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

181023 40670 bannerPhoto by Bruce ZingerWhen I tell people about Opera Atelier’s ongoing The Angel Speaks project, I always begin with when I saw the very first performance of its first installment, in May 2017.

I was sitting at the back of the Royal Chapel at the Palace of Versailles watching fellow members of Opera Atelier’s Medea company and of Tafelmusik perform an attractive selection of Purcell and other English Baroque music, titled Harmonia Sacra, when suddenly there appeared high up on the balcony above, the dramatic figure of what appeared to be a Viking angel playing an exquisite melody on solo violin.This beautiful mystical thread of music then seemed to bring forth, and become tangibly present in, the figure of a dancer (Tyler Gledhill) – another face of the angel – on the ground level with the singers and audience, a figure in search of something or someone. That someone, it became clear, was the Virgin Mary in the person of soprano Mireille Asselin. The violin-playing angel then joined the other two on the ground level, and we in the audience were transfixed as the three embodied the story of the Annunciation in music and choreography in a way that was profoundly moving.

This transformative concert experience was the result of a double commission by Opera Atelier, their first: an original piece of contemporary Canadian music for solo violin, Inception, by acclaimed violinist (and balcony Viking) Edwin Huizinga, combined with new contemporary choreography by longtime OA artist, and in-demand contemporary dancer, Tyler Gledhill.

For me, what was truly extraordinary about this piece was the blending of the Baroque and the new, the music and the choreography, a seamless interweaving with Purcell’s dramatic cantata, The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, beautifully sung by Asselin. Fascinated by what OA co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski calls this “theatrical intervention” that was so much greater than the sum of its parts, I contacted composer Edwin Huizinga to learn more about his creative journey on this project and how it fits in with his already incredibly multi-faceted career.

Edwin Huizinga. Photo by Bryson WinchesterWhen I caught up with him, Huizinga was in California having just finished recording a new album with his Fire & Grace partner, guitarist William Coulter, and “phenomenal mandolin player” Ashley Broder. Like Fire & Grace’s previous albums the new one has a mix of Baroque and Irish music, but with the addition of Broder to the ensemble has also mixed in American folk music and bluegrass, while “still being very much focused on the cross pollination of the two different genres.”

This cross-pollination of Baroque and folk music can be seen throughout Huizinga’s career although he “grew up in the middle of nowhere (Puslinch, Ontario) listening almost exclusively to classical music on CBC radio,” and from an early age was “fascinated with the fact that there was so much Baroque dance music out there that I loved.” The folk side of things didn’t come in until later.

As a young professional violinist, as he became increasingly immersed in the “world of the Baroque violin, playing with groups like Tafelmusik and Apollo’s Fire,” he became even more eager to share this music with other colleagues. Also early in his professional career, he was beginning to develop his “other love – of the folk world” playing and writing songs with his Canadian indie band The Wooden Sky. It was as the band toured to festivals across the country “playing folk music for audiences of thousands of amazingly excited young people” that he first thought “why can’t we mix these two genres together?” and started brainstorming about ways to do just that.

A chance meeting with kindred spirit William Coulter, a classical guitarist fascinated with Celtic guitar and Irish music, led to a collaboration on the first Fire & Grace album where they experimented with combining classical, Baroque and (primarily Celtic) folk. They were thrilled with the result, as Huizinga says: “It was so incredibly fun to accomplish the combination of music genres and to really feel that they are more similar than not.” Performing the album’s tracks around the world they found that “people got it, also feeling the real connection between the two genres, the shared joie de vivre and the way your body feels when you are playing this music.”

While Huizinga never went as far as step dancing while playing his violin as Natalie McMaster does (although he has met and greatly admires her) he often refers to this physicality of the music, both how it feels in the body when a musician plays it and how it seems meant to be danced.

All of these things make him an ideal composer for OA to have chosen for The Angel Speaks, and to actually take part in the choreography of his music as an integral part of the storytelling.

When I asked him if he had ever done anything like that before, he explained: “It was a completely different experience! I spent time really thinking of what it meant to be a composer and performer today with the knowledge that I have of all this Baroque repertoire that I love. Then when Tyler and I started working together and I sent him the music, we spent many weeks together discovering the relationship – playing with me being part of the voice of the Angel Gabriel and him being the Angel Gabriel, and with the fact that he and I were connected and exchanging energies onstage. That piece was an extraordinary inlet for me, into the world of visualizing what I was trying to write. By the time we were performing it, it felt very organic, as if we were moving and working together as a team throughout.”

