Dean Burry - ComposerThe last month of 2009 and the first of 2010 will witness premieres of two new Canadian operas. On December 3, Toronto Masque Theatre will present the world premiere of The Mummers’ Masque by Dean Burry, and on January 20 TrypTych will present the world premiere of Andrew Ager’s Frankenstein. These are not the only events. The Music Gallery will present the “rockabilly techno opera” The Ship of Fools by renowned avant-gardists Daniella de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke on December 12, the Toronto Operetta Theatre will revive its production of Emmerich Kálmán’s Countess Maritza December 26-January 3 and the COC will revive its production of Bizet’s Carmen January 27-February 27.

The Mummers’ Masque is the 11th music theatre work by Newfoundland-born composer Dean Burry. His children’s opera The Brothers Grimm for the COC Ensemble for its annual schools tour is believed to be the most-performed opera in Canadian history. Burry’s companion piece to Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, will premiere with Opera Lyra Ottawa on December 12.

According to Burry, the masque “will be a contemporary interpretation of the mumming tradition in Canada and worldwide, incorporating dance, music, drama, stage combat and puppetry. Mummer plays are considered one of the forerunners of the masque, which makes this pairing of company and composer an obvious choice. With a new libretto fashioned from various historic sources, the music shall be in a contemporary style. The production is being created to play in non-traditional venues and capitalize on the informal nature of the original material.”

The venue for the premiere will be Victoria College Chapel at Victoria College on the University of Toronto Campus and will run December 3-6. The work incorporates the legend of St. George and traditional carols, while the musicians, singers and dancers move about the chapel in imitation of the Newfoundland Christmas tradition of door-to-door entertainment. The cast features Laura Whalen, Krisztina Szabó, John Kriter, Giles Tomkins, a children’s choir and band including such traditional instruments as accordion, penny-whistle, guitar and fiddle. See www.torontomasquetheatre.com for more information.

For Andrew Ager, Composer-in-Residence at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, will mark his first foray into opera. His previous works for choirs, soloists, orchestras and chamber ensembles have had numerous premieres in Europe. Next year he goes off to Santa Fe for performance of his Winter: An Evocation and then to Monte Carlo to make a recording of his organ music.

In a telephone conversation, Ager revealed that his interest in writing Frankenstein began about eight years ago when he was living in Halifax. He initially was drawn to the vampire novella Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu, but after conversations with William Whitla, a specialist in the Gothic novel at York University, he turned to the most famous Gothic novel of them all, with Whitla agreeing to serve as librettist. Ager admits he has a certain insider’s knowledge of the subject matter having once worked in a morgue in Halifax. A meeting with Edward Franko, Artistic Director of TrypTych Concerts and Opera, ensured that the work would see the light of day. TrypTych held a staged workshops of the opera in 2003 and 2005 when the work was three hours long. He has now shortened it to 100 minutes on the model of Richard Strauss’s Salome, feeling that an intermission would cause a deleterious break in tension.

From the very start, Ager and Whitla agreed that the opera must “at all costs avoid anything campy” particularly all the extraneous paraphernalia associated with the innumerable movie versions. Ager’s interest is in “following the book as closely as possible with its focus on the personal and metaphysical relation of the creator and his creation.”

Ager’s inspiration for the music is Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1925) because of “its depiction of extreme psychological states.” Ager, however, does not employ Berg’s atonal technique but rather a mode he calls “extremely extended harmony.” In the nine-member cast tenor Lenard Whiting sings Victor, baritone Steven King sings the Monster and soprano Dawn Bailey sings Victor’s beloved and wife, Elizabeth. The premiere will be fully staged, with Ager providing the accompaniment on grand piano. Two companies in Germany have already expressed interest in the opera, but Ager hopes that a DVD of the January performances will provoke even more responses.

Meanwhile, Ager is already at work on his second opera, The Wings of the Dove, based on the 1902 Henry James novel, which he plans to have ready for presentation, fittingly enough, in a palazzo during the next Venice Biennale. For more information see
www.tryptych.org.

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

 

p25_HannafordAs the notices started to arrive for December musical offerings, one trend was abundantly clear. Bands and smaller brass ensembles are getting together with choirs to celebrate the Christmas season. In December, more than at any other time of the year, concert programmes for all forms of musical organizations rely heavily on “seasonal music” and few bands resist the temptation to augment their forces. Of the December band concerts brought to my attention, and mentioned below under Coming Events, only two do not include choirs as guests.

The first such choir-and-band concert I had the pleasure of attending was the Hannaford Street Silver Band’s, with the Nathaniel Dett Chorale as guests early in November. That’s to be followed in succeeding weeks with offerings from a number of bands in the Toronto area as listed below.

