There are some big and unique choral experiences this month. There’s a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Healey Willan’s death, the combined forces of choirs from the University of Toronto and York University, a rare performance premiere for Tafelmusik and a new interpretation of Bach’s St Matthew Passion! We’ll return in March with all you need to know about the best of Easter choral music offerings. Stay warm and singing in the meantime.

Willan - 50 years on

Andrew Adair, music director of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, convenes artists to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Willan’s death. Of choral composers in Canada, Willan was a pinnacle. With hundreds of choral works, operas, symphonies and organ works amongst many others, Willan’s main contribution to Canadian music was through sacred music, much of it created at and for the choir at St Mary Magdalene, where he was music director and organist.

“Willan left a lasting impact on the Church of St. Mary Magdalene through his shaping of the liturgy and music,” shares Adair. “His work at St. Mary Magdalene’s created a very special environment, one which has allowed the music to flourish and survive against all odds.” A lot of Willan’s choral music is a cappella. Adair shares that this is because of the layout of St Mary Magdalene where the choir loft is in the west gallery and the organ on the other side of the building. For a music director who was also the organist, this meant Willan was unable to play and conduct at the same time. This lasting effect means that even today, the choir at St. Mary Magdalene still mostly sings a cappella. Adair looks forward to bringing forward Willan’s accompanied works at this concert.

Adair is joined by organists Simon Walker and Matthew Larkin, each performing one of Willan’s great organ works: the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E-flat Minor; Prelude and Fugue in C Minor; and the Passacaglia and Fugue in E Minor. Matthew Larkin’s choir of Saint Thomas’s Anglican Church will join the Choir of St Mary Magdalene. February 16 at 8pm; Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto.

The Mozart Requiem: The Music of Unity

With the rich history, detail, and artistry available to students in Toronto, I’m excited to see inter-university programming. I’m particularly interested in the joint events between Lisette Canton and Daniel Taylor and the combination of ensembles from York University and the University of Toronto, a model for future collaborations.

Lisette CantonCanton’s ensembles, the York University Chamber Choir and Ottawa Bach Choir, are joining forces with Daniel Taylor’s musicians at the University of Toronto Schola Cantorum and the Theatre of Early Music. Along with an orchestra made up of Tafelmusik performers and soloists, the combined forces will perform two performances of Mozart’s Requiem.

“Dan Taylor and I have a similar philosophy on music,” Canton shares, “that it carries a universal message of hope, transcending all religions and cultures, and unites us all. And it is this philosophy that has prompted us to collaborate on various musical productions for the past two decades.” Through their longstanding connection, Canton and Taylor brought their ensembles together in 2014, performing the music of the Coronation of King George II in 1727 (the coronation that established Handel’s Zadok the Priest as a standard at every coronation since.)

 “Collaborations of this nature are so important – for the students, professionals and for the community – in that they unite us in a common musical goal and become bigger than the sum of the individual parts. And when the music is as powerful as the Mozart Requiem, these become life-changing experiences,” says Canton. Choristers and instrumentalists alike have long known the unique power of the Mozart Requiem. While incomplete, the experience of performing the work can be incredibly significant. “Mozart’s beloved Requiem is one of those works in the choral canon that continues to inspire every generation,” Canton says. “Its widespread ability to reach to the depths of human emotions on this most universal theme makes it a timeless work of dramatic and spiritual intensity that moves us to greater depths of understanding.” Many choirs perform this work in full or portions of it frequently. For many musicians, it has become musical vernacular.

York University Chamber Choir“Once the students graduate – especially in a city as large as Toronto – they will continue to work together in common settings, ensembles, and as soloists,” Canton says. The nature of music requires collaborations, sometimes wonderful and transcendent, other times a bit messy – but necessary to the task of musical creation. She continues: “Our job as mentors/conductors is to initiate these contacts and guide up-and-coming performers in meaningful concert experiences, as well as to help them find potential opportunities and career directions. Beginning these connections during their university experience only ignites their passion for the art of music and helps them to forge significant friendships and professional connections.”

The Mozart Requiem: conducted by Dr. Lisette Canton: March 3, 7:30pm. Church of the Redeemer, Toronto; conducted by Daniel Taylor: March 4, 7:30pm. 7:30pm. St Basil’s Church, Toronto.

