Alex Pauk Headshot 2 Bo Huang bannerAlex Pauk. Photo by Bo HuangThere’s a great Alex Pauk story that filmmaker Don McKellar once told me, about the final stages in the production of  McKellar’s 1998 feature film Last Night, for which Pauk and composer Alexina Louie, partners in life and in art, composed the score. (I can’t swear to when McKellar told me the story, except that, evidently, it must have been sometime after 1998.) Whenever it was, it’s had time to ripen with age and retelling, so I will trust all parties concerned to forgive the parts I am no longer getting quite right.

Alex Pauk with Murray Schafer and Robert Aitken. Photo by Malcolm CookThe way I remember it, Pauk and Louie contacted McKellar to say that the score was complete and ready for him to hear, and that an appointment “three sharp” was set for the given date and the appointed place. “Three sharp” was however not necessarily a musical term McKellar was familiar with, back in the day, so when he strolled up, Pauk was already pacing. “You’re late!” was the greeting, in a tone more stressed than McKellar thought the situation warranted.

McKellar wandered in, expecting to find himself with headphones on, listening to a tape or piano reduction or something … “and than they open the door to the room, and there’s a whole symphony orchestra there, waiting to do their thing. It felt for a moment as if I must have died and gone to Hollywood.”

As implausible as that moment in time must have felt, on a larger scale the fact that Esprit, the orchestra in question, is still alive and ticking after 35 years, is almost as implausible; and a story worth telling in its own right.

First New WaveEsprit at 35

In the middle of this significant anniversary year for Canada’s only full-sized orchestra completely devoted to performing and promoting new orchestral works, we could have chosen to approach this story in a few different ways:

There’s the way this season’s four mainstage Koerner Hall concerts (there’s still one to come, on March 24) reflect the philosophy (and formula) that has given the orchestra its remarkable consistency and astonishing staying power. “My programming is something I always take great care with and pride in,” Pauk says. “Making the programs so that they flow, so that it’s not all one thing. I mean if you did all hard-edged European music all the time, it wouldn’t go over well, so there’s an ebb and flow in a concert, variety …”

Or there was the orchestra’s decisive move from the cramped confines of the Jane Mallett Theatre (the stage used to look like an overloaded life raft for some of the larger works they performed there) to Koerner Hall (twice the capacity) in the very first year Koerner opened. “We’re both celebrating our tenth anniversaries there!” Alex Pauk says with a grin. “You could overpower the Jane Mallett fairly easily” I observe. “Your Xenakis certainly did, when was that, in 2006? I think that was actually the start of the renovations there … your knocking every bit of loose plaster off the walls with the sound.” He laughs. “We certainly did. But you know, we, the tenants had a lot of ideas for those renovations, for the hall itself. And what did we get?
A renovated lobby.”

Or there’s the whole subject of what it takes to keep implausible enterprises afloat (a topic on which we agree to indulge in no more than a few seconds of mutual commiseration and admiration, and then move on).

New Wave Reprise

Of all the possible angles to take on the story, sitting in Esprit’s modest offices on Spadina Ave, with Pauk tapping his fingers on the table for emphasis as he talks, Esprit’s April 5 “New Wave Reprise,” a one-off event at Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre, cuts right to the heart of what makes Esprit, and its founding conductor, tick, so we start right there.

Alison Yunfei JiangThe Orchestra’s own description of the event is fairly straightforward. It will start at 7pm with a keynote address by John Rea, and will feature world premieres by emerging Canadian composers (Eugene Astapov, Quinn Jacobs, Bekah Simms, Christina Volpini and Alison Yun-Fei Jiang). Eugene Astapov and Alison Yun-Fei Jiang (for one work) will also be the evening’s guest conductors.

“What’s the size of the ensemble for the event,” I ask. “It’s a much smaller group,” Pauk replies. “Smaller winds, smaller strings, two percussion, harp, piano. So it’s all the orchestral sounds. What’s interesting is that these same composers, by and large, worked with us last year, for a slightly smaller group of instruments, and will, hopefully work with us again next year, at which time an even larger instrument group will be in play. It’s not to treat them as unable to deal with the orchestra. It’s to create a progression and maintain the relationship. It’s something we have done from the beginning with all the generations of composers we have worked with.”

He pauses, rummages for and reads from a piece of paper, a mission statement of some kind. This kind of sums it up,” he says. “‘The intent, from the beginning of Esprit, has always been to identify, engage, nurture, expose, promote and sustain relationships with creative people.’ That’s been it, basically, from the start of  Esprit as a professional organization, of the orchestra, of the kind of outreach we’ve done. But, except perhaps with our musicians, nowhere more importantly than in our relationship to composers and composing. And you do that by repeatedly commissioning composers’ work, and then reprising those commissioned works over the years. I mean if you trace the record over the years – John Rea, Chris Paul Harman, José Evangelista, Denis Gougeon, so many others. You seldom see their names just once. And we reach out constantly to new voices, and then bring them along, which is what this is about.”

John ReaAstonishing as it may seem, Pauk can lay claim to five distinct generations of composers with whom Esprit has maintained this kind of relationship. “Harry Freedman and Harry Somers, along with Murray Schafer, were the senior generation. I was always influenced by those senior composers because they had strong, clear, independent and remarkable voices, and so that’s what I’ve always looked for when I’ve programmed or commissioned.

Then there is my own generation. Alexina [Louie], and John Rea are examples. And then there’s the emerging generation represented by this event. And the next generation of high schoolers that this group of emerging composers will help bring along. Each benefitting from and contributing to the others in a kind of ongoing evolution.”