Mireille Asselin as the Virgin Mary with Tyler Gledhill as the Angel Gabriel in the Royal Chapel at Versailles (December 2018) with Edwin Huizinga (left) leading the music. Photo by Bruce ZingerThat first Versailles concert performance of Inception was so successful that OA was invited to return to Versailles and to expand the new commission, adding additional instruments, voices and dancers. This opened the door to expanding on the story and layers of the new project, taking as a jumping off-point The Annunciation, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, in an evocative translation by acclaimed American playwright and poet Grace Andreacchi,

“One of the beautiful things as I started to write this piece” says Huizinga, “was the chance to collaborate with Tyler.” In the new piece, Annunciation, Jesse Blumberg, the baritone soloist, is another great friend and colleague, having made an album with Huizinga’s Baroque band ACRONYM and having just married one of Huizinga’s best friends. “It’s an unbelievably great feeling,” Huizinga says, “to be able to call someone at the drop of a hat and ask questions about the range of their voice and their interests; for example, if they would be willing to go into a falsetto voice and be singing higher notes than the soprano. Also, as a composer I’ve decided that I want the artists that I am writing for to be comfortable. My whole concept behind performance is that, if you’re able to really enjoy what you are doing, that will translate beyond anything you could technically accomplish.”

The whole process of creation on Annunciation, as it was with Inception, seems to have been very free and collaborative. As Huizinga started work on Annunciation with Blumberg’s voice in mind, and “falling in love with the poem and understanding it more and more,” he recalls approaching Opera Atelier director Marshall Pynkoski: “I felt there were moments in the poem where I thought there was a dialogue in the Angel Gabriel’s mind and I was wondering if I could turn that into a real physical thing and have two singers.” Pynkoski agreed immediately and suggested that Mirellle Asselin could be part of Annunciation as well as Inception. “I was thrilled” says Huizinga. “Being able to weave her voice in adds so much, as for me there is very little that is more powerful than two artists trying to tell a story together.”

Rilke’s poem The Annunciation is a strange, mystical, almost surreal, evocation of the arrival of the Angel Gabriel on earth to find the Virgin Mary and tell her that she has been chosen to give birth to the son of God. It is far from a straightforward telling, as the angel seems to have forgotten his mission at first, and does not recognize Mary or possibly even know she is real. He (almost) seems to be in conflict with himself which gives rise to internal tension in the musical scene and the choreography created to go with it. Asselin, in this section, is no longer the Virgin Mary, as she was in Inception, but more, as Huizinga puts it, “an apparition, or avatar, of what is going on in the Angel Gabriel’s mind” conveying what he is yearning and searching for and trying to understand.

He continues: “I’ve had so many thoughts and discussions about the idea of an avatar and how that’s one of the (both modern and age-old) concepts that we use to describe the transfer of consciousness and energy into another being. We had to find a way to give Jesse that responsibility as he and Tyler are both aspects of the Angel Gabriel.” This concept leads to a beautiful choreographed interaction as Annunciation begins.

Huizinga himself is not as much part of the choreography in Annunciation, deciding instead to “lead the band” so as to be able to observe and be part of the development of all the moving parts of this much more complex piece that includes two singers, six instrumentalists and five dancers (and Baroque as well as contemporary choreography). As he says: “I’m treating it as a chance to see what it’s like to be writing a dramatic cantata today in the 21st century.”

One moment in the process so far really stands out for him: “I had written an incredibly calm moment right near the end of the piece – a long meaningful chord – and [director] Marshall had the two dancer couples lean in towards each other and hold this moment of repose and beauty and connection, and it blew my mind. I left that rehearsal basically speechless because I had never talked to him before about how I felt about that moment, but I saw I had been completely understood.”

Tyler Gledhill as the Angel Gabriel and Edwin Huzinga. Photo by Bruce ZingerIn this new version of the project I first witnessed in Versailles in 2017, titled The Angel Speaks, the various pieces are interwoven. Annunciation, telling the story of Gabriel’s arrival on earth and struggle to understand his mission, comes first, followed by Purcell’s The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, interwoven with Inception, with the sweet voice of Huizinga’s violin answering from above Mary’s cries to Gabriel.

The Angel Speaks will be performed in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery for one performance only on February 21. Interestingly it was at the ROM that Opera Atelier first began presenting Baroque performances in 1985, so it seems extra fitting that they should debut what feels like a new phase of creation in the same setting.

