Cris Derksen. Photo by Red Works PhotographyLet’s do a little bit of time travelling to set the scene:

On June 14, 2017, Tributaries, the show that opened the Luminato Festival in Toronto, was billed aspaying tribute to the immeasurable power, passion, beauty, and resilience of Indigenous women … in a large-scale celebratory experience.” It was divided into four parts, titled Roots, Resurgence, Reclamation, and Emancipation.

On February 19, 2019, at the Banff Centre, ten musicians met in Banff for an event titled Call to Witness: The Future of Indigenous Classical Music. “It was one of the first gatherings of its kind,” according to the CBC, “and included musicians from Alberta, the west coast, and northern Ontario. Along with creating music, participants also drafted a statement to the music industry about the importance of including Indigenous musicians in any music project involving Indigenous culture.”

On May 8, 2019, Soundstreams mounted a show titled Fauxstalgia at the Drake Underground, on Queen St. W. in Toronto. Lawrence Cherney, Soundstreams’ artistic director elaborated: “Fauxstalgia speaks eloquently to our priorities, first of all, because it presents deserving younger Indigenous and queer artists making their debuts on our stage,” he said. “Equally important, these artists are passionately engaged in reflecting the past, including ‘classical’ repertoire, through a 21st century lens.”

On Saturday May 18, 2019, the Toronto-based Eybler Quartet held a CD-launch concert at The Burdock Music Hall, tucked away in a trendy brew pub/restaurant on Bloor St. W. The CD in question is the Eyblers’ second showcasing their groundbreaking take on Beethoven’s Opus 18 String Quartets. Some of the music played on the evening’s program was by Beethoven. But the piece that got played twice, once at the beginning and once at the end, was not.

June 12-16, 2019, Kiinalik, a Buddies in Bad Times/Luminato co-production comes to the Berkeley St Theatre. In the Inuktitut language, when a knife is dull, it is said to “have no face,” the Luminato website explains. The word Kiinalik, in contrast, means that it does! As we are told, Inuk artist Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and queer theatre-maker Evalyn Parry met on an Arctic expedition from Iqaluit to Greenland. Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools is their concert, dialogue, and symbolic convergence between North and South, mapping new territory. “How,” it asks, “do we reckon with these sharp tools.”

Finally, towards sunset on June 23, 2019, at Harbourfront Centre, Lakeside, Maada’ookii Songlines, a free performance with a cast of hundreds including at least eight choirs will ring the proverbial curtain down on the 2019 edition of Luminato. “Maada’ookii is a genderless Ojibway word describing what happens when one distributes or gifts, or shares something with others. And songlines, or dreaming tracks as they are also called, is a term, drawn from Australian aboriginal teachings but present across Indigenous traditions, for songs that help us find the way, both over short but perilous journeys, and over hundreds or even thousands of miles, traversing many languages and cultures along the path.

Look more closely into these six disparate acts of musical gifting and sharing, and you will come across one individual, Cris Derksen, at the heart of each of them.

“My name is Cris Derksen, and I am a half-Cree, half- Mennonite electronic cellist and composer” says Derksen, in the introduction to a five-minute video in the Banff Centre Spotlight series, designed to “explore the stories behind the artists who come to Banff Centre.” (Also appearing in the Derksen spotlight video is Eybler Quartet violist Patrick Jordan, but we’ll get back to that.)

Cris Derksen Trio, with dancer Nimkii Osawamick (left) and drummerJesse Baird (right). Photo by Kathy Campbell“I go back quite a long way in my association with Luminato,” Derksen tells me. “I moved to Toronto five and and a half years ago and started doing stuff in Derek Andrews’ world music concerts. And I played in Iftar that year at the Hearn [a 2016 Luminato show welcoming Syrian newcomers to the city]. But 2017, the first year that Josephine Ridge was involved, was when I started to work with them more intentionally.” “Did she reach out to you?” I ask. “Yes she saw me in a show I did with A Tribe Called Red and called me in for a meeting. And that year I did an hour as one part of Tributaries where I invited a bunch of my Indigenous female friends to each do a song and I arranged that and got the band together.”

