For the first time in the history of Centrediscs, the small but significant record label operated by the Canadian Music Centre (CMC), two of its recent recordings have current JUNO nominations in two different categories. Dark Star Requiem by composer Andrew Staniland and poet Jill Battson is nominated in both the Best Classical Recording, Vocal or Choral and in the Best Classical Composition categories. Christos Hatzis’ full-length ballet, Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation, is nominated in both the Best Classical Composition and Best Classical Recording, Large Ensemble or Soloist(s) with Large Ensemble Accompaniment. This is a significant milestone for Centrediscs, a label created in 1983 by then CMC Executive Director John Miller. “The idea of Centrediscs was originally proposed by my predecessor, John Peter Lee Roberts,” Miller told me, “but it fell to me to make it work.”

2206- Feat - CBC1.jpg

Miller certainly found ingenious ways to nurture the new recording label. He formed a working group, of which I was a member, to advise on the mechanics and technical aspects of running a label. Harold Redekopp was Head of CBC Radio Music at the time and he and Miller agreed that the Radio Music Department would, up to a practical limit, provide production and technical personnel to make the recordings. And, in return for doing so, CBC music programs would have the right of first broadcast. This arrangement provided Two New Hours, the national network new music program I had created in 1978, additional new productions of recent performances of Canadian music to blend with the concert recordings that were the core of our broadcasts. In those first few years of Centrediscs we recorded soloists and ensembles who specialized in contemporary repertoire, like the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, clarinetist James Campbell, the Purcell String Quartet, violist Rivka Golani and Anton Kubalek. We made LPs of these artists playing the works of CMC Associate Composers, and soon added the first records devoted entirely to the music of a single Canadian composer. These included titles such as Vivier, music of Claude Vivier; RA, with excerpts of Murray Schafer’s night-long ritual; Louis Riel, the opera by Harry Somers, recorded at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC; and Chalumeau, chamber music of Harry Freedman. Many of these were later reissued on CD, and those original LPs are, in fact, now highly valued collectibles.

In 1986, Centrediscs released its first recording on CD, Impact, a production of performances by percussionist Beverley Johnston. In fact, Impact was manufactured in three media: CD, LP and audio cassette. The composers represented on it were Serge Arcuri, Gary Kulesha, Alexina Louie and Jean Piché, and the disc attracted rave reviews. In the Centrediscs catalogue, Impact is described as: “A tour de force of percussion and electroacoustic music, the disc has often been used by stereo component stores to demo new hi-fi lines, because of the high audiophile quality of the recording.” The performances were included more than a few times in Two New Hours programming and, on occasion, Jean Piché’s Steal the Thunder, the lead track in the album, served as the program’s opening theme. In 1989 the CMC decided to submit one of the tracks from Impact to the JUNOs in the recently created category of Best Classical Composition. It earned a nomination but didn’t win the JUNO. – Alexina Louie’s Songs of Paradise on CBC Records did. It was a remarkable statement as to how far the Centrediscs label had come in just a few years.

The JUNO category, Best Classical Composition, introduced in 1987, came about when representatives of classical labels, who formed a separate classical committee within the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), convinced CARAS that the category was needed to more completely represent the spectrum of music in Canada. Deborah MacCallum, hired by Harold Redekopp as manager of CBC Records in 1985, and Norman Miller of CBS Records Canada were the primary voices pushing for the creation of this new category. MacCallum told me that Daisy Falle, president of CARAS, wanted assurance that the category was sustainable. MacCallum needed only to point out the collaboration between Two New Hours and Centrediscs as evidence that the production of contemporary Canadian repertoire had increased and that this had strengthened the storehouse of recordings in this category. Interestingly enough, the very first JUNO for Classical Composition, awarded in 1987, went to the late Malcolm Forsyth, for his orchestral work, Atayoskewin, on CBC Records.

Centrediscs recordings continued to garner nominations in the new classical composition category, year after year. It wasn’t until 1991 that the CMC’s label would actually win a JUNO when Schafer Five, the Orford String Quartet performing five string quartets by Murray Schafer won not one, but two JUNOS: Best Canadian Classical Composition for Schafer’s String Quartet No. 5, and also Best Canadian Chamber Music recording for the set of five Schafer quartets. It was a rewarding way to finally break into the winners’ circle! And in fact, in this case, the recording was independently produced by the CMC, as the collaborative arrangement with CBC Radio Music had by then expired. Nonetheless, it was the same team, but working outside the CBC, of David “Stretch” Quinney and me who delivered the finished master to the CMC.

