Toshio Hosokawa. Photo by KazIshikawaJanuary has earned a reputation as new music festival month, and members of the new music community have much to anticipate in this particular new year. Since the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) launched its annual, and still ongoing, New Music Festival in 1992, the festival format has been embraced enthusiastically around Canada as an effective way to present contemporary music of all types to a wide range of listeners.

For those eager to join me and book flights to Winnipeg for a late January new music getaway, the 2019 WSO New Music Festival (WNMF) runs from January 25 to February 1, 2019 and features Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks as the Distinguished Guest Composer. The late Larry Lake, host of the CBC Radio 2 network new music series, Two New Hours (1978–2007) called the WSO’s festival, “The greatest new music party in the Universe!” It has become the WSO’s signature event, and a fixture on the annual new music calendar. I will have more on the WSO’s 2019 festival a bit later in this article.

For Toronto audiences, a great deal has changed in the shape of the contemporary music calendar in recent years. We’re now fortunate to have two overlapping January festivals, both in the Bloor and University neighbourhood. One of them is the Royal Conservatory of Music’s (RCM) 21C Music Festival, which has been moved to January, from later in the spring, to promote greater student involvement. But the most steadfast of these annual festivals in Toronto has been the New Music Festival presented by the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, now in its 20th year. The 2019 edition runs from January 16 to 27.

Thanks to a generous endowment from Roger D. Moore, the U of T Faculty of Music invites an internationally celebrated composer to its annual festival. This coming year, the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition is the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955), the latest in a long list of internationally recognized composers to be invited as visitors to the U of T festival.

I asked Moore for a comment on the cumulative effect of his enabling the festival to bring so many famous composers from around the world, year after year. True to form, he thought it might be more meaningful to ask a composer from the Faculty of Music to share their observations., and recently retired professor of composition, Chan Ka Nin was willing to oblige: “The list of Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitors in Composition reflects a who’s who in the current field of new music” he said. “It brings prestige to the university and at the same time inspires the composition students, as well as other students and the general public. Being on the list of the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitors in Composition is also an honour for the guest composers. Roger will be forever remembered as a generous and compassionate man who helps and inspires others with his keen interests in the music of his time. He is a Canadian treasure, a saviour in the Canadian music scene.”

Toshio Hosokawa: Hosokawa has become one of Japan’s most important composers, following Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996) and Maki Ishii (1936–2003). Like the works of Takemitsu and Ishii, Hosokawa’s music blends traditional Japanese and European classical approaches. In fact, Hosokawa divides his time between these two worlds, keeping residences in both Nagano, Japan and in Mainz, Germany. During the 11 days of the U of T New Music Festival, dozens of Hosokawa’s works will be performed, including an operatic double bill on January 17. That evening, in Walter Hall at 7:30, Hosokawa’s psychodramatic setting of Poe’s The Raven will be sung by noted mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabó. This will be followed by its companion piece, The Maiden from the Sea (Futari Shizuka) a one-act opera based on a Nôh play depicting the tale of a young woman lost at sea who becomes embodied by a 12th-century courtesan, Lady Shizuka. Toronto soprano Xin Wang will be heard in the lead, together with the remarkable female Noh singer/dancer, Ryoko Aoki, from Japan. The opera is sung in both Japanese and English.

Then, on January 25 at 8pm in Walter Hall, Toronto’s New Music Concerts, directed by Robert Aitken, will present a concert of Hosokawa’s music, together with works by his teacher, the late Klaus Huber (1924–2017) and his protégé, Misato Mochizuki (b. 1969), who will also attend the festival. Aitken’s New Music Concerts Ensemble is one of a long roster of Toronto’s finest musicians engaged to perform Hosokawa’s music during this visit, including the Gryphon Trio, pianists Stephanie Chua and Stephen Clarke, flutist Camille Watts, violinist Véronique Matthieu. guitarist Rob MacDonald and a new wind quintet made up of TSO wind players. Sax soloist Wallace Halladay and Esprit Orchestra under Alex Pauk will give the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra on January 20 in Koerner Hall in a display of cooperation between U of T’s festival and the RCM’s 21C Music Festival.

Karen Kieser Prize recipient Bekah SimmsKaren Kieser Prize: Another important feature of the U of T festival is the annual presentation of the only prizes available exclusively to U of T graduate composers: The Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music and the Ann H. Atkinson Prize in Electroacoustic Composition. The current winning works will be performed on January 22 at 7:30 in Walter Hall.

Karen Kieser was deputy head of CBC Radio Music from 1982 to 1986, and then head of music from 1986 to 1992. She held three degrees from the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto: a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music, both in piano performance, and a Master of Music in Musicology. She could have had a career as a concert pianist, but she chose broadcasting as her life’s work, serving as a gifted CBC host, producer, executive producer, and eventually as a leader in CBC’s senior management. Friends and colleagues endowed the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music upon her death in 2002, too soon a loss at age 53. It is a tribute to her life, her work and her passionate devotion to the cause of Canadian music and musicians.

For the first time in its 16-year history, this year the Kieser Prize will be shared by two composers, both women: Rebekah Cummings and Bekah Simms. Simms’ microlattice is a quartet for bass clarinet, double bass, piano and percussion. In her note on the work, Simms says, “With a density as low as 0.9 kg/m3 (0.00561 lb/ft3), metallic microlattice is currently one of the lightest structures known to science. It is made from an alloy of nickel and phosphorus. This piece attempts to create a sort of musical alloy from two opposing but influential forces: rhythmic, repetitive music with pointillist, random recurrence. Inspired by the unique structure, this piece also attempts to create an alloy of the strong, metallic and loud, and the crystalline and light. Like its titular influence, the piece is also small in scope, making use of a limited amount of musical material both melodically and rhythmically. After its initial performance, it’s only been performed once more (in July 2018 in Banff, AB) so I very much look forward to presenting it to a wider audience at the Karen Kieser concert this coming January.”

Karen Kieser Prize recipient Rebekah Cummings. Photo by Claire Dam.Cummings’ Fearless is a trio for flute, percussion and electronics. In her note, Cummings says: “I’ve always had vivid dreams, and recently I’ve been using them as springboards for composition. Fearless was inspired by a profoundly impactful dream I had many years ago while struggling with anxiety, in which I rediscovered my true name: Fearless. Rather than following the details of the dream’s storyline, this piece broadly portrays its theme – a transformation from fearful to fearless through reconnection with an inherent, original identity. For me, fearlessness is more about childlike confidence than defiant boldness. I remember being small, believing I could do anything (even fly and walk on water!), never assuming the worst about myself, others, or life circumstances. I tried to musically depict this return to childlikeness through a melodic/rhythmic playfulness emerging, not without struggle, from a more mournful setting.”

