fanfarebannerSoundstreams’ founder and artistic director Lawrence Cherney has long been impressed by the breadth and depth of trumpet repertoire across the ages, and as a former trumpet player myself, I am always happy to hear him out on the charms of this favoured instrument. Now Cherney has gone one step further and created a whole concert to make his point.

On October 3, Soundstreams presents “Top Brass” at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, featuring three brilliant trumpet soloists, Canadians Jens Lindemann and Ingrid Jensen, and Norwegian Ole Edvard Antonsen. Each of the three soloists has their virtuoso solo moments in the concert, but Cherney and his Soundstreams team have upped the ante by commissioning several works by leading Canadian composers for multiple trumpets, performing with a variety of accompanying forces, including a virtuoso string orchestra led by Joaquin Valdepeñas. The composers’ comments about the works they are contributing were as fascinating and as varied as the works themselves promise to be.

AnnaPidgorna. Photo by Amanda BullickVancouver composer Anna Pidgorna was commissioned by Cherney and Soundstreams to create a work for the three trumpet soloists and string orchestra. Pigdorna’s composition, which drew inspiration from the Biblical seven trumpets of Revelations, is titled The Three Woes, the designation of the last three of these trumpets. Pigdorna writes: “The Fifth Trumpet (First Woe) prompts a star to fall from heaven and open the bottomless pit, releasing acrid smoke and locust-like creatures, which are actually scorpion-tailed warhorses with human faces and lion’s teeth. These ‘locusts’ will repeatedly sting anyone who lacks the seal of God on their foreheads. The Sixth Trumpet (Second Woe) will release four bound angels who will lead an army of 200 million mounted on horses with lion’s heads and snakes for tails. This army will kill exactly a third of the mankind that didn’t already die from forest fires, bloody oceans, poisoned waters and the dimming of sunlight. The Seventh Trumpet (Third Woe) will bring in Christ’s second coming and the final judgment of the remaining people, after which paradise will be established on Earth and Christ will rule in peace and happiness for ever and ever, Amen.”

Pigdorna continues: “The ancient authors of the Bible were certainly imaginative in the catastrophes they described, but reading this I can’t help thinking that much of this is already happening, due to global climate change. Ocean life is dying from rising temperatures; forests are burning en masse, dimming sunshine with smoke; fresh water is being polluted by industry. Thinking of the ending of the prophecy which promises Earthly Paradise, I can’t help wondering how the remaining people will manage to live happily ever after on a ruined planet after surviving war and major cataclysms and watching most of their brethren get slaughtered.”

Pigdorna’s musical setting of this dramatic scenario begins with most of the instruments positioned throughout the hall, and two of the three trumpets on opposite sides of the balcony, leaving one onstage. The cellos and basses of the string ensemble remain onstage, but the more portable violins and violas begin the piece out of their normal concert positions, around and even among the audience. As the work progresses through the soundings of each of the Three Woes, the players gradually move to the stage. The end of the work is a musical depiction of the arrival of Earthly Paradise. Pigdorna, whom I first met when her works were introduced to Toronto audiences by the Thin Edge New Music Collective, told me she’s currently writing an opera on a scenario from this same Biblical story.

Ingrid JensenThe idea of including choreography in the score, to move performers through the performance space is not a new one. Listeners familiar with the music of Murray Schafer recognize this sort of device as completely normal in Schafer’s works. There is, for example, intricately detailed choreographed movement in his 1977 orchestral composition, Cortège, as well as in several of his 13 string quartets, and in many other of his works. Schafer’s music appears in the Soundstreams Top Brass presentation too; an unaccompanied solo trumpet (Ingrid Jensen) performing Schafer’s Trumpet Aubade, conceived as a morning song to be performed on a wilderness lake. It’s a work that appears in Wolf Music, a made-for-radio production that Schafer and I produced at Wildcat Lake in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve in 1997, and now available as a Centrediscs recording, available from the Canadian Music Centre.

Toronto composer and conductor, Brian Current has often conducted Schafer’s music. They have also been teaching colleagues at the Royal Conservatory of Music. In 2011, when Schafer was awarded the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (Ontario), Schafer chose Current as his protégé. For Top Brass, Soundstreams commissioned Current to create an homage to Schafer, a Serenade for Three Trumpets. Current calls Schafer “Canada’s pre-eminent composer whose research, altruism, talent and hard work I have admired for years.” Current, a multiple-prize-winning composer, who is enjoying an enviable career of his own, wrote in his program note, “In response to Schafer’s Aubade, I offer this brief evening song, or Serenade, for three trumpets playing overlapping patterns. Traditionally, a serenade is a composition or performance delivered in honour of someone or something.” For his salute to Schafer, Current places his trumpet soloists at three points in the hall, surrounding the audience.

Another expression of collegial admiration appears in the program as Ole Edvard Antonsen performs Paths by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996). In 1994, Takemitsu expressed his own admiration in this haunting solo trumpet composition, in memory of his friend, Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913–1994). Takemitsu’s own death followed two years later.

Heather SchmidtTitanomachy is a double concerto for solo trumpet, solo piano and string orchestra by Alberta-born composer, pianist, author and filmmaker, Heather Schmidt. It’s a work that Schmidt has wanted to compose for trumpeter Jens Lindemann for some time, as a vehicle for the two artists to perform together. The chance to realize the idea came when Soundstreams commissioned the work for Top Brass, and invited Schmidt to write herself into it as piano soloist. The title refers to a mythical battle between two factions of Greek gods – the Titans and the Olympians. Schmidt reasoned, “The pitting of two soloists against each other seemed to lend itself to the concept of a battle.”

In her program note, Schmidt writes: “The piece opens with the trumpet playing towards the inside piano strings with the damper pedal down, as if echoing the beautiful landscapes of the ancient Greek territory of Thessaly where the Titanomachy took place. After a more lyrical section that evokes the ‘calm before the storm,’ the battle begins. From there, it’s an escalation to the end, with trumpet and piano trying to outdo each other. As part of the trumpet’s tactics, there is an escalation of ‘weapons’ as the trumpet switches from flugelhorn, to C trumpet, to piccolo trumpet.” Schmidt, a true polymath, has been composing music since the age of five, and her mammoth canon of works continues to grow. I produced her debut CD, Solus, for Centrediscs in 2003, as well as a CD of the piano works of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, for Naxos in, 2010.

