From left to right: Dominic Teresi, bassoon (seated); Elisa Citterio, violin (seated); Thomas Georgi, violin (standing, dark tie); Allen Whear, cello (seated); Marco Cera, oboe (standing); John Abberger, oboe (seated); Julia Wedman, violin (seated); Patricia Ahearn, violin (seated); Cristina Zacharias, violin (standing); Brandon Chui, viola (standing, blue tie); Geneviève Gilardeau, violin (seated); Patrick Jordan, viola (standing, yellow tie); Chris Verrette, violin (seated); Charlotte Nediger, harpsichord (seated). Photo by Cylla von TiedemannIt’s not always a good idea, sitting down for only your second chat with someone, to start off by reminding them of exactly what they told you the first time round, especially if, as in this case, 18 hectic months have elapsed between conversations. But this time it worked out just fine.

“In May 2017, the last time we talked,” I reminded Elisa Citterio, Tafelmusik’s music director, “you told me that you were hoping for life here to be, perhaps more busy, but less crazy, than before, and I’d like to come back to that. But you also said something very interesting about repertoire, and this is where I’d like to start. You said ‘We can’t live and die by one hundred years of [Baroque] repertoire. We are strings, two oboes, bassoon and continuo, so there are limits to the core repertoire available, and so it’s important for an orchestra like Tafelmusik to touch different periods, to educate the ear. Period playing can lead to illuminating performances of a much wider range of music – Haydn, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi. Period playing can strip away the denseness of the 19th-century sound. You get to listen for different things.”

In May 2017, we had squeezed in a hastily arranged interview in The WholeNote office three months before she officially took the Tafelmusik reins for a first season that was already significantly cut and dried in terms of repertoire. This time we were poring over the details of a 2019/20 season, about to be announced, that will, for better or for worse, be seen as well and truly hers.

“When I took on this role” she said, “I left La Scala Theatre where I had been playing for many, many years, all kinds of repertoire; at at the same time, I was playing a lot of Baroque music with other ensembles. So my whole life has been divided between different repertoire, and in my personal experience I can say absolutely that each piece of the picture connects to another one. I can’t say that playing Brahms and Wagner made coming back to Baroque music easier or more difficult. But I have to say I am curious to see how it would be, in the other direction, if musicians in conservatories were trained from early music forward, instead of the other way around.”

Her own training, she freely admits, was not the way she would like things to be. “Like most musicians,” she says, “I did things in reverse. I was trained to play caprices from the 18th and 19th century, and concertos of the 19th and 20th century, before going back in time to Mozart and eventually Bach. So it was a lot of jumping around and more focused on technical issues than on musical essentials.” It was only when she started Baroque violin, she says, that she started to connect things musically, because of the way Baroque violin practice was inextricably connected to imitation of the human voice – “to pronunciation, to consonants and vowels, to syntax. Musicians playing violins, cornettos, had to try to imitate the voice, so this changes fundamentally the way one approaches technique.”

Going back to these roots, as far back as madrigals, she says, began to influence her modern playing in profound ways, day after day and step by step. It wasn’t a magic formula or shortcut though. Finding her way back to classical and Romantic repertoire took a lot of study all over again. But the changes in her playing were fundamental. “Out of it all,” she says, “what I trusted, what I still trust, is that a Baroque orchestra has a sort of mission; it is unlike modern orchestras approaching Baroque repertoire, where the results might sound nice, but there is still something missing, because they simply don’t have the right instruments. Some things are fundamental to Baroque music that can only be achieved with gut strings and with historical wind instruments based on the voice.”

And just because there’s an argument to be made that a modern orchestra can’t travel back in time, it doesn’t mean that the reverse argument applies. After all, modern orchestras used gut strings right up to the time when, grisly fact, world wars saw the end to a reliable supply of gut strings, with the commodity commandeered for sutures.

“So, Wagner was writing for orchestras using gut strings,” she says. “And at La Scala we played operas at historically accurate pitch … I feel that if Tafelmusik does not take what we do to the limit, the edge of where we can go, not as a novelty, but consistently, with a process to arrive there, it would be a pity. I think we can really give something new for this music. We are not the first, I am not saying that. But we are one of the few. I have played with orchestras around the world and I can say that Tafelmusik can do great and huge work on this kind of music. But step by step.”

Just as finding her way back to classical and Romantic repertoire took a lot of study all over again for Citterio, the coming season’s excursion into the 19th century is not going to be a picnic for the orchestra. “It will be work,” she says, “and we will workshop for it. But Tafelmusik musicians are well informed, so that is a big start. We will concentrate only on the repertoire we are going to play in the coming season, but it is still a lot. For example, the way to shift among positions on the violin alters over the years. In Vivaldi a shift should leave a note as cleanly as possible. In the Romantic repertoire I am trying to connect the voice with a portamento going up and down; also rubato is quite different in the different periods; and the strokes are different; and we have many different kinds of accents that we have to know how to read, because earlier an accent had a different meaning. So this workshop will be really to understand how to work on these technical issues together. And also how to deal with these busy scores, because Tchaikovsky and Brahms wrote a lot on their scores! If you look at a Castello or Fontana score, then at Brahms, the world has changed totally, from nothing to everything.”

Small Steps and Giant Leaps

Citterio is describing methodically what she calls “small steps” the ensemble will be taking to prepare for the “mission” ahead but, from an audience point of view, 2019/20, styled “Old Meets New” in their brochure, looks like more of a giant leap. Old Meets New head on is more like it, starting from the very first concert of the season in which Tafelmusik tackles a string symphony by the teenaged Felix Mendelssohn, as well as the Scherzo from his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, arranged by Citterio’s composer brother, Carlo Citterio, en route to tackling the music of Tchaikovsky (his Serenade for string orchestra) for the very first time.   

Andrew Balfour. Photo credit Camerata-Nova

The program will also feature a world premiere by Canadian composer Andrew Balfour, as the brochure says, “in keeping with our season theme of the new informing the old, and the old informing the new.”

It’s a lot to unpack, starting with the notion of Tafelmusik commissioning no fewer than six new works over the course of a single season, four of them by Canadian composers. (In addition to Balfour, the season will also include premieres from James Rolfe, Guido Morini, Cecilia Livingston, Grégoire Jeay, and Vittorio Ghielmi.

