It doesn’t seem to matter how long I’ve been out of school – I always think of September as the beginning of the new year. This is certainly true for choirs across the province where choristers from Thunder Bay to Windsor are eagerly anticipating a new season of choral delights. While most of us have been enjoying a break, conductors and choral administrators everywhere have been busy planning the year and preparing for rehearsals. Repertoire has been selected, guest artists engaged, venues secured, contracts finalized, promotional materials created – and this is just part of it!

23_Jessie IselerIt seems fitting that on August 30, at the Toronto concert of the Ontario Youth Choir, Choirs Ontario presented the 2009 President’s Leadership Award to Jessie Iseler for her remarkable career with the Elmer Iseler Singers. Established in 2001 to commemorate Choirs Ontario’s 30th anniversary, the President’s Leadership Award recognizes choral musicians and supporters who have made an exceptional contribution to the promotion and advancement of choral music in their communities. There’s little doubt that Jessie is deserving of this honour.

Having dedicated most of her professional life to the choir as its manager, Jessie Iseler has been the driving administrative force behind its tremendous success. With their strong national and international artistic presence, an impressive list of television and radio appearances, and over 50 recordings to their credit, the Elmer Iseler Singers are widely regarded as one of Canada’s finest choral ensembles. This reputation is in no small part due to the dedication and sheer hard work of Jessie Iseler.

Through Jessie, and husband Elmer Iseler’s combined efforts, the choir set a model of performing, recording, commissioning and touring that inspired conductors throughout North America. Jessie’s dedication to the choir and to Canadian choral music inspired her to press for levels of funding for touring, commissioning and recording that were hitherto unknown by professional choirs in Canada. Together with artistic director Lydia Adams, the Elmer Iseler Singers continue to demonstrate artistic excellence while pursuing creative innovation. The choir recently completed a tour of Northern Ontario with several performances of the ground-breaking Cree opera Pimooteewin, by Tomson Highway and Melissa Hui.

The choir also has an impressive record of choral-educational initiatives. For over a decade, Jessie helped to administer the ensemble’s position as the professional Choir-In-Residence at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, through the Elmer Iseler Chair in Conducting.  The current success of the Get Music! project that sponsors numerous symposia and workshops linking youth and the industry of sound recording is another example of their visionary arts education. Over the years the choir has engaged countless young Canadian vocal professionals, and launched many successful vocal careers.

Jessie’s passionate advocacy for choral music, and profound commitment to the Elmer Iseler Singers, continues to be a source of inspiration to Canada’s choral community. Congratulations, Jessie!

The Elmer Iseler Singers have a concert on October 4: a programme called “Gibbons to Gospel,” with the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. These two professional groups are off to an early start; for amateur choirs, it usually takes a little longer to get going. But as the fall progresses, the hard work and preparations of September will bear fruit, as many other Ontario choirs present their season-opening concerts. It won’t be long before voices in chorus are heard, in a wide variety of musical styles, throughout the province.

 

Fall Festivals

20LemelinAs urban concert seasons are just getting underway in the cities, three festivals in smaller centres offer opportunities to hear unusual repertoire and also musicians new to many of us. The earliest of these is the Prince Edward County Music Festival (Picton, September 17-19). Under the artistic direction of concert pianist, recording artist and University of Ottawa professor Stéphane Lemelin, the festival will present three evening and two daytime concerts. Distinguished Canadian composer and Bishop’s University professor Andrew Paul MacDonald, the festival’s Composer in Residence, will contribute one work to each of the three evening concert programmes, and will also perform on the guitar at the September 19 Saturday afternoon concert with clarinettist, James Campbell.

Only one day later in and near Owen Sound, the sixth annual Sweetwater Music Weekend (September 18, 19, 20) gets under way. The artistic director, Vancouver Symphony concert master Mark Fewer, has delegated responsibility for the Friday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts to the Banff Centre’s Barry Shiffman and the London Handel Players’ Adrian Butterfield, respectively. Each has come up with a programme that reflects his background and musical tastes, as does Fewer’s Saturday evening programme, which will feature a commissioned work by jazz man Phil Dwyer as well as arrangements of songs by Leonard Cohen and Edith Piaf.

