2209 BBB BandstandIn last month’s column, while talking about the characteristics of various performance venues, I mentioned the Foster Memorial. You might ask: where and what is the Foster Memorial, and why should it be of interest to music lovers?

This architectural gem, little known to most people in the GTA, is less than an hour’s drive from Toronto and if you are not familiar with “The Foster,” this summer could be the ideal time. In their Ontario’s Choice Awards in November 2016, Attractions Ontario named the Thomas Foster Memorial as the Top Small Performing Arts Attraction in Ontario. In the words of Troy Young, CEO of Attractions Ontario, “These awards are unique because they were chosen exclusively by the consumers that visit these sites.”

So what exactly is the Foster Memorial? Located four kilometres north of the town of Uxbridge, it is actually a mausoleum built by Thomas Foster as a memorial to his wife. Thomas Foster was born and raised in Scott Township just north of Uxbridge where his father ran the Leaskdale Hotel. He became a butcher in Cabbagetown in Toronto, was elected as an MP, and served as mayor of Toronto from 1925 to 1927. He also made a large fortune from real estate.

In his late seventies, while on a visit to India, Foster was inspired by the Taj Mahal. On his return, he built this family memorial in the rolling countryside of Uxbridge Township. While the architecture was originally inspired by Foster’s trip, its design is greatly influenced by the architecture of the early Byzantine churches. Entering through the heavy bronze doors, one is struck by the beauty of the marble and terrazzo interior, flooded by the soft light coming through the stained glass windows. The Foster Memorial is truly a unique structure. Completed in 1936, it contains three crypts: for Mr. Foster, his wife and his daughter.

In recent years this “Diamond of the Durham Region” has been the venue for a wide spectrum of events, from weddings to concerts. As for musical performances, it’s “Fridays at The Foster” at 7:30pm all summer from the beginning of May until the end of September. For soloists and small groups, the acoustics are excellent, but the layout and acoustics do not work for large groups. As for repertoire, it ranges from Irish music, traditional folk ballads, bluegrass and Broadway hits to Diana Davis performing using quartz crystal singing bowls and flute. One group which really impressed me when they performed at The Foster a few years ago was the Shimoda Family recorder ensemble. I certainly intend to be in the audience when they return on August 25 with their rarely heard authentic Baroque music.

Another Uxbridge gem: While on the subject of lesser-known performance venues, the town of Uxbridge has another gem. Since its grand opening in December 1901, the Uxbridge Music Hall, with its excellent acoustics, has been blessed with a wide range of concerts and stage productions. In 2011, for its 110th anniversary, there was a reenactment of the hall’s very first concert. On that occasion I had the privilege of performing in the recreated “Town Orchestra” for that reenactment. I even had the honour of supplying the anvil and hammer for our rendition of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore. (As for coming events, the only one that I am aware of at the moment in this significantly under-utilized venue is that of the small ensemble Quartetto Gelato, who will be performing there on September 30.)

 

Recent Events

Wellington Winds: When one looks at the scores of most works for concert bands, one finds that they frequently call for instruments that rarely get any consideration for even minuscule solos. One such instrument is the E-flat alto clarinet. If the band has an alto clarinet, it is rarely heard on its own. More often, it spends its time hidden and doubling the parts of other instruments. More often than not this instrument is the butt of uncomplimentary jokes. Rarely, if ever, is it the first choice for young players or their teachers. Now, enter Stephen Fox. A distinguished Canadian clarinetist and instrument historian, as well as a world-class clarinet builder, Fox has recently attracted attention for his new model of alto clarinet which has been receiving accolades for its warm compelling tone. Apparently, up till now, there was no known work for solo alto clarinet and wind ensemble. Enter Michael Purves-Smith: “Such a wonderful instrument deserves a significant solo voice,” he says and rose to the challenge. His concerto for alto clarinet and wind ensemble needed a name. When he asked his wife, Shannon, for a suggestion, possibly influenced by the common prejudices against the instrument she immediately responded, “Why not call it the Seven Deadly Sins”? The Seven Deadly Sins received its first performance by Stephen Fox, as soloist, and the Wellington Wind Symphony under the direction of Daniel Warren, April 30 in Kitchener and the following week in Waterloo.

New Horizons: The last time we heard from the New Horizons Band of York Region was some months ago. On a visit to one of their rehearsals in Richmond Hill there were fewer than 15 members. As with all New Horizons bands, this group is for active adults who want to learn music in a friendly, supportive atmosphere with other active adults. Now, with almost 30 members near the end of their first year of learning together, they had their first concert ever on May 25. If you have considered taking up a musical instrument, director Doug Robertson would love to hear from you. He can be reached at nhbyrdirector@gmail.com.

