TOJazzFest 2018 Savion Glover and Marcus GilmoreThis article is part of a 3-part series on the 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

On Tuesday, June 26, tap dancer Savion Glover and drummer Marcus Gilmore performed at Koerner Hall as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. Toronto-based tap dancer Allison Toffan – founder of the Toronto International Tap Dance Festival – introduced Glover as “the best tap dancer in the world.” Since making his Broadway debut at age 11, Glover has earned multiple Tony and Drama Desk awards, made numerous television and film appearances, and has been active as a choreographer, including for the George Miller-directed motion picture Happy Feet. Though Gilmore is almost always introduced as “the grandson of Roy Haynes,” he has developed a unique voice of his own as a leading drummer in modern and avant-garde jazz projects, including work on albums by Chris Potter, Steve Coleman, Mark Turner, Vijay Iyer and Chick Corea. Together – and largely without the use of narrative, harmony, or melody – Glover and Gilmore created an intimate, clattering masterpiece, notable for its humour, for its generous interplay, and for its deep commitment to artistic integrity.

Before continuing, let me clarify that I know very little about tap dancing, and that I make no claim to any tap-specific expertise. What I can say with confidence, however, is that part of the show’s charm was its accessibility for audience members who located themselves at any point on the music-dance spectrum. Glover danced on a large wooden board, elevated approximately twelve inches off of the stage floor, with microphones underneath routed to a small mixing console adjacent to the board and accessible to Glover. Positioned stage left of Glover, Gilmore’s drum kit was set up at a 45-degree angle to the front of the stage, to afford easy eye contact with Glover.

Glover and Gilmore performed two pieces, the second of which functioned as a kind of built-in encore. The first piece – which, at approximately an hour long, constituted the bulk of the performance – began with Glover dancing sparsely, using the outside of the board to create tight, high-pitched tones, as Gilmore joined, using his bass drum and toms to create complementary sounds, before moving to his full kit. The full significance of the performance was not apparent until twenty minutes in, at which point Gilmore triggered a few ambient chords with the aid of a laptop. Until that moment, the show had contained no sounds other than those generated by Glover’s tap shoes and Gilmore’s drums, but had already elicited multiple rounds of spontaneous applause and cheers from the audience. To describe the experience as “stripped-down” or “spare” would do a disservice to the music, which was rich and captivating from beat one, but it seems important to mention that there was no real narrative, very little harmony, and no melody in the traditional sense (with the exception of a few phrases of Mongo Santamaría’s Afro Blue, sung by Glover). In the absence of these elements, the focus was squarely on rhythm and texture, and, with ample acoustic space in which to work, small shifts and subtle interplay between Glover and Gilmore became the most exciting parts of the evening. At one point, when the two were trading, the music felt like modern small-ensemble jazz; at another, when the two were playing longer sections together, the music felt like a Steve Reich composition. During the second piece – which followed a standing ovation, a loudly proclaimed “Thank you!” from a member of the audience, and a brief water break – Glover used a delay effect on his board to create ethereal, percussive sounds, pausing briefly to deadpan “Kids, don’t try this at home.” Leaving the show, it was reassuring to witness that this was not taken seriously, as many members of the audience danced their way out of The Royal Conservatory, responding physically to a show that was one of the highlights of the 2018 festival.

Savion Glover and Marcus Gilmore performed on June 26 as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, at Koerner Hall, Toronto.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

 

Christopher Plummer with the TSO. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.The moment Christopher Plummer walked out through the orchestra onto the stage of Roy Thomson Hall on June 26 calling out “How now my hearts, where are these lads?” this concert was everything I had hoped it would be: a heavenly blend of Shakespearean soliloquies and sonnets with music inspired by the plays, filled with what felt like a magnetic spur-of-the-moment connection between actor, conductor, orchestra, and audience.

This is the way a “words and music” concert should be – alive and organically structured, with an arc from beginning to end, and with Peter Oundjian not only a superb conductor and the TSO an excellent orchestra with the music in their bones, but a superb actor with the music in his bones equally to the Shakespearean text. Unusually, this show was created by its star, Christopher Plummer, about seven years ago with Julian Armour, artistic director of Ottawa’s Music and Beyond festival. Over this past year, Plummer revised and reworked the show slightly with Oundjian to suit the scale of a full classical orchestra onstage.

