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.

Peter LongworthSometimes unexpected sad news sweeps through a community like a sharply drawn inbreath, collectively held while the news is absorbed, then individually released as, one by one, people respond to what they have heard. Such was the case at the end of June when news of the death of pianist Peter Longworth, at age 53, from kidney cancer was announced.

Among the first to respond, on June 29, was music writer Hye Won Cecilia Lee, in a post for the musical blog Ludwig van Toronto which not only gave details of his musical life and spoke to his role in the community, but also reposted from social media the responses of a range of individuals in the music community whose lives have been shaped by their interactions with Longworth, as collaborator, colleague, mentor, teacher and friend over the course of Longworth’s almost three decades of teaching at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, and his active life as a musician, as soloist and as a chamber player.

It was one of that circle of musicians, pianist Richard Herriott, who called to tell me that Sunday October 7 at 4pm, in Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory, there will be a concert for Peter Longworth, celebrating his life. This way, Herriott said, WholeNote readers who knew him, personally or through his music, would hear about the event in time to be there if they want to.

As Peter Longworth’s wife, violinist/violist Sheila Jaffé explained it to me, the event will consist mostly of music, “as the best way to express Peter’s effect on his community, and for the musicians who will be participating to expressing his effect on us.”

How many people will want to attend is impossible to gauge. Since Mazzoleni Hall seats only 237 people, an Eventbrite page has been set up where up to 200 people can “buy” a free ticket to be assured a chair. “I am not sure what the policy is on standing room yet,” Jaffé says, “but I would encourage people to come even if there is no more room. I intend to try to provide screens in the lobby in case there are too many people.”

The choice of Mazzoleni Hall is apt. “Peter performed in Mazzoleni Hall a great deal,” Jaffé says. “He spent most of his time at the Royal Conservatory, having worked there for so long. The hall is intimate and ideal for chamber music. Peter loved chamber music deeply. He and I shared that. I can speak for him with confidence about his love for it. We both loved nothing better than sharing the music we love with the people we love. At our wedding, we played music instead of dancing! So music is the best way to celebrate his life and mourn his untimely death.”

The nature of the event and the way it has come together speak to the place that Longworth occupied in his musical community — in his various capacities. “He was open, curious and eloquent as a person and as a pianist” Jaffé says. “His powerful drive as a musician attracted those who had the opportunity to work and perform with him and I think many of his collaborators would agree that he ‘carried’ the performance in a way that made his colleagues feel safe and free. As a teacher, he was attentive, curious, respectful, direct and ever learning. The way his career built itself over the years was a testament to his talents and nature. He led the way musically, unerringly — where a phrase goes, where the beat is, where a tune sits. Those who worked with him all know that. I think that with his passing, we are losing a great musical mind and heart. As a pianist and teacher, his colleagues and students depended on him greatly for guidance and inspiration. I think we will all feel his absence in our musical lives in the years to come, and realize what a large place he had in the community as a musical leader. His friends and family who are performing at the memorial will all be trying to communicate this and do justice to his musical expression in every way we can.

With limited time available, it will be impossible to let everyone play who wants to, she says, “so I tried to make a good enough selection without upsetting too many people. It is not easy and I hope no one will be insulted! Peter felt a great affinity for Brahms, so, safe to say, there will be Brahms on the program.”

Among the personal reflections compiled in the blog by Hye Won Cecilia Lee cited at the beginning of this piece of writing, violinist Mark Fewer wrote this:

“Peter Longworth was as great a friend as you could ever hope for. I was blessed to have known him for 31 years, during many of which he was indeed my best friend. He was like a brother and I loved him.

“We both arrived in Toronto in 1987 — he from Chicago and I from St. John’s. In December of that year (I was 15, he was 23) he was recommended to me as an ‘accompanist’ for an audition I was taking. He was a far better pianist than I was a violinist, and his presence at the piano helped me that day – and in days and years to come – to succeed. Six years later we joined forces with cellist Thomas Wiebe and formed the Duke Piano Trio, which stayed intact until Peter’s passing. We were three very different people from three very different backgrounds. But music brought us together, and over the years our friendships deepened to the point where we felt (and behaved!) like family.

“As a musician, he was a fully engaged human. Every ounce of his being went into the notes he played. In rehearsing together, he loved discovering things in the score and seeing how they would sound. Sharing that delight with audiences was his greatest desire. Chamber music may have been his first musical love, but he was also a formidable soloist, with credits that included performances with the Chicago Symphony, the Vancouver Symphony, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and countless others. The fact that he was best known as a collaborator is something I interpret symbolically as a reflection of his skills in friendship.

“If Peter experienced something he wished you to experience as well, he would say ‘I recommend it, highly.’ Thank you, my dear friend for sharing your immense gift with us. Our hearts are broken, but from what you gave, we are better for it. For those who want to hear you again, your Brahms recording will give us your voice that we know so well. I recommend it, highly.”

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