By far the most ambitious of these three fall festivals is the seventh annual Colours of Music Festival (September 25-October 4), the creation of one remarkable man: Barrie lawyer and former politician Bruce Owen. Along with presenting this ten-day festival and a winter concert series, Owen also raised funds two years ago to purchase an excellent grand piano, a Shigeru Kawai. For this festival he has sagely chosen to put the piano in the foreground by selecting  the pianist-composer Heather Schmidt as his composer-in residence, and the Ames Piano Quartet as quartet-in-residence. At this year’s festival there’s also a singer-in-residence, soprano Suzie LeBlanc, who will appear in three concerts with repertoire ranging from Baroque, which is her specialty, to music by Schubert, Mozart and the little-known (except possibly to flutists), Gabriel Grovlez. Certainly the great strength of this festival is the quality of the programming and the calibre of the artists whom Owen brings in.

There is, of course, an abundance of additional information about these three festivals in our listings and on their websites.

Universities

22AinsworthThe academic year is a mere seven-and-a-half months long, which means the university concert seasons need to be among the first off the blocks. At McMaster University’s Convocation Hall, American pianist Justin Kolb will give a recital on September 25, performing works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Gann and Bond. On October 6, Russian-Canadian pianist Alexei Gulenco will perform works by Mozart, Liszt and Shostakovich, also at Convocation Hall. Gulenco, who has performed all over the world and in numerous piano competitions, teaches advanced students at the Hamilton Conservatory of Music.

One of the finest, if not the finest, recital halls in Toronto is in York University’s new Accolade East arts building, so going to a recital there is doubly rewarding, as you experience not only the performance but also the venue. On September 22 former TSO concertmaster, now York University professor, Jacques Israelievitch and his music department colleague pianist Christina Petrowska-Quilico will launch this season’s Faculty Concert Series with a programme of music by Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Pierné. On September 25, mezzo-soprano Susan Blackisande Sinsoulier will launch the Music at Midday noon-hour series in a recital of song repertoire by Fauré, Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky, Canteloube and Cole Porter. Tenor Colin Ainsworth will perform Schubert’s well-loved song cycle Die schöne Müllerin on September 30. Ainsworth is a rising star in the vocal firmament, and if you have heard him you know why. His voice sounds comfortable in the tenor vocal tessitura, as if it is the middle, not the top of his range. He also brings a wonderful flair and sense of style that always leave you thinking you must hear him the next time he’s performing. I’m not the only one to have noticed the quality of his work: he has performed with Opera Atelier, and this season has performances scheduled with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Pacific Opera Victoria. and pianist Mél

Another accomplished young singer, baritone Jason Nedecky, along with veteran collaborative pianist Che Anne Loewen, will launch the new season’s Thursdays at Noon recital series at Walter Hall at the University of Toronto, in a programme called “Music and Poetry – Puzzles and Recipes.” You’ll understand why when you read the programme in our listings! Yet another singer, tenor Patrick Raftery, with pianist Sandra Horst, will open the Faculty Artist Series for this season on September 25, in a programme of arias and songs by Handel, Brahms, Liszt, Morowetz, Poulenc and Massenet. Returning to Thursdays at Noon, the second recital in the series, on Thursday, October 1, will be given by flutist Susan Hoeppner, with pianist Lydia Wong, performing a lovely programme of music by Carl Reinecke, Henri Büsser and Robert Muczynski. Also of great value to those interested in the art of singing are the voice performance classes. These are held every Monday at 12:10 in Walter Hall. There will also be a short recital by graduate student singers on Monday, October 5 at 6:30.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The TSO opens its 2009-2010 season on September 24 (repeat performance on September 26) with a tribute to the genius of Brahms. Peter Oundjian will conduct performances of Brahms’ Second Symphony and D Major Violin Concerto with soloist Joshua Bell. Also on the programme is Frenergy by Edmonton Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence John Estacio, which Oundjian will also perform with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in December

Other Events

The Prater Orchestra, named after a park in central Vienna (oft frequented, we are told, by all the great Viennese composers of the classical period) was started recently by Azerbaijani-Canadians Roufat Amiraliev and Rena Amiralieva, and Iranian-Canadian Joseph Lerner. Its next concert will be on Friday, October 2, at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts (a story for another issue) The programme, conducted by Lerner, will include J S Bach’s Piano Concerto in D Minor, with soloist Amiralieva, a Moscow Conservatory graduate, and a new work by Lerner, Through the Colours, which is a tribute to and a lament for the many Iranians who stood up for political self-determination after the recent election in Iran.

