The Tragically Hip in Jennfier Baichwall and Nicholas de Pencier's 'Long Time Running' - photo courtesy of Elevation PicturesThe WholeNote’s sixth annual guide to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes a look at 20 of the films in TIFF’s 42nd edition, in which music plays a notable role. After sleuthing through the credits of many of the 255 features in the program and previewing 14 of them, what follows represents a cross-section of titles that music lovers with a taste for cinema can use as a guide.

Long Time Running: As Jennifer Baichwal said at the TIFF Canadian films’ press conference earlier this month, when she and Nicholas de Pencier made the seminal doc Manufactured Landscapes they never imagined they would ever film a rock tour. But filming The Tragically Hip’s final tour proved to be an intense and emotional experience for them. When it was announced last year that singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it seemed as though the 30-year career of that quintessential Canadian band was over, but Downie convinced his bandmates to go on tour. Long Time Running captures the exhilarating result.

Singular Performers: There is a handful of music documentaries this year that focus on singular performers of popular music. Programmer Thom Powers describes Lili Fini Zanuck’s Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars (the title couldn’t be more apt) as “an intimate, revealing musical odyssey” about the blues-influenced guitar virtuoso. Powers writes that Sophie Fiennes’ Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, filmed over the course of a decade, “offers a stylish and unconventional look at the Jamaican-born model, singer, and new wave icon.” Sammy Davis, Jr. was a dancer, singer, impressionist and actor of unparalleled charisma who, according to Powers, “began dazzling audiences at age three and never stopped until his death at 64.” Sam Pollard’s Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me shows how he “broke racial barriers and defied societal norms around interracial romance, religion and political affiliation but paid a heavy price. If you’ve never beheld Davis in action,” Powers writes, “prepare to gasp in awe and delight.”

Child of Arc: French director Bruno Dumont calls his bizarre new film, Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc, a cinematographic opera since it takes the writings of  Charles Péguy (1873-1914) with his socialist world view and fervent Catholicism and sets them to music arranged by French composer/performer Igorrr (whom Dumont describes as “an experimental electro multi-instrumentalist who can switch in a second from Scarlatti to heavy metal.”) The focus is on Joan’s spiritual questioning and political awareness, first as a winsome eight-year-old (Lise Leplat Prudhomme), then as a mature thirteen-year-old (Jeanne Voisin). It’s often surreal, sometimes blasphemous but overwhelmingly devotional as Dumont manages to have his satirical cake and (reverently) eat it too. Not to be missed: a nun played by twins (Aline and Elise Charles) singing evocatively and dancing awkwardly about her love for the Holy Spirit. Dumont was so impressed by the twins’ musical talent that he asked them to compose most of the songs in the film. As to Dumont’s own musical taste: “After Fauré come Brel and the Rolling Stones, and then I can skip on until Igorrr.”

Lanthimos: There is no more rigorous filmmaker working today than Yorgos Lanthimos. Always compelling, sometimes outrageous, in The Killing of a Sacred Deer – an unsettling, gripping homage to Greek tragedy in which a 16-year-old boy (Barry Keoghan) whose father died on the operating table takes revenge on a cardiac surgeon (Colin Farrell), with dire consequences – he again creates a singular universe with its own internal logic. Everything in the film, from the most mundane to the most crucially relevant, is spoken in a flat, matter-of-fact, otherworldly tone. Which only adds to impact of the horror as Lanthimos deliciously explores his premise and doubles down on his attack on the hypocrisy and smugness of the bourgeoisie.

The majority of the music on the atmospherically striking soundtrack was sourced by Lanthimos himself. Following the sepulchral opening chorus of Schubert’s Stabat Mater D383 the film plunges into the unearthly tones of Gubaidulina’s Rejoice! (for violin and cello). Other Gubaidulina works used include the evocative bayan (Russian accordion) pieces,  Sonata “Et Expecto” the ominous De Profundis and Fachwerk for Bayan, Percussion and String Orchestra.

Past the midway point, Ligeti joins in with large excerpts of his early Cello Concerto and the second movement (Lento e Deserto) of his Piano Concerto, both of which reinforce the ominous events unfolding onscreen. Greek composer Jani Christou’s atonal orchestral work Enantiodromia also supports the director’s vision. Herr, unser herrscher from Bach’s St. John Passion plays its special part as does the Waterboys’ catchy How Long Will I Love You. Rarely has a soundtrack of sourced classical music been as integral to a film’s mood as this one.

The Day AfterThe Day After: By contrast, the only music in Hong Sangsoo’s perfectly crafted little gem about male-female relationships, The Day After, is a simple melody composed by the director himself. But whether used as a bridge between scenes or as subtle emphasis to one of several revealing conversations, it makes an essential contribution to this tale that is elegantly shot in glorious black and white.

Buzzed About at Sundance: One of the most buzzed-about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, a love story starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet that has been compared to Moonlight. Guadagnino is another director who likes to curate the soundtracks of his films. This one includes tracks by John Adams, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Satie and Ravel, as well as a song by Sufjan Stevens created specifically for the movie. In addition, Chalamet performs Bach’s Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother on guitar and piano. The movie is set in the 1980s so a lot of period Italian pop music (including Giorgio Moroder’s Lay Lady Lay) can be heard on the radio and Hammer dances to the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way. “It’s kind of autobiographical, because I remember listening to that song when I was 17 and being completely affected by it,” says Guadagnino. “I wanted to pay homage to myself then.”

