Just_the_spot_-_Mary_Lou.jpgThe WholeNote is having a 20th anniversary concert and party for their readers and supporters on Friday September 25. And last spring I was asked by publisher David Perlman if I would co-host the grand occasion with him.

“Sure, that sounds like fun. Where will it be?”

“Trinity-St.Paul’s”

“Of course,” said I. “Perfect.”

Practically everyone in town knows TSP at 427 Bloor St. W. (or Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church and Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts to give it its full name). It is the home stage of the internationally known baroque orchestra, Tafelmusik and of the stellar early music ensemble, Toronto Consort. The building is also home to a vibrant United Church Congregation with a strong community history since 1875 and impressive social justice bona fides. The 120-strong Viva! Youth Singers rehearse and present their concert season there.

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2005   Feature   Just The Spot   The Array SpaceOver the past few months I have looked at several local venues presenting concerts listed in The WholeNote. These spaces range from the venerable Music Gallery, whose motto “Toronto’s centre for creative music” has taken it into its 38th season, to the Aga Khan Museum’s world music-rich concert series, now in its fourth month.

Their stories encompass their venue’s architecture and the public geographies they inhabit and serve. For example, the Music Gallery’s office and primary downtown venue, a block north of Queen Street West, is the modestly sized St. George the Martyr Anglican Church, its Gothic revival bell tower dating to 1844. The church site looks onto Grange Park and the 105-year old University Settlement social service centre. At the other end of the park sits the near 200-year-old former grand brick home called The Grange and its heir, the AGO. When viewed in the context of its historic urban geography, it strikes me that even though much of its music programming inhabits the experimental edge, the Music Gallery’s site echoes with distinctively old-Toronto tones.

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ML-JustTheSpotMost instrumentalists such as horn players, guitarists, bassists and drummers, have the advantage of being able to play their own instrument while performing live or recording in a studio. Pianists however, have a disadvantage in this area. They have to rely on the piano provided by the venue or the studio. Because of this limitation, it is very important to seek out the best piano when I am ready to produce a CD. Having recorded nine CDs with my trio, Steve Koven Trio, I know that Inception Sound Studio in Toronto has one of the finest pianos in the country.

This piano transmits beautiful tones and has amazing responsiveness in its action. It also has a unique history. This specific piano was the first piano used at the legendary Imperial Room at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel. It is a 1929 New York Steinway D model and has been played by many of the great pianists that performed in Toronto from 1929 to the present day, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Little Richard, Allan Singleton-Wood, John Arpin, Doug Riley and Don Thompson, to name a few who have played and recorded on this magnificent instrument.

 I recorded my last six CDs with my trio at Inception Sound on this very piano. So it seemed fitting to me, for my first solo piano recording, to revisit the instrument that has been my first choice for more than a decade. I returned to Inception Sound to record the CD, and Solo Retrospective was born. The concept behind the CD was to revisit previous compositions that reflect back 32 years. 

I chose a collection of original songs that represent both meaningful and significant times in my life. For example, the final track, Lifetime, was composed when I was just 18 – a song about first love. The opening track, Mist-ic, is a new composition which was inspired by a visit to Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick. While there, I spent an evening at a magical, “mist-ical,” fog-covered, remote beach at dusk. There was my song. The inspiration for another track, Artists, came to me while working on my Masters Degree at York University, surrrounded by boundless, youthful creativity; there was another song. 5 O’Clock Omelette is a new composition which pays homage to a musical exercise I learned in my undergrad program while studying Contemporary Improvisation at York in the 1980s.

There are 12 original tracks on Solo Retrospective, of which three are new releases. You can find out more on my website,
stevekoven.com.

There will be a CD launch concert for Solo Retrospective at Musideum, 401 Richmond St. W., October 19 at 8pm. 

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just the spotI am sitting in a beautiful, sunlit space with a sloping wooden ceiling, ready to experience the first of six AMAZING cello concerts. I know, I know ... I’m a bass player for God’s sake and not only am I looking forward to this concert but, together with TSO cellist Winona Zelenka I organized the whole series. How did this happen?

