Gustavo Dudamel (left) and Gael García BernalThese days, stories about classical music are almost completely absent from television programming – which is why it’s all the more astonishing that an American series with protagonists who are musicians, and plots revolving around their work as musicians, has been, since its modest debut in 2014, gaining prominence. By Season 3, Amazon.com’s online-only TV series Mozart in the Jungle has accumulated several awards, a growing following – and critical acclaim nearing consensus.

New charismatic music director takes over the reins at a large New York City orchestra. Board of directors gears up for a rebranding but the mandate is at stake. Young musician joins a music section full of veterans set in their ways. The old music director is not quite ready to disappear into the background. He is, in fact, about to get into a messy affair with the orchestra’s CEO. Meanwhile, opening nights. Fundraising events. Tour. Lock-out. Drugs, prescription and other. Sex. Rivalry and comradeship. Big chances and hard blows. And music: a lot of it, in almost every scene.

I am of course talking about an Amazon Original series Mozart in the Jungle, a Golden Globe-winning show which shines the light on the lives of professional musicians as no other TV show has.

Classical music and television – still the most powerful of all media – have completely parted ways in Canada and the US over the last decade. For Ontarians, the only chance of coming across any opera and classical music on TV is the public francophone TFO channel, which occasionally interviews artists and transmits recorded performances. The effects of the total withdrawal of the national public broadcaster CBC TV from covering art music, literature, visual arts and dance is for the sociologists of the future to measure and for us to bear. (Papers are not doing much better: our largest dailies’ coverage of classical music is occasional at best.)

Classical musicians are permanently absent from TV fiction as well. Could the Looney Tunes cartoons have been the last time that classical music was present in broad TV mainstream? Which is why it’s all the more astonishing that an American series with protagonists who are musicians and plots revolving around their work as musicians has been, since its modest debut in 2014, gaining prominence, awards, a growing following, and, by Season 3, critical acclaim nearing consensus.

Real-life musicians who’ve appeared in cameos include Joshua Bell, Emanuel Ax, Gustavo Dudamel, Lang Lang and Alan Gilbert. With season 4 in the works, the list is likely to grow. It’s hard to believe that the series has not come out of the traditional TV: it’s an Amazon.com production (the online retailer is also a TV production company) and, like shows on Netflix, can be watched online only – by episode, or entire seasons. It’s a new and fast-growing model of TV financing and consumption; and yet the old – classical music – seems to have found a place in it.

The show’s creators – Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Will Graham and Paul Weitz – originally based it on oboist Blaire Tindall’s 2005 memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, but the show, centred on a charismatic young conductor, an established older conductor, an administrator of a large NYC orchestra and a handful of musicians, quickly acquired a life – and wacky plots – of its own. After a bumpy first season that was no stranger to stereotypes, implausible plotting, iffy gender politics (men are the creators, women are administrators or young artists in need of mentoring), a sitcom-like take on the working life and even a ghost of Mozart speaking in a posh British accent, the show proceeded to improve at a steady pace. Season 3 has persuaded its most obdurate critics. The principals are now complex individuals, stories are well-researched, careers take more than one miraculous performance, women too are creators. So, if you still don’t have the habit of looking for TV online and have missed the first three seasons entirely, now is a good time to catch up before Season 4 is released early this December.

Season 3, its best so far, is also when the only Canadian in the show’s permanent writer-producer pool joined in.

Multi-talented screenwriter and actor Susan Coyne is probably best known across North America as the co-creator of the 2003-06 Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows, a dramedy about theatre artists working at a Shakespearean festival much like Stratford and, should you poll the local TV critics, one of the best things ever to appear on TV. Slings accomplished what few TV creations dare try: it took a piece of highbrow culture – Shakespeare’s plays – and turned it into compelling television without dumbing any of it down. A corner of high culture, often accessible only to those who’d studied it and who tended to belong to the leisured classes, became the setting for a TV story about personal and professional intrigues of the working men and women who happen to be artists. Sounds familiar? Mozart in the Jungle is aiming exactly in that direction.

The producers called Coyne before the work on the third season had begun, “out of the blue, but the next thing I knew I was flying to LA,” she explains when we meet to talk about her work on the show. Slings and Arrows is well known in TV and performing arts circles, and somebody must have connected the dots between it and MITJ. She had never been to LA before. “I found a very creative, slightly chaotic but wonderfully free-flowing kind of situation that I liked a lot; it’s not what I expected of LA television industry; it was more like working in the theatre.” She started as a writer but became a producer on the season – which is also a writing job. “Producers write all the time, work on all episodes, shaping stories, rewriting, tweaking scenes, and we’re to some extent involved in conversations about creative problems: you’re sometimes consulted about casting, for example,” she says.