One of those singers in Tributaries was Tanya Tagaq; it’s a friendship going back in time to Derksen’s graduation (with a Bachelor of Music in Cello Performance degree) from University of British Columbia. “I was in Tanya’s band from 2007 to 2011,” Derksen says. “It was a great way to cut my teeth. I was so fortunate graduating with a gig like Tanya.” It was the start of a ride, performing and touring, that has taken Derksen across the globe, as well as coast to coast to coast in Canada, in the company of an extraordinary range of musicians and other collaborators.

The sesquicentennial year, 2017, saw a significant spike in awareness of Indigenous performers and performance practice within the arts community, but, as I expressed it to Derksen, my own fear was that there would be a drop off when the special sesqui funding dried up. “But you’re not seeing that, are you?” Derksen responds. “There are too many strong people doing strong interesting work and there’s so much work to be done. We’re living in such an interesting timeline where we seem to be going backwards instead of forwards as far as racialized issues go, and as far as inequality goes. For me, reconciliation is between people, not working on the big level.”

The February 19 Banff gathering arose at least in part from the dynamics of the sesquicentennial year. “Put it this way,” Derksen says, “Classical music is pretty good at having an Indigenous idea without the Indigenous performer. So there’s some steps to be made.” Convening the gathering came directly out of Derksen’s Banff residency, bringing together ten Indigenous classically trained musicians, among them composers Andrew Balfour and Ian Cusson, violist Melody McKiver and her mom, pianist-educator Beverly McKiver, and Jeremy Dutcher, with Derksen cheerfully but insistently moving the action along. Perhaps its most enduring outcome will be the joint manifesto created by the attendees and passed around among the attendees to be read out to the audience at the gathering. Its bottom line? Nothing about us without us.

Soundstreams’ Fauxstalgia at the Drake Underground saw Derksen on familiar turf, performing a solo set for cello and looper, before laying down the groundwork for an evening-ending improvisation with the evening’s other performers, pianist, Darren Creech, performing artist/soprano Teiya Kasahara and contemporary harpist/improviser, Grace Scheele. Cello and electronic looping as core performance practice started for Derksen “probably 18 years ago. My room-mate had a looping station and I borrowed it and then I kept it. It opened up my eyes to being able to create music on my own without hiring a band and it was also my first real foray into composing stuff.”

I observe to Derksen that the looper work that night seemed rhythmically effortless, making the technology almost invisible. “It’s clear that the thing is your friend,” I observe. “Yeah we’ve been hanging out for a while, so I don’t have to think about that as much anymore. I can just focus on the notes. The first loops are nailed down, I know what they will be; the melody is in my head and I can choose how to use it, to expand it, so it’s loose but formed. It’s all 100 percent in the moment though. I don’t have anything saved in the station, so everything is fully live.”

Cello, sans looper, is also the heartbeat of the Cris Derksen-composed work, White Man’s Cattle, which opened and closed the Eybler Quartet’s Burdock Beethoven CD-release concert this past May 19; but Derksen was sitting in the audience, not playing it. The work premiered at Banff, where the Eyblers and Derksen put in the heavy lifting on its creation. It evokes the collision of cultures in Alberta’s history, via an interpolated, scratchy soundclip of an early 20th-century Alberta farmer, master of all he surveys, speaking about “his land.” It’s a layered, driving work, demanding of every ounce of the Eyblers’ astonishing bowmanship. “The hoofprints of cattle and bison in the dust are not so different,” Derksen says laconically to the audience when asked by Patrick Jordan to say a few words before the piece is repeated.

As for Kiinilik in its upcoming June Berkeley Street Luminato remount, Derksen, who created the music for the piece, with be in the middle of things again. “I get the lovely musical job of underscoring. It’s one of the few theatre pieces I actually am happy to be in. Usually if I get a theatre contract I compose the music and pass it on. But this is a really beautiful story, and again truthful. We have taken it many places from its start at Buddies – Montreal, Iqaluit, Vancouver, Luminato. And we go to the Edinburgh International Festival next!”