High praise for Vega: A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to his fondly remembered Gloria, has already generated high praise for its star, the trans singer/actress, Daniela Vega. Guy Lodge touched on the film’s music component in Variety: “The light hot-and-cold shiver that characterizes [the film] sets in from the first, head-turning notes of the score, a stunning, string-based creation by British electronic musician Matthew Herbert that blends the icy momentum of vintage Herrmann with spacious gasps of silence. This disquieting soundtrack plays enigmatically over the film’s opening image of cascading waters at the spectacular Iguazu Falls on the Argentine-Brazilian border — a projection, we come to learn, of a romantic vacation that will never take place.

“Music, too, is ingeniously used to define her [Vega] from either side of the looking-glass: Lelio pulls off a daringly literal song cue in Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at a point when his protagonist most requires such blunt self-assertion, while the character’s own high, ethereal rendition of Handel’s Ombra mai fu later on amounts to an act of regenerative grace.”

Herbert also composed the score for Lelio’s other film in the festival, Disobedience, adapted from Naomi Alderman’s novel about a woman (Rachel Weisz) who returns home to her orthodox Jewish community in London and rekindles a romance with her cousin’s wife (Rachel McAdams).

Seven Suggestions: A new film by François Girard, the director of Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould and The Red Violin, always gets our attention. We’re giving a special look to Hochelaga, Terre des Âmes, not only because of its ambitious subject matter (the history of Montreal spanning 750 years) but because the soundtrack is credited to minimalist avatar Terry Riley and his guitarist son Gyan.

Kim Nguyen, whose powerful earlier film, the Oscar-nominated War Witch still resonates, has filled the soundtrack of his new film, Eye on Juliet, with music by Timber Timbre, the masters of reverb, spooky synths and evocative vocals that seem to come from a deep emotional space. With the exception of one or two songs from their previous albums, they wrote new music specifically for Eye on Juliet, described by programmer Steve Gravestock as a “distinctive romance set in a time of surveillance, terrorism and prejudice.”

Writer/director Sadaf Foroughi uses excerpts from the classical music canon on the soundtrack of her first feature  AVA, about a 16-year-old upper-middle class girl in Tehran whose stifling relationship with her parents fuels her rebelliousness. Boccherini’s charming Minuetto from String Quintet in E Major, OP.11, No.5 is one of the most famous examples of Baroque gentility. Vitali’s Chaconne in G Minor contains some of the most divine Baroque violin music ever written. And Purcell’s The Cold Song from his opera King Arthur is a truly chilling work. It will be interesting to see how Foroughi works them into her film.

According to Fat Cat Records, Montreal-based Olivier Alary (who wrote the score to Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s psychological thriller A Worthy Companion) “explores the grey areas between noise and musicality and likes to blur the boundaries between what is acoustic and what is generated electronically.”

Toronto-based Ingrid Veninger turns her lens on the friendship between two young teenage girls in Porcupine Like, which has a soundtrack consisting entirely of 17 tune-worthy songs by Carlin Nicholson and Michael O’Brien most of which are performed by their retro indie band Zeus.

Canadian film programmer Magali Simard describes Black Cop as having a free form jazz feel and a number of songs that stand out. On his website, composer Dillon Baldaserro describes his style as a “combination of acoustic, orchestral and electronic elements to create an emotional and thematic soundscape that first and foremost communicate a feeling and a narrative.”  

Maggie Lee (in Variety) calls Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts  “the first Satay Western.” She singles out Zeke Khaseli and Yudhi Arfani “for their exceptional score, which grasps the spirit of Morricone then reinvents it with original Indonesian elements, such as the soulful folk songs in Sumba dialect that the bandits sing or their use of local instruments.”

And By Reputation: Other films that look promising based in part on the name recognition of their composers include:

Kings, soundtrack by the team of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, is the first film in English (starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig) by Deniz Gamze Ergüven following his acclaimed Mustang;

Lady Bird, soundtrack by Jon Brion (who’s worked with Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Charlie Kaufman), is Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated directorial debut;

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, soundtrack by Carter Burwell (who’s scored all but one of the Coen brothers’ films and all but one of Spike Jonze’s films), is Martin McDonagh’s eagerly awaited follow-up to In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

We’ll give the last word, for now, to Burwell: “There’s just too much music in movies,” he says. “Almost always more than I think there should be. It’s either lack of confidence on the part of filmmakers or a tradition of scoring things. It’s always better to have less than to have more.”

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from
September 7 to 17. Check for further information.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The “jazz festival” model has long been under threat from the pressure of commercial imperatives that require it to be ever bigger and ever broader in scope. I’ve always thought that if the “jazz festival” model no longer works the way it once did, then change the model — not the music.

The above words are jazz writer/photographer Mark Miller’s, in a recent Facebook post. In the post he’s talking about the TD Toronto Jazz Festival on the conclusion of its first year in and around Yorkville Village. But in many ways, he could just as easily have been talking about the motivation for the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, which mounts its second version September 15, 16 and 17.

A rare treat for Mr. Joe Sealy O.C. & Robi Botos to chat as part of the Tom's Place Yamaha Piano series. - photo by Don DixonBefore I start explaining why, I must make it crystal clear that, as one of the founding producers of KMJF, I am completely biased in my judgment, and am quite willing to admit that fact face-to-face, September 15, 16, 17 when I see you in the Market, enjoying the multitude of local musicians booked by Molly Johnson, Genevieve Marentette and yours truly.

