On September 25, 2017, Glenn Gould would have been 85. To mark the occasion, the TSO is presenting a tribute concert to him on September 22 and 23 with two works of great significance to his biographical and musical legacy. 

Siegfried Idyll

Mark Skazinetsky in 1981In July 1982, just weeks before suffering the stroke that led to his premature death on October 4, 1982, Gould began recording Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in its chamber version for 13 instruments. It was released by Sony on a CD that also included Gould’s own piano transcriptions of other Wagner works, but it was Gould’s role as conductor (of Siegfried Idyll) that caught people’s attention. The recording was stunning in its transparency, rigorous in its controlled Romanticism and finely balanced as a large chamber work. The orchestral version of this piece is one of the programmatic keys to the TSO tribute this month. Remarkably, four members of the current TSO participated in the Gould recording, among them associate concertmaster Mark Skazinetsky. He graciously took the time to fill WholeNote readers in on the nuts and bolts of that historic occasion.

WN: What are your memories of the recording sessions of Siegfried Idyll?

MS: First of all was the fact that I was going to work with GLENN GOULD himself! It was a hot summer day and he came dressed in a heavy coat, wearing gloves, kind of looking a little strange, but when he started to talk he struck me as being a very kind and friendly, respectful person.

WN: How much rehearsal time was there?

MS: We didn’t have much rehearsal time but everyone could sense something very special and unique was happening and that made the rehearsal more effective.

WN: Do you recall Glenn Gould’s approach? Any specific instructions?

MS: Glenn Gould’s approach was very unique. At first we thought that all the tempi were very slow, or slower than we expected. But as we were getting deeper into the music it started to make more and more sense. His interpretation of this piece was so sincere and deeply felt that it “infected” us very much. He was asking for very long lines and phrases and that made the whole piece like one big painting. The end result was amazing!!!

Brahms Concerto No.1

Glenn Gould was 22 when he first recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations for Columbia Masterworks in 1955. Jan Lisiecki is now 22 and a graduate of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory. His fourth recording for Deutsche Grammophon, Chopin Works for Piano and Orchestra, was released last March. For his part in the TSO Gould tribute, Lisiecki will play Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D Minor, Op.15, the same work that prompted Leonard Bernstein to address the audience in Carnegie Hall on the evening of April 6, 1962, when Gould played it with the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein said that he could not agree with Gould’s “remarkably broad tempi and frequent dynamic departures” but that “Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith.”

I asked Lisiecki about his relationship with Gould and what he thought about Bernstein’s pre-performance words.

WN: When did you first become aware of Glenn Gould?

JL: I cannot even describe a particular moment when I became aware of Glenn Gould. He seems to have been a part of my musical life from the very start, and is inseparable from it in my view.

WN: How has he been important to you?

JL: There are many inspirational aspects about Mr. Gould. For one, I love his answers to interviews. They were different, insightful and fun. I also like his approach to making music, and adhering to the principle that if there’s nothing new to say, then there’s no point in performing or recording it. He was also never afraid to break with the tradition, and as a result, completely changed the way the entire world sees and experiences some music.

WN: What do you think of Bernstein’s famous words to the audience before Gould and the New York Philharmonic performed Brahms’ First Piano Concerto?

JL: I actually think these words could have been spoken at many other concerts, and that it is frankly not a surprise that a conductor and soloist don’t get along. After all, each musician is very individual, and when you add in someone’s personality (their amenability and openness, or lack thereof), musical disagreements do occur.

WN: How long have you been playing the concerto?

JL: This concerto is actually very new to me, and I performed it for the first time in Warsaw only on August 12. My “debut” with this work was a full immersion, too, with live broadcast on radio, YouTube and TV recording.

WN: What is your approach to it?

JL: I’m not sure how I can answer this question in words. I invite the audience to listen and assess for themselves. :-)

WN: Have you played much Brahms in concert?

JL: I have included Brahms in my recitals before, but my closer association is with Schumann. In fact, I recorded one of Schumann’s last works for the piano, his Introduction and Concerto Allegro Op.134 for Piano and Orchestra, which inspired Brahms when writing this concerto.

I’m reasonably certain that TSO conductor Peter Oundjian will address the Roy Thomson Hall audience before the Brahms concerto is performed. And I’m also confident that Lisiecki will have a few words to say at its conclusion. The prospect fills me with great anticipation.

Mooredale Concerts Season Opener

Again this summer my musical life in Toronto was bound up in the Toronto Summer Music Festival, the first under artistic director Jonathan Crow. This year – the festival’s 12th edition – was primarily a celebration of chamber music performed almost entirely by Canadian-born or Canadian-resident musicians. It was a roster driven by the notion of celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial. The overwhelming artistic success of TSM was an affirmation of the high level of talent our country has produced. The total audience of 15,000 was a 20-percent increase over last year and included several sellouts and many near sellouts in both Koerner and Walter Halls. I was fortunate to take in 15 concerts, three masterclasses, two open rehearsals, two “Conversations” and two “Kids Concerts,” less than half of what the extensive program offered. Visit www.thewholenote.com for my TSM concert reports.