Last year the Etobicoke Community Concert Band had planned on joining forces with the Village Voices choir of Markham. However, the forces of Mother Nature were stronger, and a massive snow storm forced the choir to cancel their participation in that event. The band will try again this year, with special guests the Kingsway Children’s Choir directed by Karen Sexton. As an added bonus, this concert will introduce a choir with a different ring. The Jubilate Bell Choir of Islington United Church under the direction of Steven Lundy will add the clear resonance only achieved with a choir of bells.

The one exception to this trend of a band sharing the stage with a choir, which has come to my attention, is that of the Markham Concert Band. Two years ago they had the Village Voices choir as their guests for their Christmas concert. This year they’re going contrary to the mainstream and, by promoting the idea of “two bands for the price of one,” will share the platform with the Chinguacousy Concert Band. By sheer coincidence, both bands just happen to share Doug Manning as their conductor.

Almost as though they felt obliged to reciprocate, two of the choirs mentioned above have smaller brass ensembles included in their own holiday season offerings. On December 12 the Village Voices are joined by the York Brass, and one week later the Amadeus Choir hosts the True North Brass.

How does this combination of chorus and band fare the rest of the year? Not very well. Could it be that there’s a dearth of compositions for modern concert band and chorus? In the classical repertoire there is certainly no shortage of excellent music for chorus and orchestra, but transcriptions of these works for chorus and band are almost non-existent. Original works for the combination are ever more rare. Isn’t it time for composers to write for such a combination?

At their most recent concert, the Hannaford Band, through their very active youth programme, announced the establishment of the Fred Mills Scholarship Fund. While I haven’t yet received details of this fund, I do know that its primary purpose will be to provide financial assistance for youth band members who could not otherwise afford to participate in the programme. Donations of any size will be appreciated. Anyone who has any questions about the value of this youth band programme would do well to attend any concert offered by the three bands under the direction of husband and wife team Darryl Eaton and Anita McAllister. One such event is the “Rising Star” solo competition for members of the Hannaford Youth Band. This will take place on Sunday, December 6 at 2:00 pm in Emmanuel College Chapel, 75 Queen’s Park Crescent.

Definition Department

This month’s lesser known musical term is A PATELLA “To play accompanied by knee slapping.” We invite submissions from readers.

COMING EVENTS | Please see listings for full details

The Etobicoke Community Concert Band
offer “Hits of Christmas Past and Present.

The Milton Concert Band sets the tone for the holiday season with “A Gift of Christmas.”

The Markham Concert Band welcomes the Chinguacousy Concert Band as special guests for “A Seasonal Celebration.”

The Hannaford Youth Band will perform with their guests the Cawthra Park Secondary School Chamber Choir.

Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments, and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at: bandstand@thewholenote.com.

Sine Nomine

Medieval music – going back from about 1500 to as far as can be reliably discerned – is often regarded as too remote and strange for 21st-century ears. But go to a concert of Sine Nomine Ensemble for Medieval Music and you’ll discover how exciting, multi-faceted and colourful this music is: rich with myriad forms, rhythms and expressions of life both sacred and secular.

The musicians who form the core of this ensemble – Andrea Budgey, Randall Rosenfeld, Janice Kerkkamp and Bryan Martin – are scholars, whose extensive research into the cultures and practices of medieval times have led to international recognition. Sine Nomine has also long been the ensemble in residence at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (the institute for advanced studies in medieval history and culture) in Toronto.

In their concert series, the group strives to bring to life the discoveries of their research, to present vividly a particular facet of medieval culture. Music is interspersed with readings from the day. You’ll undoubtedly hear improvisation (always based on the practices of the time), and you might well hear the vielle, rebec and gittern, as well as voices, harp, lute and flute. Always informed but never pretentious, their intention is to “create performances which are intelligible and enjoyable to modern audiences, and which would not be wholly foreign to medieval listeners” (to quote the jacket of their CD A Golden Treasury of Medieval Music).

For their first concert of the season, the setting is North-Western Europe in the 13th to the 15th centuries. As suggested by the title, Missus est angelus Gabriel – Medieval music for the Annunciation and Nativity, the music and readings will illuminate the season of advent, the period of anticipation and preparation for Christmas.

The concert takes place on December 18 at Saint Thomas’s Church. If you go, you’ll be hearing a very special presence in the artistic community.

I FURIOSI

Of quite different mettle (but in a way not dissimilar in that they are not afraid to let “slices of life” come through in their presentations) is I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble. Its superb musicians – soprano Gabrielle McLaughlin, violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, and cellist/gambist Felix Deak – began this concert series eleven years ago, as Gabrielle McLaughlin tells me, to have an outlet for their own ideas. “We had lots of unique ideas that we wanted to explore,” she says. “The artistic freedom is quite refreshing.”