Already, though, the team are looking ahead to the next expansion of the project which will begin with another mystic Rilke poem, The Annunciation to Mary, in another wonderful translation by Grace Andreacchi. At this point, as Huizinga says, they are “just scratching the surface” exploring the meaning of the poem and looking at possibilities of setting it for a singer or possibly for an actor to speak over music. “The next question for me, for Marshall and OA, is eventually what is this going to turn into?” Huizinga sees it as “eventually having less [musical] support from the godfathers of Baroque music, and Marshall has indicated that he would like to see it become a one-hour piece that can stand on its own.”

Asked if he could imagine having undertaken The Angel Speaks without benefit of all the many different things that he has in his musical career, Huizinga replied:

“The short answer is that it is impossible to separate anything that I do in my life from the music that I write. Initially when I was starting to write this piece I was listening to and performing a lot of Heinrich Biber. One of the things I love most about him is that he inspires the performer to improvise, and my life has been guided by my desire to also improvise and be able to feel freedom in music. True freedom where you are really being allowed to speak your own voice in what you do.”

In composing Annunciation, for example, he “wrote three very short moments of improvisation. I asked each performer individually ‘Would you be interested in doing this? Does it excite you? Because, if not, I am happy to write it out completely.’ And I would maybe not have had the courage to follow that path with my new piece without having had opportunities of shredding and improvising in studios as a studio musician, and then as a band member, or asking my kids at the summer camp that I run to forget everything they have learned and just improvise a piece for me using three notes A, C and E. So, everything in my life so far is, I feel, definitely being brought out in this world of writing.”

I suggest to him, as our conversation draws to a close, that, along with the exhilaration of composing and creating these new works, it must be a real blast for a musician with his physicality to actually be on stage, with permission to be part of the scripted visual action.

“Absolutely a blast, and also hard to believe, to be honest,” he replies.

Opera Atelier’s The Angel Speaks will be performed in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery for one performance only at 8pm on February 21.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Danny Driver. Photo by Kaupo KikkasDanny Driver may be the best pianist you’ve never heard. The British native, now in his early 40s, is one of the world-class artists who record for the prestigious UK record company Hyperion along with Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough and Angela Hewitt among others.

Driver’s decade-long relationship with Hyperion Records has yielded a wide-ranging discography of works by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Handel, York Bowen, Benjamin Dale, Mili Balakirev, Robert Schumann and Erik Chisholm. Of his first volume of CPE Bach Sonatas, Bryce Morrison wrote in Gramophone: “It would be impossible to overestimate Driver’s impeccable technique and musicianship … his is one of the finest of all recent keyboard issues.” His most recent release, cited by The New York Times as one of 2017’s Best Classical Recordings, featured piano concertos by Amy Beach, Dorothy Howell and Cécile Chaminade. On March 5, he makes a welcome return to the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre under the auspices of Music Toronto. The following afternoon he gives a masterclass at U of T’s Edward Johnson Building, something he also did on his last visit here, two years ago. His empathetic interchanges with the students and musical insights were impressive then and promise to be equally memorable March 6.

In a revealing eight-minute video available on Facebook and posted on his website, Driver talked about why Sviatoslav Richter headed a list of pianists he loved – “because of his meticulous attention to detail and his refusal to compromise” – and spoke about being the product of many different influences including science (which he studied at Cambridge University). “In a sense everything is connected,” he said. “Part of the excitement and the danger of musical performance is [that] ultimately I don’t come to it with really strongly conceived notions. Principles yes, but there’s so much that can happen, that might happen. It’s very difficult to explain where that comes from.”

The WholeNote celebrates this singular pianist’s upcoming recital with the following mid-January 2019 conversation.

WN: What are your first memories of playing the piano?

DD: At school, I watched my schoolmates playing simple pieces on the piano in front of the class and decided that I too wanted to have a go. The first time I played in front of my peers I used only my left and right thumbs (on middle C and middle B respectively)… fortunately for my audiences things have moved forward somewhat since.

Please describe the musical atmosphere in your home growing up.

I was encouraged to develop my musical skills (I also played the clarinet and French horn, and composed) but not to the exclusion of other things. Growing up I had a range of interests, including languages, science and sport. This breadth helped me to understand the way music draws upon and reflects our lives, even at an early age.

Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?

