L-R: Dan MacDonald, SATS students, Deb Jones. Photo credit: Mark Rash.Each year that enough donations are secured means another year of free traditional fiddle and guitar camp for Indigenous children at the Parry Sound Friendship Centre. The camp is part of Strings Across the Sky (SATS), initiated by former Toronto Symphony violinist Andrea Hansen in 1987, and led by her niece Deb Jones since Hansen passed in 2014. The not-for-profit organisation works with Indigenous youth, both to reinvigorate a long history of fiddle playing (brought over from the Orkney Islands) in Canada’s Northern communities, and provide a fun week of fiddling and playing guitar for approximately 30 students between the ages of 6 and 17.

Jones organises the SATS week, working with contacts in Northern communities. In addition, she leads the teachers and students, animatedly singing and playing the guitar – with an occasional expert yodel thrown in – at the open-plan rehearsal space nested in the Centre’s sky-blue barn-like structure on the outskirts of the Sound, away from summer tourists.

The Parry Sound Friendship Centre is an Indigenous-led, membership-driven space dedicated to serving Indigenous people living in urban communities – one of 121 such volunteer-run centres across Canada. Emerging from a grassroots movement in the early 1950s, this network of Friendship Centres provides off-reserve services for Indigenous communities. The Parry Sound location, founded in 1966 under the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC), was one of the first in the province.

“Any time I’ve walked into a Friendship Centre, they’ve treated you like they’ve always known you. They just want to help in whatever way they can,” says Samantha Depatie, a fiddling instructor at the camp who also teaches at the year-round SATS program at the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre administered by Michele Longshaw.

The will to push ahead with the SATS program, despite limited resources, is thanks to years of volunteer teaching up north by Andrea Hansen. While on tour with the Toronto Symphony in 1987 in Aklavik, she met future SATS co-founder Frank Hansen, who coincidentally shared both her last name and a desire to revive the fiddle tradition, being himself a fiddler of Danish and Inuvialuit origins. SATS has since run programs in 17 High Arctic communities and transported over 450 donated violins, free to students be they involved in programs at Algoma University, one-week workshops in Indigenous schools, or at the annual summer camp.

The SATS instructors are attuned to the importance of learning by watching – despite the challenges that sometimes-limited access to instruments can present. Andrea introduced a method that supports this, with wooden spoons standing in for fiddles, dowels for bows, preparing hand positions for the rapid experiential learning session that culminates in a performance just five days after – for many – picking up a violin for the first time.

And it works. I arrived two days before the concert, shocked to see the students’ progress. While several students, not more than 6 or 7, struggled to pay attention, most stared bright-eyed as Depatie, classical violist Ann Armin and fiddler Dan MacDonald positioned themselves among littler kids, while Niagara Symphony violist Marlene Dankiew attended to the older students.

MacDonald hails from Cape Breton and has several decades of fiddling and teaching under his belt. “It’s a way to help out in this community,” says MacDonald of his experience teaching fiddle at SATS since 2016. “This gives me a chance to make a difference hands-on. The kids are mostly here because they want to be here.” In June, Depatie’s North Bay class played with esteemed Canadian fiddler Scott Woods and a full band in what she described as a Don Messer-type setting. “For a lot of the kids the fiddle is in their blood. It’s such a Canadian instrument,” she says. “The fiddle is basically the sound of fun.”

Around 2005, a number of guitars were donated to the program, bringing with them a place for guitar teacher and prominent Toronto jazz guitarist Graham Campbell. Seventeen-year-old Ravin has been in Campbell’s “guitar orchestra” for eight years, starting first on fiddle and later adding guitar. “I was drawn to Andrea,” she says. “I like playing and then having the guitar match my voice, and just being able to create something.”

The full house at the Saturday 28 July concert in Parry Sound’s Stockey Centre seemed to like the results. Students have been receiving (generally, and certainly this time) standing ovations. MacDonald and Campbell opened with a rousing Mason’s Apron. Juniors and seniors all had their turn, playing the basic finger routines with patterns sung by Jones accompanied by five guitarists. Frank’s Delta Dream was played, homage to Frank Hansen and its composer Andrea Hansen. A young boy kept the beat on an Anishinaabe hand drum during the Canoe Medley. And they Walked the Line before launching into the eponymous Orange Blossom Special, key to the Sound given the sonorous whistle of the trains that blast through it nightly, precisely mimicked by festival director and renowned clarinetist James Campbell who jumped in on whistle.

“The Festival of the Sound has a long-term commitment to Strings Across the Sky,” says James Campbell. “Their program fits perfectly into our mandate of community outreach and education.” Jones recounts former student and gigging fiddler Charlie Wabano’s desire to take the program to his hometown of Fort Hope, saying, “There’s a real lightness of spirit that comes through. I know the difference it can make with these kids.”

Strings Across the Sky presented its final summer 2018 concert on July 28 at the Stockey Centre, Parry Sound, as part of the 2018 Festival of the Sound.

Janine Armin is a writer and organiser based in Amsterdam.

strtfrdbannerThe Stratford Lectures: Ten Perspectives about MusicThe Stratford Lectures: Ten Perspectives about Music
Robert Harris
Stratford Summer Music
178 pages

Taking 30 seconds to skim the table of contents of this slim volume is a quick way of getting a glimpse into the range of musical topics to which Robert Harris has turned his delighted attention over the years, as a broadcaster and as a writer.

