The 2010/11 opera season is upon us with the promise of over 26 different opera productions announced so far in Toronto and environs over the next ten months. Rather than give an overview of all these productions, I’ll focus on the five I presently look forward to most.

The 2010/11 season marks the first season planned entirely by Canadian Opera Company general manager Alexander Neef. He seems to have looked over the company’s production record to find those operas that the company has never or at least not recently produced. The first of these to arrive is Benjamin Britten’s final opera Death in Venice (1973), last staged by the COC in 1984. The opera is based on Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella about an elderly writer’s strange attraction to Tadzio, a Polish boy staying with his family in Venice before a cholera epidemic strikes the city. The COC will present the acclaimed 2007 Aldeburgh Festival production directed by Yoshi Oida, starring Alan Oke, who won kudos there as Aschenbach, and conducted by Steuart Bedford, who conducted the original production in 1973. Britten’s spare, delicate score should fare much better in the Four Seasons Centre than it could in the O’Keefe in 1984. The opera runs from October 16 to November 6.

P20The second noteworthy opera from the COC is the Toronto premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China (1987), an opera now performed around the world that had its Canadian premiere as part of the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad. The choice is significant for a number of reasons. First, the COC hasn’t presented an American opera since Kismet in 1987 and before that Candide in 1984. While it’s true that Canada is inundated with American popular culture, it is foolish to exclude those American works that have become accepted touchstones of 20th-century opera. There are other operas by Adams, not to mention by Carlisle Floyd, Philip Glass or Jake Heggie, that have become well-known elsewhere but have never been staged here.

The COC production of Nixon in China comes from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis where it was staged in 2004 by James Robinson. He will also direct the Toronto production, which will feature Robert Orth as Richard Nixon, Adrian Thompson as Mao Tse-Tung and Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao. The production runs February 5 to 26, 2011. For more information see www.coc.ca.

Toronto is fortunate among North American cities to have a resident professional operetta company, Toronto Operetta Theatre. And we’re doubly fortunate that under the leadership of Guillermo Silva-Marin, the TOT has not been content to stage only Gilbert and Sullivan or Viennese operetta, but to introduce Toronto audiences to Old and New World zarzuela, the Spanish form of operetta that is part of the heritage of an increasing North American demographic. This year TOT presents its first production of Luisa Fernanda (1932) by Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982). The work is often considered the last of the great romantic zarzuelas before the form, as it became increasingly political, became extinct during the Spanish Civil War.

In Luisa Fernanda the action takes place in 1868 when the reign of Queen Isabel II is under threat by a revolutionary republican movement that eventually achieves success. For those curious to know more there is a 2006 DVD starring Placido Domingo as the protagonist, conducted by Jesús López-Corbos. The TOT production will be conducted by José Hernández and will star Mexican tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez and Canadian soprano Michèle Bogdanowicz. Luisa Fernanda plays March 9-13, 2011.

This season, Opera Atelier completes its long-held goal of staging what it calls its “Mozart Six.” The sixth in this series is Mozart’s second last opera, La Clemenza di Tito (1791), that Toronto has not seen fully staged since a COC production in 1991. What makes this production especially exciting is that it reunites five of the singers that made OA’s Idomeneo such a wild success in 2008. Returning for Tito are Kresimir Spicer in the title role, Measha Brüggergosman as Vitellia, Michael Maniaci as Sesto, Mireille Asselin as Servilia and Curtis Sullivan as Publio. David Fallis will conduct and Marshall Pynkoski will direct. See www.operaatelier.com for more.

Coming up sometime in 2011 (the date is still to be announced) will be the latest opera by Ana Sokolovic for Queen of Puddings Music Theatre. The work is called Svadba (The Wedding) and will be based on existing Slavic and Balkan folk tales. Sokolovic is the composer of QoP’s Sirens/Sirènes and the acclaimed chamber opera The Midnight Court from 2005 that travelled to London’s Covent Garden in 2006. Svadba, scored for six female singers, is set on the night before a fiancée leaves for her wedding while her friends keep her company with enactments of pagan rituals and peasant stories. See www.queenofpuddingsmusictheatre.com for further information.

 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at: opera@thewholenote.com.

Selecting highlights of the new-music season is a difficult task. There are so many great composers to discover, such great programming on offer, so many performers and ensembles to hear, and yet so little space to do them all justice. In September alone there are three major events across the space of a week that could easily take up all the words of this column. But in an effort to be helpful, I will dive in to my pile of press releases to help set a course for your concert-going.

