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.

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.

Cathy Riches


elpayo3Back 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.

The gala premiere of El Payo is on Friday May 28 at the Royal Theatre, and anyone who has an interest in flamenco, or in experiencing a little slice of Toronto musical history, should see this film.

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.

Colin Eatock
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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.

Read more: Deral Johnson

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