The concept has led them to some mighty unusual programme themes, which, as Gabrielle explains, “come up all the time as we live our lives; it’s just a matter of looking out for them. It usually happens that someone will think of something because of their situation, and that person will text-message all the rest of us. It looks something like this: ‘Next season we have to do a garbage strike theme!’ And the responses look like this: ‘Ummm...what on earth would we play?’ or ‘Yes! I have four different operas about garbage strikes and we all know that Handel was an unemployed garbage collector!’ Then we have a meeting before putting out the dates for the following year, in which we decide which of the many nutty ideas of the last year will work best.“

But don’t imagine that the music presented is less than wonderful, or tossed off without the greatest of artistic care: these four musicians remain true to their art and you’ll hear some ravishing music-making presented with high spirits and a lot of imagination.

So do go to hear their next performance: I F’s New BFF – a play on Paris Hilton’s television show Paris Hilton’s New BFF – which is a concert “about friendship and its importance, with maybe a little bit of reality show thrown in.” Guests are two other fine violinists: Patricia Ahern and Cristina Zacharias. It takes place on January 29 at Calvin Presbyterian Church.

SOME OTHER CONCERTS IN THE NEXT TWO MONTHS

Dec. 11, 8:00 The world-famous Tallis Scholars make their Koerner Hall debut, in a concert of Renaissance polyphony by Josquin, Nesbett, Tallis and Byrd.

Dec. 11 and 12, 8:00 The Toronto Consort presents “A Spanish Christmas,” in a very colourful concert of music from 16th and 17th century Spain and Latin America, with a full range of textures: guitars, percussion, winds, harp, keyboard and voices.

Dec. 12, 7:30 Cantemus Singers conducted by Michael Erdman, and joined by the Community Baroque Orchestra of Toronto ensemble, present “Nowell, Noël” – a delightful programme of seasonal carols and motets, including Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Noël.

Dec. 12, 8:00 Of the many Handel Messiahs abounding, Aradia Ensemble’s “Dublin Messiah” promises to be unique, being a recreation of the first performance on April 13th, 1742 in Dublin. For this, Aradia’s director Kevin Mallon has done extensive research into what were the special characteristics of the piece as heard on that day. Soloists are soprano Laura Albino, alto Marion Newman, tenor Nils Brown and bass Sean Watson.

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Dec. 13, 8:00 The Bach Consort and Toronto Choral Artists present “Cantatas for Christmas” by J.S. Bach – three cantatas actually, plus the third part of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. This wonderful group, founded by TSO bassist Tim Dawson, has at its heart the intention to present Bach’s music in the spirit of giving: the proceeds of its concerts are donated to charity, the performers donating their services to this end. The recipient of this concert’s proceeds is the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

Dec. 19, 8:00 The Toronto Chamber Choir presents a joyful and surprising celebration entitled “Medieval Scandinavian Christmas,” featuring Finnish and Swedish music from a collection of late medieval Latin songs, Piae Cantiones (many of which are still beloved carols).

Jan. 1, 2:00 and Jan 2. 8:00 The Musicians in Ordinary plus guests Christopher Verrette, violin, and Sara Anne Churchill, harpsichord, present “A New Year’s Day Concert,” with music of Vivaldi, Conti and others. Last year’s single concert was a huge success, so this year they’ve added a second performance.

Jan. 20, 22 and 23, 8:00 The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony presents “Beloved Bach.” Violinists Linda Melsted and Stephen Sitarski are the soloists in Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor; other music is by Lully, Corelli, Leclair and Rameau.

 

“These Are a Few of My Favourite Clubs”

Preamble: Sugarcoating the sad truth would be a disservice. As a member of the Metro Jazz Society recently said, “We’re do-ing everything we can to keep this music alive, because it’s dying.” Live music is an art form said to have healing properties. This season and year-round, to help Toronto’s jazz scene survive, heal, grow and prosper! This community still mourns The Colonial, Bourbon St., Basin Street, East & 85th, The Bermuda Onion, George’s Spaghetti House, The Montreal Bistro and The Top O’ the Senator. Clubs have tumbled and music policies continue to downsize. Jazz today is tough to market for so many reasons; most establishments that operate for any length of time are labours of love rather than get-poor-quick schemes. Attention Readers: the musicians that play this music in this city would greatly appreciate your support in the form(s) of attendance, attention, applause, feedback, eating, drinking and tipping. Thank you for listening.