With the text almost entirely memorized, Plummer moved around the stage, establishing a partnership with the conductor and orchestra and talking to us directly – in character or as himself to introduce a new section of words and music.

The selection of words was both expected and unusual: after Hamlet came both Oberon and Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with excerpts from Mendelssohn’s famous Dream music, but then Plummer turned to us to introduce those two rather un-feminist and frustrated scoundrels Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing and Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew, interspersed with some of Nino Rota’s music for the film of Shrew, before sending us off to intermission with a short quote from the loveable “Bully Bottom” from Dream.

After the intermission the really big guns came out. Plummer began with, perhaps, his most famous Shakespeare part – Henry V – followed by the equally famous music created by William Walton for Laurence Olivier’s film of the play. This was particularly glorious to watch, as Plummer clearly knows and loves this character and the music, moving freely and energetically declaiming the speeches to us and to those onstage. Watching this, it is no wonder he has famously performed a full program of Henry V with Walton’s music with orchestras around the world (including here with Oundjian and the TSO in 2011).

Also expected on the program was Romeo and Juliet, which came next, but unexpected was Plummer’s intro note that, although he had performed both Romeo and Mercutio in the past, now that he is “grown up” he was going to take on Juliet who has (as I recall him saying) “some of the best poetry ever written about the beauties and agonies of love.” He launched into a heartfelt, lovely rendition of Juliet’s soliloquy “Gallop apace you fiery footed steeds.” Prokofiev’s dramatic Romeo and Juliet music was interwoven perfectly through this section. Next were excerpts spoken and musical from Cymbeline and then, again an expected inclusion, Prospero from The Tempest, a play believed by most scholars to be Shakespeare’s own farewell to the theatre and a part that Plummer played to acclaim at the Stratford Festival not long ago.  Unexpected to finish was a happy, short quote from Much Ado About Nothing: a cheerful, upbeat note to finish a magical evening of superbly interwoven words and music.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented “Christopher Plummer’s Symphonic Shakespeare” on June 26 at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Pianist Eve Egoyan. Photo credit: Sam Barnes.Back in April of this year, I had the opportunity to speak at length with pianist Eve Egoyan for my WholeNote column in advance of her concert on April 14 at the Music Gallery. When I asked her about upcoming projects, she spoke about her major project to be premiered at the Luminato Festival – SOLO FOR DUET: works for augmented piano and images, which received its premiere this week on June 19 and 20. One of the things I remembered her saying was how this was the most extroverted performance she’s ever done. Known for creating a depth of intimacy between herself and the audience at her performances, this new adventure was certainly an example of risk-taking by the performer, and I was curious to experience how this new venture played out.

The title of the piece, with its somewhat contradictory references to a work that is a ‘solo’ but yet a ‘duet’, turned out to be an accurate description of what unfolded on the stage. Moving beyond a mere concert presentation of the six chosen works by six different composers, a coherent flow was established between the pieces using theatrical elements and costume, a result of the work by director and dramaturge Joanna McIntyre. The other core elements of the entire program were the use of projected images as well as performing on a Disklavier, a keyboard that doubles as a digital version of the player piano, capable of performing programmed sequences and processing the sound. Present throughout the entire evening was a felt sense of the ‘other’ with whom Egoyan was in dialogue with, whether that be the composer, the images, or the music itself.

From the beginning, a distilled presence was established as the music began in darkness.  Using an extremely gradual fade-in of the light, slowly we began to see the score on the piano, the performer, and a long expanse of fabric weaving its way on the floor like a river. The first work, Thought and Desire by Linda Catlin Smith, was a love song between two people using text by William Shakespeare. Egoyan’s voice could gradually be heard as she sang the melodic line created by the short chordal harmonic progressions. Switching to a completely different persona for Homonymy by John Oswald, Egoyan put on her shoes, grabbed a whip and emotionally declaimed a series of words in partnership with a profusion of stream-of-consciousness of similar words projected on the screen – a play on the possibilities of the homonym. Oswald makes great use of the Disklavier for this piece, with programmed sequences joined at times by Egoyan playing live, along with piano preparations and inside-the-piano gestures and objects.

