citterio cropTafelmusik's music director Elisa Citterio. Photo credit: Monica Cordiviola.The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra closed its season Sunday afternoon with Beethoven on period instruments. It was the fourth iteration of this bill and nearly filled the 1,100-seat Koerner Hall. The program was guest-conducted by Bruno Weil, a distinguished German musician with a well-deserved reputation as a probing interpreter of Viennese classics.

Jeanne Lamon, music director from 1981 to 2014, ceded that title to Elisa Citterio from Italy, who joined the orchestra at the start of this season. On Sunday, Lamon was back as guest concertmaster, so that Citterio could play the Beethoven Violin Concerto: the Mount Everest of violin concertos, and not a work one usually associates with period instruments.

Every classical music lover knows the Beethoven Violin Concerto, but few know the work in a sound the composer himself would have recognized. Citterio and Weil applied themselves to the lofty rhetoric with spirit and without inhibition or apology. Citterio in particular added an indefinable element of soul and serenity that lifted her performance well above the realm of hidebound “authentic” recreation. From her first entry, she revealed a vital engagement with the music that was anything but dry, thanks to her temperament. In the lengthy opening movement (which never sounded long) she scanned the soaring phrases with sensitivity to harmonic underpinnings, and resisted lapsing into mechanical recitation.

The sound of the timpani (kettledrum) a crucial structural element, had a zesty “bite” to it. Cadenzas were not the customary ones by Fritz Kreisler, but composed by Carlo Citterio, Elisa's brother. The siblings collaborated to adapt the cadenzas to her own ideas. (The one for the Finale was just a bit long.)

Tempos were brisker than usual, as Weil cultivated heightened clarity and transparency of inner parts while faithfully tracing the drama. In Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6, which ended the program, the vernal score sounded freshly-minted, especially the outer movements. Weil conducted the opening stanza almost as a sequence of upbeats, the pungent woodwinds springing to life. The “Awakening of joyous feelings upon arrival in the countryside” was actually joyous, not too heavy.

Though the three middle movements didn't scale the same heights, the Finale again showed Weil as a fount of rhythmic and stylistic energy, a musician to his fingertips. Meanwhile, the Tafelmusik orchestra gave every indication that it likes (even loves) what it does. As it gets set to embark soon on a three-week tour to Australia, one can only wish that its spirit will persist – alongside the relationships with Elisa Citterio and distinguished guest conductors such as Bruno Weil.

Tafelmusik presented “Beethoven Pastoral Symphony,” featuring violin soloist Elisa Citterio and guest director Bruno Weil, on May 3 to 6 at Koerner Hall, Toronto.

Stephen Cera, a pianist, journalist and concert programmer, played recitals with Jacques Israelievitch not long before the untimely death of the late TSO concertmaster. He lectures widely about music, writes about international classical music events for MusicalAmerica.com, and maintains a blog at www.stephencera.com.

Gerald Finley - photo by Sim Cannetty-ClarkeGerald Finley has a baritone which casts a bass shadow. A voice dark and ripe and opulent that doesn’t lighten gladly, but the ear won’t mind two hours of it because Gerald Finley the dramatic interpreter and wizard of inflection comes with it.

Finley and one of the most in-demand accompanists today, Julius Drake, presented a German and Russian program at Koerner Hall this past Sunday, April 22. The first part assembled poems by Goethe set to music by Beethoven and Schubert, two almost exact contemporaries (the older man died 1827, the young one the year after) whose songs however belong to two different eras. Beethoven is not known for his vocal music and next to Schubert’s songs his come across as plainer, simpler melodies, playful or curious rather than stirring. In Finley’s hands the songs grew to become little scenes, delivered smoothly in his precise enunciation.

Schubert’s Goethe was a different Goethe. The set was capped with arguably the best known Schubert song, the infanticidal Erl King, but began with the long Prometheus lied, D 674. The Prometheus of this poem is defiant, not yet punished by Zeus, proudly creating humans after his own image. At the time of its creation the song could have signified political rebellion against the powers of the state, or personal rebellion of young creative men against their fathers, but the text has lost much of its resonance for audiences of our time and is potentially overlong and self-important. Not here: again, Finley worked his magic with the text and the song became a meaningful cri de coeur.

An den Mond (To the Moon) stood out from the set by its languid pace and silvery lyrics, while An Schwager Kronos (To Coachman Chronos) swept though in a gallop.

The secondhalf, all-Russian, was shared between Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Tchaikovsky’s four songs came out as positively moderate next to the Rachmaninoff set. Rachmaninoff gives the pianist a lot to do, and is no stranger to a sweeping cinematic statement. An orchestra might have been present in the downers-with-high-dramatic-peaks O nyet, molyu, ne ukhodi! (Oh No, I Pray, Don’t Leave), O, dolgo budu ya (In the Silence of the Night), and Na smert chizhika (On the Death of a Linnet) but it was indeed just these two men onstage. A lot of chiaroscuro is required there, which Finley created through sensitivity to the text rather than vocal timbre (which stayed consistently as dark as plush velvet). Julius Drake from the keyboard supplied Romantic excess where Rachmaninoff calls for it.

One number in the Rachmaninoff set was actually fun: Sudba (Fate) – a song in which the singer voices more than one persona, in the vein of Schubert’s Erlkönig – had Finley (and us with him) delighting in the onomatopoeic sound of fate knocking on various people’s doors. The final song in the official program was the astonishing and astonishingly exaggerated Vesennye vody (Spring Streams), which starts by cranking up to 10 and stays there for its remaining two minutes. But Finley and Drake made it sound almost natural.

