2205 Feat TaurinsFor Tafelmusik Chamber Choir director Ivars Taurins, one concert this year will be especially personal. Titled “A Bach Tapestry” and running February 9 to 14, the concert is an all-Bach program - but not the “greatest hits” playlist you’d expect. Instead, the show will be a medley of excerpts from J.S. Bach’s oeuvre that often don’t get heard in concert: choruses and chorales from several of his cantatas, portions of the G-Major Mass, and instrumental interludes.

“It’ll be a concert completely devoted to Bach,” Taurins explained in an interview with publisher David Perlman in the fall. “And it explores the choral works that we don’t know. It’s the tip of the iceberg. We get to hear the great cantatas. We know the great choruses. But of the 100-plus cantatas that Bach did write and the church cycles he composed, there are so many hidden gems - not only in entire cantatas but in arias and choruses.”

They may be lesser-known gems, but Taurins knows them inside and out - he selected them. “What I did was basically go through all of the cantatas one by one and go, ‘Whoa, ok! That’s gotta be on it!’” he explained. “I have an album in my iTunes where I just dragged all of the ‘ok, this is interesting’ Bach.”

Taurins has been the Tafelmusik choir’s director since its inception 35 years ago in 1981 - but before that, he was a founding member and violist with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in 1979, and remained in that role for 23 years.

Interestingly enough, Taurins credits the viola for his years of success as a director and conductor. A 2006 review of a Tafelmusik performance in The Globe and Mail spoke of Taurins as a conductor who “allowed the many internal voices to be heard clearly, letting the music loose when Bach’s spirit called for it.” Ten years later in The WholeNote office, Taurins talks about how this ability to understand music from the inside is idiomatic to the viola – and is a fundamentally Bach-like interpretation.

 “When you’re a violist, sitting in the orchestra, you’re hearing stuff from the middle,” he says. “And apparently Bach liked it best when he sat in the middle and played viola.”

The online program notes for February 9 to 14 – “Johann Sebastian Bach” in bold at the top – contain a grand total of 16 musical excerpts. Nine of those excerpts are Tafelmusik firsts.

For Taurins, the format lends itself well towards a new exploration of one of the ensemble’s best-loved composers. It also, when taken as a whole, provides a beautiful impression of Bach himself; when Taurins’ musical selections are all strung together in this way, they paint a clear picture of the composer’s musical style and vision.

“I fashioned a concert that weaves these disparate elements, some of which you’ve probably never heard of or heard played - weaving in instrumental works as well,” says Taurins. “A true tapestry.”

Tafelmusik’s “A Bach Tapestry,” directed by Ivars Taurins, will be presented on February 9, 10 and 11 (8pm) and February 12 (3:30pm) at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, and on February 14 (8pm) in the George Weston Recital Hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

The above interview with Ivars Taurins has been excerpted from his audio interview with WholeNote publisher David Perlman in October 2016. That interview exists in its entirety in podcast form, available for streaming/download on the podcast app of your choice or on our website at http://www.thewholenote.com/podcasts. 

Harry ManxThe guitar is one of those instruments that can be hard to classify—in part, because it seems to have developed in many different directions at once. In addition to its longtime role in the classical tradition, the guitar, in its various acoustic and electric iterations, has grown to become a mainstay of rock, jazz, blues, folk and countless other musical styles. So not only can “guitar music” mean pretty much anything these days, the instrument itself has come to symbolize a huge breadth of traditions—in many cases, becoming one of the defining commonalities between otherwise disparate music scenes.

There's no better example of this spread than the concerts happening in Toronto this month. In the new music world, TO.U Collective, a new series this year at St. Andrew’s Church, features two solo guitar recitals that feature “contemporary music” in the truest sense of the word—with every work on these programs composed between 1980 and present day. On January 18 at noon, guitarist Graham Banfield presents a free concert of works by Eve Beglarian, David Lang, Matthew Shlomowitz and Fausto Romitelli. That show is followed up on Saturday, January 28 at 8pm, when TO.U presents Rob MacDonald in a ticketed program of pieces by Helmut Oehring, Simon Steen-Andersen, Philippe Leroux, and local composer Jason Doell. The composers on both programs are known for their unique experimentations with sound, with Banfield’s show in particular playing on the guitar’s multifaceted nature and borrowing heavily from rock—a link which, thanks to contemporary music groups like Bang on a Can (of which David Lang is a founder and member), is less tenuous than one might expect. Details on the series, and info on tickets for MacDonald’s show, can be found at www.toucollective.com.

