181023 40670 bannerPhoto by Bruce ZingerWhen I tell people about Opera Atelier’s ongoing The Angel Speaks project, I always begin with when I saw the very first performance of its first installment, in May 2017.

I was sitting at the back of the Royal Chapel at the Palace of Versailles watching fellow members of Opera Atelier’s Medea company and of Tafelmusik perform an attractive selection of Purcell and other English Baroque music, titled Harmonia Sacra, when suddenly there appeared high up on the balcony above, the dramatic figure of what appeared to be a Viking angel playing an exquisite melody on solo violin.This beautiful mystical thread of music then seemed to bring forth, and become tangibly present in, the figure of a dancer (Tyler Gledhill) – another face of the angel – on the ground level with the singers and audience, a figure in search of something or someone. That someone, it became clear, was the Virgin Mary in the person of soprano Mireille Asselin. The violin-playing angel then joined the other two on the ground level, and we in the audience were transfixed as the three embodied the story of the Annunciation in music and choreography in a way that was profoundly moving.

This transformative concert experience was the result of a double commission by Opera Atelier, their first: an original piece of contemporary Canadian music for solo violin, Inception, by acclaimed violinist (and balcony Viking) Edwin Huizinga, combined with new contemporary choreography by longtime OA artist, and in-demand contemporary dancer, Tyler Gledhill.

For me, what was truly extraordinary about this piece was the blending of the Baroque and the new, the music and the choreography, a seamless interweaving with Purcell’s dramatic cantata, The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, beautifully sung by Asselin. Fascinated by what OA co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski calls this “theatrical intervention” that was so much greater than the sum of its parts, I contacted composer Edwin Huizinga to learn more about his creative journey on this project and how it fits in with his already incredibly multi-faceted career.

Edwin Huizinga. Photo by Bryson WinchesterWhen I caught up with him, Huizinga was in California having just finished recording a new album with his Fire & Grace partner, guitarist William Coulter, and “phenomenal mandolin player” Ashley Broder. Like Fire & Grace’s previous albums the new one has a mix of Baroque and Irish music, but with the addition of Broder to the ensemble has also mixed in American folk music and bluegrass, while “still being very much focused on the cross pollination of the two different genres.”

This cross-pollination of Baroque and folk music can be seen throughout Huizinga’s career although he “grew up in the middle of nowhere (Puslinch, Ontario) listening almost exclusively to classical music on CBC radio,” and from an early age was “fascinated with the fact that there was so much Baroque dance music out there that I loved.” The folk side of things didn’t come in until later.

As a young professional violinist, as he became increasingly immersed in the “world of the Baroque violin, playing with groups like Tafelmusik and Apollo’s Fire,” he became even more eager to share this music with other colleagues. Also early in his professional career, he was beginning to develop his “other love – of the folk world” playing and writing songs with his Canadian indie band The Wooden Sky. It was as the band toured to festivals across the country “playing folk music for audiences of thousands of amazingly excited young people” that he first thought “why can’t we mix these two genres together?” and started brainstorming about ways to do just that.

A chance meeting with kindred spirit William Coulter, a classical guitarist fascinated with Celtic guitar and Irish music, led to a collaboration on the first Fire & Grace album where they experimented with combining classical, Baroque and (primarily Celtic) folk. They were thrilled with the result, as Huizinga says: “It was so incredibly fun to accomplish the combination of music genres and to really feel that they are more similar than not.” Performing the album’s tracks around the world they found that “people got it, also feeling the real connection between the two genres, the shared joie de vivre and the way your body feels when you are playing this music.”

While Huizinga never went as far as step dancing while playing his violin as Natalie McMaster does (although he has met and greatly admires her) he often refers to this physicality of the music, both how it feels in the body when a musician plays it and how it seems meant to be danced.

All of these things make him an ideal composer for OA to have chosen for The Angel Speaks, and to actually take part in the choreography of his music as an integral part of the storytelling.

When I asked him if he had ever done anything like that before, he explained: “It was a completely different experience! I spent time really thinking of what it meant to be a composer and performer today with the knowledge that I have of all this Baroque repertoire that I love. Then when Tyler and I started working together and I sent him the music, we spent many weeks together discovering the relationship – playing with me being part of the voice of the Angel Gabriel and him being the Angel Gabriel, and with the fact that he and I were connected and exchanging energies onstage. That piece was an extraordinary inlet for me, into the world of visualizing what I was trying to write. By the time we were performing it, it felt very organic, as if we were moving and working together as a team throughout.”

Mireille Asselin as the Virgin Mary with Tyler Gledhill as the Angel Gabriel in the Royal Chapel at Versailles (December 2018) with Edwin Huizinga (left) leading the music. Photo by Bruce ZingerThat first Versailles concert performance of Inception was so successful that OA was invited to return to Versailles and to expand the new commission, adding additional instruments, voices and dancers. This opened the door to expanding on the story and layers of the new project, taking as a jumping off-point The Annunciation, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, in an evocative translation by acclaimed American playwright and poet Grace Andreacchi,

“One of the beautiful things as I started to write this piece” says Huizinga, “was the chance to collaborate with Tyler.” In the new piece, Annunciation, Jesse Blumberg, the baritone soloist, is another great friend and colleague, having made an album with Huizinga’s Baroque band ACRONYM and having just married one of Huizinga’s best friends. “It’s an unbelievably great feeling,” Huizinga says, “to be able to call someone at the drop of a hat and ask questions about the range of their voice and their interests; for example, if they would be willing to go into a falsetto voice and be singing higher notes than the soprano. Also, as a composer I’ve decided that I want the artists that I am writing for to be comfortable. My whole concept behind performance is that, if you’re able to really enjoy what you are doing, that will translate beyond anything you could technically accomplish.”