Silverthorn Symphonic Winds concluded their 2016/17 season on May 27 at the Wilmar Heights Event Centre with “Spring Celebration,” honouring Canada’s 150th. The repertoire featured works by Canadian composers and arrangers, including Morley Calvert, John Herberman and Howard Cable.

Wychwood: Finally, as I write this, I am looking forward to attending the final concert of the season of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir on May 28, so by the time this issue is on the streets the concert will be past history. At time of writing, I am looking forward to two matters. I hope to meet Wynne, the clarinet player from Whitehorse who rehearses with the choir over the Internet. I am also looking forward to hearing The Bridal Rose Overture by Calixa Lavallée, as arranged by Richard Moore and Roy Greaves.

Coming Events

Luminato: Fresh from their recent stunning victory at the Brass Band competition in the US, the Weston Silver Band is now taking on a very different role. This time they are onstage as part of a major musical event in this year’s Luminato Festival in Toronto. A hit of the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival, En avant, marche! is a genre-defying tragicomedy from acclaimed Belgium choreographer Alain Platel. It’s the story of a trombone player, no longer able to play his instrument due to illness, who is demoted to playing the cymbals. Throughout band practice, the larger-than-life protagonist terrorizes fellow band members, confides in the audience, sings arias and dances an unlikely ballet duet, all with exuberance and a riotous slapstick edge. Four actors and seven musicians are joined onstage by Toronto’s Weston Silver Band, playing marching band classics along with 19th- and 20th-century pieces ranging from Verdi to Beethoven and Schubert to Mahler. If there ever was a true, and truly unforgettable, celebration of the power of making music together, this sounds like it. Performances are from June 21 to 24 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

Looking Ahead

One band which has been on the local concert scene for years will not be there this coming year. After 25 years, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB) will be absent. Music director Steffan Brunette is taking a year off from the band and from his school, teaching and studying composition. In September he will take on new duties as Head of Music at a new high school in Markham. Hopefully, the UCCB will be back next year.

Saturday, June 3, at 2pm, the Festival Wind Orchestra will present their 2017 summer concert at North Toronto Collegiate (17 Broadway Ave., Toronto). Founded in 1996, the Festival Wind Orchestra is an adult community wind orchestra, which rehearses weekly under the direction of Keith Reid at Riverdale Collegiate in Toronto. Their concert will feature music by Canadian composers, including: Overture: St. John’s, 1828 by Ben Bolden; Sodbuster by Elizabeth Raum; Genesi by Vince Gassi; and Canadian Folk Song Fantasy by William McCauley. Also featured will be Jason Dallas performing Joseph Horovitz’s Euphonium Concerto. Since I am a dedicated euphonium aficionado, and having never heard of this composer, I decided to check for information on him. As professor of composition at the Royal College of Music since 1961, he is someone that we should have heard of before.

Sunday, June 4, at 7pm, Strings Attached Orchestra, under the direction of Ricardo Giorgi, will present their final concert of the season at the Isabel Bader Theatre. In the words of director Ric, “We have new, old and middle-aged music for you,” from Ravel’s Bolero and the last movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, to the rarely performed Concerto for 2 Recorders in B-flat by Telemann and a musical hoax by Samuel Dushkin. They will also give the first ever performance of the winning composition of Ric’s second annual Young Composers Initiative, called Viaggio delle Farfalle by Damiano Perrella.

Tuesday, June 6, at 8pm, Resa’s Pieces Concert Band will present their 18th annual gala at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Tuesday, June 13, at 7:30pm, Silverthorn Symphonic Winds will present their final concert in their series of 59 Minute Soirees. These informal musical entertainments feature a variety of lighter music. Guests are invited to enjoy refreshments and conversation with the musicians after the concert. Wilmar Heights Event Centre – Concert Hall, 963 Pharmacy Ave., Toronto (just north of Eglinton).

Saturday, November 4, the Northdale Concert Band will present their 50th anniversary concert with the title “The Big 5-0h!” The program will include a newly commissioned work by Gary Kulesha. The concert will feature as trombone soloist Vanessa Fralick, associate principal trombone of the TSO.

Finally, in last month’s column I mentioned my belated introduction to the longtime Hart House Symphonic Band. The concert dates for their next academic year are: December 3, 2017 and April 8, 2018.

