- Written by Bryson Winchester
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
Springing Sweetly into Summer: It takes a fair bit to make me smile during the dog days of the March magazine production cycle. Nowhere is the pain of the fact that February is three days shorter than some months more sharply felt than right now - the last 48 hours before going to press.
But one smile got wrung out of me earlier today, while giving our annual “Orange Pages” summer music education special section (it starts on page 58) a quick last look before press time.
It’s not a section that lays claim to being comprehensive. February would need 280 days for that to happen. It’s more like a geologist’s rock sample - a rough crystal refracting the light of just how much opportunity there is out there for music lovers wanting, in the words of the little intro to this year’s section, “to engage in summer music making … when the restraints of our regular schedules have been lifted.”
I’ll confess that reading the section itself is always a bit of a bitter-sweet thing for me. No matter when in the year we publish it, it always feels as though it’s either too early or too late - either “How on earth do you expect me to plan that far ahead?” or “I wish I had known about that months ago!”
But however practical or wistful the read-through, I always come away from skimming through the 35-or-so profiles in it with a sense of vicarious pleasure. And on this occasion, with a sweetly accidental moment of amusement.
All the entries in the section are structured in a similar way, offering an anecdotal description in the provider’s own words of what the opportunity is all about, preceded by nuts-and-bolts information about the what, where and when of it all, and for whom it’s intended.
It was one of those “who it’s for” descriptors that did it! (I won’t tell you which profile it was in - you’ll have to find it yourself.) “All ages 10 to 90!” it said.
Maybe it’s just that my funny bone is tingling from too-long days of leaning on my elbows during this all-too-short production cycle, or just that, as all regular readers of this Opener will both know by now, my sense of humour is a bit aslant at the best of times! But I read “All ages 10 to 90!” and the picture jumped immediately to my mind of one particular columnist reading it and sputtering in indignation “What the hell do you mean I’m too old for that!?”
Slight as this little story may be, it speaks to a good kind of complexity, in my view of the world we live in. Namely this: that almost anything one says, especially in fun, can be taken differently than one intended. “All ages, 10 to 90” is clearly intended as a way of speaking playfully to the broad inclusiveness of the offering. It takes a darkly perverse view of things to interpret it as a deliberately ageist attempt to exclude nonagenarians from the joys of campfire life. (Hmm maybe there’s a charter challenge there somewhere. Any nine-year-olds with awesome finger-pickin’ chops want to join in?)
It’s a bit of a stretch to argue that the above anecdote serves as a reminder of how endless (and sometimes painfully rewarding) the process is of reinventing our language and re-examining our assumptions, musical and political.
Happily (if not necessarily comfortably), this sesquicentennial year offers the opportunity for the same kind of soul-searching on a much grander and more fundamental scale.
Tiptoeing the Sesquicentennial Party Line: The Toronto Consort’s “Kanatha/Canada: First Encounters” (February 3 and 4 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre) got February off to a flying start for me. It was an early, and welcome, indication that the 2017 sesquicentennial arts bandwagon will have room, alongside the enthusiastic flag-wavers, for those who choose to look at 1867 critically, as a relatively recent milestone in a much longer, and not unequivocally celebratory, journey.
As an idea for a concert program, “Kanatha/Canada” had its roots, in the fall of 2013, in the work that constitutes the entire second half of the concert, composer John Beckwith’s Wendake/Huronia, a roughly 30-minute work, in six movements, reflecting on Wendat culture from pre-European contact to the present day and ending with a prayer for reconciliation between the two cultures.
As Beckwith himself described it in an article in The WholeNote in summer 2015, “late in 2013, John French, director of the Brookside Music Association in Midland, invited [me] to compose a piece to be performed in July 2015, marking the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Samuel de Champlain and a few fellow adventurers from France to the ‘Mer douce’ or ‘Fresh-water sea’—today’s Lake Huron. I said yes.”