Nicole Lizée’s signature aesthetic of merging glitched film with virtuosic musical performance was mesmerizing in a piece entitled David Lynch Études. Using footage from Lynch’s Wild At Heart (1990) for example, Egoyan was synced up with the performers onscreen to create an aura of surreal obsession. Surface Tension is a series of five visual/musical works created by Egoyan and David Rokeby that appeared in three parts spread out over the last half of the concert. Rokeby’s interactive software created visual worlds in response to Egoyan’s performance, with the concept of ‘duet’ very much in evidence as she improvised  in dialogue with unfolding images that moved from simple to complex designs.

The technical prowess of the Disklavier really came to the fore with the final two works. EVƎ (solo piano for Eve Egoyan) by Michael Snow was created through a translation process. Snow began by improvising on the Disklavier keyboard that was subsequently transcribed into musical notation designed by Rokeby. Egoyan’s genius of being able to embody and translate notation into her own expression brought the work to life such that it felt like the two creators were merged into one. As the concert wound down to its close, Egoyan gradually removed parts of her costume, let down her hair and took off her shoes. This more naked visual image of the performer was a perfect visual complement for the moment when she premiered a work of her own creation – DUET for Solo Piano. The piece was born out of the desire to have the piano sound like she wished it could. What we heard from this exquisite work, my favourite of the evening I might add, were the subtle detuning of pitches, pitch glissandos, and the impression at times that a larger ensemble was playing. In the end the piece perfectly embodied that fluid space between solo and duet.

Eve Egoyan presented SOLO FOR DUET as part of the Luminato Festival on June 19 and 20, at the Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

Ryuichi Sakamoto.“I’m fascinated by the notion of a perpetual sound,” Ryuichi Sakamoto says. “One that won’t dissipate over time.“ He’s seated at the piano listening to the sound he’s just made melt into thin air. But as Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, Stephen Nomura Schible’s meticulous documentary on the now 66-year-old composer-performer indicates, Sakamoto’s own music is likely to outlast him.

Sakamoto with bow and cymbal.The film, shot over a five-year period, begins with footage of Sakamoto playing a piano that survived the 2011 tsunami. We follow his anti-nuclear activism triggered by Fukushima and then enter with him into his one-year sabbatical from music while he fights throat cancer. Once he’s able, his musical career resumes with the scoring of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant and working on his first solo album in eight years, async. We see him assiduously creating soundscapes on his computer (while sitting on an exercise ball), using natural forest sounds, for example, or delighting in the imposing result of a violin bow stroked over a cymbal that becomes fodder for The Revenant’s main theme. He imagines that his new album will be like composing for an Andrei Tarkovsky film that doesn’t exist.

Coda is that rare document that captures a composer’s creative process. There are no talking heads, no mention of Sakamoto’s personal life, marriages, children and the like. Instead we see his fascination with the great Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky’s use of Bach chorales. Sakamoto is consumed by the melancholy of Bach’s music.

Schible uses 1979 footage of Sakamoto from his synth-based heyday with the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra as a stepping stone to an overview of his film career. When Nagisa Oshima asked him to act in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence opposite David Bowie, Sakamoto refused unless he could also write the score. The result was arguably the most iconic and recognizable of his entire musical output, a simple repetitive tune that is as beautiful 35 years later as it was when the film was released in 1983. That led to his Academy Award-winning contribution to Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic Oscar winner, The Last Emperor (1986), and his echt romantic score for Bertolucci’s gorgeous follow-up, The Sheltering Sky (1990). We watch Sakamoto conducting an orchestra for the soundtrack in studio while the matching footage for both movies is shown onscreen.

Sakamoto playing the tsunami piano.The Sheltering Sky was based on a book by Paul Bowles, who had a cameo in the film. Sakamoto thought Bowles was the best thing about it and used Bowles’voiceover in async’s fullmoon, the album’s emotional centre. “Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well,” Bowles says. “How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”

In choosing sounds for his new project, Sakamoto is also responding to the improvisatory nature of music and the way life itself has seemed to mirror it. Even the tsunami piano is returning to its natural state, he says. Schible’s lens captures it all for posterity.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda plays on June 20 at 7pm as part of the 7th annual Japanese Film Festival in the Japanese Cultural Centre, Kobayashi Hall, 6 Garamond Court, Toronto.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Rachel Poirier (right) and Alexander Leonhartsberger in Swan Lake. Photo credit: Foteini Christofilopoulou.Luminato’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala is not Swan Lake as a ballet fan would expect. There are no kings, no queens, princes or princesses, and yet – there is enchantment, dancing and magic; there is beauty at the heart of darkness.

