The WholeNote doesn’t publish a “Manitoba Edition” – but if we did, it might well feature the two artists interviewed in this issue. Violinist James Ehnes hails from  Brandon, Manitoba, and has gone on to international fame and fortune. Vocal coach and conductor Miah Im, who currently teaches at the University of Toronto, was born in Winnipeg.

And something else connects Im and Ehnes, at least on this occasion. They’re both performing in halls on Philosopher’s Walk – the brick lane that’s a direct path between the Royal Conservatory of Music and U of T’s Edward Johnson Building. With the opening of Koerner Hall, the Bloor-Avenue Road area has become an intensely musical place. And while the RCM and the Faculty of Music tend to maintain their solitudes, their approximity seems to be a good thing from a concert-goer’s standpoint.

The WholeNote has never published a “Vocal Edition,” either – although the current issue comes pretty close. In addition to our usual columns on the operatic and choral scenes (contributed by Christopher Hoile and Benjamin Stein, respectively), several other columns draw attention to the variety of vocal music in our community.

Allan Pulker focuses on several singers who are busy this month: sopranos Shannon Mercer and Carla Huhtanen will both be performing in Queen of Puddings’ presentation of Puksånger-Lockrop (by the contemporary Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist) – which, judging by descriptions, should be a wild and earthy piece of folk-inspired music. Later in the month, Huhtanen will be joined by mezzo Krisztina Szabó and baritone Jesse Clark for a (presumably) more civilized Schubertiad, under the auspices of Off Centre Music.

As well, Pulker mentions a remarkable recital at the U of T this month: soprano Lorna MacDonald, and mezzo Kimberly Barber will recreate a 1973 joint performance of Lois Marshall and Maureen Forrester. Also at the U of T, the Aldeburgh Connection will stage a programme of two English composers: Britten and Purcell.

Our early music columnist, Simone Desilets, points out that Tafelmusik will also present vocal music by Purcell in November: soprano Suzie Leblanc, tenor Charles Daniels and baritone Nathaniel Watson will sing in Purcell’s King Arthur.

And our correspondent Terry Robbins returns to The WholeNote this month, with much news about the community musical theatre scene. A new company, “Steppin’Out Theatrical Productions,” which will perform at the new Richmond Hill Theatre, is the creation of 16-year old Brian Lee. Steppin’Out’s season opens in November with The Pajama Game. Robbins also talks about November shows by Clarkson Music Theatre (Thoroughly Modern Millie), Brampton Music Theatre (Footloose – The Musical), Scarborough Music Theatre (Nine), and Curtain Call Players (A Chorus Line).

Several performers from the instrumental side of the street are also featured. Pamela Margles, talks to James Ehnes about his nascent career as a pianist, among other things. Jason van Eyk, our new-music correspondent, focuses on the St. Lawrence Quartet’s ambitious commissioning project, which has led to the creation of five new works for the ensemble by Canadian composers. And mJ buell’s contribution to the issue is an interview with clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas.

Finally, Jack MacQuarrie, who writes our band column, reports on a tragedy. Fred Mills, who played trumpet in the Canadian Brass for nearly a quarter of a century, was killed in a car accident near his home in Augusta, Georgia. MacQuarrie talks with Charles Daellenbach and Raymond Tizzard about the late trumpeter’s distinguished career. Mills’ passing is a loss to the musical world.

Colin Eatock, managing editor6_colin eatock

 

8_oundjianIt’s hard to believe five years have passed since “the little Oundjian that could,” as one WholeNote reader affectionately dubbed him, chugged into town. His contagious energy continues unabated. Case in point: every September since 2005, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra  has taken its show on the road, to Northern Ontario, for a five day “residency tour.” Thanks to cellphones, I caught up with him anyway.

So where are you this time?

Oundjian: En route from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie and it’s an absolutely glorious cloudless day.

Not doing the driving I hope?

Oundjian: No I’m sitting beside the person who organized the tour [Roberta Smith]. She drives like Stirling Moss by the way, so we have to speak fast … we’re only 200km from  Sault Ste. Marie!

How many musicians on tour?

Oundjian: Fifty-five to sixty, something like that, we’re doing some fairly big pieces, the Mendelssohn “Italian,” a bit of Carmen, a big new piece by Gary Kulesha … so sixty I would say.

For how long?

Oundjian: We came up Monday and had a concert last night [Tuesday] in Sudbury for a wonderful public. This morning, two youth concerts for school children, tomorrow a school concert in the morning and a public concert in the evening, then Friday morning another school concert and then we go home.

