Photo by Carl MilnerSharp-eyed readers may already have spotted John Miller’s Hitchcockian cameo appearance as a satyr, silhouetted against the moon, on the cover of this year’s Stratford Summer Music program book. It’s a distinctive profile, almost as distinctive as his artistic fingerprint on the festival itself – one that he’s curated for 18 years – and this year for the last time.

The moon is a fitting backdrop for Miller’s final appearance as SSM artistic director, heralding as it does the upcoming appearance at Stratford of Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon. It will be the third Jerram creation to be part of Stratford Summer Music; the relationship cultivated with Jerram over the years is quintessential Miller. He finds talented people, notices that essential something in them that works for him, and then having forged the relationship he maintains it. Artists and performers come back, and so do audiences.

In a recent visit to The WholeNote Miller talked about Jerram’s first SSM visit in 2007, describing Jerram as “an inventor … a futurist … a guy who has experiences and then leads them in directions that most of us would never think of going.” That first visit was with a project called Sky Orchestra, Miller explains. “It was inspired by a trip to the Middle East and Jerram’s first experience of hearing, from several imams simultaneously, the call to prayer; suddenly the sound of compelling music was everywhere.” Back in the UK Jerram collaborated with composer Dan Jones to create eight hot air balloons, each with two speakers attached, which take off at dawn or dusk and fly across a city of sleeping or waking people. Each balloon plays two different tracks of a 16-track orchestral score, creating a huge audio landscape. In the case of Stratford Summer Music the music of Sky Orchestra flooded the early morning sky as it took off from Stratford and flew towards St Mary’s.

Jerram’s popular Play Me I’m Yours project – artist-decorated street pianos, for anyone to play – came to Stratford for the first time in 2012, and returns in 2018 for a fourth time. So this summer’s Museum of the Moon is Jerram’s third project at Stratford and its premiere Ontario appearance. Jerram’s 23-foot balloon, illuminated from within, is a reproduction of the exact surface of the moon: an assembly of actual photographs taken by NASA cameras from lunar space craft. As part of its world travels it will float over Stratford’s Tom Patterson Island for ten August days and nights.

“Since the moon shines everywhere all over the world we will have heritage world music every night under the moon, including First Nations artists Jeremy Dutcher, Laura Grizzlypaws and Tanya Tagaq,” says Miller. “It somehow feels fitting to characterize a festival that embraces music, dance, literature, movies, family celebrations, photographic and astrological ideas as being ‘everything under the moon.’”

Jerram’s presence at SSM reflects aspects of how the festival’s own identity has evolved during the Miller years in two ways particularly important to Miller. One is about putting music and performance art in public spaces – like the Jerram projects or Murray Schafer on Tom Patterson island or the BargeMusic series. The other is the cultivation of SSM’s own loyal audience, drawn by SSM’s earned reputation for attracting the finest Canadian and international artists, not just once but on an ongoing basis. Artists come back because they feel part of a community: not just as part of a festival circuit. Sometimes it’s their only Canadian appearance or else one of very few. And their Stratford experience is not typical of the daily grind of a tour: they walk and rest, go to the theatre or other performances, enjoy the restaurants and café brunches and the generally relaxed atmosphere.

Miller has always believed that it was better for music in Stratford to be its own festival, with its own board, personality, experience and sense of accomplishment in spite of the original vision of a consolidated theatre and music festival. He credits his friend, Stratford Festival’s Richard Monette, for believing in and encouraging variety. Today SSM both has its own faithful audience and manages to put itself in the path of the tens of thousands of people who come to Stratford for “that other festival.”

John Miller - photo by Scott WishartMiller reflected that during these formative 18 years it was good that he is not, himself, a musician, because he was able to bring an open appetite to the task. “It might not have been like that if I’d had a particular instrument or history that I was bringing along. With music if you only program what you enjoy then you shut the door to all sorts of other people. Variety is what a real festival is about.”