From the first chapter (Elvis Presley and the invention of rock and roll) to the tenth (Our Beloved CBC: The Future Meets the Past), Harris guides us on a meandering journey through topics as various as the mind of “conservative creator” R. Murray Schafer, the genesis of We Shall Overcome, the Chopin everybody knows and nobody knows, why he detests The Sound of Music, “the truth” of The Magic Flute, and, probably my personal favourite essay among them, a chapter titled “The Goldberg Variations: Pinnacle or Exercise?”

The genesis of the book is interesting in terms of what begat what: it is drawn from a series of 30 musically illustrated lectures Harris has given, starting in 2013, at Stratford Summer Music at the invitation of John Miller, SSM’s founding artistic producer. And before that it had its roots in a radio series titled “Twenty Pieces of Music that Changed the World,” presented as part of CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition.

Each chapter is followed by a playlist of the music that was used to illustrate the lecture as presented to a live audience at Stratford. (Almost all of them findable on the internet, so don’t deprive yourself of the pleasure of listening along!)

The chapters as presented here are not transcriptions, though. Each shows signs of reworking in consideration of the particular medium in which the the lectures are being delivered here, and occasionally with cannily appropriate little updates to the present day. But that being said, it is the writer’s voice that rings through, and true, in all these chapters. Harris has the ability to  hook the listener early on, often with a bit of a story, followed by the key question that the story evokes: “Are there really people out there who don’t love Chopin?” and then follow it, in short order, with a compelling, and usually beautifully crafted, thesis statement: “The great impediment to our taking Chopin as seriously as he deserves is his immense accessibility, his superhuman relatability and musical eloquence.”

And the journey is on, teased out, sometimes tantalizingly tangential but always circling back to its primary point of departure once the case has been made. What, almost without exception, makes the endings of these pieces so satisfying is that one is left, not as is so often the case in  critical writing, with a sense that the writer knows what he is talking about, but with a visceral response to how much he cares about it.

One of the chapters (I won’t say which one) ends with this: “We have lived a musical life in the intervening time, travelled to many places, but the result is not drama, or triumph, but peace.”

It fits.

Copies of The Stratford Lectures are for sale ($24.95 + 5% GST = $26.20) at L’Atelier Grigorian, (70 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto), and by mail directly from Stratford Summer Music, with postage on a case-by-case cost basis, through info@stratfordsummermusic.ca.

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

PD 89bannerChristoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.Toronto Summer Music (TSM) is in full bloom, and will be past its midpoint by the time you read this. Here are some of the highlights of the festival so far, beginning with the world-class pairing of tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake, July 19 in Walter Hall.

Drake’s pianism is pointed, characterful and tells a story; he is an equal partner with the singer. Their well-chosen program of Mahler (before intermission) and Schubert (after) – especially Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn No.9 and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, from Ruckert-Lieder – was the first of many transfixing moments in my personal journey through several TSM mainstage concerts. Indeed, the second moment came during Du bist die Ruh, D776 (from another Ruckert poem), the loveliest of ten Schubert songs (including two encores) with Pregardien bewitchingly conveying the ardour of the smitten narrator.

In his masterclass two days later on July 21, Prégardien encouraged the piano and tenor to be of equal voice in Schubert’s Liebesbotschaft from Schwanengesang, an intimate dialogue between a young man and nature. He suggested to tenor Joey Jong that he be more natural onstage, be more into the real situation of the song (just as Prégardien himself had done in his own recital). “Where your eyes go is very important,” he said. “Give the impression that you are really in a garden.” Masterclasses are a great window into performance practice – whether it be the importance of a beautiful legato line to Brahms’ phrasing, the connection between two notes being a little more elegant in a Hugo Wolf song, or the expressive, operatic, vocal lines (like recitative) in Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger.

And of course, a masterclass can provide insight into the mindset of the mentor himself. Prégardien told us that Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder No.3 is so powerful that he has to step back when he sings it. “The expression comes from the music as it goes higher,” he said.

Kinan Azmeh. Photo credit: James Ireland.Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian-born clarinetist (and member of the Silk Road Ensemble) who has been based in New York City for nearly two decades, brought an immediacy to TSM’s Memories of War theme when he performed as a member of the Kinan Azmeh City Band quartet July 18 in Walter Hall. Memories of his Syrian home (now engulfed in a horrific civil war) inspired several of the pieces the band played in a concert that turned out to be a life-enhancing shout of joy. Azmeh, whose round, sometimes sweet tone is capable of all sorts of dynamic expression, began with a haunting pianissimo note on his clarinet, then picked up a rhythmic figure in the guitar, drums and bass, and danced down the backstreets of a Middle-Eastern city seemingly across time, centuries collapsing from the past into the present. After intermission, the quartet was joined by the sublime pianist/composer Dinuk Wijeratne (who is writing a concerto for Azmeh) in the first piece Azmeh composed after moving to NYC – Love on 139th Street in D – a subtle confection that conveyed the sound of a big city. The evening ended with a dazzling evocation of weddings in a Syrian village public square, music that reinforced Azmeh’s stated belief that “simply falling in love is a right no authority can take away.”