The encore was reserved for songs in the English language – Barber, Copland, Healey Willan, and a Britten arrangement of The Crocodile, a folk song recounting how a man ended up eaten up by the gigantic reptile and spent ten years inside it, “very well contented.”

As was the audience on this night.

Gerald Finley and Julius Drake presented a recital program on April 22, at Koerner Hall, Toronto. They continue to tour this program to Washington DC, Georgia and NYC. Finley will have an extra stop in Montreal, with pianist Michael McMahon (Info).

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news at artofsong@thewholenote.com.

banner cropEvan Buliung and Hannah Levinson in Fun Home. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.Tuesday April 17: a wonderful night of superb theatre with high expectations met by a brilliantly crafted musical, as the Musical Stage Company's excellent production of Fun Home opened under the umbrella of Mirvish productions at the CAA Theatre.

The Broadway production of Fun Home won numerous Tony Awards in 2015 and also marked a number of firsts, including having the first female team to win the Tony for best score, and being the first musical to centre on the story of a young lesbian. With book and lyrics by playwright Lisa Kron and score by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline or Change), Fun Home captures the mind and heart right from the start, pulling us into a deeply personal but also universal story of family and figuring out one's true identity. Filled with an often surprising yet delighting combination of comedy and tragedy, unexpected vulnerability and goofiness, the story is told through a blend of dialogue and song that rings incredibly true, the songs themselves seeming to emerge necessarily from moments of heightened emotion in the text. The cast are all strong: the main character, Alison, is portrayed at three different times in her life, and the three Alisons, naturally enough, stand out from the rest in their almost uncanny ability to be the same character at different ages. This is the central structural concept of Fun Home – that the heroine of the story is played not by one but by three performers, letting us connect with her at three different ages, and not just one at a time, but often with two or even all three together.

(L-R) Sara Farb, Hannah Levinson and Lauran Condlln, as the three Alisons in Fun Home. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.The musical begins in the present time with Alison Bechdel, 43-year-old cartoonist, sitting down at her desk to draw, but finding that she is “stuck” – turning to journals and memories of the past in order to figure out how to go forward into the future. The biggest or most central part of that journey is trying to figure out how much she and her father are alike. As she starts to draw and remember at the same time we hear her say:

“Caption: My dad and I were totally alike.”

Then she starts a new drawing:

“Caption: My dad and I were nothing alike.”

And this catapults her back to her childhood, as the oldest of three children in a house lovingly restored by her rather obsessive father who also runs the family Funeral Home – which all the family refer to as the “Fun Home,” hence the title of the show.

The first thing we see is the young Alison demanding her father help her to play “Airplane” – a wonderful image of togetherness and freedom, an image picked up again at the end of the show in a very satisfying way. Like all families, theirs isn't perfect, and we experience with Alison her early yearnings not to dress in frilly dresses and her father trying to keep her true to the model of the perfect little girl much as he himself has hidden the fact that he is gay behind the facade of a proper father and family man. What works wonderfully is that the adult Alison, our narrator and bridge into the past, is actually there in the living room with Small Alison, experiencing her memories again as if in the flesh, sometimes on the sidelines but sometimes walking through remembering.

We also meet Alison as she goes to college, where she first discovers she is a lesbian and eventually tells her family. Sara Farb is remarkable as this “Middle Alison”: powerfully present, but extraordinarily vulnerable and real. Her big song, Changing my Major, soars through the theatre like an anthem, funny and powerful at the same time in its capturing of discovery and joy.

Hannah Levinson as Small Alison is a wonderfully confident performer with a clear strong singing and speaking voice, and is immediately believable as Alison in embryo. Her anthem Ring of Keys was beautifully heartfelt. Laura Condlin as Alison at 43 – in her first musical – is a strong attractive centre, keeping us engaged and invested throughout in her investigations into the past.

The surrounding cast all have their moments to shine and all are strong in director Robert McQueen's subtly realized production. It is a musical, yes, and traditional in that it has scenes of dialogue with songs interspersed, but it is also the story of a real, quirky family, dealing with difficult emotions and issues. That this family feels so real whether speaking or singing is a tribute to the company as a whole, as well as to the creators of the piece.

One song that stood out for its goofy reality – highlighted by Stephanie Graham's brilliantly real choreography – was Come to the Fun Home, the “commercial” that the young Bechdel siblings have made up for the family funeral home and perform for themselves, complete with coffin. Liam MacDonald as little brother John is an energetically spontaneous presence here and in all his scenes.

Based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel's best-selling and acclaimed autobiographical graphic memoir, Fun Home is a chamber musical that explores big and difficult issues but is also a joyous affirmation of life.

The Musical Stage Company production of Fun Home, presented by Mirvish, runs until May 20, 2018, at the CAA Theatre, 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.

The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, in performance at JAZZ LIVES on April 11. Photo credit: Bill Beard, c/o JAZZ.FM91.On April 11, JAZZ.FM91 presented “JAZZ LIVES: A Century of Nat ‘King’ Cole” at Koerner Hall. JAZZ LIVES, for the uninitiated, is the moniker given to JAZZ.FM91’s “premier fundraising concert,” and the theme for this year’s iteration – which was the event’s 14th annual occurrence – was, as the title suggests, a celebration of the great pianist/vocalist Nat King Cole, born (nearly) a hundred years ago in 1919. Although past JAZZ LIVES concerts have featured notable international guest stars such as Gregory Porter, Terence Blanchard and Pat Metheny, the performers on April 11 were mostly local musicians, and provided an illuminating cross-section of artists who have found a place in the extended JAZZ.FM91 family. While the tribute format gave the evening a clear conceptual framework and enabled a variety-show structure, it was, ultimately, the individual artistic choices of the participating musicians that made the evening memorable and reaffirmed the central position that JAZZ.FM91 holds in the Toronto jazz scene.