Another of my independent productions for Centrediscs won the Best Classical Composition JUNO in 2011, and this time it was another Schafer work, his Duo for Violin and Piano, in a recording with Duo Concertante, the husband and wife team of Nancy Dahn, violin, and Timothy Steeves, piano. The recording was produced at Glenn Gould Studio with engineer Dennis Patterson. In fact it was Schafer’s fourth JUNO in the Best Classical Composition category and his fifth overall. Schafer has won the most JUNOS to date in the classical composition category.

Centrediscs’ most recent JUNO came in 2012, when Patterson and I recorded the St. Lawrence String Quartet during their 20th anniversary tour. To celebrate the anniversary, the St. Lawrence commissioned five Canadian composers from different regions of Canada to create five new quartets which constituted their 2012 touring program. The live recording, made at the University of Toronto for broadcast on CBC Radio 2’s Sunday afternoon network classical music program, In Concert, was leased by Centrediscs from the CBC and mastered for CD release. Of the five newly commissioned string quartets, it was Nova Scotia composer Derek Charke’s Sepia Fragments that won the Best Classical Composition JUNO.

2206- Feat - CBC 2 and 3.jpgIn a curious coincidence harkening back to 1987, when CBC’s Deborah MacCallum and CBS’ Norman Miller championed the addition of the Best Classical Composition category, another classical category was also added that year: that of Best Classical Recording, Vocal or Choral. These two additions 30 years ago made it possible for Dark Star Requiem, by composer Andrew Staniland and poet Jill Battson to earn nominations in both those categories in 2017. Commissioned by the Luminato Festival and Tapestry New Opera, it premiered at the Luminato festival in 2010 at Koerner Hall, Toronto. Recording Engineer Steve Sweeney and I recorded Dark Star Requiem for broadcast on CBC Radio 2’s The Signal. The CMC subsequently leased the master from CBC Radio Archives for release on Centrediscs.

Composer Staniland explains the piece as follows: “Jill and I had the very best of circumstances to develop this work: take four incredible singers (Neema Bickersteth, Krisztina Szabó, Peter McGillivray, Marcus Nance), Canada’s foremost chamber ensemble, The Gryphon Trio, the legendary Elmer Iseler Singers, and percussionists Ryan Scott and Mark Duggan. Add a lengthy and meticulous development process spearheaded by Tapestry New Opera, and a premiere that would open Luminato, a world-class international festival. Such a constellation of circumstances is quite special. I am thrilled to be able to share this remarkable live recording through this release on Centrediscs.

Dark Star Requiem is in every way my most ambitious artistic endeavour to date. It is at once intended to be challenging and joyous, complex and beautiful. A sequence of 19 poems charting a short history of HIV/AIDS unfolds over the course of 14 movements. The poems vary stylistically from linked haikus, to ghazals, to praise poems and back to free verse. The musical movements are unified through a haunting melody and driving rhythm derived from the numbers attributed to HIV-1 and HIV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses: and In musical terms these numbers are interpreted in both melody and rhythm.

“It is difficult, from an artistic point of view, to approach a subject as multifaceted as AIDS with its myriad attendant themes including disinformation, illness, death, infection, sexual and social taboos, colonialism, fear and guilt – and still maintain a message of hope. My and Jill’s hope is that after listening to Dark Star Requiem you will leave inspired to contribute to the fight against AIDS in your own way. AIDS, despite outliving its own media fatigue, has killed over 25 million people. Forty million people worldwide live with the disease today.”

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

2206-Feat-Inspirational 1.jpgMarc-André Hamelin sometimes thinks that music should have its own semantics. “Deep down I would like the public to be affected by music and respond to music as they would respond to something which has a narrative structure and a message to deliver,” he told me in a February 10, 2017 phone conversation. “And I’ve always said that a performer should be able to express almost any adjective in the dictionary through their playing. Even though it’s kind of a fantasy, it’s a nice goal, a good aspiration.”

