Mai Tategami began studying the violin at the age of six. As an orchestral player, she was concertmaster of the Seiji Ozawa Ongaku-juku Orchestra and became an academy student and temporary contract member of the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin (2012-2015). During the 2015/16 season, she performed with the Beethoven Orchester Bonn as concertmaster. At 28, she won the first edition of the Orford Music Prize in 2016. She makes her Toronto debut with a free Music at St. Andrew’s noontime recital on November 24 and follows that up November 26, when she joins the Rebelheart Collective in Mooredale Concerts’ third program of the season to play the second violin part for a performance of Mendelssohn’s exuberant String Quintet in B-flat Major, Op.87.

Mai TategamiShe told me in a mid-October email conversation that she started her musical education at three with the piano. “My teacher gave me some Bach to practise,” she told me. “His music was like a magical world. I have always felt peaceful and relaxed when I play/listen to Bach. He is still one of my favourite composers.” So Bach was the first composer she fell in love with. What about musicians? “I don’t remember which one was the first violinist that I liked, but I loved Itzhak Perlman and Gil Shaham when I was small. They were my superstars, and I fell in love with their brilliant and sweet Romantic sound.”  A few years ago, she had the chance to play with Gil Shaham as a member of the orchestra. “It was one of my great memories as a musician in my life.”

I asked when she knew she would devote herself to music and she told me that there had been two turning points in her life. When she was 12 years old she had to choose which private junior high school to get into. One was the best junior high school in the Osaka/Kobe area, but to get in there she would have had to go to cram school and give up on playing the violin as a professional player. The other was the academy connected to her elementary school. To enter it no cram school was necessary so she could continue practising the violin as much as she wanted. Her other dream was to be a lawyer and to pursue that dream she would have had to go to the best school and forgo studying the violin altogether. After much self-examination, she realized she couldn’t imagine her life without playing music so she decided to go to the academy which would allow her to study and play violin. “I think it was the first decision I made to devote my life to music,” she said.

I asked how winning the Orford Music Prize had changed her life. She was playing in the Beethoven Orchester in Bonn, Germany at the time, she told me, but winning the prize gave her opportunities to play solo and chamber music concerts in Asia and Canada, so she quit playing in the orchestra and concentrated on her music, studying again to get ready for her next step. “I think it was one of the biggest decisions I have made in the past few years,” she said.

At her St. Andrew’s recital she will be playing Mozart’s Violin Sonata K526 and Poulenc’s Violin Sonata with Canadian pianist Jean-Luc Therrien, whom she met at the Orford Music Festival a few years ago. They played an all-Mozart recital together in Salzburg last summer that included K526. The second movement of the Poulenc sonata was the encore piece that evening, but they had so much fun playing it they included it on their Canadian tour. She thinks the audience will enjoy hearing such “totally different style composers.”

She didn’t know the Mendelssohn Quintet until she was asked to play it at Mooredale but she relates to “this wonderful piece” in her own unique way. She explains that Mendelssohn wrote the piece when he was 36, just two years before his death. “He was resting in Frankfurt after spending a very busy few years in Leipzig including his musical trip to England,” she said. “I think he very much enjoyed his stay in Frankfurt, because I could feel his excitement in the music. And the fact that I have been to Leipzig and Frankfurt helps me think of how he liked it there and how it influenced his music. I somehow can feel his happiness and normal everyday life.”

She added: “I’m very much looking forward to playing in Toronto. I’ve never been there but heard many good things about the city. And of course to be able to play with such wonderful musicians is a great honour for me.”

Quartet for the End of Time

“The most ethereally beautiful music of the twentieth century,” Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker (March 22, 2004), “was first heard on a brutally cold January night in 1941, at the Stalag VIIIA prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany.” Messiaen wrote most of the Quartet for the End of Time, Ross goes on to explain, after being captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of 1940. The premiere took place in an unheated space in Barrack 27 where the German officers of the camp sat in the front row “and shivered along with the prisoners.” Ross concludes: “This is the music of one who expects paradise not only in a single awesome hereafter but also in the happenstance epiphanies of daily life. In the end, Messiaen’s apocalypse has little to do with history and catastrophe; instead, it records the rebirth of an ordinary soul in the grip of extraordinary emotion. Which is why the Quartet is as overpowering now as it was on that frigid night in 1941.”

Pianist Lucas Debargue discussed Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time for medici.tv in advance of his Verbier Festival performance of it earlier this year:

Lucas Debargue“It’s a very challenging piece… but most of the difficulties are musical because you can consider this is a work still impressionist in the writing -- there are some effects with pedalling tonal pedal and right pedal -- some writing of chords with some modal harmonies, but at the same time there is a very moderne aesthetic that Messiaen has already developed. It’s a mature work. He knows exactly what he is doing and he has found his style and how to organize it to create a peak piece. Messiaen himself was very inspired by spiritual matters. He considered himself a very, very strong Catholic and so the whole work is inspired by some mystical subjects. The piece is not the traditional four-movement chamber music piece; it’s in eight movements. And Messiaen says himself it’s like the seven symbolic figures plus another one -- eight -- which symbolizes eternity. And it ends very peacefully with the most melodic movement of all; just the solo violin with piano accompaniment. It’s like a scale to heaven, to the sky. It’s an incredible piece to just go out of this pragmatic, material world. Because it’s all out of here. We are somewhere else, from the first notes.”

