Now in its 13th year and divided into six smaller series – vocal, chamber music, piano virtuoso, jazz, world music and dance – there are very few series in town that cover so many WholeNote areas of interest as the Canadian Opera Company’s remarkable Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. This month, for example, in addition to five concerts that jumped out at me, both Lydia Perović in her Art of Song column and Jazz Notes columnist Steve Wallace found noteworthy concerts in their respective beats. It struck me as an opportune moment to ask the series’ program manager Dorian Cox how the curatorial process works.

He told me that he programs each series in a slightly different way. The vocal series, for example, “is largely comprised of artists who are already involved with the COC (on the mainstage or part of our Ensemble Studio), whereas the world music and jazz series are largely comprised of artists who have approached me or whom I have sought out.” Overall, about a third of the performances are COC artists, a third are presented in collaboration with other institutions and the last third are independent artists.

Cox is always on the lookout for artists who he thinks might want to participate and whom he thinks his audience will appreciate. “It’s a 24/7 job in that way,” he says. “The wheels are always turning and I try to see as many concerts as possible, which can truthfully get a bit overwhelming when I already have 72 that I’m presenting this season.” He feels fortunate to be approached by many performers and connected to others through mutual contacts. And based on what his network is interested in, he finds social media to be a helpful tool.

“Remembering Kristallnacht” on November 8 was the first concert that caught my own eye this month. Cox told me that a meeting last January with the German Ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser (“a huge supporter of the COC”), led directly to it. “She was keen to present a concert and it was her idea to do something that would commemorate the 80th year since Kristallnacht – the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms which took place across Germany on November 9 and 10, 1938. Berlin-born pianist Constanze Beckmann (a recent RCM graduate from the studio of John Perry), joins her regular chamber music partner (Glenn Gould School faculty member, Lithuanian-born violinist Atis Bankas), to perform music by Edwin Geist, Joseph Koppel Sandler, Szymon Laks and other persecuted Jewish composers. With the support of the Consulate General of Germany in Toronto, the concert is also part of the Neuberger 2018 Holocaust Education Week.

Cox has a strong connection to “From the Diary of Virginia Woolf” (November 13) which is a major focus of this month’s Art of Song column. It’s the first project of Muse 9 Productions, the brainchild of stage director Anna Theodosakis and pianist Hyejin Kwon, both of whom he knows well. Kwon is a graduate of the COC Ensemble Studio and Theodosakis has been the director or assistant director of many projects at the COC. “This particular project was very engaging when I saw its premiere [in April].”

Sae Yoon ChonNovember 14’s “Piano Teatro” program features Glenn Gould School fourth-year B.Mus. student Sae Yoon Chon performing Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor and Brahms’ Piano Sonata No.3 in F Minor. Chon recently won First Prize at the Dublin International Piano Competition and Cox calls him “a pianist who is on the rise in the international music scene.” (I was fortunate to hear Chon’s impressive playing of the Bach for Leon Fleisher in a masterclass on October 12, where Fleisher told Chon he was “filled with admiration for the way you play the piano, for the amount of finger control you have.”)

“Like the Glenn Gould School, the Schulich School of Music at McGill University is another powerhouse music school and another one of our educational institution partners,” Cox says. “November 20, their critically acclaimed cello professor, Matt Haimovitz will be travelling to Toronto with Uccello, an all-cello ensemble, to showcase the best of the best from their program.”

The Golden Violin Competition has been held every year at McGill since 2006. The 2017 winner of its $25,000 prize, Maïthéna Girault, performs on November 21 at noon. Her program had not been finalized by the time our November issue went to press; but programs for each week are posted on the COC website on the Friday before.

You can read why “Songs in the Key of Cree” (November 28) caught Steve Wallace’s attention in his Jazz Notes Quick Picks this month. As for Dorian Cox, it “is an example where I was connected to one artist through another. Ian Cusson a Canadian composer and pianist of Métis and French-Canadian descent, had worked with Tomson Highway, Patricia Cano and Marcus Ali on this project as a rehearsal pianist. Ian will be performing in a concert of his own compositions on March 5 and during those conversations I asked about his work with Tomson Highway. Ian connected me to Patricia and I was thrilled that everything fell into place from there!”

David Dias da SilvaClarinetist David Dias da Silva and pianist Olivier Hébert-Bouchard have been touring “Portraits and Fantasias” across Ontario and Quebec with the support of Jeunesses Musicales du Canada (JMC). “JMC is yet another one of our amazing partner organizations,” Cox said. “They help young professional musicians to develop their careers and are experts in coaching the artists to create cohesive and unique programs.” The November 29 concert has yet to be finalized but will include a portion of their touring program: Luigi Bassi’s Fantasia da concerto su motivi del Rigoletto; Debussy’s Première rhapsodie for B-flat clarinet and piano; Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, op.73: I. Zart und mit Ausdruck.

The Free Concert Series is justifiably popular. Seating and standing room are limited. Plan on arriving at least 30 minutes in advance.

Mandle Cheung conducts his orchestra.One of a Kind: Mandle Phil

“The very first piece of classical music I heard was Saint-Saëns’ Third Violin Concerto,” Mandle Cheung writes on his website. “I was 13, listening to a pocket-sized radio with earphones. I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and though my family wasn’t particularly musical, from that point, I was hooked on music ever since. “ After he moved to Canada in 1968, he stuck to a sensible major, computer science – but he managed to pick up some music courses along the way, eventually taking up conducting with Arthur Polson and leading the orchestra in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto for their graduation concert. Later, he was invited to perform Arthur Benjamin’s Harmonica Concerto with the CBC Winnipeg Orchestra, Eric Wilde conducting.