“So why New Wave Reprise as a title?” I ask (and then almost wish I hadn’t, because the New Wave Festival, launched in 2002 has gone through all kinds of twists and turns over the years). Watching me start to glaze at what begat what and when, Pauk suggests instead that I reach out to Eugene Astapov, who is an alumnus of several of Esprit’s outreach programs, and features as one of the composers (and the main guest conductor) in the April 5 event.

Esprit’s Ontario Resonance mentors’ finale concert, November 2017, at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre. (L to R) Soprano Rebecca Gray; composers Chris Thornborrow, Christina Volpini, & Bekah Simms; Esprit Orchestra conductor Alex Pauk; composer Adam Scime; composer and conductor Eugene Astapov. The mentors pictured worked with students from 6 schools across the GTA on student compositions. The mentors were each commissioned to write a piece of their own, which were premiered that evening. Photo by Kevin LloydAstapov’s own journey with Esprit started over a decade ago when he participated, as a Grade 11 student, in composition workshops the orchestra hosted at Earl Haig Secondary School (site of Claude Watson School of the Arts), and is a case study in the kind of relationship building Pauk was talking about earlier. “I was fascinated to the extent that I decided to pursue it as a career, thanks to the support of a longtime Esprit friend and collaborator Alan Torok – director of the music program at Earl Haig at the time,” Astapov says.

A year later he began studying at the Eastman School of Music, but stayed in touch with Torok who subsequently re-introduced him to Pauk. As it happened, Esprit was engaged in preparations to host their annual New Wave Festival and commissioned Astapov for it. “It turned out to be a 12-minute work for piano and orchestra, only my second orchestral commission after the Vancouver Symphony. Thinking back now, even though the piece may not have been my strongest, I now realize how it fit like a puzzle with the subsequent works I composed and how the early experience with Esprit helped my understanding of the inner workings of a symphony orchestra.”

After graduate studies at Juilliard, Astapov returned to Toronto for further studies at the doctoral level at the very point in time that Pauk and Esprit were reviving their collaboration with Earl Haig – what was eventually to become the educational outreach program known as Creative Sparks. “In 2015 I joined the community outreach team and was invited to return to Earl Haig as the composition instructor helping students compose new pieces for small orchestra, to be played by Esprit in concert at the end of the school year! As part of this project and example to the students at Earl Haig, Alex extended a commission to me to be performed at the Creative Sparks final concert.”

Once again it was a pivotal commission, due to its use of a pre-recorded element – something he had not done before. “The piece was successful and was picked up by the Vancouver Symphony who performed it the following season,” he says.

It’s a continuing relationship at this point with ongoing opportunities for experimentation: music incorporating electronics; a Creative Sparks commission to compose a work for soprano and string orchestra; the opportunity to conduct that work; conducting unleashing a new passion. “It helped me open and alter my compositional mind and ears in ways that I had never realized was possible: deeper understanding of time signatures and tempi, orchestration techniques that help performers learn music quicker … The list goes on.”

April 5 sees the latest installment in the Astapov/Esprit story. And it’s highly likely it won’t be the last. Which is something that wave after wave of other composers, senior, established, and emerging, can attest to.

John Rea, keynote speaker at the event, was the first composer Esprit ever commissioned. His working title for the address, Pauk informs me, is “Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea - Composers talking to Composers.”

“In other words, making waves” says Pauk. And he should know.

David Perlman can be reached at

Banff CentreIt happened the day after I got back from Banff. My flight had arrived late the previous night, and I got back to my apartment around 11pm, after a lengthy wait in line for a taxi outside of Pearson International Airport in minus-20-degree weather, which I’d endured without the aid of toque, gloves or scarf, as I’d packed these items deep in my carry-on luggage. Imprudent though this decision might seem when viewed in retrospect, it made sense at the time: 

I hadn’t needed my woollen accessories on my last day in Banff thanks to a timely Chinook wind that raised the daytime temperature to a balmy two degrees.

After getting back to my apartment, making an abortive attempt to unpack, and falling asleep with every available blanket piled on top of my wind-bitten body, I awoke to further delights: frosted-over windows, an insufficient supply of drinkable coffee, and a refrigerator, empty but for an assortment of condiments, a few cans of beer, and a sad, desiccated apple, which in my haste to leave some four weeks earlier I’d evidently forgotten. The remedy to this dearth of comforts:
I had to go to the grocery store.

And so it was in Whole Foods – coffee in one hand, avocado in the other – that I, upon making eye contact with a nearby man who was also perusing the produce section, smiled, nodded and said a brief “Hey.” To the man’s credit, his gently startled response of “Uhh… okay” probably had less to do with any rudeness on his part than it had to do with the fact that he, unlike me, had not just spent two weeks at the Banff Centre, where it was common practice, upon encountering a new face in the close quarters of an elevator, or at a dining-hall table, to smile, nod and say a brief “Hey.” This salutation, simple though it was, constituted a layered acknowledgment of a number of implicit statements related to the unique circumstances of being at the Centre, including (but not limited to): “It’s nice to see a friendly face” and, “Isn’t it wonderful to have access to such outstanding facilities?” and “Isn’t the divide between our day-to-day lives and the pampered, unstructured, logistically streamlined lives that we’re leading in our respective residencies so great as to make you feel simultaneously lucky, grateful and slightly embarrassed?” My fellow plant-fat enthusiast couldn’t have known.

He also likely wouldn’t have known that the Banff Centre – founded in 1933, current full name Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity – hosts a number of programs throughout the year, from short-term summer workshops in disciplines such as dance, theatre, jazz and chamber music, to long-term practicums, in fields such as audio engineering, that run for the better part of a year. I was at the Centre to attend the Banff Musicians in Residence (BMiR) program, a self-directed residency that occurs annually in three separate five-week sessions throughout fall and winter. Successful residency applicants can stay for the full five weeks, although most tend to stay for three, at least in the sessions that I’ve attended. While I don’t know what internal criteria are at play in the selection process, a typical BMiR cohort will consist of approximately 25 Canadian and international musicians who specialize in a wide variety of different practices; this residency included artists such as Corey Gulkin, a singer-songwriter from Montreal, Mark Taylor, a composer from New York, and Rosa Guitar Trio, a classical ensemble from Australia.