Debargue and his cohorts, Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, Swedes Torlief Thedeen (cello) and Martin Fröst (clarinet), have been on a mini-trans-Atlantic tour since recording the Messiaen earlier this year for SONY (release date is November 3). Beginning at the end of May in Stockholm, they’ve performed the Quartet to great acclaim in Wigmore Hall, London and the Verbier Festival, Switzerland. A concert in Quebec City takes place on December 4, the day before their Koerner Hall performance December 5. An appearance in Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall wraps it up December 7. Jansen, incidentally, is the Perspectives Artist at Carnegie Hall this season. The North American tour’s program begins with Bartók’s Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano, commissioned in 1938 by Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman. Bartók downplayed the piano part as if in deference to the skills of his commissioners but played up the three instruments’ differences in timbre. There is a 1940 recording of the three of them available on YouTube. Szymanowski’s incandescent Mythes for violin and piano completes the first half of the recital.

WCMT Career Development Award

The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s Career Development Award (CDA) is presented every three years to an exceptional young Canadian musician (or small ensemble) embarking on a professional performing career. The winner gets $20,000 and the opportunity to give a recital in the Music in the Afternoon concert series. The process for choosing the 2018 CDA winner is now well under way with the recent announcement of the ten candidates under consideration.

Five of them are likely familiar to our readers: Toronto native, mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo, well-known to local audiences, took a giant international step forward in March 2016, when she was one of five winners of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera Auditions at 21. Violinists Boson Mo and Blake Pouliot and pianists Mehdi Ghazi and Tony Yike Yang are also familiar fixtures here. Now, on November 4 and 5, another of the CDA candidates gets an opportunity to make his mark in the GTA. Timothy Chooi is the soloist in Bruch’s hugely popular Violin Concerto No.1, a piece that unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve; it promises to be a highlight of the Oakville Symphony Orchestra’s “50th Anniversary Fireworks” program.

Music Toronto gathers steam

The 46th season of Music Toronto is well under way with four concerts taking place under the umbrella of this issue of The WholeNote, beginning with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor’s highly anticipated return to the Jane Mallett stage on November 7. On November 16, Britain’s brilliant Anglo-Irish quartet, the Carducci, will fly in especially to perform a heavyweight program -- Beethoven’s Quartet No.11, Shostakovich’s Quartet No.4 and Debussy’s Quartet in G Minor -- following the unexpected cancellation (for medical reasons) by the Škampa Quartet. Described by The Strad as presenting “a masterclass in unanimity of musical purpose, in which severity could melt seamlessly into charm, and drama into geniality,″, the internationally-known Carducci Quartet studied with members of the Amadeus, Alban Berg, Chilingirian, Takács and Vanbrugh quartets. A Toronto solo piano recital debut by Timothy Chiu, who is profiled elsewhere in this issue, follows on November 28. And finally the Gryphon Trio, now in its 23rd year, makes its annual Music Toronto visit December 7 with a typically diverse program of Haydn, Mozetich and Brahms.

Donald Runnicles conducting the Orchester der Deutsche Oper BerlinQUICK PICKS

Nov 5: Nocturnes in the City presents the eminent Czech violinist Ivan Zenaty (who continues the Czech violin tradition he learned from his mentor Josef Suk) in works by Franck, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák (with pianist Dmitri Vorobiev).

Nov 5: Trio Arkel (with guest, cellist Shauna Rolston) paints a musical picture of Russia in the years before the Revolution: Taneyev’s Trio for Strings (1907), Arensky’s Cello Quartet (1894) and Cello Duos (1909) by Glière.

Nov 9: Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presents the Zodiac Trio in a recital geared to their unusual makeup: piano, violin and clarinet. Formed in 2006 at the Manhattan School of Music under the guidance of famed clarinettist David Krakauer and Beaux Arts violinist Isidore Cohen, the trio has made a career out of their unique sound palette.

Nov 12: Pocket Concerts’ ebullient co-directors, pianist Emily Rho and violist Rory McLeod, in a rare duo recital, play music by Kenji Bunch, Brahms and Rachmaninoff.

Nov 15 and 16: Peter Oundjian leads the TSO in an all-Vaughan Williams program showcasing orchestra members Sarah Jeffrey (oboe) and Teng Li (viola) as well as Canadian superstar Louis Lortie (who also gives a solo recital Nov 19 at The Isabel in Kingston). On Nov 23 and 25, Deutsche Oper Berlin general music director Donald Runnicles leads the TSO in Mahler’s biographical Symphony No.6, a massive work the composer wrote as an answer to Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Often in this column I write about what’s happening in the world of new contemporary music from the composer and presenter perspective – their ideas, visions and inspirations. However, this month I want to focus on those who undertake to bring these ideas to life – the performers. New Music Concerts’ event “Concertos” on December 3 provides the perfect context for this conversation as it will feature three works designed to highlight the role of the solo performer. The concert will present concertos written for soloist and chamber ensemble by composers Robin de Raaff (Netherlands), Linda C. Smith (USA/Canada) and Paul Frehner (Canada), featuring percussionist Ryan Scott, pianist Eve Egoyan and clarinettist Max Christie, respectively. Frehner’s piece, Cloak, is a newly-commissioned work for clarinet and chamber ensemble, so I contacted Christie to find out more about the work from his perspective and also about his extensive career performing contemporary music for a number of the new music presenters in the city.