Start with a stunning acoustic, and a gorgeous building in a part of town where you might not expect to hear classical music. I first discovered Seicho-No-Ie through a friend. I’m a bassist in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and have been organizing concerts for as long as I can remember.

In my experience, when musicians see a place like this they immediately think concerts! After our first visit to Seicho-No-Ie (a Japanese non-denominational centre of worship) my wife Kim and I invited Etsuko Kimura (assistant concertmaster at the TSO) to try her violin in this venue.

Up until this point there had never been a concert in the building, a fact that we found rather exciting. Etsuko fell in love with the sound and, on the spot, we came up with the idea for a six-concert series with six violinists, six one-hour concerts and each one featuring one of J.S. Bach’s solo sonatas or partitas. Presto! It happened. That was last year. The series was a success; we were able to raise money for the church, pay the artists and bring fine music to the neighbourhood.

So how do you follow that? Well, Bach did compose six suites for solo cello, too. TSO assistant principal cellist Winona Zelenka had attended one of the violin concerts (TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow) and was blown away by the sound. When I mentioned a cello series she jumped at the chance and together we have assembled a lineup of six of the finest cellists you will find anywhere. Our country is well represented with players coming from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Everyone loves the cello - this is a chance to get up close and personal with six terrific players, hear varied repertoire including all the Bach suites and explore a new concert space ... What more could you ask for? So join me October 26, as I sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labours.

The players:

Joe Johnson, October 26, Suite No.1

Elinor Frey, November 16, Suite No.6

Ariel Barnes, January 11, Suite No.4

Winona Zelenka, February 1, Suite No.2

Rachel Mercer, March 8, Suite No.3

Brian Manker, May 3, Suite No.5

The spot:

Seicho-No-Ie Toronto

662 Victoria Park Avenue

Toronto, Ontario

M4C 5H4

 

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Unique seems to be an understatement for Musideum, a new performance space at 401 Richmond St. W. (Richmond and Spadina) which also operates as a retail store and a musical museum, selling and displaying authentic instruments from all over the globe, including ones from Peru, China, Australia and part of northern Canada. Like a gleaming gem from any of these far off places, the intimate space radiates with breathtaking colours and textures that offer infinite musical possibilities. Musideum is operated by Donald Quan, an accomplished film composer with a personal passion for aboriginal and contemporary world music. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the venue.

What made you decide to change Musideum from a retail space to a performance space? “I thought that by offering Musideum up only as a retail store was not doing the concept of it justice. The initial concept I had for Musideum three years ago when I opened it, included designing a space that could be used as a musical performance space and could also serve as a museum of sorts exposing the public and the world at large to music and musical instruments that have rarely been appreciated in person. Until Musideum, many of these instruments could only be seen in books or perhaps on the internet.”

How has your background as a film composer influenced the design of the space? “In order to be a film composer one has to understand and appreciate more than just music. Because film composing is a collaborative medium, one has to appreciate visual aesthetic, poetry, words, art and some less-tangible concepts.

Today I view Musideum as a single space where all of my artistic endeavours can be shared with the public and be appreciated easily. Musideum has become a venue where performers of all kinds can intimately share their music with their audience with as much resonance and as little resistance as possible. Without the distractions of food and drink for example!”

What has been the response to the venue so far? “All of the audiences have told me that they will continue to support the new Musideum venue and will come back. As a result we have over 2500 hand-signed or opt-in addresses on our current mailing list. As for performers, almost every performer we have asked has agreed to try doing at least one show here … Since last summer Musideum has hosted over 35 successful performances ranging from jazz to world, electronica, pop, experimental and more … unfortunately I’ve had to limit the publicity of the shows as the venue’s capacity is only 40 people.”

What should our readers know if they are planning on attending a performance at the Musideum? “Come early and please reserve a ticket in advance (call 416-599-7323) if you want to guarantee a seat! And PLEASE check the website before you come down to make sure you have the latest information on the shows as our schedule is constantly being added to. The link to our schedule can be found at www.musideum.com and it is updated on a daily basis.”

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Author: Ori Dagan
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