Each week of a residency also features a guest faculty member, who hosts a master-class-style session in their studio, is available for one-on-one coachings, and who performs in the concert session that ends each residency week. These concerts tend to alternate between Rolston Recital Hall, a classical-style venue in which primarily acoustic music tends to be programmed, and The Club, the creatively named space in which jazz, pop, folk and other groove-oriented music tends to be programmed. (Blunt titular charms aside, one imagines that the Banff Centre must simply be waiting for the rightly named donor-partnership opportunity.) A BMiR session also sees the selection, through an application and interview process that takes place in advance of the residency, of an artistic associate, a resident who acts as concert curator, social convener and liaison between program participants and Banff Centre administrative staff. The artistic associate in my most recent session was Sophie Gledhill, an English cellist, who successfully wrangled our herd of a cohort with patience, humour and generosity.

At its core, a BMiR works by giving its participants the space, time and resources they need in order to do their unique artistic work, free (to a certain extent) of the stress and responsibility of their ordinary routines. Physically, the Centre resembles a small college campus, and being there mimics a kind of post-secondary experience: participants stay in one of several residence buildings, they have access to the gym, and they receive a Banff Centre ID card, which is loaded with funds on their flex-meal plan; funds they are free to spend at any of the on-campus restaurants (though not, it should be noted, on alcohol). Musicians are assigned a studio space, either in the Music and Sound building, or in one of the 28 huts located in nearby clusters. Equipment requests are processed about a month before the start of a new session. The Banff Centre has a robust inventory of gear, and will help to accommodate any unusual items needed in a given artist’s studio. As drummer Mackenzie Longpré puts it: “One of the most unique aspects of the Banff Centre is the seemingly limitless access to a large array of facilities and musical equipment. During my residency, I felt like I could request and use whatever gear I wanted, and was never made to feel like I was overstepping my bounds.”

Colin Story inside his hutAside from overeating, staring at the romantic splendour of the mountains, and promising yourself that you’ll definitely, definitely go to the gym tomorrow morning, the point of attending the BMiR program is to work on a specific musical project. These projects can differ widely from participant to participant; a classical pianist might be preparing for a concerto that she’ll be performing with an orchestra in eight months’ time, while a singer-songwriter might be writing new material for an album that addresses itself to the themes of climate change and the Canadian landscape. The first BMiR session that I attended was in late 2016; I came to the Banff Centre with a band, to rehearse and develop material written in advance by the group’s leader, in order to prepare for a recording session in early 2017. I spent two weeks during that stay at the Centre, and my artistic goals were fairly straightforward: my job was to play the given material as well as I could, to experiment and develop strategies to expand upon the songs the group was working on, and to advance my own instrumental skills through individual practice. By contrast, I attended this year’s residency by myself, to compose and develop material for a forthcoming recording project. As I was preparing for my time in Banff, I imagined that it would feel more or less the same as my first time, and that my artistic trajectory would look fairly similar by the end of my stay. This assumption, as it turned out, was wrong.

Hut exteriorBeing provided with the space, time and resources to do my unique artistic work – free of the stress and responsibility of my ordinary routine – produced, in me, an unexpected feeling: an anxious dread that if I wasn’t operating at peak efficiency, I would be squandering this precious opportunity. For as idyllic as a Banff Centre residency may be, it also represents a considerable personal investment of time: time away from family, away from work, away from the real world. The idea that I was not making the absolute most of my experience became increasingly debilitating; perhaps unsurprisingly, I became a bit sick at the end of my first week, and spent a day away from my studio, recuperating in my room.

The key to overcoming this anxiety, I was to find, was not round-the-clock access to excellent facilities, or picturesque views, or all-you-can-drink cafeteria coffee: it was the mutual support and encouragement of the musicians with whom I shared my residency. It is surprisingly difficult to be open and vulnerable, particularly with people you’ve only just met, but actively connecting to the BMiR community became the key to doing better, more fulfilling work. As Gulkin wrote to me after the residency, this peer support “was one of the most important parts of the residency. While everyone was working on a different project, we all realized we were experiencing similar ups and downs,” in going through the sometimes “extreme emotional process” of creating art.

The Banff Centre is a special place, and, as I walked home from the grocery store on that frigid morning, having just warmly greeted a man I did not know, I thought about the things I hadn’t been able to take back to Toronto with me: the world-class facilities, the crisp mountain air, the clamour of Australian accents at every coffee shop and bar in town. But I was reassured that work, even in the most ideal of settings, doesn’t suddenly become easier, and that what turned out to be the most important part of the experience – participating in the cultivation of a supportive community of artistic peers – was, in fact, something that I could bring home.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Photo by Carol FriedmanJessye Norman (singing), New York City.

Hunt down the photograph of Jessye Norman that graces our cover in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog of the US Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and you will discover that it was taken in 1988 by acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz and titled “Jessye Norman (singing), New York City.” (The cutline for the image in the version we received from Universal Music to make our cover from is titled “Jessye Norman is Carmen,” but we’ll get back to that factoid once we’ve browsed the Library’s holdings a little further.)