The following week at the beginning of February, the RCM presents guitar(s) of a very different kind, with a February 3 show featuring Harry Manx at Koerner Hall. Billed as a musician in the tradition of “blues-meets-ragas”, Manx will perform on an Indian slide guitar, an all-metal National slide guitar, a banjo, a cigar box guitar, and harmonica, and will be accompanied by a string quartet. A difficult-to-classify but remarkable musical figure, Manx is an exciting addition to Koerner’s non-classical “Music Mix” series for 2017. More on the show at http://performance.rcmusic.ca/event/harry-manx://performance.rcmusic.ca/event/harry-manx. (Manx also appears the night before in Hamilton alongside Clayton Doley on Hammond organ, who himself wrote the string quartet charts for the Koerner performance; ticket info at http://www.ticketmaster.ca/harry-manx-hamilton-ontario-02-02-2017/event/1000517D91FD4557://www.ticketmaster.ca/harry-manx-hamilton-ontario-02-02-2017/event/1000517D91FD4557.) 

Nor is classical guitar, playing classical and folk repertoire, left behind in the bustle: on January 28, the Guitar Society of Toronto presents the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Duo, an Italian guitar/bandoneon team who will play works by Piazzolla and Pujol, while on January 30, the University of Toronto’s vocal DMA students will sing a free show of songs with guitar accompaniment. And further afield in Hamilton, guitarist Steve Cowan presents a guitar recital at McMaster on January 24, and the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Duo reprises their Toronto program on January 29 as guests of Guitar Hamilton.

All this to say that the long-contested identity of the guitar remains popular ground for concertizing—and that whether you’re a fan of the instrument or think you aren’t, the scene here continues to allow local audiences the opportunity for surprising, and potentially fruitful, moments of (re)discovery.

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

Melissa LaurenWhen singer-songwriter Melissa Lauren decided last fall to plan a benefit concert, she knew that the project would be a personal one. But the result—a show this month featuring new music from an all-star cast of jazz, folk, classical and pop artists—and its relevance to both Lauren’s personal life and the local musical community at large, ended up hitting closer to home than even she had anticipated.

“In the Can”, on January 19 at 3030 Dundas West, is a fundraising concert for Children’s Aid Foundation, featuring unreleased works from artists in the local songwriting scene. The idea is to bring together local musicians to perform songs that are, as the saying goes, “in the can”—recorded or ready for recording, but not yet released to the public. Artists will have a chance to workshop their new material, while audiences will get an exclusive preview of local favourites’ upcoming releases.

The lineup is huge, and promising. Among others, the concert will feature Laila Biali, Barbra Lica, Lori Cullen, Devin Cuddy, Alex Pangman, Genevieve Marentete, Ori Dagan, Whitney Ross Barris, Darcy Windover, Annie Bonsignore, The O’Pears, The Sinner’s Choir, and Lauren herself, backed by a house band of guitar, bass and drums (Nathan Hiltz, Tyler Emond and David MacDougall, respectively).

“Most of the performers are friends of mine, but some of them are not,” says Lauren. “Selfishly, I wanted to create a show that I would want to watch myself. And I wanted to include something for everybody, and so I tried to take broader cross-section of styles. So I just started contacting some of my favourite artists in the city—and in Canada—to see if anyone happened to be in town.”

For Lauren, the larger inspiration for the concert came from becoming a mother—something that changed her worldview in ways she never anticipated. “For me, I didn’t really pop into my love for children until I had the baby and then it just came bombarding at me,” she says. “I suffered from postpartum depression, and was struggling a lot with being overly emotional, and having Irrational, disproportionate feelings of just wanting to help everybody. So after a few months I thought, I’m going to do something productive about this.”

Lauren initially chose to support Children’s Aid Foundation because she was impressed with their range of services and programs focused on outreach, education and recovery for children. While researching the charity, however, she discovered her own connection to the charity, which gave her selection a more personal energy. I always knew I was adopted but we never really discussed the details of it,” Lauren explains. “My mother told me during this process that I was actually adopted through Children’s Aid, 36 years ago. It was just an interesting little spin that made me think that this is the right project for me to be doing.”

