Sir Andrew Davis with the TSO and TSYO on February 6. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.Sometimes an email subject line helps a bunch of different ideas to fall neatly into place. Such was the case a day or so ago. Old meets new as Tafelmusik unveils 2019/20 Season” the subject line read. More about the Tafelmusik spin on the “Old Meets New” theme in the upcoming March issue, but for now, upcoming February concerts by Toronto Consort and Art of Time Ensemble, and a recent evening at the TSO, all fit the theme rather nicely.   

February 15 and 16 at Trinity-St. Paul’s, Toronto Consort’s "Love Remixed" features only 20th- and 21st-century music for early instruments and voice, the first time in the ensemble’s four-and-a half decade history that the ensemble has presented an entire program such as this. The concert features Juno-nominated James Rolfe’s Breathe with text by librettist Anna Chatterton, followed by David Fallis’ Eurydice Variations, the story of Monteverdi’s Orfeo told from the point of view of Eurydice.

Breathe Front CoverWriting for period instruments is not a new adventure for Rolfe. He dipped his toes in these waters as far back as 2003, for Toronto Masque Theatre, in partnership with André Alexis (the 2010-11 Giller Prize winner for his novel Fifteen Dogs). Their first collaboration was a piece titled Orpheus in the Underworld, paired up with Charpentier’s La Descente d'Orphee aux Enfers. Their next was Aeneas and Dido (paired with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 2007). Their Orpheus then returned to Toronto Masque Theatre in 2011, to close Toronto Masque Theatre’s season that year.  

The creation of Breathe has also taken place in layers, over time. It had its premiere performance in 2011, in St. Anne’s Anglican Church, as a Soundstreams commission for the  Norwegian a cappella ensemble Trio Mediaeval and the Toronto Consort. In it, Chatterton’s libretto is interwoven with the writings of 12th-century poet and composer Hildegard of Bingen. Rolfe’s music also has a medieval bedrock. As Globe and Mail writer Robert Everett Green described it at the time, “with voices and instruments attuned to medieval sonorities (or what we think they were), [Rolfe] used drones, interlocking patterns and melodies as simple as plainchant, sometimes running them as live loops against each other … [finding] a distinct gait and tone for each section of the text. … Between Hildegard's visionary, sensual description of "divine mysteries" and Chatterton's breath-centred evocations of love, the text exuded the same kind of sexy spirituality as the biblical Song of Songs.”

Since then the work has seen life as the opening track of an eponymous  Centrediscs release of James Rolfe’s music, Breathe, nominated for a 2018 JUNO Award. In her review of the disc in The WholeNote in October 2017, Dianne Wells described it as “in its performance here, by far one of the most extraordinarily beautiful recordings experienced in recent memory.”

As for David Fallis’  Eurydice Variations, “the story of Monteverdi’s Orfeo told from the point of view of Eurydice” which closes the program, for many in the Consort’s audience whose oldest memories of the group are inextricably interwoven with David Fallis’ recently concluded 28-year tenure as artistic director, it will be really intriguing to hear what he’s been doing with all that new-found time since relinquishing the reins at Toronto Consort.  

Art of Time, February  22 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, has dedicated itself to playing off old against new, and vice versa, for all of its 20-year history under the artistic direction of Andrew Burashko. This particular concert, titled The Classical Program, is sandwiched between two performances, Feb 21 and 23, of a complementary, more contemporary,  program titled “The Songs Program.” This one, for me, gets to the heart of Art of Time’s mission to break down artificial, genre-bound barriers among music lovers. It’s innovative “Source & Inspiration” format “pairs a Franz Schubert piano trio with songs written and performed by Danny Michel, John Southworth, and Martin Tielli, along with performances of chamber music by Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, and more.”

Danny MichelAudiences for whom the core Art of Time ensemble (Andrew Burashko, piano; Jonathan Crow and Mark Fewer, violin; Shauna Rolston, cello Barry Shiffman, viola) are already old musical friends may will meet three new ones  in singers Martin Tielli, Danny Michel, and John Southworth, whose respective songs, inspired by the Schubert Trio, are at the heart of the program. And for those who come precisely because they know who Tielli, Southworth and Michel are, the bridges will be built in the other direction.

Postscript: Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Wednesday February 6: I was sitting in the RTH  balcony with music writer Robert Harris, 20 minutes before showtime. (Harris is mentoring this year’s  Emerging Arts Critics enrolled in a joint TSO/COC National Ballet program, where they write and submit reports and reviews to The WholeNote, Opera Canada, and Dance Umbrella magazines, for publication on our respective websites.)

Anyway, Harris and I were scratching our heads looking at the sea of chairs on the stage – twice as many as one might expect for the Brahms concerto for violin and cello, or the Dvořák sixth symphony to follow. Even for a pizzing contest between Strauss and Wagner it would have been a hell of a lot.

All was revealed when Sir Andrew Davis, the TSO’s interim artistic director, and conductor for the evening, mounted the podium and explained that if we were wondering about the chairs this was the occasion of the TSO’s annual “side-by-side” performance where members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and the TSO, rehearse and perform together. (Not the whole concert, but in this case Oskar Morawetz’s crackling Carnival Overture which kicked off the evening’s proceedings.)

Old meets new? Davis made his TSO debut in 1974, the year before commencing a 13-year tenure as the TSO’s music director; the TSYO was founded, by Victor Feldbrill, in the very same year. And ten of the current members of the TSO were, at one time or another, members of the TSYO. (Toronto Consort was two years old at the time!)

A big deal? No. But nice. Very nice.