The setup is odd, almost disconcerting: on a bare stage with a metal platform stretching across the back, random step ladders around the edges, with abandoned sets of white wings scattered here and there, an older man wearing nothing but dingy underpants is tethered by a rope around his neck to a concrete block at the centre of the stage, bleating like a goat or sheep as he walks in his wide restricted circles. He is there as we enter to find our seats, and still there as the lights dim for the show proper to begin.

To the moody haunting music of Irish/Nordic trio Slowly Moving Clouds (onstage and playing throughout), three men in old fashioned black suits and hats (looking a bit like Mennonites) approach the man/sheep and proceed to ritually “slaughter” him through choreography using bright red towels to signal the spilling of blood. (By the end of the show we will have seen this man's journey, a descent from man to vicious beast, retroactively making more sense of this animalistic beginning). At the end of this ceremony the man is dressed in nondescript dark shirt and pants, set up on a stool with a microphone to speak into but refuses to say anything until given a cigarette and some food. Once he has these, he begins to tell a tale: Teaċ Daṁsa's version of Swan Lake, Loch na hEala (with echoes as well of the Irish legend The Children of Lir), which he soon begins to become part of and reenact for us, taking on the roles of three dark characters who together embody this story's version of von Rothbart, the dark sorcerer of the classic ballet who turned captive maidens into swans.

The first of these characters to whom we are introduced is the most crucial, as it is he who creates the swans – a false priest who threatens the handicapped girl he abuses and her sisters, promising that they will be turned into “brute beasts” if they dare to breathe a word of what they have seen. He and the other two ‘dark’ characters, a corrupt local politician and an easily corruptible policeman who help to take the story on a tragic downward spiral, have been described by Irish critics as Irish “mythic demons.” Indeed, there is a definite archetypal quality to these men, although they are also very definitely contemporary, as is the story and setting. Acclaimed Irish actor Mikel Murfi is extraordinary, as these three ‘demons’ and the narrator.

The only other speaking character is an ancient, poverty stricken, wheelchair-ridden widow, the mother of the 'prince' in this version of the story – her 36-year-old son Jimmy, clinically depressed at the recent loss of his father and the looming loss of his ancestral cottage which his mother is determined to have replaced by a cheap modern “council house.”

The ugliness of the modern setting and story is so striking that at first the universality is not apparent, and the visceral connection made by Irish and British audiences to the production is not the same for a Canadian audience distanced by an ocean and by a different cadence of speech.

What is magical and striking, however, is how the ugliness of the modern setting sets off the transcendent beauty of the two central pas de deux for Jimmy and Finola, the abused girl who becomes a swan whom he meets in a lake behind his house. This first meeting of the two misfit outsiders is breathtaking, and had me on the edge of my seat in wonder at the emotion and vulnerability expressed by the choreography (and through the exquisite dancing of Alex Leonhartsberger and Rachel Poirier). Director and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan grew up in a place where the swans returned for winter and he seems to have absorbed their physicality and passed it on to his dancers, who echoed a real pair of swans in the tentative beginnings of their dance and the twining gentle beauty of their coming together.

The second “black swan” pas de deux – which in the classical ballet pairs the prince with the evil sorcerer's flashily beautiful daughter Odile who, disguised as the good (white) swan Odette, wins the prince for herself – is here a second meeting of Jimmy and Finola, each more damaged than before but still inescapably drawn to each other.

As in the ballet, both Jimmy and Finola die at the end, but in this case there is a “coda” of sorts which, while it felt the other night a bit detached from the story, seems to be intended as a recovery or rediscovery of joy as all the cast dance and move around the stage in an improvised tumble of real swan feathers – punctuated at the very end by the sad figure of Finola, sitting on top of the ladder downstage right looking out over the audience.

A wonderful beginning to the 2018 Luminato Festival.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala ran from June 6 to 10 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto.