The whole process of creation on Annunciation, as it was with Inception, seems to have been very free and collaborative. As Huizinga started work on Annunciation with Blumberg’s voice in mind, and “falling in love with the poem and understanding it more and more,” he recalls approaching Opera Atelier director Marshall Pynkoski: “I felt there were moments in the poem where I thought there was a dialogue in the Angel Gabriel’s mind and I was wondering if I could turn that into a real physical thing and have two singers.” Pynkoski agreed immediately and suggested that Mirellle Asselin could be part of Annunciation as well as Inception. “I was thrilled” says Huizinga. “Being able to weave her voice in adds so much, as for me there is very little that is more powerful than two artists trying to tell a story together.”

Rilke’s poem The Annunciation is a strange, mystical, almost surreal, evocation of the arrival of the Angel Gabriel on earth to find the Virgin Mary and tell her that she has been chosen to give birth to the son of God. It is far from a straightforward telling, as the angel seems to have forgotten his mission at first, and does not recognize Mary or possibly even know she is real. He (almost) seems to be in conflict with himself which gives rise to internal tension in the musical scene and the choreography created to go with it. Asselin, in this section, is no longer the Virgin Mary, as she was in Inception, but more, as Huizinga puts it, “an apparition, or avatar, of what is going on in the Angel Gabriel’s mind” conveying what he is yearning and searching for and trying to understand.

He continues: “I’ve had so many thoughts and discussions about the idea of an avatar and how that’s one of the (both modern and age-old) concepts that we use to describe the transfer of consciousness and energy into another being. We had to find a way to give Jesse that responsibility as he and Tyler are both aspects of the Angel Gabriel.” This concept leads to a beautiful choreographed interaction as Annunciation begins.

Huizinga himself is not as much part of the choreography in Annunciation, deciding instead to “lead the band” so as to be able to observe and be part of the development of all the moving parts of this much more complex piece that includes two singers, six instrumentalists and five dancers (and Baroque as well as contemporary choreography). As he says: “I’m treating it as a chance to see what it’s like to be writing a dramatic cantata today in the 21st century.”

One moment in the process so far really stands out for him: “I had written an incredibly calm moment right near the end of the piece – a long meaningful chord – and [director] Marshall had the two dancer couples lean in towards each other and hold this moment of repose and beauty and connection, and it blew my mind. I left that rehearsal basically speechless because I had never talked to him before about how I felt about that moment, but I saw I had been completely understood.”

Tyler Gledhill as the Angel Gabriel and Edwin Huzinga. Photo by Bruce ZingerIn this new version of the project I first witnessed in Versailles in 2017, titled The Angel Speaks, the various pieces are interwoven. Annunciation, telling the story of Gabriel’s arrival on earth and struggle to understand his mission, comes first, followed by Purcell’s The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, interwoven with Inception, with the sweet voice of Huizinga’s violin answering from above Mary’s cries to Gabriel.

The Angel Speaks will be performed in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery for one performance only on February 21. Interestingly it was at the ROM that Opera Atelier first began presenting Baroque performances in 1985, so it seems extra fitting that they should debut what feels like a new phase of creation in the same setting.

Already, though, the team are looking ahead to the next expansion of the project which will begin with another mystic Rilke poem, The Annunciation to Mary, in another wonderful translation by Grace Andreacchi. At this point, as Huizinga says, they are “just scratching the surface” exploring the meaning of the poem and looking at possibilities of setting it for a singer or possibly for an actor to speak over music. “The next question for me, for Marshall and OA, is eventually what is this going to turn into?” Huizinga sees it as “eventually having less [musical] support from the godfathers of Baroque music, and Marshall has indicated that he would like to see it become a one-hour piece that can stand on its own.”

Asked if he could imagine having undertaken The Angel Speaks without benefit of all the many different things that he has in his musical career, Huizinga replied:

“The short answer is that it is impossible to separate anything that I do in my life from the music that I write. Initially when I was starting to write this piece I was listening to and performing a lot of Heinrich Biber. One of the things I love most about him is that he inspires the performer to improvise, and my life has been guided by my desire to also improvise and be able to feel freedom in music. True freedom where you are really being allowed to speak your own voice in what you do.”

In composing Annunciation, for example, he “wrote three very short moments of improvisation. I asked each performer individually ‘Would you be interested in doing this? Does it excite you? Because, if not, I am happy to write it out completely.’ And I would maybe not have had the courage to follow that path with my new piece without having had opportunities of shredding and improvising in studios as a studio musician, and then as a band member, or asking my kids at the summer camp that I run to forget everything they have learned and just improvise a piece for me using three notes A, C and E. So, everything in my life so far is, I feel, definitely being brought out in this world of writing.”

I suggest to him, as our conversation draws to a close, that, along with the exhilaration of composing and creating these new works, it must be a real blast for a musician with his physicality to actually be on stage, with permission to be part of the scripted visual action.

“Absolutely a blast, and also hard to believe, to be honest,” he replies.

Opera Atelier’s The Angel Speaks will be performed in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery for one performance only at 8pm on February 21.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Danny Driver. Photo by Kaupo KikkasDanny Driver may be the best pianist you’ve never heard. The British native, now in his early 40s, is one of the world-class artists who record for the prestigious UK record company Hyperion along with Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough and Angela Hewitt among others.

Driver’s decade-long relationship with Hyperion Records has yielded a wide-ranging discography of works by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Handel, York Bowen, Benjamin Dale, Mili Balakirev, Robert Schumann and Erik Chisholm. Of his first volume of CPE Bach Sonatas, Bryce Morrison wrote in Gramophone: “It would be impossible to overestimate Driver’s impeccable technique and musicianship … his is one of the finest of all recent keyboard issues.” His most recent release, cited by The New York Times as one of 2017’s Best Classical Recordings, featured piano concertos by Amy Beach, Dorothy Howell and Cécile Chaminade. On March 5, he makes a welcome return to the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre under the auspices of Music Toronto. The following afternoon he gives a masterclass at U of T’s Edward Johnson Building, something he also did on his last visit here, two years ago. His empathetic interchanges with the students and musical insights were impressive then and promise to be equally memorable March 6.