Jens LindemannSchmidt and Lindemann also appear together in Top Brass in Mysteries of the Macabre, three arias from György Ligeti’s (1923–2006) opera, Le Grand Macabre. The coloratura arias of the character, the Chief of the Secret Political Police, were arranged for trumpet and piano, with Ligeti’s enthusiastic permission, by Elgar Howarth, an English composer, conductor and trumpeter. Howarth had, in fact, conducted the world premiere of Ligeti’s opera in 1978.

Top Brass’ ambitious program will cover three centuries and several contrasting styles of trumpet music. The concert leads off with the Concerto for Three Trumpets, Tympani and Strings, one of 13 trumpet concertos by the Baroque master Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767.) It’s a rousing, joyful opening, almost fanfare like, as if to kick off Soundstreams’ season with musical affirmation. (The trumpets of Telemann’s time would have been natural, valveless instruments, unlike the trumpets that Antonsen, Lindemann and Jensen play.)

Twentieth-century French composer André Jolivet (1905–1974) composed two trumpet concertos, works he referred to as “my ballets for trumpet.” Ole Edvard Antonsen’s recent CD on the BIS label, includes both Jolivet concertos. Soundstreams’ presentation features Antonsen, along with Heather Schmidt, in Jolivet’s Concertino for Trumpet, Piano and Strings which was composed in 1948, and in fact was set with choreography on several occasions. The piece reveals Jolivet’s interest in jazz, a genre he became increasingly aware of after World War II. The vigorous outer movements of the concertino surround a notably bluesy middle movement. The prominence of both the trumpet and piano in the outer movements make this brisk and urbane piece almost a double concerto.

From her perspective, Schmidt told me she loves such a diverse program. “Of the three works I’m performing, each one has its unique challenges. My piece, Titanomachy is filled with concerto-style virtuosity. The Jolivet has challenges within the vein of a contemporary style ensemble piece. And the Ligeti has a significant theatrical element including vocalizations, playing maracas and other non-traditional components within the piano part.”

Without a jazz presence, Soundstreams’ trumpet bonanza would be incomplete. Vancouver-born Ingrid Jensen is one of the most respected trumpeters in the world of contemporary jazz. Now based in New York, she has an international career. She plays a custom Monette trumpet built for her by the master builder Dave Monette. In addition to her performances with the trio of virtuoso trumpeters, she appears in Top Brass with her jazz trio, with pianist Robi Botos and bassist Mike Downes. Alberta composer and trumpeter Allan Gilliland’s Stranger on the Prairie is another vehicle for Jensen, together with orchestral strings. Gilliland said he had been thinking about how to combine his experience as an orchestral composer with his experience as a jazz musician. This led to the concept of a series of “Jazz Concertos” for soloists who were comfortable in both the classical and jazz idioms, such as Jensen. In 1995 the legendary Canadian jazz composer and trumpet and flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler (1930–2014) made an arrangement for four trumpets, of the Irving Berlin song, How Deep is the Ocean? Ingrid Jensen decided to rearrange Wheeler’s arrangement, in this case, for three trumpets, accompanied by piano and bass, and her version of the piece will round out Top Brass.

In a video produced to promote Top Brass, trumpeter Jens Lindemann proclaims: “The best thing about the evening is that it’s going to be a clash of three trumpet titans, epic on a scale not seen since The Three Tenors. And even better, because the tenors couldn’t play brass instruments.”

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

CCMC 1 608x608 webThe Music Gallery in 1975An August 13, 2019 press release from the Music Gallery, Toronto’s bastion of new sound presentation was not the usual early season announcement of upcoming concerts. It read in part: “David Dacks, artistic director of the Music Gallery, has announced that 2019/20 will be his last season of programming. Prior to stepping down, David will pass on his knowledge and experience through a new Music Gallery mentorship program, which will see him train and collaborate with two artistic associates during the Music Gallery’s 2019/20 season.”

My interest was piqued.

For more than four decades, and several different locations, the MG has been many things: home of the pioneering free improv group CCMC; a leading Toronto producer and co-presenter; and a cultural hub, recording studio and rehearsal space/concert hall for numerous musicians and ensembles of many genre affiliations. It has also served as exhibition space for visual and sound art, the home of a record label and radio show, and beginning on a cold 1978 January, Musicworks magazine’s original incubator. Against stacked odds, the plucky print magazine and Music Gallery both still serve as homes for “curious ears.”

I once opined in The WholeNote that “young Toronto musicians toeing one musical edge or another made the MG the proving ground for their early gigs. Had it been situated in SoHo, NYC, it might have long ago been widely recognized as a key downtown music institution.”

David Dacks. Photo by Sean HowardDacks began programming at the MG in September 2010 and since January 2012 has served as artistic director. Two years into his mandate I interviewed him for The WholeNote (published September 29, 2014). He stated his aims clearly: “I believe in music programming which possesses multiple points of interest, and is not necessarily confrontational, but rather fosters a community-building environment.”

Dacks’ background as a club DJ, radio broadcaster and journalist gave him an outlook which encouraged, in his words, “synthesis, multiple affiliations and opportunities for fluidity in music. My work in DJ culture is rooted in creating interesting music mixes.” X Avant 2014, his fall MG concert series, explored the theme Transculturalism: Moving Beyond Multiculturalism, challenging expectations about culturally defined music, and building on the MG’s (and Toronto’s) reputation as a seedbed for cultural multiplicity and emerging hybridity. In subsequent years Dacks’ imaginative and adventurous programming and collaborations have broadened the scope of the Toronto creative music scene in several directions.

How does he see the MG’s role today, its future relevance? And why leave now? I emailed him in the middle of September to find out.

“The Music Gallery remains Toronto’s centre for creative music,” Dacks replied. “I think the concept of creative music, which, among other characteristics, requires a space which encourages community for people to experiment musically, remains vital to a healthy city and society. Never before have so many hybrid identities and stories been a part of Toronto’s ever-expanding musical narrative. The MG provides a space for people to unpack themselves and generate new ideas that would be difficult or impossible to present in a bar-type setting.