The Rolston String Quartet performing Reich’s Different Trains on February 2. Photo credit: Claire Harvie.From Chicago to New York
One of the fastest trains
From New York to Los Angeles
Different trains every time

As artistic director Lawrence Cherney said from the stage on Saturday February 2, the concert we were about to hear was “the hottest ticket in town.” It was going to be another one of those epic Steve Reich nights reminiscent of when Reich’s music was performed at Massey Hall in April 2016. This time it was the stunning Rolston String Quartet performing his work Different Trains, along with R. Murray Schafer’s String Quartet no. 2 waves, and pieces by the mentoring composers for Soundstreams emerging composers workshop Dorothy Chang (Vancouver) and Rolf Wallin (Norway). Seamlessly accompanying the musical performance of Different Trains was a film by Beatriz Caravaggio, who used a wide range of archival material primarily of trains from the late 1930s and into the mid-1940s.

Reich wrote this work in 1988 for string quartet and pre-recorded tape for the Kronos Quartet, and it received a Grammy Award in 1989. It was Reich’s first foray into what he called “documentary music video theatre” and was built on compositional ideas he had experimented with in the 1960s—melodic and rhythmic ideas generated from speech rhythms. The opening text I’ve quoted above comes from Part 1 of this 3-movement work, inspired by Reich’s early childhood experiences of riding trains from New York to Los Angeles as he visited his parents who lived separately in each of these cities. Being Jewish, he wondered what his life would have been like, and more specifically what riding a train would have been like, if he had been born in Europe during the Second World War. The texts were derived from various interviews: his governess who accompanied him on the train rides, a retired Pullman porter, and the memories of Holocaust survivors who were close in age to him.

The Germans walked in
Walked into Holland
Lots of cattle wagons there
They were loaded with people
They tattooed a number on our arm

Reich’s music is particularly important for me personally: when I was introduced to his work in 1976 at a student composers workshop he gave at U of T’s Faculty of Music, it felt like a breath of fresh air had just blown in. He spoke about slowing down the unfolding musical process so that the musical changes could be fully perceived. His music offers the listener an experience of being fully saturated with repetitive rhythmic patterns and simple melodic and harmonic textures, with the totality creating an impact that is mesmerizing and trance-like. As American composer John Adams has explained, Reich’s music arose at a time when Western concert music had reached an information saturation point. Hyper-complex musical abstractions had prevailed, but Reich’s approach brought back sensuality and pleasure into the listening experience. I certainly experienced this while listening to Different Trains, despite the intense subject matter of the Holocaust.

The originally-recorded text fragments, some of which I’ve quoted here in this report, were audible on the pre-recorded tape in the February 2 concert, and one could hear quite plainly the connection between the nuances and inflections of the speaker’s voice with the melodies and rhythms being performed by four string quartets in total—three prerecorded quartets and one live. The music progressed from one text phrase to the next, with each fragment receiving focused attention to create interlocking rhythms and resulting melodies. At times, the movement from one text section to the next created quite contrasting rhythms that served to amplify the meanings of the text itself. Reich also included archival sounds from American and European trains of the ’30s and ’40s on the pre-recorded tape.

Then the war was over
Are you sure?
Going to America
From New York to Los Angeles
One of the fastest trains
But today, they’re all gone

The accompanying film was brilliantly suited to the music, providing startling and vivid images on a 3-part screen: the patterns of multiple train tracks, spinning train wheels, people boarding and disembarking—some onto comfortable passenger cars, others stuffed and locked into box cattle cars.  The visual editing rhythms, both for each separate screen and between the three screens, complemented the rhythmic changes and juxtapositions of the music.

Throughout the evening, the Rolston String Quartet captivated their audience with deeply passionate and committed playing. Formed in 2013 at the Banff Centre for the Arts, the quartet has a busy touring and teaching schedule worldwide. Their performance of Schafer’s String Quartet no. 2 waves (1976, rev. 1978) was breathtaking, bringing to life this piece that Schafer composed using his study of the ebb and flow of waves to create both phrase lengths and large-scale proportions. The work ended with the two violinists and violist leaving the stage one by one, taking the music off into the distance with them. We also hear in the music the call of the white-throated soprano—all the more poignant now that this particular birdsong is rarely heard. Rolf Wallin’s two works on the program provided both humour and an enchanting palette of unique sonic textures and timbres.

It was indeed a hot ticket on a winter’s night that provided a provocative sonic ride through history, memory and nature.

Soundstreams presented “Different Trains on February 2, 2019, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Toronto.

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

HookUp photobyDahliaKatz 9188 bannerEmily Lukasik in Hook Up. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.Despite the unbelievably cold weather on January 30 (below -30 degrees with windchill), the audience was packed for the opening night of Tapestry Opera’s world premiere of Hook Up at Theatre Passe Muraille.

An irreverent, relentlessly contemporary new hybrid of opera and music theatre, composer Chris Thornborrow and librettist Julie Tepperman’s new work had a powerful effect on the audience. The world they created of three students embarking on their first year at university was familiar and funny, then disturbing and uncomfortable to watch, as it got closer to dealing with the issue at the heart of the opera: consent and campus rape. A difficult subject to deal with in any context, what worked so well here was a libretto that immersed us in the first-year-away-from-home-university context, giving us time to get to know, like, and become invested in the three central characters, laughing at their foibles and lyrics like “those Cheetos are nasty” before more serious concerns took over. The language is sexually explicit but the action is not. The aftermath, on the other hand, of Mindy's despair, we do see, and as it should be, this is hard to watch. What takes the show to a category further beyond the ordinary is a plot turn near the end – which I don’t want to give away – that brought home not only the lasting evil and impact of rape, but also carried such a strong message of compassion, of understanding, and of the possibility of recovery that it held us all spellbound, in silence, and in tears or close to them.