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

Look-alikes Lotte Lenya and Tilly LoschAs I start to write this column I am in Versailles with Opera Atelier, and after each rehearsal I tune into the news programs - on what seems like every TV channel - all discussing the recent election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France, his choice of Prime Minister, the ensuing choosing of government ministers, and his positive and hopeful approach to the renewal of Europe. Politics is the hot topic of the moment, particularly with the general relief at Macron’s win over Marine Le Pen of the Front National.

Then there is also the current pre-election state of the UK, made even more complex with the attack on Manchester as well as the ongoing passionate debate about Brexit. And there is the undefinable situation in the good old USA, south of our own border; the international rise of populism and its frightening similarity to Fascism; the continuing war and refugee crisis in Syria, and more.

How interesting then, that in Toronto, in June, there will be two productions in the same week that can be construed as reactions, quite different reactions, to the historical antecedents of these current political situations - specifically to the rise of Facism/Nazism? 

June 14 and 15, at Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony is presenting Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht’s 1933 classic “sung ballet” The Seven Deadly Sins in a semi-staged version by director Joel Ivany and choreographer Jennifer Nichols. Then, starting just two days later, June 16 to 18 at the Theatre Centre, Luminato presents Theaturtle’s work-in-progress production of CHARLOTTE, a genre-bending new chamber musical based on Charlotte Salomon’s life story, coming of age in Berlin during the rise of Nazism.

So, on the one hand we have a classic of the Brecht/Weill oeuvre, originally created for look-alikes Lotte Lenya and Tilly Losch, usually seen as a drivingly sarcastic condemnation of capitalism, as well as a wonderful vehicle for the leading singer and dancer who play two sisters - or are they the two sides of the leading character’s  personality? And on the other, we are offered a new work based on the life of a young girl who personally witnessed the rise of Nazism and recorded her experiences, her terrors, hopes and dreams in a series of over 700 gouaches - creating what has been described as possibly the first graphic novel or the story board for a musical of her life.

Curious about this juxtaposition and the approaches of the two creative teams to their respective projects, I reached out to both to talk about their own shows and this odd synchronicity. As it turns out the connections are, in the eyes of their respective producers, more apparent than real: the Brecht/Weill was written in the 1930s and is being presented as a “modern classic” by its producers. CHARLOTTE is an entirely new work based on historic/autobiographical material; the coincidence in timing is just that – a coincidence, and not particularly instructive.

So, are they connected? Yes, I think so, but perhaps more for the active observer reacting in one’s own time to the state of the world.

Brecht and Weill

2209 Music Theatre 2Let’s start with The Seven Deadly Sins. Part of the TSO’s ongoing “Decades Project,” it is being presented as emblematic of the 1930s and is accompanied on the program by Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celestina (as well as a newly commissioned short work for Canada’s 150th birthday).

Styled as a satirical sung ballet The Seven Deadly Sins follows the adventures of two sisters sent to seek their fortune in the big cities in order to earn enough money to buy their family a little house on the banks of the Mississippi. In each city they encounter one of the sins of the title: Sloth, Pride, Wrath, Gluttony, Lust, Avarice and Envy.  The sisters are both called Anna. Anna 1 (the singer) whose “head is on straight” is the entrepreneur type, and Anna 2 (the dancer) is the more compassionate one and also, as Brecht calls her, “the article sold.” The family acts like a Greek chorus, commenting on the events as they fall out in each city.

Creating semi-staged versions of things is at this point right up a familiar alley for Joel Ivany (artistic director of acclaimed Toronto opera company Against the Grain) and choreographer Jennifer Nichols who have collaborated previously on AtG’s groundbreaking staged Messiah in 2013, remounted in 2016, and on La Belle Hélène at the RCM. (Joel also created a semi-staged version of Mozart’s Requiem for the TSO last year.)

I was secretly hoping to hear from Ivany that he was seeing the piece from a political angle, given the current state of the world, but he said that they had decided to stay with a very straightforward approach, treating the piece as a modern classic, and coming at it from a place of “what is the music and text saying and then how are we going to show that?” They used an exploratory week at the Banff Centre at the end of the summer as a starting point and to set the company language for the exploration.

Nothing daunted I asked choreographer, Jennifer Nichols, (who, conveniently, was with me in Versailles, dancing in Médée, if there was more she could tell me about her approach to the creation of the dance elements:

“What I am hoping to achieve choreographically is that the family is simply an extension of Anna,” she said. “That their hopes and fears and judgment are her own [judgment] of herself…. At times Anna 1 and 2 blend, as if one is the puppet and the other the puppeteer, and then this dynamic switches.” Supporting the staging will also be video elements created by Nichols with Christopher Monetti, inspired by  the layering of facial symmetry and asymmetry in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and “posing the question: Is Anna 1 the sister of Anna 2, or are they two parts of the same person?”