This isn’t Coyne’s first time writing about an orchestra: some years ago, she was asked to develop a Canadian show about a fledgling orchestra, but it didn’t make the production stage. “What we came up with was really good, but times being what they were, we couldn’t take it forward in Canada, and then both of us writers got busy with other projects. So, I have done some research into orchestras and I know how difficult it is to tell the story of an entire ensemble, plus the people backstage running the show. I think that telling a story through a small family of musicians, all of whom have their own issues, is the way to go about it. MITJ really honoured what’s unique about musicians, the physicality of the job, the fact that it’s like being an athlete.” And just like Slings, MITJ doesn’t make fun of people for doing what they do – they see being an oboist or a conductor or a composer as an absolutely worthwhile thing to do. “The show makes fun of them for their egos, and their neuroses. But they take it for granted that what they do matters.”

Lola KirkeWriting the show is a collective process, not unlike playing in an orchestra. The producers get together to sketch out the whole season before each individual episode is written. Any newly introduced narrative thread needs to be resolved by the last episode. “If there is an orchestra strike at the beginning of the season, it would have to be resolved by the end. We knew Rodrigo would be starting a youth orchestra, and that Gloria and Thomas’ relationship would become important. We knew that they were all going to Venice and that Rodrigo was going to conduct a recluse opera singer. Then you figure out, in broad detail, what is going to happen in each episode. Then, you make sure that every main character has enough to do in each episode, and break it all down into finer and finer detail before you start to write an outline. Then you go and write it. And rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it. Some bits get taken from one episode to another episode. It’s a strange, organic process. There are bits of scenes that I’ve written in every episode, and a lot of the writers can say the same. Then you get rewritten yourself. You get your name on one of the episodes, but it’s probably a mishmash of your stuff and other people’s stuff. Finally, the showrunner looks at each episode and makes sure that it all feels like the same show and not like something written in different voices.”

Coyne’s name appears in the credits of the “Creative Solutions for Creative Lives” episode, in which the former music director of the orchestra turned composer (Malcolm McDowell) discovers electronic music, and “Avventura Romantica,” in which the young protagonist Hailey (Lola Kirke) assembles a small orchestra and tries conducting herself – a piece composed for the show by NYC-based composer Missy Mazzoli. The storyline with Hailey stumbling into conducting then realizing that she really wants to do it, Coyne says, was an important one to tell, and will continue in Season 4. “In theatre, everybody has their own voice and everybody is their own artist, but what’s fascinating about the orchestras [is that] everyone there is highly trained as a soloist whose job upon joining the orchestra is to blend in. And I can see how that can be stressful; I can also see how making something bigger than yourself can be wonderful.” It’s additionally interesting, she says, if the musician grappling with these questions is a young woman, since the external and internal obstacles to the conducting profession in that case multiply.

A repository of charisma and artistic madness in Season 1, the new music director Rodrigo (played by Gael García Bernal) has by now grown into a conflicted human being. Coyne says it’s a natural process: finding new layers to characters and surprising yourself is part of the job. The fun of it is to put the characters in challenging situations and see what they’re made of. “It’s true that the Rodrigo character is magical in some way, but we’re discovering that he has his own disappointments and yearnings, and is wondering what his true destiny is, and whether it’s enough just to be an artist. Some of this came from Gael who said at one point, ‘It’s time for this guy to grow up.’”

Coyne played the piano as a child and while her university degrees are in history and theatre, music was always part of her life. Now, thanks to the show, she listens to classical music even more. “And I think there comes a time in your life when you need to be listening to more complex music and having more interesting conversations about it,” she says. She is most likely to be found listening to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and choral music of all kinds. “My kids sang in a church choir and I loved all the masses they sang in – those things really thrill me.” She’d like to introduce more Romantics and modern music to her listening habits. Opera is always around. In How Are You?, a short film about an end of a marriage that she made with Martha Burns in 2008, an aria from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino is sung in an Annex living room by the protagonist’s operatic alter ego (look for the film, 18 minutes of hilarity, sadness and opera, on Vimeo.com). “Only opera can express certain things,” says Coyne.