The Luminato Festival runs in various locations throughout Toronto, from June 6 to 24.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

AllisonAu bannerAllison AuAllison Au – saxophonist, composer and bandleader – has been consistently busy since she graduated from Humber College in 2008.  Her debut album, The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey, was nominated for a JUNO in 2013; her second album, Forest Grove, won the JUNO in the Jazz Album of The Year: Group category in 2016.

Au is preparing both to go on a cross-Canada tour (starting in Calgary on June 14 and ending in Montreal on July 5) and to record a new album of original music. I had the opportunity to sit down and speak to her recently about the new tour and the new album, as well as her compositional process, the history of her relationship to the saxophone, and a growing conversation about gender and privilege in the local jazz community.

The WholeNote: So tell me more about the music you’re writing for this new album.

Allison Au: It’s in the same vein as what we’ve done before, but I’m always trying to experiment more with keyboards. I kind of leave that up to Todd [Pentney, the pianist in Allison’s quartet], but I’ve been talking to him as I’m writing some new stuff, saying “this is the vibe, I’m going for this, here are some of the sounds you could work with.”

Maybe the bigger change is that I’ve started studying piano with Frank Falco. He’s kind of the shit. I have limited piano skills… and he’s great, because he really treats you just like a beginner, acknowledging that you have a musical background, of course: I understand the harmony and the theory, but technically I’m very slow to execute. So it’s really opened up my perspective. I was feeling, for a little bit last year, that I’d hit a wall with my writing. And because I use the piano so much for writing, I just don’t have the technique to figure out certain things.

WN: So what has that allowed you to do that you wouldn’t have been able to do before, in terms of writing and composing?

AA: From a technical perspective, [Falco] has literally given me some technique stuff to check out, so I feel [that I have] more command over the instrument. But I think, more importantly, every lesson has been an incredible theory lesson. He’s talked about the sounds of different chords, and ways to voice them that I never would have thought of. He’s a very open guy, and he talks in really simple terms, without being condescending.

He’s assuming that you don’t know, at the beginning of the lesson, where it’s going… and he takes you on a little journey. It’s really fun, and it’s awakened a sense of childlike exploration, which on a new instrument is awesome. Having played my instrument [the saxophone] there’s all of this stuff – this intellectual and psychological process happening in your brain – but with an instrument that’s relatively new to you, you feel as though you can get in touch with [a different] side of things, and things click in a different way.

WN: Has anything changed – or not – in your experience being a bandleader, being a woman, being a person of colour? People seem to be talking about this more openly now, in a way that they haven’t really before. I know that there’s been a conversation that’s been happening in the jazz community in Toronto.

AA: Well, you mentioned the New York Times article, which I read when it came out a few weeks ago. I am, of course, totally supportive of everything that’s happening, and I think that there are a lot of conversations that are overdue, but to speak to my own experience, I’ve been really lucky in my working environment and my school experience, in that I feel that I didn’t really experience anything really negative in that way. But I think that any woman in any situation does have to behave differently than men do; you can’t be too chummy with your male teachers, and there’s a lot of unspoken etiquette. And I did kind of lament that some of the male students could establish a friendly rapport with the male teachers, whereas with a lot of the women, [that close mentor/student dynamic] just wasn’t an option. That said, I absolutely support everything that’s been happening: certain things have now come to the spotlight and all of these voices are being heard, because people feel more comfortable with sharing.

WN: It’s interesting, because I think that some high school and post-secondary music institutions – from festivals such as MusicFest to undergraduate jazz programs – can enable women, and certain people of colour, to have access to a kind of training that they may not have had 50 years ago, when [jazz] was less institutionalized and more of an on-the-road/club culture. On the one hand, it opens it up to a lot of people – but at the same time, the very nature of institutional hierarchy means that there are mostly men who are represented in positions of power.

AA: Totally – and that representation matters. I know that for me, one of the big reasons I was initially attracted to playing the saxophone is because I saw a woman playing one.

WN: Who was it?

AA: Well, I went to an arts school from grades four to eight, and my band teacher was a woman who played the saxophone, and it was the biggest thing for me at the time. And, of course, Lisa Simpson [laughs]. Maybe even subliminally, that was a cool thing for me. I think at that age, you just see things and don’t even know why you like it, but you just think it’s cool. It’s as simple as that.

