When is a trumpet like a motorcycle in a dressage ceremony?

Jack MacQuarrie has the answer in Bandstand.

And whose songs will Danika Lorèn be singing in Toronto’s inaugural songSLAM January 16 at Walter Hall – an event that threatens to singe the eyebrows off that often sober-sided venue?

Lydia Perović reveals all in Art of Song.

As of the date of writing this (November 26 2018) how many times has conductor Johannes Debus conducted Messiah?

Brian Chang has the handle on that in Choral Scene.

Pianists can be a handful. Which one is quoted in this month’s magazine as saying “If I were only to play Saint-Saëns for the rest of my life, I think I’ll stop playing the piano”? And how many pianists in a handful, anyway?

You can find out in Paul Ennis’ Classical and Beyond.

What instrument (or should that be implement?) will Marco Cera wield in addition to his usual oboe in Tafelmusik’s Harlequin Salon commencing January 16?

Matthew Whitfield explains in Early Music.

And what is it about the three CD sets from Mosaic Records that Steve Wallace is thinking of buying for himself for Christmas, if no-one else does, that makes them a bargain at $354 (U.S.)?

Read Jazz Notes if you dare.

You may well never have wondered what Bernice means to singer Robin Dann. And how many Danns can safely fit in one column anyway?

Colin Story answers that one in Mainly Clubs.

Come January, Rose is arose in Rose and Jenny Parr can hardly wait.

There’s pepper for the soul in Music Theatre, guaranteed.

How many Brünnhildes does it take to change an Elektra?

According to Chris Hoile in On Opera we are about to find out.

And what under the sun are a dizi, yangqin, zamba, chacarera and kamanche?

And which of them does Andrew Timar (World View) try to use in Scrabble?

From all of us at The WholeNote to all of our readers, our best wishes for this thing called the holiday season. Don’t look for a new issue in print at the beginning of January. In case you haven’t noticed, this is (for the 24th consecutive time, actually) a combined December/January issue.

You can however expect to hear from us in all our other media, digital and social, including HalfTones, our mid-month e-letter. And you’ll see us in print again at the end of January.

publisher@thewholenote.com

Robin Elliott with, left Barker Fairley (1887-1986), Clarinet [Ezra Schabas], 1959, oil on masonite, 101 x 76 cm, University of Toronto Art Collection 1986-052, Purchase 1963-64; and, right Barker Fairley (1887-1986), Flute [Robert Aitken], 1958, oil on masonite, 76 x 101 cm, University of Toronto Art Collection 1986-013, Purchase 1963-64. Photo by Kevin King.“A hundred years from what exactly?” we ask, searching for clues.

Our host is Robin Elliott, Professor of Musicology and Jean A. Chalmers Chair of Canadian Music at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. We (WholeNote managing editor Paul Ennis and I) are sitting in Elliott’s office on the western flank of the Edward Johnson Building (the faculty’s home base since 1962) overlooking Philosopher’s Walk, a meandering path which, at least in theory, connects the U of T Faculty of Music to the Royal Conservatory of Music, a couple of hundred metres (or yards as the Faculty’s founders would have called them) to the north. Reason for our visit is to find out more about the Faculty’s proclamation of 2018/19 as its 100th anniversary.

“Aha!” says Elliott. “Good question. A hundred years from the date of the first faculty council meeting. In June 1918, the U of T actually decided to set up a faculty of music. Prior to that there had been music degrees awarded at the university, dating back to the middle of the 19th century, but those were offered by examination only, there was no instruction in music given in the University of Toronto. So I guess it’s the 100th anniversary of music instruction in the university.”

And the specific impetus for the decision? “Post-World War One?” Elliott replies, although it sounds more like a question than an answer. “Restructuring of cultural life in Canada, I suppose, and at the university? There was a number of mostly British organists around that had an interest in setting up shop at U of T, so they met together with the university president, over at University College – June 1918.”

There were no courses offered by the new faculty, at the start and for a good while after that. “What they offered were set lectures that may or may not have been helpful in writing the exams for getting a degree. But gradually in the course of the 1930s and 40s it shifted towards a more familiar kind of course-based instruction. You could take a course rather than just attend lectures. Smaller groups. And you registered at the university rather than just paying a fee.”

Composer and teacher John Beckwith has spent a large part of his working life associated with the U of T Faculty of Music, including attending as a student in the years between the two World Wars, a subject he addressed in a series of two lectures at Walter Hall, bracketing the Faculty’s 75th anniversary in 1993, and subsequently gathered into a small book called Music at Toronto: A Personal Account.

“Taking a bachelor’s degree in music at Toronto in the 30s and 40s was as thoroughly English an experience as could be found anywhere in Canadian university life of the period,” Beckwith writes. “Thursdays you went in threes and fours to Healey Willan, who blew pipe smoke at you, told witty anecdotes about English notables of the turn of the century and called you ‘old man.’ Mondays you went in similar small convoys to Leo Smith, who stroked his white pencil-line moustache, caressed the piano keys, and called you ‘dear boy’.

Elliott laughs, appreciatively. “There were only three people in the faculty for decades” he says. “Ernest MacMillan, who was the dean from 1926 to 1952, and those two: Healey Willan and Leo Smith. Smith was actually a cellist and composer, Willan an organist and composer, teaching these small classes and that was it; just the three of them running shop for no more than 40 or 50 students till after the [Second World] War.”

Just as the end of WWI provided some kind of spark for the founding of the Faculty; WWII changed it forever. “From 1945 all the way to 1962 there were a lot of returning soldiers, a huge influx of military getting their education, in music as in other things. Along with growth of music in schools this sparked an expansion over the course of 15 to 20 years up to 500 students,” Elliott says, along with a corresponding growth in the number of faculty staff, and, as important, in the variety of their musical backgrounds.