At the concert on January 19, each musician will perform a few songs, featuring mostly unreleased original work alongside a few performances of standards and audience favourites. Lauren herself will also sing two songs, including one written for her daughter, who turns one at the end of the month.

For Lauren, who is hopeful that the fundraiser will continue beyond this first iteration, the show has allowed her to try something new, and put together a project that placed personal growth for artists, and the help they can offer their communities, at the fore.

“It’ll be fun,” says Lauren. “We do so many shows every year that are sort of self-serving...so I thought, why not try to throw something together, and see if I can make it [work].”

“In The Can” takes place on January 19 at 8:30pm, at 3030 Dundas West. The evening will feature two sets of music and a silent auction (beginning at 8pm), with ticket and auction proceeds going to Children’s Aid Foundation. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, and can be purchased at www.eventbrite.ca.

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

Pianist Gina Lee. Credit: Mouna Tahar.Not all of Toronto’s musical birds have flown south for the winter. While many of the city’s music presenters tend to be slow to start up programming in the new year, there are a number whose pre- and post-holiday concert schedules continue without a hitch—and who, from the beginning of January, hit the ground running. Many of these are smaller organizations, hosting more intimate, small-scale shows—and providing valuable performance opportunities to younger or emerging artists at what would otherwise be a slow time for music-hungry audiences.

Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation is one example. Currently in its 23rd season and hosted at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Nine Sparrows—alongside its evening concert programming—hosts a noontime recital series every Tuesday. The shows are free and continue weekly in the new year from January 10 onwards.

Nine Sparrows is known for supporting early-career artists—and their programming shows it. Their 2017 recital season presents a number of the city’s music students and recent graduates—supporting artists who otherwise don’t always have the time and resources to self-present recitals year-round. January 31 and February 21 feature students from the RCM’s Glenn Gould School, February 28 features students from the U of T Faculty of Music, and February 7’s “Bassoons!” presents students from Nadina Mackie Jackson’s U of T bassoon studio).

The timing couldn’t be better. For many of Nine Sparrows’ early-career recitalists, these winter gigs break the usual school rhythm of a springtime, end-of-semester ‘recital season.’ And in the case of students and recent grads who are working towards professional musical careers, the idea of a January recital can be a refreshing opportunity to transition towards the mentality of performing year-round, and to rethink the types of music-making that solo concerts can represent.

For pianist Gina Lee, who will perform in Nine Sparrows’ recital series on Tuesday, January 17, working with Nine Sparrows has served as a welcome chance to think critically about concert programming, and to build upon her recent university training. “I wanted to create a program where listeners can experience an array of sounds, and where I can introduce different aesthetics found within the vast piano repertoire,” she says. “To start, I had Beethoven and Schoenberg in mind—First and Second Viennese composers whose works I am used to and have studied [in school]. I wanted to pair each of those composers with other pieces that were influenced and or inspired by them, in later periods of musical history.” For the recital, Lee ended up deciding on works by Chopin and Boulez—supplementing Beethoven’s Op.81a "Les Adieux" and selections from Schoenberg Piano Suite Op. 25 with Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie Op.61 and Boulez’s Piano Sonata No.2.

A recent graduate from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, Lee believes that organizations like Nine Sparrows, and the professional development they offer, serve a crucial role in the city’s musical community—especially for emerging artists. “[For] early-career professional musicians...opportunities like these are vital,” she says. “Not only do they give us a performance venue with an outstanding instrument, [they give us] a place to experiment, and to express what I believe in—and what I want to advocate for as an artist.”

Pianist Gina Lee presents a program of solo piano works by Beethoven, Schoenberg, Chopin and Boulez on Tuesday, January 17 at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, as part of Nine Sparrows’ weekly free recital series. For more information on this and other recital programming in the city this January, search our listings at http://www.thewholenote.com/index.php/listings/ask-ludwig.

*UPDATE, January 10, 3pm: Gina Lee's January 17 recital program with Nine Sparrows has been postponed. Pianist David Potvin will perform a lunchtime piano recital on January 17 instead.