A Rare Premiere Performance by Tafelmusik

Tafelmusik has a Handel premiere: Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music. This old set of music by Handel was set to words by Newburgh Hamilton based on an earlier text from John Dryden. Ivars Taurins leads the orchestra and Chamber Choir in a performance of this work celebrating Alexander the Great’s conquest of the great Persian city of Persepolis. Charlotte Nediger tells us that the original performance was done to coincide with the feast day of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. “The aim of St. Cecilia odes is to celebrate music,” says Nediger in the program notes, “and it is evident here in the range of orchestrations in the airs and choruses, and by the inclusion of two concertos – one for harp, representing Timotheus’ lyre, and one for organ, representing “the divine Cecilia.” With soprano Amanda Forsythe, tenor Thomas Hobbs, baritone Alexander Dobson, harpist Julia Seager-Scott and organist Charlotte Nediger. The work includes the well-known Concerto for Organ in G Minor and the Concerto for Harp in B-flat Major. February 22 to 24, 8pm; February 25, 3:30pm. Koerner Hall, Toronto.

Evoking the Passion – Bach Reinterpreted

Chorus Niagara, under Robert Cooper, takes on Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Everything about this performance sounds intriguing. Not only is the Passion a large work, with two orchestras, six soloists, children’s and adult choir, Cooper is leading a semi-staged production. “More and more, choral performances are wanting and needing some extra musical design to guide you through the experiences,” shares Cooper, who has a theatre background himself. Cooper has worked with Joel Ivany on other stagings of works normally done in straight performance. The staging will be set by Torontonian Aria Umezawa, who is currently an Adler Fellow at the San Francisco Opera in direction and is the artistic director of Opera 5. It will be interesting to see how Umezawa’s contributions reflect her mentorship by Peter Sellars; Sellars famously staged a Berlin Philharmoniker performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 2010.

Robert Cooper conducts Chorus Niagara and the Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir with the Talisker Players; James McClean as the Evangelist; Michal Robert-Broder as Christus; Maeve Palmer, soprano; Lillian Brooks, mezzo-soprano; Zach Finkelstein; and Stephen Hegedus, bass. March 3, 7:30pm. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St Catharines.

QUICK PICKS

Feb 10, 7:30pm. The Grand Philharmonic Choir presents Gloria, a presentation of Leonard Bernstein’s challenging Chichester Psalms, Poulenc’s Gloria, and Timothy Corlis’s Psalm 150. St Peter’s Lutheran Church, Kitchener.

Feb 11, 2:30pm. Georgian Music is hosting Dr Hilary Apfelstadt and the Exultate Chamber Singers. Apfelstadt, a champion of Canadian choral music, has programmed works by Canadians Healey Willan, Eleanor Daley, Ruth Watson Henderson and Stephen Chatman. The Choir will also perform Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and Eric Whitacre’s Five Hebrew Love Songs. Grace United Church, Barrie.

Feb 16 and 17. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra presents “Sing-Along Musicals,” a fun family concert. With classic selections from The King and I, Oklahoma!, the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins just to name a few, the Grand Philharmonic Youth Choir will provide the vocals. Bring the family and have a fun time singing along at the Centre in the Square, Kitchener.

Feb 25, 4pm. The Toronto Children’s Chorus presents “Rainbows and Icicles.” With special guests, the Claude Watson School of the Arts Boy’s Choir, the various TCC choirs will perform beloved songs from films and musicals like Mary Poppins, the Muppets and the Aristocrats. North Toronto Collegiate, Toronto.

Mar 3, 7:00pm. The Mississauga Festival Chamber Choir presents “Phantom Unmasked.” The 1925 Phantom of the Opera was made as a silent film. Andrew Downing, a Canadian composer, has set it to music for orchestra and choir. Quite a few choirs have performed this work as it proves popular with audiences. The Mississauga Festival Chamber Choir performs and is collecting non-perishable food donations. RBC Theatre, Living Arts Centre, Mississauga.

Mar 6 and 7, 7:30pm. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents “MacMillan and Pärt.” Two years ago Soundstreams hosted Scottish composer James MacMillan in Toronto as part of its mainstage. Macmillan himself took the helm in a presentation of his masterpiece Seven Last Words from the Cross. Noel Edison, artistic director of the choir brings this work to life with a smaller contingent of singers. The choir in full performs Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe. Pärt’s unique meditative music will wash over interested audiences. Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto. clip_image001.png

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com

Since the last issue of The WholeNote went to press, the jazz world suffered the deaths of three major and long-term contributors: producer George Avakian, innovative singer Jon Hendricks – both on November 22 – and on December 21, trombonist Roswell Rudd. Momentous losses indeed, but at least these blows were softened by the realization that each of them lived long, productive lives – Avakian was 98, Hendricks, 96, and Rudd, 83.