Five years ago you were in Connecticut about to hit the road for here, first time as music director. We talked quite a bit about the differences between your anticipated roles as music director and as conductor. Do you see that distinction differently now, or have the two roles tended to merge?

Read more: The First Five Years: Peter Oundjian

43olson and littleFay Olson has worked in the public relations field for over 30 years, spending much of that time focused on music and sports sponsorships specifically. In her heyday, Fay played an instrumental role in launching what used to be known as the du Maurier Downtown Toronto Jazz Festival; she has since fought hard for arts funding since tobacco sponsorships were ruled illegal.

Semi-retired now, Olson books an admirable three nights of jazz a week at the historic Old Mill Inn, located steps from the Old Mill subway stop. Every Thursday night is a house gig for Russ Little, the famed trombonist previously associated with the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Count Basie Band and the Boss Brass.

In booking a brand new Friday night series at the Old Mill called “Something to Sing About!” this month Olson has chosen a refreshing mix of choice singers, veterans and rising stars: Sophia Perlman, Cal Dodd, Laila Biali, Arlene Smith and Trish Colter. “We didn’t want people to think we were ‘singer-phobic’,” she jokes. The Saturday Piano Masters Series continues, this month spotlighting the trios of Paul Read, Joe Sealy, Don Thompson, Bill King and Paul Hoffert. All performances take place at the elegant Home Smith Bar at The Old Mill Inn, where an atmospheric experience for all senses easily merits the minimum $20 food/drink expenditure.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Jazz Quartet’s “Fridays at Five” with-featured-jazz-instrumentalist series, initiated by Olson in 2006 as a response to the Montréal Bistro’s closure, is still the talk of the town. The formidable “no cover, no reservations” series runs Fridays from 5-8pm at Quotes Bar & Grill, located right under Barootes at 220 King Street West. The CJQ is: quartet founder Gary Benson, guitar, Frank Wright, vibes, Duncan Hopkins, bass, and Don Vickery on drums, pictured here with Fay.

October is a busy time for choirs. A brief perusal of the listings sections of this magazine reveals a wide range of choral performances, from small, intimate works to big choral warhorses. But if you look past the sheer variety of it all, a few trends emerge.

Early music seems to be especially well represented this month, with several choirs presenting entire programmes of pre-1800 repertoire. Toronto’s Cantemus Singers are singing English music, with an October 3 concert of Purcell, Tallis, Gibbons and Byrd. In Orillia, on October 24, the Cellar Singers open their season with Bach’s Mass in B Minor. On the same night, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will perform Handel’s Israel in Egypt (the first big choral concert in the Royal Conservatory’s new Koerner Hall). And on November 1, the Toronto Chamber Choir will present a programme of Renaissance works by Byrd, Lasso, Weelkes and Sheppard.

19_Lydia_Adams_photo_Pierre_Maravel19_Brainerd B-T

This sort of concert, when done well, has the happy effect of transporting its audience into a remote time, to explore the artistic ideals of a historical era. But it’s also nice to see a more varied and integrated approach to early-music programming. On October 4 Toronto’s Elmer Iseler Singers  and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale will team up to present a concert that mixes Byrd, Tallis, et al. with African-American gospel repertoire. In a similar vein, Waterloo’s Renaissance Singers will sing a concert on October 17 (repeated the following day in Cambridge) that combines 16th- and 17th-century English choral works with Rutter’s The Sprig of Thyme, composed in the late 20th century.

At first glance, the Renaissance Singers’ approach makes a little more sense: Rutter is English, and there are strong historical references in his style that connect his music to the English Renaissance. But that’s not to say that the Iseler-Dett collaboration is a non-starter. On the contrary, some of the most fascinating artistic experiences originate in the conjoining of ideas that don’t seem to have much in common.

Contemporary music is a sometimes a scary proposition – for choirs and audiences alike. But there are three concerts of new works coming up that no one should shy away from.

20_tollarOn October 8, Toronto composer Christos Hatzis’ From the Song of Songs will be performed in a programme presented by the Royal Ontario Museum. The 18-minute work will be performed by the musicians who originally commissioned it: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir. As well, the culturally adventurous piece also features Arabic vocalist Maryem Hassan-Tollar as soloist.

On October 24, the University of Toronto’s MacMillan Singers perform a programme called “Music of the North,” which will hopefully find an appreciative audience. The chosen composers – Rautavaara, Hyökki and Tormis – are from Finland and Estonia: two countries with strong choral traditions and composers who have attracted the world’s attention.