Christie began by explaining how he sees his role as a performer. “My job is to observe the language of the composer and then utter it. Every voice is unique, whether a performer’s or a composer’s. I don’t try to make my voice suit the music, I just try to hear and understand the piece and bring it out from the potential into the actual. That is often fun for me. I love puzzles. A new piece is a puzzle to solve. I don’t think that’s the composer’s intention, it’s just part of learning music of any era.”

Christie says that the musical language in Frehner’s Cloak makes sense to him. “He’s done a good job of choosing the multiphonics for the opening section, which is extremely mysterious yet approachable from a performance standpoint. The title, Cloak, is a hint; it’s word play really. There’s a masked quality to the opening, whereas the thematic material from the later movements could almost be from a noir thriller soundtrack What’s mysterious for me right now is what’s going on with the ensemble while I’m playing these long, held notes. Sometimes you get something to work on and it’s really hard, and you’re working on the hope that you hit 60 to 70 percent -- and if I can’t get 90 to 100 percent of this piece, I’m just bad. It’s definitely the kind of writing that makes you realize how wonderful it is to encounter a composer who writes that well for your instrument. It makes you look good and therefore you have a better chance of making him look good.”

Christie has been an active performer within the contemporary music community over the years as an ensemble member of Continuum, Esprit Orchestra and New Music Concerts. I asked him what it was about new music that sparked his interest and had him pursue a career with such commitment. “A huge part of what used to be my profile in so many groups was just my willingness to try stuff, and my flat-out refusal to give up on the hardest pieces. As you keep working in a particular area you get pegged as a such-and-such type of player. I’m pretty much at home with any era of music where the clarinet is involved, but I’ve come to accept this designation because it’s at least partly true.”

Max Christie - photo by Daniel FoleyThere is often a lot of additional pressure performing new music due to the usual constraints of limited rehearsal time being compounded by the challenge of the music itself. Christie enjoys rising to the challenge. “If something is difficult, I work hard to get inside the piece. I’m not so good at faking it.” Asked what he meant by “faking,” he explained. “Faking is doing things not being asked for, and most players do it. Sometimes it’s a necessary evil or skill to be able to come up with something. I once played a piece with a passage that was so hard that by the concert I realized I was never going to play it exactly right. So I composed something myself that took on the character of what was written. Not that what was written was impossible or wrong. What matters is that the character of what you’re playing reflects what the composer was after. A few years ago NMC played a concert of music by Jörg Widmann, an excellent clarinetist, composer and conductor. He realized how difficult a certain section was that had a large number of notes per second. During rehearsal, he admitted it – there was a recognition from this great musician that [while] we were mimicking an effect he had written out in great detail .... in fact he was just asking for an effect that was similar to what was written. That’s a good composer – when they recognize that what they’ve written is beyond the possible. It stretches you towards the impossible and makes you creative enough to solve some of the issues. That kind of faking is totally legitimate.”

Currently, Christie is only performing contemporary music with New Music Concerts, an ensemble that over the years has given him many opportunities to work with some of the great composers of our era. I asked him what experiences have stood out, and even though there have been so many, he immediately mentioned Elliott Carter. He had performed Carter’s solo clarinet work, GRA, and due to this experience, he had the opportunity to record it for the Naxos label. “Carter signed my copy of the piece and thanked me for the performance. Being able to record it was me putting a stamp on a particular piece – here’s one of the standards of how the piece can go. I hope it has had some influence, because it’s a great piece.” He also mentioned working with Pierre Boulez, commenting on how clean and crisp he was as a conductor, as well as with Michel Gonneville. “Being part of NMC has meant working regularly with Bob Aitken. He has tremendous knowledge and experience and his patience with me is all part of what makes NMC great.”

The “Concertos” concert includes a performance by Eve Egoyan of Path of Uneven Stones by Linda C. Smith. Egoyan has had a busy summer schedule and has just returned from a European solo recital tour. A recent residency in Quebec City gave her the opportunity to be involved in the creation of an intuitive interface for the piano that “explores the frontiers between notes played, those heard and those transformed until they meet the imaginary.” Elliott Carter’s 2011 String Trio is also part of the program, along with Ryan Scott performing the Canadian premiere of Robin de Raaff’s Percussion Concerto.

