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.

PUB: Formal name: public house – a building with a bar and one or more public rooms licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink, often also providing light meals. (Source: dictionary.com)

56aThis is the essence of Opera Bob’s Public House: the two year brain child of two good friends and myself. Located in the town whose hockey team is first to the golf course, with a soccer team masquerading as a football club, a basketball team whose constant rebuilding makes the TTC’s Sheppard line look like the road to the promised land, and a baseball team that, at least, keeps us hoping for another “touch them all Joe”! A town, in other words, where sport fans could use a drink.

In Hog’s Hipsterville, OB’s attempts to maintain the tradition of its name: a public place. A place where the neighbourhood Dad can take a break and catch the game of puck on the reality box, men of the letters of the law can toss back a half dozen after a long day of negotiations, the co-ed softball team can celebrate their shellacking, and the 905ers can see how the real spend their Friday nights; not standing in line for a sweaty basement bash.

As we spend every free moment posting on our walls, reading tweety’s latest squeak, waiting for our next message on our I-phone, I-pad, I-have no life, let us not forget the simpler and slower days of yore when human communication was done with the voice, the glaze, the shake of a head and the tap on the shoulder. Traditions are entrenched in our human condition for good reason. Just as opera was the rock music of its time (not the tuxedo wearing, champagne sipping we attribute to it), a bar is a solid wood counter, a bar man and taps of beer. Not a granite landing, with Hollywood star-in-waiting pouring you a martini from your choice of sixteen vodkas.

If opera is the highest form of human expression, combining all forms of art,  the pub must be the culmination of human disentanglement: the perfect place to vent, relax, let loose, argue, sit in solitary observance of our social machinations, or a place to drink the fruits of monkish labour.

Come down to the Public House; just off the Ossington strip on the road leading to the sleeper town of the steel Hammer. A place to be you, it’s a place where all are welcome (even plaid-shirt, tight jean, silly hat wearing, and match.com date varieties). Toss back a microbrew as Neil sings the line “Old man take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you were,” or a live group of ragtag culprits blasts through their songs much like the fat soprano busted through an aria of Joe Green’s at La Scala. Ponder deep questions: should a ball park dog only be consumed in the friendly confines or may it be done watching the great pastime on tv? How do you condimate yours while watching our boys in baby blue? The profundity persists…

Toronto-born operatic bass Robert Pomakov is currently working at the Metropolitan Opera on Rigoletto and Il Trovatore and makes his next local appearance in the COC’s new production of Rigoletto in the fall.

58__justthe_spot_heliconian_photo_andrew_fare58_justthespot_alisonmelville__by_menglin_gaoPart of rural Toronto when it was built in 1875, the Heliconian Hall is located near the south end of Hazelton Avenue, situated amongst galleries, upscale offices and private homes in what’s now known as Yorkville. It’s the home of the Heliconian Club, an organization founded in 1909 for professional women in the arts and one of the oldest associations of its kind in Canada.

For me, it’s a delightful and unpretentious little oasis in a surrounding sea of consumer excess, and an intimate concert hall which I have known since I was a kid. I played my first “non-compulsory” solo recital there, blissfully free from the pressure of university grading, and have made music there many more times since. I also recently became a member of the Heliconian Club and appreciate the opportunity it provides to connect and interact with women artists of various disciplines, backgrounds, ages, and perspectives on the creative life.

The current building opened in 1876 as the Olivet Congregational Church, and became the church hall and Sunday school in 1890 when a larger adjacent building was erected. In 1921, it was sold to the Painters Union and renamed Hazelton Hall when acquired by the Heliconian Club in 1923. Original elements of the Carpenter Gothic board-and-batten church have been restored to their former glory, including a Victorian rose window above the entrance, a majestic oak and brick wood-burning fireplace, vaulted ceiling and wooden rafters. The Hall has been appointed a National Historical Site, and the Lonely Planet website lists it as #213 of 540 places to visit in Toronto!

The current building also has a modest but well-appointed kitchen, a small bar and a patio at the rear, which is a convivial touch for summertime events. But perhaps what makes the Heliconian most appealing to musicians is its stellar acoustic and its intimate feel. With every seat occupied there’s room for 120, and the stage rises just a foot above the main floor, so there’s little chance of establishing that “us versus them” feeling that many performance venues still seem to evoke. It’s a great place for chamber music, and it’s easy to get to – two reasons why the revivified Baroque Music beside the Grange’s occasional concerts take place there. The hall is available for anyone to rent, at a very reasonable rate. An added bonus is that there’s almost always an art exhibit on display in the main space for concertgoers to explore.