The photo on our cover seems to be the only Leibovitz photo in the library’s print and photo online catalogue. But it’s far from the only Jessye Norman image listed there: there are photos of her singing during Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration and, the previous year, at the 1996 Democratic National Convention; there are sketches of her, alone and with conductor Seiji Ozawa, by illustrator Tracy Sugarman; and there is a photograph listed of her singing, in the Capitol Rotunda in June 1999, during a ceremony to award the Congressional Medal of Honour to Rosa Parks, the Alabama seamstress whose 1955 refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man could be said to have sparked the campaign of disobedience that launched the American civil rights movement. ‘’This will be encouragement for all of us to continue until all people have equal rights,’’ the then-86-year-old Parks said in accepting the medal, just moments after Norman’s voice filled the Rotunda with the strains of John Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson’s anthemic Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

“Jessye Norman is Carmen”

If one searches a list of all the Library’s holdings beyond prints and photographs, a sense of the full scope and scale of Norman’s artistic contribution over the decades starts to emerge: films, interviews, her own 2014 memoir, Stand Up Straight and Sing!, and almost 100 audio recordings, from spirituals to song cycles, from sacred works to the grandest of grand opera, reflective of an astounding technical range (she has sung soprano, mezzo-soprano and alto roles throughout her career), broad and adventurous musical tastes, and a lifetime of collaboration with artistic colleagues who, like her, are among the greatest of the great.

Carmen record cover artTucked away among these recordings is one from 1988, the year in which our cover photo was taken, which sheds light on the “Jessie Norman Is Carmen” cutline under the file of the photograph sent to us by Universal Music for our cover use. It is a Philips recording of Bizet’s Carmen, with Norman in the title role, and Mirella Freni, Neil Shicoff, and Simon Estes, among others, in the cast. It was made between July 13 and 22 1988, in the Grand Auditorium de Radio France, with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Orchestre national de France. Sure enough, if you hunt out images of the cover of that record, you will find yourself face to face with this same photograph, only in colour. You would never think, though, looking at the photograph in that context, that it was ever intended for any other purpose. It seems to be a picture of Norman inhabiting a role as fully and easily as the blanket drawn around her.

It’s worth noting too, though, that by 1988, fully two decades after a major vocal competition win in Munich in 1969 launched her on an A-list European career, Norman was only five years into a Metropolitan Opera mainstage career, albeit one that would continue until 1996. But Carmen was not a role she ever played at the Met.

JESSYE NORMAN, GGF Laureate, Toronto 2019

On Wednesday February 20, 2019, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, somewhere during the course of a gala concert titled The Glenn Gould Prize Celebrates Jessye Norman, she will accept, in person as all the Prize’s laureates do, the Glenn Gould Foundation’s Glenn Gould Prize awarded her in April 2018. In a line of 12 Laureates stretching back to R. Murray Schafer in 1987, Norman is the first woman to receive the award.

Glenn Gould Prize laureates seldom perform at their own concerts, but generally have a significant say in who will perform; even by GGF standards this year’s promises to be quite a lineup: the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra; soprano Nina Stemme and lyric soprano Pumeza Matshikiza; tenor Rodrick Dixon and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green; soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and mezzo-sopranos Wallis Giunta and Susan Platts; American jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale directed by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor. Conductors Bernard Labadie, Donald Runnicles, Jean-Philippe Tremblay and Johannes Debus will also participate. And Viggo Mortensen, chair of last April’s Glenn Gould Prize Jury that awarded the prize to Norman will also be there.

It’s a stellar array (with of course the attendant danger of turning into an all-aria-no-recitative operatic highlight reel – all climaxes with no foreplay or interplay). But what the heck, there’s a place for those things too. And there are two participants in particular, about whom I’m particularly curious.

 Cécile McLorin SalvantOne is jazz singer/songwriter, Cécile McLorin Salvant, whom Norman, as each GGF laureate gets to do, has chosen to receive the Protégé Prize that goes with the award. It’s always an interesting insight into the mind of the laureate to see whom they choose as protégé: in 1996, pioneering Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu selected fellow composer Tan Dun; in 1999, Yo-Yo Ma chose pipa player Wu Man who became one of his closest Silk Road collaborators; in 2008, Sistema founder José Maria Abreu named Gustavo Dudamel, Sistema’s best-known alumnus; and in 2011 Leonard Cohen, not untypically, broke the pattern by naming the Children of Sistema Toronto, rather than an individual, as his protégés. In naming McLorin Salvant, Norman said this: “Singer, songwriter…a unique voice supported by an intelligence and full-fledged musicality which light up every note she sings. There is an intense, yet quiet confidence in her music-making that I find compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.”

The other participant I’m particularly looking forward to hearing in the context of the gala is the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, under conductor Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, for the simple reason that, when people’s chosen creative pathways intersect, there’s always a chance that, at one of these intersections, the individuals in question will actually cross paths to interesting effect.

Nathaniel Dett ChoraleFor Blyden-Taylor and the Chorale, the Norman Celebration concert comes at an interesting juncture. The week before, on February 13, the day after Norman arrives in town, they will be celebrating their own 20th anniversary as a choir; the following month, March 23, they will head to Hampton, Virginia for the 70th anniversary of Nathaniel Dett’s founding of the school of music there.

Norman has long been part of Blyden-Taylor’s inspirational musical frame of reference. “My consciousness of her goes back to my youth in Barbados in the mid-60s” he says, “and even more so after I came to Toronto in 1973 to be musical director at my uncle’s church. She was an ongoing part of my listening in terms of a sound ideal in terms of performance of spirituals, in my work with the Orpheus Choir, and workshops I was asked to do across the country, helping other choirs with interpretation of spirituals. You’d have to say she was one of those voices that were pivotal in terms of reading of the spirituals.”

Norman was top of the list of people Blyden-Taylor approached to be honorary patron of the Chorale when they started in 1998. “But she very respectfully declined at the time, and as you know, Oscar Peterson, also a Glenn Gould Prize laureate, in fact, accepted, and remained so until his death. Maybe it’s time to ask her again!”