The winner of the 2019 Ann H. Atkinson Prize in Electroacoustic Composition will be determined in early December, and the winning composition will be performed on the Karen Kieser Prize concert, along with chamber works by Hosokawa. (The 2018 Atkinson Prize winner was August Murphy-King for his work, Simul for viola, bassoon, piano and electronics, a work I found to be elegant and finely balanced.)

Meanwhile … the previous week, American composer Terry Riley will be celebrated in three concerts at the RCM’s 21C Music Festival, including a concert on January 18, “Terry Riley: Live at 85!” Riley’s visit is dealt with at more length in “In with the New” elsewhere in the current edition of The WholeNote. But I do have a personal Terry Riley story to share, from 1993, when my CBC Radio Two network series, Two New Hours co-produced the Encounters series in Glenn Gould Studio (GGS), together with Soundstreams Canada. Kieser, the director of GGS at the time, had challenged Soundstreams artistic director Lawrence Cherney and me to come up with a marketable contemporary music series that would attract audiences to GGS. We quickly responded with Encounters, initially, a series of minimalist music. Terry Riley was one of the invited minimalist composers. Riley improvised on a nine-foot Steinway modified with his so-called Rosary tuning. It was a 19-tone-to-the-octave tuning, and it took three tunings to get the Steinway to hold its pitch; and three tunings to get it back to tempered pitch afterwards. (The piano tuner’s bill was $1,200 for those services.) The Arraymusic Ensemble participated too, in Riley’s Cactus Rosary, which they had commissioned. The late Michael J Baker conducted.

Norwegian composer Terje Isugset and ice instruments. Photo by Bjorn Furuseth.Back to Winnipeg: And finally, as I promised at the outset of this story, there’s the impending trip to Winnipeg for the 2019 edition of the WSO’s New Music Festival. The 27th WNMF will embrace a variety of themes, including ice, metal, the new intersecting the old, and a spirit of collaboration. The opening event, on January 25, “Glacial Time,” takes place in a custom-designed ice amphitheatre situated in The Forks on the frozen Assiniboine River. A collaboration with architect Peter Hargraves (Warming Huts), this newly created space will capture the essence of WNMF as a cultural oasis within the heart of the extreme Manitoba winter. Norwegian artist and multi-instrumentalist Terje Isungset comes to Winnipeg to present a suite of his original music, featuring himself, vocalist Maria Skranes, and WSO musicians performing on Isungset’s ice instruments, freshly carved for the occasion of this performance. WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano and percussionist Victoria Sparks will lead the University of Manitoba Percussion Ensemble in the Canadian premiere of Inuksuit, an expansive work by Pulitzer Prize-winning Alaskan composer John Luther Adams that continues his explorations in merging music, nature, and landscape.

The January 26 concert welcomes back Bramwell Tovey, the WNMF founding music director who started it all. Tovey will conduct a program featuring San Francisco composer John Adams’ monumental work, Harmonielehre, together with music by three prominent Canadian composers: Jocelyn Morlock, Kelly-Marie Murphy and Harry Stafylakis.

On January 30, the WSO’s newest music director, Daniel Raiskin takes the podium in his first full WNMF program. A noted advocate of contemporary music, Maestro Raiskin is joined by his longtime collaborator, Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks, who serves as this year’s WNMF Distinguished Guest Composer. WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig will perform Vasks’ meditative Lonely Angel and the Winnipeg Singers join the orchestra for his Dona Nobis Pacem, offering two pathos-laden aspects of Vasks’ musical vision. The WSO will also give the world premiere of a new work, A Child’s Dream of Toys, by Canadian composer Vivian Fung, as well as Michael Daugherty’s fierce Raise the Roof. Finally, WNMF doubles down on its collaboration with contemporary progressive metal pioneers Animals As Leaders, who join the WSO for the band’s orchestral debut, featuring a symphonic suite of some of their best known works arranged by WSO Composer-in-Residence (and relentless metalhead) Harry Stafylakis.

Animals as LeadersConsider an alternative winter destination, and join me in Winnipeg for my annual January pilgrimage of musical discovery at the WNMF!

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

Gyan and Terry Riley. credit Scott CrowleyChange is not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s 21C of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 

60 years has helped define the course of new music.

The 21C Festival, produced by the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now in its sixth year and is, by definition, committed to presenting new sounds and ideas. That being said, opening up the flyer for this year’s 21C Music Festival was like a breath of fresh air. I couldn’t help but compare it to last year’s experience – a gasp of disbelief, even despair, when I realized that there was barely a female face to be seen or name to be read. Not so this year. The gasp this time round was more of delight, surprise and yes, relief. Finally! There is definitely a huge sea change occurring this year and for that reason alone, all the more incentive to attend and listen to what is percolating with creative innovators in music. Not only are there a significant number of works and premieres by women, but also by culturally diverse composers as well.

Another key change is the move to a January timeslot from the previous one in May, with this year’s festival happening January 16 to 20, dovetailing with the U of T New Music Festival, a short stroll away, which runs from January 16 to 27.

Change is, however, not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s festival of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 60 years has helped define the course of new music.

Riley’s music has had a significant influence not only on contemporary classical composers but also on rock composers such as Lou Reed and Peter Townsend. His attitudes and approaches to music making have contributed to the radical sea change in compositional ideas and practices that began in the 1960s. He was a key player in the experimental traditions that originated in the USA which filtered across the border.

In Toronto, it was the Arraymusic Ensemble that picked up on these currents, making it a priority in their programming to feature composers who were part of that scene, including people like Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Steve Reich, Jim Tenney and of course, Riley himself. I had a chance to talk with Robert Stevenson, former Arraymusic Ensemble member and artistic director about his memories and experiences working with Riley and his music.

One of the big festivals that occurred throughout the 1980s in the USA, he told me, was called New Music America and in 1990 it had travelled to Montreal as New Music Across America. That year the festival organizers partnered with Arraymusic to commission a work from Riley titled Cactus Rosary. (The piece appears on Array’s New World CD released in 1993.)