The evening started with pianist Robi Botos, who played a beautiful solo rendition of “When I Fall In Love” before embarking upon a bouncy, medium-up, 7/8 version of “L-O-V-E” with drummer Mark Kelso and bassist Marc Rogers, which was capped off by brief quote of “It’s Only A Paper Moon.” Placing Botos’ performance at the beginning of the program was an intelligent choice: it effectively set the tone for the rest of the night, illustrating that, although the event was a celebration of Cole, it was also a celebration of the unique abilities of the performers in attendance.

Following Botos, Drew Jurecka and Mary Margaret O’Hara each performed (individually) with the house band, made up of Kelso, Rogers, guitarist Eric St-Laurent and pianist Lou Pomanti, after which Bill McBirnie took the stage for a version of Poinciana, eschewing the slower ballad version recorded by Cole in 1961 for the iconic Vernel Fournier groove from Ahmad Jamal’s 1958 “At The Pershing: But Not For Me” album. After a cool, understated version of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” from singer Danny B, Jackie Richardson took the stage to perform “Nature Boy” with Bill McBirnie and the house band. Richardson has a powerful, dynamic voice, with excellent control throughout her considerable range. She performed two additional songs – “Steal Away” and “Every Time I Feel The Spirit” – and was able to effectively ramp up the excitement during her time on stage, providing one of the night’s clear highlights, and resulting in a standing ovation from the audience as she closed the first half of the event.

Of particular note in the second half of the concert was the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, led by musical director Jules Estrin, which performed “Orange Colored Sky” with Jurecka and “The Late Late Show” with Ori Dagan. The Youth Big Band, in its tenth year of operation, is a free educational program for qualifying middle- and high-school students, providing the opportunity to play in the big band and to participate in a variety of workshops and performances with top music educators and guest artists. The group displayed maturity far beyond its years, particularly in the rhythm section, which generated exciting, propulsive time, and in the saxophone section, led by lead alto saxophonist Jacob Chung, who took an impressive solo on “The Late Late Show.”

Other second-set performers included The Heavyweights Brass Band, who began the set by playing in the audience and gradually making their way to the stage, vocalists Alex Pangman, Lori Cullen, and surprise guest Marc Jordan, who, after remarking on the value that JAZZ.FM91 brings to the community, sang a compelling, stripped-down version of “The Nearness of You.” Pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo also performed, playing a sweet, rhythmically strong version of “Let’s Fall In Love” that blended some of Cole’s more traditional stylings with a few modern touches. The evening culminated in a return of most of the performers to the stage for a version of “Route 66,” led by Richardson, with enthusiastic audience participation.  

JAZZ.FM91 presented “JAZZ LIVES: A Century of Nat ‘King’ Cole” on April 11, 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.

boccherini cropLuigi Boccherini, in a portrait by Italian painter Pompeo Batoni.There are a large number of composers who are more renowned for their connections to great historical musical figures than for their own creative products. History seems to be particularly unkind to those from the Baroque and Classical eras: J.S. Bach’s sons are all contextualized as such; Leopold Mozart is known for being Wolfgang's father; Johann Georg Albrechtsberger was Beethoven’s counterpoint teacher; and Michael Haydn was Franz Joseph’s brother. It is interesting to note that, while it is easy to think of these ‘other’ composers as appendices – occasional additions to canonic concert programs intended to pique audience interest – much music by Haydn and Albrechtsberger was performed throughout the 19th century, particularly at St. Florian’s monastery in Linz, where Anton Bruckner was organist.

Luigi Boccherini, however, is an exception, for while his music underwent the same lost-and-rediscovered fate as many of his contemporaries, Boccherini developed his compositional technique apart from the major European musical centres, spending most of his career in Italy and Spain. Much of Boccherini’s music follows the model of Joseph Haydn and was neglected after his death, the dismissive sobriquet ‘Haydn's wife’ introduced in the 19th century to illustrate Boccherini’s similarity to the great Austrian composer (who similarly spent his career apart from the European musical hubs). It wasn’t until the late 20th century that Boccherini’s works were rediscovered and performed ‘for the first time,’ many of them by the appropriately-named Boccherini Quintet.

Boccherini was a gifted virtuoso on the cello and wrote a great number of works for string ensemble and the cello as a solo instrument, presumably to be performed by the composer himself. On April 7 at Victoria College Chapel in Toronto, Scaramella presented “Boccherini and Friends,” a concert of string quintets by Boccherini along with works by Albrechtsberger, Michael Haydn, and Leopold Mozart – lighter fare intended to separate the weightier and thoroughly-developed Boccherini pieces. While both the Albrechtsberger and Mozart works were indeed charming and light, Michael Haydn’s Divertimento in E-flat opened with a notably beautiful adagio con 6 variazioni, a theme-and-variations of notable ingenuity and depth. (Piccolo Concerto Wien has a fine recording of this on the Accent label, recommended for your exploration.)