That was his last musical activity for a few decades. He moved to Toronto in 1975, working for large corporations in software and networking. In 1987 he struck out on his own, which brought him business success. Then one day in 2015, “I woke up thinking that if I still dream of conducting, I better get researching.”

At 70, Mandle Cheung decided to pursue that longtime dream. And with his brand-new orchestra, comprised of almost 70 professional musicians based in the GTA, “All Awakens with Joy.” is finally happening. Mandle Cheung and the Mandle Philharmonic perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op.67 and Mahler’s Symphony No.4 in G Major. (Jennifer Taverner is the soprano soloist in the fourth movement of the Mahler.) November 9 at 8pm at the Glenn Gould Studio will see the dream fulfilled, fuelled by passion and hard-won through tireless rehearsal and meticulous study. Admission is by donation. Proceeds will go directly into a career development grant fund – grants will be awarded to promising early career musicians, to aid in professional development.

Gallery 345

There’s a cornucopia of concertizing at Gallery 345 this month. Here is a sample of the bounty. On November 1, fans of Gregory Millar’s chamber music get an opportunity to hear him as a soloist in the Gallery’s ongoing Art of the Piano series. His recital ranges from CPE Bach to Barbara Pentland, from Beethoven and Chopin to Brahms and Prokofiev. The Mexican-born Alejandro Vela continues the series on November 10 with a program of Gershwin, Granados and Chopin, anchored by Rhapsody in Blue and the Funeral March Sonata.

Cellist Noémie Raymond-Friset was recently named one of the 30 hot Canadian musicians under 30 by CBC Music. For her contribution to the Art of the Cello series on November 11, she will perform music by Schumann, Stravinsky, Poulenc and WholeNote contributor David Jaeger (Constable’s Clouds). Peter Klimo is the collaborative pianist. Pianist Jean-Luc Therrien teams up with violinist Jean-Samuel Bez for a program of music by Schubert, Fauré, Lili Boulanger, Enescu and Kreisler on November 22. And TSO assistant principal cello Winona Zelenka continues the Art of the Cello series – with the Gryphon’s Trio’s pianist, Jamie Parker – on December 1, with a fascinating program of Bach, Ligeti, Pärt, Crumb and Bjarnason.

Music Toronto

The long-running chamber-music series continues its 47th season with three auspicious concerts.

On November 15, Ensemble Made in Canada bring their ambitious Mosaïque project to the Jane Mallett stage. This recently commissioned suite of piano quartets by 14 Canadian composers, each inspired by a particular region of Canada, is currently on a nationwide tour of all ten provinces and three territories. After intermission, look for the Ensemble to bring out the subtleties of Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op.47.

Next, the whole world is the subject of pianist Louise Bessette’s November 27 recital. From John Adams’ China Gates to Percy Grainger’s In Dahomey, Bessette’s musical grand tour consists of 15 diverse selections.

Music Toronto stalwarts, the Gryphon Trio, celebrate their 25th anniversary season on December 6, with a variety of works – Mozart, Silvestrov, Pärt and others – before moving into Paul Frehner’s Bytown Waters (commissioned to celebrate the Trio’s milestone), and Brahms’ fully packed Piano Trio in C Major, Op.87

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

NOV 2 AND 3, 8PM: Pianist Charles-Richard Hamelin (recently named piano mentor at TSM 2019), is the soloist in Brahms’ dramatic Piano Concerto No.1 with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony led by Andrei Feher.

NOV 4, 6:30PM: Sheila Jaffé, violist in the COC Orchestra, puts on her violinist hat as she joins violinist Jeffrey Dyrda (who recently concluded three seasons as second violin of the Rolston String Quartet), Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron (TSO associate principal cello) and Pocket Concerts co-director, violist Rory McLeod, in Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No.2, Op.13 and Garth Knox’s Satellites, one of the Kronos’ Quartet’s 50 for the Future commissions.

NOV 12, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents two former members of the fondly remembered Cypress String Quartet, Cecily Ward, violin, and Ethan Filner, viola, and Aaron Schwebel (concertmaster of the National Ballet of Canada Orchestra and associate concertmaster of the COC Orchestra), performing works for two violins and viola by Dvořák, Prokofiev, Kodály and more.

NOV 15, 7:30PM: York University Faculty of Music presents Duo Forte – Christina Petrowska Quilico and Shoshana Tellner – in a program of danceable four-handed piano repertoire that includes Barber’s Souvenirs, Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Arthur Benjamin’s Jamaican Rhumba, Kapustin’s jazzy Slow Waltz, Ravel’s brilliant La Valse and Piazzolla’s urgent Libertango.

NOV 16, 7:30PM: U of T Faculty of Music presents the New Orford String Quartet and guests performing two cornerstones of the chamber music repertoire: Brahms’ masterful Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op.34 and Mendelssohn’s dazzling Octet Op.20.

John Storgårds conducts the TSO in November. Photo by Marco BorggreveNOV 21, 8PM; NOV 23, 7:30PM; NOV 24, 8PM: Pianist Kirill Gerstein brings his improvisatory sensibility to Beethoven’s free-flowing Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major, Op.58 while John Storgårds conducts the TSO; the not-to-be-missed program also includes Ravel’s kinetic Boléro.

NOV 25, 2:30PM: Violinist Aisslinn Nosky returns to conduct the Niagara Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s essential Symphony No.3 “Eroica,” as well as taking the solo part in Haydn’s Violin Concerto in G Major.