In its original form the work was performed by a chamber choir drawn from local choirs, a pair of First Nations drummers, Shirley Hay and Marilyn George, an alto soloist (Laura Pudwell) and a narrator (Theodore Baerg), accompanied by the Toronto Consort. It toured Georgian Bay communities including Midland, Parry Sound (as part of the Festival of the Sound), Barrie, Meaford and others.
In the February 3 and 4 version, performed to a packed Trinity-St. Paul’s, almost the same forces were assembled. The most notable change was that the role of narrator/singer was taken by Georges Sioui, described in the concert program as a “Huron-Wendat … polyglot, poet, essayist, songwriter and world-renowned speaker on the history, philosophy, spirituality and education of Aboriginal peoples.” Sioui had played a seminal role in the gestation of the project; this performance brought his voice into the foreground.
Composer Beckwith had found Sioui as a resource early on; in fact, the fifth movement in the work, Lamentation 1642, “an angry lament” was based on a paper Sioui had given in 1992 on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, recalling the life-patterns of Wendats in the years 992, 1492, and 1642 [the sesquicentennial of Columbus’ “discovery” of North America]. “His picture of the state of Huronia a century and a half after Columbus affected me deeply,” Beckwith writes. “When I interviewed Sioui in Ottawa, he generously gave me permission to set this ‘lament’ as my fifth panel.” Sioui also advised Beckwith not to end there. “He thought the angry lament should be followed by more optimistic sentiments, reflecting today’s efforts towards reconciliation.”
The work traverses aeons: a prologue suggesting “pre-contact” evinced by percussion imitating the sound of snowshoes while individual voices shout out, as in a roll call, the names of various Wendat clans; a second movement, set in a European-sounding contrapuntal choral style, revolving around a “poetic epigraph written by a fan” at the front of the second edition (1632) of Champlain’s published account of his travels; third and fourth panels evoking, respectively, canoeing and the Wendat “Feast of Souls”; second last, Sioui’s “angry lament”; and finally a movement titled To the Future based on an intensely moving recent poem of Sioui’s (2013), written in English but spoken here in French, in which the narrator dandles his infant nephew and asks the baby boy’s understanding for referring to child as “grandfather” because in so doing the narrator is transported to a childhood in which an optimistic future could more readily be seen.
Most interesting (in the context of this particular essay) has been watching the development of the Toronto Consort’s role (with artistic director David Fallis at the helm) in the evolution of the piece from its origins at the 2015 Brookside Festival till now. It’s not hard to see why an ensemble specializing in authentic performance of early music would have been the logical musical choice for a project examining a 400-year old moment in time. But without Fallis’ fierce curatorial intelligence, their role could have remained a kind of period window-dressing.
In this February’s concert, Beckwith’s half-hour long Wendake/Huronia has morphed from being a stand-alone work into the second half of a fully articulated concert program. The first half, anchored by First Nations drummers Shirley Hay and Marilyn George and by vocal artist Jeremy Dutcher (who was interviewed here by Sara Constant last month), is built around the 1701 “Great Peace” of Montreal in which in the words of historian Gilles Havard: “In the heat of the summer of 1701 hundreds of Native people paddled their birchbark canoes down the Ottawa River … [an] impressive flotilla made up of delegations from many nations of the Great Lakes region … and from other directions … In total about 1,300 Native delegates, representing 39 nations, would gather in the little colonial town … to participate in a general peace conference.”
As with Wendake/Huronia, the treatment of the “Great Peace” story is nuanced and layered, enriched by singer/drummers Hay and George’s deep-rooted knowledge of First Nations lore and Dutcher’s ongoing explorations “part composition, part musical ethnography and part linguistic reclamation” of his Wolostoq Maliseet (Saint John river basin) heritage. As a whole, the program immerses the audience in the ongoing complexities of contact between Canada’s Indigenous and Settler peoples. It is all the more powerful for the way it animates the Consort’s usual repertoire, which is all too often at risk of being seen as nothing more than a sentimental rendering of artfully encased museum pieces from a bygone age.
There was nothing sentimental about this particular exercise in time travel. A healthy reminder as the coming months of Sesquicentennial-themed offerings come to a boil.