I had a mild heart attack on the morning of November 23 and the subsequent fallout took me out of my routines and away from the jazz grapevine, so I completely missed the passing of Avakian and Hendricks and it was some time before I heard the news. And Rudd’s death came amid the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, so I was late hearing about that too. Given all this and the significant contributions each made to jazz, I feel it’s only right to use this space to pay tribute to them.

George AvakianAvakian became an obsessive jazz fan listening to the radio as a teenager and while attending Yale University began to amass a huge record collection and to write a relentless series of letters to the Decca and ARC record labels, urging them to reissue the back catalogues of bankrupt imprints such as Brunswick and Okeh. In 1940 Jack Kapp of Decca responded to these letters and hired the young Avakian to produce his first record, Chicago Jazz, featuring Eddie Condon and musicians in his circle. Consisting of six 78s issued in a set with Avakian’s copiously detailed liner notes, this was considered the first jazz album long before the emergence of the LP. It was a success in every way and set the tone for future Avakian projects while also raising the bar for jazz releases in general.

George Avakian - photo by Ian CliffordThe rest, as they say, is history – jazz history. CBS acquired ARC in 1940 and decided to form a subsidiary called Columbia Records. Eventually they asked Avakian to supervise a reissue series and the young man leapt at the chance to comb through the company’s vaults. Using the format he established at Decca, he created box sets devoted to Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, among others. In the process he discovered many unreleased sides, including some priceless Armstrong Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, which he included in the reissues.

After war service he returned to Columbia, responsible for popular music at large, but always with an eye toward strengthening and promoting the label’s jazz roster. During this time Columbia perfected the LP format and Avakian was immediately alive to the possibilities of exploiting this new technology for both marketing and artistic purposes. He brought Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis to the label just as each was set to become a star, while continuing to produce albums by Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Art Blakey, Tony Bennett, Buck Clayton (he co-produced the trumpeter’s legendary Jam Session LPs with John Hammond), Eddie Condon, J.J. Johnson and many others including classical and folk performers.

He also became a pioneer in live jazz recording, issuing many performances from the Newport Jazz Festival and other venues. He supervised the first issue of Benny Goodman’s historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert and also Duke Ellington’s legendary 1956 Newport performance, which did so much to revive Ellington’s career. His tenure at Columbia was studded with too many masterpieces to mention, but highlights would include Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy and Satch Plays Fats; Erroll Garner’s Concert By the Sea; such Miles Davis classics as ’Round About Midnight and Miles Ahead; many by Brubeck such as Jazz Goes To College and Jazz Red Hot And Cool, as well as the aforementioned classics.

He elected to leave Columbia in 1958, but was hardly done. He created the record label at Warner Brothers and soon after moved on to RCA where he produced Sonny Rollins’ celebrated comeback album The Bridge, as well as his notable encounter with Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Meets Hawk. While there he also produced a superb series of Paul Desmond records with Jim Hall, which did a lot to cement Desmond’s identity apart from Brubeck.

Avakian also branched out into artist management at this point, overseeing the phenomenal mid-60s success of the Charles Lloyd Quartet at a time when many jazz artists were feeling the pinch of rock ‘n’ roll. This brought Avakian into contact with Keith Jarrett and he shepherded the pianist through the early part of his career as both his manager and record producer, helping to launch one of the most influential and successful careers jazz has witnessed in the last half century. There’s much more, but enough. Suffice it to say that it’s impossible to overstate the positive impact that George Avakian had on jazz, or to imagine it without him.

Jon HendricksEddie Jefferson and King Pleasure are generally credited with inventing modern, bebop vocalese – the practice of putting lyrics to an instrumental jazz solo and singing it, a kind of scat with words. But Jon Hendricks took the idea and ran with it, making it more popular while broadening its horizons and raising its vocal and literary (i.e. lyric writing) standards. And with the formation of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross in 1957, for which he is best known, he translated it into a vocal group art. L, H & R remade the idea of the vocal group – they weren’t The Modernaires or The Four Freshmen or The Four Lads – they were funnier, rawer and swung more. They were hip, baby.