“Starting in 1946: Arnold Walter, who was a Czech musician after whom Walter Hall was named came on board, initially to set up opera, and eventually became director of the Faculty. Director, not Dean.”

A slight pause, as though he is wondering how far to allow the conversation to stray up Philosopher’s Walk towards the Royal Conservatory. Then: “Between the Conservatory and the Faculty,” Elliott says, “there’s a whole very complicated administrative history. For a while the Royal Conservatory was the umbrella organization at U of T and underneath that was the Faculty of Music here and the School of Music there. Boyd Neel was Dean of the Conservatory, a kind of referee between the two. Finally, in the 80s they went their own way, as a self-standing institution.”

“With no referee?” we ask. He laughs. “With no referee. Peter Simon running shop over there and Don McLean running shop over here … although we share a lot of faculty members, especially among people teaching instrumental lessons.”

Another pause.

In October 2000, the Faculty of Music celebrated the permanent installation of a collection of musical portraits by Canadian artist and distinguished German scholar Professor Barker Fairley (1887-1986), thanks to a donation from the Fairley family. The fourteen paintings date from 1957 to 1964 and belong to the U of T Art Collection. Ezra Schabas, Fairley’s son-in-law, is pictured here at the opening with Ruth Budd whose portrait hangs beside her.“One of the things we were joking about on the way over,” we tell Elliott, “is that it should be possible to map the history of a venerable institution like this one, by looking at the roles played in that history by the individuals the institution chooses to name its buildings and rooms after. Edward Johnson, Ernest MacMillan, Arnold Walter, Herman Geiger-Torel, Barker Fairley …”

“Ah yes, we shouldn’t forget Barker Fairley! He was, of course, a professor of German and a keen amateur painter. In the Barker Fairley Room there are all these portraits, or ‘faces’ as he liked to call them, of musicians in Toronto, in the 50s and early 60s. I think they are really lovely. Yes, he’s the outlier … the only one who was not a musician.”

We go back to the top of the list: “So, first, why is it the Edward Johnson Building? Obviously he was a famous tenor, director of the Met Opera during the Second World War. Came back to the Toronto area after retiring from the Met. He was on the U of T board of governors as well as on the board of directors of the Royal Conservatory. And his daughter was married to a former premier of Ontario, George Drew. So he was politically well-connected, powerful in the administration. One can draw conclusions. Certainly there are those who think that they should have named the building after Ernest MacMillan and the opera theatre after Johnson, not the other way round. Johnson obviously deserved some recognition for what he helped to set up, in terms of plans for the new building and he died in 1959 while the building didn’t open till 1962, so he didn’t live to see it. He laid the groundwork and clearly deserved some recognition, but maybe not that much.”

Ernest MacMillan at the piano with (left to right) Godfrey Ridout, Leo Smith, John Weinzweig and Healey Willan surrounding him, circa 1948. Photo credit NOTT AND MELL (CITY OF TORONTO ARCHIVES)MacMillan’s contribution, on the other hand, was fundamental. “Beyond dispute, really. Dean from 1926 all the way to 1952; we have the MacMillan Theatre, the MacMillan Singers, so that’s something,” Elliott says. Several of MacMillan’s works are being, or have already been, featured in this centennial concert season: “In the first orchestra concert they played his Fanfare for a Centennial, and the overture to England: An Ode which was a big choral and orchestral piece written in prison camp in Berlin in 1918 and earned him a doctorate from Oxford. And we’ll have more of his music in a choral concert later in the season.”

Next on the list, Arnold Walter, whose arrival in 1946 signalled a big change. “He was neither British nor Canadian, the first central European to arrive on faculty, although along with him came Herman Geiger-Torel (the next room on your list!). Geiger-Torel was an opera director, also from Central Europe. Being Jewish he fled from Nazi German occupation, to South America first, then came north in 1948, courtesy Niki Goldschmidt.”

Between the three of them, Elliott explains, they were instrumental in setting up opera here between 1946 and 1948. “The direct result was our Opera Division which initially gave performances at the Hart House Theatre, officially opened the MacMillan Theatre in 1964 with a production of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring, and faithfully stages two productions a season, year in, year out.”

As the shadows lengthen across Philosopher’s Walk outside Elliott’s office window, we examine lists of eminent alumni and prominent faculty, and look at the concerts in the season brochure specially marked with a 100th anniversary symbol. The picture that emerges, paradoxically, is of a season that looks very much like last year’s or the year before that.

“Is it fair to say if you’d reached this milestone last year, we could have used last season’s listings to tell the same story?” “Exactly,” he replies. “That is exactly what the Dean had in mind. It’s a year that says here are the things we’re doing, but as a portrait of what we always do. Not a ‘drop everything to celebrate’ thing – more like ‘It’s a hundred years, that’s nice but we have students to teach.”

Business as usual: students to teach (900 of them, now, by 240 fulltime and part-time staff); two opera productions a year to stage; music created by U of T-affiliated composers to nurture and perform (“All the way from Healey Willan to our current students”); concerts to present, by faculty performers and students, ranging from 18 and 19 years old in large ensembles to Phil Nimmons, 95 years old and still teaching; a tradition of chamber ensembles in residence to maintain, going back to the Orford String Quartet, here from 1968 to 1991; a pioneering electronic music studio, launched in 1959, to relaunch, completely refurbished, in time for its own 60th anniversary this coming spring; groundbreaking work in musicology and ethnomusicology, and now music and health, to build on.