NOV 30 AND DEC 1, 8PM: Stewart Goodyear, piano, Bénédicte Lauzière, violin, and John Helmers, cello, join conductor David Danzmayr and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C Major, Op.56, a rare opportunity to hear this underrated work for an unusual combination of soloists.

DEC 2, 3:15PM: Mooredale Concerts presents the aptly named Artistic Directors Trio in works by Schumann, Handel and more. Pianist Wonny Song is the artistic and executive director of Orford Music (Quebec) and Mooredale Concerts. Violinist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu is artistic partner of the Da Camera Society (Los Angeles) and assistant director of the New Asia Chamber Music Society (New York City). Violist Wei-Yang Lin is artistic director of the New Asia Chamber Music Society. Intriguing.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

One hundred years ago, World War I raged on the battlefields of Europe, across the Middle East, in Southeast Asia and in proxy battles the world over. This year, the generation coming of age has lived entirely in the new millennium. Their experience of war is drastically different from the textbooks and grainy history videos in Grade 9 and 10 classes. Their experience of war is that of insurgency in Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, annexation of Crimea, the global war on terrorism, and irregular migration. The terms they hear are drones, airstrikes, cyberterrorism, IEDs and asymmetrical warfare. Long past are the stories of trenches, machine guns, Spitfires, barbed wire, tanks and mustard gas.

As new generations of musicians explore works of commemoration, the older histories and stories don’t fade, they evolve. This month, the Choral Scene explores how children’s choirs are marking Remembrance Day.

Elise BradleyThe 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month…

In 2014, Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was a public arts installation entailing the placement of 888,246 poppies in the moat of the Tower of London; one handmade ceramic poppy for each of the British fallen in WWI. Elise Bradley, artistic director of the Toronto Children’s Chorus (TCC), remembers this particular exhibit well. Four years on, we are approaching the centenary of the Armistice – 11am, November 11, 1918. “As a teacher and as a musician, I felt it was important to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that led to the end of World War I,” Bradley shares. “In 2014, I had witnessed many stirring events which honoured the start of the War…but to me, it seemed even more important to mark the end of the War.”

Bradley was born in New Zealand. On November 11 at 7:30, she will be joined by a host of Canadian guests, including Lydia Adams and the Elmer Iseler Singers, along with Australian-born accompanist Lara Dodds-Eden, and Bob Chilcott from England. Bradley highlights the four Commonwealth nations represented: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK – all allies during WWI. “It is vitally important that we know about our history – but sharing it through music adds a very personal and emotional dimension to our understanding.” The concert will present works from all four countries.

From her New Zealand home, Bradley brings a particular history based on her long experience with Maori peoples and culture. “A Maori battalion fought on the fields of Gallipoli,” she says. “Part of the concert will be performing a full kapa haka piece of welcome and dedication to those who have passed.” Bradley holds a unique honour, being bestowed by the Wehi whānau (Wehi family), to act as guardian of the musical legacy and tradition of Ngapo and Pimia Wehi. Only two people outside of the family have this honour, which Bradley holds dearly, having worked with the family for over 25 years. “Where I go, the music can go, but I cannot leave it behind,” she shares. “Part of the guardianship is to honour and respect the music including the performance aspect of the art and dance.”

From the UK, Bob Chilcott is prominently featured, conducting smaller works and his larger sacred works: Peace Mass and Canticles of Light. Canadian Andrew Balfour, of Cree descent, wrote the work Ambe, based on an Ojibway song gifted by Cory Campbell. Local Toronto Ismaili composer Hussein Janmohamed’s Rest for a Soul is also on the set list. The concert features the world premiere of three WWI popular songs in arrangements commissioned by the TCC from Stuart Calvert: It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, and Keep Right on till the End of the Road. The Elmer Iseler Singers will also perform, including Healey Willan’s How they so softly rest. An unverified, but persistent folktale amongst the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is that Willan wrote the song to commemorate members of the choir who died in WWI.

Bob ChilcottChilcott has a different historical context than those of us on this side of the ocean as well as being of a different generation. He shared some thoughts on the upcoming concert as well. “For most in my country, the two world wars are a fading memory,” he says, “but to visit the Normandy beaches, which many young people still do, or to look for the graves of family members in the First World War cemeteries in Belgium is still an aspect of our history that is truly alive for many and very important to them.” (Many Canadians still make similar pilgrimages to cemeteries around the battlefields Canadian soldiers fought on, but they are a great deal further from Canadian shores than the UK.)

“Music has a role to play in [commemoration] and it reminds us that there are many technical and emotional responses within music that express some very deep and essential elements of our humanity,” Chilcott continues. “Harmony, resolution, blend, balance and unity.” These are all words used by conductors to describe the musicality they are looking for. It is fitting that these are virtues extolled by artists to the wider world. Chilcott finishes with a strong sentiment: “Remembrance is so important in that it teaches us to honour those who believed that fundamentally, good is better than bad.”

The Toronto Children’s Chorus presents “We Remember” a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. Featured guests include the Toronto Youth Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, and guest conductors Lydia Adams and Bob Chilcott. November 11, 7:30pm. George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Charissa BaganWhen the old and the new meet

“I want my choristers to know that history matters,” shares Charissa Bagan, artistic director of the Bach Children’s Chorus. “And that we have great power as singing storytellers and artists because we can connect the past, present and future… Choir offers a wonderful way for children to interact with serious topics.” For Remembrance Day, the Bach Children’s Choir and the Bach Youth Chamber Choir present “Resonant Reflection” on November 10.