Jon Hendricks on his 90th birthdayDave Lamberts and Annie Ross were both formidable vocal talents and ideal partners, but Hendricks was the driving force behind the group both organizationally and musically, doing most of the arranging and the lion’s share of the ingenious lyric writing. His skill at this was unsurpassed, earning him the title “The Poet Laureate of Jazz” as well as the “James Joyce of Jive”. He had an uncanny gift for shaping and infusing words which made sense into the jagged and acrobatic rhythms of jazz solos. His pithy lyrics always had something to do with the original soloist involved or with the title of the given tune; they told a story and were always delivered with swing and feeling. Hendricks went on to do much more after the eventual breakup of L, H & R and his witty performances, ever alive with both tradition and inventiveness, always fostered the idea that jazz could be both fun and high art.

Roswell RuddMuch of his career took place outside the jazz mainstream and was interrupted by several hiatuses, so Roswell Rudd may be less known than these other two except to hard-core jazz fans. A New Englander, Rudd began his career in the mid-50s playing trombone in a Dixieland band at Yale University called The Eli Chosen Six. The group recorded two albums, including one for Columbia, which show Rudd entirely at home in the gutbucket trombone tradition of men like Kid Ory and Jimmy Archey.

Roswell RuddBut like Steve Lacy, a frequent collaborator who also started his career in traditional jazz, Roswell was equally interested in the expressive abstraction of free jazz and spent his career in that astringent field. He performed around New York and on records with Lacy (sometimes offering highly personal takes on the music of Thelonious Monk), lifelong friend Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, John Tchicai, the New York Art Quartet, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and his own groups. His playing – always interesting, human and very alive – was both intelligent and emotional. He could definitely blast but had the kind of projecting sound that could be heard at the back of a room even while playing quietly. His musical oeuvre combined both adventurous and traditional elements and offered the paradox that jazz, even in its earliest forms, was always iconoclastic, always subversive.

I had the unexpected pleasure of getting to know Roswell Rudd in 2007, so his death is more personal for me. I took part in a week-long recording project led by Toronto percussionist Geordie MacDonald which yielded a suite over two CDs called Time, After Time, a collaboration of 18 Canadian musicians with Rudd aboard as a ringer/featured guest. He was a joy to be around both musically and personally, a mensch who radiated integrity and unpretentiousness. I remember his humour and energy and him entertaining us on breaks by sitting down at the studio’s (intentionally) beat-up old upright and playing some highly personal stride, boogie-woogie and Monk.

Here’s the kind of guy he was: he took down the names and addresses of every musician on the session and some weeks later each of us received in the mail a beautiful folio of Herbie Nichols compositions, signed with a nice note from Roswell. He was a long-standing expert on Nichols and had assembled and published the book himself. It was a gesture of extraordinary generosity and the book remains one of my most prized possessions.

“Jazz is dead” predictions have continuously been trotted out through the years but I have to ask: how is jazz going to die when it’s had the devoted and passionate commitment of brilliant men like these, among so many others? 

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

With this first issue for the year, we are, in a way, wondering in what fresh directions 2018 might take the Bandstand beat. For over a year we have been hearing about and reporting on the many sesquicentennial events in the community band world. For almost all of the bands that we heard from, their repertoire seemed to focus on works which had some connection to that 150th anniversary for the country. To top that off, there was the usual festive season offerings ranging from medieval carols to Frosty the Snow Man and Rudolph. Now that these are all in the past, what are we going to be offered now? There were hopes that we would hear from the banding community all about their plans for the coming year. Alas: no news! Perhaps all of the bands are taking a rest after a busy season. Usually, prior to each issue, we receive a good number of notices from bands about upcoming events. So far, we have received little information.

In the meanwhile, how about we take the time to look past winter altogether, into the topic of park concerts and parades, their origins and evolution?

Welcome to the Bandshell

CNE Bandshell in the late 1950sSince arriving in the Toronto area after WWII I have witnessed quite an evolution in the band world. During the war the Canadian National Exhibition did not operate because most of the buildings were used as barracks. In 1948, for the reopening of the CNE, the main Bandshell was updated with the finest theatre-quality sound system, and the first of a series of feature bands was booked to appear. The feature band that year was the Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines, Plymouth Division under the direction of Major F. Vivian Dunn. I had the privilege of discussing the format of each concert with Major Dunn and operating the sound system for all concerts. In that and ensuing years band concerts were the prime form of entertainment at the CNE. There were two concerts per day by the feature band and two per day by local bands on the Bandshell. There were also at least two concerts each day on the North Bandstand. That practice continued for some years. Similarly, Toronto Parks and Recreation sponsored regular band concerts during the summer months at Kew Gardens, High Park on Sundays and in Allan Gardens in downtown Toronto on weekday evenings. They seemed to be at their height during Centennial Year in 1967. These did not all end suddenly, but within the next 20 years they had all disappeared. Will the end of Canada’s sesquicentennial year see a change in direction?