Playing the singing Anna 1 opposite Nichols’ dancing Anna 2 is Canadian star mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, headlining a strong cast of singer/actors: Isaiah Bell, Owen McCausland, Geoffrey Sirett, Stephen Hegedus (who just played King Creon in Médée to acclaim in Toronto and Versailles), with TSO Maestro Peter Oundjian conducting the TSO.

So, look forward to a potentially interesting and well-sung version of Brecht and Weill’s 1933 classic, the last piece they would create together.

CHARLOTTE

A much more complex and ambitious project and one very much intent on portraying the state of the world as it is now as well as how it was in the 1930s is CHARLOTTE: a Tri-Coloured Play with Music.

2017 is the centenary of Charlotte Salomon’s birth, a significant milestone, and one of the sparks that led to the creation of this new multidisciplinary chamber musical.

What were the other sparks? Where did it all begin? “Seventeen years ago,” says librettist Alon Nashman, “I encountered the artistic genius of Charlotte Salomon at the Art Gallery of Ontario. There I saw over 700 paintings, stunning in their complexity and beauty. I read every word of the text she offered for what was in essence a huge graphic novel and a thinly veiled autobiography. I listened to the music Charlotte proposed as accompaniment to her images and storytelling. I fell in love with this highly intelligent and talented young artist, whose ironic take on events I thought I already knew well is completely disarming. I mourned for the loss that her immediate death at the doors to Auschwitz represented. Here was a profoundly and articulate witness, not only to the atrocity that was Nazism, but to a complex stew of artistic, familial and societal transformation.”

Unable to shake the notion that Charlotte wanted her work to be performed publicly, Alon dreamed of adapting this painted/indicated singspiel “Life? Or Theatre?” for the stage. The next step was to find the right director who would understand from the inside Charlotte’s world and artistry. Through the help of Canadian-bred producer Liz  Bradley, Nashman found  her in British director and sceneographer Pamela Howard, who had already been thinking independently about creating a piece based on Charlotte’s work. Pamela in turn introduced Nashman to composer Aleš Březina, one of the leading lights of European composition for theatre, and director of the Martinu Institute in Thessaloniki and the Czech Republic, and the creative team was complete.

The development process began with meetings in 2013 and 2014, leading to a first three-week workshop at Canadian Stage in 2014. On their promotional video the team state that their goals were to create a fully 3D realization of Charlotte’s visions and images, in an equal partnership of text, movement/image and music. By the end of the first workshop they had an initial footprint for the production to grow from. In 2016 there was a further music workshop, and this year a double workshop residency at Kingston’s Isabel Bader Centre and at Toronto’s Theatre Centre leading up to a return visit to the Bader June 1 for a concert premiere, and then the upcoming work-in-progress performances for Luminato which will have full sets, props, and costumes, although production details will continue to evolve.

All three CHARLOTTE collaborators declined any specific political alignment or direct artistic parallel to The Seven Deadly Sins other than that of recognizing the general use of art to ridicule and expose the moral bankruptcy of the Nazi regime, particularly through the way of  theatre that Brecht and Weill established. Pamela Howard suggests that a more appropriate parallel would be Brecht’s Theatre poems or his dictat “Show what has to be shown.” Much more clearly they all three talk about bringing this specific story to life: “This beautiful portrait of a decline of a flourishing multicultural life in Berlin (or Germany or Europe) in the late 1930s…the link not only to today but to all times to come” as Březina puts it. Or in Howard’s words “The inspiration or rather determination…to create something that reinforces the power of art to survive beyond human life…not simply a reaction to Nazism, tragic as that is, but (to) the current political repetition once again that is daily witnessed (that) is motivating artists all over the world to make work together that speaks louder than words.”

Nashman says: “Charlotte did not know how the war would unfold but she had a sense that everything she associated with civilization was being destroyed. She sets the date of her creativity as ‘Year One of the New Salvation.’ Her remarkable premonition was that out of the ashes of Europe would arise a new and better civilization. And that she would likely not survive to see it.”

Charlotte in exile had only three colours of paint to create her series of 700 + gouaches images. From three colours she made a myriad colours. This “tricolour” is the tricolour of the subtitle of the show, but it also refers to the three collaborators, to the equal importance of words, images, and music coming together to communicate a world and story. All three collaborators champion this idea and process. In Březina’s words: “We were like three sides of the same person, discussing every small detail together to find out a solution, which (would) always display all three aspects inevitably intertwined.”