Stevenson remembers well the collaborative process involved in the creation of Cactus Rosary. “Most composers in the Western art music tradition aren’t strong in collaborating. It’s not part of the tradition and you’re not trained in that when you study composition. Rather, you’re learning how to tell people what to do. When we got the score for Cactus Rosary there was hardly anything on the page. ‘Where is the music?’ we wondered. There were a few notes, some pitches, no metre. Some of the notes were whole notes, others filled in but no stems. There were no rhythmic details, no dynamics, and no explanation of the tuning system, which was in just intonation (rather than the standard equal temperament). All we had that indicated the tuning was a DX7 synthesizer patch. Once Riley began to work with us, though, you began to realize that what was on the page was there to be fleshed out. A lot of what we did is not in the score.”

Stevenson gave the example of the vocal part he performed that was more like speak-singing a text. “I started reading and he said: ‘Can you change the harmonic content by changing your throat shape? Can you move the pitch around? There’s a delay line on the voice so we should set that up.’ Everything happened collaboratively in a very subtle yet determined kind of way. It was never, ‘This is what I want.’ He was clear about what he didn’t want and gave us instructions that would lead us in a direction to what he would like without having to say anything. It’s a different approach to composition. There’s not a blueprint but an invitation to a process.”

Using just intonation tuning is an important aspect of Riley’s work. Stevenson described the difference that it made for Cactus Rosary. “At the first rehearsals the acoustic piano had yet to be tuned to just intonation, so all we had was the DX7 patch. The ensemble was tuning itself to the DX sound but with the acoustic piano in equal temperament, everything was quite chaotic. When the piano was finally tuned it was extraordinary what happened to the music. Suddenly there was this resonating thing happening – the tuning was in the air.”

The staging of the piece was also a change from the usual. “There was an old-style wingback chair that conductor Michael Baker sat in facing the audience. He played two peyote rattles which Riley acquired specifically for the piece from a Wichita tribe member who made them himself. Baker made occasional hand gestures to signal when to move to a new section, but otherwise he played these rattles, coming in and out of the piece, often when the texture was less dense. From an audience point of view, you got the sense that you were watching someone’s aural meditation being made manifest, an internal experience being made external.”

Array took the piece on tour when they visited Europe spanning the years 1993 to 95. “That’s when the piece really started to take shape,” Stevenson said, “and the duration shifted from 33 minutes to close to 50. It became more expansive and we developed the trance meditative aspect. Tour organizers in Europe didn’t want Array to come and play European music, they wanted music they didn’t have a chance to hear. They went nuts over things like the Claude Vivier music we played and with the Riley piece, we were a big hit. People went crazy and were trancing out. They didn’t have many people in Europe who were authentically connected to the music who could play it.”

At the time in Toronto, there weren’t other groups performing his music, except his classic hit In C, which was much more of a communal experience for open instrumentation. Stevenson himself played that piece several times, often with people from Array, and once at a concert by New Music Concerts at The Copa, a massive dance club in Yorkville whose heyday was in the 1980s. In C appealed to some performers because of its collaborative nature, and it was devoid of the extreme demands made by composers like Boulez and Stockhausen, for example. With any number of ways to play it and the outcome undetermined, players could relax and enjoy the moment. “This type of process was very new to people at the time.”

Bob Stevenson with Red Rhythm at Communists Daughter, 2014.  photo by Ori DaganStevenson concluded our conversation by saying that “Riley had a light touch. Nothing was too serious or worth breaking a sweat about. That’s why it was easy to collaborate with him. He wasn’t stuck on an idea but rather always asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ He was always confident that things would be accomplished and I never got the idea that he was dissatisfied with how the process was going.”

The January 18 21C concert celebrates Riley: On the first half of the evening, Tracy Silverman on electric violin will perform excerpts from Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle and Sri Camel, both arranged by Silverman. On the second half of the evening, Terry and his son Gyan will perform five of his works including Mongolian Winds and Ebony Horn, along with selections from Salome Dances for Peace.

This year’s 21C

Surrounding that January 18 Riley celebration concert, there is much else to enjoy in this edition of 21C.

The opening concert on January 16 features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tania Miller and Simon Rivard. Since there will be no New Creations Festival at the TSO this year, this is one way for them to continue to support the work of contemporary composers.

Their 21C concert features two world premieres – one by Emilie Lebel (who has been appointed the TSO’s new affiliate composer) and the other by Stewart Goodyear. (Goodyear will also be performing in a full concert of his own works on January 17, including Variations on Hallelujah and other takes on various pop and rock songs.) Other composers featured in the TSO concert are Dorothy Chang, Dinuk Wijeratne, Jocelyn Morlock and Terry Riley.

Other Toronto-based presenters offering programs at this year’s 21C festival include Continuum with an all-female program featuring compositions by Cassandra Miller, Monica Pearce, Linda Smith, Carolyn Chen, Unsuk Chin and Kati Agócs. On the weekend, the performing ensembles of Cinq à Sept and Sō Percussion (both on January 19) as well as the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble (January 20) will be performing entire programs of new compositions, again featuring an abundance of works by women. Check the listings for a full rundown of all the composers you can hear.

Esprit bridge to U of T

As mentioned previously, the U of T’s Contemporary Music Festival picks up where 21C leaves off. On January 20 there will be an Esprit Orchestra concert which, fittingly, closes one festival and opens the other with works by Claude Vivier, Toshio Hosokawa, Alison Yun-Fei and Christopher Goddard. The two festivals are partnering to present the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by Wallace Halladay. Hosokawa is Japan’s pre-eminent living composer, creating his musical language from the relationship between Western avant-garde art and traditional Japanese culture. His music is strongly connected to the aesthetic and spiritual roots of the Japanese arts and he values the expression of beauty that originates from transience.

Hosokawa, who is this year’s Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the U of T Festival, will also be offering composition masterclasses on January 21 and 22, and his music will be presented in a concert by faculty artists on January 21, in a concert of Percussion and Electronics on January 23 and as featured composer for the New Music Concerts performance on January 25.

In with the New Quick Picks

DEC 11, 7:30PM: Gallery 345. PAPER: New Compositions and Improvisations by Nahre Sol, a pianist and composer who creates music that combines a unique blend of improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony and minimalism. She teams up with clarinetist Brad Cherwin for this free concert.