Choral performance is always meant to be educational. One should learn from every rehearsal, every concert, and leave changed in some way, even if very small. Children’s choirs have a unique place in the musical process, being equally education- and performance-based. Bagan understands the role she has to play in a complex concert like this: “When it comes to working with the choir on a particular song and the text highlights a significant and catastrophic event from the past such as the Holocaust, there is absolutely a responsibility for the conductor to make space in the preparation of the music for the choir to engage with the story,” she shares. “[We have] to consider all that is being expressed and the implications it has for the future.” The management skills necessary to balance this educational and narrative process can easily become unbalanced in the pursuit of performance-readiness. “It is so easy for rehearsal minutes to be consumed with simply learning and polishing the notes,” she says. “And yet choral performances can really only come alive when the singers know the story that they are collectively expressing and the reason for singing it in the first place.

“While War and Remembrance are overarching themes, the concert is designed as just that – a concert and not a ceremony,” says Bagan. There are works by many female Canadian composers on the program including Lydia Adams’ gentle and simple arrangement of In Flanders Fields, Eleanor Daley’s flowing rendition of An Irish Blessing, and Sarah Quartel’s focused, bright Lux aeterna, a sonic setting of Vancouver Island sky from her four-part Sanctum. Bagan has also found an arrangement of After the War with words and music by Canadian actor Paul Gross and David Keele. The song was made popular by local Toronto artist Sarah Slean in the 2008 WWI film, Passchendaele.

Like Chilcott, Bagan has some insights, as well, on the new generation: “It seems to me that young people are more likely to [be] educated by their families, friends and teachers, facing new, complex issues, which were oversimplified for us in the past.” Bagan sees their intelligence and compassion firsthand: “Their thoughts go to the people their own age who are affected by the devastation of war as well as human suffering in all forms, from residential schools to modern-day slavery to famine and injustice at local, national, and international levels. …They’re more aware of the importance of considering multiple perspectives, less likely to assume a Commonwealth allegiance, and are genuinely grappling with how to be peacemakers in their communities.” Music is a good place to start.

Bagan raises another aspect of conflict that is often lost in commemorations – refugees. “I know that some of our choristers’ families have personally sponsored refugees which brings such a different perspective on war and peace than my experiences as a child, listening to my grandfather tell stories about the war.” This contemporary reality is striking. The major conflicts may not be physically in our neighbourhoods, but in a diverse city like Toronto, you’re never far removed from someone who has personal experience of some conflict around the world.

“Resonant Reflection presents a wide range of styles of music with some weighty history, sincere conviction, as well as hope and happiness,” says Bagan. “It is a way of engaging with the past and gradually understanding it a little more with each passing year through reflection, poetry, songs and communal moments that stay with us.”

These children though, are contributing more than just their voices in the service of healing. Some of the proceeds from the concert will benefit the East End Refugee Committee Fund.

The Bach Children’s Chorus and Bach Chamber Youth Choir present “Resonant Reflection,” a benefit concert for the East End Refugee Committee Fund featuring songs of remembrance and winter seasonal music. November 10 at 7:30pm. St. John’s Norway Church, Toronto. 

CHORAL SCENE QUICK PICKS

NOV 3, 7:30PM:. The Guelph Chamber Choir presents “Haven: Music of Protection and Peace.” As the search for Gerald Neufeld’s replacement as artistic director continues, one of the contenders, Patrick Murray, takes the helm of the choir for this concert as part of the Passing the Baton: The Search for Our Next Conductor series. St George’s Anglican Church, Guelph.

NOV 8 AND NOV 10, 8PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Benjamin Britten’s masterwork War Requiem. With soloists Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Toby Spence and Russell Braun, and the massed power of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Children’s Chorus. Bramwell Tovey takes the baton. Roy Thomson Hall.

NOV 17, 7:30PM AND NOV 18, 3PM: The Grand Philharmonic Chamber Singers present the Canadian premiere of Craig Hella Johnson’s masterpiece, Considering Matthew Shepard. 20 years have passed since Matt Shepard was beaten and left tied to a fence to die in rural Wyoming. His remains were recently interred at the National Cathedral in Washington DC in respect. Humanities Theatre, University of Waterloo, Waterloo.

Remember to look ahead into December for holiday music concert listings at thewholenote.com. Many performances will start to sell out by the time you get the December issue in your hands!

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

The return of November signals a change in the world around us, as the ghosts, ghouls and gremlins of October are supplanted by Christmas cards, commercials and carols. A similar shift also takes place in the musical scene each year, with presenters and performers moving their focus from the varied programs of September and October to increasingly festive and seasonal offerings. For the early music people around us, this often means an exploration of the concerti, oratorios and choruses composed by some of the greatest musicians of the Renaissance and Baroque, as they were inspired by the Christmas story. This November is no exception, the seismic shifts of the season allowing us to hear everything from less-familiar Italian operatic excerpts to our first Messiahs of the year.

Brian SolomonOn Turtle’s Back: On November 4, in St. Catharines, Gallery Players of Niagara present “Songs of Life – Bach on Turtle’s Back,” featuring a sonata, a partita and a selection of arias, all composed by J.S. Bach. This multimedia presentation is conceived by Ojibwe/Irish artist Brian Solomon and combines music, storytelling and dance in an exploration of birth, death and rebirth as connective themes of human expression. Bach himself was greatly concerned with the subjects of life, death and life after death, and these themes recur frequently throughout Bach’s works. Lutheran theology led Bach to a view of death as a relief from the struggles of life, firm in Luther’s teaching that all who trust in Christ alone and his promises can be certain of their salvation. Whether in his chorale settings, masses, passions or cantatas, Bach’s approach to death is frequently positive, peaceful, and even joyful, the reuniting of a soul with its ultimate destination.