Interlude: The night of July 4, 1975, I slept on the floor of the Greyhound bus station in State College, Pennsylvania. The night before I had slept on a Boeing 707 en route between what was then called Jan Smuts Airport and JFK in New York. My arrival at JFK was carefully timed: it was the first day of the US Bicentennial Year, and I was in possession of a $200, unlimited-travel, two-month bus pass, effective July 4, 1975, that I was about to make good use of. (I was seven weeks away from arriving in Toronto to stay.) There’s something to be said for ’centennial bandwagons.
The night of July 5 1975 I was back on the floor of the State College bus station again, having spent July 5 waiting fruitlessly, on the steps of the Altoona Town Hall, for a local bus that, according to Greyhound bus dispatch, would take me to Jamestown, PA. But when it arrived it was going to Johnstown, PA. So took the only other bus coming through, and slunk back to State College again.
Time travellers take note: There were worse places to be than the Altoona Town Hall steps, on July 5 1975. The Phillies and Pirates both won (against the Mets and Cubs respectively) having both lost the previous day - the Phillies in a heartbreaker. So the alarmingly large town drunk who spent much of the day keeping me company on the steps, transistor radio to his ear, was in a good mood. ….
Now, where was I? Ah yes, the State College, Pennsylvania bus station. That is where this story is headed next.
Tafelmusik at the Crossroads: Even for an ensemble accustomed to packing their bags and moving from one thing to another really quickly, Tafelmusik is in the middle of a three-month stretch requiring remarkable agility.
Consider the fact that, by the time you read this, within the month of February alone (28 days), the organization will have: announced the appointment of a new music director; presented 12 local performances of four different programs at five different venues; held a very effective invite-only season launch concert at an off-the-beaten-track venue (patching in their new music director Elisa Citterio by video); and launched a US tour that will take one of their most successful all-memorized thematic programs, Alison Mackay’s “Bach’s Circle of Creation” on a 12-day, eight-city US tour.
The tour will be mostly by bus. And it will take them, among other places, to (drum roll please!) State College, Pennsylvania, where at 7.30pm on March 2, the second stop of the tour, they will perform the “Circle of Creation” program in the Schwab Auditorium at Penn State University. Maybe I’ll go see that one, for old times’ sake. Although I am quite possibly getting too old to intentionally sleep in bus stations.
Elisa Citterio: Of all the headspinning details hinted in the previous description of Tafel on the move, the one with likely the most significant long-term implications is the hiring of Citterio as music director. Attesting to the care taken in finding someone to replace the irreplaceable Lamon, we as audience, and the players, have had several opportunities (November 2015, and February and September 2016) to get to know her as violinist and conductor. Her 2016/17 September season-opening Koerner Hall appearance was fascinating. In a program that included, among other things, Handel’s Water Music, Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.4 in D and excerpts from Rameau’s Les indes galantes it was clear from the get-go that there was some very intense musical conversation going on between the conductor and the orchestra. She led from the first violin, as is the orchestra’s custom, and so intent was she on maintaining the connection with the players, turned three-quarters away from the audience, that from the back of the house, there were moments of almost feeling excluded. “Wait till she realizes that that bunch of smart cookies [the players] can read her back as easily as they can read her face! She’s going to be something really special” my concert companion remarked.
I, for one, can’t wait.
We get one more chance to hear and see Citterio at work this season (early May) and then in September it’s “chocks away!” as a newly minted Tafelmusik takes flight.
Alison Mackay: Running a close second to Citterio’s appointment as significant Tafelmusik news has to be the seemingly inexhaustible flow of thematic programs from the mind of longtime Tafel bassist Alison Mackay. Her latest, “Visions and Voyages: Canada 1663-1763” will be over by the time you read this. (I’m off to see it as soon as I finish this piece!) Like the Toronto Consort’s “Kanatha/Canada” discussed earlier, it places the sesquicentennial theme in the context of a much earlier timeline. I’ll be surprised if it’s any less rigorous in its framing of the issues than its Consort counterpart.