Cecilia Livingston. Photo credit Self-Limited-Photography“It’s just a first example of trying to start the process of realizing my vision of what this orchestra can be,” Citterio says. “I want to support new composers, including strongly believing in including new commissions. We must remember that this ‘new thing’ is actually very old, because one thing about Baroque music is that, for the players and for the audience, it was almost all newly composed – all music was like a premiere. So how else do we get the same feeling today as players? Or as audiences? There are many composers who can write for our instruments with a style that is really compatible, or sometimes with some new influences. I played a lot of great music when I was in Italy, just written for our instruments, sometimes in Baroque style, sometimes in a later style, and the audience just loved it. There’s nothing wrong with someone who wants to write for gut strings because they love the sound! Or for harpsichord. I mean, piano is a wonderful instrument, but we still have the harpsichord as a living instrument, or the viola da gamba ... I played one time this concerto grosso written by an Italian composer, a premiere, and it was written for harpsichord, two violins, viola, gamba and two recorders, and it was amazing; there was an obvious influence from Corelli’s Concerto grosso, but there were other subtle nuances from Romantic or later repertoire. The harpsichord, gamba and recorders all had solos, and the mix was stunning and the audience loved it, because it was written for the voices of the instruments. That was 15 years ago and at that time I thought we must give space to composers.”

So they are trying to choose composers who already have a sense of Tafelmusik’s instruments, or really want to find out. And the process of outreach into the wider music for sources to assist them in finding composers has been a valuable exercise it its own right – Soundstreams, for example, led them to Cecilia Livingston. “Best of all, I am really looking forward it, because it will be a surprise for me too, as a player,” Citterio says. “And that is very Baroque.”

As important as the fact of there being new commissions, will be the contexts in which they will be presented. In the season’s ninth program, for example, Quebec flutist Grégoire Jeay’s new work will be designed to lead directly into Citterio’s own arrangement for orchestra (“I am still working on it!” she says) of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

“But you talked earlier about the power of period playing to cut through the complexity of someone like Tchaikovsky,” I say. So isn’t setting the Goldberg for orchestra the opposite of that – taking something pure and muddying it? I remember, last time we talked you called that kind of thick sound minestrone Wagneriana, and we decided the best English translation was ‘Wagnerian pea soup’?”

She laughs. “Yes I remember. But this is not the same thing. The rearrangement of music from many instruments to few and few to many is a very old idea, and common in Baroque. Bach, for example, arranged violin sonatas for lute and for harpsichord. Or another example, in our fifth program, for example, we are going to hear opera music arranged for eight winds. And all these arrangements, the Bach and the Harmonie, were done at the time, so the idea of the Goldberg orchestral arrangement is not so novel. On our tour out west, an all-Bach program, we included a couple of arrangements of variations and I have in the past already recorded a version of the Goldberg for string quartet and harpsichord. More than that, I would say with Bach the music is beyond the specific instruments. It is just so pure in its harmony and counterpoint.”

That fifth program Citterio is referring to, by the way, is titled “Gone with the Winds,” calling to life a popular form of ensemble in Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven’s day. Hits from the latest operas were arranged for groups of wind musicians called Harmonie who performed in the homes of the rich, and in spas, pubs and pleasure gardens for the public, “the juke box of the 18th century.” Commissioned composer Cecilia Livingston, whose current major project is a full-length opera with TorQ Percussion Quartet and Toronto’s Opera 5 should fit right in!

But Will They Follow?

Baroque arrangement of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky and the interpolation of commissioned new works are about as far forward as Tafel will travel in time. In the 2019/20 season anyway. But the “Old Meets New” season moniker gets a vigorous workout in a host of other ways.

Suba and Trichy Sankaran. Photo by Greg LockeThere is yet another themed program, titled The Indigo Project, from the endlessly inventive and curious mind of Alison Mackay, this time in collaboration with father/daughter duo of Suba and Trichy Sankaran, tracing the significance of the introduction into 17th-century Europe of indigofera tinctoria, the indigo dye that provided both the royal blue of the Bourbon courts and the colour of the cotton fabric worn by the common folk, known as denim. Ancient history with profound contemporary implications.

Other programs dig into the centuries before Baroque in the same way the Mendelssohn/Tchaikovsky program pushes past it. Or introduce us to a composer (Antonio Lotti) whose direct influence on composers like Bach and Handel was evidently as profound as history’s silence where Lotti is concerned … the list goes on.

Engaging as it all promises to be, the jury is out on whether Tafelmusik’s audience will follow where the orchestra under Citterio clearly wants to go. And it’s clear that Tchaikovsky is not the end of the road. Citterio herself agrees that only time will tell. But she knows what she thinks about it: “I truly hope audiences will be happily surprised by it all. I think I am getting to know them better. I understand it will take time. And that some come to Tafelmusik only to hear Baroque music, I know it is only one story, but I like it: It was after we did Mozart’s Symphony No.40, which everyone does, and everyone knows. It’s everywhere. And where probably every audience member expects to hear it a certain way. So we tried to clear the score, to give it a transparency, taking advantage of our instruments, dynamic, articulation, pronunciation even (in German, of course). And one member of the audience who goes to the TSO all the time and likes that kind of style more for this kind of classical and Romantic repertoire came to me and said ‘today I discovered a new Mozart, and I don’t want to stop. I could hear each instrument and detail.’ I was so happy to have feedback like that.”

“So right at the beginning you said you were hoping for ‘busier perhaps, but less crazy,” I say, to bring it full circle. “Crazy busy!” she replies, with a smile. Not crazy the way Italy was, where there are great talents but not, shall we say, well organized as a team. Yes I am busier than I should be, I have a baby but everything is organized, and well organized, so busier is definitely easier.”

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

Norma Beecroft taking a break while working on the tape part for Two Went to Sleep (1967) in the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio (UTEMS). Photo © John ReevesCanadian composer Norma Beecroft (b. 1934) recently released her book, Conversations with Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music, containing an insightful and revealing collection of interviews that explore the history of electronic music around the world. The book, originally published as an e-book, contains transcriptions of her interviews with many of the principal innovators who shaped electronic music from its earliest days. Beecroft, of course, is herself one of the pioneers of electronic music.

Her creative life closely mirrors the appearance and development of what was, in the mid-20th century, the newest musical medium. Given that she was also a prolific broadcaster and a maker of radio documentaries about contemporary composers of her day, it should be no surprise that she decided, in 1977, to embark on this landmark series of interviews with her fellow electronic music pioneers.

