The Isabel Bader Centre for Performing ArtsWhen it became apparent that the pandemic was not going to be a two-month event and was in fact going to be with us for many months, Tricia Baldwin asked herself, “What can we do to amplify the voices and creativity of artists, students, creators and educators?” As the director of the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts in Kingston, Ontario (known simply as “The Isabel”), Baldwin, and her colleagues, recognized not just a need, but an opportunity. The result is the IMAGINE project.

“This COVID-19 period is an excellent time for artists to immerse themselves in artistic ‘R&D’ to explore new collaborations, styles, concepts and performance practices and come out of the pandemic with enriched artistic voices,” Baldwin told me. With performance demands severely curtailed, many artists have time now to dig into projects and ideas that they might not normally have the energy and brain space to pursue. As well, performing has taken on new dimensions, hastened by the pandemic, with online presentations and streaming increasingly becoming the norm.

Baldwin and her colleagues wanted to offer The Isabel, with its state-of-the-art lighting, video and audio equipment – along with the acoustical beauty the hall is renowned for – to artists so they could learn new skills and ways of presenting their works. “We see this as an incubator, not only for new works but for new performance practices and processes,” said Baldwin. “We want to give people a safe space to work in so they can take artistic risks and try out different media.”

When the call for applications went out via, The Isabel was initially planning to offer five or six spots in the program. However, they got such an enthusiastic response from the artistic community, receiving applications from a range of musicians, performers and educators with interesting ideas, that Baldwin approached the Kingston-based Ballytobin Foundation to increase the funding. Ballytobin willingly stepped up, and the result was that The Isabel was able to offer spots to 20 different groups/artists. 

Read more: Shelter from the storm: The IMAGINE project offers a safe space for artists to develop bold new...

Glenn GouldGrowing up Canadian, Torontonian and a pianist, the spirit of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, as transmuted by Glenn Gould, was ever within my reach. Indeed, for a time, Bach’s masterful set of variations was inextricably linked with Gould, for Canadian and international fans alike. As for me, I was born in the year that Gould died, sharing the same dozen square miles of Toronto for less than six months before his premature death at age 50, in October of 1982. 

Bach and his keyboard music hovered in the air for many of my generation. At age ten, I had studied the piano for more than five years, and my teacher at the time professed her intense – and seemingly irrational – dislike for all things Gould, (even the lion’s share of his Bach recordings). She, like many immediate contemporaries who knew him personally and scorned his eccentric disposition, proclaimed that little of the late great pianist’s discography was worth listening to. “However,” she conceded, “a handful of recordings remain on the highest order of interpretive genius. His Goldbergs are seminal, you must discover them for yourself – but only the 1955 recording!” “What about the later, 1981 Goldbergs?” I mused to myself. No matter. To the library I went for the 1955 Gould Goldbergs. Beyond the initial awe and insight at the cosmic explication Gould commands on this recording, I was struck that day by a sense of place – a rightness of order or sonic identity – that seemed to be somehow Canadian. True, this was Bach für alle: Bach for all ears that would be lent to it from all corners of the globe, but its origins were oddly local. 

Glenn Gould Goldberg VariationsYes I know Gould made that seminal 1955 record in New York City at the Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, but his art, muse and sensibility came from elsewhere, from up north. Suffused with the voice of Bach, how could such musical utterance as Gould’s belong to just one city or country? How does a nation – a collective or an individual even – lay claim to an artist like Gould? How do we honour him and emulate his craft? How close might we get before his essence eludes us? 

Read more: Discoveries along the Goldberg Trail

Huizinga with Marc Destrubé, violin, Keith Hamm, viola and Judy Hereish, cello in Owen Sound. photo by John WhiteTwo leisurely phone calls – well an old-fashioned phone call and a zoom chat, to be precise – bracket this story. The phone call, bright and early on the morning of Saturday  Sep 19, was with violinist/composer Edwin Huizinga, calling from Owen Sound, where the 16th annual Sweetwater Festival (Huizinga’s first as artistic director) was well under way. The zoom chat, just three days later, was also bright and early with Huizinga again, this time alongside singer Measha Brueggergosman, at a table inside Brueggergosman’s Halifax home, a kitchen behind them, and post-tropical storm Teddy, his career as hurricane having been cancelled ahead of his Maritime tour, whipping aimlessly at the trees outside. 