The three string quintets by Boccherini were surprising, firstly because of their instrumentation. The typical ‘Boccherini quintet’ is for enhanced string quartet: two violins, viola, and two cellos (one virtuoso part played by Boccherini, the other, a simpler bass line, played by a lesser cellist). These three quintets, taken from the Op. 39 collection, were written for two violins, viola, cello and double bass, resulting in a much wider range of sound and greater depth to the bass line, taking the range of a typical string quartet and extending it downwards.

Each of Boccherini’s quintets are very much of the Classical era: a fast, sonata-form opening movement followed by a slower, less structured middle movement, and a rousing rondo-form finale – formal structures identical to those utilized by Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven. The Scaramella performers’ decision to include all repeats was a wise one; although it made each piece doubly long, the repetition of material enabled first-time listeners to hear, retain and comprehend the development of thematic material as it returned in various iterations.

The Scaramella quintet was in fine form throughout the evening, providing nuance and interest though their interpretations, borrowing from their knowledge of both Baroque- and Classical-era repertoire. Born in 1743, Boccherini composed in a primarily galant style, building on the works of era-bridging composers such as C.P.E. Bach. Such jubilant, major-key music can sound farcical and superficial if not approached from a musical perspective, and while there was plenty of playfulness and joy in their playing, the quintet never came across as trite or banal.

To many in the audience, this concert was a first introduction to Boccherini’s music, a fine essay in the artistry of this largely-unknown composer. The history of music is full of these forgotten figures, and with scholars and performers discovering new and interesting works every year, we look forward to more illuminating and explorative presentations from fine groups such as Scaramella.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, directed by Ivars Taurins at a previous Tafelmusik concert. Photo credit: Trevor Haldenby.Finding a suitable environment for J.S. Bach’s B-Minor Mass is no small challenge. Although ideally suited for the concert hall due to its duration, complexity and the personnel required in performance, it feels slightly unnatural to hear this monumental essay on the Latin rite displayed in such sterile conditions, far removed from its native liturgical context.

Perhaps this ‘problem’ is not a problem at all, merely the cognitive dissonance produced by our universal understanding of Bach as a devoutly religious person and his music as an expression of those religious beliefs. As a recent example, a March 30 article by Michael Marissen in The New York Times was titled “Bach Was Far More Religious Than You Might Think” and considers Bach to be “a religious conservative at odds with the progressivist currents of his day, and ours,” supporting this spiritual biography with Bach’s own marginal comments from his three-volume Calov Study Bible.

According to Bach himself, “the aim or final goal of all music shall be nothing but the honour of God and the recreation of the Soul.” However, the B-Minor Mass was not performed in its entirety until 1859, more than a century after Bach’s death, and has been a concerted work ever since. How, then, do we bridge this gap between Bach’s loftily sacred aspirations for the B Minor Mass and the inherently worldly atmosphere of the concert hall?

At its recent April 6 concert, Tafelmusik’s approach to the B Minor Mass was one of detail – and the expression achieved through that detail was little less than divine. With Ivars Taurins at the helm, every note had direction and every phrase had shape, and these microscopic musical elements translated into a macroscopic whole which realized Bach’s detailed score in an unparalleled way. From the first notes of the Kyrie to the final Dona nobis pacem, nothing seemed out of place or beyond the performers’ control, so that those in attendance were able to listen beyond the minutiae and hear the work in its entirety, like a painting in which each brushstroke combines with others to create a larger cumulative work.

Taurins’ use of the soloists in the opening movement to create a terraced dynamic effect was very successful, as was the decision to have the solo quintet sing the Et incarnatus est. These changes in timbre and texture not only provided sonic variety but also allowed us to hear these fine singers more frequently, each of whom were superb individually and in the ensemble.

As in every Tafelmusik performance, tuning and temperament were exact and lent an additional degree of fidelity to the performance. Nothing is more luminous than chords played in pure intonation and we were treated to countless numbers of these throughout the evening, whether in the densely chromatic minor-key Crucifixus and Confiteor movements or the joyously major-key Sanctus and Osanna. The choir’s use of German Latin added extra potency to the text, with elements of Classical Latin replaced by the slightly more percussive and pointed German, lending the interpretation a strong rhythmic vitality.

As the final chord of the Dona nobis pacem faded away, the outburst of applause seemed inadequate and improper, a worldly attempt at expressing appreciation for the incomparable profundity and beauty of the previous hours. Although a standing ovation was indeed deserved, it took this audience member more than a few minutes to regain his composure, and I remember neither leaving Jeanne Lamon Hall nor the return trip home – I was captivated and moved in a way that no other concert has managed to do in a very long time.

If there really are angels singing perpetually in the afterlife, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them singing the B-Minor Mass over and over again. It is a tremendous work of art – complex yet inspiring, superficially appealing yet deeply spiritual – and we should consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have such magnificent interpreters in our midst.

Tafelmusik presented Bach's B-Minor Mass (conducted by Ivars Taurins, with soloists Dorothee Mields, Laura Pudwell, Charles Daniels and Tyler Duncan) April 5-8 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul's Centre (and April 10 at George Weston Recital Hall), Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Gurrumul BannerThere are at least a dozen new films with a significant musical component in this year’s Hot Docs International Documentary Festival, which runs at various Toronto venues from April 26 to May 6 (hotdocs.ca). Many promising titles are tucked away among the 246 in the 2018 lineup, which celebrates the festival’s 25th anniversary. Among the ones I’ve seen, some are essential viewing and others are of more than passing interest.

