Zosha Di Castri. Photo by David AdamcykNew York-based Canadian composer, Zosha Di Castri spoke to me via Zoom May 9, ten days before her piece, In the Half-light, receives its world premiere performance under the baton of Toronto Symphony Orchestra Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. 

Given the fact that the magazine goes into circulation the day of the concert, most readers will be reading this after that first performance is over. So our plan is to post the full length conversation after the event. But here’s a worthwhile snippet – Di Castri touching on some of the things that made this a particularly gratifying collaboration (something not to be taken for granted, especially in an orchestral context). 

“The TSO approached me quite a while ago for this project,” Di Castri says. “As far back as 2019 I think. At that time I was living in Paris and they said would you be interested in writing something for the orchestra and Barbara [Hannigan] for our 100th season and I was immediately super-excited because if someone said is there any singer you could dream you would ever work with it would be her. So it just seemed so amazing that this opportunity would come up. We had met a while ago, in summer 2014, I think, in Santa Fe in a program called Creative Dialogues organized in part by the Sibelius Academy, kind of a Finnish/US partnership – composers and performers along with guest mentors for the people developing pieces. And Barbara was one of my mentors and conducted my piece which was a short chamber piece. So I had gotten to know her a bit there and was excited that she had proposed my name to the TSO as somebody who might be right for this project.”

Read more: Zosha Di Castri in the Half-light

Dave Douglas. Photo by John AbbottSince launching in 2014, Hamilton’s Something Else! Festival has created its own distinct format, making it one of the key events for the more creative edges of jazz and improvised music in Southern Ontario. 

For 2022, the festival has grown substantially in both the number of performers and the number of events. Featured musicians include trumpeter Dave Douglas and clarinetist Don Byron, among the most acclaimed musicians of their generation. American clarinetist/alto saxophonist Michael Moore, singer Jodi Gilbert and percussionist Michael Vatcher have contributed mightily to the diverse and idiosyncratic Netherlands scene for decades, while Dave Rempis, appearing here with regular collaborator drummer Tyler Damon, renews the legendary Chicago lineage of forceful tenor saxophonists. Added to this is a strong complement of far-flung Canadians – from Montrealers Lori Freedman and Nicolas Caloia, to Torontonian Allison Cameron, and Vancouverites Peggy Lee and François Houle.

Outdoors and in: There are three full afternoon programs at Bayfront Park and four evening programs at the Cotton Factory, a revitalized industrial space. Each program includes five different groups, from solo performances to tightly arranged bands, but what distinguishes Something Else! are the opportunities to hear musicians interacting spontaneously in ad hoc ensembles, as likely to surprise and delight one another as the audience. It revives the spirit of early European free jazz and improvisation festivals, like Berlin’s Total Music Meeting, Amsterdam’s October Meeting and London’s Company Week. 

Read more: Cem Zafir’s Something Else! Hamilton, ON June 16-19, 2022

Tafelmusik on the steps of Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre in 1981: Jeanne Lamon is at the back, second from the left. Christina Mahler and her cello are next to her. And Alison Mackay is in the bottom right corner with her bass.“I wanted to begin with The Galileo Project, which is the one I mostly closely identify with Jeanne. And Galileo begins with Vivaldi,” Alison Mackay explains. It is February 15 and we are chatting, via Zoom, about an upcoming April 2 Tafelmusik concert, curated by Mackay and Christina Mahler, as a tribute to Jeanne Lamon who, at the invitation of Tafelmusik’s founders, Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves, become the ensemble’s first music director just two years after they founded the ensemble in 1979. She remained at the Tafelmusik helm till 2014, by which time the ensemble had grown from a quirky and belovedly Birkenstockian niche player in downtown west Toronto music scene into what Neil Genzlinger, in a June 26, 2021 New York Times obituary for Lamon, described as “one of the world’s most acclaimed baroque ensembles, … striving not only to present centuries-old music as it was originally heard, but also to reach modern audiences.

“Never was that more evident,” Genzlinger continued, “than in ‘The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres,’ a multimedia performance piece, conceived and scripted by Alison Mackay, the ensemble’s bassist, featuring the music of Vivaldi and others, projections of astronomical and other scenes, an actor providing narration, and an unfettered orchestra.”

 “Unfettered orchestra” refers in part to the players having memorized their parts, so free to move around the performance space, something that was to become a Tafelmusik trademark over the ensuing years, in a series of story-driven thematic programs which reached deep into the times and places in which baroque music, the re-emerging with startling parallels, convergences and sometimes hard truths. We got to hear it differently. Unfettered by old assumptions.

Read more: Tribute to Jeanne Lamon: Tafelmusik Returns to Live Performance

Tranzac, n. exterior:  “another of our assets, our onsite parking lot ...”  Mural by Elicser, photo by RedPatOn February 18, 2022 a post in my Facebook feed stopped my scrolling in its tracks. The Tranzac Club announcement exclaimed, “Please welcome Matthew Fava, our new (and first) Executive Director!”

Accompanying it was a photo of Fava, mic in hand, in a black T-shirt emblazoned with “ann southam is my hero” in a lowercase sans-serif font. Fava starts at the Tranzac on March 3, the post continued, “leading our operations, budgeting and implementation of our strategic plan, programming and staff management.”

Part of my initial surprise was due to the fact that I’d only known Fava as the personable Director of the Ontario Region at the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) for over a decade. From that position he encouraged and nurtured numerous creative music projects and communities in our province. 

Read more: From the CMC to the Tranzac: Matthew Fava heads across town

Lauren Pearl plays Louise  CREDIT: DAHLIA KATZWhat happens when you combine a cornucopia of talented musicians with a decidedly off-the-wall idea? A magnificent new work presented by Tapestry Opera, titled Gould’s Wall, featuring the talents of director Philip Akin, writer Liza Balkan and composer Brian Current.

Brian Current dreamed for years of creating a project using a wall in the Atrium, the enclosed space that joins the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) and Koerner Hall in Toronto. It took a conversation with librettist Liza Balkan (followed by a few years of writing and workshopping) to create the work, and the alchemical processes of director Philip Akin to animate it into being.

Gould’s Wall tells the story of a young artist as she struggles to develop her career. For Balkan, the building itself was the inspiration. The presence of pianist, composer, broadcaster Glenn Gould is everywhere. His photograph is on the walls. The namesake Glenn Gould School resides here. “The desire for mastery in music, the constant practising and the revelling in music and the vibrancy of it – it seemed that wall, what lives around it, through it, in it, behind it, is connected to pursuing excellence,” Balkan says.

Read more: Scaling Gould’s wall – The mysteries of collaboration
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