BMBG’s previous home was the Church of St. George the Martyr, another historic building which predates the Heliconian Hall by about 40 years. These days, though, the multifaceted activities of the Music Gallery mean that the concert dates we’d like are often not available there. So we needed to find another venue for our concerts. The solution was truly a no-brainer: the historic and cozy atmosphere of the Heliconian Hall is perfect for our purposes, and the sound is fabulous. It’s a pleasure to play there. It feels very much like home.

BMBG’s upcoming Heliconian Hall concert The Coffeehouse Collective: Sociable music, Baroque-style is Friday March 4 at 8pm.

knox_college_-_clsWHEN I FURIOSI WAS in its toddler years, it staggered around the city looking for a place to set up its playpen. With a small but growing audience, this was a tricky search. Large venues seemed empty with our crowd, and tiny places made our somewhat unrestrained baroque ensemble feel like we were invading the audience’s personal space. Yes, chamber music is meant to be intimate, but no one wants to feel like the performers or audience can smell sweat.

After trying a few spots around town, we landed on Knox College Chapel. Tucked away in King’s College Circle, Knox College is the Presbyterian theology school of the University of Toronto. It boasts an address on St George Street, making it very easy to find and access, but the chapel itself is on the King’s end of the building.

It seats (tightly) about 150 people, and is a treat to the eye and ear. The intimate acoustic allows for chamber music to be performed with ease, but the chancel is distant enough from the pews to circumvent any odour problems. We always found the Knox staff friendly and there are enough toilets in the building to make for a short intermission.

The décor is spectacular – high vaulted ceilings with gothic wood, stone and glass panels. The passageway leading from St George to the chapel also leaves the traveler with a Hogwarts-esque feeling. Aside from the beauty and communion of the setting, Knox College Chapel contains two organs of note. The organ in the chancel is a modified Cassavant built in 1915, and the gallery organ is a Wolff tuned to a 5th comma meantone. All this is hidden in one of the best-kept secret concert venues in the city.

I Furiosi lasted happily in this space until early adolescence, at which point it had to seek larger accommodations. The glass doors at the entrance to the chapel still reverberate with the “BRAVO” yelled by one memorably drunken audience member, who stormed out, apparently overcome.

Although we are now in our adult digs and we do our own laundry and remember to have showers, we sometimes miss the early days with our friends at Knox. This is still the perfect spot for an up-and-coming chamber group. The acoustic is particularly beautiful for early music. Highly recommended for ensembles with impeccable personal hygiene.

Mstislav (“Slava”) Rostropovich and Seiji Ozawa: The Great Gathering, March 9, 1987. Photo from Toronto Symphony ArchiveI wonder whether you or one of your colleagues can help?” WholeNote reader Anita Kern wrote to me, on July 15 this year. “I had a copy made long ago of a tape of The Great Gathering. It was in 1987 – the Toronto Symphony and LOTS of major performers. The ‘fête’ for Homburger. Sadly, I can’t seem to find it now – possibly I gave it away to a music-teacher fan in Belgium!

Sadly, too, the TV station discarded its tape. Such an important concert!  It’s incomprehensible. I wonder whether you have a copy, or anyone you know.”

Ten days later, on July 25 came the announcement that Walter Homburger had died.

A great gathering it must have been indeed! It took place at Roy Thomson Hall on March 9 1987, to honour Homburger, musical impresario and administrator, on the occasion of his retirement, after 25 years, as managing director of the TSO. A typed list of the performers on the program, along with the TSO itself, speaks volumes: Ozawa, Yo-Yo Ma; Stern, Rampal, Zuckerman; Perahia; Forrester; Iseler, the Mendelssohns; Midori; Lortie; Slava.

Meanwhile I went digging back through our own archives for this: Walter Homburger in his own words, interviewed via an email exchange, in February 2004. (I forget what I asked to get the ball rolling.)