Visitors this year can look forward to re-encountering, or meeting, some returning SSM favourites: the Blind Boys of Alabama, Orchestre de la Francophonie, John MacLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra, the Langley Ukuleles, the Mzansi Youth Choir of South Africa, to name a few. And while this year, more than any, Miller is going back to the well in terms of inviting or re-inviting the artists who have helped make SSM what it has been over the last 18 years, there will also be artists he’s finally “landed” after hoping to present them for years.

Four important Canadian pianists who will be featured are a striking example of this range. Marc André Hamelin makes a long-anticipated SSM debut. Angela Hewitt, featured last summer, returns to perform JS Bach’s entire Well Tempered Clavier in two concerts over one weekend. Jan Lisiecki takes time out of a now very international career to make his ninth consecutive appearance, and Jean-Michel Blais will be featured for a second consecutive year.

Musicologist, music writer/broadcaster Robert Harris returns for the fifth year of illustrated lectures “Music That Changed the World”; this July SSM will release their newly published book The Stratford Lectures: Ten Perspectives about Music by Robert Harris which includes ten of the Harris lectures in an expanded form. The book initiative is another example of the kind of artistic relationship building, and audience building, that is a Millerian hallmark.

Equally a tribute to Miller is the fact that SSM won’t be going out in a blaze of glory with its founder. There has been nothing last minute or ad hoc about the process of going about finding a successor. The orderly process is already complete with the announcement earlier this year that violinist Mark Fewer will succeed Miller in the post. Miller will continue in an advisory capacity for a couple of years only: Fewer will take the helm as artistic director in October.

Stepping down, Miller said, is a little bit like how he imagines walking one’s daughter down the aisle. “But it feels as though I’m giving her away under the best possible circumstances” he says.

If Miller’s face on the satyr in front of the moon is this year’s opening salvo, then perhaps the BargeMusic finale, with the Border Cities Caledonia Pipe Band, is another whimsical Miller autobiographical touch. Learning to play the bagpipes has always been on his bucket list, he explains.

Fittingly, SSM’s final evening festivities – the “J.A.M.boree” – will be a picnic on Tom Patterson Island with another Miller favourite – the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, under the August 26 full Sturgeon Moon, and the Jerram moon. And with J.A.M. (Miller’s initials) as one last sly signature touch.

mJ Buell, a regular contributor to The WholeNote, can be reached at musicschildren@thewholenote.com.

Rachel Mahon. Photo: CBC MUSICThis year’s third annual Toronto Bach Festival, curated by Tafelmusik oboist John Abberger, includes three concerts that present not only Bach’s own music, but also works written by predecessors who influenced him. The middle concert this year is an organ recital by Rachel Mahon, assistant organist at Chester Cathedral in the UK and former organ scholar at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the first female organist in its 1,400-year history.

Born and raised in Toronto, Mahon won numerous awards and competitions in Canada and is half of the Organized Crime organ duo, founded in 2012 with fellow organist Sarah Svendsen. Although now based in the UK, she frequently returns to Canada as a recitalist; a list of her upcoming performances, including this year’s Bach Festival, can be found on her website, rachelmahon.ca.

In advance of her May 12 “Bach’s Inspiration” concert, Mahon shared her thoughts on Bach’s music, his inspiration, and what it means to return home to Toronto.

WN: Your upcoming recital at the 2018 Toronto Bach Festival shows “how Bach admired and was inspired by other composers.” What can we expect to hear? How did you put this program together?

RM: J.S. Bach’s achievements as a composer are astonishing, especially when considering he never lived or visited anywhere outside Thuringia or Saxony. This didn’t stop him from absorbing all he could at the ducal court of Weimar, where travelling musicians brought Italian and French music and where Bach was organist and Konzertmeister. We know for a fact that he copied Nicolas de Grigny’s Premier livre d’orgue and arranged Antonio Vivaldi’s music. He also took a trip to Lübeck in 1705 to learn from the great Danish organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude.

With these things in mind, I’ve included some pieces by Buxtehude which I will directly contrast with those of Bach, Bach’s arrangement for organ of an Italian concerto and a piece from Grigny’s organ book, alongside some of Bach’s great organ works. I hope that this program will give an impression of the immense impact other composers had on Bach’s writing.