Two concerts in Koerner Hall on July 19 fell directly within the Memories of Wartime theme, with each of the works having its own unique connection. Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring was written during WWII but looks inward to the American countryside for one of the Brooklyn-born composer’s most aspirational and exultant pieces of music. The TSO Chamber Soloists (led by TSM artistic director Jonathan Crow) teamed up with eight fellows of the TSM Academy to recreate the 13-piece chamber orchestra that accompanied the original ballet. The result was a lighter, more transparent rendition that avoided the moribundity that sometimes weighs down the orchestral version.

Suzanne Roberts Smith (the soldier) and Jonathan Crow.After intermission the TSO Chamber Soloists re-formed into a septet to accompany the full-length version of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, complete with narrator, actor and dancer. Written as WWI was winding down, this tale of a violin-playing soldier, whose instrument is sold to the devil for uncountable wealth, is a virtuoso showcase – especially for violinist Crow, Andrew McCandless (cornet) and percussionist Charles Settle – but Miles Jaques (whose clarinet playing was the centrepiece of the Copland), Kelly Zimba (flute), Michael Sweeney (bassoon) and Gordon Wolfe (trombone) all performed Stravinsky’s cross-rhythms splendidly.

(from left) Jonathan Crow (violin), Julie Albers (cello), Miles Jaques (clarinet) and Natasha Paremski (piano) perform Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time.'Jaques and Crow were joined by cellist Julie Albers and pianist Natasha Paremski for a transfixing performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1940 where Messiaen was being held after being captured. Ethereal, otherworldly, quietly mysterious, replete with birdsong and fervent religiosity, the work demands the highest performance standards from violinist and clarinetist in particular; Crow and Jaques were up to the task and the total effect seemed to pass through the time-space continuum.

Crow returned July 24 to Lula Lounge as a member of the New Orford String Quartet for an electrifying (pun intended) performance of Steve Reich’s late 20th-century masterpiece, Different Trains. Reich took a childhood memory of transcontinental train trips he made before WWII and contrasted that with an imagined trip to the Nazi concentration camps (based on interviews with Holocaust survivors) and a third trip just after the war in which Holocaust survivors came to America to rebuild their lives. The quartet has to tailor their playing to a pre-recorded soundtrack of train whistles and track noises, as well as to repeated vocalisms from interviewees, as the piece moves from childhood wonder to mass murder to a rekindled optimism, all brought to life by the New Orford’s magnificent evocation of the relentless power of Reich’s writing.

The evening was completed by George Crumb’s Black Angels, composed during the heyday of the War in Vietnam. The quartet unlocked the feral beauty in Crumb’s radical work, an austere experiment in sonic variety that the New Orford made instantly memorable, proving once again that the immediacy of live music cannot be overstated.

(from left) Jonathan Crow, Andrew Wan, Pedja Muzijevic, Eric Nowlin and Brian Manker. Photo credit: Catherine WIllshire.A few days later on July 27, the New Orford found themselves in Walter Hall performing Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 in F Minor, Op.95 “Serioso.” They displayed vibrant ensemble playing in this work that is compressed both musically and chronologically, falling just before the famous Late Quartets. They saved the best for last with a ravishing rendering of Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op.84 (the accomplished Pedja Muzijevic was at the keyboard) which the composer began in 1918 as WWI was winding down. A Romantically rich work, with melodic wisps curdling into Brahmsian harmonic colouring in its intensely lyrical opening movement, the work’s heart is in the slow middle movement with the players giving rapt attention to the subtleties of Elgar’s writing that is pure English musical poetry.

 Jonathan Crow (left) and Phil Chiu CREDIT Catherine WillshireBack in Walter Hall on July 30 for “A Tribute To Yehudi Menuhin,” Crow devoted his recital with Phil Chiu, his dexterous regular pianistic collaborator, to works the celebrated violinist played for the Allied Forces during WWII and on a momentous tour of Germany with Benjamin Britten immediately after the war. Crow exhibited a sweetness and grace in the various versions he and Chiu cobbled together of Corelli’s Sonata in D Minor, Op.5, No.12 “La Folia.” The duo’s playing of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 in A Major, Op.47, “Kreutzer” had the urgency and intensity the work demands, bringing an intimacy to the second movement’s theme and variations and a sparkle and drive to the third. Crow next served up three bonbons by Fritz Kreisler and we discovered that these musical embers from an older world still glowed. A bravura performance of Ravel’s Tzigane elicited a vigorous standing ovation; the sorrowful beauty of Ravel’s Kaddish made for an appropriate encore. Not only did it put a bow on the Menuhin tribute, but it harked back to Different Trains and looked forward to “War in the 20th Century,” the August 1 concert that includes two works by composers who died in the Holocaust. It’s just one of many connections that enrich this year’s edition of TSM and illustrate Crow’s skills as artistic director. We are fortunate to have him in our midst.

Toronto Summer Music continues with concerts in various venues throughout Toronto until August 4.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The Escher Quartet. Photo credit: James Ireland.The seasonal musical oasis known as Toronto Summer Music (TSM) began its 13th edition on July 12 with a sumptuous performance by the Escher Quartet, warmly received by the Koerner Hall audience. The Eschers replaced the originally scheduled Borodin Quartet, forced by illness to cancel a few weeks ago. As a nod to the legendary quartet’s original program, the Eschers retained Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No.1 in D Major, Op.11 and switched out Shostakovich’s Eighth for his String Quartet No.9 in E-flat Major, Op.117.