The festival is the brainchild of Order of Canada Officer Molly Johnson, awarded for her work as singer, songwriter, broadcaster and philanthropist. KMJF, which turns two this month, simultaneously celebrates a diverse musical field of Toronto artists, and, through its concentrated presentation of over 250 musicians in 20 Kensington Market locations, a treasured Toronto neighbourhood. A particularly important note to point to anyone planning to attend is that the festival accepts CASH ONLY at the door. There are no online tickets or advance reservations – you need to arrive early to ensure seating!

“If you want to show your support you have to show up! We like to keep things simple,” jokes Johnson, herself a child of the Market, but also a Torontonian known worldwide for her husky, instantly recognizable tone which cuts right through the listener’s ear with raw grit and soulful truth.

As talented as she is, Johnson has never been seduced by the frivolities of fame and has used her success to benefit those in need throughout her career. As a philanthropist she is best known for creating Kumbaya, an annual concert series and live telethon on Muchmusic benefitting HIV and AIDS research, for which she raised over $1 million. Kumbaya featured scores of Canadian bands such as The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, Leslie Spit Treeo and Rush, donating their time for this worthy and important cause. The telethons ran annually from 1993 to 1996, at a time when AIDS was far more taboo than today.

“Compared to Kumbaya, Kensington Market Jazz Festival is a piece of cake. I mean, that was live TV with rock stars, it was a wild ride. This is jazz being played indoors and everything shutting down at 11pm. Way more civilized,” she quips.

Authentic might be a better word than civilized. Here’s what some of the participating musicians have had to say about the inaugural Kensington Market Jazz Festival:

Long live the Kensington Market Jazz Festival. It’s an honour to be part of this initiative. Toronto needs more live music! — Jane Bunnett, O.C., Recording Artist

KMJF is Toronto’s new jazz has it all and the location just feels feels authentic...the level of music is superb and it was evident that it was more than the sum of its parts in that what I felt walking around after my gig was something like the early Yorkville days.... — Marc Jordan, Singer-Songwriter

On Saturday night especially it was balmy and walking up and down Augusta between GREAT music venues I thought how it felt a little like Frenchman street in New Orleans. — Alex Pangman, Vocalist

This was the festival Toronto has been waiting for. The fact that it was contained and neighbourhood-based and everything was happening within a few-blocks radius gave it a unified feeling. It also felt like our community was truly represented and honoured. — David Restivo, Pianist

Thanks so much for bringing exactly what we needed to this scene!!! — Chris Butcher, Trombonist, Heavyweights Brass Band

The best day of my year was at the Kensington Market Jazz I was given the opportunity by the organizers to curate a three-concert series. The idea: seasoned jazz veterans and young poets/rappers/free-stylists together. The result... a bridge between generations and artistic hearts and minds... a dream come true for both musicians and audience...and a living demonstration of the creative fire that unites us. — George Koller, Bassist/Curator

So that is how KMJF was born: three working musicians in an office, with help from priceless friends such as social media guru Céline Peterson of Social Legacy, Jim Welter of Yamaha Music Canada who generously supplies backline to all ten venues on Augusta, and patron saint of the festival (and bona fide jazz lover) Tom Mihalik of Tom’s Place, who again this year will be taking out a dozen racks of suits to house a Yamaha grand piano for the duration of the festival.

One thing we’ve already learned over the course of this first year, is that, paradoxically, if you want to become a fixture, you have to keep moving!

This year KMJF is adding a new series to the festivities: Curated Busking, bringing music to the neighbourhood, putting it in people’s faces – their ears – in hopes of promoting the great talent in this city. For example at 4 Life Natural Foods you will hear acoustic performances by a cappella trios The Ault Sisters and The Willows, for a Pay-What-You-Can donation. KMJF supplies the bucket and promotes the buskers on print materials and through social media streams. Select venues such as Poetry Jazz Café, an intimate space of 40, will be live-streaming performances by artists such as Laila Biali and Elizabeth Shepherd. Other notable series will include a “jazz under 20” venue at the St. Stephen’s Youth Arcade Studio and a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada featuring nearly 20 vocal artists, from promising up-and-comers Alex Samaras and Joanna Majoko to soulful veterans Sharon Lee Williams and Shawne Jackson.

This year KMJF has chosen Eric St-Laurent as a guest curator, at Lola on Kensington Avenue. Says St-Laurent of the musicians he has chosen for closing night of the festival, Sunday September 17: “The Sunday lineup at Lola’s is about improvisation in world traditions outside of North America. In a way, jazz is as old as the world itself. Come to Lola’s and let us show you what we mean by that. Donné Roberts’ guitar playing is pure unadulterated joy - liquid happiness. Flutist Anh Phung is simply one of the strongest new voices in Canadian music. Catch her now in an intimate setting before fame hits. Selçuk Suna masterfully brings traditional Turkish music and jazz together, demonstrating once more the profound unity of all improvisational dialects.”

The evening will conclude with a performance by power group Eric St-Laurent Trio featuring original compositions and eclectic covers by the guitarist with bassist Jordan O’Connor and percussionist Michel DeQuevedo.

On a personal but related note, this issue marks ten years since I wrote my first piece for The WholeNote. What a difference a decade makes: just 86,648 little hours … Re-reading my first published piece, I found myself reflecting on the fact that I’ve been shining the spotlight on members of a jazz community, many of whom

I have met in the wee small hours of a jam session, or in small venues, or been able to bump into on the street.