Two of the sold-out programs, “The TSO Chamber Soloists” and the “Tribute to Anton Kuerti,” had a direct connection to Mooredale Concerts (of which Kuerti is artistic director emeritus). The TSO players, under the leadership of TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow, will open Mooredale’s new season on September 24 at Walter Hall.

Violist Teng Li and cellist Joe Johnson riding Via Rail to Brockville on the TSO BMO tour, November 17, 2012. They will join Jonathan Crow to perform Francaix’s String Trio, the most straightforward (in terms of instrumentation) of the TSOCS’ intriguing program.Crow will be joined by Teng Li, principal viola; Joseph Johnson, principal cello; Jeffrey Beecher, principal bass; Michael Sweeney, principal bassoon; Neil Deland, principal horn; and Miles Jaques, clarinet.

Their diverse program features the Françaix String Trio, Nielsen’s Serenata in vano, CNW69Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28, by Richard Strauss and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20. The Nielsen is a quintet for clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello and double bass; the quintet arrangement of the Strauss uses similar instrumentation with the violin replacing the cello.  

Crow was gracious enough to answer several questions about the TSO Chamber Soloists (TSOCS) and the program of the Mooredale recital.

WN: What was the impetus behind the origin of the TSO Chamber Soloists?

JC: There are a couple of different reasons behind the TSOCS, but foremost for us is a chance to present TSO players in a more intimate setting, as we generally only get to interact with our audiences in a very large space. There is something very special about a chamber music setting that allows audiences to get to know their favourite musicians more as individuals, and also allows us to have a little more creativity in our own interpretations. There is also so much great chamber music repertoire that we want to play, and having the chance to do it with a regular group of TSO players only helps us to feel more connected when we get back to the orchestra!

WN: How many concerts do you do over the course of the year?

JC: Personally? Too many to count! The TSOCS does four concerts a year at RTH before TSO shows, and perhaps three or four more touring concerts every season. The schedules of all the players are too complicated to allow for much more than this unfortunately.

WN: How was the upcoming Mooredale recital conceived? Did it begin with the Beethoven Septet and move outward from there?

JC: We like to mix well-known chamber works with other wonderful but lesser known works, and one of the goals of the TSOCS is to feature all the parts of the orchestra, not just the string section! The Beethoven Septet is one of the great works of all time for strings and winds and was an obvious choice for this show, after which we looked at other works that would complement the Beethoven to fill out the program. For this concert we focused on works that would be composed in the same style as the Septet – fun, upbeat music that doesn’t take itself too seriously!

WN: How would you characterize the Francaix String Trio?

JC: This piece always makes me think of a champagne cork popping out – it’s such a light and bubbly piece! Extremely fun to play, and very enjoyable for audiences.

WN: The Serenata in vano, CNW69 by Carl Nielsen is new to me. Can you tell us something about it?

JC: The TSOCS did this work a few years back at RTH – Nielsen himself referred to it as “a humorous trifle.” In his words: “First the gentlemen play in a somewhat chivalric and showy manner to lure the fair one out onto the balcony, but she does not appear. Then they play in a slightly languorous strain (Poco adagio), but that hasn’t any effect either. Since they have played in vain (in vano), they don’t care a straw and shuffle off home to the strains of the little final march, which they play for their own amusement.”

WN: Are you playing the quintet version of Till Eulenspiegel? Such a joyful piece. Do you recall the first time you ever heard it? Or played it?

JC: Yes! This is an amazing arrangement of one of the great orchestra pieces of all time! I first did it at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival probably about 15 years ago. It’s a virtuosic showpiece for the five players and has all the excitement of the orchestral version, but the intimacy of a chamber ensemble – everything we aim for with the TSOCS!

WN: What is your approach to Beethoven’s Septet?

JC: We tend to think of Beethoven as a very serious composer, but sometimes I think we miss some of the humour and lightness in his compositions. This piece is truly a serenade, and we like to think of it as something perhaps a little lighter than many of the Beethoven symphonies that we play so much. In a way I think it presents a different side of Beethoven – a side of a composer who wasn’t yet deaf and didn’t yet have any idea about the loss that would inflect so many of his later works.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Welcome back to another season of auditory excavation and resistance. For isn’t that what diving deep and creating new expressions using sound is all about? During the upcoming X Avant Festival produced by the Music Gallery – which takes resistance as its theme – this is definitely what will be occurring. Using this theme as a lens for this month’s column, I will be taking an overall survey of what you can expect both in the upcoming season and also during the month of September.