The list of the composers included in Beecroft’s book is comprehensive, reading like a who’s who of early electronic music. Among the 23 interviews, prominent names such as Luciano Berio, John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis jump out of the group. Max Matthews, the so-called “father of computer music” is there. And there are important Canadian innovators as well, such as Bill Buxton, Gustav Ciamaga, James Montgomery and Barry Truax. Each interview is framed with a carefully drawn profile of her subject, intricately and accurately placing each into historical context.

The 400-plus-page book also contains an extensive preface, in which Beecroft introduces the overall subject of the relationship between music and technology, which is broadly relevant to her topic. She also details highlights of her own career, creating historical markers in the process, that show her creative work in parallel with her interview subjects. She describes herself as, “the second of five offspring of a father who was an inventor, Julian Beecroft (1907–2007) and one of his main interests was acoustics and sound, which he began investigating when he was very young.” She touches on her early composition lessons with John Weinzweig (1913–2006), interspersed with her other career activities, including her work with CBC Television in the 1950s, a time when TV was the newest of the broadcast media. It was also a period of her life when she travelled extensively, to both the United States and to Europe, meeting numerous composers, conductors and performers in the process. These acquaintances helped her in the development of the many phases of her career: composer, broadcaster and arts administrator (this latter role as co-director – with Robert Aitken –  of Toronto’s New Music Concerts, from 1971 to 1989). And a great many of these colleagues found their way into her collection of interviews.

Beecroft writes: “It was inevitable that I would join those questioning the present and future value of this new technology to music, this fascinating interaction between the fields of science and the humanities. And so, in 1977, I began my investigations into exploring music’s relationship to technology through the voices of some of the world’s foremost creative musical minds.” She concludes her preface with the notion: “It is generally agreed that the field of electronic music began in Paris, France, in the studios of the French Radio, then experiments in this new domain were being conducted at Columbia University in New York, and at the West German Radio in Cologne. Accordingly, I have ordered my collection of interviews in the same manner, beginning in France, and then moving to the United States and Germany, then followed with important work by Luciano Berio (1925–2003) and Bruno Maderna (1920–1973) at the Italian Radio in Milan, and concluding this volume with the interviews in Canada.” At the same time, she notes: “All these activities were mushrooming around the same period of time, in the years immediately following World War II, so the order is essentially inconsequential.”

Beecroft working on the tape part for Two Went to Sleep. Photo © John ReevesBeecroft began organizing her enterprise in 1977, in a series of letters to her intended subjects in Europe. She told me she was confident in positive responses from the composers since she was known to them, and that they trusted her knowledge of the subject. She was by this time acknowledged not only as a composer, but as a highly skilled broadcaster, and she had easy access to all her subjects. She told me that Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001), for example, said: “One thing I like about you is your determination.” Her travels took her first to Cologne, Berlin, Köthen, then Paris, London, and Utrecht. Additional interviews were scheduled in the United States, and back home in her Toronto studio, when possible.

The results of all these interviews were highly rewarding, and revealed great amounts of both historical and personal details. Beecroft’s subjects opened up to her highly focused line of questioning, delving into the recent past, to a time when they were all drawn to the artistic and technical challenges of this new musical medium. In the very first interview, for example, with Pierre Schaeffer (1910–1995), inventor of the concept of musique concrète using recorded sounds, and who founded Le Club d’Essai in 1942 and the Groupe de Recherche Musicales in 1958 in Paris, it’s immediately clear that Schaeffer’s focus is primarily on research and engineering. He refers to clashes in methodology with Pierre Boulez (1925–2016), Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007) and Iannis Xenakis, and confesses: “I hate dodecaphonic music, and I often say that the Austrians shot music with 12 bullets, they killed it for a long time.” This was a somewhat surprising revelation for me, but is typical of the sort of candid views Beecroft’s colleagues were willing to share with her.

In the Stockhausen interview, by contrast, we find the other side of the argument. “In Paris I became involved in the musique concrète that was at that time just beginning to develop. Boulez made me listen to a very few, very short studies, and immediately I was interested in trying myself to synthesize sound, and to get away from the treatment of recorded sound.” Stockhausen went on to mention his collaboration with Belgian composer Karel Goeyvaerts, who had suggested a technique of combining pure sine waves to synthesize timbres: “I have to say that the friendship with this Belgian composer, and the exchange of letters with him, was a very important reason why I made these first experiments, because we were both thinking that it would be a marvellous thing if we could synthesize timbres. The general idea of timbre composition was in the air from texts of Schoenberg.”

Goeyvaerts recalled in his interview: “I never thought that pure sine waves could be heard. And suddenly I found that they existed with an electronic generator, so I wrote to Stockhausen and said, now we can go ahead.” He added: “When Stockhausen made the Study No. 1 and when I made my piece in 1953, I must say we considered at last we could come to a pure structure.” It was also in this year that the term “electronic music” was coined by Dr. Herbert Eimert (1897–1972) at the studio of the Cologne Radio.

Historical turning points such as these appear often throughout Beecroft’s Conversations with Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music. But as important as such details are, the personal notes of the composers are possibly the more interesting aspect. An example is in the interview with American composer Otto Luening (1900–1996), who studied with composer and virtuoso pianist, Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924), and was friends with composer Edgard Varèse (1883–1965). Luening said, of Busoni: “The essence of music, the inner core of music was to him still a mystery and he was like Schopenhauer in that, who I believe said somewhere if we knew the mystery and relationships of music, we would know the mystery and relationships of the whole universe.” And of Varèse, Luening said: “We immediately hit it off. Not only did I have great affection for him, and liked him very much personally, but we had this Busoni tie.” He mentioned the various stylistic groups of American composers current and pointed out: “Varèse and I were on this other line, we were really free wheelers, you know, and while we had a very strong aesthetic, it was not organized, there was no movement or anything, and we never wanted one. We used to talk together and so gradually we fell into a group of friends, that were very interesting and all kind of iconoclasts.”

These personal snapshots were entirely a part of Beecroft’s focus and plan for her project. In a letter to Stockhausen after the first edits were finished, she told him: “The publication is not intended to be a scholarly document on technical matters but an insight into the internal world of the composer and sociological forces that helped shape the person.” She projected to him that, “I am sure this modest document will help fill a void when it comes to musical matters in the latter half of this century.” The book is available through the Canadian Music Centre, 20 St. Joseph Street, Toronto, and can also be ordered online. The details can be found here: musiccentre.ca/node/155113.