Sarah Svendsen and Rachel Mahon as Organ Duo, "Organized Crime"As a Toronto-trained organist now working across the pond, this Toronto Bach Festival performance represents a homecoming of sorts. What does it mean to you to return to your hometown and perform? Do you approach a recital in Toronto differently
than one in the UK?

The phrase “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” really rings true with me. It wasn’t until I left Toronto and had been gone a year that I realized just how much I love the city, so I particularly enjoy coming home, especially to play. Toronto has so much going on and this is true in the local organ scene too: there are several fine instruments in the city of all different styles.

I will be playing at Holy Family for the Bach Festival and this is particularly a homecoming for me because I was born and raised in Parkdale. When I started organ lessons at 15, the Oratorians let me practise at Holy Family twice a week and for many years I sang in the Oratory Children’s Choir (which my mother founded and directed) before I became the choir’s organist at age 18.

I would say I approach each concert I play differently, no matter where it is. Of course I take into consideration my audience and perhaps the time of year, as so much organ repertoire is based on the liturgical year, but also, and most importantly, the instrument. Organists have the unique problem of not being able to travel with their own instruments, so we must adjust to each organ and each organ is completely unique. Certain pieces just won’t work on certain organs.

I suppose there might also be an extra layer of nerves for Toronto as well. The organ world is relatively small and in Toronto I have many friends in the field. I studied with John Tuttle at the University of Toronto and wouldn’t want to horrify him with any bad habits I might’ve picked up across the pond!

Bach is one of the most-performed composers across the globe. What does Bach’s music mean to you? Do you think there’s still something new to say in the interpretation of these works?

Bach is my favourite composer of all time. I love Tallis, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Elgar and Howells, to name a few, but Bach remains the supreme composer for me. As an organist, a singer, a conductor and a listener, Bach’s music never disappoints me. I am always fulfilled by it and yet want more – I went to Tafelmusik’s St. Matthew Passion three times in one week a few years ago... There is so much to bring out in the music that no two performers’ interpretations will be the same.

I believe a performer is able to put his or her own character into a piece, to draw the ear to what he or she wants the listener to hear in the music. This is an exciting privilege and is why there can always be something new to say with these works.

Rachel Mahon’s organ recital, May 12 at 2pm at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, is the middle concert of the third annual Toronto Bach Festival, which takes place May 11 to 13.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist, and The WholeNote’s regular Early Music columnist.

bannerJenny Crober and I are chatting over the phone. She’s in New York City with several of the choristers from VOCA Chorus of Toronto and the Achill Choral Society from Orangeville. They’ve spent the last few days rehearsing with James Meaders, the associate artistic director of Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and composer-superstar Ola Gjeilo. Crober and crew are in NYC with DCINY to perform a concert of Gjeilo’s work onstage at Carnegie Hall with choirs from across the world. “There were 250 singers,” shares Crober. “It was a bit of a crush to fit us all onstage. And it was hot, but lovely.”

Jenny Crober. Photo by Lorraine DillardIt is moments like these that are hard to put into words: why do conductors do this kind of work? Why sing under intensely hot lights and packed like sardines? Why drive two hours each way to lead rehearsal? Why spend hours studying scores and making notes in private? Why conduct at all? Last year in May, we explored with a range of choristers the reasons they give up so much of their time and energy to choral music-making. This year, I’m chatting with choral conductors to get perspective on the power of choral music in their lives, and why they do what they do.

When she’s in Toronto, Crober raises her hands to lead VOCA Chorus; Cheryll Chung, an accomplished pianist, founded the Cantabile Chamber Singers in 2006; powerhouse Karen Burke leads the Toronto Mass Choir; and you’ve probably seen Shawn Grenke in action as associate conductor of the Amadeus Choir. Here they all share their ideas on the hard work of conducting and choral music.