DEC 14, 8PM: Music Gallery, Rejuvenated Frequencies. A showcase of music curated by Obuxum featuring groundbreaking music by women of colour, music that is “progressive and healing all at once.” Performers include VHVL from Harlem with her thumping beats and bright melodies, Toronto-based YourHomieNaomi with roots in spoken word, and Korean-born, Toronto-based classically trained pianist Korea Town Acid whose DJ sets create an avant-garde journey.

JAN 17, 7:30PM: Canadian Music Centre. A mixed-genre evening of jazz-inflected works by Alex Samaras, one of Canada’s leading jazz vocalists, and Norman Symonds, a leading figure in the third-stream movement in Canada that combines jazz and classical forms. The concert will include works by the CMC’s 2018 Toronto Emerging Composer Award-winner Cecilia Livingston, who specializes in music for voice and opera.

JAN 29, 7:30PM: Tapestry Opera presents Hook Up at Theatre Passe Muraille. This opera by composer Chris Thornborrow, libretto by Julie Tepperman, raises questions of consent, shame and power in the lives of young adults navigating uncharted waters on their own. Content warning: Contains explicit language and discussion of sexual violence. Runs to February 9.

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

Johannes Debus. credit Tony HauserToronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Matthew Loden and I are chatting about the beloved cultural phenomenon that is Messiah in Toronto. Sitting in his office overlooking Roy Thomson Hall, I can see the iconic webbing of the edifice, a physical nest that cradles the music hall. In a few weeks, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and guests, under the baton of Johannes Debus, will present a major six-performance run of Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece.. (Full disclosure: as regular readers of this column know, I sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and will be on stage for these performances.)

“We live in a very disjointed and fractured time right now. I think that the human condition is to long for a kind of togetherness, to find your place with people,” says Loden, speaking about the need for a space for an event like Messiah. “Increasingly, we keep finding ways to disintegrate relationships. When you have a moment where you can come together collectively and still have an individual experience while feeling the music coming off the stage with a couple thousand other people – that is really powerful.” With these TSO performances alone, 15,000 people will experience the majesty of the most iconic of Toronto classical-music traditions.

“People are moved to tears not just because of the artistic nature of what they’re listening to,” Loden continues, “but because they are doing it with other people, live. It’s raw talent from 150-plus people on stage. There’s a kind of magic that happens when you get everybody together to be a part of that.”

Johannes Debus leads the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with soloists Claire de Sévigné (soprano), Allyson McHardy (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Haji (tenor), and Tyler Duncan (baritone). Surprisingly, over his significant career, Debus has never conducted the entire work. “This is my first time conducting it,” he tells me in a phone call from his home in Berlin. “But when I was in my early teens, I sang it. This was one of the strong, long-lasting musical impressions I have from my childhood. Afterwards, I made my mother buy the John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir recording. It’s a dream come true for myself to be able to conduct this piece.”

Debus is a fixture in the classical world in Toronto, serving as the music director for the Canadian Opera Company (COC), a post he has held for almost a decade. In that capacity he isn’t often on the stage, though, in Toronto, and this marks only his second time with the TSO. He is mindful that the music lovers of Toronto are very particular about their Messiahs. “[Conducting] might come with certain expectations,” he says. “On the other hand, you can rely on the experience of the musicians and hopefully bring something new. Not to reinvent the wheel but to inspire us all and bring all forces together. Make it an event that nourishes us and prepares us for the Christmas Day. In the case of Messiah, like every other masterpiece, you discover something new every time. Like a statue, you turn it around and look at it from the back or the side. You discover new angles. That’s what makes music so brave – you perform it in the moment and it can be new every time.” Audience members can safely expect a charismatic, flowing storyteller, and for once will be able to see his whole body in action from the stage, not just the top of his head and hands from the orchestra pit.

Debus is aware of other interpretations of Messiah. He mentions Sir Andrew Davis’ 2016 recording, for one, but promises something a little more literal. “In the beginning we’re dealing with prophecy, birth, and then redemption, like chapters. It’s like a novel, three big parts,” says Debus. “If we manage to bring out a distinctiveness in character and expression of all those aspects, I will be very pleased and happy.”

The dramatic edge of Messiah can easily be lost faced with the technicality of the music. For a master musical storyteller like Debus, it is at the core. Handel’s music uses the assembled text in an emotive fashion that creates a thread of luscious descriptiveness in his music. There is the venomous roar of choir in “He Trusted in God,” remarking in great anger and frustration. “And with his stripes” plainly invokes the whip marks covering Jesus’ body. The playfulness and athleticism of “All we like sheep” finishes with the introspective acknowledgement of the faithful’s iniquity. The solos carry this emotional energy as well. The emotional tenor sings “Thy rebuke has broken his heart,” a call from the deepest depths of despair, for help. The mezzo-soprano maintains a humble supplication with “He was despised.” All of this is underpinned by the orchestra. Handel’s music carries many emotional messages over a short period of time.

“It’s part of Handel’s success in general, that he can unfold and have this incredible impact on your emotional soul, your emotional centre,” says Debus. “It can really shake you and elevate you, make you weak and so on. Among the great dramatists and operatists, Handel knew how to establish this and make it work. He knows very well how to set the mood and his talent for writing ear-worm-like melodies.”

“As a composer of Italian opera, Handel was always drawn to the ideal of theatrical, operatic writing. In terms of drama, we will work to apply that here.” Bringing to life the dramatic solos is a quartet of Canadian talent who have all worked with Debus before: in fact De Sévigné, McHardy and Haji have all been members of the Ensemble Studio, a key part of Debus’ programming direction at the COC.

Matthew LodenMatthew Loden is particularly keen on this set of soloists as well, knowing that three of them have been members of the COC Ensemble Studio. “[This performance] represents a very strong partnership with the COC,” he says, “with Johannes on the podium and three of four of soloists connected to the Ensemble Studio. The fact that there are these remarkable development opportunities for these professional singers on their way into the world, and that the TSO can be one of the stops on their trajectory, is really fulfilling. And Canadians really appreciate when they can celebrate their homegrown talent.”

The Ensemble Studio is part of a musical ecosystem encompassing the University of Toronto, Royal Conservatory of Music, and the COC, incubating, supporting and celebrating new generations of talent. Through performances such as these on the biggest symphonic stage in Canada, the TSO becomes part of that ecosystem.

Messiah is a core programmatic element of the first half of every TSO season. “We do Messiah every year is because one of the roles we play in Toronto is to gather people together into a space that allows them to feel like they are part of something that is bigger than themselves. Bigger than they are individually,” shares Loden. “There’s a ceremony around getting together with friends and family and other musicians on an annual basis that allows people to both reflect and look forward. Messiah is a perfect opportunity for that kind of gathering.”