Bruce MatherNorma Beecroft continues to compose. Montreal composer-pianist Bruce Mather invited her to create a work for his Carrillo piano, an instrument with 96 notes to the octave, which is to say, it’s tuned in 16ths of tones. Beecroft’s new composition will have its world premiere on March 11 at 7:30 at the Salle de concert of the Conservatoire de musique de Montreal, 4750 avenue Henri-Julien. It’s a work for solo Carrillo piano with digital soundtracks. Beecroft wrote: “Written for my friend and colleague Bruce Mather, this piece posed challenges that I could not resist. Having worked in analogue studios for most of my career, I determined to try my hand at composing using digital software only. The Carrillo piano was another challenge, as the entire piano keyboard consists of only one octave of sound. Training my ears to hear the microtones was a new problem, as was a system of notation for the performer. Herewith – my modest attempt at combining the two elements!” She explains further that the work’s design, “finds its analogy in nature, with the opening and closing of a flower. The one octave is divided in half and opens up slowly to create ever-widening intervals. And the flower slowly ends its fragile existence in a retrograde movement.”

Harry SomersAlso in Montreal in March, a special dramatic concert presentation titled “Between Composers: Correspondence of Norma Beecroft and Harry Somers, 1955–1960” will take place at the Tanna Schulich Hall of McGill University on March 22 at 7:30pm. Composer and McGill music professor Brian Cherney conceived the presentation, and he describes the idea:

“From 1955 until early in 1960, Norma Beecroft and Harry Somers were involved in a romantic relationship. In the fall of 1959, Norma went to Rome to study composition with Goffredo Petrassi. While there, she also studied flute with Severino Gazzelloni, the renowned flutist for whom many composers such as Berio wrote important new works for flute. During the last months of 1959 and early 1960, Somers and Beecroft exchanged nearly 200 letters, providing considerable information about their evolving relationship, what music they were writing, various compositional concerns, and the people they were meeting (in Toronto and in Rome). As well, Norma Beecroft’s letters describe her struggle to gain the confidence to study composition but also to finally reject a permanent ‘domestic’ relationship with Harry Somers, in other words, to devote herself entirely to composition. Thus the letters give us a fairly detailed portrait of that period in Canadian composition (of concert music): their compositional concerns, problems of financial support, thoughts about the state of the arts in Canada, and so on.

“In the concert being presented at McGill University on March 22, I have chosen significant excerpts from these letters and these will be read by two people, interspersed with music by each of the composers, chiefly, the String Quartet No.3 (1959) by Somers, dedicated to Norma Beecroft, and the film Saguenay, for which Somers wrote the music in early 1960 (and described in detail in the letters) and the Amplified String Quartet with Tape by Beecroft, written in the 1990s.”

Norma Beecroft will take part in both these Montreal events.

Returning briefly to the topic of the history of electronic music, I’m happy to announce that on March 8, a 1977 vintage recording by the Canadian Electronic Ensemble (CEE) will be released on the Artoffact record label. The CEE is a performing ensemble that I helped to establish in the early 1970s, and which continues to function even now, nearly 50 years later. This vintage re-release is a remastered version of the debut album by the CEE, originally released on an LP on the Music Gallery Editions label. By coincidence, the music contained on the album was all composed and performed at roughly the same period of time as Beecroft was travelling the world recording her interviews. The CEE’s founding quartet of David Grimes, the late Larry Lake, David Jaeger (aka me) and James Montgomery are the performers, together with a guest appearance by the late pianist Karen Kieser. The album is available as both a CD and in digital formats on Bandcamp: thecee.bandcamp.com.

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

Alex Pauk Headshot 2 Bo Huang bannerAlex Pauk. Photo by Bo HuangThere’s a great Alex Pauk story that filmmaker Don McKellar once told me, about the final stages in the production of  McKellar’s 1998 feature film Last Night, for which Pauk and composer Alexina Louie, partners in life and in art, composed the score. (I can’t swear to when McKellar told me the story, except that, evidently, it must have been sometime after 1998.) Whenever it was, it’s had time to ripen with age and retelling, so I will trust all parties concerned to forgive the parts I am no longer getting quite right.

Alex Pauk with Murray Schafer and Robert Aitken. Photo by Malcolm CookThe way I remember it, Pauk and Louie contacted McKellar to say that the score was complete and ready for him to hear, and that an appointment “three sharp” was set for the given date and the appointed place. “Three sharp” was however not necessarily a musical term McKellar was familiar with, back in the day, so when he strolled up, Pauk was already pacing. “You’re late!” was the greeting, in a tone more stressed than McKellar thought the situation warranted.

McKellar wandered in, expecting to find himself with headphones on, listening to a tape or piano reduction or something … “and than they open the door to the room, and there’s a whole symphony orchestra there, waiting to do their thing. It felt for a moment as if I must have died and gone to Hollywood.”

As implausible as that moment in time must have felt, on a larger scale the fact that Esprit, the orchestra in question, is still alive and ticking after 35 years, is almost as implausible; and a story worth telling in its own right.

First New WaveEsprit at 35

In the middle of this significant anniversary year for Canada’s only full-sized orchestra completely devoted to performing and promoting new orchestral works, we could have chosen to approach this story in a few different ways:

There’s the way this season’s four mainstage Koerner Hall concerts (there’s still one to come, on March 24) reflect the philosophy (and formula) that has given the orchestra its remarkable consistency and astonishing staying power. “My programming is something I always take great care with and pride in,” Pauk says. “Making the programs so that they flow, so that it’s not all one thing. I mean if you did all hard-edged European music all the time, it wouldn’t go over well, so there’s an ebb and flow in a concert, variety …”

Or there was the orchestra’s decisive move from the cramped confines of the Jane Mallett Theatre (the stage used to look like an overloaded life raft for some of the larger works they performed there) to Koerner Hall (twice the capacity) in the very first year Koerner opened. “We’re both celebrating our tenth anniversaries there!” Alex Pauk says with a grin. “You could overpower the Jane Mallett fairly easily” I observe. “Your Xenakis certainly did, when was that, in 2006? I think that was actually the start of the renovations there … your knocking every bit of loose plaster off the walls with the sound.” He laughs. “We certainly did. But you know, we, the tenants had a lot of ideas for those renovations, for the hall itself. And what did we get?
A renovated lobby.”

