Shortly after I wrote my February 2018 column I had the unexpected opportunity to see a show that at first I wouldn’t have categorized as belonging to music theatre but which, after seeing, I think fits this category as much as it fits any category at all. Brodsky/Baryshnikov offered the extraordinary experience of listening to the great dance artist Mikhail Baryshnikov speak the poetry of his friend and fellow Russian exile, Joseph Brodsky, intermittently breaking into poetic and achingly evocative moments of choreographed movement in reaction to and interpretation of a soundtrack consisting of profound and mostly darkly sorrowful poetry spoken in the recorded voice of his friend. Not a play, not a musical, there was no music at all except for the sonorous quality of the two male voices, mellow and alternately melancholic and passionate, speaking in the traditional Russian poetic cadence. A fascinating evening.

February continued with exciting variations on the music theatre theme with the latest edition of Tapestry Opera’s Tap:Ex (a series created to explore the future of opera, particularly through cross-disciplinary hybrids). Tap:Ex Forbidden, based on an idea of Iranian-born composer Afarin Mansouri, combined her mix of classical Persian music and opera with a libretto by Afro-Caribbean hip-hop artist Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, in the service of a story that featured a very strong and talented small cast and an unexpected use of Lucifer as an instigator of rightful rebellion. The show equates the biblical eating of the apple to not only the acquiring of knowledge but, through that knowledge, the freedom and strength to rebel against a wrongfully authoritarian regime and to rise up for what is right. This heady mix of genres (including rapping in Farsi) gave power to the expression of a Persia aching to find a new modern identity. Seeing many members of the Persian/Iranian community in the audience clearly moved by the experience only added to the power of the evening.

February also saw the homecoming to the Royal Alexandra Theatre of Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s heartwarming, hilarious, foot-stomping and inspiring Canadian musical Come From Away, with an almost entirely Canadian cast who astound with their talent and versatility. This innovative, deceptively simple yet complex musical – based on the true events of 9/11 when 38 planes carrying 7000 passengers were stranded for five days in Gander, Newfoundland – grabs at the heart while also making you laugh. So explosively positive was the opening week that the run was immediately extended another six weeks to October 21. (I reviewed the opening performance on our website and can’t wait to see the show again.)

March on, March on!

March looks to be equally full of musical highlights, the biggest of which is the world premiere at Canadian Stage’s Bluma Appel Theatre of The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring, with music by Canadian composer James Rolfe and libretto and direction by prolific theatre creator and director Morris Panych. (Please see the feature article elsewhere in this issue.) In terms of categories, this new Overcoat could be seen as part opera (it is sung through) but also as part musical, in terms of pace and drive, in both the words and the music, in the service both of the narrative and of breaking open the ideas at the heart of Gogol’s original short story

Fides KruckerAlso at Canadian Stage is another experimental work on a smaller scale: in this body (March 14 to 18), a new creation by acclaimed Canadian vocalist Fides Kruker and her ensemble, along with some of Canada’s top contemporary dancers, Laurence Lemieux, Heidi Strauss, and the luminous Peggy Baker who also choreographs. (Peggy Baker is very much on the Toronto scene these days having also just presented Map By Years with her own company at the Theatre Centre last month, a retrospective of her solo creations with a new solo created for her by Sarah Chase.) Using choreography and voice, in this body will explore “the wilderness of a woman’s heart” through a score made up of Canadian popular song by Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, k.d. lang, Feist and more.

Meanwhile, over at Soulpepper, their extremely popular concert series turns to Paris in the 20s for A Moveable Feast, interweaving song and story to bring alive the world of post-WWI expats and European artists in the City of Light.

An American at the Princess

Paris is also at the heart of another big musical coming to Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre towards the end of the month: An American in Paris. The 2015 Tony Award winner and Broadway and London hit is finally coming to Toronto, starring McGee Maddox, a favourite of ballet fans as a beloved former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada.

An American in Paris touring company The 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron has always been one of my favourites (as it is of many people) so I am curious to see how I will feel about this new stage version. Although inspired by the film and its beloved Gershwin score, it has also gone beyond those templates to try and create a darker or more realistic version of a Paris recovering from the ravages of occupation and privation during WWII.