Thornborrow and Tepperman first met at Tapestry’s annual operatic speed-dating event, the Composer Librettist Laboratory, or LibLab, five years ago, and the success of their first creation (a funny and engaging five-minute opera brief about two students texting each other about dating) led to a commission from then-new artistic director Michael Mori, to develop the piece further. There was comment last night about this piece of artistic match-making, but I think what has made the piece truly great has been the addition of a third person to the mix, acclaimed theatre actor and director Richard Greenblatt. Made a part of the collaborative team three years ago as dramaturg and director, Greenblatt has helped fashion a powerful contemporary piece of music theatre that can speak to all – or most – ages. On top of that, he put together and directed an outstanding ensemble of singing actors (or acting singers) who worked together seamlessly: Emily Lukasik, Jeff Lillico, Alexis Gordon, Nathan Carroll, and Alicia Ault – the last making her Tapestry and Toronto professional theatre debut. I will declare my personal interest here by stating that Alicia is a friend and protégé of mine, so I was incredibly proud to see her make such a strong debut.

The entire company gave stunning performances. Lukasik was immediately recognizable as the first-year university student Mindy, thrilled to be away from home and to have privacy for meeting with her boyfriend. Ault was wicked and funny as her rather amoral best friend Cindy. Carroll, whom I hadn’t seen before, was funny and real as Mindy’s boyfriend Ty, and veteran stars Lillico and Gordon were both excellent in playing a range of different parts, from Mindy’s parents, to student orientation leaders, to other students. I have never seen Gordon so strong – funny and versatile in her many different roles, then almost painfully real and touching as  ‘Heather.’ Lillico was equally brilliant, from his role as a slightly awkward loving dad to a brief cameo, dangerous and creepy, as the potential rapist.

Yes, this was billed as an opera and required classically-trained voices for often-challenging music, but it was also sung clearly in a more musical theatre style, with the words having equal importance to the notes. There were no arias, though there were some wonderful full-company songs, such as the opening number about the freedom of getting away to university. It was as if we were simply in a world where people sing instead of speaking, the notes and words coming out as if invented on the spot.

Both for the issues it confronts and as an artistically accomplished piece of music theatre, this is a must-see event.

Hook Up, presented by Tapestry Opera in partnership with Theatre Passe Muraille, opened on January 30 and runs until February 9 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, Toronto (Content warning: contains explicit language, sexual content and discussion of sexual violence).

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare, and new Canadian plays.

karendonnelly mfasa bannerTrumpeter Karen Donnelly of the NAC Orchestra. Photo credit: Dwayne Brown.In an article last October, Quartz examined the workplace demographics of 22 of the world’s top orchestras. “This fall,” that article begins, “the world’s great symphony orchestras will open their 2018/19 seasons. And just as they have for decades, many of them will be sharply segregated by gender.”

The study was (of the authors’ own admittance) rudimentary and, when it came to guessing the gender identities of orchestra members based on names, images and bios, highly speculative. But at the same time, it proved a valid point: that when it comes to determining who should play which musical instruments, old habits die hard. In those 22 orchestras, 94% of the harpists were female, while all of the trombone and tuba players across the board were men. Of the 103 trumpet players listed as full-time musicians in those orchestras, only one—Anne McAneny, of the London Philharmonic Orchestra—was a woman.

For many brass players, it’s a familiar problem. Part of it comes from the history of brass instruments in hunting, industrial bands, and the military. Part of it also has to do with which instruments have historically been seen as delicate and suitable for domestic performance—a category where instruments like trumpet and trombone rarely landed. Either way, when instrument choice is so segregated in this way, it affects everything from teaching practices, to gendered divides in pay grades, to how leadership and musicianship are negotiated in the industry.

This week at the University of Toronto, the Canadian Women Brass Collective is presenting ‘That’s What She Said’—a 5-day conference dedicated to gender diversity in brass music. Running from Jan 15 to 19, with masterclasses, workshops, competitions, concerts and roundtable discussions, ‘That’s What She Said’ aims to celebrate and support women brass musicians, from the student to professional levels—and realize new understandings of who, and how, brass players can be.

For Canadian trumpeter Karen Donnelly, working towards a professional career as an orchestral musician meant facing that gendered dynamic firsthand.

“When I was a young player studying in the late ’80s, there was one woman that I knew of in an orchestra job. Joan Watson was Associate Principal Horn at the Toronto Symphony at that time,” Donnelly explains over the phone, “That was the only woman I knew. And then later, when I was a student at McGill, there was a trombone player: Vivian Lee joined the Montreal Symphony. So, then there were two women—two women who made me believe that, oh my God, I can do this. Because there was that one person who was already doing it—and now there’s two.”

It was a realization that worked for her. Now midway through her 22nd season as Principal Trumpet of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Donnelly is a driving force behind the Canadian Women’s Brass Collective, and the upcoming U of T conference—the organization’s first-ever event.

“Basically about a year ago, I emailed friends and colleagues and asked: ‘Would you be interested in doing a project like this?’” Donnelly says. “And basically, not one person wrote back with a negative response.”

Other artists of the collective featured at the conference include tubist Karen Bulmer, trombonists Megan Hodge and Vivian Lee, trumpeters Amy Horvey and Merrie Klazek, horn player Catherine Turner, and conductor and trumpeter Gillian MacKay. Several other musicians and arts workers are involved in the conference project in other capacities, and several others still, says Donnelly, weren’t available—but everyone who she contacted expressed support for the project and mission.