In a revealing eight-minute video available on Facebook and posted on his website, Driver talked about why Sviatoslav Richter headed a list of pianists he loved – “because of his meticulous attention to detail and his refusal to compromise” – and spoke about being the product of many different influences including science (which he studied at Cambridge University). “In a sense everything is connected,” he said. “Part of the excitement and the danger of musical performance is [that] ultimately I don’t come to it with really strongly conceived notions. Principles yes, but there’s so much that can happen, that might happen. It’s very difficult to explain where that comes from.”

The WholeNote celebrates this singular pianist’s upcoming recital with the following mid-January 2019 conversation.

WN: What are your first memories of playing the piano?

DD: At school, I watched my schoolmates playing simple pieces on the piano in front of the class and decided that I too wanted to have a go. The first time I played in front of my peers I used only my left and right thumbs (on middle C and middle B respectively)… fortunately for my audiences things have moved forward somewhat since.

Please describe the musical atmosphere in your home growing up.

I was encouraged to develop my musical skills (I also played the clarinet and French horn, and composed) but not to the exclusion of other things. Growing up I had a range of interests, including languages, science and sport. This breadth helped me to understand the way music draws upon and reflects our lives, even at an early age.

Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?

Definitely Chopin! I fell in love with Dinu Lipatti’s classic 1950 recording of Chopin’s Waltzes, and remember trying to emulate him in several of those pieces (unsuccessfully I might add). Even though my repertoire these days is not necessarily focused on Romanticism, I am still very attached to Chopin’s music.

Where do you find artistic inspiration?

If I knew the answer then inspiration would be constantly available and thus ultimately non-existent; special moments often arise when you least expect them, even while contemplating seemingly mundane objects or activities. I enjoy reading widely and engaging with a range of art forms, as well as reflecting on my artistic practice and its relation to the world around me. Teaching younger artists and playing chamber music with colleagues are also essential.

Please tell us how you approach each piece on the Music Toronto program. What is it about CPE Bach’s Fantasie in F-sharp Minor that speaks to you?

CPE Bach was a true musical game-changer, “exploding” traditional Baroque idioms in a mercurial style driven by contrast of character and emotion. The Baroque counterpoint of musical line and its relationship to the classical art of rhetoric is replaced by a counterpoint of musical idea and a poetic outlook. There’s something liberating and improvisatory about playing this typically quirky Fantasia, which often veers angularly from one harmony to another in ways that echo sublime poetry, foreshadow Romanticism, and shatter any lazy notions we might have about 18th-century convention. This music reminds me that despite the implicit specificity of musical notation, we are dealing with open texts. Perhaps this is why my time recording CPE Bach’s keyboard music some years ago was such a happy one.

What fascinates you about Schumann’s Kreisleriana?

The second record I owned as a child (after Lipatti’s Waltzes that is) was Martha Argerich’s recording of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana, and I remember the opening of Kreisleriana making a particularly strong impression on me. Much later I read ETA Hoffmann’s collection Kreisleriana, which provides a fascinating if often sarcastic and comical view of the fictional young 19th-century Kapellmeister Kreisler. I have often enjoyed pondering how this literary work (and indeed others by Hoffmann) might have inspired Schumann’s composition, which for all its rhapsodic surface feels and sounds completely organic to me.

What drew you to Kaija Saariaho’s Ballade?

I was beguiled by its darkness and brooding. It seems to conjure up a dimly lit space of great emotional intensity, even over its relatively short duration.

What are some of the challenges of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin?

Everything here is much more difficult to produce than it sounds! The florid passagework, complex harmony and Ravel’s typical “overlaying of the hands” all have their technical challenges. The Toccata finale is probably more difficult for me than Scarbo from Gaspard de la Nuit – whereas the latter has the possibility of rich, quasi-romantic sonority and copious resonance to facilitate the pianistic acrobatics, the Toccata needs a meticulous clarity, great lightness, and an almost crystalline quality. All the while there needs to be an elegance and decorative refinement characteristic of the French Baroque.

And of Medtner’s Sonata No.9 in A Minor?

Medtner was a master of form and through-composition (taking Beethoven as his inspiration); Rachmaninoff thought of him as the greatest living composer of his day. This Sonata is perfectly crafted, as one might expect, but for all its tumult and angularity, it ends somewhat inconclusively. The music is tonal, formally concise, but nevertheless open-ended, tricky to bring off. I feel as though it leaves us with more questions than answers – it is a challenge to performer and listener alike.

What do you find most rewarding and challenging in your professional life?

I demand a lot of myself as a performer, and rarely feel as though I have achieved what I set out to achieve artistically. When I feel I have come close, it’s an intensely rewarding experience. Sometimes the challenge of particular repertoire proves addictive: I have been performing Ligeti’s Piano Études for a number of years and am due to record them later in 2019. They are without doubt the most difficult piano pieces I have ever worked on (more so than Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata), and there’s a thrill to practising them even if the process is painstaking and requires great patience and perseverance.

I’m intrigued by the fact that through your mother you are a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Music and dance are so ingrained in the Hasidic spirit, what part, if any, does that lineage play in your musical life?

My Jewish heritage is very important to me, and certainly my love of nature and of music seem to chime very well with the Baal Shem Tov’s ethos. But I also have “musical genes” from my father’s side (his grandfather was apparently a very fine amateur pianist). It’s hard for me to dissect what comes from where.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Robin Elliott with, left Barker Fairley (1887-1986), Clarinet [Ezra Schabas], 1959, oil on masonite, 101 x 76 cm, University of Toronto Art Collection 1986-052, Purchase 1963-64; and, right Barker Fairley (1887-1986), Flute [Robert Aitken], 1958, oil on masonite, 76 x 101 cm, University of Toronto Art Collection 1986-013, Purchase 1963-64. Photo by Kevin King.“A hundred years from what exactly?” we ask, searching for clues.