What is most interesting about Bach on Turtle’s Back is that Bach’s most potently exegetical musical settings are conspicuously avoided – there are no chorales, for example, or any other direct connections to Lutheran theology. By exploring the themes of life and death within a uniquely mixed North American context, coupled with one of history’s greatest musical minds, Bach on Turtle’s Back combines the universality of Bach’s music with the equally universal concepts of death and the afterlife in what looks to be a fascinating synthesis of music, movement, and mysticism.

Agostino SteffaniSacred and Secular at Tafelmusik: Back in Toronto, Tafelmusik plays two separate concerts in November, moving from vocal drama to instrumental concerti with a Christmas theme. Their first presentation (November 8 to 11) features mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó and conductor Ivars Taurins in a survey of Agostino Steffani’s secular and sacred vocal music. Beginning with two sacred choral works, the early Beatus vir a 8 and the late Stabat Mater, and proceeding through a pastiche of arias, duets, choruses and instrumental movements from Steffani’s operas, this concert will display Steffani’s dual role as sacred and secular dramatist.

Steffani lived an extraordinary life. In addition to being a renowned composer and a mentor to Handel, he was also a diplomat, politician, spy and priest. Steffani’s ecclesiastical status did not prevent him from turning his attention to the stage, for which, at different periods of his life, he composed a large number of works which undoubtedly exercised a potent influence upon the dramatic music of the period. Premiering his early operas in Munich, Steffani developed his skill and social connections before achieving great renown in Hanover through eight operas composed and performed at the new opera house, opened in 1689. As a rapidly rising cleric given increasingly great honours in the Catholic Church, Steffani was ultimately consecrated as a bishop; because of his high standing, Steffani published three late operas under the name Gregorio Piva, who was his secretary and assistant, to avoid breaching the etiquette required by his high rank.

Approached from a chronological perspective, the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir bookends Steffani’s career in the works chosen for this concert. He wrote the Beatus vir in 1676 at the age of 22, one year after he was appointed court organist in Munich; 51 years later, after being appointed honorary president for life by London’s Academy of Ancient Music, he composed the Stabat Mater, a magnificent work for six voices and orchestra. Between these two sacred compositions will be a plethora of operatic material from no fewer than nine separate dramatic works, each of them a Tafelmusik premiere. With such skilled performers and Ivars Taurins at the helm, this concert will provide a wealth of delightful and well-done material, much of it new to many in the audience.

DaveBlackadder1credBoydGilmourSound the trumpet! When asked how he composed his songs, Gustav Mahler replied: “How do you make a trumpet? Hammer brass around a hole.” There may be more to making a trumpet than Mahler suggests, and there is certainly great skill required in mastering the instrument, especially when that instrument has no valves! November 21 to 24, Tafelmusik celebrates the holiday season with instrumental treasures from France, Italy, Spain, Germany and England, festive music by Telemann, Corrette, Fasch, and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.2. This concert also features the Tafelmusik debut of guest trumpeter David Blackadder, principal trumpet for the Academy of Ancient Music in the United Kingdom. (He also performed at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.)

Blackadder plays a Baroque trumpet, a valveless trumpet based on early instruments (his is modelled on a Nuremberg trumpet from 1700), capable of great ranges of expression. According to Blackadder: “The trumpet is often thought of as being perhaps the most majestic, powerful instrument of all. However, there is a much more subtle, lesser-known side to the trumpet which uses the more florid, angelic quality of its upper register to symbolize the glory of God and the heavens. This technique of playing developed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and became highly prized by composers and their patrons alike. Court trumpeters were handsomely rewarded for their prodigious skill and were required to play at the most important ceremonies and state occasions.” Blackadder will also hold a guest artist masterclass on November 24 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, providing another opportunity to experience this renowned musician as he guides the next generation of skilled performers.

From Villancicos to de Victoria: Christmas has arrived by the end of November, as the first Messiahs appear on the horizon and dog-eared festive favourites are revived once again. Popular Christmas songs come in many familiar national varieties: English carols, French Noëls, and German Weihnachtslieder. Perhaps the least known are the Spanish Christmas villancicos, popular songs from the countryside that were developed by court composers of 16th- and 17th-century Spain into wonderfully rhythmic, danceable carols. Michael Erdman’s Cantemus Singers explores this lesser-known variety of carol, November 24 and 25, in their concert “Es Nascido – He is Born,” with works such as Mateo Flecha’s La Bomba and Joan Brudieu’s Goigs de Nostra Dona paired with Tomás Luis de Victoria’s strikingly beautiful motet O Magnum Mysterium and its accompanying parody mass, MissaO Magnum Mysterium.“

Rather than being necessarily humorous, parody in music, in its Renaissance sense, meant any readaptation of existing material in new and creative ways. Composers could use their own material, as Victoria does, but they could also take popular chansons (and hide a naughty folk tune within the polyphonic texture), cantus firmus style, or use another composer’s sacred work as a starting point for their own ingenuity and craftsmanship. Palestrina wrote over 50 parody masses, and Josquin des Prez composed a number of fine essays in the form.

A popular model throughout the 16th century, the Council of Trent ultimately banned the use of secular material as part of their decree to “banish from church all music which contains, whether in the singing or the organ playing, things that are lascivious or impure.” Far from lascivious, Victoria’s motet and mass are profound meditations on one of the most crucial events in the Christian year and Cantemus’ engaging and original programming makes this a concert worth hearing. Come for the villancicos, stay for the Victoria!