And the longer I do this, the nicer it is to see more and more women – who are both younger than me, and also older, who are inspirations to me – doing this.

It was really nice to read that Times article, because I agree with and support everything they’re saying, and I think it’s great that we’re having this conversation now. I know that there’s still a lot of work to be done, and there are conversations happening in every workplace, and it’s really important that we have it in music too, regardless of genre. In jazz there are still so few women, but more are coming every year – which is great.

Allison Au’s upcoming tour of Canadian jazz festivals runs until July 5, and includes stops in Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Winnipeg, Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal. For details, visit www.allisonau.com.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

From the cover of The WholeNote vol. 6 no. 9 - June 2001WholeNote readers who remember with affection Jim Galloway’s 16 years as Jazz Notes columnist with The WholeNote will be interested to know that the James Cullingham/Tamarack Productions documentary, Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz, will receive its premiere (free) live screening at Church of the Redeemer (Bloor and Avenue Rd.) on Thursday, June 28 at 7pm. This will be its only live screening prior to its broadcast on TVO on Thursday July 5 at 10pm. The screening will be followed by a live performance by saxophonist Mike Murley and pianist Mark Eisenman.
Given Galloway’s 23-year relationship as founding artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz, it’s fitting that the June 28 screening is under the auspices of TD Toronto Jazz Festival – Church of the Redeemer being one of eight Yorkville area venues, indoor and out, that will be hosting performances during the festival.

The Ken Page Memorial Trust (one of Galloway’s passionate causes) and The WholeNote have been co-presenting twice- or thrice-yearly reunions of the Galloway Wee Big Band, with Martin Loomer at the helm, at the Garage here at 720 Bathurst St., Toronto (The WholeNote’s home base). The hundreds of Galloway fans and WholeNote followers will get a special kick out of the footage in the film from one of those events. But the film also traces a wide geographic arc (Dairy (Scotland), Glasgow, Kansas City, Vienna), as it depicts some of the things that made this remarkable jazz ambassador tick.

Anyone who attended the most recent of those 720 Bathurst events will be particularly pleased at the choice of Mike Murley for the live set that follows the film. Murley guested with the Wee Big Band for this year’s February 15 Garage reunion event, and laid down an evening of the kind of playful, punny, sweetly considerate lines that were a hallmark of Galloway’s own memorable melodic style.

Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz will receive its free premiere screening, featuring performances by saxophonist Mike Murley and pianist Mark Eisenman, at 7pm on Thursday, June 28, at Church of the Redeemer, Toronto.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Mark Lee (violin) and Leana Rutt (cello), performing at Pocket Concerts' June 3 event. Photo credit: Rory McLeod.Over the course of five seasons and 71 concerts, Pocket Concerts continues to realize their goal of providing an intimate classical music experience. Co-director, violist Rory McLeod, says it’s the immediacy of the music that comes through in the venues they choose, most of which are hosted by local music lovers in their own homes. But there was a slight difference in the June 3 season finale: the hosts’ regular venue being unavailable, their enterprising search for a substitute led them to Only One Gallery, a large space with exposed brick walls in an alley off Brock Ave. just north of Queen, that comfortably seated 60 spread across four widely spaced rows.

The room’s acoustic was electric with a transparency that generated the immediacy McLeod mentioned to me. The choice of music and musicians undoubtedly contributed as well. The two pieces featured in the concert – Schulhoff’s Duo for Violin and Cello and Schoenberg’s string sextet, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) – were works that McLeod had long wanted to program. Once he had worked out the logistics of bringing together string players from as far away as Halifax and Winnipeg, he was able to go ahead. The disparate nature of the participants made the Sunday afternoon recital into a kind of mini-festival, with Mark Lee, assistant concertmaster of Symphony Nova Scotia, violinist Elizabeth Skinner of McGill, Keith Hamm, principal violist of the COC, Leana Rutt, assistant principal cellist of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Julie Hereish, assistant principal cellist of Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, and McLeod himself on viola.