The conference, which hosts events at U of T each afternoon and evening from Thursday, January 17 to Saturday, January 19 (as well as an opening masterclass that took place on January 15), features an orchestral excerpt competition, as well as several masterclasses, talks and clinics geared towards early-career players—and a final ensemble concert on the 19th that will bring together artists of different abilities and levels from across the country.

“Thirty-nine women brass players and percussionists, coming from 7 different provinces, 9 different orchestras, and 4 different military bands, including 5 or 6 student apprentices up there playing with us—and musicians from Newfoundland and the University of Victoria,” says Donnelly. “Coast to coast.”

As a model, Donnelly looked to the International Women’s Brass Conference (IWBC), an existing US-based project founded by Susan Slaughter, the former Principal Trumpet of the St. Louis Symphony, in 1993.

In a 2017 interview with Jennifer Hambrick of WOSU Public Media, Slaughter describes the feeling of those earliest IWBC meetings, where women brass players were able to meet and share their experiences with one another—in many cases for the first time.

“At the time, most (orchestra) brass sections, when there was a woman in it, there was only one,” Slaughter says. “And [there were] things that we could never say to our colleagues, because we were put in situations that if you said something back, you could pay for it later, or you were considered not one of them or something like that. So you just kept your mouth shut. But when you came to our conference, we would go out afterwards and people could start talking—'What do you do in this situation?'"

For Donnelly, Slaughter’s work at the St. Louis Symphony and IWBC, and the community of musicians that she helped to create, served as an inspiration—first as a young trumpeter, and now as a teacher and organizer of an analogous Canadian project. In that vein, things have come full circle: the IWBC is serving as a sponsor for this week’s ‘That’s What She Said’ conference, while Donnelly hopes that from this event forward, the Canadian Women’s Brass Collective can begin to build a similar community of mentorship and support that’s more accessible for Canadian artists and students—connecting local early-career musicians with professionals in the field who are doing the work.

“I think that aspect of the conference is the most important part of it,” she says. “Creating a mentoring situation—one that is a positive, inclusive, joyful experience.”

‘That’s What She Said’, presented by the Canadian Women’s Brass Collective, takes place from January 15 to 19 at the University of Toronto. More information can be found at www.canadianwomensbrasscollective.com.

The singers of Verbotenlieder.After an all-male, all-baritone and crowded Die Winterreise this summer, baritones Aaron Durand and Michael Nyby—a.k.a. Tongue In Cheek Productions—decided in the interest of fairness and variety to throw an all-female do. Verbotenlieder, or Forbidden Songs, came together as a program for sopranos and mezzos who always wanted to singcertain arias, duos or songs that remained off limits because they were written for and exclusively performed by men.

It’s a brilliant idea that was only half executed with the December 19 concert at Lula Lounge. A wide mix of singers and songs followed one another with no introduction, and no reason offered why those choices and not others. The repertoire that is never sung by women or specific voice types is vast. Was the choice random, or did it always mean something special for the singer? Nyby and Durand and one or two singers did manage to say a few words here and there, but all this just made obvious one big lack in the programming: a cabaret style MC who can talk competently, succinctly and with humour about these songs and spin the show’s red thread.

Another thing that was missing and that usually comes with real cabaret: naughtiness. Raunch. Smut. Some of the men-narrated songs in the program are love songs for women. There is a long and honourable tradition of women singing pants roles and pants Lieder and mélodies. As the societies of origin liberalized in the 20th and 21st centuries, so did cultural interpretations of these songs. There are now lively interpretive cultures of this rep for which, say, a male POV German Lied written for a mezzo is not a mezzo voicing a guy, but a mezzo voicing woman-to-woman love of some sort, or in some cases explicitly lesbian desire.

This remained underexplored, but it did make an appearance—for example in the transposed-for-soprano Lensky aria from Eugene Onegin, exquisitely rendered by Natalya Gennadi with Natasha Fransblow on piano. (Gennadi additionally honoured the trouser role tradition by wearing an elegant pant suit and camouflaging her long hair into a modest bob.) Or in the tenor-baritone duo from The Pearl Fishers, ‘Au fond du temple saint,’ which got a lavish and genuinely new take by soprano Jennifer Taverner and mezzo Beste Kalender (Elina Kelebeeva on piano). In it, the two men reminisce on the moment they first saw the woman they both fell in love with, a veiled Brahmin priestess, but rush to give up the phantom in favour of their own mutual bond before the song is over. An intriguing twist, to see this ode to bro-hood sung by women and effectively turned into a song about a bond between women who are resisting the lures of a fantasy.

Soprano Vanessa Oude-Reimerink and mezzo Alexandra Beley (Natasha Fransblow, piano) took on the Marcello-Rodolfo duo from La Bohème, in which they gossip and pine after Mimi and Musetta. There was some awkward stage movement at the beginning, and it appeared to me that the chuckles from the audience indicated that most of us weren’t sure if the women were singing to each other. The surtitles cleared up some of the confusion, but again, a good intro, even by the singers themselves, would have made all the difference.