Gurrumul at home during his father’s funeral.Gurrumul: April 28, 29, May 5. Paul Damien Williams’ definitive portrait of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, the blind-from-birth Indigenous singer from Echo Island in Arnhem Land, Australian Northern Territory, manages the difficult task of fusing the artistic and personal life of one of the most significant musicians Australia has ever produced. “I am my ancestors,” Gurrumul says of his songs, most of which are in the language of his Guratj community whose musical traditions go back thousands of years. With hours of performance and rehearsal footage to choose from, Williams chronicles Gurrumul’s musical ascendancy from when he was discovered by Mark Grose (who became his manager) and Michael Hohnen (who became his producer and “brother”). Hohnen accompanied him on the double bass on tour and recordings; their two-decades-long relationship ended with Gurrumul’s death in 2017 at the age of 46. Gurrumul’s soulful tenor voice was a powerful musical instrument; once you’ve heard it, it’s not easily forgotten. Neither is Williams’ film.

Georg Friedrich Haas and Mollena Williams-Haas at Museum of Sex, New York.The Artist & the Pervert (April 27, 29, May 4) is a no-holds-barred look at the personal and professional life of Georg Friedrich Haas, one of the major European composers of his generation. His best-known work, In Vain (2000), was written in response to the rise of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party. Simon Rattle, one of the film’s talking heads, calls it “a really astonishing work of art … that audiences can’t get enough of.”  As a child in Austria Haas was beaten by his Nazi parents. At 20 he resolved to rid himself of their “venomous ideas.” At 50 he had his first BDSM relationship, finally giving in to his urge to dominate. Three years ago the 60-ish Haas, by then a New Yorker, married his soulmate and muse, Mollena Williams-Haas, an African-American kink educator and bawdy storyteller with whom he has a loving 24/7 master/slave relationship. “I can now work much more intensively and more focused than before,” he says. An intimate examination of the process of making music itself, The Artist & the Pervert is an idiosyncratic introduction to Haas’ floating constellations of overtones and microtonal experimentation.

I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story: world premiere April 26, 27, May 4, 6. Three generations of women (two Australian and two American), 18 to 64, share their obsessions with The Beatles, Take That, the Backstreet Boys and One Direction. If you’ve ever wondered why teenage girls scream at concerts (“It was so cathartic”), you’ve come to the right place. Taking us inside the mindset of these obsessed boyband fangirls (“They’re just like Barbie Dolls; they’re so perfect; they’re all my boyfriends”), the film is seeded with retro footage and pop candy songs. Spoiler alert: there is no music by The Beatles in this film.

Bathtubs Over Broadway: May 1, 3, 5. Steve Young, a comedy writer for the Late Show with David Letterman, stumbled onto a few vintage record albums – bizarre cast recordings marked “internal use only” – that were full-throated Broadway-style musicals whose subjects were the products of corporate America: General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox – Everything’s Coming up Citgo, for example. Bathtubs over Broadway follows Young deeper down the rabbit hole of this most unusual musical genre. With David Letterman, Chita Rivera, Martin Short, Florence Henderson, Susan Stroman, Jello Biafra and more. Co-presented by the Musical Stage Company.

Barbara Rubin in 1964. Photo credit: Jonas Mekas.Barbara Rubin and the Exploding NY Underground: May 2, 4, 5. Barbara Rubin was a teenage experimental filmmaker, whose transgressive film Christmas on Earth caused a sensation when it screened in NYC in 1964. She hung out with Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg and (with Factory habitué Gerard Malanga) introduced Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground. Rubin was a spoke in the avant-garde wheel for more than 15 minutes; Warhol shot her screen test in 1965. Yet within a few years she had become a Hasidic Jew and moved to a religious community in France, dying there at 35. Her lifelong friend, legendary experimental filmmaker and curator Jonas Mekas, saved all her correspondence. That and contemporaneous film footage were the fodder for Chuck Smith’s fascinating cultural touchstone; music by Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo.

Bachman: world premiere May 2, 3, 4. Randy Bachman’s American Woman was a chartbuster for the Guess Who and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet also hit number one for Bachman-Turner Overdrive, but the Winnipeg native is at least as well known for Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap on CBC Radio One. Each week Bachman fills two hours of thematically unified airtime with music and anecdotes delivered matter-of-factly, intimately and authoritatively. John Barnard profiles the man and his craft.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A (May 3, 5, 6) follows Sri Lankan genre-bending music star M.I.A. Mathangi Arulpragasam. “This is not a normal pop documentary, because M.I.A. was not a normal pop star,” writes Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic. The Strange Sound of Happiness (April 30, May 2) tells the director’s own story of how his obsession with the marranzano (jaw harp) led him from Sicily to Yakutia in Siberia to study under the legendary master of the instrument. Could it have been Sergio Leone’s memorable use of the instrument in For a Few Dollars More that triggered director Diego Pascal Panarello’s dream?

My Father Is My Mother’s Brother.My Father Is My Mother’s Brother: May 2, 3. Tolik, an artist in the Ukrainian underground music scene, is raising his niece while her mother is in and out of a psychiatric hospital. “The film seems to float, like the melody of one of Tolik’s songs,” according to Céline Guénot of the Nyon, Switzerland documentary film festival. To Want, To Need, To Love: May 2, 4. Two actor/musicians and the director’s brother are part of a troupe of artists, travelling from Zurich to Belgrade to Pristina, who create musical performance pieces around the question “What do you believe in?” Music by Kosovo native Arbër Salihu, who also plays one of the principal roles.