As mentioned, an earlier Mackay program “Bach’s Circle of Creation” hits the road for a US tour February 28. And, no surprise, there’s a new one in the works for the 2017/18 season. Titled “Safe Haven,” it “explores the musical ideas of baroque Europe’s refugee artists ... portraying the influence of migration on the musical life of Europe and exploring how the movement of refugees changed and enriched the economy and culture of major cities.
Mackay’s programs increasingly demonstrate a committed and almost uncanny knack to to tap into history truthfully so that an audience comes away, by analogy, with a clearer understanding of issues of our time. (“Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffeehouse” last spring was a perfect case in point.)
Coda: The Time-Traveller’s Toothbrush
“The only thing I really need to do before a concert is to brush my teeth. I cannot sing with dirty teeth. … But otherwise, a little warmup, some nice clothes, a bit of lipstick … I’m good to go.”
The speaker is alto powerhouse Laura Pudwell, longtime Toronto Consort member, quoted in the program for “Kanatha/Canada” discussed earlier. As for this ink-stained wretch, though, hopping around from topic to topic, all the while pretending at cohesion, the counterpart of the Pudwell pre-performance toothbrush is of course a catchy headline. Trust me.
David Perlman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
Wouldn’t it be nice if in the coming year…the phrase “making Toronto into a real music city” disappeared once and for all from the rhetorical toolkit of certain elected officials who, in the interests of not embarrassing any particular mayor, shall remain nameless?
Why? Because it is worse than meaningless drivel; it is actually poisonous. It sounds like a noble mission, well worth studying (top-down, of course). But it does way more harm than good. You see, in order to accept the premise that Toronto needs to be “made into a real music city,” one has to buy into the prior proposition that, right now, “a real music city” is something that Toronto is not. A position with which I very respectfully beg to differ.
Differing, of course, is not difficult to do, but is not in and of itself helpful unless one proposes a useful alternative to the counterproductive bafflegab to which one is objecting.
The challenge we are facing, Mr. Mayor, is not that of “making Toronto into a real music city.” Rather it’s the challenge of figuring out how to keep real the astonishing music city that we already are.
Problem is, to start doing that, you’d have to actually believe it.
So take a look at the level of musical activity represented daily, weekly, monthly in this one small publication alone, Mr. Mayor. And realize that we serve and reflect only one relatively small part of the overall music-making spectrum. Then ask yourself what the things are that keep this astonishing musical ecosystem alive. And once you’ve come closer to understanding that, ask yourself what the things are that are happening under your watch that pose the greatest threat to this ecosystem’s existence.
Starting with an out-of-the-box comparison might be useful, so here’s one: a city cannot really hope to be a safe city for all its citizens, when the majority of its police officers have, for more than the past two decades, decided they can no longer afford to live here and have moved themselves and their families outside our city’s borders.
Similarly, we are rapidly becoming a city where the working poor (and most musicians fall into that category) are daily confronted with policies and economic realities that force displacement from our downtown of renters, of our young people, of artists, idealists, dreamers…
The urban corners and cracks and crevices where these dreamers learn to ply their trades, fixing up their surroundings as they go, are disappearing, threatened by lack of affordable accommodation. High-rise development wherever two or three properties can be assembled; commercial tax policies that penalize rebuilding small, even when the same uses are proposed for the new spaces; commercial bank financing that penalizes developers who try to factor independent business into mortgage financing; tired rows of the same old franchises on the ground floors of every new development making a mockery of the planning department’s commitment to vibrant mixed-use main street development… There are dozens and dozens of examples like these which could be found and remedied, if they were understood as problematic.
What I am trying to say is that far more than any of these individual factors, the vibrant, street-level cultural fabric of our urban life is threatened when our highest officials dismiss it as “not “real” and decide to take a top-down social engineering approach to solving a problem you exacerbate by the way you define it. So no more “making it real,” please, Mr. Mayor. Try “Our Music City: Keeping It Real,” instead, with pride in your voice for good measure.