Definitely Chopin! I fell in love with Dinu Lipatti’s classic 1950 recording of Chopin’s Waltzes, and remember trying to emulate him in several of those pieces (unsuccessfully I might add). Even though my repertoire these days is not necessarily focused on Romanticism, I am still very attached to Chopin’s music.

Where do you find artistic inspiration?

If I knew the answer then inspiration would be constantly available and thus ultimately non-existent; special moments often arise when you least expect them, even while contemplating seemingly mundane objects or activities. I enjoy reading widely and engaging with a range of art forms, as well as reflecting on my artistic practice and its relation to the world around me. Teaching younger artists and playing chamber music with colleagues are also essential.

Please tell us how you approach each piece on the Music Toronto program. What is it about CPE Bach’s Fantasie in F-sharp Minor that speaks to you?

CPE Bach was a true musical game-changer, “exploding” traditional Baroque idioms in a mercurial style driven by contrast of character and emotion. The Baroque counterpoint of musical line and its relationship to the classical art of rhetoric is replaced by a counterpoint of musical idea and a poetic outlook. There’s something liberating and improvisatory about playing this typically quirky Fantasia, which often veers angularly from one harmony to another in ways that echo sublime poetry, foreshadow Romanticism, and shatter any lazy notions we might have about 18th-century convention. This music reminds me that despite the implicit specificity of musical notation, we are dealing with open texts. Perhaps this is why my time recording CPE Bach’s keyboard music some years ago was such a happy one.

What fascinates you about Schumann’s Kreisleriana?

The second record I owned as a child (after Lipatti’s Waltzes that is) was Martha Argerich’s recording of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana, and I remember the opening of Kreisleriana making a particularly strong impression on me. Much later I read ETA Hoffmann’s collection Kreisleriana, which provides a fascinating if often sarcastic and comical view of the fictional young 19th-century Kapellmeister Kreisler. I have often enjoyed pondering how this literary work (and indeed others by Hoffmann) might have inspired Schumann’s composition, which for all its rhapsodic surface feels and sounds completely organic to me.

What drew you to Kaija Saariaho’s Ballade?

I was beguiled by its darkness and brooding. It seems to conjure up a dimly lit space of great emotional intensity, even over its relatively short duration.

What are some of the challenges of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin?

Everything here is much more difficult to produce than it sounds! The florid passagework, complex harmony and Ravel’s typical “overlaying of the hands” all have their technical challenges. The Toccata finale is probably more difficult for me than Scarbo from Gaspard de la Nuit – whereas the latter has the possibility of rich, quasi-romantic sonority and copious resonance to facilitate the pianistic acrobatics, the Toccata needs a meticulous clarity, great lightness, and an almost crystalline quality. All the while there needs to be an elegance and decorative refinement characteristic of the French Baroque.

And of Medtner’s Sonata No.9 in A Minor?

Medtner was a master of form and through-composition (taking Beethoven as his inspiration); Rachmaninoff thought of him as the greatest living composer of his day. This Sonata is perfectly crafted, as one might expect, but for all its tumult and angularity, it ends somewhat inconclusively. The music is tonal, formally concise, but nevertheless open-ended, tricky to bring off. I feel as though it leaves us with more questions than answers – it is a challenge to performer and listener alike.

What do you find most rewarding and challenging in your professional life?

I demand a lot of myself as a performer, and rarely feel as though I have achieved what I set out to achieve artistically. When I feel I have come close, it’s an intensely rewarding experience. Sometimes the challenge of particular repertoire proves addictive: I have been performing Ligeti’s Piano Études for a number of years and am due to record them later in 2019. They are without doubt the most difficult piano pieces I have ever worked on (more so than Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata), and there’s a thrill to practising them even if the process is painstaking and requires great patience and perseverance.

I’m intrigued by the fact that through your mother you are a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Music and dance are so ingrained in the Hasidic spirit, what part, if any, does that lineage play in your musical life?

My Jewish heritage is very important to me, and certainly my love of nature and of music seem to chime very well with the Baal Shem Tov’s ethos. But I also have “musical genes” from my father’s side (his grandfather was apparently a very fine amateur pianist). It’s hard for me to dissect what comes from where.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Escape the February doldrums and get a taste of spring! The National Arts Centre Orchestra is planting musical seeds with its February 23 concert at Roy Thomson Hall by making Schumann’s Symphony No.1 “Spring” the program’s centrepiece. Two years after he composed it, Schumann sent a letter to the conductor Wilhelm Taubert, in Berlin: “If only you could breathe into your orchestra, when it plays, that longing for spring! It was my main source of inspiration when I wrote the work in February 1841. I should like the very first trumpet call to sound as though proceeding from on high and like a summons to awaken. In the following section of the introduction, let me say, it might be possible to feel the world turning green; perhaps . . . a butterfly fluttering; and in the Allegro the gradual assemblage of everything that belongs to spring. However, it was only after I had completed the composition that these ideas came to my mind.” Before intermission, Jocelyn Morlock’s Cobalt, a concerto for two violins and orchestra, sets the table for French pianist David Fray who joins conductor Alexander Shelley and the NACO for Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 with its lyrical Larghetto. Chopin was 19 when he wrote this elegant work.