Finally, I asked the three what they wanted to create for their audiences, how they wanted their audiences to emerge from the experience of the project. Howard summed up their goals: “To experience a remarkable - yet horrific - story and to come out changed” she said. “I think of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as a guiding principle. We have to be optimistic for the future otherwise…how can we go on? The Soviet Union fell, Hitler died, Idi Amin ceased to exist and Rome fell. People suffer, but the human spirit will rise, as Brecht said ‘In the dark times - will there also be singing?’”

And a last word from Nashman: “Charlotte’s artistic response to her tribulations make me wonder if there is a young woman in Aleppo today painting her life, or writing poetry or songs, in order to survive.”

 Works like CHARLOTTE: a Tri-Coloured Play with Music, giving us new windows on times we don’t want to return to, are essential to the survival of the human spirit.

Is CHARLOTTE an example of how the art of music theatre is becoming more widely and wildly experimental, pushing the envelope, breaking the box, becoming more strongly political? Or is it just that there happens to be a whole bunch of this happening clearly and visibly right now?

The rest of the line up at Luminato is an interesting case in point. More than half the productions could be described as falling under the music theatre umbrella, but from under the shelter of that umbrella are breaking and making  new rules, becoming radically diverse, more connected to the world around us, engaging with hot button topics through art, wanting to shock, perhaps, but even more wanting to engage and connect with audiences and the world around us. Active political theatre-making in the best sense.

2209 Music Theatre 3Staying with the offerings at Luminato for a moment, King Arthur’s Night, (whose composer Veda Hille also co-created Onegin which continues until June 4 at the Berkeley Street Theatre), is a new take on the classic legend, commissioned by Luminato from British Columbia’s Neworld Theatre. This world premiere is co-created by Hille, Marchus Youseff, James Long and writer/co-creator Niall McNeil - an artist living with Down syndrome who grew up in the midst of BC’s Caravan Theatre. The production  features a fully integrated professional cast, which includes actors from Burnaby, BC’s Down Syndrome Research Foundation, a live band and a 16-person choir: “An upside down world. A Betrayed Love. An unwanted child. Animals learning to walk and talk. A revolt by the subjugated masses. A kingdoms come undone. This isn’t the King Arthur you know.”

Nearby on Front Street, the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre will house a custom-built performance space for two very different cross-genre productions to tell epic stories from two different cultures.

Bearing is a world premiere dance-opera by internationally acclaimed theatre-maker Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree), playwright/director Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) and librettist Spy Denomme-Welch (Anishnaabe). It explores the legacy of Canada’s residential school system through music, dance, and spoken word, presented in three sections on a nearly bare stage with - in the words of the creators - “live music being integral to the audience’s understanding of the work,” and with music ranging from Bach to Vivier to new pieces composed for this Signal Theatre production. Actor and singer Marion Newman (Kwagiulth and Sto:lo) leads a company of actors, singers, and dancers,  a custom built choir, and members of the National Youth Orchestra in what promises to be an unflinching yet poetic look at this difficult and enduring scar on Canada’s history.

Until the Lions is a tantalizingly feminist dance/music theatre project drawn from Karthika Nair’s “Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata,” a collection of poems about the overlooked female characters in the Sanskrit epic.  Director and (award-winning) choreographer Akram Khan, who spent two years as a performer in Peter Brook’s renowned international nine-hour version of the full Mahabharata, declares that “as in many myths, the female characters are often the unsung heroes, the figures of strength and imagination and endurance. It is their unsung stories in particular that still haunt me today.” His “Until the Lions” fuses traditional kathak with contemporary dance and live music (an original score) to explore the tale of one of the these women, the Princess Amba, who invokes the gods to seek revenge when her chances of love and marriage are stolen from her.

 The juxtaposition of these two new works in a custom built in-the-round space should prove to be fascinating for the avid music theatre goer to see. How will the space affect the different productions and how will each make use of it, and to what effect?

Worth a look as well for their promised pushing of genre boundaries are Vertical Influences, an ice-skating double bill by Montreal’s Le Patin Libra aiming to move skating into the theatrical arena (one piece being about bullying); Breakin’ Convention, an international  festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre from Sadler’s Wells, London, and UK hip hop pioneer Jonzi D; and an award-winning production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia which promises, in the style of theatre pioneer V. Meyerhold, a blend of words, music, mime and symbolism.