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

2204 Feat Two Tales 1Parallels can be an interesting way of laying down the tramlines of a story, as long as one doesn’t try to force them to intersect! Around the time I was planning to get together for what seems to be becoming an annual (podcast) chat with concert-pianist Stewart Goodyear, I received in the mail, courtesy Prism Publishers, a just-published memoir titled Above Parr: Memoir of a Child Prodigy by pianist Patricia Parr, due to be launched on December 1 at Hazelton Place in Toronto (the same day this issue of our magazine hits the streets).

Growing up in Toronto features prominently in Patricia Parr’s story, as it does in Stewart Goodyear’s. So too does the challenge of what one might call “the downside of the upside” – namely how the individual artist deals with being labelled a child prodigy very early on, in a culture that takes nearly as much delight in falling stars as it does in rocket-like rises to fame.

2204 Feat Two Tales 2Patricia Parr’s rise was particularly meteoric. She had played her first solo concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in 1944, at the age of seven, attracting plaudits from the music critics of all three Toronto papers.

“‘Genius,’ ‘wonder child,’ ‘prodigy.’ On it went: a litany of accolades,” she writes. “From the age of eight onwards, I was performing as soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Massey Hall; the Toronto Philharmonic at the ‘Prom Concerts’ in Varsity Arena; the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in the Eastman Theatre, and the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall. I held the distinction of being the youngest artist ever to be engaged with these orchestras – although for the life of me I don’t know how, or why, any of this materialized.”

By 14, Parr had been taken on as a piano student by Isabelle Vengerova in New York, planning to fly back and forth to New York for monthly lessons. But Vengerova was having none of it, and by the age of 15 Parr was living with an aunt and uncle in a suburb of Philadelphia, on full scholarship at Philadelphia’s famed Curtis Institute, “the equivalent of attending Harvard to study law,” as Parr puts it. Vengerova had taught at Curtis from its inception in 1924, whipping into pianistic shape “the likes of Gary Graffman, Leonard Bernstein, Jacob Lateiner, and Lucas Foss.”

Parr’s life journey after the Curtis years is the story of a gradual, and in parts very painful, journey away from the solo piano careers that Curtis (and perhaps most conservatories and the students that attend them) sees as the highest form of their art. It’s fascinating, though, to see how the earliest steps on what was to become her primary musical path can still be traced back to those formative Curtis days. 

“In the mind of my mother,” she writes, “you needed to be a soloist to be considered successful. However there are many fine musicians who simply do not thrive under the solo limelight and choose other ways of revealing their talents…[establishing] themselves first as chamber musicians, and then [moving] on to their particular field, whether as a soloist, a teacher, or a recording artist… The experience of sharing musical goals, the rapport you establish with your colleagues, and the insights you receive from playing with them have always elevated my artistry, filling me with the greatest satisfaction…”

As her memoir reveals, that satisfaction reached its peak in her work, for 20 years starting in 1988, as a founding member of the Amici ensemble in partnership with clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas and cellist David Hetherington – an ensemble which by its instrumental make-up dictated from the start that they would have to invite “amici” into every concert they performed. Whether she found this niche thanks to the Curtis years or in spite of the Curtis years, readers of Above Parr will have to decide for themselves.

Stewart Goodyear’s arc as a performing artist is still very much on the ascendant – who can say how far he will continue to rise? – so it makes sense that he has no particular reason to dwell on the kind of end-of-career self-reflection that Parr’s memoir engages in. So let’s just say for now that it is interesting, in terms of biographical parallels, that he, like Parr, found himself, at  the age of 15 (albeit decades apart) also enrolled at Curtis, at the very moment when precocious talent sometimes starts to flower or else to wither on the vine.

Curtis, for Parr, had meant five years of study with Vengerova, her “Beloved Tyranna,” as well as, for a lesser time, with Rudolf Serkin, after Vengerova’s retirement. Goodyear’s equivalent mentor was Leon Fleisher. In our recent podcast interview, as in earlier conversations, Goodyear describes (with what seems, to the outsider, almost incomprehensible relish) the rigours of the pedagogical process he went through with Fleisher. Basically it entailed bringing to class performance-ready (i.e. committed to memory), in its entirety, one Beethoven sonata a week for 32 weeks – “Well, 33 weeks actually,” he says. “I had two weeks for the [close-to-50 minute] Hammerklavier.”