Why has classical music disappeared from the TV medium, and what are her thoughts? “I was going back looking at those Leonard Bernstein intro-to-music shows the other day…He was amazing. Shows like that don’t exist anymore,” she agrees. While a number of conductors have embraced different causes and are active in their societies – Dudamel, on whom the MITJ’s Rodrigo was loosely based, is one of them; Daniel Barenboim is another – the lucky connection of the Bernstein kind (between a public broadcaster and a great communicator whose goal is to make music education more widely accessible) doesn’t come easily. “The idea of art music being popular – somehow we’ve lost that thread. It’s perceived to be elitist, despite what every orchestra in the world is trying to do to fight that,” says Coyne. She likes the music segments that Robert Harris occasionally makes for CBC Radio One’s The Sunday Edition: “He does a great job of talking about music in a lively and approachable way,” she says. “That’s the goal with MITJ too. It tries to demystify classical music and take it into the world.”

This is an uphill battle with so much else vying for our attention. “Once we do give over to something, we can pay attention, but there’s always the barrier – am I willing to give up anything for this. And those great works of art require you to give over. They are going to enlarge you, and they’ll ask for something in return. It’s the most rewarding kind of ‘giving over’.” Art, she would like to remind us, isn’t something over there; it’s next to you and it relates to every aspect of your life.

Funding cuts in arts education in schools also aren’t helping the cause. “The only sports I can watch are the ones I’ve played: hockey and basketball. (My hockey team in high school was never in any danger of winning so there was never any pressure and we enjoyed it.) I will watch hockey because I’ve played it,” says Coyne. “I can imagine what it’s like to be in a game of hockey, and I get some of the fun of it. I think if you get kids the exposure to music at a young age, they’ll have a taste for it for life.”

Coyne herself was introduced to Shakespeare (and Shelley and Keats) at the age of five by a kindly cottage neighbour who also happened to be a masterful pedagogue, the story of which she tells in her 2001 childhood memoir Kingfisher Days. “Music is enriching for all the reasons that the scientists and educators give us, of course, but primarily for the pleasure it gives.”

Rapid Fire: Susan Coyne, writer (Mozart in the Jungle)

Susan CoyneWN: Mozart or Wagner?

SC: Mozart.

Pinter or Stoppard?

I want to say Pinter but I’ll say Stoppard.

Caryl Churchill or Stoppard?

Churchill.

Shaw or Coward?

Coward is underrated!

Shakespeare’s tragedies or Shakespeare’s comedies?

Impossible. And great playwrights intermingle comedy and drama. Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare all knew a thing or two about dramedy.

Female roles in Shakespeare vs. female roles in Restoration plays?

Hmm…Rosalind and Portia are pretty good roles. Sometimes the women are on a par with men in Shakespeare, there just aren’t enough of them. Restoration roles are wonderful to play, but those plays are not as ambitious as Shakespeare’s plays. It’s really hard to do Restoration comedy – harder than Shakespeare. They can be arch, like Wilde.

Three Sisters or The Seagull?

Three Sisters.

Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky?

Dostoyevsky.

La Traviata or Rigoletto?

La Traviata.

Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul?

Next.

Girls or Sex and the City?

Girls.

Broad City or Girls?

Broad City. The last season of Girls was good.

British TV or American TV?

I’d say British TV…I just love the casting in British TV, which usually has an interesting range of real people, not glossy versions of people. Also, on British TV, the rest of the world exists.

Mozart in the Jungle returns on Amazon.com on December 8, 2017, and can be watched online at www.primevideo.com.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. She can be reached at artofsong@thewholenote.com.

Elisa CitterioOn October 11, 2017 at 8pm (or shortly thereafter), on the stage of the hall named after her distinguished predecessor, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s new music director will take that sharply drawn-in breath characteristic of leading a period ensemble from the first violin. And with the downbeat that follows, as the first notes of Giuseppe Battista Fontana’s Sonata XIV for two violins, dulcian and continuo float out into Jeanne Lamon Hall, it will be safe to say that Brescia-born Elisa Citterio, only the second music director in Tafelmusik’s illustrious 33-year history, will be well and truly at home.

It won’t be Citterio’s first appearance with Tafelmusik. That took place, in the selfsame hall, from November 5 to November 8, 2015, in a program titled “Baroque Masters” and featuring works by Corelli, Fasch, J.S. Bach, Locatelli and Vivaldi (his Concerto for two violins and two oboes in F).