Writing for The WholeNote has always been a great experience, regardless of how stressful it has been to get my piece in on time. Those in my inner circle have been supportive of my “WholeNote time of the month,” during the crunch when deadlines loom (none ever crunchier than as of this writing!)

Writing for The WholeNote has always been about spreading the good news of a city where it is possible for music to be part of daily life, year round.

Working for KMJF  is starting to feel a lot like that.

This year’s festival takes place on the last weekend of summer: September 15, 16, 17. Full schedule at

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at

Update, September 11, 2017, 3pm: This article has been updated to remove opinions incorrectly attributed to the author.

Gustavo Dudamel (left) and Gael García BernalThese days, stories about classical music are almost completely absent from television programming – which is why it’s all the more astonishing that an American series with protagonists who are musicians, and plots revolving around their work as musicians, has been, since its modest debut in 2014, gaining prominence. By Season 3,’s online-only TV series Mozart in the Jungle has accumulated several awards, a growing following – and critical acclaim nearing consensus.

New charismatic music director takes over the reins at a large New York City orchestra. Board of directors gears up for a rebranding but the mandate is at stake. Young musician joins a music section full of veterans set in their ways. The old music director is not quite ready to disappear into the background. He is, in fact, about to get into a messy affair with the orchestra’s CEO. Meanwhile, opening nights. Fundraising events. Tour. Lock-out. Drugs, prescription and other. Sex. Rivalry and comradeship. Big chances and hard blows. And music: a lot of it, in almost every scene.

I am of course talking about an Amazon Original series Mozart in the Jungle, a Golden Globe-winning show which shines the light on the lives of professional musicians as no other TV show has.

Classical music and television – still the most powerful of all media – have completely parted ways in Canada and the US over the last decade. For Ontarians, the only chance of coming across any opera and classical music on TV is the public francophone TFO channel, which occasionally interviews artists and transmits recorded performances. The effects of the total withdrawal of the national public broadcaster CBC TV from covering art music, literature, visual arts and dance is for the sociologists of the future to measure and for us to bear. (Papers are not doing much better: our largest dailies’ coverage of classical music is occasional at best.)

Classical musicians are permanently absent from TV fiction as well. Could the Looney Tunes cartoons have been the last time that classical music was present in broad TV mainstream? Which is why it’s all the more astonishing that an American series with protagonists who are musicians and plots revolving around their work as musicians has been, since its modest debut in 2014, gaining prominence, awards, a growing following, and, by Season 3, critical acclaim nearing consensus.

Real-life musicians who’ve appeared in cameos include Joshua Bell, Emanuel Ax, Gustavo Dudamel, Lang Lang and Alan Gilbert. With season 4 in the works, the list is likely to grow. It’s hard to believe that the series has not come out of the traditional TV: it’s an production (the online retailer is also a TV production company) and, like shows on Netflix, can be watched online only – by episode, or entire seasons. It’s a new and fast-growing model of TV financing and consumption; and yet the old – classical music – seems to have found a place in it.

The show’s creators – Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Will Graham and Paul Weitz – originally based it on oboist Blaire Tindall’s 2005 memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, but the show, centred on a charismatic young conductor, an established older conductor, an administrator of a large NYC orchestra and a handful of musicians, quickly acquired a life – and wacky plots – of its own. After a bumpy first season that was no stranger to stereotypes, implausible plotting, iffy gender politics (men are the creators, women are administrators or young artists in need of mentoring), a sitcom-like take on the working life and even a ghost of Mozart speaking in a posh British accent, the show proceeded to improve at a steady pace. Season 3 has persuaded its most obdurate critics. The principals are now complex individuals, stories are well-researched, careers take more than one miraculous performance, women too are creators. So, if you still don’t have the habit of looking for TV online and have missed the first three seasons entirely, now is a good time to catch up before Season 4 is released early this December.

Season 3, its best so far, is also when the only Canadian in the show’s permanent writer-producer pool joined in.

Multi-talented screenwriter and actor Susan Coyne is probably best known across North America as the co-creator of the 2003-06 Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows, a dramedy about theatre artists working at a Shakespearean festival much like Stratford and, should you poll the local TV critics, one of the best things ever to appear on TV. Slings accomplished what few TV creations dare try: it took a piece of highbrow culture – Shakespeare’s plays – and turned it into compelling television without dumbing any of it down. A corner of high culture, often accessible only to those who’d studied it and who tended to belong to the leisured classes, became the setting for a TV story about personal and professional intrigues of the working men and women who happen to be artists. Sounds familiar? Mozart in the Jungle is aiming exactly in that direction.

The producers called Coyne before the work on the third season had begun, “out of the blue, but the next thing I knew I was flying to LA,” she explains when we meet to talk about her work on the show. Slings and Arrows is well known in TV and performing arts circles, and somebody must have connected the dots between it and MITJ. She had never been to LA before. “I found a very creative, slightly chaotic but wonderfully free-flowing kind of situation that I liked a lot; it’s not what I expected of LA television industry; it was more like working in the theatre.” She started as a writer but became a producer on the season – which is also a writing job. “Producers write all the time, work on all episodes, shaping stories, rewriting, tweaking scenes, and we’re to some extent involved in conversations about creative problems: you’re sometimes consulted about casting, for example,” she says.