“There are many institutions which offer residencies or project development, but very few are dedicated to music. Additionally, we present all season long in a home venue which creates a more continuous sense of community than a once-a-year festival. This is our present and future.”

It’s been fascinating to watch the way the MG’s music programming has evolved during Dacks’ tenure. I asked him to what extent it was influenced by his own pre-MG music tastes and career.

“It was very influenced by my pre-MG tastes,” Dacks replied. “My musical background is fundamentally as a DJ and beatmaker and, unlike any previous MG AD, I gravitate to music that is informed by that. Also, my journalism career has really helped me to value stories which drive outreach events like our History Series and higher-concept events like our Hugh Le Caine tribute a few years ago.’

Have Dacks’ tastes changed during his MG years? “I knew very little about contemporary classical music before starting at the MG,” he frankly admits. “I think that was a point of concern for the MG Board when I was hired. Over the past seven years I’ve made a point to explore this field, and to get to know more about new music in general. I’ve heard so much great music and met so many talented people that I think I at least trust my ears more, [know where to] get good advice/curation, know who’s in the community and have a sense of what audiences gravitate to.”

During his MG career Dacks has become known for his commitment to equity both on stage and off. What’s left to do in this area?

“Seeking equity is a neverending struggle. I would say both MG staff and audiences should look and feel like Toronto,” he says. Furthermore, “I would love to see accessibility improvements at our venue, more emphasis on projects developed in-house, a greater presence internationally and more Indigenous perspectives informing what we do.”

Finally, I asked Dacks about his plans for post-MG adventures, career and otherwise. He began, “I am still planning a few projects in our 2020/21 season, so I won’t be 100 percent done until the spring of 2021. I would like to move on from programming into areas that support the arts such as funding, cultural space making or teaching. Beyond that, I’d like to low-key start making music again and maybe learn music theory,” he concluded, sounding like a musician itching to get back to the act of creating and shaping sounds.

On September 11, 2019 the MG announced it had hired two artistic associates for the new mentorship program it had talked about in the August 13 release: Olivia Shortt and Pratishtha Kohli.

Dacks explained the backstory: “When I knew it was time to step down, I wanted to pass on the knowledge and perspective I’d gained over the past ten years. As you probably know, most administrative transitions at the Music Gallery have been fraught, and I wanted to create something much smoother. When I started, I had to educate myself on the MG’s milieu: I had no training or knowledge of artistic practices of the organization. I feel like a lot of organizational memory was lost in that transition, so I was determined not to let that happen now.”

The artistic associates’ posting extends for seven months, starting in September 2019. I asked Dacks what he hopes to accomplish in that time, how the mentorship program might affect programming and what will happen after March 2020.

“The associates will each program two concerts during X Avant, a concert during the season, plus an additional outreach event,” Dacks answered. “They are going to help determine the theme and the vast majority of the programming of X Avant 2020, our flagship fall event. So this isn’t an internship program; we are trusting them with the MG brand. While the artistic associate program ends in 2020, they will see their ideas through to production and will essentially be curators during the 2020/21 season helping the new AD get up to speed with their experience.”

I then reached out via email to the two incoming artistic associates.

Olivia Shortt. Photo by Alejandro SantiagoOlivia Shortt, Artistic Associate

Olivia Shortt recalled her first trip to the MG. “After moving to Toronto for music school, the Music Gallery was the first place where I attended a concert. I’ve been an audience member at numerous concerts at the MG and have also performed in several over the years, so it means a lot to be able to give back and be a part of the imaginative and forward-thinking programming at my favourite music organization in the city,” she wrote.

How will she share responsibilities with her fellow artistic associate Pratishtha Kohli? “I think we were selected from the pool of applicants not only for our experience but for our ability to work in a team. Pratishtha has a wealth of knowledge that I’m so excited to learn from. It’s pretty easy to share responsibilities with someone who shares similar values as you.”

Judging from Shortt’s bio, she’s had extensive professional experience including as a saxophonist, composer, sound designer, activist, curator, teacher, actor and producer. I asked for a few highlights.

“One would certainly be my saxophone duo Stereoscope working with Robert Lemay in a number of capacities, including being presented by the 5-Penny New Music Concerts in Sudbury, Ontario, as well as performing on a new work Fragments Noirs that Robert had written for our duo. We recorded the work in partnership with poet Thierry Dimanche and SNOLAB (a neutrino lab in Northern Ontario). I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything as unique or as exciting as waking up at 5am to go into an elevator with miners two kilometres underground, having to change outfits a few times and have our saxophones and equipment go through the cleaning area called the ‘car wash’. The music we recorded is now available as an album. I’ll always treasure that experience.

“I also appeared in the Atom Egoyan film Guest of Honour that premiered this year at the Venice Film Festival and had its North American premiere at TIFF on September 10, 2019. Atom invited our Dialectica Saxophone Quartet to fill out the saxophone section of the high school band as actors in the movie. We recorded the music plus spent three days filming in Hamilton dressed up as high school teenagers, which was pretty hilarious considering I’m almost 30,” she recalled.

How will Shortt’s artistic practice inform her MG programming? “My work has always involved an interdisciplinary approach; I love working with artists in dance, theatre and visual arts especially. … My artistic practice is deeply rooted in my belief to push boundaries and the systemic issues that can be incredibly oppressive towards marginalized artists. The lens that covers all of the work I do incorporates equity and creating more equitable practices within my artistic practice. I come from a classical background and a world that can often be very insular and exclusionary, so that’s why I’ve broadened my artistic practice to be more of an interdisciplinary approach.”

Pratishtha KohliPratishtha Kohli, Artistic Associate

Pratishtha Kohli, the other new MG artistic associate, also replied to my email inquiry:

“I’m really looking forward to working with David Dacks and Olivia to curate and research shows that are multidisciplinary and experimental over the next year,” she says.