February is a busy month for the TSO. Brahms’ final work for orchestra (1887), his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello showcases the considerable talents of concertmaster Jonathan Crow and principal cellist Joseph Johnson on February 6, 7 and 9. Conductor Sir Andrew Davis has recorded all nine of Dvořák’s symphonies so we can look forward to an insightful performance of the Czech master’s Sixth Symphony (1880). It may not have the cachet of the Eighth or Ninth, but Dvořák’s inimitable tunefulness is delightful in its own right. And its Brahmsian nature makes a good pairing with the concerto.

Barbara Hannigan. Photo credit Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa CeciliaThe force of nature that is Barbara Hannigan brings her immersive soprano voice and burgeoning conducting chops to a program that places Haydn’s Symphony No.86 squarely in the middle of a 20th-century mindset (Debussy’s sinewy Syrinx for solo flute and Sibelius’ ominous and icy tone poem for soprano and orchestra, Luonnotar, open the program). From Haydn to Berg brings Hannigan into her comfort zone with the Suite from Lulu. Bill Elliot and Hannigan’s arrangement of Gershwin tunes, Suite from Girl Crazy, brings the February 13 and 14 evening’s entertainment to a rousing finish. The orchestra even joins in to sing the chorus of Embraceable You.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.When Casablanca was released in 1942 it marked the beginning a beautiful friendship between moviegoers and this Hollywood classic. Currently No.2 on the American Film Institute’s Greatest Films List, this romantic tale of a cynical American expat/nightclub owner whose idealism triumphs over his broken heart has never lost its lustre – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman head the indelible cast. Max Steiner’s score subtly supports the movie’s mood without intruding on the action or the dialogue; but when called upon, as in the Paris flashback, its lush nostalgia rises to the occasion. The Austrian-born composer (his godfather was Richard Strauss) scored more than 300 films, from King Kong and Gone with the Wind to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Strategically programmed post-Valentine’s Day on February 15 and 16, the TSO’s live accompaniment to the film will make for a memorable cinematic experience.

February 20 and 21, Seattle Symphony principal guest conductor and music director-designate, Thomas Dausgaard, leads the TSO in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, one of the touchstones of the 20th century. Before intermission, American cellist Alisa Weilerstein brings her intensity and sensitivity to Shostakovich’s profound Cello Concerto No.2.

Reminders

Now to several February concerts that I wrote about more extensively in our December/January issue. The renowned klezmer violinist/vocalist/composer, Alicia Svigals, performs her original score to the 1918 silent film, The Yellow Ticket, along with virtuoso pianist Marilyn Lerner, at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines on February 7, the Burlington Centre for the Performing Arts on February 8 and the Oakville Centre for the Arts on February 16.

The Heath Quartet returns to Mooredale Concerts on February 3 following their memorable Toronto debut two years ago. Their program includes Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet (one of his most famous string quartets), Britten’s First String Quartet and Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No.3, Op.59 No.3 “Razumovsky.”

Celebrated Finnish pianist, 37-year-old Juho Pohjonen – praised by The New York Times for “his effortless brilliance” – appears on the Jane Mallett stage February 5 playing Rameau, Mozart and Beethoven. Even more celebrated are the musicians in Music Toronto’s February 14 recital. After an early Beethoven quartet and a newly commissioned work by Lembit Beecher, the latest incarnation of the legendary Juilliard String Quartet is joined by the illustrious pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, for a performance of Dvořák’s sublime Piano Quintet in A Major, Op.81, one of the greatest piano quintets ever written. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear Hamelin play chamber music!