Maada’ookii Songlines, June 23, was only vaguely in the works when Josephine Ridge left Luminato, but the transition under new Luminato artistic director, Naomi Campbell, has been a smooth one. “It took a moment for us to find each other and talk and sort out what they wanted to do and what I could do with what they wanted to do,” Derksen says.

“A bit different than looping so you don’t have to hire a band,” I remark. “With a cast of hundreds it’s definitely a different style,” Derksen says. “More notes on the page and throughlines, that kind of stuff. But we do have some interesting soloists and for the solo parts I am giving them a lot of free rein; they get the fun part improvising on top of moments.”

Part of the description of the show on the Luminato website talks about “a noisy fury blaring out a cacophony of frustrations and dreams?” So I ask Derksen if it’s an angry work. The response is unhesitating: “No its not angry at all ... maada’ookii is an Ojibway word, I’m Cree but I chose to use an Ojibway word because we are on Anishinaabe territory … When Indigenous people meet there’s a feast, there’s gifting involved, so this word and this work’s meaning is she/he shares, gifts. Angry it is not. Truthful it is.”

As mentioned earlier, the gift of songlines is the ability to navigate hundreds or even thousands of miles, traversing many languages along the way. The choirs involved seem to epitomize this idea: Canadian Arabic Choir; Darbazi; Vesnivka; Coro San Marco; YIP’s Children’s Choir; the Bruised Years Choir (part of Workman Arts); Faith Chorale; and an Indigenous Hand Drum Choir.

“Will it get crazy?” I ask. “There’s an underscore,” Derksen says. “They all have their parts but I expect there will be moments of chaotic!”

“And you? Are you going to be sitting inside or outside it?

“Oh I’m going to cello along.” With a laugh.

You can find the entire proceedings of the Feb 19 Banff gathering at

David Perlman can be reached at

Near to the Wild Heart: Impossibly HappyFor over a decade, Susanna Hood has been developing projects that explore and develop her identity as dancer and singer, choreographer and composer, often incorporating other arts as well.

There’s the edgy, Dora Award-winning solo dance She’s Gone Away and Shudder, her visceral interpretation of Francis Bacon paintings. In 2014 she combined singing and choreography in The Muted Note, settings of poems by P.K Page with her partner, composer and trombonist Scott Thomson. Her latest work, Impossibly Happy, is more ambitious still: she’s debuting as songwriter and bandleader in addition to roles as singer-dancer-choreographer with her Montreal-based company of dancers and musicians, Near to the Wild Heart. Setting poems by the 15th-century Zen master Ikkyū, Impossibly Happy combines art forms with a singular physical and emotional intensity.

Ikkyū was no ordinary Zen master, but a monk whose poems explore and celebrate drunkenness and carnal adventures. For Hood, “Initially, it was the poetry itself that drew me; its simplicity and openness of form and the possibilities that leant to discovering my own musicality within. But once I started choosing and working with poems, it was the raw, unpretentious truths that I found in the words, unfiltered by conformity for appearances’ sake, that compelled me. That’s the aspect that made me curious to know more about this extraordinary person and particularly the paradoxes he seemed to live without apology. For example, how he/we contain the frictions between wisdom, grumpiness, sacredness and lust.”

Hood’s conception of Ikkyū takes in dance, song and poetry, exploring him as spirit presence, paradox and contradiction. The stage, containing both dancers and musicians, is alive with movement, sometimes resembling a battle, sometimes a kind of hypnotic anarchy, with dancers moving rapidly amongst the musicians or suddenly freezing into muscle-tensed, almost calligraphic forms. It’s made more precarious by Hood’s simultaneous embrace of choreography, composition and improvisation: “In all cases, I was looking for people who could balance working with both set forms and form-making through improvisation. Along the way I’ve realized that how different people approach each of those demands is highly specific and subjective.”