Messiah isn’t part of any regular subscription package on offer from the TSO. Annually, ever seat sold is an add-on to a subscription, a create-your-own subscription package, or individual concert sale. Sure-fire Messiah sales are important to the TSO when balanced against new works or unfamiliar ones to audiences. Loden acknowledges that these are concerts that sell and sell out. “Whenever we open the phone lines and the next season goes on sale, Messiah is often at the top of people’s list. It tells us that this is something that is working,” says Loden. “Messiah is a highlight and focal point from a financial standpoint, but also within the rhythm of the season. I think if people want to come and be proud of being in this great city, being Canadians and experience this monumental piece of music that has withstood the test of time; to do it in this concert hall, it’s a very special thing; and I think that’s why people keep coming back.”

“The images we get through Handel’s music – with all its weaknesses, the compassion, empathy, glory, exuberance – with all these aspects, you can find them concentrated in this theatre called Messiah. I hope that many people will come to these concerts,” Debus says, adding “and that there won’t be any snowstorms.”

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

MESSSIAH IS EVERYWHERE

From the November edition of HalfTones, The WholeNote’s mid-month digital newsletter (subscribe online!): Messiah is near-synonymous with choral community-building: with festivity, with meaningful memories of classical music, with standing and singing along. Something about Messiah, and the way it unites community initiatives with musical professionals, gives it a special place in the city and scene’s musical fabric.

Just an example - this year’s Messiah for the City (Dec 22) presented by Toronto Beach Chorale in partnership with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, features singers from the Toronto Beach Chorale, MCS Chorus Mississauga and the Georgetown Bach Chorale, and players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Founded by the late Jack Layton, Messiah for the City is a project dedicated to providing seasonal concert opportunities to people who otherwise might not have access to such events. Tickets are distributed by United Way and its partner agencies.

And then all over the map, and in order of appearance (details in our listings):

DEC 1, 4PM: Pax Christi Chorale’s special Children’s Messiah performance for children and families; Church of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto.

DEC 4-6, 8PM: Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah IV at the Drake Underground, Toronto.

DEC 11, 8PM: An Evening of Choruses and Arias from Handel’s Messiah. The debut performance of B-Xalted! a new choir founded by Barbara Gowdy and Whitney Smith, at the Church of St. Peter & St. Simon-the-Apostle, Toronto.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Cellar Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Orillia Opera House, Orillia.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Grand Philharmonic Choir. Handel’s Messiah. Centre in the Square, Kitchener.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: MCS Chorus Mississauga. G. F. Handel: Messiah. First United Church, Mississauga.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Orchestra Kingston. Handel’s Messiah. Kingston Choral Society. The Spire/Sydenham Street United Church, 82 Sydenham St., Kingston.

DEC 9, 3PM: Dufferin Concert Singers/New Tecumseth Singers. Handel’s Messiah. St. John’s United Church, Creemore.

DEC 15, 7:30PM: Chorus Niagara. Handel’s Messiah. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

DEC 15, 8PM: Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. Highlights from The Messiah. Living Arts Centre, Hammerson Hall, Mississauga.

DEC 15, 8PM: Orchestra Grey Bruce/Saugeen County Chorus. Messiah. Knox Presbyterian Church, Kincardine.

DEC 16, 3PM: Menno Singers. Sing-along Messiah. St. Jacob’s Mennonite Church, St. Jacobs.

DEC 17-22, 8PM AND 23, 3PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.

DEC 17, 7:30PM: Peterborough Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Emannuel United Church, Peterborough.

DEC 18-21, 7:30PM: Tafelmusik’s Messiah at Koerner Hall, with their famous Sing-Along Messiah on DEC 22, 2PM, at Roy Thomson Hall (while Massey Hall is being renovated). Toronto

DEC 22, 7:30: Guelph Chamber Choir. Messiah. River Run Centre, Guelph.

NOT THE MESSIAH

Just a sampling …

DEC 5, 7:30PM: Nathaniel Dett Chorale. An Indigo Christmas: Black Virgin…Great Joy.

DEC 7, 7:30PM: Surinder Mundra. A Choral Christmas from Across Europe.

DEC 7, 8PM: Exultate Chamber Singers. Winter’s Night with You.

DEC 8, 2PM: Annual City Carol Sing. Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats; Hogtown Brass Quintet; Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Choir; VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto; That Choir; Hedgerow Singers; Kevin Frankish, host; and others.

DEC 8, 7:30PM: Forte – Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus. All Is Calm, All Is Bright.

DEC 9, 2PM: Duly Noted. Toronto vs. Everybody. All a cappella music celebrating Toronto.

DEC 11, 7:30PM: City Choir. Cakes & Ale.

DEC 16, 3PM: Pax Christi Chorale. England’s Golden Age. A cappella masterpieces from the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

DEC 18, 7:30PM: Orpheus Choir of Toronto. A Child’s Christmas in Wales. With Geraint Wyn Davies.

DEC 22, 7:30PM: Quintessence Ensemble. Buon Natale: A Multilingual Christmas.

JAN 13, 3PM: Vesnivka Choir. Ukrainian Christmas Concert. With Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir and a folk instrumental ensemble.

JAN 13, 7:30PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music presents “We shall overcome: a celebration of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.” Damien Sneed and the Toronto Mass Choir: jazz, gospel, classical, blues, music theatre and spirituals – Sneed and guests will mark the 90th anniversary of MLK’s birth.

JAN 22 & 23, 7:30PM: Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. KW Glee.

JAN 26, 3PM: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Spotlight on North America. A free community concert celebrating great composers from Canada and the United States: interim artistic director David Fallis’ first fully programmed concert

JAN 26, 7PM: Newchoir. The High Society Soir-eh.

JAN 26, 8PM: Confluence. Centuries of Souls.

FEB 2, 2PM & 7PM: Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto. Songs from a Celtic Heart.

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

Justyna Gabzdyl PHOTO BY Beata NawrockiJustyna Gabzdyl: After graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Academy (now University) of Music in Warsaw in 2005, Polish-born pianist, Justyna Gabzdyl, continued her studies at the École Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris before earning a doctorate at Université de Montréal in 2012. Now 36 and based in Canada, Gabzdyl will be performing in Walter Hall in a U of T Faculty of Music recital on January 24; works by Syzmanowski and Gershwin will be featured. She spoke to La Scena Musicale for their February/March 2018 issue and detailed her fondness for Syzmanowski.