 

 

The 2009-10 season is a very rich one, with much to please those who favour the tried and true and those curious about opera off the beaten path. Two events are certain to draw international attention to Toronto – the COC’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables; and the North American premiere of Prima Donna, by Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright – but Toronto’s expanding number of smaller companies also have diverse treasures on offer. What follows is a small selection of some of the season’s highlights

17Butterfly

The season begins on September 26 with the COC’s revival of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in an extended run to November 3. This will be the first presentation at the Four Seasons Centre of Susan Benson’s gorgeous, much lauded traditional production directed by Brian MacDonald. If you happen to have any friends who somehow have not yet visited the FSC, this is the perfect opportunity to invite them along.

The second COC offering is The Nightingale and Other Short Fables from October 17-November 5. For this production, director Robert Lepage links two short operas by Stravinsky, Le Rossignol (1914) and Renard (1916), with a miscellany of non-operatic pieces--the octet Ragtime (1916), Pribaoutki, a set of four nonsense songs (1914), the four lullabies that comprise the The Cat’s Cradle Songs (1917), Two Poems of Constantin Balmont (1911) and Four Russian Peasant Songs (1917). Lepage will be using the techniques of Southeast Asian puppetry in his staging, and the COC says the programme is aimed at an audience of all ages.

On October 25, Opera in Concert presents Rossini’s La Donna del lago (1819) based on the narrative poem by Sir Walter Scott. Alison d’Amato is the music director and the presentation will feature Virginia Hatfield, Amanda Jones, Paul Anthony Williamson, Graham Thomson and Gene Wu. At the end of the month, October 31-November 7, Opera Atelier presents a revival of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride (1779), last seen in 2003. The principals will be entirely new with Kresimir Spicer as Oreste, Thomas Macleay as Pylade and Peggy Kriha Dye as Iphigénie. Andrew Parrott conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Marshall Pynkoski directs.

In November, Opera York, which has focused primarily on warhorses, takes a new course by presenting the Canadian premiere of And the Rat Laughed, an Israeli opera from 2005 by Ella Milch-Sheriff sung in Hebrew with English surtitles. The libretto is by Nava Semel based on her novel of the same title. Opera York presents the work in partnership with the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. It runs November 5-12 at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts.

In commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Joseph Haydn’s death, the University of Toronto Opera Division presents Haydn’s Il mondo della luna (1777). The comic story tells of the would-be astrologer Eccitico, who convinces the wealthy Buonafede that he has been transported to the moon. The opera runs November 5-8 conducted by Miah Im and directed by Michael Patrick Albano and Erik Thor. Also in November, Opera By Request, a company whose singers choose the repertory themselves, offers concert performances of Ponchielli’s once popular La Gioconda (1876) featuring Caroline Johnston in the title role with Melanie Hartshorn-Walton, Karen Bojti, Peter Whalen and Melchiorre Nicosia.

December begins with a new work commissioned by Toronto Masque Theatre, The Mummer’s Masque, written by composer/librettist Dean
Burry in celebration of the Newfoundland mummer tradition. The singers will include Laura Albino, Krisztina Szabó, John Kriter, Giles Tomkins and a children’s choir. The production runs December 3-6.

18LepageFebruary 17-21, Toronto Operetta Theatre revives its popular production of Canada’s own operetta, Leo, the Royal Cadet (1889) by Oscar Telgmann. The tuneful tale follows the lives of cadets at the Royal Military College in Kingston, their departure for the Zulu Wars in South Africa and their return home.

In March, the Royal Conservatory of Music will give Toronto audiences a rare chance to see Jules Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) sung by members of the Glenn Gould School and accompanied by the Royal Conservatory Orchestra under the baton of Mario Bernardi. Performances run March 20-25. March will also brings us a world premiere from Queen of Puddings Music Theatre: Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour – A Triptych. The work comprises three chamber operas sung in three languages (Mandarin, English and French) commissioned from three different Canadian composers – Fuhong Shi, John Rea and Pierre Klanac – and scored for two sopranos and virtuoso accordion player Joseph Petric.

April begins with another world premiere, Giiwedin, by Catherine Magowan and Algonquin poet Spy Dénommé-Welch. This, the most ambitious project in the history of Native Earth Performing Arts, is written in Anishnawbe Mowin, French and English and tells the story of a 150-year old Aboriginal woman fighting for her land. It runs April 9-24.