The evening opened with Schumann’s String Quartet No.1 in A Minor, Op.41, its bittersweet introduction immediately displaying the group’s purity of sound. The Eschers’ musical clarity evinced a lovely transparency as the piece moved into post-Beethoven territory, its lyrical development balanced by short dynamic outbursts. Their ardent playing expressed the tenderness of the third movement Adagio as confidently as it did the effervescence of the concluding Presto.

Cellist Brook Speltz introduced the Shostakovich as “a piece we believe in very much ... each time we play it, we feel we go deeper into it,” adding: “It’s somewhat of a dream to be here replacing the Borodin Quartet.” The Eschers’ cohesion revealed intricacies of Shostakovich’s sound world in the opening movement, exposing the lush lyricism of the second and the sprightly bouncing tune of the third; the stark opening of the fourth and subsequent warm chords led into the exuberant tour de force they made of the finale.

The lustrous beginning of Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet immediately took us into a fresh new world of Schubert-like melodic filigrees. The Eschers brought out the dark Russian character underlying the lyrical voicing of the famous Andante cantabile (in which Tchaikovsky gave eternal life to a simple Russian folk tune) that featured first violinist Adam Barnett Hart’s elegant playing.

Inspired by Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s method of interplay between individual components working together to form a whole, the young American quartet (whose members also include violinist Danbi Um and violist Pierre Lapointe) took the artist’s name when they formed in 2005. The level of their ensemble playing is proof of the aptness of their choice.

Lukas Geniušas. This year’s edition of TSM – Reflections of Wartime – commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by focusing on works written during, or inspired by, wartime. Two pieces in the July 13 Walter Hall concert headed by pianist Lukas Geniušas met those criteria: Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.7 in B-flat Major, Op.83 “Stalingrad” – the middle of the composer’s three “war sonatas” – and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57. Written in 1942 in Georgia, where Prokofiev had been evacuated during Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the sonata was inspired by the outrage of WWII. The 28-year-old Geniušas, runner-up in the most recent Tchaikovsky Competition, showed off a quick and subtle rhythmic dexterity, playing stark chords and fiery chopped-up runs with alacrity in the opening movement while conveying the world-gone-awry nature of the finale’s jagged syncopations with a well-conveyed sense of the architecture of the piece. Geniušas opened the program with Rachmaninoff’s Preludes, Op.32 Nos.9-13, where he put his broad tone to good use, conveying the composer’s melodic gifts in spacious chords and Romantic flourishes.

After intermission, Geniušas was joined by the Escher Quartet’s Adam Barnett Hart (violin), Pierre Lapointe (viola) and Brook Speltz (cello) alongside TSM artistic director Jonathan Crow (on second violin) for a superb performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet, written in 1940 under the lengthening shadow of the Second World War. Shostakovich wrote the piano part for himself; it’s well worth checking out his passionate recording with the Beethoven Quartet (with whom he premiered the piece in 1940).

Geniušas and company matched that historic recording’s passion from the emphatic piano introduction to the unison strings, from the exposed violin’s first utterance of the second movement’s fugue to its exquisite heartfelt ending, from the oafish buffoonery of the Scherzo to the touch of melancholia in the Intermezzo. The Finale, with its march-like militarism that devolves into a charming lilting tune before a jaunty recapitulation, brought the evening to a jubilant close, bringing most of the capacity crowd to their feet.

Toronto Summer Music (www.torontosummermusic.com) continues in various venues until August 4.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

This article is part 3 of a 3-part series on the 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

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jazzfest bannerPhoto c/o the 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.The 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival celebrated two important birthdays this year. The first: the festival, originally founded in 1987, is now in its 32nd year. The second: 2018 marks the second year that the Jazz Festival has been based in the Bloor-Yorkville area, with, as advertised on the official schedule, “more than 165 free shows and events.” These free events took place both out- (on temporary stages erected throughout Yorkville for the festival) and indoors (at Heliconian Hall, Isabel Bader Theatre, Church of The Redeemer, The Pilot Tavern and Sassafraz Restaurant.) There was also a nightly jam at Proof Vodka Bar in The Intercontinental Hotel (hosted primarily by the Lauren Falls Trio), and ticketed events at Koerner Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, The ROM, The Danforth Music Hall, The Horseshoe Tavern and The Church of The Redeemer. As for clubs that present jazz year-round (beyond The Pilot), there were only two: The Old Mill, which hosted a four-evening “Heather Bambrick & Friends” series, and The Rex, which presented 3-4 shows daily, with an emphasis on progressive, young-ish acts.

Both the free outdoor shows and the scaled-down club content represent a major shift in the festival’s direction from years past. Until the 2017 festival, outdoor shows were in large tents in Nathan Phillips Square, and were often ticketed, rather than free. There were also a large number of clubs that presented their own content under the auspices of the festival, but, according to artistic director Josh Grossman, that the festival didn’t have input into booking; as such, as of last year, the festival-affiliated club dates were largely removed from the schedule. Beyond the artistic concerns, it also seems like this extended network of restaurants, bars and clubs hosting official Jazz Festival shows presented certain physical challenges; it is hard, after all, to wander from a venue like the late Gate 403 in Roncesvalles to a centrally-located outdoor festival site. The result of the recent changes was, both last year and this year, a festival experience that felt leaner, stronger, and, with echoes of analogous outdoor Jazz Festival spaces in Ottawa and Montreal, efficiently centralized. It also felt – for only the second time, in my experience as an attendee – easy to navigate, comfortably accessible, and, most importantly, festive.