It won’t even be her first official appearance as the orchestra’s anointed music director. That will have taken place three weeks previously, from September 21 to 24 at Koerner Hall and September 26 at the George Weston Hall. But for Tafelmusik as an organization, October 11, 2017 will be the culmination of a five-year process that started in the orchestra room in the basement at Trinity-St. Paul’s in October 2012, when Jeanne Lamon  advised her orchestral colleagues of her intention to step down as music director. And for Citterio it will be a defining moment – her first opportunity to present herself to Tafelmusik’s audiences in all her musical capacities: who she is (virtuosic soloist, orchestral leader, team player and imaginative curator) and, both literally and metaphorically, where she is coming from.

In a blog post still available for reading on Tafelmusik’s website, violinist Jula Wedman wryly recalls Lamon’s October 2012 announcement of her intention to retire from the position she had held for 33 years: “For the first time ever in an orchestra meeting,” Wedman says, “the room was completely silent.” Tears and prosecco flowed. And then the search was on, with Wedman as one of two musicians on an 11-person search committee spearheaded by veteran arts headhunters Margaret Genovese and Dory Vanderhoof.

In her blog post, Wedman reflects on the positive aspects of the ensuing two-year process for the musicians themselves: “I saw how the orchestra grew and changed as we worked with each wonderful guest director,” she wrote. “I saw how our feelings of despair over the news of Jeanne’s retirement changed to acceptance and support for her new lifestyle and our new relationship with her. It was wonderful to have such a long process. We needed it. We became more flexible as a group, we became more open to new ideas, we became less reliant on Jeanne and more self-sufficient as a group.”

Remarkably, given the thoroughness of the process, Citterio only emerged as a contender in November 2015, and, even at that late date, as much a matter of luck as good management. “We had a concert in November 2015 with no director,” Wedman explains. “We also happened to have just hired a new violist from Italy, Stefano Marcocchi. I remember talking to him one day backstage before a performance at Koerner Hall, describing all of the things I thought Tafelmusik was looking for in a new music director. The name that came first and foremost to his mind was a name we hadn’t heard before – Elisa Citterio.” Wedman recalls being struck by Citterio’s virtuosity as a soloist, her “super-efficient rehearsal style, and her high level of attention to detail,” and “the way the music grew and changed every day, coming to life in different ways in each concert. ... The moment I will never forget that week was about three minutes into the first concert. The orchestra was feeling stressed (first-concert jitters) and I looked up at Elisa – she had a big beautiful smile on her face that said to me, ‘This is exactly the place I am supposed to be right now. I love this!’”

Tafelmusik on the steps of Trinity-St. Paul’s, 1981: Back Row (L-R): Marc Destrubé, Jeanne Lamon, Christina Mahler, Deborah Paul, Anthony St. Pierre, Jack Liivoja-Lorius. Front Row (L-R): Susan Graves (seated), Kenneth Solway, Ivars Taurins, Charlotte Nediger, Alison Mackay.Plans to have her back at Trinity-St. Paul’s in February 2016 for an all-Mozart program didn’t come to fruition, so it wasn’t until September 2016 in last season’s season-opening concert series at Koerner Hall that what turned out to be the decisive second date took place. “This time she and her partner Mirko brought their two-month-old daughter Olivia,” Wedman writes. “Elisa was playing the very first concerts after her first child was born! We were stunned that in the face of utter exhaustion, [she] still brought the same boundless energy and joy for the music with her. The rehearsals were organized and efficient, her ideas and cues were clear, creative and easy to follow, and I don’t think I heard one out-of-tune note from her during the entire rehearsal period and concerts! … Many of us remarked how fresh Handel’s Water Music (a piece we have played many times) felt under her direction.”

Sitting in the balcony for that September 22, 2016 season opener, and of course with benefit of hindsight, I can distinctly recall the feeling that what was happening between conductor and orchestra on the stage that night might be more than a one-night stand. In fact, if there was anything to criticize from an audience member’s point of view, it was that the musical conversation unfolding on the stage was all about them, rather than directed at us – like overhearing an intensely intimate conversation from the next booth over!

From that point on things moved quickly, as these things go. An offer was made by phone call to Italy, around the turn of the year.

“I was home, nursing Olivia, four months old by then, ” Citterio recalls, in a hastily arranged interview in The WholeNote offices back in May 2017. “Sometimes life-changing news comes at such normal moments. I remember thinking, just ten minutes ago I had a walk in the village, went to the supermarket! For me it was a feeling that this was taking on something huge at a time when things have just changed anyway. But maybe it’s a chance for things to be more busy but less crazy. I think the biggest change and really different is the responsibility for things not only on stage.”