So why try to recreate this beloved movie onstage when you can watch it any time? The answer, it seems, was that the success of the 1990s Gershwin musical Crazy for You (developed by Mike Okrent from the original Girl Crazy) prompted the Gershwin estate to inquire into making a stage musical out of An American in Paris as well. According to, they approached producers Stuart Oken and Van Kaplan with this idea but it took years to find the right path and the right creative team. Eventually Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, Light in the Piazza) came on board to write the book, and ballet dancer and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (who had choreographed An American in Paris as a ballet for the New York City Ballet in 2005) came on board as director and choreographer.

What Lucas and Wheeldon have brought to the original story of Jerry, an American G.I. painter staying on in Paris after the war and falling in love with Lise, a sweet but spunky Parisian girl, is the added dimension of a Paris more affected by the war, and characters also with a darker or sadder side. There are hints of this in the original movie (Lise’s parents worked for the resistance, Jerry fought through and survived the war and doesn’t want to return to the States), but here they are given more emphasis. Oscar Levant’s role of Adam (Jerry’s concert pianist friend in the film) has also been given more depth, and Lise has been made an aspiring ballet dancer, so that, as Christopher Wheeldon has said, the new version plays on two fronts: “the friendship and the bonding and the love story,” but also the “creation of art and the struggle to create art.”

Adaptation is a difficult and fascinating art whatever the original material; while this adaptation of a beloved classic film musical has been lauded and given many awards, it will be interesting to see for ourselves how well it works for Toronto audiences. I am curious about the added darkness (Leslie Caron herself suffered through the occupation of Paris so it must have informed her original performance despite how Hollywood-happy the movie is). I’m curious as well about the choreography and how well it will stand up to Gene Kelly’s original dances for the film (for which he received an honorary Academy Award). When something is that iconic and entrenched in people’s memories, how do you match it?

McGee Maddox as Jerry in An American in ParisFinding the right triple threat performers for the two main leads has reportedly been a difficult and time-consuming process, but if the choice of McGee Maddox as Jerry is any indication, we’re in luck. Already very familiar with Wheeldon’s choreography, Maddox made a considerable impact as Leontes, the role of the jealous king in Wheeldon’s ballet version of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (a ballet created after An American in Paris, but seen in Toronto both in 2016 and this past fall).

Altogether, March is shaping up to be an exciting month for music theatre in the city.

News has just broken as I write this that a year from now Dear Evan Hansen, the musical by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) and Steven Levenson (book) which won the Tony award for best musical in 2017, will have its first international production beginning in Toronto in March 2019, in partnership with David Mirvish. Another good opportunity for Canadian music theatre performers, and exciting for music theatre fans.


Mar 8 to 18: Rudolph Nureyev’s version of the classic Petipa ballet Sleeping Beauty, to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, features his famous introspective solos for the prince, as well as the classic rose adagio for Princess Aurora and the fabulous fun of the wicked fairy Carabosse. National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Mar 14 to 25: Gobsmacked at the newly renamed CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic) sounds intriguing as it promises an evening of interwoven stories told solely through a cappella singing from “traditional street corner harmonies to cutting-edge, multi-track live looping.”

Mar 16 to 17: newly rebranded Toronto Musical Concerts (TMC), a professional not-for-profit company with a mandate to provide educational and community outreach through the performing arts, presents a staged reading of Sondheim’s classic Company at Eastminster United Church (310 Danforth Ave.) to benefit The Canadian Safe School Network (647-298-9338).

Mar 16 to 25: On the community music theatre front, the North Toronto Players present Lear Incorporated, their own new “operetta meets musical comedy” version of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear, featuring music by Arthur Sullivan, Bizet and others.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

It is with deep sadness that I have to report on the loss of another giant from our musical world. On January 22, just 11 days after his 92nd birthday, we lost Johnny Cowell, one of Canada’s most outstanding trumpet soloists. Rather than write some form of formal obituary, I would prefer to just recall a few situations over the years where our paths crossed. As is so often the case in the world of music, I cannot state with any certainty when or where I first heard the name Johnny Cowell or when I first met him. As I have mentioned in previous columns, there was a time when band tattoos were a significant part of summer festivities in many towns in southwestern Ontario. I know that his first band experience was with the Tillsonburg Citizens’ Band. At that time, I was a regular member of the Kiwanis Boys’ Band in Windsor. In a conversation with Johnny a few years ago I learned that we had both played in many of same tattoos. I know that he had played trumpet solos in some of these events. I may well have heard his solos then. However, the only young star trumpet player from those days that I remember was Ellis McClintock, later with the Toronto Symphony for many years.