“I find his music incredibly stimulating to the imagination,” she said. “His style is unique, characterized by a beautiful, sensual tone. His huge sensibility to colour and sound is impressionistic. At the same time, the ecstatic climaxes make his style closer to expressionism.”

Szymanowski often travelled to Italy, Sicily, North Africa and France – destinations with which Gabzdyl is familiar, having lived in France, and visited the Maghreb numerous times.

“Countries that are culturally different from our own arouse our curiosity,” she said. “They open us to new smells, tastes, landscapes, lifestyles…I think all these factors affect our emotions and inspire us. In this case, travelling in the composer’s footsteps helped me to understand his intentions and galvanized my enthusiasm.”

Studying in Canada influenced her in several ways. She was introduced to a musical perspective that stressed the architecture of a piece. “In Poland, there is generally more interest in the progress of the music’s ‘character.’ This focus is quite typical of Slavic schools,” she said. Gabzdyl was also influenced by the French technique of jeu perlé (passages played quickly, lightly and clearly) which she uses in Chopin and Szymanowski. And she thinks that music interpretation is somehow influenced by the spirit of the nation. “Moving to Canada improved my positive thinking. I became more relaxed. I find Canadians more jovial. Polish people have a tendency to be melancholic.”

Hugo Kitano, 22, is a double major at Stanford (music and computer science) and an international prizewinner. His COC free noon-hour recital January 31 is comprised of Beethoven’s penultimate piano Sonata No.30, Op.110 and Chopin’s resplendent Polonaise-Fantaisie Op.61. Kitano has worked extensively with John Perry who also finds time to visit the Glenn Gould School on a regular basis as a faculty member.

Charles Richard-Hamelin’s star is still rising; the honeymoon from his Warsaw Chopin Competition honours in 2015 has evolved into a major concert schedule that brings him to Koerner Hall on February 3. Two C-Major works by Schumann, the Arabesque Op.17 and the Fantasy Op.16 precede a performance of Chopin’s Four Ballades. The 29-year-old pianist gave an insightful interview to Bachtrack on September 30, 2016 that showed the same maturity beyond his years that his piano playing already reflected.

In answer to a question about his relationship to the score: “The more we play a work, the less we leave the score. But it is not because we play by heart that we must not have it in mind anymore. For Chopin, it’s complicated because the editions are very contradictory, there is not really a reference edition. Finally, the most important thing is to read between the lines: if we just scrupulously execute what is written on the score, we fall into academism. There is a lot of unspoken music, such as rubato. In Chopin, for example, we sometimes find ornaments formed by several quick notes: obviously, he did not expect that we play them identically. You have to know how to distance yourself from the score; for it to be alive.”

On how his repertoire has changed since the Warsaw win: “Before the contest, I could choose to play what I wanted. But the audience did not want to hear me: I had a few concerts in Canada and Quebec but I never played abroad. Now, this is largely the case because the Chopin Competition is a showcase for the international scene. Playing what you want is good, yet you have to be engaged to play on a stage. That said, I was already very happy: I made a humble living, but I made a living.”

And on Chopin becoming a label that’s hard to get rid of: “Indeed, I have many commitments in Japan, but for Chopin! There are worse labels to have. If I were only to play Saint-Saëns for the rest of my life, I think I’ll stop playing the piano. Fortunately, we do not get tired of Chopin so quickly. I had to play three or four hours of music, while he wrote 12 or 13. And then, some programmers show more openness and let me build recital programs around Chopin, with other composers who accompany him well, by contrast or similarity.”

Juho Pohjonen CREDIT Henry FairJuho Pohjonen: The celebrated Finnish pianist, 37-year-old Juho Pohjonen, is another “fast-rising star” (The Guardian). His impressive NYC recital debut in 2004, while he was still a student at the Sibelius Academy, was praised by The New York Times as “formidable” and “breathtaking.” Lately his association with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has brought him more attention for “his effortless brilliance.” All of which only adds to my anticipation for his Music Toronto recital on February 5. His program pairs two suites by Rameau from his Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin with late works by Mozart (Rondo in A Minor K511) and Beethoven (Sonata No.28 in A Major, Op.101).

Younggun Kim: Fifth in this handful of talented young pianists, South Korean-born, Toronto-based, U of T Faculty member Younggun Kim will show off his dazzling technical prowess in a recital in Walter Hall on February 7. The demanding program moves from the Bach-Busoni Chaconne to Godowsky’s fiendishly difficult Studies on Chopin’s Etudes and Ravel’s jaw-dropping La Valse.

Heath Quartet CREDIT Simon WayTwo String Quartets

Heath: When the Heath Quartet made their memorable Toronto debut in January 2017, their second violinist had just left the ensemble to spend more time with her family. Nonetheless, their dynamism and exuberance were evident even with a last-minute replacement. Now, with a new violinist in place, they make a welcome return to Walter Hall early next February.

When I spoke to first violinist Ollie Heath two years ago I asked how he constructs a program. “Nearly always we begin a concert with a piece from earlier in the repertoire,” Heath said. “The simpler, cleaner textures and conversational aspects of these pieces is a good way of bringing everyone ‘into the room,’ and introducing the possibilities of what a string quartet can do. The second work is often more complex – more demanding on both listener and player. We then fill the second half with a more generously sized work – from one of the Romantic, nationalist composers or one of the big Beethoven quartets.”

Sure enough, the paradigm still stands. For their Mooredale Concerts recital on February 3, they begin with Mozart’s Quartet K465 “Dissonance,” its nickname owing to the harmonic boldness of the slow introduction to its first movement. The most famous and last of the six quartets Mozart dedicated to “my dear friend Haydn,” will undoubtedly introduce the possibilities of what a string quartet can do.

The quartet is devoting this concert season to all three of Benjamin Britten’s quartets. We get to hear his first, commissioned in 1941 by the famous American patroness, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had previously commissioned Bartók’s Fifth Quartet (1934) and Schoenberg’s Fourth (1936). The emotional centre of the work, the long Andante Calmo third movement, is filled with melancholy beauty. The afternoon concert concludes with Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No.9, Op.59 No.3, one of the biggest of Beethoven’s quartets.