Lauren Margison.And then there’s Lauren Margison. First, accompanied by Natasha Fransblow, she took on ‘Addio, fiorito asil,’ unofficially known as the Bastard is Leaving, from Madama Butterfly. Puccini gives Pinkerton this manipulatively beautiful and highly emotional tenor aria while he is secretly running off and leaving Butterfly to face ignominy. Margison somehow managed to sing this aria in a pissed-off manner, yet still gloriously—exactly the right formula. Her second performance was ‘Nessun dorma’ and it too came with the right attitude and glorious top notes. The attitude was: if you think Pavarotti is the last word in this department, I have a soprano to show you. At one point she invited the audience to fill in a couple of verses of the aria, which we happily did. Already during the Pinkerton aria, people got engaged and rowdy almost immediately, and a loud Brava flew her way at the right place during the aria—something you rarely hear Toronto opera audiences do. But that’s the virtuous circle that comes with a good performance: the more daring a singer is, the more reactive the audience.

On the other hand, there was stuff that didn’t light the spark. It wasn’t clear to me why ‘O sole mio,’ Ravel’s Don Quixote songs to Dulcinea, and one of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel were in the program. They’re all fine songs, but why should we hear women singing them? What do women add to them that’s missing? I have my own theories, but I was more interested in hearing the singers’, and the performances themselves did not make a strong enough case. Elsewhere in the program, the soprano version of the Count’s aria from Marriage of Figaro, in which he plots the destruction of Susanna’s announced wedding out of jealousy, was delivered in English and adapted—I am guessing, I could not hear everything clearly and there were no surtitles for songs in English—as Susanna’s resistance song of sorts? The Great Inquisitor scene from Don Carlos with two mezzos taking their low notes for a wild ride is a great idea, but the performance was hampered by Leah Giselle Field’s mocking and hammed-up take on the Inquisitor. Catherine Daniel sang King Philip in earnest—no panto and no distancing, she really played a king, and it was a pleasure to watch.

The evening ended with an ironic takeover of the men’s chorus singing about the trickiness of women from The Merry Widow.

All in all: an excellent concept delivered as a disjointed hodgepodge of highs and huhs. But the gents of the TICP have my attention.

Tongue In Cheek Productions presented “Verbotenlieder” on December 19, 2018, at Lula Lounge, Toronto.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto.

Recipients of the 2018 Toronto Arts Foundation Awards. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Arts Foundation.Sometimes when trying to hammer out a piece of writing for a deadline like this one, the only way to do so is to nail oneself to a chair and let one’s fingers do the walking. So before I gave up on trying to explain why the thing I am about to ask you to do is is important, I managed to hammer out the following:

“Just as in dead of winter it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around planning for what one will be doing  musically next summer, so too it’s a bit hard to wrap one’s mind around the idea of taking time, while the snow flies, to sit down and write something that will influence the outcome of an arts award that will not take place until the black flies fly, in May of next year. But, with The WholeNote having been the recipient of one of last year’s Toronto Arts Foundation #TOArtsAwards, we’ll always be grateful that one individual actually took the time, this time last year, to nail themself to a chair and nominate us for the award.

“Toronto Arts Foundation Signature Awards honour Toronto's arts community, shining the spotlight on the role of the arts in keeping the city vibrant and humane. Most of the awards are presented at a so-named annual ‘Mayor’s Arts Lunch’ in the late spring (yes, Virginia, hard as it is to believe right now, there will be a spring). Not all awards are presented annually: the Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition that The WholeNote received last year, ‘in recognition of its role in promoting current music and emerging artists,’ for example, is biennial.

“This year’s five award categories are: ARTS FOR YOUTH AWARD (celebrating an individual, collective or organization that has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to engaging Toronto’s youth through the arts); EMERGING ARTIST AWARD (celebrating the accomplishments and future potential of an emerging Toronto artist working in any discipline); MURIEL SHERRIN AWARD (celebrating outstanding achievements in music and a global commitment to the arts); MARGO BINDHARDT AND RITA DAVIES AWARD (celebrating an individual who has demonstrated creative cultural leadership in arts and culture in Toronto); and the EMERGING JAZZ ARTIST AWARD (celebrating an outstanding emerging jazz artist in Toronto).”

And that is as far as I got. Because sometimes, when trying to hammer out a piece of writing for a deadline, the only thing to do is to stop staring at the half-written draft on the screen (with its paragraphs degenerating into half-formed sentences containing words like energetic, significant, leadership, celebrate, spotlight, honour, nominate) and get the hell out of the house, letting my feet do the talking while my mind bounces ideas off every passing building, so they can rebound as voices in my head telling me what might be useful to say. And besides, I had a meeting to get to, to chat about a very different award ceremony coming up in February, a couple of miles away.

So off I went, heading south-east, finding diagonals wherever I could and zig-zagging the rest of the time. From home base on Bellevue Avenue, where we could listen to the sounds of last September’s Kensington Market Jazz Festival from our front yard, as that astonishing initiative, only in its third year, continues to grow and evolve. Diagonally across Bellevue Square, where anyone can sit, and does, and music is perpetually part of the fabric of things. Down that little stretch of Augusta Avenue just above Dundas Street, where every year during Nuit Blanche things happen, even though they are not on the “official” festival map (from a “live karaoke” tent to a Philippine gong ensemble rehearsing in a basement art gallery I never knew was there till I heard the call of the gongs). Across Dundas Street through the heart of Chinatown, to Beverley Street, the Italian Consulate to my left, where from the lawn on summer evenings you just might hear the sounds of opera or vintage car chases, corresponding images flickering on a movie screen. And straight ahead, the Art Gallery of Ontario, with all its treasures and potential for partnership. Down Beverley a short way, then the long south-east diagonal through Grange Park, past the wonderfully relocated Henry Moore two large forms. And past University Settlement House, with its vibrant and inclusive community music school where 24 years ago a child too small to reach the pedals sat at a piano, and the ensuing photograph found its way to the cover of the very first issue of this magazine.