Our host is Robin Elliott, Professor of Musicology and Jean A. Chalmers Chair of Canadian Music at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. We (WholeNote managing editor Paul Ennis and I) are sitting in Elliott’s office on the western flank of the Edward Johnson Building (the faculty’s home base since 1962) overlooking Philosopher’s Walk, a meandering path which, at least in theory, connects the U of T Faculty of Music to the Royal Conservatory of Music, a couple of hundred metres (or yards as the Faculty’s founders would have called them) to the north. Reason for our visit is to find out more about the Faculty’s proclamation of 2018/19 as its 100th anniversary.

“Aha!” says Elliott. “Good question. A hundred years from the date of the first faculty council meeting. In June 1918, the U of T actually decided to set up a faculty of music. Prior to that there had been music degrees awarded at the university, dating back to the middle of the 19th century, but those were offered by examination only, there was no instruction in music given in the University of Toronto. So I guess it’s the 100th anniversary of music instruction in the university.”

And the specific impetus for the decision? “Post-World War One?” Elliott replies, although it sounds more like a question than an answer. “Restructuring of cultural life in Canada, I suppose, and at the university? There was a number of mostly British organists around that had an interest in setting up shop at U of T, so they met together with the university president, over at University College – June 1918.”

There were no courses offered by the new faculty, at the start and for a good while after that. “What they offered were set lectures that may or may not have been helpful in writing the exams for getting a degree. But gradually in the course of the 1930s and 40s it shifted towards a more familiar kind of course-based instruction. You could take a course rather than just attend lectures. Smaller groups. And you registered at the university rather than just paying a fee.”

Composer and teacher John Beckwith has spent a large part of his working life associated with the U of T Faculty of Music, including attending as a student in the years between the two World Wars, a subject he addressed in a series of two lectures at Walter Hall, bracketing the Faculty’s 75th anniversary in 1993, and subsequently gathered into a small book called Music at Toronto: A Personal Account.

“Taking a bachelor’s degree in music at Toronto in the 30s and 40s was as thoroughly English an experience as could be found anywhere in Canadian university life of the period,” Beckwith writes. “Thursdays you went in threes and fours to Healey Willan, who blew pipe smoke at you, told witty anecdotes about English notables of the turn of the century and called you ‘old man.’ Mondays you went in similar small convoys to Leo Smith, who stroked his white pencil-line moustache, caressed the piano keys, and called you ‘dear boy’.

Elliott laughs, appreciatively. “There were only three people in the faculty for decades” he says. “Ernest MacMillan, who was the dean from 1926 to 1952, and those two: Healey Willan and Leo Smith. Smith was actually a cellist and composer, Willan an organist and composer, teaching these small classes and that was it; just the three of them running shop for no more than 40 or 50 students till after the [Second World] War.”

Just as the end of WWI provided some kind of spark for the founding of the Faculty; WWII changed it forever. “From 1945 all the way to 1962 there were a lot of returning soldiers, a huge influx of military getting their education, in music as in other things. Along with growth of music in schools this sparked an expansion over the course of 15 to 20 years up to 500 students,” Elliott says, along with a corresponding growth in the number of faculty staff, and, as important, in the variety of their musical backgrounds.

“Starting in 1946: Arnold Walter, who was a Czech musician after whom Walter Hall was named came on board, initially to set up opera, and eventually became director of the Faculty. Director, not Dean.”

A slight pause, as though he is wondering how far to allow the conversation to stray up Philosopher’s Walk towards the Royal Conservatory. Then: “Between the Conservatory and the Faculty,” Elliott says, “there’s a whole very complicated administrative history. For a while the Royal Conservatory was the umbrella organization at U of T and underneath that was the Faculty of Music here and the School of Music there. Boyd Neel was Dean of the Conservatory, a kind of referee between the two. Finally, in the 80s they went their own way, as a self-standing institution.”

“With no referee?” we ask. He laughs. “With no referee. Peter Simon running shop over there and Don McLean running shop over here … although we share a lot of faculty members, especially among people teaching instrumental lessons.”

Another pause.

In October 2000, the Faculty of Music celebrated the permanent installation of a collection of musical portraits by Canadian artist and distinguished German scholar Professor Barker Fairley (1887-1986), thanks to a donation from the Fairley family. The fourteen paintings date from 1957 to 1964 and belong to the U of T Art Collection. Ezra Schabas, Fairley’s son-in-law, is pictured here at the opening with Ruth Budd whose portrait hangs beside her.“One of the things we were joking about on the way over,” we tell Elliott, “is that it should be possible to map the history of a venerable institution like this one, by looking at the roles played in that history by the individuals the institution chooses to name its buildings and rooms after. Edward Johnson, Ernest MacMillan, Arnold Walter, Herman Geiger-Torel, Barker Fairley …”

“Ah yes, we shouldn’t forget Barker Fairley! He was, of course, a professor of German and a keen amateur painter. In the Barker Fairley Room there are all these portraits, or ‘faces’ as he liked to call them, of musicians in Toronto, in the 50s and early 60s. I think they are really lovely. Yes, he’s the outlier … the only one who was not a musician.”

We go back to the top of the list: “So, first, why is it the Edward Johnson Building? Obviously he was a famous tenor, director of the Met Opera during the Second World War. Came back to the Toronto area after retiring from the Met. He was on the U of T board of governors as well as on the board of directors of the Royal Conservatory. And his daughter was married to a former premier of Ontario, George Drew. So he was politically well-connected, powerful in the administration. One can draw conclusions. Certainly there are those who think that they should have named the building after Ernest MacMillan and the opera theatre after Johnson, not the other way round. Johnson obviously deserved some recognition for what he helped to set up, in terms of plans for the new building and he died in 1959 while the building didn’t open till 1962, so he didn’t live to see it. He laid the groundwork and clearly deserved some recognition, but maybe not that much.”

Ernest MacMillan at the piano with (left to right) Godfrey Ridout, Leo Smith, John Weinzweig and Healey Willan surrounding him, circa 1948. Photo credit NOTT AND MELL (CITY OF TORONTO ARCHIVES)MacMillan’s contribution, on the other hand, was fundamental. “Beyond dispute, really. Dean from 1926 all the way to 1952; we have the MacMillan Theatre, the MacMillan Singers, so that’s something,” Elliott says. Several of MacMillan’s works are being, or have already been, featured in this centennial concert season: “In the first orchestra concert they played his Fanfare for a Centennial, and the overture to England: An Ode which was a big choral and orchestral piece written in prison camp in Berlin in 1918 and earned him a doctorate from Oxford. And we’ll have more of his music in a choral concert later in the season.”