Members of the cast of the 1964 production of Britten’s Albert Herring, performed March 4 and 6 as part of the opening ceremonies of the Edward Johnson Building. Photo credit University of Toronto.“And for you particularly?” we ask Elliott. “As Director of the Institute for Music in Canada, our work as a custodian of things Canadian,” he replies. “Our rare book room, papers of important musical figures – Kasemets, Beckwith, Nimmons … For a long time, this was the main university for musical education in Canada, our graduates from the forties, fifties and sixties spread out across the map from Memorial University to Victoria. It’s an evolving legacy.”

The hand-written sign on the door of the Barker Fairley Room, just a few steps away from the MacMillan Theatre, says that the room will be the location for the pre-concert chat for that evening’s Opera Division performance of Street Scene, Kurt Weill’s self-described “American Opera.” We wait outside for conductor Uri Mayer to finish a class with five or six of his students.

Except for the 14 paintings clustered on its north and east walls, it could be just another classroom (it even served as a faculty lunch room in the 80s). But the faces in those 14 paintings leap out from the walls, most of the people they portray rendered in the act of making music. It would have been a fine point of departure for this story; but it works just as well as a point of departure from it.

All the paintings in the collection were done between 1957 and 1964, the years when plans were firming up for the Faculty to vacate its premises at University and College, the site today of the Ontario Power Building. At the very moment Fairley was laying down pencil lines that still show through these oil-on-masonite works, some draftsman was laying down the lines in the blueprint that would become this room. Many of the people portrayed are still with us. Some of their names are well-known. Some, like flutist Robert Aitken, will even appear in concerts in this very building before the next issue of this magazine comes out.

Next to Aitken on the wall, clarinetist Ezra Schabas has walked many miles, in many roles, up and down the meandering path between the Faculty and the Royal Conservatory, since this painting was done. And fittingly it was Ezra Schabas and his wife Ann who in 1990 made the donation that ensured the existence of the Barker Fairley Room as a repository for her father’s paintings, which for close to 30 years prior to that had been scattered here and there throughout the Edward Johnson Building.

This particular 100-year history delights in the details.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Toshio Hosokawa. Photo by KazIshikawaJanuary has earned a reputation as new music festival month, and members of the new music community have much to anticipate in this particular new year. Since the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) launched its annual, and still ongoing, New Music Festival in 1992, the festival format has been embraced enthusiastically around Canada as an effective way to present contemporary music of all types to a wide range of listeners.

For those eager to join me and book flights to Winnipeg for a late January new music getaway, the 2019 WSO New Music Festival (WNMF) runs from January 25 to February 1, 2019 and features Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks as the Distinguished Guest Composer. The late Larry Lake, host of the CBC Radio 2 network new music series, Two New Hours (1978–2007) called the WSO’s festival, “The greatest new music party in the Universe!” It has become the WSO’s signature event, and a fixture on the annual new music calendar. I will have more on the WSO’s 2019 festival a bit later in this article.

For Toronto audiences, a great deal has changed in the shape of the contemporary music calendar in recent years. We’re now fortunate to have two overlapping January festivals, both in the Bloor and University neighbourhood. One of them is the Royal Conservatory of Music’s (RCM) 21C Music Festival, which has been moved to January, from later in the spring, to promote greater student involvement. But the most steadfast of these annual festivals in Toronto has been the New Music Festival presented by the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, now in its 20th year. The 2019 edition runs from January 16 to 27.

Thanks to a generous endowment from Roger D. Moore, the U of T Faculty of Music invites an internationally celebrated composer to its annual festival. This coming year, the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition is the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955), the latest in a long list of internationally recognized composers to be invited as visitors to the U of T festival.

I asked Moore for a comment on the cumulative effect of his enabling the festival to bring so many famous composers from around the world, year after year. True to form, he thought it might be more meaningful to ask a composer from the Faculty of Music to share their observations., and recently retired professor of composition, Chan Ka Nin was willing to oblige: “The list of Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitors in Composition reflects a who’s who in the current field of new music” he said. “It brings prestige to the university and at the same time inspires the composition students, as well as other students and the general public. Being on the list of the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitors in Composition is also an honour for the guest composers. Roger will be forever remembered as a generous and compassionate man who helps and inspires others with his keen interests in the music of his time. He is a Canadian treasure, a saviour in the Canadian music scene.”

Toshio Hosokawa: Hosokawa has become one of Japan’s most important composers, following Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996) and Maki Ishii (1936–2003). Like the works of Takemitsu and Ishii, Hosokawa’s music blends traditional Japanese and European classical approaches. In fact, Hosokawa divides his time between these two worlds, keeping residences in both Nagano, Japan and in Mainz, Germany. During the 11 days of the U of T New Music Festival, dozens of Hosokawa’s works will be performed, including an operatic double bill on January 17. That evening, in Walter Hall at 7:30, Hosokawa’s psychodramatic setting of Poe’s The Raven will be sung by noted mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabó. This will be followed by its companion piece, The Maiden from the Sea (Futari Shizuka) a one-act opera based on a Nôh play depicting the tale of a young woman lost at sea who becomes embodied by a 12th-century courtesan, Lady Shizuka. Toronto soprano Xin Wang will be heard in the lead, together with the remarkable female Noh singer/dancer, Ryoko Aoki, from Japan. The opera is sung in both Japanese and English.