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Some of the things that I overheard at the 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Outdoor Grounds, Yorkville, at various points between June 22 and July 1:

“My dad is, like, obsessed with jazz. I think that’s why I like it.”

“I can’t wait to see Herb Hancock!”

“It’s so wonderful to see so many women onstage. And so young, and so talented!”

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The Tara Kannangara Group at the 2018 Festival. Photo c/o the 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.I played two shows at the festival this year, both close to the beginning of the schedule. The first, with the Tara Kannangara Group (Tara Kannangara, voice/trumpet; Chris Pruden, piano/keyboards; Julian Anderson-Bowes, bass; Mackenzie Longpré, drums; and myself on guitar), took place on the afternoon of Sunday, June 24 on the OLG Stage on Cumberland; the second, with Collective Order, took place on the evening of Monday, June 25 at The Pilot. Through some happy freak-of-scheduling luck, my playing obligations preceded my responsibilities for The WholeNote, which were to watch and write about Savion Glover and Marcus Gilmore at Koerner Hall on June 26, to watch and write about Starebaby at The Rex on June 28, and, finally, to watch and write about an unspecified number of free shows in Yorkville on June 30 (which follows in this article).

Through another happy freak of luck, I also found myself – both this year and last – living within walking distance of the festival grounds, and watched quite a few other free festival shows throughout the week. On Monday, June 25 I checked out the Teri Parker Quartet (Teri Parker, piano; Luis Deniz, alto saxophone; Mark Godfrey, bass; Mackenzie Longpré, drums), an accomplished group that primarily played Parker’s original modern jazz compositions and arrangements. Singer/ukulelist Lydia Persaud played material from her new Low Light EP – along with additional original material and a few choice covers – to a receptive and appreciative crowd on Tuesday, June 26 (with Dean Drouillard, guitar; Kyla Charter, voice; Robbie Grunwald, bass and keyboard; and Mike Ardagh, drums). Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School – a modern big band project helmed by saxophonist/composer McBride – showcased both original compositions and the talents of a number of young Toronto-based musicians on Wednesday, June 27, at the tail-end of their cross-Canada tour. On Thursday, June 28, I caught re.verse (Robb Cappelletto, guitar; Damian Matthew, bass; and Chino de Villa, drums), an excellent trio that specializes in modern interpretations of hip-hop and R&B repertoire (performing with the KeepRockinYou dance collective), and The Carn Davidson 9, a “chordless” ensemble anchored by co-leaders William Carn (trombone) and Tara Davidson (alto saxophone), whose rock-solid arranging skills were on full display, underscored by the strength of the band. Finally, on Friday – as the temperature crept up to 30° in the late afternoon – I heard Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop (Tara Davidson, alto sax; Will Carn, trombone; Joel Frahm, tenor sax; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Dan Loomis, bass; and Ernesto Cervini, drums) which, despite the weather, performed a high-energy show to a large, happy, sweaty crowd.

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Some more things that I overheard:

“If I don’t get out of this sun immediately I’m literally going to die.”

“You know, I didn’t think I liked jazz, but since I had some water and a snack I’m really starting to enjoy myself.”

“So, they’re just, like, making this all up, right?”

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I am typically not much for activewear – a friend once commented, during a shared trip to the gym, that I have “the legs of a scholar” – but, in preparation for my day of outdoor music-watching, I purchased a pair of shorts. According to weather.com (consulted, in research for this piece, after the fact) the high in Toronto on Saturday June 30 was 35°. The heat was not, however, a deterrent to festival attendees. As is so often the case during episodes of mild meteorological oppression, the shared burden had somewhat of a unifying effect on audience and musicians alike: together, we sweat.

The first show of the day was the Allison Au Quartet, with special guests Michael Davidson (vibraphone) and Daniel Fortin (bass) joining bandleader/saxophonist Au and Fabio Ragnelli (drums) on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Ave. at noon. The AAQ were wrapping up a tour of Canadian jazz festivals, and both new material and older compositions sounded fresh and exciting. Au was playing as part of the Junos 365 Acts series, featuring past Juno winners and nominees – as was baritone saxophonist Shirantha Beddage, who played on the OLG Cumberland stage at 12:30pm with a quartet featuring Nancy Walker (piano), Mike Downes (bass), and Ethan Ardelli (drums). Highlights of Beddage’s set included the gospel-tinged 9/8 ballad The Long Goodbye, complete with key change, and the Giant Steps contrafact Angle of Incidence, with great playing from the whole band. Later, on the same stage (and as part of the same Junos series), bassist/vocalist Brandi Disterheft led her quartet in a bluesy set with Grant Stewart (tenor sax), Alex Minasian (piano) and Mark Hundevad (drums), at the same time as guitarist/singer Luis Mario Ochoa put on a joyful, confident show at the Yorkville Village – The Lane stage (with Jeremy Ledbetter, keyboard, Louis Simão, bass, and Amhed Mitchel, drums).