A Major Anniversary

As mentioned, we have not yet received any indication of significant band plans for the coming year from any band. However, on the bright side, we did receive some wonderful information on the activities of the Concert Band of Cobourg during the past year. Not only did they stage a variety of events for Canada’s 150th anniversary, but they channelled the bulk of their resources into the celebration of the band’s 175th anniversary.

The Cobourg Concert Band has a long and varied history, and has had quite a range of names over the 175-year period since the first town band appeared in Cobourg in 1842. During the late 1960s the band went through a period of gradual decline. By 1970 it was in a rather sad state. That was when Roly White appeared on the scene as director of music. Before immigrating to Canada, Roly had served for 12 years in bands of the Royal Marines under the same conductor whom I mentioned above, now bearing the title Colonel Sir Vivian Dunn. With his previous Royal Marine connections, Roly managed to have the Cobourg band officially designated as “The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Association, Ontario.” With that new designation, the band was outfitted with almost identical uniforms to those of the Royal Marines. Over the years, the band progressed in other ways to the point where they have their own building with fine space for rehearsal, storage and socializing. After many years at the helm, Roly turned the baton over to longtime band member Paul Storms 17 years ago.

As a part of the band’s anniversary celebration, longtime band member, Robert Irvine, authored an extensive history of the band called Journal of a Band. Mr. Irvine spent over ten years researching and documenting each of the entries that went into the Journal. This detailed history of over 700 pages, looks back to band activities since 1842. That made 2017 the 175th year that a community band has been part of the daily life experience in Cobourg. With this documentation, band members believe that theirs is the oldest community band in Canada. However, they may get some challenges on that. The Newmarket Citizens Band has some documented information indicating that their band was also active during that time period.

According the Cobourg band president, Brian Clarkson, “Irvine’s book is full of rich detail concerning the band and the members of the band, all set in the context of key world events that transpired over the last 175 years. Many pictures help bring into view what life must have been like, how important music has always been in Cobourg, and how some families had members spanning several generations – right up to and including the present day. From our early roots as offshoots of the local fire brigades, through independent membership, and all the way to our current affiliation with the Royal Marines Association - Ontario, you can see the band evolve and grow in importance both locally and internationally.” He tells me: “It is a great read for any musician, historian, or lover of small town Ontario.” The book sells for $35 plus any shipping charges that may apply and can be ordered from the same website as the CDs: cbcrmab@cogeco.net.

While on the subject of the Band’s new CD, I would like to add a few comments about it that are not in my review of the CD elsewhere in this issue. One comment would be on the talent in the band. There are several members with music degrees, including at least two Masters degrees, from the University of Toronto and the prestigious Berklee College of Music. How often are you liable to find such composing and arranging talent in a small town band? Another comment concerns the cover design. As part of the CD project, the band sponsored a contest at all of the local high schools for a piece of art work for the cover. The winners, Sarah McLoughlin and Annie Sawyer, produced a vibrant design depicting the band performing under the Canadian flag.

Before leaving the subject, I would like to share a story from a conversation I had with Roly White some years before he joined the Concert Band of Cobourg. He told me about an incident, at some point while he was serving as assistant under Sir Vivian Dunn. He was chastised for conducting with his left hand and told to change over to using his right hand as this was the norm. After some time away from the band to study conducting with Sir John Barbirolli, he returned to the band. Once again he was conducting with his left hand. When queried by Dunn about reverting to his left hand, Roly simply stated “Sir John conducts left-handed.” That ended the discussion and Roly was still conducting left-handed in Cobourg when he retired.

Changes coming

We have just learned of two significant changes in local bands. The Whitby Brass Band, which will celebrate 155 years this year, is looking for a new conductor. The band rehearses on Thursday evenings, and like other bands, has performances at various times throughout the year. Preference will be given to someone with previous brass band conducting experience. Applications will be accepted until March 2. Information is available at whitbybrassband.com.

The other change is the possible return of the Uxbridge Community Concert Band. After 25 seasons, conductor Steffan Brunette took a year off last year to pursue some other interests. He is now back in town, and with the assistance of other interested musicians, hopes to have something to report on possible future directions for another season of summer music.