The Royal Conservatory presents rising star, violinist Blake Pouliot, in a free (ticket required) concert in Mazzoleni Hall, February 3. The appealing program includes music by Mozart, Janáček, Kreisler and Saraste. Later in the afternoon of February 3, but in Koerner Hall, RCM presents Charles Richard-Hamelin in a recital of Schumann and Chopin (all four of the sumptuous Ballades). Jan Lisiecki, now almost 24, continues nurturing his international career. His March 3 Koerner Hall concert is sold out but a few rush seats will become available on the day of the performance. Works by Chopin, Schumann, Ravel and Rachmaninoff comprise the challenging program. 

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

FEB 3, 2PM: Chamber Music Hamilton presents the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet playing Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Quartet and Janáček’s “Kreutzer Sonata” Quartet before being joined by Chamber Music Hamilton’s co-artistic director, violinist Michael Schulte and veteran cellist David Hetherington for Brahms’ beloved String Sextet No.2.

FEB 3, 7:30PM: The LARK Ensemble takes its name from the first names of its members: National Ballet Orchestra principal flute Leslie Allt; COC Orchestra concertmaster and National Ballet Orchestra associate concertmaster Aaron Schwebel; TSO cellist Roberta Janzen; and COC Orchestra principal viola Keith Hamm. They write that their program features various combinations of keyboard, flute and strings: “We’ve put together an evening filled with unexpected gems, beautifully capped off by J.S. Bach’s joyous Musical Offering in its entirety, with illuminating commentary by [guest harpsichordist] Christopher Bagan. Also on offer (pardon the pun) are Bach’s D-Major viola da gamba sonata, along with Bohuslav Martinů’s cheery Promenades (flute, violin and harpsichord), and the quietly haunting Revenant, by Jocelyn Morlock (Baroque flute, harpsichord and strings).”

FEB 9, 8PM: Kristian Alexander conducts the Kindred Spirits Orchestra in a rousing program of Respighi’s crowd-pleasing Fountains of Rome, Prokofiev’s virtuosic Sinfonia Concertante Op.125 (with cello soloist Andrew Ascenzo) and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances Op.45.

FEB 10, 3PM: Amici chamber ensemble, augmented by TSO winds and Glenn Gould School students, presents Mozart’s marvellous Serenade No.10 in B-flat Major K361/370a “Gran Partita” and Mozart’s Piano Trio in C Major K548; in Mazzoleni Hall.

Joshua BellFEB 12, 8PM: Roy Thomson Hall presents acclaimed violinist (and music director of the renowned Academy of St Martin in the Fields) Joshua Bell in recital with pianist Sam Haywood. The program includes sonatas by Beethoven (No.4), Prokofiev (No.2) and Grieg (No.2). The rest of the program (à la Itzhak Perlman) will be announced from the stage.

FEB 17, 2PM: The always entertaining Eybler Quartet presents the aptly named “Esterházy to Vienna, A Road Well Travelled,” comprising string quartets by Asplmayr (Op.2), Haydn (Op.54, No.2) and Beethoven (the resplendent Op.59, No.2 “Razumovsky”).

FEB 22, 7:30PM: Since its formation in 2010 by four graduate students at U of T, the Ton Beau String Quartet “aims to highlight voices of young composers, particularly women composers and composers from under-represented communities.” Their upcoming recital, presented by 3 in the 6ix, features Joaquín Turina’s La Oracion del Torero, Toronto-based Laura Sgroi’s String Quartet No.1 and Debussy’s brilliant String Quartet in G.

FEB 27, 7:30PM: Getting to know Toronto even more since their Mooredale Concerts recital last September, the Calidore String Quartet, currently in residence at U of T’s Faculty of Music, performs Haydn’s String Quartet in F major, Op.77, No.2; Caroline Shaw’s new commission, Entr’acte and First Essay: Nimrod; and Beethoven’s monumental String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op.131. Anyone who heard Shaw’s delightful “ballad” Taxidermy, one of several highlights of Sõ Percussion’s 21C Music Festival concert on January 19, needs no urging to hear her piece for string quartet.

Joel QuarringtonFEB 28, 1:30PM: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presents “Bass Masters through the Ages” with double bass virtuoso Joel Quarrington and friends Yehonatan Berick and Blythe Allers, violins; David Jalbert, piano; Alisa Klebanov, viola; Carole Sirois, cello; and Gabriel Sakamoto, double bass. Music by Schumann, Korngold, Schubert and Tovey.