Next on the list, Arnold Walter, whose arrival in 1946 signalled a big change. “He was neither British nor Canadian, the first central European to arrive on faculty, although along with him came Herman Geiger-Torel (the next room on your list!). Geiger-Torel was an opera director, also from Central Europe. Being Jewish he fled from Nazi German occupation, to South America first, then came north in 1948, courtesy Niki Goldschmidt.”

Between the three of them, Elliott explains, they were instrumental in setting up opera here between 1946 and 1948. “The direct result was our Opera Division which initially gave performances at the Hart House Theatre, officially opened the MacMillan Theatre in 1964 with a production of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring, and faithfully stages two productions a season, year in, year out.”

As the shadows lengthen across Philosopher’s Walk outside Elliott’s office window, we examine lists of eminent alumni and prominent faculty, and look at the concerts in the season brochure specially marked with a 100th anniversary symbol. The picture that emerges, paradoxically, is of a season that looks very much like last year’s or the year before that.

“Is it fair to say if you’d reached this milestone last year, we could have used last season’s listings to tell the same story?” “Exactly,” he replies. “That is exactly what the Dean had in mind. It’s a year that says here are the things we’re doing, but as a portrait of what we always do. Not a ‘drop everything to celebrate’ thing – more like ‘It’s a hundred years, that’s nice but we have students to teach.”

Business as usual: students to teach (900 of them, now, by 240 fulltime and part-time staff); two opera productions a year to stage; music created by U of T-affiliated composers to nurture and perform (“All the way from Healey Willan to our current students”); concerts to present, by faculty performers and students, ranging from 18 and 19 years old in large ensembles to Phil Nimmons, 95 years old and still teaching; a tradition of chamber ensembles in residence to maintain, going back to the Orford String Quartet, here from 1968 to 1991; a pioneering electronic music studio, launched in 1959, to relaunch, completely refurbished, in time for its own 60th anniversary this coming spring; groundbreaking work in musicology and ethnomusicology, and now music and health, to build on.

Members of the cast of the 1964 production of Britten’s Albert Herring, performed March 4 and 6 as part of the opening ceremonies of the Edward Johnson Building. Photo credit University of Toronto.“And for you particularly?” we ask Elliott. “As Director of the Institute for Music in Canada, our work as a custodian of things Canadian,” he replies. “Our rare book room, papers of important musical figures – Kasemets, Beckwith, Nimmons … For a long time, this was the main university for musical education in Canada, our graduates from the forties, fifties and sixties spread out across the map from Memorial University to Victoria. It’s an evolving legacy.”

The hand-written sign on the door of the Barker Fairley Room, just a few steps away from the MacMillan Theatre, says that the room will be the location for the pre-concert chat for that evening’s Opera Division performance of Street Scene, Kurt Weill’s self-described “American Opera.” We wait outside for conductor Uri Mayer to finish a class with five or six of his students.

Except for the 14 paintings clustered on its north and east walls, it could be just another classroom (it even served as a faculty lunch room in the 80s). But the faces in those 14 paintings leap out from the walls, most of the people they portray rendered in the act of making music. It would have been a fine point of departure for this story; but it works just as well as a point of departure from it.

All the paintings in the collection were done between 1957 and 1964, the years when plans were firming up for the Faculty to vacate its premises at University and College, the site today of the Ontario Power Building. At the very moment Fairley was laying down pencil lines that still show through these oil-on-masonite works, some draftsman was laying down the lines in the blueprint that would become this room. Many of the people portrayed are still with us. Some of their names are well-known. Some, like flutist Robert Aitken, will even appear in concerts in this very building before the next issue of this magazine comes out.

Next to Aitken on the wall, clarinetist Ezra Schabas has walked many miles, in many roles, up and down the meandering path between the Faculty and the Royal Conservatory, since this painting was done. And fittingly it was Ezra Schabas and his wife Ann who in 1990 made the donation that ensured the existence of the Barker Fairley Room as a repository for her father’s paintings, which for close to 30 years prior to that had been scattered here and there throughout the Edward Johnson Building.

This particular 100-year history delights in the details.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Toshio Hosokawa. Photo by KazIshikawaJanuary has earned a reputation as new music festival month, and members of the new music community have much to anticipate in this particular new year. Since the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) launched its annual, and still ongoing, New Music Festival in 1992, the festival format has been embraced enthusiastically around Canada as an effective way to present contemporary music of all types to a wide range of listeners.

For those eager to join me and book flights to Winnipeg for a late January new music getaway, the 2019 WSO New Music Festival (WNMF) runs from January 25 to February 1, 2019 and features Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks as the Distinguished Guest Composer. The late Larry Lake, host of the CBC Radio 2 network new music series, Two New Hours (1978–2007) called the WSO’s festival, “The greatest new music party in the Universe!” It has become the WSO’s signature event, and a fixture on the annual new music calendar. I will have more on the WSO’s 2019 festival a bit later in this article.

For Toronto audiences, a great deal has changed in the shape of the contemporary music calendar in recent years. We’re now fortunate to have two overlapping January festivals, both in the Bloor and University neighbourhood. One of them is the Royal Conservatory of Music’s (RCM) 21C Music Festival, which has been moved to January, from later in the spring, to promote greater student involvement. But the most steadfast of these annual festivals in Toronto has been the New Music Festival presented by the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, now in its 20th year. The 2019 edition runs from January 16 to 27.

Thanks to a generous endowment from Roger D. Moore, the U of T Faculty of Music invites an internationally celebrated composer to its annual festival. This coming year, the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition is the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955), the latest in a long list of internationally recognized composers to be invited as visitors to the U of T festival.