So, let’s have a look at that action-packed opening week. It actually starts on Friday September 17 with “Red Brick,” a celebration of the artistic legacy of composer Michael J. Baker. Chartier Danse and Arraymusic, in association with Harbourfront Centre, are collaborating to revive some of Baker’s most outstanding works for both dance and the concert stage, ten years after his tragic passing. To do so, “Red Brick” brings together a roster of Baker’s close collaborators, including luminary dance artists Peggy Baker, Serge Bennathan, James Kudelka, Heidi Strauss and Jeremy Mimnagh. Toronto’s Arraymusic, led by artistic director/percussionist Rick Sacks, is joined by soprano Carla Huhtanen to provide the live music. Those unfamiliar with Baker’s legacy should definitely add this date to their calendar.

P18Quick on the heels of “Red Brick,” is New Music Concert’s season-opener, “Let’s Hear from Beckwith.” You’ve guessed it – this is a tribute to one of our country’s pioneering music creators, most diligent music historians and fiercest arts advocate. Now 83 years old, John Beckwith maintains an active writing and composing career. The concert on September 19 at Walter Hall will feature premieres of a number of his more recent, smaller chamber works for wind instruments. It will also prominently feature one of his many NMC commissions, namely his Eureka for woodwind quintet, two trumpets, trombone and tuba. The piece is classic Beckwith, complete with choreography. You can get a sonic peek at Eureka through the Canadian Music Centre’s online CentreStreams audio player.

The following Saturday, Contact Contemporary Music joins the national Culture Days movement with a return to Yonge-Dundas Square and their Toronto New Music Marathon. Starting at 2pm and holding strong until 10pm, Contact is going to turn Toronto’s top visitor destination into a hub of contemporary sound creation. A stream of remarkable performers – pianists Christina Petrowska Quilico and Alison Wiebe, saxophonist Wallace Halladay and guitartist Rob MacDonald – bring us music from a range of top-tier creators like Ann Southam, Steve Reich and Jordan Nobles. New Adventures in Sound Art will re-create their real-time Three Sided Square sound project, while sound sculptor Barry Prophet will showcase his interactive Rotary Mbira. Get there early to get a seat.

P19Passing over “Nuit Blanche” (which you really shouldn’t do, especially because Anthony Keindl is curating “Sound and Vision” in the Queen West neighbourhood, and the CMC is hosting projects by John Oswald and Chiyoko Szlavnics), we land on the Music Gallery’s “X Avant Festival,” which is packing in eleven events over nine days under the banner “What is Real?” Guest curator Gregory Oh has done an astounding job of assembling a remarkable range of talent in a series that questions theories of authenticity and the sanctity of new music. Quick highlights include “Will The Real Pierrot Please Stand Up?” featuring Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire performed by Deep Dark United, RCM New Music Ensemble and Renaissance Madrigal Group on October 22; The 50 Minute Ring Cycle performed by Myra Davies on October 23; and a Plunderphonics 25th Anniversary Lecture by John Oswald on October 24. Be sure to check in with the Music Gallery website for full details (www.musicgallery.org).

In the new year, the University of Toronto New Music Festival starts up on January 23, playing host to Distinguished Visiting Composer Chen Yi and American new music pianist/composer Keith Kirchoff in a series of concerts, workshops and forums. Chen blends Chinese and Western traditions to form abstract canvases of sound that transcend cultural and musical boundaries, and her work will appear on no less than four festival concerts. The young Kirchoff (not yet 30) has already premiered some 100 new works, which he champions in concerts of unusual, neglected and new repertoire. During his stay in Toronto he’ll premiere winning works from the Kirchoff/U of T International Composition Competition.

We’ll intersect with Soundstreams’ season at the midpoint on February 24 when they invite Les Percussions de Strasbourg to Koerner Hall as part of the ensemble’s 50th anniversary tour. Co-founded in 1962, this sextet is the oldest Western percussion group. Their exceptional longevity, artistry and commitment to new music have inspired the creation of hundreds of works, including 250 world premieres. The anniversary programme includes Xenakis’ iconic Persephassa (written for the ensemble in 1969 to premiere at the historic Persepolis in Iran), a world premiere from innovative Canadian composer Andrew Staniland, who has a strong command of percussion writing, and John Cage’s seminal Credo in US.