Elsewhere in the City

Soulpepper brings us Porgy and Bess in Concert (June 1-3 ) as well as the closing performances of their very successful run of “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.”       The National Ballet of Canada unveils their new production (and Canadian premiere, of John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire (June 3-10 using music and dance to reimagine Tennessee Williams’ famous play, focusing on exploring themes of memory and loss. The ballet has a new first act, set to romantic music by Sergei Prokofiev and picks up the familiar story in the second act to more jarring, fragmentary music by Alfred Schnittke.

On a lighter note, the Gerald Isaac studio presents a short run (June 29-July 2) of Sweet Will.

This time-bending musical transforms the Bard’s most iconic works into a new story “rife with song and sass that strikes a powerful synthesis between old and new.” The exhilarating musical hodgepodge originally from 1985 is dressed up this time in spectacular Steampunk style, with Tony Award-winning Lance Mulcahy’s original book enhanced by a new script, and is under the direction and choreography of Stratford alum and Canadian theatre great Gerald Isaac and musical direction of Dora Award-winning Bob Ashley. See their Sweet Will Facebook page for more information or universe.com for tickets.

A bit further afield

The Stratford Festival, underway from mid-April, is getting into full swing with two musicals onstage: the wonderful Broadway classic Guys and Dolls directed by Donna Feore, with Ben Carlson as Sky and Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown; and the perennial G & S favourite  H.M.S. Pinafore directed by Lezlie Wade. For one day only, on June 24, at 2:00 pm., you can also catch Stratford Company member and Tony-Award winning singer and actor Brent Carver in concert with The Art of Time Ensemble at the Avon Theatre in a program of songs  by Charles Aznavour, Leonard Cohen, Kander and Ebb, Elton John, Jacques Brel, Noël Coward and others, arranged especially for this concert by a selection of the best composers and arrangers in Canada.

At the Shaw Festival, Me and My  Girl continues its run until October 15. The sparkling and fun British musical about whether a Cockney man can give up his old life – and love -  to join the upper class, was famously a hit in London’s West End starring Emma Thomson in full tap dancing mode in the 1980s; in the 1930s, when it premiered, it was so successful that its hit song and dance “The Lambeth Walk” was so popular across Europe during the Munich Crisis that an article in The Times of October 18, 1938, quoted a contemporary poet: “While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances – to The Lambeth Walk.”

Summer Stock

Ontario’s long Summer Stock Season has also begun with many performances around the province featuring both new Canadian and traditional Broadway musicals.

The WWII theme continues at the 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook with David S. Craig’s musical Bombers: Reaping the Whirlwind,  a new play with music danger and romance about Canadian bomber crews “as they struggle to win the war.” The new Canadian musical about Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope by John Connolly and Peter Colley, plays at the Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge, as well as the King’s Wharf Theatre in Penetanguishene. Broadway musical favourites Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are coming to the Drayton Festival Theatre, and Huron Country Playhouse, and Thoroughly Modern Millie comes along at the beginning of July to the St Jacob’s Country Playhouse.

For more details on Summer Stock shows see our own listings and helpful websites summertheatre.ca, or summerfunguide.ca.

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.

2209 BBB Mainly MostlyZuze – pronounced “zoo zay” – is a project which communicates musically, instrumentally, what it means to straddle the lines of two or more different cultures. Its essence is emblematic of the experience of many first-generation citizens, especially immigrants. One such citizen is Zuze’s bassist, Arif Mirbaghi, whose interest in these blurred lines became a foundational stepping stone to the band’s inception.

Mirbaghi explains: “I wanted a project that spoke to the way culture shifts around identity across generations. Canada is built on nascent identities, and Zuze aims to prove just how beautiful that diversity can be.”

The collective draws its repertoire mostly from popular tunes familiar to folks from Iran, especially the northern region. This is my ancestry, too: my paternal ancestors were Jewish Kurds living in the north of present-day Iran, so when I showed Zuze to my dad, he recognized some of the tunes (none of which were familiar to me) from his youth, and demanded to know why I was all of a sudden interested in Persian music.

The folk and popular music of Iran is, on its own, a fascinating study in the way cultures bleed into each other. Zuze, though, muddies the waters further, by filtering these melodies through multiple sets of multicultural ears: those of Mirbaghi who knows them intimately, those of band members including co-arranger and alto sax player Bruce McKinnon, to whom they’re a little more novel, and finally, ours – the listeners’.

I’d been interested in Zuze for a while, but it wasn’t until this week that I went to see them live, in the back room of the Tranzac Club. Before they went on, the audience was given a short dance lesson. I observed from the sidelines, because I cannot and do not dance, but if any music was the stuff to dance to, this was it.