Van Kuick: Despite its Dutch-sounding name, the Van Kuijk Quartet, founded by Nicolas Van Kuijk in 2012, is French. Its growing international reputation was kindled by winning First Prize in the 2015 Wigmore Hall Competition and First Prize and Audience Award at the Trondheim International Chamber Competition; and its members have been named BBC New Generation Artists until 2017. Their Music Toronto concert on January 31, curiously enough, follows a similar programming concept as that of the Heath, beginning with Haydn’s celebrated late Quartet in D Major, Op.76, No.5, written at the height of his fame. Ligeti’s Quartet No.1 “Metamorphoses nocturnes” with its beguiling angularity, chromaticism and dissonance, is followed by Schubert’s monumental Quartet No.14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden.”

Two violinists

Benedetti: The enthralling Scottish violinist, Nicola Benedetti, makes her second visit to Toronto this season with her Koerner Hall recital on January 25. Her TSO engagement last September, playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2, broadened into a visit to Sistema Toronto that was chronicled by David Perlman on thewholenote.com in October. In Koerner Hall, she’ll be performing with Kiev-born pianist Alexei Grynyuk, a regular chamber music partner with Benedetti in the Benedetti, Elschenbroich, Grynyuk Trio. In 1942, Prokofiev found himself in far-off Central Asia working on the score for Eisenstein’s classic film Ivan the Terrible. For a change of pace he began to compose a sonata for flute and piano which was premiered in Moscow the following year to a lukewarm response. David Oistrakh suggested that Prokofiev turn it into a violin sonata, which he did, saying that he wanted to write it in a “gentle, flowing classical style.” That Violin Sonata No.2, with all its wit, lyricism, expressiveness and mood changes, is a centrepiece of a recital that begins with Bach’s unalloyed solo masterwork, the Chaconne from Partita No.2, and includes a Wynton Marsalis premiere and Richard Strauss’ surprisingly seductive Violin Sonata Op.18.

Blake Pouliot CREDIT Jeff Fasano PhotographyPouliot: Twentysomething Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot won the 2018 Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Award, an honour that followed his Grand Prize win at the 2016 Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Manulife Competition. His recent Debussy-Ravel Analekta CD was praised by WholeNote Strings Attached columnist Terry Robbins as “an outstanding recording debut.” Robbins noted that “Pouliot plays with strength, clarity, warmth, faultless intonation and a fine sense of phrase… [drawing] a gorgeous tone from the 1729 Guarneri del Gesù violin on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts.” With Hsin-I Huang at the piano, Pouliot gives a free (ticket required) concert in RCM’s Mazzoleni Hall Sunday afternoon, February 3. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this star on the rise in an appealing program of Mozart (K379), Janáček, Sarasate and Chausson (the divine Poème). 

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

DEC 8, 8PM: Violinist Alexandre Da Costa, who divides his time between Montreal and Australia, brings his Stradivarius 1701 to the Glenn Gould Studio stage when he joins Nurhan Arman and Sinfonia Toronto in “The Eight Seasons,” featuring Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

DEC 16, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society celebrates Beethoven’s 248th birthday with a compelling program that includes the Kreutzer Sonata, Eyeglass Duo and Archduke Trio. Angela Park, piano, Yehonatan Berick, violin, and Rachel Mercer, cello, make it happen as the AYR Trio.

JAN 10 AND 12, 8PM; JAN 13, 3PM: Intrepid Mississauga-born violinist, Leila Josefowicz, joins the TSO for a performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, the composer’s particular take on the Baroque era. David Robertson, American-born conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ grandly romantic Symphony No.2 and Kurt Weill’s evergreen Suite from the Threepenny Opera.

JAN 13, 3PM: Musical inheritance is the theme of the Windermere String Quartet’s upcoming concert, “Keeping It in the Family.” The period-instrument ensemble’s program opens with a J.S. Bach fugue arranged by W.A. Mozart, followed by a divertimento by Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father. Guest artist, traverso player Alison Melville, is featured in J.S. Bach’s son, Johann Christian’s Quartet No.1 for flute and strings; W.A. Mozart’s final string quartet, the masterful String Quartet No.23 in F Major, K590, concludes the Sunday afternoon recital.

JAN 15, 12PM: Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind heads a program of chamber music (that also includes works by Villa-Lobos and Piazzolla) performed by artists of the COC and National Ballet Orchestras, in this free noon-hour concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre.

JAN 27, 3PM: Pittsburgh-based guest violist, David Harding, and talented pianist, Todd Yaniw, join Trio Arkel members, Marie Bérard and Winona Zelenka for “the melodies just surged upon me.” The Trio chose this quote by Dvořák because it directly refers to his Piano Quartet No.2 in E-flat Major Op.87, the centrepiece of their Sunday afternoon concert, which also features music by Schubert and Röntgen.

JAN 28, 7:30PM: TSO principal cellist, Joseph Johnson, and chamber musician supreme, Philip Chiu, join forces for a U of T Faculty of Music recital featuring music by Beethoven, Britten and Chopin.

JAN 31 AND FEB 2, 8PM: After hors d’oeuvres of Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis and the TSO settle in for the main course: Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Lise Davidsen, soprano; Simon O’ Neill, tenor; and Brindley Sherratt, bass.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote

Erika Switzer (left) and Martha Guth. Photo by Colin MillsCompetitions are not unusual in classical music. Every few months, young voices and pianists are competing somewhere in the world – in standard repertoire by composers from the past. No new songs get commissioned especially for the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, or the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, or the Operalia. For new works by living artists one goes to poetry slams and literary death matches, where poets and novelists turn their writing into a performance and the audience, to a greater or lesser degree inebriated, decides the winner. We can go to competitions in old music – and watch them civilly and in silence – or competitions in new writing, spoken without music, where a certain degree of audience responsiveness and noise is in fact encouraged.

Those were the choices, that is, until spring 2017 and the inaugural songSLAM concert before a standing-room-only crowd in New York City. It’s when soprano Martha Guth and pianist Erika Switzer decided to give a spin to this new and (fair to say) populist format for presenting new art song creations. The two musicians, while pursuing independent careers, have, in their spare time, also been running Sparks & Wiry Cries, an organization and online magazine dedicated to the “preservation and the advancement of art song.” The new-song-competition format became popular almost overnight: after the NYC songSLAM, two new cities, Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, immediately wanted their own. There will be seven songSLAMs in three countries this season, says Guth via email from NYC when I get in touch with her to ask about the upcoming Toronto slam.