Regardless of whether the music is secular, sacred, or a combination of the two, there are great concerts happening throughout November. From the dramatic excellence of Steffani’s operas to the sacred sounds of the Spanish Renaissance, there is something for everyone within the pages of this magazine. As stores begin to assemble this year’s window displays and the first strains of tin-can carols assault our ears, another round of seasonal favourites will be upon us before we know it. To keep up to date on all the Messiahs, oratorios, concertos, and other Baroque things happening in the city, check out next month’s column. Until then, drop me a line at earlymusic@thewholenote.com. 

EARLY MUSIC QUICK PICKS

NOV 4, 2PM: Rezonance Baroque Ensemble. “Folk of the Baroque.” St. Barnabas Anglican Church, 361 Danforth Ave. The title says it all: let your wig down and hear some music for dancing, dining and play.

NOV 19, 8PM: Against the Grain Theatre. BOUND v.2. The Great Hall, Longboat Hall, 1087 Queen Street West. Something old, Something new. Hear music by G.F. Handel and Kevin Lau as AGT addresses the big issues that face our society today, inspired by stories of refugees.

NOV 25, 3PM: Toronto Chamber Choir. “Kaffeemusik: The Bremen Town Musicians.” Church of the Redeemer, 162 Bloor St. W. A concert of story and song, with humorous fairy tales about solidarity among musicians paired with madrigals by Lassus, Dowland and more.

NOV 30, 7:30PM: ChoralWorks Chamber Choir. Messiah. New Life Church, 28 Tracey Lane, Collingwood. Take a trip to cottage country and get in the festive spirit with one of the first Messiahs of the season.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Victoria Marshall with Renee Killough and Keshia Palm. Photo by William Ford.When the budding stage director Anna Theodosakis received the Vancouver Opera Guild’s career development grant, instead of spending it on summer schools or workshops, she decided to use it as the seed money for the creation of a new art song collective. She and her co-founder, pianist Hyejin Kwon, decided to call it Muse 9 Productions: because they would be multidisciplinary and welcoming of all the Muses, and because they wanted to create more opportunities for female creators and performers.

Their first project gives a taste of what’s to come: a dancer, an actor and a singer each performs an aspect of Virginia Woolf’s personality in a staging of Dominick Argento’s 1974 song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf which was originally written for the British mezzo Janet Baker. Two piano pieces by a Woolf contemporary, American composer Amy Beach, round up the musical material. The show premiered in April this year at the Ernest Balmer Studio, and will be remounted and rethought for the natural lights of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre on November 13.

For the next year, Theodosakis promises an equally multidisciplinary project, but can’t say much until February, when they are due to hear back from the granting juries looking at their proposal. “It’s important for us to pay the artists, and next year we’re hoping to be able to pay the Equity minimum,” she says. Sometime in November, the company will post the official Call for Submission but, says Theodosakis, they are being continuously pitched by other artists on a weekly basis. “Hyejin and I are much inspired by our colleagues from other disciplines, and we really want to open the doors up for a wide range of projects.” Projects should be art-song based; everything else is up for grabs.

Virginia Woolf’s writing desk and chair from the premiere will return for the RBA performance, as will the same cast of three: English mezzo Victoria Marshall, dancer Renee Killough and actress Keshia Palm. To the diaries in Argento’s songs, spoken word excerpts were added from Woolf’s novels and letters. “All of them sing a little bit, act a little bit and dance a little bit,” says Theodosakis. “The actress is Woolf’s public persona, the novelist that we all know. The singer is her more private, family persona – which we can find in letters. And the dancer stands for her innermost turmoil and depression, but also romance, and her love for Vita [Sackville-West].”

Of the cast trio, it was the dancer, Renee Killough, who was the biggest Woolf fan from the get-go and the originator of the project. Before they joined forces, Theodosakis was familiar with Woolf but hadn’t read her very much. “And now I’ve read everything and all of her letters. I couldn’t leave anything unread.” All three women came out of the project with a renewed love of Woolf. Her diary entries set to music by Argento will each have their own musical theme. “There is a through-line, and it’s very evocative material throughout. In a song about war you’re pretty much hearing shrapnel and bombs.”

When we talked, Theodosakis was directing the Glenn Gould School’s fall operas: Paul Hindemith’s Back and Forth and Bohuslav Martinů’s Tears of the Knife, which the School’s ensemble presents on November 2 and 3 at Mazzoleni Hall. Before the end of this year she’ll also be directing the COC’s opera for young audiences WOW Factor: A Cinderella Story, Joel Ivany and Stéphane Mayer’s adaptation of Rossini’s La Cenerentola for kids. It’s set in a middle-school talent competition.

Ivany is among her favourite stage directors, together with Paul Curran, Tim Albery (whom she’s assisted in COC’s Arabella) and her U of T mentor, Michael Albano. And internationally? “Definitely Claus Guth. I was a young singer at Mozarteum in Salzburg when I went to the Salzburg Festival to see The Marriage of Figaro that he directed. I’ve never been a huge fan of The Marriage – I know this is minority view! – but in Guth’s production it’s treated like a tragedy, and at the end more weight is given to what was actually happening to these poor people. The Marriage is not a happy opera.”