I asked Moore for a comment on the cumulative effect of his enabling the festival to bring so many famous composers from around the world, year after year. True to form, he thought it might be more meaningful to ask a composer from the Faculty of Music to share their observations., and recently retired professor of composition, Chan Ka Nin was willing to oblige: “The list of Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitors in Composition reflects a who’s who in the current field of new music” he said. “It brings prestige to the university and at the same time inspires the composition students, as well as other students and the general public. Being on the list of the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitors in Composition is also an honour for the guest composers. Roger will be forever remembered as a generous and compassionate man who helps and inspires others with his keen interests in the music of his time. He is a Canadian treasure, a saviour in the Canadian music scene.”

Toshio Hosokawa: Hosokawa has become one of Japan’s most important composers, following Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996) and Maki Ishii (1936–2003). Like the works of Takemitsu and Ishii, Hosokawa’s music blends traditional Japanese and European classical approaches. In fact, Hosokawa divides his time between these two worlds, keeping residences in both Nagano, Japan and in Mainz, Germany. During the 11 days of the U of T New Music Festival, dozens of Hosokawa’s works will be performed, including an operatic double bill on January 17. That evening, in Walter Hall at 7:30, Hosokawa’s psychodramatic setting of Poe’s The Raven will be sung by noted mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabó. This will be followed by its companion piece, The Maiden from the Sea (Futari Shizuka) a one-act opera based on a Nôh play depicting the tale of a young woman lost at sea who becomes embodied by a 12th-century courtesan, Lady Shizuka. Toronto soprano Xin Wang will be heard in the lead, together with the remarkable female Noh singer/dancer, Ryoko Aoki, from Japan. The opera is sung in both Japanese and English.

Then, on January 25 at 8pm in Walter Hall, Toronto’s New Music Concerts, directed by Robert Aitken, will present a concert of Hosokawa’s music, together with works by his teacher, the late Klaus Huber (1924–2017) and his protégé, Misato Mochizuki (b. 1969), who will also attend the festival. Aitken’s New Music Concerts Ensemble is one of a long roster of Toronto’s finest musicians engaged to perform Hosokawa’s music during this visit, including the Gryphon Trio, pianists Stephanie Chua and Stephen Clarke, flutist Camille Watts, violinist Véronique Matthieu. guitarist Rob MacDonald and a new wind quintet made up of TSO wind players. Sax soloist Wallace Halladay and Esprit Orchestra under Alex Pauk will give the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra on January 20 in Koerner Hall in a display of cooperation between U of T’s festival and the RCM’s 21C Music Festival.

Karen Kieser Prize recipient Bekah SimmsKaren Kieser Prize: Another important feature of the U of T festival is the annual presentation of the only prizes available exclusively to U of T graduate composers: The Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music and the Ann H. Atkinson Prize in Electroacoustic Composition. The current winning works will be performed on January 22 at 7:30 in Walter Hall.

Karen Kieser was deputy head of CBC Radio Music from 1982 to 1986, and then head of music from 1986 to 1992. She held three degrees from the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto: a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music, both in piano performance, and a Master of Music in Musicology. She could have had a career as a concert pianist, but she chose broadcasting as her life’s work, serving as a gifted CBC host, producer, executive producer, and eventually as a leader in CBC’s senior management. Friends and colleagues endowed the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music upon her death in 2002, too soon a loss at age 53. It is a tribute to her life, her work and her passionate devotion to the cause of Canadian music and musicians.

For the first time in its 16-year history, this year the Kieser Prize will be shared by two composers, both women: Rebekah Cummings and Bekah Simms. Simms’ microlattice is a quartet for bass clarinet, double bass, piano and percussion. In her note on the work, Simms says, “With a density as low as 0.9 kg/m3 (0.00561 lb/ft3), metallic microlattice is currently one of the lightest structures known to science. It is made from an alloy of nickel and phosphorus. This piece attempts to create a sort of musical alloy from two opposing but influential forces: rhythmic, repetitive music with pointillist, random recurrence. Inspired by the unique structure, this piece also attempts to create an alloy of the strong, metallic and loud, and the crystalline and light. Like its titular influence, the piece is also small in scope, making use of a limited amount of musical material both melodically and rhythmically. After its initial performance, it’s only been performed once more (in July 2018 in Banff, AB) so I very much look forward to presenting it to a wider audience at the Karen Kieser concert this coming January.”

Karen Kieser Prize recipient Rebekah Cummings. Photo by Claire Dam.Cummings’ Fearless is a trio for flute, percussion and electronics. In her note, Cummings says: “I’ve always had vivid dreams, and recently I’ve been using them as springboards for composition. Fearless was inspired by a profoundly impactful dream I had many years ago while struggling with anxiety, in which I rediscovered my true name: Fearless. Rather than following the details of the dream’s storyline, this piece broadly portrays its theme – a transformation from fearful to fearless through reconnection with an inherent, original identity. For me, fearlessness is more about childlike confidence than defiant boldness. I remember being small, believing I could do anything (even fly and walk on water!), never assuming the worst about myself, others, or life circumstances. I tried to musically depict this return to childlikeness through a melodic/rhythmic playfulness emerging, not without struggle, from a more mournful setting.”

The winner of the 2019 Ann H. Atkinson Prize in Electroacoustic Composition will be determined in early December, and the winning composition will be performed on the Karen Kieser Prize concert, along with chamber works by Hosokawa. (The 2018 Atkinson Prize winner was August Murphy-King for his work, Simul for viola, bassoon, piano and electronics, a work I found to be elegant and finely balanced.)