Exiting Grange Park down John Street, the pace picks up. Past St. George-the-Martyr, for two decades the home of the Music Gallery (before they moved to 918 Bathurst) and still a treasured intimate music venue, despite the condo going up, loudly, to the east of it. Hanging a left at the laneway just before hitting Queen, and emerging from that laneway alongside the Rex Hotel. The Rex Hotel. Turning left onto Queen, directly ahead the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. But before crossing University Ave., a quick glance to the north at Campbell House Museum, a little gem of an occasional music venue, as violinist Edwin Huizinga could tell you. And a longer, nervous glance north up University Ave. to Queen’s Park, where the shadow of Ford the Elder, who talks about art the way George H.W. Bush talked about broccoli, looms large. Past City Hall, from which sanctuary, a few years back Ford the Younger didn’t get out of his chair and walk across the street to attend the Mayor’s Arts Lunch, held that year in the Arcadian Room in the Simpsons Tower, on the southeast corner of Bay and Queen.

Somewhere along the last couple of blocks of my walk,on Bay between King and Queen, a man who looks to be 20 going on 50 is moving to some music only he can hear, trapped in some paroxysm of the body or dance of the spirit, twisting and turning on the sidewalk across the road from me, in front of the freshly painted white hoardings around the base of some tower with a crane (the official bird of the city) perched on top. Between each gyration he stretches his hand as high up the hoarding as he can, writing giant looping letters with a pen, all along the hoarding; then back to the beginning, a little lower down, for the next line, and starts again. The pen is imaginary. His story is invisible.

So, what am I asking you to do? Take the time this winter – the deadline is February 15 – to nominate some artist, in any and every sense of that word, whose work in the arts you honour, for a Toronto Arts Foundation Award. By doing so, irrespective of who the finalists and winners turn out to be, we collectively make visible the stories, block by block, of who we are, what we do, and why it matters.

You can read about the awards here. And about the awards that are currently accepting nominations at: https://torontoartsfoundation.org/initiatives/awards/nominate-today.

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

The Yellow Ticket in Vancouver with Alicia Svigals performing. Photo by Chris Randle.“When I see the interiors of the film, I smell the apartment of my great-grandmother [who emigrated from Odessa]... It’s a magic, rare, strange, mysterious, fascinating little item. It’s like photos of my great-grandparents come to life. 
— Alicia Svigals

Alicia Svigals. Photo by Tina Chaden BeskurenSvigals, the renowned klezmer violinist/vocalist/composer is referring to The Yellow Ticket, a silent film made 100 years ago which will be screened at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines on February 7. But this is no mere revival of a rare artifact. “The Yellow Ticket” is a multimedia event featuring a fascinating 1918 silent film, The Yellow Ticket (aka The Devil’s Pawn). Svigals’ original score breathes new life into the film as it is performed live by the violinist along with virtuoso Toronto pianist, Marilyn Lerner.

Considered by many to be the world’s foremost klezmer fiddler, Svigals is a founder of the Klezmatics and a driving force behind the klezmer music revival. The film, directed by Victor Janson and Eugen Illès, was a very early production of the legendary German film company UFA-Pagu, and made near the end of WWI on the eve of the Russian Revolution. Starring a young Pola Negri (later to become a femme fatale of the silent era in Hollywood), The Yellow Ticket tells the story of a young Jewish woman from a Polish shtetl who is constrained by antisemitic restrictions to lead a double life in a brothel while attempting to study medicine in Tsarist Russia. The first film to explore antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, The Yellow Ticket (which was restored in 2013), includes precious footage of the former Jewish quarter of Warsaw and the people who once lived there.

Remarkable for its time, The Yellow Ticket addresses ethnic and religious discrimination, human trafficking and poverty in startlingly progressive terms. Its clear-eyed denunciation of antisemitism caused the Nazis to condemn Negri in the years to come.

According to Michal Oleszczyk of rogerebert.com, Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec), the only Polish actress ever to become a major Hollywood star, lived a life as exciting as the movies she graced with her presence. Born in the small Polish town of Lipno in 1894 (while the country was still under a triple occupation by its neighbours), she climbed her way up: first to the theatre stages of Warsaw and then to the budding movie business. After a successful crossover to the much more sophisticated German film industry – and a happy pairing with its finest director, Ernst Lubitsch – she starred in the international smash-hit, Madame Dubarry (1919). It was Lubitsch’s ticket to Hollywood – as well as Negri’s.

“I believe this accompaniment to The Yellow Ticket is one of the most powerful I have heard. It evokes not only a sense of the contemporary context of the culture in which the film took place, but our awareness of what was done to it afterwards. The sound of piano, violin and the human voice evoke passion, energy and a profound sense of mourning, bridging the historical distance between us and this film as eloquently as does Pola Negri’s extraordinary face.”
-
University of Chicago film scholar Tom Gunning

FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is only one stop along a whirlwind tour of Southern Ontario. Svigals and Lerner will also be accompanying the film in Burlington on February 8 and in Oakville, February 16. In between, on February 9, the “queen of klezmer” gives a recital at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Collectif9. Photo credit: Danylo Bobyk.Montreal-based string ensemble Collectif9 stopped by Lula Lounge on November 12 on their way to Mexico for a three-day visit November 15 to 17. It was the second Toronto appearance for the double string quartet plus double bass – the first was for Music Toronto in March 2016 – and meant to launch their latest CD, No Time for Chamber Music, which is wholly devoted to the music of Mahler. But as bassist Thibault Bertin-Maghit told me after the show, when he saw Lula’s salsa dance floor he scaled back the Mahler content, using only three of the CD’s nine tracks, and filled out the evening with works by Golijov, Schnittke, Enescu, Brahms, Ligeti, Berio and Mexican composer Arturo Márquez.