Or there’s the whole subject of what it takes to keep implausible enterprises afloat (a topic on which we agree to indulge in no more than a few seconds of mutual commiseration and admiration, and then move on).

New Wave Reprise

Of all the possible angles to take on the story, sitting in Esprit’s modest offices on Spadina Ave, with Pauk tapping his fingers on the table for emphasis as he talks, Esprit’s April 5 “New Wave Reprise,” a one-off event at Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre, cuts right to the heart of what makes Esprit, and its founding conductor, tick, so we start right there.

Alison Yunfei JiangThe Orchestra’s own description of the event is fairly straightforward. It will start at 7pm with a keynote address by John Rea, and will feature world premieres by emerging Canadian composers (Eugene Astapov, Quinn Jacobs, Bekah Simms, Christina Volpini and Alison Yun-Fei Jiang). Eugene Astapov and Alison Yun-Fei Jiang (for one work) will also be the evening’s guest conductors.

“What’s the size of the ensemble for the event,” I ask. “It’s a much smaller group,” Pauk replies. “Smaller winds, smaller strings, two percussion, harp, piano. So it’s all the orchestral sounds. What’s interesting is that these same composers, by and large, worked with us last year, for a slightly smaller group of instruments, and will, hopefully work with us again next year, at which time an even larger instrument group will be in play. It’s not to treat them as unable to deal with the orchestra. It’s to create a progression and maintain the relationship. It’s something we have done from the beginning with all the generations of composers we have worked with.”

He pauses, rummages for and reads from a piece of paper, a mission statement of some kind. This kind of sums it up,” he says. “‘The intent, from the beginning of Esprit, has always been to identify, engage, nurture, expose, promote and sustain relationships with creative people.’ That’s been it, basically, from the start of  Esprit as a professional organization, of the orchestra, of the kind of outreach we’ve done. But, except perhaps with our musicians, nowhere more importantly than in our relationship to composers and composing. And you do that by repeatedly commissioning composers’ work, and then reprising those commissioned works over the years. I mean if you trace the record over the years – John Rea, Chris Paul Harman, José Evangelista, Denis Gougeon, so many others. You seldom see their names just once. And we reach out constantly to new voices, and then bring them along, which is what this is about.”

John ReaAstonishing as it may seem, Pauk can lay claim to five distinct generations of composers with whom Esprit has maintained this kind of relationship. “Harry Freedman and Harry Somers, along with Murray Schafer, were the senior generation. I was always influenced by those senior composers because they had strong, clear, independent and remarkable voices, and so that’s what I’ve always looked for when I’ve programmed or commissioned.

Then there is my own generation. Alexina [Louie], and John Rea are examples. And then there’s the emerging generation represented by this event. And the next generation of high schoolers that this group of emerging composers will help bring along. Each benefitting from and contributing to the others in a kind of ongoing evolution.”

“So why New Wave Reprise as a title?” I ask (and then almost wish I hadn’t, because the New Wave Festival, launched in 2002 has gone through all kinds of twists and turns over the years). Watching me start to glaze at what begat what and when, Pauk suggests instead that I reach out to Eugene Astapov, who is an alumnus of several of Esprit’s outreach programs, and features as one of the composers (and the main guest conductor) in the April 5 event.

Esprit’s Ontario Resonance mentors’ finale concert, November 2017, at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre. (L to R) Soprano Rebecca Gray; composers Chris Thornborrow, Christina Volpini, & Bekah Simms; Esprit Orchestra conductor Alex Pauk; composer Adam Scime; composer and conductor Eugene Astapov. The mentors pictured worked with students from 6 schools across the GTA on student compositions. The mentors were each commissioned to write a piece of their own, which were premiered that evening. Photo by Kevin LloydAstapov’s own journey with Esprit started over a decade ago when he participated, as a Grade 11 student, in composition workshops the orchestra hosted at Earl Haig Secondary School (site of Claude Watson School of the Arts), and is a case study in the kind of relationship building Pauk was talking about earlier. “I was fascinated to the extent that I decided to pursue it as a career, thanks to the support of a longtime Esprit friend and collaborator Alan Torok – director of the music program at Earl Haig at the time,” Astapov says.

A year later he began studying at the Eastman School of Music, but stayed in touch with Torok who subsequently re-introduced him to Pauk. As it happened, Esprit was engaged in preparations to host their annual New Wave Festival and commissioned Astapov for it. “It turned out to be a 12-minute work for piano and orchestra, only my second orchestral commission after the Vancouver Symphony. Thinking back now, even though the piece may not have been my strongest, I now realize how it fit like a puzzle with the subsequent works I composed and how the early experience with Esprit helped my understanding of the inner workings of a symphony orchestra.”

After graduate studies at Juilliard, Astapov returned to Toronto for further studies at the doctoral level at the very point in time that Pauk and Esprit were reviving their collaboration with Earl Haig – what was eventually to become the educational outreach program known as Creative Sparks. “In 2015 I joined the community outreach team and was invited to return to Earl Haig as the composition instructor helping students compose new pieces for small orchestra, to be played by Esprit in concert at the end of the school year! As part of this project and example to the students at Earl Haig, Alex extended a commission to me to be performed at the Creative Sparks final concert.”

Once again it was a pivotal commission, due to its use of a pre-recorded element – something he had not done before. “The piece was successful and was picked up by the Vancouver Symphony who performed it the following season,” he says.

It’s a continuing relationship at this point with ongoing opportunities for experimentation: music incorporating electronics; a Creative Sparks commission to compose a work for soprano and string orchestra; the opportunity to conduct that work; conducting unleashing a new passion. “It helped me open and alter my compositional mind and ears in ways that I had never realized was possible: deeper understanding of time signatures and tempi, orchestration techniques that help performers learn music quicker … The list goes on.”

April 5 sees the latest installment in the Astapov/Esprit story. And it’s highly likely it won’t be the last. Which is something that wave after wave of other composers, senior, established, and emerging, can attest to.

John Rea, keynote speaker at the event, was the first composer Esprit ever commissioned. His working title for the address, Pauk informs me, is “Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea - Composers talking to Composers.”

“In other words, making waves” says Pauk. And he should know.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com

Banff CentreIt happened the day after I got back from Banff. My flight had arrived late the previous night, and I got back to my apartment around 11pm, after a lengthy wait in line for a taxi outside of Pearson International Airport in minus-20-degree weather, which I’d endured without the aid of toque, gloves or scarf, as I’d packed these items deep in my carry-on luggage. Imprudent though this decision might seem when viewed in retrospect, it made sense at the time: 

I hadn’t needed my woollen accessories on my last day in Banff thanks to a timely Chinook wind that raised the daytime temperature to a balmy two degrees.