Hood’s dancers combine interests in improvisation and contemporary vernaculars: “Sovann Prom-Tep comes initially from break-dancing culture, and Lucy M. May has been dedicating a good part of her practice to Krump in the last three years. Both of these dance forms demand that one is always reinventing and developing one’s own dance within the form.”

Assembling the musicians to realize her sometimes spiky melodies, Hood managed to achieve a distinctive sonic palette via the skilled improvising of drummer D. Alex Meeks with tubist Julie Houle and violist Jennifer Thiessen. Adding to the special skill set required, every member of the company is also called on to sing.

Impossibly Happy is risk-taking, interdisciplinary work that seems to demand all the individual and collective resources that its performers might bring to it. As Hood remarks: “It was a huge learning curve for all of us.” As such, it’s a worthy embodiment of Ikkyū’s special vision.

Near to the Wild Heart presents Impossibly Happy, June 20 at 8pm at Array Space, 155 Walnut Ave.

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

Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble. Photo by Dominic Ali2019 marks an interesting anniversary for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. A mere three years ago, in 2016, the TJF looked much different than it will this year, or even than it did in 2017, when it first made the move from Nathan Phillips Square to Yorkville.

Of the many changes that took place between 2016 and 2017, there are three that seem most significant. The first: instead of anchoring the outdoor festivities around large, ticketed tent shows, the TJF’s outdoor shows would be free, and would, for the most part, feature local or up-and-coming acts. The second: by moving from Nathan Phillips Square to Yorkville, the TJF sought to integrate itself within a pre-existing commercial (and residential) area that is largely pedestrian, automatically expanding the potential attendance pool of the free outdoor shows to people who just happen to find themselves in the area, and making it easy for festival veterans to “make a day of it.” (One could, of course, wander around Nathan Phillips Square, but it was hard to find a passable beer, a cup of coffee, or even, say, a salad on the premises. Even the most ardent jazz fan found it tough to do a whole day at the festival as it existed at NPS.) And the third: the TJF would discontinue the longstanding practice of automatically including all of Toronto’s jazz (and jazz-adjacent) clubs in TJF materials, with no input as to those clubs’ programming and no real control over attendee experience, reducing the breadth of the festival’s offerings in order to focus on depth.

Personally speaking, while I was out of town touring for most of the TJF’s inaugural Yorkville run in 2017, last year I had the opportunity to both play in the festival (on an outdoor stage on Cumberland, as well as indoors at The Pilot) and to attend a variety of shows, including Dan Weiss’ Starebaby group, a ticketed event at The Rex, Savion Glover and Marcus Gilmore’s duo show at Koerner Hall, also ticketed, and a healthy number of free shows that took place at (mostly) outdoor stages. (For those with an interest in last year’s TJF, please visit The WholeNote website to check out the pieces I wrote.) As a performer and as a spectator, I genuinely enjoyed myself; though it lacked the large open space of NPS, the area’s village-esque qualities ended up lending themselves well to a multi-stage set-up with staggered set times. It felt, as I wrote last year, festive, for the first time in my experience of a jazz festival in Toronto.

Josh Grossman. Photo by Marie ByersIn mid-May, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Josh Grossman, the Artistic Director of Toronto Downtown Jazz (the organization that administers and runs the TD Toronto Jazz Festival) to talk about these relatively recent large-scale changes to the TJF’s format, the unique aspects of this year’s festival, and the TJF’s future in its new home.

In order for a festival to feel immersive, a sense of momentum must be cultivated within the grounds, Grossman says. Audiences should be able to move naturally from one event to the next, without ever feeling as though they’re waiting around with nothing to see. When Grossman looked at other jazz festivals, such as Ottawa or Montreal, or even other festivals within the city, including those that occur at Harbourfront Centre, he took note of the way in which there were events “happening all the time on multiple stages,” which he felt the TJF “couldn’t ever get at Nathan Phillips Square.” One of the biggest problems? The “relatively strict sound restrictions in place” at NPS, owing to its proximity to City Hall and to the courts, which, as Grossman told me, also made the development of any serious sense of momentum difficult.