Ellis Haizlip, producer and host of the PBS series SOUL!, surrounded by his team. Clockwise left to right: Sherry Santifer, Stan Lathan, Loretta Greene, Leslie Demus, Alonzo Brown and Anna Maria Horsford. Photo credit: Bill Whiting.Mr. SOUL!: April 27, 28, May 5. A who’s who of black musical legends of the 1960s appeared on the PBS variety show SOUL from 1968 to 1973. Rare archival footage of the era dovetails with an intimate portrait of Ellis Haizlip, the openly gay producer-turned-host who is the film’s eponymous subject. Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Muhammad Ali, among others, also lend their voices to this moment of American cultural history. United Skates: April 28, 30, May 4. The roller rink scene and the Black community go under the microscope through the eyes of three skaters from LA, Chicago and North Carolina, as what was once a little-known cultural phenomenon and incubator of such hip-hop stars as N.W.A. and Queen Latifah fights to survive racism and a new economic reality. Jongnic (JB) Bontemps’ score was recorded by the Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra just last month.

Believer (May 1, 3, 4) follows Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds and openly gay former Mormon Tyler Glenn, lead singer of Neon Trees, as they create LoveLoud, a music and spoken-word festival designed to spark dialogue between the Mormon church and members of the LGBTQ community. Love, Scott (April 28, 29, May 3) follows Scott Jones, a gay musician oparalyzed from the waist down by a homophobic stabbing attack, as he rebuilds his life, in part through working with choirs. Score by Sigur Rós!

Among the films by Hot Docs’ 2018 Outstanding Achievement Award recipient Barbara Kopple are The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (May 1), a fly-on-the-wall chronicle of how the popular alt-country band dealt with the fallout from lead singer Natalie Maines’ criticism of President George W. Bush and his Iraq war policy; and Miss Sharon Jones! (May 2), Kopple’s inspirational portrait of the legendary soul singer that celebrates her music-making, joyful spirit and determination to carry on despite the cancer diagnosis that would take her life. May 3, Kopple will introduce a surprise screening of My Generation (2000), which takes a star-studded musical trip across three Woodstock Festivals (1969, 1992 and 1999) to see just how things have changed (or not).

Included in the Redux program, ”a retrospective showcase of documentaries that deserve another outing on the big screen,” is A Drummer’s Dream (2010) on May 2, featuring Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr, Dennis Chambers, Kenwood Dennard, Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Mike Mangini and Raul Rekow. Finally, Focus On John Walker – a retrospective of the Canadian filmmaker’s work – includes Men of the Deeps (2003) on May 5, about a world-renowned choir of working and retired coal miners who sing passionately about lives spent deep underground as the last coal mine in Cape Breton prepares to close.

Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival plays April 26 to May 6 in various locations throughout Toronto. See hotdocs.ca for further information.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Amici Chamber Ensemble (l-r): Serouj Kradjian, Joaquin Valdepeñas and David Hetherington.“Amici,” when translated from the Italian, means “friends”. It may be a simple concept, but that idea is at the core of what the Toronto-based Amici Chamber Ensemble does – and has been doing for the last 30 years.

Part of this mandate has come from making a virtue of necessity. Amici’s core ensemble formation is a clarinet-cello-piano trio, made up of clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas, cellist David Hetherington and pianist Serouj Kradjian. There’s a sizeable library of classical repertoire for this instrument combination – but it’s far less common than the standard piano trio (which swaps out the clarinet for a violin). As a result, a lot of the clarinet-cello-piano music that exists tends to get performed by ad-hoc groups, or by subsets of larger mixed instrumental ensembles.

Amici follows this pattern, performing repertoire written specifically for their instrument combination alongside works for larger forces. What that translates to, in their case, is a frequent need for guest artists – and lots of them.

Their upcoming concert on April 27 at Koerner Hall in Toronto is no exception. Titled “A Legacy of Inspiration,” the show celebrates both Amici’s 30th anniversary and the centenary of Bernstein’s birth, with several works by Bernstein, the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, and Beethoven’s “Rondino” for wind octet.* Joining the trio onstage will be soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and violinist Yehonatan Berick, along with several wind players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

“We took the theme of ‘legacy’ here, because for a clarinet-cello-piano trio to survive this long – for 30 years – is admirable,” says pianist Serouj Kradjian. “We [wanted to] define legacy by not only the artists we’ve had as guests, but also by Amici’s long tradition of mentorship – teaching, and many times, providing the first opportunity for upcoming musicians who would later make great careers.”

He’s speaking from experience. A relatively recent addition to the group, Kradjian himself joined the trio to replace founding pianist Patricia Parr in 2008.

“My own experience of Amici, before I joined the ensemble 10 years ago, was when I was a student at U of T. At school, Amici was my first experience seeing chamber music live onstage,” he says. “Imagine having that be your very first experience hearing chamber music – and now, many years later, it’s come full circle, with my becoming the pianist of the ensemble.”

Kradjian talks about the trio’s concert-planning process. In the case of their upcoming show, Bernstein quickly became the program’s keystone; other times, the draw of a particular guest artist has inspired the trio to select certain repertoire. “The three of us sit down and we brainstorm,” he says. “We look at a combination of things – the artists, the focus of the program, financial considerations – but I think that for us, artistic integrity and innovation are what come first. That has kind of been a trademark of Amici: the core musicians are only a trio, but because of these goals we grow to an ensemble of sometimes 11 or 12 musicians onstage.”