Johnny CowellFast forward 20 or more years, and there I was playing in the same band as Johnny, with Ellis as the leader. It was a band, now long forgotten, for the Toronto Argonaut football club. Yes, even though the Argonaut head office appears to have no record of this band, from 1957 to 1967 the Argos had a 48-piece professional marching band which performed fancy routines on the field at all home games. Why would musicians of Johnny’s stature play in a football club band. Well, if you like football, why not get well paid union fees to watch a game? Since I was playing trombone in the front row and Johnny was playing trumpet in the back, we certainly had no contact with each other during rehearsals or performances. However, that is where we first met.

During the times between rehearsals and performances there were usually small groups chatting. Frequently, the topic would turn to Johnny’s many compositions, particularly those on the hit parade. His 1956 ballad Walk Hand in Hand, which was just one of his many hits, could be heard on every radio station in those days. Actually, it was reported that at one time Johnny had more numbers on the US hit list than any other writer of popular music. However, his writing wasn’t limited to that genre. He was equally at home writing for trumpet and brass ensembles. I frequently play selections from the Johnny Cowell CDs in my collection. I am amazed at the gamut his trumpet works run. At one end of the spectrum there is his dazzling Roller Coaster and on the other end, his Concerto in E Minor for Trumpet and Symphony Orchestra.

My contact with Johnny was limited over the years, but there are a few meetings that come back to me regularly. Shortly after I began writing this column, I arranged to meet Johnny to get an update on his musical activities. Our meeting was anything but formal. It wasn’t at his home or at The WholeNote office. It was on a park bench in the town of Stouffville, not far from my home and close to the home of a family member of his. A few years after that it was a chance meeting during a break in one of the Hannaford Silver Band’s weekend events. Along with Jack Long of Long & McQuade, we discussed a somewhat less-than-serious subject, i.e. whether or not the names that we were using were the names on our birth certificates. The name “Johnny” was, in fact, the name on his birth certificate. For the other two of us, “Jack” was not our given name.

Then there was the time two years ago when I had the privilege of attending Johnny’s 90th birthday party. During that event, for a short while, I was flanked by two great figures in the Canadian music scene, Johnny and Eddie Graf. Now we have lost them both. At times one wonders how things might have been if Johnny had not turned down attractive offers which might have brought him fame by writing for stage productions or getting involved in the Nashville scene. While the trumpet was his all-abiding first musical love, that for his wife Joan and their family always had precedence.

By the time this issue is released, the Encore Symphonic Concert Band will be presenting a “Tribute to Johnny Cowell” in their regular noon hour concert, playing many of Johnny’s arrangements, on Thursday March 1. I’m sure that similar tributes will be presented by many other bands in the area over the coming months. Tell me about them and I’ll pass the word along.

A public memorial/celebration of life for Johnny will be held on Monday, March 12 at 7:30pm. It will take place at Scarborough Bluffs United Church, 3739 Kingston Rd, near the intersection of Kingston Rd. and Scarborough Golf Club Rd.

Junior Bands

Speaking of junior bands, it has just come to our attention that the 2018 National Youth Band will be hosted this year in Montreal by the Quebec Band Association. The guest conductor will be Wendy McCallum from Brandon University. We understand that this will be taking place in May, but don’t yet have confirmation on precise dates or location. The Yamaha Guest Soloist, on clarinet, will be Simon Aldrich from McGill University.


Over the years new bands spring up, old ones disappear and some undergo a significant transition. One group undergoing a major transition is the several New Horizons Bands in the Toronto area. Since their beginning close to ten years ago, the man at the helm has been Dan Kapp. However, not only is Dan relinquishing his leadership on the Toronto New Horizons scene, he is moving to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, soon after his wife Lisa retires from her teaching post this coming June. Rather than have a single person at the helm, now with quite a number of New Horizons bands in the Toronto area, there is scheduled to be a governing committee made up from the membership of the various NH bands. I hope to have more details on New Horizons activities soon.