The Music Gallery

The big news at this hotbed place of sonic experimentation this fall is their change of venue. Due to renovations both at their usual home at St. George the Martyr church and in the neighbouring church lot, the Music Gallery’s programming will be happening at a variety of different venues for the foreseeable future. In my conversation with artistic director David Dacks about what sort of impact this change in venue will have, he noted that the Gallery’s Departure Series has already been creating programming in different venues for the last few years. The goal of this series is to make sure that the MG isn’t just identified with one place and to highlight their role as a presenter.

Man Forever aka Kid Millions - photo by Lisa CorsonFor the fall of 2017, the Gallery’s programming will be happening at 918 Bathurst, a not-for-profit arts and culture centre located in the heart of Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. Dacks mentioned that this location is actually closer to where many of the gallery’s patrons live, and this new location will provide opportunities for audience outreach in a more residential area of the city. And so it is fitting that the first show of the season on October 11 at 918 Bathurst will be a concert in the Departures Series with a performance by Man Forever aka Kid Millions touring a new album, Play What They Want. Joining the bill on that night will be Toronto-based percussionist, performer and composer Germaine Liu and her ensemble, along with Luyos MC/Reila. Expect an evening of indie rock, water-based music, electronic soundscapes, traditional chant and frequency art.

While changing location could pose a potential hazard for audience attendance, Dacks isn’t too worried. Last year was the MG’s biggest year to date where attendance was up by 40 percent, with seven sold-out concerts within the year. Each of those seven events was a partnership, thereby boosting audience numbers and reaching out to new communities. As I mentioned above, “Resistance” is the theme of this year’s X Avant Festival running from October 11 to 15. “It’s the thing to do right now, for obvious reasons, and more artists are exploring ideas that fit into this theme,” Dacks said.

One of the festival concerts will feature the music of composer James Tenney, who lived and taught in Toronto from 1976 to 2000 and had an important influence on many local composers during his time here. The program will include Pika-Don, which Tenney composed in 1991, a piece that features the voices of many local artists, including my own, which was a surprise to me when Dacks mentioned it. Rusty memory! Preceding the concert will be a panel discussion on questions such as what it means to be a socially conscious composer now as opposed to 20 to 30 years ago, and what audiences expect from socially conscious music in the concert hall.  The festival is also hosting another Deep Listening workshop led by Anne Bourne, taking place at the Tranzac Main Hall. In last year’s festival, Deep Listening pioneer Pauline Oliveros was a featured guest, and her sold-out concert was the last time she appeared in Toronto shortly before her passing in November.

Meitar EnsembleAnd of course the Music Gallery will continue its tradition of co-presenting with various partners. One such concert to note coming up on October 22 is the New Music Concerts’ season opener. It will be an opportunity to hear Tel Aviv’s Meitar Ensemble, whose membership comprises quite an array of virtuoso performers specializing in contemporary music.

Indie Opera

Tapestry Opera: Bandits in the ValleyToronto is becoming known as a major centre for contemporary indie opera. In the recent summer issue, I wrote about one such opera, Sweat, performed by the Bicycle Opera Project. I had an opportunity to experience the performance of this work of “resistance” this past summer and one of the highlights for me was the ensemble singing, which composer Juliet Palmer spoke about in our interview. The stage dynamics between the a cappella singers intermixed with their interlocking rhythms made for a stunning and compelling performance. The mere fact of giving such a prominent role to an ensemble of singers breaks operatic traditions while laying new ground for a different approach to this older art form.

Sweat was originally workshopped by Tapestry Opera, a major player in the current indie-opera scene, who are starting their season early this year with a performance of Bandits in the Valley. This opera is set in 1860s Toronto, and will be performed at Todmorden Mills, located, appropriately enough, in the Don River Valley. The story brings together a local bandit group with a troupe of travelling Gilbert and Sullivan singers who conspire to steal a mysterious object from a wealthy home situated in the valley. This story is reviving part of Toronto’s history by highlighting the fact that the valley was a haven for smugglers and bandits during the late 1800s. The work was composed by Benton Roark with libretto by Julie Tepperman, and features six performers moving throughout the various locations at the Todmorden site while singing and playing a variety of instruments. It will be an intimate setting with limited space, so audiences must reserve tickets. The good news is that the performances are free and run throughout the month of September.