May 1-30 the COC presents its first-ever production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (1835), written the same year as his Lucia di Lammermoor. It stars Serena Farnocchia, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Eric Cutler and Patrick Carfizzi, and is conducted by Antony Walker with direction by Stephen Lawless.

The season ends with the North American premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna, as part of Luminato, running June 5-14. The opera was originally commissioned by the Met, but when Wainwright insisted that the libretto be in French, Met Artistic Director Peter Gelb abandoned the project. Thereupon it was swiftly picked up by Luminato along with the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Manchester International Festival, where it had its world premiere in July this year. Also in June, Tapestry New Opera Works will present the world premiere of the staged “operatic oratorio” Dark Star by Andrew Staniland, a requiem about AIDS. Wayne Strongman conducts and Tom Diamond directs. This season, also look for Tryptych’s world premiere of Andrew Ager’s Frankenstein. Stay tuned for further developments!


Over the past several years Toronto’s new music season had been starting later and later, sometimes pushing into November. Thankfully, several ensembles have since seen the benefit of getting a jump start. As a result, we have a handful of companies launching exciting series this September. In fact, 2009/2010 looks so exciting for new music that it’s next to impossible to pick out the highlights. Caught between Tapestry’s 30th anniversary season, Soundstreams’ international powerhouse programming and Esprit Orchestra’s stellar selection of soloists and repertoire, I already feel like a kid in a candy shop! So, I’ll keep my selections within the next several weeks. Even here, it’s a challenging calendar for those intrigued by new sounds.

New Pärt

13Stratton The Toronto Philharmonia gives the season’s first big event on September 24 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Conductor Kerry Stratton has programmed a new-music-heavy opener with the Canadian premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Symphony No. 4.

As a young composer in the 1960s, Pärt wrote three symphonies that chronicled his struggle with the musical language of his day, a struggle that would eventually help create his world-renowned style of spiritual minimalism. The orchestral and instrumental pieces that followed tend to be brief. But now, 38 years after the Third Symphony Pärt offers his fourth, subtitled “Los Angeles” (perhaps in recognition of the orchestra that premiered the work this year.) Pärt explained in the programme notes that he is reaching out in this work to “all those imprisoned without rights in Russia.” For the composer, the symphony is meant as “carrier pigeon” that he hopes might reach faraway Siberia one day. Its sparse textures for strings, harp and percussion, slow pace and lengthy duration (37 minutes) make for a long, open and what has been described as an “extremely beautiful” journey.

Also on the programme is the world premiere of Artemis, a symphonic overture by Kevin Lau. This Toronto-based composer seems to be quickly making his mark. Since the completion of Lau’s first professional composition in 1999 he has received commissions from the Hamilton Philharmonic, the Mississauga Symphony, the Esprit Orchestra, the Cecilia String Quartet and the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, among others. Lau is currently completing doctoral studies at the University of Toronto while he continues to attract other projects, including a 2010 commission from Via Salzburg. In discussing his most recent work, Lau describes it as a musical portrait of the Greek goddess of wilderness, inspired by Gustav Holst’s symphonic suite The Planets.

For more information about the Toronto Philharmonia’s 2009/2010 season, visit www.torontophil.on.ca.

New Hall

On September 25 – what would have been Glenn Gould’s 77th birthday – the Royal Conservatory of Music will open the doors to Koerner Hall and its long-awaited inaugural concert season. A special feature of the evening will be the world premiere of R. Murray Schafer’s Spirits of the House. The work has been commissioned by philanthropist Michael Koerner to showcase the hall’s acoustics. The programme will feature Royal Conservatory's very own ARC Ensemble, as well as the Royal Conservatory Orchestra with celebrated pianist Anton Kuerti, all conducted by Jean-Philippe Tremblay. This evening is just the start to Koerner Hall’s Grand Opening Weekend. Full details may be found at www.rcmusic.ca.

Marathon

14YongeDundasFor something completely different, head downtown to Yonge-Dundas Square on September 26 for the Toronto (new music) Marathon. This eight-hour endurance event, organized by Contact Contemporary Music, pulls together some of the best local performers and ensembles for a season-opening showcase of contemporary, experimental and improvisational music. This year’s marathon features music of Alan Bloor, Kyle Brenders, John Cage, Donnacha Dennehy, Philip Glass, Jim Harley, Brent Lee, Chad Martin, Stephen Montague, Jordan Nobles, Steven Reich, Ann Southam, Julia Wolfe and possibly even more, performed by Wallace Halladay, Jim Harley, JunctQin, Kyle Brender’s Large Ensemble, Rob McDonald, Christina Petrowska Quilico, Pholde, Quartetto Graphica, Allison Wiebe and the Contact Ensemble. The mix of established artists alongside emerging voices and new discoveries is bound to make this an exciting event. For more details, visit www.contactcontemporarymusic.ca.