It is always refreshing to learn of new groups arising from scratch. We just learned of a new swing band which is starting to make its mark. A frequent dilemma is how to give a new band a distinct name for people to associate with them. So, last summer a group forming up in Aurora decided that they should have a name that was unique, but easily recognized as having an affiliation with the name Aurora. Their name: the Borealis Big Band. The band is under the musical direction of Gord Shephard, a longtime resident of Aurora. He is the music director of the Aurora Community Band, as well as an instructor and conductor at York University where he is a PhD Candidate studying community music.

I was invited to attend one of this band’s rehearsals on January 31 and was almost blown away by a group that had just had its first rehearsal in September 2017. I heard a real powerhouse with a repertoire unlike that of any group that I have known. I asked a couple of members to describe this, and I received a variety of answers. The answer from Shephard was: “The Borealis Big Band was set up to provide an opportunity for members to play a wide variety of big band jazz styles including swing, funk, smooth and Latin/Cuban, and to play it to the highest quality possible with lots of room for improvisation for all interested members.” Unlike most such groups, when the band was formed they had designated leaders for each section. Their Debut Concert” went amazingly well. In the words of bassist Carl Finkle: “It was so much fun playing to a sold-out house for our first ever gig.” Their next scheduled performance will be on Friday June 22 at 8pm at the Old Town Hall, Newmarket, 460 Botsford St. We’ll have more on that in a later column.


On Sunday, March 4 at 3:30pm, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir will present their “Midwinter Sweets” program featuring an assortment of selections arranged by Roy Greaves, Alan Witkin, Richard Moore, Maarten Jense and Frank J. Halferty. Featured will be Five Bagatelles, Op.23 by Gerald Finzi, with artistic director Michele Jacot as clarinet soloist. Steve MacDonald, as tenor saxophone soloist, will perform Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia on my Mind. Also on the program will be Minuet from “A Downland Suiteby John Ireland, Rikudim, Four Israeli Folk Dances by Jan Van der Roost and Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk. This concert will be held at The Church of Saint Michael and all Angels, 611 St. Clair Ave. W.

While it is a bit in the future, we might as well look ahead a bit to spring. The Clarington Concert Band’s annual spring concert will take place at 7:30pm on Saturday April 21 at Hope Fellowship Church in Courtice. As always, the program has something for everyone, with music from the band Chicago, to jazz and Broadway standards sung by their popular vocalist, Liza Heitzner. Clarinetist Katherine Carleton will perform Gordon Jenkins’ Blue Prelude and alto saxophonist Liz Jamischek will pay tribute to longtime Ellington soloist Johnny Hodges, with her rendition of Harlem Nocturne. The band’s regular conductor will be away and the band will be under the direction of Shawn Hills. Now retired after decades of heading the music program at Bowmanville High School, she is excited to direct her inaugural post-retirement concert with the Clarington Concert Band.

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

In the February issue of HalfTones, our between-print-issues e-letter, we ran a story by Sara Constant on this year’s recipients of the TD Toronto Jazz Discoveries Series Awards, now in its eighth year.

As described in that story, the series started in 2011 as a part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival’s outreach to local performers creating original work, and to year-round, multi-venue jazz programming in the city. “Each year, an assembled Toronto Jazz Fest jury selects four projects to receive support and funding from the festival. Over the last eight years,” the story continues, “the series has accumulated an alumni list that serves as a veritable who’s who of local jazz innovators –[helping] transform the festival from an annual affair into a year-round showcase of local music-making.”

It’s not hard to see how this year’s four recipients fit the bill: Harley Card’s Sunset Ensemble at Lula Lounge, March 1; the Heavyweights Brass Band at Lula Lounge, March 29; Adrean Farrugia and Joel Frahm at Gallery 345, April 27; and a show curated by Aline Homzy titled The Smith Sessions Presents: Bitches Brew at Canadian Music Centre, April 28.

Just as interesting as the alumni, from the perspective of this column, is taking a look at the venues that have been the most active participants in this initiative over the years, both the ones you’d expect to find mentioned regularly here, and also the ones you might not usually associate with jazz.