Crober started working with VOCA (when it was still the East York Choir) in 1991 as an accompanist and took over the reins as conductor in 2004. Over her tenure she has seen VOCA (the name-change was in 2011) double in size. The choir is a whole different beast now, she says. “We have professional singers, doubled the size and have choristers from across the city and beyond. This gives me impetus to keep on as the choir continues to grow into what we’re becoming.”

Conductors are uniquely able to pull on the threads that pull community together. And community is the common theme that all these conductors bring forward. “The community outlets need to be present for people to fall in love with choir – to fall in love with conducting and community music,” says Burke. Cheryll Chung says, “It is really important as a conductor to connect with your ensemble and build a sense of community and trust, so that it can enable you to get the music across.” And Grenke tells me: “I love bringing people together. I find that when I get into the rehearsal, and the rehearsal process, it’s transformative. I get an energy from the singers and we create something great.”

Choral conducting success stories often feature conductors who have been successful in reaching out and building community, sometimes from scratch. “Those people who are thinking outside of the box about what choir can be. It doesn’t have to be just Bach chorales or Mozart’s Requiem or school choir. I think it’s up to us, who are teaching students, to remind them there is more to the world of community music-making than being a music teacher at a school board or a tenured professor at a university,” Burke says. “There’s such a broad array of positions, and a lot of time people just create their own space. They move into a neighbourhood that doesn’t have a community choir or organization and make it happen. If you have a passion and find the void, take your passion and fill the void.”

That passion, when conveyed by a conductor, is what brings people back over and over again. And in a city like Toronto, the breadth and depth of choral music is astounding. (Take a look at the Canary Page listings just to get a small taste of the diversity of the Toronto choral scene.)

“A good conductor is a teacher at heart,” says Burke. “If you don’t like people, you’ll be a terrible conductor. What I see, the people who are doing so well, the people who have built organizations – that comes from a love of people.” There are many people who can read music, can speak the language of music, but don’t know how to speak the language of people and relationship-building. Shawn Grenke gets this as well: “As a music educator, I [conduct] to keep music alive, and more importantly to keep people singing so the music stays alive.” It is about people, it’s about “enjoying the experience of giving, together,” says Burke. “If people are in that space, then great.”

Success as a conductor requires success in all the people who make up a choir; Burke, as a conductor and as a teacher, looks for something more than just musicianship in potential conductors and musical colleagues alike. She’s looking for a spark, someone who can communicate beyond the page of the music. “There isn’t an ABC to being a choral conductor; you have to seek it out,” she says. There is no clear path to conducting and much trial and error involved.

Cheryll Chung was the only choral candidate during her time completing a Masters degree at U of T. After she graduated, she had to figure out the path for herself. “What do you do?” she shares. “A lot of graduate students start their own ensemble or choir. At first, [with Cantabile], I thought I’d just do two benefit concerts a year. I did that for a while for organizations like the Regent Park School of Music, the Canadian Cancer Society and Literature for Life, for example. This was the premise: let’s do concerts for the causes. But then, it gives you the energy to keep doing what you’re doing, to make the connection with audiences and members and connect with different people.” Chung started Cantabile as a pilot in 2006 and she continues to lead the ensemble. The key part for her has always been community: “Community building is a hard thing, and you really need to want that, and have it inside of you.”

Clockwise from top left: Jenna and Karen Burke of the Toronto Mass Choir; Cheryll Chung of the Cantabile Chamber Singers (photo: Richard Jonathan Chung); Shawn Grenke of the Amadeus Choir with Mary Lou FallisThe financial strain of the work can be challenging too. Music is expensive, rental of rehearsal space, paying guest musicians, and all the administrative and marketing costs are not insignificant; there isn’t always a lot left over to pay the conductor. “A lot of my musician friends, I think they feel financial stress and take the gigs as they come, no matter the scenario,” says Grenke. “It’s hard as a musician, as a freelance singer or conductor. It’s hard to find enough work to live.” I appreciate his candour, I tell him: I have some knowledge of that life first-hand.