After getting back to my apartment, making an abortive attempt to unpack, and falling asleep with every available blanket piled on top of my wind-bitten body, I awoke to further delights: frosted-over windows, an insufficient supply of drinkable coffee, and a refrigerator, empty but for an assortment of condiments, a few cans of beer, and a sad, desiccated apple, which in my haste to leave some four weeks earlier I’d evidently forgotten. The remedy to this dearth of comforts:
I had to go to the grocery store.

And so it was in Whole Foods – coffee in one hand, avocado in the other – that I, upon making eye contact with a nearby man who was also perusing the produce section, smiled, nodded and said a brief “Hey.” To the man’s credit, his gently startled response of “Uhh… okay” probably had less to do with any rudeness on his part than it had to do with the fact that he, unlike me, had not just spent two weeks at the Banff Centre, where it was common practice, upon encountering a new face in the close quarters of an elevator, or at a dining-hall table, to smile, nod and say a brief “Hey.” This salutation, simple though it was, constituted a layered acknowledgment of a number of implicit statements related to the unique circumstances of being at the Centre, including (but not limited to): “It’s nice to see a friendly face” and, “Isn’t it wonderful to have access to such outstanding facilities?” and “Isn’t the divide between our day-to-day lives and the pampered, unstructured, logistically streamlined lives that we’re leading in our respective residencies so great as to make you feel simultaneously lucky, grateful and slightly embarrassed?” My fellow plant-fat enthusiast couldn’t have known.

He also likely wouldn’t have known that the Banff Centre – founded in 1933, current full name Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity – hosts a number of programs throughout the year, from short-term summer workshops in disciplines such as dance, theatre, jazz and chamber music, to long-term practicums, in fields such as audio engineering, that run for the better part of a year. I was at the Centre to attend the Banff Musicians in Residence (BMiR) program, a self-directed residency that occurs annually in three separate five-week sessions throughout fall and winter. Successful residency applicants can stay for the full five weeks, although most tend to stay for three, at least in the sessions that I’ve attended. While I don’t know what internal criteria are at play in the selection process, a typical BMiR cohort will consist of approximately 25 Canadian and international musicians who specialize in a wide variety of different practices; this residency included artists such as Corey Gulkin, a singer-songwriter from Montreal, Mark Taylor, a composer from New York, and Rosa Guitar Trio, a classical ensemble from Australia.

Each week of a residency also features a guest faculty member, who hosts a master-class-style session in their studio, is available for one-on-one coachings, and who performs in the concert session that ends each residency week. These concerts tend to alternate between Rolston Recital Hall, a classical-style venue in which primarily acoustic music tends to be programmed, and The Club, the creatively named space in which jazz, pop, folk and other groove-oriented music tends to be programmed. (Blunt titular charms aside, one imagines that the Banff Centre must simply be waiting for the rightly named donor-partnership opportunity.) A BMiR session also sees the selection, through an application and interview process that takes place in advance of the residency, of an artistic associate, a resident who acts as concert curator, social convener and liaison between program participants and Banff Centre administrative staff. The artistic associate in my most recent session was Sophie Gledhill, an English cellist, who successfully wrangled our herd of a cohort with patience, humour and generosity.

At its core, a BMiR works by giving its participants the space, time and resources they need in order to do their unique artistic work, free (to a certain extent) of the stress and responsibility of their ordinary routines. Physically, the Centre resembles a small college campus, and being there mimics a kind of post-secondary experience: participants stay in one of several residence buildings, they have access to the gym, and they receive a Banff Centre ID card, which is loaded with funds on their flex-meal plan; funds they are free to spend at any of the on-campus restaurants (though not, it should be noted, on alcohol). Musicians are assigned a studio space, either in the Music and Sound building, or in one of the 28 huts located in nearby clusters. Equipment requests are processed about a month before the start of a new session. The Banff Centre has a robust inventory of gear, and will help to accommodate any unusual items needed in a given artist’s studio. As drummer Mackenzie Longpré puts it: “One of the most unique aspects of the Banff Centre is the seemingly limitless access to a large array of facilities and musical equipment. During my residency, I felt like I could request and use whatever gear I wanted, and was never made to feel like I was overstepping my bounds.”

Colin Story inside his hutAside from overeating, staring at the romantic splendour of the mountains, and promising yourself that you’ll definitely, definitely go to the gym tomorrow morning, the point of attending the BMiR program is to work on a specific musical project. These projects can differ widely from participant to participant; a classical pianist might be preparing for a concerto that she’ll be performing with an orchestra in eight months’ time, while a singer-songwriter might be writing new material for an album that addresses itself to the themes of climate change and the Canadian landscape. The first BMiR session that I attended was in late 2016; I came to the Banff Centre with a band, to rehearse and develop material written in advance by the group’s leader, in order to prepare for a recording session in early 2017. I spent two weeks during that stay at the Centre, and my artistic goals were fairly straightforward: my job was to play the given material as well as I could, to experiment and develop strategies to expand upon the songs the group was working on, and to advance my own instrumental skills through individual practice. By contrast, I attended this year’s residency by myself, to compose and develop material for a forthcoming recording project. As I was preparing for my time in Banff, I imagined that it would feel more or less the same as my first time, and that my artistic trajectory would look fairly similar by the end of my stay. This assumption, as it turned out, was wrong.

Hut exteriorBeing provided with the space, time and resources to do my unique artistic work – free of the stress and responsibility of my ordinary routine – produced, in me, an unexpected feeling: an anxious dread that if I wasn’t operating at peak efficiency, I would be squandering this precious opportunity. For as idyllic as a Banff Centre residency may be, it also represents a considerable personal investment of time: time away from family, away from work, away from the real world. The idea that I was not making the absolute most of my experience became increasingly debilitating; perhaps unsurprisingly, I became a bit sick at the end of my first week, and spent a day away from my studio, recuperating in my room.

The key to overcoming this anxiety, I was to find, was not round-the-clock access to excellent facilities, or picturesque views, or all-you-can-drink cafeteria coffee: it was the mutual support and encouragement of the musicians with whom I shared my residency. It is surprisingly difficult to be open and vulnerable, particularly with people you’ve only just met, but actively connecting to the BMiR community became the key to doing better, more fulfilling work. As Gulkin wrote to me after the residency, this peer support “was one of the most important parts of the residency. While everyone was working on a different project, we all realized we were experiencing similar ups and downs,” in going through the sometimes “extreme emotional process” of creating art.