The Heavyweights Brass BandLula leads: of the usual venues you’d expect to be involved, Lula Lounge leads the pack, starting with the series’ first-ever concert, a Fern Lindzon CD release in April 2011. Since then the Dundas St. W. venue has hosted series concerts by Jaron Freeman-Fox in February 2013, a Heavyweights Brass Band CD release concert in March 2014, Alexander Brown in March 25, Sundar Viswanathan’s AVATAAR in March 2016 and Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School CD release in January of last year. And this year the beat continues with Harley Card, March 1 and The Heavyweights in a return visit on March 29.

The Rex and Jazz Bistro: as you might expect, the city’s two premier mainstream venues are both in the running for silver and bronze, with three appearances each over the eight years. The Rex has been venue of choice for a Barry Elmes Quintet CD Release in March 2011, a Nick Fraser double-CD release in May 2016, and The Further Adventures of Jazz Money (Dillan Ponders, Apt and Ghettosocks) in March 2017. And the Bistro has hosted a Beverly Taft Meets the Nathan Hiltz Orchestra CD release concert in April 2014, a first big gig for the Alex Goodman Chamber Quintet in April 2015 and Robi Botos’ Movin’ Forward CD Release in March 2015.

Gallery 345: When you get past those three obvious choices, though, you’re entering some interesting territory – venues with audiences more often in other genres but offering fertile ground for jazz. Gallery 345 on Sorauren heads the list: Mike Downes in March 2012, Shannon Graham and The Storytellers in April 2013, and the Nancy Walker Quintet in 2014. Adrean Farrugia and Joel Frahm (April 27 this year) will actually push Ed Epstein’s little-gallery-that-could ahead of its more storied mainstream colleagues into the silver medal spot.

The Best Rest

Space doesn’t permit the same level of detail for the rest of the venues used to date for the series, but the point is that there are venues out there for putting on shows for audiences that are there to listen. The Music Gallery, previously at St. George the Martyr Church on John St., and its new housemates at 918 Bathurst Cultural Centre have been used four times so far. Small World Music Centre, Alliance Française, the late-lamented Trane Studio, the Lower Ossington Theatre, Knox Presbyterian and Beit Zatoun have also all been used. This year the Canadian Music Centre on St. Joseph joins the list.

If the series continues to encourage adventurous venue hunting as much as it does adventurous music-making, it will continue to serve a worthwhile purpose.

junobannerThe five composers who have works nominated in this year’s JUNO category for Classical Composition of the Year form a formidable group of mid-career Canadian creators: James Rolfe, Alice Ho, Andrew Staniland, Jocelyn Morlock and Vincent Ho. I first met them as emerging young composers through my work at CBC Radio; since then, all have developed into significant artists, shaping the future of Canadian composition. I recently asked each of them to frame their currently nominated piece in the context of their past and current work.

James RolfeJames Rolfe: When I first met James Rolfe (b.1961) he was a prize winner in the CBC/Radio-Canada National Competition for Young Composers in 1990, which I coordinated for CBC Radio. His winning composition, Four Songs on Poems by Walt Whitman for bass voice and piano, revealed early evidence of his gift for writing for the voice. In 1998, his opera Beatrice Chancy, commissioned by Queen of Puddings and the first of his ten operas, at the current count, introduced the vocal world to soprano Measha Brueggergosman.

Breathe James RolfeRolfe’s current JUNO-nominated composition Breathe was commissioned in 2010 by Soundstreams Canada. The impetus for the commission was to provide a new Canadian work for Soundstreams to bring together the vocalists in the European group, Trio Medieval, and the musicians of the Toronto Consort, directed by David Fallis. Breathe appears on a Centrediscs release, and also gives the CD its title. Rolfe says the JUNO nomination is welcome recognition for all the great artists who made this CD – writers, singers, musicians and production team. “The three pieces on it are dear to my heart: my collaborations with their writers (André Alexis, Anna Chatterton, Steven Heighton) led me to places I had never been – lyrical, emotional and playful places I still return to in my current work, places I can still find new means of expression, new ways to weave voices together.” In addition to Breathe (libretto by Anna Chatterton), the CD includes two dramatic Rolfe works commissioned by Toronto Masque Theatre, Europa (libretto by Steven Heighton) and Aeneas and Dido (libretto by André Alexis).

Towards the end of March, and just a few days after JUNO night, Rolfe’s newest opera The Overcoat will have its world premiere at the St. Lawrence Centre in a co-presentation by Canadian Stage and Tapestry. Morris Panych is the librettist, whose book is based on the short story of the same name by the 19th-century author Nicolai Gogol (1809–1852).

