P20The first months of any new year are not often wildly busy for choirs. Western choral repertoire is in many ways shaped and anchored by the holidays of Christmas and Easter, and it’s during these times of the year that ensembles jostle for audience attention. One way to avoid the traffic jam is to schedule a concert prior to spring, and hope that the desire for live choral timbres will entice concert-goers to brave the cold. Two large-scale works loom behemoth-like over the southern Ontario choral scene during the coming weeks.

The
Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir lead the charge with Verdi’s Requiem on February 18. This work, which will be led by guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda, is a study in contrasts. Verdi imbues the text with all the drama of a 19th-century Romantic opera composer, but also pays homage to earlier traditions of mass-setting with the fugal writing that pervades the choruses. The four soloists must have voices with enough operatic heft to sail above Verdian orchestration, but be able to tune the delicate a cappella section of the “Lacrymosa.” like singers of Renaissance motets. It’s a rewarding work for singers and audience alike.

On February 28, Toronto’s Orpheus Choir combines with the Guelph Chamber Choir to sing a programme with Rachmaninoff’s
Vespers as the centerpiece. The Vespers has a certain notoriety among choral singers for having some of the lowest bass writing in the choral repertoire. A colleague protested to Rachmaninoff that few basses would be able to handle the tessitura set out in several of the movements. Rachmaninoff replied simply, “I know my countrymen.” Perhaps what Rachmaninoff meant to say was, “I know what my countrymen sound like after a night of drinking Russian vodka.”

Thanks to the LCBO, it ought to be possible for southern Ontarian choristers to use this method as well. Watch the Orpheus and Guelph basses carefully as they ascend the steps: if any of them stagger or weave, you know what has occurred. There are of course other methods for lowering one’s voice to which choral singers might resort; staying up all night works very well, or singing with a cold in winter, which can be seen as a particularly Canadian solution to this problem.


Joking aside, Rachmaninoff’s
Vespers is very simply one of the highlights of the European choral repertoire. It combines brilliantly the lucid part-writing of a classically trained composer with the dusky, incense-imbued mystery and ritual of the Russian Orthdox Church. This sequence of motets is not, strictly speaking, a Vespers service. Rather it is a selection from what is known in the Russian Orthodox Church as the All-Night Vigil, a combination of the three canonical hours Vespers, Matins and First Hour. The work was an instant success in Russia when premiered in 1915, although it was suppressed for a period following the 1917 revolution. Its haunting austerity is perfect suited to a Canadian winter.

For those whose tastes run to less gigantic mass-settings, there are a few other options. The John Laing Singers of Hamilton and the Univox Choir of Toronto both perform concerts that showcase the Fauré
Requiem (February 7 and 26, respectively); the Durham Philharmonic Choir takes on Gounod’s Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile in Oshawa (February 21); the University of Western Ontario Singers sing Mozart’s D minor Requiem in London (February 26). On March 6, the Bell’Arte Singers sing Howells’ Requiem, the Oriana Women’s Choir sing a mixed programme that includes Canadian composer Imant Raminsh’s Missa Brevis, and the Tallis Choir performs the serene but passionate music of Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Elsewhere, there are concerts by the Georgetown Bach Chorale (Norval and Caledon on February 6 and 7, respectively) and the Da Capo Chamber Choir in Kitchener (February 27).
The Uxbridge Chamber Choir presents a programme that includes American composer Morten Lauridsen’s setting of the Lux Aeterna text and Brahms’ whimsically named but decidedly un-frothy Liebeslieder Waltzes (March 7).

Themed concerts are being given by several groups.
A Celtic Valentine features the  University of Toronto Women’s Singers in a concert that includes Celtic fiddlers and dancers (February 12). The Burlington Civic Chorale offers a Valentine Cabaret in Guelph (February 13). The Mississauga Choral Society sings Broadway melodies in Broadway With Heart (February 20), the Toronto Beach Chorale weds choral singing to hits from the 50s to the 70s with Sweet Sixteen (February 27), and the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir honours the 1st of March with a St. David’s Day Concert.

On 17 and 20 February, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs
Voices of the Diaspora, a concert that showcases music of the Gullah people. The Gullahs, based in South Carolina and the Georgia Sea Islands, have preserved more traditional elements of African culture than any other pan-African group in North America. It should be interesting to see what the Detts come up with in this programme. The Amadeus Choir is busy as well, mounting their own Celtic concert on March 6.