This isn’t Coyne’s first time writing about an orchestra: some years ago, she was asked to develop a Canadian show about a fledgling orchestra, but it didn’t make the production stage. “What we came up with was really good, but times being what they were, we couldn’t take it forward in Canada, and then both of us writers got busy with other projects. So, I have done some research into orchestras and I know how difficult it is to tell the story of an entire ensemble, plus the people backstage running the show. I think that telling a story through a small family of musicians, all of whom have their own issues, is the way to go about it. MITJ really honoured what’s unique about musicians, the physicality of the job, the fact that it’s like being an athlete.” And just like Slings, MITJ doesn’t make fun of people for doing what they do – they see being an oboist or a conductor or a composer as an absolutely worthwhile thing to do. “The show makes fun of them for their egos, and their neuroses. But they take it for granted that what they do matters.”

Lola KirkeWriting the show is a collective process, not unlike playing in an orchestra. The producers get together to sketch out the whole season before each individual episode is written. Any newly introduced narrative thread needs to be resolved by the last episode. “If there is an orchestra strike at the beginning of the season, it would have to be resolved by the end. We knew Rodrigo would be starting a youth orchestra, and that Gloria and Thomas’ relationship would become important. We knew that they were all going to Venice and that Rodrigo was going to conduct a recluse opera singer. Then you figure out, in broad detail, what is going to happen in each episode. Then, you make sure that every main character has enough to do in each episode, and break it all down into finer and finer detail before you start to write an outline. Then you go and write it. And rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it. Some bits get taken from one episode to another episode. It’s a strange, organic process. There are bits of scenes that I’ve written in every episode, and a lot of the writers can say the same. Then you get rewritten yourself. You get your name on one of the episodes, but it’s probably a mishmash of your stuff and other people’s stuff. Finally, the showrunner looks at each episode and makes sure that it all feels like the same show and not like something written in different voices.”

Coyne’s name appears in the credits of the “Creative Solutions for Creative Lives” episode, in which the former music director of the orchestra turned composer (Malcolm McDowell) discovers electronic music, and “Avventura Romantica,” in which the young protagonist Hailey (Lola Kirke) assembles a small orchestra and tries conducting herself – a piece composed for the show by NYC-based composer Missy Mazzoli. The storyline with Hailey stumbling into conducting then realizing that she really wants to do it, Coyne says, was an important one to tell, and will continue in Season 4. “In theatre, everybody has their own voice and everybody is their own artist, but what’s fascinating about the orchestras [is that] everyone there is highly trained as a soloist whose job upon joining the orchestra is to blend in. And I can see how that can be stressful; I can also see how making something bigger than yourself can be wonderful.” It’s additionally interesting, she says, if the musician grappling with these questions is a young woman, since the external and internal obstacles to the conducting profession in that case multiply.

A repository of charisma and artistic madness in Season 1, the new music director Rodrigo (played by Gael García Bernal) has by now grown into a conflicted human being. Coyne says it’s a natural process: finding new layers to characters and surprising yourself is part of the job. The fun of it is to put the characters in challenging situations and see what they’re made of. “It’s true that the Rodrigo character is magical in some way, but we’re discovering that he has his own disappointments and yearnings, and is wondering what his true destiny is, and whether it’s enough just to be an artist. Some of this came from Gael who said at one point, ‘It’s time for this guy to grow up.’”

Coyne played the piano as a child and while her university degrees are in history and theatre, music was always part of her life. Now, thanks to the show, she listens to classical music even more. “And I think there comes a time in your life when you need to be listening to more complex music and having more interesting conversations about it,” she says. She is most likely to be found listening to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and choral music of all kinds. “My kids sang in a church choir and I loved all the masses they sang in – those things really thrill me.” She’d like to introduce more Romantics and modern music to her listening habits. Opera is always around. In How Are You?, a short film about an end of a marriage that she made with Martha Burns in 2008, an aria from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino is sung in an Annex living room by the protagonist’s operatic alter ego (look for the film, 18 minutes of hilarity, sadness and opera, on “Only opera can express certain things,” says Coyne.

Why has classical music disappeared from the TV medium, and what are her thoughts? “I was going back looking at those Leonard Bernstein intro-to-music shows the other day…He was amazing. Shows like that don’t exist anymore,” she agrees. While a number of conductors have embraced different causes and are active in their societies – Dudamel, on whom the MITJ’s Rodrigo was loosely based, is one of them; Daniel Barenboim is another – the lucky connection of the Bernstein kind (between a public broadcaster and a great communicator whose goal is to make music education more widely accessible) doesn’t come easily. “The idea of art music being popular – somehow we’ve lost that thread. It’s perceived to be elitist, despite what every orchestra in the world is trying to do to fight that,” says Coyne. She likes the music segments that Robert Harris occasionally makes for CBC Radio One’s The Sunday Edition: “He does a great job of talking about music in a lively and approachable way,” she says. “That’s the goal with MITJ too. It tries to demystify classical music and take it into the world.”

This is an uphill battle with so much else vying for our attention. “Once we do give over to something, we can pay attention, but there’s always the barrier – am I willing to give up anything for this. And those great works of art require you to give over. They are going to enlarge you, and they’ll ask for something in return. It’s the most rewarding kind of ‘giving over’.” Art, she would like to remind us, isn’t something over there; it’s next to you and it relates to every aspect of your life.

Funding cuts in arts education in schools also aren’t helping the cause. “The only sports I can watch are the ones I’ve played: hockey and basketball. (My hockey team in high school was never in any danger of winning so there was never any pressure and we enjoyed it.) I will watch hockey because I’ve played it,” says Coyne. “I can imagine what it’s like to be in a game of hockey, and I get some of the fun of it. I think if you get kids the exposure to music at a young age, they’ll have a taste for it for life.”