Alice Ping Yee HoAlice Ping Yee Ho: My first encounter with the music of Alice Ping Yee Ho (b.1960) was in 1994 and during another CBC Radio broadcast of a composers’ competition, when we broadcast her orchestral work, Ice Path from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s (WSO) New Music Festival. Ho’s work was a finalist in the WSO Canadian Composers’ Competition, and her music already bore the trademarks of her vividly colourful style.

Incarnatiion Duo Concertante contains Alice Ping Yee Hos Coeur a CoeurHo’s Glistening Pianos was nominated in the 2015 JUNO Classical Composition of the Year category, and her duo for violin and piano, Coeur à Coeur, is nominated in that same category this year. The work was written especially for the husband-and-wife team, Duo Concertante: violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves. Ho explains: “The idea of the commission came at a sushi dinner in Toronto, with the idea of a composition about Nancy and Tim’s life. Their beautiful story of two lovers and artists struggling and pursuing their dreams is real and inspiring. The element of writing from the heart becomes something I cherish in my ongoing works, regardless of styles or genre.” The recording is on a CD titled Incarnation on the Marquis label.

Alice Ho recently completed a children’s opera with librettist Marjorie Chan, The Monkiest King, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus. Public performances of the opera will be at the Lyric Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts on May 26 and 27. Ho’s most recent recording will be launched shortly after JUNO night. It’s a CD of her chamber music titled The Mysterious Boot, featuring flutist Susan Hoeppner, cellist Winona Zelenka and pianist Lydia Wong on the Centrediscs label.

Andrew StanilandAndrew Staniland (b.1977) was the second winner of the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music at the U of T Faculty of Music in 2003 for his composition for clarinet, cello and electronic sounds, titled Tapestry. From its inception in 2002, a component of the Kieser prize (for the first ten years it was awarded) was a broadcast of the winning work on CBC Radio Two. This was how I met Andrew. Just a few years later, in 2009, he became the Grand Prize winner in the first and only CBC/Radio-Canada Evolution Young Composers Competition at the Banff Centre.

Encount3rs Rencontr3s containing Andrew Stanilands Phi CoelestisLast year, Staniland’s Dark Star Requiem (with librettist Jill Battson) was nominated in two JUNO categories: Best Classical Album, Vocal or Choral; and Classical Composition of the Year. This year he’s once again nominated in that latter category for his ballet score, Phi Caelestis. The ballet was commissioned by the National Arts Centre for Alberta Ballet and choreographer Jean Grand-Maître. It’s one of three new ballets created through an initiative called Encount3rs that paired three composers, three choreographers and three ballet companies. All three ballets have been recorded on an Analekta CD titled Encount3rs Rencontr3s. Staniland had this to say about the nomination: “Phi Caelestis is a work that is very dear to my heart, as it represents one of the most rewarding collaborations I have ever experienced involving choreographer Jean Grand-Maître, conductor and artistic director Alexander Shelley and the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Further, I have much admiration and respect for each and every one of my fellow nominees, which makes this nomination extra special. We have wonderful composers in Canada!”

Staniland told me his next project is “to compose a new piece for five choirs! The premiere is at Podium in St. John’s on Canada Day 2018. But this month I am extra excited about the upcoming Newfoundland and Labrador tourism campaign, a part of which
I wrote the music for. The video, featuring the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, will be released in March and it looks absolutely superb. I can’t wait to share it.”

Jocelyn MorlockJocelyn Morlock (b.1969) came to prominence in 2002 when we submitted her Lacrimosa as CBC Radio’s entry to the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. Lacrimosa was voted one of the top ten works presented that year, and it was subsequently broadcast in over 20 countries. In 2003 she received the Canadian Music Centre Prairie Region Emerging Composer Award at the WSO New Music Festival. In 2004, the Vancouver vocal group Musica Intima commissioned her work, Exaudi for solo cello and voices, for performance with the renowned British cello soloist, Steven Isserlis. The recording of the work on the ATMA label garnered a JUNO nomination for Classical Composition of the Year in 2011. In 2014 Morlock became composer-in-residence with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO).