With the number of events Norman will be attending in the week leading up to the celebration concert on February 20, Blyden-Taylor is unsure whether the Dett Chorale’s concert at Koerner Hall will make it onto Norman’s dance card. “It would be nice. But the fact that this is all happening during Black History month means there’s no shortage of partners already predisposed to program events this month. So she will be busy!”

Regarding the fact that, for whatever reasons, this celebration has been timed to take place during Black History Month, Blyden-Taylor is philosophical. “I think back to a time in my life when I was rather upset that I seemed only to be asked to do workshops on Afrocentric music and spirituals. But one of the people to whom I was lamenting, invited me to look at it as a glass half full, as a doorway to communication. We constantly have to be pushing the boundaries, in fact we are constantly pushing the boundaries, even when nobody is watching, so it’s better to simply accept that Black History Month gives an entrée to audiences we might otherwise not reach at all. After all, to take another example, the United Nations declared 2015 to 2024 to be the decade of people of African descent, and the decade started then, even if it took till January 2018 for our own Prime Minister to publicly acknowledge the fact.”

As to the Dett Chorale’s role in the gala concert, they are slated to perform three pieces. “Two by Moses Hogan, I’d say – our Youtube video of his Battle of Jericho has logged thousands of hits. And his Didn’t my Lord Deliver Daniel?” The third piece will, fittingly, be by Nathaniel Dett himself. “His Go Not Far From Me, O God is a wonderful example of Dett’s writing, juxtaposing two melodic ideas from the canon of spirituals and with a wonderfully high baritone/low tenor solo part to it; I have suggested that one of the visiting operatic soloists might want to do it with us. I don’t know whether it will happen or not, but we’ll be ready. I know Jessye asked for there to be spirituals on the program. It’s music very near and dear to her heart.”

The Glenn Gould Foundation in 1988

Cycling back to the year our cover photograph was taken, it’s worth noting that in 1988, with Jessye Norman already in her artistic prime, the Glenn Gould Foundation was in its infancy, having awarded its first prize just the previous year to composer and visionary R. Murray Schafer. In the words of jury member, Sir Yehudi Menuhin – who went on to be the laureate of the Second Glenn Gould Prize – Schafer was being honoured for his “strong, benevolent, and highly original imagination and intellect, a dynamic power whose manifold personal expression and aspirations are in total accord with the urgent needs and dreams of humanity today.”

It’s important to note the Janus-like nature of Menuhin’s citation for Schafer’s award: the words could as easily be about the individual in whose name, and spirit, the Prize is awarded, as about the laureate of the day. As such, this first citation was an aspirational benchmark that has remained fundamental to the GGF’s sense of mission to this day: Gould himself, as a timelessly creative original, sets a standard of engaged creativity for the GGF’s jurors that demands of them that they choose worthy recipients. It’s win-win. The Prize adds lustre to the achievements of its laureates; over time the consistent, cumulative calibre of its laureates adds lustre to the Prize.

Another throughline in the GGF’s 30-year history of presenting the award is the care taken in planning not just a celebration concert, but all the events leading up to, or surrounding it. For it is often in these other events that a more fully rounded portrait of the laureate can emerge.

Starting things off, a three-day festival of film, February 11 to 13 in partnership with TIFF, titled “Divine: A Jessye Norman Tribute” features screenings (including a 1989 film, Jessye Norman Sings Carmen, by Albert Maysles on the making of of the Seiji Ozawa-conducted recording mentioned earlier in this story), and a conversation between Norman and the Canadian Opera Company’s Alexander Neef.

There will also be a rare, public, three-hour Jessye Norman masterclass for voice and opera students, in Walter Hall at the U of T Faculty of Music, on Friday February 15. Free to the public, it should afford the opportunity to witness Norman directly engaged in arts education, a cause for which she is an untiring and passionate advocate.

And an all-day symposium titled “Black Opera - Uncovering Music History” at the Toronto Reference Library, on Saturday, February 16 from 11am to 5pm, in partnership with the Toronto Public Library, will “trace the heroic struggles of pioneering artists of African origin to enter the operatic world, their fight for acceptance and recognition, their triumphs and accomplishments.” It will include, in its final hour, a conversation with Norman herself. Interestingly, the indefatigable Norman’s own latest multimedia project, launched in 2018, titled “Call Her By Her Name!” revolves around “the name and legacy of the first African-American opera singer to perform, in 1893, on the main stage of Carnegie Hall – Madame Sissieretta Jones.” So this should be a fascinating conversation.

Madame Sissieretta Jones - Google Art ProjectOf all the events programmed, so far, for the visit, there’s one that for me captures the essence of why the match between the GGF and Norman is a lustrous one; and, fittingly, it will happen out of the public eye. Titled “Freedom Through the Arts Workshops” it will bring together students from the Jessye Norman School of the Arts and the students of Sistema Toronto (laureate Leonard Cohen’s 2011 protégés).

Norman helped establish the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia, in 2003, to provide arts education to students from economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. In 2011, following the presentation of the Eighth Glenn Gould Prize to Dr. José Antonio Abreu, Sistema Toronto was founded to bring the power of music education into the lives of children from this city’s priority neighbourhoods. In this potentially transformative exchange, 15 students from a Jessye Norman inspired initiative in Augusta will travel to Toronto for four days of workshops and collaboration with students engaged in a thriving Toronto initiative directly inspired by the existence of the Glenn Gould Prize.

Drawing each new role afforded her around her shoulders like a blanket, out of the spotlight, away from the footlights, Norman’s work continues, even when no-one is watching.

David Perlman can be reached at

181023 40670 bannerPhoto by Bruce ZingerWhen I tell people about Opera Atelier’s ongoing The Angel Speaks project, I always begin with when I saw the very first performance of its first installment, in May 2017.