Looking at the ensemble’s work over the years, it’s clear how each trio member’s own musical connections within the local community have helped the ensemble survive. In addition to the Amici’s previous post in the late 80s and early 90s as trio-in-residence at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, both Valdepeñas and Hetherington play in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and teach at the Royal Conservatory. The guest artists that Amici has performed with have often come from the same ranks.

“Personal connections have been very important for the ensemble,” says Kradjian. “As the name says – “amici” – it’s really about celebrating friendship through music. We want to invite people who we like to work with – because that energy, that chemistry, shows on the stage. And when we’re enjoying what we’re doing onstage, the audience sees that as well.”

As the ensemble enters its 31st year, Kradjian expects it to continue developing its mandate for outreach and collaboration.

“We do all of these amazing concerts right now – but we only do them once,” Kradjian says. “We’d love to repeat one or two of them in other areas in the GTA and Ontario. We’d also like to continue making new recordings and doing co-productions. Getting together with other arts organizations in the city – and not necessarily just music organizations. Combining different aspects of the arts is part of what we’re looking ahead to.

“I think we will continue innovating,” he adds. “As much as we can. As much as circumstances allow.”

Amici Chamber Ensemble presents its final concert of the 2017/18 season, “A Legacy of Inspiration,” on April 27 at 8pm, in Koerner Hall, Toronto.

*4/13/2018: Since time of writing, a revised concert program has been announced. The concert program now includes works by Bernstein alongside a selection by winners of The Glenn Gould School Chamber Music Competition, Ottorino Respighi's Il tramonto, for voice and string quartet, P. 101, and Ernö Dohnányi's Sextet in C Major, op. 3.

Armie Hammer (left) and Geoffrey Rush in Final Portrait. Photo credit: Parisa Taghizadeh, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.Stanley Tucci’s sharply observed depiction of Alberto Giacometti’s last oil painting, Final Portrait, lingers lovingly over the artist’s exacting creative process. In 1964, Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), primarily known for his sculptures, asked his friend, the American author James Lord (Armie Hammer), to sit for him. Tucci’s film, adapted from Lord’s memoir, gives us a writer’s POV into the artist’s methods – driven by doubt and neurosis – and his personal relationships. Giacometti’s wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) tolerates his four-year-long relationship with Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a prostitute who is Giacometti’s muse and model. In his early 60s, Giacometti lives a chaotic lifestyle, grounded by his key relationships with the two women and his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), a calming presence who serves as his confidant and right-hand man.

Tucci uses the uncannily accurate set design adroitly, treating the facsimile of the studio as familiarly as if it were his kitchen, and filming visits to neighbourhood bars and restaurants with a sense of verisimilitude and period detail that transports the viewer across more than five decades. Tucci’s keen eye harkens back to the observational style and verve of his classic Big Night. His actors, particularly Rush, Poésy and Shalhoub, bring art history to life and energize the slim thread of the narrative balanced by Hammer and Testud’s naturalism. Final Portrait, despite its many accomplishments, does not examine the philosophical underpinnings of the painter’s aesthetic (as Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse did, for example). Instead, frequent conversational strolls in nearby Montparnasse Cemetery by Lord and Giacometti serve up gossipy tidbits. It’s what happens in the studio that stands firmly at the film’s centre.

Geoffrey Rush (left) and Clémence Poésy in Final Portrait. Photo credit: Parisa Taghizadeh, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.Evan Lurie’s score for various combinations of violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano and celeste is a model of discretion, never overwhelming what we see on screen, acting more as a linking mechanism between scenes or a subtle comment on their mood. In fact, after a brief moment of violin melancholy, the film begins with Ralf Dieter Gscheidle’s La Fleur, a typical Parisian accordion solo announcing Final Portrait’s locale. Suddenly we’re in Giacometti’s studio, with Giacometti’s iconic sculpture of Isaku Yanaihara at its centre. The soundtrack bristles with the sound of walking across the studio floor, of a canvas being moved onto an easel, of choosing brushes and moving pedestals – the soundtrack to a picture of creativity.

“It’s impossible to paint you as I see you,” Giacometti tells Lord, as a tentative violin leads into the warmth of a string quartet and a lyrical piano solo. Whether it’s a sprightly violin that signals a spirited scene in the bar of Chez Adrien or a tentative violin melody that acts as a momentary comma to the end of Lord’s sitting for the day, there’s just enough musical noodling to propel the action before Gscheidle’s accordion closes the parentheses on a footnote in art history.

One of the founding members of the Lounge Lizards, the seminal 1980s downtown Manhattan group led by his brother John, Evan Lurie (classically trained as a pianist) is also known as an actor. For the last decade he has operated a contemporary art gallery in Indiana.

Final Portrait opens April 6 at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity and VIP.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Gerald Neufeld conducts the Guelph Chamber Choir and Musica Viva Orchestra in rehearsal for the March 31 concert. Photo credit: Geoff Warder.“Thank you for bringing us great music,” said Nicole Neufeld in a heartwarming onstage tribute to her father’s 36 years of work with the Guelph Chamber Choir. Gerald Neufeld is stepping down as artistic director of the Guelph Chamber Choir, having led it for 36 of its 38 years. In a farewell concert on Saturday March 31, 2018, the choir performed Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) and other smaller works. This was the final performance of the Guelph Chamber Choir’s 2017/18 season, and the final concert with Gerald Neufeld as its artistic director.