Go plant a tomato: Jim Galloway, longtime artistic director of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, and for 16 years the jazz columnist of The WholeNote, was as proud of being a Torontonian as he was of never losing his Scottish accent.
In the spring following his death on December 30, 2014, there was a gathering in his honour at Whistler’s Grille (Broadview and Mortimer), upstairs in the 4,000 sq ft McNeil Room. The place was packed. And as we were leaving, each of us was handed (Jim’s wish) a little box containing a tomato plant seedling to plant the same spring. How like him. Not “mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow” but a sense of cultural legacy as an aggregation of hundreds of small, nourishing, affectionate sustainably urban gestures.
Standing at the bus stop after, a few of us mused on how, poignant as the moment was, we’d likely miss him more with the passing of time. Wouldn’t it be grand, we said, if the Jim Galloway Wee Big Band could reconstitute itself, seasonally, from time to time to celebrate his memory through the music he loved to play.
Some things do come to pass: February 16 The WholeNote and The Ken Page Memorial Trust will host a third reunion of the Jim Galloway Wee Big Band under the direction of Martin Loomer, right here in the ground floor “Garage” performance space at 720 Bathurst. (There’s an ad with all the details on page 59.)
Jim loved the ground floor space here with its wooden beams and pillars, high ceilings and exposed brick. In the year or so before the Centre for Social Innovation bought the building, while it was mostly locked and empty, teetering between possibly being sold for condo redevelopment or else being turned into high-end offices, we’d ride the freight elevator down from the fifth floor WholeNote office and turn the lights on and talk about how it was opportunities like these, taken or missed, that would over time define the future of our music city. Little sustaining cultural acts, seeding hope, one tomato plant at a time.
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
At some times of the year (and in some years more than others) I find myself thinking about my dear former neighbour, Ida Carnevali, founder of the Kensington Carnival Arts Society (KCAS).
As I wrote in this spot, back in May 2006, the various projects of KCAS over the decades were “a living example in the art of throwing some transforming activity into the path of the ordinary, nowhere more dramatically and effectively than in the annual Kensington Festival of Lights which to this day takes the form, at sunset every winter solstice, of a hand-made lantern-lit Market-wide march, from scenario to scenario, re-enacting all the world’s yearning for light.”
“Scenario ambulante,” she called it, organizing various scenes to be performed along the route of the march, enlisting everyone she could round up to participate and then leading the audience on a journey to discovery the story.
As I wrote back then, “It is that potential for accidental discovery that I yearn for in the urban context. Urban art, it seems to me, should be judged by the extent to which it can be ‘come across’ by people engaged in the ordinary. And even more so by the extent to which the artists themselves are willing to go beyond ‘business as usual’ by availing themselves of the opportunities for chance encounters and spontaneous collaboration.”
In the KCAS Festival of Lights solstice drama, during the Ida years, there were great battles in the streets between giant puppets representing forces of darkness and light, sometimes Hannukah scenes, always on a Market rooftop a Nativity (which annoyed the hell out of the solstice purists). Always there were real people, bystanders, simply going about the ordinary, stumbling across the ordinary, being amazed, and by their amazed presence becoming, in turn, part of the spectacle.
Most especially, always at the end, and usually in some empty wading pool in one or another local park, surrounded by hundreds and sometimes thousands of young and old, there was a giant fire sculpture representing the old year, which after a period of frantic drumming and dancing was set ablaze, sending the sparks flying upward.
(I remember one year, sometime before global warming, we made snowballs, shivering round the wading pool as the sculpture burned, and on impulse threw them into the fire. “Why are you doing that?” someone asked. “It’s making a wish for the new year,” we answered. “It’s for luck.” So the person who had asked the question made a snowball and threw it into the fire. And someone asked them “Why are you doing that?” and they answered “It’s making a wish for the new year. It’s for luck.”)
And after that it snowballed effortlessly into a tradition which rekindles without discussion every time there is snow at the solstice.