Sam Caruana

As is so often the case in relationships in the world of music, I can’t recall where or when I first met Sam Caruana. All I know is that I played alongside Sam in many groups over many years. Having chatted with Sam just a few weeks before, I was shocked to learn of his passing on December 16, 2017. Sam served in the King’s Own Royal Malta Regiment during WWII, then moved to England after the war for a job in music. While touring with the Benny Daniels Dance Band in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sam met Kay and they married in 1952.

Sam CaruanaAfter a musical career in Britain, Sam moved to Toronto in 1974, initially staying with his sister in the Junction (Little Malta) neighbourhood of Toronto. He was joined by Kay and son Paul shortly thereafter. Sam is survived by his wife Kay, sons Benny and Paul and their families. Sam will certainly be missed by his many musical friends, including those in the Metropolitan Silver Band, The Encore Symphonic Concert Band and the Malta Club Band. He played in all of them until very recently.

In a recent email his daughter-in-law Joanna told me that she had “forgotten to say that in addition to the Benny Daniels band in Britain, Sam also played with the BBC and for a circus band, where his paper-bag lunch got stolen daily, until he discovered that an elephant was stealing it from under his chair on the raised stage! In Toronto he played for too many bands to mention, including a Schwaben Oompah band, and more recently, the Toronto Mambo Project.”

Coming Events

Feb 1 at 12pm the Encore Symphonic Concert Band presents “In Concert.” Big band swing, jazz, film scores and marches. Wilmar Heights Centre, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough.

Feb 25 starting at 10am, this year’s York University Community Band Festival will begin. The four bands participating will be the Newmarket Citizens Band, the Aurora Community Band, the Thornhill Community Band and the Richmond Hill Concert Band. In the morning each band will rehearse their selections in separate rooms. After lunch, each band will have 15 minutes to perform their own numbers and then the massed band will perform the finale for the afternoon.

Feb 25 at 3pm, the Guelph Concert Band presents “Broadway Showstoppers,” selections from Frozen, Hamilton, Wicked, 42nd Street, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and others; Patrick Stiles, vocals/piano; Bridget Walsh, violin; guests: Kelly Holiff and Jeigh Madjus, vocals. River Run Centre, 35 Woolwich St., Guelph. 519-763-3000.

Mar 4 at 3pm, the Weston Silver Band will present “Kaleidoscope,” including Blue Rondo a la Turk (Brubeck), Impressions (Kevin Lau), Pink Panther (Mancini), The Red Novae (Graham), David of the White Rock, and the march, The Thin Red Line, at Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. W.

Mar 4 at 3:30pm, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir presents “Midwinter Sweets” featuring Five Bagatelles Op.23 by Gerald Finzi; Minuet from “A Downland Suite” by John Ireland; Georgia on my Mind by Hoagy Carmichael, Steve Macdonald tenor saxophone soloist; Rikudim, “Four Israeli Folk Dances” by Jan Van der Roost; Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini. Artistic director and clarinet soloist Michele Jacot. Church of St. Michael and All Angels, 611 St. Clair Ave, W; wychwoodclarinetchoir.com.

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

This article appears in The WholeNote as part of our collaboration in the Emerging Arts Critics programme.

Bernard Labadie conducts the TSO in Mozart's Symphony No. 39. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.Entering the hall for the first night of the Mozart@262 Festival, I was struck by the sparseness of the stage. In contrast to the visual fullness of Handel’s Messiah just a few short weeks ago, with its rows of choir singers stacked onstage and the balcony behind the stage bursting with audience members, only 12 chairs, one stool, and a tufted leather piano bench for conductor Bernard Labadie – all black in a pleasing contrast to the pine-coloured stage – formed a perfect backdrop on January 10 for the rich tapestry of winds comprising Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra opens Serenade No. 10 – known as Mozart’s “Gran Partita” – with a series of four, sustained notes in rhythmic unison, before splitting into layered, ascending tones. The two clarinets quickly emerge into the foreground of the music, setting the tone for a recurring motif in which they provide an articulate, agile phrase and the ensemble responds with a fuller variation. This back-and-forth provides a perfect vehicle to appreciate the basset horn, an instrument that reaches lower than the clarinet and adds a richer sound to sparser moments of the work. The piece feels particularly grounded for a wind ensemble, even as short, cheerful phrasing bubbles up through quickly ascending notes.