The Banff Centre is a special place, and, as I walked home from the grocery store on that frigid morning, having just warmly greeted a man I did not know, I thought about the things I hadn’t been able to take back to Toronto with me: the world-class facilities, the crisp mountain air, the clamour of Australian accents at every coffee shop and bar in town. But I was reassured that work, even in the most ideal of settings, doesn’t suddenly become easier, and that what turned out to be the most important part of the experience – participating in the cultivation of a supportive community of artistic peers – was, in fact, something that I could bring home.

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

Photo by Carol FriedmanJessye Norman (singing), New York City.

Hunt down the photograph of Jessye Norman that graces our cover in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog of the US Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and you will discover that it was taken in 1988 by acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz and titled “Jessye Norman (singing), New York City.” (The cutline for the image in the version we received from Universal Music to make our cover from is titled “Jessye Norman is Carmen,” but we’ll get back to that factoid once we’ve browsed the Library’s holdings a little further.)

The photo on our cover seems to be the only Leibovitz photo in the library’s print and photo online catalogue. But it’s far from the only Jessye Norman image listed there: there are photos of her singing during Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration and, the previous year, at the 1996 Democratic National Convention; there are sketches of her, alone and with conductor Seiji Ozawa, by illustrator Tracy Sugarman; and there is a photograph listed of her singing, in the Capitol Rotunda in June 1999, during a ceremony to award the Congressional Medal of Honour to Rosa Parks, the Alabama seamstress whose 1955 refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man could be said to have sparked the campaign of disobedience that launched the American civil rights movement. ‘’This will be encouragement for all of us to continue until all people have equal rights,’’ the then-86-year-old Parks said in accepting the medal, just moments after Norman’s voice filled the Rotunda with the strains of John Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson’s anthemic Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

“Jessye Norman is Carmen”

If one searches a list of all the Library’s holdings beyond prints and photographs, a sense of the full scope and scale of Norman’s artistic contribution over the decades starts to emerge: films, interviews, her own 2014 memoir, Stand Up Straight and Sing!, and almost 100 audio recordings, from spirituals to song cycles, from sacred works to the grandest of grand opera, reflective of an astounding technical range (she has sung soprano, mezzo-soprano and alto roles throughout her career), broad and adventurous musical tastes, and a lifetime of collaboration with artistic colleagues who, like her, are among the greatest of the great.

Carmen record cover artTucked away among these recordings is one from 1988, the year in which our cover photo was taken, which sheds light on the “Jessie Norman Is Carmen” cutline under the file of the photograph sent to us by Universal Music for our cover use. It is a Philips recording of Bizet’s Carmen, with Norman in the title role, and Mirella Freni, Neil Shicoff, and Simon Estes, among others, in the cast. It was made between July 13 and 22 1988, in the Grand Auditorium de Radio France, with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Orchestre national de France. Sure enough, if you hunt out images of the cover of that record, you will find yourself face to face with this same photograph, only in colour. You would never think, though, looking at the photograph in that context, that it was ever intended for any other purpose. It seems to be a picture of Norman inhabiting a role as fully and easily as the blanket drawn around her.

It’s worth noting too, though, that by 1988, fully two decades after a major vocal competition win in Munich in 1969 launched her on an A-list European career, Norman was only five years into a Metropolitan Opera mainstage career, albeit one that would continue until 1996. But Carmen was not a role she ever played at the Met.

JESSYE NORMAN, GGF Laureate, Toronto 2019

On Wednesday February 20, 2019, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, somewhere during the course of a gala concert titled The Glenn Gould Prize Celebrates Jessye Norman, she will accept, in person as all the Prize’s laureates do, the Glenn Gould Foundation’s Glenn Gould Prize awarded her in April 2018. In a line of 12 Laureates stretching back to R. Murray Schafer in 1987, Norman is the first woman to receive the award.

Glenn Gould Prize laureates seldom perform at their own concerts, but generally have a significant say in who will perform; even by GGF standards this year’s promises to be quite a lineup: the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra; soprano Nina Stemme and lyric soprano Pumeza Matshikiza; tenor Rodrick Dixon and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green; soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and mezzo-sopranos Wallis Giunta and Susan Platts; American jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale directed by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor. Conductors Bernard Labadie, Donald Runnicles, Jean-Philippe Tremblay and Johannes Debus will also participate. And Viggo Mortensen, chair of last April’s Glenn Gould Prize Jury that awarded the prize to Norman will also be there.

It’s a stellar array (with of course the attendant danger of turning into an all-aria-no-recitative operatic highlight reel – all climaxes with no foreplay or interplay). But what the heck, there’s a place for those things too. And there are two participants in particular, about whom I’m particularly curious.

 Cécile McLorin SalvantOne is jazz singer/songwriter, Cécile McLorin Salvant, whom Norman, as each GGF laureate gets to do, has chosen to receive the Protégé Prize that goes with the award. It’s always an interesting insight into the mind of the laureate to see whom they choose as protégé: in 1996, pioneering Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu selected fellow composer Tan Dun; in 1999, Yo-Yo Ma chose pipa player Wu Man who became one of his closest Silk Road collaborators; in 2008, Sistema founder José Maria Abreu named Gustavo Dudamel, Sistema’s best-known alumnus; and in 2011 Leonard Cohen, not untypically, broke the pattern by naming the Children of Sistema Toronto, rather than an individual, as his protégés. In naming McLorin Salvant, Norman said this: “Singer, songwriter…a unique voice supported by an intelligence and full-fledged musicality which light up every note she sings. There is an intense, yet quiet confidence in her music-making that I find compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.”

The other participant I’m particularly looking forward to hearing in the context of the gala is the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, under conductor Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, for the simple reason that, when people’s chosen creative pathways intersect, there’s always a chance that, at one of these intersections, the individuals in question will actually cross paths to interesting effect.

Nathaniel Dett ChoraleFor Blyden-Taylor and the Chorale, the Norman Celebration concert comes at an interesting juncture. The week before, on February 13, the day after Norman arrives in town, they will be celebrating their own 20th anniversary as a choir; the following month, March 23, they will head to Hampton, Virginia for the 70th anniversary of Nathaniel Dett’s founding of the school of music there.