It’s interesting to read what I wrote ten years ago about urban art and the need for accidental discovery, and about artists being willing to go beyond the ordinary. Much more than I felt back then, it seems as though these are things that willy-nilly are under way, and somehow they make more easily described sense this time round. Take the World View column in this issue (page 24), as an example, with its description of secret concerts, and how they have the potential to breathe life into ordinary space. “Ida knew that,” I say.
But I have to confess that what got me thinking about Ida on this particular day was a gloomier thought – that sometimes a year deserves to go out without any fanfare, especially a year as loud and globally destabilizing and politically topsy-turvy as 2016 has been. Maybe instead it should be sent slinking into the night with neither a wish nor a prayer, nor even a snowball hurled after it.
“Not with a bang but a whimper,” as T.S. Eliot said?
Well, maybe. But then again, maybe not. If I look around this room, change goes on here at The WholeNote, in lots of quietly methodical and interesting ways.
One example: last month you could have accessed a flip-through edition of this print magazine three days before the print edition hit the street, and within a couple of days of the print magazine hitting the street you could have gone to the online listings on our website and used the Ask Ludwig search engine there for listings in any genre, geographic zone and date range we cover.
(Ten years ago, by contrast, if you wanted to look at our live concert listings you would have waited for a copy of the magazine to arrive at one of the hundreds of places to which it was distributed in the thousands, by a dedicated crew of drivers and hoppers, most of them music lovers themselves. Just for you, dear reader, to pick up, free of charge.)
We still do that, so you still can. (And a quiet thank you to all the drivers and hoppers who make that fact possible, month in and month out.)
But this month if you’d known about it, you could have accessed the searchable online listings for December/January a full week before we went to press. And, all going as planned, if you go back to the website to Ask Ludwig for help at the beginning of January, you will find hundreds of listings already on line, clear through to the end of the season. More than ever, when the world feels dauntingly big, everything that adds to the potential for accidental discovery of art and music on a human scale is a victory of sorts.
Throw a snowball in a fire and make a wish.
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
I reckon 150 to 200 relevant emails a day show up in my inbox, so it’s hard to say what the particular attributes are that make one stand particularly tall in the crowd. But this one did.
IAMA: Part One
“Given the scope of issues and ideas you explore across The WholeNote’s various platforms,” the writer said, “I wanted to let you know about an event taking place in November (10-12) - the International Artist Managers’ Association (IAMA) is holding its annual conference in Toronto.”
This event, the writer went on to say, is usually held in Europe (this is only the second time it has been held in Canada), and attracts an impressive group of classical music industry leaders to tackle issues facing the industry. This year’s focus is “Diversity and Changing Societies,” and there are to be five main sessions: a keynote interview with Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; a session on the unique role of conservatories; a discussion of how artistic directors are programming their seasons given the changing demographics of their communities; a session on “creating and cultivating relationships, overcoming challenges to engage with communities”; and finally a session on “reaching people and engaging them on a more meaningful level through digital media.”
Hmm. Given the scope of issues we regularly explore across The WholeNote’s various platforms, it does all sound interesting. But I’ll have to get back to it. I have a couple of items of “usual business” and a thank you or two to deal with first.
If you’re a regular reader, print or otherwise, take special note. We’re counting on the fact that one way or another you will become increasingly aware, over the coming months, of the Patreon campaign we have just launched to enlist the ongoing support of readers who believe in, and benefit from, what we do. It’s all explained (rather succinctly, if I say so myself) in the little video on our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/thewholenote, so I won’t repeat it here, except to say this is not a “keep the lights burning” crisis campaign. If anything it’s a “keep the lights burning later and longer” kind of campaign, so that we can accelerate the pace at which we are exploring and expanding the media we deliver our message in, and keep up with our readers’ ever-changing information-gathering preferences. And so that we can continue to expand both the geographic base of the community we serve, as well as, in our digital media, an ever-widening range of musical practices and practitioners, reflective of our continually changing society.