Altogether, the next couple of months offer a rich variety of concert choices. We can congratulate ourselves that Canadians will brave the cold not only for hockey, skiing and curling, but for choral singing as well.


Benjamin Stein is a tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at: choralscene@thewholenote.com.


February is the shortest month of the year – but you wouldn’t know it from perusing The WholeNote. There are over 500 concert listings in this issue of the magazine.

And February is also the month of Valentine’s Day. This annual celebration, falling on the 14th of the month, can be credited as a source of musical, as well as amorous, inspiration. Unlike Christmas, Easter or even St. Cecilia’s Day, not much repertoire has been written specifically for the occasion. Yet although there are no “Valentine’s Day cantatas” (Are there?), musicians have come up with various ways to honour the day.

For instance, down at Roy Thomson Hall, soprano Karina Gauvin will sing a recital of love songs by Scarlatti, Chausson, Bizet, Ravel and Weill. And up at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, you can hear the Richmond Hill Philharmonic play a concert called “Dressed in Love”: a programme of classics, opera and jazz. Soprano Leslie Fagan is the guest vocalist.

A little further afield, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is jumping the gun, with “Music of Love” on February 11, 12 and 13. They must be keeners – or maybe they all have something better do to on Valentine’s Day. On the 14th, the Guelph Symphony Orchesta offers “Music of Love and Romance,” with soprano Mary DuQuesnay. And  on the same day there’s also Orchestra London’s “Valentine’s Pops” show, featuring jazz, Broadway, light opera, and popular love songs. Soprano Sonja Gustafson will sing – it seems you can’t do a Valentine’s Day concert with a contralto – violinist Mary-Elizabeth Brown will perform, and the London Youth Symphony will also make an appearance.

As well, The WholeNote will mark the day, with a surprise on our website. Go to www.thewholenote.com on February 14, to see a special Valentine’s Day posting.

This year, however, there’s an added twist to the celebration of February 14: it’s also Chinese New Year. The City of Toronto is saluting the Year of the Tiger with a free New Year’s Celebration at Scarborough Civic Centre. And in the spirit of international diplomacy, Toronto’s New Music Concerts has decided to present a contemporary programme (works by Christos Hatzis, Chinary Ung, Chan Ka Nin, and Alice Ho) that pays homage to both special days.

Speaking of  contemporary music, I’d like to mention something you won’t find in this magazine – but rather on our website. The well-known broadcaster and contemporary-music expert Larry Lake has written an in-depth article on the foreign composers who are visiting Toronto this winter. Already, Zygmunt Krauze has been to town. (You can read about his concerts in Andrew Timar’s blogs, also on our website). Still to come are Krzysztof Penderecki, Osvaldo Golijov, Gerald Barry, Steve Reich and Jonathan Harvey. As Lake says, it’s “A Perfect Storm” of famous composers.

One of those composers, the Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov, is featured in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s New Creations Festival this year. His works can be heard at Roy Thomson Hall on February 25, 27 and March 3. Soundstreams also has a Golijov concert, on February 24, and there’s a Soundstreams “Salon 21” on February 22. Finally, Golijov will speak at the University of Toronto on February 26. For more details on these events, see the the Listings section. And for blogs on Golijov’s visit, keep an eye on our website, www.thewholenote.com.

 

6_colin eatockColin Eatock,

Managing Editor


P9The 2010-11 season marks the 25th anniversary of Toronto Operetta Theatre, the only professional operetta company in Canada. The company rang in the new year with a successful production of one of its signature works, Imre Kálmán’s Countess Maritza. In February TOT will remount the thoroughly Canadian operetta,Oscar Telgmann’s Leo, the Royal Cadet (1889), a work that TOT rediscovered and first staged in 2001. The show runs February 17, 19, 20 and 21 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. For more information visit www.torontooperetta.com.