Gallery 345 with Arraymusic

Quatuor BozziniGallery 345, located at 345 Sorauren Avenue, is another hotspot of performances spanning many genres. This month sees them partnering with Arraymusic on September 19 to present Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini performing Cassandra Miller’s Jules Léger Prize-winning piece About Bach. Miller began this work as a solo piece for viola specifically for violist Pemi Paull. She focused in on Paull’s musicality, first creating a transcription of his performance of Bach’s Partita No. 2. She then added her own harmonies to create something akin to a chorale, while setting up a process that takes the musical materials through a meandering journey. This version for string quartet is the result of many years of working with Quatuor Bozzini. The evening will also include a performance of Bryn Harrison’s new Piano Quintet by English piano virtuoso and experimental music champion Philip Thomas.

Toronto Symphony

Later in September, the TSO will be performing two newly commissioned works by Canadian composers. First of all, on September 22 and 23, their “Tribute to Glenn Gould” concert will include the world premiere of Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Curiosity, Genius, and the Search for Petula Clark, a work that the composer wrote based on the impact that Gould had on her creative life. The evening will begin with a performance of Wīhtikōw, composed by Yannick Plamondon, another in the series of "Sesquies" that have been occurring all year. A few days later, Alexina Louie’s Triple Concerto will have its world premiere. This piece was co-commissioned by the TSO, the Montreal Symphony and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and will feature the concertmasters of all three orchestras. The Sesquie for that evening is Hyacinth, by composer Rolf Boon. I will be writing more about Murphy and Louie in upcoming issues this season, so stay tuned to hear more about these pieces as well as what is currently, and coming up, on the composing plates of these two dynamic and innovative creators.

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

There are several song events worth your time this month, but the one that stands out will require a trip to upper Parkdale and Gallery 345, an unusually shaped space that’s becoming the recital hub of West Toronto. On the program for “The Imperfect Art Song Recital” (September 23 at 6pm), conceived by the soprano Lindsay Lalla, there is music by two living composers – Toronto’s Cecilia Livingston and Brooklyn-based Christopher Cerrone – as well as Strauss’ Mädchenblumen, an Anne Trulove recitative and aria from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and a brief musical theatre set with Carousel and Showboat songs.

Lindsay Lalla - photo by Marc BetsworthThe imperfect as a recital theme may sound unusual, but it’s a question as old as the arts. It’s also a personal notion that kept Lalla focused on teaching and the vocal health of her students and at a distance from performing and concert stage. “My strong technical focus in my teaching carried over to my singing and I felt almost paralyzed trying to find perfection,” she explained when I asked what the story was behind the title. After years of working on other singers’ voices, the minutiae of their development, health and rehabilitation, the goal of perfection struck Lalla as a little overbearing. What if she created a whole program around the fact that there’s no such thing as perfect singing, a perfect lover, a perfect human?

The theme of imperfection runs loosely – er, imperfectly – through the texts of the pieces on the program. “The Strauss songs compare women to flowers and to me represent ‘old school’ classical music where perfection is an appreciated aesthetic,” she says. Livingston’s songs “explore the theme of an absent lover, and I find it really interesting that absent lovers are always perfect.” The character of Penelope, that mythical perfect wife of antiquity, appears in a Livingston song as well as Lalla’s own drawings (she admits to something of an obsession about Penelope) which will be on display at the gallery along with art by clarinetist Sue Farrow created during rehearsals.

Then there’s the Cerrone song cycle on the poetry of Tao Lin. The 18-minute piece for soprano, clarinet, percussion and piano, I Will Learn to Love a Person, can be found in its entirety on the composer’s website; on first listening it sounded to me like plainchant meets American minimalism, with shades of Ann Southam. Its engagement with text is fascinating – and I don’t use this word lightly. Lin is now primarily known as a novelist – Shoplifting from American Apparel, Taipei, Eeeee eee eeee – but he had published poetry as a young writer and Cerrone made a selection of poems that rang particularly true to his experience. The composer’s own statement highlights Lin’s accuracy about “millennial lives” and Lalla agrees, but this Gen X-er can tell you that Cerrone’s piece, like any good music, speaks to all cohorts. (Some of Lin’s fiction, Shoplifting for example, a novella of young impecunious lives in NYC’s emerging ‘creative classes’ flowing on vegan smoothies, band following, brand savvyness, internet, psychological opaqueness of characters and overall scarcity of explicit feeling will remind of Douglas Coupland, who’s probably an ancient writer to the millennials.) Lin made a selection of his poems available online, and I’d recommend listening to I Will Learn to Love a Person alongside the poem i will learn how to love a person and then i will teach you and then we will know to appreciate fully how they enhance one another.

The first piece by Cerrone that Lalla ever heard was this song cycle, and it impressed immediately. To wit: “It hit me hard!” She decided to do the chamber music version and invited two of her best friends, husband and wife Brian Farrow (percussion) and Sue Farrow (clarinet). The pianist and Lalla’s accompanist in other songs on the program, Tanya Paradowski, happens to be their niece. “We’ve been rehearsing up at their cottage, with the sounds of vibraphone over the lake… I can’t imagine what the neighbours must think.