Life ReflectedThis year, Jocelyn’s JUNO nomination for Classical Composition of the Year is for a recording with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) on the Analekta label on a disc called Life Reflected. Her work is titled My Name is Amanda Todd. Morlock told me, “My Name is Amanda Todd is very different from my other work in some ways. It is a very specific piece about the strength and power of a young woman in the face of cyberbullying, and it is a collaboration with maestro Alexander Shelley and the NACO and with Amanda’s mother, Carol Todd. It was my intent to write music that could show how bright and wonderful a person Amanda was, rather than only focus on the idea that she was just a victim, because she was so much more than that. Amanda, and her mother Carol (who founded the Amanda Todd Legacy and works tirelessly to promote awareness around cyberbullying, internet safety and mental wellness), are heroes.” The work was commissioned by NACO as part of a full program of multimedia works reflecting on the lives of four heroic Canadian women and their journeys to find their individual voices. Morlock said: “What My Name is Amanda Todd has in common with my other work is my desire to connect with listeners on an emotional level.”

Morlock is currently completing two commissions, one from the Vancouver Cantata Singers and the other for the VSO. The latter work, O Rose, will celebrate Bramwell Tovey’s final concert as VSO music director this June, and will share that concert with the Mahler Resurrection Symphony.

Vincent Ho - Photo by Hans ArnoldVincent Ho (b.1975) was studying for his master’s degree at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, when his String Quartet No.1 was presented at the Massey Hall New Music Festival and broadcast on CBC Radio Two in the year 2000. The recording we made for that broadcast on the CBC Radio Two network program, Two New Hours, was leased by Skylark Music and became part of Ho’s debut CD in 2007. This was the same year that Ho became composer-in-residence for the WSO. He held that post for seven years, a prolific time for him, as he produced several important works, including his Arctic Symphony and The Shaman, a concerto for the acclaimed Scottish percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, and orchestra. In 2009 he won the Audience Prize in the CBC/Radio-Canada Evolution Competition for Young Composers for his work Nature Whispers.

The Shaman Arctic SymphonyThe WSO, conductor Alexander Mickelthwate, Dame Evelyn Glennie and the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Performers recorded the Arctic Symphony and The Shaman for broadcasts on CBC Radio Two. Those broadcasts were leased by the WSO, remastered for Centrediscs, and released last year. That release is nominated in the category of Classical Album of the Year: Large Ensemble, and Ho himself is nominated in the Classical Composition of the Year category for The Shaman. Ho says, “Being nominated for a JUNO is a tremendous honour for any Canadian musician. It means I am being recognized for my work. For me, there are two kinds of recognition: external and internal. This upcoming JUNO event is an external recognition, and for that I am extremely honoured. When something like this happens it makes me stop and reflect on the long journey that brought me here. This is where the internal recognition comes in. As an artist I am very process-oriented, meaning that my creative work is an ongoing journey of self-discovery and growth manifested in musical form.”

Ho comments about the work itself, “The Shaman was written seven years ago and it was the product of my musical thinking and circumstances surrounding my life at the time – I was in my third year as the WSO’s composer-in-residence, it was my first concerto for an internationally recognized artist, and my career was just starting off. Due to the importance of the commission, I put my heart and soul into the creation of the work, aiming to deliver the best possible product I could create.”

Ho is currently the new music advisor to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and the Artistic Director of Land’s End Ensemble. He continues to be busy with numerous commissions.

The JUNO jury will select one Classical Composition of the Year for 2018; all five of these Canadian composers have done the work to be worthy of the accolade.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

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

John Storgards conducts The Planets with the TSO. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.On the evening of January 25, I walked one lap around Roy Thomson Hall’s circular theatre lobby before ascending to my mezzanine seat, and felt the world starting to spin. Attending a performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I questioned whether the pieces on the program would work together – a composition by a 20th-century Russian-born composer, a new Canadian work, and a widely-known orchestral masterwork – but under the expert leadership of guest conductor John Storgårds, they did. Common dynamics and dispositions threaded together feelings of mystery and triumph, and recurring arpeggiated motifs created circular orbs of sound that seemed to spin themselves right out to space. Storgårds’ energizing style, and ability to draw out these common threads, made this one of the most exciting orchestral concerts I have ever seen.