In a telephone interview, Guillermo Silva-Marin, TOT’s artistic director since its inception, explained how the company came to be and has evolved over its first quarter century. The notion for an operetta company first arose as a project of the now-defunct Ontario Multicultural Theatre Association (OMTA). It staged a production of Franz Lehár’s The Land of Smiles in 1984, for which Silva-Marin was an alternate lead. The production was intended as a fundraiser but actually lost money, and, as Silva-Marin puts it, “I opened my big mouth and said I could do better than that because they were so disorganized.” As a result, he was asked if he would like to be the operetta company’s artistic director. The first four productions of what was already named Toronto Operetta Theatre began on September 25, 1985, with Lehár’s The Count of Luxembourg. In 1989 OMTA agreed to allow TOT to incorporate as a separate company on the condition that it would also take over OMTA’s debt. TOT thus began life with a millstone which today, luckily, amounts to only 5 percent of its operating budget.

In 1991, however, a TTC strike drastically cut attendance. The debt mounted to 15 percent, and the company, which had been performing at the Bluma Appel Theatre and the Winter Garden, began looking for a more manageable venue – ideally, with about 500 seats, a proscenium stage and a pit. No such venue existed then, and indeed, no such venue exists now. Since 1994 the TOT has made the 497-seat Jane Mallett Theatre its home. Built as a concert hall, it does have a sense of intimacy and excellent acoustics, but the lack of a pit, wings or backstage space made it “challenging but in an inventive way,” Silva-Marin affirms. There he developed the company’s hallmark minimalist style. As he explains, “I’ve always been committed to telling the story from a simple approach to text and music. I often think that if I had a million dollars to spend, I wouldn’t spend it on staircases and chandeliers. I would have greater amount of rehearsals, pay the cast sufficiently, invest in orchestra time and in a creative team that could support dealing with the text and music in ways we don’t often have opportunities to do.” Audiences questionnaires have consistently confirmed Silva-Marin’s approach by saying that sustained singing and acting, not sets and costumes, should always be the company’s priority.

A look over the TOT’s production history shows that it has gradually grown away from a focus on Central European repertoire to embrace an increasingly wider range, including Gilbert and Sullivan, Old and New World zarzuela, and American musicals, leading to at least eight Canadian premieres. As Silva-Marin explains, “I knew that for the company to remain vital and strong it needed to explore a greater gamut of works that were perceived as operetta or operetta-like.” This thrust included tracking down the piano-vocal score of Leo in the National Library in Ottawa and commissioning John Greer to orchestrate it after a study of Telgmann’s other works. It also led the TOT to commission its first world premiere, Earnest the Importance of Being (2008) from Victor Davies and Ernest Benson. “Now that we did Earnest there are all kinds of people knocking on the door. And I’m delighted because the art form is still valid, and valid enough for us to invest in our own composers and produce our own works and even works on subjects that are intrinsically Canadian.”

Silva-Marin notes that the average audience now is younger that when the TOT began. Why should operetta continue to be popular? As Silva-Marin says, “Some might call it light or featherweight, but the simple truth is that opera and music theatre of this type represents the better life that humans could possibly have.” Here’s to another 25 years of spreading joy!

The COC Announces its New Season

On January 20, COC General Director Alexander Neef announced the company’s 61st season. Of special significance is that this is the first season planned entirely by Neef. It was clear that he looked to see what works the COC had been neglecting, because five operas are works the COC has not staged for at least twelve years and two are COC premieres.

P10The season opens on October 2 with a new production of Verdi’s Aida directed by Tim Albery and starring Sondra Radvanovsky in her company debut. Next is a new production of Britten’s Death in Venice conducted by Steuart Bedford, who conducted the opera’s world premiere in 1973. The winter season begins with a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute directed by Diane Paulus and starring Michael Schade and Isabel Bayrakdarian. This is paired with the COC premiere of John Adams’s modern classic Nixon in China with Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao. The spring season brings a new production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Brett Polegato as Dandini; Ariadne auf Naxos with Adrianne Pieczonka and Richard Margison; and finally, and surprisingly, the COC premiere of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice directed by Robert Carsen, with Lawrence Zazzo and Isabel Bayrakdarian.

Again the COC Ensemble Studio is allowed to take over one performance of The Magic Flute rather than being given its own production. This is unfortunate because the Ensemble productions were a way for the COC to stage a wide range of chamber operas from baroque to contemporary that helped to broaden our perceptions of what opera is.