Mirbaghi banters with the audience between songs, and it seems very improvised, but less off-the-cuff, and more stream-of-consciousness. It’s kind of poetic sometimes, in an off-kilter way. But then they launch into these grooves, these very groovy grooves, these destined-for-restless-feet grooves, which serve as a red carpet for the incoming melody, played assertively or sweetly or coyly by up to five melodic instruments: trombone, trumpet, two saxes and violin, often in a tight unison.

Very little emphasis is placed on solos (not that they don’t happen) because, to my mind, this music is geared more towards showcasing beautiful songs in tight arrangements than using known songs as vehicles for improvisation.

Going to a Zuze show can be a rowdy experience or a contemplative one, I think. You can dance, or you can sit on the sidelines and think about things – for example, about how far removed you may or may not be from the cultures that effectively created you, and how important (or how unimportant) it may be for you to reconnect. Or you could do both.

I have to say, lately, I have started to find that a lot of live music that I like and I think is good doesn’t sound fresh anymore, and Zuze is one of a few groups that’s scratching me where I itch. Maybe they’ll scratch you, too.

Zuze will be heard at Mel Lastman Square on the afternoon of July 1. Keep an eye out for more future gigs at Zuze.ca.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

 

 

The Isabel performance hall.For a half hour or so, around 10:15pm, last Saturday April 29, in Kingston, Ontario, two individuals with concert halls named after them occupied the same stage at the same time, albeit for quite distinct reasons.

One was Jeanne Lamon, first and recently retired director of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, for whom Tafelmusik’s recently renovated concert hall at the Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre in Toronto is named. The other was Isabel Overton Bader, for whom Queen’s University’s Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston is named and without whom (along with husband Alfred Bader), the Centre and its stunning 566-seat recital hall would almost certainly never have come into existence.

Lamon took a bow onstage at the Isabel last Saturday night as one member of a distinguished 10-person jury (along with fellow violin virtuosi Martin Beaver, Jonathan Crow and Barry Shiffman) for the inaugural Isabel Overton Bader Canadian Violin Competition, which kicked off on Wednesday April 26 with a two-day semifinal round during which the field was winnowed down from seven to three violinists. Friday was an intensive rehearsal day with the competition’s two indefatigable collaborative pianists, Benjamin Smith and Michel Szczesniak, for the three finalists: Toronto-based Katya Poplyansky, Vancouver’s Lucy Wang and Yolanda Bruno from Ottawa. 

Saturday’s final round consisted of three separate short solo recitals (at 6pm, 7pm and 8pm, respectively) with order of appearance drawn by lot, and roughly 15-minute breaks in between. As with the semifinal round, which was a very clever blend of compulsory and optional elements, the final round was deftly structured to allow both for clear points of comparison and for artistic self-expression.

To explain: each of the seven semifinalists was required, ahead of the competition, to choose the first movement of one of the five Mozart violin concerti to open their final program, should they make it to the finals. (For the detail-driven among you, each of the five, except Concerto No. 2, was chosen by at least one competitor, and, as it turned out, two of the three finalists, including the winner, chose to prepare No.3 in G Major.) What made the exercise particularly intriguing from an audience perspective, though (and I expect particularly revealing for the jurors), was that each performer was also required to perform her own original cadenza for the chosen concerto. It also gave each violinist the opportunity to establish a rapport with the pianist playing the reduction of the orchestral score, and to hear themselves in the hall.

After that appetizer, the main course of each program was a complete violin concerto, again with piano reduction, of the performer’s own choosing, and it was here that the personalities of the individual players shone through. Katya Poplyansky (who had chosen Mozart Concerto No.4 in D Major to start her program), followed it with the Prokofiev Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.63. Lucy Wang, who followed, chose Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53.

Yolanda Bruno.To round the evening off, Yolanda Bruno, the eventual $20,000 first prize winner (and winner of the audience choice prize), took on Bartók’s Violin Concerto No 2, BB 117 with Benjamin Smith as pianist. It should be said that the competition was open to Canadian violinists from 18 to 29 years of age, and that while age is not necessarily an indicator of musical maturity it was clear from the first downstroke of the violin in the Mozart that Bruno has at this stage in her career achieved a level of comfort in her own musical skin that enabled her to fully relish the moment, interpretively and collaboratively. She and pianist Smith played off each other in the Bartók to an astonishing extent, evoking the full orchestral scope and scale of the work. The fact that Bruno currently performs on the 1700 Taft Strad on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank probably had something to do with it. So too did Smith’s extraordinary feathering of the pedals of the hall’s first-rate Steinway piano.