Then, on January 25 at 8pm in Walter Hall, Toronto’s New Music Concerts, directed by Robert Aitken, will present a concert of Hosokawa’s music, together with works by his teacher, the late Klaus Huber (1924–2017) and his protégé, Misato Mochizuki (b. 1969), who will also attend the festival. Aitken’s New Music Concerts Ensemble is one of a long roster of Toronto’s finest musicians engaged to perform Hosokawa’s music during this visit, including the Gryphon Trio, pianists Stephanie Chua and Stephen Clarke, flutist Camille Watts, violinist Véronique Matthieu. guitarist Rob MacDonald and a new wind quintet made up of TSO wind players. Sax soloist Wallace Halladay and Esprit Orchestra under Alex Pauk will give the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra on January 20 in Koerner Hall in a display of cooperation between U of T’s festival and the RCM’s 21C Music Festival.

Karen Kieser Prize recipient Bekah SimmsKaren Kieser Prize: Another important feature of the U of T festival is the annual presentation of the only prizes available exclusively to U of T graduate composers: The Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music and the Ann H. Atkinson Prize in Electroacoustic Composition. The current winning works will be performed on January 22 at 7:30 in Walter Hall.

Karen Kieser was deputy head of CBC Radio Music from 1982 to 1986, and then head of music from 1986 to 1992. She held three degrees from the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto: a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music, both in piano performance, and a Master of Music in Musicology. She could have had a career as a concert pianist, but she chose broadcasting as her life’s work, serving as a gifted CBC host, producer, executive producer, and eventually as a leader in CBC’s senior management. Friends and colleagues endowed the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music upon her death in 2002, too soon a loss at age 53. It is a tribute to her life, her work and her passionate devotion to the cause of Canadian music and musicians.

For the first time in its 16-year history, this year the Kieser Prize will be shared by two composers, both women: Rebekah Cummings and Bekah Simms. Simms’ microlattice is a quartet for bass clarinet, double bass, piano and percussion. In her note on the work, Simms says, “With a density as low as 0.9 kg/m3 (0.00561 lb/ft3), metallic microlattice is currently one of the lightest structures known to science. It is made from an alloy of nickel and phosphorus. This piece attempts to create a sort of musical alloy from two opposing but influential forces: rhythmic, repetitive music with pointillist, random recurrence. Inspired by the unique structure, this piece also attempts to create an alloy of the strong, metallic and loud, and the crystalline and light. Like its titular influence, the piece is also small in scope, making use of a limited amount of musical material both melodically and rhythmically. After its initial performance, it’s only been performed once more (in July 2018 in Banff, AB) so I very much look forward to presenting it to a wider audience at the Karen Kieser concert this coming January.”

Karen Kieser Prize recipient Rebekah Cummings. Photo by Claire Dam.Cummings’ Fearless is a trio for flute, percussion and electronics. In her note, Cummings says: “I’ve always had vivid dreams, and recently I’ve been using them as springboards for composition. Fearless was inspired by a profoundly impactful dream I had many years ago while struggling with anxiety, in which I rediscovered my true name: Fearless. Rather than following the details of the dream’s storyline, this piece broadly portrays its theme – a transformation from fearful to fearless through reconnection with an inherent, original identity. For me, fearlessness is more about childlike confidence than defiant boldness. I remember being small, believing I could do anything (even fly and walk on water!), never assuming the worst about myself, others, or life circumstances. I tried to musically depict this return to childlikeness through a melodic/rhythmic playfulness emerging, not without struggle, from a more mournful setting.”

The winner of the 2019 Ann H. Atkinson Prize in Electroacoustic Composition will be determined in early December, and the winning composition will be performed on the Karen Kieser Prize concert, along with chamber works by Hosokawa. (The 2018 Atkinson Prize winner was August Murphy-King for his work, Simul for viola, bassoon, piano and electronics, a work I found to be elegant and finely balanced.)

Meanwhile … the previous week, American composer Terry Riley will be celebrated in three concerts at the RCM’s 21C Music Festival, including a concert on January 18, “Terry Riley: Live at 85!” Riley’s visit is dealt with at more length in “In with the New” elsewhere in the current edition of The WholeNote. But I do have a personal Terry Riley story to share, from 1993, when my CBC Radio Two network series, Two New Hours co-produced the Encounters series in Glenn Gould Studio (GGS), together with Soundstreams Canada. Kieser, the director of GGS at the time, had challenged Soundstreams artistic director Lawrence Cherney and me to come up with a marketable contemporary music series that would attract audiences to GGS. We quickly responded with Encounters, initially, a series of minimalist music. Terry Riley was one of the invited minimalist composers. Riley improvised on a nine-foot Steinway modified with his so-called Rosary tuning. It was a 19-tone-to-the-octave tuning, and it took three tunings to get the Steinway to hold its pitch; and three tunings to get it back to tempered pitch afterwards. (The piano tuner’s bill was $1,200 for those services.) The Arraymusic Ensemble participated too, in Riley’s Cactus Rosary, which they had commissioned. The late Michael J Baker conducted.

Norwegian composer Terje Isugset and ice instruments. Photo by Bjorn Furuseth.Back to Winnipeg: And finally, as I promised at the outset of this story, there’s the impending trip to Winnipeg for the 2019 edition of the WSO’s New Music Festival. The 27th WNMF will embrace a variety of themes, including ice, metal, the new intersecting the old, and a spirit of collaboration. The opening event, on January 25, “Glacial Time,” takes place in a custom-designed ice amphitheatre situated in The Forks on the frozen Assiniboine River. A collaboration with architect Peter Hargraves (Warming Huts), this newly created space will capture the essence of WNMF as a cultural oasis within the heart of the extreme Manitoba winter. Norwegian artist and multi-instrumentalist Terje Isungset comes to Winnipeg to present a suite of his original music, featuring himself, vocalist Maria Skranes, and WSO musicians performing on Isungset’s ice instruments, freshly carved for the occasion of this performance. WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano and percussionist Victoria Sparks will lead the University of Manitoba Percussion Ensemble in the Canadian premiere of Inuksuit, an expansive work by Pulitzer Prize-winning Alaskan composer John Luther Adams that continues his explorations in merging music, nature, and landscape.