Coyne herself was introduced to Shakespeare (and Shelley and Keats) at the age of five by a kindly cottage neighbour who also happened to be a masterful pedagogue, the story of which she tells in her 2001 childhood memoir Kingfisher Days. “Music is enriching for all the reasons that the scientists and educators give us, of course, but primarily for the pleasure it gives.”

Rapid Fire: Susan Coyne, writer (Mozart in the Jungle)

Susan CoyneWN: Mozart or Wagner?

SC: Mozart.

Pinter or Stoppard?

I want to say Pinter but I’ll say Stoppard.

Caryl Churchill or Stoppard?


Shaw or Coward?

Coward is underrated!

Shakespeare’s tragedies or Shakespeare’s comedies?

Impossible. And great playwrights intermingle comedy and drama. Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare all knew a thing or two about dramedy.

Female roles in Shakespeare vs. female roles in Restoration plays?

Hmm…Rosalind and Portia are pretty good roles. Sometimes the women are on a par with men in Shakespeare, there just aren’t enough of them. Restoration roles are wonderful to play, but those plays are not as ambitious as Shakespeare’s plays. It’s really hard to do Restoration comedy – harder than Shakespeare. They can be arch, like Wilde.

Three Sisters or The Seagull?

Three Sisters.

Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky?


La Traviata or Rigoletto?

La Traviata.

Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul?


Girls or Sex and the City?


Broad City or Girls?

Broad City. The last season of Girls was good.

British TV or American TV?

I’d say British TV…I just love the casting in British TV, which usually has an interesting range of real people, not glossy versions of people. Also, on British TV, the rest of the world exists.

Mozart in the Jungle returns on on December 8, 2017, and can be watched online at

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. She can be reached at

Elisa CitterioOn October 11, 2017 at 8pm (or shortly thereafter), on the stage of the hall named after her distinguished predecessor, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s new music director will take that sharply drawn-in breath characteristic of leading a period ensemble from the first violin. And with the downbeat that follows, as the first notes of Giuseppe Battista Fontana’s Sonata XIV for two violins, dulcian and continuo float out into Jeanne Lamon Hall, it will be safe to say that Brescia-born Elisa Citterio, only the second music director in Tafelmusik’s illustrious 33-year history, will be well and truly at home.

It won’t be Citterio’s first appearance with Tafelmusik. That took place, in the selfsame hall, from November 5 to November 8, 2015, in a program titled “Baroque Masters” and featuring works by Corelli, Fasch, J.S. Bach, Locatelli and Vivaldi (his Concerto for two violins and two oboes in F).

It won’t even be her first official appearance as the orchestra’s anointed music director. That will have taken place three weeks previously, from September 21 to 24 at Koerner Hall and September 26 at the George Weston Hall. But for Tafelmusik as an organization, October 11, 2017 will be the culmination of a five-year process that started in the orchestra room in the basement at Trinity-St. Paul’s in October 2012, when Jeanne Lamon  advised her orchestral colleagues of her intention to step down as music director. And for Citterio it will be a defining moment – her first opportunity to present herself to Tafelmusik’s audiences in all her musical capacities: who she is (virtuosic soloist, orchestral leader, team player and imaginative curator) and, both literally and metaphorically, where she is coming from.

In a blog post still available for reading on Tafelmusik’s website, violinist Jula Wedman wryly recalls Lamon’s October 2012 announcement of her intention to retire from the position she had held for 33 years: “For the first time ever in an orchestra meeting,” Wedman says, “the room was completely silent.” Tears and prosecco flowed. And then the search was on, with Wedman as one of two musicians on an 11-person search committee spearheaded by veteran arts headhunters Margaret Genovese and Dory Vanderhoof.

In her blog post, Wedman reflects on the positive aspects of the ensuing two-year process for the musicians themselves: “I saw how the orchestra grew and changed as we worked with each wonderful guest director,” she wrote. “I saw how our feelings of despair over the news of Jeanne’s retirement changed to acceptance and support for her new lifestyle and our new relationship with her. It was wonderful to have such a long process. We needed it. We became more flexible as a group, we became more open to new ideas, we became less reliant on Jeanne and more self-sufficient as a group.”

Remarkably, given the thoroughness of the process, Citterio only emerged as a contender in November 2015, and, even at that late date, as much a matter of luck as good management. “We had a concert in November 2015 with no director,” Wedman explains. “We also happened to have just hired a new violist from Italy, Stefano Marcocchi. I remember talking to him one day backstage before a performance at Koerner Hall, describing all of the things I thought Tafelmusik was looking for in a new music director. The name that came first and foremost to his mind was a name we hadn’t heard before – Elisa Citterio.” Wedman recalls being struck by Citterio’s virtuosity as a soloist, her “super-efficient rehearsal style, and her high level of attention to detail,” and “the way the music grew and changed every day, coming to life in different ways in each concert. ... The moment I will never forget that week was about three minutes into the first concert. The orchestra was feeling stressed (first-concert jitters) and I looked up at Elisa – she had a big beautiful smile on her face that said to me, ‘This is exactly the place I am supposed to be right now. I love this!’”