“Because there is so much repetition on just a few notes, the focus goes to the text,” she says of the inner mechanism of the cycle. “Just like in the recitative of an opera, it’s now about the words, and the emotion behind the words. And the accompanying instrumental part is very repetitive, so you instinctively listen to the words to find out what’s going on. So, over top of this unconventionally textured background (quite an unusual mix of instruments!), you get just words. And they happen to be on notes. I think this is a brilliant way that Cerrone is highlighting the directness of Tao Lin’s text.”

Cecilia Livingston - photo by Kaitlin MorenoIt was actually composer Cecilia Livingston who first recommended Cerrone among a few other composers to Lalla (the two women have known each other from high school). Livingston’s own songs, too, Penelope, Kalypso and Parting, are going to be in the recital. Livingston’s website lists an impressive number of commissions, collaborations and fellowships – including a recent research fellowship at King’s College in London with one of the most interesting Verdian thinkers today, Roger Parker – but also an array of publications and papers both academic and journalistic, including her U of T PhD thesis on “the musical sublime in 20th-century opera, with a particular focus on the connections between the sublime, the grotesque, minimalism and musical silence.” There are also audio files of her work, including a good number of songs. I was eager to ask this vast and curious creative mind about her work.

In which art song features prominently, it turns out. “I just finished a commission for the Canadian Art Song Project, which reminded me that art song is one of my favourite things to write, period! It calls for this very strange close reading: scrutiny of a text combined with a huge, bird’s-eye view of its emotional terrain,” Livingston says. “Northrop Frye wrote about this, and he titled his book from Blake: The Double Vision – seeing a text both for what it is, and for what it can be in the imagination. And then also – for a composer – in the musical imagination, in the ear.”

Her three songs in the Imperfect recital explore a style that she describes as “somewhere between art song and torch song. Penelope and Kalypso are both portraits of Homer’s characters, of women who are waiting; both songs have weird, dark middle sections: one is sort-of-aleatoric and one isn’t, and I can see I was working out different solutions.” With Kalypso, Livingston was looking for a new way to write for coloratura soprano and ended up thinking about scat singing and the Harold Arlen songs she loves, like Stormy Weather. “I think Duncan [McFarlane]’s lyrics for Kalypso are one of the most extraordinary texts I’ve ever worked with: beautiful, intricate layers of language; so much that the music can shade and shadow and shape.”

A pianist by training, Livingston composes by singing as she writes: “It helps me build on the natural prosody of the language and makes sure the vocal line is comfortable: that there’s time for breath, that it’s well supported musically, that it sits comfortably in the tessitura, etc. – even when it’s challenging.” The process of finding a text that will lead to a song is more intuitive, harder to pin down. “I’m looking for something that catches my inner ear: an image, mood, the sound of a phrase. When I come across that, I can sort of hear the music for it, and then I know I can work with it. I don’t hear actual music yet, but I can hear the intensification that music can bring. Which sounds slightly bizarre; it’s probably easier to say I get a particular feeling in the pit of my stomach.”

She doesn’t entirely buy the argument that simple, unambitious or bad poetry makes better (because easier) text to set to music. “Look at the riches of Alice Goodman’s libretti, or the ways that Britten illuminated all sorts of texts. If a writer savours language – its sounds and its meanings – then I’m interested.”

Among the larger projects on Livingston’s agenda, there’s a full-length opera in the works for TorQ Percussion Quartet and Opera 5, with the world premiere in Toronto scheduled for the 2018/19 season and a European premiere in 2020. “I’ve admired TorQ Percussion Quartet’s musicianship since we met in 2008, and I wanted to write an opera with them the moment I saw their incredible performance of John Luther Adams’ Strange and Sacred Noise,” says Livingston. “They have a dramatic physicality to their performances that is perfect for contemporary opera.” And Opera 5 produced her first chamber opera: “We built the kind of really supportive friendship that I wish all young composers could have.”

And what does her music feel like to a singer? Let’s let Lindsay Lalla have the last word: “I adore how lyrical and melodic Cecilia’s songs are. I feel that they were written like mini operas, with so much emotion to explore in once piece… One of her musical instructions in the Kalypso (over the introductory coloratura) says: “Ella-Fitzgerald-meets-Chopin, vocalise-meets-scat.” As a singer, I fell in love with her just from that.”

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

Based on the schedules that have already been announced, the 2017/18 opera season in Toronto will see old productions of well-known operas balanced by world premieres and new productions of both rarities and familiar works. In a new development, more than one non-musical theatre company will produce a new opera as part of its regular season.