The first half of the concert was the German Requiem. The second half comprised six smaller works, including Ola Gjeilo’s The Ground (which is the “Pleni sunt coeli” section of the “Sanctus” in his larger Sunrise Mass); Agnus dei, arranged by Kenneth Jennings with Latin text on a choral rendition of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations; and Canadian composer Eleanor Daley’s Antiphon, the final movement of her three-piece Let All the World in Ev’ry Corner Sing Easter Anthems.

In an interview the week prior to the concert, Neufeld spoke to The WholeNote about his upcoming final performance. “I wanted to fit into the Easter Weekend,” says Neufeld. “Rather than doing a Latin requiem, I wanted to do one of my favourite works, [Brahms’ Requiem]. It’s such a wonderfully crafted piece. It’s not about sadness, it’s about remembering and joyousness. It’s really for the living rather than the dead.”

For this performance, Neufeld decided on a historically-informed rendition, with Musica Viva Orchestra on period instruments. “It may seem a bit strange to sing the Requiem with only 60 singers and 43 in the orchestra,” says Neufeld, “but the period instruments are so much softer and blend easier with the voice. Brahms’ orchestra wasn’t too much larger than what we’ll have. It’s almost like chamber music in a way. It’s bringing together Brahms’ past with his present, using some Classical sensibilities with newer Romantic harmonic material in a very interesting way.

“I’ve been performing with period players for two decades now,” Neufeld continues. “I love working with them because they want to understand the musical text and how to declaim the music. It makes the music much more effective; it communicates much more clearly to the audience. Our audiences have really loved it.” With a packed house and a thoroughly pleased audience, Neufeld’s artistic choices continue to have a strong impact on audiences in Guelph and the area: the Guelph Chamber Choir sang its first three concerts of its 2017/18 season to a sold-out hall.

At the concert on Saturday, Neufeld’s interpretation using period instruments resulted in a softer, less complex sound in the orchestra and a light, articulate choir. The choir was well-balanced, solidly supported by an exceptional bass section. The first movement of the Requiem does not include violins; with the bass sound of the lower strings and viola anchoring the sound, the choir was free to focus on the music’s emotional content.

Brahms’ Requiem was beautifully presented. Daniel Lichti provided a robust and emotional presentation as bass-baritone soloist. There was a bit of a disconnect at times between his and the choir’s deliveries – most pronounced in the third movement, where Lichti’s emotional and operatic interpretation of “Lord, teach me” was not equally repeated in the choir’s more muted response immediately following him. However, towards the end of the third movement, Neufeld’s period interpretation allowed the “Der gerechten” fugal section to ride above the long-sustains of the double basses without being thrown off. Sheila Dietrich, the soprano soloist, provided a light and comforting solo in the fifth movement. This movement is a cornerstone of the Requiem, providing an angelic moment of healing in this work, which Neufeld describes in the program notes as “comfort for the living that recognizes the human journey through times of grief, but also offers a sense of hope, victory and joy at the end of that journey.”

There were two technical issues that detracted from the overall impact of the piece. The first was ongoing instances within the soprano section of uncontrolled and abundant vibrato, especially noticeable in the fourth “Wie lieblich” movement. The second was recurring registration issues in the tenor sections. With some tenors chest-strong and others in head-tone, there wasn’t an even sound in exposed tenor lines like the “Zu nehmen Preis und Ehre” fugal section of the sixth movement. Otherwise, the blend of the choir was excellent, with a very solid grounding in the basses and a majestic alto presence. Neufeld manages to massage the tension of the Requiem, never letting the choir become too loud and allowing the suspense in the music to blossom slowly.

Neufeld has many memories over his 36 very successful years with the choir. He mentions a few great works among his memories, many of which were done with the Guelph Chamber Choir. He thinks of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the Monteverdi Vespers, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Some of these memories are from abroad as well: “Performing in Austria at the Mozarteum, and the Czech Republic, in the old city of Kroměříž in the Bishop’s palace ballroom. Performing in those acoustical environments [was] really something,” he shares.

Neufeld is not done with music; he would be happy to guest conduct, and loves the rehearsal process. He feels though, that “it’s time for someone younger, who has more energy and new ideas, to take the choir forward. It’s always a good time, when things are going well, to make that transition,” he says. As the Guelph Chamber Choir enters a transition year, there will be two concerts conducted by two conductors shortlisted for Neufeld’s replacement. In the fall of 2018, Patrick Murray takes the reins, while in the spring of 2019, Charlene Pauls leads the choir. One of the two will replace Neufeld. “I would like them to be successful in whatever they choose,” says Neufeld. “I’m looking forward to being in the audience and hearing what comes from the choir under a new director.

“The thing I will remember the most are the people in the choir,” adds Neufeld. “They come because they want to, not because they have to. One of the most memorable conversations I’ve had was with three doctors during the SARS crisis. I was surprised they were at rehearsal when all of this was going on. They just looked at me and said, ‘We can’t afford not to be here. This helps us manage to get through.’ This is a big part of what choirs do. For lack of a better term: this spiritual energy, to keep going with our daily lives, working together.”

In a surprise, the choir performed a very touching final piece in tribute to Neufeld: Ron Jeffers’ setting of Fred Mitchell’s poem “I have had singing.” With his family onstage, Neufeld’s work with the choir was perfectly summed up – with great music, happy voices, and a touching farewell.

The Guelph Chamber Choir, featuring Sheila Dietrich (soprano), Daniel Lichti (bass-baritone) and the Musica Viva Orchestra, performed Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) in farewell to outgoing artistic director Gerald Neufeld on March 31, 2018, 7:30pm at River Run Centre, Guelph.

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