Scheduled for January 16 at the more formal Walter Hall at the University of Toronto, the Toronto songSLAM will otherwise remain true to the established slam practices: drinks (cocktails will be served 30 minutes before the 7pm start time, says Guth), all songs by living composers, and performers from all career levels – students, young professionals and established musicians from Toronto and Montreal. She could not confirm the final list of participants, as the 12 accepted composer-performer teams and five alternates were still being notified at the time of the interview, but at least two young singers have already shared on Twitter their excitement ahead of the concert – sopranos Sara Schabas and Danika Lorèn (who will be singing her own songs accompanied by Darren Creech on the piano).

“We created the songSLAM in order to get audiences excited and invested in the creation of new music,” says Guth, “and to build a sense of collaboration and interaction between composers and performers in each city where events are held. This social event has so far exceeded all of our expectations everywhere it has happened. The audiences have been incredibly enthusiastic, and the musicians taking part have told us that even if they didn’t place in the competition, they loved taking part because of the community-building aspects.  For us too, it is an amazing way to hear up-and-coming talent.” Ever on the lookout for new and exciting art songs, the pair have commissioned new music from some of their favourites from the slams, some of which will be performed in the 2019 songSLAM festival in NYC.

NYC songSLAM CREDIT Martha GuthTo put together song slams in different cities, partnership with a local organization is key. For the Toronto event, Sparks & Wiry Cries partnered with Women on the Verge, aka the sopranos Elizabeth McDonald, Emily Martin and Kathryn Tremills, the performing trio on a mission to tell the stories of women’s lives through song. The University of Toronto’s Voice Studies Program is the second Toronto partner that made the slam possible. After the Canadian edition, slams in Chicago, Denver and Ljubljana (Slovenia) are in the works, the latter scheduled to be televised on Slovenian TV.

Toronto-based tenor Jonathan Russell MacArthur and pianist Darren Creech took part in the first slam in NYC last year. The two musicians met while working on a production workshop with FAWN Chamber Creative, and “definitely clicked, being two queer boys who live in Toronto,” says MacArthur in an email when I ask about the experience. “There was always something to talk about.” When he heard of the competition and proposed a collaboration to Creech, the young pianist didn’t need much persuading. They agreed to do a piece by Wally Gunn, MacArthur’s Aussie friend who lived in the NYC borough of Queens. “Wally wanted to tell a story of Captain Moonlite – a gay Australian bushranger and outlaw – so he wrote that piece for us.” Once in NYC, they stayed with Gunn and rehearsed in Brooklyn. Their performance now lives on YouTube. “We had a great time.”

But first, December. The year is not over yet.

Just the other day I received an email from Happenstance’s clarinetist Brad Cherwin describing their next concert … or shall I call it experiment. As soprano Adanya Dunn is out and about travelling and auditioning, Happenstance will this time present themselves as a duo, “Alice” Nahre Sol (piano and composition) and Cherwin himself. On December 11 at Gallery 345, free admission, they will present PAPER, an exploration of that mundane yet essential material through music and visual art.

How is that going to work? “Expect a 30-minute performance piece, incorporating all new music by Alice and improvisations by both of us, alongside projections and painting. It’s going to be our first attempt at wrestling with the concert form. We’re pushing ourselves out of the standard recital paradigm.” The visuals will not be narrative but abstract, to match the music, he says. They won’t be incidental but fundamentally connected to the sound. In other words, we have to come and see what they have concocted. (To check out some of Cherwin’s art – he does all the visuals for the Happenstance programs – head over to Instagram, his account is public.) Meanwhile this fall, Nahre Sol has started a fellowship at the RCM in partnership with the 21C Music Festival, and Happenstance has received some TAC funding for the new season. The 2019 concerts will be announced on December 11, and the odd detail remains to be worked out, but Cherwin can confirm North American premieres of works by Wolfgang Rihm and Pascal Dusapin for soprano, clarinet and piano, as well as a world premiere of a new trio by Nahre Sol.

Meanwhile, across town, in the Amsterdam Bicycle Club on the Esplanade, Against the Grain Theatre, known for messing with traditional operatic repertoire to great effect, will launch its record label and its first release on December 7. Ayre, Osvaldo Golijov’s 2004 song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble that uses Sephardic, Arabic, Hebrew and Sardinian folk material, has been recorded in a live concert by the AtG’s founding member, Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil. Songs from the disc will be performed at the launch, which will be an art song recital that keeps all the informality of an AtG Opera Pub. And did I mention cocktails, which seem to be the recurring theme of this end-of-year column?

A few song-themed tips for the gifting season

For the new music eccentric in your life, consider the recently released CD of songs by Andrew Staniland to the poetry of Robin Richardson, Go By Contraries. SongSLAM’s Martha Guth and baritone Tyler Duncan lend their voices, with Erika Switzer at the piano. For the early music jester, get Sallazzo Ensemble’s debut album Parle qui veut: Moralizing Songs of the Middle Ages (Linn Records). And for those few people in your life who still read books (not a huge number of us are still kicking about), look for Robert Harris’ Song of a Nation, on the eventful life of the composer of Canada’s national anthem, Calixa Lavallée. 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

DEC 22 AND 23, 8PM: Heliconian Hall. The Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Toronto presents the Vesuvius Ensemble’s “Christmas in Southern Italy.” Francesco Pellegrino and the lads of Vesuvius see the year off with their traditional December concert of secular Southern Italian songs around Christmas themes. Pellegrino, Marco Cera and Lucas Harris are joined by Romina di Gasbarro at the guest vocals and Tommaso Sollazzo on the bagpipes. Knowing Vesuvius, I expect some high quality arrangements of Italian pop songs as well – at least in the encores.

JAN 26 AND 27, 7:30PM: Trinity College Chapel, U of T. Cor Unum Ensemble and Sub Rosa Ensemble bring to the fore the little-known works by women composers from the 16th and 17th centuries.

JAN 27, 2PM: The Royal Conservatory of Music. Mazzoleni Songmasters Series: “Winter Words.” Mezzo Lucia Cervoni and tenor Michael Colvin sing Britten, Mahler and assorted other music around the broad theme of winter.

FEB 3, 7:30PM: Vocalis: The Song Narrative Project, curated by Stephen Philcox and Laura Tucker. The Extension Room, 30 Eastern Ave. Meet University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s outstanding master’s and doctoral students in concert. Free admission.

What stood out for you this year? Send me your highlights to artofsong@thewholenote.com. Wishing you a merry and song-filled end of the year.

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

Back to top