The concert opened with the Canadian premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s recently rediscovered Funeral Song, which he wrote in honour of his deceased mentor, Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It was thought lost for years until musicologist Natalia Braginskaya and librarian Irina Sidorenko unearthed it in 2015 from the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory archives in St. Petersburg. It began almost inaudibly, with rapid wavering notes from the basses that denoted a sense of tantalizing horror. Storgårds thrust his baton in the air, ordering the strings into stammering phrases. I originally anticipated a nostalgic mood for music in remembrance of the dead, but was surprised to experience an eerie tone that almost signified a fear of death – magnificent enough to reach beyond the piece’s 12-minute length.

There was a short transition on the stage before JUNO-nominated John Estacio’s Trumpet Concerto, featuring TSO Principal Trumpet Andrew McCandless as the soloist. The three movements took inspiration from Greek mythology – particularly Poseidon’s son Triton, whose conch shell was used as a trumpet to control the ocean waters.

The first movement, “Triton’s Trumpet,” reminded me of a coastline thunderstorm, with the trumpet and orchestra ruthlessly battling. The strings sounded like gusts of wind hitting cliffs, while the trumpet – the determined bird – dodged dynamic bursts of percussive lightning. At one point, McCandless put his trumpet mute in as if to indicate that he was finally being overcome, but this was short-lived. He played so frequently that he often wiped the condensation on his upper lip. After a climactic finish, the audience hesitated to clap, until he spoke up, saying: “It was really hard work!”

The following “Ballad” movement sounded, in contrast, like the morning after a storm, while the final “Rondo” movement had a quicker tempo and triumphant trumpet lines. With an abrupt ending to the concerto, McCandless hit a final note, as if a ribbon of hope was being pulled out of his horn. The act ended with a heartfelt embrace between him and Storgårds.

After the intermission, the hall was buzzing with excitement over the impending planetary phenomenon. Composed by Gustav Holst from 1914 to 1916, The Planets is his most popular work, with seven movements inspired by seven different planets.

The first – “Mars, The Bringer of War” – is believed to have a connection to the First World War with its cold resonance. The high-energy pace was dictated by the strings’ bouncing bows, with Storgårds literally jumping into phrases. This movement in particular shares similarities with Star Wars’ “Imperial March” – and in fact, Holst was a big inspiration for John Williams when composing for the film.

The second movement phased from night to day. “Venus, The Bringer of Peace” was calm and collected, while the harp delicately fluttered overtop smooth and quietly executed harmonies. This paved the way nicely for “Mercury, The Winged Messenger” – which, for the smallest and fastest-spinning planet, proved to be an act of swift call-and-response with a sudden finish.

The brass section came back in full force for the majestic “Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity.” Here, their warm tones made me feel the safest I had felt all night. A gentle beast – the sound of the biggest planet – this movement was triumphant and celebratory, with playful tambourines reminiscent of happy movie music.

“Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age” was a bit of an odd movement. With two wavering notes that slowly repeated throughout, I was reminded of an ancient grandfather clock, ticking ever so slowly enough to lull me into a trance. Following this, the start of “Uranus, The Magician” was like an elephant parade entering the circus. Storgårds worked hard to keep up with the varying tempo, and began to look like a magician himself as he cast the cymbal crashes. At one point, the bass and cello players seemed almost to headbang in time, and I wanted to put up my devil horns – rock on!

The final movement – “Neptune, The Mystic,” inspired by the farthest known planet at the time – capitalized on the mysterious nature of space. The side stage door eerily opened to a wormhole of darkness. The phosphorescent tone and pace seemed to slowly create a glowing orb of light sparkling with magical dust. Coming from the darkness offstage were the voices of the Elmer Iseler Singers, who mesmerized patrons with haunting phrases until the door slowly shut and their voices diminished into near-silence.

The expertly curated program and Storgårds’ elaborate conducting style deserved the explosive standing ovation. It was a night that felt larger than life, and looking down at the full-size orchestra, the higher elevated seats proved to be the best place to hear the orchestra’s sound. I left the performance feeling as though I could take on the strength of any planet.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented “Holst The Planets” from January 25 to 27, 2018 at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

Arianna Benincasa has a lifelong passion for all things music and currently works at an audio post-production and recording studio. With a dedication to sharing her many concert experiences, she now is in pursuit of starting her own music blog. It is her goal to continually support the arts and culture communities in Toronto.

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