As audiences, we show up in the seats of a performance and criticize or enjoy the music. What we don’t see is the music teacher awake since 5:30am, teaching all day, then driving 90 minutes one way to rehearse for two and a half hours two or three times a week. Or the conductor that works seven or eight gigs a week to make ends meet. As Chung says: “The performance is just the icing on the cake.” Weeks before a performance, a choir gets the music and begins the process of rehearsing and refining. This is the hard work. This is where the relationships and community are built. This is where conductors shine. And only if it all goes well do you get a chance to taste the icing. “There are moments,” says Crober, “when standing on the stage with 250 other people all responding to the music, and one person on the podium, you think – how lucky is that? To be able to do that – to sing in a group of people and make this exquisite music… and it is a moment of ‘Yeah, this is why you work so hard.’ For this.”

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang. Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com.

Maeve PalmerAfter more than 50 years of music-making, composing, broadcasting and producing, I’m still truly amazed by what a single virtuoso voice can accomplish. And it doesn’t seem to matter what size the room or time of day. On Wednesday, April 11, I found myself at St. Andrew’s Church in downtown Toronto listening, at noon, to the brilliant young soprano Maeve Palmer. Palmer was the second-prize winner in last year’s Eckhardt-Gramatté competition. She and her accompanist, Joy Lee, have been touring their “Mysteries” program ever since the 2017 competition. Mysteries of the Macabre by Gyorgy Ligeti (1923–2006) is the dramatic closing work in the touring program, and also provides the title of the recital.

Two unaccompanied pieces sung by Palmer struck me the most. Djamila Boupacha by Luigi Nono (1924–1990) and Montreal composer Philippe Leroux’s Ma belle si tu voulais revealed the remarkably expressive power and presence a virtuoso singer can achieve. Palmer’s agile voice created all manner of nearly indescribable feats: rapid leaps, arpeggios, purring, cooing and percussive effects, as well as seductively sweet tonal shadings, rendering the listener helpless to fully comprehend the subtlety and range of the sonic feast she was sharing. Palmer and Lee also performed arias by Kaija Saariaho and Nicole Lizeé. Lizeé’s Malfunctionlieder, the compulsory work at the 2017 Eckhardt-Gramatté competition, calls on both singer and pianist to execute remarkably theatrical interactions, not only with one another and their numerous props (telephone, teapot and teacup, ripped book pages, etc.) but with electronic media, both audio and video.

The Palmer recital was presented by TO.U Collective, led by artistic director Xin Wang, herself a soprano of extraordinary gifts. Both Palmer and Wang are former students of Mary Morrison at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Morrison’s legacy of producing great singers is undeniable – Barbara Hannigan is another of her remarkable protégés. Morrison and her teaching colleagues at U of T have made Toronto a mecca for singers, both for the opera stage and the concert hall.

And, speaking of the TO.U Collective series of concerts, I note that their presentation on Sunday, May 27 is in a different venue, Rosedale Presbyterian Church. “TO.U is looking forward, for some of the more delicate repertoire, to our first concert in this smaller, quieter and more intimate space,” Wang says. The concert takes place at 4pm, and, sure enough, it includes the superb soprano Xin Wang, singing the sublimely spiritual music of Giya Kancheli from the Republic of Georgia, and dazzling vocal effects in songs by Toshio Hosokawa. Guitarist Rob MacDonald, saxophonist Wallace Halladay, pianist Stephanie Chua and violist Ethan Filner complete the ensemble. The instrumentalists will also play music by Hindemith and Fuhong Shi.

Xin Wang. Photo by Bo HuangBut back to April 11: I found it most interesting that, as I made my way to Maeve Palmer’s TO.U recital, I entered a TTC subway car and found myself face to face with David Perlman, the publisher of The WholeNote! David was making his way to the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre to hear yet another young vocal virtuoso, Sara Schabas. Schabas is a highly accomplished U of T grad, a student of Jean MacPhail. She presented a “Holocaust Remembrance” program (together with piano accompanist Geoffrey Conquer and violinist Laura D’Angelo) of music by two composers who died in the Holocaust, Viktor Ullmann and Carlos Taube, followed by Jake Heggie’s one-act opera for solo voice, Another Sunrise, about Holocaust survivor Krystyna Zywulska. (The Heggie work, sung by Schabas, was presented this past February by Schabas’ own fledgling Electric Bond Opera Ensemble, fully staged and paired with Farewell, Auschwitz, a song cycle for three singers by Heggie based on poetry by Zywulska.)