“I hope to learn about and contribute to every aspect of producing a show, from working with the tech team, to artist liaison, to managing day of operations for shows,” she continued. “I’m going to … put forward my vision for what 2020 at the Music Gallery should look like, working with the local community around the 918 Bathurst space and connecting the local with some cool musicians from across Canada and globally.”

Kohli reflected on the impact of her current studies. “I’m near completing my master’s at OISE, U of T. Through my study in Adult Education and Community Development I have gained significant insights into equity-based learning and the importance of decolonization. As an immigrant, my self-journey of learning as well as my formal education and work in the arts have significantly impacted my understanding of grassroots movements, activist spaces and anti-hegemonic programming.”

Working at the Aga Khan Museum recently, Kohli spoke of her job “supporting their diverse programming. My ultimate career highlight however (and I am just starting out) is founding The Tawoos Initiative. My co-founders, Haris Javed, Auoro Maksud and I wanted to create programming that highlights the independent, urban music that is being created in South Asia by individuals and also by groups in the South Asian diaspora.”

How will her studies and artistic practices inform her MG programming? “I hope to bring the lens of decolonizing public spaces to the MG,” Kohli stated, “and to work with the existing traditions that have existed at the MG, pushing audiences even more when it comes to actively listening to what is being created by Canadian, North American and global talent. A lens of equity, particularly one where women support women, is very important in my practice….”

Kohli wraps up our interview with an affirmation of music as a unifying and inclusive factor across cultures. “I hope to bring Indigenous, black and POC musicians to the forefront, focusing on each group’s or individual’s strengths, and connect them with one another through the language of music. As someone who has lived in a bunch of places growing up, with roots extending to each, I find we are able to find common ground regardless of what appearances or language may suggest.”

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band. Photo by Elliott LandyOnce again, it’s time for The WholeNote’s annual guide to films of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in which music plays an important role. This year, circumstances prevented me from viewing more than a few movies in advance so the current guide is based on track record, subject matter and gleanings from across the Internet. Out of the 245 features from 83 countries and regions that make up the festival’s 44th edition, I’ve focused on 25, beginning with a handful of documentaries directly linked to music.

Directly Musical Documentaries

TIFF opens with the world premiere of Daniel Roher’s Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, inspired by Robertson’s revealing autobiography, Testimony (2016). The book is a well-written page-turner, filled with surprises and musical insights, painting a vivid picture of Toronto’s music scene in the 1950s and 1960s before Robertson et al made their name backing up Bob Dylan and transformed into The Band. The movie promises even more, blending rare archival footage and photography with iconic songs and appearances by Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Dylan, Robertson, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, David Geffen, Rick Danko, Van Morrison, Ronnie Hawkins, Taj Mahal, Jann Wenner and Dominique Robertson – a host of built-in star power, much of which will likely be present at the premiere. (And if you do take this one in, consider also checking out the TIFF screening of The Last Waltz (the nominal conclusion of the book), which will feature a live appearance by Scorsese and Robertson.)

Another Springsteen appearance: he shares the director credit with longtime collaborator Thom Zimney in Western Stars, a filmic record of his latest album. “It’s largely performance, but there is a framing to it,” TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey said [quoted by]. “It’s very filmic, which is what attracted me. The album and the film are both about this fading Western movie B-level star who’s looking back on his life and the decisions he’s made. That narrative and that character shape all the songs. In between the songs, you’ve got Bruce really talking about this character he invented, the story he wrote for the character, and how it reflects back on his own life as he ages and other kinds of narratives he’s had in his previous albums.”

Alla Kovgan’s Cunningham is said to be an eye-popping, entertaining 3D documentary about Merce Cunningham, the legendary American choreographer who died in 2009 at age 90. The film features 14 dances that were originally created by Cunningham between 1942 and 1972 – including 1942’s Totem Ancestor (his first collaboration with composer/life partner John Cage), 1958’s Summerspace (where Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillist costumes and decor – see our cover photo – create a camouflage effect to Morton Feldman’s music) and 1968’s Rainforest (in which Andy Warhol’s silver pillows wander around the stage; music by David Tudor). The film also mixes in archival material – some never before seen – touching on Cunningham’s early years, rehearsals, tours and “chance dance” technique, with his wry wit emerging in anecdotes.

With his latest film, David Foster: Off the Record, Canadian director Barry Avrich mixes rare archival footage, interviews and unprecedented access to the Victoria, BC-born musician, producer, songwriter and composer who has helped sell more than a half-billion records and won 16 Grammy Awards and whose collaborators include Chicago, Barbra Streisand and Andrea Bocelli. Among others, he’s discovered and/or worked with Celine Dion, Michael Bublé and Josh Groban, many of whom (and more) are featured in the doc.

As part of TIFF’s Special Events programming, triple-platinum artists The Lumineers bring their talents to Toronto with III, a visual companion to their upcoming third record of the same name. Split into three chapters, the visual album follows three generations of a working-class family in the American Northeast. Following the screening, fans will have the opportunity to experience some of The Lumineers’ upcoming release in a live performance, followed by a Q&A with the band and III’s director Kevin Phillip.

Music-Themed Movies (Including Two Musicals)

Cameron Bailey writes in his program note for Red Fields, “From award-winning dramatic filmmaker Keren Yedaya (Or, Jaffa) comes a complete surprise: her first musical. Adapting Hillel Mittelpunkt’s rock opera Mami, Yedaya fast-forwards this story of a gas station cashier from its original 1980s setting to the present day. Gorgeous traditional music shares the soundtrack with pulsing electronic beats, while inventive dance numbers lift this wild fantasia into La La Land territory.”

Programmer Diana Sanchez on Lina from Lima: “At once a delightful renovation of the musical comedy and a timely examination of the realities of migrant labour, the inventive debut fiction feature from Chilean director María Paz González tackles weighty themes with a light touch and a saucy sense of humour . . . Most remarkable are the moments when Lina’s humble surroundings transform into soundstages upon which she bursts into songs that fuse Peruvian folk music with music-video tropes and, in one of the film’s most dazzling sequences, a miniature version of a Busby Berkeley extravaganza.”