Tafelmusik on the steps of Trinity-St. Paul’s, 1981: Back Row (L-R): Marc Destrubé, Jeanne Lamon, Christina Mahler, Deborah Paul, Anthony St. Pierre, Jack Liivoja-Lorius. Front Row (L-R): Susan Graves (seated), Kenneth Solway, Ivars Taurins, Charlotte Nediger, Alison Mackay.Plans to have her back at Trinity-St. Paul’s in February 2016 for an all-Mozart program didn’t come to fruition, so it wasn’t until September 2016 in last season’s season-opening concert series at Koerner Hall that what turned out to be the decisive second date took place. “This time she and her partner Mirko brought their two-month-old daughter Olivia,” Wedman writes. “Elisa was playing the very first concerts after her first child was born! We were stunned that in the face of utter exhaustion, [she] still brought the same boundless energy and joy for the music with her. The rehearsals were organized and efficient, her ideas and cues were clear, creative and easy to follow, and I don’t think I heard one out-of-tune note from her during the entire rehearsal period and concerts! … Many of us remarked how fresh Handel’s Water Music (a piece we have played many times) felt under her direction.”

Sitting in the balcony for that September 22, 2016 season opener, and of course with benefit of hindsight, I can distinctly recall the feeling that what was happening between conductor and orchestra on the stage that night might be more than a one-night stand. In fact, if there was anything to criticize from an audience member’s point of view, it was that the musical conversation unfolding on the stage was all about them, rather than directed at us – like overhearing an intensely intimate conversation from the next booth over!

From that point on things moved quickly, as these things go. An offer was made by phone call to Italy, around the turn of the year.

“I was home, nursing Olivia, four months old by then, ” Citterio recalls, in a hastily arranged interview in The WholeNote offices back in May 2017. “Sometimes life-changing news comes at such normal moments. I remember thinking, just ten minutes ago I had a walk in the village, went to the supermarket! For me it was a feeling that this was taking on something huge at a time when things have just changed anyway. But maybe it’s a chance for things to be more busy but less crazy. I think the biggest change and really different is the responsibility for things not only on stage.”

How long did it actually take her to decide to come? “I waited one month to give news to my family,” she says with a smile. But clearly the opportunity to take on a role that will enable her to express and explore a fully rounded musicality beyond that of virtuoso and orchestral violinist had enormous appeal.

And so it is that October 11 to 14, audiences will have the first opportunity to witness Citterio’s multifaceted musicianship, close up and personal, in a program that is entirely of her choosing. “I didn’t plan the whole season,” she says, “because planning started before my appointment; mostly just some suggestions for the first program and the second one and the fourth.”

Of the three programs she mentions, this is clearly the one she is most invested in. “I want to give something of my background, so including Fontana and Marini, both from that background, is very natural. Landscapes around Brescia have changed over the years, but relatively not so much. There are lots of places with historical ruins that were already ruins in Marini and Fontana’s time. And we have caves with prehistoric art which could have been familiar to them… I can’t explain in words what I feel playing this music. It is somehow so familiar to me, and not because I have played it so often or heard it.”

And this sense of connection extends beyond the music itself. “My violin, for example,” she says. “It is a Marcello Villa instrument made in 2005; but it is inspired by Gio Paolo Maggini’s instruments – a 16th-century luthier from Brescia, and contemporary of Fontana. In fact, they even died in the same plague in 1630.  So when I play this music with this instrument I imagine I can create the same sound the composer heard. It is not logical but it is how I imagine it. I would like to give this to the Toronto audience.”

Looking beyond Citterio the curator/programmer to Citterio the orchestral leader and team player, it’s worth noting the care with which the October 11 program as designed brings individual focus to different players and sections within the ensemble: from bassoonist Dominic Teresi, whose passion for the Fontana dulcian sonatas predates Citterio’s arrival on the Tafelmusik scene; to the sharing out of the violin solos among the ensemble; to the Vivaldi C Major Concerto for two oboes which gives an opportunity for the ensemble’s oboists, John Abberger and Marco Cera, to shine.

And as violin soloist, Citterio’s own moment in the spotlight will be “Autumn” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (she will be playing “Summer” in the opening concert in September, and each of the other two movements at concerts in January and February 2018). It’s a deft touch, especially in a year when the complete box set of Tafelmusik’s recordings has been released, featuring Jeanne Lamon in the same work, making for fascinating comparisons as the season unfolds.

Deep emotional through-line of the October concert notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to see Citterio as a die-hard Baroque traditionalist wedded to a hundred years of repertoire no matter how obscure. “I am not planning this repertoire all the time – we are strings, two oboes, a bassoon and continuo so there are limits to the repertoire available; also our audiences expect the great works (and can enjoy new takes on great works as much as new works). Myself, I can’t pretend to play well all music from Monteverdi to contemporary but for an orchestra like Tafelmusik it is important to touch dfferent periods. We also have to educate the ear. Period playing can lead to illuminating performances of a much wider range of music –  Haydn, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi.”

“Nineteenth-century orchestral sound is so opulent and dense,” she continues. “Strip away the huge sound and you can listen for different things. With gut strings and period instruments there is a defined sound for each string and each instrument. In Italian we call this huge sound minestrone Wagneriana. How would you say that in English?” We settle on “Wagnerian pea soup” as a culinary alternative. “It does not have to be like that,” she says.

This October 11, almost exactly five years from the day Jeanne Lamon announced to her shaken orchestra that she was stepping down, her successor comes home to the hall that has been the company’s home base for its whole history. It would be folly in these fluid musical times to predict for any new music director a 33-year sojourn. But the stars do seem to be auspicious for Citterio’s stay here to be a fruitful new chapter for both her and Tafelmusik.

