p9ON SEPTEMBER 19 an enthusiastic crowd gathered in Walter Hall at the University of Toronto for a concert of music by John Beckwith. The setting was appropriate, since Beckwith had spent most of his long career teaching at the university’s Faculty of Music. Before the music got under way, Beckwith sat on stage with New Music Concerts artistic director Robert Aitken to talk about the programme. Aitken, a flutist and composer who had studied with Beckwith, like so many prominent figures in Canadian music, told Beckwith, “I have always looked up to you.”

Aitken recalled how Beckwith had arrived at one of the first concerts ever put on by New Music Concerts 40 years ago. A snowstorm prevented most people from coming. But Beckwith, with characteristic élan, arrived on cross-country skis.

Now 83 years old, Beckwith was being celebrated not just for his huge body of compositions, or even for the many books he had written and edited, or, for that matter, his lively journalism. It was his unconditional commitment to classical music, contemporary music, and above all, Canadian music that have put him in a class of his own. (Beckwith has a new book coming out by the end of the year honouring his own teacher, John Weinzweig.)

I spoke to Beckwith earlier in September, a few weeks before the concert, at his art-filled Victorian home in the heart of the Annex, a short walk from the university where he studied and taught for so many years, and where his partner, Kathleen McMorrow, is head librarian of the U. of T. Music Library. As I came in, I noticed the bicycle he still uses to get around the city sitting in the front hallway.

Read more: John Beckwith

atelier_page_70When I cast my mind back to the early years of Opera Atelier, my strongest recollection is the photograph of a baseball pitcher in the programme notes. The picture depicted the moment of repose before the pitcher “winds up” to deliver the ball, which is why this anonymous sports figure ended up as a front-man for the ideal baroque aesthetic. The pitcher’s stance, with its raised hip/slouch (think Michelangelo’s David and the penny will drop) was in the perfect baroque “S” shape.

I have something of a special relationship with Opera Atelier because I was the first arts journalist to write about the company. It was 1986 and they were mounting Acts 1 and 2 of Monteverdi’s Orfeo and Landi’s Il Sant’Alessio at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Walker Court, in conjunction with the Vatican Splendours exhibit. It was their first professional gig – meaning that they got paid.

Read more: Authentic Mastery: Opera Atelier at 25

THOSE WHO HAVE visited our website, www.thewholenote.com, may have noticed an interesting development over the summer months.

P11bBit by bit, we’ve been adding video to our site. Some of them are interesting items that we’ve found here and there: a clever clip that pokes fun at orchestras’ websites; an excerpt from a film on flamenco music and dance in Toronto; a mini-documentary about beekeeping on the roof of the Four Seasons Centre.

Read more: Videos On Our Website

It’s a Saturday night in August, and violinist Geoff Nuttall is on the phone from San Francisco. He’s just flown in from somewhere, and he’s jet-lagged – but not too tired to talk about the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

P8“We want to connect to the simple idea that music can be powerful,” he says, articulating the artistic vision of the ensemble. “Our goal is to try to make people gasp at the right moment, and feel sad at that right time. That’s a basic concept, but it keeps us going. We don’t want people to go away and say, ‘They were really in tune.’ That’s the kiss of death. We want people to talk about how the music made them feel.”

The St. Lawrence Quartet turns 21 this year – a “coming of age,” if you will. There have been a couple of personnel changes along the way (more on that later), and a few changes of location: from Toronto to New York, and finally to Stanford University, in California. And although the quartet is one of those groups that seems to have been blessed with a meteoric rise, from Nuttall’s perspective it’s been a long, slow struggle to get to where the St. Lawrences are now.

Read more: St. Lawrence String Quartet - Toronto’s Child Comes of Age

Saying nothing about Maureen Forrester’s passing felt unimaginable, but I worried that by the time July’s issue of The WholeNote hit the stands there'd be very little not already said.  And indeed, there have been some fine things written  already.  For example:

p15_maureen_forrester…Her embodiment of earth-mother, reigning queen and good sport made her the shining model of what Canadians want a diva to be. And her some 30 honorary degrees from Canadian universities (she was even chancellor Wilfrid Laurier University from 1986 to 1990) and her many other honours attested to her unique and powerful numen for Canadians. Her service from 1983 to 1988 as chair of the Canada Council left no doubt that her wisdom in the arts was valued. Her personal advocacy of Canadian music went well beyond lip service: she premiered and championed major vocal pieces by a wide range of Canadian composers. An authentic celebrity, she touched the Canadian nerve as no other singer of her time had done…

Read more: Shine on, Maureen Forrester
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