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


“First there’s God; then there’s Bach; then there’s the rest of us,” was the credo of a friend of mine. Obviously a lot of people tend to agree about Bach’s supremacy in the artistic scheme of things, evident from the number of performances – even an entire concert – devoted to his chamber works this month. Bach’s creative genius is given a wide overview, as many of the pieces presented date from the early years of his career; and one, The Musical Offering, dates from three years before his death.

The Academy Concert Series


The Academy Concert Series has maintained a quiet presence in the east end of the city, yet there’s something very passionate about their presentations: an obvious devotion to presenting music in a historically-informed style with enthusiasm and integrity. Artistic director Nicolai Tarasov tells of the genesis of the series, “The beginning of the 1990s was still very much a continuation of the major discoveries and achievements in the field of “historically presented” music of the 80s. We (meaning Tarasov, a performer on several wind instruments, and founders baroque cellist/gambist Sergei Istomin and harpsichordist Viviana Sofronitsky) had our vision of how this music should sound, and wanted to share it with the audience.” Now, after almost two decades – 2010 /11 will be their 20th anniversary season – the series has broadened to include music from the early period to contemporary.


P11Their February concert, “Bach and the King,” consists entirely of one masterpiece: Bach’s Musical Offering. It was 1747 when King Frederick of Prussia gave “old Bach” that cryptic theme on which to extemporize a fugue; Bach subsequently took it home and developed it into an ingenious, multi-interpretable series of 12 canons and fugues, and one trio sonata, all displaying an incredible mastery of the art of counterpoint. There are mirror and crab canons, a never-ending canon, an instruction to “Seek and ye shall find!” – for Bach slyly set down some of the music as puzzles for the musicians to solve.

Tarasov sets the stage: “The very nature of the work offers a multiplicity of possible solutions. The open-endedness of the composer’s intentions invites players to enter into the spirit of the game and try different things. Venturing some distance down this path, we are offering a number of new realizations of Bach’s canons, as well as a  new order of the parts for better balance of the whole programme, and an entirely new instrumentation. It will be an evening of musical discoveries and delights!”

This is a wonderful and rare opportunity to hear what, in Tarasov’s words, is “a unique phenomenon in music. The symmetry and proportion, the emotional intensity and balance it exhibits are matchless even for Bach. In it is held the unfathomable and mysterious musical world, which reaches far and wide into the metaphysical Beyond, similar to
The Art of the Fugue or to the last string quartets of Beethoven.”

In addition to Nicolai Tarasov, who plays baroque oboe and recorder, you’ll hear Rona Goldensher, baroque violin; Laura Jones, viola da gamba; and Paul Jenkins, harpsichord. The concert takes place on February 13 at Eastminster United Church.


More Bach

Several upcoming concerts involve music from Bach’s younger years, for solo stringed instruments with or without keyboard accompaniment. The suites for solo cello, the sonatas for violin and harpsichord, and the sonatas for viola da gamba and keyboard are all represented:

On February 6, if you travel to Norval, near Georgetown, you’ll have a chance to hear the joyful G major suite for solo cello played by cellist Mary-Katherine Finch, as part of the Georgetown Bach Chorale’s “Cathedral Compositions”
concert – a programme which also includes choral works such as Allegri’s Miserere and Lotti’s Crucifixus.

You have
two chances to hear the grave and beautiful Cello Suite in D Minor (it contains my favourite of the sarabandes for solo cello). On February 7, in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Mazzoleni Hall, it will be played not on cello but on double bass by the Toronto Symphony’s principal bassist, Jeffrey Beecher (a concert which also includes modern works for bass). On February 14, cellist Nathan Whittaker will perform it in the Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series (which also features soprano Linda Tsatsanis singing delicious love songs of the 17th century).

Bach’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord pour forth movement after movement of exquisitely expressive music. On February 7 in Kitchener, Folia presents the second in a pair of concerts, entitled “Bach Sonatas in the Afternoon, Part 2
.” Violinist Linda Melsted and harpsichordist Borys Medicky will perform.

And on February 13, Scaramella’s “A Bach Extravaganza”
features artistic director Joëlle Morton and harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill in a performance of all three of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord – a programme special not only for Bach’s music but because two Canadian works will also be featured, and because the instrument showcased is the 1699 Joachim Tielke bass viol owned by Hart House.

