Back in the day, I remember a particular WholeNote cover, of maple leafs floating downstream – them autumn leaves of red and gold, you might say – and floating among them four or five standard black and white artist headshots of established and rising singers, Canadians all!

“Something in the Water?” the headline asked, as Jean Stilwell, Stephanie Piercey, Richard Margison, Russell Braun and Measha Brueggergosman sailed gently down the stream.

It was October 2000, and the cover story, by WholeNote founding publisher, Allan Pulker, was about the seemingly neverending stream of Canadian singers on the world stage. Among his prescient examples: Brueggergosman, Isabel Bayrakdarian, James Westman, Barbara Hannigan … “Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka,” he says at some moment, “recently made her La Scala debut, drawing not a ripple of attention here.”

“I could go on and on,” he concludes, “but the point is clear: this country has produced in recent years a significant number of singers who are among the best in the world. As someone said (from the Met and therefore definitely an expert, eh?) ‘Why are so many great singers coming from Canada these days? Is it something in the water?’”

That was then. This story is about something in the air!  

I sensed it at a Toronto Consort concert, “Love Remixed,” in early February listening to James Rolfe’s spellbinding 2011 composition Breathe which sets words by 12th-century composer Hildegard von Bingen and accomplished contemporary Canadian librettist Anna Chatterton to music for period instruments.

“Medieval music in the right hands,” Rolfe says in his program note, “comes alive, as fresh and relevant to our modern ears as the day it was created … with its clarity of expression and purity of line … a living and breathing organism.” He goes on to say that his “great fortune” in getting to work with ensembles such as Toronto Consort has been “to experience just how much early musicians love their music … they have access to many shades of just intonation, with its pure intervals which resonate in our bodies and souls.”

I sensed the same thing again a couple of nights ago, in the bizarrely appropriate setting of the atrium, at the Royal Ontario Museum, that links the ROM’s old and new buildings. Surrounded by dinosaur skeletons, Opera Atelier showcased the latest iteration, titled The Angel Speaks, of a work by violinist Edwin Huizinga and dancer Tyler Gledhill which marries the vocabulary of Baroque music and ballet with a compelling contemporary syntax and sensibility. Commissioned originally by the Royal Chapel at Versailles, where Opera Atelier is now a regular visitor, the work is evolving, literally and figuratively, by leaps and bounds. Let’s see, with fresh wind in its sails, where it travels next.

And, once again, the topic of old meeting new so that each can inform the other hung in the air when I sat recently to talk to Tafelmusik’s Elisa Citterio a couple of weeks ago about her vision for the ensemble, a season-and-a-half into her appointment as the orchestra’s artistic director. That story comes next in this issue (if you’re reading this in print, that is).

Jessye Norman’s Visit Revisited

Highlight of the gala concert, Wednesday February 20 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, to celebrate Jessye Norman’s acceptance of the 12th Glenn Gould Prize was when Norman herself, at the close of it all, supported vocally by her chosen protégé, jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, sang the Bernstein/Sondheim song “Somewhere” from West Side Story, with a quiet flame, even more so in contrast to the star-studded operatic highlight reel that preceded it. The words “There’s a place for us” as hard-won manifesto took on a meaning richer and deeper than the song’s creators could ever have imagined. As to whether there was a dry eye in the house, I couldn’t really see at that moment, for some reason.

It was, however, Norman’s presence at an exhausting range of other activities during the ten-day visit that will resonate most deeply; none more so than the three-hour masterclass she gave to young singers at the U of T’s Walter Hall, in front of a packed audience. (You can read Paul Ennis’ blog account of the event on our website.) And the moment that summed it up, for WholeNote reader Carol Ann Davidson was when Norman, “in response to a question about singers being vocally categorized, swiftly responded: ‘Do not allow someone else to place your voice. Know your voice and where it is most comfortable. You are a singer, not a category.’”  

Even “singer,” as a category, does not do justice to Norman’s life and work.

Unpicking the “seamstress” story

Speaking of categorization, I must thank another reader, Peter Feldman, for calling me to account in regard to something I wrote last issue in my Jessye Norman story where I described Norman’s participation in the White House ceremony awarding “Alabama seamstress
Rosa Parks” the Congressional Medal of Honor.

“Re: Rosa Parks,” Feldman wrote, “ I think you’ll find that Rosa Parks was much, much more than just a ‘seamstress’.  [She] was a seasoned freedom fighter who had grown up in a family that supported Marcus Garvey, and who married an activist for the Scottsboro boys. She joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, becoming branch secretary. She spent the next decade pushing for voter registration, seeking justice for black victims of white brutality and sexual violence, supporting wrongfully accused black men, and pressing for desegregation of schools and public spaces. Committed to both the power of organized nonviolent direct action and the moral right of self defence, she called Malcolm X her personal hero.”