How long did it actually take her to decide to come? “I waited one month to give news to my family,” she says with a smile. But clearly the opportunity to take on a role that will enable her to express and explore a fully rounded musicality beyond that of virtuoso and orchestral violinist had enormous appeal.

And so it is that October 11 to 14, audiences will have the first opportunity to witness Citterio’s multifaceted musicianship, close up and personal, in a program that is entirely of her choosing. “I didn’t plan the whole season,” she says, “because planning started before my appointment; mostly just some suggestions for the first program and the second one and the fourth.”

Of the three programs she mentions, this is clearly the one she is most invested in. “I want to give something of my background, so including Fontana and Marini, both from that background, is very natural. Landscapes around Brescia have changed over the years, but relatively not so much. There are lots of places with historical ruins that were already ruins in Marini and Fontana’s time. And we have caves with prehistoric art which could have been familiar to them… I can’t explain in words what I feel playing this music. It is somehow so familiar to me, and not because I have played it so often or heard it.”

And this sense of connection extends beyond the music itself. “My violin, for example,” she says. “It is a Marcello Villa instrument made in 2005; but it is inspired by Gio Paolo Maggini’s instruments – a 16th-century luthier from Brescia, and contemporary of Fontana. In fact, they even died in the same plague in 1630.  So when I play this music with this instrument I imagine I can create the same sound the composer heard. It is not logical but it is how I imagine it. I would like to give this to the Toronto audience.”

Looking beyond Citterio the curator/programmer to Citterio the orchestral leader and team player, it’s worth noting the care with which the October 11 program as designed brings individual focus to different players and sections within the ensemble: from bassoonist Dominic Teresi, whose passion for the Fontana dulcian sonatas predates Citterio’s arrival on the Tafelmusik scene; to the sharing out of the violin solos among the ensemble; to the Vivaldi C Major Concerto for two oboes which gives an opportunity for the ensemble’s oboists, John Abberger and Marco Cera, to shine.

And as violin soloist, Citterio’s own moment in the spotlight will be “Autumn” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (she will be playing “Summer” in the opening concert in September, and each of the other two movements at concerts in January and February 2018). It’s a deft touch, especially in a year when the complete box set of Tafelmusik’s recordings has been released, featuring Jeanne Lamon in the same work, making for fascinating comparisons as the season unfolds.

Deep emotional through-line of the October concert notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to see Citterio as a die-hard Baroque traditionalist wedded to a hundred years of repertoire no matter how obscure. “I am not planning this repertoire all the time – we are strings, two oboes, a bassoon and continuo so there are limits to the repertoire available; also our audiences expect the great works (and can enjoy new takes on great works as much as new works). Myself, I can’t pretend to play well all music from Monteverdi to contemporary but for an orchestra like Tafelmusik it is important to touch dfferent periods. We also have to educate the ear. Period playing can lead to illuminating performances of a much wider range of music –  Haydn, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi.”

“Nineteenth-century orchestral sound is so opulent and dense,” she continues. “Strip away the huge sound and you can listen for different things. With gut strings and period instruments there is a defined sound for each string and each instrument. In Italian we call this huge sound minestrone Wagneriana. How would you say that in English?” We settle on “Wagnerian pea soup” as a culinary alternative. “It does not have to be like that,” she says.

This October 11, almost exactly five years from the day Jeanne Lamon announced to her shaken orchestra that she was stepping down, her successor comes home to the hall that has been the company’s home base for its whole history. It would be folly in these fluid musical times to predict for any new music director a 33-year sojourn. But the stars do seem to be auspicious for Citterio’s stay here to be a fruitful new chapter for both her and Tafelmusik.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

keyboard instrument 436488 1920The pipe organ, labelled the “King of Instruments” by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is an instrument that flies under the radar of many classical music lovers. Despite its apparent obscurity, the organ has a devoted group of followers and aficionados who regularly present concerts highlighting some of Toronto’s best instruments.

One such presenter is Organix, run by Gordon Mansell, who is also organist and director of music at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Toronto’s West End. A longtime supporter of the organ and its finest players, Organix will receive the National Award of Excellence from the Royal Canadian College of Organists at a special gala recital on September 22 at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. This commemorative performance will feature Italian organist Mario Ciferri and will be followed by a masterclass the next morning, featuring three young players and a variety of repertoire.

In anticipation of these events, we asked Organix’s Gordon Mansell, TEMC principal organist Stephen Boda and director of music Elaine Choi for their thoughts on the organ, its status in Toronto’s contemporary musical topography and its possible role in the future of classical music.