Beyond his role as an outstanding percussionist, Scott is also the artistic director of Continuum Contemporary Music, which will be launching its new season with “Urgent Voices” on December 8 and 9. This event is Continuum’s contribution to the commemoration of Canada 150, and they are doing so with a series of compositions by Anna Höstman, James Rolfe, Ann Southam and Scott Wilson that combine stories, reflections and dreams using song, spoken word and multimedia. They are also weaving in the honouring of Glenn Gould’s 85th birthday. While film is shown of Gould performing music from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Steinway’s latest player piano innovation called the Spirio will interpret Gould’s finger depressions and releases to recreate a live rendition of the original performance.

Additional Highlights

Esprit Orchestra’s November 19 concert offers an opportunity to hear Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by French composer Marc-André Dalbavie, with a performance by Véronique Mathieu. Mathieu is another performer who has made the performance of contemporary music a priority, particularly music by Canadian and American composers. The program also features works by Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason, as well as by Canadians Douglas Schmidt and Ana Sokolović.

The Thin Edge New Music Collective presents “Sensing” with three shows at the Canadian Music Centre on November 11, featuring music by composers Höstman, Scime and Morton Feldman. Arraymusic has two events coming up – the first on November 22 is a celebration of the music of Wilhelm Killmayer, an underappreciated German composer whose surreal music is ardently supported by Array’s artistic director Martin Arnold. Then on December 2, American Sarah Hennies will perform her piece Gather & Release for vibraphone, sine waves, field recordings and bilateral stimulation. Her music is an immersive psycho-acoustic experience often realized by an endurance-based performance practice.

And finally, as we prepare to enter that ambiguous state of “holiday time,” Soundstreams presents a more edgy twist to the usual stream of music one hears. Their Electric Messiah returns for the third year December 4 to 6, with a special performance on November 24 by their resident artist, sci-fi turntablist SlowPitchSound. This will be part of a behind-the-scenes look by SlowPitchSound and other Messiah performers at what goes into the making of this fast-growing holiday favourite.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

Clubs have traditionally been the lifeblood of a city’s jazz scene. It was certainly that way for this “old dog” in the early part of my career, during the heyday when Toronto boasted numerous longstanding clubs such as George’s Spaghetti House, Bourbon Street and Basin Street, the Montreal Bistro and Top O’ the Senator, which presented both international and local jazz six nights a week.

If measured by this yardstick alone the health of jazz in Toronto now, with just three major clubs presenting the music on a multi-night-per-week basis – The Rex, Jazz Bistro, and the Home Smith Bar – can be called into question. However, it’s not as bad as all that, because in recent years new ways of hearing live jazz have arrived, thanks to the persistence and ingenuity of the jazz community at large – those who play the music, those who are trying to learn to play it, those who enjoy listening to it, and those who present it. These new models include:

Student Jazz Concerts at The Rex

For the past several years, Monday nights at The Rex have been given over to sets by student ensembles from the jazz programs at U of T and Humber College. These generally begin with three different U of T ensembles starting at 6:30pm and playing for 40 minutes each, followed by the Humber groups at about 9:30pm. I began teaching (and, unusually, also playing in) a jazz ensemble at U of T last year, which brought me into direct contact with this scene, and I liked what I saw and heard right away. Playing in a real club setting, one where their teachers often perform, brings out the best in the students, and I wish this opportunity had been on offer when I was a jazz student. Mondays are not a prime night out but I urge local jazz fans to attend, not just to support the students – which is worthy in itself – but because you will hear some interesting and sincere music. Both schools are brimming with young talent; in essence you will hear the future of the music in Toronto, a future I feel confident is in good hands after hearing some of these young people play.

Big Bands Are Back

Well, sort of. Phil Nimmons retired his big band years ago and following the deaths of Rob McConnell and Dave McMurdo, it seemed the future of big-band jazz in Toronto was in peril. Starting and running a big band in these times is perhaps the ultimate jazz labour of love, but John MacLeod has persisted in doing so with his Rex Hotel Orchestra, which has performed at its namesake club on the last Monday of every month for years now. The lion’s share of the arrangements are written by MacLeod in an eclectic style reflecting both modern and traditional elements, featuring stellar ensemble work and plenty of solo room for some of Toronto’s best players carrying on in the tradition established by those mentioned above. The band has produced several recordings and its latest, The Toronto Sound, will be released at a gala concert at the Old Mill on November 6, which I will be attending. Kudos to John MacLeod for his perseverance and talent in guaranteeing that high-quality big-band jazz can still be heard around these parts.

John MacLeodBut there’s more. Three days after the Old Mill event, November 9, the Wee Big Band will be heard in concert in the Garage at the Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst Street, starting at 7:30pm. The band has been a Toronto fixture for years and has survived the death of its founder-leader Jim Galloway and several of its key players, such as lead-alto stalwart Gordie Evans. But it continues in the capable hands of Martin Loomer, its longtime rhythm guitarist and principle arranger, or perhaps I should say transcriptionist. The band’s repertoire consists mostly of early big-band classics from masters like Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Duke Ellington, Benny Moten, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford and many others, all lovingly transcribed by Loomer and played with authenticity and spirit by the musicians. It’s not possible to hear this kind of music performed live very often anymore and I for one look forward to the November 9 concert.