The January 26 concert welcomes back Bramwell Tovey, the WNMF founding music director who started it all. Tovey will conduct a program featuring San Francisco composer John Adams’ monumental work, Harmonielehre, together with music by three prominent Canadian composers: Jocelyn Morlock, Kelly-Marie Murphy and Harry Stafylakis.

On January 30, the WSO’s newest music director, Daniel Raiskin takes the podium in his first full WNMF program. A noted advocate of contemporary music, Maestro Raiskin is joined by his longtime collaborator, Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks, who serves as this year’s WNMF Distinguished Guest Composer. WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig will perform Vasks’ meditative Lonely Angel and the Winnipeg Singers join the orchestra for his Dona Nobis Pacem, offering two pathos-laden aspects of Vasks’ musical vision. The WSO will also give the world premiere of a new work, A Child’s Dream of Toys, by Canadian composer Vivian Fung, as well as Michael Daugherty’s fierce Raise the Roof. Finally, WNMF doubles down on its collaboration with contemporary progressive metal pioneers Animals As Leaders, who join the WSO for the band’s orchestral debut, featuring a symphonic suite of some of their best known works arranged by WSO Composer-in-Residence (and relentless metalhead) Harry Stafylakis.

Animals as LeadersConsider an alternative winter destination, and join me in Winnipeg for my annual January pilgrimage of musical discovery at the WNMF!

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

Gyan and Terry Riley. credit Scott CrowleyChange is not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s 21C of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 

60 years has helped define the course of new music.

The 21C Festival, produced by the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now in its sixth year and is, by definition, committed to presenting new sounds and ideas. That being said, opening up the flyer for this year’s 21C Music Festival was like a breath of fresh air. I couldn’t help but compare it to last year’s experience – a gasp of disbelief, even despair, when I realized that there was barely a female face to be seen or name to be read. Not so this year. The gasp this time round was more of delight, surprise and yes, relief. Finally! There is definitely a huge sea change occurring this year and for that reason alone, all the more incentive to attend and listen to what is percolating with creative innovators in music. Not only are there a significant number of works and premieres by women, but also by culturally diverse composers as well.

Another key change is the move to a January timeslot from the previous one in May, with this year’s festival happening January 16 to 20, dovetailing with the U of T New Music Festival, a short stroll away, which runs from January 16 to 27.

Change is, however, not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s festival of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 60 years has helped define the course of new music.

Riley’s music has had a significant influence not only on contemporary classical composers but also on rock composers such as Lou Reed and Peter Townsend. His attitudes and approaches to music making have contributed to the radical sea change in compositional ideas and practices that began in the 1960s. He was a key player in the experimental traditions that originated in the USA which filtered across the border.

In Toronto, it was the Arraymusic Ensemble that picked up on these currents, making it a priority in their programming to feature composers who were part of that scene, including people like Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Steve Reich, Jim Tenney and of course, Riley himself. I had a chance to talk with Robert Stevenson, former Arraymusic Ensemble member and artistic director about his memories and experiences working with Riley and his music.

One of the big festivals that occurred throughout the 1980s in the USA, he told me, was called New Music America and in 1990 it had travelled to Montreal as New Music Across America. That year the festival organizers partnered with Arraymusic to commission a work from Riley titled Cactus Rosary. (The piece appears on Array’s New World CD released in 1993.)

Stevenson remembers well the collaborative process involved in the creation of Cactus Rosary. “Most composers in the Western art music tradition aren’t strong in collaborating. It’s not part of the tradition and you’re not trained in that when you study composition. Rather, you’re learning how to tell people what to do. When we got the score for Cactus Rosary there was hardly anything on the page. ‘Where is the music?’ we wondered. There were a few notes, some pitches, no metre. Some of the notes were whole notes, others filled in but no stems. There were no rhythmic details, no dynamics, and no explanation of the tuning system, which was in just intonation (rather than the standard equal temperament). All we had that indicated the tuning was a DX7 synthesizer patch. Once Riley began to work with us, though, you began to realize that what was on the page was there to be fleshed out. A lot of what we did is not in the score.”

Stevenson gave the example of the vocal part he performed that was more like speak-singing a text. “I started reading and he said: ‘Can you change the harmonic content by changing your throat shape? Can you move the pitch around? There’s a delay line on the voice so we should set that up.’ Everything happened collaboratively in a very subtle yet determined kind of way. It was never, ‘This is what I want.’ He was clear about what he didn’t want and gave us instructions that would lead us in a direction to what he would like without having to say anything. It’s a different approach to composition. There’s not a blueprint but an invitation to a process.”

Using just intonation tuning is an important aspect of Riley’s work. Stevenson described the difference that it made for Cactus Rosary. “At the first rehearsals the acoustic piano had yet to be tuned to just intonation, so all we had was the DX7 patch. The ensemble was tuning itself to the DX sound but with the acoustic piano in equal temperament, everything was quite chaotic. When the piano was finally tuned it was extraordinary what happened to the music. Suddenly there was this resonating thing happening – the tuning was in the air.”

The staging of the piece was also a change from the usual. “There was an old-style wingback chair that conductor Michael Baker sat in facing the audience. He played two peyote rattles which Riley acquired specifically for the piece from a Wichita tribe member who made them himself. Baker made occasional hand gestures to signal when to move to a new section, but otherwise he played these rattles, coming in and out of the piece, often when the texture was less dense. From an audience point of view, you got the sense that you were watching someone’s aural meditation being made manifest, an internal experience being made external.”