But the hall itself, and the kind of listening it evokes from its audiences – a kind of collective responsibility for the acoustical occasion – is in and of itself something unique in the Canadian musical landscape. It’s a facility that will, if well curated, and supported in its programming with the same sense of responsibility as went into the acoustical perfecting of the place, become one of those places that chamber musicians, and others, seek out, for the pleasure of the opportunity to simply be their best.

Tricia Baldwin is executive director of The Isabel Bader Centre, wooed back to Kingston from Tafelmusik, where she was general manager during Jeanne Lamon’s heyday. As for the future of this particular competition, she tells me, the plan is for it to continue as a triennial affair (like its illustrious counterparts, the Honens Piano Competition in Calgary and the Banff International String Quartet Competition). “But don’t expect solo violin to be its defining characteristic,” she says. “More central is the idea that it is a competition for young Canadian musicians.”

However that idea plays out, it’s off to a flying start.

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

 

The Sombrero Galaxy wikipedia025xA short while ago, relatively speaking, I dreamed I was a scientist having a sleepless night: tossing and turning while endlessly trying to calculate exactly how fast I would have to drive towards a red traffic light in order for the Doppler effect to make it appear green. 

For solace in his sleepless state, the scientist I was dreaming I was got out of bed and went to his telescope to observe the night sky with all its twinklingly verifiable pinpricks of fact. Instead he observed, in an indescribable rush of mingled horror and delight that the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) was no longer receding from our solar system at its usual rate of approximately 1020 km/sec but instead appeared to be standing still.

After what seemed like an eternity (and probably was), it became clear to the scientist I was dreaming I was, that in defiance of all the known laws of physics and mechanics, Galaxy M104 (aka Sombrero) was making like a “bad hombre” and blue-shifting back towards us at a considerable rate of knots.

After another eternity, and at precisely the right moment, not too far but not too close, Sombrero stopped blue-streaking and tipped its hat towards us in the sky, revealing the black hole, right at the crown of its hat, that was its source of motive power. And from that source of power Sombrero spoke:

“Good evening,” Sombrero said. The scientist I was dreaming I was politely said “Good evening” in reply. But frankly, I wasn’t so sure about that.

“I have come to tell you,” Sombrero said, “that it’s come to the point where, to use the current lingo, your galaxy either needs to ship up or to shape out.”

I ask what’s that supposed to mean. “Well either there is something in your galaxy that is uniquely of value to the universe, or there isn’t. And the good news is that, based on our investigations so far, you do have that something. But the bad news is that it is starting to look as though we might just be able to extract that something without having to haul all your viral baggage along with it. In which case, as the saying goes, it’s lights out for you.” 

“What is that something?” our scientist asked, on behalf of all known living things, and held his breath.

“It’s called Bach,” Sombrero said.

 And right at that moment (or as it is sometimes translated, just in time) all the birds started to sing and we awoke.

And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day.

The Thing about Bucket Lists

The thing I am realizing about bucket lists is that if you forget to take the list out of the bucket before the winter sets in, it gets frozen in the bucket, and you have to wait for the spring to start crossing things off it (assuming it hasn’t become so soggy that it’s completely unreadable).

My musical bucket list has on it taking in another complete Beethoven string quartet cycle, as I explain in the story Total Immersion a little further into this issue.

It also has on it a visit to the Aga Khan Museum in North York, maybe timed to coincide with World Fiddle Day. See On Our Cover for what that’s about.

The list also has on it in big letters the word SING! (although I can’t remember if that’s about taking in the Sing! A Vocal Arts Festival or about actually using this year’s Canary Pages to find a choir that will have me.)

It also has on it arranging a one-off performance night for myself, titled David Perlman and Friends at which I sell my as-yet-unrecorded CD to both of my friends. (But that one may take a while.)

And Some Housekeeping

Performers and presenters take note: after this May issue, we suspend our monthly cycle for the summer. The next issue covers June, July and August. For presenters with summer listings, that means getting your summer listings in to us as fast as possible, if you want to see them in print. (And making sure you send them anyway if you miss the print deadline because we are committed to updating them online right through the summer.)

For performers and presenters not active during the summer make sure you get your 2017/18 listings in before you go incommunicado while you are crossing a year’s worth of things off your bucket list! 

We’re planning exciting things in terms of expanded listings coverage online for the coming season. And we’ll be working with the listings we have before we go chasing the ones we don’t.

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