Slip of the tongue
I do have to own up to one little slip of the tongue in that otherwise elegant-if-I-do-say-so-myself little video on the Patreon page. At some point in it, I talk about our “more than half a million free copies printed and distributed,” over the course of our 21 seasons. Make that 5.6 million, actually! Definitely more than half a million. Just thought I would point it out myself before some eagle-eyed reader sees the Patreon ad on p.12, and scolds me roundly.
Errors in Print
Speaking of eagle-eyed readers, we have our share. And believe it or not, the agonies of having our errors pointed out to us are always outweighed by the pleasure of being made aware that people read our stuff carefully enough to notice.
So, thank you, John Beckwith, for pointing out three in the October issue!
First, in David Jaeger’s ongoing series of articles “CBC Radio Two: The Living Legacy” (see page 86 this issue, for the second installment), Murray Schafer’s 1974 North/White is described as being scored for full orchestra and snowblower, whereas, as our reader states, “the non-instrument in question was in fact a much louder one, a snowmobile.”
Second, he points out that Marshall Pynkoski (Opera Atelier co-artistic director) is quoted in “On Opera” on p.22 as claiming that Opera Atelier’s inaugural production, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, was “Canada’s first staged production” of this opera. “Staged productions of Dido took place in Toronto in 1974 (under the internationally known director Colin Graham) and before that in 1929 at Hart House Theatre.”
And finally (mea culpa) Mr. Beckwith points out that, in my own choral feature on Mendelssohn’s Elijah, on p.14, the conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Noel Edison, is quoted as saying that his predecessor Elmer Iseler had programmed the work “several times.” “In fact he never did it as far as I can find out,” Beckwith writes. “I can recall, in the 80s when I worked with Iseler in the summer Music at Sharon series, I asked why as head of the Mendelssohn Choir he hadn’t performed any of the major Mendelssohn choral works. At Sharon, he conducted, at my suggestion and with my reduction of the orchestral score, half a program of excerpts from Mendelssohn’s other oratorio, St. Paul, and went on to present this piece in its entirety with the Mendelssohn Choir.”
“But Elijah? Several times?”
So now, as promised, let us cycle back to the first item in this “Opener,” the release about the upcoming IAMA conference in Toronto. The publicist who sent the heads-up about the conference certainly got it right in suggesting that the conference agenda would be of interest given “the scope of issues and ideas [we] explore across The WholeNote’s various platforms.”
You don’t have to look very much further than this month’s issue for evidence of that.
Starting with the Keynote interview with the TSO’s outgoing music director, Peter Oundjian, it will be fascinating to hear how he filters the items on the conference agenda through the lens of his ten year tenure here as the TSO’s music director. As music director he has not, as some of his predecessors have done, taken a top-of-the-cultural-pyramid approach to the TSO’s place in the artistic life of the town. In terms of lessons learned and hoped-for legacy, what might he say?
“The unique role of conservatories” could also be an interesting topic. Ivars Taurins (Conversations <at> TheWholeNote podcast, October 11) had some quite trenchant things to say about an academic environment hyper-focused on preparing people for solo performance careers. And the series launched in this issue on Music and Health (“Musician, Heal Thyself!” p.65) promises a searching look, over time, at issues relating to musicians’ health and wellbeing that currently receive as little attention at some music faculties and conservatories as courses on business ethics do in all too many MBA programs.
As for the other sessions: programming for changing demographics, engaging with communities and “reaching people on a more meaningful level through digital media” are the nitty-gritty issues facing us too. So it will be interesting to hear what a gathering of “classical music industry leaders” has to say on the subject. And just as interesting to observe who they are interested in listening to.
- Written by David Perlman
- Category: Editorial and Op-Ed
With summer chilling down, and with the Toronto International Film Festival safely caged in its Lightbox again, we hardcore live-music lovers can get down to the serious, year-round business of enjoying ourselves!
Well, almost. For myself, I’ll only be able to start doing that once this October issue is safely to bed. Which means I have to get this last little bit of writing done as usefully as possible in the next two hours. So that I can decide which of the Blue Jays/Yankees game or the first of the U.S. presidential debates to watch, and which to record. (It’s not a question of which will be more enjoyable live. It’s a matter of which will be unendurable without the ability to fast-forward.)