Meanwhile … the previous week, American composer Terry Riley will be celebrated in three concerts at the RCM’s 21C Music Festival, including a concert on January 18, “Terry Riley: Live at 85!” Riley’s visit is dealt with at more length in “In with the New” elsewhere in the current edition of The WholeNote. But I do have a personal Terry Riley story to share, from 1993, when my CBC Radio Two network series, Two New Hours co-produced the Encounters series in Glenn Gould Studio (GGS), together with Soundstreams Canada. Kieser, the director of GGS at the time, had challenged Soundstreams artistic director Lawrence Cherney and me to come up with a marketable contemporary music series that would attract audiences to GGS. We quickly responded with Encounters, initially, a series of minimalist music. Terry Riley was one of the invited minimalist composers. Riley improvised on a nine-foot Steinway modified with his so-called Rosary tuning. It was a 19-tone-to-the-octave tuning, and it took three tunings to get the Steinway to hold its pitch; and three tunings to get it back to tempered pitch afterwards. (The piano tuner’s bill was $1,200 for those services.) The Arraymusic Ensemble participated too, in Riley’s Cactus Rosary, which they had commissioned. The late Michael J Baker conducted.

Norwegian composer Terje Isugset and ice instruments. Photo by Bjorn Furuseth.Back to Winnipeg: And finally, as I promised at the outset of this story, there’s the impending trip to Winnipeg for the 2019 edition of the WSO’s New Music Festival. The 27th WNMF will embrace a variety of themes, including ice, metal, the new intersecting the old, and a spirit of collaboration. The opening event, on January 25, “Glacial Time,” takes place in a custom-designed ice amphitheatre situated in The Forks on the frozen Assiniboine River. A collaboration with architect Peter Hargraves (Warming Huts), this newly created space will capture the essence of WNMF as a cultural oasis within the heart of the extreme Manitoba winter. Norwegian artist and multi-instrumentalist Terje Isungset comes to Winnipeg to present a suite of his original music, featuring himself, vocalist Maria Skranes, and WSO musicians performing on Isungset’s ice instruments, freshly carved for the occasion of this performance. WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano and percussionist Victoria Sparks will lead the University of Manitoba Percussion Ensemble in the Canadian premiere of Inuksuit, an expansive work by Pulitzer Prize-winning Alaskan composer John Luther Adams that continues his explorations in merging music, nature, and landscape.

The January 26 concert welcomes back Bramwell Tovey, the WNMF founding music director who started it all. Tovey will conduct a program featuring San Francisco composer John Adams’ monumental work, Harmonielehre, together with music by three prominent Canadian composers: Jocelyn Morlock, Kelly-Marie Murphy and Harry Stafylakis.

On January 30, the WSO’s newest music director, Daniel Raiskin takes the podium in his first full WNMF program. A noted advocate of contemporary music, Maestro Raiskin is joined by his longtime collaborator, Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks, who serves as this year’s WNMF Distinguished Guest Composer. WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig will perform Vasks’ meditative Lonely Angel and the Winnipeg Singers join the orchestra for his Dona Nobis Pacem, offering two pathos-laden aspects of Vasks’ musical vision. The WSO will also give the world premiere of a new work, A Child’s Dream of Toys, by Canadian composer Vivian Fung, as well as Michael Daugherty’s fierce Raise the Roof. Finally, WNMF doubles down on its collaboration with contemporary progressive metal pioneers Animals As Leaders, who join the WSO for the band’s orchestral debut, featuring a symphonic suite of some of their best known works arranged by WSO Composer-in-Residence (and relentless metalhead) Harry Stafylakis.

Animals as LeadersConsider an alternative winter destination, and join me in Winnipeg for my annual January pilgrimage of musical discovery at the WNMF!

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

Kris Maddigan. Photo by SAM HURLEYPerforming at the Kensington Market Jazz Festival with Alana Bridgewater.When Toronto percussionist and composer, Kristofer Maddigan, was first approached by his friends back in 2013 to write the music for the video game they were developing, his first reaction was “no way.” Actually his second and third reactions were the same. He felt far out of his comfort zone. As a classically trained percussionist and someone without a lot of composition experience, he felt he just didn’t have the writing chops. But the brothers, Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, persisted.

“I think I was the only musician that they knew!” says Maddigan.

That turned out to be a very fortunate thing as – fast forward five years – the video game Cuphead is a huge hit worldwide, selling over three million copies within the first year of its release and garnering all kinds of accolades, including best game of 2017 by Entertainment Weekly, a BAFTA for Best Game Music and an Academy of Arts and Sciences D.I.C.E. award for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music. One of the charms of the game is its artwork, which was inspired by cartoons and animation of the 1930s.

The music has been really well-received too. Maddigan was nominated for a JUNO award for best instrumental album this year (a 4-LP deluxe vinyl set) and at one point the album reached No. 3 on Billboard’s jazz charts. Maddigan was also named “2017 Musician of the Year” by the Toronto Musician’s Association.

One of the behind-the-scenes videos of the recording session for the soundtrack has gotten over 3.2 million views on YouTube, which is pretty much unheard of for modern big band music. As well, a live outdoor show of the band playing the score at the recent Kensington Market Jazz Festival was sold out to a very enthusiastic audience.

Here, Maddigan gives us some interesting insight into the process for devising a game soundtrack.

WN: So how did you get the gig?

KM: I met the brothers Moldenhauer around Grade 5 and have been friends with them ever since. We grew up about two blocks from each other in Regina and I spent countless hours in their basement playing video games growing up. (I probably should have been practising.) Six or seven years ago when they had the idea for this little video game they wanted to make, they asked me if I was interested in writing the music.

What’s your musical background?

Like many youngsters I started on piano, but also like many youngsters I found I didn’t have the patience for it. I wanted to be a rock drummer, so my mom and I compromised and I began taking classical percussion lessons when I was around ten. I continued playing percussion throughout high school and fortunately still ended up playing lots of rock drums, which was a great balance.

While taking a year of general courses at the University of Regina I came across a poster for a U of R percussion ensemble concert and I said to myself, “Hey, I used to do that.”’ So I checked it out, and it reawakened a love of music that had been dormant for a few years. That fall I started my undergrad in percussion performance, and then moved to Toronto 11 years ago to do an Artist’s Diploma at the Glenn Gould School. I’m very fortunate to have been a member of the National Ballet of Canada Orchestra since 2010.

Was this your first major composition?