Mounting frustrations with the festival’s old location coincided with the appointment of Howard Kerbel as Downtown Toronto Jazz’s new CEO in 2016. Kerbel – who was previously a member of the Toronto International Film Festival’s leadership team, and had, according to Grossman, “fond memories of how TIFF ran in Yorkville,” before its move to King Street and the TIFF Bell Lightbox facility – helped to initiate the move away from NPS at a time when there was a dearth of multi-day festival activity in Yorkville. Finding the business community and local leadership amenable to the idea of the TJF in Yorkville, the timing was right for Toronto Downtown Jazz to make the move.

One of the best parts of the TJF, in its current iteration, is the proliferation of free outdoor stages. Beyond helping to fulfil a vision of a festival with porous borders, the free stages have tended to skew local and young-ish in their programming. This is, of course, helpful for musicians at an early or intermediate stage in their own career development, but it is also helpful for the TJF, which is still focused on its own long-term growth. A combination of sponsorship and operational funding from municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government allow the TJF to pay for its approximately 170 free shows; making these shows as accessible as possible to the general public. It also helps with fundraising and development, Grossman says, “making it easy for potential sponsors and donors to come down, get a feel for the place, and say ‘this is something we’d like to support’.’”

The drastic reduction in the number of clubs included in TJF programming has not been without its detractors. In the wake of the 2017 festival, club owners to whom I spoke mentioned that being excluded from the festival’s promotional materials had resulted in a definite dip in attendance during the period, as compared to the previous years. In the research process for this article, I spoke to (and emailed) a number of musicians who had played at the TJF in the last two years – i.e. in the festival’s current format – and asked them about their experiences, both as performers and attendees. The responses were fairly consistent: while musicians like the idea of integrating a greater number of clubs into the festival, it doesn’t necessarily follow that having more clubs participating will automatically make the TJF experience better; there is something to be said for the community-building power of geographical proximity, and the possibility that a festival may cease to feel like a festival if the majority of its offerings take place at discrete locations at various points throughout a city.

When I asked Grossman about the club situation, he touched on the same points, as well as what for him was the primary issue: that Toronto Downtown Jazz wasn’t actually programming the clubs, had no overview over their operational standards, and had no control over attendee experience at events that were explicitly being advertised as TJF events. Moreover, the festival was doing this promotion for free, and, in some cases, club shows “would be up against events that the festival had “programmed directly,” creating odd conflicts of interest. Another major issue that Grossman touched on: musician pay. The TJF works to pay “at the very minimum, the Toronto Musician Association’s recommended rates.” Again, stressing that all clubs operate differently, Grossman pointed out that “when a musician would go in to play” a venue that had a “pass-the-hat” payment arrangement, it would get very tricky to say “this is an official festival show.”

This is not to say, of course, that there are no clubs involved in the TJF; there are a handful, including a number of venues adjacent to the Yorkville festival grounds, such as Sassafraz, the Gatsby bar at the Windsor Arms Hotel, and Proof Bar at the Intercontinental Hotel, the latter of which will host the nightly jam. As it did last year, the Home Smith Bar at The Old Mill will represent the TJF’s furthest-flung outpost, with four nights of vocal jazz performances hosted by Heather Bambrick. In the downtown core, The Rex will again function as a major festival hub, and will feature major artists such as David Binney, Donny McCaslin and Chris Potter. Grossman tells me that the TJF and The Rex have a “co-curatorial relationship;” throughout the booking process they go back and forth, working through any questions about which artists will work best in which setting. “What we end up with,” he says, “is a lineup on our stage that [The Rex] is cool with, and a lineup on The Rex stage that we’re cool with.” Issues concerning pay, marketing and promotion are all covered in “a very strict venue agreement,” resulting in all parties being comfortable and mutually invested in a positive outcome. And, as Grossman puts it, if it’s possible to develop similar relationships with other clubs that can provide complementary programming to the TJF’s other venues, it’s probably “the way forward.”