The House Concert

The old model of the salon concert has been revived in recent years, as an alternative to bigger clubs which can be crowded, noisy and expensive. Increasingly, dedicated fans are staging intimate concerts in their own homes, offering a unique up-close jazz experience. By necessity the audience size is small and the concerts are sporadic, which only makes them more special. Perhaps the greatest success story of these is the Jazz in the Kitchen series presented by John and Patti Loach in their spacious Beaches home, which is uniquely equipped for musical presentation. Opposite their large open kitchen is a music room sporting a wonderful Steinway grand and perfect natural sound that encourages the non-amplified jazz on offer. The audience is generally limited to 35 or 40 paying guests who sit very close to the band – Mark Eisenman’s trio plus shifting guests including John Loach on trumpet – and simply listen, enjoying both a real jazz experience and the verbal byplay between the musicians. The series started about four years ago and is always sold out. October 22 will be the 40th concert in what looked at first to be a risky proposition. I’m sure there are others run along the same lines, such as JazzNHouse in the Ottawa area, which I’ll experience for the first time when Mike Murley’s trio plays there on October 28 (also sold out).

A New Jazz Festival

The Kensington Market Jazz Festival made its debut in September of 2016, the brainchild of star singer Molly Johnson – long a neighbourhood resident – ably abetted by her organizational partners in crime, performers Ori Dagan and Genevieve (Gigi) Marenette, plus an army of volunteers. This year’s festival, a weekend affair held September 15 to 17, significantly built on the promise and success of the first one. Well over 300 local musicians performed in various small venues in the tight streets of Kensington in a dizzying array of one-hour concerts running from solo piano and guitar to trios and larger groups in various styles, all well- and enthusiastically attended. The recipe is simple, inclusive and refreshingly non-corporate – keep it small, because small is good, present “all jazz as we know it” played by local musicians of many generations, and use the vibe of the ’hood, its unique food, local businesses and “streetness” as a feel-good backdrop. As to the finances, I have no idea how they make it work, but there are ticketed events and free events; it’s cash only and all of it goes to the musicians save for a small percentage to cover costs. I played one concert in the first festival and two this year, enjoying each immensely while being paid very fairly. It was a pleasure to walk the streets and see so many musical friends all packed together so happily; this is an event which puts “festive” back into the jazz festival. Congratulations to Molly and company for their leap-of-faith vision in bringing this unique festival to Toronto at a time when the city desperately needed it.

CDs Galore

PJPerryThe self-financed CD is another way jazz artists can continue to reach and expand their audience, and good locally produced jazz records have spread like wildfire in recent years. One can barely keep up. These involve a leap of faith in that the outlay involved cannot often be recouped, but musicians keep making them anyway as a means of documenting their art. Even ones who have nothing left to prove, like PJ Perry. Now 75, a JUNO-winner and recent recipient of the Order of Canada, PJ has long been one of the best alto saxophonists in the world, although he doesn’t have that profile because he plies his trade in the relative isolation of Edmonton. His latest release, just out, is Alto Gusto, recorded live during two nights at Edmonton’s venerable Yardbird Suite. But here’s the real leap of faith on his part: while he had played with each member of the rhythm section – veteran Los Angeles pianist Jon Mayer; drummer Quincy Davis, originally from Michigan and until recently based out of Winnipeg, and yours truly on bass – the three of us had never even met before this gig. PJ just knew the chemistry would somehow work and it did, about two bars into our hasty rehearsal. The result is a very hard-swinging, inventive record, an honest portrait of musicians creating music in the moment.

As long as jazz has enough people – musicians, fans and presenters – who believe in it enough to make these leaps of faith, it will continue to evolve and flourish. Perhaps not as in the “good old days,” which are past, but by creating some good new days. 

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.

Celebrity success in classical music is a strange amalgam. In very few disciplines do we give as much focus to the medium-like, necromancing qualities that a good performer must have. Using training, taste, research and the occasional séance, an interpreter must form a personal connection with composers who are most often long-dead, and emerge with an interpretation that is ingeniously creative and original, yet faithful to the written score.

The duty of the classical performer is similar in many ways to that of an actor who takes a script, often written by someone else, and absorbs the on-page style and personality of a character while fusing it with an individual, personal energy. A play script, much like a musical score, can be read without hearing it live, but the deeper meaning that can be wrung from the page through practice and experience is what separates the “pros” from the “Joes.” And, if one is lucky as well as good, he or she may be fortunate enough to be discovered and swept up through the ranks into the realm of the classical music elite, just as can happen for actors.

This link between performing as a musician and as an actor is likely the closest parallel we can find within the arts – in no other discipline is pure interpretation the primary focus and determinant of artistic achievement. Imagine, for example, if we bought a copy of There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here!, the famous film of Charles Bukowski’s 1979 Vancouver poetry reading, only to find someone else reading his poems! In the same way, we cannot conceive of a person whose exclusive role might be to meander around art galleries, exhibits and openings to explain the works using great, erudite phrases and explanations. Certainly we have art critics, professors, curators and gallery owners, but they do not look at a Mapplethorpe photograph or Basquiat painting, stand there and tell us what to see, and expect to be thought of on the same artistic plane as the artist himself.