We were chatting in advance of Hamelin’s appearance March 23 in a recital presented by Music Toronto. The occasion was a follow-up to my profile of the master pianist that appeared in the December 2015 WholeNote. Hamelin was his usual affable, thoughtful and convivial self. We spoke about his ambitious all-sonata program for the concert – a late Haydn, the first two sonatas by the little-known Russian pianist-composer Samuel Feinberg, Beethoven’s Appassionata, Scriabin’s White Mass and Chopin’s Second which is built around a funeral march.

Hamelin was describing his connection to the Chopin sonata on the program, which he had recorded for Hyperion in 2008, prompting my question about how his relationship with that particular work has evolved over the years. “You know, it’s something that I’ve known literally all my life,” he said. “We’ve talked about this before I’m sure. Because of my dad, listening to these things all the time, recordings were playing all around the house. I think he probably played it a little bit himself although it’s a very difficult piece. It’s been in my ear since I was a boy so I came to it already sort of knowing it. I didn’t have to explore the score to find out about it. I already knew it. Although when I started to play it of course, there were many things that the score revealed to me that had not been apparent to me when I heard the piece through recordings.”

Indeed the importance of his father to Hamelin’s musical aesthetic and his reputation, right from the start, as an ambassador for late 19th and early-20th-century pianist-composers, many of whom had been formerly unfamiliar to a wider audience, was a key component of my earlier article.

“But as far as the evolution [of his relationship to the Chopin sonata], my God, what to tell you, I don’t know. I’ve always considered it one of the towering masterpieces of the repertoire, one which curiously enough I think is open to a variety of views, a variety of different interpretations, a variety of ways of expressing it. But it’s always appeared to me, perhaps even more now, as one of the darkest and most disturbing statements ever written for the piano.”

I asked for an elaboration.

“Well, you know Schumann’s quote saying that Chopin put four of his maddest children under one umbrella and published this sonata. The four movements are – if you consider the [third movement] Funeral March the heart of it – you could perhaps consider the first two movements as sort of working towards the funeral march and the fourth being sort of an illustration, an afterthought or a consequence of it, as much of a dark mood as the third movement but also expressed completely differently with different means.

“It’s very hard to talk about because it’s something that I’ve known for so long that it’s hard to take some steps back,” he said, laughing.

When he plays it, he said, it’s like he’s reciting a poem. A case in point in terms of his aspirational fantasy: “a narrative structure and a message to deliver.”

Our conversation soon turned the topic of the importance of the score in his pianistic approach. (“The score is still my ideal,” he had told me back in the fall of 2015.) This time, we were discussing Samuel Feinberg as pianist. (“Give a listen to his Well-Tempered Clavier,” he said. “It’s the best that’s ever been produced. It was reissued on CD at least three times and I’m sure you can hear all of it on YouTube if you look hard enough.”) I then commented on Feinberg’s playing of the Appassionata, and then asked what Hamelin’s approach was. He paused before saying with a slight sigh that he plays it and he’s probed it but that his main thrust has been to discount and ignore all outside influences including performing tradition and recordings.

“My arbiter, my one guiding spirit is always and will always remain, the score,” Hamelin said. “Because, especially when I tackle repertoire that everyone knows, I want a fresh perspective. And being a composer yourself gets you to appreciate a lot more the letter itself and what the composer directly tries to communicate. And that kind of thing, the act of communication of your intentions as a composer is a very arduous process and you never know if you’re going to be understood or not. And of course you have to worry about your intentions being disregarded as often happens, because sometimes performers think they know better,” he laughed generously. “I’ve been guilty of that a few times myself. But composing really teaches you respect of the score and that’s where I go to first and foremost.”

When I pointed out that sometimes it takes years or generations for composers to be understood he mentioned Feinberg as an example of someone who will never be a household name or really enter the standard repertoire but that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t hear him. In fact, Hamelin has a long-term project to remedy the shortage of recordings of Feinberg’s work. “Right now I’m concentrating on the first six sonatas which are a fascinating corpus,” he said. “I’ve already played the first two quite a number of times. And people have actually responded to them with great delight. Which I’m happy to hear.”

Hamelin is playing those sonatas in Toronto in March. I asked when he first discovered the composer’s music. “Oh, I’ve had his scores since the 80s,” he said. “When you’re interested in out-of-the-way repertoire as I’ve always been, his name inevitably comes up. The problem was at the time, indeed for the entire 20th century, scores had been impossible to get in the West, so we just didn’t know what the music looked like. The only two things that were published in the West as far as I’m aware were his Sixth Sonata and a set of preludes. And that was because Universal Edition in Vienna put them out. And I think they’re still available. But he wrote 12 sonatas and a host of other pieces – three piano concerti, a violin sonata and some songs.