A healthy reminder.

There’s a great little anecdote in Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond column this issue. The composer Robert Schumann is pleading with a conductor, by name of Wilhelm Taubert, to try to get his charges to buy into the spirit of Schumann’s Symphony No.1 Spring” in their playing. “If only you could breathe into your orchestra, when it plays, that longing for spring!” Schumann laments, and then goes into a long and detailed programmatic explanation of all the vernal twists and turns and nuances of the piece (which was written in the dead of winter). There’s an additional twist to the story, but I won’t spoil it.

All this is by way of preamble to the following: if you do as I say, not as I do, you should consider starting to plan right now for what you are going to do in the way of musical self-improvement this coming summer. That way you at least stand a chance of not finding yourself, as I chronically do, every September, wondering where the hell the summer went in terms of any kind of musical growth.

Opportunities for summer music education are not an automatic hot topic, if you’ll excuse the expression, while you are shovelling snow. Reality is, though, that lots of places have application deadlines, or a finite number of spots for applicants. So chances are if you wait till the weather feels summery as your cue, you might miss out on something. We’ve traditionally waited till our March issue to supply readers with information about summer music educational opportunities, but even March is too late for some. So this year we’ve made a spot in the February issue for camps and programs with early deadlines (there are four such profiles in this issue of the magazine, all with imminent deadlines). Better still, we’ve started posting camp and program profiles as we receive them – there were ten at the moment of writing this with more coming in all the time – so you don’t even have to wait till March. Just go to and start feeling warm and tingly all over.

And a happy new year to you too!

One of the great advantages of publishing a combined December/January issue, as we have always done, is not having to deal with the mandatory end of year stuff in the heat of the moment (if you’ll pardon the expression). You know, looking grimly back at the (good riddance) old year out of one side of my face, and determinedly cheerfully forward, out of the other side, at a year that has to be better than last year was.

This way, I get an extra month to warm to the task. So belatedly, dear reader, I wish you a musically fruitful 2019. If February’s calendar is any indication, there’s plenty out there for the picking.

Lydia Perović and David Jaeger will return

Two absentees, this month, from our usual writing corps. David Jaeger is fulfilling the commitment he made in the December issue – to head off to Winnipeg for a late January new music getaway, the 2019 Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival (WNMF). “The late Larry Lake, host of the CBC Radio 2 network new music series, Two New Hours, (1978–2007) called the WSO’s festival, ‘The greatest new music party in the Universe!’” Jaeger wrote. “What else is there to do when it’s -18C with windchill making it feel like -30C?” Toronto cynics might ask. Oh, wait. That’s today’s Toronto weather, as we dipsy-doodle in the polar vortex. So what are you waiting for, people? It’s time to party!

Lydia Perović’s Art of Song column will also return, in the spring (there’s that word again!). Places to go, books to write! That kind of thing. Meanwhile I said I’d look out for breaking news on her beat so, to break the ice, how about the news that internationally acclaimed Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka has been appointed Vocal Chair and head of the vocal department of the Glenn Gould School (GGS) at the Royal Conservatory, the first such appointment in the school’s history?

And for those of you missing Perović’s pointers as to concerts of art song interest this issue, a friendly reminder that the “Just Ask” feature in our online listings enables you to select “solo voice” to filter the listings.

From GGS to GGF

Closer to 40 than 30 years after his death, Glenn Gould’s name is a permanent fixture in this magazine, as witness the passing reference to the GGS in the previous paragraph, and to the GGF, in our cover story starting on the next page. There’s another passing, but pointed, reference to Gould that I want to call your attention to though, in this issue: in Robert Harris’s Rear View Mirror on page 86. Genius, as Harris explains, comes in different forms.

When is a trumpet like a motorcycle in a dressage ceremony?

Jack MacQuarrie has the answer in Bandstand.

And whose songs will Danika Lorèn be singing in Toronto’s inaugural songSLAM January 16 at Walter Hall – an event that threatens to singe the eyebrows off that often sober-sided venue?

Lydia Perović reveals all in Art of Song.

As of the date of writing this (November 26 2018) how many times has conductor Johannes Debus conducted Messiah?

Brian Chang has the handle on that in Choral Scene.

Pianists can be a handful. Which one is quoted in this month’s magazine as saying “If I were only to play Saint-Saëns for the rest of my life, I think I’ll stop playing the piano”? And how many pianists in a handful, anyway?

You can find out in Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond.

What instrument (or should that be implement?) will Marco Cera wield in addition to his usual oboe in Tafelmusik’s Harlequin Salon commencing January 16?