Bertin-Maghit does most of the arrangements for the group, which made its debut in 2011. They were students at Université de Montréal and McGill who wanted to create something different yet complementary to traditional classical music. The result was a genre-bending, innovative approach that uses lighting techniques and amplification not usually associated with the classical concert stage. They started out playing Piazzolla and Golijov, Bertin-Maghit said, but the lack of repertoire for their particular nine-instrument ensemble led him to expand their playlist to encompass arrangements of a variety of symphonic and chamber works. They perform them with an infectious energy and vigour that grabs an audience’s attention.

Lula Lounge’s warm, relaxed atmosphere and intimate nightclub feel made it an ideal setting for Collectif9’s music and undoubtedly stoked the enthusiasm of the crowd.

The set began with tonal and atonal fragments reminiscent of the opening of Max Richter’s Recomposed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Out of the improvisatory noodling came the unmistakable Frère Jacques tune set in a minor key by Mahler from the third movement of his Symphony No.1. Hushed in the bass and cellos but amplified, its presence straddling centuries, it moved to the higher strings who convincingly mimicked Mahler’s woodwinds. The tune grew out of that foundation into a sudden quick folk dance, exaggerating its klezmer quality while building to a full, rich sound before returning to the Frère Jacques melody, diminishing in scope and fading into atonality. Brilliantly arranged and exuberantly performed, it was typical of the evening as a whole.

“A new one for us,” is how Bertin-Maghit introduced Osvaldo Golijov’s Romantic-tinged rhapsody, Night of the Flying Horses. It starts with a Yiddish lullaby that (according to Golijov) metamorphoses into a dense and dark doina (a slow, rubato, Romanian genre) and ends in a fast gallop with a theme Golijov “stole from my friends of the wild gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks.” With his folk-based, often pastiche-laden works, Golijov is a natural fit with Collectif9’s aesthetic.

A teaser of Stravinsky, the opening minutes of The Rite of Spring, followed, putting Collectif9’s togetherness on display. Then came the Allegretto from Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No.1 (from their Volksmobile CD), an energetic, joyful, jazzy showcase for violinist Robert Margaryan. An elegant pizzicato dance was next, a brief ländler that begins the second movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.2. Then the agonizing Farewell from Mahler’s Song of the Earth, given a touching, passionate performance that shone a light on its folk references.

Enescu’s Octet for Strings (with double bass added) was one of the first pieces Collectif9 read through when they first formed seven years ago. “Now we’re finally ready to perform it,” said Bertin-Maghit. Its soaring melodies and propulsive dance-like rhythm elicited a virtuosic performance from the ensemble that was contrasted by the light touch navigating the dense lyricism of the Scherzo from Brahms’ Sextet No.2 that followed.

As played by Collectif9, the fourth movement of Ligeti’s Concert Românesc was a perpetual-motion achievement featuring impressive ensemble playing, the perfect appetizer for the highlight of the night: the third movement from Berio’s Sinfonia. Built on top of the Scherzo from Mahler’s Symphony No.2 and incorporating a text from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable as well as eight singers and a large orchestra, it was the inspiration for Collectif9’s new album and its ironic title, No Time for Chamber Music, which is part of the Beckett text. In fact, the Berio was supposed to be included on the CD but they couldn’t get the rights. With its many references to Ravel, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Debussy, Boulez and more, it’s a masterpiece of mid-20th-century music given an electrifying 21st-century reading.

Then it was literally and figuratively off to Mexico, with a sunny performance of Márquez’s Danzón No.2, made famous by Gustavo Dudamel’s popular recording with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

Collectif9’s next visit to Toronto cannot come too soon.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

B Exalted Choir cropped close by DavidLeeStudio.com bAnnerB-Xalted!. Photo credit: David Lee Studio.There’s a new choral project in town—and it all goes back to Handel’s Messiah.

Co-founded by Barbara Gowdy and Whitney Smith, B-Xalted! is a choir of Toronto-based writers and arts workers who, as they explain in their press release, “have put aside their laptops” to sing—a community project that gives professional writers and other creative professionals the chance to sing choral music together for the first time. A concert of excerpts from Handel’s Messiah on December 11 at Toronto’s Church of St. Peter & St. Simon-the-Apostle will be their debut.

For Gowdy, attending a performance of Tafelmusik’s annual Sing-along Messiah was the catalyst for the project. After giving up writing following a cancer scare to spend more time with loved ones, it was singing in the Tafelmusik audience that gave her the inspiration for community choir built around Handel’s music.

The Messiah theme may feel a bit arbitrary at first glance—but the idea of a community project built around this music isn’t so far-off. One of the holiday season’s most ubiquitous musical traditions, 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.

Messiah for the City is another example. Founded by the late Jack Layton and presented this year by Toronto Beach Chorale in partnership with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Messiah for the City is a concert project dedicated to providing seasonal concert-going opportunities to Torontonians who otherwise might not have access to such events. This year’s Messiah for the City takes place on December 22, featuring singers from the Toronto Beach Chorale, MCS Chorus Mississauga and the Georgetown Bach Chorale, as well as players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Tickets will be distributed by United Way and its partner agencies.

And for those looking for other public Messiah performances this year, there are all of the usuals and then some: Tafelmusik’s rendition December 19 to 21, with its famous “Sing-Along Messiah” on December 22; the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, conducted by the Canadian Opera Company’s Johannes Debus, December 17 to 23; Pax Christi Chorale’s special “Children’s Messiah” performance for children and families on December 1; and the fourth edition of SoundstreamsElectric Messiah at the Drake Underground, December 4 to 6.