Andrew Downing.The final show that I watched on Saturday was Andrew Downing’s Otterville, presented in the mercifully air-conditioned Heliconian Hall. Named after the village in Norwich Township, and designed to “evoke the peace, quiet and simplicity of small-town Ontario,” Otterville is probably best characterized as a “chamber jazz” ensemble, with unusual instrumentation (this performance featured Allison Au, alto sax; Michael Davidson, vibraphone; Christine Bougie, lap steel guitar; Mike Smith, bass guitar; Nick Fraser, drums; with bandleader/composer Downing on cello). Downing exudes a quiet charm, reflected both in the group’s music and in his interactions with the audience; he elicited immediate chuckles when, following the medium-slow Fall in Line, he introduced the piece A Pair of Eyes with the caveat that they were going to “slow things down a bit for [the] next song” (which was true). A fellow audience member close to me called the song “a beautiful daydream,” which is an apt description of the show as a whole, although the metaphor fails to capture the careful compositional rigor that seemed to undergird even the most wistful, breezy moments in Downing’s music.

At the end of the day, it seems as though the festival had done well in their choice of local programming, not just in picking acts that are representative of Toronto, but in acts that are representative of the many unique scenes that constitute Toronto jazz/improvised music as a whole. Programming a festival is a fraught business: there are sponsors to please, a limited number of spots, and the feelings of a community at stake. That being the case, it was gratifying to see, in the choices at this year’s Jazz Festival, that a serious effort was made to celebrate the accomplishments of the musicians, curators and venues that contribute so much to Toronto music year-round.

The 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival took place from June 22 to July 1, in various locations throughout 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.

This article is part 2 of a 3-part series on the 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

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Dan Weiss.This is the metal, and this is the jazz. Drink full and descend.  

On Thursday, June 28, Dan Weiss’s Starebaby performed for the second time in a two-night engagement at The Rex as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. Fans of The Rex may be surprised to learn that this year marks the first time that The Rex has been an official part of the festival’s programming. In previous years, The Rex has presented its own “Rex Jazz Fest,” running concurrently with the Toronto Jazz Festival; this year, The Rex’s June calendar read “TD Toronto Jazz Festival Co-Curated Concert Series @ The Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar.”

The Rex has always presented a healthy mix of musical acts, both in terms of genre and provenance; it is typical, during any given week, to find trad jazz bands, Toronto jazz veterans, bands led by young musicians from Humber and U of T, and touring out-of-town groups, often based in New York. It was, in fact, at The Rex that I first heard Weiss, playing with the Chris Tarry group, back in 2007. In the past few years, The Rex has been especially proactive in bringing progressive international groups to Toronto, with an emphasis on projects that feature new music from just outside of the modern mainstream scene, although the players who constitute these groups typically have bona fide jazz tradition credentials.

This is certainly the case with Starebaby, which, in addition to leader Weiss (drums), features the talents of Ben Monder (guitar), Craig Taborn (piano and keyboards), Matt Mitchell (piano and keyboards) and Trevor Dunn (bass), any of whom could have headlined at The Rex as leaders of their own bands. Starebaby’s music is composed by Weiss, and is influenced by David Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks: The Return. This influence is apparent in song titles, including “Badalamenti,” named after series composer (and longtime Lynch collaborator) Angelo Badalamenti, and “Episode 8,” named after a particularly explosive episode; in the intensity of the music (Twin Peaks: The Return is, in many ways, a masterclass in intensity); and in the Black Lodge t-shirt Weiss is wearing in the group’s recent live performance videos on his YouTube channel.  

Before the band adopted the Starebaby moniker (“Starebaby” is also the title of the group’s debut album), they were identified as the Dan Weiss Metal Jazz Quintet, and there are obvious influences from both the metal and jazz traditions in the group’s music. What is compelling about Starebaby, however, is that it is so effective in synthesizing its influences into a new musical language; Weiss’s concept for the group seems to be strong enough that, unlike a lot of new bands, it seems to have emerged more-or-less fully formed.

The show started with "Depredation", a hard-hitting piece that, like many of Starebaby’s songs, juxtaposes pulsing, stripped-down rhythm section parts with an intervallic melody, played, in this case, by Monder and Dunn. The song dissolved into a beautiful solo guitar section by Monder, with heavy overdrive and reverb, which resulted in a sense of both mystery and visceral immediacy that effectively established the tone for the rest of the performance. As the set progressed, it was the attention to textural detail that emerged as one of the most meaningful aspects of the band’s music. “Episode 8” – the final, longest, and most suite-like of the first set (and the album) – featured exciting shifts, and stellar individual and ensemble playing, but it also, much like the Twin Peaks episode for which it is named, asked listeners to examine the depth and nuance found during extended visits to either end of the dynamic spectrum. Beyond the impressive virtuosity of all involved, it was Starebaby’s patience – whether offering a musical rendering of a nuclear blast or a man slowly sweeping an empty bar – that made the show memorable.

Check out the album, watch them live, and also, maybe, watch Twin Peaks.

Starebaby performed on June 28 as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, at The Rex, 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.