The TSO returns with the seventh edition of its New Creations Festival March 2-10, focusing on cross-border exchanges with music by American composers John Adams and Jennifer Higdon, performed by top tier guest artists. I’m particularly looking forward to the festival finale concert with guest artists, eighth blackbird. This dynamic new music ensemble will join the orchestra in a freshly commissioned chamber concerto from Higdon, which will sit alongside the world premiere of our own R. Murray Schafer’s latest symphonic work.

On March 20, Continuum will reprise “Step, turn, kick,” a programme prepared for Montreal Nouvelles Musique that highlights the idea of “dancing in the mind.” Composers Cassandra Miller, Nicolas Gilbert, Linda C. Smith and Lori Freedman each contribute a movement to a larger work based on the form of a French baroque dance suite. Also featured is the premiere of Marc Sabat’s John Jenkins, a work inspired by the prolific 17th-century dance composer, and written for Continuum.

Music Toronto has coaxed violinist Julie Anne Derome away from her regular Trio Fibonacci project for a solo recital on March 24 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. A well known new music specialist, Derome has assembled a nicely mixed contemporary programme, ranging from strong selections by compatriot Quebec composers Jean Lesage and Yannick Plamondon to demanding works with live electronics and video by Pierre Boulez and Laurie Radford. Chan Ka Nin’s favourite Soulmate completes the mix. At $15, this recital is a sure bet.

Finally, we catch up with the Esprit Orchestra for their final concert of the season on May 15 at Koerner Hall. While all four concerts in their season present an intriguing offer, the new commission from Chris Paul Harman is a particular draw. The concert theme looks at the many forms of human inspiration, from cosmic and mythological to historical and purely musical, through works by Sofia Gubaidulina, Alex Paul and Denis Gougeon.

But this is by no means all there is to hear! As always, there is much more new music all season long, so be sure to get in with the new via the WholeNote concert listings here and online at www.thewholenote.com.

Jason van Eyk is the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre. He can be contacted at: newmusic@thewholenote.com.

Greetings of the new season to all early music lovers – you’re in for a great time ahead! I know, because in surveying the coming months I already find a vast and fascinating variety of music to talk about. There’s far too much to mention in this column – but here are a few of the many things that have caught my eye.

The earliest composer I see represented is Hildegard von Bingen, the German abbess, musician, author, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, poet and visionary. Her feast day (the anniversary of her death in 1179) will be celebrated on September 17 in the Church of the Holy Trinity with a concert and labyrinth walk, entitled “Meditation in Motion.” This is an opportunity to experience the mystical properties of her music while either sitting and meditating, or walking the spiraling 36-foot labyrinth placed in the church for the occasion, or simply listening to the music.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most recent compositions represented on the early-music scene probably have yet to be written: Aradia’s February 5 project, entitled “Baroque Idol!”, is to elicit ten new compositions from ten young composers, thereby fostering new music for baroque ensemble using the tonal possibilities of old instruments.

There’s a wide range in other areas too. For example, you can hear early music on modern instruments, such as cellist Winona Zelenka’s stylistically aware performances of Bach’s solo suites for cello (September 2 at the Toronto Music Garden; February 24 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts; April 16 at the Almonte Town Hall). Or you can experience romantic music on period instruments, such as pianist Janina Fialkowska’s performance of Chopin’s First Piano Concerto on an 1848 Pleyel piano – a Tafelmusik presentation from October 7 to 10. Contemporary music on period instruments can be heard on September 19, as the Windermere String Quartet plays Alexander Rapoport’s Quartet written in 2006 (as well as Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven).

P15The theme “Old World/New World” crops up, in two interesting programmes. Scaramella’s November 20 concert (with this same title) will pair European art-music with music of the colonies (specifically Brazil and French maritime Canada). On May 8, master gambist Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XXI will evoke Old Spain, the Mexican Baroque, and the living Huasteca and Jarocho traditions in their programme “The Route of the New World: Spain – Mexico.”

As has often occurred in the past, there are some striking correspondences to be noticed in this season’s programming. For instance, who would expect to find all three pinnacles of Bach’s choral works performed in the area, within a three-month period? That’s the case this season: the B Minor Mass is presented by Tafelmusik from February 9 to 13; the St. John Passion is offered by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (actually the 70-voice Mendelssohn Singers) on March 3; and the St. Matthew Passion is programmed by the Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra on April 15, 16 and 17.

If you missed Tafelmusik’s 2009 spectacular commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s development of the telescope – or if, like me, you absolutely have to see it again – you’re in luck: a reprise of “The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres” takes place March 2 to 6. A production like no other, it uses music, words, images and very imaginative staging and lighting to explore the artistic, cultural and scientific world in which 17th- and 18th-century astronomers lived and worked. It also features the orchestra performing almost completely from memory as they probe the wonders of the heavens.