David Perlman can be reached at

keyboard instrument 436488 1920The pipe organ, labelled the “King of Instruments” by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is an instrument that flies under the radar of many classical music lovers. Despite its apparent obscurity, the organ has a devoted group of followers and aficionados who regularly present concerts highlighting some of Toronto’s best instruments.

One such presenter is Organix, run by Gordon Mansell, who is also organist and director of music at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Toronto’s West End. A longtime supporter of the organ and its finest players, Organix will receive the National Award of Excellence from the Royal Canadian College of Organists at a special gala recital on September 22 at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. This commemorative performance will feature Italian organist Mario Ciferri and will be followed by a masterclass the next morning, featuring three young players and a variety of repertoire.

In anticipation of these events, we asked Organix’s Gordon Mansell, TEMC principal organist Stephen Boda and director of music Elaine Choi for their thoughts on the organ, its status in Toronto’s contemporary musical topography and its possible role in the future of classical music.

Gordon Mansell, president and artistic director of Organix Concerts

Gordon MansellWN: Your concert on September 22 is a significant one, with Organix Concerts receiving the National Award of Excellence from the RCCO. Why this performer on this instrument for this occasion?

GM: Yes, it is quite an honour for me to be recognized by my colleagues and peers for having attempted to widen the general audience for organ music. I have placed a priority in producing concerts with a high entertainment factor.

The difference between the organ and many other instruments is that an organist must very quickly adapt to each concert venue, the instrument and the uniqueness of the acoustics. Pianists enjoy a standard of 88 keys and, for the most part, size of the instrument. There is predictability inherent to the piano and almost all other instruments, the personal instrument the performer owns and plays all the time. With the organ, there is a critical factor of matching the organist with the appropriate instrument, based on repertoire expected.

As for Mario Ciferri, I know him to perform grand Romantic music as well as Baroque, ideal for showcasing to the world the newly refurbished and expanded organ at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. Happily, TEMC agreed to collaborate with me to help make this happen.

WN: The second day of events with Mario Ciferri features a masterclass with three students, each playing a range of repertoire. How does this fit with some people’s perception that the pipe organ is an instrument in rapid decline?

GM: I would say that the apparent decline may be somewhat localized to parts of our own continent. Here in Toronto we have many young students who are pursuing careers as organists and educators, and several have gone on to gain professional standing and significant church positions. Coupled with studies privately and at the university level, Organix is a vital part in ensuring the future as each becomes an alumnus of the festival and is an ambassador of it and of the industry itself. I expect that these same emerging artists will take on an important role as advocates for the promotion of the organ in many different ways, some of which we cannot fully appreciate at this time.

WN: Organix recently diversified, presenting weekly afternoon recitals in addition to your Festival series. Why do you see the organ as something worth investing in? And where do electronic organs fit into Organix’s future?

GM: It is important to invest in the organ, because there is such a significant catalogue of music written for it as a solo instrument and as a collaborator for ensembles and orchestras. With continued interest, particularly from young musicians and enthusiasts, there is a market that should be generously nurtured and supported.

Most of Toronto’s pipe organs are in the downtown core, and there is a large population beyond that has yet to hear a great concert of organ music. Digital organs become a viable alternative and the preferred instrument beyond downtown. The benefits of digital organs are many, but in particular, the repertoire for the instrument continues to live and thrive on the best digital examples. With this added exposure outside of the downtown core, Organix will continue to promote professional organists, organs and organ repertoire to many first-time concert goers. It is not an either/or situation between digital and pipe – it is a collaboration that will keep our industry alive.

Elaine Choi, director of music and Stephen Boda, principal organist at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church

Elaine ChoiWN: I notice that in addition to partnering with Organix TEMC has recently partnered with other churches “on-the-Hill” for various performances such as the Duruflé Requiem.

EC: TEMC’s music team enjoys collaborating with other ensembles and organizations. These collaborations enable us to broaden our repertoire and reach out to a bigger audience.

SB: We’re really looking forward to hosting Mario Ciferri this year as part of the Organix series. We have an organ-loving congregation and look for every opportunity to feature the instrument in concert. We are grateful to Gordon Mansell for organizing this event and also the masterclass, which features young organists from Toronto.

Stephen BodaWN: At a time when many see the pipe organ (and churches themselves) in rapid decline, what is the importance of fostering young talent and interest through events such as this masterclass?

SB: I think it’s very important to continue introducing young people to the organ; it is such a fascinating instrument and deserves to be shared and cherished. International artists such as Mario Ciferri coming to town give young artists new perspectives, and we are looking forward to it.

WN: A new antiphonal division was recently added to your already significantly sized pipe organ. With a music program already featuring a variety of instruments and ensembles, what role do you see the refurbished and enhanced organ taking in the future of your music program?

SB: The organ already has a fantastic sound and adding more pipes (we added 1000 new pipes, which brings us to a total of 7000) makes the instrument even more grand and musical. It also greatly widens the musical possibilities. Since the new pipes are located in the back of the church, it gives a surround-sound feel when the organ is played all together and the possibility to alternate or create solo/accompaniment textures from across the room. As a musician, it is incredible that we are able to add to our instrument and we are very thankful for the donations that made this possible!

EC: We are already seeing a change in our Sunday services. The antiphonal division certainly helps with supporting congregation and their hymn singing. We are finding more opportunities to explore and utilize the new division – the potential is endless!

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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