As important as laying down early in his career the physical and intellectual stamina to absorb, process and perform new repertoire at a punishing rate, the exercise also gave permission, in Goodyear’s approach to his art, for something that seems to have been a key part of his musical makeup from his earliest days: the desire and ability to see individual pieces within the larger stories they are part of. In our recent podcast conversation he cites, as an early example of this, listening to The Beatles’ White Album. Even though it was multiple tracks on two records, he explains, for him it was one album, a single story.

One can see this fascination with narrative and emotional through-lines brought to giddying heights in his grand projects, such as his Beethoven “Sonatathon” which entails playing all 32 sonatas, in order of composition, in three sessions over the course of a single day. Or, as he did recently with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra two days in a row, playing all five Beethoven piano concerti in a single concert. Discussing the Niagara concert, I challenged his commitment to chronological order, pointing out that he had played No.2 before No.1. He was quick to set me straight, pointing out that No.2 was in fact composed before No.1 was.

It’s as though he commits the the pieces he performs to logical and emotional memory, by accessing the emotional and historical narrative of a given composer’s life as it reveals itself, moment by moment in the works that give expression to that life. Goodyear will freely admit that his approach to the music he plays is very emotional, and he’s never shy of letting loose dynamically to express it. “I don’t mind making an ugly sound,” I remember him saying, “but it has to be what the composer was feeling.”

Autobiography: It is also possible to see how he applies that same storytelling rigour to the mixed programs he puts together for recitals. Take his upcoming concert December 4 at Koerner Hall. There are telltale fingerprints of his musical relationship, past and present, with Toronto, his home town, all over the program.

It starts with the first piece on the program, Bach’s Partita No.5 in G Major BWV 829 which was, as Goodyear explains, on the very first recital that Glenn Gould gave, in 1955, at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. That particular Gould recital captured Goodyear’s imagination to such an extent, that he reconstructed the same program last year at the Phillips Collection, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Gould’s original landmark recital (and will repeat it again later this  spring on February 5 for the Women’s Musical Club of Montreal).

The program continues with Beethoven’s Sonata No.32 in C Minor Op. 111, one of the first three that the 15-year-old Goodyear had to learn for Fleisher at Curtis, and the triumphant finale of his first one-day Beethoven Sonatathon as part of Luminato, at Koerner Hall, in 2012. The program then continues with a work of his own, Acabris! Acabras! Acabram! a world premiere based on a rather diabolical French Canadian fable and commissioned from Goodyear by Phil and Eli Taylor (name sponsors of the young artist program at the RCM) in celebration of the sesquicentennial.

Two diabolically difficult pieces by Fryderyk Chopin follow (Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp Minor Op. 66 and the Ballade No. 4 in F Minor Op. 52) after which the program concludes with what he calls the “dessert after the main course” selections from his own concert-length arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (which incidentally he will take to the Phillips Collection this year December 18, in a return visit “after his noteworthy re-creation of Glenn Gould’s iconic 1955 recital last season.”

On the road: Interesting as this one program is, the range (both geographical and in terms of repertoire) that he will cover over the course of the winter and spring tells the story of a solo artist, not content with a particular niche, continually bent on both discovery and rediscovery.

In addition to the performances already mentioned, he will do Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 in Memphis on January 14 and 15; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the Toronto Symphony Orchstra, in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto (January 24, 25 and 27); and then a recital program at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre on February 3, 2017.

After that it’s Grieg’s Piano Concerto in Halifax February 9, Mussorgsky’s original solo piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition in Prague on February 15, Poulenc and Prokofiev in Omaha on March 17 and 18, and to top it off, a performance of the Beethoven Sonatathon on March 28 at the Savannah Music Festival, in Georgia. 

“Goodyear’s commitment to classical music began at age three when he was introduced to Beethoven’s piano sonatas through recordings by Vladimir Ashkenazy, which he listened to in a single day,” the notes for the festival inform us…

Two Tales: Parr and Goodyear: parallels can be an interesting way of laying down the tramlines of a story, as long as one doesn’t force them to intersect. The world allows for many different iterations of a fulfilling musical life.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com

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