Tapestry at 30

Running throughout much of the same weekend is Opera Briefs, the launch to Tapestry New Opera Work’s 30th Anniversary season. While every presentation of Opera Briefs yields great musical treats, this year’s crop of 5-minute operas will be especially intriguing as Tapestry will unveil the results of its first International Composer-Librettist Laboratory. Two composers and two writers from the UK will cross the pond to work with three returning LibLab alumni: composers Omar Daniel and Stephen Andrew Taylor, and writer Anna Chatterton. Add renowned playwright Judith Thompson to the mix and you have quite the team. Tapestry’s excellent New Works Studio Company will bring this ninth edition of Opera Briefs to life from September 25-27 in the intimacy of the Ernest Balmer Studio. For more information, visit www.tapestrynewopera.com

Nuit Blanche

Finally, starting at sundown on October 3, new music will resonate throughout Scotiabank Nuit Blanche – Toronto’s overwhelming, all-night contemporary art extravaganza.
Two projects will inhabit the Canadian Music Centre. Sky Harp: Ice Storm by Kingston-based Kristi Allik and Rob Mulder will occupy the CMC’s front garden. The Sky Harp series creates electronic soundscapes triggered by movements in the natural environment. For Ice Storm, video footage documents the effects of a 1998 disaster on Sky Harp’s star “performer” – a 90-year old elm tree. Recorded improvisations by dancer Holly Small, who interacts with the resulting soundscape, serve as a simultaneous artistic interpretation. Inside, Juliet Palmer and Josh Lacey’s Miasma offers a false haven from climate change. Overheard conversations reflect the unpredictability of our relationship to the elements. Is global warming a storm in a tea-cup? Can we divine the future in the dregs of a coffee cup? Music drifts in and out of the room, creating an alternately soothing and unsettling effect. Musicians perform within the installation at 10pm and midnight. Meanwhile, up the street at the the Telus Centre for Education and Performance, composer Brian Current directs the 12-hour installation In a large open space (Berlin 1994), based on a composition by James Tenney. The piece involves hundreds of singers and musicians positioned throughout the building, whose performances will envelop listeners in Tenney’s complex overtones. For full details, visit www.scotiabanknuitblanche.com.

2009/2010 is truly in with the new!

The Early Music scene isn’t called “early” for nothing; the season is barely under way, and already there are some very interesting presentations to tell you about.

Hildegard von Bingen and the Labyrinth

The ancient labyrinth has long been used as a pathway toward achieving a contemplative state. Music is an important accompaniment in the winding journey that one takes from circumference to centre and out again, providing a soundscape that can aid in shutting out the bustle of life. In recent times, composers such as John Burke have found the labyrinth an apt companion in their efforts to create music that touches the soul; and I well remember the haunting sounds of the traditional Japanese flute, the shakuhachi, helping me along as I walked a labyrinth, a decade ago.

But it is the exquisite music and poetry of the 12th-century mystic, abbess, philosopher, physician, scientist, Hildegard von Bingen, that will accompany you if you choose to walk the labyrinth on her feast day, September 17. Hildegard composed ecstatically soaring vocal lines to express her poetic visions, each composition of one melodic line designed for limited instrumental accompaniment which was not written down, but left to the performers to improvise. In the upcoming event, performers include soprano and Hildegard scholar Krystina Lewicki; Mike Franklin, woodwinds and voice; Ann-Marie Boudreau, voice, sitar, ngoni, harp; and others who contribute the sounds of diverse instruments. Walking the labyrinth is not mandatory but only for those moved to do so; otherwise, one can remain seated and enveloped in this exalted poetry and music.

The performance takes place inside the Church of the Holy Trinity behind the Eaton Centre, September 17 at 8pm, and is presented in collaboration with the Labyrinth Community Network of Toronto. The labyrinth itself is patterned on the medieval style of the one set into the floor of Chartres Cathedral, in the 13h century.