Perhaps it’s the present climate of environmental consciousness? Our fellow furry and feathered creatures are represented in at least three programmes: September 18, Beaches Baroque (Geneviève Gilardeau, baroque violin, and Lucas Harris, theorbo) present “Beasts of the Baroque,” featuring baroque sonatas that imitate the calls of animals. Hot on its tracks, Classics at the Registry in Kitchener follows on September 19 with “Baroque for the Birds”: music inspired by birds, performed by Alison Melville, baroque flute and recorders and Borys Medicky, harpsichord. And February 5, Scaramella’s “Birds Bewigged” features musical improvisations based on readings of haiku, and poetic readings on an avian theme.

P16And I must draw your attention to some of the visiting artists coming this season: In addition to the above-mentioned ensemble from Spain (Hespèrion XXI), here are others to be noted: On October 26, the Venice Baroque Orchestra appears at Roy Thomson Hall to play both Vivaldi and Philip Glass. This group, founded in 1997, is recognized as one of Europe’s premier ensembles devoted to period instrument performance. On March 12, the a-cappella vocal ensemble the King’s Singers graces Koerner Hall stage to sing Palestrina and others. On March 23, Soundstreams presents Norwegian vocalists Trio Mediæval together with the Toronto Consort to perform a world premiere based on ancient music: James Rolfe’s “Breathe”, which draws inspiration from the music of 12th- century composer Hildegard von Bingen. The programme also includes medieval classics, music inspired by Norwegian folk traditions, and recent masterworks.

As well as all the above, you’ll find many other fascinating programmes coming up, which I hope to do more justice to in future columns – for example the Monteverdi Vespers sung by the Grand River Chorus on October 30; a concert of Josquin Motets and Chansons presented by the Toronto Chamber Choir on April 2; the Toronto Consort’s “Canti di a Terra” on April 1 and 2 with guests: Montreal’s Constantinople (who draw their inspiration from the music of the Mediterranean, the classical Persian tradition, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance) and Corsica’s vocal quartet Barbara Furtuna (who specialize in the centuries old traditions of Corsican singing).

Finally, you might want to expand your travel plans this month to include ancient Egypt, Scandinavia and the Baltics in Viking times, and Elizabethan England, with the following events taking place: Aradia’s semi-staged production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto plays on September 11, fresh from Sulmona, Italy, where it has had four triumphant performances. On September 27 at Barrie’s Colours of Music Festival, Ensemble Polaris presents “Nordic Music to Love,” a modern tribute to the Vikings with original, traditional and new music on a wide variety of instruments. On October 2 and 3, Cantemus Singers celebrates “Good Queen Bess” with glorious music from the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

 

Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities, who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at: earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

In the May issue I quoted Simon Wynberg, artistic director of the Royal Conservatory’s ARC Ensemble: “The more intriguing question is whether we are gradually moving away from the concept of a ‘core repertory,’” he said. What he saw emerging was “a new, broader and younger audience who do not have an inbuilt allegiance to the pillars of repertory, but are curious to explore the vast range of music that is now so readily and instantly available.” As I study the websites of the many Toronto and area music presenters I notice evidence of many different kinds of interesting and imaginative programming.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

While the “core repertoire” is still – as one would expect and probably as it should be – the principal focus of artistic director, Peter Oundjian’s programming, there are interesting forays into unusual programming. On November 10, for example, using Tchaikovsky’s short and appealing Marche Slave and Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite as points of departure from the core repertoire, he makes Janácek’s infrequently performed Glagolitic Mass and a contemporary work, Krystof Maratka’s Astrophonia for Viola and Orchestra the centre of the programme.

P12One of Oundjian’s most successful innovations with the TSO has been the New Creations Festival, which opens this season on March 2 with the iconoclastic Evelyn Glennie as the soloist, in what the TSO’s website describes as a “spectacular new percussion concerto” by Canadian composer Vincent Ho. The programme will also include John Adams’ popular Short Ride in a Fast Machine and his “vast, exhilarating Harmonielehre.”