MAR 3, 8PM: Gallery 345 presents “Music from Marlboro”: Haydn’s Piano Trio in C; Kodály’s Serenade Op.12; K. Ueno’s Duo (Marlboro commission/premiere); and Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor. With Robin Scott and Tessa Lark, violins; the inspirational Kim Kashkashian, viola; Christoph Richter, cello; and Zoltán Fejérvári, piano.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Ian Cusson. Photo by John AranoIn early December of 2018, the Canadian Opera Company announced that Ian Cusson had been newly appointed composer-in-residence. A composer of Métis heritage, his work has largely focused on writing vocal music – both art song and opera – as well as orchestral music. Currently he is in residence with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and will begin this new appointment at the COC in August 2019. I spoke with him about what this new position will mean for him, and also about the broader issues he explores in his creative work. Being composer-in-residence will not only offer the opportunity to compose an opera for the COC, but also the opportunity for an inside look at the inner workings of an opera company: observing and participating in rehearsals for main productions; as well as observing vocal coaching and diction sessions. The commissioned opera will be a 50-minute work with librettist Colleen Murphy whom he met this past summer during Tapestry Opera’s Composer-Librettist Laboratory. They connected so well that Cusson invited her to participate in this opera project that will be geared towards families and young audiences. It will be a lively adventure story, he says, based on an urban tale of two young people trying to rescue a mother who has been taken captive.

On March 5, three of Cusson’s vocal works will be presented at the COC’s noon-hour Vocal Series held in the large Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre lobby space. The first work will be a song cycle for mezzo and piano quintet, Five Songs on poems of Marilyn Dumont, a Cree/Metis poet from Edmonton, and sung by mezzo Marion Newman, whose heritage combines Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations, English, Irish and Scottish. The other two works on the program will be sung by Marjorie Maltais, with Cusson at the piano: J’adore les orages, a concert aria with text by Michel Marc Bouchard; and the premiere of Le Récital des anges, a song cycle based on poems of Émile Nelligan, a Quebecois poet whose life straddled the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

For Cusson, finding the natural dramatic arc within the texts he is working with is key, and he makes it a priority to write for the specific singer who will be performing the piece. “I have a great respect for singers and their ability to use their bodies in front of people, and I keep the fact that they are human beings, not machines, in mind while writing,” he said. He chooses to work with texts that are in either English or French, the two languages he speaks. He feels it’s essential for him to know the specific cadences of the language he is working with in order to write well for the voice.

He is also drawn to working with Indigenous texts and stories from his own tradition, seeing this as both an opportunity and a challenge. One topic we explored more deeply was how he approached integrating his classical background with his Métis heritage. He spoke about his current orchestral project, Le Loup de Lafontaine, to be performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra in late September, and based on a particular personal story from his own community. “As I’m writing it, I’m thinking of the fiddle tradition – how it’s used and how it could exist or be referenced within a larger orchestral piece. This is the most direct connection I’ve had to my own Metis tradition in my composing.” In the past, one key way he has approached Indigenous culture is through texts and story and he has incorporated one such story in this piece. It tells of “a wolf coming to town and terrorizing farmers and people from a community comprised of Métis, First Nations and French settlers, none of whom communicate with each other. Although the wolf is killed in the end, the animal succeeds in bringing the community together.”

This question of integrating Indigenous tradition and classical concert music requires Cusson to think deeply both about how those stories are being told, and about what story his own participation tells. “It sounds wonderful to create an Indigenous opera,” he says, “but as you move into that work, many questions start to reveal themselves, such as the depiction and representation of people, and what it will sound like.”

Many of these pressures are internal and self-imposed. “I want to do this successfully and in a way that honours and doesn’t demean. It takes a process and appropriate consultation, patience, conversation, learning and growing. I’ve been doing that, and will probably continue for the rest of my life, as I think about how to create works within this classical tradition that touch on very difficult, sensitive, painful places, and often involving people who are still alive and have been traumatized by events in the past.”

So the question becomes, what stories should be put on stage, and how should they be told? “These are very complex questions with no quick answers. Also, it’s important to become more aware of the protocols and processes related to specific types of traditional music, like ceremonial songs for example, which are only to be sung at specific times, by specific people, for specific purposes, and not by anyone else. I’m also learning about this, especially within other Indigenous traditions that are not my own. There are many different nations and they all have different processes and protocols.”