Array took the piece on tour when they visited Europe spanning the years 1993 to 95. “That’s when the piece really started to take shape,” Stevenson said, “and the duration shifted from 33 minutes to close to 50. It became more expansive and we developed the trance meditative aspect. Tour organizers in Europe didn’t want Array to come and play European music, they wanted music they didn’t have a chance to hear. They went nuts over things like the Claude Vivier music we played and with the Riley piece, we were a big hit. People went crazy and were trancing out. They didn’t have many people in Europe who were authentically connected to the music who could play it.”

At the time in Toronto, there weren’t other groups performing his music, except his classic hit In C, which was much more of a communal experience for open instrumentation. Stevenson himself played that piece several times, often with people from Array, and once at a concert by New Music Concerts at The Copa, a massive dance club in Yorkville whose heyday was in the 1980s. In C appealed to some performers because of its collaborative nature, and it was devoid of the extreme demands made by composers like Boulez and Stockhausen, for example. With any number of ways to play it and the outcome undetermined, players could relax and enjoy the moment. “This type of process was very new to people at the time.”

Bob Stevenson with Red Rhythm at Communists Daughter, 2014.  photo by Ori DaganStevenson concluded our conversation by saying that “Riley had a light touch. Nothing was too serious or worth breaking a sweat about. That’s why it was easy to collaborate with him. He wasn’t stuck on an idea but rather always asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ He was always confident that things would be accomplished and I never got the idea that he was dissatisfied with how the process was going.”

The January 18 21C concert celebrates Riley: On the first half of the evening, Tracy Silverman on electric violin will perform excerpts from Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle and Sri Camel, both arranged by Silverman. On the second half of the evening, Terry and his son Gyan will perform five of his works including Mongolian Winds and Ebony Horn, along with selections from Salome Dances for Peace.

This year’s 21C

Surrounding that January 18 Riley celebration concert, there is much else to enjoy in this edition of 21C.

The opening concert on January 16 features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tania Miller and Simon Rivard. Since there will be no New Creations Festival at the TSO this year, this is one way for them to continue to support the work of contemporary composers.

Their 21C concert features two world premieres – one by Emilie Lebel (who has been appointed the TSO’s new affiliate composer) and the other by Stewart Goodyear. (Goodyear will also be performing in a full concert of his own works on January 17, including Variations on Hallelujah and other takes on various pop and rock songs.) Other composers featured in the TSO concert are Dorothy Chang, Dinuk Wijeratne, Jocelyn Morlock and Terry Riley.

Other Toronto-based presenters offering programs at this year’s 21C festival include Continuum with an all-female program featuring compositions by Cassandra Miller, Monica Pearce, Linda Smith, Carolyn Chen, Unsuk Chin and Kati Agócs. On the weekend, the performing ensembles of Cinq à Sept and Sō Percussion (both on January 19) as well as the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble (January 20) will be performing entire programs of new compositions, again featuring an abundance of works by women. Check the listings for a full rundown of all the composers you can hear.

Esprit bridge to U of T

As mentioned previously, the U of T’s Contemporary Music Festival picks up where 21C leaves off. On January 20 there will be an Esprit Orchestra concert which, fittingly, closes one festival and opens the other with works by Claude Vivier, Toshio Hosokawa, Alison Yun-Fei and Christopher Goddard. The two festivals are partnering to present the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by Wallace Halladay. Hosokawa is Japan’s pre-eminent living composer, creating his musical language from the relationship between Western avant-garde art and traditional Japanese culture. His music is strongly connected to the aesthetic and spiritual roots of the Japanese arts and he values the expression of beauty that originates from transience.

Hosokawa, who is this year’s Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the U of T Festival, will also be offering composition masterclasses on January 21 and 22, and his music will be presented in a concert by faculty artists on January 21, in a concert of Percussion and Electronics on January 23 and as featured composer for the New Music Concerts performance on January 25.

In with the New Quick Picks

DEC 11, 7:30PM: Gallery 345. PAPER: New Compositions and Improvisations by Nahre Sol, a pianist and composer who creates music that combines a unique blend of improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony and minimalism. She teams up with clarinetist Brad Cherwin for this free concert.

DEC 14, 8PM: Music Gallery, Rejuvenated Frequencies. A showcase of music curated by Obuxum featuring groundbreaking music by women of colour, music that is “progressive and healing all at once.” Performers include VHVL from Harlem with her thumping beats and bright melodies, Toronto-based YourHomieNaomi with roots in spoken word, and Korean-born, Toronto-based classically trained pianist Korea Town Acid whose DJ sets create an avant-garde journey.

JAN 17, 7:30PM: Canadian Music Centre. A mixed-genre evening of jazz-inflected works by Alex Samaras, one of Canada’s leading jazz vocalists, and Norman Symonds, a leading figure in the third-stream movement in Canada that combines jazz and classical forms. The concert will include works by the CMC’s 2018 Toronto Emerging Composer Award-winner Cecilia Livingston, who specializes in music for voice and opera.

JAN 29, 7:30PM: Tapestry Opera presents Hook Up at Theatre Passe Muraille. This opera by composer Chris Thornborrow, libretto by Julie Tepperman, raises questions of consent, shame and power in the lives of young adults navigating uncharted waters on their own. Content warning: Contains explicit language and discussion of sexual violence. Runs to February 9.