Schulhoff’s Duo for Violin and Cello opened the proceedings. Filled with Czech folk music, rhythms and dance, it was a showcase for the ardent playing of violinist Mark Lee and cellist Leana Rutt. Lee foregrounded the rich variety of sound from exposed and plaintive to jagged and rhythmic, from the earthy power of a Roma-flavoured peasant dance to the sensuality of the agitated finale. Rutt’s cello proved a compliant partner, from bittersweet accompaniment to melodic dialogue, all resoundingly live in the space.

Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night is an intense emotional journey inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmer, in which a woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant by another man, but over the course of a moonlit walk through a bare, cold wood, the lover tells the woman that he will accept the stranger’s child as his own. The level of sensuality in the music rivals Wagner. The shift to D Major, which echoes the man’s acceptance of his lover’s confession, is a broad stroke of hyper-Romanticism, beginning the transfigurative process that occupies the last half of the work. The door to the gallery from the alleyway was open during the concert and, in a kind of pathetic fallacy, a burst of fresh air entered the space to herald the comforting harmonies that follow this key change. Moody, tense and filled with climactic waves in its first half, the piece settles into a lovely upward figure that rises from the strings to set the tone that all will be well in life and art. It was as if, in going on such a powerful, musically complex journey with this work, Schoenberg had reached the limits of conventional tonality.

All Pocket Concerts include wine and snacks following the music, an intimate impromptu cocktail party that encourages audience and music-makers to interact. So it was I learned that it took only a full day of rehearsal the previous Saturday to prepare for the concert we had just heard; a tribute to the professionalism and musicianship of the performers.

An ad hoc quartet of Hamm, Skinner, McLeod and Hereish performed two encores: arrangements of Nordic folk tunes by the Danish String Quartet. The first, a Danish fiddle tune, flourished in the string quartet format; the second, Peat Dance, had a distinct Scottish feel and an energy which the audience clearly appreciated.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Recipients of the 2018 Toronto Arts Foundation Awards. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Arts Foundation.We are proud and happy to say that yesterday (May 16, 2018) The WholeNote was among the award winners at the annual Toronto Arts Foundation Mayor’s Luncheon at the King Edward Hotel.

The WholeNote was awarded the Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition, in support of work within the local music community. Other TAF Award winners include RISE Edutainment (Arts for Youth Award), Ruth Howard of Jumblies Theatre (Celebration of Cultural Life Award), Jivesh Parasram (Emerging Artist Award), and Active Green + Ross and RBC (Toronto Arts and Business Award).

In accepting the RTH award on behalf of The WholeNote, publisher David Perlman spoke to the block by block city-building vision shared by TAF and The WholeNote, as follows:

“I want to acknowledge Allan Pulker, co-founder of TheWholeNote (or Pulse as it was originally known) 23 years ago. His unshakeable belief in the richness and variety of Toronto’s grass-roots music scene is the reason The  WholeNote exists. I also want to thank Sharna Searle who nominated us for this award. It took her three years to persuade us, mind you. We are more comfortable telling stories than being in them.

I can’t name everyone else -- our eight-member core team; 30 to 40 writers  every issue; a five-member listings team who come up with 400-500 live performance listings each month; the 20-25-person distribution team regularly carrying 30,000 free copies per issue to 800+ locations where a deeply loyal readership snatches them up.  

To the finalists and other artists in this room, flag-bearers for countless others for whom the arts are necessary to feel fully alive, thank you for being passionate contributors to all our city’s villages -- street by street , block by block. Thank you for giving us something to write about. And to the Toronto Arts Council and the TAF, the knowledge that you share our belief in a grass-roots music city makes this award very special.

Make no mistake, though: the grass-roots “music city” is at risk. Housing/land cost is displacing artists, along with the rest of the working poor, from our overheated downtown; small-scale live performance venues are disappearing one by one. Outside the downtown, the nurturing  of block-by-block cultural life across our metropolis is a mighty challenge -- painfully slow because it is a process of planting not paving.

It’s astonishing, thinking back, that the breakthrough technology that helped launch this magazine was … the fax machine! Now we must all adjust, almost daily, to the ongoing challenge of dizzying change with all its dangers and opportunities. What a story it promises to be.”

Violinist Edwin Huizinga (left) and violist Keith Hamm.Sometimes, to really capture an accurate snapshot of a city’s music-making, you need to look at what its professional musicians do on their days off.