Coming up in February, Cusson will be participating in a special ten-day gathering at the Banff Centre for the Arts that will bring together various Indigenous musicians involved in classical music. The goal is twofold: first to have some co-creation time together and second, to think through best practices and protocols for artistic companies, presenters and other artists, when working with Indigenous musicians. “It will be an opportunity to think through how things are, where things could go, and how we can be a part of leading that,” Cusson said. The goal is to come out of this meeting with a tangible document that will outline starting places for the entire classical musical community who want to have better information on how to integrate and support Indigenous culture in their concert productions and creative works. “What are the good steps we can take to insure that we are making well-informed projects that are acts of reconciliation? This seems to be missing in a formal sense, so this document will be helpful in continuing that dialogue.” From my birds-eye perspective of writing this WholeNote column focused on the contemporary music world, I envision that this will be a very rich and valuable conversation that I hope will having lasting impact on how we think, create and engage in building musical culture.

Pauline Oliveros in February:

The Music Gallery will be co-producing three events in February centred around the music of Pauline Oliveros, the well-loved composer, performer and pioneer of the Deep Listening process. For a special Valentine’s Day event on February 14, Oliveros’ longtime partner, IONE, will be presenting a reading titled Today With All Its Hopes And Sorrows where she will reflect on the topics of community, lineage, and the potency of text and sound as forms of remembrance. Two days later on February 16, IONE will join cellist and improviser Anne Bourne for an afternoon workshop experience exploring Oliveros’ text scores. And finally, on February 17 there will be a concert performance of Oliveros’ To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation, written in 1968 as a response to the turbulent political events of the time. Appropriately, it will be performed by a group of local musicians in the City Hall council chambers. In order to give the reader a more personalized account of the impact of these events exploring the ideas within Oliveros’ music, I am planning a follow-up concert report which should be available on The WholeNote’s website during the third week of February. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

FEB 2, 8PM: Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Soundstreams offers up a special performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains with the Rolston String Quartet performing in tandem with a video realized by Spanish filmmaker Beatriz Caravaggio. Reich wrote this Grammy Award-winning work in 1988 as a musical meditation on the Holocaust. Perhaps the most personal of his works, Reich calls Different Trains a “music documentary” bearing witness to his childhood train journeys across the US in the 1940s, and the realization that as a Jew, had he grown up in Europe, his train journeys would have been very different. The concert will also feature Quartet #2 (Waves) by R. Murray Schafer, Swans Kissing by Rolf Wallin, and Streams by Dorothy Chang.

FEB 13 AND 14, 8PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Barbara Hannigan. For lovers of the virtuosic contemporary music soprano, this will be an opportunity to experience her work as both conductor and vocal soloist. On the program is a series of mainly early 20th-century works by Debussy, Sibelius, Berg and Gershwin, as well as a classical period work by Haydn.

FEB 15 AND 16, 8PM: Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The Toronto Consort concert, “Love, Remixed”, offers a program of contemporary music written for early instruments and voice. James Rolfe’s Breathe uses texts by the 12th-century abbess, composer, poet and healer Hildegard of Bingen. Her texts often speak of rapturous experiences with the divine as well as of the greening life energy of nature. The Consort’s artistic director David Fallis will be presenting his Eurydice Variations, the story Monteverdi’s Orfeo tells, but from the point of view of Eurydice.

Moritz ErnstFEB 17, 7PM: Gallery 345. New Music Concerts offers this special fundraising event featuring the acclaimed German keyboard virtuoso Moritz Ernst performing the masterpiece Klavierstück X by Karlheinz Stockhausen, along with works by Mike Edgerton, Arthur Lourié, Miklos Maros and Sandeep Bhagwati.

FEB 22 AND 23, 8PM: Factory Theatre. The Music Gallery and Fu Gen Theatre present Foxconn Frequency (no.3) – for three visibly Chinese performers. This interdisciplinary work of “algorithmic theatre” combines real-time game mechanics, piano pedagogy, 3D-printing and the poetry of former Foxconn worker Xu Lizhi. The creative team includes the members of Hong Kong Exile – Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Milton Lim, Remy Siu, and musical performers Vicky Chow, Paul Paroczai and Matt Poon. The goal is to expand awareness beyond the musical instrument itself and bring attention to the performer’s identity by engaging both the eyes and ears, and thereby shifting the audience’s perception to multiple modalities.

FEB 23, 8PM: Gallery 345. Spectrum Music presents “The Rebel: Breaking Down Barriers” with the premiere of seven new works by Spectrum Music members Hanus, McBride, Victoria, Welchner, Wilde and others. This concert will be the second of five concerts this season that are exploring five prominent Jungian archetypes. Continuing in Spectrum’s tradition of pushing genre boundaries, the concert will combine classical and jazz elements.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

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