Primadonnas and The Colours of Music

10SuzieLeblancSoprano Suzie Leblanc is a completely delightful artist whose specialties range from baroque repertoire to lieder, to French mélodies and Acadian folk music, to modern music and improvisation. Her versatility made her a prime choice as the first Singer-in-Residence at Barrie’s Colours of Music Festival (as the Festival’s indefatigable artistic director, Bruce Owen, told me). In this role, her activities will include concert collaborations with several other Festival artists, as well as giving workshops to elementary and high school students in the area – something Owen is very enthusiastic about, as for many students these will be rare exposures to the joys of music-making.

The early music component of Leblanc’s performances in Barrie is a concert entitled “Primadonnas of the Renaissance,” in which she will be joined by the singers and musicians of The Toronto Consort. What could be more natural than to repeat this concert at the Toronto Consort’s own series? – and so, you can hear it in Barrie on October 1, and in Toronto on October 2 and 3.

And ah! the music is from the Italian Baroque, when opera was new; when a ground bass and a few colourful instrumental touches supporting a melody could express all the fire, all the tenderness, that any primadonna could hope for. Monteverdi, Castaldi, Frescobaldi, Strozzi and others will lead you into their world of love (requited and unrequited), laments, entreaties, smiles and tears.

An all-too-brief mention of several other upcoming performances:

September 3, 7pm: Toronto Music Garden presents “Bach at Dusk – with Claudia.” Cellist Winona Zelenka continues her annual exposé of Bach’s Solo Cello Suites in a performance of No. 4 in E flat, joined by dancer Claudia Moore.

September 13, 2:30pm: “Tartini meets Hagen”, virtuoso music of the 18th century for violin and lute, is presented by the newly-formed Beaches Baroque, with baroque violinist Genevieve Gilardeau and lutenist Lucas Harris.

September 23 to 27: In the first of their season’s concerts, Tafelmusik is joined by Montreal’s Arion Baroque Orchestra to present “Handel: Royal Fireworks,” a programme that also includes music by J.C. Bach and Rameau.

September 26, 8pm: Toronto Masque Theatre reprises “Purcell: Dido and Aeneas / Aeneas and Dido,” a double-bill of Purcell’s masterpiece and TMT’s commission by James Rolfe and Andre Alexis.

October 3, 7:30: Cantemus, a newly formed choir whose focus is secular choral music of the Renaissance, presents “Fairest Isle – A Celebration of Early English Choral Music,” with music by Gibbons, Byrd, Taverner, Purcell and others.

And don’t forget the 25th annual Early Music Fair held on September 12 from noon to 5pm at Montgomery’s Inn, where you can encounter all sorts of early music performances, instruments, books and enthusiasts throughout the afternoon.

For details of these and many other upcoming events, see The WholeNote’s daily listings.

Purcell and the Hart House Viols

12_HartHse viol photo christine guestOn October 30 and 31, The Toronto Consort will present a very special pair of concerts – very special, in that the music presented is an iconic oeuvre in the history of music (Purcell’s complete Fantasias for viols); and in that they will be performed on a unique set of instruments – the Hart House viols.

More will be said about the Purcell Fantasias in the next Early Music column. But for now, it’s worth noting that Toronto is very fortunate to be called home to the six instruments known as the “Hart House viols.” Ranging in dates from c.1598(!) to 1781, they have recently been re-appraised and restored fully to playing condition, and are now recognized as a collected treasure of great historical and artistic value.

It’s a bit of a mystery how they turned up in Vancouver in the late 1920s, housed neatly in a large wooden chest thought to be a dowry chest. Around 1930, the Massey Foundation presented them as a gift to Hart House, where they have resided ever since.

Their public appearances have been relatively few. Local musicians Leo Smith and Wolfgang Grunsky played them during their early residency, and Peggie Sampson’s Hart House Consort used them in performance during the 1970s and 80s; more recently Joëlle Morton secured the loan of two of the viols for one of her innovative Scaramella concerts. Now we have the chance to hear all of them in The Toronto Consort’s October offering  – incomparable Purcell played by Les Voix Humaines – a musical experience to look forward to indeed.

With this column I take over the early music beat from my colleague, Frank Nakashima, who has faithfully researched and reported the early music scene over the past eight and a half seasons. I will try to follow in his able footsteps and will very much enjoy chronicling the fascinating spectrum of early music performance.

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