I was sitting at the back of the Royal Chapel at the Palace of Versailles watching fellow members of Opera Atelier’s Medea company and of Tafelmusik perform an attractive selection of Purcell and other English Baroque music, titled Harmonia Sacra, when suddenly there appeared high up on the balcony above, the dramatic figure of what appeared to be a Viking angel playing an exquisite melody on solo violin.This beautiful mystical thread of music then seemed to bring forth, and become tangibly present in, the figure of a dancer (Tyler Gledhill) – another face of the angel – on the ground level with the singers and audience, a figure in search of something or someone. That someone, it became clear, was the Virgin Mary in the person of soprano Mireille Asselin. The violin-playing angel then joined the other two on the ground level, and we in the audience were transfixed as the three embodied the story of the Annunciation in music and choreography in a way that was profoundly moving.

This transformative concert experience was the result of a double commission by Opera Atelier, their first: an original piece of contemporary Canadian music for solo violin, Inception, by acclaimed violinist (and balcony Viking) Edwin Huizinga, combined with new contemporary choreography by longtime OA artist, and in-demand contemporary dancer, Tyler Gledhill.

For me, what was truly extraordinary about this piece was the blending of the Baroque and the new, the music and the choreography, a seamless interweaving with Purcell’s dramatic cantata, The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, beautifully sung by Asselin. Fascinated by what OA co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski calls this “theatrical intervention” that was so much greater than the sum of its parts, I contacted composer Edwin Huizinga to learn more about his creative journey on this project and how it fits in with his already incredibly multi-faceted career.

Edwin Huizinga. Photo by Bryson WinchesterWhen I caught up with him, Huizinga was in California having just finished recording a new album with his Fire & Grace partner, guitarist William Coulter, and “phenomenal mandolin player” Ashley Broder. Like Fire & Grace’s previous albums the new one has a mix of Baroque and Irish music, but with the addition of Broder to the ensemble has also mixed in American folk music and bluegrass, while “still being very much focused on the cross pollination of the two different genres.”

This cross-pollination of Baroque and folk music can be seen throughout Huizinga’s career although he “grew up in the middle of nowhere (Puslinch, Ontario) listening almost exclusively to classical music on CBC radio,” and from an early age was “fascinated with the fact that there was so much Baroque dance music out there that I loved.” The folk side of things didn’t come in until later.

As a young professional violinist, as he became increasingly immersed in the “world of the Baroque violin, playing with groups like Tafelmusik and Apollo’s Fire,” he became even more eager to share this music with other colleagues. Also early in his professional career, he was beginning to develop his “other love – of the folk world” playing and writing songs with his Canadian indie band The Wooden Sky. It was as the band toured to festivals across the country “playing folk music for audiences of thousands of amazingly excited young people” that he first thought “why can’t we mix these two genres together?” and started brainstorming about ways to do just that.

A chance meeting with kindred spirit William Coulter, a classical guitarist fascinated with Celtic guitar and Irish music, led to a collaboration on the first Fire & Grace album where they experimented with combining classical, Baroque and (primarily Celtic) folk. They were thrilled with the result, as Huizinga says: “It was so incredibly fun to accomplish the combination of music genres and to really feel that they are more similar than not.” Performing the album’s tracks around the world they found that “people got it, also feeling the real connection between the two genres, the shared joie de vivre and the way your body feels when you are playing this music.”

While Huizinga never went as far as step dancing while playing his violin as Natalie McMaster does (although he has met and greatly admires her) he often refers to this physicality of the music, both how it feels in the body when a musician plays it and how it seems meant to be danced.

All of these things make him an ideal composer for OA to have chosen for The Angel Speaks, and to actually take part in the choreography of his music as an integral part of the storytelling.

When I asked him if he had ever done anything like that before, he explained: “It was a completely different experience! I spent time really thinking of what it meant to be a composer and performer today with the knowledge that I have of all this Baroque repertoire that I love. Then when Tyler and I started working together and I sent him the music, we spent many weeks together discovering the relationship – playing with me being part of the voice of the Angel Gabriel and him being the Angel Gabriel, and with the fact that he and I were connected and exchanging energies onstage. That piece was an extraordinary inlet for me, into the world of visualizing what I was trying to write. By the time we were performing it, it felt very organic, as if we were moving and working together as a team throughout.”

Mireille Asselin as the Virgin Mary with Tyler Gledhill as the Angel Gabriel in the Royal Chapel at Versailles (December 2018) with Edwin Huizinga (left) leading the music. Photo by Bruce ZingerThat first Versailles concert performance of Inception was so successful that OA was invited to return to Versailles and to expand the new commission, adding additional instruments, voices and dancers. This opened the door to expanding on the story and layers of the new project, taking as a jumping off-point The Annunciation, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, in an evocative translation by acclaimed American playwright and poet Grace Andreacchi,

“One of the beautiful things as I started to write this piece” says Huizinga, “was the chance to collaborate with Tyler.” In the new piece, Annunciation, Jesse Blumberg, the baritone soloist, is another great friend and colleague, having made an album with Huizinga’s Baroque band ACRONYM and having just married one of Huizinga’s best friends. “It’s an unbelievably great feeling,” Huizinga says, “to be able to call someone at the drop of a hat and ask questions about the range of their voice and their interests; for example, if they would be willing to go into a falsetto voice and be singing higher notes than the soprano. Also, as a composer I’ve decided that I want the artists that I am writing for to be comfortable. My whole concept behind performance is that, if you’re able to really enjoy what you are doing, that will translate beyond anything you could technically accomplish.”