Walter Homburger receiving the Order of Canada 2010. Photo by Sean KilpatrickHomburger: I created the International Artists Concert Agency in 1947, presenting concerts and recitals by international and Canadian artists mainly in Massey Hall. Among the many greats were Artur Rubinstein, Fritz Kreisler, Vladimir Horowitz, Slava Rostropovich, Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Glenn Gould, etc. In 1945, I [had] discovered Glenn Gould at a Kiwanis Festival and managed his concert career for 20 years until his retirement from active concertizing. Among the other artists I managed were Victor Braun, Jan Rubeš, Louis Lortie, Donald Bell, Rohan de Saram, and Alfred Brendel on his first two North American tours. In 1987 I made a co-presentation arrangement with the TSO.

I became the manager of the National Ballet from 1951 (its inception) to 1955. In 1962, I became the managing director of the Toronto Symphony and managed that organization for 25 years until my retirement in 1987. Since 1993, I have managed the career of violinist James Ehnes worldwide, who had won the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Competition. My next project is the presentation of an all-Beethoven recital on April 13 [2004] at the George Weston Recital Hall with James Ehnes and Louis Lortie playing the “Spring” and “Kreutzer” Sonatas for Violin and Piano as well as the “Les Adieux” Sonata for solo piano.

David Perlman: There are three areas I want to ask further about. First, regarding spotting Glenn Gould in 1945 at a Kiwanis festival; that would have made him 13 and you, at 21, not that much older! I read another account somewhere which said you “spotted” him performing the Beethoven 4th with the Toronto Symphony orchestra at age 14. My question is whether you played a part in getting him from Kiwanis to TSO in such short order. I’m also a bit in awe, in part that you recognized his artistry, but even more that, young as you were, you could see clearly your own role in nurturing it. Was piano your own instrument? And were music and the business of music already your milieu?

Second, I want to ask about your association with the TSO. You managed it for 25 years, up to 1987, and then came forward, along with Bob Rae, to provide helmsmanship again during the sticky transition of the past couple of years [early 2000s]. In what ways are the challenges ahead of them now most different from those during your time at the helm?

Third, the year you decided to “come out of retirement” and take on the management of James Ehnes, 1993, was also the year that you were involved, as an interviewee, in the film 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. Does the coincidence have any particular significance or was it just one of those things?

WH: I don’t recall whether I was responsible for the 1946 TSO engagement for Glenn. However I presented him in a recital at the Eaton Auditorium – I believe in the fall of 1947. I have no musical training – but in my early teens I did get some piano lessons and was exposed to classical recordings, concerts, and opera on radio – such as from La Scala in Milan.

Like everyone I react favourably or otherwise to music or musicians whom I hear – so when I first heard Glenn it affected me deeply. At that time, I was thinking of establishing a company to present concerts in Toronto, and it occurred to me that if I wanted to present an artist in Toronto who was managed not by a New York agency – which was the norm in those days – I would have to trace the management. By the same token, I assumed that if Glenn was as wonderful as I thought, potential presenters throughout the world would soon find out where he was managed and contact me. Fortunately, this happened.

For as long as I can remember, it was always a balancing act to keep the TSO in financial shape every year. Perhaps it is more difficult today because the percentage of support from governments has not kept pace with the ever-increasing costs of operating a not-for-profit arts institution.

It was just a coincidence that the Glenn Gould film and the beginning of my management of James Ehnes happened around the same time. You are the first one who pointed it out to me!

DP: A couple more questions: I saw a list of photos autographed to you, now at the [US] National Archives: along with the classical greats Karel Ančerl, Marian Anderson, Leonard Bernstein, Maria Callas, Kathleen Ferrier, Tito Gobbi, Marilyn Horne, Vladimir Horowitz, Birgit Nilsson, Itzhak Perlman, Leontyne Price, Artur Rubinstein and Herbert von Karajan are also names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson. Was jazz a particular love of yours along with classical? And you said earlier that “like everyone” you react favourably or otherwise to music or musicians. But not everyone can spot a winner. What is it that you hear in James Ehnes and Louis Lortie, for instance - the two artists you are presenting here in April - that made you say, “Yes, they are worth MY commitment.”?

WH: My philosophy was and is to present the best artists of the day whose performances would be enjoyed by a large audience - they could be classical or jazz as you can see. I just brought anyone who was considered tops. As far as Ehnes and Lortie are concerned, they are simply two of the finest classical artists this country has produced, and it is a unique opportunity to hear both of them play solo and combine their talents.

Anita Kern, by the way, found her copy of The Great Gathering and made me a copy of it (for research purposes only, of course). It sits on my desk, waiting for the right moment. I suspect what I will find, when I view it, is that it will be, triumphantly, as Walter Homburger himself was, all about the music.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com

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