Since the late 19th century, when the roles of composer and performer began to exist independently, the classical musician as performing interpreter has existed in this rather paradoxical grey area. Where Beethoven, Liszt and countless others wrote the music they played, today’s batch of internationally renowned soloists with legendary technique may not have written a single note on staff paper since their student days. There are, of course, notable exceptions, including Leonard Bernstein, John Adams and Pierre Boulez, though these are often conductor-composers rather than instrumental virtuosi.

Modern academies and conservatories are compartmentalized, welcoming young, talented students to learn “more and more about less and less,” as the saying goes. When we ask “What are you studying?” they do not reply “Music,” but rather “Composition” or “Collaborative Piano” or “Conducting.” We categorize, break down and divide the encompassing art into smaller, easy-to-market bites, thereby enabling the young musician to become a rather pigeonholed, although superiorly skilled, superstar “[fill in the blank].”

This is the old-yet-new world of classical music in the 21st century, a roster consisting of a relatively small number of highly specialized, jet-setting superstars who tour the globe, guest-starring with the world’s top orchestras. Managed by a few artist agencies who book their clients in a manner reminiscent of pop music – the biggest venues in the biggest cities, for the biggest fees – the names are revered, and they need not be in good form, either. Recently Lang Lang, who is recovering from an injury to his left hand, took the stage with a teenage prodigy who literally served as his left-hand man for the performance.

Mind you, the phenomenon of the superstar performer is not a bad thing for the propagation of classical music. Superstars attract hype, and hype fills seats, which ultimately brings the music to a wider audience. Toronto is fortunate to host a spectrum of marquee artists from the international scene every year, which continues to foster interest in the revival and performance of music from long ago. This November is no exception. Here are some highlights from the early music world:

Angela Hewitt

Legendary Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt makes an extended stop in Toronto this month, playing a solo recital at Koerner Hall and two concerts with the TSO. (I wonder if her Fazioli piano will travel with her to each venue?)

Angela HewittOn November 12, Hewitt’s Koerner Hall recital, her third such appearance, will be an all-Johann Sebastian Bach program, which is part of her three-year exploration of the composer. Works include three Partitas (No. 3 in A Minor, BWV827, No. 5 in G Major, BWV829 and No. 6 in E Minor, BWV830) and the Partie in A Major, BWV832. This concert will be preceded at 7pm by a talk by Rick Phillips. According to the RCM box office, tickets are sold out, but industrious ticket seekers may dig some up through secondhand sources such as scalpers, rush tickets or StubHub.

The Toronto Symphony then features Hewitt as director and soloist on November 18 and 19 in a concert of works by Bach and Mozart. It will be interesting to hear how the modern grand-piano-with-orchestra instrumental approach to Bach and Mozart will come across, particularly in contrast with Hewitt’s solo recital. Will the TSO’s leader attempt to temper the Romantic tendencies of the full orchestra, or will we hear a more scaled-down, “HIP”-style performance?

Kristian Bezuidenhout

Speaking of Mozart, Tafelmusik welcomes South African-born, London-based guest director and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout from November 9 to 12, as he leads the orchestra through an early Classical-era program which includes Mozart’s Concerto for Piano in A Major K414 and symphonies by Mozart and two of his mentors, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Bach.

Kristian BezuidenhoutThis performance will pair exceedingly well with the Hewitt/TSO concerts, as one ensemble interprets Mozart through a modern orchestra looking back in time, the other as a Baroque ensemble looking ahead. Both orchestras have deep roots in this style of music and it will be fascinating to hear the different approaches each group takes towards very similar repertoire.

In addition to his concert appearances, Bezuidenhout (who also plays the harpsichord and modern piano) will lead a masterclass on November 11 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, which is free and open to the public.

Ensemble Masques

Originally formed in Montreal, the international Baroque chamber group Ensemble Masques makes their Toronto debut on November 18 at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church. A classical supergroup featuring players from Collegium Vocale Gent, Tafelmusik and the English Concert, among others, this team of experts will perform a concert of music by Telemann. (Readers west of Toronto will be interested to know that Ensemble Masques will be performing the same program on November 16 in the Music Room of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.)

Ensemble MasquesGeorg Philipp Telemann was enormously prolific, writing well over a thousand works, and was one of the most celebrated composers of his time before falling into relative obscurity. According to Ensemble Masques’ recent press release, their concert looks to “wipe clean generations of misunderstanding that kept Telemann in the shadows. Where Bach looked heavenward, Telemann’s genius was for life here on Earth. A brilliant observer of the world around him, his music translates all facets of human experience into works that are full of humour, wit and infinite invention.”

For modern audiences familiar with the contrapuntal density of Bach and the rhythmic vitality of Handel, Telemann’s music might seem rather simple and transparent. But do not be fooled. Hiding within Telemann’s massive oeuvre are works of remarkable beauty, and Ensemble Masques is undoubtedly well-equipped to put these pieces on public display. In advance of their Toronto appearance, explore their latest recording of Telemann’s Theatrical Overture-Suites on the Alpha label.

