on April 22. The Thursday Night Jazz Club will include regular big band nights, which is also a welcome addition, since there are so few clubs that can comfortably handle bands of that size. The next one is the Bob DeAngelis Champagne Big Band on March 25.
While I’m on the topic of jazz venues, I want to mention Koerner Hall’s phenomenal programming. Since it opened in the fall of ’09, Koerner has showcased an outstanding line-up of local and international acts from a range of musical genres. So I was delighted to note that this year it will be a part of the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival, hosting such greats as David Sanborn, Roy Hargrove and Dave Brubeck. The opening night act is Nikki Yanofsky, who is fresh off her massive success at the Vancouver Olympics. (She was the voice we all heard on that earworm of an anthem, “I Believe.”) Yanofsky will be a fun way to start the festival off and to potentially introduce a new audience to the acoustical delights of Koerner Hall.
To mark four decades of Canada-China diplomatic relations, the China Broadcasting Traditional Orchestra (CBTO) was invited to make their Canadian debut at the Roy Thomson Hall.
Let me explain. Sunday, Colin Eatock my editor said “What’s the title of your piece for this month?” (The table of contents had to go to the printer early, you see.) So I told him.
And now here I am, two days later, hoist with my own petard, wondering what the hell I was thinking of.
Maybe I was planning to write about the fact that up until the year of my birth, 1952, the Olympics offered medals for much more than sport. Canadian composer John Weinzweig, in fact, won a silver medal for composing at the 1948 London Games. I kid you not. But Martin Knelman at the Toronto Star scooped me on the Weinzweig story, almost two weeks ago. (He makes a habit of this sort of thing. Just ask the folks at the COC.)
It would have been a good story too. I would have started by musing on the irony that artists got booted from the Olympics in ‘52 because, the IOC said, the good ones were all professional, and therefore in violation of the Games’ principles of amateurism. And I would have finished by muttering darkly at how in Vancouver 2010 we couldn’t think of anyone better to light the torch symbolizing all that is good in amateur sport than an individual whose own career epitomizes the extent to which in North America professional, mercenary sport reigns supreme.
Or maybe I was thinking that I could find something interesting to say about the relationship between music and sport. And there probably is something worth exploring in that. “Compare and contrast the relationship of music and the Olympics to the relationships between a) music and supermarket shopping, b) music and winning lottery tickets, c) music and cellphones, d) music and academy award acceptance speeches … .”
Maybe I was just going to say something about wishing for the good old days of the CBC. Or wonder out loud why a song called “Both Sides Now” has three verses. Or why anyone would come up with an arrangement of “O Canada” for an occasion like this that would prevent the crowd from singing along.
Maybe I was intending to write about Measha Brueggergosman’s stirring rendition of the Olympic anthem. But I must confess that I swooned so deeply when k.d. lang began singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that I did not resurface until the flags were flying, so I’d be lying if I said I was really there for that moment.
Or maybe I thought there was something profound to be said about the role of music in figure skating. After all, figure skating is dancing on ice, right? And dancers … . Well, never mind.
I have my athletic trophy somewhere (unless my mother finally threw it away). It was the cup I won in grade one in the Northcliff Primary School sports day. First prize for … fanfare if you please … the under six musical chairs race. You know how it works, right? Twenty people traipse in a circle round nineteen chairs till the music stops. Then everyone races for a seat. The person left standing gets eliminated, another chair gets taken away, and so it continues until it’s just me and Philip Rogoff left, circling the one remaining chair. Waiting for the moment when the music stops, so we can go for gold.
And now? I’m sitting round waiting for the “going for gold” to stop, so I can get back to the music.
Guess I’ve got an an even worse than usual case of the Toronto end-of-February-tell-me-please-what-is-my-destiny blues.
And only music can cure that.
I heard pianist Angela Hewitt on Friday night, when she gave a recital at Roy Thomson Hall: Bach’s Italian Concerto, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 10 No. 3 and Brahms’ Sonata No. 3. As the programme notes explained, this repertoire was chosen for a specific reason. These works were among the pieces she played on the same stage 25 years ago – in her successful effort to win first prize in the 1985 Toronto International Bach Competition.
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