Essentially the only other compositions I have done are a tune from my recital from my brief stint in the U of T jazz program and some processed marimba background music for a Nuit Blanche project. That’s pretty much it. I do have many other musical interests though. For the past four years I have been really into Brazilian percussion, and I’m always working on my drum set playing. I’m also trying to expand my composing experience and am currently digging deeper into theory and counterpoint.

Cuphead title screenTell us about the process for composing for a game. Were there style guidelines? Were there precise timings to adhere to? How long did it take? What was the most challenging part?

The game development and the composition process took place pretty much simultaneously. I was sent a list of levels and bosses that would require music. [Editor’s note: In video gaming, a boss is a significant computer-controlled enemy. A fight with a boss character is referred to as a boss battle and Cuphead has been praised for its numerous clever and challenging boss battles.]

My typical process was to just to write and we would match the tunes up with the appropriate bosses later in the process. Often, once it was decided which tune would go with which boss, I would then tweak the music to be more appropriate for the situation (i.e. adding train-like effects to the train boss, etc).

Considering how long it took me to write the music, if I had waited until the game was finished to start, it still wouldn’t be out!

The approach to the music of Cuphead is very different than the music of most games. There are no real precise timings to line things up with and the music is not reactive or dynamic as would be more typical for games. It was more important for us to capture a “vibe’” as opposed to following the action, so I ended up just writing standard three-to-four-minute jazz tunes. Typically a player won’t even reach the end of the tune on a given stage since the tunes are long enough that the player has either died and had to restart, or would have already completed the level.

Screen capture from CupheadThe only style guidelines I was given were “1930s big band.” As the game expanded to include levels and world maps, I started to think outside of that one specific era and style, and we decided on ragtime for the platforming levels and numerous stylistic iterations of the main four-note theme for the world maps. In some cases (as in the shrines), they just said “Do whatever you like.”

The most challenging part for me was trying to write in a highly derivative style while still maintaining my own identity. It was very important to us to approach the music in Cuphead with respect and a sense of history. And to understand and utilize the clichés that define a style while doing something new and original with them. For example, there are many firmly established conventions that define a Joplin-esque ragtime style.

The question then became how do I write in that style without just blatantly ripping off those that came before, but while still using the devices I had no hand in creating? And maybe more importantly, how to do that in a way that honours the work of the great composers and musicians that came before? I always approached this project more from the standpoint of “What if the golden age of big bands and the golden age of video games coexisted side by side?”

While a lot of it is pretty bonkers (it’s game music, it sort of has to be), we were very conscious to never let it descend into parody. We realized early on that this game had the potential to reach a demographic that has probably never been exposed to this type of music, so we had a responsibility to do it correctly. The sheer number of messages we get from people who have said that this was their first exposure to jazz music – and that it has opened a door to another world for them – has been very gratifying.

How did the recording sessions go?

I was extremely nervous before the first rehearsal. I wasn’t sure if some of the music was going to be completely unplayable, or whether there would be technical glitches – scores and parts getting exported incorrectly, wrong transpositions, etc). By the end of that rehearsal I knew that everything was going to be all right, and it was a great relief.

I don’t think the musicians knew exactly what they were getting into, and when they showed up many of them were like “What’s up with these tempos!?” But they more than rose to the challenge and obviously played their asses off. I think you can really hear the synergy that exists between them. Many have been working together for decades, in bands like the Boss Brass. More than that, I think it sounds like they’re having fun, which was very important for this music.

Cuphead was a great experience. You don’t get a chance to play intense big band swing on video games very often (like never),” said Dave Dunlop, trumpet player on the soundtrack. “Kris’ writing was excellent for a relatively young man and the players really rose to the occasion, considering how difficult the music was.”

How do you account for the popularity of the recording session videos?

I feel the reason the behind-the-scenes videos have had such a great response is that people like seeing the process firsthand. There’s a visceral reaction to seeing real musicians at work, maybe for the same reason we go to concerts to see bands play the same songs that we already have on albums at home.

What was John Herberman’s role in the recording?

John Herberman was my mentor throughout the project, from first being a teacher and helping me parse through the composition process, to taking on the role of contractor for the sessions, and being the conductor of the band both in studio and at our first ever live show at the Kensington Market Jazz Festival. Without John’s experience and help the music would have been a shadow of what it eventually became.

“Kris is a very smart man and we developed a really good working relationship,” said Herberman. “He did a ton of research into 1930s music. So although I have years of experience composing for big bands and was able to coach Kris on some technical things like voicings for horns, his understanding of the 30s music style really helped.

“He entrusted me with a lot of responsibility for these sessions and that’s not easy to do. As well, working with the Moldenhauers was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a long time. They were very supportive and wanted to do the sessions right and make sure everyone was having fun. And that’s not how things usually go these days.”

At the Kensington Market Jazz FestivalSpare Parts

Who are your jazz-music heroes? Any particular influences for the music composed for Cuphead?

Duke Ellington and Scott Joplin were by far my two biggest influences, but Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Fletcher Henderson also cast long shadows on the Cuphead music.

Is it unusual to have a full band playing a game soundtrack? Isn’t it usually electronic/synth music?

I think that using live musicians is certainly becoming more common, especially in AAA games, but on the indie side of things my impression is that it is typically too cost prohibitive. I certainly don’t know any other games that have used a live big band. An extra special shout-out goes to Jeremy Darby and Julian Decorte at Canterbury Music Company in Toronto. I cannot imagine having recorded this soundtrack anywhere else. And Jeremy spent months refining the mixes: getting just the right balance between clean instrument tones and a vintage sensibility.

Are you a gamer?

Growing up I was, but I pretty much stopped when I started my undergrad as there was just not enough time. I’m more of a casual gamer now, mainly just checking out games that are considered important that I should be familiar with, or games with acclaimed soundtracks so that I can keep up with what’s going on musically in the gaming world.

Cathy Riches is a Toronto-based recovering singer and ink slinger who hasn’t played a video game since Pac-Man, and who thinks it’s better to carry a tune than a grudge.

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