The whole process of creation on Annunciation, as it was with Inception, seems to have been very free and collaborative. As Huizinga started work on Annunciation with Blumberg’s voice in mind, and “falling in love with the poem and understanding it more and more,” he recalls approaching Opera Atelier director Marshall Pynkoski: “I felt there were moments in the poem where I thought there was a dialogue in the Angel Gabriel’s mind and I was wondering if I could turn that into a real physical thing and have two singers.” Pynkoski agreed immediately and suggested that Mirellle Asselin could be part of Annunciation as well as Inception. “I was thrilled” says Huizinga. “Being able to weave her voice in adds so much, as for me there is very little that is more powerful than two artists trying to tell a story together.”

Rilke’s poem The Annunciation is a strange, mystical, almost surreal, evocation of the arrival of the Angel Gabriel on earth to find the Virgin Mary and tell her that she has been chosen to give birth to the son of God. It is far from a straightforward telling, as the angel seems to have forgotten his mission at first, and does not recognize Mary or possibly even know she is real. He (almost) seems to be in conflict with himself which gives rise to internal tension in the musical scene and the choreography created to go with it. Asselin, in this section, is no longer the Virgin Mary, as she was in Inception, but more, as Huizinga puts it, “an apparition, or avatar, of what is going on in the Angel Gabriel’s mind” conveying what he is yearning and searching for and trying to understand.

He continues: “I’ve had so many thoughts and discussions about the idea of an avatar and how that’s one of the (both modern and age-old) concepts that we use to describe the transfer of consciousness and energy into another being. We had to find a way to give Jesse that responsibility as he and Tyler are both aspects of the Angel Gabriel.” This concept leads to a beautiful choreographed interaction as Annunciation begins.

Huizinga himself is not as much part of the choreography in Annunciation, deciding instead to “lead the band” so as to be able to observe and be part of the development of all the moving parts of this much more complex piece that includes two singers, six instrumentalists and five dancers (and Baroque as well as contemporary choreography). As he says: “I’m treating it as a chance to see what it’s like to be writing a dramatic cantata today in the 21st century.”

One moment in the process so far really stands out for him: “I had written an incredibly calm moment right near the end of the piece – a long meaningful chord – and [director] Marshall had the two dancer couples lean in towards each other and hold this moment of repose and beauty and connection, and it blew my mind. I left that rehearsal basically speechless because I had never talked to him before about how I felt about that moment, but I saw I had been completely understood.”

Tyler Gledhill as the Angel Gabriel and Edwin Huzinga. Photo by Bruce ZingerIn this new version of the project I first witnessed in Versailles in 2017, titled The Angel Speaks, the various pieces are interwoven. Annunciation, telling the story of Gabriel’s arrival on earth and struggle to understand his mission, comes first, followed by Purcell’s The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, interwoven with Inception, with the sweet voice of Huizinga’s violin answering from above Mary’s cries to Gabriel.

The Angel Speaks will be performed in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery for one performance only on February 21. Interestingly it was at the ROM that Opera Atelier first began presenting Baroque performances in 1985, so it seems extra fitting that they should debut what feels like a new phase of creation in the same setting.

Already, though, the team are looking ahead to the next expansion of the project which will begin with another mystic Rilke poem, The Annunciation to Mary, in another wonderful translation by Grace Andreacchi. At this point, as Huizinga says, they are “just scratching the surface” exploring the meaning of the poem and looking at possibilities of setting it for a singer or possibly for an actor to speak over music. “The next question for me, for Marshall and OA, is eventually what is this going to turn into?” Huizinga sees it as “eventually having less [musical] support from the godfathers of Baroque music, and Marshall has indicated that he would like to see it become a one-hour piece that can stand on its own.”

Asked if he could imagine having undertaken The Angel Speaks without benefit of all the many different things that he has in his musical career, Huizinga replied:

“The short answer is that it is impossible to separate anything that I do in my life from the music that I write. Initially when I was starting to write this piece I was listening to and performing a lot of Heinrich Biber. One of the things I love most about him is that he inspires the performer to improvise, and my life has been guided by my desire to also improvise and be able to feel freedom in music. True freedom where you are really being allowed to speak your own voice in what you do.”

In composing Annunciation, for example, he “wrote three very short moments of improvisation. I asked each performer individually ‘Would you be interested in doing this? Does it excite you? Because, if not, I am happy to write it out completely.’ And I would maybe not have had the courage to follow that path with my new piece without having had opportunities of shredding and improvising in studios as a studio musician, and then as a band member, or asking my kids at the summer camp that I run to forget everything they have learned and just improvise a piece for me using three notes A, C and E. So, everything in my life so far is, I feel, definitely being brought out in this world of writing.”

I suggest to him, as our conversation draws to a close, that, along with the exhilaration of composing and creating these new works, it must be a real blast for a musician with his physicality to actually be on stage, with permission to be part of the scripted visual action.

“Absolutely a blast, and also hard to believe, to be honest,” he replies.

Opera Atelier’s The Angel Speaks will be performed in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery for one performance only at 8pm on February 21.

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.

Danny Driver. Photo by Kaupo KikkasDanny Driver may be the best pianist you’ve never heard. The British native, now in his early 40s, is one of the world-class artists who record for the prestigious UK record company Hyperion along with Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough and Angela Hewitt among others.

Driver’s decade-long relationship with Hyperion Records has yielded a wide-ranging discography of works by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Handel, York Bowen, Benjamin Dale, Mili Balakirev, Robert Schumann and Erik Chisholm. Of his first volume of CPE Bach Sonatas, Bryce Morrison wrote in Gramophone: “It would be impossible to overestimate Driver’s impeccable technique and musicianship … his is one of the finest of all recent keyboard issues.” His most recent release, cited by The New York Times as one of 2017’s Best Classical Recordings, featured piano concertos by Amy Beach, Dorothy Howell and Cécile Chaminade. On March 5, he makes a welcome return to the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre under the auspices of Music Toronto. The following afternoon he gives a masterclass at U of T’s Edward Johnson Building, something he also did on his last visit here, two years ago. His empathetic interchanges with the students and musical insights were impressive then and promise to be equally memorable March 6.