To be quite honest, I’d likely have finished this yesterday (Sunday), if I hadn’t decided to play hooky from the office in the afternoon in order to slip downstairs for a couple of hours to listen to a highly entertaining concert (if concert’s the right word) in “The Garage.”
The Garage, as my legions of faithful readers both know, is the back end of the endlessly malleable ground-floor amenity space in the Centre for Social Innovation, here at 720 Bathurst St. (The WholeNote offices are on the fifth floor.)
Yesterday afternoon’s little concert was by an as-yet lesser known Baroque ensemble in town called Rezonance. (If the name rings a bell, it’s likely because our early music columnist regularly notes his affiliation to the group, as their harpsichordist, at the end of his column.
I’m very glad I went. First half consisted of the Bach Coffee Cantata, second half, a Brandenburg. Both were played to an audience of what looked like well over a hundred people, most of whom looked as though they were there because they were already familiar with the group, and found their way, via the ensemble’s instructions, to an unfamiliar (and somewhat unorthodox) venue.
But there were others there, I am sure: people who work in the building and heard something musical but unfamiliar drifting up the freight elevator shaft. And some who just happened to be on the street, passing by, and felt entitled to come in.
It was a comfortable setting to just walk into. Straight back chairs were arranged higgledy piggledy in rough concert hall formation about halfway down the room. Most were occupied. Other people stood, or lounged elsewhere in the large room, as close to or far removed from the music as they chose to be. Footsteps could be heard creaking on the second floor above. Sporadically, the city sang like a siren choir outside, as emergency vehicles passed on Bathurst St. Every so often a streetcar driver, who cared a bit more than some others do, blared an indignant horn at a motorist failing to stop behind the rear doors for passengers alighting from the northbound car at the Leonard St. stop just north of the building.
People at the far edges of the room talked quietly but comfortably (no hissy stage whispers!). Conversely, the closer one moved toward the music, the more one became aware of a certain something in the air. I am not sure I have the words for it, but at some level it represents the best hope for live music of the kinds I care most about, so I’ll give it a try.
As best as I can describe it, it was like moving, layer by layer, into a consensual circle of active listening – a bubble within which, by some unspoken agreement, everyone there was simply attending on the music being offered. No-one shushing or tutting anyone else. Active listening rather than demanded or orchestrated silence; something biostatic (like a good old-fashioned wooden cutting board, rather than antiseptic steeling quiet, where the slightest sound infects the whole room.
The point? Simply this. We tend to think of the word “concert,” in musical terms, as the thing itself - an event that music makers or presenters arrange for audiences that dutifully arrive at the appointed time, occupy some designated spot for the appointed duration, and respond in ways time-honoured, or prescribed, or enforced with a glare or a sidelong glance.
But what if “in concert” routinely meant something more like the thing I’ve been describing for the past eight or nine paragraphs? Not so much the name of an event, but rather more a description of how people are, together, when they actively choose to listen to what they came there to hear?
Blue Pages: I’d be remiss not to do a shout-out here for the 17th Annual WholeNote Blue Pages, tidily tucked inside this issue of the printed magazine (and maintained online, year-round). In an odd way, the 155 presenter and venue profiles in this annual directory amount to something a bit like the “In Concert” moment I’ve just finished describing.
For one thing, they’re certainly not “everyone in the room” when it comes to the ever-changing map of presenters and venues in our catchment area. Every year brings new presenters to the scene, with dreams, plans, new energy, new ideas how best to get the word out as to what they do.
But these 155, whose profiles you can read, do represent a kind of heightened engagement with what we do. They tend to get us their free listings more systematically, to buy advertising when they can, to keep us in the loop about what they are doing.
They are certainly not the only music makers we write about! But they are proof that there is a living musical community out there, worthy of our, and your attention.
As always, in its scope and variety, it’s a compendium well worth dipping into. May it lead you into a season of concerted listening, some of it entirely unexpected!