Five years from now? Grossman returns to the move from NPS to Yorkville. “The goal with moving to Yorkville,” he says, “was to refresh the festival, change things up, a little bit, but also to create an environment in which people” – attendees, sponsors, artists – “can come and get excited about what we’re doing, see that we’re trying to build this thing, and get on board.” Fundamentally, he says, all of the Yorkville activity will remain more or less the same, because “that’s the vibe” they’re looking for. When asked about what’s missing, he let on that he’d been in preliminary talks with the University of Toronto about space to accommodate a large stage, a marquee venue at which 10,000 or so people could watch major artists perform. I asked if he maybe had a place like King’s College Circle in mind, but I was wrong. “Varsity Stadium,” he answered. “But,” he added wryly, “I think that’s very challenging, for any number of reasons.”

And so, on its third anniversary in Yorkville, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival seems confident, self-assured, but also duly concerned with the necessity for future growth. Beyond the improved attendee experience, it is this potential for growth that seems most exciting about the festival, and which illustrates one of the less obvious outcomes of its exit from its old location in Nathan Phillips Square: by narrowing its scope and reinventing itself as a leaner, more focused festival, the TJF has given itself the space to better manage its own development. Through this process, it has quickly (re-)established itself as part of Toronto’s cultural landscape. As to the future, we’ll have to wait and see.

This year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival runs from June 21 to 30. For details visit

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at, on Instagram and on Twitter.

James Campbell. Photo by Mark RashThe first-ever concert of the Festival of the Sound was held on August 5, 1979 in a Parry Sound school gymnasium under the direction of pianist Anton Kuerti. The summer of 1980 marked the first full-fledged festival under the FTOS name, with Kuerti as artistic director. In 1985, James Campbell began his tenure as the Festival’s second artistic director, a position he still holds today.

I caught up with Campbell in mid-May, via an exchange of emails.

WN: To jog your memory, last time we spoke (briefly) was Feb 4 last year after a New Music Concerts’ Land’s End Ensemble concert at Gallery 345 in Toronto where you played the Schoenberg Kammersymphonie Op.9 (Quintet version), with Lands End and Bob Aitken, flute. I said something about getting in touch with you about the 2018 Festival of the Sound, and you replied along the lines of “Great, but why don’t we wait for next year’s 40th anniversary version.” So here we are!

You said in your previous email that you were at Munich airport en route to Prague for a week of recording. Can you say more about that?

JC: We’ve just finished. It’s a recording with the Prague Philharmonic of Allan Gilliland’s Dreaming of the Masters, a work commissioned by the Edmonton Symphony for the orchestra and me in 2005. It has had quite a run; I even performed it twice with the Boston Pops in Symphony Hall, Boston. It is a cross-over work in the style of three great jazz clarinetists: Benny Goodman, Acker Bilk and Buddy de Franco. The CD will be released next April.

I notice you are using your email address, but I don’t know whether you are still mainly at the Jacobs School. I seem to have noticed your name cropping up at University of Toronto more frequently this past year or so (masterclasses, etc) but maybe it’s just that I have noticed more?

I have just left IU after 31 wonderful years, but please don’t say “retiring,” because I will still be very active playing, giving masterclasses worldwide, and being artistic director at Festival of the Sound. Carol and I are looking forward to spending a lot more time in Canada. And yes, you have seen my name at U of T more frequently; I have been a visiting artist there two to four times a year for the last few years, something I enjoy.

Everything else notwithstanding, I’d say that your 35-year role at Festival of the Sound is the one that most WholeNote readers associate you with. How big of a piece of the pie is it? 

It is one of the three “jobs” I have had for the last three decades: professor, performer and artistic director. FOTS takes a lot of energy and time, but has been a passion of mine.