Read more: Ori's Stories - December 09 - “These Are a Few of My Favourite Clubs”

p26_barlow

In the last few years, Toronto’s best known Indo-jazz fusion band, Autorickshaw, has been very busy, concertizing locally, nationally and internationally and putting out several CDs. December 3 marks the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster in India, when a toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide plant killed 8,000-10,000 people within a day, and another 15,000 over a longer period, with over 100,000 more suffering chronic illness to this day. Autorickshaw will commemorate this event with a concert at the Lula Lounge, “Bhopal Remembered,” and funds raised from the launch of their new single, City of Lakes, will go to Bhopal’s Sambhavna Clinic, which offers treatment to survivors of the disaster.

“This is a new direction and new initiative for us that I think will resonate deeply within the general public long after our concert is done”, says lead vocalist Suba Sankaran. “I also think it’s a beautiful way to go in terms of giving a socially conscious gift this holiday season. In fact, we’re making the track available by donation. We’ve just been in the recording studio and are working hard to have some mixes of our original composition City of Lakes available for our December 3 deadline and concert date – that’s a promise!”

You can download the single at http://autorickshaw.bandcamp.com. You can also download their other CDs and learn more about Autorichshaw at www.autorickshaw.ca. For this concert, Suba and regular band members Ed Hanley, Rich Brown and Patrick Graham will be joined by guests Ben Grossman (hurdy gurdy), Dylan Bell (keyboard, voice), and a string quartet comprised of Aleksandar Gajic, Parmela Attariwala, Claudio Vena and Amy Laing.

Toronto’s acclaimed Art of Time Ensemble is known for combining classical music with other genres as well as other art forms such as dance, film or theatre. Their December 4 and 5 concerts will present Brazilian music from three different perspectives, at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre. Juno-nominated Canadian jazz vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow (named Female Vocalist of the Year, 2008 National Jazz Awards) will perform songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and others, accompanied by five of Toronto’s best jazz musicians. The second half of the programme will feature Brazilian composer/guitarist/singer Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar, better known as Guinga, accompanied by Art of Time musicians. Considered to be Brazil’s most innovative songwriter, and one of the country’s best guitarists, his music draws on many genres including samba, blues and jazz. Incidentally, he also maintained a dentistry practice for about 30 years! The program will also include Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 for eight cellos.

The Canadian Opera Company’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre continues its eclectic free noon-hour programming. The December 10 presentation is a concert of Indonesian Gamelan music, featuring the Balinese gamelan quartet Seka Rat Nadi (James Kippen, Annette Sanger, Albert Wong and John Carnes), as well as the Javanese ensemble Gamelan Gong Sabrang, based at the Indonesian Consulate. It’s unusual to be able to hear both Balinese and Javanese styles of music on the same programme, so this could prove to be an interesting musical experience. Seka Rat Nadi will also perform at Musideum (401 Richmond) on December 12 at 1 pm. Speaking of which, Musideum, which is both “unusual musical instrument store” and performance space, also hosts some interesting “lec-dems”; the first coming up this month is on December 5, featuring Araz Salek on the Persian tar (lute). Stay tuned for more at www.musideum.com.

Now in its 20th year, the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella performs at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, George Weston recital Hall on December 13. The 20-member choir will perform liturgical works and other songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian as well as “classics and international favourites.” Founded by conductor Alexander Tsaliuk, the choir’s repertoire includes many Jewish liturgical works that were banned by the Soviet authorities during most of the 20th century, and only in 1990, at the approval of Mikhail Gorbachev were manuscripts that had been confiscated from synagogues and Jewish ensembles by the KGB turned over to the choir. This concert is part of their North American tour.

Also on tour in North America, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre presents “HaBanot Nechama,” a spirited trio of Israeli female pop vocalists, January 13. To listen to some of their music, visit them at their Myspace page (www.myspace.com/habanotnechama).

Unfortunately, my crystal ball is not revealing anything beyond this date, but there are still more events in December, and here they are in brief. Please check our daily listings for details on the following: December 2, Yamato Drummers of Japan perform at Massey Hall; December 4, KlezFactor is at the Trane Studio, with klezmer standards and original klezmer-fusion; December 4, Maryem Tollar, Roula Said, Sophia Grigoriadis, George Sawa and others perform at a fundraiser for the Gaza Freedom March, Ryerson U Student Centre, 55 Gould St. (www.gazafreedommarch.ca); December 5, Judith Cohen and Tamar Ilana Cohen Adams perform Sephardic and other Judeo-Spanish repertoire and Balkan dance music with musical friends at Casa do Alentejo, 1130 Dupont; December 16, the Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble (George Sawa and Suzanne Meyers Sawa) play at Mezzetta’s Restaurant, 681 St. Clair W.

Karen Ages can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

 

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