Take Toronto violinist Edwin Huizinga, for example. Though perhaps most visible for his violin work for Tafelmusik baroque orchestra and Toronto folk band The Wooden Sky, Huizinga is a leader in what he calls Toronto’s “indie chamber music scene.” In other words, like many of the city’s professional music-makers, when Huizinga isn’t performing for other organizations, he self-presents his own concerts – smaller, community-grounded shows, the likes of which are vital to Toronto’s cultural life.

Huizinga, along with violist Keith Hamm (principal violist of the Canadian Opera Company orchestra), is co-artistic director of Stereo Live – a chamber music series based out of Toronto’s historic Campbell House that seeks to provide an alternative approach to rock, bluegrass, and classical chamber music, in an intimate and welcoming setting. Now in its fourth season, Stereo Live has earned a reputation for taking a fresh and innovative look at the programming of local chamber music.

On Monday, May 21, Huizinga and Hamm will present their final Stereo Live show of the 2017/18 season. Featuring violinist Mark Fewer and drinks from Grape Witches, the concert will pair classical music for strings with a selection of natural wines.

In a phone conversation this week, Huizinga talks about how he, Hamm and Grape Witches (wine importer Nicole Campbell and sommelier Krysta Oben) found resonances between indie chamber music and indie wine.

“Nicole and Krysta are friends of mine, and have been for some time,” he says. “A couple of years ago, they reached out to me to be a ‘classical DJ’ for one of their wine evenings, and we started talking about how music – really amazing-calibre classical music – could be paired with really high-quality wines.

“[For this Stereo Live concert,] I sent the Grape Witches the program, and I gave them specific links of recordings that I loved – and we had a lot of conversations about how the music felt to them, and how they reacted to it,” Huizinga explains. “We also talked a bit about the composers’ history and where they grew up, and what was happening at the time culturally. It was a really interesting way to discuss that whole world with another kind of artist. And since they focus on natural wine, there are so many stories that they have about the old ways of producing wine – just like the stories we have in classical music.”

The May 21 concert program features Mark Fewer in solo violin works by Ysaye, Schulhoff, and John Novacek/Atar Arad, as well as a performance by Fewer, Huizinga and Hamm of the Kodaly Serenade for two violins and viola.

“I can’t believe that Mark Fewer is going to headline the event,” says Huizinga. “He’s one of my old teachers, and we have a long history of working together – and now, we work together a lot professionally, which is really nice. And it’s kind of a celebration to have him here, because he doesn’t perform solo very often in Toronto.”

The concert will also feature two students from the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, in a performance of the second movement of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello – a part of Huizinga’s own initiative to support the city’s emerging young performers.

“It’s kind of a full circle story,” says Huizinga. “I went to YAPA, when it was called that  – the Royal Conservatory’s Young Artists Performance Academy – and that’s where I studied with Mark Fewer for five years. Which definitely changed my life, and is probably the only reason I’m still playing violin – and why I’m pursuing jazz and folk music and improvising, and all of that stuff, because he was a person and a teacher who really explored those kinds of things as well, and I’ve always really looked up to him for that. And so my goal for Stereo Live is to always have a young artist opening each show.

“There are so many hurdles with classical music – and one of them is that young artists never perform,” he adds. “As a student, I performed maybe three times a year. And if you actually want to have a career in music – right now, I’m performing 160 concerts a year, or something like that. So now these kids are going to show up, and their parents are going to come too, possibly – and their parents might be inspired to help their kids continue to do what they want to do. And I haven’t met this particular violin student yet, but if he’s interested in continuing his studies in violin and looking for [direction or connections], a 5-minute conversation with Mark Fewer could change his life.”

Ultimately, for Huizinga, it all comes down to cultivating a lively “small-scale” classical music scene – one that is innovating and inviting, and that inspires audiences and performers to engage with chamber music in new ways. And in his mind, continuing to devote time and effort to the “indie” side of classical music is the way to do it.

“I want these events to grow and continue in Toronto,” he says. “I want these little pockets of organic, indie, community, whatever you want to call it, to grow – and to stay alive.”

“Stereo Live presents: Mark Fewer” takes place May 21, 8pm at Campbell House, Toronto. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/2046580315382339/.

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