In a revealing eight-minute video available on Facebook and posted on his website, Driver talked about why Sviatoslav Richter headed a list of pianists he loved – “because of his meticulous attention to detail and his refusal to compromise” – and spoke about being the product of many different influences including science (which he studied at Cambridge University). “In a sense everything is connected,” he said. “Part of the excitement and the danger of musical performance is [that] ultimately I don’t come to it with really strongly conceived notions. Principles yes, but there’s so much that can happen, that might happen. It’s very difficult to explain where that comes from.”

The WholeNote celebrates this singular pianist’s upcoming recital with the following mid-January 2019 conversation.

WN: What are your first memories of playing the piano?

DD: At school, I watched my schoolmates playing simple pieces on the piano in front of the class and decided that I too wanted to have a go. The first time I played in front of my peers I used only my left and right thumbs (on middle C and middle B respectively)… fortunately for my audiences things have moved forward somewhat since.

Please describe the musical atmosphere in your home growing up.

I was encouraged to develop my musical skills (I also played the clarinet and French horn, and composed) but not to the exclusion of other things. Growing up I had a range of interests, including languages, science and sport. This breadth helped me to understand the way music draws upon and reflects our lives, even at an early age.

Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?

Definitely Chopin! I fell in love with Dinu Lipatti’s classic 1950 recording of Chopin’s Waltzes, and remember trying to emulate him in several of those pieces (unsuccessfully I might add). Even though my repertoire these days is not necessarily focused on Romanticism, I am still very attached to Chopin’s music.

Where do you find artistic inspiration?

If I knew the answer then inspiration would be constantly available and thus ultimately non-existent; special moments often arise when you least expect them, even while contemplating seemingly mundane objects or activities. I enjoy reading widely and engaging with a range of art forms, as well as reflecting on my artistic practice and its relation to the world around me. Teaching younger artists and playing chamber music with colleagues are also essential.

Please tell us how you approach each piece on the Music Toronto program. What is it about CPE Bach’s Fantasie in F-sharp Minor that speaks to you?

CPE Bach was a true musical game-changer, “exploding” traditional Baroque idioms in a mercurial style driven by contrast of character and emotion. The Baroque counterpoint of musical line and its relationship to the classical art of rhetoric is replaced by a counterpoint of musical idea and a poetic outlook. There’s something liberating and improvisatory about playing this typically quirky Fantasia, which often veers angularly from one harmony to another in ways that echo sublime poetry, foreshadow Romanticism, and shatter any lazy notions we might have about 18th-century convention. This music reminds me that despite the implicit specificity of musical notation, we are dealing with open texts. Perhaps this is why my time recording CPE Bach’s keyboard music some years ago was such a happy one.

What fascinates you about Schumann’s Kreisleriana?

The second record I owned as a child (after Lipatti’s Waltzes that is) was Martha Argerich’s recording of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana, and I remember the opening of Kreisleriana making a particularly strong impression on me. Much later I read ETA Hoffmann’s collection Kreisleriana, which provides a fascinating if often sarcastic and comical view of the fictional young 19th-century Kapellmeister Kreisler. I have often enjoyed pondering how this literary work (and indeed others by Hoffmann) might have inspired Schumann’s composition, which for all its rhapsodic surface feels and sounds completely organic to me.

What drew you to Kaija Saariaho’s Ballade?

I was beguiled by its darkness and brooding. It seems to conjure up a dimly lit space of great emotional intensity, even over its relatively short duration.

What are some of the challenges of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin?

Everything here is much more difficult to produce than it sounds! The florid passagework, complex harmony and Ravel’s typical “overlaying of the hands” all have their technical challenges. The Toccata finale is probably more difficult for me than Scarbo from Gaspard de la Nuit – whereas the latter has the possibility of rich, quasi-romantic sonority and copious resonance to facilitate the pianistic acrobatics, the Toccata needs a meticulous clarity, great lightness, and an almost crystalline quality. All the while there needs to be an elegance and decorative refinement characteristic of the French Baroque.

And of Medtner’s Sonata No.9 in A Minor?

Medtner was a master of form and through-composition (taking Beethoven as his inspiration); Rachmaninoff thought of him as the greatest living composer of his day. This Sonata is perfectly crafted, as one might expect, but for all its tumult and angularity, it ends somewhat inconclusively. The music is tonal, formally concise, but nevertheless open-ended, tricky to bring off. I feel as though it leaves us with more questions than answers – it is a challenge to performer and listener alike.

What do you find most rewarding and challenging in your professional life?

I demand a lot of myself as a performer, and rarely feel as though I have achieved what I set out to achieve artistically. When I feel I have come close, it’s an intensely rewarding experience. Sometimes the challenge of particular repertoire proves addictive: I have been performing Ligeti’s Piano Études for a number of years and am due to record them later in 2019. They are without doubt the most difficult piano pieces I have ever worked on (more so than Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata), and there’s a thrill to practising them even if the process is painstaking and requires great patience and perseverance.

I’m intrigued by the fact that through your mother you are a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Music and dance are so ingrained in the Hasidic spirit, what part, if any, does that lineage play in your musical life?

My Jewish heritage is very important to me, and certainly my love of nature and of music seem to chime very well with the Baal Shem Tov’s ethos. But I also have “musical genes” from my father’s side (his grandfather was apparently a very fine amateur pianist). It’s hard for me to dissect what comes from where.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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