The Song of Names. Photo by Luke DoyleFrançois Girard’s The Song of Names, from the book by Norman Lebrecht (, is the director’s latest sweeping historical drama, about a man searching for his childhood best friend – a Polish violin prodigy orphaned in the Holocaust – who vanished decades before on the night of his first public performance. Clive Owen and Tim Roth star in Girard’s return to a music-themed film (after 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Violin).

The Audition, Ina Weisse’s follow-up to her acclaimed film, The Architect, focuses on a violin teacher in a music high school in Germany who favours one of her students over her own son. “What fascinates me is the process of how music is created,” Weisse told “The husband of [star] Nina Hoss’ character is a violin maker, so this will be an opportunity to show how sounds evolve. Featuring the German-based Kuss String Quartett.

Renée Zellweger plays Judy Garland in English theatre director Rupert Goold’s Judy, an adaptation of Peter Quilter’s successful musical End of the Rainbow, which chronicles the final months of Garland’s life in London before her death in 1969. As she prepares for her five-week sold-out concert run, Garland battles with management, charms musicians, reminisces with friends and adoring fans and begins a whirlwind romance with Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband. According to Vanity Fair, Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli wrote on Facebook in June that “I have never met nor spoken to Renée Zellweger . . . I don’t know how these stories get started, but I do not approve nor sanction the upcoming film … in any way.”

Australian director Unjoo Moon makes her feature film debut with I Am Woman, the story of Helen Reddy who, in 1966, landed in New York with her three-year-old daughter, a suitcase and $230 in her pocket. Within weeks she was broke. Within five years she was one of the biggest superstars of her time, the first ever Australian Grammy Award winner and an icon of the 1970s feminist movement. She wrote the anthem, I Am Woman, a rallying cry for a generation of women to fight for change. Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Reddy and Danielle Macdonald plays her friend, legendary New York-based Australian rock journalist and club owner Lillian Roxon.

With their significant others away on the battlefields of Afghanistan, a group of British women form a choir and discover the infectious joy of music in Military Wives, directed by Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and inspired by true events.

Riz Ahmed (The Night Of) and Olivia Cooke star in Sound of Metal, the directorial debut of Darius Marder. According to Variety, the story follows a drummer (Ahmed), whose life and relationship with his bandmate girlfriend are turned upside-down when he unexpectedly begins to lose his hearing and he must go to great lengths to recapture the woman and the music he loves. A large number of the cast has been drawn from the deaf community.

In Coky Giedroyc’s How To Build a Girl, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Caitlin Moran (who shares the screenplay credit), Beanie Feldstein plays a 16-year-old aspiring music critic who lands in London in the 1990s and succeeds despite the boys’ club culture of the day.

Seamless Soundtracks/Notably Musical

Pain and Glory. Photo by Nico BustosAntonio Banderas won Best Actor at Cannes this year for his role as a film director who reflects on the choices he’s made as his life comes crashing down around him in Pedro Almodóvar’s warmly received semi-autobiographical fable, Pain and Glory. Composer Alberto Iglesias, who has scored every Almodóvar film since The Flower of My Secret (1995), won the Cannes Soundtrack Award for his score which has been described as intense, emotional, highly inspired and moving, with echoes of impressionism imbued with melancholy.

Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian last May of Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the film that would ultimately win Cannes’ Best Scenario Prize: “I was on the edge of my seat. Portrait of a Lady on Fire has something of Alfred Hitchcock – actually two specific Hitchcocks: Rebecca, with a young woman arriving at a mysterious house, haunted by the past, and also Hitchcock’s Vertigo, with its all-important male gaze, [which] Sciamma flips to a female gaze.” Sciamma’s film takes place in 1770, so Vivaldi for one plays a part in the score. But Para One (Jean-Baptiste de Laubier), who has worked on each of Sciamma’s films beginning with Water Lilies, contributed a poignant, indelible moment of great emotional power heard at the 78-minute mark. In a recent interview he said that they thought a lot about the rhythms and dances of 18th-century music, specifically in Brittany, the film’s setting. But they also talked about Ligeti and the modernity of the film. “So [Sciamma] went back to listen to Ligeti for three days and came back with a frantic pace; it was a great inspiration. We found the tempo.”

Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop’s haunting debut feature, Atlantics, won Cannes’ Grand Prize for the story of marginalized young lovers in Senegal desperately seeking a better life. Cinezik called Berlin-based electronic-music artist Fatima Al Qadiri’s score “captivating” and published part of a recent interview with the composer. “The most important [thing] in my music is the melody. This is my obsession. The repetition of melodic lines in my music gives the feeling of a meditation . . . the director wanted minimalism, with very little musical information, not to overwhelm the characters.”

A symbiotic relationship between two families, one rich, the other poor, is at the root of Parasite, Bong Joon-ho’s socially conscious thriller that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. Called ingenious and unpredictable and a twist-laden black comedy, its musical component by Jung Jae-il consists mostly of a solo piano melody playing against cello, guitars and orchestral strings with an original song with lyrics by the filmmaker performed by Choi Woo-shik, an actor in the film.

Bradley Warren wrote in The Playlist about Bacurau, the film that shared the Cannes Jury Prize with Les Misérables: “For his third feature film, Brazilian filmmaker Kleiber Mendonça Filho splits directorial duties with Juliano Dornelles, the production designer on his first two features. It’s a logical progression for a body of work known for rich soundscapes and vivid images, but it’s also a game changer for his style. … Bacurau is the duo’s most political work yet ... it’s also their most playful effort to date. ... Music may not be as foundational to the plot of Bacurau as was the case with Aquarius, but its use still manages to stir the soul.” Mendonça Filho, quoted in the film’s presskit, described their approach: “The greatest challenge for the music in the movie is knowing when to shut up, which often happens with me. When you embrace the genre with all its narrative twists and turns, it’s better to have music. And when it all comes together, it’s very beautiful.”

Ladj Ly’s Cannes Jury Prize–winning debut feature, Les Misérables, ingeniously weaves the thematic threads of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece into an explosive contemporary narrative spotlighting France as a place of seismic political and social change. According to, the score by Canadian rock band Pink Noise (founded by Toronto-based Mark Sauner) is made up of consistent, unchangeable, undifferentiated electronic tablecloths that serve to maintain the film’s tension.

Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, according to Justin Chang of the LA Times, tells the story of an Austrian peasant farmer who was imprisoned and executed in 1943 for refusing to fight for the Nazis. The film’s composer James Newton Howard said (in the film’s press notes) that scoring the film was a highly collaborative process, which began with Malick sending him a series of short clips from the film without any sound or music. “I wrote very loosely to picture, but we were able to establish the key thematic material and sonic identity of the score ... One of the early ideas Terry brought to me, was to incorporate sounds he had captured during production such as church bells from the villages, cow and sheep bells, the saw mill, sounds from the prison, and scythes in the fields,” said Howard. “I took many of those sounds and processed them into musical elements that are woven throughout the score. We chose to work mostly scene by scene where I would write something that he would react to, and then he would often mould the edit to what I had done.” The score focuses on the emotional journeys and crises of conscience of the characters with a solo violin throughout the film, embodying the connection between the two main characters, performed by none other than violinist James Ehnes.

Two Teasers

According to TIFF senior programmer Steve Gravestock, Louise Archambault’s And the Birds Rained Down features one of the most beautiful musical moments of the year, when Rémy Girard, as an ailing musician living in the Quebec countryside, is coaxed into performing at a nearby club and delivers a soulful and heartbreaking rendition of Time (from Raindogs), one of Tom Waits› best tunes.

And Jessica Kiang wrote about The Whistlers in Variety: “Corneliu Porumboiu goes large with the soundtrack, smashing into and out of scenes on abrupt, bombastic tracks, which often mimic the [film’s] whistling motif in the vibrato of an opera singer’s voice, or the exaggeratedly rolled ‘r’s and hissed ‘s’-es of Ute Lemper’s Mack the Knife, sung in the original German.”

White Lie: The Making of a Soundtrack

White LieWhite Lie is a gripping new psychodrama, by Toronto-based co-directors Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, that oozes unease as it follows a university student on her duplicitous route to crowd-funded dollars by pretending to be suffering from melanoma. It’s the duo’s fourth feature and second to be invited to TIFF (Amy George, their 2011 debut, was the first). Marked by nuanced, naturalistic acting (Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson, Martin Donovan) and set off by striking cinematography, its mood is buttressed by a quietly disturbing score.

The film’s large musical component (by Yonah’s brother, Lev Lewis) is strikingly judicious: it doesn’t overwhelm and the filmmakers know when to remove it entirely. I was curious about the working relationship among Thomas and the Lewis brothers vis-a-vis the music in the film, so in a recent email I asked Yonah to describe their process.

[Full disclosure: while not members of my immediate family, Yonah and Lev are related to me.]

“We (Yonah and Calvin Thomas) always attempt the assembly and first cut without a temp track, but temptation quickly arises and pretty soon we begin to pull tracks that help us envision how we want the final scenes to feel. Lev tends to source most of the music, but the two of us occasionally bring in pieces we think might send us in the right direction. At this point in the edit, much of this is just us trying to locate the feeling and scope of the music. Sometimes we want something orchestral, maybe even bombastic, but ultimately feel that the music has to match the size of the production.

“On White Lie, we used a number of tracks from the Wojciech Kilar We Own the Night soundtrack, as well as pieces by Yusef Lateef, Steve Roach, Pere Ubu and Wadada Leo Smith, until Lev began recording his own temp score a few months into the editing process.

“We were a little rushed getting a cut ready for festival submissions and Lev had a whirlwind long weekend writing and recording a temp score in the edit suite, just him, a guitar and a MIDI keyboard. That stage of the score turned out to be a more post-punk, Sonic Youth feel than what we eventually landed on, but it helped us start to set a tone for what the music eventually became. We ended up gravitating to more strings and piano than originally discussed, but still incorporating that jagged, jarring feeling of the distorted guitars and loose percussion.”

I then contacted Lev Lewis about how he had approached writing the score, indicating that I was impressed with the depth of the recurrent cello line, the inherent pull between the jazzy foreground walking bass and the tension drip of the synths and background percussion, the way that the music gently adds to the web of deceit.

“Initially, the score was going to dominantly rely on guitars and keyboards, and since those are instruments I can play (unlike strings or woodwinds or what have you), I ended up putting more effort into the temp music than is typical,” he replied. “I recorded in the editing suite we were cutting in, using Logic and an Apogee ONE for guitars. We used this temp music for about six weeks until picture was locked and I moved onto writing the score full time. I spent about two-three weeks composing to picture and then another three weeks or so recording. Most of the recording was done out of Victory Social Club in a small office with Lucas Prokaziuk engineering. We recorded guitars and live synths there, finding the right sounds and tweaking the cues.

“We had three great string players (two violins, one cello) come in for a whirlwind day where we recorded something like 19 cues in maybe four hours, and a drummer to play the kit. I performed the piano and just banged on the percussion until we got the sounds we were looking for. Working with live synths was probably the biggest learning curve for me as it was my first time, but also quite fun, especially interesting to realize how alive they are.

“Writing a score for such a psychologically damaged character immediately gives you a lot of options, some of them interesting, some of them obvious. I had recently heard a record by Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt which is made up of these interlocking guitar-drum runs. Really rough and abrasive but fully integrated. I incorporated (or stole) that idea and placed it overtop a more conventional horror movie melody played on piano and cello. This came together pretty quickly and became the main theme.”

And, finally, this from Calvin Thomas:

“Having the score come together really solidified the tone of the film. It made her more fascinating, more cunning, more complicated. And ultimately that’s what we were striving for: the audience should leave the theatre feeling deeply unsettled by the character they’ve been following through every scene, and conflicted by their own attachment to her.”

White Lie plays the Toronto International Film Festival September 7 and 13. Consult for more information.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5 to 15. Please check for further information.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Jen Shyu. Photo by Lynn LaneSince its inception in 1994, the Guelph Jazz Festival has devoted itself to the music’s creative and committed dimensions, the sound of surprise rather than the lounge. Its founding artistic director, Ajay Heble, presented vigorous and innovative figures like Randy Weston, William Parker and Milford Graves; he also commissioned large-scale creative projects from Canadian musicians, including improvised chamber operas. The festival has become interwoven with the city, with two days of outdoor music stretching from traditional jazz to fusion and ticketed concerts that make creative use of churches, a youth music centre and a performing arts centre.