On a personal note, another astounding young soprano I’ve had the pleasure of working with, Christina Haldane, a singer in the DMA program at the U of T Faculty of Music and a student of Darryl Edwards, will be in the studio this month recording a song cycle written for her dazzling, unaccompanied voice. The work in question is the Echo Cycle, with words by Seán Haldane, Christina’s father, a poet and novelist with a long list of published work. The music is by me. I was so impressed by the beauty and versatility of her singing, and by her father’s strikingly musical poetry, I felt compelled to set six of his poems specifically for her voice. The cycle had its premiere exactly a year ago, at Gallery 345 in Toronto. The recording will be available to the public upon completion of the project, which also includes music by Carl Philippe Gionet, Samy Moussa and Oscar Peterson. Watch for it!

With all these thoughts of high-achieving young sopranos swirling around, it seems somehow fitting that, on Friday, April 13, the jury for the 2018 Glenn Gould Prize named American soprano Jessye Norman its latest winner. Norman is the first-ever female recipient of this major award, an acclaimed singer whose long career has included epic accomplishments both on and off opera stages, recital halls and in recording studios. The jury’s citation stated: “Her triumph is an expression of the power of art to transcend all human boundaries.”

And, I might add, an expression of the way the virtuoso solo voice can distill and then unbottle the power of art.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

David Fallis. Photo by Paul OrensteinHow come I never heard of these guys before?” is on balance a good thing to overhear from a departing concertgoer, if you’re the artistic director of a musical ensemble watching an audience file away after the final performance of your season. For one thing it means there was at least one new person in your audience that night. For another it means that, all things being equal, the individual in question is likely to be back.

When the performance in question is not just the final one of your season but the final one of your final season, though, it’s likely that the pleasure you take from the remark will be tinged with at least some regret.

Two upcoming performances this May both fit the “final finale” description, albeit in different ways. For Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre, “The Last Chaconne” on May 12 at the Jane Mallett Theatre will be the last performance before the company disbands. While for Toronto Consort, their May 25, 26 and 27 concert performances of Monteverdi’s signature opera Orfeo will signal the final appearances of David Fallis as their artistic director after almost
28 years in the role.

Lucky for us, Fallis’ and Beckwith’s respective decisions, to step aside and to disband, sparked opportunities for The WholeNote to sit with each of them for lengthy and wide-ranging conversations, which we will bring your way in more extended form once their May “last hurrahs” have been hurrayed.

TORONTO CONSORT | The Beat Goes On

David Fallis didn’t start out as Toronto Consort’s artistic director. As a matter of fact, in 1979 when he joined, they didn’t have one; Fallis, a self-described “novice, who didn’t know all that much about the music” came aboard as part of a collective that included Garry Crighton, David Klausner and Alison Mackay. “One of them would just shoot us programs, and they’d do all the research, run the rehearsals and it worked well for 12 or 13 years,” he recalls.

Things evolve and change, though, and when the need arose for a steady curatorial hand at the helm, the role fell to Fallis.

Fast forward 27 years to the beginning of this past season, and Fallis went to the group saying he’d like to make this his last year as director and what should they do? “Full circle,” was the agreed answer: nine people who have worked together “in consort” for at least ten years, and in many cases longer, don’t necessarily need an artistic director.

Paradoxically, it’s because Toronto Consort is what is technically known as a “broken consort” that not much needs to be done to fix it! Broken, in consort terminology, means made up of instruments from a range of different families and types, as distinct from a “whole” consort, such as a family of viols. Because of that, the members of Toronto Consort are already strong individuals with different ideas, used to bouncing musical ideas off each other, figuring things out and, as necessary, taking turns at being the lead.