The Canadian Opera Company opens with its first-ever production of Richard Strauss’ Arabella (1933), Strauss’s sixth and final collaboration with famed librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The opera is a comedy set in Vienna in the 1860s about a once-wealthy family who hope an auspicious marriage for Arabella will restore the family fortunes. Erin Wall will sing the title role and Jane Archibald will sing the role of her younger sister Zdenka, a girl brought up as a boy to save money. Tomasz Konieczny is Mandryka, the wealthy man Arabella’s father hopes she will marry. Michael Brandenburg sings Matteo, the poor soldier who also loves Arabella but is secretly loved by Zdenka. Tim Albery, famed for his COC Götterdämmerung, will direct and Patrick Lange will conduct the seven performances running from October 5 to 28.

Alternating with Arabella is a new production of Donizetti’s beloved opera buffa The Elixir of Love (1832), an opera the company has not staged since 1999. Former COC Ensemble member Andrew Haji sings Nemorino, a peasant in love with the wealthy Adina. Simone Osborne sings Adina. Gordon Bintner is Belcore the pompous sergeant, also in love with Adina. And Andrew Shore sings Dulcamera, the quack doctor who sells Nemorino a fake love potion to win Adina’s love. James Robinson directs and Yves Abel conducts the eight performances running from October 11 to November 4.

The winter season sees the revival of Christopher Alden’s 2011 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, alternating with a new production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. Rigoletto runs for ten performances from January 20 to February 23 and Abduction for seven performances from February 7 to 24. Roland Wood sings the title role of the tragic court jester, Anna Christy is his daughter, Stephen Costello sings the evil Duke of Mantua for the first six performances and Joshua Guerrero takes over for the final four. Stephen Lord, who conducted Norma last year, will wield the baton.

The COC has not staged Abduction since 1980, leaving that task to Opera Atelier which has mounted the opera for two runs since then. The COC’s new Abduction will be directed by Lebanese-Canadian playwright and director Wajdi Mouawad, famed for his play Scorched (Incendies), and conducted by Johannes Debus. Mauro Peter plays the noble Belmonte and Owen MacCausland is his servant Pedrillo, who rescue their respective beloveds Konstanze (Jane Archibald) and her servant Blonde (Claire de Sévigné) from the clutches of the Turkish Pasha Selim (Peter Lohmeyer).

(from left) Lothar Odinius as Tenor 2, Adam Luther as Tenor 1 and Peter Barrett as Baritone 1 in a scene from The Fox in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, 2009. - photo by Michael CooperThe COC spring season sees the return of Robert Lepage’s sensational production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables from 2010, which has since gone on to fame elsewhere. The program includes Stravinsky’s short operas The Nightingale (1914) and Renard (1916) along with Russian folksongs, the production united by the use of various Asian forms of puppetry. The orchestra is onstage and the pit is filled with water for the Vietnamese water puppets. Jane Archibald, artist in residence with the COC this season, sings the Nightingale, Owen Mccausland is the Fisherman, Christian Van Horn is the Emperor and Meredith Arwady sings the role of Death. The production runs for nine performances from April 13 to May 19 and is conducted by Johannes Debus. 

Alternating with Nightingale is the highly anticipated Anna Bolena by Donizetti, starring Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role. With this opera Radvanovsky, who recently became a Canadian citizen, completes Donizetti’s so-called Three Queens Trilogy, although Donizetti never intended them as such. Anticipation is especially high among longtime operagoers since the last time the COC presented the opera back in 1984 it starred Dame Joan Sutherland in the title role with Richard Bonynge conducting. Joining Radvanovsky are Eric Owens as Henry VIII, Keri Alkema as Jane Seymour and Bruce Sledge as Lord Percy. Stephen Lawless will direct this third part of his unified production originally created for Dallas Opera. Corrado Rovaris will conduct.

Opera Atelier’s season features two revivals – Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro running October 26 to November 4 and Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses running April 19-28. In the first, American Douglas Williams makes his OA debut in the title role with Mireille Asselin as Susanna, Stephen Hegedus as the Count, Peggy Kriha Dye as the Countess and Mireille Lebel as Cherubino. In the second, Krešimir Špicer returns to sing the title role joined by Mireille Lebel as Penelope, Carla Huhtanen as Fortuna, Christopher Enns as Telemaco, Stephen Hegedus as Neptune and Meghan Lindsay as Minerva. Both productions will be directed as usual by Marshall Pynkoski with David Fallis conducting the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.

Tapestry Opera has an exciting season beginning with a brand new opera playing weekends in September with free admission. That opera is Bandits in the Valley by Benton Roark to a libretto by Julie Tepperman. Set in 1860s Toronto, it follows a group of thieves through Todmorden Mills who are aided by a travelling Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. The work features Keith Klassen, Jennifer Taverner, Jacques Arsenault, Alex Dobson, Sara Schabas and Stephanie Tritchew.