“Now it’s almost all available through IMSLP so it’s not a problem,” he said. “But what is also a stumbling block perhaps for anybody who’s taken the trouble to look at the music, is his style itself which is really very complex and very, very chromatic. In a way, in a certain sense, it could be said that he takes his point of departure from Scriabin, but aside from a couple of early works – and the two sonatas that you’ll be hearing me playing fall into that category – you do hear some Scriabin influence. But after that, trust me, he sounds like no one else but Feinberg, because he really developed his own aesthetic.”

2206-Feat-Inspirational 2.jpg

Bringing the conversation back to the Appassionata I pointed out how remarkable it is that Beethoven wrote the Eroica Symphony, the Triple Concerto and the Appassionata all in the same year (1805). And then spent the next two years writing the Razumovsky Quartets and the Fourth Piano Concerto.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Hamelin said. “The creativity. The inspiration just kept coming.”

The 55-year-old Hamelin’s March 23 Jane Mallett concert is his 12th solo recital for Music Toronto going back to 1986, a time when “I was still in my infancy as a musician and of course we’re always evolving. Of course I could only give what I had. Sometimes I wish I could go back and do it again [he laughed heartily].” He remembers that first recital very clearly. His father was still alive then [He died in November of 1995.] and made the trip from Montreal to hear him. “I think I gave Balakirev’s Islamey as an encore or it might have been part of the program. I’m not sure. Back then I was a different pianist and I played very different things,” he said, laughing again. “It was very possibly one of the first of my concerts in Toronto, if not the actual first.”

I asked about his association with Music Toronto. “Their heart’s in the right place,” he said. “They’ve been wonderfully faithful to me and I’ve never taken this lightly. My God, we’d be silly not to go back to places that welcome us always with open arms. And where audiences seem to trust you and accept you and welcome you as a regular. It’s such a wonderful thing and it’s the best thing for us musicians really.” He finds the Music Toronto audience to be “music lovers through and through.”

I wondered if he has noticed a change in audiences over the years but he said “No, not really.” He continued: “I think the enthusiasm is always there, it’s just that different audiences have different ways of expressing it. I have an interesting story of a piano festival I played in once in Italy, in the town of Brescia. Which is a pretty important piano festival there. Brescia and Bergamo, they’re pretty close together. I played my first half and the applause was generally lukewarm. I go offstage at the end of the first half and the applause was just enough to get me backstage. And then I wasn’t able to come out again to bow so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve blown it somehow. So I sort of played the second half with my tail between my legs, at least psychologically. I was really perplexed and disappointed of course [when the response after the second half was the same], but talking to the people afterwards I found out that contrary to my expectations they really, really enjoyed the recital. They just had a way of expressing it which was anything but overt. Since then I’ve learned to give audiences the benefit of the doubt because of that.”

Hamelin’s Toronto concert opens with the two-movement Haydn Sonata in C Major Hob. XVI:48. He told me that the first movement is in a slow tempo and is one of the many examples Haydn produced of a set of double variations, where two themes are presented and varied alternatively. “Then we have a very jolly, typically roguish kind of rondo for the second movement. Full of wonderful humour.”

After intermission he’ll be playing Scriabin’s Seventh Sonata “White Mass,” a piece he recorded for Hyperion in 1995. He told me that his thinking on the piece – the one Scriabin sonata he plays the most – hasn’t changed since that recording was made. “Perhaps I’m able to express it [his thoughts on the piece] a little bit better because of my ongoing relationship with the instrument but otherwise I’d be very hard put to pinpoint exactly what it is I do differently,” he said. “I do have a recording of my very first performance of it which is back in 1983. It would be interesting to listen to that. I haven’t for quite a while.”

Does he listen to his older recordings very often? “Sometimes. I don’t make a habit of it. Every so often I’m curious. It’s hard to get me to listen to anything that I’ve done but once I’m in – I mean, it’s like me in a pool – it’s hard to go to the pool but once I’m in it’s hard to get me out.”