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

Johannes Debus. credit Tony HauserToronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Matthew Loden and I are chatting about the beloved cultural phenomenon that is Messiah in Toronto. Sitting in his office overlooking Roy Thomson Hall, I can see the iconic webbing of the edifice, a physical nest that cradles the music hall. In a few weeks, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and guests, under the baton of Johannes Debus, will present a major six-performance run of Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece.. (Full disclosure: as regular readers of this column know, I sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and will be on stage for these performances.)

“We live in a very disjointed and fractured time right now. I think that the human condition is to long for a kind of togetherness, to find your place with people,” says Loden, speaking about the need for a space for an event like Messiah. “Increasingly, we keep finding ways to disintegrate relationships. When you have a moment where you can come together collectively and still have an individual experience while feeling the music coming off the stage with a couple thousand other people – that is really powerful.” With these TSO performances alone, 15,000 people will experience the majesty of the most iconic of Toronto classical-music traditions.

“People are moved to tears not just because of the artistic nature of what they’re listening to,” Loden continues, “but because they are doing it with other people, live. It’s raw talent from 150-plus people on stage. There’s a kind of magic that happens when you get everybody together to be a part of that.”

Johannes Debus leads the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with soloists Claire de Sévigné (soprano), Allyson McHardy (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Haji (tenor), and Tyler Duncan (baritone). Surprisingly, over his significant career, Debus has never conducted the entire work. “This is my first time conducting it,” he tells me in a phone call from his home in Berlin. “But when I was in my early teens, I sang it. This was one of the strong, long-lasting musical impressions I have from my childhood. Afterwards, I made my mother buy the John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir recording. It’s a dream come true for myself to be able to conduct this piece.”

Debus is a fixture in the classical world in Toronto, serving as the music director for the Canadian Opera Company (COC), a post he has held for almost a decade. In that capacity he isn’t often on the stage, though, in Toronto, and this marks only his second time with the TSO. He is mindful that the music lovers of Toronto are very particular about their Messiahs. “[Conducting] might come with certain expectations,” he says. “On the other hand, you can rely on the experience of the musicians and hopefully bring something new. Not to reinvent the wheel but to inspire us all and bring all forces together. Make it an event that nourishes us and prepares us for the Christmas Day. In the case of Messiah, like every other masterpiece, you discover something new every time. Like a statue, you turn it around and look at it from the back or the side. You discover new angles. That’s what makes music so brave – you perform it in the moment and it can be new every time.” Audience members can safely expect a charismatic, flowing storyteller, and for once will be able to see his whole body in action from the stage, not just the top of his head and hands from the orchestra pit.

Debus is aware of other interpretations of Messiah. He mentions Sir Andrew Davis’ 2016 recording, for one, but promises something a little more literal. “In the beginning we’re dealing with prophecy, birth, and then redemption, like chapters. It’s like a novel, three big parts,” says Debus. “If we manage to bring out a distinctiveness in character and expression of all those aspects, I will be very pleased and happy.”

The dramatic edge of Messiah can easily be lost faced with the technicality of the music. For a master musical storyteller like Debus, it is at the core. Handel’s music uses the assembled text in an emotive fashion that creates a thread of luscious descriptiveness in his music. There is the venomous roar of choir in “He Trusted in God,” remarking in great anger and frustration. “And with his stripes” plainly invokes the whip marks covering Jesus’ body. The playfulness and athleticism of “All we like sheep” finishes with the introspective acknowledgement of the faithful’s iniquity. The solos carry this emotional energy as well. The emotional tenor sings “Thy rebuke has broken his heart,” a call from the deepest depths of despair, for help. The mezzo-soprano maintains a humble supplication with “He was despised.” All of this is underpinned by the orchestra. Handel’s music carries many emotional messages over a short period of time.

“It’s part of Handel’s success in general, that he can unfold and have this incredible impact on your emotional soul, your emotional centre,” says Debus. “It can really shake you and elevate you, make you weak and so on. Among the great dramatists and operatists, Handel knew how to establish this and make it work. He knows very well how to set the mood and his talent for writing ear-worm-like melodies.”

“As a composer of Italian opera, Handel was always drawn to the ideal of theatrical, operatic writing. In terms of drama, we will work to apply that here.” Bringing to life the dramatic solos is a quartet of Canadian talent who have all worked with Debus before: in fact De Sévigné, McHardy and Haji have all been members of the Ensemble Studio, a key part of Debus’ programming direction at the COC.

Matthew LodenMatthew Loden is particularly keen on this set of soloists as well, knowing that three of them have been members of the COC Ensemble Studio. “[This performance] represents a very strong partnership with the COC,” he says, “with Johannes on the podium and three of four of soloists connected to the Ensemble Studio. The fact that there are these remarkable development opportunities for these professional singers on their way into the world, and that the TSO can be one of the stops on their trajectory, is really fulfilling. And Canadians really appreciate when they can celebrate their homegrown talent.”

The Ensemble Studio is part of a musical ecosystem encompassing the University of Toronto, Royal Conservatory of Music, and the COC, incubating, supporting and celebrating new generations of talent. Through performances such as these on the biggest symphonic stage in Canada, the TSO becomes part of that ecosystem.

Messiah is a core programmatic element of the first half of every TSO season. “We do Messiah every year is because one of the roles we play in Toronto is to gather people together into a space that allows them to feel like they are part of something that is bigger than themselves. Bigger than they are individually,” shares Loden. “There’s a ceremony around getting together with friends and family and other musicians on an annual basis that allows people to both reflect and look forward. Messiah is a perfect opportunity for that kind of gathering.”