“Recurring cast of characters” is a phrase that comes to mind when I look at the artists you’ve attracted to FOTS over the years, albeit always with interesting “first timers.” There must be something in the formula that works, for your audiences, and maybe more importantly for the musicians themselves.

This might be better explained in a conversation, but I’ll see what I can do here. I believe there is difference between a music festival and a music series. A series, by definition and necessity, hires pre-formed groups or packages. Although some festivals run this way and it works for them, the FOTS is what I like to think of as a creative festival. Musicians come together to share the stage with friends and colleagues they may not interact with during the winter months. I make up the programs in consultation with the musicians and the concerts are prepared on site. Musicians get to play works they may not get to tackle in a busy concert season and the audience hears programs that can be done only once, at FOTS. Most artists stay in Parry Sound for three to six days and during this time a sense of camaraderie develops, adding to the spontaneous music making and fun that is central (I think) to a summer festival.

The core artists (of which there are now many) are those who love this kind of interaction and risk-taking, and because many return on a regular basis (as you have noticed) feel a sense of belonging and ownership. This adds to the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere FOTS is proud to foster.

The cross-genre aspect of the festival is one of the things that stands out. How much of that comes from the fact that you yourself love crossing those lines as a musician? How much of the curating at this point comes from artists knowing what pushes your buttons, and how much is you doing the matchmaking? 

I do almost all the matchmaking but do consider every pitch thrown my way by artists. I also get a lot of ideas sent to me by agents and organizations worldwide. I enjoy gently pushing some artists out of their comfort zones, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Our audience understands this to be part of what we do and enjoys hearing musicians trying something new, which makes our stage a safe place for musicians to stretch a bit. I certainly appreciate it as a musician. Being allowed to make mistakes has helped me grow in so many different ways.

This is great, thank you! Last word to you?

If I may wax philosophical for a moment, then: I am sometimes asked why I have remained with FOTS for so long and have indeed had other informal “offers.” I could have climbed various administrative ladders in Canada but there has always been something very special about the relationship of classical chamber music and Parry Sound that I have never experienced in all my travels.

I am very grateful to Anton Kuerti for asking me to take over from him 35 years ago. He, and a wonderfully tenacious group of volunteers, did most of the heavy lifting. That tenacity remains strong to this day, making my job simply to keep an artistic focus that is worthy of the energy and passion of the local community.

When all is said and done, everything we do comes down to that moment when artist and listener are joined in a moment of communal focus on a timeless masterpiece and life is made better. As artistic director, feeling I may have helped that moment happen gives me a wonderful sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

It is all about building relationships: artist to artist, artist to board members, artist to audience members, audience members to each other, artists and audience members to the local community. These take time to build, but once established can last a long time. When I find musicians who connect with all these elements I try to help build those bonds. We have found that this connection has helped us through the inevitable ups and downs of our history. We are now the second largest economic generator in the community – the Island Queen is the first! 

Janet LopinskiThe clock is ticking down to the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in October 2020, and the Fifth Canadian Chopin Piano Competition and Festival – August 23 to 29, 2019 at the Royal Conservatory of Music – offers an interesting stepping stone on one path to the Warsaw event. Presented by the Canadian Chopin Society, the Festival part of the event celebrates Chopin’s legacy with a series of concerts, workshops and performance classes, highlighted by a solo recital by Polish-Canadian pianist Krzysztof Jablonski, third-place laureate at the 11th Chopin Piano Competition in 1985.

But the cornerstone of the week is the Competition, divided into Junior and Senior sections. The top three Senior finishers will travel to Warsaw in the fall of 2020, guaranteed a spot in the 18th Chopin Piano Competition. Second-prize winner Tony Yike Yang, in the Fourth Canadian Competition (2014), became the youngest laureate (at age 16) in the history of the International Chopin Competition in 2015, winning the Fifth Prize. (By coincidence, Yang’s teacher, Vietnamese-Canadian DangThai Son, had finished first in the 1980 International Competition.) Now pursuing a dual degree in economics and piano performance through the Harvard University-New England Conservatory of Music Joint-Degree Program, Yang’s recent accolades include being awarded the Jury Discretionary Award at the 15th Van Cliburn International Competition in 2017, where (at 18) he was the youngest competitor.