The season continues with the return of “Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts,” showcasing four new short operas from November 30 to December 3. As part of the “Tap:Ex” series of experimental works, Tapestry presents Forbidden from February 8 to 11, a collaboration between Iranian-Canadian composer Afarin Mansouri and spoken-word artist Donna Michelle St. Bernard in an exploration of what is forbidden and why it is tempting.

Toronto Operetta Theatre has three fully-staged revivals on offer. First, to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, TOT revives The Widow (1882) by Calixa Lavallée (1842-91), composer of Canada’s national anthem, with Julie Nesrallah in the title role. Running from December 28, 2017 to January 7, 2018 is Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (1956), last staged by TOT in 2007. Tonatiuh Abrego sings the title role with Vania Chan as his beloved Cunegonde. The final offering is Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène (1864), a parody of the events leading to the Trojan War running April 25 to 29, starring Beste Kalender, Adam Fisher and Stuart Graham.

Toronto Masque: For fans of Toronto Masque Theatre this will be a bittersweet season since artistic director Larry Beckwith has decided that it will be the company’s last. The first of the TMT’s three mainstage shows will be a revival of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1687) paired with Canadian James Rolfe’s piece Aeneas and Dido (2007). Playing on October 20 and 21, the operas star Krisztina Szabó, Alexander Dobson, Andrea Ludwig and Jacqueline Woodley.

From February 8 to 10, TMT presents a staged version of J.S. Bach’s Peasant Cantata (1742), followed by “All the Diamonds,” a cabaret of torch songs, lieder and madrigals featuring Patricia O’Callaghan and Giles Tomkins. TMT’s final show, “The Last Chaconne: A Celebration,” plays only on May 12 when a star-studded collection of singers and musicians celebrate the achievements of the company.

Tarragon and Canadian Stage: Theatre companies in Toronto have ventured into the realm of opera before, but it is unusual to have two such companies do so in the same year. This season the Tarragon Theatre presents the opera Mr. Shi and His Lover by Toronto’s Njo Kong Kie to a libretto by Wong Teng Chi from November 7 to December 17. The opera, based on the story behind the play and film M. Butterfly, had its world premiere in Macau in 2013 and its acclaimed Toronto premiere last year at SummerWorks. It is performed in Mandarin with English surtitles and stars Jordan Cheng and Derek Kwan. The composer conducts an ensemble of piano, marimba and Chinese percussion.

Canadian Stage, which previously presented the Canadian premiere of Philippe Boesmans’ opera Julie in 2015, this season presents the world premiere of The Overcoat by James Rolfe to a libretto by Morris Panych, based on the 1842 story of the same name by Nikolai Gogol. Panych and Wendy Gorling had previously created a wildly successful version of The Overcoat as an extended wordless physical theatre piece. This new Overcoat will thus represent a complete re-imagining of how to present Gogol’s story. The Canadian Stage production, running March 29 to April 14, is a co-production with Tapestry Opera and Vancouver Opera and is one of the dozen or so must-sees of what is already shaping up to be a very attractive opera season.

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

Nothing can polarize a room of musically minded people faster than an expression of opinion on Historically Informed Performance (HIP). Wikipedia, the go-to source for information on all things from humdingers to hemiolas, defines Historically Informed Performance as “an approach to the performance of classical music which aims to be faithful to the approach, manner and style of the era in which a work was originally conceived.” Like sideburns, Pez dispensers, and many other “hip” things, Historically Informed Performance began in the 1950s with a small but devoted, cult-like following and has since been associated with some of the 20th century’s classical music luminaries including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ton Koopman and John Eliot Gardiner.

Traditionally, HIP has been closely connected with (and most successfully applied to) early music, specifically music from the Baroque era (1600-1750, approximately). This often involves tools such as period instruments, various tunings and temperaments, and a number of other variables that performers take into consideration. The majority of this information has been gleaned over the past few decades from various historical treatises written by composers that are now as famous, if not more so, for their theoretical writings as for the musical works they composed. Notable treatises include those by musicians such as Johann Quantz, C.P.E. Bach and Johann Mattheson.

Enter Norrington

Roger NorringtonAs the HIP movement grew throughout the latter half of the 20th century, its scope similarly expanded to include music by Beethoven, Brahms, and even Mahler (culminating in British conductor Roger Norrington’s anti-vibrato crusade which resulted in tendentious performances and recordings of a number of Mahler’s symphonies. These non-vibrato performances are interesting much in the same way that a circular-breathing saxophonist is interesting – at once fascinating and impressive, but also somewhat unnatural). Some of these experiments in performance practice, like Norrington’s Mahler, were greater in theory than in application, such as the idea to perform Beethoven’s symphonies with strict adherence to his metronome markings. This was in stark contrast to the über-Romantic interpretations of past maestros such as Furtwängler and Klemperer, and could become a bit frenetic when Beethoven’s metronomic suggestions had an entire orchestra flooring the gas pedal!