And the following day, Toronto’s Pax Christi Chorale will sing an entire programme of premieres. Billed as a “Fanfare for Canadian Hymns,” the concert will feature the winning compositions in the choir’s inaugural Great Canadian Hymn Competition. Back in the summer, composers across the country were invited to submit entries for unison or SATB choir (accompanied or unaccompanied) – and now the winners will be heard for the first time.

“We wanted to highlight the fact that there are so many fantastic hymns by Canadians,” notes Pax Christi conductor Stephanie Martin. “We don’t tend to celebrate our achievements, like the Americans and British do. So we thought it would be fun to sponsor a contest.”

20_Martin-StephanieAccording to Martin, the competition attracted hymns from almost every Canadian province, with an impressive total of 68 entries. “We have a real rainbow of different styles,” she says. “What people consider a hymn, in different traditions, can vary widely. We have hymns from the Anglican tradition, hymns from the Mennonite tradition, and some more fashioned like folk-songs.”

As well, three cash awards will be announced at the concert. “The choir is voting on who gets the prizes,” Martin explains. “We wanted to sing the hymns through for several weeks, and get to know them before deciding. One of the qualities of a great hymn is that it grows on you.”

What else does the month have to offer? The Mendelssohn bicentennial that has led to many performances of the composer’s works this year still has some steam left in it. On October 23, the Exultate Chamber Singers give an all-Mendelssohn programme; and on November 1 the Mississauga Choral Society will also devote an entire programme to the brilliant composer who lived for just 38 years.

And there’s a lot more. For further information about any of the concerts mentioned above, see the GTA and Beyond the GTA listings in this magazine.

Colin Eatock is a composer, writer, and the managing editor of The WholeNote. He can be contacted at: editorial@thewholenote.com.

Toronto plays host to just a handful of touring symphony orchestras in the course of a season – so it’s surprising to see two remarkable orchestras appearing in the same month. And what makes this particularly interesting is that they couldn’t be more different. One comes from a nearby city, the other from a distant land. One is a well-established, elite ensemble with a glorious history; and the other is a young ensemble that arose in unlikely circumstances.

The first of the pair to unpack their instruments in Toronto will be the Cleveland Orchestra, who will perform at Roy Thomson Hall on October 20. They’ve been here before – I remember hearing in them in 1985, and being astounded by their nigh-on perfect precision and balance. Not for nothing have they been called the “hundred-piece string quartet.”

That was 24 years ago, so their return is long overdue. And the music they’ll be bringing with them – Debussy’s Fêtes, Haydn’s Symphony No. 85 “La Reine” and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 – should offer a multifaceted account of what the orchestra sounds like these days, seven years into the tenure of music director Franz Welser-Möst.

The second orchestra to come to town in October will be the Orquesta Sinfonica Simón Bolivar, from Caracas Venezuela. They’ll be playing at the Four Seasons Centre – the only hall in Toronto large enough to accommodate this huge ensemble – on October 26, led by their dynamic young conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

Strictly speaking, the Bolivar Orchestra is an amateur youth orchestra, although they play at a professional level. The ensemble stands at the pinnacle of a burgeoning classical-music culture for young musicians, that owes its existence largely to one man. It was an economist, José Antonio Abreu, who founded the country’s graduated network of youth orchestras (“El Sistema,” as it’s known) in 1975, as a way of encouraging poor kids to take up music rather than crime.

For his efforts, Abreu has won many international awards, including Canada’s Glenn Gould Prize – and the Bolivar Orchestra’s tour to Toronto was organized by the Gould Foundation in recognition of Abreu’s achievements. In addition to the big orchestral concert, there are two other “Sistema” events scheduled, both at the Royal Conservatory’s new Koerner Hall on October 28: an all-day panel discussion on music as a social tool, beginning at 8:30 am; and a concert by the brass section of the orchestra, at 8:00 pm.

And October has more – lots more – to offer. In the pages of this magazine you’ll find about 500 listings for performances in Toronto and Southern Ontario. You’ll also find our annual Blue Pages directory: a “Who’s Who,” containing more than 170 profiles of local performing and presenting organizations. Judging by the level of musical activity this month, I can’t help wondering if there’s really a recession out there. But perhaps I should leave economic questions to Dr. Abreu.

6_colin eatock

 

 

 

Colin Eatock, Managing Editor

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