Of her upcoming performance with B-Xalted!, Gowdy writes that it’s the courage of a choir coming together for the first time that will make their debut special. “There’s a fearlessness, even a recklessness, to our enterprise,” she says. “We’re all taking a risk, and we’re taking it together.”

It’s the same spirit that embodies all of the upcoming Messiah performances this season. Community-minded fearlessness—and joy.

For a complete list of Messiah-related shows across southern Ontario this year, search “Messiah” in our online concert listings at www.thewholenote.com/just-ask.

HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. J.K. ROWLING`S WIZARDING WORLD™ J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s18).Magic sparked through the air as Harry Potter fans crowded into the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on November 15 to experience Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth installment from the film series, performed live by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Hogwarts took over the Sony Centre, as the crowd proudly showed off their Hogwarts house colours with bright red, green, yellow and blue scarves and robes. Fans young and old gathered in the lobby, some even flocking to the merchandise table to purchase authentic Harry Potter-themed snacks like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

As everyone settled in their seats in the packed theatre, Evan Mitchell, the conductor, encouraged the crowd not to hold back, and to cheer, laugh, and cry at our favourite scenes and characters. The audience proved throughout the night to be fiercely passionate and lively at all the right moments.

The lights dimmed, and the movie began. Goblet of Fire – based on the fourth book in J.K. Rowling’s renowned Harry Potter fantasy novels – follows Harry as he embarks on his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where, as the school year progresses, a school tournament takes a sinister turn. With the first haunting notes of the opening piece, “The Story Continues,” the orchestra set the tone for the film, a much darker, more mature story than its predecessors: a rich, dark build of woodwinds and percussion, overlaid almost instantly by a shrill melody from the violins that left a sinister chill lingering in the air.

Goblet of Fire has one of the most diverse scores of the series, especially due to many pieces that exist within the film’s world which add opportunity to layer in unusual and surprising sounds. Much of this music is from the Yule Ball, the school dance that the students attend: “Potter’s Waltz,” “Do the Hippogriff,” and “Hogwarts Fanfare.” “Potter’s Waltz,” performed whimsically by the TSO musicians, complemented the glittering winter transformation of the Hogwarts Great Hall on-screen, while the other pieces contrasted the rest of the film’s score, with upbeat themes that played to the youth of the characters. In particular, “Do the Hippogriff,” a raucous rock song performed in the film by the wizard band The Weird Sisters, set up a chaotic on-screen scene, complete with mosh pit and crowd-surfing teacher—though this song was not performed by the live orchestra and simply played as a recording.

Another piece from within the film’s world is a march performed by the Hogwarts brass band, just before the third task of the school’s Triwizard Tournament. The piece is cheerful and animated – and yet when Harry returns at the end of the task and the march is reprised, the loud brass instruments seem to mock the audience, who have just seen Cedric Diggory, an innocent student, murdered. The orchestra performed an understated version of this march that blended seamlessly into the film while helping to accentuate the emotions onscreen – particularly the harrowing cry of Cedric’s father, who realizes what had just happened and rushes forward to clutch his son.

Throughout the film, the TSO had to strike a steady balance between the strength with which they performed certain music while keeping other moments quiet or understated, allowing the content of the film to speak for itself. Overall, though certain parts felt empty of musical presence, they managed to maintain this balance well. Some pieces also required more force – particularly the “Durmstrang Entrance,” when the students of a Bulgarian wizarding school enter the Great Hall with chants, stomps, and even a student who breathes fire from their wand into the shape of a phoenix. The Durmstrang students had all eyes on them from the Hogwarts students and Sony Centre audience alike, but the live orchestral rendition felt slightly lacking the same power and vigour that captured the audience’s attention onscreen.

In this performance, the music was brought to the forefront of the film, allowing audiences to hear little, often-overlooked details. These musical snippets were synchronous to some corresponding visuals, like the way an enchanted pen moved, or a flicker of fire reflected in Harry’s glasses – adding a new layer to the way the audience experienced Harry’s world.

While much of the audience filed out of the theatre during the closing credits, those who stayed behind were treated to the TSO briefly revisiting some of the notable pieces from the film without the distraction of watching the movie. This provided one last opportunity to appreciate the presence of the orchestra and the experience of hearing a beloved score performed live, in a theatre full of affectionate – and thoroughly enchanted – fans.

The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and Attila Glatz Productions presented CineConcerts and Warner Bros.’ production of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire In Concert from November 15 to 17, 2018, with live music by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Jaimie Nackan is currently studying media at the University of Guelph-Humber. She is a pianist and former ballet dancer, with further passions in literature, writing, and film. She is pursuing a career in critiquing the arts, while also working on her first novel.

The WholeNote Podcasts

ArtworkWelcome to the Conversations <at> The WholeNote podcast page. Below you will find our podcast episodes for your listening pleasure.

To listen, you have a few options:

  • You can listen via this website you can scroll down and find the episode you'd like and click play there.
  • Or you can download and save the podcasts on your phone, tablet or computer - and then you can listen to it anytime (even without an internet connection) by downloading from the episode articles below.
  • Or you can subscribe to this podcast on your favourite podcast service including iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, BluBrry, PocketCasts and more. Just open your podcast app and search for Conversations at The WholeNote and hit 'subscribe'. 

If you are unable to find us on the podcast app that you use, please let us know and we'll do our best to try and make it available to you.

Scroll down to select individual episodes to enjoy.

Back to top