Julie LudwigHAMILTON

Hamilton’s first art song concert series announced itself on the Internet last month with a simple but elegant website: The Linden Project. Its founders are soprano Julie Ludwig (whom you may remember as a sparkling Adele in Opera 5’s Die Fledermaus) and baritone Jeremy Ludwig (whom you might have noticed in Tongue in Cheek Productions’ 24-baritone/bass Winterreise and Opera 5’s The Boatswain’s Mate). To set it all off on November 3 at St. Cuthbert’s Presbyterian is a concert billed, appropriately enough, as The Song Sampler. “Wondering what we’re all about? Get a flavour of what we mean by art song. We’re dedicated to the core of this repertoire, but also not afraid to do something different,” reads the refreshingly straightforward promo copy for the concert. The program is another praiseworthy move, available well in advance and downloadable. It shows a selection spanning Italian and English Baroque, fin de siècle French and Austrians, 20th-century Brits and post-1970s sophisticated pop classics.

“We love art song, and we’d like to introduce Hamiltonians to some of the music that we find so meaningful,” writes back Julie Ludwig when I email the couple to learn more about their plans for the series. “To our knowledge, The Linden Project is the first of its kind in Hamilton. There are other concert series, of course, but none that are dedicated exclusively to song repertoire. Hamilton is an eclectic city: several choirs, lots of musical theatre, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, and a very active rock and folk scene. We want to bring together both kinds of audiences: those who already enjoy classical music, and those who might not be familiar with it but are open to trying something new.”

Jeremy LudwigThe idea for a song concert series came to the Ludwigs soon after they moved to Hamilton in 2014. Each had given song recitals there and “It was the response to those recitals that encouraged us to start The Linden Project. We both love art song – how much room there is for expression and how closely the music is linked to the poetry – and we saw how the audiences at our recitals appreciated the music, much of which had been unfamiliar.”

They’re starting off with just two recitals in the pilot season, both of which will be sung by them. “We definitely intend to involve other singers in the future,” writes Julie in reply to my question about their programming plans. “Each program will be centred around a theme and will include a mix of standard and more obscure rep. As much as possible, we intend to include music by living Canadian composers. Without giving too much away, we have a few ideas kicking around for future recitals, such as commissioning new works, commissioning illustrations for our projections, incorporating theatrical elements.” The venues will change with each new concert. “We intend to select venues that are appropriate for the repertoire on each program. Churches and small concert halls are very practical, of course, but we also want to bring our concerts to other Hamilton locations.”

The inaugural do, The Song Sampler at St. Cuthbert’s Presbyterian, “is a kind of a survey of the genre, with a couple selections that lie on the periphery of what some might consider art song,” she writes. “We’ll include projections of condensed translations paired with one or two images to help convey the gist of what each song is about, so the audience is better able to watch the performance instead of having to read everything in the program. We also intend to speak a little about the songs in order to help the audience enter more deeply into them, but our goal is to be approachable, not lecture.” 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

NOV 4, 2PM: 13A Robina Ave, Toronto. “Art Song in House Masterclass.” Bass-baritone Daniel Lichti, associate professor emeritus, Faculty of Music at Wilfrid Laurier University, opens up his voice coaching practice – and his living room – to the public in this part-salon, part-masterclass. This one is for the song nerds. Soprano Sinead White and baritone Adam Kuiack with pianist Narmina Efendiyeva, and Lichti in the coach chair. $20, proceeds go to singers and the pianist.

NOV 11, 2PM: Mazzoleni Concert Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto. “L’invitation au voyage.” A song recital with soprano Joyce El-Khoury and mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender. Some well-trodden repertoire (Duparc, Debussy) and some seldom-heard. The program promises “Levantine songs.” Turkish composers, Middle-Eastern composers? Or Middle-Eastern motifs in the works of Western composers? Tickets start at $30.

NOV 13, 8PM: Gallery 345, Toronto. “For or from” – Kelly Zimba, flute (TSO’s principal flute), Stacie Dunlop, soprano. All new music: Kate Soper (Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say), Leslie Uyeda (Stations of Angels), Braxton Blake (Three Songs on poems by Marianne Moore), James O’Callaghan (For or from), and two world premieres, by David Jaeger and HaRebraIN ensemble, a.k.a. Anh Phung and Alan Mackie. $20/General, $10/Arts Worker/Student

NOV 17, 7:30PM: St. Thomas’s Church, 383 Huron St., Toronto. “The legacies of François Couperin and Claude Debussy.” Larry Beckwith, violinist, tenor and artistic director emeritus of Toronto Masque Theatre, and radio presenter Tom Allen host an interactive celebration of the two French composers. No more details about the program, but the teaser is intriguing. Part of the diverse year-round series Confluence, programmed by Beckwith.

NOV 24, 8PM: Koerner Hall, Toronto. “From Bel Canto to Verismo.” Show One Productions presents Sondra Radvanovsky in recital, with Anthony Manoli, piano. An all-Italian language program: songs from Caccini, Gluck, Rossini, Puccini and arias by Verdi (“Romanza” from Il Corsaro, and the sleepwalking scene from Macbeth), Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux.

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

Joel IvanyWhen Canada’s largest opera company commissions a new opera like Hadrian from Rufus Wainwright and Daniel MacIvor, it will necessarily be seen as the major event of the season. Yet we should not forget that Toronto’s smaller opera companies have been creating new operas and new interpretations of opera all along. One of the most exciting of these is Against the Grain Theatre which will be presenting two important operas this season. The first is BOUND v. 2 by composer Kevin Lau to a libretto by AtG artistic director Joel Ivany. The second is a major revival of Kopernikus, the only opera by Québecois composer Claude Vivier (1948-83). I spoke with Ivany in October about BOUND v. 2, which plays for only three performances in November, about its background and intent.