 

Sinfonia Toronto

Almost as forgotten as the composers whose music the Royal Conservatory’s ARC Ensemble has been performing and recording, the Czech composer Vita Kapralova has been brought to the attention of the world by the Toronto-based Kapralova Society. On March 11, Sinfonia Toronto with pianist Sara Buechner will perform the Canadian premiere of her Partita for Piano and Strings. The rest of the programme is also unusual: Turina’s Rapsodia Sinfonica, Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, and Marjan Mozetich’s lovely Fantasia in its orchestral version. Interestingly, works by Mozetich will be performed on two other Sinfonia Toronto programmes this season.

 

Mooredale Concerts

Turina’s Rapsodia Sinfonica will be played earlier in the year by I Musici de Montréal, with Canadian piano soloist Katherine Chi, at the opening concert of Mooredale Concerts’ season on October 3. She will also perform the solo tour-de-force Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” by Leopold Godowsky. The core repertoire part of the programme will be the beautiful string serenades by Elgar and Tchaikovsky.

 

Royal Conservatory

Another fine pianist to look out for this season is Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who will perform in Koerner Hall on May 1. The New York Times described him as “astounding” and “an elegant and exciting performer.” Perhaps the repertoire of the concert says it all: Wagner’s Albumblatt in E-flat Major, Berg’s Piano Sonata in B Minor, Scriabin’s “Black Mass” Sonata No. 9 in F Major, and Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor.

Music Toronto

This summer the Pacifica Quartet played with the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler, for Toronto Summer Music. They’ll be back on December 9 to play three string quartets in a Music Toronto concert. While the quartets by Schumann and Shostakovich are probably “core repertoire,” the quartet Voices, by the American composer Jennifer Higdon, was written in 1993, so it’s likely to be new to most people.

On February 17 Music Toronto will present Trio Voce, three expatriate Canadians who now live and work in the Chicago area. The cellist in the trio is Marina Hoover, the founding cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet (which, incidentally, will open the Music Toronto 2010-11 season on October 14). Again the programme will combine core repertoire (piano trios by Beethoven and Shostakovich) with contemporary: the Toronto premiere of Jonathan Berger’s Memory Slips. Berger will be part of the performance as a commentator, combining a review of current research on music, memory and aging with personal and historical anecdotes and examples.

 

Amici Ensemble

If there were an annual prize for creative programming, I’d give it this season to Amici. Each of their four concerts has a theme to which each piece on the programme is related. Just to give an example, the theme of their fourth concert on April 3 is “In the Shadow.” (Is the shadow Beethoven’s or is it Mozart’s?) The programme will begin with Beethoven’s Twelve Variations for cello and piano on the popular “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute – certainly not Beethoven’s best known work, but probably core repertoire for cellists.

The rest of the programme consists of compositions by Spohr, Webern and the recently rediscovered late romantic Austrian composer, Carl Frühling (1868-1937). While the Amici Ensemble is a clarinet, cello, piano trio, they frequently invite guest artists to join them, which, of course, introduces a lot of variety to their programmes as well as extending their repertoire almost indefinitely. The guest artist at the April 3 concert will be the young mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, who will perform Spohr’s Six German Songs Op. 103, for voice, clarinet and piano.

Talisker Players

It’s easy to forget that there’s more to the United States than red-neck yahoos and Neanderthal foreign policy. It is a highly polarized society, which has produced scores of artists in all disciplines. Kudos to the Talisker Players for celebrating the cultural depth of our southern neighbour with a concert called “The Revolutionary Rhythms and Imagery of American Poets,” on October 27 and 28. The programme consists of settings by seven contemporary composers, including Toronto’s Alexander Rapoport, of poetry by American poets.

Roy Thomson Hall

Last but not least, Roy Thomson Hall has a terrific season planned, which will open on October 26 with yet another chamber orchestra, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, in a programme entitled “The Seasons Project.” It’s an artful blend of old and new, combining Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Philip Glass’s Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra: “The American Four Seasons,” with soloist Robert McDuffie, who premiered the work just last December with the TSO. If you missed it then, you now have a second chance!

This gives some idea of the programming breadth and depth of the coming season. At best, it’s an incomplete overview of what is coming. The profiles in the Blue Pages of the October WholeNote will, of course, fill out the picture somewhat – as I will also be trying to do in my columns.

Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

THOSE WHO HAVE visited our website, www.thewholenote.com, may have noticed an interesting development over the summer months.

P11bBit by bit, we’ve been adding video to our site. Some of them are interesting items that we’ve found here and there: a clever clip that pokes fun at orchestras’ websites; an excerpt from a film on flamenco music and dance in Toronto; a mini-documentary about beekeeping on the roof of the Four Seasons Centre.

Read more: Videos On Our Website
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