QUICK PICKS

In addition to these international headliners, there are a number of other talents, both local and foreign, playing Toronto this month. Here are a few.

Nov 4 and 5: Cor Unum Ensemble - “Music from the Early Italian Baroque.”

Cor Unum Ensemble is one of Toronto’s newest groups, an orchestra and chorus comprised primarily of students and graduates from the University of Toronto’s Early Music program. This talented, homegrown group of players presented Bach’s St. John Passion last year and their take on music by Monteverdi, Gabrieli, Frescobaldi and other Italian composers from the early Baroque should be on point as well.

Nov 10: “At the Heart of Bach - Christian Lane plays CCDP.”

Winner of the 2011 Canadian International Organ Competition, American organist Christian Lane plays an all-Bach program on Christ Church Deer Park’s 1982 Karl Wilhelm tracker organ. This instrument, a perfect match for Bach’s inimitable organ music, should be like putty in Lane’s hands.

Nov 19: “Musicians on the Edge: Jazz Standards of the Seventeenth Century.”

Rezonance Baroque Ensemble presents a concert of 17th-century tunes with a focus on ensemble improvisation. With a continuo section of Ben Stein, whose doctoral work focuses on the ancient art of partimento and the development of improvisation, Erika Nielsen and David Podgorski, the bass lines in this concert should be tight and groovy.

Dec 1: Upper Canada Choristers – “Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit.”

Christmas comes early this year, particularly for Charpentier fans, as Upper Canada College’s choristers perform Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Noël and Kodály’s Christmas Dance of the Shepherds. Charpentier’s mass is a time-tested masterpiece that will bring in the Christmas season with style.

While it might seem rather early to mention Christmas, another month of seasonal favourites will be upon us before we know it! To keep up to date on all the Messiahs, oratorios, concertos and other Baroque things happening in the city, check out next month’s column. Until then, drop me a line at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Heading into the month of November remembrance, I’ve highlighted two performances: the first is by Chorus Niagara and the Orpheus Choir, and the second by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with guests. The major works in these two performances commemorate two very different wars separated by 100 years, World War I and the war in Afghanistan. War continues to inspire stories, and to invoke teaching, reflection and discussion. But as we head towards Remembrance Day, it is worth reflecting on the fact that sonic remembrance has the power to evoke things that words alone can not. There are many options available to listeners across the region, particularly early in the month, to experience this, in the offerings of great composers and musicians alike.

Later in the month, on November 22, Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt, an icon in the choral world, director of choral activities and professor of conducting at the University of Toronto, releases her new book on the life of Ruth Watson Henderson, I Didn’t Want To Be Boring. Apfelstadt’s book tells the story of this remarkable musician, gathered through interviews over several years. With over 200 choral works, Watson Henderson’s story is anything but boring.

Lastly, at the tail end of my “quick picks” I have included a few early holiday concerts. Make sure you check out the full listings and get your tickets early. Holiday performances often sell out and are amongst the most fun performances you can find anywhere!

Last Light Above the World: A War Litany

November 4 at 7:30pm, Chorus Niagara presents the world premiere of Last Light Above the World: A War Litany by Allan Bevan. “I scoured war diaries,” shares Bevan on the Chorus Niagara Facebook page, “looked at war art, read letters and other war correspondence, and delved into the large body of poetry written by people involved.” From these sources, Bevan created a story of a couple. “He has gone off to battle, and she is left to consider it. They become the conscience of the work, the ones who portray the human cost of the war.” Shaw Festival actors Hailey Gillis and Colin Palangio bring this couple to life.

Robert Cooper helms these performances with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and soloists Maeve Palmer, soprano; Lillian Brooks, mezzo-soprano; Anthony Varahidis, tenor; and Alexander Bowie, bass. Bevan has written the soloists as “spirits” who represent the “dead” referred to in the famous lines of John McCrae’s In Flander’s Fields “We are the dead…” Bevan continues: “Last Light does not pretend that there are easy answers, it is not a simple comforting… In the poetry of WWI, generally speaking, war is neither glorified nor vilified, it is simply recorded: all its horror, sacrifice, as well as its unexpected beauty, compassion and forgiveness.”

The Orpheus Choir of Toronto, also conducted by Robert Cooper, performs the same work in Toronto on November 5 at 3:30pm, Grace Church on-the-Hill.

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation

It has been almost 16 years since the official, Parliament-sanctioned intervention by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan began. In those days of constant war headlines and combat deaths, our country was at war on the other side of the planet. Afghanistan was a war unlike others, constantly changing and evolving, fought against an often unstructured and asymmetrical enemy. For those of us who read the news here in Canada, this war also strongly shaped our country in the last decade and a half. The war in Afghanistan has opened discussions on a great number of complex issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the role of the Canadian Forces in international conflicts, military investment, American imperialism, racism, child combatants, pacifism and so much more.