BOUND v. 2 is the second stage in AtG’s experiment with a three-year, concept-to-realization production. The first stage, simply titled BOUND, premiered in December 2017 and presented the basic concept of artists choosing various arias and ensembles by George Frideric Handel to which Ivany would write new lyrics. The premise was that seven citizens were detained by a government and held against their will in a waiting room. The audience watched and heard about their struggles, hopes and fears. Composer Lau introduced new sound ideas and arrangements to place the arias in a modern sound world.

BOUND v. 2 takes BOUND a significant step further. BOUND v. 2 is no longer a collection of reimagined, repurposed Handel arias that Lau has arranged. Rather it is now a fully fledged opera by Lau inspired by Handel. As Ivany says: “Kevin Lau received a commission for this project between last year and this year. What he’s written will be used in our third and final version. In the last month or six weeks he’s really immersed himself in the world of Handel to essentially write a brand new opera which, especially for us, is kind of unreal. Typically we’ve taken a Mozart or Puccini opera and written a new story on top of that which is familiar and exciting. But for this, Lau has done more than arranging. He is adding his own composition so that this is truly a new piece inspired by Handel about the humanity crises which we, unfortunately, are still reading about in the news. We’re still hearing these stories about persecuted people both in North America and abroad.”

The first version of BOUND was written for seven soloists and piano. BOUND v. 2 is written for four soloists and a ten-piece chamber orchestra with electronics. Of BOUND v. 2, Ivany says: “It is further fleshed-out musically in that Kevin has taken melodies and scenes but written them brand new. The opera is by Kevin Lau but you will definitely say this sounds like Handel.”

Why do this? Ivany explains: “Many people around the first version were saying why not just write a brand new piece, but Kevin very intellectually says this is a unique challenge to take these stories [by Handel] which were written in a specific context and to start with them. But then to move them somewhere else is compositionally an unusually interesting creative challenge. For the company, this is a further step after our Orphée where we take these tunes and melodies that have stood the test of time and ask what they could sound like to an ear of today.”

The obvious question is that if BOUND v. 2 will eventually be the basis for a new opera, why retain the link to Handel? Ivany responds to this in several ways: “At one point we were talking to [COC general director] Alexander Neef, who was talking about the party atmosphere of Handel and how people would go to socialize at the opera. He was curious about what a Handel mashup with AtG could look like. We took that idea and instead of going the party route we were charged by the fuel of the political nature of what was going on in the world. We looked back at who Handel was and how he gave a performance of his Messiah at the Foundling Hospital in London in 1750 where all the proceeds went to keeping the hospital going. We saw he had an intention behind his genius to do good as well.” Indeed, a BBC documentary states that the 1750 performance of Messiah was “the first ever secular charity benefit concert in which art and philanthropy came together to raise money from the haves for the have-nots.”

Ivany continues: “We saw that Handel was a composer who had social responsibility in his heart that obviously comes across through his music, whether it was his Messiah, or Jephtha or Alcina. He wrote these very complex characters of people who were being persecuted and what they would sing about their plight. And so Handel seems in some ways a very fitting composer for our subject. Last year we sat the singers just around a table and asked what arias speak to you and why and what contemporary stories do you find that speak to you. And then we married those two together and tested it in version 1 and saw what worked.”

Ivany has lots of experience in past AtG shows of writing a new libretto to pre-existing music as AtG’s version of Puccini’s La Bohème (2011) and Mozart’s Figaro’s Wedding (2013),Uncle John (2014) and A Little Too Cosy (2015). Ivany explains how this process works when now he has to add substantially different content to an aria as well as translating it: “With BOUND v. 2 and working with the previous version and with Kevin as well, a lot of the music has come first. He’s found this beautiful melody and we can tweak it as we find the text, but it’s not the traditional way that this is done and so he’s been inspired by themes. For example, he told me, ‘Here is a portion where Miriam [Khalil]’s character sympathizes with the refugee crisis and I don’t know how you can make that work.’ But I’m able to find the arc in what he’s written and match that story with it. I think this only makes the music much more powerful. Obviously in opera traditionally the text comes first, but in opera it’s the music more than the text which moves you.”

Of the production in general, Ivany says: “I’m really curious to know how this opera will resonate with people knowing that it was primarily driven by the music. In the third version I intend not to act as stage director, which will be a big leap of faith for me because I’m used to uber-controlling everything. It’s a big step for our company. It was a test and it’s becoming more of a turning point. I think that’s healthy for the company and for these types of unique shows that are a mashup of old and new, old stories and new stories, old music and new text.”

The third and final version of BOUND will be AtG’s feature production in 2020 and the world premiere of this opera, Ivany explains. “We have intentionally been taking a step-by-step process to culminate in what we anticipate as an immersive experience for both the audience and performers. It’s hard to push repeat on certain things and it turns our hair grey in terms of each time we do a new thing, but it keeps us creative.”

As one might guess from AtG’s past projects, Ivany is keen to demolish the notion that opera is an elitist genre: “I don’t consider myself elite. In fact I consider myself very un-elite. So I think that opera is for everyone who is willing to be open to it and not just a specific group of people. We hope that we can show that in our works.”

BOUND v. 2 is performed as a workshop concert and runs November 19, 20 and 21 at the Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. W. The singers are soprano Miriam Khalil, countertenor David Trudgen, tenor Andrew Haji and baritone Justin Welsh as the cast of detainees with actor Martha Burns as the voice of the State. The music includes stylings by modular electronic artist Acote. AtG founding member and music director, Topher Mokrzewksi, conducts. 

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

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