Both Serenade No. 10 and Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major – the second work of the evening – were composed in the 1780s, during the latter part of Mozart’s career when he was effectively a freelance artist. The harmonie, a musical genre written for wind ensembles to be performed during dinner, became hugely popular during this time. Mozart took full advantage of this commercial opportunity to pen four serenades, including this intriguing, yet unobtrusive, Serenade No. 10.

Given that the harmonie originated in the dining room of Emperor Joseph II of Austria, Serenade No. 10 perpetually conjures the image of a dinner party. The shifts between movements are exactly as one would desire for a varied, yet refined, party soundscape. The adagio of the third movement, with the clarinets gliding gently over a pulsing pattern in the horns, eventually gives way to the fourth movement’s stronger melodies, executed in forceful unison. The mood lightens significantly for the fifth movement – at one point we are left with only quick, isolated pairs of notes in the clarinets – after which the tone takes a lower, darker turn; however, the soft, round gestures of conductor Bernard Labadie bring the ensemble quickly back to delicate, trill-laden phrases that highlight the agility of the orchestra’s performers.

As preparations are made for Symphony No. 39, the stage fills dramatically. Unchanged is the presence of a bench for Labadie, from which he conducts for the entire evening. While conducting seated may appear unusual, it is the new normal for Labadie following a diagnosis of stage four lymphoma in 2014 and subsequent treatments. He noted to the Montreal Gazette in 2016 that the rehabilitation process entailed “relearning my body, how I use my body to make music.” His upbeat and lively, though physically-economic, style provides a firm through-line to this evening’s program.

The slow opening of Symphony No. 39 is grand – perhaps even “on the pompous side,” as Don Anderson suggests in the program notes. This is the first in the final trio of Mozart’s symphonies, composed during the summer of 1788, which some scholars believe were written to be performed together as a single work. Although there is no known evidence of such a performance, simply the thought that Mozart created what are often considered his greatest symphonies over the span of a few months is undoubtedly a feat grand enough to warrant a fair bit of pompousness.

Throughout the symphony, the entire orchestra unites for strong allegros that begin in unison. There is an overwhelming sense of movement in the first forte note the musicians play together, and I frequently find myself lost in their synchronized, physical enactments of musical force. Body weights shift in unison. Limbs sway with grandeur. And Labadie demonstrates a tendency to lift one or both feet and literally step into that first bold note as his torso leans forward. This visual fullness, contrasting greatly with the performance of the serenade, mirrors the wider range of sound and clever dynamism of Symphony No. 39.

Continuity between the program choices is provided by the strong role of the clarinets, which take of the place of the usual oboes in the symphony orchestra. In the third movement of the symphony, there is a call-and-response feeling that mirrors the role of the clarinets within the structure of the serenade. In this movement of the symphony, extremely quick phrases in the winds are mimicked by the full orchestra; the pattern repeats itself, this time with a lead-in from the violins, before the entire orchestra responds with a bold, definitive response to the questions posed by its individual sections.

Presented under the overarching title “Majestic Mozart,” Serenade No. 10 and Symphony No. 39 are perfect introductions to a composer who tailored his brilliance to fit the conservative tastes of Vienna, while nonetheless inserting subtly subversive elements into his work. These tensions shine through early on in the symphony, with a short series of dissonant notes, and in the hands of the TSO, its conclusion leaves the audience with an abrupt final note that seems to hang in the air, suggesting that there is more to be said ­– appropriate for a composer who died so shortly after composing this work with masterpieces left to be written. A fate whose drama is certainly not lost on Labadie in the miraculous “second act” of his own life and musical career.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented “Majestic Mozart” on January 10 and January 13, 2018 as part of the Mozart@262 festival at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

Kallee Lins is an arts administrator, writer and researcher who has spent her life studying dance and theatre both in studios and in graduate university departments. She frequently contributes to The Dance Current.

This article appears in The WholeNote as part of our collaboration in the Emerging Arts Critics programme.

Bernard Labadie conducts the TSO in Mozart's Serenade No. 10 "Gran Partita." Photo credit: Jag Gundu.On January 10, the audience excitedly hurried to take their seats for the opening performance of the Mozart@262 Festival. An annual tradition for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, this series of performances ran until January 21 and was co-curated by musical director Peter Oundjian and Bernard Labadie. The evening’s program, titled “Majestic Mozart” and conducted by Labadie, featured two pieces – inviting the audience into the pure pulse of Mozart with Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major, K. 370a/361 “Gran Partita,” for twelve winds and a string bass, and Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543, with an orchestra featuring flute, clarinet, bassoon, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings.