More Concerts


Okay, it’s true that concerts featuring Bach are not the only interesting happenings on the early music scene this month. Some of the others you’ll find in the listings are:

The Cardinal Consort of Viols present
Love & Regretz, as part of Christ Church Deer Park’s Lunchtime Chamber Music Series.

Human weakness and the iniquities of the powerful
are explored in Sine Nomine’s Vanitas et corruptio, a programme of medieval songs of parody and satire.

Nota Bene Period Orchestra teams up with La
Belle Danse baroque dance company to present Baroque Dance: Courtesans from Versailles. The concert takes place on Feb. 28 in Kitchener; there is also an open dress rehearsal on Feb. 27 in Toronto.

The Windermere String Quartet, whose mandate is to
explore the well-known masterworks as well as lesser-known gems of the string quartet repertoire on period instruments, presents a programme of Mozart, Haydn and Georges Onslow quartets.

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.


This year is the two hundredth anniversary of the births of both Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann – a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by music presenters. On February 4 Music Toronto will present soprano Susan Gilmour Bailey, pianist Michael Kim and actor Colin Fox in “The Schumann Letters,” chronicling the composer’s troubled life through readings and song. And just two days later, the bicentenary of both Schumann and Chopin will be celebrated by soprano Donna Bennett and pianist Brian Finley, in a programme presented by the Lindsay Concert Foundation.

P14aIn the last week of February there are several concerts featuring very accomplished women singers. The young but already well-regarded Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta will perform with guitarist Jason Vieaux, in a Mooredale Sunday afternoon concert on February 21 – and again on February 24, with Amici Chamber Ensemble and American superstar soprano Dawn Upshaw. Upshaw will be performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra the next evening, on February 25. Both the Amici and the TSO concert programmes will include music by the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov. (In preparing this column I discovered the website, forum-network.org, which has interviews with both Upshaw and Golijov.)

Continuing with singers in the final week of February, in the afternoon of February 25 the Women’s Music Club presents a concert by soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian at Koerner Hall. Right next door, in Walter Hall at 12:10, soprano Monica Whicher will be performing music by the 20th-century English composer William Walton. On the same day at the same time but in Guelph, soprano Sarah Kramer will give a solo recital with pianist, Anna Ronai. On the last day of the month, mezzo and CBC Radio host Julie Nesrallah will give the 639th Sunday concert at Hart House. You might also want to get a ticket to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s March 3 concert, which will be a rare opportunity to hear Canadian soprano-in-exile extraordinaire Barbara Hannigan, in a programme that includes music by Golijov.

I was shocked when I read the last sentence of the following press release, sent to me early in January: “Violin/Piano duo returns to Toronto after eleven years to honour former patron: The international Violin/Piano Duo of Ariadne Daskalakis and Miri Yampolsky will give a concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto on March 6, 2010…to honour the memory of Susan Alberghini.”

There are, of course, two stories here. The first is Susan Alberghini, who was among the first people I met through The WholeNote (it was called Pulse, in those days), a person who really “got” what the magazine was all about, and encouraged us during times when it was easy to get discouraged. One of Kenneth Mills’ circle of devotees, and a supporter of his Star Scape Singers, she was an arts administrator, the co-founder of the Huntsville Festival of the Arts and, up to the time of her untimely death in January 2009, the executive director of the Guild of Canadian Film Composers. Personally I felt she tried in her life to bridge art and life, to bring beauty into her life and the lives of others and to infuse art with vitality.

The other story is the Daskalakis/Yampolsky recital on March 6. Originally scheduled by Alberghini for 2009, she passed away before the arrangements were put in place. Judging by Elissa Poole’s enthusiastic review of the duo’s last Toronto concert in February 1999, we can look forward to some very fine music-making on March 6.


P14bP14cThere are many, many more interesting concerts both in Toronto and in a good many other Southern Ontario centres in February. Indeed, I was particularly impressed by the “Beyond the GTA” listings, not just their quantity, but also their programming, sometimes very unusual and ambitious. For instance, there’s the “The Attar Project,” at the University of Western Ontario on February 26, and the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra’s February 13 programme, which includes the Fifth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich.

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.

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