This issue, The WholeNote magazine is pleased to present its annual "roundup" of columnists, reflecting on the season that's just finished, the season that's coming up, and life in general. Our columnists are Frank Nakashima (Early Period), Karen Ages (World View), Ori Dagan (In the Clubs), Jim Galloway (Jazz Notes), Chris Hoile (On Opera), Jack MacQuarrie (Bandstand), Jason van Eyk (In with the New), and Allan Pulker (Quodlibet). We asked them all the same five questions - and here are their insightful answers.
Extended Interview with Andrew Timar
by Karen Ages
Anniversaries are a time to look back and reflect on time spent together, or on one's accomplishments over the years, and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan is doing just that. They celebrate their 25th anniversary season this month, with three different concerts: May 2 at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener, and May 4 and 11 at the Music Gallery. I asked long-time member and suling player Andrew Timar to tell me a bit about the Ensemble and his role within it.
Karen Ages: When was the Evergreen Club founded, and who were its original members?
Andrew Timar: Jon Siddall founded the Evergreen Club, Canada's first gamelan, in 1983. We met while we were students at York University and became fast friends, performing extensively in various groups both in and out of school. Jon went on to do his graduate studies at Mills College, CA, studying composition with noted American composers Terry Riley, Lou Harrison and Robert Ashley. In addition, he studied gamelan degung at Mills with Lou Harrison (1917 - 2003), who was among the first Western composers to compose directly for entire gamelan (orchestra), as well as building several orchestras based on Indonesian gamelan from indigenous American materials. This Harrison connection established by Jon Siddall has proven significant for the future of ECCG for several reasons. The primary one is perhaps that Harrison assisted Siddall in acquiring his gamelan degung (or degung for short), which turned out to be Canada's first complete gamelan set. Jon now lives in Vancouver where he pursues his career as a composer, a CBC music producer, and teacher of degung music at the Vancouver Community College.
There’s an audio clip on Adrianne Pieczonka’s website of her singing Richard Strauss’ Morgen. It was recorded at a recital she gave at Roy Thomson Hall in 2001. After the applause, she tells the audience, “I haven’t lived in this country since 1988. I’ve lived in Austria, and I live now in the United Kingdom - and I still say, ‘I’m going home,’ and mean Canada. You just can’t take the Canada out of the girl, I guess.”
At that time, she had no thought of moving back to Canada. Even when she sang Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walküre with the Canadian Opera Company three years later, she was still happily living in London. But by the time she sang the role again as part of the Ring Cycle which opened the COC’s new home in the Four Seasons Centre in 2006, she had moved back to Toronto.
She left Canada as a promising young soprano hoping to establish a career. Now, after almost two decades living in Europe, she returned as a star in major operatic centres like Munich, Bayreuth, Dresden, Vienna, Salzburg, Zurich, Milan, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Pieczonka sang Mimì in La Bohème with the COC in 1994, but it wasn’t until her first recital in Roy Thomson Hall seven years later that Toronto audiences really became aware of her, responding to her distinctive radiance and clarity. Along with Die Walküre, a second recital at Roy Thomson Hall in 2006 and her recent performances in Beethoven’s Fidelio with the COC have made her a Toronto audience favourite. I spoke with her at her home, a lovely Victorian in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, on the day before the final performance of Fidelio.
I settled down at a long table in Pieczonka’s kitchen while she made coffee. Her partner, Laura Tucker, came in and she introduced me. “Laura is a singer,” she said, “a mezzo”. “That’s probably the only way it would work,” Tucker said, laughing. “Exactly,” says Pieczonka, as Tucker went off to mind their three-year old daughter Grace, who was home sick from nursery school. “I can’t think of any same voice-type partnerships, although there probably are”
The Russians Are Coming is film director Norman Jewison’s silly 1966 comedy about a Soviet-era submarine that runs aground off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, sending the local citizenry into unfounded Cold-War hysterics. In the last two decades, there’s been another kind of Russian invasion: a flood of musicians, dancers and theatrical artists. This artistic outpouring was largely caused by the collapse of the USSR in 1991. On one hand, this triggered a financial meltdown for many Russian musicians, due to deep funding cuts for cultural institutions and activities. On the other hand, it allowed Russian musicians to travel much more freely.
Even Russia’s most esteemed musicians found that in order to succeed in the new environment, they needed new skills: entrepreneurial savvy, a competitive spirit, and sheer determination. “In Russia in the 1990s,” the famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev told me in an interview a few years ago, “you couldn’t possibly plan by thinking first about money. You must have your plans – and if you have artistic force, the money will find you.”
Like many Western cities, Toronto has benefited from the political and economic upheavals half a world away. Since the 1990s, Toronto has played host to such Russian pianists as Evgeny Kissin, Boris Berman, Michael Berkovsky, Olga Kern and Alexander Toradze (he’s Georgian, strictly speaking). Concert-pianist Alexander Tselyakov lives here. So do Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin, who run Toronto’s Off Centre Music Salon.
And that’s just the pianists: we also get a parade of Russian conductors, singers, instrumental soloists, chamber musicians, even the occasional opera director. We also get large ensembles – most notably, Gergiev’s Kirov Orchestra of St. Petersburg, which has visited Toronto three times. The next big Russian ensemble to visit will be the National Philharmonic Orchestra, with pianist Denis Matsuev, which makes its Toronto debut at Roy Thomson Hall on April 28.
Composer Alexina Louie offers a warm greeting at the door of her home, in Toronto’s High Park neighbourhood. Repeatedly, she apologizes for the not-quite-finished renovations to the house she shares with her partner, conductor Alex Pauk, and their children. The renovation has been going on for several years – and at one point even threatened her compositional activity. (More on that later.)
Soon we’re sitting around the kitchen table, looking at the score to her newest piece, Pursuit, for orchestra and string quartet. The work was composed for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Tokyo String Quartet, and will be premiered on March 7, as part of the TSO’s New Creations Festival. Such an unusual combination of instrumental forces, was, Louie admits, a challenge.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about this piece,” she observes, turning the pages of the big score, “before I started to write the notes. At the outset, I had a meeting with the Tokyo Quartet – I heard them play, and we met the next day. I said I’d like to write a piece that won’t have to be amplified. But I’m not sure, even at this point, if the quartet will need microphones. Roy Thomson is a big hall.”