I’d been wanting to talk to Huizinga and Brueggergosman for a while about their current collaboration, but had been expecting to have to speak with each of them separately, so it was an unexpected bonus to find out, part way through the Saturday call with Huizinga, that he would be flying to Nova Scotia on the Monday “to finish a project with our amazing fearless Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman.” 

Read more: Anatomy of a Collaboration: Edwin Huizinga and Measha Brueggergosman

Svetlana Lunkina in The Dreamers Ever Leave You, National Ballet of Canada. Photo by Karolina KurasIn these still surreal times defined by restrictions, we are all increasingly hungry for live performance. With opera and theatre still considered too dangerous or problematic to bring back quite yet,dance has begun to return, although to unusual venues. 

The Canadian Stage Company, for example, has opened their stage in the heart of High Park – which has stayed empty of its usual Shakespearean performances this summer – for three exciting weekends of dance performances. Week One: September 26 and 27, Solo in High Park featured some of the city’s top soloists in a variety of styles from tap to flamenco, house, and contemporary. Week Two: Dusk Dances,October 3 and 4, featuring the work of three Dusk Dances contemporary choreographers, and Week Three: Red Sky, October 9 to 11, showcasing the thrilling physical style of this Dora Award-winning Indigenous company.

And while the National Ballet of Canada has had to cancel their usual fall season at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts – including perennial holiday favourite The Nutcracker – they too are making more experimental appearances, at both Harbourfront Centre and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Harbourfront’s Brigantine Room will welcome physically distanced audiences to live performances of Robert Binet’s Group of Seven-inspired, The Dreamers Ever Leave You, October 9 to 17; and at AGO Live on October 22 and 23, audiences will get to take an even closer look at the creative process as they are invited into Walker Court to observe open rehearsals of a newly commissioned work by Kevin A. Ormsby. 

For both these companies, there will doubtless be other unusual excursions to write about in the months ahead, but right now, at Harbourfront and at several venues around the city, it’s the sixth edition of FFDN. 

Read more: A Time to Fall for Dance

Photo by Aldo OlijrhookFrom an early age, I was quick to realize that there were not (m)any other young Black pianists who were learning how to play classical music – at least that I had ever met. I was around seven years old at elementary school when I was first introduced to the instrument; at that point I was already able to play some of the choir music and other popular tunes that the school’s music teacher, Mr. Gibson, had taught us. After receiving significant encouragement from Mr. Gibson and others who had heard me play for fun, my parents decided to purchase a piano and enroll me in piano lessons. At the time, none of us had any idea or preference of what style of music I would – or should – learn in these lessons.

Fast forward a couple of decades and nothing has changed, really. No growth of the sport, no catering to a wider audience. So which is the chicken and which the egg? i.e. Is there a lack of interest in classical music within the Black community because it is so underrepresented at the highest levels/”misunderstood music”/etc., or is the lack of representation yet another form of systemic discouragement towards some groups of society? 

I was first introduced to classical music in my earliest piano lessons, and have always loved everything the genre has to offer – a seemingly endless expanse of amazing music spanning hundreds of years, providing those who choose to play it a parallel range of technical, musical and ideological challenges. My appreciation fully blossomed after my first classical recital at the Polish Consulate in Toronto, and has never diminished. No matter how many hours of practice, there will always be more work to do and new heights to reach. Delving into the diverse works of J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti could by themselves cost a lifetime of exploration, let alone engaging into the oeuvres of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and beyond. As “musically gifted” as I was told I was when I was young, there were so many other pianists who seemed to be light years ahead of what I thought I could ever achieve. My goal became to improve and become the best version of my musical self that I could be.

Read more: Reflections: Life as a “Classical Unicorn”
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