Messiah isn’t part of any regular subscription package on offer from the TSO. Annually, ever seat sold is an add-on to a subscription, a create-your-own subscription package, or individual concert sale. Sure-fire Messiah sales are important to the TSO when balanced against new works or unfamiliar ones to audiences. Loden acknowledges that these are concerts that sell and sell out. “Whenever we open the phone lines and the next season goes on sale, Messiah is often at the top of people’s list. It tells us that this is something that is working,” says Loden. “Messiah is a highlight and focal point from a financial standpoint, but also within the rhythm of the season. I think if people want to come and be proud of being in this great city, being Canadians and experience this monumental piece of music that has withstood the test of time; to do it in this concert hall, it’s a very special thing; and I think that’s why people keep coming back.”

“The images we get through Handel’s music – with all its weaknesses, the compassion, empathy, glory, exuberance – with all these aspects, you can find them concentrated in this theatre called Messiah. I hope that many people will come to these concerts,” Debus says, adding “and that there won’t be any snowstorms.”

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

MESSSIAH IS EVERYWHERE

From the November edition of HalfTones, The WholeNote’s mid-month digital newsletter (subscribe online!): Messiah is near-synonymous with choral community-building: with festivity, with meaningful memories of classical music, with standing and singing along. Something about Messiah, and the way it unites community initiatives with musical professionals, gives it a special place in the city and scene’s musical fabric.

Just an example - this year’s Messiah for the City (Dec 22) presented by Toronto Beach Chorale in partnership with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, features singers from the Toronto Beach Chorale, MCS Chorus Mississauga and the Georgetown Bach Chorale, and players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Founded by the late Jack Layton, Messiah for the City is a project dedicated to providing seasonal concert opportunities to people who otherwise might not have access to such events. Tickets are distributed by United Way and its partner agencies.

And then all over the map, and in order of appearance (details in our listings):

DEC 1, 4PM: Pax Christi Chorale’s special Children’s Messiah performance for children and families; Church of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto.

DEC 4-6, 8PM: Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah IV at the Drake Underground, Toronto.

DEC 11, 8PM: An Evening of Choruses and Arias from Handel’s Messiah. The debut performance of B-Xalted! a new choir founded by Barbara Gowdy and Whitney Smith, at the Church of St. Peter & St. Simon-the-Apostle, Toronto.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Cellar Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Orillia Opera House, Orillia.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Grand Philharmonic Choir. Handel’s Messiah. Centre in the Square, Kitchener.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: MCS Chorus Mississauga. G. F. Handel: Messiah. First United Church, Mississauga.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Orchestra Kingston. Handel’s Messiah. Kingston Choral Society. The Spire/Sydenham Street United Church, 82 Sydenham St., Kingston.

DEC 9, 3PM: Dufferin Concert Singers/New Tecumseth Singers. Handel’s Messiah. St. John’s United Church, Creemore.

DEC 15, 7:30PM: Chorus Niagara. Handel’s Messiah. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

DEC 15, 8PM: Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. Highlights from The Messiah. Living Arts Centre, Hammerson Hall, Mississauga.

DEC 15, 8PM: Orchestra Grey Bruce/Saugeen County Chorus. Messiah. Knox Presbyterian Church, Kincardine.

DEC 16, 3PM: Menno Singers. Sing-along Messiah. St. Jacob’s Mennonite Church, St. Jacobs.

DEC 17-22, 8PM AND 23, 3PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

DEC 17, 7:30PM: Peterborough Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Emannuel United Church, Peterborough.

DEC 18-21, 7:30PM: Tafelmusik’s Messiah at Koerner Hall, with their famous Sing-Along Messiah on DEC 22, 2PM, at Roy Thomson Hall (while Massey Hall is being renovated). Toronto

DEC 22, 7:30: Guelph Chamber Choir. Messiah. River Run Centre, Guelph.

NOT THE MESSIAH

Just a sampling …

DEC 5, 7:30PM: Nathaniel Dett Chorale. An Indigo Christmas: Black Virgin…Great Joy.

DEC 7, 7:30PM: Surinder Mundra. A Choral Christmas from Across Europe.

DEC 7, 8PM: Exultate Chamber Singers. Winter’s Night with You.

DEC 8, 2PM: Annual City Carol Sing. Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats; Hogtown Brass Quintet; Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Choir; VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto; That Choir; Hedgerow Singers; Kevin Frankish, host; and others.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Forte – Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus. All Is Calm, All Is Bright.

DEC 9, 2PM: Duly Noted. Toronto vs. Everybody. All a cappella music celebrating Toronto.

DEC 11, 7:30PM: City Choir. Cakes & Ale.

DEC 16, 3PM: Pax Christi Chorale. England’s Golden Age. A cappella masterpieces from the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

DEC 18, 7:30PM: Orpheus Choir of Toronto. A Child’s Christmas in Wales. With Geraint Wyn Davies.

DEC 22, 7:30PM: Quintessence Ensemble. Buon Natale: A Multilingual Christmas.

JAN 13, 3PM: Vesnivka Choir. Ukrainian Christmas Concert. With Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir and a folk instrumental ensemble.

JAN 13, 7:30PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music presents “We shall overcome: a celebration of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.” Damien Sneed and the Toronto Mass Choir: jazz, gospel, classical, blues, music theatre and spirituals – Sneed and guests will mark the 90th anniversary of MLK’s birth.

JAN 22 & 23, 7:30PM: Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. KW Glee.

JAN 26, 3PM: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Spotlight on North America. A free community concert celebrating great composers from Canada and the United States: interim artistic director David Fallis’ first fully programmed concert

JAN 26, 7PM: Newchoir. The High Society Soir-eh.

JAN 26, 8PM: Confluence. Centuries of Souls.

FEB 2, 2PM & 7PM: Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto. Songs from a Celtic Heart.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com.

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