Art, music included, has done much to allow and facilitate some of these conversations,with its power to evoke contemplation and create change. Into this discussion, on November 9 and 11, we insert Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, including 130 choristers from the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, 50 from the Toronto Children’s Chorus, guest musicians from the Canadian Forces, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and soloists. The first half of this concert also features Canadian Forces guests on pipes, bugle and text.

Tania Miller, music director of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, takes the helm for these performances. Miller was the first woman to lead a major Canadian orchestra, ever, and her tenure began the year following the start of the war in Afghanistan. She is joined by Measha Brueggergosman, soprano; Allyson McHardy, mezzo-soprano; Colin Ainsworth, tenor; and Brett Polegato, baritone.

The words come via Suzanne Steele, Canada’s war poet, who served in Afghanistan. Jeffrey Ryan put the words to music, including text from the requiem mass, alongside Steele’s poignant words which are often set in repetition: “if we could give you two days, just two days...;” “My son, my daughter, can you hear me?”

In the breaking open of lives lived and lost during war, music can help bridge the experiences and provide a united focus. Ryan describes his music as “a love letter. Not just to one person…but to each of us, to our country, and to a generation that will be paying for this war emotionally or financially (looking after the injured and next of kin) for another generation.” As Ryan concludes in the program note: “Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation marks one particular war for one particular generation, but its message is universal and timeless.”

On a Canadian National Treasure: Ruth Watson Henderson

Ruth Watson Henderson has had a storied career as a performer on piano and organ. Having served 29 years as the accompanist of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, with the Festival Singers under Elmer Iseler, and as a church musician, her prolific contributions to choral music have been incomparable. Dr. Hilary Apfelstadt has spent years interviewing and researching Watson Henderson for her new book I Didn’t Want To Be Boring.

Ruth Watson HendersonTo commemorate the book launch, the Canadian Music Centre is hosting a concert on November 22 featuring soprano Amy Dodington, accompanied by Watson Henderson herself, and joined by members of the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Exultate Chamber Singers as well as by Apfelstadt. Three days earlier at Kingsway-Lambton United Church, November 19, Dodington will sing Watson Henderson’s Prayer of St. Francis accompanied by the composer herself in an unofficial book launch and 85th birthday celebration.

In an excerpt, Apfelstadt describes Henderson: “Initially a highly gifted young solo pianist, Ruth became a collaborative artist whose work with choral ensembles led to her development as a composer whose music is frequently sung and respected for its craftsmanship and expressivity. And along the way, she embodied the term “working mother” as she raised a family of four, built a career as a practising musician and successful composer, and held a church music director position until the age of 80. As I write, she is 84 and still composing music. Hers is a remarkable story.” The paperback copy of the book is available in stores November 22.

QUICK PICKS

Nov 4, 7:30pm. The Guelph Chamber Choir presents “Celebration 150.” The Guelph choral community’s contribution to Canada 150 commemorations brings together five regional choirs: the Guelph Chamber Choir, Guelph Community Singers, Guelph Youth Singers, Rainbow Chorus of Waterloo/Wellington and the University of Guelph Symphonic Choir.

Nov 10, 8pm. The Kingston Road Village Concert Series presents “Remembrance Day Concert with Scott Good and Friends.”

Nov 11, 8pm. Barrie Concerts presents “Songs from the Great World Wars,” featuring the UTSC Concert Choir and conducted by Lenard Whiting.

Nov 11 and 12, 8pm. That Choir presents their annual first concert of the season “That Choir Remembers,” featuring the music of Eric Whitacre, Eleanor Daley and more.

Nov 12, 4:30pm. The Cathedral Church of St James presents “Service of Remembrance,” featuring the large choral work of Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, Songs of Farewell, a collection of six songs composed in accapella polyphony. These songs will be presented as part of a religious service.

Nov 15 and 16, 8pm. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents “Oundjian Conducts Vaughan Williams.” Marking one of the signature performances of the TSO with Oundjian at the helm in his outgoing year as music director, the orchestra is joined by Louis Lortie, piano; Sarah Jeffrey, oboe; Teng Li, viola; Carla Huhtanen, soprano; Emily D’Angelo, mezzo-soprano; Lawrence Wiliford, tenor; Tyler Duncan, baritone; and the Elmer Iseler Singers.

Nov 29 to Dec 3, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir presents “Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation.” Promising a Baroque-inspired soundtrack to festivities, these performances mark the first choral performances for Tafelmusik this season. Musical celebrations written by Purcell, Lully, Handel, Pachelbel, John Blow’s Anthem for the Coronation of James II and Charpentier’s Messe des morts are all on the program.

Dec 3, 3pm, the Harmony Singers of Etobicoke present their holiday concert, including many pop and classics favourites. The choir is also singing We’re in the Same Boat Now, written by former Premier Bob Rae. The Singers also provide an annual scholarship to a student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts who performs with the choir. This year, that recipient is Martina Myskohlid.

Dec 5 and 6, 7:30, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents “Festival of Carols” featuring the Salvation Army Canadian Staff Band. The often-sold-out concert is being presented over two nights to accommodate extra patrons. 

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

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