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.

Read more: The Space and its Place in the Music: ArrayMusic Studio

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. 

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

 

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.”

p25_jamie_howieson_and_john_swallow_black_creekThe Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival is presenting a fantastic and diverse series of concerts, featuring stars from the worlds of classical music and opera, jazz, Broadway, gospel, country and mainstream pop. All concerts will be presented at the Rexall Centre at 1 Shoreham Drive on the York University Campus. Given that this facility was designed primarily for staging major tennis competitions, it’s not unreasonable to wonder just what the sound quality will be like for the average concert goer. It was with these questions in mind that I met with John Swallow, of Swallow Acoustic Consultants Ltd. (www.swallowacoustic.ca), and Jamie Howieson, Production and Technical Manager of the Rexall Centre.

John was quick to point out that the round, bowl shape of the venue, as well as its size, is very similar to the classical amphitheatres of Greek and Roman times – some of which are still used today for concerts with great success. The lack of a roof eliminates a major source of acoustic interference: the reflected sound from above which arrives after the direct sound from the stage, degrading the clarity and muddying the sound.

p25_rendering_of_blackcreek_venueThe process of optimizing the concert sound began with a simple test of a sound system set up by Jamie in the basic, untreated arena. Encouraged by what was heard, John went on to perform a full acoustic analysis to identify any specific problem areas requiring treatment. These turned out to be vertical wall surfaces reflecting sound which could be heard as an interfering echo by someone sitting in the house, easily managed with sound absorbing materials so that the only sound perceived by an audience member will be the sound emanating from the stage, free of any interference. The final step was to design the sound system to provide even coverage for every seat in the house.

The stage will be housed in a massive structure located at one end of the playing surface, with its front edge located roughly at the service line of the tennis court. Since the venue was designed to provide uninterrupted sight lines from all seats to the entire playing surface, it follows that every audience member will have an unobstructed view of the performers. Those sitting closest to the stage will be hearing the direct sound from the performers primarily. At greater distances, the sound reinforcement system will come into play so that every seat in the house will experience a comparable volume level so that everyone, wherever they are sitting, will hear clear, evenly balanced sound, that is not unreasonably loud.

The majority of seats are within 45 metres (150 feet) of the front of the stage and the distance to the furthest seat in the top bleachers, is 68 metres (223 feet). These dimensions are comparable with the typical “performer to audience” distances found in a Broadway theatre, so the concert experience is going to be very intimate. John goes on to say, “The idea of intimacy and thousands of people would seem to be at odds with one another … [however] it’s much more intimate than anyone would imagine and that’s because that tennis court surface is actually very small.” This is in a venue that can seat upwards of 12,000 people.

Jamie sums it up: “The combination of a sound design that’s designed for the venue, that isn’t going in and out every day (like every other touring show), is a huge benefit, and when you combine that with an acoustic design that is tailored for the venue – it’s going to give our listeners a seamless event. Close your eyes, no sound system.”

“I’m excited. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I think John and I have come up with a great solution … With a combination of the acoustic design AND the audio design, we’re really confident that this is going to be a great experience for people.”

The opening concert of the BlackCreek Summer Music Festival will feature Plácido Domingo with special guest soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky, Saturday, June 4 at 8:00pm.

Information about other concerts in the series can be
found in the pages of The WholeNote magazine as well as online at www.blackcreekfestival.com.

Frank Lockwood is an audio recording engineer and producer, specializing in classical and acoustic music for over twenty years.  In the 90s, he wrote a series of articles for The WholeNote detailing the acoustics of various concert venues throughout the Toronto area. More information can be found online at www.LockwoodARS.com.

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