Matthew Whitfield explains in Early Music.

And what is it about the three CD sets from Mosaic Records that Steve Wallace is thinking of buying for himself for Christmas, if no-one else does, that makes them a bargain at $354 (U.S.)?

Read Jazz Notes if you dare.

You may well never have wondered what Bernice means to singer Robin Dann. And how many Danns can safely fit in one column anyway?

Colin Story answers that one in Mainly Clubs.

Come January, Rose is arose in Rose and Jenny Parr can hardly wait.

There’s pepper for the soul in Music Theatre, guaranteed.

How many Brünnhildes does it take to change an Elektra?

According to Chris Hoile in On Opera we are about to find out.

And what under the sun are a dizi, yangqin, zamba, chacarera and kamanche?

And which of them does Andrew Timar (World View) try to use in Scrabble?

From all of us at The WholeNote to all of our readers, our best wishes for this thing called the holiday season. Don’t look for a new issue in print at the beginning of January. In case you haven’t noticed, this is (for the 24th consecutive time, actually) a combined December/January issue.

You can however expect to hear from us in all our other media, digital and social, including HalfTones, our mid-month e-letter. And you’ll see us in print again at the end of January.

Living composers quite often get invited, singly or in clusters, to the front of a concert hall to talk about a piece of music they have composed that is on the program of the concert in question. More often than not, this “pre-concert chat” or “illuminating introduction,” or whatever it is called, takes place 45 minutes to an hour before the performance itself and is supposed to end ten or 15 minutes before the concert starts in order to give audience members who showed up early to be enlightened time to dash out for a quick something or other.

Whether or not, on balance, I end up enjoying these pre-concert chats depends on three or four things.

On the negative side of the ledger, the thing I like least is when the interviewer/host “by way of introduction” starts out by parroting word for word from the concert program the stuff I already took the time to read (while the houselights were still bright enough to read by). Almost as bad is when the host avoids that trap and asks an interesting question, and the composer responds, word for word with what they wrote for the concert program. I say “almost as bad” because, if you think about it, being asked to talk about music you probably wrote because there were no words for the thing you wanted to express is not an enviable task.

On the positive side of the ledger, when the dialogue works out, when there’s a genuine rapport between host and guest, the reward for coming 45 minutes early is getting to eavesdrop on what sounds like a spontaneous conversation between two people who care deeply (and know more than I do) about something I am genuinely interested in.

I say “sounds like” a spontaneous conversation because I know a little bit about how much preparation it takes on the part of the host/interviewer to have a chance of achieving that kind of flow, especially when your guest composer, as often as not, equates sitting on a chair looking into bright lights with being at the dentist.

I particularly enjoy the pre-concert chats that Alexina Louie has hosted over the years for Esprit Orchestra. A composer herself, Louie more often than not manages to put her guest or guests at ease and to actually listen to what they say and respond to it, rather than spending the time while the guest’s gums flap checking the question she asked off her list and asterisking the next one.

This past Wednesday, for example, I played hooky from WholeNote production to make it to Koerner Hall in time for the pre-concert chat ahead of the opening concert of Esprit’s 36th season, only to discover that none of the composers programmed were in attendance. Two of them, Charles Ives and Tristan Keuris, being dead, had a good excuse; the third, Unsuk Chin, South Korean-born and Berlin-based, was likely otherwise engaged, having just been awarded the Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music at the New York Philharmonic, a $200,000 commission. And (proof that lightning does strike twice) the fourth, US composer Missy Mazzoli, was also likely busy, having just been commissioned to write a full-length opera by the Met, based on George Saunders’ novel Lincoln in the Bardo.

What could, therefore, have turned into the kind of 35-minute recitation from the concert program notes that is the pre-concert format I dread most, turned instead into a delightful variation on the usual theme, with Esprit concertmaster Steven Sitarski, violin in hand, stepping in for a conversation (with his violin doing much of the talking), about the nuances and challenges, piece by piece, of the music we were about to hear.

It was eye- and ear-opening. And from it, entirely by chance, I came by the title for this month’s opener.

A warning: those of you expecting this editorial to turn erudite will be disappointed. I am no more equipped to use music to describe my word-driven brain than your typical composer is to use words to talk about their music. What the discussion of harmonics in that pre-concert chat gave me is a way to describe my greatest pleasure as editor of this magazine: reading through all the various bits and pieces it contains, most of them written, without knowledge on the part of the writers, of what else was being written for the issue, I find myself delighting in the way, over and over again, one thing happens to chime with another.