Gordon Mansell, president and artistic director of Organix Concerts

Gordon MansellWN: Your concert on September 22 is a significant one, with Organix Concerts receiving the National Award of Excellence from the RCCO. Why this performer on this instrument for this occasion?

GM: Yes, it is quite an honour for me to be recognized by my colleagues and peers for having attempted to widen the general audience for organ music. I have placed a priority in producing concerts with a high entertainment factor.

The difference between the organ and many other instruments is that an organist must very quickly adapt to each concert venue, the instrument and the uniqueness of the acoustics. Pianists enjoy a standard of 88 keys and, for the most part, size of the instrument. There is predictability inherent to the piano and almost all other instruments, the personal instrument the performer owns and plays all the time. With the organ, there is a critical factor of matching the organist with the appropriate instrument, based on repertoire expected.

As for Mario Ciferri, I know him to perform grand Romantic music as well as Baroque, ideal for showcasing to the world the newly refurbished and expanded organ at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. Happily, TEMC agreed to collaborate with me to help make this happen.

WN: The second day of events with Mario Ciferri features a masterclass with three students, each playing a range of repertoire. How does this fit with some people’s perception that the pipe organ is an instrument in rapid decline?

GM: I would say that the apparent decline may be somewhat localized to parts of our own continent. Here in Toronto we have many young students who are pursuing careers as organists and educators, and several have gone on to gain professional standing and significant church positions. Coupled with studies privately and at the university level, Organix is a vital part in ensuring the future as each becomes an alumnus of the festival and is an ambassador of it and of the industry itself. I expect that these same emerging artists will take on an important role as advocates for the promotion of the organ in many different ways, some of which we cannot fully appreciate at this time.

WN: Organix recently diversified, presenting weekly afternoon recitals in addition to your Festival series. Why do you see the organ as something worth investing in? And where do electronic organs fit into Organix’s future?

GM: It is important to invest in the organ, because there is such a significant catalogue of music written for it as a solo instrument and as a collaborator for ensembles and orchestras. With continued interest, particularly from young musicians and enthusiasts, there is a market that should be generously nurtured and supported.

Most of Toronto’s pipe organs are in the downtown core, and there is a large population beyond that has yet to hear a great concert of organ music. Digital organs become a viable alternative and the preferred instrument beyond downtown. The benefits of digital organs are many, but in particular, the repertoire for the instrument continues to live and thrive on the best digital examples. With this added exposure outside of the downtown core, Organix will continue to promote professional organists, organs and organ repertoire to many first-time concert goers. It is not an either/or situation between digital and pipe – it is a collaboration that will keep our industry alive.

Elaine Choi, director of music and Stephen Boda, principal organist at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church

Elaine ChoiWN: I notice that in addition to partnering with Organix TEMC has recently partnered with other churches “on-the-Hill” for various performances such as the Duruflé Requiem.

EC: TEMC’s music team enjoys collaborating with other ensembles and organizations. These collaborations enable us to broaden our repertoire and reach out to a bigger audience.

SB: We’re really looking forward to hosting Mario Ciferri this year as part of the Organix series. We have an organ-loving congregation and look for every opportunity to feature the instrument in concert. We are grateful to Gordon Mansell for organizing this event and also the masterclass, which features young organists from Toronto.

Stephen BodaWN: At a time when many see the pipe organ (and churches themselves) in rapid decline, what is the importance of fostering young talent and interest through events such as this masterclass?

SB: I think it’s very important to continue introducing young people to the organ; it is such a fascinating instrument and deserves to be shared and cherished. International artists such as Mario Ciferri coming to town give young artists new perspectives, and we are looking forward to it.

WN: A new antiphonal division was recently added to your already significantly sized pipe organ. With a music program already featuring a variety of instruments and ensembles, what role do you see the refurbished and enhanced organ taking in the future of your music program?

SB: The organ already has a fantastic sound and adding more pipes (we added 1000 new pipes, which brings us to a total of 7000) makes the instrument even more grand and musical. It also greatly widens the musical possibilities. Since the new pipes are located in the back of the church, it gives a surround-sound feel when the organ is played all together and the possibility to alternate or create solo/accompaniment textures from across the room. As a musician, it is incredible that we are able to add to our instrument and we are very thankful for the donations that made this possible!

EC: We are already seeing a change in our Sunday services. The antiphonal division certainly helps with supporting congregation and their hymn singing. We are finding more opportunities to explore and utilize the new division – the potential is endless!

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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.

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