Ajay Heble. Photo by Trina KosterIn 2017, Heble ceded the reins to Scott Thomson, whose previous festival activities included the AIMToronto Orchestra’s 2007 project with Anthony Braxton. Thomson has since been named artistic and general director with Toronto saxophonist/programmer Karen Ng as assistant artistic and general director. Their collective vision is evident in a program that’s alive with fresh voices. Guelph is one of the few festivals where the music is getting younger, sparking with its own creative zeal. Thomson remarks, “I see my task as a balance between preserving continuity and evolution: the former to maintain the event’s signature that my predecessor worked so hard to establish; the latter as an animating impulse to keep the programming fresh and at least a bit surprising. Karen Ng feels the same way.”

For 2019, The Guelph Jazz Festival presents jazz as a spontaneous global music that can arise anywhere and be played on any instrument, an inventive, creative response to the times, or maybe a time of its own: young Argentinian pianist Paula Shocron and drummer Pablo Diaz are joined in a trio with the émigré senior clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio (September 14) in a lilting, spontaneous take on the Second Viennese School; meanwhile, Brodie West’s Quintet (September 13) is all about time, right down to its two drummers.

Scott Thomson. Photo by Jean MartinThomson, a master of finding associations among musicians, makes the most of his resources. The NAIL concert (September 12) presents two outstanding duos, the Montreal partnership of clarinetist Lori Freedman and bassist Nic Caloia and the Amsterdam team of violist Ig Henneman and saxophonist-clarinetist Ab Baars, then the duos join to explore connections long forged through the Canadian band Queen Mab and Henneman’s sextet, creating the quartet (and anagram) NAIL.

Another international duo, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey, expands to a rarely heard trio – suggested by Karen Ng – with cellist Hank Roberts (September 13). In other duo formations the great Chicago drummer Hamid Drake appears with a regular associate, percussionist Adam Rudolph (September 13), and then (on another day) with Breton piper Erwan Keravec (September 15).

Piper? Yes, Keravec improvises on Scottish bagpipes, creating complex, noise-rich polyphony that suggests factory and cathedral as well as the instrument’s primal roots, and he’s just one of the solo improvisers applying novel approaches to unlikely instruments, sharing a double bill (September 14) with John Kameel Farah playing pipe organ and electronics.

More? One triple bill (September 13) presents three soloists: Guelph-resident Ben Grossman finds new sounds in the antique hurdy-gurdy; Nova Scotian chik white turns the humble jaw harp into an intensely expressive (and sometimes “prepared”) instrument; Susan Alcorn plays pedal-steel guitar, extending her roots in country and western to work of soaring beauty and grace.

Scott Thomson explains the explosion: “It’s important to present these artists as soloists because that’s the context in which we have heard them play so compellingly. It just worked out that they all reached the top of our ‘would-love-to-present’ list this year, and that they play instruments that one seldom or never hears at anything called a ‘jazz festival.’”

No one, however, is likely to take the challenge of solo performance further than American composer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer and vocalist Jen Shyu, presenting her Nine Doors (September 14), a moving tale in which a young woman travels through space and time meeting spirit guides. Along the way, Shyu sings in eight languages, while playing piano and various strings and percussion from Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

The Guelph Jazz Festival plays September 12-15. For information go to

Stuart Broomer writes frequently on music (mostly improvised) and is the author of Time and Anthony Braxton. His column “Ezz-thetics” appears regularly at

Neil Crory 2015. Photo by Linda LitwackMuch has already been penned in celebration of the remarkable career of the late Neil Crory (1950–2019). The tributes often focus on Crory’s enthusiasm for and support of classical singers in Canada. And indeed Crory’s influence in the musical community was far reaching.

Surprisingly little has been mentioned thus far, though, about his strong support of Canadian composition. But in fact, Crory had a keen interest in the development of Canadian composers. Through his activities as a member of the national radio music department of CBC Radio, he initiated numerous commissions and creative projects for CBC Radio music programs. The program I created for CBC Radio Two, Two New Hours (1978–2007), was fortunate to be the place where many of Crory’s projects were aired, enabling our listeners to witness the exuberant programming that was the hallmark of his creativity.

Some of our most ambitious Two New Hours productions, in the cause of original Canadian music, benefited from Crory’s participation. An example of this: Glenn Buhr’s large-scale work, Cathedral Songs, commissioned as an expression of musical community building, to celebrate the newly opened Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto and to be performed in-the-round in the Barbara Frum Atrium, by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Nexus, the Toronto Children’s Choir, and the Hannaford Street Silver Band. In March of 1995, these forces duly assembled for a concert titled “Cathedral Songs,” in which the eponymous composition by Glenn Buhr had its premiere. As the CBC Radio Music liason with the Toronto Symphony, Crory made sure that the TSO was at the centre of it all. The Atrium’s 700 seats were full, and the concert was broadcast live-to-air, serving an audience of thousands of listeners across Canada. The concert, the broadcast, Buhr’s new work and all the other pieces performed in that broadcast made a statement: Canadians creating together and aspiring for excellence can achieve greatness by harnessing the creative juices of a community. Alec Frame, vice president of CBC Radio at the time told me, “I wish that concert could have gone on forever!”

Another example: Crory was involved with commissioning the late Harry Freedman’s (1922–2005) major composition, Borealis, in 1997, which combined the forces of the TSO, the Danish National Radio Choir, the Swedish Radio Choir, the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Childrens’ Chorus, all under the direction of conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste and deployed surrounding the audience, from the ground floor up into the various levels of balconies, ringing the ten-story Barbara Frum Atrium. The occasion in this case was our collaboration with the “Northern Encounters Circumpolar Festival of the Arts,” organized by Soundstreams Canada. The effect of the music was stunning. Freedman himself considered it one of his finest achievements in writing for large-scale musical forces, calling it “A summation.”