What to make, for example, of the fact that in two unrelated stories in the issue (I won’t tell you which two) a composer is asked how they compose? Mahler answers the question with a question: “How do you make a trumpet? Hammer brass around a hole.” And American world-music pioneer Adam Rudolph is quoted as saying “Shoot the arrow and then paint a bullseye around it.” I will dine out on those two for years!

Or what to make of the fact that, having scurried out to the Esprit concert this past Wednesday having just sent this month’s cover to the printer, I should discover (from the program I could still read because the houselights were up), that Kris Maddigan, subject of this month’s cover story, was toiling (almost invisibly) as third percussionist in the orchestra for the concert. Such is the life of the working musician.

The great joy of a magazine like this, anchored as it is in the life of a functioning musical community, is that you can paint bullseyes around almost any topic of your choosing and find resonances. Four different stories about the role of music in community-building and the ways in which community, once built enables music and art to morph and change. Stories about reaching audiences – “60 million streams” or “thousands of gamers” – and bringing those audiences to music they might otherwise not have found. Stories about artists in different disciplines reaching out and finding each other and making living works of art that alone they could not have.

Best of all, these are just the words about the music. This is just the pre-concert chat, and it’s over in time for you to dash out for a quick something or other. Let the music begin!

Speaking as an editor, sometimes it’s coming up with a title for a story that’s the biggest problem. Interestingly, it’s sometimes even more of a problem when the story is a good one, because there’s all the extra pressure of doing justice to a great piece of writing. Or feeling guilty about reducing something nuanced to a clever phrase.

Speaking as a writer, sometimes coming up with a clever title for a story (especially before it’s written, when the pressure of deadlines is mounting) is just what the doctor ordered in order to get the drought-stricken creative juices flowing again. And here I know, from bitter experience, what I’m talking about.

And then there’s that other situation, like today, when having lulled myself into the false sense of security of having a great title, I realize that it’s gone, already used for something else in this issue of the magazine. And right on the cover, which went to press yesterday, so I can’t even pull rank and change the title of the other story instead.

Seeking Synergies

That’s what I wanted to call this Opener. The phrase must have snuck into my writer’s mind while I was editing Andrew Timar’s feature story in this issue on this year’s FAMA (Festival of Arabian Music and Art). In that story it is used to discuss the process whereby the Canadian Arabic Orchestra is going about building awareness of the festival’s cultural scope in the musical community at large.

But, as a phrase, it could apply equally well to the issue’s cover story. Or to librettist Daniel MacIvor’s account (in Chris Hoile’s On Opera column) of figuring out a working relationship with Rufus Wainwright, composer of the COC-commissioned Hadrian, soon to be unveiled.

It’s all a bit like talking to people discovering The WholeNote for the first time, after walking by it for years, or even decades. “Now that I’ve noticed it,” they say “I see it everywhere.” Same with the “Synergies” thing.

Look for it as a thread in the conversation (in Lydia Perović’s Art of Song column) when mezzo Simone McIntosh describes the circuitous route she took en route to getting a first opportunity to perform Messiaen’s “black pearl” Harawi song cycle. Or in Wende Bartley’s In with the New column this month, first in the description of how the Music Gallery’s David Dacks invited Bear Witness from A Tribe Called Red to curate this year’s X Avant festival and then, beyond that, in the energy that Bear Witness applied to the curatorial process itself.

Seek and you shall find synergy-seeking everywhere! Composer Linda Bouchard’s pilgrimage to Bennington, Vermont to study with the formidable Henry Brant; Soundstreams’ invitation to the Shanghai New Music Week; Nurhan Arman’s description of acquiring and adapting repertoire to the string orchestra format Sinfonia Toronto has made uniquely their own over nearly two decades on the local musical front; TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow’s response to the announcement of the hiring of Gustavo Gimeno as the TSO’s new music director (in Classical and Beyond)… the list goes on.

Much like the word “tragic,” so tragically debased in its usage that it has entirely lost its particularity, “synergy,” loosely used, is not worth much. In the sense of an interaction producing a combined effect greater than the sum of the effects that could be separately achieved by the interacting agents, it’s a useful idea. And it’s a great thing to read about, or to witness, or to be part of when it happens.

It can happen in music-making at any time.

Enjoy the issue. It’s a real labour of love at this time of year, given the extra work of pulling together the performer and presenter profiles in the Blue Pages at the centre of this magazine without compromising on our coverage of all the other stuff. And speaking of the Blue Pages, I highly recommend giving it at least a fast read, cover to cover. You will stumble across old musical friends. You’ll for sure have things catch your eye that you never knew about. And besides, what is more satisfying than reading something where the combined effect – the sense of community you’ll get – is greater than the sum of its constituent parts?

There’s got to be a word for that.

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