Norman has long been part of Blyden-Taylor’s inspirational musical frame of reference. “My consciousness of her goes back to my youth in Barbados in the mid-60s” he says, “and even more so after I came to Toronto in 1973 to be musical director at my uncle’s church. She was an ongoing part of my listening in terms of a sound ideal in terms of performance of spirituals, in my work with the Orpheus Choir, and workshops I was asked to do across the country, helping other choirs with interpretation of spirituals. You’d have to say she was one of those voices that were pivotal in terms of reading of the spirituals.”

Norman was top of the list of people Blyden-Taylor approached to be honorary patron of the Chorale when they started in 1998. “But she very respectfully declined at the time, and as you know, Oscar Peterson, also a Glenn Gould Prize laureate, in fact, accepted, and remained so until his death. Maybe it’s time to ask her again!”

With the number of events Norman will be attending in the week leading up to the celebration concert on February 20, Blyden-Taylor is unsure whether the Dett Chorale’s concert at Koerner Hall will make it onto Norman’s dance card. “It would be nice. But the fact that this is all happening during Black History month means there’s no shortage of partners already predisposed to program events this month. So she will be busy!”

Regarding the fact that, for whatever reasons, this celebration has been timed to take place during Black History Month, Blyden-Taylor is philosophical. “I think back to a time in my life when I was rather upset that I seemed only to be asked to do workshops on Afrocentric music and spirituals. But one of the people to whom I was lamenting, invited me to look at it as a glass half full, as a doorway to communication. We constantly have to be pushing the boundaries, in fact we are constantly pushing the boundaries, even when nobody is watching, so it’s better to simply accept that Black History Month gives an entrée to audiences we might otherwise not reach at all. After all, to take another example, the United Nations declared 2015 to 2024 to be the decade of people of African descent, and the decade started then, even if it took till January 2018 for our own Prime Minister to publicly acknowledge the fact.”

As to the Dett Chorale’s role in the gala concert, they are slated to perform three pieces. “Two by Moses Hogan, I’d say – our Youtube video of his Battle of Jericho has logged thousands of hits. And his Didn’t my Lord Deliver Daniel?” The third piece will, fittingly, be by Nathaniel Dett himself. “His Go Not Far From Me, O God is a wonderful example of Dett’s writing, juxtaposing two melodic ideas from the canon of spirituals and with a wonderfully high baritone/low tenor solo part to it; I have suggested that one of the visiting operatic soloists might want to do it with us. I don’t know whether it will happen or not, but we’ll be ready. I know Jessye asked for there to be spirituals on the program. It’s music very near and dear to her heart.”

The Glenn Gould Foundation in 1988

Cycling back to the year our cover photograph was taken, it’s worth noting that in 1988, with Jessye Norman already in her artistic prime, the Glenn Gould Foundation was in its infancy, having awarded its first prize just the previous year to composer and visionary R. Murray Schafer. In the words of jury member, Sir Yehudi Menuhin – who went on to be the laureate of the Second Glenn Gould Prize – Schafer was being honoured for his “strong, benevolent, and highly original imagination and intellect, a dynamic power whose manifold personal expression and aspirations are in total accord with the urgent needs and dreams of humanity today.”

It’s important to note the Janus-like nature of Menuhin’s citation for Schafer’s award: the words could as easily be about the individual in whose name, and spirit, the Prize is awarded, as about the laureate of the day. As such, this first citation was an aspirational benchmark that has remained fundamental to the GGF’s sense of mission to this day: Gould himself, as a timelessly creative original, sets a standard of engaged creativity for the GGF’s jurors that demands of them that they choose worthy recipients. It’s win-win. The Prize adds lustre to the achievements of its laureates; over time the consistent, cumulative calibre of its laureates adds lustre to the Prize.

Another throughline in the GGF’s 30-year history of presenting the award is the care taken in planning not just a celebration concert, but all the events leading up to, or surrounding it. For it is often in these other events that a more fully rounded portrait of the laureate can emerge.

Starting things off, a three-day festival of film, February 11 to 13 in partnership with TIFF, titled “Divine: A Jessye Norman Tribute” features screenings (including a 1989 film, Jessye Norman Sings Carmen, by Albert Maysles on the making of of the Seiji Ozawa-conducted recording mentioned earlier in this story), and a conversation between Norman and the Canadian Opera Company’s Alexander Neef.

There will also be a rare, public, three-hour Jessye Norman masterclass for voice and opera students, in Walter Hall at the U of T Faculty of Music, on Friday February 15. Free to the public, it should afford the opportunity to witness Norman directly engaged in arts education, a cause for which she is an untiring and passionate advocate.

And an all-day symposium titled “Black Opera - Uncovering Music History” at the Toronto Reference Library, on Saturday, February 16 from 11am to 5pm, in partnership with the Toronto Public Library, will “trace the heroic struggles of pioneering artists of African origin to enter the operatic world, their fight for acceptance and recognition, their triumphs and accomplishments.” It will include, in its final hour, a conversation with Norman herself. Interestingly, the indefatigable Norman’s own latest multimedia project, launched in 2018, titled “Call Her By Her Name!” revolves around “the name and legacy of the first African-American opera singer to perform, in 1893, on the main stage of Carnegie Hall – Madame Sissieretta Jones.” So this should be a fascinating conversation.

Madame Sissieretta Jones - Google Art ProjectOf all the events programmed, so far, for the visit, there’s one that for me captures the essence of why the match between the GGF and Norman is a lustrous one; and, fittingly, it will happen out of the public eye. Titled “Freedom Through the Arts Workshops” it will bring together students from the Jessye Norman School of the Arts and the students of Sistema Toronto (laureate Leonard Cohen’s 2011 protégés).

Norman helped establish the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia, in 2003, to provide arts education to students from economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. In 2011, following the presentation of the Eighth Glenn Gould Prize to Dr. José Antonio Abreu, Sistema Toronto was founded to bring the power of music education into the lives of children from this city’s priority neighbourhoods. In this potentially transformative exchange, 15 students from a Jessye Norman inspired initiative in Augusta will travel to Toronto for four days of workshops and collaboration with students engaged in a thriving Toronto initiative directly inspired by the existence of the Glenn Gould Prize.

Drawing each new role afforded her around her shoulders like a blanket, out of the spotlight, away from the footlights, Norman’s work continues, even when no-one is watching.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com

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