Given its history, it’s understandable that HIP is a rather controversial topic among musicians, scholars and audiences – especially when discussing mainstream composers such as Bach, Handel or Vivaldi – and like any theory, it cannot be applied with a one-size-fits-all mentality. (As a Canadian HIP-trained harpsichordist and organist, I can’t help but think of Glenn Gould’s Bach performances which, despite the theoretical issues of the appropriateness of performing Bach on the piano, are so unique, effective and timeless.) Part of the joy of being a musician in a city as diverse as Toronto is being able to hear the variety of interpretations and open-minded approaches taken towards similar repertoire, especially when Messiah season is in full swing! Having the opportunity to absorb multiple performances of a well-known piece interpreted by different ensembles in different ways can be an eye- and ear-opening experience, and we are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to witness so many high-calibre concerts and players throughout the year.

September can be a slow month for the arts scene as musicians return from summer residencies and rehearsals resume after time away. Fortunately for early music lovers, there are a variety of concerts to choose from this month; here are a few highlights, organized by composer:

J.S. Bach

Top of most people’s list of Baroque composers is J.S. Bach, also known (to fans of P.D.Q. Bach creator Peter Schickele) as “Big Daddy” Bach. On September 13, Toronto Symphony Orchestra cellist Roberta Janzen performs cello suites by Bach and Kodály as part of the new ClassyAF concert series. This performance, part of a larger program that aims to bring classical music out of the concert hall, takes place at the Dakota Tavern on Ossington Avenue. The movement in recent years to present high-quality performers and performances in alternative venues such as pubs, clubs and taverns is a great way to welcome new audiences to music that is often stereotyped as outdated and stuffy. It’s also a chance to take in some great tunes with a drink in hand (a double bourbon on the rocks, preferably) amidst a refreshing change of scenery.

For those seeking a more traditional concert experience, Rosedale Presbyterian’s Recitals at Rosedale presents “My Good Fortune: The Music of J.S. Bach” on October 1. The program’s two cantatas, one secular (Schweigt stille, better known as the ‘Coffee Cantata’) and one sacred (Cantata 84, Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke) as well as a motet (Lobet den Herrn) will be led by music director Christopher Dawes and feature a roster of well-known soloists including soprano Gillian Keith, bass-baritone Daniel Lichti and tenor Lenard Whiting.

G.F. Handel

To many early music aficionados, Handel’s genius is surpassed only by Bach. Often grouped along with Domenico Scarlatti and Rameau into what John Eliot Gardiner calls “the Class of ’85,” Handel and Bach are certainly connected in some interesting ways, not least of which is the fact that both men were surgically mistreated by the same eye doctor. Bach died soon after his operation while Handel lived for nine years, increasingly blind, having derived no benefit from his treatment.

On a more positive note, Tafelmusik’s first full season under their new music director Elisa Citterio begins this September. Season-opening concerts can set the tone for the entire year, and this looks to be a dynamic and energetic program. With concerti by Handel and Corelli, a suite by Rameau, and a Vivaldi violin concerto featuring Citterio as soloist, we await these performances (September 21 to 24 and 26) with eager anticipation.

Gottfried Finger

I FURIOSI with James Johnstone (second from left) - photo by Ron SearlesIn a world full of concerts featuring oft-performed works by well-known composers, it’s important to point out the occasional deviation from the norm. On October 6, the Baroque chamber ensemble I FURIOSI presents “Introduction to the Body” which, according to their website, lauds “the various naughty and not-so-naughty bits” of the human anatomy. I FURIOSI, in addition to their engaging and often amusing titles and programming, are expert players and will perform works by Couperin, Handel and others, including the Moravian composer Gottfried Finger.

Finger was born in 1655 or 1656 and died in August 1730. He was a viol virtuoso and worked as a composer for the court of James II in London, where he was known as Godfrey Finger. He wrote a number of sonatas, operas, and suites for a variety of instrumental combinations. There are few recordings of Finger’s music, but the Echo du Danube disc of the Sonatae pro diversis instrumentis, Op. 1 on the Accent label is worth rooting around for.

October Outlook

Looking ahead, there are a number of exciting and important events on the horizon this October, as well as a stimulating opportunity for young professionals interested in working with some of Toronto’s best early music specialists. The deadline for applying to the Tafelmusik Winter Institute, a weeklong intensive which focuses on Baroque orchestral music, is October 11; this year’s participants will look at suites from the French Baroque by Lully, Rameau and others. For more information on this worthwhile program, visit the Tafelmusik website.

To keep up to date on everything early music in Toronto or to share your comments and questions, visit thewholenote.com or email me at earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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