Peter Oundjian receives applause. Photo credit: Nick Wons.Peter Oundjian closed out his remarkable 14 years as TSO music director with five programs consisting of nine concerts spread over 18 days, June 13 to 30. From Mozart@ and New Creations to the Decades Project, Oundjian has been an innovative programmer who more often than not included stimulating content in what he offered audiences. I was fortunate to attend four of the five last programs (missing only Christopher Plummer’s Symphonic Shakespeare), and was particularly interested to hear Oundjian’s own rationale for why he programmed these last concerts the way he did.

Peter Oundjian conducting Jon Kimura Parker and the TSO. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.June 13. He introduced the June 13 evening by reminiscing about his arrival in New York City in 1975 – not quite 20-years-old – to attend Juilliard as a violinist, and getting a call from Leonard Bernstein to appear with him the next morning on the Today show. Hence the inclusion of Bernstein’s Three Dance Variations from Fancy Free, which the orchestra played with an appropriate rhythmic suppleness. Oundjian spoke about the music of George Gershwin being in the air in NYC in the 70s, typified by the lush score to Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Jon Kimura Parker proved to be a most worthy last-minute replacement for Jean-Yves Thibaudet in Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, very comfortable in the composer’s jazz-based idiomatic score. In an encore, Parker showed his jazz chops with a rousing performance of Oscar Peterson’s Blues Etude. An unexpected coincidence: Parker and Oundian graduated one after the other from Juilliard, with Oundjian getting his diploma ten seconds ahead of Parker thanks to the alphabet.

Later in Oundjian’s first year at Juilliard, Herbert von Karajan gave a masterclass, saving the last 20 minutes of it for the student orchestra’s “concertmeister” who was also studying conducting. Karajan stood three feet from Oundjian, and as if that weren’t intimidating enough, covered the score of the slow movement of Brahms’ First Symphony. “You know it, my boy,” he said. That same Brahms symphony completed Oundjian’s trip down memory lane, the French horn statement of the fourth-movement’s main theme reminding us of just how fresh the music of this repertoire standard can be.

June 16. After the focal dystonia that made his position as first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet untenable, Oundjian accepted an invitation by conductor and pianist André Previn, a chamber music collaborator, to talk conducting in Previn’s home. Previn was artistic advisor to the Caramoor International Music Festival at the time and asked Oundjian to make his professional conducting debut at Caramoor’s 50th anniversary concert in July 1995. The first piece on that program was Glinka’s repertoire staple, the Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila. Oundjian chose to open the June 16 TSO program with it – and the orchestra, just as they had done with the Brahms, infused it with new life.

Oundjian conducting the TSO and pianist Daniil Trifonov. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.The first concert Oundjian attended in Carnegie Hall (also in that pivotal year, 1975) was Emil Gilels and Eugene Ormandy performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3 in D Minor, Op.30. Who better than the dynamic young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov to fly from Moscow to Toronto for two days, to perform the same work for this special occasion? Trifonov delivered a brilliant, sensitive interpretation, dashing off the technical challenges with ease and upping the audience’s satisfaction quotient with a relaxed version of the second movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.8 as an encore. Completing the all-Russian program was a stunning performance of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, included because it was the first piece Oundjian ever recorded with the TSO. The TSO shone in this orchestral showpiece, with each section taking their lead from the trumpet’s opening Promenade as they rose to the occasion with dazzling playing throughout.

Pianist Emanuel Ax with Peter Oundjian and the TSO. Photo credit: Nick Wons.June 20. The evening of June 20 began with Emanuel Ax at the keyboard for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.17 in G Major, K453. Oundjian said that Ax was the first soloist he accompanied with the TSO (in Chopin’s First Piano Concerto) and his presence on June 20 marked him as the final soloist of Oundjian’s time as music director. Ax played with a characterful solidity, a well-defined round, lovely, singing tone geared to the composer’s melodic sensibility. The orchestra was a balanced and transparent collaborator.

Mahler has long been a favourite of Oundjian and so he (appropriately) chose the Symphony No.9 in D Major to mark his departure. Oundjian set up the work by referring to the passion and tenderness of the opening movement, the parody of country life in the second (which Mahler asked to be played in a cumbersome way), and the third movement Burleske, which Oundjian saw as opening the door to the 20th century. The remarkable Adagio, “one of the most extraordinary experiences known to man,” lived up to Oundjian’s words given the TSO’s nakedly emotional, tender performance. The audience, rapt, waited close to a minute to break the spell with a standing ovation.

The TSO with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists. Photo credit: Nick Wons.June 28-30. The conductor let the music speak for itself on June 28 (and reportedly on June 29 and 30 as well), and wisely so. These last three performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Op.125 “Choral” needed no words apart from those in its fourth movement. Is there any music more elevating, more soulful than the merger of the heavenly and the earthbound in its inspirational choral finale? Oundjian took a propulsive, no-nonsense approach to the work from its opening: doom, tension, release, tentativeness, foreboding, clarity, its intermittent roiling nature swept up by structural inexorability. The second movement’s rhythmic centrifugal force was delivered with the sensitivity of a chamber musician, while the wild and tuneful trio shimmered in the hands of the oboe and French horn. The Adagio molto e cantabile began with noble strings and horns setting up a graceful theme that moved from violas through violins, unhurriedly spoken by the woodwinds before the fateful announcement in the brass that led into the finale. Intimations of the Ode to Joy appeared before the baritone solo statement that heralded the participation of soprano, mezzo, tenor and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in the exultant beauty of a piece of music that stands the test of time.