Characteristically, when I asked whether his approach to the piece takes Scriabin’s voluminous writings into consideration or is it mainly confined to the score, he said: “I think he expresses enough in the music itself that he gives you almost more than you can do at a piano given that some of the expressive indications are so outlandish. You don’t have to read, for example the Poem of Ecstasy or know about what he did later about the Ethereum…. The score again should be more than enough of an inspiration.”

Several days before we spoke, Hamelin performed the world premiere of his Piano Quintet with the Pacifica Quartet in California on February 2. Where did he find the time to compose given his busy schedule?

“Well the piano quintet was a long time in the making. First of all, I had written, back in 2002, a Passacaglia for Piano Quintet that was a commission for the Scotia Festival of Music and it was performed at that time. About a year and a half ago I got this commission from California to expand the work into a full [three-movement] piano quintet using this passacaglia. So it got started in 2002. Meantime back in 2005 I wrote an exposition to the first movement. And all of the rest, the rest of the first movement and the third movement were more recent. So I had plenty of time [laughs]. But also, at the same time that I finished this quintet I was also fulfilling a commission to write the compulsory piece for the next Van Cliburn Competition.”

As well as writing that piece, Hamelin will serve on the Cliburn jury. He added that the competition will be live streamed so people won’t have to travel to Fort Worth. “And get this! This time everybody is playing the piece, not just the semi-finalists or whatnot. So the public and jury and worldwide audiences alike will have ample opportunity to get sick of it.”

“Well, that’s really something to look forward to,” I said.

“To get sick of it?” he laughed.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s like jumping in the pool as you say.”

“At least the piece isn’t too long,” he said. “They asked me for four to six minutes and it ended up being about five. So it’s sort of a quick and painless injection.”

“How many times will we hear that piece of yours?” I asked.

“At least 30,” he answered. “That’s why I’m saying ‘sick of it.’”

A few days after we spoke, Hamelin set off for Lyon where the program is the same as that in Kingston, Cleveland, Toronto and eventually home to Boston, May 5. He was particularly looking forward, he told me, to his concert February 20 and 21 in Munich with the Medtner Second Piano Concerto – along with the Rachmaninoff Third, his next Hyperion release. It was to be his first time with the Bavarian State Orchestra though not his first time with conductor Kirill Petrenko. “I’ve worked with [him] once already at the Chicago Festival and that was very, very nice,” he said. “And he’s of course heading to the Berlin Philharmonic. That’s a very nice connection. Although I have played with the Philharmonic once back in 2011.” Then the BPO had asked him to play the Szymanowski Fourth Symphony “Symphonie Concertante” which was written for Arthur Rubinstein, and unknown to Hamelin at the time.

After Toronto, his grand tour continues with 13 duo-piano concerts he and Leif Ove Andsnes are playing in Europe and the USA. Plans include a recording for Hyperion of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos and The Rite of Spring. But Hamelin’s next recording to be released (in August) is Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus which he performed in Mazzoleni Hall at the 21C Festival in 2014.

His relationship with Andsnes goes back to 2008 when Hamelin was invited to Andsnes’ chamber music festival in Risør, Norway. “We played The Rite of Spring and in many other places, 10 or 12 times total, including at the Berlin Philharmonic in the smaller hall, because he had a residency there.”

As we finished our conversation I asked him about his fondness for record collecting. “Most of it’s in storage,” he said with a hearty laugh. Even so, I asked if he had been adding to it. “Oh sure, I’m always buying things. But one needs less and less and less with advancing age. I still collect for the pleasure of it though. I’m always on the lookout for the rare things.”

You can hear Marc-André Hamelin – that rarest of performers – in his Music Toronto recital on March 23 at the St. Lawrence Centre, or in the same program, four days earlier, on March 19, at The Isabel Bader Centre in Kingston, Ontario.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

2206-Feat- Bravura 1.jpgEminent pianist, writer and pedagogue William Aide is the curator of “Piano Bravura: The New Generation,” a piano series beginning March 9 at the historic Church of the Holy Trinity.

“Last February,” Aide told me via email, “our music director Ian Grundy, Reverend Sherman Hesselgrave and I were on the hunt for a new piano for Holy Trinity, and we had already auditioned several Steinway and Baldwin instruments. All three of us play, but it was up to me to test the resources of prospective instruments with concert repertoire.” Steinway Piano Gallery’s Alex Thomson led them to a private home in Oakville where Aide tested the piano for its tonal range, colours, beauty of sound, pedalling response, and even its rapid repeating-note action, with Mozart, Chopin’s Études and D-flat Nocturne, Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso and a Debussy prelude. “We all three fell in love with it and through a generous anonymous donation were able to acquire it,” he said. “On April 7, 2016, flutist Robert Aitken and I offered the first concert featuring the piano as an accompanying and solo instrument.”