Chris Paul Harman (b. 1970) was one of the Canadian composers that Crory commissioned several times. Harman was, at age 19, the youngest Grand Prize winner in the history of the CBC/Radio-Canada Council National Competition for Young Composers (1973–2003). Crory was a close follower of all the various CBC/Radio-Canada music competitions, and he was impressed by the promise of this talented emerging composer. “Neil’s commissions, especially those for the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ) and for the CBC Radio National Competition for Young Performers would have lasting impact on my career,” Harman told me. The SLSQ went on to commission a second quartet from Harman, and played both works in Canada, the US and abroad. Later, Harman’s Globus Hystericus, commissioned for the Young Performers’ competition, was subsequently taken up by several pianists including Christina Petrowska Quilico, (who recorded it for Centrediscs), as well as Stephen Clarke and Simon Docking, among others.

Hong Kong-born Chan Ka Nin (b.1949) was another Canadian composer for whom Crory had a special affinity, and he commissioned several of Chan’s works. Chan told me, “As I was starting out to teach at the University of Toronto after my graduation, Neil commissioned me to write Among Friends in 1989 for the Amici Ensemble. The piece won the Juno Award for Best Classical Composition in 1994, and has since been performed numerous times. I am not exaggerating to say that Neil and the CBC were instrumental in launching my career. I always remember him to be a gentle person with thoughtful insights.” Among Friends, and other works that Crory commissioned Chan to compose for the Amici Ensemble, were recorded in Glenn Gould Studio and released on a CBC Records CD titled Majestic Flair. Copies of that CD are available through the Canadian Music Centre.

Later on, Chan was among the group of Canadian composers Crory commissioned to write preludes and fugues in honour of a very special Glenn Gould anniversary. Crory wrote: “In searching for a manner in which CBC Radio Two could pay tribute to pianist Glenn Gould on what would have been his 75th birthday (September 25, 2007,) I was reminded of the means by which composers throughout history have honoured the memory of Johann Sebastian Bach – the composer most associated with Glenn Gould. Composers from Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Max Reger to Hanns Eisler, Walter Piston and Nino Rota have all celebrated Bach’s genius with works based upon the letters of his name: B-A-C-H (Note: in German, B equals B flat; and H equals B natural.) In this spirit, CBC Radio 2 commissioned 11 composers, from coast to coast, each to write a prelude and fugue for piano based upon the available letters in Glenn Gould’s name (G-E-G-D). I think that you will be pleasantly surprised by the range and diversity of approaches that our composers have taken in realizing their individual commissions.”

In addition to Chan, Crory chose composers Kati Agócs, Malcolm Forsyth, Gary Kulesha, Andrew Paul Macdonald, Diana McIntosh, Jocelyn Morlock, André Ristic and Ana Sokolović, to write for a top-flight group of pianists, together with pianist-composers Stewart Goodyear and Heather Schmidt who recorded their own pieces. The resulting CD is also available on the CMC’s Centrediscs label, titled So You Want To Write A Fugue, a title shared with one of Gould’s own compositions.

Alexina Louie. Photo by Bo HuangGould also led Crory to Toronto composer Alexina Louie. In 1982, when Louie was in the midst of composing a string orchestra work for the Faculty of Music of McGill University, she received the news of the Gould’s premature death. Louie’s response took the form of an outpouring of grief expressed through the music as she completed the work. The heartfelt hommage to Gould touched Crory deeply, so much so that thereafter he sought out Louie whenever her works were performed by the TSO. They became friends, and in 1999, Crory commissioned Louie to compose the Gouldberg Fanfares, to be performed at the Glenn Gould Prize ceremony for Yo-Yo Ma. Crory also brought CBC Radio in as a co-commissioner, together with the TSO, of Louie’s 2008 Pursuit, a concerto for string quartet and orchestra written for the Tokyo String Quartet.

Louie told me that Crory was an enthusiastic adviser for her whenever she was casting singers for her opera projects. For example, he strongly suggested she cast the rising young tenor, Lawrence Williford in two of her television operas, Burnt Toast (2004) and Mulroney: the Opera (2011.) She remembers visiting him as he was in failing health, and that upon leaving his apartment he handed her a pencil, asking her to autograph the concrete inside the front door. She noticed the wall was filled thick with such autographs.

This past summer, at the premiere of her Summer Music, a quintet commissioned by Toronto Summer Music, Louie wrote that the work is, “Dedicated to the memory of my friend, Neil Crory who, as a CBC Music Producer, tirelessly promoted and supported the careers of so many singers, instrumentalists and composers with selfless devotion.”

In light of the depth and impact of his work, and to celebrate his extraordinary life and career, a group of Crory’s friends and colleagues have organized a Neil Crory Tribute Concert, scheduled for Friday, October 11, 2019 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Participating artists will include Phillip Addis, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Isaiah Bell, Benjamin Butterfield, Tracy Dahl, Nathalie Paulin, Brett Polegato, Jean Stilwell, Krisztina Szabó, Daniel Taylor, Erin Wall and Monica Whicher, along with CBC Radio-Canada personalities Ben Heppner, Eric Friesen, and Françoise Davoine. Fittingly, the concert will be recorded by CBC Radio Music for future broadcast. Tickets and information are available at

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

In the Spirit of Glenn Gould (1932–1982)

Returning to the topic of Glenn Gould, the ongoing annual observance of September 25 as Gould’s birthday, will bring with it some announcements by the Glenn Gould Foundation. On this day, the Glenn Gould Foundation will officially open the nomination process for the Thirteenth Glenn Gould Prize, defined by the Foundation as “an international symbol of creative excellence awarded to an individual for a unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts.” As always, members of the public from anywhere in the world will be invited to submit the name of an artist they passionately believe deserves to become the next Glenn Gould Prize Laureate. Nomination forms are at

The Foundation will also offer two presentations to mark the occasion, by renowned professor of political philosophy, Joshua Cohen. On September 25 at 6:30 pm, Cohen will speak on the theme, “Gould’s Variations and the Human Qualities that Foster Remarkable Creativity” at the Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. And on September 26, at 6:30, he will speak at the Isabel Bader Theatre, University of Toronto, on the topic. “Central Park: A Design for Democracy.” Tickets for both presentations are also available online at

Back to top