It was a fitting exit for the TSO’s new conductor emeritus.

Peter Oundjian says goodbye. Photo credit: Nick Wons.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

fringe bannerThe summer in Toronto is jam-packed full of musicals. Between the Toronto Fringe Festival (running until July 16) and the Summerworks Performance Festival (August 9-19), Toronto has become a hotbed of musical theatre creation – and the local summer festival circuit is becoming even more of a recognised launching pad for local musical projects.

This summer at Fringe, there is a particularly wide range on offer – so many musicals, in fact, that the festival has given them their own section in the official program that lists all shows by genre this year. And at the Summerworks Festival in August, there are fewer productions to choose from (only 32 in total, compared to the 150+ at the Fringe), but still a variety of experimental approaches and genres, split equally this year between finished works and works-in-progress.

Here are 10 music theatre shows that caught my eye at Fringe and Summerworks this year.

TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL (until July 16; details at www.fringetoronto.com)

1. The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act One)

Hannah Levinson as Polly Peel. Photo credit: Sam Gaetz.The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act One), with a book by Julie Tepperman and music and lyrics by Kevin Wong, is top of the list, as it stars young Hannah Levinson (who won a Dora award earlier this year for her incredible performance as “small Alison” in Fun Home). Julie Tepperman has a growing reputation as a creator of fun contemporary lyrics from her work at Tapestry New Opera, and Kevin Wong is an intriguing emerging composer who is also the associate artistic director at the Musical Stage Company. Originally inspired by acclaimed Canadian painter Paul Peel’s The Young Biologist, the musical explores a family grappling with death through the eyes and imagination of a biology-obsessed 11-year-old girl.

2. Andy Warhol Musical: ln Rehearsal

A new musical-in-progress, Andy Warhol Musical: In Rehearsal has a book by Vinetta Strombergs that explores Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory and the people around him who helped define an era. The music and songs are taken from Robert Swerdlow’s 1970s musical Justine and updated to fit the show by Peter Nunn (of the group Honeymoon Suite). Strombergs, known for her 2013 Fringe Hit Musical of Musicals the Musical and the recent excellent pop-up immersive production of the Chekhov inspired Stupid F**king Bird, also directs.

3. Josephine, a Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play

Tymisha Harris in 'Josephine.'Performed by Tymisha Harris, Josephine has been travelling the North American fringe circuit  for the past two years to rave reviews and arrives in Toronto at last. Combining cabaret, theatre and dance, the musical  tells the story of the iconic Josephine Baker, darling of Paris in the 1920s, and considered the first African-American international superstar. Not recommended for children because of adult content.

4. One Small Step

Who could resist a musical about the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, operate Canadarm, and command the International Space Station? Not me. Particularly as this is the latest creation by Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston, the Dora-nominated duo who  previously brought to the Toronto Fringe the hits Summerland, Blood Ties, The Fence and True North Mixtape. One Small Step is a teenage backstage musical as well: “When their annual musical is cancelled, a group of public school drama students set out to put up a show of their own – but in order to get funding, they have to make it about something Canadian.” Featuring a cast of young professionals and the high-school-age Wexford Gleeks, this should be a lot of fun.

5. #KanderAndEbb

#KanderAndEbb is Ryan G. Hind’s personal one-man journey through the lesser-known parts of the Kander and Ebb songbook, with true life encounters with stars such as Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera chronicled along the way. Musical direction by Tara Litvac.

6. Judas Star Supersong

Judas Star Supersong is a one-woman journey through the musical we know more traditionally as Jesus Christ Superstar. Dora award-winner Paula Wolfson plays 18 characters in 50 minutes, with musical direction by Giustin MacLean.

SUMMERWORKS PERFORMANCE FESTIVAL (August 9-19; details at www.summerworks.ca)

7. CAFÉ SARAJEVO episode 1

A podcast/work-in-progress from internationally acclaimed performance makers Bluemouth Inc., CAFÉ SARAJEVO episode 1 uses dance, text, music and 360° video to create an immersive experience inspired by the 1971 televised debate between French theorist Michel Foucault and American linguist Noam Chomsky.

8. fantasylover

fantasyloverfantasylover by Rock Bottom Movement, choreographed by Alyssa Marin to music by Sydney Herauf, promises “a feverish ride on the dream cloud of modern romance that invokes icons of pop music, Canadian Olympics, obscure Shakespeare, and the millennial experience.”

9. YES

YES is an irreverent romp through the turbulent history of modern dance from performer/creator Linnea Swan, integrating theatre, dance and bouffon to address Yvonne Rainer’s 1965 No Manifesto and its legacy on the current state of contemporary performance.

10. ZAYO/THIRD WORLD

FLY LADY DI (in THIRD WORLD).Finally, two shorter works, each exploring identity through music and dance, have been paired up to make an intriguing double bill. ZAYO, created, directed and choreographed by Elsie Mensah for a group of dancers, explores the tests a man, Ouhna, undergoes as he strives to achieve his destiny. THIRD WORLD, created and performed by Diana Reyes – aka FLY LADY DI – to a score by Alexander Junior mixes Voguing, Waacking, Hip-Hop, B-Girling, and House dance with Filipino folk dance and projections to explore isolation, loneliness and identity.

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.

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.

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