The coming year reflects this spirit of artistic collectivity: of the five concerts announced for the 2018/19 season, one will feature a guest ensemble, two will be curated by members of the ensemble who have previously curated events (Katherine Hill and Alison Melville); one will be co-curated by Fallis and Hill, and the tried and true Consort favourite, Praetorius Christmas Vespers, will be Fallis’ to direct.

That being said he’s not trying to pretend that there isn’t a special feeling about the upcoming show. Partly because of the place it played in the history of his time as artistic director, partly because of some favourite people he gets to include as guests – tenors Charles Daniels, Kevin Skelton and Cory Knight, and with Jeanne Lamon playing violin.

“As the last act – me officially as artistic director – you couldn’t do any better than a piece about the power of music, a man who is such a beautiful singer and musician that he can charm even the powers of hell” Fallis says.

Hail and Farewell | Toronto Masque Theatre

As even his closest collaborators over the past 15 years (company manager Vivian Moens and artistic associate Derek Boyes) would agree, without Larry Beckwith Toronto Masque Theatre would not have come into existence in the first place, or survived this long. He’s always carried it on his shoulders. And it was hard for even his closest collaborators over the years to envision carrying on. It was one of those “What am I going to do with my life calendar things?” – turning 40 – that led him to start the company. At 55 it just feels like the right time to stop: “not walking away, not fading away, just another chapter.”

Once the decision was made, last summer, TMT decided on a course of full disclosure that this season would be the last. “Hopefully to make this last season celebratory rather than funereal,” as Beckwith put it in one of our chats. And a signature season it has been, reflecting the full range of presentational styles, from intimate salon to large-cast spectacle, and of musical eras from early to contemporary to commissioned works that have become TMT’s trademark.

Larry Beckwith. Photo by Tara McMullen“The Last Chaconne” promises to be a fitting climax to it all, with a cast of collaborators that would be astonishing, if they were being roped in randomly for a special occasion, but in this case simply reflect TMT’s relationship-building musical history.

There will doubtless be a moist eye or two, a twinge of regret as they celebrate what they’ve achieved in the context of their collective passion for beautiful words, music and dance: excerpts from Acis and Galatea, The Fairy Queen, The Lesson of Da Ji, The Mummers’ Masque, Orpheus and Eurydice, a new commission from bassist Andrew Downing, and some beautiful dances featuring Marie Nathalie Lacoursière and Stéphanie Brochard … and more.

“The phrase ‘the means of grace’ has always stuck in my mind” Beckwith reflects. “In fact at one time it might have been the name for Toronto Masque Theatre, but someone, probably Vivian, thankfully, talked me out of it. In one sense of the word, grace is what Baroque dance is all about, but the phrase actually comes from a general prayer of thanksgiving in the Anglican book of common prayer.” He quotes from memory. “‘Being unfeignedly thankful for the blessings of this life, for the means of grace and the hope of glory, we show forth our praise not only with our lips but in our lives.’ Music has always been that for me.”

Simple questions sometimes lead to interesting answers:

“How did you know it was time? Do you even know how to relax? What will you miss and not miss?” And (of course) “So what will you be doing next?”

To the last of these, both Fallis and Beckwith respond with some variation of the response “All will be revealed in the fullness of time.” Clearly putting their feet up is not high on their respective lists of priorities.

Meanwhile, if you “haven’t heard of these guys before,” now’s your chance! Every finale is the start of something new.

FINAL FINALES:

Toronto Masque Theatre presents “The Last Chaconne: A Celebration” May 12, 8pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. On the stage where it all began, a star-studded array of singers, actors, dancers and instrumentalists comes together for a farewell celebration at the end of their final season.

In David Fallis’ last concert as artistic director, Toronto Consort presents Monteverdi’s Orfeo, May 25 and 26 8pm, May 27 3:30pm in Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The world’s first great opera, and one of the most moving love stories of all time, starring English tenor Charles Daniels in the title role, many returning Toronto Consort favourites, and the Montreal-based early brass ensemble La Rose des Vents.

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