From there it seemed obvious to Aide that a series of piano recitals would display the new instrument’s fine qualities. Aide’s decades of teaching and adjudicating had kept him in touch with “younger pianistic talent” and Piano Bravura was born. He chose the initial three pianists because “I know them and their playing at close quarters.” Aide also told me that he was pleased with the repertoire the three selected for the series. “[Their] choices cover a wide range of styles and feature some unusual items.”  

2206-Feat- Bravura 2.jpgAngela Park: “As adjudicator, I first heard Angela Park play the Schumann concerto in a London festival when she was 14. ‘This is the real thing,’ I thought. We worked together for nine years and I was so gratified to help prepare her masters’ graduating recital in 2003, the year of my retirement from U of T’s Faculty of Music. Angela is a much sought-after chamber music player, as the pianist in Ensemble Made in Canada and duo partner of such artists as cellist Rachel Mercer and violinist Jonathan Crow. Her solo playing is outstandingly expressive and her concerto performances second to none. She occasionally still plays for me and we are good friends.”

Park’s recital March 9 begins with Mozart’s irresistible Sonata K333 before moving to the impressionistic Images: Book II of Debussy and Liszt’s revolutionary Années de Pèlerinage Book I: Suisse. Aide had no part in choosing the content of the recitals but he told me that he did coach Angela in the Debussy Images II set years ago.

2206-Feat- Bravura 3.jpgTony Yike Yang: As a juror, Aide heard Tony Yike Yang in the last National Chopin Competition which was held in Mississauga several years ago. “I remember fondly that he liked my Chopin Berceuse, an item in a recital the jury members offered during that event,” Aide told me. “We sent Tony to the International Chopin Competition in which his laureate playing was so compelling.” Yang was 16 in 2015 when he became the youngest prizewinner (he finished fifth) in the history of the competition. “I have recently reheard his Chopin E Minor Concerto and B-flat Minor Sonata from that competition on YouTube and was astounded once again by his inspired, world-class playing. By the way, in his emails he confers an honourary doctorate upon me.”

Aide asked Yang, now 18, to include that Chopin sonata in his April 2 recital. Mussorgsky’s monumental Pictures at an Exhibition was Yang’s own choice.

2206-Feat- Bravura 4.jpgSheng Cai: “In 2003, I was musical advisor to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition,” Aide said. “That year the jury chose Sheng Cai to play the Chopin E Minor Concerto. At the reception after his incredibly poetic performance we fell into a lively pianists’ dialogue and we have continued these conversations ever since. Sheng comes over to our house several times a year and brings with him his most recent CD concerto performances. I must be some kind of mentor. At any rate we enjoy swapping CDs and discussing the challenges of forging a career as a concert artist. His exuberance is contagious.”

Cai’s program comprises two Scarlatti sonatas, Mozart’s Sonata K332, Chopin’s addictive Barcarolle and two pieces “one doesn’t often hear,” according to Aide: Schumann’s Humoresque Op.20 and Villa Lobos’ Rudepoema, written for Arthur Rubinstein.  

As for other ideas in the works for additional musical events in the church:

“There was a time, especially under the aegis of CBC producer, Srul Irving Glick, when Holy Trinity was a favoured venue for national broadcasts. Its luminous acoustic and, of course, the new piano suggest future chamber music and voice series as well as a continuation of these superb piano recitals. I know a number of musicians of the next generation who will easily fill the bill. We will keep you posted.”

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

HHO OttawaThe Hart House Orchestra is used to doing tours in February—but not one like this.

A community orchestra of about 90 alumni, students, staff and faculty of U of T, Hart House typically plays a few concerts per season in Toronto, and one winter concert in another city in southern Ontario. This year, however, a significant donation, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the orchestra, gave them the impetus they needed to take their winter concert program to New York—performing at the one and only Carnegie Hall.

It will be a whirlwind trip. The orchestra will play their concert program—Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Brahms’ Symphony No.1, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and works by Glick and Elizabeth Raum—first in Toronto, at Hart House on Thursday, February 16. They'll then leave for the States first thing the following morning, where they will reprise their program at Carnegie on Sunday, February 19. They’ll be back by Monday.