To learn more about the Chopin Competition and Festival I corresponded with Janet Lopinski, senior director of academic programs at The Royal Conservatory, and founder and artistic director of the Canadian Chopin Society. She was appointed artistic director of the Canadian Chopin Competition in 2008. By 2010, the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, a year that saw the presentation of the Competition Winners Concert in Koerner Hall, it was clear that there was an appetite for a permanent Chopin Society. With strong support of the Polish Canadian community, particularly the Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, the Canadian Chopin Society (CCS) was incorporated as a not-for-profit entity in 2012. Its mission: “to celebrate the legacy of Fryderyk Chopin by promoting his music while nurturing the development of young artists.”

A full-blown Festival and Competition such as this one is presented every five years, in preparation for the prestigious International Fryderyk Chopin Competition, Lopinski informed me. In the years between, the Society presents concerts, workshops, lectures and masterclasses, and provides performance and scholarship opportunities for young Canadian pianists. Lopinski herself has performed as soloist and collaborative pianist, and has presented lectures, workshops and masterclasses across North America.

The relationship between the CCS and the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Poland has evolved over the past decade, Lopinski said. Since 2000, the cost for the top prize winners’ travel to Poland has been covered. “We have also made it a point to include Polish pianists on our jury,” she added. As well, Lopinski was invited to participate in the first Chopin Competitions Conference, organized by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute. “The success of Tony Yike Yang certainly brought great visibility for the CCS,” she said.

At that 2015 conference there were 15 Chopin Competitions from around the world represented. Lopinski credits the Chopin Foundation of the USA with being both an inspiration and a model for the Canadian event. Other competitions whose winners may be accepted directly to the Warsaw Preliminary Round include those based in Darmstadt, Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo.

The Chopin Piano Competition is open to talented Canadian pianists up to age 29 who wish to further their performance skills and in particular, their playing of the works of Fryderyk Chopin. Application deadline was May 31, several days after our summer issue went to press. More information on the event and its participants can be found at The Senior competitors will participate in Preliminary, Semi Final, and Final rounds, performing selected works by Chopin, and will be adjudicated by a panel of respected Chopin experts. All competition stages are open to the public. Preliminary rounds will be held in Mazzoleni Hall; the finals will take place in Koerner Hall with the finalists performing Chopin Concertos with the Tokai String Quartet.

Krzysztof Jablonski chairs the jury comprised of U of T piano pedagogue Midori Koga, South African native Anton Nel (a familiar face at Glenn Gould School masterclasses), Irish pianist John O’Conor (another GGS faculty member and masterclass participant), and Juilliard faculty member Golda Vainberg-Tatz.

Mazzoleni Hall will also be the site of three special events: “Insights” – an evening with Alan Walker, author of the acclaimed biography, Fryderyk Chopin: Life and Times; “Conversations” – an evening with the competition jury, providing the opportunity to hear their thoughts on music-making, competitions, and careers in music; and “Portraits” – a glimpse into three stages of Chopin’s life through letters and music.

“Once the applications for the competition have been received, and the schedule finalized we will also be announcing additional masterclasses and performance showcases, to provide opportunities for pianists not entered in the competition to be a part of the Festival,” Lopinski said. “Please check our website ( after June 10 for these updates,” she added.

I asked what she considered her proudest achievement as artistic director and she told me that founding the CCS and providing leadership for its development has “brought the opportunity to combine several things that are very important to me: my Polish heritage, my love for music, and my commitment to music education. . . Certainly witnessing the success of Tony Yike Yang at the International Competition in 2015, and observing his transition from student to young artist has been incredibly gratifying and inspiring.” 

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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