Serenade No. 10 consists of seven movements. Historically, a serenade was meant for the open air, to be played under the balcony of a loved one to draw them out to their windowsill. This particular serenade has become a staple in the wind repertoire. In this work, Mozart writes for the basset horn for the first time in his career, only to be utilized again in his Requiem.

Labadie successfully captured the intimacy and breathiness of an open-air performance in Roy Thomson Hall. What began in the first movement and followed throughout the piece was an enthralling interplay of instruments and exploration of texture. Each instrument provided a unique voice-like quality, with the oboes rounding out the ensemble's sound while the clarinets played with delicate mastery.

The music evoked a lively back-and-forth – a question and answer between the instruments that presented itself as a symbolic sounding of relationship. Although the piece began timidly, there was a progressive nature to the music, a process of exploration peppered with suspenseful jolts of unexpected notes, even comedic moments that caught me by surprise. The orchestra highlighted Mozart’s incredible control in his music: how he claimed the ears of his audiences, allowing them to lean in to the sweet simplicity of the clarinet during the fifth movement’s scalar passages, only to be sent unpredictably reeling as the instruments swell.

Their playing awakened memories of my own trip to Vienna this past December, with something familiar hidden beneath Mozart’s trills. The rhythm of feet skittering across stony pathways, the sonorous quality of a town square teeming with people, running hand in hand past gilded windowsills that had perhaps hosted serenades long ago.

With each reverberation I heard echoes of Mozart’s whirlwind romance with his wife Constanze, the heartache when his marriage caused a rift with his father, the respect he held for colleagues, like clarinetist Anton Stadler, for whom he likely moulded this piece with intricate solos. The orchestra channelled regal warmth in both minuets, with trios repeated in Viennese dance fashion – an ode to Mozart’s true home, where he was appreciated most and perhaps felt most free to express himself as an artist.

The second piece, Symphony No. 39, showed the breadth of Mozart’s musical influences, and the growth of his style throughout his career. Most notable were the dotted rhythms in the introduction, first used by his father Leopold Mozart, and a nod to Haydn’s Symphony No.26, which begins in the same key.

I delighted in hearing the instruments weave together multiple melodies to create complex layers of sound. Rather than the usual use of oboes, there was an unbridled use of the clarinet – a new instrument in Mozart’s time. The clarinet solo, emerging in the central trio of the third movement and played by Joaquin Valdepeñas, treated the audience to a brief moment of simplicity. Notes floated by effortlessly, in contrast to the captivating descending scales that followed, played by the violins with great fervour. Finally, the repetition of the thematic tune culminated in standout performances by the strings in the final movement. As Labadie conducted the symphony’s last moments, I became overwhelmed with the feeling of desperation, of chasing and being chased in the unique pattern of the music’s twists and turns.

Suddenly, I was back in Vienna, experiencing my first attempt to hear this symphony played. Memories of my family and I caught on a never-ending journey, winding the various Plätze of Mozart’s Vienna in search of a concert venue we never did find. While sitting in Roy Thomson Hall and listening to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra delve into Mozart’s music, I had a realization. Both in Vienna, and in Toronto, the true charm of Mozart was all around me.

When the symphony came to a close, the orchestra allowed a few final notes to escape, Mozart’s omission of coda serving as a way of completing the composition while leaving it simultaneously unfinished – a story to be continued in his next two works.

Although history often regards Mozart as a godlike being, an untouchable genius shrouded in mystery, I now view his symphonies as a product of the places and people that formed him, captured forever in the notes of his music. If played correctly, as it was by the TSO, his music has a unique ability to transport its audiences. Mozart is a marvel, not purely for his musical talent, but for what that music reveals about the person underneath.

For an hour and fifty minutes, Labadie and the TSO delighted in a balancing act of his music, of daring to experiment but remaining loyal to its classical roots, teetering on the fine line between complexity and simplicity. With this performance, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra took its audience below the surface, enough for us to marvel in the majesty of Mozart but still leaving us, even after 262 years, craving more.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented “Majestic Mozart” on January 10 and January 13, 2018 as part of the Mozart@262 festival at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

Josette Halpert is both a supporter and active participant in the arts. With a screenwriting degree and a multitude of awards under her belt for both acting and writing, she continues to work towards her lifelong goal: being a driving force in the entertainment industry.

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