For many, it’s a confusing and difficult time to travel to the States. And while at the Hart House Orchestra, none of their musicians expect to encounter difficulties entering the US, for some members it feels as though history is repeating itself. “The orchestra used to do trips to the States all the time,” said violinist Eric Ordonez, when I spoke with him and cellist Blanche Israel after their 3-hour Sunday rehearsal at the beginning of February. According to Eric, the orchestra was forced to make the decision to stop touring in the States in 2001, because of the difficulty of traveling across the border after 9/11. But now, 15 years since their last visit, the orchestra is determined to make international trips a regular occurrence again.

The orchestra typically rehearses weekly, on Tuesday nights, but they've been putting in extra hours this year in preparation for the trip—and it’s paying off. “This week, it’s all really starting to come together,” agreed Blanche and Eric two Sundays ago.

The orchestra had just finished playing some details in the Brahms, Glick and Barber pieces. Under the direction of conductor Henry Janzen, they sounded focused and engaged—and for a group of people who had had to come to school on a Sunday afternoon, they sounded like they were having fun. “Sometimes conductors in community settings don’t come in with the right mindset, and don’t understand the diversity of a community orchestra,” said Blanche. “But Henry gets that. He really understands that everyone is coming from a totally different place, when they show up at rehearsal on a Tuesday night.”

The range of age and experience in the orchestra is astounding. Blanche is a U of T alumna who currently teaches arts management at UTSC; Eric is a student at the downtown campus, specializing in nuclear medicine. They point out another member of the orchestra, a faculty member who is involved with the tour preparations, and note that he recently received the Order of Canada for his contributions to the field of astrophysics. Interestingly enough, all of this means that on the concert stage, the orchestra’s strengths as an ensemble are many, and wide-ranging. It’s this breadth of experience, according to Blanche and Eric, that makes community ensembles like this one so special.

“A lot of people make great connections here,” said Eric. “We have students, alumni,’s a great place to meet people.” He and Blanche give off the impression that this ensemble is just what it claims to be: a community. One that, on top of everything else, is playing some pretty incredible music.

The Hart House Orchestra performs its winter concert, led by Henry Janzen and featuring Benjamin Smith on piano for Rhapsody in Blue, on Thursday, February 16 at 8pm, in the Great Hall at Hart House, U of T (suggested donation: $10). They will reprise the same program at the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, February 19 at 3pm. For details on both concerts, visit

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at

michael snow ccmc in front of music gallery2While trawling the internet, Joe Strutt realized that the CCMC, the famed Toronto “free music orchestra” that started the Music Gallery, didn’t have a Wikipedia page. He decided to change that.

A local sonic archivist and the person behind Toronto music blog Mechanical Forest Sound, Strutt started to organize what he calls “Wikipedia Jams”—meetings designed to bring together people interested in the documentation of Toronto’s local music history, and prep them for how to use Wikipedia to get the job done. He hosted his first-ever Jam as part of the 416 Improvisers Festival last November. His second, taking place as part of the Wavelength Music Festival, is happening this Sunday, February 19.

On the Wavelength website, Strutt describes the Jam as a time for potential music documentarians to “roll up our sleeves and deal with practical matters.” Those matters include the basics of setting up an account and editing articles on Wikipedia, finding Wikipedia-suitable sources to back up articles, and how to write about local music history in a neutral and useful way.

The free event begins at 3pm at the Melody Bar in the Gladstone Hotel, following a Mechanical Forest Sound/Wavelength Festival joint venture listed intriguingly as a “Drone Brunch.” As Strutt explains, the time won’t be used to actually write articles on Wikipedia, but as a friendly and open space for people interested in learning more about the local music community, and about how to serve that community, to get involved. At the very least, it’ll be a space for advice, conversation, and musical discovery. If you’re interested in contributing to the documentation of our music scene, this is perhaps the best possible way for you to get your foot in the door—and if you want to read up on a little piece of local history in preparation, the CCMCWikipediapage is now up and running.

Joe Strutt’s Wikipedia Jam will take place at 3pm on February 19, at the Gladstone Hotel, as part of the 17th annual Wavelength Music Festival (February 17-19). For details about this event, as well as the rest of Wavelength’s innovative programming, visit

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at

Back to top